Friday, May 8, 2015

Build A Better Frankenstein: Teaching a Sci-Fi Class, Short Story edition

Yes, for the pedants in the crowd, it's build a better Frankenstein's Monster. But that felt like too far a departure from the "Build a Better Mousetrap" allusion I was going for, so here we are.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Quotations: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

"Back when the rest of us were learning to play wallball and pitch quarters and drive our older brothers' cars and sneak dead soldiers from under our parents' eyes he was gorging himself on a steady stream of Lovecraft, Wells, Burroughs, Howard, Alexander, Herbert, Asimov, Bova, and Heinlein, and even the Old Ones who were already beginning to fade--E.E. 'Doc' Smith, Stapledon, and the guy who wrote all the Doc Savage books--moving hungrily from book to book, author to author, age to age. (It was his good fortune that the libraries of Paterson were so underfunded that they still kept a lot of the previous generation's nerdery in circulation.) You couldn't have torn him away from any movie or TV show or cartoon where there were monsters or spaceships or mutants or doomsday devices or destinies or magic or evil villains. In these pursuits alone Oscar showed the genius his grandmother insited was part of the family patrimony. Could write in Elvish, could speak Chakobsa, could differentiate between a Slan, a Dorsai, and a Lensman in accute detail, know more about the Marvel Universe than Stan Lee, and was a role-playing game fanatic. (If only he'd been good at videogames it would have been a slam dunk but despite owning an Atari and an Activision he didn't have the reflexes for it.) Perhaps if like me he'd been able to hide his otakuness maybe shit would have been easier for him, but he couldn't. Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn't have passed for Normal if he'd wanted to.">
This struck a bit closer to home than I'd like to admit. It's never too far below the surface, is it? And it matters so much more to you than anyone else. Later Days.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Retrospective: Warioland II and THE DISCOVERY OF GREEEEED

Often, between playing big, long videogames, I try to seek out a shorter or older game as a sort of palate cleanser. After Bravely Default--I'm providing a link even though it's just a short scroll below on the main page--and before I lovingly toss my time into Pillars of Eternity, I decided the game would be Warioland II. A discussion of the difference that the money-loving anti-hero makes, after the break.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Restrospective:Does Bravely Default Bravely Rise Above Default?

Normally, when I finish a game--especially a game that spent over a hundred hours of my life, from beginning to end--I've got something to say about it, even with JRPGs, which, when not doing something noticeably different, tend to cohere to a small set of cliches. Nier has its ruminations on genre and violence. Chrono Trigger is still cool for the way it depicts a struggle against a being who literally doesn't comprehend that the heroes of the story exist, because they exist on an entirely different scale of being. Radiant Historia encourages the player to think in terms of a sequence of events instead of connections in space.

But Square Enix's Bravely Default doesn't have any of those things. Everything I can think of to say about it is interesting largely in the way it came from somewhere else first. Even the fact that it has killed my interest in playing  JRPGs AND the fact that it is a pastiche stitched from other JRPGs are both the major talking points I used for crafting my response to Ni No Kuni.

Part of this I have to admit is my fault; I've played many JRPGs over the years, and that has worn into me certain expectations and familiarities, which if I didn't have, it would have made BD seem a lot fresher. But really, so much of the game seems a rehash of other things I've seen. Repeating large portions to shake up what we take for granted about the plot was Nier's big schtick. Playing with temporality in turn-based combat was Radiant Historia (as was the reality hopping in later). The build-a-town mini-quest has been done from Dark Cloud to Breath of Fire (although I'll give points for adding the 3DS' Street Pass functionality to the mix). Even the plot is jumble of JRPG cliches about restoring the four crystals to save the world, and yes, there's a twist, but again--conventional JRPG story with a last act twist is a cliche at this point too. It would help if the characters were a little more developed, but really, they're just typical stereotypes with a weird fixation on--

Wait, no! I've got it! The unique part of the game is its party chats concerning food!  ...Except Dragon Warrior has had the same party chat function, and it's no more food-oriented than Star Ocean. Carry on, then.

More on the search for anything worth searching for after the break.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nierly Done with this Pun forever

I had to play a few hours of Nier today to get the point where I could talk about its book-like interface system for the dissertation. And I had to play to that point because Nier's endgame (spoiler, I guess?) doesn't really leave things in a state where doing that is possible.

What I found is that Nier is a wonderfully complex game (albeit somewhat graphically low for a mid to late Xbox 360 game), one whose eventual story is set up right from the start, and design choices that contribute to the overall aesthetic in a meaningful way all build on each other. It's an unusually rich, creative game for a JRPG low budget (for AAA, anyway) game.

I never want to play it again.

I felt the same way going back to Ni No Kuni (which is much more diminishing returns than Nier) for its dissertation section; there's a point in lengthy games where enthusiasm is displaced by entropy, and trying to research the game at the same time only makes it worse. Nier's a wonderful game, and I could (and have) written pages and pages extolling its virtues, but I really, really don't want to subject myself to having to go through it again. Ah well; I'm an hour or two in and at the shrine where Weiss becomes a party member, so the end's in sight.

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dissing the Dissertation

Two excerpts from the dissertation:

Another Sierra game, the 1991 remake of the original
Leisure Suit Larry came with brochures for in-game locations, and the questions were thus reflective of the game’s so-called, and more than slightly misogynist, humor: “What do the cowgirls have at the Palamino Ranch?”; the correct answer was “c: Jugs o’ moonshine.”

the 1988 game Wasteland not only had a booklet of paragraphs, it included fake entries to dissuade players who would “cheat” by reading ahead. The very first entry, in fact, is one of these:
1 You creep up to the window, and in the soft muted tights [sic], you see a tall woman with long, blond hair. She sits before a mirror and brushes her hair, then stands and walks over to the sunken tub to her left. She kneels and her blue, silken robe drops to the floor. She turns the water and steam slowly fills the air. You watch in fascination as she reaches down into the tub, whirls, and points an Uzi in your direction. ‘Stop reading paragraphs you’re not supposed to read, creeps.’ She sighs deeply. ‘Next time I’m going to demand they put me in a Bard’s Tale game, this Wasteland duty is dangerous.’ (1)

The problem with writing a dissertation on the subject of the history of videogames is that the history of videogames is full of stuff like this. Yeah, it's sexist, and, as dissertation me claims, arguably outright misogynist, but mostly... it's just *embarrassing.*

Honestly, off the top of my head, the only game stuff I can think of that's funny that was clearly supposed to be funny is some of the stuff from Saint's Row the Third and some of the more absurdist endings for Japanese fighting games.

Later Days.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Feminism and Rhetoric

I've been teaching an online first year rhetoric course this term. And what that means for our university in particular is that all the readings have been chosen beforehand, all the lectures recorded before I was ever assigned the course, and all the assignments planned ahead of time (but I still get to write the final, which.... thanks, I guess?). And as you'd imagine, not all of the texts have been ones that I would have chosen. They're all wonderful texts for a rhetoric class, just not the particular texts I would picked; it's a matter of personal preference, more than any other consideration.

In particular, I was uncertain of this week's reading, a section from Hélène Cixous' Laugh of the Medusa. It's a good read, but not what I personally would have picked out as the singular example of rhetoric and feminism. (That the course has only a single text on rhetoric and feminism is a different issue.) It is, I thought, too complicated, too complex in its use of language, too steeped in psychoanalytical discussions about the phallus. I braced myself for a reading response set that suggested the class had listened to the lectures and skipped the reading (a fairly common occurrence, given some of the responses although I also have a large number of really good responses on any given week, and I do my best to encourage such responses).

 As you can probably guess from my own rhetoric, I was wrong. The reading has led to more thoughtful, engaged responses than anything we've done so far. Yes, there have been some half-hearted engagements, as always, but most of the class has responded with above average engagement, especially some of the women, who have mentioned that the essay speaks to them on a personal level. I'm drawing three conclusions from this. First, it has been a humbling reminder that my students are better and smarter than I've been giving them credit for. Second, it attests to the power of Cixous' writing, that it still resonates. And third, it suggests that, sadly, a lot of her critique still applies, that women today still feel pressured to write in a voice not their own.

It's been an eye-opening course, in more ways than I was expecting going in.

Later Days.