Saturday, May 30, 2015

Random Thoughts, May 2015 edition: Futurama, dissertations, informed consent in fantasy, and match 3 games

This is going to be a combination of updates, and things that have occurred to me.

* "Not sure if _____ or ______"
"You're _____ is bad, and you should feel bad!"
"I don't want to live on this planet anymore."
"__________ do not work that way!
"I'll make my own ___________! With blackjack, and hookers!
Not an original observation, but Futurama's clearly going to be more remembered as a meme generator than a TV show. There's a Buzzfeed article in there, somewhere."
Just posted this on Facebook. I don't really feel like fleshing it out too much further at the moment, but it's an interesting issue.Arguably, Futurama has had more cultural value as a source of memes than as a TV show. That probably still holds if you talk financial value too--but only if you factor in the ad revenue generated by the hundreds and thousands of sites that have deployed variations of these memes to get clicks. It's not money that's going to the show creators. Then again--who creates a meme? Its original coiners, or its major circulators? If I ever have a spare couple of days, it's a new media area I'd like to delve into more fully.

*The dissertation's reaching a boiling point. My defense is projected for September--though I've only got permission for one more term of grad school, so that's a fun future hurdle--and I'm still coping with the notion of what comes next. I should be applying for things and submitting other things like crazy but... I'm not there yet. It might be the same sort of procrastination that led to the degree delays to begin with, but I feel like something still needs to click. Soon, hopefully.

*Speaking of clicking, I've been reading Rachel Aaron's The Legend of Eli Monpress. I'll probably have a full review somewhere at some point, but an idea in regards to the series popped into my head today, and I want to preserve it. The magic system in the novel is essentially the animus version, with a genie twist. That is, every object in the fantasy world--manmade or natural--if it's of sufficient size, is inhabited by a lifeforce, a sentient spirit. Wizards can communicate with the spirit, and bind it to them and make it serve them, ala the genie/master relationship. So far, so good. But what Aaron adds to the concept that really makes it interesting is the idea that the current dominant group of wizards, the spiritualists, believe that it's unethical to bind a spirit against its will. The only spirits you can call on as servant, then, are the ones that you enter into a willing relationship with, where both parties supply the other with what they need, and both may break it off, if they wish. In short, it's a fantasy universe where magic is based on the idea of informed consent.  That's kind of amazing, and makes the series really relevant in terms of greater cultural issues. Yes, there's a huge difference between consent as relates to sexuality and as it relates to magical spirits, but framing the relationship in terms of ethics and moral responsibility over personal desire creates some really interesting parallels.

*I gave a talk this week based on the third chapter of my dissertation. I got some good feedback on it, but in a lot of ways, it's the wrong point in the dissertation process to be soliciting feedback from outside of my committee. I'm really glad I did it, and I understand my own argument and how it's perceived a lot better now, but it would have been better to have pursued this sort of thing earlier. At that point of writing, I was too caught up in the idea that I couldn't put anything out there until I had my committee's seal of approval; more experimentation could have been helpful. That's something to remember.

*Conversation overheard on the bus today: "When I was a kid, I used to read while I walked around, with my nose in a book." "Me too! It really bugged my mom. She thought I'd walk into a tree, or something."
Me, in my head: "I AM ONE OF YOU."

*This weekend is all about prepping for the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and writing the paper for the Canadian Game Studies Association. I've got some draft notes, but it's time to flesh them out. If I was a better planner, it'd be a presentation on dissertation-related material, or even a revised version of this week's talk. Instead, it'll be a look at the cultural, economic, and design-related issues involving Match-3 type games. Basically, it's a chance to take some of things I've said  about Match-3 games and put them before a larger audience. I'm thinking five minutes on the social and economic aspects of Match-3 games in general, five minutes on how some of them incorporate narrative skins, and five minutes on how Marvel Puzzle Quest in particular approaches these issues.  If anyone's interested, I might put the piece up here when it's done.

Later Days. 

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.