Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bibliophile: Building a Better Game at Laurentian University

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that's because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.”
― Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

That quotation almost, almost convinces me I should see The Prince of Tides.

This is Bibliophile.

What a week! I administered and marked the exam for my class, I finished Planescape: Torment (finallllly) and got back into dissertation writing in a big way, and a close friend of mine successfully defended his dissertation.  (Yeah, this is one of those posts that I started then finished at a later date.) It's all good. But are the books all good books? Find out, as we delve into Laurentian University, after the break.

LU doesn't have a new titles page, so we go with the usual fix: we look up all books published in 2013. It's not the most accurate measure of the new books received in a given time period, but it gets the job done. The result is 598 items, sorted by title.

100 principles of game design / Wendy Despain, ed. Dec 2012.
 The idea here is sound enough; game designers tend to face the same problems over and over again, under the same pressures to finish development and get published. So this is a book collecting some tips in one place, and some tools for beginners. I can't say I recognize any of the contributors, but I'll admit there are some definite gaps in my knowledge on this front; I tend to know game scholars better than game designers. The book is divided into three parts: universal principles for game innovation, game creation, and game balance. Entries tend to be about two pages long, with one page consisting of text, and one page consisting of illustration. The text part is pretty sound; we have entries, for example, on Bartle's Player Types, and that strikes me as a hand thing for designers to know that can actually be summed up fairly succinctly in a page or so.  The people involved in this book clearly know what they are doing. But I'm still a little uncertain about the book in generalal. I'm skeptical that game design is a thing that should be considered in terms of universal principles. I've always been more of a case study sort of guy, shaping principles and theories to the example at hand. And this book seems to be doing the opposite, taking general principles, and claiming that specific examples should be created from it. I'm sure there's something to learn, but with 120 pages of actual content, max, I'm not sure this sort of format is the way to do it. 240 pages, published by New Riders Publishing, $41.56, paperback, $27.11 Kindle.

Aging men, masculinities and modern medicine / edited by Antje Kampf, Barbara L. Marshall and Alan Petersen. Nov 2012.
Here's a drinking game (they're not just for TV and movies): do a shot every time the word prostate comes up in this book.  Seriously, though, this book is a subject that I find interesting; I watched my grandfather go through the healthcare system in a pretty extensive way, and some critical thinking on how we address this issue would be appreciated.  The book's an anthology of four parts and eleven chapters. Part one is historical perspectives, which has essays on aging and embodiment in the third and fourth ages (is this a common way to refer to eras? When is that?); testosterone, and the pharmaceuticalization of male aging; and prostate (drink!) cancer. (No, there's nothing funny about prostate cancer. I just have a drinking problem.)  Part II is scientific and health discourses on aging men, with essays on resisting and endorsing medicalization; a study of an Australian community and "healthy aging " and the subject of the older gay man. Part III is on aging, sexualities, and identities, with essays on erectile dysfunction in Mexico; polygymous Yoruba men in southwest Nigeria; and adropause in Turkey.   The final section is on care work, with essays on health and caring, and Alzheimer's. It's a fairly brief book, with what looks to be a wide-ranging sociological approach. Interesting, if that's your area. $120.93 for the hardcover, $36.22 for the Kindle. 224 pages, published by Routledge.
All over the map : writing on buildings and cities / Michael Sorkin. Feb 2013.
I audited a class that could loosely be called "digital cities" last September (last January? Either way, time has marched on.) and even though I didn't have the time for it, it prompted me to do some research on how cities are portrayed in videogames. I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say, cities in general are an area of interest for me.So that's what drew me to this book. Sorkin is (apparently) known for being a popular architecture writer, one who favors public structures over corporate engulfing of cities. And All Over the Map collects his some his writings from this century. A review from The Guardian puts some perspective on his career; Sorkin's early works were marked for their idealism and liberal ideas, whereas this collection is more about adapting those ideals to fit the world that exists.  I don't know a lot about architecture (and sadly much of what I do know comes from How I Met Your Mother and Tim Moseby, the man that lucked into professorship because his ex's boyfriend felt guilty. Years later, and I'm still bitter.) But it's fascinating how so much of the personality of the architect seems to come out in the work, and shape it, especially for the better known practitioners. This book sounds llike a good light, nonfiction read. $13.99 Kindle, $2.45 hardcover, $20.21 paperback. 320 pages, Verso. 
Ascent of women / Sally Armstrong. March 2013.
Ascent of Women, in general, is a history of women's rights, and a global look at women-led movements, from Afghanistan to Toronto to Caracas.  I'm a little wary of lumping all women rights movements together like that, but Armstrong's intent is obviously admirable. The book starts with the simple statement that this is not merely a women's issue, that nothing is ever just a women's issue. How women are treated in a society reverberates throughout that entire society. Armstrong argues that the two elements currently shaping, or that have shaped women's issues globally is the way HIV has forced women to take control against the "sexual improvidence of men" and the way technology has allowed everyone to know more about the situation of women globally. I'm not sure what the argument is that binds this book together besides the desire to bring attention to various aspects of women struggling throughout the world, though that's a pretty good binding force in itself.  $16.40 for the Kindle, $31.94 for hardcover. 320 pages, Random House Canada.

Asperger's syndrome--that explains everything : strategies for education, life, and just about everything else / Stephen Bradshaw. Nov 2013.
Bradshaw presents some practical solutions for working alongside Asperger's students in schools, based on his own experience in teaching. It's a very basic guide, and it begins with a section on what Asbergers is, and Bradshaw's familiarity with it. There's the descriptions on how it manifests--and how that differs from media portrayal--how it relates to anxiety, how friendship and independence differ for people with Asperber's, how to work with parents and students in terms of educating them. In other words, it's something as a manual for teachers to help with Asberger's students. Considering that the most prominent portrayal of Asberger's Syndrome is Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory (no--they don't call it that, because there's no advantage in coming out and saying it, but his personality is clearly modeled on Asberger's syndrome) it seems like a good idea to find alternative sources of information. One of my favorite things about the show Parenthood is that it seems to try hard to present what it means to raise a kid with Asberger's in a fairly honest manner. $16.21 Kindle, $28.18 paperback. 300 pages, published by Jessica Kingsley Pub.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers / Katherine Boo Feb 2013.
Pulitizer Prize winner Katherine Boo writes on Annawadi, a makeshift settlement near the luxury hotels of Mumbai. It features Abdul, an enterprising teenager looking for fortune in recycling the rich's refuse; Asha, who is trying to get her daughter into college; and Kalu, the young thief. I can't say it's really my regular kind of reading, but it would certainly be interesting from a power dynamic perspective. How do these Mumbai natives feel about a white woman coming in to document their stories? What do they stand to gain--or lose--as a result of her actions? One of the constant phrases that come up in the Amazon reviewers' comments is that it's "like a novel"--I imagine the book also makes an interesting study in how we value stories, and contrast them with the "real," whatever that may mean. $17.71 on the Kindle, $18.67 for hardcover, $13.28 for paperback. That's a very small variation; and it's not often the kindle version is more expensive than the paperback. 421 pages. Large Print Press.

Consumption of culture by older Canadians on the Internet  / by Mary K. Allen.
 Between this and the book on aging masculinities in health care, we've got a baby boomer theme this week. This entry isn't a book, technically, but an actual report from Statistics Canada. It's accessible here.
According to the summary, older Canadians have increased their Internet use to bring it closer to that with younger Canadians, but are less likely to use it for listening to music and watching video. This seems to be one of those cases where the statistics prove exactly what you think they'd prove. Allen speculates that we'll see an increase in e-reading, as older Canadians tend to be the biggest consumers of books. I'd be in favor of a better market for e-reading. There's also a time line for culture consumption on the net, which includes the first Canadian online newspaper edition, the closure of Sam the Record Man in Toronto, and the Canadian launch of the iPhone.

 Deus in machina : religion, technology, and the things in between / edited by Jeremy Stolow.
 I can't say I have a particular interest in contemporary religion, but its intersection with technology is sufficiently interesting fodder that I thought I'd take a look at what this anthology had to offer.  The starting point here is contesting the notion that religion and technology are separate, and so it's an examination of how the two forms combine.  The book has three sections, and eleven essays. The first section, Equipment, has essays on the connection between calendar, clock and tower; essays on vibration and time; electricity and divinity; and the connection between spiritualism and magnetism (it looks like the early 20th century mysticism will be well-represented here.).  Section two is bio-power. It has an essay on buddhist medicine and potency of prayer; muslim dialysis patients in Egypt; and disability, film, and Judaism. The final section is (re)locating religion in atechnological age. It's got essays on Melville and machines that think; science fiction and the sacralization of the seculra; virtual vodou; and television.  The science fiction essay sounds very similar to the argument that Victoria Nelson presents in her book Gothicka, that religion fades into the background only to be replaced by story. And the Judaism essay has piqued my interest as well. Paperback $25.20, hardcover $85.50. 368 pages, Fordham University Press.

And we'll let the main list rest there, though there are many, many more books. Instead, let's return to previous entries that I never got to:
 From July 28th:
 All this from a 5-cent Hamburger! : the story of the White Castle System / [by] E. W. Ingram.
It wasn't until some time after I saw Harold and Kumar that I was informed that White Castle is an actual real burger chain; ah, the deprivations of living in Canada. At any rate, it's safe to say I am a relative newcomer when it comes to the company's history. Thankfully, founder Edgar Waldo Ingram, in 1964, took the time to write this brief pamphlet to educate me, and no doubt countless others. I unfortunately can't find much information on the book, as it's almost fifty years old, but I did find White Castle's wikipedia page, which claims that its design and the emphasis on white and cleanliness was to alleviate customers' concerns over the preparation of ground beef after Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel "The Jungle" had shown just how deplorable conditions were. "As Henry Ford did for car manufacturing, Anderson and Ingram did for the making of burgers." That's a big claim. Anyway, books like this aren't really valuable for their history--rather, they're valuable for their official history, the way the company chooses to arrange their own narrative. On that level, it might be worth looking in to, though I couldn't imagine going out of my way to dig up a copy.

From Carleton U, August 5th:
What do women want: adventures in the science of female desire / Daniel Bergner. May 2013.
It's a novelization of the Mel Gibson movie. All right, no, it's not. Journalist Daniel Bergne looks at the scientific research regarding female lust, in terms of libido, fantasy, mind body connection,and how to avoid the loss of libido. The questions include whether women are the more monogomous gender, whether they really crave emotional connection, and whether they are more sexually aggressive than men. "are we not yet ready for a world in which women can become aroused at the simple popping of a pill?". I'm extremely skeptical of a book wherein a man explains the desires of women. And I'm predisposed to believe that most, if not all, of our sexual proclivities derive from social and cultural influences as much as biology. (Not that the two can be entirely separated.) But I suppose the book will get a discussion going, if nothing else. $15.99 for the Kindle, $17.55 for the hardcover, $10.12 for the paperback. 320 pages, Ecco Press.

Women, sexuality and the political power of pleasure / edited by Susie Jolly, Andrea Cornwall and Kate Hawkins. July 2013.
Oh, that's right; I picked the previous book because of the contrast it would form with this one. The idea here is that pursuing sexual desire is a key to women's success on personal, social, and political levels. The book has fourteen chapters. They include essays on sexuality workshops with women's rights activists in North India; sexual pleasure and human rights training for Women in Turkey; couple training in Nigeria;giving disabled people the sexuality they want; sexual pleasure in the context of HIV; sexuality and religious teaching in Malawi; sexual violence in sub-saharan Africa; performance and pleasure in sex work; and laughter. It's a good variety of perspectives, I'll give it that, and I imagine it'll be a nice antidote for Bergner's book.  $20.54 for the Kindle, $138.85 for the hardcover, $35.96 for the paperback. 309 pages, Zed Books.

 The last best west / Jean Bruce.  1976.
 It's a collection of photographs from professionals and amateurs, taken from 1896-1914, documenting the claiming of free homesteads in Western Canada. I don't know if this is the fault of my scholastic upbringing or something deeper within myself, but I find Canadian history to be... less than interesting, especially Western pioneer history. I can't say what else I was really expecting, though, so I guess it gets credit for delivering what it does. $11.66 paperback.176 pages, published by Multiculturalism.

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