Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Quotations: Professional Game Crickets

"Needless to say, it is no easy thing to make a living as a critic of anything, but video-game criticism may be the least remunerative of all. Why this should be is not a great mystery. Count off the number of people of your acquaintance inclined to read criticism at all; chances are lean that they will be the same people in your life as the ones playing video games. Yet certain aspects of video games makes them resistant to a traditional approach. One is that many games are not easily re-experiencable. If i am reviewing a book, I go back and look at my margin notes. An album, I set aside an hour and listen to it again. A film, I buy another ticket. If I am playing a game that takes dozens of hours to complete and has a limited number of save slots, much of it it is accessible only by playing through it again, the game itself structurally obligated to fight me every inch of the way. Another problem is that criticism needs a readily available way to connect to the aesthetic past of the form under appraisal, which is not always so easy with video games. Out-of-date hardware and out-of-print games can be immensely difficult to find. Say you want to check on something that happens about halfway through some older game. Not only do you have to find it, you will, once again, have to play it. Probably for hours. Possibly for days.

"One might argue that critical writing about games is difficult because most games are not able to withstand thoughtful criticism. For their part, game magazines publish game review after game review, but they tend to focus on providing consumers with a sense of whether their money will be well spent. Game magazine reviewers rarely ask: What aesthetic tradition does this game fall into? How does it make me feel while I'm playing it? What emotions does it engage with, and are they appropriate to the game's theme and mechanics? The reason game magazine reviewers do not ask these questions is almost certainly because game magazine owners would like to stay in business. But there is a lot of thoughtful, critical, engaging work being done on games. It is mostly found on the blogs and almost always done for free. I have my list of five game critics whose thoughts on the form I am most compelled by, and I am fairly certain that none of these writers is able to make anything resembling a living writing only about games. Certainly, this is the case for the top critics in plenty of other art forms--dance, sculpture, poetry--but none of these art forms are as omnipresent, widely consumed, or profitable as video games."
--Tom Bissell, Extra Lives: Why Games Matter.

Add to this list of woes the fact that many of those who would identify themselves as gamers are openly hostile to the notion of applying critical analysis to games. If you hear the phrase, "it's only a game," odds are about even you'll hear it from a game enthusiast almost as often as from their detractors.

Additionally: I'm really liking this book. It's a serious discussion of contemporary games and their ability to engage the player in new configurations of storytelling and emotional response. Also, it talks about the time he did cocaine and played GTA IV for 30 hours straight.

Later Days.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Travel Anxiety

I don't think I've mentioned this, but I've got a minor conference coming up this weekend in Montreal. I say minor in reference to my role in it--I'm giving a small 12 minute presentation during a roundtable session, on the subject of remediation in the video game Dead Rising (you remember Dead Rising? Of course you do. I couldn't work the insane 72 hour mode into the paper, but that's probably for the best.). The conference is on video games and story telling, and in terms of presence, it's got some heavy hitters, including lead people who worked on Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream), Assassin's Creed (Ubisoft), Mass Effect 2 (Bioware), The Graveyard (Tale of Tales) and Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games), and scholars such as Nick Montfort and Bernard Perron (in fact, about 70% of my secondary sources for the paper comes from a book Perron edited, so... no pressure).

At this point, I don't really have any anxiety about the conference itself; the speakers will be great, and I have enough confidence in my own abilities to be sure that I won't embarrass myself too badly. And in one of those serendipitous things, I've been reading Tom Bissell's Extra Lives, (more on that some other time), so I'll be in the right mindset for a lot of game/narrative discussion. What fills me with anticipatory dread is the commute. While I've got a travel scholarship (so it won't be a financial burden), the trip itself is almost guaranteed to be unpleasant. Here's a tip for aspiring scholars: in a semester where you teach on Fridays and Mondays, don't go to weekend conferences. Because of transport schedules and the restrictions caused by my class times, I've got to catch a Greyhound bus at 6:30 that arrives in Montreal at 5:00 am, the first day of the conference. Ugh. Then it's a 5:00 pm via rail trip back on Sunday, with an arrival time of midnight, with a morning class to teach the next day. The only good thing is that ridiculous schedule means that I only have

But really, I hate every step of it. I hate planning to get to the bus station. I hate having to make my transfer. I hate worrying about my luggage during the transfer. Which is only a problem on the way back, admittedly, but a pressing one. The train trip from Montreal to Toronto requires me to check my suitcase, but at Toronto, I have to carry the bag, and have 15 minutes to retrieve it before I'm scheduled to depart. Maybe I'll try to pack the smaller bag inside the suitcase, and claim it as my carry-on. Bringing the full suitcase for a weekend trip is admittedly ridiculous in any case; I really need some smaller luggage. Or maybe I'll try taking the book bag instead of the suitcase (immediate downside: not exactly the best way to transport clothing).

It's when I'm traveling that I reluctantly, very reluctantly, acknowledge that I could really, really use a smart phone, or at least a laptop, or SOMETHING that allows me to stay connected. So much of the information I need--my presentation, the colloquium schedule, the train and bus itinerary, map of route between hotel and university--could then be at my fingertips, as well as anything else I need to look up on the fly. Otherwise, everything has to be prepared ahead of time, and if I miss anything vital, I'm out of luck. Consequently, every time I travel, I feel like I've jumped into a swimming pool without bothering to check if anyone's filled it with water.

Anyway, expect a full report on my return. Which in my case means "write a series of posts on it that never quite gets finished."

Later Days.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: My Life as a Night Elf Priest by Bonnie A. Nardi

We haven't done a book review in a while--not in fact, since the terrible Got Game, and that was back in June. I meant to provide the ol' thoughtful critical analysis to a number of books that were read between now and then: Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, Monfort and Bogost's Chasing the Beam, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, and about a half dozen Charles Stross books that I'm not entirely sure why I keep reading. But they were all borrowed books, and were returned before I got into the full-discourse mode. "But at my back I always hear /Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near," so let's seize the day and the review the book at hand.

That book being Bonnie A. Nardi's "My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft." Despite the subtitle suggesting otherwise, the main title of the book had me expecting a rather bombastic account, something more akin to the game-journalist stuff I've been reading (Rossignol's "Gaming Life," which I've mentioned before, and the superb "Replay" by Tristan Dovovan) than game scholarship proper. The book is actually a nice mix of the two: it's got the personal experience that I appreciate in game journalism, and the scholarly foundation of game studies--well, not game studies per se, as I'll get into, but certainly academic scholarship.

As the title suggests, the focus of the book is an anthropological, ethnographical study of World of Warcraft. The book is divided into three sections. Section one explains first what WoW is and second what ethnography entails, especially when applied to videogames. Those familiar with either subject can skip the respective chapter without fear of missing much. The second section is a mix between theory and WoW accounts: John Dewey's notion of aesthetic experience as it applies to play, WoW as a new medium combining rules, software, performance, and image; and a discussion of WoW and work, through the theory of the magic circle. And the final section shifts things away from theory towards the interviews and accounts, with a discussion of WoW and Addiction, Theorycraft and Mods, Gender, and play practices in China. I think I found the chapter on Gender most interesting, but the chapter on Theorycraft and Mods demonstrates the most potential.

I've probably mentioned this before, but I'm not a big fan of the typical social science way of doing things, vis-a-vis quantitative testing analysis, where the user tries the product, fills out a form, and is interviewed about their experience. It's a great process to observe for studying the rhetoric of form-filling and interviews, but not so much for other things. I have a couple of problems with it. First, as someone with at least a little background in statistics, I have an ingrained distrust for the results of such analysis, knowing how easy it is to nudge them one way or another. Second, I suppose there's some measure of pure disciplinary distance: I'm trained towards close readings, not data compilation, and thinking in that way doesn't come easily to me. Third and more concretely, I have a big problem with extrapolating the results of said comparison in any meaningful fashion. If you interview a gamer about his (or her) reflection of a play experience--or attempt to find some meaningful cognitive result from their physiology during that experience--what you get is an account of their reaction in one controlled setting at a particular moment in their lives. Even if you increase the sample size and change the session lengths into months or years, it's still just a small glimpse, and really can't be used for more than a glimpse.

That's why I appreciate ethnography as an alternative. I like how it emerges the investigator into the community (and with the anonymity of online games, that immersion can work a little more smoothly than face-to-face communities). I like how it focuses on personal observation and material gathered over a long period of time. It affords exactly what Nardi offers here: a nice mix of theoretical application and hands-on accounts. It's still somewhat a problematic approach with an online game, however, because online games change so thoroughly over the course of their history. What does it mean to do an ethnographic study of WoW? Do you play it for a week? A year? It's certainly changed considerably between its inception in 2004 and 2011. If it's no longer the same game, how do you account for that? Nardi recognizes that these questions exist, but doesn't go far in answering them. Suffice to say, in her opinion, it's exactly this open-ended nature of the online game that makes its study so compelling.

On a personal note, just as I have a bit of a problem with ethnography, I also have a problem with online games. The deepest I've ever gone was about six months in Farmville and Mafia Wars, and neither of those are, comparatively speaking, very intense in terms of their social interactions--they're both rather removed affairs. I think there are two things keeping me from such games: first--I don't really like the idea of playing with other people all the time. This is partly because of my personal history--I started gaming on single player games, and it's what I'm used to. Giving up a measure of freedom to cooperate with others in a game seems more like work than play to me. And it's partly because I'm actually not very skillful in my gameplay--I tend to adopt a more "play over and over until it works" kind of style. I'm also very competitive, so the prospect of constantly losing isn't very appealing either. Second, and more practically, from everything I've heard about online games, they're extremely time-intensive, if you want to keep up with your guild and opponents. I devote quite enough time to games--at least with the single player, you can turn them off and resume them without falling behind a curve.

But I still admire online games for what they are: an excellent example of game rules fusing with player behavior. I find the texts resulting from social play like this to be absolutely fascinating, from EVE Online accounts to Let's Play marathons to Guild vids. And Nardi, for the most part, does well in applying some play theory to these behaviors. Personally, I would have preferred a little more applications of game studies proper--there's some slight mention of Juul and Salen and Zimmerman, but in general, the closest she comes to applying any game-related theories in depth is her application of the predecessor's stuff on the subject of play--Callois, Huizinga, and so forth. And while the third section is the most compelling, it does suffer a bit from lacking a clear focus beyond "and here's where WoW comes in on this subject." At the same time, one of my favorite bits come from when she compares how the Chinese government censored the game by forcing Blizzard to replace death-animation skeletons with gravestones to Christian review boards who criticize WoW's tacit enabling of witchcraft. Nardi's point is that "the disapproving gaze transcended national boundaries," but the implicit equivalency between Christian groups and the oppressive aspects of the Chinese government amused me. (What can I say? I'm easily amused.)

Finally, while a deeper examination of this topic is outside Nardi's scope, I think her discussion of theorycraft shows there's some untapped depth there. How and why players research to determine the hidden numerical balances and rules of a game is a very interesting sociological topic. It's not quite cheating, as you're not bringing to the game anything that isn't there to begin with. But at the same time, it's basically the equivalent of teaching yourself to count cards--if it's not cheating, then it's definitely frowned upon, socially.

So: it's a reasonably engaging book, and it gave me something to investigate further. That makes it Good Stuff.

Later Days.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Quotations: And sometimes, I just use whatever book happens to be nearest

"Gaming's own hauntology is keenly felt in games where technologies of representation find themselves arrayed to combat the dead, or to navigate around them. Hauntology is not limited to the undead, but the appearance of the past 'out of joint' more generally, media's own ghosts. So, that the gaming hauntological is most visible along genre borders speaks to the centrality of horror to game culture and design, rather than to a literal connection between the specters of media and the specters of the dead. This natural, deep media historicity and the multiple ways in which it seeks to represent the dead are, above all, traces." --Christian McCrea, "Dead Media in Dead Rising, Siren, and Michigan: Report from Hell."

Later Days.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To live, perchance to pun. Aye, there's the rub.

Some of the best verbal jokes are the spontaneous, inadvertent ones. The ones that come from unplanned spoonerisms, unwitting malapropisms, and just total mispronounciations and misreadings. (For everyone who's familiar with the frequency I utter a mispronounciation: you're welcome. I'm very glad my social mortification is a constant source of enjoyment for you.) The non-premeditated joke is funny because its arrival seems like a gift, a small, unexpected windfall. It's nothing that you can't live without, but while it's there, one should appreciate its presence, like a rainbow or a good cup of tea. (On the other side of the scale, the planned joke becomes impressive through its sheer elaborateness, the length and scale required to reach the punchline. One of my favorites is a Spider Robinson story that constructs an entire sci-fi universe just to build to a colossally groan-worthy pun between two meanings of "note.")

The repression of such a misreading, then, is all the more frustrating. It feels like a burden, a rhetorical weight on your chest. There are many reasons for repressing a spontaneous joke, but most come down to social niceties. It's not the right place for that kind of statement. It's not the right moment. There's no one around you that would appreciate that kind of humor. You don't know the other person well enough and worry that you risk offending them. So you stifle the joke, make a mental note, and if you're lucky enough, you get to recount it to someone later. But more often then not, such jokes live and die in their immediate context; transposed into a foreign environment, they wither and die. But still, a part of me thinks, better to tell a joke that flops than to bury it, suppress it, and ponder what might have been. That, more than anything, convinces me of the value of Twitter: whatever else it may have done to the level of discourse, it gives us a forum for tossing our contextually unutterables into, a place where the joke, though perhaps still unappreciated, can at least be expressed. (There's still the potential for repercussions, of course. Tweet wisely, people.)

All of this is to say, I just misread someone's Facebook status as "freeballing" rather than "bailing" and gosh darn h-e-double toothpicks, that's funny. But I'm too chicken to face the potential, pretty much nonexistent consequences of posting that publicly. So I've dissected it here in the hopes that going to such ridiculous lengths will take the original joke from inadvertent misreading to elaborate amusement. Because nothing makes a joke funny like explaining it over and over.

Bonus game for people who have access to my friends list: Try and guess whose status I'm referring to! Don't guess here though. Keep it to yourself. And only to yourself. Repress your urge to tell it to anyone else. Ha! Now you know how it feels!

Later Days.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gender: The Gathering Mob

Some time in the middle of November, I'll be teaching a week on Gender, Sex, and Sexualities as they relate to digital media studies. My first impulse was to go to the paper AR Stone wrote, Cross-Dressing Psychiatrist, concerning the hypothetical male psychiatrist who pretended to be a handicapped woman o But then I thought I should really try to teach students about these issues using something that happened in the last decade, on a piece of digital technology that hasn't gone obsolete. (Seriously, MUDs sound awesome, but it's probably time to move on.) My next impulse was to do something on Second Life and online dating, but again, I think I could go for something more current.

So I popped "digital" and "dating" and "disaster" into the google search engine, and stumbled onto for the first time the "Magic Date" debacle.

For those who haven't been following this story every step of the way, it starts here:
I can't be 100% positive, but I believe the first paragraph was added in later. That's fairly significant, since it presents a moral that's not as evident--to put it mildly--in the article proper. Basically, then, what we have is a woman who blogged about a bad date in a very public manner, and concluded that the problem on her end was that she didn't do enough googling to check up on him beforehand. That provides plenty of fodder for discussion right there.
Then there's the other version of the article, which looks at the man in a more confrontational manner:
There were responses, of course. Balanced ones, like this, that summarize the argument and note that the man in question probably won't be lacking in dates in the near future:
And, uh, less reasonable ones, including one from Gizmodo:
And then it descended into some pretty nasty namecalling against the woman until everything came full circle again:
Are you still here? My word. Look at the staying power on you! Good show!

Ahem. Essentially, in this final, long article, Tait writes a spirited rebuke towards the woman's detractors, in the guise of a letter to his imagined daughter. He argues that the real villain of the piece isn't a woman who found Magic off-putting, but the gamer culture that lurched forward to attack her for going after one of their own.

My feelings? ....Mixed. First: from the top, it's Not Cool to post the real name of a bad date recipient, especially one whose faults were as relatively benign as this gentleman's. And to complain about someone's nerdiness on a site titled "Gizmodo" is either a very poor reading of your audience, or, as some have mentioned, deliberate trolling. Finally, in the original article, I think accusing Jon of actually lying is a little far--if you think you wouldn't want to date someone of a certain profession, you should probably, you know, ask them what their profession is before going on a date. At the same time, judging from Tait's image captures, the response has clearly gone too far--calling Bereznak is also Not Cool. Here's another rule of thumb for you: when you're swearing at strangers, you're too emotionally invested. That means it's time to let the keyboard cool, so to speak.

The bigger issue for me personally is Tait's argument that gamer culture is deeply misogynist. Because, well, it's hard to argue. Comics and gaming are two of the bigger hobby passions of my life, and they both center rather predominantly on white male fantasies (well, superhero comics do, and those are the majority that I read). But just as not all games are the same, neither are all players or readers; yes, I've played Final Fantasy X-2, but I've also read (random example) Fun Home and Fay Weldon. As a gamer, I can keep my beliefs and personality separate from the games I play, and from the cultural spaces I inhabit. That doesn't mean I pretend those elements aren't there; far to the contrary, it means I need to examine them whenever they rise, and confront them head on--that, in my mind, is what being a scholar's about. (And, you know, part being a responsible adult who lives and functions in the world.)

I'm not even going to touch the Nice Guy comment. If you do want to pursue that particular thought, I can recommend another superlong (but good) discussion: here.

One could make the case that I'm responding too personally to this issue. But I'd argue that the problem is that people aren't making this personal enough. It's personal in the sense that everyone involved seems to feel like they've been personally attacked, but I think most of those talking have forgotten that they're dealing with real people too. That is, rather than responding to each other as individual persons, they're responding to labels: the Magic "dweeb," the shallow "bitch", the "Male keyboard warriors, many with the welts of social ostracization still open and weeping upon their hairy backs" (all right, he gets points for creative imagery). Personally, I think labelling people is almost always the wrong way to go. We don't fit into categories; we exhibit and react behaviors that propel us through categories (if we touch them at all). We don't just have the potential to change, we are changing, constantly, and the focus should be in changing in positive ways (and deciding what that means) rather than trying to classify and pigeonhole the people around us into labels we're comfortable with.

Or to rephrase in a different way: don't listen to their moralizing argument, listen to MY moralizing argument.

Sigh. At least the digital aspect is front and center: this conversation wouldn't still be going on in this way and this form without the online component, and the ability to instantly reply and quickly spread information. So it'll make a nice class discussion, at least.

One last comment: on one site or another, it was argued that she was being facetious when she said he took her to a play based on Dahmer on their first date. For full disclosure, I feel I must mention I did once take a girl to Sweeney Todd (Burton version) on a first date. Yeah. Good thing she wasn't a blogger, I guess.
Later Days.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adventures in Upper Ashdell Reserve

(This is going to be a bit awkward, as, given my commitment to semi-anonymity, I can't reveal the actual name of the city I'm in. And I feel like I've run the old "Blank" joke into the ground, so it's time for a new joke. Using a random city name generator, I came up with the name "Upper Ashdell Reserve," so I'll just use that instead of the city's real name. I'm sure I won't get tired of typing Upper Ashdell Reserve every single time.)

I was out with some friends last night, and one of them, originally from Toronto, was explaining that he was starting to feel like a tourist when he went back there--Upper Ashdell Reserve was his home now. At that moment, I realized I felt the same way. And the biggest surprise was that it wasn't a surprise. The moment wasn't a big revelation, or life-defining moment. It was like I'd been handed a piece of information that was both ordinary and undeniable: The capital of Yugoslavia was Belgrade. Germany has 81.8 million inhabitants. You can get random geographic-related facts from Wikipedia. And I live in the Upper Ashdell Reserve.

It certainly seems like it should be a big deal. I still take a lot of my personal identity from the fact that I'm from small town Saskatchewan, but now it's a matter of being originally from rather than currently from. And I know I won't be in Upper Ashdell Reserve forever, but for here and now... this is home.

Later Days.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Quotations: American Gods

"Galactic Archives: New York was an independent city-state in the northwest of Unistat. It was noted for its malodorous stockyards, its vast motion-picture industry and a huge phallic monument dedicated to 'Washington,' a fertility god who allegedly slept in nearly ever part of Unistat, usually with human women, bringing forth such semi-divine progeny as the gigantic Paul Bunyan, the patriotic General Motors, the trickster-god Nixon and the benign Mickey Mouse, who began as the totem of the city of Disneyland and became the principal divinity of all Unistat." --Schrodinger's Cat, Robert Anton Wilson

Later Days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

High Octane Nightmare Fuel

At least, I think that's the technical term for it according to I was perusing a list of the weirdest videogame endings today, and one of the five endings of the videogame Drakengard made the list. I watched it, and, well, I can't unwatch it. It's not that it's scary, per se, it's just so... disturbing. It's creepy. Really creepy. I think it's the constant gurgling that pushes it over the edge. I'll post it below, but don't watch it unless you're really sure you want to.

You were warned.

I think that I want to track down the game now, just to check whether it's as disturbing in context as it in isolation.

As for what I found disturbing, I think that's pretty obvious. And for once, I think we can turn to Freud as for why: we've got the oral stage gone wrong, mixed with a heavy, heavy dose of the uncanny, because of their proportions if nothing else.

I was so momentarily disturbed by this that I skipped out on going to see Allen's Midnight in Paris; it wasn't until I read a few chapters of the graphic novel Phonogram that I started to feel normal again. So to sum up, I was so disturbed by one type of media that I avoided another type of media, then recuperated with a third type of media and summarized the whole thing on a fourth type of media. That doesn't mean anything, but at least when you're focusing on that sentence, you're not thinking about those things' giant teeth.


Later Days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This might be the geekiest thing I've ever done. That doesn't involve comic books or video games.

I'm in an odd mood. Consequently, here's a list of all the fanfic crossover adventures I found that feature Sam from Quantum Leap by perusing the first dozen or so entries that turned up on Google:
24 / Quantum Leap (1)
Angel / Quantum Leap (1)
Babylon 5 / Quantum Leap (1)
Batman / Quantum Leap (1)
Bewitched / Quantum Leap (1)
Big Wolf on Campus / Quantum Leap (1)
Bones / Quantum Leap (1)
The Borrowers / Quantum Leap (1)
Buffy / Quantum Leap (13)
The Cape/Quantum Leap (1)
Chuck / Quantum Leap (2)
Cupid / Quantum Leap (1)
Dark Shadows / Quantum Leap (2)
Digimon / Quantum Leap (1)
Doctor Who/Quantum Leap (5)
Early Edition / Quantum Leap (1)
Emergency! / Quantum Leap (1)
Enterprise / Quantum Leap (3)
Farscape / Quantum Leap (1)
Fearless / Quantum Leap (1)
Fraiser/ Quantum Leap (1)
Ganma / Quantum Leap (1)
Get Smart / Quantum Leap (1)
The Ghost & Mrs. Muir / Quantum Leap (1)
Ghostbusters/Quantum Leap (1)
Gilligan's Island / Quantum Leap (1)
Glee /Quantum Leap (1)
Greatest American Hero / Quantum Leap (1)
Harry Potter / Quantum Leap (2)
Highlander / Quantum Leap (2)
Highway to Heaven /Quantum Leap (2)
House / Quantum Leap (2)
Incredible Hulk / Quantum Leap (1)
Invisible Man / Quantum Leap (1)
JAG / Quantum Leap (1)
K-PAX / Quantum Leap (1)
Knightmare / Quantum Leap (1)
Knightrider / Quantum Leap (1)
Moulin Rouge / Quantum Leap (1)
NCIS / Quantum Leap (2)
Pirates of the Caribbean / Quantum Leap (1)
Pokemon / Quantum Leap (1)
Popular / Quantum Leap (1)
The Powers of Matthew Star/ Quantum Leap (1)
Psych / Quantum Leap (2)
Roswell / Quantum Leap (1)
Scooby-Doo /Quantum Leap (1)
The Sentinel/Quantum Leap (1)
Seven Days / Quantum Leap (1)
Sliders / Quantum Leap (1)
Star Trek / Quantum Leap (1)
Star Trek: Next Generation / Quantum Leap (1)
Stargate / Quantum Leap (2)
Stargate: Atlantis / Quantum Leap (3)
Starman / Quantum Leap
Supernatural / Quantum Leap (4)
That 70s Show / Quantum Leap (1)
Thunderbirds / Quantum Leap (1)
Touched by an Angel / Quantum Leap (1)
Voyager / Quantum Leap (1)
Wings / Quantum Leap (1)
X-Files / NCIS (1)
Yu-Gi-Oh / Quantum Leap (3)

-Quantum Leap really lends itself well to fan-fiction. Fans can use the show to tell entirely original stories, or they can follow QL's premise and have him show up to "fix" some event in the show that they felt went wrong.
-One of the Doctor Who counts featured Jack, and no doctor, but his connection to the doctor was featured prominently, so I counted it here, rather than Torchwood.
-I opted that multiple stories featuring the same franchices cross-over pairings by the same author count only once ( ex) if samadams wrote two Simpsons/Quantum Leap stories, I'd only count 1) , regardless of whether the author intended for them to take place in the same continuity.
-For crossovers that contain more than two franchises, I'm counting only the most prominent one (besides Quantum Leap). Because, that's why.
-Some people posted the same story in multiple forums (under the same name, I expect, so it's fine), so the count may be off.
-I mixed up Knight Rider with Forever Knight, which really made me yearn for a Forever Knight Rider crossover.
-I always thought there should have been some follow-up of Giles' murder of Glory at the end of Season 5 of Buffy (um, spoiler), so seeing a crossover that dealt with that period gets my interest. I'm not crazy with the direction the author took it, but to each their own.
-Incredible Hulk / Quantum Leap wins for best title, "A Leap into Anger." Frankly, this was not a competition of giants.
-The Next Generation / Quantum Leap gets points for the plot where baddies try to take over the Quantum Leap facility; I suppose the ability to jump would make an interesting weapon.
-For obvious reasons, the Enterprise / Quantum Leap crossover combination is both obvious and brilliant.
-Buffy crossovers are clearly at the high count, but that's because the second site I found was actually a Buffy fanfic site that happened to have some Quantum Leap stories. Before the inflated count, Dr Who was in the lead, with 5. It's not surprising; in DW, we have another show whose nature lends itself to the fanfic crossover, for much the same reasons--he has a reputation for showing up wherever and whenever to fix things. Supernatural also had a very strong showing, and many made good use out of multiple characters named Sam.
-Most obscure: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. Most bizarre: That 70s Show. Most inexplicable: Yu-Gi-Oh. Not in its existence, but in the fact that three different people decided to write a Yu-Gi-Oh/Quantum Leap crossover.
Last, my favorite premise has to be the Quantum Leap / Sliders, in which Dr. Beckett slides not into the character of Quinn Mallory, but into the actor Jerry O'Connell, with the mandate to prevent John Rhys-Davies for being fired in Season 3. I approve.

Later Days.

Public Service Announcement: Free Books!

Recently, I decided that even though I spend a majority of my waking hours on something to do with videogames, that wasn't enough, and vowed to spend some time reading some books that featured videogame journalism, rather than scholarship. Now, while I'm reasonably certain I know what videogames are at this point, journalism is, in my mind, a vague, fuzzy thing. If hard pressed, I'd probably mutter Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson, then quickly change the subject when the person who pressed the subject stared at me in disbelief. Basically, my off-the-cuff understanding of game journalism is that it occupies a space between scholarly accounts of videogames and video game reviews. For a better (ie. accurate) account, I'll point interested parties to Keiron Gillen's The New Games Journalism. Gillen is a video game journalist turned Marvel comic book writer, and, based on the evidence of two short emails, an incredibly nice man when it comes to dealing with random questions from grad students about pieces written three years ago.

Anyway, to extract the main point here, I'm reading books that involve the New Journalism approach to videogames. Specifically, I'm currently reading Jim Rossignol's This Gaming Life. I'm not quite finished, but I will say it's at least good enough that I looked up the publisher, digital culture books. The interesting thing about them is that they offer free online versions of the books they publish. You can click on the link there for the full list, but here's a highlights reel of what I'll be checking out:
Myst and Riven: The World of the D'ni by Mark J. P. Wolf

My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft by Bonnie Nardi

Play Redux: The Form of Computer Games by David Myers

And I understand there's some non-videogame related new media stuff too, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Later Days.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Walrus is a metaphor for a walrus. Also, death.: A Spoileriffic Review of Alice: the Madness Returns

*This review, this spoileriffic review, contains **spoilers.** * Shocking, I know.

Once upon a time, a programmer with big ideas started making games. First, he joined up with a bunch of other programmers to make a studio called id, and they made a lot of games about shooting things very quickly. I'm told people found this appealing.(Snide comments aside, Doom and Quake deserve a lot of credit, for bringing the mod community into the spotlight, for being the first games that really encouraged team playing, and for their technological prowess. And they're to blame for a large part of that "FPS" genre thing.) But one day, the programmer left id for an even bigger company, and made a game with his name in the title: "American McGee's Alice." It was a reasonably solid 3D platform game, but its pull was its aesthetics--it was a twisted version of Alice in Wonderland, with the Mad Hatter as a cyberpunk fellow, the Cheshire Cat as a wrangled, emancipated thing, and Alice recast as a brooding, Slightly Goth Girl. If your audience is slightly geeky teenage boys, you can't go wrong with a Slightly Goth Girl.

The game was released in 2001, and became a cult hit. After a string of average and not-very-good games (again, I say that, but keep in mind that unlike many, McGee is still in the game industry, and has been since he was 22--I'm 28 and I'll get a real job someday, honest), McGee and his team created the sequel, Alice: the Madness Returns, and my brother, because he's that great a guy, bought it for me for my birthday. And after the aforementioned stream of not-very-good games, McGee's return to what made him famous is... above average.

I should probably say that I'm not really the audience for this game, as I wasn't terribly fond of the original. Its art was nice enough, but I wasn't sufficiently skilled at PC platform games to progress far enough into the game to really appreciate it. With a decade to grow on, Alice: the Madness Returns is wiser than its sibling--that is, the designers created an easy difficulty so easy that even a plebe like me can play through it. And the platforming is a lot more solid than I remember it, as well; while there were frustrating sequences, there was nothing so bad that I was certain I could never get past it. The combat's a little nonintuitive. One the one hand, it does encourage you to find different combinations to reach the right one, but on the other hand, there's very little indication why a certain attack would be so much more effective on this particular monster but not on this one. The big problem with the platform stuff is that it gets really repetitive. The first time, for example, that you guide a severed doll head down a ramp, it's gruesomely mesmerizing, but by the fourth time, you just wish you could drop the thing. It's too much of a good thing, every time; there's a segment where you grow giant (not really a spoiler--if there's a Wonderland based game that doesn't involve growing bigger, I'd ask for my money back). It's amazingly freeing at first, but by the time you stomp the fifth army into the ground to get to the third tentacle to get behind it in order to hit the fourth cannon, it turns even the simple joy of giantism into a grind.

Storywise, the game's a direct continuation of the first, though you didn't have to know that to play it. (I sure didn't.) The plot of the first is that Alice's family died in a fire and she is left the only survivor. Institutionalized for madness, she retreats into her old fantasy world, Wonderland. However, her madness has corrupted Wonderland, and she must now slay the Queen of Hearts to exorcise herself, as one does. Alice metaphorically confronted her inner demons, and won the day. Her sanity has returned. Sequel: her sanity has not returned. Moving from asylum to orphanage, she's been undergoing continuous treatment, but it's clear Alice is slipping, despite the efforts of her physician, Dr. Bunby, to make her forget all unpleasant memories. And if you think repression is an odd therapy technique, then you've already gone a long way to unraveling the game's sole mystery, who really set the fire that killed Alice's family. (Hey, I said there will be spoilers.) Alice finds Wonderland corrupted again, and goes on a long quest to stab her way to the bottom of it.

My problems with the story are... many. It's generally told in a compelling way, with cardboard cut-out cutscenes that add a nice "storybook" effect, but it can't disguise the fact that it's really not a very strong story. It's pretty much a straight line from Alice getting suspicious to reaching the villain we suspected all along. A bigger problem is Alice's story is much stronger if you pretend that it ends at the conclusion of the first game; fighting madness over the guilt of accidentally killing your family is poignant. Fighting madness over the guilt of forgetting who you actually witnessed kill them seems like misplaced effort. The biggest problem, for me, is that the use of Wonderland characters felt like it hampered the story rather than helped it. Because of the "twisted" nature of McGee's Wonderland, the characters had to be twisted--it's not just the March Hare, it's the cyborg March Hare! He's not just the Carpenter, he's also a dramaturge theatre director. If you dropped the Wonderland characters entirely, and let the settings of the levels tell the story, you'd still have the stylized 19th century Victorian pieces and the aesthetic of the themed levels, but without having to shoehorn in characters that weren't designed for this anyway.

And that brings me to the aesthetics, which is the game's selling point. This, to put it simply, is a very pretty game. The enemies are sufficiently weird and disturbing, the innocent creatures wretchedly miserable, and even Alice herself doesn't really die--once your health bar (represented by red roses, of course) is extinguished, or you fall (that'll happen a lot), you turn into a flock of butterflies, and fly away. Really. Honestly, it's the most appealing video game death I've seen since Arkham Asylum, where Mark Hamill yells at you. Actually, it might be one of the things I like best about the game--death is frequent, but by making it so tranquil, it removes the sting and makes it easier to progress.

Each level has its own unique aesthetic (though certain elements are pretty obviously reskinned versions of earlier things). The London sequences are clearly the highlight, with its Victorian setting

and stylized characters:

I also have a lot of fondness for the origami ant men, even if they're clearly Oriental stereotypes:

The problem, however, is the same as with gameplay: it all gets repetitive. Every level, from industrial to deep sea to house of cards to dollhouse follows the same basic pattern: it starts off idyllic, grows slightly tainted, and by the end, you're fighting various ruins in a war-torn area. Repeat four times. If the game really wanted to mess with our heads, it would have a level that started chaotic and grew increasingly pristine.

Anyway, I'm afraid I don't have any deeper insight for this one. It sounds like the first game was an interesting psychological exploration, tied to an engine that wasn't really built for platform gaming. The second, in contrast, is good at platforming, struggles a bit storywise, and goes on a little longer than it should. With all the story consisting of either cutscenes or slight movement with only one possible outcome, it seems almost archaic compared to your modern Deus Exes and Mass Effects. You can't fault it for replay value, though--in addition to the time you can spend hunting the secrets of Madness Returns, if you have access to Xbox Live, you can use the code that comes with Madness to unlock the entire original game. (I don't have access, so I didn't. But I appreciate the thought.) Bottom line, fans of the original have something to look forward to. Otherwise... well, I've had worse. At least it's not Kung Fu Panda.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Quotations: Checking Out Triad

"I'm putting this whole fucking town in my rear view." -- Doug MacRay, The Town

And the couples walk by and they give me the eye
But that’s not what I want. I walk
Around the block and never come back one day
I walk around the block and never come back one day.
--"The Couples" by The Long Blondes

(I was going to post a youtube of the song, but the sound quality was just awful. So here's the youtube of another song from the album that I really like. It doesn't really fit with today's theme, but, well, we can't have everything.)

"It could, she thinks, be deeply comforting; it might fee so free: to simply go away. To say to them all, I couldn't manage, you had no idea; I didn't want to try anymore. There might, she thinks, be a dreadful beauty to it, like an ice field or a desert in early morning. She could go, as it were, into that other landscape; she could leave them all behind... in this battered world (it will never be whole again, it will never be quite clean), saying to one another and to anyone who asks, We thought she was all right, we thought her sorrows were ordinary ones. we had no idea.

She strokes her belly. I would never. She says the words out loud in the clean, silent room: 'I would never.'" --The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

Well, that went a little morbid, didn't it?
Have a good weekend, folks!

Later days.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

And miles to go before I... something... something... good night, folks.

Some bullet points conveying my current status:

--Sweet llama of the Bahamas, I'm tired. This one's important, because it flavors what follows. In preparation for the class I start teaching next week, I'm taking steps this week to slowly adjust my sleeping schedule. The first two days went tolerably, but right now, I'm somewhere between "dozing while awake" and "near comatose." The only thing that's granting me any satisfaction is the knowledge that doing this next week would be much, much worse.

--Happy Birthday, Mom! Well, actually, yesterday was my mother's birthday. I phoned her up and we chatted for a bit. Without getting into details, it reminded me how lucky I am to have the family I do and how I should talk to them more.

--No, student, YOU are it! I was torn on what to do for my first class next week. I like to do some sort of meeting exercise in the first class, but I also wanted to relate it to the course's actual subject, digital media studies. I think I stumbled on a way today. I've been reading Richard Coyne's book, The Tuning of Place, which, among other things, joins spatiality with pervasive media using the metaphor of tuning. I'm going to borrow his discussion of tagging to get the students to create "tags" for each other. The details need a little hammering out, but I feel like the core idea is here now.

--Here comes the new group, same as the old group.Sometimes, in all the hustle of undergraduate Frosh Week, we forget that it's Frosh Week for graduate students too. Specifically, after orientation today, the new grad students in our department are herded into a bar with the promise of bonding and social mixing. I went briefly today to get to know them, met a few, and went home. I meant to stay till the end, but honestly, I am so exhausted I couldn't do it. It's strange; this is my fourth "orientation" point, and I remember them being anxiety-ridden. The first time around, it was the "stranger in a strange land" thing, where I didn't know anybody. The next time, it was the awkwardness of how to present myself after I'd just spent a year getting comfortable with the people I knew. This time--it was just something I did. I met a bunch of people who seem perfectly nice, I may or may not get to know them better, and I left with a tired but pleasant glow. Maybe I've become jaded, and no longer put forth the same effort to get to know the newbies. Maybe I've become more socially broadened, and grown more efficient at breaking the ice and subsequent small talk. Or maybe I was just too tired to care one way or other.

Actually, it's probably that last one. They still seem like good people, though.

Later Days!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) waded in. I hope they wore their water-wings.

A university email address that found its way onto multiple spam lists is a gift that just keeps on giving. It gives spam. Or, in this case, it gives me another installment of Spamlysis. Which is now a thing.

The spam in question (it's a long one, so just skim over and I'll present a summary):

Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
FBI-Washington Field Office
601 4th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20535
It has been discovered that your contract/inheritance/winning FUND was about being transferred to an unknown account under your name.This attempt was perpetrated by someone who claims to be working for you, and that you have given him due authority to have the FUND moved to the account specified below:
ABA/ROUTING NUMBER: 1211-71-41-8
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) waded in after being alerted by the supposed bank. We investigated and found that there is a possible money laundering activity in play.The FUND US$10,500,000.00(Ten Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) was found to be deposited in Bank of America in your name pending your consent to have it transferred to the new account indicated above. It was further revealed that initial FUND transfer originated from Nigeria to England and now here in Bank of America in USA.
These transfers did not follow due process in line with the international FUND transfer rules and regulation.Consequently,we suspect this be a terrorism funding, drug related fund deposit and/or money laundering. As stated above, the FUND has your name on it; and you must have it cleared of any connection with any of these illegal activities.Be informed that FAILURE to have this cleared out will attract a JAIL TERM.We will not hesitate to visit the full weight of the law upon you if you do not clear this fund.There is every indication that you are involved in this shady deal.
Finally, you are expected to have the CLEARANCE DOCUMENT obtain from where the FUND originated from to have you and your fund cleared. Only then shall we release your FUND as clean money devoid of any illegality, and you will be free of any involvement. To this end,you are to contact Mr. Henry Evans of the Anti Graft Department of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (E.F.C.C.) Nigeria and have the DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY SEAL of TRANSFER (DIST) CLEARANCE DOCUMENT obtained. Contact him through this direct email: ,Direct Line:+234 8134348502.Note that you have 72hrs to obtain this crucial Documentation.

This has to be cleared!
You are warned!
Faithfully Yours
Robert S. Mueller III
FBI Director
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
FBI-Washington Field Office
601 4th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20535

Essentially, it's an elaboration of the standard Nigerian prince spam, with the added twist being that if I don't respond, the FBI will assume that I'm involved in a terrorist-related money laundering scheme, and prosecute accordingly. In other words, it adds a stick to the existing carrot. It's an interesting twist, but I think it goes too far in complicating the issue. The hook of the Nigerian scam is that it plays on people's willingness to "pull one over" on the poor Nigerian prince by accepting a deal that is more favorable to the addressee than the prince. The FBI tact draws attention to the underhanded nature of the scheme. The FBI thinks it's shady? Of course they do--that's because it's obviously shady whenever someone offers you millions of dollars for nothing. By drawing attention to this aspect so clearly, it may put off those it sought to entice. Rather, I'd argue that the better approach would be to go all stick: acknowledge that Nigerian scam is just a scam, but that the addressee has been implicated in it, and must give out all their personal information to clear their name. Either way, it hinges on the notion that invoking the FBI is a good thing to do, which may not be the case when you're employing an Internet scam the FBI would probably be very interested in.

Three points of fine rhetoric:
1) Nigeria does, indeed, have a Department of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, but there's no word on whether their anti-grafting wing is vigilant enough to be up for the job.
3) They're using the actual director of the FBI, which is its own level of chutzpah. But I'm not sure he sends out these emails personally. No word on whether Mr. Henry Evans is still with the Nigerian group, but according to Google, he is the recipient of the 2000 World Champion award in Card magic.

Later Days.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This Ain't Your Harraway's Cyborg Part 1 (of 24)

sidenote: I updated the bio info today. So... yeah. Be sure to spend 15-30 seconds perusing that.

I think it's safe to say that, shopping trips aside, the blog's in a bit of a rut as of late. Sure, I could spice things up with more exciting Real Life stories, or up the review ante. But let's face it: that's old hat. No, if I'm going to continue to court the rapidfire, quick-witted reader response that I so crave, I must continue to undertake bold new directions in hard-hitting blog writing.

So we're doing a 24 part series on season 2 of The Bionic Woman.

Okay, let's start a step back there. Recently, I acquired Season 2 of The Bionic Woman. I received it largely because I was slightly less disinterested in the series than its previous owner. I've never seen a single episode of the show, nor its progenitor series, The Six Million Dollar Man. In fact, the only things I know about either comes from an episode of Venture Bros where the Million Dollar Man runs off with a bigfoot to start a new life together. Oh, and that sound they make when they use their bionic powers.

Yeah, that's the stuff.

So I'm going into this 1977 production with a clean slate. Let's see what we find, shall we?
Episode: The Return of Bigfoot (Six Million Dollar Man crossover)
Amazing Action Sequence: Sasquatch and Steve Austin's "Battle Around a Girder."
Sparkling Dialogue: "Steve? Have I done something to upset you?"
Synopsis: Steve Austin follows the trail of a alien-controlled cybernetic sasquatch who's stealing components for a magnetic superforcefield, until his investigations are impeded by a bad case of falling girder.
Close detail: -The discs begin with an episode from another series entirely; that's right, season 2 of the Bionic Woman begins with part 2 of a crossover started in another show. It's very comic-book like. That means our 24 part series has already become 25 parts, but I'm thoroughly pleased that, given my Venture Bros. experience, that we're starting things off with the Bigfoot connection.

-The action starts with a theft from the Federal Gold Depository by a shadowy, furry figure that breaks in by pushing his way through a brick wall. Poor construction practices aside, what exactly does Bigfoot plan on doing with this money? Everyone knows Sasquatches have a primarily barter-based economy.

-The next scene has Steve Austin combing the site for clues. Lee Majors is looking appropriately manly, with a Tom Sellic mustache and a shirt half-unbuttoned, revealing a similarly manly chest of hair. Which raises the question, who's the real Bigfoot here?

-Some telescopic infrared vision reveals a big ol' footprint outside, and triggers a flashback to a Native American explaining the Bigfoot concept.

-And then we have the opening bit. It explains the premise: "Steven Austin. An astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster." I appreciate the recap, but that must have gotten a little tiresome, week after week.

-The 6MDM runs towards the screen. I feel like this happens a lot. He follows it up with a jump over a van, because he can. Then the shirt comes off. Hello, Lee Majors. A woman (a bionic woman) watches moodily from above. She asks another scientist if Austin has been moody lately, and greets the cyborg coming in with her concerns: "Steve? Have I done something to upset you?" Oh, Jaime. Your body may be futuristic, but your feminism is a little outdated. At any rate, he's been thinking about the bigfoot. She invites him to "go for a walk" to get his mind off things, and they change it into a slow motion bionic run. He's wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, while she's in a sweater and pants. It just seems odd, is all I'm saying. A mystery woman watches from behind a tree.

-Austin suddenly remembers running bionically with some other person. Jamie: "Well Steve, there just aren't any other women to run with." She automatically assumes it was a woman--she's right, but it still seems like Steve's robot girlfriend is the jealous type. They spot the woman with bionic powers, but she disappears. Does Jamie have bionic hearing and Austin bionic sight? It seems like you wouldn't want to make your million dollar cyborgs so that they'd have to work with someone else to be efficient.

-The woman reappears in Austin's room. He's keeping the cast of Bigfoot's, uh, foot, on the dining room table and is staring at it contemplatively, which isn't weird at all. The woman from the last scene reappears. She's Gillian. She returns his memory. In a flashback, it turns out she and hers sent him to fight the Bigfoot last year, and it also turned out to be a robotic perversion of modern science, like him. He followed it back to the base, and was captured. There, he met Shalon, and, judging from the flashback, she had a passionate affair with his unconscious body. They were deep space explorers, operating out of a remote mountainous location. Yes, that makes sense. Austin and the Sasquatch save the compound, and in reward, they erase his memory. It's essentially an extended flashback scene. Back now, Gillian explains that she's got a TLC. No, not the maternal type--it's a Time Line Convertor, that allows you to slow down or speed up the passage of time. Exactly why she felt it necessary to use this rather than, say, knock on his door, is left unsaid. Anyway, the reason for her visit: a splinter group of "explorers" has radioed the mothership with instructions that they're all contaminated, and should be abandoned. "They want to enjoy the fruits of this planet and have dominion over it." The sasquatch is with the dominion-types, and so they came for Austin's help.

-The sasquatch moves some boxes around for some... men. They are dressed... well, fabulously is the easiest way to put it. They are each wearing bright-colored pantsuits(purple, yellow, pink) with sparkling kerchiefs around their necks. It's kind of amazing. They're taking their plans to the next level.

-Apparently, the next level is an emerald theft. Nedlick (the splinter group's leader) forces the cyborg sasquatch to attack a guard, using Shalon's safety as a threat. The sasquatch tosses around the security guard, cyborg style. The guy is moving around, and is very plainly alive. Considering that he was attacked purely to remove witnesses, it's all rather sloppy.

-Next scene: Austin and a man in a tweed suit examine the crime. Austin is evasive, and the tweed is suspicious--especially since the vault was forced open with bionic-level strength. I predict a Bionic Woman vs. Bionic Man misunderstanding battle by act 3.

-Austin ponders that the thefts are components in some electronic device. Because only the most expensive metals are worth using in a proper 70s mad science device. Gillian tries to contact Gillian via her watch radio, but she lacks the power. Austin bionically twists a fire poker to act as an antenna. It happens very slowly, which makes it more impressive, I guess. Another fabulously dressed man answers, and calls Shalon over. She thinks they're building a phase-lock magnaton. It's a magnetic forcefield. And all they need to complete their nefarious defensive device is a radioactive isotope of boron-3, and some titanium. And they need to get the power convertor back to Shalan. Man, these deep space explorers--never satisfied.

-At any rate, this info allows Steve to set up an ambush for the Sasquatch at the power plant where boron is isotoped (that, I believe, is the technical term). Why exactly, a group with the power to slow down and speed up time must force a cybernetic sasquatch to do their crimes for them is left unsaid. (All right, they do make a point of mentioning that time powers don't unlock doors, but it seems like there would be ways around that.) Austin uses his bionic powers to jump a fence, and run fast. Again.

-Inside, the sasquatch is confronted by Austin, and Bigfoot has a flashback reminding him that the two are best buddies. Nedlick is having none of that. The sasquatch smashes Austin into a bunch of barrels. Outside, Gillian is spotted by Nedlick, because she's not very good at hiding in the dark. Austin slow-motions it after the Sasquatch, and is thrown across a room. The Sasquatch throws a barrel of boron at him, and Austin deflects it into a security guard. Oh, Austin. He then tries again to stop a fleeing sasquatch, and is thrown into a stack of empty "fragile" cardboard boxes. The guards get there and arrest Austin--presumably walking past the sasquatch taking their boron out for a stroll on their way over.

-Tweed and Scientist read Austin the riot act. "And one guard says--and I quote--"he saw you throw a steel drum at him. Can you believe that?" That the guard would phrase it like that? No, Tweed, I do not. Tweed didn't want to believe it, but "who else could throw a steel drum?" Well, if there was a s much in it as the "fragile" boxes, I'd imagine most people. Austin complains that he didn't throw it at him, he just tossed it into the space the guard was occupying. Bionic woman eavesdrops nearby. Austin comes clean--space people, time-controlling, sasquatch herding, splinter groups, magnetic forcefields. They're not having it. He's under house arrest. He's not having that, and jumps out a window. 90% of all bionic behavior involves either jumping or running. Or, on rare occasion, the running jump.

-Nedlick knows Austin's coming, following the radioactive traces that imaginary boron-3 leaves. He plans on framing Austin. Austin's following the trace in a helicopter, which he has apparently stolen on his new crime spree. Nedlick gives the plan: they're leading Austin here, then out with a new boron trail to their next crime scene, where the sasquatch, with new and improved bionic strength, will finish off Steve Austin once and for all. And he misses a perfectly good opportunity for a maniacal laugh.

-Sasquatch runs in slow motion and jumps, all in the name of acquiring that sweet titanium alloy. Austin lands, and slow motion chases the sasquatch. The sasquatch reluctantly squares off. Austin completely fails to dodge the first titanium cannister, and falls. Sasquatch 23-skidoos. Austin moves a 50 000 pound box in front of the door. We know it's 50 000 pounds, because the box is conveniently labeled as such. I imagine that convenient labels are as much a staple of these shows as slow motion. Sadly, it's all for naught, as the sasquatch pushes the door open as if the box was entirely empty. Nedlick, he of the odd name, forces Sasquatch to attack. Austin dodges. He then does the exact thing again, but Sasquatch grabs him , tosses him aside, and seizes a high voltage pipe to wield as a bat. Not one to be beaten in street-fighting bricolage, Austin grabs a lid to use as an impromptu shield. S beats it aside, and a girder falls on Austin. I've watched this scene twice, and I have no idea where this girder comes from.

-Apparently, they recovered the body, and Jamie asks Tweed about the rumors of Austin's new life of crime. Tweed: "I don't want to believe it's true, but I can't help facing the facts." Jaime offers a compelling counterpoint: "Oh, c'mon." Tweed sticks to the theory that Steve knocked a girder on himself, which sounds just slightly more believable than the alien sasquatch story. Scientist gives the verdict: Steve is irradiated, and will probably die in the next 24 hours. Unless, of course, he receives some sort of hypothetical superdrug like the one the splinter group stole from the main base.

-Jaime goes to see his weakened form, and he sends her after Shalan. End episode.

Next week? Jaime slow-motion listens a lot, I imagine.

Later Days.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Quotations: It's like God as a Watchmaker, if the watch was full of griefers.

“The gamer is not really interested in faith, although a heightened rhetoric of faith may fill the void carved out of the soul by the insinuations of gamespace. The gamer’s God is a game designer. He implants in everything a hidden algorithm. Faith is having the intelligence to intuit the parameters of this geek design and score accordingly. All that is righteous wins; all that wins is righteous. To be a loser or a lamer is the mark of damnation. When you are a gamer, you are left with nothing to believe in but your own God-given abilities.” --McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory

Later Days.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stuff I'm Doing

The basic remit of The Simpsons is to present a familiar, common experience in the backdrop of some outlandish premise. While the show has mixed up that balance a bit in recent years (ex) Bart sells secrets to the Chinese government because Homer won't buy him a new bike), back in the day, when it did things right, it felt very familiar. In Season 9 Episode 24, "Lost Our Lisa," Lisa is taken down a peg when she realizes that, despite her precautions to the contrary, she has inadvertently gotten on the wrong bus. The show really does a good job portraying her growing anxiety as she realizes she's desperately lost.

Today, I realized the same thing.

It started with getting metaphorically lost. Today, I did something I do very, very rarely: I went to the mall to try on some new clothes. Specifically, new jogging shorts. At the beginning of this jogging season, I had three pairs of jogging shorts, each a few years old. The first two succumbed rather quickly to holes and tears. The last pair persevered, briefly, but finally the holes (and smells--don't use a single pair of running shorts, folks) convinced me it was time to face my nemesis.

And nemesis it is. The mall is the Moby Dick to my Ahab, and like Ahab, I responded by staying away from it at all costs. (Okay, I never read Moby Dick.) I hate traveling out of my way to get there. I hate depending on strangers for help with shoes and changes rooms. I hate looking at myself in the mirror and deciding whether these clothes suited my personality, and then having to decide what my personality was and whether I had one. Really, every shopping experience is an existential crisis waiting to happen.

But I went. Reluctantly, sluggishly, I went. I walked through the grocery store, and bought Portobello Burgers (which they don't sell at the closer grocery store, than you very much, Sobeys). I went to the GameStop and pointedly did NOT buy a game (which took a lot of the willpower I'd reserved for the clothes, sadly). And then, armed with my $100 gift certificate (thanks for the birthday present folks! Even if it was for the 2010 birthday. Did I mention I really avoid shopping?), I stormed in, bought two pairs of shorts, and left. I don't want to talk about prices, because 1) It's Sportcheck and 2) I think I overpaid, but let's just say there's not much of that giftcard left.

And then I had to take a bus back to the University, in which case I felt literally lost. Taking buses is still a new experience for me. September 2010 marked the first time I had a proper bus pass, and I still look at them with suspicion. I mean, pay money to get somewhere you can get with your own two feet? That's some racket, buddy. But at the same time, I recognize that they supply me with a mobility that even the bike doesn't. Coming out from the mall, I didn't know which bus to take. I'd taken the express line there, but I was fairly sure it didn't go back the same way (which, thinking on it now, is ridiculous; I know that express route, and it absolutely goes back that way). And the 9, my next safe bet, wasn't coming for another half hour. So, I got on to an unknown bus, the 31 line and hoped for the best.

I was reading for the first few minutes, so I didn't actually notice until a good way into the ride that I had no idea where I was. The street signs were unfamiliar, the streets foreign, and the people on the bus weren't students (most of my bus rides are to and from the university. Including this one, since the university is a bus hub. So I'm used to mostly seeing students for fellow passengers.) I felt like I'd stepped out from the world I knew into one I didn't. I thought I was working inside a system I knew, a system I had mastered, but I was faced with the realization that the world was more complex than I knew, that the city I thought I had understood had layers that were beyond my experience. I felt humbled, and disturbed. I felt lost. In short, and I'm not too proud to say this, I felt like a spikey-haired, yellow-skinned eight year old.

And then the bus turned up into a street I knew, and then we pulled up to the university, and I got on another bus and went home.

Sadly, the happy ending is rarely the narratively interesting turn.

Later Days.