Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bibliophile: Looking for Love in all the Wrong Genres at University College of the North

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye 

I'm having my wisdom teeth removed Wednesday morning. Which, given my body's typical state of recovery, means the rest of that week is shot. And Tuesday's shot thanks to a tour I'm going on for out-of-academia job opportunities (because post-graduates must take what they can get), the end of the class I'm sitting in on (always fun to watch projects I don't have to do), a meeting with my supervisor (in which I explain that I won't be working on that dissertation thing until the teeth are better), and shopping (for some non-chew-heavy food). I'm pretty thankful for Monday, which is obviously against the natural order of things.

But you're not here for that. You're here for the books. Let the books be our guide. 

This week, we're touring the new books at Manitoba's University College of the North. The tour begins after the break.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie Buff: Eat Your Heart Out, Breakfast Club

The Perks of Being a Wallflower. No insightful commentary.  No weighty criticism.  Damn, that was a good movie.

Later Days.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Quotations: Free Market Experience Points

"The paper grounds its argument in Foucault's lectures on biopolitics and liberalism (Sennelart, 2008) and Beck's work on the contemporary risk society (Beck, 2009) to focus on the mediation of the CRPG narrative. If, as McLuhan argues (McLuhan, 1994, 235), games function as faithful models of culture, then we should be able to examine the CRPG for its modeling of late twentieth- and early twenty-first century forms of rationality." Andrew Baerg, "Risky Business: Neo-liberal Rationality and the Computer RPG," in Dungeons, Dragons, and Digital Denizens: The Digital Role-Paying Game. Gerald A, Voorhees, Joshua Cal and Katie Whitlock, eds. P 154.

You know it's a quotation from an academic book when the citation is nearly as long as the quotation.

Later Days.

Movie Buff: The Family Stone

The Family Stone.  Everett Stone brings his girlfriend Meredith Morton home for X-Mas to meet the family. Hilarity ensues. First off, the film's got a pretty good cast:  Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson as the head of the Stone family; Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams numbering among the children, Sarah Jessica Parker as Meredith, and Claire Danes as Meridith's sister Julie (and Paul Schneider as McAdams' ex-boyfriend). That's a nice ensemble. And the start of the plot works well; anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed and outnumbered by their significant other's family can relate to Meredith, even while acknowledging that part of the problem is that she won't loosen up. And we sympathize with the family, too, for having to recalibrate to this stranger in their midst. Then Meredith calls in Julie for moral support, and things go... astray. Julie instantly connects with the family, and she and Everett have a pretty good spark too. Meredith has a break-down and then loosens up in subsequent bar drinking with Wilson's character, Ben. The switcheroo is pretty predictable, from more or less the moment Julie appears on the scene. The actors do fine with what they're given, but in the end, it's a little saccharine for my tastes.

I don't mind disgustingly sweet endings, or improbable courses of events--as long as the piece of fiction in question earns them. I don't feel that The Family Stone did. Part of the problem, for me, is that we don't see enough of what brought Everett and Meredith together in the first place--we hear the story, but we don't see the history, not in the way they respond to each other, not in how easy they fall for other people. And while the Stone family relations are reasonably fleshed out, I never get a sense of how Meredith and Julie relate to each other--at least, not enough of one to describe how they turned out so different. The movie seems to ask you to just go aong with it, and that's not enough for my tastes.

Later Days.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bibliophile: Kickin' It With Kids At Brandon University

 “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood 

This is Bibliophile.
Gotta lot of balls in the air at the moment. There's the shiny new dissertation chapter, for which I have to replay Myst and DOOM, and re-read Mark J. P. Wolf's book on Myst, and Kushner's book on DOOM, respectively. There's a guest lecture on fantasy and games that I agreed to do on Wednesday that I need to plan, for which I've decided--inspired by two recent posts elsewhere--to spend some time talking about assassins and choice in the Elder Scrolls series. There's the list of core game studies books that I'm supposed to be putting together for my RA position this term. There's the choice of what textbook to use for the course I'm teaching next term.  And then there's this Bibliophile entry, which I feel obligated to do after skipping last week to do other extensive, largely thankless searches for books.  So let's get to it, then.

We're done with our tour of the British Columbia universities, and thus moving into the next province, alphabetically: Manitoba.  Manitoba?  Really?  That's a lot of unused letters for starting provinces.  We should add a few more: Declund.  Farbank. Highlandian Crescents. Jigguraut. Lameant.  And so forth.  Or we could just start the Bibliophile.  The discussion of new books at Brandon University starts after the break.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Quotations: Bonk is a small village in Uberwald.

I might have actually used this one before, and it's fairly long, but it's stuck with me for years, so it bears repeating. From the opening of Terry Pratchett's Thud!:

"The first thing Tak did, he wrote himself.
"The second thing Tak did, he wrote the Laws.
"The third thing Tak did, he wrote the World.
"The fourth thing Tak did, he wrote a cave.
"The fifth thing Tak did, he wrote a geode, an egg of stone.

"And in the twilight of the mouth of the cave, the geode hatched and the Brothers were born.
"The first Brother walked towards the light, and stood under the open sky. Thus he became too tall. He was the first Man. He found no Laws, and he was enlightened.
"The second Brother walked towards the darkness, and stood under a roof of stone. Thus he achieved the correct height. He was the first Dwarf. He found the Laws Tak had written, and he was endarkened.
"But some of the living spirit of Tak was trapped in the broken stone egg, and it became the first troll, wandering the world unbidden and unwanted, without soul orpurpose, learning or understanding. Fearful of light and darkness it shambles for ever in twilight, knowing nothing, learning nothing, creating nothing, being nothing...
"--From 'Gd Tak 'Gar' (The Things Tak Wrote) trans. Prof. W. W. W. Wildblood, Unseen University Press, AM$8. In the original, the last paragraph of the quoted text appears to have been added by a much later hand."

I still roll my eyes a bit on the "endarkened" part, but the overall passage is great; it really establishes the prejudice between the dwarfs and the trolls, which is the main subject for this particular book.

Later Days.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Game Design: You Can't Go Back

I recently had a busy Saturday morning, filled with playing videogames and reading criticism on videogames. It's vastly different from my weekday routine, where I play videogames, read criticism, and feel guilty about not writing more. With this post, I'm hoping to kill two birds with one stone: a little writing on game design, and a little link sharing of pieces I find particularly worth people's attention. So: discussion of space and non-progression narratives, after the break.

Work in Progress: Nitsche's Video Game Spaces

I haven't done a Work in Progress post in a while.  Since they're basically copying and pasting notes I already have, they're pretty easy to do. So I figured I'd do one.  This particular one is from chapter 9 of Michael Nitsche's Video Game Spaces, "Effects of Narrative Filters." It's fairly brief, in comparison to a lot of these note summaries. And it mentions Sands of Time, God of War, and American McGee's Alice, if that entices you.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

If It Takes Me Four Straight Hours of Research on a Sunday, I'll post it, whatever it is

So I totally meant to be posting a Bibliophile post today.  But, I got sidetracked by another project: I've been putting together a list of books related to game studies that are coming out this year. Since there is no easy way to search for these, I put together a list of all publishers who have published game studies books that I know of, and searched through their upcoming books list.  It's a lot like putting together a Bibliophile post, actually.  It's very time-consuming, you're certain there's a better way to do it, and when you're done, you have a list of things you don't have time to read.  That list, then, follows the break.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Quotations: I Got 99 Problems, and A Lavos Is One

This is really more a link than a quotation per se, but allow me to justify the choice: I really, really like these songs.

Basically, if you mention the phrase "Chrono Trigger," you have my interest.

Later Days.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bibliophile: Back in the Game at Vancouver Island U

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
― C.S. Lewis

This is Bibliophile.

I've skipped Bibliophile for two weeks now; in my defense, they really, really take a long time to do. And between Demon's Souls and Magical Diary, I've been way too busy going to Prom and fighting leech demons to bother. But familiarity with what's new in the academic world of books isn't going to create itself, so here we are.

For those new to the blog, the idea behind Bibliophile is that I peruse the new books acquired by a Canadian university, and comment on the ones that appeal to me.  It's a tough job, but no one really has to do it.  As always, a bold H marks the books that are also in my local university library system. Join me for a glimpse into Vancouver Island University, after the break.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Quotations: When Second Dates Go Bad

"Push me again, mock me again, little girl. I will keep you so very safe. I will protect you in the depths of the darkest dungeon until your giggling school chums have forgotten your very name. I can make you disappear."

Tough love, in Magical Diary.

Later Days.

Game Ponderings: Demon's Souls and Hub and Spoke

Around when I realized I'd be hitting the venerable 800 posts, I've been thinking about what I've wanted to use this blog for. One of my conclusions is that I want to get more use out of it as a "work blog"--that is, as a place to think out loud about issues relating my studies. To that end, after the break, I've got a brief piece on Demon's Souls and the important of the hub and spoke in game design.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Check it Out


1) I just had a review published on First Person Scholar, of Utopic Dreams and Apocalyptic Fantasies: Critical Approaches to Researching Video Game Play (2010, 286 pages) edited by Talmadge J. Wright, David G. Embrick, and Andras Lukacs. Check it out here. 2) My proposal for a piece on gothic videogames has been accepted into an anthology. Print publication: scholarly respectability at last. 3) This is the blog's 800th post. How about that. Later Days.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Me vs. The I-Phone

I took the Xpress bus home today, because it goes right by my local library.  It means a longer walk home from the library, but I had a book that was being recalled--Too Many Curses by Gil Martinez.  I won't be doing a full book review, so here goes the quick version: Wizard with a castle full of various monsters dies, and his kobold apprentice is left to hold things together.  Good premise, but the execution is a little pondering.

But that's not the focus here anyway. The story really begins after I return the book, and decide to take out another one.  I try to scan my library card, but the barcode is too faded. So I go up to the librarian, and she tells me that I need to replace my card, which is what I figured.  Then she told me that replacement will be $3.  That's kind of annoying, since it's not my fault their cards use ink that fades fairly easily, but well, it's only three dollars, and I value the service the library provides.  So I pay up.  Then this happens:

"Are you still at XXX St?"
"Oh, no, I'ved moved. I'm at YYYYYYY Ave now."
"Well, then, we'll need to see a proof of address to issue you a new card."

This is not a new problem.  And I am still a student living in a building where the landlord takes care of the utilities, I don't have cable, and my phone bill is about three addresses behind at this point. So the only proof of address I have is the original lease.  And I certainly didn't bring that with me, since I wasn't expecting this problem to begin with. But--and imagine a lightbulb appearing over my head--I did have my iPhone. I could just present the digital lease copy that the landlords sent me.

And this is where the nightmare proper begins.

I barely ever use my phone to surf the Net.  I try to limit my use of online things except when I'm on a local network, and if I'm on a local network, I generally just use the laptop anyway.  So it takes me a little bit to locate the university website. Then a bit longer to figure out how to get to the email (our university has a fairly stupid web layout, and I usually just use the autofill on the address bar of my laptop to get to my mail). Then I have to log in, which takes a few attempts because it's not easy to switch back and forth between  capital letters and small case letters on the iPhone, in order to type the password. Then it's a simple matter of searching through 4000+ emails to find the one from my landlord.  Problem is--and I had no way of knowing this going in--the iPhone version of my university's email system doesn't have a search bar under the default minimal settings.  Or, as I eventually determine, regular settings.  Finally, I find a search option, but it only lists the first seven emails that contain the name of my landlords on the immediate screen, and I can't control the drag bar on the side because every time I touch it, the iPod thinks I've touched the edge of the screen and scrolls down on the main window rather than this sub window.  I also  take time to spend a moment cursing the fates, that my landlords' last name is also a very common regular noun, and is thus found in no less than 360 of my emails.  Of course, searching for them in the "from" category rather than "body" would have found them immediately, but the iPhone version of the email site doesn't have that option.  So I get the idea to sort all my emails alphabetically, and look for them that way.  Good idea, but the execution is slow: the option for next page is right above the option for previous page, and again, even enlarged, the links are too small for me to not hit the wrong one about one time in three. And when I get to the appropriate letter, I figure out that the email sorter is taking a very liberal perspective on the term "alphabetically sorted"--in short, their emails aren't where they should be.  So I set it back to chronological order, and start going through each page of emails--starting with 1 of 247.  Finally, after a good dozen or so pages, I realize that I can skip ahead by changing the number in the address bar. Starting on page 124 and dividing the remaining entries in two every time, I eventually whittle the correct email page down to 101. And I find the email.  And I open it. "Here's the lease, Michael!" and the attachment.

This is when I realize that I can't open attachments on my iPhone.

I explain all of this to the librarian, at great, great length, and eventually she lets me sign out one book, probably to get me to leave.

The worst part is, I can't even hate the phone, because thanks to it, I got to snap some pictures of a bad-ass snowman I passed on the way home:

These photos don't really demonstrate the scale of the snowman--my head came about up to the top of the middle ball.  He's a big fella.

To sum up:  Snowmen good.  Phones good for pictures.  Phones not good for library.

Later Days.

*EDIT: Crap, I just realized I had my laptop with me the whole time. I could have opened it up, logged on, and shown the attachment in under two minutes.  You know.... some days....

Friday, March 1, 2013

What I'm Playing: Girl Games and Hard as Nails

Quick post of the games I've been playing recently.  First up: during reading week, I was all about Magical Diary.

This is a game where you play a 16 year old girl who has just been drafted into a school for magic. The game is a visual novel with a simulation add-on, which basically means that the main game is choosing between text-based options, and deciding which type of magic classes you will go to in a given week.  The effect the simulation has on the game is somewhat subtle. At seven points in the game, your character is put in a dungeon, and told to find her way out. Exactly how she can get out depends on not just your own discretion, but also the spells she's learned up to that point.  For example, if I didn't have Dispel Illusions for one, I wouldn't have been able to tell where the exit was--unless there was some other spell that could help me. While the dungeon parts feel rather crude (it's first person visuals, which is not the game's strong point), I did like the idea that there were always multiple solutions, if you had the resources to find them.
But the simulation is basically just a model the game is cast around.  The real core is the choices, and the choices revolve around how your budding witch is dealing with her social life. As the cover picture suggests, her potential romances play rather heavily into these considerations.  And it's around the time I'm flirting with a teenage bad boy demon that I realize this game is a bit off the beaten trail from the usual thing.  But in a really good way.  This isn't my first visual novel, but this is the first that allowed a female protagonist and refused to be exploitative of either her or the rest of the cast.  There's always something very strange about playing a game that allows relationships; we can kill hundreds of things, critters, and people in games, but when we realize we're trying to manipulate virtual characters emotionally, things get uncomfortable--for me, at least.  And that did happen here, but it was also at the point when I realized that I cared about what happened to these characters, which took off some of the burden.  That's effective writing.  And while the plot borrows very, very liberally from a certain other wizard school based series, it is its own thing as well, in large part because of its female protagonist. (Incidentally, the default name for our spell-slinging heroine is Mary Sue, which is both awesome and indicative of the game's humor.) I think what I liked the most about the game was that it's a visual novel that manages to do high school romance without indulging in that nastiness that pervades a lot of Japanese-made games with similar plots.

The other game is... Demon's Souls. Dammit, Demon's Souls.

This one will be a little faster, as I'm still playing the game, and still figuring out what I think about it. Demon's Souls is the first game in the Souls series; it sold moderately well and its sequel, Dark Souls, was a bonafide hit. The game's essentially a hack and slash, where you go up against some incredibly difficult foes building up to a boss often of the proportions shown above. It is a HARD game. The monsters are fairly merciless, the save points are few and far between, and the deaths come frequently.  That's where the game's money system comes in. Whenever you die, all the "dark souls" (the game's currency) you've collected get dropped with your corpse. All the enemies then respawn, and you can fight your back to the body and reclaim the lost souls--but if you die on the way there, those souls are gone forever.  It creates a double tension; whenever you have a large number of souls, you start panicking about getting back with the souls you've managed to accrue, and whenever you die, you start panicking that you can't get close enough to get the souls before dying again.

It's been really interesting to play, because the game does such a nice job pitting you between joy and despair.  My first playthrough, I quickly got to a point where I thought the game was absolutely beyond me.  I couldn't get past the bosses (or even to the bosses) that I had access to, and my weapons were degrading at a rate that seemed faster than I could accumulate souls to repair them, let alone put the souls toward healing potions or other desperately needed items.  So I started over, and this time, I realized that if I farmed the monsters directly around a save point, I'd could... well, I still died a lot, but my corpse was so close to the start that I could retrieve it easily and build up a stockpile of souls.  I got a few good rounds, bought some good armor, and, miracle upon miracle, actually got better at the game. And that's the secret of Demon's Souls success, I think; it forces you to develop these ad hoc strategies for dealing with a hostile world.

Two games, both based in a magical world, but wildly, incredibly different. Glad I got a chance to play them both.

Later Days.

Friday Quotations: I think, by the rules of this idea, a charity is roughly the equivalent of the lady with a house full of cats, but you replace the cats with people

"It is pretty clear to anyone who’s paying attention that 1. a marketplace regime of firms dedicated to maximizing profit has—broadly speaking—added a lot of value to the world 2. there are a lot of important cases where corporate profit maximization causes harm to humans 3. corporations are—broadly speaking—really good at ensuring that their needs are met.
What if the private pursuit of profit was—for a long time—proximate to improving the lot of humans but not identical to it? What if capitalism has gone feral, and started making moves that are obviously insane, but also inevitable? " --Quiet Babylon.

This is part of a (slightly) larger argument that the Singularity--the production of sentient entities born of human creations that are self-sustaining but definitely not human--has happened, and it happened when people created corporations.  As a thought experiment, or a series of sci-fi/surrealist stories, I quite like that notion.  It reminds me of the Community episode where Subway is allowed to corporalize itself in human form in order to be a legal student of Greendale, and own a business in Greendale's cafeteria.  Fun!

Later Days.