Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You see that mountain? There's a story on it. Now go find it. - A bit of stuff about games, The Elder Scrolls, and Skyrim

Out of the gate, Skyrim has been hailed as a universal success.  Its rating on metacritic, that holy guarantor of quality and vigor, is something like 95 or 96 out of a 100.  You probably don't need me to tell you that Skyrim is good.  What I would like to do is highlight exactly why it is good, and give any gamers stubbornly clinging to Oblivion or Morrowind a polite clap on the ear, to hopefully wake them up.

I'd like to ask a searching question.  What, in the most basic sense, is the promise offered by each and every videogame?  The answer, I think, is simple, dictated by the interactive aspect of the medium: "if you play this game, you will not only be able to enter into a world specific to your interests, but you will furthermore be able to affect it and bring your own cognitive power to this world in order to experience this world according to your own desires, rather than that of, say, an author's."

That is, essentially, what is being suggested when that controller is put into your hand.  When you gain access to the power to change what you see on the screen, you are now leveraging for control of the media you are engaging in.

As we all know, that promise rarely, if ever, delivers wholesale.  There are little obstacles, sometimes very large obstacles, between your capacity to change the game world and the actual experience you receive.  Those barriers, disruptive to the very spirit of gaming and yet nearly impossible to avoid, are something we've learned to work with.  We are told the restraints of the game, what we can or cannot do, and operate within them.  And so our choice narrows.

At this juncture, the promise of gaming changes from "I may do whatever I want in this world" to "I may do whatever I want in this world, as long it is less than X and greater than Y."  In some ways, this is natural.  Complete freedom to do whatever one might want would disrupt any narrative gesture on behalf of the game, and I argue that we do appreciate a narrative in a game, even though in the same instance, the natural urge to push the game to the limits of what it will allow can disrupt that narrative.  Who, while reading a novel, does not root for a character, and silently judge their actions and advise them?  That is natural.  But when those novels cave to the simplest desires of the reader, they become trite and uninteresting.  Look, for instance, at George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, which has recently achieved pop culture status.  What is compelling about the fiction he presents is that it does not cater to what its audience expects, and instead offers up a vastly more fascinating narrative venture.

Now, imagine that you are playing a game set in Martin's universe.  I won't go into specific spoilers, but if you were playing through scenes where a memorable character was about to die, the player would want some sense of control, to be able to stop those deaths and prove themselves the champion, and so on: but it would cripple the narrative.  An author's advantage is that they can acknowledge that while the characters in the narrative may suffer and be exposed to undesirable circumstances, this will in fact produce a more compelling narrative.  When we are directly invested in the fiction--as a reader, viewer of a film, or a gamer--we struggle to find that same distance.  Games, then, which endeavor to provide any narrative experience, must navigate that divide, between our natural want for control, and the fact that when given that control, someone with a self-interested investment in a story will, inevitably, make it more predictable and less interesting.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that I think that there are two paths that games can choose in order to conquer this fundamental difficulty: a game can either become dictatorial, dictating to the player what to do, what their character says, and where they go, in the name of narrative (a fine example of this succeeding--because I do not suggest that this form of game narrative is entirely inferior--is Final Fantasy X); or a game can become emergent, to borrow a term from Peter Molyneux, who, though much maligned, has a fairly decent head on his shoulders for what gamers want, even though he might not always succeed in making his theoretical ideas a reality.  Emergent gameplay, in short, is described as a complex situation which emerges from the interaction of simple mechanics: I would go a step further, and call it a compelling narrative moment which emerges in the space between the player's internal narrative and the gameplay which the game offers to support that narrative.  This latter category, thriving on those narrative moments, has always been the focus of the games in The Elder Scrolls series (finally, you say, he gets to the point!).

The promise is in the friggin' game manual: the Elder Scrolls promises to let you be who you want, how you want.

However, this process will be necessarily complicated.  If players were just thrust into a world with no quests to explore, I imagine they'd get quite bored: in this sense each Elder Scrolls game has needed a dictatorial framework in which those emergent moments may exist.  The measure of success in any Elder Scrolls game, and any game in general, I would argue, is the intentional submerging of that dictatorial framework, making it nearly invisible, so that the focus is not on what you are being told, but what you are doing.

Morrowind, for instance, is often praised for offering a wealth of unique materials, in contrast to the earlier Elder Scrolls games which featured randomized content.  What are those unique materials and locations?  Things with a specific narrative.  Items which dictate their history to you.  The abundance of unique quest material in Morrowind, material which is dictatorial in nature, is often cited as the primary reason why the game is so well-loved among its fans.  However, Morrowind also enabled the player to choose which of those dictatorial elements to engage in, and to some extent, how to engage in them.  In this sense, we might call an earlier Elder Scrolls game, which chiefly featured randomly generated content, as a sort of amorphous narrative blob, allowing you to go in any direction with no real guidance, whereas Morrowind was a series of narrative paths, which you might happily walk down at your own choosing.

Fast forward to Oblivion.  Oblivion was always going to be the next stage in Bethesda's attempt to allow one full control over a richly realized game space: it was going to be the next stage in Bethesda's attempt to negotiate the divide between dictatorial and emergent gameplay.  Oblivion again adopted Morrowind's 'series of different paths' design, though its detractors, those who maintain the ascendancy of Morrowind, decry it for featuring too much randomized content.  Sections of the game are randomly generated.  In an article discussing the process from Morrowind to Skyrim of realizing the world of Tamriel, Oblivion's development is characterized as a "mix" of randomized content and "hand-placed" content.  In the eyes of many, this muddied the experience of Oblivion: it felt less sincere, less like a realized world.

So, if Morrowind was a strict adherent to the "dictatorial" path, and Oblvion veered too far into randomized gameplay, putting the focus on emergent scenarios without providing a specific narrative thrust, what can the solution be?

The solution, in short, is Skyrim.

Skyrim, Howard boasts, has a world which is "all hand crafted."  It's all "put there" by the designers.  Nothing is incidental.  This, if not handled correctly, could make the player feel as though they are simply playing "on rails" put there by the designer.  Skyrim, however, does not fall into this trap, for more than a few reasons.

Firstly, the elements of the game which are being "dictated" to you are minimized.  The interface, for instance, once a sharp reminder that you are, in fact, playing a game, has been reduced to strict functionality, without trying to hide it under a veneer of fantasy flavour.  Where it does hide beneath that veneer, it tries to make the facade seem like a genuine part of the world you're in: when you examine your skills, you're not scrolling through a list in some pseudo-medieval journal written in vaguely medieval text, but you are looking to the stars, purportedly your stars.  The attempt here, and one I admire, is to reduce the act of "stepping out" of the game world in order to access menus and lists and so on as much as possible.  In Oblivion and Morrowind, the game menus are framed loosely as a "journal" that your character is keeping, but the metaphor is weak: it is obvious to anyone that you are engaging with an element of game design, rather than a fictional world.  Skyrim's menu system assumes that the player has the intelligence to make this jump, that they will not be fooled by a light coating of fantasy paint, and instead tries to remove as much of the obstacle as possible, so that the player spends less time disconnected from the game.

Secondly, the game seizes on Oblivion's greatest success, which was that it never curtails you into any one "path" without your choosing. This is reflected in one of the game's more controversial, but ultimately brilliant, choices: the complete removal of stats.  There is no Strength, Intelligence, or Luck any more.  There are only the three base values that all those superfluous stats fed into: Health, Magicka, and Stamina.  This is a particularly clever move, because it removes any sense that you have to play in a certain "way" in order to maximize your character's effectiveness for a chosen build, which will then cause you to be more proficient in specific questlines.  In Skyrim, you can play freely, knowing that your strength stat will never fall below the curve, or you don't have to intentionally level up endurance skills in order to boost health, and so on.  Furthermore, the removal of a class system first takes away the problematic levelling issues encountered in earlier games, and secondly allows you a little breathing space as you play the game, allowing you to discover how you want to play.  Any superfluous dictatorial elements have been eliminated.

Meanwhile, those dictatorial elements which are desirable have been ramped up to eleven, and then presented in such a way as to disguise their nature as something which the designers "want" you to experience.  There are an abundance of quests you can carry out, many of which with a minor narrative structure in which to frame your experience.  When one walks into an Inn, you might hear a bard playing; when you rent a room, the Innkeeper will order you to your room.  These circumstances were obviously put in "by hand," so to speak, but they don't feel restrictive, because their point isn't to take away your own sense of agency, but to encourage it.  The game's "Radiant Story" system is ingeniously effective, offering quests with specific content to you in unique ways, tailored to your own experiences.  Then, of course, there are the fights with dragons, some of the most spectacular moments in the game.  These fights are filled with excellent drama and excitement, but are also, in their sense, random, in that they can appear at any time: how you choose to fight the dragons is up to you.  The dragon fights, specifically designed, are presented in a random way, and behave in a random way, thus making your own encounters with the dragons unique, freeing up those experiences for those moments of emergent gameplay that we all strive for, without sacrificing narrative clout. The main questline, and guild questlines, are gripping, but they do not impose: they can be accessed at your leisure.

Of course, Skyrim does not succeed invariably: the odd bug might bring your experience crashing back down to Earth, as you realize you're playing a game, not actually sneaking through a cave or chatting with a local blacksmith.  But like no other game before it, in my mind, Skyrim succeeds in negotiating the compromise between giving the player choice, and simultaneously producing a product which has a genuine narrative structure.  Anyone who clings onto older games like Morrowind or Oblivion is, in my mind, missing the point of the series.  While the quest lines offered in these games are engaging and intriguing, they are not narrative masterpieces.  If one might prefer this or that member of an earlier game's assassin guild to this or that member in Skyrim's Dark Brotherhood, that's fine.  That dictatorial element in the earlier game, for whatever reason, just happened to appeal more to you, specifically.

However, what Skyrim does better than Oblivion, better than the sacrosanct Morrowind, and indeed, better than any other game I've ever played, is take those carefully crafted dictatorial, narrative elements, and then infuse them with spontaneity, and a feeling of true control in the hands of the player.  Skyrim is the next step in Bethesda's promise to let you play the game as you want, and it is by far their most successful one.

Originally, this piece was framed as a review, but it obviously became something else.  I don't like numerical grades, I don't like stars, and I don't like letter grades, so by way of appraisal, let me say only this: Skyrim is an extraordinary game.  It deserves your investment, both financially and ideologically, and will reward you if you do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

And now for something completely different.

I mentioned I wrote an essay about Daenerys from A Game of Thrones to a friend of mine.  I think the title (which is probably the best thing in the essay) is what made her ask me to post it up.

Anyway, here it is, in its entirety.  For the record, this is completely unedited from when I submitted it to my prof, by which I mean completely unedited in the first place.

I see your penis and raise you three dragons: Development of an independent woman in George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones
            At a quick gloss, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones might not seem like the most viable feminist text, as it focuses on a medieval nobility where power is firmly in the hands of men: men who rule, men who war, and men who quite often view wives as little more than a chance to forge alliances with one noble house and produce heirs (male heirs, almost exclusively).  However, things are not quite as simple as all that: Martin features characters such as Cersei Lannister, a plotting, intelligent woman who is frustrated with and rebellious against her subservience to men, or Arya Stark, a young girl who purposefully rebukes the expectations of a Lord’s daughter.  Even more interestingly, however, Martin focuses on the young Daenerys Targaryen, whose story occurs almost entirely separately from the greater majority of the novel’s narrative.  Daenerys begins the story as a girl who is utterly at the mercy of her half-mad and viciously cruel brother, Viserys, who threatens her with both physical and psychological torment, whilst wedding her to a tribal warlord in order to garner power for himself.  It follows that initially Daenerys, a girl who is utterly powerless, utterly disenfranchised, is defined almost exclusively by way of her sex, and her biology.  However, Martin plots an interesting course for the young, deposed heir to Westoros, which sees her moving away from such a subservient existence and towards a position of power, respect, and one where she blurs lines of gender and authority.  Her development as a character, then, can be viewed as mirroring the development of feminist ideals, particularly those of critics such as Judith Butler or Adrienne Rich.  Daenerys’ initial oppression almost exactly characterizes some of the issues which are at the heart of second- and third-wave feminism; she is a member of an inferior “second sex” which can be controlled and subjugated by way of men’s “…ability to deny women sexuality or to force it upon them; to command or exploit their labor or to control their produce … to confine them physically and prevent their movement; to use them as objects in male transactions; [and] to cramp their creativeness…”, as explicated in Kathleen Gough’s “The Origin of Family” (58).  Daenerys is situated firmly as a young girl who is being defined by her “…biological role as [a] childbearer,” and in the early chapters this definition frightens and subjugates her (Stanley, Wise 93).  It is, however, plainly presented as something wrong, and her path continuing into the novel generally leads her towards growing independence, appropriation of typical male power, and an embracement of the feminist ideal of a woman who is not dependent upon men, nor harmful to her fellow women.  The ultimate arrival of the narrative is not, of course, perfect, and some issues persist, but on the whole Daenerys’ growth models both the difficulties which feminism highlights, and the solutions it hopes to approach.
            To understand the growth of Daenerys, of course, it is key to take note of just how her character begins, and to further address the specific concerns that her situation highlights.  When she is introduced to the reader, quite literally the first thing she does is to obey an order given to her by her brother, Viserys.  He holds up a dress, and commands her to touch it, which she obediently does.  In other words, Viserys presents a symbol of femininity, and then orders Daenerys to identify with it.  It is absolutely imperative, however, to note that she does not identify with the dress: while she describes the fabric as being softer than anything she could remember, a trait one might normally associate with beauty and attraction, the dress in fact “frighten[s] her” (Martin 28).  Her acceptance of her brother’s tyranny establishes what will be a prominent trend in the earlier chapters of the book: her femininity is forced on to her by a male in a superior position, which terrifies her but is unchallenged, since she has no possible recourse.  Shortly thereafter, he commands her to straighten her posture so that Daenery’s prospective husband will “…see that [she has] a woman’s shape now,” before pinching her nipples and threatening that disobedience will “wake the dragon”, i.e. cause him to rage against her (Martin 29). 
Viserys’ abuse of his sister speaks directly to some of Adrienne Rich’s observations (which were prompted by Gough’s “The Origin of Family”) that men can domineer women by assembling “…a pervasive cluster of forces, ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness, which suggests that an enormous potential counterforce is having to be restrained” (Rich 1596).  Indeed, much of the early chapters of Daenerys’ arc are focused on that “cluster of forces” which domineer her, not the least of which is the institution of marriage.  In her essay “Who Has the Power? The Martial Struggle”, Dair L. Gillespie examines marriage as a relationship which, while presented as natural and wholesome, enabled men to be the wife’s “…superior, her companion, her master” (65).  However, Daenerys does not look forward to her wedding day with jovial optimism, and does not view it as the natural, happy course for her life to take: she is terrified of her marriage to the towering Khal Drogo, and of the restraint and control she imagines will be inflicted upon her.  What Daenerys fears is the control that men can exert, as described by Rich, Gough, and Gillespie, and a societal structure that will enable her husband to dictate her entire being.  Here Martin is basically informing the reader, by way of Daenerys’ terror and subjugation that such a marriage structure is wrong, and is slipping past societal constructions of marriage as natural by attaching the anxieties Daenerys feels to the grandiose spectacle of his imagined Dothraki culture.  It is only when Daenerys begins to realize that her husband does not intend to subjugate and control her that her fear fades, and it is only then that the reader may view her marriage to Drogo as healthy and productive.
The first moment when Daenerys’ fear subsides occurs when she is given a horse, and is allowed to ride it to Drogo’s pavilion: her fear fades as she rides it, as she becomes increasingly aware that she has control over the horse, that the horse responds to “the slightest pressure with her legs, the lightest touch on the reins”, and that when she moves, the “Dothraki scramble to clear a path [for her]” (106).  In one of the most brilliant lines in the book, Martin writes: “The silver horse leapt the flames as if she had wings” (106).  Precisely who the “she” signifies is left intentionally unclear: Martin is implying that the horse, as a symbol of movement and freedom, has transferred its properties to her, and that she is approaching a sort of freedom even as she advances toward a perceived imprisonment in marriage.  Had Martin then drawn a Drogo who reverted back to the dominance of his wife, this fleeting image of freedom would vanish: however, when Drogo approaches Daenerys for the first time and she weeps, he rubs away her tears, and tells her “no,” which is revealed to be the only word of Daenerys’ language that he speaks (Martin 107).  As they proceed through the consummation of their marriage, Drogo does not absolutely heed Daenerys’ hesitation, but he does proceed “gently but firmly”, revealing a “strangely tender” nature that is comforting to Daenerys (108).  Initially, he only touches and stimulates Daenerys, but when the moment comes for Drogo to actually penetrate her, he says “No?” and “[Daenerys knows] it [is] a question” (108).  This is hugely important, because Drogo is essentially giving Daenerys a sense of agency that she has not had until this moment; however, it is still sustained within the marriage contract, which if we follow the track of writers such as Gillespie is inherently designed to make the husband the superior figure even in a marriage wherein “…the husband recognizes more willingly the independence of his wife’s demands” (Gillespie 65).  Gillespie warns that even a marriage which seems egalitarian can often favour the husband in terms of division of power, due to factors such as legal precedent (which, in A Game of Thrones, materializes as Drogo’s leadership of the Dothraki people granting him generally uncontested authority) (Gillespie 71).  While this does complicate the progression of Daenerys’ character, the later sections of Daenerys’ story feature an event which drastically alters her situation, and opens up interesting possibilities: her husband dies, quite unexpectedly.
By removing Daenerys’ husband—albeit by way of the somewhat questionable method of his death—Martin opens up a new avenue through which Daenerys’ story may proceed.  Immediately following the death of Drogo, his tribe—called a khalasar—splinters into disparate factions, most of which ride off, following former high-ranking members of Drogo’s khalasar, leaving the sick, the young, and the elderly who have no leader, save for Daenerys (758).  Furthermore, Daenerys desperately tries to restore her husband to life—only to have him return as a lifeless husk that is really no more than a sort of zombie (759).  A great deal can be said about this, but I only want to take away that her attempt to return to the family structure fails, and such an attempt is rewarded amply with hardship and suffering, gesturing to a movement away from the traditional construction of the family.  In his removal of the husband figure, Martin allows Daenerys to begin deconstructing the norms which have for so long defined the Dothraki culture she has been immersed in: to further interpret this, we can turn to Judith Butler’s conception of gender as a performative concept.  In Gender Trouble, Butler discusses gender as being not “expressive but performative”, as “created through sustained social performances”, from which it follows that “…the very notions of an essential sex and a true of abiding masculinity or femininity” are essentially constructs designed to reinforce traditional values associated with the sexes (2553).  She further elaborates that stepping outside such norms would open up “…performative possibilities for proliferating gender configurations outside the restricting frames of masculinist domination and compulsory heterosexuality” (2553).
Framing Daenerys’ story—after her husband’s death—with Butler’s theory of performative gender, we can begin to view how Martin is playing with gender expectations, and positions of power for women.  After decisively concluding that her husband cannot be truly brought back to life, Daenerys decides to sacrifice his body, alongside the woman who betrayed her.  As she prepares to burn her husband and the sage woman, she dons “…a vest like Drogo’s”, and assumes a position of power similar to Drogo’s, by offering gifts to her husband’s “bloodriders” (loyal followers and bodyguards), which are initially refused by two of the three men, who say “Only a man can lead a khalasar or name a ko”, and “It would shame me, to be bloodrider to a woman” (802, 800).  However, Daenerys is not deterred by the refusal of the men, displaying a lack of concern for their disapproval of her appropriation of male gender roles.  Even as she does take on these male aspects, she does not utterly eschew her identity as a wife, daughter, mother, or woman in general: references are made to her “milk-heavy breasts”, and she thinks of herself as the “daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons” (806).  As she maintains all of these identities—still while incorporating the aspects of her husband’s power through clothing and custom—she commands absolute power, even where she is greeted by hesitancy and reluctance to obey.  When she is questioned by a knight, Jorah Mormont, she plainly orders him to “Do as I say,” and does not accept any further questioning.  Finally, she places three dragon eggs—originally given to her as little more than decoration—onto her funeral pyre, hatching them by walking into the flames as her husband and the woman who betrayed her die.  By turning an object typically associated with femininity—jewellery—into both children and weapons she embraces her identity as a woman, but asserts herself as one who will have power and agency.  Furthermore, her hybridization of male and female identity is shown to be more potent than typical manifestations of gender might be: Daenerys’ Dothraki followers, after seeing her hatch her dragon’s eggs, become “hers now, today and tomorrow and forever, hers as they had never been Drogo’s” (806).
At the outset of A Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen is presented as an utterly subservient victim of patriarchal male dominance, subjected to near-constant torture by her vicious elder brother.  The next scenes in the novel seem to be leading to an almost nightmarish manifestation of female oppression, as Daenerys is betrothed to be wed to a domineering warlord of a foreign, tribal society.  Daenerys’ oppression almost perfectly embodies the trends identified by Gough and Rich, of women being subjugated by men through the “…ability to deny women sexuality or to force it upon them; to command or exploit their labor or to control their produce … to confine them physically and prevent their movement; to use them as objects in male transactions; [and] to cramp their creativeness…” (Gough 58).  Interestingly, however, the arranged marriage which Daenerys is forced into is not undesirable, and her husband proves to be deceptively tender and understanding.  However, one must not forget that it was an arranged marriage, and that the structure inherent to it puts Daenerys in the subordinate position, as Dair Gillespie notes in “Who Has the Power?  The Marital Struggle.”  Martin takes the somewhat radical approach of having Drogo die, leaving Daenerys to take on his responsibilities as leader of the remaining Dothraki, simultaneously combining aspects of the male gender with those normally associated with the female, evoking Judith Butler’s theory of performative gender.  Notably, the conclusion of Daenerys’ arc in A Game of Thrones does not subscribe absolutely to any one of the feminist theories discussed, and offers no easy answers regarding the problem of women’s power and issues of gender.  Daenerys serves as an embodiment of the struggle for women’s rights, and the difficulties involved in trying to successfully navigate away from the dominance of patriarchal society.

Works Cited
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Leitch 2540-2553.
Freeman, Jo, ed. Women: A Feminist Perspective. Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1975.
Gillespie, Dair L. “Who Has the Power? The Marital Struggle.” Freeman 64-87.
Gough, Kathleen. “The Origin of the Family.” Freeman 43-63.
Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd Edition. New
     York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Martin, George. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Dell, 1996.
Rich, Adrienne. Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Leitch 1591-1609.
Stanley, Liz, and Sue Wise, eds. Breaking Out Again: Feminist Ontology and
     Epistemology. New Edition. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Game of Thrones, a review


Monday, June 13, 2011


I know I said I wasn't doing a Game of Thrones bit.  But honestly I haven't posted anything in ages (my bad) and I sort of knew I'd have to when the time came around .....

Okay, first, stop.  STOP.  STOP.  No seriously.




I hope you're not reading if you haven't seen the episode/read the book.  You shouldn't be.  This will ruin a big Something that you don't want ruined.  Okay?


When I was telling my friends about this show, particularly those who hadn't finished the books or even started them, I was generally quiet but said something to the effect of "Just don't think you've seen it all yet.  There are surprises."  The big moment that I'm going to start discussing in t-minus one paragraph is certainly one of the most gripping in the first novel (second-most, for me, but since my favourite scene doesn't get shown until next week, I'll not say more), and since it's so wrapped up in the developing narrative there was no way they could've ducked away from this gamble without losing all of their cred', yo.

Assuming we're ready: killing off Ned was, in my mind, one of the things that set ASoIaF apart, and I'm desperately glad that they kept it in.  For starters, it lets the reader know that this is not your Lord of the Rings any more (though if anyone still harboured such a belief, seriously, have you been watching?).  Sure, Boromir dies in LotR, but you knew Aragorn wasn't going to.  Hell, you also kind of knew Gandalf was coming back.  Game of Thrones essentially takes anyone who doesn't take fantasy seriously and slaps them on the side of the head.  These aren't goofy stories about a wizard and some short guys and a funny elf and dwarf.  If an elf showed up anywhere in Westoros he'd get his head chopped off.

I'm going to pull back a bit and not talk about the show itself--because the web is full of those discussions--but instead redirect a bit to why this moment was so important to me, especially in the broader sense, for its implications towards a fantasy narrative that's less obsessed with its own trappings and more about a damn good story that, hey, has knights and castles and shit because those things are cool.

I'm fond of saying that a really great way for a fantasy book to look like a hackneyed, low-brow doorstop is to include something in its title taken directly from its own universe; an example would be Eragon, though there are countless others.  The reason I dislike this is because out of the gate, the book is not telling you that it is focused on elements of story, but rather that it has fantasy shit inside so come on and read why don't you?  A title reading The Drizz't of Angmarrez't means absolutely nothing no matter how neat the author thinks it sounds.  I know I'm sort of derailing here, but I do have a point to return to: look at the title of Game of Thrones.  "Westoros" appears nowhere in the title.  Nor do any of the other fantasy trappings.  You hear that title, you know exactly what the show's about.

Returning to what I was talking about, this moment really puts forth that Game of Thrones gives not one fuck that you expect a fantasy story to have an elf and a bit with a wizard in it.  It is telling a story, it is engaging with lots of interesting stuff, and also is written within a fictional world.  To me, that's what separates GRRM's work, and it's a trend I've gleefully noticed is starting to become more and more adopted.  To diverge again, think of a really great thriller.  Is it great because it has all the thriller stuff (crime, sophisticated bad guy, etc.)? No, that just makes it a thriller by definition.  What makes anything great is the actual meat of the thing, not the trimmings.

What I'm saying here is Game of Thrones is rib-eye.  Now I want steak....

How that all translates onto a TV show is somewhat questionable.  I hope audiences don't flee, because there's much more to come (including death, lots of that), and I'd hate to see the series come to a stop at season two.  After the surprisingly strong response to Lady's death (curious how no one gave a damn about the butcher's boy), I wonder if people will be able to stomach Ned's sudden decrease in stature.  Guess only time can tell.

There's a lot of other stuff to talk about in the episode, of course, but I don't have anything particularly interesting to say about it right now, since this is really a seat-of-my-pants sort of thing.

'Till next time.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Bad. Also: Cthulhu Saves the World Review!

Okay, I neglected my blog again.  I'm very sorry, and feel appropriately ashamed.  Bad me.  Bad me, indeed.

That said, there's only so much self-deprecating humour I can summon at any one point in time, so let's plow ahead with that promised Cthulhu Saves the World review.

First, a basic summary.  Cthulhu Saves the World, available via Xbox Live's downloadable games interface (under the "Indie games" category), posits itself as a throwback to and parody of the classic 8/16/however-many-bit RPG games of the SNES era.  The player assumes the role of Lovecraft's Cthulhu, who, having lost his powers, must become a true hero to reclaim them.

You can probably guess from that summary that the game is funny.  What you mightn't guess at first, though, is that the game's sense of humour is upbeat, quick, and more clever than you usually get from something so deliberately wacky.  Cthulhu Saves the World happily plays around with its source material, though its parody of its Lovecraftian roots is much more effective than when it pokes fun at RPG conventions.  The former is executed with a clever wink towards the source material, while the latter is really more of the same jokes we've all heard years ago (HAHA LOOK A PATH HAS OPENED UP WHAT A COINCIDENCE and so on).

What makes Cthulhu successful, however, isn't so much that it's good at making fun of its sources, but that it is made exceptionally well, and intimately knows and loves those sources.  Visually, Cthulhu is impressive.  Its intentionally retro-graphics are fresh, easy to look at, and the backdrops are frequently quite attractive.  The sound design is similarly effective, working both as a throwback and as an attractive soundtrack.  The characters are (mostly) likeable and enjoyable, and as a functional RPG Cthulhu is actually quite good.  It has a pretty traditional RPG setup (characters have HP, MP, learn skills and/or magic, and so on), and comes with a few interesting twists.

When each character levels up, you get to pick one of two upgrades, usually offering an interesting choice, and there's an Insanity mechanic that functions quite well.  I won't go into the details of it here, but it adds a dynamic to the gameplay that helps to separate it from verbatim RPG action.  The game also restores your health fully after each battle (taking a note from FFXIII), which allows monster battles to be a little more than "mash A to attack".  Later in the game, though, once you've levelled up enough, that level of difficulty fades and random battles do degrade into button-mashers.  While the bosses tend to run into one another, they're usually a nice break from the action, and there's even one or two hidden dungeons.  I don't claim to have found them all.

The game lasts about 6 hours or so, which is just about the amount of time you'd want to commit to it for one sit-through.  For only 240 MS Points (roughly 3 bucks), it's a steal, and Zeboyd games is going to be updating the game soon (for free) with a new mode and a few other additions; check out their site for details.  As a game, it's not perfect, but it is perfect for its price.  If you're a fan of RPGs, this one is definitely worth your time, and your money.  Absolutely recommended.

I don't like numerical scores, as a rule, but if I must give one: 8/10

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Time to blow the dust off this sucker

Well, it's been a while....

Mostly, you can attribute the downturn in blog-posting activity due to the pile-up of schoolwork. Essays, final exams, etc. I wanted to do one of those blogs where I record my scattered thoughts while writing an essay, but the one time I did it my thoughts turned out to be disappointingly coherent. I blame the lack of children's cartoons.

A deficiency which will probably persist, since my general to-do list for the summer more or less looks like an HBO Greatest Hits series. Mostly, I want to watch The Wire, since anyone who's so much as seen half an episode has informed me that it's really, really good. Liking really, really good things as I do, I figured it was worth a shot. Also I might try and finish the Sopranos (I never did finish the series) and maybe Deadwood.

More to the point: Game of Thrones! I haven't been this excited about a new tv series since ... well, I can't actually think of a series that has excited me this much, ever. However, I pretty seldom watch TV series (this summer looking to be the exception), so I'll refrain from trying to post any comments on it since I don't really feel well-versed enough in the subject matter to talk about it. Chris Lockett's blog will, I'm betting, provide a pretty cool breakdown of the series: An Ontarian in Newfoundland.

Which brings me back to the whole point that I started writing this, if there was one to begin with. Over the past few months I've genuinely enjoyed this thing. It's provided a fun opportunity for me to smack my digits on my keyboard to produce something hopefully resembling an occasionally funny post, or at least one that's reasonably interesting. But insofar as now there's never really been a general direction for the thing. As I speak, I have reviewed, for example, exactly one videogame, talked about fantasy a bunch, mused a little on my life for no reason other than that it amused me a bit, and have posted more than a few bite-sized funny things (my favorite being this one).

This peregrine nonsense stops now, I say!

(Okay, to step aside for a second: peregrinate is a word which means, apparently, to travel or wander about, typically from place to place. Peregrine is the adjective, which can also delineate being outlandish, strange, imported from abroad, or extraneous to the bulk of what's being said, which makes this aside peregrine. How cool is that? I choose to believe it's tied in with peregrine falcons, though I have absolutely no proof to the positive on that.)

Uh, yeah. I like words. Anyhow, I'm not exactly about to "streamline" or "revolutionize" or similarly "bullshitinate" this blog, but I'm hoping to find a sort of general thrust for it, or at least a feature which I can return to semi-regularly.

That in mind, the one area which I do feel pretty sufficiently versed in to comment on regularly is videogames. I mean, I've been playing them most of my life, and I've played more than a couple. But the reason I don't often have any inclination to look at really popular games is that, honestly, most of them bore me, or if I do enjoy them, they're not stimulating enough to make me want to write on them (exceptions: Bioshock, Final Fantasy, Tales of Vesperia, Minecraft, which I suppose is sort of Indie, and anything Bioware makes). However, for the past few days, I've been on an Indie game binge, using the Xbox's pretty well-engineered Indie platform. I've been going through the big ones, if such a thing can exist in what is pretty generally a marginal category, and I've been enjoying myself. So I figure I might make it a bit of a project to start reviewing the Indie games on the XBL Arcade, separating the chaff from the wheat. The upshot of this is that, honestly, playing these things will cost me somewhere in the region of 80-240 MS points per purchase, so it's something I can do without bankrupting myself or limiting to myself to only games that I'd want to buy, anyway.

Right now I'm playing Cthulhu Saves the World, so hopefully I'll be able to post some thoughts about it when I'm done (which should be soon; the game's addictive as all hell and finals are nearly over).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Am I the only one who always found this amusing?

"Write a well-developed/well-written/well-illustrated/well-something'd essay about..."

It almost suggests that otherwise the student might set out to write a terrible essay. I mean, sure, sometimes they don't give a darn, but I don't think anyone actually thinks to themselves "Well-developed? Screw that! I'm going to write a rambling diatribe on Marlowe from the point of view of a beaver."


That would actually be hilarious.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dystopian images

Sometimes I think Jon Stewart might be brilliant.

Then I reflect on it a little more, and conclude that Jon Stewart, usually, is brilliant.

I was watching The Daily Show earlier tonight, and they showed a series of clips wherein Fox News anchors and similar figures denounced the many evils of the teachers of the United States, among which included being overpaid and under-worked (as the son of two teachers: ha, bloody ha, I say).

Now, I don't doubt that The Daily Show edited all those clips together to appeal rather directly to my education-loving, moderately socialist, diet pepsi-slurping liberal sensibilities, but as I watched their edited series of clips I couldn't help but feel a certain deep unrest. Something felt very, very wrong, as I watched purported purveyors of information and news (had to resist the urge to use another "p"-word) tell not only outright lies, but lies which would specifically harm their country. That might again be those liberal sensibilities at work, but I doubt it takes a great leap of the imagination to conclude that an underfunded education system will result in ill-equipped kids, which one day means an ill-equipped country. Except of course for parents who can afford to send their kids to private schoo--


That's what's so bloody unsettling about American news. It feels like something right out of 1984 (the Orwell book, not the year). I remember reading 1984 at around 15 or 16, and being struck by more than a few things about the book, but most of all I was stunned by the sheer unconquerable, pervasive, ingrained nature of the Party. They managed to exert control over that part of ourself that we'd most like to believe our own, our mind, and did so by strictly controlling and regulating the flow of truth. What was the truth, in 1984, was whatever the Party told you it was. To my young teenage mind, that was the most devastating reality I could imagine, a world where a human being could no longer judge what was real.

But I was assured. No such system could ever come into place in our world. People would notice. Such a political uprising would never happen, not one that would allow such complete control. No Party could ever take such an obvious hold. I mean, the Party had such dramatic power that they started to literally transform language such that "the people" would ultimately be incapable of revolt.

That remains to be one of the most deeply disturbing ideas I have ever been presented with. Ever since I read 1984 in high school, I doubt that much more than five books have affected me in such a profound manner. Lately, by which I mean over the past couple of years, I can't help but see the spectre of Big Brother in Glenn Beck's rosy-red cheeks, his quivering jowls of frothy rage, his placating, comforting smile, his teary-eyed wrath. He all but runs his own hate hour. He all but tells people how to think (in fact more than once he's literally told people how to think; remember the social justice fiasco?).

Beck is, of course, just the easiest example at which I can comfortably lob vaguely poetic potshots. The broader swath of conservative pundits imitate his righteous crusade, just in a more insidious, faux-intellectual way. I suspect even armchair rednecks at least somewhat question Beck's sincerity, even if they aren't really consciously aware of it. But when someone comes on a television show and assures you that oh, those teachers' unions are just silly, it's a little less obviously crazy as balls.

Is it more than a little dramatic to relate the news trends of American television to the political dominance exerted by the Party in Orwell's famous book? Well, yeah, and it probably says more than a little bit about my own preoccupations, but I think it's pretty valid. What is true has become as relative as it has ever been, and what people are allowed to think has become a mandate of pop-culture TV and news.

It occurs to me now that this is something I'd like to dig into a bit further in another blog post, when I'm not writing at 2:30 AM. I have absolutely no delusions that no one has ever said this before, and certainly none that no one has said it better. I just can't help but remember how stunned I was, the day I started (and finished) 1984, and how my only comfort was the firm belief that it could never happen. The idea that something even vaguely similar could be creeping its way--or indeed, have already crept--into Western culture is one of the more disturbing things about today's world.

Maybe that's why people like me love Jon Stewart so much. If nothing else, he'll give you a few laughs for your trouble.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I wish I could talk smart

When I'm writing, I'm generally pretty articulate, due in no small part to the ability to pause, think, then type whatever bit of nonsense is on my mind at the time. I can be picky with words. Words are important, and while I know a lot of them, I'm a little insecure with them. I want to be a hundred percent sure of a word's very most precise definition before I use it (I think that's why I admired The Road's vocabulary so much; Cormac McCarthy's language is eerily specific).

When I'm writing, I like to think of this as a talent. Generally I don't overstep my pathetic little shack of knowledge in the sprawling city that is the English language, and when I do, it is very carefully, usually with a friend, and I go equipped with only the very best anti-"You just made an ass of yourself" arsenal courtesy of the Oxford Dictionary.

When I'm speaking, it tends to be a problem.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not inarticulate (I hope). In fact, on some days I can get downright annoying (proven positive by several co-workers) in my attempt to keep expanding my vocabulary. You can never have too many words: never.

But other days my brain just completely shuts down. Or rather, my mouth does. I have all these really clever, salient things to say, and what comes out can often sound scarcely better than what might come out of a preschooler.

Example: The other day, I was trying to describe a scene in Amelie, and defaulted to the word "funnest" (which, I know, doesn't exist, or if it does, exists in a very shady back-alley of that city of language, one you wouldn't want to be lost in without a weapon or very large friend). Someone challenged me on it, and while mentally I was going "Yeah, absolutely.", what came out of my mouth was something like "Arg words hard today Matt not want."

I think it's because, when I think, I don't necessarily think in precise language so much as big nebulous clouds of vaguely connected intuitive bubbles. Which sounds ridiculous now that it's written down, but there you have it.

I'm not sure why I wrote this, except maybe as a brief apology for any time when I've ever A) started rambling incoherently or B) reduced to some kind of caveman-like grunting in the middle of conversation.

By the way, did you know what a "catamite" is? Me neither, 'till I read The Road. Apparently it's a young child in a relationship with an older man.

Seriously, McCarthy, now you're just showing off. We all get how smart you are.

Friday, February 4, 2011

To fantasy readers of the world, I implore you:


About a couple years ago, I began reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, mostly because I'd heard so damn much about it and honestly, it sounded really cool. What I didn't expect was that it would become one of my favorite series of all time, and whenever I'm asked to think of my favorite book, A Storm of Swords very nearly always comes out on top. I was a little disheartened when I learned of all the delays associated with A Dance of Dragons (or is it for Dragons? I can never keep that straight), but I trusted that Martin, literary genius that he is, knew what he was doing and would deliver a dependably fantastic book. This belief was emboldened by the fact that Dragons would contain all my favorite characters (particularly Daenerys).

Then, around last year, I read the newer Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, which was honestly one of the best fantasy books I've read in years, and I like to think of myself as fairly well-read when it comes to fantasy. After I'd read Name of the Wind, I got it in my head that I'd start reading Mr. Rothfuss' blog--and also Martin's--so I could maybe hear about the progress of the books, and get a bit of insight into the minds of the guys creating books that make me all but salivate with geeky delight.

Their blogs, naturally, were well-written, insightful, often endlessly amusing, and in the strange case of Martin, gave me a rough understanding of football. Honestly, I didn't mind that I wasn't likely to get a new book in either of their series for a while: the blogs were fun to read, and certainly helped me keep in touch with the stories I'd so enjoyed.

Around this time, all but basking in sheer rays of nerdjoy, I started reading the comments section of their blogs, which directed me to think what the bleeding hell?

I guess I had expected fantasy fans to rise above the bullcrap drivel you find on the internet, but half of the people who comment on blogs like Martin's or Rothfuss' act as though they own the author. I was particularly struck by this comment, from Rothfuss' blog:

You totally deserve that blurb.
Ready for vacation? Well after you did all the signing :D and visited all your fans and published book 3 :D hah

Um, no, go screw yourself. The dude has a girlfriend and a baby kid. He might want to address those minor distractions for a few moments before cloistering himself away to finish the Kingkiller Chronicle.

Seriously, what the hell is so hard to get about the sentence that fantasy authors owe their readers nothing. They wrote the book, got it published. You bought it, endorsed their product by way of paying, and then enjoyed a story. That is the relationship between the author and the reader. Anything else is window-dressing done purely out of the kindness of the author's heart, or his/her desire to get some more publicity for it. Either way, it doesn't elevate you to some sick status of ownership over an author.

I had really salient, reasoned-out points to make, but they kind of evaporated in a fit of righteous anger, so for now, this is what I'm posting.

Have a good one. Unless you think authors forfeit their souls to their readers. In which case go join an asshole commune or something.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Modest Proposal

Dear people of the universe,

Replace "random" with "arbitrary" in your speech.

Thank you,
People Who Know What They're Talking About

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This always bothered me

This is an entire post about ellipses.

This is how you use one in the middle of a sentence: The red fox ate a crocodile.

Technically, you're supposed to put a space in between each point, but unless you're writing a manuscript, not really necessary.

This is how you end a sentence: The red fox ate a crocodile ….

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I am what I am

Remember the blog post where I rambled at length about how I don't actually sit down and do enough writing?

I actually followed my own advice! Which is more than a little uncharacteristic, but I'm rollin' with it. That's also, coincidentally, why I haven't been posting on the blog quite as frequently as I would've liked to. Been busy actually writing things.

The first thing I've been working on is a science fiction short story called Caretaker. It's honestly an idea I've had for a while, and I love the idea. Consequently, I've started writing it about a half-dozen times, edited those, looked at it again, then reconsidered. But I'm having fun writing it.

Meanwhile, I'm also trying to write a short story in a loose fantasy world, called With Kindness. That one I'm enjoying, but as the idea hasn't been bouncing around in my head for the better part of two years, I'm not quite so obsessive in absolutely nailing it. Hell, I might post it on this blog, once I'm finished.

I've also got a couple of other writings projects, but those are the "serious" ones I'm focusing on right now. The other thing I'm doing, really mostly for fun, is a bit of shameless Mass Effect fanfiction. I don't think I'll ever be accepted within any fanfiction community since I opt not to pound out page upon page of relationship-drama between two hot characters, but I'm still having fun.

I have no idea what this blog post is about, now it comes to it. I guess I'm just rambling ... at what point did a blog become a public journal, anyhow?

But I guess that is what it is.

Friday, January 21, 2011

POETRY but not

A white fire
shines bright
But don't FORGET
it's still a flame
and fire burns.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Things I'm Sick Of

Fantasy novels featuring some sort of phrase that's supposed to sound profound and wise but is really just a platitude. Bonus points if it's repeated often and with an annoying sense of authority.


"The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Monster in Videogames

In one of the courses I'm doing this term--The Gothic--we're assigned a group project, which can be on a subject of our choosing. Since I'm not likely going to be able to convince any sizable group of people to write on The Gothic and Videogames, I'm basically retooling the thoughts I had towards the argument and presenting them here. I'm actually completely serious, this is going to be one of those boring critical blog posts.

Anyway, guns up, let's do this. Leeeeeeeeerooooooooooooooooooooooy....

The first thing that must be considered, naturally, when examining the interaction of video game media with any particular genre or group is the precise nature of the video game itself: it is, essentially, a medium which offers direct interface with "the text", putting the player directly into the narrative present. The depth, complexity, and quality of said narrative is not, precisely, important: at this juncture I am not evaluating whether or not video games are good or even qualify as valid forms of literature, simply that they are a form of media with which a great number of people interact, and that their narrative structures do possess certain relevant tendencies which merit attention. The answer to why they merit such attention is, I think, clear, and based in that direct interface that videogames offer: if videogames do possess certain recurrent themes, particularly certain gothic elements, why is that the case, and to what does it speak?

I'm fairly certain I've lost . . . well, just about everyone by this point, but screw it, I'm having fun.

The first issue I'd like to address, and likely the only one within this blog post since I'm already getting pretty ranty, is the presence of the monster in videogames, the themes of transhumanism, and their relation with the player (hereafter referred to as "the subject", quite plainly because sooner or later I will fall prey to jokes about playas and playa haters).

Anyone with even a passing relationship with videogames can easily observe that there is a preoccupation with not only monsters, but with the destruction of monsters, in several senses. Firstly, they are an obstacle to be overcome and defeated, but secondly, they themselves are almost universally portrayed in a state of maddening decay that while simultaneously stripping themselves of their humanity provides them with a brutal ability to inflict harm upon not only the player, but the supposed other aspects of the game universe. These monsters often begin as ordinary human beings, who through application of technology or magic--the two being interchangeable and exclusive only by way of genre, rather than function--suffer a prolonged transformation and subversion of their human natures, often towards some new racial impetus at an utter disconnect from the human. There are typically two types of monsters which emerge from this process, who I will loosely term as the boss-type and the minion-type.

If I ever try and do this in some serious academic environment, I'll just use German words that essentially mean the same thing.

As the more common iteration, I'll focus on the minion-type first, its connotations, implications, et cetera. The examples of such creatures are easily available for reference: zombies in Left 4 Dead and the broad swath of zombie videogames in general, the Chimera in the Resistance series, Super Mutants and those zombie-cousins, Ghouls, in the Fallout Series, and to pick a less modern and likely more surprising source: the Goomba in Super Mario (Goomba are, technically, denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom transformed into monsters as consequence of their service to Bowser).

These creatures share in common the traits I have already discussed: they are modified by way of magic or technology--which are, again, essentially the same thing and carry out the same function--are originally human, and in most cases, retain some gross perversion of the human shape, while utterly lacking any method of communication, articulation, or expression. These enemies are often thrown at the human player in waves, and there is never any suggestion that the murdering of these creatures is unjust--even in the children's game Super Mario. They represent, essentially, perversions of the human form, brought about by an ill-advised intimacy with either technological or magical forces that seek to advance beyond social norms in some sense. At first glance this theory mightn't hold up when presented with the straightforward zombies of Left 4 Dead and its like, but consider precisely who the survivors are: often, humans who had the good sense and wherewithal to find a safe place to avoid the majority of the infections, who avoided temptation such as going to key points like hospitals or police stations, where other humans succumbed rapidly to infection.

This, I think, shines an interesting life on the position of the player/subject. Their character is, most often, a survivor of the great tragedy who is removed from social norms, and set against the waves of monstrous transhumans. Nathan Hale, of Resistance fame, is a soldier often set apart from his squad, and certainly the vast majority of the normal human military, the Vault Dweller (and his/her later counterparts in sequel games) in Fallout is a member of a society which has rejected him/her to face dangers and stand alone in an unforgiving world, and so on. The subject, then, takes the role of the recluse, but the recluse who finds justification in destroying elements of society which have mutated into something undesirable, like cancers which need to be removed. The justification for this destruction is simple, and furthermore the process of destruction justifies the subject's own deficient characteristics: certainly, videogame heroes are far more often than not individuals who would not function properly if they were not given violent, wartime circumstances in which to thrive.

I would suggest, then, that this points to the key fantasy of videogames, that socially inadequate individuals can win favor and affection by dint of their heroic actions against devastating dangers, which are often presented as mutilations of humanity. By shaving away undesirable elements of humanity, the subject is justified in their own bizarre traits. But by this point, I'm getting off-topic.

The minion-type is a massed enemy, a set of creatures which appear in large groups and have no individual distinction, thereby stripping them of any remaining humanity even further: this offers a simple morality wherein their destruction presents no conflicting choice to the subject, and killing them is undoubtedly the correct action. Therefore they function as an "easy out" to justify the character's actions, which in any other circumstance involving excessive violence, would necessitate a great deal of self-examination (that is to say, one does not gun down hundreds of actual people without serious doubt and consequence; or at least, they shouldn't).

This is getting far longer than I originally intended, so I think I'll stop there and continue next Thursday, when I have another two-hour break in which I can freely ramble about utterly irrelevant nonsense.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting Ahead of Ourselves

Every now and again, I get an idea for a novel, or a short story, or a Something, and I think to myself, "Matt, you are a genius. Now stop talking to yourself and write, dammit." For a span of time that can last anywhere from an hour to a week all I can think about is how awesome the awesome thing I'm going to write will be.

Then, too often, it never gets written. There are always little reasons, of course: needed to work on this essay, play this game, go out with friends or something of the sort. As you're probably guessing by now, those aren't the real reasons.

The real reason is that I, as I'm sure a lot of other writers do, have a tendency to look back on where I was only a year ago, or six months, or even just a few weeks ago, and think "Damn, I was stupid. I'm a way better writer now! Imagine how great I'll be once I've learned more!" And so the thing doesn't get written. Problem is, writing is, like most things, a practiced skill. You need to keep at it to stay good at it and get better, no matter how much knowledge about it you might've acquired. Some things need to be encountered in honest-to-goodness writing and nothing but.

For example, blog-writing. I like to think my blog-writing has improved since I started this thing, though I'm still fairly convinced that the inaugural rib-eating/t-shirt-staining post was my best one in a weird way. And now I'm getting off-topic. Yeah, I've become a veritable champion at this crap.

Back to the point, though I'm not entirely convinced there actually is one. The thing that gets in the way of my own writing--and the writing of a very large percentage of would-be writers out there, if I had to guess--is a sort of self-defeating perfectionism that inhibits one's ability to actually get anything done from the fear that when it is done, there might be a mistake or inadequacy. When put like that, it seems really stupid, but in those moments where you're thinking "Holy crap I can't write at all WHAT THE HELL AM I", I find the brain tends to ignore logic.

If anyone reading this suffers from a similar problem, I can offer only one remedy: write. Even if it's crap, write it anyway. It doesn't matter if you write utter garbage, each piece of garbage you churn out will teach you inventive new ways to avoid the mistakes you made the last time (note: don't make the mistake of assuming that positive reviews from a peer-based site like fictionpress is any indication of real quality, though they sometimes can be. I've seen too many authors of fanfic or unimaginative original fiction think they're literary geniuses when they're basically just undercutting any talent they have by churning out fandom-appeal).

So here's to writing. I've got a couple of short story ideas I've been toying around with, the skeletal beginnings of them might make it on here. To err, after all, is not only human, but it is our greatest gift.

'Till next time, May the Force be with you.

(I wanted to use a Mass Effect parting remark, then realized there really aren't any. What the hell, Bioware? How will people show off their nerd cred now?)

Friday, January 7, 2011


By way of this blog post, I have not, technically, gone a whole month without writing a post. Unless you count February, but it's not bloody February.

I don't really have anything terribly witty to write about right now, but I feel as though I need to post something. So I figure I'll talk about the movie I'm currently watching as I sit in between classes, waiting for my next one to start (presuming it, too, isn't cancelled). That movie is Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which has been one of my favorite movies for a long time, since I got it for Christmas as a kid (though I thought myself mighty mature and grown-up at the time). Actually, if I were to talk about the first PotC movie, it'd basically go like this:

PotC is awesome.


So awesome.

And that's no fun. So instead I'm gonna talk about the sequels to the movie, which have always been a weird spot of contention. On one hand, do I feel that the original movie deserved sequels? Yes. I just didn't think that any of the characters save for Jack Sparrow and perhaps Commodore Norrington needed to be held over from the first film: they were largely just vehicles for the plot to move forward, whereas Sparrow and Norrington provided the real guts of the movie, in my opinion. The face that Will and Elizabeth, two profound bores, will not be returning for the fourth movie, strikes me as a bit of a light in a very dim tunnel, but I'm taking it with a grain of salt.

The sequels do provide a fun distraction, I think, in watching Jack Sparrow interact with other characters, and the degradation and eventual reinstatement of Norrington were spots of interest for me, but unfortunately the rest of the films were bland, cookie-cutter blockbuster material, with no real point or purpose to them. *SPOILERS* I think the mishandling of Will Turner in the sequel films was part of the problem. In the first film, Will was Jack Sparrow's straight man, and could sometimes even be charming and funny. In the sequels, they tried to play Will up as a pirate, and Jack's equal, which failed utterly because the character is, frankly, uninteresting. This is pure speculation on my part, but I would guess that the Will character might be a holdover from early drafts of Pirates of the Caribbean, possibly attempting to blend some of the traditional character elements that Jack Sparrow was supposed to possess into Will's good-natured straight man routine. Frankly, it didn't work.

Elizabeth was even less enjoyable to watch, at least for me. To my eye, she is trying far too hard to be the rough-and-tumble badass fighting chick didn't work terribly well, since not a film or so ago she was running around in dresses all the time (and not prepared to do very much else). The excuse that she learned swordplay from Will comes off about as unconvincing as Will's assertion that he trains with his swords three hours each day. If they wanted to give Elizabeth a bit more clout, she could've used her wits, but then again she tries to do that a couple times in the sequel films and comes off as rather annoying. If they wanted a badass pirate-lady, they should've just introduced a new character.

By this point I'm rambling. I guess my general feeling on Pirates of the Caribbean is that the sequels were sadly mishandled, but they were at least fun to watch Jack Sparrow in action. Nevermind the bloody CGI squid Davy Jones, that's a whole 'nother post's worth.

Hopefully, with the fourth film coming out having gutted about half the cast of the previous movies, maybe the next one'll be better. But I'm not holding out.