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.