Category Archives: Games

Links to Things

  • Lev Grossman on the connections between modernist literature and fantasy, an the difference between fantasy (the genre) and fantasy (the mental state), with added background on Leonard Woolf (husband of the more famous Virginia) and his odd housemate from his days in the Ceylon Civil Service:

    Magical thinking isn’t fantasy in the literary sense. It is a fantasy, in the psychoanalytic sense: a dream of a world where actions don’t have consequences, where loss is an impossibility, where wishing makes it so, where one doesn’t have to make choices, because all possible good things arrive at once, unbidden, with none of those nasty trade-offs that are so characteristic of real life. There is no either/or in a fantasy, it’s all both/and. This is the world that Dutton’s fairies evoked for Woolf, and that he was struggling so mightily to put behind him.

    But fantasies aren’t literature, and fantasies aren’t fantasy. This isn’t a distinction that Woolf would have made, but Dutton might have made it. Granted, fantasy literature, broadly speaking, tends to be set in worlds where magic is real. But that doesn’t mean anything is possible. Magic doesn’t permeate those worlds completely. Magic exists, but only as a flash of vital light in a universe that is otherwise as dark and mechanical as our own—its presence casts the tragic, non-magical parts of life in higher relief. Magic tantalizes with the possibility that it might quicken the world back into life, restore the lost paradise of magical thinking, but ultimately it cannot.

  • Because I want to be able to find them again, here are links to SFSignal’s lists of the most underrated science fiction series and the most underrated fantasy series.

  • Jacob Lambert on Tetris as an aesthetic experience:

    Floating through Tetris’ cranial hyperspace forces a natural introspection. Often, sort of insanely, I’ll dwell upon what my playing method can tell me about myself. My technique isn’t to plow through rows or shatter a score; I play Tetris for the tetris: the four-row clear that comes with the vertically-nestled “I” block. Self-denial is necessary for the maneuver, as all must be laid aside for the blessed piece’s arrival. Meanwhile, the pile mounts dangerously. When the block finally appears, this mild daring and asceticism are handsomely repaid: there’s a flash of light, a scream of sound, and the pile’s heavy fall.

  • Paul Bloom, “The Pleasures of Imagination”:

    The emotions triggered by fiction are very real. When Charles Dickens wrote about the death of Little Nell in the 1840s, people wept—and I’m sure that the death of characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series led to similar tears. (After her final book was published, Rowling appeared in interviews and told about the letters she got, not all of them from children, begging her to spare the lives of beloved characters such as Hagrid, Hermione, Ron, and, of course, Harry Potter himself.) A friend of mine told me that he can’t remember hating anyone the way he hated one of the characters in the movie Trainspotting, and there are many people who can’t bear to experience certain fictions because the emotions are too intense. I have my own difficulty with movies in which the suffering of the characters is too real, and many find it difficult to watch comedies that rely too heavily on embarrassment; the vicarious reaction to this is too unpleasant.

    These emotional responses are typically muted compared with the real thing. Watching a movie in which someone is eaten by a shark is less intense than watching someone really being eaten by a shark. But at every level—physiological, neurological, psychological—the emotions are real, not pretend.

  • On a less pleasant note, a truly depressing article by Tim Dickinson, from Rolling Stone, on the oil spill in the gulf and the political dysfunctions that helped to bring it about.

    The tale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is, at its core, the tale of two blowout preventers: one mechanical, one regulatory. The regulatory blowout preventer failed long before BP ever started to drill — precisely because Salazar kept in place the crooked environmental guidelines the Bush administration implemented to favor the oil industry.

Links to Things

A sad wombat-related moment.

I’ve been unable to write much recently. I’m even behind on the comics. Exhaustion seems to be the problem; I come home in the evenings and can’t focus on anything much.

It’s been a while since I even did one of these links posts… but I do have a few links, so just to keep the blog going, here they are:

  • Apparently the Pre-Raphaelites were really into wombats. I recently read some doggerrel Dante Gabriel Rossetti had written about his wombat, and assumed it was some kind of parody. But no—Rossetti loved wombats. Here, from the website of the National Library of Australia, is a history of Pre-Raphaelite wombats:

    Much later, in 1857, by which time he was a national celebrity, Rossetti was commissioned to decorate the vaulted ceiling, upper walls and windows of the library of the Oxford Union. He mustered a large group of helpers, including his new Oxford undergraduate friends, the future artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, as well as the artists Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Arthur Hughes and John Hungerford Pollen. Recalling the hugely enjoyable experience of working in the Oxford Union, another artist—helper Val Prinsep—recalled: ”˜Rossetti was the planet around which we revolved, we copied his way of speaking. All beautiful women were “stunners” with us. Wombats were the most beautiful of God’s creatures.’

  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti liked wombats; Honoré de Balzac liked coffee. A lot. He described its effects in a delightfully crazy essay called “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee”:

    Finally, I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins. It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain.

    He also observes:

    Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring.

    I think Starbucks should put that on their cups.

    Apparently Balzac died of caffiene poisoning; until I read the introduction to the essay I hadn’t realized that was possible.

  • At The Hooded Utilitarian, Ng Suat Tong reviews one of the saddest comics I’ve ever read: Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey Volume 3 Number 2.

  • Finally here’s a review of Farmville, an online game which I had never previously heard of, mostly because I don’t spend any time on Facebook but also because I really am completely out of it. Farmville sounds completely appalling:

    We are obligated to examine what we are doing, whether we are updating our Facebook status or playing Call of Duty, because the results of those actions will ultimately be our burden, for better or for worse. We must learn above all to distinguish between the better and the worse. Citizens must educate themselves in the use of sociable applications, such as Wikipedia, Skype, and Facebook, and learn how they can better use them to forward their best interests. And we must learn to differentiate sociable applications from sociopathic applications: applications that use people’s sociability to control those people, and to satisfy their owners’ needs.

    “Sociopathic application” sounds ridiculously melodramatic, but the author makes a good case for the term.

Toyota is Lurking Under the Bed

Viral marketing and alternate reality games are the great new thing in marketing. Saatchi & Saatchi thought it had a doozy of an idea for Toytota. They’d stalk Toyota’s customers.

Unsuspecting participants in “Your Other You” would receive a week’s worth of threatening phone calls and emails containing personal details about their lives before being let in on the hoax. Theoretically the target, charmed by this merry jape, would go on to stalk someone else.

In practice, one woman was so frightened by the bombardment of craziness–apparently loosed upon her by a “friend”–that she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop crying, and started keeping weapons in her car. She’s suing Toyota for $10 million dollars. Toyota claims she agreed to participate, in the sense that she failed to notice something in some small print attached to an online “personality quiz”.

Apparently it never occurred to anyone involved in this thing—not at Saatchi & Saatchi, not at Toyota—that “Your Other You” might not end happily. These people have serious trouble seeing things from the perspective of other humans—if they realize there are such things as other humans.

I first read about the situation in an article from Canadian Business magazine (found via this page). Canadian Business, of course, disapproves of “Your Other You.” Because it’s a nasty thing to do to people? No, because “it’s hard to see how this could have been an effective campaign.” There is no obvious connection between scary pranks and Toyota’s brand, and out-of-character ad campaigns don’t perform well. The fake websites set up for the campaign were not the sort of sites likely to draw in people looking to buy a car. Worst of all, “Your Other You” was expensive.

Canadian Business does not at any point criticize “Your Other You” for causing terror and serious mental anguish. That, I guess, is just business. And that must be what Saatchi and Saatchi and Toyota thought, too.

I have to ask… what, exactly, are all those business schools teaching?

IFComp 2009: Earl Grey

(This is one more Interactive Fiction Competition review.)

Earl Grey is the last IFComp game I feel inspired to review this year. Last month when I reviewed The Bryant Collection I mentioned that my interest in interactive fiction had in recent years coincided with the competition, and I’ve finally figured out why: playing through the bottom half of the IFComp game list has increasingly come to resemble reading slush. By the end of the process I’ve temporarily killed my enthusiasm for another year. Next year I think I’ll follow Emily Short’s example and ignore the games that don’t list any beta testers.

Earl Grey, though, is another good game that did not make me feel tired and sad. Continue reading IFComp 2009: Earl Grey

IFComp 2009: Snowquest

This is another Interactive Fiction Competition review.

The best games this year all do something different with setting, creating something other than caves, spaceships, and random surrealist-comedy wackylands—Duel in the Snow, Byzantine Perspective, Rover’s Day Out (spaceships and apartments are standard IF settings, but it combines them in new ways) and now Snowquest. (Which is, okay, snow again—but it’s not something we see very often, and in any case each game has a different feel.)

This shouldn’t surprise me; IF is about setting as much as anything else. Choosing a different setting isn’t enough in and of itself, of course—Gator-On shows us the Everglades, but only as a few dozen rooms with identically vague descriptions and nothing to look at. But thinking outside the usual IF boxes is a good start; it’s a sign that authors have ambitions to blaze their own trails. Continue reading IFComp 2009: Snowquest

IFComp 2009: The Grand Quest

This is another Interactive Fiction Competition review.

The Grand Quest started so well. It had a Maltese Falcon style setup about a legendary artifact which for its owners “is the beginning of their true lives, marking the end of the mundane, and the start of the fantastical.” It had a PC complete with interesting hints of backstory—he’s held down a job, raised a family, and now has gone, carrying reminders of his loved ones, in search of his life’s obsession. It looked pretty good!

Then I started playing. Damn. Continue reading IFComp 2009: The Grand Quest