Friday, August 29, 2008

Serialized Novel

The previous entry is part of a project that I have embarked on with several friends. Inspired in part by the discovery that Charles Dickens wrote serialized novels (in bi-weekly installments for a newspaper) my friends and I are writing our own novels -with a new chapter every two weeks.

Care to join?

Chapter 1

"Identification." No answer from the stranger. "Identify." She ignores the security desk as she walks across the lobby. Her steps echo in the empty white dome. "Intruder. Who do you think you are?" The night guard puts his knuckles on the desk and rises to his full height. An animated tattoo of a snake crawling through a skull loops on his muscular forearm. It is his business to appear menacing. He has practiced this face in front of the mirror. He puts on his hat and authoritative tone. "This is your first warning. If you take another step you should know that I’m authorized to-"

Jana Berrin turns and gives him a brief glance. His hat is instantly under his arm as he looks straight ahead. His body becomes rigid like a soldier being inspected and his tone shifts to apologetic. "I didn't realize you'd be here so late Executive Berrin."

"I'm not here. I refuse to work late. Connect the executive lift." She watches as he nervously reaches for the switch. He realizes that he has summoned it too late. He should have recognized her, the instant she arrived. Now he has wasted precious seconds of an Executive’s time. She stands still and watches him. Does he dare proceed with regulations? He is painfully aware of each inefficient passing second in the large, soundless lobby.

“Memento mori.” The night guard’s mind snaps frantically into action to craft a response. Unfortunately its only conclusion is that he should say something relevant and clever immediately. Mercifully, she points to the snake slithering through the skull on his arm.
“My tattoo?” He asks. She smiles,
“A reminder that we are mortal?”
“Oh. No, it means I was wounded in action. From my time in the service. My unit’s retirement gift.”
“Were you regen’d by OrMod?”
“Yes Executive, by an OrMod joint project with Build.” She whistles respectfully as she inspects his body. They share a smile.
“Your hand? This arm?”
“My face.”
“No...” Fascinated, she moves closer to appreciate the detailed wrinkles on the cheekbone, the hair follicles on his upper lip, and the light web of blood vessels in the eye.
“Yes. It wasn’t a consumer procedure.” He adds with pride. “It ranked as the first 99 restoration.” She nods with an expert’s understanding of the significance. Berrin had pushed for OrMod to prioritize their development of facial reconstruction while the general market was still focused on skin pigments.
“To think they could have sculpted you any face and you wanted this ugly one back.” She winks, he laughs.
“If you think this is bad you should have seen me after the blast. All this meat was split open and peeled back-” He catches himself. “Forgive me, Executive Berrin, my manners…” She raises a hand in polite dismissal. He has heard about Jana Berrin from the other night shift staff. He didn’t believe that they had actually spoken to an Executive. Yet now he sees for himself the friendly person behind the pretentious regal portraits.
The elevator arrives; she nods and turns to leave.

"Executive Berrin, since it’s after hours and since we're supposed to be on high alert. I'll need a full sample." She turns and he immediately realizes his mistake. Her face carries the cold indifference of the powerful. He becomes aware that he’s risking his employment. Greater still, his entire consumer relationship with OrMod is being weighed in that look.

Then she smiles, amused at being slowed down by these common measures. They know that the building’s automated Sentinel is actively archiving both of them. The floor is measuring their weight, and a myriad of hidden scanners are correlating bone length, capillary maps, and registered eyeprints. Nonetheless, she offers her arm.

He approaches but hesitates to touch her skin. She is Executive class. Jana Berrin takes the cylinder from his hand without any sign of frustration and injects herself. Then she inserts the sample into the terminal. Immediately the reading announces a 94% match. She smiles and walks toward the elevator.

“Your cloak. That’s why I didn’t recognize you. You’re wearing a new cloak.”
“Perceptive.” The lift door closes.

The night guard sits at his desk and relives the experience. His mind practices the story, deciding what parts his co-workers need not hear. Across the city, Jana Berrin is sleeping. At the top of the OrMod tower, a figure with Jana Berrin’s body, Rei Kent’s eyes, and Daria-Zeh Motema’s memories moves proficiently through security and into the core office.

Friday, August 22, 2008


I have killed many things. Terrorists, counterterrorists, pedestrians, goombas, orcs, Pharaohman, soldiers, the Flood, robots, The Squids (the entire gang), Odin, and many more. I have no doubt that a crude goal (get to the end, gain XP, clear the screen of enemies, beat the clock) creates a mentality where living things are transformed into expendable obstacles. Indeed, in some video games I go out of my way to kill things in order to improve my character's stats. This is the process of desensitization that mainstream news networks advertise.

I have yet to hear about the higher brow literary desensitization.

I was reading Kosinski's The Painted Bird last night and I reached the part, early in the book, where the main character watches a group of boys torture a squirrel by lighting it on fire. I wasn't emotionally affected at all because I found myself musing over what the author wanted the squirrel to symbolize.

Desensitization is the process of accepting violence. This occurs when it is overshadowed by a goal (as in video games and war) or by assigning it symbolic value (as in literature and politics).

While looking for an image of a Goomba being stomped I stumbled on these two wonderful sites:
Stitched pixel art
Video Game haLOLz

Saturday, August 16, 2008

China's Female Athletes

I hear a lot about Phelps and Bolt and not enough about China's female athletes who are dominating the Olympics. Take a look at the medal count.

Right now they account for 30/55 medals for China -including 17 gold. (The closest competitors are the female athletes from the USA. They have garnered 29 medals -5 gold)

I can understand why our North American bullshit tyrannical body type culture would turn a blind eye to women's weightlifting. But, c'mon Capitalism, this is the time for shooters. Give those FPS video game playing 13-year-old boys a role model like Du Li. Who wouldn't want to sport that sweet jersey?

So, Cap, where can I get one?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fat Princess - my side of the war

Titan's new game for Sony, Fat Princess, is taking some flak from intelligent people. I found Holly's critique interesting (and with the great line "I used to think fat people were inherently hilarious too — when I was 15 years old. Then I grew the fuck up and realized it made me an asshole.")

The price of being critical. Once again I'm surprised at the reactionary hate inspired by (what I consider to be moderate) feminist critique. Melissa McEwan writes about the fallout from her letter to Sony. She has received a lot of hate comments. No one can really defend this game from a critical attack that points out it's coming from a male-dominated (patriarchal) perspective that considers obese women as humorous. That's a fact.

What these "debates" often descend into is a war of insecurities.
People who want to enjoy the game attack critics for not being able to stop thinking and have fun. They see the attacks as an issue of insecurity from being rejected by mainstream culture. Similarly, critics see the defenders of Fat Princess as insecure children who try to raise their own self-esteem by pushing others down. Thus the debate moves away from observing the game and into the angry world of hurtful comments known as trolling.

Indeed, I am insecure. I fear there is a cultural war going on and the unthinking are winning. I was first aware of the polarizing, side-choosing, warlike nature of these battles when reading about the absurd dispute over feminist Jessica Valenti's sweater.

I have a tendency to put the blinders on. I try to avoid choosing sides in conflict because I know from playing Apples to Apples how quickly my own righteousnesses makes everyone else's opinion into nonsense.

Yet, in this instance I must choose a side. I side with the criticism of Fat Princess and denounce the game. Boycotted. If you can't see the harmful patriarchal perspective boiling up in this game then you are choosing not to think and have earned my ridicule, asshat.

My own perspective on Fat Princess:

I like the game dynamics. It's a massive (32 player?) multiplayer game where two armies try to capture the other's princess. You can feed your princess in order to make it difficult for the opposing team to lift her for rescue. It's neat because it requires a lot of teamwork, the graphics are my cel-shaded preference, and it looks like there's a lot of nice touches in this preview.

You would have to have your head quite far up your ass not to notice the following things:
1 .The premise is the classic male (warrior, active) saves the female (princess, passive).
2. The image of a fat woman is an intentional source of humour in the game.
3. All of the active characters (rescuers) are male.
4. The sole female character is passive. All of her movement requires others to lift her or to feed her.

FAQ. Crushing your counterattack.
1. Hey, what's wrong with the classic formula: male hero saves female victim?

Nothing. The only thing wrong is its dominance in our entertainment industry. We should throw off the psychological restraint of 'playing the victim' and provide women with a greater variety of female roles to identify with. Notice I did not say discard this formula, merely add some variety.
2. We should laugh at the fat princess since it's an unhealthy lifestyle, right?
Interesting. Did ridicule help you become a 'better' person or is it more likely to lock you into a cycle of self-hate? Additionally, notice that we're dealing with a princess and excluding princes. Our culture is notorious for waging war on the minds of young women by surrounding them with images of minority bodytypes. Finally, stop fucking around. You're not laughing at the "unhealthy lifestyle" so stop playing the bullshit social crusader. You don't laugh at smokers or carbon monoxide emissions. You're laughing because you've been trained, in our culture, to consider certain bodytypes as unacceptable, thus, humorous. The same thing happens in our culture that encourages to think of heterosexuality as normal and homosexuality as unacceptable, thus, humourous. Consider the rise of the terms 'gay' and currently 'no homo'. These things cease to be funny as you grow up and began to think for yourself.
3. Of course all the rescuers are male, aren't playable female characters usually shitty?
Agreed. Their increased speed never compensates for their weak hit power. Honesty, you have to headstomp someone 50,000 times with Chun-li. Video game designers take note. Stop making shitty female playable characters. Make them just as strong and as slow as their male counterparts. Better yet, have users choose their characters on stats alone and then have a male or female skin randomly generate on the mod.
4. Isn't the game pro-women since the object is to protect them?
Great point but I'm not sure I quite understand your complex argument. Let me put my head up your ass so we can see the world together. Shit, now I see how deep it is. Seriously, only ask questions that you can't bury by thinking for yourself for thirty seconds. What is this, baby's-first-debate?

I believe that criticism alone is useless and that the real useful (and difficult) work comes in thinking of solutions:

The following things would improve the game:
1. The 'princess' should be randomly generated as a male or female.
2. The princess or prince should be an active participant in the plan to make themselves fatter and more difficult to carry (as opposed to a passive object that requires stuffing). This shifts the humour from 'images of fat women are funny' to 'the absurd concept of rapidly gaining weight to prevent your own kidnapping is funny'.
3. The playable characters (rescuers) should be male and female.
4. The playable characters should have a variety of body types (not simply 'bearded angry men' and 'overtly sexualized women'). The NES game Ice Hockey had three body types.

The fact that these ideas do not occur to video game designers proves that the industry is patriarchal. Notice, I did not say 'run by men'. The patriarchy can be propagated by men, women, children, parents, even people calling themselves feminist.

A note to those who plan on enjoying playing Fat Princess.

It looks like a lot of fun. Fat Princess is not responsible for all of the crimes of our culture. It is a small patch in a larger quilt of oppression. You can defend the patch but not the quilt. Know that you have to turn your critical mind off to enjoy the game.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Final Fantasy II (94%) the Review

FF2 for the Super Nintendo was my introduction to Role Playing Games (RPGs) and, while FF3 is a reputable challenger, it remains the ultimate boss of RPGs.

There is nothing to compare the satisfaction of finding a hidden treasure chest, gaining a level of experience, or inflicting the fabled 9999 damage.

Timing and Circumstances
As the eldest of three brothers I held the controller and encouraged my brothers to compete for the role of "chief adviser". It was a tyrannical system for a one player game. But RPGs don't require fast reflexes. There's no carefully timed jumps or dodging bullets. It's a lot of walking around, talking to people, selecting battle orders from a list, and watching the story play out. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this game with my brothers. It was like a thirty hour movie. We were in a frenzy when we finally reached Golbez -we were even allowed to put the game on pause for the entire duration of dinner (that had never happened before).

I found the story captivating, I couldn't wait to defeat the next boss and watch the plot develop. Later, I would speak with someone who had a similar experience with Final Fantasy X -a game that I thought was terrible. Perhaps my appreciation was in my age. My understanding of cliches was also young. Everything in the game seemed so new and daring.

I've always had respect for composers of video game soundtracks. The prolific Nobuo Uematsu is the only rival to Capcom's Megaman series for creating consistently captivating music. An impressive feat considering game tunes are made with po tentially irritating bleeps and bloops and are played on relentless loop. It was the music of the underground world that made me hold a tape player to the television to record the sound. Of course, the music may mean nothing to someone who has never been there.

I was forever enamo ured with pixel art since admiring the quality of Tellah and Yang's sprite walking on the world map, a simple two frame animation. As video game systems began to strive for photo realism, I never lost my attachment to 16bit images. Like a Chuck Close portrait, a magnified look reveals abstract patterns that transform into breathtaking order as you step away.

There is a twist of betrayal in the game that had my brothers and I announce our shock and disappointment. This was the first game where the central char acter showed any sign of emotional growth. This was also the first video game that I played where characters sacrificed their lives. I'll always remember the twins, Palom and Parom, redeeming their lackluster characters by turning themselves to stone in order to save us. There was a certain dignity in their deaths that made it hard for us to continue ridiculing their outfits and lack of useful spells.

FF2 has a special place in my heart. I hate poetry. But I am impressed at how some classical poets demonstrate their mastery of language by making the strict form of iambic pentameter seem organic. The designers of FF2 responded to the restrictions of the SNES by crafting a work of art within the 16bit walls. It provided me with hours of entertainment and remains one of the few games that I consider emotionally resonant.

As a sidenote, Final Fantasy IV in Japan was released as Final Fantasy II in North America.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Future of Academia

*I couldn't be happier with the style of my last post (thanks to this bit of code). Hypertext is well suited to the dual pursuits of academic writing: clarity and proof . We should train students to write essays in this format.

The form was inspired by this online version of Wittgenstein's Tractatus

The content was inspired by teaching high school students how to approach a text as if they were a Marxist, Feminist, Postcolonial, or Psychoanalytical scholar. We presented these perspectives in a straightforward and simple manner. The students rose to the challenge and the results were very encouraging.

A Marxist Reading - A 'How To' Guide

1. A Simple Guide to Marxist Analysis
2. What is Marxism?
3. A Marxist analysis of Pokemon