December 2003 Archives

Violent Video Games

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Whether you play video games or not, you've undoubtedly heard or read about the issue of violence in gaming. Most journalistic reports on the issue tend to focus in on a few genres, particularly first-person shooters and death-match style shooters. As one who plays video games frequently, how paltry these discussions seem. For the world of violent video gaming is in fact much more rich and nuanced than these accounts make out. There are games suited to every angry mood, from passing irritation to blathering outrage.

Just as most sane people refrain from working themselves into a lather over any slight, gamers don't necessarily turn to a virtual automatic weapon to express every violent fantasy. For example, if I've had a run-of-the-mill frustrating day at work, I might work out my aggressions with a few aggressive spin attacks and a couple of shots from a chicken-shooting gun in Muppet Monster Mania.

What about passive-aggressive anger? I was partially inspired to write this piece because of a new Japanese video game I read about in Electronic Gaming Monthly called Katamari Damashii, which seems to fit this category. You start out with a small ball that you roll around, and whatever you roll over, sticks. The interesting part is that almost anything can stick--candy wrappers, discarded newspaper, a small child, a policeman, a bike. It seems very contemplative in a way, and yet, when you roll over people, they scream.

I personally find the first-person shooter is best for an ugly mood. Say I'm feeling angry and suspicious because I believe that my country is being looted by those currently in power. Such righteous anger might properly inspire me to pick up Medal of Honor Underground, in which you, as a female resistance fighter, undertake various missions, most of which involve shooting Nazis with period weaponry. Very satisfying. And because there is an entire subgenre of Nazi shooters--ranging from quasi-historical games such as the "Medal of Honor" series to fantasy horror games where the Nazis double as vampires or zombies--I can fire on my enemies at will, knowing there will always be plenty more to take their place.

When I want to pull out all the stops, I'm inclined to turn to vehicular violence. It's a personal choice, of course--others may prefer swords, or pistols, or kung-fu. I try to save these games for extreme situations, so they lose none of their therapeutic power. Destruction Derby-style games are nice, but the king of the auto genre for me remains Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now, which has a less contained, more realistic setting. Basically, you get points for hitting, running over, or destroying things. I like to match it with a mood of long-simmering resentment that is about to boil over into rage.

The great thing about Carmageddon 2 is there is so much aural feedback. There is the tinkling sound of glass as you plow through a department store window. The rev of the engine as you speed up to smash another car. The distinctive sound of a fire starting behind you, or of pedestrians' crazed shouting as they frantically attempt to disperse. The game is completely over the top, and in the end, quite silly. I guess that's why the game works so well at defusing my anger: it makes me laugh.

Gaming Mashup

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While reading John Abbe's wiki, I came across a reference to an ongoing role-playing game mashup project. The idea is to help game master's generate ideas for new worlds and storylines. The most recent mashup suggestion was for an RPG based on the Gospels, which I think could be very interesting. The Gospels seem to lend themselves to an open-ended storytelling approach; it's like an early form of multipath narrative. Some commentors indicate they've actually played similar storylines. I'm sure I'd enjoy playing the "harrowing of Hell" adventure that's mentioned.

Happiness is a warm Hobbit

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Sam comforts Frodo.I went to see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King yesterday. To commemorate the occasion, I put up a picture of Arwen as the wallpaper on my computer, since she is the prettiest girl in the film--with Frodo running a very close second. One would think there would be few surprises in this film, but I was pleasantly surprised by how prominently the hobbits' tales figured in the story. I hope you all had a nice holiday. I did--in fact, one of the gifts I received was the new The Hobbit game for Game Cube.

Site update

I updated In Sequence to version 2.5 of Movable Type the other day. I mostly wanted it for the security update, although a template for the new Atom syndication format was included as well.

I thought I would use this occasion to explain why I do not offer a syndication feed. I think syndication is a good thing, but I'm sort of uptight about implementing things I don't fully understand on my site. I was also hoping that a single standard might be decided upon during the time it takes me to teach myself how to create a custom feed, but that looks less and less like it's going to happen.

At any rate, I know some folks read the scraped version of this site offered through one of the aggregator sites or else use a tool of some sort, like Perl, to download the site themselves. Eventually, I do intend to get around to making a feed available myself.

Superchunk

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You probably read or heard about the 6.5 earthquake that hit California yesterday. I was working near the top of a high-rise in Los Angeles when it hit. In case you are wondering what it feels like to be in an office tower during an earthquake, here are the first few words that come to my mind: barfy, barftastic, barftacular, barf-o-rama, all-night barfathon.

Once I figured out what was going on, I hit the floor in a matter of seconds. I stayed there until a co-worker peeled me off the ground and suggested we go downstairs. This was not an easy task, as we soon discovered the entire bank of elevators had stopped working, so we had to hike down the stairs.

After we arrived on the ground, we joined crowds from all the surrounding office towers along the streets. As it turns out, this is not the smartest move in an earthquake, as it means you're standing under large sheets of glass from the high-rises around you.

The most mind-blowing aspect of the experience was learning the epicenter wasn't even in Los Angeles. But I prefer not to think about that.

Spam skirmish

A lot of bloggers have been plagued with a rush of spam comments lately. They are very tricksy, these comment spammers, because they've figured out how to leave comments that sound like they might be real or in some way related to one's blog. One clever spammer left a comment on my site that discussed Marcel Proust, of all things.

Yesterday I finally installed MT-blacklist, a plug-in for Movable Type that helps block comment spam. I recommend it to other bloggers using MT; it was a very easy set-up and is much faster than weeding out spam comments manually.

Search for the Sith

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One of the pleasures of watching series is the feeling of expectation one is left with at the end of an episode. It's a delicate balance--there are cliffhangers that heighten excitement for the story to continue and those that leave too many questions unanswered.

I felt a mixture of both emotions when I watched the Phantom Menace on DVD with the cute-little-red-headed-girlfriend some time ago. Although the film was largely unsatisfying, it left us both with one pressing question in our minds: who are the Sith?

In case you don't recall, Darth Maul was one of the Sith. But the back story of the Sith was left untold, leaving me wondering where this dramatic figure came from. Naturally, where this is twistedness and evil there are fan sites, but I wanted something more canonical--a definitive history of the Sith.

My first thought was to turn to the Star Wars novels. However, after checking out several reviews sites and a few forums I realized that the Dark Horse line of graphic novels--chronologically ordered collections of the Star Wars comics--were considered to be more consistent in quality and directly addressed the topic I was interested in.

Dark Horse has lots of useful material on their web site, and they've make it fairly easy to find what you want. I consulted their timeline to locate the Star Wars era I was interested in. Although the early graphic novels are out of print, I've found scattered titles available in most comic shops and in bookstores, and you can still buy them online.

The first one I picked up was Dark Lords of the Sith. Although it didn't answer all my questions about the Sith, it did absolutely capture my imagination. The book is both dramatic and deeply interior, showing the internal struggle of aspiring Jedi warriors confronting the pull of the Dark Side. I was initially put off by the sketchiness of some of the art work, but as I became more engrossed with a story that spanned worlds and numerous characters I came to appreciate the artist's sacrifice of graphic detail for the sake of narrative clarity and momentum.

I'm looking forward to the next "chapter" in this story. The events seem to foreshadow the fall of Anakin Skywalker and his transformation into the evil Darth Vadar. Perhaps I will be able to complete the back story by the time the next Star Wars movie opens this summer.

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