Posts tagged #rec

Awesome Thing On The Internet: A Game of Rats and Dragon

Tobias Buckell's Mitigated Futures
Tobias Buckell's Mitigated Futures

Lightspeed has a new Tobias Buckell short story up: A Game of Rats and Dragon, from Buckell's upcoming Mitigated Futures collection.

He's exploring a couple of ideas that really interest me: first, the idea of digital companions as equivalents to stuffed animals or pets--things to which we can have a deep emotional connection even when we know they're not real.

The video game Dreamfall (which, sadly, was awful, in spite of being a sequel to The Longest Journey; one of my favorite games of all time) comes at this trope more directly, with actual stuffed animals that are given to children with some basic learning apps (speak and spell type stuff) and 'grow' with their owners to become personal data assistants. Even though they're just computers stuffed inside plush toys, it's easy to see how their owners anthropomorphize them and grow attached to them as if they're actual creatures. After all, they talk. They walk. They play, sing, dance, teach, listen. Even without most of those traits, most people would still read humanity into them--just ask anyone who's ever cussed out Siri.

The other thing Buckell's getting into here is Live Action Role Play. My own experience with LARPs (yeah, I used to dress up and hit people with padded sticks. Judge me all you want; it was fun) has taught me that the more realistic the world--in terms of costume, props, setting, other players-- the easier it is to get into the game and actually play a character without feeling silly. Buckell's taking that one step further to posit that if augmented reality technology were good enough, LARPing would become a really popular pastime.

On top of that, he's also telling an entertaining story. I heartily recommend giving it a read.

Posted on November 30, 2012 .

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Malinda Lo's Ash

Ash by Malinda LoRemixing fairy tales is deceptively hard to do well. Especially when the fairy tale in question features a fairy god mother, and evil stepsister, and magic slippers. As much as I love Cinderella, I'm pretty cynical when someone tells me that this or that retelling actually brings something new to the story for real this time*. Basically, if you can't do better than the Rogers & Hammerstein musical (specifically, the 90s version with the multiracial cast and the regrettable costumes), you're probably not going to impress me.

Malinda Lo impressed me.

I'm sorry I waited so long to read ASH.

It's not just that she's written a version that affirms Lesbian and Bisexual teens. It's great that she did; I always appreciate seeing myself represented in fiction, and I really wish there had been more stories like this out there when I was a teen: stories with queer heroines who get to do all the things straight heroines get to do, rather than having their entire story and all their struggles revolve around discrimination.

But just like I want to read about people like me who get to do what other heroes do, I also want to read like non-marginalized people do. Straight white men don't have  to cleave to every science fiction and fantasy novel that pays even the faintest lip-service to the idea that they're multidimensional people with their own stories, and I refuse to swoon over their table scraps.

So my actual favorite thing about ASH is that the traditional elements of Cinderella's story--the fairy benefactor helping her attend the ball, the prince dazzled by her beauty, the magic slippers, the jealous stepsister, the clock striking twelve--are little more than a backdrop to a completely original story about a young woman struggling past her grief to shape her own destiny and happiness.

I also really loved the dimension she brought to the traditional story's characters. Unlike the fairytale, Lo's version doesn't skip over Cinderella's grief at the loss of her parents or the change in her circumstances. This isn't Disney's long-suffering and eternally patient princess. Her reaction to her mistreatment is human and whole. The fairy benefactor has also been rounded out; appearing as a fleshed-out character with motivations and desires completely separate from helping Cinderella catch Charming's eye.

To my mind, though, Lo's neatest trick was the wicked stepmother. She's no more sympathetic in ASH than she is in the traditional fairytale, but in this version, she's mistreating Cinderella for her own reasons, and not just because the story needs a villain.

Lo's newest book, ADAPTATION, is the first half of a science fiction duology, and it's fresh off the presses. I'm definitely snapping up a copy.

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*I actually took a crack at retelling Cinderella with the fairies in the foreground, back when I was a teen. It involved the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Irish legend of Deirdre and Naoise. It was not very good.

Posted on September 30, 2012 and filed under Books I Love.

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The Art of Video Games

The Art of Video Games: Colecovision kiosk
The Art of Video Games: Colecovision kiosk

I finally got down to the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art (just in time, as the exhibit closes this weekend).

Going in, I wasn't really sure what to expect--the way they ran the public voting to choose which games to include had me concerned that they'd be focusing on the most popular games, rather than the ones that best exemplified the artistic merits of the medium.

But the curators clearly put a lot of thought into which games to feature. They had a good mix of games that were iconic because so many folks remember playing them (Tomb Raider, Mario, Sonic) and those that are iconic because they did something innovative that changed the way people think of games and what they're capable of (like Myst, Portal, and a new game called Flower that's sadly only available on the glorified blue ray player it amuses Sony to call a console).

I wish the exhibit had taken a broader view of its subject. Perhaps because of the size/expense of the exhibit (it was tucked into a few rooms on the third floor, and each room was packed with screens and projectors), it focused almost exclusively on video games as a form of visual art, examining the interface between game and player in much the same way museums examine the relationship between painter and viewer.

I would have liked to see more of a focus on video games as a storytelling medium. 'Literature' is the wrong word for geat games in the same way it's the wrong word for great films, but when games are at their best, they're telling stories in a manner unique to the medium. After my friends and I finished our play through of Mass Effect 3, we spent hours discussing the endings. Which one was most appropriate for our Shepard; which one best fit the narrative arc of the game; ethical implications of making such huge decisions on behalf of billions of sentient beings.

Even games where the story is more linear open up their worlds to players in ways that films and novels can't. One of my favorite adventure games, The Longest Journey, has a single narrative. But exploring the world of the story as you play through, and discovering the world's history and culture by interacting directly with its people and places, is a very different experience than you'd have just reading or watching the main character's adventures. Myst, likewise, has only one 'right' ending. But it's not a beloved classic because of the puzzles or the mystery of the two brothers trapped in the books. Approaching its story not just as a puzzle to unlock but also as a landscape to explore is how it won its place in game history. Movies and novels can't do that. Only games can.

There's also the question of venue. I think the museum of American Art hosted the exhibit just because that's where the interested curators were, but it would have been nice to see some acknowledgement in the exhibit that video games are very much an international art form. Most of the titles that we think of as the classics and staples of the medium are not American at all, and there's something a little weird about an 'American Art' exhibit featuring Mario, Metroid, PacMan, and Minecraft without mentioning that they're not American.

Overall, it was thoughtfully-curated and a great trip down memory lane. One of the rooms had kiosks of consoles, arranged in a timeline from the eighties on up to the present day, with clips of some of the most iconic games from each.  The intergenerational aspect was also quite charming--watching children pick up controllers and try the games I played when I was their age was a real treat. Myst and The Secret of Monkey Island are classics to me, but there were kids at the exhibit who were seeing them for the first time. It reminded me how those games looked and felt when they were new to me.

The Museum of American Art is open until 7pm each evening, and it's right next to the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro. If you can get down there before the exhibit closes down on the 30th, it's worth the trip.

Posted on September 26, 2012 .

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Awesome Thing On The Internet: The Unwritten Rules

The Unwritten Rules is a web series by Kim Williams, "examin[ing] the comedic realities of being a Black Co-Worker in a predominantly white workplace." It stars Aasha Davis, whose comedic timing alone is reason enough to watch.

Here's the trailer:

They've released seven episodes so far, plus one bonus episode. You can watch them on the show's website, or subscribe to the youtube channel.

Posted on September 21, 2012 .

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