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Posts Tagged ‘video games’

The Age of Innocence, and Other News

October 14, 2015 | by

Edith Wharton’s baby rattle.

  • Today in profligacy: for a cool $16,500, you could own Edith Wharton’s one-of-a-kind sterling-silver baby rattle, which she gave to the only child of Leon and Germaine Belugou on her christening in 1920. It’s got a whistle at one end with EDITH engraved on the lip. Oh, and it’s decorated with three bells. Oh, and it has a piece of coral at the end, which was apparently used for teething. Oh, and it’s housed in a custom-made black-cloth clamshell box lined with purple velvet with a black leather gilt-stamped label on the spine.
  • You know that famous photograph of Eve Babitz, the one Julian Wasser took of her playing chess in the nude against Marcel Duchamp? If you’re wondering, it was taken on October 7, 1963, at the Pasadena Art Museum, and she’s finally willing to talk about it: “I’m sitting there, smoking like crazy, pretending to be bolder than I am, and then Marcel shows up. He’s wearing this beautiful suit, and he has this gay little straw hat on that he must’ve bought in Las Vegas, and he has these charming eyes that were very detached. Julian says he’s ready and I drop the smock, and Julian must’ve been afraid that I was going to have second thoughts, because he kicked the smock way across to the other side of the room. Marcel and I sat down in front of the chess board, and he says, ‘Et alors,’ which means, ‘You go.’ And so I did, and he checkmated me in a single move. It’s called fool’s mate. And I was upset because I thought I had a chance because of my tits, but I didn’t.”
  • In last week’s staff picks I mentioned Mark Davis, who collected years and years of prerecorded in-store “Kmart Radio” tapes and then put them all on the Internet. Someone got the full story from him: “I was sixteen years old and Kmart was my first job, which lasted for ten years … When working in a retail store with a looping program, you hear the same songs over and over. And then you hear the same songs when you stop in to get your paycheck. And you hear them when you go to the store to visit friends when off the clock. Whether you initially like a song, artist, or genre or not, it really grows on you after hearing it over and over. That’s what happened to me at the store, and I started liking the songs as they were predictable and helped the day along. I loved Kmart as a company … I decided to go behind the service desk and look at the store’s sound system. I saw the October 1989 tape sitting next to the cassette deck and a reel-to-reel deck, which was decommissioned but still present. I thought to myself—why not take this tape as a keepsake for the first month at my first job?”
  • Why is it that the same people who drone on and on about the future of “digital storytelling” are the ones who pay no attention to video games as a vehicle for said storytelling? Don’t these people have eyes? “The forums, summits, breakout sessions and seminars on ‘digital literature’ [are] run by exceedingly well-meaning arts people who can talk for hours about what the future might be for storytelling in this new technological age … without apparently noticing that video games exist. And they don’t just exist! They’re the most lucrative, fastest-growing medium of our age. Your experimental technological literature is already here … Games often manage to be both great art and an economic powerhouse; we’re doing ourselves and the next generation a disservice if we don’t take that seriously.”
  • It’s never too late for a takedown. Here’s a broadside against Henry David Thoreau, 153 years after his death—because what was with that guy, anyway? “The most telling thing he purports to abstain from while at Walden is companionship, which he regards as at best a time-consuming annoyance, at worst a threat to his mortal soul. For Thoreau, in other words, his fellow-humans had the same moral status as doormats … The poor, the rich, his neighbors, his admirers, strangers: Thoreau’s antipathy toward humanity even encompassed the very idea of civilization … Why, given Thoreau’s hypocrisy, his sanctimony, his dour asceticism, and his scorn, do we continue to cherish Walden?”

Gamelife: The Game

October 12, 2015 | by

Michael Clune’s Gamelife is an excellent new memoir about computer games. We could tell you all about it, but there are better means of description: as Clune writes, “computer games taught me how to imagine something so it lasts, so it feels real.”

With that in mind, we’ve gotten together with Farrar, Straus and Giroux to present Gamelife, the world’s first computer game about a memoir about computer games. No floppy disk required—simply click below to begin.

Click to play.

If you’d rather hear more about the book the old-fashioned way, I’ll be talking to Clune tomorrow night, Tuesday, October 13, at McNally Jackson. The event begins at 7:30 p.m.

God Hates Renoir, and Other News

October 7, 2015 | by

Photo: Courtesy Max Geller

  • If the prospect of another literary awards season has you rolling your eyes and grumbling about the tastelessness of the establishment, try spicing things up the old-fashioned way: gambling. You’ll find that a well-placed bet, or even a poor one, can bring a certain frisson to even the fustiest book prizes: “I allotted a budget of £100 for the Nobel and Booker combined. My rule was that, with one exception, any winner among the bets I placed had to win me back at least my entire stake. I tend to make three categories of bet: (1) a likely winner; (2) a writer I really admire who’s also a patriotic favorite; (3) a writer I’ve reviewed negatively. There’s often overlap between categories 1 and 3 … Philip Roth has 8-to-1 odds, but I’ve given up on him since he gave up writing books. He seems cursed by Stockholm. I put the rest of my Nobel money on Marilynne Robinson (£4 at 25-to-1) and Don DeLillo (£10 at 50-to-1).”
  • Or you can rage against the arts-and-culture machine with a nonviolent protest, as these enemies of Renoir—who’s plainly the shittiest of the Impressionists—have done outside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading ‘God Hates Renoir’ and ‘Treacle Harms Society,’ the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: ‘Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin!’ and ‘Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!’”
  • As unrest seizes the globe and the model of the nation-state faces collapse, theorists are frantically debating the fate of geopolitics—but no one is worrying about the video-game designers. How are they supposed to make a decent historical strategy game when no one knows what it looks like to win the twenty-first century? “In the twenty-first century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? … Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the twentieth century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day.”
  • Francine Prose looks at the frightening but tender psychology underpinning Yorgos Lanthimos’s new film, The Lobster, which “posits a dystopian near-future in which it has become illegal not to be part of a couple”: “Lanthimos’s films often contain such disturbing moments of unexpected, startling violence that people who have never been able to watch Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to the end might be wise to spare themselves. Like Sophocles, Lanthimos understands that sudden self-mutilation generates a particular kind of adrenaline in the viewer. Consequently, the director’s fans learn to brace themselves every time one of his characters stands in front of a mirror.”
  • Dude: Creedence. Creedence Clearwater Revival. There’s a band. I mean, that’s a band for everyone, a band for all times! Talking to John Fogerty reveals some tricks of the trade, including the band’s go-to themes, “foremost among them the nostalgia for some lost agrarian past. But, of course, that same nostalgia was a founding theme of the South … If this vision was itself a sort of cartoon—a brutal and deadly one, with strange fruit hanging from the trees—an odd thing happened when you spread the cartoonish map of ‘Born on the Bayou’ across the partly real, partly imagined Southern landscape: you got a one-to-one ratio. The result was something like realism.”

LSD for Kids, and Other News

September 9, 2015 | by

From Super Mario World.

  • Sherman Alexie chose a poem by Yi-Fen Chou, a Chinese American, for this year’s Best American Poetry anthology. But Yi-Fen Chou was a pseudonym, it turned out, for Michael Derrick Hudson, a white guy. Now that he’s elected to include the poem anyway, Poetry Twitter is inflamed. But “I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past,” Alexie says: “I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet's identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American.”
  • Arthur Heming, the Canadian “painter of the great white north,” was diagnosed as color-blind when he was a kid; this motivated the strange palette of black, yellow, and white he used for most of his career in the early twentieth century. “Thematically, he worked with scenes whose colors were appropriately blanched: winter hunting and trapping expeditions that he took for the Hudson Bay Company and alongside people of the First Nations. His narrow focus in painting mirrored his work as a traveler, novelist, and illustrator, and the commercial nature of his output certainly influenced the mixed reception he received in the art market. In Canada he existed as an outsider of both the trapping communities he traveled with in the north and of his peers in the fine art world.”
  • Rob Chapman’s new cultural history of LSD reminds us that psychedelia’s day in the sun wasn’t just some trippy bullshit in a kandy-kolored vacuum—it was a short-lived, potent moment with lingering political aftereffects. “Chapman insists that Hendrix, far from wandering up his own psychic fundament, ended up directing psychedelia’s transformative sonic potency against the state. ‘After Woodstock [in 1969], the atrocities of carpet-bombing and village burning were soundtracked by the symbolic flag-shredding that takes place during Hendrix’s extraordinary rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” ’ ”
  • And maybe, for a later generation, early video games were just as mind shattering as a tab of good acid: “I think Super Mario World was altering our perception long before acid or psilocybin mushrooms … the player irrevocably changes the landscape of Super Mario World. Empty space becomes solid matter, and you can access new parts of the game. Within the blink of an eye, the world, as well as the player’s view of the virtual world, transforms … Thirteen years later, I’d discover that LSD could similarly expose sediment layers of reality that I didn’t previously know about, thereby changing my perception in both immediate and permanent ways.”
  • In 1906, a New Yorker named Julia Rice founded the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, one in a continuing line of noble but ill-advised measures against the sounds of the city. In this case, the culprit was tugboat noise. “The campaign was related to the idea of a neurosis called ‘Newyorkitis’—an illness that arose from an unhealthy addiction to noisy environs. Her campaign was crowned with success: in 1907 Congress signed a law reducing the frequency of ships’ whistles in federal waters … However, Rice seems to have enjoyed quite a bit of noise in her life: her six children played instruments and the family allegedly kept a number of cats and dogs.”

It’s-A-Me, Ishmael

March 25, 2015 | by

Can Nintendo tell a proper story?


From The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.

Nintendo and Netflix may be developing a Legend of Zelda TV series, the Wall Street Journal recently reported; or, as Time reported even more recently, they may not. Behind the will-they-or-won’t-they speculation lies a more complicated question: Can they? Do games like these bear expansion into full-fledged stories?

At first glance, a Zelda series seems like a savvy move: HBO’s Game of Thrones has proven that there’s high demand for vaguely medieval fantasies, of which Zelda—a franchise that made its debut in 1986, and that’s grown to include roughly seventeen games—is a prime specimen. And since Nintendo has gradually been losing its share of the video-game market for the past fifteen years, it has every reason to find other ways to wring more value from its globally recognizable intellectual property.

But games don’t translate as easily to TV or film as you might think. In his 2010 apologia Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, perhaps the most thorough defense to date of video games as art, the journalist and essayist Tom Bissell explains why: “The video-game form,” he writes, “is incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative progression.” Unlike books and films, games require challenge, “which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression.” Read More »

Systems Bigger Than Ourselves, and Other News

March 16, 2015 | by


From SimCity, 1989.

  • On SimCity and the value of games that dared to make complex systems their protagonists: “SimCity is a game about urban societies, about the relationship between land value, pollution, industry, taxation, growth, and other factors … the game got us all to think about the relationships that make a city run, succeed, and decay, and in so doing to rise above our individual interests, even if only for a moment. This was a radical way of thinking about video games: as non-fictions about complex systems bigger than ourselves. It changed games forever—or it could have … ”
  • Philip Roth’s misogyny is treated as a given these days; “the women are monstrous because for Philip Roth women are monstrous,” Vivian Gornick once wrote. But: “Maybe Philip Roth loves women? Maybe he, who offers a three-page description of female masturbation, is in fact an advocate for female desire? … While misogynists try to shame women, Roth celebrates women’s sexual power. It’s the men he is out to get.”
  • “That sentence is shit. It’s got to be better. You asshole.” Matt Sumell on writing and doubt.
  • Today in German words that dearly need English equivalents: verschlimmbessert, which can be roughly translated as “ ‘ver-worsebettered.’ In essence, it’s a combination of verbessern (‘to improve’) and verschlimmern (‘to make worse’).  Here, then, is a verb that is able to express the idea of something simultaneously improving and worsening.”
  • In which Benjamin Percy attends the dreadfully named Man Camp and enjoys a surprisingly rousing encounter with masculinity: “When men get together, they tend to speak with irony or rough-throated braggadocio, but [here] there was an uncommon sincerity to everyone’s tone. It caught me off guard.”