Archive for Books

Linksplosion: Martin Amis, ‘Minecraft,’ and Emporium Bar Arcade

Hello and hi. I collected a couple links a couple days ago, but I hadn’t yet posted them—until now! Lucky you!

  • Joystiq – Minecraft building blocks (via Metafilter.

    The correct reaction is “what the—”

  • Eater – Emporium Arcade Bar Opening in March

    A Barcade-style barcade is coming to Chicago, and everyone is freaking out:

    Expect a focus on Midwestern and local beer with half of the beer on tap always being from the Midwest. The plan is to rotate their selection often, so there will always be new brews to try. There will also be a large whiskey list, with a selection of standard and upscale varieties. A full bar will be available as well and there may be more specialty cocktails down the line.

  • Writer Martin Amis once penned a video-game near-classic, Invasion of the Space Invaders. The Millions has a review of the book (via Slate).

    Photo: Martin Amis's 'Space Invaders'

    Since the book is impossible to buy used, some Good Samaritan is publishing Amis’s book’s very best lines as a Twitter feed.

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“Daily” Linksplosion: experiential games writing

absolutely robbed from Stu Horvath, by Stu Horvath

Some time ago I stopped understanding how to use the Deli.cio.us cron; I’ve consequently relaxed in culling roundups of games-related writing I like. This, I think, is bad. I wonder how much terrific writing is slipping past me.

So I am back with an all new, not-automated Linksplosion.


By the way. It’s Death Week at Unwinnable, and I am very proud of its EIC, Stu Horvath. His piece, “On Death and Gaming,” was reprinted today at Kotaku.

The column stands on its own, but the explosion of reminiscence and reflection in the comments really underscores what cathartic, nourishing work Horvath has done.

There is a style of good experiential writing, and maybe it takes a certain type of experience, then, to know it when you see it. When people know it, though, they are on the same page. They gush. Check the comments. (Also, see the story’s second half. Also, there is newly a third act, which is the most fascinating of all of them, to me, except it waits until its very last paragraphs to even acknowledge video games. I think this is fine.)

The allure of “retro gaming” could well have a great deal to do with memory, with remembering where you were and what you were doing when you felt this one thing. I could make so much more fuss over why video games and death and loss and loneliness are all so connected, but I will stay simple, recommend that you read Stu’s articles, and encourage you to think about how video games connect to your own sense of grief and loss. Because it’s there, it’s there, even if you haven’t connected all these intermingling narratives yet.


I am also into emergent gaming and, uh, agoraphobia.

This is why I really appreciate writer Shaun Gannon’s piece “Professional Gamer.” Gannon has been experimenting with some different types of writing, and this one is maybe like a poem about fearfulness. I bet you’ll like it.

I shouldn’t try to explain anything else, and anyway, you people are not dense.


The website Critical Distance recently invited games writers to discuss “being other.”

Kotaku Australia editor Mark Serrels was up for the challenge, and his “Meeting My Daughter for the First Time (In the Sims)” really struck me.

I am scared of babies, but I am getting to the age where I ought to reconsider my worry, too. But there is a bigger thought, here—about avatars, about artifice, simulacra, that movie Synecdoche, NY—that also occurred to me. I like thinking about how we do and do not resemble our own avatars, about how self-perception is so skewed. But Serrels’ essay goes a step further.

I have heard of people using video game sports simulations to play “future games” and estimate sports brackets, as if sports video games could be accurate ecosystems anyway.

But suppose you were able to use a game to simulate your future son or daughter? Suppose you were secretly and grimly terrified about seeing the outcome? Suppose you played The Sims and discovered your own sense of relief? I am all for existentialism and all its blues, but this was a surprisingly pleasant column.

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On writing for print

A painting of an eye-in-the-sky, looking over a city, by artist Jose Luis Olivares

I am about to try something really new. I’ve said that before, but this time I definitely totally mean it.

Lately, I have been getting messages from friends (Allan) about an essay of mine that appeared in Kill Screen Magazine, Issue 3: Intimacy. People, this thing was published in April. Come on.

Obviously I think you should buy the US$15 magazine, which is still available. I know a lot of people get irritated at the idea of spending that kind of money on printed media, which baffles me, but some people believe everything should be online for free. They’ve gotten used to a certain type of accessibility, and I guess that’s OK.

There are a lot of reasons you should buy the magazine, though. For one, it isn’t that old, and it’s a really good issue, and $15 isn’t that much money, and you will have this magazine forever, unless you lose it. For two, we need to support print media right now. (This is very much like a plea I meant to post back in April.) For my own part, I was already paid for my contribution to the magazine, so just buy the magazine, already. For another, we owe the person who ably and singlehandedly edited the piece, writer Chris Dahlen, because he really did do most of the work. Without a good editor, I A) would have given up, or B) would have written something much longer/shorter/worse, but probably just option A.

I wrote this essay, “All the Spaces Between Us,” very specifically for Kill Screen Magazine. It had occurred to me to pitch it to Chris one night in the car, I think in October 2010, when I was going down the highway. (This is how the magic happens, you guys.)

I realized I had some things I wanted to talk about, but if I wanted to go all the way, all-in, I’d have to write for print. That’s because the printed word affords you a freedom you don’t really get with Internet writing. Everyone can see Internet writing and then pass it around, so you have to watch what you say. Plus you don’t want to experiment with putting your whole soul on the line for strangers, and then here comes Joe Dickhead in the comments, picking it apart. Listen, Dickhead! That’s what college was for! OK!

With print, though, people have to pay for the privilege of taking your writing seriously, and because your writing isn’t very muscular anyway, a lot of people are going to flip past your essay. That’s a very freeing feeling, to know that a lot of people won’t stop to read, or else they will get exhausted and stop reading before you ever start making your Very Important Points.

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Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games (1982)

From The Usborne Guide to Computer and Video Games (1982):

Many more extrapolations and insights at the link.

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Kill Screen, issue #1: the No Fun Issue

Hi, mom. Hi! It’s me! Yeah, hi!

What? No, I haven’t taken the GRE yet. Hang on, hey, I was calling to tell you—hmm? My driver’s license? Um, nuh-uh, I didn’t renew it. But I—huh? Well, I mean, probably. No, I mean, I’ll get the oil changed, I think I can do that for twenty bucks at the Car-X. What? Yes, we are. No. Yes. Yes. Probably a movie or something. No, I think I’ve actually stopped losing weight. What? Well, ramen and granola, mostly. OK. OK. OK. I don’t think so? OK.

Hey, I was actually phoning to tell you about my article in the magazine. What? No, my article. Well, the magazine is called Kill Screen—uh, no, it’s a video game magazine, I guess “kill screen” is like a video game, uh, term.

But it’s Kill Screen, issue number one, the “No Fun Issue,” and my column is about gender and sex and sexism and uh genderism, and the magazine is twenty dollars. What? No, I get one copy. No, I just get the one copy of it. No. No, I’m keeping my copy. You have to buy your own copy. No. No. Yes. Hmm? Well, even though you can kind of already read my piece online for free, you know, the magazine is published like quarterly, and it’s ad-free and glossy and ninety-six pages long, so since this is a really nice magazine or whatever, like, I couldn’t just publish the old version of the column. So I added a lot to the original piece and we all workshopped it, and so it’s like a really different article now, in some ways, but I think in good ways.

Anyway, I guess that’s all. OK. OK. I will. Mhm. Yes. OK. I will. I will. OK! Talk to you later. OK. OK. Talk to you later. Bye! OK. OK, bye! Yes. I will. Bye!

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Daily Linksplosion: Wednesday, July 07, 2010

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Bill Mudron’s Nintendo book has a cover now

I am just going to assume everyone knows about how Nintendo started out as a playing card company. Right?

So anyway, Bill Mudron, who is a reputable artist and my third or fourth -favorite person in the world, is working on some weird Nintendo history thing, I don’t know. Looks like a book or something. He just uploaded a book jacket to his Flickr. Whatever.

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Here are some links to my GSW posts! 02/12, 02/15, 02/16

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‘Game Widow’ free for four more days

gamewidowWendy Kays isn’t happy with your husband.

The author of Game Widow (and reluctant Dr. Phil guest guru) investigates the collateral damage caused in relationships by game addiction. Kays’ own husband is a game developer.

From the back of her book:

Is your loved one constantly monopolizing your computer or TV to play video games? [editor’s note: Actually, yes, he monopolizes my Xbox.] If so, you might be a game widow. Wendy Kays, former game widow, is here to help. In this book, she successfully bridges the gap between those who game and those who don’t by sharing invaluable advice and practical strategies for reclaiming your relationship with a video-gaming spouse, friend, or family member.

Curious about Game Widow? Me, too.

And for four more days, a PDF of the book is free for download (direct PDF link).

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DIGAREC’s book on games philosophy and ethics: it’s free!

Last May, the Digital Games Research Center (AKA the Zentrum für Computerspielforschung, AKA DIGAREC), together with the University of Potsdam’s Arts and Media Department, hosted the Philosophy of Computer Games 2008, a three-day conference for which “international speakers and scientists were invited… to discuss the ethics, aesthetics, phenomenology and politics of computer games.”

Now, with the continued assistance of the University of Potsdam Press, DIGAREC has collected, edited, and published the sum total of the May 2008 conference. The result: a finished book, Conference Proceedings of the Philosophy of Computer Games 2008, with keynotes and lectures divided and edited into chapters.

philosophycomputergames

Essays include “The Concept of War in the World of Warcraft,” “The Space-Image: Interactivity and Spatiality of Computer Games,” “The Rhetoric of Persuasive Games: Freedom and Discipline in America’s Army,” and “Différance at Play: Unfolding Identities Through Difference in Videogame Play.”

Incredibly, DIGAREC opted to publish the book as a free, downloadable PDF—but make no mistake, this is a proper book (with an ISBN and endpages and everything!), suitable for your Kindle or e-reader. It’s a pretty hefty tome. Oh, and yes—it’s all in English. (My German isn’t that good.)

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Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers: the Novel

Here it is: my worn, well-loved copy of the Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers novelization (ROC, 1997).

gknovel

I like this cover. I especially like how a grainy still from the game’s FMV sequel has been superimposed onto it (Gabriel Knight II itself was filmed against a blue screen, so the cover art is an homage, I guess).

As for the book itself, I wouldn’t say it’s awful. For what it is—a novelization of a voodoo murder mystery PC game—it’s pretty good. It’s pulpy, a little hardboiled and over-the-top.

During the action, sure, it’s a real clunker: entire paragraphs play out procedurally, as if this were a strategy guide instead of fiction. The expository dialogue is pretty good, though.

Crash moaned louder, clenching his fist. “Fuck you! You didn’t see nothin’!”

“You know those binoculars across the park, Crash? Ever seen those?”

Apparently, Crash had. He began to weep, quietly and hopelessly. The tears that pressed between his fingers were pink.

”’S that the last straw, you think?” Gabriel asked quietly, when the boy would not stop.

The boy nodded inconsolably, his face still hidden in his hands.

“Not s’pose to let anyone see you do that, huh?”

The boy nodded again and hitched his breath, his crying raising a notch in sorrow.

Gabriel wanted to put a hand on the kid’s shoulder, but he was supposed to be playing the bad guy and for some reason, he was sure he had to. Besides, he didn’t want to get too intimate with whatever disease it was that was eating this kid alive.

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, the novel, was published the following year. You can find either book online for about a buck.

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How to save survival horror

When I was a fiction writing undergrad, our class was visited by the great Lee K. Abbott. I felt at odds with him, I remember. He told my class that it was wrong to write a story with certain facts concealed. He told us that when the facts of the full story are only gradually uncovered, the process is, to the readers, unfair.

Annoyingly, Lee K. Abbott was not wrong. There are stories we tell that are very deliberately ‘unfair’; it is now obvious to me that Abbott is not a fan of horror.

In the horror genre, and especially in Japanese horror, real fear comes from the thrill of discovery. And Japanese horror itself takes a cue from, not just the principles of Asian cinema and plotting, but also the very distinctly Japanese design philosophy. Japanese design is less about agency, and more about uncovering a plot. Lee K. Abbot would be furious with it.

Recently Leigh Alexander published this intriguing feature at Kotaku, about the history of survival horror. Apart from being an excellent overview of the genre, it wisely compares Western and Japanese game design philosophies. Most importantly, Alexander asks this question: does survival horror still exist? She writes,

Don’t Fight, Just Run! Titles like these all have distinct differences, of course, but they all tend to have a few traits in common. First, they largely de-prioritize combat mechanics, favoring challenging the player through elements like on-location puzzles, mazelike game areas, using the environment itself against enemies, and even fleeing and hiding instead of direct combat.

It’s true. Alexander names Siren and Fatal Frame as two of the finest examples of using vulnerability to create horror and panic. In the Fatal Frame canon, you do not use weapons or ‘defeat’ anything, per se—rather, you are a young woman wielding a camera.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Tips and tricks from McSweeney’s

Ah, the game cheat: it’s pure magic.

The following is a screenshot from Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. The article itself, “Video Game Hints, Tricks, and Cheats,” was published in 2002. It’s pretty weird.

McSweeneys Video Game Hints, Tricks, and Cheats

Oh, it gets sillier. Much sillier.

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Bookwatch: The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy

Another one for the Backburner. And what a find! 61 Frames Per Second’s Cole Stryker located a real gem of a book title, The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. Stryker notes that this is actually just one title in a larger series in which essayists hunt for deeper meanings in ubiquitous pop culture icons (The Matrix, Battlestar Galactica).The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy

Amazon gives the book’s description thusly:

With both young and adult gamers as loyal fans, The Legend of Zelda is one of the most beloved video game series ever created. The contributors to this volume consider the following questions and more: What is the nature of the gamer’s connection to Link? Does Link have a will, or do gamers project their wills onto him? How does the gamer experience the game? Do the rules of logic apply in the game world? How is space created and distributed in Hyrule (the fictional land in which the game takes place)? How does time function? Is Zelda art?

To which Cole Stryker responds:
Ugh. If these musings are any indication as to the content of the upcoming book, count me out. It will sell thousands of copies while real philosophy languishes on the shelves of your library. I’m not saying video games aren’t fertile ground for philosophic discussion, this one just seems…a bit surfacey.

Now, while I can certainly appreciate Stryker’s lack of enthusiasm, for my own part, I just added the book to my Amazon wishlist. It sounds like comparative lit to me! I sure hope there’s an essay about the workings of time and choice versus determinism!

The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy is scheduled to hit booksellers in late November.

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On Howard Rheingold’s “Smart Mobs” and Nintendo’s SMS press announcement

Overload: or, welcome your new overlordWhen Game Life’s Chris Kohler reported that the Wii had finally outsold the Xbox 360 in the U.S. yesterday, he also reprinted Nintendo’s annoucement, which itself is written in a strange, alien shorthand. “After just 20 mos, Wii is the new console leader in the US @ nearly 10.9 million units, says NPD 2day.

Kohler received said information from Nintendo directly—not through a formal press release, but instead through a text message.

That’s a text message that Nintendo of America just sent to journalists’ phones, knowing they’d be away from their desks covering E3. (The company used the same delivery medium to announce the Wii MotionPlus controller on Monday.)

Although Kohler’s SMS message from Nintendo isn’t the main point of his update, I find this unbelievably interesting. Two days ago I noted that I’d followed E3 news and rumors using Twitter almost exclusively—and using the new Twitteriffic iPhone app, at that. “When I look over my Twitter friend-feed,” I’d said (yes, quoting myself is bizarre), “it’s like this extremely concise liveblog written by ten or twenty people.”

Nintendo, SMS, and Howard Rheingold’s ‘Smart Mobs’: connecting the dots

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