Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There and Back Again

I have returned unscathed. Relatively unscathed. There may have been a slight bit of scathing, around the edges. If it doesn't clear up in a day or two I might go see a doctor, but for now I have an ointment for it.

Montreal was beautiful, of course. I would go into exhaustive detail, were this not a blog about video games but instead, say, on being young and in love in the springtime. What is it about the blogosphere, I wonder, that lends itself to a propagation of the former and a distinct lack of the latter? We may have to remedy this trend at some point, to ensure our survival as a species.

I was lucky enough to be paired on a panel with Bernard Perron, the mad scientist of horror games himself and the organizer of the whole shindig. I have nabbed this photo from the website, listed under the heading of "Aftermath," a word that I think sums things up perfectly.

Here I can be seen struggling to answer the age-old question that has vexed mankind for millenia:

Videogames... are they videogames?

- Rook

Monday, April 20, 2009

Loira, Morena, Ruiva

When I wrote earlier about blogging as I produced my presentation for Thinking After Dark, I had assumed it would be a gradual affair, moving through chapters in a modular essay as I've done twice previous. And it's not from lack of material that I haven't - quite the opposite, as I find myself sitting atop a heap of writing that may not be so much the basis for a 30-minute spiel as the start of a book. Let it be said that I am never accused of bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Rather, the things I've find myself drawn to write about over this last month have been all peripheral, concerning the process of writing this as opposed to the actual article. This may stem from my structuralist baggage, which leaves me with a chronic craving for metanarrative... though I prefer to think of this as a side-quest.

Always when I sit down to round up my data, I am amazed by the intricate play of facts against one another, forming patterns of data that were imperceptible until plotted. As the opposite of quantum events that collapse upon observation, these are configurations that seem to leap from the page, called into being by their very arrangement. I suspect this is a sensation that is felt in earnest by mathematicians, programmers and Spirograph-enthusiasts... where the layman sees a scrawl, the crunch-head sees patterns: blonde, brunette, redhead.

It's in this fashion that when I sit down to write, I instead catch myself writing on writing. Of course, in this case I am writing on writing on writing. You can see how quickly this becomes ridiculous. Despite everything, though I can't fault the process - it's always an unintended thrill when you set out to produce one thing, and get something entirely other instead. Ta da! Magic!

Here's to the little alchemies of our age.

- Rook

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Things That Go BLEEP-BLOOP in the Night

Your humble co-narrator has been busy. Busy with video games.

It might be suspected that as far as business goes, video games might be one of the more pleasant things to be busied with. And, heck, I would have thought so too! But in playing some two dozen horror video games in rapid succession, jumping across systems and decades in a craven search for an understanding of the breadth of the matter, I fear I have begun to do immeasurable damage to my psyche.

In true Lovecraftian form, I may have unearthed secrets not fit for the gaze of man. Each of these games, after all, serves as an attack on a player’s sensibilities. To be truly afraid, something must be undone, leaving some fuse in the viewer’s lizard brain frayed and sparking. But each of these games chooses a different approach, a separate jab and feint that may be radically different from others of its kind. Put together they form a kind of onslaught upon all regions of the self, like a particularly virulent form of Neitzschean nihilism but with way way more zombies.

Like the Inuit's apocryphal hundred words for snow, I am discovering new words for FEAR.

FUN FACT: In one ten second period, Christopher Guest says "suck" four times.

These varying visions of spookiness jumble together, a melange in the slow cooker of my subconscious. These horrors take hold of me when I least expect them... I have begun to be plagued by fevered dreams! In some, I am assisted by my erstwhile companions, but often I am alone. Perhaps I am on a spaceship, or in a strange town, or confined to a mall or a haunted house. Sometimes I have a gun, or something else entirely, but often I have nothing.

In every dream I am chased by something... something inscrutiably terrible, seen only in the corners of my eyes. It looms over me, hovering, long, black finger of a forgotten god.

Is it.. Oh, God, is it? It is! IT IS!

It's an Atari 2600 Joystick!

I didn't even know they still made those.

- Rook

Friday, April 10, 2009

Braid for Windows!

This is imperative! Braid is now available on Windows and can be downloaded online through Greenhouse and Steam for 15 dollars of the American persuasion. Buy it, buy it now!

Seriously, this game is important.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I've got Tomes in Different Area Codes

It is with satisfaction that I announce that the trip to Toronto was a complete success. King was kind enough to meet me, and help me navigate the winding, labyrinthine streets of the city.

Not pictured: Anything remotely winding, labyrinthine.

King's presence was absolutely crucial, as I find my standard mode of navigation is useless in the ci-tay. You see, I travel by intuition, like a dowser or Inigo Montoya. When I want to get somewhere, I begin walking in the direction that feels right. At some point, either I arrive there, or it stops feeling right, at which point I change tack and try again. As a method it is extremly innacurate but unfailingly precise... I find that if I keep on trucking, I get there eventually.

But of course, like all extremely inaccurate pursuits it functions properly only on small scale. In any vista roughly bigger than, say, Lake Wobegon, my sensors get all jimmied. Without a friendly guide, a Virgil to my Dante, I would be like a moth besotten by an incandescent light, wheeling in endless circles and crashing into things with my face. I'd be trapped in the city forever, and after years of hardship might end up like Zanta. Yes yes yes!

This colourful character has a Wikipedia page, and you do not. How's that for notability?

But, of course, such was not our fate. We were able to visit a series of libraries, delving into foreboding tomes and drinking deep from the eldrich secrets contained within. Of especial interest to me was one particular book, which pretty much sets the bar for foreboding tomes. I'm serious, this tome will forbad you right the frick out.

Guys, I think that zombie sunflower just winked at me.

So now I've got my books, and am home in one piece. It's time to start writing a thing about scary things. To those following, I'll be blogging on the bits of my essay that will coalesce over the next two weeks, a technique that I have come to lovingly term 'double-dipping.' BONUS FACT: When you Wikipedia Double Dip (sweet), you encounter this humdinger of a sentence:

"The Swizzel Stick that you can gather the sherbet has been described as one of the "best" sherbet sticks around by many critics of confectionery."

BAM. Take that, other swizzel sticks. The many critics of confectionary have spoken.

- Rook

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On Plinko and Pizza

I study games and play theory, but I am a terrible theorist. I have met many who are genuinely interested in theory for it's own sake: those who theorize up great and terrible edifices, each clarion thought bricked and mortared up to palatial heights, who rule from these structures like the shahs of old. I am not of their number, for the single damning reason that I do not love thoughts. I love things.

Because of this, of course, I am all turned around. I twist the rule a little. I cheat. Instead of being content to focus on my little puddle of academia, I turn outward, and see a world constantly at play. Every moment I see odds and probabilities at work, rules exchanged, wagers made, and scores silently tallied. This may be a defense mechanism against the vacuity of chaos: Living in a universe that is constantly, infinitely flipping coins, you may as well ante up.

Through simple legerdemain, my humble little body of thought becomes a lens to see the world. Similar the sociological assertion that "The personal is political," Robert King's insight that "the truth about stories is that's all we are," or Richard Carlson's brainless advice "Don't sweat the small stuff... and it's all small stuff," there is that gentle plying until you feel someting give, and suddenly you are talking about everything.

So I study games and play, and it is all games and play. (Until someone loses an eye.) As a mutually-inclusive proposition, it is the opposite of a Catch-22. I call it my Catch-21.

I've written before on my propensity to to turn the most mundane tasks into games. What I may not have mentioned is that I do this constantly, every day. These games scale in significance with the task at hand. Last weekend I headed to my hometown, for a marathon of three years worth of taxes. It seems that the MAN had finally tracked me down, and insisted that, apparently, not doing your taxes is simply not an option. The alternative, as I understand it, is debtor's prison. And I figured, if it could happen to John Dickens, holy smoke, it could happen to me.

Canada I am sorry, please don't put me in the gaol.

But in settling in for a weekend's worth of number crunching, I was pleasantly surprised to remember that I actually find taxes to be super funtimes. You take one number, and start at the top, and it falls down and changes and you add and subtract, and it clicks right along. Now something's happening, but I'm sure I have no idea what. To me, it's like sidling up to an enormous pachinko machine, like Plinko on The Price is Right. And let it be said that I am a man who enjoys his Plinko.

And after everything as been totaled, the numbers go click click click down the page until they land in one or two boxes. In the right box, you lose money. In the right box, you win money. Jackpot!

FACT: Asking someone if boot camp was "a lot of fun" is super classy.

It struck me then that I subscribe to what I might call Plinko Theory. Faced with odds over which I have no control or no ken, I tend to just go limp and let things play out. For example, this is my exact behavior when travelling: I map out every variable ahead of time, so when the time comes I can simply be processed, click click click from destination A to B to C. I've often wondered what would happen if I missed a turn-off, or got on the wrong bus, or simply got spun around and started walking in the wrong direction. What if you dont catch yourself in time? Then instead of landing in the right box, you wind up in Timbuktu.

Are our lives like this, too? If we were to start again, and go click click click through everything, perhaps we'd wind up in different boxes, as completely different people. Is it really just Plinko Boards All The Way Down?

It was in this zen-state I found myself on the the trip back, having been deposited at a Go-bus station in Newmarket, waiting for another bus to schlep me to Toronto, then home. All of us stood quietly, gently swaying, waiting for our bus. Liminal theory posits that such places are instances of non-space, and that in these places we are like ghosts, neither alive or dead. I find my experience to be the opposite - in these places I have a hypersensitive awareness of my body, brought on by the fatigue of travel. Everything hurts. I can feel my bones ache, and my skin. I fish my tongue around in my mouth and suck my teeth. I taste blood, and noticed the tip of my tongue was bleeding.

Suddenly, and with a terrible ferocity, I realized I was HUNGRY. I stumbled into the station and made my way to a small convenience counter, where I spied a few lazily rotating pizzas, looking withered and uninviting. I tried to speak to older Indian gentleman who was siting behind them, but he held up his hand in front of him, blocking my very words as they came tumbling out of his mouth. His daughter then, scurried over to take my order.

Zombielike from travel, I wasn't entirely aware of myself. The moment my purchased pizza was delivered into my waiting hands, I began stuffing it into my face in large wolfish bites. I may have been making OM NOM NOM noises as well. I looked up, and noticed that I was chowing down right in front of the young woman who had served me. She was smiling.

All the synapses in my brain started firing off at random. I realized I had about half a second to communicate something - anything - that would explain myself. I couldn't smile back, as my face was crammed with food. My hands were full, and my skull was empty. But I had to do something.

So I winked.

- Rook

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I was wrong and I'm sorry

So in light of new evidence it looks like I have to take back all that smack I talked about Super Smash.

It turns out that it was just a big misunderstanding. All the characters are really good friends, as demonstrated by their dancing together on the internet to sped-up Swedish europop.

Who knew? Gosh, not me.

- Rook