Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A 3-part Blog: Life Without Television / On Hallowe'en / On Horror Games

At a loss for any coherent topic, I'm splitting this blog 3 ways (also I forgot October's entry, so there.)

Part 1: Life is Better Without Television (but not without video games)

Seriously, it is. Try it.

Living at university in my 10x10 bunker/hole in the ground, I have very little contact with any technology apart from my cell phone (which is not a smartphone) and my laptop. I do not have a TV, and ss such I have had zero contact with television programming since I moved in.

I thought I'd miss it but then I realized there was nothing good on TV anyways, so I've found other ways to waste my time. Other just-as-unproductive but less stressful ways. There's anyways something "on" on the internet! There are a lot of interesting people on the internet too- interesting in a good way as in they're funny or entertaining, not interesting in a "trainwreck, can't look away" or "Why would you DO that?" kind of way.

But without TV I have no video games which, although a petty complaint, is still kind of hindering to my creativity. I write best when I'm gaming. And more habitual gamers will attest to the "game craving" phenomenon where you get a wicked jones to play a particular game that only worsens when you can't. Unfortunately this has been compounded by my habit of watching livestreams and walkthroughs of games I haven't played yet...agh. Oh well.

Part 2: On Hallowe'en

I might be too old for trick-or-treating, but I still went out collecting stuff this Hallowe'en, and let me tell you it was awesome! (Yes, I spell it with the apostrophe, it's technically an abbreviation.)

I was part of a volunteer dealy called Trick-Or-Eat, where a bunch of students from my university went out and collected canned and non-perishable stuff for the local food bank. Even though toting around bags full of cans is a touch painful, we managed to collect ("we" being the small sub-group of 4 I was with) a shopping cart full of stuff. Multiplied by the 6 sub-groups in our team, multiplied by the teams consisting of hundreds of university students, I think we did alright.

It's definitely something I would recommend doing, especially for teens who are a touch sore at losing the cute-factor that let them trick-or-treat in the first place (or those who don't want to get stuck handing out candy). Going door to door in costume in the dark of night was still as appealing as it's ever been.

And also Happy Day of the Dead to my readers south of the border (and to those who celebrate anyways)! I think Dia de los Muertos is something we should celebrate in Canada, I mean, it's just so cool! It's an actual celebration of the lives of those past with a cheerfully mock-morbid spin! I love it! There's a kind of day fo the dead in Buddhism called Obon, but it's not nearly as exciting as Dia de los Muertos.

Part 3: On Horror Games

Ok so....Horror games....I'm not a huge player of horror games but I do enjoy watching others play them. (See above for my livestream habit.) Anyways. I was watching a really neat livestream of an indie Horror/Adventure game called Decay. Now, it was a pretty restrained little game, more about atmosphere and a few jump-scares with the story built mostly through props and text with a few cutscenes.

I won't spoil anything but I will warn prospective players; Part 4 of Decay was a huge letdown. I didn't even see the end, I seriously couldn't sit through it. Puzzles have always been a part of horror games, that I can accept. Whether they're obscure fetch-quest type "puzzles" like in Silent Hill and Resident Evil, or your typical slidey-block picture puzzle, or number/logic puzzles like in Fatal Frame, they're there and they probably always will be. That's ok!

When your horror game becomes nothing BUT puzzles, it ceases to be scary, entertaining and enjoyable all at once with an almost audible CLUNK. This was the problem with Decay Part 4; it was one puzzle after another after another after another, all increasing in ridiculousness, arbitrarity and difficulty. And none of them really even fit with the feel of the first 3 parts of the game!

I suspect there was a change of developer somewhere between parts 3 and 4. The first 3 parts all took place within the same building, the same few rooms with similar kinds of puzzles. There was a minigame here or there but most of them were logic puzzles that spanned the entire environment and there was one particularly neat little sequence where you first had to decode and then descramble a cryptic message. THAT is cool! Fighting with a slidey picture puzzle, then a painful minigame, then a make-a-path puzzle (timed, no less) then a fiddly maze does NOT make good inclusion of puzzles.

I don't even know how Decay ended because I didn't stick around to find out. But the point I'm trying to make is that consistency can make or break a horror game, or any game, and I was sorely disappointed. The best horror games I've seen put strong emphasis on the atmosphere or circumstance, not on jump-scares or gore (I'm looking at you, Dead Space).

Amnesia: The Dark Descent, although I haven't played it msyelf, it probably one of the scariest games I've seen. The atmosphere in itself is actually used as a gameplay mechanic; dark areas put strain on your character's sanity while light areas increase your risk of being spotted and chased down by monsters. Now don't get me wrong, Dead Space is scary in its own way, but it's more of a persistent unpleasantness that comes from having to cut up space-mutant-zombies into boody bits to ensure you've killed them properly. It has a pretty good grasp of its atmosphere; being claustrophobic and dark with flickery lights and obligatory writing in blood on the walls...but jump-scares (and predictable music cues to accompany them) don't mesh well with the slow constricting atmosphere the game already has.

Resident Evil 4 (the only Resident Evil I've managed to get further than 5 mins into) isn't really much of a horror game by these standards but it does make good use of its circumstance (alone in a town of creepy cultists, a bit Lovecraftian really) and it definitely has its eerier bits (see the cutscene after the Del Lago battle, and go ahead and search the REwiki for "Iron Maiden"s, you'll see what I mean.). It's a touch gross in the combat but not as gory as Dead Space, but the weird parasite critters are definitely horrific. (Headbursters, man, they're exactly what they sound like.)

Anyways, end of rant.

Until next time!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Spreadin' the Lovecraft (a short blog because I forgot last month's entry)


Go read "At the Mountains of Madness"! 

Go do it.


Stop reading my blog and go go find a copy!! I'll wait for you, I promise. The blog's not going anywhere without you.

(....Not a short read, is it? Sorry.)

...You back now? Read it? Excellent.

***The following assumes you actually read it and some SPOILERS are included!***

Now wouldn't that make a great movie? Seriously! THIS is the kind of writing that needs to be made into films, its length and style lend itself so well!

I envision it kind of like how they did A Series of Unfortunate Events (think what you will about the movie, I don't care whether or not you liked it, I'm borrowing the framing method); with the narrator periodically taking the audience back to just himself writing his account of what happened and occasionally voicing over the action. And think of the fun that could be had with the art style of the deserted city and all the cool CG stuff the latter half of the story would entail. THAT is where big-budget dollars should be going in the movie industry.

Of course someone will find a way to mess it up, obviously. (Yeah, I'm calling you out, HOLLYWOOD) Shoe-horning in a love interest I'm sure, under the excuse of making the otherwise all-male cast "more diverse." Or turning the encounter in the ruined city at the end into some kind of fight scene- or the one at the camp (which I'd allow to a point, so long as the Old Ones aren't seen too clearly and it's not the focus of the movie; what happens at the camp is supposed to remain a mystery until the end) into some gore-fest trying to keep in stride with modern horror standards.

I think that might be what appeals to me most about Lovecraft's work. It's not gross. Or, not gross in the blood-and-guts kind of gross that passes for "horror" in films. (Admittedly "The Color Out of Space" was kind of gross in its own way.) It's subtle and cerebral, it's the kind of horror that makes you want to go "eeeeeeehhhhhh" and whine if you're not reading it in a public place, and grimace in fear and sorrow if you are.

It's that kind of "what if" horror that still stands up today despite the technology gap that can kill other kinds of stories. What if Pluto really IS Yuggoth? We have no way of saying it's NOT. What if Leng and its ruined city really ARE down there somewhere in Antarctica? Who's to say we just haven't found them yet? What about R'Lyeh and C'thulhu? We don't know EVERYTHING about the ocean floor, now do we?

I'm not saying that "At the Mountains of Madness" needs a reboot or modernizing treatment in film; I think keeping to the original era would be much better as would keeping close to the original plot. I'm saying that as a film IT CAN BE DONE, and if done carefully it probably SHOULD be done. (Copyright issues aside, of course, I'm sure someone has a tight hold on the rights to Lovecraft's work). Give the story to one of two kinds of people: either a young unknown or upcoming director who's passionate about the material and just needs the budget to make it work, or an experienced director (Spielberg for example, though maybe not him specifically) who knows how to make suspense and/or era pieces work. And DON'T hire the best-known young faces for the major parts. This movie calls for aged men of science; there are only a few college students mentioned by name and only one who lasts to the end of the story, so don't fall into the trap of say, having Keanu Reeves play Danforth (or whoever, I'm not up on my cinema trivia but you get the idea, it needs people of DISTINCTION, not youth-appeal).

Now I know it's a gamble from the studio's point of view. I know it probably has too much niche-appeal at first glance but just think on it; how many people are now familiar with Lord of the Rings because of Peter Jackson's films? I tell you it's probably far more than BEFORE the trilogy was released. As books, LOTR also arguably held a lot of niche-appeal (and let's face it, they're not an easy read), but by having them effectively abridged into films which (again, say what you will) were pretty damn good in my opinion, they reached a whole group of people who would probably never had read them. It's not the complete story, but it's a lot more than you'd get out of forcing someone to try and read them. I think the same thing could happen with Lovecraft's work; film one or two effectively, and the audience of readers expands as people want to see more of that kind of cosmic horror.

Just my thoughts. I hope you enjoyed your recommended read. And if you didn't; I say "to each their own."

Monday, July 04, 2011

“Hen” vs “Hir” and Gender Ignorance

(Woo, first blog post! Things here will be all over the place in terms of relevance, mood and...well, relevance.)

And then I present you these replies from three different people on a forum I frequent discussing this article:

Poster 1: Equality and tolerance should be achieved through education, not ignorance.
Poster 2: They're not teaching children to accept differences, they're refusing to teach that the differences exist!
Poster 3: Preschool (and school in general) is supposed to prepare you for the future. This probably won't help.

I agree with these people, but I also see the justification behind this method. But let’s focus on how I agree with these forum-folk.

Poster 2 I think has the best point in all of this and let me first give my opinion before I explain why. In our modern society it is now becoming (I can’t say ‘has become’ because some places are still working on it) acceptable for same-sex couples to exist in a legal matrimonial bond, for women to hold corporate jobs and work outside the home (in what was once a strictly ‘male’ field), for men to remain in the home (in what was once a strictly ‘female’ field).
And his is good. We are progressing socially and culturally as a species and this intermingling and even reversing of “traditional” (read: archaic) gender-roles is progressive and beneficial. It’s good.
But this; what’s going on in this article, is perhaps a step too far and, honestly, probably bad. Instead of showing the next generation how things had been and showing them how much better they are now that anyone of any gender or persuasion should be able to hold any station, they’re simply refusing to acknowledge the past. Knowledge is built on history, you can’t have new knowledge without whatever came before it. Then it’s not so much learning as indoctrination. To put it bluntly, this is weird and cult-y and yeah, does seem a little like mind control.

I appreciate they they’re taking steps to show children the liberalness of the new age but…this is just weird. It’s like the old tricky feminism argument that “men and women aren’t different, but they are still different.” Men and women, males and females ARE different; we differ physically, we differ mentally. We are literally “wired” differently in our brains, our thought processes, although they may in the end reach the same conclusions, are often very different. We are different. BUT we are (or at least should be) EQUAL. Equal in social, economic and cultural value. The “difference” in that odd little argument I presented earlier in this paragraph should have been worded as “inequality” way back when.

So what’s going on in this school? To me it seems an overzealous attempt to erase inequality by erasing differences.
And here is where I invoke Poster 1’s reply in my discussion. And there isn’t much else I can really do to back up hir point. (Oh, see that word? I’ll cover that in a bit.) It rather neatly encapsulates itself.
And Poster 3 also neatly explains hirself (there it is again), so I really only added that to back up my own opinion. These kids will have some serious issues unless the whole school system becomes like this, and if it does, we’re ALL going to have some issues.

So, “Hen”, the new gender-neutral pronoun (at least in Swedish). It’s not really a word, as explained in the article, not yet anyways. But should it be? Well…yes, but not in the sense they’re using it in. They’re using it to entirely replace “him” and “her” (“Han” and “Hon” in Swedish respectively) and I don’t think this is quite right. Replacing gender pronouns inherently eliminates a child’s way to differentiate between genders and as I said before, that’s not a good thing.
(Especially later in life when “I’ll be picking hen up for dinner later” will puzzle your friends and make identifying people without naming them kind of hard. As a writer, losing gender pronouns would be nightmarish; you’d have to use everyone’s name constantly making for some hard reading, and people with androgynous names will be completely misinterpreted by everyone.)

So I will turn your attention to something really cool I discovered back in Literature Studies class in High school. The pronoun “Hir” (yes, we’re going to talk about it now). When reading The Canterbury Tales (don’t worry this won’t be a whole English lesson) the class encountered a word it was unfamiliar with: “hir”, and our teacher had to explain it to us. Essentially “hir” is a generic pronoun that can be male or female or ambiguous (depending on the context) but I prefer the ambiguous option and here’s why:
When people try not to be so gender specific about a person, they tend to use the pronoun “they.” The problem with “they” or “their” is that it’s a PLURAL pronoun and as such is grammatically incorrect to use to refer to a single person. (Now granted this has become colloquial and acceptable but it still irks me a bit since it’s technically wrong.) So I consider “hir” to be the singular equivalent to “they”; it’s unspecific (but not in a “HE” AND “SHE” DON’T EXIST kind of way) and by extension it’s politically correct.

It’s just a shame nobody uses it anymore; I’d like to bring it back.

Oh right! You’re probably wondering why I used it earlier to refer to the Posters I quoted. Well it’s like this; on the internet, everyone is anonymous and screen-names tend to defy gender identification. I mean look at mine: Sable Gear. Nobody’d guess that guy’s a girl, am I right? (Plus the “no gurlz on teh internetz” generalization means people would be less likely to guess anyways and just assume I’m male). So since I don’t know who these people really are (I even omitted their screen-names as you no doubt noticed) I used “hir” when referring to them singly to emphasize that they may be male or female.

So let’s wrap this up, shall we? In conclusion:
*Yes; gender inequality is bad and we are now overcoming that (for the most part)
*Men and women may be “different” but they are still “equal” (or they should be)
*Eliminating gender stereotypes and defying archaic gender roles is GOOD, eliminating recognition of gender entirely is BAD
*The “hen” pronoun should not be used to replace “him/han” and “her/hon” entirely, but instead be used in situations where gender ambiguity is preferred or where the gender of the subject is irrelevant (in Swedish)
*The “hir” pronoun should be adopted into daily use (for us English-speakers) in the previously discussed way; where gender ambiguity is preferred or where the gender of the subject is irrelevant
*I didn’t really touch on same-sex relationships because that wasn’t what this article was supposed to be about; but let me say I am in full support of you whatever your preference may be (within your own species, though; I don’t want to get into that other discussion right now)

Until next time.