On how good writing about computing and video games has been with us since the 1980s.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/30 10:00
Today, we go back. Way back ... no, no, take the Jimmy Castor Bunch records off. I'm talking about 1981/1982, and I'm talking about Softline Magazine.
I'm betting you don't know Softline. They were a daughter publication of Softalk, a magazine dedicated to the Apple II, back when Apple products (and the company itself) didn't have quite so insular a reputation. Softalk was dedicated to the Apple II generally, but Softline was dedicated to gaming -- mainly on the Apple, but with some nods towards the other platforms of the day.
Remakes: the poor man's newness.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/27 10:00
On the occasion of yet another remake of a lightning-in-a-bottle production, one most likely doomed to the same ignominy as the RoboCop reboot (god, just typing those words leaves such a terrible taste in the mind):
I don’t want to watch a copy of [Predator] projected up on the big screen, leading to those inevitable comparisons where it just can’t quite measure up to the original. I want something bold, something new, something different, something cool. I want the spirit of that original film. I want it to stir up something near how that first film made me feel when I initially watched it. However, I don’t want the same movie.
Looking backward keeps us from looking forward.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/25 10:00
Devin Faraci has a post on the pop culture nostalgia problem that is so good I don't think I can bring myself to just chomp any one piece out of it. Go read the whole thing first and then come back here.
You're back? Good.
The two things Devin nails about nostalgia: a) it is essentially narcissistic, and b) it crowds everything else off the table. Both of these are troubling for different reasons.
Yet another example of pop spirituality getting it wrong.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/24 10:00
I feel like films that grapple with theology can either tend to the esoteric or they can end up being overly complicated or they can take the tact this film does: they can end up being gooey, pandering, simple-minded garbage. And in the final five minutes of the film, they wrap it all up with some narration that made me violently angry. It is the sort of feel-good affirmation garbage that can only be delivered or believed from a position of enormous privilege. When you start babbling about destiny and fate and say something like "What if the universe loves us all equally, so much so that it bends over backwards across the centuries for each of us?" Well, what about it? Sounds great. How about we go to a pediatric cancer ward and you can explain it to all the children there who are dying? Or maybe we could sit down with survivors of sexual abuse, and you can tell them how everybody gets to be a star and it's all going to work out just fine. Maybe you can explain to me sometime how your philosophy accounts for the vast majority of people who don't get what they want and who the universe truly could not care any less about, because I'm confused.
There's little that's more repulsive than genuinely profound philosophies in the hands of rank amateurs. The stuff Drew is skewering here sounds a lot like bastard Buddhism -- the "Buddhism" of pop-culture wish-fulfillment like The Secret, where we are all children of the universe and all the rest of that horse puckey. The word that's being danced around furiously is karma, one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in all of spiritual study, and it makes my own blood volcano over to see such tired canards trotted out as storytelling chesspieces.
On making a *constructive* argument for creative snobbery.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/22 10:00
The Early History of Smalltalk (1993) (Alan C. Kay)
A twentieth century problem is that technology has become too “easy”. When it was hard to do anything whether good or bad, enough time was taken so that the result was usually good. Now we can make things almost trivially, especially in software, but most of the designs are trivial as well. This is inverse fandalism: the making of things because you can. Couple this to even less sophisticated buyers and you have generated an exploitation marketplace similar to that set up for teenagers.
Reading that convinced me similar arguments could be made about the way our technology of creativity has become similarly juvenile. I'm not talking about the word processor, though, but the way creative ideas are explored and implemented.
Freedom's just another word for nothing left to sell.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/22 10:00
Came a moment the other day when a friend of mine and I were gabbing about the Culture of Free Problem -- with the mantra now being give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now, never mind that Kiedis & Cie. were talking about doing that as an act of free will, not as a matter of culturally demanded compunction. It's hard to sell anyone anything unless you already have a massive capital base already in place and can therefore lose a little money upfront taking the risks and getting the word out.
The friend in question wondered if this amounted to a temporary state of affairs. His logic went thusly: For everyone who wasn't either dead or vacationing on the Little Prince's Asteroid, the last few years have been an absolute economic pesthole. Maybe that had something to do with the rush for free? And maybe after that's abated a bit, people will once again regain their senses and realize you get what you pay for and begin shelling out the shekels once more for the goods?
Creativity, repeating itself. (Or why you don't remake lightning in a bottle.)By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/19 18:00
Devin Faraci takes the words out of my mouth:
Just because a thing can be franchised indefinitely - guys comedically trap ghosts is vague enough that you could do it forever - doesn't mean you should. We used to understand this on a cultural level, that sometimes a thing is really good and that thing being really good is quite enough. We don't need to go back and keep redoing that thing until we suck the wonder, the joy and the magic out of it. We can leave that thing with dignity, revisiting it over time. You can never see the same sunset twice, so why stand in the same place and keep trying to will it back? GO SEE NEW SUNSETS.
The problem, of course, is that it's not about need; it's about greed. I have yet to see a single instance of a franchise being prolonged past its sell-by date because there was some genuinely interesting new wrinkle to be teased out of it.
On why hyping yourself always feels like it should be someone else's job -- except when it really isn't.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/17 14:00
A couple of months back, I did some due diligence regarding my status as a Self-Published Author And All That: I set up my Goodreads author profile and added in some of the books I knew weren't present. I've since acquired a whopping three fans. Even dwarves started small, as Werner Herzog once said.
Logically, the next step would be for me to go out and hype people into adding me on Goodreads, assuming they have a Goodreads account in the first place. It's actually not hard for people to get one, since Goodreads can automatically pick up folks with a Facebook account. So, if you're reading this, AND you're actually a fan/supporter of my work, AND you haven't yet set yourself up as a fan, AND it isn't too much of a hassle to do so ... please do.
That said, this got me thinking once again about what I've come to call the Hype Thing.
Fandom should be about more than just emotionally protecting one's territory.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/15 10:30
... as counter-intuitive as it seems, the famous radioactive reptile got a fairer shake from mainstream critics than from genre specialists. Many viewers with a Sense of Wonder seem to have checked that sensibility at the door, replacing it with symptoms of Early Onset Grumpy Old Man Syndrome (also known as: All You Kids Get Off Of My Lawn Syndrome). ... I am interested in the sensibilities underlying these reactions, which I see as another example of the Tribalism that permeates modern film-going, in which the actual quality of the film is frequently less important than how well the film acts as a Tribal Identifier that helps “Us” define ourselves as different from “Them.”
The whole essay is great (especially the analysis of the film in the later sections), and it serves to describe a phenomenon I see in many other circles apart from film fandom.
You can only play the "honesty" card for sex and violence so many times.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/11 13:00
This canard, again.
... some critics have complained about the show’s depictions of sexual violence. But Mr. Martin said it was an inescapable aspect of this world. “Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day,” he told The New York Times in an email last month. “To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest.”
But to pump them up to the point where (grotesque) violence and (brutalizing) sexuality become the narrative fulcrum of literally every episode is equally dishonest. It leaves us with the idea that there's no other way to talk about the past -- or those specific aspects of the past -- except in this lurid fashion.
I get disgusted with the We're Only Being Honest, Life Was Like That defense of sex-n-violence because it stems from a misconception of how these things can be discussed "realistically" -- or rather, that being "realistic" about something means to depict it as harshly and nastily as possible. Explanations or insights make way for mere depictions, and in the end the only thing people wind up coming away from the material with is: Gee, glad I didn't have to live through that!
To engage with the world in the here and now, or to withdraw? The case for both.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/11 10:00
Worth quoting at length:
The problem isn’t that the music is crap, necessarily. The problem is that, because of the speed with which things develop in today’s technological age, people have gotten so inundated with what other people think they should think is cool, that they don’t really have time to think for themselves. A certain beat or technique gets attention, and fledgling artists feel as though they should jump on and cash in before the wave passes them by which, in the world I described above, is seemingly measured in nanoseconds. They do this instinctively, blinded by dollar signs, instead of creating their own wave. I remember a time when growing up was about finding yourself. It was about setting yourself apart from the herd; not saying “screw all of those other sheep,” but dying your fleece a different color.
These days it seems (to me, at least) that a lot of people just don’t feel fashionable or, dare I say “connected” if they’re not Facebooking every 15 seconds, hashtagging their every thought on Twitter (#thisissostupid), and Instagraming every other moment that the other two didn’t already capture. It’s the trendy thing to do at a time when following trends is trendy, and the music industry has followed suit.
First, the music.
Why I hoarded; why I stopped.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/09 10:00
No, this isn't World's Worst Hoarders territory, but it did make me reflect on such things.
Before I relocated (NY → FL, cost of living issues), I had a book collection that obstinately refused to be pruned down. Six full-sized shelves in my office alone. Navigating the place was like a potential re-enactment of the collapsing-library scene at the beginning of The Mummy. (And I don't have the excuse of being as cute as Rachel Weisz to make up for it, either.)
The hardest part of having such a pile was not tiptoeing between the stacks, but dealing with the minefield of one's own justifications for not letting go of any of it. Time and again I'd pull books off the stack to donate them or sell them off, and the same damn justifications for doing nothing would rear their heads: I Haven't Even Read This Yet, I Ought To Re-Read This Eventually -- and worst of all, I Might End Up Needing This Someday. That last one was a killer-diller, because I'd gotten into the habit of thinking of any book purchase as potential "research material".
There's little in the way of serious literature out there about the psychodynamics of role-playing games.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/04 10:00
While doing the homework for Welcome to the Fold I've noticed that there is not much in the way of literature about the concept of the role-playing game as a social and psychological phenomenon. Oh, sure, there's Mazes and Monsters*, about which the less said the better, but everything outside of that is more about role-playing in the abstract than the gamification of same. And while stuff like Knights of the Dinner Table is a great comic sociology about gamer culture (and a great zinging of the idiot sexism and prejudice that often bubbles to the surface there), that's not what I'm really aiming for.
Is tying your work into current events smart self-promotion or just spammy?By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/03 10:00
One of the marketing suggestions I've seen for authors, self-published or not, is for them to tie their work into some current event in some form. Viz., Brad Thor observing that the recent swap of five Gitmo detainees for a hostage is reminiscent of his book The First Commandment.
This sort of thing has always made me uneasy, because it seems like yet another way to encourage authors to become marketers, or rather to denature the distinction between their work and the promotion of it. Or, in plainer language, are you going to be more inclined to read someone's work because they point out things like this, or less?
In my case, less -- not because I have a thing against military fiction, etc. (I don't), but more because I can't help but apply my own standards to such behavior. If an author I knew did that, I'd feel like they were spamming me; that's why I'm reluctant to do it myself.
Other people often have entirely different levels of tolerance for such things, and I might simply be missing out on an opportunity. (Tell me what you think below.)
On the communal enjoyment of entertainment and the 'paradox of choice'.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014/06/02 19:00
With so very much to choose from, a person can stick to one or two preferred micro-genres and subsist entirely on them, while other people gorge on a completely different set of ingredients. You like “Housewives”? Savor them in multiple cities and accents. Food porn? Stuff yourself silly. Vampire fiction? The vein never runs dry.
That sounds like the old paradox-of-choice problem writ locally: with so much out there, you tend to focus only on what you already know, because few people are up for shoveling through all those other haystacks looking for their particular needles.
Science fiction, rebooted.