It is hard not to be jealous of other people's successes, and maybe it ought to be hard, because that teaches us something.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/29 19:42
It is hard not to be jealous of other people's successes, and maybe it ought to be hard. The act of fighting that feeling teaches us something we might not have garnered any other way.
Why bad video game lore is a lot like bad pop culture: it embodies the wrong lessons.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/28 10:00
... video game creators are prone to making two erroneous assumptions about what constitutes a deep narrative. The first is that volume equals depth. In the classic tradition of epic science fiction and fantasy literature, studios will craft thousands of pages of backstory, often involving many hundreds of characters and vast intergalactic wars. Sometimes it seems as though, early in a narrative meeting, one writer will say to another, "okay, let's set this in the middle of a war that has been running for a 100 years"; then their colleague replies, "No wait, how about... a thousand years?" And then everyone agrees this is exponentially deeper. It isn't, it's just an extra nought on the end of a conflict that, without context, pathos or human tragedy, is ultimately meaningless.
Emphasis mine. Sound familiar? Wait, there's more.
The other problem is the belief that obfuscation equals depth. In the Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid franchises for example, the timelines, relationships and plot structures are so tortuously complex, so shielded within arcane terminology, that it's almost impossible to engage on an emotional, empathic level. Yes, Kojima makes lots of super smart postmodern jokes and references throughout his games, but they are buried beneath narrative labyrinths that feel inaccessible, not because they're intellectually complex, but because they don't make a whole lot of sense. This doesn't feel like great story-telling.
My friend (and video game journalist) Eric Frederiksen talked about this the other night, and noted how in gaming these kinds of mistakes manifest somewhat differently than they do in other entertainments. But a lot of the net effects are the same: they make for bad examples to follow, even if they're successful commercially.
it isn't political unpalatability that makes for bad art, but the narrowing of the mind that often goes with it.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/27 13:00
When politics — of the good or the bad kind — mess with our enjoyment of a book, it’s usually because the author’s proselytizing impulse has muted whatever is interesting or particular about his way of seeing. Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata” is a bad book, I think, not because it is the work of a nutty Christian ascetic, but because its nutty Christian asceticism has stamped out everything generous and curious and noticing in Tolstoy’s imagination.
I've read "The Kreutzer Sonata", and I agree that it's one of the viler things I've seen stamped with the name of an author whose works I have otherwise enjoyed.
My own personal "good read, bad politics" experience actually falls into roughly the same vein as Tolstoy's Folly: Yukio Mishima's œuvre. For a guy whose writing was luscious to read, his sensibilities veered between being impenetrable and insufferable -- and it was enlightening to discover that his fellow Japanese, both authors and countrymen generally, rolled their eyes at him too.
Modern fandom of the fantastic is transformative, not passive.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/25 17:00
Hollywood has been working a long time to herd everyone toward the more predictable tastes of a 14-year-old boy — "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter" and the ongoing plague of super-fantastic-avenging-iron-bat-X-people-movies. "Thrones" only assists Hollywood in further emulating the corporate strategies of Coke and Camel — hook kids when they are young and trap them in a lifetime of addictive regression. ...
Popular culture was meant to be momentarily distracting and entirely disposable, not a cult handed down from parent to child to grandchild and beyond. We already live in a world where there's a company making "Star Trek" diapers and another making "Star Trek" coffins. How many more generations must we lose to this nonsense?
Emphasis mine. Without sounding like I'm coming out on the side of the culture nags, I want to dig into this and see what comes up. (Most of you know by now I'm no fan of Game of Thrones myself -- it appeals to me about as much as the smelly fishbelly skin found under a Band-Aid left on for too long -- but the attack on the show mounted here seems entirely in the wrong spirit.)
Why everything that's truly creative is what we're trained to ignore.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/24 10:00
... creativity must be original, meaningful, and surprising. Original in the sense that the creator is rewarded for transcending expertise, and going beyond the standard repertoire. Meaningful in the sense that the creator must satisfy some utility function, or provide a new interpretation. This constantly raises the bar of what is considered useful, and puts immense pressure on creators to find new meanings. Finally, creative products must be surprising in that the original and meaningful creative product must be surprising not only to oneself, but to everyone. This is exactly how the United States Patent Office evaluates new applications. Original and meaningful ideas that could have been created by any expert in the field are considered "obvious" and are therefore unpatentable. Creative products-- such as the discoveries of Galileo and Leeuwenhoek-- are surprising to everyone, novices and experts alike.
This keys into something I come back to often: how the New Thing is surprising, and not always in a pleasant way. Sometimes it's jarring and ugly, because we haven't yet developed the proper eyes for it (Eraserhead). Sometimes it's lovely in a way we didn't know things could be lovely (Star Wars). Hence the function of the good critic: to defend the new thing because it rattles our cage a bit, although that should not be the only thing it does.
Creativity has to be original, meaningful, and surprising, and the problem with all three of those things is they are often the very things we are trained to guard against, ignore, or misinterpret.
How David Bowie and Prince jointly inspired a character of mine.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/24 10:00
Selfish as it might be to say this, I feel motivated only now to say something about the deaths of David Bowie and Prince because of the way I based a character on an amalgam of them.
And so "Always Outnumbered" begins.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/22 19:00
Last night I wrote the first thousand or so words for the first draft to Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.
I'm just as surprised as you might be.
On the freedom to say "I don't know" and not be punished for it.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/19 10:00
A big part of the freedom that comes with living in an open society is the freedom to say "I don't know" and not be punished for it.
How I stopped worrying and learned to love detailed story planning.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/14 09:00
Last weekend's work on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was shockingly fruitful. (This brings to mind an image of someone plugging 220V appliances into a navel orange, but only because I'm weird and love terrible jokes.) Not only did I finally crack the entire end-to-end outline on the 4th try, but I started translating that into the scene-by-scene "beat sheet" that will be used to actually write the book.
Where'd "Welcome to the Fold" go? It's right here, waiting.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/13 19:00
I haven't talked much about my previous novel, Welcome to the Fold, conspicuous in its absence of detail. The reason for that is simple: over the last couple of months I've been seeking representation for it. So far, no dice, but I'm giving it a full calendar year to see if anyone shows interest. If not, I'll fall back to plan B and release it myself, so you might see it sometime in '17 if it comes to that.
I may have mentioned this before in passing, but it's worth repeating here. I'm also holding off on a major reworking of the site (and an updating of the layout) until I switch publishing platforms, which ought to happen sometime next year.
I think, therefore I differ.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/11 09:00
It's weird. We have more, and perhaps better, critical work than ever before on popular culture, and yet people seem to be even more confused -- or maybe just willfully ignorant -- of what criticism is actually for and why it's performed.
On the urge to be cool vs. the urge to be real (in one's creative work).By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/10 10:00
I spent most of the weekend, and most of last night, with machete in hand, hacking my way through the second half of the storyline for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. A couple of things snapped into place, but one thing that became quite clear is a tension I've seen within myself before when working on these projects: the urge to be cool vs. the urge to be real.
On how some creative folks don't know how to follow their hearts.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/04 10:00
I keep coming back to the idea that some creative folks, especially those just starting off in some creative field, don't really know how to follow their hearts. They go by what other people respond to; they think, If this is likely to be popular with people, then it's worth working on.
Doug Rushkoff Says Companies Should Stop Growing | FiveThirtyEight ... as you act more according to your type, and as the marketplace becomes more and more predetermined and predictable, you actually don’t get growth, you don’t get innovation. ... Because...By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/02 10:00
... as you act more according to your type, and as the marketplace becomes more and more predetermined and predictable, you actually don’t get growth, you don’t get innovation. ... Because now you have designers, who instead of being encouraged to come up with their own, new, crazy ideas, are being encouraged to do the things that have been proven by the data to deliver results. A lot of times, in thriving marketplaces, a lot of ideas come from the bottom up. You see new consumer behaviors, and then you go, “Oh my gosh, look at what these kids are doing.” But as you end up with more predictable, controlled consumers, you end up with a less innovative society.
Emphasis mine. I think the implications of having consumers, rather than citizens, ought to be obvious, but every time I think they are, I see plenty of evidence they aren't.
A society where people don't tinker, don't invent, don't ask hard questions about what they're being forced to live with, and aren't forced to vote only with their wallets -- if that doesn't scare you, maybe you're on the wrong planet.
Somewhere between Herbie Hancock's electronic pop-jazz of the 1980s and the more omnivorous, open-ended experimentalism of artists like David Byrne or Brian Eno.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2016/04/01 10:00
How ashamed I always feel when I encounter, for the first time, an artist who has been making his mark for decades just out of the reach of my senses. I knew nothing of trumpeter and keyboardist Jon Hassell before hearing about this three-disc, expanded reissue of his widely lauded 1991 album, and now I have an irrepressible curiosity about his work, much as how reading a single Philip K. Dick novel triggered in me a thirst for everything else he'd done.
Science fiction, rebooted.
Other Lives Of The Mind