07 November 2010
06 August 2010
It's been quite a year for epic, narrative-driven games -- titles vast in scope, grand in ambition, and gorgeous in execution -- and I have fought my way through a few of the best.
In recent months I have transformed into an exiled Florentine nobleman thirsty for vengeance in Renaissance Italy; I masqueraded as a continent-hopping, chiseled chunk of vainglorious derring-do in search of lost treasure; and I traveled the western wilds of the United States as a battle-scarred loner fighting to restore his dignity and return to his family.
To the ear of an outsider, this might sound like a pretty diverse scrapbook of experiences, and I'd say this was half right. But there's one element that draws all these titles together under a cozy umbrella. In each game, the protagonist -- my avatar -- is a mass murderer...
30 July 2010
28 July 2010
Yes, Andy's single important contribution to the world was himself. He generated the aura that Walter Benjamin worried art had lost forever in the age of mechanical reproduction. Andy spun magic scenester ju-ju so hard that he fooled people into thinking art production was actually a glamorous endeavor. Imagine! Soon people wanted to try this art thing themselves, but not because they adored the process of making it. Only because they adored themselves, and Andy, and the way it felt to participate without having to labor.
It's tempting to watch this and see nothing but a flippant hipster (a flipster!) disavowing any responsibility to indulge in polite conversation with an obtuse press; tempting because it's true, obviously. But it's also safe to take Andy at his word. His methods were easier ... he says exactly same thing about film a few years later: Film cameras are great, he argues, Because you just turn them on and walk away. After a short while, you've got a movie.
So while Andy traipses around carving himself out of ethereal clay, the work he sells to keep him afloat us is not a final product in the old sense, nor is he selling the sluggish thrill of "the process" to his admirers. No, he has perfected the intoxicating thrill of the "Have Done". Everyone knows this feeling. Everyone yearns for it at some point. "All writers want to have written" goes the old saying, and Andy offered an analogous experience to all in his orbit: simply by being around him, they had done things. Everyone was a filmmaker, everyone was a painter, everyone was in a band; everyone was everything around Andy Warhol. If he had written a novel, I'm sure he would have charged people for the privilage of looking over his shoulder as he scribbled ... or over the shoulder of whomever was writing it for him. It might even have sounded something like this:
15 July 2010
Name three objects found in a grocery or drugstore which, when purchased together, give your cashier the impression that the strangest night of your life is about to commence.
A cucumber, a jar of patroleum jelly, a disposable camera.
I codified the rules for this one about 5 years ago and have played it numerous times since. Players typically dive right into the risqué stuff first, but after the first few rounds the combinations tend to get more subtle and strange. Some people even take the shocking step of avoiding sexual innuendo altogether. Weird, right? But it works.
17 June 2010
Originally titled "Les Laches Vivent d'Espoir" (does this translate to "The Fearful Live In Hope"?), "My Baby..." was a French production with a bit more attempted integrity than the American rubric can possibly allow. Having never seen the film, I am unprepared to judge whether or not it has suffered unjustly from this swap, or if it is still a piece of garbage, but the original French title seems to imply some attempt at sensitivity.
This sort of targeted rebranding is still quite common, of course, and rarely capricious; there's always a profit motive to these alterations. Catherine Breillat's 2001 film "A Ma Soeur" -- literally "With My Sister" -- was renamed, for our amusment, "Fat Girl". This is a rather blunt take on a quietly disturbing film about the destructive tendancies of male sexual desire on maturing girls.
Whenever I hear of this kind of artistic gerrymandering, I can't help but wonder if the people responsible have done so on the basis of a lot of careful scheming or out of sheer fear. Is the potential audience for a film titled "Fat Girl" larger than the audience for "With My Sister"? Are they they completely different audiences, and if so, is one substantially larger than the other? Will the "Fat Girl" hopefuls leave the film disappointed after merely having seen "With My Sister"? Managing expectaions is the name of this ugly game, but perhaps it works to the artist's benefit more often than not.
A few nights ago I watched Leos Carax's 1986 film "Mauvais Sang" - "Bad Blood" - and was surprised to find under the film's title-card the subtitle "The Night Is Young". This title appeared nowhere on the DVD case or in any of the menus however - both advertised the original French. But again I was made to wonder, did "Bad Blood" first appear on these shores as "The Night Is Young"? This would be 1986, you see - the middle of the first decade the AIDS epidemic, which the film makes numerous allusions to. Was this the reason behind the change; the fear that the vague reference to "Bad Blood" might transmit the wrong impression. What sort of mind bubbles with this sort of skittishness, I wonder? And can you make a good living this way?
09 June 2010
I've had a few casual, barely informed conversations over the years about the idea of "musical literacy", and more specifically regarding the extent of our innate understanding and feeling for musical forms and ideas and their possible origins -- but i've never bothered to follow through and actually read anything extensive on the subject. It's probably time to change this. Should I start with Oliver Sacks? Something else? Maybe I'll watch more Bobby McFerrin videos first.
04 June 2010
While searching for images of this game to accompany a small article I've been writing about the role of narrative in videogames, I came across Mr. Mechner's Vimeo page. It contains this little gem:
Passively watching The Last Express is no substitute for actually playing it, but for posterity's sake this is a nice little memorial to a fantastic and overlooked milestone.
25 May 2010
11 May 2010
Born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, Henry Thomas was one of the oldest black musician who ever recorded for the phonograph companies of the 1920′s and his music represents a rare opportunity to hear what american black folk music must have sounded like in the last decade of the 19th century.Download now and enjoy.
08 May 2010
In 1990, philosopher Peter Suber offered this observation: “If law making is a game, then it is a game in which changing the rules is a move.” Suber was not merely coining an axiom for the sake of his tenure; he was introducing a game he had invented called Nomic, in which passing, amending, and repealing the game’s own set of rules was its purpose. This was self-reflexivity at its most complex, and the creative intellectual destruction that accompanied each game was a wonder to experience. But like any laudably open and free set of laws, Nomic’s rules contained the seeds of its own potential dismantling. A system of rules designed to permit free and open action, can, even with the best of intentions, destroy itself. True freedom gives us full leeway to abandon it altogether.
Sitting through Rimini Protokoll’s delightfully cozy adventure, Best Before, Peter Suber’s quote stuck with me, and the idea that I might be partly responsible for the destruction of the very show I was experiencing was never far from my mind … or minds I should say. Throughout the duration of Best Before, I was always in two places at once – there was the physical me, sitting in my chair amongst my fellows of flesh and blood; and the digital me, the bullet-shaped avatar I navigated around a large on-stage screen using a generic game controller. It was the same for everyone there on Friday night: two hundred puppet masters sitting in the dark maneuvering their virtual surrogates around BestLand. We watched and cheered as our avatars got their bearings, made decisions about the future of our civilization, gained rank and stature, mated, and even voted for a president, all for the sake of keeping our collective civilization afloat.
28 April 2010
16 April 2010
As is the case with a number of strange words, Pumpernickel has an interesting etymology -- and would have more than one, if it were possible for all the rumors to be true. I'm going to ignore all of them except the one LEAST likely to be true, just because I love the story so much.
29 March 2010
One evening we return to her place and she offers to cook dinner for the both of us. Three months prior, she'd been in Italy studying the language and absorbing the cuisine. Now she knows the recipe for a good marinara. When she conjures up all the necessary ingredients she holds up a fine ruddy tomato and says, "It's hard to make good marinara with the tomatoes in America. You can't taste the sun in them."
26 March 2010
23 March 2010
According to wise Wikipedia, critics apparently feel Playback is his worst novel, which made me eager to read it immediately after finishing The Big Sleep, if only to form a basis of comparison - to plant the poles, so to speak. And I loved it. It meandered into strange places only tangentially related to the plot, it allowed minor characters to dominate entire chapters with their own voice, and in the end the book's central mystery wasn't so much a mystery as a misunderstanding. It's as if Chandler was retiring the genre altogether, with Marlowe slipping away into a sustained fantasy. The woman calls, the music swells, the whiskey is wet and it burns on the way down. Last time, with feeling.
16 March 2010
I loiter for as long as possible tonight before tiptoeing down to B9, having been told a few nights before by a Rep staffer that I “was an obvious plant” because I was one of the first people seated, and sitting alone to boot. It’s an unnecessary precaution today, though. People have taken their seats early.
15 March 2010
After our initial introduction, Jerry dives back into his work. Lighting cues are still being fussed over, blocking isn’t solid, and Todd’s modish suit hasn’t been wrinkled correctly. Jerry sends his stage manager, Amy, to speak to the costume department. “I want crumpled trousers,” he clarifies. “Crumpled but not violently creased.”
14 March 2010
12 March 2010
“It’s a rambling seventy minute monologue, basically,” he explains. “A one-man show….”
That’s easy math. I’m one man. But this feels like a set-up. I’m thirty-one and haven’t acted on a stage since the eleventh grade, ticking and stuttering my way through one of the lead roles in a forgettable nineteen-forties parlor farce. What misprint on fortune’s call-sheet has dumped this honor on me? But Jerry insists: “You’re perfect for this.”