What is Success?

I’ve decided that I’m going to start posting video onto my YouTube channel and the first one is already up! I will be putting up at least 2 videos a week – one vlog and one news round up. The news round ups will be Monday and vlogs should be up Wednesday, Friday at the latest. Hope you guys enjoy!

Thomas Was Alone – Review and Interpretation

This is my review and interpretation of the game Thomas Was Alone – by Mike Bithell.  WARNING: Spoilers ahead. 

Thomas Was Alone, created by Mike Bithell, is a metaphor for collaboration, infrastructure, and life after death within community.  It sounds a bit strange seeing as the game is about Thomas, a sentient AI rectangle within a computer game, but bear with me.  

The game starts out playing as Thomas, who is alone (shocker).  Thomas was randomly created by the game program on accident.  As Thomas goes through the game world he finds many friends along the way.  Thomas meets Claire, Chris, Lara, John, James, and Sarah – all of them also created randomly and by accident within the program.  All of them have different unique skills (one can swim, another can double jump, one is extra short while another is extremely tall).  All of their unique skills, in the beginning, are useful in their own way.  Each one solving puzzles that only they can solve.  

However, as the game progresses the puzzles focus less and less on each individual character and more on how the characters interact.  By helping each other out the characters are able to collaborate to solve puzzles that would be insurmountable to each character individually.  It forces you to stop thinking of each character as an individual and think of them as a united team.  Without collaboration between characters the game would be insurmountable.   Continue reading

Interpretation and Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane – By Neil Gaiman

Before I say anything more: SPOILERS! This is not just a review of how I felt about the book, but also an interpretation.  In interpreting the book I rely heavily on events within the book.  This is not a comprehensive interpretation.  There are many events in the book that have been left out of this interpretation – either I found them not to fit with my interpretation or I just plum forgot that it happened (because even as short of a book as it is there’s no way I can hold every single detail in my memory).  This is my own interpretation and what I took away from the book.  You can wholly disagree with me (and I encourage you to do so!) or you can wholly agree with me.  You can also kind of disagree/agree with me.  You are not stuck into one position or the other because, well, fuck binaries. 
 
I apologize for the lack of quotes (my friend actually has my copy right now) and I wanted to get this out.  I’m going to start a monthly book interpretation/review on the second Monday of each month.  I read several books each month (usually three) and thought that I could definitely do at least one review/interpretation each month on one of the books that I read.  Not all of them will be fiction like the Ocean at the End of the Lane (in fact the next book I will be reviewing next is a philosophy book).  Read on and I encourage you to comment.  Books are relics, icons, and symbols which are representative of our time and they deserve to be talked about in addition to being experienced.    
 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a phenomenal book that focuses on the imagination and the creativity of children – especially when faced with difficult situations.  The main character – whose name we never learn – goes to a spot from his childhood as an adult.  It sparks a memory from long ago that has become tucked away in the recesses of his mind and we travel with him as he unfolds a long forgotten memory.  As he recounts the story we fall into a rabbit hole of magic, mystery, and illusion that can only exist in the mind of a child.  

 
The whole novel juxtaposes a child’s point of view against the point of view of adults.  The magic that the child sees is often in conflict with the world that adults see and perceive.  The main character’s parents are representative of the adult perspective where everything is exactly as it seems.  There is no magic or mystery.  Things merely are as they are.  And even if we take that as it is the whole novel made me feel like the child, despite the magic woven throughout the story he tells, was telling a story that was no less true than what the adults perceived.  In this way the book challenges exactly what “truth” is and how reality and truth are not as clearly defined as we may think they are.  
 
The antagonist of the story is the Nanny.  The Nanny is hired by our main character’s parents so that his mother can take a job in the city.  His mother leaves for work early in the morning and comes home late at night and she rarely makes appearances throughout the novel.  
 
Our main character sees the Nanny for what she really is though – an other worldly beast that threatens his life, living, and his family.  Our main character recounts insults and threats that were lobbed at him by the Nanny, including one threat to lock him in the attic.  If we consider for a moment the idea that children embellish tales and exaggerate details we can assume that some of these threats, from the Nanny, were not as serious as our protagonist may have thought they were.  In fact, some of the threats described may never have actually happened.  But even in doing so, I don’t think it makes the reality that he describes any less real or any less of a reality than that which the adults in the novel perceive.  
 
While the Nanny may not have actually been an other-worldly beast (epistemologically speaking) for our protagonist she was.  The Nanny was tearing his family apart and was making his life far more miserable than it had been before.  As the Nanny shows up his mother leaves – which can be interpreted as the Nanny replacing his mother.  We also see our main character’s father become angrier and harsher in punishment as the novel progresses – a perceived manipulation of the father by the Nanny.  While embellished and somewhat exaggerated there is no less truth to the magical story woven by our protagonist than an empirically “factual” tale that we would hear from an adult.  
 
The other big time players in the novel are the Hempstock family.  The Hempstock family consists of Lettie (a girl of 11 years old), Mrs. Hempstock (Lettie’s mother), and Old Mrs. Hempstock (Lettie’s grandmother).  All of these women live together in a house at the end of the lane.  There are no men who live at the Hempstock home.  They are a group of strong independent women who manage their farm themselves without any external help.  They are amazing feminist characters.  I will discuss this later, but first I want to talk about how they fulfill the role of protector for our protagonist.  
 
All of the Hempstock family is magical in the mind of our main character.  Lettie, an 11 year old girl, has spell-like abilities (they are never described as such) that do amazing things.  Lettie brings our protagonist along on her magical adventures into the magical realm that exists on the border of the Hempstock farm.  Lettie gives our protagonist an escape from his crumbling world at home.  It’s no wonder that he describes the Hempstock farm as a magical place and gives Lettie magical powers that help him escape his home life.  She gives him escape from what seems like the worst thing that has ever happened to him.  
 
Mrs. Hempstock and Old Mrs. Hempstock are both seen as protectors of both Lettie and our protagonist.  Mrs. Hempstock and Old Mrs. Hempstock both take our protagonist’s concerns seriously and the work to help him.  Mrs. Hempstock offers our main character food when he is hungry – often after refusing to eat the food that the Nanny had cooked.  They often talked about how they could help our protagonist and indeed, do quite often.  Old Mrs. Hempstock at one point “removes” a memory from existence so that his parents forget it ever happened.  They let him sleep over with Lettie providing him shelter from the home he so desperately wants to escape from.  (I should note, he doesn’t want to run away, but he wants things to go back to normal and until that happens he attempts to escape until it goes back to normal).  In the end, they provide him shelter and comfort during a time of great upheaval in his life and often through magical means.  
 
To the eyes of a 7-year-old this can be magic.  Someone who can protect you, shelter you, and provide you comfort when you feel most broken (and at fault as our protagonist does) can often been seen as a miracle worker.  To perceive the Hempstock family as magical strikes me as normal, not ridiculous or odd.  The Hempstock family were like miracle workers to our protagonist.  
 
The entire novel strikes me as an attempt to show how stories and magic can permeate our real world and in a way that is helpful to us.  Life sucks, it really does, and when you can see the magic that goes on in everyday life things become far more bearable.  As we become adults this is beaten out of us – the world is a place of science and epistemic questioning.  Things happen in a specific way and we understand them in a specific way.  There is no magic, nor illusion, nor any mystery to life.  It’s a story about the sad state of affairs of adult creativity and imagination and how, as adults, we perceive children’s stories to be false.  We see them as disconnected from reality and it’s disappointing.  We beat the creativity out of children through education, learning, and academia.  Learning is all about STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  In our current day there is no room for writing, art, music, or general creativity.  Gaiman has crafted a tale that forces us to reconnect with our inner child and recognize the power that we once held with creativity, imagination, and a belief in magic.  
 
I now want to return to the Hempstock Family.  I’m absolutely in love with the Hempstock Family as a set of characters.  The Hempstock Family are fantastically feminist.  They are strong independent women who get along without men.  At one point during the novel our protagonist asks where all the men from the family are.  Mrs. Hempstock explains that all of the men have left the household.  They went off to the city and just never returned.  Mrs. Hempstock, in her explanation, never becomes angry, upset, or bitter.  It is just the way things are.  The men left, never came back, and that is that.  While quite possibly traumatic initially I love the fact that the Hempstock family gets on with their lives.  They are not dependent upon men nor do they feel a need for the men to come back to the farm.  
 
As I said before: Books are relics, icons, symbols which are representative of our time and they deserve to be talked about in addition to experienced.  I look forward to hearing what you all have to say.  

Why I no longer support Penny-Arcade

I was a long time supporter of Penny-Arcade.  Since high school (and possibly even middle school) I read Penny-Arcade on and off.  I found them funny and I thought they were clever.  When they launched the Penny-Arcade Report I quickly found that I greatly appreciated the way Ben Kuchera covered games news and that he covered the news that I was actually interested in (usually).  When I started my RSS feed Penny-Arcade was one of the first RSS’s added and checking my RSS feed usually started off by checking out Penny-Arcade and the PA Report.

Then I found out about this PAX Prime panel:

Why does the game industry garner such scrutiny from outside sources and within?  Every point aberration gets called into question, reviewers are constantly criticised and developers and publishers professionally and personally attacked.  Any titillation gets called out as sexist or misogynistic and involve any antagonist race other than Anglo-Saxons and you’re a racist.

It’s gone too far and when will it all end?  How can we get off the soapbox and work together to bring a new constructive age into fruition? (via BorderHouseBlog)

There was a huge outcry and rightly so.  (I won’t be discussing why there the outcry was right, and if you’re unconvinced just reading it you should read the Border House Blog linked after the quotation)

While they later changed the description to no longer include lines with titillation, sexism, and misogyny the spirit of the panel was still clearly the same.

Then enter the transphobic tweets of Mike Krahulik (AKA Gabe of Penny-Arcade).

cwgabrial transphobic

All of the tacit support I had given Penny-Arcade was called into question.  I know that they made a few poor jokes here and there, but I never realized just how terrible they were in response to said jokes.  They refuse to apologize and when they do it’s a half-hearted dismissal which is clearly meant as some sort of “calculated” PR move for Penny-Arcade Brand and not because they realize any error of their ways.

At this point I had stopped clicking on anything related to Penny-Arcade.  Child’s Play Charity, PAX, Penny-Arcade Report, etc.  Anything which would create support for Penny-Arcade had become part of my temporary ban list.  (I call it temporary because I wasn’t sure if I would, I guess you would say, get over it and still think of them in a positive light).

Then I saw Dickwolves.  Somehow I had missed this whole debacle (probably because it started when I was still fervently studying in my isolated box filled with books written in the range of 100 and 2500 years ago attempting to graduate).  The Dickwolves debacle has been documented extremely well on debacle.tumblr.com.

The Tumblr post is long, and detailed.  Reading through just the post and not the source material took long enough, but reading through what had happened (and what was still happening) just made me realize what I had been supporting the entire time I supported Penny-Arcade Report.

Mike Krahulik, the face of Penny-Arcade, has been a constant voice against change that he doesn’t agree with.  He holds certain truths and then refuses to believe anything outside of it.  He has been lucky because some of those “truths” are considered socially progressive (such as his stance against bullying and the treatment of women).  However, when he is called out for something offensive he turns into the school-yard bully.  His Penny-Arcade thugs come out in droves, behaving like marionette dolls dancing to Krahulik’s offensive tunes.  They punish those who call Krahulik out (threats of rape and violence against them) and reinforce sexism, misogyny, and rape culture.

As such anything related to Penny-Arcade will no longer be getting my support.  I have removed Penny-Arcade and the Penny-Arcade Report from my RSS feed.  I no longer follow anyone related to Penny-Arcade on Twitter and will no longer be supporting anything related to Penny-Arcade.  Some may call it harsh (because Penny-Arcade has done some good).  However, I refuse to support a network which not only creates content which it knows is offensive but which also refuses to apologize and take responsibility for its actions.

Penny-Arcade I say this with no regret or sadness – Goodbye.

Why the Xbox One might be the Superior Console – Just Maybe

The Xbox One has gotten a lot of flack from consumers lately – and rightly so.  They’re implementing DRM for all of their games, they’re severely limiting trading/selling/buying used games, you’ll need to connect to the internet at least once every 24 hours, the Kinect will constantly be watching and listening to you (although they say you can shut it down), they’ve said nothing about indie game support other than they’re going to do it, etc., etc.  All in all, the Xbox One has been pretty much shit on, thrown around, and made into a huge joke (even Sony got in on it by making a joke video about how to share games).  However, some gamers have been losing focus. What we perceive in our minds as a bad thing might actually be a good thing (that whole selective biases thing kind of gets in the way).  As such I’m going to lay out for you why all of these things are not so bad for consumers (of which some of the reasons can be found via Ben Kuchera’s article on the Penny-Arcade Report).
Continue reading

The Bus Driver

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! (If you have not read The Fault in Our Stars or The Magicians they are both quoted, although heavily out of context)

Today I finished rereading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green phenomenal author and nerd activist (I don’t know if that’s what I should really call him that but I’m calling him an activist) who has this amazing knack for bringing nerdy people together and then inspiring them to do great things.  The book ends on a sad note which makes you want to cry both tears of sadness and tears of relief.  One of the ending lines is “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” – pg. 313.  Immediately I was transported back to one of the defining lines of The Magicians by Lev Grossman where the main character, Quentin, is talking to his girlfriend Alice.  “[Quentin:] ‘You can’t just decide to be happy.’ [Alice] ‘No, you can’t.  But you can sure as hell decide to be miserable.’”  - pg. 325  What do these things have to do with the bus driver? I’ll get to that, just bear with me a bit. Continue reading

Bigotry Doesn’t Care About Your Intentions

Racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, and other forms of discrimination that limit opportunities to people based on some unchangeable fact about themselves don’t care about intentions.

Forms of discrimination have become a very different sort of beast in the current day.  It’s no longer the obvious racism such as the Jim Crow laws.  Racism, sexism, ageism, and much discrimination is now a subtle subconscious mindset that, if one is not paying attention, can be perpetuated unwillingly and unknowingly.  Because of this it is increasingly easy to contribute to these subconscious paradigms unwillingly and accidentally.

There are very obvious sorts of discrimination, but it’s the unconscious reflexive sort of actions that truly contribute to discrimination in our current world.  Actions such as checking one’s wallet when they pass a black person or holding on extra tight to their purse can be the subtle sort of unconscious racism that permeates our culture and constitutes our subconscious racist paradigms.  They are socially constituted and culturally ingrained through stereotypes. Continue reading