Friday, February 27, 2009


Fiction isn't true, by very definition. But good fiction isn't exactly "false" either. Rather, stories represent a kind of distilled reality, where all the underlying elements of human life filter out though characters who, for whatever reason, seem really motivated to move their collective narrative along.

In other words, fictions works on the following basic principle: ignore the fact that most people are fairly non-confrontational.

And that's why I love it when people are unintentionally poetic. When, in normal conversation, someone will drop a line that's espectially profound, or so well composed that it seems thougtfully constructed.

One of my favorites was when a friend told me, "I know you don't understand, and I don't know that I can explain."

(I pause here to let you know that, although that line sounds melodramatic, it really wasn't in that context. We were talking about her buying a house.)

I wrote her an entire email back about how nice a line that was, what a good symmetry it executed (I know you . . . I don't know that I . . . ) but I'm pretty sure that she was only convinced of me being a crazy person who fixates on words.

But those poetic moments need not be so elegant. The one that really sticks with me came from a guy I knew who was always in debt. He had recently managed to pay off all his credit cards, and I wanted to know how. 

"Well, he said, it was simple. I took the $100-$200 a month I usually spend on crap, and put it towards my bills."*

That's not just poetic, folks, it's a damn revelation.

*He also once said, "Thank you, Sam, for coming along on the rolling, clanging freakshow that is my life." Remind me to someday name a band "Rolling Clanging Freakshow."

Friday, February 20, 2009

That's reimagining, itself

HBO's "Rome" series is really good. The cast is top-notch, the cinematography is high-quality, the story is . . . well it's been retold for two-thousand years, I think it's safe to say that the story has something going for it.

Aside from HBO's usual "here are the nipples you paid for, enjoy!" content, there's not much negative to say.

Yet I do have a big problem with "Rome," and it's this: At the end of Season 1, they kill off the most interesting character, Julius Caesar.  (Sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone, but as has been established, there's a statute of limitations on this kind of thing.)

The series does such a good job of establishing that character, understanding him not as a tyrant nor a savior, but just a complicated individual who did what he did because that's what his mind was built to do. 

And then they squander it all by having him get murdered.

And yes, I know that in a historical epic there's some expectation of adhering to what "actually" happened. But is that really important?

This story has been told so many times over so many years, what can one honestly expect to bring to the table? Most of the time, when you see a "fresh" take on an old work, it's just the same old thing set on, like, Mars or something. So it's the same story with a different backdrop.

If I'd been writing that first season of"Rome," I would have have looked down at the page, shrugged my shoulders and said, "you know what, screw it, he lives!"

Maybe he undoes the robe and he's got on armor on under there, like Doc Brown in "Back to the Future," and it turns out someone came from the future to warn him*. Or maybe he just takes 23 stab wounds in stride, cause he's JC and that's how he rolls.*

*"And the warning wasn't all they brought me! Check out my T-Rex!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Digital Discontentment

Digital distribution has thrown a real wrench into our culture. And by that, I guess I mean it's thrown a virtual wrench, not a real one.

The people who make content for a living (music, movies, games, books) once used the physicality of their medium as a sort of control. The fact that you HAD to have a CD or a floppy disk to transfer content around was it's own sort of lock and key. The only thing they had to worry about was controlling access to those physical things.

And that's why mp3's scared the bejeezus out of the music industry for so very long. It meant the pirates no longer had to worry about things like inventory.

But as time goes on, content makers are realizing that not everyone is interested in keeping their Bittorrent client up to date and remembering to sort their search results by number of seeders, and that many of those people will pay money to NOT understand what the $&#* I just wrote.

What fascinates me, though, is the fallout I've seen on the consumer side. Just as the loss of physicality scared publishers, it scares a lot of consumers too. They don't trust the legal purchasing of digital content yet.

Now, as I sit mere feet away from a bag that contains my mp3 player, a electronic book reader that has built-in access to Amazon's e-book store, and a Nintendo DS that I'll soon trade in toward the new model that has downloadable game capability, I must admit that I'm not, erm . . . wassat called . . . eh . . . unbiased. I freely admit that I see the physical nature of media to be nothing but a quaint inconvenience.*

But just look at the two most common arguments against Digital Distribution, the ones I always hear when I talk to people about it:

"I don't like buying a digital copy because I don't feel like I really own the game."

"I like buying the box copy because I can hold it in my hand."

Isn't this strange? I mean, the whole idea is that the movie on the DVD, the words on the page, the music encoded onto the CD, THAT is what's valuable. But now that they're given a way to receive just the content itself, we find out that they view the physical elements as the valuable part. 

And these are people who keep spindles of CD's and DVD's right next to their printer. They KNOW those things aren't so valuable.

It's like people are mad because a digital copy means the publisher didn't have to do as much work.

*Also I am super-lazy, and I can download things without getting up.

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Whoopie! . . . Whoopie! . . . Whoopie!"

Tower Defense (or TD) is a subset of strategy video games. Where most tactical games would have you ordering units around on a map, TD instead asks you to place different kinds of towers - then throws waves of enemies at you to see if your towers can effectively wipe them out.

The purest expression of tower defense gameplay is the free flash game Desktop Tower Defense.

The idea of laying out towers and watching them shoot at enemies, just so you can process this data and figure out even better ways to lay out towers next time, may not sound all that "fun." But if you are a person who likes machines, who's mind siezes on complex problems that need solving, who has a very "systemic" way of thnking . . . and I pause here to rephrase that as "But if you are Sam" . . . then these games represent less of a "recreation" and more of a "danger to your health and productivity."

Like Double-Stuff Mint Oreos, I often suspect that the Tower Defense genre was created by the Universe as a way to keep me, personally, in check. Like a well-placed frost tower, these games slow my progress so I can be more effectively dealt with.*

And I guess it's working, because between Savage Moon:

And "Ninjatown"

Tower Defense games seem to be about all I'm playing lately.

*I wonder if the designers who work on pedestrian malls and other public areas enjoy TD games. Seems like a similar skillset, using the environment to control a horde. I like to imagine one of these people looking a map of a shopping mall's food court and thinking "We're getting too many people bunched up at the entrance, I'll have to install some Cannon Towe . . . I mean some railings.