Posts in what i’m playing

Media Update: Three Things I’ve Enjoyed Recently

Three Things I Have Recently Enjoyed

Audiobook: Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Cover art for the audibook Parable of the Talents

There are a lot of things that could be said about Octavia Butler's masterful writing and the perspective she gives us on our future (present and past as well.) For this short review I'll limit my comments to the three perspectives she uses to tell her story. Olamina, the protagonist of the preceding story, The Parable of the Sower carries the primary burden of narrative, but the additional perspective provided by her brother Marcus and her daughter Asha Vere give Olamina's story a balance that provides readers with a depth of perspective that gives us new insight into how to weigh the words and deeds of our characters.

I'm leaving unsaid the heavy parallels between "Phe Pox" as characters in the novel call the apocalypse and our lived experience in the United States in the year 2020. It is very rewarding to read Butler's words, but it can also be traumatizing, so consider carefully if you are ready for fiction that is very close to our daily experience.

Overall, Butler's novel and the Earthseed religion invented for it provide me with useful tools for coping with the daily challenges I face. On Twitter and other channels, many wise people are encouraging us to listen to black women. We should, starting with those we encounter in our daily lives. Beyond that, Octavia Butler is another voice that deserves to be heard and will richly reward the listener who pays heed to her vision.

Video Game: Wasteland 3

Wasteland 3 cover art

I am still playing this game, so I can't comment about the full narrative or how things are wrapped up, but I can say that I'm very happy with the first third-to-half of the game. The narrative is an interesting mix of the kind of absurd and juvenile humor that Fallout 2 (a game inspired by the first Wasteland game) was loved for and a more mature kind of apocalypse. The way each player role-plays their characters will influence how profound or how coarse the story is, but there will be plenty of both no matter how one plays the game.

One thing that stands out to me after fifteen or so hours of play is how the game mechanics and the game's story-telling manage to stay out of each other's way. While I enjoyed playing Wasteland 2, it took me quite a long time to find my rhythm with the game mechanics and that was a barrier to me getting into the story arc. I eventually overcame it, but when I played Wasteland 3 I was immediately immersed in the unfolding story without having to stop to think about developing characters that weren't constantly dying. It may be that I learned how to play the game in Wasteland 2 and that carried over, but Wasteland 3 is very polished, smooth, pretty and pulled me right in. I'm especially impressed with the balanced rewards and consequences of actions. When this is done poorly, a role-player feels like they have a choice between playing a witless ingenue or a sociopath. The social fallout for one's choices feel appropriate and balanced to me so far. It is also very possible (so far, in my progress) to play as a relatively peaceful character. There will be some violence, but players have the option of speccing a character who can find solutions to nearly every encountered scenario without having to fight. Reader be warned, I have a track record of playing games like this with non-violent builds that make it to the final boss only to lose every fight. However, I trust that the heritage of this game requires including an option to sweet-talk one's way to a successful conclusion.

On top of the game mechanics, narrative, and balance of the game; the polish is exceptional. The soundtrack is chef-kiss-fingers perfect. The animations and visuals are stunning without being distracting and if I've encountered any bugs, they did not break immersion or interfere in either the story or the mechanics. I don't have a ton of time to play games, but a half-hour here and there with my inside-joke sharing nerds and their post-apocalyptic posse is a welcome escape from our version of The Pox.

Music: at Budokan by Cheap Trick

Album cover art for Cheap Trick's at Bukodan

While I was born in 1971, I didn't encounter a lot of '70s rock standards growing up. Someone (thank you stranger with good taste!) on Twitter brought this concert album from 1978 to my attention and I keep coming back to listen to it again. I just love it and I may not have much more articulate to say about it than: "You gotta LISTEN to this, friend!" Back in 1997 I went to a premiere of Michael Moore's film The Big One where Moore was present to give a talk before the film. Rick Nielsen made a surprise guest appearance and I think he played a song or two for us.(At least he brought his guitar with him.) Then, Rick and Moore presented Studs Terkel (another surprise guest!) with a brick from a famous autoworkers strike and just putting me in the same room as Rick Nielsen and Studs Terkel has caused me to forgive Moore of a lot of his, um, excesses. I digress. Listen to this album. It's real good.

Enjoying games without thinking too much about them

As I've been thinking and writing about games, one of the most significant points I've stumbled upon is that having a method for analyzing aspects of games is just as important as having a method in other, more familiar, forms of analysis. I'm a fan of multiple playings of a game in order to experience the game from multiple viewpoints. Play to learn the game mechanic and narrative environment. Play to compete or win. Play to understand the teaching model or the story's structure. This approach has helped me learn from and about games.

This spring, I taught a class on research and information architecture. Teaching the same group of students twice a week for 15 weeks is very different from teaching a similar number of classroom hours distributed among different students each time. I got busy and involved in the class. I didn't have a lot of time to play games so I took a break from reflective gaming and went back to escapist gaming. I played the lasted Tomb Raider game, but didn't think about it much (other than wondering what it meant that I chose to outfit Ms. Croft in cargo-pants rather than the available short-shorts option.)

This summer, I had more time to devote to gaming so I dove into some games that I'd missed. I played Mass Effect. I played STALKER: Clear Sky. Both are excellent additions to the growing category of sandbox games. There is a wealth to explore there: questions to ask about the role of the author, user-generated narrative, player choice, linearity, the birth of a new storytelling medium, the limits of technology vs. the limits of imagination, etc.

Right now, I don't want to answer these questions. Hell, I don't even want to look at them through the lens of semi-formal analysis. I do want to enjoy them from the context of a player who enjoys a game environment that is rich in things to think about. I'm sure I'll feel the need to revisit some of these questions from the point of view of a commentator or theorist at some point in the future. For now though, I think I'll remain a player of games and be content.

I still would like to use information. games. as an outlet / bully pulpit. I just imagine that I'll be writing more about information than games. Currently I've been reading Everything is Miscellaneous, Here Comes Everybody, and The Wealth of Networks. Each of these is an attempt to make sense of our society's evolving relationship with communication and information. This is where my head is at, so I assume this is what I'll be writing about. So it may well be that the librarian part of my persona will be more prominent than the gamer part.

Or it may not. Any attempt to describe or understand our relationship with networks of information has to be able to be applied to gamers. Gamers are ahead of society as a whole when it comes to using and integrating emerging information trends. We make a good test group for theories. So I would imagine that if this new area of research pans out, I'll find a way to test it out on communities of gamers.