Essays

Essays. These posts are essays that I have written about certain topics, such as video games, philosophy, culture, or science.

Games Came First

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Rough sketch of lions at play, Leigh Faulkner

It occurred to me recently that, in the Animal Kingdom, games evolve before “art” does. After all, those of us with pets see our puppies and kitties play games of their own devising every day. Evolutionarily speaking, games are controlled, safe scenarios that symbolically represent some advantageous activity. Animals derive pleasure from these practice activities as a biological function that leads to survival. The fun of games is instinctual.

But we are more advanced than juvenile lionesses play-hunting each other, and when we play, we often ascribe abstract meaning to the mechanical constructs of our games. Birds may sing, but no bird could name their song, “The Four Seasons.”

Thinking about it in this way makes the whole “are games art?” argument seem silly. Art, of course, is the creation and interpretation of symbols. These symbols are myriad, encompassing limitless forms. Nothing else must really be said.

Tron: Legacy (The Movie, This Time. Not The Soundtrack.)

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The new designs for Tron: Legacy are extremely beautiful

You know, just to be clear.

So, I don’t feel it’s necessary to say too much about Tron: Legacy. It’s beautiful, mellow, and contemplative. The original Tron, if you will remember, was not an action movie. Neither is Tron: Legacy.

But it’s gorgeous, and it’s interesting enough, though the script (admittedly better here than in the original) could use a little more… pizazz. They have the seeds of some interesting ideas carried through from the original, including the exploration of the intersection between religion and technology. But these seeds barely sprout, or the code doesn’t branch, or something.

I get the feeling that given some time, the mythos of Tron is going to flesh itself out with fan speculation. Perhaps I’ll find some line of fanboy logic that satisfies my desire to chew on the Tron universe better than Tron: Legacy itself does.

On The Victrola: Tron: Legacy Soundtrack

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Tron: Legacy

With talk that includes comparisons to James Cameron’s Avatar, Disney’s Tron Legacy is getting some incredible hype as it leads up to its release next week. Leading the surge of Tron preview media content was the release of the original score, created by French-electronica-legends Daft Punk. (more…)

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

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Two days ago, I had the good fortune to see an advance screening of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. When I left the theater, I had the distinct impression that I had learned a lot, about movies, about games, and about culture, and it’s taken me a couple of days of near constant thought to suss out my feelings about it.

So, is it good? Maybe. I certainly enjoyed myself. But I couldn’t help but feel that Scott Pilgrim succeeded in all of the ways that I expected it to fail, and failed in all of the ways that I expected it to succeed.
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Kick-Ass

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Sometimes, it’s the movies that I like best that are the most difficult to write about.

It’s easy to pull apart and examine films that aren’t great. How to Train Your Dragon, for example, was a decent, though not spectacular, family-oriented animated romp. Its visuals were great, though lacking the polish of a Pixar film, and its story was cute enough, but it dragged somewhat to start and could’ve had a stronger script. C+, B- is its final score, in my opinion.

See? Easy.

On the other hand, approaching a film like Kick-Ass, a film so superbly crafted, so incredibly choreographed and so wittily incisive, is a tall order. Where do I start? Do I focus on its excitement, its beautifully bad-ass fight scenes that pit interesting, flawed, yet relatable heroes against shrewd enemies? Should I instead choose to focus on its commentary, the brainy aspects behind its perfected pugilism, and laud the fact that it examines and challenges the idea of vigilante justice in a similar way as Watchmen? Or maybe I should begin by talking about its quasi-realistic, Tarantino-esque style that intermixes images of brutal violence with the fantasy of superheroism?

I suppose that the most succinct way for me to communicate how I felt about Kick-Ass is to say that I’ve seen it three times, and believe that it was well worth it. It takes what I thought were the most interesting parts of Watchmen, namely the critical examination of normal people acting as a vigilante, costumed superheroes, and throws away all of the “inside baseball” type comic industry and culture trappings that make Watchmen somewhat difficult for non-fans to understand and take seriously. If you have any interest in watching an exciting action movie with interesting characters, you should definitely check it out.

In an entirely unrelated observation, anthypophora is so useful, rhetorically.

Artists

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I just read Roger Ebert’s latest.

My addition to the cultural dialog:

If a bunch of people can get together with a stage, a set, a director, some lights, a script, and some imagination and make art, then why is it’s art-ness suddenly nullified when the director invites every member of the audience to play the starring role?

Here’s a photo gallery of the first 10 people that popped into my head when I thought of gaming’s auteurs.

For each of these men and women, I can say, without a doubt, that I interpret the world differently after having interacted with their work.

And for that, I thank them.

Genius

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This morning, I woke up terrified.

I had had a bad dream, one of those vivid ones that so impresses itself upon your mind that they are impossible to forget. Usually, for me, they have to do with some sort of tragedy that affects and injures me directly; I become paralyzed, people in my family are tortured and killed, or other such personal tribulations.

Last night, however, I had a nightmare of philosophy, of an abstract idea, and it chilled me to the bone.

It might seem at first blush that my dream was more similar to nightmares of personal pain, for I dreamt that a friend of mine from high school had died in a freak car accident. And while it is true that this concept scared and saddened me, what I found more affecting, and what my brain decided to focus on as I slept, was the idea that with her death, the world had lost an artistic genius.

I was forced by my dream to reflect upon the idea that I had directly experienced and been touched by the sort of person whose talent and work are truly exceptional. I had seen and talked and hugged and laughed and argued with a person whose ability is so great and yet seems so natural that it can make others certain of the existence of god, for it seems inconceivable to some that a person could have been the driving force behind what they had done.

Just as I felt honored and excited by the idea that I had been exposed to someone so rare and so precious, my brain brought me crashing back into pain and sorrow by reminding me that genius is just as fragile, if not more so, than the mediocre.

I woke up wishing that I didn’t have to live in a world where those who are of greater mind than I can perish, where with a single accident or poor choice the world loses not only a life that is precious in and of itself, but also a cornucopia of potential works of genius.

My brain showed me the nightmare image of a body, and every potential work of genius that it could create, being consumed by flame.

It’s an idea that will haunt me to my last.

Annoyances

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I was talking with my boss today and he happened to tell me about a philosophical idea that I had never heard of. In Judaism, he related, there is an idea that the good works that get you into heaven are not the grand gestures that we typically associate with charity, but small moments of annoyance whereby we give someone else some pleasure. As an example, he offered the scenario of listening without interruption to someone that you find boring. After my initial suspicion that he might be subtly hinting at the stores in heaven that he had accumulated in the course of our conversation, I realized that this was a truly beautiful and elegant concept.

Because of the principle of risk vis a vis reward, great tribulation and sacrifice necessarily incur a greater likelihood of earthly reward. Those who donate a substantial sum to a charity are likely to receive immense social benefits. But to endure an annoyance where there is no benefit is a genuine indicator of strength and lack of moral turpitude.

Though I believe not in heaven nor hell nor grand judgment, I am moved by this philosophy to try to work through life’s annoyances with grace and humility. For just as the annoyances ostensibly offer the greatest personal reward, so too can they eat away at us and cause the greatest personal emotional destruction. So take this and be refreshed with a sense of perspective. We could all stand to relax and not sweat the small stuff.

My Work

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I’m not sure how it happened, but I have become one of those wretched and despicable things. No, not a writer; I am fully aware of how that sickening lycanthropic transformation occurred. I’m referring, rather, to the subtle corruption whose dark seeds germinated in my youth, and took root in my soul as I transitioned into adulthood. It choked my youthful jocularity, dulled my noetic sensibilities, and fertilized the fruits of my despair.

I became, through no fault of my own, a Carny.
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Companies and Cash Flow, or, Why Assume They’re Dumber Than You?

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In discussing the launch of Square today on Twitter, someone brought up an argument that I’ve heard from a myriad of different people about a myriad of different services: “It’s gonna fail, they have no revenue stream.”

My reaction to this is one of irrational anger. The question seems to me to make some faulty assumptions, most heinous of which is the assumption that the people who came up with the damned idea for the company in the first place never asked themselves that very question.

The fact of the matter is is that if a technology or service is good enough, someone will pay for it. Armchair business managing is pointless- you have no real perspective on what it takes for any business that you perceive as “set for failure” to actually do so.

I’m reminded of the start of the radio broadcasting industry; people then asked, “Who will pay for a message to no one in particular?”

Ultimately, what we as users of cool technology should do is just that: use them. Who cares if I have no clue how they’re generating revenue? They have a lot more at stake than I do; they’ll figure it out.

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