Zen is less the study of doctrine than a set of tools for discovering what can be known when the world is looked at with open eyes. Poetry can be thought of in much the same way…
I'm a freelance writer covering digital entertainment, social media, tech, science, and culture. This is my personal blog.
I’ve been watching “The Guild" this past week and I must say, as a newer gamer, I appreciate so much about it.
I grew up in a house with zero video games, and was of the belief that people who played them were just losers. You know the stereotype. Now that I have started gaming, I’ve been impressed by how much more there is to this type of entertainment.
Sure, there are some truly nasty people who game, just as there are nasty people who knit, or dance, or wrestle, or play poker. Yes, the community is flawed and still has some serious growing up to do.
But just watch this video of Todd Howard’s keynote speech at DICE 2012. (No seriously, watch it.) The amount of thought and analysis that he and his studio put into storytelling, structure, and experience is no different than if they were making a movie or writing a novel.
World of Warcraft is a pretty astonishing creation. The game has been around for almost a decade and the art still looks amazing. It has millions of players of all levels of skill and obsession. It knows exactly how to tease you with carrots. It reinvents itself. It’s funny. It’s fun.
I like that “The Guild” is willing to acknowledge the good and bad about gamers. It’s an honest (and hilarious) portrait.
Occasional eavesdropping is the best part of working at a coffee joint. Right now, there’s a woman relating a peculiarly sad family history behind me. She’s told her companion about how her father dropped dead and her mother got cancer. It’s also a story about religion, about Judaism. Being Jewish has been a key thread through her life. It helped form her identity as a young woman when hers was the only Jewish family in her suburban town. And now she works for an organization related to Jewish culture.
I love how willing most people are to tell everything about themselves. I have no idea how close a friend her companion is; I’d guess not very since she doesn’t know the family history. Maybe it’s a work friend, maybe an old schoolmate, maybe a lady from the same synagogue. But whatever the relationship is, this woman is totally at ease sharing her life story, her personal ties, her tragedies, her successes. I can’t see her and I don’t know her name, but I’m fascinated by what she’s saying. Clearly her companion is too, she keeps asking the pertinent questions to keep her talking.
There are stories everywhere. You can learn about spiritual identity and god in the cafe around the corner if you’re there at the right time and place. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my work and my theology lesson.
Okay, that’s a slight overstatement. “Mass Effect 2” was one of the first games I played, but I didn’t get more than 20 minutes into it. Taken completely out of context, the talk about biotics and The Illusive Man made no sense to me and I couldn’t get into the story.
Then, just last year, my boyfriend decided that he wanted to replay the first two games before tackling the final installment of the trilogy. I happened to wander into the living room while he was investigating the reappearance of the rachni. I plopped down on the couch and watched. Over the next few nights, I observed Shepard’s race to stop Saren from destroying the Citadel. By the time BF moved on to the second installment, I was asking him to wait to play until I’d be home.
I was totally invested in the story and the game. I got into debates about the characters and game structure with other friends who were replaying the series. I teared up when a certain scientist Salarian met his end. I squealed with glee almost every time Garrus opened his mouth. I thought the original ending of “Mass Effect 3” wasn’t nearly as horrendous as the fan backlash made it out, although the revision was a definite improvement.
My experience of watching “Mass Effect” was all the proof I needed in the argument about whether video games are art. They certainly can be. The trilogy certainly offered all the technical hallmarks of an artistic achievement, such as compelling dialogue, striking visuals, and ethical dilemmas. But the coolest thing about watching the game was how involved I got without being an artist in any way. I didn’t create the game and I’ve barely played it. Yet I was still able and excited to be a part of the experience of “Mass Effect.” I was the audience for a performance of the games and it triggered a strong emotional response in me that I wanted to share. It felt no different from being in the audience of a movie or a concert.
Nobody has the exact same definition of art. I don’t think it really matters how you want to define it. What’s important in the debates about video games is that enough people believe in the creative power of the medium to start making more complex, more exciting, and more beautiful titles. However they get classified, video games will start to make bigger, bolder statements and that is what matters.
I’m pleased to say that I do now have the first two “Mass Effect” games loaded on my computer. I can’t wait to take my turn as the artist.
This is my new favorite word. I started reading “The Shallows,” which is highly interesting, and the first few chapters are a crash course in neurology. Neuroplasticity means the malleability of the brain, the ability for our neurons to form new connections.
It’s a pleasing way to think of our brains, flexible and active, always changing. Much nicer than the concept of a mere computer clicking away in our skulls, which was the old paradigm. But even ‘neuroplasticity’ feels like an oxymoron to me. How could something as organic and dynamic as our brains be compared to the processed variations of plastic?
Despite the current understanding that our brains change, people seem to be locked into thinking of their minds as tools. Even the book refers to the brain’s response to changes in structure as “reprogramming.” And in casual conversations, I’ve heard the phrase “I just don’t have the bandwidth for it” used to explain feeling overwhelmed. Deep down, for all the wonders of how people think and feel, all the breakthroughs in understanding neurology, I think most of us secretly want to be cyborgs.
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.