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by Tommy Marx

24 Jul 2009

In the beginning, there was Britney Spears, dressed as a Catholic school girl with a bare midriff, short skirt and pouty lips, selling sex and CDs to the tune of “Baby One More Time”. It was easy to predict Britney Spears would become a major force in pop from the moment the school bell rang in her first video and the iconic notes of “One More Time” began to play.

In the music industry, imitation is the sincerest form of profit, so a legion of young girls began flooding radio stations and MTV countdowns.

Although most would argue that Christina Aguilera is far more talented vocally than Britney Spears, it hasn’t helped her much. Even with twice as many number one hits and four Grammy Awards to Britney’s one, Christina seems forever destined to be overshadowed by her former Mickey Mouse Club co-star.

Jessica Simpson had a beautiful voice, but her affected vocal style and lazy annunciation hurt her chances of ever being a major star, so she found success by making ignorance look charming on reality television.

And then there was Mandy.

by Nick Dinicola

24 Jul 2009

“…meaning does not come from playing a game… it comes from playing WITH a game. It is the manipulation not only of the actors in the game that is meaningful, but the manipulation of the game itself.”
-Clint Hocking

Ben Abraham over at SLRC started an experiment with Far Cry 2 that has since been picked up and repeated by other bloggers. The experiment: Play Far Cry 2 on normal difficulty and stop when you die. You only have one life. Death is permanent.

Ben’s posts, and those by others who have taken up the experiment, read like a normal game of Far Cry 2. The introduction and the tutorial always play out the same, and while everyone’s first mission is different, what happens to them isn’t all that different than what happened to me when I played the game: They get in a shootout and kill a lot of people. That’s essentially every mission in Far Cry 2. So what makes this experiment so interesting? Why am I compelled to read each post, and why are others compelled to take up the challenge of Permanent Death? Clint Hocking, in his post about the experiment, suggests that people don’t actually care about the individual narratives being related to them, they don’t really care what happens to Ben Abraham or his avatar, they care about what can happen. “The reason I think people are paying attention is because Ben is playing with the game. He is manipulating the game itself…It is not the combination of Far Cry 2 + authored narrative irreversibility that is making the permadeath experiment meaningful to Ben and to others, it is the fact that he is able to manipulate the game to create this experiment that is bringing meaning.”

The result of the experiment is a new experience, one similar to what it would be otherwise, but given a deeper meaning due to the player’s own conscious manipulation of the game. By adding his own rules to the game, Ben ceases to be just a player. He’s now a director of his experience in addition to being an actor in it, and yet he’s still subservient to the whims of the emergent gameplay. His role as player is changed, but he’s still very much a player. He is, as Clint Hocking said, not just playing the game but playing with the game.

Adding a self-imposed permanent death to the game also gives us a unique look at the game’s themes of violence. Far Cry 2 stacks a lot of odds against the player: We’re up against respawning enemies at nearly every intersection of roads, a sickness that can incapacitate us in the middle of a fight, guns that jam, a limited amount of “health packs,” sparse save points, and a landscape filled with people whose only purpose is to kill us. Death is easy, yet because this is a video game death is also easy to ignore. The sparse save points may force us to replay certain sections of the game, but in the end, no matter what happens, we can always just reload a save. I’d wager that most gamers have come to see death in game as more of an annoyance than as something to be feared. So by making death permanent, it suddenly has relevance.

Ben’s thoughts during his first fight are telling, “I was still stepping out of the car when the first bullets started pinging off the bonnet. I remember thinking ‘this is it – my first firefight’ and the feeling of danger threatened to overwhelm me. Certainly, the mixture of exhilaration and jitters proved to pose more of a threat to my survival than did the enemy soldiers.” The encounters that were once annoying are now frightening. The level of violence in the game (which is actually quite normal for a FPS game) is more apparent than it was before, when we took our infinite live for granted.

But what’s more important thematically than the new found fear of death is that it doesn’t last. In Ben’s fourth post he writes, “I must admit that the fear of dying has more or less completely disappeared by this point. The worry and hesitancy with which I approached the earlier missions has atrophied to the point where I am confident enough to take out an assassination target head on, using explosives. I’m regularly flirting with danger now, and it remains to be seen whether I will get burnt.”

L.B. Jeffries, in an essay on Far Cry 2, explores how the player’s journey is similar to Kurtz’s experience in Africa in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “When Marlow is puzzling over Kurtz’s descent into darkness, he attributes it to what the dangers of the wilderness brought out in him. Kurtz’s European education and refinement are cast aside in the Congo, leading him to discover that he was capable of things he didn’t know beforehand…In other words, by making the game design so brutally hostile, the game is putting you through the same experience as Kurtz.”

What I find so fascinating about the Permanent Death experiment is that it changes how this transformation occurs for anyone who takes up the challenge. Any fan of first-person shooters who starts a game of Far Cry 2 begins the game as The Jackal, the antagonist of the story. Not literally, but The Jackal, as an arms dealer, embodies a cavalier attitude towards death and violence, the same cavalier attitude all gamers feel for death and violence in games. Our journey through Africa is then meant to expose us for who we really are, that we are just as much the enemy as The Jackal is. But for those who take up the experiment, they begin from a different place. The permanence of death snaps them out of that cavalier attitude, and they begin the game as frightened people just struggling to stay alive. Their journey is then meant to change them, to turn them into merciless killers and then expose them for what they’ve become. By changing the rules of the game Ben Abraham hasn’t actually changed the game or its meaning, but how the two are experienced. The journey is different but the end is always the same. We all become The Jackal.

by Teresa Jusino

23 Jul 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I attended Wizard World Philly 2009 to volunteer at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund table.  So, I thought I’d tell you a little about that organization and why I chose to support it in this way (other than I didn’t have the resources to give money myself).

Since 1986, the CBLDF has been working to protect the First Amendment within the comic book industry.  Historically, comics have been associated with youth.  Even as they have become mainstream and more adults are reading them, they remain an easy target for people who would censor a writer’s work, because it’s one of the few industries in which it’s still easy to do so in the name of the children.

As a writer, I understand how important it is to be allowed to express yourself in a way that makes your story successful, or allows non-fiction to get your point across.  As an adult comic fan, I want to be allowed the choice to read what I want and when, and I firmly believe that it is up to parents to keep objectionable material away from their children.  More than that, I think that parents should be willing and prepared to discuss objectionable material with their children.  Children armed with information are less vulnerable than those who are not.

So, I spent two days shilling a variety of signed collectibles for a good cause.  Creators like Neil Gaiman, Brian K. Vaughan, and Frank Miller all donated books.  Artists like Jeff Smith, Amanda Conner, and Matt Wagner donated prints.  Then there were unique items exclusive to the CBLDF, like the fragrances inspired by Neil Gaiman’s novels!  All of these items are also available at their website.  Visit www.cbldf.org.

I’ll leave you with a word from Neil Gaiman, who provides a unique perspective regarding the First Amendment:

by PopMatters Staff

23 Jul 2009

The Pastels / Tenniscoats
Two Sunsets
(Geographic/Domino)
Releasing: 22 September 7 (UK) / 22 September (US)

SONG LIST
01 So Many Stars
02 Two Sunsets
03 Song for a Friend
04 Vivid Youth
05 Yomigaeru
06 Modesty Piece
07 About You
08 Boats
09 Hikoki
10 From on a Mountain Sodane
11 Mou Mou Rainbow
12 Start Slowly

The Pastels / Tenniscoats
“About You” [MP3]
     

by shathley Q

23 Jul 2009

Two men of very different destinies. Artist Craig Hamilton makes a compelling visual statement about writer James Robinson’s project of an art deco city in comics evolving from the lives of great men.

For writer James Robinson, the dream of an art deco comics has been a long, slow project. By issue 54 of Starman it had taken nearly five years. Winding its way through a passing exchange between characters, and on to being visualized by the series’ regular artists, Starman’s home of Opal eventually became as much a character as any other. But it is with issue 54, and with guest illustrator Hamilton, that the art deco theme finally transcends the visualization of Opal and influences the medium of comics itself. Ironically, issue 54 is set in the nineteenth century, long before the art deco movement properly took hold.

Hamilton depicts two men whose contribution to Opal live on for longer than a century. In doing so he opposes their individual characters, but also the fabric of the city’s life.

To the left is legendary blood-and-guts lawman, Sheriff Brian Savage, the Scalphunter. To the right stands Herman Moll reclusive (and by the close of the twentieth century, little-remembered) visionary, the fictive inventor of the first spaceship. Contrasted as looking down on their achievements, both remain unaware of the full impact they will have on the future of Opal.

The vibrancy and warmth of the palette used to depict Savage in the Chinese parlor differs sharply from the cold, clinical hues of Moll’s hangar. Yet for all its warmth, Savage’s world will require of Opal defenders prepared to spill blood. While for all the apparent cold of Moll’s panel, it is his work that will nurture the dreams of Ted Knight, the first Starman and provide Jack Knight a means to the stars.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Emerging from My Hiatus from Big Budget Games

// Moving Pixels

"I'd gotten burned out on scope and maybe on spectacle in video games, but I think it's time to return to bigger worlds to conquer.

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