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I once attended an art lecture that took on the very unpopular topic of criticizing a well-liked work of art. The pieces consisted of a series of photographs, all taken from a medical journal depicting slaves that had just arrived in America. Lines of poetry were inscribed in each photo as the artist decried the anonymity and inhuman appearance depicted by the journal’s photography. The criticism that the lecturer was offering was that historically the poetry was all utter fiction. The journal hadn’t made these people anonymous at all. Their names, tribes, and even the history of those tribes were listed and often seriously conflicted with the poems themselves. Needless to say, people tended to get pretty pissed at this lecture. Why criticize a work of art because of history? It’s beautiful and evocative, why criticize it for something like accuracy? What was the point of looking at art with a historical mindset?

That kind of discussion is relevant these days in video games because people are becoming very conscious of the demographics and factions within the medium. The casual audience, hardcore gamers, and ex-core players are all becoming distinct opinions that get thrown around video game forums. Yet not everyone is happy about these labels. Jim Sterling at Destructoid posted an interesting column that bemoaned the artificial labels of ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’. He points out that people certainly play both kinds of games and it does a huge disservice to label a game as meant for one particular audience or another. And he’s right, it’s dumb to call these things audience labels because they aren’t. We all play a huge variety of games and those games often borrow liberally from countless others. What the terms casual or hardcore really signify isn’t an identity, they’re a philosophy. They are ways of thinking about the purpose of video games and what we expect from them.

How, then, do we define these philosophies if not by their consumers?

Ahh yes, quite a choice we have this week.

I must admit, there are a couple of releases this week that I’m tempted to highlight simply based on name value alone.  The Nintendo DS has a couple of them: LOL, perhaps not the first game to be named after instant message parlance (remember WTF for the PSP?), but it is the first to use that parlance in a way that would seem to be related to its origins; it’s an entirely social product with no one-player mode, which could be interesting at least.  Super Dodgeball Brawlers sounds like one of those things that’s pure awesome in theory, and utter bunk in practice.  Needless to say, I don’t know a damn thing about it.

There’s also something called Stronghold Crusader Extreme, which must be good of course, because it has the word Extreme in the title.  When you say it, actually, I’m sure you’re supposed to add a few exclamation points to the word Extreme.  You know, like Extreme!!!, or EXTREME!!!!!.  Yeah, that’s probably it, caps lock and five exclamation points.

Ditch the shovelware parade headed to the Wii, and what are we left with?

The sole release this week for the Xbox 360 and the PS3 is a little something called Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, which is finally making its way to the console scene after having eaten PC gamers’ lives since last October.  Assuming that Activision hasn’t toned down the brutal difficulty nor the map intricacy of the PC version, console gamers are in for a treat as they embark on one of the most immersive team-based FPS experiences out there.  It’s difficult to quantify, exactly, what makes Enemy Territory: Quake Wars a fantastic game, as it’s certainly not the most imaginative team-based experience out there, and the graphics fall in that all-too-familiar mix of brown, gray, and brownish-gray, but something about it is simply addicting, and you just can’t help but keep coming back until you are the team MVP (or, in my case, anything except “least accurate”).

Xbox and PS3 owners tired of Team Fortress 2 might just want to give it a look.  The full release list (and a trailer for Quake Wars) is after the jump.

Recently I picked up the Artemis Fowl series, and made a few remarks about it in my Evil Boy Genius post. When Catherine Jinks’ Evil Genius (2005) crossed my path last week, therefore, I felt compelled to read it. Here, I thought, here is a knockoff Artemis Fowl – another boy genius, obsessed with computers and mathematics, but in this book he gets the chance to be mentored, to go to university (he graduates from high school at age 13, as any self-respecting evil genius would), to be trained in world domination. This time the story is set in Australia rather than Ireland. And sans fairies. So there are a few small differences.

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Although protagonist Cadel is clever and ambitious, he turns out to be just a very intelligent, otherwise normal teenage boy who wants to belong to a family and to prove himself. Stifled at every turn by his adoptive parents the Piggotts, psychologist Thaddeus, and the man he is told is his biological father, Dr Darkkon, Cadel soon feels trapped and attempts to escape Darkkon’s plans for Cadel to build some sort of malicious empire by staging a controlled collapse of the microcosm he has been placed in at the Axis Institute, a secret university for people with special abilities or weird gene mutations, causing symptoms like smelling really bad or having silvery skin like a fish. And gills. Apparently, author Jinks got started on the idea for the novel when she got curious about how characters similar to Professor X of the X-Men series got their degrees from.

Though Cadel is obsessed with systems of all kinds, he is too young to understand that people will never react as you expect them to, and the situation soon spirals out of control.

Where Artemis Fowl often seems to be even more abnormal because he doesn’t react in an emotional way to almost anything around him, Cadel Piggott has totally normal reactions to the bizarre developments in his life. He gets upset, breaks down, acts out, and forms a relationship with an equally intelligent girl (though she certainly has problems of her own). She is put in danger, and Cadel has to decide what means more to him: family or friendship. Many teenage readers should be able to relate.

Overall, this appeared to be a more detailed story about a teen geek taking over the world than the Artemis Fowl series, but that series is more clever and appealing in its dialog and action. Plus, Artemis is almost totally independent and fully aware of the implications of his actions, always a few steps ahead. Meanwhile, Cadel of Evil Genius finds the systems he thought he understood imploding while he looks on in despair, and that story is just not as entertaining.

Any good reads out there over the US holiday weekend?

Weezer have always had a knack for making great videos. Spike Jonze’s early work with the band on the low-key but clever “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and the innovative “Buddy Holly” video that featured the band inserted into Happy Days helped put him on the map. Then there were Marcos Siega’s clips for “Hash Pipe”, with the band in sumo suits, and the excellent “Keep Fishin’”, which had Weezer appearing as guests on The Muppet Show. On Friday, May 23, the band added “Pork and Beans” to their list of video triumphs. Premiering on YouTube, the video is three minutes and 15 seconds of references to internet pop culture, most of which became famous through YouTube in the first place.

The band assembled dozens of these internet celebs and tossed them all into the same video, having most of the lip sync to the lyrics of the songs. The main performance in the video shows Weezer in a field in lab coats, performing amidst an ever-increasing number of Diet Coke-and-Mentos fountains. The sheer amount of references is astonishing, and the video quickly becomes an entertaining checklist as the viewer tries to identify the various bits. I got about 80% of them on the first time through. My favorite moments- drummer Pat Wilson creepily hanging around the Numa Numa headphones guy and Rivers Cuomo awkwardly giving Chris “Leave Britney Alone!!” Crocker a hug.

Sure, Weezer isn’t the first to combine a pile of internet references in one place. South Park did it to hilarious effect a couple of months ago, and that’s just one example. And yes, it will probably seem dated six months from now—it won’t have the staying power of the “Buddy Holly” video, that’s for sure. But since videos are often basically band-approved commercials for the music, staying power isn’t the point. Right now, and for the rest of the summer, Weezer has a surefire YouTube hit on their hands that will go a long way towards keeping their name out there as they promote their new album. It’s both funny and a savvy marketing strategy, so kudos to them.

Whatever gets you through the night ‘salright, ‘salright It’s your money or life ‘salright, ‘salright Don’t need a sword to cut through flowers oh no, oh no

Whatever Gets You Through the Night, John Lennon

Getting through a journey is a lot like that. Maybe. Depending on how you take John’s meaning.

One way I take it—whenever I find myself on the road—is that there are always simpler ways to solve life’s conundrums than may, at first blush, spring immediately to mind. And ways more rewarding than calling on a corps of engineers to erect a bridge when a raft wafting lazily down the river might just as easily work.

Well, at least, it’s something to keep under consideration.

One of the points of this blog is to remind us all that one of the points of the peripatetic life is to enjoy the journey—to keep our eyes open, our ears attuned, our noses aware, to ensure that our brains are engaged—to treat, in short, the journey as if it is the purpose, rather than a means toward some other purpose. Because if we treat it in the alternative, then we won’t abide by any of these sensory commandments and then our trips merely amount to work. They become transformed into a grating on the psyche; a waste of 8 or 10 or 15 hours in our finite store. They become a metaphysical equivalent of the stack of books planted in the path of ants heretofore trying to move from Point A to B. Sure, give them a little time to get over their astonishment and they’re guaranteed to find a way over and around the books—no doubt about that—but for what purpose? Merely because they were forced to in order to join the begnning with the end point. Maybe greater social concord will result, but it is unlikely that enlightenment or moral benefit will follow.

Even so, for me, there are times when my various peripatetic forays reduce me to that state of anthood. One more queue to join, another form to get processed by another functionary with a worn atttitude and a badly frayed uniform. It is times like those when I counsel myself to abide by Lennon’s lyrics: do whatever it takes to get by, make your way through. Any way you can; just get through it, as simply as possible.

Which—don’t get me wrong—doesn’t mean you have to do everything in accord with someone else’s agenda. Not at all.

Thinking about it, I am reminded of this woman I spied as I was walking one morning through a subway station in Tokyo:

 

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