One of the more popular genre of games right about now is a cross between full RPG and general story game. The most highly anticipated was Fable, where you start out as a young boy and grow into a hero…or a villain. And this was the major selling point: a slightly more sophisticated Choose Your Own Adventure book, without the possibility of getting caught in an endless loop (that happen to anyone else?) or for some reason falling off a cliff face & dying, even though you’re on a pirate ship (seriously, continuity was not invented until after the 80s). Perhaps because it was so highly anticipated, Fable fell on its face (like me, off that damned cliff): the choices were either mundane (which is more evil: bread or chicken?) or bizarre (lessee: I can go on your mission or rip your head off & drink your blood); you didn’t grow up so much as wake one morning with muscles, a deeper voice, and a god complex; and clichéd (when you’re good, you glow and when you’re bad, you have flies circling your head). My major complaint about it, since all of those were actually rather charming in a strange way (one of the missions actually required that you stand in front of a cave and eat 50 live chickens to prove your evilness) was that, if you actually did all the missions before the final mission, it was far too easy.
But the point is this: I spent days playing that game. Crunchy live chicken bones and all. I’m the kind of person who explores maps in their entirety, just to make sure I didn’t miss the 3 gold that might be hiding in that garbage can. So when I got my hands on Fable, I played it through, thoroughly; but since you can’t do that and be good, I played it through again. Thoroughly. Jade Empire was my next good/evil game. I played that one through 3 times (once good, once bad, and then another two times half way through bad because there were four endings…).
The most popular is undoubtedly Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Morality game and you get to choose the color of your light saber’s crystal. Pure geeky fantasy.
This post came out of a comment about video games and exploration of morality. There are social rules that we live by on a day to day basis (most often not involving falling off cliffs, eating live chickens, or light saber dilemmas). The little moralities of “should I speed” or “whose pen is this” are petty next to the epic good vs. evil that’s waiting at home on a shiny silver disc.
Not only are these games popular as a genre, they’re starting to bleed into the other genres. Mass Effect, which as far as I could tell was a Halo-meets-EVN knock off had “being evil” an option in most of your choices. This caused my husband to play it through twice: once as a beautiful but tough woman with a nice ass (since the third-person perspective meant that was what you got to see of her most of the time) and once as a large man with a larger nose and a scar over his eye. Nothing subtle there.
What do these [socially acceptable] role-playing games show us about ourselves and others? In the safe space between the video game and you, the opportunity to do anything you want to exists. Will you fire at those ugly aliens and become humanity’s hero? Or will you negotiate with them and become the peacemaker? Either way, you’ll get XP and renown, so the choice really is completely up to the player. Incidentally, I don’t know anyone who plays these games down the middle: I’ll negotiate with these aliens but blow the next ones out of the sky. Everyone hits the extreme.
Is our world so grey that we need these little hits of good vs. evil? Or do we all secretly wish that we were saints (or satans)?
I know I have a (possibly not that hidden) dark streak: I’ve always been the black mage, the live chicken eater, the Marauder. I also don’t often work well in parties. I could go all sorts of places analyzing those two statements…
I’m huddled in bed with my warmest jacket and extra blankets, and I still can’t shake the chills. Although I feel cold inside, in minutes my pillows too hot. I flip it over and rest my cheek on the comforting coolness. Occasionally, I sandblast my throat with another bout of hacking. I can hear Jana grossed out in the living room. “Take some cough drops!” she yells.
But there is a shiny, silvery lining on this dark germ-laden cloud. I get to lie in bed and read. And I’m too muddled in the head to read translations of apocryphal third-century Jewish Christian texts, so I read things that are *fun.*
One of my many annual projects is to read the Hugo and Nebula Award Nominees for best novel. Here are the Hugo nominees. These will be voted on by
ticketholders for members of the World SF Convention in Denver this year [thanks, Michael Walsh, for the clarification!]:
- The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
- Brasyl by Ian McDonald
- Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
- The Last Colony by John Scalzi
- Halting State by Charles Stross
And here are the Nebula nominees for best novel. These are chosen by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association:
- The Accidental Time by Joe Haldeman
- The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson
- Odyssey by Jack McDevitt
- Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell
- The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
No time or energy *cough*cough* to find the links. You can do those. I also have a secret tips for you. That’s right, step a little closer…I don’t bite, unless you asks nicely. *wheeze* As it gets closer to voting time, a lot of the stories, including the novels, start to pop up on the internet for free, as *legitimate* downloads! There’s something academy awardish in the politicking behind the Nebulae and Hugo-ae-ii-s-whatevers. Later, I’ll try to point out some worthy nominees among the shorter forms.
Here’s another hint–I have never been disappointed reading one of the relatively few books that made it to both ballots. This year that’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. When I pick up a genre book, I usually come for the plots and ideas, sometimes I am stay and chat and am changed by the characters; rarely do I savor the words that make up the edifice. Chabon’s hard-boiled detective tale is full of ornate and quirky word carvings and knick knacks, that you want to look over again and again, or borrow and share with your best friends.
The setting is an alternate history U.S., not so different from our own, but where Israel was defeated in 1948 by the Arabs, and the U.S. reluctantly created a temporary settlement for Jews on some mosquito infested islands in the Alaskan panhandle. Savor this description of the main character’s (Landsman’s) sister:
It was from an early boyfriend that she had caught the itch to fly. Landsman never asked her what the attraction was, why she had worked so long and hard to crash the homoidiotic world of male bush pilots…But as Landsman understands it, the wings of an airplane are engaged in a constant battle with the air that envelopes them, denting and baffling and warping it, bending and staving it off. Fighting it in the way a salmon fights against the current of the river in which it’s going to die. Like a salmon–that aquatic Zionist, forever dreaming of its fatal home–Naomi used up her strength and energy in the struggle.
In this paragraph, Chabon has managed to describe Naomi’s masculine character, the world of the bush pilots, Landsman’s own fear of flying and at the same time tied it together with Jewish and Alaskan imagery that forms the context for the entire story. I want to share more–there are hilarious bits, yiddish-colored noir, descriptions of dark beauty, but I’ll save all that for the review. One thing that I do want to emphasize–Chabon transcends genre. Non SF-afficianados might be thrilled by this work.
I’ll finish this in the next day or two, and would love to have a bloggy chat about it–even if it’s in a few weeks from now. Any one interested?
My next book will be Charlie Stross’ Halting State. Let me know if you’re interested in reading the same.
I just saw the first episode of Eli Stone, a new show on ABC (if you follow that link, let me know if they fixed it; the last time I was there, it proclaimed itself to be the site for “LI STONE”, Eli’s lesser known younger brother-cum-fibber). Can I just say? Awesome! [insert my nephew doing jazz hands]
Extreme spoilers follow because I’m really not certain how to write about a show I loved without giving you gory details: Read more >>
Can you name Superman’s religious affiliation? How about Hellboy’s? Is anyone surprised to learn that Lex Luthor is portrayed, at least in one of his many incarnations, as a “Nietzschean atheist?” Adherents.com has an alternately comprehensive/tenuous listing of super heroes, sidekicks and villains and their religions. If, like me, you’re into comics and religion (get a life!), this is a wellspring of conversation (and possible heated debates).
While religion didn’t dominate the comics of the 80s that I grew up on, the writers of my favorite monthlies made religion an important part of the back story. My high school crush, Kitty Pride (aka Shadowcat of the X-men), was Jewish, Nightcrawler was a devout German Catholic, and Wolverine (characteristically) refused to be nailed down–at times he was a Western atheist, at others he flirted with Japanese Buddhism and Shintoism. The comics I read now confront Christian cultural tradition head on, drawing on the rich heritage to spin new stories. John Constantine, the magic-wielding humanist, struggles against the powers of heaven and hell; Spawn, an atheist resurrected by a demon of hell to become a lieutenant in Hell’s army (who subsequently rebels against this role); Hellboy, the demon child rescued from hell and who is raised to become a devout Catholic. Neil Gaiman’s worlds are populated with Biblical and apocryphal characters.
Comics are an incredible venue for exploring religion. Arguably, our age’s greatest mythical heroes were born in these cheap, colorful pages. Artists and writers regularly co-opt religious symbolism and stories and refashion them to serve their own storytelling purposes (thus continuing what storytellers have been doing for millennia). Finally, for all of their incredible powers or strange circumstances, the best written characters struggle with the humanizing issues of tradition and individualism, of faith and doubt.