All The Wrong Lessons Dept.

Why bad video game lore is a lot like bad pop culture: it embodies the wrong lessons.


Why is video game lore so awful? • Eurogamer.net

... video game creators are prone to making two erroneous assumptions about what constitutes a deep narrative. The first is that volume equals depth. In the classic tradition of epic science fiction and fantasy literature, studios will craft thousands of pages of backstory, often involving many hundreds of characters and vast intergalactic wars. Sometimes it seems as though, early in a narrative meeting, one writer will say to another, "okay, let's set this in the middle of a war that has been running for a 100 years"; then their colleague replies, "No wait, how about... a thousand years?" And then everyone agrees this is exponentially deeper. It isn't, it's just an extra nought on the end of a conflict that, without context, pathos or human tragedy, is ultimately meaningless.

Emphasis mine. Sound familiar? Wait, there's more.

The other problem is the belief that obfuscation equals depth. In the Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid franchises for example, the timelines, relationships and plot structures are so tortuously complex, so shielded within arcane terminology, that it's almost impossible to engage on an emotional, empathic level. Yes, Kojima makes lots of super smart postmodern jokes and references throughout his games, but they are buried beneath narrative labyrinths that feel inaccessible, not because they're intellectually complex, but because they don't make a whole lot of sense. This doesn't feel like great story-telling.

My friend (and video game journalist) Eric Frederiksen talked about this the other night, and noted how in gaming these kinds of mistakes manifest somewhat differently than they do in other entertainments. But a lot of the net effects are the same: they make for bad examples to follow, even if they're successful commercially.

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Tags: culture storytelling video games writing


A Narrow Beauty Dept.

it isn't political unpalatability that makes for bad art, but the narrowing of the mind that often goes with it.


Can a Book With Bad Politics Be a Good Book? - The New York Times

When politics — of the good or the bad kind — mess with our enjoyment of a book, it’s usually because the author’s proselytizing impulse has muted whatever is interesting or particular about his way of seeing. Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata” is a bad book, I think, not because it is the work of a nutty Christian ascetic, but because its nutty Christian asceticism has stamped out everything generous and curious and noticing in Tolstoy’s imagination.

I've read "The Kreutzer Sonata", and I agree that it's one of the viler things I've seen stamped with the name of an author whose works I have otherwise enjoyed.

My own personal "good read, bad politics" experience actually falls into roughly the same vein as Tolstoy's Folly: Yukio Mishima's œuvre. For a guy whose writing was luscious to read, his sensibilities veered between being impenetrable and insufferable — and it was enlightening to discover that his fellow Japanese, both authors and countrymen generally, rolled their eyes at him too.

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Tags: politics writers writing Yukio Mishima


We Put The 'Cult' In Culture Dept.

Modern fandom of the fantastic is transformative, not passive.


'Game of Thrones'? More like waste of time - LA Times

Hollywood has been working a long time to herd everyone toward the more predictable tastes of a 14-year-old boy — "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter" and the ongoing plague of super-fantastic-avenging-iron-bat-X-people-movies. "Thrones" only assists Hollywood in further emulating the corporate strategies of Coke and Camel — hook kids when they are young and trap them in a lifetime of addictive regression. ...

Popular culture was meant to be momentarily distracting and entirely disposable, not a cult handed down from parent to child to grandchild and beyond. We already live in a world where there's a company making "Star Trek" diapers and another making "Star Trek" coffins. How many more generations must we lose to this nonsense?

Emphasis mine. Without sounding like I'm coming out on the side of the culture nags, I want to dig into this and see what comes up. (Most of you know by now I'm no fan of Game of Thrones myself — it appeals to me about as much as the smelly fishbelly skin found under a Band-Aid left on for too long — but the attack on the show mounted here seems entirely in the wrong spirit.)

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Tags: creativity culture entertainment fandom


Flight of the Vajra: The Duke, The Prince, And Me Dept.

How David Bowie and Prince jointly inspired a character of mine.


Selfish as it might be to say this, I feel motivated only now to say something about the deaths of David Bowie and Prince because of the way I based a character on an amalgam of them.

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Tags: characters David Bowie Flight of the Vajra Prince


10,000 Hours And Then Some Dept.

Why everything that's truly creative is what we're trained to ignore.


Creativity Is Much More Than 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice - Scientific American Blog Network

... creativity must be original, meaningful, and surprising. Original in the sense that the creator is rewarded for transcending expertise, and going beyond the standard repertoire. Meaningful in the sense that the creator must satisfy some utility function, or provide a new interpretation. This constantly raises the bar of what is considered useful, and puts immense pressure on creators to find new meanings. Finally, creative products must be surprising in that the original and meaningful creative product must be surprising not only to oneself, but to everyone. This is exactly how the United States Patent Office evaluates new applications. Original and meaningful ideas that could have been created by any expert in the field are considered "obvious" and are therefore unpatentable. Creative products — such as the discoveries of Galileo and Leeuwenhoek — are surprising to everyone, novices and experts alike.

This keys into something I come back to often: how the New Thing is surprising, and not always in a pleasant way. Sometimes it's jarring and ugly, because we haven't yet developed the proper eyes for it (Eraserhead). Sometimes it's lovely in a way we didn't know things could be lovely (Star Wars). Hence the function of the good critic: to defend the new thing because it rattles our cage a bit, although that should not be the only thing it does.

Creativity has to be original, meaningful, and surprising, and the problem with all three of those things is they are often the very things we are trained to guard against, ignore, or misinterpret.


Tags: creativity creators criticism


Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned: The First Round In The Chamber Dept.

And so "Always Outnumbered" begins.


Last night I wrote the first thousand or so words for the first draft to Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned.

I'm just as surprised as you might be.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned writers writing


I Dunno LOL Dept.

On the freedom to say "I don't know" and not be punished for it.


A big part of the freedom that comes with living in an open society is the freedom to say "I don't know" and not be punished for it.

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Tags: intellectualism philosophy politics society sociology


Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned: Some Good News From The Salt Mines Dept.

How I stopped worrying and learned to love detailed story planning.


Last weekend's work on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was shockingly fruitful. (This brings to mind an image of someone plugging 220V appliances into a navel orange, but only because I'm weird and love terrible jokes.) Not only did I finally crack the entire end-to-end outline on the 4th try, but I started translating that into the scene-by-scene "beat sheet" that will be used to actually write the book.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned writers writing


Welcome to the Fold: Out From The Fold Dept.

Where'd "Welcome to the Fold" go? It's right here, waiting.


I haven't talked much about my previous novel, Welcome to the Foldconspicuous in its absence of detail. The reason for that is simple: over the last couple of months I've been seeking representation for it. So far, no dice, but I'm giving it a full calendar year to see if anyone shows interest. If not, I'll fall back to plan B and release it myself, so you might see it sometime in '17 if it comes to that.

I may have mentioned this before in passing, but it's worth repeating here. I'm also holding off on a major reworking of the site (and an updating of the layout) until I switch publishing platforms, which ought to happen sometime next year.


Tags: agents projects publishing Welcome to the Fold writing


But That's Still Just, Like, Your Opinion, Man Dept.

I think, therefore I differ.


It's weird. We have more, and perhaps better, critical work than ever before on popular culture, and yet people seem to be even more confused — or maybe just willfully ignorant — of what criticism is actually for and why it's performed.

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Tags: criticism movies popular culture


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