Monday, January 30, 2006

Saturday, January 28, 2006

500+ pics

Sometime last week, I uploaded the 500th photo from my increasingly unsatisfactory camera phone. For party people, wooden eagles, random junk and Gary, all context-free and unexplained, go ahead and check it out. Shown here: mysterious me making deadly Oriental use of Shannon's first knitting project.

Did you know the typical field garb of the ninja was not black, but a dark indigo? It's true; in low-light conditions (starlight, moolight, lanterns in the distance) black is too high-contrast. Another advantage of an indigo outfit was that with the hood removed, the ninja's suit was simply the typical coverall of a peasant farm laborer. This was handy, because most ninjas were farmers: entire agricultural villages were cover identities for ninja clans.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Life During Wartime, Jan 24



I was hung right the hell over after the election (see previous post) so the show was a bit of a train wreck. Got through half of the Alice Cooper track before I noticed it was on 45 -- I was on the phone, giving away tickets to a dance recital. Swiping Mike's rating system, I give it 5 Gion Ghomeshis (sp?) out of 10 Johnny Fevers. It's still on Tuesdays, 3-5 Mountain, and like all of CJSR, it's webcast.

Talking Heads -- Don't Worry About The Government
***
Ben Vaughn -- 7 Days Without Love
Midways -- Night of the Sadist
Chixdiggit! -- J Crew
***
Television -- Prove It
Sleater-Kinney -- What's Mine Is Yours
Gogol Bordello -- Not a Crime
***
Robert Pollard -- Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft
Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- I See a Darkness (live)
Seu Jorge -- Quicksand
***
Delta 5 -- You
Gossip -- Jealous Girls
Enon -- Come Into
***
Band From Planet X -- Sweet Sleep
Deadly Snakes -- Gore Veil
Ramblin' Ambassadors -- Sixty Seconds to What?
***
Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and Muddy freakin' Waters -- Long Distance Call
***
Alice Cooper -- Reflected
Death From Above 1979 -- Romantic Rights
Bebop Cortez -- Rock's Chosen Warriors
***
Cat Power -- Willie
Paul Westerberg -- The Best Thing That Never Happened
Cagney & Lacee -- I'm Not Saying
***
Robert Pollard -- Conqueror of the Moon
The Advantage -- Castlevania II, the woods

NOTES:

  • the new Pollard disc, From a Compound Eye, is fairly fantastic;
  • the Delta 5 were contemporary with Mekons and Gang Of Four in Leeds, and the singles package just out on Kill Rock Stars is worth a look;
  • The Advantage play rock-solid, hard-hitting covers of music from NES games, without keyboards or samples, and it's really exciting even if you're not a nerd;
  • early Alice Cooper at 45 works!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

1-24-2006 -- New Year's Day

The dude on the streetcorner, one of the few people out and about on this hangover morning, was chatty and grinning. “Whaddya think about the election?” he asks me. Since I’m too tired and sore to start up a debate for kicks -- even odds, I figure, this guy’s part of the audience the Sun’s ‘We won! We won!’ editorial was meant for -- I give him the Standard Canadian Answer, which I also happen to believe: “Ah, well, a change is good, the Liberals got spanked... Harper shouldn’t be able to do much damage.

“But what,” I continued, “do you think about the idea of another campaign sometime in the next eighteen months?”

He makes this sound, like “eeeeeeeeeeeee”; a grown Western Canadian man, big guy, workin’ fella... keening. That’s damage, children; we’re hurting. Canadians love their politics, it’s true -- in large part because our politics haven’t fully degenerated into bipartisan nyah-nyah, because we still have choice rather than dilemma -- but another go-round too quick and we’ll be like those spoiled kids who get to go to Disneyland every year. Irritable little shits, confused by boredom, fucked in the head, future jerks. It’s not natural; for an election to have meaning you’ve got to want it, crave it, count off sleeps for three, four, five years.

And now it’s New Year’s Day, for real; January First had nothing on the feeling of this morning. The 11am streets feel solemn. Even the SUVs are purring respectfully. Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It’s not a disatster, you moaning hippies; it’s not a triumph, you gloating pricks... it’s just different times, and even the sun and sky feel it. Shit, it’s gotta be twelve degrees out here. My head hurts. My legs, hurt, too -- what was I running to/from/for last night? -- but I need to use them, to walk, to go get bacon and eggs. I'd heard the landlords were jacking the rent on B’s Diner, forcing that most favored of greasy-spoon cubbyholes out into the... warmth; I needed a good, old-fashioned, painful morning-after trudge to commemorate its passing.

But, hey! As it turns out, they’re not closing at all! A piece of friendly good news. Is this a taste of Harper’s Canada? Amicably re-negotiated leases and a solid economic environment where small business can thrive? That was quick. Happily, I put my head down over the Sun and the sausages (bacon, actually, but check out that alliteration) and let the night before come back to me. Something about the Oilers? Then the numbers, the numbers, the colorful numbers... a round of Southern Comfort... elected or leading... Quebec... lewd comments mumbled inappropriately into a pretty girl’s ear... “This is what democracy smells like!”

I do remember, clearly, cornering provincial NDP leader Brian Mason against the half-wall of the Dog’s front zone, grilling him about Civilization, the computer strategy game. I’d heard he was heavy into that shit. Turns out, it’s more than that -- he’s a tabletop wargamer from the Old School, I mean Avalon-Hill style. Blitzkrieg, Monte Cassino, Squad Leader, that sort of action. Is he a benevolent leader of enlightened nations, or a bloodthirsty warlord? “I launched a spaceship, once” -- Civ’s peaceful victory condition -- “but it was boring.” I don’t know whether our conversation was welcome or not -- he’s kind of a scary guy, you know? Big, pint-enveloping fists... and that moustache! -- but I know I welcomed the chance to talk about something other than the rickety Jenga stack the House was shaping up to be.

Still, this campaign was tolerable for a number of entertaining reasons. Like, the attack-ad backlash was fun... as was watching Paul Martin do a great impersonation of Jack Lemmon at the end of Glengarry Glen Ross. New Year’s Day...Year Zero... if I start a baby now, will it be done in time to qualify for the free beer and popcorn?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Mazes & Media

"Art, like games, is a translator of experience. What we have alrady felt or seen in one situation we are suddenly given in a new kind of material. Games, likewise, shift familiar experience into new forms, giving the bleak and the blear side of things sudden luminosity." -- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

McLuhan was writing ten years before Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, under electric conditions, turned the ages-old, formalized, gentlemanly pursuit of table-top wargaming into Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax was a rules fanatic, as his thousands of pages of charts, tables and diagrams quantifying magic attest, but with or without his strict formality this new medium of role-playing gaming, of collaborative storytelling within a consensual framework, became almost overnight a major means by which nerds came to know themselves and cope with their world. I'd like to say that McLuhan would have approved (did he ever roll a d20, before he died?) but his Olympian insight, taking in all of human thought and experience, was so vast it made approval and disapproval irrelevant. Inasmuch as McLuhan disapproved of anything, his disapproved of the chauvinistic, hubristic, terrified refusal to accept that everything we are is a product of the media in which we live.

I guess McCluhan must also have disapproved of smartasses pretending to speak in his voice in order to score Brain Points -- his cameo in Annie Hall ("You know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.") haunts the nightmares of those of us who would drop his name. I'm not even seriously rereading Understanding Media; I'm just picking at it in little bits and pieces while I wait for the my archaic XBox's pathetic drive to grind its way through loading Morrowind saves. Yeah, yeah... I'm off the wagon and back on the 'Wind. What can I say? I'm hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

Plus, I had a bomb dropped on me a couple of weeks ago that had every escapist-fantasy RPG receptor in my brain locked open and screaming for the junk. Buddy of mine, cleaning out his apartment, shows up at my door one night with a company-truckload of all his old D&D (Advanced D&D, second edition, the China White of gaming) handbooks and source materials. The Manuals, the Handbooks, the Tomes the Compendiums, the boxed sets -- Ruins of Myth Drannor, Ruins of Undermountain, Ruins of Undermountain II, Dragon Mountain, City of Splendors, City of Delights -- Al-Qadim, Ravenloft, a dozen old Dungeon magazines... an evil cargo, a devastating white elephant, an irresistable narcotic. Days and nights spent rediscovering saving throws, material components, character classes and kits. Normal thinking short-circuited: when you're in a living room with friends, having a good time, and your idea of a conversational gambit is "What D&D alignment do you think everybody is? I think you are definitely Chaotic Neutral," you know you've got a problem.

But, man, did the memories come back. From the fumbling and fitful D&D games of childhood (Helix, half-elf wizard, where are your barmaids now?) to those boozy '90s nights in my pal Thor's -- real name; his brother's Odin -- HUB apartment and our "Pirates of the Sword Coast" campaign. Man, did I get worked over in that one. "Games," McLuhan writes, "are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions." I had just come off of twelve (well, maybe eight; things weren't too bad 'til Grade Four) years of miserable school social life, but as much as I needed to release particular tensions I was in no way mentally ready to take on the role of Ramirez Balbuzard, swashbucklng pirate captain. I wasn't (and am not) one of those nerds who discharges their social anxiety by power-tripping at every opportunity; when Ramirez was eventually mutinized, brutalized and literally shat upon, my high-school worldview took it as bullying rather than the logical consequence of my shitty leadership and very un-piratical roleplay. I got depressed and sullen and my role-playing got even worse, until Ramirez was finally mercy-killed. If I could go back, knowing what i know now, i'd show those scurvy dogs -- Mark, Phil, I'm talking to you -- what four fuckin' attacks per round can do.

Mind alive with memories and fantasies of swords, spells and derring-do, with no real immediate possibility of getting back into a D&D campaign, I've turned to Morrowind for a quick fix. It's not enough. In McLuhan's terms, pen-and-paper role-playing games are extremely "cool": even at their most formal and rules-rigid (as in tournament play) they demand a great deal of participation, calling upon every consumer to be also a creator. As open-ended and free (thus, cool) as Morrowind may be in comparison with other role-playing videogames and videogames in general, it is still very "hot": the world is supplied, the contents of that world are supplied, the story is supplied, and players -- solitary players -- move along its many pathways. The freedom to decide whether to pick an evil wizard's pocket, shoot him in the head with a crossbow, zap him with a magical lightning bolt or bribe him off with a sackful of gold is a windowless prison compared with the infinite freedom of tabletop roleplaying; the island of Vvardenfell is a silent, lonely place.

What about online multiplayer roleplaying, you ask? That's a whole other set of issues; let's pick them up in a couple weeks, 'kay? Until then, remember: "Men without art, and men without the popular arts of games, tend toward automatism."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Friday, January 13, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hunter

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Life During Wartime, 1-10-2005

A fun show; I dug around in the old vinyl compilations and came up with some fine relics. Also, I got a call asking for Darkroom, a local band from the early 80s who are awesome. I wish I could time-tunnel and go to one of their gigs. Maybe a high-school dance?

Anyway, the show's Tuesdays, 3-5pm MST on CJSR, webcast link over there -->

Dee Nasty -- Orientic Groove
***
The Fall -- Hey! Student!
Zoobombs -- Bullbone Blues
The Social Club -- The Accountant
***
Deadly Snakes -- Work
Merle Haggard -- One Row at a Time
Vic Chesnutt -- What Do You Mean?
***
David Bowie w/ The Mannish Boys -- I Pity the Fool
The Black Angels -- Manipulation
***
Darkroom -- Test of Time
Gang of Four -- Damaged Goods
Fire Engines -- Everythings Roses
***
P!ano -- Animal Friends
David Thomas Broughton -- Unmarked Grave
***
Johnny Burnette -- God, Country, and My Baby
Alton Ellis -- Jamaican Daughter
***
Drazy Hoops -- That Which Doesn't Kill You
Nick Cave -- Helpless
Jim White -- Still Waters
***
Solex -- Have You No Shame, Girl?
Margo -- l'ennui
Darkroom -- Broken English

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Medium!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Infinite Lives: Ebert on games II

"I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, and if there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a convincing argument in their defense." -- Roger Ebert

"Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control. [...] I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art." -- also Roger Ebert

Fighting Words? Two weeks ago in this space I put down my wineglass, roachclip, cheap jokes and gamer nostalgia almost long enough to consider seriously these comments of Eberts, these magical spells which recently summoned up a shitstorm of outcry and (sorta) debate in the collegium of nerds. Almost; as usual when things get Serious we ran right out of time, space and money, getting as far as dismissing Ebert's dumb first statement (retarded on its face) and addressing his second. So, here we go again; we'll return to Dreamcast memories and Bionic Commando references on the 19th.

Ebert's hung up on narrative, specifically the linear (though it may be chopped up, gimmicked and fucked with) narrative of literature, drama and film. The interactive, nonlinear fiction that's (ideally) at the heart of narrative videogames is beyond him, and thus beyond his concept of art. It's not his fault, really; he was forming his ideas of art and entertainment at a time when the concept of interactive narratives that change according to the will and whim of their experiencers was avant-garde, and the concept of such intereactive fiction becoming a multi-billion-dollar, globally networked mass medium to rival Hollywood was pure science fiction -- and even the science fiction would've had a bank of dials and flashing lights instead of a Dual Shock and a Trinitron. Hung up on the art of the narrative (which, in most games, is admittedly crappy) he can't see that game-making -- evoking emotion and stimulating intellect and imagination through gameplay experience -- is an art in itself.

He's not the only one that didn't get the memo. One of the hardest-dying concepts in gaming is this mystical idea of the perfect game being one whose experience is "like playing a movie." How long 'til this stupid idea dies? Who the hell wants to play a movie? Would I like to play a videogame that had movielike photorealism and A-list writing and voice talent, then maybe, yeah, that might be nice. But it has to be a damn videogame, like a game, a game you play rather than a weak-ass Choose Your Own Adventure. "Cinematic games," shit... didn't we learn anything from Dana Plato and Night Trap?

Sorry to get upset, there... I played Indigo Prophecy this weekend, and it still hurts. I picked it up because I knew I'd be writing this column and thought I'd check out the state of the art for games that bill themselves as Cinematic... favorable reviews led me to believe I'd at least be playing a decent adventure game if not "playing a movie." I don't want to get into a full review, here, but damn... what a payload. A dumb graphic adventure that wouldn't have passed muster in the King's Quest days and a bullshit mystic-mystery storlyline that saves itself from tedium only through becoming laugh-out-loud ridiculous? Jesus; the main "gameplay" was a Simon-type pattern-matching minigame that made Shenmue's "Quick Timer Events" seem like Civilization. This -- this -- is what happens to games when something (inferiority complex; lack of imagination) allows the aesthetics of film to override the aesthetics of game art.

The worst way that games mimic Hollywood -- and thus damage their cachet as Art -- is industrial. Games went from nerd niche to megamedium almost overnight, and as expensive mainstream entertainment products they have the same artistic limitations born of a need to play it safe in order to make mass-market bucks. But unlike Hollywood film, mass-market gaming doesn't have a century of experimentation, fashion, avant-gardism and accomplishment behind it to give it artistic legitimacy, and the indy game underground has an even lower profile than alternative film. Stock genres are now established, and the great mass of games are indistinguishable genre commodities, sequels and knockoffs. Games went from blocky bleep-blorp to Gun Man 3: The Blooding in the span of a single childhood; imagine film's position as Art if its canon went from Man Falling Off A Ladder to Stealth without picking up 8 1/2 and Vertigo along the way.

In a September essay on his Lost Garden site (lostgarden.com) blogger "Danc", by way of discussing Nintendo's strategy in games (as market and as artform), posted an excellent critique of the games industry as it is: an overconsolidated giant alienating casual customers and failing to attract replacements by putting all their eggs in a few baskets (established genres relying on diehard gamers for sales) whose safety is an actuarial illusion. It's a great read, and his solution (well, his analysis of Nintendo's apparent solution) to the industry's current artistic and looming financial problems -- a focus on genre innovation and gameplay artistry rather that tech, in order to turn non-gamers into gamers and to retain casual players -- is right on the money.

The Fellinis and Scorsceses of game art -- and the teams that work to realize their visions -- are not, have not been and will not be mere crafstmen. The 8 1/2s and Taxi Drivers of game art are not, have not been and will not be knockoffs of genre pioneers nor weak "interactive" apings of film aesthetics. There will always be high and low art, in any artform, but always a masterpiece will be that work which comprehends, celebrates and expands our understanding of what its medium can be.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Leesah's Top 30 Cd's of 2005
(Sort of In Order, But a Little Bit Not Really)

1. Choke - Slow Fade or: How I Learned to Question Infinity
2. Against Me! - Searching For a Former Clarity
3. Propagandhi - Potemkin City Limits
4. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Summer in the South
5. Sleater Kinney - The Woods
6. Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Fighting & Onions
7. Magnolia Electric Company - What Comes After the Blues
8. Brian Borcherdt- The Remains of Brian Borcherdt vol.2
9. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Naturally
10. Rick White - s/t
11. At the Drive In - This Station is Non-Operational
12. Scout Niblett - Kidnapped By Neptune
13. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy/Matt Sweeney - Superwolf
14. Iron & Wine/Calexico - In the Reins
15. Spoon - Gimme Fiction
16. Supersuckers - Devil's Food
17. Mars Volta - Scab Dates
18. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
19. Whitey Houston -s/t
20. Sun Kill Moon - Tiny Cities
21. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl
22. Ween - Shinola
23. Knucklehead - The New Black List
24. Goblin Cock - Bagged & Boarded
25. Bob Dylan - No Direction Home (soundtrack)
26. Heavy Trash - s/t
27. Marah - If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry
28. Magnolia Electric Company - Hard to Love a Man
29. Sons & Daughters - The Repultion Box
30. Holopaw - Quit And/Or Fight