Going on the Account: How Ye Approach Yer Yarn

Believe it or not, the NEW YORK TIMES has a regular video game reviewer.  Yes, games have become a respectable media in and of itself now; whether that thrills or scares you, I leave the choice to you…


Anyways, the review of MARVEL: ULTIMATE ALLIANCE 2 in the TIMES was an interesting read today.  It was not so much for what it said about the merits and faults of this particular piece of software, as for a diversion made by Seth Schiesel as he considered why some of the themes and tone of the source materials the game was based on (in this case Marvel’s CIVIL WAR Series) could not be conveyed through the game itself:

But there is something more subtle and interesting going on in terms of the differences between how traditional and interactive media tell stories.

Noninteractive media like books and movies allow the viewer some psychological distance from the characters. That sense of remove is a big part of how linear media can explore complex topics of morality: by depicting characters you are not expected to agree with, but merely understand. Great tragedies, after all, are propelled by characters who believe they are doing the right thing, not those trying to be villains.

For instance, a depiction of the psychological struggle of a Nazi soldier as he tries to reconcile his genuine patriotism with a realization that he is serving an evil regime could make a great novel. Books and films are filled with poignant characters who believe they have to do the wrong thing for the right reason. In a civil liberties plot like Marvel’s Civil War, the noninteractivity of print may allow readers to empathize more easily with the motivations of a character they disagree with.

But a game forces the player to occupy a character. That psychological distance is eliminated. And so the other side must be reduced merely to the Enemy. The story of that Nazi soldier would make a culturally uncomfortable, and politically impossible, video game because the player would probably have not merely to witness but also to act out the killing of Allied soldiers and possibly civilians.

This is an important point to ponder for anyone wanting to share stories in this day and age:  There is now a clearly delineated strength-to-weakness consideration when choosing how to tell a tale.


Take for example this work.  By doing it as a novel, or as a “hot media” if you want to take a Marshall McLuhan-based approach, we get to see Hope struggle with what she must do, and consider her actions and consequences before she sets course.  Now, if I had been inclined (and more technically adept) to try and do this story as a mod to SID MEIER’S PIRATES, much of the contemplation she goes through as she sails aboard the Gale would be lost amidst the button pushing and joystick-jabbing.


Oh, all right; no, I did not forget QUESTPROBE, try though I might…  (Yet one more bad idea from the 80s; the more I look back on the time, the less I’m finding something to remember fondly from then other than velcro sneakers…) 

I would note that what you can do with software written for an Xbox is infinitely more versatile than that for a Commodore 64, which means the observation still has room for applied virgin speculation.  While there are plenty of questions raised and to be answered by such choices, considerations regarding how best to approach a tale to be told and what form might get the writer the best return if sold to that market, there’s one out there that stands out for me:

Whether writers who go with their strengths and under the old rules might not be making sales getting heard are going to become more common. 

What makes this a topic of interest is that, if anyone who doesn’t invest that much in what motivates a person through whose perspective the story unfolds around can call themself a writer, then we have a major redefinition of the craft.  It makes one of the biggest changes to how we tell stories since the invention of the novel, and redefines how we need to take in a tale.  Not since film criticism under Pauline Kael have we had to re-evaluate how we  look at the art of telling a story, and what this means overall for how we process what we’re told.


And I’m not sure whether that thrills or scares me…

Going on the Account: Always Have a Watch on Station…

Just heard about a Somali effort to take a ship outside Mogdishu harbor

Of particular interest is the action described, taking ships at the harbor mouth, which according to the article necessitates an escourt by the police.  What’s striking about this is how close in the action is now to shore; after efforts to strike as far out in the Indian Ocean as possible, to hear that they’re moving in to shore now to claim prizes is either an act of brazenness or desperation.  The later, we can imagine, thanks to the combined navies patroling the waters off shore (with or without the help of the Swiss); the former because the new Somali navy isn’t considered a threat by them yet (if ever).



Speaking of people to keep a watch on, yesterday Colonel Gaddafi made his first speech at the UN, which he stated among other things (in a personal act of piracy, taking 90 minutes instead of the allotted 15 to address the General Asembly):

“We [the international community] are the pirates, not the Somalis, for what we have done to their coasts and fishing.”


With friends like these on their side, it’s amazing more Somali pirates don’t pool their resources to get better PR out there than this…

Going on the Account: A Rutter for Guiding Yer Log to Port

My thanks to Greg Epstein via Facebook for recommending Daniel Menaker’s assessment of publishing over at barnesandnoblereview.com


What particularly strikes me about Menaker’s assessment is his willingness to acknowledge that the business model is dysfunctional.  Hell, years before computers graduated from room-sized government projects to desk-stealing boxes for rich individual to have as a status symbol (we’re talking about the mid-80s here, for folks not around for those days), the writing was on the wall as far as the direction things were going.  The fact that the technology has now caught up to and encroached on Publisher’s Row like a brigantine on a flyut makes the flaws in business as usual even more apparent, and the fact that no one came in and reformed the system before now a tragedy.


Beyond that, the account reads much like one from a Spanish governor stepping down from managing a fief in Nueva Espania, discussing how the Crown could have gotten more to show if they protected the sea lanes from rovers better.  I realize that he’s not in a good position of acknowledging that maybe the days of writers requiring the old houses to carry their words to the masses are coming to an end, but I will give him credit for not being blinkered to the threats just off shore to the old way of life  doing business.


If nothing else, it’s worth a few moments to read.

Going on the Account: Up in Arms on Land and Sea

For those trying to keep score at home, the US has signed the New York Declaration (yeah home reference…) that among other things commits us to encouraging best management practices in keeping ships in the area from being easy targets, and to coordinating resources with the other signators to working on a solution to the matter.  The online article in the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION mentions in the sidebar as well the Somali effort to recruit and train a navy for the first time since 1991.


Hey, Woodes Rogers started small too…


And if this pirate contest isn’t to taste, the folks at WIRED weighed in on the pirates-vs-ninjas debate.  I can’t say I much agree with the reasons they give for choosing who they’d pick, which I can wait for you to read first before I weigh in…

Go on, I’m still here…

OK, my big beef with the ranking system:  Motivation.  Ninjas , as agents for hire, had the ability to walk away from a task if they wished (and could probably do so without question if they wished; would YOU call a ninja chicken?).  A mission comes up, and if a ninja felt it wasn’t worth the effort (too well defended, got paid by the target last week, etc.), he or she could find a good reason not to go forward with it.


Pirates, no the other hand, tended to live hand-to-mouth while pursuing a career where failure offered no mercy.  The one prize you fail to get, the one time the Crown’s authorities (or the naval vessel that’s part of the Real Coalition of the Willing)  catches you, and the axiom about a pirate’s life being a happy but short one comes to play.  No disrespect intended, but I don’t recall hearing too may tales of ninjas ending up in the gibbet, a horrible way to end your days, and a damned good motivator to be at your best 24/7. 


Unlike the shadowy ninja who could claim to be Clark Kent-san or Karen Starr-san when things got too hot, our beleaguered buccaneer had only two options: advance or die.  And with that hanging over his or her head, that made pirates, opponents with nothing to lose, damned dangerous indeed.


Advantage: Pirates!  (Or at the least a point to even out that score..)



And if that’s not the game ye be looking at, here’s what the latest digi-pirates are going after…