Monthly Archives: September 2009

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…

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Going on the Account: Part the One Hundred Seventy Fifth

Part the One Hundred Seventy Fifth is now up, and may be read here.

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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…

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Going on the Account: Part the One Hundred Seventy Fourth

Part the One Hundred Seventy Fourth is now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: Part the One Hundred Seventy Third

Part the One Hundred Seventy Third is now up, and may be read here.

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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


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.

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Going on the Account: Part the One Hundred Seventy Second

Part the One Hundred Seventy Second is now up, and may be read here.

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