Monthly Archives: March 2013

Video Games. Interactive storytelling or just plain bullshit?

The most iconic video game character EVER!

You come up with a snappier title when you’ve gone most of the day without food. Anyway, today’s entry is about everyone’s favorite pastime, VIDEO GAMES—thought I was gonna say baseball, didn’t ya? The video game industry has grown exponentially since its early days with many hardcore gamers entering their 30s and 40s and even their 50s. It’s not just for kids anymore. I daresay it stopped being a “kid’s medium” a long time ago.

Video games have come a long way since Pong or Gallaga. They have gripping plots, intriguing characters, compelling storylines and reveals. As a writer, a lot of my inspiration comes from video games. I am an avid gamer and I probably will remain one so long as I have opposable thumbs. Games have matured with their audience and the storylines are more gripping, tighter and more cohesive.

The video game industry has nearly eclipsed the movie industry, with many people opting to buy the latest Call of Duty or Halo game instead of going to the movies. There’s a good reason for this. Why pay $12.00 or even $20.00 to see a movie once, when for just a few dollars more you can buy a game you can play again and again? Sure, you can buy a DVD and watch it as many times as you please, but video games trump DVDs in one important area—THEY’RE INTERACTIVE!!! I’m not just a passive spectator watching the story unfold before me; I’m an active participant crafting the story as I go along. I’m IN THE STORY!! The video game industry is growing because there is a huge demand for highly crafted stories. This is evident in classes offered at UCLA’s Writer’s Extension Program in video game writing

Claude Speed. GTA III main character and professional mute. Seriously, this dude doesn’t talk. NOT ONCE!!

Take a look at the Grand Theft Auto series. If one can get past the controversial aspects, then one can see a great story in nearly every game in the series. I say nearly because Grand Theft Auto Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories sucked ass—donkey ass.

In my last entry concerning people of color in science fiction and fantasy, I mentioned a distinct lack of minorities in sci-fi stories and fantasy stories. A video game franchise called the Elder Scrolls has a fictional race called “Yokudans” or Redguards as they are more commonly known. There’s been some controversy concerning the real world cultural equivalent they’re based on, but I’m going to clear up any misconceptions—they’re black people. You can give your avatar an afro, cornrows, dreadlocks, etc. They can be light or dark-skinned and their features are distinctly African (West African to be specific). But the real point is that the storylines for those games are told in such a way that you, the player, can decide which story, in the game, among many is told, how it’s told and when it’s told—the power!

Elder Scrolls Redguard

Graphics are great and proper game-play is a must, but what keeps me going level after level is my insatiable curiosity. If the storyline is gripping then, just like a good book, I have to keep going to see how it ends. Not only is it a triumph as a gamer to give yourself those bragging rights because you defeated a great and challenging game, but you got to the end and you see the story wrap itself up in a way that is not only cool, but satisfying.

Typical revenge plot, but it was still good!!

One of the earliest games to introduce a convention that is now commonplace—cutscenes—was Ninja Gaiden. These scenes gave the game an awesome story. Yes, it was a generic revenge plot with a twist that in today’s time, doesn’t quite hold up, but back then, it was revolutionary. Up until that point, games had a plot, but little in the way of an actual story. The basic plots for most games were, go here, shoot that and most importantly, don’t die. Ninja Gaiden gave gamers a reason to continue playing. The developers, Tecmo, had to—that game was harder than shit (is shit hard?) and no one would’ve continued playing if there weren’t cutscenes egging us on.

This is what separates video games from films and books, the active component—which I mentioned earlier. You are an active participant in the story. In essence, you are the story. Your actions help craft the story and your continued game play keeps the story alive, just as if you reread your favorite book or watch your favorite film over and over.

That’s my two cents. Leave a comment. Are any of you gamers? What are your favorite games? Why do you play, if you play?

Ronin STAND UP!!!

Advertisements

To Boldly Go Where Black People Aren’t Allowed

Captain Benjamin Sisko of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

Obviously the title of this entry is an exaggeration. It’s also an obvious reference to Star Trek, a show that featured black people and other people of color. Uhura (played by the lovely Zoe Saldana in the JJ Abram’s reboot—she’s my future wife, she just doesn’t know it yet), Geordi LaForge, Benjamin Sisko, Commander Worf (I know he’s a Klingon, but he’s a black one!) and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg’s character) are examples that immediately come to mind. What I seek to convey with this entry is that for all the strides forward in the inclusion department literature—and in particular science fiction/fantasy—has made over the years, there is still much more ground to cover.

Don’t get me wrong. Science fiction has improved tremendously in more recent years. But in many cases, people of color are relegated to supporting and peripheral characters (if they’re included at all). The television and film industry is notorious in keeping people of color in side roles and this is more apparent in science fiction and fantasy. Most high fantasy is based on European folklore, mythology and history, so it stands to reason that fantasy stories have a preponderance of white people and mythical creatures and races drawn from western European culture. Lord of the Rings is a great example—there isn’t one person of color in Middle Earth.

One does not simply put black people in Middle Earth

 

Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than just the small inclusion of ethnic characters in speculative fiction. The problem extends to the small number of speculative fiction authors of color and the lack of proper representation of minorities in speculative fiction’s readership. The question begs to be asked, do people of color even read science fiction and fantasy?

Well, the answer is obvious—yes, but the numbers aren’t as big as our white counterparts. The sad reality is white men are over-represented in speculative fiction, as authors, characters, and readers. Since one of the privileges of being white is NEVER having to think about race, unless one chooses to, people of color and issues concerning race rarely make an appearance in speculative fiction unless the author is a person of color. One theory concerning why people of color may not read a lot of speculative fiction is because they are under-represented and therefore feel left out.

Another obstacle is having one’s work labeled as Black Science Fiction or Afrofuturism (or Latino science fiction, Asian science fiction, etc.). These labels in and of themselves aren’t necessarily bad per se, but they make a distinction wide enough to turn most science fiction readers off. Again, most science fiction readers are white males and as already mentioned, the privilege of being white is being inconsiderate of race. So, if I pen a science fiction or fantasy novel in which the culture, characters, and situations reflect real world race issues that are pertinent to people of color, I run the very real risk of alienating my white audience, who may feel the work does not resonate with them. The double-edged sword is that a lot of current fantasy and science fiction does not resonate with many readers of color. It’s a sort of catch 22 situation. Another problem is that science fiction written by people of color isn’t even labeled as science fiction. It is usually labeled as black fiction or Latino fiction etc. Such labeling completely removes authors of color from the genre altogether.

I gotta tell you, as a kid, I went ape shit crazy when I saw a black captain in a Star Trek show. For me, it was the first time I’d seen someone of color in a commanding role and what’s more, he WASN’T a stereotype. Far too often, when a minority character is included in a science fiction narrative (or any narrative for that matter) he or she is a stereotype of some kind. Benjamin Sisko was a breath of fresh air for me. This is doubly so since Avery Brooks, the actor who played Sisko played a Shaft-like stereotype in Spenser for Hire.

Really George Lucas? Really?

Let’s keep it real here. Jar Jar Binks is a stereotype of West Indians. There, I said it.

So how do we fix this problem? How do we as readers and authors be more inclusive without feeling as if we have to conform to an overbearing sense of affirmative action with our literature? Why is it that science fiction and fantasy, which is literature largely about alienated and marginalized people, contains so little written by alienated and marginalized people? When science fiction does deal with issues of race, racial tension and including people of color, it is usually from a Eurocentric perspective that does not actualize the characters as being complete human beings or give credibility to the issues concerning race and racism. In many respects, minority characters included in science fiction narratives are tokens that are simply in the story just for the sake of inclusion.

Look at films such as Avatar. Io9.com’s Annalee Newitz wrote a review entitled “When will white people stop making movies like Avatar?” This scathing, and justifiably so, review accuses Avatar of being a “white guilt” fantasy. I’m inclined to agree. The lead character, Jake Sully infiltrates Na’vi culture by assuming an “avatar” of a Na’vi. There he is able to learn more about the Na’vi peoples, who are essentially giant, blue, cat-like Native American people complete with the stereotypical feathers in their hair and war paint on their faces. In learning more about the Na’vi, he is accepted among them and in this regard, a sense of guilt is assuaged. Moreover, he becomes their leader! Avatar is a film that explores the very brutal history of American colonization by European

Blue Native Americans. Dances with wolves with blue people. Good one, James.

immigrants against the Native indigenous populations. Newitz accuses James Cameron, the film’s director, of pandering to the white male desire to be accepted by marginalized ethnic groups, but never actually be a member of said group. So, in this sense Jake Sully can walk between both worlds. He has the privilege of his white existence, while enjoying inclusion in this exotic “other” world inhabited by the Na’vi. By the film’s end, the Na’vi come to embrace Jake as a “brother” and he even goes as far as to declare that the Na’vi remove the invaders from “our land.” Jake, seriously, when did it become “ours?”

When science fiction deals with race from a Eurocentric standpoint, it conveniently ignores the issues pertinent to people of color and in most cases, it presents race issues from a color-blind racist viewpoint as if race issues aren’t important, or only important to people of color and therefore our problem. This is particularly the case with futuristic science fiction in which if aliens are present, they are usually metaphors for people of color. See District 9 for example or Michael Resnick’s A Miracle of Rare Design.

I will leave this entry on a positive note. Science fiction and fantasy, and the overall umbrella from which both genres spring, speculative fiction, is growing. The genre is expanding and as a result, readers are seeing more inclusion. The new Green Lantern is homosexual, as is the new Batwoman. In Ultimate Spider-Man, the new Spidey is an Afro-Latino youth named Miles Morales. More marginalized people from various walks of life are being included in our stories. These stories are ones we tell, and ones that tell us. It’s about time they are as diverse as the people who read them. It is my hope that speculative fiction becomes more inclusive and so far, it’s getting there, but it’s a slow grind. To its credit, it’s come a long way, but to its detriment, it still has much farther to go.

Let’s get to work.

RONIN STAND UP!!

Why I think paper books aren’t going anywhere, at least not any time soon. I hope.

Books. They’re made for reading, duh.

I am the proud owner of an apple iPad, which has quite the selection of ebooks loaded for my reading pleasure. It’s convenient, light to carry around and reading is easy on the eyes. I also have a profoundly large amount of paper books in both hardback and paperback. As accessible and convenient as my iPad is, I prefer my paper books.

If I drop a paper book from a high vantage point, there’s a good chance it’s still in working condition. If I drop my iPad from a high vantage point, there’s a good chance I’ll be picking up pieces of it later. If my book falls into the toilet while I’m . . . “lounging,” I can fish it out, stick it near an open window on a sunny day and let it dry out. If worst comes to worst, I can bite the bullet and buy another one. The most I’ll be out is twenty-five dollars. If I drop my iPad into the toilet, I may have to shell out some serious dollars for repairs or replacement. Also, my iPad’s software can always become corrupted or not load right (this hasn’t happened, mind you, but it could). I’ve never had a paper book “corrupt” on me.

Now there are definitely some good points to owning an E-reader such as Amazon’s Kindle or the Nook, or even the iPad. But for me, those reasons don’t outweigh the drawbacks.

Nothing is perfect. Books can burn. In fact, in Fahrenheit 451, they did–a lot. Books can be lost or misplaced. If you have an E-reader, you never lose them. Unless, of course, you lose the E-reader itself.

There’s something else about the traditional book that just does it for me. It feels. I don’t mean books are sentient with the capacity to feel anything. What I mean is, you can feel a book. You can pick it up and feel the weight of it. You can smell its pages. There’s something about paper books that seem permanent and real, not digital and artificial.

Maybe paper books will go the way of the Dodo bird in twenty-five years or even ten (I hope not), but right now we have paper books. Let’s cherish them while we still have them.

Now having said all that, I swear, I’m not a Luddite.

Ronin STAND UP!!!!

–Obi AKA Fish.

We’re bringing sexy back

Getting that good spring cleaning.

What’s is up my fellow ronin? Obi here with a quick little ditty. We’ll be upgrading the site in the sorta near, sorta distant future. What this means is you should all get a good, long look at what the site looks like now, because as soon as we’re done with it, it’ll look a lot different.

In the meantime, what are you all reading right now? Currently, I’m reading Iain Banks’ Matter. I discussed it in my last entry which you can find here.

Take it easy, Ronin. And as always, STAND UP!!!!