Detail Overload

Matt Almeida

Snow Crash and LOTRO both include sword and spear fighting, but the different depictions of fighting engage the reader in varying ways. Snow Crash is a book and therefore the action must all be described through words. Not only does Neal Stephenson describe the sword fighting but he goes beyond this with some of the most vivid depictions one can possibly create with words. Stephenson goes on and on about the actions taken as well as the results. He describes the action, its immediate aftermath along with all the details behind the two. He also goes further as he describes the fighters, often Hiro, and the thoughts going through their heads.

When Hiro kills the New South African Man in chapter 40, Stephenson first says “Hiro cuts his head off”(302).  At first the reader may be thinking this can’t possibly be the full description, and indeed it would not be a sufficient one. But rest assured Stephenson continues to not only give a sufficient description but one far beyond it. Stephenson even devotes a full paragraph to describing the blade passing through the man’s neck with ease. This description, although at times intriguing, takes away from the action and excitement of the fight.  A sword fight is supposed to be intense and immediate, and Stephenson completely loses these ideas in his stylistic and wordy descriptions. I suppose one could argue that Stephenson captures the art and style of sword fighting with his lengthy portrayals, but beyond that they do not do much good.

One thing that is most obvious in Stephenson’s sword fighting scenes is the attention he pays to blood, gore, and guts. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to be as gruesome and descriptive as possible. These descriptions add to the intensity and excitement of the fight. It certainly keeps the reader intrigued and entertained, but there comes a point when enough is enough. Initially, I found myself thinking “awesome” when reading about the blood spilling out of characters wounds, but after a while the bloody images were just unnecessary.  

On the other hand, although LOTRO presents a visual image of the fighting it is not nearly as descriptive as in Snow Crash. When fighting in the game, the player is very engaged as video games are an interactive experience. The player must control his or her character and attack enemies. To this extent the game engages the player. The action is very real and present on screen, but there is not much variation to it. There are only so many attacks or moves and the character can only perform these in so many ways. Also, enemies always die in the same boring manner. They go limp and collapse to the floor with very little variation. Unlike Snow Crash, there is no blood or gore shrouding the landscape. Killing a spider and watching him fall to the ground just isn’t quite as intriguing as cutting a man’s head off and watching his blood shoot out.  I guess the game designers weren’t brave enough to go for the mature game rating.

It would seem that neither LOTRO or Snow Crash find that balance between description and engagement. It is easy to get lost in Stephenson’s words but as a reader I often became unengaged by the excessive descriptions. LOTRO on the other hand may initially engage the gamer as well, but the lack of variance and greater detail makes the fighting become rather tedious and boring.


Goddamn Foreigners

By Aneel Henry

“What the @#$% happened to my tires?” The tires square shape looked unnatural in the fading sunlight. “The tires are slashed that’s what happened you goddamn foreigner.” Two large white guys, both middle aged, far past their physical prime,  and with mullets long enough to pass for rope, walked out from behind a raised red pickup truck. The floodlights on the pickup truck pointed at the car, it’s slashed tires evident in the now ample light. “I think you need to go back to your country.” The man just stood there, accepting their jeers and taunts as they continued to make racial slur after racial slur. The hicks finally tired of the teasing and with one last biting comment about the man’s mother, they left in a roar of over-tuned engine and Kenny Chesney. My father surveyed the damage, calculated the average cost for four tires, and silently drove home, never to speak a word of the incident for another twenty years.

I personally have never had such an intense experience with racism but my father and my mother have experienced horror-story grade racism. The 1970’s and 1980’s are thought of as much more backwards and racially intolerant times in comparison to our current society but the novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson begs to differ. Throughout Snow Crash, the characters run into numerous occasions where racism and racial stereotypes are overtly discussed and maliciously used as if it is the norm to do so. This would not be uncommon had the novel been set in the 1960’s or later but the novel is set far into the future, a future in which mankind and the society created by them was supposed to have evolved. After reading this novel, I was shocked to find that Neal Stephenson predicted racism would not only increase but blow up as time progressed. I was not offended by the use of racism in the novel but rather impressed by the biting social commentary Stephenson put forward in his novel. His novel is a satirical look at the future of mankind, and one of his major points in the novel was that racism is not going to go away.  Stephenson attempts to change that by ridiculing the racism present in this novel, an action that greatly impressed me as a reader. I do not consider myself particularly conscious or sensitive about racism but, being a minority, I found myself pondering why I am not more sensitive or worried about my perception/others perceptions of me. The society I live in today is overflowing with racism, racism that is swept under the proverbial rug. Racism in modern society is kept under wraps and because I have not experienced such overt and obviously malignant experiences, I used to feel as if racism was nonexistent. Now I realize that my hunky-dory childhood was really a naïve take on society. Society is not as accepting as it seems, the racism is just expressed much more subtly than I first believed. I think that after reading Snow Crash, I can only hope to remain more aware of my surroundings and become more in touch with my cultural side so as to truly determine the extent of racism present in my day-to-day life.

The Pen is Most Assuredly Mightier

Human beings have an instinctual fascination with violence.  We obsess over CSI, we can’t get enough UFC, and we revel in the murder mystery.  When it comes down to it, everyone loves a good fight.  Many different forms of entertainment media have adapted in an attempt to sate our unquenchable thirst for blood.  War is being waged all around us.

As I have stated in previous posts I grew up on the fantasy genre of literature.  Combat in fantasy novels is usually highly stylized and graceful.  Oftentimes these novels climax with an epic duel between two evenly matched foes.  Authors are capable of giving extremely detailed blow-by-blow descriptions, holding the reader on the edge of their seat.  In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Neil Stephenson fails to disappoint.  Hiro Protagonist, self-proclaimed “greatest sword fighter in the world”, certainly gets himself into his fair share of thrilling combat situations.  Hiro dips, ducks, dodges, and dives, artfully avoiding his enemies blows.   He fights with a measured tranquility, carefully choosing his next move.     A sword fight becomes something cerebral, not so different from a game of chess.  While the reader may have some idea of who will reign victorious (come on… his name is Hiro Protagonist) the duel is still entertaining, each fight is completely unique.  The outcome is irrelevant to a certain extent; the fun is in imagining the battle.   The scale, speed, and style of combat are limited only by the author’s imagination.

In LOTRO the combat is not nearly as captivating.  Avatars move sluggishly through the gamespace, wildly hacking and slashing at nothing.  There are only two types of attack, melee and ranged, each with only a handful of unique animations.  As far as I can tell every single encounter follows the same course of events with little to no variability.  My elf hunter nocks and fires an arrow at an unassuming hostile creature.  The creature proceeds to charge the elf who draws an axe and hacks away, everything is automated.  During the close quarters portion it is unclear as to who is winning.  Neither combatant seems to react to the others actions; no attempts are made at blocking or countering attacks.  Neither combatant shows any signs of outward damage during the encounter, apparently you can repetitively slash a bear with an axe without drawing blood.  Out of the clear blue one of the combatants will fall to the ground…dead.  These battles are completely devoid of emotion (actually that’s not completely true, I am constantly afraid that I might die of boredom).  Ultimately combat in LOTRO is a numbers game based on an unknown algorithm, the digital version of a dice roll.  Now that I think about it, combat in LOTRO is not much different than a math class, it involves complex numbers and it puts me to sleep.

Zack Goldman

A Clash of Swords

Combat is a significant part of both the novel Snow Crash and the game Lord of the Rings Online, but it is implemented in very different ways. Sword-fighting is used in both, but that’s just about the only similarity between the two. In Snow Crash, the combat is like an art form, with both combatants using various strategies and complex movements. In LOTRO, the combat is much more simple, with the character having a smaller repertoire of possible attacks. This makes combat a much simpler affair than in Snow Crash. Another major difference is that in Snow Crash, the characters not fighting in real life, just in the metaverse. This detracts from its intensity somewhat, making it more like a “video game” for Hiro. LOTRO really is a video game, but for my level 6 hobbit, it is a fight for survival as deadly enemies try to end his life.

Also, combat in LOTRO is a more interactive, because you are controlling the character yourself, making you more interested in the outcome of the fight. In the book, you are merely a passive observer, with no vested interested in the outcome unless you want the story to turn out a certain way. However, you are more aware of the medium in LOTRO; there is a low level of “transparency” or “immediacy”. The many icons and buttons, coupled with the awkward turn based combat system, make the player very aware of the fact that he is playing a video game. In the book, the simple interface makes it easier to forget that the story is just from a book.

Combat is certainly a big part of both stories, but I felt it was a bigger part of LOTRO. To get anywhere in the game, you almost certainly have to defeat a few enemies. When I was in the Old Forest and the Barrow-Downs, it felt like the enemies were never-ending and fighting was the only thing I was doing. In the book, the main focus is the plot to stop the virus, with episodes of fighting throughout.

Although combat was interesting for both stories, I personally found it to be more engaging in LOTRO, mainly because you are doing the fighting yourself and it carries much more importance.

– Kashyap Saxena

Racism 2.0

A half-black, half-Korean man walks into a virtual bar.  It sounds like the beginning of a bad racist joke.  Hiro Protagonist, the sword swinging pseudo-ninja, tends to turn heads when he enters a building.  His appearance often limits him; for instance, he’s barred from entering New South Africa because he is part black.  While this sort of racism seems like a disturbing vision of our nearing future, it is not its most troublesome aspect.  No, the most disturbing form of racism demonstrated in Snow Crash occurs in our future virtual reality.

When Y.T. enters the Metaverse, she does not log on from a fancy, expensive computer.  She walks onto the Street using a public terminal and immediately, “people start giving her these looks” (Stephenson 220).  These looks.  Stephenson doesn’t need to explain them further; almost instinctively the reader knows it’s the look-down-your –nose, I’m-better-than-you, go-back-to-where-you-belong, kind of looks.  And why?  Because she’s using a ‘shitty public terminal.’  She’s a trashy black-and-white person.  The scene reminds me of Remember the Titans, when Big Ju, an African-American linebacker, walks into training camp for the first time.  Fortunately, fantastic Hollywood movies are all I know of authentic racism.  The movie represents a dark side of America’s history: the racially turbulent 50’s.  Is it possible the future holds our same mistakes, the Metaverse a bridge to our sinister past?

I’m scared to think that, in 2009, we are not far off  from being able to create the Metaverse.  We’re just missing the inevitable link.  In modern terms the Metaverse is like Videochat meets SecondLife (without the creepy flying).  Once these two ideas are connected, how far would be from Stephenson’s imagined virtual world? One of the Internet’s strongest virtues is the inherent anonymity it grants to users.  Hidden geniuses, too timid or ugly to speak to a room full of stockholders, can start a multinational without leaving their bedrooms.  But what if this anonymity ceased to exist?  What if everyone knew what you actually looked like when you logged on to cyber space?  Would you prefer to live in the real world, or the virtual world?  Or, more succinctly, what’s the difference?

Jake Karlsruher

Master of Glugnar, the Magnificent

Snow Clash

I’ve always been a fan of literature and reading in general. That being said, it’s surprising when I think about it how much I prefer reading about sword fighting than actually engaging in the violence in a virtual world such as LOTRO. Snow Crash makes no attempt to be passed off as nonfiction. It is a satire with elements so exaggerated that many come off as nearly if completely comical. I mean, a guy walking around Los Angeles with a pair of Japanese swords strapped to his back? Not something you’d typically see in ANY city (unless there was a convention of some sort being held).

Yet it’s more engaging. In LOTRO I have more at stake with the fight; it’s my character representing me that is fighting, compared to a character in a book where the outcome is fixed whether I read on or not. But it’s not as immersing. Possibly it has to do with imagination. When reading the book I am able to imagine all sorts of possible subtle movements or effects of each action; in LOTRO I’m stuck watching the same animation over. And over. And over. This is especially disappointing if, like me, your computer isn’t built to handle games (or anything else) requiring any amount of relatively advanced graphics. I have to completely minimize the game quality in order to play it at all. Might I be more engaged in the game if there was actually visible detail? Maybe a little, but probably still not to the same degree as when reading the novel.

Snow Crash also has a little more of a realistic feel to it. Despite being only text rather than actual images of humanoids as in LOTRO, I find the combat more believable. Part of it is definitely the weapons. In LOTRO I’ve found myself wielding something named along the lines of “Steel Greatsword of Endurance,” which means it gives my character “+12.3 in-combat moral regeneration” (or something) and a “+ chance to critically hit.” In Snow Crash, Hiro Protagonist dual wields a Katana and a Wakizashi. While “Katana” doesn’t immediately sound as epic or mystical as the Steel Greatsword of Whatever, it turns out that a Katana gives me a “+12.3 to Reality” and a “+ chance to slice a dude in half.” That’s just more appealing to me if I’m going to read about combat. The description elements mixed with my imagination create a scenario many times more believable than the scenario simply given to me by LOTRO.

Also, how can you not cheer for a guy named Hiro Protagonist? No matter how hard I try, I’ll never have a character with a name THAT awesome in LOTRO.


No “Best Remediation of Bad Ass Real Life Combat” Oscar for Snow Crash or LOTRO This Year

Tyler Gilcrest

Clink! .. Clank! .. Parry, sidestep, dodge! … Do much for you? Yea, me neither.  For some reason reading about a sword fight isn’t that exciting.  Well, at least not as exciting as sword fights are can be.  There’s something about hand to hand combat with someone else, something about a duel to the death with swords.  And I feel that that something is lost as it’s described in writing.  Sword fighting should cause an adrenaline rush; it should get your blood up, because you might just lose some if you’re not careful.  The sword fights in Snow Crash are lackluster though, as far as sword fights go.  Maybe it’s because you have to read about each action taken by the character.  At each moment Stephenson describes each action taken by each combatant.  This narration, while necessary to describe the progression of the combat, loses the intensity that a sword fight should have.  So I don’t blame Neal Stephenson at all; he writes a very enjoyable and action-packed story.  The characters are pretty unique and Stephenson develops a connection between them and the reader very well, which causes engagement in the fights, not the action of the sword fight.  The suspense of whether Hiro will come out on top invokes reader interest, but only because you want him to survive.  He could be playing a to-the-death game of backgammon and I would still care for the outcome. 

Another strike the sword fights in the book have against them is the, I guess, “contrived” nature of them.  The book has a set outcome, no matter what.  There is no room for any variance in the story, no matter how many times you read it.  Hiro will always win the sword fights Stephenson has written that he wins.  There is no relation to the readers skills or abilities.  The whole excitement of a duel comes from testing your own ability.  In the novel, there’s only the testing of Hiro’s ability.  And when you think about it, it’s not really a test, due to the fact that it’s all contrived anyway.

LOTRO does do better, but only marginally so.  LOTRO does add some multimedia elements like visuals and sounds.  Being able to see the opponent and your character are wonderful additions.  And I’ve unexpectedly added another improvement in that last sentence: it’s your character.  The level of personal involvement is much higher than that of the novel.  This character represents you and through its triumphs, you triumph.  But the combat in LOTRO can also get boring and repetitive.  Killing Non-Player Characters (NPCs) over and over again, who always act the same way, over and over again, starts to lose its appeal after the first few levels.  Sure, you can try killing them in new and creative ways, like taking off all your armor or making the fight twelve to one, but all in all NPCs get pretty boring pretty quick.  This is probably because they don’t represent anyone.  At the end of the day you’re just killing lines of code.  Luckily, games came up with a way to deal with this.  They invented PVP, or Player Versus Player for all you n00bs.  This aspect really adds to the competition in games.  You know you’re playing against someone and through combat you can prove yourself.  I haven’t tried the PVP in LOTRO, so I have no idea how well it performs, but the major part of the game I’ve experienced so far, the Player Versus Environment side, brings only a moderately greater amount of excitement than reading about combat in the book.