The Joy of Reading Spenser’s Poetry

– Matt Almeida

When first sitting down to write this blog I was asking myself, why am I telling Professor Hall about my experiences? I’m sure he knows more about English than I do  as he does indeed teach the class I am in, and did he not say having read Spenser’s The Faerie Queene  is like wearing badge of honor? Perhaps he should be telling me about reading The Faerie Queene, but regardless I shall discuss my experiences. I assume other IT professionals have much less interest in or knowledge of Spenser’s poetry. Also, sorry Professor but after reading just a few cantos I have no desire to acquire this badge of honor you spoke so highly of.  

Well what can I say? Reading parts of this complex, lengthy, ridiculous excuse for a poem was more or less like slamming my head into a wall. Repeatedly. I was debating whether or not it was less enjoyable than playing LOTRO, and I think I’ve made it clear through my blogs that I thoroughly do not enjoy LOTRO. It wasn’t even close. I would rather be locked in a room playing LOTRO for a weekend then read Spenser for an hour. At least I would be able to level my character up, and that’s always a plus as I don’t really see anything to gain from reading Spenser’s barely coherent poetry.

Spencer’s words are just so hard to read and the poem is very difficult to get through for a few reasons. From just looking at the poem you can see that the English is not quite what us 21st century folk are used to. We were told it was slightly more difficult than Shakespeare, but I’d say it’s a bit more than only slightly more difficult. Granted, I have seen some Old English such as that written in Beowulf, and Spenser is not nearly as difficult. The Old English barely even looks like letters, more like symbols, and at least Spenser uses normal English letters in his poetry. But regardless the words which he uses are often beyond my immediate comprehension. Spenser switches up certain letters and spells words in alternative forms that are not always instantly recognizable. This makes for not only a very slow read but also a very painful and un-enjoyable one. On top of that Spenser uses ridiculous words that sometimes don’t even make the slightest bit of sense. I weet (apparently this means know?) some words or can figure them out but even that is sometimes impossible which is why notes are often provided. It’s not even as if I can use dictionary.com or some other useful technology as these words seem to not exist anymore, only in Spenser’s fantastic world of poetry.

Spenser not only uses this complex and confusing version of the English language in his poetry, but he also writes in an incredibly complex manner and ties in deep meaning to all his cantos. He is writing poetry and he uses a specific rhyming scheme. I often felt when reading the poem some words were forced or altered in some way to make a rhyme, further adding to the confusion of the poem. Additionally, the poem seems to jump around a lot. There are a few different story lines going on and Spenser jumps back and forth between them, making the poetry not always easy to follow. Also, it appears that Spenser was a crazy smart guy who just couldn’t find enough things to tie into his poem. After going through all the various allegories today in class I felt as if my head was about to explode. We had such difficulty picking up on and noticing these allegories and I’m sure we didn’t even see half of them. As was noted in class each symbol in Spenser’s poetry has more than one meaning and has ties to more than one thing. All these allegories were pretty overwhelming and to think Spenser actually wrote this stuff with all those ideas in his head prior to actually writing them is almost unfathomable. To fully understand Spenser’s poetry, you must pick up on and explore these allegories as they provide a much deeper meaning to the poetry. This just further piles on to the agony and frustration that comes with reading The Faerie Queene. I think I’ll go play LOTRO now. Just kidding.

Games: A Subset of Play

Matt Almeida

        Depending on the way you look at it there seems to be a number of ways you can interpret games and play. At first, the two terms may seem interchangeable, perhaps even synonyms, and indeed many people use them as such. However, upon looking more closely at these two terms and seeking out their differences they come to mean two distinctly different things.

                 First off it is important to see how games are a specific part of play. You might ask how are the two any different? Play seems to be an integral part of any game and a game seems to be a specific form of play. This is certainly true but games are more so just a specific and specialized form of play. Play is a broader term encompassing all sorts of activities while the word game indicates a very specific act containing certain aspects and modeling  a definition. In my opinion play can refer to any sort of enjoyable activity. It can be a sport, a toy, or any sort of activity someone partakes in for fun. Someone merely jumping on a bed or even cooking food for enjoyment could be considered play. Until the activity at hand has some sort of goal or purpose it is not a game.  Also, I think it essentially must be some conflict or battle for fun and for enjoyment otherwise any activity could be considered a game.

                The aspect of having a goal or objective is what I think is the most important part of a game. With this objective then comes a number of other things that help to constitute something as a game. In order to achieve this objective a number of rules and guidelines need to be set up that modify how someone reaches that objective. These rules make the act of play something more, something of greater meaning. They force players to enter the game, interact, and make decisions that affect the outcome of the game. Players must abide by the rules and make choices accordingly as they attempt to attain the objective at hand. There is now a formal activity taking place that takes the form of a game rather than just random play. The activity can now be distinguished and recognized, giving it a specific form and usually even a name. Just throwing a ball and playing around now becomes dodge ball, football, or baseball. Simply looking at cards or tossing them around now becomes poker or blackjack. Running around a park or a playground now becomes tag, hide and seek, or maybe even capture the flag. With rules and guidelines pertaining to a goal at hand, play takes a specific form and becomes a game.

                Along with the objectives and rules of a game I believe there are some  other aspects that are essential to games. Whether or not these aspects are taken into account when forming the game, they inherently become important parts of the game.  Some of these components are the fact that games are inefficient, uncertain, and that although apart from reality they are very real and intrinsically related to real life outcomes. Salen’s and Zimmerman’s definition of a game as “a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome” does not necessarily encompass all these components. I agree with the definition they state but I feel there is much more to the definition.

                Naturally, I believe aspects of inefficiency and uncertainly lie within games. By following the rules and attempting to achieve a goal a game becomes both of these things. Rules make a game both inefficient and uncertain. The most direct way to achieve a goal in a game is also the most efficient way. The most efficient way to score a touchdown in football would be to run the play straight down the field in a direct line. However, the rules making the defense attempting to stop this act complicates things. Next, one would most efficiently score by running around the defense but the rules setting up boundaries to the game also complicates this as well. Similarly, in baseball the most efficient way to score would be to drop the ball over the outfield fence for a homerun. But, the rules state that the ball must be pitched , often at an absurd speed with interesting movement, and then hit with a small wooden stick. This complicates this activity as well. This applies to all games as well. The rules also make these activities incredibly uncertain. The rules create two opposing forces consisting of many players who are attempting to achieve the same goal. The two forces battle and this makes the outcome uncertain. Although there are only a certain number of outcomes, there is no way of knowing what the outcome will be or how this outcome will be arrived at. The natural laws and rules of games make them both extremely inefficient and uncertain. These two aspects though are incredibly essential to games and make them what they are. If games were efficient and simple than it would take all the fun and enjoyment out of them. If you could know the simple outcome of a game before it started then what would be the point of playing the game at all?

                Finally, I believe that games are very much related to real life, even if the games may be “artificial” and have outcomes that are not entirely real. People become personally invested in games. People allow their emotions to be involved in games and they very much become a part of this game. The real life emotions of players as well as viewers of games are affected by the game and its outcome. Also, many people play games for a living.  Not only in professional sports, but in many other games such as video games, players play for money and this is an integral aspect of their everyday real life. The outcome of the game greatly affects their lives and it is no longer just some distant artificial conflict. The games are very real and have value of great importance. This also pertains to gambling and other such activities that involve money. With games such as this there is again a real life feature, in this case real money, that is on the line. This is an important aspect of games that is often forgotten or even sometimes contradicted in certain definitions.

Why Isn’t This Fun?

Matt Almeida

While playing LOTRO I often found myself wondering, “Why am I not having fun?”.  Usually when I play games, I play them to have fun. After all isn’t that the point of games? Games should entertain and provide enjoyment but LOTRO does neither of these things for me. I apologize to all the LOTRO lovers out there but I simply do not like the game. Perhaps it is because I was playing the game for class rather than for enjoyment or maybe it is because I am just not a fan of MMORPGs. It might also be because LOTRO just isn’t that great of a game in my opinion. A combination of all these things has made me thoroughly not enjoy my experiences with LOTRO.

                First of all, I did not choose to play LOTRO. I did it simply because it was a necessary part of class. From the start I think I had a negative outlook on playing the game simply because it was not something I wanted to be doing. When people are reading a book someone often will ask how it is and for what purpose you are reading it. Someone might ask if you are reading for pleasure or for school or work. Often times we are forced to read a text book or a book of some sort that we may not enjoy. We read these because we need to for various reasons, not necessarily because we want to although sometimes these readings can be enjoyable. Often times however they may not be. Similarly, I played LOTRO for school, not for pleasure. I viewed it as having to play to level up my character for class, not for my own enjoyment. I felt like I was being forced to do something. I played the game and did all that was necessary and nothing more.

                 I didn’t really enjoy the game much at all and this might simply be because LOTRO isn’t that great of a game, at least in my opinion it isn’t. I feel that it is just a game with concepts and ideas stolen from a book. It is nothing unique and is not that fun to play. I feel it can become tedious and boring, as it provides very little enjoyment for me. I know there are many devout fans out so perhaps this is just because I am not an MMORPG fan. I have never been much of a fan of this type of  game and I have never found much enjoyment in them. I played WoW for a short period of time and never really  liked it that much either. After playing the free trial I never bothered to play any further.  These two games compose my MMORPG experience but both were very similar. I played both briefly and don’t intend to play either in the future.

                Games like LOTRO just don’t provide the same enjoyment and entertainment that other types of games do. LOTRO and others similar to it require lots of time and patience to play. They have an elaborate story that takes a long time to develop. One must play for a very long time to develop their character and master the game. These games are not for me. I want immediate satisfaction as this provides the most entertainment for me. I much prefer first person shooters and games which I can be good at because of skill, not because of the time I put in. Although many of these games take time to become good at, they are skill based. One can develop skills quickly or their skills may carry over from similar games. Even if someone is skilled at LOTRO, it takes a while to develop a character in the game. Games that are more immediate provide much more satisfaction. These are the kind of games I play for pleasure rather than LOTRO which I have been playing for work.

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.

Prologue Quests = Boring

My first experiences with Lord of the Rings Online have been rather boring. I have not yet gotten to the Epic Book 1 quests but I did complete the Prologue Quests.  Just like any other game, LOTRO uses the prologue quests to get the player acclimated to the game. For some people this is certainly helpful but for others it is just boring and tedious. I have very little experience with MMO’s, but even I found myself paying very little attention to what I was doing during the Prologue Quests. The quests themselves did not provide all that much action or excitement. I found myself leading my character around to various people and talking to them about things I didn’t care about. I was bored most of the time with the tedious and repetitive tasks I was presented with. Even when I strayed from the quests to go kill some wolves, the game could only keep me entertained for so long. I want instant gratification and excitement from a game and the Prologue Quests did not provide this for me.

                The quests were clearly designed to introduce the story behind the game as well as the controls and various aspects to the game. As a player, I had read the LOTR book and watched the movie. I had a pretty good idea of where I was and what was going on. Also, my experience with gaming made it very easy to figure out how to play the game with very minimal help from the game itself. I found myself being forced to do various activities with my character that I didn’t want to do. I understood the concepts of learning skills, using skills, attacking enemies, talking to characters and so on and so forth. Undoubtedly the prologue serves a role of great importance to new and inexperienced games, but for me it just proved to be tedious. I wanted to complete the prologue quests and get them out of the way. Granted they did not take any more than an hour, but still they left me with a bad first impression of the game.

                As for the quests and their relation to Tolkien’s world, I think there are many similarities. The most obvious of these similarities are the races, the characters, and the landscape in which you play. All these are taken directly from Tolkien because after all the game is based on Tolkien’s work.  A further similarity can be drawn to the Hobbit Prologue Quests.  Here the player begins in the shire just as Tolkien’s story begins with Bilbo Baggins in the shire. The game play itself begins to shift away from Tolkien’s world as the action begins. Tolkien must begin his writing by describing all the various aspects of the new world he is depicting.  In the game however, the character is instantly immersed into the landscape and everything can be seen through the gamers’ eyes. There is no need for words or descriptions as a constant visual is provided. The player is instantly in control and can do as he or she chooses. The player is not being influenced and directed by Tolkien’s words, but now rather the player is in control and making a story for himself.

                Another interesting comparison between Tolkien’s world and LOTRO is the way in which both initially develop. Tolkien describes the world he has created with his words. Any reader would be totally unfamiliar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants, so Tolkien must devote many words to describing these things. In a similar way, the designers of LOTRO assume that a new gamer has no idea what he or she is doing. So the designers put the Prologue Quests in to familiarize a new player with what the game has in store for them.  Both “introductions”, although very different, are also similar in that they both try to create comfort and familiarity with something that may be new or unusual.

                Perhaps it is because I just don’t like MMO’s in general, but I did not enjoy my first experiences with LOTRO. While doing the Prologue Quests I just wanted to be fully immersed in the game. I wanted instant satisfaction and a chance to win but with LOTRO this is not possible. It is a long, winding road to the top and I do not think this is a road I want to travel. I enjoy games that I can become good  at and win at quickly. I do not like having to put extensive time and effort into games to become good at them. I especially do not like this when it comes to games like LOTRO where time and effort are more important than skill. Judging by the Prologue Quests and my prior knowledge of  what MMO’s are I know it will take a lot of time and game play to improve my character.  This is not my type of game and it is not something I can see myself playing much beyond  what is needed for class.

-Matt Almeida

Boredom or Entertainment

   By:  Matt Almeida

        In my mind there is no question, I would choose a console or online game over a arcade game any day. Throughout my life I have had experiences with both and I certainly enjoy console and online games more because they differ from arcade games in numerous ways. Console and online games are fun and entertaining for an extended period of time unlike arcade games. Arcade games are enjoyable at first but in my mind this is only temporary. I can sit down and play an arcade game but after a while it just gets boring. Arcade games are difficult and are designed, for the most part, for the player to lose. After all arcade games are most commonly found in arcades where people pay to play. The only way an arcade can survive and be successful is if people continue to pay, play, lose, and then pay to play some more.

            There are many elements to arcade games that make them different and less enjoyable than those games on consoles and online. Although technologically speaking arcade games are usually fairly simple and straightforward, there are many complicated and complex aspects to them that make them extremely difficult. As I said they are designed to be hard so the player will lose and play again. Not only do arcade games involve difficulty but they are also usually laboriously lengthy. The games don’t always change that much but they go on for a while and incorporate many things that require strategy to become good at. Here is where the problem lies. I would rather have fun and enjoy gaming then extensively plan and strategize to be successful. As seen in The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters , arcade games require extensive practice and strategy to master. Although some arcade and online games require strategy,  it is not nearly as extensive, boring, or monotonous as with arcade games.

            Simply put, arcade games get boring and on top of that are somewhat anti social and provide very little reward. You can only say you’re a winner at an arcade game if you set some sort of high score. This can be achieved through practice and if practicing and having this goal at the end of the tunnel sounds fun and entertaining then maybe arcade games are for you. For me, however, they are only fun for short periods of time and the thought of sitting in front of Donkey Kong for hours and hours by myself is not a fun thought at all.  Console and online games simply are more fun, incorporating more entertainment, action, and a multiplayer social aspect that arcade games don’t necessarily have. I can play with other people in my home or from my home on the internet with online and console games.  I could play these  games for hours as they always provide something new. Every game has its core aspects and qualities but each play seems a little different than the last. Each game brings something new and unique and the entertainment is constant. Console and online games are new and cool. They are “in” now and are leading the industry with new technology that leaves arcade games in the dust. Perhaps it is just that console and online games are the games of our generation as for me they are simply just more fun and fun is what I want out of a game.

-almeidmd

Harry Potter vs. LOTR

By: Matt Almeida

       I have not seen many fantasy films so I have very little with which to compare Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. One film which with I think some interesting comparisons can be drawn is Harry Potter. In many ways the two films or film series’ are very similar. Both were adapted from novels and broken up into multiple films. Also, both depict powerful struggles of good vs. evil filled with much temptation, violence, death, and destruction.  In the case of Lord of the Rings  it’s film adaption was done in a much more efficient and well thought out way. The film itself was produced to cater to the viewer and recreate Tolkien’s novel in film form. The film is easy to follow and provides extensive information to give the viewer a very solid idea of what is going on. This can be seen immediately from the start of the movie with the extensive introduction and continues to persist throughout the film through events such as flashbacks.

            Having both read the Harry Potter series of books and having seen all the movies as well it is easy to draw many comparisons between the two. In designing the movies it seems that the director’s cut out many essential details, assuming that the vast majority of the audience had read the books as well. The character development and background information in these movies is not every extensive at all and without it many viewers are left with questions unanswered. However, in the Lord of the Rings the background story and character development is much more extensive. In the beginning many of the aspects of the film are introduced. The events leading up to the movie are clearly depicted and described and the struggle between the orcs and the humans is introduced. Maps and vast depictions of varying landscapes are shown to give one the idea of the drastically different races and lands as well as where they are positioned relative to each other. The main ideals of the movie and the power behind the ring are also strongly introduced, preparing the viewer for what is to come in the rest of the movie. On top of this characters are developed thoroughly before the plot really begins to develop. The viewer is brought to the shire and meet Gondor, Frodo, and many other characters, leaving one with a  strong sense of what is going on before being overwhelmed with action.  Having not read LOTR before I still thoroughly understood what was going on.

            Another interesting but specific comparison between the two movies is the interesting roles that Frodo and Harry play as heroes of the films. Both characters are depicted as somewhat weak and innocent. Neither seems to be overwhelmingly strong or brave as you would expect out of a hero. Instead they play a different hero who does not necessarily give the viewer a sense of great confidence, but one that they can identify with and watch develop throughout the films.

-almeidmd