I’ll Take a Stab at It

Professor Hall!  How could you have missed this!  This exciting time!  This week of weeks!  For this week was no ordinary week; nay this week was the week I called off my War on Poetry.

I’m not an art guy.  I’m the guy that scoffs at the abstract stuff hanging on the walls of people’s homes. My friends who are into that sort of stuff tell me I have to find a specific art form and try to “feel” it.  I in turn tell them to put down the hippie lettuce and come back from the 60’s.  Then they tell me I’m not sophisticated.  Eh, so be it.

I tell you this because you need to know my reasons of originally going to battle.  I haven’t enjoyed a poem since Shel Silverstein’s masterpiece Where the Sidewalk Ends. So, assigning me Faerie Queene is like teaching my grandmother how to play middle linebacker.   Yeah, you could try.  Heck, she might even learn something.  But what would she do with that information?  How is it relevant?  I originally declared my War on Poetry because poetry, as a form of writing and an art, is one of the least efficient ways of expressing an idea.

Then, after our Tuesday class, I learned a little bit about Edmund Spenser.  I learned about his inspirations: the great thinkers of our past.  Me and Ed, we share the same literary heroes.  Maybe this guy ain’t so bad after all.  I gave it a try, but found I was shamefully incompetent.  Translating Spencer into modern English after years of not practicing was dreadful.  So I developed a fool-proof method of reading, and understanding his work. Oh, and I wrote it in Spenserian stanza.

First grab a drink, maybe something of strength

Chill, grab your snuggie, prepare for a ride

A poem of virtues, but above all: length

It’s free fr’all spelling, where u equals y

Britomart is Chaste, and a knight she lies

But her Beauty pales to Lady Florimell

Una is good, Duessa is the bad guy

A religious piece, it’s virtues or Hell

And if none of it makes sense, read again. Oh well.

Wow, that’s in the right meter and everything.  That wasn’t even that hard. Spenser isn’t so impressive after all.  The War is back on.


-Jake Karlsruher

A Definition I’m Com-fort-able With

Jake Karlsruher

“The outer defenses are wea—

“The outer defenses will hold!  You need to start planning the counter offensive and stop worrying about the integrity of the base”

“Yes, sir, on it sir.  The enemy approaches!  Prepare for defensive measures?”

“Yes lieutenant, ready the archers.”

“Archers Ready!”

“…Brace yourself….”


Andrew the Conqueror, my older brother, poked his head out of our blanket and cushion fort; he was mortified. “MOMMM!  NOT NOW!”

Andrew and I never played cops and robbers.  We played Fort.  I loved Fort; it got me through 11th grade.  Kidding.  But seriously, Andrew and I defended that Fort with our lives. Were we participating in a game, or was this simply play?  Or was it a desperate attempt to fill our heads with illusions of grandeur because we were too afraid to talk to girls?  It was probably the latter, but we’ll focus on the first question: Game or Play?

For something to be a game, it must only follow one rule: there are rules.  All parties involved in playing the game must agree on these rules.  Once these rules are broken, the game collapses, and the activity is now play.  If the America is a Gamespace, then play would be chaos.  Forget that entire chart we saw in class.  The only true indication of a game is whether there are rules.   Fort is game: Andrew and I knew we had to be in the Fort at certain hours of the day, the Fort must be defended at all costs, and leaving the Fort would result in certain death.  There was no quantifiable outcome but there were two parties agreeing on a rule set.   A kid jumping on a trampoline is play, but it is not a game.  There are no rules governing how the kid must jump.

I can hear Thumser complaining about it now.  “But the trampoline could be game where your knees are one person and the trampoline is the other and you all agree on gravity and pain.”  My brilliant opinions only work if you use true definitions and don’t stretch the truth.  By stretching definitions I could prove Winston Churchill was a carrot (http://www.koschei.net/blog/archives/000695.html) or that girls are truly the Root of all Evil. homerthinkingAs the real Homer once said “Facts are meaningless.  You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true. ”

proof_that_girls_r_evilInstead, defining a game requires reason.  I think of it as my Big Lebowski Theorem (“This isn’t Nam, Donnie.  There are rules”).  Are there truly rules on which all people agree?  If yes, you’re in a game.  If not, then it is just play…or Nam.

Battle Royale!

Jake Karlsruher

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away….

Neal Stephenson: Who would win in a fight: Raven or Anakin Skywalker?

Sci-Fi aficionado Jake “Kar-El” Karlsruher: Let me first say that a fight of this epic-nitude could tear a hole in the Universe….or the Metaverse…or the Galactic Republic.

God: I’ll allow it.

Jake:  Good.  Then let me tackle the question, Neal. Now I have to ask, which Anakin?

Neal:  Well phrased.  Let’s use yellow-eyed, slay-all-the-younglings Anakin.


Jake:  Fair.  Well, Anakin’s got the whole Midichlorian thing going for him.  Allow me to level the playing field.  We’ll set the battle in the Mustafar Region, in a scene similar to that of the closing duel in Revenge of the Sith.

George Lucas: Granted.

Jake:  That way, Raven can get his surf on and Anakin can demonstrate both poor gymnastics and bad acting (“Don’t try it Anakin, I have the higher ground!”  “You underestimate my power”)

Neal: Mr. Kar-El, please stop free-associating and stay on topic: the fight, sir.

Jake: I apologize, I digress.  But, before we get to the fight, we need to examine each character’s motivation; a fighter is only as strong as his desire to win. Both Raven and Anakin are filled with passion.  Raven hates America, and wishes beyond all else to see its destruction.  Unfortunately for him we are in the Mustafar Region, not America.  However, he also feels a strong loyalty to his cause, the one that saved him from his troubled ways.  Skywalker, on the other hand, feels no special allegiance.  Throughout all of the new movies, Anakin is generally confused about his purpose (or maybe that’s just Haden Christiansen).

Haden Christiansen:  Heard that.

George Lucas: Can’t argue with facts, Haden.

Jake: If I may continue, George *he sulks*, I was going to get to the fight.  Raven will quickly find that his glass knives are useless; they will melt from the heat of the lava. Limited to only his spears, Raven quickly loses any advantage he held.  I’m going to give the edge to the guy that can move stuff with his mind.  After a couple triple back flips and poor dialogue, I see Anakin lopping Raven’s head off… and then the nuke goes off.

Neal: Uh-Oh, probably should have seen that coming

George Lucas: F#@!

Haden: Huh?

God: Wow, I am so flooding you guys.

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

My Prancing Pony

“I haven’t seen him for six months!”  So says Barliman Butterbur, the bartender of the Prancing Pony.  In Fellowship the movie, Butterbur, a chubby, middle-aged Man sporting a Melancholy Motorhead* mustache seems like the only semi-decent person in the place.  After Frodo, Sam, and the crew are rocked by the disappointing news of Gandalf’s absence, they scan the crowd of mangy drunks.  One guy looks like he hasn’t had a haircut in years, another laughs with his mouth open as far as humanly possible, and a third sits quietly, stroking his white mole rat.  When I watched this scene, it was Obi Wan Kenobi’s words that first came to me (presumably from the afterlife): “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”  Sam, Frodo, Pippin and Merry sit at a table, clearly intimidated.  The Men in the bar stare suspiciously at the downtrodden Hobbits.  With eyes cast downward, they nervously ask Butterbur a question.  The Hobbits sit uncomfortably in this alien environment.

If Vanderbilt is Middle Earth, and Worlds of Wordcraft is Bree, then surely LOTRO is my Prancing Pony.  I’m a n00b, through and through.  I was late entering the game and I am only a level six.  Even though I completed the introduction, I am still relatively unfamiliar with the Graphical User Interface (GUI).   I can’t easily access my skill bar, open my five sacks, change my clothing, or look at my quest guide.   In LOTRO, I am totally out of my element.  I have never MMORPG’d before and, quite frankly, I am wondering how my XP and my HP will affect my GPA.  So, like Frodo, I ask questions.  I come in early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, fire up Windows and enter Gladden.  I usually get frustrated with some aspect of the game: Glugnar the Dwarf Guardian will get stuck on something or I’ll get lost hunting frost wolves.  Next comes the pestering.  Because of proximity, I ask Alec first.  I fire off a series of questions, distracting him from his own quests.  When I feel that his well contained annoyance is at its tipping point, I move on and ask someone else; the process continues until all the ‘early kids’ are fed up with me and, still frustrated, I quit.  I run away to the welcoming arms of Mac and Leopard.

When I think about it at my desk, I don’t think Alec is ever actually annoyed by my questions.  I mistake his bored assistance for passive aggressive annoyance.  My attitude and frustration alters, nay dictates, my perception of the classroom.  Similarly, the representations of the Prancing Pony in LOTRO and in Fellowship the movie differ significantly.  This is chiefly because the attitudes and circumstances of the characters entering the Pony are tremendously dissimilar.  If Glugnar ever enters the Pony he’ll find a warm, happy environment.  In the film, Frodo, carrying the Ring, was pursued by the Nazgul.  He found a scary, intimidating environment.  Both Tolkien and the game designers of LOTRO crafted their Prancing Ponies based on the attitudes of their characters.   If I calmed down and patiently mastered the layout and GUI of LOTRO, I would undoubtedly feel more comfortable in the virtual world.  Who knows?  Soon I may be able to slay even the mighty Breon.

Jake Karlsruher AKA Kar-El

* http://yourdailychum.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/facial_hair_types.png

On Running Backs and Thimbles

Jake Karlsruher

When my friends and I first got to high school we were plagued with the Freshman Curse; the girls we hung out with in junior high ditched us for the cooler, more mature seniors. Dejected, we turned to the only comfort we had left: Madden ’06. We logged countless hours in my buddy’s basement, sitting on his torn corduroy couch, mashing the Xbox controller until our fingers hurt. We talked very little; instead, we let the 40-yard dash, fantasy draft, and franchise mode engulf us. Being good at Madden became a necessity in our social circle. If you couldn’t play well, your Friday night consisted of watching someone else play and waiting anxiously for your turn. Because of our competitive nature, the game couldn’t be confined to the basement. It seeped into our school lives and our cafeteria conversations. “You’re done tonight, I have a new team” was usually met with “Yeaaah rigght, I twenty-one O’d (21-0) you last week”. I distinctly remember a heated argument that arose when someone proposed ranking each other for an upcoming tournament (you are not better than me). It was about that time that we laid down the controllers and started to enjoy high school.

While we played a lot of Madden, we experimented with other mediums too, namely Monopoly. Every once in a while, a friend of mine would bust out Deluxe Edition and we’d kill time by playing for a while. We chatted about how the Phillies were playing, what homework we had to do, or what girls we liked. It was a social experience; we joked, laughed and ate microwave pizza. Usually we would get bored before we finished and rarely completed the game. I enjoyed the time I spent playing Monopoly, but it was clearly a different experience than playing Madden. Both Madden and Monopoly are strongly based on rules. They both can be classified as emergence games — games in which altering a strategy or game play style produces a wide range of outcomes — so why did I feel little emotional attachment to our Monopoly games but see Madden as a way of life?

In my last blog post, I commented on the importance of a viewer being able to relate to a character in a film. The phenomenon is transmedial. In games, as well as films, the person who seeks entertainment wants to connect to their subject, to feel what their subjects feel. Madden offers a first person option in which the player can see the field through a running back’s eyes. The rumble feature literally lets the player feel a chop block or a devastating hit-stick. It is much harder to relate to the Thimble as it builds its commercial empire, investing in properties up and down the Jersey Shore. Perhaps my friends and I took little interest in Monopoly because we couldn’t connect with it.

In class we discussed categories of games and assigned each genre a ratio of emergence to progression. One game might be 25% emergence and 75% progression while another might be a 50-50 split. I consider Monopoly to be more emergence based than Madden. With a console sports game, one can choose to play through thirty seasons of a franchise or turn a rookie into a superstar.  Monopoly had more emergence qualities, but we were less immersed in the game. My group’s preference was a game with more choice and progression. That being said, we never truly did reach the endgame of Monopoly. The game takes too long. Perhaps the desire for completion, the aspect of winning and losing that drives our competitive egos, is what kept us away from board games. Or maybe it’s just us. Could it be that our collective generation has lost the patience for board games? I like my Blackberry and my Internet and I’m used to instant gratification. At some point, reaching down and physically pushing Thimble to Reading Railroad became obsolete. I don’t have time for that.

My friends and I spent more time playing console games than board games. Monopoly Deluxe was enjoyable, but Madden ’06 engulfed us entirely. However, all good things have to end and eventually we had to move on… to Madden ’07.


One Does Not Simply Walk into Narnia

Jake Karlsruher AKA Kar-el

Each time I watch Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, I am reminded of the work of one of Tolkien’s contemporaries, C.S. Lewis.  Andrew Adamson’s 2005 adaptation of Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe shares enough pivotal plot details with Fellowship that I often wonder if Lewis and Tolkien, old friends and drinking buddies, ever bounced ideas off one another while sipping elixir.

In both movies and their respective novels, the authors make the assumption that their viewers do not possess any magical abilities themselves.  They present the viewer with seemingly feeble protagonists: Lucy Pevensie, an eight year-old girl from London, and Frodo Baggins, the three-foot tall Hobbit.  The authors allow the viewer to relate to the character and become comfortable in a fictional world.  The characters themselves aren’t so lucky.  They are thrust into their quests and enormous responsibility falls in their laps.  While Lucy and Frodo might feel alone at times, they are not without help.  After stepping through the passageway into Narnia, Lucy is welcomed by the warm hospitality of Mr. Tumnus, who sets the stage for her quest.  Similarly, Frodo Baggins is offered Strider’s sword (and Legolas’ bow, and Gimli’s axe-shhh) for his quest.

While comparisons remain true in plot details between the two works, they vary in terms of interpretation.  It is widely accepted among literary critics that Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is a biblical allegory.  This is most vivid in Aslan’s self-sacrifice.  Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia, offers himself to die in place of Edmund, Lucy’s brother who had lost his way.  The biblical imagery is shoved down your throat when Aslan is later resurrected.  Conversely, while many critics often attempt to find profound meaning in Tolkien’s Fellowship, I prefer to see it as pure fantasy.  To me, it is disenchanting to look further into the topic.

Finally, the films diverge in a directorial decision.  In The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson paints a bleak picture of Middle Earth with desolate lands, ugly Orcs, and a black, fiery eye set as the embodiment of pure evil.  In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Adamson sets the forests of Narnia in beautiful, glistening, white snow, cute and cuddly creatures, and a gorgeous ice witch.  Oddly enough, both settings generate the same effect of disturbing uneasiness.