The Physical Nature of Poetry

If you are an IT professional, you are probably used to reading about computers, software, and other things of that nature. I am used to reading about science myself, and I always dread reading poetry because I can never understand what is going on. My attitude towards poetry was like that of one of my favorite physicists, Paul Dirac, who said, “The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way.” When you can understand it, poetry can be interesting, but I can seldom understand it without help. The Fairie Queene is an example of  incomprehensible poetry, that completely baffled me when I first read it. However, I gradually began to understand. Here are some tips that someone with a background of science can use to read The Fairie Queene:

1. Read each passage slowly, and read it at least twice

When read quickly, the poem seems like a haphazard jumble of strange words, without any meaning or discernable story. After multiple readings, sometimes you can pick up meanings or themes that you may have missed the first time.

2. Look up words that you do not understand

You cannot ignore words you do not know, just as when working an equation, you must look up constants that are necessary for calculations. Although you may think that skipping a word every now and then won’t affect your understanding of the poem, they can be crucial to it.

3. Understand the symbols

The poem is full of words that are not meant to be taken literally, but instead are symbols for something else. In science, equations are also full of letters or symbols that stand for a number or quantity. It is important to understand from the context what these symbols mean if you do not know what they are.

4. Get help from others

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, you cannot understand a passage. At this point, it is best to consult with a peer, someone who does understand the poem, sort of like having a science paper peer-reviewed by other scientists.

Like an extremely complicated equation, The Faerie Queene takes a lot of effort to read or understand, and you may not even want to read it. If you do, however, these tips can help you enjoy and comprehend the poem a little bit better.

-Kashyap Saxena

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The Lost Joy of Gaming

 I have been playing video games since when I was eight years old, and I still remember the day that I got my first Game Boy Color. It was the most fun toy I had ever gotten up that point, and I spent hours playing all my favorite games on it. When I was 12, I got my Xbox. It was like a completely different experience for me when I saw the 3D graphics, complex storylines, and real music. It was as if I had literally found another dimension. The upgrade to the Xbox 360 was just as good; it opened up a whole new level of gaming for me. Although video games weren’t a huge part of my life, they were still a great way to relax and could always be counted on to provide fun when I was bored.

Although it wasn’t my first or second choice for a writing seminar, I was looking forward to my first Worlds of Wordcraft class, where it would be fun to talk about, write about, and most importantly, play video games. Since my other classes were chemistry, physics, and multivariable calculus, I thought it would be a welcome change from the equations and formulas that usually occupy my thoughts during class, and talk about video games instead.

When we first started playing LOTRO, I was excited that we were finally able to start playing games. However, when I first started playing it, I was getting bored within a few minutes. I was totally confused about what I was supposed to do, and I didn’t really care to find out. After trying for about five minutes to get out of the first room, I closed the game and did not play it for another week. I kept getting reminded that I had to join the kinship, so I eventually had to complete the introduction, which took me about two weeks. Games are usually fun for me, but playing LOTRO felt more like homework than fun. After I joined the kinship, I thought I was done with the game, but when I found out that I had to go back in it to write the essay, I was fairly annoyed. I ran through the Old Forest and Barrow Downs quickly, took some screenshots, and closed the game for good.

I thought this class would make me enjoy games more, but instead it has made me indifferent towards them. Since I arrived at Vanderbilt, I have not really played any video games, and I didn’t even bring my Xbox 360. I barely played LOTRO, and I haven’t started Never Winter Nights. I’m not entirely sure why my attitude towards video games has changed; it may be because I didn’t like LOTRO, or maybe because I have no experience with MMORPGs, or maybe I just don’t have time for them. However, I think the main reason is that this class has turned video games into work instead of play. To me video games are a way to have fun and relax, not a serious topic to analyze and write essays about. When I think about games now, writing  five page papers and long reading assignments come to mind, not the enjoyment and carefree fun they provide. I really do like games, so I hope I start enjoying them for what they are when this class is over. On the plus side, games have not affected my academics, social life, or athletics at all, so it might be a good thing that I’m not playing video games.

-Kashyap Saxena

Story vs. Gameplay

When talking about the role of story in a video game, I think it just depends on the type of person you are. For example, many people just play Halo for the shooting and killing. While this is the primary and most fun part of the game, there is a lot more to the game than that. I actually do sometimes stop and look at the “beautifully-rendered trees” and the wide variety of expansive environments. The story is also a lot more complex and interesting than most other games, but it is up to the gamer how much they want to know about it. For example, in Halo 3 there are numerous hidden “terminals” that the gamer can find. These terminals reveal a lot about what happened before the games, especially about the war between the ancient Forerunners and the Flood parasite thousands of years ago. There are also dozens of Halo books that further explicate the history and legend of Halo. It is not necessary to find these terminals, and many people just skip the terminals and cutscenes to just concentrate on the combat. If a player chooses to ignore the story, the game is just an action-packed alien-killing shooting rampage.

Someone in class also said that “no one plays Grand Theft Auto for the missions”, which I completely disagree with. When I first got Grand Theft Auto IV, the first thing I did was go through the missions, because I was interested in what the protagonist, Niko Bellic, would be like. The evolution of Niko’s character really interested me, along with all the shooting, stealing, and car chases the missions involve. I was emotionally invested in his story, and towards the end of the game, I really wanted him to get revenge on Dmitri. After I had completed all of the missions, killing people just wasn’t as fun anymore. Niko was just killing people because he was bored, not because an Italian mob boss was paying him to do it (as in the missions). Sure, it can be fun to drive expensive cars at over 100 mph while running over the pedestrians, but there aren’t really any repercussions to it, and gets boring after while if it doesn’t advance the story. Although gameplay is important, the story is what sets a game apart from others.

– Kashyap Saxena

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

A New Story

I have never played an online role-playing game, so I was a little confused when I started playing Lord of the Rings online. I didn’t who exactly I was, where I was, and who the people that were running around the map were. I started out as a Hobbit, since that was the race I was most familiar with. When the actual game started, I saw that I was in a small room with a number of other people. I spent about five minutes trying to either leave the room or talk to someone, before I finally figured out I had to talk to the postmaster. I didn’t read what he was saying, because I was anxious to start playing the game. After leaving the post office and meeting Bounder Boffin, I got my first taste of combat. It was mostly just jabbing the mouse button, but it was still fun. I then fought some more spiders, talked to some people, and discovered a town, before getting bored and logging off.

As for my impressions of the story, I didn’t see enough of it to make a judgment, and I did not really see the dialogue because I wanted to see what the game was like.  However, I did like the fact that  you got to make your own character and your own story. If I had been forced to play as Frodo or Sam or any of the other characters in the story, I would have felt I would not be able to make my own choices. With your own character, you can project your own personality and character onto him. Another thing I liked was that I had freedom to walk around and explore the world. I recognized a number of  places from the movies and book, and it was interesting to explore the game’s setting, and I suspect I’ll be able to do quests in a variety of locations on the map.

Overall, I think I’ll like the game. The story will probably get more interesting, the setting is dynamic and diverse, and I have my character just the way I want him: a guardian Hobbit.

– Kashyap Saxena

A Living, Breathing World

When I was younger, my parents had never bought a video game console for me despite me begging for it every year, and I would always feel jealous when my friends at school talked about video games. However, I did get to go to the arcade sometimes. I would hop from one game to the other, sampling all the different styles from shooting games to racing games to the older classics. Although I had a lot of fun at the arcade, none of the games could ever really capture my attention for more than ten minutes, and I was constantly looking for a better game. To me, the games were just terribly monotonous and static, with every level looking the same. There was sometimes an explanation for why I needed to do something, but it was always very brief  and could not be considered an actual plot. Why did Pac-man need to eat the dots? Why is it important that I save the princess? Why did I have to perform the same basic action dozens of times?  There just didn’t seem to be a point to it. The gameplay itself provided some amusement, but playing  just to get a higher point total did not give me any incentive to keep playing.

When I finally got my first Xbox a few years later,  the first game I played on it was Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I expected it to be somewhat like an arcade game: interesting  for the first few levels then quickly becoming repetitive. However, after playing through the first few levels I was completely blown away. The gameplay was complex and challenging, requiring constant focus and good hand-eye coordination. The levels took place on a variety of different planets from a frozen ice world to a lush tropical rainforest. The story was engrossing, making me feel like every mission I completed was a vitally important task. Why did I need to destroy that building? Because the Separatists are producing tanks in there. Most importantly, it made me feel as if I was part of another world where the characters seem like actual people (or sometimes aliens), not just a group of colored pixels on a computer screen. The missions seem important, the setting feels alive, and the enemies really do seem scary. When I complete a mission, I feel satisfied knowing I advanced the plot and get to see what happened next, something that I don’t get from arcade games. Some of my favorite console games, such as Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto, and Halo all give me this feeling of being fully immersed in a complex world, while arcade games just never do.

Kashyap Saxena

The Ring and the Heart

At first glance, the Lord of the Rings series and Pirates of the Caribbean series appear to be very different. Pirates is set in the real world, while Lord of the Rings is set in a complete fantasy world. Magic and the supernatural are common and accepted in the Lord of the Rings, while at the beginning of the Pirates series, most of the characters did not even know magic existed. Overall, it seemed like Lord of the Rings is completely immersed in fantasy, while Pirates is mostly based on real life with bits of fantasy sprinkled in.

There is, however, one area where the two films are almost alike: the presence of an object of great importance that brings the holder power over others. In Lord of the Rings, that object is the One Ring. Made by Sauron, it controls all of the other rings of power. Throughout the course of the film, most people who come into contact with it desire it immensely, with the notable exception of Frodo. In the Pirates series (especially Dead Man’s Chest) the object is the heart of Davy Jones. Since Davy Jones rules the seas, whoever controls his heart controls the seas. Throughout the movies Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and others battle for control over it.

There are still some differences between how the two objects are treated. The One Ring is treated as if it were an object of divine power that no man can control, but every man desires. Meanwhile, Davy Jones’s heart is treated as an object that can be used to accomplish a specific goal or objective. For example, Will wants it so he can get his father back, Norrington wants it to get his honor back, Jack needs it to settle his debt with Davy Jones, and Cutler Beckett uses it to try to rid the world of pirates.

Although the two series are different in many ways, one of their most important ideas is an important object that gives the holder great power and control over others, a plot point that makes them unique when compared to other films.

– Kashyap Saxena