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.

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