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.

America the Checkerboard

The LA (and actually the whole world) of Snow Crash is a place where people are separate from each other. America is not so much a melting pot as it is a chess or checkerboard–once, people mixed, but now, they all have restrictions on where and how they can move. “…Hiro is black, or at least part black. Can’t take him into New South Africa. And because Y.T. is a Cauc, they can’t go to Metazania. (Stephenson, 83)” Even jobs have taken on the characteristics of traditional ethnic groups–Taxi drivers speak Taxilinga, and accept no one into their ranks who does not also speak it; and as Y.T. says, “…the longtime status of skateboarders as an oppressed ethnic group mean[t] that by now all of them [we]re escape artists to some degree. (Stephenson, 77)” In short, everyone in LA has an identity, based on their genes, jobs, skills, house (or lack thereof) and these things dictate who they speak to, where they can go, and how the Snow Crash drug affects them. Coming from Hawaii, I couldn’t really identify with his depiction of race; true separation of ethnicities is something that is hard to imagine on the island chain (though I will admit it was both a plausible and scary thought). I will say that skin color automatically identifies you as one of three things: Native (which really just means you COULD be native–Filipinos, Samoans, and Micronesians, for example, certainly didn’t colonize the place like the Hawaiians did), Asian (of which there are two classes–Islander Asians and FOBs, the Japanese tourists who are very, very easy to identify), or Haoli (aka, white. Haoli, which means foreigner, is often used to somewhat familiarly but condescendingly describe mainland culture, white tourists, and activities seen as ‘white’). These stereotypes are known everywhere and there are many jokes and assumptions that go along with them. More than once, I have been mistaken for a tourist when out shopping with my mother, even though I’ve lived on Oahu all my life, but it’s never bothered me; rather, I take it as part of the harmless Haoli stereotype. Races mix in Hawaii like they do nowhere else. Ask almost anyone what their race is, and they’ll give you a list that most likely encompasses at least three or four different ethnicities. It’s hard to explain, but back home, race is something that you’re proud of and yet doesn’t matter. “I’m Chinese/Samoan.” “I’m Hawaiian/Indian/French.” “I’m Okinawan/Irish/Korean.” We poke fun at each other’s ethnicities, with those identifications of skin color and race, but they’ve never gotten in the way of a friendship. The total segregation present in Snow Crash was a scary thought. If it was there, I wouldn’t know half the people I do, and even more of them would never have existed in the first place.

Gender depictions in Snow Crash seem a lot less scary. The two main female characters, Y.T. and Juanita, are very different women, and like today’s women, show that you can either accept or reject the notions society gives you about what you should be. Y.T. is very much a product of her society; she sees nothing morally wrong with the way men look at her, or even with the fact that Raven desires and sleeps with a 15 year old girl. She is a girl of the street and goes to jail, breaks out, escapes mad taxi drivers, and makes deliveries as a Kourier, navigating the world of the franchises with ease because that is her world–she was born into it and she embraced it. Juanita, on the other hand, has rejected the traditions now present in franchised-LA. She is a true and devout Catholic when the Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates have turned Christianity into a franchised chain, complete with neon Elvises; and she is, in essence, her own person–working on Metaverse facial designs when no one else believed it would go anywhere, divorcing Da5id, despite his success, money, and power, and even discovering the Snow Crash plot–Juanita is her own person, thinking outside the box and using her knowledge and skills to save the world (if only “for a while”). I identify with both women–Juanita, strong, smart, independent, and Y.T., also strong, smart, and independent, but youthful, and headstrong where Juanita is wise and careful. They’re very different people, at different times in their lives, with different backgrounds and responses to the world they live in, but parts of them fit my image of myself; I think everyone can agree that we feel both influenced by society (like Y.T.), but that we also reject parts of it and stand apart (like Juanita). And they show that in Snow Crash, there are many paths you can take, no matter your sex.


LOTRO: Not Quite There Yet

by Theo Dentchev

Video games today are the closest thing we have to a commercially available virtual reality like that in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Lord of the Rings Online is in many ways quite similar to the Metaverse. You have an avatar, you can interact with other avatars of real people in real time, and you can even have houses in various neighborhoods. Of course, all of this is much more limited that in is in the Metaverse; your avatar is only customizable within the confines of the pre-made models and features (you can’t code your own), interactions with other players are much more limited in terms of facial expression and body language (sure you can type “lol” and your avatar will laugh, but your avatar can’t be made to mimic your real life body and face movements), and while you can change the furniture in your house you can’t do much about the structure of it.

And you can also fight. The true core of any game is the gameplay, with everything else, no matter how detailed or flushed out, being simply shiny accessories. In LOTRO, whatever else it may have in its vast universe, is at it’s core a PvE (player vs environment) game where the player fights all sorts of monsters in his various quests. The core of the Multiverse gameplay is to mimic real life, but without the limitations, but you can still have sword fights in it, thanks to some nifty code by Hiro Protagonist. In LOTRO you have a great deal of control over your avatar when fighting. I happen to be a champion, so I know a thing or two about virtual sword fighting. I can decide what kind of attacks my character will use and when. If I time it right I can fit in special attacks in between auto attacks, or I can have two special attacks in a row. I can heal, and I can run away (sort of).

But after reading Snow Crash I realize just how limited the gameplay really is. In the Metaverse skill is in part determined by how closely you can get your avatar to move the way you would in real life. In many ways it is like a fight in real life; you actually have to pay attention to how the other player is moving, and react accordingly by dodging, blocking, counter attacking. All of those are automated in LOTRO, determined by mathematical formulas and probability. In LOTRO you don’t even pay attention to the actions of your avatar or the enemy you are fighting. If you asked me to describe how a spider in LOTRO attacks I couldn’t do it. That’s because in LOTRO you’re just standing still face to face with your enemy, hacking away, and you’re paying much more attention to the health/power bars in the upper left, and the skill icons in you skill bar (whether they are available yet, or how much cool down time is left) than you are to the actual movements going on. Not to mention the fact that your movements don’t really have much of an effect anyway. I may have just used a special move that slashed my enemy four times, but the enemy will look just the same as it did before. In the Metaverse slashes actually have visible effects, such as severing the arm of an avatar from its body.

Reading Snow Crash makes me realize just how far off games like LOTRO are from achieving virtual reality, despite all the cosmetic similarities. And yet, there are similarities. If you compare LOTRO to early arcade games the difference is huge. We’re making strides, and who knows, maybe another twenty or thirty years from now we’ll have a Metaverse in Reality. In the meantime I’m going to go kill some spiders, and maybe I’ll pay a little more attention to the animations this time.

– TD

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.

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

To Play, Perchance to Battle – Ay There’s the Rub!

Before fully grasping the concepts of the Metaverse in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, I imagined the Metaverse as a simple game with small characters similar to a colorless version of the Super Mario Bros. I thought of the game as cartoonish, bleak, and hardly three-dimensional.

This however, is the beauty of imagination.

Though my thoughts where way off target from Stephenson’s particular viewpoint of his own novel, (and everyone else’s viewpoint for that matter) who’s to say my imagined Metaverse wasn’t a well enough assumption?

No one can! My own thoughts and imagination are just as good as the nerdy kid who sits across from me, who thinks he figured out the meaning of life at age 9. I’m entitled to my own thoughts despite how unsound they may be.

I’ve always considered myself to be a dreamer; so living in an imaginary world is very common for me. Like every teenage girl, I liked to dream up my future down to my kids names and birth dates; it’s a chick thing! This is why reading about combat with swords and spears in Snow Crash, is far more engaging to me than virtual combat in LOTRO.

Now that I understand that the Metaverse is actually more of an outgrowth of the Interent and is a fully immersive three-dimensional virtual world, I now imagine the place more like The Matrix or maybe even like Star Wars. (What, I need some type of reference point!)

I imagine the swards and spears clinking together the way lightsabers do, and everyones characters are made out of a million different numbers. The idea of being able to dream up my own battlefield of the Metaverse is simply far more appealing then playing a game like LOTRO where I am limited to killing one thing at a time, using one weapon at a time, and living in one virtual battlefield that has already been designed for me.

Though it is compelling and engaging to battle in LOTRO, (my little hobbit looks so cute taking on the giant Spider) I would much rather have a battle in my head without any boundaries. I can always throw in some other random characters that aren’t even in the book and out of nowhere start slaying dragons. Because that boys and girls is the beauty of imagination; to read, perchance to imagine – ay there’s no rub!