Preludes to Kentucky Route Zero

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Last month, I made my debut in Un­win­nable Weekly maga­zine with a piece on the pre­ludes to Ken­tucky Route Zero. If, like me, your an­xious­ly await­ing the fourth act of that game, it can’t hurt to take a look at the (free) games that came before. You can down­load A House in Cali­for­nia, Ruins, and Bal­loon Dia­spora from the Card­board Com­pu­ter web­site. I also briefly wrote about Ruins here before, back when I was a wee lad. Or ac­tual­ly, a couple of years ago. If you’re inte­res­ted, you can read an ex­cerpt from my ar­ticle for free on the Unwinnable site, or better yet, sub­scribe or pur­chase the whole issue. […Read more…]

Runic Escapades: The Ribe Cranium

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I wrote the intro­ductory post for a new his­tory blog founded by four colleagues/friends and myself. It’s about the Ribe cra­nium, an 8th cen­tury skull frag­ment with a runic inscrip­tion. The inscri­pion is (most likely) a healing spell to defeat a dwarven spirit causing ill­ness, pos­sibly a head­ache. The art­icle is part of an ongoing series “Runic Escapades”, in which I will present runic inscrip­tions in their cul­tural and his­tor­ical con­text. […Read more…]

On Norbert Wiener’s ‘God & Golem, Inc.’

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While reading Annalee Newitz’ intriguing blog post on io9 about the his­tory of the word cyber, I came across the name Norbert Wiener (not Weiner — get it straight, you Eng­lishers) who had intro­duced the term Cyber­netics as “the study of con­trol and com­mu­nic­a­tion in machines and living beings”. His other works include the book God and Golem, Inc.: A Com­ment on Cer­tain Points Where Cyber­netics Impinges on Reli­gion, and that title imme­di­ately caught my eye. Studies of the inter­ac­tion between sci­ence, tech­no­logy, and reli­gion always interest me a lot, as do Golems and Jewish folk­lore, so Wiener had sold it to me easily. […Read more…]

No Control: on The Wasp Factory

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Few novels com­pelled me as much to imme­diate­ly write my thoughts down as The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Usu­ally I enjoy novels a lot while reading them (or not), but quick­ly dive into a new one after­wards. In this case, I felt the need to spend some words on it be­fore moving on. I’m pretty sure this means that the book has some sort of cla­rity and com­pact­ness of style that brings across its messa­ges very dir­ectly. I sure wasn’t the only one rea­ding The Wasp Factory this month. Banks passed away after a battle with cancer on June 9th, and a num­ber of my online friends and ac­quain­tances made a grab towards his debut novel, like I did. […Read more…]

Sanctifying Games

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This April was a religion-themed month over at video­game blog The Onto­lo­gical Geek. I wrote the final arti­cle in the series, and mused a little on how con­cepts of reli­gion, God, and par­ticu­larly The Holy, can be in­cor­po­rated into video­games. For per­haps ob­vious rea­sons, it’s easy for games to tackle and re­pre­sent the more mun­dane sides of reli­gion and faith, but they seem to struggle some­what when it comes to mat­ters more tran­scen­dent. In “Sanc­ti­fying Games”, I try to ex­plore why that might be. […Read more…]

Kentucky Route Zero: Act One

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There’s some­thing to be said for the idea that art can find ex­pres­sion in any medium. For Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemen­czy of Card­board Com­puter, their medium is the strange blend of audio, video, text, and inter­action of digital games. As their earlier game Ruins showed, the studio has a pen­chant for the poetic and the dream­like, and you’ll find those ele­ments in spades in their latest (and current­ly on­going) work Ken­tucky Route Zero. It’s an adven­ture game in five parts — the first re­leased in Decem­ber 2012, with later instal­ments to follow this year. […Read more…]

2012: A Year in Books

Lori Nix - 'Library' (2007)

What did I read in 2012? I’ve found looking back at my last year in books helps me chart some themes and devel­op­ments in my (mental life), so I’ve decided to do it again this year. I read 92 books in 2012, a little fewer than in 2011, but they were bigger books, and my page total ended up higher. This doesn’t count all the art­icles I’ve read, but we’ve got to draw the reading ner­dage line some­where. It’s all slightly arbit­rary anyway. […Read more…]

Magic and Technology

Lt. Kaidan Alenko using a biotic ability in Mass Effect

A state­ment often re­peat­ed in dis­cus­sions of tech­nolo­gy, whether within the realm of sci­ence fic­tion (and lite­rary criti­cism of the genre) or with­out, is Arthur C. Clarke’s so-called “Third Law”, which states that “any suffi­cient­ly ad­vanced tech­nolo­gy is in­dis­tin­guish­able from magic”. The reader may refer to Wiki­pedia for a bit of back­ground surroun­ding Clarke’s three laws and pos­sible pre­ce­dents for the third one men­tioned here. While the law obvious­ly makes pre­dic­tions about the per­cep­tion of tech­nology in real life, it is equally rele­vant to fic­tion, par­ticu­larly sci­ence fic­tion and fantasy, where magic and/or tech­nology occupy pro­mi­nent places as plot devices, motifs, etc. […] What inte­rests me in par­ticu­lar are the assump­tions lying behind Clarke’s third law, and how the law and its assump­tions can help (or hinder) us to under­stand the inter­play between tech­nology and magic as con­cepts of acti­vity […Read more…]

From Dust: Playing God

A dramatic landscape

Video­games by their very nature often make in­teres­ting argu­ments on the things they por­tray. This struck me quite power­fully while play­ing a recent digi­tally dis­tribu­ted title called From Dust. The game was de­signed by Éric Chahi and deve­loped by Ubi­soft Mont­pellier, and it essen­tially re­volves around being a god and over­seeing the fate of ‘your’ people. […Read more…]