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.
My latest blog post on games is my third for The Ontological Geek, and my first as a regular contributor to that fine collective. In it, I explore some of the ways in which games can tap into the tools and trappings of the horror genre. I use the theory of art horror as posited by Noël Carroll and discuss how games can evoke fear and disgust in players, not just by using monsters, but also light, darkness, and spaces. The article is part of a series of articles on horror in games, and connects to many other recent and older writings on the genre, so there’s a lot to read.
Two recent indie release (Papers, Please and Gone Home) inspired me enough to pen a little article last week. Today the piece found a home on The Ontological Geek.
In the article, I explore how Papers, Please simulates the way in which bureaucracies can force us to treat people like cattle, like numbers, like items on a list. Through insidious systems the player — inhabiting the mind of a border official — is forced to spend as little time on immigrants as possible, while still following all the rules imposed by your government. I contrast this to the experience of Gone Home, where we can take all the time we want to dig into the personal lives of an American family, and experience their touching stories.
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.
Remember Groundhog Day? It’s that 1993 film about Bill Murray’s character, Phil, who keeps reliving the same day, February 2nd, in the Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney, where on that day, the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will predict when winter’s going to end. […] It’s an awful lot like the way we tend to play video games these days. Faced with challenges in a game, we have the quicksave and quickload buttons close at hand, ready to revert to an earlier point in the game to try again. If you get to replay a section of a story over and over again, any challenge inherent in the original situation quickly morphs into a matter of trial and error. Like Phil in Groundhog Day, we get to try out every interaction, every conversation option the world allows us. More importantly, in a typical collapsing together of character and player, Phil – like us – retains (meta)knowledge of everything he did earlier.
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.
Through the years I’ve had so many reasons to ignore her, always telling me where I could and couldn’t go… – I was following a pretty bird, and I got lost. I wanted to go for a walk by the lake. I wanted to pick some flowers that only grow in the forest. I was secretly meeting a boy. I wanted to check out the creepy graveyard. I needed to get away for a while. Besides, the real reason she doesn’t want me to stray is because she doesn’t want me to grow up and make my own decisions and not listen to her all the time. That’s why I went off the path and into the forest. It’s made me who I am.
If news reports from earlier this year are to be believed, asteroids are high on the list of celestial bodies to be explored - and manipulated. On May 13th, The Telegraph revealed that British astronaut Tim Peake was going to be trained by NASA for an asteroid surface mission. Only weeks earlier, on April 24th, the American company Planetary Resources announced its plans to invest in asteroid mining technology. In the background the impressive exploration data from NASA’s Dawn mission to the asteroid belt trickles in, mainly concerning protoplanets Vesta and Ceres.