Feb 242019
 

I’ve gamed since I was a kid. Early on I’d played everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much, and always for consoles. The Atari 2600, a couple Nintendo boxes. The big turning point though was when my dad brought home our first PC. Freed from the console, my choices exploded. My games of choice? Early RPGs like Pools of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds.

When I went to university a few years later, my tastes stayed the same. Only now I was playing Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and a Myst-style puzzle game whose name I wish I could remember.

When Blizzard’s Diablo invented the action RPG, I was fully onboard and played it and its sequel alongside Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights.

What came next was Bethesda’s Oblivion, the first truly open-world RPG I’d ever played and easily the most immersive and absorbing. It had an invisible leveling scheme: you didn’t select skills and traits, you earned them based on what you actually did while you were playing. So no calling yourself a mage while sneaking around and shooting things with a bow. I lost hours working through the detailed character creation screens, generating various characters with different pasts, personalities and backstories. I spent a month wandering collecting herbs. When I discovered and captured a wizard’s tower, I wandered some more collecting materials to build features and to decorate it.

It was only after half a year or more that I remembered that there was a story and that I could (should?) figure out how to help the king’s heir and drive off the demon invasion. Soon I discovered the thieves guild, then the assassin’s guild. I rose up and became the Grey Fox. I allowed myself to become a vampire. It seemed there was nothing I couldn’t do in this world and that no matter how much I wandered or what I did, the map would never be exhausted.

I played Oblivion right up until I switched for the first time from a PC to a Mac. That switch shut down all non-Blizzard gaming but at the time that was fine: I was busy writing and the time I had to game I was eager to spend in World of Warcraft. The first expansion, Burning Crusade, had been a hit and my brother and sister were both playing. Wrath of the Lich King was about to launch, and we used it and the subsequent expansions to hang out for years.

Eventually though, around the end of Warlords of Draenor and after years and years of game play, I was getting tired of Warcraft. It was still great and I loved it, but I was bored. Garrisons and the dailies it took to sustain them were starting to feel like a second job. I wasn’t really having fun anymore. Looking back now, I can see that I’d just gotten tired of playing the same game —and importantly, the same stories—over and over again. But at the time, I thought I was getting too old for video games, that I’d moved on.

I was wrong.

Pushed by frustrations with my Mac hardware, in late 2017, early 2018 I made the rash decision to sell my MacBook Pro and build a gaming PC. The switch didn’t last, and I’m back to Mac for basically everything, but that leap back into and embrace of the word of Windows ranks as one of the happiest decisions I’ve made in years. It pushed open the gates as surely as that first PC sitting in my family’s den had done. I could play what I wanted which meant I could game again (rather than “play Warcraft“). And it has been glorious.

One of the first games I bought was Bethesda’s Fallout 4, this post is an unexpectedly long preamble to my ravings about my experience playing it. That will have to wait for the next post though.

Feb 032019
 

Despite the guns the women are carrying, this is quiet science fiction and reminded me of Arrival. As in that other movie, the framing here is military and the threat of violence looms, but here as in Arrival, violence is framed as failure rather than as a challenge to be overcome with stronger, more effective violence. Understanding the Other is the goal and jumping to conclusions—from fear, from greed, from paranoia—is the real danger. Part of the film’s power is that I’m not sure the story ends badly: transformation is life, no? The future?

In terms of its use of locations and the integration between the narrative and place, the film reminded me of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979): both films rely on ordinary but ruined landscapes that offer few signs of the fantastic yet are recast by the narrative as menacing. The resulting tension manifests as a deep sense of dread organized around a basic confusion: is the danger of the scene objectively there in the world or is it all in the characters’ heads? Now there is obviously real danger here—a crocodile with shark teeth, a bear with a woman’s voice, a snake thing crawling beneath a man’s skin— but overall “the Shimmer” is banal space with strange plants. Yet not since The Shining have I found topiary so horrifying.

The movie is beautiful—even those topiary—and it wears its aesthetic and narrative influences on its sleeve. Alien looms large, especially in the darkest moments of body horror, but the horror evoked by certain famous news photographs is clearly a reference as well.

Ultimately, the film was a surprise and evoked the same reaction as I watched the credits as Passengers: why did none of the marketing or reviews give me a clue as to how good this movie would be? And again, I found myself wondering if we’ve lost our ability to imagine science fiction or fantasy films that are not action-adventure movies?

More personally, I love seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh perform and Tessa Thompson is becoming one of my favorite stars. So this movie was a treat.

Dec 272018
 

Today the Beav and I took the train into town to see the Alexander Calder show at the MBAM.

What struck me at the show, and what I’m posting photographs to try to show, is the way the curators lit the sculptures to highlight and specify the complexity in what could seem like folk art or fairly imposing abstractions.

Shadows as interpretive tool.
“Performing Seal” and it’s shadow

The show was comprehensive. In addition to the various mobiles, there were examples of juvenilia, early paintings, early wire sculptures, and an early silent documentary showing Calder in his Parisian studio making a wire portrait. There were also scale models of late, monumental works like “Three Discs” on l’île Saint-Hélène in Montreal.

Yet despite its scope, the show was also small enough to be manageable. The beauty of the objects wasn’t overwhelmed by the scale.

Self-portrait with sculpture and the Beav

Dec 102018
 

Posting a video series prepared by the  New York Times so that I have it for later. In a sense there’s nothing new here if you’ve been paying attention and reading about the election. But the series is well and clearly made and extremely accessible which makes it both interesting and frightening.