Horizon: Zero Dawn Log 2

I’m not sure how long I’ll be playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, but I figure that while it’s taking up my time, I’ll try to parse out some thoughts that I’m having as I go along.

This isn’t foreboding at all…

After about ten hours of play (I think; I’m not keeping close track, and aside from an extended session last Saturday while hanging out with friends, I’ve only had time to play an hour here and there in the last week), I’m starting to gather a bit more about the story.  The early hours revolve around Aloy’s effort to rejoin her tribe, the Nora, after being raised as an outcast from birth.  Aloy isn’t just trying to rejoin her tribe, however; she wants to win the Proving and earn a boon from the Nora Matriarchs which she intends to use to find out about her origins.

This is the last moment before things go bad for Aloy. I mean, more bad than they have been already.

The Proving goes according to plan with Aloy winning in a dramatic fashion, but before the concluding ceremony can take place, the braves-to-be are ambushed by cultists who have technology that allows them to co-opt the wild machines.  Pretty much all the new braves die except for Aloy, who is saved by her foster father Rost sacrificing himself to protect her from a massive explosion.  Aloy recovers inside the mountain that the Nora call the All-Mother (they believe the mountain is the source of all life which, given the sci-fi setting, isn’t actually that far-fetched) where she learns that the cultists were seeking her out because of her resemblance to another woman with an over ninety-eight percent genetic similarity (Aloy’s Focus is a handy little plot device).  Inside the mountain there’s some kind of advanced shelter that recognizes Aloy’s genetic markers, but doesn’t grant her access because of her slight dissimilarity with the woman in the data from the cultists.  Matriarch Teersa, who has been Aloy’s key advocate among the Nora, interprets all of this through the Nora’s All-Mother religion, and decides that Aloy needs to go on a quest to purify herself so she can enter the ‘sanctum.’

I’m calling it now: Aloy’s a clone.

And that’s how we get the justification for Aloy leaving Nora lands (there’s a taboo against members of the tribe leaving the valley) to explore the rest of the world.  Besides being a perfectly cromulent way to start a video game quest (you don’t need that much reason for anything in a video game to be honest), it’s also a really interesting take on the tension between scientific thought and faith.  Aloy has been established up to this point to be something of a skeptic among the Nora; being an outcast from birth and denied most of the social conditioning that other Nora receive, she’s less wary of the past’s technology and more inclined to be critical of the Nora’s metaphysical beliefs.  Once she discovers that All-Mother is just another ruin from the Metal World, Aloy’s feelings about her tribe’s faith, which was already ambivalent, appears to reach a nadir.  Aloy serves as a proxy for the player whose perspective on the Nora is that they’re misunderstanding technology that they don’t even realize actually is technology.  Teersa’s reaction to all of this is particularly interesting, since she clearly has a preferred interpretation that assigns metaphysical significance to Aloy’s interaction with the All-Mother but doesn’t seem to have any illusions about All-Mother’s technological nature.  It’s an interesting commentary on the elasticity of faith and its ability to peacefully coexist with scientific knowledge.  I expect that this tension will be a significant motif moving forward through the plot as Aloy explores other lands and the ways that other tribes have learned to cope with the world in which they live.

Um… yeah, cause Aloy’s totally a clone of someone who was inside this shelter.

From a gameplay perspective, Horizon continues to be highly engaging.  I mentioned before that I’m hoping for a twist on the skill tree concept, but I don’t think that’s coming.  This is only a minor disappointment, because the variety of strategies available for hunting machines is incredibly satisfying.  I prefer to do stealth builds in games when they’re available, and the game has been pleasantly accommodating in that regard.  While equipment and weapons can be customized to emphasize different traits, I haven’t built Aloy’s gear in a way that provides much in the way of strong offense or defense.  Traps are quickly becoming my preferred method of taking down big machines, mostly because they carry the almost unfair advantage of allowing the player to inflict damage on prey without receiving direct aggression; Aloy is agile, but soft and squishy, and she can’t take much punishment in head-on confrontations (especially not when I’m playing, as I still feel relatively clumsy with the controls).  At the moment I’m enjoying making use of explosive trip wires; they can be set from stealth cover, and if a machine fails to trip them, I’ve invested in the skill that allows me to pick unused traps back up into my inventory.  I want to play more with Aloy’s mobility (besides sneaking she has a decent range of other methods to traverse terrain that seem designed to encourage highly spectacular fights with machines), but in the early hours of the game that doesn’t feel feasible quite yet.

Don’t… look… down.

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Thoughts on Castlevania

After a month of preparing to move and another month of actually moving, we’re finally (sort of) settled in our new place in Portland, and that means that I can get back to blogging!  The extended mental break has been really nice, as the predominant attitude about my blog has shifted from “ugh, I need to write something…” to “man, I really want to write something.”  It’s been a pleasant change, and with the sudden need for a new computer (my old one, which is approaching a decade of active use, decided somewhere in California that it doesn’t like most of the internet anymore) I’ve been really itching to get back to writing.  Fortunately, my replacement laptop (a lovely little Chromebook which has significantly stripped down functionality but an impressive battery life and low weight to make up for it) arrived in the mail today, and I’m raring to go (there’s also the teensy matter of a bunch of electronic chores I need to do that I was putting off until I got my computer, but that’s none of your concern).

So, the first thing that Rachael and I did after we got internet set up in our apartment was boot up Netflix and watch some television to pass the time while we await word on what’s going on with everything we own in the world (it’s a long story that deserves its own post).  We started off catching up on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because we apparently never finished watching Season Five a while back (the likely explanation is that Rachael was still in graduate school when we started it, and we stopped because she didn’t have time to enjoy it with me).  Following that, I decided I wanted to explore some of Netflix’s newer offerings while Rachael did some of her own work.  I had heard that there was an animated Castlevania series that had been developed for Netflix, and I admit I was curious.  I’m a longtime fan of the side-scrolling iterations of the series (ever since Symphony of the Night) and I have a passing familiarity with the lore, so I thought the animated series would be a fun indulgence.

Castlevania netflix titlecard.png

Castlevania title card. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t realize the series was so short (it has only four twenty-three minute episodes in its first season), but given the quality of the animation (this was obviously a pretty expensive series to make) I don’t mind.  General impressions are that it’s a very “dudely” story (this is the word Rachael uses to describe stories that revolve almost exclusively around men and their feelings); it only contains two female characters, and one of them doesn’t survive the first half of the first episode.  If you are off put by stories that revel in manfeels, then this will not be a series to your liking.  Because the animation is so high quality, there level of gore is remarkably intense; people regularly get dismembered and maimed during action sequences, and there are no discretionary cutaways.  If you’re easily squicked, this is probably not the series for you.

Now, caveats aside, I really enjoyed Castlevania.  I was prepared to settle in for a thirteen episode saga of Trevor Belmont reluctantly setting out to defend Wallachia from Dracula’s monstrous hordes, and then was pleasantly surprised to see the story arc wrapped up neatly at the point where Trevor has assembled his allies, successfully defended a single city, and is ready to renew his family’s mission.  There’s plenty of ground left to cover in the course of this story, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

The single most intriguing thing about this version of Castlevania is its exploration of the intersection between faith, superstition, and scientific thought.  The games have always toyed with these motifs, but the side-scrolling platformer is not really a genre that lends itself well to especially deep storytelling.  I’m not too familiar with the plots of the early games, but I think the animated Castlevania is meant to be a retelling of Castlevania III, which is chronologically the first story in Castlevania lore.  The inciting incident here is the execution of Dracula’s wife, Lisa, a physician whom the Church accuses of witchcraft.  Lisa is the only human who isn’t afraid of Dracula’s supernatural powers, and her willingness to come to him for insight into how to be a better doctor marks her as the only good product of humanity he has ever encountered.  Her murder throws him into a rage, and in retaliation he assembles an army of demons from hell to wipe out humanity in Wallachia.  It’s the conflation that the Church priests (and the Bishop most specifically) make between science and supernatural knowledge that’s most fascinating here.  This world clearly has supernatural and magical elements; Dracula truly is immortal and possesses vast powers, but he and his son are also clearly skilled engineers; Dracula’s castle is filled with mechanical and electrical marvels that exist far outside the realm of human knowledge in the late fifteenth century.  Even Trevor, whose family specializes in fighting the supernatural, seems familiar with some of the same scientific concepts.

The equivocation that the Church priesthood makes between the supernatural and the scientific perhaps isn’t the most original of plot points, but I think it’s novel to the Castlevania series that it’s been so explicitly established here; tensions between the superstitious aspects of religious practice and carefully skeptical rationality of scientific thought have previously just been window dressing for a horror-inflected adventure story.  Serious grappling with the Christian Church’s history of trying to crush other avenues of knowledge as heretical or demonically influenced is a new one for the series.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing if another season gets made and where it intends to go with these ideas next.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/18/13

Finished my first full week with the students, and I’m on a roll!  It’s been tricky getting accustomed to the new schedule demands, but it’s not so bad.  Link round-ups are the most time consuming, but that’s just because I’m anal-retentive and feel like I need to review every article that goes through my feed in a week.  Also, on a celebratory note, this round-up marks my 100th post!  Hurray!

Fiction

1. Rachael has a very good post this week discussing one of the central conventions written language that I think writers should always keep in mind: the fact that writing is linear.

2. From 300 Stories this week, a short piece about the troubles that a militant atheist group has over the decades trying to get its message out.

Education

1. At Coding 2 Learn (a blog I think I should be following if its posts are all as good as this one) there’s an article about how most children, contrary to popular belief, are actually technological idiots, just like the majority of adults.  I don’t consider myself extremely technologically competent, especially not in comparison to the writer here, but I really related to his stories about people at his school who ask for his help to troubleshoot some extremely basic technology problems.

Religion

1. At Experimental Theology Richard Beck posts about the ontological argument for God’s existence, and why he doesn’t think it’s very persuasive, though it is useful for filling out a framework of understanding about the Kingdom of God as both a model that condemns our world’s current failings and a goal that helps point us in the proper direction.

2. At Mercy Not Sacrifice, Morgan Guyton has a great post about morality and its relationship to the Fall.  I’d say my favorite part has to be this passage:

The Great Commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself are infinite commandments. No one can possibly live up to them, and it’s not because people are utterly immoral or our concept of goodness apart from Christ is infinitely nihilistically corrupted, or any of the other tough-sounding but Biblically unsupported claims of the fundamentalists. It is simply the case that love can be perfected ad infinitum. We will always miss the mark because the mark is forever retreating before us into infinity.

Check it out.

3. At Defeating the Dragons, the latest installment in Samantha’s review of Fascinating Womanhood.

Science

1. These straws are amazing.  Don’t let anyone lamenting the fact that this needed to be invented get you down; as a safety feature for anyone who enjoys going out for an evening of socializing, this is fantastic.

2. I love random science facts, and this video has 60 in rapid fire succession.  The ones about moles were probably the most interesting.

3. Slow motion cameras are magical things.  Slow motion cameras taking video of birds in flight are like drinking elixir of life distilled from a philosopher’s stone… or something.

4. A new mammal’s been discovered in South America.  That’s a big deal, because it’s the first one discovered in 35 years.  It’s also adorable, and will probably eat your face off if you try to cuddle it.

5. Okay, so we probably won’t be able to physically teleport matter for a long while yet.  But scientists are working on how to teleport bits of information.

Gaming

1. I’ve only played one of the games on this list (Gloom; it was quite fun) but they all look like a great way to pass an evening, especially when played with friends who want to do some storytelling, but don’t want to get too bogged down in the technical rules that go into running a traditional tabletop gaming session.

2. I like LEGO.  I like Transformers.  I like video game consoles.  So a LEGO Nintendo 64 Transformer is pretty much the highlight of my day.

Comics

1. Last week I posted a rant from one of the regular users over at i09 about some comments that Mark Millar, Len Wein, and a few other big names in comics made that were more or less sexist.  From what I’ve been reading about the incident, it sounds like these guys are speaking from a position of privilege where they don’t realize that they’re being sexist and exclusionary.  It doesn’t excuse what they said, but it helps explain a little.  Nonetheless, here’s a good examination of these guys’ comments and why their thinking is problematic for comics as an industry.

2. I was a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan when I was a child, but it was mostly because of the early ’90s cartoon show.  I never really got into the original gritty comics.  Nonetheless, I think this fanart captures the spirit of those comics well, and also has some nice touches from later iterations (specifically the color coded bandannas).

3. The Killing Joke is one of those quintessential Batman stories that everyone who’s interested in the character has probably read.  Grant Morrison recently explained his take on it, which I’m not entirely sure I agree with, but which does offer a take that I hadn’t considered before.  By the way, if you have not read The Killing Joke, then you most definitely should.  It’s an excellent exploration of the three character of the three central figures of the Batman mythos: Batman, the Joker, and Jim Gordon.  My personal opinion is that it does a fantastic job of highlighting how Gordon’s the real hero, and Batman is just a sad, broken man who’s only a few steps away from being just like the monsters he fights.

4. On a less serious note, the Silver Age of Comics was insane.  So was the Dark Age, but for completely different, less awesome reasons.

5. It always tickles me to see a mainstream news site tackle nerd topics.  Here’s one from Slate that analyzes the strange symbiotic relationship between Marvel and DC, along with a pretty astute analysis of their current business models and how these parallel their respective billionaire playboy philanthropists with self-loathing issues.

Movies

1. I like Thor.  I like Arrested Development.  I laughed at Thorested Development.

Fun Bloggery

1. Richard Beck mentions the fun blogging phenomenon of marveling at the weird search terms that bring people to your site.  He gets some regular hits from people searching for various cartoon characters.  I typically get a couple hits a week from people who are Googling for catchy titles to whatever creative project they’re working on.  Also, for a couple weeks back when I first started this blog, I regularly got hits from people who were searching for art by the late Michael Turner, who’s drawing of Supergirl I featured as an example of how comic artists fail to draw women realistically.

Cool Pictures

1. And now, a gif of lightning striking a train in Japan.

Zoomed in on Athens to show the demographic make up surrounding the University of Georgia

Zoomed in on Athens to show the demographic make up surrounding the University of Georgia

2. This map distributes one dot for every person reported in the 2010 American Census across a map of the US based on where they said their address was.  Zoomed out, it’s a very cool population density map.  Zoomed in, it shows with remarkable detail how neighborhoods are segregated by race.  If you live in the United States, definitely take a look at it and figure out what the make up of your local area looks like.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet this week!

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/11/13

Finished the first week of school, and we’re off to a good start to the year!  Here’s what I’ve seen happening this week:

Fiction

Schrodinger's Cat

Schrodinger’s Cat (Photo credit: jieq)

1. From 300 Stories, a super short piece that toys with quantum superposition.  If you understand the thought experiment Schrodinger’s Cat, then you’ll enjoy the joke.

2. A cinematic short about a girl who controls everything and her boyfriend, whom she makes come rescue her.  I don’t quite get the point of it, but the filming is beautiful.

3. I’ve been really short on time this week (that’s probably going to be normal for the time being), so I have not read this story yet and can’t speak to its quality, but it’s advertised as an unusual superhero story.  Once I get a free half hour, I’m going to look at it.

4. I’ve forgotten about this in the past, but once a month i09 features a short story from the latest issue of Lightspeed magazine for free.  This month’s entry is “The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars” by Yoon Ha Lee.

Religion

1. At Experimental Theology, Richard Beck links to the commencement speech given by George Saunders at Syracuse University this year.  If you haven’t read it yet, then be prepared.  It will make your eyes sweat.

2. From Slacktivist a link round-up that had so many good articles I wasted an entire evening going through them.  I couldn’t pick just one to pass on, so just go there and click on pretty much anything in the list; you’ll come across something cool.

3. From Theoblogy Tony Jones talks about why it’s important to encourage children to ask hard questions when we educate them about faith.

4. ForgedImagination writes at Defeating the Dragons about her experience with absurd fundamentalist rules growing up, and how it was the motivation behind the rules that was the truly damaging part of the culture.

5. Morgan Guyton’s finished up his series on 5 verses God’s tattooed on his heart.  I thought the last one was outstanding, but the entire series is good, and you should give it a read.

Gaming

1. Ash (Not from Pallet Town) at i09‘s Observation Deck came across a demo reel for a pitch that the same studio who made the animated TMNT movie made for a Legend of Zelda film.  It looks very pretty, so give it a watch.

2. The Artificial Selection Project has started up a conversation about Anita Sarkeesian’s recent videos on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  Unlike a lot of conversations I’ve seen (I’m looking at you, Kotaku comment section!), this one’s trying to take a look at the issues Sarkeesian’s raising without dismissing her out of hand.  Also, as someone pointed out in the comments there, remember that a trope is not the same thing as a cliche; tropes can be good, but cliches are always bad.

3. This game’s not done yet, but it looks really good.  The Novelist is about a ghost who’s trying to help a writer balance his work and his family.  The underlying idea is that it’s not possible to finish the game and have the writer succeeding with his work, his wife, and his son, so the player has to make value judgments on what they think is most important.

Science

1. The Atlantic published an interview with psychiatrist Christine Montross this week, that has some very interesting insights into the world of intensive therapy.  Some of her stories remind me of situations I’ve encountered at my job working with children who suffer from psychological illnesses.  It’s a good read.

2. Another piece from The Atlantic, this one about the struggles that people on the autism spectrum have with pursuing romantic relationships.  It raises a good point that in doing behavioral therapy with people on the spectrum who want to better fit in socially, romantic interactions are usually overlooked.

3. It’s probably not actually possible to see impossible colors (otherwise they wouldn’t be impossible), but it’s a fun thought.  Also, definitely play around with the blue and yellow squares embedded in the article; when I crossed my eyes and stared in between them, I saw this weird effect where the illusion square shifted from blue to yellow and back again as my cones got fatigued (or something; I’m not really sure what the actual explanation would be).

4. So there’s quantum mechanics and there’s relativity in physics, and we haven’t figured out yet how to harmonize the two theoretical frameworks.  This is a pretty good primer on why we might be interested in doing that in the first place.

5. Unfortunately, I’m back at work so I can’t stay up all night to watch meteor showers.  However, if you can, here’s some info on how to get the best view of the Perseids, which are supposed to be peaking from early Monday through Tuesday this coming week (8/12-8/13).  Meteor showers are amazing, and I would go do some stargazing if I didn’t have to be at work.  Go see it if you can!

6. I love dystopias.  They’re so much fun for exploring how we can make our world suck more.  I also found this list of seven technologies that will probably never be implemented the way they are in their respective stories to be fun.  Enjoy.

7. Not all grapes are spherical.

8. A polar bear wandered over 200 miles out of its normal territory looking for food because the ice flows it relied on to catch seals were not there this year.  It starved to death.

Comics

1. From i09‘s Observation Deck, MyDearPeaBody delivers an excellent rant against male comic book writers who recently made comments to the effect that comics are not for girls–especially not superhero comics.

Movies

1. Real-world Wall-E robot.

TV

1. Rachael and I are really looking forward to Breaking Bad starting back up.  It’s such good television.  If you’re all caught up, then feel free to check out this summary of the first four and a half seasons in middle school musical form (it’s even kid friendly!).

To Do With Friends

1. Dr. Frood shared a fun game to play with your friends when you’re hanging out but have run out of things to say.  I would probably ban cars with their standard mufflers removed so that they sound louder, and I would require everyone to spend fifteen minutes reading something every day (internet videos do not count).

2. This is kind of a lopsided water balloon fight.  I’d want to be on the winning side.

Cool Pictures

1. Photographer Fong Qi Wei has put together a series of photos that show the passage of time in a very unique way.  It’s hard to describe in words, so just follow the link to see what I’m talking about.

2. Children wearing watermelons.

3. Researchers caught a shark that was promptly eaten by another shark.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet!

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/4/13

Well, I’m back to work now, so we’ll see how I manage keeping up with my steady stream of content.  In the meantime, while we all twiddle our thumbs worriedly, enjoy some links.

Comics

1. Over at Me: A Wannabe-Superhero, Elizabeth Sharrod posts some thoughts on why she enjoys wearing shades.  They provide a level of protection out in public that I know I don’t get to participate in because I always have to wear my glasses (can you imagine how much it would suck for Cyclops if he needed corrective lenses?  That would be one nerve-wracking visit to the optometrist.

2. If you’re interested in comics, but you don’t know where you might start to read some of the better classic stories, here’s a good thread on i09 where readers suggest their favorite crossovers.  Anything you see that involves the X-Men, I’ve read, and generally I agree about their quality.

Fiction

1. 300 Stories has another flash fiction piece that tickled me this week.  Since I started following there’s been something new every day, so check it out if you enjoy quick bursts of story to spur you on.

2. This is not fiction per se, but it is some handy advice on making a setting from scratch.

3. If you like fiction, and you like it free, then hurry up and go download Tor’s collection of five years’ worth of short stories.

Religion

1. John Scalzi is a fiction writer, but this week he posted a meditation on Matthew 6 that captures a little bit of the motivation that I think most Christians strive for when they serve others.  I can’t say that I always succeed in acting selflessly, but it’s a good reminder.

2. From Defeating the Dragons, a post discussing the difficulties of separating the acts of reading and interpreting the Bible.  We all bring our own interpretations to what we read, and the Bible is no different in that respect.  I think conversations between parts of the Church would probably go much more smoothly if we could all remember how difficult it is to set aside our biases when reading the Bible.

3. Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice gives us the first in a series he’s doing on verses that have profoundly affected him.  The first is a meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose the base things, the despised ones and those who are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”  The fact that God chooses the despised ones is reason enough for me to choose them too.

4. From Rachel Held Evans this week, an interview with Nicole Baker Fulgham, a Christian activist for improved public education.  Fulgham’s agenda does not deal with homeschooling or creationism, only with trying to address real deficits in the public school environment through faith-based outreach.  I’d love to hear more from her.

5. In the wake of Rachel Held Evans’s CNN article last week about Millenials, everyone and their clone has put forward an opinion about the issue.  Here’s Richard Beck’s take, which is remarkably generous and, I think, astute.

Movies

1. I know The Wolverine is out and doing about as well as I expected it would, but I’m much more looking forward to this version directed by Woody Allen.

2. I’m sure everyone knows this, but The Simpsons do a lot of movie parodies.  For anyone who might want a chronological catalog of all of them for the first ten seasons, here’s a couple of videos.

The first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Ret...

I reiterate: the next Superman movie will be based on this. Cover art by Frank Miller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The more I hear that Man of Steel 2 is going to be based on The Dark Knight Returns, the less hope I have that it’ll be a good follow-up.  I don’t want an old Batman versus a young Superman, I just want Batman and Superman being awesome together as the perfect complementarian couple (he’s justice and he’s mercy!).  Aside from that, it strikes me as a huge mistake to base a Superman film on a Batman story.  Actually, just give me 90 minutes of Superman and Batman doing this.  Thanks, DC.

4. James Cameron, what are you thinking?  Really, what more plot could you possibly have to fit into three more movies in the Avatar franchise?

5. The most fun part of this discussion thread on i09 is that I scrolled down through it, and realized that thanks to this summer, I’ve now seen a lot of the movies that people mentioned.  Also, if you’re looking for sci-fi and fantasy movie recs, these threads pop up pretty regularly over at i09, and they’ve not disappointed me yet.

TV

1. Rachael and I just finished marathoning Season 5 of Breaking Bad this weekend.  It was wonderful.  Here’s an alternate universe take on the series’s premise wherein Mr. Black quits his job as a meth cook when he finds out he has cancer and dedicates his life to teaching.

Gaming

1. Because extra violence is always the way to update a classic game, check out this rendering of Super Mario Bros. Level 1-2 with added blood, bombs, and a dragon.  Seriously though, I don’t see how the extra violence really improves this.  It’s a beautiful render otherwise.

2. I was originally just going to link to this funny short about Atlas and P-Body from Portal 2, but I followed a link rabbit trail and ended up coming across a bunch of other videos made by Zachariah Scott.  The one about Chell is quite poignant, and the series on turret mishaps is quite precious.  Check them all out when you have some time.

3. Hi, my name’s Jason… and I’ve used walkthroughs.  They’re kind of an integral part of gamer life, even if no one wants to admit it.  So I’m happy that someone did.  Also, back in their heyday before wikis became the de facto source of game tips, strategy guides were a great source of high quality game art.

4. This is a strange one, and I’m really not sure how I feel about it myself.  So, this guy at a conference gave a talk on gaming as a religion.  I think he was trying to draw a comparison between the sacred space that a lot of folks enter when they go to worship and the gamer trance.  I’m not buying that though, because generally after I finish a gaming session, if it’s gone on for too long, then I feel drained and listless.  After a worship service, I generally don’t feel drained and listless (unless the pastor went way over time and there’s a line for the bathroom, then I’d really like to feel a little more drained and listless).  Saying that gaming is a religion is, I think, taking the idea of subculture too far.  I love playing video games, and I love the possibility of religion intersecting with my preferred subcultures, but I never mistake my gaming hobby for my Christian faith.  Also, jeans tucked into galoshes?

Feminism

1. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s video series Tropes vs. Women in Games.  She just posted her third installment this week, so I thought I’d pass it along.

Current Events

1. I’m very poor.  Does that make me contrarian?

Science

1. Unfortunately, instantaneous teleportation does not seem to be a feasible technology to pursue at this time.  Unless, y’know, we just want to use up a much ambient energy in the universe as possible and accelerate the heat death by a few billion years.

2. I’m always skeptical of any headline that goes “[Blank phenomenon happens] says science.”  Science is not some monolithic czar passing down judgments about the nature of physical reality; it’s just the collected knowledge that’s been sifted out through countless hours of research and study by people for centuries.  So yes, this article’s headline is “Money turns People Into Jerks, Says Science,” but don’t think of it as science making the claim.  Think of it as the proposal of the researchers at UC Berkeley based on their own observations.  It probably needs to be corroborated by other researchers, but it’s still a fascinating look at how advantage inclines us toward selfishness.

3. I love stories like this.

4. To add to everyone’s weight neurosis: the universe is expanding, and that might mean we’re all getting bigger and don’t even realize it.

5. Apparently Pinocchio got it all wrong.

Miscellaneous Nerdiness

1. I teach English, so I have a little internal chalkboard that screeches whenever someone makes a linguistic error.  Fortunately for me, I don’t let this on most of the time, although now that I’ve written this on my blog everyone will silently judge me for silently judging them.  Otherwise, here’s a fun video about a bunch of words that people commonly mispronounce.

2. Every teacher has fantasies of pranking their students in ridiculous and humorous ways–especially if it involves taking away their cell phones.  I’m kind of appalled that a teacher actually did this to his student, but I think the internet is a better place for it.

Links that Turn You into a Gibbering Idiot

1. I bet insanity inducing blueberry pie is the best insanity inducing pie.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/28/13

Let’s see what’s going on!

Religion

1. There has been a lot of good stuff coming out of Defeating the Dragons this week.  It’s hard to pick just one article that I really liked, so I’m going to link a couple.  ForgedImagination’s writing about her struggles breaking away from a fundamentalist branch of the Church are incredibly moving.  Here’s one about her experiences with the toxic effects of modesty culture, and here’s another where she discusses her difficulty even setting foot in a church these days.

2. In a similar vein, Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice has been churning out a ton of good material this week.  He’s discussed the nature of the gospel as an open invitation to a party instead of a get out of hell free card, what it means to participate in a Church that is “exclusively for the excluded,” posted an open letter to an atheist that he hopes to begin a dialogue with (there’s discussion of Slavoj Zizek), and offered up a meditation on how the doctrine of utter depravity is better interpreted as utter providence.

3. From Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, a rumination on hopeful belief versus dogmatic belief framed in the context of the question of what the Christian afterlife looks like.  Beck calls himself a hopeful universalist, and makes a good point about the reality that faith consists of a certain amount of doubt, and so certainty is not something that’s helpful to throw into the equation. Also from Beck, a paper he presented at a conference on Christian ethics back in June which discusses the connection between Christianity and anarchism.

4. I read Fred Clark at Slacktivist regularly.  He’s a very harsh critic of the religious right, and sometimes with good reason.  Here’s a critique he recently wrote pointing out how the purity culture that parts of the Church participate in creates a bizarre climate where ideological extremism only exists in one direction.

5. I’m so happy that Rachel Held Evans is back from vacation now.  She’s the reasonable bridge builder in my regular diet of Christian bloggers.  This week she wrote a thoughtful post about how anger is a useful tool for spurring action, but a hindrance in maintaining a clear vision.  Also, because she blogs for CNN now, she wrote a great article there discussing the reason that people are becoming disillusioned with the modern evangelical branch of the Church.

Comics

Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Over at Beyond the Gamer, XmenXpert posted a nifty list of five superheroes in the Marvel universe who haven’t been made into Avengers yet, but really should be.  Kitty Pryde tops the list, which why not, seeing as she did single-handedly save the Earth from a giant bullet by phasing it through the planet.  Honestly, if you’re a hero in the Marvel universe and you save the whole world all by yourself, that should be an instant Avenger card right there.

Science

1. Magnets are a lot of fun.  Magnets used to make ferrofluids do interesting things with their structure is more fun than that.

2. Rachael and I saw Waking Life this week (in what I’m calling the slowest movie line-up of the summer), and while I thought it was strange, it did ask some interesting questions about the nature of dreaming.  If you haven’t seen it, then it might be worth your time; just don’t expect any comprehensible plot, since the entire two hour film seems to be mostly a simulation of a dream.  To help you figure out what that’s supposed to mean, here’s a list of ten theories on the nature of dreaming.

3. So, leave it to a bunch of Germans to freeze light for a minute.  “This light moves too quickly!  We must stop it so we can optimize its efficiency!”

4. I’m not sure this is exactly what they were talking about in Inception, but it’s an interesting avenue of research.  I’m curious to see what comes of memory implantation (one person in the comments mentioned that this could have profound effects on treating Alzheimer’s if it eventually led to being able to implant a person’s lost memories).

5. I listened to an audiobook a few years ago that was set in the near future where everyone had these weird silver glove things that worked like a cell phone.  They were fully flexible, and people just kind of stuffed the gloves in their pockets until they needed to make a call, then they pulled the rumpled little thing out, put it on, and got connected.  The first step to getting those gloves is this stuff here.

6. “We all love cephalopods!”

7. We actually get yellow skies like this in Georgia on occasion, though never with the awesome cloud formations.  Rachael and I used to joke that maybe it was the world ending; apparently we weren’t the only ones thinking that.

8. A quote from Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, about the importance of allowing science and everyday life to intersect as much and often as possible.

Gaming

1. I don’t have a smartphone.  If I did, I doubt I’d try to do this with it.  “You died of the plague, roll a new character.”

2. I haven’t played this game, but the trailer looks good.  It’s a point and click adventure about a woman who’s nine months pregnant, in jail, and suspected of murdering her cellmate.  Also, it’s free.

3. Chrono Trigger is, objectively, one of the best games ever made.  I own it on three different platforms because no matter how many times it gets re-released, I always want to play it again.  This tribute makes me all nostalgic, and also leaves me wondering if Square Enix will ever do an HD update.  Check it out.

4. When you stop and think about it, you realize that the play cycle on Donkey Kong really was pretty short.  So short, in fact, that one guy with way too much time on his hands did a play-through of all three levels using stop motion photography and beads.

Movies

1. I feel very ambivalent towards the X-Men movies.  Even the ones that are generally considered good aren’t perfect.  Also, like any action movie, there are always plot holes.  For your consideration, a series of videos enumerating all the problems that were in the first three X-Men movies.

Current Events

1. Via MaddowBlog, an article discussing the recent trend in conservative policy toward instituting prison reform as a cost-saving measure.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful move on the part of the conservatives, because it holds true to the conservative ideal of fiscal responsibility while doing something that really will be of benefit to society as a whole.

2. From The Next New Deal, an article reviewing the libertarian model proposed by Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  I am not a libertarian, so I won’t say that this is a good critique of libertarianism writ large, but it puts the model that Nozick promotes in a very different, very harsh light.  If I have any libertarian readers, would you care to comment on this?

What the Heck, China?!

1. A man in China has a pet turtle whom he gives cigarettes to.  The turtle is a nicotine addict.  This is very sad, because I love turtles.

The Internet is for Sharing

1. Kotaku links to a Reddit thread where people are posting comparisons between Game of Thrones and Star Wars.  It’s Reddit, so you’ve probably already seen it, but I live under a rock and found it novel, so here it is.  Obviously, it contains spoilers for both franchises.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/24/13

It’s been a few days since the last one, and the internet waits for no woman (or man; the internet’s quite equal opportunity in its impatience).

Fun Pictures

1. So there are these things called “nail houses.”  Apparently if you’ve ever seen Up then you’ll be familiar with the concept.  A construction company buys up a bunch of land for development, but one person acts as a holdout and refuses to sell.  Nail houses are the last buildings standing in the way of new developments.  And apparently they happen a lot in China.

2. Japan has a thriving hospitality industry that revolves around these places called “love hotels.”  They’re kind of seedy, but at the same time, the interior design that goes into the rooms is phenomenally weird.  Also, apparently the rooms can sometimes be bigger than what you get in a respectable Japanese hotel for a cheaper rate.  You just have to be prepared to hear some strange things going on in your neighbors’ rooms.

Gaming

1. I played Persona 3 and Persona 4 a couple years ago.  They’re wonderful little JRPGs that are set in a near future Japan.  The gameplay’s a combination of dungeon crawling and dating simulation, and they are fantastic.  I have to say, my interest is a little piqued by this trailer for the Persona 3 movie, just because I thought the stories for both games were great, but it can be a major grind playing through about a hundred hours just to relive a good story.  Also, don’t be freaked out by the guns; that’s just how the characters summon their fighting demons (otherwise known as Personas).

2. I mentioned Earthbound in my last link round up, and I’m going to do it again here.  This game is really worth checking out if you’re into JRPGs.  This time I found an interview with the guy who was in charge of localizing the game for American release back in 1995.  It’s really interesting, and he gives you a sense of the quirky sort of humor that you’ll find in the game.

Why Was Anyone Recording This?

1. In Russia, someone with a dashboard camera recorded the explosion of a truck carrying a bunch of what look like propane tanks on the highway.  No one was hurt, which is great.  But I still have to ask, why would you just be recording your commute like that?  Does this stuff happen so often in Russia that people just expect it and have begun keeping ongoing documentation of their mundane lives in the hopes of seeing something extraordinary?  And where can I see those videos?

White Board Science

1. Because I’m a sucker for anything that’s explained with a white board, and because advances in medical knowledge should always be celebrated, here’s a video explaining the hypothesis that’s asserted in a recent research study looking at the possibility of a link between an HIV infected person’s gut microbiome and the progression of HIV towards AIDS.  It’s a very new study, and the researchers even say that it needs to be corroborated, but it may lead to some interesting avenues of treatment for HIV infected patients.

Bill Nye

Bill Nye (Photo credit: eschipul)

2. I know everyone thinks I have an obsession with the end of the world by asteroid, but I swear it’s not the case.  This stuff just always catches my eye is all.  Also, this video features the inimitable Bill Nye talking about laser bees.

Scientific Art

1. So there’s this guy who works with a machine that destabilizes electrons.  In his spare time, he uses this machine to create art.  It looks like lightning bolts caught in plastic.  Check out the link for some examples and an explanation of how it works.

Gross Science

1. If you find highly detailed images of insects disturbing, then you probably shouldn’t watch this video.  A German scientist has spent several years developing technology that allowed him to take extremely high resolution images of bugs and plants with an electron microscope and put those images together in motion video.  The results are really nifty.

Plain Old Science

1. Researchers in Norway accidentally created a material that has an absurdly high rate of adsorption.  Yes, with a d.  This stuff is kind of a big deal.

2. Also, a new kind of bacteria has been discovered that looks like it has very promising applications in regards to fighting off anthrax and MRSA.  Any kind of drug based on the bacteria is still several years away from being developed, but this is a really big deal, as MRSA’s an extremely dangerous infection that likes to proliferate in hospitals.

Religion

1. It’s been a while since I mentioned Richard Beck, so I thought I’d include this just so you guys don’t think I’ve lost interest in his blog.  He posted a very good rumination on the meaning of humility, and pointed out that because of the way a lot of English versions of the Bible translate Philippians 2:3 we tend to misunderstand what sanctified humility looks like.  Go read it; you’ll like it.

2. From Rachel Held Evans (she’s back from vacation; yay!) we get this guest post by Christena Cleveland on privilege and how we might make headway towards giving attention to the experiences of people who don’t share our own.

Current Affairs

1. I already wrote all I’m inclined to write about the Trayvon Martin shooting, so I won’t add anything here, but I did come across this article by William Saletan that I think is a useful guide for proceeding with any more conversations about racism in America.

2. Georgia Tech is piloting an online Master’s program for its computer science degree.  I just wish it were a Bachelor’s, because I would seriously consider going for that in my free time (not because I have any desire to be a programmer; I just like affordable, quality education… and I secretly wish I were a programmer).

Movies

1. Timur Bekmambetov should be best known for his insane film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  That movie features the secret history of America’s 16th president as he fought to end slavery because it was secretly a huge cattle market for the vampires who owned all the southern plantations.  The guy who directed that is going to be producing an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that promises to be more insane than Sharknado.

2. From DrFrood at Froodian Pseudoanalysis, a treatment of Man of Steel 2 that explains exactly why Superman and Batman are going to be fighting.

People are Awesome

1. In Japan, a bunch of commuters combined their strength to tip a railway car enough that a woman who was trapped under the car could escape.

Feminism

1. Via John Scalzi, a nifty anthem for women everywhere who don’t need to present their nerd bona fides all the time.

2. From Bodycrimes, an interesting piece reflecting on the financial cost of going through weight loss and gain.

3. Forgedimagination over at Defeating the Dragons has an ongoing series where she’s reading through a book called Fascinating Womanhood and critiquing the ideology of the writer.  In this post she breaks down why it’s insulting to suggest that women must put their men first in all situations because men are fragile creatures who can’t handle not being the center of attention.

Comics

1. So Comic Con was last week in San Diego.  Lots of cool stuff was going on, but I came across this video and it entertained me because it features a Deadpool cosplayer doing what Deadpool does best when he’s not being an offensive manchild.  Also, the costumes on display in the video are really good.  It’s fun to see people enjoying their hobbies in what looks like a very warm community.

2. And also from Comic Con, a fun video showing off some people showing off their cosplay.  Though I’m not really into the cosplay thing, I do appreciate seeing people who put so much care into their hobby.  Also, seeing folks in motion in their costumes really brings out the amount of care they put into it.  I haven’t been to a con in several years, but cosplay watching is always a fun activity.

Fiction

1. From a blog I recently started following, here’s a flash fiction about (wait for it) the end of the world.  Hey, at least it’s not an asteroid!

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.