The Crushing Banality of Everyday Life

I should probably be reading a book or spending time with my kid.

Month: September, 2013

Far Cry 3

Just when I got done obsessing over Tomb Raider 3, I had to go and find Far Cry 3 on sale for cheap. I played about an hour of Far Cry 2 but soon got bored by how involved and tedious it was. Far Cry 3 is less sim-like, and what it loses in annoying realism it gains in playability. Simply put, the game is a blast, at least for a while. They set up several different activities  to do that all give you different types of gameplay experience as well as different benefits in the game. Hunting animals, for example, allows you to craft items so you can carry more weapons and ammo. Climbing towers opens up maps. Defeating enemy camps removes enemies from the area, making it easier to get around, and opens up side quests which provide experience points and  rare crafting items. This is done so well that I was addicted to the game, playing every chance I could so that I could liberate one more area or kill one more shark to get a bigger pack. 

The experience point system also encourages you to explore and play the game a certain way. You get three times the experience for stealth kills and stealth liberations of areas, which incentivizes you tread carefully rather than going in guns blazing. That’s a good thing, because going in guns blazing is a quick way to get killed. 

However, ten hours in, the thrill is started to wear off. I’ve had several enemy camp liberations go cockeyed because of the tricky aiming mechanic on the sniper rifle, or because the enemy sensed me when I thought I was hidden. And after finishing just under half the missions and liberating a third of the map, I realize it’s a lot of the same old wash rinse repeat. There is something frustrating about opening up a chunk of the map only to realize you have to do the same thing ten more times. Now that I’ve crafted most of the items, hunting is less compelling. Now that I’ve unlocked several key skills, farming experience points is less compelling. So I’ve put the game aside for now, although I may get sucked back into it in the near future.

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Ready Player One

I just finished Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One.  If you don’t know the story, it’s about a post-apocolyptic future in which the earth is an overcrowded hellhole and everyone escapes by playing an immersive online video game/virtual reality, which is sort of like Second Life meets WoW. The creator of this world, called OASIS, has left an Easter Egg hidden in the world that will grant whoever finds it ownership of OASIS and his entire fortune. Our hero is a gunter named Wade/Parzival, gunter being the name for the online treasure hunters. The catch is all of the riddles that lead to the easter egg are based on 80s pop culture. There is a level based after a D&D module, one based on WarGames, and references to Joust, Schoolhouse Rock!, Pac-Man, and Japanese anime and monster movies. 

The book got a lot of praise when it came out. People loved the world Cline created, and most people enjoyed the 80s references. The only knock on the book I saw was from people who got bored of the references or found them distracting.

I enjoyed the world as well, and I sped through the book because I enjoyed the story so much. The wonderful thing about setting a story in virtual reality is that you can do whatever you want, and create all sorts of magical items. The book does have one glaring flaw, however: the writing. It is terribly written. Really. The writing is simplistic, as if it is geared towards a young adult audience. There is wayyyy too much exposition of everything, and nothing is allowed to happen organically. Everything is spelled out and explained. Some of this might be so that non-gamers can get all the video game references, but it is still done clumsily. And the dialogue is often really lame. I’m not a huge book snob, but I was surprised at the writing, since the book got so many rave reviews. I almost stopped reading it several times because of the endless explanations about what every term meant. The story is fun, and in the end I enjoyed reading it, but I wish it were better.

Is This Real or Just a Fantasy?

I never read fantasy books until I had my daughter. From the time I was able to read, I’ve loved mysteries. I love the puzzles of mysteries, trying to figure out whodunnit and how. I also love how they explore the seamy side of life. My favorite authors are Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, two men who were experts and cynically exposing the underbelly of L.A. I always thought of fantasy books as the realm of nerds and misfits, people who couldn’t deal with reality. Why would I want to spend so much time and energy in artificial worlds?

My gateway drug was the Harry Potter series. During it’s initial run in the late nineties I studiously avoided any and all things Potterdom, as I usually avoid anything popular. By 2012, the hype around Harry Potter had died down enough that I decided to finally investigate the series. I decided to read the series in Italian, figuring correctly that since it was written for sixth-graders, it would be right about my level of Italian, and since it was translated from English, the tricky Italian idioms that I have trouble understanding wouldn’t be present. I loved the book and quickly went through the whole series, which is available for free to Amazon Prime members via their Kindle Lending Library. 

When my daughter was born in February of this year, I found that I no longer had a taste for reading about the seamy side of modern life. To quote David St. Hubbins, I had too much fucking perspective. I was up in the middle of the night with a little bundle of cartilage that seemed like the most fragile thing in the world. My life changed drastically, which a whole new set of worries and responsibilities, and what I needed was an escape. And thus I turned to fantasy. 

I started slow, with a novel based on Dragon Age, which I was playing at the time. I enjoyed that, as hokey as it was, so I tried Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. It was a little dated and slow, so I haven’t finished it, but I did read the first two Song of Fire and Ice books, and am working on the third. Those books are incredibly well-written, but also incredibly grim and complex, so I have to take them in small doses, no easy feat given that they are each 1000 pages long. The series I’ve loved the best so far is Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria series. He self-published six books, which were later grouped into three long books. I’m towards the end of the second book, and really enjoying it. It’s much lighter and faster moving than George R.R. Martin’s books, which makes up for the occasional clumsy prose or shallow characterization. 

What I love about fantasy books is that they have NO BEARING on my present life. I used to like science fiction, but even that feels a little too close to home, what with technology and dystopias yada yada. But hearing about elves and pirates and swordfights? Bring it on. I get enough reality on a daily basis.