Thursday, January 31, 2013

Authorial Interactions - with Nath Jones, Session 1: An electronically-facilitated introductory Q & A

One of the benefits of writing is the opportunity to talk about writing with other writers. One such writer I recently came into contact with is Nath Jones. Jones is the author of the On Impulse e-Book Series, a four-book collection of short fiction, flash fiction, prose poetry, and memoir.

We're not sure where the following series - I suppose you can label them guest blogs - will go, for having no specific destination or locked parameters of form in mind is part of the allure. As we learn about each other, so readers will (hopefully) gain insight into our work, our working, us, and writing - in general, and in specific.

Below are Jones' responses to my introductory questions. Check her Facebook author page for my responses to hers.

-Josh Karaczewski: Who is your blog for? Describe your ideal reader.

Nath Jones: I don't really have a blog. I have a new website with a cool plug-in for the blog. But. I'm still debating about what to do with it. I always had a huge resistance to blogs. It just seems so ridiculous to tell everybody everything. But. Then I ended up doing that very thing in emails and on Facebook instead of on a blog. Probably should have just had a blog.

My ideal reader? Loves books. Likes mine. 

-JK: What themes have you been exploring? And in what format?

NJ: I'm doing some ground tests in relation to the ruggedly individual capitalist American Dream. I think it's funny how art gets divided from our busy, headlong lives. I want to see where that divergence occurs.

-JK: What keeps you blogging, especially video-blogging? (I'd say v-blogging, but that sounds like what happens after a night of alcoholic excess.)

NJ: V-blogging is fine with me. I spent some time figuring out what would be sustainable for me. I'm not a fan of subjective opinion. To me it's bad enough to be telling everyone everything all the time. I really don't want to be judging everything all the time. So. Reviews are not for me. But. I really do love books and want to share them with people. When I was a kid I always had this idea that I'd have a late-night radio show and just read books to people all night. So. The Literature Break is a derivation of that dream.

-JK: How do you esteem and value fiction? Why should we bother investing our time?

NJ: Writing is my first priority. For my life and time, writing and reading are everything. They come before friends, before family, before work. Everything else is secondary. That really confuses people. But. After folks understand my priorities they respect it.

For myself, I really do have the compulsion. So. There's no should in terms of why we're bothering to invest our time. For me, it's happening and that's it. So. I really can't speak for anyone else. I can't say that anyone else would really talk to their work scheduler and ask to work all weekends to have enough time to write. For me, that's what seemed right.

And I really don't feel that others should do anything. I don't care if people read and write. Why does it matter? They can do whatever they want. I'm not one of these literacy enforcers.

But. For me, there's no other way to lose myself, to transcend daily life, and to enter a space of total flow.

-JK: Have you ever been to the San Francisco Bay Area?

NJ: Yes. Definitely. I love it. I love Muir Woods. I love the Marin Headlands. I love the tourist stuff with the seals. The museum where you can see the cables working to pull the street cars. Golden Gate park. The gorgeous vistas. Come on. It's an amazing city. I love the food--hate that Enrico's closed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

On Emotional Attachments to Electronic Representations: Uncharted 2-Among Thieves

When I finish a great video game, there is a period of mourning afterward. Just like a book can be reread, a game can be replayed—and many video games augment this reanimation with alternate endings, or by rewarding different playstyles (stealth vs. frontal assault, weapon vs. melee, etc.)—but nothing can compare to that first play/read.

Finishing a good game, I am anxious to find another game to play. Finishing a great game, there is a time afterward where I either don’t want to play games at all, or only play casual games like Angry Birds; games I can quickly pick up, and just as quickly set down.

And when I do start that next game, my initial impression of the new game will always be negative: I’ll get frustrated with the controls; I won’t connect to the characters, and their objectives will seem unimportant. I will play terribly, because I will not want to invest in the new skill-set. When I fail to accomplish their objectives, or get them killed, there is no guilt, no frustration in my failure, no sense of loss, because I am removed from my part in the interactivity. I haven’t been able to connect with the new game only because it is not the old game.

I am undergoing this feeling now, having just finished Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I played through the game twice: once on Hard for the story and an initial exploration of the world, and then on Crushing for the challenge, to find the remaining treasures, and earn the last single-player medals. I was able to avoid the loss of finishing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, because I transitioned from one game directly to the next – like reading books in a series. I might have been able to avoid this if I owned Uncharted 3, but with the state of our household’s economy, I have to be strict with the same rule I have for my book purchases: nothing new until I have finished what I already own, or until the stories I peddle bring in wealth—whichever comes first. But my single-player file is at 100% completed, my kids aren’t old enough to join me in co-op, and I have little interest in multiplayer. I’m at that point where playing the game now would be a regression; it would diminish my experience with Nathan’s adventures. In a few years, when my children are mature enough to play the game, I will enjoy the reunion; but if I returned now, it would be like visiting high school too soon after leaving for college: I haven’t established myself fully in a new game environment, and seeking the familiarity and comfort of Uncharted 2 will only serve to make the necessary break more difficult.

So, reflecting on how affected I am by great games begs the question: what makes a game great? Good games abound, games I can enjoy, and then put down without any regret at finishing them, and then move on to the next: Far Cry, Fear, Resident Evil 4, Half Life (1), Starfox 64, anything with Mario in it—these would strongly fit in this category. They were obsessions during my play of them, but not from any emotional connection. Emotional connections are the key.

Now, “emotion” brings the connotation of sadness, but it’s much more than that. When I enjoy a film with my emotions, I usually mean that it has made me feel with the characters; the music definitely helps push me over—but character is key: in Shawshank Redemption I felt the struggle against injustice; in Braveheart I felt loss, betrayal and sacrifice; in Love Actually I felt, well, love (actually). But in every great movie that moves me, it is fraternity that I am affected by most—by the friendships that become family. In The Lord of the Rings, the bravery was stirring, but it was all Frodo and Samwise that brought the water. Andy Duphrain had Red, William Wallace had his warrior poets, and Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series has Sully, Elena, and even Chloe. Sully, who risks himself to let Nate get away in Uncharted 1 & 2; Sully, who is willing to almost bankrupt himself to get Nate out of a Turkish prison; Sully, who will travel the world with his friend, scheming, adventuring, getting him in trouble, and then helping to get him out of it. I covet Frodo his Samwise, Andy his Red, and Nathan his Sully. In the game chapters with Sully, when I would misstep, or my skills would not be enough to keep my electronic representation alive, and the color drained out of screen, the last thing I would hear before the reset to the last checkpoint would be Sully’s anguished voice yelling “NO!”—such a simple word to so clearly express the unbearable shock of losing your friend. It made me play more carefully, so that I wouldn’t break Sully’s heart when I died. In the Borneo chapter, when Sully called out that he was pinned down by gunfire, I immediately darted out from the safety of my cover—no thought for my own safety—to kill any minion who dared threaten my friend.

Me and my buddy, Sully

 Then there is Elena. Righteous, strong, capable, opinionated and fierce, alluring even when spattered with mud, willing to put herself in a warzone to expose wrongdoing, Elena makes Nathan a better person by setting high standards for herself: for Nathan to partner with her, he is required to make himself more honorable. I love how the ladies in the Uncharted games are self-sufficient; they can hold their own platforming, and in a gunfight. They are equals in your adventure, and don’t need you to babysit or protect them. And they, like Sully, are traumatized by your death, causing you to build your skill as a player, to spare them the pain of witnessing you die.

 Muddy, fierce, lovely.

Much has already been made of Uncharted 2’s action set pieces, circular narration techniques, and enthralling story. So all I will say in closing is, when you play, swim wherever you can, climb whatever you can, stop to play with the mountain children, pet every yak, look at every page in your journal, and enjoy the views (“I was talking about the mountains, really”).