Sunday, April 28, 2013

Island


The first (and last) not remotely annual Bice's Island Awards. Nominees are taken from islands I've been on: Tasmania, Bruny Island, Isle of the Dead, Singapore, Viti Levu, Zealand, Amager, Île de la Cité, Island of Montreal, Great Britain, Long Island.

Least Seen: Long Island

I was only on Long Island because I was at Laguardia Airport waiting for a connecting flight to Boston, so all I have seen of the place is the airport which was not readily differentiable from any other airport.

Most Melodramatic Name: Isle of the Dead

With a name better suited to a rollicking Fritz Leiber adventure, the Isle of the Dead is in fact a small island just off Port Arthur in Tasmania. It gets its name from the fact it has a cemetery on it rather than from being home to a dread necromancer and/or legions of the undead. I visited the oversold island on a school camp during primary school and had to write a poem about it. The poem is tragically lost to the ravages of time but it's safe to assume that it was an artistic work the world has not seen the likes of since. Failing that, it almost certainly rhymed.

Least Imaginative Name: Three-way tie between Île de la Cité, Pulau Ujong, and Long Island

Long Island would seem to have this category won handily but even a small amount of reading Wikipedia soon reveals that when it comes to naming islands it doesn't matter the era or the culture, people just can't be bothered. Île de la Cité, in Paris, clearly translates to "isle of the city" or less lyrically "city island". The main island of Singapore, Pulau Ujong, is so-called because it's the island at the end of the Malay peninsula and translates as "end island". Maybe some leeway can be given to the namers. European explorers who arrived in what is now New York, exhausted and looking forward to eating something besides hard tack for the first time in months likely felt they had better things to do than think of cool names for islands. It's an island, it's long, it's Long Island, where's the rum?

Hottest: Viti Levu

I'm not sure that Fiji is objectively hotter than Singapore, and to the Tasmanian redhead they both fall easily into the "too damn hot" basket, but far fewer places in Fiji have air conditioning. The airport departure lounge, for example, where we sat during a six hour delay after being moved onto another flight,was not only not air-conditioned but in fact had no air circulation of any sort whatsoever. That was not the most fun I've had at an airport.

Most Didn't-Realise-It-Was-An-Island: Zealand

I knew part of Copenhagen was on an island because I accidentally crossed onto that island, Amager, when trying to find my way to some location or another (safe bet it was Hans Christian Andersen or viking related). What I didn't realise until looking up that island earlier this evening was that the rest of Copenhagen is on Zealand. It's pretty obvious if you look on a map, I guess, but I took the night train there from Munich and as such didn't notice. Ironically I have been to original Zealand but have never been to New Zealand despite the newer model being roughly 14,000km closer and the birthplace of my father.

Biggest: Great Britain

Winner by both physical area and population, Great Britain is pretty good but I wouldn't go so far as to say great, never mind Great. Unrivalled as the most convenient overcast gateway to the rest of Europe, however. When I think about it, it's also going to become Most Visited if I head over some time this year which I vaguely intend to do at some point.

Most Seen: Tasmania

I have seen less of Tasmania than many people who have only visited briefly as tourists. In Tasmania we don't build roads to get places and then call the inconvenience 'eco-tourism'. It's a pretty neat trick. I'm not much of a one for going to places that are hard to get to, so there's probably more places in Tasmania that I haven't seen than those that I have. Even if it's not the island I've seen the most of by percentage of land mass though, it's definitely the one I've spent the most time looking at.

Next week's word will be indifference.

Monday, April 22, 2013

History


A couple of years ago I was in Melbourne with my parents. We had been in Perth to visit my brother, and got stranded in Melbourne where some volcano on the other side of the world exploded, halting air travel for several days. My sister was living there at the time so it wasn't the worst disaster that ever happened, but it did somewhat impact on my ability to work.

Being the diligent man I am, I decided to buy a laptop to enable me to do some work. Dad was already working having had the foresight to bring his laptop with him, so mum and I went out shopping. For lunch, we went to an old pancake parlour that goes by the informative name of The Pancake Parlour which has been around since the 1960s. While we were waiting for our pancakes to arrive, mum got a Russian blintz and I got something with fruit and ice cream, she told me about how all her friends had worked there while she was in high school, how they'd meet up there before going out, and how she'd always liked the blintz.

I have seen the occasional photo of my parents as young people but there's the barrier of the physical medium, the aged film and washed out colour that somehow prevents it from seeming real (perhaps this is not a problem for those living in an instagram world, for whom 70s effects *are* real). You can look at it and on some level dismiss it as some people a long time ago. It's not that it's easy to forget your parents used to be teenagers, it's more that it's hard to believe it in the first place. Sitting in that restaurant, more or less unchanged since it was built, where my mum had sat forty years earlier hanging out with her friends after a shift was somehow completely different. It wasn't a captured image of another place but a physical location merely shifted in time.

It also made me realise how differently segmented my parents' memories are to my own. Both of them have lived different phases of their lives in different cities while I have lived in Hobart since I was two. They look back on Melbourne or Moree and associate a place with a time in their life. I walk around the streets of Hobart and remember events from when I was ten, eighteen, thirty. I buy books from students working part time in the same bookshop where twelve year old me was too nervous to ask the scary looking guy behind the counter for help. I drank too much at a company Christmas party and ranted at my boss just across the road from the place I once dropped an ice cream when I was a kid and almost cried.

It doesn't seem strange to have this overlapping history everywhere, I've never known it to be any other way after all, but it does sometimes feel tangled up, like it might be nice sometimes to have a little geographic separation to go with the temporal.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hair


You probably can't really make out my hair in my profile picture, but basically it's a totally unremarkable close cropped number. Occasionally I look at it and wonder if it's receding then realise that's the least of my problems. Historically, however, my hair was less unobtrusive. Between leaving high school in 1999 and March 2009 I didn't cut my hair at all, and unsurprisingly a decade without a haircut produces long hair. It wasn't until leaving university that I started wearing it tied back either, so there were a couple of years where I had a mane that was glorious to behold/nightmarish in the wet.

I never really intended to grow my hair out, there was a length which marked the personal grooming inflection point at which it was going to be a conscious decision to Cut My Hair rather than leave it as it was. It's like the line between being ill shaven and Having A Beard, but even more serious. Some men can grow a beard while waiting for a bus, so facial hair comes and goes. Hair halfway down your back, however, takes time. People assume some deliberation has gone into it. Questions of why and, bizarrely, how cropped up far more often than you'd expect, as if it required any more discipline than simply not making an appointment to have it cut.

In the end I got it cut off for charity in the early part of 2009. There's an annual event called the World's Greatest Shave which is run to raise money for cancer. Well, not for cancer so much as for cancer research and care. One of the people  I worked with had recently started back at work after a going through chemotherapy and so forth, and it seemed like the least I could do. So I started collecting donations, but with a twist. For every x dollars (I think I said $10) somebody donated, they got one vote on what hairstyle I would wear for a week before properly shaving my head. The choices were Mr T, David Bowie goblin king from the Labyrinth, Mullet and one other that escapes my memory. I think I was most worried about ending up with the Bowie but in the end, after raising about three thousand dollars, Mr T won out.

For those who didn't know me before early 2009, here's what my hair looked like pre-shave. That's right, I was a guy in a suit with an out of control ponytail, the classiest of all types of guy.

That photo was taken shortly before the shearing took place. I'm hoping the following picture, taken less than an hour later, will cover for the otherwise disjointed nature of this post.


Overall I think I prefer having short hair. It's a tiny bit more effort to keep it ruly (pretty sure that's not a word) but long hair is a complete pain in the ass. It gets clogged in drains, sticks to couches and carpets, and has to be brushed every damn day.

Next week's word will be history. A reminder that if you're not already reading +Jonathan Lange's  corresponding alphabet supremacy posts over on his blog, you probably should.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Genre


Looking at the bookshelf visible from here I can see about a hundred books, of which nine don't fit easily into the categories of science fiction or fantasy. Of those nine, three are biographies, one is a joke book that I didn't realise I still own, one is historical fiction, and the other four are science books. Oh wait, ten, there's a Tom Clancy behemoth in there as well. I think it's a fair representation of my reading habits to say about 90% of what I read is genre fiction. By comparison my game collection is far more diverse by genre. 90% of it is still science fiction or fantasy of course, but that's not what genre means in games. In games genre is about mechanics, the interaction of the player with the world.1

It is interesting to see that as the games industry becomes more populated with, if not driven by, smaller teams and subsequently more focused visions2, the critical acclaim is drifting away from the traditional AAA games. Games like The Walking Dead, Journey, Cart Life (this year's most indie of darlings), and so on keep getting nominated and winning awards above their big budget cousins. Depending on who you ask, or more likely who starts telling you about it completely unprompted, the reason for this varies wildly. To the video game indie types, who are distinguishable from their musical counterparts only by their use of "game jam" rather than "gig", it is because people are finally realising that big studios are creatively bankrupt, ruled by market demand rather than true artistic something-or-other. To the more, uh, h4rdc0re gamer it is some sort of pathetic flailing for legitimacy that achieves nothing but to get in the way of "real" games getting made.

I'm of the opinion that is mostly to do with these games being designed in a way that is the reverse of the traditional model3; rather than decide to make a first person shooter and then figure out what to make it about, there is an idea to make a game about something and the mechanics are then designed and built to support that. Independent of the ideology that drives this approach, when done well it creates a game in which the setting, story, themes, and player interaction are all at least trying to achieve the same goal. This creates a level of cohesion which I think makes for a more enjoyably complete experience.

Genres in games at some point changed from descriptions to definitions. Some of this is the understandable need to create a common vocabulary for players; there is no need to change what moving the mouse around means in a first person game any more than you should change the personal pronoun in a novel. However there are a lot of conventions that have moved over the years from to being considered a necessity. Cover systems, iron sights, recharging health are expected to be included to the point where developers have to explicitly provide explanations as to why they're not present. For me, the more games where the only useful description is "you have to play it to understand how it works" the happier I'll be.

1 In games Trainspotting, Lolita, and Ready Player One would all be considered the same genre. Sure they've got some superficial differences, but they're all fundamentally first person narratives.
2 I'd rather not use vision here, but it's the stock word for when a creative person has an idea of a thing they want to make
3 traditional here refers to a period covering the last decade or so, in which a lot of prior experimentation was consolidated into a small number of game archetypes by publishers