Spotlight: Miasmata

So I’ve decided to start doing a series of posts all dedicated to a similar idea.  A lot of my posts tend to be really broad, so I wanted these “Spotlight” posts to focus down on a single thing.  Basically I want to focus on a game, movie, book, television show, or so on that I enjoy a lot (I might do some on things I don’t enjoy in the future, but for now I want it to be a positive thing).

With that being said, let’s get on with the debut post.

 

How do you define a place?  Is it by location?  Geography?  Climate?  Well, all of those things of course.  But can you define a place simply by its feeling?  Not feeling as in climate, but feeling in an emotional sense.  Can you define a place with such an intangible concept?

A couple of years or so back when I was playing the video game Miasmata, something struck me in a deep way.  I found myself feeling an uncanny familiarity with its island setting, but I couldn’t put my finger on it for the longest time.  It eluded me, like a mischievous shadow in the dead of night.  And it wasn’t until I was walking down one of the many rugged paths of the island that it finally dawned on me.

The Boundary Waters.  It reminded me of the Boundary Waters.

For those who don’t live in Minnesota, the Boundary Waters is a vast expanse of wilderness that straddles the border between northern Minnesota and Canada (specifically Ontario).  It’s an area that remains largely untouched by humans.  My family used to have a cabin up there until it burned down in the infamous Ham Lake fire of 2007.  And it never had much of a proper driveway.  There was only a narrow, makeshift path up a steep hill that we would have to drive up.

But I digress.  I’ve camped out in the Boundary Waters as well.  Waking up in the morning, stepping out of the tent and looking out at the forests and the water…that’s what Miasmata was reminding me of.  It was bringing me back to a time long gone, a time of my youth that has faded into the distant murky waters of memory.

And that was exactly the intention of the two brothers who created Miasmata (something I have talked about before).

 

Miasmata (9)

 

Miasmata puts you in the shoes of Robert Hughes, a man who washes up on an island and is stricken with a deadly plague.  The game’s central goal is to find the plants you need to synthesize the three parts of a cure to relieve yourself of the sickness.  In terms of how it plays, Miasmata does some very interesting things that I’ve never really seen done in a game before.  However, it is one of these things that will polarize people when it comes to opinions on the game.

Miasmata uses a system that is meant to simulate realistic human walking physics, meaning that if you try to climb too steep of a hill, you’ll slip and fall.  In theory, this sounds good and true to real life.  In practice it’s a bit of a different story.  It does indeed mean that you’ll slip and fall, which means that every move you make has to be deliberate, however the physics are overdone.  This means that Robert tends to slide forward like he’s on ice even after you stop pushing him forward, which can lead to you flying right off a cliff if you’re not prepared for it.  Don’t worry, one tumble doesn’t ever seem to be enough to kill you.  It just means that your character’s fever will spike and you’ll have to take medicine to bring it down.

 

Doing the science.

Doing the science.

 

This brings me to one of the game’s other interesting features.  As I said before, you need to find specific plants to make the cure for your illness.  However, the plants have other helpful properties such as making medicine to fend off the fever for a while as well as other enhancements for your character (such as permanent boosts to your endurance and strength).  And the way you discover them actually feels like a real thing.  Instead of immediately knowing what the plants will do, you need to bring them back to a camp that has an examination tray.  You lay the plant on the tray and then click on the microscope.  The game proceeds to show you a brief time lapse of your character cutting off a piece of the plant and placing it under the microscope.  Once it is done, you’ll get a note in your journal telling you what helpful properties the plant has, if any.

But the most interesting feature to me is cartography.

 

Miasmata (16)

 

In this game, instead of having a map that’s immediately filled out for you, you have to rely on either finding scraps of paper that fill in sections of it or using landmarks to triangulate your location which then fills in a tiny portion of the surrounding area as well.  It’s a very interesting mechanic that helps cement the idea that you are alone on this island with nothing but your wits to keep you going.  A phrase I often heard reviewers use when this game first came up in 2012 was that it was about traveling between “bubbles of safety”.  And that’s true.  Often you’ll set out on a path not knowing exactly where you’re going, hoping that somewhere along the way will be a tent or a wooden shack that you can hole up in for the night.

But when you do find that safe zone and the music swells up…it’s quite the emotional release.  The music does a good job of accentuating that feeling of isolation as well as wonder at the beauty of your surroundings.  It’s also rare to hear outside the main menu and the pause screen so when it does crop up it makes you feel something (you can listen to the soundtrack here…I highly recommend the track “Respite”, as it’s one of my favorites).

I could go on and on about the game and how it does so well at making you feel the isolation of being stranded on an island.  I could go on about how the movement physics of your character make you feel like a sick and weak individual who is not in his prime physical condition.  I could even go on about how the tension of being alone sometimes blossoms into outright terror when you’re confronted with the only other living thing on the island: a strange, demonic-looking creature.

 

Pictured above: a strange, demonic-looking creature.

Pictured above: a strange, demonic-looking creature.

 

But I won’t do those things, because then this post would end up being far too long.  The big reason I pointed this game out is that it can serve as a reminder, a reminder that there exist games that aren’t just blood, guts, and killing.  It can serve as a reminder that video games, much like movies, have their big blockbusters that are flashy, explosive, and violent.  But at the same time, also like movies, games have a side to them that few people outside the gaming culture actually see.  We hear all the time about the violent Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat games, but little attention is ever paid to ones like Gone Home.  Little attention is paid to games like That Dragon, Cancer, which is based off the true story of a father watching his young son succumb to cancer and eventually pass away.

Video games, much like movies, should be allowed to explore their capabilities.  Otherwise, they will not be able to fully mature as a medium.  I hear all these complaints about games and I can’t help but think about how, in the past, movies and books came under the same scrutiny.  The ones that explored touchy subject matter were often the subject of harsh criticism whereas the ones that didn’t were often forgotten to the point where the criticism of a small few became symbolic for the corruption of the whole.  Like I said last week, it seems to boil down to the fact that the older generation, who didn’t grow up with video games, simply don’t understand them and thus react with fear.  And while games can be controversial, so can paintings.  So can movies.  So can books.

Miasmata, to me, is a reminder that games can channel the same emotional energy as books and movies.  Bob and Joe Johnson, the two brothers who made the game (and contenders for the world’s most generic name), said in an interview that the setting was inspired by trips to the Boundary Waters they would make with their father.  And if you’ve been there yourself, you can feel it as you play.  There are lots of games out there full of this kind of emotional passion.  They’re not all big-budget blockbusters about grizzled soldiers blowing things up and waxing poetic about war.  They can be just as simple as a man wandering alone, searching for a cure to the disease that ails him.

 

Miasmata (11)

 

Thanks for reading.  Come back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

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Unfriendly Undertones: Video Games and Their Representation in the Media

We all know what Pokemon Go is at this point, but for those who are maybe aware of it but don’t know exactly what it is, let me explain.  Pokemon Go is a mobile phone app that functions as an Alternate Reality Game, a game that uses the real world as its backdrop.  Essentially it spawns Pokemon, digital creatures that the players can then capture and train.  It’s not feature complete yet, but from what I know the intention is to eventually let players battle each other with their trained Pokemon (which makes sense considering the Pokemon video game franchise is built around the idea of battling other Pokemon trainers as well as other wild Pokemon).

The app took off at an unprecedented rate, becoming a cultural phenomenon literally overnight.  Of course, due to its popularity, it was inevitable that the news would talk about it.

And that’s where my problem begins.

This past weekend, one of my preferred channels on Youtube posted a video that was different from the norm.  In it, the person talks about how Pokemon Go has been labeled as dangerous and even demonic by some entities.  A soundbite played later on calls the Pokemon creatures “digital demons”.  The clip came from an organization known as Tru News which, from my brief look at their website, seems like a totally unbiased, fair, and not at all crazy group of people (if your sarcasm detector exploded, I apologize).

These are only the most extreme examples.  You can find similar extremism when it comes to any subject.  But even in the “regular” news, stories about Pokemon Go seem to have a certain slant to them.  They talk about privacy concerns.  They talk about people crashing their cars while playing the game.  They talk about the Coast Guard being called out because people took a boat without permission while trying to catch a Pokemon.  Most stories seem to focus on the “dangerous” side of Pokemon Go.

Now, to be fair, someone did actually crash their car while playing the game (which is not the same as the infamous Pokemon Go highway crash story, which by the way is totally fake).  But there is this overwhelming emphasis on the supposed dangers it poses.  And it’s something that isn’t just exclusive to Pokemon Go, but seems to be the way the news treats video games as a whole.

I’ve talked a bit about video games and violence in the past.  It’s a topic I feel strongly on because games are a big part of my leisure time.  And it’s frustrating to me that games are still treated like they’re kids’ toys, despite the fact that the average age of people who play games is in the thirties.  For an example of what I mean, check out this article from TIME magazine.

“Violent Video Games Are Linked to Aggression, Study Says,” the headline reads.  The subheading reads “But there’s not enough evidence to suggest they are linked to criminal behavior.”

Now, that might not seem too unusual.  In fact, this might seem to be one of the more fair articles you can find on the subject.  However, something bothered me.  I googled “Violent Video Games” and this is the first headline I saw (separated in its own little box nonetheless).  But the subheading is nowhere to be seen.  So on Google, the first thing you see is the part about how games are linked to aggression, but nothing about how there’s not enough evidence to connect them to criminal behavior unless you click in to the article.  Even the little box it gives you says nothing about there being no link to criminal behavior.

“In a report published Aug. 13,” the box reads, “an APA task force reviewed more than 100 studies on violent video game use published between 2005 and 2013. They concluded that playing video games can increase aggressive behavior and thoughts, while lessening empathy and sensitivity toward aggression.”

It seems almost like fear-mongering.  I was taught in college (I received a minor in Journalism) that a headline should give your readers a good idea of what the story is about and its tone.  Doesn’t the TIME magazine headline seem a little misleading on that end?  There’s no context unless you click in and read the entire article.  A better headline would hint at the idea that the study didn’t find a link between games and criminal behavior.  Or, at the very least, it wouldn’t misrepresent the article from the outset.

I could stand here all day and talk about how I’ve played many video games that feature violence and I turned out just fine.  In the end, my experiences are merely anecdotes.  They do not prove anything.

But then, neither do all the stories about violent criminals who played video games in the past.

I understand where a lot of this condescending attitude toward video games comes from.  It’s the age-old clash between generations.  It’s the idea that the older generation cannot understand the newer media.  They didn’t grow up with it.  It confuses them.  So naturally, they become afraid of it.  It’s the classic fear of the unknown.

And who is the news business primarily run by?  Older people.  People who didn’t grow up with video games.

So now their reactions to it start to make more sense.  They don’t have the experience with them.  They don’t understand them.  And instead of trying to understand it, they just lash out in fear.  They denigrate the medium for supposedly glorifying violence, even though movies and television shows have featured violence in them since before video games even existed.  They criticize the industry for not doing enough to protect underage people from being exposed to explicit material, even though they already have a ratings system that functions similarly to the one governing movies.

At some point, we have to accept change.

At some point, we have to move on.

We can speculate about the dangers of these new media, but unless there is concrete evidence supporting our concerns, then it’s time to let go.  We can look at the generation below us and mock them for their attachment to things like iPads and smartphones.  We can insinuate that their childhood is somehow of lower quality than ours because of all their exposure to these new forms of technology.  But at some point we have to realize that every generation is going to experience things differently.  All generations go through a similar phase of adopting something new that the older generations scoff and shake their heads at.  We’re not any different from the generation of iPad users.  Some people can probably still remember when rock and roll was “the devil’s music.”  It’s no different for video games.  They’re new.  They’re different.  And therefore, they’re feared by those who don’t understand them.

Instead of fighting these new things, we have to find a way to adapt to them.  Instead of constantly stepping onto a soapbox and preaching the dangers of them, maybe we should be exploring their potential while still encouraging restraint.  Tell your kids that yes, they can play video games, but only after they finish their homework.  If we don’t actually sit down with our younger people and try to understand what it is they find so fascinating, then we only push them further and further away.  And at that point, we really have no excuse when we wonder why they resent us.

The world is always changing.  Change with it.  Don’t hold it back.

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Thanks for reading.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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We are the Creatives

We are the Creatives.

We are the ones who will never quite fit in.  We may sit and talk and laugh with others, but there will always be a part of us on the inside that can never be truly understood by those on the outside.  There is a world of thought, a world of ideas inside our minds.  In this world, things are constantly taking shape, constantly re-arranging ourselves.  They are great ideas, then they are terrible ideas, then they are great ideas again.  It is in a constant struggle, a constant battle not with the world outside, but with ourselves.

We are the Creatives.

We are the ones who will never feel quite at ease with the routine.  Working a nine to five job in an office cubicle is not for us and will never be for us.  We will struggle with this, because we need to make money to support ourselves.  We need a job to keep ourselves afloat while we pursue that which makes us happy, that which makes us passionate.  And we will often bemoan how unsatisfying most part-time jobs are, how little they pay for how much they expect.  But woe be unto us if we should ever complain about it.  “What an entitled generation,” people often say.  “Why don’t you go out and get a real job?  Just be happy and grateful for what you have instead of complaining all the time.”

“But this is America,” we think to ourselves, never voicing it to the one who criticized us.  “Isn’t this the land born of dreams, the land where you are allowed to pursue your passions?  Isn’t this the land where people are allowed to be free, where people are allowed to be who they want to be?”

And then we watch as the very same person who told us to “just be happy” turns around and complains loudly to their friend about a fellow co-worker they hate.  Or maybe they complain about the traffic.  Or maybe they complain about the weather.  Or maybe they complain about the bills they have to pay.  We sit there and watch as they affirm that nothing in their lives is ever satisfactory enough for them.  We sit there, wanting to point out their blatant hypocrisy but knowing that to do so would result in only one thing: mutually assured destruction.

But then we sit down, perhaps catching a distorted reflection of ourselves in a computer screen, in the window, or on a coffee mug glinting in the light of the morning sun.  And we wonder: are we so different?  Are we really so above those concerns, or does their behavior upset us because we see part of it in ourselves?

We are the Creatives.

From time to time, the world of ideas inside starts to bubble like a pot of boiling water.  A great knocking is heard, a banging on the door of our minds.  Something is out there begging to be let in, to be exposed to the world outside.  But we can’t open the door yet because we don’t have the key.  We run around in a frantic search, ripping off couch cushions, pulling the blankets off our beds, looking under every conceivable piece of furniture in desperation.  Where is the key?  Is it under the couch?  No.  Is it on the counter?  No.  Is it in our jacket pocket?  No.

And then we realize we don’t need a key to open the door from this side.  We chastise ourselves for being so foolish, unlatch the door, and pull it wide open.

An idea steps through.  And after a period of indescribable wonder where the act of creation overtakes our lives and consumes us, the idea stands there with a blank expression and stares at us as if to ask “now what?”

We don’t know.  Our heads are bowed as if meditating, hoping that enlightenment will come from some obscure corner of our minds.  “What do I do,” we repeat to ourselves over and over again like some insane mantra.  We feel like banging our heads against the wall.  We feel like screaming and tugging at our hair in frustration.

But we don’t.  To the outside world we are eerily silent and still, like a gargoyle in a garden.

We are the Creatives.

We wonder why the world can’t be different, why it can’t be like our stories, full of characters we care about and whose lives we know inside and out.  In the world of fiction, lives are given meaning and purpose.  Lives are interesting, dramatic, full of events and action so unlike our own.

We wonder why the world can’t be like the music we create, full of powerful harmonies, different sounds working together to create a more unified whole.  Music speaks with raw emotion and meaning, something we humans on our own find so difficult.

We wonder why the world can’t be like the drawings we create, full of vibrant, awe-inspiring color and a deep awareness of the beauty of a singular moment in time.  A drawing harnesses the beauty or even despair of a moment and puts in on display for all to see.

We wonder why the world can’t be like the movies we film through the lens of our cameras, scripted and planned out.  Movies are comfortably the same every time you watch them, leaving no potential for sudden and disastrous deviation not called for by the script or the storyboard.  We lament the fact that life is unpredictable, able to change at a moment’s notice with little to no warning.

And yet we accept that the inherent randomness of life is what inspires us to create.

We are the Creatives.

We strive to make imagined things a reality.  Our lives are a struggle that we accept.  And in the end it falls upon us to ensure that our voices ring true instead of falling unheard and unknown into the great night beyond.

 

Well, that was something a little different for this week.  I figured we could all use a break from the social issues, myself included.  Well thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

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Independence Issues

So this past Monday was the Fourth of July here in the United States.  And you know what that means right?

Freedom, America, beer and EXPLOSIONS!

Yep, the fourth of July is a very big event, with lots of fireworks and patriotism.  And on Facebook, posts tended to fall into two categories: those expressing gratitude for the freedoms the United States has, and those mocking the over-enthusiastic nature of the holiday (myself included).  But something else happened just this past weekend that I feel deserves a look.

This past Sunday, July 3rd, a 22-year-old guy in Illinois named Bryton Mellott posted several images of himself burning the United States flag.  The photos have since been deleted, but not before they were shared thousands of times.  Below is an image of the original post:

 

Bryton Mellott

 

He also changed his profile picture to one of him burning the flag with the hashtag “youbetterburnthatflag”.  “I would like to one day feel a sense of pride toward my nationality again,” Bryton said in the post.  “But too little progress has been made.  Too many people still suffer at the hands of politicians influenced by special interests.  Too many people are still being killed and brutalized by a police force plagued with authority complexes and racism.  Too many people are allowed to be slaughtered for the sake of gun manufacturer profits.  Too many Americans hold hate in their hearts in the name of religion, and for fear of others.  And that’s only to speak of domestic issues.”

Now of course the reaction to this was anything but quiet.

“fuckin ignorant,” one person commented on his profile picture.  “you think you’re the only one who’s angry????  You think this is the worst living condition you could be in???  This just shows me ungratefulness.  And for you to think anyone who has pride in their country is wrong is astounding.  You must not get out much.”

“You should probably move and leave America then.  You don’t deserve to live here with how little you respect those that served,” another person commented.

Of course, not everyone was in the “hate Bryton” camp.  “We have freedom of speech in this country, which gives us the freedom to burn the flag,” one person wrote.  “Flag burning is not a crime.”

Fox 59 reported that Bryton was arrested later on after things reached a fever pitch.  They say that police “made the decision to arrest him after consulting with the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s office and weighing his free speech rights against concerns of public safety”.

He was arrested under what is known as the state’s Flag Desecration Act.  He was later released and served a summons to appear in court.

Opinion time: I feel like this is a case of people obsessing over the flag itself and largely forgetting what the flag stands for.  They’re worshipping the symbol instead of respecting what the symbol actually represents.

One of my favorite arguments to hear whenever something like this happens is the “my friends fought and died for that flag and your freedom, so show some respect” line.  How?  How did they “die for my freedom”?  No one has ever explained that to me.  Then again, they would never want to explain it.  It’s a throwaway line meant to shut people up and stop any further discussion.  Because they don’t want to hear opposing viewpoints.  Their view of the world is right and damn anyone else who thinks differently.

I’ve also heard this line “I fought and my fellow soldiers died for your right to say stupid shit.”

Well maybe they should stop?  Seriously, why would you go and risk your life fighting for someone’s right to say something that you’re just going to send them death threats for saying?  That seems just a little bit counter-productive.

No really, apparently people sent Bryton death threats for what he did.  Because there’s nothing more American than threatening to kill someone you disagree with.

Now I’m not saying Bryton is exempt from criticism.  Like with anyone who says anything, people have the right to argue against him.  But if we escalate to things like “you should just leave this country if you don’t like it” or “you should just kill yourself you ungrateful brat”, then I think we need to take a step back and truly examine what our purpose is.

And far too often it becomes an “us or them” style of confrontation, as if there are only two rigid groups that you can side with in the argument.  We forget that there are plenty of people with a whole spectrum of opinions.

“Since I’ve served in the military, I suppose I should be angry that you’re burning a piece of cloth made in China, but I’m honestly not,” one commenter on Bryton’s profile picture said.  “I’m more angry at the fact taxpayer money is being wasted to arrest and suppress someone who was speaking his mind.  Still, you have to understand that this was in really bad taste.  You seem like a good guy, but you should find better ways at channeling your anger to make a positive change.  I hope you find happiness bud.”

Besides, flag burning is protected speech.  It’s considered “symbolic speech” and protected under the U.S. Constitution.  And if you don’t agree, well that’s too bad because the Supreme Court ruled it so in the aftermath of the court case Texas v. Johnson in 1984.  In a 5-4 decision, they ruled that flag burning was constitutional and that “society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.”  So there you have it.

And fortunately, the Bryton story does have a bit of a happy ending.  Following Bryton’s release from jail and summons to court, Champaign County State Attorney Julia Rietz said that she will not be bringing charges against him in the case of his flag burning.

We have considered 720 ILCS 5/49-1, Flag Desecration, an Illinois statute currently in effect,” a statement released by Rietz read. “This statute was the basis for the decision by Urbana Police officers to arrest Mellott.  While that statute remains in effect, it is contradictory to the US Supreme Court ruling in Texas v. Johnson.  We will be discussing this issue with our local legislators and asking that they consider reviewing this statute given the constitutional issues it presents.”

Another victory for freedom of speech.  Because, like it or not, we all have different voices that deserve to be heard regardless of how inflammatory they may be.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July, and check back next Wednesday for another post.

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