Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dreams of Willow and Ash

I wrote most of a story for NaNoWriMo. That is to say, I hit the 50,000 word goal, but the story isn't finished. I do plan on continuing it. It's nowhere near good enough to get published - real published, I mean, not self-published or blog-published. That, I can do. After all it's free. No risk. And if no one likes it, who cares? They didn't pay for it.

And so I set up a page for it here:


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

Not that I really keep up with this site all that much anyhow, but I'll be especially absent this month, as I've decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (

Here are my stats:


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ballad of Arthur Workroom

(Inspired by a nameplate sign hanging outside an office in my place of work.)

Long ago there was a man,
Known now only in tales,
He conquered beasts and Layout files,
And even helped with Sales.

He came to work here one fine day,
In chambray shirt and tie,
A stack of proofs before him stood,
Near unto a mile high.

He did not blink nor flinch nor fail,
Confronted with this work,
He got right down to bus'ness,
Correcting with a smirk

He worked his way right down the pile,
Because he took a vow,
In Punctuation or grammar,
No error to allow.

He checked all offers, prices, codes,
And Postal he checked twice,
To the relief of the artist,
His notes were all concise.

At last he stood, he stretch'd his arms
And rubb'd his aching back,
For he had finally come to,
The bottom of the stack

"That was a job of work, no doubt,"
He was then heard to say,
"But now my work is all done here."
And then he walked away

A man, a legend in his time,
None know from whence he came,
A hero, some say, from beyond,
Art Workroom was his name.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm a Lucky Guy

It was nineteen years ago to-day that I joined the privileged ranks of Very Lucky Men. On that day, my wife and I were married.

That's not what made me so lucky, though.

We'd been together for nearly four years (since our senior year in High School) and whether we were going out to do something exciting, or just hanging out or even talking on the phone, I'd always enjoyed her company. It seemed like no matter what I did, everything was better because she was there.

But, that's not what made me so lucky, either.

You see, lots of people meet other people with whom they enjoy spending time. And there are lots of attractive, caring, fun people with lovely smiles (though, to my mind, none quite so lovely as hers). And lots of people get married, too. There's like this whole huge industry around it.

No - what made me lucky, and why I still count myself lucky to this day is what was still to come.

What made me lucky was her love, and devotion and time that we would spend together from then until now, and on into our future together. What made me so extraordinarily lucky was that I'd truly found a soulmate - a partner in life - someone to whom I could commit my life, without fear or question, and who in turn, would commit her life to me.

And I got two really awesome kids in the bargain, too! (Two awesome kids who are quickly becoming awesome adults, I should add.)

And now here we are, nineteen years later.

I look back on that time, and like anyone, I have my share of regrets - some things I wish I had done, and some others I wish I hadn't. But, there's one thing that stands out like a beacon - the one overwhelmingly correct decision I've made in my life - and that was marrying my wife.

Whenever I've had a rough day, sometimes all that keeps me going is remembering who's waiting for me at home. And when I come in the door and see her beautiful smile, the weight & frustration are lifted, because I now have an evening to spend with the woman I love and with the children that we love and have raised together. No matter what else happens, as long as we have each other, we'll get by.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie, and Thank You for a Wonderful Nineteen Years.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 02: The BMV


I stole a nervous glance at the woman now behind me in the queue. She was rather tall, with dark, well-coiffed, medium-length hair. Her smooth skin was of a fair complexion. She was wearing a white tank and a short jacket with a matching mini-skirt that showed off her long legs. She looked like she must exercise - but just enough to keep in shape without getting all muscly or anything. Or losing her considerably shapely figure. A lot of the other men in line behind us seemed to be staring at her. Pigs.

She also had brilliant green eyes that seemed to light up the whole room when she smiled. Which she did. At me.

I turned back to the sweatshirt-wearing woman in front of me. She was still playing peek-a-boo with the little girl.

"Anyway," I started again. "What were we talking about? Vampires? Oh! Wait. 2012! So, do you really think the world is gonna end in 2012? I guess that's what a lot of people are saying. My friend told me that his pastor said it was right in line with some stuff in the Bible, too. I don't really understand all that prophecy stuff, myself, but I thought I might go to church with him tomorrow, just to hear what they have to say."

Despite her best efforts at playing hard-to-get, she couldn't ignore me any longer. She turned back to me.

"No," she said. "I do not, even for a minute, think that the world is going to end in the year 2012. If there were something disastrously wrong with the planet, or the sun were about to explode, or if we were about to be hit by an asteroid or something, I think NASA or JPL, or the ESA or some scientists, somewhere would know about it before your local pastor."

"Yeah," I countered, "but what if the Mayans are right and there's a secret planet that's dark, so the telescopes can't see it, and that's what's going to hit us. Or maybe that's when the aliens promised the Mayans they'd return, and when they get back, they're gonna be pissed that we haven't mended our ways, or something, so they're gonna wipe us out and take our planet."

Oh no! I was arguing with her! That's not at all what I wanted. I'd have to find some common ground again!

"Do you have any idea," she asked, "how crazy that sounds?"

I was stunned. She continued, "If there's a dark planet out there that telescopes can't see, just how do you suppose the Mayans would have known about it? And besides, there are no Mayan prophecies about dark planets. You're getting your doomsday scenarios mixed up. Then again, it seems everyone else in the world is, so why not?" She threw her hands up in frustration.

I noticed that a couple of the Registrar workers were putting up "Out to Lunch" signs at their stations. That should slow things down a bit. I felt a wave of relief. I had little more precious, precious time. Women are fascinated by men who can carry on an intellectual debate. Maybe I could spin this in my favor, after all ...

"OK, but what about the aliens?" I asked.

"What about them?"

"I mean, what if that's why the Mayans ended their calendar in 2012. Because of aliens."

The woman behind me must have been listening, because the interjected at that point. She sounded a bit ... Irish? Or French. I wasn't sure. Who can tell the difference between all these crazy foreign accents, anyway?

"I have heard that calendar ends because it is begins of new age of peace." Greek, maybe?

We both turned towards the woman who had so rudely interrupted us.

My dream-girl responded before I could say anything. "What the hell does that even mean? New Age of Peace. Pfsh! Suddenly people are going to stop fighting over wealth and power, and everyone's going to start sharing, and then some mystical race of space aliens is going to come on down and Buy the World a Friggin' Coke?"

The dark-haired woman tilted her head to one side, her eyes narrowing. "I don't know. Is just something I heard on the tele-vision." The way she said television, it sounded like two words. Definitely French. Or maybe Russian.

"Besides," the first woman continued, "the Mayans "ended" their calendar in the same way the calendar on the wall over there "ends" on December 31st."

She was actually using finger-quotes now. How quirky and adorable! I think I really like that kind of thing in a woman.

"It doesn't mean the world's going to end," she went on. "It means you start a new calendar. A new year. Or, in the case of the Mayans, a new calendrical cycle. Or do you panic every year when you get to the last page of your calendar?"

I had to step in and fix this, and fast: "OK. You're probably right. I was just theorizing, you know ... because of your book."

The man with the two girls was called up to one of the two stations that remained open at the counter.

"Have I mentioned how this isn't my book?"

"NEXT!" Oh no! I was too late. Unless the guy with the kids finished in a hurry, my moment was slipping away. The woman in front of me turned on her heel and went up to the counter.

The woman behind me said, "I do not know what she is angry over. I think new age of peace be nice for good change."

"Uh-huh," I said, dismissively.

She continued. "Do you no think so? Or you be thinking the aliens coming?" She gave me another one of those smiles.

"I dunno," I replied to her. "We were just talking, is all." I turned back towards the counter again, straining to hear what the woman in the sweatshirt was saying to the Deputy on duty. She was being very quiet, but I thought I made out the name ... Dessoshin? Fezozchin? What the hell kind of name was that?

Thankfully, the Registrar repeated it. "Mary Sue Defozchin?" He'd obviously had had a tough time hearing her, as well. So her name was Mary. I decided that was my favorite name. I still couldn't quite get a handle on that last name, though ... Dechoshkin?

Mary handed the guy some paperwork. It looked like a simple tag renewal, so it probably wouldn't take long. Unfortunately, the guy with the kids was renewing his license, so he would take some time. And I was there to renew mine, as well.

Jesus help me, I thought. That woman there has your mom's name, and I think maybe she's the right one for me. Please help me out here, OK, Lord?

"You seem a smart man, and I like to hear you opinion." That had to be some kind of Eastern European accent. Maybe she was Polish or Lithuanian or something. "I buy coffees, you talk to me about this? I have not many friends in America, as I am just moving here for school."

The woman behind me just would not leave me alone! Still, I didn't want to appear rude.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I'm really busy this afternoon. Good luck making friends, though." I looked her up and down. No ... she wouldn't have too much trouble making friends. Any other day, I would have accepted her offer. But not today. Today I had a mission. A mission named Mary Sue Defaozzchinin. Or something. It was destiny. I could feel it.


I turned back towards the counter. The man with the two girls was standing in front of me. It was the man behind the counter addressing me, though.

"Would you mind watching that man's daughters for a moment, so we can take his license picture?"

"Um ... sure?" I didn't know what else to say. Besides, Mary was bound to be impressed. Women like men who are good with kids.

The man told his girls to stand there with me, and that he'd be back in a moment. He walked down to the other end of the counter where the photo station was set up.

The man behind the counter then motioned to the woman behind me.

"Ma'am, you can come on up here. We'll help the gentleman in front of you after those girls' father is done."

The dark-haired woman gave me a little sniff as she passed me. I guess she didn't take rejection well. This was just great! Now there was another delay. I'd never get out of here in time to catch up to Mary.

There was now an elderly gentleman behind me. He looked like a stereotype. He was grey and wrinkled and looked about five feet tall, hunched over the way he was. He wore a red Cardigan over a white shirt and the kind of grey pants that you'd have to call slacks. In one hand he held a cane. In the other were his registration papers and a grey fedora with a feather in the band.

I turned back to the counter quickly, before the man could try to engage me in conversation. You know how old people can get when they have an audience. Besides, I had these girls to attend to. One of them started pulling on my shirt. The other grabbed me by the hand. Hers was tiny and sweaty and sticky. Ugh.

The man behind me started playing peek-a-boo with the smaller of the two girls, using his hat to cover his face. Why does everyone always want to play peek-a-boo with little kids? Do the kids ever get sick of it? I mean, how long can that remain even a little bit fun?

After a couple of moments, the girls' father came back, freshly-minted license in hand. He mumbled a thank you at me, and took his daughters. Come on, lady, I thought at the Serbian woman, or whatever she was. Hurry up!

Then it was all over. Mary walked away with her new license tags and registration packet, and headed out the door. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be.

"Next!" The woman behind the counter was waving me forward. I walked up and took my wallet and papers out of my pocket. That was when I noticed a wad of bubble gum rolled into the bottom of my t-shirt. Thanks, girls.

I handed everything across the counter, and said, "I need to renew my license." I willed myself not to cry. I wouldn't give the Slavic lady the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

The woman on the other side of the counter barely even looked at me. "Is your address still the same?"

"Listen," I said. "I don't want to wait in line again, but I need to be able to find the woman that you just helped. Would you please give me her name and address?"

The woman looked up at me. "Are you serious?"


"No!" She replied. "I can't do that. It's illegal and unethical."

"But you don't understand! It's destiny! Mary and I ... we are meant to be together!"

"Look, sir. I don't care about your destiny. My job is to renew your license and send you on your way. If you want to go chasing after her, I can't stop you, but you'll have to wait in line again."

I looked behind me. There were at least thirty people in the queue now.

"But ..."

"But me no buts, mister!" She wasn't going to budge. "This isn't some kind of movie where the rules don't apply and everyone is expected help you find your true love. This is the BMV."

The dark-hared Slovenian at the next station was looking at me as if I'd lost my mind. Maybe I had.

"All right," I sighed, resigned to my fate. "Let's do this."

"Is your address still the same?"


We then went through all the standard questions. She told me to look through the eye-testing machine for my vision test. When I stepped up to the machine, I spotted it. Mary's copy of Twilight of the Gods. She'd left it right on the counter next to the eye tester! Oh, Joy of Joys!

After my vision test, I carefully slid the book off the top of the counter. Here it was ... the clue I would need to find Mary. She'd have to come back after her friend's book!

I would find her.

Oh yes, I would.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 02: The BMV

Part I:

I first saw her in the queue at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles Deputy Registrar Agency. She had stringy dishwater-blonde hair. I would say it was her eyes that first caught my attention, but I couldn't really see them due to the glare of the overhead fluorescent lighting on her glasses. I guess it was just the idea of her eyes that caught my attention. Also, the way she wore her baggy, shapeless grey sweatshirt.

I surreptitiously let the man between us cut in front of me, in order to get closer to her. He had two little girls with him, so I'm sure he was eager to get out of the interminably long line as soon as he possibly could. Why do some people insist on bringing their kids to the BMV with them? That must be a huge pain in the ass.

Anyway, pretending to look over my shoulder out the window at the front of the office, I stole a glance at her. I think we may have made brief eye contact, but it was hard to tell. The glare again.

"Next!" One of the women at the counter yelled. The line shuffled forward. We were all one space closer to the counter.

Women love guys who are musically-inclined, so I started whistling a jaunty tune. I took my phone out of my pocket and pretended to read a text. In order to make it more authentic, I texted myself. I allowed myself a small laugh, shaking my head as if someone had just texted me something amusing.

Finally, I did one of those half-turns, like I was leaning against the wall, so I could give her the opportunity to interact with me. There wasn't really a wall there, though - just one of those pole-and-rope thingies that's meant to keep the line orderly, but almost never quite does the job. I almost stumbled backwards, but caught myself. I did drop my phone, though.

I gave her a half-smile and picked up my phone. She turned away. I think maybe she was looking outside for someone she knew. When she turned back, I tried the smile again, but with a little nod this time.

It was time to step up my game. I opened with, "Don't you just hate waiting in line?"

Of course she hated waiting in line. Everyone hates waiting in line. At least we wouldn't start our relationship with a disagreement, right?

One of the little girls in front of me was attempting to climb her father like one of those walls you see at "family fun center" places. The other one was reaching into his pocket. Looking for loose change, I guess. The man had that defeated, dead-eyed look that people develop whenever they find themselves dealing with the government. Maybe he had candy in there. He didn't seem to notice either of his kids, in any case.

"Actually, I find it kind of relaxing," she said. Dammit! I should have known not to start on a cliché!

"Next customer please," said a man behind the counter. The line shuffled forward another space.

"Well, yeah," I countered. "I mean, I suppose if you want to let yourself go, in a Zen kind of way. But wouldn't you rather be, I dunno ... anywhere else?"

"It depends," she said, finally looking at me.

I was dressed in faded blue jeans and a plain black t-shirt. My hair was a bit wind-blown, as I'd driven to the BMV with my car windows down. I'd never stand out in a crowd on my own, so I had to make this conversation memorable - entertaining, even - if I was going to get anywhere.

"Depends on what?"

"Mostly," she replied, "on whether I can ignore any distractions around me."

"Oh," I said.

She turned around again, towards the big window in front. She must be waiting on someone, I thought. I hope it's not her boyfriend. She then pulled a paperback book out of her purse and opened it to a place she had marked with a dog-ear, turned back in the direction of the line and began reading. Clearly she was interested in me, but wanted me to work for her attention.

Oh, yes. I knew this dance.

"What'cha readin' there?"

She pretended not to hear me, so I tried again, this time a bit louder.

"What are you reading?"

The line moved again Step, drag, shuffle.

"Umm ... Twilight: Another Lunar Cycle." I hadn't heard of that one.

"I haven't heard of that one," I said. "Any good?"

She ignored me again, so I repeated myself.

"Is it any good? I haven't read any of those books, but I hear they're supposed to be really good."

She closed the book, marking her place with a thick finger. I noticed her hands appeared to be very large and strong. I decided that I like that in a woman.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. It's ... uh ... very romantic," she said. "And I like the supernatural elements."

"Oh," I responded. "Sounds interesting. I always liked those Anne Rice books. Did you ever read any of those?"

"No." She lifted her book and continued reading.

I soldiered on, "I bet Lestat would kick Edward's ass, though! And look cool doing it."

She glared at me. Or maybe it was the glare from the lighting again. At least now I had her attention. The climbing girl had reached her father's neck. She appeared to be strangling him from behind, but in his institutionally-induced zombie state, he didn't take any notice.

"Either that, or he'd rock Edward's world - make him totally forget about that Betty chick."

She glared at me again. I think. It was still difficult to tell, with the glasses. The pocket-foraging girl had come up with a piece of bubble gum that looked to have been chewed and re-wrapped. She set about separating the used gum from the wrapper, with her teeth.

The line moved forward, with an almost audible air of resignation. I was next to the wall, now, so I leaned casually against it.

"You know, because of the Vampires in those books all being kinda gay."

"I understood what you were implying," she said. "You don't need to spell it out."

"Oh. OK. I wasn't sure."

"And her name," she continued. "It's Bella. Not Betty."

"Oh, sorry. Like I said, I haven't read any of those."

"Uh-huh." She began to read more pointedly, lifting the book up to block my view of her.

I started whistling again. Trying to think of what to say next. I noticed the title of the book was actually Twilight of the Gods, and it was by some guy with umlauts in his name. Erich something. She was turning away from me again so I didn't get a good look. Must be German or something.

"Hey," I started again. "Isn't it funny how the word "umlaut" doesn't actually have umlauts in it?"

She dropped her hand again and regarded me with what I assumed was interest and maybe admiration.

I went on. "You know, like, shouldn't the first "u" in the word umlauts have umlauts? I guess then it would be pronounced like ueumlauts or something, though, huh?" I really did my best at drawing out the "ü" sound, towards the back of my throat. Women are usually impressed by men who understand foreign languages.

"Yeah. That's funny." She turned around and looked out the window again. Maybe it was her boyfriend, she was looking for, and she was afraid he'd see her talking to me and go into a jealous rage. It would be sweet if I got a chance to impress her with my fighting skills. I hadn't been in a fight since high school, but I was sure I could handle myself.

I flexed my biceps a bit, but I wasn't sure if she noticed. She had her nose buried in that book again. I noticed the heading under the title was The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials. Weird. I didn't think there were any aliens in the Twilight books. There was supposed to be some kind of Indian werewolf tribe, or something, though. Were they Mayan werewolves, maybe?

We all shuffled forward again, as the next person in line was called to the counter.

"Hey, so ... you really think the world'll end in 2012?"

"What, now?" She was clearly intrigued. Maybe even a little turned on. It was hard to read her expression. I'd have to figure out a way to get rid of those glasses.

"You know ... that whole Mayan thing. Like in your book." I gestured to the cover of the book. Suddenly I recognized the name. It was by that Chariots of the Gods guy - the one who thought aliens were responsible for, like, all the mysterious buildings and drawings from ancient times. Like the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge and Easter Island and stuff.

She looked at me with a what the fuck are you talking about kind of expression, before she turned the book around to look at its cover. Her face fell. Then she started to laugh.

"Guess I picked up the wrong book," she said.

I gave her a big smile. "That's OK. I do that all the time," I lied. No sense in embarrassing her. "So, are there, like, any vampires even in that book?"

"I don't know," she confessed. "I haven't actually been reading it. It's not even my book. My roommate asked me to hold on to it for her, and since I hate making small talk with strangers, I pulled it out just to have something to do."

"Oh yes, I understand." I nodded sympathetically. "Waiting in line can get boring."

"No, you don't. I wasn't bored. I don't mind lines. It's people I don't want to have to deal with. I wasn't reading the book. I was using it as a prop, so I could avoid talking to other people. Get it now?"

I gave her a knowing look. "Sure, I get it." I lowered my voice to a whisper. "I don't usually like to talk to the kind of people you meet in the BMV, either."

Her jaw dropped. She must have been shocked to discover we shared such a connection. It was almost as if we were mind-melding right there. She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then her temples. Her eyes were light brown and they tilted down at the sides. They gave her that I'm almost always sad look. They were a little bloodshot, too.

Everyone in line sauntered forward again.

"You look tired," I said, patting her shoulder. "Have you been having trouble sleeping?

"I will tonight." She pushed my hand away.

"Yeah, days like this really take it out of you." I used the excuse of putting my cell phone away to put my hands in my pockets. I guess she just wasn't ready for our relationship to move to the patting on the shoulder level yet. Still, there was an unmistakable warmth in her touch. She was probably just not comfortable expressing herself in public.

"Um, yeah. They certainly do." She put her glasses back on, obscuring from me the full glory of her visage. "Erm ... would you mind doing me a favor?"

"Oh, not at all!" What could she want of me? Did she need help moving a couch or something? "Name it."

"Well, I'm in kind of a hurry, you see ... would you mind if I jumped in front of you?"

Damn! Her favor didn't involve me needing to know where she lived after all. But I'd already committed.

"No, go ahead." I shuffled sideways to let her past.

She gave a small wave to the little girl who was now perched on her father's head. Then she started playing peek-a-boo with her using her copy of Twilight of the Gods. It was going to be difficult to carry on a conversation this way.

Everyone stepped forward. The man with the two girls was up next to be served. I was going to have to act fast, if our relationship was going to make it past the BMV.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are Video Games an Art Form?

I know I'm a little late to this party, but I've been busy. I've been mulling this topic over in my head for a while, too, and now I just feel the need to get it out on virtual paper.

Roger Ebert, some time ago, made the statement that video games could never be art. In response to this, Kellee Santiago of thatgamecompany gave a talk at a TEDxUSC event taking the opposing view. Ebert, unusually, felt the need to respond to that.

As usual on the Internets, a shitstorm arose in the gaming community and everyone from Gabe & Tycho at Penny Arcade to G4 TV's Adam Sessler to "Yahtzee" Croshaw have posted responses. Responses have ranged from outraged disagreement with Mr. Ebert to agreement on certain points and others basically wondering why anyone gives a rat's ass.

Well, I certainly don't kid myself that I belong in company of those people above, but I still have my opinions. For what it's worth, here they are:

First off, we sort of have to define just what art is. Andy Warhol's quip about most Americans thinking it's a man's name notwithstanding, I think art can be appreciated and defined by anyone ... but people will always have their disagreements about that definition. I think of art as a process (or product of that process) of arranging elements (whether visual or auditory, or whatever) in order to elicit an emotional or sensual response in an audience. I believe art can be the work of one individual or of a collaborative process.

Most importantly, though, we need to remember that whether something is art or not, does NOT determine its quality or value. There is good art and there is bad art.

Let's take one of my favorite paintings as an example: Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper. (I'm sure you know the painting, even if you don't recognize the name. Just do a Google Image Search.) I think pretty much everyone would agree that this is an example of art. Now, take the crayon etchings of a 2-year old that's up on the refrigerator of a typical middle-American home. Very few people would argue that the child's art is objectively the better of these two works. (Some might argue over purity of expression, or some such, but I'm not going there.) Most people would also consider both of these works an art form.

Similarly, the prehistoric etchings on cave walls have a certain beauty in their lines and are very expressive, but the objective technical quality doesn't compare to Leonardo Da Vinci's work. And furthermore, take a look at different forms and styles like the surrealism of Magritte or Picasso's cubism. These are all art. So is the spoof of Nighthawks featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. What about the Velvet Elvises and Dogs Playing Poker and the Unicorns with Rainbows being sold out of a van on the corner? I think most people would consider those art. Mostly bad art, yes, but art nonetheless.

I believe most people consider the act of storytelling to be an art, as well. Storytelling can take many forms: verbal communication or sign language, drama (stage & screen), literature, or sequential imagery (comics). And once you move from someone's individual vision, you're moving into collaborative art.

Mr. Ebert says he tends "... to think of art as usually the creation of one artist." I'm not sure why he brought this up, because he almost immediately shoots the concept down by providing examples of collaborative art: a cathedral, a tribal dance - though he goes on to claim that the dance is made up of individual choreographers. "Everybody didn't start dancing all at once." I find it odd that he neglected the most obvious form of collaborative art in our modern society - the field in which he works professionally: Film. Modern film is a collaborative art. Not everyone who works on a film is an artist - there are technical people and all sorts of behind-the-scenes workers involved - but there are many artists involved: writers, directors, actors, designers of props and sets. The end result of their efforts, both artists and non-artists alike - is a film - which I think most people, Mr. Ebert included, would consider a work of art. Maybe not all films are really "art" in their purest sense. But I think the medium itself is an art form. Sure there are some really lousy films out there, but that doesn't mean they're not art. They're just bad art.

So, I think we can dismiss the idea that art must be the result of one artist's singular vision.

One of Mr. Ebert's biggest issues seems to be with the non-static nature of video games.

Our modern method of photography didn't exist 200 years or so ago. At one time it was a new technology. An argument could be made that photography isn't an art, because all you're doing is pointing a tool at something that already exists and pushing a button. You're just mechanically producing two-dimensional representation of something from the real world, using a technological tool. Of course, anyone who's seen and been moved by the photos of Ansel Adams or Alfred Stieglitz or even Mathew Brady's portraits and documentary photos of the American Civil War will disagree with this argument. Photography is definitely an art, and I think most people today would agree with me. At one time, however, that wouldn't have been the case.

Motion Pictures didn't exist until just over a hundred years ago, either. If photography is an art form, does the non-static nature of movies make them not art? I'm guessing that Mr. Ebert would agree that motion pictures are an art form. Maybe he wouldn't consider all films art, but he certainly wouldn't say, as a result, that motion pictures could never be art. Of course, once a film is printed and shown, the film itself is identical for all the audiences viewing it, so in that sense, motion pictures are static.

So there's an argument - since each "audience" or player of a video game experiences the game differently, the game cannot be art.

But what about live drama? Each performance is slightly different from each other performance, even if working from the same script and using the same props, actors, backdrops, etc. Even tougher to categorize is improvisational theater or performance art, or dance, or live music. These performances of art are never quite exactly the same, even in cases, such as choreography and music, where the artists rehearse repeatedly to make each performance as similar as possible. How about improvisational jazz, or "jam" sessions? Does the fact that the various musicians are reacting to one another (and even the audience response) in real time make the performance no longer art?

And what about the audience? I believe that art exists in stages - there's the artistic concept, the execution of the concept, the presentation to the audience and the audience reaction. All of these are parts of art. And all of these can exist within video games. A video game can certainly elicit an emotional response in its audience. Sometimes it's curiosity, or wonderment, or simply frustration with the game, but there is an emotional response. And some games - especially story-based games - can invest the player/audience with emotional reactions every bit as deep as a film or book or play.

Mr. Ebert also has issues with the fact that one can win or lose a game. As he admits he has never played a video game, I will cut him some slack for such an ignorant statement. (Though I have to wonder why a person with pretty much zero knowledge on a subject, would feel the need to offer opinions on it without exposing himself to it at least a little bit!) I have played games where there is no win or lose state. Take The Sims for example. That game is simply a simulation. Sure there are goals within it, but even if you fail at them, the game just keeps moving along, and the story you're creating within it doesn't stop, either. I've also played games where, even though player death is possible, you get to re-load and continue the story. So even though there may be multiple fits and starts in the story line, I know, as long as I keep playing, I will eventually get to witness the whole tale unfold. Prime examples of this include BioWare's CRPG games, such as Mass Effect or Dragon Age. These games tell involving stories, that keep the player playing just to see the tale unfold - these are stories to rival or even exceed many of the stories told in to-day's cinemas.

Just as an example: when you watch a movie that involves the main character being faced with acts of brutality, you find yourself hoping that the hero manages to overcome adversity and put an end to the situation. In Mass Effect 2, there is a scene on a penal ship where there are some nasty and abusive activities going on. As a player I found myself disturbed by this and hoping that I would get a chance to right the wrongs being committed. Now, just because I have a certain amount of control of the character, and because I can chose, to some degree, the order in which certain events happen, does that artistically invalidate my response as an audience? I don't believe it does. My emotional response as a player was the same as it would have been watching the same scene in a movie, or reading it in a book. The only difference is that there is a certain interactivity involved. This is called audience participation, and it certainly doesn't invalidate the artistic merits of a live theater performance or improvisational theater. When the Blue Man Group interacts with its audience, it changes the performance. Does that suddenly mean the whole endeavor is no longer art? Of course not!

I think Mr. Ebert just can't get his head around the fact that video games are a new, interactive art form. It's a form that is just too different, and too outside his realm of experience for him to see the artistic merits within it.

Does that mean all video games are art? No, probably not. Just as maybe not all photos are art, and maybe not all motion pictures are art. I wouldn't call Tetris a work of art, necessarily. It's a clever and addicting game, but probably not art. I would say most strategy games aren't art. They're more akin to board games - though there can certainly be artistic elements within both.

But some games are art. And that's where I have trouble with Mr. Ebert's statement. It's just such a dismissive, blanket declaration to say that video games can never be art. And coming from a man who has never played a video game, it comes across as disingenuous.

I don't think that's his intent, though. I think it's simply a case of an opinion borne of ignorance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Abbey

I found myself standing before a church of sorts. It was a beautiful, sunny day. There was a light breeze playing through the trees that dotted the landscape and the chirping of birds could be heard from all around.

Near the entrance to the church were a couple of vendor carts, with a few people trading in friendly voices. Between the abbey and me, however, stood a man in armor. He beckoned me towards him.

As I approached, I realized that not all was right. In the distance I could hear shouting and howling and the sounds of men and animals fighting. What was going on in that field to the northwest?

"Ah, good," the man addressed me. "Another volunteer. I hope you're prepared to work. And I don't mean farming." He told me to go into the abbey and talk to the Marshal.

I nodded my assent, and headed for the abbey. It was then that I noticed the oddest behavior on the part of some of the people around me. One of the people who had been haggling with the cart merchants suddenly began dancing while the other started jumping and laughing. A woman came running out of the abbey, followed by a small glowing demon of some sort. She took a flying leap upon exiting, and spun around to reverse direction. She ran around the corner of the building, moving in great leaps, her diminutive companion struggling to keep up. I heard the sound of cheering from inside the abbey.

I wondered if there was some sort of madness at work here.

I entered the abbey, and at the other end of the entryway encountered the Marshal. He looked at me sternly, and told me he was glad to have my help. He told me that I should go into the fields to the west and north, where I would find a great many vicious little creatures called kobolds who were threatening the people of the area, and that I should kill exactly ten of them - but of only the smallest and weakest of them.

I thought it rather odd that he should be so specific about the number and type, but I agreed to do his bidding. There must be some method to his madness.

I turned to leave the abbey, but was stopped dead when a large man in the gaudiest armor I could have imagined presented to me a document. It was a charter for some sort of organization, and he wished for me to join it. Not knowing the man, or the purpose of his organization, and being in a hurry to do my duty for the Marshal, I pushed the document out of my face, and headed on my way.

Once outside again, the armored man to whom I'd earlier spoken (apparently he was a Deputy to the Marshal) beckoned me to him once again. He then offered me a few coins to talk to another man, named Eagan, around the corner of the abbey. As I was already planning to head in that direction, I agreed.

As I turned around, I was once again stopped cold by the presentation of the same document from before. I pushed it away from me, telling the large man who held it that I wanted no part of his organization, and that I thought he was rather rude to continually push this document in my face.

As I came around the corner of the abbey, I was stunned by what I saw. There were a few more trees, but they opened into a small meadow in the distance, where I could see a hillside with a small cave entrance. Strewn about the meadow, however, were many small campsites inhabited by loathsome creatures with long snouts and whiskers. They stood upright, as a man would, but only about half the height. They carried various mining tools and implements. Many of them were engaged in combat with a number of other people - two of whom I recognized as being the jumping dancers from before the vendors' carts.

I assumed these creatures were the kobolds of which the Marshal had spoken. They certainly seemed weak, and were definitely getting the worst of the fight.

A little to the north and east, around the back of the abbey, I spied what appeared, at first, to be an enormous pack of wolves. However, upon further examination, they didn't seem to behave as a pack at all. Each of the wolves merely wandered about on its own. Occasionally one would attack a small rabbit, but mostly they just meandered.

Up against the abbey wall stood a man whose description seemed to match that given me by the Deputy. I walked over to talk to him. He handed me a few coins, and then asked me to bring him eight wolf pelts, and the meat from eight wolves ... but only if the meat is tough.

Now, I have no experience whatsoever in skinning or butchering an animal, but he told me it would be no problem. I shrugged in agreement, and headed off to get him what he wanted. I now had two jobs to do, and thought I'd best get to them.

Suddenly, there was an evil-looking gnome with black plate armor and eyes that looked like windows into the very coldest parts of hell standing before me. He pushed a document at my face and said, "Wanna join my guild? I'll pay you a gold piece!"

"No, sir," I replied. "I have no wish to join any organization at the moment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

As I neared the meadow, I felt a bit nervous. I'd never killed anything before. The wolves I could understand ... they were just animals, after all, and potentially dangerous ones at that. But the kobolds looked to be rather intelligent, if a bit disgusting.

I drew my belt knife and closed with one of the wolves. It paid me no mind whatsoever, and continued to wander back and forth between a couple of trees. I waved at it, but it still took no notice. I walked up and poked it, but it continued on its course. Unsure what to do, I walked back to Eagan.

"Are you sure about these wolves?" I asked. "They seem to be pretty docile."

He replied that he needed the pelts and the meat, and that I should simply kill them. I supposed this was some sort of wolf farm, though I wondered that there was not a more organized method for slaughtering the livestock than simply asking new arrivals to go and kill them.

I approached the wolf again ... I was fairly certain it was the same one as before. It was still walking between the two trees. Half closing my eyes, I stabbed it in the flank. It immediately turned on me and bit me. I jumped back, as it tried again. Now it was a fight! I took a swing, and a thrust, landing a solid blow, however it bit me once again.

By this time I was bleeding, and feeling quite poorly. Thankfully, none of the many other wolves in the area seemed to notice the fight. The wolf lunged at me again, and I sidestepped countering with a solid blow to its haunch. The wolf dropped dead, letting out a final yelp.

Releasing an exhausted sigh of relief, I set to work skinning the wolf. I managed to remove a fairly intact pelt and a big chunk of meat from it. Then I noticed something shiny between its jaws. As I investigated, I realized that in its mouth was a pair of chain-mail pants. I wondered to myself at how a wolf would have come by such a thing. Perhaps it had been trying to eat one of the guards?

I sat for a few minutes, until I had my energy back. I wasn't sure I'd be able to do this. I took the chain pants, the pelt, the meat and a loose copper coin I'd found in the grass under the carcass and put them all in my backpack. Then I stood up and looked about for my next target.

Another wolf was sauntering slowly towards me, but didn't seem to actually be paying me any notice. I shrugged my shoulders and pressed the attack ...

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Anyone who's played an MMORPG is familiar with the odd ways in which the games' creators deal with having to create NPCs and quests for the players to experience. This is always troublesome, due to the persistent nature of the world, and the fact that as many as millions of players will be wanting to experience the same content. This could be solved by having GameMasters play all the various parts … but that would be extremely cost-prohibitive as it would require nearly as many GMs as players. To solve this problem, there are scripted characters and events. When one stops to consider what such a world would really be like, if it were experienced first-hand … well, that's obviously what inspired this story.