Monday, June 4, 2012

The Gamer's Identity

As the Electronic Entertainement Expo approaches, I am reminded just how much other mediums have contributed to making me a writer. Gaming is no exception.

Do you remember the first time you saved Zelda? The feeling of heroism that ensued was palpable. I had saved the princess from certain doom. Through forests, pits of lava and cloudy skies, I had triumphed over Evil. I was a six years old hero and damn, it felt good.

Twenty years later, I have a mental treasure box filled with an innumerable amount of powerful memories. Be it the wave of genuine grief that washed over me as I witnessed the mighty Tassadar sacrifice his life to destroy the Overmind, or the tears of laughter induced by GLaDOS’ relentless trolling, there is no question that gaming has imparted me with unforgettable moments of escapism.

 Do you remember those children books that asked you to choose the hero’s path? “Little Robin ventures through the chilling cave, hoping to find his friend before the night falls. He encounters an impasse, and must choose whether to go left or right. For left, go to page 5. For right, go to page 9.” I loved them. I was seduced by the power of choice. Without even knowing it, I had already sealed my fate as a future gamer.

For gaming took the immersion to the next level. It meshed the powerful narrative force of novels and the sensory experience of motion pictures to form a truly unique medium in which you were both spectator and actor.

Though in the early days the emphasis seemed to be on the technology and the gameplay, the narrative eventually became just as important. This all culminated in the mid to late 90s when the adventure and the characters were given such importance that some of my strongest gaming memories can be traced back to that era.

I remember feeling genuine affection for Epona each time I called her with my Ocarina. I can recall as if it happened yesterday the reverence I felt for Tyrael the first time he materialized before my eyes. Or the powerlessness that overtook me when I was ordered to abandon Sarah Kerrigan to the Zergs on Tarsonis. I was especially shocked to learn she was a Cylon all along. Man, those bastards are everywhere.

Then the Internet caught up with the medium and took gaming to yet another level: commercial MMORPGs were born. Gaming was no longer a solitary hobby meant to be experienced alone or in very small groups. In UO, DaoC or EQ (to name only a few), thousands of players could interact, forge alliances, even friendships. Or break the shit out of them. Whichever rocked your boat.

What other medium could have left such long lasting impressions, blessed me with vivid memories and encounters that in some cases even taught me important life lessons? For instance, what better teachers could there have been to demonstrate the importance of teamwork other than the Lemmings? And while some classic movies and novels have excelled at surprising me with various twists and shocks, none compare to that moment when I learned the truth of my past: I was Darth Revan, the most badass Sith Lord in the galaxy, and its fate was mine to choose. Those were the days people!

E3 is a celebration of what was, what is, and more importantly, what is to come. It’s a celebration of all that history, all those magical moments gamers hold dear. It’s the celebration of an art, an industry, a passion, and for some lucky bastards, a profession. E3 is a place where everyone adopts one single label so they may leave every other one behind, if only for a few days: the gamer’s identity.

Not even Tyrion could bitchsclap my love for gaming out of me, and that is saying something.

Long live gaming.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Are book readers too prude?

Confession time: I’ve been the worse blogger of the whole blogging universe. And probably any alternate universes as well. It wasn’t even a time issue – I know this is the excuse most bloggers give, but let’s face it: if we can find the time to write multiple drafts of a 80,000 words novel, we should be able to write a one page blog post once in a while. No, in my case, it was (is) the fear of inflicting mind-numbing posts onto precious writer friends. This is just as weak of an excuse, so let’s hope I can break the cycle.

And so I bring you this post which addresses an issue, or rather a tendency, which I noticed during my quest to find new books to read: adult sci-fi and fantasy appears to be extinct. How did I come to this conclusion?

I watch quite a bit of TV shows. I’m a photographer, so I spend ungodly amount of times in front of a PC editing photos, creating albums, corresponding with clients (or wooing them), etc. In the interest of efficiently using my precious time, I work with a triple monitor setup.

On the center screen, this is where the magic of photo editing happens (an exercise which involves correcting exposures, boosting colors, but can go all the way up to pimple removals or breast augmentation (yes, I get such requests. Don’t ask)). On the left, I usually have a TV episode playing which feeds off my DVR (so I never have to see awful commercials) and on the right, anything from Photoshop tools to an e-mail client.

So why does this matter at all? All this time spent multitasking requires entertainment to keep me sane. Shows like Game of Thrones, True Blood, The Borgias, Homeland, The Good Wife, Damages, Downton Abbey or Fringe continuously bless my left screen. Shows with great acting, but especially, fantastic writing. It is this habit that brought on an epiphany: where has the adult-themed literature gone to?

You see, while I was browsing Amazon for new sci-fi or fantasy books to read, I was flabbergasted at how very few recent books, if any, were targeted at adults. Every single writer knows the YA genre is mega popular. They’re accessible, usually tame and appeal to teenagers and adults alike. I get it.

Yet, shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones (which constantly break viewership records) have proven that there’s plenty of room for adult-themed entertainment. Sure, Charlaine Harris and GRRM were popular before HBO produced these fine series, but there is also no doubt these productions skyrocketed the popularity of both sagas.

In spite of this, I could not find more than a handful of sci-fi or fantasy books that were recently written (say, the past five years) which were not YA. Why is it that no one writes for adults anymore?

It isn’t violence, gore or sex that makes a book an adult book. In my limited reader experience, I find adult books (such as A Song of Ice and Fire) to be much more ambivalent on the moral themes they exploit. Villains are not fully black, heroes are not fully white. There’s just a lot of grey. This, I find, makes for much more interesting characters. Good people can commit horrific acts and bad people can do some good from time to time. If anything, this very concept finds its roots in human history, as The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land (which I am currently reading) has reminded me.

Is it not acceptable to depict plunder, rape or sex if it serves a narrative purpose? If nine million viewers tune in to Game of Thrones every Sunday, and millions of books of the same saga were sold, isn’t there room for colorful renditions of the human nature, no matter how horrifying it is?

Apparently not. At least not in the publishing industry. Case in point: if you Google “sci fi for adults”, one of the top results is “9 Best Science Fiction Novels For Young Adults Besides 'Mockingjay'” by the Huffington Post. Gee, thanks Google.

So, readers and writers… are we just too prude?

PS. If you have book recommendations, I’m all ears!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I'm back! (with a new face)

Summer has arrived! Game of Thrones has ended, True Blood S4 is upon us... time for a comeback!

Starting with Game of Thrones. This HBO adaption of the "Songs of Fire and Ice" book series has had me enthralled from the end of the premiere until the finale that aired on Sunday. I usually do not like high fantasy much. I read Lord of the Rings of course, but it was tedious. I had to push myself through it, and it wasn't long before I found myself skipping pages and pages of endless description. Wizards, goblins and trolls aren't really my thing. I prefer lightsabers, you see...

Game of Thrones is unique in that it remains unusually true to the source material (the book readers form something close to a cult and that is what they tell me). Since the author has been in close cooperation with the HBO writing team I imagine this had something to do with it as well (he even wrote one of the episodes). It's all for the better, since the characters in GoT are numerous, diverse, range from psychotic bitch to powerful queens and leaders, most are complex and the show has somehow managed to keep multiple storylines (up to five in mid-season!) interesting and relevant all at once. Wow! Watching it has been both a source of undeniable pleasure and a lesson in humility: good writing pays off.

Another unusual aspect about GoT is how many of the characters are just plainly despicable. Rarely have I been so invested in characters so quickly that I find myself hating them. Actually hating them, imagining them suffering as they scream for help and mercy. Lena Headey 's(300, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) character Cersei is one of the most heinous personage I've seen written in a book in quite a while, and yet, I've enjoyed every seconds she was on screen. After the premiere, I found myself thinking "Wow, this is a creepy character" and an episode later, she had officially graduated to full-on bitchdom. By the end of the season I was screaming at my TV, literally screaming "JUST DIE!" I will not even mention her son Joeffrey (cast perfectly too, by the way) who makes my blood boil by his sheer on-screen presence, or all the other morally repulsive characters. Yet, if a writer has somehow managed to captivate me enough to initiate these emotional responses towards completely fictional people, that is definitely a very good writer. GoT has perhaps two or three characters with a functional moral compass, which makes it very hard to cheer for any of them. Characters, even main ones, also have the tendency to die all the time, which makes it more difficult to get attached. Considering the first book in the series was published in 1996, I imagine many agents or publishing houses would pass over them if they were queried with that project today. It's just too dark and depressive for the new crowd, who prefer happy endings and clich├ęs Hollywood endings. In that regard, GoT is a breath of fresh air. After Sunday's finale (which is still giving me goosebumps everytime I rewatch it... actual goosebumps people, all over!), the show has risen to one of my favorite series of all time, right up there with Battlestar Galactica. I also have a huge crush on Emilia Clarke, who is both incredibly talented and gorgeous, but that is entirely subjective :)

As for the writing...

Isn't it difficult to start a new project? Wow. After working on Trinity for over a year, getting excited over queries, full and partial requests, then being disappointed, it's like running a hot rollercoaster. Letting a project go, especially your first I imagine, was particulary difficult. It demands that you change your mindset, empty your head so that new characters can live and prosper in that writer's brain of yours. This was the most difficult, and it took a lot of time. I wonder how it was for you guys, those who might have written quite a few manuscripts already? I was just talking about this with good lady pal Kay Em Evans, who's still working on her first ms, GYPSY. She mentioned how hard it must be to come up with an entirely new protag and voice after you've been so close to your characters in another project for so long. It's a good point, but if the voice fits the new project, and it was good to begin with, I don't see anything wrong with writing similarly. Unless you publish that first manuscript of course, in which case we wouldn't be having this conversation! What's your take on this, writer friends?

It's been exciting to read Twitter feeds and author blogs. Some got awesome news, others didn't. The ebook era is apparently changing the game, so many writers are speaking of self-publishing avenues and the countless possibilities that e-readers provide. Though putting some distance between myself and writing for some time was very beneficial to my motivation, it was just as hard to completely ignore the literary world. It just moves so quickly, you meet so many interesting and fascinating folks... even in a world where I never get a book published (regardless of method), I'll see be thankful for those awesome people I met.

Summer is now officially here, so I wish you all a great season. May it be blessed with plenty of sunlight, precious time with family, friends and loved ones, and hopefully, a book deal for at least one of you! I leave you on a new author/photographer self portrait! And don't forget to DVR True Blood on Sunday!