On Games and Gaminess

I haven’t done an actual career-related update for a while, and with several recent and upcoming articles on Entropy that I’m immoderately proud of, I figured, oh, what the hell. For writing!

Entropy is “A new website featuring literary and related non-literary content.” It’s been going strong for, oh, three weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier with the community that I’m now a part of (as a contributing editor for the site). I’ve made the acquaintance of some awesome writers who share many of my interests, and even though I don’t get to read the e-magazine as often or as thoroughly as I’d like, I can tell from what I do read that I’m in the middle of a network of great writers and thinkers.

But enough of the mushy stuff. Here’s what I’ve been doing for Entropy so far:

My first post, on March 21, was an interview with John Clowdus of Small Box Games. A small, independent card game publisher who has stayed small and independent, I really admire John’s work both as a publisher and a designer. His games tend to be small and quick but full of tense decision-making, not to mention gorgeous to look at.

On April 5, for International Tabletop Day, I wrote about  the Allure of Allegory; or, a Case for Cardboard, in which I argue passionately for a medium that I didn’t even know existed, in any serious, modern form, 2 years ago: board games.

On April 7, Janice Lee posted a piece titled Interface Culture: On Narrative & Video Games, which features a few citations from one of my previously published articles on the Black Clock blog. It’s a great, reader-friendly tying-together of modern thinking around the medium of electronic games.

And today, on April 9, I published When Play Isn’t Fun Anymore: On Games and Discomfort. It was originally three separate essays until I realized that they were all talking about the same thing: games that manage to work in spite, or because, of failing at being “fun.”

I also edited Mike Molitch-Hou’s Why-To Like Poetry and last Sunday’s list of Top 3 Unfinished Books. In the next few days, I’ll be posting Part 1 of a discussion I participated in, talking around the subject of video games and aesthetics, and there’s much more on the way, including more interviews, reviews and…wait for it…session reports!

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Slap That Stingray! Whoo-hoo!

yeah, sure, we understand
loss, but what about
accumulation

You’ve just read the most traditionally lucid page of text to be found in Andrew Choate’s (Langquage Makes Plastic of the Body) latest book, Stingray Clapping, forthcoming–and I mean really fucking soon–from Insert Blanc Press.

Yeah, you heard me–that’s a whole page. The book has something like fifty of them. Many are shorter than the one cited above. I’d share more, but that would be spoiling a dangerously high percentage of the book entire–and this is a book that I want you to read.

Okay, one more. But this is the L A S T  O N E.

karate dinner
karate dance
karate dinner dance

If you know me–which you probably don’t, I mean c’mon, this is the Internet here–that small excerpt should be sufficient to explain why I’m already in love with this book. If you don’t know me (see above), this description from the author might help:

I’m trying to give the reader an opportunity. … I mean actually generating (imagining/writing) phrases that can be read the way one listens to a favorite record: at different times of day and with different desires actively in play.

The words in Stingray Clapping are simply words without any kind of justification: not conceptual, narrative or otherwise. I imagined them and arranged them and was pleased and surprised by them.

Now, I like narrative. Some might say I like it a little too much. My bookshelves are full of them. Hell, I have bookshelves, that should tell you all you need to know. I love a good 2000-page epic novel as much as the next lad. And anybody who’s read my reviews knows I’m a stickler for narrative integrity in the unlikeliest places: video games, horror films.

But I also know that “narrative” doesn’t always mean a three-act structure or a hero’s journey. It could be that the “narrative,” traditionally defined, is entirely ancillary to what I’m getting out of these big strapping books. Stingray Clapping does something–as yet an ill-defined something, but something–that I’ve been waiting for literature to do for a good long time. It’s something similar to what Ferdinand L’Apogee’s Aphelion does, but where Aphelion does it slowly, by accumulating non-specific but weighted meaning around its repeated ciphers (a bit like Siren with its Hanuda Cross), Stingray Clapping does it all at once–with “karate dinner dance.”

A while back, I started (and subsequently abandoned) a blog post titled “Why I Don’t Regret Watching Immortals” (in 3D!). I won’t give you the full treatment here (who knows, I might go back and finish it one day), but I believe that something in what I get out of Tarsem’s films (despite the abhorrent script and lack of all but the most basic emotional attachment) is mirrored in Stingray Clapping‘s “exact and polyvalent” (to borrow the author’s description) employment of language. I asked of Immortals: if J.R. Jones, of the Chicago Reader, is correct that “Singh is a talented and eccentric visual artist with no creative future in the movie business,” how many Hollywood-ready flops do we have to endure before we can conceive of another model of film, one that might better accommodate Tarsem and his imagery–so often situated in dreams, myth, and the imaginaries of children? While their projects and their means are clearly different, I believe Choate may have done exactly as I never got around to suggesting. Unsatisfied with a literary model in which the demands of the narrative squash or make invisible any other potential pleasures of the text (note the emphasis), rather than attempting to shoehorn his delightfully ambiguous phrases into a traditional narrative or even traditional(ly narrative) poetry, he made a new model.

Or maybe we have to go back a while farther: my call, at the end of my two-part analysis of Minecraft, for texts–good old bound-paper texts–that made room for the types of emergent narratives that make experiences like Minecraft so satisfying for so many people.

Is Stingray Clapping language in a state of emergency? Well slap my stingray and call me Irwin…it just might be, at that.