Reorganization of Writing Area

Image of White Desk with books, corkboard, and writing supplies--from Molly Reads and Writes (YouTube)
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OjukbuFDWM

Over the weekend, I started a fairly massive home reorganization project. I have several projects that I’ve put off for a while that I’ve started working on tonight. One of them, the one that I completed, was a reorganization of my writing “area.”

The Bookcase of Projects

I’ve had my projects in several different places over the last 3 years, but none of them have seemed organic or have been in one place where I could quickly grab a project, work on it, and put it back after I was finished. The closest I had was to use my late uncle’s wooden chest (that he used as a TV Stand) to place my work. However, I was looking for a place to display, store, and work on my projects, and the hardwood of the chest, even when softened with a blanket or pillow, was still much too hard to write for any significant amount of time. So, I took a bookrack and took off the books (now I’m going to have to find space for them somewhere, but that is a reorganization for a later date) and put all my story ideas, partial drafts, finished drafts, published projects, and helpful worksheets all in one place. I organized them by type and have the projects that I’ve “finished” at the bottom (for me to grab when I want to create a new “genre” based on the finished work–i.e., creating a graphic novel, novel, or screenplay from a “finished” draft). The ones that I’m currently working on at the moment are at the top (along with the published versions of my work). In the middle are the projects that are ready to be worked on next (they have characters, setting, and a rudimentary plot in my mind somewhere) , and on the shelf above the finished works are my ideas for new works–things that are missing something (usually missing a character, setting, or plot in some way, although they might have some of those elements).

The Writing Area

The one thing I couldn’t do was get the “Writing Area” (the place where I sit down and physically write) in the same area–there’s just not enough room. Well, that’s not true. There’s not enough room if I bring in a “desk” and “chair,” but I could just sit down on the floor (like I did when I was a kid) and just bang out something. I would probably buy a throw pillow of some sort (from Walmart, probably) and I could turn that into a simple space, but if I want to do any “serious” writing (at a desk), I’m going to have to find another space. I actually think that when I finish the reorganization, I’ll probably have two serious writing areas with a desk where I can just sit down and write, but thinking about it for the blog, it might be more fun just to plop down like I was a kid again and just bang out a section (takes me about an hour to an hour and a half, generally.

While I know that my writing won’t be truly on a “schedule” until I finish my degree, I can still start the process of professionalizing my writing until the time comes when I can ultimately be a professional writer.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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Hate “Grindy” Games? Blame “Hard” Games like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Etc.

Image of Bloodborne character in trenchcoat and bonesaw turned away from the viewer.
Image Source: https://www.gamedesigning.org/learn/game-difficulty/

So, a few minutes ago, I was watching a YouTube video for a gamer/commentator by the name of AngryJoe. Now, he is known for his “Angry Rants” and “Angry Reviews” for popular video games. While often fair, he does become quite “Angry” when a game is bad (esp. when it was hyped to be good by the game publishers ahead of time. Now, this is an older video in which he’s discussing prospective pricing for cosmetic skins for the sci-fi video game Anthem. However, he notes later in the video that the game is likely to be (along with other games), “grindy” (which is gamer-speak for having to multiple “quests” in order to get your character to the appropriate level to face new, harder challenges–i.e., one must “grind” those quests out to be able to grow their character). He notes, with sarcasm, that game companies claim they want gamers to fill a sense of accomplishment for their actions (rolling his eyes all the while).

Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IKs4d5oj04&t=677s
(Warning NSFW (aka “Salty”) Language

Filling Out Surveys

So the very language that AngryJoe mocks in the video about publishers wanting to be rewarded for their gameplay by feeling a sense of accomplishment is literally in the text of the surveys that game publishers send to gamers on a periodic basis. How do I know? I filled out three of these surveys just this past year alone. Some of the questions are, of course, demographic, as in what age range, what race, what games do you prefer (either a checkbox or pick your top 3), etc. However, when you get into the heart of the survey, the questions usually change to how do you play your games and what are you looking for in the game? Do play to win or to feel a sense of accomplishment, do you usually play with your friends or alone, do you go online to have fun or do you prefer well crafted stories, etc.? Gamers have told companies time and again, through surveys and their buying habits, that they prefer “accomplishment” over well crafted narratives.

The Rise of the “Hard” Game

Not to take anything from those who like “hard” games (like Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and the like), but one of the major tropes that people (pundits and gamers alike) keep saying is that gamers love “hard” games because when you finally beat the game, you feel such a (say it with me) a sense of accomplishment. By choosing hard games (in both social media — to talk about and gush over and by the success of those games), gamers have tacitly given the approval to other studios to introduce mechanics in their game that make the game “grindier” and “less rewarding” than it actually has to be. While cynically motivated to keep gamers playing their games longer, publishers can also justify their actions through the answers on surveys (answers to the “sense of accomplishment” question) and the success of other games.

I remember when Bloodborne came out, a clerk at Gamestop nearly had an apoplectic fit when I told him I was cancelling my preorder. I did so because I do not enjoy “super hard” games, so I would have just been wasting my money. However, he was so invested in the “idea” of “hard gaming” that he couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t want to pound my head up a brick wall of a game for five hours a day before making progress. Having played the ridicously hard games of the Atari 2600 era (River Raid, Pitfall) and the NES era (Ninja Gaiden, The Adventures of Bayou Billy), I’ve more than put in my time on hard games and I can tell you that the sense of accomplishment (for me) was more than off-set by the ever building sense of frustration I had when playing. So, gamers today, by through around this idea of “accomplishment” in gaming, all you’ve done is given license to game publisher to exploit this into “grindy” mechanics to lengthen (some say “pad”) out games and to push narrative further into background. So, the lesson is: think long and hard the next time a survey comes in about whether you play games for the “story” or for a “sense of accomplishment.”

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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Afrofuturism in Film

Afrofuturism movies: Unknown Movie, Black Panther, Get Out, and design for Afrofuturism.
Image Source: http://www.btglifestyle.com/blog/2018/03/12/afrofuturism-film/

I have a confession to make: I really like Afrofuturism in Films. That’s not much of an admission to you might say? Well, how’s this for one: I don’t really care for it in book form. I can tolerate it in its musical form, but the books have never really moved me in the way they seem to move others.

Why Not Books?

I think the reason is that the books tend to limit themselves far too much. Wait, let me qualify myself before I get myself into trouble. I may have mentioned that my uncle was a seminal presence in my literary life. He took me with him to the public library every month to check out books. Every month. While I had other interests besides fiction in terms of books that I checked out, fiction (specifically, science fiction and fantasy) were the primary genres that I engaged with as a reader (both in children’s books and in general fiction when I grew too old for children’s books). While my library didn’t buy “popular” materials at the time (or at least, not a lot of them), quite a few did end up in the collection as they received starred reviews in Library Journal or Booklist (which were the primary way books were ordered for the library back then). Now, I didn’t know this at the time and only found out that this was how books were decided on based on working there are seeing the process firsthand. However, surprisingly enough, two of the major writers that Afrofuturism has been formed around, Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, reviewed well and we had a fairly large (5+ books) collection of their work at any one time (usually closer to 6-7 books on the shelf at any one time). I would, from time to time, pick up a book from these two authors, but put it down again after reading the blubs on the back and the inside covers as they were always dealing with some social issue. I wanted galactic empires, world universe conquerors (like Thanos), spaceships, and heroism. While good in their own way, Afrofuturism stories were nothing like what I wanted to read.

Afrofuturism in Film

Not so for film. Even excluding Black Panther for the moment, the films of Will Smith in the 90s and early 2000s alone accounted for what I was missing from the books. Independence Day, I, Robot, I Am Legend, Men in Black, and heck, even Hancock, all are films that really show a diversity in subject and a grandness in scope that I felt was missing from the books by celebrated African American authors–and to be honest, in some ways, I still feel that they’re missing even today.

Based on my reading from Ytasha Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi Film and Culture I think I figured out the reason: the films use Afrofuturism tropes as a secondary consideration and not part of the main plot, while the books make it part of the main plot and interweave everything (plot, character, setting, all of it) as part of the narrative. For me, that falls more under the category of Social Sci-Fi (a legitimate sub-category of Sci-Fi) that is rarely used these days. Social sci-fi deals with the underlying structures of society and how future societies deal with their societal problems. While you might think this is rife for exploration for science fiction, these types of narratives tend to feature very little in the way of plot and external factors. Much like the absolute worse things about Game of Thrones they focus more on inter-character/societal dynamics and interactions than they do with actual plot or motivating (external factors). For me, as a reader, I find these the types of narrative the most annoying and the most aggravating to get through.

Now one might argue that this is the purest expression of Afrofuturism, but I would argue that it is the opposite. Black Panther featured an external conflict (Killmonger), but in an Afrofuturistic context–does Wakanda hide its wealth and abilities from the world or does it have a greater responsibility? That question is not at the forefront of the movie, but it is answered by the characterization of the hero (T’Challa/Black Panther) and his plot of overcoming his challenge/driving question (can a “good man” be King). The Afrofuturistic elements emerge through the telling of a great narrative–the narrative isn’t “hijacked” to serve the purpose of developing an Afrofuturistic society.

Now, I will probably read one or two of the representative works for , Butler and Delany so as to say that I’ve at least “read” them, but I already know from past experience, I won’t like them very much. For me, Afrofuturism only works if you can weave a compelling story around it–just creating an Afrocenric setting and culture in the future that runs into some sort of internal cultural conflict just isn’t enough to get me excited about the genre.

Sidney

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It’s All About the Games, EA!

Image Source: https://www.dexerto.com/business/ea-shares-plummet-after-battlefield-v-delay-announcement-151830

Recently, Andrew Wilson, the current CEO of EA said some things in an investor call that illustrate why I no longer purchase EA games until they are severely discounted, if at all. His comments underscore a deeper problem with EA. It, as a company, is far too invested in what its investors want and not enough invested in what its customers want.

The Customer is Always Right

“The customer is always right” is the primary adage in the business world–that is, until you reach a certain size (Megacorporation size, is what I term it) where the customer no longer becomes the focus (or core) of your business. EA is a gaming company–it creates video games and sells them to people (customers) who enjoy playing them as a diversion or hobby. Like all entertainment media, there is a risk involved that the buying public will not like the product and you will lose money. It is in EA’s interests to minimize this as best they can in order to make a profit, stay in business, and grow as company.

The problem is that based on Andrew Wilson’s comments in the investor call, (and I’m paraphrasing here), he seems to think that most of the problem is a presentation one and that the old ways of marketing don’t work and the company needs to have a conversation with its fans.

Andrew, no. Just no.

I’ve been a “gamer” since 1984 and I saw the rise of EA (then Electronic Arts) from a small game publisher of unique titles (Starflight, Skyfox, The Bard’s Tale series) to their growth with sports titles, into the megacorporation they are now. In their early years, they were focused on compelling content and the selling of games.

Now they are too focused on the idea of services, gimmicks, and the latest gaming crazes put into their games to increase their revenue, whether or not it makes sense to their games (loot boxes anyone?) How does this serve consumer (and please don’t give me the laughable line about “added value”–which is corporate doublespeak for pay us now for the game and pay us later for additional stuff we created in the hopes you’ll give us more money for the same product so we don’t have to take a risk and develop a new product you, as consumers, might not buy from us because its not very good).

The Investor Wants a Quick and Maximum Return on Their Investment

While not wrong, investors don’t really care about games as “art” (good experiences for their company’s customers). They want to get a much money back from their original investment as possible in as short amount of time as possible. Their goals are almost antithetical to that of the company in which they invest (in most cases). They look for the quickest, easiest way of getting money, whether or not that makes sense for the business in question. Don’t believe me, well when EA’s prime competitor Activision, fell on hard times recently, an unnamed investor apparently wondered why Activision didn’t have a game like EA’s suddenly (& surprisingly) successful Apex Legends in its portfolio–or so the story goes–again paraphrasing from sources.

Say what? EA itself didn’t know it was going to be a hit, so how could Activision have known? And now that they do know, what is Activision supposed to do? Make an Apex Legend “clone?” But wait, we already have Apex Legend, why do we need another?

In that particular investor’s mind (which I’m going to extend to cover to most megacorp investors), that thing “over there” is successful and “printing money,” so go do that thing and then we’ll be just as successful and printing money too. The problem is, that in most cases, especially entertainment, that’s not how success works. It has to be both very good and, at the very least, at least mildly original (but usually highly so, or at least original enough within a fairly established genre–which is what Apex Legends was, a “new” & “fresh” take on the Battle Royal genre). Derivatives rarely fare as well as the original, but try telling that to an investor–good luck with that!

Simply put, EA won’t get itself under control (and no other gaming company will either) until it remembers that investors are not its focus–its customers are. Stop trying to “monetize” customers with gimmicks and services and the like for your investors and return to creating compelling content that customers crave and cannot bear to be without and you’ll find that customers will buy your products and your quarters will be (mostly) safe.

In other words, you know those “games” that you think are “old fashioned?” They’re actually what we, your customers, are looking for. Please stop treating us a “resource” to be exploited, but as customers looking for a great product with great value at a reasonable price. If your investors don’t like it, then I humbly submit, that may very well be where your problem, as a megacorporation, actually lies.

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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Aquaman Review (No Spoilers!)

Aquaman Poster  -- Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) with Trident and Princess Mera (Amber Heard) both standing in waist high water.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaman_(film)

Over the Easter holiday, I watched Warner Brother’s next big movie, Aquaman. I bought Justice League (both were on sale at iTunes), but I only had time to watch one and we decided on Aquaman as it was newer and better rated. I really liked it and felt that it was a fine addition to the comic book genre.

DC is “Darker” than Marvel

One of the things to remember is that DC, as a comics publisher, tends to publish “darker” storylines than Marvel in their heydey. Audiences reacted negatively to these darker storylines (see Batman vs Superman), but fans don’t realize that this is normal for the DC Universe. When DC tries to be jokey and fun (Justice League from what I’ve heard), they move out of their comfort zone. However, Aquaman is a nice balance between “light” and “dark.” There is enough humor and silliness to help the audience laugh and relieve tension and there is a fair bit of “darkness” in terms of the story and dramatic tension to drive the plot/characters forward.

DC Needs to Do More Solo Movies

Part of DC’s (DCEU’s) problem is that they see the success Marvel is having in the movie industry and they want the exact same success without having done the prep work. A lot of the MCEU’s success with their movies comes from successfully setting up two or three movies for their solo characters before moving on to their team-up movies. DC wants to jump straight into team-up movies without understanding that it is the solo movies that build up audience familiarity with the characters and makes them want to see them team-up and face off against a bigger (i.e., “world ending”) threat. They’ve done a good job with Wonder Woman (WW) and now Aquaman, but they really are going to have to understand that mega-billion dollar profits don’t come overnight and they’ve got to do the hard work of successfully putting out movie after movie with their solo characters before they even begin to match Marvel’s box office dominance.

Aquaman = Underwater Thor

So, too me, while the plot isn’t quite the same, much of the action and the plot reminds me of the Thor movies from Marvel, down to the no-good brother who would be king. Instead of the “arrogant King-in-Waiting” of Thor, you now have the “reluctant King-in-Waiting” in Aquaman. Unlike WW, the filmmakers for Aquaman play it safe and they don’t really say anything new in the genre. I’m currently rereading the Memory, Sorrow, Thorn by Tad Williams which is a Fantasy series from the mid-90s and early 2000s that has much the same set-up (at least in the initial book of the trilogy) and Aquaman says much the same thing (with many of the same beats) as this fantasy story told 20-25 years ago. WW, by contrast, had something new to say about the idea of femininity and how it was constructed (and reconstructed) in the WWI era. When your main characters comes from a society outside of the social conventions and mores of the time, you can then use that character to illustrate the inanities of said mores/conventions. Aquaman does none of this, but plays it safe and is a fun, but ultimately predictable, movie, hence the mixed reaction where some really loved it and some thought it was a step backwards from WW. Also, on a pure special effects level, some of the work is uneven. Quite a bit of it was good and transported you to another world, but some effects, especially some of the fighting effects which showed “sped up” motion, were distracting. Still, it was a fun movie that I enjoyed watching and, while not my favorite, still compared to some of the “lesser” Marvel movies.

Overall Grade: B

I should probably give it a B- if I’m honest, but I really like Jason Mamoa (I’ve liked him since his role as Ronon Dex on Stargate Atlantis (SGA). I know he’s on Game of Thrones, but as I dislike that show, I don’t really have any interest in his role there. I’m glad to see him “graduate” to movie roles as I really like what I saw on SGA. I also liked his costars, but I haven’t really seen the others in their other roles per se (Dafoe being the notable exception). Also, having been a fan of Superfriends and getting to see nods back to Aquaman’s powers from that show as well as his more recent graphic novel incarnation was a nice touch that boosted the score a little higher for me. Your mileage may vary from mind, but as I don’t have a dog in the Marvel vs DC “fighting fandoms,” I have to say that I enjoyed the movie for what it was–a fairly predictable superhero story with (mostly) above average special effects.

Sidney

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  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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4 Days = 4 Chapters (Reading)

Word Cloud for Multimodal texts: Multimodal, learn, student, texts, create, words, knowledge, language, ideas, develop
Image Source: http://scalar.usc.edu/works/digital-writing-portfolio1/concept-2

So, I don’t have lot of time today, so this post will be on the shorter side. I didn’t get a chance to blog yesterday because I don’t have internet at my apartment anymore and since it rained and downpoured most of yesterday, I decided not to get out in the mucky weather since I didn’t have to do so.

Multimodal Composition: A Sourcebook by Claire Lutkewitte

I’m reading/rereading a book that I was given to help me with my Prelim exam–more on that at another date. The book in question is Claire Lutkewitte’s Multimodal Composition. Some of you with eagle eyes or elephant’s memories may notice that this book has been in my “currently reading” section down on the side of the blog for a long while now. I haven’t forgotten about that “widget,” but since I rarely log in to Goodreads nowadays (I just don’t have the time), I don’t really get a chance to update it like I should. Well, I told myself that once summer started, I would read a chapter a day from the books on the reading lists in order to be ready for the next preliminary exam and dissertation and so far, I’ve stuck to that plan. I’ve read 4 chapters from the book and will start on Chapter 5 on Monday. As there are 29 chapters total, I will be reading this book through the most of May.

Reading and Writing: Summer Edition

There are, of course a number of things that I want to read/write over the summer. I won’t take the time to enumerate them here, but as I start on them (and most importantly, finish them), I will most definitely list them here and do a small blog post about them. There are a ton of things that I hope to accomplish over the summer, but I know that if I start talking about them, so how they won’t get done, so it will probably be better for me to wait and talk about them once I’m deep into them, like I am with Claire Lutkewitte’s book. I need to remember what works for me, which is starting small and then working my way up to bigger and more extensive projects. Finishing a book may seem hard, but at a chapter a day, well, that’s not quite as hard and who knows, if I have extra time on the weekend, I may be able to squeeze out an extra chapter or two, meaning that I can finish sooner, and if not, then I’m still on schedule to finish by the end of the month. So my goal for this summer = break down as many projects as I can into smaller chunks and get as much down as possible (while still enjoying the summer sun)!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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One Shoulder or Two?

Man carrying ac backpack on one shoulder walking next to some rails in a city on a cloudy day.
Image Source: https://www.filmsupply.com/clips/man-carrying-a-backpack-on-one-shoulder-walking-next-to-some-rails-in-a-city-on-a-cloudy-day/99647

Question . . . do you wear your backpack (if you actually wear a backpack) on one shoulder or two? This is something that I’ve noticed over my years at school. If you wear your backpack over one shoulder then you are (probably) of an older generation (Gen X or early Millennials), but if you wear it over two shoulders then you are (probably) are of a younger generation (late Millennials or Gen Z). Now, obviously this is a gross over-generalization, and not at all scientific but this is just something that I’ve picked up on lately.

One Shoulder

When I was in college, starting in 1991 (& early when I visited college campuses in the late 1980s), the standard placement of backpacks was slung over one shoulder. It really didn’t matter whether it was over the left shoulder or right (probably corresponding to the handedness of the person wearing it), but I found that this was pretty much the standard. I think, at the beginning, I experimented with wearing the backpack with both straps, but it felt so unnatural to me, at the time, that I pretty much slung it over my right shoulder and that was that. As long as I didn’t overload the pack with too many books for class, it wasn’t really an issue. This pretty much was standard all the way up through 2008 when I started my 2nd Masters Degree in Education at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC). However, I think that began noticing that some students (maybe 40% or so), now wore their backpacks over both shoulders.

Two Shoulders

Fast forward to 2016 and then I came here to MTSU to study for a PhD in English. Now, pretty much EVERYONE wears their backpacks on both shoulders. The style of wearing the backpack on one shoulder is pretty much non-existent. I do see one or two people, every now and again, who wear their backpacks as I do–on one shoulder–but I would say this percentage is very, very small (sub 5% and probably closer to 1%), and (generally) consists of “older” students (students not in the 18-22 age range). Again, none of this is scientific, but as someone who remembers what a lock the style of “one shoulder” had on college campuses (the ones that I visited at least), I can say that the turn around is quite surprising and just shows that generational differences can be real.

What does it Matter?

In the great scheme of things, not much. However, it does have implications as it means that the style (norms) have changed and that differences that ascribed to different generations may have validity–that these differences are not necessarily made up. While actual research would have to be done on the attitudes and norms that people have in various states of their lives (and as they age), one can’t simply assume that one generation will think the same (act the same, do the same things) as another generation. Knowing what values, norms, and attitudes informs one generation could be helpful in ascertaining and predicting the ways in which another generation might act. For instance, I’ve tried the “two shoulders” regime when I first noticed this in 2016/2017, but it doesn’t work for me. Even though the weight is evenly distributed with two straps, because I didn’t get use to walking with this distributed weight, the bouncing of the book-bag actually throws off my stride and makes it uncomfortable to walk. Although all the weight is on one side with the “one shoulder” approach, I’ve learned how to walk so that it doesn’t affect my gait. As such, no matter how “uncool” it might look in today’s society, I will never move to the “two shoulder” approach. Such a difference marks me as “out of step” with my younger contemporaries, but so be it–I’ll put comfort over style any day.

This, I’m sure, isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but it is interesting to note that generational differences are out there and may actually affect the way people of one generation may act in regards to other generations. Just something to be mindful of as we all try to coexist through this thing we call “life.”

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • Current Work-in-Progress–February 2019: Project Dog  (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 1st Draft — Character Draft “Finished”)
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