February 7th, 2008

Readers should get game-literate

(It strikes me this is obvious to those of us who spend significant time playing video games, but perhaps not to a lot of other people.)

Excerpted from http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/02/readers_should_get_gameliterat_1.html:
Readers should get game-literate

Far from spelling the end of proper storytelling, video games point towards its future

Alastair Harper
February 7, 2008 3:30 PM

Here at the Guardian there are apparently only seven forms of arts and entertainment. Art itself, television, books, theatre, film, music and even the little old radio get a mention. There they are, at the top of your screen, the limit of our cultural world catalogued succinctly.

Video games are, unlike the poppiest of music, still not something broadsheet newspapers feel comfortable treating as anything close to real art. If they feature at all in the review sections, it's on a half-page at the back written by someone who seems to have attended the Dick and Dom school for journalistic expression.

To adults who play sophisticated games regularly (such as those over at the Guardian's Gamesblog) it is an old contention that video games can be art, and tell a story in a way nothing else can. To everyone else, it seems madness to think those digitised and extra gory versions of Rambo IV could ever do anything subtle. OK, so there is a mountain of idiotic guff made into video games and most are the top sellers. But are the book charts any different?

When the popular novel was as new an idea as video games, the great and good were certain, as they were with early cinema, that no sophistication could come from this prose business, especially the sort of filth Samuel Richardson scribbled about.

They were proven wrong, as doubters will be about video games. As happened with comic books becoming graphic novels in the 80s, each year there are more developers willing to take risks with storylines, develop more complex moral situations and generally raise the bar so high that it's becoming plain ignorant for anyone interested in stories to ignore them.

We need more real writers getting involved in making video games, not fewer. The results could be astounding. It will happen. Elitist suspicion of a new way of storytelling will only last so long, and I doubt the next generation of writers, who grew up on the likes of Beneath A Steel Sky, would have so many prejudices. Heaven only knows what a great writer could do with this new format. I can't wait.

The Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog: So Good It's Illegal

(Why am I not surprised California won't allow you to sell a grilled hot dog?)

From http://www.laweekly.com/eat+drink/dining/the-bacon-wrapped-hot-dog-so-good-its-illegal/18276/:
The Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog: So Good It's Illegal

Jailed for selling L.A.'s famed "heart attack" dogs, licensed street vendors are fighting back

By DANIEL HERNANDEZ
Wednesday, February 6, 2008 - 10:15 am

Not quite Mexican and not quite American, the bacon-wrapped hot dog, like the city that so fervently embraces it, has a curious romance about it. You can smell one from blocks away. The grilled bacon, twisted around a wiener, is topped with grilled onions and a mountaintop of diced tomatoes, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Then one whole grilled green poblano chile is plopped impossibly on top. You take a bite and think, This is so good, no wonder it's illegal!

Among working-class downtown shoppers, belligerent clubgoers and adventurous foodies, devotion to the famed "heart-attack dogs" is strong and strident, a source of raw L.A. nostalgia.

"I probably saw my first one while I was trying to pick up 18-year-old girls at Florentine Gardens," says Eddie Lin, a food blogger at deependdining.com, who has rhapsodized about the bacon-wrapped dogs on local public radio.

To get them, "I go to places like the 99 Cents Only store in Reseda or other Hispanic working-class neighborhoods in the Valley. Parks are good too. It's the only street food L.A. can really claim as its own," Lin adds. "It's illegal and yet it's a ubiquitous part of L.A. culture."

Edit: It appears it's a county ordinance: "Instead, she prepares dogs the only way the county Environmental Health Department currently allows, by boiling or steaming. Not grilling. And grilling is the only way to make a classic L.A. bacon-wrapped hot dog."

Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular

I wonder how much of the concern in the Japanese media over the rise of the cellphone novel is because they're nearly all written by young women. I haven't read any, and it's unlikely I'll get a chance to anytime soon, unless someone translates one, so I have no way of judging for myself.

(I'm posting a lot today. It's what happens when I'm sick.)

From http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/world/asia/20japan.html:
Thumbs Race as Japan’s Best Sellers Go Cellular

By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: January 20, 2008

TOKYO — Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.

Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

The cellphone novel was born in 2000 after a home-page-making Web site, Maho no i-rando, realized that many users were writing novels on their blogs; it tinkered with its software to allow users to upload works in progress and readers to comment, creating the serialized cellphone novel. But the number of users uploading novels began booming only two to three years ago, and the number of novels listed on the site reached one million last month, according to Maho no i-rando.

The boom appeared to have been fueled by a development having nothing to do with culture or novels but by cellphone companies’ decision to offer unlimited transmission of packet data, like text-messaging, as part of flat monthly rates. The largest provider, Docomo, began offering this service in mid-2004.

“It’s not that they had a desire to write and that the cellphone happened to be there,” said Chiaki Ishihara, an expert in Japanese literature at Waseda University who has studied cellphone novels. “Instead, in the course of exchanging e-mail, this tool called the cellphone instilled in them a desire to write.”

Indeed, many cellphone novelists had never written fiction before, and many of their readers had never read novels before, according to publishers.

The writers are not paid for their work online, no many how many millions of times it is viewed. The payoff, if any, comes when the novels are reproduced and sold as traditional books. Readers have free access to the Web sites that carry the novels, or pay at most $1 to $2 a month, but the sites make most of their money from advertising.

Written in the first person, many cellphone novels read like diaries. Almost all the authors are young women delving into affairs of the heart, spiritual descendants, perhaps, of Shikibu Murasaki, the 11th-century royal lady-in-waiting who wrote “The Tale of Genji.”