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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, March 29, 2019

Last Call for Votes on Best Contemporary Sci-Fi

Eat my Martian dust, every other book.
[This part will disappear in a few days- Hi everyone! I currently still have $385 to raise towards our fundraising goal. I'm trying to fix the laptop I do my writing on (the plastic piece that holds the hinge is broken so it flops all the way open unless I put something in the way). I'm also hoping to have enough to cover my taxes. Of course I'd love patrons as well, but if you've ever thought that a One Time Donation fits your budget better, there would never be a better time. The "Conspicuously Placed Tip Jar™" (on your left) will work. Or click here.]

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years?  

At this rate The Martian's going to win. You okay with that? Either way, you're almost out of time in this poll. Remember that unlike our polls to date, this poll is going to have its results posted on a special display page that people will look at for years (until the next time I run this exact poll again).

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Sick.

If you're following WAW on some social media or another, you already know this, but I caught a bout of food poisoning.  I'll try to catch up on our posts this weekend, but I'm rubbish today at anything more than some personal writing and maybe a glance at fiction.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Updates (A Potpourri of Updates Personal, Meta, Blog, Fiction, Equinox, and More)

Beardwatch 19: Definitely past the "just scruff" stage.
Epiphanies, changes (big and small), a deplorable lack of group sex, and tons of ham-handed didactic writing lessons doled out in bite-sized pellets like a Pez dispenser. This is one of those posts that would be several posts back when I was posting six or seven updates a week, but now I just put it in a blender and serve it up like a thematic keyword smoothie.

Equinox-

I do something like New Year's resolutions, but I do them on the solstice. It's less some promise that I'll start or stop something I know I should be doing but don't really want to (that I'll break in three days anyway) and more a realigning of my values with my goals and objectives. It's been a quarter of a year since I stood on the edge of the Lafayette reservoir during a cold sunset and stared at the grey sky so sharp it could cut your eyelid. That day I committed to four life changes: working less, hiking more, getting out and seeing more movies, and finishing my novel.

I evaluated how I was doing on the equinox. Standing the same place at the reservoir, looking at the same tower, this time under a bright blue sky with a brilliant sun trying hard, but not quite succeeding, to show me that winter was over.

Working less has been my most important goal because it was advice that came from multiple medical doctors. No surprises, it's the one I've done the best executing. I don't take double books on pet sitting. I've been clear about boundaries in my other side gigs. I don't write for sixteen hours a day on the blog anymore, frenetically trying to dazzle readers with a never-ending stream of content.

The others have middling success. My hiking has been about as good as it can be, weather permitting. I'll hike more as the rain takes a break and trails dry up. I bought one of those subscription things where you pay $20 a month and get to see 3 movies a week. I'm getting to them on the regular, but I want to be better. Regarding my novel, I found a distinct distance between my priority and my behavior, and I required some serious adjustment.

Shoehorned writing advice- Evaluate your goals and progress regularly. If your life isn't a reflection of your priorities, are they really your priorities? (It's okay if they're not, but if you're not writing that book one decision at a time, you may have to be brutally honest with yourself, or take a greater effort to MAKE time.)


Fiction-

I've started writing on my novel before I do anything else in the day. Okay, that's a terrible lie. I will stumble into the bathroom and curse the heavens that my bladder rules me. Then I will try to sleep more, fail, and grudgingly get up. I will glance at my email and FB messages, not to DEAL with those things, but to make sure that I'm not cheerfully posting "You should be writing" memes while someone I love dies of mange in the hospital. I will then probably check the comments just to make sure there are no raging infernos of hate going on in my comments. This will lead to getting sucked into the eternal void that is Facebook for at least a half an hour. There might be an argument with some friend of a friend who mistakes being an insulting shithead for persuasive points. I will block them, but not before I've been super petty and checked if they are following "Writing About Writing" because then I'll ban them from that too. (Assholes should be deprived of hilarious memes until they learn to be less assholish, I firmly believe.) At some point I will get some water, open the fridge and stare at a bunch of food but close the fridge without eating any of it. Then I will actually POST that "You should be writing" meme. And I will reply to some text or voice message that I am entirely too busy to deal with their shit until at least 4pm. Possibly if I fell asleep reading, I may need to finish up the chapter. And definitely the Bloons 6 daily challenge needs a poke.

THEN I will absolutely get to work on my novel right away. So it's practically the very first thing.

I used to do my novel writing at the end of the day, but all the other fucking bullshit that I piled up on my plate would just leave a little tiny space (like that most people would put a garnish or some cranberry sauce). I would wind a blog post up at six or seven after nine or ten hours or run chores and side gigs for eight to ten hours and then look at the clock and decide to forget it. I was only getting to it two or three nights a week and then only for maybe an hour at the most before I got tired. Before my equinox realignment, I had a couple of hard weeks and hadn't written more than a couple of pages. That was part of the reason I knew my life wasn't matching my values.

Like most returns to a slightly stale project, it started slow. That first day, after six hours, I had to content myself with rereading what I had and gutting out half a page. But it has since picked up steam. I used to do some word count updates here, and I'm going to get back into the habit of those at least once a month.

Shoehorned writing advice- Even professional writers mix it up. Don't be afraid to find your own personal process that works for you.


Fundraising-

If you're just joining us or missed last week, I'm trying to round up enough to cover my taxes and an expensive repair on a laptop. So far I've got about $110. That leaves about $490 left. I know some people think I just press a button and the donations flow in, but I don't even have CLOSE to that kind of star power.  If you've always thought to yourself that I'm entertaining, educational, and worth a dollar or few, there would never be a better time.  My Paypal is paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

Shoehorned writing advice- If you want to make money as a writer, don't be afraid to crowdfund a little bit.  It might feel kind of humbling, but you'll get to "solvent" a lot faster than through traditional publishing.

Meta-

I feel good. The irony is when I feel good, I generate lots of ideas. WAY more than I can write down. The more energy I expend doggedly trying to do everything, the less creativity I have. Yes, I do think there is a reason that the Venn diagram of writers who overdo it a little and writers who pay the bills writing is almost a perfect circle, but if you can't find some semblance of work life balance, you'll just flame out like The Human Torch dealing with a hostage situation in a gasoline and fireworks factory.

Shoehorned writing advice- I dunno, nothing lesson-y jumps out at me from this section. Don't forget to floss, I guess. Oral hygiene is important.

Personal-

This week I had to jump in for some Nannying side gig action. (Parents are still on maternity/paternity leave, but something came up.) I got a good look at what my weeks will probably look like once I'm back on kid wrangling. I'll have to be conscious of time management since my busy times are clumped and there's this every-other-week alternating thing, but as long as I stick to my guns on boundaries, I should still have plenty of time to get the writing done as well.

There was no group sex, I'm sorry to report. Deplorable.

Shoehorned writing advice- Much like the cake, the group sex is a lie. Better love writing for its own sex sake.

Blog- 

Two bits of news on the blog front.

I'll be for sure running four posts a week. I'm losing a lot of patrons (probably because of tax season but I don't really know and I always understand that surviving capitalism is the first priority of we prisoners), and even though I know they almost certainly didn't leave because I'm "not writing enough," trying to woo replacement patrons is always easier (and feels more honest to me) when I'm putting out posts at a brisk clip. I've been doing four posts forever anyway––with one usually being some sort of revision––so this is not really more work. Just making it official.

I'm blogging on another platform. And I'm not rolling it out for probably another couple of weeks, but anyone who made it this far in a personal update gets to see the "soft opening."  It's called NOT Writing About Writing, and it's going to be a place where if you think really hard, you can probably figure out what kind of things I'm going to post there. Some political thoughts, some personal thoughts, some thoughts that just don't fit the writing mold (even if I say the word "narrative" a lot). The occasional idea that just isn't writing-related but is just a BIT too long for Facebook's more-nuanced-than-Twitter-but-still-pretty-bite-sized usual fare.

Yes, that's an India URL, and yes I'm trying out this platform because someone is paying me to sprinkle my mojo in their milkshakes so they get some love in their yard. I'm trying everything I can not to have to host ads here. If something feels skeevy or exploitative, I can pull the plug on the experiment. But they pitched an interesting idea for a new platform (somewhere between Medium and Patreon) and I told them I would give it a shot as long as I didn't have to take on a whole new dimension of blogging. A post a week was agreed on, and here I go.

Shoehorned writing advice- Know what you're worth. Artists die of exposure. Get paid. But also, it's probably good to know what you will and won't do for money before you're put in that position.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Best Contemporary SciFi (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years? 

From your nominations we have constructed our poll. Now we need everyone to come vote. Only ten days remain to get your choices on record for our new series of polls where the results will stay posted until the next such poll (likely years later).

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

[Note- We are currently only $70 dollars towards our fundraising goal. I know people think maybe I ask for money and it just floats down like manna from heaven or I click a button and hundreds of dollars shows up in my Paypal that day, but that's NOT how it works. While I would love more patrons, right now I am just trying to make $600 ($530 remaining) to fix the laptop I do my writing on and have enough to cover my taxes. If you've ever thought that you can't be a patron, but wanted to make a One Time Donation, now would be a great time.]

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Will You Do Infinity War? (Mailbox)

[Spoilers for Infinity War]

Do Infinity War!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. I will even "do" pop culture if you give me like...a year.]  

Hey can you work your mojo on Infinity War?

How about a review of Infinity War?

Your Thor: Ragnarok review was spectacular. Do Infinity War?

Why haven't you done any MCU reviews since Thor? Would love your take on Black Panther or Captain Marvel if you've seen it.

From a writer's perspective, what did you think about Infinity War?

My reply:

I'm not going to write a full review of a movie that is really only half over, but I'll jot down some thoughts:

  1. I took the look I did at Thor Ragnarok because it an is indictment of white supremacy. I felt like I had something to say about that. While I'm capable of examining the afrofuturism of Black Panther, examining it through a post-colonial lens, or unpacking the extended metaphor of feminist defeat of dudebro control, seeing past social gaslighting, emotions-mean-you're-wrong, and holding women back from the strength they have had all along that pits Captain Marvel against an extended metaphor of sexism, I think other voices (namely of black folks and women respectively) are doing a much better job of unpacking those movies than I could. 
  2. With Infinity War, Marvel did something that threw a lot of critics off. They did not even attempt to make a stand-alone film. For the first time, you really were going to miss a lot of context if you hadn't seen some of the movies before. Not just a few wayward details that you could probably muddle through, but really...you were going to be a bit lost. The criticisms I saw that it was too much action and too packed with characters and had little in the way of their development (other than Thanos) rarely seemed to acknowledge that in a lot of ways the MCU itself is "The Story" and "Infinity War" is its climax. (This has some interesting implications below.)
  3. Also they aren't done. The two-hour movie (and 250-page novel) is losing its hegemony as the entertainment medium of choice. Many people watch what are essentially 8-15-hour "movies" on Netflix or enjoy multipart films that tell a single story. In addition to being the "climax" of the story of the MCU to date, Infinity War is also much more directly part one of a two-part movie, and there's not really any way of getting around that. So I think a lot of the reviews and criticism tried to judge Infinity War as a standalone when it isn't. I left the theater thinking "Shame it's going to be a year to see what happens." It's hard to know if this was a good movie or not when the catharsis is still four hours coming.
  4. Thanos is the protagonist of Infinity War. That's just the way it's written. I realized that even before the interviews started saying things that verified that read. He's got the want as well as the need. He is the proactive agent going after what he wants. Everyone else in the movie is an obstacle he has to overcome––literally, the Avengers are the antagonists getting in the way of his moral imperative. He sacrifices everything to attain his goal. His people all die in service of the cause, and he has to fight alone in the final reel. He appears to fail multiple times, including a moment where it all seems lost at the end. And then, almost miraculously, he succeeds. 
  5. What Thanos ISN'T, is some tragically misunderstood moral agent. His Malthusian aims to save resources, besides being UTTERLY fucked up, wouldn't work. Anyone with knowledge of population growth would tell Big T that he really only bought the universe maybe 50-100 years at the most, given how quickly a population doubles if it's not at its carrying capacity. Unless he's going to show up and do his uberasshole death snap every half-century or so, it is at best a VERY temporary solution. Perhaps more to the point, that's not why resource scarcity is a thing. His snap, which will inflict the entire universe with PTSD and outrageous grief at once (causing at LEAST as much suffering or more as he claims he will ameliorate) will not double everyone's allotment because it does nothing to shift the have-nots into haves. Rather, without some sort of social leveling mechanism, it will just make rich people richer as they still "own" all the resources. 
  6. Thanos is an analogue for genocide. Why not just double all the resources? I mean, if you have literally ultimate omnipotent power over time and space, why use it to kill half the sentient people in the universe rather than shrinking everyone to half size or giving every race a extra planet of resources per million people? (In the movie, Thanos is not trying to get Death to notice his huge, throbbing...deeeeeeeeeeeestructive power.) Because Thanos isn't, as many have suggested, misunderstood, tragically misguided but trying to help, an antihero, a good ends with a crappy means, or any of that shit. Thanos kills people because Thanos is a stone cold fucking murderer. He never entertains other options because he decided what he wanted to do and then came up with a reason that fit. That he describes his objectives to mass murder HALF the universe in this trauma-bonding way that he had no choice and it was for the greater good, should be sending chills up people's spines (and does except for a bunch of folks who've never been on the working end of genocide or like-atrocities and think: "Dang, this guy has some good points.") Watch what people say when they ACTUALLY commit genocide, and you'll realize that Thanos's dialogue is not random. "I had no choice. There weren't enough resources. Too many mouths to feed. Impossible decisions had to be made. I offered a final solution." 
  7. Thanos is also an analogue for abuse. (Which is why a number of people walked away wishing there had been a content notification.) Thanos tortures one daughter to get the other to do what he wants. He tells people he's hurting them for their own good. He isolates his daughters from their support and family so they have only him to rely on and then tortures them. After each act of abuse (dragging Gamora around or hurting her), he trauma-bonds with her by saying how much he loves her. He stays almost philosophical about HORRIFIC acts of violence (until he is out of control and then he becomes enraged). And he loves like an abuser loves––deeply for the idea of someone so long as they obey completely...or he'll hurt you––which is to say, he "loves" her only in the palest sense of possession. Even in the reactions to Infinity War people essentially continued to gaslight Gamora by proxy, describing Thanos's relationship to her as "tender" and "loving" even though she herself described in visceral detail how it wasn't. Thanos delights in pain, but rather than have the decency to admit it, he obfuscates it, like an abuser (or genocider), behind the idea that he is doing something for people's own good. 
  8. I don't know if they're going to get into this or not, but if half the people on Earth die, a lot more than half the people on Earth are going to die. It's not like we keep going like we are now but we get twice as many Kit Kat bars in a pack and mostly are just WAY WAY sad because half our peeps vaped into ash piles. In fact, the agencies that track things like epidemics and diseases (like the CDC and the WHO) say we're in big, big, BIG trouble if we lose more than 10% to some kind of plague. Removing 1/2 of the people at a restaurant when only half the customers are coming in might not be so bad, but removing half the people who work at a hospital, a power plant, or a water distribution pump is a liiiiiiiiiiiitle bit different. Once our infrastructure stops working, and once people don't have clean water, power, medications, or even a grocery store with food in it, civilization basically begins a domino collapse, and a shit ton more people end up dying in secondary ways. We'd bounce back before things got to Walking Dead season 7 levels, but for most of the developed world, the estimate would be around 90% casualties.
  9. A couple of above clues show a way in which Marvel is working with the meta-narrative. For example, when it comes to Thanos being the protagonist or people in the AUDIENCE actually treating Thanos the way folks treat abusers and those who commit crimes against humanity  ("Well, he does make some good points.") there is some fascinating new rules––or lack of rules, I should say. The meta-narrative of Infinity War broke the established rules of the MCU. And it does it AS THANOS GAINS INFINITY STONES. In the first TWENTY movies, basically the plot was your standard KNOW THYSELF romp of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. The protagonists needed to learn who they (really) were, what they stood for, how to work together, or some variation of learning that they had the power to stop the antagonist all along. Infinity War turned this on its head. Quill (Starlord) got a lot of shit for screwing up the attempt to kill Thanos, but he did what he was supposed to do. He completed his full development arc and pulled the trigger to kill Gamora. He grew as a character and learned what was more important than his feels. He learned what it meant to serve something bigger than Starlord. By the 20-movie-precedent set by the MCU, he should have won in that moment.....but it didn't matter It was as if the Infinity Gauntlet reached through the movie screen and Thanos altered simply changed the laws of MCU itself. The more infinity stones Thanos gains, the more rules of the MCU he can break, culminating, of course, in the complete meaninglessness of a tearful sacrifice scene (which always works in the MCU) and at the last, evil totally achieving its objectives.
  10. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vera's Sick, No Summer School, Molasses, and What Now? (Personal Update)

Ker-ack!
Seriously though this is what a broken
black back piece looks like.
Hi everybody,

There was going to be a guest blog today, but the author is taking some time on...uh kickstarting their Kickstarter and so their promotion tour is pushed back a little. We'll still get it (and I think it's going to be awesome), but it might be a couple more weeks.
That left me hanging a little, but it makes for good timing. Because I have some news....

THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE A "PLEDGE DRIVE" this year.

If you've been around Writing About Writing for a while, you may know that every year in the past, I went and taught summer school for six weeks because I needed the money. It was an extra thirty hours or more added to an already overcooked schedule and my posting here usually broke down around week two. There may have even been some sobbing during that period.

In the past couple of years since I added Patreon, I have used the six weeks to run a full court press of asking for donations and patrons. Each week for the six weeks, I cannibalized a post and instead made an increasingly intricate plea for financial support. There were plans for future income and all the bellwethers we'd passed so far and a little thermometer showing how close we were to hitting a goal.

Not this year. I'm not teaching there anymore. I kind of don't need that money (though it'll be a little tight without). But really the reason is more petty. My boss used "Think of the poor children to whom we give scholarships" to try and shame teachers into not asking for their agreed-upon raises or any materials budgets, (plus they were cutting more and more corners every year), and I wasn't really okay with that. So I'll be writing a regular update schedule during that time when this summer rolls around.

HOWEVER, we do have a fundraiser.

I need to cover the increased tax burden of a freelancer who can't write off anything this year, and the cost of repairing and replacing some of the things I moved out with three years ago are starting to break down. Many of these things I can just learn to live without (Apple watches are fun, but entirely too expensive to try to replace on my salary), but the computer that I write on needs to be fixed.

It's been SLOW going on Patreon. Almost every month involves the TINIEST of net gain, but the needle moves glacially slow. Usually before the month ends I end up with a couple of dollar raise, but not before a bunch of people cancel or modify their pledges down and then a slow crawl back to where I was and maybe a little more. March has been particularly hard. It doesn't take much backsliding to wipe out such incremental change.


We've been moving like molasses to our next set of goals––the very next one that was supposed to cover the increased price of health insurance and the fact that my income counts as freelance and I can no longer write anything off. (Yep, basically covering the cost of life under Trump.) I'm still over $100 shy––well $121, now.) Given how my friends who've filed THEIR taxes have been howling, I'm not optimistic. After the insurance/taxes goal, the NEXT goal was supposed to be to start helping with all the little things that have begun to to break and need replacing. A cost I didn't have to deal with when I first moved out with all new stuff, but which eventually catches up to you when you live in a system that depends on engineered obsolescence.

Right now my overall life is okay. I can still make a budget stretch with the best of them, and starting in April there are nanny hours that will help give me a few more years to hit those Patron goals before I have to decide whether to add advertising revenue or renege on my commitment to keep everything I write available for free. 

And, of course, what I would REALLY love is more Patrons. (Even a dollar or three a month helps create a firm "ecosystem" of small patrons so that I don't lose 10% of my income if one of my big patrons can't keep paying––not that I don't love my big patrons to bits.) They let me budget and schedule and plan in ways that flat donations don't.

But in the meantime, I'm trying to fix my computer and get my 2018 taxes covered.


So every one-time donation helps. paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

The back plastic of Vera, my writing laptop, has a crack in it, which means the hinge has stopped working and the monitor part sort of "flops" back. Right now I have some Trader Joe's Pita Bite Cracker boxes keeping it at a 90-degree angle so that I can work.  Unfortunately, like everything with Macs, it's some laser-precision cut piece, and my research suggests I'm looking at $380 to replace it. Between that and taxes, I'm hoping to raise about $600. Every dollar helps.

And then hopefully before next tax season or the next thing breaks, I will have molasses-on-a-glacier crawled to the next Patron goal with my actual INCOME, and won't need to do this again.

Note: AS ALWAYS these posts do not do particularly well on their own merits in social media proliferation. If you want to help me, this blog, and my writing, and do not have the money to spare (or do have the money to spare but want to help me twice), please consider liking, commenting, or sharing this post so that it can be seen by more people who might have a dollar or five to spare.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Forewarning

Hi folks.

Just a quick post that won't be going up on social media. For those of you who see posts directly through blogger updates or email notifications or a subscription service like Feedly, I wanted to warn you of some updates coming that I won't be putting on social media, but that you'll see through those various updates.

This post: 25 Narratives We Hear After Every Mass Shooting (And Why They're Total Bullshit) is about to get a new look (and a polish). Each of the 25 arguments is going to become a link to its own section, and those I'll be writing on WAW's off days, probably one or at most two a week. It'll take a while to get it all done, and I just wanted to let everyone know it was coming.

-Chris

Thursday, March 14, 2019

BioShock Infinite: Your Argument Is Invalid (Conclusion)

Two quick reminders:

1- This is part 6 (and the conclusion) of a multipart article, and I’m jumping in with no recap. You can go back to Part 5 or all the way back to The Beginning

2- While I’m not decoding the end or discussing the plot directly, there will be spoilers.

And so…here we are…at the end. The Art Snobs are electrocuting Video Games with force lightning of elitism, but what they don’t realize is that the “dark lord” standing next to them is a geek with a degree in humanities who is going to use what he learned to turn on them.

Time to toss this “video-games-can’t-be-art" argument down a strangely placed bottomless shaft.

Okay.
Someone needs to stop throwing a tantrum about who gets to be special.
It's time for your nap and a baba.

There is so much more I could analyze about BioShock Infinite. More themes, more subtext, more elements that work to reinforce the vision, more failed topical social justice attempts. Each one of the parts of this could be telescoped out into ten more articles of examples. One could write a masters thesis on nothing but the idea of redemption as a driving motivation for nearly every character, or fill fifteen articles with careful analysis of all the symbolism without even breaking a sweat. I suspect a PhD dissertation arguing the inclusion of video games into the annals of art could be made with nothing but this one game.

However, my point was never to do an exhaustive critical analysis, but simply to show that it CAN be done. I don’t need to show all the symbols to prove that at least one exists. I don’t need to examine each element of video game design to show a couple that are working with the themes. I don’t need to examine every theme to show how they play into B.I.’s overall experience as art. I don’t need to unpack every critical review to demonstrate that the analytical tools being used to analyze B.I. are the same ones we bring to the table when we’re talking about film or literature (both “real” art forms).

I actually have the easy job here. I need only ONE solid example to disprove the claim that video games can't be art. I can kick my feet up, chomp some bonbons and write a (relatively) short article that illustrates my point. That is because I merely need to get the artistry of ONE video game on record. You don’t even have to agree that B.I. is “real art,” you just have to agree that it had the ability to be, so even the opinion that they fell short is, in and of itself, a success.

You see, in the final analysis, BioShock Infinite’s gestalt as legitimate art echoes its sociopolitical shortcomings. If the worst criticism leveled against it is that it failed in its ambition, then the medium’s potential must be acknowledged. A piece of art that has failed to live up to its potential must have had the potential to be art.

Checkmate, dillhole art professors.

No...
NOOOOOOOOOOO!
The position that video games can’t be art is quagmired from nearly three decades ago in the medium’s technological infancy when it literally did not have the ability to be artistic. (At least not in a way recognized by the ivory tower. A case could be made for the tension between impact and intent existing from the moment two rectangles and a circle were meant to be a game of ping pong.) And every moment since the 90’s has seen that claim become more and more absurd. Sure, there are disposable entertainment games, and no one is arguing that Modern Combat 27 is “real art” or that Navy Seals Commando 23 has engaging character arcs, no matter how breathtaking their graphics become. But the same continuum of artistic quality exists in every medium—there are literary books and throw-away books. There are engaging shows and mind-numbing shows. There are great films and Adam Sandler movies.

We can still be hard on games that are shallow, vapid, and unconsidered. Twitch-oriented offerings to the “hard core gamer” are seldom interested in symbolism or themes. But some games—some games—are rising above.

BioShock Infinite has a quadruple layering of almost every scene. The ostensible moment, the foreshadowing within the plot of the fact that Booker is actually in an infinite loop and everything is happening exactly as it has before, the sociopolitical implication of the cycle of violence (flawed as it may have been portrayed), and the thematic exploration of free will and the idea that we have any true moral decisions.

In parting, consider two moments:

One— half way through the game, Booker can be made to pick up a guitar and start strumming it. Elizabeth immediately begins to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Think about how much subtext is bursting out of that moment. In the song itself the “circle” is suffering and the question posed by the singer is if there is really a paradise in which there will be no more suffering.  (The fact that it is sung in the basement of a ratty bar in a shanty town right next to a kid living under the stairs is no coincidence.) However, the “circle” can also refer to the Delphian fate of Booker's 123 loops in which he has done the same thing over and over again. But it can also refer to the cycle of violence that perpetuates violence and the fact that Columbia is a city founded by—as well as entered through—acts of violence. But it can ALSO refer to the free will of the characters and their ability to do anything other than their nature and their circumstances predetermine.

And if that isn’t real art, I don’t know what is.

Two— I’ll let you do the analysis for this one on your own. Let the implications seep in (and a chill crawl up your spine) as I leave with the QUADRUPLE layers of artistic meaning in one of the game’s more popular moments—four (see what they did there?) white men standing on a floating platform (at exactly the time Booker gets there), singing in perfectly integrated harmony that God only knows what they’d be without....you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Chris's Fortune Cookie Wisdom for Writers XVII

Editors are like therapists. Some people need to hit an unforgiving wall of heavy-hitting feedback. Some need to find one who knows how to aikido their bullshit. Some are ready for "This totally doesn't work" and some need "I'm not sure what you're trying to do here..." If they're too mean, you shut down. And if they're too nice, your shit doesn't get EDITED––you just feel better about it. Trust me that you can pay a lot less per hour to just get validating compliments. Shop your editors!  

To get those amazing themes that work with the other elements of the story, tease OUT what you find  in revision, don't shoehorn them IN right away trying to be hella deep. 

It's an incredibly frustrating thing to want to be a writer and be told to read more. Unfortunately, it is like doing scales in music or warming up before sports practice. It's a fundamental part of the process. What feedbackers usually mean when they suggest going back and reading a lot more is that there are LOTS of fundamental, core problems in one's writing and it indicates that one has a very difficult time intuiting the difference between bad and good writing.

If you think of a writer's career trajectory as similar to a doctor's for time-to-viable trajectory, you will be in good shape for how much effort it's going to take. You can substitute reading and hard practice for undergrad degrees and MFA's but you have to be The Punisher Season Two brutal with yourself about if you're putting in full-time caliber effort or diddling while you play Total War games until 3am. Four years of undergrad.  Four years of medical school. Three to seven years as an intern/resident years as an intern/resident. That tracks with the five years of solid effort at writing before you're making more than a pittance and three to seven more before you can pay the bills.

You have to read all the time. Trying to just write is like trying to only breathe OUT.

This isn't writing advice, but maybe it's communication advice. If someone's asking about best dates, you should really check and see if they mean best FIRST dates. Because they probably didn't want to know about the threesome and the MDMA even though that's deffo the one.

If you want to dream, dream. Have fun. If you want to reach your objectives, the trick is setting goals that are realistic, within your control and measurable.

You have a relationship with your writing that needs as much emotional labor as a real one to flourish. Although unlike most relationships with people, writing will still be there after you leave for five years, have a spring/fall romance, and buy a convertible. 

You know writing every day doesn't have to mean six grueling hours on your work in progress. Add some sparkle to an email. Make a Facebook post. Write in a journal. Knock out thirty minutes. Just keep your craft sharp for the days when you CAN give it more.

When Facebook throttles your content (and they will), just remember how well you did when people actually saw your stuff out there and had the option to click on it. Facebook wasn't making them click your link. It was just ACTUALLY showing your link to more people. They chose to read it. You're doing better than you think. 

No one will ever give you the permission you seek to go be a writer. You just have to do it.


Human beings tell stories. In really, really real ways, human beings ARE stories. History is a story of how we got here. Politics is a story of who gets what and when. Polemics is a story of what we ought to find important. Most human beings exist as the main character in a story about their lives. Everyone has a story about you they tell other people. When you die, the only thing left...is a story about who you were. Everything is stories. The words that will stay are written down. Writers are some of the most powerful people to ever exist. 

When you see advice you don't like, instead of saying no, unpack WHY your saying no and what you feel like you're risking to give that advice a good-faith try. You often discover something about yourself and what you most need to be doing by considering what you are avoiding.
The seep of culture has some powerful messages that are pretty rough on artists. And that's before the STEM cheerleaders come out and act like the humanities are soft and for losers. Most artists have a day job or three, and the art they do make has its own messages of value (or lack thereof) even if it does not profit them with a monetary value that is easily expressed by how much someone would give them to possess their creations. 


Keep reading. Keep writing. Don't give up. You got this.

MORE FORTUNE COOKIE WISDOM

Friday, March 8, 2019

I've Lost That Loving Feeling! 15 Ways to Spice Up Your Writing (Mailbox)

I don't enjoy writing anymore! What should I do? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Warning: I will certainly make decades-old pop culture references as if I genuinely believe they are fresh to death.]  

Brendon asks:

Hi Chris

Let me just thank you upfront for the years of encouragement, guidance, and entertainment I've gotten out of your website/Facebook page. I don't believe in muses, but you're the closest thing I've seen to one in real life. So here's my question:

For the past five years, I've been a semi-professional playwright, which, in my case, means getting plays produced by professional theaters and getting paid, but mainly living off the money from writing classes I teach part time. I write every day. I'm pretty sure I've hit 10,000 hours by now. I don't know if I'll ever get to a point where I can pay my bills with writing and I don't care; the act is its own reward, or so I've told myself for a long time now. But in the past year, I've started to feel less and less enjoyment in what I'm doing. Moments of intellectual or emotional stimulation are becoming increasingly rare. I seldom excite myself, and I flat-out cannot make myself laugh anymore (which is unenviable when your writing typically falls into the category of comedy). I've always been willing to slog through the more laborious parts of the process for these occasional moments of joy they yield, but I feel like I'm experiencing those moments far less than I used to. In particular, the last play I wrote was just a total grind. Audiences and critics seemed to enjoy it, but I didn't, and now I'm wondering what the fuck is wrong with me? Am I an addict who has overused his drug to the point of total desensitization? Am I in a marriage that's lost its spark? Is this just temporary burnout, or will it pass? There's a voice in my head that says "if you don't enjoy writing, no one's making you keep going. You could try your hand at one of the billion other, less difficult, ways to live." But if I just didn't have the passion for it, how did I get this far in the first place? I have to believe there's some way to restore whatever it is I've lost here, but I don't know what that is. Any ideas?

My reply:

Me? A muse? That is SPECTACULAR! I've always wanted to be a muse. Well, minus having Zeus for a father, of course. THAT sounds like a special kind of hell. But I never actually talked to my father, so that part doesn't really have to change. And I could probably hook up more threesomes if I were technically a demigod.

Wait....what? 
No. NOOOO!!!
This has all gone so very wrong.
Image: Muse (the band). 
Joking aside...you're very, very, very welcome. This is kind of why I do this, and it's really nice to hear the good stuff once in a while. You won't BE-fucking-LIEVE how toxic the comments can get over on the Facebook page. It's almost like a million people with Internet anonymity are not always the kindest, sincerest, best faith people that Mr. Rogers knows they could be.

I can really sympathize with the "magic" being gone. People who love writing when the inspiration strikes and stop writing when it goes away may not ever get much published, be famous, make money, etc, but they do get to live in a magical land of unicorn rainbow jizz where they believe it will feel like that forever. For those of us pulling down a paycheck, it's work. And we can love our jobs, but some days we'd rather be doing almost anything else.

Now there's part of me that's always going to be very Kung Fu Master Po about this because no one can tell you how you feel, Grasshopper. But since you're writing me, I'm guessing there's some conflict and confusion and I can at least offer you some signposts to guide you on your own journey.

Drugs and marriage might be better metaphors than you intended, although drugs is going to be making me do my best super stretchy yoga poses by the end, as you'll see. Both suggest that you start out "high" or in the throes of "new energy," but after a while, writing can begin to feel normal and comfortable, even banal at times, and may not give you the exhilaration that it did at first. Oh, you still need it to feel normal and will go into "withdrawal" without it, but some days can begin to feel like work. Worth it maybe, but still work. You settle into a more comfortable groove. You have moments but they are far apart and sometimes require more emotional labor to get there than just showing up or sending a nude selfie of your O face.

Too specific?

What to do when you've lost that loving feeling for writing, though? Well...honestly it's not that much different than the marriage gone stale.

So let's just fucking do this thing ALL THE WAY. Let's make it weird.


I've looked up half a dozen or so real marriage articles, created a composite list of a few different actual heteropatriarchal, gender essentialist and not a little bit sexist listicles to come up with 15 Ways to Spice Up Your Marriage Writing.
  1. Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder- Unlike a real marriage, if you "take a break" that isn't code for one of you is TOTALLY cheating, and you're not ready to admit how over things are yet. Have you tried taking some time off? Maybe a week or more? Do you miss it when it's gone or is it a sick relief? If you miss it think hard about WHAT has become a grind about your current writing. Maybe it's the deadlines and not the writing itself. Or the content. Or responsibility.
  2. Maintain a Family Calendar- You and your writing have a relationship that is going to work best when everything else is taken care of. If you're cramming it in because of a feeling of obligation, it's going to feel like an obligation.
  3. Make Little Gestures- Add things into your writing that really make it feel special. If it doesn't make you laugh, think about what does and try adding that or something like it to your writing.
  4. Do Unexpected Things- Have you tried writing something that wasn't what was on the agenda? Maybe a short story or a poem. Try writing for yourself instead of your work. Just do some free writing for fun. Journal. Start a blog. But still put 110% into it. 
  5. Take a Snow (or Rain) Day- Spend a day when you would normally write doing something else, at the very least not your normal work writing. Break out from your chore-like routine. You may even find by relaxing, you find some new ideas.
  6. Adjust Your Mindset. Make Sex a Priority in Your Mindset- Uh.....well....um. Okay, DON'T have sex with your writing (unless that's your thing––I don't want to kink-shame).  Um....but what you can do is to....uh....forget about everything else and just write one scene that's been in your mind. Write the one moment you're dying to write. Learn to kind of make love to the words again. Yeah, that's the ticket.
  7. Take a Week Without the Kids- What kind of privileged ass fuckery is....? Who gets to actually DO this? Okay, okay. I'm cool. I can make this work. By "kids," of course, we mean all the obligations that have come out of your love of writing that make it more obligationy and less running-through-the-fields-in-slow-motion-towards-each-other-y. Try taking a break from those obligations. In your case, Brendon, maybe stop writing plays for a week or so.
  8. Create Intimate Moments- A lot of our feeling of the magic being gone isn't because anything is objectively different, and it's not because (like drugs) we actually develop a physical tolerance. It's because we start taking the good shit for granted. ("Oh ho hum. I wrote for two hours straight. Big whooptie dealio.") Take a moment when you're on a tear and see if you really feel dead inside or if you feel pretty darn good and you've just gotten used to how that feels. 
  9. Try Hotel Sex- Uh......oh no wait, I got this. YES! A change of scene is really good especially if you are trying to break your routine. Go someplace new. You might even try pounding out some love in public if you're feeling daring. Um.....anywho. "Hotel" might be a metaphor for a coffee shop, library, just out on a park bench, or any change of pace or scenery, but the change could do you good.
  10. Never Stop Courting Each Other- You can probably make words do what you want them to pretty easily without much effort. But give writing some effort. Bring your A game. Give it the ol razzle-dazzle. Try extra hard, and when you really fucking NAIL it (uh...your wordsmithing, I mean), you will probably feel some of that old energy come back.
  11. Focus on the Rights, Not the Wrongs- Take a moment and think about the good things writing is providing you. Sometimes reframing is just as easy as realizing what you've got BEFORE they pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
  12. Try a new position- Uh.....maybe it might help if you wrote in a new chair or standing (or sitting if you normally stand) or in bed. Or doggystyle where you're pulling your writing's hair and giving it that smack in the ass that sends it right over the edge...um....*clears throat.* Or on an exercise ball! Or rather than just the position of your body, try a new position of writing. What would your play be like from someone else's perspective? What's something you haven't written about before? If you don't need the money, maybe try something completely different, like writing a novel.
  13. Try Something New- Remember the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas when Jack has all these new ideas for how to be scary because of having experienced Christmas. He was in this shitty rut and then found out that all he really needed was to see snow or some shit. Well, without seeming like I'm endorsing incredibly harmful appropriation of another culture and the inevitable fallout and redemption arc, that's noooooooot a bad idea. Get out of your head. Completely fuck your routine for a bit. Go see someone else's funny play. Watch some theater from another culture completely. Watch some films. Check out some other art. Go freshen up the landscape of your brain with some new fodder for ideas. Preferably while on a break. ("What's this? What's this? This blogger's making jokes! What's this? He's entertaining folks. What's this? I can't believe my eyes he's kind of pervy. Wake up, me. My inspiration stokes. What's this?")
  14. Remain on the Same Team- Erm....so if you are working AGAINST your writing, you're going to feel that in a loss of catharsis, pleasure, and joy. Take a moment to realize that your writing is only a thing you should do if you want to do it. It's not going to make 99.999% of us rich or famous. The only reason most of us do it is because even the worst days writing are better than the best days without. If writing no longer makes you happy, you shouldn't struggle against that. (But be brutally honest with yourself about getting nothing from it because there are always going to be tough periods.) There's something called The Sunk Cost fallacy––where you don't give up on something because of how much you've already put in. (Like how you totally won't hang up on customer service, even after three hours of a robot telling you how important your call is.) Maybe you shouldn't be writing so much, so often, for money, or possibly at all for a while, or possibly at all permanently. Here's the beauty of it: unlike most people with relationships, you decide your level of involvement and you can try doing it less or taking a break without having to go ride-or-die. In relationships, the other person usually has a few opinions about such things. But it's really okay not to write.
  15. Give It a Full Body Sensual Massage With a Happy Ending- I can't. I'm sorry. I can't do this one. Maybe I could have worked with just the "happy ending" for fiction, but come ON! COME OOOON!!!!

Brendon, I know that losing the spark is hard, and I've slogged for longer periods than one year, but I didn't doubt that it would come roaring back, and it seems like you do. So it's kind of hard to tell someone else for sure if they should stick with it or maybe take a break....or a slowdown.....or shift gears to something more fun.  If I knew more details about what's going on in your life and what writing isn't fulfilling, I could maybe make better armchair pop-psyche recommendations, but in your case I think just doing some real soul searching and keeping in mind that writing absolutely IS like a relationship that you can take for granted and just sort of exist in (rather than appreciating and enjoying) may help your decisions going forth––or not––to at least be deliberate and considered.

And here's the best part Brendon. Doing this with drugs would be ill-advised. And doing it with a relationship would be selfish, manipulative, and a little bit abusive if a partner ever put up with it at all. But with writing...you can leave it, discover you miss it, and come trotting back. Perhaps you'll be a little rusty with your craft, if you've taken months or years off, but you can blow the cobwebs off and get back the sparkle. The point is, writing isn't a person who will go marry and have kids with someone else if you reject it. It'll be RIGHT. THERE. WAITING. FOR. YOU.

Just where you left it.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Social Justice Bard and The Curious Case of the Anti Identity Politics

Image result for identity politics importantJust a little reminder from your local Social Justice Bard about the narrative that you hear around you every day like muzak in a shopping mall. A narrative that (much like the ability to see Kilimanjaro "rising" from the Serengeti despite 313 kilometers and the curvature of the earth) can be plucked out and examined––which we social justice bards love to do.

We love plucking and examining narratives.

Snarking about identity politics is a popular pastime. It's not just limited to Trump and bigotry cultists either. The moderate left loves to hate identity politics too. Remember what moderate white Democrats said after Clinton got torpedoed by James Comey, endured a sustained campaign of misogyny, was targeted by corporate media something like three times more than the guy with mafia ties who wouldn't release his financial reports, WAS THE TARGET OF RUSSIAN PSYOPS TO GET TRUMP ELECTED, and still won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes.

I remember. It was: "We would have won if not for your fucking identity politics!"

The problem here is that demanding identity politics be stripped from any discourse IS identity politics. It just involves a little misdirection and some inveigling language. It's just like most shitty things done by folks with privilege: it is surrounded by a cultural invisibility cloak, fueled by hypocrisy, and fully charged with a double-standard field. The minute you stop and critically unpack it, it's as easy to parse as that Kilimanjaro thing. Everything any group of any kind has the temerity to mention particularly affects them or affects them in a particular way is considered "identity politics." The anti-identity politicos refuse to acknowledge for starters that everything is political and that fighting for a status quo is itself a political act. But more so they refuse to acknowledge an even bigger glaring fallacy in this labeling.

Consider this, what do you get as you strip away those "identity politics"? Strip away racial politics. Sexuality politics. Gender politics. Ability/access politics. Neurodivergent/disability politics. Who is it whose concerns remain?

The answer isn't "no one." It also isn't "normal" people. Or "regular" people. Or "everyday Americans." There IS an answer, but it isn't "default humans." When every marker of "identity" is removed, there is a group left over that now gets to talk about what it wants to without so much as considering the issues of anyone else.

The answer is ABLE-BODIED NEUROTYPICAL CISHET WHITE DUDES. They consider themselves default humans, and much like kind of grooving along to Toto without really considering why the fuck dogs have some oxymoronic desire like "solitary company," these assumptions are rarely questioned. Cishet able white men are the identity that gets 100% of their concerns addressed when all other "identities" are stripped away. They consider THEIR identity politics to be an absence of all identity politics because they consider themselves to be default humans.

Of course, class politics might be addressed in this vacuum (assuming an actual good faith concern with class politics and not a sophist "what's wrong with the world today"), but of course, not as they intersect with any other identities. You get lots of "we're all just humans" in ways that BREATHTAKINGLY ignore other forms of oppression. These conversations sidestep the way capitalism so predictably relies on other identity markers to "justify" its treatment of a perpetual underclass––the one it needs in order to form its inexhaustible supply of exploitable labor. Not in a way that recognizes how different forms of oppression often dovetail and magnify each other. Military politics. Global climate change. The prison industrial complex. All of these things affect different groups in different ways but stripping out the "identity politics" centers the concerns of white men.

Besides, suggesting that nothing matters as much as economic inequality and that economic equality would suddenly solve all problems is strangely a position held mostly by people at the top of social hierarchies––particularly white men. Only they can see that it's all about class and nothing else matters.....for some reason.

It's like fucking Scooby Doo. Pull the mask off, and it's an white dude making everything about him every time. In an act of sheer irony, they will even make HOW identity politics hurt them IN PARTICULAR into their own brand of specific identity politics concerns. ("White men are the most hated.....")

They've just made everything about them with a little sociolinguistic magic trick that makes it sound like they're doing exactly the opposite, like they have mankind's best interests at heart when they ignore any group that has any other identity.

You can't see Kilimanjaro from the Serengeti. Dogs don't want solitary company. And shrieking "no identity politics" is just a way to make sure that the identity politics stay focused on one particular identity.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Best Contemporary Sci-Fi (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best science fiction book or series from the last ten years?  

The nomination process is over, but now we need votes in the poll you all helped form. Our poll will not go on as long as the nomination process did. I will post the results (no matter what) on Friday the 29th. Even if you missed getting a nomination on the poll, come vote for the first of our resilient polls.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

BioShock Infinite: Your Argument is Invalid (Part 5- A Swing and a Miss On Social Poignancy)

Three [Four] reminders:

One - I’m jumping right in from the previous articles with no recap. You can go back to Part 4 or all the way back to the beginning.

Two - this article necessitates spoilers

Three - this article is not concerned with decoding the plot itself.

[Four- This article was rescued from another blog, and is little less about writing than our usual stuff. It's also pretty dated, but that's pretty much business as usual.]

I have some bad news.

I’ve spent about four parts of this article lulling a growing audience of geeks into a false sense of security—making them think that I would do nothing but heap praise on one of last year’s most popular (mainstream) titles—and now I am going to turn on them.

Because BioShock Infinite fell on its face.

You see, despite the technical execution, the subtext, the examination of the deep philosophical themes, and the artistic elements that reinforce the theme, there were things BioShock Infinite tried to do that simply failed.

And I don’t mean it failed like Jake in Chinatown. I’m talking more like the dire fate (complete with hallucinations of great success) that Sam Lowry suffers in Brazil. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I need to give myself time to get to an undisclosed location before the mob finds pitchforks and torches, so let’s start with the criticism.

For starters, let us consider Tevis Thompson’s scathing review of BioShock Infinite. Like most torpedo jobs of this caliber, it has salient criticism that an open-minded gamer would be foolish to blow off as trivial; considerable umbrage that amounts to little more than Tevis's personal taste in games; and a few “kitchen sink” items thrown in to pad the list list, which are a bit absurd.

Yes, Tevis, we’re all impressed that the game is too easy for you unless you put it on hard, and then it’s too hard. How unlike other games that must have seemed. 

The article is quite long (though well worth the read) but let me give you just a couple of extended quotes so I can work with them.

Now geeks…before I get into this. A moment over here next to the Doctor Who posters if you don’t mind? This will only take a second. I want to ask you a favor—especially if you have enjoyed the article so far. In Geekdom we have a bit of…(what’s a delicate way to put this?)…a reputation. Our ability to maybe accept that sometimes great things have bad parts or that we like something that is in any way problematic isn’t, in a manner of speaking, always demonstrated by our outwardly decorum when we discuss our fandoms. In fact, it is fair to say that sometimes the reason intellectualconversations about geek culture go on around us, and we aren’t invited at all to sit at the table, is that we can be a little…hmmmm.....strident in our defense. So I’m going to ask you to stick with me through the end of the article and see the point I’m making, and if you still want to be “those fans” when it’s all over, I’ll understand. Okay? Okay.

So let’s look at Tevis's criticism:
  • "Elizabeth may clear the very low bar set for women in games, but she’s not a complex character. She’s a companion cube in a corset. For most reviewers, this counts as a real person. Or near enough….She gradually loses her clothes over the game until she is finally re-damselled and etherized upon a table, mo-capped, fully formed. She also flicks coins and supplies at you, just to remind you she’s still there. She is otherwise invisible to the rest of Columbia, despite being its most wanted citizen. She exists only for you, a marvelous tool, an extension of your strapping self….This is all by design. Irrational head Ken Levine wanted the player to forge an emotional connection with Elizabeth but not have her be a burden. Because lord knows, relationships are never burdens.”
  • “Why are the Vox capable of just as much cruelty?….Is it because history is full of examples of bloody rebellions and reigns of terror? But then that ignores the actual historical context in America that Infinite claims to care about, where the long struggle for civil and political rights was remarkably non-violent (at least on the side of the disenfranchised). They wanted to make a point about how any extreme position is dangerous. Even if that position is racial equality, fair wages, or medicine for your daughter dying in Shantytown….Infinite creates a clear moral equivalence between Columbia’s oppressors and oppressed. Both Booker and Elizabeth voice versions of this ‘one no better than the other’ logic, in case you miss the point. Such false equivalencies are beloved by the lazy, the aloof, the cowardly….The straight, white male gamer could in fact find no better home for his high-minded non-politics than BioShock Infinite.” 
Thompson might be one of the most long-winded voices, but he is far from the only one. Here is a link to ten critical responses of B.I..

A few gems from this link:

  • Infinite doesn’t know how to humanize the white citizens of Columbia and make their vile perspectives comprehensible. Instead, it dehumanizes minorities and laborers so that everyone is a monster.”
  • “When your super-liminally racist society ends up being destroyed by the only black characters in the game, who are depicted as violent, white-people-hating, child-murdering savages, you're just confirming the racist white people's ideas about black people and presenting them as true.”
  • “With all of the discussion of misogyny in the industry lately, from sexual harassment, to "if you cosplay then you ask for it" mentality to the Tropes Vs. Women question of "Why's it always the damsel in distress?" I'm dying to know what the women of the industry think of the depiction of Elizabeth. I actually wanted to see her "tear things up" in another way more often.

The long and short of it is that B.I. took on a few sociopolitical topics, with the intention of being enlightened and edgy, and ran afoul of a lot of criticism pointing out that they failed spectacularly in their efforts. In fact, it’s a little bit hard to ignore how consistently the criticism breaks down along exactly those lines with which B.I. was attempting to be “edgy.”

I already know some of you are racing to your keyboards and stimulating your bile ducts. How dare anyone not see this the same way you did!

Yes. Good.

The hate is flowing in you now. Take your nerdrage weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your hatred and your journey towards the unthinking, rabid fandom will be complete.

Gamers and geeks sometimes have trouble with the idea that media have aspects, and that it’s sometimes okay to like problematic things. Instead, we are intensely driven to have an all or nothing attitude towards those media, an attitude that (ironically) exacerbates the struggle to achieve legitimacy among the snobby assholes high art sommeliers. However, it is absolutely vital to be able to embrace this duality with BioShock Infinite, because its triumphs and its failures are both equally dramatic. For everything B.I. did spectacularly well (and there were many such things), its portrayal of racial struggles as being morally equivalent to racial oppression, and depending only on which side happened to be armed were BREATHTAKINGLY fucked up—in some places (like showing the leader of the movement for equality as a child killer) so OUTRAGEOUSLY so that it almost defies credulity. When that happened, my jaw hit the floor with how white, upper middle-class, silicon-valley-dudebro-who-just-got-yelled-at-on-Twitter-for-writing-a-screed-that-privilege-isn't-really-a-thing the narrative's false equivalence had come. And I made a note to have a nice, long talk with the person who had insisted I would love this game.

Unfortunately, Irrational tried to draw attention to how damned enlightened they were being and it backfired. Don’t get me wrong, the social commentary fit into the thematic exploration we’ve been discussing for the past two articles. (“Isn’t it amazing how this ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ stuff ends up being just a product of external circumstances, and we’d all do the same thing in the same political circumstances. It’s like there isn’t actually any choice in the matter!” Subtle, right?) But with both the racial plot arcs and Elizabeth, Irrational bragged so vociferously about how differently they were handling things than other games that they also drew attention to the glaring flaws.

From the grotesque image of having a murder of crows feast on a person of color, to the entire polemic of “they would be just as bad if they had the guns,” to Elizabeth being nothing more than an ammo dispensing machine in the fights who otherwise stays out of the way, the whole game has the feel of someone who thought they were being "hella woke," but who didn’t stop to actually get a lot of input from people who knew or understood the struggles, contexts, and history into which the story plunged itself head first. Accurate or not, I got the distinct impression that this is what a group of mostly white, mostly male, largely middle-class and generally apolitical gamers thought was a deep social exploration of race relations, and that they really hadn’t spent a lot of time running the likelihood of the history they insinuated into their alternative timeline past anyone but themselves.

I do think B.I. has a sort of value even in the places it came up short. I would recommend it with the same impetus with which I would recommend someone read Huckleberry Finn. It isn’t a realistic, accurate, or even generous portrayal of what it’s attempting, but rather it reveals the social mindsets of the time—in this case OUR time. It shows how people can sort of be facing the right direction, have great intentions, be technically on the right side of big problems like racism, and still really lose the plot when it comes to any nuance. B.I. reveals early 21st century perceptions of racism as a hyperbolic horror from our past, but obtusely (and rather ironically) fails to consider its own set of modern-day insensitivities or how privileged its narrative comes across at times. Irrational’s attempts echo (with an almost spooky harmony) the sentiment espoused by many whites: that they already understand oppression without having experienced it or engaged with those who have, and that "angry" equality movements are just as bad as the oppression against which they struggle.

All this is pretty demonstrable within the game's plot and frame......

However, in addition to of focusing on what B.I. did wrong, and the many many many places it stepped on its own toes in its sloppy attempts to pursue lofty social ideals, let us also return to consider not only the criticism itself, but the intense discussion that it has sparked, all the different opinions, and even the way it has opened the door for some people to become aware of things like privilege and microaggressions because of the larger conversation around B.I.’s ham-handed portrayals.

As people raced to criticize BioShock Infinite, and others raced to defend it, something happened within that crucible—a conversation.

Across a bazillion forums of the Internet, and even a few places in meatspace, that conversation changed people. People in power learned why the sophist polemics of B.I. were hurtful. Marginalized voices had a touchpoint and context with which to discuss broader social failings. A million bits of art or entertainment every day are ignored despite all of the problems B.I. had (and worse) because they’re just not compelling enough to people to bother correcting. BioShock Infinite created something so poignant that folks who took umbrage stood up to point out what was devastatingly wrong.

Take this last quote:

“Its commentary on racial segregation and civil rights; its sheer violence; the lifelessness of its world – these have all fascinated and concerned players. And that is where the discourse comes in. Because it refuses clarity, for good or bad, BioShock Infinite has inspired a huge range of impassioned and conflicting responses.”

Discourse? Feminist theory? Critical race theory? The appropriateness of violence in the setting? The portrayal of turn-of-the-century race relations? Commentary on civil rights? The fleshing out of characters? Wardrobes following male gaze instead of empowerment arcs? Inspiring impassioned and conflicting responses? A crucible of social commentary?

Folks you don’t see this kind of discussion about Centipede or Burger Time.

This isn’t your typical “9/10 Graphics 8/10 Gameplay” reviews. These are the kinds of criticisms and analytical tools we bring to the table when we’re looking at literature and film.
These are the kinds of criticism and analytical tools we bring to the table when we’re looking at “real art.” 
Look, I firmly believe geeks need to have some of their golden calves tipped over, but this also works as one more of my “video games can be real art” proofs:

Even if B.I. crashed and burned (and it arguably did) in its attempt to be edgy and deep with racism in Columbia, the worst criticism that can be leveled at it from an artistic point of view is that it failed.

No one is making a (non ironic) argument that Galaga failed to portray race relations in the 80’s, because there’s no way Galaga ever could have succeeded in doing so. No one applied feminist theory to Contra that was any deeper than “Look—another side scrolling shooter game with two ripped dudes.” Neither Dig Dug nor Q*bert sparked a discourse.

The fact that BioShock Infinite took on such huge topics and got raked over the coals is only proof that had it handled things differently it would have or could have done better. In other words, if the worst thing you can say is that they got it wrong, you must admit that the medium of video games has achieved the point where it is possible to “get it wrong”—or conversely to “get it right.” And that means they have reached the point where they can tackle extremely complex and sophisticated issues.

Conclusion...