Shaq’s Gyros: A Short Story

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Inspired by a recent contest held by I Don’t Even Own A Television, in which they challenged listeners to write a short story beginning with, ‘Shaq’s about to eat five gyros’. My entry is too late to be considered, and too long, but it is still worth sharing with the world.

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Shaq’s about to eat five gyros. Autogyros, specifically: two red ones, two white and one blue, as if painted for a Fourth of July airshow. The stage matches the garishly patriotic colour scheme, Yankee Stadium’s field paved over with plinths daubed in stars and stripes. Shaq himself is dressed like Evel Knievel dressed like Uncle Sam, but without the beard or hat. With that grin and that enormous stature, it would be impossible to mistake him for anyone but Shaq. A hundred cameras pick up the sweat criss-crossing his brow, and a manic, queasy smile is smeared across the Jumbotron for a sold-out stadium crowd. The plinths with the gyrocopters are squatting on first, second and third base, with two in the outfield. Shaq himself is on Home, standing but not waving to the crowd, as if about to receive an Olympic medal. Anticipation, confusion and worry beat down on us like the August heat. Continue reading

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Book Review: merritt kopas puts together a fascinating snapshot of Twine games in VIDEOGAMES FOR HUMANS

 

The rise of Twine games is one of the more interesting parts of the increased access folks have to the tools of game creation. For those who don’t know, Twine games are text-based games, usually rather short, usually covering personal and abstract topics and developed by only one or two authors. In this collection, merritt kopas (a writer, game dev and podcaster) brings together game creators, critics and writers to play through one Twine game each (curated by kopas) and comment on their playthrough. Since Twine games are primarily text-based, the game texts are reproduced in full on the page, separated from player commentary by font. It’s a really great idea and one that effectively turns Videogames For Humans into a book-length collection of Let’s Plays.
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Press X to Hug: Aesthetic Reinforcement in Videogames

In recent years there has been a lot of writing on ludonarrative dissonance – the point where a game’s story and mood are disrupted by gameplay elements. Higher-profile examples include open-world games such as Watch_Dogs, in which the main character casually robs passers-by and leaves beaten-up crime suspects in back alleys, and yet builds a “reputation” as a people’s champion for his vigilante justice. This dissonance can lead to a breaking of immersion, and crucially, distort the moral aesthetic of the game. Today I’m looking at some instances of the opposite: features which exist primarily to enhance this player immersion, and reinforce the game’s aesthetic.

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Raw emotion and musical imperfection: Comparing Casey LaLonde, Mom and Car Seat Headrest

I’ve been noticing a trend in my recent purchases on Bandcamp and the like: independent/unsigned artists who blend electronic beats and melodies and a smattering of traditional instruments with an overwhelming sense of emotional honesty. This ranges from the beautiful, layered electronica of Casey LaLonde’s Floating Rooms to the stripped-down confessional of blacksquares, particularly 3, her newest release as Mom. On the less electronic side of things are artists like Car Seat Headrest, whose latest album How To Leave Town features some of the most stark and evocative depictions of anxiety I’ve heard. All three of these artists work solo for the most part (there are guest appearances here and there), though LaLonde’s album features mastering by 3noneTwo.

Car Seat Headrest – How To Leave Town

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The Worst Idea Of All Time is Actually A Pretty Great Idea

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to The Worst Idea Of All Time, which has quickly become one of my favourite podcasts. The concept is simple: Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt are two friends and comedians from New Zealand, who have decided to watch the film Grown Ups 2, and review it. Every week.

For a year.

At the time of writing they’re up to 24 viewings, which is almost half of the project completed (or “not even half” if you take into account the enormity of the task). Let’s run some numbers: the film is one hour and 41 minutes long, or 101 minutes. Multiply that by 24, and you get forty hours and 24 minutes, or over a day and a half of these men’s lives spent in the company of Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James and the rest of the star-studded cast and crew.

Listening to the podcast is fascinating, because not only do you capture the highs and lows of the viewing experience, but also witness  the encyclopaedic knowledge that Guy and Tim have accumulated, to the point where they can not only quote large chunks of the film from memory, but are able to describe specific camera angles and barely-seen background characters in clear detail. In a twisted way, this project encapsulates one of the more interesting concepts in videogame studies: superplay.

Superplay is described by James Newman as ‘gaming practices…to demonstrate mastery of the game through performance‘. Notably, it is exemplified by approaching the game in radically different methods, often beyond or even counter to the expectations of the game’s developers. Speedrunning Yoshi’s Island, 0% playthroughs of Super Metroid, tournament play and ROM-hacking are all examples of this. And, I would argue, so is the Worst Idea Of All Time.

Films can be experienced in a number of different ways, from watching in a packed cinema to watching installments on your smartphone during a commute. For the most part, Hollywood films (especially big-budget comedies like Grown Ups 2) are primarily made as enormous cinema cash-grabs followed by steady DVD and on-demand revenue. Particularly with Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions, these films are easy ways for the cast and crew to make regular piles of cash with minimal expenditure and input on their part. They’re marketed as simple, switch-off-your-brain popcorn flicks, easily discarded within a year for the next one to fill the space.

That’s where the genius of the Worst Idea Of All Time lies. In subjecting the film to repeated watches and repeated, explicit scrutiny (each viewing is followed by a ~25-minute discussion), Tim and Guy are experiencing Grown Ups 2 in a way that nobody involved in its production could have anticipated (or likely wanted). The project is so unreasonable, so intense, that every aspect of the film has been scrutinised, from the casting to the financing to even the foley. In their own way, they have demonstrated unparallelled mastery of Grown Ups 2. And from the sound of it, with every week bringing a new stage of despair, elation or exhaustion, this mastery is hard-won.

In short, check out the Worst Idea Of All Time podcast. It’s uniquely fun.

Book Review: in LIMINAL STATES, Zack Parsons takes things to their logical conclusion, and it’s not pretty.

Wow, I haven’t posted anything in a month. I will make up for this I promise!

 

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I didn’t know quite what to expect going into this book. I’ve been a fan of Parsons’ work on Something Awful for years, and while his comedy articles are great fun, I’ve always loved his short horror/sci-fi fiction. He’s great at playing with tone and format and narrative voice to produce a sense of unease and confusion, particularly in his Instructions For A Thing series (and another involving alien beings called “unravellers” that I can’t seem to find).

So when I opened the book and was greeted with a slow-burn, harsh and gritty Western drama of hatred and revenge, I was surprised. But not unpleasantly so – Parsons weaves a slow burn of a narrative, offering bits and pieces of the unnatural that pile up as the story progresses. The core plot hook is this: an outlaw named Gideon Long finds a way to cheat death, and decides to share this “gift”.

Set in three different times – 1874, then an alternate 1951 and 2006 – Parsons tracks the effect of the anomaly from its first discovery through its exponential growth into something bizarre and horribly out-of-control. Each of these times – itself a “book” within the novel – is written in a different style, too: the Old West is written as a dark and troubled story of a lawman and an outlaw; the ’51 narrative is a hard-bitten gumshoe with war drama thrown in for good measure. Come the “present”, the style is more urgent, and zips along like a techno-thriller.

It’s in the final chapters of the book that I felt the most familiarity – the visceral prose, the uncanny, queasy confrontation with the unknown. But honestly, that’s where I found myself faltering. A few too many awkward turns of phrase or too-fast action had me going back over short passages. I’m not sure how much of this is down to editing, deliberate style choice, or merely the author’s own momentum picking up towards the ending (a very satisfying, if bleak one). It was just kind of distracting. Of the three narratives, I found myself most gripped by the 50s noir aesthetic.

Overall though, minor gripes aside I really enjoyed this book. It’s ambitious, sprawling, and immersive, and some of the passages are genuinely gripping. I’m aware of some short stories he’s been writing recently, so clearly there’s more good stuff on the way.

Tao Lin visits the gym

An affectionate parody.

 

 

TAO LIN VISITS THE GYM

after waking up at 6:15pm, having spent an estimated two hours checking tumblr, twitter and the facebook page of a writer i used to talk with, when i spent two weeks in florida after a book tour, i decided i should probably go to the gym.

i felt like the enite universe was inside my head and telling itself to get swole. i went to whole foods on the way and stole some zero-calorie energy drink, toilet paper, three apples, organic soy milk, a vegan protein muffin. as i left whole foods i saw the cashier look at me with a neutral facial expression before giving an “i think i would like to be asleep” kind of smile.

the gym was loud with a steady “thump thump thump” of music that i used to hear on the radio when i was a teenager before turning the radio off. it made me think about how my brain was evolved away from killing animals and fighting in wars and into a tool for making poetry and trying to understand other brains inside other human beings, who might be evolved away from killing animals but toward “killing fat” and “maxing” their “glutes”.

i was thinking these things while sitting in the locker room at the gym and drinking my zero-calorie energy drink. two other men were talking in loud voices about “getting mad jacked” and discussing whether an actress, who had recently been in an unsuccessful sci-fi film about artificial intelligence, would have sex with them. one of the men had a desperate expression and his voice was getting progressively louder.

i walked out into the gym and went over to the racks with the dumbbells. a bear was already at the racks and it looked at me with a “what are you doing, these are my dumbbells” kind of facial expression. it made me think of when i emailed my publisher two weeks ago, at 3:12am, about writing a children’s book about bears, which my publisher, at 3:53pm, had described as “not my area”.

“do you come here a lot,” said the bear.

“sometimes,” i said. “i guess. not much.”

“okay. don’t kill yourself with these things,” said the bear. then it picked up two 35lb dumbbells and threw them at the mirror, which covered the whole wall of the gym, but they disappeared before impacting with the glass. then it made a loud screaming noise for about six seconds. then it said “get jacked” in a loud voice and moved closer to give me a “high five”. then it disappeared. the music in the gym was still loud, a woman was singing about never giving up. i watched my reflection and realised i had some zero-calorie energy drink on my screen-printed “trash humpers” t-shirt. i had a neutral facial expression.

i looked at the dumbbells. they were big and heavy and helpfully, had their individual weights printed on the sides. the last time i was at the gym i was anxious and depressed because i had ingested mdma and xanax earlier in the day and was on a “come down”. i thought “what if a hamster could lift one of these dumbbells up.” then i thought about a hamster getting squashed by one of the men from the locker room. “cool,” they would say in loud voices. “sick, bro.” then maybe they would high five.

i started eating the vegan protein muffin i had taken from whole foods. then i thought, “maybe if i ask one of the personal trainers they will crush me under a dumbbell.” they were all busy with other people and offering encouraging words like “yes” and “one more, girl, you are really killing it today”.

a bear appeared behind me. i looked up and saw its reflection in the wall mirror. it had a confused facial expression. it was holding one of the 35lb dumbbells. then it exploded.  i finished eating my vegan protein muffin and stood up. then i went to the locker room and changed out of my gym clothes and into my normal clothes, taking two shirts from another person’s locker and putting them in my bag. then i went home.

“i am getting so pumped,” i thought.