So you were really hoping to wrap up your weekend reading five thousand words about a movie you haven’t seen and literally can’t watch anywhere online even if you pay for it, right?
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“Don’t look into a room that’s full of fire and say, ‘You can go in that room and you’ll be fine.’ Say instead, ‘There’s fire in the next room. We’re going to calmly figure out how to get out of here.'”
My mother, a prolific listener of audiobooks from her many years of long commutes, likes to send me recommendations for podcasts sometimes; one that’s really stuck with me is Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Poetry Unbound. I truly don’t know how popular it is, or if everyone I know who likes poetry is already over it, so apologies if I’m walking in here like “any of you nerds ever hear of Star Track?!” But I really like listening to Ó Tuama’s soothing voice and gentle perspective.
In particular, one episode on Rafiq Kathwari’s poem “Mother Writes to President Eisenhower” has been on my mind, perhaps because of certain recent events involving the British monarchy. I found the poem and the episode about it affecting on their own merit, but also because of what is left unsaid: Ó Tuama doesn’t claim to have deep knowledge of the history of Kashmir or of Partition, and he unpacks the work without comparison to his own experiences. I wouldn’t have known, if Mom hadn’t mentioned it, that his career background is in conflict mediation, and specifically in working in reconciliation organizations in his native Ireland. I’m glad the things he chose not to say weren’t lost on me, here.
“I think he’s inviting us to pay attention to all the other voices that it can be easy to consider silencing, as a result, perhaps, of not liking the medium of their communication or as a result of thinking, oh, they’re just distressed because of the war. He’s saying, Yes, they are; and listen.”
I had to go searching for a third quote just so I could legally post the first two
“Websites are not similar to telephones. They are not even similar to books or magazines. They are street corners, they are billboards, they are parks, they are shopping malls, they are spaces where people congregate.”—Ryan Broderick
“It now feels like we live in a cyberspace dominated by skyscrapers instead of neighborhoods.”—Jody Serrano
“I used to see my job as teaching students, hey, the Internet might seem great, but it has all these sort of hidden power dynamics that are troubling, and we should learn about those. And now my job is very different. Now my job is to show students that it wasn’t always this way online, and that means it could also be different in the future.”—Jessa Lingel
“What I’ve constructed with my various physical activities are elaborate coping mechanisms and once those are not working, I’m faced with the reality of not coping.”
Tim and I agree about the late, great Len Lafofka
Further dispatch from the Brendan-Bait Gazetteer: one of my most extreme vices from the last couple of years is to partake of legal substances in the evening and then open up a random ancient issue of Dragon Magazine on my tablet to drowsily browse until I fall asleep. In addition to being beautifully devoid of news from the present, reading through old Dragon brings back a lot of memories of my cousin Bruce, who gave me boxes of his old gaming material when I was a lonely teenager. I loved Bruce, and I read his similarly random copies of Dragon until the covers divorced from their staples. I did not understand game design very well, but I thought the writers who contributed to the magazines must be top-tier experts and a font of ineffable wisdom.
Here in the future, I’m married to a magazine editor, and I can see how clearly most of those (nearly always) dudes were just chucking ideas out there without a clear understanding of how they would affect anyone’s actual experience of a game. Having that context does not sour the experience of reading the work, though; to me, at least, there is some charm to their apparent naivete, and I get to see the humble origins of ideas that would end up as billion-dollar IP in our weird, weird timeline.
It turns out I am not the only one who likes shuffling through old Dragons and thinking about their place in history! Recent Blogspot discovery and fellow Illinoisan Tim S. Brannan has been running a series on his blog called This Old Dragon for five years now, an archive which I am making myself read sparingly so I don’t catch up to the present too fast.
Back in the early 90s, I never played Dungeons and Dragons because there was no one around to play Dungeons and Dragons with except when I dragooned my patient brother into it. Here in the early 20s, I never play Dungeons and Dragons because it turns out I don’t actually like playing Dungeons and Dragons. But I still get a lot out of this kind of artifact because, back then, I acquired a taste for lonely fun that hasn’t quite left me, and which I should talk more about here, someday.
“Ancient Romans didn’t accidentally set off fireballs every time they had a conversation.”
“I like that my thoughts come slowly.”
I started a tinyletter for recommending youtube channels two and a half years ago but then I was like, wait, I have a blog
If you are one of the six people who signed up for said tinyletter then I am sorry I never sent a second emission from it; I might still use it someday. (The same goes for my neglected dreamwidth account.) But I feel like I’ve got a little writing momentum here on NFD and I’d like to keep that up for a minute. So here’s a plug for an incomprehensibly deep dive into video games that I didn’t even really like that much when they were the only ones I had!
There are a lot of white dudes who like to talk about old nerd media in videos on the Internet, but mostly what they do is offer their own opinions, at best seasoned with a little intro lifted from Wikipedia. I find it hard to spend minutes of my one precious life absorbing those opinions. I have too many opinions already. What I value, instead, is the dudes who can explain and explore something I don’t understand in a way that makes me feel like I do understand it (although I very much still don’t).
This is why I subscribe to a channel with the mildly concering name of Displaced Gamers, which is not about gamers or being displaced. It’s a series of exegeses on the assembly code that composes old video games, mostly NES games, and the startling things that tiny changes in that code can bring about. I myself could not read assembly code if my life were at stake, but the channel creator’s steady, patient narration helps me feel like I can almost follow along in real time. I’m thinking in particular of these most recent two videos, about how and why one can glitch into unplanned memory areas in Super Mario Bros to find the apocryphal Minus World…
… And then discovering 256 completely new Minus Worlds in the Super Mario All-Stars iteration of the game, using only three Game Genie Codes. (!)
It’s that last bit that really gets me. I had a Game Genie for our Super Nintendo when I was young, and I made heavy use of it, which is to say that I never got to be good at video games. I never had a solid grasp on the device’s methods of operation or how to explore a game’s code with it. I was not, as noted above, an ardent Mario fan (I preferred Mario Kart and the RPG spinoffs) though I respect the ground the games broke and their own interesting design constraints. But this particular video essayist earns my attention not only because he’s doing original research in the history of software—a field which, I will keep shouting forever, is ahistorical to the ongoing detriment of the entire world—but because he keeps at the work until he can fit his proof of concept into the “you can do this with your own Game Genie” constraint. That’s powerful Brendan-bait.