So for a while now, this here blog at CLR has existed primarily by my own arbitrary and oft nefarious whims. Going solo is obviously the reason why for a whole year, updates were totally haphazard and the blog had a secondary theme of “Mike Haggar being awesome” to which I make no apologies. He totally is.
Lately though, I’ve been making the attempt to try and turn this baby blog around. Put out out more content and provide deeper gaming thought with less politically-based polemic, to try and “grow the beard” to use the parlance of our times. This has resulted in a name change to The Dialogue Tree, and a new man crus- er, I mean mascot: everyone’s favorite Captain Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.
Yes, I’ve been seeking to build a clubhouse of sorts in this tree of ye olde “dialogue”. By that, I mean I’ve been inviting others to join me in it. Not only to make the place a little less lonely, but also keep with the theme of Dialogue . . . not monologue or soliloquy. Not that “Soliloquy Tree” doesn’t have a nice ring to it.
Unfortunately, no one has shown up. Not even a single response to my mass Craigslist personal ad proved suitable for a fellow writer! Though there may have been some confusion, I mean, how was I supposed to know “WL4W” didn’t mean “Writer looking for writer?”
I mean, come on! This is ridiculous. I’m even offering punch and pie here!
OK, so maybe the punch, is the “punch that comes with truth hitting you square in the brain box”, and I’ve heard the pie is “the humble pie you eat after I break you of your tired misconceptions”, but the sentiment’s the same. Pretty much.
I guess I’ll have to do something drastic. I’ll have to change our entrance policies . . . again!
Alright, so first, let’s throw out the “only Harvard Grads, no Yalies” ruling, then this “no girls allowed” sign. While it does invalidate me as a member of the He-Man Women Hater’s Club, they’ve really gone downhill as of late. Then let’s see, carry the two . . . over the denominator and what’s this?!
More importantly, who’s this? And are they a Yalie? Because I’m still thinking of keeping that restriction!
Why no! It’s none other than Laura Buttrick! Student and author of the blog Press Triangle for Cake, as well as such recent CLR Reviews as this one for Binary Domain, and this one for the latest disappointment from Konami, Silent Hill Downpour.
Unfortunately, there is one caveat: she’s British. Yes, yes, I know. We Americans shouldn’t hold grudges against our former oppressors. But what’s going to happen when she submits a new article and I’m obliged to perform my patriotic duty as mandated by The Constitution and throw out all the T’s?
Confusion that’s what! Then there are the inevitable British-isms and soon it’s all “lifts” and “trousers” and “flats” no longer fitting their proper definitions; not to mention the nonsense words like “lorry”, what is that?! This is the California Literary Review in case you haven’t heard – can an outsider even begin to comprehend the subtle nuances between the 47 variations of “dude” and half dozen “fer sure”s you need to navigate my posts?
But then, I must ask myself: What Would Picard Do?
Ah yes, “xenophobia”, he would dismiss that claim. Makes sense coming from a Frenchman with a British accent on a Flagship continuing an American naming convention, actually. Fine Picard, you win, Laura is now officially a member of the Grand Order of Stewards of Yon Dialogue Tree of Olde.
*performs Initiation Ritual. NOTE: this takes several days and involves a three pints of egg shell paint, an arboretum, and a goat of indeterminate origin.*
With that done, I now must ask Laura to introduce herself by revealing something embarrassing. To let the folks reading this know that not only is she smart and talented, but a gamer through and through. It’s also the final part of the ritual, and you don’t want to leave the painted goat hanging for too long.
So without further ado . . . Laura Buttrick everybody!
The first video game I ever played was Barbie Riding Club. I still own it, and every so often I’ll reinstall it and take it for another spin, just to see if it was as truly wonderful as I remember. The answer is inexplicably: yes. Yes it is.
The game revolves around caring for horses, taking them on rides around the local trails and racing them on the beach. There’s even a small plot line involving mysterious wild horses which culminates in the first video game ending cut scene I ever saw. It’s a game of huge sentimental value to me, yet it wasn’t until a few years later that I picked up my next one.
The typical “gamer story” usually starts with a Nintendo title dominating someone’s childhood until they got a PlayStation or an Xbox, so it’s always fun to pull out the “Barbie Game” anecdote at parties, particularly as games aimed at girls were not particularly successful even with entire developers like Purple Moon focusing their efforts solely on the female market. Like most introverts I found the social demands of childhood made video games a comforting escape, and like most children I spent my playground years playing Pokemon, until they banned the cards and Gameboys from my school.
Childhood gaming is something always regarded with fond nostalgia, not least because our vivid imaginations could fill in the gaps where technology was still lacking. Part of the joy in booting up an old N64 cartridge is in remembering how you once perceived it – cutting edge and somehow eternal. Looking back is almost as rewarding as looking forward.
These days games are more than just a hobby of a mine, although it’s hard to articulate this effectively to anyone who doesn’t play them without sounding like I dedicate my life to being incredibly lazy. Studying video games at University is something that would have been unheard of ten years ago, but thanks to rising support for games as both an art form and an area of academic study, I now spend my days reading and writing about games even more than I do playing them.
I spent a year at Exeter University studying literature, which was time well spent in hindsight as it gave me the opportunity to understand where it was I really wanted to be. The last essay I submitted before I left to pursue Games Production in Lincoln was a critical appraisal of gender in the Tomb Raider games, and I managed to come to the somewhat baffling conclusion that Lara Croft was really a man and that transgendered people should be treated equally (which of course, they should, but I’m still not sure how I managed to rope Lara into it).
Despite this pretty rocky start it was my first step towards doing exactly what I wanted: being really analytical about video games.
Culturally, games are just as important as art, literature and music – I’m not just talking about video games now but games as a collective whole. Leisure time may have been in short supply for most until the last century or so but it hasn’t stopped man from playing. It’s easy to be dismissive about such pleasurable pastimes, to write them off as having no real meaning, until you realize that games need not be only a tool of fun but of meaning making. It’s easy to cite games such as BioShock and Dead Space as critiques of social structures and religion, but even games that do not go out of their way to impress themes upon the player can make a remarkable commentary.
That is what I look for – the threads that weave between the code and the polygons. From the climate in which the game was made, to the people it was made for, from authorial intent to fan interpretation, the world of video games is an untapped foundation of knowledge. There is no such thing as “just a game”.
Oi! That woz shurely something, eh guvna? Lookit that. Oi’ve gone awl Cockney o’er it, that’s wot!
Sorry. Dunno what happened there for a moment. But yes, I happen to agree with Laura’s sentiments exactly, and want to welcome her to our growing gaming team here at CLR. Be sure to keep a look out for future thoughts and opinions by Laura, and myself, Adam Robert Thomas, right here up the Dialogue Tree.
And just remember:
If you’re too smart to shoot and too brave to flee,
You gotta navigate the Dialogue Tree!