What I’ve Been Reading

From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (1998)

For almost as long as video games existed there has been debate about how video games should be made with female players in mind.  This book is a collection of essays on the subject.  It has been on my to-read list for a while since I’ve always wondered what the answers might be, but the recent furor over the furor over Anita Sarkeesian‘s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games essay series prompted me to finally get around to reading it.

The short answer is: There doesn’t seem to be much consensus on how to make games for girls, or whether that is even a valid question.  The phrase “for girls” raises the ugly specter of pink toys, which many people (myself included) unfairly channels girls into culturally predefined roles.

One theme that kept coming up in the essays is that games that let the player create their own narrative (ie be a storyteller) were popular with girls.

I think the book has been outdated by changing demographics, as despite the continuation of the games market containing mainly “generic” and “for boys” games, roughly half of gamers these days are women.  There certainly still is plenty of room for games targeted at women, and if anyone ever finds the right formula for that it’ll be interesting to see what it does to the demographics.

 S. Andrew Swann’s Apotheosis trilogy: Prophets, Heretics and Messiah

A sequel trilogy to his earlier Hostile Takeover trilogy, I enjoyed this one just as much.  The characters and settings all feel familiar, though only a few characters are in common with the previous books.

The main thread of this trilogy is an insane AI accumulating tremendous power and launching an assault on all of human space.

What I kept thinking about this was, what a waste.  The way this AI builds its power base and interacts with the technology at its disposal is very much like what I would like to do one day, but it wastes all that potential by proclaiming itself a god and trying to exact revenge.  With that kind of tech, I’d be leaving human space behind and exploring the universe in all directions at once.

America’s Painted Ladies by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen

Well, I haven’t exactly read this one – mostly just looked at the pictures.  It’s a tour of lavishly restored and painted Victorian houses.  I really love this style of house and pored over the pictures in a way I rarely do.  I think it’s mainly the exteriors I like – although I like many of the interior decoration features, I’d rather have a much more modern appearance on the inside.


Lovecraft: Tales and Waking Up Screaming by H.P. Lovecraft

I’ve always been attracted to Lovecraft’s mythos but recently realized that I’m getting most of it secondhand, by others who are building on top of it.  I decided to rectify that by reading all the original stories I could find, but I wasn’t able to locate a complete collection.  These two compilations have proved a good start, with the second only duplicating about half of the first.

So far my favorites by far are “At the Mountains of Madness”, which really needs a movie adaptation, and “The Dunwich Horror”, which has a couple of movie adaptations that I’m not really satisfied with.

Though I can see why “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is one of Lovecraft’s most popular tales, it just isn’t for me; fish-men aren’t my thing.  Also, “The Call of Cthulhu” wasn’t what I expected and was a mild letdown.

There are a lot more aliens in his stories than I expected; supernatural and extrauniversal monstrosities are less than half of his bestiary.

Lovecraft doesn’t seem to have had a very high opinion of human mental stability.  All of his stories are full of people becoming mentally unhinged by things they’ve witnessed, many of which seem laughably minor (though still scary) by modern standards.  I have to wonder if people really were that easily broken back in his day and if we’ve desensitized ourselves to creature and body horror at a cultural level.

I wish HPL had lived longer and cranked out more of these wonderful tales.

BTW, if you like Lovecraft I’d also suggest picking up the excellent Laundry series from Charles Stross, which builds on Lovecraft better than anything else I’ve seen.


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