Pokemon… no.

I love video games. I’m an avid gamer. As a child I fell in love with flash games on my dial-up connection and I spent countless hours on games like Halo and Half-Life. I recently have taken up replaying Sid Meier’s Civilization V and Dishonored and my all time favourites include games like Bastion, Thomas Was Alone, and Grim Fandango.

This is my medium and I will defend it from misrepresentation and the ignorant media pundits who claim that games rot minds and cause violence. (Really? The Talos Principle causes violence? Dark Echo causes violence? No – violence comes from disengaged communities breeding misguided children whether they have video games or not. At least specify a title, but I digress).

However, loving this medium, I also want to call it out when it makes mistakes, and Pokemon Go is a major step backwards.

Here’s the crux of the problem: the line between reality and fiction. Fiction is a powerful and useful tool. When we step into the magic circle, we gain fresh eyes to see our world. We can reinterpret our surroundings, better understand the implications of  our actions, and explore human nature and condition in ways we couldn’t otherwise, by adapting our actions or ideas to new circumstances. Then when you step back into the real world, you have a chance to live a better life.

Or what about the simple delight of a novel experience? Dark Echo didn’t make me rethink human nature, but it gave me the chance to experience raw senses in a way I couldn’t before. But is that experience sustainable? Even if it were, even if I could simulate shooting lines from my hands by clapping, wouldn’t this experience just distract me from the things in life that matter?

The value of fiction depends on the sanctity of its borders. We take what we learn in fiction and carry it into our IRL works, but if our tactic towards the real world is to filter it, not improve it but to create artificial perceptions of it, then what have we gained? Fruitless escapism.

“You’re just pontificating a slippery slope. Pokemon Go isn’t that bad.” You’re partly right. Pokemon Go isn’t necessarily a drug, but it can be. And this technology has the potential to become worse. And even if it’s not entirely evil, is this the best way to use what we’ve been built? What we’ve been given? Do you want to be a slave to your game, having your real demands distracted by the Squirtle by the river? What does that do to your relationships, your job?

Here’s a further problem: asymmetrical experiences of life. This isn’t as much of a problem, but it can’t possibly foster unity in the human race to have some experiencing a reality filtered with pokemon and others not. (What would happen if we combined this with Sesame Credit?)

And if these abstract philosophical problems aren’t enough for you, people have already gotten hurt. People have caused car accidents. I’m sure conversations have been interrupted and that hurts relationships.

My life has been improved by video games more than I care to describe here. The same is true of books. I can say similar things of movies and plays, but the benefit of those experience can only be affected in the real world and if the real world is compromised all we’re left with is vapid escapism and lots of trespassing.

“But… but it’s fun.” Car accidents are fun? Well don’t get me involved. And if you’re going to leave our conversation for a Psyduck, don’t expect me to be there when you get back.

Pokemon: No!

I also considered “Pokemon Stop.”

Edit: We Happy Few? Never heard of it!
Other Edit: I Love Bees was also an ARG, but it had a purpose and an end.

Much Later Edit: A friend of mine mentioned that this kind of game has the potential to give those with social anxieties a means to interact with others. While I don’t think this completely washes over the game’s problems, it does go to show that Pokemon Go is not completely evil. And I don’t intend to say that it’s completely evil. Only that it’s a step in the wrong direction. I don’t expect Pokemon Go to ruin the world.

Which Lives Matter?

In such a turbulent world, it can be difficult to choose which hashtag to represent your ideology with.

Let me first say that the death of an innocent man and the subsequent deaths of several police officers is a tragic thing and it should not happen. Of course we should pay our respects to the families and loved ones who have suffered such awful and meaningless tragedies. We should especially remember our black and law-enforcement neighbours.

We have apparently decided to pay our respects by starting a war over which hashtag to use. I hope we all recognize that mudslinging does not help resolve conflicts. Let’s just forget that whole aspect of the discussion for now and talk strictly about ideas. Do black lives matter? Yes! Of course they do! The enduring racism against black people is appalling and must be addressed. Do all lives matter? Yes! Of course all lives matter! No one should have violence committed against them for being of any race, nor should there be hatred.

The consensus among reasonable souls is that race should not be ignored or despised, but uplifted, celebrated, and defended.

So black lives mattering and all lives mattering are by no means mutually exclusive. Now the argument I hear is that we cannot defend the rights of black Americans while also upholding the rights of the others. The parable being that “If you go to a doctor with a broken arm and ask him to fix it and he says ‘All bones are valuable’ and proceeds to do nothing, he is a terrible doctor.” Equally terrible is the doctor who is reckless and negligent and breaks another bone while healing the broken one!

On top of that, advocating that all lives matter is not necessarily a call for inaction. Can you, sitting in front of your twitter feed, solve racism? Right now? No you cannot. Each of us must do what we can according to our options and our abilities. Is it a paradox to ensure the comfort of a friend’s family while the doctors are healing your friend? No. Is it a paradox to make sure a fire isn’t spreading while fireman put out the burning house in front of you? No.

Anti-white, anti-straight, and anti-police sentiments all exist along with antisemitism, hatred of Muslims, hatred of My Little Pony enthusiasts; if it exists, someone hates it. We are all equally capable of hatred as we are all equally capable of love. We should remember that and be humble as we serve all of our hurting neighbors.

Anything less will just keep the pendulum swinging. An eye for an eye, a life for a life.

All lives matter. Black lives matter. We can remember both. This isn’t hard. Right now, we especially stand with our black and police officer neighbours. Those who care for the rest of us, we don’t despise. All lives matter and black lives matter. Our real enemy isn’t a hashtag, it’s misunderstanding.

And lack of understanding is what gets us into these messes in the first place.

Stop arguing over hashtags and go help someone.

Seafarer

I write lots of songs but I share almost none of them. This is not conducive to getting better.

I wrote this song called Seafarer which I  have attempted to record. I wanted to share it here and make some comments about the process and the source material.

The Concept
I’m giving myself a project that I’ve dubbed “Loaned Lyrics”. The idea is to respond to some of my favourite poems (or potentially other works) with music. The inspiration to do this came from my adventures in my university’s choir. After singing a text, you don’t read it the same.

Seafarer is originally an Old English poem that presents a beautiful image of a man who has lost his companions and his king. He now is a sailor and wander. This is a common trope in Old English texts called ‘Ubi Sunt’, Latin for ‘Where are they [now]?’ You’ve seen this trope in Lord of the Rings when Théoden (in the movies) asks ‘Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?‘ In this instance he’s almost directly quoting another Old English poem, The Wanderer.

The Text
Most of the text in the verses of my song is adapted from the Seafarer poem.

From Seafarer:

“Pinched with cold
were my feet, bound by frost
in cold fetters, while cares seethed
hot around my heart, and hunger gnawed
my sea-weary mind. That man does not know,
he whose lot is fairest on land,
how I dwelt all winter, wretched with care,
on the ice-cold sea in the paths of exile,
deprived of dear kinsmen,
hung with icicles of frost while hail flew in showers.”
(Lines 8b – 17)

I took a lot of lines from this passage, comprising most of the first verse:

“Frost crests my forehead and colds pinch me feet.
My head’s hanging heavy, my heart’s filled with heat.
A feeling long foreign to those rich on dust
Are icicles growing from gunwales of rust.”

I’ve obviously taken several liberties. I thought “Rich on dust” was clearer outside the context of the original than “Whose lot is fairest on land”. Also, it had to rhyme.

My least favourite of my own lyrics is “I have no ring, no girl to hold, but the crests of waves shine bright as gold.” I wanted to adapt the part of the original that reads,

“He has no thought of the harp or the taking of rings,
nor the pleasures of woman nor joy in the world…”
(Lines 44, 45)

The rings here actually don’t refer to wedding rings, but the treasure shared between a lord and a warrior, the ‘Lord-Retainer Relationship.’ I wrestled with these lyrics and found no better way to portray those words. Kinda shameful.

Why the archaic language? Much of it comes from the source material. ‘Whale-Road’ and ‘Sea-Flood’ are examples of kennings, devices in which words are combined to create metaphorical meaning. These examples both refer to the sea. It sounds much more interesting when you call it a whale-road. The ‘O’ers’, over other overs, just sounded better.

The chorus and bridge are my own invention, my claim to the poem as applying to myself. “I am his ward he is my bearer,” ended up sound curious as it sounds like “he” is the sea (usually attributed as feminine). Understanding the source material (the loss of the speaker’s lord and companions) illuminates what’s actually going on here. The Seafarer poem portrays the life of a Christian in the world, not belonging to it and finding no home in it. The lord, in this case Christ, is departed but the speaker is on his way back to him.

“The sound of the waves breaks with sounds of the choir.” What choir? The choir invisible, perhaps. There is a morbid tint to the song, but it’s optimistic morbidity. If that’s a thing. It is now.

The Music
“Isn’t this like the same four chords over and over again?”

…Kinda. First of all, this is the second song I’ve ever shared publicly and the first was performed live. So I’m trying to figure out equipment and programs and all sorts of stuff. And I aint no music student so I do what I can!

In truth, I wanted to evoke something of the feeling of a sea shanty. I had “What Will We Do With A Drunken Sailor” running through my mind while putting this together. I hope its simplicity evokes something of that culture.

Mixing multiple tracks of yourself and singing in key is hard! And, again I stress, I’ve never done this before! I’ll do it again if people like it, though.

“What key is this in?” It is in F# Minor! Why? Because it’s E Minor with the capo moved to where my strings don’t buzz as much. My guitar is a bit cheap.

Well, I hope you like something. If not my song then perhaps you can like the sunshine or yourself or something.

Read Seafarer!

Feeling Useless

I spent the past four years in constant anticipation of new projects. As a student, there was always another assignment, performance, or event to be addressed. Living on campus, I was surrounded by people all the time.

There’s an old quote I like. “The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong… I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once…”

It goes on, but this quote (attributed to Primo Levi) introduced me to the idea that in order to feel our strength we must be tested. At school, the strength of my mind was always tested and, while I don’t consider myself particularly intelligent, I passed. I made it through the gauntlet and knew I had some strength.

I’ve sequestered myself back home for the summer to finish my driver’s license – now all wrapped up. Here there are no assignments and the only people with whom I have routine contact are my parents. Quite a dramatic shift from living on campus. There’s something about being with people your own age. I have lots of creative projects I’m pushing myself to begin / edit but progress is slow when you’re trying things for the first time and I haven’t produced in a long while.

So I’m feeling more useless than I usually do. I have no routine externally-imposed projects and I’m figuring out how to make myself work. I have no harsh sea blows to brave, nothing to measure myself with. I’m beginning to understand the danger of idleness. It doesn’t help that the job market in my hometown is practically a desert. I want to keep writing, but I struggle to find material.

Hopefully I’ll get those creative projects rolling soon. Editing is hard. For now I try to console myself in the knowledge that circumstances are not equal to identity.