The Half-Read Prints

Books are strange things. Sometimes they grip you tighter than your great aunt with her inhumanly strong grip for her diminished size/advanced age (maybe that’s just me). Other times, they sink a hook into you, reel you along a few chapters, and then lose you with one poor flick of the pen. Recently, I had been slogging my way through a book I quite liked, but could never get excited to continue reading. I’ve since decided to drop it.

The book is Life is a Wheel by Bruce Weber. I first heard about it on an episode of On Point, and I was taken aback by the very idea of a pan-American bicycle ride. I had honestly never heard of people doing such a thing – I’m not much on bicycling. To the idea’s credit, it inspired me to finally go out and buy my first bicycle and learn to ride it. That’s a project still in the works though.

At times, I really loved the book. By day, Bruce Weber works for the New York Times as an Obituary writer. The story of his trip across the continental United States by bike is accented by personal stories from his life. They add both background and help paint a picture of why he felt compelled to make this trip a second time later on in his life.

It’s not exactly the sort of book I read often, and I suppose that’s why I have fallen out of love with it. Still, with only half of the book finished, I learned a lot about bicycling and more about life. One quote in particular sticks out to me now:

“I’m struck by the conflicting needs of a traveler: to soak up as much as you can and eventually to get where you’re going.”

Though it’s obviously a quote contextually about traveling the United States, I think it’s a great metaphor for why I love to read. Like Bruce Weber, I too am struck by similar issues, though instead of bicycling Vietnam as he recounts in Life is a Wheel as well, my travel usually comes from the adventures I read about in books. Even a journey unfinished can result in a lot of quality exercise. It saddens me to not finish a book, but it would sadden me even more not to have learned something from the few pages I did read.

I am not the sort who finishes every book I start. There are a wide array of pet peeves that can stop me. For example, I don’t even bother with any Fantasy novel that starts off with a ton of unpronounceable pronouns. I personally believe that mythology and background should spring organically, not be pounded into your brain before the journey has even started.

Other books I deeply regret not finishing, though I definitely was too bored to continue. My classic example is Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, the science fiction novel that gave me the word ‘grok’, and then failed to do anything else for me. Compared to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a book I absolutely adore even now, Heinlein’s other work tends to put me to sleep.

Similarly, I got lost reading The Lord of the Rings and never looked back. I absolutely loved The Hobbit, but Tolkien’s sense of detail combined with his epic history really made a lengthy trilogy seem like running an actual marathon. Compared to something more modern, such as A Song of Ice & Fire, it’s difficult to imagine ever reading The Lord of the Rings, despite the respect I have for its author.

Not all books go unfinished forever, though. I must’ve started and stopped reading Where Sweet the Late Bird Sings three or four times before finding the moment where it clicked and everything fell into an enjoyable experience. I suppose that’s the trickiest thing about consuming any kind of media, but especially books. Sometimes you recognize the quality of the book, but you know you aren’t ready to read it yet; you need to be in the right mind, the right place, and the right time.

There are also books that I am glad I read when I did, as I know I would hate them now. As a young teen, I maintained a steady diet of Dragonlance and other Dungeons & Dragons-based fantasy novels. I loved the first two Dragonlance trilogies especially, but my older self has a more discerning palate. Though the imagination, creativity, character building, and world building are certainly there, those types of books still boil away to pure adventure. In my older age, I want more and more of the things I read to teach me something or give me the tools to explore some fascinating idea. Adventure is not the enemy of rumination and philosophizing, but a focus on its quicker pacing and full-on action sequences often leaves little for either.

I’m sad to give up but it is time to move on. I have yet to decide on my next book, but it’ll either be something a bit more fantastic than bicycling or a bit more serious. Either way, it’s excited to look forward to reading something again.

Good Game, Old Sport

For a bit of context, this post was born out of a discussion I had with Izlain on the podcast Couch Podtatoes. We disagreed fundamentally on the definition of the word ‘sport’, whether esports are truly sports, and on the importance of physicality to qualify as a true sport. Realizing his reservations echoed some of the same I had years ago when I first pondered whether Nascar was a sport or not, I decided to do a little research into the word.

In an instant, my Twitter feed transitioned seamlessly from the World Cup to the Evo Championship Series and The International. Even if public consciousness hasn’t shifted entirely on the idea of videogames as sports and professional gamers as athletes, a sincere movement to a broader acceptance seems right around the corner. Still, for anyone with a more restrictive definition of the word sport, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the history of the term with esports firmly in mind.

There are two prominent, separate, but related definitions of the word sport that we still use in modern English. The one with the most capital (literally-speaking since sports generate an incredible amount of revenue worldwide) typically refers to ‘athletic competition’. This interpretation of the word is arguably the least compatible with esports being sports since it relies on the concept of athleticism.

Here’s the tricky part: athlete comes from a romanized Greek word. It’s meaning changed slightly in the shift from Greek to Latin. For the earlier Greek word, it meant ‘prize fighter’. The Latin reinterpretation used it for ‘wrestlers’, but more broadly for a ‘combatant in public games’. Over time, a strong correlation with physical sports and the Olympic tradition have more narrowly defined the word athlete to our modern definition: a person trained to compete in a sport involving physical strength.

In other words, there’s definitely an argument on the basis of the word and its popular usage that professional gamers are not athletes. Esports, after all, do not test any significant degree of physical strength. In other words, you can’t really make the claim that esports are sports since they are not athletic sports.

That’s well and good, but I don’t think most people care as much about the athleticism of a participant in a particular sport. While your average sports enthusiast is quick to acknowledge the physicality of a favorite player, its that players performance within the strict boundaries of the sport that matter most. I am sure we could discern which football player is the absolute strongest and the fastest, but does that matter if neither factor translates it a clear difference in stats versus a less strong, less fast player?

This is where our other definition of the word sport comes in to play. The earliest definition for the word sport meant a ‘matter or incident providing entertainment, diversion, or amusement.’ If you have ever done something simply ‘for the sport of it’, then this is the type of sport you meant. In fact, sport literally comes from the shortening of another word, now infrequently used in English, disport, which is a verb meaning ‘to divert or amuse’.

Now, I must admit: it’s difficult to argue against the multimillion dollar marketing campaigns that tell us sports are important parts of everyday life. In the United States especially, it can be a challenge to grow up unscathed by the incessant attempts of a local population of sports fans to drill into you ideals of ‘school spirit’ or pride in your city/state/country and the athletes/teams that represent them. There’s a prevailing culture that embraces sporting events as a type of civilized warfare in which disparate groups can safely engage in a reasonable competition with bragging rights and a hometown parade on the line.

Yet, the social stigmas of avoiding sports as a kid or all the attempts your dad made to make you into ‘more of a man’ through sports, I disagree that they are anything more than simple, frivolous entertainment. To me, sports are most definitely an amusement and diversion for large groups of people. Many fans may take them more (or too) seriously than that, but they are literally just a game and that’s a major reason why I can enjoy sports without throwing punches at my team’s rival fans.

Therein lies my argument lies my argument for esports as sports. To me, it isn’t so much the strength of the individual or their speed (assuming we aren’t talking about someone competing in track or weight-lifting), but the way in which that individual can flourish within the framework of a game. By understanding the rules, the goals, and utilizing their natural and well-trained talents, participants in sports continue to amaze us as representatives of human excellence and human flourishing. More importantly, esports have been and will continue to be sources of entertainments for players and fans alike, worldwide, for many years to come. The numbers are increasing, not decreasing.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating an professional gamer skilled in a fighting or MOBA game. Their hard work and effort have put them head-and-shoulders above a much wider group of players. These individuals, like other athletes, represent aspects of human greatness that everyone can aspire to emulate. Training to become an expert at something and triumphing over others are not contingent on the size of biceps and calves. Instead, they are the human spirit lit ablaze for all to enjoy.

We can argue if professional gamers are truly athletes. I take a broader understanding of the term as simply someone who has trained to participate in an organized competition. I personally believe that racecar drivers, golfers, and even bowlers can be athletes. I think professional gamers can be too. But when it comes to the question of esports as sports, I no longer believe there is any debate worth having. Esports are most definitely in line with sports as both amusement and diversion. Even if we sometimes use the word to specifically mean ‘athletic sports’, that is not enough to discount an entirely new category of sports that is moving gaming culture in a direction it was likely always going to go.

#Esports #Sports #Moba

Weekly Encore: “Too Long” Edition

tldr

#ICYMI

07/14 Dear FCC: This message may arrive late because it was stuck in the slow lane.
07/15 Edge of Tomorrow (Movie, 2014)
07/17 People are upset on the Internet, Nintendo!

Watching/Playing/Listening/Reading

This section has been hijacked by this guy:

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One of my friends had never seen either of the Gremlins movies. Understanding that this is a grave sin, I finally helped correct her life errors this last week. Re-watching both movies was not only a blast from the past (I loved them as a kid), but it was also a great chance to discover both movies all over again. I hadn’t seen either in their entirety since the early 2000′s.

They stand up incredibly well. Plus, they are a lot more fun if you are a Breaking Bad fan, as three actors from the show make appearances in the Gremlins series as nobody characters:

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That’s fan favorite Mike on the bottom right, looking especially young. After an emergency call comes into the police station, he offers to drive, but the Sheriff tells him, “No, you’re too drunk.” You have to love small town police forces around the holidays!

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It’s Tuco Salamanca! He’s a messenger and a bit of an asshole about the tune he was humming. Not especially exciting.

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Harder to tell on this one, but that’s definitely Hank. He plays the lead SWAT guy. He manages to be a bad ass here, despite his single line: he fires off a shotgun round into a dead gremlin and calmly says, “He moved sir.”

Though neither movie is particularly well-written, both are some of the most fun movie-watching experiences I have ever had. I personally prefer the first one since it has a bit more horror, but the sequel is one of the funnier movies you’ll see. I think Gremlins 2′s unsung hero is the Clamp Building’s AI voice. In a similar vein to Douglas Adam’s elevators, the building seems alarmingly aware of who is inside it. I particularly love the Men’s Room scene where the AI joyfully says, “WELCOME TO THE MEN’S ROOM!”

It’s always fun reaffirming two of your favorite movies and sharing that love with others.

Murf on Gameranx

My two reviews went up on Gameranx this week. The first is Shovel Knight; the second, WildStar. I don’t do reviews often, so tell me everything I did wrong in the comments below.

Ride in my #Blogysphere

This week, I wanted to feature Talarian’s post on his time at GaymerX. I’m choosing to highlight it mostly because I had never heard of GaymerX prior to his mentioning it. I’m always pleased to hear conventions and events like this exist. As Talarian himself points out, “Sometimes, you just need a safe space where you can decompress and not have to worry about the consequences of those things.”

I haven’t exactly lived in a terrible life – I am a straight, white male. It can be difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of those who are often members of victimized minorities in our culture. While I do believe it is necessary to build awareness broadly, that doesn’t mean that we don’t need safe havens in the meantime. My one ‘minority’ trait is that I have long considered myself agnostic or atheist, even while I was attending a private Christian school in the Deep South. I bring this up not because I got bullied, but because I always had this nagging, uncomfortable feeling of otherness in the bottom of my heart.

The only safe haven for my kind was in the Internet or the very rare like-minded individual I happened upon. People of different races, faiths, sexualities, and a wide number of other labels most likely went through far worse versions of my unease. Open ridicule, threats of violence, actual violence – people hurt people all the time; often, they do so for the dumbest of reasons. I’m really happy that GaymerX exists as a comfortable space for out gamers or gamers not worried about the sexual orientation of their squad mates. I’m also really happy that Talarian had a fun time.

One Big Nod

I wanted to also take a moment this week to give a shout-out and a thanks to Kelly over at The Archaeology of Tomb Raider. Frankly, she’s one of the hardest working bloggers I have yet encountered. She has great content, a great community in place, and manages to promote her work a lot. I can hardly be bothered to type a single ICYMI tweet, so she’s a bit of a hero figure to someone like me.

Plus, she’s incredibly nice. It’s one thing to have talent, drive, and a topic you are passionate about. It’s another to still be a cool person at the same time. Kelly has consistently been one of the nicest fellow bloggers and Twitter compatriot. Please, if you haven’t yet, check out her website. Even if you aren’t a giant fan of archaeology or Tomb Raider, the blending of the two often generates surprising and fascinating results.

A Gif for You All

This week’s opening image my first ever gif. I pulled it from a deleted scene of Gremlins 2 where Bugs and Daffy are fighting over the movie’s title card. I thought it was incredible that the keyboard had specific keys for such Internet-relevant responses like a built-in TL;DR key. FYI, Gremlins 2 was released in 1990.

Retweeting Myself

A slight change of pace this week! Instead of the usual, I’m posting a screenshot of a series of tweets. She inadvertently challenged me when she took my offer of a lullaby or a treatise on MMORPG game design to help her fall asleep and jokingly asked for a combination of the two. (Also, go read Pen and Pixels or else!)
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Previously on Murf Versus:

07/13 Weekly Encore: “Rolling thunder and unparalleled brilliance” Edition
07/05 Weekly Encore: “Oh, no” Edition