Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Whenever we interact with a thing, be it animal, vegetable, human or other, we form, by trial-and-error, a certain agreeement on the meaning of the symbols we use.

This may be anything from the words that compose a language, to the motions we tell our limbs to perform to keep us walking. When the literacy level in the language of the speaker and listener is high enough, poetry and dance are possible. However, this is only really possible if the basic rules and grammar of the language are agreed on.

This is really all about me being angry at the buttons on my cellphone. The buttons are labelled "1", "2", "3", "4", "5", "6", "7", "8", "9", "*", "0", "#". Usually, I use these buttons to type in a certain number of a certain friend's phone that I want to call at the very moment. Then, I press the send key. But, my phone and I have a few more things we talk about:

"*" also means I want to put my phone in vibrate mode.
"0" sometimes means means "I'm tired of navigating through a stupid menu system and want to talk to a human being"
"1" sometimes means "I want to speak in English, not French"
"7" sometimes means "I want to delete the message"

Curiously, written directly onto the buttons in smaller writing are strings of leters, such as "MNO" on the "6" and "WXYZ" on "9". I've come to find that they don't actually mean the entire string, but only a few letters at a time.

I text message my friends alot since with my cellphone plan it's free and often I only need to let themknow of things without having an entire conversation. When I'm text messaging, I need to communicate in the English alphabet. For "5", also labelled "JKL", I can get three different things (actually four, if you include 5 itself):
5 = J
55 = K
555 = L
5555 = 5
55555 = J (again)

so, if I wanted to text message "Im coming", it would be entered as:

"4446#222666[wait a second]6444664444"

I pressed "4" too many times the last time, so I had to go all the way around again. This is the way I'm used to doing things

However, something I also do often is looking up people's extension numbers in automated telephone directories. At some point in the automated menu system (when I haven't gotten annoyed enough to press "0" yet) I'll hear "Please enter the first three letters of the person's last name." Whereupon if I want to speak to someone with the last name "Bergeron", I'll enter the ridiculous string of numbers:


By the first "7", the system is usually yelling back at me that it doesn't understand me. The system expected me to enter "237", and then it would run some sort of matching algorithm. The predicament gets worse when I type in a number too many times and I automatically go all the way around again, making the system yell at me even more. This is dissonance - we had this well agreed-upon language that suddenly ceases to be, and now I don't trust my phone.

I've recently been playing Indigo Prophecy - a "game" that the French creator billed as an "interactive movie." The interactive story elements are pretty awesome, and you can change characters while wandering through the story's world to hear their perspective, which can actually change the course of the story. Unfortunately, during combat or action scenes it switches to what is called "Shenmue-style" button matching sequences, meaning I need to stop paying attention to what is actually going on on the screen and I switch to paying attention to little green, red, yellow or blue lights that show which buttons I need to mash on the keyboard to do "Great!" in the sequence. This is stupid. After a total of 10 hours of play or so, they've built up absolutely no meaning to me. I honestly cannot say that "blue" differs any way from "green". It just absolutely has no meaning for me. I don't care. I mean, sometimes when me characters need to dodge left, then the green buttons light up (which happen to be of the left side of the screen), but honestly I don't care. I've almost taken to giving up the game because these actions sequence frequently end in failure and in no way add to the enjoyment of the game. Please people, be aware of the learning potential of languages. Otherwise, the game's pretty awesome and packs some real cajones.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Queen's Professor compares video games to cocaine

Wow. I'll think up a more thorough response to this later. But in the meantime:

- The most advanced game the author ever played is Tetris, which somehow gives him license to condemn the entire medium.

- Video games are NOT passive in any way! Sure, they leave less to the imagination than books do, but they open out into another dimension (gameplay). Unless, however, they are designed in what Jonathan Blow calls "unethically". They do not deserve to be grouped with TV or movies, which consume less energy, both physically and mentally.

- Over-indulgence in anything is unhealthy (except Jesus). Moderation is your responsibility, just as with food and alcohol and anything else.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Narrative and Fido

Two nights ago, I watched Fido, a 2006 Canadian zombie film, with my housemate John. This post is about narrative and exposition in that movie, which is definitively the best Canadian movie I've ever seen (if you ignore the bilingualism of Bon Cop Bad Cop). Here's the trailer:

If you're going to see the movie, stop reading now! There isn't a twist as part of the central plot, but I'm going to talk about some of the narrative choices that the director made that I thought were interesting.

The movie takes place in an alternate 1950s era where, a few decades before, the Earth passed through a "radiation cloud", so that now any human that dies becomes reanimated as a flesh-hungry zombie. This is an important difference from styles of zombies seen in other films - when you die, everyone becomes a zombie. In fact, during a funeral the deceased's heads are buried seperately (in "headcoffins") from their bodies so they don't reanimate. The second major difference is that a corporation, ZomCon, has invented a collar that, when activated, can control a zombie's urges. So, a menial labour force of zombies exists, with "normal" families having anywhere from one to six. As you can guess, its a comedy.

The main story starts when a single-child family gets a zombie servant. The young boy, Timmy, is generally neglected by his parents, especially his emotionally distant farther, and bullied at school. It's the commonly seen lonely-young-boy syndrome. He befriends the new zombie quickly, who he names Fido. Naturally, shit starts going wrong. The collars are hilariously prone to being knocked off or deactivated, and quickly the old creepy lady in the neighbourhood, Mrs. Henderson, is killed by the zombie when he gets loose. Timmy has to kill her when she reanimates, and he buries her in the public garden. Again, hilarious. Later, bullies kidnap Timmy and tie him to a tree. They then deactivate Fido's collar, hoping that he will eat Timmy. Contrary to their plan, Fido actually shows self-control and goes after the bullies. With the bullies dead, but not for long, Fido tries to untie Timmy's rope but lacks the motor control. He runs (limps) to fetchs Timmy's mom, who gets there just in time to shoot the zombified bullies. Yet again, hilarious. The comedy of Fido, played by Billy Connolly, showing his restraint from eating Timmy's mom, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, is subtle and delicious.

Anyway, eventually the emotionless father gets shot by accident and Fido becomes the more emotionally-engaged father figure at the end of the movie.

What I was getting to is that the movie makes several narrative jumps and large chunks of the story are evidently missing. First, there is a certain tension between the father and Fido, but suddenly one day the zombie is sent away. Later, Fido and Timmy are together in a field (just before the bullies scene) with no reason for them being there. I found myself asking things like "What? When was the decision made to send the zombie away?" and "Where did they go? Why are they there?" Maybe I'm slightly more harsh than your average film watcher, but I found the jumps a little surprising. It turns out later when I was watching the deleted scenes on the DVD that the lead up to these important moments is explained in full. However, the director, Andrew Currie, said in the commentary that he felt that these parts were boring and didn't add to the narrative. Well, you know what, I watched the scenes and they were boring. Had I the choice of including them in the film and having a well-explained plot versus the film as-is with the more punchy narrative flow, I would take the latter. The two events that I mentioned weren't out of the ordinary with the film's universe at that point at all. So, miniature revelation for myself. Film is about expositing interactions between people, it's not about fact-checking.

And games get in trouble for having no plot. Pffft. (I had to bring it back to that)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Encroaching Automata (but, you know, in a good way)

Holy wow, Google Reader is now making recommendations.