Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Theakerly thoughts #1: games for kids, cons, French Kindle

I don’t know whether this will be a new regular feature on the blog or a one-off embarrassment, but a tip of the hat to Peter Tennant’s “Thoughts for a …” posts at Trumpetville for the format I’m copying. The appeal is that it gives me somewhere to write down these thoughts, things I can’t put to any practical use elsewhere, but I’d like them out of my system so I can think about other things! Let’s clear my cache.

Thought 1. It’s funny how many games whose content makes them totally unsuitable for children feature mechanics that make them utterly perfect for children. Saints Row the Third features obscenity and violence by the bucketload, but it also lets you create a totally customised player character of either gender, dress them in a variety of wacky clothes, choose from dozens of fun hairstyles, and then pick four cool friends to run around with. And there’s a kitten car! Tekken 6 is all about smashing each other in the face, but give it to a toddler and they’ll soon discover that every single button on the controller makes something unique and interesting happen on the television screen. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare does feature zombies, swearing and lots of unpleasantness, but you can also have a really nice long ride on a selection of horses. In Borderlands 2 you regularly meet mutants who are keen to cut you up and eat your entrails, but the jump-in, jump-out co-operative split-screen mode works perfectly, death brings instant resurrection and missions don’t reset when you die. There was justified controversy when the mechromancer character was described as having a “girlfriend mode”, but the idea of a character specifically aimed at less confident gamers is long overdue and very well implemented (you customize your robot and it does most of the fighting for you). And yet when you play games specifically aimed at children they are nearly always (the very best Lego games being the exception), unpleasant, unresponsive, counterintuitive, maddening and just plain awkward to play. No wonder kids want to play our games! The creators of children’s games need to look harder at adult games and see why they work for children. And the creators of adult games should consider creating cut-down cleaned-up kids versions. In the meantime, I’ll keep letting our children have a supervised go, with the sound turned down, on selected portions of the above games.

Thought 2. John Scalzi’s pledge regarding sexual harassment at conventions was a typically clever and principled move. Over a thousand people then co-signed his pledge, but how many of them meant it (which Scalzi clearly did), and how many signed because they want to be seen as one of the good guys? It’ll be interesting over the next year or so to see how many people will stick to the pledge if conventions refuse to post (and be prepared to enforce) sexual harassment policies. Hopefully that won’t be an issue, because most conventions will see the sense in the request, but at least one convention has declined to post a policy on its website, and though it may well be probably completely unrelated, one prominent publisher, a co-signer of the pledge listed as an attending member on the con’s website, has recently said they won’t be there after all.

Thought 3. Matt Hughes, one of my very favourite writers at the moment, has temporarily reduced the price of 9 Tales of Henghis Hapthorn to next to nothing. I reviewed it here, but at that price you should really just buy it!

Thought 4. Because I like games, I’ve always liked gamifying my work. Earlier this month I used a dusty copy of Lord of the Rings: Risk to set up a battlefield in my office. The idea is to focus on whether jobs are on my desk, or off my desk. A figure is assigned to each job, and stuck with blu-tack to a card with that job’s name. Figures representing the jobs on my desk are placed threateningly in Eriador (near The Shire), figures for the hobby jobs (BFS, TQF, TTA reviews) on my desk get as far as Arnor (Bree, Rivendell), while the figures representing jobs I’ve got off my desk lurk in Rhûn (the lands beyond Mirkwood). Needless to say this has provoked much ridicule from my family, but I’ve found it jolly useful.

Thought 5. I wonder if there would have been such a fuss about “former child” Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs if she hadn’t looked like she was having such a laugh! The outfit and the routine were kind of tacky, but it was meant to be. I remember taking one daughter to see Miley’s Hannah Montana concert film in 3D, and being appalled by a scene where Miley states flatly after an accident that she won’t do a dangerous lift again, only for her mother to say, yes, you will. I don’t think she would put up with that now.

Thought 6. I read a blog post a month or two ago by a writer who had been writing and working for free for various big companies – contributing to blogs, reviewing, slush reading, I guess – and in the post he talked about how upset he was that none of them had given him paying work. I felt sorry for him, but it seems to me that if someone’s already working for free, giving them a job would mean you don’t get that free work any more. You might as well hire someone whose skills you can only get by paying for them. I don’t mind writing for free – it’s my hobby, and it’s good to have an outlet. But I won’t write for free for a company that is making money out of it.

Thought 7. Not sure when they appeared, but I’ve only just noticed all the new French books in the UK Kindle store, and I’m a bit giddy about it. It looks like all the big French publishers are on there now (Folio, Gallimard, etc), and what’s more my Kindle has at some point acquired a French language dictionary (much better than a French-English dictionary, since it encourages you to think in that language rather than waste time mentally translating). I’m currently reading La Vallée Infernale in Tout Bob Morane 1 on a Kindle Paperwhite and it’s been brilliant to tap on difficult words and get instant definitions. Shame to hear modern language learning is in decline in the UK, because there’s never been an easier time to do it. When I was first learning French at school, the first book I remember being given to read was a Sartre play! Much as I loved it, I’ll never understand why they didn’t start us on the equivalent of a Ladybird book and let us work our way up.

Thought 8. Ben Affleck as Batman! No one saw that coming! Except all those articles a while back that said he was in talks to star in and direct a JLA movie. He’ll be brilliant. Batman being in Man of Steel 2 suggests the thing I was most troubled by in Man of Steel (you know, the bit towards the end) wasn’t a poor film-making decision, but rather the set-up for a fascinating second film, an event with consequences, like the destruction of [spoiler] and [spoiler] in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. If anyone could send Superman to the naughty step, it’s Batman.

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