Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 13:14 on 11-04-2012, Wardog
This is kind of tickling me. It's from what looks like an AWFUL (British?) reality TV show about ... err ... speed dating and publication humiliation, as much as I can tell. And, needless to say, is probably sexist as fuck BUT this clip (which is all of the show I've seen) is rather entertaining. I suspect it's the most sincere conversation two people can potentially have on that show :)
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at 15:16 on 10-04-2012, James D
Yeah, it was pretty clear that they abandoned any attempts at serious sci-fi after the first game, and turned to more pulpy adventure stuff. Still, I thought the revelation that the Reapers reproduced via genocide was neat. I guess that was one of the dilemmas with the third game; in the first it's revealed that Sovereign itself is a Reaper, and that they're this race of giant spaceships that come back every 50K years to kill everything, in the second it's revealed that they're actually a combination of synthetic and organic life and reproduce by melting entire races down into goop, so what's left to reveal about them, really? Where they came from, of course, but considering that they originated millions of years in the past, how would the characters ever find out? It's hard to imagine a way that didn't just involve the players being told through ham-handed exposition, but it's pretty hard to imagine something worse than what they did. The game has way more problems than just the ending. The whole idea of the Catalyst is stupid as shit and completely neuters the Reapers. Might as well have just straight-up told the players "God did it, but for stupid reasons that Shepard can prove wrong in a sidequest."

Oh well, at least the gameplay is fun.
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at 21:19 on 09-04-2012, Arthur B
These are all good arguments and I don't particularly disagree with any of them.

Then again we should have both seen this coming in ME2 with its expertly-placed buttshot camera angles.
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at 20:08 on 09-04-2012, James D
Actually I found that somewhat easier to get my head around, given that the body was designed for infiltration, and it could be argued that big jugs might help distract guards or something. Yes, it's certainly the cheap way out of the human/AI romance plotline, but it's not like I came into Mass Effect 3 expecting thoughtful exploration of that sort of pithy sci-fi 'can a humnan and a machine FIND LOVE?' conundrum. Plus, the characters actually remark on EDI's appearance (read: big tits), unlike Ashely, whose huge change in appearance just goes wholly unnoticed. Her previously (relatively) tomboyish appearance was an important physical expression of her character, and to have that wiped away without comment to apparently provide more boner-fodder is tremendously insulting. It'd be like if Jack showed up sans tattoos and it was never explained or remarked upon.
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at 19:41 on 09-04-2012, Arthur B
It is annoying.

What's really profoundly annoying is the way they gave EDI a body. Mostly because the design of the body competes with the other characters for Most Objectified NPC. But also there's a part of me which mourns the fact they chose to gave EDI a humanoid body at all. The idea of a man falling in love with an AI is a fascinating SF concept which is eviscerated if you actually give the AI in question a tangible body which can cuddle him (provided it isn't too strong of a cuddle, he's got that brittle bones issue), because once you do that then it's not a story about a man falling in love with a disembodied voice with a brain the size of the planet, it's a story about a man falling in love with a sexbot.
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at 19:16 on 09-04-2012, James D
Sorry if everyone's sick of hearing about Mass Effect 3 around here, but does it bother anyone else that the female characters all seem to have gotten boob jobs since the previous games? Seriously, Ashley certainly did not have such gargantuan jugs in Mass Effect 1, nor did her armor accentuate said assets to such an extreme degree. On top of that, she seems to be wearing lots of makeup all the time, and her hair is now loose, instead of in a practical bun, as it used to be and as might be expected of a goddamn combat soldier.

It wouldn't bug me so much if they hadn't already established her as a tomboyish career soldier in the first game, and here they go putting her in Barbie armor and 'fridging' her for (so far) the whole time I've been playing. Seriously, did Ashley really need to be hypersexualized like that? Are there gamers out there whose dollars would be won or lost by the cup sizes of the female leads?
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at 00:28 on 06-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Excellent! We are in accord!
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at 19:55 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
"I don't think you could ever arrive with a definition that would include everything considered of the genre fantasy and exclude everything considered something else" I agree with that.

"The problem comes when we begin to use such definitions to exclude literature, which will happen if we try to define it too closely" I agree with that too - but that just means we shouldn't try to define it too closely!

"In other words, I don't know what fantasy(or scifi) is, but I know it when I see it." Exactly, that's why we don't even *need* precise definitions.
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at 19:50 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sorry, didn't see your later post. I agree with that as well, but I don't think you could ever arrive with a definition that would include everything considered of the genre fantasy and exclude everything considered something else. And that is the heart of my argument. That genre might be a helpful term but you shouldn't let it actually hinder you in any way.
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at 19:48 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Andy: Yes, I agree. But I would argue that at least your example would be on a very superficially descriptive level. And I have no problem with such usage. The problem comes when we begin to use such definitions to exclude literature, which will happen if we try to define it too closely. Of course genres as such is a modern creation and it would be anachronistic to define historical literature as such, especially if we try to pigeonhole stuff into these genre categories. But for me at least, fantasy literature is a mixture of very different influences from very different sources and while the category of fantasy helps me to find new books or likeminded souls in the world, I do not like it to go much deeper than that. In other words, I don't know what fantasy(or scifi) is, but I know it when I see it.
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at 19:33 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
I'm being nitpicky obviously. Saying you hate all fantasy is a pretty big generalisation. But I think you could pick out a breadth of really good authors from within fantasy as it is generally understood without having to reach out to Kafka and co.
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at 19:27 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
@Janne: I agree that genre concepts have vague amorphous edges. But just because the edges are vague, it doesn't mean that anything goes. You can imagine that the concept of "fantasy" *could* conceivably be extended to include things like myths and legends, but the fact that it *could* hypothetically be extended doesn't mean that it actually *does* apply to those things. If someone said they were a massive fan of fantasy but it turned out that what they liked was myths, legends and magic realism and no multi-volume epics with elves and barbarians, you'd say they didn't really understand how to use the concept of "fantasy".
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at 18:52 on 05-04-2012, James D
I just don't think you can limit fantasy like that, and I'm not sure there are *any* tropes or conventions that you can assign that apply to *all* fantasy, besides the incredibly broad 'includes a significant amount of elements which clearly couldn't exist in the real world.' Tropes and conventions are more the stuff of subgenres, like dragons & elves fantasy or dark urban fantasy or grimdark epic fantasy or whatever. Even basic stuff like magic, or being set in an invented world, are far from universal.
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at 18:48 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
But what are the accepted terms of a genre? I think that with pretty much any definition of the genre of fantasy you arrive at, you will either end up excluding works that everybody would say are fantasy or end up including works that are non-genre. So what is the point of restricting oneself or the literature except in the most superficial ways?

There is no reason cryptic modern parables couldn't be described as fantasy or a precursor to fantasy and myths and legends is a difficult concept as well(which I infer is also your point with the quotes). The greeks did not categorically believe that the events in the Odysseia were real events, although they probably believed they were based on ones. And many Arthur legends were clearly originated as entertainment for the rich. And while Jane Austen is most certainly not romantic fiction, superficially one might consider it such, because of subject matter and how it is usually portrayed nowadays.

Hmm... I'm not actually saying that the term genre is completely irrelevant, it is just that it is much too amorphous a concept to really set any guidelines or demarcations by, except in the process of breaking the same.
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at 18:36 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
Oh sorry, Andy beat me :)
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at 18:36 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
I have no issues with genre fiction but I think it's problematic to try and legitimise it by pointing out fantastical elements in non-genre fiction. It's like saying there are marriages in Jane Austen, therefore she's writing romance.
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at 18:34 on 05-04-2012, Andy G
I'm not sure "fantasy" just means "contains fantastic elements" though, any more than "crime" as a genre just means "contains crimes". Obviously, it's a pretty amorphous concept, but there are various tropes and conventions and expectations that you typically (but not always or exclusively) get with fantasy (not just in the texts but in the ways those texts are received) and that's different from, say, magic realism, "genuine" myths and legends, or the very exclusive genre of cryptic modernist parables in which people transform into beetles.
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at 18:24 on 05-04-2012, James D
Hell, the protagonist in Shakespeare's The Tempest is a wizard, for crying out loud. With magical servants! People who object to fantasy generally tend to be objecting to their narrow idea of what fantasy is, which usually involves vague notions of Conan the Barbarian, Lord of the Rings, and their derivatives.
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at 18:18 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
Well, you can replace the dragons with anything that is a staple of fantasy, really.

That's another point. If you ask people have they read fantasy and they say no, in a superior tone and with the sort of slimy unearned superiority that exists in such stereotypical people, you continue by asking have they read Odysseia? Decamerone? King Arthur? Micromegas? Books by Kundera, Marquez, Kafka, Atwood or Rushdie? They'll probably say yes at some point so it seems they actually don't have a real problem with the fantastic or unreal, they have a problem with something being called fantasy or scifi. But I've digressed enough.
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at 18:10 on 05-04-2012, Wardog
Personally I handle my dragons kindly but firmly, and I never let them break curfew or eat hobbits.
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at 17:54 on 05-04-2012, James D
I don't know, it depends on how you phrase the criticism. It would be perfectly reasonable for a reviewer to roll their eyes at *yet another* fantasy book filled with dragon tropes. But yes, that would require a slightly more specific criticism of the way in which the book handles dragons.
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at 17:50 on 05-04-2012, Arthur B
This is what happens when people see genres in the same way that (some) other people see sports teams or political parties or religions, where your support for it is a marker of identity and you should be passionately defending your corner even if you don't agree with what the people on your team do sometimes.
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at 17:34 on 05-04-2012, Janne Kirjasniemi
The whole idea of genre used in a way to excuse bad literature is kind of self defeating. What is genre, after all, than a very superficial label that tells a person in a very generic way something about its subject matter. At times it is only a marketing category. So how come some stupid tropes or even bad literature shouldn't be criticized? It somehow presupposes a strict existence of a genre that has always been and is not something that is actually a quite recent development and changes constantly.

Of course it is clear that criticizing a book about dragons for having fantastic beasts is idiotic, but a book about dragons can still have literary merits and there is nothing wrong with having high standards, whether the book tells about disgust with a modern consumerist culture through amoralistic teenagers or teenager werewolves who ride dragons(and are amoralistic).
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at 17:27 on 05-04-2012, James D
The thing is, even if the reviewer isn't that into the genre, that's still a reasonable opinion. People who are very much into a genre often seem to miss glaring faults in basic writing because they've been conditioned by shlock to accept it all in service of their Favorite Thing. That might be testosterone-fueled swordplay, romantic entanglements with vampires, or worldbuilding fetishism, but I think sometimes it's healthy to have a reviewer without the entire LOTR apocrypha on their shelf rain on our parade once in a while (assuming they can do so without coming across like a total condescending pissflap).
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