Saturday, 21 September 2013

Monthly Update: 9/13

Greetings all!

Things have been a bit sparse on the blog over the last month, mostly due to Asylum (which was awesome, obviously, and involved an engagement which was nice).  Unfortunately the next month won't be much better due to various courses and viewings and such...  But in shop news I have a very important favour to ask!

Please please please complete this survey:

It will give you some idea of what we want to do, and you can have your say on what features and stock we have.  After all, I want to make sure the shop is stocking games that people want to play!  Remember, every comment is valuable no matter how insignificant it may seem- you could well be pointing out something blindingly obvious that I might have missed!

Now, to flesh out this post a little more, here's a video to recap what went on at Asylum (I make an appearance near the middle... I'm the one kneeling down ;) )

Until next time,


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Devil's Advocate: Steampunk

Next week is the biggest Steampunk convention in Europe, if not the world (despite what Guiness think): Asylum in Lincoln, UK.  Half of the city is taken over by men in top hats, women in corsets, and gadgets galore.  As the 'normals' are allowed to use the city as well, this inevitably leads to one question that everyone is guaranteed to be asked at least once- 'What exactly is Steampunk?'

Currently there is no truly accepted definition.  The most commonly accepted answer is 'Victorian Sci-Fi', though some disagree with that, thinking sci-fi doesn't necessarily have to be involved which leads to the argument of whether you're just a Victorian re-enactor.  Even taking sci-fi into account people argue over the rules- is it a simple alternate-history in which steam became the major power source instead of electricity, or is it following the rules of definitive Steampunk fiction like War of the Worlds in which we could logically assume we reverse engineered rayguns from aliens, or is it a world in which magic has been discovered in place of electricity leading to all sorts of aether devices... the list goes on.  And that's just the core principles of the genre, I haven't even touched on what could be the definitive piece of Steampunk music...

One of the problems with defining the genre, is the name- specifically the 'punk' part.  To most people's minds this conjures images of violent men with mohawks causing mayhem in the name of anarchy; something that couldn't be further from the Steampunk image.  The original explanation doesn't help matters much either- the name was coined by author K. W. Jeter who used it as a temporary term, a variation on Cyberpunk, which makes people think that Steampunk is a sub-genre of a sub-genre of goth.  Because of these, some people in their explanations of the genre say 'ignore the punk part', which does nothing but confuse.  Instead I propose this explanation:  The point of 'Punk' is to defy society's expectations; in the 70s people were expected to be smart, polite, generally nice people, and so Punks were instead rude, disrespectful, and anarchic.  Nowadays, with the rise of chavs, society expects us to be rude, disrespectful, and anarchic so instead we're smart, polite, and generally nice people.

Now for the 'Devil's Advocate' part of this blog... Here are some controversial topics, and reasons why I think they should at least be considered.  Please note, as with all my Devils Advocate blogs, I do not necessarily believe in the arguments I'm presenting- I just want people to be a little more open-minded to controversial topics.

Steampunk Music.
The music currently consists of Industrial, Darkwave, Folk Rock, Punk, Prog Rock, Goth, Hip-Hop and much much more, with very little connecting them.  As such, there is no defining sound for Steampunk.  This has led to countless arguments over whether Steampunk music should be classified by the lyrical content- i.e airships- or by the sound, using more Victorian sounding instruments like the violin or harpsichord.  Why not have both?  I see Steampunk as alternate-reality, and for the world to feel real then it would have just as many genres of music as it does now.  This is the defining feature of Steampunk- its diversity.

Ray Guns.
As far as I know, no-one believes Steampunk MUST involve rayguns, but there is a substantial part of the community that believes there is no place for them.  Their point is that we don't have rayguns now, so why would they exist in Steampunk?  It's a fair point, as raygun technology seems a distant dream even now, over 100 years on from the point where the Steampunk universe diverged from our own.  The simplest explanation comes from taking War of the Worlds as literal, as the author Robert Rankin does- the Martians invaded, they were defeated, we could reverse-engineer their technology.  An alternate explanation is that we simply don't know what advancements could have been made without electricity- all of our inventions are from an entirely electronic point of view, but if we were forced to look at options involving steam (or aether) then we could have completely different inventions, amongst which may lie rayguns.

Anachronistic Materials.
Creativity is a big part of Steampunk, and central to crafting is the debate on which materials to use.  Some want to restrict themselves by using only materials Victorians had access to- starting from scratch and requiring a greater investment of time and effort- whereas others use modern items and give them a slight mod and paint job.  Neither of these ways is the 'right' way- the modern view is correct in that 'Steampunk doesn't equal Victorian', therefore make use of what you've got; but equally the old-fashioned view is correct in that 'I put in all this time and effort to get something that looks perfect, and you're getting praise for simply painting something'.  Unfortunately this is true in every crafting circle- often the shorter job will be more popular than the longer one that required more effort, but the trade-off is that the one that started from scratch will be regarded as better quality, and people will appreciate the amount of effort that's gone into it.  The problem is that the longer job doesn't appreciate the fact the shorter one still required effort, and the shorter one doesn't understand why the longer would want to restrict themselves.  Again, the majority of people will value both methods, but these are the central points to the most vocal arguments.

Animal rights is a tricky subject.  The only universal agreement is that endangered animals should not be killed for any reason.  It is widely accepted that animals should not be killed specifically for fashion.  A lot of people will say any form of taxidermy is supporting the murder of animals in some way- often there's no guarantee you're buying from someone who's obeying the relevant laws.  Some believe animals shouldn't be killed even if they're pests.  The problem is that Victorians loved taxidermy, and many Steampunks appreciate the use of taxidermy as well.  This is an argument that can't be won- it doesn't matter if you assure people that the animals you have were killed as pests, humanely, or that they're vintage and the hunter is long-dead as well, some people just won't accept it.  It's entirely up to you what you do, but please be careful with who you're buying from- there are a lot of illegitimate sellers that will say they followed anti-pest laws but are still ultimately making a profit.
(Please note that my hat at Asylum will be decorated with bits of bird.  I am confident that the seller was following appropriate laws, and the birds used were killed as pests.)

...Sorry, I've got no defense for the use of this term.  If you use it and have any respect for the English language, then stop it- you don't call chavs 'chavers' or goths 'gothers'.

If you're a Steampunk, then I hope to see you next week at Asylum!  If you're not, then I hope you've got some understanding of the culture, and although it sounds like constant arguing then don't be put off- this is mostly confined to internet forums, and in person you will see that we're all splendid people!

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Metaphor Too Far: X-Men First Class

You can find millions of reviews online for popular movies, so it would be futile of me to write a 'Rooksburg Reviews'- those will be saved for more obscure films and games, things you're not likely to have seen already.  Instead I will be looking at some films from the viewpoint of an English teacher that can find deep symbolism in every line of Shakespeare- regardless of whether the author intended it or not.

My first choice for this is an interesting one- X-Men: First Class.  It is interesting because of this:

So there we can see that there's not just one, but three themes that people have strong opinions about, in a decent-but-not-outstanding series that's ultimately about superheroes beating up supervillains.  The main theme picked up on is the gay theme, as shown above; for the civil rights symbolism you're better off looking at the comics.  I know the LGBT community praises the series for raising awareness, but is it really helping that much?  Anyone who notices the symbolism will be called out for reading too much into the movies, as the person above Mr. Stentz did- and the writer won't always be around to correct people.  Once you know the symbolism is intentional then yes, the series does a very good job of showing the various difficulties LGBT people face- but is it raising awareness if the only people that see the symbolism are those that are aware already?  Those audience members that need to be made aware won't see any symbolism because they think they're just watching a comic-book movie about blowing things up.  Just one small addition would have been enough to trigger in people's minds that this is all symbolic, and that's to have an actually gay character say something along the lines of 'wow, your mutant problems are exactly the same as what I'm going through'- and I wouldn't be surprised if the writers wanted to include something like that, but openly gay characters are still frowned upon by producers.

Now I've got the serious part over with, time for some fun that relies on one extremely cynical viewpoint: it's easy to say symbolism is intentional if someone's done the work for you.  It makes you look like you're open-minded and performing a greater service, just because people are seeing what they want to see- after all, the gay subtext could just as easily be seen as anti-gay based on the actions of Magneto and the Hellfire club, who coincidentally are the characters most open about their 'mutations'.
To prove my point on how easy it is to find symbolism for anything, here's an interpretation of X-Men: First Class as a tale about the War on Drugs, in the height of the swinging sixties.
Please note that if you enjoy the film as it is and don't want it ruined then you may want to look away now.
(I thought this would be quite a ridiculous interpretation, but the more I looked the more I wondered if this was the actual message the writers wanted to convey- I see a lot more symbolism for drugs than I do for homosexuality... make of that what you will)

The key to understanding this interpretation, is that the severity of the mutation reflects the severity of the addiction.
First we have Shaw- powerful drug lord, and the central character to the story.  He has the most powerful mutation/habit, and is in full control of it.  His plan is to trigger World War III, which he hopes will create a world of mutants- people that have found a vice to relax their fears.  Significant to his plans is establishing a foothold in Cuba.

His first victim is Erik/Magneto.  He discovered his mutation in a Nazi laboratory, run by Shaw.  Shaw offers him a piece of candy- he refuses.  Shaw tries to convince him to try 'just a little' manifestation of his powers- he refuses.  Eventually it takes the killing of his mother to push Erik over the edge- in his grief he becomes completely addicted to his powers, but can't bring himself to kill his supplier, who says 'we're going to have a lot of fun together'.  Erik embraces his mutation, becoming completely dependant on it, and spends his life hunting down Shaw- the man that turned him into a monster.  When Erik lost control of his power- nearly dying when trying to lift the sub- Xavier helped him, and took him to his rehab centre.  Erik was going to leave rehab, but acknowledges he needs the help.  When Erik finally confronts Shaw, he can't resist just one more tiny use of his powers- enough to send him spiralling out of control, and taking Shaw's place as drug lord much to Xavier's dismay- he becomes Xavier's failure.

Xavier still suffers migraines from his addiction
Xavier/ Professor X, as previously mentioned, set up a rehab centre.  He has first-hand experience of mutations, but now has it under control.  It is implied that he started due to a poor relationship with his mother.  Because he managed to control it, he wants to help others control their powers.  His experience also means he can identify when others have a problem.  He still suffers migraines from time to time, hence raising his hand to his head.

Raven/ Mystique has the greatest dependence on her powers.  In fact she needs them to get through daily life, and she is constantly trying to mask them.  She is introduced as having broken into a rich house, looking for food, and unable to conceal her power.  Xavier takes her in, his first attempt at healing someone.  She can't control herself, especially when tired or stressed.  Erik points out it takes all her strength to hide, so she should be open about it and it will make her more relaxed- she eventually succumbs and joins Erik when he becomes Magneto.  Hank hoped he could cure her dependence, but she refused.

Hank/Beast was very good at hiding his mutation- Xavier notices, to which Hank says 'you didn't ask so I didn't tell'.  He is highly intelligent, and is working on a cure that will keep the power whilst hiding the superficial evidence.  Unfortunately it doesn't work, and Hank becomes Beast- a creature with a short temper and entirely driven by his addiction.

Darwin's overdose
Xavier's 'recruits': Angel works as a stripper in a nightclub, her ability always on show but unnoticed.  She attempts rehab but it doesn't work for her, so she falls for Shaw's temptation.  Darwin is proud of his ability and thinks he will live forever- his ability lets him 'adapt to survive'- but when Shaw comes along, he OD's on his own power.  Havok was imprisoned due to his ability- he acknowledges that he's destructive when under the influence, and very self-conscious about it, but with Xavier's help he can focus himself more.  Banshee is found as a teenager hanging out in a dark aquarium, and although he enjoys his ability it often makes him scream- usually through fear.

The Hellfire club: Azazel is so reliant on his ability that he now looks completely inhuman, and couldn't hide it even if he wanted to.  Riptide is a quiet man in a suit, and when he uses his ability it's variable as to how potent it will be.  Emma Frost looks perfectly natural, but is quite happy to demonstrate her ability in public, much to the horror of anyone watching.

So there you have it.  The film is in fact about a drug lord in the 60s trying to make the whole world reliant on him, whilst those that know how much pain drugs can cause are working with the American government to try and stop him.  They succeed, but only for a new drug lord to take his place, mostly due to all drug-users being labelled as criminals.  Personally I see that interpretation as having much more evidence than the homosexual interpretation...

...but then again