Critical Resources on Metal Gear Solid 2

I have been thinking about Metal Gear Solid 2 (MGS2) a lot lately. Partly just because I’ve found some streamers and YouTubers who play the game, and I like watching people play games, but mostly because, considering that everyone is screaming FAKE NEWS at the moment, its thoughts on information control and filter bubbles have become more and more relevant, even prophetic. I’ve come across some excellent critical material on the game and thought it might be helpful to collate it here.

Driving Off the Map by James Howell

Definitely the most extensive and well researched look at MGS2. Howell considers MGS2 to be a formal inversion of the first game, and compares MGS1 and 2 to see where they meet, what separates them, and how any thinking about MGS2 has to bear in mind that it very much uses the expectations of the player coming from MGS1 to make its point. Howell comes to MGS2 with formal game design and mechanics in mind, but maintains a perspective acquired from broader studies in the humanities, something I wish more games criticism did. If you’re like me and have both formal training in the humanities and an interest in videogames, this essay will have a lot to interest you.

James Howell’s Big Boss rank run of MGS2

I’ve known about Howell’s essay on MGS2 for a long time, but I never knew about his YouTube channel. On his YouTube channel, you can find a full playthrough of MGS2 on its hardest difficult and that achieves the highest rank, Big Boss. It’s great to get to see the person who wrote the essay above actually play the game, but what really makes this video great is that he went back after a few years and rewatched it himself, adding commentary. He demonstrates his strategies for beating the hardest challenge in the game, but also finds time to talk further about his thoughts on MGS2, further explicating some points from his essay, and raising some new ones. Makes the point that MGS2 is postmodern, but that largely because all videogames are postmodern. If you liked Driving off the Map, you should watch this next.

SuperBunnyHop’s critical closeup

A video essay that is part of a series of critical videos on the MGS series. Coming from a humanities perspective much like Howell does, George Weidman situates MGS2 in the canon of modernist/postmodernist culture. Also focuses on the controversy surrounding the game’s release, and the way Kojima played with the player’s expectations not just through formal elements, but marketing and falsification (FAKE NEWS) as well, detailing a history that is crucial to understanding the game’s context, and why appreciation of the game has only grown since it was released to both critical acclaim and fan backlash.

An analysis of the ending at JunkerHQ

An in-depth look at the ending of the game, in particular the codec conversations Raiden has with the Colonel and Rose. The game uses various formal elements to break the fourth wall and accost the player with it’s videogame-ness, but it’s the ending of the game that turns it from passive aggressive to aggressive aggressive, asking the player to turn off the console, removing the player’s abilities, and constantly breaking up the gameplay with unskippable conversations about the role of Raiden/player as manipulator and manipulated. This is an excellent piece if you to examine those conversations in more depth, as it transcribes those conversations and adds commentary.

OuterHeavenNetwork

A collaboration between Twitch streamers that specialise in MGS challenge runs and marathons. They have played so much MGS2 that not many details escape them, and their YouTube channel has videos which take a close look at the game and go over every little detail, including rare codec conversations and details in cutscenes and dialog that are easy to miss.

 

That’s it for now. If I come across anything else or find something I missed, I’ll edit the post. Feel free to comment. Do you have any resources on MGS2 that you’ve found useful or enlightening?

I’ll Have What He’s Having: Food in le Carré and Fleming.

I have been reading some fairly heavy stuff recently. Kafka (In the Penal Colony), Hosbawm (The Age of Extremes), and Batuman (The Possessed, which contained lots of info new to me that I had to process). I decided to read something lighter and picked up a copy of Call for the Dead, which was a mistake, but I got a copy recently and was interested to see George Smiley’s first appearance. Ok, it was horrifying and tragic and very bleak. What’s the same kind of thing but much lighter?

James Bond.

I’d first started reading the James Bond stories after finishing university. I read the first six in a row and then stopped after my interest faded (because let’s face it, they are all pretty much the same). The next one on the list is Goldfinger.

It’s very easy to compare and contrast John le Carré and Ian Fleming, considering that they both wrote spy fiction during the Cold War. James Bond is the sexy one, George Smiley the ugly operator. James Bond drives an Aston Martin, and George Smiley drives something so nondescript I can’t remember it. James Bond can have any woman he wants, George Smiley is introduced to us as a man who pines after the wife who left him.

This is all appropriate considering James Bond is largely a male power fantasy and George Smiley is a more realistic construction of the kind of grey, sad man who would have worked in intelligence in real life. But something occurred to me while I was reading the first half of Goldfinger, and that is that the author’s different attitudes towards their creations is evident nowhere more strongly than in the manner in which they eat.

I noticed this because Goldfinger was making me hungry, thirsty, and constantly in need of a cigarette. Bond almost never stops drinking, is always smoking, and when he eats, he eats not because he has to, but because there is something good on and he wants to. George Smiley’s eating is always utilitarian, and even the club he goes to is one he goes to largely because a gentleman ought to have a club. John le Carré’s characters eat as a function of being human. Ian Fleming’s characters eat for pleasure. Bear in mind (particularly with Fleming) that these books were aimed at people who remembered rationing. A fantasy life to someone in that time and place would definitely have included being able to eat as much as you wanted of whatever you wanted.

George Smiley still smokes though. A lot. Call for the Dead made me want a cigarette every other page. Bond smokes too, but his real poison is drink. In the first few pages of Goldfinger, he drinks three double whiskies, shortly afterwards two double martinis, and then some pink champagne. Unless he was an alcoholic with a really high tolerance, he wouldn’t be able to function at all, let alone engage in a game of wits, shoot straight, or have sex. But he is an alcoholic (and is also a fantasy), so there you go.

I haven’t finished Goldfinger yet, but I bet it’s going to keep making me hungry. Call for the Dead, sad as it is, just made me crave nicotine and silence. It says something that one of James Bond’s enduring symbols is the martini just the way he likes it, whereas with George Smiley, it’s the lighter his wife gave him that gets taken by Karla.

Ars Poetica

I came across this excellent post by Ken Craft, and decided to have a go myself, so here you go.

Ars Poetica

Short.

To the

point.

And brutal.

Maybe some line

breaks in odd places.

My Books Are Now On Smashwords!

Both of my books (More Poems About Cats And Teeth, and the newly released Hole In The Sky And Other Stories) are now available on Smashwords. You can download them in whatever format you want, and the pricing is set to pay what you want, which can be free, if that’s what your wallet or interest will allow you.

I hope you enjoy them 🙂

What I Want to Read in 2017

I mean, barring all those books about fascism and totalitarian regimes that everyone is talking about at the moment. 1984 is a best seller again. What I’d ask is, who the fuck either hasn’t read it or doesn’t own a copy? In my experience it’s the first (often the last) “serious” book people read.

I wrote a post towards the end of last year that detailed some of the books I’d read that I’d found notable. I thought it would be worthwhile to outline near the start of this year what I want to read, as it might be fun to refer back to it and see how far I’ve reneged on my hopes and dreams. It won’t be a rubric, exactly. I’ve talked before about how important it is to read exactly what you want, and the pitfalls of setting yourself targets and making yourself read things you don’t really want to. So I reserve the right to drop this shit like it’s hot. But I’ll at least try and read most of the stuff I’m about to outline.

What I mainly read after that year-end post were collections of short stories. Short stories were largely what I found myself writing, because I found writing them enjoyable (editing, proofing them, and publishing them was hell on earth). It’s a form of literature that I am conversant in because of my education, a lot of which focussed on short stories because they are a good teaching tool, but I had since rarely chosen to read them for pleasure. In terms of short stories, this year, I’d like to read:

  • Some more Hemingway.
  • Some more Chekhov.
  • Katharine Mansfield.
  • More of Henry James novella’s and short stories, including The Turn of the Screw, which I still haven’t read.
  • More Angela Carter (I read The Bloody Chamber at university and loved it. I have had Fireworks recommended to me by multiple people).
  • More Ray Bradbury short stories (I loved The Martian Chronicles).
  • Any of Will Self’s short story collections (probably The Quantity Theory of Insanity).
  • Any of J.G. Ballard’s short stories, if I can get hold of them.
  • Some Sylvia Plath (I read Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit back in GCSE English and it hit me pretty hard).
  • The rest of the Kafka short stories I haven’t read yet.

That is not an exhaustive list, but is what comes to mind when I think about what kinds of short stories I might try and read this year to broaden my knowledge of the form.

I’ve also come across a post on Open Culture that reminded me of something I had been meaning to do for years, and that is to have a more serious look at the Five Foot Shelf. There are things on there I am probably never going to read, but one of the things that makes me saddest about my education is that I haven’t really covered the classics. My knowledge of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer and so on could not even be called a working knowledge. Seeing that post again occasioned my reading of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which I enjoyed despite autobiography not being something I tend to read, and also despite the fact that he was so industrious and good hearted that it made me feel a scoundrel the entire way through. So, I would ideally like to read a bit more non-fiction, whether that be autobiography, philosophy, or poetry, while trying to cover the classics a bit (I wrote a post on The Odyssey, I am about halfway through that, and hope to finish it this year).

In terms of novels, there’s a bunch I need to either finish, or have been meaning to read for ages. These include:

  • Tropic of Capricorn (finish. Started it around the Trump inauguration. Stopped because I didn’t really wanna keep looking at America’s dark violent heart).
  • Look to Windward (finish. Dunno why I stopped read it halfway through, I just did).
  • Big Sur (I enjoy Kerouac despite his many deficiencies as both a writer and a person).
  • Queer (much the same for Burroughs).
  • The New York Trilogy (I read the first book and liked it. I wish I had the self-confidence to masturbate so shamelessly in public. Need to read the other two books to glean more insight into how he does it).
  • The major Virginia Wool novels I haven’t read yet, The Waves and To the Lighthouse.
  • Crime and Punishment (finish. I’m about halfway through).

Gonna stop because otherwise I’ll eventually write down every book I own. These are the things that immediately come to mind. I set myself another reading challenge, again setting the bar low at 20 books. That is the bare minimum I can read this year without feeling fucking awful about myself; I will do my utmost to read more.

Oh and just to remind you that my first collection of short stories just came out. You can get it here.

My Newest Release

front-cover-final-kindle

My first collection of short stories is now out! It is available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. It features stories that have appeared on this site before, such as The King of Infinite SpaceHead: A Short Story, and, You Better Watch Out. If you enjoyed those, you would probably enjoy my book.

If you don’t want to deal with Amazon, send me a message and we’ll sort something out.

And while you’re at it, follow me on facebook and twitter 🙂

2016: A Year in Reading

So 2016 was a dumpster fire. I did manage to get some reading done though. My plan to set myself a low and achievable goal worked, and I ended up reading with more freedom and joy and worried a lot less about what I should be reading (apart from the last month or so, which has found me focussing on reading short stories). I also wrote a bunch of stories and am about to publish them, so watch this space. Books I want to particularly note my enjoyment of listed below.

The Figure in the Carpet by Henry James – I haven’t read any of James’ longer works but I’ve enjoyed his short stories and novellas immensely. This was the first book I read in 2016. A truer depiction of the logical endpoint of literary analysis has never been written. Anyone that has taken an undergrad literature course will find lines and themes from this already written in their soul.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut – I read a lot of SF in the first half of this year. This was one of the standouts. An antidote, as all of Vonnegut is, to the idea of grand human purpose.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – I also ended up reading a lot of Vonnegut this year. Haven’t read anything of his I haven’t enjoyed. I want to read Breakfast of Champions next. Cat’s Cradle is a melancholic family tragedy framed in a story about the end of the world. Also about the nature of authoritarianism. Required reading.

Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison – I’ve already written about this. Anyone interested in SF or weird, transgressive fiction should read it. There will be something in here you will love, and the rest is worth reading for educational purposes anyway.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence – Still pretty transgressive by the standards of today, particularly because of its contempt for the class system. If you can get past the word “Cunt” you’ll find a love story for the ages.

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell – Another book about the class system. So much is better. So much hasn’t changed. Worth reading to find out what life in the mines was like, alone.

Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin – Read this aloud to my girlfriend. It was delightful dirty fun. Nin’s descriptive work is beautiful and her grasp of the ungraspable points of human sexuality is uncanny. Anyone who wants to brave putting sex in their fiction should read this book.

Consumed by David Cronenberg – His first novel. I hope he writes more. A horror novel that doesn’t try to scare you, but instead slowly brings you around to looking at things the way Cronenberg does, and seeing how horrifying everything really is.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman – A masterful example of using an imagined future to talk about the present. Uses time dilation in FTL travel as a metaphor for the estrangement Vietnam veterans experienced coming home and finding out everything changed without them.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – During a time in which we’ve almost acquiesced to ruining the planet, and billionaires do their best to give us vague hope that we can colonise space, this collection of stories about the human exploration and colonisation of mars is required reading. We’re going to have to try very hard to not repeat the same mistakes, and take the same troubles with us.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – I’ve have loved everything of hers I have read. More anthropologists should write SF. One of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read, let alone in SF. Takes pains to detail the care and attention we have to pay if we want to overcome differences of race, culture, and ideology. More required reading, considering 2016 just happened.

In one way or another, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read this year (partly because I did my damndest to stop being scared to put something down), but the above are the books I’ve enjoyed enough to want to shortly say something about. I am satisfied with the amount I read this year. It could (should) have been more, but considering that Football Manager has replaced the World of Warcraft shaped hole in my life, it could also have been a lot less. I imagine I might read a couple more books before the year ends. I’ll let you know if they make the list.