Another Week Ends

1. Yes Please: A truly wonderful article from our friends at Kill Screen looking at […]

David Zahl / 5.18.12

1. Yes Please: A truly wonderful article from our friends at Kill Screen looking at video games through the lens of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the Geek.” Richard Clark explores the crucial difference between playing for points and playing for fun, the imperative to win vs. the freedom to lose. The grounding concept is that of playfulness, which has long been a favorite subject/approach here at Mbird–so much so that I’m a little jealous that Clark nailed it so beautifully! Definitely recommended for the non-gamer:

[The Beatitudes] reward those who seek to settle competition rather than win it, and those who find themselves on the business end of a crucifix or a gun for seemingly misguided beliefs. They reward failure and loss, not victory and perfection. They stand in stark contrast to the kinds of success-focused achievements that typically ship in today’s games.

Those of us who play videogames understand the significance of the incredibly satisfying sound the Xbox makes when an achievement is unlocked. It’s an understated pair of digital click-tones that are done playing before you realized they had started-perfect to instill in the player a Pavlovian response of satisfaction after they punching 100 enemies or finishing the next level. That two-toned bleep-bloop represents an explicit pat on the back that transcends the game itself, and bleeds into a broader world, if not the real world itself.

The Beatitudes suggest an approach to life and to play that minimizes frustration and allows for delight in surprising places. They manage to make failure seem noble and wise-like I was meant to fail all along, so that I might accomplish some good in the world. It allows for kindness that isn’t so much patronizing as it is empathetic. And the rewards-they’re a heck of a lot more than bragging rights.

For those who play games, the Beatitudes are a call to play to lose, even while trying to win. It’s a call to play with grace – an undeserved favor – allowing ourselves to accept it after a failure and offer it to others. It’s what causes us to help our teammates escape the zombie apocalypse in Left 4 Dead at our own expense. It’s what causes us to patiently lead and aid our teammates in Battlefield. It allows us to make crucial decisions in Mass Effect without extra save files, being willing to accept our inevitable failure state. 


2. On The Atlantic, Mya Frazier explores the rise of “baby data” mobile apps, asking the (leading) question, “will statistical analytics make for healthier, happier babies—or more-anxious adults?” Sigh. The Measurement Stick business will never experience a downturn:

At their most basic, these first-generation baby-data apps offer tech-savvy parents a substitute for handwritten diaper-change and feeding logs. The apps’ greater innovation, however, has been in charting and analyzing children’s data, in the process making parenthood a more quantifiable, science-based endeavor. Forthcoming versions of baby-data apps are poised to bring even more dramatic change, allowing parents to compare their child with other children in great detail. In place of sidelong glances on the playground and calls to the pediatrician, mothers and fathers will have a new and more definitive way of answering an old question: Is my child normal? What remains to be seen is whether this new trove of information will reduce the anxieties of early parenthood or, by allowing constant, nervous comparisons, bring them into sharper relief.

3. An affectionate profile of Wes Anderson and his new film Moonrise Kingdom appeared in the NY Times last week, “Giving Chase to Young Love on the Run.” A few of the sentiments he expresses bear resemblance to Maurice Sendak’s philosophy that we highlighted last week (speaking of whom, if you haven’t read Kathryn Schulz tribute, it’s incredible). Wes’ response to the yawning predictability of indie reactionism that dogs his work is both touching and humble:

Similarly “Moonrise Kingdom” doesn’t shy from depicting adolescence as a time of bewilderment, anger and pain. “I feel like most people’s experience of childhood has some darkness in it,” Mr. Anderson said. At one point Suzy shows Sam a pamphlet, “Coping With the Very Troubled Child,” she found on top of the refrigerator; the very same thing happened with Mr. Anderson. “I wasn’t the only child in the household, but I knew I was the one,” he said. “Now it makes me laugh, because it’s a funny thing to find, especially on top of the refrigerator. But it was a horrible feeling.”

“I feel like I’m polarizing to this small group of people who care one way or the other,” he said. “I don’t particularly make an effort to have a recognizable style. I’m usually making something up, not adapting something, so I’m going to end up working within my limitations.”

4. Jonah Lehrer reported in The Wall Street Journal on the link between religious belief and self-control, “A Divine Way To Resist Temptation.” The conclusions may elicit some chuckles from regular readers, i.e. the people being researched have clearly not been reading much Robert Capon. And in other social science news, James Atlas noted the flurry of recently released willpower-related, neuroscience-based literature, coining the phrase “the invasion of the Can’t-Help-Yourself books,” in his column “The Amygdala Made Me Do It” for the NY Times. Needless to say, many of the books he mentions have been featured on this site (Kahneman, Duhigg, Lehrer, etc), ht CR.

5. Two quick updates in the kitsch department. First, the jaw-dropping, Alighieri-inspired The Nine Circles of Hell, As Depicted in LEGO courtesy of sculptor Mihai Mihu. Too graphic to link to I’m afraid, but one of the less horrific images is the one for the ninth circle, the Iscariot-dwelling “Treachery”, ht JD:

Second, Religion Dispatches’ fascinating eulogy for “painter of light” Thomas Kinkade, “Cozy Cottage or House on Fire? Thomas Kinkade’s Theo-Aesthetic Legacy,” highlighting in particular the feeling/sentiment that he was able to commodify so ingeniously (and what that means). It was also the first time I’d come across Joan Didion’s brilliant observation:

“A Kinkade painting typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.”

6. Amazing find by the amazing Alan Jacobs (of amazing More Than 95 Theses tumblr, among many other amazing things). A letter W.H. Auden wrote a priest on (then experimental, now concrete) changes to the Book of Common Prayer. Suffice it to say, Wystan was not into contemporary worship:

I implore you by the bowels of Christ to stick with Cranmer and King James. Preaching, of course, is another matter: there the language must be contemporary. But one of the great functions of the liturgy is to keep us in touch with the past and the dead.

7. On Patheos, Dan Siedell takes the record-breaking sale of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” a few weeks ago to reproduce a brilliant reflection on commerce, art and the distinction between the Law and the Gospel, “The Scream, a Stuffed Shark and the Insecurity of Culture.”

The insecurity that haunts collectors and dealers can crush artists, forcing them into a high-stakes game of behavioral poker, in which their very livelihoods and identities are determined by a small group of wealthy but unpredictable collectors pursuing entertainment and validation. To dismiss this as antithetical to the integrity of art over-idealizes it and distorts the social and institutional fabric from which the work emerges.

Viewed through the lens of Christ, who says from the cross, “It is finished,” we can receive these works, like The Scream and the stuffed shark, wrought from fear and violence, as gospel and as grace, receive them as part of the liberating power that frees us to create and experience, to make and be shaped by culture, and be a faithful presence in a world in which Christ is working to make all things new, and in whom we have all we need.

8. On a not too removed note, The Atlantic published a must-read survey of Marilynne Robinson’s “Small Rich Body of Work” this week, capturing much of what makes her voice so essential, irenic and unique. Allen Barra writes:

I know little about Calvinism or the beauty of Protestant hymns or many other concerns that animate Robinson’s work. Before I sat down to read and reread her entire oeuvre I hadn’t realized how someone whose background and outlook were so different from my own could lead me to see things in a different way—to understand that “We live on a little island of the articulable which we tend to mistake for reality itself.”

9. TV: Am I the only one who felt that Parks and Rec jumped the shark in its finale? I found it unbearably saccharine. I’ve enjoyed the development of Leslie’s character as much as anyone, but that closing speech was simply too far removed from the cutely awkward and hilariously naive gal we’ve come to love so much. And the softening of Ron Swanson stops working when it happens every single episode… Yuck. Elsewhere, I’ve been delighted to find that Sherlock is just as fun as Todd claimed. Sunday nights have almost become too crowded. Oh and this just in: Jesse Plemons AKA Landry Clark, has been added to the cast of Breaking Bad fifth and final season!

FAIL of the Week



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