Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Platypus' Eve

With All Hallows' Eve and All Saints Day rapidly approaching, I offer you a trio of modern "saints" to keep in mind: Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Each of them, in their own fashion, was willing to reclaim territory for the Church that had been ceded without a fight to her enemies. Let us remember them, imperfections and all, and strive to imitate their best qualities as they imitated Christ.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What the Platypus is Reading Now

Heaven's War

Charles Williams+C.S. Lewis+J.R.R. Tolkien+Cathars+Alastair Crowley+Comic Books=Crazy Delicious! (Or at least something I wish I'd come up with...)

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Platypus and a World of Wonder

A world of wonder.

I've always appreciated the Final Fantasy series for its art. Normally, I favor invented worlds with a down-to-earth, historically plausible look. Something where you can almost feel the weight of the chain mail and smell the fresh leather of a shield strap. It's the reason why John Howe is my favorite Tolkien artist. The art of Final Fantasy (especially what was released in America as II and III) is nothing like that. There's an ethereal quality to every bit of steam-punk, cyber-punk, high fantasy mish-mash in the game. Don't bother with the politics of the civilizations, finding a coherent cultural motif for the costumes, and theorizing about how the weapons would work in the real world. You'll just hurt yourself. Final Fantasy is candy for the eye and candy for the mind. It's a world that you emerse yourself in not by detail-mongering, but by sitting back and letting it carry you along. There are sword fights and operas, airships and submarines, theives in the night and Nietzschean gods, moments of melodrama and moments of the sublime.

Who knows. Maybe if I played it today I'd lose interest after the first thrity minutes, but something struck me back then that's never quite left. I think Lewis would call it Joy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Was the Platypus Playing Back Then?

Secret of Mana

Did I waste time on video games as a kid? No. When I was growing up, there was always plenty else to do. I walked in the woods, made movies with my friends, painted miniatures, and went to youth group, among other things. I had good friends and there was a lot to do growing up in rural southern Connecticut. So what was the lure of video games?

In my family, and in my circle of friends, video games were a social sport. We picked hard and detailed games to play that encouraged cooperation and creative problem solving. The first thing my brother and I ever did together (I mean really together) was to beat "Secret of Mana." My sister used to sit and watch, and occasionally got in on the action as well. That memory will stick with me till the day I die. I have so many memories of sitting in the basement and penning a map, or slogging through a guidebook as my friends and I tried to crack a particularly tough puzzle. There were the soda ceremonies meant to invoke the god of caffeine. There were the breaks to rest our tired thumbs and cool our toasted brains. There were the conversations about story, art, music, and drama. We even did a little of our own creating with drawings and clay figures meant to represent our favorite heroes and worlds.

You could blame it on a culturally impoverished society. I blame it on the books. At school, we were fed on a steady stream of adventure, art, fantasy, and moral drama. We read Tennyson, Homer, Defoe, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte, and Tolkien until our imaginations were fit to burst. We found outlets for our creativity in plays, movies, music, and art, and there still was not enough room for it all. What spilled over passed into video games; into the wonder of exploring and interacting with a fully realized sub-creation. Maybe it was time wasted, but I wouldn't trade those moments for the world.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What Was the Platypus Playing Back Then?

Autumn is always a time of nostalgia for me. It was my favorite season growing up, and I have many happy memories attached to it. For some reason, it also gives me a hankering (rarely fulfilled) for playing some old school video games. To go with the flow then, I'm giving my 10 personal (emphasis on personal) favorite video games of all time.

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
3. The Legend of Zelda
4. Chrono Trigger
5. Secret of Mana
6. Final Fantasy II
7. Final Fantasy III
8. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
9. Final Fantasy
10. Metroid

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Was the Platypus Reading Back Then?

I am currently preparing two primary source reading units for my 9th and 10th grade World History class. Next week, they'll begin reading Homer's "Iliad." After that, they will read the "Odyssey" for English class and then finish off the year with me by reading Virgil's "Aeneid." We'll be discussing each day's reading using the first fifteen to twenty minutes of class, and I'll be interested to see how much they'll get out of it. My hopes are not too high. What I'm really aiming at is the bare minimum of exposure and getting one or two of my brightest pupils actually interested in the classics.

Worrying over whether or not I'm right to push them so far brought back to mind just what I was reading for class when I was their age. Just to clarify, I went to a New England private academy for the first half of my high school education. So let's see what I can remember.

9th Grade:

The Odyssey by Homer
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Tempest by William Shakespeare

10th Grade:

The Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The point here is that I would have been at least up to the challenge that I'm setting my own students. It leaves me distressed that I gravely doubt their ability.