Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Coming of Platypus the Cimmerian: The Platypus Reads Part XXXVIII

I was in the bookstore today trying to beat the heat and picked up "The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian" for kicks. I only read through the first story before I had to go (and put the book back on the shelf), but it was as fun a bit of pulp as I've read since "A Princess of Mars." A great writer with an elevated style, Howard is most certainly not, but he can tell a ripping good yarn!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

C.S. Platypus: The Platypus Reads Part XXXVII

Summer reading is always eclectic. I start out with one set of readings in mind, and then circumstances rearrange it. Since my wife is already going to be reading "The Discarded Image" and "The Allegory of Love," I thought I would join her by taking a trek through the scholarly writings of C.S. Lewis ("The Discarded Image," "The Allegory of Love," and "Studies in Words.") So, this summer it's C.S. Lewis the literature scholar, not the fiction writer or lay theologian, who'll be dominating household reading. We'll see what comes out of it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Platypi Get Free Lunches: The Platypus Reads Part XXXVI

So I've gotten my hands on a copy of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert A. Heinlein and worked my way through it. This marks the second Heinlein piece that I've read this year (the other being "Podkayne of Mars"). So far, Heinlein passes the sniff test. I enjoy reading him. I can see why he was called "the dean of science fiction" back in the day. Each of the books plays around with all sorts of ideas and "what ifs" that are perfect for dorm room debate; especially during finals. It's not as high-brow as Frank Herbert's "Dune," but it isn't meant to be. Heinlein doesn't seem to ever intend to give us a "magnum opus" that explains life, the universe, and everything. Instead, he throws out ideas and lets his reader chew on them a bit. "Podkayne of Mars" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" are much more thought experiements than manifestos. Some people claim that "Starship Troopers" is more like the latter than the former, but I'll have to suspend judgement on that until I can pick up a copy. I've still got a whole stack sitting on my coffee table, so we'll see how my thoughts develope over the summer.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Stomach Update (and a Platypus)

Well, my doctor isn't happy (nor am I) with the lack of progress my stomach condition is making. He's decided to order a whole range of tests to see why I'm not responding to the drugs. They'll be looking for everything from H Pylori and a hormone imbalance to cancer (extremely unlikely, but they have to check given my history). If nothing shows up, then I proceed to the next round of testing. In the meantime, they're upping the dosage of my medication. Please pray for us. We have enough problems this summer without having to add all this to it. Hopefully, they'll be able to find out what's wrong with me and fix it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lonely Calvinst Likes Long Walks on the Beach: The Platypus Reads Part XXXV

Like Robinson Crusoe, it's primitive as can be.

I read "Robinson Crusoe" when I was in ninth grade. We read it as the great English "Calvinist Allegory" and then compared it with "Pilgrim's Progress" as the great English "Arminianist Allegory." I enjoyed the book, but didn't think much of it until last year when the literature teacher had the 8th graders read it. Their absolute loathing for the book made me wonder if perhaps my memory were a bit fogy so I picked it up myself this past month.

If anything, I find the book even more interesting now than I did when I was a freshman. Aside from being a great adventure story, "Robinson Crusoe" has a strong devotional element to it. I find that I can read it for spiritual edification the same way I read Chesterton or Lewis' fiction. Has the hot Redlands' sun frazzled my brain? Maybe, but my second reading has conviced me that this definitely makes the list of "high school readings" worth picking back up.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Platypus Plays Chrono: Part III

No School like the old school. I miss old school video games. *insert cranky rant voice here* Back in my day, we didn't have any of this "first person shooter" nonsense. There was rules, and codes, and regulations! *end cranky rant voice* Ok, so there was Operation Wolf and Hogan's Ally. Video games have always struggled to come to grips with the boundary between entertainment and sadism via proxy. Still, about fifteen years back, a threshold was crossed in the area of how much violence is allowable in video games. My trip down memory lane drove this home to me.

All but two of the enemies in Chrono Trigger aren't human. Some of them, like the mystics and the reptites are sentient, but bear little outward resemblence to us. We are also encouraged to empathize with them and humans and mystics can be reconciled at the completion of one of the side quests. Beyond that, when enemies are killed, they disapear; no blood or guts. Of the two human opponents, players are encouraged to spare one of them, Magus, in an act of mercy that opens up the posability of his redemption. The second character, Queen Zeal, divests herself of her humnaity by giving her being over to the creature Lavos. Even after defeating her, it is pretty clear that she isn't "dead" in any traditional sense of the word. Compare this with Halo or Medal of Honor.

What does this mean? I'm not sure; but playing Chrono Trigger presents itself to me not so much as part of the "good old day," but as a sign post pointing down a path not taken. Halo was fun, but after San Andreas, maybe that line of development has hit its end, and to what point? We know what's down that road. What about the one we passed by?

Postscript: For what you can do with an even less violent video game, see the Myst series.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Platypus Plays Chrono: Part II

Following my previous post, I want to address an aspect of the "story" of Chrono Trigger that makes it so compelling: community. Like Edwardian pulp such as "A Princess of Mars," or fantasy epics such as "The Lord of the Rings," Chrono Trigger presents us with a community of characters that gather around the hero and without whom the hero could not succeed. This community aspect stands in stark contrast to the "go it alone" figures we see in other video games such as Halo, Resident Evil, or Metroid. Adventure games and first person shooters naturally lend themselves to the "lone hero," while RPGs thrive on a fellowship of protagonists.

Following this trend, Chrono Trigger presents us with a cast of vivd and eclectic characters that hold our interest throughout the game. Indeed, the title character, Crono, is rather flat and amorphous, inviting the player to project their own personality onto this "blank slate." With Crono as an avatar for the player, the other characters of the "fellowship" carry the weight of the story. We see the attachments they form with each other and with Crono through the story arcs and mini-quests that make up the plot of the game, and these attachments are chiefly what drive the plot. We want to know if Frog will revenge himself on Magus and return to being human. There is a sense of completion when Marle finally reconciles with her father. Any nerd who ever picked up a controller can empathize with Lucca, who finds robots easier to relate to than humans. Personally, I always wanted to know what became of Schala, and if Magus was ever able to rescue her (I guess there's always Chrono Cross...).

It's always fun to picture ourselves as the lone hero riding in to save the day, but experience tells us that it's far more realistic to make a difference if we're part of a team. In that way, Chrono Trigger serves as a metaphor for real life. We all are thrown into situations we didn't create and called on to rise and meet the challenges that come. The world of Crono and his friends reminds us that success and failure in meeting those challenges depends as much on who we choose to share our lives with as on our own efforts.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Platypus Plays Chrono

So I've played through two endings of Chrono Trigger for the first time since taking a 10 year sabbatical when my cartridge was hit by a sprinkler (don't ask...). The game is still as much fun as it ever was. Chrono Trigger is one of those rare games that makes you want to pick it right back up and play through it the moment you beat it. I've known a few movies like that; the Princess Bride, for instance. However, on to my question: whence this replay value?

There's a long answer and a short answer. I'll spare you the long answer. The short answer is "story." Chrono Trigger tells a compelling story. Sure, there's plenty of melodrama, it's a video game after-all, but somethings beneath all the cheese that makes it work. I think that thing is friendship. Chrono Trigger tells the story of a band of misfits that form a community that crosses all barriers of race, gender, culture, and even time. Hurtling through the ages, this group overcomes every obsticle in its path, even death.

Now where would someone get an idea like that?