Saturday, February 27, 2010
PS -- I'm so happy that Doctor Demento is still alive and kicking! Life was hard for nerds before the Internet. We had to earn our weirdness.
It is very interesting to think about this change -- the change from words being events to words being objects. We take it for granted, now, of course. More interesting to me is the experience of reading compared to the experience of listening. Personally, I enjoy listening far more. I am in the car about 45-60 minutes most days, and listen to audiobooks there every chance I get. I find that I am more connected with a text through an audiobook than I am by reading. It is more real. For me, text on a page is like a picture of something happening, but hearing it out loud is like the thing itself. With the kindle, I sometimes like to set it on text-to-speech mode, and read along with the voice. I know many people don't care for audiobooks. I read somewhere once that there are two kinds of readers -- visual, who turn text into pictures in their minds, and audio, who turn text into speech in their minds. Audio readers are supposed to be slower, and are distracted by other voices in the room. Video readers read faster, and voices do not distract them. I wish I could remember where I read about this.
When I wrote The Art of Game Design, I would read each chapter out loud as I completed it. I often found that sentences that looked okay on the page often sounded awkward out loud, and I would change them. I think this is part of the reason that people say the book is so "readable" and "flows so smoothly."
Hm. I wish I had more to say about this book. I like that it got me thinking about the relationship between speech and text -- but if it gave me insights, they are hidden, and I don't know what they are.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
I found the other talks fascinating -- from Rich LeMarchand to the, uh, bold Bobby Kotick. And this year there were some really unusual talks, about topics like fish, and optical illusions. I love the Red Rock Hotel, and I love being able to spend time chatting in such an intimate environment with so many cool game industry people. Long live DICE!
When I got the CD, and started to play it, the memories came flooding back so powerfully, just hearing the whistling at the start of "Come All Ye", that I had to stop it. It was overwhelming to suddenly be four years old again, sitting there in the living room of 146 Cedar Lake West, and be thinking about what the wide world might be like. I could only listen to it a song at a time, reflecting for long after each one. I hadn't listened to these songs for thirty years, and when I thought about the album, I could only name a song or two. I wondered if I'd remember the songs, or if they would seem alien to me. But they didn't -- each one, as I heard it, was as familiar as an old friend. I started to worry, though, if by listening to them now, that somehow, I would spoil them, somehow I would steal them from my childhood. But that's not what happened at all. Instead, it felt like I got a piece of my self back, a piece that was missing for years and years.
Is it just that I associate this album with childhood? No, I don't think so. There is something more here -- there is something in Richard Dyer-Bennet's voice, and his guitar playing, and in his song choices that resonates with me on a deep fundamental level. Whenever I hear these songs, I feel like I'm outside, in and among nature. It's not always a friendly place, but it's always very, very real. I remember, even very young, taking pleasure in the dark and sad parts of this album, as well as the happy parts. And it has a lot of dark parts. Consider the lyrics from "Three Jolly Rogues of Lynn":
In the good old colony daysI don't think anyone would publish songs like this under the title "With Young People in Mind" nowadays. But I know that I found something so real, so genuine in these songs, even when I was quite young. They had a seriousness, and a sincerity, but at the same time, there was a kind of sense that, yes, terrible things will happen, but that's okay, terrible things happen, and we can survive them, and still be ourselves.
When we lived under the king
Lived a miller, and weaver and a little tailor
Three jolly rogues of Lynn
Now, the miller, he stole corn
And the weaver, he stole yarn
And the little tailor, he stole broadcloth
For to keep these three rogues warm.
Now, the miller, he drowned in his dam,
And the weaver, he hanged in his yarn,
And the devil got his paw on the little tailor,
With his broadcloth under his arm.
Now, the miller still floats in his dam,
And the weaver still hangs in his yarn,
And the little tailor still skips through hell
with his broadcloth under his arm.
What's funny to me is, looking at the cover of the album, I kept thinking, this isn't right -- I don't remember these girls, and this horse, and where is the pond? And more Internet searching revealed the true cover (from the old LP), which is mostly the same, but a bit zoomed out to show the pond, and a lighter tint that deemphasizes the girls, and emphasizes the natural surrounding, instead -- it's funny what we do and don't remember.
I'm so glad to have found this again. It is sad the way that most of our childhood things are often destroyed -- houses sold, grandparents dead, families broken up, toys given away, friends grown apart. To have a pure, clean, gleaming part of my self suddenly return, reminding me who I am, and who I always will be, is a tremendous gift indeed.
Friday, February 5, 2010
And I think that is the magic of this show. Cat lovers quietly impart all kinds of secret inner thoughts and lives to their cats, but that's an embarrassing thing to talk about. It's probably not even entirely conscious. And to suddenly be confronted with a broadway show where the secret lives of dozens of familar cat personalities are sung about, danced about, and celebrated majestically must be an overwhelmingly joyous and cathartic experience. Top that off with the fact that old ladies are the greatest lovers of cats, and the most likely to attend broadway shows, and the little plot there is concerns the fact that each year, one cat is chosen to be born again into a kitten, and on top of that, the most touching songs in the show are old cats singing songs of their youth, and well -- it's no wonder this is one of the most successful shows of all time.
I know people deride the show as trite and corny, but as a piece of entertainment crafted for a specific audience, it is a masterpiece. I knew "Memories" was a tearjerker, but I'd never heard the song that Gus the Theater Cat sings -- as a washed up performer myself, I found it to be very touching. I hope that one day, I can create something as simple, powerful, and enduring as this fluffy show.
1: People are naturally curious, but they are not naturally good thinkers.
2: Factual knowledge precedes skill.
3: Memory is the residue of thought.
4: We understand things in the context of things we already know.
5: Proficiency requires practice.
6: Cognition is fundamentally different early and late in training.
7: Children are more alike than different in terms of learning.
8: Intelligence can be changed through hard work.
9: Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.
So, really, only #1 on that list really addresses the title of the book. However -- it does it well. Willingham made me see something that wasn't obvious to me before. As a game designer, I know that enjoyable challenges walk a balance between anxiety and boredom -- but it never sank in with me before that this is the problem with school -- most kids are either frustrated, or bored! In other words, good education is a game design problem that has not been well addressed. I'll definitely work this into my upcoming DICE talk, and sound all smart and stuff.
The rest of the book makes some really good points, backed up well with examples and studies. He gets on hobby horses from time to time, and a few high horses as well, and at least one very high hobby horse (called Chapter 7), but the book is concise, rich with examples, and very readable. The simple statement that "Memory is the residue of thought" is a very useful one, that I am already using in some of my designs, specifically some stuff we are doing at Carnegie Mellon with the Sesame Workshop.
I think there are reasons that students don't like school that are not addressed here, and that's a little disappointing, but setting the title aside, I found this text to be quite interesting an useful.