This Week’s Distractions: November Something Edition

I know I have been a little out of touch recently. (Quiet, you, I didn’t mean “with reality,” I meant “with updating the blog.”) But that does not mean I don’t have stuff to share with you.

What sort of stuff, you might ask? Why, I have all kinds! Today we’re going to talk about a game, a book, and a beverage additive.

Which do you want to do first? I mean, I know this is a blog by a writer, for a writer, and… of a… writer… but I was a gamer first! Probably. Most likely. (Aside: one of my first ‘finished works’ was a picture book relaying the myth ‘How Monkeys Got Their Tails,’ which I produced in grade school and my mom still has filed away somewhere to use as blackmail.) So, let’s talk games.

For a long time, the premium Xbox Live service for the Xbox 360 was of dubious value. It felt like I (or, at least as often, my friend) was paying for entry into an amusement park that I had already purchased in its entirety. (Seriously, lifetime ambition filed somewhere beneath ‘have a house with secret passages,’ is ‘rent out an entire theme park for a whole day.’ Don’t ask me why or you won’t be on the invite list.) Live Gold is required for online multiplayer, and enough games do not implement local LAN system link that keeping the Gold rolling became something of a grudging habit.

Games With Gold really added something worthwhile onto the side. Now you can get two free, full games a month as a part of the service. That is a value-add I can appreciate, because I tend to jump from game to game and this offers a nice variety of titles. Some of them have been sort of lame, but a fair number of full fledged, AAA games have shown up as well.

I think it was last month that I downloaded the game I’m about to bring up, so… I guess you’re stuck buying it if my description wows you beyond all reasoning. Sorry? (There is a fresh new game up through the end of the month, so don’t delay, if you have Xbox Live Gold anyway.)

DARKSIDERS 2

Let me tell you a little something about DARKSIDERS 2. It has sharp things. And gooey things. And smashy things. And it lets you mash all those things together to get satisfyingly squelchy sounds and experience points and cooler sharp / smashy things.

Oh. I bet you want to know about the story or something. (Whadda ya think this is, someplace that story matters?) Well, you play as Death. Death the apocalyptic horseman, in case that was not clear. And your brother, War, is wrongly accused (so Death thinks, anyway) of destroying humanity out of schedule. Or something. Then you, Death, go to talk to… this bird… guy… thing… to try and prove War’s innocence, kill him, get transported to a magical realm full of useless ancient giants who stand around moping all the time and need you to do their laundry or something…

Okay, I know I’m not selling it very well here, but you’ll just have to trust me. There is some sort of story going on there, even if it is hard for me to decipher it. The characters say things, and seem to believe what they say, so maybe player understanding is a secondary goal.

What it really comes down to, though, is playing as Death and death-ing things with your badass scythes in order to find or earn badasser scythes, and maybe get around to running everyone’s errands while you’re at it. In between dealing out death, you encounter the occasional environmental puzzle in which you are asked to fit the widget in the widget recepticle, bypassing all obstacles. It’s not really complex, or new, but it’s well done.

That probably puts it best: DARKSIDERS 2 does not break any new ground, really, except maybe that of having an obscenely badass looking protagonist (in the particular way he looks badass, I mean… badasses in general is done plenty). But all the ground it covers, it does a fine job.

And, hey, I got it essentially for free (as a part of services that I would have been using anyway) so that makes me much more inclined to give it a nod.

Enough tramping about in the digital spaces. Let’s set down our pixels and walk away… Wait! Finish reading the post first, then you can retreat. Or print it out, I suppose that would work, and head to your comfy armchair.

S.
by Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams

S. is a… well, I’m not sure what to call it. A hardback entertainment device? Basically, it’s a story framed around an obscure novel. Literally framed around the novel, for the story comes through in notes written in the margins by two readers who have passed the book back and forth in their attempts to uncover its mysteries, as well as the mysteries surrounding its enigmatic author.

I have, so far, read the foreword and first chapter of SHIP OF THESEUS, the novel itself. It is definitely outside my normal purview, I think, as the ‘author,’ one V. M. Straka, cuts a very traditional sounding prose to communicate some very untraditional (for the 1940s in which the book was ‘written,’ at least) subject matter for a literary novel. I have also read the accompanying notes written by our two readers, wherein the real story presides.

Look. I understand that this is all a manufactured world implied by the careful intentions of the author team that created it, but the reading experience is a little surreal. The notes are all printed, for production costs would be ridiculous to handwrite each individual copy, but they are well produced so that it is easy to forget that. So far, the ‘characters’ writing notes to each other have felt consistent and believable, and the inserts I have encountered have added to the sense that something is really going on here.

Oh, did I not mention the inserts? This is not just a book defaced with handwritten notes, oh no. There are photocopies and post cards and pictures and some sort of weird dial thing that I don’t know what it does yet, all interspersed throughout SHIP OF THESEUS, that the two note passers stuffed in for the other to read or examine. Everything is carefully planned and plotted to grow revelations upon you, I think, and it’s eerily well done. I mean, I am a sceptic at heart, and even I get a little bit of a giddy feeling looking in on the lives of these two people, and wondering just who V. M. Straka is after all, and what he could have meant with his final published work.

What really clinched it for me, though? A little bit of waxy goop on the edge of one of the pages. Just a teensy, tiny glob, almost unnoticeable, the kind you might brush away without thinking.

I don’t know if it was intended, or just an artifact of the production process, but when my thumb trailed across it by accident, I was sold. This story is a real, breathing thing, so long as you allow it to be, and I love how it is structured to let the reader in on a little mystery that feels like it is building in importance.

A great book so far. Thanks to my brother for forcing it upon me.

And now let’s get to our final entry for the week, a thing I wish I could have to enjoy with my book and game.

NESTLE COFFEEMATE WARM CINNAMON SUGAR COOKIE CREAMER

This may sound silly, but that stuff was pretty much the tastiest creamer on the open market (I mean, at least at Walmart). A holiday limited edition a few years back, Nestle did not see fit to renew it.

Such was my consternation at not being able to find this creamer that my wife got in touch with a Nestle representative to inquire about its potential return last year. Alas, it is not to be. (They did give her a consolatory coupon, so I guess that’s something.)

This year, I tried their Snickerdoodle holiday creamer. It’s okay. It just… isn’t the same.

I won’t dwell on this too long. (Ignore the fact that it has clearly been on my mind for literal years now.)

Just… back to the writing…

Le sigh.

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