Tomb Raiding

I picked up the new Tomb Raider game this evening. I’m only a short way into the game, but it’s unlike everything I’ve ever played. It’s raw. It’s emotional. I don’t know how to describe it, but I want to try. Minor spoiler warning if you haven’t played the game, although the scene I’m going to talk about happens pretty early on.

There’s this thing that’s pretty common in fiction: the cathartic response. I’m not sure if this is a stereotypical male thing or not (probably is), but there’s something in particular that always gets to me; it’s the scene where the female character is in trouble. She’s fallen into the serial killer’s lair or she’s been ambushed or disarmed or she’s been hunted. It doesn’t matter what the genre is or even the medium. The point is that she’s in trouble and the consequences if she doesn’t a)get rescued or b)self-rescue are dire. I watch (or read or play) enduring the increasing tension until the climatic moment arrives and the hero busts in or (more satisfyingly, in my opinion) she turns the tables on the antagonist. Now the creep is the one that’s in trouble.

And always, always no matter the circumstances or the characters or the situation, I’m in the mood for some “avenging angel” type stuff. I want the protagonist to put two rounds into the creep’s head. I want to see the monster suffer for what he has wrought. I feel good when it happens. I feel pleased that justice (or vengeance) has been doled out. Later, I’ll wonder what that says about my own psyche and I’ll fret about some latent bloodthirstiness or whatever, but at the moment? I’m glad.

Bringing things back to Tomb Raider now; there’s a scene very early on where Lara is in, as they say, deep shit. Her hands are bound and she’s scurrying from shadow to shadow trying to stay one step ahead of these monstrous thugs, all of them armed and all of them huge in comparison to her slender frame. And then you get to a moment where she’s hiding, looking away as one guy in particular moves past her, and then the fucker just turns and eyeballs her. Got you, he (probably) says. He’s speaking Russian without subtitles, so I have no idea. Maybe he says something even worse.

I’ve played a lot of games, I know what happens next. Struggle time, right? I’m ready for this; she’ll knee him or something and it’ll be fine. Except that it wasn’t fine. I missed a crucial moment, didn’t react quickly enough and he chokes her to death. And it’s horrible. It’s horrible enough that when I reload and try again, I fumble even though I know it’s coming. And again, he chokes her to death.

It takes me six tries. On the fifth try, I pull off the proper command and she knees him in the groin and he staggers away. I’m so enthused by this that I miss the follow-up; he grabs her again and chokes her to death anyway.

On the seventh try, I’m ready. I’m pumped. I’m ready to pull this shit off because I want to kill this asshole. I’ve watched him choke the life out of Lara six times now. Each time he laughs and my screen goes black, I’m that much more involved. I can’t wait to get this right and visit some virtual bullet vengeance upon this fucker.

Seventh try: I pull it off. Both commands are executed flawlessly; Lara knees the guy (twice) and gets the gun away from him. Then there’s the struggle for the gun and Lara tries to push the gun towards him. And then bang. The gun goes off. The top of the guy’s head explodes. He slumps to the ground, gurgling and twitching. Lara is covered in blood that isn’t hers, but damn it, she’s alive and he’s dead. The helpless damsel isn’t. Nine millimeters of justice has been visited upon the deserving. I expect to feel that moment of rightful vengeance and satisfaction.

I don’t feel that.

I’m not glad about any of this. I’m sad that this happened. I’m emotionally wrecked. I’m watching as Lara breaks down, because this early in the game, this is the first human she’s ever killed. This is the death of her innocence. This is the moment when the game goes from “Woman vs. Wild” to “Woman vs. Evil.” This isn’t the glamorous violence so common in fiction. This isn’t sexy or exciting or satisfying. It’s ugly and it’s brutal and it’s awful. Most of all it feels real.

I’m not prepared for how realistic my own reaction is; numb, horrified, relieved, saddened. I don’t feel glad about any of this. I just want to keep going, keep moving.

As Lara pulls herself back together and moves on, I find myself contemplating the entire experience. I’ve played a lot of video games and consumed a lot of fiction. I believe in the power of stories. I thought I’d seen it all but somehow, this feels different.

It feels important. It feels powerful.

I don’t know what it all means. I just know that I had to share it with somebody.

Life’s Funny Like That

I don’t really have much to say tonight for the blog, but I wanted to share this amusing moment I had yesterday in regards to feedback I’ve received on my fiction writing. Brief background for context: I’m currently hard at work editing and rewriting a novel manuscript in the hopes of publishing. I’ve sent it out to a few publishers, but haven’t had any bites yet.

The last publisher I sent it to had a few bits of feedback for me, including “drop the prologue. Nobody writes prologues anymore. If it’s important enough to the story, it’s chapter one.”

Never one to ignore advice, even when that advice contradicts my own experience, I dutifully made the changes and the Prologue became Chapter One. Now we come to last night; I’ve been meeting with a writer’s group for the past few months to talk shop and offer critiques of each other’s work. There was somebody new there tonight and what’s the very first comment she offers after reading my Prologue Chapter One?

“This reads more like a prologue to me,” she says. “I don’t think this should be Chapter One. It should be a prologue.”

At that point, I can’t help but smile. It really does amuse me. Will I change it back? Hard to say; I think it’s ultimately a minor thing to worry about at the moment, especially when I have so many other, larger problems.

Still, I think it nicely illustrates the futility of trying to follow any offered “rules” when it comes to writing. There’s always going to be something or someone who exists in opposition to your rule. Just something to keep in mind.

Zerglings Have Feelings, Too

I love this parody campaign from PETA reminding us to treat all living things with compassion, even the zerglings. For the record, yes, Zerg is my favorite race to play as in StarCraft,

Seriously, though, who can resist this adorable little guy?

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Although PETA tends to go off its meds, so to speak, overall, I consider their mission of opposing animal cruelty to be a worthy one. The horrors of factory farm were one of the primary motivations that encouraged me to become a vegetarian seven years ago. I particularly like this quote, explaining the motivation for a fictional campaign against fictional cruelty against a fictional being:

So remember, while Zerglings are not real, there are many equally “strange” and exotic animals we share this planet with who deserve our empathy. Just because crocodiles and snakes look alien to us, that doesn’t make it OK to skin them alive for a handbag, shoes, or a belt.

It’s something to keep in mind. Maize and Morrigan are my two pet snakes and they are every bit as dear to me as your dog or cat is to you. I can tell you that it’s just as upsetting to see your handbag made out of the skin of one of my favorite animals as it would be for you to see me in a coat made from puppy-fur.

Just something to keep in mind. Also, in case it’s not obvious, I don’t own a coat made from puppies. That would be wrong. Also, it would be impractical since I live in the desert.

Why This Man Loathes Snakes

I’m on a bit of a pro-snake track today, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day and snakes are on everybody’s minds.

Explain to me how this makes any kind of sense. A guy relates the story behind his ophidiophobia.

Here’s the short version. Guy is in 7th grade. Guy has a 9th grader friend who finds a snake and decides to pick it up and put it around his neck. Snake slithers into the kid’s short and bites him on the dick. After some struggle, the kid manages to pry the (actual) snake from his (trouser) snake and then proceeds to stomp it to death. The kid goes on to “accept the bite marks as a badge of honor” and our author is scared for life.

The snake, by the way? Harmless garter snake. Yeah, I’m real glad that your friend killed a snake for engaging in a natural response to a perceived threat and now you are the one scarred for life. That makes perfect sense to me. No, really. It’s just like that time I was doing something stupid and then suffered perfectly reasonable consequences and then had a completely irrational reaction to those consequences. Yup.

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Behold the tiny face of pure evil!

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Snakes?

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that commemorates the unjust and wrongful expulsion of a proud and noble species from its native land. I oppose speciesism and anti-snakeism in all of its forms. I stand up for the reptiles that can’t stand up for themselves, because they do not have legs.

I support this snake wearing a tiny hat. Do you?

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Here are 11 other snakes that oppose the rampant anti-snakeism of St. Patrick’s Day.

Politicians, Guns and Insanity

My general attitude towards my state’s particular politics oscillates from resigned disgust to abject horror. Resigned disgust is the default position and one that, under better circumstances, might more properly be called “cautious optimism” if not for the sobering comprehension that the largest voting bloc is filled with terrified, elderly white people who continually seem to loathe the very idea of social and technological progress. I live in a state whose voting majority seems to hate almost everything I value and has repeatedly demonstrated its capricious self-interest and overall incompetence seemingly at every turn.

The reality is that whenever I encounter people from other states, I feel a near-pathological desire to apologize for Arizona. “I’m sorry,” I say, “we’re not all racist, gun-loving psychopaths.” It’s sort of like when you’re in a restaurant with a senile grandparent who loudly speculates “there sure are a lot of Mexicans here, aren’t there? Why are there so many Mexicans?” All you can do is cringe and whisper that no, we don’t say things like that and hope that everybody else in the restaurant just will nod their heads and understand: right, right, senile, we understand. We don’t blame you.

Those are the good days, by the way. The bad days are when the local news informs you that:

PHOENIX – State senators voted Wednesday to allow a teacher, administrator, custodian or even a cafeteria worker at rural and some suburban schools to be armed.

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said SB 1325 would improve student safety. He said while better mental-health screening and more police officers at schools are important, it is also necessary to provide schools with a “self-defense component.

What. The. Fuck.

Or, if you prefer a less salty exclamation of despairing disbelief in the failing cognitive faculties of the Arizona state legislature:

What Arbitrary Silliness.

This would boggle my mind even if it were just limited to rural schools. But some suburban schools? Really? I’m running through the names and faces of every teacher I’ve ever had, and you know what’s funny? Some of them were amazing teachers, most were mediocre, a few were terrible. And they all had one thing in common: I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a situation where giving those people guns is an improvement.

The fact that cafeteria workers are allowed to carry guns is only funny insofar as you find the idea of dead kids hilarious; recalling my childhood experience reminds me that at my schools, the only people the lunch ladies hated more than themselves were the little brats that they were forced to serve each day.

It’s funny; I play a lot of violent video games, so you’d think I’d be all in favor of giving people guns, right? Hilariously, if there’s one thing that video games have taught me about violence, it’s this: leave it to the FUCKING PROFESSIONALS. There’s a reason why the people that are allowed to have guns around civilians  are trained in their proper usage.

And if you think that this bill allowing Vice Principal Skinner to cowboy up and bring his wheelgun to campus will come with any kind of training more than a Power Point and a multiple-choice quiz, you seem to have forgotten we’re talking about a state whose primary school district just closed 11 schools. There’s no money to train teachers to be Junior Deputy Police Officers. There’s no money for teachers, period.

It’s not that I’m surprised that this is happening in Arizona. When I bought a gun for myself, I was actually surprised and more than a little disconcerted by how easy it was. I remember thinking that it can’t possibly be this easy when the clerk came back to the desk with my new .40 caliber pistol. It evidently only took five minutes to determine that I was worthy of the heavy burden of an instrument whose sole function is violence. Shit, it took more effort to open a checking account.

“Do you want any bullets with that?” the clerk helpfully asked.

“Um,” I said, still concerned by the implications. “No, I’m good. I, um… don’t need to use it yet?”

“No point in having a gun if you don’t have bullets,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s for when I’m hiking alone in the desert. You know. Not for, um, my car.”

And scene.

When I was a kid and learning about the Civil Rights Movement, I would often wonder about the people who lived in the South during the time of Dr. King and Rosa Parks. Surely not every white person in those states was a racist, I thought. I wondered what the non-racist people felt as their states became the icons of insanity, bigotry and backward thinking. Did they feel shame? Guilt by association? Did they worry endlessly about being perceived as supporting all of their home state’s intolerance, simply because they were there? After all, if they didn’t like it, they’d just move somewhere else, right? Anybody who stays must support the opinion of the majority, right?

I think I know now how those people felt.

There is no consolation prize to this news. The only other thing I can take away from this latest bit of madness is that I know now with cold certainty that Arizona is not a place I would want to raise a family. The fact that I may never raise a family of my own does not lessen the numbing potency of this realization. Take that as you will.

First Post (Finally)

At this point in the game, I very much doubt that I have any readers. That’s okay. I’m not really writing to anybody in particular. I’m not even writing because I have something particularly important to say. Mostly, I’m just sick of looking at the blank space on the middle of this page as I tinker with the layout and try to tell myself that I don’t need to blow a whole bunch of money on the fancy WordPress packages, that the minimalist look is in.

We’ll see how that goes.

This is my new blog, which I have for two reasons. First of all, I wanted the domain name before one of my relatives managed to grab it. Assuming I ever manage to publish one of these novels some day, how lame would it have been if I’d have to do something like http://www.matthewciarvella.com? Or worse, http://www.matt-ciarvella.com? The mind shudders. My name is already long and unwieldy enough as it is.

So I grabbed the domain name for myself. It’s my first domain name ever; which is sad considering how long I’ve been making half-assed blogs and even more half-assed (quarter-assed?) pages in general? Seriously, I used to tweak pathetic html on Angelfire sites. Seriously. Angelfire.

I suppose I could have grabbed the domain and linked it back to my old blog. On the other hand, that blog was made with Blogspot, originally because of a rhetoric class I was taking for my undergrad. You know what they say about blogs posted on blog spot. Nobody writing on blogspot is writing anything worth reading. No, I don’t know who said that. Maybe nobody? All I know is that I read it somewhere and in a fit of vanity, I moved over to WordPress in a fit of vanity and now here we are.

Actually, it’s not just about the vanity. WordPress has a very nice set of tools associated with it; I’m pretty happy with the upgrade.

I never really knew what the purpose of the old blog was going to be. Like I said, I originally had to write in it for a class; mostly as an exercise to get us writing every single day. I was really into it for a while and liked seeing my post count grow (seriously, five updates a week for half a year will take you places) so even after the class ended, I kept at it for a while.

The problem was that I mostly just babbled about writing or posted incoherent, drunken rants. Shameful.

Even the title made reference to the fact that I had no idea what I was talking about. Mostly, I just liked that cool T. rex picture. Maybe I’ll bring that back.

Anyway, I’ve been working on my novel for the last three hours and I think my butt has fallen asleep. I’m going to slap this post up and go about my business. I make no promises about when I’ll post again.

Compulsively iconoclastic!

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