Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bad Analogies Can Be as Addictive as Chocolate

Did you know that reading romance novels can be as addictive as pornography? And that reading romance novels can destroy marriages?

That utter silliness is being peddled in an article by Kimberly Sayer-Giles. The article prominently quotes Dr. Juli Slattery, the Family Psychologist for Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family is James Dobson’s organization fighting for “traditional marriages,” which evidently are under attack not only from gays but also from romance novels.

The romance novel weblog SBTB has a good takedown of the article as a whole, but I was fascinated by the article’s use of science.

“There is a neurochemical element with men and visual porn, but an emotional element with women and these novels,” [Dr. Slattery] wrote.

Men are very visual, and viewing pornography produces a euphoric drug in the body. This drug is the reason pornography becomes addictive. When the natural high wears off, a man will crash and feel depressed (as happens with any drug) and crave another hit.

Women are more stimulated by romance than sex, so when they read romantic stories (and they don’t have to be explicit to work) they can experience the same addicting chemical release as men do…..

Pornography addiction counselor Vickie Burress said reading romance novels or viewing pornography may eventually lead to an affair for some women.

“Women involved in pornography have a hard time keeping their family together,” she said.

That’s a whole bunch of bad logic spackled over with a thin, cracking patina of terrible science. This is like equating sex and chocolate. Having sex releases endorphins, a euphoric drug in the body. Eating chocolate can also release endorphins. People who have affairs, some of whom eat chocolate, may ruin their marriage. The implication is clear: eating chocolate will make it hard to keep your marriage together.

I eagerly await the next article from Kimberly Sayer-Giles equating romance novels and snuff films.

Terrible Videogame Voice Acting Acted Out

In my discussion of Portal 2, I talked about the game had the best voice acting I’d ever heard in a videogame. Sadly, as this video shows, that’s damning with faint praise.

My favorites are the over-written ones that sound like they should be in the Lyttle Lytton contest. Right now I’m torn between “Hold me if I’m dying, and vice-versa, okay?”, “I’m going to tell you a little secret, just to make it so you really don’t want to die”, and “I like girls, but now it’s about justice.”

Portal 2 Has a Great Adventure Game Story

(This essay, needless to say, is going to spoil Portal 2 like the recent tornado and subsequent power outage did to the food in my refrigerator. Don’t read if you haven’t played the game.)

Almost four years ago, Valve released Portal, a little game stuck in The Orange Box alongside much more eagerly awaited games like the new episode of Half-Life 2. It became a surprise success, and I fell in love with it. Portal 2 isn’t the astounding surprise package of awesome that Portal was, but it’s still a triumph in its own right. The single-player campaign is wonderful and a joyful celebration of puzzle-solving, the co-op campaign is well-crafted and provides an experience that echoes the newness of the original game, and the whole game exhibits great game design from the sound to the visual cues to the writing. What intrigues me the most about Portal 2 is how it has the best adventure game story I’ve seen since adventure games died1.

Continue reading Portal 2 Has a Great Adventure Game Story

I’m the Best! I’m the Best at Space!

I loved the game Portal 2 for its gameplay, story, and especially its writing. One of my favorite bits was the Space Core, a computer personality who was fixated on space.

As a sign of my unhealthy fascination with the Space Core, I spliced a number of its lines together into a 30-second sound file that is suitable for being a ringtone. Now your phone can talk about going into space! You can grab either the mp3 file for Android or similar phones or the m4r file for iPhones.

My Fiasco Playset “Town and Gown” is Out

While I was away dodging weather, my “Town and Gown” playset for Fiasco came out!

cover for my Town and Gown Fiasco playsetFiasco is a role-playing game that re-creates neo-noir stories like those found in Coen Brothers movies. Given my history with small-town universities, I couldn’t resist creating a Fiasco setting based on one.

Universities are strange places, and small town universities even more so. Faculty fight viciously with each other because the stakes are so low. Students grub for grades, or give up and drift through school. Townies hate the school, but it’s the only thing keeping the town alive, and many of them go to school part-time.

Given the pressure and the fault lines that run deep beneath, it’s no wonder that sometimes cracks appear.

I learned a lot about writing a Fiasco playset in the process, much of it thanks to feedback from Jason Morningstar, creator of Fiasco. The trickiest part was getting relationships right. Because of how you generate a Fiasco setup, all relationships have to work with all other ones. My first draft had people playing faculty members, students, and townies. That led to some odd potential contradictions: what if two people had a relationship that indicated they were faculty members, but one of those two had a second relationship that indicated they were students? That’s why many Fiasco playsets carefully segregate the relationships into non-exclusive groups such as family members, people who work together, people who know each other through hobbies, etc. In my case, once I made the default assumption that all of the players were students, I could much more easily put together relationships that meshed well.

(You can break this rule, of course. Jason’s Lucky Strike playset assumes that everyone’s an American soldier in World War II. There’s a set of special-case relationships, like “German prisoner of war and guard”, that break this assumption. They’re grouped together and labeled “use with care” to help players realize that they’ll have to work harder if they want to incorporate these relationships.)

I had fun mixing very specific and more gonzo elements (like the “Neophyte Marxist revolutionaries” relationship or the truly unfortunate object “a roomate who died”) with more prosaic and simple ones (like the cafeteria and coffee shop, or the thirty-ought-six rifle). I hinted at possible story lines for players to run with: there are suggestions that something unsavory is up with the local YMCA, that bad things have been going down at the gravel pit down by the river, and that the town mayor may not be on the up-and-up. Even if the elements related to those story lines aren’t used in a game, they tend to inform players’ choices and vision of what the university and surrounding town are like. I chose a couple of elements to refer to multiple times, because I like claustrophobic Fiasco settings. I also spent a lot of time thinking, “How can this relationship, need, location or object be troublesome?” That lent the playset a seedy, sinister undertone that I really like.

“Town and Gown” is free to download and guaranteed to cause quite a fiasco.

It’s True That I’m Bald Like Jim Cantore

On Saturday we went to Toad Suck Daze, a street festival in Conway, Arkansas. The railroad runs through downtown Conway, and while we were there, we got to watch a freight train rumble down the tracks and past us.

For the record, the EF-5 tornado that ripped through Harvest, Alabama about a mile from my house didn’t sound like a freight train. It sounded like a long, continuous grumble of thunder. At the time we thought it was thunder, caused by the near-continuous lightning strikes occurring ahead of the tornado.

We were lucky. As far as I can tell, our house wasn’t damaged at all. We’re all safe, as are all of my friends. We did lose power, since TVA scrammed all three nuclear reactors at Browns Ferry and the storm destroyed some two hundred poles, steel towers and transmission lines, not to mention many of the 500 kV and 161 kV lines.

TVA transmission lines twisted by tornadoes
(Photo courtesy of the TVA)

We were able to flee to Arkansas to stay with family, at least until rising flood waters in central Arkansas sent us elsewhere. I promise, I’m not related to Jim Cantore.

If you want to help out, you can donate to an organization like the Red Cross, although I recommend not specifically earmarking the money for Alabama. If you’re near us, consider donating blood or needed items like water and tarps.