Thoughts about something I’ve recently read.

Game talkMailbagReadingBooks on writing

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Mar 052016


I watched the recording of your lecture “Teaching to fish.”

At the end you recommend books for the different subjects, and you said that a lot of people start with Joseph Campbell, but that there are a lot more, interesting books, out there.

Do you have any books to recommend about creative writing?

 — Christoffer Lundberg

Sure. Starting most broadly, the top recommendation is to read. Read a lot. And read widely, not just in one sort of fiction. I could rattle off a host of recommendations, but there’s probably no point — there’s a huge universe of well-written books out there to look at as models and inspiration. So let’s move on to craft books instead.

To start, though it may be a tough hill to climb, you could go back to Aristotle’s Poetics.1 The amount of terminology and best practices that we still get from this book is hard to overstate. For general writing books, among many others I like John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. They perhaps tend a little more literary than others. I am tempted to also mention Babette Deutsch’s A Poetry Handbook, even if you don’t plan to write verse, because anyone who wants to master cadences of language, and the use of techniques of rhythm, assonance, and the like, would benefit from poetic training. Continue reading »

  1. All books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links, just so you know. That means I get paid a tiny bit if you buy them from here. 

Game talkReadingGuardian picks Six Gaming Books

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Jan 122014

At #2:

Penned by veteran games designer Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun was written 10 years ago, a long time considering the rapid pace of advance for its subject matter. And yet the book remains a key games design text that is still in print and highly relevant. While it was conceived to help games designers, it will be fascinating and informative for anybody involved in any field of design, or those curious about, well, harnessing the power of fun …

— Six of the best gaming books | Life and style | The Observer

Continue reading »

Jun 062013

In the wake of Indie Game: The Movie, I was asked on Quora about other works that are descriptive of gamer culture, suitable for someone who doesn’t play games, isn’t trying to learn how to make them, but rather is interested in learning about gamer culture.

Something that presents the human side, rather than the technical, and doesn’t assume a lot of prior knowledge. As many of you know, portrayals of the gaming hobby in the mass media have often been rather sensationalistic or inaccurate.

So here’s a quick list of ones that I have enjoyed and recommend for this purpose. It’s not in any particular order. I avoided “business books” that are more about how a company was built, in favor of ones that tell human stories.

In terms of being interested  in gaming culture, and game development culture, but not in “how-to” books, I would recommend: Continue reading »

ReadingRay Bradbury, RIP

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Jun 062012

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple. Now . . .

“Boy,” whispered Douglas.

Dandelion Wine

Jan 192012

I gave a few books as gifts last year. These are the three non-fiction books I most often recommended to people. I ended up giving away multiple copies of these.

The thing they have in common: they all make you revise your view of the world.

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

It’s sort of like Connections but for world history since that date, with a huge emphasis on the way globalization changed the world. One of the best moments is when he talks about plants… as American as apple pie (apples are from Kazakhstan); Italian food without tomatoes (they are from the Americas); the Irish and potatoes; southeast Asian cooking without chilies (from Mexico); Switzerland without chocolate (also Mexico); and rubber having basically moved from Latin America (where there’s a native endemic pest that kills the trees) to Southeast Asia (where there isn’t… but 40% of the world’s rubber comes from those trees, we’re utterly dependent on it for airplane tires, electrical wiring, and medical use; and we’re just waiting for the moment when some idiot travels from Brazil to Indonesia with some mud on their shoe and kills the entire monoculture crop in Vietnam & South China.

I can’t resist, even though it will bloat the blog post…

Continue reading »

Game talkReadingCommodifying culture

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Jan 172012

20120108-184004.jpgFeast your eyes on the book porn to the left.

Go ahead, click on it and get the larger picture.

Gorgeous, aren’t they? They’re the complete set of the D’Artagnan Romances by Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and the three volumes of The Viscomte of Bragelonne,the final volume of which is generally better known as The Man in the Iron Mask.

They were published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co., no longer extant as such, in 1901. Not first editions — that would look like this — but glorious nonetheless. Gilt on the edging, inlaid on the relief covers, onionskin endpapers in front of every engraved illustration…

Nice enough that you can still buy an facsimile of this exact edition, alas without the rich red covers and with something fairly hideous on the cover instead.

They’re something to hold, to examine. Maybe not to read. Defintely something to have visible on a shelf where people can ooh and aah. They were given to me by my uncle for Christmas this year.

I have more than a few other books like that. I’ve got a hardcover American edition of the first Harry Potter, signed by Jo Rowling, made out to my daughter with a personalized message. A bunch of old books, a lot of autographed SF novels written by people I know, some of whom are pretty well known: Brin, Sterling, Doctorow.

I have a lot of the same books as epubs on my iPad. And it’s qualitatively different. The e-books are commodities, and if one get deleted, I won’t have any regrets. Whereas if my complete run of first printings of the Doonesbury compilations (even including the obscure one for the TV special!) were to get lost or damaged, I’d be quite upset.

Continue reading »

ReadingTobias Buckell kickstarter for a new novel

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Sep 192011

Those of you who hung around Metaplace may recall that one of the guest speakers we brought in to the lecture series was science fiction writer Tobias Buckell, author of Halo: The Cole Protocol (there, your obligatory videogame connection).

I’ve always been more interested, though, in his original science fiction work. In particular, his Xenowealth novels Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose. They feature fast-paced action in a space opera sort of setting, sure, but with a unique flavor that comes from Toby’s Caribbean background. (You can read my brief review of Crystal Rain here — Toby himself describes it as “steampunk Aztecs invading a Caribbean lost colony world”).

Well, the publishing industry being what it is, the Xenowealth books are no longer forthcoming as traditional big publishing books. (You can read a bit about why here; Toby blogs a lot about the business of writing).

That doesn’t mean that there’s no hope for those of us who want to read more in the Xenowealth universe, though! Today Toby announced The Apocalypse Ocean by Tobias Buckell — Kickstarter. That link has a preview trailer — and at the end of the trailer, a video from Toby that explains the Kickstarter project. The plan includes eBook and hardcover editions, as well as extra perks for higher pledge levels, like being written into the book as a planet or a spaceship name.

This sort of thing seems like a highly logical alternative for a writer with a devoted following and enough tech chops to get out there independent of major publishers. Since we seem to be heading for a future where all artists in all media will likely have to be “on tour” to support themselves, you may as well get a jump start on it now and support this Kickstarter, because darn it, I want to know what Pepper does next. 🙂



ArtGame talkMiscPlaying with the iPad

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Jul 182010

I have an iPad, as of about a week ago. I have now had the chance to try it out on a trip, as well as general home use, and I think this sort of form factor is probably the future of computing for most folks. It’s clearly early days still for slates like this, but you can see the path from here, and it is an interesting one, with variations depending on who needs to use the tablet. In the meantime, with some trickery, it can do most of what I would need to replace a laptop. Basically, I am now carrying it everywhere, and on my trip I booted up my laptop exactly once, and it was to create and display a presentation — I didn’t have a VGA adapter yet, so I couldn’t project from the iPad.

I have already spent over $100 on apps for it, and thought I would share some of my thoughts. I tend to favor free and cheap apps, actually, so the below is me trying to be a skinflint and failing!

Continue reading »

Game talkReadingThis Gaming Life free to read online

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Jul 062010

You may know Jim Rossignol from his writings on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. He also wrote a really wonderful book about gaming culture called This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities — and it looks like it is now available to read free online.

It is totally worth your time. Have at! You can also buy the physical book of course!

At this point, my interpreter, the amiable Mr. Yang, leaned forward. “To my brother he is a great hero. My brother can’t get enough of this. He has been to see him play many times.” “So this guy has a lot of fans?” I said, knowing the answer but nevertheless incredulous. “Hundreds of thousands in his fan club,” replied Yang. “Impossible to track the number of people who watch him play.” This was impossible in part because the man on the stage was on Korean television almost every day. He was about to sit down and play what is close to becoming Korea’s national sport: StarCraft. The man’s name was Lee Yunyeol, or, in game, [RED]NaDa Terran. He was The Champion. In 2004 his reported earnings were around $200,000. He played the then six-year-old real-time strategy game for fame and fortune, and to many Koreans, he and his colleagues are idols.

Game talkReadingFor The Win

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May 112010

For the Win, Cory Doctorow’s new novel, is out today (in bookstores and also as a free download). And it’s about gaming, and its consequences.

Now, you know I am biased, because not only is Cory a friend, but I even supplied a blurb for the book’s back cover. I also reviewed the manuscript for him and supplied gaming advice. That said, this is a book that people into MMOs and virtual worlds should read.

Why? Because it isn’t about what happens inside the worlds, it’s about what repercussions they have outside them. The story is sort of a large-scale version of his short story “Anda’s Game” (which was collected in Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present and also published on, in which guilds are organized on multiple sides of the gold farming wars: a guild to kill gold farmers to protect the game,  a guild to defend them so that they can earn their subsistence wage…

In For The Win all this is taken to a larger scale. Essentially, it extrapolates gold farming into a multinational corporate phenomenon, and looks at what this means for the lives of the people on the front lines — kids, usually, living in India or China, looking to make money but finding that the act of grinding gold “for the man” becomes all too literal in sweatshops. And the upshot is that they organize. As in unions.

As in unions modeled explicitly on the Wobblies, in fact. The novel wears its politics on its sleeve, certainly, and that may be a turnoff for those who don’t see unions as a natural stage in the evolution from free-for-all robber-baron economics to a more mature model. That said, the book comes down pretty hard on all forms of totalitarianism

The in-game stuff is dead-on. But as I said, the book is more about the ripples the games cause, than about the games themselves, because that is where the real psychological action is. It is more about the relationship between a gamer kid in San Diego and his parents who don’t understand his hobby, than it is about the stuff he does inside the game (which does include a pretty awesome boss battle near the beginning). It’s about the ways in which running a guild teaches a girl who barely has any education how to organize large groups of people in real life. In the end, the book argues a point similar to Bartle’s Designing Virtual Worlds: the characters come to know themselves better because of their hobby, and it enables them to take real steps into adulthood.