Review: Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader

Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft ReaderDigital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader by Hilde G. Corneliussen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I do appreciate that the authors in this volume took time to actually play the game they study. I felt that rather than just reading about it, their experiences in this world would lead to a greater understanding the complexity of the game, and the awesome fun too. I did find, however, that while quite a few essays are well written but out of date (as is likely to happen, especially in such an expanding field as gaming), some others got on my nerves as I didn’t feel any belief in what the author was saying, and that the inaccuracies or just simple neglect could not be explained away by having been written during Burning Crusade (since then, three more expansions have been released).

Quite a few of the articles are out-of-date, so the specifics of them no longer hold true a few expansions later, but the ideas behind them are still relevant. The important of the economy as a structure is very much still an issue, both with the addition of transmogrification (changing the appearance of one piece of armour to look like another of the same type) and dwindling numbers on particular servers. The problem of not being able to impact upon the game environment has changed through the expansions with the addition of phasing, as you progress through certain quests or stories, the environment you are shown is changed (none more so evident than in Mount Hyjal in Cataclysm).

Some essays looked rather negatively on WoW with no sense of charity of purpose, and illustrated the issues in a very simplistic manner that didn’t do justice to the game. War and Histories seemed very basic, labeling the Horde as environmental and the Alliance as ecological destroyers which doesn’t quite stand true when you take into account the different perspectives of the races. The essay on Post-Colonialism in WoW I felt wasn’t quite understood. Yes, some races are based on real-life cultures, but I don’t feel (perhaps this is subjective) that it was meant to be demeaning in any way, as the player chooses the race and adopts that culture. Race could be seen to be subordinate in WoW, with the major differences only being class choices available and aesthetics. I also take note with the depiction of role-playing being see as deviant and not the way the developers intended. There are specific realms for role-playing with more rules (and it is easier to report those who break them), but also the developers aren’t policing role-playing as it is very individual how one chooses to role-play, and guilds and communities will self-monitor this. The nature of quests, while still very much kill X of these or collect Y of this, has become more consolidated with better threading of the storylines.

The essay on gender was extremely problematic. There are important issues around gender inside the game itself and externally in the gaming industry, however I felt the author was pushing an agenda by ignoring certain aspects of WoW. Just on the background of the game, the author refers to some characters who are absent in-game, or ignores the strengths of those in-game in favour of defining them only by their romantic relationships. There is no mention of Jaina Proudmoore or Sylvanas Windrunner, both in-game heroines of incredible strength and who defied powerful men to be such important roles in the shaping of recent history. The author also doesn’t point out that there is no playable differences between male and female characters, and or allow that female and male players (of any sexual preference) do choose characters that are of a different gender.

While some of this book was interesting in offering different perspectives, regardless of the age of the text compared to the game itself, I did feel that quite a few essays were incorrect or the authors were analysing the game unfairly by ignoring certain aspects.

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Review: Burnt Snow by Van Badham

Burnt SnowBurnt Snow by Van Badham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sophie is the new girl at school, with a strange and overbearing mother, trying to manage the bitchy popular group and a strange boy who catches her eye. As she reaches towards him, the strangest things begin to happen and Sophie starts to think that it’s not just Brody that is the danger.

As typical as this short summary sounds, the book is nothing what you expect. It is really well-written and a lot more twisted than I could ever explain without spoiling the book. It is quite a hefty read for a YA single volume, just about 700 pages. The plot flirts with danger for the most part before it reveals its secrets. I don’t mind that it took a long time for Sophie to discover more about the world, some books plots just have a switch flicked and suddenly the world changes, this gradual development is much deeper and more emotional for the reader.

Sophie is not the typical YA main character either. Her family is quite more complicated than it appears as well. While she does have her flaws and weakness, she is not a Mary-Sue whose only flaw is she cares too much. Badham has done a brilliant job in creating a character and a love that does not follow the typical simpering love story of most YA. We actually get to see the character grow, beyond just the plot and love interest but actually maturing in herself.

Badham also plays with her references, which I loved. At a costume party, most want to go as vampires with sparkles, to which there is the groaning and rolling of eyes. She doesn’t coddle her characters either, although I did feel a particular situation involving Sophie’s new friends acting out of sorts (for good reason) was dealt with a little too easy.

Again, as is the problem with a lot of good books, is the wait for the next book (although it does not say it anywhere on the cover, it is actually to be part of a trilogy). There’s no doubt in my mind that I will chase after White Rain as soon as it appears (although it says in the book and on multiple websites that it’s coming in 2011, I did manage to find a post on the Facebook as late as Sept 2012 that said it was coming soon). With some minor flaws, Burnt Snow is a strong book that stands out in a genre awash with simplistic plots and even simpler characters.

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Review: Sex, Bombs and Burgers & They F*** You Up

Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Created Technology as We Know ItSex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Created Technology as We Know It by Peter Nowak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sex, Bombs and Burgers is a fascinating look into how our obsessions with war, fast food and porn have evolved our everyday technology rapidly over the 20th/21st century. WW2 affected how we cook and preserve food, porn changed the video versus betamax war, and genetically modified foods are seen by some as a way of waging war and reducing the desire in third world countries to join terrorist cells. While detailed, the book doesn’t require prior knowledge of science or engineering, as it explores and explains the information about the technologies very well.

This brilliant and entertaining book will have you gasp with surprise as you learn how intricate and essential something as horrid and destructive as war has been to how the technologies from it has changed how we live. This is in no way a defence of warmongering, but explaining the connections gives you a better understanding of the world in which we live. Between all three vices, robots are becoming more advanced in their sexual programming and responses, the taking of fast food orders, and war drones to prevent more causalities.

It’s interesting how the things we have the biggest problem with in society – some say porn is corrupting young minds, fast food has helped the rise in obesity levels and war is always a terrible thing – these are the very things that have inspired and evolved technology to affect our lives in the biggest and smallest ways that we don’t even recognise anymore. Who questions a cameras past, or a microwave, or deodorant?

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They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family LifeThey F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life by Oliver James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not a blatant attack on parents on how they raise children, but They F*** You Up is an examination on deliberate parenting and encouraging you to look within yourself. It’s not just how you were raised, but how you perceive how you were raised and how you deal with that information as an adult and in your relationships.

James, while he allows for the nature/nurture debate and genetics, definitely leans on the side of nurture. The process of building personality and traits is incredibly complex, as you would expect, but the detail is not that of a textbook with unexplained jargon and dry information. There are a lot of celebrity profiles that flesh out and perhaps make this book more accessible. They are certainly very interesting!

How you have been raised can affect your sexual consciousness, your morals, confidence, jealousy and so much about you. One of the main ideas is that of a ‘family script’ – the position your family gives you, whether that of the little mother, the lazy one, the boy etc. James even explores his own past of how he was raised compared to his sisters, and his parent’s expectations and responses to his schooling. Any parent claiming equal love and attention for their children is just deceiving themselves, it seems.

This is all much more than just ‘Daddy never hugged you enough’, which is a rather ignorant way some people dismiss feelings or even mental illness. It can seem quite depressing that the first six years of your life that you can hardly remember has moulded your brain and chemicals in such a physical way, but he insists that it is not the be all and end all – after all, you are reading this book! -it is something to make you more considerate and thoughtful of yourself and perhaps others too.

Warning: There are some sections and character profiles which could be triggers for those who have been victims of abuse or violence.

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