Salvatore Pane

Tag: Nintendo

A Challenge to the Great Gatsby 8-Bit People

THIS EXISTS.

THIS EXISTS.

A group of talented, young geniuses have turned The Great Gatsby into an 8-bit NES game, and I couldn’t be happier. Ever want to kill a flapper using an expertly thrown bowler hat? Now’s your chance. Ever want to fight the entire roster of the 1919 Chicago Whitesox? Now’s your chance. And there’s even an obviously false backstory to the game that claims its owner found the prototype cartridge in a yard sale, and that it’s a localization of the Japanese game Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari (any Nintendo fan will tell you this is a play off of Doki Doki Panic, the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2).

There’s so much I love about this. The fabricated backstory. The idea that somebody cared enough about NES games and The Great Gatsby to combine the two. How level two is a total homage to the second level in Ninja Gaiden II, annoying birds and all. This is a project done with love, and all who’ve read this blog for any amount of time or spoken to me in person can attest to the fact that I am completely obsessed with all things Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s just something uniquely charming about the graphics and music, how they hint at what they’re supposed to represent, how you still have to use your imagination. It requires an active participation that you don’t see much in other media. If there’s a spectrum of how much active participation something requires, television and film are at one end (very little) while prose books exist on the other extreme. Comics and old Nintendo games definitely fit snugly in the middle.

What really stunned me about this game is that is was actually fun to play. It’s not just a one-note joke, and¬† it’s pretty comparable to games like Yo! Noid or maybe something like Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. It takes the joke started with the recent There Will Be Blood SNES video to a whole other level. And this all got me thinking about what other literary works are particularly deserving of the 8-bit conversion treatment. So, without further adieu, here’s my personal challenge to the Great Gatsby team. Here are the books I think they should tackle next. I don’t know who the programmers are, but I sincerely hope this isn’t a one game project. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

1. Super Sad True Love Story

2. The Old Man and the Sea

3. London Fields

4. Yiddish Policemen’s Union

5. God Jr. (my head is exploding just trying to picture this one)

6. Moo

7. The Magus

8. Light Boxes

9. The Road

10. The Things They Carried

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AWP 2011 Aftermath: Woah Now Hey Mr. Rager Mr. Rager Tell Me Where You’re Going Tell Us Where You’re Headed I’m Off On An Adventure Mr. Rager Tell Me Some Of Your Stories Tell Us Of Your Travels

AWP 2011 is over. Highlights, in no particular order, below.

1. Dancing in a group including xTx, Roxane Gay, my roommates Adam Reger and Robert Yune to the song “I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love Tonight” by the Outfield at HTMLGiant’s Literature party amid a crowd of hip motherfuckers.

2. The Gary Shtenygart/Amy Hempel reading/convo. Shtenygart is so fucking funny in person. I want him to be my older brother.

3. During my Future of the Book Review panel with Emily Testa, Irina Reyn and Paul Morris, some dude totally called shit on us while walking up the aisle of the ballroom and sporting sunglasses.

4. I love Emma Straub. I met her. We talked a few times. She signed my copy of her book Other People We Married. Then one night I was returning to the hotel drunk and saw her chatting with some reasonable humans and I shouted, “Emma Straub knows!” She nodded. She knew.

5. At Recessions, I met Amber Sparks and while drinking a 20 ounce Bud Light explained Spider-Man’s wife’s miscarriage from the mid-nineties and the complexities of Pokemon cards.

6. One night later I had a similar conversation with Amber’s husband in the bathroom of Ireland’s Four Provinces.

7. Aubrey Hirsch and I repeatedly asking people if they were the html giant.

8. Seeing Steve Almond, Michael Czyzniejewski, Nicolle Elizabeth and all the Smokelong/Corium/Spindle readers read at the Black Squirrel which has all these 80’s Marvel comics on the walls.

9. Jennifer Sky arm wrestling Tao Lin.

10. I finally met Brian Oliu! We walked through the hotel and parted ways outside, and only later did I realize not once did we bring up Nintendo games as expected.

11. Watching Joel Coggins puke in an Arlington trash can.

12. Getting a Write Like a Motherfucker mug from Isaac Fitzgerald and the awesome Rumpus folks.

13. Chandler Chugg-a-lugg

14. The Annalemma/Pank/MLP reading. One of the funnest readings ever.

15. The Myth of Relevance Panel.

16. This e-mail from Lauren Becker received at 3:28 am:

Subject: pegleg?

Body: argh, matey! ūüôā

17. Consuming a mass amount of beer every night for four straight days.

18. Proposing to a woman named Polaroid on the Literature Party dance floor after she literally told me she would be “the Alice Munro to your Charles Baxter.”

19. Convincing a woman at Literature Party, albeit briefly, that I was Sugar from the Rumpus. Called her sweetpea and everything.

20. Cathy Day mocking Steve Gillies for being 20 years older than me.

Dispatches From a Creative Writing Camp and the Strange Allure of the Nintendo Novel

This is my second week teaching at the Young Writers Institute, a University of Pittsburgh summer writing camp for middle schoolers and high school kids. I’m teaching 7th and 8th graders, and although I’ll undoubtedly write something longer about the experience later, there are a few things I want to discuss now. First off, it’s amazing to me the type of writers these kids respond to. Last week, we took them to the Carnegie Library and I managed to get a bunch of them interested in Flannery O’ Connor, Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’ Nan and Belle Boggs. One even picked up Kevin Wilson all on her own. Today we went through a bunch of the superb exercises in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I expected Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, and while the kids do all seem to like these books (can you believe current 7th graders were born after the release of the first HP book?!), they also seem to be drawn to “serious” “literary” fiction which is a promising sign.

But that’s not what this post is going to be about. One of my students reminds me a lot of a younger me. He’s unreasonably tall and built like a matchstick. He spends much of his day talking about Nintendo and always arrives earlier than anyone else. Usually, he has a new chapter from the novel he’s writing for me. What’s it about? It’s a sequel to a video game I never heard of, a Japanese Role-Playing Game that involves a bunch of Nintendo characters, including everybody’s favorite Italian stereotype, Super Mario.

For those unware, Japanese RPGs¬†are extremely text heavy video games. They usually take 30-60 hours to complete, and much of that time is spent watching cut scenes or reading dialogue, the exact opposite of Tom Bissell’s beloved luddonarratives. Typically, these games are standard fantasy fare, i.e. knights and wizards. But in the nineties, things began shifting towards steampunk. When I was kid, RPGs were my favorite type of video games. And although I haven’t played one in a few years, I can relate to my student’s desire to ape this narrative style. A group of warriors and wizards are thrown together due to an extreme crisis. They band together and travel a fantastic world learning new abilities. They save the planet. I can relate to wanting to write in this style, but I don’t understand it.

As a child, I wrote many Nintendo novels, hundreds of pages of material following the typical RPG path. What I don’t understand is why this was the major type of story I, and apparently many others, tried to emulate. I was exposed to countless comic books and read a ton of young adult sci-fi and fantasy. Yet I never tried to recreate or sequelize¬†those worlds. Why is that? Is it because they were more fully fleshed out? Because the worlds and characters of RPGs¬†are only ever suggested and never fully realized? Is it because the stories of RPGs¬†were inherently simpler than kid novels from writers like Bruce Coville, and thus, more easily copied? I’m not really sure. But I’m wondering if others out there tried to write Nintendo novels as kids. I’m wondering if anybody has any thoughts on why.

Why Super Mario Bros. Will Affect the New Generation of Writers

A few years ago I came across a story of Tom Bissell’s in Best American Short Stories 2005. I can’t remember everything about “Death Defiers”, but I’m pretty sure it involved an American¬†photojournalist in the Middle East who gets swept up in some sort of bizarre, familial poison plot. The details are fuzzy, but what I recall quite clearly is the final paragraph: a beautiful piece of prose describing the protagonist stepping on a mine and flipping through the air. I’m not doing this story any justice whatsoever, but I liked the piece enough at the time to add Bissell’s name to my “To Read” list.

I’m sure all writers/readers have similar lists. Mine’s in the back of whatever moleskin notepad I’m keeping my writing notes in at the time. The list comprises every book or writer that I need to read. Sometimes I make it through these lists in their entirety, but most of the time I do not. In the intervening years between first reading Bissell’s short story and now, I’ve seen essays of his from time to time but little else. Then yesterday, over on HTML Giant, I read that he was publishing a collection of essays about his addiction to video games (and flirtations with cocaine) called Extra Lives. They linked to an excerpt at The Guardian.

HOLY SHIT!

Finally, someone is looking at gamer culture with a literary (and serious) sensibility. Interestingly enough, the same Best American with Bissell’s piece also contained a short story about a World of Warcraft-esque¬†human slave labor camp. But outside of that and Justin Taylor’s fantastic flash fiction Tetris/End of the World mash-up, I haven’t really read much that looks at gaming with a seriousness of¬†intent. I was particularly drawn to this section in The Guardian excerpt:

What have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories. Once I wanted games to show me things I could not see in any other medium. Then I wanted games to tell me a story in a way no other medium can. Then I wanted games to redeem something absent in myself. Then I wanted a game experience that pointed not toward but at something. Playing GTA IV on coke for weeks and then months at a time, I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough….

It turns narrative into an active experience, which film is simply unable to do in the same way. And it is moments like this that remind me why I love video games and what they give me that nothing else can…

Niko [the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV] was not my friend, but I felt for him, deeply. He was clearly having a hard go of it and did not always understand why. He was in a new place that did not make a lot of sense. He was trying, he was doing his best, but he was falling into habits and ways of being that did not reflect his best self. By the end of his long journey, Niko and I had been through a lot together. (Bissell)

What I love about this essay is that it recognizes that video games offer a textual experience wholly unique. Literature and film require active participation to a certain extent, but no matter how much you contextualize movies or visualize the scenes in books, you can never have a  literal direct effect on the chain of narrative events in the way you can with video games. Even comic books, which require more active participation than film or books by having white space segmenting the action which forces readers to play out the missing moments of time in their minds, cannot match the interactivity of a video game.

I’m not sure where this line of thinking will carry me, but it’s something I’ve been dwelling on a lot recently as video games factor into the novel I’m very close to completing, The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist. The protagonist is a gamer nostalgic for the 8-bit games of yore and often embeds images from those games into the text. During a trilogy of scenes which take place during the early nineties, he describes his devotion to all things Nintendo via the following:

If you‚Äôve only casually played video games, then you can not comprehend the inner depths of their joys. You don‚Äôt know what it feels like to give yourself up so completely to an alien world of colors and sprites, of repetition and absolute safety. You are no longer yourself. You are an avatar. Super Mario, an Italian plumber tumbled through the looking-glass. Link, the boy knight on a magical crusade to rescue Princess Zelda from the terrible Ganon. Samus Aran, the intergalactic bounty hunter tracking down alien eggs on a world controlled by space pirates. This becomes more “real” than the “real” world…

And so I began my descent into the world of microchips and immateriality. And so I began to fear the natural world. Because when you are represented by an avatar, you are no longer Michael Bishop, a skinny child with a broken arm and sharp ribs that push against your polar bear t-shirt. You are not weak and loathsome and oh so frightened that some threat lurks around every corner existing only to dismember you. I lost myself in those games for hours at a time, refused to leave the safety of my house and that monolithic Nintendo. I feared forests and lakes and birds and wind and most of all people.

The digital!

My first true love!

(Pane)

What’s interesting to me about all of this is echoed in Paste Magazine’s review of the aforementioned Justin Taylor’s Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. Reviewer Charles McNair writes, “Justing Taylor’s first short-story collection artfully captures the view of the 200s from the perspective of a twentysomethingSeveral of his stories bear the unmistakable, bloggy¬†influence of the 2000s. Do we sense some sort of new fictional frontier? Time will tell.” This is the first generation to come of age raised on video games and technology more advanced than the Atari 2600 and the Apple II. Will that have an effect on the writing produced by those writers? How about blogs and Facebook and Twitter and cell phones? I say overwhelmingly yes. Our sense of narrative has been irrevocably shifted by technology and it only makes sense that not only will the platform literature is disseminated through change, but the very writing itself.

Two brief personal examples to illustrate a point:

1) This is my actual Nintendo collection.

Over the past six years, I’ve managed to track down about 150 Nintendo Entertainment System games, 50 Super Nintendo Entertainment games and 20 GameBoy¬†games. I don’t play newer systems very much because I’d usually rather spend my free time reading, but also because I know that like Bissell I have an addictive personality and remember all too well the days in high school when I would play Japanese Role Playing Games on the original Playstation for disgusting stretches (during one horrible summer before ninth grade, I played Chrono Cross every day for three weeks for at least eight hours at a time. I became so addicted that I only stopped to hurriedly eat a sandwich in front of the pause screen). Since college, I have been content to play the games of my childhood. Super Mario Bros. Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers. Maniac Mansion. Blaster Master. Fun games with marginal narratives that only take about a half-hour to complete.

All that being said, how can¬†I¬†not be affected by video games? Even if I don’t play much now, so much of my life has been spent glued in front of a television screen controlling digital avatars that it wouldn’t be realistic to clam¬†my sense of narrative hasn’t been deeply impacted by these digital worlds. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this.

2) I went to college for creative writing. The program is very serious compared to other undergrad institutions and the teachers treat their pupils more like graduate students. I often bailed on the work in my other classes to work on fiction and cnf, and this was certainly not frowned upon by the real working writers who taught us. The books lifted up for us to worship were all written by the ’80’s dirty realists and their predecessors. Carver. Dubus. Wolff. Ford. Pancake. Munro. Bobbie Ann Mason. Richard Yates. And don’t get me wrong. They all still number among my favorite writers, and my devotion to Yates borders on the religious.

Unfortunately, after many years of writing each and every day, I eventually came to realize that I will never be a master of domestic realism. I don’t have it in me. My instincts naturally strive for the geeky, the nerdy, and it’s hard to hit that aesthetic¬†in the parameters of sparse Carver minimalism. I wrote a very bad, failed novel a few years ago in the style of domestic realism. The characters were all working class, and the subject matter included decaying mines and the folly of local politics.

It was breathtakingly terrible, and after wonderful advice from a mentor of mine, I packed it away in a drawer. Since then, I have written something much more successful, and my work has begun to be published in very small publications. While working on my new novel, I found myself referencing Nintendo, putting up screen shots, using Twitter feeds, implementing blog posts, inserting web comics and even writing an entire scene in script format. People ask why I made these narrative¬†decisions and I can only respond that it’s what felt natural and “right” to me at the time. Like Bissell, I feel incredibly affected by the prevailing technologies of my era.¬†To deny that by reverting to a mode of writing three decades old is akin to denying myself, something Bissell and Taylor are very clearly aware of.

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