A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Listen to my story - about how much I like Final Fantasy X

Quite recently, I landed myself a nice, comfortable day job, which means I get a monthly salary, which means I can buy things I want to buy and don't need to eat porridge for three weeks to afford them. Well, one of the things I had on my list were the OSTs for Final Fantasy X and XIII, which arrived via mail last week. So, that's the background for writing this particular blog post.

When my brother bought a Playstation 2 for himself (and sold the PSone and its games to me at a reasonable price, given that we're related) one of the earliest games he got for it was Final Fantasy X. Now, neither of us had ever played a game like that before, so we were pretty overwhelmed by it, to say the least... I myself competely fell in love with the way it was played, with blitzball and aeons, the storyline, the characters and their clothes (Auron especially) and hairstyles (well, who didn't like Wakka?) and well, pretty much everything else as well. My brother played it a lot more than me at first (given that it was his game and his console and I had also the PSone to play with) but he didn't bond with the game quite so much as I did, when I eventually was given leave (and sometimes when I wasn't) to finally play it. What I remember from my first games is that I didn't know English very well at this point yet, so it sometimes took me a long time to figure out what I was supposed to do, because I couldn't understand all of those helpful characters who were basically telling me what to do - instead it was more of a just trying and running around and fighting the random encounters and what's this Accuracy thing anyway and where do I need it -kind of game play for me. Later on, I naturally learned stuff, not only about the language but about the game as well. I think I've played the game through four times, all in all, and there have also been several games where I've played the game up to a point and then never finished, because I've been collecting the fiends for the arena or the ultimate weapons or just plain playing a bit past Luca so that I can play blitzball whenever I want.

Now, over ten years after its publication, I've played four other FF-series games as well: X-2, XII, XIII and VII and I also have VIII, IX and XIII-2, waiting on the shelf as it were. Of all these games X remains to be my favourite though, because it incorporates an amazing story and setting with a game play that's not too dull but not too difficult to grasp or too versatile either. VII came the closest in comparison when it comes to the story; in XII I loved the setting the most and in X-2 the character development and the dress spheres were naturally my big favourites. In XIII I was a bit disappointed in the story, the setting remained a bit aloof the whole time and while the game play is very, very good, it tended to get a little too dull, at least for me, when you basically would use the automated action list most of the time, with a little variation naturally here and there. As mentioned, VII had the best story (maybe the best of all, but I still do like the one in X very much too) and as the game play goes, it is also the closest to X in style - the problems I had with it were that I didn't wholly identify with the setting and I would have like to be able to develop my characters myself, although that surely is just a byproduct of having played such FF-series games where you could.

X-2 is a very good game of its own and I liked the battle game play and jumping up and climbing trees a lot, but once again, the story lacked that special something that was in both X and VII and as the setting was basically the same as in X but just evolving, I cannot give it full marks on that area either, were I in the habit of giving marks to any of them. XII I really liked, up until the point it ended and I noticed that the writers must have just gotten bored with the whole idea and written THE END at the end of a page - also, I never quite thought the group dynamics within the party worked really well (the usual 'why are Vaan and Penelo even there' -discussion). I did love the setting though and I liked the way the game was played - if only they had written a bit longer ending for it, that's what I really wish...

The thing about the storylines in VII and X, what I love in all sorts of story formats, is the twist. X-2 is really the only other one of those FF games I've played that tried having it, but it didn't really work as well as it did in VII and in X. XII did have a few surprises, but nothing you couldn't see was coming - the same really goes for XIII. The main disappointment in the latter two games was really that I was so expecting a twist and was myself imagining several different kinds of possible ways a twist might occur - but the games themselves always fell a bit short of my expectations. While in VII and X, even if I had expectations and I don't really think I had any in X at least since it was my first game, I was just plain dumbstruck at the way the story finally enfolded. Now that I think about it, I don't think I had expected a twist of that degree in VII either, and was really amazed of it when it finally came - as such it tells its own story of how much I liked playing VII as well, as I wasn't really even hoping for it to surprise me.

The character development in X is the most delicate one I've yet to see in the FF series. The sphere gird system allowed you to tweak every aspect of your character, from skills to attributes, and you also had all of your fully customizable weapons to give you further boosts and other useful effects for fights. The mini-games; blitzball, chocobo racing, butterfly hunt and the temple puzzles all brought an excellent balance for the otherwise fight-oriented game play, although blitzball got boring after one got very, very good at it, chocobo racing stayed difficult (could have had more courses as well) and the butterfly hunt and the temple puzzles were bit of a one time thing, really. Another thing entirely was of course the collecting of the Jecht spheres, the crests and sigils and my personal favourite, the Al Bhed -primers. Also, there was something to do with all the cactuars in Bikanel, right? Not to mention all the other hidden things one could completely pass by (and I probably did and do, still) if one was going on too fast.

Of the other character development systems I liked were the ones used in X-2 and XII, and I really loved the coin mini game in X-2 too. And speaking of XII, I really liked the way it began and I was in love with its setting from the first moments I laid my eyes on its cutscenes. The way the game opened left much to desire in the way it continued on, however.

So, that's my take, for now, on the FF series. Maybe I'll have time to play through XIII-2 before Lightning Returns comes out in February (if they don't push the publication date forward yet again, damn them).

Sunday, 22 September 2013

New cross stitch charts #2

Another sale in HAED... I'm doomed. Ambition and Hidden Attraction, both by Ciro Marchetti. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Asiria update #3

First column of the second page, done and done! Yay! Going to start with the second column today. :) With this speed, I should be able to complete this in 10+ years, I think... Oh well, at least I have school holidays, so I'll have plenty of stitching time when those come around.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Black Butler; or how to dress Victorian

One of my favourite manga series is Yana Toboso's Kuroshitsuji, or Black Butler, as it's been translated to English. I'm reading it it English and am currently in vol. 11, with three more books on their way in the mail already. After those I need to wait for a while for the next volume to be published in English, so I thought this might be a good time to write about the series in this blog. I've also watched the first series of the Black Butler anime, which was done quite soon after the manga started. The story goes completely in a different direction, but as the costumes in the anime (and, apparently, there's a video game as well) have all been designed by Toboso, there's plenty of eye-candy for a Victorian Britain -buff like me, even if one doesn't find the storyline too appealing. (That's not the case with me though, as I thought the storyline in the anime was an excellent one - could have been a bit longer though. There's a second series as well, but I haven't had to time to watch that yet - it seems to have different main characters, if I'm not mistaken.) So far, there have been three bigger story archs in the manga, with a fourth one just starting where I'm at, and plenty of filler episodes and daily life occurrences in the characters' lives.

The main characters in Black Butler are Earl Ciel Phantomhive, a twelve-year-old child, who through tragic events has become the head of his household and acquired an immaculate butler, Sebastian Michaelis, to manage his household. The stories are jam-packed with descriptions on how a Victorian-era manor house of a nobleman and its other servants are supervised by Sebastian, whose work includes waking his master up, preparing and serving his meals, organizing dinner parties and evening celebrations, tutoring his master and the other servants in various subjects and tasks as well as maintaining order, cleanliness and general appearance of the vast manor and its grounds (not to mention the townhouse in London!). 

The other servants are either a) useless or b) cause Sebastian more work, but they also have their own hidden talents, which unravel through the course of the books. For Earl Phantomhive, apart from managing a company of children's toys and confectionary, also has another occupation - he is in direct service of Her Majesty the Queen Victoria, whose worries and nuisances he takes care of with the help of his trusty butler, Sebastian. These nuisances include entertaining a German businessman, finding out about drug smuggling ring, investigating a case of missing children and catching a serial killer going after prostitutes in Whitechapel, London, among some others. Apart from these, Earl Phantomhive's unobtrusive life is sometimes interrupted by surprise visits from friends and family, who are both a source of diversion and help to the young Earl and his household.

While taking some liberties with the actual history, most of the events and people described in the manga are quite accurate and especial care has been accorded to the way people dress and behave in both the "polite society" as well as the "underworld". It's no wonder this manga has become hugely popular among cosplayers - Ciel alone will be shown wearing around a dozen different kinds of clothes during one storyline; while Sebastian mostly wears his all-black butler uniform. Other popular cosplay characters are Ciel's betrothed, Elizabeth, and Grelle Sutcliffe, who appears in the Jack the Ripper -storyline.

While not having read a whole lot of manga, I appreciate the Black Butler especially because of its subtleties and the way the stories are structured similar to a novel - most often all aspects of the events are not disclosed to the reader until at an end of a "case", where often will follow a more detailed explanation of how or why Ciel and Sebastian came to the conclusions they did and performed the actions they did. In this way it reminds me a lot of the detective story, which has always been a big favourite of mine.

The themes are always invariably dark, which I think represents quite well the idea we modern people have of the Victorian era - a time when the gothic art and literature began to become increasingly popular and horror and supernatural started to be treated as entertainment for the masses. Naturally, other things are covered as well - the role and status of the British Empire and its colonies in the world, the domestic politics, the currents of economy and the discussion on monarchy, aristocracy and servitude; all during the reign of Britain's most popular monarch ever. All this is also done alongside to all the clichés one finds in manga: all the jokes, references, boobs and explosions one would anticipate to appear, are all there for your enjoyment.

One of the curious things I've discovered while reading Black Butler is that I like both Ciel and Sebastian very much as characters, even though they are both portrayed as impeccable, perfect and always in control of the situation. Ciel, although only twelve, is a child genius, a master of games and of reading his opponents, while Sebastian is the embodiment of flawlessness. So in a sense, the manga lacks the usual "growth through mistakes" kind of setup, for all mistakes (or the likes of thereof) are later explained by the characters to having been nothing of the sort. In a novel, I would hate a character like this - I don't believe in a perfect person, but want to believe in their goodness, so I'd rather have them make a few mistakes and be a little bit stupid, but still have a golden heart. In Black Butler though, the whole image seems to be inverted - they are perfect beings, who hide a dark intent with all their detail-rich, beautiful clothing. But then again, the grumpy characters have always been my favourites when it comes to manga and anime.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Tales of a packomaniac - Mage Knight

Apart from video games and roleplaying games I also like to play lots of different kinds of board games. I own a few myself too, like Small World, Ticket to Ride Europe & Asia, Alchemist, Mage Knight, Castle for All Seasons and Stone Age. I've liked board games ever since I was little, but I started really playing them regularly around the same time I started the roleplaying games in the university, because I found a lot of like-minded people to play with and much better games to play, as well. Last autumn I bought Vlaada Chvátil's Mage Knight the Board Game, partly because I wanted to buy one of the longer games (it takes from 3-6 hours to play, depending on the amount of players) and partly because it has a solo play mode, which I found nice when I couldn't always get people to play with me when I wanted. Anyway, I thought I'd write an introduction of the game here. It was published by Wizkids in 2011 and has already two expansions, neither of which I myself have yet purchased. Other sort of nerdy details of the game can also be found here.

This is what the box looks like. I like the art work in this game a lot, the same as in one of the previous games from the same designer, the Prophecy, which I used to play a lot at one point in my life. Now though, that game has moved on from my life, but luckily I've got this one to keep me company on the cold winter nights. As is almost visible in the pictures, the game is meant for 1-4 players. Each player takes control of a hero, who has been tasked to do whatever the scenario tells they are tasked to do - most often the task is to conquer this new land they've been sent to explore. This is accomplished by felling 1-4 cities, all the while being mindful of the other heroes and their rampage through the countryside.

The packaging is very neat and all pieces fit nicely into the box. It is really a dream game for people who like packing stuff, like I do. The plastic holders are a bit flimsy and when I get the opportunity to buy card sleeves for all the cards I'll probably need to chuck most of them away to fit the cards into the box again. The place for holding the cards is also really annoying, as it doesn't have straight edges, but is sort of dividing the cards, which worked really nicely when they were still wrapped in the plastic bags when you first open the game, but after make your packing life more difficult than it's worth. The game did come supplied with enough plastic bags for all the important little pieces, and the figurines and tokens have their own trays, which keep the stuff from running amok inside the box. Which is all manners of nice.

In the first plastic bag there are the score board, the night/day movement cost board, which doubles as the mana source, and two sets of rules. The first rule book is scenario rules for the very first game and the other one is an actual rule book. Now, this is a very good idea for any game to have, which has scenarios like Mage Knight does, but the problem is that there are some rules that are only explained in the first scenario book, and the "actual" rule book only contains the more advanced rules and special rules for other scenarios. One would think it would be better to have first scenario rules accompanied with complete rules - that way when you need to check some minor thing from the rules during play (in some other scenario), you'd know which rule book to look in.

Next up are the map tiles. There are three different kinds of map tiles in the game - the beginning tile, of which there is only one, although it is two-sided, so you can choose either a narrower or wider start; then there are countryside tiles with a green background and basic tiles with a brown background. When you begin the game, you put the beginning tile plus two (or three if going with the wider side) countryside tiles on the table. The beginning tile has the magic portal through which our heroes enter the realm. Each tile has seven hexagons, each of which represent a terrain of some sort. The cost to move through the terrains is found in the night/day board. There are also terrains you cannot move through, like lakes and mountains (unless you get special powers during the game). After the beginning tiles are laid down, you make a deck of tiles, where you put the correct amount of countryside tiles on top of the correct amount of basic tiles. The amounts depend on how many players you've got. In the first games especially you should rig the deck, so that the tiles come in their numerical order and you should always place them so that the small stars and circles in the corners connect with other star and circle designs - after few times playing you can start not doing this and just putting the tiles however  you wish, but always green tiles first and basic tiles on the bottom of the pile.

In the next picture are the figurines. They come pre-painted and ready to use, which is nice for people like me who don't have paints and brushes of their own - although I like painting - and even if they did, would probably take a really long time to paint even these four little figurines. Anyway, here they are.

The names of the heroes are from the left side: Arythea the Blood Cultist; Tovak Wyrmstalker, Head of the Order of the Ninth Circle; Goldlyx, Mightiest of the Draconum and Norowas, Greatest of the Elf-Lords. So, as a friend of mine pointed out when playing the game with me, the female character is again looked down upon, as she is a mere "blood cultist", compared to the rest who are all lord mighty leaders of somesuch. But as Arythea is the most badass and versatile fighter of them all, I guess we can let this one slide, this time.

The cities also have their own figurines, each with their own color. The color denotes some of the special abilities each city has, for instance, the green one gives all of its defenders the poison ability, whereas the oft-white city gives more defence. The cities also have a turny-dial on the bottom, where  you can choose the city-level, dependent of the scenario or of your own preference - higher level means more defenders, naturally, which can come from all of the enemy token stacks. The cities are the main multiple enemy combat venues, although some other possibilities also unveil themselves throughout the game. However, it is rare to meet more than two enemies on the world map, whereas there may be lots more enemies coming at you at one go should you choose to throw your forces against a city's walls.

Next up are some of the plastic bags and what they hold inside them. Mainly, the dice and the small shield and mana tokens. Dice are used as a magic source pool, which gets thrown again every time day changes to night or vice versa. The magic tokens represent the magic each character can either store for a longer period of time as magic crystals or have as an expendable resource during one turn only, as magic tokens. The shield tokens have two uses; firstly, they are used on the scoring board to track your progress and bonuses you get from there, and they are also used on the world map to mark off all areas of conquest, so you can see which towers are yours to use and which you should also count for your favor in the final scoring. Each character has their own crest on their shield, so the danger of mix up is minimal.

Magic or mana comes in four colours plus gold which can be used as any other colour during the day and black which can be used to boost spells during the night. During a turn, each player can use one die from the mana source, and after said use must reroll the die and return it to the source. The source is represented by the smaller cardboard board, which also notes the movement costs for daytime on one side and night time on the other. And as can be guessed, day mana cannot be used during the night nor vice versa; that mana is depleted during their respective phases of day and cannot be rerolled, unless special circumstances (such as playing a card) allow it. Other ways to get mana vary - there are cards for it and also some terrain elements, such as crystal mines. Any other mana you have, be it crystals or tokens, you can use as much as you want to during a turn.

Finally, we come to the cards. Here's a pile of them. Would be nice to get card sleeves for all of them, but that would mean some serious problems in packing the game... Although, when it comes to cards, I've already mentioned that packing them inside the box is a pain, so should just get those sleeves and make my life easier. 

The game is played mainly through playing cards. Each hero has their own deck, which are similar except for one card only, which is unique for the specified hero. In the beginning the player only has this deck of basic actions to work with and can draw five cards to play during their turn. Once the game begins, however, buying cards, levelling up, or taking control of places gives the player new cards to their deck. These cards include advanced actions, spells, units and artefacts. Also, there are wound cards which accumulate to your hand if you take damage and prevent you from drawing actions cards; turn order cards, which give you both special actions as well as denote the order of players' turns; the city cards which explain the specialities of each city's defence and use after conquest; and finally a handy deck of rule cards, which contain the rules of all terrain elements in handy, pass-aroundable cards.

Actions cards, spell cards and artefact cards all go to your deck and eventually to your hand to play, whereas unit cards go in front of you on the table and can be used once in a round, unless you can ready the units again by some other means. There is no limit to your deck size, and once you gain levels your hand limit increases too, although if there is a rule that says you can draw more cards, then you can ignore any limits imposed by your level. All of these cards usually have at least two options in actions which they perform; some units may have three or even four options, although usually only one of these can be used at any given time. Often the first action described is free to use but the other one costs mana, or in the case of artefacts, destroys the card from your deck. Units can be used similarly as your hero, so you can have them fight or defend for you, but if you assign damage to them, you cannot use them again before they are healed. That's why it's often better to take all damage to your hero, even though it will mean less actions cards in the long run. Wounded or used units can naturally be replaced by new units as well, so if you can, you can buy a new unit and discard the old one, if you cannot be bothered to use up those precious healing points for a peasant army.

And now for my favourites, in terms of packing the game : the enemy tokens and the characters' skill and level tokens. Just look at how neatly they go into their tray. Just look at them! Isn't that gorgeous?

The enemy tokens go on the board once you unveil places they go on - the above picture shows them in terms of their difficulty. The green ones are orcs and roam the countryside and will attack you if you go by them carelessly - the same goes for the red ones except that those are dragons and are much more capable of killing you dead. The grey ones defend forts, the purple ones mage towers, the brown ones are monster tokens that appear all around the place but mostly in dungeons and monster dens and such, the whites are the main city defenders and the yellows are ruins, where you can either fight monsters or sacrifice mana on an altar for great rewards. All of these, except for the orcs, dragons and ruins, can come up against you on city walls, so be mindful of what kind of enemies they are.

Each token has, naturally, a picture of the enemy as well as their statistics, special powers and the amount of experience you get if or when you defeat them. The number on top is their armor, or health, meaning basically the amount of damage you need to hit them with in order to defeat them. The number or symbol on the left tells how much will they hit you with and the number on the red flag is the experience. All special effects are either beside the armor, if it affects the way they take damage or on the right, if it affects the way they make damage.

Here is a representation of all the crap a player will have to deal with when they begin play. There's the figurine, level tokens, shield tokens, turn order token, character card, skill card, skill tokens and the deck of cards. So when playing, you need ample space for your stuff, as apart from these you will also need space for any units you get to fight for you - remember that those go on the table in front of you and not in your deck.

So, now we're finally ready to begin a game! Yay! First of all, lets make a deck of map tiles. We need the correct amount of green and brown tiles, and of brown tiles, the correct amount of city tiles and basic tiles. We'll put the brown tiles to the bottom and green tiles onto the top, so it'll take a while before we can even dream of finding any cities. Must clean up the countryside first, you know.

Also, let's place our shield tokens on the scoring board. The bigger board counts up your Fame - this is both points you need to level up as well as to win the game in the end - whenever you get to the next row during a game, your character levels up and takes up either a new advanced action and a skill or a level token, which allows them to get more units, increase their hand limit and their armor. The red and yellow score depicts your characters' Reputation. When it goes towards the yellow, you get bonuses in your Influence use (Influence is used instead of currency to buy stuff, such as units, action cards, healing, spell cards...) up to +5. When it goes towards the red, you get penalties to your Influences, up to the point where people will not deal with you at all. You get positive reputation when you clean the countryside from rampaging enemies, such as orcs and dragons and you get negative reputation whenever you attack a settlement of some sort, so forts, mage towers, cities, villages and monasteries. Also, there are some advanced actions which will yield you reputation when you use them; one of such cards is held from the beginning by Norowas, the Elf-Lord of many virtues.

The beginning position of the map looks like in the picture below, if you go with the narrower start. You put down the beginning tile and then take tiles numbered one and two (if you don't want to mix the order up) and set them next to it all symbols facing the right way (again, if you want to). The characters begin their journey from the magic portal on the first tile - Goldlyx here is in a bit of a hurry and has already moved four movement points north. Unless stated otherwise by a card, you can only move through adjacent hexagons. When it comes to rampaging enemies you can attack them (or they can attack you) from adjacent hexagons too, but with all the others you have to move into the spot where the enemies are - so the crossbowmen defending the fort will not come outside its walls to fight you - and you need to spend movement points to get to them. In the beginning this is a bit silly, as you don't have so many cards in your hand to speak of, and later as well many of your turns can become stunted just because you don't have enough movement points to spend. Luckily, you can also play any card in your hand (except for Wound cards, for those are eternal until healed) sideways, and count it as one of any following: Move, Attack, Block or Influence. It is not the most efficient way to get forward, but it will allow you to renew your hand as well as doesn't leave you standing there all stupid if you are missing only a couple points of Attack to defeat the golems, for instance.

The different scenarios in the game include solo gameplay, co-operation between players as well as armed-to-the-teeth and blood-coming-from-your-nose competitive scenarios. I've yet to play an aggressive competitive scenario myself, since I've mostly played a) solo or b) teaching the game to others, and it's been more fun to do that co-operatively or at least, not so aggressively. I have still to learn the rules for Player vs. Player combat, for instance. Maybe someday I'll get the opportunity to do that too. What I can say about the solo scenarios (of which there are not many, but it's not really difficult to play other scenarios solo if you wish) is that its fund to play by yourself, as you can plan ahead much more. The only special effect is that you also need to play a dummy character, whose only role is to use up the precious time, so you cannot just stay holed up in some village healing for three turns straight. Often you will have four or six Rounds to play through the scenario - here a Round means either a day or a night, so a six Round game would have three days and three nights. Whenever the dummy player exhaust their deck of cards, they announce the Round end - when playing with actual people, or even as solo, the human players can announce the Round end anytime they wish; this takes their whole current turn though and all other players will get one more turn to play.

This then concludes the introduction to Mage Knight Board Game. I like it a lot. The only faults I can really name is the packing of the damn cards as well as one actual gameplay thing - it would be nice if there were more options to draw or redraw cards, as sometimes you end up with really sucky cards and can do pretty much nothing, except maybe play them sideways and move one hexagon at a time... Gets really annoying if it happens too often. As such, the game manages to incorporate some of the best aspects of deck- and map-building games, but I suppose it could take some further tips from both, and be even a greater game than it used to be. But I cannot really say, as I'm not so knowledgeable about types of board games. I just like playing them.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Random photographs

As mentioned, I recently purchased a new camera, a Canon EOS 1100D with a 18-55mm objective and image stabilizer. I've been wanting to buy a better camera for a while now, since I've only had a Nikon Coolpix Slim, which, although good for non-frequent use, tends to take a lot of shaky or over-lighted photos. Well, a few nights ago I couldn't find my Nikon, and though I searched everywhere, it didn't turn up. So yesterday I went and bought the new camera, because as you know, the best way to find lost items is to buy a replacement for them. And sure enough, this morning I found the Nikon, which was hiding among my cross stitch flosses. :) So now I'm glad, because not only do I get the pics off the Nikon I had taken with it previously. but I also got to take pictures of both my cameras.

These were taken with the Nikon, of a pocket watch I also quite recently purchased. It's really neat and has the image of the Tower Bridge on the lid. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be a mechanical watch (as far as I can tell) but instead runs on batteries. But as it's very pretty, I think I can live with that until I get the chance to buy a real mechanical watch. (My mom actually has a smaller mechanical one, which doesn't have a lid. I may be able to steal it for myself sometime later. Stay tuned!)

Here's the Canon. Loving it so far. :)

And so that it won't feel bad, pics of my lost and found Nikon as well. Much smaller, as you can see, so it finds a lot better hidey-holes than the Canon probably ever will. I will probably still be using the Nikon on trips and such, where I don't want to carry the extra weight of the Canon, or where there's a danger of breaking stuff. The Nikon I got as a Christmas present from my parents and it's my first digital and my second-ever camera. I used to take a lot of photos at the time I was still using my film-using camera (cannot remember the make or model anymore) but after the cameras got all digitalized I never bothered to get a new one since I could always borrow one from my parents if I needed, and just used my phone to take random pictures. Maybe now I can start photographing a bit more again. At least the blog will get a bit livelier (I hope) with photos actually taken by me and not stolen all over the internet. 

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Asiria update #2

Almost finished with the first page... Had to buy a new camera too, to take photos, as my old one got lost somewhere. Had it since Christmas and already managed to lose track of it... (I've been thinking about buying a better camera anyway, so it isn't as if I felt sorry for buying it now. :))

If this bloody migraine gets better I'll probably have it finished tomorrow and can start with the second page. Yay! :D

A wordy essay

"Words have the power to both destroy and heal. 
When words are both true and kind, they can change our world." 

One of my main research interests is the way people use words to create and imagine. I need to give a morning talk in the school I work at soon, and I decided to make it about words - about how all words have power, and how they can be used in good or bad ways in human interaction. The point of all this is to, hopefully, make the teenagers think a little bit about how they speak to each other and to us teachers, but more likely, they're not going to listen to anything I say, so it'll be more or less pointless. However, as I'm myself still deeply intrigued by words, being a student and a teacher of language, I thought I'd write some of my thoughts here in this blog.

Not so long ago, I read this comic strip, which got me to thinking about the power of words. (The mouse-over reads: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me feel I deserved it.) Also, I watched a documentary by Stephen Fry about swear words and taboos, which was most enlightening when it comes to learning swear words in English, as well as about the general nature of swearing and swear words themselves. My thesis, which led to my graduation from the university, studied the context and cohesion creating words, such as deixis and reference words, in a fantastic narrative text and attempted to show how people's interpretation of what they are reading is affected by words the author has chosen to use. 

In Finnish, we often call swear words 'power words' - a loose translation. Also, as in English, we have something called magic words. The concept of the freedom of speech is called 'freedom of the word' in Finnish, and we also have something called 'power of a word', which basically means that someone who has it has the final say in matters, the final decisive power. For propaganda, we use the same word as in English. So even with the names we give to (some) words in our everyday speech give some sort of indication about how we feel about the subject itself - words are powerful, they can bring something into being and we appreciate the freedom to choose the words we want to as much as other types freedom. Words also define laws and rules for us, which make the society work - and all sorts of things in society can be affected by both the choice of words as well as the amount of words used to give it attention. (I won't go into the vocabulary the Nazis used during their reign, as it is discussed more completely in so many other places, but that is one good example in the use of propaganda.)

We humans are - as far as we know - the only creatures on this planet with the power of language. We use words to create and to destroy, we make art with them, we make science with them, we make love, war, peace, science, math and pastime with them. In the film Inception  Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character says at one point: "Don't think about elephants. (pause) What are you thinking about?" Just by uttering the word 'elephant' he makes another person to think about them, even if they are no elephants around at the time of the utterance. This is because the word triggers an image in the addressee's mind - and this happens with other words too. What I find most interesting, is when this happens with words like 'dragon', 'hobbit', 'fairy', 'werewolf' and 'mage', to name a few. Unlike elephants, these words have no referents that exist in the physical world, although many of them have already been immortalised on the screen in productions such as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. The words I chose to write here are typical for any sort of fantasy, but there are also much more words like them, some of which make no sense whatsoever to the reader, viewer or player of novels, films or games even, with a fantastic subject matter. When I say "make no sense" I mean basically that there is no previous point of reference the addressee can access and assign for a word, but has to interpret the word only through the context it appears in and from the collection of his or her own background knowledge of similar contexts. So, each and every interpretation of a new word is necessarily a new one, as no one possesses the same background knowledge as someone else.

So if I were to invent a new word and write the word like this: tinGurs'mo. I'm pretty sure there exists no word like that before I put some random letters after one another. tinGurs'mo now, it is an ancient city, hidden from the modern world in the far reaches of uninhabited Siberia. It is covered in snow and ice and does not show up in any satellite pictures and it is the most guarded secret of the now broken up Soviet Union. They conducted a lot of genetic and biochemical experiments there, in order to find ways to make things grow on a frozen tundra, and managed finally to create a plant that, although not edible, blooms only during the coldest winter nights under the starlit sky of Siberia. tinGurs'mo's abandoned avenues are awash of this plant, which opens its lilac leaves during the nights, keeping them closed at daytime. No one ventures to the ruins of tinGurs'mo anymore, although it would be an archaeological wonder of the day - the Soviets didn't build it, you see, only appropriated it as a suitable environment for their experiments. No one knows how or why the city came to be in the beginning, or indeed, who built it there. All that remain are the stone buildings and winding avenues and alleyways of those who were there before the modern Russians.

No, actually tinGurs'mo is a name of an alien race, who inhabit some far away galaxy. Or it is the word for "passion" in draconian. Or it is a stone that can be found in the seabed after very stormy evenings. The list is endless.

An author can make what they want of the word they choose to use. They have their aims and their ideas, but when they let their word out into the world, it is the receivers, i.e. the readers, players, viewers, listeners and what-not, who make the word what it is. Some words will receive a rather unified interpretation, still others are given an image by artists and film makers alike, while in the minds of people, some words will always invoke several different kinds of images.

This aspect of image creation, which I also like to call world creation, is what interests me with words. Especially with those associated with the fantastic.

They say in the beginning there was the word.
Which word, everyone seems to disagree. 
In the end, there shall be no more words, except for one. 
And that word is special and unique for each and every one of us.
I shan't tell you mine.