1-Year Anniversary of the Blog

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I first established Intermittent Mechanism in 2015. At the time, I conceived of it purely as a blog for hosting my classes’ student projects. I have gradually added to it since then, beefing it up a bit every academic job market cycle. It wasn’t until September 17, 2016, though, that I posted my first lesson plan.

In the past year, I have transformed the site into a proper blog. We’re now at the 1-year anniversary of this transition, so I wanted to take a look back at some milestones. If you’re a newcomer to Intermittent Mechanism, consider this your beginner’s guide.

In the past year, I posted 29 lesson plans, syllabi, and discussion notes from courses I taught during the 2016–2017 academic year. I also posted an additional 16 “greatest hits” lesson plans from courses I have taught in the past. Some hand-picked highlights from the lesson plans and pedagogical materials posted in the past year:

I created a practical pedagogical guide for teaching games, filled with syllabus-ready game recommendations. I continue to update this, sporadically.

I started posting a bunch of film and game criticism on the blog. I serially explored some central areas of interest. My series “The Process Genre in Videogames” considers labor in games. My series “A Hodology of Videogames” examines movement and path-making in game space. I wrote a series of reviews for the “Troubling the Image” screenings of experimental cinema curated by Patrick Friel and Julia Gibbs. I made some video essays.

I started to write a silly history of the representation of cats in videogames. This project concluded with me having to eulogize one of my best friends. Life is shitty, sometimes.

My blogging attracted some recognition. My blog posts “The Process Genre in Videogames: Sunset” and “Double Blind” both got promoted on Critical Distance, an aggregator of serious game criticism online. My post “Personal Puzzles” got a Twitter shout-out from Liz Ryerson, the creator of Problem Attic.

All and all, I wrote approximately 100,000 words of videogame criticism in the past year, if one includes the scripts for video essays. I suppose I could have finished my book, instead. (Oops?)

What’s in store for year 2? Well, I have something massive brewing for late-September/early-October. Aside from that, I’m just going to keep writing, and keep producing video criticism. This is my 117th post on the Intermittent Mechanism blog section. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up with that rate over the next year, but I will also do my part to keep things fresh and updated.

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Wow, I’m Old: Syndromes and a Century

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I no longer remember the exact date at which I first saw Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006). I do know that it was at a screening at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which screened all of the films made for the New Crowned Hope Festival sometime in the first week of September 2007. That means that I first saw Syndromes and a Century a decade ago … a disheartening thought.

I keenly remember an energy crackling in the MFA screening room while I was watching Syndromes and a Century, in excess of the film itself. Syndromes isn’t just a great film. It was also a personal revelation. For a moment, in that theater, I felt as if I had reached out and directly touched the beating heart of contemporary cinema. I felt privileged to be seeing a work so vital. I carried that energy with me for several years, as I moved to Chicago and immersed myself in its film culture, wearing out my CTA card traveling to the Gene Siskel Film Center, the Music Box Theatre, the Nightingale, Facets, Chicago Filmmakers, the Chicago International Film Festival (where I saw Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Onion City Film Festival, and of course the neighborhood treasure that was Doc Films. I kept up with the cutting edge of world cinema, of art cinema, of experimental cinema, riding a high that began that September in Boston.

I no longer feel as if I have my finger on the heartbeat of contemporary cinema. The movies I see these days tend to be new works by directors I already like, and have liked for a decade. Every now and then I’ll take advantage of the footwork done by stellar programmers and expose myself to something entirely new. But I have fallen off the cutting edge of cinema. True, a lot of this is because I now devote my time and energies to keeping up with the indie game scene. (And, of course, television is better these days.) But it still makes me feel out of touch. And, frankly, old.

Anyway, I decided to take this 10-year anniversary as an opportunity to do something that I tried to do for a decade and never succeeded at: actually write about Syndromes and a Century.

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On Ones (and Zeroes): A Tribute to Hannah Frank

Today, the friends, family, and colleagues of Hannah Frank held a special Chicago memorial for her, hosted at the University of Chicago. I already wrote quite a bit about Hannah in the past two weeks, so for my presentation at this memorial I decided to do something different: a short found-footage celebration of Hannah’s audiovisual interests.

As you might imagine, this compilation video includes things that Hannah wrote about. But it also includes things Hannah shared on social media that she liked. And things Hannah shared on social media that she made. It includes things Hannah and I shared a mutual love of. It includes things Hannah encouraged me to teach and/or write about. And it includes things I encouraged Hannah to teach and/or write about. I’ve arranged these clips to the tune of “Deeper into Movies,” by Hannah’s fellow Hobokeners Yo La Tengo.

Special thanks to Will Carroll, Chris Carloy, Sierra Wilson, Jordan Schonig, and James Rosenow.

If you’d like to explore Hannah’s own output as a video artist and animator, check out her Vimeo page here.

If you’re curious about the sources for all of the visual bits, a full list is below the fold.

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Mourning a Lost Feed

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Since the unexpected and shocking death of my friend Hannah Frank last week, I have been thinking a lot about the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back” (Series 2, Episode 1, dir. Owen Harris, 2013). Since the time I first saw it, I’ve thought it was a very good slice of speculative fiction, but it was not until the past week that its insights into 21st century psychology truly hit me.

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Videogame Cat of the Week: The Fabulous Screech / Remembering Hannah Frank

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I began this series as a lark, inspired by my friend Hannah Frank’s Tumblr omgcatrevolution. I linked to her Tumblr here, she reciprocated by posting some of this material over there. We chuckled about trading some of the meager traffic our endeavors attract; it gave us a chance to chat. A chance to chat with Hannah was always welcome.

Today, omgcatrevolution posted its final post. This morning, at 1 AM, Hannah Frank passed away from a sudden illness. Her death has come as an utter shock to her friends.

Last week, I promised another “sad cat tale” in this Monday’s spot. I had planned to reserve this spot for Jonas and Verena Kyratzes’ The Fabulous Screech (2012), a point-and-click tearjerker about a cat’s adventures through heaven and hell, and eventual decline into old age.

I cannot, at the moment, bring myself to write about The Fabulous Screech. But I think I will leave the screenshots in, and leave the title of the post as it was (with a new acknowledgement). I can think of plenty of people who wouldn’t want to be eulogized in a blog post about a cartoon cat. Hannah Frank was not one of those people. And so that is where I have decided to take this post.

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A Hodology of Videogames: Post-Socialist Rails

For this entry in my series on “hodological space,” I decided to do something a bit different: a video.

Way back in January, I promised that I would write some further thoughts on 35MM (Sergei Nosgov, 2016). The more I tried to pull my thoughts together, though, it became clear that, as much as I like that game, I was lacking in concrete ideas about it. In place of the concrete, 35MM left me with nebulous impressionsfeelings, and half-formed memories. My quest to craft a container for these impressions led to something that is not quite a video essay. The embedded video here is really more of a piece of meditative, impressionistic experimental machinima than it is an analytical work.

This video encapsulates my fascination with the prevalence of abandoned or poorly-maintained railroads and rail stations in post-apocalyptic games coming out of former Eastern Bloc countries. Sometimes, there is a clear lineage on display here, as when the Ukrainian studio 4A Games adapts the Russian science fiction author Dmitri Glukhovsky’s Metro books into the complementary Metro game series. More diffuse influences envelope these games as well, though. Some go back to the Soviet era. In the video, I pick out Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (USSR, 1979) as a distinct visual reference point. Although the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series developed by Ukrainian team GSC Gameworld hews much closer to the atmosphere of the Strugatsky novel Roadside Picnic on which Stalker is based, I think it’s undeniable that Tarkovsky’s film left a visual mark on post-Soviet apocalyptic fiction. (He was doing “ruin porn” before it was cool.)

As to why, exactly, the decaying rail line has become such a staple of former Eastern Bloc post-apocalyptic fiction … I have no answer. But that’s one of the things you can get away with when choosing this sort of video work over the written word.

A Hodology of Videogames: Silent Hill

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I have wanted to write about the original Silent Hill (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo “Team Silent,” 1999) for a very long time. But it has been difficult to find a “way in.” Unlike its pseudo-remake, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Climax, 2009), which I have successfully gotten around to writing aboutSilent Hill doesn’t have much in the way of interesting flaws to pick apart. It has flaws, to be sure. But its flaws are banal. It falls prey to the “let’s belatedly explain our incoherent story via some back-loaded cutscenes” problem so typical of games of the original PlayStation era, especially those produced in Japan that I have only ever experienced in English translation. Its successes, meanwhile, are numerous. But I’ve never found a way to approach them with intellectual rigor. My reaction to the game is a primal one, and I have struggled to conjure critical thoughts beyond, “my, it really is surprising how effectively scary this game still is, despite the limitations of its visual style.”

But, what the hell: I’m going to give it a shot, in the form of one of my “hodology of videogames” series of posts. Since it’s been awhile, here’s a quick refresher on the ground rules: “Hodological space” refers to the space that humans inhabit: not a space made up of strict coordinates, but a thicket of preferred paths, affected by factors such as interest, distraction, fatigue, and urgency. It’s a term that originated in the writings of psychologist Kurt Lewin, and which traveled by way of Sartre into the realm of phenomenology. Today, I’ll be thinking about the paths players take through the town of Silent Hill.

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