Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Conan Reborn in... Riddick?

I've been reading the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories lately, having just bought and received the last two in the reprinted series that consists of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Conquering Sword of Conan and The Bloody Crown of Conan.

I always read a bit before going to bed, and Angie always asks "So how's Conan doing in this one?" The answer, of course, is that he's kickin' ass and taking names, blackmailing priests and barons, outsmarting bureaucrats and eviscerating Picts. She and I talked about the early 20th Century need for an all-hero, one who is well versed in everything. Superman is a good example. Conan is another. The contemporary image of Conan - courtesy of Arnie - is that of a dumb, buff barbarian lopping off heads and carrying off maidens. And punching out camels.

Oh, how wrong. Conan's resume would read something like: Barbarian, master woodsman, reluctant general, armoured warrior, fearless reaver, lone wanderer, stoic mountaineer, panther-esque thief, bloody pirate, well-dressed pirate lord and... despondent king. Again, however... he's good at everything.

I was watching Pitch Black the other night and it struck me: Riddick (from Pitch Black) is Conan. He's calm, has good lines, is clearly superior to those around him despite pedigree and has no regard for those who are not, in his view, worthy. Worthy of what? Worthy of living, worthy of being capable, worthy of accomplishment, worthy of rising above self-pity and other human foibles. Riddick is a murderer, he's a tracker, he's observant, he's resourceful, he's knowledgeable, he has a code of honour sans guile, he's pragmatic and visceral. Above all, however... both Riddick and Conan are care-takers.

Ironic, no? Yet that's the basic theme in Pitch Black: Riddick sees everyone through, becoming magnanimous despite his overarching instinct to survive and come out on top. Conan is exactly the same. Regardless of what he's doing or where, Conan is a care-taker. Yes, of women (good ol' mostly-useless 1930s women as Howard wrote them) but mostly of men; powerful men of high standing with no morals to speak of, low men who are victims of circumstance, etc.

Interestingly... he's usually only ever a care-taker of white people. In the story I'm reading now, there is even a mention by one unsavoury pirate that Conan would never abandon him and his men to the Picts (who are black or "dark"). Conan then affirms this judgement, saying something to the effect of "Indeed, while you may be fools, I cannot leave other white men to die at the hands of another race."

Interesting. Not something to get up in arms about, since Hyboria is actually extremely culturally and ethnically diverse and many characters of "non-white" races are well portrayed, but it's still interesting.

Anyhoo... that's my rant. I'll trying to think of other examples of "Conans reborn." And if you haven't read the original stories and are a fan of classic fantasy fiction, get them. They're great reads and, hey, even H.P. Lovecraft had great things to say about Howard's writing.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Grand Theft Childhood - A New Study on Video Game Violence

This is an interesting look at violence in games and social or behavioural carry-over.

A synopsis for those uninterested in the entire segment: In a one- or two-year study of 1250 children from across the U.S., Harvard researchers found a behavioural pattern amongst both boys and girls: Those who did not play violent video games were/are more likely to have real-life behavioural issues and manifest violence against others. The other extreme that applies to boys only is that those who played violent or mature games for more than 15 hours a week also displayed similar behavioural dispositions.

Now that's interesting. Playing violent or mature games actually leading to reduced risk of social violence?

Given the amount of research (and/or opinion) on the other side of the fence, viz. that violent games cause and reinforce unhealthy and harmful behaviours, I expect both the book and its study results to come under a great deal of fire.

On this same topic, I read an article a few weeks ago. It discussed research done on brain patterns of video game players. To paraphrase, it found that stress levels and aggression receded while playing violent games, especially online games that focused on fighting real people over the net. I'll try to track that down and post it here, or in another post. It also talked about stress and anxiety levels of merely wounding another player in game vs killing them. Anxiety and fear brain responses were triggered in situations where the player did not outright kill or otherwise remove an enemy player. Killing or removing them caused a healthy release of *insert medical term I can't remember here*, promoting bodily health.

Terra Nova is a "collobarative weblog featuring several important scholars in the field. General focus is MMORPGs and social aspects of online gaming communities." It tends to deals with MMO-style game influences, lessons learned, how to apply virtual theory to real-world situations, etc. I haven't read much of it because it tends to deal mainly with Second Life and EVE:Online, neither of which I have any interest in. However, the articles make for interesting reading given the prominence in the field of the authors.