Ongoing Investigations: Case #179

There are some books that are supposed to be the definitive word on the subject right out of the gate. They define a topic and then create an iron clad thesis around themselves daring all to dare try to assail their academic Super-Alloy Z fortress. Other books present an idea and then open it up for further discussion with the material presented within being a catalyst for a new perspective. Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People is more in the second category than the first.

The book looks into what has makes the modern nerd both internally and externally. That means everything from the historical forces that turned the intellectual and social outcasts of the past into the modern dweeb, the simple etymology of the word nerd, to the personal forces that determine one is a nerd as opposed to any other label one could be thrown under in life. There is also an examination of the various factions of nerdery that exists today as well as some personal memoirs to give things an authentic weight.

Since Benjamin Nugent confesses to at one time be a fairly heavy computer and D&D nerd that is where a good deal of the in-depth analysis lies. There is also a bit of focus of SCA and science fiction geeks as well. Because this is still the Reverse Thieves blog and not the All Geeks Considered website I must mention that while Japanese otaku and American anime fans come up they are more footnotes than anything else. There is a small chapter about the author going to an Anime con and a bit on yaoi they are more just casual mentions. It is called American Nerd so it mostly focuses on American based nerdy pastimes. Self hating American anime fans can read all they wish into that.

But speaking of self hating nerds they is a details look at both the classic jocks vs. nerds battle as well as the self loathing that geek heap upon themselves. It is a fascinating look into how the nerd deals with opposition just as fierce from within as from without.

The book is hardly perfect. For as many geek cliques as the book examines it leaves out twice as many. And those groups it does cover are hardly done in any depth. Also I would have been very curious for him to examine the fact that the most savage enemies of nerds are often other nerds from different camps. The old Geek Social Hierarchy Chart sums that up better than I ever could. Heck I have had 4 conversations recently about how the once united kingdoms of fantasy and sci-fi have grown into separate armies with a great deal of animosity between them. And most of all I just disagree with some of the conclusions he proposes. Some of his links to racial and religious prejudices in the past to nerdy prejudices in the present seem suspect.

But in the end it is all forgivable because this is not supposed to be Tablets of Stone from Mount Sinai of Nerdom (or should I say Tablets of Mythril from Mount Gundabad.) It is supposed to get your brain to think about nerds beyond the normal jocks vs. nerds hierarchy. In that regard I think it succeeds for both people who know nerds and those who are neck-deep as well. And that is reason enough to give the book a once over.

Picked up American Nerd randomly because the name caught my eye. It is part memoir, part theory, part discussion starter about the origin and lifestyles of nerds in the U.S. It touches on everything from where the word “nerd” may have started and how it became part of the vernacular; to the divide between emotional thought and rational thought; to observations of various nerd events.

One section I really enjoyed was about the situational nerds who are pushed into the nerd category because of that grand social hierarchy where someone must be on the outside. But many of these people don’t have the traditional personality types of nerds. This resonated with me personally.

He has quite a few bits about anime culture though you could tell that he wasn’t all that familiar with it on a one to one scale as he was with something like D&D. Some of the more interesting bits were about observing how Asians had become synonymous with nerds on a few levels. He also talked about the link between Japanese culture and nerdom starting with cyber punk and technology in the early 80s. I realized that though the links between nerds and Japan have changed over the years (less to do with sci-fi for example), that association of Japan as a geek paradise is still there. You see this in news reports as well as anime fandom.

I enjoyed the book and I didn’t feel like he was putting forth his ideas as the gospel. There were parts that struck me as odd like the section about polygamists, but overall I found a lot of interesting discussions can come out of this book. Especially if you are a nerd.

I tried out Pockie Pirate for two reasons. The first and simplest reason was because it was free. The second and far more interesting reasons was because it has licensed One Piece characters in it. I do love me some One Piece so I decided to give it a whirl.

My simple review is: It sure is one of those free to play Facebook style games. If you have played one you pretty much know exactly what I am talking about. They all have a very similar curve of progression. They start you off with a whole bunch of extremely simple rewards right out of the gate. That gets those accomplishment endorphins flashing in your brain. Then they slowly but surely make every progressive goal further and further away. And so you have two options. You either wait patiently or you pay to get those sweet accomplishment endorphins again.

But beyond that there is not that much video game skill involved. A clever amount of spreadsheet mircomanaging can definitely make things more efficient but your actual skill is never really tested. It is mostly a matter of logging in on a regular basis and either sinking in large amount of time or money. You will always progress. It is just matter of how quickly.

But this is very obviously not a game that was originally in English because the translation is a bit wonky. It is not full-on Chinatown bootleg VHS fan-sub quality but you can tell that the people who did the translation wither either not professional or had absolutely no one  edit their first draft transitions. Ever. There is some real wonky grammar, spelling errors, and word choices at all times.

Also a minor but important grouse is that all the NPCs have a one sentence statement they say before they get around to say what needs to be said. It is usually something like “I made those rice balls” or  “Someone has to do something about those pirates.” It really is just annoying and makes you instinctually skip all the dialog. It is not like you are missing Shakespeare but you should at least have some minor want to read the dialog.

In the end it is nice to see the world populated with One Piece characters. All the NPCs are a mixture of  beloved One Piece personalities alongside original characters with a distinctly One Piece feel. The problem is it is not ACTUALLY a One Piece game. It is just a free Facebook game with a One Piece skin thrown on top. If you changed the art it could just as easily be a Halo game or a Transformers  game and nothing would change mechanically. If you want to play a super casual game with a One Piece flavor then your will probably be happy. But everyone else is going to hit the eject button as quickly as possible.

I checked out the new live-action simulcast Vision on Crunchyroll. It is a supernatural mystery J-drama. In it a young woman beings to see ghosts for reasons as yet unknown. A down on his luck detective gets involved with her as his case intersects with her visions.

The beginning of this show is rather confusing as people and storylines come crashing together. Our cop is trying to get three crooks to give him some information at a club. One of the criminals is also a stalker of our main heroine who is meeting her manager at the club as well. The stalker also ends up being the ghost she starts to see. But neither the cop nor our ghost-seeing leading lady get a real introductory moment where we can really gleam who they are. Even though it is the beginning I felt like I missed a part a long the way.

The resolution of the first mystery also felt wrong; like I was being asked to accept too many coincidences. Without giving spoilers it is hard to fully discuss the problem. However it does set up interesting questions about her visions which are a little more complicated than first interpreted.

Vision didn’t connect me to the characters enough to make me want to see it through the bumps of the mysteries.

Remember when video games were hard and mostly existed to drink the tears of your frustration like sweet wine plucked from the Gate of Babylon? Obviously the creator of  Spelunky does because the game revels in being Nintendo hard. If Pockie Pirate represents the super simple challenge but mega huge time sink game for casual players then Spelunky is really short play times for ultra hard-core gamers who love being spanked.

The game is very reminiscent of Spelunker but not as hard because Spelunker came right out of the 9th level of hell with a pure hatred for humanity and all its accomplishments. You play as a whip toting archeologist trying to get treasure and glory in a trap and monster filled cavern. Along the way you can buy and find upgrades but most of your time is spent just using you motor skills to avoid deadly pitfalls.

Spelunky is one of those games where nothing is individually hard. Killing a snake or avoiding spike is rather simple. It is that there are so many ways to lose health and not many way to regain it. So a little nick here and a little stumble there and your dead before you know it. There is no saving. There are no respawn points. You either get through 16 randomly generated levels or you try again.

The thing is you can get through most levels in less than three minutes. So you are never playing that long. When you die you don’t lose hours of progress. Heck you rarely lose more than 15 minutes of progress. It is more a challenge of how far you get each time. So it is a great little pick up and play game for a half and hour or so.

Games like this tend to be games that polarize people who play them. You either dedicate yourself to master them or just rage quit very quickly. Some people will thrill at throwing themselves at the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune again and again. Slowly learning the little tricks and strategies to up the chance to make it farther each time. Or they get crazy frustrated and never play again.  It mainly comes down to how much that negative enforcement becomes pleasure as you go on.

I decide to read the now old Marvel event book Siege which tells the story of what happens when Asgard (almost) falls to Earth. It is basically hovering very close to the surface. Norman Osborn and Loki devise some plan which leads to lots of heroes and villains alike fighting at Asgard and pretty much totaling the place.

Norman leads the group called H.A.M.M.E.R. in this story which is a bunch of super-powered villains like Venom pretending to be good guys plus some other heroes who are somewhere in between good and bad. They all work for the government. This doesn’t last long and Norman goes crazy because, uh, he is Norman Osborn of course. This leads to the real Avengers jumping in as things go from bad to worse at Asgard.

The art work is good but not memorable with the exception of some beautiful distance shots of Asgard itself. There are some surprisingly gruesome moments which I found to be a touch too much.

The Avengers don’t show up for quite a while in this story though but boy does it feel good when they assemble! Their interactions with each other and then with H.A.M.M.E.R. are of course the best parts of the story and very snappy. The ending of what happens with H.A.M.M.E.R. is more satisfying than what happens with Asgard.

I never really did figure out what the exact plan was for Loki and Osborn. And I also didn’t understand Sentry’s role in the whole thing. To top it all off, I didn’t feel like I understood anything that was going on with Asgard either. It was a rather muddled story with few explanations. Some events are more self-contained that others, this one seems like one you really needed to read the supplemental material to grasp the tale.

Funnily enough, in this collection the best part was the Free Comic Book Day story where a frost giant starts attacking NYC. Spider-Man narrates as the Avengers along with Ares take care of the mess. It is a lot of fun, has great dialogue, introduces some lesser known characters, and even catches you up on recent changes in the universe. If Spidey was always around to get you up to speed on what’s been happening in the Marvel Universe everyone would a lot happier, and understand what’s going on just a little bit better.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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