Sunday, December 30, 2007

Getting Lucky Wander Boy

On Christmas Eve, I was handed the book Lucky Wander Boy by friends who knew about my interests in the way that mundane routines and what Michel de Certeau calls "the practices of everyday life" relate to videogames that are conventionally associated in the media with more obviously dramatic depictions of violence or sexuality or transgressive behavior. These constraints on the routines possible in the design of computational media have ideological import as well, and so -- like literary texts -- they can be useful to critics for understanding constructs of gender, race, class, and nationality.

It turns out that much of the Lucky Wander Boy book is about the classic Atari and Intellivision games of the narrator's youth, which are looked at from a pseudo-philosophical perspective. Unfortunately, I didn't find many of D.B. Weiss's insights about the procedural logic of these videogames particularly compelling, and I might guess that Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost's book on A Platform Study of the Atari 2600 will end up being more novel, more theoretically sophisticated, and better argued on that score. Since I live in the hundred square block area in which most of the book's action takes place, I was also unimpressed by its depictions of life in Santa Monica, which has been the subject of a lot of classic Southern California fiction since Raymond Chandler. Instead, I was only annoyed by its thinly veiled references to local boho hangouts like Vidiots and Warszawa.

What I did find compelling about Lucky Wander Boy was the very funny send-up of the discourse practices of a typical new media start-up. The satiric commentary on how electronic communication only multiplies meaningless tasks would fit right into the book Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home, and the novel skewers the foibles of the Internet design process in ways that would be familiar to anyone who has ever had any contact with one of our local web/game/effects businesses.

In other words, it still might be worth assigning to students to lighten up one of those courses with a Neuromancer/Snow Crash-type reading list, especially if you are tired of assigning something like Galatea 2.2. Or it could work well as cautionary fare for a course about the design of computational media.

(Thanks to Bill Oakley for loan of the book.)

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