You Are Now Entering the Demented Kingdom of William T. Vollmann

“After a career of hanging out with neo-Nazis, pursuing sex workers, doing drugs, dropping thousand-page books the way Updike dropped short stories, and being suspected of being the Unabomber, Vollmann, without even meaning to, had managed to cross the last line of decorum. He had dared to abdicate his masculinity.”

“As for being suspected of being the Unabomber, William T. Vollmann was suspected of being the Unabomber.”

Published: Jul 24, 2014
Length: 29 minutes (7,435 words)

Remembering the Life and Work of Journalist Matthew Power (1974-2014)

From a Facebook post by writer Tom Bissell, on his friend Matthew Power. Power died Monday in Uganda while on assignment for Men’s Journal. He was 39.

Source: Longreads
Published: Mar 11, 2014

Poison Tree

An open letter to Grand Theft Auto IV’s protagonist Niko Bellic about Grand Theft Auto V and video game culture:

“Almost everyone I know who loves video games — myself included — is broken in some fundamental way. With their ceaseless activity and risk-reward compulsion loops, games also soothe broken people. This is not a criticism. Fanatical readers tend to be broken people. The type of person who goes to see four movies a week alone is a broken person. Any medium that allows someone to spend monastic amounts of time by him- or herself, wandering the gloaming of imagination and reality, is doomed to be adored by lost, lonely people. But let’s be honest: Spending the weekend in bed reading the collected works of Joan Didion is doing different things to your mind than spending the weekend on the couch racing cars around Los Santos. Again, not a criticism. The human mind contains enough room for both types of experience. Unfortunately, the mental activity generated by playing games is not much valued by non-gamers; in fact, play is hardly ever valued within American culture, unless it involves a $13 million signing bonus. Solitary play can feel especially shameful, and we gamers have internalized that vaguely masturbatory shame, even those of us who’ve decided that solitary play can be profoundly meaningful. Niko, I’ve thought about this a lot, and internalized residual shame is the best explanation I have to account for the cesspool of negativity that sits stagnating at the center of video-game culture, which right now seems worse than it’s ever been.”

Source: Grantland
Published: Sep 25, 2013
Length: 10 minutes (2,650 words)

Escanaba’s Magic Hour: Movies, Robot Deer, and the American Small Town

An essay from Bissell’s book Magic Hours: A film crew and actor Jeff Daniels arrive in the author’s Michigan hometown to shoot a movie:

“As the sun sets behind the thick pine stand that perimeters the football field, the lack of extras begins to become a problem. To appreciate how crucial extras are to tonight’s filming, one must know several things about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. First, citizens of the Upper Peninsula are known as ‘Yoopers,’ an inelegant transliteration of ‘U. P.,’ as this underpopulated and fearsomely bleak stretch of land is known. The U. P. is separated from the rest of Michigan culturally and geographically, connected only by the Mackinac Bridge, an architectural marvel built as recently as 1957. The U. P. might be the most rural part of the country, as well as its least familiar. Some maps neglect to include the border separating the U. P. from Wisconsin, an accidental annexation that, if made official, would please the vast majority of Yoopers, who feel a stronger cultural identification with Wisconsin anyway. Finally—and in light of tonight’s scene, not to mention the whole film, this is a key point—for Yoopers, deer hunting has near religious significance. The first day of deer season is actually a school holiday—Deer Day, it is called—and the entire place is a hotbed of gun crazies and gun-craziness.”

Source: McSweeney’s
Published: Apr 12, 2012
Length: 34 minutes (8,653 words)

Kickoff: ‘Madden NFL’ and the Future of Video Game Sports

A trip to John Madden’s man cave, and whether sports video games can ever be described as “art”:

“Clearly, the way sports games are played, and the way Madden in particular is played, is ripe for some massive paradigm shift. Why doesn’t the quarterback position feel as visceral and pinpointy as firing a rifle in a first-person shooter? Could you make the experience of being an offensive lineman as interesting as anything on the ball? Why, for that matter, is running the ball such an isometric experience? When I put these and other questions to the Madden team in Florida, many of them smiled.”

Source: Grantland
Published: Jan 17, 2012
Length: 30 minutes (7,703 words)

Beyond Angry Birds

Here is an interesting thought: Of the two most literarily compelling video games I played this year, one (Sword & Sworcery) incorporates maybe four pages of text total and the other (Surviving High School) is intended for the driver’s-ed crowd. Exactly how damning is it that both games feature characters that play more fascinatingly against type than virtually all of the committee-written games that emerge from the other side of big-budget game development? Utterly and completely damning, I would argue. I would also argue that it suggests that the problems of so many narrative games are not, at the end of the day, terribly complicated. Maybe they are not problems at all but rather ordinary failures of human imagination.

Source: Grantland
Published: Aug 4, 2011
Length: 17 minutes (4,430 words)

The Last Lion

(Fiction) The Rebbe Revain Gross had fallen asleep at his desk again. He dozed slumped over some tenth grade exams. In his dream he was young once more, standing on a familiar street of his childhood. All he felt was goodness, a soft drowsy blanket wrapped around him, the world warm and embracing, familiar faces floating by. There were smiles from the teachers that had loved him, his mother and aunts reaching out, tousling his red hair. He saw his own Rebbe with tender eyes. In the dream he was reaching for something, not knowing what it was; a leaf falling silently in a deep forest.

Source: Outside
Published: Jun 6, 2011
Length: 17 minutes (4,412 words)

Press X for Beer Bottle: On L.A. Noire

Interactivity sabotages storytelling. There is no longer any use arguing to the contrary. Thus, the story of L.A. Noire can never be good — at least, not in the way it is trying to be. As a story, then, L.A. Noire is not successful. As a game, too, L.A. Noire fails. In a lot of ways, it is a terrible game: frustratingly arbitrary, puzzlingly noncommunicative, and not very fun. But I love L.A. Noire. I think it’s fantastic. What this suggests is that we need a new name for whatever it is that L.A. Noire does.

Source: Grantland
Published: Jun 9, 2011
Length: 24 minutes (6,052 words)

Video Games: The Addiction

Tom Bissell was an acclaimed, prize-winning young writer. Then he started playing the video game Grand Theft Auto. For three years he has been cocaine addicted, sleep deprived and barely able to write a word. “There are times when I think GTA IV is the most colossal creative achievement of the last 25 years, times when I think of it as an unsurpassable example of what games can do, and times when I think of it as misguided and a failure. No matter what I think about GTA IV, or however I am currently regarding it, my throat gets a little drier, my head a little heavier, and I know I am also thinking about cocaine.”

Source: The Guardian
Published: Mar 21, 2010
Length: 18 minutes (4,749 words)