Monthly Archives: May 2013

Harry Pottermon and the Massive Waste of Potential

If you were born or raised in the 90’s, then it’s nigh-certain that you are intimately acquainted with either Pokemon, Harry Potter or both. Even if you aren’t, there’s no way you haven’t at least heard of them. So other than their popularity and timing, what do these two multi-media multi-billion-dollar franchises have in common? And what is the secret to their success?

Other than that JK Rowling is a Legilimens and split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Other than that J.K. Rowling is a Legilimens who split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Beginning with the obvious, they both began with the same demographic. Kids aged 6-12, with a slant towards males but not exclusively so. The Harry Potter books attempted to grow up with their readership, ending with material more suitable for 14-20 year-olds. On the other hand, Pokemon has kept its kiddie tone. Despite this, many aged Pokefans maintain an interest in the franchise. Continue reading


Grab-bag of Tag Part Three: TV Tag

Lastly in this 3-parter on Tag, I want to discuss TV Tag. The game is similar to freeze tag, in that being tagged causes a player stop moving and be ‘out’. The difference is in the method of thawing. In TV tag players, once frozen, may unfreeze themselves by shouting out the name of a TV show (Some people play that you can name a TV character instead).

However, each show/character may only be used once per game, so players must listen to what shows their compatriots are employing. Eventually, all players are frozen and every TV show ever aired has been named.

Kids today, however, play "iPad Tag" instead.

Kids today, however, play “iPad Tag” instead.

If this last variant sounds dumb to you, good. It is the strangest, most awful and arbitrary version of tag I’ve ever played. TV tag gives an advantage to players with knowledge of television, which could be considered an added factor of skill. Except, that what does knowing TV shows have to do with playing tag? Continue reading

Grab-bag of Tag Part Two: Variations

Yesterday I discussed the animalistic appeal of Tag, but dismissed it as an unbalanced game in its most pure form. So how can Tag be improved as a game, while still maintaining the simple thrills of flight and pursuit?

How about Blob Tag? When a player is tagged, instead of it-hood transferring to them, they link arms with their tagger, and continue chasing free players as a single entity. Every time a player is tagged, they join with the ‘blob’, until there is a massive wall of globular flesh roaming the field for the final survivors. Now rather than a vague misanthrope, being it has its own aspect of group identity.

We are the Blob. You will be assimilated

We are the Blob. You will be assimilated

Blob Tag (also known as Amoebae Tag)  provides rising action, a climax and a conclusion to the game. It doesn’t single out any winners or losers either, but becomes almost a simulation. A demonstration of how a single virus or idea can spread, perhaps. Continue reading

Grab-bag of Tag Part One: You’re It

Nobody likes to being referred to as “it”. Maybe that’s the real impetus behind the frenzied chase of every game of tag – reversing the dehumanizing brand of “it”. Of course, the fun of pursuit and being pursued is its own reward.

Or for any kids unfortunate enough to have seen Stephen King's IT, horrible memories might be the motive for their flight.

Or for any kids unfortunate enough to have seen Stephen King’s IT, horrible memories might be the motive for their flight.

But why is it fun? Surely, there are more engaging childhood past-times than screaming and running back and forth endlessly on a field. The answer may be in animalistic nature of tag. It is inherently ‘fun’ because it is a mock version of predator-and-prey relationships. Tag induces all the excitement, skill, and drama of the hunt. Humans, being natural hunters, are drawn to games like tag. Or if you prefer 5-dollar words, they evoke atavism in our psyches. Continue reading

Bad Games People Still Play: Risk

Risk is another one of the board game classics for people too afraid to try new things. The game is overly long, tedious to play, and far too luck-dependent for a putative strategy game. It also gives an advantage to eliminating players, which means people will be killed early and excluded from most of the game. How is that fun?

Worse still, having more territories means gaining more reinforcements, and having more reinforcements means you can more easily capture territories – resulting in a feedback loop. Whoever’s feedback loop spirals out of control first typically wins the game. Unfortunately you can always see this coming 5-10 turns away, so there isn’t even a climatic feel to the endgame. The winner being known in advance deflates any suspense that might have built.

Well, at least they haven't flipped the board.

Well, at least they haven’t flipped the board… yet.

 But without continuing in too much detail about the shortcomings of Risk, I’d like to highlight a major source for many of the game’s problems. Continue reading

Cutting the Gordian Language Barrier

In the nature-fantasy world of Watership Down the woodland creatures all speak their own languages, as well as one common language called Hedgerow. It’s the lingua franca of the forest. Hedgerow is not very complex or in-depth, but basic communication can still take place.

But it’s not just fantasy. While many regions have an assumed lingua franca, there have also been attempts to create a universal second language. Hedgerow for humans!

The most famous, and successful, of these so-called IALs (International Auxiliary Languages) is Esperanto. It’s a mix of German  French, and Russian vocabulary with Slavic sounds and a Latin alphabet. The language was designed to be easy to learn and culturally neutral.

This is clearly propaganda, I don't think these kids would even know what Esperanto is.

Blatant propaganda, I doubt these kids even know what Esperanto is, much less want to take it at school.

Continue reading

Phil, Mario, and Siddhartha

One of my favourite films is Groundhog Day. Being forced to relive a single day forever seems both a fantastic daydream and a horrid nightmare. Now a cult classic, the film has garnered many fan interpretations. Some say that Phil’s trial of repetition and tedium represent our everyday lives. How each day seems the same, dull and meaningless, especially if we share Phil’s cynical worldview. The only way to break out of this depression is to carpe groundhog diem, and live our lives to the fullest.

Other fans claim the film is a Buddhist allegory. That each repeated day represents a reincarnation, and a new life on earth. Mankind, or in this case Phil, is trapped in an eternal cycle of Samsara, earthly suffering. But rather than poverty, disease, and war, his suffering takes the form of inclement weather and Sunny and Cher.

Obviously, the groundhog represents the Buddhist vice of torpor.

Obviously, the groundhog represents the Buddhist vice of torpor.


In order to break the cycle, Phil must attain enlightenment. By letting go of ego and desire, suffering can be transcended. Oddly, if this is so, the film represents enlightenment as getting a girlfriend. I’m not saying it’s a prefect fit, in fact the director, Harold Ramis, has outright denied any religious inspiration. But the theory certainly is interesting.

Continue reading