Patrick

New twine piece, playable here.

This is a very short game about having an uncomfortable conversation with a vaguely sinister white guy.

One ending. Or is there? Ask a friend to play and then compare notes.

On related business, Zolani Stewart and Lana Polansky recently posted a podcast in which they discuss the avant-garde in videogames, which is filled with many smart thoughts on these things, and points you to a lot of cool little games to play.  But it also (quite surprisingly!) contains a discussion of my last Twine game, My Father’s Long, Long Legs! I am really excited by the response that game got, which quite frankly has been larger and more supportive than anything I ever expected.

I’ll take this moment to say thank you for reading my posts here, for playing my games, and for generally being a cool person.

Spelunky, Replayability, and Performance on FPS

A few months back I wrote a speculative post on how performance theory can help us understand the idea of “replay value” in videogames.  I was shortly thereafter pinged by Steve Wilcox, editor at scholarly games writing site First Person Scholar, to ask if I’d like to work on something of a similar theme for the site.  I did, and so have turned out a little thing on those themes, in the context of my play of the game Spelunky.  You can go read it now!

My thanks for proof-reading the article go out to my pals Spam, Victor, Dan, and Alex Pieschel.  Speaking of Alex, he and Zolani Stewart recently started a little joint called Arcade Review, which provides some cool videogames crit that you might wanna check out.

I’d also like to thank Dr. Gerlad Vorhees for his reply to my piece, which provides me with some avenues of research that would otherwise be unknown to me (coming at games studies, as I do, rather catty-corner).

As luck would have it, Brendan Keogh a month or two back published a critique of videogames criticism that I in large part agree with, and makes in a different way many of the points my FPS piece led me toward, so that can also go into your recommended reading.  Also keep in mind comments by Ian Bogost and Daniel Joseph, as well as this thorough reflection and roundup by Zoya Street.  What Keogh is gesturing toward seems to me very similar to what Peggy Phelan advocates in her theory, an idea of “performative writing” that attempts to capture through “thick description” (as Keogh at one point calls it) the embodied experience of performance/gameplay.

Relatedly, in a few weeks (?) I’ll hopefully have another post here on the replayability issue, because there was an entire half of the FPS article that I imagined but, due to word limits and being sensible, did not write.  There’s nothing fundamentally new, but rather, I want to focus more on what it means to “performatively write” about a videogame (for my money this piece by Leigh Alexander on Bioshock Infinite is a great example, in case you’re tired of me).  But I also want to demonstrate a different kind of re/play experience that I find myself repeating for similar yet ultimately distinct ways from my account of Spelunky.  I tend to work and think in terms of illustrative contrast, so this is helpful for me.  But it will also demonstrate, I think, relayability in its more bizarre, persona, idiosyncratic, irrational mode.  This relates to something Vorhees brings up — a possible desire to escape the buying-the-next-game cycle — though as he concedes, this isn’t something we can necessarily (so to speak) bank on.

Thanks for reading!

 

A Post about Shia LaBeouf

Everyone is talking about Shia LaBeouf, for some reason. Because he is being a jerk, or an asshole, I guess?  I don’t have much in the way of opinions on Shia LaBeouf, which is not to say I have none, but rather that my opinions are not so much about Shia himself and more about a vast web of subjective experience that is honestly far more interesting to me than whatever he is doing now.  So I am going to tell you my story about Shia LaBeouf.

The age at which I should have known, or rather cared, who Shia LaBeouf was, was precisely the age at which I did not know or care.  I am referring to his role on the Disney show Even Stevens, which I was not totally informed about since my family never had money for cable or satellite and I only caught the show after the fact, in syndication, on broadcast television.  Still, he existed as a nebulous presence for me, I suppose.

Since television, deprived of the benefits of cable, was not always enough to hold my interest, I also often took to reading.  I read widely and voraciously, and this was something noted about me in school.  When I was eleven and in the fifth grade, a teacher I admired very much asked if I would please read Louis Sachar’s YA novel Holes and share my opinions and experiences with her, because she was considering assigning it for the following year’s English class.

I was familiar with Sachar, primarily from the Wayside School series (grade school David Lynch, and probably a formative influence in those early years) and jumped at the change to read this new book, despite it having a synopsis that failed to tickle that same Wayside itch.

But I read Holes and I loved it, I highly recommended it be read in the future by any and all students.

It is very difficult for me to articulate now, through the gap of the years, precisely what is was that worked so well in Holes.  Part of it, I think, was that it managed to be completely absurd (in a more-subdued-than-Wayside School vein) while tackling some very serious issues (discipline, punishment, authority, race, family, legacy, ethical duty) in a way that did not feel condescending.  That might be rose-tinting, and it could fall away if I looked back too closely.  But I can recall with stone certainty at least one point on which the book captivated me.

The protagonist, a young boy named Stanley Yelnats, is fat.  He is overweight, unathletic, intelligent but not a genius, and bewildered by a world that supersedes the limits of his comprehension.  But the thing I want to stress here is: he is fat.  He is fat and he knows it, and he feels bad about it, outcast by this one other thing in addition to all the other crazy bullshit in his life.

I was a fat kid, and I knew it.  School acquaintances and family members commented on it in sometimes direct, sometimes sly and subtle ways.  I acted like this did not bother me, and performed this bit so well it eventually seemed like it worked, because while it’s not the best of all possible worlds I think it’s much easier to get through school with an abject body-type as a young man rather than a woman.

Stanley Yelnats and Holes provided the one precise instance I can remember reading a book as a kid and picturing myself in the hero’s position, seeing in the hero someone who was like me — not the bland, slim boys that populated the front lines of so many other adventure novels, but someone who was uneasy in the bulk of his own body, who wiped drops of sweat from the smeared lenses of his glasses, and who felt a vague malevolent pressure on him at all points in his life (for Stanley, this turns out to be a family curse; for me, the issue is a lot hazier).

So Holes got made into a movie in 2003, and when I first heard of this, even at the age of 15, I was at first excited about the prospect of seeing Stanley (who was, in my mind, basically me) onscreen.  But of course, as you well know, the Stanley I pictured and sympathized with was not the Stanley I got.

The Stanley I got — the Stanley we all got — was Shia LaBeouf.  Hapless, tousle-haired, lanky Shia, the embodiment of the bland and slim adventure hero-boy as he is available in the “slightly goofy” custom model.

I think the film version of Holes is actually pretty good, all things considered — the casting is actually pretty excellent, and even Shia LaBeouf brings his charisma (which we must remember he had, once).  But it never sat easy with me — never will sit easy with me — how the boy I pictured who was so much like myself was erased from his own story and replaced by the precise sort of person he (and I) was not.

But at least he’s not famous anymore, I guess.

Music Videos My Students Tell Me About

As a teacher of freshman composition, I insert a tiny clause in the very back of my first-day syllabus promising students a point of extra credit on their first assignment if they bring me the name of their favorite music video on the second day of class.  This is basically a test to see who’s reading the syllabus through, and this semester for the first time I actually got hits — and not just one, but four!  The other point of this exercise is to give me music videos to think about for when I demonstrate film analysis in the course’s second unit.  Reproduced below are the music videos my students told me about, followed by a brief paragraph of commentary.

Gas Pedal

Sleek and dark — oppressively Gothic but also chic. Women are objects, props. Furniture and wind-up dolls. Shots of figures down hallways at times Kubrickian. The video seems to know how terrifying it is, hence a little post-credits “blooper” that shows Sage the Gemini tripping before doing a light-hearted dance. We watch the script that has been dictating this haunted house ride fall through.

Everlong

Very 90s in a way I can’t precisely pin down, since the entire video is a kind of recapitulation of 80s pop culture. A distinction between dream and reality that the viewer might be tempted to make is turned on its head as the end suggests a series of interlocking dreams culminating in the band’s spectacle — music stardom as ultimate dream/fantasy.

Wake Up Call

A series of incoherent vignettes stylized to look like the trailer of a contemporary crime film. The strongest discernible plot thread concerns Adam Levine shooting a ladyfriend’s manfriend (notably bloodless, woundless) and then enlisting her to dispose of the corpse, which for unclear reasons leads to him (but not her) being arrested. The police are women in very tight uniforms, for some reason. Did the ladyfriend betray him (and also the other band members, who are also arrested)? Shots of the band performing interspersed with “obviously” fake film scenes accomplish a similar sort of double logic as the Gas Pedal video — yes, women are sexual objects, nameless props for this story about men, but none of it’s real.

Story of My Life

One Direction shows us their family photos. They gaze upon their pasts, but so do we, as their family members are pulled into the video for reenactments.  A nod to similar trends on line, recreating childhood photos with older siblings, etc. Intense nostalgia. Suggests both the closeness One Direction fans feel with the band but also, via the strangely panopticon-like structure in which the band stands with the camera, the sort of prison such fame constructs.

The Privilege of Horror

Cameron Kunzelman via Twitter recently reminded us all of a thing:

Zoe Quinn’s Twine game is very good, and does precisely what I think she intends it to do — to demystify the strange fandom cult that Lovecraft accrues through a rigorous application of Godwin’s Law.  What I think is great about the game is how well it forces one to evaluate their principles with regard to Lovecraft by demonstrating that he was not just “some racist” in the way that nearly anybody 100 years ago (or today, as a matter of fact) would be susceptible to systemically and structurally inculcated racism.

HPL was the sort of racist who went out of his way to be racist, to think up ways to be even more actively racist than any white person living in the 1920s was on a day to day basis. Obviously Lovecraft’s racism is something I’ve known about for a long time, due to my familiarity with his work. It’s something I’ve developed thoughts on, but weirdly enough it wasn’t until replaying Quinn’s game last night that they all came bubbling out in a multi-tweet series. 

 

This was probably what did it, really.  My realization was that I know Lovecraft so well that I can actually sense the man in his racist statements devoid of context — both through his prose, and through the logic of his racism, the assumptions that underpin his scientific materialist worldview.

I got a perfect score on the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I suppose this is as good a point as any as to make clear my stance, however half-formed.

Horror is about being afraid — and I believe this is valuable.  It was valuable to me when I fell in love with the genre, because I was a very anxious child in a very unhappy environment and stories about monsters told me that it was okay to be afraid, because there are indeed things to be afraid of.

The cosmic despair of someone like Lovecraft is a luxury.  It is a result of his race and his socioeconomic class that he could survey all of creation, pronounce it barren and hostile, and then amuse himself by populating it with phantasmagoric projections of anyone who was different from and thus upsetting to him.  For Lovecraft the decline of humanity was synonymous with the decline of a certain type of rarefied whiteness, inevitably a result of miscegenation and the embrace of the unknown.

If horror has an ethical dimension, then it is this: to remind us that there are things to fear.  To remind us that we don’t always win.  That many humans on this planet did not win: they were mowed down by regimes of exploitation, oppression, and hate far greater than they could comprehend.

2013 in review

Wow, what a year.

I skipped last year’s review because I felt like it was simultaneously too boring/stressful and I didn’t want to do a write-up, but then THIS year happened and it was simultaneously more boring and stressful than last year, so I figure why the hell not.

I finished my graduate coursework and will now be moving into qualifying exams, preparing my reading list for the summer for my oral exams in the fall.  I have wrapped up a very difficult semester of teaching, two sections for the first time, and after my department switched out the class I was supposed to be teaching in favor of something else only a few weeks before the beginning of the semester.

I made two games with the hypertext program Twine, and they were both pretty well liked by folks!  For reference, here’s a very flattering write-up Alex Pieschel did for my game Tower of the Blood Lord.  The second game, my father’s long, long legs, very nearly crashed my webhosting here and then actually did crash my webhosting, and courtesy of Peter Damien was featured on a website for people who read books instead of internet.  Emily Short wrote a very brief but thoughtful piece on it and I recently found out all-around Cool Chap Cameron Kunzelman included it on his GOTY list.

Interactive fiction — and games in general — have become much more important to me recently, as I find myself being very interested in 400 year old plays on the one hand and very new and weird digital things on the other.  The uniting factor, to rehearse the cliche, seems to be that “play’s the thing” — gameplay, shakespeareplay.  Or something.  Anyway I am continuing to press on this and what it means for me as an academic (which is my job) but also as a person who wants to be better at being a person, generally, and to make things that help others enjoy life and be people.

So thanks to not only the people I’ve linked here, but the people who’ve played my games, talked about them, shared them — and all the people who made the games I played and wrote the things I read that suggested to me that this was something I could and should do myself.

I am going to continue to work with twine.  It’s been a very therapeutic process for me in a lot of ways, allowing me to look at old memories askance, and to synthesize a lot of the information and theory I get from my work as an academic, but to put it towards ends that are in some ways more personally rewarding than simply writing a research paper.  2013 could probably be called the year I remembered to think about myself.

Also: this was the year I asked my girlfriend to marry me.  She said yes.  The date is a ways off — not until she finishes her grad program in another year and a half, at least.  But that’s certainly a thing that happened in my life, a very big and important thing, in a year that seemed to be filled with important things.

It was a tough year for a lot of folks. Next year might not be any better, but we’re all here right now. For a time, at least, we’re moving and saying things in a crazy multifaceted fully articulated material universe, and things just keep going.  So thanks for taking a moment out of your busy, fully articulated (but eternally obscured) schedule to read this, to read any of the words I’ve written on this blog, or elsewhere.  Best of luck next year.

I will end this post with a block quote.  Rather than provide any explication — apart from the fact that it is something I think about often — I will let it stand on its own, and perhaps its significance will become clearer in time to both you and me.  From The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton:

“What place can this be?” he asked. “Can it be the old devil’s house? I’ve heard he has a house in North London.”

“All the better,” said the Secretary grimly, planting a foot in a foothold, “we shall find him at home.”

“No, but it isn’t that,” said Syme, knitting his brows. “I hear the most horrible noises, like devils laughing and sneezing and blowing their devilish noses!”

“His dogs barking, of course,” said the Secretary.

“Why not say his black-beetles barking!” said Syme furiously, “snails barking! geraniums barking! Did you ever hear a dog bark like that?”

He held up his hand, and there came out of the thicket a long growling roar that seemed to get under the skin and freeze the flesh — a low thrilling roar that made a throbbing in the air all about them.

“The dogs of Sunday would be no ordinary dogs,” said Gogol, and shuddered.

Valerie Traub on History and Early Modern Queer Studies

Demeaning the disciplinary methods employed to investigate historical continuity and change does not advance the cause of queerness; nor does the charge of normalization. For those of us committed to nonnormative  modes of being and thought, the derision implicit in this accusation can only be construed as an attempt to foreclose any possibility of resistance. While proclaiming a uniquely queer openness to experimentation and indeterminacy, the unhistoricists disqualify others’ ways of engaging with the past, seeing in the effort to account for similarities and change over time only a hegemonic, if defunct, disciplinarity. Paradoxically, unhistoricism arrogates to itself the only appropriate model of queer history even as its practitioners imply that history is not something they are interested in making. The categorical quality of their polemic, which implicitly installs queer as a doctrinal foundation and ideological litmus test, goes to the heart of historiographic and queer ethics. It goes to the heart of academic and queer politics. It goes to the heart of interdisciplinarity and its future.

Rather than practice “queer theory as that which challenges all categorization” (Menon, “Period Cramps” 233), there remain ample reasons to practice a queer historicism dedicated to showing how categories, however mythic, phantasmic, and incoherent, came to be. To understand the arbitrary nature of coincidence and convergence, of sequence and consequence, and to follow them through to the entirely contingent outcomes to which they contributed: this is not a historicism that creates categories of identity or presumes their inevitability; it is one that seeks to explain such categories’ constitutive, pervasive, and persistent force. Resisting unwarranted teleologies while accounting for resonances and change will bring us closer to achieving the difficult and delicate balance of apprehending historical sameness and difference, continuism and alterity, that the past, as past, presents to us. The more we honor this balance, the more complex and circumspect will be our comprehension of the relative incoherence and relative power of past and present conceptual categories, as well as of the dynamic relations among subjectivity, sexuality, and historiography.

from The New Unhistoricism in Queer Studies

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PLEASE remember to stay on-topic and respectful in your reviews.  Our automated system will flag anything that does not discuss the maze or seems inappropriate!

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

11/02/2013

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Incredibly sad to see this place go, we had some great times here!  I guess from now on for all my cider needs I’ll have to head down to Kellerman’s Cidería, the home of the best spiced apple cider in southern Indiana!

That’s Kellerman’s Cidería, just off Bockhoffer Road on the west side of Whitbridge!

Janice D.

Chicago, IL

11/01/2013

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Apparently everyone down here is insane, since I remember something about riots in this same area around Halloween last year.  Anyway, I saw the crazy woman myself, standing in the flames with her gas can in hand and barking like a dog (????) as the corn maze burned down around her.  At one point I saw her pick up this screaming toddler and chuck him right into the flames!  That might have been a hallucination though, I’ll have to talk with my therapist.  Plus I’d been breathing in a lot of smoke.

And of course, it being Halloween last night, the place was packed — screaming everywhere, people trampled underfoot.  THAT wasn’t all a hallucination.  Jesus.  They still don’t have a count of casualties beyond an estimate, and several people are still missing.  Even the town’s mayor was there, and no one can find him now.

All in all, not a very fun experience.  If it’s representative of trips to this venue, I would NOT recommend going.  The apple cider was good, though, and made for a quick and delicious way to put out my shirt when it caught fire.

George L.

 

10/30/2013

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almost ripe

almost harvest

Corey A.

Indianapolis, IN

10/25/2013

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Well, it’s that time of year again! We all know once autumn hits corn mazes pop up left and right here in Indiana, and those of us on unWindr take a break from searching out the best meditational labyrinths and hedge installations to experience these quaint seasonal projects — there’s something special about a maze that’ll be gone soon, lost to the elements, and built anew next year. Of course, with so many of these all over the state, the question becomes which ones are worth your time?

I have to tell you, the Harvest Maze out on the old Frumhel land (forget the stories you’ve heard) outside of Whitbridge is DEFINITELY one of the must-visits this season! After a rough start a few years back things are finally taking off for this amazing maze of maize!

The mayor himself is apparently in charge here, which tells you this place is of vital importance to the town.  A sort of farmer’s market has grown up around it, so there are plenty of pumpkins, squashes, and other fall produce to buy, freshly made cider, candy apples, etc. Hay rides are given in the evening and every Fri/Sat/Sun the maze’s “Spooky Hour” is accented with a creepy soundtrack and locals in goofy costumes jumping out and saying boo. (Note: younger kids may not find this so great! Our daughter is prone to nightmares so we left her to play with the son of the woman running the front stand, but she must have heard us talking about some of the “spooky” stuff, and she’s not sleeping well!)

The maze itself is of a surprisingly high quality and complex design for what is normally an amateur job. The paths are looping and intricate, and confounded even an experienced unWindr such as myself. You bet we’ll be back next year!

Tracey P.
Cincinnati, OH
10/15/2013

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We were in town visiting some friends, and lemme say, in Ohio we tend to look down on corn mazes (my family comes from a long line of die-hard hedgers). Hate to admit it, but this competes with the best! Tons of fun for all ages, by turns goofy and creepy and charming. Everything an autumn activity should be!

The hot cider is exellent, some of the best I’ve ever had, and an absolute must if you visit. The cider, according to the man who served was, was his own family recipe, so it was really great to see that this place had so much history already!

Still, it’s not the perfect corn maze experience — at one point during the journey I smelled something rotten, as if there was some bad corn or something just behind the path.  It can happen this time of year, especially if harvest is being put off, but still.

Erica D.
Haymeadow, IN
10/10/2013

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My boyfriend and I love the caramel apples at this place and also the cider! We wish there was an orchard so you could pick your own apples too but still you can get a discount for produce and the hayride together so it’s a good deal.

The people who run the maze have a little shack out front where they sell the cider and local farmers sell produce, and the lady behind the counter has the cutest little kid! The poor thing sits in a little car seat most of the time and he’s just so small and cute!!!

Also don’t go into the maze without the guides because it is VERY easy to get lost!!!!!

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/09/2013

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The doctors let me out on good behavior.  I told them everything they needed to hear, which is to say I lied.

Can you lie, when you don’t really understand what you’re lying about?

I don’t know what’s happening with this maze, not really.  And I’m beyond wanting to know.  But I think I know how to stop it.

~—~

Kelly R.
Whitbridge, IN
10/31/2012

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Amazing point of pride for Whitbridge, definitely one of the best seasonal mazes out there.  Plenty of challenge without any of the hassle. Really took our minds off all the stuff that happened over in Haymeadow.  Mayor Louis made a speech here last night about how much work it took to harvest a field in the olden days, and how we can kind of think of ourselves like that now: we’re all part of something greater.  I like that idea, because it’s times like these our community needs to stick together.

George L.

 

10/30/2012

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Shuxin J.
Columbus, OH
10/24/2012

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On my way back from seeing the labyrinth in New Harmony I had to detour because of an accident (heard later there were riots or something nearby — wow!) so I ended up driving by this place and decided to check it out. An excellent maze all around, with plenty to see and do. If you can believe it, I actually got lost a couple times! (Check my review history to see how uncommon this is.)

A little displeased with how there were obviously folks in costume stalking behind the rows at five in the afternoon despite the signs outside clearly stating that the “Spooky Hour” didn’t begin until 8. I imagine most of the people employed for the job are bored teenagers or elementary school volunteers, but at least give them something to do other than pretend to try and grab folks just out for a leisurely maze crawl.

PS. Even though it’s not related to the maze specifically, the cider is excellent!

Luke B.
Indianapolis, IN
10/22/2012

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This place is awful. My girlfriend Liz came here last year (before we started dating) and when fall came she wouldn’t STOP talking about going back. We get here, and what does she do? Breaks up with me right on the spot and then turns and walks straight into the maze without saying goodbye! I didn’t see her again that night and she’s not answering my calls.

Sorry I guess this isn’t the maze’s fault. Just a lot of bad memories.

If you go try the cider, despite everything I’ve said it’s excellent.

Whitney R.
Chicago, IL
10/20/2012

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Me and my sorority sisters came down from Bloomington to check this out. It’s supposed to be super creepy. Like years and years ago this old crazy dude and his family had a farm there, and they were like serial killers or whatever.  All Texas Chainsaw Massacre or whatever. It’s probably bullsh*t but that’s the story I heard.

Anyway we came during Spooky Hour and the spookiest part was was Elena realized her Uggs were completely caked with mud.  The maze itself had little to no challenge (back in high school the cheer squad did better designs out of gym mats for our Homecoming Labyrinths) and any scares the dudes hiding behind the corn might have tried to pull off were all undercut by this place apparently only employing six-year-olds wearing what looked like plastic bags over their heads, which is probably against some law or whatever.  I’ll have to ask my social policy professor.

Cider and hayride was fun, though.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/19/2012

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~—~

Liz O.
Indianapolis, IN
11/02/2011

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After reading all the lukewarm reviews, we were a little wary. But we needed something to do, and because some other plans fell through, we came down for Spooky Hour! What a surprise!

The maze itself is probably the single creepiest experience I’ve ever had. At one point I got turned around and realized my friends had gone on without me, but I couldn’t figure out which direction they had gone. I thought I had a better memory than that, but the paths all seemed to blend together, and even though I could hear sounds from other people in the maze or from the cider stand and hayrides, there’s something about the valley where the field sits that makes it seem like sounds are always coming from different places.

What’s amazing about all this is that most corn mazes have a bunch of dudes jumping out to scare you, and creepy music playing, this was totally not like that. It almost felt like the field was completely empty except for me, and I would simply wander the twisted paths of the corn for the rest of my life, alone, until I lay down on the brittle earth and my body withered like the corn husks and my insides crumbled into the earth to feed the corn, to grow, to build, to burst forth with new teeming and more deserving life, the beautiful children of a new era.

Haha wow!  What a great time!

There was a little distraction where the police showed up and arrested some woman who was making a scene in the parking lot, shouting at people and crying about her dog or something. But you can’t blame the venue for a crazy person showing up, right?

Also, the cider was incredible.  Last time I drank cider at Kellerman’s, I thought I’d never stop throwing up, but after a single glass of this stuff I couldn’t stop!

George L.

 

10/30/2011

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each season we reinaugurate the old rites

we cast our offerings to the thirsty earth and wait

do not fear being lost to the new veins we have scratched into the dry dust of this planet

only by being lost in the maze will you find yourself

Evan C.
Whitbridge, IN
10/28/2011

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Snore-fest, and confusing to boot. One of the old stories is that when Old Man Frumhel was making his corn mazes back in olden times or whatever he always did it by looking at the stars? I don’t know, that’s supposed to be creepy I guess, but the murder parts of the old stories were always creepier.

Anyway I think the people running this place now are still using constellations or whatever to make the mazes because it took us over an hour to find our way through and it was boring as sh*t.

Most exciting point? My little brother almost fell in this huge hole that was right there in the middle of the path. Smelled awful, like a septic tank. Safety hazard much????

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/25/2011

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This year I’ve been parking across the road and keep track of how many people go into this maze, and not all of them are coming out.

I can’t get the police to believe me, but if you’re reading this review, please, DO NOT GO TO THIS PLACE.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/24/2011

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Dalia T.
Boulder, CO
10/21/2011

unwindr2

 

Good cider. Maybe you should drink a few before going into the maze, because you certainly won’t get any fun out of that. The design is unininspired, if not insipid, and the workmanship is shoddy — the edges of the paths are uneven, there are various weeds growing amongst the corn to begin with, and the costumes the kids are wearing here are not scary at all.  The “skin sloughing from my face like dead leaves” look is so cliche for an autumn maze like this.  Plus, who’s scared of kids?

~—~

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
11/15/2010

unwindr1

 

The police won’t help me. Apparently the woman was telling the truth, somehow — the cops are also telling me her kids were “with their father.” So then who took Champ?  And I thought she only had one kid?

I came by after the maze closed. I could hear barking in the cornfield, out there in the maze.  I know I heard it.

Thomas N.
Bloomington, IN
11/01/2010

unwindr3

 

I have seen a road sign for this place every fall when I drive to or from Indianapolis, and one day I finally checked it out. It’s off the beaten path, and down a windy road off of 37. When you don’t know where you’re going, sometimes distances feel a lot longer than they really are – don’t be discouraged by the drive – it’s really only a couple of minutes.

We got there at the very end of the day. There is a small house-like structure with the maze out back. We didn’t have time to go through the maze, which is okay because I’m more a hobbyist in that area than anything. We had some of their fresh apple cider (pressed the day we were there) and it was pretty good.

The best part was the view off of their side balcony overlooking the maze at sunset.  The woman who was minding the store had her kid with her (some poor little boy who talked very well but he’s still not old enough to be out of a car seat, bless his soul) but he was very well behaved.

It’s worth a stop if you’re a big cider fan like me (do NOT go to Kellerman’s Cideria!  Yuck!!), and enjoy a break in the really boring drive from Haymeadow to Indy.

George L.

 

10/30/2010

unwindr5

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

Josh W.
Ann Arbor, MI
10/23/2010

unwindr3

 

Pretty ok place. People working in the farmer’s market can be a bit touchy, but I guess that’s just how the region is.

I asked the woman behind the main counter what was wrong with her kid and she got really offended.  Jesus lady, I just wanted to know!  Anyway I got lost in the maze for two hours but I’d brought my unWindr gear so I had plenty of granola bars.  As I said an ok place, I’ve been lost in better mazes.

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/19/2010

unwindr1

 

So I tried again to do the maze with Champ this year. I waited until the awful woman behind the counter wasn’t looking and then dashed for the entrance to the maze, but her creepy little sh*thead kid came out of nowhere and said he’d watch my dog for me while I went through the maze.

Well what was I supposed to do? I mean sure the kid couldn’t have been more than four (or a really small six, and Jesus that skin thing he has) but I didn’t want to look like I had been trying to break the rules, so I handed Champ over and went through the maze (time: 45 minutes. difficulty: medium-low).

I came back out and asked for Champ — but the woman at the counter said she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her that her kid took my dog while I went through the corn maze, and she told me her son was “staying with his father” this week.

You better believe I’m calling the cops.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/18/2010

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

Jessica R.
Whitbridge, IN
10/17/2010

unwindr2

 

The Frumhel land has been sitting derelict for I don’t know how long, but finally the town seems to want to do something with it. Mayor Louis owns the land, apparently, since he’s related to the Frumhels some way back. Can you imagine that, someone related to that family is now the mayor of this town?

Anyway, his generosity is appreciated, but unfortunately, just about every corn maze a bit further out of town is better in every way. As a lifelong Whitbridgean I hate to say this, but even the Haymeadow Muncipal Fall Fair has more to offer.

It’s just tepid cider, a walking path, and kids in terrible masks.  Mayor Louis gave an interview with the Whitbridge Gazette recently where he promised “great things were coming,” but I honestly think his son running away from home last year is starting to get to him.

~—~

Alberto H.
Chicago, IL
11/02/2009

unwindr3

 

Staff woefully insolent and inattentive, available conveniences and souvenirs subpar. Not an auspicious beginning to this maze, which apparently was only recently established.

For an experienced unWindr such as myself, however, this is all secondary.

Design and layout of the maze, while rough, show that someone here has a lot of potential. Not necessarily professionally trained, but I swear one of the paths looped into a Gordian Hexaknot, a formation I haven’t seen outside of certain Incan ruins. If the maze designer from Podunk, Indiana came up with that independently, I eagerly await to see what they will do once they have a few years of practice under their belt.

Nick J.
Haymeadow, IN
11/01/2009

unwindr1

 

You might think I’m biased because I’m from Haymeadow, but seriously this place sucks hard. It’s one thing if you have a sad little shack at the front of a sad maze. But the people here are kind of awful. My wife overheard the woman running the place yelling “Stop!” and a bunch of other stuff at someone in the back of the little shack (Probably one of her kids, the little *ssholes were running all over the place) and she didn’t come out to wait on us for like 15 whole minutes after we got there. The cider is not that good, but you can at least sample its mediocre glory for $1 for a small cup. Don’t try paying at the back where they actually pour the cider though and, for god’s sakes, don’t try paying with a credit card because they’ll act like they’ve never seen one.

This is typical Whitbridge for me though: something that should be charming and endearing is ruined by the people running it.

Shanna D.
Mooresville, IN
10/31/2009

unwindr2

 

Even though the woman working here says it’s not supposed to be a scary corn maze, the piles of empty clothes scattered around the paths are pretty d*mn creepy.

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr5

 

[Note: This post  has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

I found it.  The exit to the maze.  A hole in the center. The only way out is to go deeper

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

Please please help jesus christ what is wrong with this maze where is everyone Trish wouldn’t stop crying and then Brandon went off the path I told him not to because I heard it moving out there but he didn’t listen I don’t know where Trish went either or Sam or Ashley and its too dark but I can hear them and I can hear something else something following me there’s someone out there beyond the path I can’t leave the path I can’t I won’t help me help me help me

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Profanity]

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

IF SOMEONE DOESN’T SEE THIS SOON AND HELP US WE’RE GOING TO JUST BREAK DOWN THE F*CKING CORN AND STOMP OUR WAY OUT OF THIS MAZE

George L.

 

10/30/2009

unwindr1

 

First, thank god I got this iPhone and 3g.

Second, so I think we’re fucking lost. We’ve been in this dumb*ss corn maze for like an hour and a half now and for some reason my calls out won’t go out but I can still log into this maze fetishist site, so FYI this is NOT A REVIEW, we actually need help. The maze closes in a few hours and no matter how much we shout it seems like the idiots out at the front can’t hear us! I’ll have my dad fire all of them when I’m out.

George L.

Whitbridge, IN

10/30/2009

unwindr2

 

Everyone at school was sort of excited when my dad said they he was going to put up a corn maze here. Our family has owned the land for years (since-you-know-when) and it’s seriously one of the creepiest spots in town — we all grew up telling each other stories about the terrible things Old Man Frumhel did, even if almost all of it’s probably made up.

Anyway Brandon thought it would be fun if we came out today to check it out, and even though it’s a grand opening, you wouldn’t know it. It’s this rinky-dink little place with crappy cider (that I think they just bought at Wal-mart? I think even Kellerman’s could do better) and we’re going through the maze right now and there’s not even anything creepy about it. Of course dad said it wouldn’t be good publicity to have a “haunted” corn maze since this area has such a reputation already.

Anna N.
Indianapolis, IN
10/27/2009

unwindr1

 

They say dogs are allowed but when we showed up with our terrier the woman behind the counter was all “I’m sorry no dogs in the maze.” APPARENTLY they just mean it’s okay to have dogs walking around the crappy little farmer’s market they have?

Well listen, I know we’re all diehard unWindrs here, but we need to remember that not all unWindrs walk on two legs, you get what I mean? Champ has sniffed his way through bigger and better mazes than this podunk piece of crap. While we were vacationing in Europe he slipped his leash in Le Grande Labyrinthe and when we finally came out the other side TWO DAYS LATER he was already there waiting for us.

But Champ and I, we take this as a challenge. We’ll unwind this dumb corn maze, just you wait and see.

Ian K.

Whitbridge, IN

10/21/2009

unwindr1

 

[Note: This post has been removed for the following reasons: Does Not Discuss Mazes]

Performance and Replayability

In Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, Peggy Phelan briefly reminisces on repeated childhood trips from Long Island to Massachusetts:

When my mother couldn’t stand us any longer she’d say, “Let’s have a keep quiet contest.” Whoever could keep quiet the longest won a prize. I can’t remember what the prize was, but I remember trying very hard to listen to the sound of the tires on the asphalt, the sound of my sister’s breath, the sound of the wind turning over as the car went through it. These contests had a strange tension for me, not so much because I was burning to speak, but because I thought my mother’s weary sadness might infect us and render us all permanently mute. Eventually of course someone of us would break the silence. Sometimes one of my brothers would start tickling one of my sisters. Or my mother herself would speak to my father and we’d all yell with delight to see her undone by her own game. Sometimes she’d laugh at herself; sometimes she’d say it didn’t count since she was the mother and the referee of the game, not a participant.

After years of this I realized that the games were meant to be lost at least as much as they were meant to be won. No one really expected nine people to drive six hours in silence. Part of “losing” the game meant winning a certain kind of relief. A relief from the potential grief we all knew waited at my mother’s elbow ready to carry her far away from us. And knowing when to lose the game—how to break the silence in such a way that we would not break our mother’s temper—required a very specific intelligence, one schooled in the subtle calibrations of a substantive and mobile silence. An intelligence whose very expression, utterance itself, was hedged in on all sides by doubt.

In Phelan’s anecdote I see a way of articulating something I’ve said before in various places, that games criticism needs to be at least partly a theory of performance.  I think, in fact, that performance can help us come to terms with the old specter of “replay value.”

Ben Abraham a few years ago ranted some about how the concept of “replayability” is a shambles.  Games, he points out, are by definition replayable — but he goes on:

Could this (non) word [ie, replayability] actually be employed because authors that use it want a lazy and shorthand way to refer to a series of unrelated yet seemingly connected factors that influence whether someone is willing to endure repeat exposure to a game-type experience? Could some of those factors be ones that do not survive their exposure to the harsh light of objective analysis; do those factors not survive as concrete and measurable qualities that exist in the games themselves?

To recognise this fact would be to finally acknowledge that games are not one-hundred-per-cent whole objects of potential scrutiny, existing in and of themselves, floating in space, and uncaring as to their human interacters. That might mean would could speak about them with much less authority and even less certainty.

As a person who nominally studies drama, I’m highly indebted to Phelan’s insistence on performance’s unrepeatability — to paraphrase her in Unmarked, the way in which performance as an art-form resists the forces of reproduction of a representational economy.  Every performance of a certain play is different from the one that happened the night before, or 400 years before — different audience, different actors, different props, different stage, different theater.  Write-ups of performance are not the performance itself, nor is the script, nor are videos, nor are pictures.

Even a thought experiment, such as a holodeck-type apparatus that can wholly record and project a theatrical performance, fails because in its archiving the performance loses its life, the thing that makes it what it is in the moment, which ironically is the very possibility of the performance’s own failure: an actor forgets her line, a prop is misplaced, a malfunction in the lighting system causes a fire.  Performance disappears itself: it is the precarious relationality of human actors, human spectators, and the multitude of nonhuman participants as they align in a particular way only once.

But in the same way that an edition of Hamlet is not a performance of Hamlet, a copy of a game is not guaranteed to produce the same play experiences for all players — and thus, replay value is not something that can be extricated from the individual player’s multifaceted relationship to the game.

I will posit, now, that the very soul of “replayability” or “replay value” in a game is the way in which the experience of gameplay itself disappears.  We replay a game when the always already lost initial experience of gameplay inspires in us the desire (for a multitude of very likely personal and particular reasons) to recuperate that experience.  It is precisely this desire, I think, that Abraham is getting at when he talks about the aspects of gameplaying that do not persist under the “harsh light of objective analysis.”

When we talk about games having “replay value” we tend to think “lots of content that can be viewed on multiple play-throughs” when what we really mean is “some sort of affective hook, some sort of surplus value, that will bring me back.”  Very often this can get translated into “a set of conditions of performance that will result in discrete and discontinuous experiences that nevertheless reliably provide me with the type of mental stimulation I desire.”  As Abraham suggests, replay value is always partly a function of the relationship between the player and the game, rather than anything intrinsic in the game itself.

Let us think about it like this.  The point of Peggy Phelan’s family’s game is not to win, not to unlock content and branching paths, but eventually and inevitably to lose.  Losing the game in the appropriate way is a goal in itself, an avenue for relief that short-circuits the dreadful tension the children sense in their mother’s emotional and mental state.  There is not a walk-through for this game, because there is no way to win, only to move forward.  The game ends so it can be repeated in the future.

The repeated performances of the game — its iterations within the family, and the relationships it was predicated upon — built on one another.  It connected Phelan with her siblings, with her parents, with the car and the road, and even the dead sister whom she sensed was in some way responsible for her mother’s emotional precariousness.  This is what gives the game its power, makes it meaningful — game-as-performance-as-ritual.

This is all half-thought at the moment, so I’ll leave you with a reflection on the ultimate phantom of gameplay, the equivalent of the fire on the theater stage: the discovery of a glitch.

I was 15 years old.  While playing TimeSplitters 2 at a LAN party with some friends, the game fucked up in a marvelous way: my character died, the body ragdolled, but I did not respawn.  I did not lose control of my avatar.  I could not fire my gun (I had no gun) but, with the camera locked low to the ground, I could move my field of view and, I discovered, my position in the level.  So I used my horrible, broken body to skitter and slide around on the floor of the map, spying on firefights, freaking out my friends who only caught glimpses of me before I disappeared around the corner.  Eventually a stray grenade double-killed me, and I respawned normally.

I never encountered the glitch again.

Catachresis: A Way Too Scary Game

 Catachresis, a fygure, wherby the propretie of a worde is abused: as, Facies simillima lauro [A face most like a laurel tree], where facies oonely belongeth to a man, and not to a tree, although it doth signifye there a similitude or fygure.

-The dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot, 1538

For a while now I have wanted to write something about Catachresis: A Way Too Scary Game by Cameron Kunzelman, which you can play for free.  Kunzelman set the stage by saying he “didn’t want to make a horror game like all the other indie horror games that are out there,” and with some self-deprecation admitted it probably wouldn’t be all that scary because one of his central influences was Ghostbusters.

How I would flip this around is to say that Catachresis is what would happen if Ghostbusters committed fully to a horror framework but remained rather funny, and also got a healthy dose of the Hellboy mythos.  So if you need an endorsement to go play it before reading further, there it is — the game should only take you an hour or so, providing you are not Way Too Scared to finish it.

Videogame horror is obviously something I have an interest in, considering my other interests of videogames and horror.  Kunzelman lives up to his ambition, I think, of making a different sort of indie horror game.

Most indie horror games work like this: there’s some scary stuff that will chase you/kill you/jump out at you, and you must navigate an environment while this scary stuff happens.  Sometimes there are Silent Hill references.  Context, if provided, is minimal or incredibly fragmentary, in the hopes of being “dreamlike” and “open to interpretation.”  In more story-inclined games there is often a distinct possibility that you — yes you, darling player — might be crazy.  Take a moment to adjust to that incredible twist of the narrative screw.

Here is what happens in Catachresis: you walk around, you talk to a demon computer, and some other things, and then the fucking world ends.  It ends in a way that I can only describe as sublime — in the Burkean sense, that of huge and terrifying and somehow beautiful.

It is horror, yes, but a more subtle, yet also more cosmic sense than what you normally get in games that deal with the genre, and certainly far more careful than what you usually encounter with the horror trope of the apocalypse.

Apocalypse from the Greek means uncovering.  In English it was rendered as Revelation, from the Latin revelare, to “lay bare.”  To tear away the veil — to show that which has been hidden.

We live in a time when these words mean the End of the World.  We are now inundated with narratives of Apocalypses — biological, ecological, technological, religious, vampiric, zombie, whatever.  The issue with this use (abuse?) of the term however — this catachresis — is that it is a slide from the original meaning of the Biblical “Revelation.”  John of Patmos had the future laid bare or uncovered or revealed to him — the Apocalypse was not the end of the world itself, but the position of seeing it before its time.

By conflating the revelation with the thing revealed, I think we foreclose on its possibilities — its immensities, for one.  At the end of Catachresis nothing is revealed in any sense beyond the basic — you find out the world is ending and then it ends, welp!  But furthermore, there is not a call to speculate as in some games, no sense that you need to piece together the mythology that has led up to this point, because the event (it is clear) is so much larger than us.  There is no uncovering, but a descent into sublime unknowing.

The second foreclosure: I suspect Kunzelman, because I can’t count on him sharing my interest in Renaissance rhetoric, is reaching for Derrida’s sense of catachresis: “the imposition of a sign upon a meaning which did not yet have its own proper sign in language” — the possibility that that apocalypse-end-of-the-world is really a new beginning of a new type of world, a world that radically decenters us in our ways of knowing and feeling but which may not, as one character suggests in the end, be unlike going home.

the peace and safety of a new dark age