Letters to the Editor



To The Editor: Superior media regularly wash out because of a mismatch with the consumer. Not just media varieties, but forms of expression. To coin a term, I’ll call it the Coltrane-Betamax Effect. John Coltrane pioneered, with a few others such as Miles Davis, the late sixties/early seventies over-the-top innovations in free jazz, perhaps bounded by Coltrane’s OM disc, Pharoah Sanders’s work at the time, Ornett Coleman & the Art Inst. of Chicago’s music, and Davis’s Bitches Brew. Yet, as was observed at the time, this superior and inventive pioneering of forms did not have a mass audience waiting at the station to greet them with cheers. I would say that it’s only been a strange historical accident that an audience has been growing up to it over the past 40 years (e.g., Ornett Coleman could get a Lifetime Achievement award from Grammy).

The Betamax part of the effect hardly needs elaborating. Often hailed as a superior technology, it failed because of accidents of marketing, etc., not because of the qualities of the product.

One of the first musical products using CD-ROM technologies to explore creative ends was the “failed” work of Todd Lundgren of CDi for Phillips, particularly his “No World Order” disc. (At the bottom of the letter I have a link and quote from the Wikipedia article covering this.)

Closer to our resident Visigoth Gamer is the “wild” proposals by Scott McCloud, who details the (in the words of his newest book Making Comics) “Storytelling Secrets of comics, Manga and Graphic Novels.” There are many many new ways of telling stories, as McCloud notes.

I for one am largely persuaded by the likes of Vincent Kang and Scott McCloud. I’m primarily an educator and a philosopher, deeply committed to adjective-burdened lyrical texts, but in love with comics, and excited by the possibilities of what Kang describes.

But – and here’s the rub, as the immortal Bard of Avon would say – I’ve never been able to “save the princess.” Having introduced my formerly eleven year old son to Super Mario II and Duck Hunt, I have seen him turn into a Linux software engineer professional. But I was never able to guide Luigi through the maze, and have stood by and watched Sim Railroads and Worlds go through Warfare and Civilizations rise and fall and whole Second lives go to hell in a handbasket.

So I love a good story. I love to tell good stories. I’ve got the content, at least as much, by golly, as that Frank Miller fellow with his 300 fallen heroes at Thermopylae. I’ve got metaphysics and history and the extremes of world thought and culture coming out the wazoo. But as Kang (wonderful name for a gamer!) points out, there is a missing audience – of which I am among the missing, ironically.

Blame it on the Coltrane-Betamax Effect.

– Bruce C. Meyer

In response to “I’d Rather Play a Game Than Read A Book” from The Escapist Forum: This opinion piece is a new low for unsubstantiated ranting at the Escapist. At least it was mercifully short.

Because visual media are so different from textual ones, there’s no point in comparing them. It comes down to personal taste, which is the only argument that the author puts forth. He likes video games more, therefore video games are better. That’s the kind of opinion one would expect a grade 2 student to have. I expect better from a paid writer.

– arrr_matey

In response to “I’d Rather Play a Game Than Read A Book” from The Escapist Forum: The comparison was between “a critically acclaimed” videogame, and a “universally loved” novel. This is inferring that they are equal in credibility as far as their respected mediums are concerned.

Because of this fallacy – comparing one of the best videos of all time to a book written for a franchise – the argument is weaker. Bioware vs Timothy Zahn; an industry leader vs a franchise writer. Surely it would have been better to compare KOTOR to something written by Iain Banks.

The fact is, you would not compare the game series Elder Scrolls and submise that it is narratively better than the book series Discworld. Where the characters and locations in Discworld are often full of life and charm, Oblivion’s are mostly forgettable. True, Oblivion has a lot of things going for it, and the painting quest was excellent, but these only stand out because of the limited supply of other *gasp* events. Aeris’ death in Final Fantasy is constantly talked about because it has very few peers. There are very few games that you can compare to books – Final Fantasy, Monkey Island, and perhaps Half Life 2 being noticeable examples, but even games that have tried so hard, such as Fable, end up coming tacked with a clich

About the author