Saturday, August 31, 2013

Four more books to my reading challange


1.      Mornings Like This: Found Poems by Annie Dillard
Mornings Like This is one of the most interesting collections of poetry I have ever encountered. The author describes the poems within the collection as “instead of presenting whole texts as ‘found,’ [this volume] offers poems built from bits of broken text. The poems are original as poems’ their themes and their orderings are invented. Their sentences are not. Their sentences come from the books name. I lifted them. Sometimes I dropped extra words; I never added a word.” The books she found or lifted the poems from range from New Testament Apocrypha to nature books, grammar handbooks to the letters of Van Gogh. And while I will admit that there are a few duds in the collection, most of the poems are stunning and quite brilliant. The new meanings unearthed when the sentences are rearranged are lovely, heartbreaking, and beautiful. I highly recommend this volume of poetry for anyone interested in poetry or the style of Annie Dillard (it’s remarkable how her style even comes through when she is using other people’s words…). July-August 2013.

2.      Superboy: Volume 2, Extraction by Scott Lobdell, Tom DeFalco, R.B. Silva, and Rob Lean
I am a huge fan of the Superman franchise. So I have been following the new 52 storylines, even with all the sexism going on there (that’s enough for another post, but simply search “New 52 controversy” and you’ll find out what’s going on). So anyway, Superboy is a clone of Superman and a mysterious human (spoiler alert: most likely Lex Luthor). This incarnation of Superboy is very melodramatic, but not too much to turn me away. The problem with the second volume collection is that the Superboy series is tied in so closely with Teen Titans and Legion Lost that there were a lot of cross-over stories making this volume confusing as hell as a standalone story. In order to get the complete tale I’d need to get Teen Titans and Legion Lost and frankly I’m not interested in the story enough to do that. August 2013.

3.      Supergirl: Volume 2, Girl in the World by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Mahmud Asrar
This treatment of Supergirl isn’t as sexist as others (just search “Powergirl costume” and you’ll see what I mean), but it’s not without its faults. Her costume is a bathing suit, and with blonde hair and blue eyes she’s more of a sex symbol than action hero. How is her skin tight bathing suit with cape supposed to be Kryptonian armor? All someone would need to do is aim at her legs and she’d be a goner. The story is decent, but is full of the fish out of water tropes as Supergirl is trying to get adjusted to life on earth. It’s decent, but not anything special. August 2013.

4.      At Home in Mitford (Number 1 in the Mitford Years series) by Jan Karon
My mother and grandmother LOVED this series. If you know my mom or knew my grandmother, that’d be enough of a review. The book series follows an Episcopal priest, Father Tim, as he struggles with turning sixty, diabetes, new love in his neighbor, balancing his personal life and ministry, and deals with the craziness of small town parish ministry. The book is full of cheesy moments, and the whole town of Mitford is a self-professed love of the pastoral genre, the town being practically a paradise with no crime (except for outsiders that later find Jesus and repent), no significant illnesses (except for the rector who has to learn to manage diabetes), and rich parishioners that see to the church’s financial needs, even gifting the church a heft multi-million dollar sum to build a new nursing home. Having spent much of my life in rural congregations, the whole thing just seemed to fake and idealistic for me to really enjoy (and also full of pietistic theology, which gets on my nerves). The characters are compelling though, which tempts me to at least consider reading the second in the Mitford Years series. August 2013.

Currently Reading
Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King
Three Treatises from the Edition of Luther’s Works by Martin Luther, various translators
When I was a Child I Read Books: Essays by Marilynne Robinson

Up Next
Doctor Who Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Apocalypse Now and Then: A Feminist Guide to the End of the World by Catherine Keller

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Disney Infinity: Infinite white guys, limited diversity

Disney Infinity is perhaps one of the most enjoyable and addicting games I have ever played. The game is on the one hand an open-world sandbox game (á la Minecraft), on the other hand, a collecting of Disney characters element (á la an extremely expensive Pokémon—Disney Edition), on yet another hand with different Disney mini-worlds that each have their own theme, cast, and missions (á la Disney Universe), all presented in a style similar to the popular Skylanders series (how many hands was that, by the way?). Many have reviewed the gameplay, cost, and other features, but I have yet to see anyone review the game’s selection of available characters, and especially the lack of diversity in those characters.

If you’re looking for an in-depth review of gameplay, cost, or anything like that I invite you to find the plethora of published reviews already out there. I’m just going to do a brief over view of the basics of gameplay, a quick look at the play sets and upcoming releases, followed by a more in-depth overview of the lack of diversity in the characters. I also invite you to skip to the section marked “Characters” if you already know or aren’t interested in the basics of the game.

Basics of Gameplay

When one purchases the game, there are three “play sets” right off the bat: Pirates of the Carribean sees Captain Jack Sparrow try to undo his curse by Davy Jones; Monsters University has James P. “Sulley” Sullivan try to help Monsters U beat Fear Tech in a scare-off competition; and Mr. Incredible defeat Syndrome once and for all. Each of these individual play sets has about six hours of game play to beat the primary objective, with another four to six hours to beat all the side quests and find all the hidden objects, etc. Disney Infinity also has the aforementioned sandbox mode, called Toy Box, where one can have all their favorite characters interact with one another and with various toys that they unlock from the play sets, which allows for single player, multi-player (local and online), and untold hours of gameplay as one can practically craft an entire world (and even make one’s own missions and objectives) out of their available toys, which then can be shared online as well.

The figures and play sets are placed on a base that connects to one’s console, the base reads the figure(s) and play set and then uses that figure in the game. The best part is the figures are non-specific to consoles and character data is saved locally on the figure itself, meaning, I can take my Captain Jack figure off of my Xbox 360 and go to my friend’s house who only has the Wii U and play with my Captain Jack along with her Mr. Incredible on her console in her toy box. And, if my character levels up while playing on her console, when I take him home and play with him on my console, that level-up data will be saved.

That’s just in the box itself. For additional cost, one can purchase more figures and play sets for their world. Currently, one can also purchase Captain Barbosa and Davy Jones for the Pirates of the Caribbean play set, Mike Wazowski and Randall “Randy” Boggs for the Monsters University play set, and Mrs. Incredible (Elastigirl), Dash, Violet, and Syndrome for the Incredibles play set. Also, one can purchase a Lone Ranger play set that comes with the Lone Ranger and Tonto and a Cars play set that comes with Lightning McQueen and Holley Shiftwell (one can also purchase Tow Mater and Francesco Bernoulli separately).

It also should be noted that each of the characters cannot play in non-respective play sets (i.e., Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates cannot be played in the Incredibles play set), but all characters can be played and interact interchangeably in the Toy Box mode. Furthermore, each character has a unique set of abilities that make sense to their universe—Mr. Incredible is super strong, Captain Jack fights with a sword, Sulley has a scare attack.

Play Sets

The play sets are pretty fun. I’ve had the opportunity to play all of the play sets currently available except for the Cars, and each one comes with hours of fun gameplay. My favorite is the Lone Ranger set, where one gets to fight the bad guys in old-Western shoot-outs, build a train, ride horses into the sunset, all that good stuff. The Pirates set of course has pirate boats that you get to build and fight with, along with sword fighting and hidden treasure chests. Incredibles involves using super powers to take down the bad guy, but also do other hero stuff—putting out fires, saving citizens, capturing robbers. My least favorite is the Monsters University play set—that one just seems the most lackluster—going around scaring people, pulling college pranks like throwing fireworks into dorm rooms, stuff like that.

The greatest part about the various toy sets also is the weakness of Disney Infinity: the game is a little uneven. Some play sets are great, others okay, and, at least one thus far, a little lack luster. But with at least one more play set slated for upcoming release and a whole slew of characters to come, the game seems to have something for everybody.

Upcoming Releases

The unique thing with Disney Infinity having character data saved on the character figures and play sets being activated by play set statues is that there is potential for a lot of expansion to the current lineup of characters and play set worlds. Already slated for release is a Toy Story in Space play set which will include Jessie and Buzz, with Woody available separately. Other figures that are confirmed to be released, which may or may not come with play sets, are Rapunzel from Tangled, Phineas Flynn and Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb, Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Wreck-It-Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph, Sorcerer Mickey from Fantasia, and Anna and Elsa from Disney’s upcoming computer animated film Frozen. These are just the characters already confirmed to be released—who knows if future updates to the game will allow for additional figures and play sets? As the tagline for the game reads, there truly does seem to be “infinite possibilities.”


The single most-disappointing piece of the game for me is simply the lack of diversity in the characters. At start-up, there are only three female characters available, all of which have to be purchased separately from what one receives in the basic starter pack. These characters, Holly Shiftwell from Cars, and Violet and Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles provide little female representation in a game where the remaining FOURTEEN characters are all men (if male cars count as men?).

In addition to that, there is only one character that is not white or without race (I’m just going to go ahead and say that the cars from Cars and monsters from Monsters University are without race, although one could argue that they are white too if one goes off of their voice actors). The only character that is not white is Tonto from The Lone Ranger, who is Native American (although, it could also be argued that he is white since he is portrayed in the film by Johnny Depp).

This could be written off as a reflection of the state of women and people of color in film today if we were talking about any universe other than Disney. Disney-Pixar has made it a point to include a diverse cast of characters, including strong female characters like Mulan or Merida, and just look at the diversity of the princess: Mulan is Chinese, Jasmine is of Near-Eastern/Middle-Eastern descent, Tiana is African-American, and Pocahontas is Native American. With the popularity of the Disney Princesses franchise (including toys, video games, books, and straight to DVD films), I find it interesting that there is no mention of a Disney Princesses expansion for the game and that of all the princesses, only Rapunzel is slated for release (Rapunzel? Really? Don’t get me wrong, Tangled is a great movie. But still). Of course, the Disney Princesses line raises its own concerns (always a princess, never a queen for one), but many of the princesses are very strong female characters who do not rely on a man to save them (just off the top of my head I can think of Belle, Mulan, and Merida… Hell, Merida doesn’t even have an accompanying prince!).

And it’s not just that Disney Interactive Studios picked films with limited diversity for the game. Frozone was a very popular superhero in The Incredibles film, but is strangely absent from the game. And with the Incredibles having practically every other character playable or at least making a cameo from the movie, it’s very odd that Frozone doesn’t even get a cameo, much less a separate figure. Even the film’s villain got picked over the witty, sarcastic, and popular black superhero Frozone. Of course, licensure may be involved, but not even a cameo? Really? Really. In the Pirates franchise, Elizabeth Swann was a main character for three of the four films, and Tia Dalma, who is the Caribbean avatar for the sea goddess Calypso, would have been an awesome playable addition to the game.

At least we have hope for the future: out of the twelve identified characters awaiting release for the game, five are female. Unfortunately, none are of color.  But Disney recently bought Star Wars and has the Marvel Cinematic Universe in tow, which may also be pulled from for this game.

Side note: Can you imagine Princess Leia and Mace Windu fighting against Nick Fury and Black Widow? Now throw in Mrs. Incredible and Sorcerer Mickey into the mix. That truly would be an epic game, and if licensure allows, Disney Infinity might just be that game.

So, who knows what we will have when all is said and done. Disney Infinity continues to be selling well, and hopefully, we will see more diversity in upcoming releases.