Review: Salt and Sanctuary

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“This is not dark salt,” claimed a player message at the beachhead of Salt and Sanctuary. Well, I beg to differ. Salt and Sanctuary is the most obvious and shameless Souls clone yet. But hey, it’s pretty fun. Nonetheless, let’s dig in to some criticism (from the perspective that the game is a Souls clone rather and a thing-unto-itself)

Graphics

How is a player supposed to take an anime-haired fish seriously as a protagonist in a dark and supposedly scary world? The jerky, puppet like animation (probably from Spriter) ruined any sense of connection I had to my character – I felt like I might as well go play with paper dolls. A key part of any Souls game is pride in character development and fashion.

The painted graphics looked pretty cool, but with all the bloom, transparencies, and shadow effects, the result became pretty unreadable at times. Often the torch didn’t help this problem, indicating it wasn’t an intentional game mechanic.

Writing

The text is idiomatic and pretty shallow.  This makes me wonder if the writer’s ever really done anything – let alone done anything depicted in the game. The tragedy of a good Souls NPCs is derived from the player becoming attached to them; the characters in Salt and Sanctuary are idiots and pricks – no one would care if they died. I tried to kill them, but nope – the game wouldn’t allow it. The game keeps them alive as if to parade some token imagery of tragedy in front of the player.

Another important strength of the Souls games was their self-determination. Salt and Sanctuary’s opening injunction: “I must save the princess” was paper thin – what if my character didn’t care to save the princess? Why give us so many roleplaying options in the form of homelands and covenants if the game will put words into the player’s mouth less than a minute later?

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Combat

The combat hardly gets past hack-and-slash. It’s fun, but feels a bit immaterial unless you’re wielding an much-too-large sword. This may be due to a stamina mechanic, that rather than gradually recharge, stamina waits a moment after a combo to recharge completely. This leads to more hack-and-slash, combo/stunlock approach to fighting, rather than calculation.

World

The Sanctuaries and their covenant-specific decoration are amazingly effective.

The exploration is engaging – found myself curious to find what’s next, but this all fell apart with fast traveling. The travel mechanic kept players from getting intimate with the level topology, and thereby keeps them from “living in” the world completely.

Nonetheless, Salt and Sanctuary is a fun addition to any Souls collection.

 

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Review: Gore by Deftones

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Gore is disappointing a lot of Deftones fans. “This isn’t Deftones man,” they say. Devoid of hooks, the album is also failing to penetrate into mainstream music. In spite of this reception, this album balances on a knife’s edge in style, and has very pleasing composition.

In a time when metal is stale, stylized and overproduced, this album maintains a genuine feel and candid musicality. The tone is nicely rough, almost like it’s from the 90s, but it never acts like it’s from the 90s; it sounds like a universal, timeless Deftones – they’re just downtuned and making music.

The album is composed to be listened through in one sitting; it moves from palm-muted grooves to formless choruses to contemplative clean riffs to heroic battle-charges. The composition is united by rhythmic themes of dotted notes (threes) and non-dotted notes (twos) in polyrhythms, 5/4 times, and two-against-three contrasting rhythms to achieve natural and pleasant grooves. It does so without the wanky attitude that killed djent.

I’ve never been a proper Deftones fan; maybe that’s why I’m open to their experimentation within their musical career. Careful fans: if you view your idols as statues, they will become the stale trivialities you rebelled against in your younger years.

Thanks Deftones.

Satan for Schoolchildren?

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Earlier this year I wrote about the trend of Satanic activism in the public sphere in America. This month, the trend continues in Delta, Colorado, where materials like “The Satanic Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities” are being made available to the students.TST_BigBook_1024x1024.jpg

Why? Last December, students were given Gideon Bibles at a school assembly, and children who refused to take a copy were bullied by their peers and teachers. An attorney representing the Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote in a letter to the school district: “We do not think schools should be a battleground for religious ideas, but when schools allow the Gideons to prey on children, their message of eternal damnation for any who don’t believe in their god must be countered.” In light of a recent precedent that cost a Florida school district almost $100,000 and ended with the verdict that the school district had to distribute anti-Christian literature as well, the Delta school district collaborated to provide these books to avoid cost and humiliation.

According to a school district representative, the school will distribute whatever the Satanists and atheists request as long as it doesn’t promote “hostility or violence … [and isn’t] obscene or pornographic.” Concern on this issue indicates the widespread bias held against these groups, as it is unlikely a spokesperson would offer the same warning to a Christian distributor of literature.a3rX3sL.png

Other books made available to the students include “It’s Okay to Not Believe in God,” a book on separation of church and state, and a book outlining instances of rape and obscenity in the Bible – the school censored that one with stickers. Whatever the Freedom from Religion League may say, this looks like a battleground of religious ideas.

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Wherever religion is intersecting the public sphere, atheists and Satanists are happy to jump in with demonstrations and texts with critical tone ranging from tongue-in-cheek to outright offensive. Their tactics are potent: Delta school district is considering new by-laws to remove all religiously charged materials from the classroom.

The court decisions that drive this trend express American cultural compartmentalization of religion. Everywhere, religious people are preferring to withdraw their materials and beliefs from the public sphere to prevent the Satanists and atheists to act in those spaces as well. This type of resolution might seem best to Protestant culture, or might be the plan of the Satanists and atheists all along, but is it the best solution for learning and growing children in public schools, or for the public culture of the country as a whole?

Ram Dass: Samsara veiled by Nirvana

The book BE HERE NOW by Ram Dass both exemplifies the New Age movement’s appropriation of eastern spiritual practices into a western framework of thought, and implicitly illustrates that any embodiment of a religious practice is highly influenced by the pre-existing conditions of the practitioner.

At the time of writing BE HERE NOW Ram Dass divides his life into three stages: the social science stage, the psychedelic stage, and the yogi stage. Ram Dass was born as Richard Alpert in 1931, and became a Psychology Professor and Therapist at Harvard in 1961. “I wasn’t a genuine scholar, but I had gone through the whole academic trip. … But what all this boils down to is that I was really a very good game player” (Dass). Through some of his clients, Dass was introduced to community of hip young people, with hom he engaged in material, alcoholic, and sexual orgies as release from his neuroses. “I felt that the theories I was teaching in psychology didn’t make it, that the psychologists didn’t really have a grasp of the human condition, and that the theories I was teaching, which were the theories of achievement and anxiety and defense mechanisms and so on, weren’t getting to the crux of the matter” (Dass).

Dass became in involved with Aldous Huxley’s experimentation with the effects of psychedelic drugs such as psylocybin (synthetic mushrooms) and LSD on others and themselves. Among themselves and their test subjects they developed a theoretical hierarchy of drug experience, from common heightened perceptual sensitivity, to dissolution of self, to “pure” perception of the world as energy. After a cycle of “turning on” and “coming down” Dass became conditioned to the drugs to the point he’d take five to ten times the normal dose to get a high; he felt it was time to move on, and went to India.

Bringing LSD with him and sharing with the locals in India, Dass reported that an old Buddhist Lama said: “That gave me a little headache.” Another monk responded: “That was good, but not as good as meditation” (Dass). Impressed by the guru Maharaji who could take the same doses of LSD as Dass but feel no effect of the drug, Dass became enamored with the mental acuity and fortitude of eastern traditions. With a conversion experience out of his existential misery, he changed his name and briefly studied Maharaji’s Raja Yoga before returning to the west. “Since his most recent return to the west from India he has been floating about on an ocean of love… carried by the winds of desire of beings he can serve” (Dass). He wrote BE HERE NOW in 1971 about his spiritual experience he attributes to the guru.

The core book of BE HERE NOW, titled FROM BINDU TO OJAS adopts a graphical format of presentation. Pen drawings and non-linguistic symbols accompany freely laid out type, printed on unbleached brown paper. Although many readers’ first reaction is to dismiss this as crazy, this presentation carries the reader along an abstract spiritual path that is very effective at representing the subtleties of Dass beliefs and experience. Although the meandering journey that is the book may seem unintentional as it spirals from clarity of a few words on a page to confusion with words printed over words printed over drawings, the text intentionally foreshadows its own development in subtle ways that immediately become clear upon a second reading. Figures 1 and 2 show typical pages of the book.

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Figure 1: page 57                                                        Figure 2: page 37

BE HERE NOW illustrates that individuals influence the embodiment of whatever religion they ascribe to; in addition to the invocation of Buddhist imagery such as lotus flowers, the concatenation of being, or the sound of Om (which punctuates the end of every page) the text exhibits Christian thought about the kingdom of heaven, unconditional love,  and god of infinite power and compassion, and a preoccupation with Existential concerns such as death anxiety, The Allegory of the Cave, and emptiness of identity that plagued Dass in his earlier years. His monologue refers to Aldous Huxley’s “I am I” and Istigkeit (Is-ness) discussion from The Doors of Perception. He also follows the thinking of the beat generation, asserting: “What meditation is all about is to cool you all out” (Dass). Further equation of Rama as God, all women as the Veil of Maya and thereby Sansara, and invoking Herman Hesse’s German pseudo-Buddha, Siddhartha, to solidify his arguments further illustrates the scope of Dass’s conceptual conglomeration. The book extolls its own paradoxes that arise from this wide-reaching syncretism.

Although Dass adopts an countercultural attitude to Protestantism, the book contains myriad praise for Jesus as enlightened being: “Start to live in the Tao (the Way) Jesus said: I am the way! The way is the way is the way” (Dass p. 30) Although Dass may criticize mainstream Christianity, he adopts the contemporary view of therapeutic faith, and invokes Jesus as a therapeutic figure to deal with suffering, concluding the book with: “Do you think that when christ is lying there and they’re nailing the nails in he’s saying, ‘oh man, does that hurt!’? He’s probably looking at the guy who’s nailing him with absolute compassion he digs why the cat’s doing it. … You’re standing on a bridge watching yourself go by” (Dass p. 107)

An appendix of the book refers to itself as “Cook Book for Sacred Life,” but contains a series of short essays on life rather than literal recipes. Dass puts forth a theory for successful exercise, meditation, sleeping, diet, literal eating, sex, and interior design. This fits the trend in New Age literature that presents pseudoscientific guidelines for living based on theology or aesthetic principles. A second appendix titled “Books to Hang Out With” provides a list of further reading, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Holy Bible, and the Tao Te Ching.

The book bears a graph to clearly separate itself from the “profit motive.” Figure 3 shows the mark.

 

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Figure 3: Cost Distribution

Interesting to note, the numbers in the circle chart sum to 8.88 rather 1.00, 100%, or $15.15 (the book’s cost) Given the emphasis on numerology in New Age, this 8.88 likely correlates with 888, a transliteration of “Jesus” in Christian numerology. Additionally, the cost of the book, $15.15 (an odd increment for trade) may numerologically refer to John 15:15, which can be translated as: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” This sentiment fits, as Dass chooses to name his movement the Hanuman Society. (In the Indian epic the Ramayana Hanuman is the loyal follower and friend-servant of the Hindu patriarchal figure Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu.) In BE HERE NOW, Rama was equated to God. Interestingly, Dass describes an overwhelming desire during his existential malaise to be a servant, that is, free from freedom; Dass found the role as servant-friend he desired in the God he understood through the lens of Indian spirituality. Currently, later in his life, Dass is seriously exploring Judaism to resolve his childhood dissatisfaction with himself, his family, and his culture.

His conversion experience represented in BE HERE NOW confirms that his religious writing is thematically influenced by his own development as a person. An individual’s preconceptions and needs take primacy in shaping whatever religious ideas they embody.

 

Citation:

Dass, Ram. (1978). BE HERE NOW. New York, NY: The Crown Publishing Group.