Within a dismal, dreary forest, a large pond, one amongst many, blocks the path. My character cannot swim; he stands hesitantly at the water’s edge hoping to spot a way across. Bodies, children’s bodies, float in the water. It’s a grotesque scene, but my character is quite the utilitarian. The bodies would serve as excellent floatation devices. Just as the boy makes the leap, he witnesses another child staggering towards the pond. Right before his very eyes, the other child stumbles into the murky water and drowns. For no apparent reason.

Scenarios such as the one above define the game, LIMBO. Set in a cruel, cold world abounding with monsters and death traps, LIMBO is the stuff of nightmares. Most other games present death as an innocuous hiccup, “Oh, you’ve run out of energy. Here’s a cutscene of your character fainting.” This game is different. Get caught in a trap, and you’ll witness a most pleasant scene of your little character getting stabbed, beheaded, dismembered, minced, electrocuted, crushed, drowned… whatever you can imagine. You cannot escape. And then, there’s the spider…

People will frequently allude to LIMBO when the topic of ”Videogames as Art” emerges. Certainly, the aesthetic design with its black and white color palette, muted grays, and misty whites warrants such commendation. There’s an almost dreamy, otherworldly quality to the game. The soundtrack too with its subtle monotone and striking notes at just the right moments creates a most eerie atmosphere. Sound effects certainly contribute. You can hear the boy’s every step as he navigates first the forest and then an industrial world. His desperate pants seem to echo in your ears. But I believe the gameplay itself designates LIMBO as a work of art.

In one particular level, I got caught in a trap where the first pressure plate is a safe zone but the second activates a trap. Not much farther along, I encountered a trio of young boys with poison darts. They pursued me as I backtracked all the way to the aforementioned pressure plates. I watched, gleefully, as my pursuers were crushed in the trap that I had succumbed to only seconds before. It was a sort of vindictive delight.

Then, I paused. Why would I be feeling such things? This emotion wasn’t the catharsis of completing a puzzle. It was more a smug acknowledgement that, yes, I had fallen for that very trap, but now I could wield that knowledge against those who would seek to hurt me. I had wondered about the boys that I had encountered. Who were they? What were they doing here? Why were they attacking me? They made it personal. And so they had to die. Not many games can bring at emotions like these.

This interaction with other beings in the first half of the game leads me to deem it a masterpiece. Unfortunately the second half didn’t impress me. Sure, the puzzles involving spinning rooms and gravity buttons were rather interesting, but something was lacking. They were just complicated puzzles, nothing more. (Time-based to boot, which I hate. There is nothing more frustrating than having to repeat a level because you jumped a fraction of a second too late.) The enemies reside only in the beginning; the second half subjects the character to inorganic obstacles. Rather disappointing. In addition, some elements of the puzzles didn’t seem that well integrated. For instance, in an early level you must retrieve a bear trap placed on the limb of a tree.

I did enjoy some of the extra elements after completing the game. Hunting for the “Easter eggs,” in this case literal eggs, allowed me to explore this 2D world even deeper. I still have yet to find the last one, which only appears after completing the game with less than five deaths, but I’m getting there. After all, there’s no point in dying.

LIMBO by Playdead

* * * * *

Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. From a state of blissful harmony in the Golden Age to a state of absolute corruption in the Iron Age, Ovid tells of “the fall of man.” He begins with the Golden Age when the Earth in its perpetual spring brims with life. Men need not labor long hours for the Earth gives freely of its fruits. The people content with their lives keep to their own lands, and so war is nonexistent; laws too have not come into being though men remain just and true regardless. Interestingly enough the lack of such laws is the first characteristic Ovid cites for the superiority of the Golden Age. 

“Golden, that first age, which, though ignorant
of laws, yet of its own will, uncoerced,
fostered responsibility and virtue;” [Metamorphoses I: 126-128]

This particular section of the Metamorphoses evokes Hesiod’s “Works and Days” *** where Hesiod too speaks of the degeneration of men through the ages. Yet, this introduction presents a sharp contrast with Hesiod’s introduction which concentrates on the carefree lifestyle of the age.

They actually lived when Kronos was king of the sky,
And they lived like gods, not a care in their hearts,
Nothing to do with hard work or grief,
And miserable old age didn’t exist for them. [Works and Days: 131-134]

Ovid unlike Hesiod writes from a Roman perspective where the establishment of law is considered the mark of civilization. It is likely that Ovid uses his introduction to take a jab at the politics of the Roman Empire. After all, what need do the inherently virtuous have of laws? This will not be the first of Ovid’s criticisms towards his government (which had exiled him.) It is one reason why the Metamorphoses is referred to as a “mock epic”; for Ovid will often include satire if he feels there’s a point to be made.

“Last was the age of iron: suddenly,
all forms of evil burst upon this time
of lesser mettle; modesty, fidelity,
and truth departed; in their absence, came
fraud, guile, deceit, the use of violence,
and shameful lusting after acquisitions.” [Metamorphoses I: 172-177]

The poem progresses and the race of men descends into utter chaos and depravity. In Ovid’s work, this change is not sudden; men devolve over time to reach this state. Hesiod on the other hand tells of multiple creations; as each age dies out, the gods create the race of men anew. But the most startling contrast between the two is Ovid’s omission of a fifth age, the Age of Heroes. Aside from the disruption to the metallic allusion, why does Ovid decide on such a course?  The answer may depend on a difference in perspective.

“I wish
I had nothing to do with this fifth generation,
Wish I had died before or been born after,
Because this is the Iron Age. [Works and Days: 201-204]

Hesiod bemoans his fate to have been born into the Age of Iron, when men are forgetting all virtue and honor. For him, the Age of Heroes amounts to the “good old days.” He expects, when all good has finally disappeared from the world, Zeus will eradicate humanity and once again recreate them. It’s a pessimistic view but legitimate. Works and Days and Theogony were probably composed towards the end of the Greek Dark Ages when the fallout from the collapse of Bronze Age civilizations was still apparent. It would have been a miserable time to live. Ovid on the other hand lives during the Pax Romana and belongs to a household of relative wealth. The Age of Iron for Ovid is a feature of the mythological past, certainly not a daily reality.

The rhetoric of the passage seems simple at first: gold is good, iron is bad. Then, Ovid upends the world he has just established.

For iron, which is harmful, and the more
Pernicious gold (now first produced) create
Grim warfare, which has need of both; [Metamorphoses I: 190-192]

Ovid links gold and iron together. No longer is gold the good metal, it is a metal even more evil albeit in a subtler manner than iron. The desire for wealth and material possessions is the root of evil. To assign value to something is to contribute to the evil in the world. What does this say about assigning value to the ages of men?

*** Translation by Stanley Lombardo

 

“And even though all other animals
Lean forward and look down toward the ground,
He gave to man a face that is uplifted,
And ordered him to stand erect and look
Directly up into the vaulted heavens
And turn his countenance to meet the stars;” [ I : 118-123]

Trans. by Charles Martin

Metamorphoses Cover

All of existence arose out of chaos, or so claims Ovid in his Metamorphoses. But this so-called “orderly” world has not forgotten its original nature as reflected in this compilation of Greek and Roman myths. Tragic yet comedic, thoughtful yet parodic, the epic flows, almost imperceptibly, from one extreme to another as it traverses the ages. It contains no central hero, no linear plot, and no unifying theme except that of transformation. Change is the one constant: an ironic concept for an ironic work. Categorizing Ovid’s Metamorphoses in its entirety amounts to a Sisyphean task; the challenge lies in its sheer scope. This work attempts to convey all of human existence, all of the joy, sorrow, love, hate, desire, anger, despair, and hope.

But I believe the key to understanding Ovid’s magnum opus lies within the passage above. The ability to stand and gaze upon the stars separates humans from birds and beasts. Those infinitesimal points of light that pierce the dark shroud of space lie forever beyond our reach but reside ever in our hearts. To gaze upon the distant and immortal stars is to become aware of a greater existence. They are beacons of stability in this ever-moving, ever-changing world.

 

With temperatures rising to bearable levels in Chiberia, I could finally engage in one of my favorite hobbies: Ice Skating. Having lived in Florida most of my life, learning to ice skate was no simple task; but I practiced enough during intermittent visits (School Field Trips) that I managed to get the basics down which means I can skate in a straight line without taking a dive. (I’m not embarrassed; some people who have lived up North their whole lives can’t even manage that much.) I have always enjoyed this once-a-year activity. So much so that my Dad bought me a pair of ice skates even though the nearest indoor rink was an hour’s drive from home.

It’s a different story, now. There’s an outdoor rink about ten minutes from my residence. Ten minutes on foot, I might add. Furthermore, I get free admission since I don’t have to rent the skates. I could finally learn to skate like a pro. Just one little problem… the weather. I don’t mind the cold that much, but a polar vortex… Forget about it! 15º F is about as low as I can handle without a parka, and I don’t like to skate looking like the Michelin Man.

2014-02-15 14.59.37Then the temperature rose to 20º F on Saturday. Hooray! I packed my skates, tugged on my nice stylish jacket, and charged out the door. Naturally, the rink shut down for cleaning just as I arrived. With nothing else to do, I retreated indoors, sat myself on a bench, and scrolled through some Facebook pages. There’s a popular site at my school where people post their crushes. In the anonymous realm of the internet, they confess their innermost feelings that they can not express to the object of their affection. Being the day after Valentine’s, the site was overrun. Some posts were obviously jokes, but others were rather sweet. I occupied the time trying to match the descriptions to classmates I know.

2014-02-15 15.25.15At 20 minutes past the hour, the gates were open again. Carefully, I tread onto the ice. Yikes! Was I wobbly! For a moment, I feared I had lost all my skill. But after a shaky spin around the rink I realized that the ice was just rougher than I was used to. Outdoor rinks, constantly exposed to the elements, tend to have that problem. The kiddies on the ice were having the time of their lives. I had to remain on guard because the little mites were tripping up all over the place, many on purpose.

At this time, a figure skater joined the surging ranks. As I watched her elegantly maneuver through the crowds, I entertained the thought that one day I too could display such skill. I turned my attention to a skill I had struggled with on my own: skating backwards. From experience turning my ankles in and out tended to start the backwards movement, but I would have to desperately clutch the wall after only a few motions. Then I tried shuffling backwards.

2014-02-15 15.32.12I imagine I must have looked rather funny, because the rink monitor slid right up to me. He was a young man with red hair and a bright red jacket. He demonstrated the beginner’s technique. Apparently, the key to skating backwards is to keep one foot steady and move the other in a c-shaped motion. We proceeded to engage in a long conversation about where I learned to skate, my hobbies, and such before he had to return to his duties. I was on my own again.

But not for long. I don’t think 5 minutes passed before the next guy noticed my efforts and offered some advice. Then the next guy showed up and even held my hands to keep balance as I practiced this new motion. You know, I’ve heard jokes that the best way to meet boys at the skating rink is to fall and act helpless. I have to say, I didn’t actually believe it. I now stand corrected. The men were only to eager to be of assistance. With their gracious help, I managed to scoot, awkwardly, on my own.

2014-02-15 15.10.16A wintry haze obscured the sun all day. Rather mournful, one could say. But I had fun, and I’m sure my smile shone a little brighter.

EvergladesFlorida’s most iconic landscape is comprised of a massive watershed that stretches over 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern tip of the peninsula. During the wet season, the massive lake discharges excess water creating a massive slow-moving river that flows toward the sea. From this river a subtropical ecosystem of woodlands, marshes, grasslands, and estuaries emerges.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

Cypress TreeSetting out from Naples along the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41) we first encounter the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. Tucked away in a corner of the preserve, the boardwalk offers an intimate glimpse into nature and history. Here stand the few remaining virgin cypress groves in Florida. They are the remnants of an ancient ecosystem that was mostly eradicated by past logging operations. Today, the cypress trees are protected along with the other plant and animal species that call the preserve “home”.

*

Fakahatchee Strand PreserveEverglades City

2013-11-17 13.47.56 copyWe continue onward, approaching Everglades City. This little town in the middle of nowhere evokes memories of “Old Florida” before the days of air conditioning and retirees. The residents still retain memories of the town’s… colorful past. A couple of decades ago, Everglades City supported a thriving drug trade in which almost every local family was involved. Dealers delivered bales of marijuana or “square grouper” by plane and by sea, their covert actions sheltered by the expanse of swamp.Today, Everglades City caters mostly to tourists.

Speedy's Airboat Tours

Big Cypress National Preserve

2013-11-17 15.46.03 copyAs the day wears on, we turn onto an unassuming dusty dirt road. The Loop, as County Road 94 is called, leads to nowhere; it is a relic of big dreams and ruined ambition. Captian Jaudon, head of the Chevelier Company, had invested in land and agreed to fund construction of the Tamiami Trail on the condition that it be rerouted. By doing so he hoped to found “The Next Miami.” However the town never materialized and the company went bankrupt, leaving only a 24 mile long road in the wilderness behind.  

Big Cypress National Preserve

 

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