Metaphors and Mad Science

Today’s blog is a guest post, presented by a friend from my critique group. 

Guest blog by Jeff Shaevel

mad_science_1

Writers are constantly working with metaphors. Sometimes they’re direct, as in the phrase ”a tsunami of information.” Sometimes they’re indirect, as in Harry Potter, when J. K. Rowling uses the character Buckbeak as a metaphor for another character (Sirius Black) because both were persecuted for crimes they didn’t commit. Metaphors are powerful tools for improving readers’ experience by comparing to the known (the force of a tidal wave) or to something easier to relate to (the mistreatment of a beloved animal).

There’s another place where metaphors are important: game design. There are many abstract games—such as checkers, Go or most card games—that have no metaphor. The pieces are pieces. The rules are actions to be performed. No effort is made to relate the activity to anything in our world.

Many games, however, are enhanced with metaphors that give context, and sometimes they help make better sense of arbitrary rules. Chess, for example, has a military metaphor, the battle between two armies tearing each other apart and attacking the enemy king. Furthermore, the knight is usually represented by a horse (or figure on horseback) to help remind the players that, like the animal from which the metaphor is drawn, the piece can jump over other pieces.

In designing a game, picking the right metaphors can make all the difference in how much fun players have or how engaged they are in the action. “Chutes and Ladders”—a Milton Bradly game adapted from an ancient Indian game of “Snakes and Ladders”—depicts images of children performing good deeds, which result in a reward of climbing a ladder to further progress, and images of bad deeds, which result in falling down a chute to lose progress. A trivial exercise in shifting tokens becomes a series of stories about the consequences of good and bad actions, and much more fun.

My other half recently created a dice game and it took some effort to find the right metaphors to make the game both entertaining and educational. The game is “Mad Science!” and uses dice with scientific symbols (like atoms, beakers, and test tubes). The objective is to roll the dice to make sets of matching symbols. The more items that match, the higher the score. You can keep rolling, but dice that don’t match go into a “waste pile” and if, over time, more symbols end up matching there than you’ve scored, your lab explodes and you lose points paying to clean it up!

The game could have been about regular numbered dice and matching numbers, but the metaphor of the “waste pile” both makes it easier to remember the rules and gives people the opportunity to talk about science, experiments and the risks of explosions.

There is a campaign to get the game published, by the way. Please check it out on Kickstarter and let us know what you think.

What metaphors have increased your reading (or gaming) enjoyment?

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Can I Really Say I “Read” An Audiobook?

img_7913Up until the last few years, I never listened to audiobooks. There are a lot of reasons that don’t have anything to do with snobbery: I retain more when I read vs. listen, my mind wanders more when I listen, it’s harder to go back and re-read passages, I can’t highlight, etc.

But the bigger reason, for me, is that listening to audiobooks seemed kind of passive to me. I don’t love TV, primarily because I know that my brain isn’t doing much if I’m just consuming a show. I worried that audiobooks had that same passivity.

It’s silly, because if I think about it, listening to audiobooks is actually harder work for me than reading a book the traditional way. It requires me to direct my concentration in a way that’s much more automatic for me in traditional reading.

I decided to look it up, to see how audiobooks are consumed by the brain. Rather than wondering and worrying about it, I looked to the science. Here’s a good article on it, but the bottom line is that your brain sees them essentially the same way.

I’m not the only one asking this question. When I did an internet search about audiobooks vs. traditional reading, apparently many people struggle with this issue.

I keep a list of how many books I read each year, and two or three of them for the past two years have been audiobooks. I’ve actually struggled with whether or not to “count” them.

What’s the point of reading a book? For me, it’s about enjoyment. In some cases, it’s about learning. It’s also to synthesize information and be able to discuss it meaningfully with others. I can do all that with audiobooks.

I recently reread On Writing, by Stephen King. (Great book, incidentally, even if you’re not a writer.) He reads tons of books, and casually mentioned that he also reads audiobooks. If it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me. Once I gave myself permission to look at audiobooks as reading, I started seeing chunks in my day where I could be reading: doing yard work, in the car, cleaning up the kitchen… the list goes on.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Where do you stand on audiobooks vs. traditional books?

I’d Rather Believe the Best

It seems like every time we turn around, people are doing awful things to other people.  Terrorists set bombs and kill people.  Police harm people.  Racism happens.  Politicians lie and sling mud.  We see these things in the news, so it seems like this is how people are, that it’s the norm.

Some people put me down because I don’t watch/ read the news regularly.  I don’t keep abreast of current events.  When I try to speak on a subject, I’m accused of not knowing what I’m talking about.

Not watching/ reading the news is a deliberate choice.  Much of what’s reported by large news sites is the worst of the worst about humanity.  No wonder people are suspicious of others.  No wonder people don’t want to help their neighbors.

I saw a meme this morning about people saying that others should help homeless vets before bringing in refugees.  That allowing refugees into the US will also bring terrorists.  The problem with this line of thinking is that our government isn’t doing a lot to help homeless vets.  When we see photos and hear about the problems of homelessness with our veterans, it’s heartbreaking and overwhelming.  People don’t know where to start to help.

A church in Portland opened a small homeless shelter for vets and allows them to bring their dogs.

A program in West Virginia helps veterans pay rent so that they don’t become homeless.

Here’s a news article about a police officer who bought a homeless man shoes.

Here’s an article about a homeless man providing food to other homeless people. 

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

-Edmund Burke

The other day, I was at a traffic light and was approached by a man who handed me a slip of paper saying that he was soliciting money for a homeless shelter.  It looks legit, and it has a website.  Whether or not it is legit, I usually give people $1 or $2.  Why do I do that?  They could be drug addicts.  They could be running a scam.  They could be whatever.

True.  But what if they’re not?  What if that $1 means they can get a meal or a bottle of water?  What if it means they have bus fare to get to a job interview?

I can afford that dollar.  I never give anything I can’t afford.  Not money, time, energy, love, etc.  So I won’t be upset if I find out it was used for something I don’t approve of.  Even if that person is going to use the money for alcohol or drugs, maybe my giving it to him or her prevents them from breaking into someone’s car later that night.  Maybe it prevents them from stealing a purse.  I don’t know.  I don’t have all the answers.  But I’d rather assume the best about people.

I don’t feel that it’s okay for you to complain unless you’re helping.  That doesn’t mean that you have to be doing big things.  You could give one person a pair of shoes or an apple.  It’s east to say “someone else” should do it.  They should; you’re right.  But they’re not.  And if you aren’t either, then you’re part of the problem.

This has become kind of a long post, and I have more to say, so I’m going to talk about the refugees tomorrow.

I’d love to have a discussion, so please, if you have thoughts on this, leave a comment.

 

Feel Good Friday

Happy Friday!

_DSF4864Movers help domestic violence victims move for free.  It’s a service offered by some moving companies in some states.

A woman strips down to her underwear and encourages people to draw hearts on her body to promote positive body image.  Another woman did the same thing, because she wondered if it would be as positive an experience for an overweight woman, and it was.  I love this, and hope that it helps people accept themselves and others.

An officer gets a dose of appreciation when a child insists on buying his breakfast.

Camping with dogs is a new Instagram thing.  I love it because it combines two of my favorite things.  Check out the dog in the backpack… too cute!

Nonprofit organization builds Halloween costumes around wheelchairs so that kids with disabilities can have cool costumes.

Change your focus; change your attitude.  Good news is all around us, if you’re willing to see it.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Feel Good Friday

It’s Friday, the start of the weekend.  Keep your focus positive, and remember that there are many amazing people out there.

Roatan, Honduras Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Roatan, Honduras
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Police in Massachusetts are using money seized from drug dealers to fund rehab for people who come to the police station and voluntarily turn in their drugs.  They’ve helped over 100 addicts in two month.  This is an amazing program that focuses on helping people rather than punishing them.

A 9 year-old stood up to protesters at a gay pride parade.  I’m not a fan of when people respond to peaceful protesters in a hateful way; I think that’s an example of being intolerant of other people’s opinions.  However, I think this kid responded to the protesters in exactly the right way.  He stood in front of their signs with a bunch of balloons, blocking them so they couldn’t be read.  No hatefulness or negativity was exchanged.  You go, kiddo!

Doctors are studying near-death experiences, and showing that people experience something after the brain stops functioning.  Very interesting article if you’re interested in learning more about this.

Formerly abused dogs, many of them used in dogfighting, show that they deserve a second chance.  This is a story about dogs who’ve been rescued and shown that they can overcome the past.

The Rock is someone who appears in the news from time to time as a good-guy-celebrity.  He recently spoke at the graduation of inmates from a voluntary prison boot camp program.  This was my first time hearing about it, but in Florida, they’ve allowed some men convicted of crimes to attend a boot camp to help them become better citizens, rather than serve sentences in prison.  Where do I start to gush about how wonderful this is?  I could go on and on, but many studies show that prison sentences don’t deter crime.  Programs that rehabilitate do.  *stepping off soapbox*

Be amazing today.  Smile at someone for no reason.  Be forgiving instead of judgmental.  Be the best you that you can be today.

Be the Rain

Waterfall in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Waterfall in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I think we’ve all been in a situation where we desperately want to make our words understood, but for whatever reason, the person we’re speaking to can’t hear us.  It’s a definite temptation to get louder, more animated, and more insistent.  I can tell you that from my own experience, and from what others have told me, it almost never works.

“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

― Rumi

This is such a lovely quote for so many reasons.  First off, it’s true.  Second, I want to be the person who meets every situation with grace and poise.  I’ll never forget the story of the man who tried to publicly shame a Sikh woman on Reddit, and instead of responding with anger (which would have been totally justified), she responded in such a beautiful way that even though I read this story three years ago, it still hasn’t lost its impact on me.

I aspire to be the rain.

As you start your Monday, take a moment to think about who you want to be, and then remember that as you go forward and interact with the world.