Slavic Saturday

Slavic people are today mostly seen as “white” to the point that a Polish game developer was in USA criticised for making the computer game Witcher 3 without any people of color that could be recognized as such in modern world. Similarly a few years later a Czech developer was criticised for the same thing in a game Kingdom Come: Deliverance, deliberately set in medieval Bohemia and made as historically accurate as possible.

Whilst I understand all the arguments for the importance of diversity in representation, I think all these critiques were misguided, because they were targeted at the wrong target – they criticised products of one culture from the perspective of another culture with entirely different roots.

Slavs are indeed white when you look at the color of their skin, and by Gob do we have an awful lot of white supremacists and neo-nazis today. However a white nationalist or even a neo-nazi Slav makes about as much sense as white nationalist or neo-nazi (or Trump loving) Jew.  After all, Jews have white skin too. And after all, how many Jew-hating Arabs and Arab-hating Jews know that both Jews and Arabs are in fact semitic tribes? I would venture a guess that many do not, or they do but don’t care. People are perfectly capable of being misguided, misinformed, bigoted and downright willfully ignorant and hold contradictory ideas in one head, so there is that.

Historically Slavs migrated in the Europe from east and north, displacing come celtic and germanic populations. As a result they lived mostly in the woodlands and mountains of north, central and East Europe and they were comparatively poor. They had no written language that we know of, so very little is in fact known about their culture or religion. Some knowledge can be derived from linguistics, some from written reports by neighbouring nations, some from archeology, but Slavs established themselves in Europe during the dark ages and knowledge is therefore scarce.

However it is sometimes alleged that their own name for themselves – Slovan (originating from the word sloviť=to speak) might have been the origin of the word sclavus (Lat), and later on Sklave (Ger) and  slave (En) . Because these poor people were popular sources of cheap slave labor for neighbouring Germanic and Italic tribes through the early history of Europe way over to the Ottoman Empire in Middle East later on.

And even apart from slavery, a lot of the time right from Ancient Rome and the Middle Ages until very recently most Slavic nations were second-class citizens in countries led by people of other nationalities. Only Russians have managed to be oppressors and not oppressed in this period, and ironically they mostly oppressed and sometimes even tried to exterminate other Slavs. Both Czechs and Poles did not have any independency right until the end of WW1, after which they had few short decades to get the taste of self-determination before being swept into the bloody cauldron of WW2.

Under the Third Reich the Slavs were seen as barely people. They were not targeted for outright extermination like Jews and Roma, but the intent was to put them back into their proper place – slavery (that is why I think that a neo-nazi Slav is an ignoramus and a completely daft person – if nazis got their way, he would think scrubbing floors with his own toothbrush is a posh job).

After the WW2 all slavic nations ended up being wrapped behind the Iron Curtain under the not-so subtle hegemony of USSR. This time at least it was not overtly attempted to obliterate local cultures and languages (not here anyway). But whilst the Russian rule did try and manage to instill some sense of Pan-Slavic belonging, they also managed to instill some anti russian sentiments along the way (in Poland on top of the hundreds of years long grudge Poles held against Russians from the time of the Russian Empire). And the sense of always being second class, not being allowed anything truly ours, pervaded.

In this sense, sprouting of some nationalism after the fall of the Iron Curtain was perhaps inevitable, what with the nations trying to finally re-assert themselves for good. I do think white nationalists are going about the business the wrong way, proclaiming your superiority over others is not the right thing to do and it is also demonstrably false. But I also think that Polish game developers who make a PC game packed with people who bear the typical facial features of contemporary Poles, with architecture and ornaments of medieval Slavic kingdoms and based on Slavic mythology, or Czech game developers making a game set in a very distinct and specific area of medieval Kingdom of Bohemia with focus on historical accuracy are doing nothing wrong and are indeed going about it the right way. And even though these works of art have managed to succeed on an international stage, their creators were in no way obliged to fall in step with USA culture and reflect USA racial make-up.

Those who criticised these two games for a lack of representation of POC have failed to realize that they were essentially trying to bully others into giving their own culture away and let the USA to appropriate said culture the way USA likes it. In fact, they should take these games as an opportunity to learn that “white people” are not a monolith and that outside of USA there is a lot more that defines your ancestry and your culture than the color of your skin. This way said critics were – probably unwittingly – perpetuating the USA collonialism ad absurdum, by requiring everyone everywhere to reflect contemporary social ills of USA.

We do not need nor want to do that, thank you very much. We have our own social ills to deal with.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 17 – Finale

When I have made my first, very crude, knife some twenty years ago, my friend’s father commented:

Charly, people want it to be handmade, but they do not want it to be immediately apparent that it is handmade.

That advice stuck in my mind so when I have read Feet of Clay from Terry Prattchett much later, following line resonated with me:

The thing looked like the kind of pots Igneous despised, the ones made by people who thought that because it was hand-made it was supposed to look as if was hand-made, and that thumbprints baked in the clay were a sign of integrity.

It is not impossible to get a handmade thing to look just perfect, but it takes great skill and experience and I am not there yet, although I might be heading in the right direction. The pictures hide some of the mistakes and imperfections that were not intended and are apparent – for example the blade is not symmetrical against the handle and the hand guard, so when it is in the scabbard the upper part of the guard sticks out more than the lower, and it is visible. Despite my best efforts the blade got a scratch from a grain that got somehow into the scabbard, and the handle got scratched too in the meantime. Which was inevitable if ever the knife were used, and I do intend to use it at least somehow, to see how it fares.

 

But enough of that, let me present to you the dagger of one of the most kickass characters in fantasy literature known to me, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, aka the Lion Cub of Cintra, granddaughter of queen  Calanthe Fiona Riannon of Cintra, aka the Lioness of Cintra and daughter of Pavetta Fiona Elen and Emhyr var Emreis, Deithwen Addan yn Carn aep Morvudd the Emperor of Nilfgaard. This is my interpretation of the dagger worn by her as a sidearm in the computer game Witcher 3 – I noticed that dagger right on my first encoutner with her in my gameplay and I immediately wanted to make one. I photographed it on a bobbin lace doily that my mother has just made for her sister’s birthday. Bobbin lace is period/theme appropriate and I think it provides nice contrast and improves the quality content of these pictures by no small amount.

 

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I tried to tie the leather strap as close to how it is done on the in-game model as I could manage. The only significant difference from the game model is the red leather on the scabbard, instead of brown.

 

If you look closely, here you can see that the hand guard does not stick out symmetrically on both sides of the scabbard.

 

Overall length ca. 395 mm, blade ca. 257 mm long, 23 mm wide at the guard, single-edged. Good cutting ability although not as good as a dedicated cutting blade would have. It is still a stabbing weapon.

 

Handle is turned out of maple wood. Rings are allingend perpendicularily to the blade so the shiny lignin spots are symmetricaly with it on both sides of the handle.

 

Rondel has ten hammered grooves giving it a daisy like look. All metal parts are polished to mirror finish and buffed with jeweler’s rouge.

 

Although the handle looks massive, the knife is weighed towards the tip when put on a flat surface. I guess it could be thrown, but I do not intend to try it for fear of the blade breaking.

 

My signature for knives from now on – my initials in Glagolitic script. This is also the writing used in the Witcher games, so it also thematically appropriate.

Youtube Video: Nurgle Plague Sword Build

Michael Cthulu is not a smith, he is a welder. And he does not make historically accurate replicas, he makes ridiculous, humongous swords from computer games that have no chance whatsoever to being actually functional in the real world.

But he is entertaining to watch and he has shown some tricks in his videos that are valuable to me in my workshop – like his unique working goggles with replaceable glasses.

He also seems to be a genuinely nice person, at least judging by the ammount of his products he auctions for charity ever since he makes enough money for comfortable living.

Mild content warning – the video takes almost an hour and contains half-naked and very hairy dude in his fifties doing dangerous things with fire, electricity and fast spinning machinery.

A Sad History of Monopoly.

Elizabeth Magie's 1904 board design.

Elizabeth Magie’s 1904 board design. Source and Credit. Click for full size.

 

Source.

It’s a right pity that Monopoly didn’t turn out the way Elizabeth Magie envisioned. Just goes to show that greed always wins. (I couldn’t get the twitter video to play; if you also have such problems, head to Required Reading, and scroll down to the bottom. That one works fine for me.

New Game: Foundation.

Foundation is a grid-less, sprawling medieval city building simulation with a heavy focus on organic development, monument construction and resource management.

The game features in-depth resource management akin to the Anno (Dawn of Discovery) series, expertly mixed with city building elements from SettlersSimCity, and Pharaoh all topped with narrative encounters inspired by Crusader Kings II to create the ultimate medieval ant-farm simulation!

In this strategy city-builder economy simulation game, players must create a prosperous settlement as the newly appointed lord of a region untouched by man.

Setting to redefine the city-builder genre, Foundation puts the emphasis on the organic aspects of urbanism in the cities of old, powered by Polymorph Games’ in-house game engine, Hurricane, which allows for full mod support and is optimized for the thousands of moving parts that come with building humongous cities.

Among other things, the engine provides the player with robust building tools to create countless unique monuments that can then integrated into your settlement.

With medieval architecture and urbanism at the forefront of its design, Foundation’s vision is to allow players to recreate cities of that period as they envision them or even as they really were.

You can read and see more about Foundation at Medievalists, or just head straight to the Kickstarter, which has garnered much more than the initial ask.

David Lynch Teaches Typing.

A lesson from David Lynch Teaches Typing (image via rhinostew.itch.io, used with permission).

A lesson from David Lynch Teaches Typing (image via rhinostew.itch.io, used with permission).

Have trouble typing? Perhaps this surreal typing game with David Lynch will help. Or perhaps not.

Super Mario tried to teach me how to type correctly when I was a kid, as did a required semester of typing at my high school, yet I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I continue to always look at the keyboard and only use about half my fingers (unevenly favoring my right hand). So when I found out there’s a new typing game taught by a pixelated version of filmmaker David Lynch, I thought this might finally be my chance to learn.

Available as a free download for both Mac OS and Windows, David Lynch Teaches Typing is the brainchild of Los Angeles-based filmmaker Luke Palmer — “no relation to Laura,” he clarified in a phone interview, ensuring me that Palmer is, in fact, his real last name. Palmer and his collaborator, developer Hyacinth Nil, used to work at an after-school program together, where they came across a ridiculous game called Cooldog Teaches Typing. Later, when Palmer spotted a video game where one of the levels took place inside the Red Room from Twin Peaks, he had an “aha” moment. Palmer and Nil worked on the game for about five months before releasing it earlier this month.

You can read and see more at Hyperallergic.

Sylloge Tacticorum.

A scene of Byzantine warfare from the Madrid Skylitzes.

A scene of Byzantine warfare from the Madrid Skylitzes.

Medievalists has some interesting excerpts from the Sylloge Tacticorum, a Byzantine handbook on military tactics.

Besides noting the standard ways of attacking and defending, the author of this manual also includes several methods to cunningly strike at an enemy, although he does not personally approve of them. He writes:

We compiled this book judging that these stratagems and others of the kind should be recorded not in order to be used by us against the enemy (for I believe that they are unworthy even to be mentioned in a Christian context), but so that our generals may be able to guard against them by knowing exactly the cunning plans of the enemy concerning food and drink, especially when they encamp in enemy territory.

However, it should also be noted that the author usually does not give any defence against these schemes, which might indicate that he added them in so they could be used by the Byzantine generals – and that his moral concerns might have been exaggerated. Readers will note that these methods can be considered a form of chemical warfare, which would be targeted at the enemy when they were not expecting it.

Having read the article, I will agree that all the tactics listed are extraordinarily nasty, some with a propensity to bite the hand of those using them. The seven tactics are:

1) Putting the plague into bread loaves.

2) Poisoning the wine.

3) Sabotaging the water supply.

4) Destroying the land.

5) Withering the trees.

6) Attacking the horses with chemicals.

7) Burning weapons without fire.

For all the details of the text, you’ll need to head over to Medievalists.

Other interesting things at Medievalists:

New Game!

Released on 13 February, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an action role-playing game set in the early fifteenth-century Holy Roman Empire that has striven for historically accurate and highly detailed content.

[…]

This fairly unusual method of gameplay has attracted a lot of attention. As another reviewer said: ‘There’s no heroic swordplay here, no wizards casting fireballs, no clerics raising the dead, no orcs or dragons. This is the story of an actual civil war that raged across Bohemia in the first decade of the 15th century. Your part in it is that of a nobody struggling to survive in a land full of noblemen who couldn’t care less if you lived or died, and fellow peasants who would stab you in the back for a crust of bread.’

You can read about the game in detail, with multiple reviews here.

Collection of 3,000 medieval manuscripts now online.

Valhalla Rising: The Construction of Cultural Identity through Norse Myth in Scandinavian and German Pagan Metal.

19th Century Board Games.

“Game of The Star-Spangled Banner, or Emigrants to the United States” (1830), published by Edward Wallis.

“Game of The Star-Spangled Banner, or Emigrants to the United States” (1830), published by Edward Wallis.

Look how nice Turtle Island was before all the invaders showed up.

“Science in Sport or the Pleasures of Astronomy, A New Instructive Pastime” (1804), published by Edward Wallis.

“Science in Sport or the Pleasures of Astronomy, A New Instructive Pastime” (1804), published by Edward Wallis.

“The Royal Pastime of Cupid, or Entertaining Game of the Snake” (1794), published by Robert Laurie and James Whittle (all photos by Antoine Bootz/©Pointed Leaf Press).

“The Royal Pastime of Cupid, or Entertaining Game of the Snake” (1794), published by Robert Laurie and James Whittle (all photos by Antoine Bootz/©Pointed Leaf Press).

Fascinating board games here, and you can see so many more, and read about them at Hyperallergic. I love the Elephant, but I have a thing about them.

Toy Trends.

AFP/File / Christof Stache.

The Nuremberg Toy Fair opened yesterday, and all the hot new toy trends are making happy waves.

The Nuremberg toy fair, the world’s largest, opened its doors this week to an industry in the throes of reinvention as toymakers vie for the attention of children increasingly glued to smartphones and tablets.

With traditional toy companies torn between joining kids in the digital world or coaxing them away from their screens, here’s a look at some of the most eye-catching trends from the fair’s 69th edition.

[…]

Parents whose pleas to “play outside” routinely go unheeded may be happy to hear that nature is, apparently, in.

Be it the humble spade, magnifying glasses or DIY gardening kits, there’s no shortage of tools to get kids interested in the outdoors. One firm is even offering the chance to raise your own butterflies.

For those who’d rather not get their hands dirty, there’s Beekeeper Barbie — comes with a hive, bottles of honey and tiny bees.

[…]

The boom in board games is showing no sign of slowing as families try to turn off their screens and spend time together, said Heinrich Huentelmann, a spokesman for German giant Ravensburger.

Old classics like Monopoly and Cluedo are perennial favourites, but there’s also been a surge in games that have no winners, such as the smash hit Gravitrax where the goal is to build increasingly complex tracks for marble-type balls.

“We can’t manufacture that one fast enough,” said Huentelmann.

Also in the spotlight are “cooperation games” where the only way to win is for all players to work together to chase a mechanical cockroach from a castle for example.

[…]

Toymakers are taking the “blind bag” craze to the next level this year, betting that children will not just want to collect the ever-more elaborate mini-toys found in surprise packs, but also the matching accessories and play-sets.

Known as “collectibles”, the cheap dolls or fantasy creatures sold inside opaque packaging are essentially the industry’s answer to the “unboxing” trend that caught toymakers off guard a few years ago, when YouTube videos of toys being unwrapped mesmerised kids everywhere.

In 2017, collectibles accounted for eight percent of the global toy market, according to the NPD research firm, making the tiny toys a multi-billion-euro business.

“Kids love the surprise element and being able to trade and swap. Key for parents is the low price,” said Gary Coppen of the Headstart toy company, which is bringing out baby and pet collectibles whose gender is only revealed in water.

And, it’s predicted that Mermaids are going to be the next huge thing, edging out Unicorns. You can read all about it here.

Black Room.

The first landscape encountered in the Black Room interactive game (all images screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic).

The first landscape encountered in the Black Room interactive game (all images screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic).

The second landscape of Black Room.

The second landscape of Black Room.

Here’s an interesting game, Black Room:

The first few minutes of Black Room are a twist on my expectations. I know I’m not playing a traditional game. In fact, according the game’s homepage, I’m playing a “browser-based, narrative game about falling asleep while on your computer, on the internet,” where I play as “an insomniac on the verge of sleep, moving through shifting states of consciousness.”

Created and developed by Cassie McQuater, Black Room is free to play (with the option to donate money), and was “conceived as a feminist dungeon crawler, [and] features a majority female cast of video game sprites from the 1970s–current day.” After the game’s opening sequence — a blue light descends through a heron-filled sky before crashing to the ground and turning into a woman — my fingers are only allowed to do one thing: move my character to the right. As I do, the background comes alive with stars and fantastical birds. I’m moving through this dreamscape, alone. When I click on the “?” in the upper-right corner of the screen, I’m told, “The sky is vast. Yawning, you feel as though you’ve just woken from a long sleep. There is only one direction to travel.” Onward it is.

As a lifelong insomniac, I might have to give this one a try. You can read and see much more at Hyperallergic.

Educational Gaming: The Italian Renaissance.

In an unprecedented move to bolster innovation in learning, a new course centered around a video game was launched this fall at Texas A&M University. The course uses the video game ARTé: Mecenas, developed by Triseum. It includes faculty-led lectures and immersive game play whereby students are transported to the 15th and 16th centuries to commission works of art as a Medici banker. Students can earn one credit hour for achieving 100 percent mastery in the game.

[…]

André Thomas, CEO of Triseum and a professor at Texas A&M University, spoke about the development of the game and its applications:

“ARTé: Mecenas was created out of necessity. I was approached by a faculty member at Texas A&M, Dr. Spurgeon, who was teaching Art History Survey to non-art students. In just two semesters she had to cover 5,000 years of human art history on a global scale, which is like trying to see Europe in a speed train in a week. She wanted to provide more context and deeper meaning for her students, and thought this could be accomplished through a game. Since 97% of students play games for four hours or more every week, it seemed to be an ideal way to engage students with the course content. She came to me to help design and develop an art history game that not only would teach students about the art and its relevance, but one that also would be engaging.

You can read more at Medievalists and Triseum.

Guess Me.

Guess Me, a curious collection of enigmas, charades, acting charades, double acrostics, conundrums, verbal puzzles, hieroglyphics, anagrams, etc. Compiled and arranged by Frederick D’Arros Planché; 1879; Pott, Young and co. in New York.

Illustrated by George Cruikshank among others, this example of good old-fashioned and wholesome entertainment offers a collection of enigmas, conundrums, acrostics, “decapitations”, and a series of incredibly tricky rebuses. The preface explains that an enigma can have many solutions whereas a conundrum only has one, and that “The essence of a good conundrum is to be found in its answer, which should be itself something of a pun, a puzzle, or an epigram, an inversion of the regular and ordinary meaning of the word.”

There are 631 conundrums:

A sample, click for full size:

Oh, these are awful, and quite wonderful, well, some of them. There’s quite a bit of casual racism and misogyny to be found, too. Via The Public Domain, or you can just click right over to the book.

Minecraft and The Middle Ages: All About Teaching.

Chang’an from John Miller on Vimeo.

The simple architectural elements of the game make Minecraft ideal to be used in teaching about the Middle Ages. One example can be found in the recently published book Minecraft in the Classroom: Ideas, inspiration, and student projects for teachers – one chapter examines how John Miller, a history teacher based in California, made use of the game for Grade 7 classes learning about medieval China. The students used the game to recreate the Tang Dynasty capital of Chang’an.

“They were highly motivated and inspired by the work done by previous classes,” Miller explained. “They challenged themselves to learn more and to be better and more historically accurate builders. They created choices for building materials and debated which blocks to use for greater authenticity.”

[…]

He now is planning on enlarging the project so that students “could pass through the gates, travel north on horseback, and encounter the Great Wall. Beyond that be Genghis Khan and the Mongols. As student progress, I’ll create a pathway west that would take them along the Silk Road, with building options to support the study of trade and commerce. They would eventually end in Constantinople and then travel to Florence and learn about Renaissance Italy.”

Other teachers and educational companies have established lesson plans making use of Minecraft. At Wonderful World of Humanities on Minecraftedu.com, detailed resources are offered that allow one to use the game to do things like explore Ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria or live in a medieval castle.

With access to data, the possibilities with this game even grow further. Last year the Danish Geodata Agency used official topographical data to create a 1:1 facsimile of Denmark, including  historical places, buildings, roads and monuments. “You can freely move around in Denmark,” the agency explains, “find your own residential area, to build and tear down as you can in whichever any other Minecraft world.” Meanwhile, the New York Public Library has made it possible for users to turn one of the library’s 20,000 digitized historical maps into a Minecraft world.

There’s much more to read, and many more videos at Medievalists, have a wander!