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Friday, 20 June 2014

Shaking to the New!

MercyMe have had a pretty good history of releasing some great music. Most Christians will know at least a couple of their songs, and a lot of people will have heard of their hit I Can Only Imagine. However, their latest offering looks to be their best yet.

Welcome To The New starts off with the title track, and it's full speed ahead. The song is about realising that there is no need to try and win God's approval; God loves as just as we are. It's a fun, fast-paced song, and sets the album off to a great start. It keeps up the tempo with "Gotta Let It Go", a song that's a little bit heavier, a little bit sparser with the lyrics, but still with as much energy to it as the previous. This song talks about needing to let go of the past life, rather than trying to hold on to it all. The next song - "Shake" - is the single of the album, with a music video viewable here. It's got a very different feel to it, but still isn't slowing down. This one is more about the 'oomph' factor than lyrically being deep - the song is talking about being alive and being changed by God, and how that transformation happens. Our next song gives us some space to breathe, and by now we need it! "Greater" is the second single on the album, and it's at a much slower pace. However, it's still got some drive behind it, and the lyrics really speak deeply. This one focusses in on 1 John 4:4; "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." It's about saying that the lies of the Devil about who we are are just that - lies. God is bigger than the Devil, and God is bigger than our pain. We continue at a similar pace with "Finish What He Started", where the lyrics talk about God working in us until the end; never giving up on us. The pace starts to pick up a bit with "Flawless", another lyrically quick number, that talks about how redemption has wiped us clean of our sins. It brings in nicely a couple of spots from Amazing Grace. Then we get right back into it with "New Lease On Life", and I'm not quite even sure what to call this one. It's a bit dirty, maybe a bit country, a bit loud. It's fun, and the sort of song you start singing along loudly to in the car before really realising what you're singing. This one twists around the YOLO craze to say - well, actually, we live twice, because of what God's done for us. The next one is a bit more of a soulful ballad, called "Wishful Thinking". It talks about how what God has done for us might seem incredible, but it's not wishful thinking - it's real, it's true. It's why it's called amazing grace. The penultimate track, "Burn Baby Burn", might remind you of another number with the title - but the song is very different. It plays cleverly with timing and the music; the lyrics are about being the light of the world, and burning in the darkness. The final track, "Dear Younger Me", is a story told from the perspective of the singer, speaking to his younger self. It's quieter, but still has a beat to it. It's a beautiful ending note, and it leaves you wanting more.

Good job if you got through all of that. That's one thick block of text.
Overall; this is my favourite CD at the moment, so I'm very, very biased. But I think this is one of the best albums I've heard in a long time. Each song is different; it's not just the same thing over again, and it's not just the same as their older material. And while the pace never drops down completely, it gives you enough space to breathe without losing your focus. Because none of this is background music. This is sing-along music, really sit down and listen to it music. And that's the other reason I love it - because of the depth and thought behind the lyrics. You can feel it in the songs, and it's so evident in the album how much time and energy has been put into it.
Another reason why this has been so big for me has simply been when it's come out. This year has been a year of the new for me, as I talked lengthily about in a post earlier this year; and these songs have just spoken right to where my heart is at at the moment. And my head. Which is good too.

Tl;dr - the album is really, really good. Go buy it. No, seriously, go buy it. It's awesome.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Immersion or Interaction?

In the RPG gaming world, there are two (very broad) categories; interactive (which encompasses all tabletop games, as well as forum interaction and the like) and immersive (video games; console or PC). And these two categories have very dedicated followings; very different approaches; and very different goals. 

Interactive games are primarily focused on engaging the player with other players. As such, there is often mechanics within the game that pits players against each other, or gets them to band together. In many of these games, there is intentional comedy used to help interaction, or opportunity for this to arise in the form of player-driven narrative. Immersion with the game, however, is secondary; players are always very aware that it is a game world, and while they may be taken up by a good story, there is little or no immersion in the game itself - partly due to player interaction, as well as environmental distraction. As such, they are focused more on fun, competition or community than story, philosophy or intense experience. 

Immersive games, on the other hand, are primarily focused on engaging the player with the game or story itself. It does this through the use of immersive audio and music, visual effects, and often a near-cinematic experience. The story is paramount; and at times, player engagement with the story and characters within it can become a very tangible emotional connection. As such, these games can attempt to introduce moral, philosophical and other ideas to the player; sometimes with the intent to convince, at other times simply to inform, or to help people understand. Interaction with other players, however, is either non-existent or very secondary to the main story and experience. And so, we have a focus on the meaning, story and experience, rather than interacting with other players and having a good time. 

It is fair to note, at this point, that there have been some attempts to blend these genres together, or bridge them. The MMORPG genre has grown significantly, and while this is both immersive and interactive, it does neither well. The interaction is hampered by the lack of face-to-face contact, and the immersion is hampered by the lack of emotional connection to the fading story; it is impeded by the interaction. While there are some immersive games (more and more, recently) that do have a multiplayer component, these parts do not try to have a story to themselves. They stay true within the main story, but they are primarily focused on interaction. It could also be argued that they cease to be an RPG at this point, and are instead a shooter. But that's another discussion. 

Each of these categories has their strengths; each has their weaknesses. One is made to tell a story to one; the other to bring people together to make a story. One creates an experience with you and for you; in the other, together, you are the experience.
And we can try to make our interactive games more immersive, certainly; we can attempt to make our immersive games interactive (arguably counter-intuitive). But ultimately, we cannot do both well in the same space. We can love both one and the other, certainly; but we do need to recognise which one we are looking for at any given time. Do we want a story? Do we want to have fun with friends? Do we want an experience? Do we want to make the story however we like?

Thankfully, we are never stuck with just one, because both are important. But next time you want to buy a game, or play a game - think about what it is that you're looking for.