Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The exhilarating and humbling sport of En Garde fencing

In the past few months, as I have gotten more and more enmeshed in the sport of En Garde fencing, I have made a wonderful and a terrible discovery. The wonderful discovery is that I seem to have some sort of knack for this sport. The terrible discovery is that the unpredictability of the sport seems designed to occasionally drive me round the bend.

For those not familiar with it, En Garde is an SL game that is simultaneously an animated fencing match and a card game of skill, strategy, and statistics. And luck. There's no small part of luck. The programming of the game randomizes the cards you receive to make your attacks, retreats, lunges, and parries. Sometimes you get cards that allow you to make clear-cut winning moves. More often, you have to do a quick mental calculation of the relative risks of various possible moves, and then take your best shot, hoping the odds are with you. Practice, skill, and strategy help you to make the most out of good cards, and to survive many mediocre hands. But sometimes the luck of the draw is definitely running against you and in your opponent's favor, and all the skill in the worlds can't save your game.

I have been taking my first steps into En Garde league tournament play, and had been doing well enough to please me--right in the middle of the pack, making it into the bottom of the finals before getting eliminated. Until this week, where I had such a thunderous string of losses that I swear I was close to pitching my saber in the trash barrel.

The human psyche has a naive grasp of statistical randomness, ascribing somewhat superstitious significance to lengthy winning or losing streaks when both are well within the long-term pattern of randomness. My rational self grasped that my losing streak could be plain and simple bad luck. My dratted ego, however, was irrationally enraged that I could be doing everything I usually did, and suddenly have none of it work. Had I suddenly started playing more poorly? Had my opponents somehow increased in skill, leaving me in the dust? I just couldn't get myself to accept that this time round I was near the bottom of the list of players and shut out of finals before the round was halfway through.

Finally I went and enrolled in a separate fun one-day tournament for tinies--put on my favorite tiny purple tiny tiger av, did a few rounds of Riverdancing with the other tinies to get in the mood, and then had at it--and beat a couple of high-ranking players before I finally washed out in a fiercely-fought 5-4 game. As I played, I made a point of noting how often I had to take risky moves--and how often, this time, the risks turned out to my benefit. Yes it felt good to break the losing streak, score some wins against really good players, and confirm that my skills were in fact still intact and growing. But it also felt humbling to realize to what extent my wins this time were just as random as my losses earlier in the week.

So--let's hear it for a sport that exercises not only the brain muscle but also the strength of the ego against the slings and sabers of outrageous fortune. Not to mention the fact that one always looks more dashing with a sword in one's hand.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A rezday celebration for a Lionized Caledonian; a film that helps define "steampunk"?

Attended a delightful and festive 5th rezday celebration for Miss Kamilah Hauptmann, Vicereine of Caledon, put on by Miss Eva Belambi in Winterfell Anodyne. Terrific tuneage was spun by my favorite DJ, Miss Magdalena Kamenev; and Lady Kamilah entertained us greatly by displaying her various "looks" over the past five years, and then enticing a few select partiers to cavort with her on a dance pole spirited into the hall for the occasion. Mr. Jayleden Miles was one such cavortee; the thrill of this invitation apparently so overcame him that he crashed off the grid and sadly was not able to rematerialize for the rest of the party. Despite the great number of people who turned out, however, we had few other crashes, and a merry time was had by all.

Meanwhile, my typist has recently been amusing himself by re-watching a film from his childhood (in his timestream), by the title of "The Great Race." This movie, an attempt by director Blake Edwards to capture the essence of old-time movie comedies, is a big ol' shaggy-dog story with lots of slapstick, derring-do and homages to everything from Laurel and Hardy two-reelers to The Prisoner of Zenda. And it has a wonderful foursome of lead actors in the persons of Tony Curtis playing the immaculate hero; Natalie Wood playing the feisty femme fatale; Jack Lemmon playing the moustache-twirling villain; and Peter Falk the villain's dim-witted henchman. Further, between the four of them they have some of the most memorable one-liners and recurring gags in moviedom (just to give one example, Lemmon's repeated command to Falk to "press the button, Max," following by the former's howls of rage when the button inevitably backfires with disastrous results).

As I watched this movie with my typist, however, I couldn't help but be struck by how much its spirit reminded me of my favorite places in the SL Steamlands, especially Caledon. There were Victorian manners and mores; there was mad science, and a mad scientist, and things that went BEWM; there were adventures into frontiers and wildernesses where the order and culture of the towns gave way to pioneer practicalities; there were acts of heroism and villainy, swordfights and pie-fights; a little romance, and a lot of comedy; and stunning outfits for days and days. (Edith Head did the costume designs for the film--nuff said.)

I have had occasion, in various conversations in the Steamlands, to be drawn into discussions as to what is the nature of "steampunk" -- a perhaps futile line of discourse since defining such fast-changing terms of fashion can be like attempting to nail jello to the wall. But now, at least, the next time someone asks me my opinion of what constitutes steampunk, I can respond by saying "well, I dunno what it is for you, but as far as I'm concerned, this movie starts to cover the territory."

One problem, though: for the moment, I am now obsessed with the possibility of staging scenes from "The Great Race" within Caledon. Wonder how I'd look all in white, like Tony Curtis' character The Great Leslie? Now to find someone to play Jack Lemmon's Professor Fate.