About Daniel Podgorski

Daniel Podgorski is a Californian author, essayist, researcher, and web developer. On The Gemsbok, he provides art reviews (on books, games, and movies) and philosophy articles. His areas of expertise are literature and philosophy, with most of his academic research (as well as most of his informal research) focusing on intersections between the two. He has had poetry, short stories, and articles published in various academic and literary journals. His short fiction has placed first (and as a finalist) in both competition and conference settings.

[Game: Papers, Please, Lucas Pope, 2013]
Coherent Contradictions:

Exploring the Literary Qualities of Papers, Please from the Perspectives of the New Critics and the Russian Formalists

 

Introduction:

The self-sufficiency attributed to literature by both the New Critics and the Russian Formalists is indicative of an approach to art which renders legible, through close study, work in many fields aside from literature. Indeed, the practice of ‘close reading’ the relative coherence and ironic interplay of a work’s constituent elements can be as demonstrably successful in parsing a video game as it has been in parsing other contemporary subjects, such as film, painting, and photography.

The 2013 indie game Papers, Please, created by Lucas Pope, is perfectly amenable to analysis in this mode. This deceptively simple game centers on a middle-aged, male player-character who lives and supports his impoverished family in the dystopian country of Arstotska in 1982; he is an unwilling government employee staffing a border checkpoint, tasked with sifting the paperwork of would-be emigrants for discrepancies (as seen in fig. 1, below). Papers, Please is an expression, through both typical literary elements and unique ‘gamely’ elements, of the paradoxical situation of human agency within mechanical, menial work—and of power, even political power, within the disenfranchised individual.

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[Game: Papers, Please, Lucas Pope, 2013]
Coherent Contradictions:

Exploring the Literary Qualities of Papers, Please from the Perspectives of the New Critics and the Russian Formalists

was last modified: December 23rd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells, 1896]
Coping with Scientific Understanding:

Discoveries that can Forever Alter Worldviews in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau

 

H.G. Wells Sketch by M.R.P. - The Island of Dr. Moreau - evolution, humanity, animals, discovery

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Unlike the other most prominent early writer of science fiction, Jules Verne, who focused his fiction primarily on courageous adventure, scientific discovery, and multifaceted characters like Captain Nemo, H.G. Wells’ fiction often focused on dark themes, political allegory, and social commentary. For this reason, the most widely read of Wells’ fiction among modern audiences are those which allegorize situations or possibilities that seem most relevant today, such as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man.

But my favorite work by the man, and one of my favorite books overall, is one which is more often regarded for its potential in the horror genre than for its literary content: The Island of Dr. Moreau. A number of films have presented The Island of Dr. Moreau as horror or action, and it even had a segment in the The Simpsons‘ thirteenth “Treehouse of Horrors” episode. The film adaptations (all quite loose) are almost universally regarded as terrible, or else are enjoyable primarily for their B-movie charm and missteps. But the book is a truly remarkable one, and tugs at anxieties that many of us will understand far too well.

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[Work: The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells, 1896]
Coping with Scientific Understanding:

Discoveries that can Forever Alter Worldviews in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau

was last modified: December 23rd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Moral Obligation, Morality]
The Macroevolution of Morals:

On Fundamental Morals from Societal Evolution, and Morality as Both Objective and Not Objective

 

Introduction:

Charles Darwin Sketch by M.R.P. - MRI Scans of Brain - morality - evolution - James Rachels - C.S. Lewis

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

There is a lot of fascinating scholarship going on in science and philosophy concerning how human morality relates to evolution. Scientists report altruistic behavior in animal communities, and high correlations between specific parts of the brain and moral action; philosophers explore the moral implications of human evolutionmorality - evolution - James Rachels - C.S. Lewis; and both groups do much, much more. Still, the debate is ongoing about whether morality is an objective, universal, literally existing thing or a set of parameters which do not exist in any relevant sense of the word. Much like the compatibilists who illustrate how free will and determinism are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I would like to explore how morality could be both objective and not objective.

The purpose of really good philosophy, and really good philosophical education, is to encourage logical, careful, clear thinking. So, in the interest of at least attempting to do philosophy well, I will try to trace an intuitive explanation of these ideas. Such an explanation, while less scholarly, seems more likely to fuel thought and discussion (much like this instructor teaching Plato with sandwiches) than exhaustive argumentation for the position.

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[Topics: Evolutionary Biology, Moral Obligation, Morality]
The Macroevolution of Morals:

On Fundamental Morals from Societal Evolution, and Morality as Both Objective and Not Objective

was last modified: May 12th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan, 1999]
The Unaccountable Masterpiece:

On the Writing, Themes, and Acting of M. Night Shyamalan’s Bafflingly Excellent The Sixth Sense

 

Haley Joel Osment Sketch by M.R.P. - The Sixth Sense - M. Night Shyamalan - writing, acting, themes, plot twist

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

It is a rare case that someone would have been better off if the apocalypse had occurred during their lifetime, but this certainly seems so of writer and director M. Night Shyamalan. After all, if Y2K had been the civilization-crippling event it was projected to be, and 1999’s The Sixth Sense was being screened in front of a huddled collection of survivors in a dystopian auditorium on a jury-rigged projector, Shyamalan’s stunted career would be considered an artistic loss on par with the early deaths of Wilfred Owen, Janis Joplin, and John Keats.

As it stands, however, the director who Newsweek Magazine once labeled “The Next Spielberg” has churned out poorer and poorer examples of writing and directing over the years, and may have hit rock bottom with the consecutive failures of the laughable The Happening, the disappointing Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the clumsy After Earth.

Even if the tentatively positive reviews of his newer films are heralds of an upswing in the quality of his later career (which would be a twist worthy of a Shyamalan script), it is unlikely that anyone will ever put him on a pedestal again. Still, nothing that has happened in the last fifteen years has diminished the quality or achievement of The Sixth Sense, and what I would like to do is take a close look at Shyamalan’s early hit, and explore the many ways that this demonstrably bad writer and director got everything so very right.

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[Film: The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan, 1999]
The Unaccountable Masterpiece:

On the Writing, Themes, and Acting of M. Night Shyamalan’s Bafflingly Excellent The Sixth Sense

was last modified: February 28th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Wizorb, Tribute Games, 2011]
Through the Looking Orb:

Wizorb and the Tradition of Short, High-quality, Arcade-style Games

 

Introduction:

Wizorb, an independently made arcade-style block breaker with light RPG elements, has the lowest aggregate review score of any of the games in my top 25 most played Steam games by almost 20%. Critics accuse the unassuming $3 title of failing to innovate on the block breaker formula, but more heinously (in the realm of video games), they accuse it of being boring.

Now, if Wizorb is indeed a boring, stale offering, it is very curious that it has held my attention for over thirty hours. So what do I see in this game that others are glad to overlook? I see nothing more and nothing less than a prime example of the format of game design and distribution that I would love to see sweep across the entire industry.

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[Game: Wizorb, Tribute Games, 2011]
Through the Looking Orb:

Wizorb and the Tradition of Short, High-quality, Arcade-style Games

was last modified: March 11th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski