My Current Podcasts

Everyone is into podcasts these days. Here’s a common conversation I have had.

A: “So, I was in the car listening to a podcast-”

B: “Wait, you listen to podcasts? Me too!”

A: “Really, what podcasts do you listen to?”

As much as I enjoy them myself, I don’t think it is unique or surprising to find fellow podcast listeners. Podcasts aren’t a specific interest, like “90s alternative” or “lemurs with thoughtful facial expressions.” Podcasts are a medium like “TV” or “movies,” so most people probably like at least one or two. Replace “podcast” with “sport” or “music” and it will roughly make as much sense. Continue reading “My Current Podcasts”

Storytelling in multiple media

I recently have been engrossed by storytelling. Finding stories everywhere has been awesome.

My fascination started with joining a book club about 2 years ago. Before book club, I hadn’t read fiction since high school, and most of that was mandatory. In between, I read various nonfiction and enjoyed the epiphanies and moments of wonder. That type of engagement was very different, however, from what I experienced when I picked up The Orphan Master’s Son, a Pulitizer Prize winner for fiction. I couldn’t put it back down, as the suspense and pulled me through the (digital) pages. I had forgotten how compelling a good story can be and what it was like to really live in another world, another life.

Around then, I got back into tabletop roleplaying games and began running my own games. As a dungeon master, I was responsible for creating the adventures for my players. I had a hard time at first: I was so focused on creating a big, inhabitable world filled with its own vitality that I couldn’t add enough detail about what might happen during an actual session. My next campaign was set in the world of Tekumel, and I wanted to scope it better. In that world, I crafted an epic story arc as a framework to progress through each session. In learning how to DM, I read this post from The Angry DM, which suggested that a boss fight could use a three-act structure to add drama to typically monotonous processes. It was a revelation that storytelling techniques could drive a game.

Then came “Welcome to Night Vale”, a podcast about a fictional town where surreal and horrific things happen and are presented in a fake radio show. It has a Lovecraftian sense of psychological horror but presents it in a humorous way. The different stories in each podcast are ostensibly unrelated, but there’s often a common thread between them and between episodes. Julie and I listen while we do laundry, and we laugh and puzzle together about it. As a purely audio format, so much is conveyed in Cecil’s (the narrator) voice, and we can only imagine what horrors he talks about.

I recently posted about how my video game preferences had changed to put greater emphasis on stories rather than gameplay itself. I just finished Alan Wake, a survival horror video game. You play Alan Wake, a horror writer who goes on vacation but finds out that the story he is writing is coming true. As you play through the game, you find pages of the novel along the path, either describing things that have happened from a different perspective or foreshadowing future events. It was brilliant: the overall presentation had a very cinematic feel to it, but I felt even closer to the characters because I controlled Alan through the events. Minute for minute, it was slower than reading an equivalent novel or watching an equivalent movie, but the interactivity and immersion of playing it was phenomenal. And even the time itself was well-spent as I became more invested in Alan himself.

Most recently, I picked up Marvel Unlimited because I have been absorbed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe of movies and tv shows and wanted more background. I haven’t read comics since high school, and even then, I was reading scattered comics that I found at used bookstores rather than working sequentially through story arcs. I read through several major events, then got into Captain America, reading at least a half-dozen comics every day. With issues coming monthly and spread over years, the comics strung together story arcs that both had the satisfaction of resolution while also immediately pulling me into the next one. I foolishly kept reading to find a stopping point but always ended up reading another when the last page left me hanging.

Once I started to see storytelling in several different forms, I began to pay more attention to it in the regular media I consume, like movies and television. There are the shared elements of storytelling, but the different media add allowances and constrains as well. The format, whether written, audio, or visual obviously has a huge impact. Whether it’s a one-shot, like a movie, or serial, like a TV show, affects how the storyteller keeps their audience’s attention. And with video and roleplaying games, the interactivity adds immersion and unpredictability to the story.

There’s something about storytelling that really resonates with us as humans, and I’m somewhat amazed at how well I had distanced myself from it during college. Even so, the nature and influence of storytelling is somewhat troubling to me and my recent ways of thinking.

But that is a story for my next post.

My Podcasts

I enjoy sharing my interests on this blog, and I noticed that I particularly enjoy sharing the media that I regularly consume. You know that TV isn’t a big part of my life, but that my feeds are. The other big media sources I subscribe to are podcasts. About 2 1/2 years ago, my sister introduced me to “Stuff You Should Know“, and since then, I’ve picked up and dropped many podcasts. Currently, I’m listening to about as few as I ever have, but let me give you a rundown on what I am listening to:

Baseball Today (iTunes) – daily during the baseball season and less frequent during the off-season, Baseball Today is the only way I stay up to date with baseball news and analysis. As much as I enjoy baseball, I’m pretty bad at following the sport as a whole. One of the more amusing things I’ve noticed recently is how much they point out misperceptions about how good teams or certain players are. These are largely lost on me because I don’t follow the game well enough to have thoughts. Produced by ESPN, the hosts are very knowledgeable and offer up the quirkiness you might expect from radio hosts. Eric Karabell anchors the show, and his shtick is to vigorously (and sometime angrily) express what a happy person he is. The producers have always done a great job of pairing him with negative, cynical co-hosts for the expected hilarity

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips (iTunes) – my love of grammar probably isn’t so surprising to those who know me in part through reading my blog, and Grammar Girl offers short segments on topics or questions about English grammar. Listening to these hasn’t noticeably improved my command of the English language, though it has made me unjustifiably confident and stubborn in my beliefs about English. Don’t be surprised if I use this podcast as a reference in debates in conversation

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (iTunes) – produced by NPR, Wait Wait is an hour-long weekly radio show wrapped up as a podcast and lovingly listened to by me just as often. Setup as a game show, Peter Sagal asks 3 panelists and listener contestants about current events, with many jokes and hilarious news stories along the way. Like Baseball Today, this show helps to fill in the gaps for me about how the week goes

State of the Game (iTunes) – also weekly, this podcast, hosted by JP McDaniel, features several professional Starcraft 2 players talking about Starcraft 2, news about eSports and professional Starcraft, and typical jabbering in a free-for-all format. This podcast is the final remnant of a time when I listened to many game podcasts (mostly for Magic: the Gathering) and has the same format of mostly 18-34 year old males, sitting in a Skype call and talking passionately about their game, immaturity flaring up at any chance. Since the beginning of the summer, I haven’t followed or watched professional Starcraft 2 quite as much, and like the other podcasts, it keeps me up to date on what I’ve missed

TEDTalks (iTunes) – about a year ago, someone from The Unofficial Stanford Blog mentioned that he was a big fan of TEDTalks and was surprised that not everyone else also religiously followed them. I had seen a few along the way, but sometime soon after, I started watching and enjoyed them immensely. The TED format is short (less than 20 minute) lectures, demonstrations, or performances about some idea or creation that people want to show off. When I first started watching, I was very impressed about what people were doing and how many world-changing ideas people had. Since then, my interest has decreased significantly, though I still subscribe. This might be the influence of being in Silicon Valley, but I don’t appreciate ideas as much as I used to. We need good ideas, and without one, many projects will fail. Even so, good ideas are cheap and plentiful, and with the number of world-changing ideas I’ve listened to, I haven’t seen the world changed that much. Execution is very important, too, and perhaps that’s where the secret is. Anyways, if you want to peek in, I recommend listening to these podcasts, cherry-picked for quality. I might not be as enthusiastic about them as before, but they’re still fun to listen to

Radiolab (iTunes) – Radiolab is awesome, and I have difficulty describing it. An hour-long radio program broadcast nationwide on NPR, it explores broad topics in science and philosophy with shorter segments, often with a slight human interest influence and presented in a very accessible format against a strange audio backdrop. Most of my interest in it came from my background in cognitive psychology, and even when I’m familiar with phenomenon they mention, I’m still enjoying how they put it together. Even better, they do it right: I will often snobbishly dismiss science writing for being shallow, overstating findings, or just being wrong, but Radiolab is pretty solid. Just recently, I finished going through and listening to the entire archives of Radiolab podcasts, something I haven’t done for any other podcast, because it’s just that good.

60-Second Mind (iTunes) – from Scientific American, this is a quick hit on recent findings in brain sciences. It’s so-so, but for a minute of my life at a time, I can listen in

Overall, a lot of my podcasts get filtered out since I listen to them while I’m working on something else (except Radiolab, which I absolutely must be paying attention to). It’s probably not the best way to do it, but since I don’t really watch TV or listen to radio, it’s just about the best non-print media I can find.