Mogworld by Benjamin “Yahtzee” Croshaw
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Comic Book|
|Release Date:||September 14, 2010|
Fantasy fans and the undead have a bit more in common than we feel comfortable admitting, but I’m going to admit it, if only for what the masses of the internet refer to as “teh lulz”. Our numbers are few, but when congregated into concentrated areas of a city, we can easily overrun any other demographic. We share an affinity for lurking in the darkest corners of the cellar like the mushrooms we devour for sustenance. And those the rest of society deem as “normal” tend to not only avoid us, but actively seek to barricade their homes for fear that if we broke in we would begin biting their babies and turn them into one of us. While one could argue that the ability to recite the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins or argue the semantics of various magic systems, seems like benign fantasy fan pastimes and not a characteristic of the undead, it seems like more than enough cause for some people to drape us in cloaks composed of quarantine signs and hang giant bells around our necks to warn the populace of the nerdy apocalypse. What certainly doesn’t help is the terribly inaccurate idea that fantasy nerds have the wretched body odor and bathing habits of the aforementioned dead. I beg to differ, as my Olfactory Aura is at least that of a week-old rage infected monkey, but I digress.
The truth is that both the undead and fantasy fans are misunderstood creatures that suffer stigma and ridicule for no other reason than we were born this way. That’s right, I’m using the X-Men/Gay argument and I’m sticking to it. Haters are more welcome than on Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time and can expect jars of mayonnaise laced with purple worm stomach acid to be thrown at their faces at my discretion. And if you think I’m being cruel and off-topic with my rants, then you clearly haven’t had the pleasure of watching reviews done by internet personality and Jaded Nerd Review #264: Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw. Yahtzee is a British gent who lives in Brisbane, Australia, best known for his fedora and being the creator of The Escapists’ Zero Punctuation: a series of five-minute animated reviews where he tears video games a new expansion pack. His style is one of quick editing, equally nimble speech and long-winded sarcastic jokes that make you laugh in reflex and then blush two seconds later at how ridiculous that was. And in case the notion eluded you like so many well-dressed ninjas at a black tie party, I have indeed been shamelessly attempting to mimic his style for the last two paragraphs.
Why would I be comparing fantasy fans and zombies in the shameless style of an internet reviewer, one may ask? Because he wrote a book revolving around the aforementioned elements called Mogworld.
Mogworld is Yahtzee’s debut novel, released by Dark Horse Publishing – yes imagine my surprise when I was scrounging through Borders like Gollum looking for a fish and found an actual full-fledged book published by Dark Horse that had no pictures or adverts in the text. It’s one of the reasons I stopped reading comics: I got tired of pausing for a commercial every other page in a ten page story. But this story isn’t about how I fell out of love with comics, it’s about a fellow named Jim: the son of a pig farmer, who in defiance of his father’s wishes to carry on the noble family tradition, runs away to a mage academy where he is subsequently killed by in a battle against a rival school. And so Jim enters the utopia and serenity of death, only to be forcefully ripped out of it and back into the world of misery and the living. Now he is one of many undead to serve the necromancer Deadgrave, an all-around honestly delightful chap with an excellent feel for employee needs and winner of the award for Name that Most Obviously Dictates Your Career.
It’s during this time that Jim finds out that sixty years have passed and all isn’t what it seems. People have stopped aging, the whole population has become more barren than a late night TV show host’s well of monologues, and apparently the world is infested with angels that are either having a grand old time controlling adventurers or deleting things. Jim, however, cares nothing for this and just wants to find some way to die for realsies this time. And so our tale proper begins: with a grumpy undead mage being followed by two equally undead associates – one acts like one of those annoying cheerleader characters from an Americanized anime, minus the obvious sex appeal due to her state of being dead, and the other a candidate for first undead member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Add on an incompetent thief, a religious zealot who thinks he’s speaking to God, and a cast of one-shot characters who serve as stereotypes of our favorite MMO and fantasy tropes, and that’s essentially Mogworld.
Oh, and did I forget to mention? It turns out the whole thing is actually an MMORPG (that’s short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game for those who’ve been living in a Mole People Hill for the last few years). The adventurers that are suffering from a disease that makes them pose and run around silly, are player-controlled characters, and a small team of programmers are rushing to solve the problems in their world. Think The Matrix if it had a one-night stand with Tron and then their child eventually grew up and married World of Warcraft. That’s essentially Mogworld in a nutshell.
As with Aurian, the characters are perhaps the strongest aspect of the story, though not for the same reasons as that story. Here, the characters serve as either terribly one-sided stereotypes of classic MMO and fantasy story-telling tropes, or serve to explain how utterly stupid said tropes are. Jim being the latter of the two. The whole story feels like an extended episode of Yahtzee’s game reviews, albeit told through the eyes of one of the NPCs critiquing how gaming culture apparently delights in making worlds just to take a crap in. I would say it honestly makes me think twice about casting Turn Undead on a host of zombies whilst raiding a dungeon in DDO, but then I remember that they’re just bits of code and I’m probably keeping them steadily employed in the first place.
The narrative flows well for the story that it is, the characters are funny and identifiable, and anyone who enjoys Yahtzee’s brand of humor will certainly enjoy it. But be warned, once we hit the one-third mark of the book it suddenly shifts from being a fantasy book first and a gaming novel second to vice versa and some of the jokes may just fly over the heads of non-gaming fantasy fans like an arrow shot by a far-sighted elf with shaky hands. Though good luck finding one in that category (and if you are, please don’t spam my review about my discrimination and how I instantly assume all fantasy fans have a Level 500 Elf-Orc Arcane Swordsman laying around somewhere). Another issue people may have is the mass quantity of straw men, or in this case people just standing around looking for quests to do and act as the most base-line stereotypes for their professions. But as this is a parody and not philosophy, I guess I can give it a pass in this respect.
You may have noticed that I haven’t touched base on the programmers in this review as of yet. Well, we don’t ever physically see the programmers. Rather, we’re given glimpses at their IMs and emails. And this is where I find it a bit odd, as they all seem to talk in that strange phonetic vernacular that all teenagers are accused of using in texts, IMs, and even their own reports. Of course, my friends and I are those rare and bizarre Grammar Nazis who have this atrocious habit of using proper spelling and grammar, to the point that one of them will instantly correct himself if he doesn’t end every message with a period. Grammar aside the programmers really don’t have much of a personality and we never really get into their minds. They serve as aloof observers who only have a truly direct impact towards the end.
In all, this review is getting longer in the tooth than Doctor Who and so I better wrap this up before the mods throw their loaded banhammers at me. In short – as opposed to this review – Mogworld is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I highly recommend the book for anyone who can take a ribbing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to do something constructive with my time and go play Minecraft! Oh, and if you think I’ve gone a bit overboard in my poor man’s attempt at being a poor man’s Yahtzee, don’t worry like Terry Brooks said after he worked on the Hook novel adaptation, I’d rather be tarred and feathered than work in someone else’s style again…and then George Lucas will somehow make me break my promise. Damn Jedi mind tricks.
Narrative: Fairly easy-going and with enough sharp wit to keep you interested and engaged. – 5/5
Heroes: While not particularly heroic or likeable, there is a charm to our host of “heroes” – 5/5
Villains: Eh, probably the weakest aspect of the story is the villain, Barry. On the other hand, the elf and dwarf we meet later on are… pure gold. – 4/5
World: A rather generic fantasy world, but that’s the point. It serves as a stereotype of our basic fantasy settings, and some of the towns are a bit interesting, if only for their quirks. – 4/5
Magic System: There seems to be lots of rules governing magic, but in classic rpg fashion they are blatantly ignored. I suppose the only reason for the rules here in the first place were so they could be ignored, but I do wish we could have seen some people forced to abide by them. – 3/5
Plot: An undead man trying to die for good, and a quirky MMO? How can we lose?! – 5/5