Archive for category Current Events
Recently freelance journalist Nate Thayer published an exchange between himself and Olga Khazan, editor at The Atlantic, the jist of which being that The Atlantic wanted Thayer to adapt a recent piece for publishing on their site. Normally this would be joyous news, but unfortunately they wanted him to do it for free, offering only “exposure” in exchange for his work (this being doubly confusing since The Atlantic, print edition, seems to have offered him no less than $125,000 for a series of six articles not so long ago). Naturally Thayer, who has to make a living writing journalism, declined this offer, but by going on to put it on his blog started something of a discussion on the work conditions of writing on the internet, and these are by nature endlessly interesting to me. I would like this to be a source of income eventually, and means contemplating whether the business structures I’m hoping to get into are in any way viable.
The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal responded to Thayer with a lengthy piece detailing why the site needs to rely on such scummy methods to stay in business. It’s an interesting read if you got the time, but if you don’t Alan Williamson kind of hit the nail on the head in summarizing it as “a tacit admission that ad-supported digital journalism isn’t sustainable”. Just from a purely idealistic perspective, ads aren’t the best basis for (games) journalism because this system means outlets are financially dependent on the very industry they should be policing, rather than the readers they are serving. The games industry is generally too fragmented to use that marketing muscle to enforce much of anything, and games writing is too fragmented to be conveniently bullied, but even if these conflicts of interest are solved with integrity, it would be better yet if they weren’t there in the first place.
But even from business perspective ads are less than ideal. A few days after Thayer’s piece, popular gaming site Destructoid revealed that as much as 50% of their readers block ads. Even if the site is still up and running for now, that’s a lot of money they (and most ad-supported sites) are missing out on. The question is, how do you go about lowering that number? I refrain from using Adblock on moral grounds, since in our current model lending them my attention for a few seconds is the way of paying for otherwise free content, but I can definitely see why others would use it. Ads are annoying, some obnoxiously so. They have the same basic problem as DRM in that they inconvenience those trying to support you, while those breaking the social contract get the superior experience. I’m not here to rail against ads though. I’m writing this because I feel a bit guilty.
Sorry guys, people are willing to do your job for free. Maybe not to the same standard but they’ll always be free press and accountability on the internet regardless of whether people are paid to do it.
My hobby is video gaming, reading about them on sites is a nice extra but nothing that I couldn’t do without.
I might seem like an arsehole but it’s the truth.
The thing is, none of the gaming websites need to exist. We have intelligent redditors and bloggers in the wild that are passionate about talking about video games that don’t need ad revenue; since they write about games as a hobby.
Some of the gaming journalists do a decent job, but I’m not going to lament their extinction either. There will always be passionate fans that will fill the gaming discussion void for free.
I’ve long been writing about games as a hobby. More recently I’ve started a magazine filled entirely by the unpaid contributions of other amateurs, which is quite a bit of effort even for enthusiast press. And despite my best intentions I might be making matters worse.
We might not be a big site, but there are many other gaming blogs out there, and between them they draw quite a lot of attention away from conventional gaming sites. Less traffic means even less ad revenue, so people writing for free are part of the reason sites can’t afford to pay their writers reasonably. At the same time, people writing for free are the reason The Atlantic and ilk are expecting the same from their writers. After all, when somebody is willing to “do your job for free”, it’s hard to explain why you should be paid for it.
Let me be very clear in saying that I don’t support this. I don’t support the death of big game sites (well, not most of them anyway), nor do I think that “accountability” and “free press” are things that should be left in the hands of hobbyists (even as a hobbyist). I don’t say this because I’d like big sites to stay around for me to land a paid gig on and I’m not saying it because I think a paycheck legitimizes your work. I’m saying it because I think good writing deserves to be rewarded, and because this is the only way to ensure quality. Hobbyists are passionate, sure, but that’s not quite the same as being financially obligated to deliver the good stuff. I’ve said earlier that I don’t think it’s ideal that games writing is financially dependent on the industry it covers, and as you might have guessed that means I’d like for the readers to step up and fund it themselves. And obviously they should be paying the ones offering the best service.
There’s a reason I’m not sorry about running an amateur magazine, even if it does indirectly make it harder for big sites to keep up their current business model. Here’s the thing about amateur writers: We’re readers too. It’s pretty much a prerequisite for the job, and most of us soak up writing like word sponges. If, under the current model, people with such a hunger, such an insatiable craving for words are your enemies and not your customers, it should be obvious something is going wrong and you will have to change.
I have three predictions for things you’ll see more often as people try to move away from relying entirely on ads, though they are in part based on things I’d like to see over things that seem most likely.
Subscriptions, Tip Jars, etc.
This one’s kind of obvious, basically any option that allows your readers to pay you directly. The benefit of a subscription model is that you can offer an actual incentive for people to support you through bonus content, instead of punishing the people indirectly supporting you with annoying ads. On the other hand, if you do have awesome bonus content, maybe making it available for everyone could draw more people to your site. A simple tip jar could work as well. Destructoid is considering the former option in response to its ad woes, Rock Paper Shotgun and Unwinnable use the latter.
Perhaps I’m uniquely attentive when it comes to these because it’s what Haywire does too, but .pdf magazines seem to be in vogue again. Kill Screen does one once every blue moon, Five out of Ten recently published their second issue, Continue continues to be a thing, even if their Kickstarter is going wrong (and I hate to be smug about my cynicism, but I called that one), Nintendo Force has yet to follow up on their inaugural issue, but will probably get to ride the Nintendo Power wave for quite a while. My own favorite punching bag Pure Nintendo still seems to turn a profit and I honestly couldn’t tell you why. The benefit of this model is that you get to sell an actual product. It’s more direct than paying for some service, people get a tangible something in exchange for their money and with some luck they like that something and will be back for more.
While Five out of Ten, Continue and Nintendo Force seem to be doing well enough offering only this, in my opinion it works best in supporting a traditional online presence. The free content on your site gives some impression of what readers can expect in the magazine while also building an audience and hopefully endearing your writers to them. Make the magazine exclusive content if you like, or a kind of prettied up collection of your best stories. Basically I could see this working as the equivalent of web cartoonists selling t-shirts or prints. And while we’re on that subject…
Print returns, with a twist
In a sense we inherited this whole ad issue from print media. There being no detailed metrics for how many people actually read ads in newspapers or magazines, agencies basically paid depending on their circulation, which is to say how many people they sold copies to. So for a long time it was good business to sell your newspaper for cheap in order to reach as many people as possible. Of course, that changed when the internet offered a way to get the news that wasn’t just cheap, but practically free. But one thing newspapers had achieved in the meantime is to condition society at large to consider print something cheap, something of little actual value that is meant to be discarded after (partial) use.
I think print is likely to return, but as the exact opposite of what it previously was: a luxury product. An expensive upgrade for people who want more than just the digital edition, the ultimate collector’s edition for word geeks like myself, who want something to put on their bookshelf. Kill Screen’s success suggests there is a market for it (and I am part of it). It shouldn’t be the only thing you offer, but as an optional upgrade for digital magazines it could well work.
All these ideas depend on the good will of readers, and while the previous comments from Reddit show that not everybody might value games writing enough to pay for it, I do believe that enough people are. Certainly the success of crowdfunding shows that people are willing to support good projects with money. Perhaps they only need a reminder that journalism is worth paying for, too.
I’m not rightly sure why I’ve been in such a terrible mood lately. At the time this thought has been numbed by loud noises and the comfort of inebriation, but I seem to be taking the turn of years rather personal this time. As if somewhere deep down I feel that the bell striking midnight marked my passing from an amateur to a failure, from generally keeping up with my studies to being irredeemably behind. Of course, that’s not how time works. A year is no singular entity any more than a day is. It’s a continuous stream of seconds, and even that simplifies matters for the ease of processing. Point being, the 31st of December is just one day out of many, and we’ve seen but a tiny bit of this newly named stream of days. Realistically, I have no reason to feel miserable. Yet I do. It bothers me how much this bothers me, which feeds right back into the loop.
It’s not very productive to wallow in the sentiment, so I’ve challenged myself to make sure I’ll feel more appreciative when looking back on this new year. For the remainder of 2013 I will send out one pitch per week, every Sunday. I’ve missed the first already, but I did send one last week and today. That should leave about 49, and by the end of it all I should have either have been accepted at least once, or gotten a pretty good idea of what not to do. It’s about time I showed more initiative, really. As much as I appreciate running Haywire (and the fact that it is still running pleases me to no end), it is another obligation that ultimately keeps me from writing, ironically. The time I spend editing the words of others helps me improve. That’s no assumption, I’ve seen the effects. But it might still be less productive than jotting down some words myself.
That’s my new Sunday ritual then: Be rejected, try again.
If you recall this years drunken birthday post, I announced my intent to pick up Andrew Walt’s efforts at building an amateur gaming publication. On July 1st, I sent out an email to my various contacts. After two months of hard work and relative silence on this here blog, our first issue is finally complete.
Barring catastrophic mishaps, Haywire Magazine will launch as planned on September 1st, featuring four articles and four column pieces, about 9,000 words of content by six contributors, excluding myself. Not bad. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself. Our next issue, on games journalism, will go up on November 1st and then every two months after that.
Keep an eye out for those on the basic WordPress site I put together. It’s currently still empty, but that will change soon, and I’d appreciate any subscriptions or future comments.
When I decided to go for this, I assumed it was going to be a lot of work. Instead, it has turned out to be completely exhausting. Between taking pitches, brooding over drafts, motivating writers and quite a bit of time spent arguing, I easily sank 50 hours into this issue. Maybe 100. Even if some tasks I won’t have to tackle again, like building a WordPress or setting certain standards and guidelines, I have no idea how I’ll keep this going when college kicks back in. But I will.
It’s been phenomenally weird, working on this. Never before did I have to beat a contributor into submission, never before did I go the press route of contacting developers, or visit developers at all (Fortunately Broken Rules have been very nice), and never before did I have to give so much writing advice, with authority.
Which has made me realize that I spend more time staring at small details, the flow of individual sentences, than examining the larger structure of articles. It seems I’m a more capable technician than a mastermind right now, and I still don’t know how exactly I should change. A project like this is never done. I could always spend more time looking at the drafts for even more fixes and cleanups. The only thing making the current versions final is my judgement, for better or worse.
But then, I’d sooner do too little to an article than too much. I don’t want to impose my own voice on every piece, and risk breaking their own burgeoning style. Working with an editor, or somebody trying to pass for one, is one of just two benefits I can offer, but the other is a chance to see your own article in a shiny .pdf magazine. Even if I had time to do so, I don’t want to polish those submissions past the point of recognition, and break any illusion of creative identity. Perhaps the articles are a little worse off for it, if you can believe I have any form of talent for editing, but will still be their own.
Considering how and why the previous amateur publication attempt failed, I wanted to stay pragmatic and set a guideline: Content is better than no content. It’s better to have flawed content, than no content at all. If this sounds like I’m defending myself, it’s because I am. It’s strange, when I read articles in other outlets I tend to think I’m getting the pure, unfiltered mind of the author. For Haywire, I assume everyone is going to read it as a reflection of my work as an editor, gate-keeper, strategist and guardian.
It may be in name only, but I’m Editor-in-Chief now. Bitch.
It’s been a while since my last personal update here, presumably a sign that I don’t know how to run a blog, but today I’m going to break with tradition and bore you with details of my life, personal plans and worries. Why? It’s my birthday.
I’m 21 now. Just old enough to start drinking, in some parts of the world. Funny how that turned out huh? But while I do mean to repeat last years celebratory drunken retro-gaming get-together, festivities will have to be postponed until the end of exam season. I’ve going through this semester a bit lackadaisically, ignoring most reading and assignments until the last second. Well, now is that second. While I’m not enjoying this kind of crunch time, especially in the sweltering summer heat, the workload still looks manageable, even if I might have to skip some exams now in favor of the second sitting. These kind of delays are something I could probably avoid given a little more effort, but I am trying to keep a few other projects running as well.
I ran one of these updates last year, and much has changed since then. I used to think things we’re a little weird, now I see that they’re utterly bizarre, and glorious. Case in point, the amateur critic group contest type thing I was thinking about starting has now been running for a year. Instead of getting something for myself this year, I’m orchestrating a big giveaway to celebrate the anniversary, with a prize pool of no less than 16 games provided by me and a few other generous souls. I’m going a little overboard with this, certainly, but I enjoyed the idea of my own birthday roughly coinciding with the birthday of my little pet project, and using this fact to give it a ridiculously overblown send-off. Following this indulgent internet party, I’ll leave the group in the hands of one of the many, many competent people who have been kind enough to work with me for a while. I’ve taken it about as far as it will go, and I’ll keep it in good memory as the most gratuitous thing I ever created.
That’s not to say the experience has been entirely vapid for me though, I’ve certainly learned a few things about management, how to keep a band of strangers working and most importantly I’ve met plenty of new people, some of which now ‘work’ for me. This ought to prove helpful soon.
About half a year ago, my friend Maet decided to try he could create a gaming publication using just his experience writing for a college newspaper and the group of weirdos he had met online. The result looked very promising, but work on a second issue was slow. Maet’s schedule doesn’t leave him much time to get in his contributors’ hair, and unfortunately tasks on the internet tend to be left incomplete without constant bugging. I was sad to hear of its demise, but creating something like the Guardian Force is an uphill battle and I can understand why Maet can’t put in that kind of effort. He simply doesn’t have the time. I might.
On paper, it sounds like the perfect fit. The infrastructure is already in place. Maet has kindly agreed to keep on doing layout and design if I take care of, well, pretty much everything else. I’m in regular contact with most previous contributors anyway, and I know plenty of upstarts who might like to try their hands at this. Technically, being in charge of a big amateur publication is not all that different from being in charge of a small amateur publication and still, I feel that I’m in no way qualified to run either. When Maet left the project in my hands temporarily, or when people congratulate me on the constancy of the Showcase (as they do, occasionally), I can’t help but note that people now sometimes see me as a leader, worse, a skilled leader at that, and I don’t see myself that way at all. How does this have anything to do with leadership? All I do is talk to people.
But while I still believe I’m entirely clueless and have no idea what I’m doing here, the fact hasn’t held me back in the past and it’ll be interesting to see if I can figure things out as I go. I’ve compiled a tentative plan and schedule and have started contacting some people to see if I can find regular columnists before I throw myself into the fray. If all goes as planned, I’ll be ‘officially’ announcing the ‘new’ ‘magazine’ July 1st, so keep an eye out for that.
Of course, this project might well still crash and burn, as it did in the hands of someone much more capable than I. Especially since I might be starting a regular column for a local games site soon, because one new project isn’t daring enough apparently. I’ve met the guy in charge during a Subotron talk/meetup, and while initial contact was nothing more than his passing mention that they’re looking for writers and my ludicrous claim that I was a writer, we’ve been talking a bit since and it seems that we see eye to eye on a lot of things: the indie market, the role of reviews vs. retrospectives/opinions, recent interesting developments. I said I wouldn’t mind if they told me what to write about, but it seems they’re lenient enough to let me more or less do my thing. In German, too, which I’m sure one or two of you will be glad to hear. Again, there will be nothing before the end of exam season, but after that you should be able to catch me on Ingame.
These are the things that keep me up at night, while pretending to be a serious student.
With a nod to Andrew Walt, I present ’10 For The Twitter Age’, my taut 2011 retrospective. 10 games I played this year, 140 characters each.
Portal 2: Surprisingly on par with the original for the most part, but significantly less taut. Still, remarkable writing, amazing ending.
Mount & Blade: Warband: First thought: So it’s just an endless series of battles? Second thought: Sweet, it’s an endless series of battles.
Super Meat Boy: Minimalistic, but excellently so. One of the rare cases where repetition leads to mastery, not boredom. Bitchin’ tunes, too.
Team Fortress 2: Multiplayer excellence, now free-to-play. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Especially now that I embraced giving gifts.
Mass Effect 1 & 2: Brilliant writing, and veritable loads of it. It bends under its own verbosity at times, but it doesn’t collapse.
Alpha Protocol: Broken in some ways, impressive in others. Forces you to choose not knowing the consequences. Cruel, and genius.
Minecraft: Boundless in every sense of the word. Allows for endless creativity, and a glimpse at your own psyche. I turned away in disgust.
Rayman: Origins: At heart merely a solid platformer, but the art team went above and beyond. The soundtrack now ownes my soul.
Echo Bazaar: London dragged underground! Devils and dirigibles! Bohemians and Bats! Criminals and Clay Men. It’s free
Bastion: Crude mechanics and stale gameplay, but beautiful art and song. Moved me to tears. It’s that emotional.
Again, this is not a top ten list, simply ten games I happened to play last year. Spread the fire!
Turn off your lights! Close the door! Turn on the mood music!
It’s Halloween. The day of the year where we flirt with all things creepy, bizarre and frightening. The one holiday dedicated not to human virtue, but to fear. There’s no better day to indulge oneself if you favor a good scare, but to someone like me the concept of this day is scary in itself. The problem is: I am a total wuss when it comes to horror. I have absolutely no experience with horror films or games, to me the idea of sitting through an experience crafted to fill you with fear sounds absolutely nerve-wracking. Pitch Black is probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve got no illusions about how that compares to some of the tortureporn or gorefests out there. Even games that don’t focus on horror can cost me some sleep, basically all it takes is turning the lights off and throwing in some creepy music. The game might have been 7 years old by then, but it was only last year that I finally manned up and played through Half-Life 2‘s entire Ravenholm bit.
This is one of the many places where I got some room to grow. Fear is a powerful emotion, far too powerful and important for me to neglect. It’s one of the emotions I want to be able to craft, which means I need to understand it. Which, I’m afraid, means I have to experience it. This year, specially for Halloween, I went back to the scariest level I never played: The Shalebridge Cradle.
Mild spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.
Some 12 hours into Thief 3, our master pilferer Garrett has just narrowly escaped some murderous animated statues and goes looking for clues on the old hag who sent them after him. He goes to talk to the one authority on the subject of hags in The City, the hammerite Inspector Drept, who shares the tale of his first encounter with the murderous witch at the orphanage where he grew up. He was playing hide and seek with his childhood friend Lauryl, when the bent grey woman appeared behind her. Drept, hidden at the time, watches her die, to scared to react. The adult Drept has dedicated his life to rectifying this mistake. The story is an all but cold trail, but with no other leads to follow Garrett decides to look into it, and rob an orphanage. There’s a first time for everything.
The Shalebridge Cradle, now abandoned, used to be an orphanage. Then it was an asylum. and an orphanage at the same time. One night a fire started, killing staff and patients and destroying large parts of the building. The Cradle is a miserable place, even by the remarkably sinister standards of Thief’s steampunk setting, but for all you know it doesn’t pose much of a challenge. The building isn’t locked down or guarded, so getting in is simple. Once you’re inside, not so much.
Being a stealth game, Thief doesn’t have an easy start creating true horror, since it used most of its previous screentime working against our fear of the dark. Being in the line of business he’s in, Garrett works exclusively by night and however you might feel about dark alleys and malfunctioning lights going into the game, if there’s one thing it wants you to understand it’s that darkness is your friend. The shadows you’ve been hiding in through all the missions leading up to this point in the game have put you in a position of power: to see without being seen. You were there, invisible, stalking, listening, following. You watched the guards, learnt their routes, listened to them verbalizing their every thought, while they were blissfully ignorant to your presence. Then you bring out your bow, lining up the shot. One immaculately placed arrow, that’s all it takes. You could allow him to live, or end his life right there. To him, you might as well be god, pulling the strings. You are a ghost, drunk on power.
Until now. The first few rooms of the cradle are technically empty, but far from silent. As you needlessly crouch from shadow to shadow (old habits die hard), the game fills your ears with faint echoes of voices… screeches… footsteps?… screams? Sooner or later, you realize that the only route open to you now leads to the attic, but as you climb up the stairs the door starts rocking and rattling on its hinges, faster and faster, until you’re there and you open it to discover… nothing. Just like that, the game turns your world upside down. You’re no hidden phantom any more, this time you’re the clueless guard investigating suspicious noises. But don’t worry, the game has someone else to play the role of the ghost.
Not content to just send you after rattling doors, Thief sends you to restart the Cradle’s generator, a massive hulk of metal and wires, huffing and puffing. The thing sure makes a lot of racket. If there’s any living being within half a mile, you’ve certainly got their attention. At this point you’re forced to realize that some of the old patients have never left the asylum, their bodies now mangled wrecks of straightjackets and wired cages. These are not the kind of foes you can overpower, outrun, outwit or stab in the back. Your precious assortment of gadgets, your blackjack and dagger, your fire arrows, your flashbombs and tripmines are of no use to you here. Your water arrows won’t help you against the flickering electric lights, there are no walls you could climb, no elevated spots for sniping, no alternative routes. One by one the game takes your abilities, leaving you helpless. The Shalebridge Cradle strips the stealth gameplay down to bare essentials: all you can do is hide, cowering in the shadows while untold horrors shamble past you close enough to touch.
As the various “medical” journals scattered across the level indicate, their current form is no more than a reflection of the horrors inflicted upon them as treatment for their various mental illnesses. What’s more the pages leave little doubt that, against all protocol, innocent orphans and violent madmen mingled on more than one occasion. Not only does the slowly unravelling backstory of the house add another dose to the horror by grounding it in one of the darker aspects of our scientific past, the treatment of mental patients, but the tortured existence of the remaining patients offers an unsettling insight into your own future, should you fail to leave this place. And leaving, I’m afraid, is much harder than getting in. Hundreds of years of violence and torture have made the Cradle more than just bricks and mortar. The house has a will of its own, and it’s of a mind to keep you there. Even if you get out, the experience is not something you’ll forget anytime soon. I know it’s shaken me.
There you have it, my new scariest game experience. I’d be curious to hear yours.
Happy Halloween everybody.
I am now 20 years old. Or, to be precise, I will be 20 years old by the time you read this, and presumably I will be busy recovering from a massive hangover following a night of booze and retro-gaming with my friends. I’ve successfully avoided thinking about this for a long time by occupying myself with anything from studying to the aforementioned inebriated tomfoolery, but it’s an issue that keeps creeping back into my head, so I might as well address it now: What does it mean to be 20 years old?
For starters, it means that I’m one year older than before, though at the same time I am just one day older than before and an entire decade older than before. At any rate, a significant portion of my life has gone by. The wonders of modern medicine would have me believe that I could live well past 100, but when you factor in my lifestyle, my unhealthy diet, my lack of exercise, my passive smoking and active drinking, suddenly 80 seems like a pretty optimistic guess, which would mean that a quarter of my life is now over. The, by common opinion, best quarter. I have ambivalent feelings about this: On the one hand I wonder if I made the most of the experience, on the other hand the sum of those 20 years alone is overwhelming. The thought that I did, said, felt and saw all these things is surreal and I could spend hours just pondering on the wonders of the past. I can’t begin to imagine what a mindshattering task it must be to carry the memories of 80 years. How merciful of Mother Nature to make us forget.
Just a few hours ago I was a teenager, but now I’ve passed the invisible barrier to the realm of twentysomethings. I assume this new moniker brings a lot of changes I don’t fully appreciate, yet, but what I do know is that this is a time of transition and that, at some unspecified point in the future, I’ll have to become an adult member of society, to put it in general terms, or a man, to specifically address my case. Perhaps I should really rather treat those as two different things, since the recipe for adulthood seems to be a pretty uniform across all borders of gender and sexuality: get a job, find a mate, start monogamous relationship, produce offspring, spend the last precious years of your life sitting on some veranda and tell young whippersnappers to get off your lawn. Some of these points are on my agenda, but I feel glad to note that I will do so whenever the hell I feel like it. The quest for manhood is slightly harder to dismiss, since it’s less about my actions and more about the way people see me. Well, there’s no stopping other people’s gaze.
For the longest time I’ve simply ignored this issue, figuring that if you live by the ideals necessary to make you a good person, becoming a proud exemplar of your gender ought to happen automatically. I’m still convinced that this is a very good attitude to have towards the various stereotypes and social constructs surrounding the issue of gender, but as I’ve learned in my dalliance with pick-up arts, one should never feel above testing a new philosophy. Even if you end up disagreeing with most inherent ideas, merely dealing with the questions behind such ideas can help to advance your own perspective of things. So who am I to simply scoff at the stereotype of manly macho-men when some parts of their codex might be worth considering?
The problem is that the societal image in question is not only subject to a lot of change, but so ambiguously wide that it’s ultimately always necessary to find your own niche (but, really, how else would there be any fun to be had here). I can’t say I’ve had the time to exhaustively consider the subject. I have simply been more conscious of my own actions in the past few weeks, wondering how I’d judge them. This hasn’t brought me any closer to figuring out what kind of person I should be and where exactly being a man figures into this, but I have found more than a few things that most certainly have nothing to do with it. I had an easy time dismissing most of these, even if some of these concepts play an important role in the self-image of a lot of people.
Let’s see. It has nothing to do with alcohol or cigarettes, or any of the other drugs that look so cool and adult to teenage idiots. It’s certainly not about holding your liquor or knowing how to deal with a hangover. It’s not about promiscuity either, nor physical violence, nor “manning up” and ignoring pain, nor being stoic and tight-lipped about feelings, nor about cars, beer and football. Possibly it’s about knowing how to tie a full windsor, or cheering up a kid with a magic trick, or walking away from a fight, or taking the blame for somebody. Maybe it’s about having doing these things and going through these thoughts. What it probably isn’t about is long-winded blog posts.
I felt that this particular occasion called for something deep, long and profound, but to be honest, I got nothing. Fortunately I don’t even have the time to indulge existential queries. There’s a good deal of studying still ahead of me if I intend to make it through this term, and luckily I’ve had the brilliant idea that now would be the perfect time to pick up a bit more responsibility on The Escapist. Then there’s the fact that I haven’t done any for my regular projects in a while, not to mention a certain piece on Gravity Bone that might or might not happen at some point in the future. But that’s all business for tomorrow.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bottle of vodka waiting for me.
So Portal 2 is finally here, and I don’t care. Which is surprising, especially for me. At first I wasn’t willing to admit this to myself. I dived headfirst into the hype, the comics, the funny little clips, the potato-sack madness over on Steam, but it failed to create the same feeling of giddy anticipation I feel for Risen 2 or Crysis 2 (the reason I still haven’t played the latter is a lack of spare time… and spare cash). It’s just not there. The game leaves me cold.
It’s highly probable that my lack of enthusiasm simply means I’ll end up playing the game a bit later, once the high price-tag and the internet riot surrounding it are a thing of the past. That’s the same way I played and enjoyed the original Portal, come to think of it. But that’s not guaranteed. Many titles I once pushed off this way are now permanently stuck somewhere on the ass end of my own personal wish list, taking two steps back for every one ahead as new games pop up in there. I’m not saying that Portal 2 deserves this fate, but that’s what it’s currently headed for and whenever I expect something in my brain to jump to action and yell “No! Not this one! You have to play this one!” there’s just silence.
Why is it that I can treat the game with such abandon while seeing its predecessor as one of the greatest games of the last decade? This question puzzled me over the last few weeks. All signs indicate that I should love Portal 2 to bits, but I struggle to even feel anything for it. Eventually I started reflecting on what it was that drew me to the original Portal and things started to make sense. I wasn’t there for the puzzles, no matter how cleverly they’d bend dimensions. If I was then I probably wouldn’t have quit Braid halfway through.
The reason I love Portal is that it did something completely new and made it look easy. Okay, technically Prey did the portal thing slightly beforehand, but I hadn’t played that yet and it didn’t allow you to place them yourself. That soft swoosh sound, the experience of going from one end of the room to the other in the blink of an eye, was one of the few big eye-opening moments this medium produced for me, like swiftly rewinding time in Sands of Time or blowing up walls in Red Faction. It’s that moment when you stare and go “I didn’t know they could do that”. For me, this is what Portal is all about: Taking that one mind-bending moment and refining it. Channeling your desire to explore the potential of this mechanic. The plot and the dark humor don’t hurt, but the real reason those work so well is that they accentuate this core novelty by creating the perfect atmosphere for scientific curiosity.
This is what I enjoyed about Portal. I’d seen the all the parts in previews and articles, but I couldn’t fathom how the machine would work until it all came together when I finally played the game. I will never forget this experience, but it’s not one you can repeat. Now that I’ve seen how the Portal machinery works, I can easily see how any of the new parts of Portal 2 are going to fit into the grand scheme. That ingenious moment when I started wrapping my head around it is gone, and will never come back.
Portal was a very innovative game, but Portal 2 only builds on set ground. Minecraft is probably a worthier successor in terms of doing something simple but very clever that shows us what truly can be done in this medium. This doesn’t mean that Portal 2 is a bad game, and I wouldn’t dare judge it before I actually play it, but for now the love is gone and I’ll have to wait to for a new game to bend the rules of play.
Joshua recently took some time to address a crucial question: “Who am I?”. I’ve been asking myself the same question lately. Many things in my life are going to change over the next couple of months and when I walk out of the experience I’ll be changed too, so I’d enjoy being having some sort of static point of reference I can compare myself to. So I’m going to pick up Josh’s idea and take a moment here to think about just who I am. The following is a reflection on the state of Deadpan Lunacy as of March 2011.
So, who am I?
The semester is now starting proper and since I passed the compulsory language test last week I can start my English major at full pace and I think I did a relatively good job fusing German in there. Some parts I’m going to have to leave behind for now because they aren’t available at the right time, but my schedule is still packed relatively tight. The interesting question is when I’ll finally start seeing myself as a student: My last dalliance with academics was phenomenally unsuccessful and while trying to figure out if I had even picked the right direction I didn’t have the time to pick up a new self-image on the way. The the term civil servant took over, quickly followed by slacker, the accurate description of my occupation come last fall. I’m curious how adopting the coffee-sippin’, messenger-bag-wearing, well read elitist lifestyle will go down. I guess we’ll see.
Let’s have a look at how many things I wrote out of free will for non-academic reasons:
A satirical speech on the stranger parts of environmentalism that scored fourth place in a national contest. Not too shabby.
A philosophical essay that earned me a ticket to a national contest followed by another philosophical essay that lost miserably but was prized for originality. I guess that’s what you get for loudly disagreeing with Kant.
Niche Appeal, the obscure review column, 23 entries and counting. Could stand a little improvement.
Everything on this blog. Underwhelming.
My studies are going to force me to catch up on most classic literature I missed so far, so I’ll be more of a reader than a writer the next months. But I don’t want to let this project die during that time. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure. I often come here when I want to stop slacking, but still can’t get myself to do “real” work. In that regard it’s still more productive than the amount of time I waste on TF2 or League of Legends (more on that later), but not as enjoyable. Rearranging my schedule to make this my prime recreational activity is a nice, but probably utopian idea.
Anyway, in order to not just keep at my current level but actually improve, there’s three things I want to do during the next semester:
- Finish Season 2 of Niche Appeal. That means seven more entries before August.
- Produce something outside of self-publishing. Payment is optional, but it will have to meet some editor’s standards. An article for The Escapist would be my favourite thing to pull off, similar sites will do just fine and if none of that works I’ll settle for a guest post on another blog.
- Blog at least once week. The more the better.
I’m aware of the cancerous nature of this term, but I frequently used it in the past. My obsession with video games has shaped me significantly. It was character defining. Maybe it still is, but that possibility now, more than anything else, scares me. I’ve cut down on this part of my life and I’m not sure I’ve gone far enough. On the other hand I don’t want to drop this pastime altogether, so I’ll have to find a way to strike a productive balance. I guess the message here is: This part of my life is getting less and less important to me.
Well at least until the release of Crysis 2.
I’m closing in on my third year anniversary on The Escapist now, but somehow I feel I’ve run out of steam there. The last years have been an engaging, entertaining and educational experience. I’ve met some great people, published a noticeable amount of work and learned a great deal about composition, flow and pace, even though I still struggle to apply these lessons to my craft. But I just don’t know how to follow up my presence there. Three years is a long time and most friends I made on the site have changed the role The Escapist plays in their lives in that time. Some are now moderators. Some post rarely, others not at all. I feel strangely out-of-place there, almost obsolete.
The Escapist served me well because I needed a platform where I could release my reviews without having to meet editorial standards, but now that I have this platform I’ve started wondering what keeps me there. Granted, the place gives me a lot more attention than this small-scale project. Some of my reviews have garnered more views there than this entire blog has altogether, so I doubt I’ll stop releasing Niche Appeal there (Gotta advertise somewhere, right?). But past that there’s really not a lot of unfinished business I have there. I heavily contributed to the growth of the Obscure Games Group, but the thing is still effectively kaput and the same thing can be said for the This Month in Forums publication. I doubt I’ll have to make another contribution as secretary for Review of the Month.
I’ll still keep an eye out on the site, but for now other projects deserve my full attention.
I’m entering a new group of people, it’s high time to make some new friends. This is harder for me than it sounds, I’m not too great with people. So I’ll need to take an effort to meet my new colleagues and at the same time I need to stay in touch with the select few I call my best friends, now spread over several cities and several studies.
That’s one thing. Secondly, and this is probably going to be even trickier, I need to improve my love life. I promise I’m not going into details here. Let’s just say I’ve never had a lasting, meaningful relationship (Take that as you may), and I intend to change that.
There’s some definite room for improvement here and I’m looking forward to returning to this in six months and measuring my success. I stated everything I know of myself here, but I can’t close this introspective yet. I believe that who we believe to be isn’t necessarily who we are. Actions speak louder than words and intentions alone can’t move a single stone. There’s an interesting tidbit I like to keep in mind: The greek word we based “personality” on, “persona”, among other things, means mask. So our personality isn’t necessarily what’s inside of us, but what we show the world. With that in mind I ask you, hypothetical audience: Who am I?
As of today I’m back in the world of academics. The University of Vienna just had me take a compulsory language test in order to prove my English is on high-school graduate level, which is an awkward term considering the widely fluctuating standards within the Austrian school system. It’s those jarring differences that make such a test necessary anyway. Now I probably shouldn’t talk about it too much before I get the definite results end of the week, but I do think it’s fair to assume that I’ll likely pass. Funnily enough I’ve been missing this standardized large-scale test setting a bit, not because I find the experience pleasant, but because I find it a lot less unpleasant than other people do. Which isn’t to say that I enjoy other people suffer, but simply that I value my ability to stay calm and give the impression of being completely detached and that I like to see how rare a gift it appears to be.
The second big thing I currently dedicate time to is League of Legends, though my enthusiasm has cooled considerably over the last few days. I’m not rightly sure why I keep playing it actually. It’s a well-designed game, granted, but the novelty has now worn off and the community is still atrocious. The experience has recently climaxed in me being reported for… something or other. The story involves a particularly inept tank lacking a good six levels behind the enemy team, me, in my classic role as support character, and an enemy team tearing the aforementioned tank to shreds after he decided to jump out of our base on his own. Then there was the predictable bit of dialogue in which he insults me for not joining his suicidal efforts and me politely asking if he had his brains replaced with ravioli to think that would be a good idea. Except, you know, I phrased it a little less disagreeable. This netted me a few minutes of silence so I assumed he had moved on, but apparently he had just continued to build this grudge whenever I ran over to defend the other side of our base instead of following him on some pointless vendetta.
League of Legends only gives you other player’s names before a match, so it was only after our crushing defeat that I learned that my affable friend was in fact just three levels short of reaching the meta-game level cap (His behaviour certainly didn’t give this away) and that our third man, who’d been mostly silent but had ultimately agreed that my play style was disruptive enough to warrant a report, was looking back on a monumental career of four games including this one. Apart from showing how widespread arrogance is among both old and new users this also speaks to the haphazard quality of the matchmaking services. The game decided to team me up with somebody nine levels below me as well as someone fourteen levels above me, at the same time. I have yet to face repercussions for my crimes, so I guess at least the players deciding my case in the community tribunal must have had some sense, but it was still an unsettling experience.