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Archive for the ‘Religious/Philosophy’ Category

With a new World of Warcraft expansion in the news cycle, it’s only inevitable that the Flying discussion cycles around again.

I make no secret of the fact that I love flying in games.  I am a Bartle Explorer, through and through.  Flying is perhaps my favorite activity in WoW.

So, when there’s a view that says “flying is bad“, I can’t help but think that they have a different perspective on what this World of Warcraft is.

(Caveat:  As I noted on Twitter in a comment to Big Bear Butt when he mentioned his article and that WoWInsider piece, I don’t mind waiting until the end of an expansion to be able to fly through it.  I think it’s a sledgehammer solution to the perceived problem, but I can live with it.)

One of the most repeated rationales for this worldview is that “flying makes the world smaller“.

To me, this is a completely alien way of looking at it, and completely backwards.

Yes, flying makes it possible to travel around quicker.  It makes it easier to plow through content.  It makes it easier for players to ignore enemies stuck on the ground and forces players to jump through the developer hoops and pacing.

(Aside:  When a game monetizes time, I consider it a cardinal sin for devs to waste my time, trying to find ways to slow me down.)

Also, from a technical standpoint, it does make something look smaller if you increase your distance from it, so flying up in the air will make something on the ground look smaller.

And yet, from my perspective, the ability to fly makes the World of WoW much, much bigger.  This is true for one simple reason:

I can explore more of it.

Flying opens up new camera angles, new places to go and see, and new ways for me to see how places relate to each other.  It’s a new perspective on what’s already there, a way to see things that I simply can’t get when I’m stuck to the ground.

It’s similar, in a way, to how I see the real world.  Yes, digital photography has allowed for more of the world to be captured and shared than ever before, and the internet makes it possible to “see” places around the world from the comfort of home.  In a way, it “made the world smaller” inasmuch as you don’t have to walk or ride out to see the sights yourself.

And yet, from where I sit, if I could never see those places, they may as well not exist.  (At least as far as my own personal experience, anyway; I’m not arguing any sort of absurd anthropic “China doesn’t exist because I didn’t hear a tree falling there” or any such nonsense.)  Being able to see, even just a glimpse, of what’s out there doesn’t make our world smaller, it makes it much, much bigger.  There’s all this stuff out there.  The more I see, the more I want to see, and the more aware I am of just how much there is that is there to see.

This is the beauty and fascination of the National Geographic magazine, or the Cosmos series.  They help us open our eyes, just a little, to what’s out there.

And when I see that, the only thing that feels smaller is me.

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Rowan has a great article up that digs a bit into the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for play.  Penny Arcade fortuitously has a similar article from a game developer (for the game Don’t Starve, a curious game that I’m looking forward to playing).

I come down firmly on the intrinsic side.  I love Minecraft because it lets me just go do stuff (especially in Creative mode where I can fly and have access to everything).  I love Burnout Paradise because I can just go drive around and see what the city holds.  I love SSX 3 because you can start at the top of the mountain and just snowboard down to the base, purely exploring the terrain.  I love flying in World of Warcraft.  I love just moving around in game spaces.

I want to do things that I do because I enjoy doing them, not because there’s a reward for doing them.  Living and doing things you love are rewards in themselves.

Carpe Diem, as it were.  Live, don’t just survive.  Play.

It’s good for you.

…though I can admit this is fun.  Metagaming the achievements, whee!

 Achievement Unlocked

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These are just some questions and thoughts I’ve had rattling around in my head since my Sell By, Use By, Bye Bye article, spurred by Syp’s No Game Lives Forever… not all questions are dichotomous, and “right” answers are personal.  I’m just in a musing mood lately.

“Needing is one thing, getting’s another”

Do we play something because we want to play it, or because we want to have played it?

Do we explore to see new sights or to take screenshots of them?

What do you do when the world changes beneath you, or when you change… or both?

Why do we want stuff that we can’t take with us, whether it’s “real life” stuff we can’t take with us when we die, or stuff in games that we can’t keep when the games die?

Why do we value “virtual goods”?  (I really want a grey dragon familiar, for example… but its utility and permanence is very narrow and potentially fleeting.)

Is that stuff important for the connected memories, or for future bragging rights?

Why do we care about what other people say, and why they say it?

Why do we help others?

Why do we play?

I recently sold a handful of my SNES, GBA and DS games to finance the repair of my computer, the purchase of Guild Wars 2 and some Christmas gifts for my children.  Once upon a time, I had hoped to share those games with my kids, since they are classics, but they were less than impressed.  Instead, I’ve sold those games and their ability to make more memories for tools for my children to make their own memories, somewhat cheered by the idea that those games will hopefully entertain someone else who valued their potential to do so enough to buy them.

Life goes on, and sometimes memories are all we get to keep.

In the end, that might be all we get to keep.

…and I’m OK with that.

…today

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A little while back, Syl mused about how World of Warcraft has changed her in an article thisaway.  Others chimed in like Victor, over here, and Rakuno over here.  I figured I’d jump in, since I haven’t done enough navel-gazing lately.  To dig into what MMOs have done to me, I need to go back to the 90s, before I did anything with them.

I work in the game industry.  I play games.  A lot of different games.  MMOs are just a small slice of my game library and vocabulary (though they tend to consume a disproportionate amount of time), but they have had some significant effects on me over the last 6 years or so.

My background is primarily in RPG games and tactical games.  I’ve played RTS, FPS, driving, fighting, puzzle, and other games, but most of my gaming time before MMOs was with epic RPGs like Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, Star Ocean 2 and the like.  Back in… 2002? or so, I remember seeing an advertisement in a magazine for the upcoming World of Warcraft.  It wasn’t the first online game I’d heard of (Sierra’s The Realm gets that honor, I think, and I was aware of Ultima Online), but it looked really good, and I liked the Warcraft IP, having spent many fun hours with Warcraft and Warcraft 2.  That was the draw, really, the ability to prowl through the jungles at ground level as a single character, rather than the third person nonentity I was in the Warcraft RTS games.  In short, I was captivated by the idea of exploring the WORLD of Warcraft.

Of course, the blasted thing is an online game, and the only place I had internet access was at school or work.  Those were the only places I had a computer capable of then-modern gaming as well.  Yes, I spent a lot of time with classics like Master of Magic, Master of Orion 1&2, X-Com (the old, good one), Privateer and the like well past their heyday.  I’ve always been a late adopter of games, really.  It’s better on the wallet.  Anyway, while WoW looked appealing, there was no way I was going to be able to play it, so I ever-so-slightly wistfully pushed it aside and ignored it.

In the meantime, I graduated from college in 2003, then got a full-time job that let me buy a then-powerful laptop that I fully intended to play games with.  I still didn’t have an internet connection (and to this day, I still think the darn things are too expensive), but I had a computer that could finally play Morrowind.  I was hooked, finally happy to be wandering through a fantasy world that was so much more interesting to me than my FPS experience in Wolfenstein (the old one) and Doom (also the old one).  I got lost along the shores outside of the starting town, died a few times, and then downloaded a few hacks.  I found I wasn’t all that interested in playing the right way, I just wanted to putter around in a fantasy world.  Imagine that.

It was while I was working in that first post-graduation job that I ran into someone actually playing that World of Warcraft thing.  He played during lunch, mining, mostly.  I watched him maneuver his zombie-ish guy around some barren-looking canyons, mining some sort of rocky nodes.  I think, looking back, that it was maybe in Thousand Needles, one of my favorite locations in the game before the Shattering.  He showed me around a little, noting that his “real” character was an Orc Shaman.  He offered me a ten-day buddy key to try out the game, and I graciously accepted.

I still didn’t have an internet connection.

So, I installed it on my office computer and played a little during lunch like he did.  Yes, we played games at work.  We were working in the game industry, and every one of us were gamers.  One guy played Magic the Gathering Online for lunch, and sometimes we all played the actual card game for lunch.  And it was good.  The bosses didn’t play games as much as we did, but they didn’t mind us playing, even with company assets like the computers and internet connection, so long as we got all our hours in and got our work done.

Anyway, I had ten days to play, only during lunch, only at work.  It was little more than a taste of the game, really.  I fired up a Tauren Shaman and puttered around.  I learned what the WoW notion of quests were, and I followed some breadcrumbs around the hill to a small Tauren town, then made my way up the road to Thunder Bluff, still my favorite capital city in the game.  I learned Skinning and Leatherworking, charmed with the ability to make my own gear.  It felt like my Tauren was a self-sufficient adventurer in a larger world.  It was good.

The game’s reality lurked in the wings, though.  I wanted some more backpack space since I kept winding up with lots of junk I picked up off of the critters I killed, but I couldn’t buy anything from the auction house and vendor bags were too expensive.  I figured I’d use Leatherworking to make some kodo hide bags, since there were kodos just downhill.  Silly me, I figured it should be easy.  Just go kill and skin a few kodos (they are huge, and should have plenty of leather apiece) and then stitch together a bag or four.

…the last three days of my trial were spent trying to make those stupid bags.  I had to skin several dozen critters to qualify for skinning kodos.  I had to kill dozens of kodos just to get one scrap of kodo leather.  I needed six such pieces to make one bag.  I stuck with it because it was my “endgame” goal for the time I had.  I never actually did finish even a single bag.

It was stupid.

That, in a microcosm, is the WoW experience, I think.  Fascination with the world and its potential, ownership of your own little avatar in that world, seeing new sights and new monsters… then running face first into the soul-crushing time sinks that the game uses to suck people into that next sweet month of subscription money.  I learned enough about the game to know I still loved the idea of the World of Warcraft, but that the game itself got in the way.  Even if I had internet access at home at that time, I still wouldn’t have bothered with the game because of the absurd subscription business plan… and to be honest, I did want to keep playing, but I was already getting burned out a bit, just because of the stupid grindy pacing of the crafting system.  It was probably good that I didn’t keep going at that point, since I was still on the edge of still liking the game for what it could be, and could go on pretending that it was exactly what I hoped it was.

Soon after that, I found Puzzle Pirates, and it was like I had found a home I never knew I was missing, and I didn’t have to pay a sub for it.  It’s still my MMO home.  I was hooked there by the gameplay, not so much the sense of the world, though I did love “memming” the ocean solo, still scratching that Explorer itch.  It helped that I was pretty good at the game (skill is more important there than time investment), and that I got my own ship without reaching some arbitrary “endgame”.  I didn’t much mind that I was missing out on the WoW craze.  I had something that fit me better, and really, it still does, seven years later.  In fact, last night I finally won my first Swordfighting tournament.  Sometimes it’s the small goals that make the most fun.  It is also the only MMO that my wife has played with me for more than a half hour.  She gave Guild Wars a good try, but it just didn’t stick.

It wasn’t until… 2008 or so, when the ten-day passes were obsolete and anyone could just sign up for a ten day trial, that I tried the game again.  I played another ten day trial, this time with my home desktop and internet connection (albeit a cheap one, which made the game laggy… which didn’t help).  The game still looked nice, and it was fun to make a new character, hoping for good times.  This time I did a little more research on the game and fired up a Druid.  I’ve loved Druids ever since.  I have a soft spot for Hunters and Shaman still, but I’m a Druid player at heart.  I had fun, learned Bear form, messed around a bit shifting between forms as necessary… then my time ran out.  I still mostly liked the game, but still wasn’t going to pay to keep playing.  I was mad enough that I had to pay $50/month for the internet connection.

The wider world of MMO gaming had been opened to me, though.  I tried a bunch, from Dungeons and Dragons Online to Guild Wars to Lord of the Rings Online to Atlantica Online to Star Trek Online to Allods Online to Wizard 101 to Neosteam to Free Realms to City of Heroes to DC Universe Online to my latest experiment, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and others in between that I’m not remembering at the moment.  I (quickly) grew tired of the DIKU grind, always chasing levels and loot.  I decided that playing with others can sometimes be OK, but that I’m still a soloist at heart.  I studied game design, business models and the game industry.  I found some MMO blogs as I studied the silly things and their communities, and eventually started a blog of my own.  This is why this blog still has a backbone of MMO analysis, but it’s not devoted to any one game or even stuck solely on games at all.  I came to this blogging world because of MMOs.

I may not be a MMO groupie, but I still find value in the sociality involved with the games and blogging in general.

So that’s what MMOs have done for me.  They have introduced me to bloggers I consider friends, they have increased my knowledge of the game industry and game design, and given me well over 6000 screenshots that I can use for inspiration (I’m an artist, after all).  My knowledge of games, my chosen career, has been enhanced by the wider world of the internet and how games work in that shared social space, whether or not they are designed for it.

My life is richer, not necessarily for having played MMOs, but for what they have led me to.

…but I still hate subscriptions.

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A little knowledge goes a long way sometimes… and maybe not in the direction we’d like.

As I’ve noted before, my college degree is in computer animation, specifically geared to film making.  In the course of earning that degree, I learned a lot of film making tricks and tactics, as well as the extra layer of tomfoolery that computer graphics permits.  As such, it’s very hard to watch a movie these days and not see all the little hacks and cheats.  I can’t help but see behind the curtain because I’m so familiar with what goes on back there.

I have a similar problem with games.  Since I work in making games, usually creating, texturing and animating 3D models, and I’m very familiar with the industry, I see all the little tricks that other game developers use in their games.  Even if I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and just be entertained, it’s a reflex to see, catalogue, and examine how things work, and perhaps more importantly, how they don’t work.

Similarly, since my degree is technically a Bachelor’s of the Fine Arts, and I’ve been an artist who studies art for a long time, I have a lot of experience with art, both creating it and in analyzing it.  I see art problems way too easily.  Even my hobbyist knowledge of astrophysics, physics, math and science makes some things hard to swallow, like the awful science in that recent Star Trek movie.

This is the effect underlying the Uncanny Valley effect.  Y’see, we’re all experts at being human, just by virtue of, well… living life.  When we see something that doesn’t agree with our experience, it just seems wrong, no matter how well-crafted it is.  It need not even be conscious; we notice the inherent wrongness whether or not we want to, and it colors our experience.  Even something like basic kinesthetics can be thrown off, as is the case with the Kinect motion sensor control system for the XBox.  The functionality is wrong compared to what we know so well, and it just doesn’t work.

So when we see something like this, where a psychotic nutjob’s murderous actions are blamed, in part, on video games, as gamers, we cannot help but shout:

OBJECTION!

We know enough about the reality of games from our own expertise to call “shenanigans!” on the media narrative.

Of course, there’s a flipside to this.  If we don’t have personal expertise in a topic at hand, and don’t want to bother informing ourselves about it, it becomes very easy to just go with the flow, accept fallacious authority, and accept whatever we’re told, especially if it’s something we think we agree with and fall prey to confirmation bias.  If we want to hate someone or something, we’ll find reasons to do so.  If the narrative suits our taste, we’ll happily ignore facts.  We embrace ignorance and live in our own little perception bubble, because we’re happy there.  Manipulative agenda-riddled media is more than happy to play along.

This is certainly obvious in politics and the so-called “mainstream media”.  This is one reason why blogging is changing the world and why it’s important to protect in the face of political opposition and Big Brother control; the “news” networks get called on their lies and matters of public policy can get a bit more transparency with concerned citizens involved.  Nothing quite dies on the internet, and it’s increasingly easier to do a bit of research and do a little fact checking.  Of course, even then, so-called “fact checkers” are usually biased, too.  You really have to go do your homework and proper research if you care about something.

Remember the murderer who played WoW?  When there’s a causal link implied by shoddy reporting and poor courtroom procedure, and you know the argument is pure crap, you don’t trust the narrative, and you are right to be distrustful.  You know better, no matter what the talking heads on the magic light box try to tell you.

The really crazy part is when you see through the curtain sometimes, but decide to let it slip back into place later, say, if the same media outlet reports something you want to hear.  They are no more trustworthy than they were before, but this time, since it’s something you agree with, it doesn’t matter what goes on behind that curtain.  The narrative is what matters, not the truth.

WoW subscription numbers down 300,000?  The game is finally dying!  Thanks for the brave reporting, guys!

WoW subscription numbers steady next quarter?  Must be a statistical blip or someone cooking the books.  They are desperate to show they aren’t dying!  Lousy lying media!

So what?  Just sayin’…

Trust, but verify.  Understand your own bias and get past it… at least, if you care about truth.  Sometimes, we just want to be lied to.  Being able to swallow the lies, benign or otherwise, certainly makes it easier to be entertained.

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I’ve been reading up on Prometheus and the Alien movies lately.  Why?  Well, here’s a Tesh secret: I’ve never seen any of them, and I never will.  I simply do not watch R-rated movies (or play M-rated games).  Still, they are sort of a Big Deal in the film industry, with echoes through the game industry.  My college degree was aimed at letting me work in film.  Maybe someday I still will, but for now, I work in games.  It behooves me to understand the cultural touchpoints that the Alien storyline offer to my professional interests.  If nothing else, understanding a bit about Aliens means I can communicate a bit better with those I work with.  “Ripley in a Powerloader” isn’t exactly “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra“, but the principle is the same (and if you get that reference without looking at the link, you understand what I’m getting at).

Some of this is simply being aware of the linguistic and cultural effects of the Aliens IP, but I’ll admit, I’m also a bit curious as to why they became such a Big Deal.  I find horror movies to be… very distasteful.  It’s noted sometimes that the first Alien movie was a horror movie that happened to be cloaked in science fiction elements.  The sequel was apparently more of a prototypical Action Movie with Alien overlays, and the others were action…y.  Prometheus sounds like it’s more of an Alien-like film, in that it’s more about the horror with a little sci-fi musing for flavor.  Not having first-hand experience with these, I’m only speaking to what I’ve read about them over the years, so if those hasty generalizations are inaccurate, well, I’m not maliciously and intentionally misrepresenting them, at least.  I’m just wrong.

So why do I care?  Oddly, I find myself fascinated not with the subject material so much as why they are even hits in the first place.  It’s the same sort of fascination I have for trying to figure out the appeal of the endless zombie movies and games, like Romero’s stuff, F.E.A.R. or Silent Hill (and Shamus has a handful of really good articles on horror in games, especially Silent Hill).  Y’see, I don’t like zombies, but I think zombie game mechanics are actually a fair bit of fun.  They also serve as interesting social commentary sometimes.  Still, horror is not the sort of content I’m looking for when I think of “entertainment” or “enlightenment”, and it’s strange to me that these things make as much money as they do.

It seems to me that there are a few key concepts to dig into.  One, Fear.  Two, Horror.  Three, the difference between the two.  Four, catharsis.  Five, killing monsters.  Six, voyeurism.  Seven, schadenfreude.  Eight, fiction as a coping strategy for avoiding awful, horrible truths.  I haven’t really wrapped my head around all of it yet, and it’s a low priority with everything else I’m working on, but still, there’s something there or else this particular flavor of entertainment wouldn’t be making any money.

Also, a thought question I proposed on Twitter a little while back:

What would a horror film look like if there were no gore, no monsters, and most importantly, no death?

To which I might add:

What would the horror genre look like if death itself became unhinged in any of a variety of curious ways?

All this to ask, ultimately:

What makes horror stories most interesting, and why?  Can that be explored outside the realm of R-rated and M-rated schlock and actually be approached in a truly mature manner?  (I reject the ESRB’s definition of “mature”, which is a prime example of Orwellian doublethink, where most M-rated content is deeply immature.)

Also, and maybe more importantly, what really constitutes “horror”?

It seems to me that there are significant differences between Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Craven and Ridley Scott, but all seem to play within the “horror” frame at some level.  I have a very strong dislike for the gore, profanity and “torture porn” that might constitute the bulk of modern horror, but at the same time, I am often fascinated with stories that chase down the implications of bad decisions and how people deal with crisis, tragedy and their own failures.  That said, I prefer stories that show people learning, or walking a path of redemption, rather than stories that are dystopic, deeply cynical or calculated to be offensive.

I think there’s value in stories and entertainment, value in learning from someone else’s mistakes… but delighting in those mistakes and the often dark, soul-crushing trappings of the horror genre seems to me to be unhealthy.  I think understanding horror and fear is important to understanding life, so there’s undoubtedly value in fiction exploring them.  There really is Bad Stuff out there, and sometimes we have to deal with it.  It’s just… I think there’s a line between understanding it and embracing it, and flirting with that line seems like a bad idea.

This isn’t all just academic, either.  It’s practical, as I’m writing what will likely become a series of novels, largely dealing with a fictional alternate history’s huge war and how key characters deal with it.  Death is a bit unhinged there.  My characters will wind up living through things that nobody should hope to live through.  It’s important to face the horrors, though, and ultimately, to prevail in spite of them.  As in so many stories, understanding the psychology of these characters will be essential to selling the events and character arcs as interesting and believable, even in unbelievable settings.

So… I’m getting there.  I’m not angling for the horror market in any way, but I want to understand the psychology of fear and horror so that I can make the most of them without sliding into the Nietzscheian abyss that waits out there in the dark.  It’s good to know where the dark is and how to fight it, but delighting in the fight is dangerous.

Edited to add this link to a comic summary of the first Alien movie, just because it’s good.

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Syp, the fellow who runs Bio Break and who spearheaded this whole Newbie Blogger Initiative, has a great summary post of the proceedings thisaway:

NBI: Month Wrapup

There are a lot of new blogs and plenty of advice floating around thanks to this bit of blogging fertilization.  I’ll probably make a post sometime in the next few weeks about some of my new favorites.  Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and participating.

If I might offer one final bit of pithy advice, it would be this:

Do good.

Not “do well”, since it’s not about your quality of writing.  Do good.

It’s not enough just to follow Wheaton’s Rule and “don’t be a dick“, though that’s a good start.  Make your contribution to the world something that will make it (and you) better.

As a corollary, when the temptation to rant or indulge in flame wars with trolls inevitably rears its head, resist.  That doesn’t mean you let them win.  Your blog is your corner of the internet where you’re a near-sovereign and you can delete comments from people who don’t understand common courtesy.  But even if you run a Wild West saloon of a place, where anything and everything goes, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of fighting.  You can’t cure stupid, you can’t fix jerks, you can’t correct the internet.

Save your righteous crusader energy for something you can actually fix and do good with.  This blogging thing isn’t worth the stress of dealing with idiots.  Spend your most precious time with your family and friends.  (Remembering that you can make friends online, certainly.)

Fair winds, all!

Oh, and some music for the road, courtesy of the Bastion folk.

Set Sail, Come Home

Edited to add:  Bastion is part of the newest Humble Bundlecomplete with soundtrack!  Seriously, that’s a sweet deal, and you get some other good games along with it like LIMBO and Psychonauts.  I cannot recommend Bastion enough, for both the game and the music.

Ooh, a nice live performance of a pair of the songs… very cool.  I’m a fan of acoustic performances.  That’s where you really see how much talent (or not) the artists have.

 

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I’ve played a wide variety of games in my day.  These MMO things tend to want to monopolize your time, but I’m just not wired that way.  Some might consider World of Warcraft’s Azeroth or RIFT’s Telara to be home, then, for the social roots they put down there.  Me, I don’t really have such a “home”, but no MMO feels more comfortable to me than Puzzle Pirates.

I have several characters there, but my “main” character and identity on their forums is Silveransom.  I’ve actually spent almost as much time on the forums and community art and game design projects as I have in the game proper.  To this day, my greatest “achievement” in the game is getting some of my art in as an Easter Egg, this little Croatian-inspired beauty.  It’s no big deal in the grand scheme of Life, but the game and the community have been good to me, and I’ve had fun chipping in.

It’s not a traditional DIKU-flavored MMO, but it’s the first one that really wound up capturing my imagination.  I actually made friends there.  I started playing more than six years ago, and it has consistently been the one game I can go back to and feel comfortable.  To be fair, I did try World of Warcraft thanks to a ten day friend pass shortly after trying Puzzle Pirates, so that wasn’t my only MMO at the time, but even then, the clear dichotomy between the DIKU level-grinding loot-heavy pedigree in WoW and the different design of Puzzle Pirates was very clear, and I had a strong preference for the latter, even though I really liked the sense of world that WoW offered (as I’ve noted a few times, especially here).

Anyway, as is so often the case when I’ve occupied a space for a length of time, whether it be mental space or physical space, I’ve developed habits and traditions in Puzzle Pirates.  The very first sloop I bought was second hand, one a crewmate didn’t need any more.  She left a piece of small driftwood up in the bow of the ship.  It’s technically furniture in Puzzle Pirates, so it was placed there on purpose sometime, but she had just forgotten it.  She let me keep it, though.

Thing is, that piece of driftwood, possibly the cheapest bit of furniture in the game, became a tradition.  That little sloop was my transitional vehicle from a newbie in the game world to a pirate, more or less in control of his own destiny.  That ship was freedom, and that little personality quirk of a piece of wood in the bow was inextricably tied to that phase of my Puzzle Pirates experience.  It was, in its own way, a symbol of my change from a lowly deckhand who might just have washed up on shore, clinging to a piece of driftwood, to a ship’s master, boldly sailing into dangerous waters.  To be sure, there are other, bigger ships (like my favorite ship, the Longship that I painted and renamed the Silver Dragon), and other transitional phases in the game, like when I scored my first Ultimate trophy (in Rumbling, on my alternate Silveransom character on the test ocean), but y’know, those “firsts” stick with you.

As such, I’ve had occasion to give a sloop to other pirates once in a while, and I always leave a bit of driftwood on the ship for them.  Is it silly?  Of course.  Is it fun?  Yes.  Will they remember it?  I hope so.  It’s the little touches like that that remind people of where they have been and why.  That’s important for charting a course to the future.  To be sure, the future will happen whether or not you’re ready, but if you know where you’ve been and why, you can position yourself better for when it does come.

So what does this have to do with blogging?  Well, tradition is a strong tool in maintaining information through generations.  It can also be a strong tool in reserving headspace in readers, carving out your own little niche in the blogging hivemind.  The human mind is geared to find patterns.  Traditions are patterns, ranging from the tenuous to the tedious, perhaps, but the whole point is that they are repeated events.  And people remember them, for better or worse.  If you do something more than once, especially with any sense of regularity, you may well be establishing a tradition.  Memes had a start somewhere, for that matter, but they grow because they are repeated and shared.  The tradition goes viral.

If you are trying to maintain a tone or tradition for your blog, maybe you use a particular “signoff” line like Mark Rosewater’s Magic The Gathering articles.  Maybe you just maintain a role or character for your posts, like Warchief Garrosh.  Maybe you post a random My Little Pony cartoon or a photo.  Whatever the case, you’ve done something patterned, consistent, and readers will remember it.

So go, have fun, and maybe, just maybe, carry over or establish a tradition.  You might have fun with it, and your readers might have fun with it.  That’s one of the best parts of blogging, when you share something fun with those people out there.

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I’ve been spoiled by hyperlinks.

They have changed the way I research and the way I write.  I’ve spoken many times to different people, noting that education is fostered by the human brain making connections between disparate data.  That was sort of the “Sherlock Holmes” schtick, pulling arcane data from pockets of his memory to make connections nobody else did, thereby properly fitting together the puzzle in front of him.  We learn more when we make connections.  (Incidentally, that’s true socially, which is why this blogging thing has value beyond just blathering.)  It’s even biological.  Neurons function by making connections, that’s how the brain functions and how memory works.

Once upon a time, back in junior high and high school, I wrote a lot of papers.  I learned how to write to a specific length instead of write what the topic needed, how to use bigger and more words when smaller or fewer would do, how to use paragraphs and carriage returns to get a little extra length, and as Calvin notes, that  the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! To this day, I’m sure it could be argued that I am rather more… verbose… than needs be, and that I parse things a little differently than most, but I do blame this more on the vast amount of reading I’ve done than the excruciating amount of writing for assignments that I’ve done.  By the time I was writing for my college Technical Writing class, I was actually cutting back on what I wrote so I didn’t go over the required length by 25% or more.  Of course, being a Technical Writing class, it was still about obscuring data and sounding educated, rather than educating the reader.  We certainly can’t have those uneducated people actually understanding what we college educated folk do.

Ahemhemhem.   Tangential diatribe aside, noting that sarcasm and tone don’t always carry over the interweb tubes, I’d note that blogging and writing in general are all about communication.  If you’re writing to show you’re smarter than the reader, well… that’s communication, but it’s pretty rude.  I know, I know, it’s just how textbooks work, but that doesn’t mean it’s right or even useful.

Anyway, back to linking (tangents are part of the concept of linking, incidentally; they are one way to pull in relevant information and expand your knowledge base), I’ve done a LOT of writing, and most of the time, I needed to cite my references.  Usually that was done with footnotes or endnotes.  I’ve fallen headlong into habits of citing my references, parenthetical asides and running tangents.  I’d like to think that’s good practice (the citations, at least), but it really can get a wee bit messy sometimes with all the superscripts or subscripts.  These days, though, I don’t use those, I just put in a hyperlink where it’s relevant.

If anything, this actually cuts down on my parenthetical asides.  I just plow on through my topic at hand, plugging in links where I’d previously have needed to explain something for a paragraph or so.  I can just trust that what I write makes sense on its own to anyone sufficiently well versed in the topic, and those who aren’t have a handy dandy link there to go catch up with.  It’s a sort of conversational shorthand, a way to appeal to a wider audience without breaking the flow of the text, and without indulging in full blown pedant mode, explaining everything in excruciating, formal detail.  This actually makes teaching in person harder… I get into a habit of assuming my audience knows what I’m talking about, and when they clearly don’t, I don’t have the time in real time to tell them to go read a link, I have to go back and explain things.  I’ve mentioned before that the persistent, asynchronous nature of blogs is a good thing, right?  I could explain everything, as I am very familiar with teaching methods, the scientific method and realllly tedious term papers, but I’ve found that writing is much more entertaining and flows better when I’m not stuck in “explain everything” mode.

Links are a crucial reflection of my thought process.  Perhaps that means I’m unfocused, but it really is my experience that chasing tangents and making those intellectual connections is the backbone of how I manage information and retain it for future use.  I loathe memorization, as a rote series of data points with no context is little more than GIGO, just data to regurgitate for a test somewhere.  It’s only by placing data in context with other information that I begin to care about it and retain it.  To this day, the only thing I remember of history before high school is memorizing the U.S. presidents and their dates of service.  I don’t remember the list, I remember how much I hated memorization.  (This song would have made it so much more fun.)  It was only in high school that teachers finally started putting the pieces together and teaching context, and boom, suddenly history was fascinating.  It all started making sense because of the links between disparate bits of data.  We chased down implications and unintended consequences, we looked at political ripples, we chased down echoes, sometimes hundreds of years later.  That’s all awesome stuff, but it gets lost in the memorization shuffle.  As kids, we were ever learning (and forgetting) data, never learning wisdom.

So, while links on the internet can and often are merely traffic-inducing plugs, for better or worse (as Wilhelm humorously notes), I think they are a great reflection of how the human mind works.  I also have to wonder on occasion if this whole ADHD craze is unfortunate sometimes.  I think it’s healthy to flit between topics and chase down implications and connections.  The trick may be to pull it all together in the end, but if we’re not mentally flitting about a bit, we’re not going to see the bigger picture.  My fourth grade teacher taught us how to “brainstorm” and see where our associative processes took us.  In retrospect, that was a very valuable lesson to learn at a relatively young age.

In a way, the “blogosphere” functions like a sort of shared brain.  Ideas can spark between writers, each bringing a different viewpoint to the process.  Links between blogs and references are like the connections between neurons, and since blogs are more or less persistent, once those links are forged, there’s a good chance that at least some of us learned something, and perhaps most importantly, that someone can come to it later and also learn.  Perhaps we can think of it as the wetware Skynet or something.

So, if you’re new to blogging, use those links!  Leverage the hivemind, jack your voice into the conversation.  When you’re reading someone else’s blog, chase some of the links sometimes, and see what’s out there to learn.  Learn how to read fast and think faster, making those links in your own brain.

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All this New Blogger Initiative stuff has reminded me of one of the common pithy bits of supposed “wisdom” that I’ve heard since junior high, when “inspirational” speakers try to tell us good little empty-headed starry-eyed students what to do with our lives and careers.  Perhaps you’ve heard this one before?

Find a job doing what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

It’s my experience that this is not only shallow and semantic, but the philosophy is actively bad for long term health.

There are a few aspects to this:

  • Turning a love or hobby into a job is effectively ceding control of that interest to those who write the checks.  Whether you’re working for The Man as a cog in a machine, or The Herd as an entrepreneurial wizard, you’re still tying your love to money.  That always changes things.  And, as the EASpouse storm made more aware, and this story of Free Radical underlines (hattip to Anjin), passion is easily exploited by unsavory management, canny to optimize assets and maximize revenue.
  • Jobs and work are usually crucial to staying alive; paying the bills, food and shelter, that sort of thing.  Money is almost always a necessity for mere survival, and work is usually how you get it.  That’s healthy, as I reckon it, because I think work itself is a good principle, but the last thing you should want to do with an interest you love is make it something you must do, rather than something you want to do.  It then crosses the threshold into an imposition on your time and energy, rather than something you approach at your leisure.  It controls you, rather than you controlling it.
  • One of the best ways to lose interest in something is to see how other people screw it up.  Hobbyists and wage slaves both have to deal with people at some level, but again, when money is involved, you’re letting someone else have inordinate say in your interest.  No longer are they just a passive voice that can be debated or ignored.  No, customers and corporate controllers cannot be ignored, and when you don’t agree, sticking to your guns can have a real monetary impact.  Maybe that’s a tradeoff worth making sometimes, but it inevitably changes the tenor of how you approach your work.

I’d argue that this applies to your motivation to blogging as well.  To be sure, you can start a blog with the intention of making it a revenue stream, but then it’s a job.  That’s OK, but it’s different from just blogging for the sheer love of communication and shared ideas.

I don’t do what I do here for money.  I work a day job doing something else (I’m an artist at Wahoo/NinjaBee studios), and write here as occasion permits.  Sure, I’ll do some side projects that will occasionally net me a little spending money, like some of my Shapeways or Zazzle/CafePress merchandise, and I’d certainly be pleased to make some money with some of my game designs someday, but that’s just icing on the cake.  I designed Alpha Hex for a contest, and have been refining it in fits and spurts ever since.  I designed Zomblobs! because I wanted to play it and maybe even see others play it.  I’m writing a series of novels because I want the story told.  In other words, I follow a maxim something like this:

Find a job you’d be happy doing, so you can pay for the things you really want to be doing.

Initially, I wanted to work in movies.  I grew up on Disney animation (and I’m introducing my children to DuckTales), lots of drawing and tons and tons of reading.  Animation is what my BFA degree was geared for, and I did very well in the program.  Maybe I will yet work in film someday, but I know what goes on in that particular sausage factory, and I’m OK with not being a part of it, though I’ll toy with the idea of making my own movies sometimes.  I also wanted to get a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, simply for the sheer love I have for the science, but I took a hard look at the politically charged career paths there and decided I’d maintain the love as an indie and try to pass it on to my children, rather than get burned out by the pragmatic concerns of a career in the sciences, rather than just working on science because it interests me.

I think this is partially what drives indie game developers, at least at some level.  Making games for the sheer love of making games has a tendency to produce some great stuff.  I’d hold up Minecraft as an obvious example, but there are plenty of others.  The Rampant Coyote is my touchpoint for getting a bead on good indie games, though the Humble Bundle and Indie Royale are good to check now and then.

That’s not to say that projects like Psychochild’s Storybricks are somehow lessened by monetary concerns, or devoid of passion.  No, it just means that Storybricks, for all its indie pedigree and passion, is still being worked on as a commercial product.  Psychochild and his intrepid coworkers are working at making the tech interesting and useful, not noodling around in a garage somewhere for the sheer joy of tinkering.  I stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact, it’s the wellspring of human progress, the backbone of capitalism.  Working on something with the aim of making money with it can be an honorable pursuit.  This whole Kickstarter thing even taps into the market in new ways, letting customers echo their support of passionate developers instead of waiting for the AAA venture capital machine to churn out homogenized focus-group approved games.  (And yes, I’ve pledged support for Storybricks; it really looks like a sweet project.)  There’s plenty of love out there on commercial projects, and I suspect that the vast majority of them start as labors of love.

It’s just not the same thing as working on something because you love the work, the thing or both.  Money changes the priorities somewhere along the line, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes gross, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better.  (Money changes how we handle things as consumers, too.  It’s not just a producer thing.)

I’ve told my wife on occasion that even if I were independently wealthy, living off of a mine of oil or something in my back yard, I’d still be working hard, just on different things.  I’d push the design of Zomblobs! even more, and develop its sister game that I’ve had rattling around in my mind.  I’d make a steampunk fabrication lab behind the house.  (Probably not by the oil well, though.)  I’d write and illustrate more books.  As it is, I’m doing those things when I can, in small ways, but if I didn’t have to work for a living, I’d simply have more time for the things I love to do.  I’d still love to work and produce things I consider valuable, it would just have a different tenor to the process.  If money could be made with the fruits of my labor, hey, that’s a bonus, but it wouldn’t be the reason for working.  I’d be working because I value what I’d be doing and what I’d be producing.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but I’ll tell you this:  when I am compelled by circumstance to do something, it is a task that I may well grow to resent, no matter how much I might like it initially.  When I choose to do something, to act on my own rather than be acted upon, my love for the task is not ground away as I go, but rather, it grows.

Those times when I don’t feel like posting on this blog, I don’t.  It starts to feel like an obligation sometimes, whether I’m feeling pressure to post something so I can keep people coming (I do want to share my game designs, after all), or when I feel like I want to comment on some topic of the month but can’t work up the right words, or some other circumstance where I’m not writing but I feel like I should be… those are times when blogging feels like a job, not something I do because it’s fun.  It’s much harder to write at that point.  I’m not of a mind that you have to push through it and post anyway.  If you do that, you’re treating it like it’s a job, and again, it inevitably colors your attitude.  Sure, there still might be something good in those posts, but they have a different feel to them, and in my experience, they aren’t as strong or as interesting.

There’s definitely something to be said for liking your job.  I like mine, and I’m happy with what I produce.  Working at a job you don’t like gets old fast.  That aside, I’m firmly of the mind that hobbies and labors of love need to be spontaneous and self-directed, or else they change into something else.  That something else might be good as well, but it’s different.  There is great value in doing something simply for the sake of doing it.  Like a schoolchild needs recess and time to just be free, adults need time to be away from imposition and obligation.

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