Real talk: Shout outs to the people that helped me get here

Ever since I came back from GDC I’ve felt a little bit different. Every GDC is special, in its own unique way. Last year, I came back with a renewed awareness of my own place in games, and a real gratitude for the luck and circumstances (and indeed the real help I have received in getting here (there?)). This year I came back from GDC feeling, truly, almost like a different person.

I came back with a broadened sense of what is possible. It’s weird to say this, but I feel… larger. Like there’s more *of* me now, than there has been. I feel like there are reserves in me that I didn’t think were there before. Is this a matter of perception? Of confidence? Of perspective? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s all of these.

So I have to thank, in particular, both Michael Abbott and David Carlton for initially, over three years ago now, organising to fly me to GDC. The impact this one decision has had on me personally is beyond measure.

Also in need of thanking is Leigh Alexander, who has done a lot for me without ever being asked. She recently reminded me of this piece from July 2011 ‘On Intimacy‘ that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of useful advice, guidance and encouragement.

And of course there’s tons of others I could mention and thank for being interested, or for being interesting, and contributing to me and my incredibly charmed online existence.

People say you’ll never really “get it together” and I’m sure that’s true – but I feel a lot closer to that ideal now than I did even a year ago. The future is something exciting for me, and not just something that is going to happen which I have to deal with it. It’s a profound shift I’m immensely privileged and grateful for – even if it is merely a matter of attitude. It’s strange but it makes me feel more like an adult than so many ‘adult’ activities (drinking, sex, renting an apartment, etc) did.

Having come all this way, I should mention some things I have in store for the future (though, as often as not, as soon as I say these things they end up changing again). I’m happy and starting to accept that my role in ‘games’, games writing etc is probably winding down, in tandem my PhD writing is winding up and I’m producing a lot more words for it now. It’s a sign of something that I don’t feel obliged to apologise to ‘readers’ for this because I think I’ve long since given up any ‘readers’ I had, trading them in for twitter followers and friends in the community. All in all, I’m pretty happy with this trade.

But I do have a thing in the works right now, and if I like the final production it might become the new ‘thing’ instead of more writing. If I ever get over this disgusting cold/tonsillitis combo I might actually put it out.

It’s only the future

I bought my MacBook Air today and it really is a great little machine. This is my third Apple purchase (phone, pad, air), though I’ve received three iPods as gifts from my parents over the years. For someone who has read a bit and pays attention to the technology he uses, buying into an Apple product means buying into all the criticism of production processes, Foxconn abuses, leaderly bullying and abuse by the late Jobs, etc, etc. Yes, there aren’t a lot of options for ethical electronics purchases, and the competition might be as bay or worse than Apple and it’s suppliers, but that’s a pretty lame excuse.

I got started thinking about the morality of these purchases from the perspective of someone in the future. What are our great-grandchildren going to think about our present habits, about what’s presently permissible? It’s not hard to imagine there will be things that seem barbaric and downright mad to them (Slavery was once acceptable). I heard a story about an actress in Hollywood in the 20s whose name escapes me – she was an early feminist, expected equality in pay, treatment, etc, and never received it from the studios or from the rest of society. In the end, she went mad, but the truth was (to us) everyone else was mad. She was just ahead of her time.

While it’s pretty clear one source of condemnation for our generation will be the treatment of animals. But my great new apple things got me thinking about whether we will be condemned for our purchases and habits of consumption.

In 100 years time school children will likely learn all about how the early 21st Century burned fossil fuels, mined the earth barren, all the while knowing that one day it would all run out… And kept on using them anyway. We even used fossil fuels for transport, they will be told and they may well be incredulous. “You mean they wasted precious oil just going places? What a luxury!” Perhaps they won’t all even be in the same room, but commuting via high speed Internet.

They will also be incredulous that anyone could be so ignorant and uncaring as to buy gadgets knowing full well they were causing wars in other parts of the world… but they kept doing it anyway. Perhaps out present condition will be given a catchy name – distributed denial of responsibility, where everyone knows but no one believes they can do anything about it…

And it’s hard to argue they won’t be right. It is bizarre that we do many of the things we do. It is also horribly unfair that we are delivering a for our children’s children that has the potential to be horrid.

I have no excuse! But I still need a laptop…

On the home stretch

I’m about 3/4 of the way there with the chapter, and the last quarter should come reasonably smoothly tomorrow. It has benefited most, so far, from what is the most extensive culling I have ever done to a paper. I forgot to word count the bits I’ve now excised, but I suspect it’s around four thousand words.

It’s taken on quite the life of its own in a rather scary fashion, and it feels like an snidely different paper from the one I presented in Oxford. Most sadly of all, however, I ended up removing the better part of all my discussion of Latour, but it definitely had to go. There just wasn’t the space – conceptual or numerical – for a thoroughly integrated discussion of ANT or even a cut-rate version of Latour’s basic ideas (the trouble being he doesn’t really have basic ideas, but rather an entire system). I’ve feel like I’ve kept the spirit of Latour in there by talking a lot about specific objects and even though I don’t mention flat-ontology or actor-network theory specifically I think readers familiar with those ideas will notice the influence.

Two last chunks of writing remain for Friday – something concluding and summarising the big middle section and leading into the somewhat more bizarre third section, and a bit more discussion in the third and final section. It’s probably the closest to what I originally had in mind for the paper – emergent ‘mind-community’ which knows stuff, deals with controversies, has some kind of total-community-emergent-authority: some kind of aggregate result of all the best minds thinking about video game criticism all scuffling with each other and having arguments. I’m not sure how convinced I am by my own idea here anymore, but I can at least position it speculatively.

T help motivate myself, I’m going to promise that I can go buy a replacement for my now dead laptop once I finish. I’m probably going to get a MacBook Air. It’s about $600 cheaper than I was expecting, and as it’ll be primarily a portable writing machine I’ll make do with the entry level model. That’s been a great decision with my iPad that I haven’t regretted.

Like Graham Harman wrote about a few months back (which I linked to), if a significant portion of my life and career is reliant on a piece of hardware it’s not a bad idea to treat it as a bit more essential than usual. His point was about having two of them, but I’ll be content with one that just works efficiently and that won’t start falling apart after a few years of hard work. My last Toshiba (a gift from my parents) only lasted a disappointing two years. I did work it pretty hard though, to be fair and the slightly more compact one that my brother got (essentially the same model but smaller) is still going strong like the day he turned it on. It’s certainly running a lot more smoothly than mine has for a long time.

I got my GDC schedule appointments today, and I imagine I won’t be able to cover panels and sessions for Gamasutra on my iPhone or iPad. I did write this post entirely on my iPhone, but as quick as I am (above average quickness I’d say) it’s nothing compared to what I can do with a full ten fingers and a proper keyboard.

The price of land

The always sensible Alan Kohler on debt levels in Australia – but not credit card debt, housing debt:

The combination of rising population, a lack of arable land and artificial restrictions on residential development in cities has led to a six-fold rise in the median house price since 1986, from $93,000 to $550,000 now. Over the same period, average household incomes have risen 3.5 times.

And now there is widespread terror that house prices will eventually collapse and leave millions with no equity, as happened in the United States. As a result the savings rate has skyrocketed and consumers are on strike, putting money aside for Armageddon.

Debt is making everyone grumpy and hypersensitive. When ANZ put up its mortgage rate by just 6 basis points last week – 0.06 per cent for heaven’s sake! – there was national outrage and attacks in parliament.

The government’s success in dealing with the GFC and holding unemployment at 5.2 per cent is nothing compared to its failure to bring down mortgage rates.

It makes me wonder what kind of a future I’m in for – there’s a lot of people invested (literally and metaphorically) in house prices staying high, but it seems inevitable that, long term, this level of price-to-income ratio isn’t really sustainable. For me personally, I guess I’m interested in thinking about the chances of it eventuating that I spend the rest of my life living as a renter (if prices never fall; or if something tragic happens to my career prospects; or if I simply don’t see the benefit in a mortgage for life…). There’s too many variables, and it’s all speculation anyhow. There are more than a million potential scenarios that could see me owning my own place eventually, and though I’d rather not treat it as an inevitability, it’s certainly a distinct possibility.

If sentences are ships…

One sentence is like a rowboat, it can turn on a dime.

Two sentences is like a sailboat, it has to tack and work with something other than itself.

At about 8,000 words the number of sentences might be roughly 400. That feels like trying to turn a super-tanker, but in reality it’s probably much more like trying to steer a medium sized ferry.

At least now I seem to have a sense of the right direction, even if it is vague, and to stretch the nautical metaphor a bit further, I think I’m standing on the bridge now.

A cavalcade of discontent

You know how sometimes you just get into a mindset where nothing seems to be going right? Where no matter what you do you can’t stop being in a deep, fuzzy funk? I’ve got that right now. So what’s pissing me off at the moment: let’s try and list the crappy things at the moment and maybe they’ll seem more manageable.

First: This book chapter paper-expansion job is crushing me. I hit a point where I realised that the initial idea I had in the paper was actually shit and rubbish and the so expansion turned into something like an attempt to salvage anything from the flaming wreckage of what I thought was a plausible original idea. Ha! So much for that one. Hey, guess what, actual originality is even harder than I thought it was (and I already thought it was pretty damn hard). I guess either I’m doing shitty research (hello!) or not doing enough (hello!) or my standards are too high (hello!) or I’m not playing the bullshit publishing game right (hello!).

Second: My actual PhD research – it’s basically the same deal as the chapter above. I mean, it was meant to be something preliminary from the body of my PhD. Which means, hey, my PhD research must not be doing too great I suppose yeah maybe. I need to get back on those interviews and stuff but I feel like at the moment all my time needs to go to this stupid chapter (see first issue) because it’s due soon. But all the time I’m supposed to be spending on it I’m really just wiling the fuck away anyway so maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I’ve got heaps of time for it.

How much do I actually still have left to write? I need to write: an introduction, a literature review-type chapter (reviewing what’s been said about internet communities I guess; my methodology as well?), a chapter on my own take on internet community (how to talk about internet community), a theoretical chapter on the nature of the internet or digital environment (although every time I think about this one I kind of cringe and go “really? wasn’t that also just another bad idea I had?”), a chapter I had planned to write attempting something like a mashing together of object-oriented philosophy/ontology and J Gibson’s “affordances” but I think that’s probably not going to be a successful endeavor now, a chapter of ANT-style case studies of certain bloggers who did a lot of linking, i.e. community building (Maggie Green, Michael Walbridge, N’Gai Croal), that last chapter could almost be two or maybe three chapters with the amount Maggie and N’Gai wrote. And finally a chapter on some events that elucidate some aspect or other of whatever the hell is interesting about the community formation aspects of the critical videogame blogosphere. Perhaps at the end of it all I go “Well actually, it’s important not to overemphasize the importance of this stuff”, particularly if I’m not particularly convinced myself by my fanciful claims at the end of it all.

Third: I fucked up pomodoro. Guess that’s not working out for me at the moment either. No idea when I’m going to get back into that, but this more free-style blogging I’ve been doing is at least keeping up my sheer writing quota.

Fourth: If I get another bout of tonsillitis I’m going to murder someone, possibly myself.

Fifth: If I don’t stop coughing soon I’m going to murder somebody.

Sixth: I am frustrated by constantly being reminded of an ex.

Seventh: I haven’t gotten out enough lately. I probably should have gone to the gym today at some point to de-stress and work off some energy.

Eighth:  I had a rather crappy SC2 game that got to me. Some unnecessary ‘advice’ from my 2v2 partner got on my nerves. We were outplayed, massively.

Ninth: I’ve run out of really good TV shows that I want to watch. I’m up to what’s been screened in the US now with The Walking Dead, Misfits Season 3 is on-balance disappointing. I finished Deadwood. Game of Thrones isn’t till April and I can’t drag up the enthusiasm to watch any of the great shows that everyone else seems to love (I’m looking at you Breaking Bad, you horribly depressing mess).

Tenth: I still have really itchy hands as a reaction to the penicillin.

Is that all? I think that’s all. it’s pretty clear that the research and the book chapter are two big-ticket items really bringing me down at the moment.

After a shocking list like that, I think it’s probably time to think of some positives.

I am looking forward to GDC a lot. It’s coming up really soon, but it still seems pretty far away somehow. GDC is literally my favourite week of the year. It’s better than Christmas. It’s better than all those other activities you enjoy. It’s like having all your best, longest lost friends all in the once city all at the same time. Who cares if the talks you go to are good or not? That’s not what GDC is about for me anyway.

Even though I had a really shitty last game, I’m also really enjoying the challenge and the learning process involved with Starcraft 2. I missed the GSL Code S matches tonight because I was actually playing SC2 but I can always go back and watch them later. My 2v2 bro and I played an amazingly tenacious game  earlier in the evening in which we won by the skin of our teeth against slightly favored opponents. Ghost play is essential. And with ghosts, my late-game has slightly improved – just by asking myself the question: “do I have everything I want?” which is what Day[9] suggested as a good thought process for that mid-late game where money is no longer an issue.

PALGN Behind-the-scenes

This pastebin contains a discussion thread between the owner of the Australian gaming site PALGN, and it’s volunteer staff, admin, writers, etc.

There’s so much to say about it really, but the most obvious is that it’s a really incredible example of The Sunk Cost Fallacy:

…having inherited the editorial position when PALGN was in the shit over three years ago, and having worked my arse off to maintain it, rebuild many damaged relations while building the best staff team ever, I’ll be damned if Iím going to walk away and let you reap the benefits that I’ve tried so hard to provide for this team.

All of these people other than Roland should clearly have cut their losses months, even years before the situation reached the downright abusive and destructive point it’s at now. I know one (perhaps two? maybe more that I don’t know about) people who did just that. I bet it now seems like the best things they could have done, in light of this.

That kind of Monday

Where your brain is in a fog that stubbornly refuses to lift until after midday no matter how much coffee you drink or what you try and do. I have a chapter to write, dammit, and I can’t do it without you brain! Maybe you’re hungry. Well we’ll fix that soon.

On Conflicts

Sometimes there really is no way to avoid being a bit of an asshole about certain things. I don’t really mind that, it’s just part of life, but I sometimes worry a tiny bit about how easily I accept the part.