Describing Bad Company 2, part 1 of many

Latour’s maxim for where to begin an ANT-like description is ‘in media res’ – in the middle of things. Perhaps we could start in the pilot’s seat of a helicopter. Better yet – we could be even more descriptive than that in saying where we’re starting. Here goes:

My viewpoint is an approximation of the nose-camera pointed out the front of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. Green HUD elements across the middle of the screen give an indication of the pitch of the craft, as well as its roll, and it is currently pitched forward at a reasonably steep angle, carrying it forward at reasonably high speed. Another human player is firing the left mounted M134 Dillion Minigun at an island swarming with ant-like enemies that is slightly to the front and left of us.

If viewed from the outside, both mine and my gunner’s character models indicate that we are soldiers of the United States Army, as do some on-screen indicators. From the perspective of another member of our team viewing at a great distance (like from the ground to our altitude in the air) a small icon is overlaid in-world. Since we are in a helicopter it is a helicopter icon – if we were on foot it would be a small triangle – and if we were quite close, whether in a vehicle or out, our ‘soldier names’ written in blue would also be displayed. The colour of these icons and text, for teammates, is blue unless the viewer and the viewed are in the same squad, in which case members of the same squad will see their squadmates HUD icons as a luminous yellow-green.

To the enemy, we appear to have no on-screen icons at a distance, unless someone ‘spots’ us. Up close our names would appear fittingly in red, whether spotted or no. The action of ‘spotting’ is done by pressing the ‘social’ function button – the default of which is ‘q’, chosen as such because it rests under the fourth finger of the left hand when playing in the default ‘WASD’ position. This facilitates quick spotting while moving, as the middle/third finger is free to continue to press the ‘W’ or ‘S’ keys moving yourself forward or backwards, and the same goes for the second/index finger, meaning that while ‘spotting’ a player can also press the ‘d’ key, strafing to the right. As long as a player’s keyboard avoids ghosting, a player should be able to perform a ‘spot’ while moving forwards, backwards, strafing right or any combination of the two (barring forwards + backwards as they rest under the same finger).

Spotting (or more accurately described as executing a ‘social’ action since it doubles as ‘spot’ and other contextual actions) is a very quick, but frequently employed action as it identifies enemy combatants to your squadmates (and if done with a specific item with a Recon/Sniper class, to the entire team) resulting in visually striking red triangles appearing on screen for squadmates. To identify enemies requires them to be ‘aimed at’ by a player (this aiming process can be both generous and fickle). Aiming is accomplished with the mouse (BFBC2 may support gamepads but in the PC environment I presume their competitiveness is not comparable). Moving the mouse left/right/up/down on the 2D plane of the desk results in the viewpoint of the character being angled up/down/left/right an amount relative to the settings of the ‘mouse sensitivity’ game option.

The mapping of mouse movement is not quite the same as mapping a 2D plane onto a 3D sphere. Think about possible head angle positions: full 360 degree moment is entirely possible, yet any left/right movement of the mouse, rather than sliding the view-position around the current ‘axis’ of the imaginary 3D head-position sphere actually moves the head around the sphere longitudinally. Similarly, any up/down movement is mapped to moving the head angle relative to latitude, rather than the axis at a given point. To test this, aim straight down/up and move rapidly left/right and observe how fast the player rotates 360 relative to the world, then attempt the same speed of movement with the ‘head’ aimed at the horizon. The difference in the increased movement speed relative to the world lies in there being many more ‘points’ of longitude between a 360degree rotation at the ‘equator’ versus one at either of the north/south poles.

Is this a trivial diversion? Hardly! Unless we are taking for granted the fact that Battlefield Bad Company 2 is an ‘FPS’ game we cannot take for granted the presence or absence of any conventions of the genre, be they implicit or explicit. By identifying the strange translation of 2D hand movements into 3D head movements we’ve uncovered something. Had we just ‘assumed’ that BFBC2 is an FPS (and everything that goes with that) we hardly would have even thought to consider the way mouse movements are translated onto the screen – they would have disappeared into the invisible ‘conventions’ of the Modern PC based FPS. The relevance may be discovered later – it’s much too early to decide which other features, mechanics, and aspects of the game, etc are related to or dependent on this particular head movement (and by extension aiming movement), but the point is to be diligent.

Let’s indulge in a diversion to one brief example, however – the radio tag pistol weapon which fires a dart that adheres to the surface of enemy materiel. Once tagged, friendly engineers may then use their ranged explosive weapons that are compatible with radio tracking to lock onto these vehicles (or indeed, individual soldiers who may also be tagged) and guarantee a more accurate rocket strike. The difficulty of planting the initial RF dart on a flying helicopter, however, is already considerable, taking into account it’s speed and the size of the object on screen when it has some altitude. If one considers how few ‘latitudes’ and of movement are available at the poles, we realise that small mouse movements left and right are translated into large changes when either angled steeply up or down, making it hard to hit an already small target with such an un-fine grained aiming mechanism. The game compensates somewhat by allowing for aiming down the ‘ironsights’, which reduces the rate of movement relative to mouse movement…

But back to aiming. I mentioned earlier that the ‘q’ key performs ‘social’ actions, most often used for ‘spotting’ enemy troops and materiel. The other function arises when pointed at a fellow soldier of a particular class, or when in a vehicle. Point at an ‘assault’ class soldier and activate the social function and your solider will ask for ammo; Point at a medic and he (all soldiers are male in BFBC2) will say something like ‘Hey I need a medic’. Both actions will also make your in-world icon and on your minimap icons change to a flashing cross icon but only for the medics on your team. There is a distance limit outside of which you cannot make a social ‘request’ in this way.

From within a vehicle, if activated while not aiming at any enemies, and if the vehicle you are in is damaged, the social function will cause your character to call out to any nearby engineers over the radio or within earshot for repairs. To any engineers in your team, your icon on the HUD-minimap changes helpfully to one of a flashing spanner. Repairs are accomplished with the ‘repair tool’, an Engineer unique weapon that is selected from the 4th weapon slot (i.e. pressing ‘4’ above the WASD keys) – a slot that it shares with the other ‘social’ items for each class. Pressing the number 4 on the keyboard brings up the social item for each class which can then be used: the engineer’s repair tool looks like an electric screwdriver and has a short range of operation, requiring the operator of the tool to be standing next to the damaged vehicle. It is operated by ‘firing it’ with the left mouse button, at which point it appears to be applied to the surface of the vehicle and begins to emit sparks and a noise like an electric power tool.

The assault class has a grey box with a picture of ammunition on top that when ‘fired’ is thrown onto the ground a short distance in front of the player. It will then remain on the ground for a number of minutes and replenish nearby friendly and enemy soldier’s ammo, rockets, grenades, C4, etc before it disappears. The ammo box is affected by physics, so if an explosion goes off near it, it can be blown some distance away. It can also be shot and will move a small amount, and if the ground underneath it moves or collapses, as in the case of collapsing buildings, for instance, it will obey the physics rules of the game engine. The same applies for the medic’s social object, being an identically shaped box but of a different colour (an olive green) with a Red Cross type image on the top. It will similarly replenish friendly and enemy troops health at a slow rate over time and behaves physically much like the assault class’s ammo box.

The last social object, which belongs to the Recon class is the ‘motion mine’, which is brought up by similarly pressing 4 (maintaining consistency between all the social objects) and is then thrown like a grenade. The distance the motion mine travels, however, is (and I’m estimating here) probably close to twice that of a regular grenade, as the ball-like motion mine seems to bounce and roll for quite a distance. From the point at which it’s thrown the motion mine is ‘active’ and sends out something akin to radar, centred on the mine and emanating for a radius of approx 40-50 meters on either side, which then displays on the HUD-minimap the location of all moving enemy players and/or vehicles. This information is transmitted to the entire team – remember that ‘q’ button-activated ‘social’ spotting is only relayed to your squad-mates normally, making the motion mine a more valuable, localized version of the ‘spot’. Adding to its value is the fact that it doesn’t require the spotter to be able to ‘see’ the spotted).

If at this point, you are expecting to find some kind of ‘conclusion’ you’d best prepare yourself for disappointment. “But what does all this mean?” I can almost hear someone say from across those thousands of miles of under-sea internet cable. Well, it doesn’t mean anything more or less than has already been described. As Latour pointed out, and I cannot stress this point enough, “If a description remains in need of an explanation, it means that it is a bad description.

In our case, if I can be so bold as to beg your patience, what we have here is less ‘bad’ description as an incomplete one. Remember that what we are trying to do here is not write a ‘critical essay’, we are trying to describe how and why a very specific online game operates. The critical essay will not do this for you! We need new tools, and description is the best I can think of. I like to think that this first, very tentative, very meandering attempt at description has strengthened that argument. In future, I may organise my descriptions a bit more tightly, but again, that seems to miss Actor-Network Theory and Bruno Latour’s key insight – you cannot always define the limits of your description in advance, as the lines of connected relations will always stretch out to include dependencies otherwise outside of your scope. Perhaps that’s becoming clear as we wander through the strange landscape of Battlefield Bad Company 2; It’s certainly an emerging reality for me.

In place of a ‘conclusion’ we have a summary: where have we been so far, and what have we seen? We have been inside the cockpit of a Helicopter, and seen how it looks (with very little mention of how it actually flies yet, but we’re in no hurry – hopefully we’ll get there). We have traced the movements of a mouse onto the movements of an in-game viewpoint and found that it’s a more complicated proposition than initially considered. We’ve also seem some of the functioning of the social button, mapped typically onto ‘q’ and resting under the 4th finger of the left hand. We also cared to look at the social objects of each class and how each is deployed, via the number 4, close at hand to the WASD position.

If after all this you are still looking for an explanation, I might again suggest that perhaps the current description is incomplete. So be patient, prepare yourself to slow things down, and walk methodically, eschewing shortcuts like generalisation, shorthand and assumed knowledge, and we’ll come back later and try to pick up where we left off.

Presented without comment #4

A special Leigh Alexander themed selection of pieces presented without comment, for your casual perusal.

“You” Suck’ by Leigh Alexander at Sexy Videogameland, posted Dec 14th, 2007:

Which raises a crucial points about this whole Web 2.0, user-generated content, world-building age that some rather smart people are certain is the future of games. We don’t all want to make our own stories, characters and worlds. To some, if “you” really is the “character of the year,” it’s not good news. And I’ve said I wish I’d added a “for better or for worse,” clause in there, because haven’t I just written a lot recentlyabout how, as The Plush Apocalypse tidily put it, “‘You’ is an anonymous, homophobic, misogynistic dickhead?”

Opinion: Hot Headlines and Hype Cycles — Who’s responsible?‘ by Leigh Alexander at Game Set Watch, posted Oct 26th, 2008:

Here’s another thing journalists and game developers have in common: They feel, quite a lot of the time, that they will never be able to please their audience no matter what they do. We won’t be able to make audiences happy, so we’ll stand for just being able to hang on to their attention.

SVGL’s Official Metal Gear Solid Drinking Game‘ by Leigh Alexander at Sexy VideogameLand, posted Jan 24th, 2008:

  • Whenever your commander reminds you via codec that you’re on a stealth/sneaking mission: Swill red-blooded American beer.
  • Whenever a female, on codec or otherwise, alludes to your legendary status, your mysteriousness, your quietness, your handsomeness or how otherwise impressive you are: Drink beer.
  • Whenever one of your advisory team breaks the fourth wall by instructing you to push controller buttons: Drink beer.
  • When you’re told to rescue a scientist: Drink beer.
  • When you’re told you have to pick up all your own equipment: Drink beer.
  • When the scientist you rescue pees himself: Take a cold, Russian shot.
  • When anyone else pees themselves: Take two shots.
  • When your rescue mission fails: Lick the salt and wash it down with a squirt of lemon juice. Chase it with vodka until the horrible bitter taste goes away.
  • Here it comes‘ by Leigh Alexander at SexyVideogameLand, posted on May 9th, 2008:

    Weighing methodology for game criticism against that of music and film has become the norm, regardless of whether or not the comparisons are relevant. We’re wondering how we can embrace and leverage this evolution…

    N’Gai said…

    If Pauline Kael or her editors had decided that her mandate was “more about sharing movie culture with the curious or the casual,” movie criticism would be all the poorer for it. The same would have been true of music criticism if Lester Bangs or his editors had decided that his mandate was “more about sharing music culture with the curious or the casual.” I believe that if my peers in the mainstream media and I do our jobs correctly; if we write clearly and lucidly, general interest readers are capable of absorbing far more genuine and truthful portrayals of what it’s like to experience an individual game than we are currently giving them.

    SVGL said…

    To my eyes, you have quite a fortunate situation and a really enviable opportunity at Newsweek (though I want to be clear I’m not disparaging you and calling it “luck”) and I’m glad you’re leveraging that role to try and bridge the gap a little bit at a time.

    People ask me a lot where I want to “end up” in my work — with a gig like that at a similarly sophisticated mainstream publication, probably.

    Cahiers du Multijoueur

    At the end of last year, Mitch Krpata wrote a near throw-away paragraph amongst a series of paragraphs on the games he played in 2010 that didn’t quite make the year-end best-of lists. The paragraph is reproduced below in its entirety:

    Battlefield: Bad Company 2: I don’t think I ever wrote about this game. I am generally tired of military-themed shooters, but I dug the big maps and the vehicles, and I want to apologize to the dozens of teammates I inadvertently murdered whenever I was driving.

    The key is in the sentence right at the start (and note, in the original context, the lack of a hyperlink in the title) “I don’t think I ever wrote about this game”. Every other game on the list of Krpata’s honourable mentions was written about at least once and had a hyperlink directing readers to the relevant piece of writing. But not Bad Company 2.

    This is a reasonably insignificant observation but let’s ask ourselves: is this occurrence fully explained by Krpata’s declaration of military-themed shooter fatigue at the time? Perhaps partially, but I think there may also be another, perhaps an even more compelling factor to consider. For help, we turn to Robert Yang and the footnotes of an article he wrote about ‘On level design, hookers, cybernetic architecture, Tony Hawk and all that converges’. In a footnote to his excellent piece comparing Tony Hawk levels to Thief maps we find this comment:

    (…game critics wonder why there isn’t more scholarship on non-MMOG multiplayer games? Well here are my excuses for shying away from the subject: (1) they’re all basically rock paper scissors at their cores, (2) popular strategies emerge over years of play, so scholarship actually becomes “obsolete” and relegated to history as key players change the way the game is played, (3) almost all abandon any pretense of narrative, (4) to write adequately about the highest level of multiplayer play, you have to be a really fantastic player, which you probably aren’t.)

    Think for a minute – how often in the critical videogame blogosphere has someone written about the multiplayer (and more specifically, the competitive multiplayer) of a game that wasn’t an MMO? If you don’t believe me, consult the Critical Distance game writing search engine for mentions of “multiplayer” – the results are few and far between.

    It’s a truism that to be able to talk about multiplayer gaming and have anything useful to say one needs to be highly skilled at a particular game, and David Sirlin has argued that time invested =/= skill, most memorably in his post ‘World of Warcraft teaches the wrong things’. But I want to write about Battlefield Bad Company 2, not only to help fill the critical vacuum around the game (which I’ve attempted before, to little personal satisfaction), but also because I believe that this truism about multiplayer gaming is in high need of challenging.

    I want to try writing about multiplayer gaming, and BFBC2 is my first (and perhaps only) target, but I need to presage this with an acknowledgment of the fact that a) I’m not very good at multiplayer gaming, and b) I don’t often enjoy multiplayer gaming (see point a) as to why. So how do I write about BFBC2 without being a high-end player (my personal stats in all their insufficient glory; woeful K/D ratio and all) and without the kinds of tactical insights that someone playing in the upper echelons of the game can bring, how do I say anything useful about the game? I think I have my answer, but before we get to that a brief detour is in order.

    One of the things I wasn’t completely happy with in the reactions ‘Rhetorical Questions’ provoked was how often it seemed as though people believed I was advocating a retreat from specifics, or details, in my fight against analysis in favour of persuasion. Persuasion and details, however, should not be enemies; On the contrary, they should be fast friends. There is little as persuasively strong as cold-hard facts.

    In response to RQ, David Carlton expressed some reservations, deploying the efficiency of the list format to convey a few of them. One point (number 4) that stood out for me was a comment he made in reply to my slighting of the GDC 2010 talk about the change to the Halo 3 sniper rifle reload time (which I didn’t actually attend but heard great things about). Carlton asserts that: “talks about the effects of changes in sniper rifle reload time are fabulous. Embrace details!

    And I find myself agreeing with him. But in the comments I added my own reply, saying that, “Details are great! A mere assemblage of details does not make a Dr. Zhivago, however.” So I still think there’s more to it than just having ‘more details’, a point that I think Adrian Forest picked up in his own critique of ‘Rhetorical Questions’. Forest said in his ‘Rhetorical Answers’ that,

    What Ben seems to be arguing is that while analysis of games is good and worthy, it’s not enough. We need to be more persuasive in our writing about games, he says. Games writing should be more persuasive than analytical. But to me, that immediately raises the question: what should we be trying to persuade people of?

    Which on the surface seems like a good point fairly made, but it’s actually contrary to the position Bruno Latour would take. For Latour (following the post-structuralist tradition) every single ‘thing’ is made up of components, other things that go together to make up whatever the thing is. These components of the ‘thing’ are in turn made up of other components and so on ad infinitum, the result being that everything is a ‘network’ of relations. Therefore, what we want to know is what goes into making a thing, Latour says. For him,

    …the opposition between description and explanation is another of these false dichotomies that should be put to rest… Either the networks that make possible a state of affairs are fully deployed [i.e. fully described] – and then adding an explanation will be superfluous – or we ‘add an explanation’ stating that some other actor or factor should be taken into account, so that it is the description that should be extended one step further. If a description remains in need of an explanation, it means that it is a bad description.

    Reassembling the Social, p.137

    So here’s my assessment of the situation: (competitive) multiplayer gaming has been hard to talk about unless you are something akin to a top-tier player. But that may only be the case if you are trying to add an explanation of things – anyone should be able to attempt a complete description of a multiplayer game regardless of their skill. The compulsion to explain so exemplarily embodied by the critical essay and its relentless push towards the ‘conclusion’ is a habit from the English department that we perhaps aught to consider jettisoning alongside the Comp. Science faculty’s reliance on ‘concreteness, definitiveness and finitude’, as I put it in Rhetorical Questions.

    Latour’s approach, which I am hoping to make my approach, will be to stick to description. Description that will come, mind you, from a very specific and embodied perspective – that is, from my own. In this way we get to hold onto the best of the Sciences reliance on ‘facts’ and ‘objects’ and concrete things while maintaining our commitment to relativism, rhetorical persuasion and… beauty, I think.

    The kind of game writing that I am going to be attempting in the coming weeks (and maybe even months – yes, it may take that long) is going to be ‘mere’ description. I’m going to describe Battlefield Bad Company 2 from the bottom up, rather than the top down as a critical essay might. For example, I may describe the subtle dynamic feel of the ‘USAS-12 Auto’ shotgun with 12guage slug and upgraded magazine attachments by talking about how the reticule begins in a tight bunch of four white rectangles at the centre of the screen, before exploding outwards following the concussive blast of the weapon, noting also how quickly it springs back to re-centre into that tight bunch in the middle again. I will be doing more of this type of description than I will be saying things like “Battlefield Bad Company 2 is a First Person Shooter, which means that it comes from the tradition of XYZ…”

    It’s quite a striking, and crucial difference. It means that I will be writing much, much longer posts (in fact, a series of posts) and perhaps it will not hold the interest of many people. But to those that it does appeal – readers interested in what this kind of approach can do for game criticism, and to those who write game criticism – I invite you to join me on this journey into the wilds of description.

    Post-script: Since writing this piece and it’s publishing I’ve read the conversation hosted by Paste Magazine between Tom Bissell and Simon Ferrari. Cf. Simon: “Precious few writers know enough about descriptive writing to make an experiential account of a singleplayer experience in any way exciting to me…” Hmmm.

    Presented without comment #3

    And so we continue our series in which relevant and timely articles are ‘Presented without comment‘, for your casual perusal:

    Could I sell my facebook account ?‘ by Christophe1700 at Black Hat SEO forum:

    Hey there,

    I have a facebook account that i used for ewhoring, i have 650 friends, mostly guys, and i didn’t use it for a couple of weeks.
    It also has sexy pics about ‘Sara’.

    Could i sell this ?
    If i could, which price ?

    I sell my facebook profile on meta-markets‘ by Burak Arikan at

    Immaterial labor, just like the spectacle (the social relations among people) is digitally measurablesince the social web services ramped up (See Trebor Scholz’s A History of the Social Web). Today with the new Facebook Social Ads, the measure of the value of my labor is even more precise for Facebook, but more ambiguous for me.

    Can you sell your Facebook account/profile to someone?‘ by GoPre at Yahoo Answers:

    I have been playing a game through facebook for over a year now, and am at a really high level because of it. I dont feel like playing the game anymore, and was wondering if I could sell my facebook account (that has my saved game stats attached to it) to someone? is it legal?

    Presented without comment #2

    And so we continue our series in which relevant and timely articles are ‘Presented without comment‘, for your casual perusal:

    The end of journalism as we know it (and other good news)‘ by Annabel Crabb at the ABC’s The Drum:

    …we are in part victims of our own excitement and impulsiveness. At the end of the last century, when newspaper editors and executives began to recognise the potential of the internet, the race was on to win eyeballs online. We piled everything we could onto the net. Over the years, we accustomed ourselves to the idea of breaking news stories online, rather than holding them back from the print edition. Build an audience, the theory went, and later on we’ll figure out a way to charge them. And 10 years later, what do we have? Leading news websites, and an audience which has been trained to expect this stuff for free.

    What if the greatest service we can offer to a reader is a reliable pointer to what’s worth a look, both in our own mastheads and others? Reliability and trust become more important, the greater the proliferation of information sources.

    [On twitter:] There’s a lovely generosity about it; millions of people, pushing little thoughts and fragments into the world, most of which disappear without trace, and some of which whip up into quite significant moments of community. Of all the new social networking phenomena, none is so routinely disparaged as the House of the 140 Characters.

    Deleuze (and Guattari) Items For Sale‘ by Robert Jackson at Algorithm and Contingency:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Twitter, more so than other social network sites, is the logic of one-upmenship par excellence. In order to engage in conversation, one must respond and summarise the previous tweet(s) in one pithy 140 character reply, which cannot help but be troll-esque and mere commentary.

    How to stop worrying and learn to love the internet‘ by Douglas Adams at

    Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do.

    Another problem with the net is that it’s still ‘technology’, and ‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them.

    We are natural villagers. For most of mankind’s history we have lived in very small communities in which we knew everybody and everybody knew us. But gradually there grew to be far too many of us, and our communities became too large and disparate for us to be able to feel a part of them, and our technologies were unequal to the task of drawing us together. But that is changing.

    Presented without comment #1

    And so begins a new series in which relevant and timely articles are ‘Presented without comment‘, for your casual perusal:

    Are you a digital sharecropper?‘ by Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror:

    In essence, any website where user generated content is the website, that is also a for-profit business (not a non-profit organization, ala Wikipedia) — is effectively turning their users into digital sharecroppers. Digital sharecroppers typically get nothing in return for the content they’ve provided, and often give up all rights to what they’ve created. At least a real world sharecropper would get to keep a percentage of the crops produced on the land.

    Generation Why?‘ by Zadie Smith at the NY Review of Books:

    World makers, social network makers, ask one question first: How can I do it? Zuckerberg solved that one in about three weeks. The other question, the ethical question, he came to later: Why? Why Facebook? Why this format? Why do it like that? Why not do it another way? The striking thing about the real Zuckerberg, in video and in print, is the relative banality of his ideas concerning the “Why” of Facebook. He uses the word “connect” as believers use the word “Jesus,” as if it were sacred in and of itself: “So the idea is really that, um, the site helps everyone connect with people and share information with the people they want to stay connected with….” Connection is the goal. The quality of that connection, the quality of the information that passes through it, the quality of the relationship that connection permits—none of this is important.

    But here I fear I am becoming nostalgic. I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery: this idea of personhood is certainly changing, perhaps has already changed. Because I find I agree with Zuckerberg: selves evolve.

    When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

    Auld is the Lang Syne‘ by Rob MacDougall at Old is the New New:

    My god, this thing we (unfortunately?) call blogging has changed so much in ten years. It’s enjoyed its edgy youth, its boom town gold rush days, and its decadent high baroque. Now, with the rise of blogging’s vapid, staccato children, the blog as medium seems to be settling into old, weird decrepitude. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. We always do, don’t we, when we talk about the internet?

    Spoon Fed‘ by Mr Denmore at The Failed Estate:

    In the olden days, journalists used to be taught to always write in the active voice. Oops. Let me say that again. In the olden days, journalism educators told their students to always write in their active voice. Whatever happened to that edict?

    A brief history of podcast appearances

    Hey so I realise I haven’t updated blog readers on all the podcasts I’ve been on lately (including one not so lately). Most recently I talked about my position on comments with the Critical Distance Confab. If you’ve ever wondered why “there is  currently no commenting” then have a listen to the ‘cast and weigh up whether or not you think the things that I gain is worth the trade off.

    A few weeks prior, I was on the same podcast talking about my favourite pieces of games writing in 2010, primarily examples of experiential, persuasive pieces of games writing. This is one really, really long ‘cast though, and towards the end I had to leave. Still, it’s an appearance.

    But even further back than that I spoke with Matthew Kaplan of the (now defunct) Game in Mind blog about an eclectic range of issues just a little while before he called it a day. The site, and podcast, have now gone the way of the dinosaur, but I got in touch with Matthew and have now hosted the interview here for you to variously love/hate/utilize/enjoy. I want to also personally thank Matt Kaplan for talking to me and asking such interesting questions for this one.


    I’m suffering from a hangover.

    A hangover induced by Phonogram – it’s actually a comic, and not the latest alcoholic beverage with an overly generous marketing budget. But a hangover is what I’ve got. My head hurts. My body hurts, and worst of all my heart hurts.

    Phonogram I love you, but you’re bringing me down. (See – I can do it too, this quoting from songs thing that is at the same time pithy and affecting. This one’s LCD Soundsystem, ‘New York I Love You’)

    But Phonogram. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to simultaneously share it with the whole fucking world and keep it entirely to your self. It’s the kind of personal thing that touches you in a frankly embarrassing way, embarrassing as it reaches deep down into the bottom of that well of shame and worry and fear and brings it to the surface and swishes it around in a big old mess. A beautiful mess, but a mess, nonetheless.

    It’s the kind of thing that provokes responses like this one – why the fuck am I even writing this? No one who reads this is going to learn anything actually about Phonogram except on a tenuously connected emotive level. But respond I must – I almost have no say in the matter.

    So what do I say about Phonogram, as I sit here and defer eating to write this? I say that it’s Kieron Gillen’s best work (that I’ve read) and his voice reaches out from behind every page. His tone (if that’s even the right word?) is almost… didactic. Here’s your favourite big brother delivering some sage advice straight into your fucking chest.

    What the fuck is this, my eyes got misty as I wrote that last sentence. Shit, I’ve never even met the dude and it’s embarrassing me that I feel about it; that I feel he’s speaking right at me.

    Because I see a lot of ‘me’ in these pages. Not ‘me’ in the same way that I’m someone with the name ‘Ben Abraham’ – there’s no connection to that. And not ‘me’ in the sense that any of it was ever written ‘about’ me, or for me. I don’t know who it was written for, if it was written for anyone.

    But me. I’m right there. In the page with David Kohl (who is clearly a case of Gillen writing semi-autobiographically or my last name isn’t Abraham) and with Laura Heaven, and Seth (oh fuck me, Seth! God damn – who like me doesn’t want to be Seth?) and Kid-with-Knife, and yes, even Penny (though I fucking loathe Penny and everything she stands for, naturally) and Lloyd (Ah, too close to home! Let’s not talk about Lloyd – that would be real shame right there). These are like real people.

    And it’s beautiful that it’s probably the end and there’ll never be more Phonogram (barring some actual magic happening) because it… adds to the poignancy in that kind of bullshit-saccharine-romantic kind of way that I’m so fond of. That kind of faux-exclusivity that appeals to people like me (again, it’s that do-I-want-to-evangelise-this-goddamn-amazing-work-or-keep-it-secret).

    I just remembered; when I was composing this thing in my head earlier I was going to open with a line about the utter shock of the completely new. Phonogram is shocking in its newness, but at the same time you recognise that it’s not like the metaphor of ‘music as magic’ hasn’t been made before (I have a Bachelor’s Degree in music; I know right? I keep forgetting) but it’s never, ever been taken to such an extreme. Nor such an attractive extreme, and attractive it really is. Can I impress that point? Everything about it I found attractive. Even, no, especially the rule at the Singles Club about ‘No Boy Singers’ – fucking hell! For an awkwardly-trying-my-best-to-be-feminist smart guy like myself that’s fucking catnip right there.

    Carrying on the from the point that it’s attractive, I’ll admit that the initial appeal for me was Gillen’s input (and I only got put onto it because Fraser Allison recc’d it, so thanks for that, I guess) but the pictures are also very attractive. I’ve never been a comics appreciator before (and still probably aren’t) but I appreciate just about everything that’s gone into this series. When I read Watchmen (yes, blasphemously only after post- the Zach Snyder adaption) I was annoyed by what I felt was heavy-handed foreshadowing. But that was probably unfair of me since I already knew how it ended by virtue of the film. With Phonogram I had no such preconceptions and so every visual detail added as much as every written one. I know from the glossary at the end of The Single Club that a lot of the visual detail was specified by Gillen, too, but it’s undoubtedly a composite effort, so a hat-tip to McKelvie too.

    I read them in order, in the space of about three days – Rue Brittania first, which picked me up and sold me on the world of Phonogram probably in the space of about two pages; but The Singles Club got all of me in one morning. I mainlined it like an addict after a week long hiatus. I love that it was in colour. I love that it was sexy, and full of sex. I love that it was… British, a thing I most definitely am not. But what I am notices and sees resonances in that. I’m something that’s come from that but isn’t that (won’t ever be the same as that) but which calls across the pages and across the distances between our shores and theirs and says something like ‘G’day comrade, good to see you’re having exactly the same shitty problems as us’.

    I wrote a week ago that I missed Gillen as a videogames writer. Well, I still do – that hasn’t changed. But I feel better about letting him go as I know that this – this fucking stuff right here? Yeah, it’s not a waste of time. Congratulations Gillen, I’m a convert. Comics aren’t a waste (like I will totally admit I thought they were). Or at least, they don’t have to be. Like games, you know? Games don’t have to be shit (thought frequently they are) and that’s just a fact to deal with and move on.

    I’m not going to become a ‘comics nerd’ as one of my friend’s (who is a comics nerd) partner suggested the other day. I’m still not that keen on them, but I’ve been converted from a non-believer into a…. an agnostic perhaps? I don’t know what I am, except that I’m writing this and it’s time to end.

    That’s the thing about Phonogram though – it knows people. It knows being people involves trying; trying to be people. What was the line, “And who in God’s name are you trying to be?” (paraphrased)? It was addressed to Laura Heaven, who was trying really hard to be someone else. David Kohl almost tried to be someone else in Rue Brittania, but he couldn’t – it wasn’t worth the effort.

    If my identity (games, like obv) were about to die and sublimate everything that was founded on it – just like Brittania and Kohl – if I had to change something, re-center myself on comics or face disappearing, becoming nothing?  If the choice was between becoming someone else and becoming nothing (is that a metaphor for death? Possibly…)? Well, like Kohl, it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort. And that’s cool. That’s totally fine.

    I’ll catch up with you later, okay Phonogram? Make some more issues and I’ll throw money at you faster than you can say ‘Damon Albarn is a slick git’. But until then, you’ll just have to settle for fucking me up a bit and letting me go.

    Fucking British.

    Birthday Giveaway!

    The blog is one year old today, and while I was planning on doing this on my birthday, the blog’s birthday seems just as fitting.

    As is hobbit tradition on birthdays I have things to give away! I’ve got about 7 copies of Audiosurf to give away on Steam, and two copies of Plain Sight. To win this incredibly easy competition all you have to do is persuade me that you deserve the game of your choice, either via twitter (if your twitter account is private and I don’t follow you – beware I won’t see your tweets, even the ones @me!) or via email (the address can be found on the sidebar). I’m not putting a timelimit on this, but I’ll hold off for about a week before deciding on winners (just to give everyone a chance).

    Here’s to a great 2011! And thanks for making 2010 awesome, dear reader, it’s an honour to be read.