Monday, 27 February 2012

On Stuff 27/02/2012

The Crushing and Inevitable Weight of Reality Bearing Grimly Down

In my not-a-new-year's-resolution I wrote that I hoped to make a decent length blog post every couple of weeks. If you count something that I'd already written most of, a follow up to a post from September 2011, something I originally wrote for a site other than this blog and an incoherent jumble of thoughts, I'm doing pretty well on this (on average). If you don't then I've written a pathetic one proper piece in two months. Take your pick!

In all seriousness, I'm pretty pleased so far, given my modest goals and expectations, and I am enjoying writing this little blog for absolutely no one in particular. It is difficult to consistently find the time though, or more specifically to make that time coincide with the will and energy to put finger to keyboard. Freelancers of the world, consider yourself saluted (obviously taking into account the lack of 9 - 5 job vs the vastly increased output).

It's also striking how much harder it is to write some pieces than others. I wrote about this last time with Diaries of Dredmor compared to just about everything else, but looking back that seems like a stroll in the proverbial park compared to a piece I'm trying to do about Twitter. I'm less clear on why on this occasion, although again I think it's again a question of narrowing down and understanding what to leave out. Also, it's perhaps because I'm very much on the fence about some issues and want to make that clear, while not causing the arguments I'm making to sound weak or half hearted. Also also, because I read a lot of games journalism and so might have a bit of a head start writing that kind of piece, rather than something more general like this. Maybe some of these reasons, maybe none.

The Good and The Bad, The Bad Being A Pretty Fucking Ugly Affair Too

This past weekend I've experienced the best and the worst of gaming in pretty sharp contrast. If you don't know about the Jennifer Hepler thing, do yourself a favour and don't find out about the Jennifer Hepler thing, especially if you already have a tenuous grasp on your faith in humanity. I read a couple too many articles about the Jennifer Hepler thing this weekend and my grasp was temporarily lost. One day this situation will become permanent, and perhaps I'll descent into madness and become one of the people that causes things like the Jennifer Hepler thing. It's a terrible cycle.

(Uh, on a serious note I'm not saying people should bury their heads in the sand, just that the whole thing is incredibly shitty and depressing, be warned)

I don't want to delve too deep due to aforementioned grasp losing, but I want to make some observations and put forward some opinions.

Firstly, this really is the Dunning-Kruger effect in horrible, horrible action. In particular, see this quote from Russell from the Wiki page just linked (just when I thought I couldn't love Russell any more, I find another wonderful quote that I hadn't seen before): "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."

The stupid and ignorant shout loudest and surest, because the intelligent are too intelligent to have such inflexibly held, fundamentalist views. To be intelligent is to question and to have doubts, but that makes the intelligent point of view quieter, and means the intelligent must tolerate decent and disagreement. This is as true or truer today than it was in Russell's time, and just as sobering. Can we be sure, loud and inflexible only about people who are sure, loud and inflexible about other things (intolerant about intolerance) or does that just make us simply intolerant? Being, hopefully, intelligent and tolerant, I am unsure and full of doubt.

But what to do?

Secondly, no, I disagree with this. The flaw is obvious and some attempt is made to account for it, but no, you cannot have one standard for YouTube and another for gaming and I think it's a real mistake to say that "gamers as a whole are not disparate". I can see the core of a good point, in that there often isn't much of a response to make to the utter fuckheadary that generally dominates YouTube comments, while really, intuitively and despite what I've said above, it seems like something should be done or said about the Jennifer Hepler thing. But the point is wrongly made and comes to the wrong conclusions.

Gaming is huge and is disparate, and inextricably linked to the internet and all the anonymity and space for consequence free idiocy that this implies. Anyone can become a gamer and, painful though it might be for some to know, "gaming" or "gamers" cannot present a single united front. The good news about this is we do not have to be nor should we be lumped together under a single banner as many would often like to do. Gamers are a bunch of people who are very diverse and often disagree.

Parts of gaming and gaming culture are like YouTube comments, and there is no hope for them. Parts can be regulated, parts can be educated and parts, thankfully, can agree and take action. Parts are already fine. There are communities within YouTube that are accepting, friendly, intelligent and open. There are parts of gaming that can claim the same, and it's up to them to say that they are disparate from and have no link and no truck with the arseholes of the internet. Bans work in places. Making your voice hear works in places. Passivity works in places. Hell, even logical argument helps in some places. Unfortunately, it's complex and I don't think there's one solution. This isn't an excuse for inaction, but a warning against single tack, one-size-fits-all action that can do very little, or even more harm than good.

The entire issue is of course part of bigotry in wider society and the segregation of culture by gender, ethnicity, creed, sexuality, etc, which I don't believe is properly understood, let alone properly combated in any general sense. Don't do nothing, but tread carefully.

And The Original Point That Jennifer Hepler Made?

I agree with this in general, but have one or two things to say about how it may not be quite that black and white. Not anything that means I necessarily disagree, but I think my caveats are interesting. However, OH GOD LOOK AT THE TIME ALREADY, and that post could take up another thousand words or more, so I'll save it for another occasion.

Didn't I Mention The Good?

Yes, the best that went with my worst was that, being done with Defense Grid at least enough to write about it, I've started Portal 2 (I play almost nothing near release - my back catalogue of games to play is huge to the point that I want to write about this problem at some point). Now Portal 2 alone is a pretty great thing, so far at least, but something else made this extra special.

I'll admit that it was a deliberate set up, but it was one that work utterly perfectly and could have easily happened by chance too. Girlfriend sitting in bed reading (Iain Banks, without the M in this case, a good book but not his best, for reference), me at the PC near the foot of the bed loading up the game.

For the first few minutes some chuckles at the funny dialogue, mild interest, asking the name of the game. Later, questions about the portal mechanics, some suggestions on the puzzles. Within half an hour, book abandoned, sitting at the foot of the bed, watching everything and assisting with all of the chambers. Fucking ace.

Valve talked, while developing Portal 2 and revealing the co-op mode, about this sort of thing being common and indeed being a big reason for the development of co-op. Of course, it's not unusual: many times I've watched other people play games and have tried to assist, but the point is that I'm a gamer with an interest in and an understanding of games, and I still often had no idea what was going on and no useful input to give.

My ladyfriend, who has no interest in or particular understanding of gaming, was completely engaged with a game she wasn't even playing, and there was very little that she didn't grasp or understand from just watching and some very brief explanation on my part.

I've got no great interest in trying to make her a gamer: we have some shared interests and some different ones and that's a great thing that I wouldn't change. I just think it's marvellous that Valve have created something beloved of the nerdiest in the gaming community but with intuitive appeal to someone completely outside it.

I said this was a set up: it wasn't any kind of trick or experiment, I just thought it would be really nice to create a window into the hobby that takes up so much of my time, without the forced awkwardness of making her sit down and play. I think that window was created, and it was a really nice feeling, and a bloody brilliant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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