A Spoonful of Chinese philosophy to help the New Year go down

tldr; Zhuangzi is to Chinese philosophy what Solaire is to Dark Souls.

Shen made this. He’s rad, so go to his website and throw money at him. 

As I tend towards being in a reflective mood on New Year’s eve, I just wanted to spend a little time writing about, what is for me, one of the most key-est concepts in making sense of the world. It is the ancient Chinese word “Dao”. The closest word that I can use to translate it is “life-way”. “Dao” is one syllable shorter (a whopping 50%!) than “life-way” or “world-view” and it gives me an excuse to talk about ancient Chinese philosophy, something I am quite fond of.

Usually people hear about the word Dao (or “Tao”) in relation to Daoism, and so think them a pair in a philosophical/religious tradition unto itself. However, the word Dao was actually something that all ancient Chinese philosophers shared in common vocabulariousness. A.C. Graham wrote a book called Disputers of the Dao, as, well, this is what they were doing way way way back in the day. They were disputing on which Dao was the right Dao to Dao society with. They were making reasoned arguments, writing poetry and even telling enigmatic and hilarious stories to move readers to their side.

Dao translates to English literally as “path” or “way”, but its oh so much more than that! It is the metaphor that was taken as a given in early Chinese thought to kick off a big philoso-party, much like how the dogs named Metaphysics and Ideas were let out in “western” tradition.  Paths exist in nature and provide guidance, and so this seems like a rather keen metaphor for describing how a society works. So yeah, for the moment, forget the whole “Dao is the meaning of the universe, bro!” or whatever your stoned cousin told you between bong-hits.

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Whenever I am faced with a choice, like what to eat for lunch

Really, a Dao is a network of paths, or a roadmap, that guides a society in a particular way. Every society has caught at least one. In order to get our point across we (usually) follow the rules of grammar, and to get around in a society we (usually) follow the rules of society. “But which frickin Dao is the right Dao?” one might casually remark while drinking ones afternoon tea. Well, unlike choosing logic in the ‘west’ as the arbiter of such cases, what many philosophers of that time would do to justify their Dao was to show how the cosmos/nature/Tien, was on their side. It’s sort of the equivalent of saying, “Look man, you got a good argument and all that, but I got the whole universe on my side with this Dao of mine, soooo… I pretty much win.” This is basically the equivalent of saying you can get an ought from an is, a big philosophical no-no. Everybody was doing this, that is until, according to philosopher/historian Chad Hansen, Zhuangzi, the man, the legend, came along an blew that house down.

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Logic, in Halo form

Hansen centers his argument around his interpretation of one of the most famous stories in the self-titled book, Zhuangzi  (庄子)  (~400 BCE). The story is called “The Piping of Nature”. In this story, Zhuangzi tells about an older man lost in thought and another younger man who came to question him about it. The older man said he was thinking about the three pipings: the  piping of men, of the earth and the piping nature, and then he goes on to explain what they are. The piping of men is flutes, saxophones, saeng-hwang and such. Easy enough to understand. The piping of earth is pretty simple too, which is basically the eerie sounds the wind makes when it blows across cave entrances, cracked window sills and through the hollows of trees. But the piping of nature he says produces Daos, life-ways. Just as there are 10,000 things out there in the world (10,000 just meant a lot), there are 10,000 languages, and also 10,000 Daos, all coming about naturally via the piping of nature. Nature allows for 10,000 Daos and doesn’t choose among them and so, and as the argument goes, we cannot find justification of one Dao or another Dao, from nature. You can’t get an ought from an is. You can’t get ethical guidance from nature, you can only get guidance from Daos. It’s not turtles (buy Mr. Green’s book), according to Zhuangzi, its Daos all the way down.

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Zhuangzi translated: “I came here to blow minds, and help people get shit done. With butterflies.”

Zhuangzi, seeing all Daos as being natural, is not arguing that all ways are equally good or right, he is just describing the state of things as they are, for better or worse. Although it does’t really offer me any guidance per se, this is still one of the best models on the market to help one understand the world. The model sorta looks like this: 10,000 languages, 10,000 Daos, all swirling around. Now, here we are in the same situation as the ancient one, but with a giant technological spoon stirring things. A world drowning under the elite-controlled self-replicating digital hand-mixers spinning infinite loops of copy-pasta at speeds the eye can barely catch! I digress, but why is Zhuangzi’s model so beneficial for me? It just reminds me that when I encounter people who come from a different Dao than me that I should just accept it. I think we tend to bristle when we come across someone different from ourselves, despite our half-assed pledges of loving diversity and such. Speaking for myself , I admit to wanting to make more excuses and tending more to hedge around working with difference, which is in my case often people who come from the ‘dominant worldview’.

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I don’t know who made this. Whoever it is, I just want to say: I love you

So rather than bristling whiskers and rattling sabers, I find it much better to listen to nature’s song, praise the sun and try to understand where that other is coming from. In changing my attitude, often times I notice a path opens up for ‘jolly-coop’. What old ZZ teaches here is when you aren’t busy trying to find out who is right and who is wrong, you can actually focus on moving forward and getting shit done. Whether successful or not in finding some solution everyone can agree on, if at least someone chooses to put one foot on the Dao of bridging Daos, that’s one step towards awesomeness in my book. So perhaps it isn’t merely the Dao concept that is the thing that really helps me organize the world, it’s actually the story “The Piping of Nature”. Either way you can’t really grasp the context of the story without having at least a rudimentary understanding of the concept of Dao, as it is central to ancient Chinese philosophy and Zhuangzi. And as if that weren’t enough!, becoming familiar with just one new word nets you, gets you, one step closer to understanding the 10,000 ways of life.

Enjoy the New Year everybody!

 

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Play this game: Universal Paperclips

Do yourself a favor and play this game: Universal Paperclips 

ITS FREE!!!!

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This is a game I came across yesterday on twitter. It was created by the Frank Lantz. Playing this game quickly proceeded to unravel my mind in the most addictive and comedic way. The game is a paperclip manufacturing simulation that, without getting into too many details, somehow divides amphibians. Its minimalist appearance gives you no indication of the incredible joy you will receive from this experience. Previously, I’ve spoken on how I want games to surprise me, even if it were a spreadsheet, well this one did. Bravo!

If you do end up playing this game (or already have), let me know what you think of it!

Where it’s at

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Since I mostly stopped blogging a few months ago I had something surprising happen to me. I wrote a personal statement. Surprise! No… the surprise was the newer version was clearly superior to my last version. I attribute this to the fact that I’ve been blogging over the past however long, …over a year. Seeing how today I had a mild moment of respite from the desperate quest to claw up the dark muddy mountain in the adjunct faculty survival game, I decided to reflect on this blog.

It’s clearly beneficial to me, but there is absolutely nobody reading it. Truth be told, I have almost no motivation to write if I know that it’s not going to see the light of day. Dilemma! **random encounter BGM**  Yeah, so I did some soul searching (and had some great conversations with my SO) and came up with some interesting points…

  • My writing/thought style is the attempted intersection of a few realms: academics (e.g. philosophy, psychology, native studies, etc.), comedic entertainment, games journalism and game design/development.
  • I do not specialize in any one of these mentioned realms to the extent that I would consider myself  being near expert (maybe if I got my PhD or made an awesome game…)
  • My style has pretty much no audience (as most of those realms mentioned above are separated from each other, for whatever reason)
  • There are other platforms that do attempt to bridge these realms in writing, but they are not very successful at getting a following
  • There are other platforms that do somewhat successfully/tentatively bridge these realms, but they are not in writing (e.g. video essays, podcasts)
  • Freelance writing for established publications is most likely the avenue for someone like me, if I ever want to be read
  • Freelancing is hard and takes more time than I can afford presently
  • My writing ability probably isn’t good enough to get published and may have something to do with not being read (being honest here)
  • Get over it and keep writing on the blog…, which I am obviously doing right now

Yeah, so that’s where I’m at. Where you at?!

*Deep breath*

Back to the clawing in the darkness like a someone trying to escape being buried alive…

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Slight exaggerations…

On The Game Design of the Political-Economy (and Chicken Dinners)

TL;DR – Degamify the world, because vegan cookies are actually way better than you expected.

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This picture will make more sense in the future

It’s not only me that has been sneaking furtive sidelong glances with heart-shaped eyes in the direction of games and game design. Video games as an industry has surpassed other “traditional media”, like movies, books and such, in how much of that cash money it’s making. They’re making heaps upon heaps, as Ricky Baker might say, and lurking underneath the towering tree of the games industry is an ecosystem of cottage industries popping up like mushrooms from the [ ? ]. There’s games journalism, youtube channels, websites, and even them academics are looking for that sweet sweet payoff with that sweet sweet data. Now more than ever, the difference between the money and data is hardly noticeable, right Zuckie old sport? Oh! and remember that whole trend of gamification? Gamify your workplace! Gamify the classroom! Gamify you chores, your sex life, your finances! Game game GAAAMMEEE! 

Falling head-over-heels into the rabbit hole of game design for what, a year or more?, I was slightly bummed about finding the limits of games. It turns out that games are not the solution to the world’s problems. Darn! I still enjoy games, but I have realized that don’t like them everywhere. In fact, the last place I want competitive games is in a centralized part of the real world. Real, as in that place where we live or die depending on what happens.

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Funny enough, aren’t there a ton of dystopian books and movies out there that show the dangers of gamifying society? Before there were hungry games and joggers of labyrinths, there was the Japanese cult hit Battle Royale (2000). Kids on an island with a bunch of weapons have to survive by killing each other until only one is left! Or- if you go back, practically to ancient times, you might recall, totally, the 1987 movie The Running Man, starring California’s governor-to-be, Schwarzenegger where he was pitted in a competition of life and death in some sort of maze with obstacles and other people. Hmm governor… game, game… governor, movies, games, rules, money… Whoops! Sorry, I was letting my thoughts get away from me…

Okay get it together Tony…, *ahem*

Right!

So let’s actually reminisce to real ancient times, when ancient people would fight and die for glory, money and freedom! Wasn’t there something entirely too brutal that happened in a tiny country in Europe, with stone pillars, princes, armor, tigers and junk? That’s right, gladiators used to gladiate in Rome! Indeed, men (and sometimes women too) would be pitted against each other in Mortal Combatt™, and the people of that tiny country had the voyeuristic opportunity to marvel at all the rule-bound violence. For more info see Russell Crowe in The Gladiator where he played a Spanish schizophrenic that sailed around the globe challenging pirates to duels to the death. s/ Great stuff! /s

Image result for russell crowe and ryan gosling movieAre you not entertained? 

Come to think of it, two of the most popular games out right now, like at 2:25pm, are Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (still in ‘early access’, not that it matters) and the oh-so-creatively named Fortnite: Battle Royale. Both of these games are pretty much the same thing as those movies mentioned earlier (and each other). Take players and pit them against each other in a survival scenario where only the strong survive. But golly, wouldn’t that be crazy to think about doing this in real life? Nobody in their right mind would put their life on the line in such a system, especially when they haven’t even finished the second season of Stranger Things! Better to do something with no relation to competition or real world ramifications on you or your loved one’s survival, like being productive members of society and going to work. That is unless, of course, your boss is trying to gamify your workplace, or if you live anywhere in the world.

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This image makes sense in the past

Unless you aren’t alive right now, you are in a competition for survival against everybody else whether you like it or not. Not because we live in a biosphere with limited energy resources, but because you are The Running Man! Yes, you are a giant bulky spandex-bedecked Austrian governor-to-be in his prime trying to survive in a competition of life or death! The political-economic theory of capitalism is founded on competition, just like games are, and this world is still kinda in the throes of it right now. It’s a system invented by a certain group of people wherein players/citizens must make their livelihood by out-competing others in a game of economic athleticism. No doping, you hear! There are indeed other social systems out there, but there is one that is unsurprisingly dominating the others, and it isn’t that intelligent, sexy socialism that wants to own them means of production and take care of its people. No sirs and madams, much like certain people in power here at 2:43pm, its good old hot-blooded capitalism and its gropey-ass, not-so-invisible, hand.

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Like being here, but with way better graphics

This sucks though, right? Who wants to wake up every day and join a game of Monopoly, where all the real-estate is owned by the same people who run the bank , who write the instruction book and who frickin’ enforce the rules? Unless of course you have a little piece of the pie, which I’m saying you don’t, because I’m writing the rules now! See what I did there. I made a new game, just like that.

The truth is, in competition, that zero-sum game, there must be losers if there are to be winners. Economic competition necessitates that some people will be in poverty and of frickin’ course it will be the less able and those with the least access to means of becoming competitive, like poor and/or marginalized people/peoples. People like you and me and people we know and love.

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I’ll be honest, I ❤ competitive games. I play Tekken 7, I even play the new Call of Duty, but I like to keep my competitiveness in the game, not outside of it. Gozer will not be destroyed by crossing the streams of games and society. She was created by crossing the streams! Moral of the story: you gotta keep ’em separated. When I turn off the PS4, or close Steam out, I’m (usually) all Lorax and shit, in legal weed Washington, with my liberal arts degrees, laughing at the man, eating shared potluck dinners with vegan cookies and crap.

Do yourself a favor and take your part in degamifying your life and the world, especially if you love games.

My SNES Classic Mini Experience

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Scrappy, the oracle dog, predicting my experience before it even happened

The night before it released, I realized that I was a bit behind the curve when it comes to knowing when and where to get a SNES Classic. As I struggle as an adjunct faculty to keep my head above water and try to meet the daily demands of life while reading a ton of articles and books, the release date seemed to have slipped my mind. As the buzz came through I realized I better dust off the credit card, kick into gear and see if there are any available. It was about 11pm and the only place that I could find open was Walmart, so I gave the closest two a call only to find out there were already waiting lines longer than they had SNES consoles. My game plan switched to finding which place opened up first in the morning and then maybe, going to try to get one there. Target opened first at 7am and so that’s where I set my sights.

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Waking up around 6am, I was feeling mildly hopeless about getting one seeing how it was so obvious to everybody else of how to get one last night. But my wife encouraged me to go there just a bit early (I was just going to arrive at 7am), so I went. Good thing because there were 32 people in line before me. I knew this because they handed out numbers for how many they had. Had I waited any longer, I’m not sure I would have gotten one. **Voluntary “my wife was right” statement** The manager was nice enough to get everybody a free sample of hot chocolate while we waited in the foggy twilight musing about the game/s we most looked forward to playing. I was most excited to play Super Metroid. Or was it Super Castlevania?

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Blurry example of the slips and games from the interwebs

You see, I am a 37-year-old man who was waiting in line to buy a gaming console that I originally got when I was a twelve-year-old. My mom bought it for me at Toys R’ Us, where it was recently announced that they were closing down in the near future. People were getting nostalgic on Reddit about it and I saw a little comic strip pop up describing the process of buying games at that store back in the day. You would look for your game behind a plastic case on the left side of the store and below your game you would find a paper slip in a plastic pouch with your game of choice and its price written on it. Then you would take the slip to a window in the wall and there would be a clerk that would grab it from the back so you could buy it. Reading that little comic gave me nostalgia chills and I realized that, oh my goodness, I really am a ‘Toys R’ Us kid’! For a child, shopping there truly was a magical experience. Then again, I’d never gone to Disney World or anything like that.

We got let into the doors and they corralled us mindless consumers around to the registers where we handed our slip over to a teller , promptly and pleasurably paid for our game and left. Well, not exactly the kind of pleasure of my childhood, but at least with some excitement. The first thing I noticed about it was that it is way smaller than I had anticipated, knowing full well it was mini-sized. As it sits still on my TV stand, it still looks awkward to me. It’s like going to a place you haven’t been since childhood, only to realize its much smaller than you remember it, but then multiplying that feeling by 10. For me, it is uncomfortably tiny.

I drove home excited and plugged it in. It worked perfectly well. There are some games that I have no interest in, like Super Punch Out and all the Kirby Games, but as I tested other games that I previously couldn’t wait to try, an overwhelming feeling came over me. I had turned on Super Castlevania, and when prompted to put in a name, I unconsciously, like a Ouija board or something, put in the initials of my best friend of my early-mid teens, whom I played SNES with almost religiously. The thought occurred to me… I don’t even know if he’s alive! Every single game I tried out after that only reminded me of the fact that one of the main reasons these games meant so much to me was that I had played most of them with a friend. We had beaten Super Mario World, Final Fantasy 3 (6), Super Metroid and more, as a team. We played countless hours of Street Fighter 2 together as well.

Sometime in high school he moved away to another town. I visited him by taking the bus across a couple towns here and there, but our friendship had faded with time as we both found new friends. I hadn’t thought about all that in years.

My wife wanted to play it too that morning, but we quickly realized it wasn’t her style. She grew up in Korea where consoles never were a standard fixture in the Korean household. She wanted to play Final Fight, which I can’t find any reason why they didn’t include it. I played on the new console a bit that day after she had left to do her thing, but the feels were too much for me. I haven’t turned it on since the day I got it, which admittedly is only just a couple days ago.

The original SNES came into my life at a time when some of the most traumatic events of my life happened. My step-dad went to prison for life, my real father was living on the streets and killing himself with alcohol and who knows what else. And now as the classic edition comes out, ironic perhaps, my step-dad will be having a clemency hearing after, what, almost 25 years. I will be gladly (and nervously, I’m sure) speaking on his behalf in the state capitol in hopes that he does get out. As I play this game, the vulnerability and memories just came flooding in.

I’m not sure it was worth $80 to have such an emotional experience, but as I write this  I hope that by getting all this out I can enjoy the console that I’ve been eager to get for some time now. Yesterday my wife did say that she’d give it another try when I mentioned I should just pack it up instead of leaving it out in the living room. She said I can’t play though when she’s playing, because she doesn’t want to feel like a bad player by comparison. haha. That will be fun. Perhaps also a new friend will come along that I can enjoy it with? Or with any luck I can find my old friend from way back when. I looked him up on Facebook, but he was nowhere to be found.

Through it all, the SNES was probably the most therapeutic device that helped me through what was probably the most challenging and traumatic part of my life, when there was no-one else around to comfort me. And when there was someone there, it was the thing that helped solidify one of my most memorable and cherished friendships of my childhood.

So thanks –  ummmm –  Dr. Mario?

NaCl?

Sometimes, in my dreams and certainly not reality, I hear video game makers say the most fundamental part of a video game is code. It’s all just math really, they might say when you ask them what a video game is. There are others that say that games are just a set of rules that people play by. Designers. Learn how to manipulate these rules and you’re golden. According to them, these semi-imaginary people, most video games that come out don’t have any unique rule sets that do interesting things and are pretty worthless. Their eyes roll into infinity (I just stole this phrase from someone) when they see yet another video game without any new mechanic being brought to the table. All the story, all the characters, all that ‘whatever’, is just merely a primitive qualitative layer on top of the mechanical skeleton. Like chocolate-covered grasshoppers. Like chasing silkworm larvae down with a shot of soju. Like yyyyyonly wanting to watch you bathe in the Purple Rain.

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Oh my god, this art is, like, so deep!

But let’s step away from video games for just un momento. Would a painter say that the most important part of the painting is the chemical composition of the paint? A painter would, wouldn’t they?! Painters! 

This person, if there ever was one that said this, is the equivalent of the “game as just math” person. Sure a painter knows how to manipulate paint, but does he or she claim that their painting is just… well, paint? Is the color burnt umber simply SiO2+Al2O3+Fe2O3+Fe3O4? Is The Color Purple just a bunch of lies made up by Alice Walker? Or, would a film director claim, “Meh, these movies I make, they are just a bunch of celluloid”? No, because people don’t make analog films anymore, right? Its all digital… “Meh, these movies I make, they’re just a bunch of lonely electrons looking to make an atomic connection”… Again, some director out there, some contrarian dingle-slapper, said that too, …and they are probably still alive actually… but we won’t listen to him/her because

Because artists don’t tend to be materialists, they less often utter such odd-sounding explanations of their works in the language of ‘hard science’, yet video game makers, SOME -and I don’t know any FYI, so take everything I say as a giant grain of salt – see the world from a materialist view point, or from the mythological vantage point of objective mathematics. They went through the -and I realize right now that I’m repeating a lot of what Chris Crawford has said a zillion times – gauntlet of learning discrete mathematics (whatever that is), computer science, which indeed is hard shit, and the underlying objectivisticallistical philosophies that underswaddleboot them. Its like joining the army, it reworks their minds to think that anything produced on a computer is somehow less art and more mechano-electrical-mathsy engineering. But the line between illusion and reality, between meaningless mechanics and artsy-poopsy meaninfullity aren’t so simple. Firsthumously, because Morgan Freeman is narrating the universe into existence.

Sure the characters in video games are like puppets and have no life to them. They move their arms, often times like robots do… and yes, the ‘uncanny valley’ is strong in a ton of video games. Yet us plebs keep playing. Seeing it as a conglomeration of a bunch of lifeless automatons is a sure way to make you feel like a dupe. And from this point you can triumphantly return your keyboard to its full functionality and have the self-serving attitude that the swath of humanity that play games are all just a bunch of ignormauses -ignoramii?- if you’re that much of a meany. “Look at them foolishly spending their time with inert lifeless objects. They should get out there and do something with their life, like read a book or something!”

Yet, if you claim that video games are just silly frivolity without any magic or the capacity for meaningfulness to them because its all just chemicals and math, then the same has to apply to all the arts. Even your favorite band! Its all just molecules in the air bouncing off each other. Sorry, not sorry. When you watch a Pixar movie, you are watching silly, digitally-created, lifeless, extremely cute puppets rigged to appear like they have anthropomorphic qualities to them, and “live action” films are a bunch of overpaid actors, pretending to be people they aren’t, with shots and scenes sewn together to give the appearance of continuity.

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Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman Morgan Freeman

According to this view, in the above picture, that you should give careful attention to, Morgan Freeman is not gently appreciating the shape of your soul. Its just zero’s and ones, zero and one-ing. Its a digital reproduction of a photograph, which is just the reaction of photo-paper to the exposure of certain pattern of light for a set amount of time before it receives its final chemical bath that stops it from being receptive to photoplasmatrons.

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“Look at these brushstrokes. Not real. Sad.”

So if art is just stupid trickery… why do we cling to it? Someone who thinks they have pulled the curtain back and started to make art through a medium built upon objective mathematics and code might believe they are justified in thinking digital art is just a bunch of algorithmics playing the same old song on repeat. “Sweet memes are made of these…”, but if you look at Morgan Freeman’s picture, I mean really look into it, you are having a real experience, of a strange kind of intimacy, whether you like it or not. Its like his eyes are massaging your soul with the warming comfort of a stove. Paintings create profound and real experiences via so-called illusions no less equitably than computer screens, and they can be just as stirring.

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Stir your spirit with babalities! 

If a bird builds its nest inside a computer case, is it less alive?… and when people nest within digital worlds, no matter the attitude of their creators, aren’t they still living? Surely you can pull out the old escapism axe and start chopping away at poor people’s non-stoic coping strategies, but you have to admit, the world does tend to suck sometimes, for billions and billions of people… so why not have a little refuge? Quoth the description of the forthcoming book by Alfie Brown, The PlayStation Dreamworld:  “We can no longer escape our fantasies but rather live inside their digital reality.” Yummmm, food for thought!

Nothing like a walk in the wasteland to get the blood pumping!

I can imagine that some people, back when paintings weren’t simply made of paint, when people could suspend their disbelief still, …they looked into them and saw a place that they wanted to be. They could sit there for hours, dreaming of what it would be like… like I sat for a great deal of hours gleefully wandering, picking and poking around in the dust and grime of the worlds of the Fallout series.

Three cheers for apocalypse! Three, two, one!

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Blog Update (or um, Downdate)

Hi readers/friends,

It’s been about three weeks since my last blog post. A lot has been going on in my personal life, as I’m sure there’s been a lot going on in yours as well. As things get real over here, I’m going to have to suspend this blog… indefinitely, although I hope to continue to enjoy the writing of those in this friendly community. I may restart it, who knows, but it’s basically the amount of real life shit that I gotta do is just too damn high!

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Nothing like memes to make you sound super credible, right? 

It’s been fun though. I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about games/video games as media, on game development, and of course game design, over the past year. I’ve read tons of articles, books, listened to podcasts and watched seemingly countless videos on the topic of games. For the most part now though, the fire of my intellectual curiosity has been doused and that was my true motivating factor.

Games are fascinating, video games are too. They’re an interesting medium that can do a great deal of things. There’s art, magic and humanity in them, as well as having their more formal and mechanical aspects. They are objects of interest, and they are also mirrors that reflect our values back at us, like any good art does. They show us who we are as we interact with them, they can likewise provide hours to years of entertainment. People have been playing games for millennia, really. Take that, books! 

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I’m sure the powers that be, will agree

Honestly at times, this passion for digging deeper and deeper into games felt more like a curse.. I would wake up with a new fresh idea to write on and wouldn’t be able to get to my normal life until I sat down and put it onto the page. I have a ‘blog ideas to write on document’ on my desktop, that no matter how many topics I wrote about, only more ideas would come, seemingly exponentially, and I’d have to shovel them there. It wanted to eat up my life as I let the leash go longer and longer. Now, regardless of whatever precipitated my change, it’s nice to wake up and not feel utterly compelled to have to write on these blasted things.

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The rabbit hole is deep, yes yes indeed

In the end, looking back at my goals for this blog… I never made a game, but I did a lot of writing, I did a lot of personal exploration of the question, “what is gaminess?” and met some great people. It’s been fun, it’s been real, and it’s been a great place to learn and grow.

Thanks to all who stopped by, and best of luck to you in your future endeavors. Hit me up @wakalapi on the privatized corporate social networking site known as Twitter.

Until next time,

Wakalapi

Thoughts on ep. 23 of No Cartridge Audio

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Are video games the  new and improved ‘opiate of the masses?’

Recently I’ve come across the relatively recently created podcast called “No Catridge Audio“. It’s good, go listen to it. It was created by Hegelbon (I can’t find his first name as I swim in his pseudonyms), a PhD in literature fellow, wherein he talks about games with or without someone else. The ones that are the most interesting, for me at least, are where he brings in a guest. The other ones are interesting too, don’t get me wrong, keep at ’em Hegelbon. Anyhow, this week in episode 23 he brought a guy by the name of Matt Christman to the show, and Matt markedly does not play games, for reasons. First off, this is refreshing, to have a show to listen to that has a diversity of perspectives on video games. Secondly, I like Matt’s argument, and …here I want to write my take on some of what they touched on.

Basically, and this is going to be a terrible summary of his argument, Matt says that games, due to their unique level of interactivity, are especially attuned to giving people who play them the sense of accomplishment that would otherwise only be available in the real world. With a generation weaned on video games, comes a class, ‘the gamer class’, who identify themselves as gamers, and who, due to their lack of real world experience, often end up being a mob of people with strong opinions, but who’s maturity is defined by an unrefelective state of arrested development. This gamer class seems to often lack concern for social issues and feels entitled in many ways, leading to things such as ‘gamer gate’.

As the conversation continued, and to Hegelbon’s credit, it was broadened to an issue of art and technology, in more general terms.  What I would like to add to the conversation is that I agree, but I want it to go further into more realms than just video games and then open it up to thinking about how ideological and/or spiritual frameworks can play a part in all this. Overall, Matt’s argument would fare well when looking at social media too, and yes they did touch on it in the podcast, but I think we can give this realm just a bit more of its due.

Video games, first, aren’t easy to categorize. Raph Koster, one of the more famous and outspoken designers of early MMO’s, thinks that they aren’t really games, but sees them more as virtual social worlds. Here’s a link to an amazing talk of his that I also came across recently.  I don’t want to steal his thunder really, but I kinda am with this post because a lot of what I’m arguing for, he really is arguing for, in his talk. He’s saying there can be some serious social consequences when it comes to designing virtual worlds, like MMO’s and Facebook, and virtual reality tech could take it to a whole new dangerous level.

Some video games are more worlds than games, and some are more like sports. Some video games are more like stories, whereas others are more akin to walking through the park, a park with ummm a bunch of logic puzzles, and odd statues… and meta-puzzles, like The Witness. Traditional games, like Baduk or Chess, are different from many video games, but many video games fit into the traditional game category, like Tetris. For Raph, there’s not that much of a difference between Facebook and MMO’s on a basic level, but Raph doesn’t go so far to discuss issues like ‘gamer class’, I mean, you can only say so much in one talk. But that’s where Matt takes it, and that’s super cool. What I’m getting at is not all video games are the same and that’s an important difference to note for a stronger argument. And throwing VR, as defined by Raph as straddling some video games and social networks, in there, only adds more fuel to Matt’s argument.

All interactive technology whether social or not, has the potential to isolate people and create little basement monsters. Now when looking at it from the social media side, it’s not just about opinionated middle class white boys, but for Moms and uncles and whoever else with a political opinion that has figured out the tweets and the likes. Raph talks about virtual reality and it is clear to me from not just him, but many others, that VR headset tech is even more captivating than the boogeyman of video games. Facebook wants to own this shit, right? See where we are going by putting Matt and Raph’s arguments together? If this is the case, then we are in for a wild ride and I don’t mean this in a fun ‘video game’ way, but giant swathes of humanity who don’t have a clue of how the world works. If you want to be snarky, you could say that I’m just putting 20 and 20 together when looking back to the last presidential election.

Where do I come at this though? Frameworks and such? I don’t consider myself a gamer, as I said in my first post. My identity is Native American, and this comes with some important differences from most Americans, one where I’m happy to meet Matt halfway from. Maybe he’d love it, for all I know, because I don’t know the guy. Anyway, when it comes to knowledge, what we would call the ‘Indigenous Knowledge Framework’ assumes not only objectivity to be a way to gain knowledge, but what some might call relationality (not a stand in for subjectivity). So it’s an equitable system of knowledge compared to the scientific system of knowledge.

Taking relationality as an onto-epistemological sort of axiom (please don’t let me put those words together again), guides my ethical viewpoint. So when I hear Matt’s argument, I agree in general, not because of my political ideology, but because of my relational-oriented worldview. Isolation, as opposed to connection, breeds crazy. As for communists and Indigenous people, what happened with the Zapatista movement of the 90’s until now, from the Indigenous people’s perspective will stand as a case worth digging into before let’s say, jumping the gun, and saying spirituality is not a big issue in discussions of political ideologies, technology and games. But who’s saying that anyway?

And games… I see that some are, more or less, designed to be Skinner-boxes, and people should not be socialized by poor stand-ins for real-life experience. I’ve probably spent way too much time playing video games myself. However, there are so many things that we call games, and many of them aren’t as nefarious as Matt argues them to be. For me, ideally, we wouldn’t even need video games, at all, but here we are in what looks like the gosh-darn age of computers. I just think that there are many ways to fight against consciousness traps, and not-playing games is just one. Playing games can be another, depending on what you are playing and what you got going around it, like making a super cool podcast with interesting people.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. Wow, a podcast made me get a bit soap-boxey. Cheers and hats off to Hegelbon and Matt Christman. I’m now a sub for both of the podcasts they are a part of. Can’t wait to learn and hear more interesting things from interesting places. 🙂