Friday, January 27, 2012
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
My friend Roger Whitson pinged me early on Twitter yesterday and directed me to a post by Mark Sample on Play the Past: What Comes before the Platform: The Refuse of Video Games. It's a good article and makes some very salient points about a side of gaming that people don't want to talk about, what Sample sums up as "Pre-Platform Studies:" what goes into making the things that play the games we play?
Specifically Sample's talking about the long lines of supply that go into producing the raw materials that are fed into the factories that are made by workers into things they will never personally be able to afford. It's a tale of slavery, coercion, warlords, organized crime, exploitation, and Western consumer ignorance. Go read it - it's a good post and hits the points better than I could myself.
|If you don't feel some measure of guilt over this, you should.|
Something bothered me after reading Sample's post though, and (like any good netizen) I turned to Twitter to discuss it with @rogerwhitson. Why did Sample pick on video games specifically? Why is it so important to video game studies that we include the amount exploitation that pervades the supply chain? Does it actually matter to the study of the game itself? Shouldn't we then study the deforestation and supply process that goes into the creation of books (I asked Roger)?
Our discussion went off on a tangent about the importance of the influence of capitalism (Rog's label, not mine, although he later admitted it was shorthand for what I referred to as a technologically advanced society. After all, the Soviets weren't exactly known for their Earth-friendly or nonexploitive labor practices, and they built video arcades too.) Sidenote to readers: don't use "capitalism" as a synonym or shorthand for "technologically advanced society." It's wrong on several levels.
|That's more like it.|
What we came back to in our conversation was that Sample's point was most definitely important: people don't really know about the awful things that go into making the things upon which we play our games, and that should be part of the conversation. But at what level?
Let's start with a few statements and assumptions.
1. Is platform important to video game studies? Yes, absolutely. "Platform" covers the hardware you use to play the game, which includes graphic and sound capabilities and input: two important overall aspects of the gaming experience. It also includes lesser-important things like media (although load times do affect the game experience) and multiplayer capabilities and experiences. So yes, it's important.
2. Is platform important to other studies? Well... sort of. Is a book on Kindle fundamentally different from a book on paper, to the point where it would change the overall experience? If so, the difference is more of an Xbox 360 vs. PS3 instead of an Xbox 360 vs. Atari 2600 argument: in other words, relatively insignifiant.
But what about, say, music? Listening to a recording done on a home casette recorder is significantly different from listening to a recording done with professional recording equipment. So too is listening to both recordings on a tinny mono speaker instead of a high-end audiophile system. The experience changes both ways, therefore the platform does influence the study.
Movies are the same way. A film shot on an 8mm handheld is vastly different from a film recorded with DV and postprocessed on massive server farms to add CGI to every frame. Watching them is a different experience on a small black and white TV than on a 9-story IMAX screen.
|John, stop the car, Ringo's got out again.|
I realize I'm talking in degrees here, but if anything I'm searching for larger context in the overall conversation to answer my previous question. I left the conversation with Roger yesterday and took the dog for a walk (a sure way to clear my head if ever there was one), and came back and Tweeted that the thing that bothered me about Sample's article was that he didn't offer solutions. Actually, I was wrong. He did offer solutions: the importance of including the Pre-Platform studies in video game studies.
Creeping a bit (because that's how I roll) I saw an earlier conversation Sample had with one of his followers about the book question, and both of them mentioned books that are (I'm paraphrasing) ethically created - not printed in countries where they would deforest land for pulp, or mistreat workers in the paper mills.
That's where I left things last night.
This morning I realized perhaps the best comparison to what Sample was proposing wasn't from another art form at all, but instead from the food industry.
Pre-Platform Food? How about ethically sourced, local, and/or organic food? Chances are, thanks in no small part to the rise of the online foodie movement and the ease of access to films like Super Size Me or Food, Inc., you're at least aware of these options as being healthier for you as well as better for local producers and the environment. You're probably not calculating the carbon footprint of every meal you consume (although if you are, bully for you!), but there is a much higher level of awareness around these things at the consumer level.
|Waggle Wiimote to pick locally-sourced food.|
But this isn't just a movement at the consumer level: chefs prefer these sorts of ingredients when they're creating food. Case in point: local Seattle chef Becky Selengut's book Good Fish, which is as much about seafood preparation as it is about the ethics around the seafood supply chain: an issue around which there are as many moral problems for Western societies as the consumer electronics supply chain.
And that is the crux of my reply to Mark Sample: Pre-Platform Studies should be part of conversations around not just video games, but any artform that ties so closely into supply chains. Where DOES that paper come from that your novel is printed on? Aren't there just as many third-world miners, raw materials, factories, and exploited workers in the sound system I'm listening to, the Kindle I'm reading on, the television I'm watching, the cameras and computers that went into producing Avatar as there are in games?
To rephrase as a statement rather than a question: this isn't just about video games, and it's frankly a larger conversation that just video game studies. It is (marketing hat on) a consumer awareness and perception issue that goes way beyond video games. As a technologically advanced society we become increasingly reliant on things from which we are further and further divorced, whether it's our phones, TVs, Xboxes, cars, food, or even the houses we live in or the places we work and play. I'll admit, as savvy as I'd like to think I am about such things, I have no clue about how most of the stuff I use is made. Even the table I'm typing this on was made in India, and I can only imagine the state of the furniture factory that created it or the processes that went into harvesting the trees - and my imagination is not good.
|I don't want to think about the exploitation it took to create these pixels.|
So the conversation Sample's proposing seems to me less of one central to video game studies, and more of one central to overall consumer awareness and the impact of a technologically advanced society such as ours. There are indeed a lot of conversations to be had about exploitation at all levels of the games industry, from the aforementioned supply lines to the more First World Problems around game companies overworking staff members around launch and then firing them shortly thereafter.
|Video game screenshot of the awful working conditions at a fictional video game company. Meta as fuck.|
But whether this is integral to the study of the game itself is another story. I'm coming down on the side of "not really," for the same reason that the context of the paper the first edition Moby Dick was printed on isn't integral to the study of Moby Dick, or the way that the oil that powers a sports car isn't important to the performance of the car itself on a test course. Which takes away nothing from the broader point that this is a very important issue. It just strikes me as a consumer ignorance and awareness issue rather than a critical one.
Friday, December 16, 2011
I meant to write this post a month ago, but my experiences coming home for the holidays reminded me I never got around to it, and it seems like as good a time as any to put this down.
What inspired this is the variety of reactions I get about losing weight from my friends and family, especially people who haven't necessarily seen me in a long time. I can tell it makes some people uncomfortable (for whatever reason - it's not my place to speculate) but it also elicits some well-intentioned behaviors in others that, frankly, are a pain in the ass to deal with. So undersand that I've written this as a friendly and helpful tips, and I fully understand that the last thing my friends and family want to do is hurt me; I just don't think people realize how things come across sometimes. I want people to see things from my point of view without coming across like an overbearing jerk, so please take this advice in the spirit it's given.
So, some tips for interacting with a former fat guy.
1. You don't have to keep offering me food; or, no means no. Food is wonderful; it tastes good, and it's an inherent social driver for our culture. It's also something that I had a very self-destructive personal relationship with that I have repaired for my own health and well-being.
A key part of that process for me was identifying both what I wanted to eat and in what quantities. I'm really good at keeping my diet sustainable. I know full well how much and of what I can eat. You don't have to go out of your way to prepare super-healthy stuff when I'm around, but if you're serving biscuits and gravy don't expect me to take a massive bowl of it.
Let me put it this way: it's very obvious that I've lost a good deal of weight in the last seven years (it's hard to hide the physical change of 150 pounds off.) Looking at me is a reminder. You know I've lost a lot of weight. So, please ask yourself this: if I was a recovering alcoholic and you were aware that I used to have a self-destructive relationship with alcohol, would you offer me a drink? Would you continue to offer me drinks throughout the day if I politely refused the first one (or two?) How do you think I would feel if you did, even if I knew you were doing it out of politeness?
Apply that to food. It's not a perfect correlation but I would argue that what I'm recovering from is very similar to addiction, and the mental processes I use to stay healthy is similar to how recovering addicts make it through the day.
I don't like to throw food out but if you heap a bunch of it on my plate after I tell you not to, I will. Also understand that it's a lot harder to control portions once the food is on your plate. I still nibble. I'm only human. I know my weaknesses, and I control them by not putting the food on my plate in the first place. Like the booze, I know where the food is and if I really want to make that choice I'll do it myself.
2. Yes, I'm still self-conscious about my weight. Please understand that as much as I'm proud of what I've done that being fat left lasting psychological damage, in no small part related to the fact that my weight gain was directly linked to my depression. You don't have to reassure me. I appreciate it, but honestly it's best just left alone. And yes, looking at pictures of me when I was much heavier is very uncomfortable for me. That's why I've personally only kept a handful myself.
3. I want to inspire you but in a healthy way. I've noticed that when I'm out with people they'll often pick up on the fact that I'm ordering healthy, smaller quantities or loading up on fruit at the salad bar and skipping the full-fat ranch dressing. Then they turn around and order something way outside of what they would normally eat. Cool, let me inspire you; in fact, that's one of the best parts about having made such an achievement is helping others see that it is possible. That being said, understand that the me you see now and the way I eat now is the result of seven years of constant, hard work.
Say you went to a martial arts competition and saw a guy jump through the air and break 15 bricks with his hand, and you thought, "that's freakin' awesome. I want to do that!" and you go and break your own hand trying to break a single brick. That dude worked up to where he is; so have I. If you try to jump on the train at my stop, you're going to end up hurting yourself, or worse doing something unsustainable with your diet and turning around and getting even madder when it doesn't work out.
Having spent seven years gaining weight and seven years losing it, I can say this: it's not something that comes easy and it doesn't happen overnight. You're going to make small failures and backslide and lose heart and hope along the way. But if you want to lose, really want to lose, then talk to your doctor and start doing something sustainable. You may have to lose a bunch to kickstart yourself (like I did with two different low-carb diets.) You may need way more exercise than I did. It's going to be different for you, but it is do-able. Don't break your hand trying to smash some bricks. Train up to it. It's really the only way it will work.
4. I'm not judging you. For some reason I get the impression that people feel judged, especially around their choices at mealtime. Guess what: it doesn't matter to me what you're eating (unless you feel guilty and try to get me to eat more because you're feeling that way, in which case see #1.) I don't care if you're fat or skinny or eating a ton or eating like a bird unless I feel like you're directly putting yourself in danger, in which case as a friend I would say something - just like I would hope you're doing the same for me.
Please understand that, if you feel like you need to lose weight, what I want most is to inspire you, not judge you. You'll have to make that decision on your own though. Hopefully my experience will help serve as a realistic way to show you how it could be done.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I started not understanding Occupy Wall Street's purpose. I fell into the media trap of reciting a talking point: they have no message! But the more I spoke to members of the movement, people online, people at Occupy Seattle itself (yes, I've been a few times), the purpose and message became more clear. Occupy started focusing itself as well, which helped. Switch to Credit Unions? Yeah, I get that. And old friend who worked in finance until 2008 (heh) has been telling us the same thing for months. The Beautiful Competition's been saying it for years.
The more I learned about Occupy, the more I realized I've seen this before. I was quite an activist in my college days: supporting Nader in 2000, working on a certain filmmaker's TV show, railing against corporate greed and a fundamentally corrupt system.
After Bush was elected and 9/11 happened any sort of discourse about these subjects came to a grinding halt for several years--while the very interests we sought to highlight proceeded to continue their ruin of our economy. Not just the American economy mind you, but the global economy.
It's been a strange past month. I've watched as friends and family attack the Occupy movement with a variety of strawmen and non sequitors. I've seen relations of those family members struggle to try to find a job several months out of college--hardly a unique phenomenon, and one that's central to the heart of the Occupy movement.
|Yes, it's the protesters who are messy.|
They're not too proud to go and flip burgers (despite being told that incurring tens of thousands in debt is the way to avoid burger-flipping): it's just that there aren't enough burger-flipping jobs available. "They should shut up and get a job" in response to Occupy is the response you'd make only if you were utterly clueless about the economic situation in this country (and now spreading into the EU.)
There is a certain amount of irony here: the very boomers whose protests in the civil rights movement and against the Vietnam War are the same people who simply don't understand Occupy, for whatever reason. I was reminded yesterday of a verse written by these very boomers more than 45 years ago, which are oddly prophetic for Occupy. Here's a video to accompany it.
Come mothers and fathersMuch of this coalesced last week when I read this stunning article about a Catholic's loss of faith after the Penn State pedophilia scandal. It's not so much about a loss of religious faith but a loss of faith in institutions, leaders, and those who should be serving as role models. In a way it's the loss of faith in the boomers who protested war but put us in this situation by allowing the monied interests to have their way with America. I grew up on The Simpsons: the first episode to hit Fox came out in my very formative fifth grade year. The Occupy grew up on South Park, a far more nihilistic cartoon lampooning literally everything. For The Simpsons generation, there are institutions we should still be able to trust. For the Occupy generation, the South Park generation, just a few years younger than me, they have been raised to suspect and distrust literally everything.
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
It's an isolating proposition. It's the ultimate existentialism, a body of internal self-reliance that would probably scare the ever-loving shit out of most people who rely on religion, leaders, institutions, or something for meaning. As the boomers drift around like boats on the ocean taking refuge in new age nonsense while ignoring the economic ruin they've enabled if not condoned, the South Park generation is taking to the streets.
|Occupy Paper Street|
In a Facebook conversation the other day about the above article I mentioned how much that nihilism reminded me of the film Fight Club. If there's a movie that encapsulates what we were trying to achieve (or at least, Cassandra-like, trying to bring attention to) in the last 90s, Fight Club would be it. It isn't a glorification of violence and anti-establishment behavior: the film is a warning that a corrupt and awful system stacked against those who enter it at a young age will inevitably reach a breaking point.
The Simpsons generation still trusted too much in the ability for things to sort themselves out. We were drowned by the jingoism following 9/11, the patriotism suppositories forced on us by the extreme right who said anyone who questioned their actions were traitors while the literally robbed us blind and ruined 99.9% of us while they made out like the bandits they were.
This isn't to say that we don't have our place in Occupy, as do the boomers who have joined and supported it, as do the Vietnam vets who are protesting, the 84-year-old retirees who have been pepper sprayed, as does anyone who understands what's happening here (what it is, is exactly clear--if you've been paying attention.) But fundamentally it isn't our movement. It belongs to the South Park generation.
They've watched as the institutions they have been told will uplift and protect them have repeatedly, fundamentally and systemically failed. And rather than accepting this fate they have taken to the streets, formed General Assemblies, put into action fundamental democratic principles, and enacted steps to raise awareness and start taking things back. They are doing what we tried and failed to do 10 years ago.
Despite the movement's many shortcomings (see, we can't do anything without questioning the institution!) it has the best chance of success of any political movement since the 1960s. It's their time. They have my support. Their success won't be stunted but enabled by their fundamental distrust in the institutions that lead us here--all of them. Those kids are alright.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Because I'm trying to get away from subjecting my friends and family (OK, my family) on Facebook to my political views, I'll post this here instead.
One of my favorite little facts about America: those states who receive more federal money than they contribute to the tax base are almost identical to the states who routinely support candidates who propose doing away with such programs. This is not a new trend at all.
Attention conservative red state welfare queens: I'm tired of my hard-earned tax money being taken out of my state and reallocated to yours, where you guys don't work hard enough to support yourselves. Why don't you go get better jobs you lazy right-wing conservative bums? I mean seriously, surely there must be some well-paying jobs in your states somewhere. That's why all of us fled for the coasts, right?
Until then though we should put your fantasies into reality, remove the subsidies us blue-staters are paying into your states, and watch your states roads, schools, and infrastructure crumble even more. Because that's how a community ought to support itself by your own rules and standards, right?
Or maybe we could all, you know, support each other. Like us awful class warfare liberals have been advocating - and you all have been taking advantage of while calling us names and taking away our rights in the same breath.
Hypocritical jerks. There, I called you a name. Although I'll just use a conservative argument and say I'm "refusing to be politically correct" and you can't argue with me, nyah nyah!
Man I'm out of practice at this whole rant thing.
Monday, November 07, 2011
Hey, did you know its National Novel Writing Month?
I realize it's supposed to be a way to motivate aspiring writers to actually get off their asses and, you know, write.
For some reason it always turns into feelings of guilt and anxiety when I see a half-dozen writerly friends updating their word counts and I don't realistically have time to plow through several thousand words a day for a month.
The problem is my own. I need to set lower goals first: I've got some short story ideas knocking around I should finish off. With the ease of e-publishing these days, I could just release a collection of stories on Amazon, post it on Facebook, get a few dozen sales from friends and family and I'm on my way!
Call that "National Writing Anything To Keep Some Kind of Momentum" month.
Saturday, November 05, 2011
Blogging's a funny thing. You don't do it for more than a year, realizing you've just kind of left a part of yourself dangling out there (and let's face it, a pretty esoteric closing post to boot.) Then you write one letter to Google and tell yourself "hey, I should publish this somewhere other than Plus so I can actually, you know, find it in a week" and all of a sudden you've got ideas for blogging again.
Blogger's gone and got itself a new interface. It looks like the rest of Google's interfaces: less Web 2.0 and more Tech 2015. I feel like I'm using an interface designed by Apple's interns.
My life has changed in many ways in the last 15 months. New job. New tech. New games played. New hobby (winemaking). The anti-greed movement I've been a part of since college has gone and made itself more mainstream by camping out in public parks. My dog's grown up, and one of my cats has moved on. In other words life is moving forward.
My problem with blogging has been writing for the sake of writing. Therefore my previous mission statement still stands: I will only write if I feel I have something of value to add to the conversation.
Otherwise, you can just catch up with my personal shit on Facebook, and my more newsy shit on Plus. And when I occasionally dip back into Twitter... well... I don't reliably use it anymore because the value just wasn't there.