Social Gaming (As It Stands) is a BANE ON HUMANITY [GO/YCQMOT]
Oct 20th, 2011 by Dan

To the abovementioned small man and to others like him, to all the craftsmen of these mommy’s-credit-card-number-snatching games like Tap Zoo and Tap Pet Shop and Top Girl and what-have-you, I offer this lesson from the annals of economics:

“Monetize” is a fucking stupid word.

The idea of a business is to make money.

“To do business” means “to monetize something”.

A “product” is something a business makes.

To speak of “monetizing a product” borders on ridiculous.

If your product is not “monetized”, you’re not in business.

In the modern sense: the only reason to actively talk about “monetizing” is when part of your plan is to trick the user into believing they don’t actually need to pay.

“Monetize” is a word that is nearly synonymous with “to do evil”: to “monetize” a game means to promise the user a “full experience” for absolutely no cost, and then scheme, and devise, and calculate reasons for the user to pay anyway. Then you make them pay anyway. Albeit gently (and shrewdly (and without use of violent force)), isn’t that the same as stealing from people?

-tim rogers. “The Sims Social

Well I think it’s been too long since I wrote about something tim rogers wrote on this site. I finally got around to reading his review of The Sims Social (linked above). It’s long, but it’s vitally important to read going into the future. I’ll wait while you read it.

You back? Okay.

He wrote a companion piece at insert credit too. Read away.

(My favorite bit)

A silence. Now the larger man pointed at me. “He’s run all the numbers on our product.”

The older men looked at me.

“I’ve run them all,” I said.

“It’s totally solid,” the larger man said.

“It’s solid like a rock,” I said.

“It’s unsinkable,” the smaller man said.

“It’s an unsinkable rock. An unsinkable, solid rock.”

-tim rogers. “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)

Ok, we’re back. Do you feel vaguely sick yet? I know I do. Heck, I threw up in my mouth a little. How did we get here? More importantly, how do we fix this?

I don’t think that microtransaction-based gaming is evil. All you have to do is look at Valve and Team Fortress 2. Everything you want to do in TF2 (minus item trading) is absolutely free. Not a dime has to be spent to improve gameplay. Weapons are distributed to you randomly, but at fairly regular intervals and they can be used to construct new weapons. Most importantly, while buying weapons increases your arsenal, they are, overall, not necessary. You can play the game for free and have an equal success as someone who paid for anything. This is fundamentally different than Farmville or The Sims Social where you can pay to have a leg up on completing the game’s goals (loosely defined as those might be).

Sometimes I think, “Who am I to judge the ethical merits of what other people do/create for a living?” I mean, glass houses, right? Then I read a line that is certainly meant to vilify, but also rings hauntingly true:

An ex-drug-dealer (now a video game industry powerbrain) once told me that he doesn’t understand why people buy heroin. The heroin peddler isn’t even doing heroin. Like him or not, when you hear Cliff Bleszinski talk about Gears of War, he sounds — in a good way — like a weed dealer. He sounds like he endorses what he is selling. When you’re in a room with social games guys, the “I never touch the stuff” attitude is so thick you’ll need a box cutter to breathe properly.

(also from “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)”

For all the misinterpreted glamor of Mad Men‘s cast, most viewers seem to miss the point that undercuts the whole show. People despise ad men. Most non-advertising characters in the show despise ad men. The characters sweep racism under the rug, openly lie to customers, and present that life as vapid and meaningless. When Betty realizes that she has been manipulated by an ad in Season 2, she is horrified, insulted, and hurt. She knows how the ad men speak of their marks and is resentful of the manipulation.

People look at the gambling industry with scorn because they operate under the same principles that tim is decrying in his articles. I argue that it’s worse than that. At least in a casino you have a (low) chance of winning money back. This kind of human manipulation just feels dirty. It’s not addictive, in the drug sense, but it preys upon human tendencies and impulses in such a naked way that it is horrifying.

It’s not hyperbole to call social gaming, as it stands, a bane on humanity. The kind of thinking that leads us to develop these systems is inherently selfish and greedy. The companies that are pushing these games are filled with people stealing from you with only two or three layers of abstraction between their hands actually entering your wallets. That’s without dwelling on the kinds of behaviors that these models of play encourage.

There’s a way out of this (or maybe not), but it’s not easy. Don’t ever spend money on those games. Don’t give them their fabled White Whale. Then again, you should just do what you want. Just consider yourself informed now.

On Subtlety and Showing, Not Telling [YCQMOT]
Sep 7th, 2011 by Dan

Aspiring writers, artists, really anyone involved in media take note. Your audience may seem dumb, but they’re really not.

In what universe does artlessly spelling everything out qualify as an improvement over inference and subtext? It’d be like remaking Citizen Kane, but changing the protagonist’s last words to “Rosebud… which incidentally was the name of my childhood sled and represents a lost childhood Eden of innocence and purity that throws the materialist emptiness of my adulthood into even sharper relief. Alas, I’ve said too much and now I must die, mysteriously. Or not.

-Nathan Rabin. “My Year Of Flops Case File #103 Psycho (1998)

More on Why “The Help” Is Whitewashing The Past [FB/YCQMOT]
Aug 15th, 2011 by Dan

There was no real-life book similar to Skeeter’s magnum opus; it’s a fictional flourish that feels like a college-educated white liberal’s wish-fulfillment fantasy of how she would have conducted herself had she been time-warped back to the civil rights era. I wouldn’t have just stood by and let it happen. I would have done something! Something brave! This silliness reminded me, perversely enough, of an old Eddie Murphy routine tweaking macho black males’ fantasies of how they would have behaved if they’d lived in the pre-Civil War South: “Brothers act like they couldn’t have been slaves back 200 years ago … ‘I wish I was a slave! I would f— somebody up!'”

-Matt Zoller Seitz. “Why Hollywood keeps whitewashing the past

This article on Slate more eloquently expresses what I was trying to say about why The Help is so troubling to me as an exercise in absolving white guilt. I knew it was prevalent in media, but I forgot about To Kill a Mockingbird until today.

Again, I’ve neither read this book nor seen this movie, but it does appear to be another in a long line of movies that treats segregation and racism so safely and flippantly.

Derivative Art, Japanese Rock, and the Coming Rock Revolution [You Can Quote Me On That]
May 21st, 2009 by Dan

From Tim Rogers’ article on Japanese music and Sambo Master (so good, but long!):

I told Sanyon, “Art is poison. The ‘art’ of the past — the words of the past set down for future generations to remember — was it not made or chosen with the best judgment, can only hinder the freedom of the future.”

“That’s a very Western philosophy.”

“No. It’s The Tale of Genji. Murasaki Shikibu. The world’s first novel. From your country — 998 AD.”


“If I write a novel, for example, about a girl in a religious community who is ostracized when she’s discovered to be an adultress, no matter how much I focus on the woman’s pining over the wonderful cookies at the weekly church bake sale, and no matter how clever I make the cookie motif — a metaphor for what, I don’t know — I can’t publish it without drawing comparisons to The Scarlet Letter.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a book. Famous American literature. Anyway. Furthermore — if I were to, say, show The Scarlet Letter to a publishing company editor who had never read it, he’d look at it for ten minutes before telling me it was utter trash. Too long, too gloomy, paragraphs too big, too thick, setting details not fleshed out enough, needs too many footnotes, too prose-y.”

“Aha. You’re saying the judges aren’t competent, is what you’re saying.”

“No. I’m saying that some of the shit we regard as gospel is actually . . . not.”

Sanyon snapped his fingers, and pointed at me. His mouth opened, then closed.

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

I shook my head. “I’m not sure I follow myself, sometimes. Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s probable — highly possible that a lot of the punk-rock music people like you and me listen to now would still exist, in some way, shape or form, if Ramones had never existed.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“I’m only mostly sure, myself. All I . . . know is that it feels criminally wrong to believe that only one man can ever hold the power to change the world. It’s like this — I believe in something we’ll call an ‘aesthetic god.’ I also believe in music theory, though that’s for another day. The ‘aesthetic god’ applies to, well, it’s a belief that certain things look and/or sound pleasing. Good sights, good sounds. Jennifer Aniston’s ‘Friends’ hairstyle; the computerized shine on Britney Spears’ voice. With popular music all you’re doing is throwing things at a wall, and seeing what sticks. Well, I don’t know. I guess that’s how it was in the beginning. Now people — they know what sticks and what doesn’t. This is because there are little . . . laws in aesthetics. Some kind of a supreme presence.

“Yet, see — here’s what I believe. There are infinite avenues to pleasant sights and sounds. Infinite ways of playing a guitar. It’s just that Kurt Cobain comes in and plays these four chords in this order and everybody gets hooked up on it. Art isn’t a ‘poison’ in that it rots and kills; it’s a poison in that it slows down and hinders. Our eyes and ears are attracted to shiny sights and sounds, and we dare not look away. That’s how Murasaki Shikibu would probably put it if she were around today. I take it she’d agree with me when I say (and you know old Japanese poetry was my major in college) that we stand, now, at an era where the ignorant are set to inherit the earth. When a guy who comes across a guitar for the first time in his life and sits down and plays it for an hour until he ‘discovers’ power chords, yeah, he’s got a chance of doing something great. He can change the world.”

Sanyon shook his head. “That sounds like some religious bullshit, man. A rock and roll messiah or some shit.” He shrugged. “It’s not like things — the current rock and roll situation — are so bad. People listen to music on the train. People get paid to make the music. As long as the CDs sell copies — hey. I may be just a kid — people like it that way — and my grasp of the whole industry dynamic might be one-dimensional, though at least I feel like I understand it. Japan treats its musicians right, at least when it comes to securing them a future. And that’s what it’s about for me. A person-to-person basis. Not changing the fucking world. I feel sorry for the bastard who ends up having to do that.”

I wagged my finger. “He won’t even know he’s doing it, is the thing. He’ll just be another guy like you, maybe a kid, thinking he’s just having fun. Then he realizes what he’s doing, and he either rises to it or he blows the fuck up. If he rises to it, then he’s suddenly a hero to people. That’s how it happens. You kids overthink things sometimes, even more than I do, and I’m the one doing all of the talking. See — hell. It’s like . . . shit. I don’t know. What I mean to say is — go back to the Scarlet Letter analogy. The fact that there’s so much literature backed-up in the historical pipeline pisses a lot of writers off. They know that they can’t write such-and-such a novel without being compared to so-and-so. The same goes for music. This makes writers and musicians a bunch of ironic assholes. That’s the problem here, is irony. People get all bitter and jaded before they’re even twenty years old. They turn into a bunch of cocks. I was reading an old interview with The Pixies in this little book of rock interviews my friend had. I think the interview was from 1989 or some shit, and yeah, it was like — I kept thinking what an asshole Frank Black sounded like. He sounded like a total fuckhole. It’s like — this way he’s talking, his opinions, this is exactly the shit I hated on kids who thought they were rockers in high school. I totally understood a whole bunch of shit. They got it . . . from the music. I mean, nothing against The Pixies or anything.”

Sanyon shrugged. “They’re alright.”

“Alright. Yeah, they’re alright. They’re alright.”

“Anyway, man, like — like I said. I’m just having fun. That’s all. I’m not the hero in a comic book about punk-rockers in Tokyo. I’m not collecting all the fucking Pokemon. I’m just singing in a band — hell, I can’t even sing as well as Ito, and that fucker’s playing the guitar now — though I guess I have the personality. I can be on television. I can play the little Japanese television game. Perfect. They’ll like me. [Sanyons manager and ex-Blue Hearts bassist Junnosuke Kawaguchi] says we’ll be fine. People will like our style, and all that. That’s what’s important.”

Neal Stephenson’s Writing [You Can Quote Me On That/Bookmark This]
Dec 13th, 2008 by Dan

Here’s an interesting analysis of most of Stephenson’s writing by Matthew Bey of the Austin Statesman:

But even as Erasmas and company pursue the answers to their cerebral quandaries, violence and chaos aren’t far behind. As intimidating an intellectual artifact as “Anathem” is, it’s still an action story. Stephenson takes just enough time to establish his setting before blowing it apart. Like the Unix machines he has praised, his novels are a system of logical mechanisms that run flawlessly until they hit extraordinary conditions. They never quite come to a clean ending, but tapering to a close was never the point. A Stephenson novel doesn’t wrap up so much as it crashes, one process at a time.

I think he’s so right about this aspect of Stephenson prose. Many people complain about his endings since they’re not quite as conclusive as they’d like, not to mention the predictable style of most of his work, where there is a dramatic “crash” of events that drastically changes the status quo, and I think this might be as good an explanation as we could get. For a UNIX programmer to become a novelist, one would imagine that he would have certain thinking processes in place that would shape his work. I can honestly say that I’ve never had too much of a problem with his style, maybe because I get it in the same way? In any case, I thought it was cool and relevant since I reviewed Anathem just a few days ago to post this.

PA on GoW 2 Dialogue [You Can Quote Me On That]
Nov 16th, 2008 by Dan

Here’s what Tycho has to say about the dialogue in Gears of War 2:

Still. There is a point at which “the rookie” says there are a shitload of grubs down there. Marcus Fenix corrects him, suggesting that there are, in fact, “Ten Shitloads.” I want to grant that Gears of War takes place on the planet Sera, where Shitload may be a genuine unit of measurement – but that’s dumb, and this line is dumb, and the people speaking are idiots, and they live in a world of dumbshits where stupidity of a form of currency.

I love it. Check out Penny Arcade if you want more webcomic goodness.

You Can Quote Me On That: Tim Rogers
Aug 23rd, 2008 by Dan

If you know me or read this site regularly, you know that I’m a huge fan of Tim Rogers of I don’t universally agree with him, but I do universally love how the things he says about game design and video games in general make me think critically about games both as entertainment, as examples of good design, and even as an art form. Today’s quote isn’t really all that thought-provoking, but it does bring up a rather good point:

It’s a lot like the iron boots in modern 3D Zelda games: you have these 200kg boots in your inventory; you’re swimming in water; you open the menu and choose to put the boots “on”; you sink to the bottom of the water. Are the boots only heavy when they’re on your feet? (Maybe they’re magical.) It’s not a puzzle; it’s not “thinking”. It’s just “there”.

-Tim Rogers in his Ikaruga review.

Sure, video games do require immense suspension of disbelief and Rogers does harp a lot on modern Zelda and Nintendo design in general, but it’s true when you think about it and pretty funny.

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