The point of any art is to make you feel some irreducible, numinous, complicated emotion. The characters in a story are inconsequential, literally (Romeo and Juliet never lived, never died, and are less worthy of our sympathy and care than the bacterial culture in my yogurt this morning, because at least that was a real, living thing). Insofar as imaginary people matter, it’s because their made-up, not-real adventures make you feel those complicated and interesting emotions. But it’s a very roundabout way of getting people to feel stuff. Novels do it by tricking your limbic system into mistaking the adventures of not-real people for things happening to real people.
Games and comics do it differently — there’s some of that “caring about not-real people” stuff, but there’s also a lot more of the “here’s a visual image that, because of its own formal characteristics, its colors and composition, makes you feel a thing just by looking at it.” The relationship between words about made-up people and pictures is like the relationship between talk-therapy and SSRIs — the former is supposed to get your brain to generate interesting psychological effects, the latter just imposes the effects right on your brain by altering its chemical makeup.
Games have other mechanics, of course, that are inaccessible to comics. They make you physically engage with the art, using your body (or at least your fingers) to make the art-thing happen. I think that recruiting more senses and modes probably makes the effect more immediate and possibly more profound, inasmuch as there are more mechanisms at play with which to evoke that inchoate and irreducible etcetera. There’s just stuff that you probably can’t feel (or not as readily) by reading about stuff, that’s accessible when you’re moving your body. Psychologically, of course, but physiologically too: things that happen to your brain and your thought processes when you are directing movement, as opposed to when you’re imagining it.
Games also engage a different kind of puzzle-solving mental apparatus; Raph Koster calls games something like, “NP-hard problems that can only be solved through the iterative application of heuristics.” Which is fancy math talk, but it means that games are interesting in part because they present puzzles whose ideal solutions are indeterminate — for example, there are more possible games of chess than there are hydrogen atoms in the universe, so you can’t “solve” chess the way you can tic-tac-toe, by mapping out every possible chess game and ensuring that you always play towards a non-losing outcome.
Because you can’t solve these puzzles with pure logic, you have to apply heuristics — rules of thumb — that you develop through a combination of intuition and reasoned thinking, and that you refine by trying them and varying them, more or less systematically, in order to improve your performance in the game. This variation and retrying is what Koster means by “iteration.”
This has a lot in common with “reality.” There’s no optimal way to be alive and human in the world, no Plato’s Republic course of “right action” that will reliably produce a happy outcome for you. All you can do is try your best, developing theories of how to conduct your life and refining them as time goes by.
Games, then, are microcosmic versions of life. It’s not surprising that they engage our attention and our fascination, because the reason our ancestors survived to have the children that we became is that they were reasonably good at this process. When processes like this emerge, they give us both satisfaction from mastery, and an almost irresistible urge to play on. They’re rehearsal for the only “life skill” that matters — figuring out how to come up with rules of thumb for hard problems, and how to refine them or discard them if they don’t work.
“The secret to writing is so simple it tickles: Write as much as you can. As fast as you can. Finish your shit. Hit your deadlines. Try very hard not to suck. That’s it. That’s my secret. Don’t tell anyone or I’ll charge you with espionage and shit in your fish tank.”—Chuck Wendig (via theoldaeroplane)
But it’s scaaaaary, you say. Sure, sure, yes, it can be. That sacrificial component can be terrifying. It feels like exposing yourself — some kind of intellectual, creative nudity, like running through somebody else’s mind, naked. Stripped bare. To the skin. Maybe to the bone. What might you say? What might you reveal? Who are you? Who will read you?
This was written by request for some friends dealing with Goobergate. Feel free to reshare, but don’t use it as an excuse to be a shithead. Thanks.
So, James “Desborough” Desborough. What’s up with that guy?
I’ve been asked by people less familiar with the online tabletop RPG community to give them a summary, so here it is. Most links and images were submitted because like hell am I digging it up myself, words are my own.
This is utter hypocrisy. There’s no other way to describe it.
Alexander Marcis is general manager for The Escapist, a reactionary right-skewing video game website. The Escapist recently ran a raft of nakedly pro-#GamerGate interviews with a motley crew of developers, many of whom have been…
So here’s what I’ve learned from the last two months of getting hacked and helping friends who have gotten hacked. It’s a work in progress cause I am currently mad as hell so I will be adding to it as time goes on, but since another woman got doxxed tonight I figured it’s a start.
When my novel DEAD SEA first came out years ago, many critics and reviewers made a big deal out of the book’s main protagonist being a gay Black man. They made an even bigger deal out of the fact that a straight White guy had written it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Those…
“Raising a child is like taking care of someone who’s on way too many shrooms, while you yourself are on a moderate amount of shrooms. I am not confident in my decisions, but I know you should not be eating a mousepad.”—
In a world ruled by chance, one rash decision could bring down the house, one roll of the dice could bring untold wealth, or the end of everything.
The players have gathered around the table, each to tell their story - often dark, always compelling. Within you will find tales of the players and the played, lives governed by games deadly, weird, or downright bizarre.
Bringing together tales of the weird and the macabre, Dangerous Games is a diverse collection of voices, featuring incredible new fiction by Chuck Wendig, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lavie Tidhar, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Paul Kearney, Libby McGugan, Yoon Ha Lee, Gary Northfield, Melanie Tem, Hillary Monahan, Tade Thompson, Rebecca Levene, Ivo Stourton, Gary McMahon, Robert Shearman, Nik Vincent, Helen Marshall, and Pat Cadigan.
Dangerous Games is out December 2014. Pre-order it today: UK | US
“Wal-Mart earned $27 billion in profit last year. They could afford to pay their bottom million workers $10,000 more a year, raise all of those people out of poverty, cost — save taxpayers billions of dollars, and still earn $17 billion in profit, right? It’s simply nuts that we have allowed this to happen. […] You know, this ridiculous idea that a worker on Wall Street who earns tens of millions of dollars a year securitizing imaginary assets or doing high-frequency trading is worth 1,000 times as much as workers who earn tens of thousands of dollars a year educating our children, growing or serving us our food, throwing themselves into harm’s away to protect our life or property, that this difference reflects the true value or intrinsic worth of these jobs is nonsense.”—Nick Hanauer, Venture Capitalist, on the necessity of a living wage (via cognitiveinequality)
I imagine that when the meteors were coming, and the volcanos were sharting great globs of lava into the sky and onto the ground, and mammals were conspiring to survive the pyroclasm, the dinosaurs were probably pretty pissed off. They had been phased out by nature — they saw that the world was changing and that they couldn’t survive in it anymore. They probably started a hashtag. Like, #meteorgate or #nomoreextinction or something. Carving them on trees and rocks with saurian claw. And they probably filled these hashtags with a lot of anti-mammal rhetoric. Then they stood around yelling at the sky, shaking their tiny fists or swishing their spiky tails in rage, hoping it would change what was coming. Hoping it would stop the meteors from popping their big dumb dinosaur heads like grapes. Hoping the lava would not cook them from the feet up. Hoping that this whole “mammal” thing was just a glitch, a gimmick, a short and forgettable chapter in the Big Book about How Dinosaurs Are Fucking Awesome.
And then some of the dinosaurs became birds and flew away while the rest of the dinosaurs ate hot meteor and died. Or something. I don’t really know precisely what killed the dinosaurs — Dino Flu, or Arrogance, or a Free U2 Album — but I do know that the world was eventually done with them and had moved on. Evolution and change are hard to deal with.
The entire GOP Senate caucus voted against Tom Udall’s proposed Constitutional amendment that would have allowed states to set rules limiting campaign contributions, overturning the notorious Citizens United Supreme Court decision that found that money was a form of protected speech.