Archive for June, 2007

is drinking just outright pathetic?

June 6th, 2007

The things we do in life can be split into different categories. Some are noble (not too many of those), some are a pursuit of excellence, some are intellectual escapades, some are efforts toward physical improvement. Generally these are things we don't mind people knowing about us. Then there's a different class of things. Things we do out of discipline or duty (mundane things like clean and work), things done out of temptation, things done out of greed or jealousy, things done out of want for physical gratification. These things are more sketchy, some of them don't make us look so good.

Among those definitely in the latter class of things is alcohol consumption. Now, I didn't say responsible consumption of alcohol or cultural enrichment, or anything like that. I call it by its most colloquial, universally understood name: drinking.

Most kids think that alcohol is very exciting, because they can't have any. Once they're in their teens, they actively participate. Not only do they drink, but in the course of testing their newfound freedom, they do a lot of really dumb things. Driving under the influence, vandalism, violence, drugs etc. Now, there is an unwritten rule saying that this is okay. "It's part of growing up." You're authorized to act downright infantile in the assumption that in a few years you'll be an adult and you'll have this behind you." But there is an important point to this, that of freedom. Going from a kid to an adult is a steady increase in the number of freedoms you have. This is very tingly. You go from being able to do certain things in a restricted way to being able to do just anything and everything. When you're a kid, you're likely to want the things you can't have. But when you're an adult and you can have anything, what are you supposed to want?

I definitely have this instinctive conviction that life is supposed to be an evolution. You're supposed to develop in some way, to improve yourself. That doesn't mean a hopeless quest for perfection, this isn't some holistic belief system. And you won't be the perfect person at the end of it. It's just a conviction that you should be trying to develop in some way or another, at any given moment. Life is long and you have the time to try anything you want to try. For every new thing you learn, book you read, country you visit, hobby you acquire, you go from who you were to someone.. slightly different.

On the other hand, there are some things that don't change. Physiological needs don't change much, emotional needs don't change much, the need for intellectual fulfillment changes in form, but not in principle.

One thing I find completely pathetic, that doesn't change, is the craving for alcohol. Think about it, think back to the first time you were really excited about drinking. Maybe you were 18 then. And what is it that people do when they're "enjoying themselves"? They drink themselves under the table. It's true for teenagers, it's true for students, it's true for working people, for senior working people, for seniors, it never stops. Now tell me, how many of the things you really loved doing when you were 18 do you still do a lot? How many of the interests you had then do you still maintain? And wherever you are in life, extrapolate to all the different stages of life. We don't stand still in life, we're moving somewhere.

But drunkenness just doesn't stop. Teenagers revel in it, students worship it, working people yearn for office parties, Christmas parties. It is that escape, that excuse for entering the other class of behavior. It's an excuse to do things and not remember, or do things and regret them.

But let's ask the question, how pathetic is this? How sad is it that people who have become 20 years older still crave the same primitive fulfillment they did two decades ago? And it's not just that they crave it. It's that they still observe it with the same sense of worship that they did in the past. Alcohol is still the escape, it's still the fulfillment. Nothing has changed. Where is the sense of development? You've lived 20 years and you haven't made any progress towards more ambitious goals. How sad. If you had wanted to play with the same toys at 35 that you did at 5, most people would think there's something wrong with you. Or if you were reading Harry Potter at 15 and still at 45, a valid question would be "where is your intellectual development, why haven't you moved on to more challenging books?".

Now, there is a distinction to be made about alcohol. If you consider it as a cultural artifact, then it is a lot more like food and drink we consume. If you have a glass of wine with dinner, because that's cultured, you're not really taking an excuse to do things you couldn't otherwise have done. Alcohol as an "enhancement" isn't really a problem. If you "get a buzz going" and feel a little more comfortable with the people around you, that's okay. But enhancement means just that. If you try a new brand of fuel and get a 20% better mileage, that's an enhancement. A 50% is an enhancement, perhaps even even 100%. But if you get totally fucked up, not knowing where you are, what you did or what your name is, that's not an enhancement, that's total transformation.

Does that mean drugs that totally alter your consciousness should be outright dismissed? That sounds a bit hasty. Perhaps there is merit to it. But they aren't universally worshipped like alcohol either.

But, here's the problem. So often alcohol isn't an enhancement, it's the goal itself. When people look forward to that weekend party, "having a good time" is defined explicitly by drinking itself. It is the goal. If you told people let's have a party without alcohol, they would protest. You wouldn't be removing just some addition, you would be removing the very thing that makes people excited. There's nothing more obvious to prove that drinking is the goal in itself.

It is this worship of drinking that's depressing. In many circles it's almost religiously observed, and this has nothing to do with peer pressure or "you don't have to participate if you don't want to", it has to do with how incredibly sad and lame the actual pursuit is. So when people do actually get together "in good company", what they actually want, their interests, their level of ambition, what they value, it's pathetic. And it's just as primitive at age 25 as it was at 15. People who are otherwise intelligent, successful, admirable, they turn into individuals whose one thought is "let's get drunk."

You've lived 60 years and the one thing in life that you think about in terms of feeling good is drinking. You're so pathetic.

the particular targeting of games

June 5th, 2007

Good computer games have been around for a long time. "In the beginning", you could say that the idea was just kicking off, it was an experimental thing, very small market and few titles. But the 90s certainly made games omnipresent and ever since they've just been around us.

Obviously, when something is new, there tends to be slight adoption by enthusiasts, but not much beyond that. People in marketing will say that you've become successful once you've succeeded at selling your product to people with no special interest in it. Then you know it's good enough "for everyone", not just those with an acute interest in the topic.

But by those standards, games have always been a bit of a special case. Even though they are unquestionably popular, they're not quite like other integral elements of our culture. I used to wonder many years ago at how it was only guys who seemed interested in computer games. All through elementary and well into junior high, I was really into games, and most of my friends were too. But girls weren't. It seemed like an anomaly.

Girls may not buy the most expensive stereo, but they will buy a stereo, they like music. They may not buy the most expensive tv, but they will buy a tv, they like watching tv. And so on, and so forth. So what was so specific about games that had such a gender based appeal? Was it because games weren't made for girls? Probably. Was it because studios didn't know what kind of games girls would play? Probably. Was it because the market for games among guys is naturally bigger? Possibly, but that's just guesswork.

I would say that games reached some kind of threshold in the 90s, early 21st century. When I was growing up, games were becoming better all the time, they were developing quickly. New techniques and new technologies made games published 2 years apart really show that they weren't contemporaries. Of course, I'm generalizing here. But I think that at some point we reached the end of that sharp gradient. I just get the feeling that techniques that came up are now fairly established, and they are continually refined as new hardware allows it. But I don't see that kind of pace of evolution that I did back then. As such, the number of things you could do in a game have been discovered. I don't think games today are offering vastly new ideas than those 5 years ago. Compare that to the mainstream switch from 2D to 3D, that one was huge.

So what I hypothesize is that games have been an established thing for a while now, and studios know what they can and can't achieve, and they don't expect the technological landscape to change drastically in the near future.

At the same time that games have matured, it seems to me that the genre has specialized too. It has narrowed its spectrum to the kinds of games that really are successful. What is the single most popular genre of games right now? (From my perspective, at any rate.) It's shoot-em-up-games. Or at least that's what we used to call them then, I don't know what they are called now. It was Wolfenstein, then Doom, then Quake and so on, it's the Counter Strike genre of games. And there are tons of them. When I see people talking about games they play, it's overwhelmingly this genre of games. At the same time, other genres have suffered greatly. Where is the Settlers, the Transport Tycoon of our time? Many genres have just gone lost it would seem. I certainly feel like the variety today is much narrower than it was 10 years ago, even though there are probably more studios and more titles out there.

So who is playing these games? Reports have shown that when it comes to the most popular genre of games, it's teenagers/young adults. Guys say below 30 who love this stuff. This is the target demographic now.

Coming back to the question why girls aren't interested in games, I was reminded of this issue when I saw an article by a female game developer. In an effort to characterize the female attitude towards games, it would seem that a) women don't enjoy this super popular genre because they find the violence boring (so do I, for that matter) and b) they don't like playing games that are hard to figure out. Obviously, there are very few women *in* game development to begin with, so ideas that would be popular to everyone aren't being heard. Which produces a line of product that doesn't appeal to women. Which again makes women unlikely to go into game development and change the status quo.

Disclaimer: Before you flame, I take the following exceptions.

  1. I don't consider console games, I'm not interested in consoles, and I probably never will be.
  2. There has been a recent surge in online game play with fantasy games, which seems to be more gender inclusive. As such, this opinion may have been more accurate a couple of years ago.

meet Spiderperson

June 2nd, 2007

I think we all agree it's very important to be politically correct. You shouldn't say spokesman, it's spokesperson. And you better not say Black, it's African American (whatever that means). But did you notice that there are still some shockingly backward phrases in popular use?

For example, Congressman and Congresswoman. What an outrage! I'm going on the record right now with Congressperson.

Likewise, all of our superheroes are in dire need of renaming too. Spiderman becomes Spiderperson, Superman is Superperson, Batman is Batperson, Wonderwoman is Wonderperson. The Green Lantern keeps his name, as lame as it is.

making the spam bots feel comfortable

June 1st, 2007

A lot of famous people have said lots of interesting things about success. Little did I know the success I was about to experience when I opened this blog in 2003. It is today what it's always been, an outlet mostly for various gripes, observations, recent events etc., of no interest to anyone. Why blog? Because I feel like it (bad guys in movies always say "because I can"). And I also thought that in time I would find it amusing to read back old entries, relive the past so to speak, which I actually don't really do.

But it turns out that this blog does have a wide appeal after all. Why is anybody's guess. In the last 6 months or so interest has intensified to the point where I get 1,000 comments a week. The absolute majority of these are friendly, well meaning, helpful spam bots who want to make sure I hear about the best deals that can be made. Whoever said machines aren't friendly?

So, as more and more spam bots have found my blog and spread the word to all their friends, it's become increasingly important to make sure I'm a good host to this populous demographic. My spam bot friends have a lot to say, and they won't stop at arguing points for topics that were covered here a long time ago. The Wordpress community has helped me ensure that while I don't miss out on any spam comments, the human readers on here, who don't know my bot friends, and don't appreciate their intelligence and sense of humor, only see the human content.

Wordpress ships with Akismet, and you want to turn it on right away. But to decrease the number of spam comments, you may want to consider the Bad Behavior plugin in addition. It blocks certain types of traffic outright, not just posts but also pageviews.

The last two weeks I experimented to see whether it makes much of a difference. First I ran Bad Behaviour for a week, counted how many spam comments I got and how many were blocked. Then I ran for a week without it and counted the spam comments.

May 17-25
832 spam comments

866 spam comments blocked by Bad Behavior (out of a total 1,196 requests blocked in total)

May 25-June 1
1,320 spam comments

In both cases, all spam was caught by Akismet, so nothing actually gets published. But the difference is in how much spam is submitted and ends up in Akismet's temporary 15-day archive.

Conclusion: Bad Behavior is worthwhile. :)