The Social Animal

Driving to work this morning, I was in traffic behind a car that was sporting a “13.1” and “Run” stickers in the window. I guessed (no doubt correctly), that the owner of this vehicle likes to run. I don’t know what to do with this information, but for the owner of the car, it’s important enough to him or her (or them) that strangers know that he or she (or they) like to run.

Reading through articles or watching news, you’d think that “social media” suddenly made people less inhibited with their personal information. Twitter was original looked down upon as “navel gazing” and most pundits couldn’t see the value in learning about what some random stranger was eating for lunch that day. We’ve always been social animals, of course, which is how we are able to make living in cities work, or how we make work work, but on an individual level, we’ve never shied away from providing unsolicited insight into our personal lives.

We’ve all seen the “stick figure family” decals people put on their cars. These are a great example because at the bare minimum they’re letting strangers know that they have a spouse, some kids, maybe some pets, but beyond that there are layers of information there. The owner wants you to know that they love their family so much (maybe more then people without the stickers) that they’re willing to telegraph their nuclear family composition to strangers. Most of those stickers aren’t even just male, female, children, or pet stickers. They’re mother and father with briefcases, or children with soccer balls or dancing equipment. Not only are these sticker owners proud of their family, they want people to know very specific things about their family.

Another example is the “Baby on Board” plaques that were obnoxiously ubiquitous in the 90’s. At first blush you’d think that because the shape and color represent road signs used to notify motorists of something important that their sole purpose was to passive-aggressively ask other drivers to be careful around the car bearing the sign. But let’s face it: if someone is in the process of causing or participating in an accident, they don’t usually have the luxury of selecting which other cars they’re going to involve in their disaster. Yes, technically the signs can be used to be polite, but like a lot of fads they become status symbols, in this case “I’ve had sex and have a child”.

We’ve been telling strangers all kinds of things about ourselves for decades, possibly even longer, through bumper stickers, political or construction signs we allow to be placed on our lawns, balloons we hang on our mailboxes to let people know that someone who lives there just had a baby (and whether it’s a boy or a girl) or that someone had a milestone birthday. The only difference between then and now is that the strangers we’re broadcasting too might have even less incentive to care, because there’s even less of a chance that someone who sees that you’re eating a salad for lunch is going to bump into you at the cafeteria and discuss your love of the food with you.

What really gets me, though, are the people on social media who openly and honestly tell people that they hate people. I mean people in general, not specific people, although I suspect that they wouldn’t be above getting that granular without provocation. The irony might be lost on these folks, but more importantly I think this is their bumper sticker, the same way that someone with an “Obummer” bumper sticker might drive through a die-hard blue state with a shit-eating grin on his face. This is really the gray area of this topic: why does someone go out of his or her way to announce something about themselves to total strangers? This is the exact same question that people have been asking when questioning the value of social media, yet it something we’ve been doing for decades through these subtle expressions.

Most of the time, these things that we tell people about are things that we’re proud of. We love our families, and want people to know that we are the kind of people who put our family first (good luck if they have to choose between saving you or their goldfish during a disaster) , or that they’ve got the determination to go outside and run when the rest of us are under the thumb of the vile Netflix. Political assertions are the worst, though, as many of them seem to be designed to insult the opposition as if the owner is perpetually spoiling for a fight (or willing to engage in partisan highway bumper-cars).

What the traditional methods of bumper stickers and yard signs shares with social media is a certain level of distance between the teller and the viewer. While it could be said that social media that uses our real names links our opinions with our identities, it’s by no means a certainty; social media still allows us to post from behind a pseudonym or another identity, or sometimes anonymously. In the same vein, slapping a bumper sticker to your car so you can tell the stranger behind you who’s riding your ass down the freeway that it’s OK to keep honking while you’re reloading is different from actually leaning out the window to wave a gun at them and confronting them directly. Use of signs and stickers and the “fire and forget” posting on social media are more passive, and I think that passivity — both in the telling and in the possibility that the viewer will just ignore your display — makes people more comfortable in releasing information about themselves.

We want people to know us, and not just the people that we’re comfortable with. Being known and accepted by those who share our feelings, or even to be recognized as someone in opposition for potential engagement. The idea that social media has somehow started the culture of “navel gazing” is totally incorrect, as we’ve been interested in sharing ourselves with strangers for much, much longer.

All About That; Shadows of Shallamas

All About That

When I was in high school, my brother was learning to play guitar, complete with lessons and all that, but I wasn’t super interested in doing the same. He had a few guitars, and at some point he bought a cheap Ibanez 4 string bass because why not? But he wasn’t interested in it, after playing around for a while, so I took it. I still didn’t have a super interest in the actual act of learning, so I just took the shortcut of dealing with tableture and banging on a few songs that I liked.

I stopped dealing with it about 20 years ago, and my bass kind of languished in the closet until my nephew asked if he could borrow it. I told him he could have it. I figured that was that.

But I really wanted to just bang around with it again, so when I mentioned off-handedly that I was considering buying a cheap bass to have, a friend mentioned that he had one that he wasn’t using that I could have. Well I couldn’t pass that up!

Now I have the uphill battle of trying to get back into this. I want to actually learn something this time because as nice as it is to be able to Rock Band some songs on a real instrument (I should say Rocksmith, I guess), not having the ability to know why or to find alternative fingerings for difficult stretches was something that did bother me.

That, and I need to re-develop all the callouses. I bought some flatwound strings this time around, and that’s a weird new experience. I’m used to the normal round-wound strings with ridges, but these are smooth and feel almost like plastic. Supposedly it gives a different sound, reduces the “sccrreeeee” sound on slides and unfortunate fret changes, and is also easier on the fingers.

Shadows of Shallamas

Our PbP session for Numenera has been filled!

The first official step is for everyone to get the source materials. I bought the Core and Player books in PDF form because they’re cheaper and I didn’t have to leave the house. The players should only really need the Player book, unless they want the whole shebang provided by the Core — lore, tables, representative creatures, etc.

After that, we’ll get together via post to hash out people’s characters.

During our previous to current D&D game, I started the characters out with a little PbP adventure that explained on how they actually got together as a party, and I’m working on that same scenario  for this group. Called Shadows of Shallamas, it’s a kind of murder mystery that I hope will allow the players to approach a common goal from different, individual angles. I’ve put down the synopsis and have created some of the NPCs on Tavern-Keeper.com, but that’s about as far as I can go without knowing how the character’s will be starting the game.

The Presence

This is the Mega Post, the nexus of purpose, concern, and reality. Cue dramatic music, and the fog machine.

About Me

Despite knowing better, I don’t have a problem discussing myself on the Internet. A lot of people feel the same way, although they would if you cornered them in real life. I think the same reason people are dicks on the Internet — anonymity, not always knowing where your contacts are in relation to you, strangers — is the same reason why people who aren’t interested in being dicks can open up about themselves. Standing face to face with another stranger, even if you converse with them all day online, adds in another dimension of reality that’s very much like the reality we experience that may have been what made us hesitant to discuss ourselves in person in the first place. When we’re “talking” at people we don’t know, or people who are also comfortable behind the relative anonymity of the Internet, we’re more at ease (in some cases).

I used to be very introverted, but I credit college with having changed that about me. Living among strangers would have been terrifying if I hadn’t quickly come to the realization that these people and I were equals: all of us had the same opportunity to shed our old lives and reinvent ourselves in a new environment to rid ourselves of the personalities and quirks we knew were holding us down. It wasn’t an overnight process; I think it took all four years for me to reach my relatively Zen state of “whatever, man”, but I’m not as introverted — or as angry — as I used to be when I was younger.

That was compounded when I had a child. Before, my life was my own. Now, my life was someone else’s (not to belittle my relationship with my wife). I realized that everything I did was being watched, studied, and learned from. My actions were learning experiences; my beliefs were templates for the formation of someone else’s values. I had a responsibility to make my life matter because in my own small way, I was carving out a chunk of the world my child would inhabit and inherit.

A lot of my writing over the past several years has been focused on “community”, and specifically the gaming and geek community because that’s where I live. It’s my hobby and a part of my identity. My brother in law is a professional brewer, and he talks about beer like he’s going to run out of it at any second, and while I’ve come to appreciate beer, I don’t share his enthusiasm. In turn, he doesn’t share my enthusiasm for gaming and geekery (although his sons do). Everyone has something they hold dear, and when my daughter started showing an interest in Minecraft and anime, I knew that my responsibility had to take on a whole new dimension. Not only did I have to make sure she gets her vitamins and does her homework, but I have to ensure that this geek-in-training grows into a community that treats her like a human being and judges her on her enthusiasm, not her experience or gender.

Most of my posts had been about begging the community that was within the sound of my…posts…to consider why we’re in this community. No one (aside from reporters, soldiers, and doctors) runs towards a place they’d rather not be, and our presence in this space always told me that the geek community wanted to be here because geekery was part of their identity just as it is part of mine. The act of being here meant something good to everyone. But there’s such poison in this community, of the type you’d expect to see if a country was under siege by a contingent that wanted it wiped from the map. To this day I cannot fathom how so many people can claim to love this community, and yet not accept that their behavior is destroying it.

So the focus on the community had always been important to me because I know that I want to do better, and to hang out with people whose company I enjoy, who enjoy my company, and with whom I have this culture in common. I always felt that these artificial demarcations we raise between platforms or genres or regions or skill sets or age or gender are truly just that: artificial. We as humans want companionship and understanding and acceptance, but for some reason it’s more important that we’re seen as being right than we are in actually being right. It’s never been more poignant than when someone believes they’re in the right when they’re neck-deep in being wrong. Make no mistake…there is a right and a wrong, and it transcends the geek community.

Before anything else that we claim to be, we’re born into this world as a member of a single community: the human race. We don’t learn about gender, religion, or nationality, or skin color, sexual preference, PC or console, Xbox or Playstation, or any other “bucket” we inhabit until much later. Sadly, I think that humanity is the first thing ejected from our identities as we strive to rarefy ourselves to fit in and to stand out. We won’t get noticed if the best we can claim for ourselves is that “we’re a decent human being”, and yet that’s exactly what I focus on so often: the humanity or it’s lack in how we treat one another in this community.

About Me and You

No one can possibly get along with everyone. With billions of people on the planet, each of which has their own unique set of genes, and having each experienced their own unique life, there’s going to be people who become naturally opposed to one another. As sad as that is to consider, it’s inescapable.

Of course, I (and others in my generation, and those older than I am) remember the days when finding people who share our interests wasn’t easy. You mostly found one another by chance, or if you had the resources, could get yourself to a meeting of like minded people. Maybe that’s why going to church has declined. It used to be a sure-fire way to find people you can relate to, but now common interests are only one subreddit away (may gawd have mercy on our souls).

Don’t get me wrong: it’s exciting to have access to the planet’s largest Rolodex without having to get up from the couch. I’ve made contact with legions of people that I would never have found 25 years ago when being a geek wasn’t anywhere near as cool as it is today. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone I’ve come across fits into my personal puzzle.

Despite my high-minded calls for everyone to get along, I’m not a paragon of kyumbaya. I get angry at people for reasons both legitimate and trivial. I get jealous and enjoy the occasional superiority complex. I bob up and down on the waves of social engagement quite often. I’ve threatened to leave this community (or at least the public eye aspect of it) several times now, but here I am, writing to you…assuming you’ve made it this far.

People are important to me. I can’t say that all people are important to me, but the net result is that I can’t back out of this community even if I wanted to — really wanted to, and not just claiming to do so for attention. Like I said above, geekery is part of my identity, and I care deeply for the people who make up this community whether I interact with them or not, get angry at them, or follow or unfollow them several times. That’s you. You are important to me. And if you’re not a member of this community and have stumbled upon this post and are reading out of morbid curiosity, that’s you too, because if we have nothing else in common, we’re both human beings trapped (for now) on this planet. That counts for a lot, believe it or not.

And The Future

Folks who know me know that I’ve recently (as of this posting) trashed my other blogs and proclaimed that I was done with blogging. Apparently, that’s not entirely true, and it bothers me both that it’s not, and that I wasn’t entirely honest, or at least was not clear.

I had been struggling with “keeping up with the Joneses” on levelcapped.com. I wanted to be important in the blog-o-sphere, and felt that keeping time with posts would help to grow a dedicated following. I had some success, but there’s a part of my personality that wasn’t accepting what I had achieved, even though I consciously knew that nothing I wanted to achieve was an overnight deal.

My problem is that I have reached the statistical half-way point in my lifespan. At this point, I have a job, a house, a wife and child, a car, a dog, enough money to be comfortable, and good friends. But it’s not enough. Rather, none of those things fills this need I have to accomplish something before I die. Many people would suggest that the things I do have could easily be considered accomplishments, and that’s a true statement. But layered on top of that is the anger about the frailty of humanity, that as far as machines go, we’re lemons without a warranty. If we were a car, we’d be deemed unsafe at any speed.

My mother died of cancer. A friend shot himself. Another friend was killed in a car accident. The frailty of the human condition has been thrust in my face several times in the past decade alone, and it’s made me angry that no matter how long we spend on this planet, everything we have ever done and more importantly everything we could do will someday be negated simply because as human beings, we’re shitty machines. Out of billions of people we’re just dust in the crevasses of this worldwide mosaic, and while we may be survived by friends and family, it only takes a generation for us to be remembered only as a leaf on someone’s family tree…if we’re lucky to have someone interested in our genealogy, that is.

I will admit that I have an ego. I am also selfish. I want to accomplish something that will make me feel like my time here on earth isn’t just time spent writing these long blog posts. I’ve tried many things: game development, novel writing, art, music, podcasting, community projects…but nothing has stuck. Despite my growing panic of not having accomplished anything, I can’t seem to gain traction in anything I try to do. Most of it is my failing, but sometimes I find that my enthusiasm isn’t shared by people I had hoped to entice along for the ride. A lot of things I can’t do on my own, but getting buy in has been difficult. Despite my claim of egoism, though, it’s never been about me. I just want to be part of something larger than just me so later on in life I can look back and say that I had been.

The demise of LC.com was part of the realization that it’s not going to happen. As a platform, that site was crumbling under it’s own air of self-importance. I felt that I had done as much exhorting of the community as I could possibly do; it wasn’t doing any good. The community continues to be rotten. My voice wasn’t strong enough, not far reaching enough, not important enough to make a difference. People don’t like being talked at, and no one likes to be confronted with accusations that they weren’t doing a good enough job. Hell, every one of those posts was hypocritical; I was never worthy of claiming that I had the right to post those articles myself.

So now I’m down to this one blog. It’s the catch all for all kinds of stuff. I wanted to get away from the drudgery of coming up with posts to garner readership. I was tired of the finger-wagging tangent my writing usually fell back on, and I couldn’t swallow just post about what I was playing over the weekend. I had no projects to sell, no excitement to drum up, and eventually realized that every time I had tried, those projects fell by the wayside. I was an over-reliable promoter and unreliable producer. I couldn’t expect anyone to want to work with me on anything at that point.

As a complementary move I’m pairing back my social media. I prefer Google Plus still, but still wade into the faster running waters of Twitter. But I don’t treat either as I used to in the days when I was happy to just follow anyone and everyone who shared the same interests as me. I’ve unfollowed many people recently who just weren’t “doing it” for me, either because of a lack of engagement or because they weren’t ever talking about anything that interested me that I could share in. I’m only following 85 people on Twitter, and at least half of those are “official” accounts for companies and services. I have a paltry 480 followers, and my weekly digest of people who’ve unfollowed me is steady and unending.

This is a leaner life. In some regards it saddens me because I don’t believe that I unfollow anyone out of ill will. If I didn’t like a person I wouldn’t have ever followed them in the first place. But as I am changing, my priorities change, what I want out of my social media changes, and what I can live with changes as well. But this pruning of my social tree, so much as it ever was, shows that my willingness to participate in this community is waning. Unfollowing people. Cancelling my blogs. This massive fucking post. I’ve also written about how I’m having increasing trouble devoting myself to sitting down to play any games recently.

It’s uncharted territory to an extent. Almost my entire life has been spent in the geek community, but now it seems like less and less of a place that feels comfortable to me, and more like one that’s eager to show me the door. It’s not something that will ever leave me, but I’ve been spending more time doing other things as of late. Less interactive things. Slower things. Things that have fewer consequences, and fewer potential consequences. It’s like retirement, but I still have to go to work.

As much as I really don’t want to leave, it’s just feeling like it’s no longer worthwhile to put in the time outside of what’s directly in front of my face. I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to accomplish anything outside of living my life, and I can’t bear to watch as other people manage to succeed where I’ve repeatedly failed. It’s really easier to just sit and read or watch TV than it is to give it one more shot in the hopes that this time might be the time. As Danny Glover said, I’m getting too old for this shit.

Epilogue

Amazingly enough, this is the first post I’ve written with an honest to goodness epilogue.

I didn’t want to end this on the down-tempo, because in a way it’s actually liberating to not try and take the weight of a world on the shoulders. No one had ever asked me to, so it’d been born out of my desire to have a better community for everyone. Sadly, I don’t think the community wants to be better for it’s own sake. We’re headed for a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, with no one to blame but ourselves (despite the certainty that blame will be placed everywhere but with ourselves).

Now seems like a good time to start letting go, albeit slowly. I’m not that old, but I now understand the feeling of “passing the torch” to the next generation. I’ve kind of done all I think I’m able to do. I’ve helped shepherd this culture from the dark, wedgie-filled hallways of unpopularity to the multi-billion dollar juggernaut that it enjoys being today. That’s brought about some unique challenges which aren’t going to be resolved by my generation, or the generation behind me, as sad as that sounds. Instead, those resolutions will fall to a generation that’s more accepting and open minded than the dregs who can’t deal with their weak self-images in the face of a changing ecosystem that is increasingly marginalizing them in favor of wider acceptance.

I guess it’s all good, because it can’t be anything else, really. Maybe in a few weeks or months I’ll feel different, will rush to re-embrace everyone, and you won’t be able to find this post anywhere, but I never delete anything, just draft it. I may want to at least look back on this post and see whether or not I was prescient, or just a fool.

Last Blog Standing

So I wasn’t entirely honest when I said I was getting out of the blogging biz.

Cedarstreet has been my central domain for quite a while now. I branched out to Levelcapped.com because the name fit better when talking about games than “Cedarstreet” did. I eventually spent more time over there than I did here, as I was keeping this as my general purpose dumping ground.

The problem being that I wasn’t really talking about much general purpose stuff. Most things I wrote about were gaming related, with the occasional odd post over here. I tried re-purposing this space for public sounding-board on writing topics, but I don’t want it to entirely spiral down that drain.

But I’ve kind of lost interest in video game blogging. Most of my recent stuff has been about recaps, the things I’ve been playing and what happened. I’m not super interested in reading that kind of thing, so I wasn’t super interested in writing that kind of thing. I’m tired of the weekly controversy that we seem to become embroiled in on cue, so I didn’t want to write about that kind of thing.

I want to write about interesting stuff. Stuff that other people want to read. And I wasn’t feeling that I had tons left to say on the subject of gaming, or at least not enough or frequently enough to warrant having a blog dedicated to that and only that.

So Cedarstreet is the last blog standing. I’ve deleted Levelcapped.com and Flying Blind. All the files and databases are gone.

I’ll be using this space for pretty much everything going forward, then. That means video games, tabletop games, media, non-gaming subjects, and all kinds of other things. I’m still going to try very hard to maintain a positive bent, so no politics or religion or stuff like that.

However, I’m not sure I’ll be advertising this on the social networks. I might just keep this on the down-low, manually throwing out posts as I see fit. I’m not looking for a following. I’m just keeping this space as a place to write.

The One Thing I Want For 2015

I don’t do resolutions, because I try to go with the whole Zen approach to things, one day at a time. I have a retirement account, sure, but setting goals that can be thought up in a few hours means that they can be dropped and forgotten in half the time when they become inconvenient or when The Universe simply doesn’t want to make your life as easy as you’d hoped. I know that kind of sounds like a ready-made excuse for not having to try, but in the recent deluge of posts about New Years Resolutions, the one thread of advice that’s being repeated hasn’t been “go out and do it big”, but rather “make a habit of the little things”. When I think about the things that I regularly do (like blogging Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and think back on how I came to do them, this is the way they came to be: small tasks done with regularity until they became common practice in my life.

See, what I want out of 2015 is really the same thing I think everyone reading this wants: a better community. 2014 was probably the absolute low point in games and geekery for reasons we can all remember, and the only way 2015 can get any worse is if we continue to do things the way we did last year. There’s no “steady as she goes” about it: unless we all agree to make it a better year, things are going to continue to spiral deeper and deeper into Hell, and we’ll all be to blame.

That’s not a call to arms. This community is nothing if not over-dramatic. We’ve got a lot of templates to work from, not the least of which is “the hero’s journey” that makes up 98% of everything we consume around here. We’re a community of people who, until pretty recently, were outsiders who got a lot of shit for what we liked, how we looked, and what we did. Now that we’re a Big Deal around the world, we’ve gained a swagger: many folks around here believe that we’ve done time in the trenches, and now it’s time for reparations that are due us. It’s still a Wild West of sorts, with vacancies to be filled for the traditional roles of spokespeople, taste-makers, and influencers, and thanks to the egalitarian nature of our hobby and the Internet, every Tweet is an application, and every blog post is a campaign speech. See? Overly dramatic.

What we don’t need are people telling us all to “stop talking and start acting”. That just sounds to me like people are preaching a full-fledged riot as the only way to solve our ills. Instead, what we need are individuals who want to make this community a better place, because the only way that can happen is if we take care of our own, individual houses before we start trying to clean everyone else’s. Look at your own attitude in 2014 by thumbing back through your Tweets, Facebook posts and Likes, blog posts, and behavior in-game. Are you happy with how you appear to your fellow geeks? I suspect that most people will say yes, because why not, right? You’ve got nothing to prove to this wall of text, and your opinions are your own and form the foundation of your identity. Maybe there’s a few here and there that look cringe-worthy in hindsight, but by and large you spoke your mind and you stand by your public face in 2014.

Think on this, then: in 2014, how did you make the community better? I mean really better. I don’t mean how you think you made it better, with your rants in the name of truth, or all those times you called people out for their mistakes and shortcomings, or the pride you took in flinging sarcasm around as a weapon in an Internet battle. Those things don’t help build a better community. Those kinds of activities only allowed you to feel a bit more superior, and maybe to become a bit more noticed by the people we want to be noticed by: other community members.

See that link right there? We behave the way we do because we’re looking for appreciation from the people whose opinions matter to us. We want to be thought well of by a particular segment of the population, so we Tweet what we think will get re-Tweeted, or blog angry because we know people like reading and leaving their own angry comments, and we call that “interaction” and “community” based solely on traffic we generate in response to what we put out there.

Are you helping to build and repair the community through your actions and attitudes? Or are you subverting the community through negativity and snark in a bid to improve your own self-satisfaction?

What really gets me, then, is that games and geekery are ways of life devoted to enjoying things like video games, board games, cosplay, anime, science fiction and fantasy, books, comics, action figures, and stuff like that. No one joined this community because they have a burning hatred of what we’re about, so why, for the love of gawd, do so many people spend so many electrons being negative about it? And before you answer that — in the comments, or just in your own head — ask yourself this: who does your answer really serve? Are you going to say that negativity is a reflection of how fed up we are about the controversy du jour? Are you going to claim that you’re just “being honest” and insinuate that your rant is a universal truth? If you believe that you’re doing the community a favor by being negative or cranky all the time, then you’re not doing the community a favor; I submit that you’re profiteering off of the attention that negativity brings, or else you’re aligning yourself with a specific bandwagon for the anonymity being one among many provides.

No community or industry is perfect. There’s always a lot of work to be done to make things the best they can be, there’s always room for improvement, and often times that does mean identifying what’s wrong and bringing it to the attention of those who can fix it. We can and should identify the things that are broken, and work towards policies and practices that make this community better for everyone, be they consumer or be they the producer. But we have to do it in a such a way that we don’t feel that the only route from problem to solution is to mow down our fellow community members, or put our own desire for “Internet fame” ahead of the reason we claim is behind the “why” of our actions. In no line of business is progress made by being angry, foul-mouthed, sarcastic, and confrontational unless you’re easily fobbed off with any excuse given just to make you go away. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

And yes, I am aware that there are times when we get frustrated and angry at something we can’t redirect or repair, and we often take to social media to vent to those who we know and trust, and who we believe can help us regain our composure. So in the offline world, so in the online world, but even constant venting has repercussions: on morale, on perception of you and of your subject, and since words written in the haste of irritation often miss the nuance necessary to let people know that you’re venting for the purpose of taking a time out, it’s easy to be seen as the blogger or followee who only has negative things to say about everything. Just as we can feed on the happiness and excitement exuded by people in the community, we can become infected with an ever-present buzz of negativity, no matter it’s reason.

I’ll just say it again in closing: I want 2015 to be the year we actually start working on making this a better community by focusing less on being angry, less on taking action for our own self-satisfied reasons, and more on finding enjoyment in our hobby and subsequently talking about the things we like. Every post and Tweet is our opportunity to evangelize the reasons why we love what we do and to help make the community better. Let’s spend our energy working to repair the damage we’ve done to one another in 2104, and build on that to make things stronger among people who all love the elements of gaming and geekery. I don’t think it’s a tall order, nor do I think it’s particularly difficult thing to accomplish. We as individuals just need to take it one post, one Tweet, one comment, one interaction at a time by asking if the next thing out of our keyboards or out of our mouths is going to help build this community or not. I truly believe we can make it happen.

 

Update: Thanks to Brian Green for bringing this Slate article to my attention, entitled “The year of outrage 2014: Everything you were angry about on social media this year”. This is exactly the type of article I like because it’s not so narrowly focused on one or just a handful of elements. Rather, it’s a retrospective that takes the whole year in review, analyzes it, and extrapolates the overarching trend.

While this is a games and geekery blog and the focus is on the games and geekery community, the Slate article shows us that this element of cyclical anger and sarcasm is by no means limited to this community. It seems to have become a way of being in this dependence on social media as the growing “correct way” to interact with one another. I would suggest we get back to the “old ways” of thinking about our interactions by simply not saying anything that would get us punched in the face, but I know that there’s a generation behind us that’ll never know life without the anonymous interactions that social media provides, and will never have to meter their responses to situations out of fear of getting their ass kicked in person.

But to that end, we are in control of ourselves, threats of reprisals or not, and can and should think of our “public faces” when we’re addressing the world. Our voices reflect the types of people we want others to know us as, and the sum of our voices within this community is the face we present to one another, and to the rest of the world.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the book/movie “Contact”, which I think sums it up perfectly for anyone who thinks that we can never get past the rising tide of outrage, anger, and snark:

David Drumlin: I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

Ellie Arroway: Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.

Humblebrag: My Daughter The Artist

AnimeGirl

Up until about six months ago, my daughter wanted to be a veterinarian. She loves animals to a scary degree, but the idea of having to do…medical stuff… finally caught up to her and caused her to admit that she’s just not mentally fortified to see wounded animals or perform surgery.

In a random tangent, she now wants to be an animator. She’s getting into anime along with her friends, and has been watching Cartoon Network and Disney since time immemorial. Last Christmas, she took all of her birthday and Christmas money and bought herself a Galaxy Tab tablet with stylus and has been using it to hone her artistic skills. Previously, she had been using good old paper for years, but the tablet allows her to be a lot more mobile. Recently, though, she’s been using my tiny Wacom Bamboo tablet connected to her laptop because the tablet doesn’t have the range of powerful artistic software that the PC has.

I really wish I had a progression of her artistic examples at the ready, but I don’t. I do, however, have her most recent work which, if you did have access to her previous work, you’d recognize how far she’s come in her skills.

I’m very proud of her and her dedication to improving her abilities, and I think it’s paying off. She’s only 13, and I’m excited to see how she improves going forward.

The Shame Of Losing And The Cult Of Winning

Here in the West, specifically in the U.S., we value winning over pretty much anything. In any contest — sports, academic, military, and even social situations — the trajectory of progress is linear: keep your eyes on the goal, full steam ahead, and don’t let anything get in your way.

That’s what competition is about, after all. Why play if you’re not out to win? Why would you pay money to see a movie if you just plan on falling asleep? Winning at something isn’t really at issue here. Winning, coming out ahead, achieving first place…all inherently noble goals that under perfect conditions push us to do our very best and, failing that, make us want to learn more, train harder, and try again.

Trying again isn’t always an option, though, and that’s the problem. Our culture is so winning-oriented that we have effectively removed all benefit from failure. It’s become a dirty word, and a mark of shame. “You failed”. “You are a failure”. It’s one of the worst sitgma a person has to live with in modern Western society.

On one hand, we lionize winning. Our culture is seeped in messages that winning is everything: “win big or go home”. “Second place is first loser”. All sporting equipment is sold with the promise that it’ll catapult you into the winner’s circle. Watch any championship broadcast and you’ll see orchestrated images of happy winners and dejected losers. Even in the niche realm of PC components aimed at video game enthusiasts, you’ll see ads from manufacturers extorting how their products will allow you to “dominate” and “destroy your competition”.

Failure, then, is no longer defined as the position earned when the other guy did better than you. It’s now viewed as not having measured up, or that you weren’t good enough. Losers are shamed in this environment; it’s not even good enough to win. The amount of accolades a winner receives is directly related to how brutally they bury their opponent. The goal isn’t just to compete, but to brutally massacre the competition to the point where they can’t even rise again to demand a rematch.

It’d be one thing is we were just talking about sports here. After all, we’re a species that figured that putting guys with swords in an arena qualified as a “sport”, so in the Big Picture, creative camera work that highlights the happy winners and weeping losers is pretty benign. Here in the West, when winning means everything, it manages to infiltrate all kinds of places where there shouldn’t be any competition, and where there normally is, it elevates that competition to the level of a bloodsport.

The biggest ramification that I see is that it drives people apart. Everything becomes about winning, and about being right. It means that we can’t have discussions on important topics because each of us has closely held beliefs that we need to defend at all costs. Any potential point of view that could alter our personal world view would prove not that we were not right isn’t seen as an opportunity to expand our world view, but that we lost an argument and that we were wrong.

Being wrong is just as bad as losing in modern society, and the only way we can “be wrong” is if someone else is “right”, and only if both parties (if not more) are aware of it. That results in a social showdown in which one person gets to do a victory dance while the other looks foolish. On the Internet, this is magnified exponentially, and it never ever goes away. Our loss becomes institutionalized in Google’s cached page system, on Facebook, or other social network. So people do everything they can to minimize their chances of looking foolish and being branded a loser by not engaging in discussion, or, if they are pulled into it (willfully or not), the fangs come out and it’s a take-no-prisoners brawl which won’t end until one participant stomps the other into the virtual dirt.

So what are we really losing by demonizing losing? In an ideal world, the outcome of a competition isn’t the extreme polar opposite of winners and losers. It’s most honest representation is a sprint: two runners on parallel tracks, neck and neck, until one pulls ahead of the other. The loser didn’t lose because he or she wasn’t good enough; they lost because the winner was just a bit better. And there’s nothing that says that winning erases poor performance early in the game. Sometimes winning is done in the last moments of the competition, in a “come from behind” style victory we always appreciate. The point is, a winner is only the person who pushed ahead at the last minute. Before that, there’s no guarantee that the guy who’s ahead will win, or the guy who’s behind will lose.

The main benefit of losing is that we get to learn from our mistakes. In sports, performance is a big deal, and athletes take it seriously. They review hours and hours of past performance for both themselves and their competition. They learn from what they did wrong, and what their opponents did wrong, and they try and do better. This is what we miss out on when losing is equated with shame, and when the purpose of winning is to destroy the opposition so that they can’t come back and try again.

Outside of sports, though, one thing that not allowing dignity in losing is honesty. People will go to great lengths to cover the shame of losing by redirecting blame, or doubling their efforts to find an equally or more devastating attack on their opponent that will turn the tides. We aren’t allowed to own up to our mistakes because it makes us look weak and imperfect. When trying to project a persona (especially online to impress, or in politics), we can’t have any flaws. We have an idea that people will only accept us as superhuman constructs that can do no wrong. On the other hand, we’re horrified when we find out that these personas are actually human after all, as if we didn’t consciously know that already.

Most of the arguing on the Internet comes from this unfortunate situation. Being right is valued so much that being wrong is treated like a crime simply so the “winner” can feel superior and appear intelligent in front of strangers in an attempt to gain a virtual pat on the back and acknowledgement that they’re someone with good ideas and above-average intellect. By punishing the loser in a public forum, the winner shows that he’s someone you don’t want to mess with when it comes to arguing on the Internet, because he’ll destroy you and make you look stupid. It’s the modern day equivalent of kicking sand in someone’s face at the beach.

Guardians of the Blockbuster

So back when Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced via trailer, I looked at it and said to myself: “What the fuck is this?” I’m admittedly not a back-catalog comic person; my specialization is in video games, which means most of my comic book franchise knowledge comes from games and any movies that get decent recommendations. That put GotG way out of my sphere of knowledge.

The movie looked a bit too weird. It had a sentient tree, a talking raccoon, and was way more sci-fi than the general public is used to. Most of what passes for sci-fi these days is mostly a technological veneer slapped over a heavy allegory for trials and tribulations of humanity, but this movie was 200% pure unadulterated science fucking fiction. I thought that it might be too out there for general consumption.

Holy shit was I wrong. I’m not a pop-culture barometer by any stretch, but it seems to me that the biggest hurdle to the movie’s success would be convincing the general public that it was totally within their wheelhouse to see, and that it wouldn’t go over their heads, confuse them, or insult them with…you know…talking vermin. The marketing blitz for the movie started way back with the post-credits teaser from Thor 2, and simply gained steam over time with increasingly frequent commercials and reveals. Suffice to say, Disney is one part content producer, three parts marketing savant. When the movie premiered, people were ready for it. Some probably wanted to see it for the source material, some because they like and trust Marvel franchises, and some because it was a summer tent-pole movie and they simply couldn’t refuse.

This is a fun movie, which I think comes through in the commercials. What doesn’t come through is how dense the movie is. I don’t mean dense in terms of intelligence; I mean that I don’t think there was a scene which didn’t matter to the movie. There were no “bathroom moments”.

The only gripe I might levy is that the movie is too well constructed for this Internet age of “been there, done that”. Wisecracking anti-hero? Check. Strong but chilly female? Check. Assorted misfits? Check. Generic rage-container big bad buy? Check. There were moments of deviation, though, especially when the talking raccoon has an emotional breakdown after we got used to him being a total douche-bag. For me, the highlight of the movie was Karen Gillan, better known around these parts as Amy Pond from Doctor Who, who did a total 180 to play a psychotic killer cyborg. She didn’t get a lot of screen time, but when she did, you knew it.

There aren’t too many movies these days that I think deserve repeated viewings, especially not at theater prices, but I think GotG qualifies easily. Kudos to James “Who?” Gunn for out-blockbustering Joss Whedon (Oh yes I did!) in the Marvel space. Super kudos to the FX team. This is one of the most FX intense movies I’ve seen in a while, and the effects meshed so well with the movie that there was never a point where they overwhelmed the actors, or underwhelmed when they were needed the most. And mega kudos to the cast. At the end of the day, there wasn’t a meh-character in the bunch. Everyone got sufficient screen time (except Gillan, IMO) which set up their presence and ingrained them into our pop-culture consciousness in preparation for the sequel, and the inevitable theater-destroying Marvel implosion that brings all characters from all of these movies together in one, massive finale.

Being Productive

I want to do more than just consume. I’ve always considered myself a producer, but I’ve never really produced much for public consumption, outside of this blog and my irregular attempts at streaming.

A lot of the common outlets for creating stuff for this community seems to be group based (aside from blogging and streaming, which is why those are the two I’ve attempted). That means you need to find other people who are just as jazzed about a project as you are, and if you manage to find people of such refined taste and breeding, you have to ensure that everyone has the time to make it happen. No amount of refinement and breeding can ensure that.

It IS possible to do a podcast or videocast solo, but is that really appealing? Listening to or watching someone just jabber on? I suppose if it were presented in such a way that made it appealing, which might be easier for a visual medium than it would be for audio-only.

Holiday Traditions and Traditional Holidays

I enjoyed Pyschochild’s post about “The Meaning Of Holidays”, earlier this week. Holidays are kind of weird to me; although there are observable holidays throughout the year which both require and don’t require a “buy in” (Easter: yes; Arbor Day: no), I don’t really get into a “holiday mode” quite like I do when Fall rolls around. It’s the time of year where a lot of big holidays drive bumper-to-bumper, and if you fit certain configurations, you never really stop observing from October to the start of January.

At the risk of too much navel-gazing, I want to know the why behind this seasonal switch. Holidays are at least days on the calendar, and many people simply observe them as such. I can’t imagine what it’s like for those who truly don’t celebrate any of the year’s end holidays here in the West, since we’re practically drowning in trappings absolutely everywhere; I suppose if one wanted to be cynical, it would be easy to justify a “bah, humbug” on the whole thing. But as someone who isn’t like that, the immersion of the Holidays (with a capital “H”) is part of the allure.

A Brief History of The Past

Let’s be frank: when we say “Holidays”, we’re including Halloween and Thanksgiving (here in the West) as a courtesy. We’re really focused on Christmas and Hanukkah. For the purpose of this monologue, though, I’m talking about Christmas (apologies to my Jewish reader), since it’s the one I celebrate.

Christmas is a good holiday because despite the attempts of those to nail it down to one thing and one thing only, it’s many thing to many people. For some, it’s one of the Ultra Religious holidays. For others, it’s about togetherness that doesn’t need a religious reason. It’s one holiday where everyone is right, and no one is wrong; we get out of it what we want to get out of it, and really that’s kind of the point. No matter how the holiday started,  Christmas is always a “modern holiday”.

Or is it? I read somewhere recently a criticism of how we’re observing Christmas. Specifically, the author stated that we’re not observing a “modern holiday”, we’re observing a “Baby Boomer’s holiday” by allowing the celebrations of the early 20th century to color how we celebrate today. On one hand, I guess he/she is correct, because I instantly understood what he/she meant. On the other hand, I think it’s a short-sighted claim.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

In my view, a lot of what we consider in a non-religious, “traditional” Christmas comes from, or is about, life between 1940-something to 1950-something. The Big Christmas Movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas were made in those eras. A lot of the holiday “comfort music” we  have is sung by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, also big during those eras. Even one of the more popular modern holiday films — A Christmas Story — takes place in the 50’s.

Ghosts of Christmas Present

I’m not a fan of “newer” holiday stuff. I think the last decent holiday movie to be made was probably National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or maybe Scrooged (in the 80’s). I can tolerate Michael Buble, but I want to club Mariah Carey with a 30 pound candy cane. And no good “new” Christmas music as been written. Adult Christmas Wish can suck it. Hard.

Whys and Wherefores

I’m only 40 years old. I wasn’t alive when the “classic” vision of Christmas season was actually the present, and yet I dislike anything that was created for the holiday in the past 30 or so years (generally).

I figure it this way.

We have an unabashed “feel good” vibe in the elder Christmas fare, thanks to World War II. After so much wartime horror, the first Christmas back home must have been the most wonderful thing ever: reuniting with family and friends that no one thought would be seen again. Remembering those who were lost. Being thankful that those who returned from the war returned alive. It was probably amazingly optimistic at that point, and if you’re not concerned with the religious angle, it’s about as close to the “meaning of the season” as you can get: Enjoy, and be thankful for the people around you.

In modern times…well, it sounds like a broken record, but we’ve both lost that honest, traditional feeling while fetishizing it at the same time. Almost every ad or commercial in print or on TV this time of year features imagery of “traditional style” holidays with families eating a festive dinner, or of welcoming friends and family into the home. It doesn’t take a cynic to understand that these ads are attempting to bridge the traditional sense of family and togetherness with how good it is to buy stuff. Outside of commercials, though, we’re also narrowly focused on bitching about the shopping season creep, or whether or not it’s appropriate for municipal grounds to sport a manger.  When it’s generally understood that every shopping outlet is a death-sport arena on Black Friday, is it really a wonder we look back to the days when people enjoyed the holiday in a more honest fashion?

That’s not to say that we here in 2013 can’t enjoy the holiday in an honest fashion; it’s just that I don’t believe that our honest feelings about it are rooted in our own lifetimes. No doubt we have fond memories of Christmas as kids, but as an adult, I really find that modern approaches are lacking in anything worth incorporating into my seasonal outlook. New Christmas songs aren’t about the holiday or the season like White Christmas or Jingle Bells. They’re about interpersonal relationships, and ham-handed attempts to shame us into remembering our humanity. None of them really address The Holiday itself; they’re all as narcissistic as any new song is any other day of the year. Same with new holiday movies (most of which are made for TV by those middle-of-the-road networks like Hallmark or ABC Family).

I may not have grown up in the 40’s and 50’s, but my parents did. Their Christmas was the “traditional” Christmas we’re talking about here, and so it became my traditional Christmas through them. It’s where I feel comfortable, so naturally it’s becoming my daughter’s traditional Christmas, through me. In a way, we are living the “Baby Boomer” vision of the holiday, but it’s partly out of nurture, and not because we view it as intrinsically superior (although in light of my low opinion of modern output for the season, I offer that as a vague generality and not a personal affectation). I have no problem with it; it’s still my holiday as much as anyone else’s. No one owns it, and although I don’t have the same reasons or the same intense source as folks did in the 40’s and 50’s, the feelings are a lot stronger, and a lot more comforting, than what I feel I can get from a more “modern” interpretation.

How long will this go on? How many more generations will Bing Crosby last as a cornerstone of Christmas? Maybe not forever, which is why I think the unnamed author who accused us of “celebrating someone else’s holiday” isn’t seeing the forest for the trees. We’re not so far away from the Christmas of our ancestors that we can begin to take comfort in images of adults fist-fighting over the last toy in Wal-Mart as the “true meaning of Christmas”. Many of us grew up with those who experienced the Boomer’s Christmas first hand, and like any generational shift, moving away from that will probably happen gradually as each subsequent generation takes parts of what came before it, and what it creates on it’s own, until the oldest parts of tradition have been marginalized to the atomic level. At some point, I would expect that people will prefer The Santa Claus over Miracle on 34th Street, but I really hope I’m dead by that time, because I don’t think I’d want to be around when that happens.