Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Status Update

Good morning. I was asked when I’d be writing, and I told myself I would write and I tried to write back in a hotel in Camarillo, but as it turns out, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead I’m sitting here in Oakland, on 108th street (2380) in a guest room of the house my dad and his fiancé bought. In the room with me, besides my things, is a shelf full of self-help books and a piece of contemporary artwork by said fiancé, which features some kind of word bubble theme on dripping, what I’d guess are watercolors or very watered down oils. The painting sort of clashes with the French design of the siding for this room and the bay window immediately behind me. I woke up late today, as I spent all of yesterday in a car, variably traveling past the endless plains of Californian highlands or driving along a vantage of the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Eventually I will get up and do laundry and then perhaps visit my aunt and grandmother. More likely just google the nearest taco bell and eat there.

As I’ve mentioned on my facebook a few times, I’m a little bit grouchy being here. I’m glad to get a chance to get away and see something somewhat new from new Orleans, but I feel less like I am or have done this under my own power and more like I’ve just ended up in high school all over again.

Tangent: some three people have told me I don’t know anything because I’m only 3 years out of high school or something. Honestly, they’re right, but not because I’m, just because that is the way of it. They don’t know anything either, they’re just blustering for some kind of way to shame me for having the audacity to be younger than them and disagree with them. Age = authority, and often the only authority people can justify any more. Personally I’m terrified of the elderly. They’ve had so many more years to have all their prejudices and irrational thinking etched in. Like petrified trees, they’re the least likely to ever accept or understand change. That is why I mentioned several times when writing about occupy that change will only happen when the next generation of people with somewhat more progressive ideas replaces the current.

I’ve mentioned living in New Orleans to several people here, and the responses were about to be expected, from complete ignorance to frequent mentions of Mardi Gras and how I must party all the time. I am not even remotely surprised, having moved from California to Maryland and heard people ask me whether or not I surf and moving from Maryland to California, which some people seemed to think was actually another school called “Marilyn.” It seems ironic that the most “well-traveled” of people that I meet also seem to have the most skewed concepts of the places they’ve been. Tourists, man. I don’t think I’ve ever been a place just specifically to see it or wander around (fact check: did this for spring break 2010. Went to San Francisco and hiked all of market street and avoided everyone. Not sure if it counts as tourism as I was born there and have lived fairly near there for a substantial portion of my life). I go to do certain things or see certain people. My trips are business trips with a side of scenery.

I actually brought out a collection of t-shirts that are all relevant to New Orleans, and I’ve worn them every day so far and no one has asked me what Noisician Coalition is or who Mitch Landrieu is and why vote him mayor or what the Zephyrs are or what the big five made of hammers and stuff represents (Habitat). It’s a little frustrating, only in the recognition that I could have worn any damn thing and it would’ve had the same response. I think maybe I’m just one of the really few people who would ask about something like that. I remember when a professor brought in a bag from the American Gilder’s society and I was totally fascinated that such a society existed, but he got kind of embarrassed and silly about it. Apparently his wife belongs to it, and yes it’s exactly what it sounds like. He’s kind of a poor representative, though, as he gets embarrassed and silly about a lot of things. It’s just an attitude change.

Oh man, and coming back of age is weird too. I keep being offered alcohol for one reason or another and have been sitting here limiting my intake because I seriously do not want to be inebriated around family. Maybe it’s the holidays or something, but it feels like every day so far I’ve been offered a drink. Maybe they’re trying to outdo Nawlins. I don’t even know. But damn, I would rather be shitfaced around a bunch of complete strangers (which I have) than tipsy around people I’m related to, one way or another. I’m trying to get the people I know to throw some kind of party so I can get comfortably drunk around people I am comfortable with being drunk around (and so I can make Dark and Stormies, which is apparently my new obsession. Yay!) but so far it’s not taking.

I wish I were at home. I know so few people I really want to spend any time with here, and what few I do are still stuck in their prisons, at home with their parents or a stone’s throw from them at some college. I planned this trip out for two weeks partly out of interest in having a complete visit with all of family and all the people I left behind and partly because I really thought I was restless and needed to get out of nola for a time. Maybe I am still restless, but coming here wasn’t the place. I helped my aunt and grandma get skype set up on their computer and the first thing they did was call up my aunt and uncle in Montana and they of course got the kids up and everyone was there in front of the screen and happy to see each other and all and I couldn’t help but thinking “damn, I really should have gone up there.” I like my family up there, and I like snow, and I like hiking alone.

Fortunately, Christmas is over, and besides the two lunches and a dinner that are now planned for me to attend, the rest of my trip is open. I’ll probably just wander around the city and get lost and have fun by myself. Then I’ll come back to New Orleans and throw a party and go to parties and maybe feel like myself again.

p.s.I do think it's a bit sad that I am finding out that I didn't really want what I thought I wanted, but I'm not going to feel bad about it because everyone else does it too. So there.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Faux-ironic title designed to maintain my masculinity

Loop de doop, looking at the blank page. I don’t know what to put here because I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s not totally true; I know what the symptoms are. I’ve been picking internet fights for a week straight. It’s a really obvious sign that I’m frustrated about something. The way I operate is that if I’m frustrated about something but can’t really do anything about it, I end up channeling it into something I’m passionate about and start petty arguments about things I normally would let slide. I assume everyone does this to some degree. The problem is that I don’t know what I’m really frustrated about. My life is going more or less okay. Things are fine on nearly every front. Every idea that I have that I might be frustrated about doesn’t pan out when I try to imagine whether I’d feel any better if those problems were solved. My best idea so far is that I feel like my life is going nowhere or not going somewhere fast enough or that I’m totally unsure of where to go. I think I’ve thought up (And then done little to no work on) half a dozen projects to work on, to theoretically jumpstart the drive and get me back on my feet. It’s so strange, because I’m pretty sure I had peace of mind at some point this year, but it’s gone again and I don’t know where I’ve put it.

Not to help matters, I’ve been getting a bunch more acne than usual, especially on my shoulders and forehead, which frustrates me both on a totally vain “insecure about my looks” level and also on a “for fucks sake everyone told me when I was a teenager that I was going to grow out of acne and not get it when I got older” level. Lying assholes. They should have just told me “well, you better kill yourself now because you’re gonna be ugly for the rest of your life.”

Of course when I look back at it, I’ve been feeling kind of like this since the last queerlesque. I’m restless and dissatisfied and totally inconsistent. I’m not even depressed. I know when I’m depressed, and this isn’t it. I’m angry, is what it is. I keep wanting to unfriend everyone I know and say vicious and mean-spirited things to the people I otherwise like and I want to yell and scream, which is basically another way of me saying I want someone to pay attention to me and give me hugs and reassure me and things like that. But I don’t even think that will help ultimately, otherwise I would be asking for hugs and reassurance. The problem will still be there even after the person leaves.

I hate feeling ashamed for feeling the way I do. Because that’s what I feel. I feel like even posting this is a cloying attempt to garner sympathy, which is ultimately pathetic for me to do. I hate feeling like I need to act this way or that way to satisfy whatever audience I have. I hate feeling weak for writing about my feelings. I hate that I still feel weak for writing my feelings after doing it for years. I hate that I imagine the reaction from people whose opinion I value and cherish will inevitably be tainted with “that’s nice, but boy isn’t Jake melodramatic and whiny?” I hate writing faux-ironic titles where I sort of hint at the idea that I know how silly my emotions are. I hate that anyone else ever feels like this and I hate the people who perpetuate it with non-advice like “man up, son.” For fucks sake, I’m a person on this goddamn planet and I will not be made to feel bad for being as emotionally fragile as I want.

Clearly the solution is drugs or something, but that terrifies me on another level where I admit the ultimate physicality of my being and the completely true concept that I have no independent will except what is chemically expressed by various regions of my brain. I went to a bar just to drink and feel sorry for myself the other week. I didn’t tell anyone. I don’t tell anyone anything important these days. No one tells me important things. I made a hand-turkey for the college of liberal arts office at UNO and dedicated it to someone and then I didn’t tell them about it. It’s still on the wall.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A rambly unfocused rant about OWS that needs more paragraph breaks (and probably proofreading)

I was initially against the OWS movement. I hated the concept vehemently. I thought the protesters were stupid, naïve idiots with no plan and no hope. Most importantly, I hated it because it was so close to what I’m looking for in a revolution. Fuck capitalism, fuck the system, etc, etc. I love change. Change is great and you should radically destroy everything in your life and rebuild over and over. But Occupy was not that at its start. It was a protest, just another march, just another of the endless line of people who think that waving signs and yelling is going to bring about change. It’s not people with guns, it’s not an armed insurrection against the standing order, it’s a lot of kids waving and yelling about idealism and feeling good about themselves for doing so. “I made a difference” they say when they go home from the marches. “I’m intellectually consistent in both practice and thought.” It’s a warm fuzzy feeling that basically lasts until the next outrage does. It’s impotence given a voice and cardboard and a sharpie. That is what Occupy was at first.

But hey, maybe these guys do have an idea. They’re taking "occupy" pretty literally. They’re still there now six weeks later. They don’t have any more direction than they ever did, but they’re still there. They haven’t left. The system in power has decided that they don’t like it. That it’s starting to become more than a cute bunch of kids showing how great and socially conscious and civic-minded and morally superior they are. They’re “overstaying their welcome” and “going beyond first amendment rights.” So the system in power is marching out there and removing Occupy with force, using the same list of justifications as any other tyrannical regime. Make no mistake, we live in a country that does not represent us or our views, no matter what they are. The Tea Party as established was a response to this, a response that really only became noticeable because it courted the easiest section of the population to sway to anger, the ones that always have and always will believe our country is going to hell for one reason or another. Occupy is the same movement, but aimed at swaying those previously unswayable, the bright-eyed idealists and pragmatic bleeding-heart types who can’t support anything that seems too dogmatic because dogma is just kind of uncool, man. That’s the fundamental reason the movement has no direction. If it established a direction, it would alienate the vast portion of dickless carebears it is trying to represent. The idiots in their “general assemblies” continue to promote the idea that direct democracy is not only possible but responsible and sustainable, along with the concept of “nonviolent resistance” that so foils these movements and causes them to become irrelevant punching bags. The only reason revolution became nonviolent is because we as people are no longer remotely as well armed or equipped as soldiers. Start a revolution in 2 C.E. and your average peasant with a large stick had a fair chance of fighting a soldier and winning. Today we’re largely unarmed (because guns are dangerous and weapons used only by criminals) conscientious objectors (violence never solves anything) who expect that everyone around them plays by a set of nebulous rules, even as we break them ourselves. We have an ardent belief that our superior morality will see us through to the end, as god or science or human empathy will save us from what looks like persecution to our ends. So OWS goes out and marches and peacefully assembles and stands around while their peers are arrested and beaten. They walk smiling into paddy wagons, erect with their belief that what they’re doing is right and what the cops are doing is wrong and that karma will sort it out one way or another. Completely useless.

What’s extant, though, is that they’re being arrested. They’ve been overstaying their welcome, they’re finally being shown some respect as potential threats to the modern era. Displaced as that respect may be, esteem in the eyes of the enemy only increases your power over that enemy, and the movement is reaching the stage where either it will explode dramatically and drive a period of civil unrest unknown previously to man, or more likely it will collapse because people are scared and tired and just can’t maintain their energy in the face of such brutal opposition. The opposition has no such lack of energy, as they’re literally doing their jobs: protecting the status quo. They’re paid to do so and that is what they do. Yet the movement still stands, its number only somewhat diminished as outrage flourishes. Why does it flourish? This kind of brutal police action has been the state of affairs for some hundreds of years now. Getting beaten up for no reason by cops is practically standard practice. It pops up in the news all the time, and goes away just as quickly. But this is different today. Today is the dawning of an era where citizen journalism is ubiquitous. The protesters on UC Davis campus were all armed with hundreds of cameras capturing every detail of the events around them. Every major bit of footage in the newsmedia online today is youtubed within hours of the events occurring, filmed by unpaid, unprofessional people that are actively part of the OWS movement. The revolution will not be televised, instead it will appear online, on a communication tool that reaches nearly every single red-blooded American, and certainly every last one in the “young activist” demographic, who have been actively forging mailing lists and tools of communication between each other. The Tea Party’s greatest failing, perhaps, is that it pandered to a section of the population totally unversed in the internet, a segment more than willing to believe that the majority of the internet is a thing of evil, a tool to spread filth among the unsaved, unwashed masses. Though they had a movement, it was largely organized through long-established political organizations in the communities that formed tea partiers, either through local GOP outlets or Eagles/Lions/Shriners/Rotary clubs or other geriatric groups (Casinos as well, I’m sure). OWS, however, is marked first and foremost with a hashtag #occupy, a modern symbol of Twitter. This movement is flooded in internet culture. It’s driven by it. The people involved, the generation involved grew up connected to the internet. OWS is the first real substantial IRL expression of a system of beliefs and understanding of the world created by the ultimate information dissemination tool. This is the Internet’s revolution, not the “mtv” generation or “generation x.” This is what an informed populace actually looks like.

They’re still out there. And there are people who will still be out there month after month. They haven’t changed anything yet, but they’ve done the single most important part of any change, they’ve got people talking about the problems. The old world will struggle to keep up. The old world will label them as bums looking for a free handout, as communists/socialists/anarchists. The political left will bend over backwards to try to galvanize power from their enthusiasm. The political right will try to paint them as politically left (and thus terrible). Everyone will try to get them onto an agenda. Question is, will they buy it? In a day and age where dirt can be found on every interest group as easily as entering a query on google, can the old machinery survive? We might not find out today. OWS might collapse in the face of internal and external pressures. People may lose their nerve, lose their will, lose their direction. But this is what the internet generation is, and this is what their legacy will be as they grow older and replace the geriatric scum who clutch desperately to their idealized concept of the world when they were in their prime. This generation will inevitably be the new geriatric scum. I still don’t think they’re going to change anything. True revolutions only end in bloodshed (see: the American Revolution) and true change only happens when the older generations die out (something of a theme) and neither of those are happening as a result of OWS. However, the movement has been anything but ineffective. That’s why I support it now, because people are talking about and taking seriously true criticisms of capitalism and its abuses. It’s shifted the Overton Window back to the left, if only ever so slightly. We live in tumultuous times, folks.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


So I was doing laundry last Sunday and watching football, right? And this commercial came on, okay? So it was a Verizon commercial or maybe it was a Sprint commercial or maybe both, but anyway it was advertising the “4g” network, which is supposed to be faster than ever and frankly the whole thing is already terrifying from the outset, but the commercial got me to thinking about technology.

There now exist these devices that deliver, as the ad said, “content” faster than ever. All kinds of “content,” from movies to music to books to games. It’s a veritable cultural cavalcade of Stuff, powered by tiny handheld hunks of metal and minerals. I live in a city with fucked up sidewalks and an apparent lack of viable public transit. Half the neighborhoods here are totally collapsed/ing because no one particularly cares enough to fix them. They’re busy getting paid, getting laid, and living their own small lives. No one gives a shit. Or worse, they do give a shit as long as it’s environmentally friendly and green and safe and sanitary and nutritious and genetically pure. Functional comes last on that list.

Reality is crumbling here but still the latest gadget running the flashiest manufactured reality gleams ever-brighter on into the future. I went home last night and read about a video game that is the latest of the latest undergoing a beta where all of the users (testers) complained about lack of map choice and worried that the existing map doesn’t properly convey the aim of the series the game is an iteration of. On Saturday I sold a Magic card to some guy for $15 so he could later resell it for more. I ate in a Taco Bell with a TV (two, actually) that ran advertisements, music videos, a news ticker that was decidedly right-wing (entire ticker was nothing but terrorism updates and how “despite counter-terrorism success, Obama will have trouble being re-elected in 2012”) and weather news, which is why I decided to do laundry in the first place (gotta wash that snuggie).

Escapism is a part of human nature, of course. In a very real sense, it’s the path of least resistance when confronted by a difficult situation. It’s easier to retreat into a book or a game or a forum than face the real sources of misery in one’s life. It’s choosing to leave the band-aid on and pretend that it doesn’t exist rather than pulling it off at all, fast or slow. It’s not immoral to be an escapist (unless your moral system says so) nor is it really the worst thing to be (you could be a hard working and realistic cheat) but it does foment a sort of stagnation that is and will be ultimately damaging to the self and to society as a whole in the long term. Ignoring problems only makes some of them go away.

It’s tough, though. Especially in this day and age. Last Friday night, I was on my computer until I realized that I really had no reason to be. So I turned it off and realized further that I had nothing better to do, so I decided to go to sleep. As it turned out, I found something to do and I went out instead, but I decided to put my computer away for a while. It only lasted until Sunday night, when I had to complete a short “entrance loan counseling exam” to ensure that I get money in the future. Also needed to check for announcements and readings posted on the internet for my classes. And to look up where to find an army-navy surplus store in the area so I can pick up a duffle bag and so on.

Information technology has become a necessity in today’s modern, western, developed society. It’s become how we communicate with each other more often than not. We’ve reached a point where people who insist on meeting in person, people who write letters, people who do not utilize infotech like everyone else are thought of as strange or eccentric or outdated and fuddy-duddy. Even the act of reading books, that old stronghold, is becoming quickly outmoded with the third generation of e-readers on their way this year. We take this stuff for granted now, and we do so so thoroughly that even suggesting “tech-free vacations” is a big deal.

I’m behind the curve. I still have a phone that was made back in (gasp) 2009, and was basically outdated even then. My phone has actual number buttons and slides up for a keypad (which is why I bought it) with four rows of solid, clicky letter buttons. It was a contemporary of the iPhone 3GS, which I understand is about when the iPhone and “smart phones” in general really took off. I essentially own a relic that’s only two years old. Mind boggling. I bought a ps2 in 2008 because I wanted to play stuff I had missed in the last generation. My music device is a Sony Walkman nwz-s545 that also came out in 2009 (hey, guess when I bought them). Nothing I own is really modern per se, but only by virtue of the fact that technology has such a short half-life. I like it better this way, sometimes. I know the feeling of authenticity associated with using retro devices is some crazy marketing hipster bullshit, but man ya gotta get that sincerity hit somewhere. I think I’m gonna start writing letters again. You should too! Mail me a letter! I live at 1463 N. Johnson, New Orleans, LA, 70116. I don’t care what you put in the letter, say whatever you want. I promise I’ll mail you back, too.

Author's note: I wrote this like a month ago and forgot about it. Irony abounds, I bought a new smartphone because my old phone started shutting off when I sent texts. So it's not entirely true anymore.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Intensely personal blogging! Whoooo!

This is gonna be some personal writin’ here, so be wary of abrupt topic shifts and totally pointless rambling. For instance: “genius of love” is stuck in my head right now. No clue why. Doesn’t seem that relevant.

I wanted to make some kind of statement about “sustained naivety” but I soon realized that that was just a bullshit phrase coined by my detox-ing brain. I told someone (Michelle, actually, Hey!) that the reason I bum cigarettes from people instead of buying my own is because at least if I get addicted I’ll have a reason to force myself to socialize. She told me I seemed perfectly charming and friendly, which I guess at that moment I was. Actually these past few weeks I’ve been thinking about that, just because I have been sociable and friendly and it’s been an upward trend for some time. It gets weirder because I’ve been hanging out with my ex (way more than I ought’ve) and thinking even more about the dynamic between us that caused me to decide it was a good idea we’re not together (sorta kinda gettin’ over her). It was at a party a while back where she showed up stone tired and at least somewhat fucked up on some drugs and she proceeded to interrupt every conversation I tried to have with another person. I realized later that this sort of thing was a theme throughout the entire time I lived with her and that I’d had a lot of trouble getting out and feeling like I could meet someone or anyone on my own and not be a function of the relationship I was in with her. Well, not entirely the right way to put it, it just felt like I was constantly hanging out with her friends and not really hanging out with my own. Even when I tried to make my friends they soon would meet her and she’d be very sociable and offer to do things and ingratiate herself through hanger-on-ship or bumming or whatever it is that you call it. People do stuff for her and she knows it and I don’t think she entirely understands why, but she is totally fine with taking advantage of that.

I want to try to wrap the ex thing up because that’s not really what I’m here for. My point was that my ex socializes in a totally different way, and for totally different reasons than I do, and having her back in town after I’ve found some ability to feel independent of her as a person has given me a lot of chance to contrast myself. I ain’t here to lie, I got problems. I used to have social phobia something fierce, and even now I list a day spent inside and away from anyone else so that the only talking I hear is myself mumbling to myself as a perfectly cool and okay day. People terrify/ied me because I would basically sit there and imagine them thinking or saying bad things about me before I opened my mouth and then when I did try to say something I would realize that I had nothing to say anyway. I usually have nothing to say. When I’m sitting around and being quiet, that’s because I either have no real opinion on whatever the subject of conversation is or I’m thinking of something else entirely. I don’t know if this comes across very well/often but I’m a very spacey person. I can pay attention and I do pay attention, but if I have any free time at all, I’m usually thinking about something else. I feel like the internet is terrible and enabley for this kind of short-shrifted daydreaming. I spend all my time reading news articles about all manner of things or checking status updates form like three dozen people whose lives I’m only marginally invested in. The problem comes from labeling this behavior, as it’s absolutely not ADHD or any actual illness (drastically over-diagnosed, though, because it features similar patterns) because the problem isn’t paying attention per se, but rather investment into the world around you. I don’t put a lot of investment in. I think this is probably a coping method, especially when you live in an unpleasant situation. Learning how to divest from the situation, especially if you can’t control it, can be one of the few ways to preserve emotional homeostasis.

I’m not really sure where I was going with that one. As you can see, I’m not thoroughly invested in writing this (at least, not as much as I was earlier) and I decided to go on a tangent where I thought about what I just wrote and evaluated it as whether the model fit my recent experiences and sort of translated some emotions into color and all that weird little squiggly brain shit that makes no sense examined rationally but perfect sense metaphorically. Either right brained or left brained thinking, which I don’t really remember which is which (can’t recall the exactitude of emic and etic, either). Sometimes I write song lyrics. I repeat myself often. In reality, of course, this is unacceptable. We must present a coherent, cohesive, comprehensible consciousness, free from free form (well, now I am really dicking around) representations of reality. We delimit expressions of actual brain function patterns to art, because it does not logically fit anywhere else, but most importantly, it only has relevance to the brain that produced the pattern. Like I’ve written before, art is a message, an emotional conveyance from one brain to another. The difference between “good” art and “bad” art, no matter what the ridiculous debate claims, is hinged on how well that emotional message gets conveyed. A “good” song is one that sounds good and presents a emotional message in a way that coheres to the lyrics and creates an outlet for someone to say “This. This is how I feel about this. I cannot say it in words in a way that feels like it truly presents the way I feel about it, but this song sounds just like how I feel.”

So maybe what I’m saying is that thinking artistically makes you a brooding loner? I dunno. I’m not exactly a brooding loner. Actually, I don’t think anyone would tell me so. I am both bad at brooding and bad at the loner part. I used to be more of a brooding loner, but I got kind of sick of it and realized it was stupid because all I did while being a brooding loner was communicate with other people on the internet (abstract way to say I spent most of my time in my underwear posting on and getting banned from internet forums) and feel lonely. Nowadays when I want to brood, I at least do it at bars surrounded by people so I can listen to them talk and feel better. Speaking of bars, I love New Orleans. I love all the scenes, I love/hate that everyone here knows everyone else. I love that there’s something to do pretty much every weekend, even if I’m at least a little bitter about it because I don’t get a whole lot of weekends where I can sit around and feel fat (got yo ice cream, tubbo?). I never want to leave, but I desperately need to get away because I still haven’t been out of the city for a little over a year. I’m worried that when I go back to the Bay Area for Christmas everything is gonna be weird and out of place. I’m worried that there’s not really going to be a bar scene and everyone is going to look at me funny for asking and the drinks are gonna be like bay area expensive and no one is going to be holding any parties and everything will be different from here, basically. I know why! It’s like moving, except I’m only going on a vacation. It just feels kind of like it does when I move because I’m supposed to be going back to a culture that I’m not real familiar with any more. Going to Montana never feels like that because I just go to be with my family and take a lot of naps. Going back to CA, I’m trying to go and meet up with a bunch of people I haven’t seen in a year and do stuff (trader fucking joes) that I can’t do here, except I’m totally used to not being able to do them here, so it’s sort of special.

I just got a new phone in the mail so now I have no more interest in writing this. Gonna activate this motherfucker and then take a shower and dress up to go to Taco Bell. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This is what I wrote about the sims social before I stopped caring

The sims social is creepy. It’s another layer of simulacra past facebook itself, expressed in a little character who lives their “real life” inside a game inside your fake life on facebook inside of your real life. The sims series has always been kind of odd, being a virtual dollhouse simulator with simplified depictions of the minutiae of daily life. Your most obvious goal is simply to keep the sim alive in their early-oughts-era reality and culture. You could set other goals for yourself though, such as fantastic career choices and earning the highest amount of skill at a creative endeavor or simply bedding and wedding a mate and having children who later go on to grow up and move out and generally continue the inevitable and relentless march of time. I don’t need to describe it to you really, as it’s one of the best selling (possibly the bestselling, but I don’t feel like looking it up) games on the PC and is famous for being immensely popular with the sort of people who would not touch the typical gaming fare (monsters, dungeons, competition, all that).

It’s a game about REAL LIFE which is also one of Mr. Ghetto’s genres according to his myspace. Except, of course, it’s a gamified (now apparently a word. Thanks, bloggers) version of real life where doing the normal sort of things you do in real life fill up certain bars and cause your sim to become more satisfied, at least until those bars empty with the inevitable passage of time. Gamification is the next big trend in everything, if Kurzweilites are to be believed. Already we see a trend of increasing adoption of things like Fitocracy, and foursquare, both featuring rewards for otherwise mundane things performed separately from the software. The concept is that by attaching intangible rewards to certain actions, these actions can be encouraged. Hilariously, this is the principle that marketing has been operating under for the last hundred or so years. The Sim represents the perfectly gamified life, with a visual display detailing exactly what the sim wants or needs and how much. The result, which is an angle that many critics of gamification take, is that the sims live out their lives bouncing from need fulfillment to need fulfillment, with nary another thought in their heads than to fill the simplified and reductive bars.

But all that is a separate essay. I just wanted to talk about how weird it is to play characters in a game that are capable of forming romantic relationships with one another without respect to the players behind the game. Since the barrier to entry for being able to interact with another sim is to be friends with facebook, there has to already be some kind of acquaintance with the person whose sim your sim is interacting with. The interactions themselves can then lend themselves to some degree of awkwardness between the two of you. My sim shared a romantic kiss with my cousin’s sim, for example. It then asked if I wanted to date her, with of course a message asking her to confirm. Given that dating is entirely separate from relationship status on your facebook this leads to a lot of potentially weird “you’re cheating on my through a virtual character in a virtual space” problems down the line. I do want to praise the game for supporting homosexual relationships (even better, technically bisex cause you’re not really locked either way) but it does proscribe a pretty rigid definition of a relationship otherwise. My cousin (the hussy) ended up dating her female friend shortly after I declined to try dating her (kiss and run the fuck away, that’s me) and when I returned to suck face once more, I was stopped by another prompt suggesting that I suggest to her that she break up her relationship with her friend. Hilarious, but disappointingly rigid. I would much rather I could romance all the people I know at once, because that is not awkward at all. I understand there’s a bunch of other potential relationship types you can get into with people (saw “frenemy” on a list of requirements for an action somewhere. Totes gonna do that) so we’ll see how it goes. Seems the only way you can express any real affection (well, beside hugging) is through dating, though. So rigid.

Of course the game itself has all kinds of other problems. Food is free and limitless and always stocked. Your sim in the sims social can’t even get a job, it just spends all its time painting, cooking, musicing, or writing (or weeding. Mine is weeding) like some kind of awful trust fund hipster. Also alcohol and parties are off limits, though you can dance one on one with other people. Cohabitation is also out, but that’s okay because you live in a rent and mortgage free house. I’m sure a lot of people would tell me “It’s just a game, it’s not gonna be perfect” but I feel that’s missing the point. This isn’t just any game, this is a simulation of real life, except the simulation is not really of real life, but of an upper-middle-class suburban consumerist modern western idealized life. I’m not going to be as crass as to ask for a “living in a roach infested crackhouse with two kids and your dealer” mode, but I am going to challenge any even remote claims towards realism. This is of course now three games removed from the original concept of sims, developed by Maxis under Will Wright, a man known for creating relevant and fairly realistic (under certain theories, of course) simulations. It used to be back in the day Sid Meier and Will Wright were big names precisely for these sort of games, which sold pretty well and were emblematic of PC gaming as a whole. This is the era of Rollercoaster Tycoon and SimAnt and Civilization and SimEarth. What’s interesting about these games is that they almost completely collapsed as an economically viable genre with the advent of 3D gameplay. With the booming development cost and time, weird side projects like what the Sims was back in the day became liabilities for the companies that produced them. They wouldn’t sell because they catered to a relatively small audience to begin with. Costs outstripped potential revenue. The Sims is essentially a holdover from that era, an exception to the rule. After the Sims sold as amazingly as it did, EA bought out the developers, Maxis, and started putting the franchise through the modern product cycle concept (releasing a version for all potential platforms, cheaply producing new content for large profit margins, etc.) and essentially milked as much as it could out of The Sims. With the Sims 3, EA actually took Maxis entirely off the project (they went on to make Spore, and after that was out the door Wright left to start his own new company thing, currently producing a TV show call “Bar Karma,” which is about a bar at the end of the universe that helps people fix their karma.) and assigned a new team named “The Sims Studios” to create the game. They are responsible for the game I am currently playing.

SimCity doesn’t have much of a better story. SimCity 4 was the last real SimCity, and the last one produced by Maxis. The Sims was meant to be a spinoff that integrated with SimCity 4 (you could move your sims to your city! And then do very little with them. Booo.) but ended up vastly outselling SimCity 4. Later, EA, who now own the rights to SimCity, decided that the series was just in need of a reboot and not just a graphical update and extra features, so they put another developer (Ea is a publisher, first and foremost) whose name I don’t recall on a project to create “SimCity Societies” which was billed as “the first social engineering simulator.” It was complete shit. Actually, it shares a lot of similarities with “CityVille,” or CityVille’s true progenitor, “Social City.”

So has been the narrative for the recent history of the games industry. In the nineties and especially in the eighties, production costs for a video game were incredibly low, though sales didn’t start ramping up until the mid nineties. As time has gone on, the graphical quality and inherent complexity of these games has ballooned development costs to the point where companies will spend more than Film budgets creating their triple-A top billing, guaranteed sell titles. I understand that between advertising and development, Modern Warfare 2 cost over 200 million dollars. Of course they made over a Billion in revenue, so it was totally worth it for the studio. However even spending a fraction of that, say 20 million, to produce a game for a niche audience is not likely to bring back any real returns. The average video game sells between 50,000 and 200,000 copies. At $60 each, that’s only $3-$12 million in revenue. So the games industry ends up being ruthlessly egalitarian and endlessly creative in finding alternative revenue streams through things like downloadable content packs (which are often produced right alongside the game, so as to potentially net another $10-15 bucks off of people who buy the game.) and pre-order bonuses.

That’s all I really have to say.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sex Positivism

Hey gang. That’s what I’m putting here to pretend that everyone who reads this is part of an ephemeral associative group. Some fat albert shit up in this bid’ness.

Directly: I want to talk about something that is still pretty taboo (though becoming less so every day!). I want to talk about porn. It’s been on my mind lately. Yes. I said that. Specifically: I wanted to talk about the impact of pornography and sexually explicit materials on concepts of sexuality as a whole. To understand what I mean by this, and why it is relevant, you must understand that there are multiple websites that run software that allows the porn consumer to search just about any porn-related term to find pictures that feature that term. There is a passel of websites that stream porn videos in a format very similar to youtube. There are tens of thousands of huge 1+ Gigabyte torrents consisting entirely of porn. There’s an internet truism known as “rule 34” (it is actually the 34th rule on a list) that states simply “if it exists, there is porn of it.” There is a website devoted to colleting and categorizing that strange porn. And of course there are all the sites that actually charge money. For a lot of you, this is not news. You’ve been porning since your first orgasm, and given that you’re reading this on the internet, it is more than likely that you used the internet to go porning with. Despite the lack of novelty of the existence of these particular websites (some are almost a decade old), however, society continues to pretend that porn does not exist, especially to this scale. The Ur-narrative of the U.S. relegates porn to a shameful and deviant thing to produce a lot of television about. Fetishists and kinksters and queers and all that are indeed filed under deviant things the average American should stay away from/know little about/have maybe one queer friend who is a bit odd but secretly good under all that weirdness. You know what I mean. This is the story that we tell ourselves on a cultural scale, the story that appears in CSI and on “Weird Sex” and all that.

It is, of course, incredibly false. Everyone is horny all the time. Anyone who says otherwise is lying and worse, committing that sort of pernicious lie that helps construct a certain concept of reality in the liar’s head, thereby denying objective truth, not only from being real, but from actually existing. These little solipsistic rat bastards need their reality because the reality of humans as sexual beings rattles them out of their cage and makes them reel in disgust and regret and wonder “What the hell have I been missing?” Sex as a bad, deviant, unholy, profane thing is pretty deeply embedded into U.S. culture, so of course there’s an entire array of paraphilia for “demonic” beings or the corruption of otherwise holy or chaste people. There’s a “bimbofication” fetish that involves the transformation of demure, plain, sexless women into voluptuous slut-types. There’s a hypnosis fetish that does much the same. Porn doesn’t care because the human libido doesn’t care. Biologically we’re not nearly as interested in what society really thinks of what turns us on, we’re too busy being turned on.

Back to porn. In the modern era, finding porn (on the internet) is about as easy as (your mom) wildly mashing your keyboard into google image search. There has never been (quite literally) so free access to sex (images) in the history of mankind. For thousands upon thousands of years, we built up cultures that delineated rules for sex, certain places, certain times, certain methods being acceptable and all others taboo. We denied ourselves our “base” urges for sake of needing to spend at least some time in the day gathering food. Of course, in private and away from the cultural assumptions of sex, we had tons of it, willy-nilly, all the time, all places, all forms. All you really needed was consent, and not even that a lot of the time. But still, we grew up and existed socially in a sphere that constrained sex to a standard that wouldn’t offend those around you. It reflected itself in the types of sex we would have and the way in which we would go about finding a sex partner, and most importantly, in the fantasies that people privately kept.

The internet, though, is not constrained by any such rules. Existing socially on the internet is as easy and consequence-free as human interaction is ever likely to be. There are no hard rules for the internet. You can say whatever you like and the worst anyone can attempt to do to you is banish you from a community. And even that is easily circumvented. There are no qualms on the internet when it comes to discussing social topics of any level of controversy. The internet is well known for proliferating some of the more heinous opinions of people, indeed, but to take that disreputability and demarcate (okay, I’m just fucking around with the words now. Never be me, kids. You’ll get addicted to alliteration.) the whole of the internet as the source of these awful opinions and the creator of these terrible people is to ignore the reality that these opinions have always existed in the people who express them. The internet is simply the first time that the people involved have been able to connect with others of similar mindsets and share their awful-ness. The same is true of sex.

There are a vast number of paraphilia in the world, all of which probably existed long before the internet ever did. The majority of these paraphilia, though, remained completely underground, the only community for them existing in conventions of already-weird people, which led to mailing lists and perhaps maybe an artist or two producing content for these obscure fetishists. If you didn’t go to conventions or went to the wrong ones or whatever, you simply existed out of the loop, your favorite fantasies staying inside of your head. (Note, I’m not sure if this is true. I could be making that up, mostly piecing it together from really old giantess porn that seems to have been part of a mail-order collection. Feel free to correct me.) In modern times, finding such communities is just a google away, allowing you to meet and connect with people who share your crazy sex fantasies and share art and find new works and generally promote said fantasy. Even when that fantasy is completely deviant to the society in which you originate. (I sound like I’m talking about child porn, now, huh. Nah, there’s a lot more stuff out there. From absorption to zoophilia.)

This is fantastic. People like me and people of my generation(ish) are growing up in a world where the extant culture around you is subverted and trumped by the one promoted on the internet. The sheer volume of “dickgirl/futanari/newhalf” porn on the internet denies the concept of finding simply the male or the female form to be universally attractive for the opposite gender. It’s the principle that people are attracted to certain things rather than certain genders being demonstrated in action. It’s not much, because we do still live in a society that earnestly believes (at least in its false Ur-narrative) that only 3-10% of the population is gay and bisexuals are just “on the fence” (seriously that concept still confuses the fuck outta me) and that gender is immutable. But as objective reality continues to prove, the people living inside of the narrative do not themselves behave consistently to it. It’s just a matter of organizing these people together until the Ur-narrative shifts in the face of overwhelming majority. The unprecedented availability and variety of sexually explicit materials on the internet is a great first step toward that end.

Of course not everything is sunshine and roses and daisies and dandelions. A lot of these communities still face the problem of being unable to organize outside of the internet, leading to a lot of very lonely horny people, rather than a sexually compatible utopian cornucopia of copulation. (Seriously I need to be banned from writing) No matter how amazing or fantastic our online sex lives may be, no matter what freedom of expression of kinks exists virtually, we do still live in a reality, and a reality that is dominated by Ur-narratives that condemn the things we do on the internet. At best, it causes people to be at least a little shy about what they do on the internet. At worst, people develop practical schisms of their personality, using one as an acceptable public version of themselves and the other as the selves they are on the internet. As with any instance where society causes personality change, there’s quite a lot of guilt and shame involved, which can express itself in myriad ways. There’s a popular Japanese meme/joke/truism that “3D girls are pig disgusting,” abbreviated “3dpd” on this side of the pacific. It refers to the intense attachment that some form to idealized female drawn characters to the extent that they “reject” all real women as imperfect and thus unworthy of their attention. It’s a joke, in that the majority of people viewing drawn porn do not actually hold this opinion, but like all jokes, it’s important because it reveals the underlying concept of shame for viewing these images so often and sometimes to the exclusion of actual human contact.

Porn is still a villain here. Still racy and underground and taboo. We still live in a society that gets up in arms whenever women are included solely for sex appeal in movies and such. We still censor sexual images en masse, we still look down on women who dress “inappropriately,” we still aggressively de-eroticize images of male sexuality, or at the very least take great pains to ensure that it’s clearly aimed at female viewers and thus a heterosexual exchange. The only difference, though. Is that while we all do that publically and accept the status quo, we’re all furiously friggin’ and stroking to the most diverse expressions of human sexuality ever known to man. And that’s pretty cool. It’s only been ten years since this kind of thing became possible. Change will come, as it inevitably does.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I’m sitting next to a pair of people who are whiling away their time listening to poorly put-together music that makes them laugh more than they enjoy it. Am I a jerk for thinking this is terrible? People put their heart and soul into the things they make, and to know that these two will at some point make fun of it without any care for the artists involved. Ha ha, their music is awful. Ha ha, they’re lesser than us, they make awful things and it amuses us. It’s little stuff like this that divides people into sections and creates tension that leads to oppression and war and all the terrible things associated. It’s small and harmless, but much as we are to Dao, it’s a microcosm of the forces at work in a larger scale in society. For every joke we make about rape or necrophilia or bestiality or gender politics, we reflect what larger society has taught us about rape or necrophilia or bestiality or gender politics. For every joke we make about another person’s creative output, we mirror what larger society has taught us about what is acceptable or valuable creative output. Thus stems vast insecurities, wherein millions are taught to simply be content producing not or hiding that which they do make because they know or fear that their output is not up to the standards that society around them.

This is, in a very real way, the way the world works. How we change that world really does start at home and inside and in front of these videos. By refusing to laugh or ridicule or marginalize earnest efforts at entertainment, we eliminate just one more part of the social cage we’re trapped in. We deny the proliferation of a culture that causes such misery for such petty reasons. When we deny it inside, in private, in our homes, we also deny it outside of our homes, in our day to day interactions, and inspire others to do so. Social bonds are created through social contact, and that includes you and your opinions about the way the world should work. You don’t just have influence on the world around you; you actively create it whether you believe so or not.

So the next time you find yourself laughing at an honest and earnest attempt to create a work, try flexing that emphatic muscle and consider whether you want to live in a world where you (or the people around you) are too afraid to share the things you make for fear of ridicule. Where people generate internal insecurities in place of real criticism. Where earnest attempts to communicate are quashed before they escape the mind. Consider your actions as if you were another person reacting to yourself, not as simply justified reaction to a nebulous and inhuman “other.” We are all the same. We all want the same things in life. Pretending otherwise causes only pain.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Once more

Hello. I’ve been away for a while. Quite a lot of time, actually. I didn’t leave or go anywhere, I’m still here in New Orleans and I am still legally Jacob Germain. I just left myself to visit the world for a while. I learned of things and experienced life and found myself stuck in some places and terribly ahead in others. I approached reality from reality’s battleground.

In concise terms, I gave up the idea and mantle and practice of being a shaman for a time. Maybe it was intentional, but it was definitely inevitable, and now I must actualize what I’ve learned. Asceticism is valuable but impractical. How can I comment on a system I’ve never been involved in? Emic vs. Etic is the tension here. But the most important part of asceticism is not freedom from the world around you, but freedom from the self that limits you, limits your understanding, tells you you’re pretentious or petty or incapable. Your self is also valuable, but again yet impractical to adhere to. When living the self, the entire world becomes framed in your being, rather than your being framed in the entire world. One truly must learn balance in all such things.

I am in the physical practice of attempting to garner the education credentials necessary to stand a reasonable chance being published and given grants to study the cultures around me. It’s what I’ve decided my life goal should be, because I frankly cannot imagine another (barring very fortunate circumstances) that would sufficiently help define me as a person and not simply a producer/consumer. In the process, however, there are many hoops that I must jump through and much time and patience to exercise. I must learn what this means and be content with it, as I have not been.

Recent events have reminded me that yet again I have slowly become grounded to my self, clinging to it and grasping at its appreciation of the world around me. This is not amenable to progress, as my self is very much like putting blinders on and hoping to see out the sides anyway. My self is not philosophical but emotional. My self is not objective but irrational. My self is an adherent to the surroundings in which it was formed and rarely capable of viewing life outside of those surroundings. This simply cannot do.

Things I have learned in my time away (or, more appropriately, in):

I am human. I have flaws. I have needs and wants and desires and petty things that push my buttons and irritate me beyond any reason. I keep secrets, I hope desperately for unlikely things, I hurt those around me merely out of convenience. Just because I am aware of and am sometimes party to a world outside of myself and occasionally an objective observer of reality does not mean that I am any less fallible, and indeed may render me more so as I learn arrogance for my supposed enlightenment.

Those around me are also human. I cannot expect miracles and objective truth and deep philosophical understanding from those I interact with. I cannot expect that they will align with my view, I cannot even expect that they are interested in my view. I cannot walk around the world and wave around a stack of (digital) papers and demand that they read them and suddenly gain the insight and ability to understand me and how I act and how I react and what I want or need or desire or how I think.

I cannot allow this, either, to affect the way I do interact. I cannot assume that a person is “lost” or less valuable because they do not have any inkling of what I mean. I cannot expect that they’ll ever want to hear it, either. I must learn to appreciate people on their terms, rather than my own, and make peace with myself knowing that they may not understand or appreciate or even like me. I must do what I will do and nothing more.

I must understand that these are lessons that are unlike ordinary lessons. These are not the kinds of things that are simply taught or learned or practiced. These are things that must be lived and developed and appreciated and continued and always always always kept in sight. Religion and faith is not a matter of simply knowing the precepts or believing in the concepts, but a matter of living the truth and being the change you know the world needs. I must understand that while I am fallible, I am also capable beyond measure, simply because I can be the truth I know is in the reality around me.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jake's first Mardi Gras

I hate Mardi Gras. I hate it because it’s something that could be so much more than it ultimately is. I hate it because all of these huge floats roll by, making fun of blatantly corrupt politicians and pundits and awful corporations (BP) and everyone yells for beads and then they go home and they don’t do anything. It’s hollow as hollow gets. The party is about getting drunk and paying too much for things you don’t want, screaming for things you don’t need, meeting people you don’t care about, and ignoring the rest of the world in favor of your own hedonism. It’s a genuinely unique and interesting part of New Orleans culture, but it’s only as popular as it is because people expect it as a part of the New Orleans culture. It’s tourism. It’s about creating a space for tourists to get drunk and spend all their money. Ultimately all of the larger parades are aimed at people that aren’t me, but worse, people I can’t stand. Drunken louts. Boorish thugs whose only real method of relaxing in life is downing poison until their minds can’t inhibit them from relaxing any more. And this is okay. This is the point of the parades and the food stands and the Mardi Gras edition Bud Light. The whole point is to reduce people into screaming children, clamoring and fighting over plastic facsimiles of necklaces. That’s what they’re here for. That’s what they paid their good money for.

That’s not why I live here. I don’t hate parades. One of the first things I did when I got here was go on an underwear march with NoiseCo. It was an absolute blast, and convinced me that there really is a good reason to live here. I went to Petit Rex and saw all of the awesome little floats. I went to Barkus and watched dogs with adorable costumes go by. I saw Chewbacchus and all of the amazing outfits they put together for that. I saw both Krewe du Vieux and DeLusion and loved the way they were both put together. These things are great! I love costuming, and I love parades where people go all-out with a theme and make it look cool. None of these other parades so far have represented that for me. They’re tourist magnets, and little else.

Really, the biggest problem I have with the parades is the same as every problem I have. I hate people. I watched Chewbacchus at its start (because that’s the only parade I planned on seeing today) and then decided to follow it for a bit to see how it worked out. It turned into a clusterfuck almost immediately after the start, with a bunch of fucking retarded drivers trying to go down St. Charles right in the middle of the goddamn parade; tons of idiot spectators either walking into, with, or through the parade, ignoring it entirely and bumping into the more elaborate costumes and then heckling them for not watching where they’re going when the people in costume can only see forward; kids fucking everywhere harassing the costumers for throws and shit and banging on the robots; people squishing them in too far as a parade; just awful shit. And the only police presence was at the beginning and end, just calmly driving through ignoring the unmitigated chaos in the line. It was awful, and it made me angry. It still makes me angry. How dare these people sit there and behave fairly rationally for a big to-do and then turn into complete dickheads for this tiny alternative parade? I can’t handle that shit and I refuse to even remotely support it, so I pretty much walked home after that, wading through crowds and crowds of people I don’t like and wish were dead. I won’t be going to any more big parades. I don’t care how fancy they are, I don’t care that ultimately Chewbacchus should have been a parade in the quarter or the bywater or anywhere that was somewhat quiet, I don’t care what they all dress up in and put up for floats. I refuse to support this bullshit aggregation of a fantasy about New Orleans as a city. If this is really what the city does for its economy and culture, no wonder it’s so goddamned fucked up.

The big parades, the so-called “Super-Krewes” exemplify nearly everything I dislike about America/Humans. There’s the mindless, get-a-buck greed on display by every single idiot with a food stand or a shopping cart full of blinking crap. There’s the careless, pointless, soulless waste of tons and tons of plastic imported from China made by people who couldn’t afford to watch them being thrown, let alone attend a parade. There’s the shallow concept of “relaxing” or “partying” by consuming gallons and gallons of alcohol because the populace is incapable of “having a good time” without a few drinks. It’s just everything that sickens me and depresses me about people. I like the parades anyway because it’s nice to see floats and anything out of the ordinary makes me happy, but I can’t stand anyone at them, from the crowds upon crowds of tourists to the rich white assholes on the floats. I can’t stand that this is what passes for a crazy and happening holiday here. I can’t stand tourism and tourists and anyone who ever says “only in New Orleans.” I want to kick the teeth in of every asshole I hear who says that.

The worst part of it is that I know there’s going to be people who tell me that I’m overreacting or that none of the things I’m saying are true or that I’m being an uptight asshole. Some of these people are even going to be people whose opinions I am very interested in. I know just because I’m not attending doesn’t mean I’ll put even a fractional dent in these parades’ popularity. Hell, they might even make more money because now my spot is being filled with someone who actually buys light-ups and chicken-on-a-stick. But god damn, I don’t have to support any of this, and I won’t. I’m not a vegetarian because I really think it’s going to make a huge difference. I’m a vegetarian because I don’t have to support your crowd-mentality food consumption bullshit. I don’t have to support the crowd-mentality parade bullshit. You can all go to hell; I’ll live how I want.


Past the anger. Back to something else. I like symbols (you do too) and I like using symbolism to understand events. The problem I had with the response to the Chewbacchus parade was that the parade conceptually represented something I cherish and value, namely nerds dressing up and wandering around and putting together their own throws made of nerdy things (I got a comic book!). The crowd for the other parade, Bacchus and later Endymion and earlier Thoth, did not respect the parade, or otherwise my joy in seeing the people in the parade. This angers me because I did not, nor did Chewbacchus, go out of my way to disrespect or disrupt their enjoyment of their parade (or tail-gating party or whatever it was for why there were there). It was rude and ultimately unjust. What really affected me was my incapability to rectify the injustice and that the people charged with maintaining order were also incapable (or unwilling) to do so. I could not stand this and can not stand for this and will not willingly support a system (the larger parades) that does/will. I know that I am only one person and incapable of rendering similar injustice to the larger parades (what am I going to do? Slash tractor tires? Bang on floats? Drive a car through the dozens of barricades set up for them? [not for Chewbacchus, though]) so instead I will do the only thing I can. Avoid them like the plague.

That said, I'm looking forward to Zulu. Hopefully that'll be a bit better.

P.S. All that “first Mardi Gras” and “Popping the Mardi Gras cherry” can go fuck itself. It’s people getting drunk and watching a parade, not a legitimate transition between life phases. I’m an angry asshole before attending Mardi Gras, and I’ll be an angry asshole afterward. The creation of the narrative that this is somehow an initiation into a cabal of Mardi Gras knowledge only serves to perpetuate the pointless and insipid waste that it is. It was made by people, not by demigods or spirits or by nature itself. Might as well celebrate “Baby’s first Bris.” Oh wait.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Facebook Games


Well, here we are. As those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (and who haven’t blocked all of the applications that I’ve been using) may have noticed, I am playing several Zynga brand Facebook games. I chose Zynga primarily through its wide exposure, but secondarily because of its prevalence in my consciousness as a gamer as a standard by which all similar offerings can be judged. Zynga is the Jacuzzi of hot tubs, Farmville becoming synonymous with nearly every attempt at creating a profitable enterprise in microtransaction fueled Flash games. Besides the Zynga titles, I played several other games in smaller amounts, including one major competitor of Zynga’s (Digital Chocolate) game “NanoStar Siege.” I have also read a fair amount of literature on the subject of both microtransactions as a business model and the prevalence (and relevance) of Facebook games. I also watched the South Park Facebook episode while pretty drunk, which made the show that much better.

My perspective on these games is a complicated one. I do not agree with criticism that attempts to describe these applications as “not games” because I have yet to hear a sufficient argument in that direction. The most common argument I’ve heard is that they are not games because all you do is click on some things and watch bars fill up, leading to an experience that is barely comparable to a modern video game, with their vast worlds and intense graphics and complicated systems. The problem with this argument lies with a fundamental misunderstanding of what a video game is. Video games are devices that measure input by the player and judge whether or not that input is valid enough to advance them to the next level/score them points/defeat the enemies. The reason that games are so good at increasing hand-eye coordination is simply because that is all they are. They output visual information and receive appropriate or inappropriate input via the controller or a motion of the body. They create a feedback loop whereby players eventually emulate the machine by (or vice versa) through interaction. This is the essence of all video games and in a greater sense the essence of all games. I find one of the best analogies is to consider untying a knot. No matter how crazy and complicated the knot ultimately is, it still comes apart the same way as every other knot, by finding the right strand to pull. Every other aspect of video games is fluff added on top. Multiplayer videogames are simply a contest of who can push the right button first. RPGs are simply games where the button has a percentage chance of being the right button or not. Rhythm games are fairly pure representations of video games, relying solely on fairly obvious audio and visual cues for your input. So, yes, Facebook games are video games. They may not be particularly complicated in execution and their processes toward eating up people’s time are fairly lucid, but they satisfy every requirement that a game would have. Depending on your opinion, they may not be good games, but they are without a doubt, games.

Being a portion of Facebook, many, if not all of these games are billed as “social” games, supposedly inspiring social interaction among your friends on Facebook. This is somewhat problematic for me, as I am not a “social” person. When I play major MMORPGs, I tend to avoid groups as often as I can, eager to avoid the internal anxiety processes that prevent me from having a decent conversation with people for a fair portion of time. I play solo, which for many seems adverse to the very concept of anything labeled “Massively Multiplayer.” The reasons I have for playing MMOs are more concerned with an appreciation of the world constructed and the systems driving the thing rather than a desire to meet and talk to people. I don’t always feel this way, but I am unable to consistently maintain relationships over any calculable amount of distance, so rarely does joining a guild or clan last for me. Something generally ticks within me while reading a guild discussion or going on a disastrous raid or some other portion of interaction and I realize that I really honestly don’t want to associate with any of these people because I hate them all. It’s complicated. That being said, none of the Facebook games I’ve played have had even remotely the same concept of “social” as I would consider from other larger production MMO’s that I’ve played. The “social” component is simply the constant and obnoxious system insisting that you share free gifts, share coins, share xp, do a small amount of tasks for your neighbors, send a train towards your neighbor, occasionally challenge them to a simple contest, and endless other little quibbles of time and energy that do not belie any real interaction. It’s still a system of expected altruism, where the game eagerly suggests that you pay everyone who helps you back through another simple response click. There are a number of events in these games where you are flat-out told to ask for items from your friends or pay cash to complete their requirements. As a staunch individualist (really, I just don’t like asking people for things) this is another obstacle preventing me from playing these games.

Knowing this facet of my personality, I wondered how I would approach these games. Would I eventually cave and learn to be an irascible mooch or would I find myself running up against a wall and unable to advance any further in the game (it inevitably entails the collection of more stuff within the game, rather than any approach to an end goal. Such is the nature of an MMO, as they are designed not have endings, but to keep people playing for as long as they can.). And so my journey began with CityVille, the latest and greatest Zynga creation.


Released last October, CityVille is the latest game from zynga, riding a wave of city building Facebook games and skyrocketing to the top of the charts with over 97 million monthly users. The game is pretty similar to Farmville, except that you plant buildings instead of crops and collect rent. In the game is also a system whereby you farm various fruits and vegetables in exchange for goods which you use to supply businesses that generate a lot more “city coins” than rent. Progression through the game is marked by increasing the total population of the city by building both housing and community buildings, such as police and fire stations. The community buildings cannot be completed without being staffed by your CityVille neighbors. Players can spend “city cash” to circumvent this requirement, and players can purchase additional city cash for real world money.


FrontierVille is essentially Farmville 2.0 with a western twist. You perform essentially every major farming component from Farmville, but with the added pressures of things like “varmints,” randomly generated little annoyances that expound the amount of effort in running the farm by a bit, but reward you well for “clobbering” them. Your avatar is forced to contend with a never-ending tide of brush and overgrowth that threatens to overrun your homestead. Apparently there’s some dealio with spouses and the inevitable children, but I haven’t reached that point as of Jan. 31. The quests granted are a bit more stringent on requiring your friends to help you collect or do something, and every major building you construct requires materials that can only be gained through free gifts from friends. CityVille features some of this further down the line, but for the first four or so community buildings, only your friends’ participation is required. Overall, FrontierVille feels a lot like what it is, a more advanced Farmville, featuring all of the minor enhancements that Zynga and other developers have implemented between Farmville’s release and the release of FrontierVille.


Treasure Isle is a diversion from the typical Zynga formula, at least in execution of the treasure hunting aspect. You’re still clicking things and watching bars fill up, but this time you’re not forced to tend any particular crop or house (there is, however, some farm plots on your base island for you to do just that). The treasure-hunting most heavily leans on another aspect of Zynga and other Facebook games: finding items as parts of “collections” and later trading them in for rewards. Every island has only so much treasure, so a player is bound to inevitably need something they do not have. They can request it from other players. Also included is a system of construction that mirrors FrontierVille’s, demonstrating the iterative development of Zynga products.


I initially decided not to play CaféWorld because almost immediately off the bat, it asked me to hire a friend in the game to be my waiter. I didn’t have any friends and didn’t care to do this and was already suffering Zynga fatigue that day, having begun three other games. I was later drawn back into it at the behest of a very good friend of mine, who also suggested that his current flame add me for CaféWorld friends. So far, it’s been a pretty bland experience, even by the aggravatingly similar standard for other Facebook games. You cook things that take portions of time and are expected to return when that time has passed and serve things to your customers. That seems to be the extent of it. You can also (like every other game) collect things and get enhanced cooking utensils that allow you to cook other things. It doesn’t particularly matter, though. It’s all the same thing.


I started playing this game because I wanted to broaden the scope of this article outside of simply Zynga, but I wasn’t sure where to start. So I googled “best Facebook games” and found a top ten list of games for 2010; this was on the list. Of the games, it seemed the most interesting, as it promised a legitimate tactical experience as opposed to the usual “click and wait” style of other Facebook games. The promise followed through, with the game featuring little tactical battles between some ridiculously large armies (for the genre) that are largely determined by the placement of three main units. The tactics would seem to take on a rock-paper-scissors design, featuring “Slayers” with high damage and speed, but low armor, “Soldiers” with high armor and reasonable attack but very slow, and “Archers” with no armor and awful melee but a powerful ranged attack. The appearance of balance gives way to the numerous “Hero Cards” that both you and your opponent possess. These cards have a variety of effects, and as you would expect, you’re going to have to pay through the nose to get some. (Though a few are available through leveling up and spending gold) These cards are a watermark feature for Digital Chocolate, who have decided the best way to compete was to mock Pokémon (seriously, there’s 151 of these) and create a collectible brand of digital creatures with an ill-conceived (and terribly written) back story for their existence and a pentagonal faction system (like Magic: the Gathering cards). The cards are not little monsters (not all of them, anyway) but little people or representations of various internet/cultural phrases or stereotypes. There’s a good amount of them that are chicks, and a fair amount of anthropomorphic chicks. They feature both Venus and Godiva nude, albeit covered with their hair in all the right places. It’s not hard to guess what sort of audience DC is aiming at. These characters are supposed to be universal for all of the “Nanostar” branded games, of which there are only three so far.


Of all the major market games I’ve played in the last few years or so, these have got to be some of the buggiest and poorly managed. Almost universally across these games, there is a relatively impressive loading time, one that activates every single time you browse to their pages. It wouldn’t be an issue, but every time you attempt to send a free gift to your friends, the game sends you to a second page to do so and you have to wait yet again to load the game. The hotlinks for Zynga games that are above the games themselves are set to open the new game in another tab automatically, leaving the previous game still running. This would be fine, except each of these games is a ridiculous memory hog. I accidentally overheated my computer one evening by opening three of them at once without noticing. Why this is even remotely a possibility for games that are basically glorified Flash applications astounds me. Clearly the management at Zynga cares more about getting more people to play than plugging memory leaks. Even when I was only running one such application, bugs happened all the time, from minor graphical glitches to the game failing to sync with the server, losing me whatever progress I had just made. The Zynga browser that overlays itself over the game and lets you accept notifications was constantly out of whack with what I had already accepted through individual applications.


I started with CityVille, mostly because I heard relatively good things about it from Kotaku some time ago, and I was curious as to what made it particularly better than Farmville and their ilk. It wasn’t too bad, and I was happy to see that I didn’t particularly need other people involved early on. Using the in-game “city cash,” players can circumvent requirements for a lot of goals and buildings. Actually, had I gone nuts with the money, I could have rocketed straight to the end game of CityVille, buying early unlocks for all of the buildings and decorations in the game, purchasing city coins and goods so that I had little reason to wait. I wasn’t surprised, as this business model (more on it later) is pretty popular in the gaming sphere. Though some content is literally cash-only, the majority of the game is free-to-play as a standard for the model, as developers are afraid of scaring potential customers off by telling them they need to pay to play altogether. It’s endemic in the announcement of free-to-play games, an ardent reassurance that the games content would actually be free to most players, with only “cosmetic” or “minor” enhancements available for purchase. Zynga makes no jones about their cash-only items being decorative, but at the same time they rarely offer a super item that totally breaks the game. Being the author of this article, I chose not to spend any money (mostly because I don’t have any) and try to succeed or simply enjoy the game as a free game.

After I finally spent all of the tutorial missions and stopped leveling up to have my energy replenished (basically when I had to wait for a period of time) I moved on to the next game, FrontierVille. FrontierVille was already not particularly my cup of tea, as I am not a huge fan of western-themed products, but the game managed to stay somewhat interesting with the sheer variety of things to do. As sad as it sounds, I enjoyed clearing my land more than building things or tending to the animals. After I spent all of the energy in FrontierVille, I moved on yet again to Treasure Isle. I had heard about Treasure Isle on Kotaku as well, also hearing that it was a different beast than Farmville. Playing the game confirmed this, as it satisfied my OCD streak by allowing me to dig up entire islands in search of virtual tchotkes. Not content to leave well enough alone, this game also features a farming component, with little farms that you can plant energy granting fruit for later use. Clearly Zynga is aiming for a theme with these. After that I started up CaféWorld, just because it was all that was left on the list that wasn’t poker or Mafia Wars. CaféWorld, for some reason, features some butt-ugly 3D graphics and a really bland looking restaurant and asked me almost immediately to pick a neighbor to be my waiter. As my goal was to avoid having to force any of these games on other people, I immediately decided not to play it and clicked out of it. That was the end of my first day of playing these games, and so far I had had a stimulating experience collecting coins, gems, stars, little lightning bolts, logs, and slices of cherry pie. These games are nothing if not pretty snazzy, high-res graphics all over the place.

Day two was less eventful, though after playing all of these games and being bombarded with all of the suggestions that I share my playing experience with someone else, I finally caved and registered for a secondary Facebook account solely for the purpose of playing these games with myself (the account is registered as “John Boner” which I will likely later make into a parody “John Boehner” account). As sad as it sounds, I enjoyed going through the introduction for the games over again while the experience of playing them was still fresh in my mind. I spent much of that day doing a complicated log-in log-out dance between accounts, sending myself things and opening franchises in places. I soon realized, though, that one extra person would not be enough to advance in most of these games, so I finally caved and at least asked a friend I had made through playing Mafia Wars to neighbor me. This, over the next few days, lead to a slippery slope of me eventually adding everyone I knew who did play the games to my games. Enter the sort of shock when you realize that a person you’ve known for a while actually has a ridiculously high level and has amassed a collection of items that literally slows down your computer just to look at.

With friends came items, and soon I was handling a dozen requests a day, mostly friends sharing a free daily item, occasionally friends asking for help with some minor task in their city or island or homestead. I dutifully responded to every request that I got, sending out daily items for each of my games. With real friends, though, the impetus for using my fake Facebook account to play disappeared and John Boner languished in disuse. Despite the sudden flurry of activity, my various games had started to lose some of their luster and I logged in somewhat less day by day. I picked up Nanostar Siege based on a top-ten list on some website, partly to try something a bit different than a Zynga game, partly to attempt to rekindle some interest in the project. The game wasn’t bad and doesn’t really require friends to play, but it had its own problems, largely being the unbalanced sort of play between people who had found better and more useful Hero Cards to play than I had. I came to a stop in the single-player campaign because the computer is an outright cheater who behaves as though it is three people playing three cards at once and gets to reload the cards three times as fast as I can. Near the end of my Zynga experience, Gavin asked me to join him in CaféWorld, which I grudgingly did. He even went as far as suggesting his lady-friend be added to my friends to help her in CaféWorld. I played CaféWorld a total of one times, really not that interested, and maybe a day or two later I looked at my game requests and saw 32 of them waiting for me, and I decided that I was done. I blocked everything except CityVille and I haven’t played that since either, only assisting the few people who ask me for things.

Ultimately, I avoided making any new friends. With the sole exception of getting an internet friend into “Gun Bros” inadvertently I managed to avoid forcing any new players to join me. I limited what few times I posted an achievement on my wall to being only viewable by John Boner. I was, in short, a really poor customer. This is acceptable to me. I do not enjoy being a cog in the machine or a link in the chain or any of these things. I enjoyed playing them, but they lack the sort of substance necessary to keep me playing for more than the week and a half or so that I did. I know that these games are specifically modified to target dopamine receptors and the specific parts of the brain that govern motivation and goal-orientation, but these were all minimally impacted in me. I really do wonder whether or not this indicates anything about me. I do/can focus on certain things, I do have at least some of the self-discipline required to self-motivate myself to self-actualization, but whenever I play games that are supposed to be enormously addictive, I find myself reaching a limit after a period of time no greater than a few months. I was enormously addicted to Pokémon at the end of last year and for a portion of January, but now I’ve totally lost that spark. I’d have to force myself to play it now. I was enormously addicted to Minecraft again for a few days, but now I’ve found my attention entirely elsewhere. I don’t really know what that says about me as a person. I tend to simply label it as inconsistency and put it at that, but the fact remains that I simply cannot become fixated on any one thing nearly to the extent that I feel I should/I feel that others do. Ah well, even if indescribable, I can at least understand this portion of my being and incorporate it into a greater understanding of who I am.


The buzzword for these games is “social” because since they are on a social network they are ostensibly “social” as well, especially since you add people as friends in the game and they can do things for you in most of these games. You share items with other people and essentially cannot succeed in the game without interacting with at least one other person. The problem with this concept of “social” is that it doesn’t really define anything particularly unique and isn’t strictly social. So you enlist people to help you complete a task, but so does an employer, and he isn’t necessarily social. Your workplace isn’t a “social” workplace.

The problem really lies in the tacit assumption that other video games are not social. This is a popular stereotype that, like the flamboyant queer, has yet to dissipate in the public mindset. Gamers are horrible little nerdy people who never talk to anyone, but by playing a “social’ game, you sidestep all of the pitfalls that a “regular” or “core” gamer is normally trapped in. This sort of thinking is backwards and industry-defeating, but so thoroughly prevalent that gamers themselves begin to argue that certain games are “casual” and thus inferior to their “hardcore” games, despite the distinction being fuzzy at best. One of the most telling things about the status of these “social” games is that none of them feature dedicated chat systems. They do reside on a platform (Facebook) that features a chat application, but this is largely ignored, and legitimate co-ordination between people to play these games is pretty much limited to putting certain items on your “wish list” and hoping that someone you know is feeling generous.

World of Warcraft is a vastly more social game than anything Zynga offers. World of Warcraft allows for a number of levels of interaction with your fellow players, from hiring people to craft objects, to purchasing and placing items on the auction house to running raids (short dungeons designed for multiple people to work together to complete) to joining guilds to earn bonuses and organize meetings to a robust community of people who role-play characters in the world. You can meet new people in WoW. You can’t meet anyone in CityVille.


Zynga operates on the concept of being able to sell anything as long as the market is large enough. With millions of players per month, they can capitalize on the .1% of players that spend money for enhancements and turn that into real, appreciable profit. Between this and the low cost of producing their product (which is essentially free), there is such an absurdly large margin that it would blow the mind of anyone pre-internet-commerce age. That’s the entire reason for the “social” component of these games. They need a large market, and the best way to develop that market is to encourage people to encourage their friends to begin also playing the game. It’s like a pyramid scheme, except no money is passing hands among anyone other than the developer. The model depends on a platform like Facebook, because Facebook has an absurdly large install base and everyone already knows everyone on Facebook. Suggesting to a friend that they come and help you farm is as easy as clicking a button and sending them a pre-recorded message on Facebook. And the darndest thing is that it works. As P. T. Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute, and through Facebook, Zynga can find and market virtual goods to those suckers. Because it works for Zynga, and because business is largely trend-driven, dozens (Actually, hundreds. Not even kidding) of alternatives sprung up almost overnight. Everyone wants a piece of this boom.

Why? Why is this even conceptually possible? Zynga isn’t selling real products. They’re literally selling bits of art assets and the lines of code necessary to place them in your declared personal internet space on their servers. You’re paying actual money for an image to appear on the screen or perhaps a minor boost in your ability to collect other items. These things have even less than inherent worth. They don’t even exist. It’s like buying indulgences. And there is your answer. Why do people buy indulgences? Because the Catholic Church has told them that they’ll go to hell if they don’t. Hell is a conceptual place that doesn’t exist either, and all of the concepts involved don’t exist, but the Catholic Church is a great enough authority that they did roaring business selling bits of bones and rocks that supposedly belong to churches far away. The churches employed efficient and effective marketing techniques to sell otherwise worthless objects. That said, Zynga is no church and doesn’t have the kind of authority needed to simply tell people to buy city cash and avoid hell. What Zynga does have, however, is a better marketing campaign.

That’s not the only reason, though. The other reason has a lot to do with the sort of world we find ourselves in today. Music is free. Movies are free. Video games are free. Not just conceptually free, but free as in every person who copies and downloads a song does not decrease the total number of songs available. Music is infinitely replicable, as are movies and video games and books and any other form of digitized media. This is the kind of thing that changes the world. Now that these things are free to create, how can we put legitimate prices on them? Price becomes an arbitrary standard based not on what an object is worth but what the “producer” thinks it will sell for. In the face of these things losing their inherent value in the plastic/paper/tape they’re recorded on or creators losing the exclusivity of being the only person capable of recreating them, the industry will do anything it can to convince people that they should pay for the virtual items. It is in this way that all the “instant view” films on Netflix, all the songs on iTunes, all the e-books on Amazon are just as real as the garden planter that you just paid five bucks for in Farmville. It’s going to be a long haul for the industries, though, and they’re going to have to keep trying alternatives to draw profit. For music it’s a greater emphasis on concerts and flashy artists that draw crowds. For video games, it’s using Digital Rights Management to a greater degree and offering incentives for people to purchase the games at retail like EA is doing with the Madden franchise among others. For film it’s subscription based models like Netflix and 3D and HD technologies that aren’t as easily copied and run on a home computer. If you’re wondering why everything has been 3D lately, it’s literally because 3D movies are difficult at best to bootleg, because cameras only catch an awful blurry version of the film. For the publishing industry, at least textbook publishers, it’s constantly updating editions and offering codes for online “study help” programs with new editions of textbooks and suggesting that instructors use these online programs for legitimately graded quizzes and various assignments. None of these will work in the long run, because physical medium is a dying breed. The future is going to be convincing you to buy things that don’t really exist. The future will be marketing.


1. Zynga can’t addict me.

For one reason or another, I just don’t buy into the hype. I can’t care enough about collecting crap and watching bars fill. Maybe it lacks substance, maybe it just doesn’t quite understand what motivates me, but it’s not working.

2. Social games are not really social

These games are only social in that they draw other people into playing them by capitalizing on the social links players have with other people. As a definition, that’s pretty broad, and under it, you could consider Left 4 Dead a social game, as I only bought it because all my friends were playing it and insisted that I join them in.

3. Virtual items are the future

They are incredibly cheap to manufacture and with the right sort of wheedling, can sell like hotcakes to certain people. No good reason not to sell them.



A board ranking facebook applications by users


An industry-run blog entirely about this sort of games


Insightful, if ridiculous sounding


Also interesting. Note the section on intellectually demanding tasks having motivation beyond money

Interesting fact, one of these games, called “Social City,” was based on an engine by Pushbutton Labs, which is a company comprised of former employees for Dynamix, the developer of various Sierra titles, including “The Incredible Machine” and “Starsiege: Tribes.”

I had originally planned to put in a paragraph about altruism and how these games hinge upon the use of it, but I figure that sort of thing has already been done to death.