Weirdness Epic

I think I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Ross’s Game Dungeon, one of the more unique game-review pages on YouTube. Rather than striving for ‘relevance’ with reviews of the latest triple-A games, Ross tends to aim at more obscure, odd, or interesting games, old or new.

It’s hugely entertaining for two reasons: one because Ross comes across as very genuine, like he’s just a guy talking about things he likes. He’s open about the fact that he just picks games to review or topics to cover because they seem interesting to him. The other is that his sense of humor is very much to my taste. A lot of it is of the ‘say something utterly outrageous with a straight face’ variety which I adore. He swears sometimes, though not very often and it always feels warranted, not just a cheap way to get laughs.

Like most people, I found Ross through his Freeman’s Mind series: a playthrough of the original Half-Life where Ross narrates his interpretation of the famously silent protagonist’s thoughts on the events. That’s a brilliantly hilarious series as well (“Give peace a chance! Or at least stand still”), but I’d recommend any viewers who haven’t played the game itself and have any interest in doing so should play the game first to get the full experience (I swear I will do a full Half-Life essay at some point).

I also find many of his videos on other topics to be interesting. I don’t like when he gets onto global warming or peak oil (which happens sometimes, though he at least tries to back up what he says with research), but his talks about, say, improving the GUI or VR are great, and I especially appreciate his efforts to sound the alarm on games being destroyed (see his Games as a Service is Fraud video for an excellent summary of the problem).

Here’s an nice, low-key episode to give you an idea of what Ross is all about: Puzzle Agent

But for Saturday, I’m going to present what I think is his magnum opus in terms of game reviews: possibly the weirdest, most surreal, most insane game ever made. And I mean literally insane, as in some viewers might find this hard to watch because the game honestly feels like its internal logic and aesthetic sense is that of someone with legitimate mental illness. Not just ‘quirky’ or imaginative, but genuinely insane. I can’t even think of any other examples of that sort of thing that I could compare it with.

Put it this way: the instruction manual for the game includes a statement from the developer that “This game is not the fruit of a sick man’s mind.”

They actually felt the need to assure people of that in the introduction to the manual.

This on top of a truly surreal, slightly disturbing artistic and musical sense and…well, it’s really hard to convey just what this game is like. Ross describes it as “The Odyssey of Gaming,” an utterly unique epic of weirdness that very few souls have explored, let along conquered. You really have to experience it for yourself, and the best way to do so is with Ross as your guide.

I give you Armed and Delirious. Proceed with caution!

Friday Flotsam

1. So, we had surprisingly massive influx of views this week to my Quick Word on Disconnecting post. If you’re joining us from elsewhere, welcome and I hope you stick around, though don’t expect a whole lot of content like that one. I try to minimize my commentary on current events and politics, though I suppose there might be somewhat more of that in the immediate-ish future.

2. Another thing I would add is that we ought to adjust our habits when it comes to media and…well, how we think of society in general. To keep things simple: we have the habit of thinking that it is important to get a ‘new’ movie or a ‘new’ book or a ‘new’ game. As if there were something special about a piece of content just because it’s recent. The thing is, though (and I’m sort of borrowing this from David Stewart, whose content I recommend you check out), any piece of fiction that you have not yet experienced is new to you. If you want to see a new movie, for instance, you have literally thousands of options available to you. There is nothing special about the films that happen to be being made available for the first time at the moment (unless you are already invested in the story or the world). This is not even considering the fact that many / most films being released at the moment are garbage.

I think this is a leftover societal habit from the days when people actually had little to no control over what films were available to be seen and so they watched out for what was coming to the theaters. After the video and then the DVD market came into being, we kept doing it, mostly because going to the theater was a special event: something out of the ordinary (that plus our natural love of novelty). But it’s long past time to break ourselves of the habit of thinking that it is at all important to seek out the newest films etc. We have about a century’s worth of material, most of it fairly easily available, to go through in preference to the junk that the people who hate us expect us to buy. If we decided to simply ignore current Hollywood, television etc. altogether, we would not lack at all for entertainment options, and most of it of a higher quality (yes, most of that is still owned by the people who hate us, but that’s another issue altogether. In any case, I can’t help thinking it must be galling to them to know that we would rather watch something made fifty years ago by people they despise than whatever they make today)

3. Of course, the big sticking point in the above is video games, which have a serious backwards compatibility problem. Emulators can do something to solve this (though coincidentally I just read how that’s likely to be more difficult in the future. Back up your roms now!), but it’s an issue I’ve long thought the industry needs to address. I would like to be able to feel sure that I’ll be able to play Half-Life and Command and Conquer in the future, as well as games for the SNES and so on. These are a part of our culture, and I want to see them preserved.

I think the console companies should invest in a kind of ‘universal’ system that can play games from all the company’s previous consoles thus far: so, a single console that has ports or at least the opportunity to play games from the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii, and Switch (not sure at all what that would require, but that’s what I would want to see).

In general, I really wish people with more programming knowledge than I have could work up some kind of preservation plan for these works: something akin to a great library or better yet a series of great libraries for games. Maybe some are. I certainly hope so.

Though it seems much of the industry itself is hell-bent on making sure whole generations of games die out entirely, but again: that’s a topic for another time.

Quotation of the Day

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach…Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Quick Word on Disconnection

Like many people these days, I’m looking into ways to deal with, shall we say, changing world circumstances. This is going to be a condensed version of my thoughts on this subject: I’ll probably do something more fleshed out later.

Short version of our current situation: our civilization rests upon extremely complex, delicate technology that runs a limited number of operating systems controlled by a relatively small number of companies. The vast majority of the market is run through one of these companies. This includes a large amount of commerce, communication, research, news, entertainment, and even basic things like being able to perform simple office operations. This means that these companies are de-facto the government: if you say or do something they don’t like, they can simply withdraw their services from you. Since they aren’t formally the state, they suffer no legal consequences, and if it looks like will they can simply use their money and influence to ensure that the people who will support their interests get into power (we just had a large-scale object lesson in this fact).

Now, the reason they can do this is that, as noted, most of the country is dependent upon them for basic services, including business services. If, say, you sell books through Amazon then if Amazon decides to cancel your account, you would simply be out of luck as far as the world’s largest retailer was concerned. Are you really going to sue Amazon? Do you think that would go well?

The important point is not to hurt these companies (that’s not really in our power), but as much as possible to prevent their being able to hurt us. If I stop using Facebook, for instance, the impact on Facebook is functionally nil. But it means that Facebook cannot censor or de-platform me.

And even beyond the possibility of punitive measures, there’s simply a question of control of property. As many gamers have discovered, when your ‘property’ is stored on a company’s server behind an account wall, then there is nothing at all preventing the company from altering or even simply destroying it. Hundreds if not thousands of video games have been destroyed in this way over just the past few years.

Now, if you ‘own’ something on Amazon – say, a movie – then there is nothing that could prevent them from altering or even removing that content. Unless you were able to download and run it offline, that property which you paid for is gone forever.

In short, you do not have decision making authority over your own property under these circumstances, which means it is not really your property. You rent it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we basically have a defacto version of Socialism in this country. It’s just that we are managed by a collaborative collection of corporate entities that include the one called the State, rather than a single such entity. Oh, it’s not full socialism yet: we still have some options, but in practical terms it’s pretty close.

As a matter of fact, these labels and categories of thought really aren’t very useful anymore. It isn’t going to be the government that seizes all property in the future, or not just the government. It will be the state plus a handful of companies that will rent you ‘whatever you need’, provided you toe the line. If you buck the trends and get uppity, then they’ll deny you service and preen themselves as being just like those businesses who fought segregation or refused to do business with South Africa until apartheid was lifted. Because that is how they see you; not as an individual with certain rights, but as a backwards sub-human who needs to be forcibly shown the error of his ways and taught that they have no place in today’s world. They think they are making the world a better place (and, more importantly, proving themselves to be good people) by punishing you.

Which brings me to my point.

The way to counter this trend is not through full boycotts of Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. If you can well and good, but for most of us, that’s simply not practical (itself illustrative of the problem). Rather, the first steps to take now, for most of us, is simply to diversify. Not to eliminate our use of these platforms, but our dependency on them.

First and foremost, learn to accept inconvenience. The whole reason these companies have been able to lure us into this position is by offering convenience and low costs. Get your mindset to where you can accept a functional, but less optimized product if it means a greater guarantee of freedom. Me, I’m in the process of switching from Microsoft Office (frankly a con-job to begin with) to LibreOffice. I miss some features of Word, especially full-screen support (which alternatives like OpenOffice do offer, but at the cost of other problems), but it’s worth adjusting my workflow in order not to have the threat of losing version support or having to pay for software that I don’t get to own.

On that subject, always have an alternative for anything you use the internet for, and where possible make it your primary platform. So, use MeWe in addition to or as an alternative to Facebook, and let your audience know you are doing that. Upload videos simultaneously to DailyMotion or BitTorrent and to YouTube.

It is a bit trickier for business matters like self-publishing owing to questions of rights, simultaneous publishing policies and so on. I’m still looking into options there. But the point is to be able to say that the loss of any one of these platforms will not destroy you or lose you anything permanent.

The benefit, of course, is that the more people who do this, the less cost there will be for any one person. The more people use MeWe, the more useful it will be as a platform. The long-term goal, of course, is to get something like actual competition in the internet again, but that’s beyond the scope of any individual efforts.

Likewise, back up your digital property wherever possible. Remember, if you do not own the hard-drive it is stored on, you do not own it. This goes for movies, Kindle books (I’m looking into ways to back those up), videos, software, games, you name it. If you cannot run it offline, cannot transfer it from one hard-drive to another, or if it is dependent on a subscription service then you do not own it.

The Cloud? Anything you own on that is like having you things in a storage locker where the manager keeps the key. He wants to lock you out, he can do it (also remember the manager has dirt on the DA and every elected official, so nothing will happen to him if he does). I don’t care what their privacy agreements say: those only apply to people, not to lawless subhuman racists who dare to question the integrity of our democracy.

Not saying never use the cloud, just know what it is. Just like in gambling: nothing wrong with it as long as you understand that any money you gamble with should be looked upon as spent. Anything you store on the cloud is not being stored on your property, so use at your own risk.

Again, the point here is simply to eliminate dependence on any one platform as much as possible. The point is for us to maintain authority over our property and our businesses. Since the internet is such that one must be dependent on others to maintain a presence on it, the goal is to be in a position where the loss of any one of those supports does us as little harm as possible.

Friday Flotsam

1. I have been feeling oddly harried these days as I try to hunt for a better day job and try to prevent too much of my headspace from being occupied by insane nonsense that I can’t control.

2. I’ve disliked the designation ‘Conservative’ for some time now. In the first place because ‘conservative’ is such a vague and broad term, the second because they have never once won a battle in this country, and third because at this point there isn’t really much about our political or social system that I want to conserve. ‘Restorationist’ would be much more accurate, as I would much more see things restored to how they once were, or to something approximating it. Although that term makes it sound like I fix art work for a living (I don’t. I kind of wish I did).

Some people have been starting to use the term ‘Based’, and I think there’s a good deal to be said for it (slightly painful etymology aside): it implies rootedness, solidity, and decency against ‘Debased,’ which implies vagueness, arbitrariness, and debauchery (an entirely accurate assessment of the other side). So I suppose that’s the term I’ll be using going forward, at least until a better one comes along.

3. Been watching The Rifleman with Chuck Connors lately. My goodness, what a great show that is! Writing is solid and thoughtful, characters grounded and believable as real human beings, the action (when it comes) is tight and viscerally satisfying.

The story is of a widowed Civil War veteran named Lucas McCane living with his young son Mark on a ranch on the New Mexico frontier. The title comes from the fact that, instead of a pistol, McCane carries a modified Winchester rifle as his primary weapon, and quickly gains a reputation as a deadly shot. Every episode he and his boy face some new problem or obstacle, often ultimately solved with a rifleshot, though not always the way you might expect.

I find the show does a very good job of not being obvious. Things play out according to the logic of the characters, not so much to a tidy formula. Some episodes don’t have particularly happy endings, and young Mark is sometimes left with a hard lesson, like one episode where his new friend turns out to be a murderer. Another episode had a brash young acting sheriff (played by a young Robert Vaughn: one of many current or future stars to show up) let his pride stir up more trouble than was needed or that he could handle, leaving him facing a duel against a vastly superior foe. It’s his own stupid fault he’s in that situation, but you’ve been shown why he thought he had to, leaving you with seemingly only two possible outcomes, neither what we want to see.

I won’t give away what actually happens, but it’s an excellent study in one way to keep the audience invested: make them sympathize with both sides while thinking only one can actually win. The show also tackles issues of prejudice, corruption, addiction, and the use and limits of violence. I’m enjoying the heck out of it and would heartily recommend it.

4. On that topic, one thing I would recommend to those who want to remain sane is maintain a steady diet of older media. C.S. Lewis recommended reading at least two old books to every one new book. When it comes to TV or movies, the ratio should probably be more like ten to one these days.

It isn’t really a question of relative quality: a new TV show may be objectively ‘better’ than The Rifleman in some ways. What’s really important is that older shows and older movies allow you to see how people in the past thought and acted. I don’t mean in the sense that, say, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a documentary of how people actually lived and spoke, but in the sense that these shows were made by people of the time for people of the time and reflected the values, tastes, and ideas then prevalent. As that famous detective Malachi Burke put it, “what people tell you is not a fact: that they tell it to you is.”

So, that hugely popular shows like The Rifleman were preaching the evils of prejudice and showing the use of racial slurs to be an ugly thing in 1958 is a fact. It’s objective. Any description of the time period has to include it. If you are presented with an image of the time that says such things were simply accepted and not questioned, you will now know that is not true, or at the very least an incomplete picture.

Besides which, whatever prejudices and blind spots there were in the past (and there always will be), they were not the same prejudices and blind spots that we experience today and thus are more easily seen and avoided. The more times you experience, the more you have to compare and contrast with the present. I have no sympathy for chronological bigots who hate the past simply for not being the present.

5. I have more thoughts related to current events, but I’m trying to space things out, both for my own sanity and because I think there is more good to be had offering positive posts that distract from the present than in adding yet another dreary take on things. I’m going to be making an effort to blog more often, in spite of the above mentioned sense of harassment, so stay tuned.

Escape to Some Fantastic Schools

Want to take your mind off things? Pick up a volume or two of Fantastic Schools (now both available in paperback: a nice, thick volume to decorate your shelf and that can’t be digitally taken away from you).

Official Blurb:
Have you ever wanted to go to magic school? To cast spells and brew potions and fly on broomsticks and—perhaps—battle threats both common and supernatural? Come with us into worlds of magic, where students become magicians and teachers do everything in their power to ensure the kids survive long enough to graduate. Welcome to … Fantastic Schools.

Vol. 1
Follow a girl trying desperately to find her place in a school of dark magic, a band of witches desperate to prove they can be as good as the wizards, a school of magical monsters standing between the evil one and ultimate power, a businesswoman discovering the secrets of darkest evil … and what happens when a magical education goes badly wrong.

Vol. 2
Follow a mundane teacher striding into a world of magic, a spy on a mission, a guided tour of a magical school, a school dance for monsters, a dangerous reunion … and many more.

Follow us into worlds different, magical …

… And very human.

My own story, Halloween Dance is the final entry in the second volume. It’s all about the trials and complications of young love, particularly when the boy has a troubled past and is covered in scales, the girl is outgoing, friendly, and gorgeous, but can’t show her face without killing someone, and both are attending a school for monsters where unspeakable evil can strike at any time.

Pick up a copy today and escape into some fantastic schools.

Brief Current Events Thought

I have not been blogging lately in part because I’ve been simultaneously preoccupied with what is happening in our country and desirous of avoiding exposure to it as much as possible. Even small dips left me so angry as to be nauseous. But through one or two trusted sources (there are only a handful of those, and none of them are professional news outlets) I’ve followed events enough to know what’s going on.

I was thinking about trying to do a summary of my observations, but frankly there’s too much there. I may try to do some extended posts in the future detailing each point: American exceptionalism, tolerance and other ‘will-o-the-wisp virtues,’ and a return to communal life being the chief items, but each requires too much discussion to deal with here.

For now all I’ll say is that this is one of those great historical disasters that do happen. We today often have a way of speaking as if all of that – the great wars, national transformations, redrawing of boundaries and so on – were in the past, which we in turn regard rather less as a part of our own identity than as a movie where we don’t like most of the characters. Now perhaps we’re waking up to the fact that it isn’t.

Welcome to history: you’ve always been here.

What the consequences of all this will be, I can’t say. No one can. Only that nothing will be as it was, and that the ways of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

“You shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.” (Matt. 10:22)