Thursday, June 28, 2007

Santa Christ


Yah.. what a subject.
As I generally state elsewhere: 'I view religion as nothing more than convenient, apathetic hypocrisy'.

Sounds fairly nasty, doesn't it.

I might add though, that I'm not mocking an individual's choice of faith, or the very human desire to actually have faith, but in terms of 'religion' in it's most common form today, I say "what a load of arse".

Where to start..

Hmm how about breaking it down. What is 'religion'? According to Teh Intehnets:

"Religion—sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system—is commonly defined as belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine, and the moral codes, practices and institutions associated with such belief. In its broadest sense some have defined it as the sum total of answers given to explain humankind's relationship with the universe. In the course of the development of religion, it has taken a huge number of forms in various cultures and individuals..."

..blah blah blah yup - that's about it in a nutshell.

Let's take a look at a few more definitions:
"A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny"; "he lost his faith but not his morality"

"A framework of beliefs relating to supernatural or superhuman beings or forces that transcend the everyday material world" "A set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to supernatural power"

Or the Oxford dictionary definition (theistic): "1 the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship. 2 the expression of this in worship. 3 a particular system of faith and worship."
(Non-Theistic definition): "The word religion has many definitions, all of which can embrace sacred lore and wisdom and knowledge of God or gods, souls and spirits. Religion deals with the spirit in relation to itself, the universe and other life."

So wait a minute - there's a common theme here. 'SUPERNATURAL POWERS' (to paraphrase)

Let me write that once more, just to be clear:

Okay, whilst I think I'm smart enough to understand that this doesn't necessarily mean there's some tights-wearing deity with a passion for wearing his undergarments on the outside running around controlling the universe, I must admit I have a little trouble swallowing the concept.

Irrespective of whether or not I can wrap my head around the picture of an almighty God surrounding us with it's omnipotence, I find it irreversibly amusing that there is nothing supposedly 'wrong' with having a conversation about.. well about a.. Super Being Thing.

Like an Alien maybe? Or just a SuperPowerfulFantasyConstruct? Heck, a Giant? A Dragon? Hey what about Hobbitses, or Fairies? Can we talk about them as well? (oohh - they're not 'real'.. oh sorry.. *cough) But more on this point (context) further down the article.

For now, I'm going to talk about the whole 'one' God thing. (I love this one)

I mean, talk to subscribers of different religions, and they will tell you all about their one and only God. ie:

Other Gods do not exist.

Talk to a Christian and they will tell you that the idea of a big fat Buddha sitting cross-legged amongst stalks of burning incense is cute, but far-fetched.

Invite a Scientologist into your home for a cup of tea and they will tell you all about how it works being a Thetan:

When a person dies – or, in Scientology terms, when a thetan abandons their physical body – they go to a "landing station" on the planet Venus, where the thetan is re-implanted and told lies about its past life and its next life. The Venusians take the thetan, "capsule" it, and send it back to Earth to be dumped into the ocean off the coast of California.
Says Ron Hubbard, "If you can get out of that, and through that, and wander around through the cities and find some girl who looks like she is going to get married or have a baby or something like that, you're all set. And if you can find the maternity ward to a hospital or something, you're OK. And you eventually just pick up a baby."
To avoid these inconveniences, Hubbard advises Scientologists to refuse to go to Venus after their death.

Try telling this to a Jehovah’s Witness, and they will chuckle politely at such delightful fairy tales and instead explain to you how they reject much of modern mainstream Christianity in favour of what they believe is a restored form of First Century Christianity.

They will go on to tell you also that during the war of Armageddon, which they believe to be imminent, the wicked will be destroyed, and that the survivors of this event, along with individuals deemed worthy of resurrection, will form a new society ruled by a heavenly government and have the possibility of living forever in an earthly paradise.

Tell that to a member of The Latter Day Saint movement from Utah and they will smile at your cute and amphetamine-induced perspective on the future, and instead talk about the benefits of plural marriage, a practice which first became famous in the 19th century but is continued to this day by Mormon fundamentalists.

They will also go on to tell you how they reject the traditional Christian concept of the Trinity, instead believing that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different beings united in purpose, love, and perfection; and that they also believe that the Father (and Christ after his resurrection) has a physical body.
(In contrast, Trinitarian theology teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different persons united in substance (or essence), and that the Father does not have a physical body.)

Unfortunately, some of their mates up the road (other branches of the very same Latter Day Saint movement) teach that the Father was once a man and became God at some point in the past, and that Mormons may eventually inherit the same state, called "Exaltation".

Oops - ah well they say variety is the spice of life..?

Anyhow, you get my point. A subscriber to one particular religious flavour effectively has to dismiss the existence of any other faction's deity of choice.
And, if you don't, then you're hardly wearing the team colours, are you.

Hilarious. (excuse me for one moment whilst I dry the tears of laughter from my eyes..)

Where was I.. oh yes.
I mean to finish up this particular point by relating the absurdity of all this, in context.
It utterly amazes me - that sane (presumably) and grown individuals can honestly stand before me and calmly let the notion, that there is an omnipresent being governing our lives and our world, roll off their tongue.

Context - this is what it's all about.

I relate it to males pissing:
In a male toilet, we stand at urinals, not more than 1.5 feet between us, and flop out our old-fellas. In other words, there's absolutely nothing wrong with me grabbing my penis, pulling it out of my pants and holding it in front of me in plain view, right beside a stranger, or a workmate, or a friend.

Context adjustment: What if instead we were standing in a lift together - just that same person and I, nobody else present. If I decided to unzip my pants, grab my weenie and flop it out as we conversed.. well I'd be arrested!

Back to religious context - and it's the same thing:

If I were to begin a conversation at work about how I believe in aliens, or superheroes, or that I thought Santa was in fact a very real living and breathing person replete with flying reindeer and the ability to service all of the world's chimneys within 8 hours.. well I'd probably be sent to the company infirmary.
Yet in an exact same scenario, I could conceivably begin a valid discussion about God, without fear of being ridiculed as a deluded (and obviously drug inflicted) lunatic.

(Also, hilarious).

My next point is around the hypocrisy exhibited by most 'religious' people that I have ever come across.
I'm sure I don't have to delve into this part very deeply, as you will know what I'm talking about, or at least recognise it in a Christian you know of.

The 'convenient escape alibi'. Brilliant! Here's how it works:

I go to church (*shudder) so therefore I am 'A Good Person'. In fact, this should automatically place me further ahead in any of life's queues that require character justification. Bank loan? Employment? Keeper of monies? Anything to do with 'trust' or 'welfare'? I'm you're guy!

Sure, it just so happens that I'm a self-righteous pig, with no care for anyone's opinion but my own, living in a bubble and treating my friends to a free mowing of their lawn every Sunday afternoon but being an office psychopath 5 days of every week and beating the Jesus into my wife on every one of those 5 nights, but I'm a God Botherer; so I'm OK.

Yes, it's okay - do not be alarmed.. for despite all of my 'sins' throughout the week, I can make a reluctant and faux appearance at my local Anglican Church on Sunday morning with the wife and kids, and be *absolved* of all those sins!

Yes folks - 'Forgiveness'! W00t! This is ONE SWEET DEAL.
As long as I admit to my multitude of sociopathic sins, and am prepared to stand anonymously amongst a flock of fellow church-goers, I can come out the side door of St Stephanie's as clean as a whistle.

Heck, it's a religious car wash!

Must figure out a way to be able do this without leaving the comfort of my own home.. I wonder if there's a coin operated version in the works, or an internet site that God has access to..

Yeppers. That's how I see it, for the vast majority of 'religious' people I know or have known.
It's terribly convenient, and ultimately The Best Hypocrisy Ever.
Absolution is one fucking dirty word if you ask me. Sweep everything under the carpet and it's all pretty again.

Another disturbing trait I have noticed, is one most inherent within Born Again Christians.
Is it just me, or is nearly every single one of these annoying blowflies the emergent result of tragedy?
I can't tell you how many BAC's I have come across that were unrecognisable as the same person prior to 'finding God'.

Speaking personally, I know of guys who were real 'lads' once, fucking anything with a pulse and hoovering substances up their nose like a modern day Dyson, who came too close to flatlining and all of a sudden are wearing cardigans and reading glasses, speaking in inoffensive dulcet tones and waving a fucking Bible around.
I know of a woman who was in a horrible marriage with about a dozen kids, trying to eek out a pathetic living, who dropped her family like a hot rock and after disappearing off the face of the planet for about 6 weeks, returned with Bible in hand and chastity belt firmly in place, incessantly quoting scripture to all that passed within 10 feet of her.

Seriously, it would appear that the downtrodden, failed, and/or nearly dead members of our society turn everywhere but inwards to find solace and resolution, ending up in a New Age Church, talking in tongues, waving their hands in the air and literally preaching their new-found saving grace at all and sundry.
Or at very least the reverse: Find me a BAC that has NOT been through some kind of personal tragedy.

*swat (fuck OFF with your Jesus bullshit!)

Another important angle on all this, is around the concept of 'Faith'.
Despite what you are likely thinking, I do not bemoan Faith, which is in my opinion an entirely different beast than religion.

It is my belief that faith is an important component of humanity, and of all people I do realise that it is required, in some form or another. Whereby we are without answers to certain questions, or in need of a grounding component that threads it's way throughout our existence, faith is the answer.
The thing is, it's all about us requiring something to latch on to. And therefore in my opinion, 'faith' can take many forms, and can be leveraged off many different components of our lives.

At an extremely rudimentary (if not fundamental) level, I believe we must have faith in and of our own selves. And this is where I see a great many individuals go off the rails - you may have read some of my previous posts about having a sense of 'self'? Well, those posts are actually talking to this very concept of faith.
Without faith in ourselves, we are unable to offer anybody else, or the world, anything of substance. We instead rely partially or wholly upon external forces to control our being, leaving ourselves exposed to the risk of not being in total control of our very own life.

Whereby you 'need' something external (normally emotionally) to function at a basic level, you are effectively co-dependent.
As in, were this exo-value to go away, you would be less-than-self. In other words, 100% of you is in fact made up of (say) 60% you and 40% something else.

Where you are able to reach a point that does not require another individual in order to merely survive emotionally, or where you are able to venture out on the town by yourself (as an example), you are indeed wholly reliant upon yourself only, and are not at the mercy of others. No matter what happens, everything that goes on is above the baseline of 'you', therefore you can lose all of it and still retain 100% self.

I see stereotypical religion as exactly that.
It's emotional landfill for those with gaping holes. A crutch for the needy. A convenient excuse. A comfort, whereby you are unable to provide any on your own.
A candle in the darkness.

My problem with this? It breeds a behavior of copping out - of not turning inwards to face the challenges under your own volition. It breeds dependency upon external factors, and gives you a convenient spitting bowl when required. It gives you a pretty rug, to sweep away your issues without having to deal with them.

Bah - I fucking hate religion for that alone.

I should wrap this up for now - not that I've finished by any stretch of the imagination, it's just that this is quite enough of a bite-sized chunk to post for now, and the rest can wait. There's no rush.

But one important point still remains:

This is my opinion. Therefore, it's not necessarily 'correct', obviously. But if you are indeed a good little Christian, you would be upholding one of your key Christian values by indeed entertaining my viewpoint at very least. (like that would ever happen, you hypocritical backstabbers!)

Are you incorrect?
I simply do not know.

But am I right?
You simply do not know, either.

Nor can either of us categorically prove ourselves.

Prince said it best in his song 'Sign O' The Times':

"Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling off a church

and killed everyone inside.."

The ultimate figurative oxymoron.

Until next Sunday, Bless you.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jolly Roger

My workplace is suffering, nay bleeding through an open wound, massive attrition at the moment. If this was related to Pirates (like everything else at the moment), it'd be a case of queuing to walk the plank.
Actually, I think there are people offering discounted self-service planks in the foyer, but hey.

It's extremely interesting, from a 'why' perspective.

As is the case with all things corporate, it ultimately boils down to a case of finger-pointing and blame evasion. Given the KPI structure of any medium to large corporate entity these days it's of no surprise. The behaviors of staff are governed not by an altruistic desire for greater company good, but instead are driven by a culture that rewards 'small poppydom'.

If you keep your head down, and don't have an opinion, you are rewarded.
If you observe something that warrants concern, you merely piss somebody else off - namely somebody whom is responsible for that particular facet of the organisation.
Not only that, but you then run the risk of being performance managed yourself for 'not being a team player' or something equally as ridiculous, especially if the defendant has unofficial ties with senior management.

It's fairly transparent.

Where the performance mandates of a role enforce behaviors of looking after one's self, then how on earth can anyone expect to bring an organisation together towards a common goal? It's laudable, at best.

In the case of my employer, it all began about 12 months ago with a curious restructure. Right from the get-go it was apparent that there were personal interests at stake, amongst senior ranking members of the staff.
At the time, I was foolish enough to share that concerned viewpoint, in the interests of promoting an engaged culture with a determination to add to an effort of ensuring the path we were embarking upon was headed off at the pass.

Needless to say, my tall poppy was lopped off at the stalk, and I was thrown into the compost bin. I was far too red amongst a sea of bright grey.

Which brings us to current.

As previously described, and utterly predictable, the blame game for the recent spate of mass voluntary attrition has begun.
And, as also expected, those that lead the charge for our fucked up 'restructure' 12 months ago are placing themselves farthest from said blame, instead turning to those beside or underneath them for explanation.

That there will never be an opportunity to connect those original decisions with the current situation, is infuriating but similarly entertaining.
In fact, it's one of the only reasons I bother to turn up at all - you couldn't write a more interesting black comedy, even if Voltaire himself were to return from the grave.

Nevertheless, the current situation remains, and in fact worsens as the days go by. More and more staff are leaving, irreplaceable IP is seeping down the drain (replete with zero effort to displace this loss), and the word is beginning to spread to recruiters that our ship is polluting the ocean with rats.

And no, I don't think handing out gold bullion-esque parcels of cheap chocolate will have any effect on our rudder, *Brilliant* idea tho! That'll plug the hole! :-|

Who would have thought this, 15 months ago.

Oh wait; although saying this makes me feel both elitist and narcissistic:
I Told You So.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sense and Sensibility

I've been thinking a little, about the shooting here in Melbourne yesterday.
There's no doubt in my mind that the alleged shooter is an asshole (by his actions alone), so I'm not going to dwell upon him. But it got me thinking about the victims.

As far as normal, logical, human reasoning goes, it's a sad affair in everybody's minds I am sure. Well, it is in mine.
But - reading the paper on the way home it got me thinking about why the victims are always portrayed as hardcore angels? Sure enough in this case, the guy that lost his life was a bona fide 'hero' (he died aiding the cause of another) but what if he was an asshole too? I mean, it's possible to be a hero in a particular situation but still be an asshole any other time, isn't it?

What if he beat his wife every other night? What if he spent a lifetime embezzling monies - your money? What if he discreetly fostered kiddy pr0n?

Before you decide to make the 'harsh' call upon me: I know.
I know that nobody deserves to have their life taken by another, least of all whilst being a good samaritan and helping a fellow in need. Let's get that straight right away.

And in this case, I'm not suggesting that the victim who lost his life was indeed an asshole.

But think for a moment about what (or how) you'd be feeling right now if the guy that got killed was a rival gang member? Or an accomplice?
It happens more regularly in the news than 'innocent' loss of life cases.. seriously, would you be feeling so sad about the situation if it was a known violent criminal that got shot and killed instead?

Interesting, huh?

And further, what exactly would you be thinking? That there was one less crim on the world? That he 'got what he deserved'? That he knew the stakes going in? (which obviously, the victim in this case didn't..) Our sense of justice is prone to some shifting goalposts if you ask me, in both directions.

And further - think of somebody you really loathe. You hate them because of what they have repeatedly done to you over the years, or because they constantly get in the way of everything you do with a deliberate passion - their aim is to fuck things up for you, and they undermine all that is 'right' in the world.

What if this person got shot and killed?

Whilst I'm sure you would feel enraged and violated at the thought of a person losing their life, or at the thought of a person deciding to take another's life away, would you feel 100% sad?
Would there be a small part inside you that felt relieved this godforsaken prick of a person no longer roamed the earth? And would you feel guilty for ever having hated their guts, or for doing the things (no matter how trivial) you did to them in retaliation?

Another interesting topic all of this raises, is around the fact that we all move on, don't we? It's as if events such as this get swallowed up into a void, and there are a couple of scenarios that spring to mind on this one:
  • When someone quits their job.
    You know - the person that the company 'needs' to retain, but they get screwed over one last time and walk out the door. Jaws drop, and mutterings of "now we're really fucked because they looked after the xyz system!" travel at lightspeed across the organisation.
    But what happens? After a few days, the gaping hole closes over, and it's as if they never worked there to begin with. The company does not grind to a halt, and life at work goes on, including yours. AND, you subsequently rarely email them or keep in touch, despite sharing part of every working day with them perhaps.
  • When somebody gets killed.
    Similar, but of course it's just a little more final. Outside of the victim's family, the rest of us react to the situation with shock and horror, and we empathise with the victim's loved ones.
    BUT - how does it really affect us? I mean give it a week or so and the entire event will have been clouded out of the forefront of our minds by work, weather, traffic, relationships, and other news.
    Even today (one day after the shooting) people would have been traveling on foot upon the very patch of concrete that not 24 hours before marked the spot of a body laying in the street.
    Whilst I'm sure that anyone keeping up with the news would have thought about it, did it modify their daily routine in any way? Did they bother to take a different route to work? Did they do anything at all to make themselves 'safer' as they walked to work, or to respect the horrid loss of life? Likely not.

So, 'why'?

Personally, I think it's because we all believe it won't happen to us, and because we are largely desensitised to acts of violence (see previous blog entry), and because we live in a world that forces us to look after Number One. Sure, you may 'care' for the situation in an observatory sense, but what can you actually do about it? And with the pace of life nowadays, do you actually have the physical time or emotional headspace to do anything about it?
Once again, like it or not: unlikely.

The aim of this entry is not to trivialise a tragic event, and I honestly believe this was an horrifically tragic event with irreversible consequences.
No, I post this because amongst the raft of emotions and issues that occur as a result of something like this, there are some interesting questions around our psyche, our lifestyles, and our sensibilities, that bear thought.

What are we, exactly? What is it that we are becoming?

Do we even want to bother to know?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

MMO In Tutaminis (l)

Ok I'm getting tired of all the "how come you play online games so much?" question now, thanks. Let me count the ways:
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
That makes about 5 that I can think of right off the top of my head.
Let's take a slightly deeper look at it then, shall we? Starting with some easy comparisons.

Let me ask you a few questions like:
  • 'How many new people do you meet per day?'
  • 'How many conversations, with people you have only just met, do you have per day?'
  • 'How many conversations, with people outside of your work, age and social demographic, do you have per day?'
The answer is easy: Not as many as me.

An MMO is not *just* a game, it's a social interaction foremost, that optionally entertains you with a game story or action. It gives me the freedom to decide to be socially active, or to go solo and enjoy the 'game' itself, or both.
Think of it more like a glorified chat tool (an extremely basic analogy, but based upon the approaches I entertain, this is my best bet..) that allows me access to a virtual world created by 100's of talented artists, populated by REAL LIVING BREATHING HUMAN BEINGS. And it just so happens that I can go on fantastical adventures with these 1000's of others, whilst simultaneously holding 'normal' conversations with them.

When I log in, I get greeted by my friends - you know what that feeling is like, right? Where you (say) turn up at a club and before you've had time to order a drink you have people running up to you saying "hey good to see you!".
Its A Good Feeling™.

No, these aren't computer-generated characters that are glad to see me - they're real people, with real lives, and real stories to share and tell, and with real questions to ask; about anything from what's happening in the game, to their most recent relationship misadventure, to their issues at work.
And it happens whenever I log in.

My point isn't to 'rate' anyone's social choosings on an 'interactions-per-day' basis, as we all enjoy our caves at some stage (scroll down a few posts to witness my own invisible barrier around my sanity) but instead my point is aimed fairly and squarely at those who belligerently claim
- computer games are antisocial!
- it's not 'natural'!
- it's for nerds!
- get outside and kick a ball around and meet some people!

Hey you - the blinkered and misinformed person saying that:
GET FUCKED (I learned that off Teh Intehnets, alongside how to make a bomb of course..)

Because yes, Teh Intehnets is bad, right? And MMO's are Teh Intehnets, right?
(I'm not joking - some of you seem to think it's the case)

Let's break it down a little further then:
MMO = entertainment choice
TV = entertainment choice

Ask yourself this: How many hours a week do you spend watching TV?

Well, as it happens, I can tell you:
  • You watched television last year at an average 4.2 hours per day. This 'leisure activity/entertainment choice' was by far the largest percentage of your time spent amongst any other leisure activities.
  • Socializing, such as visiting with friends or attending or hosting social events, was the next most common leisure activity last year, accounting for about 40 minutes per day for both sexes.
  • The number of hours per day that the TV is on, in an average home: 6 hours, 47 minutes
  • Percentage of people that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66%
  • Percentage of people who say they watch too much TV: 49%
Right.. and I spend "far too much time sitting on my ass inside" and its "not natural" and blah blah blah.. take a LOOK in the freaking MIRROR, couch potatoes.

YOU, are more than happy to sit in front of the tube, which serves you up mainly pre-scripted and non-interactive content (largely utter drivel, let's be honest) for the most part of your non-working days, excluding sleep. You, subscribe to a medium that looks like this:
  • Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
  • Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
  • Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5
  • Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
  • Hours per year the average youth spends in school: 900 hours
  • Hours per year the average youth watches television: 1500
  • Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000
  • Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million
  • Percentage of survey participants who said that TV commercials aimed at children make them too materialistic: 92%
  • Rank of food products/fast-food restaurants among TV advertisements to kids: #1
  • Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99%

Wow - some really wholesome trends there.. and no, my point isn't to lay out all that is bad about television. (although this does go a long way to explaining why I feel like I am surrounded by morons) My point, is to put it into the same perspective that you stereotype MMOs into.
You, as the ultimate critique of MMO pastimes (despite not even trying one likely) are supporting a medium with the above 'benefits'. And to put it into even more simple terms:


So get the fuck off my case, freaks.

Where was I - oh yes.
I, on the other hand, subscribe to something that's a little different to the above.
Read this: (if you're attention span is long enough, that is.. I know you're used to sitting on the couch and having it spoon fed to you so I apologise for actually having to *read* something, you big fat brainless and blinkered LUMP)

MMOs are interesting social spaces in several ways. First of all, there are almost no other social spaces in the physical world where people from such different demographic backgrounds and life experiences collaborate on a regular basis. The age range in most MMOs goes from 10 to 70. In a typical 5-person pick-up group, you may have a high-school student, a war veteran, a professional home-maker, a law professor, and a retired bank manager. In our education and work systems, we typically only get to talk and work with people who are incredibly similar to ourselves. This is actually seldom the case in MMOs. Another thing that bears pointing out that there are almost no social spaces in the physical world where teenagers routinely get to work with adults as equals. But not only does collaboration occur, teenagers routinely lead groups of adults, give them orders, and partly schedule their leisure time in MMOs. Learning how to work with and lead a diverse group of people is an important social skill, especially for teenagers.

Beyond the demographic landscape, MMOs also expose us to stressful group conflicts, leadership opportunities, and moral dilemmas, among other scenarios, that we may be less often exposed to in our day to day lives. Another interesting part of MMOs is the compressed time in several domains. While it may take decades to rise to the top of your profession in the real world, it is possible to reach max-level in some MMOs with just several months of casual playing. The rate at which guilds form, fragment, and dissolve may also allow some players to try out and understand how to lead and manage teams in ways that may take much much longer in an actual office. In short, MMOs may offer players experiences in roles and positions that they may not have access to in the physical world.

Goodness - it just sounds terrible doesn't it! Teaching us to get along, to learn to lead, to learn to adapt to others.. shocking stuff.

But wait there's more: (from another formal research project)

After examining the form and function of what's known in the trade as MMOs -- massively multiplayer online video games -- an interdisciplinary team of researchers concludes that these games "promote sociability and new worldviews."

The researchers, Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams, claim that MMOs function not like solitary dungeon cells, but more like virtual coffee shops or pubs where something called "social bridging" takes place. They even liken playing such games to dropping in at "Cheers," the fictional TV bar "where everybody knows your name."
"By providing places for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function much like the hangouts of old," they said. And they take it one step further by suggesting that the lack of real-world hangouts "is what is driving the MMO phenomenon" in the first place. The new conceptual study was published in early August in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication under the title, "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as 'Third Places.' "

Steinkuehler is a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Williams is a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The term "third places" was coined in 1999 by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe the physical places outside the home and workplace that people use for informal social interaction. Steinkuehler and Williams argue that online spaces, such as those found in MMOs, should also count as third places for informal sociability, "albeit new and virtual places." MMOs are graphical 2- or 3-D videogames that allow players, through their self-created digital characters or avatars, to interact with the gaming software and with other players, to build "relationships of status and solidarity." While still in-game, players can hold multiple real-time conversations with fellow players through text or voice.

The games the researchers studied represent "a fairly mainstream portion of the fantasy-based MMO market," the authors wrote, where rewarding players for cooperation and the formation of long-term player groups or "guilds" is part of the game. Game play in MMOs is not a "single solitary interaction between an individual and a technology," the researchers wrote, "but rather, is more akin to playing five-person poker in a neighborhood tavern that is accessible from your own living room." Steinkuehler and Williams also found that participation in such virtual third places "appears particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital -- social relationships that, while not usually providing deep emotional support, typically function to expose the individual to a diversity of worldviews," they wrote. "In other words," Williams said, "spending time in these social games helps people meet others not like them, even if it doesn't always lead to strong friendships. That kind of social horizon-broadening has been sorely lacking in American society for decades."

Over the last few years, Williams has published a number of studies that have challenged the common and mostly negative beliefs about game playing. For his work on online games as third places, Williams drew on an earlier study of "Asheron's Call," for which he combined survey research and experimental design and focused on "issues of social capital and real-life community," he said. He even played the game and conducted random interviews, asking players about their motivations for playing, their in-game social networks and their life outside the game. "There were both positive and negative outcomes," he said.

In her earlier study of cognition and learning in MMOs, Steinkuehler conducted a two-year ethnography of the "Lineage" games, her goal being to explore the kinds of social and intellectual activities in which gamers routinely participate, including individual and collaborative problem solving, identity construction, apprenticeship and literary practices. She conducted repeated interviews of key informants throughout the study. Their overall conclusion in this newest study: "Virtual worlds appear to function best as bridging mechanisms, rather than as bonding ones, although they do not entirely preclude social ties of the latter type."

While they continue to draw fire from many critics, MMOs attract tens of millions of subscribers worldwide, who spend on average 20 hours a week "in-game."

"To argue that their MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption that takes the place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen," the authors wrote. Online spaces are not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon that can simply be labeled 'good' or 'bad.' " The authors suggest that now may be a good time to reconsider how new media are affecting people. "Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, as many have argued, but rather, that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to a 'retribalization' through contemporary media."

The Daedalus Project
The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

So there you have it. And to repeat a quote from the study:
"To argue that their MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption that takes the place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen."

y single day, my mind, and therefore my life, is enriched and expanded with the interaction and opinion that comes from socialising with people (yes, actual PEOPLE) from all walks of life, all over the world. Every day, I learn something new about myself, or something new to apply to myself, or something that I didn't know previously. Importantly, I learn something about someone else, or I learn to look at something I already knew from a totally different perspective.

How about you?

Let me wrap this up now:
MMOs are full of REAL PEOPLE, not television scripts. Okay?
No, really, are you listening this time? Adventures and storylines require real living breathing human beings in order to operate, meaning it's never the same twice (for a start).

The medium I choose for relaxation and socialising isn't filled with beautiful people and 'perfect lines' - the drama is real. The humour is real and unplanned. And I prefer it that way.

But hey, if you choose to watch movies and TV (I do the same sometimes) as a primary source of leisure that's fine. It's your choice. I'm not suggesting one is better than the other.
However, I am quick to be judged and pigeonholed based on the % of time I spend online vs watching TV or kicking a footy or going out drinking - based on the stats above, and all things being equal - shouldn't you also be judged therefore?

Face it - you're just the same as me. You spend lots of hours performing a leisure activity in front of a screen.
Only, mine is 100% interactive - yours is not.
Mine, I get to speak to maybe 100 people a day sometimes, other days maybe I spend with a tight group of friends - you sit there and get spoonfed distorted and censored content that somebody else has decided they will 'think' through for you.

Don't knock what you have no fucking idea about, until you have tried it yourself at least.

And stop trying to 'help' me. I don't want your 'help' - in fact you are downright annoying (you wonder why I'm constantly turning off phones and locking my front door?). Your 'help' is nothing more than your narrow-mindedness, and you moronic small poppyism. I have no desire whatsoever to be bland and belong to the colony.
For the unforeseeable future, get over the fact that I would rather come home and get online than go with you to a club, or stay at work for a function, or any other raft of crappy excuses you all seem to have for a good time.

I prefer my online acquaintances to you. Simple.

**The figurative 'you' in this post is for each and every person that has either approached me, or spoken about me behind my back. Knowing my 'acquaintances' and online adversaries, I felt I needed to explain that. Yes that's an insult to your field of vision and intelligence.
**That's Latin in the title, by the way.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Rocket Surgery

It's an interesting time in MMO-land at the moment:

  • SOE just released their first massive patch for the wounded Vanguard:Saga of Heroes, which is actually a great patch fixing 309 tangible bugs, amongst other issues such as memory leaks and general performance issues.

  • Turbine just released their first free content and balancing patch for Lord of the Rings Online here, here and here, causing an unprecedented uproar in the online community for the game (including myself) given that most of the changes are absolutely atrocious, and that many of the 'promises' made in the patch notes were not quite as they seemed. Deviously, Turbine delayed this patch until after the first month of subscriptions had rolled over. Many of us decided to stay onboard with the game based upon the promises made in the patch feature list, and so now feel cheated into staying around (and paying our monthly fee) based upon misleading information.
    Yup, Turbine: you can change your spots but your colour remains the same.. sad, and such an opportunity lost (or at least slowly sliding down the drain).

  • SOE, despite releasing the Vanguard patch I mentioned above, are fueling mutinous fires with a server merge announcement. Given the relatively low populations of the current servers, it actually makes sense to me as Vanguard is the first MMO I've ever played where I can go for 3 hours without seeing another soul. Literally.
    However, as expected, the logistics of merging RP, PVE, Team PVP and FFA PVP are slightly complicated, and each member of the community over there deciding to post about it has a different opinion to everybody else. Sadly, it will most likely end up the way of Star Wars Galaxies and The Matrix Online (two of SOE's other miserable management failures). You'd think they'd have learned not to rest their hand on the burning hot element by now huh?

Funnily enough (and ultimately, ironically) I've found myself spending more and more time with my original favourites of late - driven back by the vast sea of MMO mis-management that appears to be occurring all over the place wherever a 'new' title has cropped up.
EverquestII, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft and Eve-Online all seem extremely trouble-free in compare to these more recent MMO cash-in attempts, and as I have already mentioned elsewhere, these latter games are most certainly extremely polished and fun.

The new releases have actually solidified my loyalty to their competition. Odd.

But I guess there's some assfuck corp-tard at the apex of all of these decisions, making ill-informed and greedy decisions under a narrow-sighted perception that they'll be able to retire early. And they've most likely never actually laid eyes upon their own product. (Gamers?? eww.. bet they also do drugs and have sex with each other in the back of cars. And I wager they never go to church either!)

The common theme I am seeing repeatedly, is that these publishers (or developers) of new titles seem to think they know what their paying customers want. To the point where they will almost argue *with* their customers.
Yup - guys - that's bound to guarantee your subscriber base stays loyal and is happy to fork out their $15.00 per month. I mean that's what we all want to do; pay for something we don't like, and invest our time into something that puts that investment at risk through ridiculous changes to the rules of the universe we signed up for.

Rocket Surgery (sic) at it's finest.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Playing: Vanguard Saga of Heroes™ - sort of..

You know, the more I try other MMO's, the more I seem to have an appreciation for the ones I consider 'core'.

Let me firstly type a couple of lines about Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
Yes, it's an SOE game, but it was developed by a company named Sigil Online, headed up by Uber Wanker #2 Brad McQuaid (of EverQuest I & II fame).

If you spend no less than 5 secs searching the net for anything to do with 'Vanguard' you will soon see that the subject has more flames coming from it than a charcoal firestarter cube soaked in petrol sitting underneath a lit blowtorch.

Why? Because, according to all those who have played it, the game is effectively.. well.. 'still in beta' would be a nice way of putting it.
In other words, it's riddled with bugs, glitches, performance issues, and other such goodies. So badly in fact, that it's a miserable launch failure - underpopulated and the laughing stock on the online community.

SOE partnered up with Sigil a couple of years back, thinking Vanguard would be The Next Big Thing and, why wouldn't you think that! I mean, the guy responsible for the EQ series (who had already worked with Sony obviously) was at the helm. Sure, he quit Sony to form Sigil a while back but hey..
..and how were SOE to know that Brad would be capable of churning out a product under his command with absolutely zero quality control..?

So, SOE decide to buy out Sigil (only but a couple of weeks ago in fact) and actually, if you go to the Sigil website you are now greeted with the formal buyout announcement:

In other words, Sony spat the dummy at the poor release, and have decided to take matters into their own hands. Which should presumably be A Good Thing™.

Except for the fact that Mr McQuaid (who LEAD the product to the dismal state it's currently in) retains a position on the team! Go figure. At least he's not in charge any more.

Anyhow, you're most probably wondering why on earth I would decide to purchase a game that is widely known to be technically awful, and where subscribers are basically paying to play a beta?
Curiosity, mainly.
Well - let me quantify that: The premise of Vanguard is actually very appealing on paper
  • player housing
  • ships (building them with the skills of your friends, plus of course sailing them to far-off lands)
  • ground and flying mounts for all
  • a card-game-based diplomacy system
  • 4 'spheres' of characteristics per toon (separate outfits and equipment and abilities depending on which 'sphere' you have active such as harvesting, adventuring, diplomacy, crafting)
  • a unique crafting system
  • caravans (travelling with a group of people making a trek together, even when you're offline, and also being able to purchase or build a wagon to follow your caravan carrying supplies and loot for your party)
  • a huuuuge world (and yes, from what I can tell already, it is)
  • very purdy graphics..
..all features which would appear to set it apart from standard MMO fare.
So yes 'curiosity' to be able to take a close look at some of these 'new' features.

Also, in terms of needing an 'excuse' to pick it up, EB Games had it on special for $29.00 so, with a month's free subscription it seemed that an 'excuse' had arrived.

After going through a minor drama to create the extra twenty gigabytes of hard disk space required for the base install (yikes!), only to then have to endure 5.5 hours of content patch downloads (god knows how many gigs), I went to bed.

The next 'morning', I was off!

..and then I discovered why the game is such a hot topic in online discussions.

Let me put it this way: Even after only having spent one afternoon with it, and creating two toons and getting them to Level 4 each, I have never in my entire life come across anything so buggy and sloppy that I can remember. EVER.
It truly defies words..

..perhaps just a sprinkle then:
  • bugged quests (ie: select an option in a quest dialog, only to be taken back to the original question, round and round in an endless loop.. aarrgh!)
  • glitchy graphics (falling through the world ~ walking through walls ~ being able to see through closed doors ~ doors not opening.. you get the idea)
  • bugged NPC's (stuck on objects yet still damaging you no matter how far you run away from them, and subsequently being killed)
  • weird anomalies (flickering world objects like rocks and walls just flashing all the time ~ mysterious pauses in gameplay where everything just freezes for a few seconds)
  • equipping a belt but it not showing on your ingame toon (same with gloves and most items)
  • no picture of your toon in the 'character stats' window, despite there being controls for rotating your character - its simply not there to view!
  • no stats updates to the (paid for!) Vanguard Players website
  • logged back to my character select window, only NONE of my characters were there all of a sudden (What The!?!? Where'd my HARD WORK go??)
  • reeeeaaaly poor quality voice acting and recording (sounds like a bunch of nerdy students got around a cassette deck and recorded trite and stereotypical phrases for Ultima Online in their living room, complete with the sounds of traffic passing by in the background)
..I could go in, but I shan't.
Remember - all of this in only a few initial hours of playing. WOW. (or, not WoW as it happens..)

Perhaps it's my 'reasonable expectations', but surely one would not even consider releasing a title, let alone anything as complex as an MMO, in such a state?

It would appear that they would, and indeed did - right Brad? :-o

Anyhow, I have a 'free' month to noodle around within Vanguard, so I might as well do so, in-between my usual MMO gametime. I'm sure if anything, it will provide great material for further blogging.
Plus, SOE have committed to an incredible 'fix up' schedule, openly stating that things are a mess and that they will be turning it around now it's under their wings. And if the frequency of recent (and very large) content updates are anything to go buy, I believe them for sure.

But I digress - my main point at the outset of this ramble, was about an appreciation of MMO's that 'get it right'. And by that, I mean that there are a core set of MMO's that I consider to be 'core':
  • World of Warcraft
  • Guild Wars
  • EverQuest II
  • EvE Online
They are all highly polished, have very few bugs, have intuitive User Interfaces, run as expected, and generally make sense whilst enabling the player to have a bunch of fun.

In thinking about these core games, I realised they all has something in common: time.

I've come to the conclusion that there's a sweet spot with all MMO's. Or rather, that there most definitely isn't a sweet spot with all MMO's, at the beginning of their life.

Even all of the core games I mention above, which nowadays run like buttered silk, had numerous issues at their birth. Once again, a simple search on Teh Intehnets will bring up varied and sordid pasts for these frontrunners. Bugs, balancing issues, slack programming, poor customer support - you name it. They've all been through it.

Thing is, all of these games are at least 2 years old (some a lot more) and as such have had the benefit of time bestowed upon them, making them run smoother and quieter than every previous incarnation.

So, as I look jokingly in the direction of games like Vanguard and Lord of the Rings Online, I realise that whilst they may be frustratingly full of holes and poor support at the moment (and none other can top those two games - trust me!) I also realise that they both have an absolute ton of potential.

LOTRO for example, looks beautiful and has a real atmosphere of 'kinship' and a relaxed pace (no compelling urge to level up before everyone else - instead promoting social exploring and quietly chipping away at the main storyline) which is extremely complimentary to the fantasy setting (Tolkien).
Vanguard on the other hand, is trying to push the MMO envelope a little, offering things that simply aren't standard fare in other MMO's, which is sorely needed right now.

It's just that both of them are still in nappies. And there's fluorescent green baby-shit seeping out the sides, running down their legs. Yes, they smell. Bad.

So I have come to the conclusion that I must simply dial back my expectations. The potential is there, and hopefully in about 12 months time I'll be able to enjoy the worlds they have both crafted, minus the frustration.
And if I choose to play either of them in the meantime, I must be prepared to take the bad with the good - even if the bad most certainly outweighs the good at this early stage.

One final thing:
It really really REALLY makes you appreciate the old favourites. It's been an absolute age since I played WoW, but I logged in the other night out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a slick and unintrusive gameplay experience - one that I had forgotten about completely after being burnt out after a year of playing solid.

Same goes for Guild Wars (uber slick - slickest of all in fact, in my opinion), EvE and EverQuest II. All of them have had a hot iron running over them for the past 2+ years, leaving very few wrinkles or creases.

So for now, I will resign myself to expecting that anything that's just come out, or is coming out this year, will be great for whiling away the winter hours of 2008.

Hey - at least I have something to look forward to, right?

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sony Sux0r Ballz

Actually, there's only one company I loathe more than Sony Computer Entertainment (ie:SCE, not to be confused with Sony Online Entertainment, SOE) and that's EA. But I digress..

Dear SCE,

Ha fucking ha, you arrogant & greedy cunts.

Yours mockingly,

Not that I'm making light of the poor souls that this affects, but no less than two months after Sony Computer Entertainment Europe announced 160 redundancies in the UK, they've done it again.

Between 80 and 100 workers at Sony Computer Entertainment America have just been made redundant in the USofA, due to plans of restructuring the business and reducing operating costs.

To quote Sony-wanker David Karraker: (who, by the way, was the 'genius' behind all PR for the 3DO *failed* and the PR for the Dreamcast *failed*)
"In an effort to accurately align the company to meet the changing needs of our consumers and of our industry, Sony Computer Entertainment America has found it necessary to analyse our current business and to restructure the company as necessary to continue our standing as the market leader."
"These restructuring efforts are currently underway and do include the streamlining of our operations and other initiatives to further strengthen the business, reduce costs and increase operational efficiency."

LMAO. Oh My God. " the changing needs of our consumers"??

Yup that's right wanker - nobody is buying your overpriced piece of shit PS3, despite you arrogant corp-tards assuming that you'd ride on the coat tails of your previous console successes, and totally ignoring Microsoft's foothold on the market.
The 'changing needs' of your consumers equals them no longer willing to shell out ludicrous amounts of money just for the 'brand'.
You also assumed that us hapless consumers would be fooled into paying through the nose for your shiny black said piece of shit, despite having only one exclusive title (which scored an average of 3/10 globally), and merely porting over Xbox360 titles.

The Sony SCE execs remind me of the execs at my place of employment, 100%. Near-sighted, greedy, dumb beyond utterable belief, arrogant and completely clueless.

It never ceases to amaze me that the fate of many individuals and brands can be held in the palm of some cunt in a suit who thinks he's God whilst singlemindedly ticking boxes on his KPI list. Again, I see it with my own eyes each and every time I go to work.

Karma, Sony. Kar - fucking - ma.

PS: I can't resist just one more quote from Mr. Uber-Wanker David Karraker himself, regarding the 3DO and Dreamcast PR campaigns:
"You know what, I’d like to think we did excellent, excellent PR for those guys. We got a lot of coverage. With the Dreamcast, we got excellent coverage for it. But at the end of the day, those systems didn’t fail because of bad PR, they failed because they didn’t get the third party publisher support, or the retailer support. I mean you can ask anybody and they’ll tell you that the Dreamcast was a superior system."

Yup - blame everyone else you turd.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Elbow Room

I purchased Sony's newest MMORPG Vanguard: Saga of Heroes™ only to realise that I don't have enough HDD space (20GB ouch!) to install it.

I own an iMac running Apple's Boot Camp in order to play PC games.
(This is effectively a dual-boot scenario, whereby I can choose whether to boot into MacOSX or WindowsXP each time I turn the computer on.)

Windows is able to run due to these new iMac's having Intel Core 2 Duo processors inside them. It's nothing like Parallels, which is a virtual OS; Boot Camp simply creates a partition on your iMac's hard drive for you to install an actual copy of WindowsXP onto, plus provides drivers for Windows to talk to the Apple hardware. It's the real deal - no emulation.

Anyhow, as I have read is the case with many other Boot Camp users, I set it up initially with about 40GB of HDD space for Windows, from a pool of around 500GB on the iMac hard drive. I figured I would only need that much, given that my main OS is the Mac.
Little did I realise (back then) that I would be installing so many games onto Windows and, as such, I have run out of room to install any more.

Here's the thing: Because Windows totally blows as an OS (imho) there is no legit way to increase the partition size on the fly. Sure, there's a couple of dodgy shareware apps out there that claim to be able to do it, but I'm not trusting all my data to some thinly veiled excuse for haplessly installing malware.

So, my options? Essentially there was only one choice: wipe the partition, set up a new (larger) one with Boot Camp and start again.

Oh the pain - yeowch.

A trawl of teh internets showed up.. well.. not much at all really. Aside from a shitload of other Boot Camp users asking how to do the same thing.

Enter my friend Annaleigh.

She did some searching and came up with the concept of imaging my current PC setup, deleting it's partition, creating a new (larger) one, then writing the image back. Bravo!

The only fly in the ointment was whether or not placing a smaller image onto a larger fresh partition would work. In other words, would writing a 40GB image onto an 80GB partition space merely result in a 40GB drive again? Hmm.

More searching turned up mixed results, but mainly bad. There were various accounts of how to do it in Linux, but not many successful tales of it happening in Windows.

Which got me thinking..

Perhaps I was looking at this from the wrong angle - maybe some bright spark had already created a MacOS application specifically for this purpose? Wouldn't it make sense to be able to image the Boot Camp Windows partition onto your Mac hard drive, wipe the Windows partition, make a new one (larger) then write the image back, all from MacOS?

I mean, you can see the Windows files from MacOS (unlike the other way around - 'go Windows') so theoretically it's totally possible.

And guess what:
Ta Daaaa! Yes, Winclone is exactly what I described above. Unbelievable.
What's more, is that it's totally 100% FREE.

So, for those of you desperately scratching your head for a way to increase your Boot Camp partition on your iMac or Macbook Pro, look no further.

I'll update this post with my (hopefully successful) results soon.
/hug Winclone

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Whos 'self' exactly?

I have three acquaintances that I see regularly throughout the week who, right now (bizarrely), are all going through some emotional pain.

And all three have the same common root cause:
Not one of them has any sense of 'self'.

All three flail around in life's ocean, desperately waiting for a burly lifeguard to arrive at their rescue. It's as black and white to me as Greenpeace is to the Exxon-Valdez.

But not to them, it's not.

I often wonder why I even let considerations for their predicament wander through my brain as, to be honest, I would rather expend that mental energy upon myself (being selfish, as I am). But quite obviously I somehow 'care' enough to bother thinking about it and, sometimes, enough to provide my opinions to them when requested.

It's hard sometimes. You know what it's like.. to venture out of the paddock and see that in fact there's simply another one next door, and not the swirling pit of despair that our parents, colleagues and popular culture have taught us to believe is there.

And then to run back to the original paddock and try to explain to all the non-believers: "Hey! it's just like I thought - there's another green paddock right next door with even more grass than this one - and a shelter too!"

There is no way in hell they can even begin to comprehend the picture of lush farmlands where a tumultuous whirlpool of lava should be..

..unless they are willing to take a step outside of their comfort zone and habits.

Of course this not only involves trusting the tall poppy that's running towards them with arms flapping, but it also involves them trusting in themselves, and being willing to take a step that could result in a confrontation of their former paradigm AND having the energy and commitment not to only make it half way before giving up and turning back to the creature comforts of the known (safer) quantity.

Perhaps I'm beginning to get frustrated with all of these half-ass efforts, and am being forced to evaluate the energy I put in vs the willingness of those I invest into. I don't know. There's only so much a 3rd party can do - the inertia has to come from within themselves - there has to be a desire to change things from the way they are, that outmatches their instincts to return to their home paddock.

When does one give up making this investment for little to no return or effect, if one has tried many, many times?
Is there a point whereby someone such as myself says 'enough is enough', when constantly standing headfirst into a wind tunnel of defying logic?

We'll see, I guess.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

You have been Truncated: now FUCK OFF

If I begin to categorise all of the people I interact with, I come to the saddening and dawning realisation that the list would look something like this:
  • Morons
  • Absolute Fucking Morons
  • Ugly Mutants
  • Vacuous Airheads
  • Blood Sucking Leeches
  • Annoying 'Zeros'
  • Clueless Automatons
  • Sheltered Suburbanites
  • Pathetic Stalks of Limp Celery
  • Tenants of a Soap Opera Fantasy
  • Desperate and Needy Losers
It's ridiculous, and sad, that I can literally only count about 8 of my acquaintances that do not fall into any of the categories above, and there's only 2 (of those 8) that exist at my place of work.

Most frustrating and annoying of all though, is that most of the folk in that hate-list don't know how to listen. They have no idea of personal space, or common social tact, and simply don't give up when faced with the words 'no thanks'.
You know what? Just cos I happen to see you every day doesn't mean you're my friend. I most likely have to see you - it is most certainly not a conscious choice.

And a 'conscious choice' is what I need to make - I need to truncate my social entrails.
(ref. Wikipedia: "In mathematics, truncation is the term used for reducing the number of digits right of the decimal point, by discarding the least significant ones.")

Yes I've tried to do this many times before, but for whatever reason, the message just doesn't get through to these moronic sacks of skin. If a slap in the face is the only way these fuckhead freaks will pay attention, then it's time to raise my open hand.

You know what else bugs the hell out of me? The lack of respect.

And by 'respect' I mean the common sense (or intelligence, in the case of most of these braindead colony insects) to recognise that I enjoy my own company best. And that when I wish to spend this time with another, it will be of my own volition. Respect my fucking space you dumb cunts! If I wanted to spend time with you, I would've said 'yes', not 'no thanks'! Goddamn.

Not only that, but respect MY CHOICES:
Yes, I like to spend a lot of my time in online social games - GET THE FUCK OVER IT. It doesn't mean I'm anti-social, it just means I'm anti-you! Its MY CHOICE. It's what I like, what I prefer, and what I choose to do with a lot of my time.
I'm not going to become ill, and I don't "need to get out in the sun". It makes me HAPPY (oh my god!! not happy??!). Yes - H A P P Y.

Swallow the fact that I prefer to spend time with my online friends over spending time with the freaks, retards, mutants and the overtly needy that exist outside my front door.

I'm the happiest person I know (not to be confused with 'constantly annoyed by people who have no clue') and there's a reason for that. It's because I choose to do things that I want to do, and very little else.
  • I smoke cigarettes because I enjoy them immensely.
  • I don't drink much alcohol because I'm largely over it and prefer my faculties intact these days.
  • I don't do drugs of any kind, also because I prefer my faculties intact.
  • I drink copious amounts of CocaCola and coffee because I like the taste.
  • I don't exercise much (especially in the winter) because I don't enjoy it and consider it personally a waste of my time.
  • I don't calorie-count at ALL because I eat whatever the fuck I feel like eating.
  • I don't own a fucking car here in Australia because I get around just fine (and enjoy) the public transport system (let alone it saving 1000's of dollars every year).
I AM NOT TRYING TO BE SOMEBODY I AM NOT, unlike that vast majority of the complete wastes of space that I am forced to set eyes upon nearly every day.

I am not 'you'. Nor do I wish I was in any way like you. I am nothing that even vaguely resembles you. Thank fucking god.

Let me put it this way; if I had a choice to be me, or be like anyone else I 'know'..
..I'd be me hands down every time.

That feels better.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dungeon Runners

I came across this latest offering from NCSoft (of Guild Wars, Auto Assault, Lineage, City of Heroes/Villains fame) this week:

Dungeon Runners

As you should be easily able to tell from first glance:

 gets it's visual cues, UI, and gameplay mechanic from a certain other mildly popular MMO. But any similarities to that particular online world of crafting war, end right there.

For starters, DR's is free.
As in, you download the client, run the installer, set up an account, and start playing. No monthly fees and no initial purchase price. And no, it's nothing like any of those free Korean in-browser MMORPG's that have a bunch of tiny-but-cutesy avatars running around in rainbow land wearing mile wide smiles and dinner plate eyes. This, in compare to those offerings, is a 'real' game.

I like to think of it this way:
  • Visual Style: WoW
  • User Interface: WoW
  • User Control: Guild Wars/Diablo II
  • Gameplay Model: WoW/Guild Wars/Diablo II

The technology is similar to Guild Wars, in that you meet with all other players on your server at towns and outposts, then travel off into instanced dungeons (either solo or in a group) to kill/loot/kill/loot.

In order to achieve this, there's a rudimentary 'Looking For Group' facility, and a robust and plentiful quest system in place (talk to an NPC with a '!' over their head, get a quest, etc), plus a fully functional chat system including friends and ignore lists.

This game is all about loot, and gold, and is highly addictive in it's repetitiveness in the same fashion that Diablo II was - masses of items constantly dropping off the mobs, forever juggling your limited inventory space, opening chests of coin, and mowing through the various denzians of said dungeons.

Obviously, the end to all of these means, is leveling your character. Doing so will not only increase all of your stats but allow you to wear/use the items that pour out of your mob kills.

Whilst the character system is effectively classless, there are three derivatives to choose at character creation time; Mage / Fighter / Ranger.
But as you progress through the levels and zones, you will discover that your stats, traits, and actual in-game character title will morph to approximate the style of gameplay you're embracing, including the weapons you are using. (For example, use a sword a lot and you'll get a title in your name much different to if you solely cast spells.. I'm currently an 'Energetic Noobie Obsidian Mage')

You learn new spells and abilities through NPC trainers or by looting spell books of fallen mobs, and assign them to one of the 8 hotbar slots on your UI, or to the left or right mouse button (Diablo II anyone?). Loot you pick up may be used (if you qualify in Level) or sold to vendors in towns.
As far as player trading or any form of auctioning goes, it's the good old-fashioned method of 'drop on the ground for your mate to pick up', which is actually amusing and also extremely reminiscent of Diablo II days.

Speaking of amusing, the entire game is riddled with humour, often taking the piss out of itself and frequently poking a Very Large Fun Stick at all of the genre stereotypes. Fans of the genre (such as my good self) will find themselves chuckling away at regular intervals.

For example - I recently gained a passive skill named 'Mediocrity'. It's tooltip reads:
"Congratulations, you are average! You aren't great, but you don't suck either. No sense in rocking the boat and changing the status quo. You gain 12 Mana per Intellect point and 25 Health per Endurance point. Keep up the average work, and don't push yourself any harder than you have to."

And another, 'Trigger Happy':
"You have a nervous twitch with your trigger finger resulting from a “work-related” accident involving a branding iron, a penguin, and a large bucket of coffee beans. Your memory of the accident is hazy, but the twitch comes in handy with ranged weapons, giving you the innate ability of 25% increased speed with all ranged weapons."

Add to this items such as 'Baby Seal Fur Pauldrons' or 'Cardboard Axe for Great Justice', and you begin to get the idea. (I recently walked up to an NPC offering a quest who said, in voice, 'If you see the ghost of my dead father, tell him... I'm sorry about the poison')
Even the main location hub's name made me chuckle ('Townston').

All in all it's extremely fast-paced, colourful, and light-hearted, yet at the same time it feels like it goes well beyond the usual limitations of any free offering.

And speaking of which, whilst it is indeed totally free, if you sign up for a $4.99/month subscription you gain a number of benefits such as:
  • being able to use the most powerful in-game items, weapons and armour
  • log-in queue priority for when the servers are full (you’ll skip straight to the front of the queue)
  • access to a bank, which contains an additional 220 slots of storage space for you to access when in a town
  • the luxury of stacking potions (meaning that multiple potions will occupy one inventory slot, saving room for loot)
  • plus more to come

Whilst I initially presumed it would merely be a light distraction between courses of my staple MMO diet, I've actually been playing it non-stop since I installed it. I'm positive it'll grow old fairly quickly, but I also know it'll remain on my hard drive as light entertainment to break up my lengthy EQ2, LOTRO or GW sessions.

At only around 420mb to download fully, and with system requirements that would almost allow it to run on your mobile phone, I can't recommend it enough, at least as a curiosity.

Head on over to the sign-up page and give it a whirl. Monster bashing with appealing depth at it's finest.

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