Friday, July 25, 2008

The World's most elaborate treadmill

There is a misconception is that people need to be liked.

Most people WANT to be liked, but they don't need it. What people need is to be acknowledged.

Being liked is, of course, a form of acknowledgment, so it can fill that need. But so can a lot of other emotional responses. People can stand being hated, so long as they're not being ignored.

It's as though people fear "not being."

So naturally, I've brought you to this strange existential idea as a way to talk about World of Warcraft.

First, an overview:

You fight enemies to get equipment, you get the equipment so that you can fight harder enemies, you fight harder enemies so you can get better equipment. And that's pretty much the game.

While the same general thing happens in many traditional, single-player games, it's not quite this circular affair. I fought enemies and found equipment in "Chrono Trigger" because I was invested in the story and characters. Experience points and armor ratings were a means to the end of fulfilling that investment. For most players of "massively multiplayer games" like WoW, though, the minutiae justifies itself.

(For those of you who just got up-in-arms, notice that I used the qualifier "most." There are some people that are genuinely interested in the titular "world" of the game, or play as an arbitrary activity to spend time with friends . . . the other 99% though, are in it for the gear.)

And why is this seemingly ridiculous grind so appealing? It's acknowledgment. A WoW character is stored on company servers, not on the player's hard drive, so you know that it hasn't been tampered with.

This gives the character and his inventory a kind of validation, this makes it real.

And that, in turn, gives the players validation. It makes them real.

On some very important level, people just want to have their actions noticed, even if that notice is an automated response by some lines of computer code.*

*Oooo, Uncharted Trophies were announced today!

Friday, July 18, 2008

And the Art of Posting

zen (n) - 1. A state of enlightenment and inner peace, achieved though meditation and self-contemplation.

2. A state in which, upon reading something on the internet, a person completely ignores the associated "comments" thread.

I can't say that I'm there yet. I mean I can pass over the comments on youtube, which are well known to be the swill of humanity's worst aspects, but on average, I just can't keep myself from reading at least the first few posts on any given page.

The worst part is that I'll even read reviews on products that I'm shopping for. Understand that this means that I am choosing to subject myself to opinions that I know aren't valuable.* And I'm someone who regards the idea of professional reviews as a dubious concept, but at least those are mostly written by knowledgeable individuals. So then why do I keep finding myself reading the flimsy run-on sentences of some guy who thought "Astro-smurf" was a clever handle for his Amazon account? What great meaning are his 3 out of 5 stars going to convey to me?

"I don't know, seems like a nice product, but if it's not good enough for 'Techie-hedron13" then it's not good enough for me."

The worst part of it all are the "Hemingways," the people who feel the need to write me a excruciatingly detailed short story about their experiences with electronics.

"My new mp3 player arrived on a Friday afternoon in a typical Amazon cardboard box. I pulled the tape off and removed the plastic retail shell. After a few minutes with a pair of scissors, I had the player, instruction manual, warranty, and headphones all laid out on my carpet. I read the included "Quick Start" guide, I plugged the player up to charge and went to the kitchen for a snack . . .

As I removed the loaf of bread from the cabinet I wondered whether I wanted chunky or smooth peanut butter . . ."

And they usually go on like that for at least another thousand words.

Then there are the people who assume that a problem they've had with a product is not the result of a simple defect, but rather a reflection of the company's corrupted moral state and, indeed, the failing of human society as a whole.

"I had this product for TWO WEEKS and now it doesn't work! What a waste of money! This company should be ashamed of themselves, how can they sell something that they know is going to break TWO WEEKS later! I'm so disgusted that I'm throwing this device, the box it came in, the usb cable, and the one-year warranty in the GARBAGE!"

*Today's post brought to you by my ever-increasing desire for an HDTV.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Everybody clapped, and they cut slice two

There is one book that has affected my life more than all others. No, it's not the Bible, though that's a pretty important one. And it's not either of the Brennan Manning works I've read, either. It's not even "Riker of the Seven Seas," which I'm pretty much the de facto expert on.

It's "The Giant Jam Sandwich."

No matter what you say about those other books, they weren't there from the beginning. There was never a time in my life when I demanded that "The Ragamuffin Gospel" be read to me every night while I drank my apple juice.

How can you compare it to Shakespeare? It's in a much more elite class, one that includes "Duck and His Friends"* and "The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear."

If you haven't read it, I won't spoil anything for you, but suffice to say that it involves a small town, a great number of wasps, and a rather unique approach to wasp eradication. Also, the book contains a picture of a tractor with a helicopter rotor attached, along with several helium balloons. The implication, I believe, is that this design is aeronautically sound.

But then the book is full of that idea, the using of everyday things in remarkable ways. Even the characters themselves are ordinary, but they make for a good story when faced with a big problem.

It's a compelling theme, and one that you'll find in many good stories. You can start a line with 'Sandwich and continue it through "Alien," right on to "Die Hard," They're all stories about regular people who step up when they have to.

It rings true.

*Also about people . . . er, animals, building things. I was a techie from the start.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Enjoy the cookout!

Why do we get sleepy after eating a big meal?

The popular medical opinion is that your body rushes blood to your stomach because it's busy digesting such large quantities, but personally I don't buy that.

I think it's your brain saying, "Ok, clearly you have no idea what you're doing. You don't have any idea how much food is appropriate, or what kind of food you should be eating. Now go to sleep, try again tomorrow."*

This mental mechanism is the same one that gives you an aversion to something you got food poisoning from and makes you throw up when you've had too much to drink. Wired into your mind is a patient parent desperately trying to save you from your own dumb ass.

As you may imagine, I have used this concept to make some very passionate defenses for avoiding spinach, seaweed, turnips, and green beans. My longstanding hatred of each one, I reason, is not a childish dislike for vegetables, but rather my own mind insisting that these things are poison to this particular body.

Especially seaweed.

*So then the minds of most men are trying to save them from watching baseball?