In the world of Star Trek there’s an impossible game that you win by refusing to play. Aside from getting a good performance out of Marina Sirtis.
There are things like that in our world too: ambiguous scenarios where “winning” is as imponderably subjective as Charlie Sheen’s sexuality. Years ago, researchers conducted a study where first-graders were given an unsolvable math problem. American first-graders abandoned the problem after thirty seconds. Japanese first-graders worked on it for an entire hour until stopped by the testers.
This is sometimes cited as a story of how American children lack willpower and need instant gratification and blah blah smartphones. Is it, though? The problem was unsolvable. Putting any amount of effort into it is a waste of time. Maybe this is a story about how American children are better at questioning authority.
Or consider the Marshmallow test. You offer a child a choice: one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows if he sits patiently for twenty minutes. Apparently, children who choose to wait go on to have positive life outcomes like lower crime rates and higher SAT scores and the ability to plug USB drives in correctly first try.
But what if this is the tail wagging the dog? Disadvantaged children often come from homes where adults are untrustworthy and lie to them. They might think “I don’t know if you have marshmallows and I don’t want to waste 15 minutes finding out. I’m calling your bluff right now.” The causation might be wrong: poor impulse control doesn’t cause poverty; poverty causes mistrust for adults.
Or what if children don’t care about marshmallows? Or what if they’d be just as satisfied with one marshmallow as with two and want to get on with their day? It’s actually pretty unclear what lesson we can take from this about the psychology of children.
I’m reminded of those “experiments” where you walk up to a person in a mall and offer them $100 today or $102 tomorrow. Nearly everyone takes the $100, even though an interest rate of 2% a day is amazing. Wow, people are stupid. Unlike you and I, who are smart.
…But wait, you also have to price in possibilities such as
- The experimenter is a con artist
- You won’t be able to find the guy tomorrow and collect your $102
- You can’t get off work tomorrow
- You’ll get in a car crash tomorrow
- Society will have collapsed by tomorrow
This is the flaw in both the experiment and Marxist-derived economics – not all money is equal. We’re not making an apples-to-apples comparison of $100 vs $102. We’re comparing a solid $100 in your hand right now vs a rubbery, nebulous, sorta-maybe $102 tomorrow that you might never even get. Actual money is vastly more valuable than hypothetical future money, and the person who chooses the $100 is making the correct choice.
“Ignition (Remix”) and a case of amoebic dysentery made me throw up. It’s disgusting, foul, and amoral. The fact that people – even now – are listening to this repellently evil track makes me regret the discovery of ears. I’d rather hear the “ignition” of an Auschwitz death camp oven.
What’s the problem with “Ignition (Remix)” you might ask? Do you even want to go there?
Well, I’m not going to tiptoe around the issue. I’ll give it to you straight. We can’t avoid the elephant in the room.
It’s the lyrics:
So baby gimme that toot toot
Lemme give you that beep beep
Runnin’ her hands through my ‘fro
Bouncin’ on twenny-fo’s
While they sayin’ on the radio
R Kelly says “runnin’ her hands through my fro'”. Impossible. He doesn’t have a ‘fro. He has never had a ‘fro. His hair is styled in cornrow braids.
In the song’s music video he actually strokes his un’fro’d hair as he says the line. Like a true sociopath, R Kelly flaunts his crimes in front of your eyes. The director should have ended the shoot, stolen the raw footage, and started a career as one of those ghosts that kills you seven days after you watch the tape.
“Runnin’ her hands through my ‘fro?” She may as well have been running her hands through R Kelly’s sense of moral decency, because he possesses neither.
The worst part? It’s unnecessary. He could have said “Runnin’ her hands through my rows”. It would have scanned perfectly, and slant-rhymed with “twenny-fo’s” and “radio”. This sort of revolting deception should end careers. After reading R Kelly’s Wikipedia page, it seems he committed shameful acts after this song’s release, too.
Rotten.com was a website that collected pictures of dead people. As old as the internet itself, it survived lawsuits, DDOS attacks, and being featured on the Howard Stern show. In 2017, it finally went offline. The website that harvested death became death. If it was a human body, it would have decayed to bones by now.
Imagine an equivalent website, Botten.com, that collects pictures of dead websites. It wouldn’t be exciting: just screenshots of 404 and ERR_NAME_NOT_RESOLVED messages. Dead people rot; dead websites cease to exist. At least it’s not the other way around: dead people don’t vanish and leave no trace. It’s comforting. No matter how unloved or ignored you were in life, someday it’ll end, and finally someone – if only the county medical examiner – will pay attention to you.
Rotten.com had a FAQ page, and one of the questions was “are they real”?
They, meaning the pictures. As if car crash victims are freakish Bigfoot sightings instead of something that could happen to any of us this afternoon. The webmaster’s reply was stark. “Pictures of this nature aren’t particularly rare; they are merely hidden from the public in most cases.”
Hidden by whom? Traditionally, the media and the government stopped you from seeing upsetting photos. It used to be easy (and common) for a state actor to control and prohibit the release of a photograph and its negatives.
There are photos that we know exist and which we’ll never see. Diana, Princess of Wales, lying like a broken human doll on the asphalt of a Parisian tunnel. Rudolf Hess, post mortem after what was either a suicide or an extrajudicial execution at Spandau Prison. Photos can die, but they can also be imprisoned and serve life sentences.
In 2020, social media is the primary way people view images, and the volume of digital data overwhelms traditional state censorship. 95 million photos are shared on Instagram every minute. Far more than anyone wants to look at. When you scroll a feed, you’re rolling the dice that the next picture won’t be of an amputated penis.
Hiding atrocities now falls to contractors for Facebook and Twitter, typically located in the Philippines or India. These business process outsourcing (BPO) companies provide human content moderation at scale for large companies. They’re the thin brown line separating Facebook from 4chan. Scrolling social media all day might not seem like an especially demanding job, but apparently the job causes psychological problems.
“The despair and darkness of people will get to you”
In his first few weeks on the job, Rahul felt shocked by the graphic videos he encountered of car crashes and child abuse. Eventually, he grew desensitized.
“It gets to a point where you can eat your lunch while watching a video of someone dying. … But at the end of the day, you still have to be human.” Rahul said he didn’t see a therapist — it wouldn’t have been useful to him, he said.
…it was a graphic video of a child being abused that stuck with him. After seeing the video, he began to notice a change in his own behavior that worried him. “I am not a bad person,” he told Rest of World. “But I’d find myself doing little diabolical things, saying things I would regret. Thinking things I didn’t want to.”
This reminds me of a six year old article from Wired, outlining the same problem.
Eight years after the fact, Jake Swearingen can still recall the video that made him quit. He was 24 years old and between jobs in the Bay Area when he got a gig as a moderator for a then-new startup called VideoEgg. Three days in, a video of an apparent beheading came across his queue.
“Oh fuck! I’ve got a beheading!” he blurted out. A slightly older colleague in a black hoodie casually turned around in his chair. “Oh,” he said, “which one?” At that moment Swearingen decided he did not want to become a connoisseur of beheading videos. “I didn’t want to look back and say I became so blasé to watching people have these really horrible things happen to them that I’m ironic or jokey about it,” says Swearingen, now the social media editor at Atlantic Media. (Swearingen was also an intern at WIRED in 2007.)w of humanity.”
Some content moderators end up traumatized by their experiences, and some are now suing the the companies they used to work for. Others (like Swearingen) have the opposite problem: they’re not traumatized. Quite the reverse: looking at horrible things is becoming far too comfortable for them.
Is there a solution?
Some people enjoy seeing this content. Or are stimulated in some way by it. Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not newspaper column documented the bizarre and unfortunate, and became an American institution. Rotten.com got millions of clicks a month in 1997. In recent years, subreddits like /r/watchpeopledie have replaced them. Whether this is normal or not is up for debate: it’s conceivably useful.
Someone on Hackernews had the idea of outsourcing content moderation to /r/watchpeopledie.
It’s kind of brilliant. There’s clear lines of supply (disturbing pictures + people who like looking at them) and demand (content moderation + boredom alleviation) on both sides. People would do this job for free, or for MTurk-level wages.
I can think of only two problems with this idea
1) Everyone has different triggers. Perhaps I enjoy beheading videos, but am upset about animal abuse. A /r/watchpeopledie user can selectively avoid links containing disturbing content, whereas a content moderator has to view everything.
2) Doing something recreationally doesn’t mean you’ll succeed with it as a job. Game development studio Ion Storm hired level designers who had created mods for Doom and Quake, on the theory that the skill would translate to the work environment. Often, it didn’t. Doing something for fun is a radically different vibe, because you have agency and can choose the shape of your task. At work, the task’s shape is imposed on you by management. It’s not the activity that’s fun, it’s the freedom.
Zardip is a robot alien whose body keeps breaking down. He’s come to our planet to learn about diet, nutrition, and exercise, and other things that would be useless for a robot.
The show’s concept shines through like a radioactive skeleton: Mork and Mindy, but educational, and for children. A typical episode features Zardip interacting with his new human friends, misunderstanding something related to health, and being corrected. All the usual cliches make an appearance. Is there a rap song about the importance of health? Yes. Of course. Does air contain air?
The show’s name is its best part: clunky, overlong, grammatically challenged, redundant (is there such a thing as “Unhealthy Wellness”?), plus it features the word “Zardip”. Some TV guides didn’t even print the full title, shortening it to “Zardip’s Search”.
Zardip’s Search For Blah Blah is live action and is mostly shot on the same 2-3 sets. To break things up there’s cutaway scenes featuring 2D animation, claymation, and even a few seconds of CGI (which must have cost a fortune in 1988), giving it the air of a variety show. It provides basic medical information mixed with dubious factoids – it repeats the “43 muscles to frown and only 17 to smile” urban legend, for example. The end credits thank a “Dr Robin Williams”, which I want to believe is a joke.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Canadian broadcasting achieved an international presence that it never would again, particularly among the British Commonwealth. I’m not sure why or how, but at the time studios like Nelvana and Atkinson’s Film Art were easier to watch in Australia than, say, Hanna-Barbera.
Zardip’s Search doesn’t belong in a class with Babar and Heavy Metal. It was briefly syndicated but achieved no lasting fame or notoriety. It’s one of the hundreds of shows that existed, and then abruptly didn’t.
Wikipedia claims that “the show has a cult following among Canadians who attended grade school in the late 1980s and early 1990s”. This cult must have drank zero sugar Kool-aid and died from excessive Healthy Wellness(tm), because I can’t find them online. The IMDB entry for Zardip’s Search has just seventeen ratings (averaging 7.8/10, higher than the last Quentin Tarantino film) and only two reviews. A VHS transfer exists on Youtube with about two thousand views per episode. It likely won’t come to Netflix tomorrow.
By the way, Zardip is played by a striking child actor called Keram Malicki-Sanchez. He turns in a surprisingly powerful performance, reminding me of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. What happened to him? I Googled his name, praying that Zardip’s Search for Healthy Wellness wouldn’t be among the top results. It was. Ouch.
At age nine anything and everything seemed cooler if I knew it had swear words. I lived in awe of the Rapper Who Swears (Eminem), the Videogame That Swears (Grand Theft Auto 3), the Books That Swear (Tom Clancy’s), and particularly the Cartoon That Swears (South Park).
When I finally saw the South Park in adulthood, I was surprised. The Cartoon That Swears turned out to be an intelligent and funny show with a lot to say and a finger extremely close to the pulse. But I never really liked the show’s cultural commentary. It always had a strained quality, with Trey Parker and Matt Stone struggling so hard to be both funny and profound that you could see sweat dripping from the storyboards. I preferred the episodes that took a lighter touch and had the kids just goofing around.
The duo’s 2004 film Team America: World Police has similar strengths and weaknesses. Lots of jokes land, but many others don’t, and there’s a clear reason why.
It’s about Team America, a covert spec-ops force who (in the opening scenes) blows up the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe while attempting to stop a terrorist attack in Paris. One of their members dies in the fiasco, and his replacement is Gary, a Broadway actor. With Kim Jong Il and terrorists from Durkadurkastan threatening to commit “9/11 times 2,356”, they need Gary’s acting skills to infiltrate a terrorist cell.
Straight away, there’s a horrible miscalculation: puppets. Nobody likes puppets, or wants to see puppets. They’re creepy. The nightmare fuel is at relatively low levels during dialog scenes, but whenever a puppet moves or does something the odd stiffness is all you can focus on. It would have been better as CG, or South Park style cutouts, or live action. Anything except puppets.
But TA:WP‘s big problem is that the geopolitical satire elements just don’t work. Who are we laughing at? And at whose expense? There’s a saying that comedy should punch up, not down (in other words, make jokes about deserving targets). I don’t agree: often it’s unclear who the “deserving” target is in a given joke and reducing comedy to a form of cultural warfare is gauche, to say the least. But Team America doesn’t punch up or down. It punches the air. And itself.
An example: the first scene involves Team America destroying half of Paris. “Okay,” I thought, “it’s mocking gung-ho American aggression.” But soon things get muddled: the terrorists actually pose a credible threat to global stability, and Team America’s methods are both necessary and successful in fighting them. The film basically chops away its own knees: creating straw men and then valorizing them.
And (as Roger Ebert mentioned at the time) it’s striking that the White House is spared as a target. Team America operates on their own, without supervision (it’s mentioned that it’s sponsored by corporations, a shot at Halliburton that goes nowhere). The implication seems to be that if a military operation ends in disaster or tragedy, it’s the fault of a few loose cannons on the ground. Nobody higher up should be blamed or held to account. Is that what they’re saying? I don’t know. What are they saying?
To be clear, I don’t care that the film is apolitical, nor do I want it to be full of Bush jokes (nothing was more hack in 2004) But when you make a movie about a complex geopolitical situation, you should have more to say than “everyone is a retarded fag, plus the military is cool”. It’s a rough bit to laugh at.
But I insulteth the film too much. A lot of it is really funny. There’s one gag that’s as hilarious as anything I’ve seen recently, and it has nothing to do with politics. As Gary gets briefed at the top-secret Team America base, he’s told that if he’s taken prisoner he’ll want to end his own life, using a special tool. You’re expecting a high-tech gadget…but Spottswood hands him a hammer. A fucking claw hammer.
There’s plenty of jabs taken at the messiah complex of certain pretentious actors. The funniest Simpsons episodes are the ones that riff off the cartooning industry, and Parker & Stone are likewise in their element when writing about showbiz. They’ve never been afraid to shit where they eat. They famously attended the 2000 Oscars dressed in drag and high on LSD, which might explain why they don’t generally get invited to nice occasions like that.
Even the Thunderbirds-esque puppets sorta work sometimes, as a source of ironic cringe comedy (think Tim and Eric). There’s a moment where Gary is riding a motorbike, collides with the camera, and awkwardly flips over. It’s so jarring and dumb that it gets a laugh. I’m pretty sure that this was an actual accident left in the film.
This is the sort of film where you find enjoyment in the decoration – the occasional bit of inspired craft or filmmaking, the funny one-liners, the songs – rather than the substance. TA:WP is like scaffolding that stays up while the building at the center collapses. The satirical core of the film – which should have been its strong element – ends up just being a gaping black hole.
This record from 1969 contains half an hour of beach noises. “This is a joke” would be a reasonable first impression. So would “this was both created and should be experienced under the influence of drugs”. But after a few minutes, the repetitive pounding conjures images: waves curving and breaking like glass, droplets descending in curtains of diamonds, the beach drinking, the sea regenerating. The ocean is an eternal breathing lung, and this exact noise has happened over and over for as long as liquid water has existed on the planet. Thirty minutes contains four point four billion years. It’s a little awesome.
Listen long enough, and you start hallucinating. Your Broca and Wernicke’s areas start mistaking the crashing waves for vowels and consonents, as if the sea is speaking as well as breathing. At one point, a low, droning hum (a foghorn?) emerges through the sound of waves. It almost seems to drill through them, like an ice augur. The foghorn tells a wordless story of man appearing and gaining ascendance over nature: but then the foghorn vanishes, and the waves remain.
Environments 1 was the work of a fascinating person from the 60s counterculture: Irving Solomon Teibel. He seems to have been somewhere between a musician, an inventor, and a con artist.
To rip the band-aid off, Environments is not what it appears. This is not the sound of nature. It’s the sound of a computer. It’s not a natural beach. It’s eight minutes of tape hacked up with a razorblade, reassembled in certain patterns, and supplemented with synthetic waves of white noise. It contains an “ocean” to the extent that an Ashlee Simpson album contains “singing.” That it sounds like the real thing is largely because your brain was primed to expect it, and never questions that assumption.
One of Teibel’s interests was psychoacoustics: the impact of audio on humans. Countless people have to put on a fan to help them sleep. Others need to turn a fan off. Stephen King writes to loud rock music. I can’t write to a radio half a block away. The potential for audio to be used as a tool of relaxation or healing was a topic of interest in the late 60s, and in that spirit, Teibel decided to record the ocean.
Using a Uher portable stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder, he recorded tapes of beaches all across the eastern seaboard of the United States of America, seeking the noises he heard in his head. All his attempts failed. For whatever reason, real-life beaches didn’t sound right. The missing link was neuropsychologist called Louis Gerstman, who had access to an IBM 360 at a time when mainframe computers cost around two million dollars. He and Teibel laboriously altered the tapes until they had arrived at a “right” sounding ocean that was, in fact, heavily artificial.
With this knowledge in mind, it’s easy to see where Teibel’s ocean was change, and why. The “sentence-like” quality of the waves is deliberate: the creator wanted to evoke a language. The way they stay at precisely the same volume throughout is another choice. By the way, I’ve heard rumors that the droning noises aren’t foghorns, but Irv Teibel’s mouth.
“Listen to a computerized beach for an hour” was a rough sell, so Teibel worked over his product with consummate salesmanship. It was sold as a restfulness enhancer, and the cover plastered with exhuberant user reviews (“HAVEN’T FELT SO GOOD SINCE MY VACATION”; “cured my insomnia!”; “BETTER THAN A TRANQUILIZER,”; “fantastic for making love!”) that were almost certainly written by Teibel himself. It worked. The record was picked up for distribution by Atlantic, and was soon selling thousands of copies. He presaged Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports by a full nine years, but he isn’t remembered as a pioneer of ambient music. Teibel had a similar problem to Delia Derbyshire (who created the electronic Dr Who theme) – you don’t want to invent something too early, or you won’t be part of the seminal “scene” and everyone will forget to credit your innovations.
Psychologically Ultimate Seashore was side A of Environments. The reverse contains Optimum Aviary, which is just a curio. I don’t like the sound of birds, nor the shrill and irritating recording.
And apparently the seashore still wasn’t psychologically optimum enough, because the CD re-release of the 1969 vinyl contains several more changes. It’s doubled in length by (you can hear a clumsy cut where this happens), and has been equalized to take advantage of the flat response digital audio offers. A weird little joke (Teibel recording himself saying “skoosh!” or something) is excised. The CD release is best viewed as a remix. Many more Environments were released after this, but the first is the most famous.
Teibel described his work as “more real than real,” which raises the question: is that a contradiction of terms? Can something be realer than real? If reality isn’t to our liking, can we improve it, or does that mean it’s no longer reality?
As a child, I found a pebble at a beach that was nearly a perfect cube, as if cut with a chisel. It was a naturally-occurring rock, but it didn’t look “real” to my eye. I could have changed its shape, smashing off its corners so that it resembled other pebbles…but would this have brought it closer to nature, or farther away?
Another Teibel LP (perhaps his second most famous, after Environments) is The Altered Nixon Speech. It contains Richard Nixon’s August 15, 1973 speech, creatively edited so that he’s confessing to the Watergate break-ins. “My effort throughout has been burglary and bugging of party headquarters, obstructing justice, harassing individuals, and compromising those agencies of government that should be above politics.”
The recording was made in a spirit of fun – Teibel wasn’t trying to hoax anyone – but it’s an interesting “reality improvement”, from Teibel’s perspective. As a NYC-dwelling hippie of Jewish descent, he probably viewed Nixon as a crook. He probably also saw his altered Nixon speech as closer to the truth than the one Nixon actually gave.
Computers are cheaper than they were in 1969, and although Teibel was one of the first digital tinkerers with the truth, he wasn’t the last. Farms of online trolls are forging videos to sway elections. Thousands of rappers are time-aligning and pitch-correcting their voices for Soundcloud tracks. Millions of young women use Facetune to transform their bodies for Instagram likes. In the accelerated evolution of digital media, it’s easy for a new reality to supplant an old one. Not everyone shares Teibel’s essentially prosocial outlook, or his sense of fun. Can we gild the lily? Should we?
Maybe the waves really are speaking. “We are not the sea.“
On Oct 15, 2019, a video was uploaded to Youtube. It did not set the internet on fire, because most of the internet is actually deep-sea cables that are underwater, but it did provoke discussion.
Riot Games, creators of League of Legends, was working on an FPS game. It was called Project A.
The video was stuffed with technical buzzwords (“server tickrate,” “peeker’s advantage”), and although the gameplay footage didn’t dazzle, the comp-gaming focus gained the attention of the coveted “20 gallon piss bottle” demographic. Could this finally be it? That mythical game with priorities beyond selling $20 character skins to Little Timmy No-Thumbs? A game that actually caters to hardcore, competitive players?
Project A was soon basking in (totally undeserved) kudos as the savior of the industry. Apparently claiming you’ve solved peeker’s advantage (the unintended consequence of internet lag that causes players making a move to have an advantage over defenders) is tantamount to actually solving peeker’s advantage, and numerous pro gamers publicly announced that they’d switch to a game they hadn’t played a single second of. References to the game became common in Twitch and Twitter profiles.
The feeling was that with the massive development firepower Riot Games possesses, Project A simply couldn’t fail.
Now the game is 1) released and 2) called Valorant. My feelings are mixed.
The game makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it’s a CS:GO clone. It’s five versus five – a team of attackers against a team of defenders. You buy guns with money you earn from killing people. A highly sophisticated user-interface streamlines the in-game economy, so that “rich” player can easily buy and drop gear for a poor teammate.
Valorant is class-based and character-driven, as is the trend these days. Sova wallhacks, and Viper does area denial. This isn’t as big a change from CS:GO as it might appear – although some characters (like Jett, who is highly mobile; or Raze, who brings some old-school Quake 3 nade jumping back into the mix) flip the gameplay in a new direction, for the most part it’s just a different way of having smokes, molotovs, and so on.
The gunplay works the way CS:GO‘s did, except more so. Moving is good. Shooting is good. Shooting while moving is bad. To hit shots in this game you have to be a turret, as any movement causes shots to wildly flick out ten feet from your crosshairs. Winning gunbattles in this game is less about where you’re shooting than where you’re shooting from: everyone’s jockeying for stable, defensible angles that provide maximal sightlines and minimal exposure. Valorant specialises in tense, white-knuckle moments where both you and the enemy are about to roll the dice and peek around a corner.
Unfortunately, “roll the dice” is indeed the operate phrase, as fights in Valorant have a heavy random element due to inconsistent recoil patterns. This screenshot (taken by Diegosaurs) reveals what you’re up against:
Look at how different the bursts are, and remember that this is a game where you two-tap people with virtually any weapon. Getting the first recoil pattern versus the third could mean the difference between life or death. FPS games should be “git gud, noob”. They should never be “git lucky, noob”. This is a huge issue. I couldn’t find a way to make my tapfires more reliable, no matter how much I tried.
Issues with recoil aside, the game also gets a lot of stuff right. Movement and “gunfeel” is excellent. I liked how you can move around while in the buy menu. CS:GO has a kind of stop-start rhythm. Action. Then downtime. Then action. Then downtime. Valorant’s gameplay feels more of a piece.
The weapons are also great: ranging from pistols to massive, Schwarzenegger-worthy LMGs for big spenders. Wall-penetration is a factor: sometimes it’s smart to forget about angles and just turn a wall into swiss cheese, and the game’s visuals are clear enough to know when you can do that.
Graphically, the game left me cold. As mentioned before it looks similar to Team Fortress 2, right down to its use of Gooch Shading (where models are shaded along a hot-colour/cold-colour axis instead of light-to-dark). Visually, this results in a game that’s colourful but cheap-looking. Arms wave like slabs of putrescent plastic.
…But perhaps in a competitive FPS you really want flat. Valorant is made for players who dial all their graphics settings to low anyway to squeeze out an extra 3 frames per second. Its playerbase would probably be satisfied if all the models were placeholder rigs from Blender, just so long as the hitboxes were balanced. But if your selling point over CS:GO is style, Valorant needs more of it. Everything unrelated to gameplay is stunted and abstracted away. Here’s what trees look like in a triple-A game released in 2020, by the way.
As with much of Valorant’s design, it doesn’t make mistakes, it makes choices. Choices that will alienate many players, as they have me.
I sort of enjoy a focus on content, rather than an abstract skeleton of a game that will hopefully have flesh later. The character-based element draws comparisons to Overwatch, Apex Legends, and League of Legends. Valorant is worse in that area than any of those: the content side of the game is so bland and threadbare that I wonder if F2P was the right business model. The game hopes to support itself with cosmetics…for characters who look bland and who you don’t care about.
Whatever, though. The game’s boosters are probably correct. Valorant is the new paradigm and there is not a chance it will fail. I probably won’t play it again.
Let’s read a book together: Faucault’s histoire de la folie à l’âge classique:
“A book is produced. […] its doubles begin to swarm. Around it and far from it; each reading gives it an impalpable and unique body for an instant; fragments of itself are circulating and are made to stand in for it, are taken to almost entirely contain it, and sometimes serve as a refuge for it; it is doubled with commentaries, those other discourses in which it should finally appear as it is, confessing what it had refused to say, freeing itself from what it had so loudly pretended to be.
(Foucault, cited in Eribon 1991: 124)
…But we aren’t reading “a” book. We’re not reading the same thing and participating in a shared experience. We’re reading two different things: even though the above text might have all the same letters and words.
The thing is, they’re not being read by the same person.
Byron wrote Don Juan in 1819. It had a complicated publication history. Due to concerns over blasphemy and libel the book was released in two editions – a very expensive bound edition without an author’s name, and a very cheap bootleg that was distributed among anarchists.
From an evolutionary perspective this is r/K selection. An author wants his work to survive. They can do this by a) making their work so valuable and precious that it can’t be thrown away b) making it so cheap that it CAN be thrown away (and ends up becoming landfill, outlasting civilisation). Byron seems to have tried both strategies at once.
Were both editions the same book? I’d argue they’re not: the first edition was read by the upper class, and the second by anarchists. The first would have been read in a spirit of transgression: you were doing something naughty and beneath your station. A rich person reading Don Juan is like a rich person picking their nose at the dinner table. An anarchist would have read Don Juan as brutal, well-deserved skewering of Romantic literary conceits: one spark dancing in the all-consuming fire immanentizing the eschaton et cetera next paragraph
I sometimes wonder if there’s any point in writing anything. Any idea more complicated than “I exist” is going to be get misinterpreted by someone, somewhere. Readers are like distorted mirrors: light pours into them and is reflected, corrupted. Although from their perspective, it’s being reflected correctly. No other interpretation is valid except the reader’s. Don Juan is an anarchist anthem. Or it’s a toy for the enemies of the anarchists. It’s somehow both, and neither. It’s intended meaning was probably something else entirely.
Books tend to be used for propaganda. In the antebellum south, slave owners frequently justified using verses from the Bible. But freed slaves also relied on scripture, particularly the slave-freeing narrative of Exodus. “The Bible says” is often a less honest version of “I say”.
But a more fundamental issue is that words are a representation of a message, but not a complete representation. Sentences lack the context present in the author’s mind. The reader has to supply their own context, and they usually attribute the one they personally prefer.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
- She said she did not take his money.
This is the infamous “eight sentences in one”, where the meaning shifts depending on which word carries the emphasis. Additional permutations can be generated by emphasising multiple words (eg, She said she did not take his money.) None are correct. There’s additional pieces of context (who’s “she”?) that would further modify how the sentence is read.
This suggest that it’s a waste of time to hone and shape your writing. The point is to find the right audience, a group of people who are already attuned to your intended meaning. Early screenings of This is Spinal Tap were reportedly filled with squares who didn’t get the joke, and who thought that Spinal Tap was a real band. Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest clearly thought that the audience would be full of smart people like them, the idiots. The space of the human mind is pretty broad, and it can be hard to accept that you don’t occupy a prestiged position within it.
Have you ever wondered why Nigerian scam emails are always so…obvious? Why don’t they vary their pitch a little – by claiming to be from Senegal, say? This is actually intentional: they’re supposed to be obvious, because they only want gullible people to respond to their emails. Sending out millions of spam emails is the easy part: the hard part is finessing the repliers. You don’t want to spend three weeks talking to a person, only for them to decide you’re ripping them off. If you’re smart enough to notice that all scam emails are from the same country, you’re smart enough to not give a credit card number to a stranger. The scammers have found a way to filter their readers so that only the very, very stupid respond.
I think a true writer would use a similar technique. Somewhere out there is a person who thinks my unintelligible drooling makes sense. The challenge for me is to find that person. If it’s you: hello. Please never leave. You’re all I have.
It might be easier to create a perfect reader than a perfect book. I imagine a sociopath writer by crippling the brains of his reader so that they’re exactly that. It’s lucky that writers seldom become totalitarian dictators. Don’t think that Will Self’s new book is excellent? With the right cocktail of drugs you will. With the right frontal lobe excised, you will. You need the correct motivation. It will be fun.
An 18th century German composer who wrote the theme for a king, with a principle melody that ascends yet remains trapped in tonal space. A 19th century Dutch artist who created maddening and hallucinatory artwork, defying intuition about perspective and reality. A 20th century German mathematician who described the limitations of a formal system addressing itself.
According to this book, Godel, Escher, and Bach were three blind men touching the same elephant: the Strange Loop.
“The “Strange Loop” phenomenon occurs whenever, by moving upwards (or downwards) through levels of some hierarchial system, we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started.”
You get on an elevator on floor 1, go up nine floors, emerge on floor 10, and then take the stairs back down. This is a loop. But imagine taking the elevator from floor 1 to floor 10, and the door slides open to reveal…floor 1. This is a strange loop.
“But things like that don’t exist.” They might not in architecture, but they do in the things that give rise to architecture: math, language, and human consciousness. Statements like “this sentence is a lie” and “I am nobody” are linguistic paradoxes. They’re like MC Escher’s Drawing Hands: destroying and recreating themselves over and over. Idioms like “pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps” are loopy. “This is not a pipe” is loopy. Barbershop poles are loopy.
One of the eye-opening parts of this book is how you start noticing strange loops all around you. The website you’re reading is powered by PHP, which stands for “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor”. This isn’t a mistake: the language’s name is an acronym containing its own acronym inside it! Like spiders, strange loops always exist closer to your body than you think.
But there’s more to strange loops than weird art and logic puzzles. Hofstadter seems to be poking towards a theory of consciousness itself.
In 1996, David Chalmers explicated the two main problems of consciousness. 1) How does a collection of atoms develop a consciousness (meaning a subjective experience, an internal monologue, or whatever). 2) Why does this happen? Why don’t we experience the world the way a robot might?
Hofstadter’s sense (never forcefully argued) is that strange loops are responsible for the consciousness we experience. Just as the three letters “PHP” contains an infinite number of “PHPs” inside them, our three-pound brains are able to “unfold” into something more than the sum of its parts, via iterations of very complicated loops. This doesn’t address the second of Chalmers’ questions, although in a later book Hofstadter compares the soul to a “swarm of colored butterflies fluttering in an orchard” – something attracted by the fruit, but not a part of the fruit. The loops don’t require conscious experience, the conscious experience emerges as a kind of froth when all of these loops combine.
This implies that an algorithm would be capable of introspecting about its own existence. A string of math on a very large blackboard would perceive the color red, and feel pain. It’s a provocative idea, but don’t expect to find this formulated with a QED at the end. As the constant artistic motifs suggest, GEB isn’t a hard science book. This is probably why people actually read it.
GEB is filled with illustrations, games, puzzles, and – most notoriously – dialogues inspired by Lewis Carroll. Some of these are astonishingly creative. The passage about the crab canon made me stop reading, because I wanted to take a moment to enjoy the thing I’d just put into my brain. It was mind expanding. Nearly mind-exploding.
Although GEB contains a primer on the basics of computer language, intellectual rigor isn’t the book’s goal. One of Hofstadter’s many interests is Zen Buddhism, which is our culture’s most potent form of anti-logic and as such is of great interest to the student of the strange loop.
When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time. At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free! In commemoration, she wrote a poem:
In this way and that I tried to save the old pail / Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break / Until at last the bottom fell out. / No more water in the pail! / No more moon in the water!
Zen never makes lessons easy for the student: you’re the one who has to do the work, and become cosmic. But GEB makes the road far more fun than it has to be. What stands out about Hofstadter’s prose is how readable it is. Hofstadter isn’t a wordsmith, he’s a word alchemist, making dull things sparkle. The prelude to my edition contains a digression in the difficulties he had typesetting the book, which sounds as gripping as Hannibal crossing the Alps. (There’s also a somewhat cringeworthy part self-flagellating about the how the original printing of the book uses the default male voice.)
So is “loopiness” the way a collection of atoms can collectively seem to think, reason, and experience? The book leaves me unsure, as I think it was meant to. It’s the world’s longest Zen koan, fragments of information that never coalesce into a hard idea, but seem to get me closer to enlightmentment than I was before.
Important aside: Godel, Escher, and Bach are three wise men (initials GEB), also the three wise men of the Nativity tale are Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar (initials GMB), also M is E rotated 90 degrees, also they brought gift of gold, frankencense, and myrrh (initials GFM), also F is the letter after E in the Roman alphabet, also “Godel” is nearly an anagram of “gold”, also I lied when I said this part was important.
Bowie had a stock response to chameleon comparisons: “a chameleon’s trying to make you ignore him…that’s not my ambition!” Nor was it Adam Ant’s, who came from a similar art school background and cycled through an even more outlandish cast of characters: Indian brave, highwayman, cossack: visuals that sold (and were sold by in turn) some of the most exciting songs of the early 80s.
The first Adam and the Ants record is jittery, cold, and fraught, like ice cubes rattling in a glass. The second is a much easier listen, featuring powerful African-influenced drumming and really catchy songs. This is the third, which, as the title would suggest, is extremely charming and easy to like. It thus overcomes big problems, such as nearly every song on side B sucking.
It’s made of similar stuff to Dog Eat Dog, meaning sharp layers of vocals and guitars interspersed with empty air. There isn’t the omnipresent Burundi drumming of Dog, but the busy tom fills achieve much the same effect. “Scorpios” is a nice, sprawling song with horns and many-tracked vocals that seems to stretch itself out on the airwaves. “Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios” is even better, featuring lacerating funk-inspired guitar. “Stand and Deliver” is an amazing classic that summarises Adam Ant’s career, like a leaf that looks exactly like the tree it came from. Energetic danceable post-punk decked in brilliant visuals that saturate the music beneath it.
Quality control issues become evident as Prince Charming progresses. “Mile High Club”: dogshit. “Mowhok”: dogshit. “Ant Rap”: dogshit inexplicably released as a single. This is another trend of Ant: about half the songs absolutely do not work, despite containing similar ingredients as the ones that do. At least the bad songs mostly run together this time, so skip button jockeying isn’t necessary.
Ant broke through in the gulf between two eras, like a surfer trading one wave for another. The Ants were originally signed (according to Adam) because Decca Records wanted “in” on the then-waning punk rock trend, and grabbed the nearest band to hand. Then they blew up in the MTV music video era, when listeners started using their eyes as well as their ears and it began to pay to not be an absolutely hideous fucking goblin.
You know what they say about Elvis: 90% of what he did was worthless, and the last 10% made him king. Adam Ant was inconsistent, but when he was good, he was very good. You might say he burglarised the king.