Tag Archives: meta

LFG HMs, or, how a product is designed specifically to make sure you keep using it forever and are physically incapable of stopping

Alright! It’s been something like two weeks (probably more) since my last post.

The main reason is that I started working again. That part’s fine, although writing never got off the ground until I was unemployed. Due to a serious common sense deficiency I also started back at uni at the same time.

I’m studying Writing, Editing and Publishing for a Master of Arts, and because it’s coursework and (I assume) designed to fit around professionals with careers, all the contact time is after 5. So, I thought, I can do both! I really can have it all.

We’ll see how it goes. Long days, and although this is something I really love studying, I also have no willpower, and a bigger problem: Star Wars.

I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic a while back, near when it was first launched (six weeks ago? seven) and it basically ate my life. WoW was a big problem a while back, but I’ve been happily clean for years now. Until SW:TOR came along and extended its sinuous tentacles straight into my nucleus accumbens.

For those of you with either a serious head injury or a social life, both WoW and SW:TOR are MMOs. These are basically shining machines which give you tiny incremental rewards, forever. Also, you can play them with your friends. You character has statistics and equipment. As these improve, more areas and missions are open to you, which in turn allow you to improve your stats and equipment further. It literally never ends.

Oh yeah! And I’m paying for it. That part’s easy enough to forget, though, so we’ll leave that there.

So, this is all pretty well known – an infinite quantity of tiny activities, each of which gives you a new hat or +3 Cunning, and the associated little burst of pleasure.

The problem with this (for me anyway) is that playing SW:TOR becomes my baseline activity. Because there’s that constant flow of reward, it’s easy to justify the massive quantity of time spent. From the outside, it’s like, yeah I just spent four hours doing missions to get a new set of armoured pants. On the inside though, there’s that unceasing parade of little rewards – money, new materials to use in crafting, quest rewards, etc etc – which is basically just like the Skinner box rats. With electrodes inserted into their prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain associated with pleasure and reward) and given food, water, and a switch attached to those electrodes, what do rats do? They press the button without stopping, ignoring everything else, eventually dying of starvation and exhaustion.

Luckily we humans have an ability to reason which is a little more advanced that that of our friend the rat. When we become hungry after eleven hours of grinding PvP warzones, we get up and eat a bag of pretzels.

Oh, right. A baseline activity. Because nothing provides such consistent reward for so little effort, playing an MMO becomes your brain’s best option. Especially at the end of a long day at work/university, when your willpower is low already. I’m glad to say that many (most?) players don’t become attuned this way. I hope. But I’m definitely one of them.

And that’s why I haven’t written anything for two weeks.

I don’t even like Star Wars that much.

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Filling bars, or, how a system of meaningless points modifies my behaviour almost constantly

As always, Penny Arcade communicates my own actions and feelings more succinctly and hilariously (yes, that is a word, thank you) than I ever could.

It started, years back, with XBox Achievements. Basic concept: complete a goal in your game, and be rewarded with an Achievement. That little ‘plink’ and the name and value – value – of your achievement pops up for all to see.

Yes, value, because of course each achievement is worth a certain number of Gamerpoints, with more challenging achievements being worth more.

You can’t opt out, and almost every game has achievements for finishing a level or whatever, so you can’t help but get them. And then you start thinking. “oh! There is an achievement for killing 20 villagers. There’s another for killing 25000 zombies! I can do that.”

And then, you are lost.

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On eating animals

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about eating meat.

I like meat; I eat it almost every day, and have for almost all of my life.

I know a few vegetarians, and lately I’ve been talking a lot to someone who recently went full vegan. She has provided me with a number of arguments in favour of an animal-free lifestyle. It’s something I have avoided considering too closely in the past because, well, I like meat. And eggs, cheese, milk, honey…

This is also difficult to write about without coming across as defensive at best, and small-minded and contrary at worst. One of the biggest arguments I’ve seen against eating meat recently is that it’s bad for you and bad for animals, but the business behind it is huge – and proportional amounts of money and effort are spent on making sure that people prefer it. I can understand that, too – it’s the same for a lot of products, and it does work (cigarettes, alcohol, diamonds…). Most arguments I’ve heard recently are in the ethical, animal-cruelty vein, so that’s mostly what I’ve considered. If you don’t eat meat because you don’t like it, that’s cool!

Here is why I eat meat:

  • I feel that, up to a point, there’s an inevitability to large-scale farming ventures. Not to deny the cruelty of many factory farms, but I think that with a little effort you can eat meat which didn’t come from animals which were cruelly treated. Completely aside from the fact that meat from ill-treated animals tastes worse, free-range chicken and eggs are available everywhere, and I’m happy to pay the higher price. Here’s ecoeggs’ Chook Cam where you can take a look at the hens.

 

  • It’s good for you. Probably not with things like cheeseburgers and triple-caramelised pork belly, but meat is a good source of nutrition. Again, not to say that other foods aren’t, but it can’t be denied that regardless of its origin, meat does have nutritional value. Except maybe the plastic deli ham and McDonald’s ground beef-related food items. Moderation, as with most things, is the key: trimmed steak, lean chicken, fish… not cooking everything in oil and serving it with fried starch objects helps too. I’m the first to admit that my diet is not as healthy as it could – should – be, but meat isn’t inherently unhealthy.

 

  • Here’s a controversial one: I don’t have any ethical problems with the way food animals are farmed – in most cases. I am against battery chicken farms, but I’m happy to eat a free range/cage free chicken. I don’t find the slaughter of food animals, when done as intended, to be particularly cruel. However, I know that it doesn’t always go that way, and I am in favour of increasing protection against mistakes and poor practices which do result in unnecessary pain. I suppose as a previous owner of chickens, I feel more strongly about battery farming than about cattle farming, for example. I do know from experience that a chicken is happy if it has food and water, somewhere to scratch, and dust to bath in. They are simple animals with simple needs. Those who know me personally are already aware of my attitude towards chickens (ie that everyone who has the space should own at least a couple), and really, if everyone had a couple of chooks in the backyard, the battery industry would die out and the world would be a happier, more chicken-filled place. Which is a plus for everyone.
  • Building off the inevitability thing I mentioned earlier – it seems like such a cop-out, but there you have it – I think that humans are, in an evolutionary sense, omnivorous. Like a lion has claws and fangs, and cows have grinding teeth and four stomachs, humans have big brains, opposable thumbs, and tools. We shape our food chain to fit our numbers, tastes, available resources. We’re animals, just like the lions and the cows, but our personal attributes allow us to modify our habitat (ie, the entire planet) for our purposes. To kill the ramble: it’s natural progression. It’s not pretty, and we can do better, and we will do better.

Alright, this is a huge minefield, and like I said, it’s so hard to write about without coming across as defensive, or even of attacking a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. I understand almost all the reasons I’ve been presented by it, and I suppose this post is really just me finally outlining (for myself more than anything) why I eat meat and why I’m okay with it. Turns out that I recognise the bad stuff while still standing by the good – there’s progress to be made, and I’m all for helping to make it, but I just can’t see veganism as anything other than a lifestyle choice.

One thing I am genuinely excited about on this topic is in vitro meat. Currently it’s not feasible for mass production (according to that wiki article, it costs around one million US dollars to produce 250g of meat), but technology is always on the march. Ideally – that is, ignoring the issues with genetic modification, growth hormones, etc – the cheap mass-production of nature-identical animal muscle tissue would solve a lot of problems. And be kinda cool.

Anyway. Comment! This is a tough one and I’d like to know what other people think.

 

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a letter to the bad times, or, an unsolicited view into my psyche

 

In these times it always seems that the best thing to do is just lie down (perhaps stay in bed; or maybe just on the ground, wherever one happens to be at the time).

 

Of course for a modern man or woman this course of action is generally indefensible (bills, rent, a powerful need to eat sometime in each month all submit a draining action on the funds of the individual. These needs more or less necessitate some kind of job – the nature of which is a more or less direct anathema to lying quietly in the corner)

 

At these times one is (generally) aware of what is happening. However, the very nature of the beast makes resistance very difficult. Often, self-talk will become viciously negative and self-deprecating. One may feel that in this state – moving through the world though s/he may be – one’s presence is unnecessary, or bringing everyone down, or outright causing irritation or even anger. And this may, in fact, be true! But the point here is that it is difficult or even impossible to tell accurately. Loving and supporting friends and family – those who would most like to help, who would be the most coveted people under normal circumstance – may be pushed away. The individual may feel that their situation is hopeless, or perhaps the condition may manifest a near-universal sense of irritation.

 

So afflicted, the individual may snap at folk (well-meaning or not) or become silent, surly, avoidant, or even aggressive. Often these outbursts immediately bring on a sense of regret, shame, guilt; which, in turn, feeds into the feeling that the sufferer is selfishly ‘inflicting’ themselves upon others.

 

This cruel spiral can continue unabated quite effectively. Feeling low, flat, bad- this makes one feel like they should stay away from others (so as not to be a downer, or simply because one prefers to be alone). Doing so, however, makes one feel lonely or forgotten. Not doing so causes the above guilt. Truly this is the essence of depression – often (without outside intervention) it is simply a no-win situation.

 

Frequently the episode can be made worse by the shame and guilt at failing to ‘just get over it’. While sometimes it is definitely possible to buck up and carry on, this isn’t often the case. It isn’t due to a lack of willpower or support but simply due to the self-defeating nature of the thought processes involved.

 

In essence depression is an insidious illness, by nature rapidly eroding the very techniques one would normally use to defeat a bad mood (self-confidence, conviction, cheerfulness, sense of purpose). An episode can quickly get out of control. It can be very frustrating for friends, family and loved ones as they feel powerless to help – or are treated as an annoyance – or the individual may be trying so hard to ‘be normal’ that the concern and support is ignored. Even the knowledge that this is all occurring creates a feedback loop of negative thoughts and affect.

 

It is beyond the scope of this publication to present specific treatment. All the author can offer is his own meandering experience – but the importance of speaking to someone, should you feel anything like as described above, cannot be overstated. Do some research, if you can. Tell yourself (constantly) that it’s not something normal, to get over, but an illness which can be treated. Literature agrees that the best combination is often medication and therapy. Try to remember that you are not a total piece of shit and that someone cares about you (no matter how much our brain tries to tell you that it’s not true).

 

Take the little victories; celebrate every success, no matter how trivial. Tell yourself over and over, that you can get through it. You’ll feel like you’re lying, but keep it up. Human minds are fundamentally pretty dumb. They believe what they’re told (even if it’s them doing the telling). Resist the urge to be depressed by how easily influenced your thinkin’-organ can be.

 

I know that if you, dear reader, are feeling this way right now, there is a slim to zero chance that any of this will help at all. All I can say is: you are not the problem. Your stupid, treacherous brain is the problem. It has an illness – an illness for which treatments do exist, with what can be almost miraculous results.

 

Finally, remember, no matter what, no matter who: you are never, ever, alone.


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Books, or, how to justify constant capitalistic acquisition of organised words, or, the mechanism of transfer between the physical world and the psyche

I like books.

Reading is great! Some of the fondest memories of my childhood is reading and being read to. Roald Dahl, Emily Rodda, even Tolkien.

A few years ago I gave back all the books I’d gradually acquired from my parents, stuff I’d read and then just sort of… kept. It left my shelves sadly bare, and this, combined with my increasingly disposable income, led me to start buying books again.

I like bookshops.

There’s one here in Brisbane, narrow aisles between teetering shelves, yellowing hand-written labels, ancient creaking floorboards. It looks and feels and smells incredible, and I love it. But lately some of my favourite books to buy and hold and read are the orange Penguin classics – ten dollars, unadorned, and yet oddly lovely to have.

I like books.

In the end I’m not particularly well-read. The classics are mostly a mystery – though I do try. I have a huge pile of Discworld and print editions of webcomics and Calvin and Hobbes and some trashy bestselling paperbacks. Add some half-understood (and likely underappreciated) poetry and a few staples and that’s the bookcase.

Even now, with my Kindle collection growing, I’ll never stop buying books (or reading them. Eventually. I’d hate to make a pile of those I’ve bought and never read, especially after the Lifeline Bookfest 2011 – it’d reach the ceiling). Because I love the feel of them, holding them in my hand. It’s not an original concept, but that’s okay too. Holding a perfect rectangluar prism in my hand, feeling the flex of paper and embossed covers and smelling the powder of old pages or the fresh-printed tang of new – that’s where it’s at.

Having a simple shape which contains all the arcs and sparks of a story, the heady blaze of poetry, the steady hum of non-fiction – the way things work. Holding that in your hand and knowing it contains all of these things is a wonderful feeling and I’ll never get sick of it.

An e-reader is exactly the same thing, I suppose – even more so, with the huge collections you can store on that one little pad – but it’s just not the same. Probably vanity or – gasp! – hipsterism? but having a huge collection of books, crowded shelves – I love that too.

(Originally posted on Win Condition)

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