Double Negation

You cannot but contradict you

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Play and Poetry

I don’t get poetry. Never did. Maybe it’s the rhyme schemes, the lack of rhyme schemes or the strong tendency towards Important Dead People. Whatever it is, I can’t sit down and enjoy poetry.

Could be for the same reason I take a lot of coaxing before I respect modern art (despite having absolutely no real respect for classicism), because I can’t quite shake the feeling there’s a Trick. There’s a tension between the Staged and the Spontaneous that I get queasy trying to deconstruct, much like my problems appreciating photography.

I can’t tell what I’m looking at. All I know is, someone brought a camera, or someone brought a notepad. The weight of all the collateral context troubles further interpretation. I can’t separate contrivance from coincidence, ironic for a number of reasons.

Habituated emotional responses aside, poetry should really be my bag. Evocative, expressive, spontaneous, playful language, meaning (if present) hidden under a chaotic surface. Yes, even rhyme schemes are per se chaotic, since they rely on mutable properties such as enunciation. I mean, read hiphop lyrics.

Provisionally, the pleasures of poetry:

  • Association
  • Juxtaposition
  • Deconstruction
  • Intertextuality

Not terribly exhaustive, but I think these points lead thoughts in the relevant directions. Away from the poem as piece of art/shit, and towards the reading of poetry as-it-is, rather than as-it-is-known.

My self-serving pattern-matcher has dutifully served up a list of words that can also describe, provisionally, the pleasures of play. Let’s have a look at that.

The player associates signs in the representation to indexical meaning from experience, according values. This provides the essential scaffolding for unfurling the relationship between the signs.

Are signs abstract or conventionally illegible, juxtaposition will serve, the dissimilarity of the signs providing scaffolding for eventual decoding. Where that fails, deconstruction takes over: Intent is inferred, a fledgling empathy forming between author and audience. Pixels are probably hunted.

But before any of these steps, intertextuality, really the composite of the above, but not relating to the player’s experience as such, rather the experience of other decoding exercises. May we paradoxically call it unlived experience?

Macropatterns are brute-force matched, corners cut and holes widened to allow the simplest possible processing of the artefact. Expectation takes precedence over actuality.

"Ah, it’s like Doom," muses Habit. "But there’s nothing happening."

That there was my conditioned reflex to Dear Esther. It’s a pretty silly line of thinking, but I can’t shake it. I can only see Dear Esther as perhaps the emptiest first-person game I have ever played. An environment, and a few overwritten monologues.

There are clever tricks of perception and some cool pacing devices, time expenditure and your investment in it becomes the only resource management on offer. The walk speed is very slow, and as you amble over the beach you wonder why there’s even collision detection.

The same happens when I see machine-made poetry, whether it’s Ian Bogost’s procedural haikus or a twitterbot mangling regular expressions.

"Ah, it’s like Yeats, but so much happened."

* * *

I’m careening, of course. The weight of my expectations prevents me from freely perceiving. That’s because my game savvy is front-loaded with a complexity bias, and a complete disregard for framing.

Content-wise, even conceptually, there’s nothing in common between Doom and Dear Esther. But there’s still some Doom code in Dear Esther, I bet, some leftover algorithms that made it into Quake, then GoldSource, and finally Source.

Is that intertextuality? Interoperability? Or am I being interfacetious? I don’t know, but to me the first-person perspective is gun-mounted. There’s a history of violence I can’t completely disregard.

Maybe that’s why I like Proteus. The little guilt-tinge/rationalization loop of drowning frogs (sparkling frogs tinkle-tumbling towards merciless blue), the menace of the little figures standing ever so still in a circle on top of a hill. I connect the dots, recognize or construct concessions to my ideal of the first-person perspective.

But I think it’s because I’m left alone with it, really. Dear Esther is a poetry reading, and Proteus is a poem. Now we’re getting somewhere.

If there’s one thing I get less on with than poetry, it’s reading poetry. Out loud. The clipped sentences fall away, rhymes recede into background noise, structural elements unrooted, authorial intent suddenly all sweaty and agitated, glistening confrontationally before the audience.

That tension wouldn’t bother me if the poet was singing, for some weird reason. I even quite like that. But there’s something ceremonial about the unsung verse, same way there’s something odd about the verse recital of non-verse so beloved of priests.

* * *

Meander meander meander. My point is that poetry is playful language. It is activating language. The sparseness, rawness, baroqueness, meter, rhyme and rhythm forces response.

Since these are words, the associative apparatus is completely engaged in the appreciation of total abstraction. Unavoidable. Try reading the letters in these paragraphs individually, disregarding contextual meaning.

The literal interpretation of the form is impossible, all you can accord it is a phoneme. In your mind, it’s not even that: An associative ideation, the composite mind-frame of a thousand letter-phoneme-enunciations.

Even then it’s struggle-think, Habit’s voice stronger and clearer. You read the letter t with one eye on “letter”, and it is somehow diminished. A weak meaning. That means you can hide anything in words.

As you can in play. Contest, collaboration, resource management, planning. Symbols rhyme, maybe that’s why we have so few of them, and they are so firmly anchored in the visual language of sub-culture.

Games require strong rhymes, clear and dumb associations. Depth will have to be relegated to subtlety; the self-deprecating grandiosity of the finest Japanese post-modernists.

Are there any sublimely self-deprecating Western games? The one who comes closest must be Sacred 2, which in a fit of hitherto unheard-of self-reflection wove Blind Guardian into its fiction.

Only when form is so recognizable that we can safely play around with content can the surface of a game be poetic, and then only weakly. Witness Parodius or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Nazi Zombies. Thankfully Earthbound proves otherwise, but at the price of comprehension. It is barely interactive.

So the poetic, unless we want to be crude and call the pandering evocative poetic, must be in the associations of dynamics. To get back to Yeats, that widening gyre, it is evocative not of a photograph but a YouTube clip, or a MatLab visualization. I can imagine inexpertly jury-rigging a fake gyre in Unity.

Gyres are common in games, from Michael Brough’s Helix to Mitchell Corporation’s Puzz Loop. So are sine curves, and chain reactions. Trees (the logical kind), too, bifurcating tendrils self-habituating to an invisible optimal course given time and resources at hand.

* * *

The ivy climbing up a wall, growing probes searching for protuberant anchoring points, a biological brute-force algorithm elegantly spending itself to expand. Another YouTube clip. Very indicative of the poetic in games.

Poetry playfully embodies a recognizable truth, whether contrary to or in line with expectation. Horribly, I think that’s a unifying factor in Serious Art. Jackson Pollock’s scribbles proved that art was higher than construction, an emergent property of the Invisible Hand.

The poetic must be the thrill of activation, the deep recognition of the truthfulness of one’s acts (the polar opposite of clicking “Accept”, mostly), the inevitability of the emergence of the chosen course of action given the information at hand.

Context willing, there’s no coercion in the emergence of response. This is why Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Nazi Zombies is relevant. It does force a certain glee, or an inevitable weariness. It is potent Experience.

Papers, Please supports this. Proteus does, too. Shadow of the Colossus (which you must never see speed-ran), Ikaruga, Rez, oh my. Even that bastard child of abstraction, Mirror’s Edge. Give the Mirror’s Edge IP to Santa Ragione, says I.

Mechanics don’t have to be deep to be evocative, only well-composed. I believe interface-driven games are immune to poetry, since they are truly spreadsheets made pretty. I guess a future Civilization could do a kind of Koyaanisqatsi sense of dread, but only then by association.

* * *

The problem is, games rhyme across spectra. Interdynamism? When representation is abstract, or near-abstract like in Gradius V, rhymes are habitual, and one goes looking for rhyme schemes right away. A grim formalism, certainly, but I think it is honest about games. They are rarely truly experiential, but categorical.

Perhaps that’s why little game chauvinist me finds Proteus poetic: It lends itself to goal-orientation. The stones play tunes, the frogs can’t exist on water, seasons change because I liked the sounds and there’s that gyre again.

I realize complaining about trigger zones would be ironic given my example, but fine-grained trigger zones must be a system, even a weak one like Flower; a crudely poetic affair. As I expect Journey must be.

My only conclusion can be the sentimentality in games, like poetry, is kitsch. Perhaps, some day, we will see Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Nazi Zombies on the Oculus Rift?

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I Needed to Process 2012

I wrote this about six months ago, in response to WHOOOOOA MAAAAAN the feeling of fucking failure, the creepy-crawlies of defeat, the Mariana Trench 10,000G pressure of What The Hell Do I Do Now?

I don’t know if it’s still relevant or not. You tell me.

I need to process 2012, and this seems as good a time as any. It has been an odd year, characterised primarily by hope and failure. At the same time, I might remember it as a bit of a turning point in a few years, because while everything I’ve worked for over the past three years pretty much came apart in a shower of sparks, I also accomplished more than ever before. I’ve grown stupendously as a person, but I have also diminished.

First of all, 2012 was the year when seeing the interconnectedness of all things — the layers of control, meaning and ideals that makes sure the world worlds, that people people, the weather weathers and feathers feather — lost its novelty and became just Another Way of Seeing, no longer intrinsically wondrous but actually a void of wonders, a plughole greedily consuming all the spiders washed towards it.

It ultimately made me more disconnected, a processing unit rather than an experiencing self, only able to make meaning through deconstruction, many finely woven filters wrapped around an isolated core of shoddily sublimated insecurities and a manic neophilia struggling to cope with the odd entrenchment of nostalgia in the midst of all the disruption.

I only really got turned on to hardline relativism about four years ago. Before that, I was pretty dogmatic in a vaguely defined far-leftist fashion. Marxist sensibilities, faith in government as nurturing mother goddess rather than vengeful patriarch. A strong sense that economical and social equality would lead to a sturdier, safer society and that this equality could be funded with state revenue. But I had my epiphany while researching tons of HCI, feminist, esoteric and design literature.

I had touched upon relativism in my teens, first when a friend’s praise for a common hotdog led me to postulate that the notion of “perfection” was absurd if it could be applied to finely ground meat byproducts stuffed in a pig’s intestine and that — accordingly — there was no god. Later, I realized that I don’t know what hair smells like, because I would be unable to distinguish the smell of hair from the smells of waxes, oil, shampoo and cosmetics.

The closest I ever got to truly defining my inchoate notion of relativism was explaining what I then did not know was called a cosmology to a Malaysian priest I met on a bus. I have no idea why I ended up talking to him, but I told him about the way I conceptualized the relationship between beings as an infinite grid of lights that flickered, strengthened, diminished seemingly independently but whose brightness and motion was mutually, globally co-dependent, the motion of one being the motion of all, each unit’s influence over another hardly measurable, but still definite. I didn’t know it then, but I almost reproduced Indra’s Net. I’m pretty happy with that in hindsight.

Reading HCI and interaction design literature, with their emphasis on modelling and cybernetics, coupled with post-structuralist social theories (performativity, constructionism, feminist epistemology), cognitive science (especially mental modelling, concept formation and retention as well as habit formation) and my first brushes with Californian Ideology, made me realize that every individual constructs a model for interpreting their surroundings and circumstances according to cultural schema reinforced by social, economic, cultural, religious and political factors local to each individual’s identity formation. Each individual would be completely immersed in a world of their own making.

Their “gender role and identity”, their “sexual orientation”, fetishes, taboos, even emotions. I suspect that human emotion isn’t biologically determined and that there is no human nature — there is only habit formation, positive and negative reinforcement, mimickry and status struggle. There is a number of dominant schema delineating socially acceptable, responsible and desirable behaviour. For example, there is the Hollywood model of the human emotional spectrum. There’s also the Bollywood model, the San Fernando Valley model, the Kabuki theatre model and so on. Every mediated form comprises a particular set of assumptions about human nature and its manifestations.

That was when the image focused (or rather completely lost focus) and I felt somehow, weirdly, free. Liberated from the insistence that my way of life was especially valid, or represented some kind of norm. Where I’m from, we’re big on norms and conformism, so maybe I’m pointing out the totally bleeding obvious here, but bear with me.

Relativism is, weirdly, really counter-intuitive to a lot of people (probably not you, you must be smart if you’ve read this far, right? Right!). Especially the notion that one thing is not necessarily better than another just because you think so, is really mind-blowing to a not insignificant proportion of at least North-Western European and American people. It’s probably common all over the globe, which lets the mindful relativist feel really smart almost all the time, practically anywhere, since the majority of people make absolutist staments all the time. Chauvinist statements. Essentialist statements. It’s pretty much the way they define their surroundings: What I know is good. Any divergences are less good, although they can be habituated — but preferably conquered.

My realization and acceptance of relativism came without much fanfare. Relativism isn’t really a subject for celebration or contestation, but rather for quiet reflection and acquiescence. Before I had used to read a collection of newspapers from different corners of the earth, comparing and contrasting information to build a golden mean of current events. Now I couldn’t take any of them seriously, my detachment from the referents that accord those news outlets’ power revealing them as shambolic territorial constructs, anal fixation expressed orally (or via secretion, obviously, jet of ink or toner spurting from some pen or printhead).

The way news organizations and news outlets employed language started to appear parallel to the limited range of human emotions portrayed (and thus “proven possible”) by American film and TV, news media reproducing a very narrow spectrum of opinion and perspective using very particular language rules and rigid formats juxtaposing often grotesquely unrelated material in a hodge-podge of conflicting and contrasting meaning.

* * *

It’s pretty weird that I didn’t notice before. Of course I did, in a sense, but not with the same astonishing clarity and sense of connectedness, the experience of many meanings coiling and knotting through loops and pulleys in apparently disparate spheres that yet turned out to be connected. It’s pretty weird because I’ve played videogames nearly all my life, and a defining characteristic of games is that they are rarely about the thing they purport to be about.

ANYWAY anyway, by 2012 I was no longer pleased with myself for being so smart that I’d figured out that nothing is as it seems and certainly not as we say. I had trained my powers of deconstruction and dissembly on practically every domain I had any grasp on. Film, literature, games, politics, history, philosophy, religion. Not music, certainly not maths. The joy of trying out new eyes was gone, instead my relativism had become reflexive, not an active and guided process but a well-rehearsed subroutine that had been so thoroughly internalized that I produced weird, counter-intuitive loop-the-loop thoughts as a matter of habit.

I found it harder and harder to converse and exchange with my peers, as I found the premises for most of their thought to be arbitrary and nonsensical, rooted in value judgements, cultural tradition and religious dogma. At the same time, explaining precisely why was a Herculean task, since absolutes had to be comprehensively revoked. In a culture built on numbers, there are no immediate benefits to this line of thinking. I had finally, I thought, gone insane. I now vibrated at a different frequency, for better or worse. Not that “better” or “worse” means anything to a relativist, they only mean something to the subjects the relativist observes. Obviously.

It would be a stretch for anyone to call it “better”, as nothing about my situation at the start of 2012 was particularly promising. I was finally a bona-fide professional game developer, but the question was how long I could keep that act up. Strongman never had enough money to ensure smooth operation, and I had to spend all of my savings to keep my head above water.

My dad had just left my mother for another man, prompting full familial meltdown. My attempts to reassure my mum that things were gonna work out amply demonstrate how disconnected I had grown: “You’re just a naked ape on a rock hurtling through space. Stop trying to control your life,” followed by “You don’t need to feel ashamed about your marriage finally collapsing. I have expected it to fail for well over a decade, and I’m glad you have finally chosen to be honest with each other.”

So here I was, voracious infosumer, working hard in my chosen field, tethered pretty precariously on the edge of financial ruin, my back aching, building too many things at once in a desperate hope that if only one of them would sorta-kinda float, I could somehow manage to secure a couple of bolts in that financial cliffside, eventually tangle surrounding shrubbery into a kind of platform where I could pitch a tent and live on my oddly suspended peat cloud, gazing into that ruinous abyss and pat myself on the back over how cleverly and securely I had suspended myself above it.

This, intriguingly, closely mirrored the way the rest of the world seemed to respond to whatever the hell is going on in political, business and financial circles at this time. Even the Occupy movement had purposelessness about it, as if it didn’t know precisely what about the shitegeist it was protesting. It was a war on symbols waged with symbols, an identity political smörgåsbord of vaguely lefty-wingy autonomisty individualisty resistance against the poor effort made — by a hazily defined rogues’ gallery of powermongers, usurers and oligarchs — to bring about a level society, the flat world promised by the globalists.

I didn’t feel particularly compelled by this. I was glad to see someone actually participating corporeally in a show of protest, even if the overblown and self-important media coverage made those protests feel more like co-option opportunities for up-and-coming columnists than expressions of people power. This is the world I was increasingly concernedly catching through the corner of my All-Seeing Eye, while I was Making Games. “Good gravy,” I thought as I tweaked the shiny on Ka-Bloom and shook my tiny fist impotently at faceless and similarly-named executives in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Worldwide division, “They are protesting the wrong thing. They are not protesting against their own way of life!”

* * *

Ka-Bloom’s development was probably going swimmingly. I couldn’t tell, because I was getting pretty grumpy but most of all I was proud about the validation of having our game (my game. My first game!) published by a well-established media company but above all I was exhilarated because this could allow Strongman to careen carelessly towards Icarus-like exampledom for another year or so. I worked on what was probably the seventh revision of the tutorials, an endeavour that saw eye-watering amounts of interference, at least by my measure. By creative industry standards, I may well have had a gentle ride, but to an inexperienced cowboy like me, the rodeo was unsettling.

The Bucking Bronco Corporation’s LA-based creative leadership stimulated a cancerous growth in the amount of tutorial content, turning a sixth of My Game (as it increasingly became, since I was overstretched and ego started settling terrain that superego had been kinda careless about holding onto) into spoonfed retard paste for an imaginary, drooling consumer who somehow managed to handle an iOS device but couldn’t be expected to just employ the affordances provided by the game to solve the reasonably simple visual field sorting, planning and mental arithmetic puzzles on display. The more nimble-fingered and competitive could engage in some fairly generous timing and distance-measuring challenges, but that was more or less it.

Anyway, the real issue (as I saw it) was as follows: The Beeb had, for some reason, decided they wanted to port and publish a comprehensively broken game. Ka-Bloom was lovingly pieced together, but it was way too experimental and rushed to really be playable. Somehow, though, a lot of people liked it. I think it was mostly because it was out of the ordinary and reasonably pretty. The original game’s carefully orchestrated puzzles, weirdly small scale and often muddled goals wasn’t exactly a triumph of game design.

Ka-Bloom was very obviously designed for touchscreens (and was originally meant to be the MVP of a growing set of games featuring the Floret), had The Cute and The Physics and was finished. Porting it would be a formality. New content, better shinies, remixed music. I strongly suspect that no-one involved realized that Ka-Bloom was a broken game that needed serious work (or someone knew but the involved parties as a whole was in denial about it), but all the information I can work on is the picture of Inside Beeb presented to me by my saintly producer. I can’t imagine what was really going on. The picture I made up in my mind, no matter the reality, was that no-one actually realized that the game was broken.

So when the tutorials started bouncing and I received The Wrong Feedback when asking what the precise issue was, I figured that someone higher up had finally played Ka-Bloom for more than a few minutes and certainly realized what I already knew. This, obviously, would never be said out loud. Instead, the tutorials became a sort of meta-battlefield where I vied a second-hand war through my producer over what the game would be presented as.

I think the big problem was that the game was very ambiguous about the player’s role and mode of embodiment. Is the player the Floret? Is the player helping the Floret? From there, the player is left to wonder what precisely is happening (to them?) on-screen. Things grow and shrink, suddenly the blue aura (flower? Perimeter?) is supplemented by a green … whatever it is. It’s not entirely clear whether the gem or its centre must be within range of another to link them. The green aura (starburst? Energy field?) counts actions, awkwardly and occasionally contrasting timing as primary tactical concern (but fitting well with the overall strategic planning challenge), a missed opportunity for making multiple timing puzzles build tension and maintain rhythm. Is a chain a link? How many links go in a chain? Does two chains make one once they’re hotlinked? What is hotlinking?

Without a clearly defined role (the ambiguous embodiment), there is limited scaffolding for modelling the relationship between the objects in the gamespace. The player is bombarded with uncertainties. Even the goal feels arbitrary despite being a visual centrepiece; it is too subdued. To top it off, Ka-Bloom does not model any real-world activity but revels in eating. Eating gems. Not even that makes sense. If players decide to get on with it, and just accepts what they are seeing without investing too much significance into the symbols or demand some kind of clear role or identity in the context of the game, the activity of engaging with the game is enjoyable.

The best way to solve this complex of design problems would be to avoid attempting to clarify any ambiguities and let the player form a mental model of the game’s rules by experimenting with the provided affordances. Simply present the affordance and explain how to employ it with a visual demonstration. Then present a few scenarios that demonstrate any non-intuitive rules and special cases (what Hamish Todd calls “antepieces”, a great coinage: and be unapologetic about it. Either the player likes the game, or not.

My shadowy, out-of-reach publisher executives opted for the opposite solution: Overexplain the game in a series of 10 text-heavy, animated tutorials that stretch on and on long after the player has got the point, sapping them of any curiosity and sense of wonder, ensuring that every oddly shaped cog and poorly oiled wheel is pointed out and apologized for in due order. By the end, the player is most likely — and rightly — disgusted.

Now, this is where it is claimed that life imitates Monday morning quarterbacking about the process behind art in order to make a wider point about the time we live in, and my disgust with it. As I grew increasingly exasperated with the ever-less constructive feedback from the ever-less accessible executives mandating an ever-bloating tutorial, I started venting to my producer. Somehow, he had the generosity and patience to take earful after earful of my hateful tutorial design conjecture in what can only be described as cathartic expressions of contempt. These conversations usually started with my producer informing me that my concerns would not be brought forward in these terms, and I informed him that my harsh language was intended for an imaginary recipient that was not him.

So there I was, relishing in inventing run-on joke insults I could present my peer and colleague in order to express frustration at my lack of access to actual decision-makers who obviously had a lot less invested in “my” project than I did. My mode of resistance was a kind of peacocking, demonstrating obvious mental agility and psychological insight in an effort to validate and underpin my pedagogical opinion. Make me seem right. But it was ineffectual posturing, and completely meaningless apart from as an exercise in self-aggrandizement. I was performing for an audience.

I wasn’t out there protesting with Occupy, but I was doing the same thing. I was performing ineffectual resistance to the wrong audience (the only one I had available, a peer of my age group, early in his career, with apparently substantially less power than I had) over my indignation at the consequences of what is ultimately my own dishonesty: Allowing someone to invest in a vehicle I did not have a significant amount of faith in. I was butthurts because this shit wasn’t serving the intended (naive, overeager) purpose.

Just so, unfortunately, with a substantial chunk of “my own generation”, my “cohort”, whatever the hell that means. People who are sorta in my situation, except my situation is exceptional because my risk approaches zero from the simple fact that I’m always able to fly home to the gravy train in Norway and put up with an unexceptional existence in exchange for comfort and safety. But you know. “Us.” “We.” The young and ambitious who think they’ve been ever-so-slightly shafted as the ladder leading to the middle class was hastily pulled up and replaced with a rope of sand.

There’s a sense of insecurity now. Big contrast to the rosy memory of the nineties and noughties, that’s for sure. Security has turned into surveillance, the internet prevents any coherent grand narratives and its open yet inaccessible pockets of like-minded bickerers relish in unrelenting pedantry and sophistry. In place of the grand narratives, each subculture seems to have established its own dogma that it can police in order to exercise mock power in an ideological arena, but without any meaningful outcome aside from group status. Fantasy football identity politics. Since we have little access to decision-makers (due, in large part, to the giant bureaucracies supporting the oft-shortsighted and opportunistic foibles of the apparently thoroughly compromised and parasitic political class), and we have the tools to create finely honed, unspontaneous and well-gardened sociopolitical contexts, especially online — tons of little bio fields to anchor an identity in — we respond to our powerlessness with a sort of ideological control-freakery.

I imagine, because I never went there, that the Occupy camp at St. Paul’s was a hashtag on Twitter. Tons of expression, tons of generally like-minded, almost conformist young people delineating their own identity through policing finely granulated subcultural dogma. No grand narratives, just personal narratives. I define myself through what I can accuse you of not being, literally making myself the protagonist in a struggle over the precise definition of an idealistic notion. Perhaps I’m just projecting here, accusing my contemporaries of a general pettiness to make my own seem normal, but I feel justified nonetheless. I’m sick of us.

* * *

I’m sick of the privileged carefully delineating their victimhood, wearing it almost as a point of pride, a badge of honour for carrying the weight of the world.

I’m sick of the incessant labelling and territorial demarcation that characterize online discourse.

I’m sick of the neverending pseudo-intellectualism of geek culture (hereunder “gamers.”) It harbours pretentions of cultural relevance, yet centres around cold and dead technology with no intrinsic beauty. It reflexively celebrates creatively bankrupt techno-utopian fantasies about the transformative effects of technology, both on an individual and social level, but resists any opportunities to develop beyond infantility (see: wretched, admirable Anonymous).

I’m sick of game developers and critics insisting that digital games are valid and important contributions to culture (which, undoubtedly, they are) when neither camp can articulate precisely why they are culturally relevant, nor can they contrive a suitably circuitous cultural context to claim as their own, in which they could assert dominance. No, most game critics don’t understand much about games, nor do they have much of a cultural horizon. Most game developers are deluded about what the form actually means and are just as culturally impoverished as the critics.

Most games are garbage, and they should be recognized as such. Most games that attempt to be artistic or dramatic in the same way traditional authorially controlled linear media can be, come off as crass, camp and melodramatic. The rest come across as hand-holding exercises and interactive environmental art portfolios.

I’m sick of the all-permeating hypocrisy. I’m sick of the double standards. I’m sick of moralism that goes hand in hand with eagerness to cast oneself as a victim. I’m sick of geek culture self-flagellating over chainmail bikinis one moment, then embracing depictions of underage rape the next and refusing to see the stupidity. Oh, the fucking stupidity.

I’m sick of the celebration of the 80s, a decade most of my cohort is too young to have a stable picture of. It was our parents’ decade. But more importantly, it was the decade that led us to where we are now, teetering on the brink of a very well-deserved tumble into the abyss. It was the first truly grim and decadent decade after WW2. It was where most of the values and ideas that have twisted our societies into oligarchies originated or were validated. It may have been a decade of fun and innocence compared to the unrelenting grimness we face now, but there is nothing to celebrate there. There is nothing to reclaim from the 80s. There is nothing to celebrate, only mock and defang. Fuck you. Stop.

I’m sick of how important everyone (including me) is on the internet.

* * *

I see what you’re trying to do, rest of us. You’re trying a few very noble things, but you are too selfish, like me. You’re very self-important. Your voice is very strong and loud. But you’re a hypocrite, and you are not a political creature. You are a consumer. You are passive. You are not self-critical. You have not confronted the taboos that define your culture. You are ashamed over your genitals and what they are used for. You wish you didn’t have your filthy leaky body but could just be a pure white light like the four ones circling after you switch on the PS2 without a game in the disc tray. Yes, you’re growing older – the PS2 was long ago.

I’m struggling to articulate it, even after thousands of words of this bullshit.

So yeah, 2012 was the year when I finally and very seriously trained my overly critical gaze on the assumptions underlying my social and political identity, and found them hard to reconcile with my experience. There have been so many examples over the last year, so many towering edifices gloriously displaying precisely what is Wrong. While I was never optimistic on behalf of the West (oof, another one of those terrible generalizations again), I was quietly optimistic about my generation. I figured we could help turn the tide, see the world in a different light.

Take our systems literacy and our community-building skills and employ the tools that are almost exclusively our domain to rebuild the notion of citizenship. A different citizenship, obviously, since nothing remains the same — and that’s what I’m afraid of here, of sounding reactionary — but I hoped to see the loathed body politic exhibit some traits I could recognize and admire from more civically active periods.

There are some symptoms of our times that exhibit suitably radical reconsiderations of ownership, definitions of exchange and value, such as The Pirate Party. Then there’s Anonymous, that model of anarchic, disembodied autonomism, exposing how the architectural weaknesses of the Internet provides a channel for dissent. But diminishing returns, in the end Anonymous has only managed to make cybersecurity a bona fide legislative and political issue, and I for one would have liked to see that dog sleep for a while longer. But I’m not particularly enamored with the nationalist politics underpinning the Pirate Party, and the libertarian sensibilities of Anonymous promotes a dog-eat-dog ethic and mode of resistance that I can’t see being effective at anything but strengthening the surveillance state in the long run.

Anyway, Pirate Bay and Anonymous are representative kernels of potential modes of citizenship. De-radicalize them, and you get an offshoot of the transparency movement. I’d call it similar to Wikileaks, but I can’t honestly claim to understand enough about Assange and his organization to make the comparison. The point is that the internet is exploited to facilitate real and novel forms of resistance. Mass-dispersal of classified information. Second-hand control of the means of production and distribution. On the fringes, you could point to places like Silk Road as using the internet to assert a radical, transgressive form of liberty.

But I associate all of these acts with the right-wing of the political spectrum, and I’m not really there. I used to consider myself whatever is not that, because I’m not particularly convinced that laissez-faire would do any of us any good the way society is currently composed and structured, financially, economically or legally. Practically any deregulation in this climate is a transfer of legislative power to the formerly regulated organizations, rather than an abolishment of legislation per se.

* * *

But all that was months ago, and I guess things didn’t change.

We shall see if it wasn’t for the better.

Filed under game design mindfuck 2012 20-fucking-12 Ka-Bloom Strongman

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Snappy, huh?

I’m thinking of calling it that. I’m thinking about calling it TRIANGLE/CIRCLE and VOL and MYRIAD and AUSTERITY too. I wonder about publishing it as ERLEND GREFSRUD or FLESKEPRESTEN or maybe just DOUBLE NEGATION.

You know, since I have the Tumblr and all. Sure, is also a Tumblr, but I can’t in good faith start updating that site like nothing happened.

Strongman is dead. A bit of me is dead too, or at least so stunted with disappointment and exhaustion that it’s lying very, very still in a coffin and some nice people came by and emitted moisture from fleshducts situated around their photoreceptors and then they threw substrate on the haphazard assemblage of dead organisms trapping that possibly-kinda-halfish-dead part in a nice, easily stored death unit. Individualism retained. Buraucratic fixation on bygones satisfied. Alone. Under soil. Marked.

So now I’m inventing names and wondering who I am. It was good to be Strongman. There was more to Strongman than me. That helps. Makes me feel useful and productive. I don’t care that much about Me. I care about my thoughts and ideas and shit, but the Me-me, the part that’s not my diminutive contribution to the extended phenotype, that part’s not so important.

Actually that part’s kinda annoying when it is not eating, sleeping, fucking or doing drugs. That part can be very effectively instrumentalized in the off-time between eating, sleeping, fucking and doing drugs, because I am very competitive on behalf of collectives.

See, if I’m being relied on, I am reliable. Hell, I’m more than reliable. I’m close up to self-sacrificing. I care a lot. And I can sell you.

Unfortunately, I can’t sell me. I can’t vouch for my own shit. If you sit there with your little thing, and you go “uh, uh, so I spent all my spare time for the last three years making this thing, and I hope it’s good although I’m so super-sick of it I can’t tell” then I am most likely going to stop you just after “making this thing” and I ask how much time that actually means, and often “it’s, uh, like three maybe four months total, could only work in weekends and I have a wife and two children” and BAAAAAAAANG there I go, I’m suddenly quite impressed with you and what you’ve done.

I’m probably gonna break you off and tell you what you’ve done well, and you will try to tell me what you actually tried to accomplish and I’ll be all “yeah yeah that’s what you think but you made it so what do you know” which is


let me repeat that for emphasis


just so you know. How come? How do I even know this?!

Because if you’re anything like a majority of people, you have failed to bring your idea to life. Or more correctly, something in you (the You-you?) has prevented you from bringing your original idea to life, and has instead helpfully, maybe kinda surreptitiously, brought the idea that idea needed to be, into life.

Know the feeling? You’ve set out to make a thing, and suddenly that thing is long gone, chased off the map by long, spindly legs and something that sounds like it’s gnashing but looks like it should clacker and in your ideas place, a weird spiderweb of criss-crossing vertices forming a pattern emerging from you-know-where.

Yes. The spider shits nets. The web emerges from its arse. That’s why I consider “pulled out of my arse” to be a perfectly good way of describing my Art and my Craft and my Process. Because like that spider, I have exactly dick point shit idea where the web came from.

I was just doing something my ganglia told me to, and there was this nice feeling around my backside and now I’m chowing on some fly, regurgitating corrosive liquids into my first guest, dissolving it, storing it for later.

(ASIDE: You wonder if you can still eat that pizza you ordered yesterday and left out overnight? Look to the animal kingdom for your answers. The question can be rephrased more simply: DO YOU HAVE DIGNITY?!)

Your three or four months of heroically dodging familial duties have likely wound up into a rickety, half-arsed web. One of those things you poke down with a broom handle and wonder if you should switch dealer because that’s not what spider webs look like.

Well, that’s what it looks like to you. Where I’m from, all spiders shit crooked. But some of the spiders have the sense to, when someone points out they shat crooked, to cock their anterior tagma and mandible-morse-clack that the web isn’t crooked, it is an exploration of the crooked.

Faced with this, most critics will carefully weigh their options, factoring in the following:

  1. They likely have no idea how you shat your crooked web
  2. They cannot begin to comprehend why you shat your crooked web
  3. They are unlikely to ever have shat webs of their own, although they may have drawn the occasional gossamer threads across forest paths, to the chagrin of hiking arachnophobes everywhere
  4. They are in awe of your discipline, wherewithal and patience
  5. They are aware that arachnids like you are different from arachnids like them, as your web-knitting arsepparatus yields more impressive webs than theirs do

IN OTHER WORDS, they are insecure about their own arse.

That makes them unlikely to criticize your arse.

It also means your arse can woo them.


Because when I see the thing you squeezed out, I see as much my own wonder at the existence of the thing. You don’t need to tell me anything.

Of course it isn’t what you set out to do. Only the most anally retentive manage to stick to a theme. Smart spiders, like you and me, we know that any old crooked web can become an AVANT-GARDE web if we just keep our mandibles together and let the insecure observer rationalize their own weakness into proof of your strength.

* * *

Now as I was saying, I can tell you this, but I can’t do it. I understand the theory perfectly. But when I make things, I can only think of how THOROUGHLY I have failed to bring the thing I imagined to life. I see only divergences, fixed ideas like mismatched cogs creaking on haphazard spindles. I can only see the thing I have failed to bring to life.

Nevermind that the thing was impossible in the first place. It could never be. Nothing is as pristine as the barely imagined. But you’re better than that, aren’t you? You know you can make the Thing You Thought one day.

And that’s why you’re an artist and not a salesman. That’s why I’m an artist and not a salesman.

So here I am, unable to settle upon a name.

I like Pangenitor/Panphage. It’s Greek. It is kinda related to Austerity, the reason I am making this fucking thing in the first place. Well, in my narrative, my version of things. I don’t think I would have made this thing if I hadn’t been unemployed for way too long. I don’t think I would have been unemployed this long if it wasn’t for austerity.

So you can thank the Tories when VOL, no MYRIAD, ejaculates its stark majesty unto your exposed corneas and you scratch your eyes without thinking and thank god you just clipped your nails although that still leaves you with a problem …

But I can’t sell it. Hell, I can’t work out what to call myself and I can’t work out what to call it. I can’t even work out what it is any longer. A very smart and pragmatic man recently told me that I need to pick a theme and stick to it.

At first I was uncomprehending. I have a theme. I have stuck to it. The theme is circles and triangles, and motion in and interpretation of a space composed only of circles, triangles and circles formed from triangles, all rendered in different complimentaries.

That’s pretty damn comprehensive, if you ask me. And it’s called PANGENITOR/PANPHAGE because you create and destroy everything, alpha/omega, ass/mouth. That’s Greek, and Greece is tumbling into fucking NAZIDOM because they invented Democracy and got too good at it.

Or it could be VOL which is French for flying (very Continental) and can also be represented by a TRIANGLE, CIRCLE, SQUARE! But then I took out the squares. And MYRIAD was the name of the prototype, which shares very little with the final product.

The problem is that the game should be named something like the Nike logo but with a pointy tip, bursting from a sphere. Or maybe it should simply have a chime, like the one Macs have played on boot since the year dot.

I’ve struggled with the theme for a long time. I started out knowing that I was going to make a purely systemic game with no narrative trappings whatsoever, and at one point I had decided to not use any words in the entire game. No words, no numbers, just symbols.

This would allow the player to interpret and enjoy the game without little old me standing next to them, pointing to the score system, saying “now, if you look at how these numbers rise in accordance with your actions, you will discover the optimal play style — and thus the meaning of the game!”

I struck a middle ground. I designed a completely unreadable font that sits somewhere between glyph and sigil, only talking to whoever pays particular attention. The score display and the announcement splashes lose meaning. They become less likely to be what the player reads.

Maybe they can even discourage the player from trying, and I will have my cake and eat it. The worst that can be levelled at me will be “but this is poor game design”, at which point I snort derisively and declare that it isn’t a design project. It is an artwork.

Anyhoo, I consider my increasingly baroque UI elements to be part of the language of games. They’re not really there to present numbers, they are there for emphasis, a token of appreciation. A ruffle of the hair. They are …

… like running through the woods, strobing light filtered through gently rustling canopy, blinding you from a new direction with each step you take …

… the discordant note, not ruining but merely emphasizing the harmonics, jolting your pattern-matcher then reassuring it …

… the straining of musculature rippling the athlete, that which grounds and anchors the performance, proof of effort, proof of humanity …

… and stuff like that. It’s like combo counters. I don’t watch them because holy cow 69! The number 69! No, I just like them because they’re pretty, bouncing around, intricate segues and swipes, from the elaborate, screen-filling ROUND 1 FIGHT to the stark naked twin towers of Metal Gear Solid’s faithful but useless inventory.

They do something. They remind me of something. They make me feel something.

So that’s why I’ve invested tons of time in them, from inventing a stupid way to animate them in full 3d rather than flat 2d, to designing and implementing a practically unreadable typeface (making fonts, like most things, is way easier than you think) because, well, as I say you’re not really meant to read them, hun.

* * *

Once upon a time I called The Thing by a different name: Sefira. You can see signs in the code. Its another theme. There’s Sefirot and Kelipot and a bunch of David’s descendants. The game’s structure was the Tree of Life. Malkut in the middle, each successive sefira named for a different king.

Then there is my liberal interpretation of Kelipot as the Left-Hand Path, the orderly/diminishing, authoritarian magic that measures and halves and yet can never reach the target. Kelipot is the negation of Sefirot, but that does not mean it is the Tree of Death. That’d just be gauche.

Sefirot isn’t just a structurally odd heaven/hell affair (although I don’t think it’s coincidence that there are 9 circles in hell, them Christian people have always been a bunch of fierce, vindictive fuckers), but a model of the human mind. I think it reveals a lot about religion and culture, and has shown me with what passion the devil fools with the best laid plans.

I wonder if Timothy Leary intentionally made his 8 Circuit Model of the Mind a mix of mandala and Sefirot, or if it just turned out that way. I wonder if Jung and Freud intended to sound like different intonations of the same ancestral knowledge, the shamanic Truths and wyrd deep-memories of history’s Survivors, rediscovered after Protestantism discovered Catholicism’s trick and started denying-denying-denying its followers, willing them to obliviate all that made them human in servitude of that god who’s also clearly just a caricature of a ruler, a person, the secret original bossman.

I like sacred geometry. Since computer games are mostly just geometry moving about according to arcane spells that, to the trained eye, will reveal to the initiated what appears to be the secrets of the cosmos.

I like geodesics. It’s sacred geometry too, but more cultish. A response to the square. Snap the square in two and you can build circles from them. He’s all up in the little things, the devil.

But clearly what I have made has nothing to do with Judaic mysticism and psychonauts or my quite impressive repulsion from poor, wicked Christianity. At least no more than what it has to do with, say, austerity.

Which is to say that I don’t know, these were the vibrations that tensed the ribbony tendons of my spider silk. It’s what I ate, and I’m sure some of it remains in the stuff I ass-ministered. How couldn’t it?

Maybe that’s my theme?

A game, and all the things that went into it?

How I wish I could sell myself.

Filed under game design austerity kaballah salesmanship art

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The Critic Eats Its Own Tail

This entry marks a change of pace around here. Fuck you and fuck me.

  • Critics earnestly inspecting pop cultural media yet failing to engage with anything but their pet peeves is fucking up my quality of life.
  • Reading most media critique makes me want to grab the author and scream: DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY THIS THING IS WHAT IT IS? MOOOOOONEEEEEEEEEY!
  • Very often, I see critics labour under a single, banal misunderstanding: That they are inspecting an expression rather than a construction.
  • In treating the construction, the product, earnestly as a more substantial expression, the critic is unwittingly(?) legitimizing the product
  • The outcome is that the critic, by hashing out offenses against pet peeves, lends an ideological dimension beyond the “ambient” money angle.
  • Many people, when pressed, will likely admit that they know”things are made to make money”. However, critics provide an alternate reading.
  • The critic will suggest that the product is actually a repressed expression, containing a multitude of voices, who deserves to be heard.
  • The idea is that under a veneer of crass commercialism, there is valuable Art and Craft that can be revealed and enjoyed by sophisticates.
  • This, of course, is a complex problem. Its roots are found in both the product and the critic’s own sense of self-importance.
  • The product needs to appeal broadly, and so is served by a multitude of superficial themes. The critic, to criticize, needs a shtick.
  • When a superficial theme meets a critic with a shtick, Wishful Thinking often results as the critic labours to legitimize the product.
  • After all, the critic relies on the product for nourishment, while the product relies on the critic to be legitimized as an expression.
  • Once legitimized as an expression, the product has gained a certain cultural cachet. It is now more than a gauche, commercial vehicle.
  • It has become an expression. It has been ratified to contain and discuss Themes, the recognition of which is of import to Common People.
  • Themes are important to Common People as sophisticated discussion of Themes suggest a wit marking the Common Person as a Sophisticate.
  • In other words, critics serve to turn vapid, superficial products into false expressions that help consumers feel better than their station.
  • That is to say: If you are a critic, you should turn your pattern-recognition machinery towards sum o’ dem patterns, not the white noise.
  • And if you cannot tell signal from noise, well, then aren’t you just another consumer looking for a wit marking you as a sophisticate?
  • Critical teleology: Since I am able to project a pattern onto a noisy field, the noise generator must have intended the projection to occur.

Filed under criticism litcrit popcrit hypocrite

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History Ends Anew

It’s 2099 and Franco Kamehameha has just picked his nose on live television. He quickly mutters “fuck” to save face, the profanity prompting the director AI to scrub the last 30 seconds of the recording and reconstruct it from buffered footage. The audio is reconstructed as well, phrases turned over and over again by clever computers to retain meaning and avoid awkward pauses where the deleted F-bomb was dropped.

Franco doesn’t have to worry about the neural censornets tampering with the contents of his speech. There’s no way they could even conceive of questioning the soundness of his assertion that history is well and truly over this time. They’re only interested in the unsavoury. No intellectual dishonesty, no matter how audacious, could possibly pique their manifold curiosities.

The argument is pretty simple. After the Global Famine of 2024, the Sudden Reset of 2036 and the Purge Wars that followed in the 2040s, 50s and 60s there was finally an opportunity to build a sustainable, humane society. The almost complete mechanization of labour practically eliminated politics, since humanity is now almost synonymous with administration and invention.

There’s this old joke about how God gave humanity free will because he got bored with his creation, and such is now the relationship between administration and invention. The bureaucracy is now an aesthetic unto itself, and as such invention is seen as a method of honing its efficacy even further. Invention is necessary for bureaucracy to discover and overcome its own frailties. You could almost call it scientific: The on-going effort to falsify the basis for earlier efforts and thus discourage previous practices as effectively as possible.

All of this is in Franco’s speech. Stroked by censornets, its phrasing may not have been as concise as here relayed. Profanity is not necessarily a question of pronunciation, enunciation and actual, audible phonemes. The word “fuck”, for example, would not be censored if employed as an expression of consensual, vivacious lust. Dirty talk is not profane.

The suggestion of the word “fuck” as applicable to, well, a fuck-up such as picking one’s nose on live television, on the other hand — the clarity of the meaning of the word fuck is muddied and an brings to bear the receiver’s associative apparatus. If the word fuck is allowed to mean both lustfulness and annoyance at one’s shortcomings, there is an infinitesimal chance that ancient neural pathways could be reactivated, bringing back the old, ugly Judeo-Christian cultural identity that was so effectively quashed during the Purge Wars.

Take Purge Wars, for example. In the old days, before bureaucracy became aware of its own potential, the Purge Wars could easily be called The Great Wars or some other glorification intended to cushion the cognitive dissonance of recognizing that one’s own privilege stems from heinous, callous acts such as war. Now, we are past that and comprehensively call spades for spades, even when they swim and quack like ducks.

Which is the essence of the end of history, really. All the redereconstructive cultural tics of post-modernism are now quite comprehensively sublimated in meta-modernism, where the awareness of the inevitability and ambiguity of change is incorporated into a more hypertextual understanding of history. Finally eschewing that old, tempting notion of “waves”, of circularities and the folding-back-on-itselfness of history, there is now an understanding of history as a myriad of perspectives on past, present, and future, anchored at each of those vantage points.

So to understand today, I must take into consideration my understanding of tomorrow yesterday, my understanding of yesterday tomorrow, and obviously also my understanding of the here-and-now. So the record of time is now atemporal, conflicting perspectives of the soon, current and just then seen as equally valid perceptions of the singular phenomenon.

So while the phenomenon (“Franco picked his nose”) is still singular, the history of the event must be understood as an aggregate. Franco was reading his speech, and during a natural break in his performance, he had a sip of water and unconsciously picked his nose, reacting to his mistake by invoking profanity, then the director AI instructed censornets to reconfigure the live recording on the fly to prevent the muddying of the word “fuck”.

As a matter of record, that is to say historically, this event never took place. Phenomenologically, it took place, and there is a record indicating such in the censornet’s log cloud. It’s a matter of public record, too — anyone could access the public record and discover that Franco Kamehameha did indeed pick his nose and make an odd turn of phrase after convincingly arguing that the basis for an unpredictable future has now been obliviated. Or at least obsolesced, there is still a possibility that tomorrow will cast not entirely unreasonable doubt over the assertion.

Just as Franco’s convincing delivery must be understood in light of certain edits, also a matter of public record. Franco bungled an allusion to Plato’s cave allegory, which may have weakened his assertion of the virtues of complete bureaucratization of even the intent of human existence. Where, traditionally, childrearing had practical as well as emotional value since children grew up into workers (or, on occasion, rulers) and there was an understanding that the biological survival of homo sapiens as an adaptable, viable biomass was an individual (or, archaically, a “familial”) responsibility, one might be tempted to say that having happy, healthy children is the meaning of life.

Today, this is a nonsensical statement as it is a given that children are happy and healthy. This is largely due to the decentralization of the family unit and mandatory, population-wide antifertility measures, which in turn frees the individual from the responsibility of securing the next generation’s biological survival.

This frees up the individual to understand responsibility to the collective in a new way: The honing of the extended phenotype. In other words, the understanding of bureaucracy as both parent and child.

Alongside the bungled allusion, Franco also mentioned the philosopher’s stone and Newton’s apple close enough together to conjure the infinitesimal chance that someone might think of a golden apple and, as a censormathurgist might put it, “that’s the kind of thing that really launched a thousand ships”.

But those corrections mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Franco’s errors can be forgiven in light of his intent, one might even say that the corrections provide him a certain much-needed touch of humanity. His point, that history is over as the basis for temporally binding reflection upon events as distinct and meaningful phenomena in their own right has been disproved, is much more important than the magisterial trivialities (now mechanized and performed in a fraction of a second) that allowed it to be presented in such an impactful way.

Live broadcasts have an air of authenticity about them. They portray individuals as they are in ways not even censornets can entirely anodynize, the accumulation of unchoreographed mannerisms, tics, pace and depth of breath, pupil dilation and so forth yielding a quantum soup of characteristics that not even the sieviest of sieves could homogenize.

Franco could mutter “fuck” a dozen times over the broadcast, and force the reconfiguration of the live broadcast and the ever-so-light touch of mathematically aggregated consensus to ease the nails into place and tenderly free the weed’s roots from its earthen prison. However, the buffered footage (carefully continuity-checked in the post-processing stage) would retain his essential character, as individuality — like Franco’s proposed atemporal ontology of perceived time — is singular and unaltered by past, present and future intermediation. Even willingly, Franco could not change his individuality.

This is another central point in Franco’s speech: The understanding of individuality as permanent and unalterable, and thus not subject to history — the nomad made monad — and never measured in itself. Individuality would not survive measurement, not after mechanization.

Franco’s eradication of history is motivated by a simple desire: To free the individual from being measured against any referent, be it past, present or future. If censornets could agree, they would.

The homo sapiens, surpassed in strength and mental ability as well as agility, has only one thing left to recommend them: Individuality. Freed from scarcity, politics and now, finally, history, the individual is free to express itself.

Free to swear on live television, free to pick its nose, free to carry on as if nothing had happened, certain that no marketable director AI would fail to piece together a more congruent narrative to protect its intentions from the fallibility of its all-too-human here-and-now-ness.

So Franco picks up the glass of water again, taking another small sip, not needing to worry about whether it could be perceived as eccentric to take another sip so soon, freed from the possibility of anyone interpreting his movements as a way to distract from his nose-picking.

“At the centre of my philosophy sits the question of honesty, and its expression. Honesty should be understood as the purest possible expression of individuality, and not,” Franco’s nostrils flare almost imperceptibly as his organism wills the vibratory emanation of “not” into being, “an object of pursuit. Honesty is completely decoupled from truth.”

“Honesty and truth have traditionally been seen as aspects of a similar quality, like phenomena provoked by the same attractor and thus being entangled somehow. Hyperobjectively, the two are entirely separate, one being individual, and the other being a consensual construct. This archaic tendency has been a strong driving motivation in the writing and reading of history, but now that history is discredited, so is this association.”

Franco always tenses up when he speaks about truth. He prefers denial to assertion, and the wild, aggressive pleasure that fluttered his nose wings clashes unceremoniously with the perturbation his entire nervous system, from rectal nerve endings to the primary motor cortex, feels when confronted with the notion of truth.

This ancient contradiction, ironically prevalent in history, of the pleasure of denial and biological terror of an objectivity stripped of sensuality, has motivated ambitious moralists throughout the times to institute a potential condition of eternal bliss only accessible upon vigilant denial of truth. Franco is, of course, aware of this.

“The goal of honesty is not to lead discourse, to suggest itself an exercise in truthfulness. The goal of honesty is to uncompromisingly express here-and-now-ness, which, unredacted or not, may then be viewed in light of the different vantages prior, during and after the here-and-now. The record is clear and unambiguous. If alterations were made, they are noted, and any inference of intent is algorithmically represented, allowing the reverse-engineering of systemic bias.”

The reverse-engineering of systemic bias is another snappy line Franco has concocted to support his argument of bureaucracy as a self-sustaining, self-correcting process. Like truth is a matter of consensus, so is bureaucracy. It is a medium through which individuals relate to each other, and is implicit in any expressional exchange, just as any symbolic act of labour such as licking a condiment off a lover’s body must be seen in light of its obsolescence in an age of mechanized labour.

Like the lover’s tongue unnecessarily clears a foreign substance from a partner’s skin rather than do its appointed duties in expressing a desire for a nanoswarm to oxidize the offending matter, so is honesty an act of bureaucratic love. It promotes the individual, the object of bureaucracy, while potentially leading to reform, the subject of bureaucracy.

“So even now, I am being honest with you, despite having earlier and unbeknownst to you picked my nose and then lifted my glass in a surreptitious manner to distract from my unpleasant physical tic. But this is only a matter of record, not of truth. The truest sense of understanding my individuality is to acknowledge that the events as they actually transpired are secondary to the potential and more truthful portrayal of my intent that was triggered by my uttering the word “fuck”.”

Censornets dutifully kick into action, analyzing footage to find respectable boundary points for reconfiguration. Recursively regressing through increasingly complex potential meanings, the director AI attempts to assert the scope of the edit, complicated by the reference to an earlier reconfiguration as the subject of an honest expression. While uncomplicated off the record, where broadcast edits are often the subject of mild-mannered gossip, reference to censorship in relation to profanity and honesty complicates the process of censorship.

Here, the word “fuck” is uttered similar to the word “not”, accompanied by a certain, subtle vim. Franco subconsciously flared his nostrils again, this time through arousal that the intent of the word fuck was to deny a convenient truth. So in this sense, it is similar to dirty talk — it is the inevitable expression of here-and-now-ness — and as such not subject to censorship.

Unfortunately, through reference to a (thankfully edited) moment of compound insecurity, the meaning of the word “fuck” is yet again brought into question and cannot easily be reconciled with its context, despite the obvious vigour of its expression. The ambiguity of the statement is strengthened by its reference to a matter of record as a way of lauding the integrity of censorship and its relation to individual honesty and intent.

The censornet iterates on the segment, broadening and widening scope as different types of logic are applied to the problem. The big pickle is Franco’s second sip of water. Should it be cut or included? The accuracy and credibility of the reconstructed rhythm of delivery will be impacted by so many edits in such a small space of time, but two consecutive sips of water will also appear odd, casting doubt over the entire integrity of Franco’s speech: Why put the glass down for only to lift it again to have another sip?

There is another one-hundred-and-fifty-five milliseconds to go before the broadcast loses sync and invalidates the computed scope. If that point is reached, a lowest-common-denominator buffer has been prepared, altering the statement in a way that obfuscates rather than preserves meaning, since meaning itself is the matter of contention.

If censornets could see, or cared about, the future, which they don’t in a way that will resonate with a reader who earlier frowned on the proposed atemporal construction of individuality, they would exhibit another emotion their circuitry — despite mimicking the human brain — could never reproduce: Humility.

Franco’s final point, which is not really present in his speech, or in its record, or in the notes that accompany the liberties taken when compiling the record, is that history is always written from a position of ignorance about a yet greater factor in history than that which has been recorded, and which yet remains unknown: The future.

While the clever number games motivating the censornet’s frantic attempts to scope Franco’s speech for editing can work wonders with data-driven inference, they are unable to employ that inference to construct data. In other words, even if the censornet had found acceptable boundary points, they would be unable to contextualize their own edit in terms of the unknown future.

While, for instance, they were able to infer that Franco’s second sip from the glass of water had a relationship to his earlier nose-picking and thus should also be edited, they are unable to predict how their current predicament relates to any future, unknown predicaments that may well encompass their current, and so require a recursive re-edit in the future, where all assumptions about the integrity of the record are put to question. Franco’s point is expressed by precisely this dynamic, and understanding that dynamic is the key to understanding Franco Kamehameha’s assertions about the nature of history.

In the recent present, a man made an unpleasant gesture and muttered a profanity before attempting to divert attention via a prop. This ungraceful display was prevented from marring his public image by bureaucracy. He then pontificated at a certain length on the nature of truth, honesty and history before ending on an endorsement of censorhip by way of direct reference to his earlier inappropriate behaviour. Currently, the most information-dense matters in the known universe are applying the finest in codified reason to resolve this paradox in a convenient way that vindicates bureaucracy. Unfortunately, according to Franco, honesty is the most comprehensive expression of individuality, and distinct from truth and as such no challenge to bureaucracy. Rather, it is a compliment.

One-hundred-and-fifty-five milliseconds in the future, Franco is making every indication that his speech is over. There is no way the computers of the past could fathom that in the near future, their solution — to reincorporate the nose-picking incident, removing his muttered “fuck”, reinstating the glass of water and changing the timing of Franco’s nose-wing fluttering to coincide with the expression of the word “truth” rather than “not”, and then finally replacing what will soon be revealed as his final “fuck” with “truth” — will be woefully inadequate.

Provide enough salient information to anchor attention in the comfortable, convenient certainties of an authoritatively asserted account of what is assumed to be the definitive past, and you can comfortably call a spade a duck even if it doesn’t swim and quack, blinding you to the obvious possibility that while here-and-now-ness may be honest, it only approaches truth when reaffirming the faults, liberties and biases inherent in the account, which renders it meaningless.

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Advertising is the dominant form of our time. It has embedded itself, implicitly or explicitly, in every form across every medium. It acts as an additional dimension of expression/interpretation, tracing a network of ownership interests, narrative/cultural associations between disparate expressions and myth-making that exists entirely separate from yet deeply embedded the communicated intent/proposition of another expression.

It is embedded in the sense that it is integrated and co-existant, but also because it is layered inside the nuance of a separate expression. The expression could have existed (albeit not commercially) without the advertising, but not vise-versa.

The advertisement, then, is a parasitic strain of culturally dominant narratives that exist within all other expressions. It relates intangible values (coolness, hipness, newness, profundity — even rebellion) to existing systems of exchange, implying (and making available) a venue for the realization of the ideal suggested/offered in/by the expression. For it is in ideals, in intangible values, that narrative finds its strength: The rationalism of mythology. The dream that because it can be thought, presented, dreamed and hoped, it can therefore exist free of the associations and connotations that bring them to action.

Ideals cannot exist separate from idealism (Plato was right and wrong; forms exist in potential-space but cannot exist without that conjured potential-space), and idealism requires mythology. Mythology is the foundation and process of ordering — without the conjured potential-space, there is no order to strive towards so mythology becomes the template, the map, the communicable notion of a potential. It must be interpreted, but as long as it is defined from a position of authority, the privilege of interpretation is left to the very constructors who conjured the myth.

Advertising is the new church. It enables certain mythologies and suppresses others. It lives in everything, but there is no consensus as to how it makes its home. Only one thing is certain: There is no contradiction in the myth that advertising facilitates rather than being dependent on production and exchange. It is understood as expressing/promoting value — but more than that, it constructs it.

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Experience never adheres to the structure provided by narratives. The inciting event suggests determinism, the possibility of a single set of circumstances giving birth to an identifiable set of consequences.

In a sense, even the butterfly effect, that staple of chaos theory, is hard determinism: The notion that the fluttering of the butterfly’s wings can be understood or considered to be even partially responsible for the tornado suggests not chaos, but orderliness. An absurd orderliness, perhaps, but an orderliness nonetheless.

The narrative about the butterfly has a clear arc: It features a protagonist, an inciting event, an (implied) middle and a conclusion. Thus, the metaphor takes on the formalistic trappings of determinism — it locks even chaos to a linear continuum. Only through abstraction, a leap of faith, can the meaning be discerned.

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Notes from Flight BA286 to SFO

On plane. Wolfed down over-priced, under-cooked English breakfast before getting on plane, only to find it held due to incompetent late passengers. Ample leg room but narrow seats. I expect to stay off the airplane food.

We met the ********* guys and now owe them lunch. Things shall be swell.

* * *

45 min delay thus far. Impressive.

Notes from The Social Network

  • Sex, sex, sex, sex, money, money, money
  • Geek culture as intellectual bastion?
  • Gender stereotyping
  • Programming as arcane art/alchemy
  • New reality hemmed in by the old
  • Very predictable to anyone (academic?) under 30
  • Suggests autistic/non-communicating hunter/prey relationship between men & women. Very predictable.
  • The men program & the women do languages/social sciences/PR. The men may also have ideas that the women don’t understand but admire
  • The best/only valid sex is random, spontaneous & result of wish for social mobility/association with career/success.
  • Traditional nerd/jock jew/WASP lines are drawn between values/social roles
  • Pretty simplistic & manipulative stuff.
  • - Admiration and “social fear-of-exclusion”/golddigging is seen as glamorous, potentially sophisticated. All relationship between men and women exists in terms of male desire for sex (and status) and women’s desire for prestige and inclusion.
  • This is not the NEW world. It’s the OLD values of a DEAD WORLD being injected into the nervous system of a zeitgeist that WILL reject hierarchy.
  • The film is cutlike cut like a trailer.
  • The reality is OLD. Is this a period piece? Possibly. Very fake — world is not at all like this. NOT AT ALL.
  • Legal system/business practices/ethical frameworks appears strange and non-sensical. Old world power-structures that exist only to trip over new.
  • Paranoid world view.
  • Interesting, but perhaps too insubstantial.
  • Tries to sum up my time without understanding that it’s not a TIME. It’s … a disillusionment with ALL time.
  • Youth is wasted on the young.
  • It’s very strange to see obvious and completely observable “reality” presented as arcana. As something that is only half-real because it is a product of youth mentality, a TIME that will cease as the generation grows into fuckwittery & AGE.
  • Age doth not fucking exist. Only boredom and fucking constraints destroy beauty.
  • Disruption is not bravery or innovation, it’s an expression of fear and social dysfunction. There is nothing wrong w/reality, there is something wrong with INNOVATORS.
  • Innovation is REACTIONARY social process.
  • BULLSHIT! This is actually boring.
  • Strength is reactionary. STrength is basic regression of potentiality.
  • Fucking temper models again.
  • Experience IS change. All is change, without change there is only absoluteness, fronzen as crystal.
  • Instruments never measure STATE they measure CHANGE ACROSS INTERVALS
  • A small interval is called a moment.
  • Time is change, instruments define the intervals. The cross-section is “perceived” or rather DESCRIBED time.
  • Language records change as both as history and IN ITS FORM.
  • Without codification there is no time. But life, genes, DNA is PERCEIVED/DESCRIBED as codification. BUT NO! It is spontaneous. Codification arises from intelligence, from ordering.
  • Can ecologies codify OR ONLY CHANGE?
  • Is evolution equal to change?
  • Are ecologies encoding evolution?
  • Or is every agent ordering own change?
  • Now that we have language, it is inextricably linked to perception.
  • Perception w/o language is NOT SOCIAL.
  • Is life the act of sharing information as perceived? Is codification the exhaust of life? Or its engine?
  • Does life have meaning w/o communication?
  • Is a rock alive if it talks?
  • Is a tree dead if it stands alone?
  • Perception & semantics are one and the same. Language is short-hand metaphors describing shared experience.
  • All communication is metaphor
  • We see what say. We say what we see. In the beginning was the word. Before the light was thw word.
  • We see the world only in terms of how we describe it. This is why abstraction is hard. This is why we are always wrong.