Writing With Standards

I have standards. I won’t press “publish” until I’m confident that I’m not contributing to the endless pile of excrement the web produces every day. I’m not what you would call a professional writer, but I try to write texts I would enjoy reading myself.

This post could be about a number of things. Tweeting every brain fart you happen to squeeze out is one of them, the recent spreading of lolspeak another. I however decided to dedicate this one to online journalism (excluding good online journalism mind you).

I know that the average attention span of an online visitor is about half of an ingress. I know news sites sell ad space with fancy click reports and other insignificant stats the advertisers shouldn’t be too interested in. I also know that journalists are probably competing on whose headlines gets the most clicks. I know but I don’t care, because the click wars are destroying the quality of online news. I couldn’t care less which yellow press magazine has the highest amount of web visitors; I want my content written with standards! Well, it’s of course possible that some sites just have really low standards, but that’s not really the point, the point is looking at what you have typed and being comfortable standing behind it.

Traditional newspapers are understandably trying to get a foothold in the online world, but the pace of events and reporting has apparently caught them with their pants down. News posts are typed as fast as possible to ride the click wave, and in the process proper quality gets axed. Not a week goes by that I don’t see something completely rubbish published and then silently edited as commenters point out the typos or even outright lies. Disgusting. It’s notable (and awesome) that most online-only sites leave the original text untouched (some sites also use strikethrough) and mark their edits clearly, perhaps that takes guts the traditional news corporations don’t possess.

It seems clear that the old journalistic self-righteousness still affects the news world. The change of mindset has been slow, and the changes mostly towards worse. In order to adapt to the new digital world order, it simply is not enough to send your writers to a copywriting course to learn click-for-more-headlines, I think we readers deserve more. Social media only adds to the vicious cycle, because since people don’t have the patience online to think about what they’ve read (if they read at all), utter bullshit gets shared. “Don’t spoil a good conversation with facts” is a too common sarcastic notion nowadays.

It’s not much but I’ve decided to start boycotting two of Finland’s biggest click hoarders you can still call news sites, funny enough they’re also the top 2 most visited sites here. Three weeks in and I already feel smarter.

The Internet Is My Brain, and I’m a Paranoid Schizophrenic

My memory is crisp, more comprehensive than ever, and my mind never tires. I quote Shakespeare to the letter while casually memorizing the 216th decimal of pi. Have you seen my vacation photos from Tokyo, oh, well let me just project them through my eye balls. Latest GISS publication and it’s implications? – Here’s the abstract. I have the Encyclopaedia Britannica bookmarked in my mind. I truly am omniscient.

Nnnnghh! No! I can’t trust any of this! What’s your reference? What’s this pop-up? What do you mean by cloud backup? Cookies? Trackers? AND WHY ARE YOU ASKING MY PASSWORD!?

I’m losing touch with reality. The Internet is my brain and I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.

The deeper I’ve integrated Internet into my being, the more I’ve started to question if I actually know anything at all anymore. What if in fact I’m the one who’s integrated in to Internet and not the other way around? Should I fear that everything I know and used to know is now known to somebody else? How much of my knowledge is only an extension of Google? If I’m right then they should also know a lot of what I’ve already forgotten, does that make my digital copy more me than I can ever be? Could this be their plan, they wait in the darkness gathering zettabytes of information, and when the time is ripe, they unleash the meticulously crafted digital clones of us to obliterate the human presence from the Internet. Imagine if your whole digital history was an AI trying to obscure the real you, it would render you invisible to the digital realm in a heartbeat.

Have you seen the shady character on the right? I think he’s following me, he could be one of the culprits. He sees everything I type, he knows my account balance, he sees into my soul. Can I trust him? He said he has such sights to show me, but I’m afraid he’ll just pull me deeper. What if he talks? What if they already know? I think I’ll take my chances.

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I might not be online anymore. I realize I’m writing this in a browser, so they are watching. If I could just get this published, so everybody would kn OHNo

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A Hype Bubble and a Pin

I have grown to dislike all kinds of excessive hype. I think I’ll go as far as to calling it an allergy, because it seems that every time when I’m exposed to it, I quickly develop negative feelings towards the target of the hype. For consumers over hyping serves little to no purpose, but it amps up expectations that only a few products can meet, still lots of people from journalists to tech enthusiasts go regularly completely bonkers over something that simply is not that cool. For journalists it’s easy to figure out, for example a lot of gaming magazines make huge money off of 8-page exclusive previews of games that eventually end up turds. As for people not making money off hyping, I think the phenomenon could be related to change addiction of which I have written here a while back.

For this sessions bubble I have chosen the fledgling motion control UI’s – unintuitiveness and poor performance shall act as the pin.

Nintendo Wii was the first super successful motion control system, and we can’t hear the end of it. After six years and millions of sold consoles, Wii seems to be the go-to example for people prophesizing the era of motion control UI’s. Sadly they miss one relevant aspect of Wii’s success story, the console failed miserably. Despite selling a shitton of consoles, the game catalogue of Wii is unbelievable poor. Basically it failed to deliver the very thing it promised – good motion control based games. This of course proves something of game developers’ creativity, but also implies that motion control is after all not that intuitive and adaptable.

Microsoft’s Kinect is the fresher messiah of motion control, this time around without remotes of any kind. Kinect also launched with spectacular awe – huge hyping from the media, geeks and gamers paved the way to yet another disappointment. The fastest selling consumer electronics appliance of all time, and no one can make a half-decent game for it. And the Xbox menus with it – geez – as intuitive as riding a rabid hippo backwards while wearing a blindfold that’s crawling with spiders.

The whole evolution of our arms, hands and disposable thumbs has happened to enable us to fiddle with objects of different shapes and sizes. Because of this, it’s no wonder controlling things with little to no touching feels unintuitive and imprecise. We did not need motion controls until Nintendo made a fortune on Wii.

If I had tried to poke this hype bubble with motion controls, I’m sure I would’ve caught my eye instead. Attention UI developers – I want to press buttons!

Words That Maketh Art

“Hey Chief, you okay? You playin’ corpse or you puttin’ the blinds on the Dusties? I thought you were a deader for sure.”

The iconic opening words of Planescape: Torment, the game that despite its age always pops up when talking about game scripts and whether games should be considered as art. The sentence is so captivating it’s almost irrelevant that the speaker is Morte, a bodiless skull floating in midair, or that the player character is also sort of a distinguishable fellow to say the least. It’s well known that the opening sentence is the most important set of words in a book, so judging by the quote above Planescape could be the best book you have never heard of. However the otherwise great novelization of Planescape starts with a line or two about the game intro and thus just misses perfection.

If we dissect the Planescape dialect we quickly find one major contributor to the mesmerizing feeling. The magic comes from the pseudo-familiarity of the words, your brain signals you that you understand the words but then again you have no idea what they mean in the context. The use of rare slang words supplemented with carefully crafted made-up words create a lingo that’s strangely familiar in an other dimension kind of way. For a game world of dimensions and planes, it’s spot on.

The awesome glossary of Planescape provides a much better starting point for a fantastic journey than most “real” authors could ever hope to achieve. The fact that the themes and concepts of the game are on par with the text is no small feat. Ideas like the dead-book, clueless primes, planes and the whole multiverse are so compelling, it’s sad that the game mechanics are somewhat clunky and awkward. However Planescape: Torment is a rare gem and should be experienced by fantasy fans, so try the novelization at least – it’s free!

Yes, in essence this post was about a single quote. I like words.

The Uncanny Valley of Violence

Violence in video games has been a regular public discussion topic since the 1980’s. The conversation usually heats up for example during the aftermaths of real life tragedies, when the public is looking for a scapegoat, and then quiets down when all the cards from protect our children to the 1st amendment has been played.
 
No matter how much we talk the talk however, it seems only some are willing to walk the walk. A parent buying an R-rated game to a preteen is not a rare sight, developers are making more and more brutal games, and the players demand all the more realism and/or mayhem from their games. And at the same time we are moving steadily towards photorealism. What happens when we reach the point where virtual characters are nearly indistinguishable from their real life counterparts, what will it mean to virtual violence?
 
Although there’s no evidence that gamers have any difficulties whatsoever in distinguishing game and reality, I have to ponder the risks of becoming numb to high definition virtual violence. Is there a limit to how much graphical violence can a person consume with out it messing with our psyche? And with near photorealism in games, I’m afraid that there is no escaping the other side of the coin, more photorealistic violence. Then, if we add immersion to the mix we have a real dilemma, how to maintain suspension of disbelief if a game’s feel of authenticity doesn’t live up to its graphical setting? I don’t know any gamer who favors the German or Australian versions of games where zombies bleed green blood or the Allies stopped a robot invasion in WWII. We are suckers for violence and will most likely not support any actions to tone down violence in games. But should we? Or should somebody?
 
What if the gaming industry would start regulating itself, could it be that in addition of size/creativity/quality we’ll see a new developer attribute in the future – decency? Then we would have the virtuous devs and the uncompromising, gritty devs. I’m sure that the Call of Duty generation wouldn’t exhilarate on the possibility to see less violence in their games, and would throw their (or their parents’) money at the latter.
 
The governments could also step in by tightening age restrictions, introducing special taxes for violent entertainment, or by outright banning some aspects of virtual violence. The problem is that these would be extremely hard to put into effect. Age restrictions are easy to go around (and it’s not only the minors we should be worried about), and any kind of content censorship would probably face the 1st amendment card.
 
Why is there a need for violence in video games anyway? The short answer is challenge and immersion. Violent struggles are the simplest way of challenging players in game genres other than puzzle and sports. Violence or the threat of it is also an immersive element especially in action games. The recent rise of indie games however has shown us a variety of different approaches to gaming, and some of them are really uplifting. So maybe there is hope for gaming as an art form rather than endless gore fest for the adrenaline junkies.
 
My theory is that because of the inevitable improvement of graphics and physics engines, yes, we will see more brutal virtual violence, but on the other hand I think we’ll also see a strong counter reaction in the form of pacifistic games.
 
For every adrenaline packed Call of Duty, we will have one hope-ridden To The Moon.
For every gritty Dead Space, we will have one thought-provoking Dear Esther.
For every bloody-hell-it’s-hilariously-violent Dead Island, we will have one beautiful Flower.
 
And that folks is awesome.
 

Confessions of a lurker

Summer, it’s a great excuse for not blogging, because you know, it’s sunny outside and all that. But to me this break has been of significant value, for alas, I am a lurker.

Lurkers are the sad, shy bunch of web dwellers that are looked down upon by the rest of the Internet. They move alone, come out of the shadows to explore forums and social sites, and then vanish without leaving any trace they were there. To put it short, lurkers consume digital content like every other visitor, but they don’t contribute. It’s estimated that 10% of Internet users create all the content for the rest of us to enjoy. That makes every 9 out of 10 people lurkers, and I’m one of them.

But here I am, writing a blog and at least trying to contribute, so how could I be lurker?  For me blogging is self-medicating, I recognized the symptoms of lurking and thought that there must be a cure, and therefore started a blog. Earlier I tried to heal the affliction by tweeting but clearly more drastic measures were needed. And yes, here are the symptoms that I analyzed before the diagnosis:

  • My account on my favorite forum turned 5 years. Average post count for core users seems to be in the thousands, I’m just past 100.
  • I can proof read one single tweet for ten minutes. And then press delete.
  • Before I like/post/share or do anything on Facebook, I always sing the Finnish “what will others think of me” song first.
  • I laugh at upvote jokes on Reddit although I’ve ever upvoted about two posts.
  • Needless to mention how many posts I’ve made there.
  • And of course, I consume content made by others hours upon hours a day.

What’s mind boggling is that I do digital marketing and social media stuff for living, and consider myself to be quite good at it. So why can’t I function as a private person? Perhaps there’s some peculiar bipolar activity going on between the professional and the private me. The professional me has gotten the pursuit-quality and love-for-all-things-digital traits from the private me, but only shared analytics and brand management in return. Bum luck if your the private me.

Anyway I like to think that lurking can be cured by forcing good content, even if it takes a while to create. Although I don’t want to jump on the lolcat bandwagon, that’s where I draw the line, I have to admit I’m envious of people who can roam the web free of restraints. I guess I just need to accept that there are two kinds of people in the digital world: those who think too much and those who create.

From change resistance to change addiction

Back in the good old days, people used to resent change, no matter how big or small. Corporate structures, web site updates, hair styles, we used to be suspicious. What will others think? What was wrong with the old? How is this going to impact me? And this is only natural, it’s hard coded into our genetics, you could even argue that we’ve prospered so because of our reluctance to change things that work. The village old timer turning down every suggestion on how to improve crop harvesting is the final frontier of cynical wisdom. He’s not necessarily opposing the changes, he’s just worried if we rush them and fail.

It’s interesting to notice that now people are becoming more and more change addicts when online. People are hoping for changes to spark up their digital lives, they need a steady flow of digital revolution to feed their appetite. This is most visible when new services or products are launched, and the crowd starts to reflect the possible changes.

Recently I stumbled upon a year old blog post about Google+. The writer pondered over the great improvements over the other social networks, and ended the post with a revolution prediction. What’s noteworthy is that there is nothing revolutionary in G+, not then not ever, more like small adjustments to what we’ve used to. Facebook has been a some kind of revolution, Twitter maybe, G+ not in a million years. Had it been though, boy we– I mean the geeks would’ve had a field day.

The danger that lies in seeing revolution and change everywhere, could be that false hope is clouding the judgement of the internet era business. When every little startup is seen as a potential Instagram ($1 billion, I mean wtf?), there’s bound to be a giant sized bubble somewhere out there waiting to go bust. I just hope that the huge expectations would be toned down a little, and some common sense would be brought into the picture. Hopefully the recent absence of new Apple revolutions and the awkward Facebook IPO will act as a coolant, and wake up the inner cynic in all of us.