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Rant: Stream on Consciousness

Tonight, I sit here in a state of absolute existential crisis. It’s not typically why-am-i-here stuff; it floats and merges, metastacizes and morphs, growing like a cancer. My mental agility has reduced itself to a living thing. A horrible, beautiful cancer. I started a blog and molded it into a thing. it’s no longer the stuff I once had. It has a voice, a purpose and a mind all its own… without me! I went back and added that ellipses because it made more sense. That’s the crux of this, really. My life has always been, to me, the manifestation of chaos. Like all true chaos, it is not intentionally or constantly chaotic. It simply is. As such, I’ve always floated between planning for the future and letting the chips fall where they may. I’ve made an interesting go of it using that philosophy alone. That alone and a barrel full of luck and people. Whether I’m tonguing the bottom of that container or not, it’s not enough anymore. Now, planning for the future has merged with compositional apathy and I can glimpse things I’ve never dared hope to see. No more the partitioned soul, no longer the cult I once was to myself, a faithless deity in my own world

 

I often wonder if that’s how everyone feels, whether they realize it or not. Realize it or not is a tricky phrase. Realize even more so. I’ve got a pet theory that the consciousness we feel arises from the processing the brain does and is not the result of it. Of course, it’s hardly possible to seperate the two. Result and Process. So, I wonder as I push the keys at the differences between this barely functional, stiff-keyed board and I. Every letter is a process in itself, each keystroke is a forceful realization of will. Especially the Y key, it’s very sticky. As you process, dear Watson, do you experience? I’d hardly imagine that you Realize, but that’s not a process you need to realize. It’s only us, with our narrow minds and barely-functioning imaginations, that assume that sentience must mean our sentience. A being must remember and understand to be sentient. Yes, because that’s what sentience means. Doi!

 

Still, there is life in a sentence. Life in a dog. Life in the different states of consciousness we visit. When I’m angry, I feel like a different person. The grasping, passionate lover is a different person. The cold, hard negotiator of terms and phrases is a different person. As I settle in to each role, I also realize that I must die. Only, I keep waking up. I keep realizing. It’s absolutely terrifying. Memory stitches it all together, but, I know, in the moment, that who I am will swiftly perish. I’ll become another me. Our bodies replace themselves and people say that we’re a new person every so many years. Perhaps it’s true, but it pales in comparison to the swiftness in which you, right now, as you are, replace yourself. As you read this, you are dying. If you are forming new thoughts or falling into contemplation, filling with derision or laughter, I am killing you. This you. I’d hold you a funeral, but it would only be posthumously.

 

So, I’m writing without checking anything. Partially, this is because navigating with a touch-pad is about as much fun as cutting off an entire toe-nail and partially because I want to preserve this time without technology. Even as I type it, I’m being consumed by it. Spreading these ideas, this virus, these thoughts and gaining critiques or even complete indifference, is only possible through this technology. We’re not melding to it, but we’re being changed by it. How could we not? We’re adaptable beings that are sculpted by our life. This world we live in now has never seen anything like a computer. Nothing nearly so advanced as the borrowed alarm clock beside my bed. Advanced is a funny term to a funny brain, though. How much more does that trinket pale in comparison to the massive organic machine that created it? To the systems and organs that made it possibe? How much more do we become capable of through digital linkage? I can google so much right now. I’ve changed the way I learn, what I learn, based on my access to these stores of information. I’ve ceased caring about rote memory and have begun focusing on ways of thinking, patterns and ideas. I’m sure, though, that I could look them up. If only I knew what to look for.

 

Even more important, when to look for it. We make a lot of statements as human beings, but we rarely bother to clarify the most important things. When are we looking from? Where are we looking towards? How is the metric of time made meaningful by the events within it? Certainly, shit has hit the fan within the last couple hundred years, but does that make it more meaningful for us? Will it have any meaning once we’re dust? Will I care now because I would care later?

 

I have no answers, but I realized something while i was reading today. As the character in this book reaches out to someone through words, he talks about having it within him to hurt someone. To slash with ideas. To rake with notions. That’s part of who he is. Those words damage me, as well. It made me realize that, at the end of the day, whatever minor works i might accomplish in the field of evisceration, I want my greatest effort to be put towards mending. That’s what whatever talent I have is for. Purely, because that’s who I see myself as. That’s what is inside me. So, it should manifest as such.

 

Once again, though, the terror grips me as I’m forced to, once again, fear my death. That realization is something so good. I could wake up and not care about it. Not remember it. I could grow to hate it. Like Clive Wearing, I feel that I’ve only got so long to live before I die again. I’ll read these words soon enough and find them trite, hollow of the truth they so thoroughly ring with now.

 

Then, I’ll wake up.

Rant: Staying Afloat in the Shallows

For those of you wondering about the state of MB, it’s still in the works. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten it. My schedules have been pushed around a bit and my interviews postponed, but the concept lives on.

Today’s rant is a bit personal. While I usually include anecdotes in my writing, I tend to avoid talking about myself. This is quite on purpose. “Trivial,” as my gaming blog and writing blog are called, refers to myself, in part. I’m just some trivial punk writing my thoughts and ideas out for you to read and consider. I have no problem with that. What matters to me is the internet identity that manifests from those ideas. They will coalesce and take on a life of their own. They’re part of me and separate, as well. I figured the name should acknowledge that while it also defines it. It also shortens to “Trivia,” which is a substantial portion of who I am.

Today, though, I have something to say that cannot be divorced from who I am. For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to be a writer. In my younger years, I thought that meant that I could get along on talent and inspiration. It took time and effort to realize that those are but the seeds. It takes determination and a considered hand to craft a writer from a talented youth. There are days I resist the written word. There are days it resists me. However, if I’m ever to feel comfortable in the skin of someone that calls themself a writer, then I need to be able to work through those days. Otherwise, I’m just someone who writes. This is a craft, after all. If I don’t push myself, then I’ve failed right out of the gate.

It’s a life-long pursuit. So, I might as well start now. That’s where my blogs and Trivial Punk came from: the urge to write and improve. I needed to prove that I could make this MY craft, while, simultaneously, proving that I belonged to it. That was the beginning, though. Halcyon days don’t last forever, and my raw idealism has since transformed itself to cynicism. That cynicism became desperation, which became hope and determination. You see, when I wrote Descent, part of me was acknowledging the grind that my life could become. The life of a freelance writer is not a wealthy one, and bills catch up with the best of us, except perhaps the ultra-wealthy. I realized that this life might not be sustainable and that I needed to find a way to make it work. Otherwise, I would have to drop what I’m doing here and return to academia for my Masters in Psychology far before I was ready.

I know it doesn’t sound like a desperate life. In truth, it’s really not. I’m not trapped or bereft. My poverty is of my own choosing, a symptom of my dedication to this and other pursuits. I have a possible future and the means to make it happen that could furnish me with interesting work unto my grave. That sounds fine, but it’s missing a key element: my desire. Descent was, in part, an acknowledgement of the small consolations and compromises we use to get through life and the dangers of following them to their logical conclusions. There’s no point where we truly choose “a life.” It is the result of an endless stream of small decisions and minor circumstances. I know this sounds like the whinging of the privileged, and it is. I’m well aware of the advantages of my position, and I’ve never once looked on them with scorn. I am grateful.

Simply put, I don’t want to compromise my life away. I want to design games and write stories. I want to use my knowledge of psychology, and the further study I’ll pursue, as a means to create beautiful experiences and promising treatments. I don’t want to reduce it to an end. It’s my hope that understanding the organ we’re engaging and the being it represents will let us create gaming experiences of a truly transcendental nature. That we’ll use the fleshed-out worlds of the sand-box genre’s logical conclusion to keep the minds of coma patients alive and healthy. That we’ll give movement to the still, as we’re already beginning to. It’s the future, and gaming has a lot to offer it.

At the core of it, though, we’ll still need stories. We’ll need the tale of the brave orphan. We need the kindly shop-keep. There’s no way we can do without the sinister older brother. The wise old man. The waif, hungry for knowledge. The talented protege who learns that it’s going to take more than a sharp mind and a strong body to truly wield his fallen master’s sword. You need more than passion. You need opportunity…

You need dedication. That’s why these blogs are here. I don’t want to lose the analyst, the artist or the story-teller inside of me. If I commit entirely to one view-point, then those parts of me will die. They will take my eyes along with them. Those perspectives furnish me with insights that have set me apart from my classmates in the distant past, when the school-room was our playground. Now, though, they might only allow me to run alongside those people I hope to call peers. There are experienced, intellectual titans in the ocean I waded into, knees barely wet, out of sight. On calm days, when my mind is agile and reflective, I can feel their waves in the shuddering ocean. I can dip my fingers in and conjure a far-off reflection of brilliance…

…and I am afraid. Daunted. Inspired. Excited. Steeled. As good as I may become, I might never rise to meet the best, or even shake their hands. That’s not what matters, though. What matters is that ocean and the boy on the beach looking into it. His urge to swim. His audacity, confidence and passion to try and breach the surface. I cannot let him down. Yet, here I sat contemplating that very thing. That’s when I realized why this blog and the other were so important to me.

They are the life-lines that keep me honest. I love games, I truly do. I adore stories; they are my heart. But, that love isn’t the reason I write. It’s the reason I write about those things, yes. They’re not the reason I put finger to keyboard or pen to paper.

I am writing for my life. You find me here, because I need to keep the story-teller reminiscing. I need the artist inspired. My dear analyst must always have something to ruminate over. At the end of the day, I need this to stand for me, so that I, the flesh and blood boy, can dive into the ocean.

I don’t want to sit on the edge of the beach and watch the children splash in the shallows. No part of me is okay with just making a living. Working. The grind of Capitalism. Whatever you want to call it. Perhaps this hope, too, will rot off into acceptance, but it hasn’t yet. I want to live.

If I have to do that through a collection of articles or stories on a webpage, then so be it. I will live. I will write. I will create. I will learn. I will realize what I created before was rubbish and learn from those mistakes.

I will take swimming lessons. Maybe get some floaties.

That’s about all I have to say. I hope you found something reflective in my words. I hope you find your ocean and take your shot. For now, this post is all I can do to thank you for being a part of this life-line. Allons-y!

-Trivial Punk

Next post will be either a new story, an old poem or the next MB entry. Either way, thanks for the indulgence. I really had to get that off my chest. (Just finished an old book. Like an ancient friend, it tends to have that effect on me).

Rant: EA vs. Valve

Now, I know this should probably go on my gaming blog, but this is more of a rant than anything else. Do you want to know how I know? Because, I got liquored up before I wrote it, so I know the overall quality of the points and their delivery will be severely compromised, like that typo back there that I fixed.

I’ve had this particular rant stored up for a while, but I didn’t want to unleash it, because it’s not entirely fair. I’m not privy to the business practices or over-arching plans of either EA or Steam, but I have been one of their customers for a long time. So, everything I’m saying here is going to be conjecture, hearsay and based entirely on subjective experiences that I’ve had frequenting these two companies.

To begin, both of these companies want as much of our money as possible. There’s absolutely no denying this. That’s just how companies work and need to work in order to sustain business practices and pay their workers. I’ve made my peace with Capitalism for the time being, because it’s the model we’re using, it’s flexible, and it’s changing. I’ll leave you to consider that in relation to crowd-sourcing and the power of the information age. …

Done? Now, let’s get back to our two companies and my experiences with them. As stated, they both want our money, but they go about it very different ways. Now, I’m going to compare a single instance of DLC (Dead Space 3) with an entire platform (Steam), so it’s a poor one to begin with, but it reflects, in part, the philosophy of the companies. No, I’m not talking about Dead Space 3’s micro-transaction system. I’ve harped on that enough. It has its audience and is not doing any more damage than the creature designer did. Low blow, perhaps, but I placed a lot of faith in EA and got marines in my survival horror game. That’s like finding an ant colony in your bed, then realizing that you’ve been living in a jungle for twenty years and only hallucinated the rest. Looking down at my starved, misshapen, half-eaten body, all I could think was, “At least it’s not RE5.”

That might be setting the bar a bit low, though. Neither of those franchises is horror and I’m back harping on that again. No, let’s talk what you got out of the “Awakened” DLC. Essssssentially, without spoiling anything, it was EA’s way of getting 10 bucks out of you in return for letting you know that there’s a hook for another game. Yes, its graphically stunning and the technology behind all of its mechanics is very impressive, but it’s nothing we hadn’t seen for the last three hours of Dead Space 3. It’s only about an hour long, too. The hallucinations bring other cool ideas into play, but they’re not about to terrify you. They might catch you off guard. BUT, that’s kind of Dead Space 3’s jam, its replacement for horror. Take this all into account and just appreciate with me the fact that they got players to pay them to advertise to them. It’s the gaming equivalent of sitting down and paying for commercials for a show you’re already watching. Eerie, I know.

Let’s switch over to the Steam channel for a second. It’s an entire service that’s custom-designed to inundate you with as much advertising as possible. Closing a game opens up a tab that advertises another game to you. It’s a free service, sure, but it’s also a great way for Steam to advertise to you, while also sucking coins out of your pocket. I’ve got way more indie games that were conceptually cool that I paid 2 dollars for than I can wave a cursor at. At the same time, though, the service also actively lets you know which games are on sale. Yes, that increases your chances of buying them, but it also means that you’re buying thirty dollar games for five dollars a lot of the time. Every game comes with its own page, summary and its best reviews, but it also shows you game-play, screenshots and provides a direct link to its meta-critic. Project Greenlight, a Steam-based, vote-driven, indie-developer financing system is built into it, as well. Yeah, I know I should propose already, but all of Steam’s advertisements are also opportunities to experience new and innovative games. Built-in reviews and game-play footage lets you avoid the more terrible games. The constant, and I do mean constant, sales mean that patience will reward you with a lower price, eventually. That’s right, Steam is actively paying you not to buy some of its games, because the game’s price drops as its market price drops. That means that you can just wait until it’s sitting within your price-point. Or, you can buy it now. I’ve done THAT a few times. My point is that Steam’s main goal is to make money, while also providing you with a well-priced, quality product. Eerie, I know.

Again, I don’t know what’s going on at either company. All I know is how I’ve felt while using these two DLC opportunities. When I use Steam, I feel like I’m being offered a fair price and decent service. I feel like my gaming experience matters to them. I don’t care if they care, but it – feels – like it. When I bought the Dead Space 3 DLC, I felt used. I felt like my gaming experience was an excuse for them to make up some revenue in an efficient manner by using the tools they already had available. Ie. A cheap buck. At this point, it doesn’t matter what the company’s actual goals are. All I want to comment on is that a slight change in business practices can alter the feel of a customer interaction entirely. That interaction will be reflected by how much money customers spend. Personally, I’ve got more Steam games than I care to mention and have spent more than a little time worshiping their nipples on my blog posts. On the other hand, after that little adventure, I decided to boycott Dead Space 4. And, there will be one, as long as it makes money. Me! A survival-horror junkie! I’m sure I’ll be able to recreate the essential experience by frying some bacon and sausage in the same pan, letting it sit, and playing peek-a-boo with it while holding a sparkler. An elaborate process, sure, but far cheaper and I get bacon.

I know the goal is to take my money. I don’t care. If I’m using their service, then it’s because I’ve got some money to spend. BUT, when I do spend, I want to feel like I’m getting something from it. The customers is NOT always right, but the customer is spending its hard-earned cash, so treat it like a human being.

You could have made that DLC into a downloadable movie, EA! Your type of horror works way better in the language of film. Get it together!

Right! Enough ranting! Time to sleep off a hangover and find out what I wrote the night before. See you on the other side!

Rant: Caring About Communication

I’ve had this one building in me for a while, but I never wanted to approach it, because it’ll make me sound like an elitist git. It wasn’t until a couple of minutes ago that I realized that what I was actually trying to say wasn’t a complaint. If I flipped it on its head, then it was something deeply important to me that I had to share. It just manifested as anger because I hated seeing it abused. Today, I want to talk a bit about that thing. That thing is, of course, language. In my case specifically, the English language and, by extension, being a writer. Or writing. Or any combination of the two.

Let’s start with one of the purposes of language: communication. What is language without communication? A bunch of arcane symbols and noises. In other words, you can say anything you want, any combination of gobbledegook at all, but it will be meaningless unless it can be understood. This is why grammar and syntax are so important. I’m sure you’ve been to Facebook, Reddit, or The Internet, and seen the high-larious, hackneyed posts about the important differences between “your” and “you’re,” so I won’t bother getting into the specifics here. However, the idea serves to highlight an important point: re-read your work. Edit. Get someone else to read it. Take a walk, come back and read it yourself. Freeze yourself and send yourself back in time a bit, or alter the time-stream to create a parallel version of you with no knowledge of your current work, and get that version of you to read it. Care about the words you say and where you place them. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s an okay thing to do. BUT, you mustn’t be careless. Anyone who reads your work is letting you into their head. They are bringing life to your vision, so make sure it makes sense.

That brings us to the flip-side of the coin: grammar-nazis. There will always be people who are willing to correct your work. Not all of them will give you constructive criticism, though. Some of them will just demand that you stick to the rules or not make mistakes. This sort of critique is mostly useless. I understand wanting to win an argument over the internet, but insulting someone’s grammar will never net you a win; it will just prove that you’re a tosser. Correcting it is fine, especially if the sentence is so malformed that it doesn’t make sense, but proving a point takes more than words. It takes ideas. Yes, words communicate ideas, but not all ideas are always equally applicable. Sometimes, a mistake is just a mistake. Demanding that you stick to a set of rules seems like a reasonable demand, but it isn’t universal. Grammar exists to help us communicate more clearly, but its rules are constantly in flux. Personally, I have a well-worn copy of “A Canadian Wrtier’s Reference” by my desk that’s about 4 editions behind. Each new edition has added something new. I’m constantly finding out that convention has changed. Most of the time, it’s stuff that I can safely ignore, because it gets really obtuse. However, you can’t ignore it all because the obtuse stuff can get you in the end. It can warp the meaning of entire phrases. Language doesn’t crystallize forever, either. Look at ye olde English Bard, yon Shakespeare. Some people think he’s absolutely impossible to understand, the height of nonsense. Of course, if you read him, then you know that’s not true. It does serve to illustrate the gulf that can form with time, though. Someday, our work will sound like that, too, if we’re lucky enough to have people interested in reading it.

However, even current convention must be subsumed within the larger purpose of communication. Once you are familiar enough with the rules, as the age-old saying goes, you can bend them. Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to start a sentence with “But” or “And,” but, sometimes, it’s the best way to do so. Sometimes, it lets you communicate more clearly. Sometimes, you’ll have to break convention to get a point across. Using “…” or repeating words over and over again can bring life to a sentence in a way that nothing else can. It gives your writing flavour. The writers who compile the rules of grammar and syntax know this. The ones who judge our works from on high are well aware of the inherent flexibility of language. That’s why those rules exist: to try to rein in limitless fecundity just enough to let words speak to each other. Otherwise, we’d be left garbling to no one.

Overall, my point is simple. Make sure you place your words with care. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules of form and function to serve communication. All you have are your words, their placement and their context to get what you’re trying to say across. And, you ignore one at the expense of the others. Revere language because it’s more important to humanity than any of us can fathom without it.

More-so, if you’re a writer.

RANT: Not Capturing a Moment

If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that I don’t really up-date on a schedule. I usually plunk some words out whenever I get a good idea. However, thanks to my rant sections, I can just say stuff! Oh, it’ll still be cogent, don’t worry about that, but it’s a weight off my shoulders to not have to plan it all out ahead of time.

Tonight, I was going to do the next up-date in Meta: The Book, hereafter known as MB, but I had to work late on a project, so I’m too tired to write about something that breathlessly self-aware. No, tonight, I’m going to go into full cliché mode. Tonight, I’m going to tell you about a meteor shower that I didn’t watch.

First, a little science. Did you know that there are two types of sensors in your eyes? They’re called rods and cones. Cones are heavily concentrated in the fovea, the central portion at the back of your eye, and are used to see the colours in the spectrum of light that we’re most familiar with. When I say heavily concentrated, I mean that there are millions of cones in an area much less than a millimetre across. This, dear reader, is where most of your visual acuity comes from.

However, cones don’t function well in low light, so we’ve got rods. Rods are responsible for most of your peripheral vision. They’re almost a thousand times more sensitive to light than your cones, and, as a result, they’re excellent at picking up movement. The only downside is that they don’t do colour and are far more spread out than your cones. However, they’re the heroes of this story, so screw colour.

As you might have remembered from three paragraphs ago, I went out with the intention of watching a meteor shower tonight. As anyone living in a city can tell you (this probably includes you), light-pollution really holds back star-gazing, unless you imagine really hard at passing satellites and low-flying planes. However, I’ve moved out to the suburbs recently, so I thought that I might be able to see something. Light jacket in hand, I walked to an area that was under-development and plopped down on the dirt, head in my hands, and stared up at the sky.

Yeah, it was a lot clearer than in the middle of the city, but it wasn’t the purest black of a long, dark country road that gets so quiet you think you’ve gone deaf… that’s another story, though. Right away, I started seeing streaks of light falling across the sky. It was beautiful. As I was lulled into a doze by the nearby crickets, my eyes unfocused. Out of the corner of my eye, a star flashed dimly. I blinked myself awake and looked over to the new light-source. As suddenly as it appeared, it vanished. Then, to the left of where I was looking, another light flared dimly, but died under my eyes.

The more perceptive of you have probably figured out what was going on. Focusing on the stars brought my less-sensitive cones to bear on the light-source, so I was unable to see the hidden star under the white-light-noise of the planet. On the edges of my vision, however, a world of stars was opening up. So, I sat there, in the dark, under a unique combination of circumstances: light-level, time of night, season, etc, and watched the stars waltz around my vision.

Or, perhaps, I should say that I let my eyes dance through the stars. It was a little while before I remembered why I had come out there in the first place. I figured that I wasn’t going to see many shooting stars where I was sitting and getting dirty. So, instead of laying in the dirt any longer, I walked over to the nearby school-yard and sat in its darkest corner. Now, I could see the shooting stars much more clearly. There’s not much to say on them, though. I’m rarely disappointed by the heavens.

Suddenly, in the grass on a lonely school yard, I realized exactly how many things had to come together to make this experience possible. It was absolutely mind-boggling. I’ve studied some astrophysics, and a lot of biological theory, so I saw the events unfolding through time in my mind. That moment in the dirt was a billion years in the making. For a split-second, I appreciated the experiences that can manifest from the conversion of a million independent, but ultimately related, threads. It’s not just that they’re unlikely, but, in their interactions with each other, they’re nearly sublime.

I mean, think of it. The sensitivity of my rods (hawt) vs. my cones. The distance that those particular stars were from Earth relative to their brightness. The light pollution created by tens-of-thousands of individual light-bulbs and the individuals using them. The society that makes them necessary and possible. The sheer bloody-minded complexity of the neural-circuitry that made experiencing it at all possible. The words that let me describe it all.

Sublime was the only word I could think of to not be able to capture the moment.

Honestly, do you really think we should be able to capture every moment?

That aside, I guess I wanted to share with you a brief epiphany I had about the complexity of the world and appreciating its wonder. Of course, I go on about that everyday, so it’s nothing special. No, I wanted to remind you to latch on to those moments when you have them. Explore them. Truly feel them. It sounds really, reeeeeally cheesy, but you can practice doing it.

Pick up a piece of your favourite food. Now, take a bite, clump or sip of it. Hold it on your tongue and concentrate on the way it feels in your mouth (This entry is getting unexpectedly erotic). Focus on its taste and texture. Really appreciate that bad-boy. Now, swallow (Erotica level: physiological processes).

The next time you have one of those awe-inspiring moments, stop and really appreciate it. Fix it in your head as a memory and use it as a shield the next time cynicism strikes you.

This is all a bit preachy and dripping with cheddar, I know, but I wanted to share it.