State of (my) Gaming

I’ve been waiting for a PS5 for a while, but I think it is going to be a long while before I get one, so after talking it over with the family we agreed that it would be interesting to spend that money on an Xbox Series S. With Xbox Gold Pass Ultimate or whatever it is called there’s a massive collection of games, most of which I haven’t played yet.

I started the day intending to play Control, but with the giant pile of software I’d started downloading, it ended up still in the queue. The other game I’d decided to look at early was Hades. It’s received a ton of acclaim and I know a few folks who really had a great time with it. I’d planned on playing Control first because it would be over and done and I suspected - correctly - that Hades was going to be a long-time sort of thing.

Now that it is downloaded I’ll be prioritizing Control but I do think that a run or two of Hades in the small gaps when I have a smallish chunk of time to play and don’t want to get sunk into something. Roguelikes in general are good for that as there’s only so many runs I am willing to do in one sitting.

Control hadn’t downloaded yet though, so I played Hades. It is good.

I don’t right now recall the word for roguelites that have progression. Things like Rogue Legacy, etc. I tend to be less of a fan of them than the sorts of roguelike/lites where the baseline starting character is the baseline starting character. I’m certain there’s a Hades speedrun category from a fresh install and people are great at it, but there’s something about the need for progression being baked into this style of game that isn’t entirely my top preference.

That all being said, it is good! Really good, and I understand why it has seen such acclaim. I didn’t expect otherwise but I’m glad to start understanding it directly.

I did play through the first little bits of Control, just until Jessie becomes the Director. I played it through to the first major boss at some point last year but it is nice to go through these intro bits again with slightly more knowledge.

Wheel of Time

So last night I watched the first three episodes of Wheel of Time.

#1 fuck you for making a pregnant woman to refrigerate her.

#2 I love pretty much everything else about it. Okay, so some of the shots were on the bumpy side and I’m pretty sure I saw at least one person look straight at the camera and stuff. A friend said it was much more like a network tv show than an HBO max, and while we were watching it Jen commented that we had been spoiled by Netflix. So, production quality wise there is some work to do but it’s the sort of work to do that is resolved with budget.

It’s not a direct translation of the text, thank goodness. It’s a strong retelling in my mind. It was made by people who read the books much in the same way I do, though with a few more layers of grim added around a bit. My imagining of it is very much fairytale medieval village and this one is probably a lot more realistic? It’s grimy, not grim-dark? Thus far at least.

There’s bits of humour. Matt and Rand and Perrin are all Matt and Rand and Perrin. There hasn’t been enough Nynaeve yet but I know she and Egwene are already so much better portrayed here than in my head. So many of those images were calcified in like… I guess probably like 1993 or 1994 Rob’s brain which was pretty uncritical and primed with mass media stereotypes and a whole backlog of science fiction and fantasy written ones.

I appreciate most of the changes to the characters’ backstories. I understand why Perrin needed different motivation and I think Matt’s roguishness makes more sense now than when he was the privileged lazy son of everyone’s favourite horserider.

I’m looking forward to reading the books again. I’ve read the first three so very many times and the first 8 quite a few. The last 6 only the once so far. I’m currently reading book 7 and I’m keeping it in line with the Everyone Hates Rand podcast which has really been helping me change the way I appreciate the series in its own high-impact way too.

Probably large parts of my interpretation was relatively far from the source material. I’m something of a pollyanna when it comes to interpreting tales.

I don’t know if I’m going to keep current with the episodes, though if there’s enough efts watching them I’ll really enjoy maybe having a little bit of conversation with them. There isn’t anyone I can have a direct nerd-out conversation with it and probably if there’s anyone who is as strongly attached to it in the way that I am but has conflicting opionions about anything I think about it feels like it would be a much worse conversation anyway.

I don't know, just some thoughts

I think that the actions individuals take is important.

A recent thread on a community slack I’m in featured a discussion about the resource usage (mostly water) of washing a load of rags per week versus that of throwing out single-use paper towels over the course of that week.

It’s an interesting problem for a lot of reasons, probably most of which don’t form a coherent thread which is why I’m posting it here where my navel is the only thing that can be seen. At this time I’m a pretty frequent paper towel user, though it is certainly the case that they consume more resources than a weekly load of rags. We all make decisions, and which decisions we make are where my interest lies.

On the one hand, individual usage doesn’t matter when compared to the waste generated by commercial use. A simple google search suggests that the average load of laundry uses 19 gallons of water. None of this is verified and I could go look as specific specifications if I really wanted to but it’s not really the point of this paragraph. 19 gallons per week is - I can’t help it I’m sorry - a drop in the bucket comparted to what is used for commercial needs.

I think that individual change does matter though because those corporations are emergent entities, as are really any organization, public or private, for profit or not. The behaviour of an entity that is formed of a group of humans is an emergent property of the behaviours those humans are willing and able to perform.

If individuals start making concious decisions and increase their mindfulness around what is and isn’t wasteful then in time those emergent entities could share those values.

I do things sometimes because I think that if I do these sorts of things, then probably other people are doing these sorts of things. I’m not an individual actor. My specific combination of motivators that drive my behaviour may be unique, but many humans are motivated by similar or identical factors. If I make a choice then people who are like me are also making a choice.

I do like the notion that I’m bifurcating the parallel universe Robs each time I do something though and when I am intentional about the decisions I make then I want to be in the infinite cohort of Robs that are working towards the better universe, whatever it is that better is. It’s a weird sort of weight and absolutely on the woo side of reality but I think that a consideration like this is helpful to me.

If we create a new universe every time we make a decision it doesn’t mean there’s an equal number of universes where a decision was made to follow one of the possible paths. Not every Rob is going to experience the same decisions, but many Robs will experience many of the same ones, if only because the number of Robs that make bad decisions probably experiences more death before they reach the decision point?

Anyway, good morning. It’s time to go see if a particular redis connection is working today.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey since just before Father’s Day. I’m level 30 or 31 now, well into the game but still quite a bit left to go.

I’m not very good at ship combat. I’ve basically been save-scrubbing my way through fort missions and such. I’m not being exhaustive yet, though I’ve gone back to some regions to tidy up and I do tend to complete most of the quests I come across. I’m playing on hard. At hard? For level of difficulty, I chose hard.

I like the level scaling for the most part. Regions have a level range, and npcs start at the low level but once the player’s level exceeds npc levels, they level up in sync. It makes for a longer lasting game I think, but there’s definitely something lost when when I can’t go back to a lower level area and be absurdly overpowered. I don’t think there’s a best choice in this regard, and given how full of content the game is not scaling levels would result in so much of that lower level content that the joy of being epic would fade quickly.

I tend to skip most of the renewable timed missions. Contracts, I guess, using the game’s parlance. Kill x bandits, sink y ships, if there’s a time limit I’m not interested. I take the ones that are about completing a number of objectives without a time limit, complete this many caves and such. Those just get wrapped as time goes on.

There’s a mechanic in this one that is large scale battles to change the leadership of territory. The game is set in Greece in and around 430 BCE and the start of the Peloponnesian War, which I don’t really know anything about. As the player’s activities degrade the dominant faction in a territory, these large battles can be triggered.

Gameplay during them is effectively an endurance test, a small number of enemies fight against the player while npcs battle each other nearby, never interfering with the player’s combat. And this kind of sucks from an experience point of view. The battle set pieces are not terribly interesting, it’s just a flat space with a lot of NPCs around.

The game splits character development into three branches, hunting skills improve ranged combat abilities, warrior skills improve melee abilities and assassin skills improve stealth abilities.

The player is immediately placed into hand-to-hand combat in these battles, so respecing - which is very cheap - into Warrior skills before triggering the fights is the best course of action and in my case the only way to get through them.

The game features npc combat in other contexts as well, and it’s so much better in those contexts. You can train wild animals into camps and they will attack each other and during one pretty significant group combat not in a set piece I had one of the better gaming experiences ever, where I Sparta Kicked a higher-tier opponent, causing them to fly back a bit and fall prone, then an NPC attacked them with a different special attack and finally another NPC finished the opponent off with a fire arrow headshot. It was a fantastic team up that caused both Jen and I some excitement.

I tend to hyperfocus when playing games. I mean, I tend to hyperfocus anyway, but when I’m playing a game I tend to only play that one until I complete it. I don’t think that’s the best style for Assassin’s Creed games though.

I enjoy the series, but they aren’t games I love. I’ve played all of the mainline titles and finished all of them except Syndicate which just did not grab me. I think I jumped into it almost immediately after finishing Unity which is something I know better than doing. It’s inevitable that I will have received almost all the enjoyment I can get from a game the scale of an Assassin’s Creed before I actually complete the game itself. This is true for most open world sorts of games, including Skyrim, all the Fallouts after 2 and before 76 (which are the ones I’ve played) and others of that ilk.

I recently played through most of The Outer Worlds again, so that I could go through the DLC. That’s a game that deserves it own post but to summarize I think it’s a wonderful universe and an extremely well-implemented game with something that I haven’t been able to articulate missing.

While doing so, I did a good job of taking breaks from it. I wouldn’t play every day, it wouldn’t be my focus and I played other games - mostly Spelunky 2 which I’ve been steadily improving at but haven’t gotten to any of the endings - and worked a bit on personal projects, stuff like that.

I’ve been waking up before most of the other folks in the house for a few months now (Wellbutrin!) and this morning I played Spelunky 2 instead of Odyssey. It’s a small thing to consider a success, but it is. Even just the fact that I would have to wait for the game to load instead of just resuming from the sleep state was a barrier to not playing Odyssey.

When I got into Athens in the game, I came across the Agora. This was one of the sights we visited while in Greece in 2019 (2018? Probably 2018) and I was able to stand in the spot where the bench the boys sat on while we took pictures would one day be set. It was another great game experience for me and I’m sure there are many examples of how well made the environments constructed for these games are but it was wonderful to compare what the experience of climbing up to the Acropolis of Athens was in real life as compared to the in game representation of what it was like when it was newly built.

The long-term value in these environments that Ubisoft and others like them are creating is deeply interesting to me. There are obvious compromises being made in the geography of the game. I’m sure the scale is publised but comparing the in-game map to that of modern-day Greece shows that much of the east coast of that penninsula is removed, for example.

I am far from the first to speculate on using virtual environments to experience history so I don’t need to go into it but I’m learning just a lot of stuff about Classical Greece and the relationships between the city states during that time. The Assassin’s Creeds games have long done a good job of exposing real history but this one is registering much more. Maybe because I know more about Classical Greece than any of the other locations because of its importance in Western Civilization just in general. I’ve been to New York City but wasn’t entirely able to make the same connections, so perhaps it’s because so much from this era is still present whereas NYC at the time represented in Assassin’s Creed III is almost entirely paved over.

The crafting system is very lightweight, resources can be used to upgrade or improve weapons and armour and mostly for upgrades to the ship. It’s a good level of detail for this sort of game I think. This game is not a simulation in the way many RPGs have tried to be, it’s much more on the arcadey side of that spectrum and casually grabbing sticks and rocks while running between set pieces is easy and acquiring lots of rocks inside caves is pretty fun.

There’s not as much emphasis on environment in this one, and there’s a lot less navigation by rooftop than many others. There’s still very interesting environments but not a bit set piece cathedral that you need to scale and modify and explore to reach the treasure in. Thus far at least.

And that’s okay. I like that this series of games is starting to amass a set of mechanics that the designers can pick and choose to emphasize. Some games are heavier on water combat and others on environmental puzzles. Some games emphasize rpg-style experience and point allocation and some games emphasize acquisition of different types of collectibles. I’m sure that other long-lived series can do much the same thing but I’m only just now starting to consider how mixing and matching over a series helps mechanics be more enjoyable to me.

Social constructs and disability.

Everybody learns how to interact, and everybody learns that there are parts of themselves that must be changed or hidden.

This is for the best, mostly. One can’t go hitting others, even if one is quite angry.

So, there’s a… polishing? phase of life. Finishing, I suppose, certain educators of people socialized as women may assert.

And that’s a template. “Woman”. It’s a template that society creates. Sometimes explicitly, as in various religions or archaic cook books where what a woman does, as enforced by the template, is described in detail.

But I think those are often a cannonization of existing norms.

Humans are social creatures, as a group we do better when we’re together. Looking after each other, specializing a bit here and there, people who tend to the near, the community and people who roam.

Those roles are all templates, built over time, repeated patterns that prove themselves over and over. Finding those patterns is a key way our brain has been optimized. There’s significant advantage in that pattern matching.

I don’t know if there’s something about scale that … let me back up.

I am making a lot of assertions. None of them have been validated. Sourced objection to any is welcome, it takes a village afterall. Opinion shared in the interests of exploration is welcome, but I’m not here to convince anyone or be convinced by anyone.

These templates stabilize over time, and can stagnate. They are the status quo, and therefore they are taught implicitly as well as explicitly. Deviating from the status quo often has real risks. We’re taught to avoid intense heat because it damages our bodies. That’s a good template to follow!

I think that the scale of our societies enforces these templates, and I think most of the 20th century in the society I inhabit (southwestern ontario from 1977 on) has held these templates to be Universal Constants, like Gravity and the Speed of Light. They aren’t.

Gravity is measurable. Manliness isn’t. Morality isn’t. A good life is not.

Capitalism is a specific artificial construct and it claims that money is a universal constant, and that morality and success and a good life are measured by it. These things are not true.

Ability is a social construct. There’s a template of “able bodied person”. Ability is measured in a capitalist society by one’s productivity. If you can not earn enough money to feed yourself, you are not able.

That’s a tough assertion to support all on its own and I’m too ignorant of the details to bring it home. I’m past things I’ve read at some time or another and deep into the reality I’ve knitted together for myself.

I think it’s grounded in truth, but it’s reasonable to say there are other measures, but that’s not entirely where I’m trying to go here either so I’m going to leave it as a very big gap in my understanding, to be explored more soon.

Humans modify our physical environments to suit our needs. At an individual scale the impact those changes have is minimal, and if we are the ones modifying our environments then we can modify them for specific needs.

At scale the indivdual is lost and the modifications are made to suit the templates. At scale, the templates are believed to be fact, and deviation from those templates is punished. Directly, with explicit commands to behave in certain ways, and indirectly with incentivizations like the ability to acquire and keep a job to buy food.

These templates, these social constructs are not constants. I’ve seen people say they aren’t real. They aren’t real measurable force, but they have a real impact. The reason to call them unreal is to help us recognize that they are variable. Ultimate, to recognize that we are the ones who impose them on ourselves.

The consequence of not conforming to those templates is real. People get attacked. Verbally, physically, emotionally, for not conforming to those templates. People who don’t conform to those templates are held up as examples of wrongdoing, of deviance, of otherness.

These templates are what we consider normal. If we deviate from them physically in such a way that we are not able to conform - we are physically unable to use our legs in certain ways, unable to process sound waves, have a small lesion in our basal ganglia (perhaps) that makes it impossible to process non-verbal forms of communication - we are disabled.

This is all social model of disability stuff, obvious I think if you’ve encountered the concept before and obvious I think as well why it’s on my mind, with the context that the formal report confirming my autism and documenting some of the ways it has impacted my life.

My autism doesn’t disable me, society does. I conform to the vast majority of templates enforced by my society. I am white. I am biologically male and have learned to perform manliness sufficiently, most of the time. I have extremely valuable skills which capitalism lauds and rewards me for. As far as disability goes I’m still playing on easy mode and since I have financial privelege I was able to pay someone to help me understand how my brain works which believe you me is an extraordinary privilege.

I don’t know what impact knowledge of my disability is going to have, but I’m pretty sure because of how well I fit those templates I’m going to be lauded for it. And I know that because of how well I fit those templates I need to work harder to help the people who don’t. I’ve only just learned about it myself and have started sharing it, broadcasting it really, but I’m still isolated.

It won’t have meaningful impact on my employment, at least until my age also becomes an issue, and since I’m a white man with unique skills even that’s going to happen a lot later to me than it will to others.