Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Niche Audiance

I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but it's a theory of mine that Futurama got canceled because it was too smart for the Fox audience. I began to think about this while watching the latest Futurama straight to DVD movie "Into the Wild Green Yonder." I may have been wrong. Slightly.

There's a whole realm of things which are basically nerd lore, but may appear upon cursory observation to be intelligence. One of the key illusions people have about nerds, and that nerds have about themselves, is that we're smarter. I'm not so sure we are. Like any group there are smart nerds, and there are stupid nerds. Nerd, like jock, is just a constellation of interests and personality traits, without any innate merit. It's easy for us, and those around us, to think that we're smarter because one of the key things nerds are fans of is science. Our access to what is effectively scientific trivia allows us to make jokes that seem too smart for the average populace, but it's really just another kind of trivia reference. A quip about some political manuver, or some particular sports figure, may not be any wittier then a "Mind the Keller Gap" sign, but because it's a reference to a scientific phenomenon it's associated with intelligence.

This may seem to be at odds with my pervious writings about nerds being innately prone to expertiese, and that's somethign I still believe, but these seemingly contradictory statements bring up the idea of intelligence differing fom knowledge. I still think that as a subculture nerds are much more inclined to wide bredths of knowledge, but knowledge does not always indicate intelligence.

Also, this entry got wayy off topic from what I was origionally planning to say. Origionally this was going to be a flimsy pretext for me to mention my new favorite extinct animal. The striped biologist taunter.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reading Behind the Lines

I've developed a kind of secret language for recording my own story ideas. Part of running a roleplaying game is keeping everything adaptable, so I can't write actual scripts, rather I have to know the core principle behind that story point, and my notes are almost indecipherable to anyone but me, because I very rarely write out any actual detail, I simply have a phrase which is both the name, and the key reminding point of the story.

It makes for a bit of a sloppier continuity then could exist, but it allows me to be incredibly fluid with the story, and to terrorize my roommates who can often find a vast indecipherable web of these phrases diagrammed across my whiteboard.

Recently I've begun using a compliment to this system in the form of my iPod's "Vigilance" playlist. While many of the songs are simply catered to the feel of the setting, there are also some which are used as reminders of potential stories/monsters. The thing about this is the sheer variety of the songs, and the thing that makes it creepy is how innocnet some of the songs would be if you encountered them anywhere else.

The Horror game implications of "Shhh..." by the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, or "Isolated" by Chiasm are obvious. Some songs, like "Still" by the Ghetto Boys are already violent in nature. But if it wasn't in the Vigilance playlist would you ever think twice about the immortal Billie Holiday's "Crazy he calls me."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Last night I was looking over a supplement book for Hunter. The book is called Slasher, and it deals with the antagonist type of the same name. Slashers are the archetypical horror movie characters. Freddy Kruger, Jigsaw, Leatherface, Hannibal Lecter, and Stuntman Mike are all listed examples of Slashers.

The thing is that the Slasher book, and the Slasher characters are several notches more horrific then the regular inhabitants of the world of darkness, which are already horrifying. Even without doing a deep reading that book shook me, and interestingly it didn't shake Kevin who was reading over my shoulder. I think I may have figured out why.

Whenever I'm presented with a character like this, one which can be thought of as "playable," I immediately slip into a bit of subliminal role playing. It's one thing to hear the description of the kid who used to slowly cut long strips of flesh off of cows not out of anger or even a sense of violence, but simply because killing was what he did, and be horrified. It's another thing entirely to hear that and then think about thinking as that person. To step, at least partially, into the role of the sociopath who kills in a state of zen cruelty. That's much much scarier. It's scarier because the basic goal here is to try to understand these things.

It's not even necessarily an unpleasant experience, thinking like this is a fascinating exercise, but I'm going to have to be more careful about when I do it. I spent a lot of last night reading Slasher, so when I went to sleep my mind was still tossing around these ideas. And when I sleep this little tossing around of ideas suddenly goes from being idle banter to being a full scale production with full visual and tactile stimulus. Idle thoughts about how to make a slasher seem trustworthy become my own little horror movie about someone who seemed so kind reminding me that you've gotta keep the little angels safe. Lord knows you've gotta keep the little angels safe.

So, given the spontaneous empathy principle, no more thinking about horror stories after sunset. It's getting too destructive

Sunday, February 15, 2009


-I may end up buying a second "The Shadows Out of Tim" album. I need a physical copy to play in my car, a need which has never occurred before.

-I'm beginning to think I may be better off if I stopped doing things out of a sense of morbid curiosity.

-I think I finally understand the point of twitter. It's so one will have a place to put all of the thoughts that one would want to write down, but aren't worth actually being blogged.

-I have been trying for ages to come up with a good parody of the old animaniacs line "Wheel of Morality turn turn turn, tell us the lesson that we should learn." The line pops into my head whenever I'm thinking about random selection from a vast pool. I nearly always have a good alternative for Morality, but there simply aren't' enough things that rhyme with turn with which to replace learn. I'm honestly surprised it took me this long to realize that I should just find a synonym for turn.

-Wheel of monstrosity spin spin spin, show us the horrors that dwell within.

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's all I know

Back when I was still playing D&D I spent a lot of time thinking about the Warmage class. In a game that was all about combat here was someone with all the arcane power of a sorcerer, and access to every single combat spell. This, among other things, made the warmage seem definitively more powerful. That was only true because the normal role for a sorcerer was to blow things up, the role of versatile caster being left to wizards, but the argument still remained that Warmages weren't overpowered compared to sorcerers because all they could do was blast things.

This lead me time and time again to an image in my head. It's a single man, in what used to be a tavern and is now a blackened ruin. There are sear marks on everything around him as he kneels in the one clear space, shaking and grasping his head and saying "It's all I know, It's All I Know!"

That's the origin of the phrase "Warmage effect." Any time someones behavioral patterns are based on an archetypical role that they grew up with, and hence were heavily formed by, and they then default back to that behavior even when it isn't beneficial you're dealing with the Warmage effect.

I think I may have found another instance of it.

On the ride back, and then on the walk aback from class I was thinking about the effect my exposure to violence has had on me. My internal lexicon has certainly been effected, but what got me most is that amongst my friends I seem to be the one most prone to humanistic empathy, even though I'm also the one who plays the most video games, which are my primary exposure to violent imagery. I was running with this train of thought all the way back, and as I went through my mechanical routine of unpacking and moving on to a leisure activity. I had gotten into a thorough discussion of the possiblity that my ability to suspend disbelief, an ability acquired through years of roleplaying, may lessen the impact of the violence upon me because I don't associate the violent acts with myself, but rather with the character I'm portraying. I was ruminating over this when my mind was suddenly alerted to the fact that my mechanized process was over and that my leisure activity was ready to be the focus of my attention. It was at that point that I picked up the controller for Saints Row 2, flipped over to my shotgun, and proceeded to roll on some bitches.

You see my point here right? I can spend all the time I want thinking about the effects that my exposure to violence may be having on me, but as things stand now almost all of my recreational activities include violence imagery. Until I can stop playing video games, and get out of table top roleplaying, and stop watching all violent TV I can't really do anything about it. And thi is the issue. I picked up my first controller at the age of four, playing altered beast on my brother Sega Master System. It's going to be really hard to do any real investigation on the effects that gaming has on me, because it's all I know.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


-A few years ago I first said that if iTunes would just sell me cheap, DRM free music then I might actually start buying my music. A few months ago they did. Yesterday I realized that I was going to have to carry through on this, and I bought my first piece of digital music.

-The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets Album "The Shadow out of Tim," is awesome. It's not yet on any pirate network.

-My new daily ritual of weighing myself would work a lot better if I coudl weigh myself accurately.

-I finished Culture Jam, and I'm a little bit concerned about picking up another book. The last two books I read had radical effects on my outlook, and I'm not sure I can handle another one of those this soon.

-I've been playing a GM role on and off for the last few years, and it's become normal for my idle thought process to drift to whatever setting I'm writing stories for. Now that I'm storytelling, instead of DMing, the stories I'm writing are much more interesting, and much more horrifying. There's only been one so far, but it may be giving me nightmares, as my subconcious searches for more twisted horrors to throw at the unsuspecting players that have been woven into my web of secrets and lies.

-Thinking about this more sophisticated storytelling medium also brings up a lot of weird questions. Like how one would get informed consent to test a memory erasing drug.

-Getting regular sleep highlights just how much of my mental capacity I lose from not getting any sleep.


I've been saying for a while now, even before my recent radical bent, that the system that runs America isn't democracy, but capitalism. I've been thinking about that more and I've realized that I like and hate it for all the same reason that I like and hate democracy, and before long I began to see that the two systems aren't really that different.

Money is the most prominent elemental form of power in society, and as far as corporations go it's the one real defining factor, just like elections are for politicians. It didn't matter that there was a two thirds majority of Americans pissed off at bush for so many years because none of those years included an election. Likewise my friends who agree with my outrage at walmart will find that no matter how much they hate walmart will not care until you stop shopping there. Which brings me to my construct. In capitalisim spending is the same as voting.

Capitalisim is, of course, a much less fair system because not everyone gets the same amount of votes, but the basic system is the same. Those who want votes manipulate the opinons of the masses in order to get votes. Since getting votes is pretty much the only means by which their success is defined they do whatever they have to in order to get more votes. This can be lying, stealing, polluting, or any other number of terrible things. We also live in representitive capitalisim. The fact that companies can own other companies means that when you slap down your cash and vote for any food product made by Post, you're also voting for Phillip Morris, or Altria as they're calling themselves now. The vote is also representative because voting for that product is voting for the actions behind that product. It's not as simple as saying "these sixty bucks say I like Nikes," because what you're also saying is "These sixty bucks say that I don't care about child labor."

And this gets me to another big problem. Both in democracy and in capitalisim people rarely know what they're voting for. The simple fact is that the people trying to get votes know that if the full story was out it would be a lot harder to get those votes, so they make sure to present a controlled story. These controlled stories have become so widespread that they're now the normal stories.

Look for the full story. Next time you buy a piece of food look at the manufacturer on the back. See just how many of these things are actually the same company, and then think about if you really want to vote for that company. If you don't like they're practices, if you don't like they way they run things, if you have that feeling in your stomach that's trying to tell your heavily indoctrinated brain that these guys are up to something then stop, and think. Every time you spend a dollar you're casting another vote. Think carefully about what you're voting for.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Supernal Presence

When you use a construct often enough you find that you need a name for it. Between my roommates and I whenever the real world is described in terms of game mechanics that's "The Grand Metaphor." I use it a lot, but when I use it in my blog I have to use it in reverse.

This is what brings me to the idea of Supernal Presence. In the game Mage: The Awakening, there is the shadow realm, a mirror of the world experienced by normal people, or "Sleepers," which is impacted by the spiritual and emotional presence of items in the normal world. One of the examples of this is that an old church will persist in the shadow realm even after it's been sold, bulldozed, and made into a gas station. This is because peoples faith in the church, their hopes and fears and emotions made that more real in the spirit world then anything that happened at the gas station. I don't know what the word for this effect in the current version of the game is, but in the old version, Mage: The Ascension, it was known as Supernal Presence.

So I went through all that to talk about object association as it relates to habituation.

Wow, this would've sounded a lot smarter if I'd just opened with the phrase "object association as it relates to habituation." That's got a good professional psychologist ring to it.

Anyway, because I am wired into the grand metaphor when I was thinking about object association relating to habituation I immediately thought about supernal presence. I can uninstall all the games from my computer, I can make the desktop much less stimulating, but this will never be my work desk because the supernal presence of me sitting at my computer is recreation. When I'm here I'm either playing a game, or watching pirated TV. The supernal presence of the computer is about play, not work.

Now I just need to find a place to make about work.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Absolute Simplicity, Paramount Difficulty

There is a phrase I've used which has never quite made it to the level of being one of my mantras, but is still endlessly recurring. The exact wording varies according to the situation, but the sentiment is this. Simple doesn't mean easy. It started with a slightly different idea that life is simple, but not easy.

I've been facing the truth of simplicity a lot recently. As I try to make sense of the world with my new awarness of passive indoctrination the simplicity of the incredibly difficult things keeps coming up. I've also found over time that I will complicate things in ways that feel rational in order to make them easier. You can excuse certain things that you know to be wrong in the simple view by taking a complex view, and you'll do this because you're too attached to those things.

It all brings me to a single thought. The thing that is obviously right before you've thought about what's right is right. Physical health is a great example of this. If you think a lot about it you'll get into complex diets, various supplements, obscure rules systems, and a variety of overspecialized exercise routines. The clear obvious solution before you think about anything else is that you should eat healthier and exercise more.

If you're trying to break the influence that TV has over you then you could think about the relative merits of certain shows, you could examine whether you really think that having it as background noise when doing chores is a sign of its influence and you could get into a long discussion about whether Hulu is nearly as bad as regular TV. That's all fine, but none of it will change the simple thought you had at the beginning of all this. If you want to break away from TV, just watch less TV.

If you want to be stronger exercise. If you want to be a better student study more. If you want to know more about a certain subject go learn about it. It's all amazingly simple. It's the simple act of willing yourself to do it that can be incredibly hard.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Clandestine Truth: The Monoculture

There is a show, of which I am a fan, called Robot Chicken. It's a very simple animated sketch comedy show whose material is almost exclusively composed of parodies of other shows or characters, taking these figures and putting them in new contexts for the amusement of the audience. The entire reason this show works is because their viewers understand the iconic figures. A workplace documentary on Cobra wouldn't be funny if you hadn't seen G.I. Joe, but because all of the hundreds of thousands of people who watch Robot Chicken have it's a funny show. The fact that this can happen through a TV show doesn't really bug me, but Robot Chicken is a good way to describe something that does.

I'm not sure if this is true for other social groups, but the humor amongst nerds is based heavily on references. Every time my table top roleplaying group meets I get a grand example of this. Kevin's character gets an ability that allows him to slide the enemies around the battlefield. He refers to it as "Change Places!" and we all laugh because we've all seen Futurama. The line "look at his great starring eyes," is understood to be funny because we've all seen the Simpsons. This is where Robot Chicken comes in. The way we produce humor amongst ourselves is by referencing the original media, in the same way that the humor that is in Robot Chicken comes from refrencing other media further up the line. None of this is coming from us. Our stories, our experiences, our discussions, those are becoming secondary factors in shaping our culture. I've said before that I am poisoned with quotes and I no longer think that was an exageration. It is a kind of poisoning.

It's not just amongst nerds either. Mantras are being etched into your head every day. There is one perfect example of this from my own life. Several months ago I routinely used the phrase "That's the stuff," as an expression of success or progress, usually in a video game. A lot of the time that I was playing Kevin was around, and whenever he heard me use that phrase he would add the word "Hostess."

The entire phrase that had been ground into his head was "That's the stuff, Hostess!" It's a marketing tagline I'm sure you've heard. It was so fully engrained that for me to use a part of the phrase inevitably brought up the rest of it in his mind. That's fucked up. Question my language if you must but there's simply no other way for me to express myself on this issue. This phrase wasn't one that any of us used. We rarely if ever ate hostess products, only Adam has shown any fondness for them, and yet that phrase had been firmly etched into our minds.

In case you think this is just an isolated incident I'd like to present something to you. Read the list, just casually, and try and tell me that you don't connect at lest one of these phrases to a commercial enterprise.

Think Different.
Fair and Balanced
You've got 30 minutes.
Eat Fresh.
Apply directly to the forehead.
So easy a Caveman could do it.
Have it your way.
I garuntee it.

Those phrases are a perfect example of this effect because each of them is generated by a marketing firm, and has no inherent reason to be associated to its product. You could have any number of things your way. You can garuntee almost anything. Thirty minutes could get a lot done, which may include applying a wide variety of things to your forehead. And yet when we pass over these phrases we think of burger king, Men's Warehouse, Pizza Hut, and Headon.

This however is just the commerical aspect of what I'm calling the monoculture. What I talked about earlier, a culture built around refrences, that's the communal aspect of it.

The monoculture allows us to divide ourselves into a small number of phenomenally large groups. The perfect example of this is PAX. At PAX I saw five thousand people burst into laughter because a group of musical cosplayers dressed up as the bad horse chorus sniped Gabe. All five thousand of us loved this because we had all seen the scene from Dr. Horrible. We were people from all over the country, but because we were all feeding into the same facet of the monoculture we were able to share this amazing experience. I spoke before about the idea that there was a vast community in existance simply waiting for a place to condense, and that PAX was the mecca to which were all drawn. Now I know why. The nerd monoculture is spead across the net, it's spread in the late night cartoon shows, and through the new media of video games. We're not, by nature, social people, but when a summoning goes out the monoculture can condense into an amazing community.

This is where we get to the real problem. The monoculture is affecting us negitively by creating a set of learned consumer behaviors. It's affecting us negitively by homoginizing our culture and taking the public stories out of our hands. And it's allowing us to form rich communities by presenting the same distant homoginized culture to everyone. If you leave the monoculture you leave it all. You can take the red pill, and hope that you find something beyond the illusions, but everything you got from the monoculture will have to stay behind. When everyone is enslaved freedom is alienating.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pivital Moments

Every now and then each of us has significant moments. On their own they don't do much. They may impact your thinking in a small way for the rest of your life, but it won't be a big change. Big changes occur when these moments happen in rapid succession. If it seems like everything I've written recently has been grand abstract ranting with no clear point it is because I may be at one of these moments, and my mind is still coming to terms with everything.

I'm going to deconstruct this, as I have many times before, because I find the exercise helps me understand what's going on, and gives me the comforting illusion of being in control of the scenario.

It started with the book Brain Rules, which got me thinking about peoples ability to control the way they think. I viewed it then, and still do, as akin to physical exercise. This was followed up by the Nova presentation "The Ghost in Your Genes," where I first learned about the real impact of epigenetics, the heritability of conditioning, and that my earlier thoughts about altering the way your mind works through self regulated conditioning may also allow you to changes the way your genes work. From this point I began thinking about psychological impact and formative influence, which lead me to the horrifying epiphany that 100% of the things you experience are in some way formative. Everything was suddenly being crushed under the unaccustomed burden of meaning, and as I looked at the world around me I inevitably began to think about what it might be doing not only to me, but to our culture as a whole.

That's when I picked up the book Culture Jam, whose aim was to expose something that I was already grasping at. I'm equally fearful and hopeful that some day I'll think of this book at the metaphorical red pill. So many little things that I had found when thinking about why people think the way they think were suddenly explained. Questions that I realized I had been asking for years were being answered. The following excerpt is an example of this.

"...A profound information-age anger that I call 'psycho-rage.' You may not have had a name for this particular emotion until now, but you know if you have it. You're bored, yet anxious. Your moods soar and dive. Barely controllable anger wells up without warning out of nowhere.
Psycho-rage spikes when you realize you're trapped in a carnival of staged events: corporate America's idea of fun. It intensifies with every hour you spend in front of the TV watching the endless parade of dramatized home invasions, boxing bouts, space-shuttle launches, election debates, stock-market analyses, celebrity gossip and genocidal wars- interrupted every few minutes by ads for cars and cosmetics and holidays in Hawaii. It reaches a crescendo as you realize (too late) that ever since you were a baby crawling around that TV set, you've been propagandized and sucked, your neurons pickled in erotica, violence, and marketing hype. You have become less than what you once were. The forces of nurture and genetics that make you a unique human being have met equal and opposing forces trying to reduce you to an obedient consumer. You have joined the North American consumer cult of the insatiables. In Buddhist terminology, you have become a 'hungry ghost,' with an enormous belly and pinhole-sized mouth. And you will never be truly 'full' again.
The strange thing is, you don't really mind. In fact, on some level, you're happy as a clam. You find yourself actually enjoying the ride, savoring the spectacle. Your daily dose of circus sound-and-light dissolves under your tongue. You can't stop watching as the bombs land on Baghdad. Your tears flow freely for Princess Di. You can't get enough news about President Clinton's latest escapades. You press the remote and the show goes on.
Once in a while, in flash of insight, you understand that something is terribly terribly wrong with your life, and that a rude and barren future awaits unless you leap up off the couch right now.
Then the moment passes. Your opening came and you didn't move. You couldn't muster the clarity of mind to figure out what to do, let alone the energy to do it.
And so your rage remains underground.
Rage is a signal like pain or lust. If you learn to trust it and ride shotgun on it, watching it without suppressing it, you gain power and lose cynicism. 'Lying is the major form of human stress,' the American psychologist Brad Blanton once said, and to the extend that failure to acknowledge your rage is really just lying to yourself, then jamming a coin into a monopoly newspaper box or liberating a billboard in the middle of the night can be a rather honest and joyful thing to do.
There's an anger, a rage-driven defiance, that is healthy, ethical and empowering. It contains the conviction that change is possible-both for you and for your antagonist. Learning how to jam our culture with this rage may be one of the few ways left to feel truly among the quick in the Huxleyan mindscape of new millennium capitalism."
-Lasn, Kalle. (2000) Culture Jam, Harper, 141-143