Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ode to the Defrocked

This is just a little addendum to Friday's post about computer programmers.  I am still getting comments from programmers who feel it is very important that I don't have this completely stupid opinion about what programmers are and what their motivations are.  For some reason it is important that this blog, as opposed to the 1.69 million results that turn up on google when you search "programmers suck," doesn't exist in error ... I guess I have a lot more influence than I ever guessed at, since its so important to change my position.

(Incidentally, the first page on that search, Why Programmers Suck, is worth a read)

So, programmers being annoying, not news.  I need to add a little aside that its a telling bit of interest that most of the programmers who wrote comments that never saw the light of day (and a few that did) never argued, "I am not an asshole," but more along the lines, "programmers have to be assholes because everyone else in the world is so stupid."  I'd say about 90% of the negative responses felt that somehow clients not knowing how to explain what they want justified just about any response a programmer wanted to give, well, anyone.

This was not true of every programmer.  At least half of those programmers who answered expressed a desire not to be that way themselves, admitted that a fair portion of programmers do tend to have those characteristics in some degree, and that it was something that should change.  All of these comments were without exception published.

It's very easy to identify with one's profession and get upset and defensive when it's attacked, but the bigger reality is that every profession is rife with a particular kind of prick, pissant, prig or phucker.  I could write blog posts about writers, actors, directors, engineers, journalists and editors that would be no less harsh and condescending ... only none of those things, in this case, applied to the problem in question.  That problem is that for D&D to move forward from the Dark Ages (pencil & paper) is has to embrace new technology and the tools that technology offers.  And the only way this will happen is if programmers who play D&D get out of their fixed, flat, fucked thinking patterns.

Some expressed a wonder that I should attack programmers since so many of them played D&D and were likely to read my blog.  As if to say, I shouldn't attack the backgrounds of anybody unless they are the kind of people who would never read it.  Of course I know there are a lot of programmers in D&D.  Which brings up the bigger point.  Why, if D&D is a programmer-rich pasttime, has so little been done to improve the game with the programmer's tools?

I don't know.  Far too many programmers who play D&D either really aren't very good programmers, or they really suck at D&D.  Because anyone who was good at both, and who possessed a solid, nail-it-to-the-fucking-wall work ethic, would have gotten on this thing done two decades ago.  Or maybe the brainwashing about what D&D ought to be - this stupid concept that computerization is anti-imagination, for instance - has polluted the minds of good programmers into thinking their dabbling wouldn't be appreciated.  Either way, I felt I needed to shake that part of the community up - and the best way is to first make them very uncomfortable.  It is in being forced to defend ourselves that we are forced to think about what IS defensible.  It is way to compel people to examine themselves, and THEN return an argument.  The result is that some will rush to the keyboard, start hammering out an answer and freeze, realizing, "I don't have an answer for that."

Not everyone, of course.  A lot of people just drum out the same old beat without thinking about it.  But I don't need to make everyone think.  Just a few will do nicely.

So if the gentle reader can't understand why I would approach these subjects in this manner of confrontational brutality, there it is.  Some will always argue that a gentle prodding and suggestive post is more effective, but its been proven that the more respect you give the status quo, the stronger the status quo gets.  The solution is to spit on the status quo, take the heat and let others realize that it's not really that hard to hock up a few big ones themselves.  As it goes on, the status quo seems less and less oppressive and meaningful, and change begins to occur.

That is where the energy comes from, O Gentle Reader.  From the knowledge that it takes energy to change the world.  It can't be done from your lounge chair.


Isle said...

Thanks for the "Why Programmers Suck" link. There's little more valuable than competent critique, even with a little sensationalism mixed in.

According to Max's checklist, I am nearly an "excellent" programmer.

Isle said...

Regarding your actual post, I've given it some thought (eh?) and I'm inclined to agree with your approach... with a stipulation.

I think you're toeing a line between incendiary inspiration and troll-feeding. I mean, you're inevitably doing a bit of both, and your careful comment moderation (which I appreciate, by the way) plays up the former and suppresses the latter. If one is not careful, an abrasive idea can harm its own cause; it's not wise to draw a line in the sand if one doesn't expect anyone to cross it. I think the key is to establish some small empathy to create an opening for the challenging idea. In this case, you've done that in the discussions following your original post.

Personally, I would have set up the empathy in the original post to reduce the backlash, but you seem to have thicker skin than I do.

I just finished The Spark, an simple read about the internal culture Cirque du Soleil tries to foster. In it, John Bacon writes, "Our goal is to make the artists comfortable in just about every way possible, so we can make them uncomfortable in their thinking-challenge them, destabilize them." Is it possible that more empathy would make your challenge more effective, not less?

Alexis said...


I've shown every kind of emotion possible on my blog from the beginning. The 'comfortable' part John Bacon refers to is the part that got all of you wonderful readers to come to this blog in the first place. And you come back again and again - because despite the discomfort, the thinking-challenge is there. Comfort has it's place. There's no trouble for people who want to be comfortable. They should simply stop reading this blog.

In keeping with the Cirque de Soleil position, the expectation for the artists is that A) they will work like absolute dogs; and B) they will improve. I hold this standard in myself, and the principle of this blog is to not let others shirk from this standard, however many excuses or quantifiers people give.

I ask the reader to work and improve. In the Cirque de Soleil, if you will do neither, you will not be a part of the Cirque de Soleil. On this blog, if you will not lift your hand to work on your world and upon this game with all the blood and sweat you can muster, and if you will not grow and improve vastly in the process, than like the Cirque I have no use for you whatsoever.

I appreciate people just want to play a game. There are literally hundreds of blogs for people who just want to play the game. The blogosphere does not need another cheerleader for people who just want to play the game.

Here, the bar is set very, very high. And the philosophy is:


M.. said...

Honestly, I don't think it's so much that "programmers are assholes" as it is "assholes are programmers."

Having been one, I can say that. I can also say that intellectual, logical, micromanaging asshole-control-freaks are drawn to programming because they're GOOD at it. They possess all the qualities that society says are negative, but really f***ing work amazingly when applied to computers. It's a difference in the way people and machines think; machines are assholes, too, and if you're going to tell one what to do...

Limpey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDJarvis said...

20-25 years ago there was a lot of work going into many a MUD or MUSH. There was a lot of innovation and creation going on where WIZ's, Mod's and almost anyone could introduce new elements often in real-time (or close enough for the era). These games and environments were text-based for a host of reasons including hardware limitations and communication speed.

When the shooting in the first gulf war started I discovered this from a fellow I was playing a game of chess with in a MUD with someone sitting in Sweden while I was in the U.S., that was the stuff of sci-fi and techno-thrillers just a couple years earlier.

In the past 20 years hardware has advance to the point there are no real programming based restrictions and communication is much speedier and easier than it was then.

So where's the 3-D MUD's that let folks create and edit their virtual world's in real-time and introduce new rules on the the fly? It should be here already.

We've got fancy MMO's but they fall far short of the promise.

Folks that declare: "there's no market to support the investment of time and funds" are fool's. People once said normal folks wouldn't need personal computers..there are 7 of them in my living room right now (1 desktop, 1 laptop, 2 game consoles, 2 smart phones and a handheld game). Create a market for it by developing the right tool.

Get cracking folks. The market will be there if your tool do the job.

Alexis said...


If this is true than why am I not one?


I am unclear how computerization makes "talking, passing notes, sending IMs, whatever" not doable?


You echo my sentiments exactly. But you can see clearly from many of the responses here and elsewhere (if you're looking for my detractors) how really stuck in the mud this stick is. I have to wonder how it got this bad.

Boric G said...

It's very easy to identify with one's profession and get upset and defensive when it's attacked, but the bigger reality is that every profession is rife with a particular kind of prick, pissant, prig or phucker.
How true. Every profession has them, and if I took umbrage at every anti-attorney comment I hear or read online, I would never get anything else done.

I'm just sayin'.

Eric said...

3D takes a LOT of art. I know I keep bringing this up, but Dwarf Fortress was a fallback position after an initial attempt to make an entire fantasy world render in 3D. See this article:

Tiles on a hex grid seem to be the way to go, to me, if you want to take Alexis` combat system and scale it into .... it's still a video game, just like D&D is a tabletop game. 3D would be much easier to add on the back end, instead of upfront.

Oddbit said...

Alexis, one question. When you make your horridly complicated spreadsheets, does that not make you a light programmer?

More to the point, I think that perhaps one of the key problems is that getting 8 developers (not just programmers, though I figure you know that) together they can sit down and make a 'gaming platform' for little money, or make Minecraft for more money.

If you haven't checked out maptools yet I would recommend taking a look. While it doesn't have all the tools you could ever want, currently I am using it for playing online for two different systems combined with skype.

Carl said...

Personally, I'm not going to argue, "I'm not an asshole," because I am a dick. *rim shot*

Yes, I should get my own blog, but I'm shiftless and lazy.

Regarding JD Jarvis' remarks on MUDs and MUSHs, I remember those glorious days. He's right. That was the start of the computerization of tabletop D&D. That was the next evolution of our beloved hobby. You can read all about this on Richard Bartle's and Raph Koster's sites.

What happened? First, graphics won out over gameplay. Everquest, specifically, which was a graphical layer over DikuMUD. That was the one that changed everything. It was pretty. Suits understand pretty. Pretty sells.

What else happend? Turns out game publishers ("business" people or suits) like explicit gameplay and are more likely to listen to whiney assholes than they are to study exactly what's happening in a game. They don't understand emergent gameplay. They can't not listen to a persistent whiner. I'm referring to Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. In both games, the execs couldn't understand the games and what made them compelling (or didn't bother to) and so they eventually died in obscurity.

(Winning pseudo-quote from LucasArts around the old-old Star Wars Galaxies, "People wanted the Han Solo experience, but what they got was the Uncle Owen experience." Thereby demonstrating their complete ignorance of just how challenging it was to set up a moisture farm in the wilds of Tatooine and just how goddamned adventurous that was.)

Modern MMO titles, like WoW, have actually moved away from emergent gameplay and use socio-psychological manipulation to compel people to play and continue to play. What's the number one reason to play WoW? "My friends play it." This is usually followed by, "Oh! I just got a level/magic sword/killed a monster," and the game puts on a little light show, and makes pleasing sounds, reinforcing your decision to play and making you want to play more. It's Pavlov's research put to commercial use.

Alexis, "Why, if D&D is a programmer-rich pasttime, has so little been done to improve the game with the programmer's tools?"

There are tons and tons of tools for DMs on the market. Millions of lines of code have been written to support D&D and make it better.

The question you ought to be asking, and maybe you are is, "Why isn't any of it very good?"

That brings us full-circle. We either have a game that isn't very good, or the people playing it aren't very good at it and so are incapable of designing good tools to go with it.