Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Ineffable Process of Learning How to Blog, or, I Have Banged My Head Against This Wall for a Very, Very Long Time and I Can Confirm Now that It Hurts

The long-time readers are getting a taste of how difficult it is to manage a data-base the size of my blog at the present (see Challenge to Find the Top 10 Posts).  There are more than 2,200 posts, thick with words, covering endless subjects and none of it appropriately indexed.  That is because this is a blog, which was never granted the tools for this much content.

On the whole, I do better with the wiki.  I can spontaneously create links between the pages, or build up indexes of specific subject material, while adding to the content.  Because the wiki is not temporal based in its layout, I can break up pages into separate files and improve the overall character of the material ~ and because the wiki is not intended as a commentary, but as a rule framework and world setting, I feel no compunction about editing it with a cold, heartless eye.

But the blog is a diary that says as much about me as a person than it does about my opinions regarding D&D, role-playing and the community at large.  I am not the same person who began blogging in 2005 (the first blog, which was about my political views, is long deleted), or indeed when this blog began in 2008.  I will not be the same person in nine years that I am now.  I am constantly in a state of flux, because I enjoy changing my mind when I encounter new information and a reason to think differently about a given subject or about myself.

For example, a few days ago I saw little value in making a better index of my blog.  I have changed my mind about that.  I feel the "Old Posts" that I put up on Thursday were a good memory.  Not the most enjoyable process, linking them together, but a positive experience nonetheless.

I really did come out of the gate fast.  I was spitting mad by the ninth post and right after I ran full-on into the character background generator, one of the most popular game features I ever added to my game.

Drain was right in his comment today when he wrote of this blog being a consistency benchmark, but he is dead wrong where he says it hasn't been about stand-out moments.  This blog has been all about bursting dams ~ but the nature of the blog, and the time it takes to read it, reduces all that dam-busting to the distant, forgotten past.  Even I have forgotten it.

There are shortcomings that produce that obscurity: the lack of an index, certainly.  The last of real interest for most people in changing a game they're only going to play a few years before begging that they "haven't got time" while they pour the hours and days of their lives into some company's coffers, their house payments and their ~ happily ~ partners and kids.  A game that will only be played a few years does not need vast changes to the character generator, the combat rules, the invention of a trade system or a hundred other "silver" posts this blog has included in its lengthy history.

That is not something I understood clearly when I started.  Foolishly, I believed that people on the whole wanted a deeper, more intrinsic game that would blow their consciousness and become a greater entertainment for them ~ if only someone would write more theoretically about what was possible rather than what was easy.  I've been wrong about that.  I'll continue to be wrong about that as I write years and years into the future, continuously expanding the wiki because it is something I enjoy doing.

It takes a player starting to game at the age of 15 at least three years to reach a maturity that suggests that perhaps the original game design is truly lacking.  Virtually every three-year player will think to themselves, "This needs improving: I will improve it."

Unfortunately, it takes another four years of hard, intrinsic training in game design to acquire the base-line skills for actually improving an existing game.  This is not self-evident.  Most look at games as fairly simple things, not too difficult, certainly nothing I can't play with in a few days and make better.  Most also find themselves three or four days in with the realization that game design is a rabbit hole that potentially goes down forever.  They learn that some choices have to be made about how limited their "fix" of the rules is going to be ~ whereupon they quickly discover than any real fix is going to take a lot longer than their motivation will allow.

They do the calculation:  What will this gain vs. How long will this take?  Very little, they think, and very long.  Quite logically after that, they quit.

Original game design is insanely difficult.  Because it is a "game" and because it is "fun," game design suffers the ignominy of being considered not a serious occupation ~ unless, of course, one manages to get inside the ivory tower of modern video game design without being one of the morlocks who works 80 hours a week for shit wages and the ever-present sword of Damocles waiting to cut them down the moment they complain about their shat-on, abused, miserable lot in life for daring to be a programmer who also wants a life.  Nowhere in this present Western culture is there a less respected profession than a game-design programmer who is expected to manipulate code to create pixels with flawless accuracy, and nowhere is there a more pathetic wannabe than a game-design programmer who will put up with the abuse because they dream one day they will grow up to be . . . hm.  I can't really think of anyone.

The 22-year-old with seven years of role-playing experience and the degree in game theory and design (a rare combination indeed) isn't going to push themselves into bettering the RPG experience.  There is too much money to be made in other designs.  All the other 22-year-olds have moved on from RPGs altogether, finding less and less time to play or fewer and fewer people to play with.  Fools like me, we keep trying to play but the crowd gets smaller and smaller every year.  In helpless desperation, all the 22-year-olds that are frozen out cling desperately to what they can find in video-games, self-play and personal game design . . . and this is the crowd left online, writing blogs and running bulletin boards, filming themselves playing RPGs for as long as it lasts, trying to monetize what they can create in the hopes that it will sustain this thing they love.

But I have to say, as someone who has thought and worked and built this game for nearly 40 years, it takes 30 of those years to admit some realities to ourselves.

We must go down that rabbit hole if we're ever going to do anything significant.  There's no getting around the work or the commitment.  There just isn't.  The 80 hours a week demanded of a hundred programmers is demanded because it is necessary to create this thing we like to play with our free, casual time.  Work is an unpleasant reality ~ and it is certainly going to be MORE work, exhaustive work, because we are in this thing alone and we can't, absolutely cannot, agree among ourselves about what a role-playing game ought to be.

That's the second reality.  We are never, ever, ever going to feel that a given way to create a rule for any part of the game will consistently meet the expectations of the players who remain past that 22-year-old just-got-out-of-university cut-off.  We who remain are just too individual, too obtuse, too sure that we know right and that everyone else is fucked in the head.  I just did not get that when I started writing a D&D blog.

I thought everyone would see the clear, rational manner in which I approached the game and think, "Wow, that is so cool, let me start switching my game over."  Yes, I thought like this was I was as old as 44.

It is to laugh.

Fundamentally, we who keep at this thing don't really trust each other.  We've been out in the woods so long that when we meet someone who is also out in the same woods, we know they must be an enemy or, at best, some brainless half-wit who is going to do something stupid and get us killed.

Early on, I preached and argued a lot for building a solidarity, a community, that could tackle problems and build a continuity.  If I struggle through the process of making an index for the blog, I will have to relive all those posts and I will not like it.  There is no desire to build a continuity because continuity is not something we're capable of accepting.  Continuity would steal away the one, last game we are still able to play as old-timer RPG game-designers.  The meta game of designing.  Accepting another person's combat system will deny us the pleasure of continuing to work on our own combat system.  Worse, where it comes to amateur game design, the combat system is the easiest thing to design.  That is why everyone designs one.  It is low-hanging fruit.

Finally, the last reality is that we're going to die.  Whereupon all this work is going to be just so much paper, so much flotsam on the internet, so much garbage that others won't bother to work through because it isn't going to "register" on their radar.  And where will my consistency be then, Drain?  What will it be worth?  When I am dead and gone, the post with the reader's morning coffee won't be there.

I take comfort in knowing that for a few people, I'm going to be a good memory.  There are people who are going to find my book on their bookshelves thirty years from now and smile.  There are going to also be people who pull down my unread book that they purchased all those years ago and toss it in the garbage with a shrug.  There are also those who will have read it and will still toss it into the garbage.

But there will also be people who will see something many years from now, after I am gone, who will be reminded of me and will think, "Oh yeah, that guy."

That's fairly remarkable, considering none of us have ever met.  Considering no institution has put money behind me or promoted me, that I haven't been a television personality or a traditionally published author (except for a lot of newspaper and trade content none of you will have ever read).  Granted, some readers have met me briefly at a con.  Some, hopefully, will meet me in the future.  A few have actually looked me up and met me for coffee and drinks, which is a startling experience I can say with surety.

There is a little memory there.  A little influence.  A little dam-busting.  It isn't all consistency and putting up another post in order to remind people that I am relevant, at least in that here is something to read in the half-hour before the shift ends and we can all go home.  Figuratively speaking.  I'm still unemployed as I write this.

Through all this, I have tried to be human.  I let myself rant because it is what humans do.  When I see a celebrity rant, break a camera or two, get themselves arrested, trip over their lines or turn up for a performance without having rehearsed enough, I think, "See?  Human."  It's the frauds that disgust me. The pundit selling a philosophy-as-product with the cool, smooth gift of a smug, excessive self-aware plastic exterior that I resent.

So if it has been "x-days" since I lost it, well, don't take me for having sorted myself out somehow.  I lost it yesterday on a Crash Course video [fucking hate those piece-of-shit dumbed-down and mostly wrong overcompensations for those who can't pick up a proper book] that someone else was watching.  Because the presenter said, quote, "There's no such thing as an objective truth."

Shit like that really, really, really, really bugs me.  If I drop a needle in the deep ocean, no one is ever going to find it.  Doesn't mean the needle has ceased to exist.  Eventually the needle is going to degrade and disappear, its atoms scattered.  Doesn't mean the needle didn't exist.  This ridiculous notion that pseudo-scientists on the internet possess that science is about "proving" the truth or potential of things makes me want to bang my head into my desk until there is a blood stain.  And just now I live in a house with people who watch these things daily and nod their heads in agreement ~ because while they understand where science is right now, they haven't a fucking clue where science has been and they haven't taken enough philosophy to grasp a shadow of where science might someday be.

So I get ripping mad all the time, because I'm human.  I just share it less on the internet.

Well, do have a look at my past writings.  It isn't all consistency.  I think you'll find that if you start reading a post a day right now, the "consistency" of the blog's history will sustain you very well until 2023.

6 comments:

Pandred said...

I remember a lot of the ups and downs pretty vividly.

Best case in point is probably the Conflict cards. I am so, so disappointed that those didn't work out. It felt really exciting to take a crack at them.

It's been a long time, eons by blog standards surely, and I've personally enjoyed it very much. So thank you.

Tim said...

Regardless of what past posts we might choose for a top ten list, I have to say that this one would certainly deserve to be a part of it too. A great reminder on the degree of hard work we have to go through to make a meaningful improvement in our lives and the lives of others. The wonderful thing is that the internet can ensure that someone might find anyone's work and gain something from it, and if somehow this blog ever risks going dark, there will still be readers interested in archiving its contents so that someone else can enjoy and learn from them.

No pressure. ;)

Alexis Smolensk said...

If I may make a self-serving argument, Tim, one that bears repeating and repeating.

This is why the Florentines, the Bolognese, the Napolese and the Pisans did not pay an artist for the work that they performed, but for BEING an artist. I am by no means done with the making of "top ten" posts ~ which is why I ask for support on Patreon. Not because I have created great works that deserve to be paid for, but because I am a committed artist who deserves to earn a living AS AN ARTIST . . . and not as an office worker, a cook, a dishwasher or anything else I'm likely to get in the way of employment.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

I have to say, although there are certain aspects to my game(s) that I enjoy designing on my own too much to use another design, there are probably more things that do not fit this description. Sometimes it's something that already exists, and would be too much work (of a kind that I don't enjoy) to redesign; the selection of classes in AD&D is not something I have seriously altered, although I have been tempted many times to add one or two odd specialty classes. In other cases, there are things that I never even thought of, and have included at my table to the enjoyment of myself and many of my players; your background generator (based on ability scores) and XP system are two such elements, while your altered casting times for spells is something that I haven't had the opportunity to try out just yet.

Whenever I find some table, rule, or idea that strikes me as interesting or having the potential to solve a problem I'm having, I give it a go, and am always happy to explain it to anyone who is curious. At least some of your work will probably survive for at least another generation of actual play, and possibly remain an element of the hobby's history beyond that. For me, the big advantage of the Web in this case is that it's easy to give people direct access to the original sources. "Here's Table A, which is a modification of Mr. X's table on (this page)." Granted, it also makes it easier for the unscrupulous to plagiarize with less accountability, but there's always a trade-off.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Ha, plagiarizing.

I had a student who paid for three courses and took them. I had encouraged him to tape the sessions if he wanted to replay them later, for his own use; and he came back at me, asking me if he could sell the videos online. He had no intention of sharing any of the money with me (and really, how could I police it?) ~ but he argued that this would encourage others to take the course.

I suggested that, instead, he should link me to his blog, which was fairly well trafficked. He never did.

For all I know, he went ahead and sold those recordings anyway. But I never heard of it.

Vlad Malkav said...

Concerning the video, I find (t)his kind of behaviour highly distasteful, and - at least in my country - that's illegal too. A sad thing ...

Concerning the blog and the legacy, well, you opened my eyes on countless things - both in and out of gaming - , gave me tremendous motivation (not enough to always beat real-life's weight, but a lot nonetheless) and inspiration, and drilled into my mind how much there is to learn and to grow by working on the game. You changed my way of gaming, of seeing the game, and as I won't stop playing (nevermind DMing) for as long as I physicaly can, I guess I'll keep a part of the legacy alive for years to come.

And I've fond memories of you, your rants, honesty, humanity, philosophy, and discussions.

I'll probably buy the dead-tree version of your books sometime soon (along the pdf versions that I don't yet have). They'll get tossed in a dumpster someday in the future, surely, but not by me.

Learn well, Alexis, and on your shoulders we'll learn too.