November 21, 2004

Parts and participles

I play games. Everyone who reads this blog knows that. I also read gaming sites. There are even a few of them listed as links right here on this page. Today I stopped by Terra Nova and read this article. It included a link to an article at the New Yorker about plagiarism and copyright.

Before you go any further, click on those links and read the articles. If you're not interested enough to read them, then move on to whatever it is that does interest you because you will not understand today's post in the least. It will have no meaning for you whatsoever.

All right then, here we go:

I write. It's a worse addiction than heroin or cocaine, a greater high than Ecstasy or PCP, and more delusional than the most far fetched LSD trip you can ever have. There is no drug that can compare with writing, and that is one reason writers so often have substance abuse problems. The same personality flaws that produce an addict can also produce a writer. Artists can be spiritual and high-minded, musicians can be either elitist or populist, but a writer is always a kind of addict and like any addict, they have a very low tolerance for reality. Not all writers are geniuses, but every serious writer is an addict, and like all addicts, our drug of choice is far from pure.

Sadly, it's also the only drug we have. There are no pure words, there are no original ideas, every story that can be told has been told. The biggest difference between a writer and other artists is a serious writer cannot pretend to be original. Words are too limited, their range too short, their lifespan too completely inconsequential. There is nothing more ephemeral than a well-written story, there is nothing more immortal than a memorable one. More often than not, they are both the same story.

In 1985 I sat down to create a fantasy world. It would be a world of magic, of dragons, of political intrigue, and of spiritual idealism. I wrote up all the background material, created the principle characters, set out the timeline, and began writing stories. I wrote dozens of stories based on that world, none of them were publishable, but with each one, I learned something new about my craft and something deeper about the world. Satisified, I set out to write a novel. As fate would have it, the very same day I wrote the opening pages I got an e-mail from a fellow Usenet participant who wanted to know if I would be interested in co-authoring a story. I sent her the background material. She liked the world. Together we wrote, "Magic Lessons". 125,000 words of heartstopping, pulse-pounding, conscience-tripping fantasy build up from a symbolic iconography at least two thousand years old.

Then someone told me about Wizards of the Coast, D&D, Magic the Gathering, and Forgotten Realms. Someone else handed me the third book of The Wheel of Time. Magic Lessons had already found a publisher, for the entire two years it was on the market I lay awake nightly wondering if the next day would be the day I got a letter from the Wizards legal department, or worst yet, Tom Doherty Publishing. When I finally pulled it from and the dozen or so other sites where it was being offered I felt both suicidal with despair and giddy with relief. It sold fewer than three hundred copies, a figure I still find both fantastically relieving and deeply depressing.

And still I cannot stop writing! I am right now working up a proposal for a trilogy at Wizards of the Coast. It will go out in December. If it is accepted, it will hit store shelves in fall of 2006 and I will again lose sleep wondering which literary god I have subconsciously copied. If it is not accepted I will again go through the torturous blend of depression and relief that keeps me coming back to this silly blog feeding my insane delusion that someone out there not only wants to hear what I have to say, but waits with bated breath for every word.

Nothing, I fear, will ever be strong enough to break this addiction. Not even gaming. I am right now in the process of planning out a new character for a roleplaying group on the Lionna server of Lineage II. Why roleplaying? Simple, I get to feed two addictions at the same time: playing and writing.

I am a writer, and no twelve step program ever devised can possibly help me.

November 16, 2004

Instinctively insane

First, read this:
Modern Slavery

SimCity taught me to love computer games. Until I discovered SimCity, I'd given up hope that anyone could produce a computer game that revolved around something other than blowing up stereotypical enemies and reinforcing the current status quo. I played SimCity for hours, jury-rigged an installation on a computer too underpowered to support it, and then moved on to SimLife, SimEarth, SimFarm, and even SimAnt. Maxis had the most powerfully innovative games in the world.

Then something changed. Maxis games began taking a very strange turn in both presentation and function. SimCity2000 was a far more complex game than SimCity, but in many ways, it was also far less challenging, and infinitely less rewarding. The direction your city could take was far more limited than the original, sometimes unrealistically so. For example, in SimCity you could separate factory zones with either trees, open land, or parks. Doing so reduced pollution and made your city grow, but tax rates were still tricky and raising the industrial tax too far could destroy your growth in no time. In SimCity2000 separating heavy industrial zones with trees or open areas had the same effect. However, if you put parks between them, you could raise taxes on those zones and it would cause your city's population to grow more quickly, dramatically increasing your revenue flow.

Huh? What real world civil government is going to spend tax dollars to build parks in an industrial zone? What people are going to take their kids to play at a park next to a factory spewing out toxins? Even if they did build those parks (and the City of Denver actually tried this) and then raised taxes on those zones, all it would do is drive off industry, thus increasing unemployment and driving off residents, who are the real source of your tax revenues. SimCity3000 was even worse. In SimCity3000 you could build a modern airport in a tiny village and pollution would go down! Not only that, but if your city became mid-sized and you didn't have enough revenue to build an airport, your population immediately began declining. I haven't bought SimCity4 and I have no plans to.

All of the other Sim games, including SimLife, one of the finest games ever offered by anyone, were not updated. If they had continued updating SimEarth and SimLife, I would not be online playing Lineage II and writing this blog. That's how much I loved those games, but now none of my computers will even run them.

So today I'm skipping through my favorite comics when I find the link above. Now, finally, I understand. Greedy, self-centered, overly ambitious middle management fools at EA took one of the finest, most innovative companies in the world, destroyed the creativity of its workforce, cancelled all of its best products, and transformed it into a modern slave shop. No wonder I'm not interested in their products any more. They have cut out their own hearts and replaced them with P&L statements.

I play Lineage II almost everyday. I love it. I don't play Everquest. That game would drive me violently insane. The two games are as different as night and day. Lineage II is designed and programmed by a comparatively small team at mid-sized software development house called "E&G", and marketed by an international monolith called NC Soft. Everquest is a Sony product, always has been and always will be. Sony has become the GM of the electronics industry. Is it any wonder most people prefer Everquest? Those are the same mindless consumers that prefer SimCity4.

The really sad part of this insane world is not that it's getting worse. No, the really sad part is that it's NOT getting any better and probably never will. Those of us who fall outside the spectrum of "normal" deserve every label the normal people assign us, but the older I get the more I'm convinced that no matter how you label us, we aren't the crazy ones.

Which, of course, just proves how crazy I really am!

And, just in case you don't believe me, I took another personality test:

I'm Caligula!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

November 08, 2004

Far and distant

One hundred years from now historians will call this presidential election the turning point of world history. Two hundred years from now it will be a footnote in college texts on 21st Century political and economic history. Three hundred years from now it will not even warrant being a footnote. Beyond that, it won't even be remembered.

Five hundred years ago Europeans "discovered" the rest of the world. I was nearly thrown out of my high school history class on the day we began "The Age of Exploration" when I raised my hand to ask, "How could they discover something that already existed?"

Two thousand years from now some graduate student will be digging through the sediment covering whatever city now holds the server carrying this blog. They'll find the disk more or less intact, but the array structure will be gone and the data will be unrecoverable. The pitted and chipped remains will be gently cleaned, catalogued, added to a carefully labelled box, and then forgotten.

As the dust from the virtual firefight in the continental US settles and as you watch with horror as dead Marines, innocent civilians, and the bodies of children are pulled from the rubble of Fallujah in the coming days, bear in mind that this, too, will pass and your great-grandchildren, if you have any, will have trouble remembering your name.

And that, my friends, is the only political commentary I will ever take the time to write. In the end, the only true judge is history, and history eventually forgets.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

I didn't know it at the time, but when I wrote Real Virtuality on October 26, 2004, I was changing the entire nature and tone of "Brian's Meandering Mind". In November 2004 George W. Bush won re-election as President of the United States. Thanks in no small part to his bungling (as well as bad intelligence from our "allies" in France) the United States had become involved in two wars in the cradle of human civilization. The war in Afghanistan was justified and necessary. The war in Iraq was a colossal mistake. Here in December 2012 we are in the process of exiting both countries, the rest of the Middle East has just passed through the "Arab Spring" series of popular revolutions, Syria is embroiled in a bloody civil war, and Barack Obama (our current "president" who seems to think of himself as a grand messiah) grows more and more tyrannical every day.

Everything changed for me that year. My children were planning their colleges, my wife's career faltered, skipped a step, then took off like a rocket, and I once again began to be more involved with events in the United States. In 2004 the internet became the world's town square and I suddenly had access to up to the minute information on events all over the world. Before then, all I'd really had to go on was whatever CNNj decided was worthy of broadcasting in Japan. I didn't realize how badly slanted the coverage was because I had nothing to compare it to. I knew it was incomplete, but it was only starting with the explosion of superfast internet connections in 2004 that I finally gained access to alternative viewpoints on a global stage.

2004 was the year the world became a global village. 2012 was the year the village began to ignore the chief and organize itself. I wonder what 2013 will bring? Do we stand at the threshold of a new "Dark Age" or at the dawn of a new "Renaissance"?

In order to find out I suppose I'll just have to wait for whatever year the next round of "Reflections from the Future" takes place in.