Archive for the ‘destructoid’ Category

Chasing Dreams

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Regardless how the last few entries to this site have appeared, I don’t usually like to be maudlin. But I wanted to touch on a subject that I’ve talked about before: the aim of this site, and where it goes from here. But that requires a brief history lesson.

I registered the domain name on December 17, 2001 on a lark. I was in the midst of finals in college and we were learning all about web programming languages, scripting languages, databases, and lots of etc. I figured it would be fun to grab a domain name and do some of that for myself. At that time, services like Bust A Name didn’t really exist (or if they did, I didn’t know anything about them), so I drew inspiration from my surroundings, saw that I was wearing threadbare socks that day, found that was available and registered it, put together an old computer in my kitchen running Debian GNU/Linux, downloaded PHP-Nuke, and boom, I had (more or less) had a website.

I didn’t really have much of a goal at first. I just wanted to learn about putting together a website, and I think that I’ve succeeded in that (plus lots of other things). But my goals were ever changing, and I could never fully dedicate myself to a concrete vision for a long enough length of time. I would even spin up a sister site for a while once an idea struck, but intereste tended to fall off for any of them after too long, which left me discouraged. I also tried lots of things with this site, most of which didn’t really pan out. Like that failed attempt at turning this site from a regular ol’ blog way back in ought-three, to doing gamy-style blog-posts-masquerading-as-news, for a few weeks in ’07, right after I finished my short stint in the video game industry.

Image showing an uptick in the numbers of articles written from June through July of 2007

That was a productive two months

Yes, a lot of this material was covered a couple of years ago, so I won’t really be retreading that old ground again, but this site is important to me. It’s one of the first things that I created that I actually stuck with and added to and experimented with and learned from. So, it’s not going to go away any time soon, but I have to seriously look at it and decide what I want to do with it, where I want to go, and if maybe something is holding me back.

At one time I wanted to be come a professional web-guy that talked about video games, technology, and various other techy-related-things, and I have made some half-hearted attempts to crowbar this site into that mold, but that didn’t happen. In fact, very few of the things I’ve done here have even been seen by more than a handful of people (with a couple of exceptions).

So, why does this site struggle to find anything to ‘stick’? I have a few theories, and a lot of data, but I’ve narrowed down a few reasons that might not be the whole reason, but are enough to give me pause:

  1. This site has struggled with its identity for nearly 13 years. I never really had much of a focus for it, and whenever I did think I had a great idea, I shunted it off to another site where it never really gained much traction, and this one suffered from neglect in the meantime.
  2. I don’t market my site enough. When I first registered this site, I would go around to computers on campus and navigate as many computers as I could to, and leave the browsers there. I wouldn’t set it as their home page, but I would try to make it look like someone was browsing the site, lost track of time, and then just left the browser open to something I had written. It didn’t really work very well, but these days I might spend a half a day writing some article or another, and might give out a feeble, “Hey, I wrote something, check it out, I guess” on Twitter… and that’s it.
  3. It’s possible that the things I write here just aren’t that interesting to anyone but me. I don’t really have any hard statistics on how many people I have subscribed via RSS, but I’m pretty sure it’s not many. Any time I post something, I get a brief uptick in views, but little to no feedback. I might get a comment or two from a friend or family member (which is appreciated, mind), but content here doesn’t seem to get traction anywhere, which is concerning. That leads to frustration, which leads to a content drought, which leads to even fewer visits, etc.
  4. I admit it. Crummysocks is embarrassing to say. It was a cute flight of fancy when I was a struggling college student, but now, well, it’s kind of less cute. I don’t really think about it any more, until I am confirming some information over the phone with a real actual person. When they’re verifying my email address I can hear them trying to hold back the, “Crummy Socks? What on earth is that about?” in their voice, and then I’m embarrassed. I don’t even like telling people I know about the name of this site because it sounds kind of dumb any more.

I could go on and on, but I think there’s a lot of good takeaway here. I need to re-envision what it is I want for my website to be. It’s probably time to de-emphasize this site (hey, 13 years is a good run) and put my full effort behind something a little more… respectable, I guess?

Not that this site is going to go away any time soon. You don’t just work on something off and on for thirteen years and then just casually discard it like… something funny… that you casually discard. No, now is the time to focus. To take all of the things I’ve learned from my failures, creating a YouTube series, running a video game marathon, and all of the disparate things that I’ve learned to do, and put them all together to make… something.

Okay, I haven’t actually figured out what that thing is yet. But these weekly updates are to help me shake off some of the writer’s rust (that’s a thing, right), which is definitely a step in the direction that I want to go.

My love/hate relationship with video games part 2 – The Media

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Welcome to part two of my series exploring my relationship with video games. Part one is available here. I’ll wait while you get up to speed, and you can join me in the next paragraph.

Writing is hard. Maybe I should qualify that a little bit: writing things is easy, any schmuck can go to his local library, access a computer, and start up a blog for the low price of free. And just like that, you’re a blogger. No requirements, experience, or anything required other than being able to remember a password. The barriers to entry are the lowest they’ve ever been to be able to write about whatever pops into your head and present it before a worldwide audience. It’s actually kind of ridiculous. But actually getting someone, anyone, to read what you wrote? That’s the hard part. No matter how good your writing is (or how good you think your writing is), unless you get an audience for it, you’ll be just about as effective sitting at a rest stop in the middle of Arkansas, writing your articles in a spiral notebook, crumpling them up and throwing them at anyone that happens to walk by, and hoping that they’ll be interested enough to read what you threw.

So, you take the advice of the Old Guard that have been where you are now. The people who started out with nothing, grew it into a publishing empire, and get paid to do what you’ve wanted to do since you could hold a pencil: they get paid to play and write about video games. You write what you know. But you find that, since you’re not already in the news business, you don’t really know all that much that nobody else already knows, and what you do know has already been reported on by everyone. But, I mean, people already do that, right? Any major news story is going to be reported by everyone, so you can just use their same stories, slap a veneer of your own couple of sentences of commentary, and you’ve got a news article. Keep doing that all day every day and you have yourself a news site.

Kind of.

Creating something original that’s consistently great (or at least good) is hard, and the people who are truly great at it can make it look easy. So easy that people will see something successful, and immediately emulate it, maybe changing one or two details to ‘make it their own’ (“Everybody loves nostalgia, right? So how about we make a video series talking about some old games, but the hook is that the guy talking about them is furious. All the time. It’ll be hilarious!”). The problem is: it sometimes works. We eventually get to the point where (in this case) video game news spread across dozens of big sites and hundreds (maybe thousands) of smaller sites becomes a homogenized grey mass, with the occasional original piece thrown in for color. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the bulk of most video game news sites are interchangable, so why would I bother visiting more than one? For the original content? Nope. If Kotaku posts something interesting, Destructoid will mention it. If Joystiq posts something worth reading, the MTV Multiplayer blog has you covered.

That’s not new, I have some experience in the news industry, and it’s how news reporting has works. It’s understandable, really. There are only so many hours in a day, and if you had to personally research and vet everything that you posted, you’d only get two or three stories a day done, maximum. The world of video games is bigger than it’s ever been, and yet practically the only place you can find coverage of the industry is on the Internet. And on the Internet, for better or worse, coverage == blogs.

Blogs are interesting. They are (usually) easier to update than a static site, they can be updated any time by anyone without having to figure out how to upload a few new .html documents via FTP, and are good for things like a personal diary or, yes, even news coverage. In fact, that you’ll be hard pressed to find a site covering video game that isn’t a blog.

So many blogs

So many blogs

Why is that? Because it works. Why does it work? Well, for me, that’s trickier.

I grew up reading computer and video game magazines like BYTE and Compute!, and eventually stuff like the How to Win at Nintendo Games series, Nintendo Power, EGM, and the occasional GamePro. All of those are defunct now (although EGM has been revived, apparently), but before they left, they impressed one thing on me: people who write about video games (even when what’s getting written is aimed at a child) have a certain style. They would sometimes use words I didn’t know, which was totally fine, they’re professional writers, after all, I could glean the meaning or go research what the thing meant, which was great. It slyly made me learn something I would have never learned on my own while I was learning about something I wanted to know. It reminds me of a quote by Stan Lee (you know, the comic book guy (no, not that Comic Book Guy)):

“People thought (comics) were just for very, very young children or semi-literate adults; nobody had any respect for comics,” Lee said. “Little by little — and I’d like to think Marvel had something to do with that — I started using stories that had college-level vocabulary. I would use whatever word is apt in a sentence. If I would use like — oh, I don’t know — ‘misanthropic,’ let’s say, I’d go ahead and use it. I figured if the kids didn’t know what it meant, they’d get it by osmosis, by the use of the sentence. If they had to go to the dictionary and look it up, that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.”

Which just a lot of words to say that these early writers started covering an unfamiliar medium using conventional media, and didn’t dumb down their writing for the masses. Things were a little stuffy, sure. But I loved it anyway. I always loved how the books and magazines I got my hands on felt like the writer was having fun exploring each of the games or programs he was covering. It’s like I had a relative who worked at the game factory, got the game a couple months early, and was excitedly telling me all about it.

Coverage of video games nowadays typically bucks all of that.

Sure, they put on the veneer of ‘hey, we like video games as much as you do, you should come let us tell you all about them (please visit our sponsors and click our ads)’. And that may be true, on a strictly personal level. The individual authors might actually love video games, but I do sometimes wonder (playing a lot of games is not necessarily the same as loving games). Regardless, the way old media covers news just doesn’t work well for video games, now that the Internet is a thing. Print and broadcast media are just animated corpses who don’t know they’re dead, and will continue shambling on until their viewership dies and that recurring subscription drawing directly from their checking account that they forgot about setting up in 1998 finally stops. Besides, websites are easier to update, can get information to more people more quickly, can be corrected in real-time if errors are discovered, and so on. Which is all true. And video games are a unique product, they combine elements of books, theater, music, art, mime, imagination, interactivity, and so on into a multimedia product that stands alone.

Websites are uniquely positioned to cover video games precisely because games and websites can both be a multimedia experience. We can get an image, hear a sample of a song, see the game in action. We can vicariously experience every facet of the game itself without actually playing the game. That’s huge.

But this is the Age of the Internet. We want more. So news sites get lots more screenshots and preview videos, because those are easy enough to get and to distribute to everyone.

But we want more.

So they track down concept art, game play trailers, and developers will sometimes cobble together ARGs to increase awareness of games. It’s a little more work, but you can’t start the hype machine too early, right?

But we want more.

So sites start to bug developers to give out any morsel of information about whatever they’re working on. We scour twitter and other social media pages for anything even resembling news, because game developers can’t have normal lives on social media, they have to answer questions about their games constantly, we obsessively check the trademark office to see if something’s been registered that might possibly be the title of a game a developer might be working on now or in the future, or not at all. It’s all filler, of course, but you have to put up something to take up the time between the Good Stuff(tm), right?

But we want more.

There isn’t much more in the official channels, so sites will start posting rumors, water-cooler talk, and what few unique pieces might come from other sites that you don’t visit (so you don’t have to sully your fingers by going there yourself, you see). It’s filler that gets put up between the filler we mentioned above. If we don’t have something new up for our readers every time they refresh the page, then they might look at another website for a few seconds, and that means that we’ve failed.

But we want more.

It’s New Games Journalism, and I’ve grown to hate it.

I realized a while ago that blogging can be a form of journalism, if done right, but a lot of the blogs just don’t do it right. They update so often and many of the articles have so little actual content, that I gradually began to tune them out in favor of the actual original pieces. The news and original reviews that I was coming to the site in the first place to see began to get more and more unpalatable. In an earlier article, I called it Nerd Pride or Nerd Arrogance, but I think it’s more accurate to call it Nerd Hubris. I pick on Destructoid a lot for this, because they’re one of the worst offenders (“We’re so awesome that you should visit our site and love us because we’re so awesome and edgy, and we’re also attention junkies, just like you would be if you were awesome like we are”). Other sites are more subtle, but the subtext of a lot of the articles is the same.

And I don’t have to like it. I could try to change the status quo. To buck the trend of those already bucking the trend, and try to at least start my own site, covering things the way I want them to be covered. Without all the navel-gazing, the hip-edginess, the firehose of constant updates in favor of longer, more researched pieces, and so on.

But I can’t.

I don’t have the time, the energy, or the connections to do anything like that full-time. I could throw away my current career and try to get a job at one of these places, you know, try to change them from the inside. But:

  1. If the hiring managers from one of those sites reads this article, I’m pretty sure they won’t want to hire me. Don’t want any trouble-starters, you know. Even though starting trouble and bucking the system is what they do
  2. For the less edgy sites, my lifelong passion for video games, and the nearly 12 years I’ve spent documenting is is completely worthless, as far as writing experience goes (believe me, I’ve applied to every site mentioned here, on and off since at least 2004)

So, am I bitter, angry, antagonistic, or some other negative adjective? No, not any more. I just have to change where I get my news. Once I stopped going to websites with writing styles I didn’t like that were covering games I didn’t care about, I started to feel a lot better about video games as a whole. And, yes, it’s true that I don’t usually know when the new Gears of Duty is coming out. Or obsess over every instance of a game developer losing his mind. But instead I have a lot more time to play the games I buy rather than obsessing over every detail of their inception, production, and release, then moving on to the next one as soon as they come out. I can enjoy video games on my terms. I’m not under constant pressure to get the new, hot thing, and I can appreciate games as more than an ephemeral experience.

And that’s really what it’s all about anyway.


Monday, December 17th, 2012

I want to take you on a mental voyage. Back to the winter of 2001. December 17. A time where you couldn’t go for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Lady Marmalade”. A time where I was a student in college.

Fresh from a solar eclipse, I was finishing up another semester when I had an idle computer and an idle thought: “I should probably buy a domain name before they’re all gone, and then people will have an easy way to find all of my amazing articles about video games and video game culture”. And, since most of the short, memorable domain names were taken, I looked around my environment for inspiration. I settled on ‘Crummy Socks’ because that’s what I was wearing that day (I was a poor college student, what can I say?). So I bought the name, and immediately sat on it for a few weeks while I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

I had aspirations of being one of those professional bloggers that you used to hear a lot about, but don’t really hear anything about these days. Someone who works out of their home or office, writing every day about something that they love, while throngs of devoted fans visit every day and I would make enough money somehow to pay my bills and sustain my hobby, but that never seemed to materialize. I also tried my hand at news-reporting for a while. Each time, though, for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to work out. I even spun off a few sister sites where I wanted to try out some of my big ideas, but those, too, met with little success. It’s kind of telling that my biggest brush with anything resembling a spotlight was the time I managed to troll several high-profile blogs.

Somewhere else along the way, I also managed to get myself, at least temporarily, hired in to the video game industry, where I worked on a few titles, and got to see things from the other side of the fence. I realized my childhood dream of helping to make some video games (even though one of them wasn’t particularly well-received). Still, it was an amazing experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

But, as time goes on, I find that I am writing about video games less and less. I find that I’m visiting video game blogs more infrequently as time goes on. But that I still love to play video games, and I still like to write on occasion. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling discouraged, disenfranchised, or burned out. After a lot of soul-searching and introspection, I think I finally have a handle on it, and, well, it’s complicated.

This site never really found much of an audience. For a while, I had friends and family who would visit (and several of them still do. Thanks, guys!), but articles don’t really propagate more than that, with rare exceptions. As of this writing, my statistics show that I had 12 visits to this site yesterday. Several of which were me, since my own site is my homepage (if you have a website and it’s not your own homepage, I wonder how seriously you take it). But some time ago I reached a point where I unconsciously decided that since I couldn’t seem to get any traction with an audience, that there wasn’t a point in trying to update regularly, if at all. I saw lots of other websites that started up at the same time or after this one, with writing that was at least the equal to or perhaps a little worse than what you find here, and they seemed to take off essentially immediately. And that kind of boiled over into jealousy, resentment, and maybe a little depression. “If these other jokers can at least get an audience of regular readers in a few months, why can’t I do it in a few years? Why don’t people tell their friends about this site or come back? I must be doing something wrong.”

A partial explanation is something that I call “Nerd Attitude”. It’s kind of hard to quantify, but I think it boils down to an arrogance that lots of members of the video game community seem to have, or, at least seem to want to have. When I was growing up, and immersed in any kind of video game-related thing I could find, in some ways, it was very exclusionary. But I could find others that had similar interests, and we formed a fairly close-knit group of peers. The group never really got very big, but we had a lot of fun hitting the local arcades, playing the newest game we could get our hands on, and discussing the tips and strategies in the current issue of our gaming magazine.

But then the Internet and the World Wide Web started gaining popularity.

Once that happened, it was a lot easier to find groups of like-minded folks to share in whatever passion you have.

Which is a good thing.

But, at the same time, video games and computers were starting to become more mainstream. Eventually, playing video games into the wee hours of the night wasn’t that weird, and hopping on a computer to spend hours chatting with people around the world, or making a website for whatever wacko idea you have, is less bizarre. And all that means is that now you have a group of people, who have grown up with video games and the Internet at parts of their daily lives, who self-identify as nerds. People who like video games, who like the Internet, who maybe even are passionate about those things, but who aren’t really nerds.

From the linked Wikipedia article:

However, those simply adopting the characteristics of nerds are not actually nerds by definition. One cannot be an authentic nerd by imitation alone; a nerd is an outsider and someone who is unable or unwilling to follow trends. Popular culture is borrowing the concept and image of nerds in order to stand out as individuals. Some commentators consider that the word is devalued when applied to people who adopt a sub-cultural pattern of [behavior], rather than being reserved for people with a marked ability.

Which leads to a whole lot more people interested in video games, and that, in turn, will ensure that there are almost always new and exciting games being released practically every day (which is kind of a problem in itself). But it also leads to two main issues:

  • If you spend much time at a website that talks primarily about video games, you’ll end up talking to more people who like video games, but who aren’t nerdy about video games. That’s actually mostly okay, since you get exposed to other points of view, including those you don’t like. But it also means that:
  • There are many people who aren’t nerds pursuing a previously-nerdy hobby.

Which is also fine (heck, you can never have too many ham radio operators, right?). But when the editor-in-chief of a certain high-profile video game website has a video game collection that fits on one shelf (now three shelves), when I have collections for single systems that won’t even fit on one entire bookshelf (I haven’t traded in a game since 2002). I have to wonder if he’s really a nerd. I’m sure he enjoys video games, but I wonder, does he like them as much as I do? It’s like someone who writes about music, but has a collection made up solely of a couple-dozen best-of collections. And, if that’s the chief, it’s no wonder that the site (and many, many other sites on the Internet) no longer speaks to me.

Now, I don’t want to imply that I hate what these guys are doing. I think that it’s great that we live in a time where you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed that you like video games. It’s great that you can walk into a gas station and find video games for sale, and nobody thinks that’s weird (okay, maybe I think that’s a little weird).

But those kinds of sites do speak to a huge number of people. People who aren’t really nerds. People who have decided that knowing a lot or being passionate about something makes one a nerd (it doesn’t), that being labeled a nerd is awesome (it’s not, usually).

And it’s mostly those people that I haven’t been able to reach in the last 11 years.

People who visit websites that tell you how awesome they are because they’re not like the other guys (when they’re pretty much identical to the other guys, down to posting essentially the same stories as everyone else, with a few comments added). People who want some snark mixed in with their reporting (or, perhaps, more accurately, a little reporting mixed in with their snark)

So we have a combination of people who like video games, but aren’t nerds, telling other people who like video games, but who also aren’t nerds, that their websites are awesome because they can update 20-50 times a day. And that they, themselves, are also awesome. They must be, because they can update their sites 20-50 times a day. Which creates a situation that feeds on itself, and a niche that is so overcrowded with people reporting on every facet of a part of culture that I love, and telling me how awesome everything is, and how great they are for being gutsy enough to tell me all about it. That’s what video games and video game news is now: a barely edited, pandering stream of consciousness spewed out with such force and intensity, that it’s hard to find much that I can relate to or are interested in.

Which is why this humble site never quite took off like I wanted. It’s a one-man shop of a guy who actually is a bit of a video game nerd, talking about whatever I think is interesting, not necessarily what is popular, or even timely.

And that’s alright. Even though I’ve been close to throwing in the towel on more than one occasion, I’m actually happy with what I’ve built here and elsewhere. This site is not going away any time soon. It will continue to be available for as long as I’m able to keep it going. Which, if I have anything to say about it, will be for a long time yet.

What your MMO class says about you

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Destructoid has an ‘article’ up today exploring what your choice of MMORPG character class says about you as a person. This is just a silly step sideways from those online ‘which character from movie/cartoon show/comic strip/book/television series X are you?’ quizzes with the main advantage that you don’t have to take the silly quiz, you can just read.

The article is fairly limited in scope, there are only 6 classes explored, and not all of the appear in all games (unless they’ve added Red Mage to World of Warcraft in the last 18 months or so without my knowlege).

Speaking of…

Red Mage

Can’t settle on magic, can’t settle on melee, so they just straddle the fence and kind of do a little of both. These are the type of guys that promise to marry you for years and instead spend the wedding budget on car parts and electronics that have a lot of knobs. They’re useful in a party, you say? That may be true, as long as they don’t do that thing mid-fight where they forget which strategy they were supposed to go with and just start randomly hitting things or casting, throwing off the rest of the party, or just ignoring everyone and doing their own thing altogether. Many politicians would be Red Mages (and likely have been).

Okay, so this is not some kind of hard-hitting, buffalo-style editorial. It’s just a guy trying to be funny (and failing admirably). But what I find particularly interesting is that he doesn’t approach folks that play characters of the opposite sex when they’re in a virtual world. Are they secretly transvestites? Homosexuals? Some other ulterior motive?

When I played Final Fantasy XI I chose a hume male. (Hume is just Square-Enix’s lame name for the race that looks just like real humans, but are much more copyrightable). It was the first MMORPG that I played, so I chose to play as a warrior, the class that got to smash things about the face with its axes/swords/whatever. Just because the game allowed you to, I tried my hand at a few of the different classes, all melee in some way: monk, red mage, samurai, and dark knight. I was concentrating on building up my unusual and not very party-invitable combination of dark knight/red mage when I finally decided to hang up my Lantern Shield and hold out until World of Warcraft.

When WoW finally rolled around I went in the complete opposite direction. Though I still picked a human, I chose a female and made her class a Mage. She couldn’t take as much damage as the dark knight could, but she still got to smack enemies about the face, though it was now with explodey balls of fire and ice.

I chose to play with a female avatar on my second go-round because a buddy suggested he always chose female characters because other players were nicer to them. I played for several months and can’t say that I really noticed this phenomenon. In game players weren’t any nicer or meaner to me with a female avatar, though they did demand that I give them free food and drinks (in WoW, mages can create food and drinks from thin air for just the cost of a few seconds of time). Though that probably had more to do with the class itself than the sex.

The other excuse I hear people use is along the lines of, “If I’m going to be staring at a character’s backside all day, I’m going to make sure it’s sexy! I don’t want to look at a [same sex] hinder the whole time I’m playing!” This doesn’t really hold much water, since if you’re focusing your gaze on the hind quarters of your avatar, you’re going to miss… well… all of the game. Take these two screen shots, for example. Both of the pictures depict the same scenario. I, the character on the bottom, and a friend, second from the top, are escorting the other two lower-level players through some slightly dangerous area. The second picture has been altered a bit to show what your field of view would be like if indeed you were focused solely on the posterior of your character.

What’s that blob on the outside of your field of vision? Is it a rock or is it some flesh-rending monstrosity? Without looking at everything except your character, you don’t know. For that matter, you’re going to have a tough time navigating tight corners of any of the towns if you don’t either watch where you’re going or you have a compass built into your brain.

Is there some deep psychological reason why people choose to be a certain class? Possibly. Is there an equally deep psychological reason why a person chooses an avatar that looks like them, or one that looks slightly or even completely different? Again, possibly. For every person that plays an online game and makes their character look and act like they do outside of the game, there’s one that looks, talks, and acts completely different when they get behind the virtual wheel. There are some that get into the role (“Where might a parched adventurer find sustenance and agreeable accommodations this fine eve?”) and some that let internet speak enter their conversation (“OMG nub, lolz”). I try to not analyze them too much and get on playing because, really, it doesn’t matter in the slightest.