Sunday, January 3, 2016

On Embarrassment

I don't have good ideas anymore.

I mean, I have good ideas in theory. Sometimes people tell me they're good. But it's kind of a leap of faith to believe it, and that leap can take some time. But ideas are time-sensitive, and usually by the time I have a sense of what might be worth pursuing, it's too late. So I make a lot of plans that I believe are going to go quite badly, in the hopes that I'll be wrong. I'm not wrong as often as I'd like to be.

What I have learned, in this process, is that my experience is made up of emotions, not events. Events are simpler to deal with. There are fewer moving parts in the world Out There than there are in the world within. Emotional logic requires very long sentences, and people generally do everything we can to avoid those. Observation requires more patience than it does insight. Honesty requires more focus than it does courage.

Honesty and observation have brought me to this: happiness that will not freely offer itself to you, happiness-in-misery, requires a staggering, terrifying, infuriating vulnerability. In practice, this means pain, pain, and more pain. In practice, this means failure. In practice, this means envying the dead; but death will not come. Not yet.

I spam the living fuck out of my various social media accounts. Sometimes it's because I'm proud of stuff; sometimes I'm trying to build my #brand. Most of the time, however, I'm just reaching out to feel anything at all. Sometimes it's too painful. Sometimes I have to withdraw. Never for long, though; time isn't something I have an infinite amount of, so I can't afford distance. I can't afford armor.

It's really hard.

That's a short sentence, but it's essentially all I'm trying to say here. All the violence and poetry in the world can only color that sentence. That's what's true right now. Life is frustrating, and painful, and hard. There's nothing to be done about it. Just breathing, and being, and feeling time making its way over and around me.

It's 2016.


Monday, May 18, 2015


Sometimes, when I'm too wired for sleep and too tired for writing, I'll find myself revisiting this blog. The archive links so helpfully sort every year by productivity; I start strong, burning off existing content like a newborn sparklepire, then drop like a rock, slowly bringing it back to a fairly consistent output in 2012.

And then it kind of stops at the end of last year.

Here's the thing. For a change, I didn't slow down on the blog because I've been too busy, or too depressed, or blocked. On the writing front, I'm more productive this year than I've ever been. A project I started around the time I fell off blogging crossed the 12k-word mark a few days back, I've got some promising pieces in various stages of development, and my work habits are becoming downright predictable. But it's been very slow here, and probably will be so for a little while. Might be an ideal time to fix those niggling typos that have been bothering me since 2012.

If you got here from Twitter, hi. Make yourselves at home; beer's in the fridge.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Free Speech for the Dumb

This article has been making the rounds on Facebook lately, and I haven't been able to properly respond to it there. It's not that I lack the time or inclination for shortish political rants. Mostly it's just that it's two-thousand-goddamned-fifteen and Facebook still can't show animated gifs.

So, on that note:

It's important to me that we all treat this subject with all the seriousness it deserves.

The argument can be summarized thus:
  1. Free speech is under assault all over the world, from the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris to the disappearing journalists in Russia to the murders of Bangladeshi bloggers.
  2. These incidents are very similar to the culture war fetish-scandals that the American right has been flogging since Reconstruction, in that pundits often use the same metaphors to describe them.
  3. In some ways, the fetish-scandals are even more dangerous than actual, literal terrorism, and we are bold and masculine for standing against it.
I don't think this exactly needs an essay in response: not from me, anyway. Garry Trudeau covered much of the same ground from a much more knowledgeable viewpoint than my own. I don't think it's consistently funny enough to fisk, either, but it does deserve a highlight reel of sorts:
The value of intellectual freedom is far from self-evident.
If this is true, then it's so ubiquitously proclaimed that it certainly appears self-evident to most of us. Given that the most oppressive regimes are often the most vocal about the value of intellectual freedom, perhaps we should consider that the problem isn't ignorance of its value. The people who'll be killed if they say the wrong thing understand that intellectual freedom is a fine, fine thing. They are aware of its value on a deeply personal level.
It’s hardly natural to defend the rights of one person over the feelings of a group; to put up with all the trouble that comes with free minds and free expression; to stand beside the very people who repel you.
It could also be argued that it's hardly natural to dig metal out of the ground and built suspension bridges with it. Perhaps we should be surprised that bridges exist at all, but we should not be surprised that bridges continue to exist tomorrow when we were entirely away that they exist today.
We learn culture by seeing it performed by those around us, not by inferring them from thought experiments and first principles.
After the massacre at the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, in January, even defenders of free speech couldn’t help wondering why the cartoonists hadn’t just avoided Islam and the Prophet, given the sensitivities involved. Why be provocative? 
I can only speak for me, but my concern with Charlie Hebdo wasn't that they shouldn't have drawn those cartoons because it might have been dangerous to do so. My concern was that they shouldn't have been drawn at all. Racist cartoons don't develop a raison d'etre by virtue of being dangerous to draw. I would vociferously oppose the suggestion that hacking people to death with machetes should be legally or morally ok, But if the ISIS leadership were to be hacked to death with machetes in an extrajudicial execution, I will not be posting on #IamISIS to express my commitment to the right to due process.
And when freethinkers are a tiny minority in a terribly poor and overwhelmingly religious country on the other side of the world, with no First Amendment or republican tradition of laïcité, it’s easy to feel that they’re admirable eccentrics who speak for nothing and no one beyond themselves—which may explain why they’ve received so much less attention than their brethren in Paris.
Honestly? I hadn't heard of Rahman and Roy until I read it in this editorial. Thanks for telling their story, I guess, but do you kinda think there might be some other reasons why terrorist attacks in Paris might get more ink than terrorist attacks in Bangladesh? Something pervasive, and central to any meaningful discussion of free speech and terror?

Do you think structural racism might be a bigger issue here than how we feel about bloggers?

Even in this country,

the loathsomeness of an incident
in which University of Oklahoma students were caught on video singing a racist song
made it seem churlish to argue that their expulsion from a public institution might be unconstitutional.
I don't really know how I feel about the specifics of this, actually. I strongly believe in protecting the rights of racists. But I don't believe in exclusively protecting the rights of racists, which is what the right is actually proposing when they rally around these horseshit memes. Free speech issues on college campuses, especially public universities, are both important and complicated. It's a collision of culture, politics, and law, and I don't for a minute want to suggest that it doesn't matter. I don't know the best way for society to punish racists or care for their victims. I don't know what's too much. I don't know what's not enough. It's just fucking awful.

But, y'know, no one every wrote songs that cheerfully joked about murdering people like me. Nobody sang joyfully about a kind of ritualized murder of people who looked like me. A kind of ritualized murder that likely continues as recently as last month.

Threats of violence are themselves a form of violence.

Public safety is part of free speech.
Creating a “hostile environment” is what the Bangladeshi bloggers stood accused of.
Hate-speech regulations put actual feelings, often honorable ones, ahead of abstract rights—which seems like common sense. It takes an active effort to resist the impulse to silence the jerks who have wounded you.
Abstract rights are not respected equally.

Y'all have an exceedingly wide definition of "silence." The status quo puts the feelings of racists--rarely honorable ones, I assume?--over the abstract rights of others. There is not a secret constitution for white people guaranteeing them not only free speech, but legal protection against the entirely predictable consequences of their actions.
But, in some ways, an even greater danger than violence or jail is the internal mute button known as self-censorship.

It isn't.
Once it’s activated, governments and armed groups don’t have to bother with threats.
I don't think you understand how threats work.
Here self-censorship is on the rise out of people’s fear of being pilloried on social media.
Or, y'know. Maybe they're exercising some editorial discretion because they don't want to obscure their message, discredit their ideas, or needlessly hurt anybody.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin has been masterful at creating an atmosphere in which there are no clear rules, so that intellectuals and artists stifle themselves in order not to run afoul of vague laws and even vaguer social pressure.
Which--Putin has put a lot of work into explain this to everybody--might then followed up with very specific social pressure in the form of physical violence.

Threats of violence are themselves a form of violence.

Public safety is part of free speech.

Trudeau's piece writes about the peculiar nature of satire with what I can only assume is some insight--I certainly don't know very much about it, at a historical or literary level--but I am curious every time I read this neat, symmetrical model of punching up, not down. As cultural practice, humor is an adaptation and a technology. Like a lot of our adaptations and technologies, it might well have survived precisely because it helps us hurt and kill people.

Threats against free speech, by professionals or amateurs, are a serious issue. Likewise, our ongoing conversation concerning what is or isn't acceptable within a social discourse, currently playing out on campus and on Twitter, is also an important issue. They both deserve attention and discussion.

But they are not the same issue, and it's insulting to claim that they are. They are not two different points on a continuum. They are two radically different things, and equating the two harms our understanding of both of them.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Subterranean Hashtag Blues

Intel has resumed advertising on Gamasutra, bringing an end to the first and only time most people who aren't involved with videogames at an academic or professional level have given a shit about Gamasutra, advertising, or Intel. Within minutes of the announcement, cognitive dissonance--which was one of the Weekly Words not long before--set in, and an entirely plausible theory has been developed that Intel is not actually paying for ad space on Gamasutra anymore, since apparently it is common for ad-funded websites to post advertising for free.

Once again, people are happily declaring #GamberGoat dead. It's not entirely inaccurate; the mainstream coverage of #GillyGoop, for all the centrist bias our media demands, has been uniformly negative. The lone exception, Breitbart, is named for a man whose name is literally synonymous with politically motivated libel. There have been no victories to speak of, so anyone "joining" #GlimmerGong now--in the sense of taking up their iconography and collective identity--is essentially volunteering for ridicule and contempt. Mostly ridicule.

But this doesn't mean they're actually going away. They're the LaRouche Democrats of gaming: occasionally amusing, varying degrees of racist, and prone to fits of whimsy in their attempts at graphic design. They'll be around, putting Hitler mustaches on Anita Sarkeesian for the foreseeable future. Their ability to recruit has been severely compromised, but the dead-enders really do have nothing better to do. To say nothing of the neo-nazis, rape apologists, and actual honest-to-god terrorists that made up #GappaGoob before it had a name; they'll scatter when someone gets arrested, but they'll be back in some form or another. They've never not been here.

What people aren't talking about anymore is changing the hashtag. The argument for the change was that it would enable the conversation to focus on its stated purpose--ethics in games journalism--without legitimizing or tolerating its toxic origins. The argument against the change was that it would rob the group of momentum, which they needed for whatever the hell they were doing.

As with most things #GrizzleGoom, it's hard to tell whether this is ignorance or dishonesty, especially since the two can crossbreed in interesting ways where issues of identity politics are involved. The actual reason there can be no new hashtag, no separation from the hate campaign, is that the "legitimate" face of the movement is wholly dependent on the hate campaign. It's not just that the latter created the former; the former is built on a foundation laid down by the latter.

Back when it was still called the Quinnspiracy, it wasn't all doxxing and death threats and stalking and slut-shaming. It was a crowdsourced disinformation campaign, and the "legitimate" movement is predicated on uncritically accepting those lies. The scandal for which #GombaGum was named--and it's frankly bizarre that so many people seem to think they can just gloss over this part--simply never happened. It's bullshit, it's obvious bullshit, and the press said as much once they'd realized it wasn't going to blow over and they had to address it. The accusations of censorship began with several websites deciding they didn't want to provide a platform for an obviously unstable individual's transparent attempts to ruin a woman's life, and continued with other websites' decisions not to publish the ensuing cover story for the entirely unfair reason that it was obviously, demonstrably untrue. The specific journalistic question raised by #GlammaGrrl concerned whether or not gaming websites were obligated to publish slander based on hearsay. (They are not.)

But it's not about that anymore, right? The ensuing accusations followed the same pattern: unadulterated horseshit, easily disproven, and widely distributed. #GanderGibb's rhetorical strategy has been to tell so many lies that people will uncritically accept at least a few of them. Jenn Frank's malfeasance? Lies. The attacks on TFYC? Lies. "Gamers are dead?" Well...

I'm not sure quite how to characterize this argument. Leaving aside the claim that a dozen articles on the same subject constitutes a conspiracy--see also the thousands of news sites who all started talking about the 2014 election results at the same time--and leaving aside that only one of those actually contained the phrase "gamers are dead," and it wasn't the famous one, you'd still have to laughably misread them to come up with anything like the preposterous, genocidal screeds #GuppyGatt claim to have been offended by. You'd have to not know that "gamer" has been a contentious term for years specifically because it denotes a large, varied, fun-loving audience but connotes a hostile, exclusionary hive of anxious masculinity. You'd have to ignore that Leigh Alexander spent much of the iconic "gamers are dead" post lamenting how embarrassing this shit is, and how the assorted anti-feminists and crypto-fascists who kicked off this "consumer revolt" are representative of a wider problem of arrested development and toxic masculinity, a pissed-off, chronically insecure clique who don't realize that Chuck Palahniuk is making fun of them. You'd have to imagine that it contained the phrase "gamers are dead," and read it as...I don't even fucking know.

Reading it literally would seem to be out of the question, because being dead is not, traditionally, a morally loaded thing. Short of a relapse of Cotard delusion, it's hard to imagine how this could be applied literally, yet the gators assert their physical alive-ness with seemingly no awareness of how ridiculous they sound. Some people seem to have read it as a threat, an interpretation it's difficult to believe is being offered in good faith. But the weirdest part isn't so explicit. The canonical #GabbaGone response to discussion of cultural conflicts within gaming culture was to act as if they were being attacked from outside, from people with contempt for a rather important part of this particular techno-cultural moment. You'd have to believe that the people who've devoted their lives to videogames--building them, experiencing them, taking them apart, putting them back together, and sharing their experiences with the world--hate the technology and culture they've helped build. You'd have to believe that Alexander, who commemorated a successful no-kill run in Metal Gear Solid 3 by permanently inscribing the Pigeon icon onto her goddamn body, hates videogames and wished everyone would just give up and get really into puppet theater or something.

You'd have to believe a lot of really stupid shit. And so they do. So do lots of people; sooner or later, I'll run into the LaRouche Democrats in Harvard Square again. Sooner or later, there'll be another manufactured scandal. Sooner or later, we'll have to do all this bullshit again.

But the conventional wisdom on this particular outburst has been set down, and it's not changing. They lost. They'll probably lose next time, too.

Screengrab courtesy of @SJWIlluminati

Gamers are alive.

Kill the gamers.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Smash is the way you deal with your life

To remember gaming, from my current vantage point, is to remember the never-agains.

Most are the provenance of aging--finishing 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. before the school bus arrived in the morning--or even time itself, and the frustratingly irreversible nature of human experience. No experience can be experienced again, of course, and irreversibility is not sufficient for any kind of profundity. The never-agains are more qualitative, the moments where my ability to grok the text, to play with it, to move with it, and the social space it enabled, approached the sublime.

For years, fighting games were my genre of choice. I'd always played, but fighters were something else: the only competitive genre I'd ever really been interested in, and arguably the only competitive activity I'd ever been interested in. Now sufficiently schooled to delineate the difference between the genre itself and my experience with it, I can say that the latter peaked with the release of Street Fighter Alpha for the PS1, a seemingly arcade-perfect translation of an arcade game I'd never had the opportunity to play. New aesthetics, new narrative hooks, new secrets, and (as far as the combined skillsets of our limited audience went) near-perfect balance. With the possible exception of some of Adon's supercombos--which, in retrospect, kind of foreshadowed the weirdening of the series that would continue in the sequels--it was an exceptionally parsimonious design: a place for everything, and everything in it's place.

My brother and I were both living at what is now thought of as my parents' house, and it's hard for me to imagine why I didn't think of that as a constitutive element of the game, like the hardware or the TV we played it on. A relationship of sufficient patience to handle intense, recreational hostility, and play it with a sense of humor. It shaped my ideas of game design for years, and my place within games culture. Fighting games were an identity, and a conditional one at that, with every victory making me wonder what a vague intangible concept like "skillset" or "play style" actually meant. What did it say about me that I could overwhelm with the impossible combos or unmanageable screwdriver throws, but never be ready for the opportunistic sweep when I rose from the ground? Fighting games are a machine for practical narcissism, bathed in dopamine and smelling like an IHOP at midnight or a river in rural Ontario.

Eventually, my brother moved out. Eventually, I did too. And while my feelings on gaming had been cooled somewhat by the ongoing tragedy of my personal life, it still seemed sensible to drag my N64 to my dorm. I'd heard GoldenEye 007 multiplayer was kind of a thing with the kids in those days.

I was pleased and surprised to find that I lived in a dorm specifically enamored of Super Smash Bros., which I had thought of as a somewhat obscure title. I'd been surprised it existed at all, upon its announcement, and was even more surprised to find that it was a lot of fun. I'd only played it solo.

I'd never get myself up to speed, exactly, but I played well enough with my group. Smash was a continuity, a reminder that genres and living arrangements changed, but experiences could be remade, that no never-again need ever be the last never-again. With the first Smash, I walked into a liminal clique already in existence, and found a place to bury my overflowing anxieties and be who I still thought of myself as being, instead of the brooding mystic I tried to play or terrified lunatic I actually was. A gamer was a thing I could be. I could be pretty good with Link, or Mario, or even Yoshi. It would get me through an evening now and then, to feel like I was moving in the same direction as everyone else, at the same speed.

When Melee came out, I was nearing the end of undergrad. Once again reeling from an implosion in my personal life, but pleased to find I had something of a life to fall back on. Inevitable grousing aside, it was better than the first one in almost every way: juicier and more subtle, with more variety and fewer cheap tricks. The larger cast was mostly welcome, although the unlockables did gesture toward roster inflation. As far as I know, there's no agreement on exactly how many characters you can put in a fighting game before they start feeling too much like each other; in my experience, the number is about 14, with the attendant margin of error. Despite Melee being better, it never aroused in us the same level of passion, as measured in profanity and inappropriate sexual remarks, as did its predecessor. We had Monkey Ball for that.

Still, as I moved toward Massachusetts in what I laughingly thought of as my adult life, Smash stuck with me. As I got deeper into nerd culture, I got a better sense of the breadth of Smash fandom, and the energy that enervated it. But the break between Melee and Brawl was a long seven years, and while I was excited about the new release, I no longer had any friends who were into fighting games. Under the circumstances, it had been a lot easier to reevaluate my genre preferences than crack the crushing inertia that permeated that doomed little apartment on Elm Street. I played it a couple times, but it was tough to commit to it without the promise of eventually being able to play it as part of a group. Maybe I just didn't like being reminded. At any rate, the issue was rapidly rendered moot; as my girlfriend became too ill to spend much time out of bed, the Wii was repurposed into a Netflix delivery system, where it has since remained.

I find, with two new Smash games on the way, that I had been ready to forget about the series, to relegate it to an obsolete identity of all-nighters, anarchism, and gnostic Christianity. I find that I had expected to be someone new by now.

A friend has already given me a download code for the demo. I try to remind myself that it's a game, a text, not a time or place. It's not an identity. It's not youth or potential or hope. It doesn't mean buying a Wii U, and it doesn't mean the attendant cognitive work involved in trying to make having purchased a console worthwhile. It doesn't mean caring. It won't hurt to remember. I can play.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Community 1.04: Social Psychology

Hey kids, remember the GREs? Of course you don’t. You don’t even exist. If you read this, you’re almost certainly a) about my age, or b) my mom (hi mom!), and grad school is either a distant memory or something you never really thought of. (Or maybe you’re taking them soon, in which case it might not be correct, strictly speaking, to say you “remember” them. Pedant.) Language has always been my strong suit, and I’d worried somewhat about the mathiness. I was pleasantly surprised, upon seeing my results, to see that not only had I done better than expected on the math, but that I had beaten my English score by 50 points.

Lifehack: Take the GREs on very little sleep, with one night of practice, while completely fucked up on cold medicine.

While gloating at work the next day, our genial psychology professor happened to be passing by. Upon hearing the news, he suggested I consider psychology, as it was a good field for humanities-oriented minds with an uncharacteristically analytical bent. I took this advice as seriously as I could, considering I was slightly more than one semester away from graduation, and that it would have taken somewhere between two and four semesters to accommodate changing my concentration into the social sciences. (In retrospect, this wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. With empirical knowledge of the intervening decade, it’s obvious I should have jumped from major to major until they kicked me out in 2026 for attempting to establish a concentration in phrenology.)

“But Peter,” you say, because we’ve gotten to know each other by this point, and some informality is appropriate, “what does this have to do with Community? Also, that story was boring. Like, really fucking boring.” I’m not going to disagree with you--I got bored enough that I went and read some Guardians of the Galaxy easter eggs in another window, and I’m writing the goddamn thing--but it’s a way of sneaking up on an increasingly obvious anomaly in my biography: why did I, an introspective, pretentious, somewhat primitivist kid with a weird sense of holiness and a fierce teenage crush on Joseph Campbell, never give the discipline of psychology so much as a passing thought when I had a chance to make it a meaningful part of my life?

I didn’t have a great sense of the interdisciplinary nature of gnosis, for one. Also, I entered college in a very Graham Greene sort of place, emotionally, and it’s probably not an accident that most of the women I’d spend the next four years trying to sleep with were firmly in the humanities camp. But I think the largest factor was that my older brother had already done the psychology track. Hence, a vast and thriving play space of human knowledge just seemed kind of quaint and redundant. This is stupid reasoning, of course. It’s also not a surprise; have you met 19-year-olds? It’s not uncommon among siblings, or any closed group: life is more a JRPG than an adventure game, and identity means specialization. Who we are is ineluctably affected--and is to some extent determined--by who surrounds us. Which is as good a way as any to get started on “Social Psychology,” written by Liz Cackowski and directed by Anthony Russo.

As we approach, Spanish class is coming to a close, with what might be an alien language scrawled on the chalkboard. Jeff leaves, but doubles back to find Britta. Not for the usual reasons; he’s just trying to avoid Shirley, with whom he is having difficulty managing small talk due to her aggressive lack of cynicism. Jeff points out that they've been growing closer as friends; "I'm really glad you're not hitting on me anymore," she replies. More importantly than the still-not-self-conscious will-they/won't-they in the foreground, Vaughn waves at Britta as she passes. Some interesting stuff about Vaughn. We'll follow up with Vaughn later.*

In the cafeteria, Annie catches up to the returning Professor Duncan in line and asks if she can participate in the psyche lab he's running later that day. Ignoring her concerns about her status as a freshman, Duncan does take the time to clarify that he's not allowed to date students. Annie is nonetheless interested, and the B-plot is established.

Meanwhile, Pierce receives a package containing Earnoculars, a head-mounted directional mic. Solid Snake could probably make it look pretty great, but on Clark Griswold it just looks kind of sad. Pierce's tech fetish will appear intermittently in the show. It's not exactly a character trait; the show will elsewhere get mileage out of the standard joke that old people are hopeless with tech. Perhaps it's meant to gesture toward overcompensation, which is essentially Pierce's defining quality. It's sort of an addendum to the Jeff/Britta plot, I suppose. Appropriately for an episode themed on navigating the competing demands of multiple relationships, "Social Psychology" helpfully reminds us that this show really hasn't figured out what to do with its cast yet.

Back in the actual show, Annie dragoons Troy and Abed into Duncan's experiment, providing me with a vital opportunity to use "dragoon" as a verb. "Do they do stuff to your butt?" asks Troy. When Annie assures him that they do not, he presses the issue: "Do you get paid more if they do stuff to your butt?" Again Annie says no, now clearly confused, but Troy says he'll do it anyway. Abed has plans, but agrees when Annie asks him to participate because of their friendship. Elsewhere, Vaughn is chatting up Britta, and Jeff goes over for what is almost certainly an operational cockblock, but we're going to ignore their story for the time being and head into...

...Duncan's lab, where he's instructing Annie and several other students--among them the delightful and thankfully recurrent Garrett--on the specifics of the experiment. The subjects are in the next room, waiting for the experiment to begin, but the waiting is the experiment. Duncan has hypothesized that they will prove the aptly named Duncan Principle: "the more control lost by the ego, the more gained by the id, resulting in the surprisingly predictable emotional eruption or breaking point, known to ma and pa," Duncan illustrates with a mime shotgun, "as a good ol' fashioned tantrum." Annie, smiling at this secret knowledge shared within the subgroup, goes out to tell the assembled crowd that they'll be starting in five minutes. Garrett also smiles, but it's not as charming, because Garrett is not played by Alison Brie. Instead, it's sort of unnerving. We don't get to dwell on it, because, upon being informed of the five-minute delay, Chang has a complete breakdown and leaves the room in tears, fury, and a smattering of Spanish.

Shirley meets up with Jeff, and wants to walk and talk. Jeff agrees to give it a shot; awkward silence ensues, followed by crosstalk. A connection is finally made upon the discovery of a topic for which they share a passion: making fun of Pierce. Soon, the conversation evolves to making fun of Vaughn. "He's the worst," says Jeff.

No, Jeff. Vaughn is not the worst. But we'll get there.

In the experiment, the crowd is beginning to thin. Troy breaks, in a shower of tears, and leaves. Only Abed now remains.

Back on the quad, Jeff explains the Complicated Situation with Britta, which is of great interest to Shirley. Not so much because she's a gossip, although she is, like most people are; Shirley's interest is specifically because she's a Jeff/Britta shipper. (Jritta? Beff?) "We're not pandas in a zoo," Jeff admonishes her, but is still a bit put off when they pass Britta and Vaughn making out on a blanket.

Depressed!Jeff leans against a vending machine. Britta apologizes for the awkwardness, and explains that she didn't tell the group about Vaughn because she didn't want them making fun of him. Jeff tries to be supportive, and Britta says he won't see anything like that again, and this conversation is many orders of magnitude less awkward than it is IRL. Maybe it's because they're fictional; maybe it's just because they're so attractive. The next time Jeff and Shirley walk together, he tries to refrain from Vaughn-bashing, resolving instead to friend the hell out of the green tea drinking drum circler.

Annie, drenched in sweat, is looking inappropriately attractive with her dissheveled hair. She apologizes to Abed for having kept him waiting for the last 26 hours, and asks that he wait another five minutes. With no visible irritation, he agrees. Upon her return to Duncan's room, Garrett freaks out and leaves. The Duncan tantrum has at this point gone viral, as Duncan has his own meltdown, and blames Annie for bringing Abed in the first place. He calls the experiment off; Annie unceremoniously opens the door and bellows at Abed to go home.

Jeff, far from this more interesting plot, has been trying to make nice with Vaughn. Over Spanish review, Britta confides in Jeff that Vaughn is getting a little relationshippy for her tastes, and has gone so far as to have written her a poem. Jeff sneaks a picture, and later shares the poem with Shirley.

Annie is still mad at Abed, and Abed is mad right back at her. He says he was "livid," but stayed--and stayed completely motionless--because she said they were friends. This is probably the emotional payoff of the episode, reminding us that Abed's inscrutability can be pretty unnerving when it's aimed at you. We have good reason to believe, from this episode and others, that Abed doesn't really know how to display anger in a way that's comprehensible to others, but his insistence on the importance of the label Annie awarded their relationship takes primacy in the scene. Abed gets labels, even if he's often extremely confused about what they represent. He understands the world in terms of nested categories, and he clearly places great importance on the category Annie placed him in. She was attempting to guilt trip him into giving up his evening on her behalf, but he didn't feel guilty. He felt honored.

But back to Sam and Diane.

Pierce arrives with the aforementioned Earnoculars and reveals to the group that Jeff and Shirley have been making fun of them. Upon being told that those jokes were about Vaughn and not him, he happily joins in, and the group momentum inspires Shirley to share the poem over Jeff's half-hearted objections. Britta enters with Vaughn, who is predictably upset: "This is the least tight thing that's ever happened to me." Britta stares daggers at Jeff, and Shirley is quick to throw him under the bus.

Later, Shirley and Jeff try to bond without ragging on anyone, but she has one more piece of gossip for him: "Britta told me she had a sex dream about you. You still have a chance."

Annie presents Abed with a gift bag containing the three good Indiana Jones movies, and Abed says they're cool. It's a really short scene; I'm not sure why I even brought it up.

Jeff apologizes to Britta, whom Vaughn has since broken up with. Jeff, defending his actions, says that he couldn't handle being "one of the girls," and asks if there's "a spot on the friendship spectrum between total stranger and having to hear about the guys you date?" They settle on cat-sitting, and there lies the Jeff/Britta ship, for now. Jeff takes care to rat out Shirley in retaliation, and Vaughn returns to his tribe, somewhat dirtied by the worrisome world the study group.

Later, Shirley and Britta are walking together, and Jeff asks to borrow Pierce's Earnoculars to eavesdrop; Pierce has since rejected the device, and opines on the nature of hearing and friendship: "You see, Jeff, there are certain things Man was not meant to hear. We were designed, by whatever entity you choose, to hear what’s in this range, And really, this range alone. Because you know who’s talking to us in this range? The people we love."

And so it stands, until the next one. I've been poking about, so far unsuccessfully, to find ways to cut the fat from these things, as I don't intend to have quite this much free time on my hands for the next five to ten years. The end tag has Troy and Abed making fun of people as they pass by the study room, unaware that they're easily within earshot. Upon being caught, Troy offers advice we can all use from time to time: "Just pretend like you're asleep. Just pretend you were sleeping."

First Appearances
  • Vaughn: casual.
  • Garrett: intense.
  • The tears of Troy.
  • "The Soul Train awards were tonight! You promised butt stuff!"
  • "Go kill John Lennon again, ya loser!"
  • "I can't believe I showed you that poem. Oh God, my life is Degrassi High."
What Have We Learned?

"Some worries, man. Some worries."

Parade of Tears

*And by "later," I mean in a later recap. I thought I'd get to it here, but I didn't. No worries.

Friday, August 1, 2014

New Moon

It's been a month, and I should probably update this thing.

My mind has been everywhere except games this for the last couple of months. When it did manage to wander there, it usually took a nap while I did the contemplative, one-thing-at-a-time thing, which lends itself quite poorly to writing. It's been a poor month for narration. A good one for long car trips and bonfires and sleeping on strange new couches, but crap for this word-after-a-word thing I try to do here.

There's been other writing, here and there. Back in June, I wrote a piece about the Santa Barbara shooting, out of a vague, anxious sense that I should do something to help. People waited in line to give blood after 9/11; I guess everyone finds their own way to feel useful. Personally, I dealt with 9/11 by taking a weird, serious detour in what was supposed to be a lighthearted short story about the apocalypse. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes writing can't get in the way enough.

A new follower on the Twitter had a question about DBT, having seen it referenced in the most recent post, and it reminded me that I really need to set up a best-of page or something, so people don't wander in to be greeted by dense, sporadically emotive Community recaps. In the meantime, in an effort to keep myself honest, some things in the pipe:

  • More Community, obvi. I've apparently had the notes for Social Psychology sitting ready for cooking for an entire month now.
  • Something substantive about my experiences with DBT. Currently trying to figure out if it might be two articles fighting for independence.
  • Semiotics and UI in turn-based strategy games, because gaming is Serious Business.
  • I dunno, something about guns, probably.
  • More posts explaining how and why I haven't been writing.
Undisciplined Platinum members will have access to the various works in progress that make up my textual life, of course, but the rest of you will have to wait in line like everyone else. In the meantime, July is over, and you, like me, survived another month. Sit with that thought for a moment, taste the air in your nose and throat, note the tension and creeping pain in your fingers and wrists, and selah.

You're alive. Do something fun.