out of context

whereever you go, there you are.

Archive for April 2010

Sharing is Caring

leave a comment »

Part of blogging regularly again is getting more engaged with what other people are writing or sharing. One of the few essential blog-readers to both escape the Chinese firewall and serve as a free and easy workaround is Google Reader. I do not spend enough time reading serious posts I am forwarded through Google Reader because there is simply a deluge of deserving content. I have tried paring back, but it always seems unfair to shortchange one interesting blog just because I’m too lazy. But there are simply too many posts for a non-professional blogger to read. My solution is simply to focus more on what people I know are sharing, and not feel obligated to ‘clean my plate’ of unread posts. This results in more posts read, and more posts forwarded on to others through the share function. If I’m not careful, though, I end up trying to follow anything any of my friends are, which leads me right back to the flood problem.

Reader’s has another useful feature: the ability to give full-text previews of blog posts hosted on domains or servers that are blocked by the Great Firewall. A multitude of useful and interesting sites, such as Danwei and China Digital Times are thus readable, if not accessible. It’s also a faster way of reading WordPress, which while not blocked, is terribly slow and unresponsive when I’m not using my VPN. Updating the blog is still a pain and will remain so until I return stateside this summer. If you’re not using Reader, give it a try.

Advertisements

Written by Michael

April 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Law School and My Ballistic Impatience

with one comment

In personal news, I’ve accepted admission to Case Western Reserve Law School. I have worked in law firms for the past two years and have not been completely turned off of the idea of being a lawyer – in fact, I see some real upsides to practicing law, even if I choose to forsake the world of BigLaw for something that doesn’t pay as much more spiritually fulfilling. Chief among such advantages: a serious enhancement of my ability to be an unbearable smartass and a doubling of the amount of useless trivia stored in my mental memory banks. If life was nothing but an endless policy debate round with lunch breaks for games of Trivial Pursuit, I’d be all set.

One concern I have going into what is sure to be an intense academic experience is the persistent feeling that I’ve become mentally complacent and allowed my wits to dull. I don’t feel slow, but I feel slowed. Too many video games? Too many years juggling multiple languages? Who knows? In any case, I have begun to consider how I might clear my mind out a bit – spring cleaning for the soul, if you will. Ideas so far include more Chinese reading and more blogging, and a moratorium on gaming. I find games are easily the most insidious agent of change in mental function in my life. Not long ago, I read an article that made me wonder just how much a gaming habit can alter one’s thinking. In fact, the more I read, the more I began to worry that my meaningless little hobby was guilty of more than just discouraging me from blogging.

I sleep normal hours; I don’t take drugs. These are two key differences between me and Tom Bissell, the guy who found himself in a sideways spiral of coke-fueled gaming binges. Nor can I relate to the obsession with ‘sandbox’ games like Grand Theft Auto IV that have no particular focus and instead reward the random and pointless acts of – well, whatever. Not just violence. In some games, the reward mechanism is so well honed that doing almost anything gives you a little twinge of happiness. Oh, I blew up a truck? That’s kind of cool. Wait, what’s this I found over here? Does this do anything? No? What about this? And this? Ad infinitum. Literally. Games are now advanced enough that the permutations are far beyond the ability of most players to reach in a reasonable amount of time. More games are published than anyone can hope to play to completion. Sequels are fast-tracked by massive development studios working young programmers in near-constant ‘crunchtime‘ to minimize the distance between A – the moment the first game begins to lose its shine – and B, where a newly revamped, enhanced version of the game is made available to a prepared audience. There is never a lack of games, only a lack of time to play them all.

Bissell writes,

…the pleasures of literary connection seem leftover and familiar. Today the most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games. Unfortunately, the least useful and financially solvent pursuit in my life is also playing video games. For instance, I woke up this morning at 8am fully intending to write this article. Instead, I played Left 4 Dead until 5pm. The rest of the day went up in a blaze of intermittent catnaps. It is now 10pm and I have only just started to work. I know how I will spend the late, frayed moments before I go to sleep tonight, because they are how I spent last night and the night before that: walking the perimeter of my empty bed and carpet-bombing the equally empty bedroom with promises that tomorrow will not be squandered. I will fall asleep in a futureless, strangely peaceful panic, not really knowing what I will do the next morning and having no firm memory of who, or what, I once was.

This is the far extreme of the hardcore gamer’s consciousness. Even sharing a bit of Bissell’s experience with games (“…ocular spasms…fuse-blown reflexes…ballistic impatience to play…”) and reading his descriptions with a knowing dread, I have never managed to play for thirty hours straight, and if I did, I hope I would realize something was wrong. I tend to gravitate towards story-driven games such as RPGs, games that essentially reward a time investment with a story of some sort and possibly some challenging gameplay elements. More recently, I’ve started playing simpler games like tower defense, DOTA, or Settlers of Catan online. With the exception of Catan (where everyone is quite polite), online gaming is a cesspool. I try to ignore the half-literate insults carelessly hurled during such games, but given that I enjoy winning, and cannot always do so, I too become angry and find myself tempted to reply with similar vitriol. Pointless; destructive; stressful. Online hate: a huge emerging market! Perhaps it’s better to have such destructive urges channeled into the relatively harmless world of online gaming, but at what point do we cross over from distracting ourselves temporarily to distracting ourselves permanently?

Most games are about attacking a childlike world with an adult mind.

The adult world is already juvenile enough, I think. Bissell recollects and notes that entire chapters of his life have been devoured (pleasurably) by gaming. I recollect and my strongest memories have little or nothing to do with them. But I find that I cannot, in my wildest dreams, reconcile a gamer’s habit with the world of law school. No longer can I pretend to exist in a childlike world, even in my limited free time. Besides, my brain will soon be occupied juggling the details of the Rule in Shelley’s Case and other crucial issues…alas, gaming, our days are numbered.

The arrival of spring (if you can call the pathetic Beijing weather ‘spring’) usually lifts me a bit, and I am sure that once the hazy mixture of pollution, sand, fog and volcanic ash (maybe?) clears out of the Beijing sky, I’ll be closer to 100%. Of course, if I’m concerned with the weather, why did I decide to go to law school in Cleveland? Ah well. At least there is football to dull the pain.

Written by Michael

April 18, 2010 at 4:31 pm