Why I Write About GamesApril 3, 2007
by Onder Skall
What follows is a pensive introspective that traces the journey that lead me here. As with all personal stories there’s much, much more that could be said… but anyhow, fair warning that this amounts to little more than a blog entry. Very first-draft and off-the-cuff. I ran a spell check but ya gets what ya pays for here. 🙂
Part 1: Past and Future
One of my favorite possessions is a copy of “Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge”. It’s a great starting point for why I write about games, but more importantly, why there are other things I don’t write about.
For those of you who missed it: during the 1980s and 1990s there was this fantastic magazine called “Mondo 2000”. The authors went by handles they created themselves (R. U. Sirius, Queen Mu) and delved into what they referred to as the “new edge”. We were onto something new, those of us riding this edge. The term “cyberpunk” was freshly minted, “hypertext” was changing the way we explored the world, and we were sharing information through something called “the internet” for the first time. This new power we had discovered led us to discover subcultures and niches that nobody knew existed before, and we watched with fascination as they rose and fell like the tide. We were watching humanity being reborn somehow, and for the first time ever, tech was hip.
Used copies of the compilation book are now going for as little as $0.37 on Amazon. People are just trying to get rid of them.
When I look at the Mondo 2000 book I love remembering how I felt about it at the time, but for anybody else the whole thing seems a bit ridiculous. There’s all of this hype over what things meant and how people will live and what changes are coming, how humanity was just about to start living and how we were on the edge of a new era. Suddenly the dot com bubble hit us, “Wired” replaced “Mondo” in the hearts and minds of the public, and the time for talk was over. It was time to do things, not talk about doing things. Years later we looked back at what we said was about to happen and can’t help but think: “Why in the world were we so excited about that idea?”
Those heady days of anticipation remind me a lot of today and our current Web 3.0 hype. The futurists are back now in full force, and when I decided to start writing about my online experiences I was tempted to join them. Still… the idea of speculating on the future seems so old to me now. I remember how brilliant the contributors of Mondo 2000 were and how completely irrelevant that brilliance was to the practicalities of getting a handle on things. Being a futurist started to feel more and more like science fiction writing, but with the awful lie that it was going to help people plan for the future.
I’m not disparaging futurists, just describing why it doesn’t work for me at the moment. The same applies for historians.
Let’s go back a little further to 1984. “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution” by Steven Levy describes the origin of the term “hacker”, the dawn of the personal computer, the very first video game companies, and the origin of things like “Windows” and “Macintosh”. This book can be purchased used for $6.75.
Historians have the benefit of the present when choosing subject matter. They can look around, see what people care about, and then talk about where those things came from. We all get curious about that from time to time, and when compelling fact meets competent writing, you get a great book like this one. It was reprinted as recently as 2001, and will only get dated when we no longer use the term “computer” to define the technology we use. (I’m sure that day will come, but again, I’m no futurist so my speculation ends there.)
I could see myself writing historical research someday. It’s wonderful, constructive stuff. It gives people a sense of place and time. The thing is, as I ask myself what I love about this type of book, it all relates to the same thing: it makes today more meaningful.
Why not just write about today?
Part 2: Journalism
So there I was in front of the keyboard, tapping out random blog entries about how I had spent my day, when I realized that THIS was what mattered to me. What am I doing right now, right this second? What’s happening to me as I do it? Is that good or bad? What can I try to make it more interesting?
Suddenly I’ve arrived at my destination: I’m a journalist. Now, every journalist needs a subject. What should I write about?
Stupidly I thought I should do something “important to the world”.
For awhile I did hard news. Protests, politics, ideologies. Finding unique things to report isn’t very hard for today’s indie journalist: you’d be surprised how many riots worldwide the Associated Press skips over or buries. I was producing good work, had moved into video, and was starting to gain a real following under my latest pen-name.
There was only one problem: it’s a horridly depressing thing to do with your day.
If you’re curious, take a peek at IndyMedia.org for a microscopic snapshot of what’s really going on out there. For me, watching people worldwide get tortured and killed everyday, and watching the mainstream media do everything they could to keep people distracted from it, was just too much. I started having a hard time functioning. It wasn’t healthy.
So I said my goodbyes and walked out, joining the rest of the world in our blissful ignorance of the world’s horrors. I have a family that needs me, and I can’t spend every day a total wreck. I need to find some means of self-expression that won’t be worthless, but that won’t make me feel miserable when I ponder it in the twilight hours.
Part 3: The Discovery of Onder Skall
Is that shallow? Am I being too superficial? Guilt was a problem that needed resolution before I could proceed.
The simple fact was that my family was there with me, but none of these other things were. My job was to deal with the actual experiences that we were having and to hell with the rest. If I can’t experience it for myself, it might as well not exist. Save your philosophy, your drama, your ‘isms and your issues. Tell me about what’s happening in this room that I’m sitting in. What am I experiencing?
One day I ended up with the house to myself and hours with nothing to do. I made the decision to avoid being productive that day and just relax. Naturally, that meant video games.
After a day of gaming I started to realize that maybe this was important. Playing a game is a real experience, and one that could be shared. I could share these experiences with my family. We started playing together more. This mattered. This was meaningful. This made me happy.
It hadn’t occurred to me yet that I could just write about games. I had a few dozen creative ideas for games of my own, and I got together with a few indie developers to create games that never saw the light of day. Ultimately I’d rather play them then build them.
What got me writing again was a seemingly innocuous moment in the Welcome Area. I had just barely made it past the “total newbie” phase in Second Life and was starting to have fun. I spent some time every day pointing new people in the direction of some fun things that I had found. One day somebody said: “How do I play this game?” Immediately somebody else answered: “It’s not a game. You don’t play it.” It was at that moment that I realized a more public resource was needed here.
Second Life Games was born, and Onder Skall became an identity.
Part 4: So… why games?
Some ask: “what does this mean?” or “where is this going?” Others regale us all with answers to questions like “how did we get here?” and “where did this come from?”
Me, I’m just interested in “what is it?” and “can I try it?” My time is the present and I endeavor to completely pwn this ever-fleeting moment in time.
That’s why I write about games. Play is real.