Archive for November, 2008

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The geeky addictions debate: Part 4

November 30, 2008

Okay, suffice to say, we have different ideas about what constitutes “addiction”. I think it’s a completely over-used term in our society. I think it often equates harmless habits, hobbies, diversions and so on with physically addictive substances in people’s minds. I think, by your definition, pretty much everything in my life except working, sleeping and pooping – ie. everything which is a necessity rather than a pleasure – is an addiction, thus the label becomes entirely meaningless.

Understand, too, that in gaming culture, it’s a dangerous word. We live in a world where lobbyists and anti-videogame researchers are trying to get “video game addiction” classified an actual DSM-IV disorder. If they ever succeed – as they have done the equivalent in some other countries – it opens the door to many things that should disturb far more than just gamers; foremost, government regulation and intervention in a creative industry. That leads down a very ugly and dangerous road. As such, I despise the term except in its strictest definition – compulsive habituation to a substance or activity to the exclusion of almost everything else. That’s not going to change through anything we have to say here.

On a personal note, I also, I have to say, rather resent you using out-of-context quotes from my apology post as fuel with which to brand me as in an “addictive state”, and to conjecture about how interference with my hobbies frustrates me. That was an off-the-cuff post for our readers meant to apologize in casual language for the fact that I have not paid as much attention to NAPA as I would like due to a recent video game glut. That post, naturally, greatly simplified matters in my own life, as I only referred to “NAPA-relevant” factors – and not even all those, frankly, as my nose has been buried in Orson Scott Card novels much of the past few weeks as well. The truth is, there’s a lot more than video games that takes away from my time spent writing online, here and elsewhere, but which I don’t usually choose to discuss in this forum – such as the fact that I do a lot of my online writing on the sly at work, which has been too busy for that indulgence lately. But we’ll set that aside.

But the real thing I want to discuss in what I brought up is the issue of self-loathing – I admit that I used perhaps too strong a term; embarrassment would be more appropriate. It’s in the larger world I see this, not “in front of the computer” – on the ‘net, we can all indulge in sub-cultures to our heart’s content with little interference or judgement.

The same is to be said for cons, or comic shops, or SF bookstores, or game shops, or RPG hobby shops. Of course the people there are spending money to fuel their interests. Of course they are open in these locales about what they love, and how much they love it, and are free to express that. That’s because these are the places where their like-minded individuals congregate. They are surrounded by their own kind, safe and secure. They, as you point out, disdain the mainstream in these environments – but would they do so outside such a safe haven? Conventions are often as much support groups as marketing and fandom events. Saying to go to these places and see if the people in them are embarrassed about their hobbies is like telling me to go to a crack house to prove that crack heads aren’t ashamed of their habit.

The real question is – when they go to work Monday morning and their boss asks them what they did on the weekend, do they say they put on a Starfleet uniform and went to a Star Trek con, or do they say “not much”? When they’re at the bar with their non-gaming buddies, do they brag about adding 1,000 points to their gamerscore last week? I know your wife has a friend at work who’s a raving BSG fan, but feels a need to conceal this from everyone but her, once he found out she shared his interest. Would this guy be embarrassed to admit he was a hockey fan, or loved the new Bond movie?

As for the last… we’ll see. I don’t think all of what we’re talking about here is just fad, though I certainly hope that sparkly romantic vampires are, and a short-lived one at that.

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The geeky addictions debate: Part 3

November 29, 2008

Harrysaxon raises some interesting points in his recent Geeky Addictions: harrysaxon’s reply, but ultimately, I think he’s guilty of oversimplifying the issue. In fact, “addiction” is a perfectly applicable term for the degrees to which geeks (and mainstreamers, as I noted in my original post) pursue their interests (to great lengths) and can be applied not necessarily with self-loathing, but merely as a means of self-honesty.

The first thrust of harrysaxon’s post is that addiction = extreme behavour, and therefore shouldn’t be associated with more moderate geeky indulgence. He uses examples like gaming for 30 hours straight, ignoring hygiene and diet, and purchasing books in large amounts despite debt.

But it is important to note that these are extreme examples, and the world, geek culture, and geeks themselves, are a lot more complex than that. What harrysaxon is ignoring is that there are degrees of addiction. Certainly you wouldn’t say a cigarette smoker is the same as a heroine or cocaine addict in terms of behaviour or their ability to exercise good judgement. Yet they are both without a doubt addicts.

The fact is the world is filled with examples of small-scale addiction: smoking (as mentioned above); the need some have for coffee/caffeine; the need others have for daily (if not more regular), vigorous exercise. These forms of addiction are commonplace and the fact of their addictive nature has been documented at length. It’s also true that these pursuits/behaviours as exhibited by the vast majority of the population are not considered extreme.

It is perfectly reasonable and accurate then to apply the label of addiction to habitual activities like gaming, book buying, comic or figurine collecting, or any of the other geeky activities, even when they are not carried to extremes. I may be on the street, walk near a bookstore, and find myself slowing down to check it out, and quite possibly veer towards the door or go in, even doing quick mental calculations about how much time I can spend in there and if I’ve got the cash to buy something. Why? Because it’s a habit and it makes me feel good. Judgement might kick in a second or two later and tell me I shouldn’t go in (for whatever reason), and I’ll probably feel some level of disappointment. This would be similar to your everyday garden-variety joe getting up in the morning and heading towards the coffee machine because he needs his morning java. If he doesn’t have time to make a pot, he’ll probably be disappointed, to say the least. Clearly, some form of mild addiction is at work. By the same token, you, harrysaxon, might have a huge pile of games to play, which, given the chance, you will, and will undoubtedly look forward to, because you do it habitually and you enjoy it. You’ll probably even shift priorities around to facilitate this (as you admitted in your post “My shameful lack of updates“, using words/phrases like “overwhelmed”, “must-play” and “sucking my life away” which go part and parcel with addictive states) because gaming makes you feel good. When something interferes with that, you get frustrated. Again, similar stimulus and behaviour response that one might see in an exercise addict who habitually does yoga in the morning, followed by a run or trip to the gym in the afternoon and gets a runners’ high, and who “feels it” if they don’t engage in exercise. Whether the endorphine rush is caused by an external chemical like caffein or provoked internally by exercise or book-buying or gaming, when the action is habitual and provokes positive/negative responses such that it affects action and decision-making (even in a trivial way) a person’s probably got some level of addiction going on.

And it’s important to remember that we’re talking levels here. Not all low-level addictions interfere with lives significantly, and there are many degrees between those and the immediately destructive ones like gaming for 30 hours straight or shooting smack.

Also, those degrees of addiction can very much depend on the observer. There are doubtless many people (more likely mainstreamers) who would say that 20 hours a week of gaming or 10 unread books in the in-box do indicate a low to moderate addiction. Personally, because it doesn’t adversely affect my life (just as you have indicated it doesn’t affect yours), I don’t care. I can admit it, see the humour that lies within that, and go back to thinking about buying the next book.

To invoke words like “hobby” as a preference over “addiction” when the pursuit of geeky passions is habitual and has some influence over satisfaction level and behaviour is hair-splitting at best, and hiding from the truth at worst. Better to be honest with ourselves and call a spade a spade. Many geeks have some degree of addiction to their passions.

The second significant point raised in harrysaxon’s post was that geeks are self-loathing and ashamed of our addictions/passions/whatever. This couldn’t be further from the truth for most of the geek population.

Mainstream condemnation of SF and associated aspects of our culture and cluster of sub-cultures does inspire strong feelings among geeks. Certainly there’s resentment at this kind of treatment. But rather than self-loathing, it tends to foster pride (finding greater importance and meaning in that which geeks love, and a value for the strength and courage associated with going against the grain), and, in a kind of seige mentality, occasionally disdain for the mainstream. Yes, there may be angst about geek culture, but not of the self-loathing kind so much as it is concern for the survival of this culture, for the continued opportunities for expression of this culture in the face of a larger mainstream group that could cut off these means of expression. This is a concern shared by many minority groups around the world today and throughout history and tends to result in a resurgence of community pride and greater value of shared sense of self.

Some youth and the video game playing friends you’ve spoken with, harrysaxon, may feel self-loathing, but they’re in the minority.  Neither I, nor any other fan of books, movies, figurines, comics, rpg’s, etc – even video games – who I’ve encountered in many, many years of hanging around in bookstores, SF specialty bookstores, comic/collectibles shops in several cities in Canada and the US, nor those who I’ve chatted with and read in many SF websites and blogs, nor those who I’ve talked to and observed while attending local, national and international conventions, loathes themselves. Quite the contrary. The majority of adult geeks enjoy the hell out of their areas of the culture and are proud of who they are and what they enjoy. I’m not just saying this as a proud geek either. For years I stomped the streets as a reporter and interviewed every type of person in pretty much every type of situation you can imagine. Reporters are experts at observing individuals and groups and figuring out what makes them tick.  Get out from in front of the computer, go out to an SF bookstore or a comic shop or an RPG/table-top-strategy-game store and look through the window at the customers. Wander around at a con, especially the dealers’ room where the delegates are spending hundreds of dollars on you-name-it to feed their addictions. You won’t see shame in their eyes. They aren’t like the 40-year-old guy slipping furtively into the adult entertainment store to buy foot-fetish porn who’s wracked with Catholic guilt and afraid his clients and business partners or his kids will see him. Not remotely. No, you’ll see happiness and engagement, for in these centres of geek culture they can be themselves – they’ve come home. Geeks may feel hurt or annoyed by mainstream condemnation, but most shuck it off rather than let it eat at them. Some learn to joke about it. As with the vast majority of people, as geeks grow into adults, they become more secure in themselves and cease to care about the high-schoolesque opinions of mainstreamers who waste time condeming geek culture. That’s why geeks open specialty shops and organize and attend cons and give out international literary awards complete with cash prizes and idolize geek media stars and discuss geek stuff online ad-nauseum. Self-loathing just isn’t there for most of the adult geek community.

As for the last bit in the harrysaxon rant about the future of the mainstream and geek cultures… who knows? Fads come and go. Cultures evolve or not, converge, diverge or are destroyed for any number of reasons.

It is comforting though, at the end of the day, to know that because geeks are proud of their culture/sub-cultures and because they’re so ferociously loyal to their passions that many are addicted to them to some degree, geek culture will continue to thrive and offer more experiences for us to explore.

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Geeky addictions: harrysaxon’s reply

November 28, 2008

I originally started this as reply thread to bloginhood’s Geeky Addictions post; it grew so long it became an article itself with a little more fleshing out.

I strongly disagree with the use of the word “addiction”. This is a bit of a personal bugbear; I think this word is overwhelmingly over-used these days. An addiction, even beyond its more proper use in referring to substances which cause physical dependency, should be something significantly debilitating. Something you pursue to the exclusion of virtually all other things in your life, with a lack of concern of how the pursuit of this thing harms the rest of your life.

I’m an avid video game player, it’s certainly a major hobby, but “addiction” is too strong a word, though I don’t deny that addiction to video games is possible. I’ve dealt with and seen actual video game addiction, myself with Everquest and friends with World of Warcraft, and it’s a much different thing. Gaming 30 hours straight, ceasing to do anything but game, including bathe or eat properly; one guy playing 50 WoW machines hooked up simultaneously, generating $3k+ in monthly subscription fees; leaving your children to starve to death; that’s addiction.

Playing, as I do, around 20 hours a week of a combination of solo, online and co-operative video games just means that gaming is my principal, but by no means only, form of leisure and entertainment, and even a major avenue of socialization, from friends I’ve met online to Rock Band parties. Video games never take away from my time with my family, my love for other hobbies (though, as with NAPA lately, sometimes a leisure time balancing act must occur); I go out for dinner, read books, cook, etc… video gaming dominates my leisure time, but it definitely doesn’t dominate my whole life.

By the same token, I would not consider your love for buying books an addiction, not unless you’re having problems paying the bills and feeding yourself because of it. I actually knew someone once who was addicted to buying books; he didn’t read 10% of them, I’d wager, and he’d just spend hundreds of dollars a month on, literally, random books bundled up by booksellers and sent to him on spec. He rarely had enough money for food or anything else for the month.

No, I think that the word “addiction” gets thrown around so casually and constantly in sub-cultures like SF and video gaming for one simple and rather depressing reason; self-loathing and shame about our chosen hobbies. Someone who works 20 hours a week would never be called an addict; someone who spends 20 hours a week reading Shakespeare would be lauded for their intellectualism; someone who spends 20 hours a week knitting blankets for the homeless would be called a saint. The truth is, video gamers, SF fans, even television lovers, all can’t get over this stupid, prejudiced opinion that mainstream society has bludgeoned into their heads: Your hobby is a waste of time. Why don’t you do something useful. How can you like that stuff, isn’t it for kids?

Even amongst many of my video game playing friends, there’s a strong element of self-loathing; the idea that it’s okay to like video games to a point, but you must keep an element of cool detachment; almost an attitude that you should never get too good at them, because that brands you as lacking a social life or other, “healthier” hobbies.

I think hobbies are hobbies, and that’s that. Yeah, they suck the funds, but all hobbies do. I sometimes would like to travel more, but frankly, traveling’s a bit of a bother these days. And most people I know have a favourite destination, like Mexico, they go to repeatedly; to me, sitting on a beach and getting drunk in a foreign country seems like a colossal waste of money to me… but I’m sure they think plastic guitar controllers are a colossal waste of money. It’s just different strokes.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. When we both refer to the “mainstream”, we’re really talking about people of our own generation or older – the tail end of Gen-Xers. Those under, say, 30 these days grow up in a world where not playing video games to one degree or another is as unthinkable as not watching TV or movies. They’re growing up in a world where geek is the new cool; in the UK and US, the Doctor and Chuck are prime examples of modern geek chic. Fantasy books like Harry Potter and Twilight dominate their reading habits. The mainstream is changing, my friend, the only problem is, we were born 20 years too early to really be within that group.

I grew up in a time where video games were a pernicious waste of time, which your never admitted to playing very much. And truthfully, they were pretty simplistic things; only recently have video games become a valid and emerging modern form of expression and art, and its appreciators have been able to come up out of the basement and into the sun for a few years now. We just have to hold our heads high and not allow even ourselves to convince ourselves that our hobby is not a worthwhile one.

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“Doctor Who”‘s 45th anniversary

November 26, 2008

The Doctor has the prescription for longevity. Not just because he’s a seemingly immortal Time Lord, but because his show has been around for 45 years (31 years on-air).

Over the years, we’ve seen many faces of Doctor Who – literally, through his 10 regenerations (soon to be 11), but also figuratively through the sides of his personality the writers and actors have given us. Goofy, serious, weary, enthused, compassionate, terrifying, cold, noble, regretful, sad, awestruck and even lovestruck, The Doctor has been many things, but he’s always been the gateway to chance – the opportunity to explore the seemingly impossible, for his more-or-less normal Companions to pit themselves against the odds (with varying degrees of success and sometimes tragic failure, because travelling with The Doctor is a gamble – there are no guarantees of a sunshiny outcome) so that, despite the external adventures (and what grand adventures they are), they can understand more about themselves and maybe the universe.

45 years of history, and most of that with new content running on-air, is a staggering, geologic, god-like, near infinite amount of time in the world of broadcast. Fitting for a show about a Time Lord. Much deserved for a show that’s endeavoured to tell entertaining stories with interesting characters.

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The weekly list: Top 5 video games that scared the crap out of me

November 26, 2008

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

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Geeky addictions

November 25, 2008

Not too long ago, harrysaxon made an interesting point about video games sucking his life away this time of year, and how he’s become obsessed with minutia within the games. I read his post and thought, yeah, this does illustrate the depth of his passion for this form of entertainment. And yet his use of the word “obsessed” is quite telling too, in that passion (as potent a word as it is) seems too small a word for the effect of gaming on his life. In many ways “addiction” would be a far more appropriate word.

And yet I can’t condemn him because I think a lot of geeks live with (I won’t say “suffer”, ’cause most of these SF-related drives are pretty enjoyable) some form of addiction.

In my own SF way, I’m admittedly an addict myself. Not as far along as harrysaxon, mind you, but certainly addicted to some extent. For me, it’s books. I tend to buy them faster than I’ve got time to read them and consequently the “in-box” pile towers higher and higher every month. I read an interesting review, or hear about a new title by a favourite author that’s about to be released, and I automatically do a mental check to see when I can get down to White Dwarf to buy it, including a calculation of how long after the release it’ll take for the store to get it in stock. Out on the street, I can’t pass a bookstore without getting a bit twichy (I had a friend in Winnipeg, David, who was much, much farther gone – he couldn’t pass up a bookstore at all – simply had to go in. Couldn’t help himself. And he was a big guy too, so there was no pulling him back until he was sated,). It’s that siren’s call of “Oooh! I wonder if they’ve got something on their SF shelf I haven’t seen before?!” And if I heed that call, then I can be poking around in there for quite some time, and it’s usually the case that I’ll end up buying a book or three. As I’m carting home my haul to add to the hoard, reality sets in and I have to do an inventory check to see how the new acquisition(s) will fit into the hierarchy of which new books get read first. Of course, with every new purchase, the whole damn system has to be reconfigured. Then there’s the whole problem of fitting in time for reading around work, quality time with my wife, cat and friends, cooking meals, watching TV and the odd movie, and various irritating chores around the house. Never mind the need to find room for all the damn books! (“Get a library card!” some of you will chorus. “Bite me!” I rejoin, ’cause the libraries around here don’t stock much in the way of new or good SF and besides, I NEED to have my hoard.) Then I listen to coworkers talk about their vacations to all sorts of interesting places and wonder why I can’t afford to travel, and then I have to admit it’s ’cause the books eat up my discretionary budget. I’ve dug my own grave in the piles of books at my place. And yet, I wouldn’t give this habit up. Yep, I’m an addict. Not as far gone as harrysaxon, mind you, ’cause I’m willing to shoulder the blame myself, (rather than rail against the video game companies for releasing too much product at a specific time of year when really, one could buy one game at a time over the course of the whole year, rather than all at once and get pulled in a thousand directions with no time for anything else) but I’m an addict none-the-less. I can admit that.

And when I observe other geeks, some form of addiction (present in varying degrees, depending on the individual) to their particular SF loves seems to be quite common. I had a buddy back in high school named Al who would spend every penny he had on comics, foresaking a new bike or clothes or a car or savings for college. Being somewhat of a comic collector back then myself, I remember guys like my friend were par for the course when I visited the comic shop downtown. In university, I knew people who would drop hundreds of dollars, easily, on die-cast figurines. And this was university – supposedly the realm of poor-ass macaroni-and-cheese-eating students struggling just to buy books. In broadcast college later there was a TV production student who did a lot of camerawork for me when I was putting together stories for my journalism diploma who was a fiend for Star Wars. His parents’ basement was a shrine to Lucas’ merchandise, with a specialization in action figures. Since then, I’ve been to SF conventions, and every time I go into the dealers’ room (an apt name), there are legions of geeks packed cheek-by-jowl with acquisitive gleams in their eyes as they zero-in on the tables hawking whatever they happen to be jonesing for, be it books or models or costumes or games or figures or you name it. And I should know, ’cause I’m one of them. Space (Canada’s attempt at a sci-fi channel) – back when it was worth watching – used to run a feature occasionally called “It Came from the Basement” (or something to that effect) profiling uber-geeks with their vast collections of whatever their SF fetish focussed on. And while I might watch and say “that’s more than I’d want to have”, I couldn’t quite bring myself to mock them or say that they were wrong, because this desire to have lots of the SF things we love is so powerful and so very common. I’ll bet you, as fellow geeks, can think of plenty of examples of people throwing themselves into their SF passions deeply and unapologetically.

So why do we do it? Is it simply because we love these things (whatever these SF things that are loved are to you) and want to keep them close to experience whenever we want to whatever degree we want? Is it because we have in some way incorporated them into our identity because we were mocked in our youth (and even adulthood) for liking them and thus held them closer in defensiveness because an attack on that which we like is something of an attack on ourselves? Is it some kind of genetic throwback, an anthropological holdout from pre-human days when things that made our ancestors happy were probably food sources and thus they were things our ancestors would want to cling to as much as possible because they gave life? Is it because these items represent some kind of stability in a world that’s largely beyond our control? Something else perhaps?

And how are our SF addictions any different from those harmless fetishes accepted by the mainstream? How is the guy who can recite every line of dialogue from the entire Star Wars franchise any different from the guy who can recall baseball stats going back to the 30’s? How is the girl who’s a Trekkie who makes her own costumes and writes fanfic any different than the woman who goes to the antique market every Saturday? We can draw these kinds of comparisons until we’re all blue in the face like Andorians, and they’d be fair assessments, but for some reason geeks are singled out and laughed at by the mainstream (I almost typed “meanstream” in there – quite the Freudian slip). Ultimately, I don’t think they are that different. If geeks are singled out for their loves, it’s likely because the mainstream doesn’t want to admit the ridiculousness of its own passions.

And so as geeks I think it’s important that we not pick on each other for having different addictions. Sure, geeks are as tribal as any other culture, but rather than getting into tiresome and embarassing sniping about Star Trek vs Star Wars or whether it’s better to collect comics than figurines, I think we ought to accept each other as we are. No, that doesn’t mean we’ve all gotta join hands and sing kumbaya around a camp fire, ’cause we’re all gonna have our likes and dislikes and personal addictions and we shouldn’t have to waste time on things we don’t like. Rather, let’s at least put up with each other and recognize that one geek’s slavishness to video games is as valid as another’s addiction to books.

So what’s your SF addiction? What can’t you live without?

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Reviews: “Gears of War 2” and “Mirror’s Edge”

November 23, 2008

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!