Thursday, August 28, 2014

Semper Games


Imagine an empty universe. Imagine nothingness. This is a universe without God, without a creator, without a guiding hand. It was not *made*. It simply *is*.

Populate this universe with the celestial objects - stars and planets and all cosmic entities in between.

Now add to one planet the element of water - and from water, emerge life.

Now we wait.

Life mutates. The drive to live is mutation - a beneficial one, at least for purposes of survival. The beings that do not have these instincts die. The ones that do live. This does not mean that those biological instincts are the way life should be. Rather, they are self-justifying: they exist because they helped life survive. This, and only this, is their purpose. Such is the way of "biological truths".

Many animals exist that failed to breed. They died. But in truth, so does every other animal. Death is the common curse. Why, then, is breeding important? It isn't. It's simply a trait that is passed on. The reason it is passed on is because it is a trait that supports being passed on. Breeding does not save you from death. Failing to breed does not damn you. You are, and then you aren't. You are not graded. You are not scored. It is not objectively possible to waste your life.

At any moment, you could be killed. This would not be an event with purpose or greater cause. It would simply be what happened.

There is no purpose but that which we give ourselves, or which we allow others to give us.


A problem I have with a lot of philosophers is that they're essentially working under the assumption that "something important" exists. For many, this is the existence of the divine - that they firmly believe God exists, and their philosophies are founded in working around or with God's plan for them. René Descartes famously examined every possible assumption he had, down to his own existence - but concluded ultimately that he must not be deceived, because a Just God would not allow it. He could not bring himself to truly doubt the existence of God, even when he was intent on questioning everything else.

For others, the concern is more material. Ayn Rand labored under the idea that it was objectively valuable to pursue prosperity. Now I could certainly trot out quotes about her views on the rich (they're great and deserve everything they have and they got it all themselves) or the poor (they're parasitic idiots who couldn't sustain themselves for a week). But I think this one sums it up a lot better:

"They (Native Americans) didn't have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using. What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their 'right' to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent."

Ayn Rand's belief is that it is an Important Truth that progress is good and anti-progress is bad. Progress is more important than the autonomy, and lives, of the native peoples, and she holds then in contempt for failing to recognize that. She can't prove that value, of course, because it is a subjective belief. It is an opinion. But it is an opinion that she regards as unassailable and objective. She does not consider an alternative, because the criteria she uses to make decisions is founded in the intrinsic idea that progress is good.

If you were interested in defending civilization by its merits, you could mention things like medicine and plumbing and industry. Theoretically, you could make the argument that "civilization" as a concept includes many things that improve the life of the citizens within it. However, to do so, you would have to weigh that against the human beings killed in its name. This is not something Ayn Rand does because she does not care about those things - she cares about Progress itself. And if "progress" includes her living in luxury as the rightful inheritor of profit, then all the better for it. Naturally, Rand's philosophy was a big hit with people who want to be rich, selfish, elitist, and morally justified.

Most of the "great philosophers" operate in this way. They have an idea of the way the world should work, and they try to come up with reasons why it's the way the world has to work. Reading classical philosophy is a lot like reading the works of Freud - it's useful in a historical sense, but in an objective sense it's people without training trying to stumble across the truth. Freud is the "father of psychology", but he was also biased and arrogant, leading into his preferred conclusions without real concern for methodology or the well-being of his patients. In much the same way most of the great classical philosophers are essentially setting out "the way they think the world works" and then trying to justify it after the fact with their own theoretical anecdotes.

A philosopher believes that their beliefs are correct because they believe they must.

The counter-question is always "and what if we don't?"


Now, me, I'm a bit of a philosopher myself. I believe in the sanctity and primacy of reality. I believe that stories should aspire to something beyond pure entertainment - to truly connect with the real world, with real people and real stories. Reality comes first, real people and real stories, and fiction should - at best - try to skim off of the beauty of reality. It disgusts me - disgusts me - when people cry over fictional characters more than they cry over real people. It sickens me when people give more attention to a fictional story about war atrocities and "game narrative theory" than they do to real wars. It shows me, over and over, that people are more concerned about stroking their own egos (in one way or another) than actually learning about the world around them.

Recently, some of that kind of stuff has been in the limelight. Battlefield: Hardline brought out the idea that dehumanizing a group of people in order to justify violence being "fun" is distasteful and disrespectful. Hey, guess what, that's exactly how I feel about most video game violence. The idea of using something like that as entertainment is abhorrent to me. But most gamers are still basically okay with it, because that's the reality they grew up in.

Once, I wrote an article about the depiction of "easy violence". In this article I didn't even bring up the idea that it's wrong to pantomime murder - instead, I challenged the way we view escapism. "Killing" is generally a self-indulgent act in gaming, but it's also usually a pointlessly easy one. Is there a reason to get a thrill from pretending to kill an enemy who was barely capable of fighting back? Is there a reason to think it's cool and exciting to put a reticle over a guy and launch a yellow blob at him that bursts into jelly? Is this why we game?

Another time, I wrote an article about the way people use "realism". In that article I pointed out that many people (on all sides of the political spectrum) will use "realism" as a good thing and "non-realism" as a bad thing, but they will do so in very select instances. Some people will say that women shouldn't be allowed to fight or be stronger than a man, because that's "unrealistic". Other people will say that it's wrong for armor to have breast-shaped indentations, because that's "unrealistic". However, these kinds of complaints tend to float in a sea of abstract, disjointed design decisions. There is no true adherence to realism - it is simply invoked as a self-justified concept, with its own intrinsic moral value. And, of course, it's difficult to be so certain about what is "realistic" when we ourselves don't know all the facts about reality.

Almost all of my early articles had the same basic concept even when they were talking about wildly different topics: they were trying to teach people that realism itself is good, not just the concepts behind it. Inevitably fiction must differ from reality (that's why this is Exploring Believability and not Exploring Realism), but the more coherent realism you can put into a work, the better it'll be. And by "better" I mean in terms of things like visceral reactions, logical coherence, and real-world engagement. In fact, I told everyone this in the very first article I wrote on this site.

But now here comes the question: "and what if we don't?"


The answer is "nothing". Nothing happens if you don't adhere to realism. There is no objective purpose to life. It is impossible to "waste" life objectively. Life may be spent however the living being wishes (physical constraints aside).

FACT: A walking simulator is objectively not a waste of time.

FACT: A dating simulator is not objectively a waste of time.

FACT: A depression simulator is objectively not a waste of time.

FACT: A murder simulator is not objectively a waste of time.

The worst thing I can promise you, objectively, is that you will be hated by someone, somewhere. This is inevitable. But still, you don't want it.

How many of you are familiar with Christian Weston Chandler? Yeah, he's kind of a weird guy. Got a lot of problems. Easy to make fun of. Except, the problem is, a lot of the people making fun of him were basically just as weird and degenerate and societally-outcast as he was. What grounds did they have to mock him, apart from the safety of not being on display? What right did these shitbag nerds have to point and laugh at another shitbag nerd?

There's a really wonderful and enlightening event from Chris' life called Father Call. It's a complete dressing-down of Chris' inflated ego and sense of self-worth, where a societally revered individual (a veteran, a father, a provider) tears apart a societally hated individual (a failure, a blowhard, a guy who makes jokes about 9/11). Lots of people laughed at it. How many of them, I wonder, were nervous on the inside? How many of them compared their lives to Chris' and realized, oh, right, maybe I'm not as different as I'd like to think? Maybe, just maybe, I'm also a person that society despises?

"You are all bronies to me." - @ExpBelieve, twitter dot com

Of course the objective answer to this is that being hated is only bad if you care about the opinion of the people who hate you. Christian Weston Chandler could bundle himself up in his delusions and live totally happy on the taxpayer's dollar for the rest of his life. He can't get a girlfriend, sure, because that would require someone else thinking well of him - but he can at least get an anime bodypillow.

Why do we game? Because gaming is that blanket. Gaming is that bodypillow. Gaming is an institution founded on two things: self-indulgence and self-delusion. Games are about escapism - about pretending you're cool and important and likeable even when you're not. Games are about being better than everyone else. Games are about being stronger than everyone else. Games are about "romances" that are easy and reliable because there's no human being on the other end with opinions and values of their own.

And if you tell nerds how pathetic they are, they get so upset, my droogs. If you could harvest outrage, you would have no greater source than telling nerds they're pathetic. As much as they mock SJWs for daring to care about issues (and also "not doing real activism"), they themselves are the most sensitive demographic in the world. Because despite their "detached exteriors", they know what they are. Despite their "thick skins", they know how people feel about them. Despite the masks they wear, they know what's coming.

Hey, everyone, who wants to laugh at the nerd?

Despite everything they do - because of everything they do - gamers are losing right now. You know why? They're attacking the only people who could give their vapid medium an image improvement - the only people who could polish that turd up enough to make it respectable. They're organizing as one entity to do the kind of stupid shit that Jack Thompson could only dream of. For years, anti-game people had to make do with loosely connecting games to shootings. But now, here it is: an entire subculture organizing to do overt, repulsive activities. People who lived their lives not giving a shit about what other people thought of their body pillows and their murder simulators are now forced into answering the ringing phone. They hope, vainly, that an anime character will somehow turn it all around for them and make society ignore them again. Ring. Ring. Ring.

It's the Father Call.

Pick up the phone.


  1. Why are you so afraid of death, Mr. Shea?

    1. How is acknowledging an objective inevitability "fear"? I'm simply setting out the facts to give context to a discussion of the greater purpose and value of "art" and "culture".

      Are you suggesting you DON'T think you'll die someday? That, in fact, there will be a greater purpose that you will be lifted to that will justify the time spent making Youtube videos about how gamer culture is totally fine and not bad?

    2. You shouldn't fear objective inevitabilities.
      Objectively justify why writing these does any good.
      Also objectively justify etc.

    3. Again, find the part here where "fear" was mentioned. I'm telling you a fact: death is inevitable, and there is no score or value after death. It's an objective fact that should affect the way you live your life. The purpose of the question was not "you're objectively bad for making gamer vids" but "your gamer vids are not going to get you anything in the afterlife, because there is none". Seems like a pretty simple concept.

      You're right, though: I CAN'T objectively justify why writing these "does any good" (and "good" would need to be defined as well). You'd probably realize that if you read the article. Here, have a quote:

      "Nothing happens if you don't adhere to realism. There is no objective purpose to life. It is impossible to "waste" life objectively. Life may be spent however the living being wishes (physical constraints aside)."

      I admit, 100%, that the philosophy I have about games (that they should be realistic and thoughtful) is subjective. My follow-up to that, however, is to point out that the values that I espouse are generally acceptable outside of "gamer circles". Gamers themselves are proving to be more and more ostracized as they make their culture increasingly toxic and insular.

      So, to put it bluntly, yes, you are correct: there is no objective reason to write this. On the other hand, in SUBJECTIVE terms, this article is basically just declaring the fact that I've already got what I wanted: gamers embarrassing themselves with bad PR and desperate, scrabbling attempts to justify their hobby. The past month or so has been pretty good in the "gamers are garbage" department.

      Now let me ask you a question: do you think your videos have convinced anyone who wasn't already a gamer that "gamers" have value?

    4. Was 'defending gamers' ever my intent? I think GamerGate is kind of ridiculous and stand by the notion that 'gamers' don't exist, just people who play games, some are just more enthusiastic than others, some are shitbags, some are decent human beings. We have RPG fans, racing fans, strategy fans, etc. and the many rarely overlap. The shitty people you see on the internet make up a relatively small percentage out of the literal hundreds of millions of people who play video games. Steam has 50 million subscribers.

    5. "Defending gamers" might not be your intent, but to be fair I don't actually pay a lot of attention to you and literally the only thing I remember about you is that I saw a video you made about how gamers have a bad reputation. And that was a few years ago I think.

      So in conclusion I have no idea who you are or what you like.

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  2. Are you alright, J? You seem to have taken a turn for the incoherently bonkers, recently. I hope this turns out to be just regular universal human misery and not something serious.

    1. Really? "Incoherent"? I made this as objectively readable as I could. I guess I could break it down even further for you:

      1) There is, objectively speaking, no purpose to life.
      2) You can do whatever you want; the only people who will judge you are other humans.
      3) You still probably don't want to be judged by other humans, though.

      I mean, this isn't rocket science, it's basic existential concepts.

  3. I really loved this article, J. I once (or twice) read 'The Ego and its Own' by Max Stirner and started sensing echos of his individualism coming through in your words. Stirner seemed to tap into the most basic concept there was - that we are all free to do what we will and only our belief systems stop us from doing what others don't want us to do (or what we ourselves don't want to do). I feel like the above commenter, Jordan, is rehashing only what others have said in the comments section about previous posts of yours without taking this post completely on its own and thinking long and hard about it.

    1. I think it's easier to call a post "crazy" than to actually try to understand it.

    2. Indeed, personally I'm not a fan of the tone here it can be self-righteous but whatevs, very little of what you've said is controversial. Actually it's not a question of facts but of opinions. As an amateur writer I appreciate your efforts in detailing the pitfalls of as George Washington called "the infant empire" and of others, I can only hope not to fall but hey "humanum errare est" (There's yer pretentious latin phrase for the day XD)

      Actually if I may be so bold may I recommend overthinking it dot com? It's a website similar to yours but with more... em Joie de vivre. You may find the site interesting, maybe not, I dunno.

      Also something right up yer alley, the Pinky Show, now inactive, they had one video on how a toy gun is a stupid toy and things of that nature.

  4. I don’t think that Rand valued progress more than individuals’ personal autonomy (as you suggest). Individual autonomy is her top value, however this is only possible within a civilized society. To quote ‘Freedom, Men and Society’:

    “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

    So it would be more correct to say that civilization is a precondition for what she holds to be objectively good, which is personal liberty (a very Hobbesian line of thinking). Hence why she thought the conquerors trumped the Natives’ right to their land – the conquerors were enabling the conditions for liberty and the Natives weren’t. So progress does not trump liberty for Rand, only when it is toward correcting a liberty-inhibiting state of affairs. This also relates to why Rand was a minarchist rather than an anarcho-capitalist.

    Also, “the rich are good and the poor are bad” is an inaccurate characterization of Rand’s views. To quote Steve Horwitz on this common strawman:

    “It’s not “the rich” who go on strike, but the producers. The good and evil divide for Rand is not between rich and poor, but between producers and takers. There is no remotely plausible reading of Atlas Shrugged where the “1%” are unambiguously heroes and where everyone else is a “moocher.” One can simply list off various characters who don’t fit this reading. Most obvious is John Galt himself. None of the descriptions of him that Rand offers suggest that he is rich. Comfortable? Yes. But rich? Nope. Francisco D’Anconia and Hank Rearden are arguably rich, but Hugh Akston? He doesn’t seem to be particularly so. On the other side of the ledger we have Jim Taggart. Clearly rich, but clearly a villain. Wesley Mouch has clearly done well for himself and is arguably rich, as are many of the other villains who associate with him. They are the ones attending the fancy parties and living the high life while the producers are, for the most part, out running railroads, extracting oil, and inventing new useful metals.”

    Your view of the illusory formation of value in a biological world reminds me very much of the opening paragraph of Nietzsche's essay 'On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense', where he describes how in a lonely corner of the universe clever beasts invented knowing and when it's all over with "nothing will have happened".

    1. Hi MouseTheory, thanks for defending objectivism on my webzone. Are you ready? Here we go.

      Ayn Rand thought of psychopathic murderer William Hickman as her ideal man. Oh, sure, she *loosely* stated that she'd want him "without the degeneracy" (i.e. insanity & religious fervor), but his disregard for public opinion and culture is the exact thing that attracted her to him. She wanted a psychopath. She wanted someone who didn't care about other people. It's curious that you bring up Nietzsche since Hickman was arguably Rand's version of the "superman".

      I bring this up because that is what defines my view of Ayn Rand - a person who deeply invested herself in the idea of *not caring about other people*. She spent her life trying to justify it morally, and while you can hem and haw about the particulars of the "good psychopath" vs the "bad psychopath" (the good psychopath builds a business by abusing the workers, the bad psychopath gets grants from the government) that is the fundamental core of her being.

      See, let's look at a quote you yourself chose to represent her:

      >“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

      *Setting man free from men*. See that? That's what Ayn Rand wanted. She didn't want to be responsible for anyone else's happiness, she didn't want to cooperate, she didn't want to feel like she owed anyone anything. She did this even though she relied on her relatives' goodwill multiple times throughout her life. She did this even though she accepted medicare on her deathbed.

      And was that quote really supposed to help? Again, she's saying that a concept (the loose definition of "liberty") is worth more than the autonomy of individuals. Do you see how contradictory this is? She's saying "you shouldn't be allowed to do what you want - instead, you should be FORCED into doing what you want".

      Ayn Rand didn't have "principles", per se. Ayn Rand didn't even really have "ideas". She had an Ideal Human Being Model, and everything else was just framework to prop it up. The Ideal Human carves his own path. The Ideal Human doesn't give a fuck what other people think of him. The Ideal Human is the sweat of his own brow and he stands tall in a society that wants him to bend the knee. That's it. That's all she's got.

      Ayn Rand was a fetishist, not a philosopher.

    2. Well, I’m not defending Objectivism so much as characterizing it correctly. I don’t think that the men Rand fancied nor the things she did in her personal life contradict anything I said. If it’s in virtue of Hickman’s “living for himself” rather than his “degeneracy” (which Rand condemned) then how can you deduce that she therefore “wanted a psychopath”? Living for oneself does not make one a psychopath.

      In ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’, Rand contends that a conformist declares “It’s true because others believe it” but an individualist declares “I believe it because I see in reason that it is true”. Rand identified this individualistic quality in Hickman: regardless of whether he was right or wrong, he followed his own rationality rather than accepted the testament of others. This is the aspect of him that Rand praised, and it is not an endorsement of murder.

      It is also a common strawman that Rand actively endorsed “not caring about other people”. Rather, she rejected the Christian doctrine that sacrificing oneself for others is inherently virtuous. She does not characterize as virtuous the behaviour of people who actively hurt others in the pursuit of their own happiness. Find a passage in her writing where she says that helping others is wrong. There exist none. What she believes in is self-sufficiency, loving oneself and pursing one’s own happiness and interests. This account is compatible with caring about other people.

      What Rand meant by "setting man free from men" is a Hobbesian principle of freedom flourishing in a state of affairs where human brutishness is curtailed. Most civilized societies operate according to this principle. Why even have a justice system otherwise?

      The autonomy of individuals is neither an inherent nor unconditional virtue. Murderers should not be granted the autonomy to murder. I don't see how this contradicts the promotion of liberty as a virtue.

    3. "Living for oneself does not make one a psychopath"

      THERE it is.

      See, the thing is, it does. It actually totally does.

      Sociopathy is loosely defined as the inability to empathize with others - a sociopath is capable of "liking" things, the issue is that they don't really care what other people feel. Which is to say, a sociopath can "like someone", or "be in love", or whatever else, without actually really caring about the other party in the matter. This isn't uncommon - there's plenty of people who get into relationships where they don't really see the other person as a human being, but as a piece of property. Look at every case of spousal abuse - in so many of them, the idea is that Ownership is being denied. You are MINE. I OWN YOU. It's not about US, it's about ME, and you are a subsidiary of the "me" in that statement.

      That's what Ayn Rand is. Ayn Rand is a person who can Feel Love, but does not care if the object of her affection returns it. Oh, to be sure, her EGO cares if she's not loved, but she doesn't really give a shit about People's Feelings. That's a recurring theme in her life - look at her relationships, look at the way she treated people. That's what she is.

      Sociopathy is about one-way relationships - the concept of love without really giving a shit about the other party. That's what Ayn Rand champions, dog. That's her Selfishness. She says that the individual is the most important while condemning cooperation and altruism (literally, she condemns altruism AS A CONCEPT) and charity. In her scenario, the individual is capable of "loving", but in practical expression, this is not Love, this is Ownership.

      You can hem & haw your way out of this all you like but (a) you're pretty clearly ignorant about human behavior patterns, (b) you're pretty clearly ignorant about human social structures, and (c) you're pretty clearly ignorant about standard value systems. You have basically contributed nothing to this except a constant re-refinement of what constitutes "bad selfishness", which is - relatedly - the only thing Ayn Rand accomplished in HER life.

    4. Rand doesn't promote owning other people. She promoted the libertarian principle of self-ownership.

      She also fully believes in the value of society and cooperation. She says: "Rights are a moral principle defining proper social relationships. Just as a man needs a moral code in order to survive [...] so a society (a group of men) needs moral principles in order to organize a social system consonant with man’s nature and with the reuirements of his survival."

      I don't know why you think my views are Rand's views. I am merely correcting your strawmen.

    5. "Rand doesn't promote owning other people. She promoted the libertarian principle of self-ownership." know I didn't literally mean "slavery", right? But instead the psychological construct of "the other as the extension of the self"? As in, only caring about something else as it pertains to yourself - not caring about "the other" as an intrinsic empathic value? I know your entire deal is splitting hairs and being obtuse but wow, man, you are stepping up your game.

      Look at the quote you selected re: her definition of "society". Society, to her, is a bunch of Strong Independent Men minding their own business. There are "rules", but the rules are mostly about leaving each other alone, not about active cooperation. In fact, NOTHING IN THAT QUOTE says anything about cooperation - it ONLY says that "society needs moral principles" without actually saying what those principles are. SPOILER ALERT: the principles in question are that Strong Independent Men are good and everyone else is a worthless leech. Again, I know we've established that your only argument is to split hairs and try to eke out a technical victory, but you are not capable of accomplishing that.

      >I don't know why you think my views are Rand's views. I am merely correcting your strawmen.

      Referring to the idea that "Rand is selfish" as a "strawman" is basically a dead giveaway. Nobody else would get offended by that idea other than a Libertarian/Objectivist, because only Libertarian/Objectivists are so thoroughly entrenched in the idea that Being Selfish (As Society Defines It) Is Okay.

  5. Dude, what you are saying is pure emptiness. You're talking out all the meaning out of life and you're giving people a reason to kill themselves.

    Just because it's not "objective" doesn't make it real. You call something objective because you can see it and know it, well what about things beyond our understanding, or just outside what you can touch, you can't dismiss that as not being "objective" and therefore it doesn't matter. Just because you can't "prove" something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there.

    And what is the point of seeing the world as being meaningless? You have a life and you have emotional needs, you have a need for meaning in life, you're going to throw that all away for nothing. If you're talking about practicality when you say "objectivity", then what use is it to throw away your drive to life, and anything that has meaning to it?

    Okay, the physical world is meaningless, that's 100% right, but how about the spiritual and emotional world? Those are two different things.

    (my time is up and i didn't get to finish writing this)