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Chris
Outsider philosopher, game designer and author
Recent Activity
Some stories from my blog cluster that caught my attention: Valve is being sued for not shutting down the gambling at sites such as CSGO lounge, and thus being implicitly involved in illegal gambling. Note that no-one has yet sued... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at ihobo
Some stories from my blog cluster that caught my attention: Valve is being sued for not shutting down the gambling at sites such as CSGO lounge, and thus being implicitly involved in illegal gambling. Note that no-one has yet sued... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Only a Game
As I write, I’ve just clicked ‘send’ on the email that will take the author edited manuscript of Wikipedia Knows Nothing and deliver it to the new publisher. The book is being distributed with a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND (“Share”) license,... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Only a Game
Hey Regina, Thanks for dropping by and giving me express permission. That means a lot to me. And I love your work! Hope this link helps bring more people to it. Chris.
Toggle Commented 6 days ago on The Scientific Age? at Only a Game
1 reply
The wonderful Ewa Stasiak has begun work translating some of my work on games into Polish over at a new website Hobo Nest. The first post is based on last year’s The Aesthetics Flaws of Games, which she translates as... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at Only a Game
The wonderful Ewa Stasiak has begun work translating some of my work on games into Polish over at a new website Hobo Nest. The first post is based on last year’s The Aesthetics Flaws of Games, which she translates as... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at ihobo
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Do we live in a ‘Scientific Age’? What would that phrase mean, and how could we judge – scientifically – if it were true? I recently read a piece in The Atlantic on free will that disappointed me. I’d already... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2016 at Only a Game
For those of you who have brought a suitable device to the Red Gallery (or for interested souls not able to make it to the Futurism v Fatalism event), here is my Prezi for my presentation Cyberfetish and the World... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2016 at Only a Game
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An open letter to Chris Billows responding to his blog-letter Depths, Mirrors, and Mine Detectors at The Journals of Doc Surge as part of the Republic of Bloggers. Further replies welcome! Dear Chris, A particularly disturbing aspect of the era... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Yehuda, Thanks for returning to continue, and perhaps conclude our conversation. It's been very helpful for me to thrash this out with you, and I hope it's been an interesting exercise for you too. "...every work, every act of creativity stands alone." There are, I think, two faces to every act of creativity. One is its uniqueness. The other is its situatedness. The core of our disagreement, if it even is that, is your desire to stress the former and my desire to stress the latter. I don't see anything wrong with this state of affairs, and I don't think you do either. I have great respect for your position of making your relationship with the corporate megatexts something that you express within your reviews. I do see that as a sane approach... I hope it is clearer now why I also think that choosing not to participate is also a sane response. I feel this is particularly important in the case of Disney (and Hasbro for boardgames) because, as I like to say, "All roads lead to Hasbro". Since the current economic order guarantees the acquisition of the megatexts by a few media corporations, I find it essential to have principled reasons to withdraw my support from them when it is warranted. I have come to realise that negative responses to media still (minimally) support the owning companies, so I am drawing my lines with more draconian principles these days. Disney chose to give Star Wars to Abrams after seeing what he did to Star Trek. That makes them complicit in endorsing what Abrams did to Star Trek. That, for me, is a reason to withdraw my support for, and participation in, this megatext under Disney's watch. It is not, however, a reason to withdraw my support for Disney in all cases. They are what they are, a global media corproation... I'm not going to change that. This is as much a moral experiment for me as anything, but it is an area I feel could use more experimentation. "I think that the assumption - the restriction - of faithfulness to someone else's message is misplaced." I can understand that, but what I am defending here is something rather more subtle than orthodoxy, at least in my eyes. When the writers and showrunners of Deep Space Nine decided to develop a plotline around a war, they knew they were doing something Roddenberry would not have approved of. But they were, I and they believe, still being faithful to Star Trek in going on this road. There were many faithful roads that could be taken, not just one. But there were also roads of betrayal. You perhaps deny the validity of the claim to betrayal, and that is probably where we disagree. "What room do you leave for Abrams to redeem himself?" I fully expect that the new Star Wars branded movie is more faithful to its megatext than Abrams mauling of Star Trek, and mentioned this previously in our discussion. I expect I will eventually watch this movie and make my own judgements, long after anyone else will care. My only requirement here is to provide no commercial support for it, nor indirect support such as pirating or reviewing it. It is for me, as I have outlined earlier, a point of honour. So do I allow Abrams to redeem himself? I leave open the possibility. But having withdrawn my support for this megatext at this time, it will be up to others to make the case, for it is not appropriate for me to spend my time on his work now. Redemption is always possible in my eyes, but I have no obligation to him now. My relationship, such as it is, with this creative individual is over. That frees me up to pay attention to other creative people whose work I might respect. I do not think, on the basis of the scuttlebutt that I have heard, that the new Star Wars branded movie is very likely to redeem Abrams in my eyes. But we will see, won't we... eventually. :) All the best, Chris.
Toggle Commented Jun 10, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
1 reply
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Next week, I'm honoured to be part of a special event as part of the new exhibition by acclaimed DJ, artist, and record producer Justin Robertson. The exhibition is The Explorer's Chronicle, which sounds utterly fascinating: The cornerstone of the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2016 at Only a Game
Thanks Tom - a reminder that every obscure observation has another obscure observation waiting to trump it. :)
Toggle Commented Jun 8, 2016 on Sound the Bombards! at Only a Game
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Back from paternity leave, family now fully upgraded with the arrival of Blake Patrick (9 lbs 6 oz, for those who like such numbers), and getting ready to push forward into the Summer blogging. I have been lax on the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Yehuda, Your opening paragraph refers to a lot of points that I explored in Chaos Ethics, although perhaps not quite in the ways you are exploring here. Unless I'm misreading you, you are recognising that 'far right' and 'far left' are frequently operating in ways that run deeply parallel... There are certainly significant problems here today, and this was part of my motive in writing Chaos Ethics: the 'left' (particularly in the US) has become almost as big a problem as what it opposes, precisely because it defines itself in almost solely in terms of its oppositions. (As you have probably surmised, I am now back, although I am only just crawling out from under the monstrous pile of email and so forth that has built up in my absence. I couldn't miss the chance to respond to an actual blog comment, though, since they are a rare commodity these days!) "What I don't understand is: do you really consider the message of Star Trek so important that you value it as a religious message? Is this really a 'desecration' on that level? Are you worried that future generations will no longer remember Star Trek standing up for a higher principle? If it's not religious, then what?" I don't see this as a black-and-white split between religious and non-religious; all stories are part of the mythological background of our existence, and can matter in many different ways. However, it's my view that Star Trek is - perhaps now, was - one of the major non-religions of our time. I wouldn't put my own relationship with that particular megatext on a par with my five religions, personally, but that isn't to say that it doesn't matter to me. I certainly am concerned that what has happened in this case has effectively eliminated any sense of 'standing up for a principle', whether it is judged higher or not. "What I'm asking is: ok, I see now that it violates the spirit of the metatext. And that this upsets you enough to not want to watch more movies from Abrams. But is this a sane reaction? Or are you simply presenting your reaction without actually justifying it as rational?" In answer to your question "Are you mad?" my answer would have to be "most definitely!", although that doesn't necessarily bear upon this particular issue! I view my response to Abrams to be a sane reaction - I certainly don't mean to offer it as an example of irrational behaviour that I would defend against its irrationality (as I sometimes do defend my irrational behaviour on various grounds). I believe it is entirely rational to act on principle even when that action is not, by itself, sufficient to evoke change. Further, I believe one of the fundamental insanities of our time is that people think that since their acting on principle wouldn't (on its own) amount to much, they are effectively excused from doing so. This is another case where using solely outcome-focussed arguments creates problems. Morality is about more than just outcomes. While I appreciate the parallel you are trying to draw, I don't think this is on a par with someone claiming gay marriage 'disgraces' the meaning of marriage, because I am not attempting to dictate anything to anyone else - it's not like I was picketing cinemas or the like! (And, incidentally, I think people are entitled to deny the validity of gay marriage as marriage on grounds of faithfulness to tradition, even though I think they are wrong to do so in terms of the values of the traditions in question, and have argued the exact opposite). I see what I was doing as more akin to inviting anyone to whom the Star Trek megatext mattered to consider what that means to them. I'm not condemning anyone, even Abrams, for all that what he's done appalls me. I appreciate a great many people think that franchises should be judged solely as entertainment, and that it's better for the franchise to still be 'live' than for it to be 'dead'. But I don't agree with either of those principles, personally. A live franchise that is not faithful to its antecedants in at least one sense is involved in a betrayal. And no story is ever 'just' entertainment... our stories are what make us who we are, both individually and culturally. If every media betrayal can be justified by the mere pursuit of entertainment, perhaps we really are (as Roger Waters warned) a species that will ultimately be amused to death. So let me turn the question back upon you: you think me (possibly) insane for withdrawing my support for franchises I have enjoyed in the past on the basis of the betrayal of the spirit of a megatext. Is that because you would continue to participate with corporate megatexts as long as they are entertaining? Do you think this is a sane reaction? Is entertainment really of so great a value that nothing else matters next to it? What you wrote seems to imply that you take my pieces in this serial as condemning those who continue to support Star Wars and Star Trek. Honestly, that's not for me to judge in anything other than a trivial sense. What I am saying is that if someone did care about what the Star Trek megatext stood for, they ought to consider whether the 'desecration' (as you termed it) is something they ought to respond to. For me, it was. If I had let the lure of mere entertainment overpower my objections, I would have failed myself. And that - being true to myself - is precisely why I would justify my behaviour here as sane and rational. No mere entertainment could be measured against my own self-worth, and that judgement need not reflect negatively upon anyone else who was not moved to act in similar ways. To be sure, these media issues are fantastically far from being the most important moral problems of our time - but I think there is a sense in which they are indicative of other more important problems that make them worthy of careful consideration. Many thanks for continuing our discussion, Chris.
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By the time you read this, I should already be on paternity leave – and if not, it’ll be happening imminently. With that in mind, I shall go ahead and take my Summer social media break now, so you shall... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Yehuda, At the heart of my concerns here are the principles of authenticity I outlined in the first part of the serial. But a key point I make in this final part is that those principles belong to communities. So my position here is that I belong to a community for whom Star Trek was not merely a science fiction entertainment, but a moral commentary on contemporary life. This is true of all the TV franchises, although to varying degrees. It operates in a manner quite similar to religious megatexts in the morality tales. To resurrect Star Trek and excise this element is to utterly violate the spirit of the original megatext. It's not just the prime directive, it's the entire reason for telling stories in the mode invented by Roddenberry and developed by Berman. Without it, it's just playing with the same toys. When I first saw Abrams Star Trek I was entertained, but it seemed incredibly stupid. When I saw Into Darkness I suddenly realised that I couldn't continue to support what was going on. And that set me to work to try and understand why. You say: "You feel Abrams treated the ST franchise with such disrespect, that he undoubtedly did so as well with SW - and even if he didn't, he deserves no audience after what he did with ST." I would not claim he 'undoubtedly' disrespected Star Wars: I suspect his vacuously flamboyant style is better suited to it. And I wouldn't say he 'deserves no audience' because that would be to pre-empt other people's aesthetic and moral judgements. What he does not deserve is just my patronage, and presumably the patronage of anyone else belonging to the same community as me with respect to the authenticity of Star Trek. "I imagine that you give GL and his team a pass for SW, ESB, and RotJ, since a good deal of it was guided by the same artist." Not a fan of Return of the Jedi, which is the weakest of the bunch, but there's no need to give a 'pass' because it's clearly a single consistent megatext at this point. George's decision to alter the movies meets with my disapproval, though, which is not to suggest he was not in some sense 'within his creative rights' to do so. "Perhaps what GL did in the second trilogy was a murder to the original SW trilogy." There is a large community for whom this is the case, but I do not belong to it. "Perhaps ESB was a murder to ANH - new writers, new story, new morals and messages, new crew, new characters." I am not aware of any community that asserts this. There is clearly some refinement between Empire and Star Wars, but I think it would be odd to find a violation of authenticity in this instance. Possible but not plausible. But Empire cannot murder A New Hope since it was one year earlier (1980, versus 1981 for the first print of Star Wars with the subtitle added). Regarding "money grab" - did I ever use this term? It is the nature of media corporations to market media. I do not hold it against them. I am acutely aware, as a media-producer myself, than the flow of money is the lifeblood of a franchise. I am not inclined to see this aspect of media production as directly problematic, although it can be indirectly problematic in a number of ways, all of which go beyond the scope of our discussion! "Why do [people] get so upset when I change rules in a game to ones that are more to my liking: they cry "it's not the real game!" Some of them try to dissuade me and others from even trying my changes. Some of them tell me NOT TO PLAY THE GAME AT ALL rather than change the rules, which shocks me. Some of them become nasty on BGG about it. If I were a woman and the board game community were larger, I would have been the target of gamergate-like abuse dozens of times." This is something that is close to my heart, as I have the same tendency as you to 'hack' every boardgame that I play. My wife and I have only once played Settlers of Catan with the rules in the box since we both find the Robber too directly competitive, so we replace it with a different rule that makes us both happier, whereby rolling a seven still causes the loss of cards, but the player rolling gets to trade with a market of five cards that initially contains one of each material. This works well for us. My wife may support this 'hacking', but my friends are often less keen, and sometimes make jokes about it. These are intended both to make light of my tendency and to dissuade me from doing it, and usually entail the phrase 'tournament rules' (which, of course, would be nonsense for many of these games). I have found I have become more willing to accede to playing by the rules 'as written' (and supplemented by the house rules required to make any written rules work!) as I have got older, though, and I am less inclined to 'hack from the box' as I once was. But your point here is directly parallel to the cases I was talking about, because it is once again about communities of authenticity that are 'playing' the games in question. To a great many boardgamers, the 'tournament rules' (the rules as written, supplemented by the necessary house rules that are seldom if ever recognised) just are the game. I might say, equivalently, the authentic player practices are those of the game developers. Our desire to 'hack' the player practices to our satisfaction is therefore a deviation from the authentic version of the player practices upheld by this other community. That creates an aesthetic tension and - just as with the videogames civil war you mention - that puts people against each other in occasionally ugly ways. One final remark. One of the reasons I love boardgames is precisely because they are so easy to 'hack'. The effort required to 'fix' a videogame to my satisfaction is monumental, but a boardgame can so easily be tailored to one's aesthetic tastes that there is something truly liberating about playing them. This, for me, is why I still prefer tabletop games to videogames, and am slightly sad at never having had one published, although I came terribly close with my card game Star Fleet Officers that Task Force Games were allegedly going to publish, way back in 1990. You, on the other hand, have successfully published boardgames, and for that I am slightly envious! :) Well, I've said enough, and I'm out of time. I will be back in approximately two weeks. All the best, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 20, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
1 reply
Hi Yehuda, You ask what principle drives my 'principled decision'. It is that corporations depend upon our money, and so we owe it to ourselves to deny them money when they act in ways inconsistent with our own ideals. I'm not seeking to persuade anyone else to join me, so I wouldn't call it a boycott, and similarly 'protest' seems to overstate the matter, although you could call it that I suppose. I view this as a matter of conscience. To pay to see the new movies would be to fail to act in good conscience. Even to see them could be; I am less convinced of this, although certainly participating in piracy to see them is not an acceptable way of resolving the tension, since it supports it indirectly. I'm certainly not making any claim that my childhood has been ruined by the new movies, or any such thing. That would be extremely puerile. Disney paid for the franchise, they should make new movies with it. Whether I see them or not makes very little difference here, at least to them. The question of whether I would find the latest movie entertaining seems to me to be irrelevant, since there are plenty of entertainments and participating in this one doesn't deprive me of entertainment in any meaningful sense. (I lack time, not things to do.) So I don't quite buy your argument that depriving myself of something entertaining would only make sense if it was balanced against something. But of course, it is balanced against something - what you might call my honour. I suppose I am claiming my honour is worth more than being entertained by yet another movie. You ask: "If a different director/studio had made the exact same Star Wars VII film, would you be able to enjoy it?" Well I'm not saying I wouldn't be able to enjoy this one. The thought that I might - as much as anything, to see the 'old gang' wheeled out one more time - was one of the reasons that I did, in fact, really want to go and see it. I expect I might have enjoyed it, if I could have got my expectations low enough, and may yet, who knows! But the moment I realised that it meant more to me than I originally realised that Abrams had 'murdered' Star Trek (excuse the dramatic license), the more I realised I couldn't possibly go and see a Star Wars movie the man had made. Nor any adaptation of anything else I care about. To do so would be to act dishonourably. It would be to patronise the work of someone that I find unworthy of my patronage. Now chances are you lean towards consequentialism i.e. you measure the value of actions by their outcomes, and all this talk of honour may seem quaintly distanced from contemporary life. So to put this in outcome terms I could say that paying to watch the new movie, given the circumstances of its creation, would have left me feeling lacking in self-worth, and that outcome could not possibly be weighed against the entertainment value of the movie. I hope that translation makes sense, and I am not overstepping the mark in providing this alternative exposition. "It is odd how a fan is not able to enjoy an adaptation that is not true to the original." Your discussion in this paragraph is spot on, and indeed thinking this way is what lead me to write the paper What are we playing with? Role-taking, role-play, and story-play with Tolkien's legendarium, which bears directly on this topic. That might be worth a read - I would certainly welcome your thoughts on it if you should give it a go. Thanks for continuing our discussion, and indeed for all our discussions, which I greatly value. However, I must also warn you that my Summer social media break begins after tomorrow so we might not get to finish this discussion now! My virtual doors, however, are always open. With great respect, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 19, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
1 reply
Corporate Megatexts was a serial in three parts that ran here at Only a Game from May 3rd to 17th 2016. It considered the way that we ‘play’ with the fictional worlds of books, movies, and TV shows as if... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2016 at Only a Game
The indefatigable Allen Wood recently sent me this reply to my piece Is Free Will Too Cheap? which I post here with his permission, and with its original US English spellings. Dear Chris, Very good post. Having just plowed through... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2016 at Only a Game
We’re always being pulled in two directions, one is the sort of utopian side that says ‘we could make a better world’ and the other is the side that says ‘the world is getting bad, we’d better defend the bit... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2016 at Only a Game
Hi Yehuda, Here are my 70 words or less: "I am not going to see the most recent Star Wars movie because Disney gave the Star Wars franchise to J.J. Abrams, whose custodianship of Star Trek (which Paramount gave him) violated my standards of authenticity in just about every conceivable way. This was thus a principled decision on my part that does not reflect in any way upon the purported entertainment value of the new film." Hope that clarifies! Always great to hear from you, Chris. PS: I always enjoy your capsule reviews of recent blockbuster movies! You have a knack for nailing their merits and their flaws.
Toggle Commented May 17, 2016 on Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness at Only a Game
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There are just three screenings of the new Star Wars-branded movie left in my city and I'll have survived the new release with my honour intact, and the film unseen. This is a small and entirely personal victory, a test... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2016 at Only a Game
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Hi Michael, Your comparison between Wikipedia's 'clerical caste' and 'laity' was indeed what I was alluding to there, although it was a throwaway remark, really, meant only to emphasise that the Wikipedia's public philosophy makes it sound like an egalitarian enterprise, which is a claim that is hard to square with its practices. The tension you allude to between wiki users as 'consumers of products' and not 'active cultural agents' seems to me to relate to the Corporate Megatexts serial that I am running at the moment (and which will conclude in about 45 minutes time!). The consumer of products here is the end user of the values of custodianship. I wonder what it is that you allude to in the concept of an 'active cultural agent'... there's a slippery yet intriguing notion embedded in that phrase! Regarding the tension between human operated and automated, I am firmly on the side of the humans here. Trivia aggregation cannot and should not be robot operated; to do so is to give the cultural power currently hoarded by the Wikipedia Czars directly to Google and other search engine companies (although either way, the US culture machine is clearly 'in charge'!). As I draw out in Wikipedia Knows Nothing, I am in full support of wikis as tools: my problem comes with the masking of identities, which I assert as fundamentally immoral. If you are not swamped, you are welcome to get the draft manuscript from me: I would welcome your feedback! Many thanks for another thoughtful comment, Chris.
Toggle Commented May 17, 2016 on Deleted from the Wikipedia at Only a Game
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Pleased to announce a new talk by me as part of the “Futurism vs. Fatalism” event at London’s Red Gallery. In the 1980s, the literary science fiction movement known as cyberpunk explored the fractured cultures left in the wake of... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2016 at Only a Game
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Late last week, one of my students asked me what had happened to my Wikipedia page. I said I didn’t know, but upon investigation found that I had been deleted. Nine days after I announced Wikipedia Knows Nothing, a Wikipedia... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2016 at Only a Game