Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is a geek? An imagined reality.

Times have changed. There is an oversaturation of geek culture. Geeks are everywhere. The Big Bang Theory is cool. Even non geeks watch it and celebrate the existence of geeks. Several years ago, most people were genuinely claiming that being interested in geeky interests is unhealthy. And most of the time it wasn't their opinion, it was an acquired opinion of the general consensus of the times. Today, this has shifted to geeks being cool, sort of. I will explain what I mean by this "sort of" soon.

Another thing that happened is that the stereotype is not holding anymore. The overweight, lazy, living with their mother, without a girlfriend one. What a lie! The majority of geeks you see talking about these things look quite normal most of the time. So normal, it makes me feel alone and betrayed. And that would make sense, because nowadays someone being interested in comics, sci-fi movies, games and that is already considered a geek and it was always the case anyway. But think that gaming or reading comics or watching movies does not require any special effort or brains. It's not the same as being a programming or electronics geek (and they do call this a nerd) where you really need to dedicate effort and have patience to reach the point where you make some really creative stuff. Thus, I have more respect for geeky cultures on our creative side, rather than the general music/game/film/arts fanboy culture, where anyone could invade nowadays, from the nerdy looking guy to the good looking girl. I am even curious why this hasn't happened before? Why were people so reluctant to at least game? Was it that hard that made you a no lifer? Why now?

But then again, bear with me. As a demoscene programmer, I met a lot of people at demoparties. Also having many programming friends in real life. Most of them look cool enough. Some might be overweight but so can be anyone outside a geek culture. Many of them have girlfriend or families. They pass on as regular people with just some special interests. And I am happy for them. I just want to point out, that even in the more hardcore programming communities, people are really looking just like the rest. If at gaming and sci-fi communities it could be explained why people are not looking nerdy enough (since gaming, everyone could do it), you still wouldn't expect it in coding cultures. So much for stereotypes! Maybe I also pass for normal and I have a wrong idea about myself. But I do know that I am the exception even inside the demoscene, a lot of these stereotypes are true about myself. And was it ever true? Did the demoscene ever consist of lifeless girlfriendless nerds? The average age of sceners have increased anyway (maybe because the older grandfathers are here and we don't get many young people anymore), it used to be full of teenagers (so, it was normal someone at age 15 didn't necessarily have a girlfriend) and now maybe it's around the age where many people already have jobs and/or a family. You can't say..

Meanwhile, the so called geek culture as portrayed by media, have grown up so much. We have comicons and cyber athletes and companies trying to capitalize on the nerd craze and all that. And everyone is into. It's interesting in one way, how this has evolved and I'd love to observe where it will go. But everyone is into. And because of that, you find people that you like and a lot that you might not. Look for example the gamer-gate, I would never expect something in the narrow, geeky and so cryptic (in the past) gaming community would become such a big news. Everybody is in, and now a hobby that was hidden from mainstream in the past, is invaded by politics, feminism and all that. Something that nobody would care in the past. But then you have the effect of what I call the gaming mob. Everybody is into it, from the shy guy, the common joe and the arrogant psychopath asshole. You can't be a gamer or a geek anymore and have someone who sends rape threats be at the same imaginary category they made for you twenty years ago. These guys could be the same ones who would bully you in horrible ways at school in the past for being different.

The stereotypical identity of the geek is lost. That's when it became mainstream and every kind of person thought it would be cool to get into it. It's similar to computer becoming mainstream. For some strange reasons, if in the past you even were into computers or consoles, even if it was just gaming and not doing the real brainy stuff like programming or even building a PC from scratch, you still qualified as an immensely crazy weirdo. It wasn't in. Now computers are in, but the average users does not understand or appreciate what's behind that box, yet facebook, smartphones or gaming are pretty trendy subjects. At least now they don't look weird at you when you tell them you are a programmer.

And strangely enough even the majority of programmers, from low level coders to web developers, are usually pretty normal looking most of the time. I think the reason for that is, first of all even the crazy geeks are humans and want some companionship and intimate relationships sometimes, secondly there is always some kind of social pressure against being the asocial weirdo or somehow there is a force that pushes everyone to try and resemble more the most accepted ideas we have about being normal. So, it will either come naturally to you, sooner or later. Or maybe you will just struggle and feel so alone even inside a so called geek community. Meanwhile, as this huge cloud of geek subculture emerging in the mainstream starts covering everything, geeky subjects will fuse with the average joe and the common pressure to be a little bit more "normal" or more like the rest of the people who are also into these stuff. Most true geeks might actually take the bait and try to fuse a bit with the other side as a necessity, not feeling inferior their culture being invaded by regular people. So we now have the idealized picture of the guy who does everything. The geek guy or hacker type who is also doing good with the other sex and dresses in classy or cool ways. The few guys who somehow doesn't get through this is frowned upon and there is double pressure nowadays to both resemble something like a genius (which is mostly artificial and success alone in the media is enough) and somehow be all cool and outgoing. I am not saying that it's impossible or not a cool dream. But it's as hypocritical as a parent pressuring it's child to study all day long, get the best grades, be the best of the best, while at the same time blaming him for being too introverted or not having luck with girls. And that unexplained pressure from both sides makes you want to quit and disregard society as a whole. I, for once, can truly understand how the otaku phenomenon surfaced in Japan. I am with these people, giving the middle finger to this oppressive culture. I am even entertained with news in Japan and around the world panicking about the youth people caring less about mating, totally laughing at the people who even wonder what's wrong with these kids nowadays.

Sadly, we still frown upon the true stereotypical geeks. The introverts. The shy persons. The depressed. The fat people. The asexuals. The love-shys. But somehow we want to have a "geek" culture. While disregarding people who suffer from all these characteristics, because we don't want them to remind us of the ugly side of being a geek.

It's uncommon today, almost a taboo, to even have the idea that somehow with many of the above quirks you are still a person that should be respected and understood. Instead even in this "geek" culture infested society, the most typical ideas are about getting the geek approval while disregarding the ugliness of it. Things like "Yeah, I am a geek and geeks rules, but you shouldn't be socially awkward, fat or introverted and that's what constitutes a dork". We think we are just right, choosing the good things from both worlds and that we have the right to patronize and judge other poor souls for not being geeks and normal at the same time. We like to sound geeky and cool at the same time or rather maybe trendy in modern age (because many geek subjects are now more mainstream and easily accesible) and still consistent with a good social image because it's still uncool if you aren't very social. But these few poor individuals who still haven't made it and feel marginalized in this geek culture infested world, are not so because they voluntarily chose this life. And there are other serious issues that have nothing to do with geeky subjects. Hell, there are fat people, love-shys or introverted who might not have much to do with any geeky subject (but everything can be a geeky subject, so it's hard to prove). Extreme sensitivities, tamperament, psychology, even biology might have played a role into all these. The special interests come ahead, not always as a way to cope in my opinion (I have a natural fascination for ideas for the sake of ideas rather than people sometimes).

So what is a geek? Are the stereotypes real? Maybe not even in the past.Was it uncommon to get into geeky subjects? It was in the past. But not today. And many of these subjects could be easily invaded even in the past but for some cultural I guess reasons it was unpopular then. Isn't "geek" just another stereotypical word? Or "nerd"? Or the disrespectful and dividing "dork"? Didn't we once feel proud (or not) of being called "geeks" because it was supposed to be this minority of special people doing what everyone else was avoiding in fear of being marginalized, while coping with our real self-esteem problems and special sensitivities and all the bullying and such? They just called us this and we took it and elevated it into a status. Now, the modern culture has stereotyped this in BBT and everyday talk, but it's just a replica, a ghost of what it used to be, a crude joke of a bully society who wants to look cool and openminded at the same time, but all it does is just mimicking the trends yet still frown upon everything that is deviant from itself.

That's why I disregard the word "geek". I am pretty confused and pissed about everything. From how things have evolved yet we still cannot be tolerant and cannot get out this idea of being "normal" as defined. How we had a cultural explosion of geek media, everyone wants to be a geek, yet frown upon "uncool" people. And because the word geek is an imagined reality, the same way that "normality" is. We are scared people, trying to resemble the common norm, judging all others who fail to do so. People still think and act in the same shitty ways. Geek culture has just overridden our society without society to change.

I don't want to be a "geek" anymore. Excuse me for a moment, I am gonna hang around with some people at the psych forums. Poor people with better understanding of suffering. Hmm,. people who don't talk about geek subjects but real human matters. That must be! (If only they didn't fight with each other sometimes. Aarrghh... human nature! I mean, otherkin trying to expose anotherkin. How much more cognitive dissonance?)

p.s. I am still kinda proud to be a coder though. And a scener. Even if I am still failing the "normality" test compared to most other people in the scene. But at least, from a perspective of mainstream, the demoscene and programming can never become common ground. Because sitting your ass down and patiently manage to learn programming and keep on with it, is not the same as getting involved playing games or reading comics or whatever. It's more fulfilling even and sort of gives you some kind of identity.
p.p.s. I wanna state that I have nothing against "fake-geek girls". It might have looked like this because I disregard this geek culture craze. It's everywhere, regardless sex. I am also not gonna judge you for not being a geek guy/girl because you look more "normal" than me. I am only expressing some thoughts in these blogs but in real life I want to avoid conflict. And what you do is what you do, games are fine and fun, it is a huge culture on it's own (even if irrelevant with the stereotypes anymore), play and let other play.
p.p.p.s. About gamer-gate. I used to be a bit more siding towards pro. Maybe because I am not so much fan of the radical feminism invading everything, also such political correctness in gaming sites and especially how much they have exploited this into a drama for their own gain. But at the same time, I am sad with some of the attacks from the gaming mob. The same game mob have harassed some game developers in the past and as a programmer too, this infuriates me. Put in contrast what I've also said about how easy it is to just get into gaming and how much more patient, creative and clever it is to be a programmer. I might be snob here because I am also in the programmer's club, but you get my point. The gaming mob with every kind of person versus the few individual more creative and even more professional developers. Which would you chose?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Graphics are abundant.

Graphics. Graphics graphics graphics. Graphics graphics graphics, graphics graphics. Graphics.

This is a rant about graphics. This is a rant about the gaming community. I am not gonna tell you that graphics don't matter or graphics don't matter that much as gameplay does. You've heard that already and some people surprisingly don't like it! But I want to review a bit the craziness about graphics, how insane it became since the last gen (PS3, Xbox360 era) and rant about how it affects the game industry.

You would argue: "But hey dude, wasn't it always like this? Didn't we have the same discussion since the 8bit era? Wasn't this always what some gamers craved for?". Yes. Although in the past things where more pure, graphics never reached the kind of realism that is a game changer in the industry. Graphics have become so amazingly good that people are blinded by them more than ever. Unless because there are a lot more gamers and game forums and everyone is whining about this, then it's easy to see the absurd.

I was curious about the new Wolfenstein game (which I preorder just for the Doom 4 beta btw :). And so I was looking at various gameplay videos and at one point I dreadfully decided to read the youtube comments and see what people think about the game itself. Did they liked it? Was it too short or too linear or too much of the same typical FPS? And in my surprise, a lot of the comments where like "Why aren't the graphics next gen? Why are they so bad? Bad graphics = bad game!". I was like "What the hell are you talking about? Did you like the game? Would you suggest someone to buy it?" and the replies where graphics, graphics, graphics, graphics. Whole paragraphs whining about how bad the graphics are (which they weren't, they were not something extraordinary not seen before (aka nextgen), but where really really good (more than enough, abundant) and did the job) and concluding that the game is bad, without a single mention on gameplay (or even sound, story). Maybe those graphics whores always existed, we just didn't have youtube then. But it just strikes me. People are getting crazy about not being 1080p (I guess they bought the PS4 or Xbox One just for the graphics) and at the same time making fun of the WiiU with it's "cartoonish" graphics. It's all that matters to them.

But you know, I was thinking, how does this affect the gaming industry? More development time spent on perfecting the graphics and less on gameplay. You will argue that it was always like this and I wouldn't disagree. But things have evolved and now in order to aim for the state of the art you need more effort and resources. I was reading a discussion that maybe games focusing on multiplayer are killing the single player experience because devs are focusing more on the MP part. And you have "campaigns" (as they call them now) that are 4-8 hours of gameplay. But I think the reason is the huge amount of work a team needs to do to make a level map. Think how much easier it was for a game modder to make a Doom map (even better a wolfenstein 3d map) and how much more time and effort a level for a modern engine needs (unless you want to do something blant that looks like PS1). Hell, some of the games are even like hollywood movies! Notice some trends that got popular since the PS3/Xbox360 era. Quicktime events. Games that are basically interactive movies, beautiful graphics yes, but you just have to press X, O, square or triangle to proceed. Heavy Rain, Two souls and such. Some games have partially short action gameplay and at frequent intervals quicktime events. I fucking hate that! But it's perfect for graphics whores and people who bought one of these two consoles just to stare at the graphics. That's why we don't get a really good, challenging or lengthy single player experience (besides few exceptions) but most gamers are sattisfied by half-ashed interactive movies with glorified graphics. I don't see many people crying about this, and maybe that's what sells.

But at the same time I realize. Graphics are abundant. This is an important realization. Just right now, chose a random game of five years ago. Serach for the best games of some year in the past. 2008? 2005? I don't care. Some of you might think that the graphics are outdated but I digress. They are more than enough. Graphics have progressed so much that if you go back two generations they are still really lovely to stare at and do their job more than good! Yes, you might not see nextgen, they might be outdated by today's standards, but they are not dated. Maybe the first few generations of 3D graphics where too crude to look at (but I will still appreciate and play some) and you can see that now if you go back, wondering how you were playing with such low detail (especially evident in N64 with the really lowres textures and filtering was making them more blurry and hard to see at distance). But I can stare in a later generation few years ago and marvel. And that is beautiful and nice, how much we have progressed. So much that maybe few gamedevs will decide to focus more on the gameplay content since the engines we have now are really doing a good work. But will they follow this road? The problem with game whores is that they want to see more and more of the progress. They bought PS4 not to see what we already can see on PC, but something new never seen before. But graphics are there at the edge and sometimes they are so loaded, like you have games with tons of DOF, glow, bloom, HDR, smokes, particles, shadows, whatever that you can't see anymore what's on the screen. All this drowning of the visuals in graphics seem like more and more heavy high tech shit to bat shit crazy graphics hogs.

And I am not even sure if most of them know what lies behind these engines. Most of them have learned to stare at visuals and argue whether they are better or not by single glances and intuition. They don't know the underlying algorithms and tech behind what they see (and since modern engines are drowned in too much features, even I can't tell you if one engine is richer than another) and so they haven't learned to appreciate and understand how amazing current engines are. They crave for more and more and appreciate less and less.

Hell, the funniest thing is that I am a graphics programmer and yet I don't get crazy about that stuff and I may even enjoy old games with "horrible" graphics. How is it possible? I should be the one becoming nuts about graphics! Yet I don't. Another joke, I recently met with four programmer friends and I realized again that most of us carry an outdated mobile phone (some of them are not even smartphones) and it seems counter-intuitive to the common person. How are you such a great geek and yet don't crave for the last gen? I see mostly non-programmer friends of mine speaking about the latest fad in mobile phones, while I get bored of the discussions or can't relate. See facebook. Someone would wonder how am I not really into facebook, since I would be the first person (as a geek) they would expect to be into it. Most of my geek friends despise facebook. Why do we differ? Fed up that these things that once where our world became so mainstream? Are we just hipsters that want to be different again? Or do we appreciate even the old technologies because we have a better idea of the internals? I am not sure. If you asked me, I wouldn't deny that I sometimes feel like a hipster, because everyone gloats about his mobile phones, but only me can program some good stuff for it (something that seems magic to most). But I also don't feel the need to really hook to the latest next gen fad for whatever reason. I will not feel like a lamer if I play some retro game on Amstrad CPC with "horrible" graphics, since I have an idea about the hardware and restrictions of the machine and thus I can enjoy playing it, being amazed on how they succeeded some of the stuff, even looking at it historically. A waste of time for some. As if they count good times with whether they were the first to play the most next gen possible, looking at the future, gloating at their star trek device (mobiles) and feeling modern.

I won't hide it. I feel like a hipster sometimes. I feel like they invaded my world. I stare at the mainstream and despise it. I think I am better because I code. At least I know my shit. I can appreciate the technology. I was there! And sometimes I cringe at their reactions. "Games are not mostly about graphics? How can you say that! Graphics is the first thing about games, it always was..". I laugh at their general direction.

p.s. Most of all I laugh at the new generation of consoles. PS4 and Xbox One, they are basically PCs if you check the specs, both AMD and at par with my current PC. And check most of the titles of this or the last generation. Titles ported from PC. I wasn't interested in PS3 or Xbox 360 at the time (except for some exclusives that never came to PC, maybe good reason to get a cheap ass used PS3 just to play these) because they were basically what the PC had to offer. It seems the same today. At least the Wii-U offers a unique hardware, a controller that many hated but may give a unique experience to some games using it well and the usual Nintendo exclusives I can't find on PC (Can't say it's original, yet another mario, yet another mario kart, Zelda, etc) so it's a lot of incentive for me to buy (when it drops, lol). Hell, the older generations of consoles where more interesting (even if I was never a serious console gamer, besides handhelds). I am collecting them for fun now. Each of them have a unique hardware, some had just a quad rasterizer (Saturn, 3DO), others more complete 3d hardware (PS1, N64), Jaguar had it's obscure programmable chips, even PS2 or Dreamcast had unique architecture, not a generic PC put in a box as of today. And much more of the games were exclusives. Each hardware was unique in the past (also home micros), something that is missing today. Console gamers are ranting about graphics, so I ironically become a hipster and tell them why don't they just get a PC?