Saturday, June 23, 2007


Via. The koala video is cute too, of course. One thing I like in the comments there is the use of the name "Steve Erwin" as a verb. It means "to harass an exotic animal which might or might not be harmless." How appropriate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Via Yglesias, it's a long and in-depth New York Times Magazine article for a general audience about gold farming. We live in strange times indeed.

Commenters like this guy and several others in the thread following Yglesias' post make valid points, and have a lot of interesting stuff to say about the allure of the game. (WoW quiz: how long did it take you to recognize what that commenter was referring to? I think I had got it by the sentence "I found his son, and told him his father was still alive!") Even so, a lot of the game is, say, repetitive, but I'd say there are three main draws to games like WoW. (For me. Other players get other things out of it.) There's the storyline, like the previous example. There's also the challenge of getting a character "finished," with the best gear available for that type of character. The game is nowhere near so linear or directed as the word "finished" implies, but there's still a certain hierarchy, and being one of the first or most advanced still has something to it. Trophies, so to speak. "See that 12-pointer there? I bagged him on my first hunting trip with my nephew. He was so excited to be hunting with the guys. The buck almost got away, too. My first shot missed, but the second one got him just before he ran out of sight..." Same basic idea, but with a complete set of virtual armor or a sword that only drops from a really tough boss or something.

And the other draw to it is something that we don't expect gold farmers to have a chance at, but apparently, a few did:
There was a lot of shouting involved, at least in the beginning. Besides the orders called out by the supervisors, there were loud attempts at coordination among the team members themselves. “But then we developed a sense of cooperation, and the shouting grew rarer,” Min said. “By the end, nothing needed to be said.” They moved through the dungeons in silent harmony, 40 intricately interdependent players, each the master of his part. For every fight in every dungeon, the hunters knew without asking exactly when to shoot and at what range; the priests had their healing spells down to a rhythm; wizards knew just how much damage to put in their combat spells.
And Min’s role? The translator struggled for a moment to find the word in English, and when I hazarded a guess, Min turned directly to me and repeated it, the only English I ever heard him speak. “Tank,” he said, breaking into a rare, slow smile, and why wouldn’t he? The tank — the heavily armored warrior character who holds the attention of the most powerful enemy in the fight, taking all its blows — is the linchpin of any raid. If the tank dies, everybody else will soon die too, as a rule.
“Working together, playing together, it felt nice,” Min said. “Very . . . shuang.” The word means “open, clear, exhilarating.”

Three more thoughts: first, I never regret my decision to abandon my characters on a pvp server (player versus player, where other players can attack you or be attacked almost anywhere, as opposed to "pve", player versus environment, where such combat happens only in limited circumstances). I tried it out of curiosity, but quickly got frustrated, and I can't imagine how much worse it would be if I were playing to make my living, and many if not most players got vindictive about people like me.

Second, I got a very wry amusement as I read the article from seeing all the jargon of the game — gold farmer, grind, raid, wipe, and making it clear that the attacks were "computer-animated" — spelled out carefully for a general audience.

Third, though, I was half-wondering about the economics of it. It seems to me that making money is much easier since Patch 2.1 came out and they introduced daily quests, most of which have pretty good rewards. Before the patch I know my main character made money only very slowly, but now it's much easier. Is this causing inflation in the game? (None of my high-level characters have very marketable skills, so I can't tell too well.) Is it making it harder for gold farmers to do their thing? But on the other hand, most of those daily quests require already having saved and spent a lot of money for epic mount training, so maybe it doesn't affect nearly as many people as it seems just based on my own guild.

Friday, June 15, 2007

So I'm writing a story about some cool thing a local second grade class did. I talked to the teacher, and he offered to call me back with names and contact information for a few of his students who were very involved with it, and/or are more articulate than the average second grader. The message he left on my voice mail ended as follows: “Just so you know, I called all the parents and told them that there might be a strange man calling their homes to speak to their children.”

It's not that I try to be creepy, it just sort of happens...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In the corner of the blogosphere I frequent, a set of military guidelines for U.S. soldiers in Iraq during World War II has been making the rounds, and (Andrew Sullivan has referred to it and its modern counterpart a few times, and John at Dymaxion World gets into it and links to LGM.)

They've done the legwork of making the necessary "Hah, those boneheads in charge of the U.S. sure have regressed!" commentary so there's no need for me to get out a thesaurus. The thing about it that seems most interesting to me besides that is the language used 60 years ago in an official government document. It jumps out at me, because even though all the words are the same (for the most part — "Muslim" is rarely if ever spelled with an o these days), even ignoring how the current Mess O'Potamia is going, it's obvious from looking at the pamphlet that it was written in the first half of this century (the first half of the twentieth century, of course... we're in the first half of "this century"). Just read it, and you can practially hear it being recited from a radio studio by a deep, accentless male voice with carefully controlled tone and no background noise except maybe some faint static.

My first thought on reading the bulleted list LGM found was, "No one really talks like that." But, no, that's exactly how people talk, it's just not how people write.

The non-political part of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" seems relevant here. I tend to think of stuff like this as lazy writing, or writing by people with inadequate experience or training, rather than anything particularly totalitarian. Sure, we see plenty of news reports that suspiciously resemble press releases, but we also see plenty of management jargon that confuses more than it illuminates. (I think this means I've been corrupted by "The Man," but I'm not sure. I do see a whole lot of what Orwell complained about in really banal situations in my job, on the hopefully rare occasions that I generate it the reason usually is laziness... Besides, where I work, "The Man" wanders around musing about how great it was when people said and seriously meant "don't trust anyone over 30," so I don't feel too threatened by him particularly.) In addition to the hundreds of Google hits that simply aggregated jokes about it, this seems like one of a relative few that take it seriously, so it was kind of interesting.

And cultural references? Fughetaboudit!

Well, no, I don't. "Lawrence of Arabia" was released 20 years before I was born.

In an appropriate coincidence, talk turned to "Moby Dick" for a while at work today. Consensus was that it was boring, but someone pointed out something I never thought about too much: the multi-page passages of description of life on a boat weren't included because he was paid by the word like Dickens, or because Melville was sleeping with his editor like Robert Jordan, but quite simply because people didn't have TVs. Or for that matter, any kind of visual media that could be created in less than eight hours. As much as it makes me pity those poor primitives in the 19th century, the pages of description of whale fat were essential to readers who didn't live within walking distance of a harbor.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

THE VERDICT: better than last year's graduation story, I think it's safe to say. However, not as good as the story another reporter wrote about a different ceremony. I wouldn't even mention it — one good piece of advice I've heard in the past is "Don't compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself" — if not for the fact that there were a few similarities in content. I probably wouldn't have led with that angle anyway, but it was annoying when my editor gave me a copy of his story to give me some general ideas, only to think "Oh wait, I can't do this, he already did!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

This morning I noticed an example of how my writing has changed over the past year. I'm getting ready to write the article about the graduation ceremony at the local high school, and that's a kind of story I've only written once before. So I went into the archives on the network and found the one I wrote last year, and I was struck by the previous story and how I think my writing has improved since then.

And by "struck by," I mean, "good God, it sucked."

For example, here's the first sentence of the article I wrote last year. "At commencement for Mid/dlebury Un/ion High School’s class of 20/06* on Saturday, speakers urged the graduates to take an active role in their communities and to make the world a better place." Make the world a better place? Wow, now that's surprising. Who would ever expect to see that happen at a graduation? And the rest of the piece doesn't get much better. I can imagine myself signing off on that story, because we write on deadlines and who expects great journalism on something like this anyway, but it's definitely not one I'll use as a writing sample.

Unfortunately... the current year's graduation story isn't shaping up to be much better, because it seems like I have less to work with in writing the story. But it probably didn't help that I was in a shitty mood that morning because I had just been told by a mutual friend that my ex-girlfriend was engaged — I screwed things up with her so thoroughly that I only found out that way, she's at that point in her life and I'm not, woe is me — so the platitudes fell on deaf ears. But it seemed like there were a whole lot of them, and so on.

Ah well. As long as I don't put writing it off until tomorrow morning, that seems to be the main thing. I'm not sure that's what I did last year or not, but it certainly wouldn't help.

* At the blog Unfogged, I learn clever tricks like Google-traps — that is, writing with a specific misspelling or turn of phrase that you can later search for to find anyone who quotes what you wrote — and Google-proofing like right here, breaking up words that someone might search for. While I've decided to be less paranoid about most of what I write, it could still, let's just say, reflect badly on me if someone tries to look up their own graduation and finds the local reporter complaining about how boring it was and how he did a half-assed job reporting on it. So I'm obviously still of two minds about blog security, and I'll probably continue to be as long as I'm at a semi-public job, working for someone else, etc. etc. etc. And, disclaimer: if one of the speakers reads this somehow, don't worry, you did fine. It's not you, it's me. Like I said, I was in a bad mood that morning.