Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 08:45 on 14-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Post-Modernism is such a large movement and it is not in any ways concise or well defined beyond the general tendency to question all assumed definitions and this does not mean much. It is also easy to pick and choose things to mock about it and admittedly, there is a lot to choose from. Strong social constructionism, claims that mathematics and associated abstract concepts are just human constructs. That medicine has actually changed the human body through observation(as in, when the theory of medicine was based on the humors, the human body when observed was a collection of bladders and humors and changed by the action of anatomists and their tools to fit the new physiological theories) and has not actually discovered anything. And so on. So for your basic scientific realist working with physics, for example, this is all nonsense. Weirdly though, I know many judgmental mathematicians as well, although they are known to mess with nonsensical concepts just for the fun of it and to see what happens.

So these extreme and sometimes overly political "attacks" on natural sciences is often assumed to represent post-modernism as a whole, as if such an easy definition is possible. When we add to this the sheer volume of scholarship recognized as post-modern and the abundance of unfamiliar terms and neologisms, it is not really so surprising that many are dismissive of it.

But I myself have always felt that the real contribution of post-modernism is in asking hard questions, for example about how we define sanity, gender, religion and ethics. And quite often post-modernist thinkers fail to answer their own questions, since the methodical doubt used to question the doxa as it were is equally valid criticism for the new constructs as well. Michel Foucault is a good example. The way he challenges the positivistic view of psychiatry in his History of Madness os great, but his own description of the historical process is based on bad sources, generalizations from other sources and reductive in its assumption, that the history of insanity in the 17th to the 18th century is merely an exercise of control of deviants.

I like to compare this good questions thing to some other fields. For example, Bertrand Russel gave us Russel's Paradox, which was enough to challenge set theory in a way that was truly valuable. While post-modernism can not be as precise as mathematics or logics, its value is similar to this.
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at 08:36 on 14-03-2014, Kit
As a philosophy student mostly gravitating around the sort of thinkers that have been called "postmodern" (even though many of them have rejected that label), I've got to say it's a lot less convoluted and a great deal more interesting than most people give it credit for. I'm sure the general attitude towards "postmodernism" (or poststructuralism, or whatever you want to call it) comes from a certain subpar postmodernist posturing for posturing's sake that might be found in some places, but still, it's a pity ("misunderstood academics, unite!").
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at 23:31 on 13-03-2014, Tamara
No one is quite sure what it means but we all know it isn't anything nice?
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at 22:47 on 13-03-2014, Daniel F
That old comic was better, though the mouse-over text is a trifle irritating. Why is postmodernism such an easy target, anyway?
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at 19:17 on 13-03-2014, Dan H
Grats Alasdair!

On that particular XKCD, it low key annoyed me for most of the same reasons it didn't work for James D, it relies on a deeply contrived setup which doesn't, to me, feel like the way people would naturally actually use that line.

Plus, as a couple of people have pointed out, "you know what [BLAH]" as a construction is not a statement of fact, and therefore it does not constitute an assumption *at all*.

It makes me particularly sad because I remember that the guy who wrote this comic now writes comics in which he pretends it is clever to deliberately misunderstand people.
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at 17:30 on 11-03-2014, Robinson L
Oh, I've been meaning to say - haven't had any problems with the website for well over a week.

Thanks Rami for fixing whatever-it-was.
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at 08:19 on 11-03-2014, Arthur B
Also with film there is at least a central focus of the creative work - namely, what's going on in front of the cameras - whereas in games the creative work is going on at dozens and dozens of different workstations, and in the voice acting/motion capture studio, and so on.
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at 06:21 on 11-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
I've played precious few plot oriented games in recent times, but one could say that with movies, the figure head of a director seems to result in a singular vision or at least something which can easily be interpreted as a singular vision. But could games achieve that and on the other hand, is this even desirable, taking into account that railroading and such stuff is something people complain about.
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at 22:00 on 10-03-2014, Arthur B
His argument was that these days the figure of the "celebrity game developer" is essentially a relic.

The argument as you outline it seems fairly compelling to me.

To be honest, there's an extent to which the idea of the auteur movie director is sort of a myth for similar reasons, simply because of the sheer number of people who all need to competently do their job in order to complete all but the indiest of indie projects; even guys like David Lynch and the Coens and Ridley Scott and so on tend to work with a tight cabal of like-minded regular collaborators, for instance. But I guess AAA games are several steps more diffuse than that these days.
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at 18:56 on 10-03-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Thanks everyone. It means a lot to me. Hopefully this'll be the start of something bigger.

IN OTHER NEWS...

I was reading a forum thread about the closure of Irrational Games the other day, and I found someone making an interesting argument. His argument was that these days the figure of the "celebrity game developer" is essentially a relic. Most of the people we associate with that label, the Carmacks, the Romeros, the Meiers, the Molyneuxes, the Cages, made their names back in the '90s, and nowadays most of them are either retired, making games for mobile devices, or coasting on reiterations of past successes. His opinion was that something like a superstar designer really only worked when the majority of developers were guys working in 12-man teams in someone's garage, and that development has really grown too elaborate to be dominated by one personality. The proof of this could be seen in the fates of these guys, a majority of whom came to grief on some overly-elaborate project that was intended to revolutionize gaming, only to burn through a ton of money and goodwill and result in a mediocre game.

This same fellow also made the most apt summation of Bioshock Infinite I have seen anywhere: B:I is what Daikatana would have been had it worked.
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at 08:48 on 10-03-2014, Shimmin
Yes, congrats for that.
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at 01:55 on 10-03-2014, Sister Magpie
Go Alasdair!!
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at 15:02 on 08-03-2014, Robinson L
Arthur: Congratulations, Al!

Though the article won't feel the same without the appended alchemy discussion.

Seconded on both counts. That's so cool.


Shimmin: I only read XKCD when people mention it here, because as you say it's one of many mediocre webcomics and I read other stuff instead.

Ditto.
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at 23:34 on 07-03-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Excellent news Alasdair. It was a very good essay.
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at 20:27 on 07-03-2014, Alice
Congratulations, Alasdair!
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at 18:51 on 07-03-2014, Melanie
Congratulations!

What I find funny is that the end of that expression is already "you make an ass out of u and me"--so the person saying it is insulting themselves exactly as much as they're insulting the person who assumed. IMO this makes it almost meaningless to turn it back on the person saying it.
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at 15:40 on 07-03-2014, Arthur B
Congratulations, Al!

Though the article won't feel the same without the appended alchemy discussion.

(By definition, hasn't all the material in the book been published in 2013? I guess this is a magic-of-paper thing...)
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at 15:10 on 07-03-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
If I may briefly interrupt comics chat for a second...

I just wanted to mention that Thea James and Ana Grilo, the two ladies behind The Book Smugglers review blog, have announced that they're putting together Speculative Fiction 2013, collecting some of the best online nonfiction writing about genre from the past year.

The lineup they've got is pretty varied. There's Joe Abercrombie, N. K. Jemisen, Abigail Nussbaum...and Alasdair Czyrnyj.

My Prometheus article is in there. Something I've written is actually gonna get published. It's the first time anything I've written has been published.

*small excited voice* Yaaaaaaaaaaay.

(Oh, and to segue back into comic chat, after discovering condescending misogynistic fug that is Least I Could Do, I find Randall Munroe slightly more tolerable.)
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at 12:44 on 07-03-2014, Arthur B
It's kind of ironic because Munroe's making fun of a canned clever response, but he's using his patented canned cleverness to do so.
And it isn't even that clever. "You know what happens..." is typically not used as an actual statement of fact so much as a rhetorical slap (the implication being that the person being addressed bloody well should know even if they don't actually know). This is something people generally pick up if they have conversations with actual human beings who use that particular idiom so whilst the comic thinks it is presenting Generico McCoolguy giving a wicked zinger, really it just depicts ol' Generico as someone whose grasp of context and tone and idiom and other such things appears to be slightly lacking.
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at 11:54 on 07-03-2014, Tamara
I actually brought it up here because it's the only place I know to get a bit of discussion about it, particularly critical. Leaving aside whether everyone else loves it or what, it's just that I really like analyzing very banal, taken-for-granted forms of communication.

I can muse on about the way stale sitcoms, terrible movies, repetitive webcomics or sexist bodice rippers do what they do happily for days, with much more interest than I have for analyzing Booker nominee list, regardless of the fact that I think the latter is probably better art. (Maybe because the latter is better.) It's not so much that I have a strong opinion on XKCD, as I find anyone having opinions on XKCD really interesting.

Or, arguable, I just have really bad taste and like to revel in it.
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at 11:36 on 07-03-2014, Shimmin
I'm a little curious why Ferretbrainers seem to be so down on it.


I suspect this is a mixture of confirmation bias and in-group stuff. A handful of commenters talk about XKCD occasionally, but it's only noticable when they do that, not the many occasions when they don't. Also, talking about XKCD on Ferretbrain has been done enough that it's now a thing to do if you have Opinions about that comic, and perhaps Ferretbrainers are now more likely to read it with previous Opinions in mind.

With a small group of regular commenters that kind of thing starts to look very prominent. But for example, I only read XKCD when people mention it here, because as you say it's one of many mediocre webcomics and I read other stuff instead.

Also possible that people look at XKCD who may not read many webcomics, and so aren't likely to talk about those? It has enough geek momentum built up that maybe people are still reading along who haven't got into other webcomics. But they'd have to tell us, I dunno.
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at 11:34 on 07-03-2014, James D
Any opinions on today's XKCD?

It's pretty bad. The "zing" hinges entirely on the specific way it's set up, and that setup is only really technically an assumption anyway. She could easily have just left out the "you know what happens" and started with "when you assume..." in which case the smug coolguy would've been left without his oh-so-clever response. It's kind of ironic because Munroe's making fun of a canned clever response, but he's using his patented canned cleverness to do so. That's my two cents, anyway.

I think it's the combination of intense mediocrity, occasional diversions into genuinely being infuriating/bad, and excessive prominence.

On top of that Munroe has developed this smug, I'm-so-clever tone, without actually being clever at all. His comics often try for pithy, short zingers, like he thinks he's a modern-day Oscar Wilde, but they just fall flat most of the time.
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at 11:07 on 07-03-2014, Arthur B
I think it's the combination of intense mediocrity, occasional diversions into genuinely being infuriating/bad, and excessive prominence.
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at 10:57 on 07-03-2014, Daniel F
*shrug* Not really?

I'm a little curious why Ferretbrainers seem to be so down on it. You could fill a very large pool with the world's mediocre webcomics. What makes XKCD so remarkable?
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