Rebooting the blog

Should I delete everything and start again? Probably.

Will I? No!

Old, out-of-date content is still good content. Here, have some even more:

Enjoy a nice new theme with a cool dark colour scheme.

Looking at that screenshot, clearly I need to fix that blogroll.

This blog is hereby repurposed thus: miscellaneous dumping ground for content that doesn’t fit on my main technology site:

Videogame stuff should eventually get its own dedicated space. It’s still fair game for my twitter account and my tumblr screenshot blog.

Years ago, on my last post here, I declared my intent to write about certain things in future. There were:

– Design considerations for videogames for children – not really an interesting topic for me any more. Basically, it comes down to pleasing both the kids and their parents.

– On the videogame website of the future – still a live topic.

– Iconic gaming icons – my plan was actually to make a set of free/public domain game-related svg icons. Still seems like a cool project. This would include controller buttons, useful for inlining in text. But also ‘iconic’ objects like the key, heart, sword, AR15-like rifle.

– A gaming lexicon – basically, a set of micro-blog posts on all the game genres, conventions, and main concepts. I might as well start it off.

Now playing: Soul Reaver

Now reading: Fall or, Dodge in Hell

On cinematic games

I forgot to mention some things in my post on Virginia. I’ll express them here, and discuss the wider gaming context.

Games are increasingly borrowing various techniques from the medium of film. What’s going on here? Without delving into the motivations (expanding the audience to achieve financial growth, envy of film’s recognised cultural significance) there’s lots of stuff to examine: Continue reading “On cinematic games”


I played through the game Virginia this afternoon. It was 100 minutes long, and by God, it was a powerful experience.

I picked it up because of a strong recommendation from game critic Jon Denton.

After playing, first reaction was that I should recommend it to everyone alive. But after a moment of thought, I had serious reservations–maybe nobody should play this. I’ll just write my reactions and thoughts here. There’s no real need for me to write a full review. Just watch Jon’s. Then, maybe you want to play the game–I recommend it! Just be warned, it’s heavy stuff. Then read this. Continue reading “Virginia”

On communication and manipulation

3. All communication is `manipulation of signal-receiver by signal-sender.’

This profound communication, though it might easily have come from any used-car salesman reflecting on life, was actually sent by Dawkins, (in The Extended Phenotype, (1982), p. 57), to the readers whom he was at that point engaged in manipulating. Much as the devil, in many medieval plays, advises the audience not to take his advice.

From David Stove, 1994 ‘So You Think You Are a Darwinian?’

Stove cites this proposition as a peculiar Darwinian belief that’s obviously false. But he offers no refutation there. Maybe none is deserved. I don’t know if Dawkins argued for it or asserted it. (I should read The Extended Phenotype.) For now, I just want to examine the proposition.

Continue reading “On communication and manipulation”

Pokémon GO, nerds, and social standards

In this article, Robyn Vinter talks about her experiences with the game. She’s getting bothered by strange men (in particular, socially inept ones) trying to use the game as a conversation-starter.

You might have already read her article. If so, you might be aware of the fuss it’s provoked. Offense was taken. Vinter was inundated with hundreds of replies on Twitter. Her account was even suspended.

Given this context, my motives in writing this are inevitably under immediate scrutiny. Who am I and which side am I on? Have I come into this fray to defend this writer or join in attacking her?

Neither. Or perhaps both!

Here’s my angle of approach. I’m interested in the problems with social interaction in augmented reality. The debate around this article, being situated largely on Twitter and soaked with hostility, is at a low level of quality. Here goes my attempt to raise it.

I learned of the existence of the article via this tweet:

Here, mombot suggests for self-identified nerds to exercise their right of reply to the article, directing them to the publisher’s email address. (Certainly a better place for argumentative responses than Twitter.) Particular attention is drawn to the last paragraph:

What happened to the good old days, when gamers stayed firmly indoors with no need to venture outside and nerds feared social interaction?


This was taken as a nasty insult. That’s what it looks like, from a plain reading of the text. This is what many replies focussed on, reading the article as expressing a disdain-for-plebs attitude of intolerance (see that thread after mombot’s tweet, and also here).

Vinter says it was a joke. What happens when we read it as a non-serious, humorous remark? She doesn’t really want gamers to be recluses—she’s a gamer herself. So it was meant as a self-deprecating comment.

Why wasn’t this obvious? Why did we interpret it as a mean-spirited attack from a hostile outsider?

One might suggest that elements of gaming subcultures have been primed for defensiveness. Tracing the roots of this attitude, and determining whether to characterise it as a justified wariness or an irrational paranoia… all super interesting questions… all beyond the scope of this little essay. We’ll return to it another time.

Documenting and analysing e-drama is a fun activity in its own right, but it’s really not my intended focus for this article.

Let’s actually talk about the social aspects of Pokémon GO.

Just as with its predecessor game Ingress, meeting fellow players in real-world locations is the intended consequence of the game’s networked geo-spatial mechanics. So, it’s natural that players in a certain area will meet, perhaps regularly, and start to talk with each other. There can be strategic advantages to doing so, e.g. to share tips. And the game includes (or will later include) specific group battle events—the announcement trailer showed dozens of players congregating in Times Square to collectively fight Mewtwo.

But this social aspect is optional. Perhaps Vinter would like to opt out.

[…] I’d go as far as saying the risk of actually coming across other players is the No 1 thing putting me off playing the game.

So that’s that. I haven’t started playing the game yet. When I do, and if I happen to spot her at a Pokéstop, I won’t start chatting with her.

But wait, this was probably meant as hyperbole. Here’s a tweet where she mentions non-horrible interactions with fellow Pokémon trainers:

Great! If I see her at a Pokéstop, I’ll ask her what she thinks of this article.

It’s going to get better, and it’s going to get worse.

We can appreciate and celebrate the social aspects of this interesting new form of gaming without accepting the idea that social interaction is an unqualified good thing. No doubt, good things will come out of it. Soon enough I bet we’re going to see news articles about people getting married after having first met as players of the game.

More players are going to get involved, so the frequency of Pokémon-mediated social interactions will increase. There will be more ham-fisted chat-up attempts. Some people with questionable social skills will be encouraged to get out and explore their neighbourhoods. Numerous reports describe young people with autism spectrum disorders, usually averse to outdoor activities, getting out there to catch Pokemon. Here’s one, and here’s some analysis.

The point isn’t to bully and shame anyone out of participating, it’s about upholding standards of decorum. Writing op-eds about anonymous bad Pokémon GO encounters seems like a fine tactic for achieving this. Sadly, in this instance, it provoked a backlash focussed around tangential issues, coloured by pre-existing grudges among subcultures.

Flirting is territory fraught with pitfalls. Criticising unwanted, intrusive, and inept flirting attempts from strangers is useful and necessary. Niggas need to learn there’s rules to this shit.

Social gaming stuff to consider

  • Does the game need an explicit code of conduct (i.e. universally understood rules, not buried in the terms of service)?
  • Would changes to rules of the game effectively incentivise desirable social behaviour among players, and discourage bad stuff?
  • Will large numbers of players of alternate reality games change standards of public decorum?
  • In good or bad ways? Do we want to prevent or encourage this?
  • Are PUAs selling PDF books teaching tactics for meeting women using Pokémon GO? Cause they will be!

Why aren’t I playing it? My phone’s not compatible.

This article is a follow-up to my Pokemon-related notes and links gathered here:


Launching the Mental Conflux wikis

This weekend I got a new domain and some hosting and used it to set up a copy of Wikity. This is a WordPress-based wiki platform inspired by Federated Wiki. I’m going to use it to collect links, post short comments, and play with non-linear hypertext around my subjects of interest. I’ve set up a handful of sub-wikis for various topics. I might add more later.

Here’s what we’ve got now:

Main hub. Collects content posted to the sub-sites.

Art, entertainment, culture.

Videogames: stuff I’m playing or anticipating, reviews, game design analysis.

Abstract and psychological exploration. Philosophy.

Technology, mostly of the information and communication sort. Web development, programming, Internet. This subdomain belongs on the ‘professional’ branch of the org chart, along with @jasonxsackey and my Medium blog.


Edit: Some reorganising. Added idea, repurposed culture. Perhaps the focused sociology stuff will move to a new subdomain I’ll make later. Either way, stuff’s going to overlap and overspill. tech and game will include stuff about their respective subcultures, and wider cultural stuff.

Of overlapping magisteria

Whereas my other site, and my other twitter account, will focus on technical matters of web development and associated topics (like programming more generally, interface design, usability, and business and cultural issues around the industry), here is where I’m free to post about anything I’m interested in.

Here, as in this site mentalconflux, and my twitter account @mentalconflux.

The reason for the sharp focus of the other site is marketing. Let that one be the one that comes up when you Google me. My professional side.

Here I’ll explore my other interests. Like videogames. But that one might need its own separate site too…

Even so, there will be cross-linking between all my sites. The intertwingularity of all things demands it.

Probable candidate posting topics: films, novels, music, science fiction, philosophy, original fiction. And as a decidedly unprofessional blog, I give myself permission to discuss things inappropriate for workplace discussion: politics and religion.

I’m committing to regular blog posting elsewhere, here will be irregular.

Welcome, readers.

P.S. there’s a good reason my blog doesn’t have comments. I’ll write about this in detail later.