Atvelonis's recent activity

  1. Comment on Jack Dorsey: Bids reach $2.5m for Twitter co-founder's first post in ~tech

    Atvelonis
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    Art doesn't serve an exclusively "utilitarian" purpose to us insofar as there is no such thing as objective utility in a world inhabited by individuals with their own unique subjective...

    Art doesn't serve an exclusively "utilitarian" purpose to us insofar as there is no such thing as objective utility in a world inhabited by individuals with their own unique subjective experiences—including different perspectives on what constitutes personal value. Even if you define the utility of a particular work as "the meaning it conveys," it is extremely difficult to argue that a piece like this does not carry some amount of cultural significance (i.e. meaning) without resorting to the somewhat outmoded and extremely boring anti-contextual narratives of the New Critics. I appreciate the "democratization of knowledge" that such movements bring in their rejection of the traditions of the academy, but it's sort of unintelligible to try to analyze a work in and of itself when analysis itself is an externally imposed process. The relational or relative value of art is not something that should be dismissed.

    The broader aesthetic value of a work of art takes into account the circumstances associated with its creation, distribution, and analysis (and I suppose the "pre-context" of its absence); this necessarily includes, among other things, both 1) a conception of the work as art, and 2) a conception of the work as "non-art" in comparison with that which is conventionally thought to be art. This very supposed lack of artistic value does, at an abstract but still appreciable level, create an emergent semantic quality specific to the work. In other words, the introduction of media traditionally dismissed as non-artistic to the art world is actually a form of artistic protest on the nature of art. In the case of Dorsey's tweet, the inclusion of its metadata suggests that it is being recognized as something noteworthy at least partially because it is digital, and also because it represents the internet as a valid progenitor of artistic meaning. The exact same argument has been had about photography, film, video games, and just about every other form of art under the sun; said argument has been consistently won by those arguing in favor of the inclusive narrative of art to any particular medium.

    Naturally, if you define utility in a way that excludes this particular meta-recognition of media as a useful commentary on art as a whole, then the piece serves no utilitarian purpose. But the meaning provided above is just one example in a set of infinite length, either in effect or in reality. You can further exclude all such elements within the set from your definition of utility and try to derive some sort of meaning from the words in the tweet and nothing else, but then you are just analyzing an expression and not a tweet. It's possible to literally do that, and you will get some sort of result, but doing so has a barely appreciable level of utility—if a work has been stripped of everything that makes it relevant to the world it lives in, analyzing that which remains will produce conclusions that are not interesting and certainly not applicable elsewhere. This property is somewhat ironic given that close readings of this nature are done specifically to obtain the most "pure" meaning of a work. But when you're dealing with a base case with no room for interpretation, that removes the subjective component of art from the equation. The conclusion you will draw is something to the effect of "this string of characters is comprised of the concatenation of the symbols j, u, s, t,… and metadata comprised of…," which is not "meaning" per se, just a set of observations. It's reproducible, but it's not valuable. (To be pedantic, even that conclusion relies on a certain linguistic and mathematical context that is very much separate from the work in and of itself.) This reduction, though extreme, should make one question the utility of such frameworks in general.

    To summarize, a reading of a work like this that does not take into account its significance within the artistic, cultural, and technological context that it resides is indeed somewhat pointless. But the analytic framework necessary to produce such a conclusion is inherently flawed, and its application in any circumstance will produce an equally meaningless result. One must accept that any analysis of a work in a world obviously external to it requires some amount of external context to be intelligible, but the point at which a given adjacent point of context becomes structurally irrelevant—whether at the linguistic or socio-cultural level, or anywhere in between—is fundamentally arbitrary. I would argue that the most interesting and useful forms of analysis are ones that attempt to highlight the meaning and purpose of a work in a broader sense than "must look pretty" or even "must be trying to look pretty," instead commenting on the "behind-the-scenes" processes that define the work as a newsworthy item to begin with. If we've reached this point, it's already art.

    1 vote
  2. Comment on What books do you think every eighteen year old should read? in ~books

    Atvelonis
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    Thank you for your careful observation. Upon reflection, I agree that Murakami's female characters are not very well-developed—I remember being bothered by some of their dialogue when I first read...

    Thank you for your careful observation. Upon reflection, I agree that Murakami's female characters are not very well-developed—I remember being bothered by some of their dialogue when I first read the novel. But it was originally recommended to me by a young woman (who presumably also had a "developing worldview"), so I think its meaning is not exclusive to any particular gender. I respect the hesitancy you express though, and I realize that my positionality lends itself to a reading that isn't necessarily universal.

    2 votes
  3. Comment on What books do you think every eighteen year old should read? in ~books

    Atvelonis
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    I haven't read Zinn in a long time, but my recollection is that A People's History of the United States is somewhat more on the "presentation of a historical timeline" side of things, it just...

    I haven't read Zinn in a long time, but my recollection is that A People's History of the United States is somewhat more on the "presentation of a historical timeline" side of things, it just happens to take a historical revisionist approach to the material. In comparison, I felt that Lies My Teacher Told Me was specifically written to critique the textbook industry; Loewen goes through a dozen or so common books, pointing out blatant misrepresentations and other issues with the academic publishing industry in general. There's a certain amount of overlap in the topics they cover, so I would say the primary difference is the reason for publication. To some extent, Loewen builds on the revisionist groundwork that Zinn laid out a decade and a half earlier; his goal is more anti-"pedagogical misinformation" than anti-"academic nationalism" more broadly, though the difference between those themes is minute. I enjoyed them both, though it's also worth noting that A People's History is about twice the length of Lies.

    4 votes
  4. Comment on What books do you think every eighteen year old should read? in ~books

    Atvelonis
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    When I was in high school I read very little except that which I was assigned, being more interested in the digital world than the real one. What I did read was generally within a specific genre...

    When I was in high school I read very little except that which I was assigned, being more interested in the digital world than the real one. What I did read was generally within a specific genre (high fantasy), and in retrospect I think I missed out on a lot of basic facets of the human condition by ignoring literary areas I assumed would be uninteresting before giving them a chance. I would have benefitted from internalizing works that subverted the expectations I'd built up about the way my life was necessarily supposed to progress, and also ones that primarily focused on emotions. I needed more introspection and more experiences of life, more stories about love and more rigorous personal analyses of trauma. What I needed was something to startle me and prepare me for the inevitable challenges and self-doubt I would experience as an adult.

    I read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day when I was a senior in high school. This might be an unusual book to give to an 18-year-old; a lot of my peers didn't like it, mostly on account of the language. I remember feeling somewhat ambivalent at first, but its exploration of the main character Stevens' vicarious sense of identity drew me in and left a strong impression at the end. I've thought about the novel and its themes fairly often since then; the title alludes to the most important one, how easy it is to waste "what remains of the day" (or of one's life) without realizing it. I also have a very vivid memory of my teacher reading a specific comment from the narrator: "Indeed—why should I not admit it?—in that moment, my heart was breaking." I probably would've ignored the affective significance of that quote if it were in some derivative fantasy novel, but in context, it taught me a lot about what it meant to reconcile with my sense of sentimentality, and in fact what it means to have such emotions to begin with.

    When I was a sophomore in college I read Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood (translated by Jay Rubin) on the recommendation of a friend. She called it "a romance." I often struggle to explain the precise nature of the impact this book had on me. It was not "inspiring" per se, it was absolutely terrifying, particularly as it was complemented by various real-life events affecting me at the time. I once remarked to a friend that the novel "broke" me for a while, or that it left me reeling. I was deeply unsettled by the interplay between my simultaneous identification with and feelings of utter repulsion toward the protagonist. It made me question who I was at my very core. Hedonism, constancy, indifference, vapidity, dynamism; an ambiguous look at the meaning of our emotional attachments, and what their manifestation means for the self. I'm not sure your niece would find it relatable for precisely the same reasons, but I would suggest it on the basis that it offers a certain perspective on emotional and romantic intimacy that is elsewhere only unsatisfactorily described.

    Because you're going to be recommended a lot of serious novels, I'd also suggest Daniel Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars. You will inevitably also be recommended The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, though I've never actually gotten around to it myself. There's more to books than life-altering philosophical fiction, and if anything it's important to break up one's readings of such things with lighter material. It's not that it's less valuable than "serious literature," it's that it returns us to the diversity of experience that I believe is so important to search out in the world.

    7 votes
  5. Comment on Candy love hearts, designed by AI in ~tech

    Atvelonis
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    Cute. I suppose it's notable that the AI only received a few hundred samples from which to learn. There's a lot of humor in this mishap, a combination of linguistic absurdity and "haha AIs are...

    Cute. I suppose it's notable that the AI only received a few hundred samples from which to learn. There's a lot of humor in this mishap, a combination of linguistic absurdity and "haha AIs are stupid." But from a more surrealist perspective, I wonder what we'd be able to do artistically by intentionally under-training AIs for comedic purposes but presenting them in an unironic (if still comic) format. Has this been done before? Not just training an AI to be a surrealist mouthpiece, but (mis)training it for a genuine purpose and then using the more unusual outputs in a separate work. Some tweaking might be necessary to maintain a consistent tone—or perhaps that would defeat the purpose of the experiment. Either way, this is an interesting concept that I hope to see explored in more depth in the future.

    3 votes
  6. Comment on What kinds of content are you hoping to see on Tildes? in ~tildes

    Atvelonis
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    Perhaps this speaks to @Whom's suggestion of "more personal and emotional posts." I remember feeling apprehensive about the first political science course I took in college because it was on...

    The problem is that I don't … feel qualified enough to add anything to the discussion

    Perhaps this speaks to @Whom's suggestion of "more personal and emotional posts."

    I remember feeling apprehensive about the first political science course I took in college because it was on theory, i.e. basically philosophy—which I knew nothing about. Who was I to examine Hobbes? I wasn't even a political science major! I realized pretty quickly that, despite whatever show people put on, they're all still learning too. They're also all still people. Our discussions in that class (and others) were strongest when they integrated traditional academic rigor with a reasonable amount of personal experiences, informal cultural references, and affective reactions in general. That's not to say I would never make rationalistic or formal comments when I thought they were appropriate, but just that they weren't mutually exclusive with the earnestness of being that characterizes individual lived experiences.

    I think that basically anyone can introduce a certain personal perspective to the conversation that can guide it forward in a novel way. Even if it's not strictly on-topic, it's interesting to hear about the emotional reactions people have to the subject matter, or something in their life it reminded them of. This helps with the anonymity factor of online discourse by reminding us all that we're human. Of course, this does require that people treat affective thought as a valid form of knowledge. I think we have some work to do there, but people learn by example, and if we try to incorporate a more epistemologically inclusive attitude about what constitutes "good discussion," threads will naturally evolve in a way that invites more nuanced responses.

    8 votes
  7. Comment on Bertrand Russell on thinking in ~humanities

    Atvelonis
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    Thank you for sharing this column. I agree with Messerly: thinking does matter. His caveats honestly aren't even strictly necessary. The type of thought he's referring to—critical, structural,...

    Thank you for sharing this column. I agree with Messerly: thinking does matter. His caveats honestly aren't even strictly necessary. The type of thought he's referring to—critical, structural, between-the-lines…—can indeed be more frightening or uncanny to people than his examples of "torture, cancer, or the death of their children." One could name any number of nationalistic, anti-scientific, or just generally self-interested movements that actively discourage genuine critical engagement with the world to the detriment of the loved ones of their adherents. Vaccine hesitancy, for example, is not necessarily incompatible with critical thinking, but vaccine denial very much is. Sometimes people just want to be right. It's an ego thing.

    The author's remark here was just a one-off comment intended to preempt pointless criticism—Russel's quote describes generalized behavior and does not suppose that any given individual falls prey to every single quality listed—but the fact that he thought it was necessary is perhaps a little ironic. I was also amused by the sole comment on the blog, which simply writes: "Without Marx or Jesus." I'm neither a revolutionary nor an evangelical, but this immediate reversion to ideological preference in response to what is a rather open-ended philosophical statement is unfortunately characteristic of pseudo-academic online discourse. Tildes happens to be the sort of place that would defend the former but scoff at the latter, which I suppose is technically better than nothing, but is still representative of the broader issue of "selective critical consideration" that our society faces. It's not a zero-sum game.

    Even the most abstract thinking affects the world. Non-euclidean geometry or symbolic logic are about as abstract as thinking gets—yet you can’t understand Einsteinian gravity without the one, or run computers without the other. Thinking matters to us, to others, and to our world. That’s one reason why we fear it so much—it shakes our foundations.

    I'm occasionally irritated by the distance academic theorists create between themselves and the "real world," intentionally or otherwise, but this feeling is probably better directed toward those who misrepresent abstract thinking in pedagogical contexts. Many teachers don't attempt to explain the purpose of a particular abstract concept in an academic lesson, which is confusing and discouraging to students. Others justify it with the reasonable but somewhat unsatisfactory answer that it "teaches you how to think." This is true, but inevitably invites the response from students, "So do lots of things. Why don't we just learn about X [that I enjoy more, or that is more overtly useful in some very specific context in industry] instead?" I've always felt that a better framing is one like "When you learn, you are not just learning information; you're learning about a perspective that you can apply to problems in a number of contexts." That's ultimately not a very different statement, but the implication is on diversity of thought, not that "this specific abstract concept is important, and others may not be."

    In an interdisciplinary curriculum, it quickly becomes obvious that any two random academic subjects have substantially more overlap than may be immediately clear. For instance, I've been continually surprised by the overlap between literary theory, linguistics, and computer science as I've learned more about each field; or biology and theoretical physics; or mathematics and music; or any other combination of disciplines. What we learn is definitely important, because it changes the exact approach we'll take when applying a particular framework to any other subject, but the most important part is indeed that we are learning something abstract to begin with, and further that we accompany it with other, complementary forms of abstract learning. It's the synthesis of grounded and abstract thought, each varied in their own right, that is truly valuable.

    2 votes
  8. Comment on What kinds of content are you hoping to see on Tildes? in ~tildes

    Atvelonis
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    The Tildes Writing Club in ~creative has been a welcome addition to the site. I think that having a structured outlet for personal work like that is a wonderful thing. I only contributed feedback...

    The Tildes Writing Club in ~creative has been a welcome addition to the site. I think that having a structured outlet for personal work like that is a wonderful thing. I only contributed feedback to the first thread, but intend to write something for the second. I hope it sticks around!

    As others have suggested, more activity in ~arts and ~humanities would be nice. I've admittedly not been engaging with those groups as much as I should; even when I do leave comments, there is often not any subsequent discussion, which isn't very encouraging. Reading linked materials is fun, but thinking through the ideas presented in such work with other people is much more engaging to me personally.

    I'm interested in seeing more content from ~hobbies, mainly offbeat stuff that I wouldn't hear of normally. I also kind of wish there were a group for dance, though there probably isn't enough interest. I guess it kind of falls under ~arts anyway.

    13 votes
  9. Comment on Dr. Becky – Crisis in cosmology in ~space

    Atvelonis
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    Rebecca/Becky Smethurst is an Oxford astrophysicist whose channel I recently discovered while searching out academically grounded educational presenters on YouTube. Her research tends to focus on...

    Rebecca/Becky Smethurst is an Oxford astrophysicist whose channel I recently discovered while searching out academically grounded educational presenters on YouTube. Her research tends to focus on galaxy and black hole formation, and elements of cosmology more broadly. The first videos of hers I watched were the one summing up the history of a scientific model of a particular part of the universe, like how we know supermassive black holes exist at the center of galaxies. This week's video describes the academy's present "crisis in cosmology" and what scientists are doing in order to move forward with their research.

  10. Comment on Sabine Hossenfelder – What's up with the ozone layer? in ~enviro

    Atvelonis
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    Sabine Hossenfelder is a German theoretical physicist who operates a very "down-to-earth" YouTube channel discussing various scientific matters. Its format is both accurate and accessible, serving...

    Sabine Hossenfelder is a German theoretical physicist who operates a very "down-to-earth" YouTube channel discussing various scientific matters. Its format is both accurate and accessible, serving to moderate the public understanding of typically inscrutable scientific literature in such a way that 1) the big ideas are conveyed, and 2) the subtleties of why various methodologies or procedures are important are not lost. I've been following her work for some time now and have always appreciated how candid she is about the scientific method, as well in directly challenging popular misconceptions. This particular video is about the ozone layer, not quantum gravity, but I haven't seen any of Hossenfelder's work posted on Tildes in the past and thought the community might be interested in this video as an introduction to her channel.

    1 vote
  11. Comment on The first video game in ~games

    Atvelonis
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    Ahoy is one of my favorite creators on YouTube. The level of depth he goes into in his videos never ceases to amaze me.

    Ahoy is one of my favorite creators on YouTube. The level of depth he goes into in his videos never ceases to amaze me.

    2 votes
  12. Comment on Writing Club #1 Submissions in ~creative

    Atvelonis
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    My reading was that bug guts are lauded here solely for helping Lady Confectionery catch the attention of Sir Amygdalus, and associated joyous hoopla (i.e. they are bringers of such emotions...

    My reading was that bug guts are lauded here solely for helping Lady Confectionery catch the attention of Sir Amygdalus, and associated joyous hoopla (i.e. they are bringers of such emotions through indirect means only), but the wordplay in the line cited has prompted me to question that assumption as well.

    Almond Joy is, through corporate acquisition, intimately associated with Mounds (a double entendre, you see), the primary difference between the two being the presence of the humble almond in the former, but not the latter. And if we are now to consider the correspondingly blue and red packaging of these two candies, we might be led to believe that the latter, in her lascivious red hue, was perhaps a force so attractive within the industry of chocolate-laden love that some enterprising mid-century mogul decided a partner bonbon was needed, the two apparently serving complementary functions in more ways that one.

    Read once more through the analogue of "the human and the crimson-imbued bug," in whose lives l'amour is surely not a matter of corporate installation but of personal desire, we return to the theme presented so early on by Darwin's cameo. By some evolutionary quirk, the bug found in itself a bit of pigment, and, by what is perhaps just another evolutionary quirk, almonds the world over have found its application upon a companion an irresistible allure! What might that say about the nature of our very being?

    This piece is not in fact an idle commentary on the proper (or improper) uses of bug dyes in procuring romance, but rather a subversive commentary on the unfair human treatment of the insects upon whom we depend so dearly. Our squishing of them unto the matter at hand is the means by which we may realize our holy matrimonies, and yet we maintain a certain disregard for these creatures' lives in favor of our own ends. This behavior is depicted most auspiciously in the case of the narrator, whose plethoric usage of this boon ultimately leads to tragedy. Here stands an emotive representation of the ongoing crisis of humanity's unbridled resource use—what in moderation (and appropriate vessels) evidently proved most beneficial has, in excess, been shown to be the very source of our undoing.

    May this poem stand as a testament to the errors of mankind and also as an indication of our path forward.

    2 votes
  13. Comment on Writing Club #1 Submissions in ~creative

    Atvelonis
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    Extremely clever poem. I love how you've combined these ostensibly discrete elements with such humor; taking a step back, there's an incredible level of irony in the manifestation of the...

    Extremely clever poem. I love how you've combined these ostensibly discrete elements with such humor; taking a step back, there's an incredible level of irony in the manifestation of the beauty–bug phenomenon you describe, and I feel that your grasp and subsequent use of said dichotomy serves the tone of the poem wonderfully. The image you create of the narrator's ill-fated deduction is very amusing (and is giving me serious déjà vu, though I can't quite put my finger on it). Your diction is marvelous—it's varied and graceful, offering the reader a reasonable challenge and a good payoff. I learned some history about dyes while looking up words! The references to color in particular are engaging and fit neatly into the actual subject matter (being more than just varnish). I'm not particularly studied in poetic meter, but I like whatever form it is you've chosen. The alliteration near the end is hilarious and complements your rhyme scheme surprisingly well. Great work, and I hope to see more poetry or prose from you in the future.

    4 votes
  14. Comment on Writing Club #1 Submissions in ~creative

    Atvelonis
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    My impression is that this was free verse, though that could just have been a product of the formatting. To some extent the difference between prosaic poetry and poetic prose is only academic.

    My impression is that this was free verse, though that could just have been a product of the formatting. To some extent the difference between prosaic poetry and poetic prose is only academic.

    4 votes
  15. Comment on A Writing Club in ~creative

    Atvelonis
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    I would be tentatively interested, assuming flexibility with subject matter and format. I often write creatively, or rather have fleeting inspiration to do so, but lack the structure to see most...

    I would be tentatively interested, assuming flexibility with subject matter and format. I often write creatively, or rather have fleeting inspiration to do so, but lack the structure to see most of my ideas realized.

    2 votes
  16. Comment on How should we evaluate narrative tension in videogames? in ~games

    Atvelonis
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    I love Tomb Raider, be it 1996 or 2013. I agree with your assessment of the reboot insofar as I felt no particular sense of urgency to complete the narrative once I cleared any given area. I...
    • Exemplary

    I love Tomb Raider, be it 1996 or 2013. I agree with your assessment of the reboot insofar as I felt no particular sense of urgency to complete the narrative once I cleared any given area. I remember taking great lengths to 100% the collectibles, despite it not being particularly fun in and of itself. Completionism is a mindset that dominates video games, and is implicitly encouraged by developers with the inclusion of such materials. I'm not really a fan of this practice, especially in the case of open-world RPGs like The Witcher 3 (2015), as I believe that stuffing games with irrelevant material dilutes their aesthetic and experiential value. However, I would also clarify that the concept of "side content" is not automatically an issue in a game, and in fact many titles are made far more interesting because of their supplementary areas, items, and mechanics; that is, their omission would be their ruin.

    I'm of the opinion that a narrative—for the purposes of this argument, described herein as the conduit for the work's philosophical thesis or overarching artistic telos, however strong or weak it may be—cannot be extricated from the gameplay in which it finds itself situated. Fundamentally, the video game is a medium comprised of other mediums; to pretend otherwise is simply to revert to one of said component media, which defeats the purpose of making a game.

    No game exists that can honestly be described as having a narrative that is not influenced by its mechanics, level design choices, entities, and other game elements. It is not even possible to create one with any particular coherence, even as an art piece; by virtue of intending to somehow create a narrative entirely separate from the work's gameplay, a developer must necessarily embrace a type of gameplay that (intentionally) disrupts the narrative, thereby recognizing it all the same, and inadvertently creating a counter-narrative which ultimately subverts the primary narrative to itself become the game's primary artistic focus. Within the realm of tangible works, the remaining choices are: 1) a work with no narrative at all, i.e. a fun, though ultimately mechanical procedure that exists outside the realm of this prompt 2) a work with no gameplay at all, i.e. a literal book/film, or 3) a work that is not fulfilling to players on account of making no sense and having components so extraneous as to wholly invalidate or distract from the narrative. (For example, a game clearly intended to have a narrative-gameplay dialectic that is unfortunately impossible to comprehensibly navigate.)

    Conversely (equally), and somewhat less intuitively, the gameplay of a given title cannot really be extricated from the narrative it supports (or complements). To extricate it fully is to deny the existence of a narrative, which, as stated, has no bearing on the matter at hand. I would actually make the argument that even a game like Pong (1972) still has a "narrative" of sorts, though I would better describe it as a telos, insofar as any competitive sport has a certain overarching purpose, even if it is not laid out in prose. But this is a tangential matter that I must revisit at another time. To return to the argument, you can absolutely create games whose narratives are only vaguely related to their gameplay elements (with one or the other being more dominant)—my belief is that, in almost all circumstances, rejecting a unity of narrative and gameplay elements rejects the fundamental purpose of the medium of video games, and thereby weakens each individual element's position within the work as a whole. That is to say, while an individual, disjunct element in a game (such as a narrative) can be strong in and of itself, if it is not properly complemented by additional elements (such as game mechanics) themselves constructed with enough care, the "game" as a whole does not live up to what it could live up to. This does not make it automatically "bad," just "less than it could be." Of course, when applied to games whose quality bars are "fine," the natural proclivity of this diminution in experiential quality is for them to end up "meh" or, as the case may be, "a waste of time." As with every passing second we each hurtle rapidly toward our demise, I feel that time is of great import! I see no purpose in playing games which fail to properly make use of every element of the medium of video games when, if I wanted a masterpiece in just one, I could seek it elsewhere.

    My analysis here exists as a theoretical framework. Just as it is for all intents and purposes impractical to create a game that truly has no relationship between narrative and gameplay (and also functions as an enjoyable game), it is effectively impossible to create a game that strikes an absolutely perfect balance between all of its constituent elements. However, I believe that there are several games that come pretty close. I am not a video game critic, and therefore may not have the exposure to all titles that some of my fellow Tildestians do; I am also not a complete snob, only a mild one, and do not bear any serious resentment toward such genres as visual novels, sport simulators, or Candy Crush (2012) derivatives. As an addendum to the above argument, I would add that the optimal balance between narrative and gameplay within a title varies greatly in accordance with its genres, intended audience, historical and sociopolitical context, hardware standards, and any number of other factors. Thus there is no way to create a "rubric" of "games that properly integrate all their constituent elements" that is not quite vague, focusing on the subjective player experience as the only emergent property of the work, rather than the actual components themselves. A video game is not a game until it is played; until then, it is simply a screenplay, score, vocal performance, art gallery, and robotics demonstration that all happen to be in the same room.

    Of interest here is a game by Jonathon Blow called The Witness (2016), whose thesis I would personally describe as an attack on the video game industry's rejection of the theory I have laid out above (more or less). This is never directly stated in the work, but I feel that it becomes sufficiently obvious in playing through the variously "required" or "optional" puzzles in the game that the distinction between them (and thereby the narrative/gameplay) is almost nonexistent. Through a carefully structured world and an extremely intentional lack of emphasis on collectibles, Blow argues that the player is best treated by a game that allows them to take on the puzzles they want to take on and not feel bad about backing off from completionism. Exploration and by extension an implicit narrative are encouraged by the design of the game world, which is open, but full of puzzles, whose completion in turn open it up even further. The work has obvious structure, and a certain type of progression is revealed as puzzles are finished—the world changes a little, and what I could describe as "narrative elements" hidden around the map become more available. However, there is not exactly a hard separation between "narrative" and "gameplay" because of the care that is taken to avoid a jarring contrast between them, and to avoid hamfisting a generic narrative into a puzzle world (these "narrative elements," which are mostly statuary and audio fragments, feel very appropriate). I am reminded of George Miller's comment about Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) of a similar nature: "Most movies have the talky bits and the fighty bits; in this movie, they're the same thing" (heavily paraphrased); in an ideal multimedia work, a perfect relationship between these elements is the goal. Completing a puzzle in The Witness places the audience that much further along the "narrative," or the "aesthetic thesis of the work." And indeed, finishing enough puzzles opens up a certain gameplay event that, constituting a change from the formula of "start puzzle -> finish puzzle," suggests a perception of narrative finality that never requires an awkward dialogue scene to catch the player up. If they've gotten that far, they understand it already. Of course, the game does not actually "end" there; very much in the spirit of discouraging a pointless rendition of completionism, Blow places additional material slightly more clearly associated with a traditional narrative deeper within the puzzle network, allowing interested players to continue exploring to the true aesthetic climax while not turning the process into a grind for those who are satisfied with what they've already achieved. One might feel pressured to complete such an ending in search of the useless title of "100% completed," but that originates externally, not from the game itself. Every game tries to varying degrees to integrate gameplay and narrative in such a way that one suits the other, but The Witness is one of the first games I've seen to really critique the industry in this exact way while also presenting what is, at its core, a very good puzzle game. In many ways it's an art piece, but its unified "gameplay narrative" is not artificially hampered by this quality; rather, it is what makes it work. As I alluded to earlier, the context surrounding a game informs the way in which its narrative and gameplay interact; the game's telos happens to provide the setup for a recognizable and decipherable integration of these elements so that both aesthetic and mechanical value are heightened.

    Beyond meta works like The Witness, the title that first comes to my mind as a good example of this integration or fusion of narrative and gameplay is Valve's Portal (2007), which I'm sure you're familiar with. I have played games with more elaborate background lore (e.g. Skyrim [2011]), more robust object manipulation (e.g. Half-Life 2 [2004]), more extravagant art direction (e.g. Ori and the Blind Forest [2015]), or whatever else, and all of them offered good experiences. Individually, any one of these elements could be argued to be superior to its equivalent in Portal. However, when I sit down and really try to consider the finest examples of holistic quality in the industry, I am hard-pressed to diverge from a refutation of any of those works being superior in sum. Remembering, of course, that a game is a game only in its entirety, as its components considered individually make it a different medium, I would clarify that in appreciating Portal for its emergent quality as a unified work I am not "settling" for a lower bar for any one of its constituent elements. Portal, for what it seeks to do, accomplishes just that. And, honestly, its scope is deceptive; it's the type of game that can keep you thinking for a long time. Rarely does a title evoke such distinction after 14 years. Every element that it does have is carefully integrated with the rest: the premise is novel, the gameplay progression is natural and thought-provoking, the level design is intuitive but innovative, the characters are robust and full of life (so to speak), the lore is intriguing (but not overbearing), and the little quirks hidden throughout (particularly the radios) provide an additional level of entertainment nominally separate from but ultimately within the context of the "gameplay narrative." To compare object-seeking in Portal with the stalled tension you describe in Tomb Raider, the facts of GLaDOS' physical orientation, extensive but ultimately limited capabilities, and temporal comfort being what they are ensures that any time spent by the player looking for radios hidden in strange places, privately debating whether or not to throw a cube with a heart on it into a fire, or crawling into walls to read about cake does not create an active sense of disjunction within the narrative. In development, Valve recognized that the structure they envisioned with Portal allowed for these very qualities; they were not just lucky. If the testing process had an inherent time limit, then of course the structure of these extra gameplay elements would, in the ideal, be different; not necessarily gone, but appropriately suited for whatever alternative context they existed within. In a hypothetical worst-case scenario, the fast pacing would be offset by poorly designed gameplay complements that cause the player to question, "Why am I doing these things in the context of the narrative?" But this need not be considered, as Portal has no such issues. One may argue that Portal 2 (2011) does an even greater job than its predecessor on account of its greater depth, and I would respect that analysis.

    I could probably come up with more examples—DOOM (2016) comes to mind for its pairing of visceral combat with relatively intelligent level design and an excellent soundtrack—but it's getting late and I've written far too much already. I'd be interested in hearing what other people have to say about this prompt, as I believe it's an interesting and important one to bring up. I've taken a highly academic position here; like you, in the "real world," I'm not actually bothered by the utter lack of urgency to complete, say, the main quest in Skyrim before its many hundreds of side quests—intellectually, maybe a bit, but not enough to make a fuss about it; a joke or two at most. In fact, ignoring the main quest until the last possible moment is how I tend to play most open-world RPGs. In some cases, a misguided attempt to excessively integrate narrative and gameplay has the capacity to irritate players just as much as not integrating them enough does; take, for instance, the insistence of Fallout 4 (2015) on completing the main quest bothered many players who sought a more open-ended role-playing experience. As I stated before, a game's genre and other contextual aspects affect the relationship its various elements have with one another. Skyrim is a power fantasy that tries to give the player a certain amount of leeway in determining their place in the world, so if that means becoming the head of every major faction in the province before dealing with the end of the world, so be it. In Fallout 4, player expectations are similar but developer expectations are somewhat more focused on the narrative, leading to an "aesthetic break" when players avoid the main quest out of spite, rather than unadulterated intent to roleplay for its own merit. In a game like the Tomb Raider reboot, Lara Croft is a narrative-defined character whose circumstances require something of a sense of urgency on the part of the player in their gameplay escapades. Therefore, dillydallying to find obscure GPS caches when the narrative implies you should be moving forward creates a similar aesthetic break in the work. In the original Tomb Raider, hanging out in tombs is the entire point; the only reason Croft is there is to find artifacts, so taking a long time finding the game's many secrets (which I have never fully been able to do) makes a certain amount of sense.

    The complexity of video games is their foremost attraction but also their Achilles' heel. A thoughtfully designed game can be an unrivaled multimedia experience that no book, no movie, no composition could ever hope to achieve on its own. Games involve player agency, spatial design, narrative, visuals, audio, and so much more; and that's what makes them special. But when developers fail to create a work that exists in harmony with itself, the experience can be all the more frustrating to players. Of course, everyone's reading of these things is going to be different, which is the beautiful thing about art. At the end of the day, if your gut feeling about a game is good, then that's that.

    5 votes
  17. Comment on Discussion of politics going forward? in ~tildes

    Atvelonis
    Link Parent
    Great idea! Sorting by new almost serves this purpose, but doesn't actually prevent smaller threads from slipping through the cracks if they aren't right at the top of the feed. I would be...

    Great idea! Sorting by new almost serves this purpose, but doesn't actually prevent smaller threads from slipping through the cracks if they aren't right at the top of the feed. I would be interested in seeing some sort of customizable feature here, where you could specify what exactly qualifies as "low activity"; I'd be interested in having adjustable values for both an absolute number of comments and their frequency within a user-specified time frame. That might be too complex to actually implement, but I think it would be valuable.

    7 votes
  18. Comment on Becoming physically immune to brute-force attacks in ~comp

    Atvelonis
    Link
    I enjoyed reading this article very much, thank you for sharing it with us.

    I enjoyed reading this article very much, thank you for sharing it with us.

    4 votes