Skip to main content

Rant: NPC VI ////// A reality in which Douglas Adams saves the day

Caramblogage has, for a long time, been the main space I have aired thoughts in, hung out my brain to photosynthesise, ranted and expressed myself in a longer form than invites reading. I return here when I need to get stuff out of my head and talk to myself as if I were talking to an audience- Hello!

Most of what you find here is freeform writing that I supplement with a bit of research and/or personal views. In a time in which my feeling tells me most media (and the people following that media) is moving too fast to react coherently, consistently, this is a soapbox built of letters and words that I pontificate from at my own pace. I have chosen to present myself by thinking about things, rather than in person here- my personal life informs these thoughts, but does not help me express, or illustrate them. Though, if you’ve been here for a while, you’ll find some posts that prove the reverse- I illustrate my life with these thoughts, and express them through these illustrations, while receiving the occasional bit of information. 

I don’t plan to stop that. But: After what has been one of the strangest, most introverted years in my life, it became inevitable that the author would take a moment in this version of the spotlight. Being here, let me say this: it is not easy to end this series in a way that satisfies me personally. Beginning, the loose idea of exploring parallels between gaming and activism drove a rambling narrative that barely scratches the surface of the many facets of games and the gaming industry, the vastly different communities that populate this world and the many forms of storytelling, nor does it touch on the future implications of a generation that is increasingly turning to games as their primary form of entertainment. We did not look at the influence of games on education, labour or society- that may be a future installment, but it won’t be NPC. More or less the same thing goes for the activism part of the series- it is mentioned, and occasionally explored, but never with a depth that satisfies me entirely. Then again- there are reasons this is labeled as a rant. It frees me from having to prove a point and allows me to just write.

NPC was a pretext to talk about myself and the world that I saw emerge in a year that saw me play excessively due to a breakdown that led to sequestering myself into a virtual realm. Once it became obvious that I could no longer afford myself the luxury of remaining in that fetal position, I began thinking of ways to get out of it. The NPC series was one of these things, and a big part of a slow and painful waking of what felt like a dead body at the time. In some ways it still feels that way, but it’s more of an agile zombie than the mummy wrapped in layer upon layer of guilt, past and future it was at the beginning of 2017 and most of 2016. I’m afraid the craving for brains will never be cured out of me. 

At some point, I get tired of complaining of the state of life, and tired of hearing the same sympathetic phrases repeated, over and over, when I did complain. I am still tired as hell- that is unlikely to change anytime soon- but have regained some energy and possibly élan. Enough to get moving again and explore things that lie beyond the borders of the room I find myself in. Writing on the day of the French elections, I have to look outwards, not inwards, for a reaction to the world and a connection to it. Maybe my current attitude is best expressed in this brief exchange:

1 “So, yes. I’m back in this world.”
2 laughs “And did you find it to be much shittier than when you left it?”
1 “On the surface yes. But it’s business as usual, and it is the world we share. We gotta deal with that.”
And here, let’s talk about what I’ve been writing about for the past months, if only for the satisfaction of summarising- part of the attempt to bring this to a coherent close.
We talk about games again, going through NPC part by part, explore what can be translated from the virtual to the real world- some of this is quite tenuous. Some of it must have been about gaming without a meta-level. 

If a situation persists for long enough, it becomes the new normal. Which is where modding comes in- everyone can have normal off the shelf, and it’s generally a fine, but restricted experience. What matters is what you make of this normal- how you make it yours, privately and publicly. There is no such thing as a one-click life formula, nor does one size of normal fit all- and if we were to believe in that, we might as well be sitting in the glass cubes from “We”*. To keep it general- every life has a set of mods that you can apply to it, but you won’t find them if you don’t look for them, and work hard to integrate them into your everyday life. The trick is to persevere in getting all the mods you collect to work together and form a coherent, fluid, whole (preferably with a framerate of over 30fps), that does not crash your head after 30 seconds of use. If you manage to find that balance, and find that it sustains you personally and your interests, you will have accomplished a lot. Dying** often can lead to a better life. 

In life, as in games, you embody a character- you will wear masks, and act according to what is expected of that mask. This shouldn’t stop you from being surprising once in a while and doing unexpected things. The important thing is to keep yourself at the centre of your story and not forget that self when doing things for other people- you have a life, too, even if it does become subsumed in a greater cause occasionally- you may be player-centric, but there is a world that surrounds you. Be part of it, as you can- and do remember that you always have choices and paths to follow. Choose, always and don’t let yourself be guided by the idea of comfort- look outside your own world for new questions and occasional answers.

The role of NPC can be beneficial at times, as long as the N can be dropped when required. Games nourish the mind while leaving the body hungry for real adventure.

Everyone is an NPC to some degree, and comes with their own set of programming, priorities and agenda. We learn, over time, whom to keep around, whom to follow and whom to kill. How you structure your communications with these people will affect how you are seen and further interactions. Responsibility, friends and love matter. Choose your enemies wisely- they will define you and drive you to achieve as much, if not more than your friends do. 

Reality is not game reality- it is not subservient to your character. It is a dynamic system to which you adapt in two ways- you learn to overcome your own limitations and the limitations the system imposes upon the reality you inhabit. Immerse yourself in aspects of the world that fascinate you, and live that experience beyond what you feel comfortable with. And: narratives never really end recognisably except in fairy tales. They persist, even after the exciting parts are done with- how you choose to fill the gaps between grand adventures will very much define the next adventure you live. Even so, reality and normality are made up mostly out of perspective and perception over “matter”- this is either a shared or individual experience.

Reality sucks. Bodies suck. Life sucks. If all of the preceding are true, feel free to escape to wherever you can. Don’t forget to return.   

After more words than I have managed to write in a long time, there might be some useful thing hidden between the lines. We begin with the story of someone who has given up on themselves in one world-  he lost his words, description and understanding of self in relation to the world that surrounds him. We find a travelogue, complete with a pseudo-anthropological description of the natives and tribes encountered in these travels. We encounter seclusion and the loneliness of giving up. We find some holiday pictures, and a tentative relation of the virtual life to a more “real” one. Somewhere in the middle, a protest video is published. Honestly, I still don’t know quite what it protests, but it felt good to make it. Fill it with your own meaning.

Having expressed my (dramatic gestures) pain, anguish and anger at such length helped me order my mind and actions- to a point that I feel I can function again, as myself in society. The fundamental question all these ruminations have failed to answer is “What’s the point?”.  

One answer came- again- by accident- in the shape of 42. This number was made famous as the Answer to the Question about Life, The Universe and Everything in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. A few days (or is it weeks? Time is a very fluid thing in cyberworld.) ago, I found a short article explaining what the answer might mean: An asterisk ( Douglas Adams was apparently a huge nerd, and fascinated by everything computer, including ascii code. 42 is an ascii asterisk. (alt-42 will output an asterisk) An asterisk is be used as a wildcard character in computer language- hence 42 can be anything you want it to be. Those were the best 5 minutes I’d had in a long time. Elusive thought it was, there is a point. You make it yourself, without knowing exactly what it is- and it coincidentally brings us back to the idea of living in a computer simulation.

For some people, this may not be enough of an answer, or too convoluted a logic to apply to a pragmatic lifestyle. If I were to write “The purpose of life is to live it as you choose to”- this would not cover enough, as not all of life is made up of your personal choices. You do what’s gotta be done, and make choices whenever you can. You may wake up one day and discover you're happy, without knowing exactly how you got there.

I promised myself that getting there is what I would be doing once this series is over, so it’s about time to stop procrastinating and end it. I have no idea what's next. Enjoy this while it lasts.

* If you have not read Yevgeny Zamyatins We/Мы, do. As a piece of dystopian fiction, it is in the league of 1984, Brave New World, 1985 and A Clockwork Orange. It makes for good reading, too. It was turned into films- a very theatrical German adaptation from 1982 (Wir- and a sequel-ish experimental French adaptation in 2016 (The Glass Fortress 
** Death is an end and a beginning at the same time in Tarot. 


Popular posts from this blog

Two minutes: Addiction is Life is Yellow.

Addiction is a much-maligned, muddy word. Until (ca.) the 18th century, it connoted tendency and drive, rather than (self-) affliction. Opium changed that- reportedly. 
Lives described as addiction: to the approval and company of peers, to power and its accumulation, to enjoyment and personal satisfaction (to some people, this may be suffering) and to basics such as air, food, water… and possibly even living. When framed this way, and defined in reference to this word, life suddenly becomes a selfish pursuit in which the living will do anything to get their fix, devoted addicts all. 
On that note: Marylin Manson - I Don't Like the Drugs, But the Drugs Like Me. 
Also: Addiction is apparently yellow. 

HNS Diary 3: The Man Who Stole Nothing / الرجل الذي سرق المفيش

When Heba told me she had the prints, my first instinct was to burn them.
It had been a week since our first call concerning a series of golden silkscreen prints. She, Don and the manager of the gallery representing Heba had discovered them by accident at the Berlin Art Fair. The prints are rather unremarkable- a series of nine, subdued silkscreens of pictures taken off the internet, printed with a shimmering, golden hue. They reminded me of my grandmothers' furniture in Cairo. What they depicted, however, was very familiar to us- we had made it, and these were blatant copies of our documentation of the work on the Homeland set.
Set picture: Bottom left, next to the flag: This series does not represent the view of the artists.

What they had come across was a series by David Krippendorff entitled “This Show does not Represent the View of the Artist”, a tiny play on one of the slogans we used. I was somewhat flattered, at first, at this attempt at an homage, until I read the artists st…

A grain of rice can save the world…

…with a bit of help from all its other grains of rice friends.
Not being able to do decent research into nutrition forced me to get a bit creative with this one. And do actual maths. Thanks to Ugur & Silke for their help in this.
Extra Info: this is what a single grain of rice looks like close up:

from AMagill on flickr
I wonder if a series of single grain infographics would be would be interesting?