Gaming Humour

Twelve steps to give up World of Warcraft?

Spotted in Wired Magazine and consequently making me laugh – represented in part here because it was neat (and directing your attention in particular to the bottom and third books from the bottom on the left). In addition recommending that you go and check out the full artifact from the future over on Wired’s site:

I’m going to get me a copy of the twelve-step guide to quitting World of Warcraft, and while I may pass on Mr Denton’s definitive history of weblogs, I’ll definitely pause briefly to see if I made the index.


Answering your Odeo questions…

About six weeks ago, I asked a bunch of you to record little voicemail messages for me using the little Odeo Voicemail-a-like feature. You can still send me these things if you want to: Send me an Odeo. Specifically I asked, If you could ask me one question what would it be? I was sort of expecting all manner of crappy insults from some of the people who read this site purely to shout at me about one thing or other, but in fact, the whole thing was extremely good natured, and I very much enjoyed it. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what to do next. I recorded replies to a few of them, but felt so self-conscious about the possibility of putting my voice out in public that I pretty much immediately deleted them all again. Turns out I’m much more shy than I expected – almost unfairly shy given how many of you were prepared to expose yourself in public.

What I think I’m going to do is post some of the questions that you’ve sent in with some nice text answers that I can just about deal with. And I’ll have a think in the background about other ways that I could use these widgets around in neat new ways – and I swear to God some of them will include me speaking. Just not yet. Not now.

Thanks to everyone who sent in some audio – if you’d like to be named or have a link through to your site put next to your question feel free to e-mail me at tom at the name of this website. Thanks a lot everyone for playing. It’s been fun!

Our first comment comes from Gord Fynes and you can hear it below:

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I could repeat the question but I think that would pretty much defeat the point of having the audio on the page, now wouldn’t it. So I’ll just jump right in. I think they do it upside down. I’m pretty sure they have molds that they coat lightly with chocolate to form the top half of the bar, which they then fill with goo. And only having done that would they put the base on. That’s my theory, anyway. Mmm. Cadbury’s chocolate.

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Next up – a nice cheery one from an anonymous caller – my death row meal would probably be something really dull like a good roast beef, yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, green beans, carrots and gravy. Probably with Horseradish and followed by my mum’s treacle sponge, or my gran’s treacle tart.

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So what this questioner is referring to is a piece I wrote a while back called Social Software for Set-Top Boxes about how you might be able to layer social engagement over TV, work that was inspired by some stuff that Matt Webb and I did at the BBC around Group Listening. The answer to the question ‘whatever happened to this kind of thing’ is that a whole bunch of people have been working around it for a while now – there was some work going on a few years ago which didn’t seem to get anywhere, some guys from PARC turned out to be thinking in similar areas, I’ve seen some people building communications stuff across TV in Israel and I believe that Microsoft put in for a patent about IM + TV earlier in the year. As ever, it’s a rare occurrence to come up with an idea that’s so radical and new that no one’s thought around the territory before. All you can really hope is that you can condense something and make it sharper or contribute in some way. Hopefully the thinking I did might help around that a bit. Who knows?

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I recognise this voice! This is O’Reilly’s own Nat Torkington with the incredibly insightful question, “Is there anyone in the TV show Nathan Barley who doesn’t map directly to someone on your blogroll?”

Okay, so I don’t have a blogroll, but the answer is probably er…. maybe. That show was so completely weird for me. I worked very briefly on the edges of a team at emap a few years back that was responsible for B3ta among other things. Cal was a rather more substantial member of the team, along with Denise Wilton and Rob Manuel. A regular mischief maker in the office was Joel Veitch of who was absolutely lovely and charming. Things I remember a lot from that period in time include Buffy’s Swearing Keyboard, spending a day colouring in this crab mask, the phrase shit is good and an image of a wanking monkey which I swear to god was directly referenced in the first few minutes of Nathan Barley. Let’s just say I was kind of peripheral to that scene, but Nathan Barley was more of a documentary than a comedy show and that Cal is of the opinion that the main reason that the show didn’t get a second series was because only about ten people in the world got half the jokes.

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Now this is a bloody good and slightly depressing question which I will spell out: Do you get frustrated that you don’t have the time to just make, create produce like you did in the past?. The answer to this question is incredibly simple – yes. Fundamentally, I worked out my life goals a few years ago and they are to get to a position where I have the freedom to get the things I want to be in the world made. Pretty much everything up until that point is a compromise, although it’s an interesting balancing act – you don’t necessarily have the time or the freedom to make the dream products like proper self-managing community software built around political self-reflexive rulesets, but you do get to explore unexpected areas and solve problems you might not have come into contact with in other ways. There’s a hell of a lot to be said for having to push yourself to find the soul or heart of a problem or a product in a territory that you might not have stumbled upon alone. It’s genuinely exploration. But sure, at some basic level there are things that I want to make and build and write and show and play with, and – like pretty much everyone else – I don’t have the time to explore those things or do these things as much as I’d like.

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Finally a nice simple question! I would say that the answer to this is probably the Phoenix or the Halcyon – two birds with very different lifecycles, one that dies in fire to be reborn and one that represents peace and tranquility across the waters.

Here’s an odd one. Someone decided that they should challenge me to name that tune:

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I’m afraid that I cannot name this tune. I feel like a failed human being and I apologise humbly from the depths of my soul. No more questions that humiliate me, please!

Anyway, we’re nearly done now. Here’s more of a comment from the lovely Yoz. It’s not really a question as such as it is a little discussion about the Odeo comment facility:

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Yoz’s point is an interesting one – that having the facility to record podcasts doesn’t necessarily result in good quality podcasts, and that actually being able to write text is often less intimidating for people than recording their voice. For a start, you can edit what you say much more easily in text than in audio. And then there’s the horror of hearing your own voice and thinking you sound like an idiot. I’m well aware of these constraints, which is why, this time at least you’re not getting anything out of me…

That’s it. You’re done. And I’ll leave you with a comment from a certain Kerry Bailey who asked the question that you were all thinking but didn’t come out and say…

Humour Net Culture Television

Cybermen are Human 2.0?

According to Doctor Who, the Cybermen are Humans 2.0 (or more specifically, Human Point Two, which… means… very little). But I protest! I’m not sure Human 2.0 means anything at all! It’s just a stupid buzzword.

Of course it all started with that famous talk from ETech 2004, Is there a robot overlord in your future?. Then there were all those rumours about Dean Kaman showing a new invention to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, and them riding around on it for hours. And then the subsequent stories about Steve Jobs’ skin slipping off at Apple Keynotes and his new mission to “Crush humanity beneath the heal of the Cyber Leader forever“…

And then – of course – Tim O’Reilly had to create a bloody conference. I mean, seriously! Can’t people see this whole thing is just a buzzword!? It’s just a craze! There’s no substance to it at all. All fluff.

My personal opinion is that it’s just some way of getting some more money invested in the eradication of the human race after the whole World Conquest crash of the late nineties. I mean, sure – we’ve had some hard times recently. Daleks defeated in the far future. The whole Time War and everything. But this kind of shallow attempt to market a slow evolution in science as an end to all human freedoms is just wishful thinking and it has got to stop! I mean, can you believe it?! O’Reilly have even produced a bloody book!

Face it guys, there’s nothing new here that the Slitheen, Autons, Sea Devils or Microsoft haven’t tried a million times before. There’s no substance to it! No great evolution in zombification, no super-guns on the moon eradicating parallel universes. I’m not even sure I’ve seen a stomping moonboot! Hype. Hype. Hype. Hype. Hypey-Hypey Hype-Hype.

It’s for these reasons that I’ve decided to ignore this whole cycle, bury my head in the sand and not pay any attention to all my friends disappearing until such a time that I actually see a Cyber Leader erasing the leaders of this world with some kind of sonic blaster. And then, shortly after I’ve finished celebrating, I will finally be convinced. But not before! This I swear on the databanks of my enslaved robot family until the final years of this tiny crushable human civilisation. So there!


On Cyclops and the male gaze…

Okay. So here’s a quick theory that cropped up in my head a few years ago and I’ve never really got around to writing it down. It is, frankly, based on some pretty vague memories of some fast-and-loose reading of Laura Mulvey, Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud. It is also supposed to not be taken seriously, for those of you with no sense of humour about Psychoanalysis.

Cyclops is a super-hero and a member of the X-Men. His real name is Scott Summers. He’s been in and out of the team since the very beginning, when he was put in charge of the nascent group by the rather intimidating Charles Xavier. His power is to shoot massive red beams of force from his eyes, but this is a power he can’t control – apparently because of a knock to the head he suffered as a child. He wears a visor made of ‘ruby quartz’ that keeps these powers under control. He is obsessed with control, is repressed and constrained and probably has no sense of humour about Psychoanalysis either. Incidentally his father was abducted by aliens and became Corsair of the Starjammers, which is one of those things that could only happen in comics and has absolutely no bearing on the matter of discussion today. Before we get any further – here is a picture of Cyclops:

In the latest issues of one or other of the X-Men comic books there’s this whole bit about Emma Frost (telepath, professional sex-therapist and ex-bad-guy) doing some rather clumsy analysis of Scott and coming to the conclusion that his obsession with control and his problems with his abilities are all functionally built around a sense of inadequacy. The issue is entertaining, but not enormously convincing. I think I’ve got a better dumb theory for what the fictional character is about and why he is the way he is. And I’m going to tell it to you. In a minute.

The Death Star is an orbiting space station the size of a small moon. It has huge beams of light that come out of its front which are capable of destroying worlds. Here is a picture of the Death Star:

Now, what may or may not be obvious to some of you is that the Death Star resembles an enormous eyeball – a huge destructive eyeball in space – an eyeball with power very much like of Cyclops. Cyclops is – if you will – a humanised Death Star. But why do these images of destructive eyes recur? What’s the common foundation between the Death Star and the Super Hero and what can it tell us about teenagers, people and the act of looking?

Later psychoanalysts spends a fair amount of time talking about looking and the power relationships involved in looking. Laura Mulvey is the most obvious exponent of the idea of the Male Gaze in Film Theory, but it’s also more generally associated with Scopophilia and Voyeurism. Basically it comes down to a fairly simple set of concepts – that the act of looking is an act of power, or at least can be conceived of as such – that it objectifies the thing it looks at. And that’s objectification in its most literal sense – Lacanian Psychoanalysis argued that the Mirror stage at which a child could look at itself in a mirror and understand the relationship between the image and reality was in fact the first time it would have a sense of having a self at all – although having recognising it, this self would always be slightly distant and abstracted. The child created itself as an object in the mirror. It’s quite fun stuff.

Anyway, the act of looking can thus be conceived of as an act of imposing power upon someone, and – if you’re in the mood to – can be thought about as a phallic and penetrative act. It’s an act that has an effect on the thing it’s examining, and potentially a violent and invasive one.

So here’s my theory about Cyclops. His power is a metaphor for the kind of looking that appears in adolescence. It’s the kind of looking associated with sexual desire, and in the furrowing and explorative way that the male (and potentially female – I’m not a woman, I couldn’t say this for sure) eye roams and explores the body. It’s a kind of looking that – while perhaps not a form of violence in itself – could certainly be conceived of as a form of violence from the perspective of a teenage boy trying to deal with a whole range of apparently dirty feelings. Ashamed and uncomfortable with the thoughts racing through his head, and with the way his eyes catch and stick to other people’s bodies, Cyclops cannot deal with this newfound power and freaks out. The visor is an attempt to deal with and control the way he looks at people, and is a symbol of the profound and overwhelming repression of the sexual component of his id. His phallic looking has to be contained and restrained at all odds.

From the perspective of the teenage reader, of course, the character is nothing but a vehicle for exploring hero narratives – but the super-power is also surruptitiously providing a nicely mediated way for the reader to explore issues around their anxieties over emerging sexuality and physical power. Which is why it’s interesting to me that over the years, as the demographic for comic books has flattened and readers have become older, that Cyclops is continually a subject for re-examination and re-exploration. The problem is, for Cyclops to loosen up and become a more adult figure he’d have to sacrifice the wonderfully powerful premise of his character and somehow regain control of his abilities – probably in the most banal way possible, by somehow being able to look at the female figure with his visor off, subsequently leaving him ‘fixed’. But without this premise, he’s just one of a million other super-heroes with dumb powers that no one really cares about.

Anwyay, that’s my theory around Cyclops. I’d be fascinated to hear what you guys think. And not only about him, but about other super-heroes too. Clearly there’s an element of simple hero-fantasy wish-fulfilment going on in all of them. But are any of the other ones exploring teenagey issues in an abstracted, metaphorical way? To arms, both of my readers! Share your thoughts…

Humour Language

On Pokemonetisation…

Only colleague (but not for long) Simon Willison and I have been spending a hell of a lot of time over the last three weeks sitting in a tiny room with lots of whiteboards puzzling over motives for collecting and sharing and – frankly – it’s semi doing my nut. Not that it’s not an interesting subject, because it completely is, but because it’s such a big and varied territory. And with only the beautiful OmniGraffle and the amiable Tom Chi to break up the intense thinking (with doodles and … er … more intense thinking), something eventually was bound to snap, and snap it has. So late last week, at something like ten in the evening when we were busy fiddling with some mock-ups or scribbles, at the precise moment that the moon passed overhead and the perfect synchronicity of movements sent a beam of light directly into Simon’s brain, he had a moment of divine revelation, channelled our collective enthusiasm and limited brainpower and came up with this:

It’s pretty awesome, I’m sure you’ll agree. And while it’s not totally a web neologism because of the Googlewhack of the Americanised Pokemonetize, it’s so much more elegantly extemporised that basically I think ours wins. I say ours because basically I’m in charge of using Simon’s brain at the moment, so really it’s mine by default. Who wants to touch us? I said who wants to … touch us?


Los Angeles is a pretty weird town…

I think the most troubling bit is the doors into the abdomen – behind which presumably lurk massive pulsing internal organs. Anyway, just arrived, have got computer access again and am now planning to digest the last couple of weeks pretty thoroughly with Mr Biddulph. This should mean that there’s at least a temporary increase in dumb posts.


In praise of chocolate business cards…

Earlier this year I went to State of Play III and I always meant to write up what happened there, but I never had time. Too easily distracted by shiny new things and by the confusion of switching jobs and trying to make sense of Yahoo and worrying about things and playing a little too much World of Warcraft (European servers / Dendrassil / Pentheus or Andromache – should you want to say hello).

Well don’t think for one moment that any of that confusion has changed, or that I suddenly have enormously more time, because I don’t. And this is simply another post in the ‘any movement is good movement’ attempt to unclog my weblogging self. So what I’m going to talk about instead is the really cool chocolate business card that Kenyon & Kenyon gave out in the goodie-bags, which I’ve just rediscovered, photographed and then promptly eaten. The chocolate was at the better end of American shop confectionary, but not enormously good. But it was free, and it sure as hell made me remember the company. Maybe you could make business cards out of pressed ¬£50 bills or something. That would probably rock a little more. But not much…

Addendum: (Added Thursday January 5th 2006): I’ve just got an e-mail from Justin Blanton who did an internship with Kenyon last summer and says that for Christmas 2004 they got given a huge slab of chocolate decorated with a picture of their New York offices on the front. You can see the beautiful object here: Kenyon Christmas Chocolate.

Advertising Design Humour

BP adverts look just like my site!

About a month ago I was watching television and an advert for BP appeared and goddam did their new advertising aesthetic look like my site. Now I’m not seriously suggesting that they ripped off the design of my site, but the synchronicity is pretty astonishing – particularly given that used an exclusively yellow highlight for a few months early on. I tried to take a picture of the TV at the time, with no success (lots of banding and stuff) but last night I was on an escalator in a tube station and stumbled upon a huge block of billboards. And here are the pictures:

So it’s all quite funny and entertaining and everything. We’re clearly all meshed with the same zeitgeist or whatever, but in the spirit of accidental crossovers (particularly given the acronymic similarity between BP and and inspired by a comment by Mr Paul Hammond, I’ve remixed their logo in return to make it fit with the various colour schemes. Maybe I’ll use it as a logo for a while sometime in the future… Hopefully they’ll see the joke and won’t sue me or anything:


Traffic Cone Mating Season…

Traffic Cone mating season

I was walking through the back of Paddington, by London’s Westway on my way home the other day and came across this strange orgy of traffic cones. This may explain why there are so many of the damn things all over London.

Humour Net Culture

From pirate dwarves to ninja elves…

I have always considered the profound distinction between ninjas and pirates to be an absolute one. One was either ninja or pirate – there were no inbetweens. One personality type was skilled and proficient, elegant and silent, contained and constrained, honourable and spiritual. The other type loud and flamboyant, gregarious and unrestrained, life-loving and vigorous, passionate and strong. I thought all people must pledge their allegiance, or be categorised accordingly.

The other day at work, another binary pair was presented to me – a co-worker who doesn’t declare people pirate or ninja, but instead elf or dwarf. For him, humanity falls into doers and thinkers – elves being elegant and timeless, conceptual and refined, abstract and beautiful while dwarves are practical and structural, hard-working and no-nonsense, down-to-earth smiths and makers. It’s a view of the world that’s expounded a bit in Cryptonomicon.

The wonderful thing about both of these classifications systems is how unladen they are with value-judgements. It is possible to consider an elven person to be intellectual and high-concept, or pretentious and useless. It’s possible to view a pirate as boorish and crass or as vivacious and life-loving. It is not better to be ninja or pirate – the world needs both. And the creativity generated by the collision of elf and dwarf is far greater than could be achieved by elf or dwarven kind alone. Not only are there no categories that come prejudged inferior or superior, but also people have no problem self-categorising themselves – there’s no shame to be felt in any of their self-classifications.

Both systems have these qualities – but still we’re left with a conundrum. Although so similar – the systems are different. So how to make them work together? Confronted with a collision between two such radically different ways of conceptualising the world, obviously our minds started working overtime. Could we find a way to map the two categorisation schemes onto one another? Could we declare all ninja’s inherently elven? Or all dwarves intrinsically piratic? The more we considered the issue, the harder it seemed to achieve some kind of detente. And then it came to us – a new view of the world, transcendent and illuminatory – a way not only to make the two systems work together but to make each infinitely more illustrative in the process! At that moment the Ninja/Pirate/Elf/Dwarf theory of human classification came into being – and with it the crowning achievement of all managerial arts, the following graph:

As you can see – the ninja/pirate polarity has become a spectrum. The elf/dwarf polarity has followed suit – it is now possible to exist directly between the extremes. But this spectrum is at right angles to the first, generating a person-space with an infinity of different potential placements. People now can be hardcore ninja dwarves, or err towards the piratic side of elfdom. Within this graph all humanity exists in all its polyphonic splendour.

Think of some of the humble bloggers on my blogroll. Where would they live? Ben Hammersley has something of the pirate about him. This is not a restrained man of quiet honour, but a proud warrior of the sea – hair flowing in the breeze. But his skills are more evenly tempered between the conceptual and the practical – as best evidenced by his work on the schema for various syndication formats. His position is clear. Matt Jones is far closer to elf than dwarf, but as swashbuckling as a man can come. Not so Dan Hill, elven once more but evidencing the self-mastery and discipline of a true ninja.

It takes little effort to spot the ultimate ninja’s quiet responsibility and attention to detail in the work of Jason Kottke and Matt Webb and both straddle the technical divide between thinkers and doers. Mark Pilgrim on the other hand has achieved a balance between ninja and pirate, while plunging into the vigorous constructive heart of dwarvish ways. And so it continues – until I can map almost my entire blogroll accordingly:

And it doesn’t end there! You could plot people’s operating systems against it – Dwarves being more Linux-focused, elves more Apple-oriented. Pure graphic designers have a tendency towards the top right, interaction designers are spread across the top. You can also deduce a lot about the people I tend to associate with online – there’s an enormous clump of people on the pirate / ninja axis who aren’t heavily elf or dwarf. In this context, this suggests a group of old-school web people who have tended toward balanced expertises across a range of disciplines. It’s interesting how those people with more clearly defined job roles tend to move towards the corners too.

Now it’s over to you – take this epic revelation and place yourself within it. If you are a life-loving pirate with dwarvish leanings, perhaps you’d like to assemble a quiz to locate people against the axes like on that rather less important and trivial Political Compass site. I would love to help, but I’m simply not capable. What can I say, I’m an elvish pirate – I have better things to do with my time…