Dear Diary

On Staring At the Ceiling As A Legitimate Activity

I do a lot, I must say, to “give my brain a break.” I have a six book stack of YA fiction, mostly taken from book nerds on Tumblr, that I am working my way through. These are the kinds of books where nothing is remotely real, but most of it is quite enjoyable for just that reason. These are the books that I probably won’t review, or will review in batch in about a paragraph each. They’re just a way to relax at the end of a long day. And I have a lot of long days, because this season, I have overcommitted myself:
— I work full time as the adult specialist librarian at the Cypress Hills branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. At the library, I am involved in several committees, and will be responsible for a lot of training in the next couple months for other librarians. In addition, I plan and run programs for all ages at my branch, plus the normal clerical stuff librarians do. It’s a great job, because I am a people person with a lot of media interests and a good tech background. It fits me and I fit it. ūüôā
— I am taking a comparative politics course at NYU and a directed reading (i.e. an¬†independent study)¬†that was¬†supposedly on¬†Arendt but has morphed into the introduction to my thesis. I am a graduate student at NYU in the humanities and social thought. I am very interested in my thesis, but if¬†I could write my thesis without having to do anything else, including getting the MA itself, I probably would. I have learned that graduate school administration is full of extremely warm, enthusiastic¬†staff trying to navigate a whole lot of disjunction and dysfunction. If I still aimed to work in an academic library, I would want the MA for rubber stamp reasons. But that simply isn’t the case anymore, and I’m not sure grad school was ever a good fit for me, even the first time around (when I got my library degree).
— I am a senior editor for Anamesa, which is a journal my department publishes. The staff last semester, who asked me to do it, could not have had any idea that it would suddenly be Journal Revolution Season this semester, in which we are attempting to transform the entire project. This is a year long commitment, but I did bail for Spring semester.
— I am taking American Sign Language II. I love sign language, and am very happy to be doing this.
— I am editing my novel with actual editors. Three rounds as is standard: developmental, polish, copy edit. This is something that I can choose to do at whatever pace I want, but the part I have to pay for has been paid for already, so its a hard commit.
— I am taking two courses this semester, consecutively, at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Thought. They are four weeks each, three hours one day per week, and consist of only reading. The first one is an introduction to the Frankfurt school which is related to my thesis (and the justification for taking it). The second one, which starts in November, is on poetry and poetics.
— I have Games Club, where I write an open letter series on my blog about one indie PC game each month with a friend.
— I host board game days once a month at my apartment.
— I go to “Games with Strangers” on Saturday evenings at the Brooklyn Strategist.
— My roommate E and I are slowly finishing the TV show Fringe together.
— Theoretically, I should also be running a Kingdom meetup.

And that’s not even to get into dating and other random social activities, like the Halloween party, the whale watching, the farm visit, poetry brothel, etc.

So… doing nothing often can feel gross, especially nothing on top of nothing. But I have found that when your schedule gets extremely full like this, either due to over commitment (as in my case) or something outside of your control (work, family, something), it is not a waste of time to waste time anymore. Last night I spent upwards of three hours lying on my bed and spacing out, and it doesn’t feel like time badly spent. There’s a word in Portuguese, conseguir, which roughly translates to “get,” or “pull off,” and there comes a point where one’s mental faculties can no longer consegue anything at all. Where the whole notion of any particular process is simply out of the question. For most people, this time comes in between activities, whenever we space out. But if your schedule is as tightly packed as mine, sometimes you need to dedicate time for spacing out. In that case, staring at the ceiling is an excellent way to spend a few hours.

Hey Dylan PC Games

Quadrilateral Cowboy (PC Game) [Open Letter Series]

quadrilateral_cowboy_coverHey Dylan,
Quadrilateral Cowboy 
was, for me,¬†interesting in that it combined a sort of dystopian technocratic future with a puzzle game that, in terms of its own mechanics, was more serious (it made me think of¬†The Witness,¬†only insofar as how non-casual it sees itself as a puzzle game). ¬†It’s hard not to analogize, like a more serious¬†Portal. But — there is a thematic darkness in this game that is not humorous like¬†Portal¬†or zen like¬†The Witness. Rather, it seems to be constantly lonely. It seems significant that all the jobs in the game are set up, clearly, to protect something, and yet there are no other people. Your enemies are all objects. ¬†I found this loneliness the most appealing part of the game, the way it shaped and informed the coding and my presence in the game.

The train heist at the very beginning, especially the car that just had desk after desk after desk in it, was in many ways the perfect example of this. Train heists are generally depicted as ¬†about the of three things around the object to be stolen: moving vehicle, moving people, self. By eliminating the other people, you’re suddenly wondering about the point in an existential way. When you walk through a train car full of empty desks, you can’t help but wonder about where everybody went.

Aesthetically, I thought the game was beautiful, and obviously recognizable from¬†Blendo Games’ earlier work. I thought this game took advantage of the familiar aesthetic in a particularly compelling way. Maybe that’s because there is something gratifying about squares in a game that is about subverting objects. And I immediately loved the desktop interface. When I first went to save and it popped up, I think, was the moment when I really got sucked in.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I had been playing the game offline, and thus did not have access to what seems like a small thing at first but turns out to be thematically important: sticky notes left by friends playing the game. What is really¬†interesting about that feature is that it changes but doesn’t absolve or resolve any of the isolation in the game. It almost makes it more real and more complex.

I ended up replaying much of it on tourist mode, which was for me personally an even better experience, because my own preference would be to avoid timed puzzles. In tourist mode, you don’t actually have to do any of the coding, because the doors and etc just open with a click, but you¬†can¬†still do all the coding. It was basically the best. I was also really taken with the obvious encouragement to mod the game, and build community. I hope it becomes a cult classic, where in some odd number of years, some weirdos will be famous for having built brilliant levels!

I got really lucky in that I didn’t encounter any bugs — probably a side effect of accidentally playing offline — but when I started to dig around for why you weren’t coming up, I saw that there are some bug reports coming in. While obviously not ideal, the good news is that a developer who is active within his own community is more likely to encourage consistent participation in that community. Overall, I was really taken both with the actual game, the look of the game, and the spirit of the game, and I hope it lives to see some cool mods.


Be sure to see Dylan’s reply here, and my reply to his letter here.