Hey Dylan Media PC Games

Spiritfarer (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #3

fishing in the evening

[Note: this is the third in a four letter series with Dylan Holmes
The first is here:
Dylan’s reply is here:]

Hi Dylan,
It’s interesting what you say about the (lack of) critiques – I didn’t know much coming into this other than that Spiritfarer was generally liked and that it was a gentle game about dying. But I quickly found the narrative to be nearly nonexistent, a byproduct of the mechanics which were dumbed down on purpose. Now if they hadn’t been, I probably wouldn’t have been able to play it at all. I know I said earlier that I thought the game should either be better written or more mechanically normal (a platformer for people who like platformers) and that I suspected it would be easier to make a good platformer that has some reflection on death than a well written game about death with some simple platformer mechanics. To put it even more succinctly, the game doesn’t work for me as a narrative one, and there are two main reasons why.

The first is that the writing is spotty — some of it is good, some of it is moving, and most of it ranged from okay to not so great. There is nothing that makes up for bad writing in a narrative game, even if it was the most visually stunning game to ever exist, it would still be tough to sit through. This was intended to be a narrative game and doesn’t have another basis on which to think about it really — it obviously shouldn’t be measured as a platformer. That said, I feel like if you made an exceptionally good platformer about death and took out most of the platforming, this is exactly what you would have left. My dad used to say that he wished scifi tv shows didn’t use camaraderie as a set up for an emergency interruption, he wanted whole shows of spaceship crews just hanging out with each other. But if those tv shows actually did that (rather than writing new shows), they would suddenly seem extremely flat, like spiritfarer does for me — its missing at least half of itself.

The second reason is that the game isn’t really about death, it’s about regret, but it doesn’t know that. When the characters of this game talk about death, and being ready for death, they talk about all the things they meant to do or be, that they didn’t accomplish or didn’t have time for. But death is more than just a finish line on your endeavors, it’s the end of consciousness as we know it, without any hard evidence to suggest that there is something afterward. What it means to deal with death is not just letting go of your life’s work, and it isn’t just about letting go of the physical act of living, it is about ceasing to be. This game doesn’t really know what it means to consider the gravity of death and death’s inevitability. That suggests to me that the writers are either literally young or young-in-experience.

But the game does offer a reflection on what it means both to outlive someone else and to let go of an identity or idea of self. This game is strongest when the answers aren’t satisfying, which happens most often at the end of each character’s time with the player, when they’re getting ready to cross over and thinking back. Most of the time, their conclusions are not definitive, they’re uncertain. The only character who speaks with moral clarity in the game is Stanley, and his is the moral clarity of a child, very recognizable and a rare example of good writing in Spiritfarer. I also love the sound design in the game, even the repeat sound bites like Albert’s laugh. As I said earlier, I especially love all the sounds associated with the snake, who I believe is named Summer.

The premise for this game is really strong, but the narrative is lacking because the character development is lacking. The character development is lacking — in my opinion — because as it stands, this is a platformer with the platforming removed, and not a narrative game, not really. That’s why the minigames don’t connect to the narrative core; there is no narrative core, there’s just a great premise. In Stardew Valley, the narrative core is really strong; it isn’t just about the character’s stories and the relationship building, it’s also about this idea that you were working in a cubicle and you gave it all up for a plot of land. It’s about how you contribute to the town and how the characters respond to your contribution. The narrative is tied in directly to the management; the way you manage your resources affects the whole community and even many of the mods reflect that theme of connecting your own management with the larger story of Stardew Valley (the community). But not many people would call Stardew Valley a narrative game, they’d call it what you do — “a fleshing of the world.” But of course it is narrative elements that flesh the world, and the mechanics of the game give the player the opportunity to find those narrative elements in a way that feels mostly organic.

I wish I had better things to say about Spiritfarer, but ultimately it didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m curious to know if there are any games you’ve ever played that have said something interesting about death, because exploring death philosophically in gaming remains a very intriguing premise.


[Read Dylan’s final reply here:]

Hey Dylan Media PC Games

Spiritfarer (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #1

fishing in the morning

Hi Dylan,
I was optimistic about Spiritfarer because it seemed like something I should love: a deep subject and easy mechanics. Spiritfarer, if our intrepid readers do not know, is a game by Thunder Lotus Games that came out last August, about death and letting go. It has rave reviews that, unfortunately, I must disagree with.

The game is very sweet and simple, but the writing is rarely good and the play quickly begins to feel like a chore. There were some standout moments: Stanley’s play, Atul’s character in general, Gustav’s comment about art on his way out. I wanted to love it, and indeed, the final scenes are lovely, but the game itself fell flat for me.

I believe the problem stems from the fact that the dialog was supposed to be functional and reflective simultaneously. It was “here, do this task,” and “thinking about what I need to do before I go forever,” at the same time — it didn’t work. The tasks themselves, with just a couple exceptions, were equally bland for me.

Rather than dwell on the overall disappointment of the game, I will mention a few of the best things.

1) Stanley’s play, as I mentioned earlier is a delight – it was extremely believable that a little boy would want to put on a play for the grownups and that the play would reflect his hopes and fears in a very straightforward way. The guests for me were Atul and Gustav, which were frankly perfect.

2) Atul’s final dinner, followed by the way he goes, both spoke to me. It felt to me exactly how he would explain his idea of the perfect way to go if he were alive and telling his family and friends at a party.

3) For some reason, I absolutely loved the sound effects associated with the character Summer- I loved her voice, and the tune she played to make the plants grow.

4) Albert’s jokes!

I also noticed and appreciated the fact that nobody leaves fully certain. Spiritfarer as a game is about helping the dead accomplish what they need to in order to move on. But when they do move on, none of them are sure that they have accomplished it; they only know it’s time to go.

Absolute certainty, especially moral certainty, is almost always a product of delusion or something even more nefarious – even scientists will tell you that science is in the business of evidence, not proof. The fact that this uncertainty is true of every character makes me think it’s intentional on the part of the writers.

The art is lovely, and I think this game would have been better as a game if it were a true platformer, even though I would have a hard time playing it. It seems like it would be easier for this dev team to make a good platformer than it would be for them to write complex characters (not a jab – plenty of excellent games have approached heavy topics through game mechanics instead of writing). But if they wanted, they could go in the other direction and substantially limit the “task” mechanic and instead, spend more time on character interaction and development. Either way, this game needs to choose a path.

As I’m sure you know, not every game is gonna be a winner for me. I would have played this one with or without games club, too; it just seemed like an obvious pick since we were both picking it up.

A game that also takes on endings and death that I love, love, love is The First Tree. It’s much shorter and simpler in design, but the play and the text are very well connected. I would love to hear what you thought about them in comparison — maybe I can convince you to play The First Tree after you’re settled around the corner from me :).


PS: were you a completionist that went and got Buck? Or did you skip the lighthouse spirit?

[Dylan’s first reply here:
My reply to Dylan here:
Dylan’s final reply:]

Hey Dylan

Spycraft: The Great Game (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #4

[Please see Dylan’s opening letter (#1):
My response to Dylan’s letter here (#2):
Dylan’s response to my second letter here (#3):]

Hi Dylan,
I actually think about what a fun spy game would be like a fair amount, in part because I think you could play a really exceptional one using social media. One of the things that I think doesn’t get talked about a lot in terms of the lack of sexiness that is spying for the state, is that state secrets aren’t very interesting, except to conspiracy theorists. The few conspiracy theorists I know very much enjoy talking about color revolutions, but frankly nobody else cares too much – if anything, state secrets are embarrassing. But secrets in general sure aren’t boring.

So what would a good spy game look like? I think the first requirement is that the player’s character shouldn’t be working for a state agency. Whether it be big tech, or personal intrigue, or a more cerebral concept, like a game where you follow one piece of information and watch as it gets shaped and molded into different narratives, the days of revealing how state affairs that seem interesting and sexy are actually institutional and boring are probably behind us. I think we’ve all kind of figured that out.

If it were me, I would probably attempt to design the game that I think Will Wright is always attempting to design: the one that transcends fiction and integrates with the real. Because spying is about information – and because we are producing information at such an incredible rate that we now have books about information anxiety – it should be possible to create a game about spying using real world, real-time information. Rather than trying to get information that is locked up or classified, the player would be trying to find public information that is obfuscated, connect clues and uncover narratives.

I’m not sure whether I brought this up in the first letter, but another thing that sticks out about this game is the kind of serious that it is. It has a sort of tangential relationship to Kentucky Route Zero in that I think it’s trying to do something subtle to reveal a complex condition. In the present time, that can be very comforting or it can feel like work, because either it is nice to be reminded that thoughtful people produce work that defies rhetoric, or it feels like the work many of us must do now to breach the very real rhetoric around us. Like my mom says about The Sims – why would I spend hours pretending to live when I have to actually live? Still, bringing that seriousness to the game (which is already very present in the opening which as you mentioned, and I mention, I love) is ambitious, and I have a lot of respect for it.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the game to players who don’t already have a particular love of playing old games. Unlike Grim Fandango, for example, I think Spycraft: The Great Game is not the kind of cult classic that will charm you immediately or will hold your attention. The audience for the game is really people who enjoy the aesthetic of older games and the population of people, which seems to me is likely to be small, whose interested in thinking about complex stuff spans all types of media. Most people I know who game don’t do so in order to think philosophically, although I do know many people who enjoy thinking philosophically who game – they just tend to separate the activities.

As for me, Games Club allows me to experience games I would otherwise never pick up or never finish, and this is one example. I would like to be the kind of person who would finish this game because of its novelty and thoughtfulness without the extrinsic motivation, but I can tell you that the mini games feature is difficult for me to stick with when I’m only playing for my own entertainment.

The ambitions of earlier game developers, particularly where narrative is concerned, often amaze me. When I think of some of the Infocom games, The Longest Journey, this game, and more – and when I think of the narratives of games coming out more recently that are modeled on the old games, like Broken Age – I can see sustained effort that often goes unrecognized. I am not talking about the “Are games art” debate or even “can games be serious,” and not “can games show you the experiences of people unlike you,” but I think, rather, “do games have roots in the examination of the human condition?” I think the answer is yes. As happens with books and films too, it sometimes feels like work just because of that fact, and that was the case with this game for me.

Looking forward to the next game, Spiritfarer, which is somehow about mortality and death and still a much lighter game – ha!


Hey Dylan PC Games

Spycraft: The Great Game (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #1

[Note: This is a reply to Dylan’s opening letter]

Hello Dylan,

Lovely to be returning to this after so much time, and so many different life events!

I will start by saying that I didn’t love Hypnospace Outlaw – I know, I know, but for me, the aesthetic and mechanics were extremely grating, even though the story was strong. I had to force myself through it. But as you know, I absolutely got into Her Story, Digital: A Love Story, and I have yet to jump into Telling Lies but I look forward to it. I also come to this with the history of having played Phantasmagoria, the FMV horror game by Roberta Williams, a bunch when I was younger. I can still vividly recall some of the scarier scenes. In my later years, I can say that the great appeal of that game is that I wasn’t allowed to play it. It belonged to a friend’s mother, and we stole it from her home office. But as you know, I absolutely, positutely, *adored* Toonstruck, which was a little like Who Framed Roger Rabbit in terms of how it transitioned from live action to animation. However, the puzzles were admittedly ass, in that you often had to look stuff up, especially towards the end of the game. It has been so long since I’ve booted up Toonstruck that storywise, I can remember only the very beginning and the moment at the halfway point when the big plot twist happens which at the tender age of however young I was the first time I played it, I absolutely did not see coming and was completely floored and excited.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised by Spycraft: The Great Game because unlike Phantasmagoria or Toonstruck, it was a good game — good play, good acting, and even a decent script.

The opening immediately captured my attention. I loved the way they had the cynic giving his tell-all while the actual CIA mission statement played across the screen. I immediately felt like I could trust the developers to deliver an intelligent and compelling story. I also thought the “test mission” to choose which agent will move forward as a mechanic for introducing a tutorial was really cute. I did worry for awhile that I had to take notes, because there was a lot of information, and unlike a point and click adventure, there was no scribbling sound followed by a blinking journal icon to let me know that this was information worth storing and I could find it again in the journal. Oh my god, the first person walk made me so happy too! It just immediately reminded me of The West Wing, so that was squee the second for me (the first was the opening). I didn’t come into this with a bias about FMV games per se, because I really only had good experiences playing them as a kid, but I was wary of one particular aspect that usually gives me trouble in video games: stealth. Fair concern, right? Coz spies have to be stealthy.  But for people who are tired of getting stuck having to race to disable the thingamajig while the big red numbers tick down, the good news is this game is a lot more about information processes and a lot less about the sexy spy thing.  Like you said, more realistic than a James Bond flick. But even with the technology. A film camera with a chip in it that records low res backups is far more believable than any Bond gadget.

And at least part of the reason why it’s more realistic is because it combines actual CIA footage with 35mm film and really makes an effort to disillusion the player, including the ending that you mention. One thing I wonder is whether the plot is as involved as it is in order to portray reality as well. In a movie, I think there would be less people, and less things happening. You mention it’s nonlinear and I agree, but I wonder if it was an attempt to be nonlinear originally or an attempt to to make an unwieldy amount of plot work. Either way, it is engaging and not a downside.

The minigames situation that you refer to was a little annoying for me in the same way that minigames usually are. I am one of those party poopers who hates the arcade game that you can play inside the game you’re playing. Not the interfaces, which I often found charming, but the structure of having to complete this challenge, then “go back” to “the real game” and then repeat. But overall, I also enjoyed this game and the mechanics.

You know, I don’t really understand why it’s so intent on disillusioning the player, but I do feel like that is both what gives it its authenticity and an underlying intention. When I was in graduate school, the CIA came to a job fair and they absolutely struck me the way you describe, ” tool for people who know better than you.” But why would you build a computer game around that idea. In particular, why would you design a computer game that leaves the player particularly unlikely to value the CIA or what it does? Not that I think it’s a bad thing, but it does make me wonder hmmm, who were the developers friends with? Where did the money for this game come from? Because it is, ultimately, a political narrative, even if it’s one I agree with. But I will say I really like that aspect from a literary perspective, it’s really nice to play a spy game as a top spy who is basically forced to be a dead eyed state functionary in all the ways that really mean something and get the fire burning. In short, learning that the everyday person is more likely to have the room for bottom line ethics than a superspy. Kinda neat.


PS:  I was looking at reviews of this game on Steam and check out this quote: “I remember this game like it was yesterday. This is how I first applied to the Agency, using this game. I was one of the first recruits to be digitally recruited using the internet.” I can’t think this is remotely true, especially because it ends with him getting hired by the Wizards at Langley, but I found it hilarious nonetheless.

[Dylan’s response here:
My final response here:]

Media Non-Fiction

Walking With The Wounded


And you used to speak so easy

I have been listening to “Wounded” by Third Eye Blind and considering what would happen if that song came out now. A group of white men recorded a song about how the speaker would like to be intimate with a survivor, and how he wishes she could come back from the dark place she is in. The feminist critiques that spring to mind are numerous, but all revolve around the same principle – centering the white male gaze in the story of a woman who has been the victim of sexual abuse. Is it fair to say that’s what the song is about? Is that even the right question, is it fair.. does this explanation meet the guidelines of what the normative imaginary finds comfortable? Is that how you ask, “what does this song mean?”

I found this big nerd when I was looking up the lyrics to the song (because it sucks when you write a whole long thing on the basis of lyrics you completely misheard, right?), and he argues that we can expand this notion of relating to a victim to relating to the victim aspect in all people, up to and including the ways in which we are victimized or even victimize ourselves.


You’re afraid to talk to me.

Mirroring this rejection of acceptability politics (whatever the fuck) is a different, more fragile idea. I have an instinctive feeling that despite the elegance of the argument about the white male gaze, there is something fundamentally dishonest about dismissing the experience of being proximal to pain. Not only because of the emotional labor that a person does in the presence of pain, but rather because we are all in pain, and near as we are to each other, we are nearest to ourselves.

It seems to me that we live with two contradictory truths. The first is that pain is a temporary handicap that quarantines a person from serious personhood for its duration. We accommodate people in pain until they are “on their feet again,” and in return we know that when we are suffering, we have that same network to fall back on.

The second truth is that there’s nothing temporary, nor selective about living with pain; we are all doing it all of the time.  We must consider people seriously even as we accommodate them without any end point in sight, outside of death itself.

The confusing tangle this contradiction makes of what we think we might be, and the relationship of that to what we claim to be, is at the center of being in the world. I have a feeling you know what I mean, that like me, you have at least some dim awareness that there may be parts of us that we ourselves have to meet. Call it the divine notion of a soul, call it the Kantian idea of things as-they-are vs. things-as-we-see-them, call it marketing psychology, call it individuation. We try calling it a lot of things, but there’s something lost in the systematization of self-encounter.

Specifically, in the quest for the freest will, a kind of control that is naturally beyond the scope of what we are capable, but which we are assured is our right and the thing most worth fighting for, we lose the ability to recognize pain we do not want because its very presence indicates a lack of control. Perhaps it’s better to say, we refuse to recognize pain we did not make. Perhaps it’s best to say we are afraid to face reflective pain – the existential pain that reflects back from the plain of our souls, like sunshine on snow.



It’s like walking with the wounded

The point is precisely that it is a matter of course, of every day happening, that we meet each other and ourselves amidst pain. It is difficult to countenance and yet brutally true that even the best public dialog has an obscuring property, something that is left in the dark in order to highlight something else. Right now our society is dominated by conversations about power and equality and these are important ideas. What they obscure, by definition, is the socially indiscriminate — those phenomena which do not privilege anyone, cannot have anything to do with political equality or anything man made at all. Existential pain is one such thing, there is no human structure that can prevent it, and no institution that can ensure it is doled out equally.

When confronted with public debates about political privilege, I fail myself and everyone else when I do not raise the point that to not take into consideration the pain that is not created by us is to fail all of us. I don’t bring it up in part because it’s difficult to say without sounding like an utter cliche. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”


Carrying that weight way too far, concrete pulled you down so hard

It seems as though a significant percentage of Americans in post-X generations take as an assumption that political justice speaks to or solves the personal struggle of being in an unjust world. To which we have to face two different and difficult truths: the first is that the injustice in experience — when something bad happens to you or something feels bad for reasons that are not or mostly not your fault — cannot be solved by just systems, because the injustice is endemic to nature. Justice is a human notion. Older religions seemed to acknowledge this: they valued people who were clever, or survivors, over the virtuous and the kind.  It may even be true that religious notions which downplay these traits were originally politically motivated to engender subservience.  That is, not that some divine will wants people to be subservient, but rather the political machinations of man made religious institutions might want that. Either way, this leads to the second, more devastating truth: whatever conditions are responsible for the logic that social justice is the same as personal well being deprive us of what leads to genuine well being, human connection. Let me be clear: the logic of social justice works against the emotional sense of homecoming and home-being that arises from feeling close to other people.  It’s not necessarily intentional because the work of social justice often involves the deconstruction of comfort, but it can be intentional. To wit, any time anyone suggests that you should endeavor to remain actively angry all of the time, that is a rather obvious incitement to be unhappy.

That isn’t to say that social justice is meaningless or that working towards a more just society is futile, or will make everyone unhappy. Rather, it is to say that the work towards social justice is not the same as the work towards feeling at home in yourself and the world. The latter is accomplished through the familiar human connection of companionship and camaraderie. Acts of friendship as opposed to activism. If you try to turn your own personal struggles into the structures of social justice, you will do yourself a grave injustice. Give yourself permission to love across the boundaries of partisanship. I specifically mention friendship here because it is the most universal kind of love that is still particular in each instance — no two friendships are the same, and people who are very different from each other can develop close friendships. Friendship is to homecoming what partisanship is to representing.  Right? So your political views speak to what you represent, and your friendships speak to the home you build yourself in the society where you are.

It’s easy to silo this distinction — we get personal satisfaction from friends and societal well being from politics — and call it a day, but that is to overlook an extremely important point, which is that existential pain is mixed up in both struggles, the one for belonging and the one for justice. It might seem like it should follow that a just society relieves existential pain by literally making it easier to exist. But ease is not the axis upon which we tend to value our existential being. How we do measure that value is complex but what is unquestionably true is that it it is bound up with the feeling that we are, personally, recognized — that we are known — and simultaneously that we can recognize, that we can know others. This kind of personal connection cannot be replaced with political solidarity, and when we try to do so, we build into the fabric of our society a tendency towards carrying pain around that we are not allowed to claim because it would be “unjust.”

For example, it is unjust for the speaker in “Wounded” to center his own desire to be close to a woman who has been victimized instead of centering her needs. That is the political read, the personal one will seem intuitively obvious to us: he was close to someone who was hurt badly and whose relationship with him has been hurt as a result, and that sucks for him, too. Both of these reads highlight something important about experience, both are methods for approaching pain. It seems as though it is taken as an assumption that personal happiness is secondary to, or less important than, social justice. This view offers us a false dichotomy, it is not one or the other, it cannot be. Achieving justice is important. Achieving happiness, where happiness is defined as a sense of belonging and comfort with oneself, is not the same thing and often requires us to see past narratives of political privilege and power, to validate the battle each person is fighting.


Out there with the wounded, we’re missing you.

Having established, I hope, that it’s okay to be in pain, it’s okay to recognize that pain, and it’s okay to recognize each other’s pain, regardless of any kind of question of justice, I think there is something offered here that can be taken as a comfort. I mention this because I understand that stepping back and saying, hey hold on a minute, this pain of being is endemic to my experience, it is not going to go away when we achieve political equality, is, in a way, a little bit crap. Maybe it’s not ideal that pain is something we carry around all the time, and maybe it sucks that it turns out the answer isn’t solidarity, or worse, that there may not be an “answer.” Not countering, but possibly altering our perspective on the notion of unavoidable, unending pain — that is a condition of existential being — is an idea I have that we naturally seek and share our existential concerns as a way of building intimacy between each other. Even though there is an aspect of homecoming that is coming home to the pain that perhaps was obfuscated or avoided via the rhetoric of politics, that same pain can be the catalyst to its opposite, the feeling that you are, without a doubt, exactly where you’re supposed to be.

It resonates with my experiences and understanding of the world to say that there is a way in which covering up or not acknowledging that kind of personal pain not only makes you lonelier but actually contributes to a general sense of fragmentation among the people you come into contact with. To wit, when you first realize that there are certain things you can’t say or believe, certain ways you cannot be, if you want to be loved in any situation, it’s going to be alienating. Sometimes that’s unavoidable, because every person really does have their boundaries, of course, but there’s a particular interaction in which it is clear that one person has bought into a set of ideas that he or she is repping — not a case of personal discomfort but rather a form of apologetics, “I refuse to meet you where you are because I have to justify my political ideology.” This moment is fraught intellectually as the focal question arises: why are we attempting to replace the personal experience of homecoming with the political experience of solidarity? But it’s also fraught in the basic, emotional way that a rejection is always fraught: “you can’t come in, you’re not welcome here” is a message that leaves the people who receive it more alone in their battles. Again, sometimes this rejection is necessary, and when that is the case, it is ultimately for the good, but where it is because we are rejecting emotional honesty as a whole, it only creates more fragmentation, more alienation, more loneliness. And we notice, whether we realize it or not, and we miss those potential connections that never had a chance to be.


Well I never claimed to understand what happens after dark
But my fingers catch the sparks at the thought of touching you
When you’re wounded

We are all in the dark, we are all wounded, we are all reaching for each other.

Hey Dylan Media

Podcast Pondering (Is this Part 4? I think so)

Hi Dylan!
Let me start with a quick PSA: there have been many a technology issue as of late. We were fine playing “Salt,” but then video chat (which seems relevant) took a dump on us. So there’s an outstanding question of whether we can do a podcast. Caveats include the fact that I now have access to a separate space in Manhattan, because as of this weekend, Neal (who I’m not sure I’ve ever formally introduced on this blog, but who is my boyfriend of 7 months) will have a place in Kips Bay with a home office and that we haven’t tested a wired connection on my end yet. That said, I will proceed with this post as if it is happening for sure, and answer your questions about content.

In addition to your outlined areas, which were current events and media, I think we can add “topics that Dylan and Joanna talk about a lot,” such as the relationship between social technology and social relationships, Reasons why All of Our Friends Are Wrong About Politics, Where Did All The Good Journalism Go, etc.  From an organizational perspective, having discrete, ordered ideas for each episode (episode?) is probably good practice, but I don’t think we necessarily need to be extremely formal in presentation, we can transition however seems easiest as we go.  I do like the idea of episodic themes, but themes that run the gambit from, say, “topics that start with the letter ‘A,'” to say, “mortality and transition.” Which is to say, I don’t think we need a theme for the themes.

I think lists are a good example of editorial content and more of that would be fun — an unsolicited advice section, a “mail” section, perhaps we can finish off with a playlist of three songs put together by you (this is really more your cup of tea than mine) each episode. One thing is upon occasion I think it would be fun to feature our friends and guests as they relate to things we are excited about.

I think the main challenge is going to be coming up with a back end structure. Do we, for example, want to have many possible modules, and do five of them or three of them per episode? Do we want to make sure to have exactly the same modules? I’m using “module” here to refer to a type of section. So “lists” would be one module. Is it: Intro > Module 1 > Module 2 > Every Episode Thing > Module 3 > Playlist, or some variant thereof?

Titles are hard, but we came up with one related to our tech frustrations recently that I liked a lot, but now can’t remember. Do you remember it?

Please forgive the lateness of this post, things have been crazy and I caught a breather today due to an unexpected snow day. I expect them to slow down in April after I get back from Chicago, because Neal being in the city means that my entire weekend isn’t automatically swallowed every week.

At any rate, I will see you in the usual place at the usual time, and we can sail around a bit.

Yours in Podcasting,


Film and TV Media

A Wrinkle in Time [Film]

[SPOILERS for A Wrinkle in Time, if you haven’t read the book already]

Meg, the protagonist in “A Wrinkle in Time.”

A Wrinkle in Time, the film adaptation of the novel by the same name, suffered in a few ways that are normally fatal: the dialogue hit viewers right over the head – it was plain awful by any adult standards; there was a love interest who was entirely useless except for the fact of his being a love interest; there was even the occasional overacting. Yet, I love this movie. Not only that, but the more time that passes, the more I love it.

Other authors have suggested that folks like me, who read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle at the appropriate age would feel a kinship with this movie that would confuse others. This is certainly true – children’s fiction of that era dealt with notions of good and evil in a particular, recognizable way that is comforting in these troubling times. Yet, this does not account for the whole of it by a long shot.

There was another element to that movie that not only was common among children’s literature of the time but also true of people – a way of talking about feelings that did not need any larger justification beyond their own existence to be recognized. The protagonist, Meg, is angry and sad because her father disappeared four years ago. She causes a lot of problems for the people who love her, because she is unhappy with herself and unhappy with her life. But while we recognize the reasons why she is mean and uncooperative, her actions are not depicted as sympathetic. In fact from a purely sympathetic perspective, her brother Charles Wallace and her mother appear in a much better light: their missteps, even when they make them, are always in service to others, they’re always clear attempts at doing the right thing. Not so with Meg.

Yet Meg is unapologetic. She doesn’t claim (and the movie doesn’t claim on her behalf) legitimacy within any sort of political context. She doesn’t “get to be” angry because she’s black, or a girl, or from a “broken home.” She gets to be angry because she’s angry. That’s it. Get over it. As a protagonist in a children’s movie fighting evil, Meg is an antihero. She’s not in this thing to save the universe.

In another climate, this might be unremarkable or perhaps — as I found the book when I read it as a kid — even disappointing. But as it stands there is something unusual about the emotional honesty in this movie, and that honesty carries the film. I take the motto, “be a warrior,” to be more than just “be the change you want to see in the world,” I see it as also “be the antihero you need to be in the world.” Don’t put any effort into justifying who and what you are via some social-moral principle. Redirect that energy into settling into yourself. Not, it turns out, an easy task. Beyond the difficulty in the effort itself, there’s the difficulty in defending the effort, because people who cannot sit well with themselves cannot let other people sit well with themselves either. I think this is how emotional self-deception is propagated, and this is the reason why. As soon as we say “it’s okay to have the feelings you have just because you have them,” the administration of peoples’ insides falls apart as a structure, leaving in its rubble people who aren’t ready to advocate for themselves on the basis of themselves.

“I give you the gift of your faults.” Perhaps the most relevant quote from the movie, A Wrinkle in Time gives viewers permission to remember what it is like to have jurisdiction over their insides. See this one, and don’t be too judgmental because you need to remember. We all do.


Building a New Podcast, Part 2: A Reflection on Everyone Else

Hey Dylan,

Very much appreciated your thoughts, in particular:

“In my mind, this podcast will not just be a window into our friendship, but a celebration of friendship writ large. American society is weirdly myopic when it comes to human relations; we care a lot about who is having sex with whom, and care about blood relations, but give little weight to friendships (for proof of this, open up People or any of its knockoffs and see how many of the stories are about celebrity friends vs. celebrity lovers). I think we agree that this is a shame, and I hope our banter will inspire an appreciation of just how wonderful a good friend can be.”

I think when we do talk about friendship, it tends to be in extremes- “there for me when I experienced the world as a terrible place,” in some way or another. Yet so much of how we live is not dramatic. Most days are not deaths, cancer diagnoses, break ups, war.  Maybe some other conditions: hunger, anxiety, microbetrayals of ourselves and others. If you ask me, we might need friendship to get through the tough times, but that’s not why we like friendship — I mean no one likes going through a rough patch, friends not withstanding.

The butterflies associated with romance are also arbiters of unpredictable moments, like Pan or the Trickster, they can only be trusted in a very abstract way- the conviction that butterflies are good for a person, in the long run. Friendship is not this way, it is reliable, it has the precious property of premising itself on the recognition of one another for no magazine reason, simply for the value of it in itself.

A podcast about friendship highlights the best parts of friendship: the easy camaraderie, the time before it becomes a reference, a signifier but rather while it is still happening. Live Action Friendship. Replayable LAF. Humor in its moment, not bogged down by what it all means. The experience of closeness, as opposed to the signaling of closeness.

This is actually a tall order. Most podcasts don’t get it right, even some of the most popular ones. Most of these talk podcasts kinda sound like Charming Chads Chatting, which is okay for about a minute. And how do we present JP as both the ludicrous thing that it is and also the sheer wonderfulness of it?

How does a podcast stay loyal to its truth? Not easily. That is our challenge.

Thinkin’ thinky things,

PS: What the eff are we gonna call it, anyway?

Media Non-Fiction

Twitter, Speech, and Flame War

Lately, as many of you who follow me on the Facebox are aware, I have been spending a lot of time with the alt right on Twitter. I made an alt account just to chill with them for awhile and see what the what is. I’m learning a lot, but one of the things I’m learning that is unrelated to political content is that Twitter is actually design for flame wars more than anything else.

In the first place, they don’t ban IP addresses. One user I came across is on his 245th (yeah, two hundred and fourty fifth) account because he doxes people (in retaliation, he claims).

In the second place, it’s possible to read the tweets of someone you blocked. That is, you can block a particular user and still follow them, but only by visiting their personal twitter timeline (not on your feed). I imagine Twitter’s line of thought was if, say, you’re being doxed or otherwise harassed, you might want to block the person but still be able to see what they’re planning/doing for safety purposes. But this lends itself perfectly to spying and it can turn into an obsession pretty easily if you’re at all fragile, which we must assume that people blocking other people already might be.

In the third place, Twitter instituted a 12 hour suspension rule, where it tells you that you have a have a 12 hour countdown which will begin after you delete the tweets it points out to you as violating policy. This rule is designed for people who break Twitter’s posting policy with one or two tweets but not as an account generally. However, the paternalistic ritual of making users delete their tweets is bound to humiliate a statistically significant percentage of folks and they’ll come back 12 hours later angrier than they left.

In the fourth place, and maybe this is so obvious, it gets overlooked: when you limit a post to 140 characters, you limit the possible depth of the conversation.

The combination of these things: permabans that can be gotten around easily, blocks that aren’t two-way, hand slapping with temporary suspensions, and the extreme limit on length makes it perfect for jabbing, and provides the incentive to jab, too.

It’s the perfect flame war machine. It’s beautiful in a sadistic way.

Hey Dylan PC Games

Bernband (PC Game) [Open Letter Series] #2

[This is the third letter in a four part series about the PC game Bernband.
1) My first letter.
2) Dylan’s reply.
3) This post.
4) Dylan’s final reply, finishing the series.

Hey Dylan,

I think there are a couple of reasons going in that I felt like there might be some reaction from the NPCs, which is notably different than interaction. The first is that voyeurism, as an activity in the world generally, is almost entirely dependent on the observed reacting to their surroundings and each other. Without those features, it is exactly like the Bernband experience – like watching a computer program repeat processes over and over.

The second is that while obviously a lot higher budget than Bernband, there are indeed plenty of games that feature NPCs with a higher reaction level to the in-game world than the NPCs in Bernband. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of all sorts of multiplayer voyeurism games (and I don’t mean that in the dirty sense, although obviously that is also a possibility).  But as a single player game, I think the production value would be too high for the niche market it served. I  think it’s literally possible to make an interesting one,  I just don’t think the industry would support it.

I can completely understand the mapping nostalgia. However, probably unsurprisingly, I had no love for it the first time around and I have no real interest in it now. I think mapping is fun in a weird literary way, never in a literal “figure out the map of this level” way, though.

For me, alienation is not an issue one way or another. It’s not a lack of interaction – that is, it’s not that I can’t interact with the NPCs, it’s that the NPCs are not convincingly reacting to their surroundings. Moreover, it is the very notion that the people the voyeur watches have agency that makes voyeurism so interesting. The better AI gets, the less it seems like a program is controlling it, right? However, the idea of Bernband is still very strong, and the cute moments the game offers are not to be missed. I would call Bernband “heartwarming,” if not necessarily super engaging from a voyeuristic perspective.