Sunday, July 29, 2012

Music is Art

- and art is expression.
Given that i made music a category for my posts from the start, it seems a bit odd that i have not yet made even a single post specifically about music. This is largely because i'm not equipped to make myself sound informed by throwing around words like melody or timbre, rhythm, key or ... ummm, ok, see i'm drawing a blank for another one.
I don't talk the talk. I don't even walk the walk. Still, anyone unfortunate enough to spend any amount of time around me has probably seen me toss out song lyrics as catchphrases or bons mots. My mp3 collection is extensive, eclectic and only the slightest bit extravagant.
I do not, however, have any real interest in the nuts and bolts of music. I don't remember how to read sheet music, i have no idea what and how exactly an amplifier is amplifying, i can't tell a baritone from a tenor and i'm usually at a loss as to what instruments are being played aside from 'percussion' versus 'strings'. Style and message, mood and pacing, attitude and cleverness tend to be my concerns. I'm interested in what and how well a piece of music expresses. The rest of it always seems as if it's just insiders 'talking shop' - i don't particularly care whether that guitar riff was more difficult, a greater technical accomplishment for the guitarist; what i care about is whether it helped the song make its point.

It's the gestalt that matters. What idea or emotion is that piece of music as a whole attempting to illustrate and how well does it do so?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Ages After Armageddon

I'm in the middle of George Martin's The Armageddon Rag and i wanted to get this post out before i finish it. It's not a post specifically about the book, which features as a starting point the fairly maudlin odyssey of an ex-hippie wondering how the reforms of the sixties could have failed so badly. I've been meaning to start making posts on this subject for some time and i doubt i'll get everything i want to say out right now. I'm quite fond of looking at the spirit of the past few generations as represented by counterculture traits.

The Rag is not a timeless novel. Many of its references and much of its symbolism is only vaguely accessible to me. I am a child of the 90s. By that i mean that i was born in the early 80s and that my formative sing-along years (mid-adolescence) coincided with the peak of tattered black clothing and harlequin makeup. Angst, muted grief, despair and black derision were our lot. Goths and their less demonstrative fringes of the fringe like myself did not start protest rallies or march on Washington. We brooded.
It's funny to think that we're still talking about a counterculture response to the same authoritarian corporate state which prompted hippie communes, free love and flower power. In general terms, the pattern seems to have gone something like this: the hippies joined the establishment. There followed a lull. Sixties counterculture had been so powerful that it seems to have taken almost a decade for the next wave to get moving. As the former daisy-wearers settled into their accounting jobs and two-car garages, complacency seems to have taken solid root.

When it finally broke, at the start of the 80s, the punk movement was (probably predictably) violent in spirit. Punks fought. They railed, they raged, they burned and smashed. They took to the highways in motorcycle gangs and tried to bring down communication networks. Cyberpunk was punk. Molly Millions from Neuromancer is a punk idol if i've ever seen one.

Well, Molly, you had to tussle, but we had to jack. Punk transitioned fairly smoothly into goth, with the memorable detour through grunge and Cobain's suicide as the pivot. This was in a nutshell the act that delineated the 80s and 90s countercultures. Punk rage was fruitless. Outnumbered, outspent, outvoiced at every turn, that energy turned inwards. The youth of the 90s saw the futility of the past decade of struggle against human nature (and a decade is about as much history as we can handle at fifteen). Brandon Lee gets killed by a blank cartridge. Cobain turns his despair on himself. It wasn't just the gum'mint beating us to death now, but our own nature and the universe itself, the imp of the perverse laughing at human effort.

With all meaningful rebellion revealed as fruitless, all that remained was to internalize the failure, to despair. We jacked out of the world itself and into cyberspace or shallow pagan mysticism. Of those who could not stomach the predominant corporate culture, some, like me, dove into escapist fantasies, greatly aided by computers. The more sociable branded themselves as goths and sat around all-night diners saying 'life sucks'. Others turned up the music and let Trent Reznor give voice to the nihilism they could not express themselves. We revived film noir. Even cartoons turned to melodrama. This was the time when the Batman animated series aired. It was the age of Gargoyles. It was the golden age of grotesque. This was the generation that made self-cutting a trend.

All of it was obviously a bit self-indulgent and maudlin. It may be called cowardly since for all its flash, the 90s counterculture was about as proactive as a street-corner prophet announcing armageddon. This was however, the only response available to the generation that saw the punk-rockers before it beat their heads against the wall of corporate control. The Berlin wall fell but instead of a decrease in tensions, a relaxation of cold-war paranoia and aggression, this only saw to the expansion of already-too-large corporate regimes to new regions, brainwashing entire new areas, obliterating new sets of native cultures who were only too eager to be obliterated. The adolescents of the 90s, instead of fighting a constricting government war-machine, were faced with finding themselves part of the snake-nest, unable to slither out.

There is great value in this. Nihilism is the basis of philosophy. It is the necessary prerequisite to the drive to construct meaning where none was. Throughout its endless creation of macabre illusions, that angsty 90s teen fringe remained open to the possibility of tearing down the old ones. There was a dogged final resistance in it: if action is denied us, thought can at least remain free. If we are powerless and passive, let us at least be decorously, flamboyantly so. If we can't stick it to the man, let's stick it to ourselves. Anything is better than chanting along with the commercials.

So what comes next? The goth craze has been dead for a decade now. It left its mark, just as hippies and punks are part of our collective consciousness, subjects of derision perpetuating their subversive message even as they're popularly ridiculed. "I'm not ashamed you're entertained, but i'm not a puppet, i am a grenade" as the Antichrist Superstar says. The problem is that nothing has really followed.

We could reasonably expect another lull after the punk/goth simmering quasi-rebellion but it's about time we saw something new rising. 'Emo' was little more than a goth aftershock, regardless of how popularized it became. These movements have all found expression primarily in music and i'm sorry to say it is almost impossible to find decent contemporary music. It seems to have nothing to express. All i hear is some vague, wishy-washy whining. It's neither specifically personal, translating the individual to the universal nor grandiosely generic, funneling the universal into personal experience. Not even the despair, the recognition of futility from 90s music is present anymore.

The hippies tried to create and failed. The punks tried to destroy and failed. Goths gave up and somehow managed to fail even at that. Is this really now the eternity after the last chord of the Armageddon Rag?

Friday, July 27, 2012

How dare i

Normally, all of my characters are named Werwolfe with some variation. One of my old World of Warcraft alts was named Werewoofie. I detested gnomes because their technology represented a break in the fantasy setting and their simplistic cutesiness / comic relief role grated, but i decided to embrace all that stupidity with at least one character.

Werewoofie proved to be more fun than anticipated simply because he was such excellent bait for all the macho cretins on the horde side. As soon as they spotted my name and gnome portrait (it's safe to assume i had a cute little button nose and rosy cheeks, regardless of how my character actually looked) every horde player automatically dropped any pretense of being anything other than a petty, idiotic schoolyard bully and started chasing after me full tilt with dreams of giving the faggot/nerd/bitch/noob/scrub/pansyass/ etc. a wedgie... or whatever.

It became ridiculously easy to bait the morons into the most obvious traps. They would chase me across entire zones and dive right into my faction's cities trying to kill me. They would dive off cliffs and drown while CCd in hopelessly deep water. They'd call all of their friends to spend their time camping whatever little town i was in while i'd just chatter with my guild about my aggressors' stupidity or simply AFKd.

The moral? There is none. That's humanity. All other concerns vanish when you challenge their sexual archetypes.
Makes me wonder just when i'll be getting raped to death in the back of an alley by a bunch of cops and soldiers because i let slip my opinion of organized sports.

Friday, July 20, 2012


The author of the webcomic Bruno, Christopher Baldwin, at one point criticized another cartoonist on the issue of misogyny. This was a decade ago. It sparked an entire series of comments from readers mostly chiming in with Baldwin in defense of women against a perceived attack by brutish male oppressors, which he posted on his site, but given that i'd never read Cerebus, the comic which prompted Baldwin's initial reaction, i've never been particularly interested in the discussion as a whole.

I did start skimming through the messages recently in the course of re-reading Bruno and one comment in particular caught my eye. To a reader who remarked that misandry should be addressed at the same time as misogyny, Baldwin replied

"I have never seen an incident in our society where a man was oppressed (except on an individual relationship level) by women as a group. And I've always felt women's anger was part of their expression to have a voice, not to extinquish the voice of men"

First of all, yes, the oppression of men by women does principally happen at the personal relationship level, because this is women's preferred modus operandi. The female ideal in female eyes is still for the most part Lysistrata, Lady Macbeth or Helen of Troy: the seductress who keeps men tied around her little finger, who can shame, badger or withhold the man under her control into doing whatever she wants, who can have men fighting wars over her breeding rights but benevolently maintains the peace by simply making them compete economically. Women do control men through sexual relationships and they always have and probably always will simply because they can, because nature has afflicted the male mind alongside possessiveness with protecting his mate and providing for her, and its all too easy for women to exploit this weakness. This control is excused in today's society, glorified even as female empowerment, women using the advantages nature gave them. The view is as criminal as its reverse: excusing rape since males' superior muscle mass and higher libido are simply the traits nature bestowed upon them.
Nature does not create or imply morality.

Much of the oppression of women for the past couple of millennia has had this male insecurity at its root. We are skittish when it comes to dealing with women on non-sexual terms and rightly so because women are so much more adept at skewing any situation by batting an eyelash, crying or showing some leg that males are automatically at a disadvantage in any situation; any terms will become sexual. This is not to say that the male restriction of female socioeconomic status is excusable, but that we must recognize the innate imbalance which prompts male insecurity and recognize that it is just as morally reprehensible.

We've gotten to the point where we're willing to punish any overt action while overlooking a lifetime of provocation. At the same time that women are using provocative clothing, make-up and high-heels to control men through their instincts, it's men that are expected to take the blame for forcing them to wear heels, makeup and flimsy skirts. If you're going to punish the office lech who grabbed the secretary's ass (and you should), you also have to punish the secretary who consistently flirted in order to get promoted (and you should). Women, however, are rapidly becoming saints in today's society, and this translates into protection from repercussions for their actions. It is taken for granted that any individual male can and should be punished for the statistical imbalance between sexes, that any time a female lashes out against a male, this is excusable as simply righting social wrongs. Women do use this newfound extension of their existing power to extinguish the voice of men or simply of individuals who happen to be men. It permeates every aspect of life just as the oppression of women by men always has. The examples are endless if you're not so scared of being labelled a misogynist that you ignore them.

A high school teacher calls all her female students "young lady" and all her male students "little boy".
A supermarket employee lazes about, does shoddy work when at all, throws tantrums and tosses objects at the walls when called out on it, but cannot be fired because she immediately calls her superior sexist for criticizing her.
A male office worker gets yelled at by his boss for questioning orders. His female colleague yells in front of everyone at that same boss. A month later, his position has been "downsized" while she's polishing her nails looking forward to her promotion.
Schoolchildren start arguing in the halls. Three boys are reprimanded. The group consisted of three boys and five girls.

Blogger's spellchecker recognizes the term "misogyny" but not "misandry." Chew on that while you're getting called a 'pig' or a 'dog' by a woman you'd never be allowed to call a 'bitch'.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Punchline

Laughter in the distance, a dozen, a hundred voices, a thousand strangers come to see the worthless object. Now at your door, the keys you gave them turning, they march in to a fanfare of cackling taunts. Reassuring arms shield you from escape as you're dragged out of your clothes, out of your den, out of your life, a toothless animal without even a cage to protect you as each onlooker reaches in to take a swipe at your weak flesh, leaving welts which will barely have time to rise.
The funeral marches out onto the pavement. At the ditch by the side of the road, representatives of your seven billion judges squat over the side shitting and pissing. Presiding over the ceremony are your holy chanters. Your father on one side enumerates each coin you wasted dreaming of being an astronaut while your mother on the other cites each time you wet the bed. Facing each other at the heads of the congregation, your grade-school teacher recites every spelling error you ever made to the roaring approval of the crowd while your lover gives detailed accounts of each of your failings in bed. Your friends stand grinning around the ditch, lining the top of the growing tide of filth with your fruitless dreams. They've laid hands on every attempted poem, every denied promotion, no-digit bank statement, every tasteless decoration and unbalanced equation, your favorite toys, pets, vacation and retirement plans, and pause only to vomit over the choicest transgressions of your proper status as they let them sink into your hopes' fate.
A good hard yank, species-strong, dislocates your limbs. The living waste no more time on your worthless carcass, so while they amble away you have time to overhear your sentence reverberating through the filth-clogged ditch as you drown.
"Can you believe that thing actually trusted us?"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A few weak puns

Just getting these out of my system for a bit...

So this guy walks into a barn and says "damn, i ruined the joke!"

An inn in an RPG just before the player leaves town for the wilderness called "The Outward Inn."

Bite me.

Sleazy Tolkien reference: 'ho-bits.

A feminist conspiracy: The Shecret World

Why did the chicken cross the road? Proselytism.

What came first, the shanking or the beg?

Power-core-rupts the countryside.

Vampire joke: sucks to be you.

First line in the devil's virus program: goto hell. - bah, stole that one from Futurama

Technology tried duplicating nature but it just couldn't calculator.

Never cross a priest - it's copyright infringement.

What do you call poetry written on a submarine? Subversive literature.

You can shake nuns' habits and get priests hot under the collar but no matter how much you dick around with eunuchs you can't get a rise out of them.

Affirmative action: promotin' equality.

How do you find quest-starting rumors in an RPG? Inntuition.

Why don't them lower classes ever get smart? They lack intuition.

Cart rubble - there's a joke in there somewhere, i know it

Punny, punny stuff.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mount and Blade

Why, what an amusing coincidence. Just last week i was considering starting up another Mount&Blade character and today i got a pop-up advertisement from Impulse, the online distribution system pilfered from Stardock by Gamestop and re-branded, for a sale on all the M&B expansions.

M&B is one of those gimmicks that'll easily have you forming a cult for it if you're not careful. It's a single-player, freeform, open-ended RPG with FPS mechanics in a medieval setting with no magic, all the ren-faire jousting and roast legs of this and that but in the comfort of your own computer monitor. It has the same addictive quality as the "one more turn"  turn-based strategy games like Heroes of Might and Magic combined with the imaginary friends found in RPGs like Bioware's which let you form your own little band of adventurers. It turns nerds into drooling mental patients rambling "ok, i'm just gonna deliver one more shipment of grain, my village needs grain, must help my peasants" at 3:00 a.m. right before they get an urgent message from the king to marshal forces for an invasion.

The setting itself is a generalized medieval Europe renamed and remapped as Calradia. Saracens clash with knights and berserkers run amok in the lands of the boyars while tartar raiders rampage through the countryside. Castles and villages change hands and caravans crawl across the landscape lugging silk to here and salt to there. The hero can try to marry his (or her) way into the nobility, cart goods from town to town avoiding bandits, become a tournament champion, take up mercenary jobs, swear fealty to a king or help usurp one, capture castles, become lord of villages and towns, and all of it is handled through a first-person shooter interface that has players riding a charger into battles while commanding groups of dozens of archers, infantry and knights across the battlefield.
It's the sheer scope of the game that draws the imagination in, the glamour in romanticized medieval violence and social inequality. "Miniver loved the days of old, when swords were bright and steeds were prancing; the vision of a warrior bold would set him dancing" as the poem goes. That truer-than-usual-to-life (but still romanticized) setting combined with greater freedom to create a personality than is found in story-based RPGs amounts to one of the best escapist fantasies outside of my idealized online virtual world that will never be made.

Sadly, they seem to have started losing their way with the expansions. I bought the first one to come out, Warband, some time ago because it seemed it might become a true MMO. Unfortunately the multiplayer aspect it promised amounted to nothing more than random battles as in any FPS game, with none of the ramifications that were the true spirit of M&B. Luckily the many additions it made to single-player overshadowed the half-hearted attempt at online play. Other expansions introduced story-based campaign modes, undermining the game's main freeform appeal. Even the introduction of firearms threatens M&Bs already shaky notion of balance between weapons. Firearms were the death of the "warrior bold" which the game's escapist customer base loves so much.

I don't think i'll be buying the new expansions after all, sale or no sale. I love my Calradia the way it is as of Warband. Still, i do hope Taleworlds manages to push them on a few new customers. They deserve it for what they created in the first place.

The Right Customers

Online games are communities. If a game is to bank on quality at all and not simply try to create an avalanche of popularity to keep its playerbase above critical mass to constantly have PvP matches and instance runs happening, it must keep the right  players interested. The sheep are not the ones who keep things going. You must provide for nerdy interests.

Nerds and geeks, renfaire costumers and closet poets, wannabe artists, scientists and philosophers and above all those with napoleonic complexes, the social engineers, these are the prime movers of online communities.
They're the ones who create strategies and tactics that keep teams together in PvP, they're the ones who can organize instance runs and keep remote outposts supplied. They set up roleplaying events and infiltrate enemy cities. They're the ones who will be able to see whether or not your game is better than others. Unlike the mindless masses, they will stay in your game even as your competitors crank out flashy new competition to store shelves. What's more, they will maintain other players' interest by keeping things moving.

Cater to the nerds. The brain of a realm of the mind is also its lifeblood.

Apparel, Dummies!

A couple of days ago i stormed out of LoTRO because of the impossibility of finding players who will do anything but powerlevel so they can repeatedly grind the latest flavor of the month instance, thereby skipping most of the content in the game.

Today i wanted to give the game a second (read: twentieth) chance, so i logged in. The first thing i saw was an apparel dummy.
Wait, what? Well, as it turns out, clicking on one of these eyesores brings up the game store interface where players can buy the outfit the dummy is wearing for amusement-park money which is of course bought with real money.

We now have window-shopping in middle-earth, just the way Tolkien intended.
Even ignoring that, the game has many, many problems that should have been addressed before coming up with another pushy way to fleece customers. Ok, fine, you wanted to give your graphic artists something to do? Make them redo weapon appearance so that my legendary staff doesn't look like it's wrapped in tinfoil. Don't just try to cram more money and time-sinks into your game, put in the bare minimum of effort to attract the right customers by making necessary improvements.

Oh, who am i kidding, i'll be back into it tomorrow when my rage has subsided a bit. After all, no matter that the game may be utter trash, there's nobody providing anything better.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Feminist Simpsons

I  was recently watching some of the old (very old) episodes of The Simpsons. There is a wide discrepancy between the way the characters are first portrayed and the cultural icons they eventually became.

For one thing, Homer was not initially the dumb slob dragging his entire family down. In the earliest episodes, he's actually the only one fighting for a little bit of dignity while the rest complacently wallow in their white trash status. Lisa was little more than Bart's sidekick and her quirk was artistic talent (music) not overall intelligence; she was more likely to be worried about ice-cream than global warming. Marge was not the Blanche DuBois of Springfield but a simpleminded housewife, slightly prone to alcoholism, occasionally draconian in her mothering, every bit of the same base mindset as the rest of her family.

It's not specifically wrong that out of the two children the girl became the good one while the boy became the reckless loser. It's not even entirely wrong that of the two adults, the female became the martyr suffering through a hopeless marriage to an idiotic waste of space while Homer's only redeeming quality became his willingness to play the villain, always apologetic for not following Marge's wishes.

It is wrong that we expect and accept this without question. If the show's writers had decided to go the other way, if Homer had been turned into a saint putting up with a dullwitted, wasteful harpy of a wife, if Bart had been a good boy and Lisa a greedy, vicious little skank, they would've been fired on the spot because Fox's doors would've been kicked in by half a dozen angry mobs after the first show.

Because we all know that men are to blame - for everything.
We expect to see ourselves portrayed as violent, stupid cavemen and women as pristine, benevolent earth goddesses and if any of us ever ventures a more realistic view of gender relations, the significant withholder in our lives badgers us until we cease our thought crimes against the sisterhood.

Thus, Bart could never have been a straight-A student, and Lisa could never have been a chainsmoking gold-digger.

Nonstop action Action ACTION !

And yet again i find an example of the downward slide of any online computer game after its release towards oversimplified brainless hack'n'slash. That these attempts to give the mindless masses what they want instead of scaring them away by requiring some mental ability are more likely to kill a game than propel it to rampant success never seems to phase developers. Lemmings off a cliff, i swear...

Team Fortress 2 has a new map. There's nothing wrong with the basic setup. The devil's in the details. The map's layout is convoluted: a series of very short tunnels surrounding a central arena with limited visibility due to various objects. The net effect is to reward players for constantly running around and attacking the first thing they see. There is no defense, no planned attacks. Nobody bothers playing engineers because there are no places secure enough in which to build. Nobody players a sniper because all the targets are always darting behind blocking terrain. Nobody plays spies because there are no engineers and snipers to victimize. In short, the map is a gutted version off the game rewarding only twitch-reflexes and removing the possibility to outmaneuver or plan ahead of one's enemies.

This sounds vaguely familiar. Ah, yes, it was what killed Insects Infestation in the cradle. It's what split Natural Selection's playerbase before that. It's the equivalent of infinite-resources maps for RTS games like Starcraft and the godawful "Big Game Hunters" craze that filled the game list. In MMOs you can see it in the dumbing-down of PvP to arena fights. WoW went from world-spanning conflict to 5v5 fights in order to give its customers less to think about. Darkfall gave up on improving monster AI for PvE and made PvP a potion-chugging contest to let its customers stack the odds in their favor by brainlessly farming easy monsters for potion ingredients.

Again and again developers insist on dumbing down their products to appeal to the brainless majority, but this will never get them a stable audience. The mass market for any entertainment industry is proverbially fickle. Since they don't actually have any idea of quality and are only drawn in by advertising, they will just as easily be drawn away. It is in reality impossible to market to apes who don't understand what they're buying. A very few products will be lucky enough to ride a wave of success, feeding off their own popularity without actually providing any quality, as WoW has for years, but the vast majority of examples will die trying to make it big while alienating their core of initial customers. I wonder how many Dragon Age: Origins fans will be buying the third installment in the series after the reputation the second one got for dumbing everything down to dullness.

The consumer society dogma of appealing to the widest audience at any cost does not hold true, but still the capitalist mentality fixates on the promise of climbing to the top of the pyramid and nothing else will be supported by investors.

Fabricated Fantasy: Harry Potter and His Dark Materials

Despite what many of them facetiously spout at interviews, writers do not write for themselves. There is a difference however between writing in order to get a message across to a target audience and sheer pandering or exploitation. In most cases there is an obvious tendency to play to social trends or sink to the good old lowest-common-denominators of sex and power (like Burroughs' old John Carter books against which i recently railed.) In some cases, it can be a bit more subtle.

Fantasy literature tends to appeal to the same part of all of us which looks to religion for comfort. In fact, most fantasy books tend to have gods in the background, reassuring readers that there is a purpose behind it all, maintaining that safety net between our inquisitiveness and nihilism. The success of book series like Narnia and Redwall is hardly surprising in this light but they are at least honest about what they're feeding their supposedly impressionable young audience.

It is slightly more nauseating to see cold-blooded exploitation of the predictable weaknesses of character present in the core niche audience of fantasy books. Many of us turn to fantasy and science fiction as nerdy, outcast youngsters. We seek not only escapist fantasies but reassurance that personal ability will be rewarded with social status and fulfillment of the usually repressed sexuality of an outcast teenager. Books like the Harry Potter and His Dark Materials series play on this desperation in the most nonthreatening way possible. Whatever merit they may have pales when compared to the evident effort put into worming into readers' insecurities.

I will admit to only having seen one Harry Potter movie. I've never read the books. The basic setup is itself as trite as any summer action movie: a hero that's just 'special' in a way which doesn't threaten the audience by making them feel stupid like Ender Wiggin would is given a love interest and a comic relief sidekick and is placed in the school we nerds and geeks all wish we'd attended. I don't mean the bit about magic, but the instructors capable of recognizing and siding with a more gifted pupil. Does he get to sit at the cool kids' table too?
His Dark Materials starts out slightly less blatant and by the second book even acquires a satisfying anti-religious slant but by the third book degrades to one of the most idiotic endings i can remember. The multiverse gets saved because two teenagers acknowledge their sexuality? Really? All the potential for showing a vast, nihilistic cosmos in which myth loses its sheen to harsh physical reality, a la George Martin's Fevre Dream, is lost in a halfhearted feel-good commentary against religious celibacy and adolescent sexual frustration.

The sad part is just how susceptible we are to this sort of manipulation. I would like to think of scifi/fantasy nerds as a more discerning audience than the brainless masses, but it's obvious that the insecurities we acquire during our childhoods leave gaping holes in our mental defenses, easily exploited by anything that encases our seventh-grade wish fulfillment in flowery smokescreens passed off as fantasy worlds.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hybrid Classes

I was recently steaming over a particular facet of generalized online game stupidity: pigeonholing. I stumble across it whenever i play League of Legends for one thing. The game is balanced enough to allow various skill and item builds for each character but but all you'll ever hear from other players is "OMG dood u didn get item XYZ for character ZYX u suk OMG surrender naow OMG". The troglodytic mush that clutters their skulls in place of a brain can only hold one association for each symbol. They cannot fathom that one character class might have more than one appropriate build depending on situation.

This phenomenon is much more widespread in so-called MMOs, where the winning ticket, be it character, spell or item, gets popularized almost instantly. World of Warcraft is as usual a prime example. The game initially included several hybrid classes and plenty of viable hybrid builds for the others which mixed healing, damage and other effects instead of specializing. Players simply could not handle this concept. To almost the entire community, there was no such thing as a hunter pet offtanking in instances and hunter traps were not crowd control because hunters were a 'damage class' and that's all there was to it. Druids were pigeonholed as healers and any druid seen using a damage spell risked getting kicked out of groups. Paladins refused to heal anyone but themselves because they weren't a 'healer class'.
The sickening aspect is that even though this mass stupidity was easily proven wrong at every turn, the developers insisted on catering to it. Classes were given more and more specialized gear, fixing them into a particular role. Druid talents were changed so that a druid was forced to specialize in one particular role by staying shapeshifted at all times. On and on the individual flavor of each class was homogenized into only the fixed role they were to play.

EVE-Online suffered from the same problem. The initial setup included four general classes of ships which had obvious strengths and weaknesses but also a great deal of leeway in how they were fitted. Players could strap at least one gun and some armour onto their cargo ships so they weren't completely defenseless. Cruisers were exceptionally versatile and could be fitted for anything from mining to being floating chunks of armour that would bait enemies into traps. As CCP expanded the system though, they gave players more and more specialized ships so that every possible role in the game acquired a 'best' option. They started putting in specialized gear that could only be used on a particular ship type. Even cruisers' versatility simply got translated into a host of specializations, one for each role.

It seems hopeless. In City of Heroes players refused to acknowledge more than one or two of the half-dozen tanker powersets. In Warhammer Online the initial game mechanics that would make each class unique were largely ignored as classes got made into nukers/tanks/healers. Rift castrated its rather flexible skill trees by shifting the game's focus to small-team instance runs. It's just one more facet of every game's inevitable slide down into oversimplified repetition.

I have to wonder what will become of The Secret World's skill system. At the moment, it's fairly open, light on crowd control but with seemingly endless possible combinations in terms of skill synergies, playing the numbers. However, players are already policing each other into overspecializing, ignoring how useful it can be for a damage-dealer to offheal or for a tank to buff his team. How long will it take this time before the developers give the lady what she wants?

No, I Will Not Learn Morse Code

The Secret World features a much greater degree of solo PvE interaction than most games, even single-player ones. It's not all "go there and hit that". It rewards players for puzzle-solving or general cultural  background like knowing the name and best-known work of a famous composer. Naturally, this draws a lot of complaints from the leet-kiddie crowd and attempts to undermine the game's difficulty through spoilers abound. Normally i am firmly in the developers' corner and would encourage them to put in as much complexity as possible, but there are ways in which they've jumped the gun.

Having played through the first five zones of the game, i've been forced to cheat four times so far because a quest has 'stumped' me. I'm proud to say that the first time the missing clue was simply almost invisible on my screen because the room was too dark, and the developers rectified the situation in a later patch. The second time, the clue was too subtle for me or went against my basic mindset. The third clue was again stupidly hidden visually. I had even tried clicking on it several times before and had simply been a few pixels off.

This time though, i am proud to say i cheated and simply looked up the answer online. During the quest, you are given a recording of a morse-code message. I don't mean a transcript which you could sit down and translate at your leisure but a hardcore telegraph operator rapid-fire series of beeps. This is ridiculous.
Morse code is not part of general knowledge. Learning it is not currently a life skill even if you're planning expeditions into the Amazon. It is not part of the educational system. It has no use in modern life, practical or social. It is insane (and i mean that in the true sense of being disjointed from reality) to demand that players decipher a full-tilt audio code with no option to slow it down or transcribe it.

Even the people whose guides i used to cheat said they slowed it down using an audio recording program, and this is again, unacceptable. A game should be self-contained. No third party programs should even be permitted, much less required.

I'm sorry, Tornquist and the rest of the crew at Funcom. You dropped the ball on this one.