Saturday, November 5, 2011

Clash of Games

"Men are born for games.  Nothing else.  Every child knows that play is nobler than work.  He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is out at hazard."
The judge

The latest idea to catch my mind is a proposition I'd like to make - all emotion stems from playing games.

The above quote from Blood Meridian concerns the philosophy of Judge Holden who himself is a hermetic representation of Satan or War, in which he speaks, so he later claims, for the benefit of the kid, to educate him in part on the purpose of life and also in the nature of war.  A while after, he admonishes the kid for not playing the game (which was to scalp as many native Americans as possible for money)...

"You alone were mutinous.  You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen."
The judge

Recently, over the past few months, a thing that has become an irritation for me has been the practices of the video game publishing company, EA.  Having bought out one of my favourite developers they then trashed my two favourite intellectual properties, turning them into populist, dumbed-down-for-kids crap.  I query myself, and try to ask, why is it that this angers me so?

As the judge is angry and disappointed with the kid, so too I am angry with EA because, from my perspective, they are not playing the game:  I buy games I like, a portion of that money goes back to the developers who profit and go on to make more and better games.  But, in appropriating Bioware's franchises as they did to attack opposition IPs and appeal to the kiddy market, EA broke the rules of the game I was playing.  When the kid broke the rules, the judge tried to kill him.  For me, well, I'm not a war god so I just get pissed off and rant wildly and vow to never again buy a game from EA.

Of course, each plays his own game, and EA and the kid see things differently...

"It was you, whispered the kid.  You were the one."

EA are playing a different game; the game of finance in a popular culture market.  Like the music, movie and, to a lesser extent, book industries of yore, they are currently riding a wave of success in an undereducated market that will buy their mass-appeal drivel for a little while yet.  EA, and other big publishers, have been breaking the game contract with old customers for years, hoping, like the judge, to educate the youth into a new game with new rules.

They can get away with breaking the rules of my game because my rules are not binding, are unenforceable.  In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock and Antonio have a natural and passionate enmity stemming from the different business games that each plays.  Yet in the loan contract they agree upon they willingly treat with each other according to rules they both accept.

You, merchant, have you any thing to say?

But little: I am arm'd and well prepared.-
Give me your hand, Bassanio: fare you well!
Grieve not that I am fall'n to this for you;
For herein Fortune shows herself more kind
Than is her custom

But the sickeningly happy lovers (and audience, one presumes) cannot accept this game of blood the businessmen are playing, and make a mockery of the court and common sense to rescue melancholic Antonio and punish Shylock - both of whom could not be any more ambivalent.

Art thou contented, Jew? what dost thou say?

I am content.

Clerk, draw a deed of gift.

I pray you, give me leave to go from hence;
I am not well: send the deed after me,
And I will sign it.

All their venom is nowhere to be found; the game they were playing has been destroyed and with it the context for their emotion.  All that is left is the judgement of the staged court, which has vapourised their contract and ridicules the passion with which they had entered upon it.

Simple, generic Game properties...
  1. A Game consists of Rules and Goals
  2. For a Game to Work, all participants must nominally play according to the Rules
  3. A cheater is a participant who breaks the Rules
And as this generalised game pertains to emotions...
  • Participating in a Working Game is enjoyable
  • A participant who achieves a Goal experiences delight
  • A cheater will inspire hatred in others
And I could define others with greater or fewer caveats, e.g. honour as defence of the Working Game, spite/malice as attack of the working game, etc.

I believe I can trace and explain all emotion from this.  From the kinders I teach who experience joy with the die, or those who have not been taught how to play by their parents exhibiting confusion and anger when they don't win, to old ladies on trains who raise my hackles by asking personal questions without first introducing themselves - all can be systematically defined as individuals playing working, broken and different games as each perceives it for himself, and as I perceive them.

There is a great deal more that can be harvested from this seed, in business, politics, anthropology, art and so on, but I shall save the details for programming.  What do you think?

Returning to the publisher-that-shall-not-be-mentioned, I realise according to this system that I am angry because they broke the rules of the game I was playing and, if a corporation can be angry, they/it must be angry that people like me do not play their game.  Rather than become bitter like the moody merchant, I can't go far wrong finding other developers and other publishers to play with who want to play the same game.... 

But herein lies the melancholia of Antonio.  He is a merchant of Venice, not Rome or Constantinople.  He must go down to the rialto to do business, and must come into contact, however indirectly, in work or at play, with the Jewish usurer he despises so much.  He would do himself and his brother Shylock a massive favour if he just ditched the anti-semitism and accepted the economic structures of Venice for what they are.


What distinguishes a game-game from the games we play as part of life are the boundaries, temporal and physical, that surround and dissociate games of entertainment from all else.  The hallmark of games played out in reality is that they have no clear demarcations and, to greater or lesser extents, they shall affect us.  Provided we buy into the games provided by our society, the culture of that society is itself a buffer that protects us from foreign games that work on different rules.  People playing different games, like the big game publishers that haunt my life, irritate the hell out of us because they don't play by our rules, thus they are cheating.  We could try to call them out, but they might stick us like Doc Holliday...

(I have been working on an interpretation of Blood Meridian, which includes amongst other concepts this interpretation of Games.  The book is easily one of the best books I have read - you should read it!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kidney Stone & Mishima's Will

That's right, I have now officially passed into the era of old age, hereafter doomed to patching up my body as it slowly... well a bit dramatic, but that's how I felt. That's the first part of this post. The second is the means to escape old age.

Continuing what I did before, here is some topical background music to accompany this post...

Woke up and walked to work as normal, except I had a nasty pain in my right groin, not dissimilar to a twisted testicle. It got steadily worse on the way to work, and by the time I had arrived, not thirty minutes later, I was feeling most uncomfortable and quite nauseous. A teacher kindly proffered a chair to recouperate on, but there was no recouperating to be had. After perhaps, 45 seconds on the chair, the pain got much worse, and I decided quickly I wanted to go to hospital. Retelling this to my students later, those who know me well were quite surprised because I always bemoan doctors and hospital and medicine (that's to come, mind you), but there comes a point with pain when even principles must be abandoned.

I was hastily ushered into a taxi cab across the street, and I gasped a request to take me to the nearest hospital. Having resigned myself over to the conveyance of the taxi and the inevitable medical care of Shizuoka's finest doctors, I relaxed all inhibitions I had been placing on myself and let the pain take over.

At university I attended a couple of lectures on "pain", and simply from an academic point of view, the topic is really quite interesting. Kind of like left and right, or a three-body physics problem, pain is something relative that is impossible to define in isolation or measure quantitatively. At first, the pain was intense in my groin and lower abdomen, much like the report of a terrible stomach ache or malicious kick to the testicles. But as the intensity increased, it seemed to be carried up to my brain, and from there force itself upon every part of my body in waves of paralysis and rigidity that were at once both painful and beyond pain so as to be not painful but simply distressing. My consciousness seemed to recalibrate what pain actually meant, but not by turning it off, because it couldn't, but by dissolving it in a mental spasm, overwhelming the sensation of pain with nonsense that induced a semi-paralysis. Instead of suffering pain, I was aware of suffering pain.

Symptomatically, this manifest as rigor, an inability to move or coordinate movements or to speak, and mild hyperventilation.

It was the most intense pain I have ever felt and, unless I do retain youthful world angst and go the way of Mishima, likely the worst pain I shall ever experience. Even if I should happen across some other illness or injury of comparative nociceptive activity, at least I know my brain has some kind of automatic pain-shutdown that comes into effect. Which is certainly of some comfort.

Anyway, back to the back seat of the taxi, I'm writhing and panting like I'm going to die at any moment, and the poor taxi driver is hoping he won't have a dead foreigner to explain to the police. We get to the hospital and I awkwardly throw my wallet at the driver, not caring whether he takes all my cash and my credit cards. He helps me into reception.

Reception lady in the emergency entrance asks, "Do you have insurance?"
".... yes.... but..."
"Do you have an insurance card?"
[whole body shaking, barely standing, hyperventilating] ".... check.... my... wallet..."
[she checks it, but it isn't in there] "You don't have a card, please fill out this form..."
"I've got the fucking money just treat me you lunatic!"

No, I didn't say that. Nurses came and plonked me into a chair and wheeled me away from the [charming] lady, got me on a bed and from then on it was like ER. Doctor, young man, asks me some questions and as I reply in Japanese I am aware of being pleased with myself for maintaining some mental decorum whilst under such pain; the other time I saw a man moaning on a hospital bed like this he was dying from an abdominal aortic aneurysm and he was incoherent. The doctor quite quickly suspects a kidney stone, confirms enlarged right kidney with ultrasound (I don't think he could see the stone with that), they give me a suppository for the pain and soon I am quite mellow, lying in my own bay, thinking what an exciting experience this has all been.

They give me two abdominal x-rays and an x-ray CAT scan to confirm the diagnosis. Older doctor shows me the stone on the CAT scan. He tells me it will hurt again when it comes out. I want to ask him some questions. What kind of stone is it? He says of course it is a calcium stone (I think he is bullshitting, it probably was, but even the next doctor I go to wants to test the stone to check). What caused the stone? He has no idea. What can I do? Nothing, just wait. Nice work doc.

I got some more morphine suppositories, and then go to work. Not being happy with this hospital, I got to another for follow up. Next one is much better, but they couldn't keep to the damn schedule and I have work to go to, so I don't bother going back there either. (Seriously, don't get me started on doctors, I've heard dozens of stories from students on doctors, to add to my own, who make mistakes, once fatally, over prescribe medicine, and are even drunk on duty). At no point did any healthcare professional (cough) give me any advice other than what was written on a leaflet (drink lots of water). Total bill for symptomatic treatment (which is all doctors can do 90% of the time): $400

The internet was, fortunately, much better. Twenty seconds of google-fu and 1 yen of internet and electricity costs turns up the advice that 60oz of olive oil mixed with 60oz of lemon juice melts the blighted stone like tofu cooked with radiation; I made and drank the disgusting concoction (the lemon juice is what makes it unpalatable) three or four times. I know not whether this actually cured me, but I never passed a stone to my knowledge and only suffered mild renal colic once more.

Runaway Horses

The music is by Philip Glass, and is part of the soundtrack to the movie Mishima, written and directed by the Schrader brothers. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube, and you should do [edit - now you cannot thanks to copyright on a movie that doesn't even seem to be in publication any more, try a rental shop]. The second book in Mishima's tetralogy is called Runaway Horses, and it is the finest novel concerning the youth of man ever. It is slow and considered like the middle aged lawyer, Honda, who seeks a connection to his youth, punctured by sections of extreme beauty and purity of idealism. The end of the novel also gives the finest line of prose ever written, which was also used as the final line for the movie.

Isao and his creator Mishima likewise, suffered from a peculiar form of psychache whereby they give a shit about what they themselves think and they ACT on their beliefs. As a form of mental pain, their psychache, the kind that drives action, was of a quality and intensity analogous to the small lump of ill-formed calcium tearing up my ureter. It spurred me onto quick action out of fear and panic, an action that is always in danger of being yielded and diluted to the pressure of daily conformity and numb peace, unless it has an unstoppable progenitor.

The genius of all art lies in self awareness, and Mishima so consistently undermined his own beliefs and those of his characters that he draws point to self awareness in the comedy of taking one's beliefs too seriously, and yet, in spite of that, believes and acts on them anyway. His art was only crystallized, proven by experiment, when he killed himself. The Will to Act.

The self immolation of the rabbit at the beginning of Tezuka Osamu's Buddha sums this up well. The impetus to act, the stone in one's mind causing pain, can manifest a desire to do good, to create or to help, but only in real world manifestation can this impetus be transformed into something worldly, and thus historical, and thus timeless. In this perverse way of viewing action, the fantasy of the mind is in fact a concrete reality from which the certitudes of one's world are born and maintained; when these are acted upon they become something surreal, seeds of a kaleidoscope, born into a physical world where their repercussions are, unnaturally, refracted and distorted eternally in the interpretations of other minds.

I am constantly amazed at how institution and power structures, and the individuals who work for them, act without moral compunction, and without reproach, often killing thousands through such tools like "policy" and "economic theory", yet are unknown, unpunished, and undiagnosed as sociopaths and not sectioned. Yet, someone who believes in something beyond themselves, someone without ego, with morality who acts in their own name and is willing to be punished under that name, someone who dares take up the sword against an individual of an institution, is labelled a terrorist, has human rights stripped from them, and is punished as the worst kind of criminal. The powers that be in modern society are trying to erase the Will to Act, and the impotence of protest and the youth of modern developed society is sickening proof of their success. This is why we find escapism in the tales of those who do act; Mishima, Batman, Mohammed or Buddha. What we should learn is not how to escape, but how to transform thought into action.

Mishima began his regimen of physical and mental perfection when he was 30, which he did not stop until his death 15 years later; I like to think that it took him this long to form a stone in his belly strong enough to found his beliefs on, and jagged enough to drive him towards action. I have a stone, but it is not yet strong enough to stand up to reason; before I act on it I must accept the comedy and pain of belief in order to calcify the stone, lest it dissolves without a trace.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Picture, Zoom, Face...

There is a collection of this rather minor but hilarious internet meme here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Earthquake Day

One week ago I was in Tokyo to watch a University Ice Skating competition. This is Fuku-chan. He was skating to Beethoven Symphony #7 IIRC...


The second movement would have been perhaps a good soundtrack for the drama to come. After he finished, the ladies warm-up began. About five minutes into that, I noticed the bench I was sitting on, with Kiyo and Mariko, swaying side to side. Being particularly sensitive to these things, since I am mortally afraid of all earthquakes, I looked around to see the reactions of others. Everyone was watching the skating.

I stood up and said to myself, "Isn't this an earthquake?" About five seconds later, felt like a long time when panicking, others said, "earthquake! Please get off the ice! Earthquake!" And the skaters listlessly swayed off the ice.

In retrospect, it is rather strange, but everyone just stayed where they were. We didn't try to rush out, but stayed exactly where we were and waited. Every time I've been in an earthquake, from slight to fairly large, the same feeling goes through your mind - is it going to get worse or better? And you wait, and wait, for the answer to that question. It's an idiotic response, but that's what I'm thinking about.

In a stroke of minor-divine-luck, Mariko did move, from the bench to the wall a couple of meters behind us. About ten seconds later a stream of water, from some cooling system I presumed, fell from the ceiling several metres overhead right onto the bench where she had been, creating a nice puddle.

When the shaking stopped, everyone left the building.


On my phone, I quickly found out the rough location and the magnitude of the quake, but we knew nothing of the seriousness. After twenty minutes or so of checking the building, everyone re-entered the rink, and the skating resumed, only for us to evacuate again once an aftershock hit.

Our troubles were nothing compared to those directly affected, but it was trying in its own way. All trains in Tokyo stopped. We had travelled about 40 minutes out from central Tokyo to get to the skate rink, and had to get to the other side of Tokyo to our luxury hotel.

We didn't stand a chance. Waiting and taking buses took us barely five miles in one hour. At Tachikawa station we got a first glimpse of the chaos that had begun...


Outside the station a crowd of people unable to get home had built up, long, long lines for jam packed buses. On a big screen TV people looked up to scenes of burning refineries and tsunami damage. It felt like a movie scene, so surreal was the sense that something utterly terrible had occurred. Still trying to get to our luxury hotel, we boarded a bus that took about an hour to take us just one station down the train line; Kunitatchi.

Here we found out that the hotel had actually closed, and they had been trying to call Mariko on her home number. At Kunitatchi we ate at a Hokkaido food restaurant, and were then forced to try to get back to Tatchikawa since there were no hotels in Kunitatchi. Since it was relatively close, I wanted to walk, but the ladies weren't so keen and wanted to take a bus, no problem I thought. We joined a long line in the cold, and I was quite glad that in a stroke of luck I had bought my down jacket that day. Eskimo hood up, I was quite content to wait.


The line moved quickly as two buses came and went, we were sure to get on the next one. So we waited. And waited. And waited for an hour. Then people started to call the bus company, and gradually we realised that the last bus had left without telling anyone that no more were coming. Kiyo and Mami did a good job of running around, telephoning and gathering information, and got us on another bus, after another half hour, going to Tatchikawa.

My mood was, as you might expect, boarding on irritated, but we had arrived in Tatchikawa now and the girls had managed to book a hotel, the Camel Inn, which we were thankful for since most places were fully booked. I was looking forward to getting to sleep.

However, this strange day was about to get a bit stranger. Some guy we had met at the bus stop was waiting for us when we got off the bus. He wanted to take us to our hotel. The ladies were in charge, and seemed grateful for his help, so said OK.

At this point, I should explain that there is a certain type of Japanese person that go beyond friendly and congenial with foreigners, to the point of being leech like and socially awkward. Right away, I detected this kind of inappropriacy with our new guide. He started talking to me in English, saying how he used to live in the US, how he liked F1 and rock music, yada, yada.

But more than this, he didn't fucking know where he was going. He did not live in Tatchikawa, did not know the hotel, nor directions to the hotel. He had asked what "town" the hotel was in, and decided to take us based on this scrap of information. Needless to say he couldn't find it.

At this point, wandering around strange streets at midnight, in my suit, pulling a suitcase, I was seething, and when I get really pissed I don't care if people know. I asked Kiyo if she had been given directions by the hotel - she had. So I walked off and left them with this crazy guy. Kiyo followed me, then the others did, and we found the place in two minutes.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the ladies had - in a display of generosity and reciprocity not within my power to comprehend - offered this guy to share my room for the night. Frankly, the prospect of spending a night with a stranger with serious boundary respect issues was freaking me out. I wish I had a picture of my face then, because you probably couldn't have found a more murderous look on anyone in Tokyo that night.

Thankfully, he saved himself a certain night on the floor and declined the invitation with his happy-go-lucky cheerfulness that had grated me so.

Obviously a part of me is being a real bastard, he seemed to be genuinely trying to help and be friendly. But the equivalent would be me picking up a Japanese family at Victoria station and saying, "hey! The London Grand hotel? Don't know it, but follow me, guvner!" Nice guy, but clearly an idiot.

The hotel was in fact a love hotel...


Posted by Picasa

You have to read the TOWEL caption in a French accent.

Dried, stale, smokey air, karaoke machine with two mics, full length mirror in the shower, boards covering the windows. A classy and comedic end to the day. I washed and prepared for the morning, planning to get up and try to get to work from 6 am. Ended up leaving at 7 am, waiting on a stationary train for over an hour and then giving up on getting home.

We didn't get to see Mami's skating in the end, but she won!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time well spent

And who said I play games too much? Eh?

A classic Onion episode that. Who'd have thought I get to use it as real life commentary?

If the situation deteriorates and the word "melt.." shhh! gets used then I shall probably start to write about what's actually happening, but for the meantime I am assimilating, processing, and playing as much Fallout 3 as possible to get perspective on the impending nuclear apocalypse.

A walk in the park

Was going to write about Japanese nationalism, or economics, or philosophy of technology, or some such topical and utterly serious subject, but instead went for a walk with Nami's new camera (a Nikon D3100) and paid for entry to Sumpu park's gardens and historical display in the renovated gate-house (300 yen). Was a nice antidote to the incessant and yet uninformative news barrage I've been subjecting myself to this last week.







Posted by Picasa

I frequently see cormorants in the moats of Sumpu park or nearby rivers, and they are now my favourite bird by far. They sit calm and lean on the surface of the water, then dive and swim like a mini, feathered plesiosaur, their necks protruding from their bulbous body, darting over the bottom scanning for small fish. Walking by I always watch for their return to the surface, not far from where they dove in. I don't ever recall seeing one eating, so they either swallow fish on capture or are rather beautiful yet inept huntsmen.

I missed capturing a picture of this one drying his wings, think I spooked him by stopping behind him. He then took off in what has to have been, short of Icarus himself, the most inept display of flying I've ever seen. The bird flapped its spitfire-like wings so vertically I thought it was trying for a VTOL take-off. Having pushed off from the water with his feet half a dozen times he lumbered high into the air, only to be buffeted back towards me by an oncoming wind. He circled down to the left, flew overhead, and having built up some speed tried again to head into the wind. He made it away, veering to the right and over some trees. I suspect that once out of sight he gave up his pretence of flight and went with the wind to the next pool of water.

I shall have to try to go and see cormorant fishing. Wonder if I could get a domesticated bird...