Words and Chaos

Category: There is Only Chaos

Frailty, Thy Name is Weapon

 

Snap your fingers, snap your gorget.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released recently. One of its more controversial ideas was the weapon durability system. Predictably, Nintendo overstated the wear and tear of weaponry and armour by laughable amounts in an attempt to hoist the system onto people. They managed to implement the system in such a way as to turn it into a tedium inducing cycle of busywork, as opposed to an element of risk management. There are too many developers, especially in these days of bar filling “survival” games, who seem to mistake dull routine for gameplay. We’ve traded old-school MMO grind for survivalist grind. Instead of collecting ten bear arses, we’re collecting ten twigs. How did we get here? There’s space for all sorts of ideas in game mechanics, and experimentation should be encouraged by the consumer, but only so long as the mechanics compliment the gameplay. Unfortunately, the average weapon durability system doesn’t. It’s yet another percentage meter to keep track of, rather than a dynamic part of the underlying mechanics that can change the direction of an encounter or player priorities. There are ways that weapon durability can actually improve a game, but they have to be thought of in terms of complimentary gameplay, not in terms of vacuous time sinks.

Weapon durability gives you more room to be uncomfortable. You can use that discomfort to balance out the problem of unchecked power creep. The potential for weapons to break mid-fight causes you to reassess not only current circumstances, but also your approach to each subsequent encounter with more caution or forethought. It encourages preparation and back up equipment. Alternatively, it can switch the flow of the fight and force the player to change their play style on the fly. Suddenly a fight you were winning turns against you and you have to either fall back on a secondary weapon and press on at a disadvantage, or run.

When I say ‘run’ I mean actually run as a means of escape and get to somewhere safe. If you only have to tab into a menu, click a new item and auto equip/switch, in the style of Skyrim, then you’re doing it wrong. Pulling a claymore out of your underpants should take a little bit of time, come with an animation, and open you up to an attack when you’re being careless, if you’re going for that kind of system. The same goes for consumable items: Scarfing a bottle of potion or eating a leg of lamb should happen in game time not in a menu. It’s cheesy and exploitable. If you’re trying to emphasize danger and survival, then you’re not allowed to teleport things into player’s hands and stomachs. With all that said, weapon breaking can’t be forced into every fight. It can’t happen every other fight or third fight and so on. Weapons and armour are there to take blows, so unless you’re trying to fend off a sledgehammer with an ornamental rapier, there’s no reason why your defences should shatter every three seconds. It doesn’t help or add to the gameplay and it’s utterly counter-intuitive to what is often laughably referred to as “realism.”

Dwarf Fortress added weapon and armour durability mechanics relatively recently. It is one example of durability mechanics done right. It really did change the game. Post update, industries really mean something. Let’s say you produce ten sets of top tier equipment for your soldiers in fortress mode. If you know that they’re all there for eternity then that takes away any incentive to care about producing more equipment any further than trade. In a game where production is a large chunk of the core cycle, it’s important to keep it relevant beyond turning everything into a gold equivalent.

With weapon and armour damage, you’ve got to think about how much you’re selling versus how much you’re holding in reserve for invasions and re-equipping soldiers. In adventure mode it made castles more important. You have a reason to keep an eye out for them now, as a way to resupply and replace equipment. Previously, you could just walk into any old castle and find a highly effective weapon and armour set right off the bat, which would give you an advantage that would never end. As a result you’d never really hesitate before getting into a fight with a giant penguin. You’d just grab the steel knitting needle and off you went. With item durability in place, blindly wandering into a goblin fortress or necromancer tower isn’t the best idea when you know that eventually your armour is going to buckle under the blows of a hundred enemies. The armour protects you, as it should, but you’re not a god. And you never should be.

While Dwarf Fortress also suffers the same fragility problems that crop up in most durability systems, it gets away with it because the AI plays by the same rules that you do. That’s the other thing that weapon durability systems often lack: they don’t apply to other parts of the world. Just you. So you don’t get ever get to be the guy who breaks the weapon and then chases down the enemy. This is another reason people get so frustrated with these mechanics: There should be two edges to this blade; you should have the opportunity to do something cool but instead the mechanics can only ever hinder you in particular. If you’re going to have a rule then apply it to everything.

Blood Omen II had weapon durability mechanics and it was another instance where I found that it added to the game. In an otherwise mediocre adventure, made better by some satisfying voice acting and an unwillingness to sacrifice character for genre cliché, the weapon breaking did add a slight depth to the formulaic combat system. Because my big looted sword could only take a certain amount of punishment and would break after I repeatedly blocked attacks, I approached each fight with a bit of forethought. If I was just tackling a grunt, I’d use my hands or focus on dodging, but if I ran into something more substantial or faster, I would switch to the weapon, preferring the raw damage output over a considered parry and counter. When I didn’t have a weapon and came up against one of the tougher enemies, the absence was noticeable.

It’s good to put the protagonist in trouble. Otherwise what’s the point in them? When the game is structured around a linear narrative, regardless of the size of the corridor, then we already anticipate the end: Kill the boss and triumph. In the case of Zelda, we all know it ends up with the Master Sword anyway. But we’ve already played with the Master Sword for 16 games. We get it: It’s the bog-standard heroic phallus. Get out of the way. It’s just more interesting to be using, or have the choice to use, all the other weapons and armour. If we’re aware of the destination then the journey needs some hooks.

Of course there are those who will rail against mechanics like this. I wonder if that’s simply a backlash against games outside of a specific niche, daring to offer some danger. This isn’t some semi-covert, ‘git gud’ elitist braying. A game shouldn’t have to hold your hand in order to engage you. In recent years there has been a period where gaming has dug itself into a power fantasy hole, and then refused to climb out of it. More recently there has been a push back against that, fuelled by successful games that understand the concept of difficulty as a part of an experience, rather than just cheap difficulty for the sake of difficulty – think Diablo III’s launch and the abysmal gear-check hurdle grind difficulty setting ‘Inferno’. A better understanding and experience of mechanics and expanded technical and AI capabilities have increased our ability to develop game difficulty that feels natural, not just cheesy and frustrating like Mario Kart’s rubber-band AI. As technology grows, we’re in a great place to capitalise on this. Now that we can take advantage of increased processing power and memory, we can build interesting physics and AI systems. Developers no longer need to rely on just upping the amount of damage taken or implementing dull damage-sponge enemies.

Dark Souls is, as ever, the obvious one: You’re very rarely out of danger, every enemy can always hurt you, and becoming careless can be death; but the games don’t exclude you from being very powerful. Killing Floor II doesn’t increase its difficulty simply by giving its monsters more health it gives them more abilities. That’s a fairly obvious but fantastic way of increasing difficulty. Instead of just increasing the amount of spent bullets, the player has to adapt to increasingly varied and less predictable behaviours. XCOM 2, while renowned for its RNG, isn’t a game of chance. A certain part of the core gameplay loop is the negation of RNG and swinging the odds in your favour. That’s arguably just a part of any tactical process, but it doesn’t detract from the danger or success of the game’s systems. You prioritise enemies based on their abilities, you choose your attacks based on your circumstance, you take advantage of the procedural terrain to negate the effectiveness of the aliens. While I have some reservations about certain mechanics, I have at no point felt that everything boiled down to chance. Every move you make is dictated by your situation at the time.

Getting back to the point: There’s an edge to knowing that your weaponry can break alongside a refreshing forced change in pace and play style. Switching from one defence to the next based on what you have to hand is more frantic and compelling. Forcing a player to run if they underestimate their enemy or overestimate their own abilities keeps the player from becoming complacent. Jim Sterling argued that forced variability of play style is no real choice. While I get where he’s coming from, unless you’re getting nothing but very specific items, then you should theoretically be able to stick to a broad play style – quick and nimble, heavy and hard hitting, etc.

Of course, if it’s balanced poorly, the mechanic becomes nothing but a frustration. If a weapon snaps like a twig at the first sign of impact then that’s a problem. If a piece of armour is rendered useless in three hits, that’s a problem. In general, we build our expectations roughly comparative to the ones that we might have of reality. That means that we don’t expect hardwearing combat equipment to feel anything but. If it doesn’t, then all sense of significance goes out the window. Put simply: If your player is holding a weapon then it should feel like a weapon. Revelatory, I know.

Take the survival horror genre, for instance. It’s a genre that is built around making the player vulnerable. To that effect it either doesn’t give you a weapon of any kind, or downplays the effectiveness and availability of protective measures. That’s not a license to equip the player with a Styrofoam crowbar. If you want to leave an impression then you make the crowbar feel like a crowbar. Weighty and impactful: The kind of thing that would put a large man on the ground without a problem. It’s something that the player can latch onto, it’s a point of reference, and it’s a measurement by which they understand the rules of the world. And then you give the player an antagonist that doesn’t care.

I’m just adapting writing functions here. It’s more or less the same idea, just on an interactive level. For instance, you can emphasise the sense of danger by giving your player human opponents to start off with. It’s something they instantly recognise and understand. That gives them the idea that they have control and thus some power. Then you introduce something that is outside of their frame of reference and doesn’t obey the rules that they’re used to. That takes control away from them. Suddenly they’re vulnerable. As an aside, that doesn’t mean take away the rules – there should always be rules, even if the player, or the reader, doesn’t explicitly know them. The reaction isn’t to discard the crowbar as useless; the reaction is to cling tighter to it. It’s all they’ve got – it becomes more a talisman of hope than a means of survival. So you’ve taken the danger into a psychological space and given them something to anchor themselves with. Then you take that thing away. Better yet, you destroy it. When you take an item away from a player they will hold out hope to find it again. They’ve got something to latch onto and they’re not going to give it up. They will expect to find that crowbar later on. That’s their safe place. If you break the crowbar then it’s useless. It’s gone. It’s not coming back.

The problem with overly short gear durability is that players aren’t given an incentive to use items, nor an opportunity to get attached to them. Attachments are meaningful if you have the ability to lose them. If gear durability is too low then players don’t use what you give them even if they pick it up. They will use items against bosses and that’s more or less it. If they’re doing that then you’ve failed. You should take all the items and replace them with a stick of dynamite. All you’ve done is set up a wall and given the player some explosives. Items should alter the way you approach a scenario, they should lend themselves to a play style. If, for example, your weapons are just short lived high damage objects, then they lose their identity. They become an amorphous, but easy, way of dealing large amounts of damage to a miscellaneous barrier in the shortest possible timeframe. Nobody likes health sponges because all they take to beat is the repetitive mashing of a button. That’s what your bosses become and your items are just ways to reduce the amount of time you have to mash a button for.

That’s not a gameplay mechanic: It’s a means of reducing the risk of RSI.

In this era of day one DLC and hotfix patches, adjusting the balance of item durability isn’t beyond possibility. It’s not impossible for features and mechanics that start out as a tiresome negative to become an immersive addition with the right tweaks.

Weapon durability systems should, at their core, be a means of depriving a player of a comfort zone. While this may seem to go against design philosophy, it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as an impediment to fun. It simply depends on whether the mechanics interact with, and add to, other features of the game. There’s a good reason to keep your player off-balance and put them in uncomfortable situations: It keeps them alert and engaged with the game. If you give your players a very powerful item and they know that it has a limited number of uses, its inherent value goes up so long as it isn’t restricted too severely. Go too far with restrictions or overspecialise and your item value goes down. If you have unlimited access to a very powerful item then the value of everything goes down, because if there’s no chance of loss then there’s no diminishing of a player’s ability to dominate all circumstances or remain invulnerable. As a result the power is endless and, in a counter-intuitive twist, stops having meaning.

Where games can fall down is simply to overemphasise durability to the point where it is not a mechanic so much as it is a chore. If you are constantly worrying about item damage after every single use, then the system is not adding anything to the experience. There’s a significant balancing act to systems like this, pacing the availability of items, encouraging their use, differentiation, etc. Jim Sterling accurately called out the endless supply of banal bar filling that pervades survival games in his ‘Babysitting the Survivor’ episode of the Jimquisition. All too often developers seem to approach item durability in this manner; viewing potentially novel mechanics as simply another bar to keep topped up, when they should be doing anything but.

Weapon and armour durability can be an effective tool in creating an immersive experience so long as developers have the guts to take things away, and work item durability in as a complimentary system rather than an endless source of arbitrary busywork. It can keep the variety and the danger in combat regardless of player advancement, and thus keep the player from becoming complacent. As a result you keep the tension, and you can potentially wind up with some incredibly memorable emergent gameplay moments and stories. This is the strength of item durability, and by extension, a willingness to take things away from the player. As long as it can be implemented effectively, it should be encouraged. You have to be willing to both give and take away. That’s a rule for writing and it’s a rule for games, too.

 

 

 

 

There Is Only Chaos: Alpha, Beta, Whatever

Maturity begets integrity.

A month into Trump’s presidency and the new American president is causing as much of a wave in the White House as he did on the campaign trail. While I have my reservations about the rash of post-election protests, much as I do sympathise, Trump is certainly a polarising individual. His ‘grab them by the pussy,’ comment, in particular, remains in the spotlight. Not without good reason. It’s hardly a fitting comment for the leader of a major world superpower, with his hands on the nuclear codes. Well, depending on who you ask, anyway… At the time of the leak, Nigel Farage, that paragon of authenticity, passed it off as ‘alpha male boasting’. In the wake of the election of such a personality there seems to be a rise in a kind of red pill style conservatism, revolving around delusional machismo, branding everything unaffiliated with the label ‘cuck’, and attempting to boil all of masculinity down into a rudimentary food chain of sorts.

There’s a sad contingent of people, mostly males, who insist on dividing all other males in the world into categories of dominance. It’s not a particularly expansive categorisation, neither is it particularly in-depth. There are just two columns for the entire 3 billion or so males on the planet: The alpha and the beta. It’s a kind of simplified flat-pack easy-assemble worldview that offers comforting direction to boys who don’t want to think too hard about their actions, perceptions, or their significance in the world, but still want to feel like someone of consequence. The kind of person who will fight you for the first place in front of a mirror, but will chug a stein full of bull semen before taking a long look at themselves.

As expected, we find that the depiction of the alpha males is a parodic example of self-perpetuating gender stereotyping played straight. I don’t want to fall back on a tired cliché, but the image of the grunting Neanderthal lumbers to mind, only with none of the charm. Conversely, the grovelling weedy nerds of the world, again as expected, represent the beta male. It’s a foregone conclusion that each of these hapless oestrogenic wonders secretly aspire to be just like the alphas, if only they could get off World of Warcraft and give negging a chance. Most amusing is that these grossly oversimplified caricatures are held aloft as if they were real. The loud obnoxious character who attempts to hold court, rather than engage in conversation, is held aloft as someone to aspire to. This person is, apparently, revered and respected as opposed to being a massive turn-off. See, the problem with a person, of any gender, who constantly attempts to dominate all social scenarios, is that it quickly becomes apparent how pervasively insecure they are. That’s why they need to have themselves validated at all turns and why all eyes must be centred on them at all times. Unfortunately, nobody goes out for a drink with the intention of babysitting.

Take Trump’s consistent grandstanding. His need to have the attention forever focussed on him is all too apparent. He is so insecure that he has hired people to clap for his speeches. How about photos of him sitting in a golden chair in front of a golden wall? Comedy Central had to repeatedly scrap the jokes they’d written, because Trump couldn’t quite understand the point of a roast – the humour. Instead, he insisted that they talk about his wealth… Naturally, bankruptcies were off limits. Leaving aside Trump and his chronic narcissism, this constant need for validation and attention doesn’t inspire the kind of image that one would associate with an ‘alpha male’.

Five minutes of mild contemplation is sufficient to illustrate how utterly absurd the entire alpha-beta concept is in the first place. It works with other animals because most of them don’t have much in the way of an advanced social structure. It doesn’t work with humans for a number of reasons, but working within this paradigm, let’s examine it:

Do you know any men who are going to actively identify themselves as ‘beta’, given the social implications? Me neither. Not all men can be alpha so there must be some beta men. However, if one man is alpha then the majority of those around him are presumably considered beta. If each of them in turn thinks of themselves as alpha, than the alpha male would have to be beta. They cannot exist in both states at once. All of them, as the self-presumed alpha, are betas in someone else’s perspective and so they cancel each other out. The conclusion is, as usual, that a man who brands himself an ‘alpha male’ is merely overcompensating with a psychological crutch. Within that shallow paradigm, you’re not an alpha in that case. An alpha wouldn’t need that crutch.

People talk. About you. People you hate, people you like, people you love. Your enemies, your friends, your family. Whatever your social presence or connections, people talk about you. Braggadocio is the spurious pup yap of the immature boy who never left the playground: A loud, limp cover for feared impotence. It’s as facile as the alpha-beta nonsense. Alpha male boasting doesn’t happen. They don’t need to. Other people talk for them.

I know, I know. The only reason I’m writing about this in the first place is, of course, that I am simply an angry beta male. Constantly friend zoned, blue balled, whining about it on the Internet to a disinterested handful of faceless strangers. Meanwhile I spend my time kotowing to the looming feminist matriarchy that is slowly taking over the world because of a surge in regressive left leaning cucks. I do this with the shrivelled hope that, upon their eventual dominance and the overthrow of all Y-chromosomes, one of m’ladies will favour me enough to grace me with a pity fuck. Any day now.

Let’s dispense with the alpha beta rhetoric. Social power dynamics in human relationships, even among creatures as simple as us menfolk, are somewhat more complex than a binary sorting hat. It’s not solely about chest thumping and flaccid bragging. As with all human social hierarchies, the variables work on multiple levels are affected by any number of external and internal factors, and the points of dominance and power shift depending on context. I’m not well read on animal social group dynamics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those too, were slightly more convoluted than the proposed alpha-beta model. Of course, the reality is simply that none of this exists. It’s the psychological equivalent of homeopathy for the pitiful and puffed up.

Perhaps it would simply be more effective to take an honest look at yourself every now and then. Perhaps go so far as to actively do the hard work to improve yourself, rather than simply shouting about how great you are, despite nobody, not even you, believing it. Of course, that requires somewhat more work than constantly trying to bark the loudest and inflate your chest like a cheap helium balloon. Perhaps that explains why these types desperately cling to the chest thumping. There isn’t the stamina, tenacity, or mental alacrity to work on anything more difficult than a two-dimensional binary system more concerned with the volume of the bark than the power of the bite.

There is Only Chaos: Random Breast Generation

I had a problem with my character generator. It was facial hair. Specifically: How to get it to assign to the appropriate gender. The background for the generator doesn’t seem to be particularly complex, certainly manipulating the various syntax blocks is straightforward. I imagine I’m overlooking various things, but I don’t have to learn C++ to get what I want out of it. Or something entirely more simple… C++ would probably be massive overkill for a random generator.

But back to the point: From my *very* layman’s grasp of coding, some dabbling here and there way back when with game design that never went anywhere, what I basically needed was an ‘if function’. As in: ‘if male, assign facial hair options’. I had genders lumped together so it was just picking between the two and that worked up until I needed to rope things to specific options like this. After quite some time I had only half got it working. My solution gave me the male output, but it would also try and assign facial hair to the female category, too. That would be interesting to do as a very small percentage chance, but we’re dealing with every single generated female. So I made it pass over them. It did, to an extent. It left the descriptions with ‘She.’ at the end, where it couldn’t get anything to fill in for the category of facial hair.

So I thought I needed something to take up the blank space. A physical female characteristic. Bingo. So after some deliberation I bit the bullet and went off to write some random breast generator syntax to slot in. Long story short, I was, again, only half successful. It had options for both genders, but got confused about which to assign to which, since the way I laid it out couldn’t specify anything. I went away, drank some coffee and eventually struck on an idea. I came back and rewrote the generator syntax to work in a new way, in order for it to mimic a very simplistic ‘if function’. It works. Men can have facial hair, women can have breasts. Simple.

I was on the fence about adding breast-specific descriptions into this generator. It wasn’t on the cards initially. Technically, I could even take the breasts out now, but having come this far I may as well leave them in for the mean time. However, this whole episode proved to be far more interesting than anticipated.

I want to be at least partially objective with this. It turns out that it’s surprisingly difficult to be objective where tits are concerned. Adjectives are so loaded with weight in the context of breasts. My immediate question is whether that’s my personal wellspring of depravity, or just my personal cultural background? For instance, If I went to a far flung rain forest, African tribe, nudist colony, or something similar, where bare breasted women are commonplace, would they still get the same connotations from my randomly generated descriptions? On the surface, any and all of the words that I threw in that list are neutral on their own, but in context they take on different meanings and significance.

My general approach is to cover as much surface area without straying towards any particular tone or image. At the same time I want to allow room for the generator to come up with a tone or feel that is naturally concocted by one or more adjectives. So on the one hand you get your average woman, on another you get a horrifying hag, and on yet another you get your stock Amazonian sex goddess. It’s all in what the combination of visuals put in your head.

This part of the joy of being a writer and the kind of sad bastard who actually enjoys fucking around with words, random generators, and things like this: I get to research anything, including tits, and it’s all legitimate. I’m probably on a number of lists by now, but until it interferes with my life I probably won’t care.

The main problem is describing breasts without being lascivious or perverse. I’m not going for that, it’s weird. I do find that a lot of the language used to describe breasts does fall into the problem of leaving me looking like this slimy caricature man-child who can’t quite get over the fact that mammaries exist, and can’t manage to describe them without finding something inherently sexual in the process. The result is that every description of a female thereafter becomes loaded with sexual connotation and they in turn become caricatures. I was only trying to write some basic descriptions! I found that people trying to describe breasts are almost universally positive in tone. If they’re not the next best thing to the holy grail, they’re akin to the holy grail defiled. There isn’t that much middle ground.

Question: How do you describe an average pair of tits? By proxy, you don’t. There’s no need to describe nondescript things. If something’s average you just don’t mention it. Describing things as ‘average’ basically means you’ve put a sentence in that you should not have. However, when dealing with random generation, two problems arise: You leave out the majority of breasts in the world, and that in turn weights everything towards either end of the spectrum and there’s not a run of the mill rack in sight! I noticed a lot of adjectives are for large breasts. What of small? Medium? There’s about five adjectives for large tits for every one describing a solid handful. There’s a thousand and one words for small, but they don’t quite fit the topic of breasts: ‘trifling’, ‘diminutive’, ‘inconsequential’, even ‘tiny’ seems problematic. But for the ‘large’, ‘huge’, ‘buxom’, there is a bountiful selection of adjectives. So much of it also seems to be dependent on overall body context, which doesn’t work well for generators. A ‘boyish’ build is a good example. Unless specified, you probably wouldn’t expect that to be accompanied by ‘with a rack to write home about!’ You probably shouldn’t write that anyway.

Do they need to be described in any case? In general: No. Outside of specific context, you don’t need it. In the case of my generator, sort of: I needed an alternative to facial hair to avoid having random ‘She.’ in my descriptions where the generator couldn’t supply facial hair for females (discriminatory, I know), and it seemed like the best alternative. Now that my syntax has been redesigned I could remove it, but for the moment I’ll let it be. Anyway, regardless of gender and sexuality, people notice and enjoy boobs. Sorry, that’s the best alternative answer I’ve got. Suck it. Or them. I’d like reiterate the point that if you’re writing a novel or general prose, that involves descriptions of people who happen to have two X chromosomes, every woman you come across doesn’t need to lead with her nipples.

Speaking of which: Nipples and cleavage. Deliberately left them out. While they are natural objective facts of reality, it didn’t seem necessary to describe them. Strange, because I’ve put pretty much every other bit of the human body in, regardless of significance. Down to specifying individual fingers and toes. I even had internal organs left in there, until earlier today, from the general list I’d written up ages ago and slotted in. So some people had ‘staunch’ lungs and ‘oblong’ lower intestines. I thought it might work as an amusing quirk, but in the end it just seemed out of place. Yes, I’m that kind of lunatic. Cleavage comes in naturally via context – you can fill in the gap, so to speak. Nipples seemed to indicate specific context: either general nakedness or sexual situations, potentially niche scenarios like breastfeeding, but again I wasn’t looking for a specific context to slot these people into and that seemed to rope them into one. Women: You’re either mothers, not wearing clothes for miscellaneous reasons, or fucking something. No exceptions. Admittedly, this is all pretty damn pathetic. Again, is that just me and my socio-cultural context? Does all of this pondering about tits indicate some kind of psychological repression or regression? I don’t consider myself to view women as walking fuck holes or find myself putting the humble breast on the towering pedestal that it seems to have found itself (themselves?) on. But the fact that this repeatedly returns to the subject of the sexualisation of an otherwise mundane biological collection of tissues, fats, and glands, suggests that something’s going on. Whether that’s personal or on a broader scale is up for debate.

Speaking of which, it’s no surprise that a lot of my research led me towards erotic fiction and romance, etc. One theme I noticed for breast-related adjectives seemed to be skin colour. That was not something I’d considered before this morning. Given that I’m randomly generating skin tone, too, I can’t use them, but I found the trend interesting. I noticed ‘creamy’, ‘pink tipped’, ‘rosy’ etc. came up a good number of times across various lists. I don’t know about you, but I picture white breasts in association with those adjectives. I didn’t find many, if any, that seemed specifically for non-Caucasian skin tones. Is there a similar set of adjective to describe brown or black breasts? If not, why not?

Missing breasts. Slightly heavier territory, potentially ruffling some feathers here and there, but I don’t mind pushing buttons. In the interest of accounting for all variables, I included missing breasts. Either single or both. I wasn’t specifically intending to draw attention to things like mastectomies, war crime, or anything in a similar vien: That’s for the person viewing the description to decide. Whether it’s in bad taste is up for debate, I suppose, but it seems like a reasonable thing to include. Women don’t cease to be women for lack of breasts.

The other elephant in the room, that any writer worth half a thimble full of salt is wondering now is: Simile and metaphor would make these descriptions easier, or at least more varied. Why not use them? I’ll get to it. I did think about it, and I’ve for plans. I’ve not included the syntax for metaphor or simile in any of the parts yet. It’s all fairly dry and specific. Until I get all the basic parts of this generator in place, I’m keeping things pretty simple. Other than that, there’s omission options. I’m still not amazed with the adjective list for boobs, if I’m honest. It’s certainly not all over-glorified or sexually pre-disposed crap, but it could be fleshed out.

This wasn’t the way I expected Saturday morning to go… From a quick answer to a problem with facial hair, this part of the generator has thrown up some interesting thoughts and observations.

The is Only Chaos: You’re Right: Wealth Isn’t a Dirty Word.

‘Hypocrisy’, however, is.

“It’s the politics of envy!”, “Wealth isn’t a dirty word!”, “This is just another war on the rich!”

My, it didn’t take them long, did it? To turn this Panama papers leak into a establishment-media driven pity party for the privileged. Same rules as ever: prizes for the most vocal human answer to the yeast infection…

No, you insipid strings of afterbirth, nobody’s claiming that the rich are inherently as vile as you are. If we believed that, we’d have to gut J.K.Rowling and lynch Keanu Reeves. No, the public are not angry because of the size of your bank account. We’re pissed off because, despite being told we’re all in this together, you still play by different rules than the ones you set out for ‘everyone’. Is there a dictionary entry for the “elite” with variable definitions somewhere?

We’re seeing cuts for the vulnerable and the sell-off of every public asset and service available, while you put a £70 billion hole in the economy every year. Sure, it’s legal and anyone can do it. I’m willing to bet £70 billion that if everyone suddenly opened up a business in off-shore islands where we all legally hide our profits, it’d suddenly become very illegal. Also, I suppose we should ignore the fact that record numbers of people are living off of food banks, in a first world country, in the city inhabited by more super-rich residents than any other city on the planet.

Silly proles, why didn’t those people just open up an off-shore business in Panama?

There is Only Chaos: Consumer Critical

Ever wonder why marketing treats you like an idiot? Because you act like an idiot.

People are bitching about the price tag of No Man’s Sky because the development team is small. What? Critical thinking. Please. Anybody?

I genuinely can’t understand the process where people make these assertions and then fail to review them. How do you come up with argument and fail to step back, look at it, immediately realise the flaws in your arguments, before revising either the argument or your position on whatever subject you happen to be arguing about? How is that not just a natural process?

Using the initial subject: I’d love to see the equation for ‘dev team size = cost’. What’s the maths you have to do to get a price tag on a game if that price tag is contingent on the size of the development team? Surely, by that logic, Call of Duty should cost far in excess of a hundred pounds per iteration, because their development teams are gigantic. At a logical extreme, you just end up with developers hiring the maximum number of employees they can get away with before the cost of team outweighs the price of the game and predicted sales.

Surely you should bitching about the fact that nobody knows a thing about it but they’re asking people to pre-order it. Which is like the digital equivalent of snake oil. That’s actually a problem with some relevance – not just to the game in question but the industry, and the slightly wider economics of that market. How did people suddenly decide that you can literal sell ideas or your marketing to people, with very little information outside of the buzzwords? Worse – how are consumers OK with this? As a mass, as a gaping maw, that the market simply exists to keep feeding, the people have managed to get to a point where industries have tapped each other on the back and murmur, “You realise we don’t actually have to produce anything, right? That bloated fucking moron over there will eat whatever you throw at it. It barely even has to exist!”

There is only chaos: Self-improvement is masturbation

We’re coming to the end of the first month of the new year. If you made a resolution, how are you doing with it? What did you resolve? Are still going with it? Did you give up? Will you continue after January?

I don’t really bother with resolutions, myself. I have given myself a list of goals that I want to achieve by the end of the year. So far it’s going well enough. I may add more as I go, but it’s not wise to give yourself too much to focus on at once. Either way, I think annual goals are a good thing. I haven’t done anything specific before now, no specific lists. After all, that’s daunting. It’s concrete. You have to follow through. Or don’t. But if you don’t, you fail. So you might as well at least try to follow through. Win or lose, you’re bound to learn something about yourself.

I’m not posting mine. I think if you’re into the whole self improvement deal then it should be a personal thing. If you’re doing self improvement for the sake of taking selfies and posting self-satisfied statuses on Facebook or Twitter, you’re doing it wrong. It’s just ego-masturbation.

I like lists for things like this, though. I think it’s a good way of focusing on exactly what you want, without getting through the first month and just abandoning everything for the rest of the year. Personally, self development, if that’s not too much like some kind of industry buzzword that gets thrown around every time there’s an annual review looming, isn’t something you can do for a month and then feel smug about, like buying a gym membership you’ll use four or five times and leave at the back of a draw somewhere. It’s got to be a permanent drive for advancement. Whatever form that takes.

There is Only Chaos: “I Don’t Mind Surveillance: I Have Nothing to Hide.”

What’s your name? Where were you born? How old are you? What school did you go to? How were your grades? What’s your mother’s maiden name? Your father’s? Any siblings? How’s your medical history? What did you search for on google last night? What newspapers/websites do you frequent? What are your political leanings? Who did you vote for in the last election? Married? Divorced? When was the last time you watched porn? What did you search for? How long were you watching? Ever pirated something? What was it? Can I look through your text messages? Can I have the password to your email account? Ever done drugs? Which ones? When was the last time you had sex? Who with? Any sexually transmitted infections or diseases? Hired a prostitute? How many? Ever had an abortion? Can you give me your bank details? Do you mind if I dump this information into a vast trough?

No, the trough is not secure.

There is Only Chaos: The Repugnant Conclusion Is No Conclusion

A layman’s perspective on a utilitarian philosophical paradox.

The Repugnant Conclusion, as an answer to utilitarianism, doesn’t seem to work. I find that most of these situations have the same flaw, and they pretty much add up to the utility monster thought experiment. Briefly, the repugnant concludes that it is better to have a world with several billion unhappy people than a world with one billion happy people. Their baseline for happiness is apparently ‘not wanting to die’. Right. So basically the unhappy billions are still happy because they still prefer life. Therefore, to this argument, the negativity of the unhappy people doesn’t exist. This doesn’t make sense.

The negative value still exists. It doesn’t go away just because the unhappy people exhibit a preference for life. That’s not happiness; that’s instinct. I would say happiness has a capping point – exhibited by a couple of studies that show that people are increasingly happy with their lives as they are more able to get to a point where they can take care of all concerns, usually through a sufficiently high paying job, if that’s not too cynical. It works as a benchmark for this instance.

The problem is that this argument still seems to revolve around too basic an equation: It only accounts for gross linear accumulation of happiness, and nothing else. Which defeats the idea of utilitarianism being founded in common sense. If you were to take the idea of the utility monster and apply reality to it, the utility monster caps out very fast. The gross negativity that is created by the people working for the utility monster quickly outweighs the usefulness of the utility monster. That is, of course, assuming it’s doing anything for the greater good in the first place. If not then it’s actively generating negative happiness by not contributing to the happiness of the most people. It doesn’t work because the gross negativity outweighs the gross happiness. The negativity has to be factored into this equation for the equation to work, if not you have useless results.

Valentines Day? Shut Up.

Like it or lump it, just don’t talk about it.

 

Valentines Day approaches. Restaurants, theatres, and other entertainment venues are looking forward to this date, alongside social media – both the owners and the denizens thereof. Valentines day, as with pretty much any other holiday, gets a certain theme going on social media or web forums and generally anywhere that Internet folk communicate. There’s two types of people that you’ll find online on Valentines: Those without dates and those with dates. Err, is that supposed to be intelligent or deep or something? No. This is a two-word survival guide with a lot of explanation. Those words?

 

‘Shut up.’

 

There’s a weird tension to this day – because the culture we live in promotes relationships so aggressively. This is in part due to the marketing guys and various businesses who stand to make bank off of it, and partly just because the culture we live in tends to see companionship as an end-game to life. There’s a Dylan Moran line that sums it up nicely:

 

“Go and get a job. Go and find a flat. Find somebody else. Put them in the flat. Make them stay. “

 

I honestly think this mode of thought is dying out with the new millennium – Japan is an interesting case study of how the modern world has changed the priorities of the emerging generations, particularly away from each other. I don’t think that’s unique to Japan, but it is probably more extreme there.

 

But this is not a post about the generational changes and the thought abyss between the generations growing up in the new millennium, and those who grew up before it. This about the current state of affairs. The current state of affairs still tends towards seeing single people through the lense of: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Only with a more cosmopolitan/gender neutral tone in this day and age. This creates two interesting side effects, especially when combined with the narcissistic megaphone chum bucket that is social media. This is amplified on February the 14th.

 

First crowd first then: Those without. What tends to happen with the people who don’t have someone to latch onto, is that they will feel compelled towards posting a status update, or a tweet, or whatever it is that’s trendy. Probably some kind of hashtag-selfie. It will come in various forms, but will emphasise how much the poster does not care about being single on Valentines day. It will espouse the virtues of being a strong independent X who don’t need no Y. And it’s valid. You know a couple of paragraphs previously where I said that the society is still very willing to pressure you to share a space with someone that you may or may not care about? It is also quite happy to pressure you into being aloof, cold, self-sufficient, and independent. The idea being that by totally rejecting the old traditions of yore, in favour of the opposite, we’re proving that we can be happy without the social norms of the baby boomers.

 

Personally, I quite enjoy it. I enjoy that there’s an option for aggressive solitude. But it does fall into the same pit as the original: It’s just another social norm. It’s still trying to prove something. Everyone’s very busy trying to prove to everyone that they’re really happy with their personal situation. I’m not the first person to point out that most of the people trying to prove they’re happy probably aren’t. But the modern world also has us thinking we’re rock stars in our own little bubbles and so we need to constantly update our fans on whatever the fuck we’re doing, regardless of how banal it is.

 

It might also come in the form of politicised anti-corporate angst. “Valentines day is just a cash cow for hallmarks!” screams the lone warrior. True, at least in part. Whatever St. Valentine had to do with this occasion is pretty shredded, and where there’s mass-interest there’s money to be made. Cue commerce.

 

Now here’s why you shouldn’t say any of that: You can’t win. It doesn’t matter how well you can logically argue that Valentines day is a corporate farce, or that you’re happy on your jack Jones, or whatever. It doesn’t even matter if any of that is true. Nobody reading it will believe you. If you’re going out of your way to attack the holiday celebrating romantic love on whatever basis, people will only hear, “I’m lonely, I’m bitter because I’m not getting any tonight, so I’m going to attack everyone who is.” Again – this might not actually be you. For some of you it is. It doesn’t matter. The above is what your post invariably comes across as. So shut up. Don’t write anything on social media, or forums, or wherever. Be neutral. If you are looking for a way to prove your detachment from corporate profit driven romance, or you’re looking for a way to prove that you are a strong independent X who don’t need no Y, then stop bitching about it. Staying silent is the best way to signal to the world that you actually don’t give a fuck.

 

Onto the second crowd: Those with.

 

Put. Your. Fucking. Phone. Down.

 

We get it: You’re so in love. We get it: There are candles in the vicinity of food. We get it: You are happy. So why do you feel the need tell us so often at such volume? If you can find time to send a hundred tweets, Facebook updates, or pictures about how awesome your night is, then your night is not awesome. How much time are you spending on the attention you are paying to the person you’re with, versus how much time are you thinking about whatever message your next update or selfie should project? That’s not happiness, that’s bullshit. That’s a bad attempt at convincing the world you’ve achieved something and that you’re happy and content and so on. But because you feel the need to billboard it so aggressively, nobody with two brain cells to rub together believes you.

 

Shut up. Turn the phone off, turn twitter off, turn Facebook off. Go actually have a good time with your lover. That unsent tweet is thirty seconds mote sex, another bite of food, a stupid snatch of conversation that isn’t so stupid to you and that person you’re with. That’s your happiness, that’s proving to people that you’ve got something. If you’re having a good time then what the fuck does it matter what I think about it? Whether I hit the like button on your selfie or leave a comment on your update is utterly irrelevant. The only thing that matters, that should matter, is that you’re in the moment and enjoying it. People will fill in the blanks themselves.

 

Understand something: you can’t win. With that in mind, don’t play. Grab a book, grab a pen, grab a film, grab a takeaway menu, or perhaps grab yourself. Alternatively grab someone else in your nearby vicinity. Do not grab your phone. Do not grab a camera. Do not grab Facebook. Do not grab Twitter. Do not grab Tumblr. Do not grab Instagram. Do not grab any other social media platform. Stay away. If you are tempted to rave about how lonely you are: don’t. If you are tempted to rave about how corporate fuelled Valentines day is: don’t. If you are tempted to rave about how fucking amazing your day is, or even how bad it is: don’t.

 

Shut up.

There is Only Chaos: Every Writer You Know is Slightly Sociopathic.

Building Cathedrals From Dead Tissue

I’m writing this with one thumb dipped in a cup of hot water. it’s infected – Paronychia. Just shy of a week ago, I ripped out a hangnail. Done it a million times before, no problems. Our dishwasher recently broke, won’t be replaced for a good while, and so I’m hand washing the dishes like some kind of savage. Tragic.

Because I’d forgotten that ripping out a hangnail leaves what is essentially an open wound, I went about washing the dishes and didn’t bother with gloves. Dishwater, as the astute among you are probably aware, is dirty. As a man of season and experience, allow me to impart some esoteric wisdom: Open wounds and dirty water don’t mix well.

Which brings me onto a thing that amuses me about being a writer. Or claiming to be, at the very least: You are always studying things. My google searches have probably put me on some kind of terrorist database owned by GCHQ somewhere. My own thumb, with it’s small patch of mottled greying tissue, and bruised purple-red swelling, has become a case study. Part of a book I am plotting out at the moment involves the minor presence of illness, disease, etc. Living in the first world I don’t get to experience that first hand – oh, God – very often. I have a friend who works for the NHS and does. His descriptions of what can go wrong with your day to day bodily fluids and by-products are both alarming and insightful. Actually having my thumb infected has been fairly enlightening.

This infection has become a resource.

That’s a major part of being a writer. Everything become a resource – you get this interesting sub-part of your brain that detaches in every event and asks: ‘How can I use this?’ It’s a bit strange, but very useful. I suppose it’s the literary equivalent of the surgeon’s detachment. The ability to cut people open in a calm and calculated manner is not something that most of us possess. That is usually the reserve of psychopaths. Don’t fuck with surgeons: They’re scary. So too are writers, just not in the same way. They will break you, your pain, your joys, your experiences down into components and build things out of them. The ecstatic triumphs and soul destroying dramas of your life are Minecraft to a writer.