Five Things: January 4, 2024

Happy new year! This is my bi-weekly “newsletter” delivered straight to your inbox, as requested at some point in the past. Hopefully you’re enjoying it! If so, drop a comment on the blog, on the socials, or send me an email. If you’re not feeling it anymore, there’s a link down below to unsubscribe. No hard feelings!

_ONE

Building community out of strangers | By Tracy Durnell

Even when the conversation isn’t direct, blogging is community the way neighborhoods are — you don’t know everyone who lives nearby, everyone’s got a slightly different set of connections, but living in the same environment where common concerns might arise and sharing just some of these cross connections to hear rumblings through the grapevine means ideas and vibes will diffuse through. I might not follow someone’s feed, but get referred to their writing regularly nonetheless through others who do.

When I first started this newsletter back in February 2021, it was partly to experiment with the now-dead Revue platform, which had just been acquired by Twitter, which had quietly replaced my own blog as my online hub over the years. Things that would have once been blog posts of varied lengths became brief hot takes limited to 280 characters, or awkwardly edited threads to get a longer point across — all while trying to avoid ever becoming the main character of the day.

The real goal, though, was to force myself to write more consistently and thoughtfully, while reading more broadly instead of doomscrolling, and the “newsletter” was really just an old-school linkblog delivered by email. From the very beginning, I “archived” every issue on my own site, setting each post to publish an hour after the newsletter went out, first on Revue, then on Substack and LinkedIn, and now, it’s just a bi-weekly blog post delivered to some readers by email!

With the implosion of Twitter, 2023 became a rebuilding year as I rethought where, how, and with whom I wanted to engage online. The first priority was re-establishing my own blog as my central hub, while using Feedly to store and keep track of interesting articles I read, some of which I’d eventually share and free associate against here. I’ve enjoyed my return to blogging regularly and am slowly rebuilding my blogroll with a mix of old and new voices I’ve discovered across different platforms, some of whom I’d never have encountered in the oddly siloed days of latter-day Twitter. At some point I’ll even add a literal blogroll back to the site, too!

NOTE: I’ve also settled into Mastodon as my primary social network, while periodically checking in on Bluesky to keep connected with old Twitter friends who prefer its VERY Twitter-like experience. Threads? Nah. Keep reading…

__TWO

Untangling Threads | Erin Kissane

As of last year—ten years after warnings began to appear in Myanmar and about six years since the peak of the genocide—Meta was still accepting genocidal anti-Rohingya ads, the content of which was actually taken directly from widely studied documents from the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, examining the communications that led to the genocide. Meta continues to accept extreme disinformation as advertising all over the world, in contradiction to its own published policies and statements, as Global Witness keeps demonstrating.

I forget when I finally killed my Facebook account, but at that point it had been relatively dormant for at least a year because I still needed it to manage a few Pages for my Day Job at the time. (So, probably 2019?) Instagram begrudgingly replaced it as my “keep in touch with family and friends who don’t use Twitter” platform, and when Meta launched Threads as an alleged Twitter-killer, I couldn’t avoid seeing the hype — nor the lazy attempts to make it look like friends were inviting me to engage there. I never bit because I don’t trust Meta and refuse to engage with them whenever I can avoid it, for a variety of reasons.

While it can be very difficult to walk away from problematic platforms you’re deeply engaged with, there’s zero reason to jump on a new one run by people with literal blood on their hands. Kissane goes deep into explaining why you also might not want to touch Threads with a 10-foot-pole, and although it’s through the lens of federation, you don’t have to care about any of that to get it.

(PS: Also, maybe avoid those who continually explain they’re excited by the chance of getting blood on their hands. YMMV.)

___THREE

Solo board games are a salvation from an online world | Tom Ana

But it wasn’t until COVID-19 that the hobby within a hobby finally found itself. As tabletops around the world closed, board game lovers like myself turned to solo games for the first time. There we found what fanatics had been saying for years — a new form of play distinct from puzzles, distinct from multiplayer games, something unique and special.

I didn’t know solo boardgaming was a thing until a few years ago, and it took a while to connect the dots between them and single-player videogames — which are not the least bit unusual — and stop thinking it was a weird thing. When I was deep in the Shadowrun rabbit hole last year, I bought Encounters: Shadowrun specifically because it claimed to be for 1-8 players and was a little disappointed to find a few lightly modified rules that made the game playable solo, if not terribly fun to do so. (I took care of that, though.)

Most of my gaming is Xbox-based, with the occasional jump to PC for games that work better with a keyboard, but the idea of a physical game I can play solo now and then is really appealing. In addition to identifying some interesting ones I want to learn more about, Ana explores the unique design sensibilities and evolution of solo boardgames over the years, too.

____FOUR

In defence of the cosmetic whales | Rob Fahey

Yet this model deserves a defence, because in almost every way it’s the least problematic option available – and while it’s never going to make people feel happy when they see a character skin that costs more than $20 (a third the price of the game itself!), it should at least mollify them to know that every other path video game monetisation might have gone down was far, far worse.

This one’s been sitting in my Feedly folder for months, waiting for the right newsletter to fit it in, and while this might not be the one, I never promised thematic coherence nor timeliness, so here it is! I don’t mind games that sell cosmetics, whether to subsidize their free-to-play model or bring in more money to keep a $60 game going beyond the occasional DLC expansion. I’ve bought them in a variety of games over the years (Destiny 2, The Division 2, and Titanfall 2, among others), sometimes because I thought they looked cool, and sometimes just to “tip” the developers to help keep a game I’m enjoying going. I don’t even mind most Battlepasses, which are often just a bunch of “premium” cosmetics you earn through gameplay — after paying for the Battlepass itself.

The alternatives are various pay-to-win models developers have experimented with (and are still common in mobile games), or paying a lot more than $60 for games that can literally give you several hundreds of hours of immersive entertainment.

I’m currently in the early endgame of my 2023 GOTY, Warhammer 40k: Inquisitor — Martyr, for which I bought the Ultimate Edition (on sale) that included an expanded campaign, a bunch of DLC and cosmetics, and then happily bought the additional character (Adeptus Sororitas is officially my favorite faction!). It’s a five-year-old game that’s unlikely to get any more updates, and I can easily see getting another 30-40 hours out of it before I get bored, so I would absolutely buy a few cosmetics for my characters rather than fiddle with their free in-game editor to tweak color schemes. I’m honestly surprised premium cosmetics aren’t a core offering for every Warhammer video game, because it’s already one of the most expensive hobbies I’ve ever seen!

_____FIVE

Calvin and Hobbes creator speaks! (On his first published work in 28 years) | Oli Welsh

“Our task was basically a paradox; this is why I had so much trouble on my own. We were trying to make pictures that didn’t show things for a story that didn’t say things. Which is probably the aspect of the book I like the best.”

This one also sat in my Feedly folder for a while, but this time it was because I was waiting to get and read The Mysteries, the first thing from Bill Watterson since he walked away from Calvin and Hobbes in 1995 and never looked back. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, newspaper comics were a core part of my reading diet, and two strips were my all-time favorites: The Far Side, and Calvin and Hobbes. You can see the premium collections of both in the header image I use in a lot of places (the one with the This is Fine dog, probably at the top of this post), and they’re one of the few book-related things I’d save in a fire.

The Mysteries is a picture book for adults; an old-fashioned parable for modern times; and a subtle piece of art from a couple of masters. I wasn’t familiar with Watterson’s collaborator, John Kascht, but watching them talk separately about the process that led to the book is fascinating. I also loved Watterson’s preferred approach of figuring things out as he goes and not getting hung up on details, which frustrated the hell out of Kascht, but perfectly aligns with one of my tattoos: “Go with what is. Use what happens.”


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4 thoughts on “Five Things: January 4, 2024

  1. Dang, dude, get out of my head! A lot of stuff I’ve been mulling on (blogging, more specifically a return to it, solo gaming, especially RPGs, especially designing some, and Watterson’s new book, which is sitting on my shelf to be read).

    Good stuff!

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