Hypocrisy in the Gaming Community

After playing video games for so long, and them acting almost as a quasi-parental model, I couldn’t help but notice some glaring contradictions in the lives of gamers. This piece is for people who play video games to excess. It doesn’t give me pleasure to do this, but being a psychology major with the intent of helping others who suffer, let’s dive in.

“You don’t look like your photo.”

It may be the most visual evidence of hypocrisy in the gaming community: the hero you play looks nothing like you, and many times bears a sharp contract to you physically. This is not to be so cruel as to say that typical heroes are beautiful and typical players ugly; the anorexic and meathead standard of beauty in gaming resembles the Hollywood scene. Rather, it’s to note that the more time you spend sitting, the less you look like the heroes you play as. Y’know, the heroes that are constantly walking, running, jumping, climbing, fighting, and lifting things.

Video games are a weird meta activity in that rather than exploring and fighting (don’t do this) and tackling challenges and fighting for a cause, you’re playing as a character that is doing those things. Rather than learning of the horror of violence and of responsible gun use by reading history and going to the gun range, you are shooting avatars online. Mind you, I’m not claiming that all gamers only play video games and never do physical things or venture out and explore. But if we’re going to be honest, we have to agree on some basic terms, and one of those basic terms is that too many people game too much and live too little.

This is perhaps most humorously portrayed in an episode of South Park where the boys become World of Warcraft addicts and their lives fall apart.

White Knighting

I have talked to too many people who see themselves as white knights, incapable of treating sexual interests poorly because it isn’t the chivalrous thing to do! -lifts monocle- Because of this, they remain virgins well into their twenties (or later), not realizing that what they see as disrespect is oftentimes a complex mating ritual.

We’ll need to unpack this a bit. There is a community of people who call themselves pick-up artists. People in this community go out and practice tactics for picking up women. At best, it can get men to break out of their social awkwardness, and at worst, it’s dangerous, teaching men to go out and hunt for women, to treat them means to an end.

However, all of this time spent in clubs and bars and on the streets talking to women is sometimes referred to as field work, and some decent ideas have been tested almost like a sociological study. I believe Mark Manson covers the best aspects of some of these ideas and dismisses much of the garbage.

Manson’s first lesson: Neediness is unattractive to women. Rather than faking non-neediness, create a life in which you are not needy. All people are needy occasionally, and that’s fine, but as a man you need to keep it in check more than women do. Men will put with more neediness from a women, perhaps because of evolutionary differences.

People who spend the majority of their time playing video games will miss out on important social lessons. From an outsiders perspective, sometimes a man may look like he’s disrespecting a woman. Want to know how you can tell? Is the girl laughing? Does she look like she’s having a good time? Then leave it be.

You can treat women like glass dolls or you can treat them like Amazons or something in-between. Women, most of the time, do not need you to save them. If a women feels disrespected, she will typically know how to end that conversation. Now, obviously, if a man is being physically aggressive with a woman, or abusing her, or not letting her leave, and she’s obviously in distress, step in. But in order to pick up on these sometimes subtle social cues, you need to leave your house and talk to people.

This is what white knighting is. It’s jumping in the middle of a conversation at the bar because the guy grabbed the girl and pulled her close or said something that seemed offensive. You can tell you’ve fucked up when the girl looks confused or turned off. If you cannot let women be grown adults and sexual creatures with appetites much like your own, you will probably not have sex.

The same goes for being nice to a sexual interest all the time, and this is important. There is a difference between being disrespectful and having self-respect. If a sexual interest disrespects you and you let them know it’s not okay, that is non-neediness, and that is attractive. This may mean cutting off contact with someone you’re attracted to because they are not willing to afford you basic respect. If you cannot do this, you will probably not have sex.

I talked to a twenty four year old man recently who said that he would not disrespect a woman to get sex and would rather die a virgin. This person does not understand the aforementioned lessons and will have a hard time in the sexual marketplace. If you are truly asexual, or choose to be celibate for religious or other reasons, this does not apply to you. But! This often takes a lot of self exploration and integrity to know if you are truly asexual in any of these ways. To lie to yourself and believe you are because you cannot handle the pain of being unable to attract a mate is cowardice.

Identity, or, “I choose to do this.”

This post may become harder to read the further we go, and this one will test how honest you are with yourself. I’ve met many gamers who were melancholics, artistically-minded, introverts, people who felt they lived in a world bereft of imagination or that it had left them behind or that they were born in the wrong age. And I can relate to some extent. I have always been rather melancholy and introspective. It would be no big claim to say that our representatives have failed us, and that oftentimes the world from our view can be a disappointing place.

The first solution is to shrink from the world and to escape to a fantasy world where one can act out another life, free from the judgments of the external world. Another is to operate within this world and to bear the disappointment while trying to affect change.

The Stoics thought it was important to imagine yourself on your deathbed. There is a Bhutanese folk saying that to be a truly happy person, you should contemplate death five times daily. So, try it. You’re on your deathbed. Looking back, did you accomplish everything you wanted to? Half of it? Are you what you truly want to be? Is your identity that of a gamer? Or did you have some other dream, some vision for what you wanted to be that got lost somewhere along the way? Take a breath. Now, make a small change today. Maybe play for ten less minutes. Maybe pick up a book. Tomorrow, reflect again.

I have written before that if you loved soccer, you probably still wouldn’t play for two days straight without sleep or adequate breaks. Should it be any different for video games? Are you truly choosing to play for this long?

One more exercise. Put the controller down the next time you’re playing. If you meditate you can probably do this with some ease, but if not it may be more difficult. Sit still and think about how you feel. Is there a tugging sensation? Do you feel a slight pull to get back to the game? I ask you again: are you truly choosing to play, or is it compulsive?

The Game World Is Better than the Real World

Video game worlds can be all-encompassing. They’ve got everything you think you need within easy reach. You can quickly get a group of real people together and go tackle a dungeon, or jump into a match and shoot at some terrorists. You can ride your horse over to the tavern and play some poker. If you’re good enough you can get quite a bit of cash. You can head over to the amusement park and race big yellow birds, or participate in coliseum fighting.

There’s no shortage to what you can do in games, but there is a major, major difference: these are all experienced in a 2D world. There is no physical sensation or embodied experience when you climb up a cliff side and explore a cave. You don’t feel the slick paper and aged creases of the cards as you deal them out. You don’t feel the light crunch of snow under your boots as you jog up to a vantage point, or the slight push against your shoulder as you pull the trigger of your M4 and take a pop shot. And no, haptic feedback in your controller doesn’t count.

After a while, this lack of experience and sensation starts to make you feel numb. Then the depression sets in. Before you experience it again, get outside. Go for a light jog around the neighborhood and get your blood going. Maybe play cards with friends, see how it compares. Maybe go to the gun range. Are these things further out of reach compared to their inferior game counterparts? Sure, but the effort is worth it.

There are more

There are plenty more examples. Know of anything that should be here? Let me know.

I recommend checking out Game Quitters. We’re not affiliated with them but the website helped me reduce my game time.


A Review of Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

Save your money.

A lot of us grew up with the Final Fantasy series; I know I did. As a kid in the single digits, my mom bought me VII, and after that the rest is history. As a troubled teen, I found solace in the like-mindedness of Squall and played VIII far more than I’d like to admit. When I found out it was being remastered, I thought “it’s finally getting the love it deserves!”. Well, the remaster was released today and it pains me to say… you should save your money.

A Muddled History

Final Fantasy VIII has been out for twenty years, and during that time it has seen some truly horrendous ports. The first PC edition had music in MIDI format, making for a tinny and lower quality soundtrack. It would take until 2013 for VIII to arrive on Steam, and even then it was nothing to write home about. Fortunately, some modders lovingly made some excellent mods that improved character models, backgrounds, animations, and FMV’s using machine learning techniques, changed the in-game font, and replaced the garbage MIDI soundtrack for the original, and better, PSX version.

VIII manages to be an incredible experience no matter how bad the ports are. The charm of the characters, music, and eventual wacky story shine through. That being said, you shouldn’t pay for a game over and over again when the billion dollar company that made it doesn’t do much to each new iteration.

Visuals

All of the original love of the game is still there, but what about the changes? The remaster font is far better than the original and modded fonts. The original font is blurry like the rest of the game, and the modded fonts look fan-made and blocky. The new font is smooth and easy to read, critical for a game that relies heavily on damage numbers, stats, and tons of dialogue.

The character models have been redone, but aside from being sharper, there’s not much to praise. For all the modernizing they did, they also wiped out the details that made each character unique. They have instead opted for a washed out anime art style. This is a problem we’ve seen with the recent slew of remixed and remastered Square classics.

Anyone who has played a good indie game knows that pixel art can do a lot with less. This is true of the old Final Fantasy games; Squaresoft made magic happen with the limited hardware it was given. Squall’s face meme aside, VIII has an awful lot of character, charm, and detail, and it achieves this with a unique art style and wonderful music.

The new is sharp and modern, no doubt. But the remaster loses the unique qualities Squall has in the original. Squall was designed after the late River Phoenix, and you can tell once you know this. The remaster obviously doesn’t follow the original design idea.

Sound

The original PSX soundtrack is the default. The MIDI soundtrack should now be thrown into the dustbin of history.

Sound effects haven’t been touched and we didn’t get any voiceovers. For shame.

Gameplay

Turbo mode was first introduced in Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age, and it just works. Some of us have played these games multiple times, and being able to speed through tedious sections is a boon.

Players now have the option of breaking the game’s original intended design by turning on max gil (money), damage, HP, etc.

I’ve seen these features get praise, and I don’t know why. Rather than working on dated mechanics, Square simply added some options for breaking the game for the rest of the playthrough. Turbo is one thing; maxing out your spells takes away all of the challenge and screws with pacing.

The Junction and Draw system are still in place, and this is where Square really had a chance to make some much needed changes, seeing as it’s one of the biggest criticisms of the game. Spells could’ve been unlocked throughout the game and equipped spells could’ve been grayed out in combat. This would keep unwitting players from reducing their stats by casting a junctioned spell.

Even the character movement feels janky. The source code to the original is apparently lost to the ether, which is the reasoning behind why it hasn’t seen a lot of change over the years. Dotemu and Access Games collaborated to piece this game back together, so there’s no reason movement couldn’t have been made smoother.

Censorship

Siren’s bush and Rinoa’s cleavage have been censored by Square’s “ethics department”. The name alone is enough to make you queasy, but this points to a deeper problem of PC culture. I haven’t played to the last “disc” of the remaster, but I wonder if Square covered up a certain boss’s monster nipples.

Look, fantasy is weird. We can let graphic artists go crazy and come up with some kooky design ideas for monsters and characters and places, or we can obsess over whether or not this or that amount of cleavage is sexist or triggers people with weak stomachs. I don’t want to over-politicize this piece, but this is something worth thinking about. I find it best to let creators have creative freedom to pursue their ideas and let the gamer’s decide if something is worthy of ridicule.

Missed Opportunities

There’s not much else to complain about… because Square didn’t do much else than update character models, change a font, and add a few settings. Here are some basic upgrades and changes that could’ve been made.

  • Voiceovers
  • New battle animations
  • Widescreen display
  • 30–60 FPS
  • Perhaps some orchestral versions of music (Fisherman’s Horizon is gorgeous)
  • Additional end-game content
  • Bring back Chocobo World but significantly upgrade it and integrate it into VIII
  • Do not cut off end-game towns and areas

Verdict

The Final Fantasy VIII remaster is indicative of a problem I’ve discussed with gamer’s and have written about before; Square and the mainstream gaming industry are too big to fail. Sure, after the massive failure of Final Fantasy XIV’s original launch, people said there was a very real chance that Square could’ve gone bankrupt. I don’t believe that, but no corporation is impervious.

What’s unfortunate is that Square Enix has been seen as a tired company for a long time. After all of the waiting, not even Final Fantasy XV or Kingdom Hearts 3 were the mind-blowing games we knew they could be. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t produced any good games recently; it still does a good job here and there. But there was a golden age for Square, and that age has passed. Maybe we want too much, grasping for the return to an age where gems like VII, VIII, and IX all came out within a five year period.

I do know this: In 2017, Square Enix made over $2.3 billion (over ¥250 billion). This remaster is not what Square is capable of, and you shouldn’t reward a company that is unwilling to properly invest in one of its best titles.

Why you shouldn’t buy the game

After twenty years, Square made some new character models and slapped a $20 price tag and “Remaster” title onto an old product. Some gamers have a defeatist attitude. They think, who cares? This won’t change how Square does things. But after Gamergate, we know that video games can shake things up and cause a controversy. This is a cash grab, so talk with your wallet. Tell Square this is unacceptable.

Pros & Cons

[+] Turbo Mode
[+] PSX Soundtrack
[+] Released on Steam so modders will save the day
[–] Not much for graphics outside of character models, and those get rid of the unique charm of the original
[–] Doesn’t fix any gameplay features
[–] Offers options for breaking the game’s original intended design

The Original: Amazing
The Remaster: Bad


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Fallout, and Other Excuses for Video Game Addiction

Hundreds of hours in you think it’s fun; it’s really addiction.

When I first downloaded Fallout Shelter for my iPhone 7, I played it almost two days straight. I was obsessed with getting out of the initial crawl, where food and water were scarce, the lights occasionally went out, and people could barely last minutes out in the wasteland. I found out you could manipulate the in-game clock, basically getting rid of wait times. I eventually downloaded the game on Steam and was hooked up to a consistent dopamine drip for a few more days on a bigger screen.

I could go on about how I strategized my shelter growth, got everyone to max level with excellent gear and terrorized the wasteland for days on end, how I eliminated the worry for power, food, and water. Really though, let’s look at this for what it is: sad.

What are video games for? Most would probably tell you they’re for fun, or that they’re an art form that occasionally has a message, like how Celeste tackles depression. Most would probably not tell you that the purpose of gaming is to fuel addiction, or to exhaust your adrenal glands, or to exacerbate depression when that addiction takes its course.

A cocktail of experience

Video games are pretty packages that combine lots of elements. A good game can be wildly fun, or wicked smart, or challenging. They combine visuals, music and sound effects, using ones hands to manipulate characters and environment, gameplay, challenge, competition; I’ve seen many a grown man bask in the glow of such splendor in dark rooms at late hours. Addiction in this case is rather simple: it’s no wonder that this cocktail of experience makes people feel good. People will do things that make them feel good, sometimes in lieu of everything else.

What many gamers don’t see, or at least don’t understand, is the reward system that many games now utilize to keep people playing. In 1996, Quake was the big shooter. You jumped into a match, killed people (if you could), and then the match would end with your kills and deaths on a scoreboard. The simple fact that players wanted to be at the top of the scoreboard caused many to play way too much. I’ll let you decide what is “way too much”. If you loved soccer, would you play it for two days straight? Should it be any different for video games?

The reward system

Fast forward to 2007, and the critically acclaimed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare adds in rank-ups, awards, weapon and attachment unlocks, and perks. This is arguably a lesson they took from the role playing game genre. Reward the player, and they get a dopamine spike. Utilize some other reward ploys, and keep them playing for an unhealthy amount of time.

One ploy is to stagger rewards. Rather than rewarding the player at the end of a match, which is still pleasurable but not as manipulative, a match may look something like this:

35s in: First blood! [get a badge and +50 XP] 54s in: You get a kill. +10 XP 1m20s in: Headshot! +20 XP 2m in: Double kill with a grenade! +40 XP [Rank up! You’re now a Sergeant] End of match: Your team won! +100 XP You unlocked a laser sight attachment for your M4

As you can see, the rewards are steady. Some happen at the same time, like scoring a headshot which causes you to rank up. This is just like an RPG where a player might use their special ability to kill a difficult enemy, netting a lot of XP and causing the character to level up. Add loot boxes to the mix and you’ve got a salivating hamster in a hamster wheel.

Loot boxes

Loot boxes are nothing short of gambling. In Battlefield 3 you complete a match and get a loot box. You have no idea what’s inside, and that’s the point. The not knowing is like the rat that will keep pressing the lever to see if it gets a food pellet. To add insult to injury, allow players to buy loot boxes, and watch the madness of disappearing paychecks and credit card maxing commence. Fortunately, Belgium has had the sense to ban them.

At least you have to actively play these games. There are no shortage of games on smartphone app stores where there is very little in the way of gameplay, challenge, or messaging, but plenty of loot box and reward mechanics to get you hooked.

Grinding

If you’re a non-gamer, perhaps the most absurd thing to witness in this community is a player who will log into World of Warcraft (or the aforementioned lootbox smartphone game), and complete a repetitive task for hours and hours in the name of getting a rare item or to level up. I have done this in WoW and in single player games and it is fairly easy to explain. It’s a combination of the above factors:

A cocktail of sensations: visual, auditory, using ones hands to manipulate characters and environments, gameplay, challenge, competition A reward system with manipulative mechanics like staggered rewards Loot boxes, or, gambling

So was I playing Fallout Shelter for fun? Or was I simply spiking dopamine? I’d argue a little of both, but mostly the latter. The game is largely telling people to do things and then waiting. How much legitimate fun could I have had doing that?

Designer responsibility

So what can be done? Can video game designers be held responsible for implementing these manipulative mechanics? I’m not sure if the politics or legalese of enforcing this would be pretty, but there’s an issue of integrity going on here.

If you can play a game and start to see the manipulative mechanics, then it’s reasonable to assume that the people who spent hundreds of hours designing and implementing those features know that they are manipulative. If this is true, the motivation is clear: companies want people to keep playing their games. Companies don’t want you to play for a reasonable amount of time, have some fun, and then get bored or decide to move on. When players put hundreds and thousands of hours into a company’s games it makes the company look good and improves sales and reputation.

The problem is that many gamers are not familiar with the psychology of addiction. The reasoning for many I’ve talked to only extends to, “well, it’s fun!” No distinction is made that fun and addiction can go hand in hand. A person can have fun while playing a game, log off, and then be depressed that they haven’t spent any time with other human beings, or horny but don’t have the social skills to find a mate, or mad that their mate in disappointed in their lack of presence, or broke because they spent the time they could’ve been using to develop a skill or work playing a game for 12 hours.

Developers can and should be careful with how they make their games. They should actively work to make a fun experience while not implementing features that they know to be addictive or manipulative. Loot boxes are a prime example of this.

As for the mindful gamer, you can decide not to purchase these games. We can do better.

If you suffer from video game addiction or know a friend or family member who does, check out Game Quitters. I have no affiliation with them but I’ve talked with the founder, Cam, and the website has helped me to reduce my game time.


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If You Have to Use Social Media (You Don’t), Only Use It to Post Links

I’m about halfway through Jaron Lanier’s book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, and much of it is like a breath a fresh air, like seeing someone articulate what you’ve been feeling intuitively for years. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of insights or new information; the guy helped pioneer virtual reality and has a long working relationship with Microsoft.

When I first found minimalism, I realized I had kind of been doing it ever since I was a kid. My family home had a lot of junk in it, and I think I intuitively found order by culling possessions and organizing my bedroom meticulously. That later transitioned into lightening my online presence and getting rid of social media. I eventually experimented with getting rid of my smartphone, and found that, for me, it was better to have one and find ways to manage usage (Forest).

I definitely feel like there are gaps or ghosts when writing online or running a podcast. There’s a phantom space where you feel like you should be advertising your stuff, posting links on feeds and utilizing marketing tricks to get views. I’ve had to work against this feeling, but I can understand why some feel the need to have a social media presence.

There’s one important distinction we need to get out of the way: Social media influencers, personalities, etc. are the worst. They are the new age madmen, and you should not be one of them.

You can use social media to promote your work without being a hound or a fake. Below is the way.

Do not look at, peruse, or spend time on feeds

Studies show that social media use can damage mental health, and in some cases increases suicidality in teen demographics (CBS, NYT, NPR).

You do not need it for news, to debate with strangers, to make a point. Social media news algorithms build echo chambers and ideology tunnels, and do not expose you to varying opinion. In other words, the exact opposite of what the ancient philosophers said makes you a more informed human being. Challenge your views by reading books that don’t operate on algorithms.

The news is bad for you anyway (The Guardian). You really don’t need it. If you feel you absolutely do, I occasionally use the NPR One app to listen to a 3-5 minute summary of the news. Then I shut it off and go about my day.

Don’t worry about marketing

There are some simple, effective, and ultimately manipulative ways for getting views. If you’re simply out for money, I’d argue against writing or podcasting or selling in the first place. Writing has, for millenia, been a way to help organize and articulate thoughts, to provide value, to compound on human knowledge. When you focus on tricks that lead to more money, your writing is going to suffer because you’re not focusing on the right metrics.

This is hard to tell a “starving artist”, but it’s true. One way of getting views is to come up with the most click-baitey and controversial titles for your articles or episodes. The idea should not be getting views per se, but providing value.

Smart, informed readers will read the non click-baitey stuff, and that’s the sort of readership you want. They’ll challenge your views, strengthen your arguments, make you smarter. Occasionally, though, you’ll have to deal with trolls. They’re not haters, because hater is an overused word to describe people who simply disagree with others. That brings us to the next point.

Don’t engage with trolls

If you have to take a philosophy course on critical thinking to get this, than do so. It’s that important. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. If someone is using ad hominem attacks (attacking you personally rather than engaging with your argument), then ignore them, and/or report them for spam or abuse.

Engage with people who want to engage with you meaningfully. This may mean being humble and listening when someone articulately dismantles one of your arguments. Again, this will make you smarter.

If spending too much time on social media is bad for your mental health, then trolls are probably a third of the problem, right next to scrolling endless feeds and reading click-baitey news meant to rile you up.

So how should one use social media? Thanks for asking.

Log in, post a link to your newest article or episode, and log off

That is the path to clarity, to peace. Do not engage. If people are serious about getting in touch with you, they will direct message or email you. The same rules apply. Are they trying to engage you meaningfully? Then engage with them if you like. If they’re trolls? Ignore them, block them, report them.

If you use Twitter, log in, post a link to your newest episode on your feed, and before you get caught up in the whirlwind of shitposts and garbage on your feed, log off. I absolutely recommend only accessing Twitter via a browser for doing this. Don’t put the app on your phone and turn off email notifications for nearly everything. You should only use Twitter when you feel the need to use Twitter, not when it wants to prod you with notifications.

The same applies for all social media, though I’d argue that you should immediately get rid of Facebook if you have an account (NYT).

If you follow these tips, I believe you will notice more mental clarity, more peace, less distraction. Take the leap, get into your trade, make the best stuff you can, and use platforms sparingly to get the message out. Good luck.


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Simplify Your Android Phone

I’ve used an iPhone since the 4S, and have had almost every iteration of it until the 7. I kept my 7 while the 8, and the X, and the 11, and all the inbetween models came out. The 7 always did (and quickly) everything I wanted it to.

When I switched over to Android, I was initially overwhelmed by all of the options. iOS is definitely a little more intuitive, but with a few tweaks, you can make the experience much simpler. Let’s get to it.

First things first, apps

I recommend these:

App Store: F-Droid is a private version of the Play Store. Google doesn’t care about user privacy, so this is perhaps one of the best ways to push back. You probably won’t find all of your apps here, but you should definitely be able to find some.

Messaging, Phone Calls: Signal is a private messaging app granting you the genie magic of encrypted messages and phone calls. I route my phone calls through Signal and I have the app delete anything from 50 messages ago for more privacy. It’s endorsed by Edward Snowden and it’s basically a must-have.

Email: If you’re going to use email on your smartphone, and I might advise against it for your mental health, use ProtonMail (download the apk and install) or Tutanota (on F-Droid!). Both are end-to-end encrypted and have you covered for email privacy.

Music: Simple mp3’s (or FLAC if you’re savvy) will do the job, though it’s a little less convenient than a streaming app. Otherwise, Bandcamp is the way to go, because fuck Spotify.

Notes: Standard Notes is a fantastic notetaking app that combines privacy and convenience, and I think everyone should support the people behind this project.

Browser: Firefox Klar is an F-Droid version of Firefox Focus. Focus is a private browser like Firefox but with an additional feature: you can tap a button and wipe your pages and data. You shouldn’t be on your browser very much anyway.

Password Manager: Do not let Google or Samsung store your account logins. Rather, get Bitwarden. Download the apk and install, rather than using the Play Store.

Reminders: Pick your weapon of choice on F-Droid. I like Habits because of its habit-building feature.

Home screen: Slim Launcher. Don’t set this as your default yet. More on that later.

Unfortunately, I use Uber and Transit because it’s 85% of the reason for me having a smartphone, and these are only available, as far as I know, on the Play Store.

You can change defaults

One of the initial pleasant surprises when I started using Android was that you can change default apps. That may not seem like a big deal, until you realize you can change the messaging app so that SMS goes to your chosen app instead. You can even change the default home screen! These are my defaults…

  • Browser: Firefox Klar
  • Calling: Phone (routed through Signal)
  • Messaging: Signal
  • Home screen: Slim Launcher
  • Device assistance app: Firefox Klar

You’ll want to change your default home screen after you’ve done all the other stuff. Slim Launcher is designed around minimalism, so it’s harder to get at some things.

Slim Launcher

Yes, it deserves its own section.

Slim Launcher is a minimal home screen dream. It lets you place up to eight apps on your home screen, but rather than showing candy-like icons, apps are represented by simple text. You can even rename them. My renames are meant for simplicity:

  • Waking Up –> Meditation
  • Headspace –> Meditation 2
  • Uber –> Taxi
  • Transit –> Bus
  • Bandcamp –> Music
  • Habits Loop Tracker –> Reminders
  • S. Notes –> Notes

Apps

Folders and Organization

Swipe up or down on the home screen.

Now that you’ve got the good stuff, let’s organize it all. If you plan on using Slim Launcher, you don’t really need to organize your apps on the other home screen, but I did it anyway. I organized by apps I use most, sometimes, baked-in and junk. The Baked-In folder is for apps that run in the background, or that are baked into the UI like a password manager or the Phone app. Behold:

Main

  • Waking Up
  • Headspace
  • Uber
  • Transit
  • Bandcamp
  • Standard Notes

Sometimes

  • F-Droid
  • ProtonMail
  • Cash App
  • OpenStreetMaps (Maps on F-Droid)

Baked-In

  • NetGuard: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • Orbot: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • Blokada: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • NordVPN: Privacy measure. Runs in the background.
  • Slim Launcher: Set to default and that’s it.

Other/Stock/Junk: – Gallery: I don’t really bother with photos on my phone but if I screenshot something or do happen to take a photo I want access to it. I could hide this app and call it from the Finder, but eh. I think I might forget about it that way? – Settings

Hide Apps

Settings –> Display –> Home screen –> Hide apps

Now you can hide a bunch of apps, further cleaning up the interface. I swept these under the rug:

  • Calendar: Slim Launcher? On the home screen, tap on the date.
  • Camera: Slim Launcher? On the home or lock screen, look at the bottom right.
  • Clock: Slim Launcher? On the home screen, tap on the time.
  • Contacts: Baked into the Phone app.
  • Email: Junk. Use ProtonMail or Tutanota.
  • Galaxy Store: Junk. Because junk.
  • Internet: Junk. Use Firefox Klar.
  • Messages: Junk. Use Signal.
  • My Files: I don’t really care about files on my phone. If I did, I’d use pCloud.
  • Phone: Slim Launcher? On the home or lock screen, look at the bottom left.
  • Play Store: Junk. You can still find this in the Finder.

Permissions

Settings –> Apps –> App permissions or Settings –> Apps –> Look at each app and choose permissions

This might be time consuming. You’re going to want to look at your apps and choose which permissions you want them to have. My humble opinion, you ask? Take as many permissions away as you can without making your phone unusable.

Most apps probably don’t need your location, or access to your contacts, or call logs, or SMS. If it’s a private messaging app like Signal, it’s going to need access to SMS. If it’s Google Chrome, it doesn’t need access to your SMS. Some other Google app? It probably shouldn’t have access to your microphone. There are probably detailed guides on the web for what permissions should be on or off.

Also important: most apps should not be allowed to change system settings. You can typically find that at the bottom of the individual app screen.

Advanced

If you don’t want to bother with debugging tools and developer mode and making edits in the terminal, feel free to skip this. If you tread into this water though, you can drink from the deep refreshing well of serious privacy. :p

Plug your phone into your computer via USB cable.

Go into Settings –> About phone –> Software information –> tap “Build number” until you unlock developer mode.

Go into Settings –> Developer options (below About phone) –> turn on USB debugging

On your computer, open up the terminal.

Type in $ adb shell

Whenever the terminal asks, say Y (yes)

Put in $ pm list packages

You need these package names to remove apps without rooting the phone.

Put in $ pm uninstall -k —user 0

For , you’ll put a package name in.

Example: $ pm uninstall -k —user 0 com.facebook.services

Repeat :]

Here are some packages you’ll probably want to get rid of: – com.facebook.services – com.facebook.system – com.facebook.appmanager – com.facebook.katana – com.netflix.mediaclient – com.android.chrome

What else?

I recommend to anyone who spends more than an hour a day on their smartphone to read this piece by Tristan Harris. His tips have helped me significantly reduce my screen time and find some peace.

Did I miss anything? Let me know.


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I, Self, and Free Will

In a well-respected dictionary, Self is defined as “having a single character or quality throughout” (Merriam-Webster).

There is a universal belief that is arguably unconscious in the vast majority of human beings. And that belief is this: That many of us go about our day to day lives believing that we control ourselves in totality and that we are an “I”, or a “self”. We choose to stay up when we know sleep would benefit us. Or we choose to go to bed at an appropriate time and pat ourselves on the back for our Spartan discipline. Simply put, I make choices. Being deeply interested in the meanings of these words, this writer hopes to convince you that this concept is not only flawed but that the self doesn’t exist.

Rider on the Storm

When you think of the word “I”, what do you think of? You presumably have the same thoughts I have had for much of my life: who am I? What makes me, me? “Self” is defined as “the union of elements (such as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person” (Merriam-Webster). I often feel like I am in my head, my locus of consciousness residing there. I feel like the rider on the storm, the storm being all of the constituent parts that seamlessly make up my personality. I am the pilot and my body is the vessel in which I carry myself through the world.

This simply isn’t true. And we can explore this truth for ourselves with the practice of Vipassana, or mindfulness, meditation. This practice is far simpler than you might imagine. Find a comfortable place to sit with no distractions, preferably in a room alone with a chair, and close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing and begin to focus on it. Cover your breath with your consciousness. If you get lost in thought, as soon as you realize you are, simply return to the breath. This is essentially the practice of mindfulness. If one does this long enough the feeling of being a self, or of being in one’s head, can vanish, leaving the person feeling as if they are part of an expansive consciousness.

You need not entertain any woo-woo or mystical ideas for this practice to work or make sense. The language this writer uses to describe the experience of skilled meditation, of one’s bodily self vanishing into a sea of expansive consciousness, is absolutely viable with a basic understanding of neuroscience and of the meditative practice. Vipassana was originally conceived in Buddhism and Hinduism, but mythical concepts that also originate in these schools, such as karma, rebirth, Shiva and Vishnu, can all be disbelieved without effecting the conclusions brought on my meditation. Simply put, no magic is needed.(1)

Thinking Our Thoughts

We feel that “we are the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience”, but we are wrong. “… from the perspective of science we know that this is a distorted view. There is no discrete self or ego lurking like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain.” (Sam Harris, par. 4). We can experiment with this notion, once again, with meditation: Sit in a quiet place with no distractions. Clear your mind as best you can and wait for a thought to happen. It won’t take long, promise. Is that a thought? Now think about what made that thought arise. Did you choose to think that thought? No, you didn’t. And yet you walk around every day thinking that you are somehow choosing what you think.

This exercise may or may not initially have a significant effect on you. But this idea is one of the most widely believed in human thought: that we are somehow a self, a seamless personality that has a feeling of oneness, and that we are in control. The truth is that thoughts, emotions, and physical events arise in consciousness and that we do not ultimately control the response to those stimuli.(2)

If this reasoning doesn’t convince you, then let’s look at an experiment conducted in 1991 by Daniel Wegner and Thalia Wheatley. Participants were given a series of prompts with two choices. They were given a time limit and told to choose one option for each prompt while having their brain activity monitored. Most of us believe that we make decisions in real-time, but the experiment showed that each participant’s brain had decided on one of the two options seconds before the individual was even aware of their “choice”. (Wegler, et al.)(3)

Me, Myself, and I

These words are the source of much suffering. According to the Oxford English Corpus, I is the 10th most commonly used English word (Oxford). When we think that we are sad, or we are angry, or we are the victim of some unfortunate circumstance, we essentially turn ourselves into the essence of what we’re feeling.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, Buddhism devised a way to dismantle this idea and remove its power. If we sit quietly and become skilled at recognizing that elements simply arise in consciousness and that we don’t need to react to or judge them, we can diminish their effects. Instead of stating, “I am sad”, we can say, “The feeling of sadness is arising. What is sadness? What is it made of and why is it arising?” This reframing of the feeling removes our identification with it and spookily, it often causes it to vanish. You are no longer sad. Simply, sadness arose just as happiness will sometimes arise, and we can choose not to identify with it. This takes a lot of practice, and unless one is fully enlightened (a Buddha), this will continue to happen throughout one’s life. The idea is not to necessarily extinguish suffering, but in some way to embrace it and reframe it.

The same applies to the idea of free will. To identify as the totality of our accomplishments, mistakes, bad actions, dreams, and dreads, is in some way to miss the point. We did not choose your parents, or our genetics, or the circumstances of our childhood. Knowing this, we can take refuge in the fact that the negative parts of our lives are not necessarily our fault. This doesn’t mean that we stop taking responsibility for ourselves. Rather, this should reduce the blow of our failings and give us the insight to explore why we do the things we do and how to foster a better version of ourselves out of the ashes of our past.

We may have been born into wealth and after learning of the myth of free will, realize that this may be the root of our inability to identify with the suffering of a friend who came from a low-income family. As a child, we may have had a first-row seat to the slow dissolution of our parents’ marriage, and now realize that our preponderance of abusive relationships is not because we are a person of low worth, but because this is a statistically probable result given what we’ve been through.

I am not asking that we throw out our use of the words I, self, or free will. It is still much easier to use macro linguistic shortcuts to refer to people instead of calling them a flesh bag of muscle and bone or a collection of prior events. We can still be seen as customers, clients, lovers, partners, etc. We need the term free will so that we can argue its invalidity and refer to it if it’s ever thrown into the dustbin of history. In our own minds, however, we should strive to extinguish this feeling of oneness, self, or I. Doing so will change how we treat criminals(4), how we feel about our inner lives, and how we feel about each other.

Notes

My understanding of these concepts came primarily from my reading of Sam Harris’ Waking Up and Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs. Contrary to popular belief, Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha, did not devise or teach a religion. His teachings were aimed at leading people down the path of enlightenment. This path consists of too much to describe here, but his teachings were, for the most part, secular, and focused on how to reduce suffering through a number of methods, including meditation. Fanciful concepts such as karma, rebirth, and the many gods in Indian culture, belong to the teachings of Hinduism, which functions more like a religion.

I first came across the research on free will in my reading of Sam Harris’ book, Free Will. I later read a series of articles written by Daniel Dennett in the same vein. We can understand the myth of free will a posteriori. Meditation is one such method of doing this. We can identify that thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and physical phenomena around us simply arise in our consciousness and that we ourselves are not actually causing them to do as such. We believe we choose how we respond to these stimuli, but upon further reflection, we realize that our responses simply arose in ways that most of the time makes sense. If they don’t, we say they are out of character, but an odd reaction to a stimuli does not imbue us with free will. We have an advanced literature on mental disorders for individuals who routinely respond inappropriately to stimuli.

Interestingly, you can apply a thought experiment called Laplace’s Demon to the idea of free will. If an omniscient (the ability to know everything there is to know) demon (or god, or supercomputer) had knowledge of every particle movement in the universe, it could presumably predict the future because the movements of these particles cause behaviors to be acted out when viewed from a macro perspective.

Sam Harris’ Free Will and Tamler Sommers’ Why Honor Matters tackles the idea of our current system of law and imprisonment. Given that free will is an illusion, does reviling criminals make any sense? If we don’t hate psychopaths because we don’t attribute their actions to a healthy mind, shouldn’t the same be said to any unlucky soul who happens to be born with the wrong genetics, to the wrong family, or with the wrong mind? If we applied this to how we currently punish criminals, I think the landscape of the prison system would change dramatically. Rather than place criminals in institutions that do not reduce recidivism and, indeed, actually trains them to be better criminals, we could focus on better mental health treatment options. Upholding the law becomes less about punishing bad people and more about keeping everyone safe by treating unfortunate victims of bad biochemistry.

Works Cited

  • Harris, Sam. “We are Lost in Thought”, 19 January 2011, samharris.org/we-are-lost-in-thought/. Accessed 16 October 2018.
  • Wegner, Daniel M. et al. “Apparent mental causation: Sources of the experience of will.” PsycNET, July 1991, ezproxy.pierce.ctc.edu:2189/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=72a84289-b964–44a4–94bc4fc54aa89b5c%40sdc-v-sessmgr04&bdata=JnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d#AN=1999–05760003&db=pdh. Accessed 22 October 2018.
  • Corpus, Oxford English, 26 December 2011, web.archive.org/web/20111226085859/http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/the-oecfacts-about-the-language. Accessed 18 October 2018.

Why I Left Medium

For any who don’t know, Medium is, for the most part, an elegant publishing platform. Call it a blogging service if you wish; there are far too many names for what they provide. Rather than paying for a web host, getting a domain, setting up WordPress or some other content management system (yet another name), installing a theme, and getting all of the visual stuff worked out, you just sign up for an account and start writing. It’s a tool I recommend if you simply can’t be bothered with figuring out all of the above, though I recommend figuring it out at some point if you plan on having an online writing presence long-term.

Medium is visually appealing, and it’s probably good enough for the typical user. However, I decided to leave the service for a number of (what I consider) important reasons.

A little too modern

With Medium, there’s no WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, per se. Rather than having a toolbar at the top of your writing form, there are tooltips that hover by highlighted passages. This saves a little bit of mouse movement. Problem is, some buttons have numerous functions, and some functions have no buttons to represent them. As far as I know, you cannot edit a link; rather, you have to unlink and relink. There are also flat-out less editor features than, say, WordPress. As I said, this is fine for most users, but power users will not be satisfied, and if you have a large following with specific flavor and personality in your presentation, Medium is not cher’ boy.

Your profile page is even more confusing. As a regular user you don’t get a customizable header, or content layout, or footer. Your profile description below your name is pretty restricted, allowing only a few characters and not offering obvious options for displaying links. You can display raw url’s but you cannot name links. In this way, every person’s profile page is very similar, which is refreshing in some ways and annoying in others.

You can pin one post to the top of your feed, but some people like to organize by category or genre, some like to manually order their posts, some like having a magazine style layout while others like a simple Twitteresque feed. These options are available, but only to publications. In other words, in order to get some fairly basic features, you have to create a publication and publish all of your “stories” to two channels, your personal page and your publication. Many just make a publication using their personal profile name.

The login feature is something I wrote about recently, and it’s something they ought to fix. In short, we do not need web developers to hold our hands, so we should be able to turn off the “confirm by email or number” feature. And I wonder if it shouldn’t be added to the web developers bible that every front page should have a pop-up or front page login. Why we have to navigate numerous pages and confirmations to log into a website is beyond me.

It’s distracting

This will be a fairly specific observation, but as a person who’s been exploring lately just how easily distracted we are, Medium is exactly that. Medium’s front page is chock full of articles. You’ve got the newest stories, stories based on what you read, the most popular stories on the platform, etc. What’s worse, many of the popular pieces on Medium show up at the top of the page, and there’s an obvious political bent that taints the feed.

If you use uBlock Origin, you can choose blocks of content and hide them, though I don’t know how long that lasts. It’s also a band-aid solution for me. I will forget what I’ve blocked and sometimes just reset the plugin. Stephen King and other renowned writers advise removing as many distractions as possible, and though writing on a computer may not be the best way to do that, Medium doesn’t help.

When you read a story, there are links at the bottom with related reading. There are highlighted passages, claps, responses. If it’s a publication, there are header links. In my humble opinion, a “story” or article or essay should be like a book; the page, and nothing else if you can help it. I’ve tried to do that with this website.

There’s an ideological bent

I have not scoured the entirety of Medium’s user catalogue, but I have noticed during my time on Medium an inordinate amount of far-left rhetoric, anti-white sentiment, and pro-militant feminism. During the Kavanaugh hearings, it appeared as if reason left the room. Whatever your view of the matter, due process was being tossed aside as a protection of white male privilege. It’s always worrying to see this online, because it seems to accurately depict popular public opinion at least some of the time. What I have to remind myself is that most people don’t give a damn about this stuff.

To be clear: it would be just as annoying if Medium had an unbalanced share of far-right rhetoric, xenophobic sentiment, and pro-militant masculinism. One hopes that Medium will eventually improve their algorithm to reflect less of an echo chamber and more of a scrambling device that exposes people to varied opinion and interpretation.

Solutions

I chose WordPress for a number of reasons. It only shows our content rather than a bunch of links to other peoples content in my posts and pages. It’s less distracting. It’s more customizable so I don’t have to settle for social media icons and a streamlined layout. When people read content here they don’t get a pop-up telling them to sign up for anything. None of the content is beholden to a platform or interest; the audience is whoever navigates to this url and wants to read.

This brings us back to distraction. Computers and smartphones and platforms like Medium offer too much in too little a space. It takes too much mental real estate, so I offer some closing recommendations.

Host a personal blog if you’re going to write. ZenHabits inspired the minimal design and like I said, online articles should be like books: page, content, nothing else if possible.

Read more books and less online content. Watch less YouTube. It may seem strange to recommend this on an online platform, but there it is. I would never recommend that you spend large portions of your time on this website or any other. It would take lifetimes to read and fully appreciate all of the classics, but if you haven’t read at least some of them (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius?), do you really need to spend hours on Medium and Twitter? I can promise you that many of the writers you read do not match the wit or mastery of Aurelius, Dickens, Hitchens.

If you like coming here, maybe make it once a week, read something, and get off. Your precious attention is being eaten up by smartphones and computers and internet. Find peace in good ol’ paper and ink. We have a recommended reading page if you’re interested.

I hope you find whatever writing platform works best for you. As for me, Medium just doesn’t do it.

A Power Outage at Work and Forced Non-Distraction

As a full-time college student with a long commute (1 hour 30 minutes one-way by bus) to and from work, I have been spending the weekends at work. I’ve got a cot and clothes hangers and a locker and a gym with showers… so I’ve made it work. Near the start of my overnight shift, during heavy rain, we had a mass power outage. The backup generators kicked on for a moment, then shut off.

Initially, I was annoyed; whoever’s job it was to maintain the generators that were supposed to work in these exact conditions had failed us. Later in the day, it was apparent that routine maintenance had not been done properly and that numerous things had been neglected, leading to three blown fuses, two failed generators, and two full days of no power, including Monday, meaning the school could not operate.

My co-worker and friend came on shift the next day and we tried to figure out what we would do on his shift, and what I would do with no power on my overnight shift. My laptop died and none of the outlets worked, leaving only a USB charger in the work truck. There was no WiFi. Left to our own devices, we walked around the campus before checking out the rooftop of the library building. As I watched the sun set, I noticed a sense of calm come over me. I realized that in less than a full day, and with none of the digital technology we use so often, time had already begun to slow and my visual field opened up. I wasn’t craning my neck and narrowly staring into a screen.

We talked over this, because we both experienced it, and discussed mindfulness and just how distracted we had become. We meditated for a while, and before long, his shift was over. Though being the only soul on-campus overnight with no power was initially creepy, the lack of lighting and electric buzzing amplified this mindfulness. I have not felt this peaceful in… I don’t know how long. I decided this would prompt a change.

I have cleared my smartphone and have moved all of the useful functions from it to my laptop. I got rid of my social media accounts. I no longer have notifications to tug at my attention. A couple of books came in, and though I have a Kindle, I think I’ll opt for paper and ink, an item that needs no electricity or battery to run, and which simply fulfills its sole function; to be read. There are no ads to ignore or dismiss, no other function inside the book that can be used to distract one from the task.

Though I wouldn’t recommend that routine maintenance be neglected, I wouldn’t mind the school losing power more often.


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Medium, Give Us a Better Login

Some of us don’t want to log in from a social media account.

If you’ve been on the internet for a bit, you’ve probably heard of blogging. And if you’ve ever dabbled with blogging, you know that there have been a lot of contenders trying to claim the majority share of the space. You have content management systems like Drupal and Joomla. You’ve got total website packages like Wix and Squarespace. And you have the blogging software titan, WordPress.

Then Medium came along, an elegant option for blogging that doesn’t require software installs, MySQL databases, hosting packages, or custom themes.

It modernizes a lot of features and makes more accessible the internet writing platform. Sometimes it modernizes to a fault, like not allowing users to have custom headers or layouts without making a publication, even if users just make a publication with the same name. Then you have to publish everything to two channels. Sometimes editing options could be more clear, like creating grids with multiple photos.

Either way! It’s a fantastic and simple option, but with one major flaw: Medium has an overly involved login process. The easiest way to log in is to connect from an external source like Twitter or Google. You can log in using an email address, but you must verify with an email confirmation link every. single. time.

A complaint I’ve heard plenty of times has been that users have their hand held when creating passwords and with security settings. Rather than issuing out a simple and clear warning that your password can be simple but may be compromised, companies force users to create passwords with special characters, upper and lowercase letters, and numbers. It seems clear that companies are trying to reduce the number of support requests because of hacked accounts, but if a concise warning is displayed when creating an account, part of that warning can describe that free accounts may not receive support or that they are of low priority.

The same is true of services like Steam, which enables Steam Guard by default and which I have turned off because of how time-consuming and annoying it is when I try to use even simple features. Want to leave a review? Ah, please enable Steam Guard, then wait 24 hours, then try to post a review, and then confirm via email code. Christ, a review is not a security threat, and users are free to up or downvote reviews they don’t like, a corrective system that already works for spammy or bad reviews.

Unfortunately, Medium follows this same design. If you are a privacy advocate or for whatever reason do not use Twitter or Google (there are plenty of good reasons), you are required to log in with your email address, then confirm via email link. There is no option to disable this security feature, to let Medium know: “eh, I’ll take my security into my own hands.”

This is a time-consuming issue because many privacy and data security advocates, and users that simply don’t want to manually do so, use plugins like Cookie Autodelete and/or tell their browser to delete cookies and history upon closing said browser. In other words, if you use Medium often, you have to log in and confirm via email. Often.

What’s the solution? Simple. Allow users to disable this feature and implement a simple pop-up login option. Rather than having to navigate three pages (click log in, click log in with email, type in credentials, navigate to email, click on email, click on email link), users can go to medium.com, click log in, and type their credentials into a pop-up.

To the staff at Medium, thanks for making such a great writing platform. Let’s release the hands of users so they can get to work!


Photo by Chepe Nicoli on Unsplash

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Why You Should (Occasionally) Play Old Video Games

I was being unskillful with my thoughts, wasting time on the computer and clicking through items on Steam, when I realized I hadn’t gotten the achievement for beating Final Fantasy VIII.

I had Squall at level 100, everyone else barebones, with max Strength and wicked stats across the board. Ribbon, Auto-Haste, the works. I quickly installed, fixed the soundtrack, and booted up the game. I ran across Ultimecia’s Castle like a madman with turbo and Encounter None on, and proceeded to double Lion Heart the ol’ girl into submission. I solo’d the final boss with Squall alone.

I then sat back and watched the ending. Put the stats, the cool weapons, magic spells, and abilities aside. Put aside grinding Devour stat-ups, spell draws, and card games. Spoilers ahead: Squall wanders across a time distorted desert before passing out from exhaustion and despair. As memories and flashbacks and the very atmosphere seems to distort and break and warp, we see for a moment that Squall is crying, perhaps out of fear. What proceeds is a heartfelt and endearing moment of Rinoa searching for and eventually finding Squall.

Laguna visits Raine’s grave before being met by Ellone and Kiros and Ward. Seifer fishes with Fuujin and Raijin in Balamb and they watch as Garden flies over. Then the credits roll, and unexpectedly, camcorder footage plays showing all of the characters in the Garden cafeteria, smiling and waving at the camera… all except Zell, who is choking on a hotdog from eating too quickly.

If you haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII, much of this won’t make any sense. That’s why you should open up Steam, drop $10 on this gem, and play it from start to finish.

Don’t worry about becoming the King of Triple Triad. Don’t worry about reaching 9999 HP or getting 100 Ultima spells or getting every GF (you can get them all in the last dungeon).

As I watched through the ending, I realized that there are a few really good reasons for occasionally playing old video games.

You come to appreciate modern gaming technology

Some games have aged better than others, and in different ways. Final Fantasy VII hasn’t aged very well because of poor localization and the hodgepodge of graphical styles that were employed.

The way Final Fantasy VIII handled magic, stats, and junctioning is convoluted and the story after Disc 2 gets pretty weird. Square hasn’t given it the same treatment as other games in the series and it’s suffered newer generations not playing it.

Final Fantasy IX… well, IX aged fantastically.

What I’ve noticed with a lot of the newer games is that they’ve focused more on fireworks than endearing stories, deep characters, or tons of lore.

Occasionally playing old games makes you appreciate how far video games have come, and also offers a lesson to game companies on when passion begins to slip. Developers can look back at old games, games filled with hand-drawn graphics and lovingly crafted stories and worlds. On that note…

You get to see an older world and how people thought in it

Games like Final Fantasy VIII are strongly anachronistic. The player eventually visits a space station and acquires an airship. You even visit a city that has an invisibility barrier… but no one has smartphones or even cellphones, no one seems to use the few computers that are available, and people largely live like they did in the 90’s.

Much like watching old movies, you really get to see how people lived before internet and smartphones and computers in every pocket and room. People communicated differently, moved through the world differently. Arguably, they were more at peace, though I’m sure I’d prefer to cover that in a different post.

You can begin to get this feeling when playing games like Chrono Trigger and Cross, Final Fantasy VII through IX, games with an astounding level of creativity. Eumatsu’s music perhaps does the most heavy lifting in this regard. You really feel like you’re part of the world you’re playing in, one that is more laidback and nostalgic.

Even more attractive is playing in a world that was thought up before social media, rage mobs, and a society awash in news and political correctness. On that note…

They’re less demanding

Because of the time old games were made in, they tend to be limited by the technology, making them slower paced and more relaxing in terms of atmosphere. They can be played on many more machines due to their lower hardware requirements, and yet you still get the same level of storytelling. Actually, the old classics remind me of books in that they require very little and yet they can tell incredibly powerful stories and change minds.

Why else should we play old games? Let me know.


Photo by Ben Neale on Unsplash

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