Thursday, May 2, 2013

Black Noise & Quality of Commentary

Definition of WHITE NOISE:

1
a : a heterogeneous mixture of sound waves extending over a wide frequency range — compare pink noise
b : a constant background noise; especially : one that drowns out other sounds
2
meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub, or chatter <the white noise of policy and politics in America — Joseph Nocera>[1]

Definition of BLACK NOISE:

Black noise is also called silent noise.
  • Silence
  • Noise with a 1/fβ spectrum, where β > 2. This formula is used to model the frequency of natural disasters.
  • Noise that has a frequency spectrum of predominantly zero power level over all frequencies except for a few narrow bands or spikes. Note: An example of black noise in a facsimile transmission system is the spectrum that might be obtained when scanning a black area in which there are a few random white spots. Thus, in the time domain, a few random pulses occur while scanning.
  • Noise with a spectrum corresponding to the blackbody radiation (thermal noise).[2][3]
Another somewhat amusing post from the guy who has his comments turned off[4]. It’s been in my older drafts for a long time though, and I’ve seen some semi-related commentary bubbling up recently so I thought I’d go ahead and hammer the rest of it out.

It's become a common sentiment among my gaming social circles these days to try our damndest to 'not read the comments', but I've always found that message counter-intuitive as it further segregates the community that's ultimately interested in enjoying the same thing. It’s less of an answer to a problem and more of an understandable response to ‘something’. This is not so much in terms of validating any 'side'.There is an understandable exasperation among those who daily have to put up with slurs, lewdness, and just overly-aggressive hate from gamers looking to vilify and and justify any number of personal vendettas/agendas they're harboring. My question is to what end does simply ignoring these things accomplish? Is this a matter that should be reconsidered? Applying a highly subjective filter to the rather chaotic transit of information on the Internet causes people more issues than benefits from what I’ve observed. Even if it’s just a problem with ignorance and self-reflexivity (which people of course may not even be aware of), it’s an issue worth discussing.

Do we block out those we disagree with simply because disagree with them? Many don't, but the worst tend to do that almost dogmatically. Everybody has a line that can be crossed and once a personal stance has been violated, the Internet can just as easily become a tool for personal censoring. The 'net gives a voice to all and it seems to have vastly over-inflated many people's desires to be heard rather than listen (the term ‘expression’ gets dragged through the mud in this regard). Even admirable aims and causes get lost in the noise now, spurring more controversy than understanding. I suppose the positive side of this area in particular is that people who didn't have a voice (or the will) even as much as five years ago have booming ones now, ones worth considering.

Silencing qualitative commentary on the Internet is a mixed bag as people who offer genuine insight are rallied against while mob mentalities and echo chambers form the illusion of consensus. This occurs in all sides but often manifests as a false dichotomies and forced binaries, and it’s certainly not exclusive to the Internet. Whether it’s due to a sense of security or comradery, it happens regardless and everybody in effect shuts out everyone else and listens to only those that reach whatever personal qualifications they have set up for themselves. People are willing to consider conflicting viewpoints but are rarely willing to engage with them (or the person behind them) in any meaningful fashion. They in effect become disposable. It's just another commodity to be consumed.

I’m certainly not immune to this myself, but I’ve also noticed I’m very much in the minority of  actively seeking out points or people I vehemently disagree with (or vice versa). We've been here before in 'No Comment' though[4], so I won't veer too far off with it. This has taken some strange turns throughout the years so I’ll provide you with a map of sorts for a little fun. Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent social sites over the years (or more specifically, my experience with them), just in the context of their gaming subsets---but without the gaming context.

First are the ones I admire---or errr value, yeah that’s a better word…:

1UP

The now-defunct/scattered 1UP blogging community is the only populous of the current era of gaming I admired. There was a variety of people that had opinions and consistencies that I hated yet valued the insight of and others I simply just enjoyed. This occurred both on the development and writing of the website itself and those who occupied its audience. I've also yet to see any other gaming website blur the lines between their primary writers and just the general bloggers who are fans of them. Some have tried since, but most in my eyes have done terrible jobs doing so.

AOL

This was initially going to go in the shit list until I laid out the pros and the cons in my head and surprisingly came away with AOL doing more harm than good. Before the unified communities and blogging circles started cropping up, AOL was the most common mediating presence between Ye Old Internet of the 80's/90's and the 2000 era's websites. Many of the friends I made in the Nintendo Chat of AOL I still have to this day and speak to daily over a decade later which is more than I can say for any other friend I've ever actually had, offline and on. The flow and volume of discussion from the 30-person capped public chats made for an interesting dynamic of community and dialogue, particularly during a time when gamers had significantly less access to what goes on behind the scenes than they do now. In effect we only had each other, and I take it as a positive sign when I'm the biggest asshole in the room.

Starmen.net

Where Nintendo failed, these guys stepped up, not only generating a Western appreciation for a series not officially allowed here but translating the latest one so we could play it. The community generally just loved their game, welcomed everybody that I could see willing to share the enjoyment of it, and often the discussions about it didn't just fly off into fanboyish reverence every five minutes. Whether or not that's still the case is up for debate i guess, but that sure as hell wasn't the impression I got when I played Earthbound for the first time a few years ago.

>>>

We’ll come back to the more---problematic sites in a minutes.

There's also some degree of misinterpretation even in the better ones I've been a part of, even to the extent of it being willful. Text in general is laughably easy to interpret in an unintended fashion and as can be attributed to most hostility---miscommunication is key for most conflict in general. For example, the topic of sexism in games has seen a spike in content over just the past year alone. This is a conversation that should happen but I’m not entirely convinced it’s one that needs to happen. Why? Because it’s an issue far larger than what the context of video games can provide to rectify or even justifiably address the topic in a worthwhile manner.

Fundamentally, it’s broken to the extent that I can’t even take the discussion seriously past a certain point. When I do, I always venture far outside the realms of games to do it; the only value to me then is its place as a gateway to a much larger forum. Fixing the system from this vantage point has always rubbed me in a wrong manner, especially with that level of insularity and subculture entrenchment inherent in some of the discussion. This is referred pain, not the tumor. This is why I personally rarely take the discussion of race in games to any mentionable extent. Whether I like to admit it or not however, it does affect me and how I play games (which is another way to approach the topic, but in a far more selfish manner), but I have no delusions about the fact that its palliative care in the context of my blog and nothing more. I don’t really get that impression when I read things of such nature now.

So when I see a deeply personal relation to a game or how it failed to connect with someone on a deeper level, I can understand---but also feel conflicted. This is the experience I'd like to say games are welcoming to and moving towards, but they're not. Not only are the developers disregarding these things, the audience is too (and by relation the media surrounding them). So when I see someone get sandwiched in the middle, I can only wish them the best---but not expect it. The audience will read certain things into any manner of topics once a certain threshold gets crossed, and the writer will often get defensive and seek out comfort or validation in their standing by sampling myopic commentary, which is a dangerous way of upholding these types of social structures. This occurs across blogs, forums posts, Facebook comments---you name it. A false sense of security is still false no matter how safe it makes you feel.

There’s also the matter of people simply fleeing FUD in discussions and wanting to wrap their personal idealism around it. This is something just as bad as what they’re running away from. In an age of gaming where cynicism and snark runs rampant, people want all of the benefits with none of the drawbacks. We advocate and encourage critical thought but some will often lash out if it extends past a certain point of intimacy or personal investment. Yeah there are often stupid individuals or people just looking to troll, but I’ve seen more and more cases where something as neutral as pragmatism can be met with outright hostility. This is another symptom of the Internet having exposed the deficiencies of its role in basic human interaction. When you take things like body language and mannerisms out of the equation, text is a tool that can easily be taken to an unintended and purposelessly damaging end.

So just how much variety is there in what we communicate to one another? I certainly haven’t seen a lot. Unless it’s discussing some technical aspect of a game, I’ve yet to read anything I didn’t already know or wouldn't have arrived at via common sense. This leads to another intriguing factor of communication I’ve witnessed. Once walls come down and knowledge gaps are closed, gamers are even less receptive to certain parties. Of course this is easily applicable to how gamers interact with both the media/journalists and to a lesser extent the developers themselves[5]. What we target as corruption for journalists is not some great insight we should be aware of as informed consumers, yet that’s what it’s most commonly touted as. It’s looking at one side of a discussion and making a value judgment, and even worse---it’s done in a personal manner and less as a consumer (which is where the argument only holds what little water it can to begin with).

The extent to where we critique or examine the well-being and competence of developers/publishers runs hand in hand with this. Places like Kotaku[6], Gamestop, and EA are all seen as problematic entities when they are in fact indicative of a problem we all play a part in as the audience. We now have the power to influence content in titles yet we waste it areas of relatively finicky irrelevance (e.g. graphical fidelity), which is something I and many others saw coming a mile off. Some developers are becoming slavish to this demand as well, so we end up less with visions and more well-designed toys---which is fitting since we're all typically just acting like children anyway.

How much gets lost when we close off one another? It's becoming more common for me to look at a page or stream of comments and see virtually nothing but cacophonous noise. It’s almost synesthetic at this point. It’s so deafening in fact, that I can’t determine what quality even is anymore. I’m often just operating off some weird facsimile of where I was five years ago.

So many instances of forced binary logic on display, it's hard to grant any of it credence. It’s been here for a loooooong time, but these are not the problems we target, it’s these kinds of ideas that we tolerate, but not each other.

NPD Failure or success?

Gorgeous art/graphics style or ugly art/graphics style?

Insightful or I-don’t-get-it article?

Piracy or protection?

PS3 or X-Box 360?

PCs or Consoles?

Sexism or Misogyny?

Racism or reality?

Gamers or Casuals?

This development house that very much caters to my personal whims or yours?

…you get the idea.

And with these press conferences and the very much ugliness of E3 looming yet again, it’s like being in a hushed auditorium before a middle school announcement about a student who flushed a firecracker down the toilet.

I've been on a quest for the past few years (and really even long before then really) to find a reasonably sizable gaming community that isn't simply a bunch of weirdos, the asocially retarded, or just generally stupid individuals. Yeah, this is the troublemaker list, so put on that tinfoil hat and take a walk with me:

Twitter is an odd one to me because most of the people I follow and keep up with it are partially the reason this blog even exists. I initially only started using the site to keep up with old 1UP users and writers, and it was an effective way to do so. However, over the past few years I've seen a change in the site that I thought I only fooled myself into seeing at first. This isn't so much tethered to gaming as it is to how people use the site and how that has changed. For the gaming community in particular, there's drama on the website every day now with subtweeting, passive-aggressively vague sniping, and just outright shouting matches. I initially saw it as an odd website because as someone who appreciates drawing as much as he can out in a comment, 140 characters seemed like an arbitrary (and stupid) way to have any worthwhile discussion. Hell, I think still think it's a sort of an odd way to go about it (...and still sort of stupid...), but as I said, most people I've kept up with seem to eke as much value out of being as succinctly fleeting as possible.

I went dark on the site around mid-2011 and tweeted sparingly simply because I found it more entertaining to just watch people. I'd launch Tweetdeck on a couple of connected widescreen monitors, open a handful of columns up on any keyword or hashtag and simply sit back while I did something else. In this regard, I effectively substituted Twitter for Netflix and it worked. I could observe retweets, what people favorited and responded to, and how they often backtalked one another. It was like my version of a soap opera. I couldn't get enough of it for a while. I still tend to do it when something occurs on a larger scale, even outside the context of gaming.
The only reason I stopped was because of the false sense of superiority it often nurtured. Whether or not the discussions happening were worthwhile ventures to be had, people were always doing themselves a great disservice by trapping their thoughts into something so disturbingly indicative of the tl;dr times we're in now.

Tumblr is the other half of the reason I left Twitter. In effect I replaced one fleeting fancy for something more attuned to what I enjoyed, which is expression/artsy things. Tumblr initially seemed like it catered to that whim, but it quickly became a very very ugly site, and it has never been effective for commentary to begin with, only posting pictures (which was a draw for me towards the site at the time). I've also never seen a website so potently expressive for why twenty-something Caucasian females often irritate the piss out of me. And though that's somewhat an exaggeration on my part, that IS the primary demographic for who uses the site[7]. Discussing things on Tumblr often devolves into something similar to arguing with my teenage niece over something completely worthless. There's also a sort of bleed into why I've always periodically locked my Twitter account. It stifles the volume of people who follow me. I could never control this on Tumblr so over the course of just a few years I had accrued thousands of followers (while I myself never followed over 70 people on the site at a given time). These are people I didn't know or care about but often went out of their way to form the sort of makeshift audience I go to good lengths to avoid. I went totally dark on the site when I saw the most disgustingly (and disturbingly) formed defense of the HBO series Girls I had ever seen. I took that as a cue and a mascot to why I should just bow out of the site altogether and haven't looked back.

Reddit can be viewed as a sort of experiement that eloquently exposes the sorts of things I’m discussing here and that’s about the most positive thing I can say of it on a general level. The smaller subreddits are far easier to enjoy and engage discussion on, but once a subreddit grows to about 50,000 people, the quality of that sub will more often than not go straight to shit. What I said about Tumblr applies to the other side of the Caucasian gender here, twenty-something white males so far removed from reality that discussing anything with them is a prime example for why I don't often even waste my time anymore. It doesn't help that the defining function of the website is often gamed and broken from the get go. Upvoting and downvoting not only encourages situations such as echo chambers[8] it facilitates them. In effect, reddit is only a formalized and pretentious YouTube comments section---and we all know the latter goes.

I could keep this list going, but these are the largest three I've been a part of recently, so I'll cut  this already overwrought post down a few and continue on. It's interesting to watch the things I discussed above bleed through every one of these sites in different fashions. I'm also intrigued that designers throw these often tackily designed websites up and leave it to the audience to solely define the ways in which they're used. Many don't take an active role in guiding it, so yeah---people are going to run it straight into the ground.

I've been offered the typical comforting nuggets on this quest for the positive communities, but they're either too problematic for me to consider, indicative of a more dangerous phase of community behavior I'm often wary of, or just outright wrong.

A sampling of such nuggets:

"They should be..." (the customer is always right)
This the most troublesome one for me because there's truth surrounded by a whole bunch of lies and gaps in logic. Most recently, I saw the sentiment expressed by Ken Levine on the windup to BioShock Infinite’s release. Yes, there's a certain amount of value to be gained from acknowledging what your fans want, but there's a line that shouldn't be crossed either. When that line gets crossed, you’ll almost always hear my adjectives become increasingly meaner towards it (pandering, catering, etc…).

"Everybody should have a voice. Free speech!"
The only people I hear chasing this freedom of speech crap are people who either want to be willfully ignorant, spread FUD pointlessly, or troll (some even defend the right to be stupid). There comes a point where it's just not worthwhile to debate anything with someone who’s more concerned with being and right than they are furthering discussion, and that's what's taking place in the majority of commentary I've seen. It’s not mine or anyone else’s job to impart upon them basic social currencies that their parents, school, or society has failed to. Arguing someone to the point of simply getting them to admit they're capable of error, misguided judgment, or outright stupidity is a waste of time for both parties. These are the people chasing free speech in my experience, and thus free speech can go fuck itself.

"Just the vocal minority!"
At best this is a glass half empty/full topic because anything (and I mean anything) can be inferred from silence. The silent majority can by extension be linked to authority by majority which has formed all number of fucked up things throughout the history. That doesn't make them right, effective, or even worth listening to.

I've seen so many reactions to most Internet negativity and although justified it's also dangerous. People have developed not only a low tolerance for criticism and dissent but a dogmatically positive thought-line that's simply antagonizing anything not incorporated into a fundamentally invested perspective.

Debating with people who have the critical introspect of a pumpkin can be tiring I'll grant you. I've even begun to turn off all sincerity once some self-congratulatory forum-going jackass decides to use the term 'objective' in almost any fashion now.

Traditional forums in general are interesting to me because I've just come around to using them. Sadly, the cause for discussion here still seems to be yet another idealistic pipe-dream masking insecure platform wars straight out of the 90s' and pseudo-intellectual checkmates. Example? I've had a NeoGAF account for years now, but I only just started using it a couple of months ago and although the website isn't as nefarious as other sites would finger point it out for (especially considering its volume), it's no less susceptible to all this other bullshit. That crazy rant Denis Dyack went on about the place forums have was all over the damn place, but it wasn't wrong---at least generally speaking[9].

My own personal avoidance from places like reddit, PCGamer, and RPS-comments is because of how obnoxious I find what is hopefully the vocal minority of PC players, but given that some of the articles themselves faintly echo the often hyperbolic commentary (particularly PCGamer), I'm not so sure anymore. And again, since I can't fully buy the vocal minority stance from the get-go, I just end up distrusting everyone.

So should we be listening to each other more or less? We’ve become so determined not to yet pretend as if we are, I can’t really say yes or no with a straight face anymore. It’s become a grail of online gaming interaction (e.g. “The Citizen Kane of gaming!”). There is such variety in where people come from and how they come at gaming, yet how we keep ending up in the same tired-ass places never fails to amuse me. There’s a discussion to be had on the things we could very much value here, but I don’t think we've come to a place where it’s a worthwhile discussion, not yet anyway.

Also, no. I'm not turning comments back on. Fuck you and the first amendment.





1. White Noise - Merriam-Webster [Link]
2. Black Noise - Wikipedia entry [Link]
3. Ten hours of Black Noise - YouTube [Link]

4. 'No Comment' holds a lot of relevant connecting points to this post. It's a small lego piece to this post's rather large one. [Link]
5. Entitled Gamers, Corrupt Press, and Greedy Publishers [Link]
6. Brainy Gamer Podcast, episode #41. Kirk and Michael briefly graze the topic considering the former's place at Kotaku, a Gawker website notorious for its gaming audience/commentary. [Link]
7. Alexa's ranking of Tumblr [Link]
8. I'm not using that term as a buzzword either, it's truest sense of the phrase on display when referring to this site specifically. [Link]
9. That was an interesting week. [Link]