Archive for the 'Geeking' Category

Zen Koans of Modern Warfare 2

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

(or: Not the Wind, Not the Flag)

[Thanks to the emails generated by my previous Modern Warfare 2 rant, I’ll revisit the game.  Here are five Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer koans vaguely in the style of The Gateless Gate.  Mumon is a Chinese Zen master (1183-1260).  I did not write verses because I am lazy.]

1. The infinite chain of FFA

While playing free-for-all (FFA) on a small map, stop stalking someone and turn around suddenly.  You will see that someone has been stalking you, and unknown to him, behind his back you see someone stalking him in turn.  But maybe it doesn’t stop there?   FFA on a small map is a chain of soldiers arranged in a circle.  Everyone stalks the person in front of them who is facing the other way.  They spawn, stalk, shoot and are killed from behind … then it repeats until the round ends at the score limit.  This is what you make possible as you jab at “X” to respawn as fast as you can.  You are shooting yourself in the back and the other players are your instrument.

Mumon’s comment: It is a repetitive ritual: spawn, stalk, shoot, die.  But it is no more compulsive than Farmville.

2. The exclamation

When something unusual happens while you are playing with strangers (mercenary or FFA) an exceptional kill will cause your enemy to exclaim out loud–they have forgotten that their headset is on.  Just as you press the trigger you hear an “aawwww!” or, if it is something weird, more of a surprised “oh!”   It’s a sound that you forced out of them.  Maybe if the XBox headsets were more sensitive you would hear this more often.  Maybe you could hear the sharp intakes of breath that you cause.

Mumon’s comment:  That is the sound of a stranger breathing for you.  Mostly it is swearing.

3. The dance of equals

In multiplayer you will discover your perfect match.  You will come upon each other in an open courtyard.  Each of you will empty your clip, firing at short range, while you strafe and dodge this way and that.  As the last rounds are fired and you both start to reload, no one has been hit!  You both switch to knives and leap backward and forward.  As the sweep of the knives finishes this strange little dance, no one has been hit!  This might even produce a momentary pause. Or even peace. Or was it lag?

Mumon’s comment: Then you will both be killed by a Predator missile from the sky.  The sky is always the victor.

4. The opposite of lag

You will see the crosshairs perfectly centered over your opponent.  You will fire.  You see the report and feel the recoil, but you are the one who has died, even though you know in your heart that you fired first.  When it happens you will blame the lag and cry out at this injustice.

Yet there will be other times.  Other times when you achieve an uncanny fluency.  You can do no wrong as you score point after point.  Every bullet of yours finds its target.  This, you think to yourself, is skill.  I am unstoppable.

Mumon’s comment: Skill is the opposite of lag.  Is skill the opposite of lag?

5. The Care Package of Enlightenment

Capt. John “Soap” McTavish asked: “When I call down a care package, am I enlightened?”

Capt. John “Soap” McTavish asked: “When I call down an emergency airdrop, am I enlightened further?”

Mumon’s comment: When you defend and retrieve every one of the crates from an emergency airdrop–even on a busy map filled with enemies–you are still 108,000 miles from a good killstreak reward.  At least that’s usually my luck.

Capt. John “Soap” McTavish said: “Tango down.”

Appendix: Mumon’s Zen Warnings:

The Model 1887 is the false Zen.  It is overpowered and there is no honor in it.  To rely on the Claymore is to tie yourself without a rope. If you camp in the back of the plane on Terminal you go astray from the essence.  If you camp in the front, you oppose the principle.  If you neither camp in the back nor the front, you are a dead man breathing.  Tell me now, what will you do?

Does the Living Room Computer Have to do Everything?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

As mentioned in my previous post “My Game System is My New Cable Box,” the newest system update for the XBox 360 now includes a number of social networking and Internet applications, including Facebook, twitter,, and Zune (Microsoft’s attempt to compete with the iTunes store).  For me, the integration of these services feels like a kind of weird collision of different neighborhoods and cultures.

Facebook on XBox Live

The neighborhoods metaphor is apt, in part because of the debate earlier this year about the socioeconomic and race connotations of different social networking sites.  Danah Boyd notably described a “white flight” from MySpace to Facebook (here’s a nice overview article of her point).  Facebook, she argues, has been portrayed as a higher-class, safer place by media coverage.

Eszter Hargittai also published a revealing demographic analysis comparing SNSs two years ago in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, titled “Whose Space?“.  She found a number of interesting differentiations among these sites: “different populations select into the use of different services.”  For instance, Asian-Americans are less likely to use MySpace.

So our Internet applications are like demographically distinct neighborhoods of a city.  Of course we know that all kinds of things are differentiated demographically (see: Stuff White People Like).  But the XBox360 merge combines the XBox’s own social networking system (based on Gamertags) with others systems like Twitter and Facebook and this is a different kind of mixing.  Yes these sites can reach different audiences but that they are used by the same audiences for different purposes in different contexts with different interfaces.  It’s not just that different people live in different neighborhoods (MySpace vs. Facebook demographics), but that when I personally visit different neighborhoods I expect them to look different (many people use multiple SNSs).

Everything is suddenly all mixed into the XBox interface. Having some of this stuff on my TV is actually pretty weird.  Adding Zune to the XBox makes a lot of sense — that’s a store to sell a/v products and I want to buy TV shows to watch on my TV.  But the other services are jarring — they echo Don Norman’s point from ten years ago in The Invisible Computer that single-purpose devices are often preferable to multi-purpose ones (here’s an old interview when he makes this point).

No one seems to be listening to him.  The interface is so much more difficult to get right on a multipurpose device.  Rather than a generic menu system that must fit everything, with a specialized device you can have a streamlined interface that helps you do what you are trying to do.  It makes so much sense to just keep each single-purpose device in the place where you want to do that task.


For instance instead of a smartphone to do everything, you might want a dedicated e-mail device like the Peek (pictured above).  A friend of mine keeps both a Palm TX for the calendaring and an iPhone for mobile web surfing (and occastionally, telephoning).  I think this kind of thing is actually quite widespread.  The specialized devices are often so much better at a particular thing while a generalized device is bad at everything (or mediocre at everything).

So now the XBox is kind of a mishmash of Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, gamertags, etc.  Maybe it will grow on me but I doubt it.  For instance, Zune and Netflix now have to share the awkward XBox menuing system and are only differentiated by the fact that their backgrounds are different colors (Netflix is red, Zune is black).  To continue the neighborhoods metaphor, in their wisdom the XBox Live designers have taken all of the neighborhoods you like to visit in Manhattan and relocated their shops to a bland suburban street grid that stretches to infinity in every direction.

In my earlier post I praised the idea of the game console as the new basic entertainment computer in the living room that could handle a variety of video and gaming functions.  Let’s me temper my enthusiasm.  A game console is a good idea for things a gaming console connected to a TV can be good at!  If we try to cram everything else in there too I don’t think the results will be pretty.

USENET history gone! Temporarily?

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Just noticed that google groups historical search doesn’t work anymore.  That means we have no access to most of the history of the Internet.  All of those flamewars…  all those snarky comments…  gone!

This comment complains about the fact that there is only one provider for historical search of usenet newsgroups.  I can’t find any other usenet search engines that keep more than a few hundred days online.  So much for Internet history, or anyway USENET history.  Where will the children of the future learn about legendary trolls?  How will they meet B1FF?

Bad Behavior has blocked 39 access attempts in the last 7 days.