RSS

Category Archives: My So-Called Life

The Analog Antiquarian

I’m very excited today to announce The Analog Antiquarian, a new companion site to this one. While this site continues to be, as the subtitle says, “a history of computer entertainment and digital culture,” the new one will be for “chronicles of worldly wonders” — more wide-angle history articles about some of humanity’s most amazing achievements, beginning with the Pyramids of Giza. Going forward, I’ll be posting new articles to the two sites on alternating Fridays.

Since this is a significant change, I feel I owe you an explanation of how we got to this point.

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have told you that I’d be satisfied to leave behind as my intellectual legacy, as it were, a skeptical but passionate history of the fascinating new medium of interactive entertainment, stretching from its very beginning to however far I managed to get before I kicked the bucket. But I’ve found myself getting more and more creatively restless since then. Despite trying hard to tamp the restlessness down, I’ve slowly had to face the fact that I have more I want to say and more I want to try as a writer than this site’s format really allows for. It’s not so much that I’m tired of the endlessly interesting march of technology, aesthetics, and culture which I’ve been documenting here, as that I’m tired of only writing about those things.

All of this started to come to a head about eighteen months ago, when I started to look into the game of Civilization. As a game, it’s remarkable enough in its own right, but what really floored me was the stuff around the game, particularly the tech tree and the expansive view of human invention that it depicted. To be honest, I sort of fell in love with the thing.

My first thought was thus to write a history of human invention, to explain how we got from primitive but fundamental technologies like pottery to the moon landing and the Internet. I hired a programmer to work on an interactive tech tree of my own which would show how it all fit together, how this begot that; clicking on developments on it would take you to the articles associated with those developments. But we never could arrive at a design that was unarguably more intuitive than a simple table of contents. And meanwhile I was starting to have other doubts about the idea. Could I master so much technology — I’m a writer, not an engineer — and could I write about it in a way that wouldn’t be horribly dry?

So, I set that plan aside. Instead I decided to write a series of articles for this site, exploring the assumptions and ideas behind Civilization‘s view of history. And, as many of you doubtless remember, I did see that plan through. Yet I was never entirely happy with the articles that resulted, and today I’m less happy with them than ever. Building intellectual castles in the sky just isn’t what I’m best at as a writer. I’m better at telling exciting and interesting stories, sneaking the Big Ideas into the cracks and crevices of the narrative.

Regardless, I made a resolution after I finished the Civilization series to buckle back down here in my wheelhouse of gaming history. But many of you who do creative work probably know how that sort of thing goes. That little muse, once she starts talking to you, is impossible to silence. I still wanted to try another sort of writing, and the Civilization series hadn’t done much to scratch that itch. I finally realized there was only one way to be free of her nagging. I started planning a second site once again, even as I still cast about for just the right approach.

For a time, my plan was to write nothing less than a general history of all human civilization, a sort of 21st-century answer to Will Durant. I still find that idea inordinately appealing in some ways, but the more I thought about it, the more concerns I started to have. If such a project was not to take dozens of lifetimes to complete, it would have to be written in a very summarized way. Could such summaries really satisfy my itch to write personal stories full of plots twists and drama? I also was aware that this type of a history could all too easily become a long narrative of war and oppression, of all the worst sides of humanity. I realized that I’d rather focus on the instances of hope and beauty that occasionally rise above that ugly tumult, reflecting the best rather than the worst in us.

At last, I realized that what I was looking for had been in front of me all the time in Civilization: the wonders of the world. These big, singular achievements all have rich, deeply human stories behind them, and I can’t wait to tell them. I don’t necessarily intend to slavishly follow Civilization‘s set of wonders, merely to use the idea as my guide. It’s a less conceptually ambitious approach than some of the other ones I’ve kicked around, but I think it’s exactly the right one for me, given my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I hope and — in my more self-confident moments anyway — believe that I can do a fantastic job with it. At any rate, I need to try if I’m not to wonder forevermore whether I could have pulled it off.

Now, to speak more directly to you, the readers of this site:

When I’ve wandered off into digressive territory on this site in the past, it’s gotten a mixed reaction: some really liked these changes of pace, some just wanted me to get back to computers and the games they play. This latter is a perfectly reasonable point of view to hold, and I’ll try to dissuade you from it only to the extent of suggesting that you at least have a peek at the new site, just to see if it catches your interest. If the answer is no, fair enough. For you, this announcement today will come as a bit of a disappointment, as it means fewer of the type of articles you do enjoy. I won’t try to spin that into a positive thing. I just hope you’ll be patient with me and my muse, and will want to continue to read and support The Digital Antiquarian on this somewhat slower schedule. Who knows? Maybe having another writerly outlet will make the articles I do write here better. (Oh, yes, I did promise not to spin, didn’t I?)

If, on the other hand, you’re excited by what you see on The Analog Antiquarian, we’ve just arrived at the awkward part of this announcement — the one where I have to ask for your help. The new site is an experiment. In light of all the angst that I went through getting to this point, I’m committed to giving it a good solid try, but the fact remains that each article there demands even more time than each one here; I just can’t continue to do it forever unless I can build a reasonable income from it. I’ve therefore set up a second Patreon campaign for the new site. Please do think about pitching in whatever you can afford and whatever you think the work is worth. (I wish I didn’t have to ask you to sign up for a whole new Patreon, but there just isn’t any alternative. Patreon unfortunately doesn’t offer any way to opt-in for some types of content but not others within a single campaign.) I would be eternally grateful for your support, which, there as here, will let me do the work I love and also put something of real positive value into the world at the same time.

And finally, there is one other thing I would ask of you — even of those of you who aren’t particularly interested in the new site. If you know anyone personally or have social-media circles that might really dig the new content, please do let them know. Establishing a new site on the crowded Internet is hard, and it’s made even harder when you’re a social-media hermit like I am. I’d be ever so grateful for any help you could give in getting the word out.

I think that’s about all I need to say here. You can read more justifications and explanations in the new site’s introductory article and its Patreon page. Again, I hope some of you will find the topics I’ll be tackling on it as exciting as I do, and hope to see some familiar names turn up there. And I hope to see all of you back here next Friday, for the next serving of Digital Antiquaria. Thank you for being the best readers in the world.

 

Rochester Ho!

No new article this week, I’m afraid. I’ve been planning for some time to take a bye week in January, but had thought it would be next week rather than this one. The next article will, however, be a bit of a technical one, and it seemed wise to give it a round or two of peer reviewing before I published. So, that one will be coming out next Friday instead of this one.

But I should tell you why I planned a by week in the first place because it’s quite exciting (for me, anyway). I’ll be spending next week at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. They’ve assembled an impressive archive of internal papers and other documents there from quite a number of prominent players in the games industry of the 1980s and 1990s: SSI, Sierra, Brøderbund, just to name a few that most interest me. If all goes as I expect, what I collect next week will inform my writings here for months or even years to come. A trip like this wouldn’t be practical without your support through Patreon and PayPal, so thanks so much for that!

Be seeing you!

 

A Little Christmas Gift

This being the time of year for such things, I have a little surprise that I hope some of you might really enjoy.

I get asked on a fairly regular basis whether this blog will ever become a book — or, more likely, a series of books. While I do have aspirations in that direction, producing even one proper book is a big task that’s hard to turn to now when I’m so focused on this chronological journey we’re on. In the meantime, I can now at least offer you a series of ebooks that simply compile my older articles. Their existence is entirely down to the efforts of reader Richard Lindner, who developed all of the tools to automatically convert the blog’s articles.

Despite his talents, the ebooks are inevitably a little rough around the edges. In particular, multimedia elements — pictures, screenshots, movies, audio — may display imperfectly or not at all on many e-readers. Nevertheless, I hope some of you will find them handy for reading in bed or taking to the beach without bullies kicking sand in your laptop. Richard and I couldn’t quite decide whether to include readers comments or not — they’re a huge and hugely appreciated part of the online experience, but arguably ruin the flow of the ebook versions — so we decided to let you decide, by offering versions both with and without them. You can also choose between Kindle and epub versions, whichever suits your device or software. More ebooks will be appearing as I finish writing about each historical year. I just have a few articles to go to finish up 1987, so you can expect that volume to be joining the others quite soon.

Thanks for being such amazing readers! Your support means the world to me. If you are a regular reader who’s made this blog a part of your weekly routine and you haven’t yet pitched in, please do think about starting the new year with a Patreon pledge or a one-time PayPal donation — assuming, of course, that your personal circumstances permit. For the price of a good cup of coffee each month you can support this ongoing serious, nuanced examination of the history of gaming, and contribute to my own slow crawl toward earning a living wage from what’s long since become as time-consuming as any other full-time job.

To the 160 of you (as of this writing) who have signed up through Patreon and the many others who have donated through PayPal:an extra special thank you! It warms my writerly heart to know that so many of you like what I do enough to voluntarily pay for it. I’ll continue to strive to be worthy of your support.

I wish you all a great Christmas or winter holiday of your choice, and a happy New Year to boot. And I’ll see you all again in a couple of days, with a proper article this time.

 

Patreon Security Breach

As some of have probably already heard, there was a recent security breach on the Patreon website. Apparently a mirror of the site that was intended for testing and development purposes was left exposed on the Internet at large and hacked. Data dumps of the whole thing are already out there on the usual torrent sites. Patreon claims — and I have no reason to doubt them — that no credit-card numbers or other financial information was exposed. Password hashes were stolen, but were encoded in such a way that it would take a staggering amount of computing power to crack any of them. Your email address and possibly your home address, if you provided it to the site, were stored in the clear as I understand it, and thus likely have been compromised.

I’m very, very sorry about this, as I’m sure is Patreon as well. They’re doing a great service that’s made a big difference for my life and for this blog, but they’ve been growing fast and obviously some things just got away from them. As for the people who do this sort of thing… I just don’t get it. Why not create something instead of tearing things down all the time?

At this point the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, so there’s not much to be done other than to change your password on Patreon, as well as anywhere else you might have been using the same password. If the damage is limited largely to lists of names and email addresses, it’s not so bad as these things go I suppose. If I hear more, and certainly if I have any reason to suspect it’s worse than that, I’ll let you know.

 

Patreon

Patreon

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s now been about three-and-a-half years since I started this blog. Over that time it’s come a long way. After beginning with no real direction, I found my forte within the first six months or so, and the blog evolved into the grand history you all know and (hopefully) love. Along the way I like to believe I’ve become a better writer, and I know I’ve become a much better and more thorough researcher, with many more sources at my disposal. I must admit that some of those early articles are a bit painful for me to read now (I really need to do something about that someday). But best of all, I’ve found you folks, a core group of loyal readers who seem to grow by just a little bit every month. It hasn’t been a meteoric rise, but it has been a steady one and a fun one. You’re the best readers anywhere, you know, almost unfailingly polite and witty and perceptive and helpful, and I appreciate each and every one of you enormously. Every writer wants, more than anything else, to know some people out there are reading. Thanks for that!

So, having buttered you up, let’s move on to the real subject of today’s post. After some months of dithering over the question, I’ve decided it’s time to take the next step in my blogging career. As you can probably imagine based on the length and depth of the articles I post, the writing and research for the blog  absorbs many hours of my time per week. If I can start to bring in a little bit more, and on a more consistent basis, I’ll be able to devote more time to my work here, which will translate directly into more and better articles for you to enjoy. Imagine if you will a sliding scale of hours devoted to computer-gaming history that terminates in my being able to make it my full-time job. I’m afraid I’m a long way from there, may indeed never reach it, but every little bit of income the blog does manage to generate shifts that scale just slightly in a positive direction, resulting in more articles published, more games and other topics covered, and more depth to that coverage.

I’ve therefore decided to add Patreon to the existing PayPal donation system. As many of you probably already know, Patreon is a way for readers like you to support the work of creators like me through something like the old patronage model that used to fund art and literature back in the day. It has the advantage for me that it represents a steady income stream I can count on on a per-article basis, whereas one-off donations tend to move through cycles of feast and famine that are impossible to plan for. You need only go to my fresh new Patreon page to sign up. If you do so, you’ll be automatically billed for each substantial article that I write for the blog (i.e., articles like this one are not included). You can decide how much that amount will be. I’m certainly not asking you to break the bank here; a dollar or two (or the equivalent in your local currency) is fine, although if any of you love the blog and are flush with cash I certainly wouldn’t balk at more. On the other hand, some of you may want to pay a bit less, maybe just a dollar or two per month. I unfortunately can’t offer monthly and per-article payments simultaneously, but there is a way around it: just set a per-article level of $1 and also set a monthly limit of $1, $2, or whatever you like. This will have the same effect, with the added advantage that you don’t pay anything if I stop blogging for a month for some reason.

Patreon supporters will gain access to a special members area of my Patreon page, where we can interact a bit more informally and where you can have a bit more of a say on certain things that happen around here. I’ll give sneak previews from time to time of upcoming articles, ask for your input on games and topics worthy of coverage, and if there’s interest host occasional meet-ups via Google Hangouts or the like.

The PayPal donation button to the right will not be going away, so if you do still prefer to make a single lump-sum donation by all means feel free. And whether you can contribute financially or not, I could also use your help in one other way. As just about everyone must realize by now, I’m terrible at self-promotion, and worse at social media. So, anything you could do to help me get the word out to potential supporters would be hugely appreciated.

And that’s that, except to say, as Bartles and Jaymes did back in the year of which I’m writing these days, “Thank you for your support.” Next up in the on-deck circle: a certain spacefaring epic.