The Mind of a Hardcore Gamer

At first, it was purely entertainment. In a game, you interacted with some virtual world, and things happened in response. Instead of messing around with your toys, you messed around with the game. It did not matter what the objectives were. Over time, your childhood brain grew to understand the formal concepts of objectives and strategy, and games started to make sense. There were goals to achieve and ways to win.

There was something charming about entering a different world. It was not so much the sensory stimulation of the graphics and sound, but the believable feeling that this other world existed, with its own rules, story, and society. You were experiencing that world. You were a part of it.

Now all of a sudden, your friends in school started to talk about some game that you never before played. Somehow you tried it, and then you joined them. Why did you do that? Maybe you did not want to feel left out. Maybe, being a gamer, you knew you were good at gaming and at last you could show your friends how good you were. You started late, of course, so you were a complete beginner, and lost your initial games. Slowly though, some part of you, so finely attuned to the precise mechanisms of gaming, drove you to analyse the game and improve your skill and tactics. You started delving into theory: Gaming was not just about what you did during the game itself. It was understanding the workings of the game and how different ways of playing it influenced the outcome. You went to the forums, you read strategy guides, you participated in debates on the theory. Still, you played even more, and got even better. What was it? Were you trying to prove yourself?

You were not alone. One day you entered another world, and in it was this entire community of others. They were playing the game–no, they were all around you: having conversations, fighting monsters, doing quests, and even fishing and cooking. Soon enough, you started interacting with these other people. They were strangers, yet they were not quite strangers. There was something oddly welcoming about their cartoon-like characters. You could talk about whatever you wanted: the content did not matter, so long as you knew then that you had made ‘friends’. Everyday you logged in, someone would say ‘Hi!’ to you and you would proceed in conversation about the latest news in the game. Now and then, you would meet up to fight monsters together or just to chat because you were ‘friends’.

Sometimes you preferred to be alone though. There were worlds that were charming precisely because the characters in them were not real people. You met wizards who spoke like wizards, and Jedi knights that had great conviction for their cause. There were also other games that were just too complex to be played simultaneously by multiple people. You were building an ancient Egyptian city along the Nile river, you were managing the burgeoning Roman empire and its legions, you were plotting the succession and dominance of a medieval dynasty. You relished the obscure complexity of those games, because, having played games for more than half your life now, you knew that complexity was necessary for depth in gaming experience.

You wanted your worlds to be as close to your ideal of a ‘good game’ as possible. Yet, game developers were just not good enough. Game development projects were fraught with rushed schedules, deceptive marketing, and mismanagement. All too often games were released with disappointing bugs and poorly designed game mechanics. It did not matter. Gamers rule the gaming world. Gamers came up with ways to modify existing games, and you used those tools to modify and customise your games to fit your ideal conceptions. You would tweak a little, see if it worked, and examine if you liked the results. Little by little, you tweaked. Often, you would spend more time modifying the game than actually playing it. There was something in you that drove you towards perfecting the game. You wanted to play the game perfectly, but you first needed the game to be perfect.

You chose to escape into this world. The girl that you had a crush on for many months rejected you and was seeing someone else. Numb yourself, perform the systematic motions of the game. Enter this other world. You knew you were capable, so capable that you could fully grasp the fundamental mechanics of the game and play it better than others. Who cared about the real world? You just wanted to be away for a while. Was that not what school holidays were for? Your wish was granted, and you became completely absorbed. You made new ‘friends’ again, and you gained respect. After a timeless eternity spent in this world, you would be ready to emerge and live life again.

P.S. I started playing computer games in 1997. I was five years old. The computer was running on the Windows 95 operating system. Twenty years later, I completely stopped gaming in February 2017. That was near the start of this year. It has been close to nine months now. In the meantime I have replaced my time spent gaming mostly by reading books, and studying mathematics and language. Nonetheless, the residues of my gaming life continue to be present: the determined compulsion to analyse things and break them down into their elements, and the determined compulsion to execute things in the most theoretically and technically perfect way.

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交通硕士

我们需要下几天来走的办法。再精确地说:我们需要对于我们舒服宿舍与市镇中心之间的来走办法。他就此到来,就是为了驾那辆让我们开开心心地通勤的公车。也许在我们想像中他因此只是这所谓的公车司机。

但是他说:“我不只是一位公车司机,我是交通硕士。” 过后他骄傲地宣告他在家乡是如此抱有这一种名称,并且取得了证书。有些人可能以为他只为了让自我介绍增加兴趣度而开一下玩笑。但是,他为职业所骄傲使我感动。我敬慕他。

在新加坡这一个城市,也在多数的其它商业中心,我们习惯了认同职业层级。我们认为高级经理、律师、医生、和其它薪水高的职业是有得敬佩的。越低级与报酬低的工作,就越不优秀、越不可敬佩。在这种社会之内,一种像公车司机简简单单的职业是不可能令人注意的。

但是我厌恨与反抗这种理念。一个人的职业的价值是必定要根据它的经济潜能、它的权威、或它所需要的教育资格吗?

这位交通硕士在欧洲的许多国家开过车,他对付了各种文化的人和地方,他在多年中收取了安全与高效开车、路线优化、对付交通拥堵、认识合适的停车地点这些多种有利经验。他愿利用这些知识技巧让我们通勤得一帆风顺。他就此愿意,也不要求股票期权、一等机票、丰富酒店套房等。并且,他骄傲地提供服务。

原本英文写作: Original Post in English

Plato’s Just Medicine

‘When a carpenter is ill he asks the physician for a rough and ready cure; an emetic or a purge or a cautery or the knife,–these are his remedies. And if someone prescribes for him a course of dietetics, and tells him that he must swathe and swaddle his head, and all that sort of thing, he replies at once that he has no time to be ill, and he sees no good in a life which is spent nursing his disease to the neglect of his customary employment; and therefore bidding good-bye to this sort of physician, he resumes his ordinary habits, and either gets well and lives and does his business, or, if his constitution fails, he dies and has no more trouble.’
–Book III of The Republic by Plato (English Translation by Benjamin Jowett)

Plato’s concept of justice resides in an isomorphism between the state and the individual. A just state is a well-ordered state in which each individual is just in so far as he performs a suitable role. A suitable role is one that befits the individual in a way that leverages upon his personal attributes. Through the dutiful and earnest performance of such a role the individual assumes a proper place in the state.

Life is beautiful. Our senses pleasure us to behold fair sights. Our social tendencies draw us towards society and civilization. Our innate curiosity urges us to nurture learning yearnings. Our industrious spirit wills us to create magnificent constructs. In death all dissolves.

When the possibility of death arises, the desire not to lose all that we have compels us to take all possible measures necessary to avoid it. Yet, ought we to fear death so much as to erect protective barriers between us and our station in life? One who fears death may go at length to preserve his subsistence, even if in doing so he loses spirit and forsakes the very things that comprise his existence. One who excessively fears death incapacitates himself, and constrains his industrial and intellectual leanings! In place of biological death resides the dreary state of spiritual death. Do not fear death. We do what we can to be healthy and strong, but where death may strike even so we push on in courage.

For death to succeed life is a certainty, for death to supersede life is a pity.

‘Ne pleure pas, Alfred ! J’ai besoin de tout mon courage pour mourir à vingt ans !’
–Évariste Galois

The Closed Door

‘Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.’

Knock, I did.

I was knocking, and I was ringing the doorbell incessantly. But the door did not open.

They told me so. They said it was dangerous. What was I thinking, travelling alone and renting a room from someone I had only barely acquainted with online?

He seemed nice enough when I met him earlier. So nice that I felt completely comfortable with leaving my luggage, knapsack, and laptop in the apartment while I left for a quick dinner and beer. He did of course pass me the key. Either the key was not the right one, or there must have been an additional bolt on the inner side of the door, because the door would not open despite turning the key in the keyhole.

I had nothing on me except my wallet, phone, and passport. I did not have a German phone line. Did I mention I also had my comb and earphones? As if those would help. The sensor-activated stairway light turned itself off, leaving me in darkness. Day turns to night quickly. I could still catch a fading glimmer of light on the way back from dinner, but now it was dark.

I was confused. I was in disbelief. I had never experienced such danger in my sheltered life, and I could not imagine it happening to myself. An ounce of hope remained, that perhaps it was merely a mistake. On the other hand, fear started to creep in. Yet, along with it came a sense of excitement. I had an inexplicable tiny desire to be in danger. To be one day left alone on the streets in a foreign place, with nothing to aid me but this personality that defines me and my free will. As inane as it sounds, I almost wanted it to be true.

It was amidst this mix of separate sets of emotions, directed at two distinct possibilities of uncertain probability, that I realised I might still have had a lifeline. I reached for my phone, hoping that I had recharged the battery for long enough the previous night.

Master of Traffic

We needed to get from place to place over the next few days. More precisely, we needed to go to and fro between our homely hostel and the town centre. So there he was, to drive that bus in which we would sit and by which we would happily commute. In our minds he was probably just that. A bus driver.

But he said: ‘I am not just a bus driver, I am a Master of Traffic.’ Thereafter he proudly proclaimed how he was recognised by that title in his hometown and even given a certificate for it. One might assume he was merely jesting to make his self-introduction more interesting for us. But for me, his pride of his profession and trade reached deeper within me. I admired him.

Here in the city of Singapore, and I assume likewise in some other busy commercial centres, we are conditioned to recognise an occupational hierarchy. We see high-level corporate managers, lawyers, doctors, and other high-paying occupations as respectable. The further down the chain and the less pay a job offers, the less glamorous and respectable a person’s occupation is. In such a society, an occupation as simple as a bus driver could never come close to being noteworthy.

But I detest and challenge that notion. Must the worth of a person’s trade and profession necessarily be tied to its financial potential, its authority over others, or its required educational attainment?

Mr. Master of Traffic drove in many countries across Europe, dealt with passengers and places of different cultures, and acquired a wealth of experience in driving safely and efficiently, route optimisation, dealing with traffic, and recognising good pickup and drop-off locations. He would use all that to make all aspects of our bus rides there as pleasant and smooth as possible. He would do all of that without demanding stock options, first-class air tickets, luxurious hotel suites, and whatnot. Moreover, he took pride in what he did.

Cheers to those who hone their trade rather than plot their careers.

This post has been translated into Chinese: 中文翻译

Memory and Imagery

There lay two neat rows of trees on both sides on the path, stretching as far as I could see. Endless symmetry–it was beautiful. For a moment my mind activated the cognitive resources required to reach my hand into the left pocket of my pants–for my camera-phone. I hesitated. I stopped.

No.

No, there was something precious about that view–no, that moment–it felt as though taking a photograph would ruin it. As though cutting a small fragment off a little gem. ‘Live in the moment.’ I did. The morning air was fresh and cool. Up above the leaves rustled gently with the breeze. To the side a narrow stream flowed, and in it were some ducks. One was feeding and the other three were still asleep. In the distance I could hear birds cooing every now and then. It was after four days in a Paris filled with flocks of tourists and heavy traffic, and that tranquility soothed me so.

Memory is imperfect. Imperfect in the way it records, stores, and recalls information. But that imperfection comes with our will to make meaning of things. Thus so, that moment became a part of my memory–imperfect yet with meaning. A photograph would not capture it that way.

My shoes crunched softly along the path by the narrow stream, where the north segment of the medieval wall of Provins used to be. Je reviendrai, France!

This post was previous titled ‘Memory, Unphotographed.’