I’ve had to take a break from the news. Let me rephrase that: I’ve had to take a break from getting emotionally invested in the news. This is not to say that I’m fine with what’s happening. I’m still reading Twitter and my RSS newsfeeds 24/7. It’s just that somewhere within the last few weeks – between the revelation that we’ve been keeping babies in cages and the fact that the President of the United States of America committed treason in front of the entire world on live television while standing next to Vladimir Putin and nothing has been done about it – I’ve reached maximum outrage. I can’t get any more angry and upset or else I will literally explode. So I will basically be maintaining this slow boil of maximum outrage until something actually happens.
I’ve also found that being in this perpetual state of treading water means that I can’t concentrate on anything else. I know I haven’t written much here lately, and a few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d kinda hit a dark place. I think what happened is that my brain needed to shut down, and I decided to let it. If I can’t enjoy books or games, then OK; let me take a break from that stuff, too, because feeling obliged to indulge in hobbies that aren’t giving you any pleasure because you don’t know what else to do you with yourself creates a whole new level of meta-depression and I’m not sure that any of my current prescriptions can handle that.
Anyway, I had a really nice weekend. Did some chores, ran some errands, had a quality day with the boy up at my mom’s pool yesterday, giving my wife a much-needed chance to decompress, and it was nice to know that I was still capable of enjoying myself.
And so I got in early to the office this morning, saw that there wasn’t all that much to catch up on, work-wise, and decided to see if I had anything to write here today. On days like today, sometimes the best way for me to shake some ideas loose is to just write down some bullet points and kinda-sorta free-associate from there. And as it turns out, there’s quite a bunch of stuff that has been percolating. So here you go.
1. Ready Player One.
I read the book when it first came out, and I remember only two things about that experience: (1) it was kinda dumb, and (2) while there’s a lot of fun ’80s trivia, none of it is terribly obscure. I thought about that for a while, too, because I couldn’t decide if that was a deliberate choice by the author to make the reader feel smart, or if that truly was the depth of the author’s knowledge of 80’s pop culture. Other, smarter people than me came forward in the run-up to the movie’s release to offer more thoroughly detailed receipts of why that book is a piece of shit (this one in particular is noteworthy); their arguments make sense to me, and I only wish I’d noticed them back when I first read the book, because I certainly wasn’t going to read it twice. I am the target demographic for that book, after all – a white American middle-class male who grew up in the 1980s – and if it felt paper-thin on first read, it wasn’t gonna get any deeper on a second run.
Having Steven Spielberg direct the film version is a pretty obvious choice – indeed, he was Ernest Cline’s first choice – though I’m surprised Spielberg actually decided to do it, especially since so much of the book relies on heavy Spielberg knowledge, and the film sorta goes out of its way to avoid it. Maybe he didn’t want to appear self-indulgent? In any event, it’s just straight-up bizarre to make a film out of a book that so heavily fetishizes the 1980s that very pointedly ignores the single largest influencer of 1980s pop culture, while also being directed by that very same dude.
This is a minor quibble, of course. The film does the best it can do with the source material, but that doesn’t make it good. And a lot of that comes from the character of the revered Mr. Halliday, the minor deity who starts this whole easter egg hunt in the first place. For one thing, the very fine actor playing him is sorta going full Tropic Thunder a bit, which is upsetting. For another, look – the world surrounding Ready Player One is clearly a dystopian nightmare. Any self-identified trillionaire (who also apparently doesn’t care about money) could do a hell of a lot to heal the world with that money, instead of making the world even more obsessed with a fictional creation that basically rewards nerds that have a hyper-specific interest in someone else’s hobbies.
I could go on, but I’ve already spent too much time thinking about it, and the more I think about it the more annoyed I get.
2. Replaying No Man’s Sky.
Yes, I’d already spent somewhere between 50-100 hours playing it the first time on PS4, and I ran out of steam shortly after realizing that I’d fucked up the Atlas Point story progression, meaning I’d never get the “true” “ending” unless I wiped out my save and started from scratch. The game was a bit of a grind but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant; I think I just realized that the game wasn’t going to surprise me anymore.
So fast forward two years to this brand-new NEXT update, which I also decided to buy for the X, figuring that if I was going to restart from scratch, I might as well get some Achievements for it, and also play it with better technical performance.
Is it worth it? That is a tough question to answer. I’d make the argument that while this new update is probably a better introduction for brand-new players than the original game was, its most receptive audience is probably lapsed players like me, people who will remember the basic rhythms and can better appreciate the new changes. Because the game is not intuitive, and even though there’s a better tutorial now, there are also a bunch of new systems to learn, and the whole experience is far more complicated than it used to be.
NMS is less of a space exploration game and more of a survival game without zombies. You are constantly scrounging for materials, dealing with hazardous climates, and juggling inventory space (which there is never enough of) in order to make sure that, at the very least, your ship has enough fuel to launch to a new spot. I don’t yet know if the overall narrative has changed all that much; I’ve only played for an hour or so, and I’ve already restarted once because the first planet I landed on was severely toxic and made everything way more urgent than I was ready for.
One thing that the game is good at, however, is showing just how goddamned immense the universe is, and the graphical upgrades are very, very pretty. (Twitter’s been showing off a lot of amazing screenshots lately.)
I’m gonna stick with it for a bit; there’s not that much else that’s occupying my time, and being able to stick Spotify in the background makes it very easy to space out to, pun sorta intended.
3. Clicker Heroes 2.
Hoo-boy. I’m not ready to talk about my helpless addiction to idle clickers just yet. (As I write this very post, I have a separate tab with Clicker Heroes 1 running in the background.)
The big difference in this one, as opposed to every other idle clicker game on the planet, is that you only pay once. Idle clicker games are tailor-made for micro-transactions, and I’m guilty of being a whale for several of them. So being able to not have to worry about falling into that pit with CH2 is a huge relief.
Is it good, though? Man, I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain my thing about idle clickers. Indeed, I’ve thought about pitching several different publications about my infatuation with the genre, if only so that I could figure it out for myself, but I’ve never gone beyond the initial brainstorm because I think there’s also a fair amount of weird self-imposed shame that goes along with it. Idle clicker games scratch a very hyper-specific itch that is, for me, impossible to explain. Nor can I explain why some of them “click” for me, while some of them very definitely do not. I suppose the appeal in CH2 (as in CH1) is learning how to best maximize efficiency, which is not something I ever thought I’d be interested in, but here we are. There are also presumably tons of online discussions and forum threads about strategies and such but I’ve never read them; I think I’d get too depressed if I suddenly found out that there’s a far more efficient way to build your character and that I’d wasted a few years of my life for nothing.
So I think I mentioned that I finished my Goodreads challenge, which isn’t even all that impressive since I deliberately set the bar low so as to not make it a source of anxiety. Now I’m kinda flipping back and forth between 5 or 6 books at a time, because I’m having trouble getting sucked into anything. What I really need right now is a new David Mitchell novel, and while I think he’s working on at least two of them at the moment, none of them are in my possession. So I’m kinda just going back and forth between a bunch of recent purchases and the enormity of my backlog. Speaking of which…
Polygon is about to start “backlog week“; I could probably knock out 20,000 words every day if I participated. I have a backlog in almost every creative medium I can think of, and it’s overwhelming. My Kindle has 131 books on it right now, all unread. I’ve maxed out my Spotify library (twice!) with albums I’ve been meaning to check out and never get around to. My videogame backlog is too insane to bother cataloging. I am a digital hoarder and I think I have a problem.
And I haven’t even mentioned the Nintendo Switch! Jesus. I have way too many games for that thing and I’ve spent proper quality time with maybe 3 of them.
OK, maybe I should stop this post before I get too depressed.