Anthony Novak thought it would be funny to create a Facebook page that looked like the Parma Police Department’s. The Department was not amused. In fact, officers arrested Novak and prosecutors charged him with a state crime. Novak was acquitted at trial, and he now argues his constitutional rights were violated in the ordeal. But because the officers reasonably believed they were acting within the law, Novak can’t recover.
That’s very well-written, which is why I’m quoting it. But it’s also wrong.
This guy made fun of the police department on Facebook. “Unsure what sort of case they had,” the Sixth Circuit said—as if they really believed they might have a valid one—the cops consulted the city’s “law director.” He “concluded they had probable cause” to charge Novak with a crime, specifically “illegal use of a computer to disrupt or impair police functions.” And, somehow, two judges both agreed with this and issued warrants. Police arrested Novak, searched his apartment, and took his phone and laptop. He was acquitted, and then very understandably sued the $&@% out of the city and the officers involved. But the district court tossed out his case, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Why? Qualified immunity, that hilarious doctrine that protects officers from lawsuits for violating a federal right unless “the unlawfulness of their conduct was clearly established” at the time they acted. As we’ve discussed before, while the theory behind this doctrine isn’t crazy, the way the law has developed is utterly insane.
Anyway, among other things, the Sixth Circuit pointed out that Novak hadn’t just posted fake stories mocking the police department, he had also modeled his page after the department’s, and “deleted comments that let on his page wasn’t the official one.” In other words, the Sixth Circuit criticized a parodist for making his parody look like the original.
Which, of course, is how parody works. And no one knows that better than the people at The Onion, who have been parodying things brilliantly for a long time now. So who better to explain this to the United States Supreme Court—now deciding whether to grant Novak’s petition for certiorari—than The Onion?
No one. That was a rhetorical question.
I urge all of you to read this brief, which is not only a terrific brief, it is also hilarious. I would kill to have the chance to do something like this, and I probably don’t have to explain to The Onion that I don’t mean that literally, although that might be what I want them to think so the person I’ll be replacing won’t see it coming. No, I don’t mean that, probably. Regardless, the authors should be extremely proud of this brief, while they are still able to be proud of things.
I’ll just point out that this brief is so good I think it would win over any reader by the end of the first paragraph, unless that person is Clarence Thomas, and should convince anyone who reads it by the end of the introduction, again unless that person is Clarence Thomas. I actually don’t know what Justice Thomas’s position on defamation is, and my suggestion that he is humorless may not be entirely fair. As you may recall, he did tell a joke in 2013, during oral argument no less.
Hello reader, and welcome to the blog page of my newly designed website. This will be a place for me to share thoughts and anecdotes, try out novel grammatical experiments and syntactical leaps, and to promote my projects and myself in general.
I will also use this platform as an alternative to Twitter, from which I have backed away recently. Why, you ask? Wellsir…
A few months ago, when the possibility of Elon Musk buying Twitter and then welcoming Donald Trump back to the platform was first demanding the public’s attention, I had feelings of… discomfort. I’m thankful for Mr. Musk’s efforts to promote solar energy and I appreciate the way the dangerous autopilot feature of his fancy electric car provides a lesson in hubris to early adopters, but I would also say that Elon Musk enjoys annoying strangers more than is reasonable and is perhaps too quick to accuse heroic cave divers of pedophilia. He bugs me a little, can I say that? The idea of spending a portion of every day at a party he’s hosting, well, it just made me kinda queasy.
And as for Donald Trump, the fact that he’s no longer President of the United States is so great! and the fact that he’s no longer on Twitter is… even better? The unavoidability of his constant messages may have been the biggest day to day detriment to my well-being during the grim years that a disgraced game show host ran our country. The hostility, the casual criminal confessions, the mid-morning threats of nuclear war, the strategic misspellings and various other dumbnesses, I hated it all so very much.
Wait, stretegic misspellings? That’s what I said! I know you’d prefer to believe that the errors in those tweets were genuine mistakes made by a genuine idiot, but honestly, how does a person end up spelling hamburger as “hamberder”? How would that occur? I say things like that were misspelled on purpose to draw comments and quote tweets. Engagement! Impressions! As I tried to explain on Twitter at the time, when you’re dunking on Donald Trump, you’re playing his game.
As I write this, by the way, I notice that people I follow on Twitter have just started tweeting out screen shots of Trump’s “truths” and adding their own withering jokes. The trend seems to have started with his “why are people so mean?” “truth”, which was the right combination of weird, dumb and trolly to go viral in just the way Mr. Trump hopes to do. He didn’t need Elon Musk to make it back to Twitter after all! Oy.
So what’s my point? What is my point? Oh yeah. When it looked like Elon Musk and Donald Trump were about to come storming into my online life in a major way, I knew that my mental health would not hold up well under the dual strain and I knew I would have to flee Twitter. But the idea of that frightened me. I’ve had a Twitter account since 2009, when a Facebook friend told me my topical wisecracks were wasted in the internet backwater of high school friends and family members I had established there. I took my act to the big time and I’ve been so entertained, informed and enlightened by the experience these past 12 years. I’ve made friends, heard from fans, consumed life affirming compliments, promoted my critically acclaimed TV show into a serious ratings disappointment, thrilled to celebrity airline customer service complaints, encouraged people to send Jill Stein $5 for a Pennsylvania recount, marveled at the strange wonders of the Conway’s marriage and, most meaningfully, attracted attention to myself whenever I needed some!
What a ride. But then it seemed I’d soon have to leave it all behind.
I was trying to wrap my brain around that when I read a tweet by my friend, the hilarious Jen Kirkman, who announced a while back that she was only going be using Twitter to promote her projects from then on. She would no longer produce any other content for the platform. I thought “that’s smart. I’m gonna do that too”. Incidentally, I went looking for the exact wording of Jen’s tweet but it was taking too long to find it because she’s sent out so many more tweets since that one. Jen might’ve changed her mind about the whole thing actually. But I’m sticking to it. Yes, it’s been months since I’ve shared a bon mots or a call to action or one of my trademark all too relatable observations about the foibles of modern life. Ah me!
See for yourself. My twitter page is nothing but ‘look at this thing I did’ and a very occasional ‘look at this thing someone else did’. No jokes, no hot takes, no cold takes, no takes! Nothin’. And it’s been a nice break. Sending out a creative expression as a tweet so often results in bruised feelings for me when I don’t get the likes I feel I deserve. And then my feelings are further bruised when I re-read the tweet later and realize the people were right. It didn’t deserve more likes. In fact, it had no reason to exist at all. How deflating! It has been delightful to remove all of that from my life.
But I discovered something strange and unexpected. It seems that after 12 years of tweeting, I have quietly trained my brain to compose tweets all the time. In the early days of my Twitter self-banning, I kept coming up with dumb, trivial, concise notions that were designed to be shared with the world. I kept thinking “well, maybe I’ll tweet just this one thing”, but instead, summoning really very impressive will power wouldn’t you say, I opened the Notes app on my phone and tapped my tweet in there.
The reason I’m telling you this is that I have decided to use this blog as a place to put those untweeted tweets, a place to share small thoughts without living under the tyranny of the like button. Of course I realize that fewer people will see these words and that’s all right. This will be less stressful and, when 2024 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is, inevitably, invited back to Twitter, I will be way ahead of the rest of you in weening myself from the tweet teet.
Since these drolleries of mine will no longer technically be “tweets”, it has been necessary to come up with a new name for them and I have settled on…
This is, obviously, a portmanteau of “tweet” and “dart” and it’s meant to communicate that these missives are similar to tweets except that they’re sharper and more exactly aimed. That’s a twart. Posts on this blog that are conceived of as twarts will be labeled that way, like so:
Okay, great. Enjoy my twarts. Thanks for reading all this. Please feel free to like or dislike this post. I’ll never know!
Earlier this month, I and others wrote a letter to Congress, basically saying that cryptocurrencies are an complete and total disaster, and urging them to regulate the space. Nothing in that letter is out of the ordinary, and is in line with what I wrote about blockchain in 2019. In response, Matthew Green has written—not really a rebuttal—but a “a general response to some of the more common spurious objections…people make to public blockchain systems.” In it, he makes several broad points:
Yes, current proof-of-work blockchains like bitcoin are terrible for the environment. But there are other modes like proof-of-stake that are not.
Yes, a blockchain is an immutable ledger making it impossible to undo specific transactions. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be some governance system on top of the blockchain that enables reversals.
Yes, bitcoin doesn’t scale and the fees are too high. But that’s nothing inherent in blockchain technology—that’s just a bunch of bad design choices bitcoin made.
Blockchain systems can have a little or a lot of privacy, depending on how they are designed and implemented.
There’s nothing on that list that I disagree with. (We can argue about whether proof-of-stake is actually an improvement. I am skeptical of systems that enshrine a “they who have the gold make the rules” system of governance. And to the extent any of those scaling solutions work, they undo the decentralization blockchain claims to have.) But I also think that these defenses largely miss the point. To me, the problem isn’t that blockchain systems can be made slightly less awful than they are today. The problem is that they don’t do anything their proponents claim they do. In some very important ways, they’re not secure. They doesn’t replace trust with code; in fact, in many ways they are far less trustworthy than non-blockchain systems. They’re not decentralized, and their inevitable centralization is harmful because it’s largely emergent and ill-defined. They still have trusted intermediaries, often with more power and less oversight than non-blockchain systems. They still require governance. They still require regulation. (These things are what I wrote about here.) The problem with blockchain is that it’s not an improvement to any system—and often makes things worse.
In our letter, we write: “By its very design, blockchain technology is poorly suited for just about every purpose currently touted as a present or potential source of public benefit. From its inception, this technology has been a solution in search of a problem and has now latched onto concepts such as financial inclusion and data transparency to justify its existence, despite far better solutions to these issues already in use. Despite more than thirteen years of development, it has severe limitations and design flaws that preclude almost all applications that deal with public customer data and regulated financial transactions and are not an improvement on existing non-blockchain solutions.”
Green responds: “‘Public blockchain’ technology enables many stupid things: today’s cryptocurrency schemes can be venal, corrupt, overpromised. But the core technology is absolutely not useless. In fact, I think there are some pretty exciting things happening in the field, even if most of them are further away from reality than their boosters would admit.” I have yet to see one. More specifically, I can’t find a blockchain application whose value has anything to do with the blockchain part, that wouldn’t be made safer, more secure, more reliable, and just plain better by removing the blockchain part. I postulate that no one has ever said “Here is a problem that I have. Oh look, blockchain is a good solution.” In every case, the order has been: “I have a blockchain. Oh look, there is a problem I can apply it to.” And in no cases does it actually help.
Someone, please show me an application where blockchain is essential. That is, a problem that could not have been solved without blockchain that can now be solved with it. (And “ransomware couldn’t exist because criminals are blocked from using the conventional financial networks, and cash payments aren’t feasible” does not count.)
For example, Green complains that “credit card merchant fees are similar, or have actually risen in the United States since the 1990s.” This is true, but has little to do with technological inefficiencies or existing trust relationships in the industry. It’s because pretty much everyone who can and is paying attention gets 1% back on their purchases: in cash, frequent flier miles, or other affinity points. Green is right about how unfair this is. It’s a regressive subsidy, “since these fees are baked into the cost of most retail goods and thus fall heavily on the working poor (who pay them even if they use cash).” But that has nothing to do with the lack of blockchain, and solving it isn’t helped by adding a blockchain. It’s a regulatory problem; with a few exceptions, credit card companies have successfully pressured merchants into charging the same prices, whether someone pays in cash or with a credit card. Peer-to-peer payment systems like PayPal, Venmo, MPesa, and AliPay all get around those high transaction fees, and none of them use blockchain.
This is my basic argument: blockchain does nothing to solve any existing problem with financial (or other) systems. Those problems are inherently economic and political, and have nothing to do with technology. And, more importantly, technology can’t solve economic and political problems. Which is good, because adding blockchain causes a whole slew of new problems and makes all of these systems much, much worse.
Green writes: “I have no problem with the idea of legislators (intelligently) passing laws to regulate cryptocurrency. Indeed, given the level ofinsanityand thenumber ofoutright scams that are happening in this area, it’s pretty obvious that our current regulatory framework is not up to the task.” But when you remove the insanity and the scams, what’s left?
EDITED TO ADD: Nicholas Weaver is alsoadamant about this. David Rosenthal is good, too.
"This is my basic argument: blockchain does nothing to solve any existing problem with financial (or other) systems. Those problems are inherently economic and political, and have nothing to do with technology. And, more importantly, technology can’t solve economic and political problems. Which is good, because adding blockchain causes a whole slew of new problems and makes all of these systems much, much worse."
You may know that you can open man pages in a Neovim buffer with :Man.
However, you can also configure your shell to open manual pages in a
Neovim buffer when called from the command line.
First, if you’re unfamiliar, Neovim ships with the great :Man
command, which opens man pages in a nicely formatted buffer. These
buffers are normal Vim buffers, so come equipped with syntax
highlighting, can be easily searched, and links to other manual pages
can be followed with C-].
" Open the git manual page.:Mangit
You can also open man pages invoked inside Neovim’s terminal emulator
using this same man buffer with a little configuration.
# This opens a man buffer?man git
The man command can be configured to render pages with any program,
controlled by the $MANPAGER environment variable.
We could set $MANPAGER to nvim, but that would cause nesting Neovim
instances if called from inside a Neovim :terminal.
To work around this, we’ll need help from the neovim-remote
project (at least until Neovim core adds --remote
). With that installed, we can call nvr inside
a Neovim terminal buffer to open the given file in the same Neovim
I personally would rather not launch a whole Neovim instance just
to render a man page if I’m not already inside Neovim, so for this
tip we’ll add some detection code to only set the $MANPAGER
value inside Neovim. We can do this by checking the value of the
$NVIM_LISTEN_ADDRESS environment variable, which will only be set
inside an instance of Neovim.
We’ll use the -o flag to open the man page in a new split, to help
retain the context of what you’re working on.
As of this writing, the replies to this announcement are, by my count, roughly
95% paying customers who are furious with them for doing this, 3% scammers who
are jubilant that this is popularizing their scamming tool of choice, and about
2% blockchain-enthusiasts expressing confusion as to why everyone is so mad.
Scanning through that 2%’s twitter bios and timelines, I could see content
other than memes and shilling, so it seemed at least plausible to me that these
people are scam victims who haven’t gotten to the
blow-off yet, and
their confusion is genuine. Given that “why is everyone so mad” is a much less
intense reaction than fury or jubilation, I assume that many others read
through some of the vitriol and had this reaction, but then didn’t post
This post is for two audiences: that 2%, genuinely wondering what the big deal
is, and also those who have a vague feeling that cryptocurrency is bad, but
don’t see the point of making much of a fuss about it.
This is why we should make a fuss about it.
The objection most often raised in the comments went something like this:
This is just a feature that you don’t like; if it’s not for you, just don’t
use it. Why yell at 1Password just for making a feature that makes someone
To begin with, the actual technical feature appears to be something related
to auto-filling in browser-extension UI, which is fine. I don’t object to the
feature. I don’t even object to features which explicitly help people store
cryptocurrency more securely, as a harm
The issue is with the co-marketing effort: the fact that 1Password is using
their well-respected brand to help advertise and legitimize scam-facilitation
technology like Solana and Phantom.
Even if we were to accept all this, it’s a scam, 1Password is marketing it, etc,
my hypothetical blockchain-curious interlocutor here might further object:
What’s the big deal about legitimizing these things, even if they are fraud?
Surely you can just not get defrauded, and ignore the marketing?
That’s true, but it also misses the point: legitimizing and promoting these
things does various kinds of harm.
More broadly, although I’m writing about 1Password’s specific announcement
here, and a small amount of the reasoning will be specific to password
management tools, most of the concerns I’ll describe are fairly general to any
company promoting or co-marketing with cryptocurrency, and thus hopefully this
post will serve for future instances where we should tell some other company to
stop supporting blockchains as well.
So with all that out of the way, here are some of the harms that one might be
concerned about, from the least selfish concern to the most.
First and foremost, the entire scam of cryptocurrency rests upon making people
believe that the assets are worth something. Most people are not steeped in
the technical minutiae of blockchains, and tend to trust things based on
institutional reputation. 1Password has a strong brand, related to information
security, and they’re saying that cryptocurrencies are good, so it’s likely to
convince a nonzero number of people to put their money into this technology
that has enormous non-obvious risks. They could easily lose everything.
Advertising 1Password in this way additionally encourages users to maintain
custody of their own blockchain assets on their own devices. Doing so with
1Password is considerably less risky than it might be otherwise, so if this
were to only reach people who were already planning to store their wallets on
their own computers, then great.
However, this might encourage users who had not previously thought to look at
cryptocurrency at all to do so, and if they found it via 1Password they might
start using 1Password to store their first few secrets. Storing them in this
way, although less risky, is still unreasonably risky, given the lack of
any kind of safety mechanisms on blockchain-backed transactions. Even if
they’re savvy enough not to get scammed, nobody is savvy enough not to get
hacked, particularly by sophisticated technical attacks which are worth
leveraging against high-value targets like people with expensive crypto wallets
on their computers.
If you don’t care about other people much, but you still care about living in a
functioning society, then the promotion of blockchain based financial
instruments is a huge destabilization risk. As Dan Olson explains in the
devastating video essay / documentary Line Goes
Up, blockchain-based financial
instruments share a lot of extremely concerning properties that made
mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations so financially
toxic in the 2008 crash. Large-scale adoption of these things could lead to a
similar crisis, or even worse, a global deflationary spiral in the style of the
one that caused the great
depression, setting off the
kind of economic damage that could result in mass famine and mass death.
Of course, any individual company or celebrity advertising crypto is not going
to trigger an immediate economic collapse. Each of these is a snowflake in an
avalanche. I have no illusions that convincing just 1Password to stop this
is going to turn the tide of the entire blockchain catastrophe that is
unfolding all around us, or indeed that my one little post here is going to
make the decisive difference between, 1Password stopping vs. not.
But that’s exactly why I’m trying to persuade you, dear reader, that this is a
big deal and we should all try to work together to stop it.
Concern #3: environmental damage
While this specific blockchain is “greener” than others, but given
the huge proportion of cryptocurrency generally that is backed by electrical
waste, and the cultural and technical incentives that make trading one
blockchain asset for another more common than cashing out to dollars, it’s
still a legitimate concern that promoting blockchain in general will promote
environmental destruction indirectly.
Furthermore, the way that Solana is less energy-intensive than other
blockchains is by using proof-of-stake, so there’s a sliding scale here between
economic and environmental damage, given that proof-of-stake is designed to
accelerate wealth accumulation among non-productive participants, and thereby
encourages hoarding. So the reduction in environmental damage just makes the
previous point even worse.
Concern #4: increased targeting risk
Even if you’re a full blown sociopath with no concern for others and an
iron-clad confidence that you can navigate the collapse of the financial system
without any harm to you personally, there is still a pretty big negative here:
increased risk from threat actors. Even if you like and use blockchain, and
want to use this feature, this risk still affects you.
If 1Password happened to have some features that blockchain nerds could use to
store their secrets, then attackers might have some interest in breaking in to
1Password, and could possibly work on tools to do so. That’s the risk of
existing on the Internet at all. But if 1Password loudly advertises,
repeatedly, that they are will be integrating with a variety of
cryptocurrency providers, then this will let attackers know that 1Password is
the preferred cryptocurrency storage mechanism.
This further means that attackers will start trying to figure out ways to
target 1Password users, on the assumption that we’re more likely to have crypto
assets lying around on our filesystems; not only developing tools to break in
to 1Password but developing tools to fingerprint users who have the extension
installed, who have accounts on the service, whose emails show up on the forum,
Now, of course, 1Password users keep plenty of high-value information inside
1Password already; that’s the whole point. But cryptocurrency is special
because of the irreversible nature of transactions, and the immediacy of the
benefit to cybercriminals specifically.
If you steal all of someone’s bank passwords, you could potentially get a bunch
of their money, but it is expensive and risky for the criminals. The
transactions can be traced directly to actual human account holders
immediately; anti-money-laundering regulations mean that this can usually be
accomplished even across international borders. Transfers can be reversed.
This discrepancy between real money and cryptocurrency is exactly why
ransomware was created by
makes cryptocurrency attractive specifically to the kinds of people who have
expertise and resources to mount wide-spectrum digital attacks against whole
Of course, if they develop tools to fingerprint and hack 1Password users, but
they don’t luck out and find easy-to-steal crypto on your computer, they might
as well try to steal other things of value, like your identity, credit
information, and so on. These are higher-risk, but now that they’ve built all
that infrastructure and hacked all these machines, there’s a big sunk cost that
makes it more worthwhile.
I really hope that 1Password abandons this destructive scheme. Even if they
fully walk this back, I will still find it much harder to recommend their
product in the future; there will need to be some active effort to repair trust
with their user community. If I’ve convinced you of the problems here, please
let them know as a reply to the
tweet, the email
linked from their blog
or the Reddit
of the announcement, so that they can get a clear signal that this is
This is only the latest article in my ongoing saga, The State of the Indie Game Industry, and things have gone absurd.
So let's get to it: There are too many indie games. If my country was healthy, stable, and on a sustainable path, most of them would not exist, including mine. That they do exist is a symptom of misplaced priorities, crappy opportunities for ambitious youth, and ongoing damage to our society.
Do I think you should keep writing your dream game? Sure. Why not? I'm not slapping the mouse out of your hand. Let us, however, take a minute to look at the world you are sending your baby into.
Let's Look At The Absurdity
The chart at the top is the number of video games released on Steam each year, the vast majority of them indie. That's over 43000 titles in 5 years. A full 23 a day. (Over 30/day in 2021.)
(And that's just Steam. Add mobile and itch.io and homebrews and so on and the figure gets even crazier.)
If I lose you below, if I seem dumb or confusing, just come back to this figure. It's the North Star.
It's absurd! I keep using that word, but if the shoe fits ...
Want to know what is being written? Here is a great site to see the newest games on Steam. Take a look. A key point: Most of the games you see aren't ripoffs, aren't cheap or thrown together. Most of what you see took real work and investment, even if only in our precious and irreplaceable time.
Almost eight billion humans on this planet, and you can't find anyone who cares. Most of these games sell to the writer's immediate friends, and nobody else.
Maybe you are in this business to make money. Maybe you want to bring people joy. (Cash is not the only measure of value!) By either measure, most of these titles are failures.
If you are happy that only 10 people play your game, fine, I guess. However, you should ask if you can't be bringing more people happiness with your limited time in the one life you get on this Earth.
Let’s Provide An Exit Lane From this Post Now
Actually, I can make one point now and you can just skip the rest of it. These numbers are the key fact about the video game industry. Do you know an ambitious, fresh-faced, hard-working youngster who has a dream of writing the next great computer game?
Take this chart and shove it in the kid's face. A good looooong look. If a kid wants to write games (let alone, God help us, going into debt studying gamedev in college), you have a moral obligation to do this. They might keep at it, but they need to be warned.
That's all I have to say! Goodnight!
Still here? Then let's dive deeper.
This is such a huge amount of product it's really hard to comprehend it. So much effort, so much ambition, most of which will vanish forever into a hole. In a world where human energy and ambition is very finite. (And I'll get back to this.)
Why did this happen? And is it good? Is it even sustainable? (Remember, everything that is not sustainable MUST end.)
It's Not Just Vidya, Of Course
An aside: I am fully aware this phenomenon isn't just video games.
Yeah, I'm saying there's too many songs. And I know, musicians are the most precious and valuable and significant people there are. I know this because it's what musicians keep telling me. But 60000 a day? Sheesh!
Our children are taught to dream of nothing grander then adding to this indigestible mountainous hoard of distractions. Most created alone. Almost all consumed alone in a room in our atomized society. Seeking wheat in chaff. Mountains of chaff. OCEANS of chaff.
I'm getting ahead of myself. All I want to point out is that if there is a problem here, it's way bigger than video games. But I know video games. So I'll talk about that for now.
Where Is All This Stuff Coming From, Anyway?
Who is making those 30 games a day in 2021? I don't think anyone really knows. Are they young? Old? Where do they live? Are they hobbyists or aspiring professionals? I'm very interested, but I'm mainly focused on one question:
Why make art that nobody wants?
Because one thing I'm sure of about the people who make these games: They aren't dumb. They know how bad the odds are. Even if they dream of breaking out and getting a huge audience with their first game (or book or song), they will be under no such delusions while making their SECOND one.
Why create in the face of such mountains of unwanted content?
And don't give me homilies about "All art is valuable." "All creation is precious." "All babies are beautiful." "All our children are above average." None of these things are true.
Why create just for the sake of creation? Let’s discuss.
Creation Gives Life Meaning and Satisfies the Drive to Improve the World
I have enormous sympathy for young people and the world they face. I got kids, and I'm old enough to remember when things were (a little) better.
There are many people who are built with talent, drive, and energy. With a desire to make, to build, to change the world, a passion for positive power that will not be quenched. It's a beautiful trait of humanity. When you see it in a kid, it's amazing.
Making art satisfies those urges. The world gives increasingly fewer ways to do so.
(Everything from here on will be focused on my country, the United States, but I bet people everywhere will find some of it familiar.)
If a young person is driven to improve the world, what outlets do they have? Social atomization (with an assist from Covid) has drained charities, social groups, and fraternal organizations. Church has been forgotten. Charity has been ineptly taken over by governments. An increasing number of jobs are simply meaningless. Politics is venal and controlled by the oligarchy, determined to crush any spirited opposition.
The passion to build and create, if given no proper outlet, will curdle into bitterness. It will drive you mad.
Thus, many create art. A thousand novels, a million songs, all heaped upon the compost pile. It keeps the suicide rate down.
Let me make one thing clear: If you need to make art, do it. If you want to put a game on Steam, do it. I'm not a bully. I'm more on your side than you could ever imagine.
But at some point, you have to stop and see what is in front of your eyes.
If a society produces nothing but dysfunction and art, it has a problem.
If my Empire wants to go full Bread and Circuses, that is fine. However, you DO have to make sure you can provide the bread before you get to make the circuses.
This is a whole another blog post, so I'll paint with broad strokes for now. My city, Seattle, is crumbling. We don't have the energy to maintain the roads, and our bridges are literally falling apart. We can't even maintain what our grandparents built, let alone make any grand new projects.
The days of the Moon Landing and building the Interstate Highway System are behind us. All our dreams now are small. The glorious projects that could feed the ambitions of the young just aren't happening.
Plus, my city of Seattle doesn't have a road without a big pothole in it. Fixing potholes is actual work. It's tiring, and it's dirty, and how could doing something that actually benefits people ever compete with Living! A! Life! In! Art! (tm)
If you want a job with actual meaning, that ACTUALLY makes peoples lives better, there is plenty that needs doing. The problem, of course, is that jobs that actually have meaning involve actual work and thus SUCK.
I Don't Know How To Fix a Pothole. Do YOU!?
Time is a zero sum game. If a bunch of people expend their energy making games, and a larger group of people waste their time playing them, and nobody steps up to do the things that need doing, well, that's bad right?
(Note: If you want people to do these jobs, you do need to pay a living wage with benefits. Otherwise, you just get more video games.)
Writing a game nobody plays discharges your energy and creates the feeling of achievement, but it's all empty calories and then your car falls into a sinkhole. If your game succeeds, it’s even worse. Your customers are now also expending all of their energy too, playing your game alone in a room. Meanwhile, sinkholes.
THAT is why I say there are too many indie games. They aren't sustainable. There is too much time wasted, and that will be true until time is applied to making the world work and bridges not fall down and food be in stores. Probably your time.
Hell, forget full-time jobs. If you volunteered at a food bank for one afternoon, you would do more good than spending 20 years writing games nobody plays. And I bet you'd feel more satisfaction too. And you'd get out of the house and maybe even make a friend.
Yes, you can call me an old Boomer and be angry at me for observing all this, if it makes you feel better. No, it will not make it less true.
Fortunately, This Doesn't Apply To You
Sure, indulging ourselves in endless creation while the world crumbles is bad. Fortunately, that doesn't apply to your game. Your game is great! (And so is mine.) Your blog post is fine! (And so is mine.) Don't worry. The problem will always be the other guy's fault.
Still, I can't tell you to not make games. I can't say, "Give up your dreams of the easy life sitting and making art indoors." Sure, at some point, we will need more people doing work that it isn't getting done. Yet, I have a POWERFUL mental block that keeps me from saying you or I should do it.
Art is what we teach our kids is the most valuable thing. The Disney movie Coco is about a boy from a family of shoemakers who wants to blow them off and be a musician. Disney will never, ever make a movie about a musician who dreams of making shoes. Even though, well, try going a week without music and then a week without shoes and see which is more necessary.
And All This Applies To Me As Well
You are entirely entitled to ask why I keep writing video games. (And blog posts.) It's fair. Am I part of the problem? Yes. Of course. This is the sort of problem that makes us all complicit.
I'm more than happy to tell another guy to fill potholes. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, nobody wants to die.
Fortunately, there is good news for us all.
At this point, you might be thinking, "Well, if there is a problem, what is the solution? What do we need to change?" What makes you think it'll be your decision? The answer is, if anything changes, it will be because the world changes it for us. Changing this sort of problem is generally forced from outside, and it hurts. The machines we make run until they break.
Will the World Carry Us Forever?
It should be pointed out that being able to create such an absurd amount of art nobody wants comes from great wealth and privilege. These tens of thousands of games are being made, for the most part, by affluent children of Empire. The poor don't have that much time to waste.
Don't blame capitalism for these problems. Capitalism is the instrument that made the surpluses that made it possible for you to write art nobody wants in the first place.
The reason a young, enterprising indie dev can churn out product is because that person is surrounded by cheap products made overseas in punishing conditions by people we never see. These are the delicious fruits of Empire.
Why do they do it? Why do these unseen masses make all my junk for me?
Well, they do it to get dollars. (That our government is devaluing as quickly as it can.) And they do it because we have a powerful military that keeps world order. (Even though we can't keep our carriers from burning down to the water line.)
I'll write all the games I want, while I can. BUT. Suppose the rest of the world starts saying, "Um, actually, we don't want to bust our humps making crap for debt forever. We're tripling our prices." Then my whole world goes to pieces.
I HOPE I'M WRONG. I look at the way things are actually going right now, and I see the end of a lot of stuff we got too used to. Our artist paradise is only one of them. I want to be wrong, very badly. I'm sending kids into this world, and I don't want it to suck for them.
We won't be able to afford spending this much time making things nobody wants. And you know something? We never could afford it.
We don't need to debate if I'm right or not. The world will decide the issue for us. If that day comes, well, all this "Any amount of art is valuable!" nonsense will be the least of the cherished illusions you'll be forced to surrender.
EDIT (2/3/21) - Someone mad. This person commented the n-word on my post like 900 times. I can’t find a Delete All Comments By User command on Substack, and I kind of can’t believe it doesn’t have one. I am forced to leave up those hundreds of comments as a testimonial to why this feature is needed.
EDIT 2 (2/3/21) - The offending comments finally disappeared, though it took some time and I did complain to Substack. Not sure what happened here. Substack’s docs indicate that banning a user doesn’t delete comments. Maybe there is an error there.
EDIT 3 (2/5/21) - This post made someone super mad, and they kept spamming the post with obscene comments. Substack has been removing them manually, but they say this has never happened before, which is why they don’t have proper mod tools. I’m forced to switch my blog to only comments for paid subscribers, which totally sucks, but it necessary.
It’s hard to look back at your life’s work and wonder if you took the wrong path. If you want to explore the fruits of my misspent youth, they are all available on Steam and pretty fun. As always subscribing to my unnecessary blog is free …