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Of MOBAs and materialism

While streaming art for friends today, I spent a good deal discussing why, after leaving DOTA2 for a long hiatus, I have no interest in returning. I've heard this sentiment echoed by several people close to me -- including relatives (!) -- so I figured I'd write a small thinkpiece about it on my most personal blog.

DOTA, along with its companion in crime League of Legends, is tremendously popular. Its gameplay is immediately familiar to anyone that has ever played an RTS, since they evolved from earlier examples such as Starcraft or Warcraft 3.

The problem with these MOBAs, compared even to their RTS forebears, is their communities are toxic. Extremely toxic. In some cases, nightmarish to the point where even a single 45-minute game becomes a highly stressful ordeal. Part of this reason is the availability of global chat within a game, which creates an incentive for players to be as evil to the opposing team in chat as possible. But let's not get too far off-topic here.

For this reputation alone, I initially steered very clear of these games. Not because they were challenging or failed to be interesting to watch, but because I would rather do without the tension of dealing with assholes in every consecutive match.

However, out of curiosity and the likelihood of a better experience, I was drawn in when my roommates started playing DOTA2. I was even rather decent at the game (by the standards of newer players), even though I never quite got some of the rhythms down for last hitting.

But, I noticed that for nearly every match I played, and regardless of whether we won, the game was emotionally exhausting.

Initially, I attributed this to not being especially good at the game. After all, many friends in social circles that played the game were quick to remind me that "it gets better". So I got curious and started watching pro games and popular Twitch streamers, observing how they played and what they said to one another. And while I found some improvements in quality (they were more respectful to the pause feature of the game, for example), matches were routinely filled with trash talk by all participants.

Now, this may be an experience some people enjoy: being emotionally bombarded in a zero-sum environment in which success relies on precise play by multiple allied parties. But while trying to emulate the behavior of better players, I found myself being repeatedly yelled at, including by people close to me. And even (and especially) in games in which I won, I found the process to be emotional junk food: leaving me craving more, yet consistently failing to satisfy the hunger of a better experience.

I find this qualia -- emotional junk food -- to be a very good parable to another problem I've been dealing with lately: materialism. While not materialistic myself -- I get along just fine on very little, as repeated uses of my small bug-out bag have proven -- I am finding it increasingly difficult to deal with people whose materialism is a considerable part of their personality.

This is because materialism always leaves you craving more. There is no solace or peace in one's intrinsic value or skills if it cannot be productized, and anything that falls out of that rubric is immediately called into question. By the valuation of observable wealth, this is seen as rational. Yet the materialists I have come to know, both at a distance via social media and in rare cases personally, have proven to be some of the most anxiety-ridden individuals I have ever known when not discussing a new toy.

My purpose in this discussion, then, isn't a scathing rant against DOTA or materialism. Rather, it's to point out the subtle danger of conditioning in situations that have a very small upside.

My reasons for not enjoying DOTA are the same reasons I am not a materialistic dragon: both habits have a woefully small return on my personal investment. Buying new toys and then forgetting about them is not dissimilar to the short dopamine-infused high of finally having a pleasant match of DOTA. And both experiences are geared towards holding a reward just barely out of reach, goading you to continue onward in an increasingly desperate frenzy for relief.

But the desperate habitual behavior to obtain these highs just isn't worth the cost of being made sad, angry, or emotionally listless on a regular basis. This is especially true when I can obtain happiness and a sense of accomplishment elsewhere: by the joy of creating, by the eustress of sharing my work on a nightly basis, and from the intrigue of learning new skills on a regular basis instead of seeking cheap thrills. And unlike a situation that promises value and never delivers, these deliver constantly, and make me feel good about having them in my life.

Much of our adult society seems geared towards producing cheap thrills as a means of building dependency. This is something that I have done very well to avoid over the years, and despite some missteps in recent years, I will be returning to a better pattern once I obtain my new home.

I suppose this all means that I try to make conditioning work best for me. And as I re-evaluate several decisions I have made over the past years and very pointedly separate myself from the emotionally manipulative people in my life (in multiple contexts, please don't stir drama by trying to guess who), I'm taking this opportunity to build better habits and reduce my dependency on this emotional junk food.

Edit: Due to an editing mishap, I'd lumped Heroes of the Storm in with games that support global chat and have toxic communities. From what I can tell, this is not the case with HotS, precisely because allchat is disabled and other substantive design improvements on the genre. As such, I've taken it out of the article's consideration of MOBAs with these characteristics. This entry was originally posted on Dreamwidth, and currently has comment count unavailable comment(s) there.

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Partial Move to Tumblr

I recently revived one of my old Tumblr accounts to start sharing thoughts and triviata on a more regularly-scheduled basis. Please feel free to follow me at http://goldkin.tumblr.com, should this medium please you.

I will likely continue to keep more focused, personal accounts here, especially when I desire the friend lock. I'm experimenting with different forms of social media again to see if they fit my thoughts. We'll see how that goes.

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This is sort of a last social purgation to finish my series on fear and identity. My previous postings hinted at, but did not fully discuss, how I understand relationships and belonging. This abstract sense of being intrinsically linked to other people is something I at least believe I understand, but it is not something I am fully comfortable with experiencing.

As before, this is because I'm a quietly introverted social mirror. I certainly know what I would like to experience, and I certainly gravitate towards like-minded people and people I care for as a result. But when it comes to actual socialization, I am deeply, deeply fretful that my mannerisms, apparent attitude, cognitive preconditions, and pre-existing social baggage will all get in the way. So, I try mirroring the actions of others. This process often fails. To say this makes me ineffectual would be the pinnacle of understatement: it makes me socially awkward in a caricatured, almost sitcom-meets-cartoonish kind of way.

This leads to a sort of paralyzing, self-reinforcing prison of paranoia and negativity. I am not an especially bad person, but by reinforcing these negatives through trying to resolve them, I emphasize them to others. This leads to a pattern of the people I care about and those I prospectively would like to get to know better largely socially ignoring me and starving me for interest and affection. This isn't because they especially dislike me; rather, it's because they've become apathetic towards my message and how they think I will receive theirs.

This translates into my love life, as well. I have been in two serious relationships over the span of my entire life. The first sort of imploded in a vicious fireball of negativity, while the other sort of quietly burned out into a passive, medium-distance friendship amidst personal hardships. The second is still ongoing. This is why I frequently call my current, better half "my significant other". I'd like to say "mate", but our relationship has dimmed to the point where applying that term is simply linguistically inaccurate.

In contrast, many of the people that surround me are in stable relationships or, in some cases, have the luxury of polyamory. I approach love from sort of the opposite end of the spectrum: it is something I mostly experience vicariously, as a function of not being successful in maintaining my own relationships. I am happiest when other people are happy, as both a function of my personality (I really am that genuinely supportive and warm-hearted) and as a means of quelling my inner desires for love, affection, community, and a sense of social belonging that are so very elusive for me.

I think I need to shed my masks and let people experience who I am, without regrets, on a relaxed, peaceful schedule that isn't quite so immediate and socially-oriented. I would like to believe that I may even be accepted, and love, and be treated with love, if I allow for this to happen.

Why, then, do I feel so uneasy about doing so? I hope it's simply fear of change.

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Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

I have a chronic fear of visible failure. This is especially true in the context of potential passive-aggressive and resentful behavior.

I attribute much of this to my heritage: among other social values, my family raised me to only present my best successes to the world and secretly hide all of my failures. Meanwhile, I grew up in an extremely extroverted and charisma-based society that was heavily obsessed with cataloging and preserving gossip.

This ill-equipped me to build an identity for myself, as identity construction took more of a back seat to manipulating my social image to prevent exposure. It made me paranoid: I simply couldn't let my non-Christian spirituality, my bizarre kinks, or my personal desire to be with other like-minded people, out of my head. I was quizzed for compliance regularly, and in middle and high school, openly attacked if I failed this compliance check on a semi-daily basis.

This acquired fear and manipulative tendency quickly made me a highly competent social chameleon in my then-home state. However, this failed utterly around people whom knew me better, spent longer amounts of time around me, and generally anyone with whom I tried to maintain a long-lasting and ongoing social relationship with or wanted to get to know better. They got to see someone that is extremely evasive, persnickety, and uncomfortable about people getting close to him, for the simple fear that they'll see through the facade and not like what they see. This even applies self-referentially: I'm not convinced I'm an especially good person, for the simple reason that I do not actually know the sort of person that I am.

Which is bizarre, in a way. Based upon my prior actions and early life, I am a primarily loving and caring individual. I am highly tactile; I love elegance, and I love bringing light and joy into this world. Yet this is all buried under a dour, faux-stoic veneer that makes me completely unapproachable by the people I'd like to do so.

I am trying to conquer this fear, because it's costing me dearly. I would also like the luxury of camaraderie, and of being able to develop my identity without seeming false. I certainly have some form of a current identity: I evaluate strongly between asexual and male, as otherkin, and certainly as a dragon on a very regular and healthy basis (among other recreational forms). But, there is this entire spectrum of matters I am too fearful, too evasive, or just plain too uneasy to talk about, for the simple reason it risks me exposure.

Perhaps as a result, I am deeply jealous of those I know whom have a public identity that works for them. I am more opaque; not by choice, but because I have yet to experience better.

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Of Tag Searches and Extraction

Lately, I've been mulling over the idea of making Internet discussion topic-oriented again.

My interest in this is primarily self-serving: my quality of writing, abilities to articulate myself, and interests in participating in online discussion have noticeably dipped since the rise of social media. Like any trained skill, this dwindling is the product of atrophy: most of my current time is spent on more immediate and people-focused forms of social media. Twitter in particular discourages long-form, longly-thought prose, and I've been feeling the strain of constraining my thoughts into 140 characters more and more as I try desperately to be less terse post-personal-depression.

The trouble is we now have a blogosphere that is, for the most part, very diffuse, disorganized, and disconnected. Writing posts on a personal blog, like I am doing here, simultaneously feels like I'm yelling into the void hoping desperately to be noticed and, when I am noticed, distracting people from other, more meaningful pursuits of their time. It's lossy, precisely because until you read the words that I'm typing here, it's difficult to determine what I'm about to go on about.

This is the inherent problem with people-oriented social media. While it connects us with a wider and richer audience of people, it also carries the expectation that everything those people say, or at least a reasonable subset chosen at random, will be read by all participants that follow them. This puts the burden of topic discovery with the reader, as they try to determine, for each post in their social stream, whether the content is meaningful for them.

This is a bad paradigm. People are very bad at being spontaneously consistent, or failing that, spontaneously supportive of the expectations of their audience. Indeed, it is a rare blogger on social media who focuses solely on the content of their work or interests of their audience, instead of cathartic spontaneity or the topical profusion and profundity of a Twitter shitter. And when you do find a focused author, chances are they'd really like to sell you something.*

This seems wrong to me. While it gives us a wide array of topics, discussion, voices, and interests, each conversation is sorely lacking for organization, structure, and any form of coherency. The purveying social expectation is also that these discussions are immediate, transitory, and prone to loss if they aren't picked up on near the time of posting. This leads to sort of an echo chamber effect, as people constantly rehash and rearticulate the same basic concepts and immediate structure for a relatively small number of interested participants, instead of moving forward and relying on the support of a topic, idea, or other nexus of research to support their ideas and opinions.**

In short, these posts don't tell an especially good story. They tell an immediate, transient one, indistinguishable from a sound bite in quality and effective longevity. On the posting side, it feels pithy, immediate, and meaningful to capture these ideas close to their original inception point. But, the structure to make these bites form part of a broader social tapestry just isn't there, leaving the burden on the reader to figure out what the hell is going on.

So, as an exercise in intellectual curiosity, I've decided to explore this a bit to see if I could do better. My thoughts soon settled on topic-orientation, precisely because it provides a focus and an implied, shared context for each piece of media. This provides a good story: it elevates the visibility of topics within their space, provides room for them to grow, and ceases to shackle them to each individual storyteller. This allows for a broader, pre-existing, shared context in discussion that is once again larger than a single individual.

The closest technical area of research I can find to re-topicizing discussion is tag search and term extraction. In which I ask an open question: are there any good, multi-social-platform clients that perform tag search and, as a bonus, a simplified form of term extraction? If not, I have half a mind to write one myself using existing APIs and tools, if only to have access to such a tool myself.***

In the meantime, I am experimenting with this using Tumblr. They already support tag search and content extraction (but not summarization) using their API, which is as good a start as any.



* Not that I discourage prospective authors, creatives, and other interests from attempting to sell their wares on social media! It just seems wrong to me that these interests form the majority of what I consider to be focused voices on social media, given the original intentions of the medium.

** One of my roommates wrote a fairly good post that articulates this better than I do here. You can read it at http://kistaro.dreamwidth.org/487228.html.

*** The idea of a company like Google supporting topic-oriented social search, a Google Meta if you will, pleases me. This is more or less the current public direction of their company, so I suspect there are many similar things cooking under the hood that I've simply not heard of.


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Voice

I have great difficulty finding my voice with others. While I take more of a measured stance online, interpersonal communication is simply too immediate for me. I am frequently caught flatfooted, feeling as if I've planted one of those flat feet firmly in my mouth for the duration of conversation, and I frequently feel remiss with much of what I've said after the fact.

This is partially because of my natural introversion: after all, I simply don't spend as much time around people. But, having observed the same patterns in others that share my heritage and have moved out here, I also believe this has to do with how Floridian culture meets the Pacific Northwest. We have completely different standards of conversational nuance, content quality, and quality control out here, and I am still struggling to attain competency.

On a related note: I'm trying to shift my tone towards something lighter, more playful, and more representative of who I actually am. I like expressing as a being of cheer and happy, which I very commonly am. I just need to learn to reign in my self-consciousness and allow myself to express it in ways that are meaningful.

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Emotional Whiplash

As is common with the rubberband trip between my family home and my current one, I'm suffering from a severe case of culture shock this week. This leads me to suffering from something I call emotional whiplash, as my emotional center and personal self-image attempt to catch up with rapid changes in contextual information.

This usually leads me to feeling emotionally very small once I return home. A part of this is the fact I live with introverts that keep very much to themselves, returning from an overdose of heavily extroverted people that make me feel several sizes too large on the socialization scale. The result is this sort of ill-fitting feeling of emotional disquiet that leaves me paralyzed for days, as I try to reclaim my quiet desire for affection and positivity after having it effusively and uncomfortably thrown at me by the cartful during my vacation.

I wish I handled this better. At core, I'm a strongly emotional person, and the disquieting polarization of emotional input completely throws me off balance. This usually results in about a week of lost productivity, as I spend that time alrecover.


Is there some better way to handle this? I know that, in part, this is signaling that I'm not meeting my emotional needs... and among those are my desire for affection and for quiet reminders that what I do and who I am are both, somehow, meaningful. My current coping mechanism has simply been to latch on to what scraps I can in my daily life, and that's simply causing me to rapidly burn out.

I guess what this is really saying is that I need focused love in my life again. I have no idea how to attain that for myself, as my lack of social poise and emotional balance have basically driven off most of the people I might otherwise care for. It's difficult for me to communicate that with care, I actually do much better when the initial results so clearly speak against.

Sigh. Humanity is so utterly confusing to me.

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Home

As is common for me when I visit my family home in Florida, I'm bitten by the writing bug.

All of the qualia of my first memorable home -- the same one I was raised in since I was just a little over one year old -- comes flooding back, and practically everything I observe, touch, or interact with is filled with immediate nuance and significance from previous experiences.

In a way, it's a little like being otherkin while being otherkin (yo dawg...). Much of what I can call up to memory feels like it's from another life. The feelings are similar, and the memories are warm and familiar, but they feel as though they happened to a different "me" -- one that reacted to them in very different ways than the me of today.


In part, it's experience. Before leaving Florida to live in Washington state, I had seen very little of the world beyond a small collection of other states, some of the Bahamas, and some of Europe. I was pretty naive, and that naivete figured into a rather deep local bias for the culture to which I was exposed.

Standard fare, except Miami culture is a bit... bad, for the exceedingly-nerdy introvert. It's difficult for me to articulate the precise factors responsible -- perhaps a combination of extreme heat, humidity-enhanced mold, and a culture of deeply charisma-based meritocracy -- but the local culture is very strongly anti-intellectual, and anti-creative for activities that strongly cross perceived gender norms.*

This was difficult for me, because my heritage was very polarized. On my father's side, strict gender roles dominated much of his family's history. On my mother's side, a more liberal, gender-ambiguous stance was held for social acceptability. This instilled in me what I can only describe as deep existential confusion as I struggled to make sense of diametrically-opposed social views in the home, while being a creative, in an environment strongly repressive to highly creative and artistic males.**

This ensured that, for purely social reasons, I kept my creativity confined to my bedroom. I also kept it to what meager art supplies I could squirrel away, computer included.


Now, not all of that is bad. After all, I learned to be shockingly efficient with very little in the way of traditional media, tools, and personal space, while finding newer and better ways to hide my actions, interests, and behaviors among the ordinary. Years went by. And, when I finally moved, I brought these patterns with me.

In understanding what it means to me when I say I feel like a completely different person, I mean it in the sense of a caged bird that, once freed, regards their old home as such a small thing. It is to say that I've transcended that previous, isolating existence, and returning to it brings a re-evaluation of old motives and habits within this newer mental context. It also brings more than its fair share of simple nostalgia.

Thinking back to these experiences, I honestly believe I did the best by myself. When I'm away from my family house, I constantly find ways to fault my old patterns of behavior as well-meaning but ineffective. My return trips home, meanwhile, underscore that at the time, not only was I doing the most reasonable things for myself: I was building myself up into who I am today.

Still, it feels almost dualistic and dichotomic, this tangible feeling of being home in the physical sense, with this constant mental and emotional overlay from my previous Floridian life. Much of it is even exceedingly positive, and for that, I know precisely where to look.

It is fitting, then, that I just watched my sister graduate today.*** Watching her graduate from my own alma mater brought its own share of nostalgia. Nostalgia from a previous life that I've chosen to build upon, while the touchstones, experiences, objects, and people that I love are still here.


* In the suburbs. Miami Beach is a completely different, and unambiguously fabulous, matter.

** Perhaps I should back up a bit and explain why that last part matters.

By my very nature, I'm a creative. Naturally, this expresses in some rather flamboyant displays of color, pattern, and thought out of me. Yet, unlike some in my newer, draconic peer group, I am not gender-fluid: I identify strongly as male. I
am species-fluid in my identity, but that's a subject for another post. I'm also still trying to figure out my orientation. Again, another post.

*** The graduation itself went very well, by the way. I don't feel comfortable posting the details on this journal, save to say that the ceremony was very similar to when I, myself, graduated and that I'm very proud of my younger sister.


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Balance

One of the biggest constants on my mind is living up to my full potential. This is, by and large, why I journal: it keeps me honest, and it keeps my thoughts flowing instead of sitting cramped up in the back of my skull.

Perhaps most importantly, this journaling brings me balance, by helping me make sense of my emotions. I am a very emotional creature, prone to moods and intuition based on emotional cues and priming. This often leads me to strong emotional biases, which I often spend hours alone trying to understand and unpack. Through writing, I am able to give those emotions better context with which to work, relieving negativity, emphasizing positivity, and sharing my thoughts to keep them grounded in reality.

I think I need a bit more than this, though, for that last bit. Especially in the professional sphere, I'm hoping to find a mentor: someone with whom I can share my thoughts, sound off when I don't feel entirely confident in my abilities, and receive the occasional suggestion, brief lecture, or assignment from when they're more competent with a desired skill than I am.

This is possibly asking too much. But, it's a relationship I hope to cobble together with time and practice, potentially out of interactions with multiple people, sources, and media (like this journal).

It seems strange to wish to cobble together one's own mentorship. And yet, I see this as a desired state for me. I feel that I am a student of this world, and that I have much that I can learn from others. I'm simply trying to find better ways to listen.

(Author's Note: this was written while sleepy on an iPhone. As such, this may contain clerical errors or inconsistent content. In those cases, you have my most bashful apologies.)

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The Right to Live Bizarrely

Every so often, when I hit my darker moods on social media, you'll see something like this:

@Goldkin: I really wish my mind would stop feeling enshamed and self-deprecatory for my prior, years-past mistakes. It would do me lots of good.

‏@Goldkin: I fear the eternal albatross-around-the-neck. The result: I hide most information about myself, am ponderous to reply, and am less engaging.

@Goldkin: I think there's something to be said about safe harbors for promiscuous online sharing. The likes of what happens on Facebook terrifies me.

@Goldkin: ... insofar as it should be socially acceptable to share one's self without fear that it'll become a static data point. I'd like to do that.

‏@Goldkin: I see those assumptions of immutability as giving rise to resentment and bigotry, and I just feel it's too narrow a space to live within.



What this displays is a fundamental insecurity of mine that shapes many of my actions. I am extremely fretful of how my previous actions color how people see me, even if they may have no reflection on my future performance or behavior.

This is, for the most part, a product of my heritage. I grew up within a highly conservative, and for the most part judgmental, family. This same family has been known to take its facts primarily as immutable and at face value. Without wishing to do so, I internalized this view as a representation of how others would see me... and began to deeply fear resentment and bigotry as a result.

This makes me a security professional, because I've become really good at hiding and obscuring information. But this comes at a severe social cost: I don't feel comfortable sharing the details of my private life as often as I'd like to. I feel as if I am far less engaging in conversation with the people that I enjoy being around, because I fear creating poor quality, insurmountable, and immutable data. This fear actually causes me to realize exactly what I otherwise wish to avoid, because it affects my logical centers, my abilities to process information, and my abilities to speak eloquently, due to the applied, slow filter of withholding dangerous information.

This filter makes some sense to maintain, however. Almost daily, we're reminded of some "schmuck" that was too promiscuous on Facebook, Twitter, or other forms of social media. They'll have said something socially hazardous, or they'll have revealed some personal detail, that costs them a lot of credibility. And this galvanizes my fears, because I am afraid of precisely what people would think of me if I shared more of who I am.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'd like to be more open in general. This is very difficult for me, because the past few decades have taught me to be a master of protecting information. Information, I add, that I'd like people I do trust and care about to know and be able to share.

Basically, I'd like to be less envious of the people I know whom I do believe have healthy modes of communication. I'd like to transmute this into action that makes me feel supported and connected by those I care about... which is already difficult for me, given my introverted tendencies. I certainly don't aspire to be an extrovert, but for those small few I communicate with regularly, I'd like to feel as if I'm providing the best communication I can offer.


In a way, this post is sort of a form of social advertising. There's a lot that I keep trapped under the hood, and frankly, I'd like much of it to be less of a tightly-guarded secret. Because, for most of it -- my draconity and spiritual identity, my aspirations, my loves and crushes for others, my carnal desires, and my general zeal for life -- there's actually nothing to be ashamed of. It's frustrating for me to take such a Victorian stance about myself, when the specific predators I'm afraid of are no longer present. Furthermore, I find it highly cathartic to be able to get more of what makes me myself out there for inspection.

But, perhaps most importantly, being more open would alleviate the specific isolation that I've suffered from these past several decades. I certainly wouldn't like to share everything, due to the intersection of healthy secret-keeping and tl;dr. But, just being able to share more, and to establish a sort of safe clearing house for who and what I am, would do me a lot of good.

I'm not yet sure what form that will take. But, the thought of it greatly appeals to me.

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