Confessions of an H-List Celebrity

HOn my better days, I like to flatter myself with my celebrity status. But at the same time, I’m acutely aware that I have about the lowest grade of celebrity that could be imagined. A good friend and I used to joke that we didn’t want to be rich and famous, we just wanted to be well-off and well-known. In many respects, I feel I have achieved this, although I am quite certain that my family and friends, and the communities around me, are more important than either money or recognition, both of which distort our understanding of what truly matters.

For some time now, I’ve assessed fame with a quantitative measure known as the Lupe, after Lupe Vélez – the silent film star who rather unfortunately is now most famous for having drowned in a toilet. The fame of any person is calculated by estimating the number of people who recognise them as a celebrity, and then taking its base ten logarithm (i.e. counting the number of zeros in the resulting number). So, for instance, if someone was known by everyone on the planet, their fame would be 9.8 Lupes (log 10 of 7 billion). A-list celebrities are known by more than a billion people and thus have fame scores of 9 Lupes or more. Then I rank the other lists at 1 Lupe apart. B-listers known by hundreds of millions of people, C-listers by tens of millions, D’s at a million, E’s at a hundred thousand, F’s at ten thousand, G’s at a thousand. Then come the H’s at a hundred.

Somewhere between five hundred and a hundred is my best estimate of the number of people who think of me as a celebrity, so I have a fame score of about 2.5. This is about as low as you can go and still defend a tenuous claim to celebrity. Of course, I’ve worked on million selling games – but no-one thinks of me as a celebrity for these, or even thinks about my involvement with them at all, so they don’t contribute to my score. My celebrity status, such as it is – clinging to the lowest rung of the ladder of fame – is based entirely upon fans of Discworld Noir and Ghost Master, both of which were critical successes and commercial failures, my how-to books like Game Writing, and my work in game studies and philosophy. While I have built a great rep as a speaker over the years, there’s really very little I can do at this point to raise my fame score. This is about as famous as I’m likely to get.

The trouble with thinking, even for a second, that one is a celebrity is that it goes to your head. And the more pathetic your claim to fame, the more ridiculous this pomposity is, for celebrities are wildly unimportant people except for their celebrity, and so when you think of yourself this way it becomes vital to be celebrated. So you come to depend upon things like national radio spots and keynote addresses to justify your self-worth because you become deluded into thinking that your value lies in your celebrity and not in your personality, which is an insanity so prevalent it could even be called normal.

Keynotes are my Achilles heel. I’ve been getting gigs like this for over a decade now – but with such a miniscule fanbase, there are only so many opportunities. Each event is only going to invite you to keynote once, since that’s the way this concept works, so you’re dealing with a certain degree of diminishing returns. But when you have a year where you get two keynotes, getting none the following year makes you feel washed up – even though you can hardly be ‘washed up’ when your notoriety consists of hanging precariously at the bottom of the ladder of fame. You end up in a psychological oubliette – you can’t get by without the reassuring strokes that remind you that you did some things that people once thought were worthwhile.

Fame, it has been said, is a trap. To be really famous – to be at least halfway up the ladder – is to give up your privacy in return for both money and recognition, and at a certain point your privacy is permanently compromised and can never be restored to you. Later, as interest in you wanes, you trade some of the respect that people have for you into money by endorsing commercial products, a kind of contemporary Faustian bargain that diminishes one’s soul through mortgaging your self-respect to make ends meet. No-one who had understood fame could truly want to have it, although certainly there are those who crave the power that comes with fame. Politics in the United States has become infested with such people, and they can never be good politicians because they cannot possibly relate to their electorate as equals.

Every now and then a guilty reverie whisks me away and I imagine that perhaps my work in philosophy will be famous after my death – after all, what philosopher achieved fame in their own lifetime? But I know this is not the way of things today, and that anyway, the work I am doing is of the wrong kind to have a long-term impact. Let’s be frank: no-one would sanely pursue philosophy for fame, it would be a colossal non-starter. And anyway, the reason I practice philosophy isn’t to gain celebrity – that would be counter-productive. I just do it because it’s what I feel compelled to do; it’s a rare use of my talents that doesn’t feel wasted.

So here I am, an H-list celebrity, grateful that I did not achieve any serious measure of fame – since it would have driven me even more insane than I already am – but still pathetically longing for the recognition of my skills and achievements in an endless ongoing cavalcade of vanity. I can laugh about it. But it still sets off my depression from time to time, which is silly, really, because if I had never possessed any degree of celebrity there would have been nothing to miss; no reason to question inadequacies arising solely from a perception of status that philosophically can only be undeserved.

But let me let you in on a secret… I like it here on the bottom rung. I like being asked to come and give talks and keynotes, I like occasionally getting to talk on the radio, I like that I once got to see an interview with me up on a huge screen in a games industry conference in London. In short, I like having tasted the amuse-bouche of fame, even if the entrée and desert is forever off the menu. I like the fact that I can pretend to be famous without giving up any of my privacy. I like being an H-list celebrity. I just can’t help thinking that I shouldn’t.

Open Minded?

Open Minded Neon SignI’m starting to doubt the logic of the phrase ‘open minded’. Who is it supposed to apply to?

Some folks out in the bustle of the internet tell me that being open minded is being willing to revise your beliefs in the light of new evidence. But whomever this sense of ‘open minded’ applies to has already declared the conceptual territory they are willing to be open to, and presumably the acceptable methods for determining what counts as evidence too. That doesn’t sound one jot like being open minded to me – it sounds more like being a cheerleader for the sciences. What’s more, it seems that most scientists do not easily adjust their beliefs in the light of new evidence, but rather expressly doubt evidence that does not accord with their beliefs – which not coincidentally aligns with what psychologists say about humans in general.

On the other hand, there are the strange and wonderful folks you can meet at various New Age bazaars to whom being open minded seems to mean uncritically accepting every wild practice anyone is pursuing earnestly. Except of course such people are only open minded towards those particular kinds of practices, and are generally dismissive of scientific evidence dismissing the efficacy of all such methods. (I might note, such ‘discreditings’ are usually in comparison to placebo – which would be another way of saying that they all work as well as each other, and just as well as a fair chunk of medical practices too.)

Then there is that liberal open mindedness that tolerates other cultures. As Isabelle Stengers warns, this tolerance is a curse, one that immediately prevents any understanding from taking place between us. Indeed, as I have accused in Chaos Ethics, liberal open mindedness largely means forcing everyone to accept a previously prescribed catalogue of acceptable identities, and acting punitively towards those who do not. Alain Badiou observes that this kind of ‘open mindedness’ is characterised by being instantly horrified by African tribal rituals, Chinese politics, and pretty much everything else even remotely different from the allegedly open minded person. Once again, the proclamation of ‘open mindedness’ is a cover for a demand, a requirement, outside of which everything else is to be denounced.

Perhaps ‘open minded’ simply means ‘I will not openly denounce what I can merely politely dismiss’, at least if we ignore the firebrands and malcontents. If so, it is not so much about being open to difference as it is a mode of politeness, of tolerance. But again, I stand with Stengers here: tolerance is a curse that prevents understanding. Everyone who declares themselves open minded is presupposing what it is we should be open to – whether it be the positivistic methods attributed to the sciences, the transformative potential of peculiar rituals, or the political identities that are opposed to conservatism.

If being open minded is genuinely a virtue, we seem to have lost sight of what it is supposed to be about. Ask a liberal to be open minded about gun ownership, or an atheist to be open minded about God, or a faith healer to be open minded about pharmaceuticals. We are all calling ‘open minded’ just those people who are open to our own ways of thinking. That’s no kind of open mindedness at all.

The Frightening Moment of Approach to One's Latest Love

BJA ImageMy hands are clammy, my head is dizzy… I feel like I could swoon from the excitement, and I would just die if they so no. No, I haven’t time travelled back to my lovelorn teenage years, I have just this second clicked ‘submit’ on an online form to upload my second submission to the British Journal of Aesthetics.

I had previously sent them a paper entitled “Am I Afraid of Daleks?”, which they rejected, but with the most wonderful peer review I have ever received – and the promptest. Whomever it was who reviewed my paper actually read and understood it, and was able to make judgements that showed a full understanding of my argument. That is incredibly rare! And I immediately vowed to myself to make a second attempt.

The new paper, entitled “Can a Rollercoaster Be Art?”, has the following abstract:

Given the permissive quality of institutional theories of art, is it possible to prevent rollercoasters from qualifying as artworks? By considering the aesthetics of both games and art as diverse (as hinted at by Wittgenstein) yet inevitably possessing a unity emerging from our own nature (as observed by Midgley), a sketch is given of the strong and weak conditions by which something can be asserted an artwork. This in turn allows for institutional theories to be supportively contrasted to Badiou's concept of the event in the context of art as a rupture in the conditions of practice, and Rancière's taking up of a similar thread that Foucault had left unwound. The result has bearing not only for which conventional artforms qualify as art in any strong sense, but for whether games (digital or otherwise) should be considered candidates for being judged artworks – not to mention the rollercoaster itself.

Will they take it? I don’t know. I feel faint at the possibility of rejection, and impossibly excited at even the remotest chance of being accepted. It is as if I were young once more. I shall have to treasure the uncertainty before future events trammel my besotted heart into submission once more.

The Petty Evil of Timetabling

Galaxies CollideWe live at a time when there is not, despite how it may occasionally seem, a common moral paradigm we can draw against. Rather, as I discuss at length in Chaos Ethics, there are many different ethical methods colliding with each other. Some, facing the cacophony, feel a powerful need to justify one moral system as necessarily superior to others – but this, I’m afraid, is largely a waste of effort. What is needed is not ‘one ethic to rule them all’, but a sensitivity to the moral tensions that emerge from the unavoidable conflicts between different approaches.

I’d like to give an example from my life that illustrates this point. Every year since I began teaching, the timetabling has been horrific. In previous years, it has been horrific because resolving my restrictions (on account of being a parent) with the available teaching spaces and the logistics of the student intake has required tremendous time and effort – and considerable loss of hair! The person responsible for timetabling for the last two years quit his job rather than face it again. This year, someone new took over timetabling, and opted to ‘black box’ the process, meeting only with the line manager involved and not with the staff. I suspect this was a successful strategy for most staff, who are used to receiving the timetable as a circumstance delivered to them. For me, it was hell.

The problem stems from a mismatch of expectations. In my lived practice as a teacher, participating in timetabling was what I had learned, and what I expected. Doing so also allowed me some influence over how my teaching would proceed, which at an emotional level I need for my own sanity. (This is something I have in common with those marvelous folks on the autistic spectrum). Quite understandably, I proceeded with timetabling on the basis that I always had, without really taking on board the consequences of the change of circumstances, since pragmatically that change was invisible to me until it was too late.

The two people who were handling timetabling established new prudential values for the timetable process that were (when I eventually discovered them) perfectly sensible. Their decision to pursue these values was in itself a moral decision: it was the ethical choice to value outcomes over alternative moral approaches, such as virtues. But their pursuit of these values unleashed terrible stresses into my life, because I simply could not understand why my requests (motivated in part by my personal teaching values) were being ignored, when I could see that it was perfectly possible to implement the arrangements I was requesting.

Inevitably, it all came to a dramatic head and, with a little fury, and quite a bit of crying, I eventually came to understand the power relations that had been established and the reasons for their coming into existence. I could completely appreciate the prudential values that had been chosen, once they were made clear to me, and although I did not really agree that the outcome we were getting was better than my circumstances in previous years, I could at least make sense of the upsetting events of the previous few weeks once this perspective was revealed to me. It comes with considerable costs… I had to abandon my conceptual image for one of my classes – a very successful class – and I will have to develop a new image for it that, at the moment, is hard to see as better. But I have no doubt that I will do this.

In my particular case, I was lucky because the line manager involved was sufficiently sensitive to the situation to resolve it through ‘soft power’ rather than through playing the King. But we can see in this example a classic case of how contemporary bureaucracy becomes the enemy of the good through petty evil. Everyone involved in the timetabling process that affected me had laudable ethical values that motivated their actions – yet the tensions that were unleashed could not easily have been avoided, because there was no reason for anyone to suspect that the chosen approach could cause such unintended emotional damage. Furthermore, while some degree of consultation might have resolved my issue, it would have made the practical progression of this particular bureaucratic task untenable.

This is an example of the kind of problems we are all facing in our bureaucratically-arranged organisations at this time in history. At root is the conflict between our outcome-focussed ethics, all of which revolve around prudential values, and agent-focussed ethics, such as virtues, that are embedded in individuals and communities. We have somehow learned that we should let prudential considerations trump all others (an ethical approach that is usually termed Consequentialism), and many hold moral values that inform them this is what they should do, not just what happens. Personally, however, I cannot accept this situation as anything other than a colossal moral error.

The problem with using solely outcome-focussed ethics to judge situations is that we do not ever know all the outcomes when we make decisions, an objection originally raised by Nietzsche. We imagine what the outcomes will be, and these imagined consequences come to be what govern our decision process. If we choose imagined futures over the lived moral practices of the people around us, we will act in ways that are guaranteed to generate moral and emotional tensions. It will cause what I have called petty evil, the damage wrought by large organisations in their inability to understand the deleterious effects they cause through disempowering those affected by their centralised decision making.

Saying that solving this problem in the worlds we live in will not be easy is an understatement. The ideals that got us through the Enlightenment – of freedom, and what we have chosen to call democracy – are no longer capable of bearing the load placed upon them, in part because the prudential values of the marketplace (primarily that of efficiently generating money) supplant deeper moral practices, such as virtue, in ways that are impossible to oppose as long as ‘choice’ is seen as paradigmatic of freedom, rather than a shallow substitution for authentic autonomy. We need to see these problems with better eyes, but it is unclear that we have the will to do so.

The opening image is Galaxies Collide by Robert McNiel, which I found here on his Instagram page. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.

Man of Straw

Print_2.tifThe most frequent ad hoc rebuttal levelled against me, both on my blogs and in blind peer review, is that the argument that I have advanced is a ‘straw man’. What the respondent means is that I am not arguing against actual people, but that I have created a more generalised, abstracted opponent. This is certainly the case! I do this often as part of my arguments. But this is not a straw man argument.

A straw man argument is when you respond to someone’s claims by making an assertion that dodges their argument entirely by substituting a different argument. Now this cannot be the case when you are abstracting a general argument (as I frequently do) because – quite clearly! – if I am arguing against a generalised position, I am not arguing against a specific opponent. You are certainly entitled when I make such abstract arguments to insist I identify examples of that generalised position, and I can pretty much always do this. But complaining that I’ve made a straw man argument just isn’t going to work, in part because that’s not what I’ve done.

This year, I have argued in numerous places against the kind of digital exceptionalism that treats ‘videogames’ (whatever they might be) as a medium that cannot be dealt with by methods suitable for other media. The nature of my objection is that ‘videogame’ isn’t a category that is going to hang together upon close inspection, and that therefore arguing for new methods for studying ‘videogames’ is a problematic line of attack. Numerous academics take this stance – Jesper Juul has done so very cleverly and eloquently in various places, and others like Graeme Kirkpatrick who align with him make even stronger assertions of the same kind. Kirkpatrick’s brilliant book Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game, for instance, states: “The book sides with ludology in asserting the novelty of the video game as an object of study and the importance of this newness to understanding its distinctive place within contemporary culture.” That’s what I call digital exceptionalism right there.

My claim of digital exceptionalism is one you will find laid out in several places, such as this year’s Player Practices serial, or my DiGRA 2015 talk The Gaiety or Meditations on Arcade Player Practices. It is, ironically, a straw man argument to claim that my accusation of digital exceptionalism is a straw man argument (as more than one blind peer reviewer has done this year!). That’s because when you accuse me of making a straw man argument when I am arguing in the general, you have not engaged with my argument but replaced it with a different argument – the (fallacious) argument that I am making a straw man argument. I think there is a saying about rubber and glue that applies here…

So please, be more careful when you apply the term ‘straw man’. When you abstract a position to argue against it, you are not advancing a straw man argument. You are, in fact, just making an argument. And you are entitled to have people consider that argument on its own merits, no matter how generalised the position being argued against. Dismissing it with a straw man argument that claims it is a straw man argument is really the last straw.

Worldview Denial

WorldviewIn the wake of the terrible events in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this week, I hear once again the cries of disgruntled atheists declaring that “atheism isn’t a worldview,” as if this was a way of shrugging off some important criticism. The basis of this objection is that all atheists believe wildly different things on many different matters. They do – just as is the case with Christians. Worldview denial is also a way of distancing atheists from the atheist murderer in Chapel Hill on the basis that his actions should not reflect upon the majority of atheists. They don’t – just as is the case in equivalent situations with Muslims. The reluctance to accept the term ‘worldview’ is also a means of creating distance between atheists and religion – just as when Hindus say they don’t have a religion, just a way of life.

One of my motives for creating this blog was to offer a space of encounter between atheists and Christians, not to mention any and all other religious and nonreligious traditions. Personally, I dislike the term ‘worldview’ – it creates false impressions, like the presumed need to deny that such-and-such is a worldview. I prefer to talk about religions and nonreligions. Atheism is a collection of nonreligions, just as Christianity is a collection of religions. Yet neither religion nor nonreligion warrants strong causal arguments from the highly abstract terms ‘atheist’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Marxist’ or ‘Christian’ or ‘Baha'i’ to extreme events such as murder. But any such terms mark certain risks, especially of misunderstandings, and these risks cut both ways in all cases.

Comments are welcome, but please try to present your position in the best possible light by being polite and not posting in anger.

The Strange Case of Doctor Bateman

The Mad Doctor 1941 Last week I had the viva for my PhD by Publication. Although I spent some time preparing for cross-examination, it was not something I'd been particularly worried about, mostly since I'd been utterly slammed with teaching prep, timetable juggling, and even some ill-timed consultation work. This was perhaps for the best, since it kept me adequately distracted in the run up to the main event.

I'd heard from other PhD candidates that the viva was gruelling, but I was unprepared for just how drained it was going to leave me. They challenged me primarily on the areas of my previous work that I knew were weak, sometimes painstakingly driving home the point in a manner that seemed to border on excess. I think, perhaps, this is the role the examiner is supposed to adopt. Still, I was disappointed that the exchanges were not more productive - there were even places where complaints were raised so generally as to leave me uncertain if I was being indicted on a substantive issue or merely chastised for straying into academic domains outside of my core expertise. It is no exaggeration to say that Imaginary Games saved my bacon by being in itself of a standard appropriate to a doctorate.

After a short recess to lick my wounds I was called back to face my examiners. They declared that I had passed with 'non-major corrections', and before we departed pointed out that I was now entitled to call myself 'Doctor Bateman'. This should have been a victory, yet it felt so much more like defeat. After all, I'm still not done with the work since a new version of the thesis that binds together my publications needs to be submitted. I found it hard to see this as anything but another step towards the conclusion, and took little comfort in my technical claim to being now a 'real fake doctor' (in so much as the term 'doctor' is generally understood in the medical sense).

For a week since passing the viva, I've felt flat. Like so many aspects of my life, my doctorate leaves me conflicted and unable to accept it on its own terms. I have read too much Ivan Illich to uncritically accept a professional rank accredited by other professionals forming a closed circle. I do not like the implication that 'we' (I can no longer say 'they') have greater knowledge or more right to be heard. Yet of course the reason I originally looked at getting a PhD by Publication was precisely to secure my platform and thus improve the appeal of my books. It is no comfort here for me to say that I willed this because I wished to be heard, not in the expectation of making money (no-one gets rich writing philosophy!). I am acutely aware that any advantage I have earned is bought at the cost of the continual risk of marginalization facing those voices outside of a rather insular global academic institution.

I am happiest about the viva when I see it in anthropological terms. Like an adolescent proving himself to his tribe by enduring hours of ritualized pain - hung, perhaps, upon hooks by my nipples - the intellectual ordeal of the viva is my rite of passage into the tribe called 'Doctor'. And after all, no harm was really done to me beyond a bruise to my ego. Yet it is strange: I know nothing more now than I knew before, save for the phenomenal experience of the viva itself. How can this ritual confer upon me anything but formalities?

I do not fool myself into thinking I can change the academic machine, although I cannot help but strive to do so. I am particularly critical of the extolling of blind peer review in all disciplines as a beneficial practice - a ritual oddly close to the viva in some respects, although one even less likely to lead to productive discourse. This word 'discourse' was much in evidence within the viva, yet the odd thing about the academic fraternity is that it's procedures and rituals are far more likely to suppress dialogue than encourage it, if only because behind the mask of Examiner - and even more so behind the mask of Peer Reviewer - the power relations encourage neither communication nor honest inquiry.

The broadly positivistic belief that out of the furnace of peer review the cold facts emerge is not a claim sufficiently substantiated in the literature. It is assumed rather than proven. It functions as a ratchet that locks down the status quo very well, but does so by excluding new ideas with brutal efficiency. It is possible to view this as beneficial, provided one's faith in objectivity is strong, but I have somehow managed to lose this without falling into Nietzche's abyss of nihilism. The truth isn't 'out there', but that does not mean nothing is true.

So I am a doctor, yet I am also disappointed with myself for becoming thus. My achievement, such as it is, sharpens my uncertainties about what I should be striving for. I can only hope that the unseen and unknown consequences of this event will lead me to something that will instil some greater sense of worth in this situation, something more than the bragging rights of becoming a doctor just 18 months after becoming an academic. I want this to be more than a badge, another stamp in my collection. But of course, it is up to me to make that happen.

The Piano and the Armchair

Mahogany PianoWe relate to our things more than we recognise. As a result of a pact I made with my wife, we now have a piano (pictured left) in our lounge. It’s a lovely old mahogany piece, rescued from a skip by one of those strange and wonderful artisans who does for musical instruments what pet shelters do for animals.

My interest in the piano here is in what it reveals about the living arrangements in my house, since its arrival displaced an armchair. The chair in question was arranged, as so many are these days, to afford a viewing position on the television – the centrepiece of most contemporary lounges – although also so that the fireplace could also be focal in the winter. Because of the piano, the armchair can no longer be positioned where the TV is in full view, or indeed visible at all. Although initially a cause of consternation, I rapidly realised that this was no bad thing.

A person sat in the armchair is now insulated from the TV, and thus free from the hypnotic power this box possesses. I confess, in the pub I always try and sit away from the televisions because I want to talk to the people I am drinking with – yet the flickering sporting matches draw my attention like moths to candles, whether I wish it or not! The armchair not only creates a space liberated from the TV, it offers a more convivial arrangement for the room as a whole. A guest sat upon it can converse with those on the sofa comfortably, and if my wife decides to play the piano (currently hopelessly out of tune!) the new position is equally amenable.

Although I use a television for media consumption on a regular basis, I always aim to ensure it is only part of my experiential diet. Moving the armchair makes that easier. But were it not for the piano, I would not have been confronted with this aspect of my relationships with the things around me. How quickly we become accustomed to that which would seem strange to those who went before us…

The Anxiety of Reconnection

Water on Sand An uncomfortable collision awaits me. I have just returned from a week on the Isle of Wight, visiting my family and enjoying the rural and coastal charms of the place where I grew up. Away, I achieved an unprecedented degree of relaxation – so much more than I ever managed when I was running the consultancy full time. I was able to literally set aside all the many strands of my work and never let them enter my mind. No email, no twitter, no social media of any kind. I used the internet solely to check the weather and the tide tables. I wrote nothing but my diary. I read nothing but fiction – a rarity for me these days.

Now, I am back at my desk. Although still putatively on holiday for the next two weeks, I nonetheless cannot avoid reconnecting (hopefully only briefly) to the outside world. This brings an oppressive trepidation to bear upon me. My email – or rather, my imagined experience of re-encountering my email – is a tangled knot of pre-existing obligations and fresh demands, an unpleasant confrontation with the remorseless logistics of my daily life that I have managed to escape for ten scant days. This box stands in front of me – and even though I do not wish to open it, I know that I shall.

This angst is so trivial in any grand scheme you might care to suggest that it seems an indulgence to experience it, much less remark upon it. Is this discomfort merely rooted in the yearning to remain within the bubble of my holiday, or can it be that my work – which I enjoy – is a greater burden than I recognise? From inside, the pleasures of even the small achievements offset the remorseless labour, but from outside it is solely the latter that seems in focus. What is it about reconnecting that troubles me so disproportionately?

Bloot Me If You Need Me

Doghouse Diaries In ancient times, when there was something that a tribe or village needed to discuss they called a folk moot, in which all the free members of the community would come together to discuss the matter at hand and decide what should be done. It is from this practice that we get the contemporary phrase “a moot point” which originally meant not that the subject was beyond discussion but that it was not yet decided and thus it could only be discussed at a moot, in the presence of everyone.

It is in this tradition that I coined the term bloot last week, for a blog moot, an opportunity to have the kind of cross-blog discussions that used to be the lifeblood of the blogging community. And indeed, we have now had a bloot – not the first of its kind, by any means, but perhaps the first to be recognised as such. It is with considerable gratitude that I thank everyone who got involved with this.

The first to speak up was Oscar Strik at Sub Specie, a new part of my blog existence but an increasingly important part of my life as a writer and lunatic. A late comer to the experience of blogging, Oscar nonetheless recognised the problem I was talking about in The Extinction of Blogs. He suggested that we might need to “jury-rig solutions” to the problems inherent in the currently overcrowded space of social media. His concluding remarks are worth quoting:

Twitter and Facebook are the virtual pub, if you will. They can lead to some wonderful acquaintances, and these have the potential to develop into deeper friendships. But again, if we want to maintain more in-depth conversations with some people, we will have to make a conscious effort, and allocate our time and attention accordingly. New technologies haven’t changed that basic principle.

This point reappears in the contribution Chris Lepine at The Artful Gamer made the following week, responding to Prototypes for Blog Revival. Chris, oddly, seemed to think part of the problem was an obsession with listening to ‘celebrity’ voices over personal interconnection. Oscar and I have been sceptical of this point, but I think perhaps only because the problem Chris points out is the wider one – that celebrity interest is more widespread than the desire to have a worthwhile discussion about serious matters. He concludes:

The disappearance of the game blog meant that independent voices were choked out by behemoth institutions that themselves have no special insight into gaming. What we lost was the ability to choose which topics mattered to us, and then start the conversation there… Imagine something like an 18th century Salon, without all the pretension and pseudointellectualism – just some serious chat with nice folks.

This ideal, that of the ‘salon’, is one that I share – and I’m not so worried about the pretension or pseudointellectualism as long as we get the conversation. But if this bloot has shown me anything, it’s that we’re not going to get this with our current technology, a point brought out nicely by Joe Tortuga at Cult of the Turtle:

Whatever software gets created will have to… incorporate the ease, identity and networks of the social sites. I suspect it’s going to be some technology that makes it easier to be who you are online, to carry your identity around, and participate in your networks and blogs at the same time.  That’s going to take a third party who is willing to merge these networks together into some new identity, and that’s going to be hard from a political/business standpoint, probably more than engineering of it.

But then there was the tolling of the bell of doom from the longest standing member of my blog cluster, Corvus Elrod of Zakelro! Because Corvus, in sharp contrast to the rest of us, isn’t looking for the revival at all:

So the question becomes - do blogs need reviving? Are they critical, as Lepine suggests, to the growth and development of conversation around videogames? Are they the best outlet, as Bateman suggests, for more formal discussion around certain topics? I don't know. I know that the blogs I continue to read are highly personal explorations of important cultural and social issues around videogaming. I know that any continued blogging I do will be less about being socially networked and more about exploring my own issues in a semi-public forum. If that leads to interaction, that's terrific, but I'm not going to rely on interaction as my motivation for posting. After all, if I were doing it just for the interaction, I'd be on a social network posting this in smaller chunks right now. Speaking of which, I wonder what's happening on Twitter.

And this is the nub of the issue… because not all blogging is about community. My problem, and presumably Chris Lepine’s as well, is that right now none of the blogging is about community, which is a serious step down from where we were not that many years ago. So the situation going forward needs to be to leave the door open for community, when it is appropriate. For this, the informal bloot – an invitation to community on a specific topic – would seem to be a barely adequate solution, and yet the best we may be able to manage.

Fortunately, it was not all doom and gloom, as I discovered when a post appeared at Psychochild’s Blog and produced over a dozen comments within twelve hours! What was Brian’s secret? The answer seems to be twofold. Firstly, his blog cluster is part of the MMO community, which was always much livelier than neighbouring clusters, and although he  complains that “there are less MMO bloggers these days” it seems there is still life in this corner of the internet. Secondly, he specifically courted a community geared towards commenting – something that I probably failed to do as my interests veered ever more towards philosophy and away from games as such. Brian concludes:

I think blogs have some serious benefits over social media. Not that I think anyone is going to forsake Twitter or Google+ to go back to just reading blogs, but I think we can do so much more. It might be time to really look at how we present blogs.

I agree. And I agree that we have a technology problem, too. But while we wait for the technical landscape to change, we should take heart from what this bloot has revealed – that bloggers are still out there, that some have maintained community and comments, and that all is far from lost.

Although I welcome further discussion on these topics, this bloot is now at its logical end. But I would like to use this final post to invite everyone involved to accept this imaginary Klieg searchlight with a stylized symbol of a blog on it, and to use the Bloot-signal whenever you feel the need to throw the discussion out to your wider cluster, a cluster of which I am a part. Not every topic demands this kind of discussion, but I for one am heartened to know that it is possible, however difficult, for debates like these to still take place out in the wilds of the internet.

You know where to find me. And you can always bloot me if you need me.

With infinite thanks to everyone who joined the discussions!

The opening image is a Doghouse Diaries cartoon which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.