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Is it not reasonable to anticipate that our understanding of the human mind would be greatly aided by knowing the purpose for which it was designed?
George C. Williams, Adaptation and Natural Selection
Lonely Girl (lonelygirl) was neither lonely nor a girl. It was an artificial intelligence.
People are seemingly terrified that image, text, and audio manipulation by artificial intelligence is going to make it impossible to discern fact from fiction, but there are already thousands of live humans regularly sharing comedy bits—satire performed by other, live humans—that they think are real and not comedy.
This is happiness; it’s the learning to accept it that’s difficult. And we can substitute the word—or concept—for happiness with contentment, or fulfillment, or any other synonym that expresses a feeling of wonderous satisfaction. The degree to which we can surrender ourselves to being happy depends on how self-aware we’ve become, and in turn what feelings that self-awareness is generating. If it’s anxiety, then introspection may reveal the sources of it and then disciplined change ameliorate such fetters. Low self-esteem, dysmorphia, lack of knowledge, ingrained self-destructive or harmful behavior are all changeable things: a person need only take the time to define them honestly and accurately, then make determined efforts to change them. Happiness is the fragile state that waits at the end of those efforts—though calling it an end is erroneous. It is important to understand and accept that the establishment and maintenance of positive habits is an ongoing, life-long venture. Fortunately for the impatient, happiness at a base level can be easily achieved, and the efforts made to better that only help to reach higher levels of self-satisfaction. And like anything that requires constant attention to maintain, there is always the threat of backsliding and loss. But lost ground can always be recovered so long as we are willing to resume the work.
I’m now well on my way into the second summer of not livestreaming; another season of refusing to spend what precious time I have left entertaining mentally deficient losers1 on the internet. This past year has been all about reclaiming my love for video games. I say reclaiming rather than rediscovering because I never lost my passion; it was stolen from me by the performative and restrictive nature of broadcasting my hobby to the world. The world has had fifty years to make video games sexy and cool. If it hasn’t happened yet—and let’s be perfectly clear: it absolutely has not—it never will. Minimizing the “gamer” part of my identity back down to the private, shameful hobby that it is has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past decade.
Now that I’ve been away from the activity of livestreaming for as long as I have, the whole enterprise seems ridiculous to me. If someone lacks the bombast and personality of a top-tier actor, isn’t drop-dead gorgeous, or the best in the world at the games they’re playing, what are they even doing? There is nothing sexy or even remotely cool about mediocre video game play, and there never has been. Video gaming has always been a marginalized activity and with good reason: it’s frivolous, a luxury pursuit, and contributes nothing of real value to the world in the face of the time spent engaged in the hobby! Sure, it could be argued that there is some mental exercise happening, but it is likely a far better investment of time to read a book or create some art. Regarding livestreaming, a ‘streamer might try to tell you that they’re providing a mental heath service to their audience, but wouldn’t that audience be better served by getting actual help in the real world rather than clinging to a parasocial relationship carried out through asymmetrical or unilateral communication? I don’t know, I’m not a mental health professional and neither are nearly all the pale, overweight, bearded white men sitting in front of their LED-lit showcases.
Video games are terrible for physical health, too. They’re designed to be played in a sedentary state—fuck off about virtual reality, no one cool is playing VR games—and what little physical motion they involve leads to repetitive stress injuries. You’re also forced into focusing on images several feet—or inches, if you want to press me on the VR angle—from your face, for hours on end. Eye doctors and neurologists recommend looking to the real-world horizon for at least twenty seconds for every twenty minutes of screen time, but I guarantee you that zero video gamers do this, and even fewer livestreamers.
Last week I made the mistake of opening Twitter to check on someone and noticed that “30FPS” was trending. I made the further mistake of clicking the topic and saw that it was because an upcoming, highly anticipated video game was launching soon on Xbox Series consoles with a framerate cap of thirty per second and this had caused some… discourse. Apparently, it was criminal that a large, well-funded game development studio would dare to release any video game that ran at less than the maximum possible frame rates.
What’s the big deal with framerates? Basically, higher rates of frames produce a visually smoother image. It comes at a cost, however, and more frames require both beefier hardware and longer software development times. It’s no good running a game at 240 frames per second if the animations and mechanical timings cap out at sixty.
I grew up in a time when the films you went to see in the movie theaters ran at twenty-four frames per second. The cheap televisions we could afford squeezed out a whole thirty. These days I have zero issues playing video games at thirty frames per second. If they run at higher rates, gravy. But I’m not going to throw a public or private hissy fit over it, like one of the top tweeters in the #30fps trending feed on Twitter who had taken the issue personally and now waged a one-man-child war against both the whole video games industry and its consumer base for enabling this egregious behavior. He’d gone as far as to beg his 645 (160 net) followers to not even play the game when it came to Microsoft’s $14.99 USD per month Game Pass, as though that would send a direct message to upper management to not dare to try something like this ever again.
I made my third mistake by clicking through this rabble rouser’s profile and discovering that he was a Twitch livestreamer, and yet another pasty-faced, flabby, be-spectacled bearded manling2 who regularly broadcasts hours worth of his impotent rage to an audience of precisely one.
How many young men are there now engaged in such pursuit? Taking nonsensical stands on equally nonsensical issues while spending huge portions of their days recording themselves in the hope of drawing an audience? I have the feeling that this is yet another symptom of the decay of Western civilization brought on by our gross decadence and lack of awareness of just how privileged we are. Then again I just spent my own time assembling my feelings on this, but at least I did it out under the sun. And it was far better than the old me would have done, which was leave an abusive comment on his YouTube channel.
On a related note, it’s wild to me that now that Twitter shows the numbers of views an individual tweet receives, and users can empirically quantify how many people care about their content, that so few people pivot when it’s obvious that what they’re doing isn’t working. The example I like is the one of new livestreamers who subjugate their Twitter followings to promote their shows: a user with 500 followers will post am “I’m live on Twitch” tweet that gets seen fifty times (ten percent being a generous average) and gets liked and retweeted once or twice by Twitter users who don’t even follow the tweeter’s account, and are only leveraging whatever hashtags were used in order to “network”. All this engagement results in maybe one or two views on the actual livestream. At what point does the ‘streamer realize that they’re wasting their time? I’ve seen accounts that have done this for years with the same results. It boggles my mind. More people need to study basic business principles. And I need to stop caring.
Netflix’s “Beef” is excellent.
I can’t believe I blew an hour surfing YouTube this morning, and what brought me to my senses was checking on an old acquaintance’s Twitter feed to find out that he was just as pathetic as I’d remembered, and that I’d been righteous to walk away from him. It’s ironic that scrolling through that human dumpster fire’s social media inspired me to tear myself away from the black mirror and put myself back on track, but we must sometimes draw the waters of motivation from the most poisoned of wells.
The other night I went to bed with the iPad, something I had not done in a long time, and because I’d installed YouTube on it earlier in the day to watch Kill Tony, I ended up stuck like glue to the algorithm for four hours and missing my sleep window. The cascade effect meant I dreamt weird and had nothing for the dream diary, and waking up late had no desire to go to the gym and ate dirty for breakfast. Actions have consequences. It’s shameful to me that I keep succumbing to the same weaknesses, but at least the incidents are becoming more infrequent.
Keep the toxic apps off the devices, keep the devices out of the bedroom. It’s simple, really.
It’s been nineteen days since I handed in the last bit of work for the Fall/Spring semesters of my creative writing undergraduate degree.
I’ve managed to mostly kick the YouTube habit. Uninstalling the app from my iPad and documenting any slips in a daily “fail diary” helped a lot. I would love to have zero screen time, but this is impossible as I still rely on the iPad and iPhone to conveniently read certain digital-only documents.
We’re coming up on a full year since my final broadcast on Twitch.tv. There are still vestigial dregs of that career that haunt me. Like in the way I still dream of my time as a Berlitz English instructor in Tokyo, so too does the decade worth of energy I poured into producing top-quality content nag at me. I have few regrets in life: giving as much of myself as I did in the pursuit of influencer stardom is the greatest, even surpassing the years I spent in my youth as an actual junkie.
It pains me now, I think, because I see acquaintances making their own goes of it. It’s weird how every spring at least a handful of the people I know in passing decide to buy microphones and webcams and hijack their social media channels to try and convince the few people who follow them to watch them play video games for hours on end on the internet. It gets weirder as I get older, too, because these people are exclusively middle-aged men who would be better served spending that time reading books and working out than courting the attention of the lonely and mentally deranged on whatever the livestreaming platform du jour happens to be. The whole endeavor is steeped in liquid depression, and it seems impossible to perceive or appreciate how harmful to the ego it is until you’ve gone through it. I just wish I could go back a couple of years and give myself a good talking to. I think of how much further ahead I would be today in my intellectual and professional pursuits if I hadn’t blown the actual thousands of hours demonstrating and documenting the shame of being an adult male who spends his days indoors, playing video games, and talking to the wall.
But that was then. Now the bulk of my time goes to literary pursuits and I’m so much the better for it. Next year will see the end of the undergraduate degree and the start of a masters. I couldn’t be more hopeful.
The future is wide open, and I intend to fill it with words out here in the real world.
1. I should know, I was one of them for almost a decade.
2. This is not meant as an insult, this is as accurate a physical description as I could provide and any less would be dishonest.