Manila Office Life

28 July 2008

Things That Make You Go "Hmm..."

As a gamer, I've always been fascinated by how gamers in general can spend hours upon hours in front of the computer playing games. Here's an insightful article found in with a halfway plausible explanation. Do you agree?

Back to the Grind in WoW — and Loving Every Tedious Minute

By Clive Thompson

Last week, I finally decided to start playing World of Warcraft again. And you know what that means: Exciting medieval adventures! Chess-like strategizing with guildmates over raid techniques!

And, of course, grinding.

Hours upon hours of mind-numbing grinding.

Even if you've never played World of Warcraft -- or any role-playing game, online or off -- you are probably familiar with the concept. To "level up" your character, you've got to gain experience, and that generally involves doing a few simple tasks -- mostly "killing stuff" and "collecting stuff" -- over and over again.

When I rolled my new Paladin, I had to spend the next eight hours planted at my desk, repetitively clicking through the same tasks as if I were an industrial robot making car parts on the Chrysler line. I slaughtered wolves, bears, a few more wolves, some creepy little Kobold humanoids, then -- hey -- some more wolves. I rooted around in their corpses for random junk. (Woo! A candlestick!) Then I did it again. And again. And again. Until 3 a.m., actually.

This is of the most-prodigious mysteries of the gamer soul. Theoretically, we love multiplayer games because they offer a dramatic alternative to our shades-of-beige meatspace lives. They let us cast off our mundane existence and become a colorful, empowered hero. And what do we do with this second life?

We behave like obedient workers in a Soviet collective outside Stalingrad, circa 1971. Comrade, your job is to collect potatoes. For seven years. We pay $20 a month for this privilege.

What the hell is wrong with us?

There are several obvious explanations for why we grind. Partly, we know that the game gets interesting only once you're powerful enough to fight the bad-ass monsters. We'll endure whatever hazing necessary to get there. We'll grind until the sun explodes.

There's also the addictiveness of it all. And as I've argued before, WoW -- like many RPGs -- was designed to replicate the emotional logarithm of heroin. You reach level 2 quickly, level 3 a bit less quickly, and levels 4, 5 or 22 less quickly yet -- but it's such a blast each time you level up that you can't stop the party. You'll kill yourself to feel that hit one more time.

These explanations are all true, more or less. But I actually believe there's another reason we're willing to spend 20 hours a week grinding, and it's far weirder.

It's because we love it. We love grinding.

We cannot get enough of it.

Why? Because there's something enormously comforting about grinding. It offers a completely straightforward relationship between work and reward. When you log into WoW, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you just plant your ass in that chair for long enough, you'll level up. It doesn't require skill. It just requires putting in the time. Play 10 hours, you'll do better; play 50, you'll do better yet; and yet more so with 500 hours.

The thing is, almost no arenas of human endeavor work like this. Many are precisely the opposite, in fact. When you go to your job at the office, there's little or no linkage between effort and achievement: You slave like a madman all year long, only to watch the glad-handing frat guy hired two months ago get promoted above you. And if you're a really serious nerd, the logic that governs interpersonal relationships -- marriage, kids, your parents -- is even more abstruse: Things can actually get worse the more time and effort you put into them.

But grinding? Grinding always works. Always. You get a gold star just for showing up. This is a quietly joyful experience. It feeds our souls, as well as our sense of justice and fair play. We grind because we can't believe what a totally awesome deal we're getting handed here, often the first time in our entire suck-ass put-upon lives.

Granted, a game based around grinding tends to privilege those with huge amounts of free time, which of course means younger people and robots and gold-farming guys in China (who, incidentally, are sometimes getting handed a much better deal than they'd get in a comparable meatspace job). And here's the inevitable caveat: I realize that WoW isn't only about grinding; it encourages teamwork and cooperation and strategy and woof-woof, meow-meow.

But let's not kid ourselves. There's a lot of grinding going on in that game. Like, right now. Seriously; go log on and check. I'll wait right here. It's cool.

Grinding is idiotic, but it will never go away, because it sustains us. When we're exhausted by things we can't understand, we take solace in things that are what they say they are. Our video games may be idiotic, but at least their idiocies are consistent.

24 July 2008

Financial Humor

Here's some financial humor from Bloomberg. Who knew these guys could be funny?

Optimists Buy iPhones While Pessimists Hoard Gold: Mark Gilbert

Commentary by Mark Gilbert

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Here's an updated version of the Voight-Kampff test from Ridley Scott's ``Blade Runner'' movie. Instead of identifying Replicants, however, these questions sort the financial optimists from the reali...I mean, pessimists.

(1) A Tale of Two Economies

You see a line of badly dressed people snaking along the sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to the wind and rain. A guy with a beard is pouring himself a steaming cup of something from a thermos. You conclude that they are:

(a) outside a bank, desperately trying to get their savings out because they have heard a rumor that the financial system is on the brink of meltdown and there's no way they trust the deposit insurance plan to protect them.

(b) outside an Apple Inc. store, desperately trying to get their hands on a 3G iPhone. And, no, they don't want a white one, or 8 gigabytes of memory; they want a black one with 16 gigabytes. (What they REALLY want is a red iPhone with 32 gigabytes; Apple will introduce that five minutes after everyone has the current model.)

(2) I Have Seen the Future and It Smirks

The price of a tank of gasoline has gone through the roof. Your response is to:

(a) buy a Toyota Prius with smugness fitted as standard, pretending not to notice how darned ugly the thing is and trying not to worry about what happens when it breaks down and your local mechanic has to work out how to fix it.

(b) hand over a $5,000 deposit and join the waiting list for a $109,000 battery-powered Tesla Roadster. The makers claim zero to 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour in 3.9 seconds, at less than 2 cents per mile. Hey, if it's good enough for the guys at Google Inc.

(c) slap a bumper sticker on your Ford Behemoth that reads ``How Did Our Oil Get Underneath Their Sand?''

(3) Scapegoats and Witch Hunts

Surging oil and energy prices threaten to wreck your economy. You, a U.S. legislator, decide to:

(a) propose lucrative tax breaks to companies that invest in alternative-energy sources such as wind and wave power, excluding ethanol.

(b) propose lucrative tax breaks to drivers who trade in their Chevy Mastodons for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

(c) cry ``speculators!'' Your solution is new legislation to ban trading in parts of the futures market because ``Americans are being taken advantage of not only by OPEC but by speculators right here in our own country,'' as Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, put it. Hey, I believe in free markets, but there has to be a limit.

(4) Cover-Up

The mortgage-backed bond market is dead, murdered by lax lending standards that destroyed investor faith in the quality of home loans. As U.S. Treasury secretary, you decide that:

(a) this is a disaster. We need rules to ensure unscrupulous lenders can't finagle people into buying houses they can't afford by offering introductory teaser rates that reset two years later. That will help to restore confidence.

(b) this is a disaster. We need rules to stop unqualified home buyers lying about their incomes and suckering the mortgage companies into granting loans that will never get repaid. That will help to restore confidence.

(c) this is a disaster. How are my Wall Street pals supposed to generate bonus-boosting fees without an asset-backed bond market to play in? Maybe we could rebrand it? I know, let's create a covered bond market. Completely different! Hey, if it works in Europe.

(5) Naked Cheerleading

The collapse in the share prices of financial institutions, driving both the U.S. S&P 500 Financials Index and the Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index down about 40 percent in the past year, is attributable to:

(a) prudent investors who are tired of hearing the worst is over, concerned that there are more huge writedowns to come, and planning to pass the hat around to build a statue of Oppenheimer & Co.'s Meredith Whitney for daring to speak truth to power.

(b) naked short sellers, who are a stain on the integrity of global capital markets and spend their days propagating scurrilous rumors to make money. They must be stopped. What's that? What about the cheerleaders who relentlessly talk stocks higher? I'm sorry, we're busy trying to prosecute the authors of e-mails about the liquidity situation at Bear Stearns Cos.

(6) Tough Love

The housing markets and construction industries in Spain and Ireland are in meltdown. Consumer and business confidence is plummeting everywhere you look in the euro region. The failure to find agreement on the Lisbon treaty threatens political chaos. As a policy maker at the European Central Bank, you decide to:

(a) cut interest rates, recognizing that the economy is staring into the abyss.

(b) leave interest rates unchanged, hoping to calm the euro's increase against the dollar and give exporters a break.

(c) raise interest rates by a quarter-point. We have only one needle in our Bundesbank-designed compass, and it points perpetually skyward.

(7) Shiny, Happy People

Gold is:

(a) a barbarous relic, and has been ever since John Maynard Keynes coined the phrase.

(b) the erstwhile and future money. We need to get back on the gold standard RIGHT NOW and abandon fiat currencies. We wouldn't be in this mess if you had listened to me and kept your tinfoil hat on. Hey, is that a tiny black helicopter I can hear whirring away next to my ear?

23 July 2008

Interesting Article: Long Meeting Battle Cries

Interesting Article from You may want to consider shouting one of these out when attending frustrating (or boring) meetings.

  • 1. "This is where we fight! This is where they die!"
    King Leonidas

    In 300, the king of Sparta uses this catchy jingle to rally his troops against the Persians. It scores big points for clarity, but it really gets a boost when 300 Spartans shout "HA-OOH!" in response.

  • 2. "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"
    Sergeant Major Daniel Daly

    Besieged and outnumbered at the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood, Daly egged on his men with a rhetorical question — and it actually worked. So well that Johnny Rico reused the line in Starship Troopers.

  • 3. "By the power of Greyskull ... I have the powerrr!!!"

    Prince Adam needs a thesaurus. His catchphrase is repetitive and vague (the power to do what, exactly?), but it's all about delivery: Props to him for managing to say it with conviction in a Speedo.

  • 4. "Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over till we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"

    The Animal House call to arms transcends its historical imprecision by appealing to the brotherhood of all men and, by implication, the universal desire to get tanked wearing a bedsheet. Toga! Toga!

  • 5. "From my cold, dead hands!"
    Charlton Heston

    The NRA spokesperson and president didn't invent this slogan, but when he uttered the phrase in a primal, throaty growl while brandishing a musket over his head at the group's 2000 convention, it made the leap from bumper sticker to battle cry.

  • 6. "Tulta munille!" (Fire at their balls!)"
    Finnish troops

    In Väinö Linna's World War II novel The Unknown Soldier, the Finnish hollered this easy-to-remember directive, masterfully exploiting castration anxiety.

  • 7. "Carthago delenda est!" (Carthage must be destroyed!)
    Cato the Elder

    Back around 157 BC, the Roman statesman worked this imperative into all of his speeches on the senate floor. He also dropped it cold at toga parties and around town until the Third Punic War finally kicked off. Sound familiar?

  • 8. "Leeeroy Jennnkins!"
    Leeroy Jenkins

    This machinima avatar is immortalized among the World of Warcraft crowd for plunging into battle shouting his own nom de guerre while his comrades dawdled on the sidelines overthinking their strategy.

  • 9. "I am the Love Angel, I am Wedding Peach, and I am very angry with you!"
    Wedding Peach

    In her eponymous manga and anime, the poor girl has to juggle a demanding junior high schedule while fighting an endless variety of devils. She didn't ask to be the Love Angel. It makes you wonder why her cry is so mildly worded and tempered with ambivalence.

  • 10. "Today is a good day to die!"

    This badass race cherry-picked its maxim from the Sioux for its counterintuitive melding of both negative and positive thinking — a brand of logic sure to befuddle Spock.

20 July 2008

Movie: Definitely, Maybe

So there I was, at home, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, wondering what to do.

I decided to get to watching some of the movies I'd had stored up for just such a day. The movie I picked was Definitely, Maybe starring Ryan Reynolds, Rachel Weisz, and Abigail Breslin.

Now, I wasn't really expecting much. From what I'd heard, it was your basic romantic comedy about a guy telling his young daughter about the previous women in his life. And so it was, yet it was SO MUCH MORE. Well, at least it was more, anyway.

Obviously, I really liked it.

It felt a lot like How I Met Your Mother, only less funny, more serious, and with a great little twist near the end. I'd heartily encourage one and all to watch this movie. Check it out today!