It’s Easier To Stay Away

So, it’s been pretty quiet around here, yeah? My fault, of course; I’m the sole proprietor of this little corner of teh intarwebz. There are a lot of things I could blame for my recent lack of personal responsibility, a state that extends far beyond just not blogging for a while.

I could say that the double punch of rolling from another grueling NaNoWriMo right into “having an Xbox One” ended up being a lethal blow to my personal productivity. Why sit down and try to write something when there are so many games to play? Dragon Age: Inquisition alone took about a month to play, although that was because I took my time with it and sipped slowly, savoring each story progression quest like a fine wine. I still have Titanfall (shoot things as a giant robot!) and Destiny (shoot things with space magic!), not to mention that I finally tried MineCraft for the first time, even though this puts me a few years behind everyone else in the world.

If there’s a more deadly game to one’s productivity than MineCraft, I don’t know what it is. Last night, I intended to relax and play for half an hour before going to bed; and then suddenly, it’s 1:30 am and I’m halfway through the construction of an underwater glass tunnel. Why am I building an underwater glass tunnel? BECAUSE UNDERWATER GLASS TUNNEL.

I could say that all of those fun things are the reason why my blog went stagnant, I stopped updating my budget, and failed to really do anything outside of going to work. But that’s not the real reason. I could also say that, well, basically I’m a video game addict and so it’s my addiction’s fault, but I’m hesitant of using the word “addiction” so freely. There’s a much more appropriate word, in my opinion: escapism.

It’s easier to escape into a virtual world. It’s smooth and it’s easy and it’s fun. The problem is that you tell yourself you’re just going to take one quick dip into the abyss, just stick your toe in a little, but the abyss doesn’t want to let you go. Its pull is slow and steady and sure. And once you’re in up to your knee, suddenly the fact that you haven’t written anything, anything for four weeks feels like too much failure to overcome. What would I write about at this point? Sorry for not writing? I hate posts like that. A blog that fills up with “I promise to write more” is a blog that’s already on life support.

It’s easier just to stay in the abyss.

I write this because I’ve learned to come up from those depths. It was World of WarCraft during my undergrad years that taught me the importance of actually attending to my own life, although sadly it was a lesson that took much longer than a month over the holidays to learn. But I did learn it, even if sometimes it’s easy to slide back down.

It’s not a New Year’s resolution. I’m not resolving to write more often, exercise more, play fewer games, worker harder on my budget and paying down my student loan debt. This is just a moment in time; a realization that I am an escapist and like so many facets of one’s personality, there is a dark side as well as a light one. Realizing it is the only way I know how to keep it in check.

Facebook Bought Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift was one of those things that made me feel like a revolution in gaming was on the horizon.  I admit that lately, I’ve been feeling a little unenthused by what’s out there. I haven’t felt a compelling reason to buy any of the new generation of consoles. I’m mostly playing MMOs, one of which originally launched in 2004. Everything coming out lately just feels like it’s been more of the same old thing.

I wrote about the Oculus Rift before and how excited I was by the potential. The prospect of a true VR experience is still the main reason to be excited even though I haven’t yet been able to play with the machine without getting terrible motion sickness. I’m hoping the final product with correct that. Almost as exciting, though, was the way the Oculus Rift was brought into the world: it began through Kickstarter. It was funded by the excitement of its fans and developed on the back of that grassroots-level enthusiasm.

And then Facebook bought them.

I understand how the developers could be willing to sell their baby to the megalithic Facebook. If somebody waved $2 billion dollars in my direction, I would do the same thing. I might even do it for less, like say . . . $1 billion. There’d be room to negotiate, is my point.

Less exciting, however, is the idea that the Oculus is now in the hands of Facebook.

Yes, I use Facebook. This blog will get a large portion of its traffic from the automatically generated link that appears in my Facebook feed. I use it but I don’t love it. I don’t even like it.

I use it because that’s what’s there and it’s where people are. It functions for its purpose and it has enough inertia behind it to prevent other, better products from gaining much ground (Google+ would get my vote, even though nobody uses it very often, including me).

Notch, the creator of MineCraft, sums up his own feelings about this disappointment quite well:

Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.

Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?

But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.

I should note that this doesn’t mean the Oculus Rift is ruined forever. It might still be a great platform. It does mean that I’m considerably more skeptical now than I was before I read this announcement. Facebook isn’t a company that inspires a lot of confidence in me. Like Notch says in his post, their motives are unclear and shifting, their platform has been unstable, and there’s nothing about their history that says “yeah, I trust them to get this right.” Every indication of Facebook seems to indicate that it’s been a wild success in spite of itself.  One needs only look back at the Facebook IPO debacle for a reminder.

The fact that the Oculus Rift sold for $2 billion dollars before it even hit the shelves sits poorly with me for another reason. Let’s go back to 2006.

The Nintendo Wii hit the world with the force of a hurricane. I was still working at GameStop at this time so I endured the full wrath of desperate consumers looking to buy the system for the holidays. I remember how motion controls were suddenly the thing in gaming and Microsoft and Sony scrambled to have their own answers.

But eight years later, what’s the state of motion control? A gimmick past its prime, if sales of the Wii U are any indication.

What happens to VR if the Oculus Rift doesn’t live up to its $2 billion worth of expectation? Will any of the competing products on the horizon be there to take up the crown or will the disappointment set VR gaming back another decade?

I think it would have been better for gaming, for VR, and for the Oculus Rift itself is this hadn’t happened. It would have been fun to see how far the grassroots momentum generated by the Kickstarter could have carried this thing.

I guess we’ll never know.