Being Addicted to Fallout 4

In the past, I have written about playing video games to cope with depression. I basically love 4 kinds of games:

  1. Open world RPGs with various factions, families, and morality systems (like Skyrim or Fable)
  2. First-Person Shooters with engaging single player stories (like Half-Life)
  3. Farm management games with community, friendship, and/or romance dynamics (like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley)
  4. Tower Defense games where you manage funds/materials/etc to build steadily stronger fortresses
  5. Pretty much anything where you have robot minions

Fallout 4 is basically a turducken of these various game elements. It’s pretty much the most addictive thing I have ever encountered. Imagine a dish made by the guys from Epic Meal Time, using only ingredients provided by the guys from Breaking Bad. Fallout 4 is basically things I like about Skyrim, dialed up to 11.

I picked up the full Fallout 4 suite on a ridiculous Steam sale a few months ago, and I have spent pretty much all of my non-sleeping, non-working, and non-child-rearing hours playing it. I know the game is like 5 years old. My gaming hardware is also 5 years old. Fight me.

In Skyrim, I loved helping kids and dogs. I basically forgot about the dragons and focused on amassing gold in order to build a house for everyone. Then it turned out that Lucia is afraid of the swamp where I built the house, so I had to win a civil war for her so we can live in peace and safety in Windhelm.

Well, in Fallout 4, not only are you searching for your lost son, you meet Dogmeat within the first 10 minutes and he’s way more bad ass than Meeko. I did a ton of work to ensure that Dogmeat was safe at Sanctuary Hills, under the watchful eyes of Codsworth, while I searched for Shaun.

Another thing I loved about Skyrim was meeting, marrying, and traveling with Mjoll the Lioness. She was a total bad ass, and so she and her dude Aerin come to live with me, the kids, the dog, and the House Carl in some kind of weird Nordic polyamory version of The Brady Bunch.

Well, in Fallout 4, I was able to seduce Preston. We took on the raiders, ferals, and supermutants of the commonwealth while building settlements together. *Then* I was also able to seduce Piper, Curie, and Hancock. I was like some kind of post-nuke/pan-sexual version of Captain Kirk, getting in fights with and/or boning robots and shit. Again, taking something I liked from Skyrim and turning the volume up to 11.

As much as the memes liked to dunk on Preston for never shutting up about helping settlements, settlements fucking rule. Which is the other way that Fallout 4 got me: Building. Fucking. Farms. I set up a bunch of settlements, planted crops to feed the settlers, and built shacks and shit for them to live in. Oh, and I surrounded them with automated turrets. There’s nothing greater than hearing on the radio that a settlement needs help, just to fast travel there and watch the attackers get shredded by my sentries.

Life in The Commonwealth is much easier when you have large supplies of ammunition and caps. A holdover from my Skyrim days is my tendency to sneak about, shooting targets from a distance. My survivor is a decent sniper, but he really only gets to clip a couple of targets at proper sniper range. After that, he has to creep up a bit closer. My preferred weapon while closing this gap is a custom .308 combat rifle that I call “Quickshot.” It’s great for putting things down with two or three rounds, and it’s silenced. If I have time to line up a headshot I can put most things down with one round. The problem is that .308 ammo is kind of rare so I am constantly purchasing it. One way to make lots of caps and to buy ammo at a discount is to set up vendors at the various settlements. I put up a weapons emporium and I can usually buy 50-100 rounds of .308 every couple of days. Every time I come to a settlement to drop off salvage, I hit up the emporium for .308, .50 cal, and shotgun shells. I tend to hoard .45 and 5.56mm to hand out to settlers that work security.

Another luxury item to have is large amounts of salvage. Most vendors will let you buy large shipments of salvage for a thousand or more caps. When you are maxing out the defenses of a settlement, or building lots of robots, you tend to run low on aluminum, steel, and oil. One way I get steady access to lots salvage is to set up trading emporium at my settlements as well. This lets me buy salvage in bulk. One particular item that you need tons of is adhesive. You can craft vegetable starch at a cooking station by combining corn, mutfruit, and tatoes. So putting folks to work farming these items at your settlements is important. Once you have a large supply of vegetable starch, you can sell off the excess that appears in your workshops. Once your local traders are out of caps, you can go to the Diamond City Market to unload the rest. If you set up a clinic, you can also buy bloodpacks which you will need to make stimpaks. Depending on your selection of perks, you can keep your survivor going on just stimpaks.

The other advantage of numerous settlements is provisioners. With the Local Leader perk, you can add a settler to a trade route. This lets you share the salvage that you have with all of your trading settlements. Provisioners will then walk the roads between their trading settlements on a regular basis. Obviously, this is very handy for building out new settlement, or for getting supplies to smaller settlements, but there are two other advantages:

  1. If you find a provisioner out in the wild, you can dump any excess items or salvage on them, and the items will eventually find their way to a settlement workshop.
  2. If you arm and armor a provisioner, he or she will engage the random spawns that happen out on the road, making The Commonwealth a tiny bit safer for you and your other settlements. I tend to use Sanctuary Hills and The Castle as my main trading hubs. It’s funny when a random attack happens on one of these places when there are half a dozen traders standing around. It’s like having extra security. Building custom arms and armor for provisioners and settlement security is a good way to safely earn XP as well.

The morality system is fairly strict as well. I have rolled back a game more than once because I chose poorly at a critical juncture. I will go back through and play the other way, as a bad guy or whatever, at some point. I must have played through Skyrim a dozen times trying to create the perfect play thru, or at least as perfect as I can get it before something bugs out 🙂

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The Great Big Thing(tm): Lost Religion Edition

One of the unique ideas posed by “Hypernormalization” is the contrast between John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace and William Gibson’s Neuromancer where corporate networks control all commerce in secret. For most of my adult life, I have always been able to reconcile both ideas: that the compulsion of corporations to amass data in secret – which translates to wealth and power – and the duty of hackers to expose it, and for pirates to redistribute it. I was comfortable with the idea of the gentrified surface web was a front for the deep web (not necessarily the dark web), where the real shit gets done. Lately, I feel like I have lost that faith in… pretty much all of it.

Over the years, the struggle hasn’t just been about The Web. As software consumes more and more of our lives, there is no real difference between life at the keyboard and away from it. Most of us carry at least one Internet-connected computer our person most of the time; before you know it, it’s no longer going to be the Internet of Things, it’s going to be Software Defined Existence. Before I get all singularity on this, I want to call attention to the idea that advocacy for privacy and free speech, and against copyright and surveillance is rapidly becoming less about protecting people’s online lives and more about protecting “the real world” from being eaten by shitty software. I feel like I fought hard against Things That Suck on the Internet, just to have all of those things spill out into my daily physical life.

There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from

My life as a hacker, a pirate, and a crypto-anarchist has always centered on the belief that I was part of a movement that was changing things. I knew that the corporations and governments would do their best to to turn the Web into “TV with a BUY button.” But, I also knew that people like me would keep Barlow’s “Home Of Mind” alive by resisting that gentrification at every turn. There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from, and I was part of a kind of “Fifth Column” of pro-privacy, anti-copyright, and pro-free expression dissidents, rallying others to fight that war. The people like me were the tip of the spear, but there were also larger and mainstream forces at work. Mainstream forces like Silicon Valley were also doing the pushing. Sure, Google and Facebook were slowly eating our privacy for their own ends, but that was just the surface. Deep below the surface, the hackers, the pirates, and the crypto-anarchists were all keeping it real.

Lately I can’t help but feel like that is no longer the case. Silicon Valley *is* the Gentrified Web. It’s Google Safe Search. It’s the Facebook news feed.. It’s Amazon’s Choice for buying cheap plastic shit. It’s using Instagram to post pictures of the things that we love most: ourselves, at the expense of the things that matter the most: everyone else. Silicon Valley betrayed us. It was bad enough that Hollywood tricked us into working jobs that we hate to buy shit that we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like. Silicon Valley has managed to weaponize that very same cocktail of envy and ennui to the point that we are living under the tyranny that is Fear Of Missing Out. The revolution is over. The good guys lost. Nothing left to do now but take a bunch of Xanax and watch American Idol on television watch clips of other people going to Coachella on your phone.

Occupy Wall Street and the Anti-SOPA movement were the peak. It got everyone organized, but no one could get their minds around the idea of a real conversation between real people. They can’t do it because no one can really imagine anything other than submission to the same old power of the centrally planned, corporate-sponsored, government state. Big Tech is just going to keep doing the same old rent-seeking and extraction-capitalism that everyone else has done for centuries. Big Tech isn’t revolutionary. It’s evolutionary. They will keep doing it because no one has any idea what something else looks like. Revolutions have been fought, but the infection of the old tyranny persists. The broken machine will stay broken; it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the drivers’ seat.

I don’t got time for your petty thinking mind, son. I’m bigger than those…

I guess that this is the essence of The Great Big Thing(tm): that it doesn’t matter what you do, you are part of it. If you support these broken systems, you are part of it. If you fight the broken systems, you are *still* part of it. There is no “capital T” Truth, there is just the pro-machine propaganda locked in a scorched-earth conflict with the anti-machine propaganda. No one can see a way around it; everyone just seeks to stabilize it. The thing is, it won’t stabilize – because it’s broken. Broken systems do not function as designed. They malfunction.

For every good thing the hacker community does, there are these epic dramas between [fragile] egos, and the [toxic] cliques built around those egos. It’s exhausting to be part of it. Part of washing out of Facebook was also washing out of the hacker community. I just don’t have any more patience for dorks with Asperger’s syndrome failing at interacting with other dorks. It’s a lot of talking, and not a lot of hacking. There are a few people out there (most of them female, BTW) that are doing things, but for the most part it’s 10% doing something once, and then 90% holding court. I just can’t do it anymore.

The Great Big Thing(tm): Reductio Ad Absurdum Editium

I did my best in a previous rant to point out the [possibly malicious] polarization of the national conversation. I tried to express my concern over the simplification of complex ideas into rhetorically convenient narratives. Unfortunately, my self-righteousness got the better of me and I don’t think I quite captured that the heart of the issue is a reduction of ideas. This essay really captures the issue for me without needing to watch 3 hours of Adam Curtis documentaries to achieve understanding. In essence, the essay likens the focus by Western Society on [predatory] exponential financial gain to the mutation of cells into a form of cancer:

Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers. Healthy cells regulate their growth and respond to their surroundings, even eliminating themselves if they wander into an organ where they don’t belong. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, optimize for unconstrained growth and spread with disregard to their function or context.

Reducing the American experiment down to unfettered corporate growth is a gross reduction of ideas. Reducing ideas essentially reduces people. Reducing humanity down to statistics is dangerous because it eliminates most, if not all, of the complexity that makes humanity so different from everything else. I did a fair amount of whining about the hypocrisy of our polarized media landscape without talking about how absurd it is to reduce people down to being cogs in a machine. I have touched on this idea in the past pondering the nature of freedom. This reduction is absurd because the idea of advancing one ideology (which is really just a subset of human struggle) at the expense of another ideology (which is itself another subset of human struggle) is basically pitting half of society against the other half, while deliberately ignoring everything that they have in common.

Rejecting absurdity means embracing irreconcilable ideas

Much like the geardo cargo cult that worships gun culture, there is another cargo cult that worships technology. Much like the cult of the gun that has no real concept of military doctrine, the cult of code has no real concept of software engineering. Just like guns are falsely ascribed the power to help realize white-male-power fantasies, math is also falsely ascribed the power to achieve techno-Utopian fantasies. I understand how seductive both kinds of fantasies can be. The cult of the gun seeks to take control over the violent chaos that threatens to destroy so much. The cult of code wants to cede control to powerful algorithms that promise logic and objectivity and free us from the responsibility of making hard choices. The gun can’t protect you from an uncaring universe, and algorithms just crystallize the biases of their creators.

The desire to take control from those we perceive to be tyrants and to give control over to systems we believe to be objective is a paradox. Like the idea of a benevolent dictator or a truly free market, the perfect system is a great idea that always fails when implemented. Any complex system, be it an economy or a social network, was engineered by people to be used by other people. Engineers are as flawed and fallible as anyone else ergo the systems they build will also be flawed. End users aren’t the sheep that engineers wish that they were. Any imperfect thing (i.e. all things) will eventually be misused by someone with an understanding of its flaws. This isn’t hacker self-righteousness, just look at all of the government programs that get defrauded or the tax increases that billionaires find ways of avoiding. These are flawed systems designed by people that other people have chosen to capitalize on. It doesn’t matter how much time, effort, and money you put into developing a system, someone will invest more in order to exploit it.

The problem with both cults is that neither the gun nor the algorithm is a substitute for humanity, nor is either a hedge against tyranny. In fact, with frightening frequency, both tools harm humanity and encourage tyranny. Guns empower tyrants and are mostly brought to bear against the innocent. Computers empower the reduction of ideas down to data sets, where they confine us to platforms run by big corporations, another form of tyranny. The AK-47 was supposed to be a Communist gift to liberate oppressed peoples, but they mostly got used by death squads. Facebook was supposed to help us to connect with each other, but it mostly pits us against each other while shady marketers peddle divisive media for money and political influence.

Like most of my pseudo-intellectual deep thoughts, the thought began with watching an Adam Curtis documentary but is became fully actualized by watching Rick and Morty. The Adam Curtis idea, that there is a “positive liberty” which is born out of violent struggle, and a “negative liberty” which is born out of apathy. In Rick and Morty, Rick is the epitome of both the gun and the code cults. He has all the weaponry and all the technology, yet most of what he uses it for is to allow himself to get drunk and watch TV. He literally sells a gun to an assassin so he has enough money to spend the day at an arcade. He gets involved with all manner of epic adventures, mostly so he can be an asshole to everyone close to him. He is forever ridiculing the beliefs of others, yet he believes in nothing.

This is probably where I should look to the Asian philosophies I studied as part of my martial arts training should come into play, but Confucianist parables and Taoist paradoxes just aren’t the right medicine for this species existential dread. I’m pretty fucking far from being an Uncarved Stone and trusting the process. If anything, I am an *over* carved stone, and the process is light years away from trustworthy.

The Great Big Thing(tm): Nazi Bullshit Edition

I have been unable to write for a while now, and so I figured I would just write about not being able to write. That ended up being this long rambling screed about my frustration with my friends and family over their obtusely two-dimensional socio-political views. It came across really angsty and disjointed. Then all this Nazi bullshit happened and I just kind of retreated again.

Getting into the Nazi thing is kind of a waste of my time. I’ve dealt with Nazis in one form or another for most of my early adult life. I had a few clashes with Nazi skins when I was a teenage punk, and when I went into the military I clashed with a few more in the US and in Germany. Beefing with German skins was weird. What I didn’t realize, was how prevalent these hard right-wing white power types were in the Ohio National Guard. I had a squad mate that was an ex-skin and he and a few like him were treating their Guard service as free training for their race war. They were conservative gun nuts prepping for a “Shit Hitting The Fan” scenario. This was in the late 90’s. I know these dudes didn’t go anywhere, they just got pushed into silence by polite society, and the specter of a global Islamic Jihad deflected the world’s attention from them. I figured that at some point those dudes would get their lives together, but not only did they not, I guess they all had kids?

I spent a lot of time with these dudes; I got to know them. One guy hated blacks because he was divorced and his wife was dating black dudes. Another was raised to be that way by his father who was a blue collar guy who got laid off in some recession and he blamed immigrants. All of it just sounded like fear and weakness to me. These guys hate people of color because people of color have the power to make them feel inferior. Good job Master Race! You’re doing a great job! It’s no different than those “nice guys” that hate women because women have the power to make them feel lonely and pathetic. It’s ironic when you think about it, white supremacy threatens the lives of so many, yet all it does is protect the egos of a few. Also, these dudes go on and on about liberty, but they are the worst sort of authoritarian apologists.

Maybe I am lucky to have more than one identity, or I’m just lucky that my identity isn’t threatened by women or minorities. Being a geek is a pretty white identity, but it’s not like John Boyega, Gal Gadot, or Rochelle are going to take that away from me. Glenn from The Walking Dead can kill all the zombies and bed all the white women he wants, it doesn’t affect me in any way. The same goes for female Ghostbusters, Daisy Ridley or Imperator Furiosa.

One thing that this new Nazi bullshit did was cause more debate about the First Amendment. The Intercept was nice enough to illustrate my point about how controlling hate speech ends up suppressing progressives, which confirms my bias on these things and helps me feel a little vindicated.

The other thing about Nazi bullshit that pisses me off is that it takes so much Nazi related self-aware/ironic humor off the table. You can’t deliberately invoke Godwin’s Law anymore. You can’t dismiss Xbros as “Filthy Console Peasants”. I have to work so much harder to be simultaneously pretentious and fake-edgy. It’s BULLSHIT.

What disturbs me the most about all this Nazi bullshit isn’t the presence of White Power. You can’t police thought, so you can’t eliminate hate. It’s the lack of conscience on display from leaders of all kinds. Of course the President had nothing to say, those Fashy creeps put him into office, but what about basically everyone else? A bunch of corporations took a stand, and that is probably the worst possible result. They’re Nazis For Fuck’s Sake. They are literally the worst human beings there are. The USA fought a war against them. They’re the definition of an easy target. There will never be any collateral damage when you take a swing at them. They are literally Hitler, literally. When the organizations whose General Counsel advises them against any course of action, any course of action that a corporation ends up taking is the absolute least that could be done. Where in the fuck is everyone else?

My lamentations about corporate power also seem to have been vindicated a little, again thanks to The Intercept. I get that we as a country have lost faith in the political process, but corporate oligarchy is not the answer. Let’s not forget that no one served any time for crashing the economy in 2008. Let’s not forget that everyone looked the other way in the interest of keeping “the system” stable. What else are we going to look the other way on? Using a private army to violate the civil liberties of a group of indigenous people? Those people aren’t white, BTW. Just thought somebody should know that.

UPDATE: This:

Video Games and Depression

Ispidey_skyrim have battled with clinical depression for most of my adult life. The primary reason that I have maintained a weblog in one form or another is that writing is one of the ways that I deal with my depression. I also play video games. Writing and exercise are positive things that help me to feel productive. Video games are a tricky balance. In moderation, gaming helps me vent frustrations, much like exercise does. If I am not careful, however, gaming can go off the rails, and become basically the only thing that I do, outside of the bare essentials like not getting fired from work and keeping the children alive.

About 12 years ago I was working this horrible job as a help desk agent, taking borderline abusive tech support calls from cognitively-impaired corporate lusers. I was completely miserable and when I started playing Asheron’s Call, I slipped into full-blown video game addiction. My work day consisted of working on auto-pilot while surfing Maggie the Jackcat’s website for quests to run and items to craft. I would then stay up all night running various toons through said quests, and crafting said items. I even wrote a blog chronicling my adventures. It was pathetic 🙂 Then suddenly, I burned out on AC and when I stopped playing, I suddenly realized how miserable I was at work, and invested my energy into finding a new job.

A few years later, I got into City of Heroes pretty seriously. I was especially into multi-boxing and at one point, I was running 8 toons at once. Multiboxing turned my altaholism into a superpower. While I logged many hours playing CoH, it was not nearly as life-consuming as AC.

Today, my drug of choice is Skyrim. In many ways it’s less compelling than an MMO, but the story has caused me to have more than a few spiritual and philosophical reflections. One idea in particular is the attitude of many NPCs that the prophecy of the return of the dragons makes the end of the world a foregone conclusion. In the context of the game, if you are going to affect change, you are fighting not only dragons and undead, you are also fighting a culture of apocalyptic pessimism. As a parable for combating depression, I can’t think of a better interactive story.

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