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The Starving Nerd

Featured post Not pictured: the screaming, the weeping, the begging of the internetless man

They call them RSS feeds for a reason. They’re literal nourishment-via-infoflow, and my brain has come all-too accustomed to a continual piecemeal digestion of pop culture via several dozen feeds. It’s now been cut off for the best part of two weeks, which goes some way to explaining the lack of Jim Rossignol-authored posts on this here Rock, Paper, Shotgun. But it’s worse than that: I’m fairly sure that I’ve suffered more than simple discomfort of the attention-span in the passing days – it’s far closer to come kind of physiological deficit, like the hunger meat-eaters get if suddenly forced to live on nothing but cereal and apples. Genuine sustenance seems beyond my reach. I hunger, and like the hobo I am, I’ve been squatting in other people’s offices, leeching off their wifi and stealing their leftover savegames out of the recycle bin. (Not really, but I wanted to run with the analogy.) Anyway…
Moving house is the worst thing that can happen.

I’ve spent days struggling with the idea of not simply being able to play Team Fortress 2, or log into Eve Online, or download half a dozen freeware tidbits every afternoon. Needless to say, the first thing I did was start up Steam in offline mode and begin to play as many single-player games as I could digest. Episode 2 was replayed: I was surprised how much of it I’d forgotten – that second encounter with the Hunters is brilliant, but for some reason my girlfriend didn’t seem to care. Hitman Blood Money was dusted off to slake my virtual bloodlust, and Portal was replayed in a morning. Ah, chuckles. My cats didn’t appreciate the funny voices of the turrets. Before long I’d started a new grand campaign in Medieval 2, this time as a Venetians. I’m meticulously constructing my Empire, taking the time to make each battle a thing of textbook legend. If only Brian Blessed could see me now.

I read a book and now I’ve started another. It’s horrible.

All this has been an open window into my psyche: an illustration of just how I’ve been deformed by the way I supply myself with both entertainment and information. Not having Wikipedia as an outboard brain makes me feel like part of me has died. Where are my answers now? Where are all the screenshots of games I will never play? Where is the instant access to new stuff?

Another friend, who had also been forced offline over the past week, described the disconnection from Mother Net as “liberating”. I couldn’t disagree more: it’s stifling. Getting information out of books that were written five years ago (and don’t respond to CRTL-F) is excruciating. Steven Shaviro is dead right when when he says that “virtual” was the wrong dominant adjective for the information age: it should have been prosthetic. Networked computing is an extended brain, and a prosthetic eye, ear, mouth…

It’s the gaming side of this that stings the most, however. By Shaviro’s reasoning, games aren’t virtual places, they’re prosthetic extensions to imagination. They’re still there, on my PC and my Xbox, but rattling around on my own in my Oblivion castle is terribly lonely. Not being able to immediately be gaming with other people in Xbox Live is disheartening and boring. Games now seem like nothing if they’re not shared. (Did anyone here see Ste and others talk about this topic in Malmo recently?) Now disconnected, I can’t download a terribly translated demo and then blog about its awfulness, I can’t share a link to an awesome shooter with thousands of you out there. I can’t log into Eve and hear my colleagues grumble about the awful brokenness of any old mechanism in the game…

Right now, from the perspective of The Disconnected, gaming feels like it has entered a golden age. And I’m missing out.

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Jim Rossignol

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