The Starving Nerd

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.


  1. Feet says:

    I feel your pain.

    Not literally of course, I’m on the net right now and came to this post through the RSS feed.



  2. Colthor says:

    But don’t you find you get so much more done without the ability to sit staring at a browser window, hammering F5 in the hope that something will change?

    Maybe that’s just me.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s not.


  4. Sideath says:

    I just started using RSS feeds *properly* last week (with a feedreader and everything), and godammit, it’s addictive.

  5. Okami says:

    That sound pretty pathetic, Jim. Now please excuse me, I have to hammer [F5], hoping that people will post funny comments here.

  6. Gap Gen says:

    Game ports are blocked on my connection. Feel my pain.

  7. Jonas says:

    My connection also went out last Wednesday only to return arbitrarily and without warning yesterday, and over that relatively brief period of net-deprivation, I became increasingly impatient and short-tempered. It was actually a bit frightening. You might think it’s good that I was forced to do a lot of healthy stuff instead of just refreshing my feed reader every 10 minutes, but the problem is in the “forced” part. It was a really frustrating experience.

    So I feel your pain, Jim. Oh and also yeah, I saw Ste and co. in Malmö, it was probably the most memorable presentation of the conference, narrowly beating the Rock Band demo. The nameless poet on the tape recorder… it wasn’t Kieron, was it?

  8. Feet says:

    I’d have to resubscribe to games magazines if I didn’t have the internet. In the last few years my “dependance” on forums and websites of gaming and non-gaming variety has wained, but I still feel disconnected if I don’t get a chance to check on things for a day or two.

    I just wish I’d had access to wikipedia when I was in school and college, I know you can’t reference or quote it or whatever but it would have been wonderful to have it there to get facts and other references.

  9. The Shed says:

    The ‘prosthetic’ point is a good one- you get used to having your nerves stretched accross the internet to all sorts of interesting niches, and then when these limbs are amputated, it feels mentally aggravating and mind-numbing. However, after a while of not being plugged-in, I found myself doing far more interesting things, and using every moment of each day properly. Now I’m back home, study for an exam tomorrow is all but out the window, so I’m forcing myself offline right now-

  10. Nuyan says:

    I’m still surprised there are so many people out there that don’t follow 200+ blogs/sites with RSS Feeds, they really don’t know what they’re missing out on.

    As for game-magazines. I read one yesterday and threw it away after a few minutes because of it’s awfulness, while it was one of my favorites a few years ago. I’m spoiled really.

  11. phuzz says:

    I’m not sure what I’d do if our internet was cut off again (bar leaching off next door’s open wifi like last time), I might have to watch tv or something :(
    Mind you, haven’t you moved to london Jim? Surely there’s someone too simple to encrypt their wireless close enough to you?
    (although that’s stealing so don’t do it mmkay)

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    Phuzz: I’m the one who’s moved to London. Jim has moved to somewhere outside Bath which is populated by hobbits.


  13. wcaypahwat says:

    Yeah, umm…. I don’t have an internet connection. Not a real one, attached to my PC. I have to read sites on my phone. My game shopping habits are based around the question, “what’s good single-player?”. I buy the local PC games mag every month to find out what’s good (its a decent read, too). So yeah, It feels like im living in total isolation sometimes. Or the dark ages.

  14. Alec Meer says:

    And I’m a Hobbit still living in Bath.

  15. phuzz says:

    oh, Somerset, that explains everything then :)

    (in bristol meself, but grew up in the wilds of gloucestershire so I know the no-bandwidth pain)

  16. Ryan says:

    I feel your pain. There is nothing worse than boredom and loneliness. Gaming has to transcend into something that connects us to other humans and not only extends our imagination, but expands it. There is SO much potential in gaming if only we stopped chancing the dollar and started expressing the human condition.

    As far as “Not being able to immediately be gaming with other people in Xbox Live is disheartening and boring.”. I promise you, we’re working on it.

    lessons in brevity:

  17. Lars Balker Rasmussen says:

    As for game magazines, I’m continually amazed that Edge can still print massive articles with tons of pictures, of which neither info nor images have shown up anywhere on the nets. Like that memorable Mirrors Edge article loooooong before anything showed up anywhere else.

    Still almost feels like when you were a kid reading every article in the new Zzap!64…

  18. Yhancik says:

    I feel your pain too. But I don’t think it’s specific to the Connection. I’ve been, in art school, sometimes forced to work with “real” materials. I can see the virtues of this, but it was a pain to work without CTRL-Z (btw check your CRTL key :p).
    It’s not just the Interwebz, but the whole machine that is an extension of our brain and nerves.
    Its connectivity to an always changing collective mind is just a feature – maybe the most incredible, addictive, fascinating one.

    [suggested background music : Arpanet – Devoid Of Wires ;)]


    Now maybe I haven’t played much online (indeed, I haven’t), but I don’t feel *that* lonely in offline games. Or I do, but that’s what I’m looking for (=Stalker).
    I’ve never over-enjoyed playing with strangers, in a way they become just flesh-fed AIs to me (or stupid morons). I love playing with friends, but you have to be online at the same time, want to play at the same time, or decide of a schedule, etc.. it’s restrictive, too much for me (a bit like television is – i don’t watch that thing).

    Now I’m sure videogames can benefit from that always changing collective mind. In some asynchronous way. Like the Intertubes. I think Will Wright has something in that spirit ;)

  19. Biggles says:

    Yeah, these cravings are increasingly becoming a serious problem for me. I only wish there was some way of separating the bits of the internet I need for work from the massive black hole of temptation and distraction that is the rest of it…

  20. G says:

    After moving recently I was disconnected from the internet for about a month and a half. I found myself opening firefox purely out of habit whilst sat at my computer listening to mp3s. And playing a lot of freecell. Very worrying.

  21. The Shed says:

    Good call about it not just being the internets Yhancik, I guess I was referring to the tendons of knowledge finding we send out, not just how we use computers. Yeah; I’m back again…

  22. terry says:

    *Your connection sits down and starts singing about gold*

    edit for mystifying quotes usage

  23. tacticus says:

    You know my collected rss subscriptions accumulate around 200 posts on a slow day i fear what will happen to it (and my mind but i actually like reading books(working off a laptop will probably be worse) when i spend 3 days driving and another 2 weeks waiting for flat\internet :|

  24. Zuffox says:

    tacticus: That’s why you should use Google Reader, which has an offline reading feature. :)

  25. tacticus says:

    zuffox i do :)

  26. The Shed says:

    Whoa nelly!

    Imagine missing out on that snippet due to lack of internet connection!

  27. Valentin Galea says:

    I gots an ideee! Lets all share our RSS feeds!:)
    Giant OPML RPS exchange!

  28. Pace says:

    Okami; you’ve inspired me to post my favorite limerick, even though it’s got fuck all to do with anything.

    There was a lady who triplets begat
    Nat, Pat and Tat
    It was fun breeding
    But trouble feeding
    Cause she didn’t have a tit for Tat.

    (found it somewhere on the net) Woohoo web2.0!

  29. the_apologist says:

    I only really play single player games, and I am worried it is because I am broken inside.

    I might try and forcefeed myself an MMO to retrain my brain. What’s the best one to start off with?

  30. LSTAR says:

    I started using GoogleReader properly a few weeks ago, and now I’m terrified of weekends and holidays… I return to my computer after an extended absence and find a couple of hundred posts… There’s so much information being generated every day that it’s almost humanly impossible to keep up with it! But, by God, I try.

  31. CitizenErazed says:

    I think it’s an example of how ‘connected’ I am that I have a PC in my livingroom and when buying a new phone the only feature I was interested in was Wi-Fi connectivity (it’s the same reason I still carry my PSP out of habit, the Wi-Fi connectivity is incredibly useful). I generally follow four or five RSS feeds, and no matter what I’m doing (watching a film, playing t’360, playing a game on my gaming PC, whatever) I impusively check four or five forums and five or six websites every ten minutes, JUST IN CASE.

    I play single player games, team-based multiplayer games and MMOs in almost equal measure, and all of them appeal to me in different ways.

  32. Chaz says:

    So what is an RSS feed anyway, and should I really care?

    But yeah I always get internet and computer game withdrawl, especially when I go on holiday. I can be in a beautiful paradise full of historical interest, sunny beaches and beautifull women. And after three days all I can think about is getting back home to play that game I’ve not bothered with for the last eight months, and to catch up on the posts on my regular forums.

    The worst part is when you get back it’s all a big let down. The forums are just full of the same old shit they always are, and you never do play that game again. Makes you wonder at the point of it all.

    Life, don’t talk to me about life.

  33. CitizenErazed says:

    RSS feeds are feeds that tell you in real-time the most recent articles on a website – for example, latest headlines on BBC, or latest posts on RPS. Firefox is able to place them in your bookmarks toolbar – mine has BBC News, BBC Sports News, two forums, two webcomics and RPS.

  34. cannon fodder says:

    If Jim’s missing the cut and thrust of multiplayer gaming and has his girlfriend there too, prehaps some joint activites could fill the void…

    A game of Scrabble would be a good bet.

  35. Josh says:

    The golden age of gaming has come and gone. It lasted approximately from 1989, with the release of SimCity, to 2000, with the release of Deus Ex.

    Gaming and game development will never be the same, and titles of that quality will never be developed ever again, either.

    We’re more in a silver age, where hundreds of games are developed and released every year, but maybe 10 of them are actually any good. Those 10 tend to be REALLY good, mind, but the time in which imagination, originality and a love for the work were the primary motivations behind game development is over. It’s no longer a hobby, now it’s a business.

  36. jack says:

    my newest enemy is the deadly google reader/iphone on the toilet combo.

    It’s like technology has crept up and turned me into my dad.

    If it wasn’t for the smell I’d probably be in there all day.

  37. Grill says:

    Wait… how did this get on the intrawub if Jim is offline?

  38. MPK says:

    Wait… how did this get on the intrawub if Jim is offline?


    Also, I feel your pain, but in different ways. I’ve moved house…actually, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve moved house in the last five or six years. Lots. But I’ve always been able to find solace in the escapism of the single player game. Whenever I’m offline for any extended period of time it means I can catch up with all those games I’ve ignored in favour of EVE.

  39. dartt says:

    My net went down about 5pm last night just as I was purloining powerpoint lectures from the lancashire uni website to use as revision aids for this mornings exam.

    In the hours between that point and when I left the flat this morning there were several points where I just sat there wondering what to do, I fired up Mount and Blade and found myself unconciously hitting shift+tab every few minutes to check a Steam chat room that wasn’t there, and I paused an episode of Samurai Champloo to read up on yojimbo on wikipedia before remembering my situation.

    When I came back this afternoon and the net was back up it was like I’d been away a year. Six unread RPS posts?! Unheard of. Literally minutes of new trailers from Ubidays. For a moment I thought my browser history had been reset when I saw all those unclicked links in netvibes.

    I remember, years ago while on holiday, downloading the HL2 videos over a 56k in the hotel lobby because I was so desperate to see them; 6 or 7 IE windows pushing the creaky old PC to it’s limit as I attempted to maximize the amount of news and information I could absorb in the short time I had available. If anything it’s got worse with time and the proliferation of feeds and wikipedia; it’s just as Jim says, the internet has just become an extension of the brain and, just as when you are seperated from other parts of your brain, it results in difficulty to think and a tendancy to stare vacantly in to space.

  40. Nuyan says:

    “We’re more in a silver age, where hundreds of games are developed and released every year, but maybe 10 of them are actually any good. Those 10 tend to be REALLY good, mind, but the time in which imagination, originality and a love for the work were the primary motivations behind game development is over. It’s no longer a hobby, now it’s a business.”

    I disagree really. The old Nintendo/Atari/Console stuff was just as much ‘business’ back in the days. I actually dare to say that there’s a growing trend going on that games become less ‘business’. Of course the EA’s, Microsofts and Nintendo’s are here to stay, but there’s so much out there these days. It’s because of the internet. People can easily create and bring out their own stuff. There are much better tools and information is everyone. There’s an easy to find ‘niche’ for everyone.

    I think the average 20 year old of today is involved in a lot more personal niches than the 20 year old of 20 years ago.

  41. Alexander says:

    Nice article, I have been writing an essay on this subject; pretty interesting :)

  42. Johnny Law says:

    I’m right there with you. Let me tell you a little story about my month so far.

    Some housemates moved out, and the phone bill was in their name, so I called AT&T to change the billing info. AT&T insisted that it could not do this until I disable the DSL that was on the phone line. This wasn’t even AT&T DSL, mind you, it just happened to be on the same line.

    I started the process of trying to get my DSL killed on the 12th. Of course, I lost net access right away, but apparently actually getting the DSL circuit off of the line (or the records associated with the line) has been an arduous process involving calls to AT&T, my ISP, and their vendor (Covad). I wasn’t able to actually get my phone records updated until last week, and wasn’t able to get the process of re-activating my DSL started until today. Of course _that_ process will take another “3-7 business days”. (That’s assuming that, for once, a time estimate quoted to me turns out to be correct.)

    So that’s basically a month without broadband access because I wanted to change the name on my phone bills. Way to go, phone company and ISP, you guys are shining beacons of customer service. I am startled and dismayed by both the amount of time this is taking and also the amount of whip-cracking I have to keep doing to move the process along. I just want to pay my money and get a service in return, is that so wrong?

    Anyway, I’m sort of getting net access by tethering my laptop through my cellphone… but no multiplayer games, no downloading demos or really anything else, and no video except _maybe_ short YouTube clips if I’m patient. So yeah, I agree, it’s horrifying. :-)

  43. Ian says:

    @ The Apologist: I’ve recently tried WoW and got into it very easily. Play as a hunter, then you have a pet to help protect your sorry behind when you screw up. If you’re anything like me.

    So, I don’t use RSS feeds. Should I?

  44. PsyW says:

    My internet connection is extremely shoddy. I can browse and post, but I cannot play any online game, because BT are far more concerned about wiring up the furthest reaches of scotland (it’s good PR) than making good my phonelines here, less than 20 miles from the capital. For months I have been unable to play the online games I was previously accustomed to – TF2, Garrys Mod, Freelancer, Battlefield. My ISP says that it’s BTs fault, and BT say that they have no plans to improve the connectivity in my area. Unfortunately, I don’t have a legal leg to stand on, since BT are obliged to provide only voice and have no legal requirement to provide a phone line adequate for connecting to the Internet. Damn them…

    Imagine facing the prospect of suddenly and without explanation being permanently unable to play any multiplayer game, or download anything above about 100MB. This is the nature of my plight.