Monday, March 21, 2011

Raw excrement vs. medieval combat

From late November 2010 into January 2011 I was quite fixated on playing the game Mount & Blade: Warband. I had been waiting for this game for about twenty years. Though set in the fictional realm of "Calradia," the game strives to emulate Medieval Europe & European kingdoms, sultinates, fiefdoms, etc. At the strategic level of the game, one engages in negotiations and trade and agrees to complete tasks for village elders, town leaders, and various political factions. On the tactical level, one wields a weapon of choice to hack away at and sling arrows at enemy foot soldiers and horsemen. The goal, of course, is to conquer, vanquish, overwhelm, and otherwise find a way to found a kingdom of one's own.

Absent at every level of this game is magic, fantasy, dragons, potions, dwarves, and all of that nonsense.

Very exciting & fun stuff!!!

I will leave it up to readers to evaluate the extent to which my interest in this game provides evidence of patriarchy, warmongering, meaningless game-playing, escapism, moral turpitude, existential shallowness, Generation-X Peter Panism, etc., etc.

What is fascinating to me is that for the past few weeks, I've been as fixated on my book project as I earlier was on the meaningless game -- and the game has faded into the background. Where in December I would get my work done as quickly as possible so that I could play an hour or so of Mount & Blade, now I flail to find time to devote to water pollution.

Many years ago, in a previous relationship far, far, away, my partner at the time called me an "into-ist." I interpreted this as meaning that I periodically focus intensively on something, and then move on to another thing some time later. Maybe she's right -- maybe I am am an "into-ist." At the time, whether she intended it or not, I took this as a critique. Perhaps it's some kind of strength?

Back in December 2010, at the peak of my fixation on Mount & Blade, I thought my fixation might be indicative of a deep-seated character flaw. I consider myself above the meaningless distractions of a Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga or Top Model, and I hold these kinds of corporate-generated outlets in utter contempt.[1] However, what if I'm as distracted by meaninglessness as those Americans whom I disparage? What if my distractions are no more meaningful than those who are distracted by corporate-generated distractions -- "manufactured consent," as Noam Chomsky describes -- but my own personal distraction takes the form of first-person real-world combat games instead of pop culture icons?

I've been working on my book intensively for a few weeks now. In the course of my writing I've started to feel confident that the contribution I'm making to the world will be of merit -- merit, at least, to people within the state, but I also believe it will be of merit to anyone interested in water pollution, mid-twentieth century environmental issues, urban infrastructure, citizen advocacy, and the evolution of science, technology, and public policy related to these issues. It may very well be that only tens or a few hundreds of people find my book of merit in these ways, but I am highly confident in the merit of my book, at any scale of "popularity."

Spending so much time on my book recently, and working extra-hard in my other jobs so that I can devote dedicated chunks of time to my book, I've begun to realize that I needed that ~eight-week period of Medieval combat distraction to help put the book project in perspective. I needed to put sewage and pulp & paper wastes on the back burner for a bit and don virtual mail armor, a trusty saber, and a really intimidating-looking helmet to come back to the project with positive energy.

[1] Every few years these names change, but the meaninglessness persists. Earlier it was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Brittany Spears, Justin Timberlake, earlier still it was Back Street Boys, MTV Real World, Celine Dion . . . the corporate entertainment system wants you to convince yourself that there's any substantive difference in these entertainments.



  1. Distraction can be a curse or a way to relieve one's brain enough to be able to think. So some people play intense games and others watch mindless TV programs. Me--I read People magazine and am anxiously awaiting the royal wedding.

    Aunti Grace

  2. and am anxiously awaiting the royal wedding

    : )

    Thanks for sharing. Yeah, for me it was an opportunity to get all other thoughts out of my brain for a bit.

  3. What you describe could be considered a "guilty pleasure". That's because you feel guilty to do it! There is nothing wrong with having a few of these. My guilty pleasure is sleep. I will sleep all day if left alone, and I always feel tremendously guilty when I do. A day wasted on sleep - what could be worse? Perhaps simulated medieval warfare? :)

  4. I did feel a bit guilty as I was playing . . . sometimes . . .

    I don't feel guilty upon reflection. What seems clear to me now is that I needed that down-time from my other responsibilities, and this down-time helped me re-charge for the subsequent weeks and months.

    What I often feel guilty of, actually, now that I think about it, is taking time away from my other responsibilities. These other responsibilities, of course, never seem to go away entirely; sometimes they ebb, sometimes they flow, but they never seem too far away. I sometimes feel guilty simply taking a break from the daily grind.