Significant Zero

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Aug 14, 2018

Filed under: Column 90 comments

A week ago I mentioned I’ve been reading Significant Zero by Walt Williams, the lead writer of Spec Ops: The Line. It’s the story of how he basically blundered his way into game development at 2k Games, bullied his way into the writer’s room, and burned off a couple of years of his life in self-imposed perma-crunch. Along the way he got to work on games like BioShock 2, Prey 2006, The Darkness, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, and a bunch of other stuff.

I’ve since finished the book, and it’s been eating at me. It was at various times educational, humorous, frustrating, and sad. I want to talk about this book, but not in a “book review” sense. I really just want to respond to some of the events, but I can’t do that without spoiling a few bits of it. So that’s what we’re going to do.

I read a lot, but I don’t read a lot of books. I have no idea how typical this book is in terms of autobiographical post-industry confessions. The last book I read on this topic was Masters of Doom, which is a really different sort of work. MoD is an almost fawning look at a couple of industry veterans, written a few years after the events in question. Significant Zero is alternately self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing, covers the recent past, and is centered on the author.

This is the account of one person and their journey through this meat-grinder of an industry. Obviously there are at least two sides to every story and this book only gives us one of them. When you’re condensing a decade-long adventure down to under 300 pages you’re going to have to make some pretty drastic edits. It’s entirely possible that, consciously or not, the author made selective edits or embellishments that will bruise the truth. There’s no way to know if this is the case, but I’m not going to cover the following paragraphs in qualifying asterisks saying “allegedly” and “according to the author”. So for the purposes of this article, we’re going to take everything the author says at face value.

I don’t want this to come off like I’m judging poor Mr. Williams. I’m not trying to shame him. I’ve never met Walt Williams and even after reading this incredibly candid book he still feels like a mystery to me. I’m just using his anecdotes as a jumping-off point for talking about how messy small-scale interpersonal drama can directly influence the large-scale technology products we build.

Here are some of the emotions I was feeling as I read:

Shock (And also maybe a bit of envy.)

Aside from having a pulse, you're totally unqualified for the job. Welcome to the team.
Aside from having a pulse, you're totally unqualified for the job. Welcome to the team.

Williams walked into a job interview unprepared. He hadn’t done any serious gaming in years. He knew nothing about the technology, the business, or the product. And yet his boss “The Fox” hired him because… well, it’s not totally clear why. I think he liked William’s blunt honesty. Williams was then given the job of Game Analyst. It was his job to represent the publisher to the developer. He was to go in, look at how production was going, and inform the publisher. How does the game look? Are they going to ship on time? Is the game going to be fun? Are they meeting their obligations with regards to content? Any problems we should know about?

This is obviously a position with tremendous responsibility. If the team is getting lost in the weeds with technology problems or feature creep while neglecting the multiplayer mode they promised to make, then the sooner the publisher knows about this the less damage it will do. On one hand, I can understand why senior personnel don’t want this job. It requires almost constant travel and is not a job for anyone with a family. On the other hand, it seems absurd to give this job to a guy fresh out of college who has no relevant experience or knowledge.

If there’s a villain in this book, it’s The Fox. He wasn’t a villain to Williams, but I disagreed with just about every call he made. As unqualified as Williams was, I don’t blame him for taking this job. I do blame The Fox for hiring him and unleashing him on all these poor developers.

The Fox is a believer in the idea that that the best way to settle a disagreement was to pit people against each other and let them fight it out. I can’t disagree with this strongly enough. I find this management style abhorrent. I firmly believe that if you let people fight then the victory will go to the person with the most forceful personality, not the person with the best ideas. Moreover, letting fights run wild like this will breed toxicity and bad blood. It takes an already stressful job and makes it that much worse. The gentle creators will leave, the bullies will thrive, and you’ll end up with a pack of belligerent creatives who don’t know how to cooperate. Given the size of development teams these days, that sounds like a terrible idea.


You folks have made some great arguments. As a compromise, let's do everything my way.
You folks have made some great arguments. As a compromise, let's do everything my way.

Even in his own book, Williams is not shy about revealing how combative and toxic he was around the office. One of the other characters in the book even goes out of her way to tell him he’s “being super cancer today”. I guess it’s good that he knows this and recognizes it as a character flaw. On the other hand, it’s a character flaw he never really overcomes. (At least, not in the book.)

Sometimes his combative nature was a force for good. At one point he was sent in to look at a game during pre-production. The way Williams tells it, the writer on the project was both a hack and a prima donna. His concept for the game was this brute-force sledgehammer sermon on climate change that would have made the Mankind Divided racism metaphor look positively subtle by comparison. It was obvious, heavy-handed, and self-indulgent. The writer wasn’t trying to entertain. Instead, he had decided to use this multi-million dollar game as a platform for HIS MESSAGE. Williams and this guy were at odds over this, and it sounds like Williams was in the right.

At another point Williams badmouthed the writing of a developer to The Fox, simply because he wanted to insert himself into the writer’s room and get some creative control. That’s… that’s horrible. And Williams seemed to be aware of this as he wrote the book. On the other hand, it does seem like he did good work once he got there.

I know I keep talking about “tone at the top” as an explanation for why some companies are dysfunctional, but this book provides a pretty good illustration of the effect in action. Someone hired The Fox and The Fox hired Walt Williams and the result was a lot of confrontational meetings. Knowingly or not, those people at the top were impacting the corporate culture of everything under the 2k Games umbrella. Company values percolate down, and a cutthroat managerial mindset results in cutthroat behavior all the way at the bottom of the org chart.


Clearly my subordinates are to blame for all of this.
Clearly my subordinates are to blame for all of this.

Towards the end of the book, Williams finds himself in another meeting with a team in the early stages of production. They think they’re designing an introduction that will make the player feel empowered, but the whole thing is scripted so the player must run away from the bad guy. Williams realizes this is a self-defeating design and it won’t work the way the designers intend. At the same time, he doesn’t want to spend weeks battling these people to disabuse them of this wrongheaded notion. He doesn’t have the energy for the fight, so he stays quiet during the meeting and checks out.

At this point I am reminded of an old post from 2013 talking about how to offer advice or guidance, and how some people seem to think their only two options are:

A: Give bad advice.


B: Be a dick.

When I originally wrote that post, I thought this was just the result of someone who hadn’t yet learned how to offer encouraging advice. I thought that, if given enough information, these types of people could self-correct. Five years later, I’m suspecting that this problem goes deeper. There seems to be this entire… I dunno… genre of people who really have no idea how to correct others, and it seems to cut right to the heart of their personality. As far as I can tell most of these folks wind up in the various engineering disciplines, but you can find them all over.

The thinking seems to be that as long as you’re saying things that are true then you’re doing a good job at communicating, and the burden of understanding and acceptance is entirely on the listener. If someone is being stupid, then you need to be really rude so they realize how stupid they’re being.

I see this as deeply misguided. Backwards, actually. The more divergent your opinions are, the more care and tact you’ll need to get them to listen to your viewpoint with an open mind. Wrong people don’t know they’re wrong, so from their point of view, you’re completely wrong. If you’re rude, then they won’t question their own position, they’ll just assume you’re both wrong and rude. Thinking you need to be rude because the other person is obviously wrong is like thinking that the more serious a programming bug is, the more important it is to type with YOUR FISTS.

I know I said it above, but I really don’t want this to come off as judge-y towards Williams. Yes, I disagree with how he handled disputes, but there are a lot of people who do things this way in the business world. It’s just that most of those other folks haven’t written books. I don’t know the guy and aside from a slight bit of unhealthy envy on my part that he landed such a cool job, I bear him no ill will. I honestly have no idea how you’re supposed to discuss an autobiographical work without coming off like you’re talking about someone behind their back. Sorry for any rudeness on my part.

It’s a fascinating book. I recommend it for anyone who wants a peek inside the sausage factory. It’s a great reminder that while these are digital products, the process we use to make them is messy and inescapably analog.


From The Archives:

90 thoughts on “Significant Zero

  1. DaMage says:

    The thinking seems to be that as long as you’re saying things that are true then you’re doing a good job at communicating

    This also comes up a lot in academia, people who think by throwing numbers and ‘facts’ at you, that it’ll somehow just magically make you understand their work and have you gain the same beliefs.

    I think it actually comes back to the concept of being able to put yourself in another person’s place. People that can’t do this also tend to be the ones who can’t sculpt a convincing dialogue, as they can’t understand your point of view in order to try and change it.

    That and people that think of themselves so smart and/or important that all they do is talk down to you and expect you to take their word as gospel…..plenty of those in academia aswell.

    1. Redrock says:

      Well, academia is supposed to be about facts, no? My problem is that, at least in social sciences and the humanities, actual hard facts are few and far between. Even empirical data can be twisted this way and that depending on which of the myriad analytical instruments you’re using. On the other hand, while there’s never any good reason to be a dick, I don’t really like the approach that facts are less important than how hard you’re trying to convince a person. Ignoring facts just because the person presenting them isn’t nice enough seems counter-productive.

      1. Ander says:

        Consider how pragmatic it is to forget about what the other person ought to be doing. “Ignoring facts just because the person presenting them isn’t nice enough seems counter-productive,” is completely true, but if you’re the one presenting then it’s also irrelevant. The other person doesn’t know you have the facts. They think you’re wrong. Their emotions might respond to not-niceness with repulsion. And while maybe they ought to be able to overcome that, you probably can’t make them grow in that particular way at the time of the argument. Your concern is that they believe the correct thing (and also your own integrity), and considering their emotions is immensely practical to that end.

        Academia is all about facts, but people, much as they might try to claim or hope otherwise, are not. We’re emotional, and I am annoyed by that fact about myself on a regular basis.

        1. I have met my share of people who simply regard ANY contradiction of any kind whatsoever as an attack, and their immediate response to any direct criticism is to counter-attack instead of actually think about it. It feels like there are only two ways with them because being generally polite and straightforward is still never going to be “tactful” enough for them.

          Now, when I say “direct criticism” I don’t mean “your work sucks and you suck”. That’s not criticism, that’s just being an ass. Real criticism means giving information on what problems you see and (hopefully) at least one possible method of addressing them. I mean a straightforward statement like “I think there are problems with this approach, problem one . . .”

          I can’t tell you the number of times people have asked me for criticism, I’ve gone to great lengths to lay out the issues, and the immediate response was not “Those could be problems” or “I don’t think those are problems because . . .” but instead “well, you didn’t have to shit all over it you dumb jerk!”

          Now, other people might have the brain capacity to lay out problems for wildly insecure people in such a way that they recognize the problem without you ever using the word “problem”. I don’t. I can’t simultaneously lay things out in an organized order AND come up with a devious backdoor way to explain it. For instance, if the team is “empowering” you by making you run from the boss, a more tactful person (maybe) might do something like enthuse about how the sequence definitely will make the boss feel really overpowering and scary, act confused when corrected that, no, no, they’re empowering the PLAYER, and just keep on being confused and talking about how badass the boss is and how much you love the boss until the team has made some corrections.

          I can think about that in the abstract, but I can’t pull it out when people are actually in front of me, and to me, it feels like lying anyway. And the approach is exhausting, because you’re going to have to listen to people’s tortured explanations again and again and again because they think you’re just not “getting” it. If you don’t like talking to people much and hate wasting time, this kind of approach is like stabbing yourself repeatedly with a knife. So the options of “give bad advice” or “be a dick” are both, to you, VASTLY superior. We know option 3 is THERE, we’d just rather people think we’re a dick than have to endure the EXCRUCIATING results.

          1. Syal says:

            Basically the same for me, way easier to just blurt out the problem and tick them off than to spend ten minutes beating around the bush so there’s a chance they won’t get offended.

            But there are some quick tricks. Leading with a compliment is an old one (if you can think of one, which I never can). Narrowing the problem to a specific situation can help lessen the sting, even if it’s a problem everywhere; makes it feel easier for them to have not noticed it. Also mocking jokes about the problem. (“Nothing says empowerment like running from your problems!”)* Not the go-to, but better than dry facts; everything’s more tolerable when it’s witty.

            And, you know, time. Criticisms are usually less emotional once they’ve been given a day or two of thought, so don’t hammer on a point unless it’s absolutely necessary to solve it right away.

            Now, if someone specifically asks for criticism and then gets offended by it? Just light those compliment-fishing jackasses on fire.

            *so are they just running away from a boss and never fighting it, or are they running until they find a boss-killer weapon and then fighting it? Gaining new powers during a chase can be empowering.

            1. Nessus says:

              You don’t actually need to beat around the bush or salt the conversation with compliments to offset the criticisms. Or engage in manipulation. You can usually communicate the same criticisms just as efficiently without being a dick simply through different phrasing and tone.

              Both you and Jennifer above are basically trying to work around skills that you don’t even know exist, and to be fair, many people who have those skills don’t know exist either because they learned them early and unconsciously.

              There’s also an element there of believing social skills are something that will always require effort if they don’t come naturally. This isn’t really true: social skills, like most other skills, get baked into habit and subconscious patterns the more you practice them. It’s just like learning to drive, or type, or play a musical instrument. There’s a hard climb at the very beginning, where everything is super deliberate, there’s lots of puzzle-solving, and short bouts are exhausting, but if you keep powering forward, that stuff eventually gets crunched down into your nervous system so you don’t have to think or try anymore, you just do them, and it costs you so little you don’t even notice.

              Learning social skills is a bit like learning to lose weight for the first time after a lifetime of being overweight. The way you are is all you’ve ever known, so it’s really hard to picture what the end result might feel or function like, and that makes it difficult to credit it as something real. A lot of people try it and give up before they break through the skill plateau, because when you don’t have the experience to tell how far you are from plateau, the climb can feel feel eternal in the moment. Or they try hard in sporadic bouts instead of an extended push, so they don’t experience net progress and the climb really does become eternal. Neither of which is helped by how the fact that we learn best when we’re interested and having fun is working directly against you when learning requires difficult effort and you don’t have the experience to recognize the incremental rewards when they drop.

              So you have to fight through it blind the first time, and if you never finish that fight, you’ll never have the knowledge to diagnose how you failed. It’s a trap that makes it super, SUPER easy to spend the better part of one’s life fully convinced you can’t actually change, only contort.

              1. Syal says:

                Oh, I absolutely know those skills exist, just as I know I don’t have them. These are a few of my workarounds, just as “put the heavy thing on a piece of slidey cardboard” is a workaround for lack of muscles.

                I don’t really want to develop better social skills; I’m surrounded by people who will chitchat for hours without pause, and my free time’s strongest defense is in being awkward and unfun to talk to. Better social skills would leave me trapped in a conversational hellscape for the rest of various people’s lives.

              2. I know the skills exist. I even have quite a few of them. I just *actively choose not to use them* with certain people because they are toxic. If you actually read what I wrote instead of assuming that I’m complaining that SOCIAL SKILLS R HARD MAN, I was pointing out that this false dichotomy between “be a grovelling nicenik” and “be a huge dick” generally develops because everyone has experienced meeting insecure people who simply can’t tolerate even a HINT of criticism. So a lot of people seem to wind up thinking it’s one or the other.

                I’m actually a different case because I have serious problems dealing with people who are mindlessly emoting in my face. (Always have, always will–it’s not a matter of skill but of psychology and possibly even neurology to an extent.) After a while even plain chatter becomes absolutely intolerable to me. There ARE ways to deal with it, but I drew a line years ago and said, this is as far as I go. If you can’t meet this standard of behavior and level of using your brain for thinking, we’re done. Conversation’s over. I’m not going to use up my sadly limited quota of not-biting-people-to-death on worthless crap.

        2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I don’t know how many of you are American academics, but I’m at a state regional comprehensive in the Southeast. By various acts of falling upwards, I’ve found myself on the boards of a regional and national conference section in political science/public admin.

          What I’ve observed among my more high-flying colleagues is that they are, in the main, very bright, and try to follow the evidence and facts. They are all, also, extremely limited in their research areas. They know an awful lot about very little. Which is not actually that shocking, I suppose -specialization and all. But it also means that they tend to look at every problem like a nail -and whenever they get outside their area, when they are dealing with clear “not a nail” issues, they revert back to the biases of the field. You can almost hear it in their voices, when they shift from “something I actually know about” to “just reciting what other people in this area say.”

          So it isn’t terribly shocking that you get a lot of cliques. And the cliques don’t like each other. I remember a conversation maybe 7 or 8 years ago, about how the new editor of a journal was a devotee of a theory which the people I hung out with thought was clearly erroneous -but had also resigned themselves to not publishing in that journal for at least a year because the current clique wasn’t going to publish dissenting views. I’ve run into this myself, trying to publish an article. The editor when I submitted it loved it. But he was rotating off, and the reviewers were split (1 accept, 1 R&R, 1 reject) and the new editor wasn’t a devotee of the theory I was using, so the article got rejected. A very similar article written just a few months earlier, though, was published in the last edition of the previous editor’s tenure.

          For a more theoretical take on this, Joseph Schumpeter and Thomas Kuhn have always spoken to my frustrations on this.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Well, there’s the added problem in academia that there’s a lot to be gained/lost before those facts get considered.
        That new theory makes a lot of sense, but if I admit that, I’ll be proved wrong and might lose my position as senior lecturer. And my funding, And my prestige.
        But if I criticise the theory…etc.

        It reminds me of the video Shamus embedded in his post on EA and lootboxes – the gist being that EA’s CEO Andrew Wilson gained his position because he made EA games a lot of money with microtransactions and lootboxes. He’s the Lootbox Guy.
        If he were to change his mind about that kind of microtransaction….wait, was he wrong? But he’s the Lootbox Guy!
        Soon enough, someone else in the company (let’s call him the Pump Out More Sequels Guy or the Needs More DRM Guy) will start asking: why’s Wilson the CEO again? His idea failed!

        So Wilson in some ways can’t stop trying to push lootboxes. Even if he wants to.

        1. This, interestingly, points out the serious problems in identifying yourself with one idea or approach, because no matter how awesome that idea or approach is, it’s not going to be universal and if you identify with it you’re going to either be forced to make bad decisions OR discredit the idea, and thus yourself, at some point.

        2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I don’t think this is that big an issue in academia. It is true that people will ride their theories down with the sinking ship, but our larger problem seems to be that proven errors are ignored, not that they are held against people so much they feel the need to never admit error in the first place. Some academics got great fame off fairly shoddy work (and work that should have been considered shoddy even at the time), but dined out on it for decades. And now that the work is starting to be reconsidered, they are still getting invited to give talks or go on talk shows -despite the fact they were transparently and obviously wrong, and everyone knows it.

          Hell, I have tenure. Philip Zimbardo and Paul Ehrlich should be fading from memory at this point, and Ehrlich should be forced to give all his accolades to Julian Simon, who was right, and Ehrlich was wrong. Both of them are still respected scholars, and their research is still in the textbooks, even though we know that the Stanford Prison Experiment was contaminated from the start by the students acting and Zimbardo’s encouraging them to keep doing so. And of course, India didn’t starve to death, so Ehrlich was also wrong.

          That strikes me as my profession’s real problem.

      3. Daemian Lucifer says:

        On the other hand, while there’s never any good reason to be a dick

        Yes there is:Comedy.Not all comedy,of course,but edgy comedy is a legitimate and legitimately funny thing.

        1. Furo says:

          Not just edgy, I think. I mean, Mr Fawlty and Arnold Rimmer are not edgy, and they both are tremendous dicks, and that’s a big part of the reason why they are so funny.

          AFAIK there’s a theory that all comedy is built on suffering. I disagree (I think it’s mostly built on radical change of perspective), but suffering obviously plays a big role. And where there’s suffering, there’s usually a dickitude in the vicinity :)

          1. Syal says:

            all comedy is built on suffering

            Definitely not all.

            Laughter is a base group technique to indicate “surprising, but no threat to us”. If you’re going for realism, a realistic character is going to want to improve their lot in life, and a realistic surprise is going to be some version of “nope, didn’t work”. So, a long-form realistic comedy is probably going to heavily involve some level of suffering. But short-form or unrealistic comedy is pretty much anything.

        2. Redrock says:

          I’m pretty sure that most people don’t have a film crew constantly following them on the off chance of comedic dickishness. Although I’m prepared to entertain that idea in you case, DL. Yeah, “The Daemian Lucifer Show”. Kinda like The Truman Show by way of The Thick of It. Sound about right? :)

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            You dont need to be funny in public to be funny.In fact,telling jokes in a circle of friends is far more common than telling jokes for a crowd of anonymous people.

            1. Redrock says:

              Yeah, but we were talking about interactions at the workplace, initially, academic discussions and so on.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Humor is not absent from those places either.Every place where there are humans,humor can be used to reduce stress.Yes,even dickish humor.Provided that you know your audience,of course.

                1. Guest says:

                  ‘course, if you’re a dick to your coworkers, they’ll hate you, and you’ll spend all your time commenting online because none of them like you.

                  There’s friendly ribbing, which may even be at someone’s expense, but the key thing about that is that it isn’t dickish: The person you’re making fun of aught to laugh, and the joke aught to be funny enough that even if you only told it to the person you’re making fun of, they’d get a kick out of it.

                  It’s completely different from “It’s ok I’m being a dick, because I think I’m being funny”. Nah mate. You’re an ass. We wanna see another member of the cast slap you or throw a pitcher of water in your face.

        3. Guest says:

          Someone pointed out Fawlty. That’s a great example. He’s a histrionic dick, and he’s hilarious to watch knowing he’s a fictional character, but you’d go mad working for him.

          It’s not a joke if no-one laughs, and if the only point of a joke is to put someone down to make yourself seem big, you’re just a bully. The smallest sort of person. And, considering the amount of posts you make here, I’m sure you don’t need to be told that acting like that will eventually result in nobody liking or trusting you enough to be your friend.

          Being a dick for comedy is still being a dick, and you’re still culpable for what you do. Being a dick for a laugh is the very definition of “Not a good reason”. And, do remember the important part of those great comedic dicks.

          The fact that they’re the villain, that they’re miserable or get their comeuppance at the end, is almost always the greatest laugh to the bit. The biggest laugh comes when Mrs. Fawlty embarrasses Basil for being a pompous damn ass.

    2. Hal says:

      The worst intellectual trends of postmodernity have stemmed from the conflation of our ideas and beliefs with our identity. This leads to the combativeness of any conflict of ideas, because telling someone their idea is wrong, or isn’t good, isn’t just a disagreement; you are actively attacking them. We don’t think and reason; we feel and emote. It becomes impossible not to take something personally because it’s all personal. This leads directly to the combativeness you see in workplaces like this, or (especially) on social media.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I blame schooling for this.We are so rooted in teaching kids today like we did 50 years ago,probably even more.Oh the books do get updated from time to time,but the methods not really.And personally,I think that teaching kids how to reason and use logic should come sooner than teaching them chemistry or physics.

        Yes,I am advocating that we embrace the vulcan way.

        1. Hal says:

          I don’t think that helps, but probably not for the reason that you’d think. Ever read, The Abolition of Man? CS Lewis published it 75 years ago, and it remains quite relevant. The primary idea was that this kind of “emotive reasoning” gets baked into the language used in basically every area of education, to the point that it becomes unremarkable, even undetectable. It would lead to students who could not moderate between their passions (from the gut) and their reason (from the head), thus being “men without chests.”

        2. I don’t think reason and logic (at least, not in any formal sense) are the problem. The main issue I’ve seen is that there’s no epistemology involved with modern education, which is really the precursor to being able to USE reason and logic. Kids are given facts and figures but no “HOW do you know that?” methodology. If you’ve ARRIVED at a conclusion, it’s not going to be a major part of your identity because you had no choice but to observe the many steps along the way and realize how many OPTIONS and false leads there were on the way to your conclusion. If you’ve just been HANDED the conclusion and told to memorize it, it’s going to become part of your identity. You don’t know about all the steps toward arriving at the conclusion, you just know that you got an A on the test for regurgitating this “correct” answer. Why is it correct? It just is! Science! Never mind that you couldn’t actually identify the science behind it if it kicked you in the nose.

        3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I don’t disagree in the big picture, but it isn’t that we haven’t updated teaching techniques since 1960. Education is a ridiculously faddish occupation. After only 8 years doing it, I’m already starting to see the return of ideas that were totally new when I started -as totally new innovations in making education better. I presume they weren’t any more new 8 years ago.

          We joke that we have not fundamentally improved on education since Aristotle added walking to his lectures and Q&A sessions.

          I do agree that my students don’t know how to argue. Their writing is a graduate course in question begging, non sequitor, and assuming facts not yet established. And they do not, in the main, know anything. They don’t know how to distinguish fact from argument, or interpretation, or opinion. They have only a tangential relationship with the idea of “truth” in the sense of an argument. Validity is not in their vocabulary. I don’t know where the pathologies start, but they are well established by the time they reach freshman American Government.

          The good news is that they are mainly broken of them by the time I get them again in junior Comparative State Politics.

          Older faculty tell me it is markedly worse than in the 1980s, when they started. But as Hal points out, the basic problem is at least 75 years old, because Lewis talked about it. And it’s probably older than that -it’s just taken 3 generations to become ubiquitous.

          OK, I’ll stop griping about my profession.

        4. Zak McKracken says:

          I would have agreed with the Vulcan way until not very long ago, at which point it became clear that almost all people trying to be “strictly logical” actually weren’t, they were just employing the trappings of logic to their argumentation, defending their emotionally favorite outcome. That included myself.

          Humans have emotions, and they’re a huge influence on our opinions, whether you ignore them or not. The best way to argue better is to acknowledge them in yourself and others, accept them in others (because in the first instance that’s not for you to change), and decide what you want to do with yours — act them out or maybe consciously try and give more weight to things which your mental state might make you want to ignore?
          In proper humanities, you can’t write a good study without stating your biases first, and I think a reasonably controversial argument has a waay better chance of not ending in tears if everyone acknowledges and accounts for their own and each others’ humanity.

        5. Baron Tanks says:

          That’s funny, because here in the Netherlands it was generally agreed that old school styles of teaching should all be done in with and these days it’s all about the kids developing at their own pace rather than teaching them knowledge. A number of large scale (meaning from elementary school all the way up to university and all other forms of education) reforms kicked off somewhere in the 90s and are ongoing till this day. Warning, I’m about to apply a number of broad strokes.

          The problem here is that it has created a spoonfed generation that does not understand that some things are achieved through hardship. I’ve had numerous colleagues (in an academic research group) complain about new MSc interns coming in in the past two years and even some starting PhD students that fail to be proactive in any way about their education and training, to the point where even a specific course that was developed to educate them about something most of us learned on the job and in books, was received poorly by a mixed audience of MsC and PhD students because it was not ‘interactive and engaging’ enough. Now I know this of course is anecdotal, but as someone that went to university in 2006 I already noticed how my school life had not prepared me for the actual mastery of knowledge and skills I needed. I relied too much on ‘understanding’ concepts and knowing where to look things up for the first two years where I flunked most of my courses. Only when I put the work in, properly studied and memorized some stuff did I manage to correct the course.

          So while teaching styles from 50 years ago as you call it are probably archaic, it would be wise to not throw the baby out with the bath water and just change everything for the sake of change itself. Especially when it comes to education this can be quite deceptive, as the real effects are only felt 10-15 years down the line. It’s basically like steering an oil tanker.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Hmm… the anecdotes I’m seeing is students learning for an exam, like you’d train a neural network, then forgetting about it the day after the exam.
            They mostly have to do it this way because that gives you the best grades in a system with less and less time available to actually give someone understanding from the basics all the way to the specifics, and the practice.

            Teaching in higher education also has to be different today than it was (say) in the 1970s, because back than only a small percentage of pupils ever started studying but these days it’s a mach larger group. Students used to be (on average!) very bright, motivated, and interested in the topic. That’s not so much a given anymore, and it could not be, with the number of graduates which the economy needs these days.

            So I think I understand where the lower motivation these days comes from, and I’m battling it myself in students I have to do with, but I feel like reducing the teaching to just imparting knowledge is like giving up. Some things are indeed better learned by experience, but then that’s something that can be done, via assignments, projects and the like. And in part also by trying to be more engaging. There was a time when most students in the room were incredibly invested in the topic, but that they’re not is a side effect of having many many more of them, and I hope we’re not going to revert that trend…

            1. Baron Tanks says:

              Oh you’re right and I do think that on average we get somewhere better. I’m just trying to argue we make a sensible and informed decision about educational policy changes, rather than the managerial style you often see off, out with all the old there was never anything redeemable here anyway. Just because something can be improved it is not completely flawed and you should try to keep the good.

      2. Erik says:

        This seems to me to be absolutely true of the majority of people (there are a few exceptions, but few enough that they are the exceptions that prove the rule). They are so invested in their ideas that it’s hard to get them to separate the idea from the self.

        From being in some kind of technical lead position for over three decades now, in self-defense I have developed two techniques I’ve used to fair success in dealing with folks like that. First – before starting the criticism, try to get them to laugh. Laughing forces one to separate oneself (the laugher) from the target (being laughed at), and gets one out of the dug-in defensive crouch. That separation is critical for keeping things from being personal.

        The second technique is more subtle. Far too often, when one is talking about technical things, one uses “you” to address someone’s work. For example, if the thing being looked at is a client program, “So you start by connecting to the server, then you request the table of llama grooming supplies. But you don’t handle the case where the request could fail because blah blah blah…” But by using the word “you” for the person’s work, criticism of the work becomes criticism of “you” – the worker!

        Instead, I intentionally take a moment before I start and decide on names to call every component so that I never call anything “you”. Instead, if I explain that “When the client connects to the server and requests the table of llama grooming supplies, the client doesn’t handle when the request fails because blah blah.” I try to only use the word “you” when describing things they can do to fix it: “If you make the client check the response for error FOOBAR, it can blah blah.” That keeps them in their mental place of separation that the humor helped guide them into, and helps keep them from feeling like I’m criticizing them personally.

        These techniques don’t always work, of course. But they seem to help significantly.

      3. stratigo says:

        What is one’s identity if not their firmly held beliefs? For millennia people have, without any factual evidence, formed identities around religions, and those beliefs form and have formed the core identity of billions throughout history.

        Ultimately what a person is comes down to their beliefs. They can be right or wrong about facts, but not how they feel about those facts.

        To not be too post modern, as a strict utilitarian, to me, many beliefs are bad. But they are what they are.

        Also, seriously, you have no identity without believing in something. It’s silly to assert otherwise.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Also, seriously, you have no identity without believing in something. It’s silly to assert otherwise.

          What if you are a hard core nihilist?

          1. Guest says:

            That’s an identity, identifying with the philosophy of nihilism, which has a pretty long philosophical tradition.

        2. Syal says:

          What is one’s identity if not their firmly held beliefs?

          Anything that can be used to identify them. Relationships with family, friends and neighbors. Height, weight, hair color, finger length, tone of voice, monetary worth, where they live, their exercise routines, the nature of the jokes they tell.

    3. Duoae says:

      I don’t think this is the v only explanation. Sometimes it’s more difficult to keep calm and explain things to people who don’t know better but have come to their own conclusions or who want to prove themselves.

      With most of the people in the place I work, I can give constructive criticism but there’s one person I really struggle with on a professional level because they really want to prove themselves and don’t want advice from people with more experience. This also rolls over into them not speaking with me about work stuff* which means I’m half blind when it comes to offering support and making requests for support from them and their team. Worse still, this person will take resources from me (I.e. personnel assigned to me) without speaking to me first.

      *although they will do so with people with less experience or with more junior rolls.

  2. Asdasd says:

    If someone is being stupid, then you need to be really rude so they realize how stupid they’re being.

    It took me a long time to come around to the idea that social intelligence is a legit form of intelligence on par with all the other more recognised mental qualities, such as logic, reasoning, technical aptitude and what have you.

    It was only when I considered how poorly many incredibly technically smart people handle personal interaction, and how that damages their ability to form good relationships and as such leaves them lonely, embittered and unhappy, that I realised that these people, for all their (often literal) genius, are often making extremely poor decisions in the crucible of a conversation or other social scenario.

    By contrast, people with much less academic or technical prowess have learned or can intuit the correct decisions in these situations much more easily, and that can be attributed to a real and impactful form of intelligence: social intelligence.

    To try and relate this to gaming somehow, it’s kind of like how D&D modelled mental attributes in three categories: Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. But people I played with (especially those of a STEM bent) generally didn’t consider Charisma to be a mental attribute (and often didn’t consider it at all, except as a useful dump stat*). If you wanted to roleplay a smart character, all you needed was to max out your Int and Wis (and even Wisdom was suspect, what with its links to the in-game religions and other touchy-feely-faithy things).

    Not that any of this does me much good: I struggle to demonstrate aptitude in either arena.. and I’m not much of a roleplayer to boot!

    *It certainly was a useful dump stat, mind you. But that has more to do with the designers not providing players a lot of mechanical utility for investing points in it.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      Yeah, social skill is important and super underrated in technical domains.

      I don’t think it’s useful to think of it as a dump stat, though. Technical intelligence and social intelligence are weakly correlated, but they are correlated.

    2. Misamoto says:

      Well, these days in DnD 5e, intelligence(INT) is the dump stat :)

      1. Majikkani_Hand says:

        Really? Gosh, one more reason not to switch. As somebody who pretty much always plays an arcane magic user or Psion, that’s horrifying! It was bad enough when it was Charisma.

        1. Misamoto says:

          Nah, 5e is great, just that out of all classes only Wizard actually needs Int (also one each out of all paths of Rogue and Fighter), at least in a pure build. Other casters cast off Wiz and Cha, and non-casting classes find that fast-talking on Cha is more useful then “remembering” knowledge with Int.
          So, 5e characters tend to be on the stupid side ;)

          1. It’s not surprising, since the game basically runs on bullshit. The DM makes stuff up and the players try to make up other stuff to manipulate it. Raw information isn’t as useful because you still have to use your own brain to understand what it MEANS and do something WITH it. But if you can directly influence characters ACTIONS regardless of whether you actually have any clue what’s going on, at least you got what you wanted, right? And, hey, if it doesn’t make any sense you can just blame that on the DM’s wonky campaign.

            This is why I did social skills in kind of a weird way in my games–I made everyone talk in-character. I wanted to know what you actually SAID. And then I’d figure out the NPC’s reaction to what you SAID. And only THEN (if you asked) could you roll to MODIFY that reaction–and I’d tell you which skill to roll based on what you SAID. I don’t care if your Diplomacy is your highest skill, if you came in and started making threats, that’s an Intimidate roll. And you’d better have something to back it up, too, because that 11th level crime lord boss ain’t impressed with your level 7 butt making demands.

            1. Nimas says:

              I mean that’s a good option for some tables, but I’ve found that most of the groups I’ve had with friends have so many in jokes, snide asides and good natured ribbing that would completely vanish with that approach.

              I suppose it might be an idea to have everyone give their characters a voice of some sort to denote in and out of character talking.

            2. Zak McKracken says:

              That’s pretty close to how our group used to handle it.

              The problem with it, of course, is that it means a player who’s socially inept IRL can never play a very charismatic character, at least not nearly as well as a socially more able player. This happened to me, big time. It does not get easier if the other players start rolling eyes halfway through the first sentence of your character’s foray into diplomatics.

              Similar thing with intelligence. If the DM has a different idea about what would be a smart thing to do/say in a specific situation than a player (I once had a solid disagreement on elementary physics, in a situation where correct understanding of preservation of Momentum could mean life/death for my character). If the player decides what the character does, then the player’s intelligence, and the DM’s grasp of the in-game situation, and their ability to get the player to understand it, is the dominating factor in whether a character acts intelligently. But of course, you can’t just ask players to roll a die to decide whether they do a smart thing … so you’re pretty much screwed either way.

        2. Hal says:

          In previous editions (3E, and I haven’t played it, but probably Pathfinder, too) skill points were tied to your Intellect, so there was an incentive to boost that.

          Some of the main attributes still have carrier effects; strength gives carrying capacity, constitution increases hit points, etc. The mental stats (Int/Wis/Cha) don’t really do any of that, they just boost checks and saves.

          This is probably for the best. I don’t fondly remember playing classes that struggled because they needed every stat to be high.

      2. Joshua says:

        I’d say Strength is the dump stat if you’re not a Fighter. Dex-based characters are pretty potent.

    3. Joshua says:

      Hmm, Shamus’s post and your reply reminds me of an example on a D&D board a few years ago (back in 4E) that has an odd situation for “give bad advice or be a dick” answers, because the poster was asking for advice on how to be a dick to the rest of his group (he was specifically looking for advice on the build to make so he could TPK the rest of the PCs in his party). How do you politely answer that one? LOL

      1. Asdasd says:


        ‘Should I hammer this guy with my shoe or a bottle?’

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Sad thing is, I bet there were a lot of other people on the forum with the same goals, who would have helped him out.

        Could you get him to tell you who he RPs with, then link them to the discussion?
        That way, if they fail to kick him out they know what they’re getting.

        1. Joshua says:

          Actually, people didn’t encourage him. Half called him out for being a jerk the other half basically said Not sure why you want to do this, but you really can’t easily make a character that can take everyone out at the table in 4E (barring some really unusual circumstances).

          I think I replied something to the effect of “You can’t. The rules will make it very unlikely, and even if somehow you did, you actually didn’t because the DM would likely overrule your jerk move before kicking your ass out of the house. So, what were your characters doing before Ulfgar spontaneously burst into flames with little fanfare?”

    4. MadTinkerer says:

      If I may make a quick correction: there is no such thing as a dump stat in any version of D&D. You roll 3d6 and add for each ability score. There is no other method. The AD&D PHB is law.

      Of course, if you bribe the DM enough, he’ll let you use pretty much any “house rule” you want to generate ability scores. DM bribery is the real core mechanic of D&D!

      1. ThaneofFife says:

        I’m assuming that’s an editorial comment, but you realize that stat tables are a thing, right? By 4e, I think you were also allowed to roll 4d6 and take the highest 3.

        1. MadTinkerer says:

          Just to be 100% clear as to my intentions regarding my previous post:


          I know not of this “4e” you speak of, but the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player Handbook, rather than the splinter heresy text known as the “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition Player Handbook” only prescribes one method for ability scores, and thus there is only one canonical way to make characters. Only text penned by The Prophet Gygax or Saint Arnesson is canonical.

          Well, okay, the AD&D DMG has alternate ability score rules, but see my previous comment for how to convince your DM to let you use those. In any case, you should definitely stick to the one true AD&D canon and not heretical apocrypha.

          Also: ;)

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            What is this imaginary advanced dungeons and dragons you are constantly talking about?Everyone knows that there is only one single dungeons and dragons and nothing more.You roll 3d6 6 times,write those in order,then you pick to be either cleric,fighting man or magic user.

            1. Erik says:

              Being old enough to almost pre-date the original AD&D (I started by getting the original 3 tan booklets as a present, then the first group I started actually playing with was evaluating the then-brand-new AD&D PHB to decide if they wanted to switch to it), I can say from personal experience: you are wrong. :)

              The original D&D had the 3d6 in order rule. AD&D PHB absolutely did have the 4d6-take-the-three-highest rule. Our house rule was to roll the stats, then switch them around to fit the class you wanted to play. Too many parties with no healer or no mage led us to let folks decide their class before rolling up the character. :)

        2. GoStu says:

          4e had three options in the book, and said two of them were legal for tournament play. There was the “standard array”, I.E. here are some stats, put them where you will; there was point-buy which let you min/max a little more and helpfully provided some acceptable arrays; and there was rolling.

          Rolling was the one not legal for tournament play and it was advised against, with the rationales that (a) it tends to come out weaker on average than the rolled set, (b) if played ‘fair’ it can lead to almost unplayable bad characters, and (c) if it comes out the way your player hopes for, it’s probably OP and possibly cheated.

    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Charisma being a dump stat came from d&d evolving from war gaming,and thus the entire game was focused more on combat than talking.And once talking was involved,more often than not you would actually be talking than using your stats.What does it matter that your character is a barely coherent dumbass orc if you are a fluent smooth talker?If you can talk the gm into having the king accept your argument,it doesnt matter that zug zug would never have achieved such a thing.

  3. Andy says:

    Man, I love that photoshopped picture of the failbridge. It’s a visual gag that offends me in all the right ways.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      The right ways?

      I agree, that picture is so weird. Like, did that bridge makers make that bridge section by section, instead of placing all the beams and then adding concrete? And did they really keep going until the two side parts were linked by a steel beam before someone went “Boss, you might want to look at this”?

    2. Steve C says:

      Not photoshopped. It is a model.

      1. eaglewingz says:

        ‘Tis a silly place.

  4. ccesarano says:

    In the three responses you have you demonstrate that this man likes to cultivate conflict, talk behind others’ backs, and avoid direct confrontation. I’d say that’s potentially why he didn’t bring up the contradictory nature of the game’s introduction. It’s one thing to pit others against each other, but he very well may not have had defenses strong enough to withstand direct confrontation. He’d rather other people be wrong and learn the hard way than risk being told he’s wrong about something.

    This is just my guess based on info provided. I plan on reading the book myself at some point. It sounds like it would be a fascinating, if not at times frustrating read.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Sounds like a coward, a bully, and a gossip to me. How odd that he would admit to such things though. Is it a confession, in the tradition of Augustine, I wonder?

    2. Guest says:

      There’s always gonna be someone somewhere who thinks that that’s an absolutely great set of qualities to have in an employee, because that employee praises themself, devalues other workers, and resolves issues.

      They seem great because they’re clearly smarter than the chumps they’re badmouthing, they’re good at their job, because they say so, and they resolve issues, because they get everyone else fighting. Obviously it’s utterly toxic conduct, but these people can get suprisingly far, especially if someone like them is the boss thanks to “failing upward”.

      There’s even folks here who’d defend it. Screw that noise. I’ll take an honest, loyal coworker over that nonsense any day of the week. You don’t have to hate your coworkers, they can even be real friends, and it actually makes work better. I wish people wouldn’t play those silly games, or try to justify obviously bad behaviour with squirelly rhetoric. There’s nothing wrong with being upfront, and you’ll never have to worry about people finding you out for a snake in the grass and a rat.

      Who knows? You might even make a friend.

  5. Lars says:

    I honestly have no idea how you’re supposed to discuss an autobiographical work without coming off like you’re talking about someone behind their back.

    Well. You did exactly that. In your own blogography “How I learned”. Everyone who wanted to discuss this can do so in front of the author. And ask questions. And still can buy the book.

  6. Redrock says:

    I haven’t read the book, so I may be completely off-base here, but the way you described Williams’s writing in this and the previous post makes me hesitant to trust him when it comes to portraying negativity. This is the kind of guy who seems to have a thing for a certain Max Payne 3-esque faux-self-deprecating style of narration. “Oooh, I’m so bad, I punch myself in the face to start writing, I Frank Underwooded myself into a writer’s room, look how horrible I am and how eager I am to admit it”. It may be sincere, but in my experience with that sort of thing it may as well be a kind of reverse self-aggrandizing that’s pretty far from the truth. You know, American Psycho style. Again, that’s me judging solely by what I read here in the blog, so I may be totally wrong.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I get that impression too, from this.
      (I also read a cracked article co-written by him which – I think – came out before the book and got a similar impression.)
      It seems like part axe-grinding, part bragging, part confession.
      (‘My boss was awful, he pulled this dick move, but I managed to work around it, aren’t I great? ).

      I wouldn’t say it’s far from the truth, but I would say past events were ‘interpreted’ a bit by Williams for the book; make him look a litle better, make other people look worse…and possibly just to make the story better.
      It’s an impression a get from a lot of autobiographies: you’re very much getting that one person’s side of the story.

      1. Redrock says:

        Yeah, but my suspicion is that he actually enjoys making himself look a bit worse than he actually is. Bit more dark, cunning, edgy. Hence the American Psycho analogy. Pure speculation, of course. Extrapolating from personal experience with that type of confession.

  7. Noah says:

    This article about Riot Games at Kotaku is mostly about their internal sexism and bro culture, but the things that are said about focusing on forceful personalities and people yelling each other into submission at meetings really sounds like the kinds of thing Shamus is describing from this book. I’ve come to the conclusion that people who find success generally ascribe it to their personal traits, so successful assholes chalk up their success to acting like an asshole and surround themselves with people who act the same way, and that’s a big part of how we get toxic cultures.

    1. ThaneofFife says:

      I was thinking about that article as I read this, too. Shamus has a very good sense of how inter-personal dynamics like the ones discussed in that article can be toxic, even if he doesn’t (AFAIK) explicitly identify as a feminist. I hope Riot Games learns something from the mistakes identified in that article, and doesn’t just go into crisis mode and try to sweep everything under the rug.

      1. Cubic says:

        What would one call the culture at Google? Toxic femdom?

    2. Guest says:

      Yeah, that article and one about an animation studio (I think it was Pixar?) came to mind.

      A lot of these behaviours are often described as “Toxic Masculinity” (Not saying all masculinity is toxic or bad, but that these behaviours are held by some to be masculine, or valuable effective ideals, which actually hurt men and the people around them). And it’s interesting how that’s often really unappealing particularly to women in the workplace, but how people build entire work cultures out of how wrong they are about how to act.

      Like Thane, I hope they fix it, but I don’t have high hopes-often part of that is a certain defensiveness. The idea that people shouldn’t have complained, how dare they call me out, they should have thicker skins, how could they say that about me or us? Anyone with a functioning irony detector should see the thermal exhaust port on that reasoning.

  8. Steve C says:

    I’ve seen that great image of the bridge many times before. This is the first time I’ve noticed it was a model.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:


  9. BlueHorus says:

    …Williams realizes this is a self-defeating design and it won’t work the way the designers intend. At the same time, he doesn’t want to spend weeks battling these people to disabuse them of this wrongheaded notion. He doesn’t have the energy for the fight, so he stays quiet during the meeting and checks out.

    How does Williams come across (surprised, saddened, baffled, tired, angry etc) when describing the situation above? Because he comes across as exactly the kind of guy who would help create and sustain that kind of culture.
    (You don’t get called ‘super cancer’ if you’re a good person to work with.)

    It could be that it was there before he turned up, and he just was good at fitting in – and yet I’ve met a lot people who genuinely can’t(/won’t, it’s more-or-less the same with some people) see how their actions lead to situations like this.

    1. Aevylmar says:

      He comes across like he’s horrifically sleep-deprived and running out of love and energy. That scene is shortly before he quits the game business; the clear implication of the book is that back in His Glory Days, when he was destroying his own life and the personal lives of the people around him but Doing Good Work, he would have corrected them in such manner that they hated him but fixed the problem and made a better game, but now that he doesn’t have the energy to do that, it’s a sign that he should be getting out of the business.

  10. ThaneofFife says:

    So, Shamus, now that your kids are (mostly, I think?) out of the house, could you imagine becoming a Game Analyst for a publisher yourself? I think you’d be really good at it (even if you do (I think) hate travel). You’ve also clearly got a lot more relevant experience than the author did when he started.

    1. Steve C says:

      Given what Shamus has said in past about how much he hates traveling and how much he relies on Heather to be a functioning human while traveling… probably not.

    2. Shamus says:

      It’s fun to fantasize about, but I can’t imagine they’d have me after so many years of bashing publishers. I think I’d bring a lot to the table: Muti-discipline background covering programming, modeling, and art, and then launching into a second career that’s straight-up holistic game analysis.

      But like Steve C says, I’m not one for travel. Then again, If I was offered the job my wife would probably demand I take it so she could travel with me, since she loves travel so much.

      Like I said, a fun fantasy.

      1. Olivier FAURE says:

        Have you considered actually trying to get such a job? Like, spending two or three days browsing job offers, sending resumes, etc?

        I’m not familiar at all with the game industry’s hiring practices, but I think if you can prove you have a decent ability to explain technical problems to non-technical details, keep a clear head during heated conflicts, etc, then you could probably get yourself a cushy job.

        It might not be such a faraway fantasy is what I’m saying.

        1. GoStu says:

          He also has a talent for providing very in-depth dissecting criticism without it coming off as aggressive or belittling. Able to delve right to the root of the problem and explore it, yet doesn’t fly of the handle with pointless insults.

          Of course, maybe this is “Shamus + Editing Shamus” and I wouldn’t like “Unfiltered face-to-face Shamus” nearly as much.

          Still, the industry could use more Shamus.

  11. Paul Spooner says:

    I agree with Hal above over the conflation of ideological identity and doctrinal unity, but wanted to explore the lies-asshole dichotomy a bit more.
    As you outline in the article, the options are often presented as:
    “Tell the truth with aggressive hate” OR “Lie to make people feel good”
    While the other two options (which I encounter in practice vastly more often) are:
    “Lie to people because you hate them” and “Speak the truth in love”
    And may I just say that when people propose the first false choice, I begin to strongly suspect them of practicing the first option of the second.

    So, yes, truth in love is the ideal to which all sensible people aspire. But it is here that we run into another difficulty. Often people don’t like the truth. Often the truth exposes their own hatred, laziness, bitterness, pride, and an endless procession of vices which would be personally painful and costly to address. Much easier is to accuse the messenger of speaking out of hatred and/or malice, and then dismiss the message. So convenient is this attitude at deflecting all meaningful dialogue, that it has been established as a cultural convention. And probably for the best. The sensible assumption when first hearing a prophet is to test if they are simply crazy and/or wicked. What we are lacking is not the sense of the threat posed by truth, but the possibility of miracles which confirm it.

    Which brings us here, to the miracle of Rivendell in the misty mountains, and a haven of civility among the pre-diluvian culture. We should heed Shamus words because they are confirmed by the sign of the only possible miracle on the internet, the miracle of polite conversation.

  12. Aevylmar says:

    By contrast, I actually thought that in the story as presented, the Fox is just about the best – most competent, most heroic, most reasonable – person in the story. (Which I read as, basically, a tragedy. Yes, I know it’s an autobiography. I still think of it as a story.)

    Williams, as presented, is hardworking and capable, but socially incompetent, lacks any skill in making others like him, and generally an ass – he doesn’t *care* about other people, really, because he’s only thinking about himself. The Fox recognizes these traits, gives him advice on how to train his natural talents to become more capable, gives him useful advice that helps him in life – and uses him as a weapon to fix problems that he, the Fox, thinks could use a competent ass to fix them. Occasionally he tries to get Williams to be less of an ass, but those attempts generally don’t work out, so the Fox shrugs and does what he can with him.

    Williams, meanwhile, recognizes that his life of permacrunch is destructive to his soul, health, and personal relations, but doesn’t see any alternative; he’s built his life on being competent at any price, backstabbing anyone he has to to do it, and I think he sees spending energy on being less of an ass as not only a waste, but also as somehow threatening the justifications (“at least I’m competent” “I speak truth to power” “nobody else works as hard as I do”) that he’s built his life on. Towards the end of the story, he finally realizes it, realizes that some of the things he did were totally unreasonable and beyond the pale, apologizes, and decides to get out of the business and try to regrow his soul and become a less horrible person.

    The story feels to me like a confession of his sins, the kind where he lets his past self defend himself – indeed, where he puts his skill behind his past self’s attempts to defend himself – but, ultimately, it’s an attack on himself, a public “look how I sinned. Look what I did wrong. (Look at what I did effectively!) I am a bad person.” He’s boasting but he’s abasing himself, too. He’s saying “here’s what I did. It was cool (boy, was it cool!), but it was wrong. Hopefully I can do better in the future.”

    1. PPX14 says:

      That sounds like a nice take on such a story (though I haven’t read it) involving such a character – a nice way to not end up foaming at the mouth at how much of an awful person he was.

      The only thing that would be missing however for me is the penance and punishment. I despise the whole “oh my youth was so wild and I was so bad/sordid but now I’m a mature middle aged person but wasn’t it cool back in the day” because there is seemingly no real price paid. They get to be former badboy current success, and the nice people get to be used and feel insecure because they weren’t/aren’t wild.

      Lol I really shouldn’t read that book.

  13. Redrock says:

    Totally unrelated, but I just can’t not mention it. So I just finished watching The Big O for the very first time and, naturally, started googling theories on the ending. And, wouldn’t you know it, at aroung the second or third page of google result I get a link to your post about the show here on Twenty Sided from 20-frickin-06. 2006, man. That was a bit surreal. Also, in the comments section under the post was one of the better theories on the ending I’ve encountered yet, so there’s that, too. So, that’s it, sorry for the unrelated comment.

    P.S. I don’t watch a lot of anime, but I kinda enjoyed The Big O. The style is nice and I think they were going for a very trippy meta kind of thing which, in the end, either works for you or doesn’t. That kind of stuff usually works for me, so. Also, it was fun watching this after Twin Peaks: The Return. They’re more similar than you’d imagine.

  14. Preciousgollum says:

    Don’t entertainment industries thrive off of the poor impulse control of their customers?

  15. GTB says:

    When you linked this, I picked it up and read it too. The whole time -and it was a good book, don’t get me wrong- all I was thinking was “Man, this guy is an asshole.”

    Like, he’s that dude at work that shoves himself into projects, whether anyone wants him there or not, and then no matter how much he actually contributes, takes credit for the whole thing. And continues to get away with it, because he’s really good at picking projects to shove himself into.

    I liked the book though. I liked masters of doom better. Probably because I idolize John Carmack as a sort of saint of technology.

    1. PPX14 says:

      It’s interesting, I typically think of myself as finding hero worship distasteful and yet for some reason, even with limited research into things, I find myself also considering Carmack and co as idols, and the idea that there were others doing similar things in say Japan disappointing (and I’m not even American). I guess I did watch that 1h long video on YT about the history of id software and how they revolutionised PC games. When looking up old classic PC games and seeing the big names and the games they were involved in they just seem so cool. The Looking Glass and Ion Storm lot it makes sense as I love Thief and Deus Ex, but I haven’t even played Doom haha.

      1. GTB says:

        The best part of quakecon was always Carmack’s four hour ramble about whatever cool shit he was working on at the time. Now that he’s gone, I don’t even bother watching the highlights on youtube.

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