Month: November 2016

How Mumbley-Peg and Bloody Knuckles Help Explain the Headlines, Pt 1


Going it—Mostly—Alone No. 2

           I did get that reset post published—after a bit of struggle with the image. That let me pull off the cap of my Waterman fountain pen and put a check mark in the box next to that line on one of my three pads of paper. I’d made something happen, affected the world from inside a room in my apartment: I’d demonstrated I had agency, which was satisfying in itself.

Then, soon after I had published the piece, I got not only got a like, but a follower and yet another follower by the next morning: these felt good.

And that—right there—is social media acting gamefully.

As Jane McGonigal explains in Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, gameful describes an activity not normally thought of as a game being given aspects of games in order to manufacture, not only happiness, but purpose.

I’d thought something, written it out, and put it out into the world. In response, the world responded with two follows and a like within hours, which first appeared in my inbox and then on my blog. Not only did this feedback please me, but it gave me evidence that I’m moving closer to my goal of escaping obscurity. I now have a number, a score I can hold up against other people’s scores to see how I’m doing. They reveal near term goals—levels in game-speak—10 likes, then 50 follows, then 100 likes and so on up the “Most Liked” and “Most Followed” leader boards.

These scores also let me know if something I do works and should keep doing it, or if something fails—getting no follows, nor even a single like, or worse a thumbs down or snarky reply—and should make an adjustment or abandon that idea entirely.

The “happiness engineers” who design games understand that people crave feedback, and that positive feedback gives people an emotional high, and that feeling good drives people to keep doing what gave them these good feelings. Even negative feedback is better than none: if you know something doesn’t work, at least you can move on and try something else. After all, isn’t waiting is the worst part?

These game designers also understand that the more time between action and feeback, no matter how great the reward or harsh the punishment, the connection fades until, eventually, it breaks completely. What 4th grader can connect doing yet another worksheet of identifying number patterns with getting a corner office 18 years from now in a job that doesn’t even exist now? Or connect it to getting hired by that prestigious firm, or to graduating from the right college to get the interview in the first place, or to getting into the right high school to qualify for that college, or into the best middle school program to get on the track for that high school? Especially when they are on the verge of setting a new class record in Shark Attack they can brag about in school tomorrow.

Those worksheets with number patterns to decipher seem pointless and dreary, and like the rest of the work in “most of the institutions that take up our time—schools, offices, factories—[is] organized around the assumption that serious work is grim and unpleasant, ” as M Csikszentmihalyi observed in Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. Worse, “[b]ecause of this assumption, most of our time is spent doing unpleasant things” with grim resolve, while constantly yearning for something else, something enjoyable like setting that new record in Shark Attack.

But by adding elements from that game such as scores, immediate feedback and levels to the same deciphering exercise as the websites IXL, Dimension U and Khan Academy do, this boring, seemingly pointless task becomes game-like: becomes fun, something that our 4th grader might even want to do because it is fun. Because it’s gameful.

Sure, that’ll work for kids in school, but for adults with actual problems? Get real.

As real as it gets: a lot of American adults play video games. How many? Roughly 53% of the entire US adult population plays video games, and one in five of those adults plays almost everyday or everyday. That means a lot of adults are playing a lot of video games. They also play board games, pick up b-ball, soccer and on and on.

So, games for adults? Emphatically yes.

If games give this many adults that much pleasure overcoming problems that don’t even really exist, does it not make sense to harness this power to drive adults to do things they might otherwise avoid or even hate in real life?

After all, there are games even kids dread playing yet still play: not the ones required by Mr. Shout-a-lot in Phys Ed, but hidden, backyard games such as mumbley-peg and bloody knuckles. The first is certainly dangerous and possibly very painful, and the second certainly painful and possibly dangerous, yet kids still play them. I did. I was scared yet sort of thrilled by mumbley-peg. I mostly hated bloody knuckles—I always lost and that sucked—yet I’d find myself staring at some other kid’s outstretched fist, which I had to hit as hard as I dared with my bare knuckles so I could draw blood first.

As loony as my child-self looks in retrospect, viewing bloody knuckles and mumbley-peg, not as merely social rituals by which boys jockey for their place in the pecking order, but as games allows the desires to keep knocking knuckles until your skin splits open, or possibly having a knife blade driven into your flesh or lose by slicing open another boys’ finger open, or worse—chickening out—to make some real sense.

How can mumbley-peg and bloody knuckles be considered games since they guarantee psychological stress and promise physical pain simply for joining in, and the former could involve trip to the hospital, stiches and a tetanus shot. Neither sounds like much fun, and fun’s why we play games right?

Not always: real danger and the guarantee of pain doesn’t eliminate something from being a game, or being gameful. Broken bones, bruises and concussions are all part of football. People have even died playing it. No one would doubt it is a game. The day I’m writing this line is The Game: the annual Ohio State-Michigan game, and there will be much pain this afternoon, both physical and psychological.

From mumbley-peg to Big Ten football to table tennis to Halo to Candy Crush to poker, charades and Dungeons & Dragons, there are so many different kinds of games with so many different kinds of rules, with vastly different goals and wildly disparate elements—some are played indoors, many with cards, others with pencils and dice, or on a screen with headphones and a controller, still others on boards with pieces, or with little more than the imagination of the players, and some are played outdoors and involve teams, fields, balls and body protecting equipment and are played inside stadiums with spectators with officiating staff and thick rule books, others are played in back yards, and have rules as fluid as the wishes of the players—a very real question to ask is does it make sense to talk of games as a thing at all?

In 1978, philosopher Bernard Suits came up with probably the most useful way of thinking of this vast variety of activities when he called games: “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.

Key here are “voluntary” and “unnecessary”. Nothing can truly be called a game if it’s involuntary or necessary. As a kid, I didn’t have to spread my fingers out on a stump and let a someone jam a knife between them faster than I could jam it between his fingers, nor did I have to try to draw first blood by slamming my bare knuckles against another boy’s. There was nothing necessary about it. In fact, avoiding them both would have been better in a lot ways—many kids did—but such is the power of games, and there is plenty of science to explain this allure.

Mostly mocked or overlooked within psychology for most of its history, the science of happiness is now taken quite seriously. Until relatively recently, the only dignified areas for “proper” psychological research were personality formation, pathology and therapies. Now, money and research both flow into how to achieve happiness, especially as prophylaxis against mental illness and as a way to live better, not only psychologically, but physically. This is a long way from a couch in Vienna.

Back up by all this new science, Ms. McGonigal lists seven primary facets of games, elements that can be taken from them and applied to non-game activities to make them gameful: Agency, Flow, Fiero, Communitas, Awe/Epic, Naches, and “pwn”, which a misspelling of own, and can be pronounced pone if one were so inclined—it’s usually written–and describes achieving such a major victory that one cannot help but gloat, such as defying essentially every political pundit who wrote a word about the 2016 presidential election from the Iowa Caucuses until 11:00 pm on November Eighth.

In the next post, we’ll start delving into these facets, including the science behind each one, starting with agency. Then, we can start applying this potent framework to some of the most confounding headlines we have been reading lately in order to illuminate the mysterious whys behind puzzling actors and begin pulling back the curtain on the hidden mechanisms that explain how many of these perplexing things came to pass in the first place. At the very least, it will let us cut through the fog of contradictory and oft reflexive opinions pouring from the myriad pundits clogging our screens and see that there are actual, controllable mechanisms in action here, which can be understood and then used.

Next time on One Candle in the Darkness: Games Explain

Agency: the ability to affect the world


(Tales of Self-Publishing, the weight of Obscurity, and lost Enlightenment)

            It’s 2:29 in the morning, and I’m wide-awake. Not because I’m a night owl.

I’d been asleep for over 3 hours, had woken to go to the bathroom, but when I tried to fall back asleep, my brain clicked into overdrive. I have a novel coming out in a couple of months.

I have got to get all my plans in place to start to market and market hard. I’m self-publishing with iUniverse, which has a path that ends with them becoming a books agent, should all requirements be met. What I’ve taken to calling the Traditional Publish Path, or TPP.

Since even a self-publishing house needs to protect its brand, the track starts with quality: a book must pass editorial muster. It must reach the same standards of a traditional book publisher. If a book meets those high standards, an “Editor’s Choice” award gets put on the cover, and it becomes eligible for the next step in the TPP: does it have a market? And can the author do enough to reach it?

The possible markets for the book have to be clear and significant, and the author’s marketing plan to reach these markets has to be good. Not only that, they must show the author can and is willing to sell the book vigorously enough to warrant more help from iUniverse.

If the book with high editorial quality can demonstrate these, the book gets a “Rising Star” designation on the cover, plus more help.  iUniverse will submit the book to Barnes and Noble to be considered for in-store placement, and from iUniverse, it gets more visible placement in online markets, various social media mentions, as well as guides, templates for posters and giveaways, plus access to a marketing pro for advice.

Not only is A Perfect Blindness of high editorial quality, but it has several possible markets, and marketing plans to reach them all. It has reached the second step in the TPP.

All excellent, but next comes what’s keeping me up at night: the real help kicks in once the book actually sells: either 500 softback copies of which 250 must be from retail outlets or 5,000 e-books. This earns the highest “Star” status. This brings a host of benefits. iUniverse becomes the book’s agent. They submit it to the significant reviewing organizations, such as Kirkus. These can lead to more physical stores offerings, as well as book clubs and libraries picking the book up. As part of this new push, it would get professional help on the cover, and I would get access to all the same media pros and resources that a traditional publisher would make available for their books. Offer it to traditional publishing houses. 

In other words, I’ve gotta sell. And sell well.

Worries about and strategies for selling takes over my brain late at night when I should be sleeping, as thoughts rush back and forth through the far too many plans for any one human to accomplish in a few weeks. Gotta blog. Gotta get all my social media sites in order. Gotta post new stuff here. Gotta curate. And set up this one service and that one too, and make sure each is optimized, and be sure this device has the right setting so it sends the right site the right posts and the right comments and the right images, and there are all those saved articles I’ve got on Instapaper to read and highlight and comment on, and then save to Evernote, and then post, plus sites clipped into Evernote that need reading and some that need posting, and yet others saved to Safari’s Read Later list, and remember the bookmarked sites, then go over the lists of things to do on in my Reminders software. Then, I have to go over the ideas and to dos written down on each of the three note padseach covering one domain of action, but I keep finding overlapping and redundant items, and then there are all the ideas in various Word documents, and they are all shouting at me: GET ME DONE! If you don’t, YOU LOSE IT ALL. You’ve worked too hard TO LET IT SLIP THROUGH YOUR FINGERS!

Enduring this all this shouting in my mind, I stare at the inside of my eyelids, and order myself to shut up and get some sleep, all the while list after list, with red level items, orange level items, yellow level items and black level items glaring at me, then resorting themselves, trying to jump from one list to another, leap up in priority, pulling at the legs of other items to drag them down, and all I want is the sleep I need to actually be able to act on the flood of ideas raising this cacophony in my brain, and actually get the book sold and read.

Slipping away for a moment, I try a trick that works most of the time: alphabetically naming birds from a until I fall asleep: Albatross, Bluebird, Condor, Dove, Eagle, Falcon, Gull, Hawk, I is too hard, Jay, Kite, Loon, Magpie, Nighthawk…

            Then I wake, and it’s 5:39, and for just a moment, my mind is quiet. But as soon as I notice the quiet, the storm starts again wave after wave of ideas, orders to do this and don’t forget that, and then after ten minutes, I give up on sleep, and it’s off to the kitchen for coffee, and then the computer goes on. While it starts up, I gather the three note books and start going down these lists, formatted slightly like an outline, with master and daughter levels, sometimes granddaughter, coded with Red for DO NOW, Orange for do next, Yellow for do later, and Black for do when or if possible.

Part way through the list on one pad is an item that is almost the same as one on another pad and in a different list, so does it get struck out? Checked off? Or is it actually unique? After a few moments making sure what to do about that, I find a note scribbled in the margin reminding me to ask the publisher about something, and so I write a to do item in a list to remind me to ask that, but realized I’ve actually already done it, so mark it off, and then about half way into the last list I’m shaking my head at all the crap I have to do, and wondering when I’m going to do it, and 20 minutes have vanished, and all I’ve done is find a couple of repeats, wonder how I should handle that, converted a note to another to do, and then checked it off: in other words nothing.


More things get moved up or down in priority, other things get moved from one list to another, and the same scene gets played out at 8:50, and then at 10:10, except now, I’ve remembered two things that I was sure I had written down, but can’t find, so they get written down, and around noon, while looking something up, I find a site I’d completely forgotten about that had great stuff on it, so I bookmark it, and write it down. Gotta get that done. It’s been a week.

Then while getting more coffee, my brain fills up with chastisement, half remembered ideas and a vague sense of being whelmed, so I tell myself, loudly, “Oh, just shut up.”

I work at home, so I’m the only person I can talk to. My neighbors must think something’s going on here the way I talk to myself and curse at devices or software when something doesn’t work right: the machines here take the brunt of frustration.

Right about now, a favorite cudgel to pound myself with marches through my head: “don’t mistake being busy for being productive,” causing a surge in despair at getting anything done at all, and losing this chance.

What’s there to do but double down on those lists: what’s first? What can get done right now?

Move this item to that list and change a couple of priority levels. That’s something right?

Bull! You’re conning yourself, and round and round it goes.

Yes, things do actually get done.

I have a house to run, which is good for a few check marks, and banking, and cooking, and stretches, and doing dad things, and husband things: check, check, check.

And, in spite of everything, the blog A Candle in the Darkness has staggered to life, and the notes for the next two books have straggled into Scrivener, plus an editorial calendar has begun forming—to help put into play all the ideas on effective use of Social Media from all the books and blogs and how to guides from dozens of sources I’ve read and which clog my mind—they all sound like such good advice, have such good ideas that I’d be a fool not to use at least some of them.

As if this weren’t bad enough, we’re suffering through an ugly election. It dominates the news, clogs all my feeds, and feels so important that it demands that I do something about it, and so it fills the few free spaces in my mind with retorts and poisonous barbs—it has hijacked my thoughts, my blog, and my feeds: I’ve never intended being so politically partisan, but there it is all over my presence online: headline after snide comment after clever remark—go team, go!

But what the hell happened to MY ideas in this media carnage? The ones I was supposed to be blogging about, sharing, and commenting on. Sure some of those ideas have political edge and certainly take sides in the culture war, but at center was always to have been the decay of public discourse, from actual ideas being brought up, debated and argued rotting into shibboleths, memes, back patting, ad hominem attacks, and general incivility especially since Ronald Regan. Nauseating and toxic.

This election has thrown my voice off terribly. I’m no Gore Vidal nor Christopher Hitchens. Though I delight in reading much of their work, I’ve come to realize their writing is often meant for sympathetic audiences, with just enough cutting remarks to bait antagonistic audiences into a paroxysm of fury—exactly what I’m not trying to do. It might be fun to watch your opponents lose their minds; it does nothing to help with the problem of anti-intellectualism and incivility.

In perfect frankness, One Candle in the Darkness intends to encourage different ways of engaging people, especially those given over to the cult of gut feeling, and of viewing trends appearing on the news: if that’s not too pretentious. At City College New York, I taught expository writing, which in large part means teaching critical thought and argumentation, so have studied a fair number arguments, from the well done to the very poorly done, and continue to study, almost as a hobby, how argumentation— rhetoric—has been used at various times since the Pre-Socratic Greeks.

There, I’ve done it: accomplished one of the items on my list, which is to restart One Candle in the Darkness with a post that hews to its original intent before the Hillary and Donald show derailed it. Now all I have to do is publish it (check mark). Then get people to know it exists (check mark, exclamation point): or continue the struggle to leap from obscurity.

In the next week or two will be an idea that seems so simple, but has never caught on: how video game design can explain so much of what’s on the news, including Trump, ISIL, Jonestown and the Moonies.

Missouri’s Amendment 3 Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Source: Missouri’s Amendment 3 Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing


Within this noble-sounding law to implement a cigarette tax to help improve health care and access to early childhood education hides a sneak around Missouri’s own constitution prohibiting government endorsement of and aid to religious institutions. These places already get tax exemption; they already get privileges not afforded to other organizations; if religious groups cannot survive because their own flocks abandon them, taking money used for the general good to prop them up is one feeble idea indeed. Religion is a creed. If it shrivels, then it’s their own message that is the problem, not the taxpayers.

White Nationalism Moves Republican Mainstream in Montana


Montana Republicans Warmly Embrace a White Nationalist’s Legislative Candidacy

One of many examples of White Nationalism moving from the fringe to the mainstream through the Republican party:

The nice clean cut boy from a small town in Montana, winning the support of the local and state Republican party, yet

“[w]hat many voters may not realize, however, is Taylor’s long history of deep involvement with the white nationalist movement, and the dangerously bigoted worldview he has promoted since his teenage years –– a history well documented by the SPLC and the Anti-Defamation League in the years leading up to his campaign.”

“[T]he GOP’s embrace of Rose is taking place in the broader context of a national Republican party that has nominated Donald Trump, whose own alliances with the radical right have radically altered the nation’s political landscape.”

“The political environment has clearly shifted when there is mainstream party acceptance and grooming of someone with well-documented white supremacist activity in recent years.””

Here he is the fresh face of the new extreme Right. Not grandpa’s hood-wearing KKK, but the rebranded white supremacy known as Alt-Right. He worked “[…] on behalf of the white nationalist Youth for Western Civilization […], appear[ing] at a YWC-sponsored “March for Freedom” in Cologne, Germany. He also met with members of Vlaams Belang, the far-right Belgian political party, and members of German organizations designated by authorities there as “right-wing extremist.””

“Rose also authored a book in 2012 titled Return of the Right: How the Political Right Is Taking Back Western Civilization. […]The neo-Confederate hate group the League of the South interviewed Rose about the book when it came out. During the interview, Rose continued to warn of the evil nature of “the Left” and predicted that a white nationalist Right would soon rise to the fore in global politics”

Recently, “Taylor […] discuss[ed] his candidacy with a “Montana Sovereign” banner proudly displayed behind him – referencing his apparent involvement in the far-right sovereign citizens movement as well.”

“In a recent interview in the Flathead Beacon, Rose denied that he was a racial supremacist and focused on defending the traditional cultural values of Western Civilization, [words that are] often used with other code words such as “cultural identity” and “racial chauvinists” to disguise […] racism, arguing that white people face rampant discrimination at the hands of multiculturalism.”

“[A]ccording to Rose, the national debate ‘could change from amnesty to deportation and from multiculturalism to nationalism.’”

“He’s a member of a Facebook public group called Monarchists, which “exists for the purpose of civil discussion between monarchists and those interested in monarchy as the ideal form of human governance.””

“Rose also conducted an interview in April with the “Patriot” movement website NorthWest Liberty News’ weekly podcast (though the link for that interview appears to be broken).

“Rivas said that Rose’s embrace by the GOP represents an unfortunate evolutionary shift in the state’s politics, in which such extremists, always present in the background, had typically been relegated to the fringe.

““In previous years, the Montana Republican Party distanced themselves from candidates like Rose who had ties groups like the Klan and National Socialist Movement,” she said. “The times have changed. The efforts by the Alt-Right to put a nice suit on their racism may be viewed as effective in this case. And, while Rose’s views seems aligned with the Richard Spencers of the world, his vision isn’t so different than April Gaede’s Pioneer Little Europe.”

No longer with the hater in chief still on the GOP ballot.