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I feel a lot of guilt when I publish any of my writing to the internet. With the click of a big blue button labeled “publish”, anyone anywhere has the ability to anonymously read my work, and it makes me feel vulnerable. Anonymity tends to bring the worst out in people, and creativity is an easy target. Thankfully, the internet has been really receptive to my work, but I've also been extremely anal about what I will and will not publish. So far, I haven't had to cope with word limits or the pressures of deadlines (unless you count this One A Week thing, but even then, this was voluntary). I write when I want to write and show the world only the best. The guilt comes from presupposing that my work is worthy of someone else's time. It's not like I actually believe that's true - there are hundreds of things more worth reading than literally ANYTHING I'll create (at least as long as Catcher in the Rye still exists) - but the act of publishing yourself, pushing that little blue button and letting yourself even exist is presumption enough. There's guilt for not spending enough time developing my ideas, guilt for poor grammar or sentence structure. Guilt that I didn't edit nearly enough. Guilt that I'm pretentious or maybe trying too hard. The only way to try and circumvent the internal agony is a dedication to self-improvement, to take a step back and seriously question whether what you've just laid on the page is insightful and true or more insipid bullshit. Greg Miller recently posted his Dead Space 2 review on IGN, and Twitter and a handful of websites have been abuzz over the poor quality of the review - not necessarily over the validity of Miller's opinion, but over his actual writing.Reddit users tore apart the review , and people have taken to editing it just to illustrate its shortcomings. Greg Miller isn't a bad writer. His blog post rebutting the onslaught actually communicates his point efficiently while maintaining a laid back voice. I actuallylike Greg Miller (and IGN for that matter). I've listened to him on podcasts and I've read many of his articles, and I think he's a cool guy. But I won't flatter him and call his Dead Space 2 review well written. Flattery is antithetical to improvement, but our idea of kindness is often associated with the insincere praise found in flattery. It's hard to be critical and be kind, or at least, it's hard to make the two feelings fit together. Ostensibly they are dissonant: you can't be nice while pointing out what someone's done wrong without tempering the criticism under a sugary blanket of some nicety. For me, it's hard to start any criticism off with anything but some paraphrasing of “It was great, but…” The anonymity of the internet generally strips this need for flattery, but it also pulls most of the punch out of criticism, because, hey, who's going to listen tosome guy on the internet? Besides, we're more likely to listen to the people we know and trust, the people also the most unlikely to give it to us straight. Sometimes it's instructive to honestly look at when we fall short and why. Greg Miller's review of Dead Space 2 is as good as place to start as any and serves as a good signpost for the industry. I compared Miller's review to the New York Times' review of the first Dead Space, which may not be the most fair comparison (the two sites are vastly different in nearly every way), but I think it still stands in terms of comparing the quality of the writing in its ability to convey an idea. Miller has defended himself by saying that he prefers writing in a more conversational, laid-back style of prose, which is fine. But there's a line between conversational and boring. The benefit of the written word is that it can be much more well thought out and communicate much more effectively than if we were to just spew off whatever thoughts popped into our head. There's a place for that kind of discussion (namely podcasts, or maybe instant messaging), and it can often be very thoughtful. But Miller's Dead Space 2 review doesn't read like something thoughtful. It's boring to read, tells me little about the reviewer's experience, and doesn't develop any interesting ideas. It is a very dry dissection of game features that doesn't communicate very much what the game is actually like. The only real thing I can glean from Miller's review is that he thought it was scary, which itself is opaque speech when unqualified by context. What's scary to me will almost certainly never be scary to you. I use the New York Times' review of the first Dead Space to illuminate how useless Miller's review is. They may be two sides of the spectrum, but in this instance, I learn so much more from just the first two paragraphs of NYT's review than I do from Miller's whole text. The NYT reviewer, Seth Schiesel, explores the idea of fear and how it relates to “fun”, illustrates his experience with Dead Space, the lineage an experience like Dead Space has, the genre of horror, and a handful of other ideas. There's none of that in Miller's review - just that it was scary, and an outline of the game's features. Whatever conversational tone Miller has achieved through his writing style in his review, it's certainly not worth holding on to at the expense of stimulating criticism, whether it be good or bad. The alarming thing is that I could apply this line of criticism to more than a handful of people who cover video games. Examining Greg Miller reveals that he is by no means alone. A lot of professional journalism is bad. A lot of game journalism is bad (see what I did there?). This industry particularly is mostly a Wild West right now. There are hardly any standards, especially when it comes to the journalism side. This Greg Miller debacle represents a sickness endemic to the entire industry of gaming journalism. Reviews, news, previews, commentary, and the way we present ourselves are so woefully inept compared to other industries. Amongst the grind of writing daily, sticking to deadlines and reaching daily word counts, working for a paycheck and getting mired in the ridiculous vernacular of gaming culture, I imagine it's incredibly easy to fall into the modus operandi of writing. Writing can become stale so easily - all it takes is a little inattention to detail to start a descent into boring sentences, tired word choice, and eventually rote cliche (of which that review is full). Writing is a medium on the continuum of creative expression, a humongous and nebulous knot that can only be unthreaded and understood in slow increments. Without constant work and dedication to self improvement, writing becomes bad. It's unfortunate, but the damage only gets worse when we don't confront it. I've written bad things. I've written some terrible things. But Greg Miller (nor anyone else - I don't mean to pick on Greggy. He's just the easiest example at the moment) is not in the wrong for publishing a mediocre review of a major 2011 title (that will garner a million plus views). He's in the wrong for being incredulous to the idea that his writing could use improvement. “Honestly,” Greg says in the comments of his blog post, “I felt like it was one of my most heartfelt reviews. I sat there and didn't list out weapons and features. Instead, I focused on what I had to say about the game.” I've read many of Miller's responses (I find the whole fiasco pretty fascinating), and I don't really believe he's looking for honest critique. I think he's been looking for validation, something I see a lot of whenever someone calls out bad writing or bad journalism. I'm 18 and I'm not paid to write a damn thing. I never have been. No one knows who I am, and getting recognized isn't easy because my platform is a tiny blog nestled in the ether of the internet. I have to fight to be respected and to produce quality writing. When does that process end? When does the guilt stop gnawing?When do you reach the point where self improvement is no longer a concern, no longer fathomable? What night do you finally go to sleep, guiltless and satisfied with how much you unraveled on the continuum? I haven't yet found anyone who knew my faults more than I do. Writing is a process of dissolution for me; every time I finish writing something I feel like I know less about the process than when I started, a theme I can thread through any creative process. Is it so hard to accept the need for constant improvement? Sometimes, yes - most often when you're not used to being confronted by that knot of creativity. When you start to swell with flattery and validation, whether it be through the inebriation of a paycheck or the legitimacy of a cubicle or corner office, the knot only tightens.


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