Surviving IAP

this post was written in 2017, but i’ve forgotten to post in two years in a row. updates from 2019 are in italics.

You learn a lot of things in college, like the effect of dielectrics on capacitance (what I should‘ve been studying for my 8.02 exam right now, but I’m not) and how the Qing Dynasty made a deal with the Dalai Lama about who they could reincarnate as. But you also learn some unexpected things about yourself, like how much of a trashcan you can tolerate your room being and whether you are a member of the quitter’s club (quitters@mit.edu) or are a commitment whore.

But you also learn just how much (or little) you know about surviving.

For those of us accustomed to the convenience and magic of the dining hall, the independent activities period, referred to as IAP, can be a rude awakening. One month. Without the dining plan. Suddenly the country kitchen is filled with people around 6pm everyday, kitchen cabinets are actually in high demand, and scavenging drastically increases. I swear it’s probably the first time some of us have gone to a grocery store since our moms last dragged us. Non-cookers scramble to latch onto a cooker. The aisles of Shaws are scraped of junk food and instant ramen. And then, of course, there are the ones who live off granola bars and McDonald’s or Domino’s (which shows up almost every night).

Those in cook-for-yourself dorms go “whaaat? we’ve been doing this all of first semester! it’s not that hard!” (You might even hear a whisper of “chipotle meal plan”). But I can assure you, the results of a “Get Fed” chart depicting people to the number of meals they ate that day would be concerning. And nutritional value of meals is another matter entirely (I’m still surprised how some people don’t have scurvy).

Going into IAP is a struggle, but thankfully for me, under the guidance of my wonderful sister, I had inevitably picked up some cooking skill. And over winter break, I stocked up on cooking supplies like pans, pots, and tupperware. As a survivor, I shall be sharing a couple tips/”recipes” for surviving IAP.

1. Food is Important
Accept this fact of life. Consuming food is a good. Do not be too lazy to eat. No, boba does not count. …yes, pizza does count. But it may not be advisable to only eat pizza… Try to eat twice a day. Everyday. If you’re feeling ambitious, try and climb the Nutritional Pyramid.

1.1 Join a Food Support Group
If you’re having a hard time making sure you’re eating and find yourself wondering, did I only eat a bowl of cup ramen today? for several days; you might consider finding a group of friends who have been/are cooking and join their endeavors. (Pika offers a free IAP meal plan too! Just help cook and clean) And if you can’t get in on that, maybe just find friends who can keep you accountable.

2. Scavenging
There’s free food. Hiding in classes (shameless plug, check out web.lab which I’ll be teaching this year and has provided me lunch the last two years). Your friends will have extras occasionally or “strike” some back from an event. Take advantage of that. IAP is chockful of catered talks and workshops (check out some of CMSW’s offerings for 2019). And this 2019, every Monday from 5-7pm there will be free hot meals being served in W11. SwipeShare is also active over IAP and you can request meal swipes for Baker from this form. Pro-scavengers often share calendars of free meal events and have proved time and time again that it’s a viable IAP lifestyle.

3. Go Out to Eat
There’s not a ton of great, cheap options around MIT, but the Chipotle meal plan does work. If you’ve got a smaller stomach, a burrito bowl can feed for two meals and (if you hit more than just meat) can be nutritious. That’s approx. $4.50 a meal. I would not recommend going out to eat as your sole survival strategy – it tends to be more expensive than cooking for yourself. But it can be good to go out and have some not student-experiment-food every once in a while.

4. “I’m trying to be healthy can’t you see”
This is a strat for trying to eat healthy. Ask yourself: “does this look healthy?” If you have a good intuition of what a healthy meal looks like, self-reflecting helps. In general, if you can see more colors than yellow-orange in your meal (and it’s not burnt), you’re probably having more than one food group (potato chips) which is pretty good. By no means is this a catch all method, and heavily relies on your background knowledge. But on that note, this IAP 2019, I’ll be running and Instagram account with all the meals I’ll be having (@jynneats). And as millennial I feel saying it, I’ve found the more “instagrammable” a meal, the more likely it’s kinda healthy.

5. Wash Your Dishes
Even if you’re borrowing cookware. Do your communal-kitchen-mates, your roommates, your immune system a favor and wash your dishes, knives, pans, etc. with soap and water. The only exception to that is if you’ve got some special cookware thing and have been told to not use soap. If you don’t know, ask. Please.

6. If you don’t know, Ask.
Is this cooked through? Should I use oil? Can I microwave this? Don’t assume. Ask. Someone (your friend, the other person cooking in the kitchen, Alexa, Reddit, not How to Basic) knows. Trust me, I was embarrassed to ask, but the food turned out well and the fire alarm didn’t go off. And that’s what counts.

what’s in a review, which by any other name sounds just as sweet?

this piece was written while listening to the GRIS OST

this last semester i began writing video game “reviews” for the Tech. i’ve written “reviews” before; for my CMS.300 Intro to Videogame Theory class (of which I posted the HORSE MASTER one here). but what’s become more true to me as i began publishing in a more public channel is that i don’t really write “““reviews”””.

my struggle with this really shone as i wrote the piece on Detroit: Become Human (henceforth referred to as DBH). i had many issues (to say the least) with narrative choices made in DBH, but i also did enjoy playing the game. from my research, i saw many reviews that rated the game highly and applauded emotional storytelling; but less that dealt (as critically as i wanted) with some of the issues i saw. thus i decided to focus a lot on illuminating those moments where something had gone wrong in the narrative design. but while i spent a lot of time and space in my piece on that, i acknowledge that’s not all the game is (although it is a significant part of the highly narrative-focused piece). and in the end, i do perhaps think its worth playing for a lot of the innovative branching narrative mechanics.

but i had to put a rating on it. oh the dreaded star rating. what do they even mean? besides my existential crises with star ratings, i didn’t want to rate DBH because i don’t write about DBH as a whole. i wasn’t trying to convince anyone to play or not to play the game; to buy or not to buy. i wanted to criticize an aspect i didn’t think was being bitten into enough.

so i didn’t really know how to rate it.

in reality, i don’t think i write “reviews” (don’t tell my editors that?). i really enjoy “close reading” games, picking at mechanics i find cool, theorizing about the underlying systems and why they were designed that way, being in conversation with existing reviews. but i don’t feel comfortable either rating a game holistically or even rating my personal experience with the game. especially as i read back over my pieces on DBH and Dead Cells, and realize there’s a lot of interesting flaws, merits, and theories about the games that i don’t touch at all.

this brought me back to a conversation my friend lilly (who keeps a stellar blog) and i had a while ago. she had responded to my “critique” of HORSE MASTER with:

“at the end of the day, you can call it whatever you want – agree with [I] ’exploration / interpretation’ being too general, but ‘review’ and ‘critique’ also have their own connotations which I didn’t think you quite hit.”

which i fully agreed with.
but what do these words we use to talk about these pieces and their intentions do?
what do they advertise? what do they obfuscate?

i have answers to those questions, but i feel more important to me than the answers to those questions is:

how do we(i) ensure the label doesn’t limit our(my) writing?

and this is something i think reviewer culture on youtube has gotten right. the “review” is integrated with their person and style. such that its inseparable and becomes part of the youtuber’s brand (i.e. a girlfriend review). many create their own rating system. putting at the forefront that this review is in the eye of specific beholder. glass reflection, a youtube channel that reviews anime, often reminds viewers that certain narratives worked for him in certain ways because of the person he is. you are sold on both the reviewer, their personality, and their tastes. if you have a similar taste as them, you may like and feel the same way they do. if you don’t have a similar taste, you may appreciate (or depreciate) a piece that speaks differently to a different audience. and you keep watching for their viewpoint, their voice, and their opinions and experiences. take Chase Reeves, a bag reviewer on youtube for those interested in either $200-$800 bags or a minimalist lifestyle. a common youtube comment on one of his bag reviews sounds like “not getting a bag, but i love watching your videos”. (and his average video is 30-40 minutes long).

so there’s several layers to my feels on this

  1. i want to better reveal that i am not trying to comprehensively “review” a game or whatever else i review. i tease at what got me passionate. either passionately enjoyed or passionately disliked.
  2. i will continue writing “reviews” for the tech, but i plan on doing a better job of writing myself in. i will continue to not write to persuade people to play or not play a game
  3. i will battle my instinct and connotations of “objective” or “comprehensive” reviews
  4. how do i “brand” my reviews?
  5. how do i rate GRIS?

basic node.js tutorial: making onionvale

over the summer, i created a super simple collaborative node.js game. over the course of it’s creation, i documented how i developed and made the application. i wanted to share the process as both a tutorial, as well as some of the design choices i made.

note: the following has not been edited and takes a very informal tone. additionally, this uses mongolab, a service that hosts mongodb databases which may no longer be available at the time you read this essay. feel free to comment/ask me questions if something is unclear.

Continue reading

reminiscing about internet forums and on being misgendered on reddit

i’ve been on internet forums since i was thirteen. back when internet cat fishing was the great scare oprah reported on and when everyone and their dog was a dog behind a screen name. my mom was skeptical about me talking to strangers on fairy tail forums and sharing drawings on deviantart back when the logo looked like an ipod app icon from 2010.

those people i talked to, who met up in europe in the summer, watched anime with, taught me gfx in GIMP, sent me photos of their hometown in the netherlands, in ireland, supported my poetry (and my middle-school-heart-through-drama), played text rpgs with, were family. not some grey avatars hiding scammers or creepers that bad news tried to make everyone out to be. i don’t pretend that everyone was exactly how they presented themselves to be. but are any of us ever?

in some place that doesn’t exist anymore, i spent hours with friends in a hand-made-pixel-drawn home. and it was real. and rose-colored.

fast forward seven or so years later — those niches i once frequented are gone. i dug for an hour or so to unearth their skeletons on the wayback machine. the captures of fairy tail forum were stripped of the themes and icons, badges, and banners that the community had painstakingly fashioned.

remniscing 1

now the “forums” i frequent are twitter, reddit, and occasionally tumblr. an auditorium of millions with walls i can’t see. i lurk. watching people try to talk to loosely defined communities. in rooms without walls. reddit is better than twitter at making people believe in rooms. on twitter, i frequently see someone say something that is then heard by people who were never meant to hear it; someone say something that seems to disappear unheard in a sea of “better” provocations; someone distort something said by someone else; someone accuse all the quiet of complicity; someone struggle with the concept of speaking with a dark room filled with unknown occupant(s); someone. i lurk.

i don’t know if i am present on either of these platforms. is seeing participation? is liking participation? upvoting? bookmarking? what does it mean to be here? on twitter. on reddit. where is here even?

but for the first time, i posted on reddit. asked for feedback in a community passionate about design. i was overwhelmed by how kind and thoughtful everyone was. and, to my surprise, i was misgendered by the users replying. it didn’t really bother me per se — but i was surprised. which sounds almost ridiculous being a female on the internet to be surprised at being misgendered. but the (more surprising) truth is that in all those years i’d been part of psuedoanonymous internet communities i’d never been misgendered before.

sure in mmorpgs i played female characters 80% of the time and i almost always use feminine avatars. but that was a part of being present for me. in vBulletin forums and other communities i introduced myself. i became familiar with other users and interacted such that they knew me — and part of that is also my gender. i’m used to algorithms and programs misgendering me, but a person in a community i thought i was “present” in got it wrong.

being present or part of these communities is not the same as it has been for me in the past. i’m here. but no one knows who i am. these spaces — subreddits, small community forums — all existed as we/communities fashioned them community rules, metas, themes. and their identities persisted and evolved. but can we fashion ourselves in these places? do our words/avatars/(pro)nouns stick as we move from room to room? who is able to exist in these spaces? do they only exist to the people who follow them? only after something they say (or didn’t say) becomes “viral”? what identities collide when we recognize them in the corners of the dark auditorium?

is it okay now to be a dog behind a screen? is it okay to pretend to be a dog behind a screen? why?


bonus link to the jade rabbit rover twitter: https://twitter.com/jaderabbitrover?lang=en

this post does not delve into gender and identity on the internet of which there is a vast amount of fantastic literature. this post is mostly me reminiscing and questioning about “existing” and being “present” in online communities. i also do the frustrating thing of not answering questions posed, but i reserve the right to be frustrating and ask the wrong questions. at the same time, i am trying to ask the right questions.

The Pivotal Summer Update

Today is day 29 of the 92 days of summer. It’s time for an update.

Before we begin though, some fun facts about the number 29 [if uninterested or confused, realize this blog post will be playfully silly and suffer from severe lack of structure]:

29 [twenty-nine]

  • is the tenth prime number and tenth supersingular prime number
  • is 92 if we read numerals right to left
  • = 2^2 + 3^2 + 4^2 which is pretty cool if you like sequences
  • is the atomic number of copper, which you actually need trace amounts of in your body – but this does not mean you should eat copper or drink Live Water
  • is not a happy number
  • has a fun wikipedia page
  • is not my current age

On the other hand,

92 [ninety-two]

is the number of solutions to the n-Queens problem (which I also found out from a great Wikipedia article). And this means we are now 31.5% through the summer of 2018. The number

31.5 [thirty-one point five]

probably does not remind you of the group of Astra satellites at 31.5°E or a wrongly rounded π × 10. But it feels pretty real as how much of not much of summer remains.

Maybe it reminds you (or just me) that I’m 28.3% through the average lifespan of a woman, estimated to be 72.67 years worldwide. Maybe it reminds you that I’m now 47.6% of the way towards the average age one starts a startup (the average age of the entrepreneur is 42! forty-two!!!). Or maybe that if the “late age” of “settling down” (whatever that means) is 32, I’m 62.5% of the way there.

Or maybe reading all this makes you think that all these numbers are pretty arbitrary constructs to measure progress through life. Or you’re reminded of the meme “age is just a number”. Or you’re wondering why I’m putting such an emphasis (or headers) on numbers and segmenting analog progression.

Welcome to the Pivotal Summer Update.

First update: nothing is pivotal – its a gradient.

I want a lot out of this summer. And I’m slowly drifting/splashing towards the breathless reflection of a star on the ocean. I’ve kind of bucketed some of my various endeavors/splish-splashes out below for a sense of how I’ve been spending my 29/92.

build

I’ve crafted a small game platform that simulates a multiplayer text-based roleplay game for my wing. Notably, it challenged me to think about what kinds of rules the platform should enforce (tagging Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and TL Taylor’s Assemblage of Play), how to design a platform that welcomes community co-creativity, and anticipating the need for moderation (tagging Gillepsie’s Custodian’s of the Internet).

Recently, I’ve also decided to fall more full-heartedly into my hobbies and have purchased an iPad to do more art which will be on my Instagram once I’m satisfied.

And my current work in progress is a dorm housing management application for our dorm. I’ll do a full write-up on it once completed, but to hint at what kind of considerations were taken – I’ve had to research on database management, data security and ethics (tagging GDPR and FERPA), and documentation.

Also trying to build muscle. Rock climbing. It’s fantastic.

play

Yes, I’ve actually been working this summer. In fact, I have been interning at the PTC Reality Lab. We’ve been experimenting with augmented reality (AR). I can’t really talk exactly about what I’ve been doing – but it’s cool. You can check out their most recent demo at LiveWorx. Why is this under play? That demo looks like an industrial application of AR. We take a playfully serious attitude to design. There’s a lot there to unpack which, as I’ve been promising, will get a blog post.

I’ve also just been playing games: Detroit Become Human, Guild Wars 2, Grim Fandango Remastered, (two games of) Dota 2, surviv.io, Overwatch (on my friend’s account), and soon the terrifying Nikki Dress Up Game.

destroy

I have taken quite some time essentializing what I actually need out of my material possessions. In plain English, I’ve decided to stop hoarding and throw out everything I only “kinda need”. Some motivational phrases I’ve tagged on to this endeavor include: “If I can onebag, I should be able to two box” and “a cluttered room is a cluttered mind”. Either ways, I plan on moving back into my dorm with much less and will dedicate a nice photo blog post to this once I’ve finished.

Along the lines of essentializing – I’ve been sorting out my priorities and throwing out bad habits. Including overcommitting myself to every little thing that interests me. Surprisingly, this has improved my courage.

simmer

In this heat, I’ve also been letting various game and media studies ideas and philosophies simmer in my mind and with other people. Through adventures like attending to BDiGRA (which I blogged about here); reading Queer Game Studies and Haraway’s Situated Knowledges; trying to balance my enjoyment and problems with Detroit Become Human in my Tech article review (which will also get a blog post with more thoughts); thinking about the working world and corporate culture; and just eating some delicious garlic topped ramen in a small restaurant with friends.

Final closing thoughts are I’m splashing/building/playing/destroying/simmering really hard to be happy. And I’m really happy to be splashing.

So even if numbers are really big, daunting, and I’m trying to avoid saying scary because I don’t think it is –

29/92 [twenty-nine ninety-two]

is sublime. And I’m pretty darn happy to be a small girl splashing in a very large ocean.

First Conference

Fall semester of sophomore year, I wrote a paper for CMS.616 Games and Culture taught by T.L. Taylor about my floor’s play of the card game Mao. In all honesty, it started off as a bit of a meme (both my floor’s play of it and my study of it), but while writing, I found the study became a huge project and my first paper presented at a conference. And now, I’m even considering pursuing a PhD.

Last week, I flew to the UK for the first time to attend the British DiGRA (Digital Games Research Association) Conference. I arrived in Stoke-on-Trent a little dreary-eyed from an exhausting flight, but big-sparkling-incredulous-anime-eyes excited to be 1) attending my first conference 2) being in Europe for the first time and 3) presenting a paper to a yet-unknown audience. If you’ll allow me, I want to try an capture the amazing experience of attending a conference full of nerds/geeks/academics like you (if you’re not interested, skip the next paragraph).

I walked into a little breakout space where around twenty or so academics were socializing, drinking tea (with sugar cubes), last-minute-working on their presentations. People whose work I’d read or heard of standing around in a room with me in it. It was like a meet and greet of celebrities but nerdier. I was ecstatic and nervous. Will I fit in? How did I get accepted? Can I really talk to Mahli-Ann (who is one of the most insightful and all-around-cool people I’ve ever met)? But over the course of two days, I spoke to almost everyone. And we deep-dived into game studies topics, exchanged interesting or not-interesting games, played Overcooked, ruminated about the education system, and so much more. No matter where we were, at the conference or at a pub (insert walk into a bar joke here), meaningful and interesting questions were posed and comments made. Let me tell you, it is an incredible gem to find an accepting and considerate space that also wants to nerd out and “go full academic”.

My first conference is life- / career- changing. My work received thoughtful and challenging feedback. I was inspired by insights I’d never considered and work I’d never read. I made friends. And more than anything, I was able to be present and part of that conversation people are always saying academics are having. In university, the readings we’re assigned are said to be “in conversation” with one another, but it’s often hard to breach that conversation or configure how twenty-page papers are responding to one another. But sitting in a little pub in Staffordshire, listening to a group of people/academics/nerds/friends talking about some facet of game studies, I could hear that conversation. And this is how fields move forward. Wrangling over problems together in writing and in person.

What I ultimately want to impart, is that if you’re vaguely interested in academia, even if you don’t think you want to pursue it full-time ever, go to a conference. Find a small conference you can attend or, heck, even one you can submit that final essay you wrote last semester to – and go. Whether you get accepted or not, you’ll receive feedback on your work (more often than not that’s both insightful and considerate). And even if you’re not presenting a paper or abstract, being “in conversation” with people interested in the same things you are (and maybe even well-read/published on it) is an incredible and meaningful experience.

If you’re interested in more details about finding and applying to conferences or have more questions, shoot me an email at jynnie [at] mit [dot] edu or tweet at me (@jynniit). I highly encourage attending conferences, but also understand this advice does not apply to everyone. Additionally, I’ll be writing a more casual take on my Mao essay that will be going up on here soon. (And yes, the hiatus is ending!)

Review of: HORSE MASTER

This game exploration contains SPOILERS. You can first play the game here (it’s a twenty-sixty minute game). You have been warned.

A Game That Convinces You to Stop Playing

HORSE MASTER is a psychedelic, dystopian video game by Tom McHenry with all the appearances of a time management sim, but without any ability to win, instead it deposits a lingering discomfort and confusion. The game mischievously begins by playing into your expectations of what a game called HORSE MASTER might be about by displaying a pixel art image of a cowboy on a galloping horse echoing traditional depictions of the American cowboy as its title screen. It harkens back to 19th century arcade games and the midwest. But the game quickly disintegrates all expectations: it’s a text adventure that devolves from the moment you press NEW GAME.
You play the game by clicking on midnight blue text, distinguished from the regular white narration, all of which is highlighted against a black background, to explore and make choices. As you dig through the text, you uncover the truth”: what you are raising is decidedly not a horse. It’s born from a larva in a blue sac of nutrient gravy”, has collocytic pores”, and its mane” is a bundle of long prehensile tentilla emerging from behind the carapace.” Moreover, you’re expected to raise your grotesque horse to win a horse mastery competition. You’re thrown into what appears to be a management sim with morally questionable actions that raise your questionable horse’s questionable stats with only the following hint about what is means to be a horse master the supposed goal of the game.

A master of horses. A coveted position (with tenure!) hard won in reward for excellence in horse mastery across all disciplines. 

HORSE MASTER is not a game of skill, as much as the name and the appearance of stats might try and make you believe. It’s not even a management sim. You’re presented the option to optimize your horse based on macros taking out all importance of the player’s choice. In fact, the player’s choices are arbitrary. If you carefully monitor your stats after each action you apply, you find that despite the game telling you Shrike just added +1 Realness, the stat didn’t change (and even occasionally dropped). Finally, you’re evicted and all sense of your stats and your actions’ effects are completely defenestrated.
The endings of the game are arbitrary. You can play arbitrarily, because it doesn’t matter. The game doesn’t even abide by it’s own rules. But while the player feels no connection to their actions or their ending, HORSE MASTER keeps you playing.
How?
The game is disturbing, unhinged, but pattern-recognition convinces you the game is too real-like to not have some sort of meaning. Pseudoscientific lingo like dexobrimadine” and luciferins” combined with terms like foal” and yearling” to describe your horse’s growth seem legit. The unreal horse isn’t visually depicted, but your disorganized room and the dumpster are. 
Furthermore, your character paranoid, anxious, conflicted becomes uncomfortably detailed and real. You have a drug-addiction and a father-fixation, that also are your motivations. The voiced fears of failure are easily relatable: 

You’re developing a facial tic, almost like someone is twisting your left cheek … For some reason this makes you start remembering every person you’ve ever let down. The list is terrible even before it is comprehensive … Would your father even recognize what you’ve become? Did he want this for you? Did he ever notice you enough to want something for you? What good are horses?

Your story is littered with visceral descriptions of pain of struggle: you are very proud of [your horse] this day. You are afraid that it will be taken from you now, that’s how proud you are.” It’s pain, anxiety, desperation you can feel in your own mouth a mix of granola, raisins, blood and enamel … What’s funny is it doesn’t even hurt.” It feels too much. How can something so absurd affect you so much? Your character starts dexobrimadine in unhealthy levels to keep up with the competition as the nightly drip is essentially a job requirement.” But it soon starts to destroy you. How far do you go to win? Are you only trying to get back to your bag of poison”? Why did you even want to be a Horse Master?
The game is disturbing, it lingers, because it’s too real; without being real. And the game even addresses the concept of realness in Shrike. Shrike smells like just soap. It is the shampoo and conditioner combination of realness, When you are a Horse Master you will never, ever use Shrike on yourself again.” It’s a quick snippet you’d miss if you never chose to groom your horse with Shrike, but it reveals that becoming Horse Master is to escape reality forever. 
The tension of wanting to win so bad and your own sanity and health with the added complexity of existentialism is so sympathetic and could be drawn as parallels to stories of drug abuse or bodybuilding that you can’t help but get invested. Which begs the question: what does winning mean to you?
When you win the horse mastery competition, after confronting surprising gore, the game leaves you haunting lines: 
You made it.

You are a Horse Master … 

You did exactly what was expected of you. Good for you! The life your father always wanted.
Now you might even ask what kind of life you would have wanted, but it is too late to ever want again.

What exactly did you do? Your horse is dead. You have your drugs. You can drown forever in distilled dreams. But, as the text asks, is this what you wanted? If your answer is no, if you want your character to be okay”,  to return to reality, to lash back against the absurdity and nonsensicality that is HORSE MASTER; then the only way to win the game, like game theory’s game of Chicken, is not to play.

Hello everyone! It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, [insert excuse here]. Bringing it back to you guys with a game review of a game I played for CMS.300 Intro to Videogame Theory last semester. Would love to hear what you guys think about the game. Did you enjoy HORSE MASTER? Did you play it? Or did my review totally turn you off (haha)? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll be posting more work soon, (I promise it’s not a bait) so look forward to that! Signing off for now ~ Jynnie