Monday, August 25, 2014

Picture This

Someone who didn't leave a name asked a question in the comments to the previous post asking what was the relevance of the pictures I'd chosen to use to illustrate it. That's one of those questions you always hope someone will ask but no-one ever does so, rather than bury the reply in a comment thread, it deserves a short post of its own.

Choosing the pictures for these blog posts is the part that takes the most time. I can bang out five hundred words straight off the top off my head in an hour or so pretty much any day of the week but getting the visuals right can take much longer.

Long before I took to blogging about MMOs I always took hundreds, thousands, of screenshots but once I found a practical use for them I began to take even more. I snap umpteen shots every time I do any content I think I might write about - fresh episodes of GW2's Living Story, say - or whenever I play a new MMO or find a new area in an old one. In MMOs that have the comics-style speech bubble option for open or group chat I've also fallen into the habit of screen-shotting anything I say if it strikes me as amusing and/or potentially useable on the blog.

I call this my Goth Moth look.

That gives me a substantial archive to draw from but I still often can't find exactly what I need so I also take shots specifically to use in particular posts. Some days I'll log in to a game in the middle of writing a post just to grab the precise images I need. At the other extreme, if I'm short of inspiration for something to write about, I'll sometimes riffle through my recent screenshots until an image sparks an idea for a post.

Wherever possible I like to use pictures I've taken myself. Occasionally, when I'm writing about a game I haven't played or something I played long ago, I might resort to grabbing a shot from the web but I try to avoid that wherever possible. As a rule, though, I have vastly more screenshots than I'll ever be able to use on the blog, especially since I very rarely do the kind of pure picture posts that, just to give one example, Kaozz does with her Eye Candy series.

Normally the illustrations match the content of a post in a relatively straightforward fashion. If I can manage it, I even try to get the individual pictures to sit next to the individual paragraphs or sections within the post to which they relate, often with captions to emphasize the connection. Before I discovered MMOs I spent nearly twenty years searching magazines for pictures and using scissors and a can of SprayMount to lay out the pages of fanzines and apazines. Blogging feels like a faster, less messy version of the same process.

Insert Amusing Caption Here

The problems tend to come when I'm writing a piece about the MMO genre in general rather than any game in particular, or, more difficult still, about gaming concepts like payment models or accessibility. That's when the connections between the images and the text become more abstruse, which is what was going on in yesterday's post.

To get to the point, and to answer the question, the post was, at least in part, about being cool and being uncool, about whether or not you have the courage to own your obsessions, even when doing so can cause others to see you differently from the way you'd like them to see you or even the way you prefer to see yourself. Illustrating abstracts is a challenge but the immediate connection that came to mind when linking the concept of "cool" and the MMO genre was The Secret World.

The gaucho look is so in this year.
In all the years I've played MMOs and in all the MMOs I've played it's very, very rare that I've ever looked at a character and thought "she looks really cool". I have a deep and abiding connection with and affection for many of my characters but I'd hardly call most of them "cool". For a start, many of them are under three feet tall, have fur, tails, bald heads or vast, foresty beards (and sometimes all of those at once). For a finish, they mostly wear clothes that make them look either like  Second Spear Carrier in a high school production of Henry V or the junior clown in a down-at-heel Eastern European non-animal touring circus.

There are several reasons I don't like to play human or close human analog characters, like elves, in MMOs but foremost amongst them is my feeling that they just look ridiculous. Laughable, even. Playing animals or monsters is partly a way to avoid the kind of disconnect I feel when I see the carnival of excess that surrounds me as I play - huge, hulking wrestlers with their shoulders on fire, porn starlets prepping for their latest low-budget gig, wish-fulfillment fantasies of perfect elven skin and bone structure. Trying too hard is very, very uncool.

There are exceptions. It's possible to make some good-looking and, yes, cool, human characters in GW2 for example. The only MMO I've ever played where looking good is the norm, though, is The Secret World, so it was the natural go-to choice for illustrations for a post about self-image and personal obsession and the way they conflict and conspire with cultural and social norms.

That could be me in 1985. If I'd been a girl. If I'd had a gun.

In the previous post the first picture is my main TSW character, who is, I think, the coolest-looking character I've ever played in an MMO. She looks like the bookish sidekick to the lead in an indie coming-of-age movie, the best friend who's been there since forever and has all the best ironic lines. I have plenty of shots of her looking extremely badass with a machine gun but I chose that particular pose - tense, uncertain, tentative, enigmatic - to emphasize the mixture of desire and discomfort I feel over owning the Gamer label.

The second illustration emblematizes obsession. The intention is to contrast socially acceptable postures - listening to music and being up to speed on new trends and bands - with socially inhibiting behavior - haunting musty record fairs and knowing the serial numbers of colored vinyl releases of 12-inch singles from the early 1980s off by heart. There's a point at which people stop leaning in to listen and start to back away. It looks like it might happen a dozen times a day in that record store.

The final shot is Saïd, a suave, sophisticated mummy, who doesn't let a little thing like having been dead for a few thousand years get in the way of his being the coolest guy in the room - even when there isn't a room. He seemed to me to symbolize perfectly the understanding that being cool isn't something you grow out of - it's something you grow into. Also, the older you get, the cooler you look in a linen suit and a good hat.

So there you have it. The answer to the question "whats the relevance of the pictures in the post?". Now I just have to go and find a bunch of suitable illustrations for this one. Bang goes the afternoon.


  1. The final image reminded me of the end of "The Man Who Fell To Earth". (far too old, it and us, for a spoiler alert) The record shop shot? Heck, that is a classic image of obsession...IRL.

    Anyway, the graphics are a big part of the fun here. Impatience plus a tiny phone screen equals me a bit frustrated when smartly telling myself, as I'm reading a post on the train, to go look at those shots later at home on a real computer screen. Doesn't stop me stopping, clicking through, and trying to get a good look anyway.

    Also, agreed about human(oid)s never, ever, ever looking cool, so why bother and all that. Bristlebane, afterall, offers us the title "The Ridiculous". Fits my outlandishly dressed troll perfectly.

    -- 7rlsy
    AB & Blubbergate

    1. Said's in a much better state than Thomas Jerome Newton, though, even if he has been embalmed!

      Now I want to watch the movie again...years since I last saw it.

  2. I respect that a lot. I really need to take more pictures - I had a ton on my old gaming rig and the HD crashed years ago. I kind of stopped then.

    I wish I had them though, if but for the memories. My "6 Shooter Screenshots" post from back in the day had some originals and they made me smile looking back at them!

    1. I salvaged quite a lot of screenshots from old HDs as I upgraded but I lost a load when I messed up a Raid array and another bunch when an external HD failed. I have everything I have left, which is a good few thousand shots, triple-backed-up now.

  3. If this is too weird, you can always delete it after you're through pawn'dering the existence of superficial metaphors; but, yet, what we make of this finite existence is what becomes our infinite eternity. Lemme begin.

    Greetings, earthling. Because I was an actual NDE on the outskirts of the Great Beyond at 15 yet wasn’t allowed in, lemme share with you what I actually know Seventh-Heaven’s gonna be like for us if ya believe: meet this ultra-bombastic, ex-mortal-Upstairs for the most-extra-blatant-and-groovy, pleasure-beyond-measure, Ultra-Yummy-Reality-Addiction in the Great Beyond for a BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy, eternal-warp-drive you DO NOT wanna miss the sink-your-teeth-in-the-smmmokin’-hot-deal. YES! For God, anything and everything and more! is possible!! Cya soon...


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