Saturday, July 22, 2017

Anyone Want To See Some Pictures Of My Pets?

Atherne observed in a comment to my last post that she had no idea I played so much PvP. Ravanel said that her blog doesn't accurately reflect what she does in game either.

Meanwhile, Gevlon, who's recently been trawling the entirety of Syp's extensive blog roll in search of something worth reading (sooner him than me!) likens most of the bloggers he's found there to people who put up pictures of their breakfast on Instagram.: "They are alike the facebook pages of random nobodies that are full of everyday busywork that no one cares about (not even the poster) and literal photos of food. Why does someone cares to share a meal? Or a minipet? Or a storyline."

When I was growing up, one of the very many aspects of the adult world that mystified me and made me mildly apprehensive at the thought I'd one day have to learn to do it was "small talk". I was nervous about small talk without really knowing what small talk was. The concept came up occasionally in books that I'd read but it never seemed to be properly explained.

I could tell it was something that the characters were instinctively either good or bad at but being good at small talk didn't seem to confer any great value or status, while being bad at it was often pointed up as a problem or a drawback, even for those characters who clearly found the entire idea an anathema.

In retrospect I recognize this probably says more about the authors than it does about either the characters or about small talk itself, but as a teenager I found a lot of adult life looked like that: opaque, mysterious, worrying. Then, when I finally worked out what the grown-ups were talking about it often often turned out to be an anticlimax; usually it was something I already knew how to do, had been doing all along, without even thinking about it.

Writing a blog turned out to be very much the same. It took me a good while to decide to start one and even when I'd picked a platform and a title and a layout it was well over a year before I found the nerve to upload my first proper post.

Once I'd got started, though, it ended up being just about exactly the same as several things I already knew how to do and had been doing for a long time. As I've mentioned before, blogging is really nothing more than the internet-enabled version of the APAzine scene that took up so much of my time and energy throughout the 1980s. All I was doing was picking up where I'd left off about a decade before only now I didn't have to keep buying glue.

Writing a blog is also not a huge step up from commenting on the blogs of other people or even on pontificating or arguing on Forums, which is how I'd bridged the gap between my last zine and my first blog. Honestly, now I look back it's like I started with my first fanzine in 1977 and never really stopped.

Blogging is an activity that also fits extremely well into the Bartle gaming schema . Bloggers can be Explorers, Achievers or Killers (that would be an interesting way to subdivide a blogroll) but they pretty much have to be Socializers. 

Or do they? Certainly the kind of blogs that puzzle Gevlon are very heavy on the socializing, which is, I guess, why he finds them so puzzling.

Posting pictures of your mini-pets is the blogging equivalent of small talk and as such it's both trivial and essential. The success of any social gathering (and for many of us doing it, blogging is a kind of social gathering) often relies not only on preparation and organization but on the willingness and facility with which those attending are able to engage with each other by finding common ground on which to stand. Small talk is the grease on the party wheel.

Which is all very well as far it goes...only there are some of us who really do love to talk about the weather - not because it's a safe, neutral topic but because weather is bloody amazing!

I grew up in a house with a barometer in the hall. My grandfather would tap it every day and tell us
what the weather was going to be. It wasn't a very good barometer so he was mostly wrong but I grew up with an understanding that talking about the weather was just something people did because weather was something worth talking about.

I love weather. I could talk about it for hours. Mrs Bhagpuss would tell you I do talk about it for hours. It's still my go-to topic for small talk but if I sense the slightest flare of interest then "small" drops out of the picture.

When it comes to MMOs and blogging about them, storylines, mini-pets and everyday busywork are exactly like weather. Yes, they provide a simple, uncontroversial backdrop for a little mild socializing, which is what many people want from their blogging, as well as their MMOs, but to some bloggers and readers they're not the sauce but the meat.

I do want to see pictures of other people's mini-pets. I do want to hear their accounts of quests they've done and how that turned out. I find reading this stuff and looking at the pictures entertaining. The fact that it also gives a warm burr of social inclusion is a welcome bonus.

It is indeed a warm, pleasant feeling and as I  blog, I increasingly feel an obligation to pay it forward. When I began Inventory Full I was writing almost entirely for myself but as the years pass I have come to accept that, as Ravanel says, all of us who publish blogs are "writing for (some sort of) an audience". 

An audience is not compulsory. There is an option in Blogger to make your blog accessible only to people you permit to read it or even to make it entirely private. There will be people out there writing MMO blogs that no-one has ever read but them.

If I truly only wanted to keep a diary of my MMO adventures then I'd be one of those people. When I took the plunge six years ago and submitted my first post for the approval or otherwise of the entire world (I got 13 page views) I was crossing the threshold to join a party already in full swing.

The party's still going on and having chosen to hang around it's on me as much as anyone to help keep the plates spinning. Some days I just feel like slumping in a corner of the kitchen, letting the buzz of conversation filter through from the next room. Other times I find myself talking too loudly and spilling my drink over someone's photos of their mini-pets.

So, I try not to bang on too much about the weather or how we lost Garrison last night because it was Reset in four hours and everyone was goofing off. I try to think of interesting conversation starters but I always have my wallet-full of pictures of the pets to hand in case there's an uncomfortable silence.

Whatever it takes to keep the party going.


  1. Mr. Greedy isn't indicative of my imaginary audience, that's for sure. Yes, I do write for myself, and I have a blast doing it. I'm not analytical or profound, I'm just me.
    I love reading what other people have to say about games, I love seeing their pets and hearing about their adventures and accomplishments. I shall also go through Syps blog roll and find more blogs to read.

    1. It was a bit of a surprise to me when Gevlon commented here recently. Never really occurred to me that he'd be reading, let alone take enough interest to comment. Everyone's very welcome though, so long as, in Wilhelm's words, they're nice about it!

    2. Everyone reads Inventory Full, for the irresistible essays and pet pics.
      I started going through Biobreak's roll, some good stuff there!

    3. I don't just read what I agree with. Hell, I ever read Huffington post (quit reading all politics due to time limits). You write interesting things, even in this post.

      Most people don't, because they are socials: mere products of their environment without any unique personality.

  2. "Bloggers can be Explorers, Achievers or Killers (that would be an interesting way to subdivide a blogroll) but they pretty much have to be Socializers."

    I think my very existence disproves that notion. But then I've long felt the Bartle archetypes were a bit of a crock.

    Interesting topic, though. Personally I don't tend to have a lot of interest in reading about the day-to-day minutiae of other's play sessions. I also hate small talk in real life, so maybe there's a connection.

    But then again it depends on what interests you. You touch on this with the weather example. For some people it's trivial and uninteresting, but for you it's anything but.

    Similarly, you lump together pictures of mini-pets and talk of storylines because to you they're equally trivial, but for me they're night and day. I'm not interested in people's pets, but stories are very important to me and always interesting to analyze. I'm in the middle of a lengthy series of blogs on WoW's class stories right now. To me, that's not "small talk"; it's the beating heart of the whole experience.

    1. It's not me lumping pets and storylines together - I'm quoting Gevlon. I'm not quoting him because I agree with him, either, as the post, I hope, makes quite clear.

      The references he made to Romeo and Juliet in his post on what makes a game do suggest he doesn't place a high value on story per se, but in this case I think the case he was making related more to the redundancy (as he would see it) of blogger A describing the plot of MMO B to blogger C, who also plays MMO B and therefore already knows the story. Then again, I do sometimes find Gevlon hard to follow so maybe he didn't mean that at all...

      *I* don't find any of these things "trivial", especially not in any kind of pejorative sense. To me both storyline and mini-pets are equally important, or have the capacity to be. In most situations, and without exception in all entertainment, Import is a function of interest, context, taste and, no doubt, a number of other factors. Most experiences are neither important nor trivial except as you choose to assess them.

      Indeed, I don't entirely buy the concept of "trivia" to begin with. In five years of playing GW2, for example, two of the least trivial, most memorable moments were the time I bought my Magic Carpet from the Gem shop and the time I bought the version that turned it into a glider. I wouldn't make any claim for universality there but it is my experience.

      This is getting dangerously close to the endless debates on Objectivity that dogged my student years and that's a rabbit-hole I'm very glad to have climbed out of long ago, so I think I'll leave it at that!

    2. My mistake, then. As I said I dislike small talk, so any comparison to it is going to seem like a criticism to me, even if that's explicitly not the case.

      Where we seem to agree is that a lot of this comes down to perspective. What's banal to one person could be fascinating to another.

  3. Ahh, good old Gevlon, the MMO blogosphere's crazy uncle.

    I'm terrible at small talk myself, and I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of blogs that purely follow the "this is what I did today" diary format.

    That said, I also disagree strongly with his claim that people talking about the exact same quests is pointless. In fact, one of my favourite things whenever new content comes out for an MMO I play is to read other people's thoughts about and experiences with it. I find it incredibly insightful to find out that others are loving the things I hate (and vice versa) and to see how differently people can approach and engage with the exact same thing. He quotes the example of finding it boring that everyone tried SWL and had the same experiences, but from what I could see it was the opposite: I really enjoyed hunting down all the different points of view about the game and finding lots of differences.

    1. The SWL example really pointed up a difference not just in attitude but in psychology, I think. There's a big tendency in this part of the blogosphere for people to bandwagon onto the latest thing, partly because it's new but also because there's a feeling it's the thing to do. It's like everyone in an office ending up watching the same TV show as much so they can join in the conversation around the water-cooler next day as because they actually find it particularly compelling.

      I just bought Yonder today. Partly that was because it looks like something I might enjoy but also because I've read several people's posts about it and it looked like it would be fun to play it the same time as other people so I could also write about it and compare experiences. That's definitely part of the "Socializer" aspect of blogging.

  4. I absolutely write primarily to be social and put my own spin on in-game events, and I tend to seek out and read bloggers and forum posters that do the same. Of course, I've been focused heavily on offline games lately. Things like X-COM and Crusader Kings After Action Reports and the like fascinate me endlessly.

    1. I absolutely love your record-keeping posts. Now that Tipa's blog (West Karana) sadly seems to have gone dormant for good you are the standard-bearer for laugh-out-loud, genuinely witty, play-through write-ups. I've never played Pokemon and I've never even read a Nancy Drew but that makes no difference at all. (Mind you, what with you, Wilhelm, and putting the manga and the cards on the shelves at work I feel I've been playing Pokemon all my life...)

    2. Wilhelm actually completed a Pokedex and this means I have the greatest respect for him. These longform writeups are a little draining and I do rather desperately wish I could get screenshots from a handheld system, but they're too fun to stop.

  5. Well, I'm quite pleased to see that my dead blog is not something that He Who Does Not Like Things would recommend.

    Small talk is about all I'm interested in reading these days. "Should MMOs do away with levels?" and the like just don't give me warm fuzzies like pictures of pets and adventures and catgirls do. Good-natured, kind-spirited tale-telling spins the plates in the most delightful way.

    1. Structural analysis has it's place but for those of us who read Cordwainer Smith at an impressionable age, you can never have too many pictures of catgirls.

  6. As you know, I'm not much for pure small talk blogs myself, but I do see the point. And I do sometimes write posts like that myself. Connecting to others is one of the reasons for me to blog.

    Excellent post, Bhagpuss. +10 Wisdom for everyone reading it.

    1. That'll be the Cleric in me coming to the surface. Thanks!

  7. I saw the title of this post and knew it had to be about Gevlon. Interestingly enough, you did make his side-bar blog roll after he went through Syp's graveyard of MMO blogs. You must not be posting enough pictures of your food.

    1. I put him on my blogroll when he commented on an earlier post. I try to add anyone who comments if they have a blog and also if I happen to spot they've added me to theirs. We socials are like that (insert ironic emoji of choice). I have to say that, like SynCaine and Tobold, he may be a difficult proposition in some ways but he certainly knows how to get a conversation started.


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