Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Live Stream's Almost On...

No plan survives contact with the livestream, as the saying goes. I sat down at my PC this morning with all kinds of good intentions. Then I clicked a link to what I thought was a clip from Lana del Rey's headlining set at Coachella last night and it turned out to be the livestream of her on stage right now. So that was my morning gone.

Well, an hour of it. Lana was midway through her set when I arrived, or thereabouts. I knew it was being livestreamed but by my calculations yesterday she was due on around four in the morning my time and since I'm not (Faron) young enough for wolf hours any more, I abandoned any idea of watching her play live, live. 

Either I can't read a time conversion or she went on stage really late. I mean, she always starts late but that would have been about three hours, which is a bit much even for Lana. Looking at it now I think it was a bit of both. I was a couple of hours out and she was an hour late. Sounds about right. (Yeah, it's not, though. A news report I saw confirmed she actually went on early, for once. Clearly I can't read a clock.)

Reality is fluid. We all know that. Over the course of my time playing MMORPGs there's been a consistent drift away from real-time events towards recyclables. 

When I started playing EverQuest they still had GMs. Actual, live human beings sitting in an office somewhere (San Diego, presumably.) in front of a screen, logged into a game they could change on the fly. Many times I was off somewhere, in Qeynos Hills or South Karana, hunting gnolls or camping aviaks, when the word would go out that something was happening in West Commonlands or Greater Faydark.

Maybe there'd be werewolves. Sometimes undead. Once, I remember, it was three giant Aviak Avocets. Whatever it was, you could guarantee mayhem.

People reacted differently. Some yelled for a wizard to port them to where the fun was happening. Others in the drop zone started heading in the opposite direction, complaining loudly and bitterly about the disruption to their camps. At various times I've been on both sides but mostly I wanted to go where the chaos was.

More meaningful than ad hoc GM events were those set pieces that only happened once. The opening of the Plane of Hate in EverQuest or Greenscale's Blight in Rift. The karka invasion of Lion's Arch in Guild Wars 2. These are things you remember forever if you were there - or wish you had been if you weren't. They carry weight because they only happened once.

Gamers, though, are about the most risk-averse group imagineable. It's not always apparent, given the risks they say they like to take, but really what they almost all crave is a do-over. It's fine to wipe but there has to be a second run. And a third. It's fine to miss out so long as you never miss out. 

Everyone must have a chance at everything, always. God forbid anyone should come late and the bus leave without them. 

Commercially it makes a lot of sense. What business wants to leave their customers behind? You can't sell them stuff if they aren't there to buy it. ArenaNet took a long time learning that lesson but in they end they did, which may be why GW2 feels so stolid, staid and ordinary now, not reckless, strange and weird, like it used to.

It's unfashionable to offer non-repeatable content in games but of course it's the norm in music. We can all buy the records or access the streams whenever we want but if you want the thrill of seeing Lana bring out Billie Eilish to do Video Games you're gonna have to be there.  

Or you could be watching it on the livestream. That's not the same but it's not watching a clip later in the day, either.

Livestreaming is odd. I don't do it often but I totally get it and if I didn't this morning I was given an object lesson in why and how it works. 

When I clicked that link I thought I was going to watch a recording. That wold have been great because I love Lana and I'm always happy to watch her perform but I certainly wasn't feeling any obligation or desire to drop everything else I had planned so I could carry on watching until she stopped. A recording you can watch any time and it's always the same. Kind of the point.

As I started watching, though, I noticed the comments waterfalling down the side of the screen. That didn't seem right. I scratched around a little and yes, this was live.

And everything in that moment changed. I opened the screen to full, sat back and just basked. It felt real. Not like being there but like being somewhere

About a dozen times I had that tingling sensation like static crawling over the skin that means something really special is happening. I'm prone to that, which makes me special, apparently.

I read about it once. Like ASMR, not everyone experiences it. It means something. 

"Pleasurable valuation of music is associated with increased functional connectivity in the brain between auditory cortices and mesolimbic reward circuitry" or in other words "People who get the chills have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions".

Which is all very well but it doesn't factor in the extra thrill that comes from knowing what you're experiencing is a unique, real-time event that can never be repeated. That's a whole other existential ball of string.

Here we chance wandering into the treacherous waters of authenticity, a stretch of rapids I prefer not to navigate just now. My oft-stated position is that subjectivity is all we have and therefore everything is by definition as real as everything else but that doesn't sit well with everyone and anyway it doesn't forward my thesis here that recording is not live performance.

It isn't, though. And livestreaming isn't either. Livestreaming is a peculiar limbic state somewhere between the two. I know it. I can feel the abrasion where the two rub together.

For about twenty-five years one of the most important things in my life was live performance. Specifically, seeing bands play live. At times I went to two or three gigs a week, for months in a row. I rarely went less than once a month in the whole of that quarter century.

And then I stopped. I won't rehash the reasons but for the next twenty-five or thirty years I slowed down to almost never and then to actually never. 

For a good chunk of that time livestreaming didn't exist other than in broadcast transmission and when did TV ever show anything other than sport live? It'd have to be on the scale of Live Aid before they'd clear a schedule for music. And I didn't watch Live Aid. 

I can't say I've watched a lot of livestreams, even now, but I've watched a few and it is different than watching a recording of the same thing. It's not just music or sports or public events, either. Even watching someone play a game on Twitch feels different to watching a "Let's Play" on YouTube. 

The difference isn't even indefinable. Something liminal in the mind knows the possibility of change exists even if you're not consciously thinking about it. Something could go wrong. Something unexpected could happen. Nothing you're seeing or hearing has a predefined outcome. And most importantly, this will only happen once and that one time is now.

Also, by watching when you know others are watching, you feel somehow part of something larger. It's the effect many of us claim for MMOs, where it doesn't matter that you play with others, it matters that they're there. So many intangibles. They pile up. 

There are games in the pipeline that claim they'll provide a personalised service, with gamesmasters on hand to create bespoke events on the fly. If those events turn out to be anything other than rote I predict a clamor for repeats until there's no-one left who hasn't done them all, by which time they might just as well have been scripted anyway. 

One-offs used to signal thrills. Now they smack of elitism and entitlement. We don't like them. We won't stand for them.

From here it would be so easy to fold back into the argument on preservation. If something's worth doing, is it worth doing forever or is there a value in evanescence? 

I vacillate. Some days I say keep it all. Some days I say it's all going to burn anyway so let it and enjoy the heat.

What I am sure of is that being there is better than not being there, even when being there is not being there. The total weight of my life is still heavier for contiguous experiences like this morning's than without, attenuated though they are. 

Everything may be equally real and yet. Some things are realler than others. I can't square it but I can feel it. Can you?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide