Meme-time: Comfy Questions

A “Comfy Questions” meme has been doing the rounds among some of my blogging friends, most hilariously Moderate Peril. I can’t guarantee to be as amusing or ornery as Roger – in fact, I can guarantee that I won’t be, and won’t even try – but here is my take on this…

How do I drink my tea?

I’m tempted to answer, Roger-fashion, “Out of a mug, how else?” But I’ll restrain myself. I drink tea with milk, no sugar. However I’m also partial to a Chai Latte, which has not only sugar, but also cinnamon and such.

Favorite dessert?

Don’t really have a single fave. However one of my nieces, a 12yo, has developed an interest in baking and made a gorgeous baklava for us all last time her family was over. That could be a fave just because of who made it. I recommend eating baklava with ice-cream!

Favorite season?

Again it’s hard to pick a fave, as each season has its pluses and minuses. I love the Christmas period, so maybe winter, but the weather is often pretty disagreeable then!

What cheers me up?

Goofing around with kids definitely lifts the spirits amazingly.

Dogs or Cats?

When I was small I wanted a dog; when I was older I lived with assorted cats (not mine). However as a grown man I’ve never wanted either. If it was going to be one or the other, and it was practical to fit into my life, I’d go for a dog though. Best I know you can play and have fun with a dog, and dogs look on you as an adored friend and wise master. Whereas a cat thinks it is royalty and you are simply the domestic help.

Dream holiday?

I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling over the years, and at this point I don’t have anyplace that I’m still really dying to go. Overall it’s the people you’re with that make vacations wonderful, more so than where you are.

So maybe combine a few of my answers already and make it a big family vacation (with parents, siblings, nieces & nephews etc) around Christmastime, and go to somewhere like Lapland, see some Northern Lights and generally feel the Christmas vibe to the max.

How many kids do you want?

At my age I’m old enough that I’m very unlikely to ever have any kids of my own. I was never opposed to having them, but neither was it all important to me to do so.

Favorite weather?

What I love the absolute most is a cool, perfectly clear, sunny winter’s day. However I enjoy a lot of different kinds of weather as well.

What would your last meal be?

There are not many circumstances in which you eat a meal knowing that it will be your last. Are we imagining I committed a horrible crime here? 🙂

Maybe a homemade pizza.

If you could spend 24 hours anywhere, any year, where would you choose?

Realistically, having first seen Roger’s response (“some cunningly contrived, time travel scheme here, where I could set up some sort of long-term investment plan that would pay off big time now”), I would probably go for copying his idea!

Go visit my former self with some hot tips… “Buy that house whatever it takes dummy, it will be worth a fortune in a few years time…. Also Apple stock…. And when you hear about a little thing called Google: buy, buy, buy!”

But if we weren’t being so pragmatic, there are plenty of times and places I’d like to visit.

How about this: Give me 24 hours on the International Space Station! Not too bothered about the exact year!

If I were a ghost, who or where would I haunt?

I would either haunt The White House (selected inhabitants only) or some eminent scientist who scoffs at the idea of ghosts.

Perhaps I would haunt Harvard University, so I could unsettle generations of scoffing scientists. Also if you have to hang out someplace for all eternity, it is not such a bad place to do it.

What is your family ancestry?

I don’t know a great deal about it. To the best of my very limited knowledge my ancestors were most likely pretty humble farmers, coming from places where there would have been not much in the way of records kept. I could be wrong though.

What scares you?

The prospect of global warming scares me, esp after what we saw this summer.

What are you most grateful for?

A few years back I had some serious knee probs, which thankfully were able to be completely sorted out. So now I’m grateful and delighted that I’m fully able to walk, run, jump, whatever.

Dream job?

If I were actually capable of doing it, probably being some kind of top-notch scientist. Possibly a cosmologist.

Do you believe in aliens?

If I had to guess, I would say most likely there are other life forms out there somewhere. But it would be much more interesting to know than to guess.

Favorite sport?

Fave to play is tennis, but fave to watch is soccer. Only when played at a very high level though, and in general I don’t watch that much sports of any kind.

How do I relax after a long day?

If it’s really been that long then vegging out and collapsing is on the menu! Or in more concrete terms, watching some undemanding-but-good show on streaming, while slumped on the sofa.

Note that this is not the ideal form of evening entertainment, it’s just what I’d have energy for if it had been a really long day.

If I could meet one historical figure, who would I choose and why?

This is again a tough one as there are plenty that come to mind.

I’ll go for Richard Feynman, in part because I’ve got enough idea of what he was like that I’m pretty sure it would be fun and interesting to meet him, rather than turn out badly.

As a teenager he was a big inspiration, and I imagined he’d be a great mentor. Spending time with him you’d maybe pick up a little of his way of looking at things, and it certainly wouldn’t be dull.

If I had to be a teacher, what subject would I teach?

Although I am in no way qualified to teach it, I’d teach English Literature. At least I would be able to read and discuss some good books, and perhaps be a positive influence.

I am interested in (and far better qualified to teach!) various other subjects, but not so keen on how they are treated at school, or are forced on kids who aren’t enthused.

Describe your perfect day?

There’s no such thing, as there are many different kinds of great days.

One is: Go walking with friends somewhere beautiful, say along the coast, and round it off with a great meal.

Describe yourself in a sentence?

“Mostly harmless; he’s just zis guy you know…”

Who makes me laugh the most?

Douglas Adams probably.

What super power would you choose?

I’d take Hiro Nakamura’s abilities.

Favorite animal?

Don’t really have one. Tigers are pretty awesome though.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Probably helping various people deal with some tough situations.

Which is probably not something I should discuss in any detail in a blog post, hence the vagueness. But there wasn’t anything comfy about those things, so that doesn’t belong in a “Comfy Questions” meme anyhow!

Developer Appreciation: The Lichess Story

Nowadays lichess is one of the most widely used and best loved chess sites in the world. Remarkably it was started a few years back as a hobby project by one young French developer, Thibault Duplessis. To this day it’s remained a totally free service, and is an open source project.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And add a million other thank yous from the chess players around the world you have made your site a second home! ❤

mtnmcallister, Reddit AMA

Initially Thibaut simply wanted to try out certain then new web technologies for fun, and decided to build an online chess game because he liked chess himself and thought it would be relatively simple to build. He was not looking to get any users at all, or to build a large site.

As the site grew in popularity, he continued to work on it as a hobby project, and paid all the running costs for the servers himself. He argued that as the site was his hobby, and he had a well-paid day job to pay for such hobbies among other things, there was no need for anyone else to contribute financially.

Being an open source project, people did of course join up to contribute in other ways, from programming, to translating the site into a large number of languages, to moderating the forums.

Eventually the site became so popular and the feature set so rich that the amount of work needed and the running costs for the servers were beyond what could be managed as a side project. At this point the community stepped in with donor funding, firstly for the servers, and later to pay Thibault a reasonable salary to enable him to work on the site full time.

Last I knew, he was backpacking the world while continuing to work on lichess, funded by a modest salary paid from donations.

I’m not doing office hours; instead I’m traveling around the world, working from everywhere there is an Internet connection.

Some days I will only check in to see if everything is going well, and if I’m not needed to fix an urgent bug, I’ll enjoy a day of hicking, diving, or traveling by bus to a new town.

More often, I’ll wake up early in some cheap hostel, check in with the awesome lichess team on slack, empty the lichess email box (about 50 mails a day, but I get help), and get to work. Fixing the bugs I wrote yesterday, then writing new bugs (a.k.a. features) for tomorrow. Titivating the servers. Reviewing and merging code from contributors. Reading reports and new ideas from the forum. Asking the moderation team and mobile app team how I can help. Taking breaks where I’ll play a few correspondence moves, or a couple blitz games, or check out reddit. Then back to code, and eventually, before I go to sleep, when lichess is the most quiet, I deploy the new fixes and bugs I wrote.

On a good day I can put in about 15h of work. Sometimes 10h, sometimes 5h. In any case I’m on duty 24h/24, 7 days a week; the team has my phone number and will call when something breaks.

TL;DR lichess takes as much work as I can or want to put in.

Thibault Duplessis, Reddit AMA

If you are in interested in Thibault’s tale I can recommend his Reddit AMA, plus this episode of the Perpetual Chess Podcast and the following video:

Both are fascinating, inspiring and rather fun even if you haven’t the slightest knowledge about chess. They deal with topics that all developers and gamers can relate to, and offer interesting insights into matters such as:

  • How to build and scale a site
  • What makes a game site a success?
  • Why open source?
  • How to make a community work?
  • How to handle cheats, trolls and those out to game the system

A big thank you to Thibault and the lichess team for making this wonderful site!

Books That Have Stayed With Me

Today is apparently Book Lovers Day. To mark it I thought I would reblog this very relevant piece from my second blog, Planet Pasduil . It arose out of a meme in 2014, and it would be great to have a revival of that meme for Book Lovers Day.

You can see many other people’s books lists in the comments to my original post and via this follow up.

If you’re a lover of books and reading you’ll find plenty of other articles about that on Planet Pasduil as well. If you would like to share your own lists, you can do that in comments below,. Or write your own post!

Happy Book Lovers Day!

Planet Pasduil

Apparently there is a meme on Facebook where people are listing the books that have stayed with them in some way. I first heard of this from The Tolkienist because predictably enough Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit make the Top 10 of those mentioned. (The data is pored over in a little more detail over at The Atlantic.)

I’m not much of a one for Facebook, but I am one for books. I think lists of this kind are both fun and illuminating, especially when it comes to seeing what your friends say.

Here’s my stab at identifying which books have stayed with me the most. Unlike the Facebook meme I’m not going to confine myself to fiction because plenty of non-fiction jumps out at me when I think about this.

So, in no particular order…

  • B-Flight by Bruce Carter. You’ve probably never heard of this but…

View original post 826 more words

A Writing Process

As part of Blaugust quite a few people are sharing writing tips. Now I’m in no great position for offering tips on getting blog posts written because a) I don’t get that many posts written myself! and b) I have no process for doing blog posts, at least that I am aware of consciously.

However while I don’t have any process when it comes to blogging, I did have a method for academic and business writing that I often used, and which worked well for me. I only remembered this when I saw a piece by Telwyn describing something which has strong similarities to what I used to do.

What problems does this solve?

Before getting into the method, it’s worth explaining why it was useful to me.

While I’ve always been a pretty good writer and generally enjoy writing, I used to run into some frequent problems:

  • Procrastination brought on by staring at a blank page and wondering where and how to start.

  • Feeling befuddled by the complex mass of stuff that seemed to comprise the topic I was supposed to cover, and wondering how any piece of it could be explained when every piece seemed inter-related to everything else.

  • After actually starting, quickly getting bogged down in excessive perfectionism. Not making much progress on the whole because of trying to get the first few bits just so.

Due to these problems getting things written was often quite stressful. It was hard to predict how long anything would take, and it wasn’t uncommon to end up pulling an all-nighter at the last minute to get the thing done.

Finally I evolved this method which made things a lot less fraught.

The Method

1) Jot down headings or phrases for all the matters that should be covered to deal properly with the overall subject. Don’t worry too much about the order of things, or finding the right words for anything, even the headings. This is somewhat of a brain dump, and could look vaguely like a mind-map, with some lines between connected topics. As you might guess from this description, I often found it better to do this step on a large pad of paper first rather than electronically.

2) Expand on one of the headings, putting down what you want to say about it. (This bit is now electronic! No actual writing prose on paper.) Don’t necessarily go through headings in order, if stuck for what to say on one section, just go to another. Or just work on the one that grabs you first. Equally don’t worry about such things as phrasing things well, a proper flow or any other writerly concerns, Just get down what needs to be said about each subtopic. Keeping going until all the subheadings are done.

3) Review whether the structure makes sense. Often after things have been put down it’s clear that the most logical order is a bit different to the one you first came up with. In electronic documents, especially Word docs, things can easily be restructured.

4) Now polish up to make the thing well-written and readable. Improve the clarity, expand on things that might not be self-evident to readers, put in those nice segues from one section to another, add explanations of how what we discussed in Section 4 applies to Section 5 etc.

5) If appropriate to the type of piece write conclusions / recommendations / management summary etc that sums up what you had to say.

6) If writing to a word limit, trim or expand as needed. In my case I normally have to work to make things more concise. Even if there’s no word limit, it’s useful for me to check if I can say things in a simpler and more readable way.

7) Finalize, pretty up, sort out things like a Table of Contents and publish.

Applicable to Blogging?

I suspect that while I don’t do any of this consciously for blog posts, I used the method enough times before there even were such things as blogs that to an extent it’s become semi-automatic for me, and I do use elements of the method unconsciously.

Blog posts are usually short enough that the “headings” don’t have to be set out explicitly but are just “jotted down” mentally. I then feel comfortable banging out a first cut confident that there will be another pass or two to bring sanity to the mess later on. When everything seems publication-ready, there is that last check, and while there are no Tables of Contents and the like to add, it’s at that point I think about things like tags. Finally I hit publish.

Optimistically you could say that maybe my writing skills have gone through those three classic stages of development: 1) Conscious incompetence, 2) Conscious competence, 3) Unconscious competence.

A Paradox of Play

In my last post I presented reasons why play is an important part of life, is highly beneficial to both children and adults, and is most likely a biological necessity not only for humans but many types of animal as well.

This being so, why don’t we take play more seriously? I think part of the explanation lies in a paradox about play.

This is from Stuart Brown’s working definition of play:

… the first quality of play that sets it off from other activities is its apparent purposelessness. Play activities don’t seem to have any survival value. They don’t help in getting money or food. They are not done for their practical value. Play is done for its own sake… It is also voluntary — it is not obligatory or required by duty.

For something to truly be play, and give the experience of playing, it has to be something that you do for the heck of it, without attaching any greater purpose or significance to it. If you were to do the same activities but motivated by an earnest desire for self-improvement because you know play is meant to be good for you, the activity would automatically cease to be play, the fun would greatly diminish or go out of it altogether, and you wouldn’t get the benefits of playing!

Taking play too seriously destroys it!

Now of course one can “work at” aspects of one’s play. For example you might have a training schedule for your sport, practice sessions for your musical instrument and so on. As long as the ultimate context remains that you follow your pursuit for its own sake, and from your own choosing, this generally doesn’t undermine experiencing playfulness.

The sweet spot of taking things seriously but also lightly is often the most rewarding of all.

At times naturally our “taking things seriously” can get out of hand, and then the once refreshing and delightful hobby becomes another chore to be gotten through. When this happens we start to lose enthusiasm and eventually feel burned out altogether.

“Lightness” also has two major pitfalls. Firstly, while pure spontaneous goofing around is a necessary and rewarding form of play, in many kinds of hobbies that is not enough to make for a satisfying amount of progress. You might be writing your novel for the heck of it, but if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere after months of intermittent writing, you’ll probably get disheartened. Oftentimes your hobby becomes much more fulfilling when you “get serious” about it.

The second pitfall is where we came in: You take your play so lightly that you think it’s not important to make room for it. This can happen with an individual’s personal decisions, but also with choices that societies make. When there is pressure to be achieving ever higher grades, it’s easy for school authorities do decide that fripperies like sport, art and music are relatively dispensable. And when budgets are under stress, why not just sell off the playing fields? So we do that for while, maybe a generation, and then start to worry about inactivity and obesity in kids.

The paradox of play makes our play lives a bit of a balancing act. Sometimes everything is just great, other times it veers off too much one way or the other. Sometimes we need to “lighten up”, other times “get serious”. Perhaps we can take that as a fun challenge in itself!

The Necessity of Play

I’ve written before about the work of psychologist Stuart Brown, an expert on play in both humans and animals. Yesterday I was reading his book and was struck by a key point: play is a biological necessity.

Early in his book he recounts a striking incident in the Canadian far north:

Hudson seemed to be a very dead dog. That’s what musher Brian La Doone thought as he watched … a polar bear quickstep across the snowfield, straight toward the sled dogs … La Doone spent much of his life in the polar bear’s territory, and judging from the appearance of this particular bear he knew it had not eaten in months. With a skull-crushing bite or a swipe of its massive claws, the bear could easily rip open one of his dogs within seconds.

But Hudson had other things on his mind … Hudson didn’t bark or flee. Instead, he wagged his tail and bowed, a classic play signal.

To La Doone’s astonishment, the bear responded to the dog’s invitation. Bear and sled dog began a playful romp in the snow…

After fifteen minutes, the bear wandered away, still hungry but seemingly sated by this much-needed dose of fun. La Doone couldn’t believe what he’d just witnessed, and yet he was even more astonished when the same bear returned the next day … for another round of frolicking with Hudson … Every night for a week, the polar bear and Hudson met for a playdate…

Photos of this kind of play can be seen in his TED talk on YouTube.

What does this have to do with the supposed necessity of play? Brown’s argument runs like this:

  1. Play is widespread in a large variety of animals
  2. Life in the wild is tough, and evolution does not permit resources to be wasted on frivolous luxuries, least of all on such an enormous scale
  3. Therefore play must be a biological necessity, and one that serves an important purpose across large swathes of the animal kingdom

In his book he discusses what functions play might serve, including examining the effects of play deprivation on animals and among people. Among other things he makes an illuminating comparison in suggesting that play be considered in the same category as sleep and dreaming. They serve complex purposes, many of which we don’t yet understand, and in the past people have greatly underestimated the downsides of skimping on them.

Among other things, sleep and dreaming play an important role in consolidating the learning from the waking day. And play is also a crucial component of learning. In another context I have heard it said that “Some things can only be learned through play”.

If we replace “play” with “natural curiosity, exploration, and trying stuff out for the heck of it” it’s pretty clear that it’s an important element in developing many kinds of skills.

Stuart Brown explains how for example NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has found that one of the key markers of the kind of people they need is that they enjoyed making and fixing things like radios and such as a hobby in childhood. People with stellar academics from top schools turn out not to be good enough practical problem solvers for them if they hadn’t had early experiences of just goofing around with technology.

Likewise James Gleick in his biography of Richard Feynman ponders what made some of Feynman’s childhood contemporaries successful scientists and some not. The most noticeable thing to him was that those who excelled as adults were those who also did things like recreational math puzzles for enjoyment. In other words those for whom math or science or engineering was also play.

So, make room for a bit of play in your life!

Thinking about blogging? A TL;DR for Newbies

Over the years I’ve written quite a few posts designed to help people who were thinking about getting started with blogging. Here is the TL;DR version of those rather long thoughts!

What could I get out of blogging?

You can have fun talking about things that interest you, feel part of the community, and make lasting friends.

See Reflections on the NBI and Bloggy Christmas: Unexpected Parties for more about this.

Can anyone be a blogger? Can I?

Yes you can.

See To Blog or not to Blog? for more on this, including why whatever reasons you think you can’t are not really a problem. And discussion of my hangups before starting!

Where should I blog?

I recommend going with a free WordPress.com blog. Just like this one!

If you want to know more about the pros and cons of different options read my post on Where to Blog?.

What should my blog be about?

Keep it pretty broad.

You can read more detailed discussion in Blogging: To niche or not to niche?

What should I call it?

I have no clue.

You can read about my lack of a clue in more depth in Thinking Names. Maybe you’ll be inspired by some of the great names mentioned!

Can I make money doing this?

Hell no. But it is fun.

Explained in greater length in the sadly unfinished series on Careers, Hobbies and Fun (Part 1, Part 2). See also MMO Writing: Pros vs Amateurs.

But what about…?

I deliberately kept this post very short as I think that is more helpful to newbie bloggers. If you read any of the links, you know that keeping things short doesn’t come naturally to me!

If you have any questions that I didn’t cover, you can try asking me in the comments section below, or on Twitter (see sidebar widget). No guarantees I will have a good answer, or even time to answer at all. But someone in the community probably will have!

I wish you good luck in your blogging adventures.

Buy-to-Support?

In the world of MMOs I often hear about people buying things “to support the game”. It might be a Collector’s Edition of an expansion, it might be cosmetic or fun items, or it might even be a subscription.

What I find interesting about Buy-to-Support (B2S) is that it’s very seldom that I hear such sentiments about any other kind of product. I’ve seen The Guardian newspaper asking people to subscribe in order to support it, but I’ve yet to hear people ever discussing how they pay a sub to newspapers or magazines for that reason. Seldom doesn’t mean never though, and there are other examples where B2S comes up, though not with anything like the frequency I hear about it around MMOs.

Personally I think like this with bookshops. I enjoy visiting them, and browsing in them, and like the fact that they exist. I also know that their continuing existence
is not something I can take for granted. So while I know I can generally get books cheaper on Amazon and the like, and for that matter would often be fine with a much cheaper Kindle Edition anyway, I do from time to time buy a physical book in a physical bookshop.

But I am honest enough with myself that I know that my “noble” B2S purchase is not quite as selfless and well-thought out as I tell myself. Imagine a Gollum/Smeagol creature, with one part going: “We wants it! We wants it! We wants it now!” and the other chiming in with, “We could get it much cheaper on Amazon… but we can support this nice bookshop, yesss.”

I assume it’s not a revelation to anyone nowadays that out behavior is generally not as rational as we’d like to think, and the reasons we give for our actions are oftentimes just rationalizations of our fairly primitive urges.

Marketers know this too, better than us poor saps that don’t have to think about these things for a living. Walk down the aisles of a mainstream supermarket, and take a look at how the own-brand “basic” products are packaged. Most of the time everything about them is designed to make you feel “This is the poor man’s version.” It’s actually designed to put most people off from buying it.

No one wants to feel cheap, and no one wants to appear cheap or poor to others. Plenty of people go for the “middle option” in their purchases just on that basis, and sometimes the most expensive option is created mainly for the purpose of making the middle option look attractive by comparison.

Conversely plenty of people want to feel special, or to buy stuff that is some kind of a status symbol and impresses others.

All in all, I suspect that when people say they’re buying something to support a game, that is only a small part of what drove their decision.

How best to support?

If you do really want to support a game, what is the best way to go about it? Voting with your money certainly seems like a good idea in principle. Fredelas had a nice take on this, possibly meant humorously…

Any way in which you give money to a company is of course likely to help keep that company going. However where the money really ends up and what difference it makes can be rather hard to tell. If the company was in no danger of folding, the extra money may simply end up as more profits for its owners.

Perhaps it would be good to think about exactly what signal you want to send to the company. Whatever you buy is among other things a message to the company: “More like this please.” So buying store currency and spending it on precisely the things you most care about seems like a good idea.

If you have cash enough to spare, it might be most effective to buy codes and give them away, ideally to those who couldn’t afford to buy for themselves.

I don’t think our inner Gollums would be thrilled with this though!

“We wants shinies, and we wants them now!!! Gollum, gollum.”

What is your play personality?

According to Stuart Brown, a psychologist who specializes in studying play and its importance in our lives and well-being, all adults have “play personalities” …

As we grow older, we start to have strong preferences for certain types of play over others. Some things float your boat, others don’t. Over the years, I’ve observed that people have a dominant mode of play that falls into one of eight types. I call these play personalities.

Stuart Brown, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

His eight types are:

  • The Joker… “A joker’s play… revolves around some kind of nonsense…. Parents make infants laugh by making silly sounds, blowing raspberries, and generally being foolish… Later, the class clown finds social acceptance by making other people laugh”

  • The Kinesthete… “Kinesthetes are people who like to move…includes athletes, but also others… who find themselves happiest moving as part of dance, swimming, or walking… While kinesthetes may play games, competition is not the main focus — it is only a forum for engaging in their favorite activity.

  • The Explorer… “Exploration becomes their preferred avenue into the alternative universe of play… Exploring can be physical—literally, going to new places… it can be emotional—searching for a new feeling or deepening of the familiar, through music, movement, flirtation… It can be mental: researching a new subject or discovering new experiences and points of view…”

  • The Competitor… “The competitor loves fighting to be number 1. If games and keeping score are your thing, this may be your primary play personality. The games can be solitary or social—either a solitary video game or a team game like baseball—and they may be actively participated in or observed as a fan.”

  • The Director… “Directors enjoy planning and executing scenes and events.. They are born organizers. At their best, they are the party givers, the instigators of great excursions to the beach, the dynamic center of the social world. At worst, they are manipulators.”

  • The Collector… “The thrill of play for the collector is to have and to hold the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects or experiences. Coins, toy trains, antiques, plastic purses, wine, shoes, ties, video clips of race-car crashes, or pieces of the crashed cars themselves, anything and everything is fair game for the collector.”

  • The Artist/Creator.. “For the artist/creator, joy is found in making things. Painting, print-making, woodworking, pottery… furniture making, knitting, sewing, and gardening… Artist/creators may end up showing their creations to the world… or may never show anyone what they make. The point is to make something… or just to make something work… someone who enjoys taking apart a pump, replacing broken parts, cleaning it, and putting back together a shiny, perfectly working mechanism…”

  • The Storyteller.. “Storytellers are, of course, novelists, playwrights, cartoonists.. but they are also those whose greatest joy is reading novels and watching movies, people who make themselves part of the story, who experience the thoughts and emotions of characters in the story. Performers of all sorts are storytellers… through dance, acting, magic tricks, or lectures… the realm of the storyteller is in the imagination, they can bring play to almost any activity. They may be playing a recreational game of tennis, but in their mind, each point is part of an exciting drama”

According to Stuart Brown, while we’re all a mix of these personalities, and our preferences might change over time, or be different in different contexts, most of us do have dominant types. He believes that identifying your own types can be useful for self-awareness and finding greater satisfaction in your play. I imagine that it can also be very useful in understanding our friends who might have very different play personalities to us, even though we’re engaging in the very same play activity together!

My Play Personality

For myself, I’d say I’m firstly an Explorer, and secondarily a Kinesthete. The Kinesthete part is quite a surprise to recognize as growing up I was never a sporty type, nor much of a dancer. Much later in life I took up tennis and loved it, and nowadays I do a lot of walking. Interestingly my physical activities are influenced by my “Explorer” leanings. Walking, I love to explore new places, or discover unnoticed nooks and crannies of familiar places. In tennis, I get a kick out of developing my skills, discovering the range of things I can do with my body and the racket, etc.

The Explorer side of me is much more evident in my not-so-physical activities. I enjoy learning about almost anything, have traveled widely all over the world, like to meet and learn about new people etc. One of my main hobbies is chess, and one my main satisfactions in it is gradually developing a deeper understanding of it, and exploring different types of position and different ways of playing.

Interestingly, among my chess friends, despite us all having the same hobby, I can see quite a range of play personality types. There are the Directors, and thanks goodness for them. The chess scene would not exist without people who get satisfaction out of running clubs, organizing events etc. There are clearly Competitors, who care about results and winning most of all. There are people who collect stuff, such as chess books. I’ve met a guy who likes to make chess sets, and I know someone who enjoys studying and writing about local chess history, perhaps a kind of Storyteller. For all I know there may be Jokers and Kineshetes and such as well, but they don’t have much opportunity to express that side of themselves around chess events.

Of course I do have elements of many of the other personality types as well.

  • Joker – Well, I don’t really see myself as a joker or someone dedicated to entertaining people. Yet I do engage in banter and humorous remarks, and people generally find me fun to hang out with.

  • Competitor – I definitely have a competitive side, so I care about my tennis and chess results etc. But it’s not all that dominant, and perhaps intriguingly what competitiveness I have is perhaps only loosely connected with play as such. It’s not the competing that makes a thing fun. I’d generally rather play a tough opponent who will provide an interesting challenge, than someone who I’d have a better chance of beating.

  • Creator – Well, I get a kick out of things like writing blog posts, or coding small bits of software. But by and large, what I create for fun is small and I don’t do it frequently. If I write fiction, it’s a very short story, not a novella.

  • Storyteller – I do have a little bit of this in me. I enjoy a bit of light RP, or making up tales to amuse kids. Yet it’s never been a major activity for me.

Maybe you noticed that I left out Collector! I struggle to think of any aspect of collecting that really appeals. I might love an author, and seek out many books by them. But it would not occur to me to try to read all their books, just for the sake of completeness. Nor to collect different editions of their books, or collect other items associated with them or their work.

Your Play Personality?

I was reminded of this whole concept of play personalities by Syp’s post Am I missing out by not having a collection?. I wonder if Syp is a Collector who’s not got around to expressing that side of himself, or if he’s never got around to collecting seriously because that is not really his play personality at all.

Among my online friends with several I can make a good guess at their play preferences, while with many others, I don’t have much idea.

So, I’ll wrap up this post with a little survey…


Play Personality Survey

What is your dominant play personality?

If you had to pick just one, which personality do you most strongly identify with?

What types of play attract you?

I assume most people like several different types of play. Tick anything that is a good fit for you. If something is only mildy you, something that only attracts you occasionally for example, don’t tick that.

If you’d like to expand on describing your own play personality, or have thoughts on the concept of play personalities itself, please do comment below.

LOTRO: Mixed feelings on Mordor

Mordor… we’re finally about to get there.

It’ll be a momentous occasion in the life of LOTRO, and something which at various times many of us doubted would ever happen. Not only was it a question of worrying if the game would last long enough to reach the Black Land, some of us wondered if we personally would make it to the end.

I myself am very much looking forward to seeing the conclusion of Tolkien’s story in the world of the game. Like with Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom and the downfall of Sauron, the rejoicing will be all the greater for the difficulties endured on the way. and the periods of despair lived through when the quest seemed utterly hopeless.

No wonder then that the announcement of the Mordor expansion led to a festive mood breaking out in the LOTRO community. However, recently matters have gotten a little more complicated.

To quote Ravanel:

Just like in 2012 and 2013, it looks like the player base will spend the last weeks before the release of a major expansion discussing its outrageous pricing rather than eagerly anticipating cool new content.

Ravanel Griffon: LOTRO’s Mordor pre-order deals put in perspective

If you have not yet done so, please do read Rav’s excellent analysis of the Mordor pricing, and how it compares to previous LOTRO expansions and to the pricing in other MMOs. She has a useful comparison table showing the pricing for all editions of the most recent LOTRO expansions. If anything that might even be understating how high the Mordor prices are, since if I recall correctly previous expansions included a 1,000 or more Turbine Points in the bundle, which I count as worth $10 in value.

Suffice it to so say that many are feeling that the pricing is greedy, and the feelgood factor that’s been prevalent in the LOTRO community this year is in danger of being undermined.

Personally I’m not sure if “greed” is the best interpretation, it might just be economic reality. MMO development probably costs pretty much the same whether the game has half a million regular players, or five million. So smaller games are always likely to have to charge more and yet provide less in return for it.

However I very much agree with Rav that if this is the case SSG would benefit from being a lot more open about the situation. They had built up a lot of goodwill from the community and there are lots of dedicated Tolkien fans in the playerbase. Simply asking for people who can afford it to help support the game by subbing or buying the collectors edition would probably work better than pretending it’s great value.

Mordor and Me

Speaking for myself, at this point I’m not sure which edition I will buy, or if I will even buy Mordor at all now. SSG has picked an interesting moment to up the ante with their pricing. Maybe they’re thinking that this is the big climax, and people will be willing to pay whatever it takes.

My thinking is a bit different. I’m assuming that I will be able to see out the end of the Tolkien storyline without even buying the Mordor expansion. It’s the Epic Quest line, which will presumably still be free-to-play, and will most likely be over and done without us even setting foot inside Mordor.

Whether I stick around in LOTRO after that was always an open question for me. Mordor itself is likely to very gloomy, not only in story and atmosphere but literally, in actual light levels. Previous experiences in Angmar and Moria tell me that I’m likely to tire of that pretty quickly.

As it happens, I have already been skipping the grindy parts of LOTRO in recent regions by just doing the Epic Quests, and often doing them overlevel and overpowered as well. That way I get to enjoy the world and the story, while avoiding too much tedious grind.

What SSG needed to do with someone like me at this tricky point was to make it a no-brainer to carry on playing the game, and stroll on into Mordor without a second thought. Instead Mordor pricing has given me pause, and made me think “Maybe I’ll just wait for a sale”. And that might well turn into me taking a long break from LOTRO, and then never getting around to buying it and playing it at all.

But perhaps it’s only fitting for us to be approaching Mordor with hesitation and forebodings!