Sunday, 21 March 2021

[Autobiographical:] Economic incentives, authorship and cultural production.

One of the last attempts to glamorize the publishing industry, 1988's Bright Lights, Big City.

You ask whether or not I think these economic factors are invariable and unchanging.

No: I believe they have changed dramatically and profoundly within my lifetime.

We are not discussing the whole sphere of economics, but instead, more narrowly, the question of how economic motivations shape cultural production.

More narrowly still, we're talking about the contrasting instances of on-paper-publication and video game software development.

During my lifetime, the possibility of earning money from the publication of books, magazine articles and writing for newspapers has declined, to be almost zero. However, the cost of producing a book (or a magazine or a newspaper) has also declined, to be almost zero.

The situation with video games is worse: the cost of production has increased, whereas the prospect of earning money has withered away.

The most profitable video game ever made was Space Invaders in 1978. Every video game since then has earned less money (yes, even Pac Man).

There was a time when just one man would create a video game in just a few hours, and then small teams working for a few weeks. Now, the cost measured in "man hours" (i.e., labor) is astounding.

In 1986, The Legend of Zelda (for the N.E.S.) sold for $49.99 --now equivalent to $120 per cartridge. Of course, today, a game of that sort could be made by just one man (working alone) in a few months, or it could be made by a small team in a few weeks --but it could not possibly have a "ticket price" of $120 per copy (neither on cartridge nor as a digital download, etc.).

It also sold over 120 million copies. If we multiply those two numbers we're looking at a retail gross of over $14,400,000,000 (in 2021 US currency).

Now that's an industry. Not a hobby, but an industry.

Now, of course, lone programmers still exist, and once in a while they manage to make a few dollars out of it: "Cave Story" was (supposedly) the work of just one man, and now sells on the Nintendo Switch for $30 per box. However, to say that this is a one-in-a-million chance would be an insult to honest bookeeping: nobody could possibly finance a programming project with the expectation that they'd produce the next "Cave Story". This is about as improbable as a zero budget independent movie being the next "Clerks" ($3.2 million at the box office, BTW… compared to Zelda, that's positively losing money).

The price to produce a video game at current standards (not comparable to Cave Story, but comparable to Mario Odyssey) gets higher and higher, with the likely economic rewards getting lower and lower. The size of the market expanded, yes, but the vast majority of projects that are downloadable for $5.99 on Steam never break even for their creators (even the award winning examples don't break even, from what I've seen). So, the price per transaction declines, the price of production increases, and a tiny (tiny!) number of successful games make people into millionaires --but the vast majority of projects have to be undertaken on a charitable basis by all involved (thus the looming influence of Kickstarter, etc.).

This is not a simple situation in which the profit motive precludes cultural production: certain types of cultural production are encouraged, and others discouraged, by economic forces that have profoundly changed within my lifetime, and are likely to profoundly change again (for the worse, in my opinion, and from my perspective).

It has never been easier to publish. Conversely, it has never been more difficult to earn a living publishing.

I can effortlessly have my words "immortalized" by ashen ink and cloud-white tree pulp, but no effort in the world can possibly make it a profitable enterprise.

In a sense, I'm being paid to write the book right now, by donations from supporters on Patreon (all 135 of you!) but that is likely to be the only payment I'll get --so, I am myself an example of both the positive and negative motivation this economic situation brings.

If new video games are primarily paid for by Kickstarter (i.e., by donations, etc.) then we have a very different set of incentives and constraints than we had in the 1980s.

If new books (and new magazines, etc.) are written on a similar sort of "charitable" basis… imagine what a perverse effect that will have on authorship, on readership, on the whole strange cycle of cultural production… and, conversely, try to imagine what a perverse effect the profit motive had on the publishing industry (from the 1960s to the 1980s)… and how "un-perverse" we all must be (in myriad ways we cannot perceive ourselves) now that these motivating factors are gone.

I say this all as someone who has had to explain, again and again (even to my own father, when he was alive) that it was now quite impossible for me to earn a living from newspapers, magazines, or even editing books. Many older men insisted (on the basis of their understanding of the world circa 1960 to 1980) that it must be very easy for me to earn enough money to pay the rent in Cambodia (etc.) by simply offering my services to the nearest newspaper. Perhaps in 1965. The reality is that most of the people involved in those industries today are contributing their labor on some kind of "charitable" basis (nobody at the Huffington Post is paid a salary, etc.). And, of course, "charity" can resemble parasitism --i.e., with the publisher living parasitically on the authors (whereas, before, the authors were paid by the publisher, etc.).

So, yes, things change. Change is an objective fact. Improvement is a matter of ideology. From my nihilistic perspective, everything is getting worse, and will continue to get worse.

The cost of paper and ink and bookbinding has decreased --but it has not decreased as much as the money to be earned by publishing. What changes? Everything changes. The life of the author changes.

The cost of transmitting a video game has decreased (i.e., comparing the cost of a download to the cost of producing a cartridge) and yet, also, the potential money to be earned from publishing has decreased.

The difference is that it is neither more nor less work to write a book now than it was before. The hours of labor needed to make a video game (and the number of specialized laborers required to contribute their skills, etc.) has increased.

Some books are written by lone wolves, like myself, and some are written by teams, others by whole armies. Look at a Chinese-English dictionary published in 1901: how many people contributed to creating it? An army. And all of them were paid.

The most recent dictionary of the Pali language (i.e., in English) is the creation of just one woman. And I have met her. And I have a very low opinion of her intellectual caliber. But we must admit that even if she were the most brilliant person imaginable, the work she's undertaken is simply not suited to one pair of hands alone: some tasks cannot be undertaken by men, but only by armies.

As an author, I am in the most privileged caste precisely because I have this youtube channel. Believe me, I have now seen several publishers' websites instructing prospective authors to do what I have done: build a presence on social media and communicate with the potential audience for the book (for years!) before publishing. Even if my audience consists of merely 1,000 people, the only reason why the book will reach that small number is because of the work I've put into the youtube channel (now well over 2,000 videos, BTW!).

However, I did not join youtube because I wanted to work alone: quite the contrary. I came here to build a movement, to be part of a community, or at least to work as a member of a team. In this, I am a failure --and the whole world of print media (books, magazines, etc.) is doomed to failure, for this whole generation (and the next, so far as I can see).

The same media that used to unite people (as creators) now divide them. Magazines and newspapers, also, are cobbled together by emails sent between people who've never met face-to-face, you know: editor, author and photographer no longer meet at a boardroom table (as per Perry White and J. Jonah Jameson, etc.). The reality is that the authors are more mutually isolated than ever before.

And in this, too, I am privileged, because I can work alone, without any teacher, without any students, without any salon, without any colleagues, contemporaries, adversaries or co-authors. I can, but that's not what I chose: that's not what I wanted from this "exchange" with the ether of the internet. I didn't sign up to be a lone wolf intellectual. To be blunt: I didn't learn Chinese to talk to myself.

With these incentives and disincentives, who will write a book, in the 21st century? A very different sort of person from those who wrote books in the 20th century. And a similar sort of prism will now influence cultural production in terms of software, educational software, and video games (with or without educational content).

On the Paucity of Educational Video Games (Language Learning Software Especially)

[Torn from the middle pages of a conversation with a Patreon supporter, i.e., this isn't the first message in the dialogue.] 

I come to this conversation "in the shadow of" decades of prior conversations.

This is not your fault, I do not blame you for it…

…but I just say, I write to you in a rather sad and hopeless manner because I've had this kind of conversation many, many times before (and nothing positive ever happened as a result).

When I was living in Cambodia, I spoke to people seriously about the possibility of creating educational video games [for those languages]. The first conversations of this kind I ever had were with a computer programmer in Toronto, before I left for Asia (probably in late 2001).

I had a number of serious conversations [along these lines] during my period of working on Cree-and-Ojibwe in Saskatchewan.

Nothing positive ever came from it. And there are reasons why.

I will jump straight to the point here ("last things first").

Re: "I don't think that what you criticize is an inherent part of the identify of video games…"

Economic considerations are extrinsic, not inherent.

Economic factors may not be inherent, and yet may be utterly overweening.

Both Instagram and Tikok are dominated by softcore pornography: there is nothing "inherently" pornographic about these websites, and yet economic factors "foretell" a very predictable pattern of what kind of content is seen --although IN THEORY one could find substantive book reviews about politics (etc.) on either one.

I do not say this because I'm morally opposed to pornography (long story short, I'm not opposed to pornography, although I've made nuanced videos dealing with the ethics and politics of the thing)… I say this because the absence of an "intrinsic" problem is not a pretext to overlook an extrinsic one.

And economics are extrinsic.

And economic forces can be very, very powerful, in determining the pattern of cultural development that ensues in any given technology or medium-for-expression.

Now tell me, why do you suppose I never managed to put together a project to make a video game like Pokemon in Cree/Ojibwe?

One of the most fundamental factors in language learning is simply repetition: a game like Pokemon that endlessly repeats simple sentences along the lines of "The bear attacks the giant otter, but the otter evades the attack…" could indeed be helpful for people trying to acquire / practice the language.

The reason why this never happens, and the reason why --GENERALLY-- there is absolutely zero software of any educational value whatsoever IS ECONOMIC.

Take a look at the history of the video game library for Nintendo DS, 3DS & 2DS: the total number of games produced for these platforms numbers in the thousands: over 2000 for the DS, perhaps another 2000 for the 3DS.

How many language education games were produced for them ever, in total?

I honestly believe I've seen them all. There are a few (VERY FEW) and they're of abysmally low quality (the developers were probably making a minimal effort, expecting minimal income).

Technologically, the 2DS / 3DS is an amazing device for language learning, or for educational software of any kind (from my perspective, it's an awful device for Sonic the Hedgehog, but the interface is much better for education, including the ability to write with a stylus ("light pen") on the screen, etc.).

What ever was done with this marvelous technology?  The same thing that is done with Instagram and Tiktok: WHATEVER WILL EARN MONEY, nothing more, and nothing less.

The Canadian government would stuff money in your pockets if you were willing to make an education game to help people learn French, and would stuff ten times more money into your pockets if you then proposed to adapt it to teach Cree and Ojibwe.  The level of government support (grant money) would be so vast that fundraising/donations would be unnecessary.

Is anyone ever going to do it? No, never.

Instead, the world is going to get another generation of the strange mix of sex and violence offered by DOA, KOF, SF, etc. etc. --and the endless myriad of simulations of one human being shooting another in the head ("FPS" games).

Re: "Anything is possible in a virtual world without the player being put in danger of physical harm."

No: this is as foolish as saying that anything is possible in a Hollywood movie.

What is possible in a Hollywood movie is,

(1) whatever you can convince investors (or donors) will make money,

and (2) whatever will actually receive funding to be made,

and (3) whatever is possible to stage/simulate within the limits of the funding provided.

It is just nonsense to say that anything is possible (in movies or in video games). I spoke to computer programmers and computational linguists for so many years, I spoke to people with different kinds of talent and experience linked to research, language education and the software side of the game, and nothing ever happened. And nothing ever will happen.

I defy you to sit down and start sketching out on the back of a napkin what you'd actually do if you wanted to get the budget together to make a 3DS game (even now, in 2021, as the platform is in its final years) that would really take advantage of the hardware to teach a language (any language). You will soon start to appreciate how suffocating are the constraints (and how difficult it would be for support from Kickstarter to overcome them).

Saturday, 23 January 2021


The long term impacts of merchandizing. The t-shirts spun off by my youtube channel have an intellectual life of their own. 哈哈哈😄

Monday, 18 January 2021

On having political expertise: a polite reply to a puzzled viewer.

Thanks for taking the time to write in, _______.

HMU any time.

We live in a world where _some_ people have recognized expertise in diet ("dietetics" or "nutrition") and _some_ people have recognized expertise in architecture…

…my situation is that I'm the one person (hopefully not the only one?) who really does have expertise in politics within vegan youtube --and sometimes, frankly, it seems like I'm the only person with this kind of expertise in all of youtube, period.

If you were writing to me about architecture, I'd encourage you to reflect that PERHAPS you don't understand these things (technical issues within architecture) because you hadn't devoted your life (or any particular chunk of time) to gaining that kind of expertise.

As a culture, we need to recognize that there is such a thing as real expertise in politics. I've got it. You could have it, too --but it would entail a sacrifice of several years of hard work (just like gaining expertise in architecture).

And even then, not everyone has what it takes to be a great architect --nor even a good architect. 😄

Sunday, 3 January 2021

"We live our lives in the sunlight of assumptions about the future…" (Coronavirus Diaries)

One year ago (today) I was bedridden ill with Coronavirus. "We live our lives in the sunlight of assumptions about the future --even if dim-- and in the shadow of assumptions about the past that have proven false." (The assumption that I had already recovered from this cold (Coronavirus) stated at the top of the page also proved to be false: from this point, it got worse before it got better.).

Saturday, 2 January 2021

On the cultivation of (dubious) moral characteristics through video games.

A discussion (naturally much longer than the exceprts you see here) on the extremely limited educational value of video games --and on the "virtues" we might be cultivating by playing them. This transpired in my youtube channel's Discord forum (a link to join that forum is in the decsription for new videos uploaded to the channel).

A searchable index of my youtube videos (most of them, at least!)

Special thanks to Araia, who did all the hard work of creating the HTML code. This is a list of most of the videos (not all!) on à-bas-le-ciel (which is not my only youtube channel!). If you can't find what you're looking for by searching around here, you can join the discord (discussion forum) and ask (quite likely other viewers will know what you're looking for).

Link 1, a complete listing for (all of) the videos on à-bas-le-ciel:

Link 2, playlists:

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Is my channel "sexist"? A final reply to Fandar, and other faux feminists.

[I bothered to type out this reply because, frankly, I can imagine re-using it in future: it was Soycrates, not Fandar, who invented this line-of-attack against me, even before I had a youtube channel.  It was fallacious then, and it is still fallacious now.  But yes, I can imagine that I'll copy-and-paste this reply in future, if/when I receive a similar complaint.]

You are a very dishonest person, and a very vindictive person.

I know that you are unaware of the extent to which you're lying.  Perhaps this is an aspect of your mental disability / learning disability.  Perhaps not.

I am never going to reply to you again, but please just recognize how dishonest your statements are here.

Re: "It's so interesting how you can make videos about other YouTubers(especially young female youtubers)…"

There are two parts to this statement.

The first is not true, it has never been true, and you've never attempted to prove it (and you have never been willing to consider counter-arguments or counter-evidence, even when these have been presented to you, repeatedly).

To start with a palpable example: did you ever contrast my criticism of Unnatural Vegan to my criticism of Gary Yourofsky?  Did you compare my criticism of U.V. to my criticism of Vegan Gains?

Why do you think I criticized Unnatural Vegan?  You speak about this as if the criticism is BECAUSE OF her gender (or her appearance).  This is extremely stupid and dishonest of you: it would be equally stupid and dishonest to claim that I criticize Vegan Gains because he is (ethnically) black.  That just makes no sense.

Even within veganism, I have criticized men and women for the same things, and in the same ways: this is explicitly discussed AGAIN AND AGAIN on my channel.  Vegan Gains doing porn (on Onlyfans) is discussed in exactly the same terms as the examples of women doing porn on onlyfans, and the feminist / gender-asymmetrical elements are explicitly discussed in these videos.

The reality is that you (sincerely or insincerely) regard me as "obsessed" with criticizing attractive females because THOSE ARE THE ONLY VIDEOS YOU CHOOSE TO WATCH ON MY CHANNEL.

You don't watch videos that are criticizing men (innumerable!) nor videos that are criticizing elderly people, etc.

Did you watch any of my videos criticizing Bernie Sanders?

If you did watch those videos, would you assume I'm criticizing him because he's Jewish, or because the specific issues involved are substantive?  Did I criticize Vegan Gains because he was black?  No.

Did I criticize Unnatural Vegan because she's a woman?  No: I criticized her because I disagree with her about taking anti-depressants during pregnancy --and about a list of other significant issues (that are worth discussing as such).

The same is true about my criticism of all of these other people -- Yourofsky, Sanders, etc. etc.

There is no gender bias in these videos, and, on the contrary, many (MANY!) of these same videos discuss the unfairness of gender bias, and the extent to which women are unfairly judged for the same things men do, etc. etc. -- but you can't actually hear the thesis of any of the videos.

Many, many times I have explained to you in email the thesis of one of these videos that you're offended by: in our discussions, it is clear that the only thing you know is that you're offended.  You respond to isolated words in the videos, but you don't understand the thesis.

I do not think you are cynically pretending to misunderstand my videos: I think this is an aspect of your mental disability that you need to take seriously yourself.

Maybe if you took hand-written notes, or if you drew flow-charts of the arguments, you'd be able to understand what 99.9% of the viewers can understand without any assistance.

Many of my viewers are European: English is their second language, but they understand me much better than you do.

Recently, I have many many videos angrily criticizing and denouncing "Cosmic Skeptic" (some of these are really quite harsh and insulting toward the guy).  Do you genuinely believe that I'm "nicer" toward men than I am toward women?  Do you believe my criticism of "Cosmic Skeptic" would be different if he were "a young woman", instead of "a young man"?  There is absolutely no basis for the claim.  My channel has a huge quantity of evidence showing that I criticize men and women in the same way --and, also, I have lectures explicitly explaining that this is my method (and explaining why I think it's really important for other people to do so: explaining AT LENGTH that I think we should, each of us, make a philosophical commitment to offering women the same criticism as men, really treating them as equals, etc.).

There is absolutely no basis for saying, e.g., that I was more cruel to Unnatural Vegan than I was to Ted Carr or Gary Yourofsky or Vegan Gains (some of my criticisms of Richard are EXTREMELY harsh and vitriolic!); but even if there is some specific example of a woman I had criticized especially harshly (relative to Ted Carr, etc.) the reason for that harshness would be clear within the video: it would be BECAUSE OF the particular topic being dealt with.

The example of women taking anti-depressants during pregnancy is a good example.  It should be very obvious why I care about this issue so passionately.

With other examples, the reason for my being passionate/vitriolic may not be obvious to you, but, again, you have a serious mental disability: most of the audience knows why I'm angry, and what I'm angry about, when I display this kind of "theatricality" in my videos.

Indeed, I even do show this kind of theatricality toward Bernie Sanders (reproaching him for his attachment to the word "Sociallist", with satirical effect) --although I obviously do not hate Bernie Sanders.

I do not "especially" criticize young, attractive women: YOU choose to IGNORE all of the videos I've made criticizing men, or criticizing people of various ages.  YOU are obsessed with young, attractive women, and you DISREGARD the enormous corpus of videos I've made criticizing people of any age, of any gender, etc.

This is really a case in which you need to reflect on how your own obsessive tendencies have shaped your perception of the world and others.

I have taken the time to explain your misperceptions repeatedly (because I pity you!) but you never can come to a conclusion: you never can find fault with yourself.

There is a second aspect of your claim here, that we should pause to address:

Re: "It's so interesting how you can make videos about other YouTubers(especially young female youtubers)…"

There is a difference between making a youtube video that offers substantive criticism (as I have done in disagreeing with Unnatural Vegan, etc. etc.) and what YOU have done in harassing me, threatening me, defaming me, etc.

You stated publicly (in comments posted on my social media) that nobody should hire me for a job because (you allege) I have been abusive toward my ex-wife and girlfriend: are you really incapable of perceiving the difference between what you have done, and the type of critique I've offered in my youtube videos?

Are you really incapable of seeing the difference between your repeated attempts to insult and denounce me on Instagram, within my Patreon, and in hundreds of emails sent to me privately, and the critique I offered of Unnatural Vegan's use of anti-depressants during pregnancy?

Can you fail to see the difference in the motives, in the methods, and in the outcomes?

If I did to Unnatural Vegan what you have done to me, would you perceive it as morally good, or morally bad?

If I made exactly the same comments about Unnatural Vegan (on her Instagram, on her social media, etc.) alleging that she's guilty of a crime and that nobody should hire her, etc., would you perceive that as "a good thing" that I had done, or "a bad thing"?  If I sent Unnatural Vegan hundreds of emails, insulting and harassing her, from dozens of different accounts, after she asked me to stop (as you have done to me) would you regard that as a good thing or a bad thing?

Recognize your own vindictive nature: recognize that you are the one at fault here, apologize, and stop.

Never write to me again.