A Retrospective

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in Editorial

Something this morning triggered a thought for a new project, which I quickly realized was an old project, and that lead to a very short jaunt down memory lane. Having not a lot of active intel to write about, I thought I’d relay this stream of consciousness both for posterity and on the off chance someone out there who believes that blogging started and ended with WordPress can get straightened out a bit.

See, I worked in desktop support after graduating from college with a degree in Biology. I had computer knowledge and got the job through a temp agency. But there were changes happening in the company so I got my foot in the door with a web development company and eventually jumped ship to work there full time. This was great because it was a small company and we as employees had unlimited access to web and DNS hosting, databases, email, FTP…the works.

Being a web developer meant I had the skills and opportunity make whatever I wanted on the off-hours, and what I wanted to make was a gaming news website. Back then I had the support of friends who were as interested in such a thing as I was, although I did all of the design and development work. Problem was, we were about as far from the games industry as folks could be, seeing as how we lived in the Northeast, which was a blank space as far as the industry was concerned in those days. We had no contacts and no cachet, so I built a mechanism into the site that would allow me to enter RSS feeds, parse the content for keywords, sort the content into buckets, and allow us to peruse news and info from other websites as a starting point for our own content. Mostly this process revolved around digesting the info, seeing what other info we might have in the feed bucket about a topic from other sites (as a way to gauge the “importance” of the news), and then writing up the details, thoughts, and opinions on the subject. Of course, we had a full back-end user and content management system, comments, and gallery, so this site was effectively it’s own custom blogging platform.

However, things took a sudden turn when I was contacted out of the blue by someone who claimed to have trademarked the name of the site we were using. Naturally, I checked on this, and he wasn’t lying, but the trademark was filed well after our site had been in operation for several years, giving us prior claim that should have negated any attempt to grab the domain name out from under us. Still, we couldn’t continue to operate using that domain so the site had to go dark. This was at the time that my mother passed away from cancer, so I wasn’t in the mood to fight with this guy overpayment or anything. In the end, I made him pay the transfer fee and gave him the domain (since I wasn’t paying for hosting or anything anyway). I checked in a few years later, and apparently, his business venture was no longer in operation (it had been legit from what I was able to determine) so I guess all’s well that ends.

Over the years, web development kind of greyed out for me; it’s now something I do for The Man, and not for enjoyment. Plus, why reinvent the wheel in the Age of WordPress? Of course, the world has moved on from the days when there were a few respected, non-commercial gaming news sites like Blues and Shacknews. Now gaming news is Big Business, and while it often seems suspiciously like these sites are cannibalizing one another for news briefs rather than getting their info from the relevant sources, for a small potatoes site to do something similar would be the epitome of pointlessness.

Since I had been flying mostly solo during those early years, I opted to take up the e-quill again, first through Blogger, and then through WordPress.com before moving into a dedicated domain name, Cedarstreet.net. Cedar Street was where I lived in college, and I had opted to immortalize that time through a domain and website, but it didn’t quite fit with the subject of games. I came up with Levelcapped in a fit of irony: as primarily an MMO player at the time, I had almost zero level capped characters in any game. Instead, the idea was a play on the insistence that the game changes once a character reaches the cap; so, then, would my blogging focus as I staked out this new parcel of e-space.

My attention was “MMOs”, but not a single MMO. I was probably well away from Ultima Online by this time and was swimming through the WoW-focused explosion of games that were trying to ape WoW’s style while attempting to sell us on how different they were. I went through a LOT of games during that time, which seemed to be in stark contrast to what others were doing by focusing with a white-hot intensity on one game of choice. In retrospect, this was my bad because people seemed to always be on the hunt for specific information, and as they progressed they needed more and more specific information. My MMO tourism was probably good for some people who wanted an overview of esoteric games like Fallen Earth and Neocron, but as I moved on to other games I stopped being a resource for those people who needed the help when I started talking about other games that potentially regular visitors weren’t playing.

As MMOs multiplied and the tribalism set in, discourse took a nasty turn almost everywhere you went. During this period I wanted to focus on why I was writing what I was writing about, and why people might want to read it: our shared love of gaming. It seemed that as people got themselves worked up in justification of their decision to play this game or that, they weren’t focusing on A) talking about what they enjoyed, and B) letting people enjoy what THEY wanted to enjoy. I wanted my posts to provide that positive message that games are made to be enjoyed, not to use as weapons against people who happen to like something other than what we want them to like. There’s just too much diversity on the market to claim that our choices are the RIGHT choices, and we should never block avenues from future consideration as a way to justify our own choices. We aren’t gatekeepers of any kind and should seek to share our love of our hobby with anyone who will listen. Having lived through the era when geekdom was an avenue to ostracism and ridicule, people were squandering their opportunities left and right.

Sadly, Gamergate happened and blew everything to hell. Amidst stories of blacklisting and doxxing of those who preferred to celebrate all kinds of games made by all kinds of people, my tiny corner of the Internet didn’t seem important enough to continue, lest I become someone’s easy target. Was this a mistake, not speaking up? Possibly, in the event of all-out war, but this was just focusing on an entertainment industry which I had no sway over; in my mind, shouting at harassers wouldn’t help the cause of the oppressed, and would only turn their focus on to me and my family. Instead, I decided to go on hiatus. Blogging didn’t seem to be much in vogue anymore anyway, with the prevalence of YouTube and the rise of Twitch and other game streaming services. A younger generation (who probably weren’t even yet born when I started my blogging career) seemed to be moving away from READING and wanted more hyperkinetic hosts and wacky facial expressions in their gaming info. Truth be told, a picture is worth a thousand words, and watching a Twitch stream or Let’s Play on YouTube is a better means of discovery for someone interested in a new game than some random old guy writing 1000+ words on the same subject. My readership had never been significant enough to worry about leaving people behind, and so I stopped my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule and contemplated my options.

That kind of brings us to today. As you can tell, this post isn’t about A GAME so much as it is about a transcendence that I think a lot of gamers find themselves experiencing as they get older. While we continue to play, and continue to obsess over learning the ins and outs of our chosen titles, we also start to look back at a history of gaming, both personal and writ large. I don’t have access to a wealth of financial data spanning multiple studios or consecutive years, but I have a sense of where things have been that extend back to a time before the current popular market demographic. Today’s Twitch is yesterday’s blogging, which was that day’s forums, which were that day’s USENET. It’s kind of weird to find a niche of content delivery and attach oneself to it, and then to watch as it moves out of vogue for something that doesn’t seem to make much sense, but Twitch and YouTube aren’t any less important or relevant, for all of the controversies they seem to engender. Likewise, there’s still a lot of good to squeeze out of blogging because the Power of the Written Word will never fall out of favor.

Now I’m kind of in flux. I am not really playing A Game with any regularity, or even gaming at all with regularity. I thought I wanted to try and make a go of streaming, but it turned out to be quite the hassle and not really worth the effort to me. I still engage with folks on Twitter, but blog less because while blogging about ideas can be a kind of therapy, I hang out in our Combat Wombat Discord server which affords real-time conversations that can offer quicker catharsis than spending time writing and editing and publishing and promoting to a potentially indifferent audience can muster. Obviously, I’m not ABANDONING blogging, but I also think that Levelcapped is going to become less of a gaming-centric blog and more of a general catch-all space for slow rambles about games, technology, and the kinds of thoughts that people start to have as they look over their shoulders and back into the past.

    7 Comments

  1. This might sound like a strange question, but do you feel lonely? I do. I honestly miss the days when forums were popular. I mean we had flame wars, for sure, but they weren’t the be-all and end-all of forums, which seemed to be the case the last time I visited a forum. It was just a seething mass of rage.

    My journey started on CompuServe and GEnie where I was a volunteer moderator for gaming sections, then when I started writing for a magazine we had forums that I oversaw and it was really fun to just talk about a bunch of games with a bunch of people. They were big enough that pretty much no matter what you were playing, someone else was also playing it (also of course, far fewer games were getting released back then).

    I miss that.

    I play more games now that I probably ever have, but talk about them less because I have no one to talk about them with. Go into a public forum and you can say “I enjoy having good health.” and someone will manage to take offense at that and attack you. Heaven forbid you voice your positive opinion of ANY game. The only defense is constant cynicism and sarcasm and that’s not good for the soul.

    I even tried the discord thing but found a given community was either too small for me to find people with common interests (which left me feeling like an outsider and even more lonely), or big enough that it was over-run my trolls and just became toxic. I was like Goldilocks looking for a discord that was “just right” though at this point I’ve mostly given up on that.

    I just think the toxicity levels have gotten to where there’s no room for anything but very niche communities, unless you want to deal with all the hate and anger. AND NOW I HAVE DEPRESSED MYSELF! 🙂

    • I started out only with my local friends and never ventured further than that. I wasn’t active on forums and only used USENET to download “stuff”. Our little blog never really got all that much traction because we weren’t in any web rings or anything, nor did we really advertise. We didn’t have the right self-promoting entrepreneurial spirit back then XD

      I’m more active now than I have ever been but within limits. I can do well one on one with people, because I believe in that situation you owe it to them to give them your full attention. I try to do that even in small groups when possible. But I cannot fit myself into someone else’s group. If there are established relationships and hierarchies and shared histories, I ALWAYS feel like an outsider.

      I think at this stage, the latter is more common. I have little shared history with anyone. I don’t have fond memories of WoW or DAoC. I have memories of a lot of weird games, but that means nothing to no one. So despite my willingness to get out more, I do often feel more “alone” in spite of it.

      • When I was young, all my local peers were into hunting and fishing and I was into computers and board games so when “online” became a thing I was stoked to get out there and find other people like me.

        But yeah, like you I don’t have the shared memories. I had a good time in WoW with a guild once but I’ve lost contact with all of them, and I only managed it because I was single and between jobs so was super-flexible.

        Now I’ve degraded to the point where getting onto voice chat with strangers is kind of terrifying, and of course if you never meet new strangers they never can become friends. So yeah…

        Oh well, my dog still loves me!!! 🙂

        • We love you, Pete!

  2. I don’t think Blogging is Dead, it’s just likely evolving maybe. But there are people out there who enjoy the written words. Other platforms may come and go, but a blog will likely last forever.

    So just want to say, I enjoyed the post and just reminiscing of the past. I even enjoyed reading the first commenters post as well. Sometimes you just want perspective or stop by and old friend to hang out a bit and see what’s up. I at least enjoy the perspective of things. As was the read.

    • Oh sure! It’s usually the case when someone claims the demise of a thing that the thing is merely dormant (a la RPGs 15-20 years ago) or is just overshadowed by the new hotness (a la blogging overshadowed by Twitch). There’s always going to be an audience for everything!

  3. As I commented to Tobold, who was wondering whether MMO blogging was dead, as he does periodically, fifty of the blogs in my own blog roll have posted at least once in the last 30 days and 35 in the last week. I’d call that an active scene.

    I come from a background not of bulletin boards and forums but of zines. I used to be in a couple of Amateur Press Associations (APAs) where I’d put together a photocopied zine once every two months and send it to a central mailer to collate and send out to all the other members – we had a maximum membership of 30 with a wait list to join.

    That was the blogging of its era to me so the current level of activity and particularly the frequency seems extremely fast and furious by comparison.

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