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Thursday, January 07, 2010

~Semantics, Part 3

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Semantics, Part 3

Language matters. Words are not simple tools which we use and discard, they are living and growing ideas which shape the way we think far more than we are consciously aware of.

Each word has connotations and connections to other words and rules of proper usage in speech, and these are more or less consistent from person to person within a given society. Thus, the language itself becomes a container for the way a society sees the world on an emotional level.

But an individual within that society is not a blank slate before using language -each idea in our heads has associations and connections to other ideas and memories of prior usage in speech, all of which is unique to that individual's brain. So at any time a person starts to converse, there is always a disconnect between what he means to say and what he's actually saying; the only question is how severe that disconnect is.

We compensate for this problem by conforming our patterns of thought to the meanings of language. Every time you talk or write or commit anything to language, you are rewiring your own brain to be more like the rest of the people around you. If it were not for this fact, language could never have developed and we'd all be very unique people without a single clue of what anyone else is thinking.

Where this starts becoming downright ugly is when society has a very primitive view on a certain subject compared with what's in your head. I know that "gamism" is a more useful term than "videogames", as it implies a cohesive whole rather than individual and disconnected parts. But I can't use that term in public, or no one would know what I was talking about. Language cannot be changed by one person, or even by several people, but only by a majority of the public in a given area. So whenever I'm talking to other people, I need to remind myself that videogames are not to be seen as a coherent entity, but just as a random assortment of unknowable things. Otherwise there's no communication. I'd say something like "I wish the Bit.Trip series would stay close to the music side of gamism, instead of switching Forms so much.", and no one would understand what the heck I was talking about. Different language, different thought patterns.

Learning two languages is like developing two personalities. You may think you're saying the same things in both languages, but that's only true if you don't use one of those languages enough to understand it. Each personality has its own worldview. Each personality has its own voice. Each personality forms different kinds of relationships with other people. And of course all of this reflects on who the person actually is, under all the learned behavior, but the more you wear a mask the more you become the mask.

Being fluent in two languages is reasonably commonplace. Some people know many more than two languages. Clearly the human brain has no problem with running different programs at different times. Now consider: how far away is that, really, from what we call "multiple personality disorder"?

"Ah," you say, still not seeing where I'm going with this, "but that's totally different. Learning two languages is a perfectly healthy thing to do. It's not a sickness, like multiple personalities.". Now remember what I said at the start of the post. Language matters. Your thought patterns have been shaped by the language you use. It's a "disorder"! It's something wrong! The brain is broken! "Disorder" is a word connected to a lack of health, a lack of normal brain functions, a lack of rationality, a lack of ability to change. It is a term which evokes pity. And it is not a word anyone with multiple personalities would have come up with, it's a word agreed upon by the majority, like all language.

Consider the appeal of the behavior: there are situations in your life which as a person, you are simply not equipped to handle. Your personality clashes with other personalities and leads to all sorts of uncomfortable situations. But if you were to put on a mask at those moments, suddenly you could deal with anything. Just pull out a different mask for different times, and suddenly you're a much more functional part of whatever part of society you try to enter.

Those readers who've paid attention to everything I've ever said on this blog (There are two of them, and they are imaginary.) will remember where I'm coming from here. I mentioned a while back in passing that at one point I'd considered developing multiple personalities myself. And it didn't occur to me, at the time, that this was not entirely my own idea. (Remember what I've said in the past about how none of my ideas are actually original?) So I wasn't using the psychological language, and my thought patterns were not corrupted by them. I was not thinking "I am on the verge of falling into a serious medical condition from which there's no easy cure.", because that's not what was going on at all. I was thinking "I am on the verge of making an important life decision, and I should consider whether it's necessary before going through with it."! My ultimate decision was that it was not necessary, and so I didn't go through with it. Not because it was "unhealthy" behavior, because there's nothing unhealthy about it, but purely because it seemed like too much work for too little purpose.

Imagine if I had made the opposite decision. You can be certain that I would have kept with that activity for the rest of my life, because I'm an exceedingly stubborn person. You might think I'd crack under some kind of mental pressure, but here I am on a Thursday having done nothing but work, write and eat and no one has reason to doubt that I'm going to stick with this "happy worker" identity for the rest of the day. Clearly I have no problem being a different person temporarily. If there were a term like "One-Day Identity Malfunction", you'd all be shocked and appalled that I'm acting differently on Thursdays (and Saturdays, for that matter), but there's no term like that so you just figure it's a rational thing to do. But multiple personality disorder? That you've heard of. So that's an illness. If I had "had" that (though really it's something you do, not something you have), everyone would be shocked when they first heard and then be really careful to not say anything offensive because this poor guy can't help it, he's just afflicted with the illness and needs help.

Clever readers will have guessed by now that what I'd actually like to talk about is Asperger's Syndrome. There are two ways to refer to it: "Asperger's Syndrome", and "Asperger's Disorder". That's it. Two choices, neither of which bears any resemblance to what it actually is. To tell people I'm different, I can't say "I am...", or even "I'm not...", I have to say "I have...", because that's the way our language for it is. To make matters worse, Asperger's Disorder is classified as a kind of "autism". For the very first time I met an autist a few weeks back, and now that I have I can say this with full certainty: I am not an autist. But who are you going to listen to, me or the profession that gave me my name?

Do you know who Asperger was? He was some normal pediatrician who wrote a paper about kids with what he called "psychopathy". This is who we're named after, and you'd better believe I find it offensive. But that's the only word for it! Either I use the psychologists' term, or I can't talk about who I am at all! Other people with Asperger's Syndrome ("With". Argh!), understanding that it's not something they have but something they are, call themselves "Aspies", which in my mind is the most moronic and juvenile-sounding name they could possibly have picked. When I want to talk about people like us, I usually say "Asperger people", which sounds so awkward that I feel ashamed for even suggesting that we exist. I wish there were another name I could grab onto, something which had no mention of some idiot pediatrician or of mental illnesses. But the closest I can find is "weirdo".

Let me be crystal clear: Asperger's Syndrome is not a disease, it is not a sickness, it is not a disorder, it is not a syndrome, it is not a problem, it is not a flaw. It is a kind of brain, a kind that is specialized for specific tasks. It's hard to allow yourself to understand this if you're used to the terminology. If it's a sickness then there ought to be a cure. The cure is to act more normal. But why on Earth would we want to do that?

When everything gets filtered through the lens of the word "disorder", everything is seen in terms of symptoms and inabilities. We're unable to understand what society wants of us, that's why we're so broken. We're incapable of forming emotional attachments, that's why we're so monstrous. We don't know that we're not supposed to always use big words and ideas, that's why we're so hard to get. We can't understand that we're not supposed to form emotional attachments to little points of interest, that's why we won't shut up about certain things. Forgive them, these poor sick patients, they can't help it. It's an incurable disease.

Listen to me very carefully. I know what society wants from me. I form emotional attachments to people. I understand simple chitchat. I have no illusions about how anti-social it is to get attached to ideas. I just don't care.

I understand sarcasm and metaphors, I know when people aren't being literal, but I prefer to always assume people are being literal so that there can be fewer misunderstandings. Normal people aren't any different, except that they don't care so much whether they're misunderstood because they place less value on ideas. I know that the whiskers on my face don't conform to the way society thinks a person should look in this century, I just place a much greater value on having my own unique appearance. If normal people understood the value of being different, they'd look like me too. I understand emotions, but I place more weight on them than most people and am not going to get emotionally attached to people who I know would let me down. And so on. There's no lack of understanding going on here, it's just a lack of reason to care. We're practically different species, normal people and us. What makes sense for them doesn't make sense for us. Normal people are capable of understanding this fact, but they don't care. "If it doesn't make sense, then make it make sense." It's their right to ignore our preferences, just as it's our right to ignore theirs. But there are more of them, so it's generally more unpleasant for us.

I should be able to find more people like me, but I can't because of the language. I know two people my age who are like me, and they both deny any connection to Asperger's Syndrome. And who can blame them? They want to be respected, they don't want to be seen as defectives. They don't want to have an illness. So how am I supposed to meet such people? The only place I can find that they gather is in a "support group" in Jerusalem. Can you believe it? Even we've accepted the language now! "We're mentally ill, let's try to fix ourselves!" I wouldn't consider dating anyone who wasn't like me, but who'd advertise that they have an incurable illness? So how can I ever find a girl like me?

It's a rotten situation all around, and it's all because of two words. Think about that.

I have set for myself a gargantuan task for my life. It's one which a normal person would never consider for even the briefest moment. I'm going to keep jumping around from one Form to the next, each one a radically different way of thinking and communicating. And in each of those places I'm going to do something that hasn't been done before, because I don't care that the public has already said what they're interested in and that isn't it. No one is going to be supporting my progress, because they don't have a word for what I'm doing and if they did it'd be a dirty one.

So when I make up words like "gamism" and "Forms" and "metaludes" and "exploration game", it's because I need to control language. My path is not stable. If two wrong words could condemn a people to lives of lonely confusion, then two wrong words are certainly enough to jeopardize everything I've planned.

And now I know what those two words might be:

"Not game".

This lovely little phrase comes courtesy of the gamists called Tale of Tales. Let it be said that I have nothing but respect for their work, which includes The Graveyard and The Path (which I tried to interpret in an earlier post). Like me, they aspire to do things that the games industry has no interest in. They have been expanding the definition of "game" pretty far, though I don't know if that was a conscious goal for them.

Remember "Don't Miss", my idea from way back when for a pure exploration game? It was based on a dream (literal, not figurative) I had back then, and I wanted to be able to share it with other people in interactive form someday. But in the back of my head there was always the voice of society criticizing me: "There's no name for this. No one wants it. It's barely a game." Well, it's not. Go away, this is a serious post. Sure it is. I don't have time for this, get lost. The point is, I was worried that by the time I was in a position to make it the definition of "game" would already be set in stone and there wouldn't be any room for this. And that would mean there's no audience. A gamer plays games. If it's not called a game, he won't play it. If it is, he will.

Tale of Tales gave me hope. They made The Path, which is as pure an exploration game as they come, and the whole internet took notice. Mainstream game sites were posting positive reviews of a pure exploration game! If they kept just doing what they were doing, that side of gamism would be there for me when I was ready for it.

They just wrote a blog post called "My New Year's Resolutions", in which a new mission statement is announced: from now on, they're going to call what they make "not games". They don't care if anyone accepts what they're doing anymore.

Here's how this is going to go. The game sites will continue talking about them for their next game or two, and then they'll absorb the word "notgame" into their consciousnesses and forget that Tale of Tales exists. There is no audience for "not games", there is an audience for "games". And don't you say to me "It's only a word.". Words matter, or have you not been listening? I don't exercise. But I play Wii Fit, because it's a game. I don't read books. But I play text adventures, because they're games. Words are not just tools, they shape thought patterns and behaviors. And damn it, they're using the wrong words!

The game I was working on in my grandparents' house -Angles and Circles? That's an exploration game too. And there's not going to be such a thing as an exploration game after that. That part of gamism is going to be demolished, same as the house. "Don't Miss" will never exist, because no artists and programmers from the game industry would work on something that's not a game. And even if they did work on it, no one would ever play it. Come around at last, have you? Get out! Get out get out get out! I never wanted you here! You weren't even supposed to be in this post, don't you think it's got enough ideas in it already? Get out, already!

Cool it. You are crazy, I get that. You are totally detached from reality and I'm sorry. Really I am. But I am the only shred of sanity you've still got in you. You need to listen to what I am saying to you. Your plans are unrealistic. They are cute little fantasies, and you've gotta grow up and get with the picture. This routine isn't funny, it isn't cute, it is fucked-up and pathetic. You need help. And I am trying to tell you that, and you tell me to get out. You want me to get out? Okay, man, I'll get out. I'll get out of here so fast you'll think it's yesterday. But I am telling you that you are going to regret that you threw out the only damn character on this blog and in your life who is telling you what you need to hear.

Get out.

I'm going. Chill.

Bl'bah. Okay, that's a really terrible place to end this post. No, it's just totally derailed. What was I even talking about.



You know, I've never thought of you as having a disorder or a syndrome. I've thought of you as simply different, just as lots of people are different. In fact, I feel as though what separates the two of us more than anything is our choices, not our thought patterns. For instance, that multiple personalities thing you mentioned? I adopted something of the sort myself. And many other times I've read things in your blog that seem like they're coming out of my own mind. But in the end, we care about different things.

Words are very significant indeed, even those we speak to ourselves. If this blog post represents a decision, then I wish you luck with it.

Great post.

At some point in high school I consciously and deliberately changed my personality to emulate one of my friends and be more self-confident and outgoing.

How you perceive yourself and how you interact with the world is always a conscious choice, and many people have different faces that they put on in different situations.

MP is actually a condition that is very different than just choosing to react in different ways. As far as I understand it (which could be wrong) it's not really a choice, and in fact sometimes these personalities are not even aware of each other. At least you know and are somewhat friendly with all your alternate world views.

Also I wanted to say that you've affected my web reading habits. Whenever I see any bolded text I have the need to hover over it and see if there's any alt-text. Damn you!

:) I didn't realize anyone had ever noticed I did that! Sorry I'm not consistent with doing that; sometimes there's really nothing extra that needs to be said.

If multiple personalities are a deliberate and conscious choice as I hypothesize, how would anyone ever know it? It's not like the person doing the acting would ever break out of character. That would delegitimize the act for the rest of his life, undermining its usefulness! What I am saying is that psychologists, by rushing to the classification of "disorder" for whatever's strange, totally misinterpreted the nature of the situation. If I had gone one way in my life, I would have been exactly like those people today while being perfectly sane. It is reasonable for me to ask whether people who do act like that are sane too.

I guess it all depends on your definition of "sane"

Oh, and Avri: I didn't address your point that multiple personalities can be unaware of each other. My Barnaby has yet to meet my Ambrose and vice versa. When I am acting, there are many things going through my mind but none of them are a memory of the other character. However, I have a lot of distance from this lack of understanding, because as soon as I stop acting I can analyze what I've been doing and I'm myself again. But imagine that I didn't stop acting when I got off stage, but just kept going on and on between Barnaby and Ambrose for the rest of my life. Is it implausible to imagine that as I got more and more comfortable with the performance, they'd start acting more "real"? I might become very proficient at sorting my memories properly.


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