Opiate and Solace

... and he saw that it was good.


"What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm.
Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape."
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Freidrick Nietzsche

I step out of the Red Line train in a Nietzschean mood of angry, soul-empty despair in which the future is laid out before me not as a map to be read or a path to be walked, but as a flat, black, ACME-issued portable hole to be feared, or leapt into with self-destructive loss of self.

If Zarathustra was stuck in the South Station bus terminal with an hour to kill, what would he do?

Would he stand up on a soapbox and proclaim the death of God? Would he try to convince the throngs of the stale-wool commuters and confused, lobster-seeking tourists that their highest goal should be bridging the gap between plant and ghost in the advancement of the UberMensch? Would he stare at the bees running their courses and pick out those who have enough chaos inside to birth a dancing star?

Or would he, like me, simply sit on the ground, lean silently against the rusty iron lampposts, feel the concrete suck warmth and life through the seat of his jeans, and pull out his iPhone?

The idea that Appleism goes beyond brand isn’t new. In a famous (for those with free time and serious issues) blog post David Kuo proposed that the brand-loyalty exhibited by Apple fanatics did in fact match certain textbook definitions of religion. And if Appleism is a religion, than I’m something of an Edward Abbey-styled jack-mormon.

In college, I was never cool enough, or rich enough to own a mac. I owned an Apple IIe, one which I saved mountains of small-jobs money to attain. The IIe was replaced by an Atari ST. Neither was as cool as a Mac. I hung out with Mac-friends, hoping it would rub off. They did art projects in dithered binary black and white. They chatted on the campus network, black text on round-cornered white pages.

They would always be cooler.

For a time, my assumed mastery of the command prompt was like a badge of honor, covering up a festering abscess of resentment.

In 1989, frustrated by the paper-based collaborative writing system at the daytime TV show for which I worked, a few fellow geeks and I orchestrate a palace coup of the writer’s room. We install a 16 terminal Wordperfect environment built on the back of a single SCO Unix server running a blazingly fast Intel 486 processor. It costs over $10,000.

My friend Jason buys a Mac SE/30 with bonus money from a film project. He’s using it to write a screenplay in his loft, and play Cosmic Osmo. He wins.

As Apple rolls out lust-worthy objects one after one in the last 20 years, I have only the occasional opportunity to join the cult – a startup company settles on Pizza Box Macs. But I soon leave and join the PC dominated work force, and my love of video games keeps me firmly in the PC camp from thereon.

When the iPhone finally surfaces, a subtle undercurrent of unsatisfied Apple-longing explodes into an entirely irrational enraptured fervor. I go into the closet. I become an iPhone critic, pointing out every flaw, every shortcoming.

A little less than a year ago I gave up my subconscious pretense and became fully aware. I bought one.

For months I carried it around like a talisman. Other iPhone owners would give me nods of recognition in crowded malls, more intimate and telling than if we had both worn 8-inch-tall gold crosses around our necks or borne tribal tattoos on our foreheads broadcasting our allegiance to Crom. I would feel its weight in my pocket, and the simple knowledge that it was there would give me embarrassed comfort.

I should point out that in the fading New England mud season of 2008, the iPhone had no games whatsoever. From an outsiders view, I did exactly five things with it: made calls, sent text messages, checked email, surfed the occasional website, and listened to music. For any lengthy excursion from the confines of my basement – say, a walk into town – I carried something else: my PSP, or my DS. But these devices were always relegated to a backpack. They didn’t live pressed against the flesh of my thigh, night and day.

In July of this year, Mr. Jobs unleashed the App Store on iPhone owners. I had low expectations. Perhaps my religious appetite had been so sated that the idea of more was simply inconceivable.

And now, some months after the App Store’s unveiling, I make this proclamation:

The iPhone is the perfect gaming platform.

I ask you to take the previous thousand words as context and justification for hyperbole. There is really no rational argument I can make to support this claim – it’s not the most powerful handheld. It doesn’t have the biggest screen, the biggest library, a removable battery, stereo speakers, a D-pad, or a dozen other check-box items to justify this claim.

What it does have is a few good games from big developers: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, SPORE Origins, X-Plane, Crash Bandicoot. It has a few good games from the indy-world: GalCon, Line Rider, Enigmo. But much more importantly:

  • Every game is a download, meaning I have a new game any time I want one.
  • Nothing costs more than $10.
  • I always – always – have it with me.

Since I started carrying my iPhone I have not played a single game on my PSP or my DS. It’s not for a lack of titles – solid releases continue for both on a regular basis. Rather, I’ve stopped carrying a backpack. No laptop, no DS, no PSP, no book, no Kindle, no newspaper. The only other item regularly in that backpack was a sweatshirt, which I now carry tied around my waist. On longer trips, where my laptop was non-optional, I’ve eschewed my overloaded carryon of the past in favor of simplicity.

And yet, even in this unburdened state, I play more games. Maybe not the very, very best games. Maybe not with the very, very best hardware. But more games.

So as I sit on the floor of the South Station bus terminal, I can, for a moment at least, deny the abyss.

Comments

Bravo!
That was a real pleasure to read. I had iphone envy, and now writer's envy.
Oh well, back to my Blackberry. If the iphone is the cool kid in the class, it's the kid in the junior achievement club. Sigh...

The iPhone, and other similar platforms yet to come (hello, android phone), are really the future of not just mobile computing, but I think computing in general. As widespread wireless access grows, and the interfaces are perfected (say hello to Swype) people will see less and less reason to have a full-on laptop for mobile applications.

To console your fears that you might be some religious fanatic, I'd say you're nothing more than an early adopter of the next wave of computing. And it would be silly for gaming companies to ignore the potential there.

As someone who has spent more time than he cared to in South Station waiting for trains, you have my condolences.

I don't have an iPhone-- can't justify the expense for the use I'd get out of it (rather like most of Apples' products, in fact), but I cannot deny that it's a snazzy looking piece of hardware.

Nice article, Rabbit, but I'd be more impressed if you had typed this out on your iPhone.

I haven't touched my DS since I bought an iPod touch, much to my chagrin. The poor lump of black plastic, it cries for my attention, like a puppy locked outside...

Well said, Rabbit.

Pfft, my Atari ST was far cooler than the Macs of the time!

Feh, I say! Feh!

nsmike wrote:

The iPhone, and other similar platforms yet to come (hello, android phone), are really the future of not just mobile computing, but I think computing in general.

I think you're right, but input and output are definitely the big problems. Apple is right in thinking that fancier fold-out keyboards are not the way to go.

I hope Apple and Android do well, because if Symbian is the future of mobile development I might have to kill myself.

I'm with you Julian. I haven't played much DS at all, save for a few Space Invaders Extreme matches. Brain Age has been replaced by Brain Tuner and the countless free Sudoku clones available. Tetris and Bejeweled rock as always. But as you pointed out, its the price that really suckers me into buying games. Simple games like Solar Quest, Tunnel, and Paper Football are worth it for the low prices they sell for.

I am tempted to say this move was more of a realization to how much having to carry a backpack with crap in it sucked, more than how awesome the iphone is. Sure it is only through it doing those things that you are able to reduce your load, but perhaps you expected too much from the train.
I personally zone out. Or nap. Naps are good.

Pfft, my Atari ST was far cooler than the Macs of the time!

Ataris ST!? Bah... Amiga all the way

That's an excellent piece, Bunny Rabbit. I have to confess that since the iPhone became a legit gaming platform, I have been secretly lusting after it. The the shorter term, a touch is probably closer to purchasing-reality for me. That said, Apple seems to be getting the cliche one-platform-to-rule-them-all mentality working better than anyone else.

Let me know when a decent Civ clone hits the platform.

By the way, the liveblog of the Android phone announcement.

Holy vendor lock-in, Batman!

...would sum up my opinion towards Apple.

I don't disagree that the iPhone is a great gaming platform, it's just too damn expensive a monthly fee for it to be a good phone. At least in Canada.
My brother has one and it's awesome - but he's a doctor.

The perfect gaming platform is the text-adventure playing Z-code interpreter on my phone.

Switchbreak wrote:

The perfect gaming platform is the text-adventure playing Z-code interpreter on my phone.

Yep. There's a full port of Frotz on the iPhone I've been using. Awesome fun. Catching up on some IF winners.

Yes, I am sick of carrying all my stuff.

Laptop
PSP
Zune
Mp3 player (flash mem based for working out)
Phone

I'm waiting for the 32g Iphone before I dive in.
But the Android is looking nice (keyboard!) but how is going to be as a media player/gaming platform?

But the Android is looking nice (keyboard!) but how is going to be as a media player/gaming platform?

Not sure yet. It's still pretty new, and the open source nature of it should allow for some pretty interesting solutions, but it's too early to tell.

Toy Bot Diaries

0kelvin helped make this. Don't know if it's any good, but the review makes it sound pretty fun. Looks cool, and if I had an iPhone I would buy it.

Bah! You people with your backpacks.

If you just would buy pants with bigger pockets, you'd never have a problem.

Of course, for the laptop you need really, really big pockets.

Damn you and your honeyed tongue (keyboard?) rabbit; I have to wait until the new year for my upgrade, and the methodone of the Touch just isn't doing it for me. Goddamn peer pressure!

Wow...

There's people who can help, you know. Appleism is just like any other kind of addiction: it's a disease. Like a festering boil on the ass of humanity, it just needs to be drained and cleansed. Cleanse yourself of this impurity.

I hope Android wins.. Apple loves monopolies.. But I am tempted to a Iphone.

when they announced games for the iPhone, I flipped. I wanted one so bad. I resisted the urge though.

The only thing keeping me from getting one is the absurd amount of money they charge every month for the service.

I pay 20$ + tx a month for my cell phone with Virgin and that's enough. It's yet another bill on top of the net, home phone, cable, Warhammer, mortgage, electricity, etc. etc. I try to keep that list of companies leeching from my purse on a monthly basis as low as possible.

I hear that you can use the gaming features on the iPod Touch but that would defeat the purpose of having an all in one machine in my pocket like your article so beautifuly illustrates: a music player/gaming/phone. One thingamabob to rule them all.

the concept is so enthralling

interstate78 wrote:

I hear that you can use the gaming features on the iPod Touch but that would defeat the purpose of having an all in one machine in my pocket like your article so beautifuly illustrates: a music player/gaming/phone. One thingamabob to rule them all.

the concept is so enthralling

All that with five minutes of battery life.

doomcryer wrote:

All that with five minutes of battery life.

errr I think that's a bit far fetched.

Anybody can tell us how long you can play with your iPhone with a single charge?

No need to start trolling, doomcryer.

I would love to have all of that in my pocket, minus the phone. I hate cell phones, and I don't want one. Problem is, the best mobile broadband coverage comes from cell phone providers. We need a blanket WiFi-type service, so I can run Skype on that device if I really wanted to call someone. Otherwise, keep the phone OUT of my pocket, please.

I appreciate what the iPhone represents and normally I would jump all over the opportunity to toy around with a technology like this one, but the ticket to enter scared me off from the beginning.

What is the cost of the phone and 2 year service plan these days? Anyone know off the top of their head?

nsmike wrote:

I hate cell phones, and I don't want one.

Whoa there, anachronist! Got any other gems about "personal computers," "horseless carriages," or "music television"?

Seriously, though, I'm on the side that doesn't see the need for a land line at home. I didn't realize there were still cellular holdouts in the developed world.