We're in the second week of social distancing; the second day of lockdown.
It's weird. There's definitely going to be a rash of lockdown nostalgia in thirty years time. Some people will remember it as some of the best days of their lives. My partner's bought a guitar. I've downloaded a bunch of fitness apps and restarted my couch to 5k programme. Our social lives are more buzzing than they have been for years, in part because everyone's very eager to hang out (over video chat, typically) so they say yes to everything, and in part because the idea of being able to see someone for a beer and be on your sofa 30 seconds after you say goodbye is a dream.
Honestly I'm a bit worried I won't get everything done that I want to do before the lockdown's over. I still need to set up my Skype D&D group, and find some time to play a session with them, but I'm booked in for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights this week, and looking ahead to next week it's pretty jammed as well.
It's all wonderful really, until you remember that you can't leave the house, and that you're doing all of this because if you don't, millions in your nation will die, and if you do, hopefully only a hundred thousand will.
Of course, it's not this way for many – most? – people. If you've been laid off, this is not a relaxing time. If your work can't be done remotely, you're risking your health every time you travel in. If you have kids at home… I mean, I guess you love your kids, but none of the parents I know seem overjoyed with the school closures.
But for those of us – I'd imagine over-represented in this newsletter – for whom this is a weird interregnum in which we work from home rather than do a gruelling commute, I can see that nostalgia developing. After all, the GDR was shit for millions, but that doesn't mean the people feeling Ostalgie are wrong.
The other reason for that nostalgia is that, well, this period is probably better than what's about to come. Both the astonishing recession that's on the cards, and the forthcoming wave of deaths that will sweep the UK, will make this burst of sunshine, literal and not, at the end of March all the brighter in hindsight.
One of my long-held beliefs is that we are all massively overplaying the risk of deepfakes, because of how easy it is to fake information online without ~~~**AI powered**~~~ tomfoolery.
A smaller subsection of that is that the easiest way to spread fake information online is to post real images or video, with a text caption that is untrue. This is the misinformation that is rapidly becoming the second biggest category of Covid-related fakery – after, still, bad or misleading health advice – because there's only so many truly shocking videos of overloaded hospitals out there, and everyone wants to claim they're local to them.
A very specific subsection of that belief is that the absolute easiest way to spread fake information is to post a video on Twitter with inaccurate subtitles, because no-one ever turns on the audio on a Twitter video of someone talking if it's already subtitled.
Anyway I bring this up because I was tickled by this conversation with my friend Luke which is I think the dumbest conversation I've ever been involved in
We will go to our graves without unmuting twitter videos.
I still have no clue what Seth Rogen is talking about in that video and I never will.
Garfield Minus Garfield is self quarantine
Garfield Minus Garfield is a long-running Twitter account that shares Garfield cartoons edited to remove the cat. It is just a three panel strip of an insane lonely man talking to himself.
Half-Life Alyx is making me grumpy
This week is the fork in the road for virtual reality. Not only are we in perhaps the single greatest period in history for the technology's utility – a time when simply getting an accurate simulation of going for a walk would be quite a nice achievement for many –but we also, completely coincidentally, are seeing the release of the first ever blockbuster VR game.
Half-Life Alyx is a prequel to Half-Life 2, one of the most celebrated games of all time. It's the first entry in the franchise for thirteen years, in large part because the company behind it, Valve, accidentally created the dominant way the world buys PC games and didn't really need to make new games much after that.
Alyx is enabled by that convergence. One of the ways Valve splashed its cash was investing in virtual reality hardware, first in a link-up with HTC, and then going it alone to make the Valve Index. That means that, uniquely, the company is a AAA development house that can afford to plow millions into developing and selling a VR game that will never recoup its earnings directly, in order to prop up – and hopefully kickstart – a platform it has a huge stake in.
This is all making me sad. The closest parallel I've come up with is: imagine the BBC had announced in 2005 that they were bringing Doctor Who back, and that it would be exclusive to their new 3D TV service.
I don't like VR. I don't like it physically: my eyes hurt when I play VR games, I frequently feel nauseous, and my I find every headset I've ever used to be an uncomfortable fit at best.
I don't like the style of gaming it creates: for me, the breakthrough in video games over the last decade has been the Switch, in part because it means I can treat a game like I treat a book, sitting quietly alongside my partner, free to pick it up and put it down as I want, not as the game demands, and able to split my attention when needs be. VR demands total attention. That is, in fact, the selling point. There's no real world to distract you from the entertainment. Look away from the screen and there's just more screen.
I don't like walking in to things. This isn't really something that expands much, but there is basically nowhere in my house I can safely sit, extend my arms fully, and rotate them 360˚ without hitting something. There are even fewer spaces where I can mark out a 6' cube and physically walk around in. These games are built for the assumption of an American space, and I live in a London one.
And I don't like the price. Building a PC that meets the minimum spec is, according to one site, around £1000. But the Valve Index, the company's own headset – the thing that the game is built for – costs £919 on its own. It's compatible with other headsets, yes. But this is not gaming for the masses.
I know it feels churlish to complain. Not everything is for everyone, Valve owes me nothing, and for the people who do love VR – and there are a lot, though they still largely represent a tiny, wealthy fraction of already-hardcore gamers – this is Christmas in March.
But I am sad. I want to like VR, I want to be included, I want to join in this incredible moment, but I don't, I'm not and I can't. Boo.
Also I don't like Animal Crossing and get bored at the prospect of fitting out a virtual house, sorrynotsorry.