Sorrow’s Furnace

tfw no gw
>tfw no gw

The word nostalgia was once used to describe the homesickness felt by soldiers deployed abroad in the vast colonial lands of Europe. Nostalgia was treated as a medical condition, an excess of black bile causing an acute melancholy in those who suffered from it. Today, nostalgia refers to a longing for the recent past, a contracting span of time shrinking with each passing year. Decades are reduced to curated pop culture selections and sold back to us as if buying them could somehow take us back in time. We do not long for home anymore but the films, music, and video games of our youth.

When Americans are not arguing about politics or divulging our health issues to strangers, we are talking about pop culture. Film, music, and video games act as the cultural waypoints by which we navigate the desolate wilderness of our own hyperreality. With nothing in common other than a vague, fading sense of national identity, we form friendships and communities around these mutual interests. High school cliques originate in part from one’s preferred media selections: those who watch sports, those who listen to hip hop, those who play World of Warcraft (though the football teams of my day seemed to secretly share an interest in all three).

I spent the better part of middle school in the fictional land of Tyria, the setting for ArenaNet’s 2005 online role-playing game Guild Wars. Guild Wars was structured much in the same way as World of Warcraft and Everquest, though it borrowed the best elements from each and eschewed many of the typical MMORPG norms that made its contemporaries such a chore to play.

Gone were the long hours of endlessly grinding for levels and rare items: Guild Wars put its players on relatively equal footing in regards to experience and gear. Success in player-versus-player content, a core component of the game, often came down to team composition and player skill. The game consumed hundreds of hours of my youth, yet eleven years later I find myself without a shred of regret.

Growing up in a southern California exurb leaves you with limited options for entertainment. These towns were built for families working in Los Angeles and function solely as places to sleep at night before beginning another two hour commute the next morning on the 5 Freeway. When you are young and unable to drive a car, your very existence is limited to school and home. There were no kids on my street growing up and my extended family had long since left the state. Outside of school, there wasn’t much to do.

I used to regret spending so much of my childhood immersed in virtual worlds. I was told the days and weeks I put into playing video games were a waste of time. Looking back now, I empathize more with my situation. What else was I supposed to do? My family scarcely went on vacation or took weekend trips. Every vacation I remember was ruined because of some logistical error or grand, week-long argument. It was a relief to return home for the summer, even more of a relief when school started.

Guild Wars was, more than any game I have ever played, an escape from the mundanity of my younger years. I convinced my friends from school to start playing and within a few months we had a functioning guild. After class we would rush home, log on, and put each other on speaker phone while completing quests and missions.

MMORPGs have a trope called the “holy trinity” which consists of a tank, a healer, and a DPS. The tank mans the frontlines, absorbing enemy hits while the healer keeps him alive and the DPS does damage. I played Warrior in Guild Wars (the original tank profession) and my two friends played Monk (a healing profession) and Elementalist (a spellcasting DPS profession) respectively. Together we explored and conquered Tyria, from the frigid Shiverpeaks to the dense jungles of Maguuma.

The game was for us the adventure we lacked in our young lives. Boys are supposed to play in the woods, get into fights, and generally cause mischief. In our real world of helicopter parents, bureaucratic school administrations, and overbearing government, we have to increasingly seek virtual means to fulfill that which is innate in our sex. Sports and video games, the two remaining outlets for a boy’s competitive nature, provide some relief. But in a repressive culture without some higher calling, some higher purpose, they are ultimately substitutes for more worthwhile endeavors.

By the time the second expansion Nightfall was released, my friends and I had moved on. The guild that we had started was full of inactive players and the cities and outposts throughout the game world grew empty. Though the servers are still active today, returning to the game leaves you with a vague sense of unease. Hardly anyone still plays these days. The communities that were formed within the game have disbanded and gone their separate ways. The sense of uneasiness I felt was only shared upon returning home from college the first time: the town I grew up in strangely devoid of life, the majority of the people I used to know having left for greener pastures.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Guild Wars would be the start of my interaction with others online. MMORPGs predated social media and were how you used to talk to your friends over the Internet. The barrier to entry kept people who didn’t share your hobby offline watching MTV or whatever it was normal kids did those days. For a while, the Internet was a paradise for those who played video games. Almost everyone who spent their free time on the computer was just like you. We were a part of something that will never be experienced again.

What will happen to these virtual communities when they eventually cease to exist, when the servers are shut down and the worlds we grew up in vanish? We’ll be left with memories of times and places, real in a sense to those who remember them but virtual nonetheless. The Internet once provided us a window to vast, fantastic virtual lands when our own reality wasn’t much to look at. Now all we see are the very reflections of our hideous reality in the social media sites and advertisements that have colonized the Web.

I suppose you really can’t go home again.

Soy Fields Forever

Soy Mass
Nature is Satan’s church.

Glycine max or the soybean is an edible legume native to East Asia. Soybean seeds are encased in a hairy pod about three to eight centimeters in length. Each pod contains two to four seeds five to eleven millimeters in diameter. Soybeans are cultivated for their oil and meal: their meal provides a cheap source of protein for livestock and processed foods. The USDA estimates that the Global Soybean Production 2016/2017 will be 336.62 million metric tons.

Soy contains isoflavones that mimic the activity of estrogen in your body. Your body can’t distinguish between natural estrogen and these phytoestrogens (plant-derived xenoestrogens), both of which bind and activate estrogen receptors modulating gene expression. People who consume large amounts of soy risk developing hyper-estrogenism.

There is a reason why vegans and most vegetarians soon begin developing symptoms of general insanity. Though these symptoms are present in male vegans and vegetarians, many of whom I would hesitate to call men, no more are they apparent than in women.

Women naturally have higher estrogen than men (though this may not be the case for much longer). Estrogen is, in fact, the primary female sex hormone and is partially responsible for what makes them women. While high estrogen in men may make them more prone to use the term ‘Sunday Fun Day’ or let Somali refugees fuck their wife, high estrogen in women can lead to a variety of unpleasant side effects.

You are what you eat. We have become sentient soy masses. I see it in the faces of men and women my age: an amorphous, androgynous physiognomy betraying seething passive-aggressiveness. Their placid demeanor masks a hideous inner monstrosity that I can only assume looks somewhat like the blob monster from Akira made of texturized soy protein. Election season was misery. I lost all my friends in college. Though I rarely discuss politics with people outside of my immediate family, they somehow found me out. I was an imposter.

The soy mass is easy to control. He follows directions, he doesn’t ask questions. He is ideal for the type of compartmentalized labor ubiquitous today. I can’t say Kaczynski didn’t warn us. Nobody would listen. However, the soy mass is able to find work and even move up to management. You won’t be so lucky. Interviewers can sniff out people who aren’t team players, people who aren’t SELF-STARTERS.

Upon graduating college and failing to secure employment, you will move back in with your parents and enter a stage of your life I’ve dubbed Interview Hell. Your only human connection will be your parents and the interviewers you speak with two to three times per week. All of your friends either don’t speak with you anymore or have moved out of your hometown and are living fulfilling lives in the major U.S. cities. You will rapidly exhaust the RPG dialogue tree with your parents and have the same conversations over and over. Their growing disappointment with you will soon become apparent as you start sinking back into that endless ocean of electronic entertainment.

What is a man to do? Nobody ever told you a damn thing about being a man. Outside of some failed attempts by your father to get you interested in sports, no doubt interspersed with lectures on how it’s important to “be nice to girls”, you haven’t a clue. You are stuck in Interview Hell, and until you make that Dantean voyage out of the Inferno and into the Purgatory of our post-industrial society, you will remain. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Without employment, without money, you are stuck in your rotting hometown. Twenty odd years have gone by and all that remain are ghosts. Your elementary school evokes memories of better days. Days spent with your friends who have all since passed into the nostalgic halls of memory. The places you remember remain but are eerily devoid of life. Above all, you just really miss everyone.

The first things to go are your social skills. Prolonged isolation does this to you. When you only have interviewers to talk to for months on end, you soon forget what it’s like to have a genuine conversation. You’ll end up listening more than speaking and your words will come out in a jumbled mess. Your solitude won’t make you more productive either. You’ll spend your time in between interviews playing old computer games and watching movies you’ve already seen.

Phone screens lead to in-person interviews where they find out you’re not a soy mass and reject you. Americans smile too much. Maybe it’s all the sunlight. I’ve always perceived smiling as insincere. Guys only smile when they’re about to stab you in the back. Politicians and salesmen smile all the time. America is a country of politicians and salesmen.

I can’t help but feel like a caged animal doing party tricks during interviews. The entire interview process is absurd. You can’t get to know someone in thirty years, let alone thirty minutes. The same old questions are asked and I give the same old responses. Tell me about a challenge you’ve overcome. I kind of want to die but I got out of bed this morning. What do you do in your free time? Post jokes about bitch Asian girlfriends and Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter. Where do you see yourself in five years? Dead in a Hollywood swimming pool.

The last interview I went to the girl told me her company was all about having fun. I almost walked out. Your multi-million dollar tech company is not about fun, it’s about gradually sucking the life out of small business owners so your founder can fuck kids in the Philippines. They promptly sent me my rejection the next day.

We must beg and grovel like dogs for the remaining scraps on the desiccated carcass of the American economy. What automation won’t replace will be taken by the billions of huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The middle class isn’t shrinking: there is no middle class. By the end of the decade the last remaining source of income will be selling our organs to Silicon Valley startups.