Media I Consume 2016-10-08
The world is awash with media, entertainment, and information. I have only a finite amount of time so I, like everyone, pick and choose what things I consume to try and maximize the benefit to myself. As the Internet has made long-tail media ever more available (and more reasonable to produce), I feel like I am increasingly silo’d by my media choices, and many of the things I love are known to only a (relatively) small group. I present this list of my current consumption habits both in the hopes that more people will find the things I enjoy and that maybe others can do the same and I can find their things.
Taking a cue from Extra Credits’ (don’t worry, we’ll get to them) Games You Might Not Have Tried series, everything here I find interesting enough to watch/read/play/listen to regularly but I make no objective (or even subjective in some cases) claims that things here are good. If you try them out and decide “not for me” that’s cool and we can still be friends. Things are also not in any specific order; this is not ranked in any way. I’ve tried to limit this to things that I come back to over and over, so not just everything I’ve read or watched as that would be too much.
Starting with the thing that is probably my highest ratio for unknown-ness to enjoyment. I know a lot of people that would say “wait, that thing with the stick figures? I totally played that in high school”. Well, it’s still going strong after almost 15 years. KoL is a testament to the value of good, systemic game design, solid humor, and a dev team that feels they can wait and Do Things Right™ instead of Right Now. More specifically, KoL is a free, web-based RPG with some light MMO-y aspects like a player economy and chat system. You can play through a single run in two or three weeks of 30 minute sessions, but beyond that it has one of the deepest and most balanced new-game-plus systems I’ve ever run into. The art style is perhaps an acquired taste, but unlike most RPGs the text is worth reading and is almost always good for a laugh. Plus the main currency of the game is meat. An Adventurer Is Me.
Also if web RPGs aren’t your thing, they have a “normal” RPG game coming out early next year: West of Loathing. If you are looking for a comedic Western RPG, you have very specific tastes but fortunately your ship has finally arrived.
Another free, web-based RPG, though with even fewer multi-player elements. The draw of Fallen London is the writing. It is set in an alternate history where a mysterious force swallowed up London in the 1800s, transporting it to an impossibly large cavern where death has taken a vacation, the best wine is brewed with mushrooms, and Hell is literally next door. It’s a mix of Victorian-ish culture, Cthulhu-y weirdness, and a dash of Girl Genius mad science.
The same team also made a more desktop-y game called Sunless Sea, and have a major expansion for it, Zubmariner, and a new game, Sunless Skies, coming out soon. I bounced off Sunless Sea because of the much slower pacing (to make up for the lack of a daily energy system) and general confusion about how the ship battle system worked, but am looking forward to giving it another try with Zubmariner.
One of the more well known things on this list, but I play at least a few games a week so it still belongs here. I’ve found I bounced pretty hard off constructed play because I’m not willing to put in the time to track the ever-evolving metagame, but the weekly Tavern Brawl is usually fun for a few hours and maybe some day I’ll actually be good at drafting. Free to try, but they are stingy with the free packs early on so if you want to play constructed formats expect to drop a few dollars ($5) on the Welcome Bundle.
There is also a mobile client, but the smaller screen makes it hard for me because I have big hands. Sometimes nice if I get stuck in an airport unexpectedly though.
I’ve had a long love/laugh cycle with Eve. I keep my accounts subscribed so they keep training, but I only usually play actively maybe one month out of every 6-9. That said, they are moving to a full-on free-to-play model soon with the Alpha Clone system so if you’ve always heard weird and wonderful stories about space spreadsheets, maybe give it a try. For those that haven’t heard said stories, EVE Online is an MMORPG about flying spaceships around and basically doing whatever you want. It’s a single, shared world with the majority of territory controlled by player organizations. Unique amongst most MMOs, scamming and most forms of griefing are both allowed and usually encouraged. Underneath the “harden the fuck up” attitude are lots of nice people though, just maybe don’t take it personally when someone ruins your space day.
Also more people should know about the
o7 meme/emoticon/smiley/whatever. It’s a little
person saluting. This is useful in many places but people rarely know what the
hell I’m saying. o7o7m8m8.
Heads up that this will be iOS centric because that’s what I carry, but most of these are available for Android too.
I was a sucker for the original Puzzle Quest(s) as a kid and it still works on me today. I also love a lot of Marvel characters, so double yay. It’s in the category of “mobile F2P with microtransactions”, but they are pretty reasonable as these things go. They are also about to start a big anniversary event soon, so if you have been meaning to try it out, now is a good time to get some free stuffs. It’s pretty standard Puzzle Quest gameplay, big grid of tiles, match 3 (or more for bonuses), matches charge special powers (tied to the Marvel characters you are using for that mission) with some RPG-ish level up mechanics. It adds some nice new bits while still keeping the PQ core mechanics at their best.
Okay, so this is probably the first thing on this list that I don’t actually like, but continue to interact with regularly. I do this mostly because Clash of Clans makes an utterly unreal amount of money worldwide and as an eternal student of systems design I think it is wise to at least keep track of what they are doing right (or maybe wrong depending on your point of view). I also periodically stick my head in to their spin-off game Clash Royale.
I did a similar thing with another game, Puzzle and Dragons, which is even more successful but less well known in the US I think. I fell off that one eventually after seeing what felt like all I could see without giving them large amounts of money, but it’s worth a look at least if you want to know what, apparently, people like.
A slightly guilty pleasure, this is a pretty naked “timers and microtransactions” game. But with Simpsons nostalgia. Most new unlocks give a nice “oh yeah, I remember that episode, it was funny” moment. So sue me.
Switching things up from the microtransaction-y grinders, Blackbox is a weird and wonderful puzzle game for iOS. The gimmick is that every puzzle is solved without touching the screen. It uses all kinds of sensor data I didn’t even know was exposed to apps and can be pretty inscrutable at times, but check it out anyway.
Meh, like many (most?) people I played Ingress a bunch long ago and then a bunch more Pokemon GO when it came out, and then stopped bothering as I ran out of things to do. I really hope Niantic steps up their game, until then I’ll probably just pull it out sometimes when I go for a walk after work and be sad about the squandered potential.
Word search on a hex grid, where you don’t get told what the words are, only which letters are starting points and the categories. This is on my list of “chill” things to do when winding down to bed. Simple, but elegant and well made. The same team has an earlier game, Red Herring, which is kind of related but felt a lot more unfair as many of the clues relied on specific (British?) pop culture knowledge to make sense of.
If you thought Kingdom of Loathing’s art was weirdly minimalist, Dream Quest goes even further. At heart it’s a dungeon crawl rougelike but fights are determined by playing a card game, earning new cards and slots as you get deeper in the dungeon. I think I’ve only ever reached the bottom once on the normal difficulty level, but every run brings me back again eventually. I don’t usually love roguelikes because of the feeling that one bad RNG roll can ruin a run, but Dream Quest is usually pretty careful to let you make choices at each RNG point (e.g. pick 1 of 2 random rewards) so at least you can keep things on track. There is a minor progression system to unlock new classes and add cards in to the random pools, but it doesn’t have a huge impact. If someone remade this with even vaguely better art I think it would be huge, but for now you can still enjoy it.
It’s picross (numbers around the edge, fill in the right squares), and its cute, and that’s about it. It’s a color picross implementation that is pretty well done, if sometimes a bit awkward to control. Lots of puzzles included and a weekly challenge for when you get done with those. I never really got in to sudoku or other algorithmic-y stuff but this one does it for me.
I know I said I don’t really love algorithmic puzzles, but I still keep this one around for funsies every now and then. Written by the author of PuTTY, Puzzles has been ported to just about every platform in existence. It is a collection of every algorithmic puzzle the author could find and could build a random generator for. Sudoku, minesweeper, and lots more weird puzzles, and because they are randomly generated you can tune the size and difficulty levels very nicely. The iOS port isn’t the best I’ve used, but it gets the job done and is free. Just remember that any time the docs say “right click”, they mean “long press”.
Vlogbrothers et al
They have millions of subscribers, so this one is probably not exactly in the “unknown” category but whatevers. Starting way back in the early days of YouTube, the brothers Hank and John Green have run an ongoing video blog for years. Some days it’s contemplative video essays, other days it’s hyperactive editing and jokes. Never boring and with a YouTube community base that pretty much can’t be beat.
They also have a lot of co-produced YouTube channels which I enjoy, so to save space I’ll just lump them all together. The names are pretty self-explanatory: Sexplanations, Animal Wonders, SciShow, SciShow Space, Healthcare Triage and, The Brain Scoop (okay this one isn’t self explanatory, it’s about the Field Museum and the research/collections it has).
Kind of double-counting here but I think it’s important enough to say again. Crash Course is an ever-growing series of educational videos from the same team behind a lot of the Vlogbrothers network. They have series on US and world history, chemistry, literature, philosophy, astronomy, anatomy, and more. Want to learn a thing? They are consistently high quality, well written, and easy to understand.
Musings on video games, the games industry, and societal trends as they turn up in the general gaming zeitgeist. Always well thought out and presented, I highly recommend Extra Credits to all gamers that want to think a little harder about their hobby, or to game devs that want a good source of Deep Thoughts and important discussions about our culture.
They also do an excellent history series called Extra History that I highly recommend. While the Crash Course history shows tried to avoid the specter of “great person” history education in favor of a more subtle and realistic approach, Extra History goes full steam ahead with the story-based model. This does sometimes make things slightly less accurate (they do a Lies video at the end of each sequence to come clean on all the little bits they fudged) but it gives the historical events a real feeling of emotional connection that is easy to miss in the dry, dates-and-places approach many of us grew up with.
Grey is hard to describe, but basically he explains things. Usually slightly weird topics like “What is Holland?” or “Why do we have traffic jams?”, but always fun to watch. Not much to say really other than go subscribe, and then be sad he only puts out a video every month or two.
Numberphile et al
Collectively (Dr.) Brady Haran has more YouTube channels than should probably be allowed, but they are mostly things I enjoy so huzzah. Numberphile is, I think, the biggest channel and focuses on mathematic topics but he also has Objectivity exploring the archives of the Royal Society, Deep Sky Videos for astronomy, Sixty Symbols for physics, Periodic Videos for chemistry, and Computerphile for computer science. Usually interviews with professors or other experts covering a specific topic. Between all the channels there is almost always at least one new video every day, so always something new to see or hear.
Vi Hart is somewhere between “explaining complex mathematics” and “interpretive artist”. Musings on life, society, and maths, with an engaging style and art form to go with it. She has slowed down with videos as (I think) her day job takes more time and YouTube continues to kind of be a cesspool, but there is lots of back catalog to enjoy too.
Michael is the closest I’ve found to a moder interpretation of James Burke’s Connections series (which maybe I’ll write another post on some day because zomg Connections). He starts from a simple premise like “time goes forward” or “1 + 1 = 2”, and then pulls out of that some completely unforeseen complexity like “is there an infinity plus one? why not?”. The quirky nature can put some off, but I always find the topics to be good for at least a few days of pondering afterwards.
Derek makes much more traditional educational videos, usually focusing on science and physics in particular. He literally wrote a book (his dissertation, but I say that counts) on how to best use video media to teach science with quantitative research behind it, so I try to learn from his style even if the content is often relatively basic (if unintuitive) physics stuffs.
Also in the “famous edu YouTubers” list is Destin. Also a bit on the rare side because day job, but the raw enthusiasm makes up for it. Topics are all over the place, but often truly unique like a tour of the ground training model of the ISS from an astronaut, or showing how combustion works by way of a see-through potato gun.
Matt is equal parts mathematician and comedian, and his channel reflects that. Some videos will explore weird-but-cool shapes, another might be working out the most square Square in Manhattan. He also has some books on math humor out if that’s your thing, and does live standup shows in the UK sometimes.
Tom is a vaguely computer-nerd-y video blogger that puts together great videos at a rate I find impossible to understand given the production values. His “Things You Might Not Know” and “Amazing Places” series never fail to live up to their names and he recently got back from an expedition to the arctic with Chris Hadfield (yes, the astronaut) and has been sharing some amazing footage and stories from the top of the world.
With Jon Stewart enjoying a well-deserved retirement and Colbert over on network television, we’ve seen a new generation of comedic news shows hit the airwaves. Of all of them, I think John Oliver is far and away the best. He and his team of writers have done some seriously hard-hitting investigative journalism and I almost wish they would slow down so they could dwell on a single story for longer rather than moving on to a new investigative piece almost every week. If you have HBO or HBO Go you can watch the full episodes but the usually put the meaty investigative piece from each week up on YouTube and you should probably be watching them if only to know exactly how terrible everything is all the time (but with a funny British accent making it a bit less terrible).
Unlike everything else on this just, SFDebris is (mostly) not a YouTube show. Long ago it was hosted on YouTube but the rate of bogus takedown requests forced him to relocate to Blip and then to ScreenWave after Disney axed Blip. It is absolutely worth going to a different site though. His bread-and-butter videos are comedic reviews of sci-fi TV episodes (originally Star Trek) but he has branched out over the years to also cover movies, anime, and some games. He also has a few longer-run series on the history and inside story of things like the comics industry and the Transformers franchise.
Along with Sexplanations up above, Laci’s Sex+ channel is a great resource for clear, unbiased, factual sex information, advice, and education. She tends to focus on more high-impact topics than Dr. Doe, and there are a few I keep bookmarked for refuting common FUD.
Before we had math comedy, now we have engineering comedy. He plays it so straight that I’m only 99% sure he isn’t actually doing hilariously unsafe things, but it’s usually good fun. Also A+++ eyebrow game.
One of my more recent follows, but I’m a sucker for infrastructure analysis. He also does a lot of what I can best describe as “Engineering Let’s Play” videos where he reproduces interesting projects and experiments and records himself. Definitely looking forward to more “What The Infrastructure” videos.
Bill Hammack does infrequent but amazingly clear analyses of engineering problems and lots of common objects. Like examining the complex work that went in to the click-y pen or the disposable diaper or the aluminum beverage can. He also recently worked on a version of a famous lecture from Michael Faraday where he explained basically all of current physics at the time to a lay audience and it is still better than a lot of my HS physics classes.
Another in the genre of “thing explainers”, this time with wonderful animations and usually much more in-depth analysis. They tried to rebrand as “In A Nutshell” at one point because English-speakers couldn’t figure out “Kurzgesagt” but I think they have mustly gone back to the original name. If you’ve ever looked a an infographic and thought “that would be cooler with cute animated birds”, here you go.
A more focused “thing explainer”, mostly about history and geography and often the interplay between the two. Videos are more rare, but always great. His video on the breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing wars is one of the best summaries of that period I’ve found.
Rapid fire history in an Irish accent, what’s not to love? Also a bit on the rare side, but worth hitting the subscribe button and enjoying the back catalog.
Amazingly crafted videos exploring the life and work of “you recognize them but probably don’t know their name” character actors like Anne Ramsey, Michael Jeter, and Pete Postlethwaite. Every episode is clearly made with a great deal of love and respect for these actors, and gives a bit of insight into the world of the Hollywood “B list”.
In a similar style to No Small Parts above, Every Frame A Painting looks at the world of cinematography: how to use form and color and movement to help tell a story or communicate an emotion. I’ve always been someone that likes movies and whatnot, but never really a “movie buff”, so this is a whole new world to me most of the time. I like to think that learning more about video as an art form helps me make better things, even if just presentation slide decks and CSS code.
Unfortunately much rarer on uploads than most of these, Major Third examines video game music through the lens of formal music theory and critique. Like with movies, I enjoy music but know almost nothing of the theory and structure behind it so this has been a nice little look into how Cool Things™ get made.
Debunks of unscientific nonsense, mostly from climate change deniers and Intelligent Design creationists trying to spin doctrine as science. his videos have gotten increasingly acerbic over the years, but they are still very well researched (with citations, as all good science reporting should be) and generally not picking on people unless they have it coming. He sometimes edges close to the “militant atheism” aesthetic but usually just on the watchable side of the line. He has some really great collected series on the evolution of humans and the overall history of climate change research.
Absurdist cooking humor. Can’t really describe it other than that, just go watch one episode and you’ll know if you like it within about 45 seconds.
Amazingly well crafted looks at gaming topics, mostly the history of specific games or franchises. He also does retrospective looks at specific weapons, both their real-world history and their portrayal in games over the years. His five-part series on the interplay between the history of nuclear weapons and video games is both the length and quality of a commercial documentary, and should be required viewing for any student of game design.
I could probably put this down in the music section, but the videos along with each song are usually worth experiencing. Melodysheep uses a mix of autotuning and sampling to make music out of a variety of video sources. My favorite by far is the Symphony Of Science. Sagan is already almost music to start with, but this is a whole different level. If you like this style, also check out Pogo.
A podcast on games and life from the crew that works on Kingdom of Loathing plus the always-excellent Jim Crawford. It’s a good place to hear about new indie games I might want to try, and has a great community. Not having ads is kind of a breath of fresh air in an increasingly “this episode brought to you by …” world, though you should totally contribute to their Patreon and hang out with me on the VGHD Slack.
The KoL guys (sans Jim) also do a weekly podcast specifically about KoL but unless you’re also playing it (which you totally should) it is probably too niche. The broader Hot Dog Network also has Horror Show Hot Dog (which I never listened to so not 100% sure if it is still running), Advice Hot Dog (defunct advice show), and Train Hot Dog (part of Jim’s ARG for the run up to Frog Fractions 2).
Another “I liked their other work” podcast, this time from CGPGrey and (Dr.) Brady Haran. It isn’t really about anything, just two friends talking about whatever catches their fancy. Usually fun listening though.
Grey also does another podcast called Cortex but I bounced off that one.
In the dark times before the omnipresent smartphone, I used to get my Radiolab through NPR on actual radio, but this is much easier. Every episode is something different, not “investigative reporting” in the cable news sense but they go and investigate something. The invasive goats of the Galapagos, the rise of paparazzi in Korea, or the history of triage during natural disasters (warning: that last one hit me like an emotional ton of bricks). It’s kind of like a more approachable version of This American Life.
They also recently did a spin-off miniseries called More Perfect about 6 important Supreme Court cases from history. I think literally every person in the US should listen to the whole series. Literally.
Another show I used to listen to on actual radio. Each episode they take 3 or 4 TED talks on similar topics and edit them down a bit for radio, and then mix in some interviews with the speakers to get more details on the theme for the week, or expand on some bit of the talk. I was sad to see Guy Raz leave All Things Considered but TED Radio Hour has been good enough to soften the blow.
Beautiful. Downtown. Oakland, California. 99PI is kind of like Radiolab’s little brother. It has a similar structure of a new topic every week with some well researched story from an interesting place or person. It’s shorter than Radiolab, so if you like the idea but don’t have the cycles for a 30-45m episode, then maybe this will be your bag. Or vice versa, if you already like 99PI, you’ll most likely enjoy Radiolab.
Another famous one so probably not as many people that haven’t heard of it but for someone, here you go. A small-town community radio show that happens to be set in a town where weird things happen. A lot. Not quite as dark as a Cthulhu tale but close. It is consistently equal parts funny, weird, and compelling. You can definitely pick things up in the middle, but there are some recurring characters and plot arcs so if you like it you might want to brush up either by listening to the back catalog or the recently-released script books for seasons one and two.
The same team also recently did a new, unrelated show Alice Isn’t Dead that I enjoyed and am hoping gets a second season some day.
Oxford style debating, one motion, two teams of two, only one side wins. Some episodes are moving, some thought-provoking, and others just have me yelling at my computer about how wrong someone is for an hour. This is not cable-news-style debating where people just say whatever they want, there is a formal structure with room for responses and discussion. They also don’t shy away from touchy subjects, though often those are the ones that make me (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻.
A more recent addition, and one I’m more mixed on. It is co-hosted by Ryan Morrison, better known as The Video Game Attorney, and the high points of the show are usually the legal analysis of internet and game news/culture. They also sometimes go off on weird tangents like 10 minutes on why domed cities are the future (they aren’t) or how YouTube Heroes will get early access to Google phones (they won’t).
Also new but picking up steam fast, a joint venture between Nadia [sp?] and Mikeal Rogers, they interview (un-ironic) thoughtleaders of the FOSS world about their experiences. As someone that cares a lot about the culture of open source, this is basically laser focused on my demographic. Even outside of the value to me today, I’m also glad to see this bit of our oral history get recorded somewhere so when we make all the same cultural mistakes in 10 or 20 or 50 years, maybe someone will remember they can go listen to those that came before.
A heavyweight of the webcomics world. Life, love, sometimes indie music references I don’t understand. It would be hard to pick up in the middle I think, so maybe decide if you like and then just go back to the start and read from there? I feel like I’ve basically grown up around the QC characters so they are part of the fabric of my universe at this point.
If you don’t know what XKCD is, just click here. He said it better than I ever could.
Science-y humor, “single panel” comics that go on for pages, and probably more graphs than normal people find funny. If you like xkcd you’ll probably like SMBC.
The author of SMBC also organizes BAHFest, which isn’t related to comics but is too awesome not to mention. A great night of terrible science.
Important, thought provoking, or inspirational quotes set to comics. If I’m having a bad day, I’ve got a folder of bookmarks of Zen Pencils pages to go re-read to try to make the world seem a little less terrible.
Okay, so I don’t actually read this right now because I missed a month at one point like a year ago and now I’m so far behind and need to find a time to binge and catch up. But I still love it so I’m listing it anyway. Girl Genius is all the best of Steampunk for me. Alternate history, mad science, monsters and robots. I basically want to be Agatha Heterodyne when I grow up. If nothing else I want more people to read Girl Genius so that I can use the word “Spark” and be understood. I really wish it was available on Comixology, but the whole series is online and you can get PDFs of the collected books for mobile reading.
Tony Chu is cibopathic, meaning he gets psychic impressions from anything eats, how it was raised, prepared, etc. He is also an agent of the FDA, which thanks to a worldwide avian flu pandemic and subsequent chicken prohibition is now the worlds most powerful law enforcement agency. It’s a weird world full of food-based superpowers and ridiculous happenings.
Hard to say much without spoilers but the apocalypse is coming, the Horsemen were betrayed, and now Death has a score to settle. I love the art style, and the world feels both alive and yet also clearly dying.
Most of my music consumption is driven by auto-recommendation algorithms either in Spotify or Bandcamp. I don’t really have much intention behind my consumption as compared to other areas, but you can always see what I’ve been listening to on Last.fm.
I don’t really follow enough blogs directly (i.e. other than seeing friends post stuff via Twitter) to make this a category but this is one I do try to read frequently. A mix of drug discovery industry talk and chemistry inside baseball, it’s a good slice of the pharma industry all in one place.
The SCP wiki is basically like crack to me. Like TVTropes level of “just one more page”. I love stories and SCP entries are basically a minimum viable story, just the nucleus of it so you can read the whole thing in 60 seconds and then just imagine the broader tale around it. It’s a collaborative writing project so the quality is highly varying but if something is bad it is at least only a minute or two of bad writing and then you are off to the next entry. The content is kind of a mix of creepypasta and Warehouse 13, strange and anomalous objects from all over the world with just a bit of description or back story and not much else.
Sigh, yeah, I still use Reddit. I tried leaning heavier on lobste.rs but it never really got its hooks in me. If you go through the trouble of unsubscribing from basically all the default subreddits and replace them with smaller, less-terrible communities it can be an okay source for news in otherwise niche spaces. /r/Georgegifs is my jam.
If we were counting by volume, this is probably the majority of the media I consume. And like with Reddit, sighhhhh. It has gotten a lot better with both liberal use of the mute button, removing retweets from most people, and making private lists of people I actually want to see everything from and just skimming the rest.
The GIFs must flow.
Also let me know if you end up writing your own version of this, I would love to link to it. Maybe we can even set up a webring.