(Blame Origen.)

Few things in Christian mythos1 are as ingrained in our tradition as the idea that demons lead previously righteous lives as angels. Ignoring for a moment that “angel” isn’t necessarily a category of creature2, the origin of demons is significantly more complex3. I highly recommend the book “Demons” by Dr. Michael S. Heiser for this reason, because he explores the cultural and historical context in great detail.

I’ll try not to belabor the point too much in this post, keeping it within relatively finite constraints (a first for me?!), but I do wish to spend some time exploring the (truncated) history of demons in their biblical context.

The brief version: It is my opinion that there is a difference between the demons that Jesus cast out, demons as generalized evil entities, and fallen angels. The demons Jesus cast out are specifically unclean spirits. Demons, as a separate category of entity, possess (pun) a distinct pedigree owing strictly to the divine (that is, the rebelled against Yahweh at some point). Fallen angels happen twice in different contexts, once in Genesis 6:4 and once in Revelation 12.

The long version: It’s complicated and owes itself to both linguistic and cultural challenges.

Demons in the Old Testament

Usually, but not always, readers will first encounter demons in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 32:17:

They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 32:17.

However, the word English Bibles translate here as demon was not generally conceived of as something we might consider demons4 in accordance with the NT—specifically as having the ability to possess people. The word, shedim, is instead a territorial entity of sorts connected to the “shedu’s of Babylon and Assyria” (DDD, p. 235). The link to our modern concept arises partially from Paul’s use of daimonion to translate Deut. 32:17 in 1 Corinthians 10:20 somewhat generically, but if we examine the Hebrew directly, we see a very different connection:

יִזְבְּחוּ לַשֵּׁדִים לֹא אֱלֹהַ אֱלֹהִים לֹא יְדָעוּם

Literal (Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible): [They] sacrificed to the demons [shedim], not God [eloah], [to] gods [elohim] [they had] not known.

Elohim, as used in this context, refers to an entity other than God. This may come as a surprise5 to some readers—but in this passage there is a clear connection in the Hebrew writer’s thinking that shedim were a category of elohim. If Yahweh is Elohim (rather an elohim), this removes shedim from the pool of what we might consider “demonic” entities if we view them through a New Testament lens. However, this argument does not address the possibility that demons are fallen angels and could, instead, reinforce it if we ignore the greater contextual evidence. We’ll get to why this is an impossibility shortly.

Shedim make one last appearance in the OT texts by way of Psalm 106:37 where they are the focus of child sacrifice. I mention this for one specific reason: The demons of the Old Testament were occasionally treated the same as gods and received sacrifices (elohim is sometimes translated in English as “gods”). In the New Testament, diamonion are usually viewed as unclean spirits rarely associated as the recipients of sacrifice (1 Cor 10:20)—and only in Revelation 9:20 are they mentioned as receiving worship6. New Testament demons (more precisely the unclean spirits) have little crossover with the demons of the Old Testament. Linguistic artifact? Perhaps. Most probably, however, this is an indication of a growing generalization of the word that would later become “demon.”

Back to the Old Testament: The translation “demons” appears one other time in Leviticus 17:7:

So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Le 17:7.

These creatures, the sair or seirim, often translated as “goat demons” or “wild goats,” that reside in the desert wilderness appear to have some connection to Azazel7 and the Leviticus 16 scapegoat. A deeper study into the nature of some of these entities may be explored in a future post, but it is out of scope here.

Demons in the New Testament

In the specific context of the New Testament, diamonion are mostly associated with possession, insanity, and sometimes physical ailments. The most important clue as to their identity arises in Luke 11:24 (and its parallel passage Matthew 12:43): According to the Lukian account, this passage follows on the heels of Jesus’ interaction with the scribes and Pharisees who had accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul. In describing how Jesus possessed such authority, he goes on to explain these demons as unclean spirits (akatharton pneuma).

This is our main indicator leading us toward the concept of demons as entities that can possess and torment humans.

Unsurprisingly, the background and cultural context of the Old Testament is required for further understanding—after all a substantial portion of Leviticus is devoted to a discussion of uncleanness, either as ritual uncleanness, defilement, or an unholy union. This is key: Uncleanness is unholy and something that has been defiled in some capacity. Therefore, if a spirit is unclean, it, by necessity, had to be defiled—such as through an unholy union.

If we turn back to Genesis 6:4 (“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” (ESV)) we are presented with one possible explanation. The sons of God (bene Elohim) impregnated human females, who bore them children, and created the nephilim—often associated with the giant clans. In Jewish tradition (repeated in Second Temple period literature like 1 Enoch 6), the spirits of the nephilim, being formed from an unholy union of fallen divinity and human flesh, were cursed to wander the Earth after the destruction of their physical bodies (DDD, p. 238). If true, this might explain their desire to possess human bodies; their own flesh was destroyed in the flood, and by Joshua’s conquests afterward, so their natural proclivities would be toward gaining control of that which they previously lost.

Hence, the demons of the New Testament. No angels here!

An “Origen” Story

As I alluded to at the start of this post, the myth of demons being once proud angels originated (“origenated?” …sorry, I couldn’t resist!) with Origen of Alexandria. To wit: “Origen tells us that the Church had no clearly defined teaching on [the demons’] genesis; his view was that the Devil, after becoming apostate, induced many of the angels to fall away with him; these fallen angels were the demons” (DDD, p. 238). It is surprising that the earliest of theologians and one of the most prolific writers of the early church would come away with such a conclusion. Granted, our body of understanding has greatly increased since this period in church history, but Jewish traditions behind texts like Enoch were known to Origen and his contemporaries. It is possible, then, that Origen’s views of these works as uninspired may have influenced his understanding. Unfortunately, it is this understanding, despite his own admission toward a lack of provenance or textual support, that ossified in church tradition.

It should be noted that nowhere in the Bible are angels explicitly mentioned as both a) having “fallen” and b) being demoted to or associated with demons. Indeed, texts like Revelation 12:4-6 and Jude 13 suggest somewhat ambiguously that members of the heavenly host entered a state of rebellion as fallen stars or other similar celestial phenomenon (a phrasing commonly associated with being cast out of heaven but parsed very differently by the modern reader because of our understanding of the cosmos). Since none of these connections ever make mention of demons we must conclude that fallen heavenly beings are ontologically distinct in function and origin from diamonion. For example, later in the Revelation 12 account, these angels are still referred to as angels. Apparently, John considered God’s angelos and the Devil’s angelos to serve similar purposes—but different masters—perhaps owing to their origins as members of the heavenly host with specific duties or functions.

It’s worth backing up a little to mention that the story of the heavenly transgression in Genesis 6:4 and 1 Enoch 6 appears via somewhat indirect references in the New Testament alongside the punishment of certain fallen angels (1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6, 13). Perhaps more accurately, these beings are referred to as sons of God in the Genesis parlance. Notably for our case, these fallen angels (or sons of God) are not only described by the NT authors as angels, not demons, they are also described as being bound in chains of gloomy darkness. Given that 2 Peter is the only place in the Bible where the Greek root tartarus is used, it is plausible that Peter was drawing on Greek mythology to make a point: In the Greek cultural understanding, those titans who rebelled against the gods were condemned to tartarus and bound in chains of gloomy darkness. On the other hand, one has to consider which came first: Peter’s referencing a familiar story to convey the idea of eternal punishment for spiritual beings who transgressed; or, instead, was Greek mythology based upon an earlier, shared cultural knowledge, perverted by the worship of foreign gods, that itself was born from the seed of a divine transgression eons prior?

Therefore, it is a misnomer that demons are the angels who transgressed. Instead, those angels were condemned and bound in chains! Demons may certainly be other entities or the wandering spirits of long-dead nephilim, but they are certainly not connected with fallen members of the heavenly host! Both Testaments use the concept of “demon” somewhat interchangeably with what appears to be a distinct category of entities entirely and completely separate from angels who have rebelled against God, but English translations obscure the ontological distinctions of those beings mentioned in the Old Testament while muddying the waters in the New Testament. Further, as far as angels fallen from alignment with Yahweh, it seems the Most High reserved special punishment for those beings who transgressed the heavenly domain to be bound in chains of gloomy darkness. Demons, on the other hand, are free to wander the Earth regardless of their specific origins (shedim, unclean spirits, etc).

  1. I use the term “mythos” rather deliberately. It isn’t intended to deride certain beliefs: Rather, I intend its use in the context of a greater mythological construct that is itself detached from the text. Specifically, views that are based on church tradition and are unsupported by scripture are, in my opinion, part of Christian mythos because they appeared as distinct units separated from those that were inspired by God. Christian mythos therefore is something later contrived that may (or may not) be based on scriptural truth. ↩︎
  2. Taken on its own, the term “angel” (angelos in Greek or mal’ak in Hebrew) simply represents an ontological construct—a typological or categorical term that indicates a job or function. See: Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, First Edition. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 24. ↩︎
  3. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2d ed. Ed. Karel Van Der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. Van Der Horst. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Pub., 1999), 235-240. Abbreviated in this post as “DDD.” ↩︎
  4. An over-generalization which I’ll explain in a moment. ↩︎
  5. Contrary to the teachings of tradition, elohim is, like angel, an ontological term. Refer to a reverse interlinear for Exodus 20:3, 20:7; Deut 32:8, 32:17; 1 Sam 28:13; Pss 82:1, 82:6 for examples of this use. ↩︎
  6. See also: Acts 17:18 “Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of [daimonion].'” The use of daimonion in these passages likely illustrated its use generally as an unclean spirit but also to agents of the Devil (1 Cor 10:20-21; 1 Tim 4:1). We may examine the process of this evolution in more detail in a future post. ↩︎
  7. Michael S. Heiser, Demons: What the Bible Really Says about the Powers of Darkness (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 26. ↩︎

Continuing from our previous installment regarding Ray Comfort’s pamphlet “Scientific Facts in the Bible,” I feel it necessary to tie this in with some remarks made in part 1. Specifically, I want to address this idea that somehow Biblical cosmology infers, predicts, or requires the existence of a spherical Earth. To put it briefly: It doesn’t. However, that’s not a particularly satisfying answer, and it’s much more difficult to appropriately ruffle some feathers with two words than it is with an entire essay (more words implies more opportunity to nitpick—in both directions).

In this post, I’ve decided to continue prodding at Comfort’s next truth claim:

The Earth is Round

Isaiah 40:22 (written 2800 years ago): “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth.”

The Bible informs us that the earth is round. Though it once was commonly believed the earth was flat, it was the Scriptures that inspired Christopher Columbus to sail around the world. He wrote: “It was the Lord who put it into my mind […] There is no question the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit because He comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures…” (from his diary, in reference to his discovery of “the New World”).

Ignoring Comfort’s rather flamboyant suggestion that Columbus was somehow inspired by the Holy Spirit to “prove” the truth of a spherical Earth—a myth already dispelled among maritime explorers by the 15th century. Columbus’ motives were instead more accurately described by his efforts to find a shorter route to the Indies with the comparatively minor caveat that the Americas happened to be in his way. Indeed, if we examine the full and complete quote that Ray Comfort mysteriously editorialized to serve his own purposes, we discover that Columbus’ motives were, in fact, driven by exploration rather than pursuit of truth:

It was the Lord who put it into my mind, (I could feel His hand upon me), the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies […]

But where does Isaiah 40:22 come to play?

It turns out that this passage is probably retroactively interjected into Columbus’ writings—who merely stated instead that:

For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps.
It is simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied […]

Columbus never clarified precisely which of Isaiah’s prophecies he had in mind, and his proclivities toward apocalyptic thinking suggests, instead, that financial motives were likely in his sights—a faster, more direct trade route to the Indies could have helped fund efforts in the Middle East to hasten whatever eschatological end he believed to be true. Isaiah is apocalyptic literature after all, and it’s doubtful that any singular passage alleged to discuss the shape of the Earth was of any concern to Columbus. If the Earth’s general shape was well known by the time Pliny the Elder wrote his Natural History why would Columbus feel the need to “prove” already incontrovertible facts? It would be akin to claiming Elon Musk felt a need to demonstrate the truthfulness of Newton’s laws of physics.

It doesn’t make sense. And this is before we even get into our discussion of biblical cosmology.

As a refresher from part 1: biblical cosmology is a “three-tiered” cosmology containing the heavens, the Earth, and sheol surrounded by a cosmic sea of chaos. Earth (and in some passages, heaven) is held up by pillars sunk into the cosmic waters as its foundations and protected from the waters above by an expanse that separates the creation (heavens and Earth) from the waters below. A careful reading of Genesis 1 reveals this cosmology—though it is not without certain irony that most literalists wave this away1. Given that we also know Israelite cosmology did not deviate from that of their neighboring cultures, it should be no surprise God worked with the knowledge base they had.

But, let’s assume (momentarily) that Comfort is correct and that Columbus had Isaiah 40:22 in mind when he penned those words in his autobiography. What, then, did Isaiah intend to convey when God inspired him to write “It is he who sits above the circle (khûg) of the earth?”

As mentioned in part 1, the idea of a circle, pillars, or a boundary between light and dark conveys two concepts in ancient Near Eastern cosmology. The first is the existence of a boundary between the living and the dead2. Thus, the “circle of the Earth” would comprise the embodied, material aspect of created order (the land of the living, so to speak), over which God sits. The second is the rather obvious notion that God sees everything from his vantage point. God isn’t literally sitting in a chair as if watching Monday night football—God exists outside of time—but the idea that he is sitting upon his throne from a vantage point that affords him visibility into all things we do (seen and unseen) is consistent with other parts of scripture. Isaiah just happens to illustrate this thought using knowledge that would be familiar to his readers. If we examine the rest of the passage, this thinking becomes clearer:

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in […]

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:22.

Notice the parallel structure of this passage from Isaiah. First, God is described sitting from his vantage point over the Earth. Next, in bold, it describes his view of Earth’s inhabitants. Then it shifts back to God and his ability to manipulate the created order. Finally, it parallels the second clause with the intended purpose (“like a tent to dwell in”) for God’s work. Earth is paralleled with heavens; the inhabitants are paralleled with the heavens’ purpose for them, above. Interpreting this passage through a modern lens makes little sense with the surrounding context—Earth is confined to a boundary (the “circle” or khûg) over which the heavens are spread “like a tent.” Familiarity with the Israelite three-tiered cosmology is key to understanding passages like this one3.

In his expanded works, both the Evidence Bible and various educational videos he’s produced based on this material, Comfort attempts to defend his view by claiming that the Hebrew (khûg) isn’t merely a circle but a projection of a sphere. There are some exegetical problems with this view besides the cultural underpinnings that make this argument untenable. First, khûg absolutely does mean “circle;” or, more specifically, “to inscribe a circle” such as with a compass when paired with its verbal form. Second, biblical Hebrew does, in fact, possess a word for “ball” but it is never used in connection with biblical cosmology. One has to wonder why this might be—perhaps it is because Israelite cosmology viewed the Earth as a disc structure that could be inscribed upon the face of the waters like a circle?

If we examine the other four passages (there are five in total) where this word appears, we have greater clarity as to a) how the word khûg is used and b) what the biblical authors had in mind when they used it.

Starting with Job 22:14 we read (I’ll include verse 13 as well for reasons that I’ll explain shortly; verse 14 is in bold):

But you say, ‘What does God know? Can he judge through the deep darkness? Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see, and he walks on the vault of heaven.’

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Job 22:13-14.

The ESV (and others) translates khûg in this passage as “vault of heaven.” A literal reading might be “He walks about on the circle (or dome) of heaven.” Taking this noun to infer a spherical structure, like the Earth, doesn’t work in this context: Heaven isn’t a sphere. Arguably, “dome” doesn’t work either because contextually, khûg representing a boundary or spiritual layer rather than a literal circle, sphere, or physical structure makes significantly more sense in the context of the Word itself.

Insofar as verse 13, we have a hint of the chaotic cosmic waters through the author’s use of “deep darkness.” Although not specifically tied with the darkness of Genesis 1, this word, arafel, does indeed appear in parallel with God’s complete otherness and detachment from humankind like we see in passages such as Exodus 20:21 (“The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness (arafel) where God was”) and 1 Kings 8:12 (“The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness (arafel)). Taken in parallel with verse 14, we can understand from this context that the “vault (khûg) of heaven” cannot imply anything other than a boundary—a place of otherness where God lives, separated from us.

There are three other passages in the text where khûg appears: Job 26:10, Proverbs 8:27, and Isaiah 44:13. We covered Job 26:10 in part 1, albeit briefly, but the same idea is conferred here and in Proverbs 8:27—God inscribes a circle on the face of the waters, or the deep, which serves as a boundary between one part of the created order and another. Consequently, I won’t belabor the point here.

However, Isaiah 44:13 presents an illustration for how one might create a khûg:

The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 44:13.

The word here is mekhûgah, or compass. A compass is a tool used to inscribe circles; a khûg is a circle, or a product of a compass. Spheres cannot be drawn in 3D space with a compass4.

Should this still remain an insufficient argument to prove that biblical cosmology did not necessitate a spherical Earth, we do have one last avenue through which we can better our understanding: The LXX.

The LXX translators, perhaps unwittingly, provide a narrow window into the past through which we can peek and gain extra insight into how they understood the text. In three of these passages, Job 22:14, 26:10 and Isaiah 40:22, the Greek word gryos (circle; ring) is used in place of khûg. In Proverbs 8:27, aphorizō (to mark off) is used instead; in Isaiah 44:13, metron (a measure; rule) appears in place of compass. Thus, to the Septuagint’s translators (at least in part of the LXX tradition), the two outlying passages never imply a contextual divergence of khûg in favor of a spherical structure or object. Indeed, I would argue that, to the LXX translators, the “circle of the Earth” did not delineate physical dimensions.

Put another way: Isaiah 40:22 almost certainly cannot be used as a spherical Earth proof text.

While I don’t have the data to prove it, I suspect that the most significant driving force behind scientific concordism within the church today is its misguided effort to somehow “prove” the inerrancy of scripture by perverting the ancients’ understanding of the world around them to make it palatable to the modern reader. Does the Bible have to project an understanding of cosmology congruent with our own in order to retain its status as inerrant and infallible? Of course not! The idea itself is preposterous and absurd, illustrating the intensity of the modern church’s navel-gazing whilst turning a blind eye to the ancient Near Eastern context in which scripture was written. Is it so impossible to imagine that the God who created the cosmos, who picked a specific culture at a specific point in history, who condescended himself in order to explain the nature of his created order in a way they might understand, would go so far as to not impart a modern scientific understanding into their words—something they would never be capable of understanding, much less transmitting? Why would he insert veiled references to discoveries that would only surface thousands of years later specifically to gratify the 21st century reader? He had no need to!

The irony that this sort of textual divination is performed most commonly by factions within Young Earth Creationism who pride themselves on a “literal” reading of the text is not lost on me.

I recognize that God’s providence is such that he can accomplish (or preserve) anything of his choosing. Nevertheless, I find it a bit odd to consider for a moment that scripture must necessarily appease our understanding of the cosmos as moderns, through our scientific lens. And for what purpose? What if our science changes? What if we have so married our scientific thought into the Word of God that we’re left with a situation where both have to be “wrong” because we misapplied scripture toward something it was never intended to explain? The real danger behind scientific concordism is that it risks marring the perception of inerrancy with the text; by applying a human understanding (imperfect and limited) with the word of God (perfect and transcendent) we most certainly do create this risk.

The simplest explanation in my eyes is to view scripture through its own lens: To read it as closely as I am able in its original context as an early Israelite might. Doing so requires shedding the burdens of a 21st century reader whose biases necessitate a modern cosmology.

The Bible never makes concordance with modern cosmology a requirement—and neither should we.

  1. Depending on the individual’s view of modern cosmology and their methods of concordance with scripture, some take the approach that the “waters below” represent the waters internal to the Earth and link this in some capacity to the deluvial waters from Genesis 6. While the precise composition of Earth’s internal structure cannot be known and there very well may be substantial deposits of water beneath the crust, the idea of a spherical object floating through space upon which we live within a narrow band of habitability was a concept alien to the early Israelite author of Genesis. Moreover, creationists have debated a variety of ideas—from precisely how these waters were divided to whether they were actually composed of water or not, and if so, whether the water present in extraterrestrial deposits were inferred by the Genesis creation account or otherwise. It’s amusing that the simplest answer—the idea of a chaotic, cosmic ocean, shared with other creation accounts contemporaneous to the Bible—is the most often overlooked. ↩︎
  2. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Job 9:6. ↩︎
  3. Although Sheol is not mentioned in this passage, it should be noted that there is ample evidence that the Hebrew erets is occasionally used interchangeably with the “underworld.” For an argument in support of this view, see Scott Noegel’s paper God of Heaven and Sheol: The “Unearthing” of Creation. ↩︎
  4. I have occasionally seen the argument that a circle is a 2D projection of a sphere, which is true, but I would suggest the idea of 3D-to-2D projection is well outside the understanding of your typical early Israelite from 700-500BC and a textual anachronism. ↩︎

In his pamphlet Scientific Facts in the Bible, Ray Comfort extracts a select assortment of seemingly hard-hitting truths from his Evidence Bible that illustrate, in my opinion, poor exegesis of the underlying text. More correctly, his efforts to impose 21st century scientific thought onto a text produced thousands of years ago isn’t simply poor exegesis, it’s eisegesis—that is, he’s attempting to assert truth claims that the text itself does not make. I take specific issue with this, because asserting that the Bible makes a claim it does not is intellectual dishonesty.

I’m going to address his first claim in this post. Ray Comfort writes:

Earth’s Free Float in Space

Job 26:7 (written 3500 years ago): “He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.”

The Bible proclaims that the earth freely floats in space. Some in ancient times thought that the earth sat on a large animal. We now know that the earth has a free float in space.

Biblical cosmology is quite similar to the cosmology of its surrounding cultures (no magical beast of burden required, despite Comfort’s assessment). Namely, it operates on the assumption of a three-tiered cosmology: Heaven, earth, and sheol (the grave, underworld, etc). Throughout much of the biblical text, the earth is assumed to be disc suspended within the cosmic waters of Genesis 1 atop cosmic pillars. Job 26:7 may be something of an outlier—if you ignore the context of the rest of the chapter and the rest of Job—in that the earth is no longer seen by the time of Job’s writing as suspended upon these mystical pillars.

Specifically, I mean that verse 11 reads “The pillars of heaven tremble […]” where we once again receive this imagery that things are suspended in the cosmic domain by such pillars.

I don’t wish to get too distracted by the emphasis on pillars (more on that in a moment), however, so let’s examine the question Comfort is presenting as fact: Does Job 26:7 present evidence that the Bible explained the force of gravity before its discovery?

No. It does not.

The clue may come from the first half of the passage “He stretches out the north (tsaphon) over the void (tohu).”

In Hebrew, “tsaphon” means north, but it’s also the name for Mount Zaphon which was considered in Ugarit as the “‘sacred mountain’ […], the high heavens where the gods meet in assembly and, in Ugaritic literature, where Baal’s house is.”1 In Psalm 48:1-2, we see Mount Zion compared to this location2 suggesting some polemic quality may be at play.

Thus, if Yahweh is able to “stretch out” the high places of pagan religious thought over the “void,” and demonstrate his power over all creation, what then IS this void (tohu)?

To answer this question, we have to return to Genesis 1:2:

“The earth was without form (tohu; formless, wasteland) and void (bohu; empty).”

Is this a veiled reference to space? Almost certainly no! In the IVP Bible Background Commentary, the authors write:

“It is the vast trackless waste of primordial waters that is described as the “nothing” on which the earth sits. Evidence for this is that the word describing what the north is spread out on (niv: “empty space”) is the same word that describes the watery cosmic chaos of Genesis 1:2 (niv: “formless”). In Babylonian literature, Shamash is praised as the one who suspends from the heavens the circle of the lands. This was part of ancient perception of the cosmos rather than a covert allusion to modern scientific understanding.”3

Dr. Robert Alter, in his Hebrew Bible: A Translation and Commentary concurs:

“The Hebrew tohu wabohu occurs only here and in two later biblical texts that are clearly alluding to this one. The second word of the pair looks like a nonce term coined to rhyme with the first and to reinforce it, an effect I have tried to approximate in English by alliteration. Tohu by itself means ’emptiness’ or ‘futility,’ and in some contexts is associated with the trackless vacancy of the desert.”

Combined with the imagery of the cosmic waters in Genesis 1:6-7, we can surmise that the writer of Job most probably had this view in mind: The north was stretched out over these waters, upon which the earth itself was suspended “on nothing” because it was perceived as floating in the cosmic waters of the creation.

We can further support this claim later in Job 26 by the verbiage selected for in verses 12 and 13:

By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.

Rahab, though often used as an epithet for Egypt, is described in a manner identical to Leviathan in many parts of the OT; in fact, in verse 13, we find a description (“fleeing serpent”) similar to the one that appears in the Ugaritic tablets for Tiamat/Litanu—the latter’s equivalent for this particular sea monster. Given that northwest Semitic cultures all shared this concept of a serpent-like chaos deity that lay in opposition to their respective champions, it is no surprise then that this same entity would appear in Hebrew writings—except that in Israelite culture, Leviathan is itself created (and destroyed) by Yahweh4.

If Yahweh crushes Rahab later in Job and calms the sea it makes little sense to surmise that Job 26:7 is describing a modern cosmology when the author does little to stray from his ancient Near Eastern contemporaries.

Comfort has also apparently made some effort here to ignore phrasing earlier in Job that would appear to be at odds with his assertion that this describes a modern understanding of gravity. In Job 9:6, we read “…who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble.”


In my opinion, the strongest evidence against this claim is in verse 10 which reads “He has inscribed a circle (khoq-khûg) on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness.” I’ll touch on “khûg” in a future post where Comfort asserts a spherical earth cosmology present in the Bible (also incorrect), but for the sake of this particular topic, Israelite cosmology saw that the boundaries of the earth were inscribed (khûg; literally “to inscribe with a compass”) upon the face of the cosmic waters. In the ancient Near East, pillars were often used as boundary markers, and given the euphemistic quality of darkness (“khosek“) in this passage, likely for evil or opposition to good (e.g. Isaiah 5:20), it is possible that the “cosmic boundaries of the earth would be those between the living and the dead.”5

When Job is read in the context of what an ancient Near Eastern reader would expect, it is difficult to extract a modern cosmological understanding from the text. I would argue that, to do so, requires a degree of mental gymnastics that do more to diminish the supernatural qualities of the Bible and reduce the impact of biblical eschatology simply to gratify a 21st century reader’s expectation. I have difficulty with Ray Comfort’s work for this reason—it may make for interesting talking points, but scientific concordism is perhaps more harmful to understanding the Bible in the long term than it is to simply read the word of God as its writers intended.

Think like a first century Jew, not like a 21st century Western reader.

  1. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Job 26:7. ↩︎
  2. ESV and most others render this as “in the far north;” NET’s translators argue that Zaphon was most likely in view in this passage given the parallel of “peaks” in the text. ↩︎
  3. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Job 26:7. ↩︎
  4. Although Leviathan is never described as having seven heads, Litanu and Tiamat are. The closest we get is Psalm 74:14 “You crushed the heads of Leviathan,” and it is almost certainly this imagery John draws upon in Revelation with the beast rising out of the sea—with seven heads and ten horns. The chaotic evil that lay in opposition to Yahweh throughout history rises up, one last time, only to finally be slain (Isaiah 27:1). ↩︎
  5. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Job 9:6. ↩︎

Have you ever gotten into a debate on social media, researching a thoughtful post (with citations!) only to be told to do your own research, and most importantly, to “think!”

It’s frustrating, isn’t? Thirty minutes of reading research papers, or longer (admit it–you spent hours down that rabbit hole, didn’t you?), following by trawling countless links to dig up data the other party is clearly willfully ignorant of only to be told to “think!” Isn’t it amazing how disheartening a low brow, low-effort post can become after so much work? You’re not alone, but that doesn’t change the disappointment no matter how fleeting.

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed whenever I’ve been subjected to this sort of response is that it’s almost always written alongside a logical fallacy (e.g. appeal to authority) that gives the author a faux sense of superiority. Rest assured, this isn’t to convince you: It’s to convince them.

As someone who’s participated in discussion on predominantly politically-right-of-center social media and message boards, I’ve encountered a wide array of strange conspiracy theories (like “Q”) and occasionally even more perplexing (but strangely popular!) ones like the “flat Earth” nonsense. But sometimes I’ll run into individuals who utilize this same retort in areas where I have more concrete familiarity that I know they’re not as well versed in.

A more recent example at the time of writing (this was published much later than the events described herein to protect the guilty) occurred in a Linux users’ group where the topic of malware cropped up based on a recent story of Linux machines being subjected to either state-sponsored malware exploits or long-running command-and-control malware directed by botnet operators. Inevitably, someone from a Windows background tossed around pejoratives, calling anyone who attempted to counter his low-effort arguments names and suggesting that no one could answer is indisputable points. What those points were is anyone’s guess, but that’s not the point of this essay.

The point is that people like this are never interested in the material essence of discussion–or debate–so much as they’re interested in the attention they can receive by antagonizing others. Through name-calling, and other insults, they can effectively raise the temperature of the thread sufficiently to provoke others’ frustrations until the inevitably boil over and return fire. Once this happens, they’ll usually proclaim the moral high ground, express concern that others are shamelessly slinging insults, and obviously no one can offer a retort to their arguments–arguments that are clearly bulletproof. At this point, anyone delving into the debate has probably forgotten the fact that these personalities have never offered a substantive argument. That was their plan all along!

It’s a distraction. It’s a distraction wherein they implore you to think!

This form of trolling thrives on negative attention and anger. Once, it was used by people who weren’t particularly interested in any given topic and simply wanted to irritate as many people as possible. Now, it’s often used by individuals who have an emotional investment in a topic but don’t know enough to support their argument through evidence. Their opinions are all that is needed (or so they think) to draw a line in the sand and stake a claim on facts and truth–oblivious to the reality that facts and truth operate independently from opinion. Of course, that won’t stop them from arguing the point ad nauseum because they know for certain that they’re right. It doesn’t matter if their viewpoint is demonstrably false. They think it’s true, therefore it is true.

Fortunately, as with trolls of yesteryear, one of the most effective techniques against these personalities is to simply ignore them. I know, it’s difficult to do, because the reward cycle in your head desperately wants to tell them they’re wrong. But remember: If they’re disputing or ignoring evidence, they’re not interested in the truth. They’re interested only in their own opinion. If you ignore them, they won’t have anything else to add to the conversation and will eventually leave. Untag them, talk passed them, do whatever you need to do–but ignore them first and foremost. That’s how you win.

There’s a reason the Internet of Old had signs posted with the advice “Don’t feed the trolls.”

I think it’s time we revisit this.

I may touch on the principle of argumentative mental reward cycles in a later post and how trolls exploit this.

I really ought to write more on zancarius.com since it is the domain of my online moniker that I’ve had for almost my entire life on the Internet (going on close to 20 years), but I’ve never had any idea what to do once I moved my primary content to bashelton.com. As of now, politics works as well as anything.

Disclaimer: I’ve been in the political tank for Trump for quite some time. I’m completely aware his public persona paints him as a total jerk, but I think it’s wrong. Privately, Trump is not the man the media gleefully portrays (undoubted with some cultivation from Trump himself). I can’t vouch for this from the basis of personal knowledge, but through observation of his children and their successes, his close friends and associates, and people who have worked for him, the relationship between the real Donald Trump and the media Donald Trump is a complex web of branding, business, successes, failures, and, perhaps more so than anything else, necessity.

Of course, that’s not why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this Thursday, July 21st because of the speech Ted Cruz delivered last night, and I think it’s important to offer some insight into why I think Cruz was booed off stage, why Trump supporters felt immense disappointment, and what this means for Cruz’s career. Before I start, I’d like something from you as well, dear reader: I want you to approach this post with an open mind. Many of Cruz’s staunchest acolytes (of which there aren’t many) have been both busy and vocal on Twitter and elsewhere, spinning Cruz’s speech–and more importantly, the reaction to his speech–in a futile effort to defend their general routed in the waning hours of his campaign. I can understand their emotions, but I have a difficult time empathizing with their continued attacks. The campaign is over. Go home.

There are three or four common talking points among the self-described “Cruz crew” currently making their rounds on social media. They are, with some varying degree of importance: 1) He has no obligation to endorse a man who attacked his wife and father; 2) booing Cruz was shouting down his principles, freedom, and the constitution, rather than his lack of endorsement; 3) he’s a man of principles and will not support someone who he feels is neither conservative nor a Constitutionalist; and (somewhat rarely) 4) a reiteration of his encouragement to vote one’s conscience, usually with the implication that “voting one’s conscience” is synonymous with “writing in Ted Cruz” (both disastrous and stupid). Of these, the first two are the most commonly parroted and intellectually dishonest.

Senator Cruz is under no obligation to endorse a candidate in this race. Whether that’s a reflection of his personal feelings and convictions (or his ego) is between him and God. However, I can fully appreciate his lack of endorsement following brutal primaries and personal attacks (from both sides). When one’s family is dragged into a campaign, it’s difficult to ignore attacks targeting them, and it’s certainly unfair to them as citizens who are not running except by way of association. Believe me: I wish US politics weren’t always so dirty, but it does make for incredible entertainment. That’s not just my analysis–record setting ratings and viewership across the board for all media suggests (sadly, perhaps) US politics are more exciting the uglier they get. I’m not attempting to justify it; the truth is what it is.

Cruz admitted during breakfast with the Texas delegation this morning that at least part of his refrain from endorsing Trump was due to the attacks on his wife and father. I understand his sentiments, but I find it somewhat surprising given the actions of his campaign and their associates. Cruz’s supporters refuse to acknowledge this, but his campaign, his PACs, and many of his campaign’s foot soldiers were by no means entirely aboveboard or as pure as the wind-driven snow. Everyone can acknowledge that Trump’s campaign was, at times, brutal, but I’ve run into few Cruz supporters who will admit that their own candidate was responsible for instigating at least some of the mud-slinging. Where Cruz supporters are quick to point out Trump’s retweet comparing Melania Trump to Heidi Cruz as a personal attack on the latter’s looks (and let’s admit: The photo of Mrs. Cruz was unflattering), they’re less inclined to recall the Utah ads paid for by a pro-Cruz super-PAC showing Melania Trump posing in her birthday suit next to a few lines of unsavory text. In the rare event they do remember the ad, they usually believe it was justifiable. After all, not only should no woman pose in the nude for a photo shoot, but she most certainly cannot be forgiven if she does. (Curiously, the inability to forgive others has been an ongoing theme within the Cruz campaign.)

Legally, super-PACs cannot work directly with campaigns; I will concede this much. Furthermore, I will concede that perhaps retweeting a comment written by someone else may be slightly more problematic than an ad paid for by an allegedly autonomous organization. However, I also believe this is a glaringly hypocritical double standard by the Cruz campaign and his supporters. Holding Trump accountable for comments made by his supporters, regardless of whether he retweeted them or not, and comments made by independent publications or organizations regardless of his relationship with their staff while simultaneously refusing to hold Cruz accountable for the exact same infractions is, in my opinion, an indictment of intellectual dishonesty. They will fervently disagree with this charge, of course, but it’s indisputable: Their faith in Cruz absolves him of any wrongdoing, even if he commits actions that reflect the same or similar behavior of his opponents.

It’s a bit ironic coming from a campaign whose followers often recite Trump’s quote “I could shoot somebody […] and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Sorry, Mr. Trump. I think Mr. Cruz may have you beat in terms of blind loyalty from his adoring fans.

My favorite charge by the Cruz acolytes thus far has been the implication that delegates booing him off stage were jeering against freedom, the Constitution, and the principles Cruz represents. It’s humorous to me precisely because it’s nothing more than blatant disregard of context and a little behind-the-scenes brouhaha. Actually, no, maybe it’s not humorous–instead, it’s so brazenly stupid, it cannot be anything other than malign deviousness with the intent to provoke harm. I watched the entirety of Cruz’s speech, and the booing started after his dismissiveness of the New York delegates’ chant “Endorse Trump.” It wasn’t a delegation shouting down his principles. It wasn’t a delegation shouting down the freedoms of this country. It wasn’t a delegation shouting down the Constitution, the United States, or everything this great country stands for. To advocate that the delegates were shouting down principles isn’t merely rude: It’s a slap in the face of anyone with an IQ above room temperature. It’s an expression of bitterness and anger, maybe even a little resentment. Take your ball and go home.

On the other hand, I may be wrong. It could be argued that the delegates were booing the principles Cruz holds dear if those principles are petulance, pettiness, and selfishness. I’ll have to ask for further clarification in the future. Sometimes it’s difficult to read through Cruz supporters’ smugness.

The next question is whether a man of principles, allegedly one like Ted Cruz, should support someone who is neither conservative nor a Constitutionalist. This question is a loaded question. What this means, for those of you keeping score at home, is that loaded questions are considered a form of logical fallacy. Logical fallacies are often used in a debate when the opposition has neither evidence to support a claim nor a means of logically disputing a statement with which they disagree.

First, the implication of such a question is that Trump is neither a conservative nor a Constitutionalist. This much is up for debate. Trump has a history of vacillating between political parties, and his donations have been more or less uniformly divided among Democratic and Republican candidates. There’s also plenty of anti-Trump propaganda, like the suggestion he’s donated or supported only Democrats, which is easy to counter (Trump supported both McCain and Romney in 2008 and 2012, respectively). Yet, deeper investigation into Trump’s statements, policies, and interviews going back as far as the 1980s suggests a man who was politically agnostic for much of his career. As a businessman, remaining apathetic to political divisions can be advantageous, and retaining influence through political donations is an investment tactic myriads of business owners utilize each year with varying degrees of success (usually more donations equals more success, particularly in corrupt arenas). The question would be better served if it were asked under an ethical framework rather than one of principles or political philosophy. Recall that a business is only obligated to increase value for its stakeholders. Any other concerns are ancillary to this core tenant. No, Ben and Jerry’s save-the-rainforest nonsense is not an obligation, although you could argue that “green” environmental policy increases shareholder value by reducing certain externalities, but I digress.

Second, should a man of principles endorse or support someone who may hold views counter to his own? Cruz supporters phrase this question somewhat ambiguously as a leading question, and since few have experience as attorneys, their efforts usually provoke further dissent and bruised egos (although I’m rarely sure what they expect). Yet the answer to this question is complicated and may depend more on intent than principles. If the intent is to encourage unity and promote healing after a bitter campaign, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” If the intent is to encourage further dissent and division, the answer is “no.” If one has an ego as bruised as Ted Cruz, then the answer is absolutely “no.”

Readers may find it surprising that the one question I find somewhat unfair is whether Cruz is beholden to his principles if he’s unable to uphold his promise to support the GOP’s nominee. On our side, this talking point has been repeated so frequently as to become ineffective, and it’s not even the right question to ask. Even if Cruz signed a pledge to support the nominee, the pledge is legally non-binding. It’s essentially a non-issue. Whether or not it’s ethical to back out of a pledge is another question, but it’s one I leave for the moralists to debate. That’s when it’s a question of whether or not Senator Cruz is acting ethically.

The problem with Senator Cruz taking a verbal or signed pledge has surprisingly little to do with the contents of the pledge. It has everything to do with his campaign. Both Ted Cruz and his campaign have portrayed the junior senator as a man of impeccable integrity and principle. If you put forth substantial effort to hone your image as a man of integrity, principles, morals, and values, but cast them (and your promises) aside the moment someone else treats you poorly, don’t expect your foundations to be free from criticism. It’s not unlike cheating on your wife because she called you lazy. It’s a testament of Cruz’s preparedness for office. If Donald Trump was able to ignite last night’s tantrum, how would Cruz have handled the Left’s relentless assaults? I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but that sort of behavior is surprisingly similar to President Obama’s (also a junior senator once upon a time).

Lastly, we come to the Senator’s plea to “vote [our] conscience.” Pundits have flagged this as a “non-endorsement endorsement,” and Newt Gingrich cleverly twisted it as an appeal to vote for Donald Trump. I suspect–but cannot prove–that this was simply lip service to the last remaining dozen or so of the #NeverTrump movement (click here to donate to the World Wildlife Fund for endangered species). Whether Cruz hoped to inspire his supporters to write in his name instead may never be known as during the course of the latter part of his speech, Cruz’s rant was beset by technical difficulties and jeering from his opposition.

Cruz’s languishing departure from the stage and his ongoing difficulties today touch on the displeasure felt by Trump’s supporters. To many, the time for primary campaigning has passed. The convention was supposed to be a time for unity, but since Monday, the #NeverTrump dissenters (no matter how few) have continued their disruption with diminishing results. They knew their efforts were futile, ugly, and childish. They knew the media would devour any signs of division. Yet, paradoxically, their autistic focus on a nebulous concept of “principles” and “values” is so tremendously important to their cause that they would rather elect Hillary to make a queerly myopic point. Let me say that again: #NeverTrump dissenters are so bitter that they would rather install 3-4 leftist SCOTUS appointments, countless other judges, and subject us to another four years of liberal rule of law simply because of hurt feelings. I’m not sure there’s enough Preparation H™ in the world to remedy this much butthurt.

I guess this is what happens when you condense your entire movement into a single hashtag.

What this means for Ted Cruz and his career remains to be seen. There’s no crystal ball we can gaze in, there’s no looking glass through which we can see the future. We know that Cruz’s ego implored him to speak yesterday, and instead of accepting an olive branch extended by the Trump campaign, he took the opportunity to hang himself. Eloquent though he may be, there is one lesson to be had from last night’s show: Trump’s shrewdness as a businessman is just as useful in politics–something Cruz underestimated. Trump knew what Cruz was going to say, and he let him say it. Trump likely knew the reaction Cruz would receive and did nothing to stop it. Indeed, there was little need: Cruz eagerly offered to say his piece, all while happily tying his own noose at the gallows.

Cruz will be up for a primary election in 2018, two long years from now. I depart from my fellow Trump supporters here and wager that Cruz will be safe during his primary election. Political memories are short. If Trump wins, there may be some unintended forgiveness. However, if Trump loses, Cruz may find himself the party’s scapegoat and be punished with a loss in his primary bid. I can’t say it would be entirely undeserved, but where his supporters will blame the “stupid” people for electing Trump, you and I will know the truth. The man who found no allies in his impressively lonely filibuster found his allies at the convention stretched thin, and a Clinton victory would likely alienate all but the small handful of #NeverTrump adherents, most of whom are old enough to be dead or in a nursing home by the time 2018 rolls around.

The irony that Cruz’s political eulogy, being a self-described man of the book, may be most dependent on his ability to forgive others isn’t lost on me. Perhaps even more damning is that he’s just another politician.

This is an open letter to Blizzard containing some of my thoughts and my feelings about a game of theirs I played for some 6 years. I don’t expect anyone to read it, but in case they do, understand that these are only my specific desires, wishes, or opinions. You don’t have to agree. Some whining may be present ahead, so read at your own risk.

Also, I’ve yet to proof-read this nonsense. I hammered it out late this evening, but I’m too tired to continue and want to go to bed. I’ll re-read it sometime in the coming day or two. I just wanted to publish this for review.

Dear Blizzard,

I’m not a paying subscriber of yours, and I haven’t been for nearly 5 years. I used to be, all those years ago, and payed for a World of Warcraft subscription for a good chunk of the 6 years I played (minus a month or two break here and there). I quit mostly because of the changes introduced in Cataclysm, and mostly because I had other things consuming a majority of my time. Actually, if I were to be completely honest, I was mostly distressed with the changes to the old world made in Cataclysm. I understand why they were made (outmoded content), but it doesn’t mean I have to like them.

Frankly, I miss that old content. Maybe that’s a stupid thing to miss, but I do. And I think I know why.

You see, in this day and age of perpetual push-updates for everything (your browser, your phone software, your games), there’s almost nothing that stays static for long. Everything is in a state of flux. Tons of MMOs have succumbed to this progression-at-all-costs mindset, and for the longest time, I would argue that WoW was immune to it. Content was added as entirely new zones for the better part of two expansions (and Cataclysm to an extent). Sure, the game mechanics changed and grew more complex over time (maybe that was a bad thing?) as talent points increased, spells became more numerous, and the developers struggled to find ways to make use of all the new cruft they added with each release. But by and large, the Old World remained constant–a static reminder of the immutable nature of the old WoW. It illustrated to me that WoW would always be there–unchanged, unphased by competition, and unwavering in its appeal.

Cataclysm changed that.

I eventually played it about a year after its release, and while some of the changes were welcome (simplified talents, removed or deprecated spell sets merged together), the absolute devastation of the Old World ruined it for me. I realize it had to be done–things change, of course–and it would be difficult to have included Deathwing in any part of the story without such destruction. Though, I think at least part of the underwhelming nature of Cataclysm was due in part to the defeat of Arthas. Another dragon trying to destroy the world? Color me surprised.

While I’m not a loremonger–I seldom get interested in the story lines of video games, and I normally abhor the fantasy genre (science fiction is where it’s at!)–I think that even to someone like me, the build up of Arthas as the series final antagonist was perhaps the inevitable failure of the franchise once his demise was certain. Sure, there were minor distractions in the interim (think Burning Crusade), but the festering evil of the Plaguelands was ever-present in the minds of all the early players. We knew what was there. We spent hours–days, in fact–farming in these zones, running Stratholme and Scholomance before the larger raids saw the light of day. Those were the bread and butter of our nighttime entertainment. The Lich King was, at the time, an unseen villain whose influence surrounded us and ate into our very being.

Then we killed him.

With Arthas dead, the not-so-surprising ending of “There must always be… a Lich King,” and the inability to eliminate the Scourge entirely underfoot, there wasn’t really anywhere else for WoW to go. So you added Deathwing. Great. He, like Onyxia, were just distractions to what many of us felt were the main thrust of the WoW storyline, and in many cases we were somewhat disappointed that other avenues weren’t taken (Emerald Dream anyone?). Instead, Deathwing felt like an excuse to make a reboot of the early starter zones and revamp Azeroth’s oldest content. I’m not wrong.

But I’ll tell you this: There’s a way you can sell me on WoW again. It’s not easy. In fact, I almost hope you don’t do this, because I can’t imagine any way of doing it easily (or cheaply), and there’s always the potential to screw it up such that ex-players like myself will just drown in a sea of disappointment, never to return. Here’s the thing: Remember Caverns of Time?

Yeah, you know where this is going.

See, that’s another thread I never felt was sufficiently explored. You used it to take us back in time, back before the plague, but it probably never crossed your minds for very long that you could use it to win back the older players. All you have to do is this: Give us a way to play the old expansions, the old original content, complete with talents, level caps, and original zones as they were so that we can relive the glory days (so to speak). I have friends who skipped TBC or never played “vanilla” WoW. They wanted to, of course, but by the time they got into it, the level cap was substantially higher and the game was dramatically different. All that content was wasted keeping it around. Sure, you could re-roll a new character, play through it as it was intended (sort of), but the dungeons would never be the same.

Remember Magister’s Terrace? We played that a few times. But then Wrath of the Lich King sort of steamrolled that, and it was swept under the rug, forgotten to history. I even know some guys who played WotLK with us who didn’t even know what it was, yet they remembered most of the dungeons from vanilla. It’s just that they skipped BC, dropping off of the planet for the two years or so that content ran, and then came back. It’s as if Outlands never happened except for getting you through those pesky 10 levels from 60-70.

Yet the astounding thing to me is that much of this was good content. Even better (for you), it’s already paid for to a large extent. Repurposing it shouldn’t cost much in the way of man hours to retweak it, and if you somehow manage to reintegrate the older expansions in a manner that makes the player’s view of game mechanics more or less analogous to the expansions that content was designed for, I can’t imagine it would be that difficult. But hey, what do I know? I don’t write games for a living, either.

Franchises like Guild Wars 2 have you beaten in this area. With the down-leveling for earlier content, even at the level cap (80 as of this writing), and the attribute balance ArenaNet included, it’s difficult to get bored with boss encounters just on the merit that you outleveled them three months prior. All of the Harathi Hinterlands content is still very much playable (and challenging) at level 80. Orr is a perpetual pain in the neck (it is max level content for the most part). And even the old dungeons don’t get any easier.

Yet Guild Wars 2 is missing something WoW had. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it’s there. It’s like a painting that never really looked quite right until you saw it in the proper lighting. Maybe it was a smudge or a bizarre shade of blue.

But I think where WoW really shined was its social interaction. I made a lot of friends in WoW (that’s where I met my girlfriend, too). I still talk to nearly everyone I talked to whom I met in WoW with few exceptions. I’ve become great friends with them in real life, talking everything from politics to toiletry habits (just kidding). So, shout out to Hunter and Jonathan, two great guys whose friendship I owe thanks to WoW.

The kicker? I’ve played GW2 off and on for a couple of years (or is it 3?). I can’t remember a single damn person I’ve run into in that game. I have a friends’ list that’s pretty full. Yet you know what? Aside from one or two encounters, I’ve never talked with them again. There’s got to be something to it, Blizzard. I don’t know what you guys did, but you had a formula going that was arguably superior to the competition.

Then it went south.

I don’t know what the change was, or why it happened, or even how the “old” WoW was better than the “new” WoW. Two expansions since Cataclysm have come out, and I’ve not played a single one. A few of my friends have, but it held their collective interest for less than a few months before they moved on to other games. Why? I have no idea. The magic vanished, and I don’t know if it can be recovered.

But I guarantee you one thing: If you come up with a way to let me play the old content, more or less as it was intended, I’ll be back. I loved it that much. But it has to be fairly true to the intent of that content, with a few exceptions (getting rid of the absurd requirements of 40 man raids was a good start), and I think some modernization would be useful. Maybe the talent trees really were getting a bit out of hand. Yet… I find that they had a certain charm to them, even still.

Ideally, I’d love to be able to go to the Caverns of Time, pick an expansion, have my character transformed to the level cap that accompanied that expansion, and go get gear true to that period in WoW’s history. Even if those instances of my character(s) were isolated from each other in some manner, I wouldn’t care. It would just be nice to be able to go back to zones like Darkshore before they were destroyed and hang out in Auberdine while watching new players run by again.

I don’t know how that would be possible, if it would be possible, but I think at least part of the charm of WoW was hanging out with some friends in low level zones just to pass the time. Then going off and helping some lowbies with a rough boss or two.

Poor Hogger.

Most sincerely,

Update September 6th: Some weeks ago, a few friends of mine alerted me to the “timewalker” feature wherein Blizzard will make available old content, specifically old dungeons, as part of a holiday weekend. You’ll be able to obtain era-specific weapon skins, appropriately leveled for capped players, while your effective level is dropped in a manner similar to Guild Wars 2. It’s a good idea, but the fact that it’ll be limited to random dungeons only rather than content, and only on specific weekends is a letdown. I’d love to see something akin to an expansion-specific selection where players would be able to select which expansion they want to partake, or some sort of leveling system similar in nature to what GW2 has implemented.

One of my greatest weaknesses is indecisiveness. Sometimes I just can’t make up my mind as well as I would like. I think much of this is because I find myself mired in internal speculation over the outcome of an n-problem system. The mental simulations I entertain during such times often become sufficiently complex that I completely lose sight of the original decision’s scope. That’s why I really like it when the decisions are already made for me. It’s so liberating.

I dumped DigitalOcean as my VPS provider today. It’s not that there was anything particularly wrong or troublesome with their service. In fact, I’d argue that DigitalOcean’s service has been among the most fantastic I’ve ever had the opportunity to enjoy. Counter to some of the opinions made elsewhere, in my experience, service disruptions have been minimal (enough so that I had a VPS with 319 days uptime–I meant to update it, honestly!), and although I never had to contact support, their team simply seems far more transparent than many other service teams you encounter in the wild. I greatly enjoyed my time as part of their family of customers, and I wish I could have stayed with them indefinitely as I grow my own projects.

Sadly, such things are not often meant to last.

About a year ago (perhaps longer), I followed their primary Twitter account as an extra source of information about DigitalOcean’s ongoing activities. It was great, at first, but it slowly transformed into a political mouthpiece of leftist philosophy. Retweets often appeared from self-described “social justice warriors,” feminists, and other personalities that were less reflective of (in my opinion) the forward march of technology and more a symptom of a push to substantially change culture for no reason other than for the sake of changing culture. I get why: DigitalOcean’s headquarters is in New York city, and so they’re steeped in a left-wing thought bubble. I’m not complaining. This is a free country, and they’re free to do what they want. I’m also free to send my money to businesses whose politics align with my own or are, at the very least, more private about their leanings.

Before you pick up the phone to arrange a protest outside my window, consider this: I’m not upset that they’re politically active (and very vocal about it). Quite the contrary: I’m happy for them. I would much rather live in a country where free speech is protected, even for businesses, than to live in a country where businesses are shut down by government agencies and fined into bankruptcy on the merit that they don’t wish to participate in activities counter to their beliefs. Unfortunately, the latter describes in horrific detail the nature of our society at the present moment, and of one that is teetering dangerously over the precipice of tyranny.

I’m reluctant to engage in debate, but even I will freely admit that this isn’t a free country anymore because First Amendment protections (religious, press, speech) are no longer guaranteed. Call me a bigot, call me hateful, call me whatever you like. I don’t really care at this point, but it definitely gives me pause for thought. Hell, forget the pause, I’m taking a tremendous risk just typing this (much less publishing), because the instant my blog is discovered by the thought police masquerading as activists, their perverted notion of justice will be swift, and they’ll do everything they can to destroy my career, my future, and my life–all while reminding me that free speech is free, but it’s not without consequences.

I think one of the most dangerous facets of this movement is that it has no concept of proportionality. It’s ironic to consider given that one of their core tenants involves a harsh critique of the proportionality inside the criminal justice system. Thus, rather than engaging in polite discussion, it becomes a matter of all-out victory regardless of cost or collateral. It’s necessary to completely annihilate the opposition and to rationalize it with seething vitriol and by labeling the other side with “hate.” The debate itself doesn’t matter. What matters is how hateful we perceive the opposition as, and it certainly doesn’t matter if the opposition is “hateful” simply because they disagree. The more fervently they disagree, why, the more hateful they are! It’s easy to win debates when one no longer must consider finding common ground or supporting an argument with facts.

It would be an understatement to suggest I’m growing horribly tired of it. I’m tired of being labeled because I’m a Christian, because I’m politically right of center, because I believe in personal responsibility. I’m tired of being labeled because I think politeness and mutual respect for your fellow man are more meritorious virtues than “social justice” and wanton disregard for tradition. I’m tired of the divisiveness perpetrated by political interests who are more keen on accumulating power than helping those who granted such power to them. Honestly, if the first thing you want to do is to storm out your door and protest in the streets, you’re part of the problem, and I’m tired of that, too!

All of this nonsense is really just a round-about way to say that I’m done. I’m taking greater care from this moment onward to support organizations and companies I agree with, or are not overtly partaking in providing aid to these groups, and retracting my support from those in opposition. Let’s be honest, when retweeting comments from anti-religious activists and plastering rainbows all over your company logo well into the week following a political victory, it makes me feel unwelcome. It makes me feel unwanted. It was never about #LoveWins; it was about marginalizing my convictions.

So no, I don’t want to continue rewarding individuals–or companies–who personally attack my God, my beliefs, or me. I was raised believing it virtuous to respect others’ convictions and feelings. I can’t be the only one, but there’s a whole gaggle of lost souls whose childhood was obviously void of such a foundation, and therefore continue happily tearing down the pillars that once held our society true to the virtues of honor and respect.

Nevertheless, I don’t wish ill of anyone. I pray that DigitalOcean will continue to grow and prosper. They’ve worked exceptionally hard to build one of the best cloud providers in the world, and I think they deserve to reap the rewards of their labor. I also hope they continue to exercise their First Amendment rights as granted to them by the Constitution of the United States. It’s an important amendment–that’s why it’s the First–and I will fight for their rights to say what they wish, because no one will fight for mine. I just regret that I no longer feel welcome as part of their family of customers. C’est la vie. My contributions were regrettably minimal, but on a positive note, it also means they won’t miss my departure.

I’m glad there are some decisions I don’t have to make alone. Moving forward with a different provider is a difficult choice to make but not so much when it was made for me.

Thank you for everything, DigitalOcean.

It’s no secret that yesterday, February 26th, the FCC voted to reclassify Internet service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934–and on dozens of new regulations that will affect ISPs and content providers. We’re not yet sure how many such regulations exist, or of their composition, but we expect to see them posted to the federal archives within 30 days provided no further amendments are added or petitions made against the FCC. Since I doubt the reconsideration period will be met with silence, I’m not especially hopeful that I’ll find a copy of these rules in my hands before April.

Taking a step back to observe the aftermath of the debate on net neutrality has been educational. One of the most curious (and unusual) things to me has been the raw emotion that has overtaken the pro-regulation crowd. Anger, resentment, and suspicion reign above all else in their minds, casting doubt as to the intentions of those who are opposed to such regulation. Thusfar, I’ve seen accusations of astroturfing (comments made en masse by paid shills) levied against the opposition, insults, and broad statements suggesting that any opponent of such regulation simply wants the Internet to die. Certainly there’s plenty of irrationality to go around, but the pro-regulation camp is so vehement about their beliefs that I’m not sure there’s much of debate left. It’s been supplanted instead by argument and dissent. I don’t think this is a good thing.

I am mostly opposed to regulation in general and net neutrality in particular because government intervention is often unpredictable and unnecessary. That does not mean, however, that I’m on the payroll of a cable provider (or any telecommunications company for that matter) simply by the merit of my disagreement (I’m not). Unfortunately, my opinion and that of many others who have urged everyone to approach this matter with cautious discretion have been demonized, threatened, and bullied. Oddly enough, the tide of comments made by pro-regulation forces are so similar, it’s almost as if they are the ones astroturfing, electing to disguise their motives and benefactors by accusing their opponents of the inflicting the same ills. When presented with reasonable inquiries and concerns, they immediately shut down the debate in a spat of disgust, claiming that the opposition isn’t interested in intellectually honest discourse. If there’s any irony, it’s not hard to miss.

I should clarify that I don’t necessarily doubt the sincerity of net neutrality’s proponents. However, it is important that we maintain context in this debate by pointing out that that opponents of net neutrality aren’t the only ones who’ve been receiving outside funding. George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and the Ford Foundation have both contributed $196 million to pro-net neutrality groups. Therefore, while I may not be inclined to suggest that the pro-regulation camps are insincere, I certainly do doubt claims that they are entirely without bias and untainted by outside money. It seems disingenuous that Reddit’s management has declared on their blog “Today, we defeated opponents of net neutrality who have spent tens of millions of dollars every year lobbying government. […] We defeated them by spending our time.”

Opponents of net neutrality weren’t defeated solely by an army of mouse-wielding twenty-somethings; nay, an order of magnitude more money–nearly $200 million, in fact–certainly helped. I charge then that if anyone in this debate is intellectually dishonest, it is surely those who claim themselves to have been underdogs, under-funded in a fight against corporations with deep pockets. They’re ignoring the deep pockets of left-leaning philanthropists and are simultaneously unaware that they have been bought out. It’s just that it’s different (and acceptable) when the hand that feeds you agrees with your cause, regardless of whether not they are also your masters. Such is human nature.

Now, that’s not to say I’m completely against the concept of net neutrality. So, before you take to the streets with your torches and pitchforks in the hopes of beating down my door, I should point out that I’ve generally been supportive of the principle underlying net neutrality in the sense that I don’t believe origin traffic should be throttled simply on the merit of where it came from or how much traffic it comprises. Consumers pay for their bandwidth, and it’s up to them how they ought to use it; it shouldn’t be decided by intermediaries whether or not to serve or throttle that traffic. That said, we must exercise caution with our choice of language: Quality of Service (QoS) and TCP congestion control protocols are inherently discriminatory by virtue of their design. Overly broad language that precludes any discrimination against packets is dangerous. In words not all that dissimilar to those uttered in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: all packets are equal, and some are more equal than others. This is what we need to be cautious about.

It’s like the adage “Be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.”

Aside: I actually saw someone on Reddit a couple of days ago arguing that we need to do away with QoS, precisely because it is discriminatory. Granted, that individual was swiftly and sternly corrected, schooled in the nature of TCP/IP congestion control, but I’m afraid his (or her) belief, incorrect as it was, isn’t uncommon among certain proponents of Internet regulation. I wonder if this reaction is the result of our Pavlovian-like conditioning against specific words: Whenever the “discrimination bell” rings, students of left-leaning thought become excitable and froth at the mouth. It doesn’t matter that the things discriminated against (packets) aren’t tangible or self-aware. It’s discrimination itself that is inherently evil.

To continue: If the FCC’s language is overly broad and skirts the design behavior of routing hardware, it could impact the availability of real time services. Many consumer-grade routers include QoS packet handling algorithms for VoIP and streaming video services to improve their throughput and reduce stuttering during traffic spikes, but overly broad regulations may make it illegal to enable these protocols or ship devices that include them. I’m fairly optimistic the FCC wouldn’t be quite so stupid as to enact such rules, but my pessimism creeps back when I’m reminded that this is a government agency and government regulations are subject to extensive feature creep. If you think I’m paranoid, there are some sources that have accused the Whitehouse of operating what essentially amounts to a parallel FCC (WSJ), drafting their own regulations in secret, and strong-arming the commission into passing them. Whether or not this is true (and I suspect it is), the very notion that the Whitehouse could be manipulating an independent government agency is worrisome. Had this occurred under any other administration, I suspect things would have happened differently.

The powerful, emotional involvement of the pro-regulation crowd is troubling to me. Unexpected groups, like Code Pink, have orchestrated numerous marches in favor of an “Open, Free Internet,” pushing further regulation as a means to that end. (Ignoring for a moment the ironic belief that strict regulations equal greater freedom.) I’ll even bet you don’t remember that incident in December when protesters were able to unfurl a “Reclassify Now!” banner behind the FCC’s dias. How’s that for brazen? (I wonder who paid for the banner?)

Yet in spite of the insistence from net neutrality proponents, I can’t bring myself to agree that the Internet was so horribly broken that it desperately needed such far-reaching regulations. Certainly providers like Comcast have been poorly behaved, but the FCC has managed to reign them in using existing policy frameworks thanks in part to consumer complaints. If the problem has simply been a matter of wishing for unfettered access to Internet services, did we really need hundreds of pages of new regulations?

The answer, of course, remains to be seen. As it stands, we have no idea what any of these rules are outside of a few hints dropped by FCC commissioner Ajit Pai and his speculation that the new regulations will lead to potentially half-a-dozen new taxes on ISPs–costs, of course, which will be passed on to the consumer. We’ve been promised by the pro-regulation crowd that net neutrality would lead to cheaper, faster Internet access, yet broadly reclassifying all broadband services could potentially pave the way for new taxes at the local, state, and federal level. If it seems like a stretch, remember that just after the announcement was made yesterday, protesters interviewed following the vote were adamant that this was a win for “Internet security” and access for the “disadvantaged.” How will the rest of us maintain cheaper, faster Internet if these rules require further help for Internet access to the disadvantaged? The money comes from somewhere. (Hint: The consumer–that’s you.)

I’m also somewhat terrified if these rules include some vague notion of “Internet security,” and if you’ve been troubled by the NSA’s so-called metadata-collection-scheme, you should be, too. Security isn’t something that can be willed into existence through regulation alone. For proof of such a claim, I need only point to the banking and healthcare sectors where there’s no dearth of examples. Just last year, health insurance provider Anthem was breached, possibly as early as April, only to discover the compromise nearly nine months later. Healthcare providers are heavily regulated through various compliance and privacy requirements, yet breaches still occur and it took nine months for one of the largest providers in the United States to discover customer data had been compromised. Believe me, if you’re convinced that a couple hundred regulations passed by the FCC will make the Internet more secure, it might be helpful to move to Colorado (even Alaska or DC as of this week) to partake in a hefty dose of altered reality. The surprise will be rather unpleasant otherwise.

I’ve also seen (and heard) comments from supporters of net neutrality who believe they’ll be receiving free Internet by year’s end. Could someone tell these people that “freedom” (as in speech) is different from “free” (as in beer)? I hope they never discover the GPL versus BSD debate!

Of course, all of this is just my opinion. I’d be happy if I were wrong, but I’m not convinced government intervention is always the correct (or best) answer. And in this case, I’m not convinced either that the Internet was so badly broken it demanded such broad regulation. When the rules are released in the next month or two, we’ll see who was right.

I don’t play games very often these days outside a brief excursion into Minecraft or the rare flight simulator, so it’s interesting to experience the “joys” (scare quotes!) of modern gaming after having been out of the loop for somewhere north of 6 months. (Or was that a year?) As it turns out, the Chicken Little sky-is-falling predictions made years ago regarding the looming threat of online-only/online-required game play weren’t so far off. The anti-consumer behavior cropping up across the entire spectrum of game genres and studios is just a little frightening. I’m actually not sure what’s worse: Gamers happily tolerating repeated insults or that they willingly fork over money for the games that insult them! I don’t understand it, so I’ll just wave my cane and yell at you to get off my lawn. I feel out of touch. Or maybe I’m a relic of a bygone age.

(If you believe that last bit, you’re free to stop reading. In fact, I’d implore you to spend your time somewhere else. My drivel is really not that exciting.)

I started to formulate this rant in my mind a few days prior when my girlfriend bought a copy of Dying Light and sent it my way. I’m not keen on zombie games, neither am I much of a gamer, but for her sake I wanted to try it out. She was rather looking forward to having something to do together while she’s at veterinary school during her rare spats of free time. It couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words, right?

Dying Light has received substantial praise since its release, but in my opinion, it reeks of everything that’s wrong with modern gaming. I won’t touch on the game itself: While it looks nice, it won’t work well on my hardware under Linux, so I can’t provide much of a review besides the bits I suffered through at a lowly 15 frames per second. However, the game play isn’t what I think is the most important feature of the game. Nay, what I feel is important, and what I will discuss herein, is a much more subtle misfeature of the game that is sufficiently detracting that it caused me to immediately lose interest, and so it made the fact it was nearly unplayable under Linux on my hardware moot. In short, while the game’s multiplayer and cooperative modes are generally well received, you cannot play with others until you “unlock” cooperative mode by completing the first mission. It doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy wasting time in games, if I can’t jump right in and play with a friend, the game is going to rot on my shelf.

I’m serious.

It’s an insult, in my opinion, to advertise the game as having an active multiplayer capability while preventing players from playing with each other until they each unlock a basic feature that shipped with the game. What’s next? Are we going to charge gamers to unlock multiplayer mode? (You could argue most MMOs already do this.) I’m sure the studio would counter with requiring players to unlock multiplayer allows them to learn a bit more about the game mechanics. I don’t agree. I subscribe to the school of thought that experience is the best teacher, particularly with gaming, and sometimes the most satisfying way to learn how to play a game is to jump in, have at it, and make mistakes. Why drag me through a grueling series of so-called “tutorial” missions disguised as the start of the game’s campaign mode just so I can play it with a few friends? If I’m putting a limited amount of time into playing games and it takes me between one to one-and-half hours just to unlock an advertised feature (one that was proclaimed rather loudly, I might add) before I can play with someone else, that’s time we’re not able to play together because your studio decided it was a great idea to waste my evening with false promises. I’d almost suggest it’s narcissism, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s just unadulterated stupidity.

Fortunately, I came upon an easy solution: I uninstalled it. I feel bad my girlfriend wasted money on me like this, and if I were rich enough to have a legal counsel on retainer, I’d demand a refund. (I’d also probably buy her a boat.) But I’d be dumping more money into paying lawyers than I’d get back in return for her purchase. C’est la vie. I never trusted games published by a movie studio. This simply proves why.

Unfortunately, the story won’t end here. Because there’s a subset of the hardcore gaming crowd who believes that anyone who doesn’t have 8 or more hours a day to readily sink into a game has neither the right to play the game nor the right to complain about it, people like me are vilified for our opinions, and my opinion is that games like Dying Light are not worth $10–much less $60–and probably not much more than $5. The response from these “hardcore gamers” is so bad now that in many gaming communities the term “casual player” is used pejoratively to deter new players–and paying customers–from participating (and vocalizing our complaints). Then again, I suppose the casuals are at least partially at fault here: If a game requires a substantial investment in order to play, the easiest solution is to simply not buy it. If enough people voted with their wallets, it’s plausible that the studios might learn a valuable lesson. Either that, or they’d go belly up and blame the players anyway for simply not understanding what a great product they had, and how the free market system is inherently evil because they’re somehow owed the money.


Sometime after this experience with Dying Light, my father remembered I had purchased a copy of Planetary Annihilation for him. Yet, once more, the genius insight that only a gaming studio full of self-righteous idiots could invent presented a curious challenge. He couldn’t play the single player mode because he had to sign-up through PlayFab for an account–on a Steam title–for single player. Wait, did I say single player twice? Yep, that’s how stupid this is.

I get that Steam is essentially nothing more than polite DRM wrapped up in a shiny package with a fantastic store and loads of great deals on thousands of games. I don’t like DRM, but I’m willing to live with it if it stays out of the way, which Steam does reasonably well. However, if you release a title and expect me to sign in to your service just to play the single player mode, you’re only going to upset me. Your game is going to be shelved like Dying Light and the two or three dozen other games I’ve never touched, either because they’re terrible or because I bought them twenty-to-a-pack from one of the various holiday sales, Humble Bundle, etc., and I won’t be back. It’s very unlikely I’ll buy your sequel, if your studio lasts long enough to make one, because you’ve already proven you have no respect for my leisure time. The only thing that burns me more is that you now have my money, and I therefore cannot meaningfully vote against your product for a design that I feel is fundamentally flawed.

The thing is that these aren’t just isolated incidents. This is a problem that’s endemic to the entire gaming industry. Take Torchlight II for instance: Single player mode works great, but the moment you want to play it in a multiplayer capacity, you have to first sign up through Runic Games, create an account, and then figure out how to get your friends into your game. I realize the intent was most likely an effort to provide a third party platform for multiplayer matchmaking that allows them to sell the game through channels other than Steam, but I honestly feel that (as a player), Steam’s built-in multiplayer APIs are so much easier to use and so much more convenient (I already have a Steam account), that it’s outright infuriating to be required to jump through a series of hoops just to waste a few hours with a buddy.

And what happens if their services go offline or they go belly-up? That’s right: You cannot play their precious game anymore.

As much as I hate the Left 4 Dead series (see my comments on zombie-related games), Valve has it right. Stay out of the way when people want to play. You’re not selling an MMO. Your game isn’t that important (no, really, it’s not). Heck, your studio doesn’t mean squat to me. I just want to spend some time with a friend or two, and if you’ve demonstrated that you aren’t even going to afford me the courtesy of using the APIs of a service I’m already signed up for (hello, again, Steam!), you’re just going to piss me off. Flip me the finger, and I’ll toss you in the can.

Of course, I realize I’m in the minority. No one these days gives a second thought to signing up for a flavor-of-the-month service every time a new game or product comes out. Yet at the same time these are likely the same people who’ve expressed moral outrage that the United States has collected information on its own citizens via the auspices of the NSA.

Yeah, I’m really angry about them collecting all that information about who I talk to, where I go, where I work, what time I eat my dinner. But, oh, hey, look at this shiny new game. Did you say you want my social security number, too? No problem! How about my credit card, too, while we’re at it? Oh, baby, it comes with DLC, too? I’ll take five if you take my firstborn.

Like the causal gamer, I guess we’re part of the problem. Or rather, complacency is.

For years now, privacy advocates have been beating on the drums, shouting loudly, and doing much arm-waving, yet their voices have fallen on deaf ears. As angry as the public gets about certain privacy infractions, we nevertheless happily hand over whatever information nets us our next free service. We’ll sign-up for whatever it takes to sink 50 hours into a half-finished, bug-ridden, over-hyped triple-A title from one of the major studios who, as an added bonus, run their programmers through a high tech sweatshop. Coffee in, code out. If we want things to change, we have to stop encouraging these companies. To do so, we must stop purchasing their products. The problem is, Steam makes it so easy. Too easy, in fact.

On the other hand, there’s a rather vocal group of people whom I assume is a relatively small minority, but like most such minorities, they’re so absurdly vocal, they drown out contrary opinions. Criticism of these game studios, like mine, is often lamented as misguided, stupid, or old fashioned. “What’s the big deal?” they’ll insist.

Then the next time another PSN-style hack occurs, they’ll take to Reddit and complain loudly about the studios’ misuse of their private information. You can’t win.

How dare those companies have this much information on me! I even used that same password on 20 different sites, and now I have to change it! While people in Africa are starving to death, I am morally outraged that you would charge me $10 a month to sell my information that I happily parted with to advertising firms who now want to interest me in asian brides and sexy underwear that’s 4 sizes too small!


Maybe the problem really is that I’m too old fashioned. When I see “single player” stamped on the side of the box, I see that as a feature. I don’t expect the game to require a sign up. Likewise, when I see “supports cooperative play,” I expect to be able to fire up the game, possibly start a server if need be, and jump in it with a buddy. If the game requires too much more of me to play it with someone else, it’s going to be forgotten.

In retrospect, I’d be inclined to call this “laziness” on my part, but considering I’m more than happy to spend an hour or two setting up a private server to play with others on, I don’t think that’s quite the case. Is selective laziness a thing? It’s probably a thing. I’m sure of it.

Back to the point, let’s take Minecraft as an example. Minecraft was (and still is, mostly) independently marketed. It wasn’t sold through the usual channels, like Steam. It required a sign-up (for the most part, although you could still play it in offline mode), but the sign-up was required to purchase the game. If you received a gift copy, you had to create an account to activate it. Creating an account was an artifact of obtaining and activating the game. It wasn’t an afterthought by a game studio that was so convinced it had such a great product no one would ever say “no.”

Humorously, some of the third party services required by certain games on the market are so terrible you almost have to wonder if the studio even bothered to dog food their own product. I’m sure there’s nothing more fun than being booted out of a game just because the studio’s authentication servers went down! (The Sim City developers could have taken a lesson from Mojang here early on–it would’ve saved them 3-4 months of trouble.)

But, what do I know? I just write lots of code these days. I don’t take the time to play games all that often, but on those few times that I do, I want to be able to jump in with minimal fuss. If you think your game is so fantastic that I’ll be willing to waste a few hours waiting to sign up on your service or learn how to play via a pseudo-tutorial that’s more irritating than a sock full of poison ivy, I’ve got news for you: It’s not.

As an added bonus before I sign off on this, there’s a little bit of hypocrisy in my words. But it’s something tempered by youthful ignorance, and it’s really too good not to share because there’s a valuable lesson in it. I’m not sure what that lesson is, but if you’re smarter than me (and you probably are), it shouldn’t be too hard to divine.

At risk of sorely dating myself, the last game I took a great interest in and happily wasted hours and hours waiting to sign up to play was Tribes 2. I left that evening sorely disappointed and empty-handed. Dynamix hadn’t expected their authentication servers were vastly underpowered and unable handle the immense popularity of the game; consequently, many of us tried and tried again to create an account desperately wanting to play. We couldn’t. To add insult to injury, Dynamix also removed “skiing,” which soured many of the Tribes 1 vets against its overly optimistic sequel, but that’s another rant entirely. In the end, they patched skiing back in, but not until after Dynamix was disbanded and the intellectual property rights floated around in limbo for some time.

Naturally, those were different times. We knew the days of freely playable games without the need for authentication services were at an abrupt end. We knew Tribes 2 was ushering in a new generation of authentication services intended to limit cheating and create a platform where bans, scores, and other player-centric features were suddenly more meaningful. We knew it had a dark side, and we did nothing to stop it. It seemed like a good idea. So here we are, some 13 years later, overlooking the precipice where the single player game is dead and where third parties want enough information to supply healthcare coverage before authorizing players to play. Yet others have taken strides in the opposite direction, forbidding you from playing cooperatively until you’ve unlocked it by yourself, all while advertising the game as having incredible cooperative play.

I’ve seen the future, and it looks bleak.

Update, February 19th: So, a buddy of mine (hi, Hunter!) linked me to some interesting information about 2K/Turtle Rock’s latest game Evolve. Apparently studios are narcissists. Here’s a game where the publishers are so convinced you’ll love it that they’ve split the game’s DLC into 44 separate packs retailing for ~$130. Highway robbery is now disguised as video games. Would you believe it?

If you’re not sure what Bukkit is, you can skip over this post. Otherwise, keep reading.

In case you’ve been out of the loop, it appears that the Bukkit project is in self-destruct mode now that the two dozen or so core contributors have all announced their departure over circumstances I’m not entirely sure I understand.

The opinions here are therefore my own and are reflective of only the information I currently have and are subject to change. If you find them upsetting, then direct your frustrations to an organization that probably deserves it.

First, I think this is entirely weird and probably equal parts selfish and self destructive on the contributors’ behalf. Second, I’ll predict what’s going to happen: In a year or two, no one will remember any of this, Mojang will be motivated by recent actions by the Bukkit contributors to fast track their own API, and every single one of the Bukkit contributors will fade into obscurity.

Essentially, the upshot is that if you throw a tantrum and collectively elect to take your ball and go home, your actions will galvanize the community into factions that strongly support and strongly disapprove of your behavior. History has suggested it’s unlikely to happen any other way. The faction that supports your activity may be most helpful in constructing a new community from scratch while the opposing one will seek to destroy it. Though, I would urge caution to anyone who strives to build a community upon a foundation of vitriol and anger.

But let’s back up for a moment and discuss this obscurity I mentioned. I’ve been running Bukkit off and on for probably two years or so (maybe three, I honestly can’t remember–I first used it when the project was quite young). And let me be frank: Aside from some of the big names (Dinnerbone, EvilSeph), I can’t remember anyone else’s name. Sad? Maybe, but that’s the reality. As a consumer of the Bukkit source code (speaking of it as a product), I was exclusively interested in using it because it made my life a bit easier as one of the administrators of a small server for a few friends of mine and I, and because of the numerous (and useful) plugins. Selfish? You bet.

Unfortunately, Bukkit’s substantial memory requirements over the stock Minecraft server and local lack of interest in Minecraft in general, I’ve since shut down the server we were using indefinitely and may or may not elect to start it up again. This is going to sound harsh, but as someone who might administer future Minecraft servers for my own personal use, I’m not really going to care in the long run what happens to Bukkit. It was a great project, but when open source projects die or fork, I don’t have the time to fuss with internal project politics. I’m going to pick one that does what I want, and I’m not going to fret about who did what. In the end, it doesn’t matter.

Second, as I understand it currently, this is largely due to the departure of EvilSeph from the project for various reasons. It’s also due to the activities of Wolvereness whom I understand used the DMCA to take down specific parts of Bukkit code. I’m not entirely clear on which parts were removed, but a response from a Mojang employee is suggestive that it was a fairly important part of Bukkit and likely the parts that attempted to reimplement the Minecraft server software. So, legally speaking, the activity by Bukkit was already on shaky grounds, even though Mojang had no interests in doing anything to the project (at that point in time).

Finally, it appears to me that the community has decided to circle the wagons around Wolvereness, essentially working themselves up into a tizzy about this perceived smack-in-the-face by an evil, profit-making company (without which, I might remind you, Bukkit wouldn’t exist). I find it oddly ironic that certain posters on the Bukkit forums have plainly stated that community members are uninterested in working for a for-profit company “for free.”

Do you guys have any idea what you’ve been doing the last three years? I really shouldn’t have to spell this out. At least it hasn’t degenerated into Youtube-level stupidity, so that’s a plus, but the night is young.

(Aside: It may surprise you to discover that you can make money from GPL licensed software; you just have to supply the original sources and any modifications you’ve made thereof to any party that asks.)

The other side of the coin is that there was a huge debate about the legality of Minecraft existing, simply on the merit that Bukkit is licensed under the GPL. I recall no less than two or three individuals arguing that, because of the GPL’s nature, since Mojang “owns” Bukkit, the Minecraft sources must therefore be released or else it will be in violation of the GPL. I am not a lawyer, but this is outright nonsense, and I’ll explain.

First, Minecraft by necessity of causality predates Bukkit. If Minecraft didn’t exist, there would be no Bukkit. Second, you cannot control what third parties will do with your own product; if a third party produces software that is GPL licensed and relies on interfacing in some manner with your closed source product, they cannot then demand that you open your product under the GPL or face legal action. It simply doesn’t work that way. Yes, it’s a problem that Mojang now owns some rights to Bukkit, but I’d argue that the nature of Bukkit’s interaction with Minecraft is such that it is legally dubious to argue that Minecraft is in violation of the GPL simply on the merit that Bukkit requires it to exist. (This is for a court to decide, not armchair lawyers.)

Second, I’ve seen a few comments from people who are essentially encouraging the Bukkit contributors to “take back” their contributions so Mojang cannot use them. This is equally absurd, because these contributions have already been licensed under the GPL, presumably with the intent of being part of the Bukkit project. While possible, it’s very difficult to backtrack a contribution made in good faith under a copyleft license like the GPL, because to do so flies in the spirit of the license. The GPL is intended to protect the consumers of such code (that’s you and me), and as such, the copyright holders give up some rights so that we may freely make use of the code, freely modify the code, and freely give back our own contributions without fear that the original sources will be closed or otherwise pulled out from under us. This is why many popular projects over the years have been forked: Community members grow frustrated with a lack of maintenance or the stewardship of the project maintainers/owners, and so they fork the project to drive it in a direction they want for themselves.

In spite of Richard M. Stallman’s intentions, there is nothing altruistic about open source or open source stewardship. It is almost always entirely driven, even if only initially, because of inherently selfish desires. The desire to scratch one’s own itch isn’t something that materializes out of charity to an as yet unknown community. Thus, licenses like the GPL strive to protect us all from inherently selfish drives, particularly those activities by people who would rather take their own contributions and run for the hills.

To put it more simply: If anyone from Bukkit attempts to reverse their GPL licensing, it will only apply to any code they write at the point after which the GPL licensed code was written and existed.

A final point that comes to mind is one that I’ve been musing about myself for my own projects, including one that I intend to have distinct commercial and F/OSS versions that will live simultaneously but with the intention that they may accept source code contributed to me by other individuals. It goes something like this: If Mojang did in fact buy the rights to Bukkit two years ago, they should have made all contributors sign a Contributor License Agreement. Such an agreement would provide protections to Mojang and to the individual contributors by 1) ensuring that contributions made to Bukkit are given to Mojang under a perpetual non-exclusive license with the rights to relicense and sublet the sources as Mojang desires and 2) protects the contributor by authorizing them to reuse their contributed code in their own projects (or commercially) as they see fit. CLAs are fairly common among open source projects and provide a means for contributing to F/OSS projects that may have commercial backing or commercial versions based in part on community-supplied sources without leaving the projects in legal limbo.

This would have afforded Mojang the options to do whatever they see fit with newly contributed code while making clear Bukkit’s legal standing. It may have also prevented someone from torpedoing the project via the DMCA (or similar). However, unless the agreed upon CLA were retroactive to previous contributions, it would most certainly not have prevented someone from poisoning the well with contributions made in the months prior to the implementation of a CLA. It’s plausible then that even with the protections of a CLA, things may have worked out the same way. Regardless, it’s better to have some protections than not enough, and I think the events that have transpired this week should serve as a warning to all F/OSS projects. If you do not have sufficient legal protections, a malevolent actor can use copyright law to irreversibly damage your project.

Beyond that, I’m sure there are still a few lessons to take away from the Bukkit fiasco which we’ll discover in due time. For now, the best we can do is sit back and wait.