Introducing Patch Notes
Decoding the developer updates to Modernity: The Game
In 2023 I felt a distinct sense of strangeness as we watched the mainstream takeoff of AI contrasted with non-stop layoffs in tech and disbelief. Inflation was on the rise, the Federal Reserve was raising rates, American hegemony was on the decline, and our halcyon days were over. To make matters worse, in May I left my eleven-year job at Pocket Gems, and was drifting around in the uncomfortable soup of my first sabbatical.
But then the Nasdaq ended the year up like 37% and I (like so many others) was forced to confront the fact that actually I had no idea what was going on. The disconnect seemed widespread. Maybe this was just the new normal — not a deviation or collapse of the old regime, but a transmutation into the permaweird.
I felt then and still feel like I am circling some yet undefined ideas at the intersection of gaming, tech, and online culture — trying to make sense of the changes to the communities I had been a part of as long as I can remember. The themes are not new: gaming going mainstream1, big tech increasingly dominating our lives, the internet-enabled flourishing of subcultures and niches. But in light of 2023, it felt like we were at an inflection point: The rise of generative AI, an increasingly fractured public sphere fueled by the internet, the end of Pax Americana coupled with geopolitical upheaval, the growing acceptance of crypto and blockchains (ETF approval!), the triple-distilled, ultra-concentrated power of social media, influencers, and the creator economy.2
There’s a chaotic energy to it all. And given no one actually knows what is going on, I’ve decided there’s no way out but through. In that spirit my plan is to simply keep circling these topics until we either go down the drain or reach escape velocity. Maybe we will settle in some stable geosynchronous orbit in the permaweird, but I doubt it. Modernity is a three-body problem — chaos is baked into the system.
All this is to say, I plan to embrace the volatility and try more experiments this year, the first of which is a new section here on Substack: Patch Notes.
For the non-gamers out there (hello!), patch notes are “the details released by game developers that outline fixes, changes, and new additions made to a game with the latest update”.3 Serious Gamers read patch notes to stay up to date and prepare for how the game is changing. Sometimes they are innocuous (the classic: bug fixes and performance improvements); sometimes they fundamentally change the game.4 In the latter case, there’s value in understanding what the changes add up to — if you can divine where the game is heading, that gives you an edge.
Patch Notes will be a periodic collection of things that hint at the direction the game of modern life is headed. Normally, the developers making a game are the architects that guide the changes and resulting patch notes. (Or at least you really hope so.) But in our case there is no architect, and there is no vision; just the disorganized Brownian motion of a billion people living their lives.
Perhaps by collecting them, we can understand and reverse engineer the direction the world is headed. Or I don’t know, maybe this is just an excuse to publish a link blog under the guise of another gaming-related metaphor into my Substack.
So now the Substack will be divided into a few different sections (each one can be individually subscribed/unsubscribed to):
Speedrunning Towards Bethlehem - my main longer-form pieces / catch-all
Patch Notes - wherein we attempt to reverse engineer what the hell is going on
…and possibly some other one-off pieces I’ve been asked to write
I’m aiming for a weekly cadence (with the first one coming later this week), but let’s be honest, this is an experiment and I currently have no job so it could go either way.
If you have feedback or thoughts, feel free to reach out. Until then, back to the game.
Check out this list of upcoming films based on games. The ratings for game-based films don’t seem to be improving, but the box office takes sure do.
Social media of course isn’t new, but I find the recent ads for how TikTok is doing good in the world particularly transparent. They feature titles like How Jasmine Kept Her Parent's American Dream Alive and extol the social good that TikTok does. Who is getting convinced by these ads?
Of course there is a SaaS company for patch notes. Of course it uses AI.
See, for example, Path of Exile’s fifty-four page patch notes which includes things like:
Vortex: Now has a 0.750 second Cast Time (previously instant), and no longer has a Cooldown Time. It can no longer be cast on Frostbolt projectiles, and as such, no longer has 20% less Area of Effect when Cast on Frostbolt or "Can explode from up to 5 Frostbolt Projectiles." It now deals 49 to 73 Cold Damage at gem level 1 (previously 41 to 62), scaling up to 779 to 1169 at gem level 20 (previously 1209 to 1813). It also now has a Mana cost of 13 at gem level 1 (previously 11), and 25 Mana at gem level 20 (previously 20).
Part of the fun of high-level play is reading the patch notes and theorycrafting what they collectively mean for the game in terms of how to play optimally. Is Vortex now worth playing, or terrible? Now you’re actually playing the game.