Peter (hujhax) wrote,

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... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:  Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You [audiocourse]
Movies:  <none>
TV:  <none>
Other:  The Stanley Parable [video game]

Outsmart Yourself: Brain-Based Strategies to a Better You by Peter M. Vishton [audiocourse]
This is a self-help audiocourse of "life hacks" based on recent neurological research.

I'm kind of embarrassed by how much I know about pop-psychology self-help. I've spent enough time with books about psych and (oddly) modern economics to recognize a lot of the material in the book, and to know that some of the concepts, like Baumeister's "willpower is a finite resource" or Amy Cuddy's "adopt power poses for confidence", have been called into question (if not outright discredited) by later investigations. The "replication crisis" in social sciences is real, and Professor Vishton cites a lot of slick, gosh-wow material that nobody can reproduce.[1]

The rest of the book is mostly well-known material to any pop-psychology nerd. Yes, multitasking is a laughable myth. Yup, a massive variety of choices impedes sales. Mm-hmm, getting somebody to do a small favor makes them infinitely more inclined to do you large favors.

But still, the material is competently presented, and I liked Professor Vishton's attention to detail with presenting his sources. Usually the tips themselves were less interesting than the cleverly-designed experiments he recounts. Yes, it's fun to know that muttering 'keys' to yourself repeatedly will actually help you find your keys, but it's more interesting to know how they patiently controlled for many alternate hypotheses. The speaker is not much of an essayist[2], but these experiments lend the course some color and character.

The course suffers a bit by not having any overarching thesis beyond "yup, these are all tips". In a better presentation, these tips and sections would all be facets of some larger idea, or would be artfully presented to *seem* like they all belonged in the same course. As it is, the course is more of a diverting smörgåsbord, a long listicle in audiocourse form that adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

But still, it was nice to gather up a bit more information about a bunch of classic psychology experiments, and a few of the bits of advice may actually be useful.[3] It's a good "laundry-folding" audiobook.

The Stanley Parable [video game]
This is a delightful game from Davey Wreden and William Pugh. It was originally a Half-Life 2 mod which morphed that first-person shooter into an office-based postmodern meditation on free will.

I'm not kidding.

You begin the game in your office. A narrator begins telling the story of Stanley (you), a happy office worker. The narrator continues telling your story in voiceover. Then, you are presented with a room with two doors. The narrator informs you that Stanley took the left door.

And you're standing there, free to decide what to do.

And that's kind of the game in a microcosm. The narrator has a little narrative that he wants to tell, and you can either go along with it or push back against it. And the push and pull between you and your narrator has a surreal, almost Monty-Python feel, as you watch the narrative fly off track, or fall apart completely, or stay on course like a good, well-behaved little plot. As an added bonus, the story itself focuses explicitly on Stanley's free will, a notion which gets more and more ridiculous as the narrator and the player either collaborate or squabble over marionetting him around.

The game is fun, and funny. It's a welcome breather after watching any sententious triple-A game tell you earnestly to "Press 'F' to Pay Respects" while it takes its story oh-so-seriously. The Stanley Parable is the antithesis of that, setting fire to storytelling whilst cackling madly, and bringing your protagonist to meet all sorts of unfortunate ends. There's not a lot of 'proper gaming' here -- it won't test your puzzle-solving or twitch-responding[4] -- but as a breezy lark, the game is wonderful.

For next week: I'm still reading that book about the chemistry of cooking and I'm still watching season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  While exercising, I'm on season 11 of Good Eats and season 3 of Last Week Tonight.

[1] I kinda wish he'd thrown in a lecture about
p-hacking and assessing psychological claims, but oh well.
[2] He never outright starts a lecture with "Merriam-Webster's definition of <x> is...", but that schoolboy cliché wouldn't be out of place here.
[3] I liked, for instance, the notion of keeping a bunch of apples around, and allowing yourself to eat whatever awful snack you want, so long as you eat an apple first.
[4] Hell, sometimes the game veers off into straight-up Desert Bus-style "anti-gaming".
Tags: media update, weekly

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