📞 Secret World №. 9: Ping is in the air

First, a question: If you’re the sort of person who still listens to MP3s, FLACs, AACs — OGGs? — on your computer, what app do you use? I’m working on a story where this question is of some importance, and I’m curious to hear your replies.


The PlayStation has a remote play feature where, in theory, you can stream games to a laptop, tablet, or phone. There are also versions of this feature on Xbox and PC. I’ve never been able to get any of them to work reliably in the past. Okay, but why can’t you just sit in front of your TV or monitor or whatever and play the games there? This is a fair question! But consider: the Nintendo Switch. One of the things I love about the Nintendo Switch is its portability. I’ve spent a lot of time playing Stardew Valley or Breath of the Wild before bed. Back when we could travel, it was the perfect size to bring on the subway or a bus. I love that I can play Hades while curled up in a comfy armchair. I’ve even brought mine into the woods.

Remote Play is basically that, but with PlayStation games — games that I don’t always want to sit in front of a monitor or television to play. Of course, it’s all an illusion, a technological sleight of hand; your console is merely shuttling image, sound, and input back and forth. But it means I can, in theory, play things like Bugsnax or Hitman in bed (the latter, a friend aptly described as “Goose Game with guns”). It’s magical when it works…but difficult to diagnose when it doesn’t.

It’s okay if you don’t care about any of this. I mention it because I think it’s a microcosm of a much larger problem that the pandemic, with all its WFH-ness, has brought into sharper focus. No one seems to know how networks, well, work. I’ve been writing about technology for years and I still find networking impenetrable. It’s such a fundamental part of how we work and live and play, and yet remains impossibly arcane, one of the last true computing dark arts. In our present moment, especially, there is nothing more maddening than trying to diagnose a wireless connection gone wrong. I have spent a lot of money on routers and not a lot of money on routers. I’ve tried wired and wireless, installed the requisite firmware updates, done the 30-30-30 dance. I don’t think my router can get any more centrally located than it already is. Maybe I should start knocking down walls? Some days, everything is fine — and sometimes, for months at a time. Some days I feel like I would try crystals and incantations if someone told me they worked.

I think a lot about this story about printers from a few years back — why they’re so bad, why they still fail. You could easily write a similar story about routers and networking. Maybe, one day, I will?


Notes

  • A rough accounting of things I’ve played during the pandemic: Animal Crossing, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Halo: Reach, Halo: CE, Halo 2, Halo 3, Titanfall 2, Doom (2016), Bioshock 2, Destiny 2, Hades, Warzone, Apex Legends, Astro’s Playroom, Bugsnax, Hitman III.

  • For years I told myself that I didn’t need a gaming headset — that I could make do with the flimsy, foldable headset I use to do interviews. Was I ever wrong! I got one of those fancy wireless models with the suspension-style headband, and it is extremely comfy. In fact, I may start doing interviews with it instead.

  • This butter mystery has been rattling around my brain all week. It’s a perfect little story of mystery, intrigue, food processing, and cow science.

  • I’m deeply curious about this new email service, Hey, from the folks behind Basecamp. It’s paid, but it means their business model isn’t mining my inbox for data and ads. I’m going to try it for a bit; if you reply to this newsletter, your email will go…there.

  • I’ve been doing a lot of writing to Numero 95.

  • What if we brought this aesthetic back too?


Secret World is a newsletter from writer Matthew Braga. If you’re not familiar with me or my work, be sure to check out my website, and consider following me on Twitter.