How Weapon Skins in Online Shooters Introduce the Appeal of Sewing to Gamers
It was the 27th of August, and a new update for the PC game Team Fortress 2 had just been released after weeks of hype. The update would promise a lot of new content: Four new maps, sixteen new cosmetics, three new emotes, a bunch of new balance changes, and the biggest feature of all: Weapon skins. They were, at the time, a rather controversial addition to the game: Many members of the game’s fandom considered them to be another unnecessary monetized feature that pathetically attempted to make the decade-old game appear relevant by imitating its more popular peers. (The game would some come to be criticized for doing something similar to this again when it added a match-making system in vain to Overwatch.) The update came out and was known as Gun Mettle. Before this, the main cosmetic feature of the game was expensive and malleable cosmetics that came to define the entire game’s digital economy and a large part of its online presence.
Part I: Threads Through Time
Of course, the initial negative reaction wore off and, years afterwards, the community ended up adoring this feature to the point where fans gleefully submit their own designs to greenlighting systems in the hopes they’re accepted and officially distributed. It turned out that a game that popularized the idea of a digital economy made up of cosmetics was the game that could also make room for the more modern incarnation of that trope. This begs the question of why there was such an initially negative reaction to begin with: Is there something necessarily bad with weapon skins in a game that has lived such a long life without them? Well, there’s a load of bad history associated with that feature, but to explain that, we need to explain the nature of weapon skins to begin with.
To explain the nature of these cosmetics, know that meticulously designed and slapdash patterns are applied to the default weapon-models in this game to give them a sense of flair and variation that serves as another cosmetic reward for investing real-world money into the game (they wouldn’t do this if it didn’t make a profit). Now, they don’t simply just exist in the examples I’m citing, as the nature of digital economics requires that there be plenty of more variables at play to generate and remove value. The main factors that determine value are artificial rarity and grade. Grade is easier to explain, so we’ll start with that: Certain grades of quality are applied to the skins, usually from being very worn and scratched to appearing in mint-condition. As could be predicted, low-grade skins are worth less than high-grade skins. As for how many grades there are, that depends on how much variation a digital stockbroker wants there to be in price-range.
Artificial value is a more ethically questionable factor: Essentially, it’s entirely up to the cognitive biases of a game’s item-programmers as to which items rolled out in a particular update or “collection” are worth what at market-value. What this amounts to is slapping an arbitrary rareness onto an item to make it worth more or less. Usually, this is accompanied alongside a nifty color-scheme to let traders know at a glance what an item’s rarity is. With these two elements combined, you have the two factors that influence the distribution and availability of skins. At this point, it’s an observational spectacle to see how these elements formulate their own economy among a player-base. In its modern incarnation, weapon skins have developed an association with online gambling, the absurdity of immaterial objects holding immense, real-world value, and a sense of stylization that many hold valuable and digestible.
That’s just how it’s viewed currently; what about its origin, history, and development? Well, they certainly aren’t a new thing; they’ve been around as long as dedicated online-multiplayer games have been around, and the role they serve as digital goods has been around since the medium of video-games was text-only. According to Wikipedia:
The first virtual goods to be sold were items for use in MUDs, early, graphical online multiplayer games on the PLATO system and text-only games on other computers. This practice continued with the advent of MMORPGs. Players would sell virtual goods… to each other in the informal sector. […] When Iron Realms Entertainment began auctioning items to players of its MUD, Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands, in 1997, it became the first company to profit from the sale of virtual goods. But it wasn’t until the mid-2000s, with companies like Korean Cyworld leading the way, that virtual good sales became instituted as a legitimate revenue-making scheme.
The issue is that the appeal of weapon skins innately — not their profitability but aesthetic appeal — has an irrespective existence to that of virtual goods. Customization of visuals has been a thing since the tools were created to allow that per game, whether it’d be tuning the picture of your TV or wiggling the cartridge until it produced an interesting effect. Because of how broad it is, there’s no documented history as to the first game to introduce aesthetic variation let alone the choice to engage with it. While many games change the appearance of the player as they progress or perform certain actions, the option to choose a whole new look — to embrace a sense of vanity — hasn’t been documented well in the early days of video-games. It’d take until at least the dawn of the new millennia for there to be an explosion in aesthetic variation and deviation from developer intention that, for a long time, was limited to secrets, unlocks, and Easter eggs.
Modding has been a thing in the medium since the ’80s, but at that point, it could be characterized to be entirely in the realm of smiths working on their cabinets in isolation. You didn’t exactly have an easy resource to access abilities to change the color of Lance’s pants in Contra. No, that didn’t come around until the Internet became mainstream in the ’90s. This was also coincidentally the same time where the power of computers was starting to outpace that of consoles. Officially, the oldest mod for Doom was released in 1994 by Jeff Bird, who was working on it from his dorm-room in James Cook University. It was uploaded to the Internet and, as could be reasonably extrapolated from Doom being the catalyst for online file-sharing among virtual modifications, it flowed like a river into the Aughts. A date of contention to focus on here is August 18th, 2000: This is the date where the domain FPSBanana was registered.
What is FPSBanana, you might ask? Aside from being a name epitomizing the nature of “random” humor in the early Internet, it was the first major and centralized source of the Internet to upload and distribute game modifications for a variety of first-person-shooter games popular on PC platforms during this time. If you asked someone who was around during the foundation of the site, they’d probably state that they used it extensively to modify Counter-Strike. It was here that the novelty of changing a simple texture or two to be a different shade of black or make the AK-47 have an obnoxious signature on it came into realization. Despite the limited historical framework I’m working with, I can reasonably infer that this is a good start to see where the trend populated. Later, we can talk about how it modernized and became industry standard, and that involves a familiar face: Valve corporation.
Simple aesthetic modifications allowed a player’s experience to feel more personalized in an era where gaming was still largely not concerned with offering modes of expression. The Internet had to be the modus operandi for that while the games were simply the toolbox many had to work with. Like erosion, the popularity of simple modifications like these for PC games budged into the industry year after year, initially with the normalization of unlockable skins to service a low-resource way of adding reward and replay-value. Simply replicating a new model onto an existing skeleton was easy work compared to more costly things like new levels or alternative ways of play. For the longest time, it was assumed that these were just a part of the broader concept of what’s acceptable as extra content in video-games, not an exceptionally phenomenal thing.
To explain how vanity dignified itself apart from other forms of extra content, we need to diverge into the territory of military shooters. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released in November 2007, and one of the most rewarding features for its impeccable multiplayer is camouflage, which were originally intended to be a visual indicator of a player’s achievements. It simply stated that a player with colorful guns was a better player than someone with the default models, and that connotation as a status symbol has constantly been attached to the feature. Monetization was still an alien thing at this point, as camouflage remained a feature of reward: This nature reinforced their intention as being a reward, and this is how it remained for a long time with other shooters. If one desired vanity, they had to work for it by playing the game and refining their skills in the process. I won’t indulge to make a judgment as to whether this was the optimal model but I’ll simply let history stand idle.
Call of Duty recognized how popular of a feature this was in the game that revolutionized their franchise, so it remained a staple for every sequential release, each coming with their own skins of varied complexity, patterns, and colors, all chosen at an eye’s glance to decide which ones deserve to represent what status. Because its genre dominated the industry for those precious six years between 2007 and 2013, many of its design decisions infected studios everywhere and many tropes it introduced became standard, specifically the reward system for multiplayer shooters. Fast-forward towards the decline of Call of Duty’s popularity, and we have the revival of decade-old titles on a new PC market: A zeitgeist where computers now sit alongside consoles in terms of preferred medium and the people who lived their teen years on FPSBanana are now old enough to work at the same studios that created the games they enjoyed. This was a recipe for the next evolution of the economics and appeal of virtual vanity.
Vanity and aesthetic customization is now the default way of adding more replay-value to your game, and it’s the route many shooters take because the easiest thing you can do to add more appeal to a game about guns is to change the presentation of said guns. Valve still isn’t done developing games at this time, and they have a great interest in updating a lot of their old titles, and this time they turn their attention to Counter-Strike. In August of 2012, Valve launched Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: A grand refurbishing of the previous entry back in 2004 with semi-decent visuals and refined gameplay that attempts to keep the spirit of the originals. However, the game wasn’t nearly as famous back then as it is now precisely because there were few reasons to play the game over Counter-Strike Source, a game that had a decade of user-created content and culture under its belt.
All there was for two years of the game’s life was something many considered to be an impressive remake but barren in comparison to its predecessor… that is, until yet another August in this story. On the 13th of August 2013, Valve released what will become the most important update for securing the game’s livelihood: The Arms Deal Update. I started out this article by referring to when Team Fortress 2 shamelessly copied this, but this is where it originated. With the tagline of “put some personality into your arsenal”, this was the first huge step to transitioning vanity from a reward-system into a virtual economy. It was pristine back then: Many of the hundred skins they shipped with the update had minimalist and unchallenging designs compared to what would come down the road, but there was an room full of gunpowder here regardless, and all it needed was Valve’s spark to ignite it. CS:GO went from a shadow of its predecessor to being one of the most played games on the Steam platform purely from the implementation of weapon skins generating a valuable enough revenue stream for Valve to see purpose in continuing support for it.
It’s fitting that Valve was the one to start this, considering their massive success with establishing a digital economy in an online FPS game with Team Fortress 2 when it was usually limited to MMORPGs at the time. But, I think it’s rather unfair to cite Valve as a pinnacle example of this model in inception because, while they’re the originators of “skin economies”, they also effectively ruined the economy of Team Fortress 2 by rocketing inflation to ridiculous levels to the point where keys — the game’s mercantile currency — were worth zilch. While many of these results came about because of attempts at artificial growth and stagnation over the course of over a decade, the other source was overlooked bugs that caused the value of rarer items to plummet overnight. When a game has its fandom create terms such as The Crate Depression to describe what had happened to the virtual economy, you know there’s a serious sense of vulnerability in the entire operation… but laissez-faire capitalism isn’t known historically as being the most sustainable economic system. However they want to tell it, Valve is a company associated with the dirty money of skin-gambling now thanks to their revolutionary profiteering models rolled out in CS:GO.
Vanity had gone from humble origins of user-created mods for oldies to an industry-standard reward for player progression and achievement and now sits as the symbol of the extreme commodification of multiplayer gaming to the point of facilitating digital gambling for cosmetics. We’ve gotten through all the history, so before we move on, it’s time for some disclaimers: Now, my intention isn’t to make this an article about digital economies, but rather it’s about the philosophy of weapon skins and how they relate to sewing. Let the record show that there’s not enough room to fit the impact of MMORPGs into this article, but just know that they played a dualistic role in propagating the rise of virtual goods and the economics of vanity items. This article isn’t about those games as much as it is FPS games, so I decided to categorize that as unnecessary info. If you want to learn more about that, you can read about it here.
Part II: Pattern Printed Philosophy
To answer the question of why cosmetic and visual variation is such an appealing lure in game design is to ask a question of aesthetic philosophy as well as the fundamental appeal of the media. It’s a demonstrable feature of humanness that we appreciate beauty, and how I’m using that word is that it refers to an ability to find specific conscious correlation in a particular pattern in nature, either natural or artificial. With this definition of beauty, we can extrapolate a variable to every piece of aesthetic work out there, that being the presence of pattern in any acknowledged way. Another thing to consider is the opposition to function many philosophize to characterize beauty: It’s oft thought that beauty is the culmination of functional processes by itself doesn’t serve any function. Rather, beauty is a product of our psychology to read patterns in nature as a process of discovery.
I don’t know how correct that is, but it does a good job of explaining how that evolutionary element eventually applies itself to us admiring patterns just for the sake of it. Truth be told, I don’t know how strictly I believe in these Darwinian approaches to how human behaviors developed, but my opinion is irrelevant. What’s important is why we find visual elements arranged in certain ways to be appealing, and that might have to do with some sense of counteraction to chaotic dissemblance that humans instinctively exist by. That calls into question our role as conscious beings in the impeccability of the universe and… Okay, I’m laying down two fundamental assertions: The first is that I consider vanity to be one of the most primordial senses of human application of natural beauty into creative type. The second is that aesthetic personalization, however conformist or changing, is essential to one’s enjoyment of an interactive media.
Vanity is something that’s been culturally categorized as being frivolous by seemingly obvious logic: How pretty something looks shouldn’t be nearly as important as what functionary use it can serve — a lake that looks like a muddy creek is still valuable to someone if the water is clean and can fulfill its survival function. I acknowledge this categorization isn’t universal, as it’s largely a product of contemporary Western society, but that’s even more pivotal to understanding connotations. Another large subconscious association with vanity is that those who place special emphasis on it are superficial people, only concerned with outward appearances and material possessions. For centuries in European societies, someone focused on vanity was concerned about the unpractical beauty of things over raw functionality.
No, raw functionality was something saved for the lowest echelons of a society who, by systemic forces, have been deprived of a sense of aesthetic appreciation. They didn’t deserve the opportunity to develop a unique taste or adorn pretty colors because hat clashed with the functional lives they lived, and their function, for so many centuries under European feudalism, was to be subservient to king figures. Unique appearance was systemically relegated to the aristocracy of a society, aesthetically marking them as more worthy of focus than the commoners who wore out of necessity earthly rags. This was literalizing the natural metaphor of colorful flowers amidst the repetitive green grasses that served the visual purpose of making the flowers stand out. As for who ancient aristocracy tried to stand out for, it was likely some barbaric idea of the Christian God that seems right appropriate for the Middle Ages.
This history of associations over who is deserving of identifying with beauty and a supposed luxury of aesthetic variation has never had its spirit worn off even has the world was ushered into modernity, but the presentation of it ironically has changed quite drastically. The introduction of synthetic fibers has made it so that the rarity of certain colors was a thing of the past and, over the steady course of many decades of industrialization, the ability to personalize what one wears as a mere commoner has become steadily more available to more and more people — well, as many people that are permissible to have false luxuries in the first world as there can be. A personal sense of fashion has become so commonplace that it’s become the new grass, but unlike grass, it’s not serving as a contrast to anything. The green grass has no purplish flowers to contrast because there’s no social flowers indicated through aesthetics anymore.
I won’t kid myself and act like the underclasses of society striving to wear fancy clothing has been an occurrence in any society with a wealthy, aristocratic class at the top of the hierarchy, but there’s something unique to our contemporary that I think hasn’t been present at any other documented point in human history. What differentiates the vanity of the elites from the commoners isn’t the aesthetic of superior material wealth but rather the trust that it’s wealth through expensive brands and using impractical but rare materials like ivory. Interestingly enough, in a postmodern fashion, the rags of the poor have now become the taste of the rich, but you’re likely already aware of that cultural trend given your rural kinfolk who regurgitate it from cultural osmosis. The fascinating part of this is that it follows the general trend of Western society to reach a point where it’s built entirely upon the fragile notion of institutional trust. This has the benefit of making a society reach far wider but it also makes it a lot more fragile.
The commoners of today now wear colors like that of the past aristocracy, but they’re of synthetic polymers… they’re regarded as common because of the materials they’re made out of rather than how they look and how qualitative they are. Anybody can get any pattern they so desire now: The distribution of knowledge is what everybody talks about at the turn of the 16th century, but people don’t talk about the more incremental distribution of garments. Why, modernity has made it so that anybody can have a garment they want, and the only differences between what the rich and the poor wear is now longer between function and beauty but rather the tasteful and the bought-out. Sure, a handbag made out of “ethically-sourced” child spine and alligator tongue is certainly luxurious, but is it tasteful in anything except relative price? If you were taught even remotely that such cartoonish displays of greed were bad as a child, you’d probably say no. Not to mention that, if you’re skilled enough, you can make something in your workshop that looks identical to that bag without it being made out of a child’s spine.
So, our contemporary society has been mostly deprived of the social categorization in which class is distinguished primarily by clothing and presentation. You and your friends might wear mock Gucci to get some looks, and the only way to signify that is either through articles made artificially rare through the interest of elite designers or by insignias. However, the modes of developing social momentum are still embedded within capitalist models, so that leaves a lot of psychological holes in the population of those still living under it. This isn’t even counting the fact that many people live out their youth with no autonomy to pick their clothes: Either everything they were is determined by their hovering parents or their school has a required uniform. Many people exercise this because they recognize that clothing is a huge societal symbol, so the best way to weaponize it as an agent of control is to make it uniform and representative of a larger compulsive force.
The same society where one can just walk to the nearest Jo-Ann store and get the materials to produce a new outfit in a day’s work is the same one where many people are denied the autonomy to wear what they please out of the desire to instill obedience. Not only this, clothing is gendered as with many other cultural elements in any occurring society, and over the course of Western civilization, diversity in clothing expression has become something reserved largely to women. Now, it’s not exclusively reserved for women, but there’s a sense of regality applied to it being female than there is if one is male. These gender-roles apply another layer of exclusivity to a society that’s largely accomplished much in terms of redistributing fashion and vanity. I can keep going on and on about how, despite how innately personalizing of an act it is, modern fashion still finds ways to exclude and vertically organize people by countless factors (race, gender, class, etc.) In a society that already builds its status symbols off nothing earned but societal trust, who’s able to be bestowed the tools to build of their own is still segregated severely.
Where does this lead? Well, an honest fact about virtual interaction is that it allows us to engage in escapism away from the “real world”, but I disagree with that terminology because the virtual is still part of reality: It’s of it and has to be managed by people existing within it. Rather, I say that virtual interaction allows us to engage in a version of our same reality where elements are selectively controlled to allow more optimal experience despite present conditions. And with that, the appeal of vanity lurks within these virtual worlds and reappears in ways that are tailored to a selective experience, so what’s obvious in one medium has to be translated onto another with the same spirit. It can divorced entirely from its conventional associations, formulate new aesthetics, and be sold back to an audience that’s otherwise seen to be alien from it.
What I’m suggesting is that weapon skins (or camouflage, whichever you prefer) have the fundamental appeal that fashion does to a general audience but to gamers. To many people, this is very obvious: Dressing up a virtual character in vibrant colors and intricate patterns is described somewhat pejoratively as playing dress-up, but what does that mean if your focus is on firearms? Certainly, there’s a dramatic shift in the cultural associations of garments from that of firearms because they’re two different ballparks in practical reality. But, in the virtual reality, those boundaries can be made non-existent and manipulated like a puppet’s strings. But one thing ironically remained the same about the spirit of the medium throughout crossing, and that’s the sensationalization of vanity to an excessively ridiculous degree that encapsulates capitalist markets. Self-expression needed a convenient avenue to manifest in the virtual world, and the easiest way to have done that — both from the perspective of developers and players — is through aesthetic variation. Replacements in textures and geometry were on a destiny to become a paradigm of excessively commodified self-expression whether it was painted on your MMO character’s gear or on the tail end of a twelve-gauge.
I conceptualized this new paragraph with a thought-process: Is there really much difference between a hypothetical future in which skin creators for particularly popular online games reach a status equivalent to world-famous fashionistas? Then it spiraled into a large series of eerie comparisons between the skin economies of games like CS:GO and the fashion shows of Paris: These games have created economies with their own haute couture! But of course, I can’t be blind and say that the histories aren’t wildly different from that of the Steam Workshop post you wanted in your game and the foundation of Charles Frederick Worth. I’m suggesting that the Dragon Lore skin for the AWP in Counter-Strike or a Team Captain hat with a fancy unusual effect in Team Fortress 2 serve fundamentally the same purpose that capitalist fashion does, but again the history is important. Practical fashion didn’t originate as something destined to facilitate capital through subservient commodity but rather started out as a fine craftsman’s trade engaged in a sense of frivolity that felt genuine when crafted on equal standing but idolatrous when it was couturiers serving the lords.
Weapon skins, on the other hand, had the entire history of this before them when it came to precapitalist ideas of fashion, its distribution methods, and the rise of the industrial revolution with the pivotal role the clothing industry played in it. There’s a sense of near cynicism here in which the entire scheme could be replicated in virtual form at an accelerated rate directed by only a few people in control of a game’s economy. It’s fascinating and entertaining if you treat it as an amazing feat of laissez-faire capitalism, but then you stop to consider the consequences toying with faithful currency in a virtual space. It’s joked about so much to the point where we’re desensitized to the reality of it, but huge sums of money — entire livelihoods often — are placed in the value of these virtual goods and the trade of them. Clearly, there’s some form of cultural acceleration here that takes the period of historical transfer from earnest production of vanity to hyper-commodification to facilitate the needs of capitalism. It seems skipped almost entirely, like weapon skins were cynically designed to generate a virtual economy and provide another revenue scheme for a parent corporation… I’d never imagine such a thing!
I say that I’ve been blind, but the truth is that many of us have been largely myopic about this which we’ve participated in its inception for so long that now we don’t know how to deal with the consequences now reaching the mainstream. We don’t know how to deal with the fallout of video-game companies trying to gamble literal children out of their parents’ money because no adequate laws have been put in place to regulate gambling in digital media. Our initial response is to other this as something that’s largely uncontrollable in a grand, systemic scheme as we’re conditioned to do since the age of modernism, but we fail to realize that we’re witnessing a genesis, not of a garden but of a cancer. There’s certainly an opportunity here to secure a radical knowledge in a time where everything’s more vulnerable than ever. But I feared we’re not seizing the opportunity to recognize the miniature demonstration of accelerated capitalism we’re witnesses of… We’ve othered it to the point where there is no philosophizing that is allowed into contemporary space to make needed connections in these dire times.
Unfortunately, the philosophy I’m concerned with isn’t that of Marxian analysis of capitalism’s continued abstraction but rather it’s still concerned with the fundamental appeal of vanity in culture. To contradict myself, my conclusion is that weapon skins have the fundamental appeal of vanity’s spirit but conveyed through the microcosm medium of virtual goods and game-specific economies. It’s functionally inseparable to me from fashion when it comes to being a cartoonish representation of modern and contemporary capitalism through something so innately personalizing to us as people that it’s primed to be the ultimate commodity form. From a more consistent perspective, I consider the idea of acquiring custom skins and observing their flair in game to be a form of digital sewing, which serves as a more abstracted form of a more obvious representation of cosmetics for a player’s avatar. In my eyes, the same emotions derived from acquiring the materials and completing the process of sewing a new garment are the same emotions one receives from unlocking patterns (and the ability to create them) and customizing models henceforth.
Reviewing my ideas in a feminist light, I can state that weapon skins transcend the gender-roles applied to the appeals of sewing and custom garments to a more explicitly masculine environment, that being FPS games. Tearing down the boundaries usually put in place for certain emotional outlets is what many microcosms in virtual mediums rely on to create self-sustaining components of online games for a community to help foster. Video-games have been gendered as a masculine hobby, played largely by male archetypes that couldn’t accomplish the practical expectation of becoming a strong athlete or trade-worker. Sewing is seen as a more “traditional” role for women to fulfill and thus the joys that arrive from it are largely relegated to the women accessibly given permission into it. The former group develops an alien attitude towards the joys that’d be experienced from something only gendered through societal construct. Naturally, if you were to introduce a game that’d present the appeal of sewing in the associations typical of it, many people socially imposed to disregard it wouldn’t be lured to it. However, as I’ve discussed, you can transfer the spirit of a medium onto another without sacrificing much.
Review: Frustratingly for me, I have to discuss the economics of weapon skins because they’re highly economical in nature, but the thing is that we’re too busy experiencing it to discuss it. Sure, there’s the stray academic here and there that publishes an obscure journal about this facet of our society, but largely the analysis will come after it has normalized to a new degree or it gets excessively bad in its current iteration. Right now, we’re in the latter in that it’s getting excessively worse in its current position. That makes it frustrating for me because I have to write about both the economic and philosophical implications while all I want to write about is why I think sewing is important to this asset of society… Truly, I want to write about what sewing means to me, how it has impacted my life from the little time and history was exposed to me. I stopped observing screenshots for a moment…
Part III: Solitary Sewing Seminars
Back when I was nearing the end of my high-school career, I was a senior who had nothing left to lose and didn’t give a damn what happened to me afterwards as long as I had all my limbs and could still eat well. I still had all my limbs, but it was questionable if I was eating well: A diet of poor deli sandwiches with two days of variation being pizza and chicken sandwiches probably doesn’t constitute wellness. For background’s sake, I was enrolled in a private Catholic school, and if you’re making assumptions in your head about the education I received, you’re largely right aside from denying evolution. No, they just denied global warming. It was the usual: We recited a unique prayer every morning and it’d be a special, extra-long prayer every Monday. Every class required there be a shrine in it dedicated to Catholicism by having either a Bible, a Rosary, or a portrait of the pope. This followed you through every class, including the mandatory one dedicated entirely to the Catholic faith.
The first three years are largely irrelevant except for my development as the person I am today, but this exists to focus on one particular section of those four years. In senior year, I decided to let the counselor choose my classes for me because of reasons stated earlier. I suffered the consequences of that, and one of the major consequences was having a class dedicated to housekeeping and nutrition. Well, the one for housekeeping was a different class than the one for nutrition, but both of those classes were hosted by the same teacher despite both of them being hours apart from each other. I know you’re making more assumptions about this: You’re probably surprised about the fact that those types of classes are still offered past 1982, but I should let you know that my school was still culturally stuck in that same time period. I was scheduled to start school coming that fall in the early Aughts, so I felt like I had reasonable enough time to justify letting someone else choose my sense of enjoyment for the next year.
The moment I entered that class in a long string of introductions, I was in a room that was stuck between a state of being lived-in and being newly furnished. The walls were a pale cyan color like the rest of the ugly building, so my mind was made to become numb to what gave off the direction of a restroom. There were mirrors in the back that caught my attention because of how little time I’m given to see myself in these scenarios and the fact that the mirrors really brought out my native features a bit. Instead of the restrictive desks they usually have, we had boxy wooden monstrosities that still made my knees buckle and wonder if I was sitting on something hazardous. Other decorations consisted of the gratuitous amount of pictures of children in designer’s clothes along those same cyan walls. I saw one of a little girl with a floral reef wrapped around her fedora; right next to her was a boy with exceedingly dapper garments of another era. “That’s definitely something their parents imposed on them” is what I thought.
To continue description, there was a poster on the teacher’s podium that was the most striking to me: It was a graphic of artistically rendered ultrasound images, each with an adjective in all caps to describe the child: “Unique, Remarkable, Beautiful.” This felt like a reassurance of pro-natalist and anti-abortion values, and I’m, by all accounts, correct. In the very back of the room, there were assorted shelves, some with items already in them. One student told me that’s where we’ll place our projects and work-materials for daily use. Aside from the desks, there were larger tables made in the same style as the desks: Equally boxy and lighter than you’d expect. They were positioned next to outlets that the teacher made sure to warn us not to drop any pins near after a story she recounted of a time it caught fire and blew a smoke cloud into the air. In fact, this teacher tells a lot of horror-stories because she’s been teaching here for 25+ years and was two years ’til retirement that year.
For the teacher herself, we’ll call her Mrs. Feldt for anonymity’s sake. Feldt was a middle-aged white woman with a face that looked older than she actually was with a neat bob cut. Her eyes were a pale blue, and her lips were quite thin, never sparing the time of day to gesture with them. She communicated a lot more with her hands than my other teachers, so that made it more likely you’d hear her jewelry clank as it attempts to keep up with her point. One of the first thing she told us was that she hailed from Boston with a cheeky remark: “Yes, I’m a damn Yankee.” Despite this, she had no distinctive accent, meaning that she likely lost it after moving to Louisiana. Her instructions were clear as someone who’s been in this business for far too long: Behave, don’t waste their time, and don’t throw pasta on the wall to test its wellness… Well, that was something she taught in the nutrition class when we had labs, but it still applies.
The majority of students in the class were female spare the few male students, and I was among the latter while I still identified as male during this time. I’d come to know names like Elizabeth, Piper, Tessa, and Chandler, and Kennedy from this point forward (can you tell this was a 2000s class)? I had to get comfortable with four in particular: Elizabeth, Tessa, Jose, and Piper. These were the people I had to gravitate towards in a class that was largely deprived of my usual friends: Many of them expressed interest in taking a computer science class in sync so that they could enjoy themselves, but remember that I was feeling self-destructive that day. There’s no point in describing their personalities other than directly through narration because this is philosophy, not a high school drama. Just know that I sit at my own, isolated desk with sewing machine #9, always being able to see the window and thus the world outside (reminding me of my lost freedom). I sat across from Jose and Piper while Elizabeth and Tessa worked in the desk opposing theirs: It was a simple routine from that point onward.
Now, the teacher had made several demands, but the one most stressed was that we come to school with our own materials, largely so we can be ready for when projects start but also so we don’t drain from her supply of collective resources. I didn’t want to become the class leach, so I made sure the first thing I did the coming weekend was gather resources from Jo-Ann’s. I chose two patterns I can still adequately recall: One that resembled jeans in color and texture but wasn’t so. It also had golden stars dotted over the fabric, making it look like the flag of the European Union. The other fabric I chose was closer to my heart surprisingly: It was a simple, undefined violet fabric. I chose it largely because I adore blue-purple hues and because its look triggered memories of the same cloth they’d use at Mass to host the tabernacle and chalice. These were the two fabrics I’d start out with, and I only used the violet one for the bag: I left the jean-patterned one to sit in the dust.
I immediately fell into the holes of generally not knowing what I’m doing and there being only one person in the room who could compensate for that, but she was walking to different desks, asking each student what they needed help with. My social awkwardness still plagued me during this time and prevented me from asking openly for her help more often than not. And, to be guiltily honest here, I abused that to have as much alone time to myself as possible so I could journal these memories rather than work the machine. Considering the machine itself, I always had anxiety that I’d become the next student to suffer an accident and have to get stitches. Feldt mentioned that she had only three accidents over her entire time teaching here, but that didn’t make me any less anxious. Largely did I expect that I’d come to wish an accident would befall me so I could escape the class, but that’s in the future. The overall quality of the class was that it made more of a statement that it was somehow dignified over my other electives: I knew truly that it didn’t matter whether I failed or passed the class, but it tried to transcend where it just couldn’t. Blame that on Feldt’s style of discipline all you want, but the baddest she ever got was threatening to send students who did nothing to the office to meet with the disciplinarian.
The opening assignment was designed to be a simple starting point: Designed to be. After weeks of nonsensical introductory assignments, it was revealed to be a drawstring bag. It was simple enough: Stitch your chosen fabric into a squarish shape, sew the two pieces together along the sides, (wait a couple of days to progress) do some strange fold at the top to create a brim, take it to the teacher to singe it, and then pull your string through it. Operating the machines first began with practice using loose-leaf, and I can safely say it gave me a false impression of how well I’d perform. Uh, Feldt demonstrated only once how to operate the machine, and I immediately forgot it after the demonstration finished. My cockiness prevented me requesting help anymore after that: I had this vision in my head that my destiny would captivate the trope in which an amateur to a field magically reveals themselves to be a hidden master. This poisoned my mind, but what made the painfulness of my self-defeat easier to stomach was that I eavesdropped on Jose and Piper’s conversations about the depression of daily life.
After haphazardly cutting the violet fabric, I sewed it with what I thought was common sense, and that led me to seeking help more than I ever intended. The trope shattered sooner than anticipated, and my I could tell my the progression of expressions of Feldt’s face that my ability to screw up the most basic things dumbfounded her. Perhaps this was my masculine tendencies making me resist adapting to such a feminine hobby, or maybe letting the needle go and assuming I set it up correctly wasn’t the best strategy. There were knots of yarn all over the seam that made it imprecise and, worst of all, ugly. It had to be fixed, but I needed help to fix it too. Eventually, I was given a seam-ripper by Feldt and was told to “go slowly but forcefully.” This turned out an impossibility because an exertion of force on my part led to a horrific gash that was… quite unnoticeable now that I recollect. This deepened her emotions of disappointment in me even further, to the point where she kindly, uh, offered to assist me by asking me to leave it at the school.
That bag never got to see the light of day; it sat in the back on those same shelves for the remainder of the month it would be due at the end of. I matured far past the feeling of guilt you’d receive for neglecting an assignment (because the emotional investment into schoolwork is a systemic farce), so it never burdened me… at least until Feldt interrogated me about it in the sweetest possible way. The disregard turned into sympathy for her having to deal with my bullshit, so I hatched a plan to become more productive by the time the next assignment rolled around. This whole time, Elizabeth gave me questions that signaled her exhausting optimism and sincerity. Tessa was more on the lax side, but she was early to class with me, so she got the first greeting in. That bag taught me a lot about myself; it’s a good thing I made it my favorite color.
Leaving the bag at school ultimately proved to be a wiser route because that’s what Feldt preferred, and I disobeyed that wish on the second assignment. Some time in the first three months of the class, I realized that my mom can sew and she had a childhood fond of it. As soon as I could, I asked her if she was willing to help and what she exactly she could do. Like the consumerist she is, she drove me to the nearest Hobby Lobby store and guided me to the sewing aisle. I assumed she thought she’d have better luck there than previously when she took me to Jo-Ann’s. This time, I was more bold in the patterns I chose to build a more formidable stockpile: Floral, impressionist, psychedelic, iconography, even those with brands. Of course, I wasn’t entirely there to satisfy a thirst for fabrics, as I needed a seam-ripper that’d serve me better than the one I butchered my bag with. Also needed were sewing patterns: You know, the dated-looking envelopes that contained the paper needed to create the pattern you see on the package. They’re miraculously expensive!
Prior to shopping, we had to observe twenty-year-old patterns from McCall’s Kwiksew lineup: All of them were profoundly uninteresting at first. The longer I stared though, the more I began to appreciate the artistic value of these even if it was presented in such heavily commercialized (albeit dated) medium. I thought I was choosing the dress to make specifically, but it didn’t occur to my occupied mind that they were merely examples to absorb. Springing back, me and my mom were in this quaint mess, asking the workers (clearly deprived of life) if there was a sewing pattern of simple pajama pants available: That was the second assignment. McCall’s showed its face again as I selected a pattern for male pants, and I wasn’t even trying to reassure my masculinity with that choice! After I became more experimental with what I caught my eye, I chose two patterns I still distinctly remember: A red one with detailing that reminded me of Aztec art, and a sky blue one with Super Mario characters; it was the dichotomy of man displayed in full.
My mom’s support didn’t stop there, as after we came home, she brought out her current machine, and it was here that all the elements in the house I thought were abstract now became apparent: The old singeing machine that rusted nostalgically when it was pressed enough, the dusty shelves filled with sharp pins I used to stab my fingers with, and the fuzzy tomato. However, she wouldn’t use it until I decided to bring the Super Mario pattern to school and make some terrific pajama pants out of it. Now, judging by how I was unable to complete the first assignment, there was already a poor start going into this. Not only that, sewing pants is far more complicated than sewing a simple bag, and the bag required a ton of help, so there was a nightmare waiting to unravel. It was a downward descent starting with failing to pin the paper properly to the fabric (ignoring the time I spent trying to lay the fabric on the ground in the first place). I had to pin and unpin so many times that it felt as if the paper would wear out at any moment.
Second, I was already way behind my classmates, and the positivity of Elizabeth and negativity of Piper were no longer helping me get by. I was running into a wall, and Feldt recognized that, so she placed me in a special circumstance with two other students who were also slow to progress. This was the space I needed to do what I was neglecting: I got the scissors out and I cut the pattern with no hesitation, creating the pieces that I could foresee becoming pajamas. Everything was coming together nicely, but my plan from earlier to make it up to Feldt was now being initiated. I decided to bring the assignment home and continue work on it there: This was my genius plan, and it made sense by all accounts. That night, I brought the unfinished pajamas to my mom and she went to work on her machine. Conceptually, it was meant to be a mutual exchange between ourselves as to the amount of work we did on the pants, that way I didn’t feel like a moocher. But, my mom didn’t care much about what my status was with her, so she decided to take the entire operation on by herself, dazzling me in the process.
It sucks that the demonstrations Feldt gave only applied to the specific Bernina model I was assigned, because that meant I couldn’t rely on my mom as much. She had a different model entirely, and it was the first thing that foiled my plans to make it up to her, which at this point could easily be exposed as wanting to cheat the process. Mom stayed up until midnight working on these stupid pajama pants, and I could tell at that point she was having immense difficulty with it, partially because she herself hasn’t sewn this seriously in a long time and that the instructions were left at school. After hours of grueling work and tinkering with the damn thing, she gave me the final product, which was still filled with needles but less than before. The most prominent flaw was that they had poorly singed edges that my explained as a product of her trying to do that job. I hesitantly told her that the singeing process is done at school with Feldt who operates it. We were both too tired at this point to do much, and my mom deserved the rest more than me, so we went to bed.
The only thoughts running through my head the next morning were definitely not how I’d prove to Feldt how much work I can dishonestly perform. I thought nothing of it rather, as the class was in a long chain of production that I had to check off and move on with once my compulsive attention expired. The moment came where I had to tell Feldt about the progress I’ve made, and she replied with a disclaimer: I wasn’t allowed to take any work home according to the syllabus we were required to read at the beginning of the year. That was already bad enough, but I felt even worse when she offered to undo everything my mom did to screw up the project and singe it before it needed to be. I convinced myself at this point that I’ve done everything possible to make myself one of the most hellish students Feldt ever had to deal with in her life, and the fact that Mario’s smug face was looking at me every time my eyes shifted to see those pajamas, I felt a newfound sense of shame.
Everything after this moment felt like it didn’t matter anymore: I utterly failed to gain anything from a class that I had clumsily forgotten was chosen for me precisely because I was in a self-destructive state. Turns out that decisions made in self-destructive moods inevitably turn out to be self-destructive themselves! I was too distracted with trying to salvage what I had utterly butchered to subtract any lessons from this: It’s one of those experiences where you learned more from how you messed it up rather than what was instructed to you, but many people believe that’s a spark of genius in history. For me, I think it was just representative of how I lost a connection to creativity… It wasn’t a class that lasted the entire year, no; rather, it lasted only half the year and had to be swapped out with another course (also hosted by Feldt). In that other class, we were in a different room where there was no mirrors to reflect upon myself. The few chances I had to do that again were when I had to enter the room to retrieve something or do a measly amount of make-up work. There, the room had all its lights turned out and only the natural sunlight from a window that led to a wild, swampy landscape lingered. I didn’t learn to sew, but I learned why people create fabrics.
Part IV: Securing Singed Statements
Those memories are nearly a decade old now, but the feelings they brought forth are constantly renewed in my mind. The E.U. and Aztec patterns that went unused are sitting somewhere in my mom’s house, and the last memory I had of those butchered pajama pants were when my nephew took it out of my backpack when I was visiting my sister. I never returned to sewing from that point onward and the memories laid dormant in my mind… until I had opened up the Steam marketplace and returned to playing Team Fortress 2 for a little bit of nostalgia. As someone who’s played the game for an embarrassing amount of time, I’ve accrued many cosmetic items, but I never cared much to alter them as I was focused purely on reliving the gameplay experience. However, the state I returned to the game in was… not the best. At that time in 2019, the community was up in arms about how much the game’s parent company was neglecting it, leaving it to succumb to the rot that once-lively PC games usually experience as a result of abandonment.
This made gameplay largely grueling because the rot in question often involves a large number of script kiddies invading regular games to torment people trying to have a good time. The only words I could use to describe my experience were that it was like an infestation of roaches: Absolutely nasty! That disgust led me instead to rediscover the toy-chest of cosmetic items I had. In the middle of browsing, a spark of a particular emotion ignited in me: A spark that I’ve addressed before as the urge that drives the enthusiasm of playing dress-up. Suddenly, I found myself lost dressing up all the mercenaries in the selection of items I had: Choosing what looks best, selecting which textures looked better, matching the carpet with the drapes, rotating the angle of the lighting, and dipping virtual mustaches in expensive virtual paint. I felt as optimistic about my taste as I had felt when I began that sewing class so long ago.
Alongside the cosmetics, I remembered that, four years ago, the game added infamous weapon skins like its brother game, CS:GO. When I ventured further into my backpack, I noticed that, contrary to what I conceptually believed, I amassed a sizeable collection of those skins: They filled up screens of my backpack, but I knew it was cheap to gather them because they were all low-grade. I was trying to remember why I did this, and I was drawing blanks: Did I really fall that hard for a new revenue-generating scheme? Quickly, that was followed up with a thought that maybe indulging myself in accelerated forms of commodity rule wasn’t such a bad thing. I mean, I likely had such a passionate interest because that same urge arose again: The giddiness I felt picking out those patterns, seeing how they’d mixed with the intricate shapes of the clothing themselves, and the bitterness at failing miserably at it when it was confined to the walls of my school.
Here, I was able to experience the enjoyment of something that brought me so much trouble in my life for being so cocky about it. I always knew I was a visual artist at heart, but many things in my circumstance have prevented me from fully embracing that. From schooling stifling my determination, to the gendered expectations imposed upon me: I was locking away an appeal to philosophical beauty that was always within me and it came through failing an interest that my mother was so historically and paternally connected with. I stared at the textures on my guns, that were likely made by an overworked developer stitching something together and slapping a price-tag on it, and I felt mystified by how much attention was given to further a game already famous for vanity to create further access to it. Equipping the rocket launcher that was painted to resemble a poker table made it feel like a garment I went out and purchased on my accord, like a new Hawaiian shirt from JCPenney.
That Hawaiian shirt however, was just one of many on the same shelf: It was commodified vanity like all other things I adorn myself with every day, contributing to the colorful commoner that’s demonstrably poor in that they wear polyester instead of Fabergé polyester. It was unlike the High Roller’s rocket launcher I had equipped on my player, which gave me a sense of wealth in that I had something obtainable that other players didn’t. All of this purely because the goods of the virtual economy can be made scarce as much as the facilitators desire, and it was this fiction I immersed myself in. The void of control left in my life from that class was replaced with the fact that I held consequential prestige on my status, but it was status created through something so cynical and part of a larger, disgusting microcosm of the fashion industry. I was never cut out to be a fashionista, but it delights my heart that I have a chance to corner the digital weapons fashionista demographic. No longer did I have to work with the trickiness of a sewing machine, because the new tools I had were the same that I used to create digital art and program map geometry.
A renaissance was forging itself in my mind: My mom has always told me that sewing was a slow process, and this served as a gift of reflection. Dissecting her spiritual language, she was extrapolating from her core beliefs that the self is a reflection of that which surrounds it, and this “spiritual mirror” has an aperture that dilates depending on how in tuned one is in with their psychological flow. Any interruptions or mistakes that occurred within the sewing process had to be taken as a contribution to the overall garment. My ineptitude to halt her from singeing it was something that contributed to the flow and widened the mirror’s aperture. This was odd because it contrasted with the method of sewing I was taught by Feldt: It was a checkered list that I had to go down in a linear fashion, and because I was so concerned with perfection and the guilt I felt for allocating all the work to the two relevant superiors, I never progressed.
I don’t blame Feldt for teaching it this way, as that’s often how any information is transferred in a schooling environment regardless of the teacher’s good intentions. I wasn’t becoming a more creative person through applying the sewing process directly to my mind, but rather I was opening the aperture to its limits to encapsulate literally not doing the work it started with. Ha, I learned of sewing from the conversations Piper had with Jose about their aspirations after senior year ended; oh, I learned from Tessa’s questions about my seemingly thorough existence. Truth be told, feeling bad for Feldt was a minuscule proportion of my headspace, as it was the philosophies tied to my circumstances I was concerned with. Thankfully though, I’m not a philosophic mind concerned with memorizing preexisting ideas and setting up my counterpoints from there, as I’m staunchly opposed to learning philosophy from theory. I categorize from lived experience, and that is what I did for the most part: I experienced with none of the language of established ideals to help me describe it.
That makes it funny that only recently, before writing this article, did I discover what ought to be my nemesis given the framework I planted. It’s a 1836 novel by Thomas Carlyle called Sartor Resartus, which concerned the ideas and life of a fictional German philosopher named Diogenes Teufelsdröckh. He’s described as the author of a tome entitled Clothes: Their Origin and Influence. This however, wasn’t an actual philosophical work but rather a ploy for the metafictional narrative of the book. I’d normally sigh at the use of the phrase “metafiction” or “metanarrative” in any paper, but this was written right after the lifetime of Georg Hegel, whom the book parodies. While being a parody of the man himself, it was also riffing on German Idealism as a whole, which is the historic group of thinkers Hegel is lumped in with alongside a bunch of other uninteresting pseuds. Here is a summary of the book’s essential plot from Wikipedia:
The novel takes the form of a long review by a somewhat cantankerous unnamed Editor for the English Publication Fraser’s Magazine (in which the novel was first serialized without any distinction of the content as fictional) who is, upon request, reviewing the fictional German book Clothes, Their Origin and Influence by the fictional philosopher Diogenes Teufelsdröckh (Professor of “Things in General” at Weissnichtwo “Know not where” University). The Editor is clearly flummoxed by the book, first struggling to explain the book in the context of contemporary social issues in England, some of which he knows Germany to be sharing as well, then conceding that he knows Teufelsdröckh personally, but that even this relationship does not explain the curiosities of the book’s philosophy. The Editor remarks that he has sent requests back to the Teufelsdröckh’s office in Germany for more biographical information hoping for further explanation, and the remainder of Book One contains summaries of Teufelsdröckh’s book, including translated quotations, accompanied by the Editor’s many objections, many of them buttressed by quotations from Goethe and Shakespeare. The review becomes longer and longer due to the Editor’s frustration at the philosophy, and his desire to expose its outrageous nature. At the final chapter of Book One, the Editor has received word from Teufelsdröckh’s office in the form of several bags of paper scraps (rather esoterically organized into bags based on the signs of the Latin Zodiac) on which are written autobiographical fragments.
I’ll spare you the lecture and tell you the themes of the book right away: It encapsulates one major modernist theme, that being the nature of objectivity, absolute meaning, and what those things serve for us and our newly bolstered society (with respect to the appropriate time of modernity). The core issue of the book is where exactly the “truth” of it should be found, and while it doesn’t suggest that the truth itself is nonexistent, it does force readers to confront the perplexity of the scenario. What’s intriguing is the fictional “Philosophy of Clothes” coined just to facilitate the novel’s metafiction. According to interpretation, “[T]he imaginary ‘Philosophy of Clothes’ holds that meaning is to be derived from phenomena, continually shifting over time, as cultures reconstruct themselves in changing fashions, power-structures, and faith-systems.”
This is a view of objective truth that falls in line with a sociological theory known as social constructionism, in which understandings of the world are examined as shared assumptions built through coordination and external forces that might influence the nature of an understanding. To simplify, it essentially means that coordinated consensus is what drives our understandings of reality, and that there are many inhuman elements that can and are analyzed to effect those consensuses. Departing that train of thought momentarily, the name Carlyle gave to the etymology paints a clear picture of what metaphor was parading through his mind when he wrote it. It was comparing understandings to garments, in that they’re created by the people who facilitate their need (to be clothed), they’re created with and affected by external, nonhuman elements that shape their properties when they transcend stitched materials to individual presentation, and they’re subject heavily to change. The last line is especially true in our modern era where it’s normal for people to have many pairs of clothes and swap in and out regularly of particular styles.
Not to get too giddy here, but I agree largely with this metaphor, even if I’m not well read on any German idealist philosopher, but that’s alright! As I’ve said before, it wasn’t the theory that led me to making these connections but lived experience: The lived experience of everything I’ve described in the previous three parts is what allowed me to make these connections. They were individual patterns and cloths that I stitched together to create something that, while appearing as a mishmash at first, recognizes that all garments are as cobbled together as it is. The mass production of polyester to create colorful vanity for all to enjoy doesn’t take away from the fact that the elements the clothing is made out of transcend the properties of vanity in ways that often categorize people vertically. And how quaint of a statement that is, because that reflects the exact level of the aperture we’re working with.
Yes, the metaphor Carlyle used for social constructionism works quite well with my mom’s ideas of the nature of the self: All we have to do is take the idea of an aperture representing psychological flow and apply that to a societal level. That’s when we start asking questions that pertain to a society’s aperture: How much of external influence is it letting get in the way of its constructs? …How wide is the lens? Okay, while this is fine and dandy, it fails to relate back to the previous topic of weapon skins, doesn’t it? Wasn’t this entirely about the philosophy of player engagement, digital economics, and the immutable psychology of beauty within such a complicated and niche medium built on simpler mediums? If you’re asking this, you probably forgot the times I’ve thrown out that digital economies can serve as microcosms of material economies, allowing us to better understand the historic rise of capitalism as it pertains to particular industries.
While I was stitching together my own philosophies by failing to stitch together an assigned garment, I was playing a game that arguably was stitched together over years of compiling more and more spaghetti code until it looked the results of a failed product line of Valve’s profiteering methods. The game was almost a product line of sorts for any journalist in the video-games industry to choose from when it came to ushering a new article about the history of a contemporary phenomenon when the content-well ran dry. Not much care was given to it after Valve used it as a jumping point to apply the refined forms of its experimentation to more newer titles: It was left on the shelf in the back, and that can arguably be used as a metaphor to describe how Valve employees treat the game. But, maybe there’s a part of the process irrelevant to Team Fortress 2 that might return to add onto the pattern already sewn.
It’s strange… aside from all the MMOs out there, Team Fortress 2 felt like it was the arbiter of establishing a new industry from the humble origins of programming a couple of hats into the game to creating one of the most profitable and cancerous elements of modern video-games. It’s somewhat like what happened in history in which the societal aperture of capitalism expanded with the fundamental issue of garments (being strongly material), taking it to wider and wider opportunities. The symbolism of the cotton gin and triangle shirtwaist factories haunts our society whenever we wear, adopt, change, create, or destroy the easiest material methods of self-expression. It’s akin to how the drawstring bag haunts my sense of esteem and a silly FPS game about hats created the phenomenon of skin gambling, which is requiring many legal systems across the world to change their legal codes to accommodate its existence. Every time I look at a fancy weapon skin in CS:GO, I’m seeing a single thread that has expanded its lens to encompass a massive industry built on finite material conditions, having to reinvent its own artificial rarity to keep a sense of homeostasis.
Every crappy shirt I wear is a mode of expression built up from something that expanded the aperture so largely that it has blinded itself with the light it let in: It expanded its range of perspective to encompass much more in its colorful spectrum, but it hasn’t deviated from the initial threads built upon aristocracies killing each other over a smidgen of violet dye… You know, now that we’re in the final stretch, I guess I should get all of the extras off my chest. I neglected to mention that many of the posters in that room revolved around an almost apparent worship of consumerism, in that there were many preppy posters on the walls that found happiness in, not just sewing, but the idea of buying it and participating in economy. In hindsight, it now reminds me of how I conceptually saw weapon skins, when they were first introduced into Team Fortress 2, as not just something I could participate in creatively but an outlet into virtual aristocracy and the power to grasp the lens on a fine needle’s point.
Falling into the usual subconscious imagining of myself as a famous person, I thought of myself as becoming a known contributor to the digital economy through my self-expression. In practicality, I wanted to appeal to the community, but my sense of practicality was warped by how wide the scope now was, giving me what was ultimately a substitute. The idea of becoming a fashionista — participating in fashion walks for weapon skins — was tantalizing to me; and could it have been a projection of my desperation to have my artistic talents known? Well, I needed to connect a few mismatched pieces here and there to get a better perspective of what was ultimately a deeper reflection of myself, but that didn’t matter because all I needed for adequate self-expression (both virtual and material) was to have dismally cheap swagger. Did these skins, like the clothes I wear now, ever stifle my ability to express myself in a way that I could’ve accessed had I not been inhibited by external forces? I’d say no, only because it didn’t matter the material my vanity was made out of; all that mattered was how good I looked.
Damn, did I look good.