2023-02-06 Holy War

Ancient History

Around the time my younger child was born, I decided to go back to school. While college and I have not really seen eye to eye (which is to say I have taken a lot of classes but hold no degree) I have come away from my experiences with a richer mental life and a greater appreciation for the varied experiences of my fellow humans. Community college, especially, is a true melting pot of people from every walk of life but a rich one coming together to make themselves, and possibly the world, better. One is never too old nor too young to learn, nor too white or Black or queer or whatever.

One is, however, sometimes too neurodivergent for one's own good, but I'll get there in a minute.

Playing Minecraft, doing a Blender tutorial, and checking my system stats on Desktop 1. Looks like fullscreen GIMP on Desktop 2.

The most lasting experience of my time at an excellent local community college from that stage of my life was my introduction to Linux. The course was named "Intro to UNIX" and the instructor lamented at the time that "It should really be called 'Intro to Linux'." These days it actually has been renamed, so apparently someone listened to him. He's still teaching that course (last I knew) going on a short two decades later.

I started out in a track for web design. It was (and is) a pretty big industry and I really wanted a job in something other than backbreaking manual labor that involved creativity and computers. Web design wasn't necessarily what I wanted, but it might at least pay the bills and I would be able to make my own websites for my own purposes as a bonus.

In the early 2000's the large majority of the web ran on some configuration of LAMP stack, which was a Linux server running the Apache web server assisted by a MySQL database with PHP for interactivity and programming. L-A-M-P. Without knowing at least the very basics of UNIX (really Linux) system administration and just the ability to navigate the file structure and edit text files, you would be at a severe disadvantage trying to publish a website. Hence the introductory class.

The first thing the instructor showed us on the first day of class blew me away. Well, the first new thing to me: pipes. I used MS-DOS once upon a time. Navigating in a text-based interface was not new to me. Sure, sure… "cd" – yawn. But after getting into a sample directory he showed us "ls". That's just "dir", right? Big deal. Then he showed us "ls | less". That line in the middle is the pipe. Yeah, "dir /p", again, BFD. Why is this even a class?

But then he says, "Using a pipe, you can pass the output of any program to the input of any other program." Cue explosion noise. Mind. Blown.

Type "lose"

Suddenly computing was fun again! I don't know if you know, but Windows has issues, some big and dangerous and others only annoying, but it was made "dumb" enough that anyone could use it and so it resulted in things like being asked if I was sure eighteen times if I really, positively wanted to delete that file. Linux on the other hand would happily delete the entire hard disk without even asking for confirmation (if you're the administrative account known as root) and then hand you a new command prompt even though the next command you attempt will probably not exist any more (unless it's a shell built-in).

Linux trusts that the user knows what they are doing. If you want to drive your brand new sports car at a brick wall, Linux just asks how fast you'd like to go. However, this cuts both ways. If you don't know what you are doing you can really bork your whole system by either ignorance or typo. It happens.

I used to tell my kids there were three classes of objects: toys, tools and weapons.

A toy, used improperly, could hurt you. A tool, used improperly, could maim or kill you. A weapon, used properly, will kill someone.

On that scale, Linux (most properly called GNU/Linux in the context of a server or personal computer) is a tool, where the "you" is your operating system, all your work, everything that makes the computer "go". Like any tool, the user must respect it, learn proper handling, and take safeguards against accidents that will happen from time to time – make backups, in other words.

And on the same scale, Windows is a toy. It has rounded corners and soft plastic and rubber bumpers. You have to misuse it pretty hard to hurt yourself with it and your ability to destroy the operating system without knowing what you are doing is pretty low.

I was tired of playing with toys, I guess? That's a lie, of course, I love toys, but I was tired of my computer being just a toy. I was on Windows 2000 at the time because it was the closest thing to a professional workstation I could afford that could still play computer games. Again, I love toys.

I dual booted for a while and then one day I decided that if it didn't run in Linux, I didn't need it.

I deleted Windows and never looked back.


I don't know if you know this, but the computer (as opposed to console) gaming world revolves around Microsoft Windows. It had the first really good gaming platform for computers, Direct X, and Microsoft really pushed the gaming scene to the point they even have their own console now with some titles exclusive to either Windows, Windows-Box (X-Box), or both. The crossovers continue to become more and more tightly melded and now you have X-Box on Windows and Windows on X-Box. By buying up everything and everyone, it is pretty obviously Microsoft's intention to ultimately be the only game in town (see what I did there?).

I believe in voting with my dollars, the only speech that really matters in this capitalist hellscape where people have to beg strangers for their lives on the internet while the richest have a personal space race, a thing that entire nations once did a couple generations ago. Please note, it isn't the only vote that matters. Please get your ass to the ballot box. They wouldn't try so hard to keep people from voting if it didn't matter, well enough a rant for another day.

Digression aside, I decided that I would never again buy a piece of software that did not have a native Linux implementation. Proprietary or not, though I prefer the latter, if it has a Linux version I was likely to buy it even if it was only slightly okay or just a little interesting. This was both because, frankly, the choices are pretty limited and, again, voting with my dollars. By choosing to spend money exclusively on projects with a Linux native build, I make a statement about which side of things I'm on.

Principles are vitally important to who I am. That whole not "stand(ing) for something" line really speaks to me and I may choose some weird hills but I'd definitely die on any one of them because, first, I'm a stubborn idealist with a streak of perversity that gets off a bit on adversity and, second, I'm Just A Little Autistic dot Com.

I'm very rules-bound. I thrive within systems and find it very difficult to experience true freedom because I don't know what to do with it. I need to schedule my day and my week and my month, sometimes in fine detail, so I can cope with the things I have to do when they show up on the doorstep. I need to know every other Tuesday I speak to my therapist and on Sundays I theoretically do laundry and the board meeting is the same-ish day every month. I need to rise at the same time every morning, a time that just keeps getting earlier, and tuck in at the same time every night.

Within these kinds of frameworks I can function. I can even improvise. When I can't get my laundry done on Sunday, I get to it when I can, and when my therapist calls in sick I just reschedule for the next time and I can take all of that in stride. I can, in fact, take a great deal in stride without having to hit myself in the face and scream about hot water burning the baby.

How many people do you know have a favorite cup? So favorite that they use no other cup of the dozens in the house and get at least testy if for some reason they can't have their preferred glass? How often do you see someone's entire life ruined when a product is no longer manufactured, like a pair of shoes that have already been out of style for two decades but they have been buying the same pair over and over for the entirety of their adult lives? Gotta get that underwear from K-Mart.

People avoid pain; all sentient beings do. A different pair of underwear can be actually painful for an autistic person who also experiences pain at a higher intensity than the neurotypical individual does. All new experiences carry a risk of a horrible ordeal and so the autistic person will stay with the familiar, safe choice – preferably forever.

This is one of the reasons self-imposed rules are made. Lunch at the same time to avoid hunger pangs. Sheets of the same material to avoid terrible discomfort. The same store because it is a known environment less likely to produce an unpleasant new situation with which one cannot cope.

Rules are also made because of beliefs, a sense of fairness, based on what is right. I must always hold open the door for the next person, even if I end up being left behind. I must return the cart to the rack, even in a downpour. I must vote with my dollars and support Linux to oppose the monolithic monopolistic monarchy of Microsoft no matter the personal cost.

I will never be convinced that such a choice was not the correct one.

Meaningless Revolution

Even so, I have decided to rescind that rule. My rule, my choice; and I choose to "play the game that is on the table" with the hope that the next time a game is chosen, I get to help make that choice. It is very much like opposing the evils of capitalism and simultaneously maintaining a savings account. "Down with corporate greed and fuck the goddamn patriarchy," I say while depositing more money into my IRA. Maybe capitalism falls tomorrow and all of that money is instantly worthless. But, on the other hand, what if it doesn't? A man needs to eat and, hopefully, retire at some point. Strive for a better world but make sure you are living in the current one, too.

When my boy was young he was having difficulty negotiating the finer points of making friends and was lamenting that the other kids wouldn't play the game he wanted to play and so that's the advice I gave him then: play the game that is on the table. It is more important to develop the social connections than to get everything your way all the time. I'm sure his game would have been really fun and cool because my kids are really fun and cool, but it can be hard to get others to share your vision sometimes. Trust me, I know.

I have written many a note and email to developers of every size requesting a Linux version for titles I really, deeply desired. The answer has often been no. Or "use Proton". It's disheartening for a social justice warrior to lose every battle even when it seems like the tide of the war continues to turn in one's favor. The loss of morale is what breaks armies if you ask many a strategy game.

Proton, for the uninitiated, is WINE + money. WINE (WINE Is Not an Emulator) is a translation layer that converts Windows system calls to Linux system calls. Put simply, it allows you to run Windows software on Linux.

I've used the heck out of WINE. I had a modest collection of old Windows (and DOS) games when I made the switch and have "enjoyed" the process of getting things to work on Linux, watching them stop working, trying again, and so on… Proton does the things WINE does, but mostly for games and probably better. Valve, the company behind the Steam PC game store, has thrown a lot of support behind the WINE project and, more generally, Linux.

I was initially dead set against Steam due to their use of DRM (a rant for another day) but that was, again, a case where playing the game that was on the table was really the best option.

Copy protection of various forms has ever been a part of computer gaming and, without, that reassurance, the AAA titles would have never come to the Steam store. Simple as that. I don't like that aspect very much, but, again, it's the reality in which we currently live. I donate monthly to the Free Software Foundation with one hand and buy proprietary, DRM-restricted software with the other. And I'm okay with that. Now.


Valve, I have come to realize, has probably done more for gaming on Linux and maybe even Linux on the desktop than any other single entity outside of a distribution maintainer. It is a primary reason I am able to navigate the cognitive dissonance and support the company even though some of their decisions are questionable and some of their policies are just bad. Overall, I think they have been a positive force and you take what you can get when it comes to corporations. Another instance of choosing the lesser evil, with the election held at the cash register. Although in this case it seems like Valve might even edge towards "not evil" in a way that Google could realistically once claim.

The floodgates are now open, I guess. I don't have to sour grapes everything that looks good just because it has no Linux client. In fact, I once bragged about how Linux could run anything, including Windows in a window. It felt subversive to have these old proprietary titles fooled into thinking my Linux box was speaking to them in Micro$oft. Ha ha ha, look at that copy of Black & White running on my modern computer! Watch me play Diablo 2 and even connect to Battle.net like I was a Windows luser. Ha ha ha! Somewhere along the way I kinda lost that, I guess. I made my rule and hurt only myself. I'm pretty sure my $30 every other month spent on video games, none of which would go to Microsoft anyway, did not hurt the Redmond giant in the slightest.

A lot of soul-searching went into this decision, mind you. I've been mulling it over for months now. Indeed, the thought had crossed my mind over and again over several years when a game appeared that hit all the right buttons with me except for that one issue: Windows only. I even recently ended up on a Reddit thread where somebody asked the same question I was asking: Does anyone else buy exclusively Linux native titles?

There was, for Reddit, a brief discussion but the consensus was pretty clear. Of the twenty-ish responses at the time, I believe one, maybe two, said they did the same: Linux only. Almost everyone else had a different reply: I just buy the games I want to play.

Is it really that simple, I asked myself? Just buy games I want?

It feels like an abandoning of a principle, the loss of religion, the failure of faith. How can I just turn my back on eighteen years of dedicated, yet totally self-imposed, service to a guideline on my life that has dictated my gaming for almost half of my time on Earth?

Easy: I just stop.

That's the thing about autists and rules: they're your rules, you can just change them or abandon them any time you like. It can be scary to suddenly become unmoored from life without the rigor, but, trust me, freedom is good. I have hurt myself more than once by adhering to rules I set for myself. Not laws, not official government edicts, not vows or promises to another person, but simply a commandment from myself to myself that I could not, at the time, fathom undoing or altering or betraying. "It's… It's the rules!" I might protest, as if that explains everything.

But rules, as they say, are meant to be broken.