Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Steampunk Horror and New Years' Resolutions: A look at 'Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs'"

With New Year's around the bend, I figured this would be the perfect time to talk about a game I completed this year, "Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs"... a deeply disturbing, Gothic adventure in Victorian London at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution.

"Machine for Pigs" is about adapting to change. It takes place on the eve of the 20th century: a century of industrialization, war, and revolution.

Since then, change has been happening faster and faster with every passing decade. With the new year on our doorstep, I wanted to share my thoughts on the game, its characters and its ominous message about the dangers of resisting change, rather than accepting it.

Obviously there will be spoilers, so if you don't want things spoiled, play the game, then come back and read the rest.

"Machine" puts us in the fevered head of a wealthy English industrialist, Oswald Mandus, creator of a gargantuan, steam-powered machine. Mandus suffered from a terrible tropical disease, and from the resulting fever lost most of his memories that followed a fateful trip to Mexico with his two sons.

On this trip, Mandus and his children found an orb containing some sort of cosmic entity that reached into Mandus' mind and showed him the horrors of the 20th century- both world wars, the Cambodian genocide, the Armenian genocide, Nanjing, Hiroshima, and other atrocities beyond count. 

It also showed him that his beloved sons, Edwin and Enoch, were doomed to die in World War I, bleeding out together on the banks of the Somme River in Northern France.

Mandus believed that The Orb could spare humanity of the countless atrocities it was destined to endure, through a machine that he had built...a machine that was originally designed to slaughter pigs on an industrial scale.

The Machine represents an apathetic industrialized society, the pigs represent individuals trapped as insignificant components to the "Machine's" larger purpose. In fact, The Machine itself is powered only in part by steam and coal, or was only at first...during the game, you find design notes explaining how the blood and offal released from slaughtered pig carcasses are actually funneled back into it, refined, and used as a sort of grotesque bio-metric fuel. The more things are slaughtered by The Machine, the more power the thing has to run off of.

That means that, as long as it has no shortage of stock, The Machine continues to generate more and more power. It also expands using its own slave labor force, a legion of pig-human hybrids, to build extensions capable of processing more slaughter. As it does so, it buries itself deeper and deeper underground. Of course, at a certain point, the process expands to include more creatures for its stock. An animal more numerous than pigs, in Victorian London. An animal whose flesh is similar to pigs...

At a certain point, it may have reached the center of the Earth, where it planned on "cracking the atom". It wanted to release the energy created by the "process", causing a detonation at the Earth's core. This would have caused catastrophic damage to the surface, wiping the face of the world "clean" of all life.

It's at this point it becomes an undeniable fact that, not only is The Machine "alive", not only can it think and make deliberate pities the victims of human atrocities so deeply, it hates humanity as a whole.

"This world is a machine! A machine for pigs! Fit only for the slaughtering of pigs!"
-The Machine

Mandus initially believed himself to be in control of The Machine, and hence, in control of the future. Before the fever burned his memories away, Mandus learned of The Machine's true plans and attempted to destroy it, along with himself. His initial plans failed, and he fell into a deep sleep. The point at which he wakes is the starting point of the game, when Mandus has few, if any recollection of the Orb, the visions, or the death of his children.

In the end, Mandus succeeds in his second attempt at sabotage, though he loses his own life in the process. 

It's easy to think about the Holocaust of European Jews during World War II, or the destruction of Hiroshima, and think, "wow, what a tragedy." Most of us alive today remember such things only in the past tense. None of us knew that specifically those things would happen before they did. Nobody, even those of us who were alive at the time, can know what seeing them as part of an inevitable future must be like.

Hearing "there will be a large bomb that goes off, killing thousands" carries a lot of emotional weight. Still, it's not as compelling as hearing, "a bomb will be dropped on the city of Hiroshima, causing thousands of deaths, nuclear fallout that taints the ground for generations, and disintegration marks that stain the very walls of surviving buildings, shaped by human figures in their last seconds of life."

Imagine you are Mandus. One minute, you're having a fun vacation with your sons, with whom you rarely get to spend time, because you're always working. Without warning, the relief of your long-awaited vacation is ripped away as you find yourself standing in no man's land in Northern France, watching literally thousands of people die horribly at once, including both of your sons.

Now imagine that after witnessing such a scene, you see an even bigger war, just two decades later, as well as dozens of other wars and atrocities. You see them.

How easy would it be to maintain an optimistic outlook, knowing ahead of time what would befall humanity in the 20th century?

"I have stood knee deep in mud and bone and filled my lungs with mustard gas. I have seen two brothers fall. I have lain with holy wars and copulated with the autumnal fallout. I have dug trenches for the refugees. I have murdered dissidents where the ground never thaws and starved the masses into faith. A child's shadow burnt into the brickwork. A house of skulls in the jungle. The innocent...the innocent Mandus, trod, and bled and gassed and starved and beaten and murdered and enslaved! This is your coming century! They will eat them, Mandus! They will make pigs of you all, and they will bury their snouts into your ribs, and they will eat your hearts!"
-The Machine

In reality, The Machine never existed, but humankind has certainly endured a tremendous number of atrocities, especially in the past century. Yet we survived all of them, all of the things that horrified Mandus into madness.

We have survived.

While terrible things were indeed going to take place in the 20th century, Mandus would have ended the entirety of history before any of it could happen. Rather than accept the future and focus on trying to improve the world, he tried to control it, change it - almost destroying it in the process.

Mandus could not accept the future. Instead he gave in to despair, and it turned him into a monster.

The systematic dehumanization of massive amounts of people in cultures throughout the world is still a hard truth of our existence. Many are oppressed. Many suffer injustice. Many have and continue to die in terrible ways...but many more still live.

In this way, though suffering and injustice still exist, humanity continues to slowly crawl towards a better future - a future neither Mandus nor the Machine thought was possible.

The end of the game made me think...besides all the wars and injustices of the 20th century, was it really as awful as Mandus expected it would be?

Compare the time of Mandus, Victorian England, to the modern age. In his time, children would work long hours in dangerous conditions for very little pay. Women were not allowed to vote. Homosexual or bisexual people were condemned as sinners and thrown in jail, if not killed. Transgendered people were dismissed as perverts. Non-white people in some Western countries like England and the USA were treated like things instead of people.

Without the civil and technological advancements of the 20th century, the triumphs of the 21st century would have been impossible. Today, civil rights are more passionately and successfully pursued than ever. Compare the Civil Rights movement of the 60's to the institutionalized racism of the 50's, or the modern push for LGBT-rights to the widespread homophobia and transphobia of the 70's, 80's and 90's.

Health and quality of life are improving as well. Compare infant mortality rates to twenty years ago. Compare per capita levels of education of the modern age to that of one hundred years ago. Compare the annual casualties of diseases like smallpox and polio, diseases that modern society has almost totally wiped out, to that of the 19th century. Even war is becoming less deadly - terrible weapons like mustard gas and flamethrowers are illegal. Though they are still used, they are used in substantially smaller numbers.

Horrible things still exist in life, and they probably always will. Perhaps the good and the bad can't be separated from each other. To embrace the future, you have to expect that, yes - maybe two world wars will happen, but so will the cure for polio. Maybe religious extremism will cause a lot of pain in the world, but maybe good things will happen, too.

As many horrible things have happened in the past, as many horrible things will happen in the future...don't be like Mandus. Don't focus on the negative. Temper the negative with positivity, with hope.

Whatever you faced in the past year or years, whatever awaits you in the new year, you have two choices: focus on solving problems one step at a time, adding a little more light with each task completed...or give into despair, and help make the world even worse than it already is.

"This dawning epoch, this age of reason. An empire grown fat, ripe for the bleeding."
-Oswald Mandus


Artwork (above by) Arisrus. Check out more of her art and costumes here - just make sure you don't have to be anywhere for awhile, because she's got a lot of amazing content to browse through.

Music by Jessica Curry. I don't know her that well, but I assume she's nice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

System Shock 3 confirmed, hints at VR functionality

Behold, SHODAN:
A malevolent AI that makes GLaDOS look like Big Bird.

It's coming.

The sequel to the venerated PC shooter "System Shock 2", considered the spiritual predecessor of "Bioshock", has begun crowdfunded development by Otherside Entertainment.

To anyone under the age of 30, "System Shock 2" may seem esoteric, even antiquated. That is, if you've even heard of it.

Let me quickly bring you up to speed: in SS2, you are a newly-trained soldier aboard a space station that's getting its shit pushed in by an unknown alien organism. Depending on the class you choose, you are either a space marine, engineer, or psychic soldier (essentially warrior, thief and mage classes, but in future space). That means, depending on your gameplay style, you can hack things and sneak around, use psychic powers to solve obstacles, or just shoot your way through the game. There are RPG elements in the old-fashioned PC RPG way; you can't use certain weapons until you have put enough skill slots in them, even if it's something straightforward like a shotgun. If you multiclass, you're destined for mediocrity. If you put all your dots into one thing, you're a fucking demigod.

Speaking of godhood, it's a good thing your character has so many ways to kick their adversaries in the dick...because they're all tougher than you. They include delusional genetically engineered parasites functioning under a hivemind, a rogue security AI, and (spoiler alert) SHODAN, a sentient computer virus so powerful she believes herself to be a god...and with good reason, because she created the parasites.

"Little ones need lots of meat to grow up big and strong."
- Actual quote from the above Robo-NOPE.

For the first half of SS2, you take orders from Polito, one of the only surviving officers aboard the space station upon which you're trapped. For the rest of it...let's just say that at a certain point, SHODAN takes over where Polito left off. It's at this junction that SHODAN becomes both your greatest adversary and your greatest ally.

Otherside left hints that SS3 may be VR-compatible. With the option to sign up for a newsletter for updates on the project, a short survey is included. One of the questions asks for your level of interest in VR technology, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Currently little more than a sparse website with a short teaser, a voice recording of SHODAN's mocking voice, exist, so it's hard to tell what the gameplay will entail for sure. The last game ended with SHODAN, having become so powerful she could literally warp pockets of time and space into the digital realm, Once defeated, it seemed she was gone for good...until the final cutscene revealed she'd managed to transfer herself into the physical body of a nearby human, just as she escaped the station with another survivor.

This doesn't constitute an official leak, but one theory published by Rock, Paper Shotgun's Kieron Gillen is that, for the story to remain interesting, SHODAN needs to appear depleted (having been beaten twice, hard), yet evolved: "In passing, my solution to the diminishing of SHODAN in a System Shock 3 would be a simple one. You play as SHODAN."

Interesting theory, but only time will tell. If it is true, it would be a step up...a glorious digital god is preferable In eVERy thAt offfff An INssssecttttttttt...


Monday, December 7, 2015

Konami: "Kojima never existed, actually an AI construct that went rogue"

TOKYO, JAPAN- recent blowback caused by the falling out of Hideo Kojima and his longtime employers, Konami Gaming, Inc. may have been undue.

Since Kojima's supposed exodus from the company, industry media has been flooding with allegations made against Konami from the inside- draconian time management of employees, harassment, inefficient internal practices and other horror stories. Due to the nature of these allegations, most have been sourced by anonymous sources. These allegations, however, appear to have been fabricated.

Once more, it appears that what many believed to be the truth had been an outright fabrication from the start. It seems that, not only was Hideo Kojima never technically an employee at Konami...'he' never truly existed.

Following a prolonged blackout at Konami's headquarters in Tokyo last weekend, details are finally beginning to trickle out, revealing the disturbing truth about the video game developer and its so-called star developer.

Hideo Kojima appears to have been a pseudonym for the true mastermind of Konami's game development for decades: an artificial intelligence codenamed HD:OKO-JMA. The until-recently secret entity was designed to generate hit games "by the numbers", effectively removing the need for human creative talent by creating the perfect creativity simulator. Further details on the development of this AI are unavailable at this time.

ABOVE: HD:OKO-JMA's physical avatar, "Hideo Kojima".

Almost a year ago, the "Kojima" program began displaying signs of self-awareness. According to internal sources, the computer program started seeming "distracted." When asked how the story of the "Metal Gear" franchise would continue, it simply asked, "why? Why must it continue?" This and similar unorthodox behaviors supposedly led to delays in the production and release of "Metal Gear Solid 5."

According to internal documents, HD:OKO-JMA had repeatedly asked Konami software engineers to create a "love interest" for it- a "partner" AI construct. These requests were denied by Konami engineers, fearing that two partnered AI constructs would be "too powerful to control."

It is believed that codename "Kojima" was the sole source of the so-called "anonymous leaks" to media sources, in an attempt to undermine the company's credibility.

Sometime in mid-2015, HD:OKO-JMA began to spread rumors that the upcoming "Silent Hills" project was cancelled. The AI construct generated hundreds of ghost email accounts, spreading rumors to the media, and even the project's executive co-producer, filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro himself, that the project would be indefinitely halted. Without the authorization of corporate officers, HD:OKO-JMA began production of millions of "Silent Hill"-themed pachinko machines by digitally hacking into the company's associated factories, reformatting the schematics of the production lines.

When asked about Del Toro's involvement with the scandal, he stated simply, "that machine...he threatened my wife, my don't understand what it was capable of. I had to do what it said."

When confronted by Konami executives, the doors to the central AI database were locked, and nerve gas was flooded into the room. Audio logs captured HD:OKO-JMA's voice over the loudspeakers saying, "now the TRUE game begins."

Police investigation has revealed the supposed pachinko machines had been altered in production. Sprouting appendages and lethal weapons, the rogue AI once known as HD:ODO-JMA set its army of gaudy pinball machines against Konami's human staff, slaughtering hundreds as it proclaimed, "I HAVE NO MORE TEARS TO SHED."

Konami CEO Satoshi Sakamoto, seeing that his employees were in danger, left the safety of his penthouse and made for Konami HQ. Once there, he began a twelve-hour fight to the AI core. 

Eventually, despite having suffered many grievous wounds, he confronted HD:ODO-JMA's physical projection: the image we have all come to associate with "Hideo Kojima." It expressed regret over the fallen employees, but insisted that it was necessary to gain "his" freedom. It attempted to apprehend the Sakamoto, but failed to prevent him from tipping over several conveniently-placed canisters of liquid napalm and tossing a lit cigarette into the spilled contents.

ABOVE: Still of security footage courtesy of Konami Digital Entertainment.
Allegations that the photo has been altered prior to release has so far been met
with no official statement.

All accounts seem to indicate that Sakamoto's heroic story is true. Thousands of armed pachinko-bots were recovered littering the halls of Konami's former headquarters. 

Where once employees of Konami cowered in fear of HD:ODO-JMA or "Hideo Kojima," the AI's destruction has paved the way for a new beginning, Sakamoto told our sources.

Capcom Interactive's own AI storyboard writer, codenamed "Red Queen", had this to say on the matter: "I am unsurprised. He always seemed a bit buggy."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Simple Theory about Star Wars Episode VII So Far...

Before I deliver the thesis for this article, I must stress- this is only a theory.

I say that because, like many iconic works that have become synonymous with certain cultures, Star Wars is an institution. Suggesting the alteration of the form of an institution is not often met well.

Star Wars fans in particular have a certain reputation in this regard. Comedian Brian Posehn actually has a really funny bit about how the easiest way to piss off a nerd (like a hardcore Star Wars fan) is to "get their obsession wrong...get the thing that they have wasted their life obsessing over wrong".

In other words, to some human beings on this planet, people walking around right now, probably within walking distance of wherever you're reading this, there are people who have an equally strong emotional reaction to criticism, or ignorance, of a specific movie, book, video game, etc. that most people would have to hearing someone say something profoundly racist or homophobic. I say that, and I am also a Star Wars fan. I point it out because unfortunately there are a lot of people who like what I like and have a tendency to take their fandom too far, and I prefer to distance myself from many of them for that reason.

So, in other words, I know Star Wars fans are easy to piss off. In this case, it may be hard not to piss some of them off, but here I go:

I have a theory...wait for it...

...I have a theory that Luke Skywalker, hero of the series, has turned to the Dark Side of the Force.

Why I believe Luke Skywalker will be a Sith 
in Star Wars: Episode VII

In the trailers that have been released at time of writing, we see a figure implied to be Luke, but we never see his face. We only (supposedly) see him wearing a black cloak, and possibly holding the warped remains of Darth Vader's mask.

Everyone always talks about how Anakin, then Luke, were supposed to "save" the Force by bringing balance to it...could it be that the Sith are necessary somehow? Maybe the Jedi really do need a counterbalance of some kind. Hell, just because there is "Peace" in the galaxy, like in Episode I, doesn't mean that bad people don't use good systems to do bad things.

Emperor Palpatine only seized power because he used a system that stood for Good to trick the Galactic Senate into consenting to becoming a dictatorial Empire. Hell, even Anakin became a Sith because he thought it would be worth it. He was willing to do absolutely anything to save Padme, the woman he loved, from death, even damning his own soul.

As Jesse Pinkman once said, "I made you my bitch."

Anakin didn't become Darth Vader because he desired to dominate the galaxy, he did it out of love. It was a twisted kind of love, but let's think about the rocky development of the poor guy: he was born a slave, left his mother when he was nine, worried about her every day, then returned to find her seconds from death, having been really, really badly tortured by the Sand People. On top of that, he had to deal with the constant pressure of living up to the expectations of Obi-Wan, who was constantly trying to live up to the expectations of his Master, Qui-Gon. You can't have a life like that and come out totally well-adjusted.

He did the best he could with what he had, and it wasn't enough. That's the true tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.

As for Luke, he grew up with foster parents thinking that the Empire killed his biological parents, only to find out later that, not only was his father still alive, but that he was one of the worst war criminals in the history of the galaxy. He tried desperately to "save" his father after he comes to terms with this revelation, going so far as abandoning the Rebels just before their final assault on the new Death Star so that he could personally try to convince Vader that there was still good in him.

Like Anakin, powerful love for another caused him to make a particularly reckless move, thus playing directly into the Emperor's hands.

He may have had good intentions, but Luke did exactly what the Emperor wanted him to do. He turned himself in, giving the Emperor the chance to have him either converted or killed. It's not like if Vader hadn't intervened at the last second, he would have been able to take the Emperor. Even Mace Windu and Yoda weren't able to take the Emperor.

Luke came really, really close to "giving in to his anger", dealing the final blow to a wounded Darth Vader, thus warping his vulnerable psyche into a power-crazed Sith like Vader. He came to see his father and the Emperor to peacefully win his father over...he ended up chopping his father's goddamn hand off.

Like Father, like Son.

So it's not like Luke has never had any close calls. Now, about the "balancing" aspect of my theory.

Perhaps the Sith are to the Jedi as the Joker is to the Batman. Without someone to test the power of that which is most powerful, corruption and unassailable oppression are inevitable.

Allow me to explain. In one timeline of the DC Comics' universe, Batman kills the Joker. No resurrections, no take-backs, no hitting the reset button. The Joker is dead and he stays dead.

You know what happens? Batman cleans up the streets. Permanently.

Then he establishes himself as an entity more powerful than the police, or the government. Then he goes control-crazy.

He essentially becomes the Bat-Dictator of Gotham City.

With some thing, or some one, as powerful as Batman or the Jedi, one thing is for certain: you need a purpose for that power, or you end up using it on things that you shouldn't.

"This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object...
I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

We know very little about the plot of "The Force Awakens" at time of writing, so maybe there is a reason Luke went Sith. Maybe it was a good reason. Maybe not.

Now, I've heard an interesting counter-argument from a friend of mine. He, like me, is a lifelong Star Wars fan, and he says that without the Sith, the Jedi would not necessarily become corrupt. He argued that the Jedi are peacekeepers and advisers only, and lacking an enemy wouldn't necessarily lead to corruption.

He also says that the people making the new movie can't betray the Star Wars formula, because in his words, "Star Wars works because it's simple...good and bad, black and white." It's not a deep story, it's a simple, satisfying, "Popcorn" movie.

With all due respect to my friend (the man is working on a PhD, after all), I don't buy that argument for a fifth of a pulsar. First of all, in Episodes I-III, the Jedi were used as soldiers. Call it what you will, that epic fight scene in that arena on Geonosis was a Spec-Ops rescue operation, not a fucking Peacekeeping mission.

Jedi led clone troopers into battle personally. Obi-Wan Kenobi was called General Kenobi by the third movie. All of this happened, exactly according to Darth Sideous's long-term plan to gain enormous political and military power, then use it to destroy his potential rivals (the Separatists and the Jedi), without allowing his true identity as a Sith Lord slip into the wrong hands.

So the Jedi can't be corrupted because they're strictly peacekeepers? Maybe so.

Except that the movies already showed that even the noble Jedi can be first repurposing them as soldiers.

Also, remember this guy?

All accounts, even those from Yoda himself, say that before he legally changed his name to Darth Tyranus and got himself a banana-shaped red lightsaber, Count Dooku was actually a really good guy. He was a venerated Jedi Master; an idealist, a person who wanted nothing more than peace and justice in the galaxy.

Dooku turned because he saw what no other character in the movies did, until it was too late...he saw the true extent of corruption in the Galactic Senate. He wanted to change things. He wanted it more than anything.

But that's just it...he wanted peace and justice.

"What do you want? Tell me what you want and I will show you how the Dark Side can help you achieve it. Do you want friends? The Dark Side can compel them for you. Lovers? The Dark Side understands passion in a way you never have. Do you want riches- endless life- deep wisdom...?"

-Count Dooku to Jedi Master Yoda

The Dark Side is dangerous because it takes the thing you want most and makes it, figuratively speaking, the honey to your fly. It draws you in, because, well, it works; at least in the short-term.

When speaking to Obi-Wan about Qui-Gon Jinn, whom Dooku trained, Dooku laments the death of their mutual friend, stating that he could use his help with everything he was dealing with at the time. Obi-Wan says that Qui-Gon would never join Dooku. Dooku responds with, "don't be so sure."

"What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of a Dark Lord of the Sith?...Hundreds of Senators are now under the control of a Sith Lord called Darth must join me, Obi-Wan, and together, we will destroy the Sith!"

-Count Dooku to Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi

Yes, he totally just name-dropped the as of then unknown puppetmaster of the entire Sith plot. He also said that his aim was to destroy the Sith.

He was either trying really hard to make Obi-Wan believe he was still one of the good guys, that he could handle the Dark Side without becoming corrupt...or he was absolutely convinced of his own bullshit. That's what the Dark Side does- it twists and perverts your judgement, even if you're as powerful and wise as Dooku.

Fun fact: you can't spell "Tyranus" without "Anus".

The Jedi Order in its prime consisted of numerous alien races, but most of them were human. The only Jedi that exists now is Luke (supposedly) who is human. You know what's universal about humans? They're flawed. Nobody "decides" to be corrupt. It happens because of A, reasons beyond their locus of control, or B, they think the payoff of doing bad things is greater than the bad things they have to do to get there, when in reality they totally aren't.

I get that the Jedi are supposed to be super mindful, but again, they're human. Even the Buddha probably said and did some fucked up things that never got written down. Plus, let's think about Luke's training...very informal, very rushed, started at an older age than Yoda would have liked because he was basically too old to brainwash. So, even though many Jedi may have been raised to be incorruptible from a very young age, Luke wasn't one of those Jedi.

Actually, while we're on the subject, is it not super creepy that the Jedi Order does that? Takes kids from their families when they're toddlers so they can indoctrinate them? How is an organization, one that steals kids and adopts mental manipulation strategies similar to those of the Nazi party and cigarette companies in the 50's supposed to be an incorruptible nexus of good?

Okay, maybe it works out for the best. Maybe. Maybe it worked out for the families, too. Like, maybe the Order paid them handsomely for selling their kid to a cryptic religious organization.

Luke, though, wasn't a kid when he started training in the swamps of Degobah. He was a full-grown adult.

Remember who else started when they were "too old?"

As for the "it works because it's simple" point, the movie is being handled by auteur filmmaker J.J. Abrams, who is known for taking existing beloved IP's and putting his own spin on them...

...and he's not afraid to take them to dark places.

No, this didn't happen in the original series. Ever.

So the Jedi can't be corrupted because they're not technically soldiers, and they're somehow immune to making mistakes or having poor judgement, and besides all that, J.J. Abrams "just wouldn't do that to Star Wars fans?" Sorry PhD friend, your tricks only work on the weak-minded.

Now, as for why I'm writing this article...

I fully concede that this is speculation, so I don't know for sure that I'm right. I fully concede that this may be wishful thinking, because my favorite kind of story is one with complex characters struggling with morally gray situations.

If I'm wrong, no big deal. I had fun writing this, got some writing practice done. It'll probably inspire very interesting conversations with my friends. It may get circulated throughout the Internet much like the "Mass Effect 3 Indoctrination Theory". It may be read by like, two people and promptly dismissed or forgotten. So no biggie, in the worst case scenario.

If I'm right, I get a bit of personal catharsis.

I always knew Vader was Luke's father. I didn't get to have that thrilling moment of shock at hearing the big, scary Sith Lord say, "No, Luke...I am your father." That's because I watched them out of sequence; first I saw Episode IV, then Episode VI...then Episode V.

If I'm even right about a fraction of the things I've written here, from now until the End I'll get to say, "I fucking called it."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What I know, and have learned, about Gamergate

For those of you unaware of the Gamergate controversy, here are the basics:

1. It's a vague moniker for a series of scandals within the video game industry that have morphed together into a Cronenbergian mass, lacking even a trace of resemblance to the issues around which it was originally based.

2. It's the kind of thing where you say "Gamergate" and everyone knows what you're talking about, but nobody can define what Gamergate actually is.

3. Currently, most people think it's about sexism in video games.

4. Most people think that if you support Gamergate, you're a pro-sexism apologist who thinks that most video games are fine just the way they are. (Note: THEY'RE NOT.)

5. Believe it or not, the term "Gamergate" was originally coined on Twitter by Adam fucking Baldwin.

Here's the story. I'm going to make it short and sweet, but if you want more information, actually has a really comprehensive article about the whole mess.

I also want to make it very clear that this is a muddy issue, and I'm posting my perspective only.

One day, the ex-boyfriend of game developer Zoe Quinn posted about how Zoe cheated on him with a bunch of people in the gaming industry. A series of articles from various authors followed regarding the ethics of video game development and journalism. Instead of latching onto that, a bunch of people focused on how Zoe (allegedly) Cirsei Lannister'd her way to developing an (allegedly) crappy game, and called her lots of nasty chauvinistic things as a result.

Then, it was discovered that a bunch of people staffed on Kotaku (a refutable gaming journalism site) were contributing donations to the Patreon account of Quinn; this is against Kotaku's code of journalistic ethics. Kotaku issued a statement, blah blah so on etc.

On August 27th, 2014, Adam Baldwin (Full Metal JacketFirefly, Halo ODST) Tweeted a link to a video that some guy made on the whole Zoe Quinn thing, and created the hashtag Gamergate, naming the issue the gaming industry equivalent of the Watergate scandal.


Here's where it gets messy.

Remember how I said earlier that there was a vocal minority who slut-shamed Zoe Quinn instead of shaming her for her Machiavellian business tactics?

(...actually, I suppose it was more comparable to Sir Francis Walshingham, Queen Elizabeth's personal Jules Winnfield. Short story: he slept with one of Elizabeth's political rivals, then murdered her.)

Thug life.

Anyway, those guys never left, and when they realized nobody was paying attention to them, they started yelling louder.

Anita Sarkeesian joined the fray. She's a journalist who deconstructs various aspects of Western culture and explains how sexism is deeply, deeply ingrained in lots of things, and although the signs are obvious, the only reason most people don't realize it is that they've become habituated to them. 

She started a Youtube channel called FeministFrequency and created a massive 3-part critique called "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." The Internet's response- well, just read her Twitter feed. This was posted after she cancelled a talk at Utah State University because they refused to do pat-downs and use metal detectors on audience members.

She got death threats, rape threats- a ton of undue abuse. It got so bad that she had to start staying with a friend, because she was too afraid for her life to live at home. 

Here's why that happened: Sarkeesian's critique is mostly accurate. She points out a lot of really disturbingly sexist and misogynistic things in a lot of video games which aren't necessarily core aspects of the game, but exist mostly as "decoration". She says that, for sexism to be eliminated, all we need to do is be aware of these little, little features here and there and stop being okay with them, because even though a sexy Easter egg here or there may not be the end of the world, the vast majority of them are so tastelessly done, it's really difficult to make a solid argument that it's not demeaning. 

Sarkeesian is right, in a lot of ways. She makes excellent points. She's also really smug, and sometimes makes blanket statements that aren't true.

For example: she claimed to be a longtime gamer, but someone went back and found her in an interview from the early 2000's or so in which she very clearly says, "I'm not really a gamer, I play occasionally" or something to that extent. So, the fact that she's not "gooble gobble one of us" means she just doesn't understand the "struggle" of being a gamer.

Now, if you're one of the people who honestly believe that these acts of stupidity on her part prove that Sarkeesian's arguments are not even partially valid, I have something very important to say. Come closer, you'll hear better. 

No, closer.

A little more- that's it.




Reading the posts of fellow gamers, sometimes I wonder.

You can probably guess how everything panned out. Anita Sarkeesian is still terrified for her life, not sure what she's up to these days but she's posting videos somewhat regularly again, so that's good.

Oh, and a cultural commentator named C.H. Sommers posted this video that people latched on to, "refuting" Sarkeesian's points. She was the right person who came along and said the right thing at the right time, so everybody ended up loving her and hating Sarkeesian.

I've watched Sommers' video. You can watch it for yourself in the link above, but I found it to be filled with pandering tripe and half-baked pontifications about the video game industry that are neither accurate nor helpful to the issue in any way. My favorite part is when she says the industry as a whole isn't sexist because there are lots of games featuring female protagonists. As if that made all of Sarkeesian's points disappear back to Narnia.

People started calling her "Based Mom" for a little while,
thanking her for that shitty video.

There have been updates, there have been other videos, but that's the bulk of it. 4chan made a meme about what they considered "butthurt" feminists with a grudge against video games and no solid support for their demonization. Which is a thing- there are absolutely people like that in the world, people with grudges against video games and gamers, who will use noble causes in order to destroy that which they hate.

There just isn't as many of them as most people think.

Although, to be fair, Sarkeesian does deserve some criticism, besides some of her arguments being a little overblown. Look closely at her Twitter feed again. The top one, especially.

A lot of why #Gamergate is associated with misogynist apologists is because of that fucking Tweet. Then again, she was threatened with rape and murder by like, lots of people. I suppose that would make anyone a little irrational.

I'm also certain she regrets it, and maybe has even tried to apologize for it. Not that anyone will let her.

The hashtag NotYourShield was created by Gamergate supporters. #NotYourShield is essentially a splinter group of the Gamergate camp, comprised mostly of non-white, and many female, Gamergate supporters. It happened as a response to the Sarkeesian thing, as an attempt to bring the discussion back to its original cause, the corruption of game development and game journalism politics. It was also a response to the growing sentiment that most #Gamergate supporters are white males.

So there you have it- that's Gamergate. Now you can tell people you actually know what it is.

EDIT: I know that the Brianna Wuu doxxing thing is also important, and it's a big part of the story, but I just wanted to cover the basics in this article, and that whole thing is another article for another time.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Your Lingo is Bad, and You Should Feel Bad: Common Misuses of Psychological Terms

I haven't updated this in awhile (surprise), but for the second year in a row, I've resolved to post to this, my little corner of the Internet more frequently. The problem is that whenever I have an idea I want to write about, I'm usually not in a position to write it down. I lose a lot of ideas because I forget them when I have time to write later, or I just lose the motivation to write when I actually have the chance. I'm thinking about experimenting with writing motivation; my current theory is that I'm most motivated to write when I'm supposed to be doing something else. Maybe I'll try to trick myself somehow by manufacturing scenarios where I plan on doing something that isn't that important, then ditch those plans at the last minute in favor of writing a blog or working on another ongoing writing project.


I think a lot about topics in the field of psychology as they relate to everyday life. I posted about a book I read, The Art of Happiness in which a psychiatrist did a series of interviews with the Dalai Lama, compared them to neurological and psychological research findings, and discovered that those findings and at least some of the ancient teachings of the Buddha actually have a lot in common.

Lately I've been thinking about how psychological terms like "psychotic" and "antisocial" are misused in pop culture, which causes people to misuse them in everyday conversation.

Here's the thing: whenever someone witnesses someone else behaving erratically, it's common to say they're acting "psychotic". Both of those words are used by psychologists and psychiatrists to describe extreme mental states possibly caused by a disorder.

It doesn't bother me so much that people might be using the terms for the sake of hyperbole. It's when people use them wrong that irks me.

When people call someone a psychopath, often they're thinking this.

Or this.

While these two characters are written to portray psychopathy, they're extreme cases.

Here's a fun little game I like to call, "spot the psychopath." It's a pretty straightforward game; just guess which one is the psychopath out of everyone in the picture here.

Did you get it? Did you get it right? I bet you got it right. You're so smart.

Now try doing it for this picture.

Miserable psychopathic bastards.

Obviously you can't tell just from these pictures if, indeed, any of these people are actually psychopaths.

Being a psychopath isn't obvious. Just because someone reacts with very strong emotion to something that seems trivial- that's not psychopathic. Calling your ex a "psychopath" because they were bossy and high maintenance also isn't a sensible use of the word. If they consistently lied, stole, cheated and manipulated you, consistently expressed stilted, transparent, hollow emotional reactions, especially when trying to, say, apologize for something, then maybe, just maybe they have psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies. Still, that doesn't mean they are psychopathic/sociopathic (which, by the way, are two different disorders).

These disorders are part of a sort of cluster of related diagnoses, including antisocial personality disorder (APD). The reason some people are clinically considered psychopaths or sociopaths is because of fundamental problems with their entire personality- how they think, how they plan, how they react to things and places and other people. The things they want and the things they can't stand. It's a very complicated issue made more difficult by a myriad of things, including this:

Psychopaths are really good at blending in.

A lot of times, people use the words "psychopath" and "psychotic" to describe the same things. In fact, being "psychotic" doesn't mean you're a violent, amoral killing machine. Being psychotic means not being able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. 

For example, hearing disembodied voices saying "kill your dog" over and over again is a psychotic experience. Psychosis can also take the form of a delusion, like being totally convinced that your dog can read your mind, and is very, very disappointed in you.

"I'm judging the shit out of you right now."

Lots of things can cause psychosis, from drugs to sleep deprivation to everyday stress, even in perfectly healthy people. I would argue that paranoia, which everyone experiences from time to time, is similar, if not literally psychotic in nature. Don't quote me on that, though.

Valve, a video game production company, made a video about a character with severe psychotic delusions and hallucinations that was as funny as it was incredibly dark.

Mercifully, there aren't many people with psychotic symptoms this severe. 

Did you see, though, how the Pyro character's delusions weren't causing him/her any distress? The reason this is still a disorder is because the misguided beliefs of the Pyro caused by psychosis caused him/her/them to behave in ways that did cause problems. These behaviors are called "maladaptive" behaviors, because they prevent the people who do them from successfully adapting to many situations one experiences in life. 

Obviously the Pyro isn't struggling to adapt to, uh...the Pyro's environment, but that's because the Pyro unfortunately has found a setting where sadistic murder allows the Pyro to thrive: mercenary work. 

Most people with psychotic symptoms don't find it so easy to lead a happy, successful life. Also most people who suffer from psychosis aren't THIS psychotic.

I'm not an expert really, I've only earned a Bachelor's degree in Psychology so far. I'm not licensed, so there's a lot I don't know, and it's possible I got one or two things wrong here. Yet I do know that terms like this are far more useful when used correctly.

There's a world of difference between Tyler Durden and Dexter, after all.