Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fitted hat day

"- whose custom it was
To take a daily stroll dressed
In silk gowns like a fashionable lady.
In this he failed. Miserably."

Rasputina - Utopian Society

Once upon a time I sold a funny hat to another player in Team Fortress 2 for fifty dollars. Not that I'd recommend it as an income opportunity (and I dumped the money back into Steam soon enough... think it's what paid for my copy of Skyrim) but when I saw the prices people were paying for such status symbols I was compelled to verify their marketability. And we are talking about pure status symbols, make no mistake. It's not like it was Oddjob's bowler hat from Goldfinger or shot laser-beams or summoned chupacabras or anything. It was a purely cosmetic item. Inasmuch as TF2 lacks environmental hazards, it didn't even keep your head warm.

And someone paid fifty bucks for that piece of shit. Piece of  -imaginary- shit! Skyrim goes for what, about $40? How many pieces of headgear does Skyrim include? How many hours of entertainment can $50 buy you during a GoG sale? Entire series of classic games go for less. Sir, You Are Being Hunted rates $20 and look! Funny hats!

Nor am I immune to such stupidity by any means. My LotRO character owns a cloak of the mountain wolves, plus a dwarf property guard and I forget what other cosmetic doodad bought in a moment of weakness. About ten dollars all told for a stumpy axeholder and a... a... ok, I can't say anything bad about the cloak, I love the cloak

Look, it's got wolves!

... but if you asked me now, I wouldn't pay $3 for it or however much it cost in amusement park money. Heap big buyer's remorse. In other games it's alternate character skins or a novelty horn sounding the "ride of the valkyries" for my airship in Planetside 2. I don't even have a peer group over which to lord this pixelated junk, and I'm still falling for it. Our idiotic species is so dependent on social domination that even sour old misanthropes like me will, in fits of madness, pay through the nose for sumptuary lawfulness.

So I won't waste any more time trying to demonstrate that microtransactions have completely taken over online games. Assume the scam works.

Developers (and their ass-kissing clientele) will often self-justify by claiming to restrict themselves to cosmetics, and not selling competitive edges. Most of the time you'll find they're still selling "quality of life" automation for in-game chores, which still amounts to a paid advantage. Nonetheless, that talk must be talked. Legitimized cheating has got to go. However, regardless of whether it's filled with weapons or funny hats, the cash store still hurts games.

Last year I voiced some reticence vis-a-vis Shroud of the Avatar and its on/off-line gameplay compromise. A couple of days ago I tried giving it a second look and was immediately put off instead by faceplanting right in its cash shop. Hundreds upon hundreds of items ranging up in price to hundreds upon hundreds of dollars attempt to tempt intemperate empty heads. And this, mind you, is for a game that's not even officially "out" yet but in "early access" whatever that means in the age of years-long open beta tests. What exactly am I supposed to be buying here? The right to buy more in-game items? When you don't even have a game yet?

The Secret World was revamped this summer in hopes of dragging players back into the endless mindless grindfest... by resetting the dials on the treadmill and making them run the grind all over again. In fact, the new version has even less content than the old. Plus, TSW Legends was hilariously bugged and managed somehow to dumb down an already broken skill system.
About the only thing that increased was the number of cosmetic items in TSW's cash shop.
Sure there's nothing to do but farm the same precisely scripted mission hundreds of times over, but at least you'll be doing that nothing while wearing a fitted hat in the color of your choice. About 30 U.S. cents a piece by my estimate. Oh, there's one for every occasion, collect them all!

TSW has more (gameplay) issues than it has (storyline) issues, from half-assed PvP and raid systems to a tortured skill system uninteresting for either PvP or PvE, to balance and la-a-ag and more bugs than an ant farm - some of which have gone unaddressed since its 2011 launch. Yet instead of improving or even fixing their product, Funcom has sunk year after year of their customers' subscription money into lengthening timesinks and adding more items to the cash shop. And of course the more you're invested in that racket, the less and less of actual product you create or have to offer. When you give any money to an online game developer these days, this is what you're funding: funny hats. And at a hundred dollars per toy house on the internets prairie, them's some freakin' macro microtransactions.

I mean, Shroud of the Avatar's system might be even funnier if I'm reading it correctly, as it seems cash shop purchases are only necessary for the online half of the game. So you're not even paying to see that item on your character. You're paying for the explicit privilege of showing off that item in public? How much of a diva can you possibly be?

Either way, the financial incentive for companies to continue churning out meaningless status symbols as "content" completely undermines the necessary focus on the game underneath that fluff. Not that it's entirely surprising. As I remarked a couple of years ago, most developers are not in the business of creating products but of engineering sinecures for themselves. Those Joneses won't keep up with themselves. You always need new status symbols to one-up the old ones, new stages on which to buy a center spot.

Thus, online games have degenerated from contests of wits and wills and been paved over with sickly, garish fashion runways on which preening and prancing imbeciles attempt to shame each other with their latest designer blue slaad jeans.

In case you didn't get the title, it's from Seinfeld.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

No End

Oh, look, it's "Glee" with zombies.

Let me set the scene for you: it's the year whateverumpteen C.E., and some worldwide catastrophe has inexplicably turned most of the world's population into zombies... and even more inexplicably has turned the remaining humans all homosexual. Much as I hate the notion of Sharknado, "gay plague" seems a solid contender for the lamest idea for a disaster movie. Or webcomic.

*Siiiiigh* okay, okay, let's give it its due. It's decent enough. Nice, clean, polished, unpretentious visual style, distinctive characters, dialogue that sounds neither stilted nor overly-slung, plus I'm diggin' the ancient Greek mythology nomenclature for towns - given my bases in a strategy game are currently named Nyctimus, Lerna, Nereus, Arachne and Cornucopia. Also, I'm only joking about the zombie plague turning survivors gay. In fact No End does a great job of not trying to justify itself or explain the joke, lightly implying explanation and exposition, head and shoulders above the hamfisted approach of Eth's Skin and its like. There are people lusting after each others' hot asses in a frozen wasteland and said posteriors just happen to be of the same sex. Cheers. Now let's shoot some zombies. Actually, No End's biggest flaw has little to do with its cast's sexual orientation and more with the weak balance between relevant action/intrigue and tedious, codependent, interpersonal claptrap. That much shoujo-quality gut-spilling really gets in the way of... y'know, literal gut-spilling.

That, and its big, stunning, shocking, flabbergasting, thunderous dramatic reveal foreshadowed chapter after chapter for most of the story was just painfully obvious from the very moment the character in question was introduced.

Still, as one road warrior after another turns out to be like, totes gayballs, it starts wearing thin. You set out cheering for it the first time, "shipping" the cute shy boys, then nodding along approvingly the second time, then rolling your eyes a little the third time, then skimming impatiently when the pattern keeps repeating. There's suspension of disbelief and then there's bullshit. Necessary concessions to storytelling don't extend to simply ignoring logic and the laws of nature. As with the nonsensical overabundance of warrior women in newer computer games, a valid need to acknowledge exceptions to the rule overshoots its mark into insulting political propaganda which only harms the setting's verisimilitude.

The vast majority of  a sexually reproducing species will logically be attracted primarily to the opposite sex, regardless of occasional bouts of grab-ass in the showers. That attraction makes reproduction more likely, makes that genetic predisposition more prevalent in the next generation, and the next, and the next, etc. It's not a moral stance, nor a point of pride. It just is. It's reality, and reality is not optional!

If you want to cancel out that natural principle for the purposes of your story, then you really will have to come up with a homoplague or gayfluenza to explain why your humans are not acting human. It'll have to be a heapin' big pile of pretextium crystals too, to explain:
- how your population didn't retrench in conservative primal values when threatened, as human societies are wont to do
- how your authoritarian regimes are not restricting their subjects to procreative sex to out-breed each other, as such regimes do
- how the population hasn't dwindled to nothing generation after generation
- how musical theatre can survive a stiff-limbed, groaning, shuffling zombie apocalypse
and other such paradoxes.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Once upon a time, I saw a C-series monster movie box on a video store shelf and declared it a stunning new cultural low.
Now there are five Sharknado movies!
Why are there five Sharknado movies? The material resting in that concept would barely fuel a single drunken anecdote, much less a movie... much less a second one... much less a WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU MORONS?!?

Gah! Whyyyyyyyy?

I hate this retarded species!

Monday, December 4, 2017

What the Game Engine Gave Me

"Time it took us
To where the water was

'Cause she's a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made"

Florence and the Machine - What the Water Gave Me

Gradually over the past year or so I've gone back and finished my old Infinity Engine game playthroughs by diving into their expansion packs: Baldur's Gate 2's Throne of Bhaal and Heart of Winter for Icewind Dale, along with their respective dungeons Watcher's Keep and Trials of the Luremaster. Logically I should be blasting the remaining past via Icewind Dale 2 but by this point I've had it up to here with the Infinity Engine's awkward, primitive, inconsistent pathfinding, distance measurements, AI and so forth. (You can't tell, but I'm holding my hand waaaay up.)

I'm also prompted to re-iterate my annoyance at old gamers' misplaced nostalgia and young hipsters' facetious adulation of older games, given the many quality-of-life improvements in RPGs which the IE games themselves largely prompted. Any slog through Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale is doubled in length by sheer tedium.
Forcing the player to sit through the same loading screens or dialogues twenty times over every time he reloads gets old fast, gets old fast, gets old fast, gets old fast.
Having to pick up a character's inventory bit by bit every time he dies. Or she. Given my predilection for jock-free parties, I put Jaheira on the front line and thus punctuated every other fight by having her pick her teeth and internal organs back up out of the dirt.
Dropping players straight into ambushes every time they walk through a doorway is quite possibly the stupidest mechanic to overuse. Especially when summoned creatures can't walk through doors. And it was over-used. Over, over, over-overused.
Then there are mechanics which sound nifty on paper but were turned into grating abject nuisances by the aforementioned engine limitations, like dragons' wing buffet or level draining (and the requisite re-stocking of your characters' spell slots one by one.)
Don't get me started on every single monster later in the Baldur's Gate series being given nigh-complete immunity to magic.

Still, the old IE games deserve their reputation as a critical milestone and still have much to teach. For one thing, story-driven RPGs more or less mandate large-scale expansion packs and not piecemeal DLCs. Even skimping on storyline, writing, voice acting is noticeable in these old expansions, as it was in Dragon Age's cheaply made Awakening expansion. The branching webs of player choice must have material and room to unfold, whether in terms of role-playing choices or building up one's character or party composition. It's not like level design in FPS or strategy games, where you can just throw some new challenges at the player. Watcher's Keep and Trials of the Luremaster are large enough to make good adventures in themselves (and contain rather more interesting fights than the main campaigns) but they strike a dissonant chord within the larger story. TotL especially breaks up Icewind Dale's otherwise remarkable thematic coherence.

Snowy landscapes, cold-themed monsters, a Burial Isle... I'm starting to see how much the makers of Pillars of Eternity built on (their own?) nostalgia for Icewind Dale specifically out of the old IE titles. Too rarely do themes remain consistent in computer games as a whole, more glaringly in RPGs. Developers strive too hard to give each player something to love. Not every game needs lava flows and icy mountaintops, and druid circles defending nature and inner-city gang warfare, and "1001 Nights" themed desert adventures with riddling djinni and medieval olde Englishe nobility ranks and court (and/or courtroom) intrigue and vampires and werewolves and demons and zombies and goblins and pirates and ninjas all at the same time. Some diversity's necessary but not every game needs to be the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. It's one point where both Neverwinter Nights games went quite wrong and Skyrim went quite right, and where PoE's White March expansion recovered the more focused approach of Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment.

Pillars of Eternity was fairly dilute overall and understandably so. It needed to establish the intellectual property and acquaint fans with it, benefiting from no preceding decades of tabletop dungeon-delving like the Forgotten Realms did in the '90s. The White March, on the other hand, could more freely launch itself into a story about two specific deities introduced in PoE's pantheon, and it was only in replaying the game that I realized just how well most of the details tied into the Abydon / Ondra aesthetic. Even one of your new companions is a forge-born monstrosity, and another a disciple of The Great Below. Side-quests in the ambitious little mining town of Stalwart subtly reflect the celestial power struggle behind the scenes.
I'm only now realizing how poignantly the Abydon / Ondra dichotomy must affect the game's own developers. PoE itself represents a conflict between continued building up of classic cRPG architecture and the necessary forgetting of past achievements to make room for the new. See my "Ubergamer Attrition" post from last week.

Pillars of Eternity's very name hints at hoping to become a foundation for something lasting, and that may stand as the most important lesson of the Infinity Engine. Around that basic, generic D&D medievalism introduced in Baldur's Gate grew adventure after adventure, each with its own personality, each a roleplaying campaign in itself with its own strategic, artistic and narrative themes... for better or worse. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel with a new game engine every year, keep something functional and pleasing enough to last through the next decade and begin churning out themed roleplaying campaigns set in the same cosmology like The White March or Icewind Dale before it. Maybe Pillars of Eternity 2 will take its cue from that and deliver a swashbuckling high seas adventure without worrying too much about what the Glanfathans are doing or Magran's machinations.

Maybe after that they'll do a desert. Maybe a high-flying Hylea-centered adventure flitting from peak to peak among colorful Alpine villages in the Vailian Republics? Maybe a seedy, low-key "mean streets" Skaenite adventure in the slums of a great empire reminiscent of Torment's trash warrens? Why the hell not? Take it one campaign, one theme at a time. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but PoE's flavor-texted companion side quests suggest the developers themselves have plenty of ideas they'd like to get a chance to develop... to be played, and built upon, and forgotten in due time.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

shklee can go shkluck shklimshklelf

"Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
(People just liked it better that way)"

The Four Lads - Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Well, I guess it's time to admit the webcomic Questionable Content's gone the way of Sinfest, give it a rest for a year or so then see if the author's come to his senses. Don't bet on it. Too much money to be made by pandering to snowflake idiocy.

Sure, QC was always susceptible to various politically correct yuppie posturing but it used to at least manage to dress it up a bit, give its characters a more varied inner life than trying to paint themselves rainbow. Gradually, however, straight characters were either dropped from the storyline rotation or given homosexual / transexual / robosexual love interests. New characters are dropping in by the barrel-full, each a two-dimensional piece of click-bait for anyone seeking validation through shallow group identity. Jacques' formerly diverse roster of tricks has diminished to constantly playing the identity politics card, churning out character after character to pander to some incarnation of the eternal snowflake cry for attention. Sorry, when you start busting out that personalized pronouns crap, we're done.

You don't get to redefine reality, you megalomaniacal insects. Dictating changes in existing language is not "liberal" politics by any sane definition of the word, and the left wing has been utterly subverted over the past few decades by these pompous little scheisters preaching O'Brien's lines from 1984 with the most unselfconscious innocence. Newspeak, thought crimes and hate campaigns against imaginary oppressors have all become core elements of "Left"-wing propaganda to almost as large an extent as they've always been tools of the Right.

Personalized pronouns will be particularly annoying to anyone who used to hope for true freedom from gender roles. I'm a man. I'm not manly. Never have been, never will be, never intend to be. I rarely drink alcohol, own no guns, scoff at sports and drive a cheap little Honda Civic as rarely as I can. Women despise me. I couldn't grow chest hair if you replaced my sternum with a Chia Pet. Despite being sexually attracted to women, I especially resent the assumption that I should play the expected male role, that I should want to don a wedding shackle and spend the rest of my days slaving away to bring home the bacon for some bitch and her litter. Yet I am still male, and born into a sexually dimorphic species. A casual verbal division between male and female grows naturally out of objective reality. It's not an imposition by any sort of imaginary authority.

I fail at being male, at being a "he" and that should mean nothing. True freedom should mean that nobody tries to find my exact position on the continuum between "I'm a lumberjack" and "I'm okay" - that calling me "he" tells you nothing much about my particular deviations from the norm, not that I get to act like a delicate little flower who'll get bruised by a pronoun. Excluding the less than 1% combined incidence of sex chromosome aneuploidy and other relevant genetic or developmental oddities, the words "he" and "she" simply represent the human condition. It is a basic truth inscribed on every replicated genome in your body, tens of trillions of times over, continually re-affirmed every time your cells divide, from conception to death. You were male/female before you were even arguably human.
It is an acknowledgement of the very real evolutionary history of the human ape, and reality is not fucking optional you pathetic, self-important, preening Victorian fops!

To pretend otherwise (and especially to attempt to enforce such arbitrary fabrications) is sheer grandiloquent superstition. It's not progress, it's not liberty, it's nothing but petty, self-serving authoritarianism and any rational mind should denounce it as such.

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ubergamer Attrition

"I'm just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company"

U2 - Stuck in a Moment

One of my first posts here back in 2012 ...

Was the Mayan Apocalypse really so long ago? Hey, remember that time the world ended? And all those other times? Remember that?

Anyway, one of my first blog posts concerned the death of the RTS / FPS hybrid game Savage 2 due to self-inflicted stupidity. Which is sad. For all its faults, Savage 2 out-did the rest of the game industry in most respects whether in 2008 or now, especially when it came to integrating ranged / melee combat plus RTS commander orders through the interface. Its legacy was a stillborn "resurrection" last year (scroll down to customer reviews demanding their money back) and an object lesson in post-launch mismanagement alongside Demigod.

By 2012, Savage 2 had already been dead for at least half a year. The original Savage came out in 2003. Here's a screenshot of that:
Yes, there are other players in that picture. It's taken a few days ago. Actually that's Savage XR, a continually updated player-modded version of the original, but that doesn't change the fact that unlike the second or third game in the series, it's still being played. Not by many people, sure. One server, five to ten people on each team that I could see the few times I logged in, and that's at peak hours. It's free and can run on cheap computers, so expect mostly teenagers from scattered second / third-world countries. Mostly.

Counter-Strike: Source claims nine thousand players this month on Steam's usage statistics, and that's just the baseline game unchanged since Y2K. The updated version, Global Offensive, has 152,000 players on at this very moment, at what can only be considered low tide. Let's not even get into the popularity of Starcraft, which I'm pretty sure is still South Korea's state religion.

Counterstrike was a good game for its time, a more detailed, more responsive improvement over Team Fortress Classic. For a few years around Y2K, game engines and net speeds had advanced just enough to make headshots fun but not enough for collision detection, reactive abilities or detailed, immersive environments, and Counterstrike's plain-Jane shoot-em-up routine really shone, made the most of the technology of its time. I have fond memories of it. Then one day the owner of my favorite server announced "goodbye CS server, hello NS server" and swapped to Natural Selection.

NS was more creative both in its aesthetics and combat mechanics. It offered more than CS could, especially since it was an RTS/FPS hybrid. In fact, when Savage first came out a year later, a few NS fans were outraged at what they perceived as theft of the hybrid game concept (never mind the Battlezone and Uprising games had already been out for years) and threatened to... I'm not sure what. Savage's developers just laughed in their faces, and welcomed those of us who switched over. So I played Savage, and it was smoother, bigger, slightly more balanced and with more bells and whistles than Natural Selection. Savage 2 improved on it, despite my complaints about aesthetics and legitimized cheating, not to mention the Maliken snafu, but players refused to move on. I've also complained that Natural Selection 2 was not a true sequel but a Source engine nostalgic reiteration of NS, yet a couple hundred players are still in it right now.

Looking back, I almost have to wonder what I personally must have done wrong to leave each game I visited sprinkled with so many players who refuse to abandon their safety blanket. I don't know what makes me so much more resilient to such stagnation. I'm not exactly a neophile, mind you. My computer's over eight years old (and has a few more in it) and I'm perfectly willing to grouse about how shitty most new games are and point out all the valuable concepts the game industry has thrown aside over the decades... like fairness, imagination and complexity. It's kind of my main "thing" here in my den. Still, inevitably, advancing technology offers new opportunities. Even as most concepts within a creative field decay, some mature and now and then something new coalesces.

Advancements keep cropping up, and more and more they're going unrecognized because the history of game design has exacted a terrible attrition among those who should be counted most discerning. The millions of cretins still playing Counterstrike or World of Warcraft don't worry me much. They're mass-market scum anyway. It's either that or Mario Kart. On the other hand, the couple hundred apiece still beating a dead horse called Savage or Natural Selection or Ultima Online or Neverwinter Nights are inflicting much more grievous harm on the worthwhile segments of the game industry. Without them, dumber players are lost in interesting games. A company can't attract the right customers to keep things interesting if those competent few are hiding their heads in the sands of yesteryear.

Sure, many of those players in Savage XR or Ultima Online or Neverwinter Nights' persistent worlds will turn out to be teenagers from some poor backwater extracting what use they can from a hand-me-down computer. A good portion in any such example, however, will consist of the game's old core: commanders, clan leaders and the modding community itself, those who once felt included and validated within that context and remained there, still chasing their old self-importance. The trend toward cozy redundancy certainly has parallels in other forms of entertainment. There are plenty of people who spend every night watching reruns of Cheers "where everybody knows your name" or have seen Casablanca 154 times, or who keep re-reading Pride and Prejudice every few months, thus evincing both qualities.

Something about an interactive medium amplifies the dependency, the separation anxiety. It's not only a matter of sensory experience, but deeply canalized personal agency, the satisfaction of picking at a familiar old scab with every click of the mouse.

I keep wondering why the demographics of computer games, especially online games, have shifted so decidedly toward the moronic over the past decades. The influx of mass-market consumers drowning out what used to be a niche market is the main issue, sure, along with the industry's catering to the vermin. Marketplace expansion has certainly also diluted the intelligent few. Still, some of the decline stems from the stagnation of those who insist on continuing to play their old MUDs into the new millennium, crotchety old thirty-somethings averting their eyes from the scary newfangled thingamabobs out there.

I have no idea why I'm not counted among them despite my rather pronounced nostalgic streak. Despite being very much "into" my favorite titles and playing them three or five times over, I then uninstall them and move on. I love Nine Inch Nails but I still skip it in Pandora in search of something else. Much as I was enthralled by Stranger in a Strange Land, there are other Jubal Harshaws to meet. I will re-watch all my favorite anime... at some point after I find new ones as points of comparison. There is so much of everything-else and much as I hate most of what I find, I can't help but keep looking. The perfect escapist fantasy must be out there somewhere. I'm just not willing to pretend I've found it.

"I am not afraid of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already heard"

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Morbidity, Mortality & Marketability

Targeted advertising can be funny. Don't believe me?

You know how it works: you shop for a pair of headphones, Google latches on to your supposed preference and then spams you with thousands upon thousands of headphone offers... even though you've only got the one pair of ears.

Say that during one's more morbid flights of funsies one usually ends up, among other things, looking into some practical details of suicide methods including commercial availability and pricing of necessary comestibles, combustibles and other killamatics. Waking up after one such tedious re-affirmation of one's cowardice one might find a particular mode of mortification has immediately monopolized one's banner ad space, edging out car offers, movie previews, insurance deals, computer games and porn ads.

It will quite likely stay there. For months afterwards, your browser will continue to throw your night of despair back in your face... taunting you. It will offer you discount death, brand-name Death, off-brand death, competitively-priced death en gros. Day after day, week after week, it will continue reminding you that you can find death at bargain death prices at these satellite-mapped convenient death locations near death you death.

Look, all I'm saying is they're probably getting even less repeat business out of this than out of the headphones.
But hey, a sale's a sale. Always Be Closing.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

ST:TNG - Hollow Perspective

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 3.14
A Matter of Perspective

It's Rashomon - in spaaaaaace!

Oh noes! Riker done a-'sploded a stereotypical old antisocial mad scientist after raping his wife. Except maybe he didn't. Except maybe he did. The only way to get at the truth is by making up diverging plausible stories in the holodeck.
I said it's the only way, damnit!

Sure we could follow the engineering crew subplot in the background concerning that weaponizable chandelier behind Mr. Wizard, but the real point of the episode is watching several different characters sitting around saying "computer, run program." Weirdly enough, it works. Yeah, you kinda know they cheaped out on sets, costumes and rehearsal and fed you three different takes of the same three scenes for most of the episode. You don't care, do you? There's a phaser, a chunky-style explosion, arguments about Federation legality, a fistfight and enough technobabble droning in the background to drown out your logic circuits.

Both episodes I'm discussing tonight manage to roll surprisingly gracefully through what could have been dull material if handled incorrectly, probably thanks largely to Cliff Bole's experience directing action series. Due to firm transitions and some decent writing for once, the holodeck finally finds its place aboard the Enterprise, no longer monopolizing plots or used for incongruous or extraneous period pieces but mediating the crew's interactions with the larger Star Trek universe. It's one of those cool-sounding futuristic technologies which keep elbowing each other for primacy on Star Trek, each one mind-bendingly overpowered under scrutiny: teleporting, synthesizing pork chops out of thin air, force fields, artificial gravity, Data, etc. When you see the laughably Tron-like graphics on control consoles on the bridge, you have to wonder why all information processing isn't simulated on the holodeck.

So anyway, yeah, spoiler alert: Riker didn't rape or murder anyone, which is probably just as well since Frakes, in all fairness, doesn't quite conjure up the same haunted wild-eyed menace on screen as Toshiro Mifune did. This being the main divergence (phasers and teleporters aside) from Kurosawa's classic, begs the question: why doesn't every mention of this episode begin with "in this Rashomon rip-off, our valiant space-samurai investigate" - ?


Seriesdate: 3.21
Hollow Pursuits

I know I usually start these off by a sardonic take on the episode, but for once the gravity of the subject at hand demands my most sober and tactful analysis. To delve into the somber realm of addictive escapism we witness the lurid holodeck fantasy life of one Reginald Barclay, and weep we must at his plight for there is nothing funny about grown men in puffy shirts and feathers in their caps boisterously mangling period jargon while measuring epees.
Okay, so maybe there's plenty funny about it.
Hi, Broccoli!
Dwight Schultz as Barclay
First off though, let's take a moment to acknowledge the half-assed casting/make-up job on the stunt double for Barclay's swordfights.
Work your way down from the pompadour. Not only was the double visibly younger but had the Jedi agility to match. The fight scenes look like Barclay keeps turning super-saiyan every five seconds. Anyhoo...

Hollow Pursuits may not be on everyone's list of top TNG installments but even at ten years old I felt an immediate kinship with Lt. Barclay the social anxiety basket-case who prefers to live imaginary lives. I suppose that might stem from me having grown up as one of those solidly introverted kids who fill entire notebooks with meticulously logged and detailed monsters, spaceships, castles, giant robots, imaginary expeditions and maps of Never-Neverland. That I would get into Star Trek in junior high seems only logical, captain, and there seems to have been some debate on whether Lt. Broccoli hit so close to home because the creative team knew their fans or because they actually were those fans. Trekkies are after all one of the prime lotophagous examples of the television age... but then again TNG's crew itself consisted to a surprising extent of Original Series Trek fans and embodied many of the characteristics of SF fans in general. See Michael Piller as quoted here:"It really was not intended directly at Star Trek fans. It was certainly about fantasy life versus reality. More than any other character in the three years I have been at Star Trek, the character of Barclay was more like me than anybody else."

Now as to my views on trekkies, see my commentary on Spock's death a couple of years ago. Escaping humanity in one way or another is vital to any mind peeking above the crass morass of dumbass comprising humanity, but need not involve surrendering one's dignity, much less intellectual integrity. Hollow Pursuits works as well as it does for maintaining a consistent sympathetic position vis-a-vis its otherworldly protagonist while nonetheless denouncing fixation. I don't agree with the insistence on dragging poor Reginald back to the "real" world by the scruff of his neck but still... when it stagnates, escapism loses its intellectual superiority.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like the holodeck. Unless it's a core concept, the notion of a game within a game or a movie within a movie comes across as a cheesy postmodern sophistic gamble writers pull out of their asses when they're low on funding and/or ideas. It breaks immersion more than it helps it and tended to monopolize TNG whenever it came up.

Still these two shows make quick work of the costumes and old-timey slang belabored in past episodes and instead manage a much better integration of this discordant element by focusing not on the holodeck itself but on how the Enterprise's crew uses said deck. How does such technology help or interfere with that seeking out of strange new worlds and new civilizations which is supposed to be the show's point? How does an unimaginably powerful interactive environment like that figure into the neuroses of what is for all intents and purposes a cabin-feverish submarine crew?

If you can get past the shallow novelty of dressing your characters in poofy skirts and fedoras, there's some storytelling value to be garnered by holo-decking. The Rashomon routine benefited from a medium within their universe onto which witnesses could project their subjective interpretations. The character interactions in Hollow Pursuits come across as much more natural than usual Star Trek fare, with all-too-human bickering, commiseration, concern for both efficiency and individual well-being. All the more so for the various crew members being juxtaposed with their cartoonishly goofy holodeck eidolons, which to be honest could fit perfectly into most of TNG's first- and second-season cesspit of bad writing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Rape of the Lock

A quick explanation of the Weinstein effect, which is really just an extension of gender politics as usual in the human species:

If you deny a woman the inalienable right to use her sexuality as a weapon, you're a filthy slut-shamer, you sexist pig.

If, however, you are male and you've ever so much as raised an eyebrow in a woman's direction, regardless of how much she came on to you and led you on, you're a vicious criminal and a threat to society. She can come back at any time, whenever convenient to herself, even decades after the fact, and claim she was victimized. Then, based on her subjective interpretation (of acts which if she'd performed them herself would be laughed off as party antics or condescending favors) all of your friends, coworkers and various organs of the body politic will proceed to destroy your reputation, ruin you financially and ostracize you. That's if you're rich or lucky enough not to get thrown in prison as a rapist to be raped to death on a vindictive bitch's say-so.

Obviously, according to feminist doctrine, this exultant, unstoppable witch hunt, the willingness of the entire socioeconomic system to uncritically burn any man as soon as a woman points a finger at him, must somehow only be further proof of male power over women. 'Cuz ovaries... or some shit.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Terrible Law

"Don't take it away from me
I need someone to hold on to"

Nine Inch Nails - Terrible Lie

So's-I's-a'wuz-a-thinkens, I've never entirely liked the way the law/chaos axis has been handled in cRPGs and much of dis, like, dislike has to do with lying. Bad enough that chaotic or freedom-loving characters get painted as mere spazzy goofball comic relief or frequently insane. Need we heap further insult upon them by labeling them liars to boot?

After all, lying is in the real world more often than not the very mortar holding up any power hierarchy's foundations, in the form of a big lie, a blatantly false dogma which must be sustained by continual, unyielding, authoritarian falsehood. Religions give us the prime example. The very notion of the existence of the "super"-natural must be supported by constant, ritualistic repetition of the lie, in unchanging chapter and verse, to the point where not even the threat of truth but minor secondary embellishments of the big lie are apt to spawn pogroms, inquisitions and jihads. There's nothing at once as lawful and as dishonest as a mantra or catechism. Brainwashing. Capitalism, communism, primitivism, feminism, veganism and tribal identities of all stripes similarly depend on repeating, ad nauseam, their own particular big lies. Everything's always the fault of the (insert evil here): Jews, welfare queens, carnivores, bourgeoisie, white imperialism, technocracy, black imperialism, patriarchy, polka-dot-imperialism, etc.

Pick your poison and if it doesn't sound convincing, just keep repeating it until it drowns out dissent.

In fact, let's make a game of it. Literally. In the spirit of RPGs which allow you to play evil characters, create a game in which your roleplaying choices center on upholding a particular big lie. Fabricate fake news and fake statistics, bribe and smear and silence the opposition, subvert and divert rational criticism by emotional manipulation, monetize your true believers, feed unrelated scandals to shift scrutiny off yourself, foment moral panics, bury evidence, play the victim, play the people's champion, found entire institutions dedicated to legitimizing your propaganda in the eyes of the public. Base success on how consistently, how lawfully the player manages to uphold a blatant falsehood.

Most of the world's population is either already playing this game, or wishes they could. Someone should really cash in on it. If it plays in New York, it'll play in Neverwinter.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Always up for some Sciencey-type Fiction whether in book, flick or comic form, I've been flipping through Galaxion's archive recently, so as to refine my already mighty eye-rolling powers. Call me a jaded old escapist but most of its foreshadowed plot twists seemed blatantly telegraphed even for its presumed intended audience of naive adolescent comic book store layabouts.

Well duh, of course the experimental hyperdrive is going to land them in an [redacted][redacted] and of course the [redacted] is going to be an alien and the survivors will be mingling with the [redacted] of world-wide [cockadoodle] and the accident must have been sabotage by one of the [redacted]s acting under a latent form of [red][acted] and eventually somebody's gonna probe that damn cat.

Okay, fine, maybe I've seen a few too many Twilight Zones and I'm a bit too familiar with Chekov's phaser by this point in my star cruising. While not fundamentally creative, Galaxion's still adequately paced and doesn't unduly belabor its revelations, walking that successful popular entertainment line between facile and engaging. Meh, worth a skim, I guess.

What really gets me is the ship's crew, and by that I mean it gets me wanting to open up all the airlocks and vacuum out some stupid. How do you make Captain James T. Kirk look, by comparison, like a realistic portrait of a professional, hard-bitten explorer? Replace him with a spacefaring version of the cast of Saved by the Bell. Which might be fine if Galaxion sold itself as a goofier, more fanciful tale, but not if you want to involve military ranks and life-or-death situations. This well-coiffed ditz with the heart pendant wouldn't inspire confidence in a kindergarden classroom, much less in the grim, barren, icy depths of space. Suits her fine since her crew all seems to hail from Planet Sunshine in the Star System Lollipops, grinning constantly like maniacs, never backbiting or shirking duties or trying to climb the ladder over each other's corpses or acting in any other way human.

The only character I find even remotely relatable's the one token unlikeable, surly, overly-formal crewman who never talks to anyone. He fits into SF. The rest of them, I don't know what infernal, saccharine kids' puppet show they emigrated from, but it's not the cold, impersonal genre of emotionless ideas.

Surprising, the ways in which an author can surprise us. While I can predict a chapter or so ahead of Galaxion's young adult version of fictional science, I can't for the life of me figure out which cast member will be filling which role. Who will be sacrificed, who will save the day, who will berate whom? They are spawned by a mind utterly alien to my own.

Oh, that human element.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Behold tha kratos o' dem !

"Let's admit America gets the celebrities we deserve
Let's stop saying 'don't quote me' because if no-one quotes you
You probably haven't said a thing worth saying

Ask not what you can do for your country
Ask what your country did to you"

KMFDM - Dogma

I was in my last year of high school back in 2000 when his most holy imbecility the child king Bush II was anointed to ruin the world to the best of Dick Cheney's abilities, so the whole embarrassing mess was etched rather painfully into my loopier, darker, soggier sulci. (For you young'uns, just ask your parents about "hanging chads" and see them roll their eyes.) Only... I didn't see the point of it. The whole slapfight over those few thousand Florida votes seemed like small potatoes to me. Forget the two thousand retards who might have voted Bush and worry about the whopping fifty million who really did vote for him. I repeatedly pointed out that regardless of who technically won the election, roughly half the country wanted to be mastered and commanded by a drooling, bumbling, illiterate oaf. Choke on that!

It was about a year ago that were were afflicted with the curse of President Trump, who makes "Bush with the IQ thereof" look like Pericles by comparison. Seeing the yuppie outcry over every single one of Trump's deliberately distracting media stunts, seeing the obsessive focus over this one media figurehead, I can't help but wonder how in a single generation we could have completely forgotten that most important lesson from the 2000 and 2004 elections. Stupidity is elected by stupidity. Nero and Caligula were pretty damn popular with the rabble initially as well. Donald Trump is the will and embodiment of the people.

That knuckledragging rabid baboon represents at least 63 million "people" plus all the ones who got too drunk on the way to even find the polls, plus most of the Democratic voters as well. Oh, yes. Those same Democrats loved him on "The Apprentice" after all. They love him as the embodiment of domineering profiteering. He represents their own chauvinistic sexism and racism, their greed, dishonesty, pettiness, laziness and ignorance. They just wouldn't vote for him because he was born the wrong sex and wasn't insulting the right evil skin color.

Forget Trump. Whether he finally gets impeached or not, whether Trump himself fades from the limelight, the Trump problem will not disappear and that problem is human nature itself. Look around you. Look at all the degenerate vermin who voted for Trump or would gladly have voted for him if he'd had a vagina: all the dudebros and soccer moms, all the valley girls and barflies, the rednecks and gangbangers and church-going mommas with their rodential litters in tow. That filth, that utter subsapient filth is the enemy. Normal human beings. The majority. Scum.

The People do not represent me. I am no longer of your kind. I am Werwolfe. A much wider gulf divides intellect from stupidity within the human race than the average human from a chimpanzee. Let's stop pretending we're all one species. The perennial, all-pervasive side project of every intelligent individual should be to extricate other intellects from the mindless glut of simian mediocrity. You've committed no crime to warrant such penance as subjecting yourself to the howling imbecility of the people. Stop trying to educate or change the majority, the vermin, the Trump wannabes. Just help the worthwhile few escape their grip. Abandon humanity.


Saturday, November 11, 2017


I can't think of a song tie-in for this one... maybe something from Tron?

I was debating whether even a screenshot's justifiable, given how little screen there is to shot. Yes, that's actual nail-biting interstellar fleet-on-fleet SciFi action right there, looking like the mere tactical minimap of most RTS games.

I'd added Spacecom to my GoG wishlist some time ago. Now that I've shilled out a whole dollar for it on sale, I do wish I'd bought it years ago at full price while it was still "popular" for whatever definition of popularity applies to a 2014 game with 1980s graphics. In contrast to the despicable "neo retro" trend in adventure games and platformers and the like over recent years, Spacecom manages to stand on its own merit instead of merely banking on suckering in a few hipsters and nostalgic 40-year-olds trying to recapture their 8-bit youth by buying anything pixelated.

Yes, it's a very limited game using a very old premise: conquer your way through a two-dimensional network. You've got:
-three types of nodes (solar systems) of various sizes, each capable of either producing your one resource, producing ships from that resource or repairing them.
-three types of ships, for fighting other ships, destroying solar systems or capturing them.
-three types of optional defenses for each system.

Yet from those simple elements plus various patterns of linking nodes and the always thorny element of time arises that same sort of surprising complexity found in classic abstract strategy games like chess or Go. Play offensively or defensively, tentatively or decisively, scorch earth, steal supplies, stall and reinforce. Spacecom's lack of immersion comes with a lack of interference as well; unpretentious and streamlined, the interface delivers everything you need at a glance, clearly and intuitively. Though I usually prefer broader, more freeform activities, I could see myself jumping online for a half-hour match now and then with some regularity, were it still being played.

Aye, there's the rub. This is obviously a multiplayer concept, and as it seems to have failed to build or maintain a critical mass of players, if you buy it now you'll be left pummeling the largely incompetent AI into submission until bored of its repetitive antics. For under ten dollars it's still worth it (especially as an example of clean, sober, focused, professional, no-frills game design) but I do slightly regret not having gotten in on Spacecom while the getting was good.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The British Lolcat Broadcasting Corporation

I typed "news" into my web browser and this popped up as my top interest-grabbing hit from BBC World News: "Little girl's stolen puppy returned by remorseful thieves" - and I swear to that idiotic primitive superstition the rest of you call "god" that when I visited BBC's site to grab the link for this post, the very next hit after it was "Australian jockey Caboche suspended for punching horse."

Flying Spaghetti Monster, give me strength.

You morons!
... Ok, I suppose that second story's so close to a literal "man bites dog" headline that journalists might feel tempted to play it up, but it's still not close enough. If he'd instead turned around backwards and kicked the horse, then I might be interested, and even then only as a one-liner. The real issue is that this bull horseshit popped up as "world" news. It's not. It's really, really not... None of us over here in the platypus-free world gives a crap what Australian jockeys do. Nobody in Estonia or Paraguay or Asshead, Arkansas has ever woken up with a burning desire to plumb the mysteries of ethical conduct among diminutive down-under horse-humpers. Trust me on this one.

But a story about a cute puppy? Is this seriously a BBC World News article or am I being trolled? Is this shit seriously being promoted front and center on the world stage while in a tiny sidebar wait tiny mentions of Trump visiting China to kiss the asses of the most prolific human rights offenders in the world? While news of rampant worldwide tax fraud hides meekly in the corner?

Yes, I know "Mittens the kitten" segments have been used to lampoon reporters for over a century, from at least the time of Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. I'm in my thirties and I've never known any news media, whether in print, radio, tv, internet, blimp, whatever, to actually deliver the sort of sober, factual and above all relevant reporting on which we should all be able to depend. However, it's gotten much worse.

For one thing, "Mittens the kitten" used to ridicule local small-town news segments, not international ones. For another, news media fluff pieces have only grown more ludicrous with the onset of the internet, because now the public can make its own fluff. We're self-fluffing! Anyone who wants to know about Australian jockeys can visit those jockeys' Facebook pages. You want editorials about vampire-themed role-playing video games or anime or comics or the ethics of sniping in online shooters? I provide those right here on this blog! If this is what it takes to convince you, I will go into Dwarf Fortress and somehow name one of my dwarves' pet kittens "Mittens" then have a kobold steal it. I can write that article, and these half-dozen chumps giving me hits on the blog will actually read it. Amazing! - and amazingly enough, it doesn't take a multibillion-dollar international investigative conglomerate to produce that story.

BBC News, of all things, used to at least maintain some dim pretense of respectability, bit o' the old stiff opper lip, wot? When did the BBC grow content with becoming a Monty Python parody of itself? Do you know why everyone stopped reading the news? Because you, all of you from Los Angeles to Moscow, stopped doing your jobs in the late 1800s. If I can replace you by typing "funny cat videos" into Youtube, you don't get to whine about the public's apathy or low sales. You do not deserve your jobs.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Paradise Posers

About the Paradise Papers:

Stop acting so shocked, you morons. The real problem isn't that all those fatcats cheated the system. It's that you seven billion pathetic sacks of simian filth already assumed they were cheating and you've always turned a blind eye and kept voting for them and kept investing in their stocks, because you want to be those fatcats.

Your own desire for power is the power of the rich. It makes absolutely no difference which families making a billion dollars a year might have cheated on their taxes. No-one has earned that large a slice of the world's resources. I don't give a fuck if they personally cured three kinds of cancer and teflon-coated all the pandas. Nobody makes that kind of money by honest means.

You know that and you still vote for them, and you still buy their stocks, because you want to keep the corrupt system, and profit from it. So shove your feigned outrage up your asses, all you idiotic rock star wannabes.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Furies vs. Furries

"They call me Superman
I'm here to rescue you"

Eminem - Superman

Dwarf Fortress features a ludicrously detailed list of possible combat actions and injuries. A battle report reads like the intersection of hammers and crossbow bolts with an entire anatomy textbook... plus vomiting and existential angst. Even if they're unarmed, your dwarves will gleefully engage the local wildlife in fisticuffs. Now, fantasy dwarves are a hardy folk by nature and your particular group is assumed to consist of rough-and-tumble pioneering types, so this may come as no surprise. It's a bit more jarring seeing a bloodthirsty troll tear its way through your garrison squad toward a visiting human noble's consort, presumably a pampered, hoity-toity "bit of stuff" damsel in distress... only for said pampered damsel to bite the troll and only after that grab her axe, float like a butterfly around the beast filleting it to near death then finish it off by lopping off half its freaking skull!
Daaaaamn. This chick's a keeper.

Now, Dwarf Fortress was built around dwarves, the fantasy race most notoriously lacking in sexual dimorphism, so thematically it's unsurprising to find bearded ladies acting much the same as bearded gents. Especially true since your stout little underlings are represented by very simple ideograms and text. No character models or voice acting, nothing to identify them as male or female in an intuitive sense anyway. It would actually take extra development time to differentiate them.

So, though it's technically guilty of the same crime, I'm less inclined to blame Dwarf Fortress' forced, one-sided, facetious re-balancing of the sexes on feminist dogma, as it obviously is in wealthier games. Like, say, The Elder Scrolls, for instance, where town guards and mercenaries are as often as not female, because everything boys can do girls can do better, so there! End. Of. Story. We're permitted to give the matter no more thought for fear of transgressing the dictates of the moral majority.

Actually, y'know what? Let's do some transgressin'.

That this decades-long trend is mere feminist propaganda, facetious glorification of women and not any sort of egalitarianism is easily verifiable by counting the villains and heroines in any game which forces female characters into masculine roles. Even the relatively daring and risque Pillars of Eternity, which toyed with the idea of negative female divinities and feminine crimes, kept these conveniently off-screen while pitting, front and center and in lavishly voice-acted groaning detail, a male villain versus two female martyrs, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

It also goes without saying that while filling their rosters with amazons, such entertainment products will make no effort to lend male characters in return the moral high ground, the presumed innocence and entitlement reserved for women, but for now let's focus on the supposedly egalitarian even split between genders among soldiers, town guards and every other violent role in games.

Sounds good at first, I know. It seems a neat way of washing your hands of the question of sexism, while tacitly endorsing the socially acceptable brand of sexism, misandry. How can portraying the sexes as equal possibly be wrong?

Well, as it happens, Pillars of Eternity's poorer cousin, Tyranny, decided to get edgy about sexual roles. In addition to the aforementioned 50/50 split among hired thugs and thuggettes, it also featured an androgynous world dictator, a female-chauvinist-led society (naturally, they're the good guys) and a female-dominated anthropoid race. I've gushed before about how much I like Kills-in-Shadow and the rest of Tyranny's beastwomen. They actually work, conceptually, as female warriors, not perfectly but to a much greater extent than humans. Here, take a look at what came out of a beastwoman's brood-hole:
A litter! A litter of fast-growing, fully mobile cubs requiring less parental investment per unit and carrying a less absolute penalty if that investment should falter, thereby decreasing the evolutionary pressure toward nonstop mothering.

See, the main problem with the sick pretense that women might share equally in danger alongside men is that it's utter bullshit from an evolutionary perspective. Look up a term called neoteny, if you've never heard it, the retention of infantile physical or behavioral features into adulthood. Yes, human males are neotenized. Check even a standard burly, bearded lumberjack's face against an adult chimp's. We Homos are freaking adorable by comparison, thankyouverymuch! But anything males can dish out in the cuteness department pales in comparison to women. Smaller, less hairy, more babyish in their bone structure, giggling and cooing and crying in youthful high-pitched voices and artificially enlarging their eyes with make-up, human females have evolved to elicit levels of protectiveness normally reserved for the species' young - from each other, sure, but mostly from their tribe's males, the less-cute-by-comparison short end of the evolutionary stick. By default, human females don't fight their own battles as long as there's a male around to fight on their behalf, champion their cause.

In a species already dependent on social interaction, women go one better. Instead of evolving for personal ability in the physical world, femininity, in humans, has specialized in social manipulation, in extracting service from males. The male's role in the trinity of "-and baby makes three" is to get bled for everything he's got then thrown under the bus to protect his (presumed (often incorrectly)) genetic investment. The children of men who have accepted this sacrificial role have had a better chance at survival. The children of women who have successfully played on men's protectiveness have also had a better chance at survival. Their genetic material, their predispositions have passed on to us.

Most of this stems from the utterly debilitating effects of our very slow, prolonged gestation and infancy. Human foetuses and infants are needy little fuckers, not only in themselves but extending to their primary caregiver as well. Mothers have, for most of history and prehistory, simply not been in a position to fend for themselves. A less debilitating form of motherhood with a less absolute investment (redundant backup offspring) helps, and if you really want to create a race of warrior women, then you'd also likely be talking about a race with higher paternal than maternal parental investment. For that to hold true, males would have to be certain it's their sperm fertilizing a woman's eggs, as the prospect of cuckoldry puts a huge damper on the benefit of paternal investment.

So you'd likely be talking about a species of fish or amphibian-like egg-layers where the males care for the eggs and young, are smaller and cuter than females and less apt to travel, live longer and tend to put their mates through the wringer before deigning to fertilize their eggs, to ensure they're not stuck caring for sub-par material.

But to return to the example of Tyranny, you can also see how much more consistent Kills-in-Shadow is in her tough bitch nature compared to the much more poorly conceived and developed Verse. While initially presenting Verse as a sadistic, bloodthirsty cut-throat (and cut-everything-else) the game's writers simply couldn't resist also imbuing her with that all-too-girly vulnerability and pathos, yielding a downright schizophrenic characterization: a vicious killer whom you're expected to pity every time her voice acting suggests she's pouting or scared. Ooohh, my sisters, my poor sisters, boo-hoo, my poor sadistic sociopathic sisters.
-and the simple fact that most people will swallow such bullshit without a second thought speaks volumes as to the steel grip femininity holds on our communal psyche.

As a last note, human reproduction and infancy have not only shaped our evolution but have presented a very clear logistical problem for iron-fisted dictators throughout history. The upper classes need the lower classes to reproduce as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Women's most productive role from the point of view of the wealthy is in producing more cannon fodder, more wage slaves for the good of the only entity above the level of chromosomes which directly benefits from reproduction: the tribal unit or state. The few times women have been forced into dangerous work (e.g. factory work) has been during periods of rapid industrialization or when the male workforce is already depleted. Otherwise, keep safe and keep cranking out those crib-stuffers.
So it makes absolutely no sense for Tyranny's resident megalomaniac Kyros to disagree on this central tenet of empire-building with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, most all religions and the American Republican party. Overlord/lady Kyros, the immortal dictator waging constant centuries-long war on the rest of the world, the strategist thinking whole generations in advance, would in no logical way allow the use of women in combat. Not unless Kyros can conjure babies out of thin air. (I assume that brand of magic's sigils would take two hands to portray. [O<-<-)

Warrior women will occasionally arise in most human societies (and they can make excellent stand-alone characters in fiction) but they only make sense as exceptions to the rule, not replacing the blatantly obvious human norm of female self-preservation and the sacrifice of males in their stead. Actually making women carry their weight in dangerous, unhealthy or otherwise harmful enterprises never enters into the equation. At least not when you're talking about the human species, that species divided into a cute, seductive, self-serving, emotionally manipulative half and the other, male half: disposable, easily dismissed as unlikeable and expected to place itself in danger to profit the cute ones. If you want some other guiding principle, then you'll need to fabricate an alien species for which that principle would make sense. At the very least make them into bearded ladies.
(Or better yet, think up some humans, male and female, consciously attempting to transcend their biological limitations. Including innate male slavishness before female whims.)

'cause I can't be your Superman, can't be your Superman, your Supermaan, your Supermaaan...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hope Lope Ares Worries Bradburied

"They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfulls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no-one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle.
Mr. and Mrs. K had lived by the dead sea for twenty years, and their ancestors had lived in the same house, which turned and followed the sun, flower-like, for ten centuries."

Ray Bradbury - Ylla

"Who wants to see the Future, and who ever does? A man can face the Past, but to think - the pillars crumbled, you say? And the sea empty, and the canals dry, and the maidens dead, and the flowers withered?" The Martian was silent, but he looked on ahead. "But there they are. I see them. Isn't that enough for me? They wait for me now, no matter what you say."
And for Tomas the rockets, far away, waiting for him, and the town and the women from Earth. "We can never agree," he said.
"Let us agree to disagree," said the Martian. "What does it matter who is Past or Future, if we are both alive, for what follows will follow, tomorrow or in ten thousand years. How do you know that those temples are not the temples of your own civilization one hundred centuries from now, tumbled and broken?"

Ray Bradbury - Night Meeting

Ten more voices died. In the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses, oblivious, could be heard announcing the time, playing music, cutting the lawn by remote-control mower, or setting an umbrella frantically out and in the slamming and opening front door, a thousand things happening, like a clock shop when each clock strikes the hour insanely before or after the other, a scene of maniac confusion, yet unity; singing, screaming, a few last cleaning mice darting bravely out to carry the horrid ashes away! And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.
The fire burst the house and let it slam flat down, puffing out skirts of spark and smoke.
In the kitchen, an instant before the rain of fire and timber, the stove could be seen making breakfasts at a psychopathic rate, ten dozen eggs, six loaves of toast, twenty dozen bacon strips, which, eaten by fire, started the stove working again, hysterically hissing!
The crash. The attic smashing into kitchen and parlor. The parlor into cellar, cellar into sub-cellar. Deep freeze, armchair, film tapes, circuits, beds, and all like skeletons thrown in a cluttered mound deep under.
Smoke and silence. A great quantity of smoke.
Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:
"Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is...

Ray Bradbury - There Will Come Soft Rains


October is Bradbury Country. That country where it is always turning late in your life. That country where your deeds are fog and your ambitions are mist. That country composed in the main of cold mornings, stale afternoons and exhausted evenings facing away from your self. That country whose seconds are autumn seconds, bringing only autumn thoughts. Whose ticking between the empty walls at night sound in vain.

Memento mori. Ex nihilo nihil. Tonight was Samhain, when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead seeps nothingness through, so you hid behind make-up and masks, and you camouflaged your corpses in fraudulent husks, laughed and pranced, cavorted your certainties off.

Good morning. It's the first of November, 2017, a meaningless date by a meaningless measure. Bundle up, it's getting colder. Walk out. Look up. Look away from the town around you in gradual collapse, away from other incipient corpses littering the street alongside yourself. Look up. Pick your favorite direction. I know you find life there, dear fellow lotophagi, living-dead, dear witches and werewolves on the edge of humanity. Look to your own particular hope, be it Venus or Mars, Diana or Jupiter's succulent harem, wherever you've dreamt something-else-besides-this might await you. Those others, your others, your own after you disown the rest of us. Copper-skinned, many-limbed, bright-eyed or blind cozy furry or scaly and stolid, they hover and crawl, swim, jump, hum and whine, all to lure, all to greet you from past or future, or whenever you'll have gotten there. Away.

There are worlds beyond this one, all dying their very own histories. Bestiaries house homely sapients, just awaiting your emigrance. Send them your wishes, feel yourself warmed by rockets jetting your hopes away from this inimical fray, but their day long ago strayed out of histories. Million by million wasted years, each a clear, light-filled otherwhen for a lycanthrope somewhere, watching the empty light-epochs toward earth's pretty blue-green promise of a world beyond empty canals, rust dust and chokingly thin twin-moon breezes.

Sometime far away, a world-weary Martian is/has/will be rhapsodizing humanity's last gasp on his death-bed.

(And even he thinks your costume was stupid.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

La gente paga, e rider vuole qua

"The world is grey, the mountains old
The forge's fire is ashen-cold
No harp is wrung, no hammer falls;
The darkness dwells in Durin's halls.

Read or listen to the Song of Durin

In order to maintain some credibility as a Tolkien adaptation when it released, The Lord of the Rings Online had to re-brand the usual D&D-inspired hit points, healing and resurrection spells. After all, in Middle-Earth, resurrection's a sort of Gandalf solo act. Turbine's (very lazy) solution was to call hit points "morale" in keeping with Tolkien's emphasis on hope, perseverance, contests of will and so forth. When your "morale" drops to 0 (and you must admit, being on the receiving end of fireballs, pikes and warg bites would certainly ruin your mood) you're knocked out until someone tells a knock-knock joke or something to raise your spirits. Which kind of invites its own immersion-breaking ridicule, because in Turbine's reinterpretation, Boromir apparently didn't die an agonizing, heroic death. He just got a little bit down. Awwww, sho shad :( Then Galadriel prescribed him some antidepressants and he was right as rain again.

Thus, the logical healer class was that tasked with cheering people up: bards, or in LotRO terms, minstrels. Naming one's minstrel obviously invites many and varied cultural references, pop or not. Me, I named mine after Marsyas, obscure enough that it wouldn't jar people out of their Middle-Earth reverie by recognition, but legitimate enough to entitle me to scoff at you for not recognizing it. So there. Philistines.

But this is not a tale of Marsyas the elven minstrel. Before even creating that character I was playing my main, Lycaion the loremaster (yes, I like ancient Greek mythology, sue me) in the game's first dungeon, the Great Barrow (while it was still one big dungeon and you had to walk to its entrance uphill both ways through the wights) along with a pick-up group. Our healer was a minstrel named Pagliacci. At one point he bit the dirt and it was up to me as all-purpose support to pipe-weed him back to consciousness. (I could not make this up: LotRO loremasters revive people by blowing pipe smoke in their faces.) So as my character ran through the huffing and puffing animation I felt some words were in order. To wit:
"Ridi, Pagliaccio!"

That was a decade ago. If you make an opera pun in an online game these days, do you expect anyone to get it?

This would've been right after I quit WoW, where to liven up our druid chat channel during raids, one of us would tell the others riddles and old fables. If memory serves, I contributed the story of the emperor's new clothes at some point and got stumped by that riddle with the starved cats. You know the one.
Or do you?

A little after that I ended up playing Warhammer Online. I believe that's where my guild had a forum thread entitled "yes we play games but we read too" inviting more discussion of our favorite books. And it worked. Does it now?

During City of Heroes' lengthy decline, I ended up staying in a dead guild with just one other person. Though unlikely to both be on at the same time we took turns decorating our supergroup base and traded jibes in the message of the day. He'd mostly use literary quotes, I'd reply with song quotes. We'd alternate trying to Nietzsche each other to death.

Yes, all these examples are old, and it's not like I've shunned WoW-clone MMOs entirely since then. I played LotRO heavily again a few years ago, when I found a group led by two old biddies who recruited other players with the slogan "we converse in English, not l33t" - and thus recruited very little. I was ashamed to find they knew more about Science Fiction than I did. When that fell apart, I ended up seeing what LotRO's current playerbase really looks like.

The second guild I joined after The Secret World's hilariously failed re-launch was started by an H.P. Lovecraft fanatic, and may the old gods bless him, he tried. He set up a site, he started two forum threads about the game's symbolism, he had a catchy MOTD about night-gaunts, he was always ready to chat about SF / Fantasy stories. Poor guy. I knew from the start it couldn't last. There's nothing to work with. This is 2017. Nobody roleplays. Nobody reads. I replied to one of his forum threads. Nobody replied to the other. Most players joined the guild then quit some days later without ever having said a word.

The first guild I'd joined before that, I ended up quitting over an argument about chat boxes. Specifically, our instance group kept wiping because the instructions I kept typing were going unheeded. Then I was told off for not using a microphone and I really, really wish I'd recorded that argument with me typing and some mealy-mouthed redneck grumbling at me over voice chat. It's not every day you hear a grown man "hooked-on-phonics" his way through a scant few lines of text as though it were encrypted.

That's the mental caliber of online gamers these days.

When LotRO came out, my joke about Boromir being prescribed antidepressants got a good solid laugh. These days, it's more likely to get a "who's Boromir?" One of the saddest moments came a couple of years ago, standing in Dol Amroth when it was the latest craze and conducting an impromptu poll in chat. Sure, I knew it wasn't realistic for the entire playerbase to consist of Silmarillon fans naming their characters after obscure mythical figures. I was even afraid I'd find out most hadn't read The Lord of the Rings and I'd end up arguing about XenArwen. But discovering that a sizeable chunk of the playerbase had never read a single word of Tolkien, barely knew he'd existed, had never even watched the movies (!) or at best had only seen those execrable Hobbit flicks and just wandered in looking for ten rats to kill... well, fuck. Why are you even there?

I expected some of this decline, but the extent of it is mind-boggling. Here I am back in 2008 on the Dark Days Are Coming forums, predicting that TSW would sell out its original audience in a bid for mass appeal like all game franchises do.

"It's not really that a negative forum environment would hurt the game. It's just that you gents, the initial pre-launch commentators, the puzzle-solving, imaginative geeks, are (ironically) not the ones kept interested by forums. You probably have enough interest in the game itself to judge it by its features, whereas people who enter the community later tend to be more and more invested in pure competition, regardless of the form it takes (whether it's tossing fireballs at each other in-game or shouting 'noob' and 'carebear' at each other on the forums.)"

But if I always knew the intelligent few will inevitably get diluted by the waves of troglodytic mass-market redneck scum, I never expected us to get washed away entirely. I did not expect we'd get to the point where you can't find nerds on the internet.

Y'know what? I don't even listen to opera. "Vesti la giubba" is one of my very few go-to opera references. When I used to babble about blue-shifting in EVE-Online, it wasn't because I'm an astrophysicist. I'm a random schmoe with no special qualifications whatsoever, but that doesn't excuse me from acquiring general knowledge. I can't write a dissertation on Hamlet, but when a succubus tries to seduce me in a D&D adaptation, I know enough to tell her "get thee to a nunnery" and yes, damnit, that counts for something. The more interlocking gears in this insane Rube Goldberg machine that is consciousness, the better.

Smart gamers were always hard to find. Back in the late '90s, most of the players in TFC or Starcraft were run-of-the-mill brainless trash, but there were enough curious, clever individuals scattered through the herd that if you went on any server and shouted "Marco" someone would answer "I prefer Erik the Red." There's something happening, not only to online gamers, but to the populace at large from which those gamers are drawn. They're not just less engaged in the activity at hand, but less interested in anything that's not being shoved down their throats by a designated authority. The more information we have the less we know. The more accessible various forms of art and science become, the less they are accessed. The more freedom we have, the more we seek to limit ourselves.

Look at yourself. Shouldn't there be more to you than a quick laugh?

Friday, October 27, 2017

It's the lies that make you want to kill yourself

"You can't crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. By refusing to think, refusing to change. And that's precisely what our society is doing. Sabul uses you where he can, and where he can't, he prevents you from publishing, from teaching, even from working. Right? In other words, he has power over you. Where does he get it from? Not from vested authority, there isn't any. Not from intellectual excellence, he hasn't any. He gets it from the innate cowardice of the average human mind. Public opinion! That's the power structure he's part of, and knows how to use. The unadmitted, inadmissible government that rules the Odonian society by stifling the individual mind.
What drives people crazy is trying to live outside reality. Reality is terrible. It can kill you. [...] But it's the lies, the evasion of reality, that drive you crazy. It's the lies that make you want to kill yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin - The Dispossessed


"The machines are willing to divulge to any curious Kesh such details of scientific theory or historical fact as might be sought. The point is that the Kesh simply aren't interested. Their world of myth, ritual, and song, and the slow turning of the seasons, satisfies them. [...] Some readers are repelled by the somnolence of the Kesh and by their renunciation of ambition; but many are charmed and inspired (although Le Guin herself seems, at times, to be wryly ambivalent). [...] the admirers of the Kesh are so emblematic - so coextensive, in fact - with radical environmentalism [...] In fact the primitivist vision is a recurrent one, and is strictly in the Western tradition. The assumption that such thinking is a natural and unique concomitant of leftist (or "progressive") sentiments is utterly false."

Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, from Higher Superstition,
(citing Le Guin's Always Coming Home in their discussion of shallow fads and Apocalyptic Luddism among environmentalists)


Higher Superstition is a book from 1994 which should probably be obligatory reading for any Western college student. It addresses the roots of much of the insanity we find today in snowflake-riddled academia, the intersection of postmodernism with the self-serving political oratory to which it lent an air of faux-intellectual respectability. Though I hardly knew it (I might be forgiven, being eleven at the time) the notion that you can make your own reality if only you shout long and loud enough was apparently already infiltrating universities, and the rot seems to have started from the top down.

I've never read Always Coming Home, which is actually kind of weird given my somewhat intemperate consumption of Le Guin's SF novels. Gross and Levitt, as well, qualify her with "the talented Le Guin has our best wishes" before tearing into those who would emulate her fictional Kesh. Never having read the book, I nonetheless chuckled in recognition at their mention of the author's wry ambivalence.

On the flip-side, I'm currently re-reading The Dispossessed, which I'd call her best work. *

It's easy to love or hate Le Guin, given her characters' predilection for declamatory speeches and the often contrived social situations in which they manage to land. Really now, you just happen to find yourself on the empty tundra, sharing a small tent with an insta-bake trans-sexual? What a coinky-dink, tee-hee! However, she's also talented enough to remain readable even when over-indulging, in direct contrast to, oh, I don't know, just off the top of my head... Ayn Rand**. And, in contrast to Rand's fanatical, reactionary single-mindedness, Le Guin comes across in most of her writing as simply too self-aware to fall into outright proselytism. Unlike her fans.

Though she's easily identified with every facet of left-wing politics (socialism, feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, kumbayatic Oriental mysticism, what-have-you) that wry ambivalence, a finger constantly tracing the other side of the coin, consistently crops up just when you expect her to get on her soapbox. Her introversion pamphlet contains some scathing asides on the intellectual limitation of isolation. Her nominally female-led race of simians nonetheless holds males up as spiritual leaders, dreaming the big dreams. Her rambling tale of mystical resistance to oppressive technocracy ends up bemoaning a member of the murderous technocratic secret police.

Most importantly, her anarchist Utopian tract The Dispossessed spends quite a few chapters detailing the stifling, stultifying stagnation of mob rule. Kinda hard not to feel for the young schoolboy Shevek as he's shouted down and publicly shamed by his teacher for the terrifyingly unegalitarian crime of talking about interesting things, and it's worth noting this system of childhood indoctrination seems more or less the lynchpin of establishing an Odonian society in the first place: beating "egoizing" out of them while they're young.
Not a practice conducive to ongoing intellectual progress, and the author damn well knows it.
Although the speech opening this post comes from a relatively minor character barely qualifying as a hero's helper, it nonetheless carries the moralizing heft of the standard SF hero's mentor's pedantic monologue on society's failures - and it's directed at Le Guin's own ambiguous anarchist Utopia! More specifically, it's directed at people. Not capitalists or socialists but the average naked ape, because political discourse often views things backwardly. It's not power structures which create powermongering, but the other way around. Homo sapiens shapes its environment, and ours is the world such apes make, a lynch-mob projection of human nature.

Therein lies the tragic flaw of modern "progressive" movements. As soon as they become a badge by which to hold oneself morally superior to others, they become tribal identities, power structures, weaponized public opinion by which the cowardly average human mind seeks to rule one's fellows. No wonder a California yuppie's "I'm a feminist" echoes so closely the self-righteousness of a backwoods Alabama hick's "ah'm a Chreeshtchun" because both cases represent the tyranny of the majority. They're a regressive primitivism, the bleating of the herd, tribal solidarity seeking to blunt better minds by enforcing strict, fanatical adherence to established doctrine.

Ursula Le Guin, for all her hope and support for left-wing politics, was painfully aware of this, even while writing a story for ex-hippies in the mid- '70s. It can't be an accident that Shevek's task toward the end of the book is not defeating the planet of archists but coming home to reform his own revolutionary movement, to keep it from backsliding into counter-revolutionary control schemes. Denying the ever-present threat of human mediocrity, attempting to evade reality, is insane, and suicidal. Any mass movement will be perverted by its own mass appeal. The many shadows of god yet stalk our marketplace.

*The Left Hand of Darkness was good but over-rated, for obvious political reasons. The Word for World is Forest comes closest. Solitude is amazing and in a league of its own 'cuz I said so. (Shut up, sorcerers.)

** This is John Galt speaking.
This is still John Galt... still speaking. You'd best settle in.