Do not mistake caste for hatred

| Thursday, May 30, 2013
Quick disclaimer: Caste isn't quite the word I'm going for.  Maybe disdain works better.  Hopefully context will do the trick.

 I'm seeing hatred pop up a lot lately.  Someone hates gay people.  Someone hates women.  It's usually wrong.  The problem is not one of hatred, at least not initially, and so to diagnose it as hatred is to attempt to treat the wrong disease.

The true problem is one of dogs.  Let it be known that I love dogs.  They're a species that co-evolved with humans, evolved to accept us and be accepted.  I do not think dogs should be abused, starved, or even left alone and unloved.  Yet I also do not think that dogs deserve the right to vote.  I believe they should pee outside.  They should stay out of the flowers.  They should not bark excessively.  As much as I love them, I also have rules for them and will attempt to keep them following these rules.  That's not a euphemism for abusing dogs when they break the rules.

Are women so different?  Well, obviously.  In my mind at least.  I'm guessing in yours as well.  But what about in the mind of the supposed hater?  I'm guessing they don't actually hate women.  Instead, they regard women as something somewhat like dogs: beings of varying intelligence that we have the right to order around, and in fact it is the natural order to do such.  The issue here is not hatred, but caste.  Women are placed in an inferior caste and are therefore subject to certain treatment.  They'll be stared at (or worse (much worse)).  They'll be kept out of professions.  They'll be portrayed a certain way and told to fit that portrayal.

Hatred may happen, but when?  Only a select few monsters beat a dog that behaves.  A much wider group of monsters beat a dog that misbehaves.  Here enters the hatred, directed, not against women, but against those women who misbehave.  Few people like to think of themselves as hateful.  Call them hateful and they'll reject the idea and anything that goes along with it.  In their minds they're simply putting dogs in their places.

The problem is the rules.  What are the rules?  Are they reasonable?  Who wrote those rules?  Who enforces them?  Should those rules even exist?  What's so natural about the natural order and even if it is natural, does that make it good?

This isn't a problem just for women, but for gay people, black people, and anyone who doesn't fit the rules, or doesn't want to fit the rules but does out of fear.  Some people hate gay people, but the wider problem is the rule that men must have sex with and marry women.  I used to believe in that rule.  Then I stopped caring much if people broke that rule.  Eventually I wondered why that rule even exists.  Seems like a pointless rule.  Like so many.

Of course, accusing someone of following stupid social rules doesn't have quite the same ring to it.  Maybe it can.  Regnusantiquisphilia is a mouthful and doubtlessly grammatically incorrect, but it's a start.

The Karma Flip

| Wednesday, May 29, 2013
People don't like being misled.  Except when it's part of a mystery or thriller or the surprise twist ending, that sort of thing.  But that's beside the point, which is that people don't like being misled.  Shouldn't misleading people therefore count as a villainous action in games that feature karma meters?

There is lying, of course.  [Speech check] is available at times.  Yet it's rarely more than a single event.  Someone's son died and you lie and say they ran away from home.  And that's it.  It's petty villainy.  It's on par with shooting their dog on the way out.  It shows that you're bad, but it's not quite evil.

What we need is truly evil misleading.  What we need is the Karma Flip.  What is that, you ask?  Well obviously I'm going to explain it.

It's one thing to be an outside enemy.  The other soldier is your enemy, but he's polite enough to wear a uniform and sometimes there's a ceasefire and you have tea together.  He's the visible enemy.  You might not know he's coming, but you know he exists and means you harm.  It's comforting when you know who you have to shoot to make the world a better place, or at least to make the world a place with fewer people trying to kill you.

Then there are the spies, the traitors, the double agents.  They're worrisome.  You suspect they exist, but you're not sure where.  Or who.  They wear uniforms, but often they are your own.  They may even appear to be friends.  These are the people that you don't shoot because that's too quick.

For these spies and traitors, every kind deed leading up to the betrayal is no longer a kind deed.  Rather, it is the opposite: it is the deception that allowed the betrayal.  From the post-betrayal perspective, the kitten you petted wasn't you being nice, rather it was you pretending to be nice.  And for all we know you put poison in its fur to kill the next person to pet the kitten.

That's the Karma Flip: the post-reveal reinterpretation of previous positive karma actions.  With this mechanic the karmic effects are not purely additive.  Saving an orphan may give positive karma, but that doesn't negate your decision to plant a bomb in an orphanage.  Instead, the orphan-saving is now a villainous action, part of your evil plan to infiltrate the orphanage.

Conversely, what seemed to be bad actions may be slightly negated by the revelation of goodness.  Maybe you stole that bottle of water (a capital offense in many games), but you gave it to a dying orphan.  Or maybe a child's parents so he'd not become an orphan.  Maybe you insulted your guests to escape a party, but you were the only one who knew and could stop the truly evil plot to release the insane prisoners while showering the city in fear gas.  Of course in that last example it's of no help, because Batman is a hero while Bruce Wayne is just a douchebag who makes fun of Batman.

Trapped in DLC, and what about that new scenery?

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013
I finally got around to using the DLC that I'd gotten with Fallout: New Vegas.  First up was the Honest Hearts area and now I'm in the process of going through Old World Blues.  The first takes place in a different desert area and deals with two Native American tribes led by white Mormons who are being attacked by another tribe that is trying to join the Evil Legion of Evil.  The content itself was fun and the story was of some interest, though I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the core game.

The DLCs aren't really the equivalent to expansions in MMOs.  They both add new content, but the way they add it, and the way that content interacts with the rest of the world, is different.  To start, the DLC areas is isolated.  You go in and you can't get out until you've finished the main story line.  I wasn't sure if finishing the main quest would lock out the side quests (though I'm pretty sure it does), so I was in an odd position of being forced off of the main story toward the side quests, lest they be lost forever.  I love side content, but I prefer to do it somewhat more randomly, when I'm bored with the main story or maybe want to level up a little more to give myself an easier time in some tricky parts.

Yet despite being pushed into the side content, I was also isolated from much of it.  Since I couldn't leave the area until I'd finished the main story I couldn't visit the side content from the main game map.  This meant that I was running around the much smaller DLC map, looking for everything I could find and hoping that I was properly distinguishing between the main story line and the side quests, so I wouldn't accidentally lock myself out.  I don't mind being in a box so much, but it should be a really big box.

Beside this, the change of scenery, and terrain, was a bit annoying.  The area consists mostly of canyons with rivers in them, with most of the quests and settlements higher up, and only a few bridges crossing.  Navigation is made somewhat annoying as a result.  The change in scenery was jarring as well.  However, to switch the subject briefly, Old World Blues is an even greater change, taking place in a heavily built-up area of military labs and involves a lot of fighting robots.  I don't much like fighting robots and as a result, I sometimes end up wanting to punch my computer, in a terrible bit of irony.

I found the characterization to be somewhat lacking.  The tribes felt unnecessarily ignorant.  They have white leaders from the outside world, so surely they'd have picked up a bit more and wouldn't need to constantly make stupid comments.  It doesn't help that these comments are randomly triggered and repeatable, so you'll hear a million times about bottle caps and how you'd have liked her family.  Joshua Graham, the leader of the Dead Horse tribe (the main in the story line), has an interesting back story, but then seems to be rather simple in the game itself.  He only makes a few appearances, mostly to say who he is and then kill a lot of members of the enemy tribe.  In the end I didn't feel like I'd made the world a better place, a worse place, or even really a different place.  I think it would have helped if Mormons actually made an appearance as average people living average lives struggling in the wastes.  Instead the only Mormons are the two leaders who inadvertently brought a murderous enemy down upon the hapless natives.  In this function they ended up being just two useless extremes: one who was convinced that running away would somehow save them and the other convinced that killing all enemies was the only way to go.  Somehow the notion of them personally leaving to draw away the attention never came up, nor the idea of defeating the enemy without slaughtering the entire tribe (except when the player mentions it).

Factions are the enemy of the character

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013
"Terrible things!"
"And then... a hero!"
"The hero is you, or at least is supposed to be, if you're not bad, but I hope you get my point!"

I'm going to go ahead and say that there are two types of dangerous worlds.  In one type of dangerous world there are bad guys and you will kill them.  Maybe the bad guys are being opposed by good guys and you're breaking a stalemate.  Despite this, it's clear that you're the hero, because you're why the good guys won.  You aren't merely helping people, you're Saving the Day.

In the other time there are two or more factions.  Maybe some are better than others, in the sense that they better fit your own personal code or in the sense that the developers clearly intend for you to think they are the good guys.  Despite this, the plot isn't a clear Good vs. Evil.  Rather, it is a struggle between factions.  They are deadlocked.  Since good always wins, logically this means that the factions are of insufficiently differentiated Goodness or Badness.  They're blue and orange rather than black and white: possibly opposites, but that doesn't make one better than the other.

In the first you may struggle with your own demons, but ultimately you go along the Path of Goodness and Heroism and are Totally Awesome.  Essentially it is about you and your character.  Those demons you struggle with, those are part of the story and they help create complexity and contrast with your eventual Being a Good Hero.  If you prefer, you can flip this over and make everything about Being an Evil Villain, such as if you're playing as a Sith or Austria.  Ultimately, it is about you picking a path and punching anyone who interferes, though not without first being tempted by their ideas and offering to subscribe to their newsletter, before determining that it is filled with lies.

When there are factions, even when one seems a little or a lot better than the other, you're not the hero picking a path, but rather you're just someone signing up for a side.  You may be important to the success of that side, but you're not the hero of the story.  You don't win; the faction wins.  Your struggles are therefore secondary.  At worst, they may just look stupid.  When struggling with evil you expect a struggle.  When picking a faction, any straying just makes you either indecisive or treasonous.  Neither of those are particularly sexy personality flaws.  Those are traits given to annoying side characters and villains, not heroes.

This all leads me to a mystery question: What if there are two (or three) factions, and myself?  I'm thinking of Fallout: New Vegas, which I picked up again recently.  While I'm guessing most Westerners would identify more closely with the NCR than the Caesar's Legion, neither side is unambiguously good or evil.  Mr. House does not strike me as good or evil, but entirely neutral on the concept of morality.  If you pick a faction, what you're doing is picking a faction and supporting it.  You're great and all, but once the faction wins the Big Battle, your story is over.  Maybe that's because it's easier to write an ending slideshow than to rescript the whole world to account for the changes.  Or maybe it's because, despite supposedly being the solitary badass, you're not much of anything without the factions.

Yet there is the fourth option: win.  Not help others win, but win yourself.  Crush your enemies, neutralize challengers, take your land, and declare your independence, backed with the firepower to repel any invaders.  You might take the exact same path the entire way, fight every previous battle just the same way, do every side quest the same way, talk to everyone the same way, and yet at the very end you make a single defining choice to back yourself rather than any faction.  This leads me to wonder if I was wrong at the start of this post.  Maybe the character was always being developed, fighting demons, making decisions, and yet because some join a faction, we ignore their development and focus instead on the faction.

Everything's better with sewers

| Friday, May 3, 2013
Sewers are great things.  Rather than all our waste of various disgusting sorts just sitting in the street and carving little paths along the side of the road, it instead goes underground.  From there it is moved away to a treatment plant that turns it into something much less toxic.  The result is less disease and less ugly filth.  They're a hallmark of civilization.

They're also pretty nifty in a lack of civilization too.  They're sometimes deep underground and can make half-decent bomb shelters (this is not war-surviving advice).  They can be somewhat clean, since they're designed to move the waste away, and once civilization falls there won't be much waste anyway.  Since they connect so many places, they're like underground highways, giving shelter and conveyance.  This is handy when the surface is irradiated and filled with hostile creatures and people.  Like in Fallout.

I'd played Fallout: New Vegas for a decent bit of time.  I thought I had it more or less figured out.  You've got some vaults over there, deathclaws over there, and of course Roman Mormons over there.  They get a little more aggressive after the apocalypse.

I was wrong!  I was stupid.  I'd played Oblivion and Skyrim and I knew that those were seemingly endless.  Fallout 3 held endless wonders and horrors.  Yet somehow I thought New Vegas would be a nice little package.  Silly me.

Not only had I missed at least one vault, I'd not discovered that there are sewers!  Glorious sewers!  Sewers filled with giant rats and ghouls!  One does not simply walk into a sewer.  One crouches down and explores every last bit of filth, for who knows what might be down there?  As I lay in bed contemplating the mysteries of the world I realized: there was a locked door and I might have found the key.  Or maybe something totally unrelated.  More mystery!

I'm not as much of a fan of caves.  Caves are messy, irregular places, shaped by chaos.  They're natural, but not edible or green, merely hard rock that has taken a long time to get this way and with the help of the mean creatures that live in caves, is going to keep you from changing it.  Caves are mean and only like water and time, though they'll eat anything else.

I turned back on anonymous commenting

| Thursday, May 2, 2013
7:47 am on May 2.  Let's see how long before I get spam.
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