NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 14, 2014

Last year, I tried to predict the outcomes of each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and did pretty well. More interestingly, I actually did get exactly one series wrong in every round. Yes, that’s literally, not on average. This year, I’m following hockey and sports in general less, so it should be interesting to see how I do this year.

As always, my predicted winner will be in bold.

Eastern Conference

Boston vs Detroit
Tampa vs Montreal
Pittsburgh vs Columbus
Rangers vs Philadelphia

Detroit, as they proved last season, are a team that can surprise you. They work hard and can come up with wins when they need to. But eventually you get beaten down by sheer talent, and Boston has that, and experience. They should pull it off.

Tampa/Montreal should be close, but Montreal has not been known for doing well in recent playoff outings, and I don’t see any reason for that trend to not continue.

Barring another Fleury collapse, Pittsburgh has the talent to easily get past Columbus.

Rangers/Philly is another close series, but it’s hard to bet against Lundqvist, especially since he’ll be motivated by this maybe being his last chance at a championship.

Western Conference

Colorado vs Minnesota
St. Louis vs Chicago
Anaheim vs Dallas
San Jose vs Los Angeles

Colorado seems to have a good team, which should give them the edge in the first round, at least.

St. Louis backed into the playoffs and are struggling right now, while Chicago still has a great time and a lot of experience. The Blues will have to wake up in a hurry and even then would be in tough.

It’s a complete bias on my part, but Anaheim in the past has had a number of early exits and a few good runs. Dallas has some good experience and so might be able to give them a run for their money.

Same bias against San Jose: I know them more for choking than for succeeding. The Kings also have a lot of experience and will jump on any weakness San Jose demonstrates.

The “Best” Defense …

April 8, 2014

Cuttlefish has recently put up a post titled In Defense Of The “Village Atheist”. The post is ostensibly a defense of “village atheists” as talked about in this post by Randal Rauser. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to actually criticize what it says in any way, and seems to be equivocating on the term “village atheist” in its own criticisms. Now, to start, we need to see how Rauser is using the term “village atheist”, because he is using it in a slightly different way than the norm but is actually very clear about it:

First, a word on terminology. So far as I can see, the term “village atheist” was first popularized in the 19th century to refer to an atheistic individual within a religious community who vocally (and provocatively) expresses his/her dissent from the religious consensus of the community. For example, G.K. Chesterton identified Thomas Hardy as a village atheist (see Kevin Taylor, Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Question of Tragedy in the Novels of Thomas Hardy, p. 168).

However, in more recent literature the meaning of the term has evolved to identify a type of popular atheism that is often brash in presentation and lacks critical nuance. (In other words, minority status within a wider religious community is no longer essential to the term.) One sees this use in Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil, p. 178 when Inwagen juxtaposes the unlettered popular opinions of the “village atheist” over against the more sophisticated opinions of the “atheist”. In this article I will be using the term “village atheist” in the broad sense used by Inwagen.

So, Rauser makes it clear that while the original term referred to an atheist who merely was vocal about their atheism, the sort he’s talking about here is the sort of “village atheism” that Inwagen talks about. He points out clearly that by this, the “village” descriptor doesn’t require someone to be a minority anymore, which immediately means that it could apply to Christians as well who are brash but also lacking in critical nuance. From this, Rauser says repeatedly that, yes, you can have “village Christians” as well.

Which then makes Cuttlefish’s defense seem rather odd, even putting aside the fact that it doesn’t seem like a defense at all. After noting that he couldn’t find terms for “village Christian” on Google — which makes sense since as Rauser notes the “village atheist” usage is new — he says this:

And that’s because “the village X” is a designated minority role. It’s a way of othering, of dismissing with a label, of designating someone to be both part of the village and apart from the village.

Well, sure, in the original usage, but Rauser is, again, very clear that that isn’t the usage he’s using. He’s using it in a sense that applies beyond minority status. Did Cuttlefish simply not read the parentheses, or even that section where Rauser talks about specifically how he’s using it? Because by that usage, this comment doesn’t apply.

He then talks about “village Christians”, and walks into the equivocation:

We have village atheists because we have people who are eager to speak up, but not terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking of. We have a great many more Christians who are eager to speak up, but not terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking on (we don’t have to look far). These are not “village Christians”, though–they are wholeheartedly welcomed members of the community. They are the village. It is not the fact that someone doesn’t have all the facts that makes them the “village atheist”; it is the fact that they are the atheist.

The first part does indeed relate to how Rauser is using the term. But when he goes to deny that you can have “village Christians”, he ignores that those are the traits that Rauser is using to define “village atheist” and “village Christian”, and instead says that those Christians that fit Rauser’s definition aren’t really “village Christians” because of the original meaning of the term, despite the fact that Rauser is abundantly clear that he’s using the more recent meaning and is actually using that definition completely consistently throughout the entire post.

This is why I wonder where the actual “defense” of the “village atheist” is here. The only way he could be defending the “village atheist” is by claiming that “village atheist” doesn’t actually mean what Rauser says it is, and so “village atheists” aren’t really atheists that are eager to speak up but aren’t terribly well versed in the topic they are speaking of, but instead apply broadly to any atheist that is eager to speak up, or that even speaks up at all. But while Cuttlefish might be correct that that is the normal or common meaning of the term, that’s clearly not how Rauser means it. Cuttlefish, then, is defending a “village atheist” that Rauser is not attacking.

Now, a counter might be that this is a problem with Rauser, in that he’s using the term wrong or is wrong to “broaden” it as he claims it does (I think he narrows it myself, but that’s neither here nor there). The first problem with that counter is that Rauser himself is consistent; he is not equivocating on the term in any way that I can see. But, one can protest, that at least _I_ call broadening the term “science” — ie using a non-standard definition of science in arguments — as being a form of scientism, and have called Jerry Coyne out on using his uncommon definition of “science” in an argument. The difference, though, is that in the cases of scientism generally I accuse them or broadening or narrrowing the definition to suit their argument — which is equivocation — or in the case of Coyne taking someone’s point where they are using the common definition of science, taking that out and using the less common definition of science, and then using that to argue that their point is wrong because by the less common definition of science the point doesn’t hold — ignoring that they weren’t using that definition and so the point attacked is not their point. Here, it is Cuttlefish who is translating the word to a definition that Rauser is not using to make his point and then declaring the point invalid; Rauser himself is clear and consistent in his usage. Thus, in the other examples, the person I am criticizing is equivocating, while in this case Rauser isn’t equivocating but Cuttlefish is. So there doesn’t seem to be a problem with Rauser here … or, at least, not one that Cuttlefish has pointed out yet.

In summary, Rauser is using a non-standard definition of “village atheist” but is clear that he is doing so and consistent in that, even down to saying that by that definition you can indeed definitely have “village Christians”, even though he implies that the common or original definition of the term doesn’t allow for that. Cuttlefish, on the other hand, ignores that completely to attack Rauser using a definition that Rauser is not actually using, and that Cuttlefish seems to acknowledge and them move away from. As a defense of “village atheist”, it either defends the wrong target or isn’t a defense at all.

On Analogies

April 7, 2014

One comment at P.Z. Myers’ post on the Colbert thing hits my annoyance over how some people treat and argue against analogies. Here’s the comment from Kichae almost in full:

One of the things that has gone completely ignored in almost everything I’ve read on this is that racism has context, and the context of anti-Asian racism is different from the context of anti-Black racism is different from anti-Native American racism. It’s all racism, but the historical context can vary wildly depending on against whom someone is being racist against. Yes, there are many, many simularities, and the underlying goal is to dehumanize entire groups of people in order to justify the continued poor treatment of them by the socially dominant culture, but there are devils in those details.

In North America, anti-Black racism carries the context of having been used to justify slavery. Anti-Asian racism comes with the baggage of having been used to justify internment camps and their “expendability” as general labourors during the American and Canadian expansion west. Anti-Indian racism has been used to justify colonialism and the continued colonization of Indian territories.

By equating anti-Asian racism with anti-Indian racism, Colbert and his staff effectively equated the contexts of anti-Asian racism and anti-Indian racism, and they’re no more equivalent than the contexts of anti-Black racism and anti-Arab racism.

I can’t, and won’t even bother to pretend to try, to speak for the first peoples of the US, but here in Canada one of the larger goals of our First Nations is, and has been for a long time now, cultural and legal quasi-independence. They’re looking to be respected, but they’re not necessarily looking for seamless social inclusion. They want their rights, and their lands, and their cultures back. They’re a colonized people with others from all over the world squatting on their lands, and they want that fact recognized. You can’t say the same thing about people of Asian descent in North America, or people of European or African descent. Canada’s indigenous population isn’t just looking for equal footing and equal opportunity. It’s also looking to have its legal autonomy recognized, and having their lands recognized as states-within-a-state.

If any of that is true for the US’s indigenous populations, all of that is being completely washed over.

The complaint here seems to be that if Colbert and his staff are using that as some kind of analogy — and in the satire case they are highlighting the absurdity but are indeed claiming doing that is analogous to what Snyder did — then they are making the two cases equivalent, which can only mean the same in every way that’s important. But there are important or meaningful differences between the two cases. Therefore, the analogy is a bad one and they shouldn’t have done that, and specifically here it is bad because it washes over important things that need to be addressed at some point.

This is the style of arguing against analogy that is becoming more and more common in Internet discussions, and is an incredibly bad way of doing it: find one difference, point out that difference, and declare victory over the analogy. Except that it doesn’t work that way. No one thinks that when you make an analogy or an argument by analogy that you are claiming that all aspects are the same, or even all meaningful ones. What you are saying is that wrt the specific issue you are talking about, the two cases are similar enough that you can apply a conclusion from one to the other, meaning that if, say, you’d consider the name in one case incredibly stupid, you should consider it incredibly stupid as well. Thus, in order to make an appropriate argument against the analogy by appealing to a difference, you have to show why those differences matter to the topic under discussion, and not just leave it as a difference or point out that it would matter when you were talking about something that you … aren’t talking about right now.

So, looking at the context of Colbert’s comment on Snyder, what about legal autonomy or state-within-a-state or any of that is relevant to the point that you aren’t demonstrating your sensitivity by relying on the exact stereotype that you are being called insensitive over? Surely we can agree that all we need is an insensitive or offensive caricature to make that work, right? Which the example has. So, then, why do all of those differences matter in this case?

‘Cause if we have to have the cases be exactly identical, then the only thing we could make analogies to would be the thing itself … which would make for rather useless analogies.

Colbert, Park and Perspective

April 7, 2014

So, there’s a small bit of controversy going on around Stephen Colbert and a joke he made on his show that got turned into a Tweet on the show’s Twitter account (not his) and then spawned other Tweets and accounts and all sorts of other things like that. Now, I don’t actually watch “The Colbert Report” and so didn’t see it live, and only found out about it because P.Z. Myers talked about it on his blog, and I actually want to comment on one of the comments there because it exhibits an annoying trend that happens to irritate the heck out of me, but first I want to comment on Suey Park’s campaign because I think I can say something about it.

Before I start, I watched her interview with Josh Zepp, but I also want to reference this commentary by Mundane Matt, because even though I think his analysis is a bit shallow and more mockery than actual argument, it contains the complete clip from the show so that we can get the full context of the Tweet.

Anyway, the background is this: there has been a controversy for some time over the name of the Washington Redskins. Dan Snyder, the owner, hasn’t been all that willing to change the name despite protests from various people, including some native groups. However, as you’d see in Mundane Matt’s video, Snyder decided to try to make up for that by creating a foundation called … the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. After that, Colbert went on a tear talking about a character he had created for the show — which was, the best I can understand it, simply him in “Asian face” — that was an incredibly stereotypical and racist impression of an Asian person called Ching Chong Ding Dong. He pointed out that he had protests about that character and demonstrated with clips just why people would consider that character an offensive stereotype, and lampshaded that by saying “The point is, offensive or not — NOT!” which for a show like Colbert’s is essentially a wink at the camera to say “Yeah, it is”, and then said that to make up for it he was going to start a foundation called the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. The Tweet only gave that last part, prefaced by “To promote sensitivity towards Asians” or something like that (I can’t be bothered to look up the exact wording of the Tweet). And all hell broke loose.

Now, I don’t watch Colbert, but I know enough about him and his show that it’s obvious that this was, in fact, satire aimed at Snyder, taking something that everyone would see as an offensive caricature and making an obviously insane name if the foundation was actually supposed to demonstrate more concern and sensitivity towards Asian people. Even the Tweet was pretty obvious, because the name itself lampshades its own stupidity by adding on “or Whatever” at the end. So the whole message, then, is this: if you understand how it would be stupid to claim to be showing sensitivity to Asian people through a foundation that from its very name lacks sensitivity, you ought to be able to see how stupid it is to do that to Natives in Snyder’s case. And it’s hard, then, for me to see what’s wrong with that.

Now Suey Park talks a bit in the interview about that, and there are lots of comments in P.Z. Myers’ post about that. But for the most part, they all devolve into jargon and discussions of how whites shouldn’t make such comments or they need to listen more or they have privilege or … well, lots of stuff like that. But they tend to not really say — at least I don’t seem to grasp them saying — what the actual issue here is.

Now, from my reading and my thinking on the matter, I’m going to come up with a couple of possibilities that might be a problem. Yes, you can argue that this would be someone who is not Asian and is indeed white telling people what should or shouldn’t offend them, but I deny that. Instead, I counter that I’m arguing like a philosopher, trying desperately to charitably and yet rationally come up with reasons for a potentially opposing position so that I can either accept it or argue against it. Philosophical occupational hazard: if people are disagreeing on something, always assume that there are some sensible and rational points on both sides, and generate them yourself if they aren’t forthcoming. But first, I’m gonna tell you a story to start talking about perspective.

A long time ago, one of my better friends was an attractive Asian woman. At one point, I mentioned that I tended to prefer Asian women in terms of looks than some others. She replied with a statement question about a lot of the attraction for a lot of people being the impression that Asian woman were submissive and sexual. To which I replied that I certainly didn’t think that, because I didn’t want someone submissive, as since I had a fairly strong personality I’d run roughshod over any woman I was dating who couldn’t stick up for herself … and I really didn’t want that.

This did not end our friendship, likely because she believed me. But what I realized in remembering the story today is that the reason she might have brought it up was that, as an attractive Asian woman, she had indeed come across people for whom that was indeed the main attraction. This actually happened to her. There was no possible way that I, from my perspective, could know that — especially since the stereotype wasn’t one that I grew up with. But it was something she lived with, and while I didn’t get that then, it was a perspective that I could come to understand and should come to understand.

But on the flip side, if from her perspective it might even have been more likely that that was what the attraction was for me, from my perspective it made no sense. As I tend to comment when the topic comes up, I tend to prefer petite women with long, dark hair. The racial traits of Asian women fit that. If I liked blonds with large breasts, I’d probably find myself more attracted to those of Scandinavian descent. The fact that I considered Asian women preferable for dating — ie I had actual crushes on them more often than some others — was an indication of my lack of racism: their racial traits fit the traits I was looking for, and beyond that their race didn’t matter to me.

So, from her perspective, it might have looked like I was being racist, while from mine I was being the exact opposite.

This is why I hate the term “privilege” and prefer the term “perspective”. We all have a different perspective, which is informed by all sorts of things that happen to us and who we are, including but not limited to race and gender. You can’t assume that you know what things look like from the perspective of other people, even if you claim that they are the majority. Everyone has an individual perspective, coloured by various groupings but not identical to them. Thus, the right approach is to express your perspective and say that “From this angle, this is what it seems like” and be prepared to listen to their perspective and see how it looks from there. While many social justice advocates get the first part for the minority group they are trying to help, they tend to fail at the second part.

So, now, let me try to put on my “other perspectives” cap and see what Park et al could be complaining about here.

The first possibility is one that follows directly from my story above: Park and others are upset because those sorts of stereotypes are stereotypes that they actually encounter in their daily lives. For them, far too many people actually think that these stereotypes are true, and thus it looks like Colbert is relying on the perceived truth of the stereotypes and caricatures to give the humour. This is somewhat consistent with Park, and is the possibility that I’m the most sympathetic to … but it does run into issues when you understand the nature and purpose of satire. The humour here relies on people not thinking that those stereotypes are true; satire generally only works when the satirizing element is something that people would find ridiculous or absurd, and in this case that means that the fictional foundation is using an offensive stereotype. While Park in her comment on satire says that if only racists will get your joke you should rethink it, the key here is that racists — meaning those who think that Asians really are like the stereotype presented — won’t get the joke. They’ll say “What’s wrong with that?” or, at best “It’s funny ’cause it’s true”. But those who don’t think the stereotype holds will actually get the joke and find it funny and, hopefully, learn something about the Snyder case, if they didn’t already agree with that. But there is a discussion to be had here on whether using a common stereotype or caricature can hurt by promoting it as true, or not, and what can be done to allow for that sort of satire while ensuring that it doesn’t end up being an argument that the stereotype is true.

The second possibility is that they understand that Colbert chose that because most people will at least accept Colbert’s version as a complete caricature … but note that in the past it wouldn’t have been. And that those sorts of caricatures caused harm to a lot of Asian people. And that Colbert, then, is using those caricatures as a joke, which means not taking their harm and their pain seriously, minimizing it in the name of humour. Of course, the rejoinder from the other side is that with satire, you aren’t laughing at the stereotyping itself, any more than anyone who read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” could accuse him of making fun of baby eating and not taking that seriously enough. It’s missing the point of satire to claim that he’s laughing at the caricatures and the harm it causes in that case. The original Ching Chong Ding Dong case? Maybe (I haven’t really seen how he used it in detail to know). But, again, this is something that both sides can talk about … if they can do it without flinging “privilege”, “stupidity”, “political correctness” or “white liberals” into the mix.

Out of these sorts of issues, a mantra emerged: Shut up and listen, meaning “Shut up and listen to the perspective of minorities”. Then some dropped it to “Listen”. I want to change it to “Discuss”, or perhaps “Learn”; listen to others and their personal perspective, discuss that, and come to some conclusions based on that. You might learn something about perspectives that are not yours, no matter your race or gender, and that surely can only be a good thing.

Elder Scrolls Online Launches …

April 7, 2014

Via Twenty Sided Tale, I’ve heard that the Elder Scrolls Online has launched, and found an article that says that the launch didn’t go well. While it seems like they really messed up removing the starting areas, what really interested me from the comment was the part about what’s good about it:

Sure, the game has its moments. The fact you can just do whatever you want without chain quests dragging you from continent to continent is pretty nice, and what quests there are have some interesting bits to them … If you do choose to play ESO, you will find that the later parts of the game the the dialogue between NPCs and the player, etc are more consistent. You’ll also find a ton of easter eggs and delightful things to hunt down. Even becoming a werewolf or Vampire is something fun and exciting to do and completely changes the way you view your character. Also, you can find powerful motifs that let you craft some really cool looking armor.

Now, the Elder Scrolls series has been hit and miss for me, with a psychopathic rage in Morrowind, actually finishing Oblivion, and trying to play Skyrim twice now without really getting anywhere and without it really grabbing me but … aren’t those good things about the game the things that are good about the normal Elder Scrolls games? What reason would anyone have to actually playing that as an MMO? What social aspects does the game bring to the table that made it worthwhile to make it into an MMO? In short, I guess I’m wondering why there’s even an Elder Scrolls Online at all.

Comparison: Persona 3 to Persona 4

April 5, 2014

At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that my two favourite games ever are Persona 3 and Persona 4. Having just played P3P and now playing Persona 4 Golden after watching P4: The Animation, it seemed like a good idea to compare the two games to each other and give my own personal, subjective opinion on their relative strengths and weaknesses, and maybe even talk about which is the overall better game.

(Note, I’m comparing music but not sound and graphics, because to me the main difference in graphics and sound would be just technological, but the music is, to me, different enough to be worth comparing).

Story

A-Plot

Persona 3′s main plot seems to me to be the deeper plot. It involves the characters directly and ties into their specific backstories and goals, especially with Mitsuru, Yukari, and Aigis. Pretty much everything ties directly into it, and leads back to it in interesting ways. It also has a deeper explanation for what is happening, and relies less on divine intervention to make the plot interesting at the end. Persona 4, on the other hand, does poorly here as although the murder mystery is presented as the driving force, it’s the least interesting part of the game, has little direct relation to the protagonists except for the fact that they were dragged into it by being tossed into the TV, and isn’t actually presented well as a mystery at all (it’s quite easy to miss all of the clues and have no idea who the killer is when you’re asked about it). And at the end, you have to reveal the “truth”, which isn’t hinted at that well until maybe Golden, and ends up as a last minute shift in tone. Sure, it does link to the overall theme well-enough, but overall the A-Plot of Persona 4 is forgettable and likely not what you enjoy the game for, while the A-Plot of Persona 3 is what you remember it for. Advantage: Persona 3

B-Plot

In the B-Plot is where things get inverted. Don’t think that there was a B-Plot in Persona 3? You’d be forgiven for that, because the underlying plot of an MC who is going through a year of school and meeting people and building relationships and doing all sorts of things like that is pretty much put to the side. It’s there and it’s fun, but you don’t really get a sense of change from the MC because of it beyond power and the obligatory end game “We all believe in you!” dialogue. On the other hand, in Persona 4 the MC coming to live in Inaba and forging relationships is probably more important than the mystery itself, which the anime seems to point out quite well (better than the game itself does). Yu has a personality, and how he develops throughout the game, especially in his interactions with Nanako and Dojima, are interesting and important. In Persona 3, you have a character who goes through a year of school; in Persona 4, you have a character who grows over a year of school. Advantage: Persona 4

S-Links

Party S-Links

One of the reasons Persona 4′s B-Plot is so strong is because the interactions and relationships with and between your friends are fleshed out in the dungeons themselves. It’s there that you learn the most about them and where you forge the group relationship, which is far more important than it was in Persona 3. What this means, however, is that you learn the most about your party members in the main story … and not in the S-Links. Which tends to make the S-Links either more detail on what you already know, or a side issue that isn’t as important as the main issue is. In Persona 3, the main plot deals with some major issues, but the S-Link is a very important part of their lives, and one that you wouldn’t see during the main plot. The only advantage that Persona 4 has here is that you can have an S-Link with all of your party members … and P3P fixes that for a female protagonist. Advantage: Persona 3

Non-Party S-Links

Persona 4′s non-party S-Links leave me a little cold. There are some that are interesting that I might be missing out on (Ai’s and Saki’s little brother) but that’s because their presentation doesn’t make them interesting at all. The S-Links in Persona 3 — especially the obvious ones — are entertaining and full of really great characters. I’d take Yoko over Yumi or Ayane any day, and Kaz’s and Kenji’s are, overall, more entertaining than Daisuke’s and Kou’s. Which is not to say that they’re bad; I do enjoy them. It’s just that compared to the ones in Persona 3 they aren’t all that great. Advantage: Persona 3

Combat

Bosses

Persona 4′s bosses are more personal, but not necessarily more interesting. Persona 3 is full of bosses and mini-bosses, none of which are that interesting themselves. Advantage: Tie

Dungeons

Here is where Persona 4 really shines. Persona 3′s dungeons feel like a training ground. There’s no personal stake in them, and you’re only doing them because you’re required to reach the top of the stage before the next full moon and to make sure that you have a high enough level to beat the full moon boss. This means that they feel like a grind and as if they have no purpose beyond that. Persona 4′s main dungeons, on the other hand, are all tied directly into the plot and into the characters and so are very personal. You have a reason to do them beyond “Let’s get to the end and get some levels!”. You still have the bonus dungeons for simple grinding … but then, that’s the only reason you’re there and the only time limit is the time you want to take to gain more levels. Thus, Persona 4′s dungeons are fun, and Persona 3′s are the things you have to do to get to the fun parts of the game. Advantage: Persona 4

Mechanics

While the ability to give direct commands to your party members was backported to at least one version of Persona 3, Persona 4′s combat mechanics really do demonstrate an evolution, mostly for the better, for the combat mechanics. The biggest loss was how useless your support characters are until you level them up and work through their S-Links, but other than that the combat is easier to understand and play, and usually more fun. Advantage: Persona 4

Music

This category, to me, symbolizes the two games, and I’m mostly doing this comparison by recalling the soundtrack CDs I have and recently listened to. Persona 3′s music is, overall, better music. Persona 4′s music is far more relevant and directly tied to the game and what’s happening in it. When you listen to Persona 3′s soundtrack, you enjoy the music, but when you listen to Persona 4′s soundtrack, you think of Rise’s or Kanji’s dungeons. Advantage: Tie

Overall: Persona 3 should be the obvious choice for the better game. It does more of what I like better than Persona 4. The problem is that the dungeons kill the game, as you have to go through them and often have to go through them multiple times and they’re generally boring and feel like a grind. There’s a reason I had to pause my first playthrough of P3P even though I finished Persona 4 Golden, as the grinding in the dungeons was just irritating me way too much in P3P. Thus, on a purely subjective note, I prefer to play Persona 4 instead of Persona 3 … until I’m on New Game+ and can mostly ignore the dungeons most of the time.

Persona!

March 24, 2014

So, I started playing Persona on the PSP over the past few days. I like it better than Persona 2: Innocent Sin, mostly because the story is much better. I felt that in Innocent Sin the early story, at least, was a little bit ridiculous, and that they mixed in too much humour with the seriousness. Having humour around serious issues can be good, but it was far too intermixed in Innocent Sin. In Persona, there is some humour, but for the most part — at least early — the game sticks with a fairly serious overall story, which works fairly well.

However, I really hate the dungeons, and especially hate how it isn’t always clear where you need to go, and what level you need to be at to take them on. And I haven’t managed to get a spell card and so no new Persona yet, and to be honest that system bugs me in Persona, since it seems like most if not all party members can take on more than one Persona, and since early in the game it pushes the idea that you’ll develop Personas as aspects of yourself. I’d really like to see a Persona game where Personas come up as part of character development and the choices you make, instead of from negotiations with demons or as random cards given out for winning battles.

However, it’s not likely I’ll finish Persona any time soon, since after watching P4tA twice in about a week or so I really wanted to play Persona 4: Golden again, and so that’s what I’m doing now.

Persona 4: The Animation

March 19, 2014

It may not have come up here that often, but I’m a massive fan of the Persona series. I’ve probably put well over 500 hours into the various incarnations of Persona 3 (including FES and P3P) and Persona 4 (including Golden) each. Those are my favourite games ever.

I was browsing through TV Tropes during a slow time at work, and noticed that they’d done an anime series based on Persona 4. I went to Amazon and found the English translation there in Blu-Ray, and decided to buy it, and give it a try. And so for the past two evenings instead of writing on my blog or writing comments or doing, well, anything else, I sat down to watch it. And I have to say … it’s very well done.

If you’re a fan of the game, you’ll appreciate the little touches that make it look like the game. You see the calendar as days advance. The commercial break cuts are showing the status of the MC’s main attributes, and you see them go up and up over time. Those will look a little weird, however, to people who haven’t played the game, but only the calendar is really something that you’re actually supposed to pay attention to. One failing of the series is that what day it is isn’t really made important to the game, although the weather kinda is. But it’s very easy to completely ignore all of that information since it doesn’t directly play a role in the series, at least not as much as it did in the game, and the calendar is very obvious so it might be a bit confusing and annoying to people who haven’t played the games.

But, of course, this is a short anime series tracking a game that could easily have 40 – 50 hours of gameplay, so they were going to have to cut some things out and change some things to make it work. Now, this is the sort of thing that tends to ruin video game or book adaptations to movies or anime, since deciding what to cut and what to keep is actually really hard to do. Cut too much, and you end up leaving out what everyone actually liked about the original media. Cut too little, and you end up with something that might play well to the die-hard fans of the original media, but doesn’t work at all for those who don’t know anything about that and just want to watch a good movie/anime. That was exactly my problem with Watchmen. And you have to add to that that most writers and directors don’t want to just copy the original media. They want to put their own stamp on it and make it somehow different, something that reflects thought and artistic merit. So there are always going to be changes when you convert from one media to the other, and this is where most adaptations fail.

P4: The Animation makes a fair number of changes, some of which might be controversial. As an example, the introduction is greatly shortened, and leaves out one of the better scenes and one that, in hindsight, reflects the relationship between Chie and Yukiko better than almost any other: after Chie convinces the MC to walk home with her and Yukiko, she eventually asks him if he finds Yukiko attractive. This embarasses Yukiko, and the MC can react in many ways. This scene highlights what each get from the other: Yukiko is shy and reserved, and so wouldn’t approach or talk to the MC, so Chie’s boldness works to get her into the group, effectively. On the other side, Chie at least feels that she’s using Yukiko’s looks as an in: the MC might not want to walk with Chie, but almost everyone will want to walk with Yukiko. This plays out with their Shadows later who make it explicit, and is left out of the anime.

However, notwithstanding that, the things left out aren’t usually that important, and some of the additions are brilliant. In the game, I never really felt much sympathy for Yukiko; she seemed more whiny and in some ways at least obliviously mean. However, her Shadow gets a full episode, most of which is setting up her backstory more than the game did, and seeing her not only working really hard at the inn and the subplot with the bird she saves really shows her as someone who does care, but is frustrated and feeling trapped. The reference to the bird’s escape and the link to Yukiko’s realization works really well to bring it all together, better than the game managed. So it’s a major improvement over the game.

The protagonist is named and voiced, and that adds a lot to the anime as well, as it gives him a personality beyond the Stoic. He has a rather odd sense of humour at times, which adds to the humour of the anime overall.

The dungeon crawls are left out, which I don’t mind that much, except that they tend to add small scenes in the middle just to remind you that they happened, but which often feel like they’re facing overwhelming force rather than something manageable but that just wears you down. Also, the boss fights are much more action-oriented than tactical, which was disappointing to me. Yes, you can see the tactics involved if you look closely, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

But the key to the Persona games is the Social Links, which are also the things that it would be the hardest to adapt. And for the most part they get truncated a lot. In some cases, you can’t even recognize them if you’ve played the game. However, they are also all there, and the highlights do tend to get hit. More focus is put on the key relationships — with the party members and with Dojima and Nanako — but for the most part they get used as breathers from the major story events that end up as hopeful, funny and touching, often all at the same time. But if you watch the anime, you will really miss out on the S-links.

The story events get much more focus, which makes sense because they provide an arc and a focus that an anime really wants. And they work fairly well. The main murder mystery events are hit and sometimes expanded, and even the small side events generally get a decent treatment. This is the part that those who haven’t played the games should still be able to appreciate, while those who have will be able to see it a little differently and sometimes with a bit more depth, since in-game all the reacts of the MC are just yours, while in the anime they can play with the MC’s personality more and thus give you funny and heart-rending reactions that not only work, but also make sense.

And I really like Aika, and the small subplot of Aiya’s deliveries was interesting. And how the dungeon crawls were done eliminated any need to explain how they could get their weapons into the TV all the time.

Overall, it’s a very good series, and I recommend it. The biggest problem I had with it is that it’s a little expensive for the amount of time it runs, so if you aren’t a huge fan of the games you might have a hard time justifying the price. But it should be enjoyable both to those who love the games and to those who’ve never heard of them.

One More (Down) …

March 9, 2014

So, in a surprise move if anyone’s been following my list of games to finish to see what I’m currently playing, I finished Persona 3 for the PSP this afternoon, despite my list still saying that I was playing Dragon Age: Origins. What happened was, well, the Olympics. I was indeed playing DA:O, but figured that my evenings would be spent watching the Olympics and since I can’t — at least right now — play on the PS3 while watching TV (at least not easily) I needed to either give up on playing games or pick one that I could play while watching TV. And I’m finding that the PSP/Vita is ideal for playing while watching TV, as I can sit down in my comfy chair where I can see the TV and play at the same time. So I restarted P3P and played it during the Olympics.

But what was funny was that I didn’t watch the Olympics in the evenings all that much. I tended to get home early enough to catch the recaps of the day’s events, so I knew what happened, and the channel I was watching — remember, I don’t have cable — didn’t really show the events I wanted to see in the evenings anyway, even if they’d be fun to watch with my already knowing the results. Which it wouldn’t have been. So instead I watched DVDs, with A-Team being the one I watched the most (I also got a cold in that time period, and A-Team is a great show to watch when you don’t really want to have to pay attention [grin]).

The most interesting thing to me, though, is the power difference between the PSP and the Vita, especially as compared to the PS2. P3P is inferior in graphics and gameplay and everything else to the PS2 version, while the Vita version is arguably superior to the PS2 version, implying that the Vita might actually be more powerful than the PS2, despite being something you hold in the palm of your hand. It’s amazing how things have advanced in such a short time … well, a short time for anything other than technology [grin].

So, now it’s back to DA:O, and hopefully I’ll finish it off before I hit the year point on the list again.

The Problem of Evil: Obsolete?

March 6, 2014

So, “The Problem of Evil” is probably the single atheist/anti-theist argument that’s the most at least intuitively convincing. It’s been brought up again by Jason Rosenhouse here, and while I was pondering why I find the argument less and less probable every time I read discussions of it I suddenly had an insight: The Problem of Evil has been made obsolete in the face of advancing philosophy.

The Problem of Evil was easily justifiable when we could believe that there really existed “evil” in the world, when we thought that we could actually have evil objects in the world. Since God was responsible for creating everything that exists, that meant that if evil things existed either God was responsible for those evil things Himself or, alternatively, that something else put those evil things there and God was powerless to stop it. Neither of these outcomes preserve the tri-omni God. Sure, you could work around it by trying to argue that the existence of evil entities was somehow better, but I don’t blame atheists for finding that unconvincing.

However, the idea that there are actually evil things in the world isn’t particularly credible anymore. Sure, you could get it for things like Satan, demons, and the like, but their existence was never what people were worried about when they talked about The Problem of Evil, and those things were among the more plausible ways out of the problem in the old days (the main issue with these is explaining why God didn’t stop those entities from doing evil or putting it in the world, not with them existing). But as we moved forward and examined both The Problem of Evil and the world, the real issue isn’t about the existence of evil. We don’t think that there really does exist evil, per se, and we don’t think that The Problem of Evil is about evil in the world, but is instead about suffering. Pretty much all modern statements of The Problem of Evil and almost all modern arguments for there being “evil” in the world boil down to there being suffering in the world that it is believed that God could prevent but doesn’t. And if God could stop that suffering and yet doesn’t, then God must be at least uncaring, and likely immoral … especially since we all believe that if we could stop that suffering, we would be morally obligated to do so.

Thus, we may now rename The Problem of Evil to what it is today: The Problem of Suffering. And instead of asking “Why is there evil in the world?”, the modern problem asks “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

The problem is that under the two main theological takes we can have with at least the Judeo-Christian God — essentially, any religion that includes Genesis — The Problem of Suffering isn’t, in fact, a problem at all.

1) We can take a Biblical perspective on God, starting from Genesis and working our way through to get a God that is supposed to care for us, and yet allows this suffering to continue. Except that if you start from Genesis, we have an explanation for all the suffering in the world, natural and otherwise: the eating of the apple. The punishment for eating the apple is to be ejected from the perfect world into a world that explicitly contains suffering and toil. And since we ended up that way because we disobeyed God, we’d still be capable of disobeying God — and therefore acting immorally — when we leave the Garden. Thus, the answer to why God allows this much suffering in the world is: Because God never promised us a suffering-free life, and in fact promised us one where we did indeed suffer.

Now, you may counter that the Genesis and Adam and Eve story conflicts with modern biology if you take it literally, and has problems for at least Christianity if taken figuratively. That’s true, but the issue of The Problem of Suffering is the least of the problems under those conditions, at least for Christians. If Christians have to drop Original Sin and thus the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection, there’s almost certainly not enough Christianity left to worry about the disproof from unexplained suffering. So for those who start from the Bible, they have an explanation and if they have to abandon that explanation their religion would be disproven far stronger than The Problem of Suffering could ever disproof it.

2) You start start from classical/Scholastic theism, which is the one that actually justifies the tri-omni God. Except that it justifies the tri-omni God independently of the condition of this world; as seen here, they start from Ground of Being and derive their qualities from that. As long as that argument holds, The Problem of Suffering cannot get a foothold, as if God as they conceive it exists then it is tri-omni and that we think there’s too much suffering in the world just reflects our lack of understanding (and, additionally, is likely simply the result of the world not being the perfect ground of being, and so merely reflects its lack). And if you manage to demolish the Ground of Being argument, then again the classical/Scholastic model has much more serious problems to deal with than worrying about whether or not there’s too much suffering in the world.

Thus, I declare the argument obsolete. Philosophy has moved on past the simplistic “There is evil in the world” interpretation, requiring a move to a “There is too much suffering in the world” argument … but the two main theological tacks that you can take here have no problem with suffering if their fundamental assumptions are correct, and if their fundamental assumptions are incorrect then they are false regardless of whether you could make The Problem of Suffering stick.


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