Social Justice vs Games: Ann Takamaki

April 28, 2017

So, let me finish with “Solid Snake’s” thesis: that Ann Takamaki’s presentation in the game represents the height of misogyny. Spoilers ahead!

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Social Justice vs Games: Persona as Wish-Fulfillment

April 26, 2017

So, continuing on from last time, “Solid Snake” talks in these two posts talks about the “agenda” of the Persona games:

Oh, the game is absolutely pushing an ‘agenda’ and that agenda is wish fulfillment fantasy for its presumed audience with a side helping of completely eroding the agency and independence of NPCs to ensure the wish fulfillment fantasy ‘succeeds.’ My objection is twofold: Atlus ignores the wishes of everyone outside the confines of its presumed target audience, and even then, Atlus misconstrues what its target audience actually wants. Either that or it’s pandering to a subset of immature boys it really shouldn’t bother pandering to; take your pick on the latter.

Now, you can argue that Atlus’ agenda here is harmless (I’d disagree), but it’s certainly the clear intent of three Persona titles and counting now to put the gamer in the shoes of a protagonist who, through some kind of combination of sheer willpower, the mechanics of the game world and the exigencies of the heroic narrative, lives some hyper-idealized life where all his desires (perfect grades, perfect relationships, perfect friends, even the existence of antagonists is necessary to provide heroic purpose) are within reach and require minimal effort or investment to achieve.

Huh? It might surprise him that I, personally, have never completed all of the S-links in any Persona game. I don’t even get all of the relationships with the women. This is because getting everything is flipping hard unless you follow a guide. To be the most efficient you can be in the game, you have enter the dungeons on the right days, meet with people on the right days, fuse Personas at the right time, grind the right way, bring the right Personas to the right meetings, say the right things at those meetings and increase your abilities in the right way and at the right time. Otherwise, you won’t be able to max out all of the S-links. This all takes an exceptional amount of effort that I can never be bothered to do. And this is despite the fact that, for example, I very much like Naoto as a character but she starts so late that you have to be perfect to actually finish her S-link, which I often fail to do. And I’ve never managed to finish Aegis’ S-link in Persona 3 FES.

So what the Persona series lets me do — and why, in fact, I like it — is not do everything, but instead to do only the things I want to do. There are entire S-links that I ignore because I don’t care for the characters and none of my characters would like to interact with (Hidetoshi from Persona 3, and the Gourmet King from Persona 4). And this all comes from the fact that the investment and effort to pursue S-links is not minimal, but is in fact significant. This carries over to Persona 5, as one S-link requires a significant outlay of money and I’m always cash-strapped. So you do what you want to do, and often have to choose between two S-links and hope that you can still finish the other one.

And even on NG+, where you have to grind less, have more money, and have likely maxed out your abilities, you still often have to choose which S-links to focus on unless you want to play by the guide. Which isn’t much fun.

He then talks about the relationships being shallow:

Furthermore, the very mechanics of the game that you laud are utilized to reinforce all these really nasty story themes. They’re not minor blips, as Arcanum alleges — they’re ingrained into the fabric of the game itself. Take for example your Social Stats — Knowledge, Charm, Proficiency, Guts and Kindness. The game encourages you to invest time into activities that presumably raise these stats, and raising the stats on their own unlocks additional relational content with the ladies. Hell, even Bioware for all its faults attempts to write their supporting cast in such a way that they’re not merely gatekeepers demanding you gain X points in Y attributes — and then immediately falling head over heels for you once you’ve pasted the litmus test. The game’s mechanics support and attempt to rationalize the idiotic Nice Guy fallacy that women are objects whose affections can be ‘earned’ through correct behaviors or responses.

Real relationships are about chemistry and attraction and they’re complex and truly character-driven; driven by our faults, our flaws, our needs and wants, our hopes and dreams. We converse to know each other better, not just to soothingly whisper empty platitudes at each other. Go back and watch any of the Social Link scenes with the Protagonist and notice what the ‘correct’ answers sound like. Every romantic scene with a love interest boils down to women attempting a real conversation with the Protagonist and the ‘correct response’ boiling down to the Protagonist simply saying some iteration of “Believe in Yourself” and that, combined with his Stats, apparently justifies a degree of affection that’s downright irrational and harmful to the women the Protagonist is presumably helping.

And later, in the second comment:

I don’t have a problem with the game tying stat progression to actions, I have a problem with the game tying stat progression with an assumption of deepening intimacy with people. It’s a problem with guys too, insofar as it’s just as clunky and nonsensical when applied to the boys, but because there’s no SJ issues there insofar as I’m unconcerned with how Atlus chooses to portray platonic relationships among men. The issues I have with Atlus and sexism is how the Persona series portray romantic relationships, so it’s patently obvious that I’m criticizing the system from that comparatively narrow perspective.

The thing is that all of the things that he’s complaining about are gameplay abstractions of you deepening intimacy. The conversation choices you make can increase their feelings towards you, but you have to choose the options that make sense for them. It has often been the case in the Persona games that giving the empty platitude isn’t the option that they approve of. Sometimes, you need to kick them in the butt. Sometimes, you need to leave them do things themselves. Sometimes you need to help. And all of this is wrapped around a mechanism where if you are willing to be inefficient you can answer how you would answer and they, well, don’t like it much. What this means is that you actually have to spend more time with them to win them over, which involves arguably getting to know them better and what they want.

Even the fact that you get bonuses to affection for bringing the right Persona fit into this, as a Persona is a part of you and a part of your personality, and so if you have that Persona inside you you are better able to relate to them, because that’s who they are.

As for the stats, it seems odd to gripe about agency and about the women being more than mere objects and yet ignore that they would have certain things they like. Makoto, for example, is originally “gatekept” by intelligence: you have to be smart — or at least knowledgeable — enough. But she constantly, as the Student Council President, harangues the team to study and keep their grades up, and is very disappointed when Ryuji absolutely can’t. How likely is it that someone like that would want to spend time with someone when her first instinct would be to tell them to study more? And “Solid Snake” scoffs at what might well be a personality trait:

Technicality: You need either Rank 2 or 3 Knowledge (I forget which) very early on with Makoto’s link. I forget which one, but it’s a threshold before the Charm one that applies because she’s smart and likes smart people, I guess.

Yes, because it’s definitely unheard of to think that someone smart might, you know, prefer someone smarter, too, or see that they don’t have much in common with someone who isn’t as smart as she is, or at least doesn’t seem to be at all interested in academics, which she, at least, has been taught is important for all her life. Makoto is the Mitsuru ex-pat here — but not as interesting a character — and being good academically is important to her, and thus in a person that she’d fall in love with.

For the most part, the attribute restrictions are always used to either say something about the person or about the protagonist. Either you have to be intelligent or charming or skilled or whatever enough for them to find you interesting, or you need to have that level to be able to make the approach in the first place. And this applies to the relationships as well as to the friendships. While some of them might be able to be done better — Yukari, for example, can come across as shallow with her restriction — they do say things about the characters, and thus you need those abilities because of who they are. The biggest objection is that this is not an RPG like Torment where, arguably, focusing on one trait over another shapes the game and so you want to choose what you favour to suit your character, but instead you always benefit from and so always want to max out all attributes. But none of this is bad from a Social Justice viewpoint.

And one final point from these comments:

I know ‘gameplay first’ gamers who wouldn’t touch the Persona series with a ten-foot pole precisely because it’s Story first with a capital ‘S.’ That much is readily evident when you consider the length of playthroughs and the sheer amount of time Persona invests in telling its longwinded narrative. Hell, Persona 4 famously has like eight hours of pure exposition before you even enter a ‘real’ battle. Persona 5 follows that lead. And before Persona 5, gameplay was so secondary that dungeons themselves were completely generic and randomized.

Now, the Persona series executes its gameplay quite well, I’d agree with that. But, if anything, the mechanics of gameplay during the segments of the game where you grind your stats and your social links furthers the story and requires you to be invested in the characters and the town you live in.

Um, the random generation was the gameplay, as it made it so that you couldn’t memorize the layouts and so just know where the exit was. Persona 4 introduced the idea of personal dungeons and so tying the dungeons to the story in a significant way, while Persona 5 has designed dungeons for the personal dungeons. I wouldn’t claim this game is “Gameplay first”, but the gameplay is, in fact, a big draw for these games, particularly around battles, weakness, and Persona Fusion.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 2

April 26, 2017

So, in the first round I went 5 – 3. And while I now always compare my results to what you’d get if you only picked the teams that had home ice advantage, that was kinda pointless this time around because I happened to choose all the teams that had home ice advantage myself, and so the teams with home ice advantage also went 5 – 3. Let’s see if we can get some separation in this round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh: While young teams have been far tougher than anyone expected the entire year, Washington did not look all that great in the first round against the Leafs, while Pittsburgh did pretty well against Columbus. While Washington is a strong enough team to at some point make it past their playoff struggles and make a run all the way, I’m not sure that having to go through the defending champions in this round is going to do that for them.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Ottawa vs Rangers: Ottawa has a good team and there are a lot of reasons to want them to win. I do think that in terms of skaters they can keep up with the Rangers. That means that the deciding factor will probably be goaltending. And while Anderson is a good goaltender and can certainly steal a series, it’s hard to bet against Lundqvist, especially when he just got done outduelling Carey Price.

That being said, I did that once before when Ottawa played New Jersey and I couldn’t bet against Brodeur, and the Senators won that one. Still, for predictions I’m going to have to go with the better bet in goal.

Prediction: Rangers

Western Conference:

St. Louis vs Nashville: Jake Allen played brilliantly in the first round, but again he was left at home at one point in the regular season because he was struggling and inconsistent. It’s not a sure thing that he’ll be able to keep that up. On the other hand, Nashville swept the best team in the conference. Nashville seems to have the edge here.

Prediction: Nashville

Anaheim vs Edmonton: You never want to bet against the young, up-and-coming team that has been surprising everyone all year. But Anaheim is not San Jose, and they are a much healthier and better team. The Oilers are likely to be in tougher in this series than in the last one.

Prediction: Anaheim


Eastern Conference

Washington vs Pittsburgh 
Ottawa vs Rangers

Western Conference

St. Louis vs Nashville 
Anaheim vs Edmonton

Overall Record:  5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  5 – 3

Social Justice vs Games: “Solid Snake” on Persona 5

April 24, 2017

So, I was looking around for some information on the details of Shiho’s interaction with Kamoshida in Persona 5, and came across this thread on the Nuklear Power forums by “Solid Snake” talking about the flaws in Persona 5 and, eventually, the Persona series in general. I couldn’t register to the forums to reply, and it looks like the thread is winding down anyway, but I wanted to talk a bit about it because to me it really comes across as a combination of Social Justice vs Games with a helping of personal interpretation mixed in.

There will be spoilers past this point.

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Medical Model vs Social Model of Disability

April 21, 2017

So, this is a post where it’s not so much that I have a strong opinion on the various topics, but that in reading on the topic I can’t help but think that using philosophy and philosophical methods — specifically wrt conceptual analysis — would really help clear things up. Here Ania Onion Bula talks about the Medical and Social models of disability, and presents them as a dichotomy: either we take the Medical model, or the Social one, and she prefers the Social one.

So, to start, what are these models. First, we need to start with the idea of an impairment:

Impairment is a loss or deviation of normative physiological, psychological, or anatomical structure or function that can be caused by injury, illness, or congenital condition. It’s the description of what is happening in your body. So for example in the case of deafness, the impairment is a loss of hearing caused by x factor. Or in the case of my arthritis, it is the physical damage to my hip and the inflammation in the joint, caused by my arthritis.

Disability in turn is the restriction or inability to perform certain tasks or activities.

Under the Medical model, people have a physical or mental impairment, and that impairment itself leads them to be unable to do certain important things, and so they have a disability. Under the Social model, they may have an impairment, but it is the way that society is structured that turns that into a disability, as society is structured under the assumption that most people do not have that impairment and so there is no real need or desire to structure society to accommodate them. To put it simpler, the Medical model talks about people being disabled, while the Social model focuses on people being differently abled. Thus, the Medical model puts more focus on removing the impairment, while the Social model puts more focus on changing society to accommodate those different abilities.

The problem is that there are a lot of impairments that really do seem like they themselves are the main barrier to the life satisfaction of those who have them, like blindness, deafness, and so on, and so where the person’s life would definitely be greatly improved if the condition was simply eliminated. She tries to address that:

What about people who are disabled in more socially understood ways, like deafness, or blindness, or autism, who want a cure?

To start with, understand that many people who want a cure, want it because society makes it hard to exist otherwise. It would be like wanting a pill that would turn you straight because the world treat homosexuality as if it is something evil and not because it is evil in and of itself.

In order for it to be an ethical choice, one option cannot lead to punishment. If you punish someone for not taking a cure, how is it different from forcing them to take it?

This seems incredibly condescending to those who are blind or deaf, especially, as it seems to argue that they aren’t capable of determining whether or not, in general, they’d be better off not being blind or deaf because of some societal attitude. And this becomes even more problematic when we consider that the implication of this argument is that blind and deaf people’s lives would not be richer if their conditions were cured, which seems utterly ludicrous. There’s no societal change we can make that would allow a blind person to actually, say, really see a lovely sunset, or a deaf person to be able to experience a lovely symphony. It really does seem like their conditions deprive them of some experiences that they could have if they didn’t have it, and so curing their condition would at least give them significantly more choices of experiences and thus allow them to perhaps lead far more fulfilling lives.

It seems to me that for anything that we would generally and rightly call a “disability”, the main determining factor will be whether removing the condition, in and of itself, would greatly improve their quality of life. Let me use an example of mental conditions to highlight this, and talk about depression and introversion. Given that clinical depression, in and of itself, causes reduced affect and motivation and often leaves those people with a duller and less fulfilling inner life — for example, not being able to take pleasure in things that do give you pleasure — it would seem reasonable to suggest that simply eliminating the condition would improve their life no matter how accommodating society is to depression. Even if they could function reasonably well in society, those who have clinical depression still aren’t going to be capable of enjoying it as much as they might want. That doesn’t seem to be true for introversion, as there’s no argument that you can make that if you converted an introvert to an extrovert that therefore their life would automatically be better regardless of how society treats introverts. If society wasn’t so extrovert focused, there wouldn’t be any significant issues with being introverted. And we can thus call clinical depression a disability, and introversion simply a personality trait that is no better and no worse than any other. Thus those who are clinically depressed are disabled, and those who are introverted are, in fact, merely different.

So if we are going to talk about disabilities and have to choose either the Medical model or the Social model, it really does seem like the Medical model is the way to go for conditions where it really is the case that simply eliminating the condition would in and of itself improve the person’s quality of life, which includes her example of someone in a wheelchair. However, the dichotomy between the Medical model and the Social model is, in fact, a false one.

What we have come to understand is that there are people who have conditions, through no fault of their own, that in and of themselves limit their abilities. That means that, in some cases, they are going to be limited in what they do and what they can do based simply on the fact that they have that condition. For example, blind people are not going to be able to experience the visual sensation of a beautiful sunset. But there are, in fact, a number of cases where their condition simply makes them different, and so not fit into the standard model of the majority. Now, when people simply don’t fit the norm we tend to be less willing to accommodate them, instead asking them to accommodate so that the majority don’t have to make efforts to handle rare cases. But when someone has a medical condition, we are, in fact, more willing to make reasonable accommodations. That’s because simply being different is seen as being a choice, while being disabled is seen as not being a choice. But the long and short of it is that we can see someone as being hampered primarily by their impairment in some cases while recognizing that in some cases they are being hampered primarily by how society is structured.

Once we understand this, we ought to be see that society does need to, at least morally, accommodate these conditions. But that accommodation has to be “reasonable”. And for an accommodation to be reasonable, it seems to me that at least this condition must be met: It must be at least slightly easier for them to accommodate you than it would be for you to work around the condition.

This does lead to something she complains about:

Acting as though chronic illnesses or even just severe temporary illnesses like cancer, are not disability further plays into the ableist idea that people have to prove they’re “disabled enough”. Many people with chronic illnesses struggle with insecurities related to their own disability. We feel as though we are doing something wrong by asking for accessibility.

But I think her interpretation here is false. The whole point is to assess whether or not the proposed accommodation is the appropriate one for the situation. Let’s look at some of the things she proposes as reasonable accommodations:

When I was in university, for example, I was frequently too sick to come to class. A part of this had to do with the fact that I took the bus to and from school. The bus route did not have consistent access to restrooms. As a result, if I was having the kind of day where I’m running to the bathroom frequently, a bus trip put me in the situation of risking having a public accident. Taking the bus is also exhausting. It takes longer, is inconsistent with whether or not I will be able to sit down, involves me having to walk to the stop, and so it uses up more spoons. Some days I had to stay home, not because I didn’t have the energy for class itself but because I didn’t have the energy for the additional tasks that physically going to class would entail.

Under the medical model, there is not much I can do except maybe take so many pain meds that anything I try to learn that day will likely be gone forever before I’m even done processing the prof’s sentence.

Under the social model, however, there would be additional options – the professor could work with me to let me watch the lecture from home via skype, or pre-recorded videos. The professor could assign assignments that would make it possible for me to learn and show the work, without having to be physically there. Perhaps the university could help arrange some sort of ride share or carpooling program so that I can spend less of my energy going to class.

Now, most universities in Canada, at least, have departments dedicated to accessibility, even for temporary conditions. And that was 20 years ago, so she almost certainly had access to that if she went to a Canadian university. So there might well have been options, especially if Skype was an option. But let’s look at what options she could drive herself that might improve her situation. For example, if she needed to miss class because of her illness, there’s a time-tested method for getting what she missed, which is borrowing the notes from another student. If she made her concerns clear to the professor, that might be something that the professor could help facilitate, as well as the car pooling issue. As for assignments, that’s harder, but again I was accommodated for a broken wrist where they had a student volunteer sit with me and write things out for me, and I proctored an exam one for a student who had a condition that required that she have extra time to write it. The only issue is where you get participation marks, but again for an actual disability — as, for example, opposed to someone who is introverted — accommodation could be made for that by, say, not counting those marks.

While her thoughts here might just be suggestions, what they do — and what her huge “Treat disabled people as people!” rhetoric pushes — is the idea that she has an issue and other people need to do things to accommodate that. But in any discussion of accommodation what the person themselves can do and ought to do comes into play. For missing classes, it’s a reasonable question to ask why she can’t just get the notes from someone else. Sure, it isn’t as good, but it ought to work.

What if instead we created a world that accommodated different ways of being? Imagine a classroom where students had access to both a noise room and a quiet room to work in, and they could come and go and choose as they please? Imagine having access to different styles of chair to fit what they feel most comfortable sitting in, or have the option to stand or kneel or even pace. Imagine if schools made it possible for you to learn in different ways so that you could get information in the ways that work best for you, and if you could present your gained knowledge in the way most comfortable for you.

But again here we see the very self-centered view of accommodation. There’s little thought here put into how this would impact the teacher or, well, everyone else. Being able to come and go as you please doesn’t work if the teacher wants to do a group lesson, and there are too many students in classes to do everything individually. And this also applies to, well, everything else on the list. I like to pace while I think, too, but I don’t do it in meetings because it will bother everyone else. We can’t really accommodate what everyone would want or what works best for them, as that would be too chaotic. That’s one of the reasons why having separate classrooms where things can be done more individually is a benefit, and then you can integrate for classes and conditions where accommodation isn’t as required. But the entire attitude here is indeed a “I want this, so restructure society for me!” and while that might work and benefit society in general, it might not either.

Here’s the most egregious one:

It is about teaching hearing children and adults the appropriate sign language for the region they’re in so that it isn’t up the Deaf person to have to undergo either painful treatments or go through speech therapy if they can’t or don’t want to.

So, the “reasonable accommodation” is for everyone in the world to learn sign language because they might come across someone who is deaf who can’t or won’t do things to make that less or unnecessary and thus might need to communicate with them in sign language. Also, since the region matters, they might have to relearn it, again just so that they can communicate with someone there who, again, happens to be unable to communicate any other way. That’s … kinda ridiculous. She tries later to argue that this could be a benefit for people who are not deaf, but shouldn’t that be their choice? Are we all going to have to learn to write in braille too? Ultimately, part of agency is accepting the consequences of your choices. If this deaf person chooses not to learn things that could help them, we aren’t obligated to bend over backwards to accommodate them. If we are going to have to do things and put in the effort, they are going to have to, too.

This is why my minimum condition compares the effort that the disabled person would have to make to the effort that the others would have to make. If it would be easier for the disabled person to work around their condition than it would be for us to accommodate it, it seems the height of selfishness to insist that we need to do the accommodation. But on the other hand, if us accommodating it would be easier than their working around it, what excuse do we have for not accommodating it? And all of this comes from rejecting the false dichotomy of the “Medical vs Social model”.

Diversity in Comics …

April 19, 2017

So, comic book sales aren’t going all that well. And so the question has arisen of whether that decline is being caused or helped by diversity, or if diversity is the way to solve that decline. Alex Brown at is arguing that diversity is not, in fact, the problem. She’s responding specifically to comments from David Gabriel:

Later, Gabriel gave another interview that, in part, rehashed that hoary old proverb that diversity doesn’t sell: “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales. We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”

As I’ve already said, Brown thinks he’s wrong. I’ll get into her arguments later, but I think it will best frame the discussion if I give my opinion first:

Diversity doesn’t sell.

Now, when I say that, I don’t mean that a diverse cast of characters won’t sell, or that a female or black main character won’t sell, or anything like that. For the most part, if the characters and book are well-written and get noticed by readers/consumers, they’ll sell. What I mean by that is that using a claim of “This is diverse!” will not, in and of itself, drive sales, at least beyond the short-term, especially in a field that hasn’t actually been diverse. The problem is that, from the start, you are going to have some fans that are deeply resistant to anything that might be considered as diverse or deviate from the norm. Maybe those fans are indeed racist and/or sexist, or maybe they just see it as too deep an intrusion of politics into their media. These people, as soon as they hear “It’s diverse!” as a selling point, are automatically going to avoid consuming that product. Now, the argument is that those fans will be balanced out by more “diverse” fans who would buy it for the diversity, but the problem is that if that’s not a form of media that they would normally buy they aren’t likely to stay with it or even pick it up in the first place because, well, they likely don’t really like that media in the first place, and not everyone — yes, not even all nerds or geeks — like every type of “nerdy” media. So the hope to balance those who hear the word “diverse” and spit with those who hear the word “diverse” and have their ears perk up probably isn’t going to happen.

But even if it would, trying to sell on the basis of diversity has an impact on “middle-of-the-road” consumers like myself. I’m probably as middle-of-the-road as you can get here, and when the main selling point of a work is “Look how wonderfully diverse it is!” my immediate reaction is “… Really? That’s the best you can say about it?” How about talking about how great the story is? Or the characterization? But simply saying “It’s diverse!” leads me to think that that diversity is the main point of the work, and not the story or characters or whatever. And I get very skeptical about a work when the best people can say about it is that it has a diverse cast. That skepticism will get me to avoid spending my money on it, and instead to buy things that are “safer”, where I know — presumably — what I’m going to get. So trying to sell it on diversity is going to push away people who don’t care whether it is diverse or not, but are worried that diversity is the only thing it has going for it.

So, while I say that a work being diverse isn’t going to hurt its sales, promoting a work for its diversity will. Now let’s look at Brown’s view on diversity and how it isn’t the problem:

Disregarding the sugarcoated PR update Marvel made praising diverse fan favorites, Gabriel’s comments are so patently false that, without even thinking about it, I could name a dozen current titles across mediums that instantly disprove his reasoning. With its $150 million and counting in domestic earnings, Get Out is now the highest grossing original screenplay by a debut writer/director in history; meanwhile, The Great Wall, Ghost in the Shell, Gods of Egypt, and nearly every other recent whitewashed Hollywood blockbuster has tanked.

But are these really good examples? Get Out is a fairly unique take on horror, and benefited from that. Ghost in the Shell is the best known name out of the other examples, and was likely going to be a hard sell given that it is based on anime, which a lot of mainstream audiences have never heard of (as an example I, who is more tuned in to these things than the average person, had heard of the anime, but never watched it). She’s trying to do the comparison based on a movie that had some racial implications vs some movies that she calls “whitewashed”, but doesn’t compare the impact of genres and quality and what impact that might have on their sales. So it’s hard to say that it’s just “patently false” when her examples aren’t ones that would, well, prove the statement.

So let’s look at comics specifically. Maybe those examples will be better:

Even sticking strictly to comics, Black Panther #1 was Marvel’s highest selling solo comic of 2016. Before Civil War II, Marvel held seven of the top ten bestselling titles, three of which (Gwenpool, Black Panther, and Poe Dameron) were “diverse.” Take that, diversity naysayers.

Black Panther #1, which had a big following from the movie tie-in and was an established Marvel character, did well, certainly. That being said, it would be a bit odd to challenge Gabriel using that as an example, since he talked about returning to core characters instead of promoting diversity specifically and, well, Black Panther, as I just said, is a core Marvel character. So let’s look deeper at the monthly numbers, starting in April, where Black Panther, Gwenpool and Poe Dameron were all in the top ten. The thing to note here is that those were all #1s, and Marvel had another #1 in that top ten, which was C3P0, which she ignores (droids obviously not being “diverse”). #1s always get a bump due to them being the first issue, and all of these had ties to other things that would get them noticed. As I’ve already mentioned, Black Panther got a boost from the publicity from Civil War. Poe Dameron was linked to “The Force Awakens”. And Gwenpool was linked to both Deadpool and Spider-man, and was such an odd concept that people might definitely be interested in checking it out just to see what the heck was going on with it. Obviously C3P0 got the same boost.

So let’s look at what happened the next month, which had Civil War II 0 and maybe some other Civil War II crossovers. Black Panther #2 fell to 9, Poe Dameron fell to 12, and Gwenpool collapsed to 45. But that could be the influence of Civil War II, right? Not likely. Amazing Spider-Man #12 didn’t move at all compared to #10 and was only slightly 10,000 higher in sales than #11. Spider-Man Deadpool #5 sold basically the same as Spider-Man Deadpool. Star Wars and Star Wars Darth Vader didn’t lose any ground at all (Darth Vader actually sold more issues in May than in April, Star Wars had a slight decline). And Deadpool, despite releasing two issues that month (11 and 12) stayed roughly the same as well. So it’s far more reasonable that the decline came from the issues no longer getting the #1 boost than from Civil War II.

In June, more #1s flood the top ten, and so they lose even more ground (Black Panther comes in at 27, Poe Dameron at 43, and Gwenpool at 76) but Black Panther’s sales are mostly flat while both Poe Dameron and Gwenpool lost sales. For comparison, Star Wars stays flat, Darth Vader loses some — but also has two issues in the month — Amazing Spider-Man loses but has three books in that month, including the Civil War II tie-in — which didn’t lose when compared to Amazing Spider-Man in May — Spider-Man Deadpool’s sales are flat, as are Deadpool’s.

So, given these numbers … I’m not sure what “that” the diversity naysayers are supposed to “take”. It doesn’t really look like the new, diverse comics outperformed those focusing on core characters after the glow from their first issues faded, and most of them had influence from core characters or other media buttressing them in the first place. This is not a good argument that the idea that diversity doesn’t sell is just patently false.

Brown then moves on to differentiate the old school comic fans from the modern comic fans:

Comic book fans generally come in two flavors: the old school and the new. The hardcore traditionalist dudes (and they’re almost always white cishet men) are whinging in comic shops saying things like, “I don’t want you guys doing that stuff…One of my customers even said…he wants to get stories and doesn’t mind a message, but he doesn’t want to be beaten over the head with these things.” Then there are the modern geeks, the ones happy to take the classics alongside the contemporary and ready to welcome newbies into the fold.

So, technically, by this I’m both? My subscriptions included — when I still had them in force — Deadpool, Darth Vader, and Agents of Shield (with the latter clearly being “contemporary”). So I like my classics and I like my contemporary, and don’t care one way or the other about “newbies”. However, I am indeed one of those customers who says that I like stories an I don’t mind a message, but I don’t want to get beaten over the head with it. And, to be honest, I can’t see what’s wrong with that. Is Brown going to suggest that being beaten over the head with a message is a good thing? She could be trying to argue that what they see as “being beaten over the head with a message” is nothing more than being diverse period, but she’d need to a) demonstrate that and b) well, actually say that. Which she doesn’t as she moves on:

This gets to the point made by a woman retailer at the summit: “I think the mega question is, what customer do you want. Because your customer may be very different from my customer, and that’s the biggest problem in the industry is getting the balance of keeping the people who’ve been there for 40 years, and then getting new people in who have completely different ideas.” I’d argue there’s a customer between those extremes, one who follows beloved writers and artists across series and publishers and who places as much worth on who is telling the story as who the story is about. This is where I live, and there are plenty of other people here with me.

So, Brown is promoting customers who don’t care about the specific characters, and don’t care about the specific stories, but care about who is telling the story? I mean, okay, there are writers and artists that I might chose to follow to books that I might not otherwise buy, like Peter David or JMS, because I like what they do. But even then I’m not likely to pick up a work with a character that doesn’t interest me. And for artists, that’s more likely to be an exclusion list than a “Oh, I like their art but hate the character and story, so I’m going to buy it!” So … where do I fit in this paradigm? And where do the “old school” customers who do follow writers and artists around fit?

Or, does Brown really mean that she cares not about their skill, but about who they are? Does she follow them because she likes their work … or because they are themselves “diverse”? This would indeed be a difference, but I’m not sure that it’s one that we should promote as being a good way to approach comics, or that comics should try to appeal to these customers who don’t seem to care about the actual product.

Blaming readers for not buying diverse comics despite the clamor for more is a false narrative. Many of the fans attracted to “diverse” titles are newbies and engage in comics very differently from longtime fans. For a variety of reasons, they tend to wait for the trades or buy digital issues rather than print. The latter is especially true for young adults who generally share digital (and yes, often pirated) issues. Yet the comics industry derives all of its value from how many print issues Diamond Distributors shipped to stores, not from how many issues, trades, or digital copies were actually purchased by readers. Every comics publisher is struggling to walk that customer-centric tightrope, but only Marvel is dumb enough to shoot themselves in the foot, then blame the rope for their fall.

I have to agree with her, in some sense, on this. As I’ve said before, the subscription model is terrible, which stops me from subscribing. This is at least in part because they keep cancelling and rebooting books, and because they keep driving events that would require me to buy far more than I’d like just to get the entire story. Brown says more about this in the post and all of those points are reasonable. I do agree that this is probably causing more of the problems than “diversity”. But as I said above, the solution to that is not going to be promoting diversity, because that doesn’t help.

When you look at the sales figures, the only way to claim diversity doesn’t sell is to have a skewed interpretation of “diversity.” Out of Marvel’s current twenty female-led series, four series—America, Ms. Marvel, Silk, and Moon Girl—star women of color, and only America has an openly queer lead character. Only America, Gamora, Hawkeye, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! (cancelled), are written by women. That’s not exactly a bountiful harvest of diversity.

But Brown thinks that, indeed, that’s the solution. On what evidence? What evidence does she have that ramping up the diversity is going to improve their numbers? None of her examples demonstrated that at all, and weren’t bountifully diverse themselves. And then she says this:

Plenty of comics starring or written by cishet white men get the axe over low sales, but when diversity titles are cancelled people come crawling out of the woodwork to blame diverse readers for not buying a million issues. First, we are buying titles, just usually not by the issue. Second, why should we bear the full responsibility for keeping diverse titles afloat? Non-diverse/old school fans could stand to look up from their longboxes of straight white male superheroes and subscribe to Moon Girl. Allyship is meaningless without action.

So, those who are diverse and thus would be the intended audience can’t be expected to, you know, actually buy comics in the way that keeps them afloat. Instead, those who are not the intended audience and many of whom who have no interest in being an “ally” in the first place need to belly-up to the bar and buy those comics for … reasons. Riiiiiiiiight. Or, you know, they can keep buying the comics that they, you know, actually like and let you buy the ones you like and keep them going. If you can.

Really, this is just ridiculous. If the comics can’t appeal to their own intended audience enough to get enough sales to avoid cancellation, then they should be cancelled, and appealing to those outside of that audience to save them is just … well, doomed to failure, and utterly entitled.

“Diversity” as a concept is a useful tool, but it can’t be the goal or the final product. It assumes whiteness (and/or maleness and/or heteronormitivity) as the default and everything else as a deviation from that. This is why diversity initiatives so often end up being quantitative—focused on the number of “diverse” individuals—rather than qualitative, committed to positive representation and active inclusion in all levels of creation and production. This kind of in-name-only diversity thinking is why Mayonnaise McWhitefeminism got cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi while actual Japanese person Rila Fukushima was used as nothing but a face mold for robot geishas.

So, know who “Mayonnaise McWhitefeminism” is? Scarlett Johannson. That’s a great way to encourage “allyship” by tossing an ally under the bus, and then driving the bus forward and backwards a number of times just to really drive home how loyal you are to your allies.

Also, I agree that making diversity the goal is not a good idea, because it leads to simply counting diverse characters/writers/artists instead of making sure that, for example, things are actually done with those characters and their diversity or that you are getting interesting, quality and also different narratives. So, given that … how come her examples above are all about counting the numbers? She just counts the numbers across more fields than simply the characters in the books themselves. Kinda hypocritical.

At the end of the day, using diversity as a main selling point doesn’t work. Diverse audiences won’t flock to media they don’t care for just because it happens to be diverse, those who hate diversity will avoid the titles like the plague, and everyone in between will just throw up their hands in frustration and retreat to those boxes of comics they have in their basement because, hey, at least they know what they’re getting. Brown’s arguments in favour of more diversity aren’t demonstrated and Gabriel’s comments ignore the real structural problems in comics that have nothing to do with diversity. Until people can figure out what’s really going on, comics are not likely to recover.

More Thoughts on Persona 5

April 17, 2017

So, I’ve been pushing ahead in the game, and like the other Persona games it turns out that the details of the setting tend to fade into the background as the game progresses, so I’m getting more into the game as things go along. In fact, one of the reasons for this post is that I’m 30+ hours into the game and that stopped me from sitting down and writing a different post.

Read the rest of this entry »

In Defense of Thought Experiments …

April 14, 2017

So, a common refrain I hear when people who are not philosophers talk about philosophy is the disdain for thought experiments. “What can we possibly learn from such artificial examples, that are so disconnected from real life?” This is one of the things that is usually used to argue that philosophers are ivory tower intellectual, more concerned with intellectual wanking than solving real-world problems, which is then used to justify ignoring philosophy and focusing on more “realistic” approaches, like science. The problem is that this is, in fact, based on a complete misunderstanding of what thought experiments are meant to do and how they work. I’m going to try to correct this misunderstanding by focusing on how important thought experiments are for determining the morality that we ought to use to guide our every day actions.

The first thing to note is that thought experiments are, in fact, very similar to scientific experiments, in both purpose and in how they work. Both aim to test out various theories, and have to do so by focusing on specific elements of the theories and filtering out all of the confounds. As such, lab scientific experiments are themselves incredibly artificial. You don’t test, for example, the ideal gas law by going out and experimenting in the middle of the part. No, you do it in a sealed container or lab where you can control the temperature, pressure and volume of gas as much as you can. This holds for all scientific experiments, and is particularly important in psychological experiments. And yet people rarely complain — well, except sometimes for psychology — that these experiments are too “artificial” and so don’t really reflect “real life”. In general, the experiments are designed to isolate the specific parts of real life that we want to study without invalidating what really happens in real life.

Thought experiments work the same way. What we want to do with a thought experiment is isolate the particular notions that we want to examine (or argue for) without the confounds that real life might introduce. Thus, in the trolley thought experiment, we wanted to isolate the “5 will die if you don’t act, and 1 will die if you don’t” aspect in order to test whether or not our intuitions lean more Utilitarian. The experiment is also designed to avoid the confound of the impact of taking a direct action to kill someone, which might have a moral status; a Stoic or Kantian, for example, won’t be allowed to take a direct action to kill someone, so if a person decides to pull the switch they would definitely be using Utilitarian reasoning. And as it turns out we still missed a confound when we change it to the “push a person in front of the train” example and find that many people change their minds on the permissibility of the action. So the examples need to be simplified and therefore “artificial” to allow us to test what needs to be tested.

Also, it is important to note that we want to get at what people really, at heart, intuitively — or even through explicit reason — think is the case. What we don’t want is them merely regurgitating an answer that their culture has specifically drilled into them for those specific cases from childhood. So, we can expect that everyone will have a ready answer for any normal, every day situation, but that answer might be one that was generated for them from what they learned about morality in their childhood, or is a conclusion that they generated from a moral viewpoint that they no longer hold. Thus, we want to give them a situation that they don’t have a ready answer for, one that they will have to think about and engage their moral reasoning or moral intuitions about. That means, then, making an “artificial” example.

Now, the objection is constantly raised that a moral system can’t be expected to handle situations outside of the experience of the person and/or of human society in general. It is, they assert, an ad-hoc system cobbled together by evolution or something to handle interacting in society, and so isn’t designed to handle things too far out of normal experience. Thus, the answers that are given when we create these artificial experiments just aren’t valid; moral systems can’t and don’t need to handle such outlandish cases.

The problem is that we, in our every day lives, may well come across cases that our moral system wasn’t originally designed to handle. Taking the “evolution” example, if we even went back 100 years — let alone the thousands or millions that evolution would cover — we couldn’t have, for example, conceived — outside of science fiction works — that we’d have to deal with the morality of stem cell research. They couldn’t have conceived of such a thing being possible, and it certainly wasn’t something their experiences in every day life could have prepared them for. If we are going to rely on a system that was developed or strongly influenced by factors so far in the past that we couldn’t have conceived most of the moral dilemmas that we are facing today, we had better have some confidence that it can actually handle those moral dilemmas. If we abandon it because it “wasn’t designed for those questions”, then what are we going to use to settle them? If we limit our moral systems to handling only those cases that we already know, understand, and have ready answers for, then what happens when we end up in a situation where we don’t? Are we just going to muddle through without using any moral system at all and hope we get the right answer? Better hope we get it right the first time, then.

This approach would make moral systems meaningless. All we would be able to do is regurgitate the answers we picked up from … somewhere, and any time we end up in a sufficiently new situation we, if we were being honest, would have to declare our moral intuitions and moral reasoning suspect. There’d be no point in talking about even an evolved moral compass or moral system because we could never trust it to be right except for those cases where we at least have declared that it worked right in the past. But, of course, even then we’d have no idea if it really worked right in the past, because those would have been new situations, too. Ultimately, to make this work means utter confidence in some overarching moral principle — like increasing happiness — that we can use to assess the results of the action to determine if it was the morally right one or not. Of course, then we can use that same principle to assess future actions as well, and from that even the artificial “thought experiment” ones to see if they work out.

So this leads to another common protest, which is essentially that the thought experiments are designed artificially in such a way to invalidly generate an “immoral” result using the basic principles or system that the person is using. Since the deck is stacked against a specific view in the first place, that the view “fails” the experiment doesn’t say anything about the moral view itself. So we can’t use these sorts of experiments for the purpose they are most commonly used, which is to support one moral view over another.

Here, the issue is that, in general, this objection is raised about cases where the person who holds that moral view concedes that they applied their view to the example and came up with an answer that they themselves consider immoral. The person who holds that moral view is always able to respond by “biting the bullet” and either simply stating that despite the intuitions of the person proposing the experiment or even despite their own intuitions that the answer is morally wrong, it really is the morally right thing to do. So if the person retreats to this objection, we can see that what they have is a contradiction in their moral system: when they apply their moral system, they come up with an answer, but then when they assess that answer against their moral intuitions, they believe strongly, nonetheless, that the answer is immoral. A moral system cannot survive having such contradictions, because that would mean that if someone tried to follow it they risk taking what they think are moral actions that, after they act, they consider horrifically immoral. Thus, any such case reveals a contradiction in their view that they need to resolve, and so cannot be dismissed so blythely.

Ultimately, thought experiments are designed for and perform a very important task: testing moral systems. As such, they need to a) engage the moral systems directly and b) challenge them. While some experiments might be too contrived or artificial to work, if you find yourself protesting that a thought experiment that challenges your own view is too artificial you really should consider whether it is the challenge that is the problem, not the experiment.

Tropes vs Women: Not Your Exotic Fantasy.

April 12, 2017

So, in this video, Sarkeesian is trying to discuss the exotification of female characters, where they are portrayed as being sexy and/or sexual on the basis of the exotic ethnicity. As she herself describes it:

For instance, when certain white men falsely view Asian women as inherently more obedient or submissive than women from other cultures, and sexually fetishize them as a result of these false notions, those women are being exotified, and their race is falsely depicted as the defining aspect of their character and personality.

And if you are going to talk about this sort of thing, Asian women are indeed the typical example, as they are often used in various works to add an exotic sexual appeal just from the fact that they are Asian.

So, then, why does Sarkeesian focus on examples of blacks and indeed have hardly any examples of Asians?

The problem is that Sarkeesian has gone on and on about how women are sexualized in video games. Thus, the implication we are to take from her works is that women, in general, are sexualized and treated as sex objects. Thus, in order to make this video work, she’s going to have to find examples where the women in the games are being treated as sex objects just because of their race and thus it can’t be the case that if you put any woman in that position she’d be equally sexualized. This, of course, is potentially very hard to do. So what Sarkeesian is going to try to do here is instead focus on another use of “exotic”, this time in terms of locale, and thus focus on the idea of a stereotypical idea of a foreign and strange culture. In doing so, she can use games that either are set in an exotic locale or that stereotype a “strange” culture and then take the examples of sexualization from those games to make her overall point about the women being an exotic fantasy.

There would be issues with focusing on Asian cases for this. First, Sarkeesian is likely far less familiar with those stereotypical representations due to the odd relationship Asians have to Social Justice; often being seen as an oppressed class but not being placed front and centre as often due to their relative success when compared to other oppressed groups. Second, Asians wouldn’t fit into the current focus of the Social Justice movement, which is definitely focusing on blacks and Latios due to the political climate. And finally — and most importantly from an argument standpoint — this would run into a real issue since a lot of the most stereotypical presentations might well be presented in Japanese games, which would make the “cultural appropriation” line Sarkeesian wants to pull at a minimum problematic and at worst ridiculous. Thus, Sarkeesian will focus on black characters — who are best known for not being considered attractive because of their race, and so those black women who best fit into the white model being considered the most attractive — instead of focusing on the group that is best known for being considered attractive because of their exotic looks.

And we can see why we have the problem in looking at her first example, that of Far Cry 3:

Ubisoft’s 2012 game Far Cry 3 casts players as Jason Brody, a young white American man vacationing in Bangkok with his brother and their white friends. But their carefree fun comes to an end when a skydiving trip goes wrong and they all end up being kidnapped by evil pirates–who, you guessed it, are not white. Jason escapes and encounters a group of island natives called the Rakyat, who enlist his help to rid their island of the pirates. Ushering Jason into his exotic and exciting new role as a tribal warrior and white savior is Citra, a young woman who is viewed among her people as a “warrior goddess.” Under her guidance, Jason’s adventure rapidly becomes an absurd hodgepodge of racist stereotypes about tribal cultures and Brown women.

At one point, Citra gives Jason a hallucination-inducing drink which leads him into battle with an imagined giant; after he defeats the monster, he’s rewarded with a topless Citra telling him that he is now part of the tribe. Citra’s strange mystical powers return later in the game when she blows a glowing dust into Jason’s face, triggering another hallucinatory sequence that culminates in the game-ending choice: to save Jason’s friends and leave the island, or to do Citra’s bidding: to savagely kill his friends, and stay on the island with her. If players choose to murder Jason’s friends and stay with Citra, a scene plays in which the two of them have sex, then she stabs him while stating that their child will become the new leader of the tribe. I guess those mystical tribal powers of hers just immediately let her know that she’s already pregnant.

Citra is, in fact, pretty much the stereotype of “Sinister Seductress”. So in order to get to “exotic fantasy”, she has to do more than that. And she tries:

On one hand, Citra is yet another example of a female character whose sexuality is presented as a motivator and reward for the presumed straight male player. But there’s something more insidious happening with Citra: Her body paint and magical powers which suggest she practices some sort of tribal mysticism, which also root her in a longstanding tradition of racist stereotypes. These elements of sexism and racism intersect, turning Citra into a stereotype of an exotic, primitive, mystical, savage, sexualized woman of color.

But all she’s doing here is linking the character to the stereotypes. She isn’t in any way establishing that we are supposed to see her as being more attractive because she’s “tribal”, just that we are supposed to find her attractive and she is stereotypically tribal. For Sarkeesian’s point to work, it can’t merely be the case that we have a black woman who happens to be sexually attractive and portrayed that way, but has to be the case that the attraction comes from their race and/or stereotypical presentation of their race and racial traits. And since Sarkeesian can’t do that, she’s hoping that simply pointing out that “intersection” will be enough. And it’s not.

This follows on from her other examples. She talks about an alternate costume in the Resident Evil games that is definitely fetishy … after talking about how all of the alternative outfits for the women in those games are fetishy. She also talks about the sexy stereotypical presentation of a character in Street Fighter … which is a game where all presentations are stereotypical and where she has commented that many of the female models are inappropriately sexualized. The examples don’t establish that the characters are being sexualized because of their race or the racial stereotypes because they are being presented in the same way as all characters are. Thus, all she has to complain about are the stereotypes, but if she just wanted to talk about that, she could, instead of trying to stuff that justification into a potentially related but in reality quite different topic.

The problem with this becomes clear as she discusses Diablo III:

In Diablo 3, there are six–soon to be seven–classes to choose from, but only one of them is represented by Black characters–the witch doctor. Employing just about every visual stereotype about tribal warriors in the book: elaborate piercings, skull masks and body paint, and carrying voodoo dolls and shrunken heads as items of power, the witch doctor is a caricature of tribal identity rooted in centuries-old racist imagery that has no place being perpetuated in the 21st century.

So, given the nature of the game, all of the characters are very stereotypical — or even archetypical — representations of their classes, as far as I can tell (I haven’t played any of the Diablo games). Given the sitting, a Witch Doctor/Shaman class seems like a good fit, and a way to provide a different style of gameplay or even of presentation in a way that everyone will get. Given that, that they’d load up on the visual stereotypes makes sense, and fits in with how the other classes are presented (they load up on the stereotypes for the others, too). So, given that they wanted to add that sort of class, would Sarkeesian have preferred that the character not be black? Would that have helped? Or is it more that Sarkeesian simply doesn’t want to see that sort of character in a game at all, whether it is black or not?

I suspect the latter, given how Sarkeesian ends with examples of non-stereotypical uses of other cultures, and ends with this:

This kind of respectful treatment of cultural history and traditions should be the norm, but instead games more often just plunder marginalized cultures with no sense of respect and no concern whatsoever about accurately reflecting the people and traditions they’re appropriating from. To put it simply, it’s not okay for games to reduce these cultures to stereotypical costumes and personality traits in an effort to add a bit of exotic flair to their worlds. It should not be too much to ask for and expect representations of people of color whose cultural backgrounds are acknowledged and woven into their characters in ways that are thoughtful, validating, and humanizing.

And so, at this point, it’s worth looking at how a lot of games tend to use “exotic” locales and characters. See, another way of looking at “exotic”, as I’ve highlighted above, is simply as “different”. A lot of games don’t delve into their settings much at all, using them as backdrops to the action and drawing on some shallow elements of them to drive things forward. This holds even for Western games in Western cultures. However, for various reasons a particular game might not want to use the typical settings of, say, a standard Western city, but instead might want to try something different, to at least give the player something new to look at. They still don’t want to go into detail on the culture and cultural details, but want some different background cultural elements to mess with player expectations and want some different landmarks to players to look at. They might, for example, want to set a horror game in someplace like, say, Canada and shallowly adopt some of the Canadian myths and legends as the background for the story. And, speaking as a Canadian, I think I’m okay with that as long as they aren’t exceedingly offensive about Canadian stereotypes (and I admit that there will be games that do that for the cultures Sarkeesian is focusing on). But Sarkeesian wants — as her examples show — a deep examination of the culture, which is what the games explicitly didn’t want to do. If they get called out for being merely shallow examinations even if they aren’t egregiously offensive — and even Sarkeesian doesn’t argue that the Far Cry 3 case, for example, is egregiously offensive, just overly and overtly sexual and stereotypical — game companies will be forced into a dilemma: do they add time and money to do this deeper research and examination of the culture for a game where no one in their expected audience really cares and where they only wanted to do something different, or do they instead simply not bother including any culture that might be problematic? I expect them to pick the latter, and I’m pretty sure that them choosing that one more of the time will reduced the “representation” of minority characters in their games, which Sarkeesian also doesn’t like.

There’s nothing wrong with games that deeply explore their cultures, even if that culture is, indeed, the Western culture that we are all immersed in. But not all games are going to want to do that, and Sarkeesian needs to find a way to allow games to set themselves in different cultures without having to make a game that a) they don’t want to make and b) most of the audience doesn’t want to play at the moment. So, in this video, Sarkeesian fails to establish her stated main point, and also fails to make clear how to achieve her actual main point in the context of games in general. That seems like a double failure to me.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 11, 2017

It’s that time again! Time for me to look at teams that I haven’t watched at all this season and try to figure out which of them is going to advance in the playoffs. Here are my predictions for the first round.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs Toronto: This is the year to be scared of overperforming young teams, starting from the World Cup of Hockey with Team North America and continuing through the season with young teams like Toronto and the Edmonton Oilers that did far better than anyone expected them to given where they were in their development. The problem for the Leafs is that they didn’t manage to get a point on Sunday and so have to face Washington, and Washington is certainly a harder opponent than the Senators would be, and I think is a really bad opponent for the Leafs. All season long, the Leafs have had a hard time keeping a lead, as evidenced by blowing a 2 – 0 lead on Sunday. Not being able to hold a lead is not what you want going up against Washington. But the Leafs might be able to cover up their relatively weak defense by playing run and gun, and they have the young talent to do that … but Washington has more than enough firepower to play run and gun with any team and have a pretty good shot at coming out ahead. So I think Washington takes this one.

Prediction: Washington.

Montreal vs Rangers: It was almost the case that the team with home ice advantage in this series had less points during the season, but some wins by Montreal and the Rangers struggling a bit meant that things worked out. This one will probably come down to goaltending. If Weber is healthy and Price plays well, Lundqvist will have to stand out for the Rangers to have any chance here, and Lundqvist has been inconsistent this entire season. If both goalies play at the top of their game, this could be a long series, and home ice advantage is a boon in long series.

Prediction: Montreal

Pittsburgh vs Columbus: Columbus had a great season, and in fact had a far better season than anyone expected them to. They’re certainly capable of an upset here. But the Penguins are still a very strong team, are playing better than Columbus right now, and have two capable goaltenders who have proven that they can win in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is just too high a mountain for Columbus to climb this year.

Prediction: Pittsburgh

Ottawa vs Boston: These teams are so close that you almost might as well flip a coin to decide who’s going to win. The health of Erik Karlsson is key to the success of the Senators here, but all of the rumblings are that his being out for the last few games of the season was more precautionary than necessary. Ottawa has two relatively reliable goaltenders, but I don’t expect either of them to steal a series, while Rask is more capable of that, but hasn’t had his best year. The key to this series, though, is that Ottawa has faced a lot of adversity throughout the season, with injuries and Anderson leaving the team for long stretches because of his wife’s cancer treatments. You can’t underestimate how important knowing that you can battle through tough circumstances is in the playoffs, as it makes your team hard to demoralize. When bad things happen — and they always do — Ottawa will not think “Oh no!” but instead think “Well, here we go again”, and soldier on. This is going to be a close series, but I give Ottawa the nod here.

Prediction: Ottawa.

Western Conference:

Chicago vs Nashville: There’s not much to say here. Nashville is a better team than you might think, but Chicago still has the team that they’ve won Cups with, for the most part. This one should go to Chicago.

Prediction: Chicago

Anaheim vs Calgary: Calgary had a bit of and up and down season but again performed better than a lot of people expected them to. Elliot struggled at the start but I think has come around a bit and at least settled in to being mostly reliable. But Anaheim has more experience and a better team, and so will likely win this series.

Prediction: Anaheim

Minnesota vs St. Louis: The Blues thought that they weren’t going to get very far this season, and so traded away some players in preparation for next season and the expansion draft. And then they made it into the playoffs. Oops. That being said, Jake Allen has been inconsistent and Minnesota has a pretty decent team. While St. Louis could certainly pull off an upset, I’ll have to give this one to Minnesota.

Prediction: Minnesota

Edmonton vs San Jose: Edmonton is another one of those young teams that are overperforming. Their defense is a bit inexperienced, which goes along with, well, most of the team. That being said, adding Milan Lucic who has lots of playoff experience ought to help settle them down, and talent wise they’re pretty strong. This is likely to be a close series, but I expect that even if San Jose manages to shut down Connor McDavid Lucic will help that second line fill in the gap, and having a productive second line is key to winning playoff series.

Prediction: Edmonton


Eastern Conference

Washington vs Toronto Correct
Montreal vs Rangers Incorrect
Pittsburgh vs Columbus Correct
Ottawa vs Boston Correct

Western Conference

Chicago vs Nashville Incorrect
Anaheim vs Calgary Correct
Minnesota vs St. Louis Incorrect
Edmonton vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record:  5 – 3
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:  5 – 3