Dragon Age Blues

March 21, 2018

I have three different characters mid-game in Dragon Age: Origins: A dwarf noble, a Dalish elf, and a human mage. I enjoyed playing as these characters, and had relatively distinct personalities for all of them: the dwarf was lawful, respectful and noble, the elf was adventurous, and the mage was mostly average. And yet, for all of those stories some other game came along and pre-empted the stories. For the dwarf, I’m pretty sure it was “The Old Republic”. For the elf, it was a replay of Persona 5. And for the mage, it’s going to be Blue Reflection.

So, why Blue Reflection? Well, when I was browsing on Amazon, it recommended it to me. Looking at it, it was described as a Persona-like game, which always piques my interest. But in looking around, it seemed that many people were also pushing it as a girl-focused game, which didn’t appeal to me that much. But then I thought about it, and thought that if I was willing to play Conception II and defend it as a game, I really should be willing to give this one a chance, even if it was being advocated as a game aimed at girls/women. Maybe, since there were some complaints about fanservice and thus hints that it was aimed more at the male audience, but then there were the comparisons to Sailor Moon, which had similar things but was definitely something that girls were drawn to, but then I also watched that anime a bit — Mercury being my favourite of the characters — and so maybe it would be good and …

Yeah, no one should really put that much thought into whether or not to buy a game. And ultimately, I decided to get it, figuring that if it was a decent Persona-style game then I’d enjoy it, and if it wasn’t I’d get some blog posts out of talking about it and where it went wrong as a Persona clone and whether or not it’s really a girl game or not. And, heck, I just finished watching “Jem”, so it wouldn’t be the first thing I watched that was aimed more at girls than at boys.

So, I’m through the prologue, and are just at the point where you actually get to go out in the world and talk to people and build affection and thus do the elements that I like in the Personas. What do I think of it so far?

The biggest thing that struck me is just how good Persona 3 did this that the other games simply don’t seem to be able to match, despite having it as an example, and despite the fact that the later Persona games seem to have improved on that model while their competitors are still miles behind. While the Personas can be said to have prologues that run for too long before getting to the good stuff, Blue Reflection has a shorter prologue that seems more boring than those did. The main reason, I think, is that the game’s protagonist is not a silent protagonist and has a set personality — which is tightly tied to the plot — and so they don’t actually let you choose her responses to the people she meets in the prologue (this might change later). While the protagonist’s responses didn’t actually change anything in the game, at least you could set a personality, and Hinako — the protagonist — often makes very odd, extreme, mean or rude responses. The biggest one is with the girl who wants you to decide how or if she should approach her crush, and Hinako when directly asked snaps at her, causing her to have an emotional breakdown that you need to clean up. Since the main issue she had was the fear of making a decision, that could have been triggered with a much less rude response, and there is no way for the player to choose how Hinako reacts.

The game is built around emotions and empathy, as people losing control over their emotions can cause damage to their consciousness, and so Hinako has to go into the collective unconsciousness and stabilize their emotions. In doing so, she has to empathize with what they’re feeling, and in general how this works is that Hinako remembers something in her life that was similar to what they were going through and so can relate, and so can stabilize their emotions that way, which turns them into support members in her fight with the massive enemies that show up on occasion and are going to destroy the world, at least according to her fellow Reflectors.

I found it disappointing that you don’t get to convert them to fighting beside you directly, like the Personas do, and I don’t really see why they didn’t do that, or at least didn’t do that for some of the characters.

Hinako herself is damaged psychologically, however, as she had a serious knee injury that ended her career as a ballet dancer, which she had dedicated her life to doing, and at the start she is even wondering what kind of life she could have without ballet, and the player can’t really do anything, at least in the prologue, to steer her towards any kind of goal. She even tries to refuse the call as a Reflector until the other two say that if she manages to save the world she’ll get one wish granted, no matter what it is. Of course, she wants to wish to be able to do ballet again. I can see two ways this could go. The first and the one I both think the most likely and the best is that she will finally get the chance to make her wish … and there will be something else that she has to wish for instead, like the life or emotional health of one or all of her support people and friends. Alternatively, there was a look between the other two Reflectors that could suggest that they were actually lying to her about the wish to get her to fight the enemies. I hope the latter isn’t true, but it would be a nice bit of foreshadowing if that happened.

The combat on Easy is pretty boring, but not so much because it is that easy, but because it is that repetitive. You really should just use your skills until you run out of MP and then recharge as appropriate, as your HP and MP refill after every battle so there is no reason to conserve it. That’s nice, but so far the enemies haven’t really required any targeting of weaknesses — which they supposedly have — or any variation in strategy other than to delay their turns as much as you can and/or wipe out multiple enemies with your area attacks. This might change as things go on.

So far, the game is entertaining enough, but I’m just getting to the good part, where you actually have to do quests in the world. It’s this part that will make or break the game for me.


Thoughts on “Living Among Us”

March 19, 2018

So, as I said at the end of my thoughts on Jem, I was going to talk about some other things for the next little while. What happened was that I was browsing in Walmart and saw some cheap horror movies on DVD that I thought sounded interesting. I didn’t think much of them at the time, and figured they’d be like the old, schlocky B-movies but, hey, they cost about $10 and might be interesting. So, I bought three and as of the time I write this, I’ve watched all of them, and have things to say about all of them, which is what I’m going to do for the next little while. And this worked out so well that I went back and bought some more — which I haven’t watched yet — specifically to talk about on the blog and generate content for the blog. So you’re going to see a number of these for a while.

The interesting thing is that after I watched each of the movies, I went and looked online for reviews to see what people thought of them. In general, the reactions were quite positive, and far more positive than I’m going to be about them. It seems that these aren’t, in general, considered cheap movies that do some kind of horror, but are taken seriously as being innovative or strongly artistic. Given that, my looking at them in-depth seems far more reasonable and far less unfair than it might have seemed at first.

Since these are relatively recent and I’m going to provide massive spoilers as I talk about the plot, I’ll continue below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

An argument against PoC gaining power …

March 16, 2018

There is a long-standing debate over whether or not PoC can be considered racist. In general, the debate revolves around them having the structural power to impose those prejudices on others, with the argument being that they don’t have power and so can’t actually be racist. I tend to find this sort of reasoning meaningless, and in general really want to know if the person denying that PoC can be racist think that them having prejudices against whites is bad or not. Tony Thompson at “The Orbit” pretty much answers that question in a recent post while defending the idea that PoC can’t really be racist:

People of Color (Black and non-Black) in the United States can (and many do) hold prejudicial or bigoted beliefs about white people. Whether it is right or wrong to do so (IMO, a strong argument could be made that it is reasonable for PoC, based on their treatment by white people, to hold anti-white prejudices) …

It seems, then, that he doesn’t think they’re wrong to do so, or that it’s wrong. About the only way this can work is if he argues that their prejudices generally reflect reality, but if that was true then they wouldn’t be prejudices, but would be more or less accurate generalizations. So he’d still have to answer whether or not actual prejudices are right or wrong, and he’d also open up the purportedly prejudicial and therefore racist attitudes of whites to the challenge that they as well aren’t prejudices, but are more or less accurate generalizations. This probably isn’t the sort of thing he was going for in this short little comment.

He then moves on to make an inadvertent argument that white people should not allow PoC to have power if they can prevent it:

In short, People of Color can be anti-white, but they cannot be racist against white people bc they lack the collective power to impose their prejudices on white folks as a racial category. Access to social, political, economic, and religious power is a fundamental component to the system of oppression known as racism (in the same way that access to such power is essential to sexism, which is why men do not experience sexism). Without that access to power, there can be no domination, oppression, or subjugation of white people by PoC.

So let me be generous and assume that this prejudices are about as common in PoC as they are in white people. It’s probably more likely that they are more common in PoC since they are deemed more acceptable by the peers of PoC than they are in whites — there are far more whites who strongly and openly oppose those prejudices in whites than there are amongst PoC — but let’s assume they are equal. This means that if PoC gain power, they will impose their prejudices on whites at about the same rate as whites currently do. Assuming that white people really do have all the power now, given Thompson’s argument they have good reasons not to share it with PoC. First, it’s not likely to reduce actual racism at all, even using the “power” argument, because once PoC gain power then their actions really will be racist by that definition. Second, it’s not the self-interest of white people to give up that power because, again, once PoC gain that power then imposing their prejudices will result in the actual oppression of white people, and there’s really no reason for a group to participate willing in their own oppression. So, from this argument, it seems reasonable for white people to oppose PoC gaining the power to oppress, because sharing their power won’t do anything to reduce oppression and it’s not a rational move for white people to take actions that will lead to them being oppressed.

Alternatively, we could work to simply eliminate prejudice entirely, which then should mean that no matter who has power there is no racism and no oppression. I don’t think Thompson being able to justify his righteous anger is enough of a benefit to allow prejudice, among any group, to remain or be seen as acceptable.

He then goes on to list a number of historical examples of racism and, by casting them as PoC doing those things to white people, tries to make the point that whites were not oppressed and PoC were, historically. He completely ignores Asian and PoC-led countries — Japan, China and much of Africa — where PoC do indeed have the power and discriminate against white people, focusing only on the United States. While he may want to focus on the United States, these examples show, again, that giving power to PoC does not result in fair and equitable societies, but instead in actual oppression of white people (and PoC that are not their colour, demonstrating the key flaw in claiming that all PoC are allies). Moreover, this argument is an actual “Dear Muslima” argument. If a white person doesn’t get hired while a demonstrably less qualified — even taking Affirmative Action into account — PoC does because of the racial prejudice of a PoC hiring manager, it’s not much comfort to that person to appeal to “Well, there was slavery in the past!”. And if a white person gets attacked and beat up by a PoC or group of PoC based on racial prejudice, that those PoC don’t have political power isn’t going to take away the pain or heal the injuries. All those become, then, are excuses to allow then to avoid having to admit that what they did was, in fact, actually wrong.

The direct consequence of the argument that PoC can’t be racist because they don’t have power is that we should avoid giving them power if we want to oppose racism, since if they hold those prejudicial attitudes giving them power will end up with them being actually racist, as long as the defenders of that argument stick to that argument. Somehow, I don’t think that they will stick to that argument should PoC gain power. Thus, at the end of the day, all this is is a way to avoid having to actually oppose prejudicial attitudes in PoC, thus allowing them to focus all of their criticism on similar attitudes in white people. Personally, I think that we should work to eliminate prejudicial attitudes where ever they arise and should never consider them acceptable … which probably makes me a racist bigot in their eyes.

Super Seducer …

March 14, 2018

So, there’s a big kerfuffle going on in the gaming world over a game by Richard La Ruina called “Super Seducer”, that appears on Steam but has been rejected from PSN network. Normally, I’d have probably ignored something like this, but this issue hits on pretty much everything that I’ve been talking about on this blog for, well, its entire existence, except for Stoicism. It involves dating sims, video games, PUAs, feminism, social justice, social justice and video games, social justice vs video games, and shyness. While controversial, it’s not like I’ve actually shied away from commenting on controversial issues, and it represents a microcosm of things that bother me about things work today.

So, the basic issue is that La Ruina has created a CYOA dating sim type game to promote and teach his PUA techniques. The game is, as I said, on Steam. A number of the usual Social Justice suspects heard about this and, despite not being in either of the intended audiences — either people who are interested in PUA techniques or who are interested in dating sims — raised a huge fuss over it, essentially because it’s a PUA game and therefore bad. This is despite the fact that many of them have no idea what PUA techniques actually are. For example, a constant criticism of them is over negging, which is always presented as being insulting a woman to lower her self-esteem and make her vulnerable when the technique really is about using that against a woman who is confident in herself to demonstrate value, that unlike all of the other men who won’t dare even playfully tease her for fear that she’ll be offended and so they will lose any chance they have with her you are perfectly fine taking the chance that she’ll be offended because, presumably, if she does get offended and shoots you down you believe that you’ll have other options anyway, which demonstrates that you’re a man who is desirable.

Anyway, let me dump a bunch of resources on you. I’m probably going to talk most about Jim Sterling’s discussion of Sony rejecting it, mostly because it talks about a number of issues that I want to touch on. Since that’s a video, I won’t quote much from it directly, and so will paraphrase, but I’m likely to quote at least a little bit from a number of articles, like this one by Harris O’Malley (also Dr. Nerdlove) at Kotaku, this one calling for a petition to get it removed from Steam by Carys Afoko, this one from John Walker at Rock Paper Shotgun (hey we meet again!), and maybe this one from Allegra Frank at Polygon, but you can read that even if I don’t talk about it much.

So there’s lots to say, in other words.

Okay, before I get more into this, let me outline my own experience with PUAs. I’m one of those shy virgin types that La Ruina says his stuff is designed for, as related by Jim Sterling. In the olden days, when newsgroups were big things, the PUAs used to go directly to their audience by frequenting the alt.support.shyness newsgroup. The famous — or infamous, depending on who you are — Mystery definitely posted their directly, and they spent time “debating” techniques with someone else who was promoting his own system that they felt wasn’t going to work. So I got to interact directly with them, which also allowed me to post my own objections to their methods and see their responses. And my general objection was that it would probably work to get sex, but wasn’t going to be all that great at getting a relationship, despite their insistence that you could. The reason was that the method was essentially aimed at figuring out what sorts of things she liked and then molding your approach to feed that back to her, which might work in the short term but would be hard to maintain. The general idea was that what you always wanted to do was make her feel good, and then associate those good feelings with you, so that you could demonstrate value, in that you would be seen as someone who would make her feel good. Thus, even if she didn’t actually find you all that attractive to start with, by instilling positive feelings in her she might feel more pleasantly disposed towards you and develop enough attraction so that you can, well, score. This is why negging isn’t aimed at making her feel bad about herself and thus vulnerable, because the key there is that it makes her feel bad, which most PUAs find counter-productive. Now, as most of them aren’t scientists or psychologists or anything formal, it’s actually possible that the success of negging is because it makes her feel vulnerable and she tries hard to prove to herself that at least someone finds her attractive, but that’s not the intent.

Also, the common complaint in all of the articles and the video is that it encourages men to treat women like objects as opposed to actual people. Aside from these being related as strategies that you can use to get women — which men and women have been coming up with and relating for thousands of years now and so shouldn’t cause anyone to bat an eyelash — the biggest element that does this is the encouragement for shy men to stop fixating on one woman and developing massive crushes on her, sometimes even before meeting her, and instead believing that, at worst, she’s one woman much like any other and so a) you should just go up and approach her as soon as you can without waiting for some kind of “perfect” moment and b) if she declines, don’t moon about it or persist, and instead just move on to the next one (this is the strategy of “one-and-done”: try once, and if it doesn’t work, forget about her and move on). Of course, while this attitude might seem like it treats women as interchangeable objects, it’s generally better than obsessive crushing over someone who either doesn’t know you exist or isn’t interested, and avoids all sorts of complications like someone suddenly coming on too strong because they’ve been fantasizing about a relationship for ages or someone hanging on as a friend in the hopes of turning it into something more. It also avoids one of the big problems shy men have, which is being afraid to approach and putting too much pressure on themselves which makes them either not approach or flub it when they do by taking the pressure off the approach and encouraging them to just do it and not care as much about the outcome. I’ve long commented that if all I cared about was sex approaching would be less of an issue, because if the approach fails I wouldn’t care, whereas if I’m feeling out a potential relationship I obviously think more of that person and their at least somewhat unique traits than I would otherwise and so don’t want to screw it up. For me, though, simply getting sex isn’t enough motivation for me; the pressure is off, but the motivation is reduced so much that I can’t be bothered, and approaching is never a trivial investment for me. And, in fact, one of my worries about the “respect women” approaches is that they increase the potential negative consequences of approaching. Rejection is bad enough, but if a bad approach might get you fired or kicked out of a conference or bashed all over the internet for many shy men they might as well not even bother. Sure, their fumbling might not have those consequences, but shy men will tend to worry more about the worst possible outcomes than other men do.

In fact, I’d suggest that the advice that people like Dr. Nerdlove give to men have created more misogynists than PUAs ever have, as most shy men did not take lack of relationships as sanguinely as I did, and the advice like “Get to know them first” and “Start as friends and then move to sexual things later” only ends up with friendzoning, and men end up not succeeding and being made to feel like misogynists for following the given advice, and note that people who ignore it succeed and are, in general, not considered misogynists. Most of the misogynists on alt.support.shyness were indeed men who tried the standard advice, found it didn’t work, and found that society blamed them for that instead of the advice. This, of course, would leave them vulnerable to PUAs who ignore that advice and appeal to their own personal experiences that what you are told works doesn’t, but that their approach does.

Okay, so let’s leave PUAs for a while, and talk about the game. Sterling comments on the reasons that people are crying that this is censorship is entirely because Sony said they’d put it on and now say they won’t, and so it seems like something was taken away. He links it to Hatred, which never even made it to consoles and was pulled from Steam, and people only complained about it being taken off of Steam. Here, he makes an argument that is both obvious and misleading. The issue is that Sony had accepted it but then there was a huge outcry from people who are not the intended audience — again, see the article about there being a petition to pull it from Steam — and then Sony decided to pull it. It’s a perfectly reasonable assumption to assume that the outcry played a big role in this decision. Sterling does not help this impression when he talks about Sony having a task force designed to promote women playing games who wouldn’t care for this game, because again this game is not aimed at them and so we’d have to assume that their argument would have to be that having this in the store would discourage women from buying other Sony games, or perhaps that every game on the store has to be aimed at women as well as men or else it can’t be there. And my response to either argument is that the arguments are utter crap. Women are perfectly free to not buy games that aren’t aimed at them, and even to not buy games that they find personally offensive, demeaning, or whatever. Promoting women in gaming does not have to mean that there can never be any games that don’t aim at them, and this game is definitely and specifically a game that is not aimed at them. Even if it was a bit misogynist, it’s aimed at people who either are that or don’t care about that … and they’d still have to establish that.

And the Hatred example turns out to be a bad example, because the ESRB gave it an AO rating and consoles don’t accept games with AO ratings. Since the game was clearly aiming for that sort of rating, then this really was just the consequence of what they tried to do … unlike the Steam case. Again, people are assuming that it was the controversy and complaints that got it removed, and that’s a reasonable assumption. Sure, Sony might just have thought that La Ruina wasn’t handling the controversy well and didn’t want to have to put up with that crap over such a small game, but they really should say that if they don’t want people thinking that it was the controversy that did it.

So let’s talk more about the complaints. Are they valid? Are they reasonable complaints that someone who isn’t the intended audience can reasonably make? Let me start from the post with the petition that’s calling for it to be removed from Steam by Afoko:

Pickup artists like La Ruina make a living selling men sleazy “seduction tricks” to teach them how “to pull”. Behind the so-called psychology of his methods are some pretty dangerous ideas. That persistence and the right lines are more important than what a woman tells you she wants. Too many of us have been on the receiving end of those ideas. Too many of us have had to deal with men who won’t take no for an answer, convinced it’s a matter of time until we succumb to their “charms”. La Ruia may not know better than to encourage men to harass women, but a company the size of Steam should. They never should have approved this game for sale.

Of course, most PUAs actually advocate taking a “No” for an answer, at least once it has become clear that it is a “No”. Does the game encourage this sort of pressure after a clear rejection? She doesn’t say, and doesn’t give any examples. The title of the article is about how the game encourages groping, but she gives no examples of it doing so and most of the other sources talk about how the more egregious approaches are portrayed as ones that won’t work. One of them (Walker) even tries to use that against him:

All the way through, the game attempts to disguise the repellent stupidity of the whole process with the outlandishness of the “wrong” choices. So those two girls in a bar – should you click on, “Ask them if they know what you like in a girl. The answer being your dick”? Ha ha! No! That won’t work! They’ll say, “Ew!” and ask you to leave! Much better to instead just creepily invade their lives for your vile creep motives.

These choices serve two purposes. They give you the option to watch Richard say the deeply demeaning thing to some actresses, and laugh at that; and they allow the so-called “right” option to seem, in comparison, much less lecherous. In reality, of course, you’re just picking the least creepy option of a bunch of creepy options, the result still being incredibly, repellently creepy.

Implying that the choices are there mostly so that the players and La Ruina can say those demeaning things that they really want to say to them while masking the fact that the right responses are, presumably, cleaned up versions of those things. While I’m not as good at mindreading as Walker clearly is, I’m more inclined to think that they are there for those men who take people like Walker seriously and think that all PUAs are just misogynistic and so think that that sort of strong approach is right, while PUAs know that being that openly misogynistic doesn’t actually work.

And that’s another issue here. The articles waffle between insisting both that the right answers are completely obvious and that the advice and methods don’t work. Frank implies that it does work here:

There’s definitely some fun to be had at first with making a live-action avatar talk about his dick with abandon. But there’s always an awareness of the discomfort the woman sitting across from Richard must feel — or will eventually feel — as he eggs her on or chips away at her defenses. We have those defenses up for a reason: The dating game is a challenge, and it’s one that us women stand to lose more often than not.

Now, another personal anecdote here. When I was in university, I was in the debating society and helped out with a tournament. A female friend of the president at the time — also female — was there, and I thought she was pretty and seemed nice. And then she said that whenever she was drinking and was around a rather … successful member of the society, she always ended up having sex with him even though she didn’t want to. And I lost a ton of respect for her right there. While the guy could be charismatic and a player, certainly, if she knew what was happening and really didn’t want it to happen she could easily take precautions like, say, not drinking (and note that I grew up in an area where drinking was the number one passtime and still becoming a complete non-drinker, so it’s not impossible to do that). The same thing applies here: if you know that these techniques are being used and are chipping away at defenses, then you can do lots of things to avoid that happening, like being more suspicious, or even leaving. If these techniques are common, I’d almost say that every woman worried about that should want to buy the game and study them to learn what they are and to develop strategies to deal with them, which should be available. In fact, one of my main comments on it was that smart women will see through them and will only go along with them when they want to. So how is it that I give women more credit than these feminist defenders of women do?

Anyway, though, the more common refrain is that they don’t work. From Walker:

Of course, alongside its inherent grossness, PUA is complete woo from top to bottom. It’s entirely reliant on men who are so completely clueless, and so completely in denial of a woman’s agency, that they aren’t able to recognise that their ridiculous pack of “techniques” are a sordid fantasy. The concept is completely entwined in this idiotic notion that women are a near-inanimate castle to be conquered, just a series of routinely deployed defences to break through, before reaching the treasure hidden inside the walls. Rather than, oh I don’t know, being other humans.

But how does he know that? Has he tried them? Because the PUAs always cite the empirical evidence that they have some success — and they brutally eviscerate (verbally!) any competition who can’t claim to have that success, even challenging them to contests to prove that they have success — using their techniques, which is what they use to convince people to pay for the materials. Sure, there might be other explanations, but so many critics jump to the idea that these things can never work and never test them, while constantly misunderstanding and misrepresenting what it actually says. Again, I agree that it relies too much on deception and manipulation to work for long, but most PUAs don’t want a relationship anyway … and it’s not like a lot of the existing techniques, even those aimed at women, don’t do that either (like going someplace you don’t want to go because it’s a good place to meet members of the opposite sex, like joining a club you don’t enjoy but is dominated by people of the opposite sex. My objection to that has always been that my not enjoying myself is not a good mindset to be in when trying to impress a woman). If they don’t work, these men will ditch them soon enough. And if they do work, then he’s selling precisely what he says he’s selling … and if they are problematic, it might be a good question to ask women why these problematic approaches actually work.

So, finally, what is the game itself actually like? From looking at various reviews, I was interested in it as a fan of dating sims, and it looked like one that might be somewhat interesting, with a range of responses allowing for roleplay and reasonably attractive models to interact with, although it might be a bit shallow. Since the last pure dating sim I’ve played was Huniepop, and since I don’t really have any others to play beyond the elements in Persona 5, it seemed like it might be a more pure dating sim and a slightly deeper one than Huniepop, and so somewhat interesting. Of course, there might be tons of other games out there that I don’t see because I refuse to use Steam and don’t really have any other way to get them — I got Huniepop from GOG, which doesn’t seem to have anything else like that on offer — but it looked like it might be unique. However, I’m going to agree with O’Malley’s criticism here:

With each choice, Coach-Richard will appear to let you know whether you made the right choice, the wrong choice, or the enh-I-guess choice, and why it should or shouldn’t work. Get the right choice, and you’ll see Player-Richard lounging around on a bed with models who resolutely ignore him and stare into the middle-distance. Make a “meh” choice and the models are busy doing their nails instead of draping themselves over the bed like throw pillows. Get the wrong choice and it’s just Richard on the bed, staring at you with stern disapproval.

The effect is actually jarring.

Super Seducer could have actually have become marginally more entertaining by stealing a page from Telltale games and let each scene play through. Live with your consequences, while Coach-Richard analyzes choices at the end of it all, explaining, why doing X got Y results. Instead, each scene ends with your rating—will you be a chump? A Casanova? The titular Super Seducer?—and a replay of Coach-Richard’s advice before moving on to the next scenario.

I think this would have been better for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it would turn it into an actual game rather than simply a tutorial. Even better, it would allow for roleplaying, where you take on the role of someone and act as they would act and see how that works out for you. Of course, while there are different endings (according to O’Malley) the difference isn’t likely to be big enough to make that work out all that well for most people. Still, I don’t have interest in it as a tutorial in La Ruina’s PUA techniques, but was only interested in it as a game, and don’t think it would be that great. That being said, in reply to O’Malley:

Super Seducer isn’t worth it. Its value as education is as marginal as its value as entertainment. Frankly, you’d be better off learning how to seduce women by playing Stardew Valley. At least then you’d have a future as a farmer when the whole pick-up artist thing doesn’t work out.

It’s about $15 on Steam, regular price. I’ve dropped about that on games that sounded mildly interesting and never played before, so it doesn’t have to be all that interesting to be worth that price. As it is at least currently only on Steam, I won’t be buying it, but I think that, at the end of the day, all of the complaints against it are greatly overblown, and at the end of the day only serve to give a mediocre game attention that it wouldn’t get otherwise. The best outcome for the Social Justice side here is that it gets “censored” and most non-Social Justice people get left wondering what the big deal is and start thinking that they overreact, and the worst case is that it stays and does better than expected as most people buy it for the controversy and find that, again, the criticisms are overblown, promoting better made games inspired by it. I really think that in this case the Social Justice side should really have just let it go.

New Thoughts …

March 12, 2018

So, I’ve spent a number of weeks watching half-hour TV shows and giving my thoughts on them. However, I can only watch full series of half-hour shows right now, and I’ve been having a hard time finding new half-hour shows to watch. And I’ve either already talked about the shows that I own, or they aren’t all that interesting. So, what to do? And then it hit me: cartoons! I have a number of cartoons that I’ve either never watched or that I’ve watched but haven’t really explored or talked about, and since I’ve been wanting to watch them anyway, this is the perfect time to do that and comment on them or comment on them in at least a little more depth than I have before. And so, given that, the first one I’m going to talk about is …

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Damasio and Emotion …

March 9, 2018

So, a post at Butterflies and Wheels grabs some tweets from Antonio Damasio about his new book. I looked up the book on Amazon and decided that it didn’t interest me, as it’s pretty much about our basic emotions related to survival instinct, which does not fall into my range of philosophical interests. But the first tweets say things about the relation between emotions and social improvement, and in particular about the importance of emotions and how reason isn’t as important as people think. As a Stoic, obviously that greatly interests me, mostly because I strongly disagree with it [grin].

Feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors and negotiators of human cultures.

Emotions have, of course, in general been great motivators of human cultures, and have played strong roles in the monitoring and negotiating that goes on in those cultures. Few will disagree with that. The general response from people who at least dislike emotions is that while emotions have been used for all of those things, they are often actually quite bad at it. Emotion, in general, has been used to justify atrocities as much as it has been used to justify progress. I, at least, am not going to argue that emotions are, in fact, always bad or destructive. My reply is always going to be that emotions aren’t necessarily any more likely to produce good results as bad ones unless they are strongly tempered by reason. If all of your emotional reactions are strongly and intentionally aligned with what the rational thing to do to promote the good is, then emotions are fine. But, in general, emotions don’t necessarily align with rational assessments, and when they do so most often do that completely accidentally. That’s precisely why we can’t rely on emotion when we’re trying to do the right thing.

Love, compassion and gratitude are emotions and are forces for the good. Only negative emotions such as anger, hate or contempt are destructive. Blaming emotions for our social ills misses that critical distinction.

Except that it isn’t clear that his negative emotions are always destructive and his good ones are always forces for good. If someone gets angry at a perceived injustice and that anger motivates them to oppose that injustice, is that anger destructive? If someone hates or has contempt for evil, is that destructive? And love can lead to strongly irrational and harmful actions if taken too far. Even compassion can be a destructive force if done in cases where compassion isn’t warranted. The only exception seems to be gratitude, but gratitude, in general, is defined as only being true gratitude in cases where the person being grateful really ought to be grateful for the kindness that the other person has done. If they are being grateful for something that they ought not be grateful for, we usually don’t consider that valid gratitude. From this, we can see that the case where emotions, in general, are forces for good is when they judge the situations correctly, and act in a rationally justifiable way for that situation. Thus, again, if emotions are tightly joined to reason, then they are forces for good, but should they stray, then they are destructive. This, of course, is not a good justification for the importance of emotions in and of themselves.

Claiming reason as the solution to social ills misses the point that often facts and arguments only improve conditions when they persuade and prompt action. Persuasion requires emotions and feelings as the critical negotiators.

While emotions can be powerful persuasive forces, that doesn’t mean that relying on them — and, in particular, on strong emotions like love — is a good thing. The overall issue with emotions is that they roll three separate components of actions into one. First, they are always judgements of a specific situation, as they assess whether this situation is something to be happy about, fear, be angry about, or whatever. Second, they suggest an immediate action to take in reaction to that situations. And finally, they provide a very strong motivating force to take the action that they suggest. Since this is all rolled up into one base reaction, it is incredibly easy for us to simply go along with it and very hard for us to resist it. And that, of course, is perfectly fine as long as all of those things are correct. But any one of those could go astray. We could be judging the situation incorrectly or the action could be inappropriate given the situation we’re in. If either of these is incorrect, then we should resist the temptation to take that action … and the emotional motivation is very tempting. Since the emotional motivation is both strong and immediate, we really want to make sure that what we’re doing is the right thing to do, or else we could cause a disaster by taking such a precipitous action. That requires reason to take the lead here, not emotion.

We can use emotion to persuade people, certainly, but doing so implies that using reason would fail. However, if we are in a situation where reason would fail there are only two reasons why that would be the case. The first is that we simply don’t have a rational argument that we can make, and so have to appeal to emotion to get the other person to ignore reason and act the way we want them to. That’s not a good solution, because it implies that we are trying to convince them to do the incorrect thing since we really ought to be able to determine what the correct action is using reason. The second is that the person, for whatever reason, is impermeable to actual reasoning, and so despite the fact that we can prove that our view is the rational one they will resist it anyway. An argument can be made that in some strong cases appealing to emotion would be a better solution than letting them act on their irrational conclusions, but we certainly shouldn’t use that as a general rule, and instead should be working on getting them to fix their irrationalities. And one of the main ways to do that is to insist that all decisions have to be rationally justified, and that we can’t use emotion to substitute for reason in making these sorts of decisions.

Emotions are only useful if they are right. The only way to ensure that our emotions are right is to assess them using reason. If we insist that emotions are to be listened to over and above reason, then all we do is encourage listening to emotions when they are wrong, which can lead to disaster. If given a choice between passionless reason and reasonless emotion, I’m going to choose the former every time.

Ethical Loot Boxes …

March 7, 2018

Continuing their theme of talking about monetization schemes and why they are necessary, Extra Credits has started a multi-part — maybe two, maybe more — on ethical loot boxes. They seem to, in general, like loot boxes, but their view of its biggest benefits is … odd, to say the least. They present loot boxes as essentially being rich, frivolous gamers subsidizing gamers who aren’t rich by buying things that they don’t really need — and that the Extra Credits team things no one should really want or need — and providing that extra income that allows the gaming companies to keep prices low. They compare this to rich people buying a Ferrari, and point out that we generally allow rich people to spend their money in these ways without too much complaint, and so it should be fine here. The problem is that they misunderstand to a large degree what rich people tend to be doing when they make these luxury purchases, mischaracterize what is happening in games, and are appealing to a model that has never actually existed anywhere ever to make their claim that this is good and beneficial to gamers.

First, it isn’t really accurate to say that it’s rich people subsidizing people who are not rich when it comes to the gaming market. What’s really happening is that people who have more disposable income to put towards games or who are willing to pay more for games and subsidizing the people who don’t have as much disposable income or who are not willing to pay more for games, if their model is correct. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it matters because you may have “rich” people on either end here. It comes down to what someone is willing or able to pay, not how much money they actually have. And the question at the convention about how many people would buy the same number of games if they were $80 instead of $60 should be seen to reflect that. When it comes to gaming, most of the people purchasing games have some kind of budget. If we assume that someone, say, has a budget that would let them buy a game a month, at $60 that comes to $720. So, twelve games a year for $720. If the price increases to $80, then for that same amount they could only purchase nine games. So they’d be forced to either increase their budget by a third or decrease the number of games they buy by a third. While in the earlier videos and even here it was implied that this might be psychological, in general it’s more budgetary: they either can’t afford the increase or don’t think the extra games are worth increasing their budget for. And if they figure out that things like loot boxes and monetization schemes are causing them to blow their budget, they’ll start reconsidering these as well.

And this leads into how they don’t understand the mindset of those “rich” people that they are relying on to subsidize the others, because they are appealing to a model that has never existed. There is, as far as I know, no case outside of maybe FTP gaming — MMOs and the like — where this has ever been the case. To use their car example, the closest we can find are companies that have luxury lines as well as standard and economy lines, so Cadillac for Chevrolet and Lincoln for Ford, for example. But it was never the case that the luxury lines subsidized the regular and economy lines. Instead, all of those lines were expected to — and generally do — make their own profits and carry their own weight. They’re meant to be lines aimed at different markets, and so have significantly different design goals that attempt to fit in with each other where ever they can. Luxury models tend to be ones that focus on comfort and, well, luxuries. You get the best materials and the newest technology. The standard models and economy models tend to strip a lot of that out, and strip it down to what customers really need. For the most part, the idea is that most drivers might like many of the things you get in the luxury cars … but not enough to pay that much money for it. They can get what they need — and some of what they want — from the standard cars, and that’s good enough for them.

What you have to notice here, though, is that the “rich” people aren’t generally buying these things and spending money on them just because they want to spend money. They are always getting something out of it that they value enough to pay that much for, just like everyone else does. Sure, the more money you have the less you care about the sticker price — it’s not like they’re risking their rent to buy that luxury car — but they definitely get something out of the deal. A Ferrari, to use their example, is a very well-engineered performance vehicle, and also comes with a lot of bells and whistles that some car buffs might really want. If they like that enough and can afford it, they’ll buy it. So one of the things that luxury makers will try to do is actually give their customers some functionality that benefits them. In short, they will try to make it an overall better product to justify the extra cost so that people with money are more likely to purchase it.

You can, of course, say that even with the added functionality and even taking into account that they don’t have to worry about the price as much, there are a lot of luxury purchases that still seem excessive. But there’s another benefit that people can get from luxury purchases, which is the social benefit. By being able to purchase such seemingly frivolous things that they can display in public, they signal that yes, they are that rich and have access to those things. And this can be incredibly important, as the image of being wealthy can help one achieve and maintain wealth. If someone wanted investors for their next big project and showed up in a beat-up Honda, those investors might wonder if that person really has the wealth to make this project work, and wonder if they were any kind of success at all. Sure, the idea should be paramount and someone who didn’t spend money on frills is likely to be more of a success than someone who does, but the image of being wealthy and successful can be very important. Many “rich” people buy the things they do to present an image of success, and being able to buy those luxury items and get “the very best” is a big part of that.

And from here we can start to see, I think, the disturbing result they saw in the science, where people spent more than they could afford on these sorts of things because they were afraid of being tossed out of their guild or to maintain some kind of top-dog status. Even if this was just aimed at rich people, it would be important for these things to provide something of value, something that rich players or players in general might want. When it comes down to what people are willing to pay, then this becomes even more important. So, perhaps they provide some kind — even if small — of mechanical advantage in the game … and then people who can’t afford them worry that this will just make them fall behind enough so that other players will be chosen ahead of them. The more competitive the game, the bigger a worry this is. Or you can give it a social appeal, where people look at those players and think how cool those cosmetic things are and want them themselves. This then could engender envy, and could also have it be the case that people who got ahead and got recognition for this using these schemes now feel they have to keep doing this to live up to that image (we see the same thing with rich people who lose money but keep spending so they don’t look “poor” to their social circle).

The only way to avoid this at least being a significant problem is to return to the general “luxury” model, where you aim these things at different markets. What you want is to have one market think those things are cool but not worth paying for, while the other market is willing to pay for it. I don’t know what sorts of schemes they’ll talk about in the next parts of this — I’m writing this before that video is out — but one thing that I thought of while musing on this is something like the Dragon Age Keep. Dragon Age had a number of different scenarios that could impact the world, and so when Inquisition came out they provided a way to build the world with the conditions that you wanted to see. While it was free — as it replaced the ability to import the state of the world from previous games — it would be easy to imagine keeping the importing but having this as a separate service to allow people to create the world state they wanted. If you want to start in a certain state, you can either play through the previous two games again making those choices, or drop $20 and create it (preferable with an easier to use interface and with the importing being a lot easier than it was). This seems to be ideal, as people who might want that — and I would count myself in that number — generating more income, people who don’t think it worth it being able to skip it, and all of this using mechanisms that you pretty much need to have anyway.

Another example might be the old City of Heroes extras model. Pretty much all of the stuff in there was cosmetic, but one of City of Heroes’ great strengths was the cosmetics. The game started with an abundance of options and when it went FTP and added its shop all it did was add more options. If you didn’t want to pay or didn’t find anything incredibly cool, you could still build a wide variety of characters, but if you found a cool set or combination of items you might be willing to pay to be able to play as that. Contrast this with the Cartel in The Old Republic where I hardly ever bought anything because they had nothing I liked or wanted.

Ultimately, though, how “ethical” you can get these things will depend on the features of the game itself. You will always have to provide some benefit to those who pay for these things or else no one will pay for them. Even rich people don’t buy things just for the sake of buying them and the games model cannot rely on rich people. The more beneficial these things are, the more tempted someone will be to buy these things when they can’t afford it, or will feel pressure to buy it because they’d be too weak or the game would be too hard if they didn’t. Any system that doesn’t take this into account is doomed to failure.

Final Thoughts on Wings

March 5, 2018

So, at the end of it all, Wings was a well-crafted sitcom.

It’s interesting to note that it did the same thing with its Casanova character — Brian — as Cheers did with Sam. Despite them both being headlining characters, they ended up as secondary characters, and both spent time wondering about whether their womanizing ways were good or whether they were missing out on things with it. However, the difference here is that Sam, as the owner of the bar, had a solid role, while Brian lost his completely. The problem was that the womanizing, I think, gets old and boring — how many jokes can you make about someone being able to pick up women? — and the other thing Brian had was his constant desire to scam and manipulate people … but that role in Wings was taken by Roy. So if you wanted to run jokes where someone manipulates people in a way that benefits the manipulator and hurts those manipulated, you went to Rot, and if you wanted someone to use manipulation to make things right, you went to Roy as well. That left Brian with little to do. His irresponsibility was old and annoying at that point in the show, his womanizing was as well, and his manipulation was inferior to Roy’s. It’s no wonder, then, that he gets less prominent towards the end, and is mostly used as a secondary character or as Joe’s brother.

I didn’t care for the show making Antonio and Casey to be such complete losers by the end of the show, especially when it came to dating. Casey was far too attractive to have that much trouble getting dates, and Antonio had been established as being able to attract some dates when he was being nice. And since he had been attracted to Casey, when she was that desperate it would seem to suggest them pairing up. For her, at least, it would have been better to have her dating heavily, looking for a replacement for her husband so that she could get back the life she had. Then you could mix it up with her dating guys who were insanely odd, and her dating men that would be perfect for her but her screwing it up in various ways. This could have given her some other storylines to work with while still allowing for her to at least occasionally dip into into lamenting that she can’t find a good man. As for Antonio, keeping him as a struggling everyman who never really got ahead but won on occasion would have allowed for the complaints but would have left him as less of a complete loser, and so more relatable.

That being said, though, Wings works as a standard sitcom. It’s funny and the plots are generally not too contrived, or if they are the contrivances can be accepted as they generally fit with the characters and what they’d do and how they’d react. I enjoyed watching it and will probably watch it again at some point.

Thoughts on my recent vacation …

March 2, 2018

So, I recently had a couple of weeks off, where I essentially took off the Olympics. That was less because I really wanted to watch the Olympics — although I had some interest in it — and more because it meant that there was something on TV in the mornings when I was puttering around. Anyway, here are some thoughts on my vacation that are small enough to not be worth their own post.

I set out this time to get some things done instead of just starting some things. When it came to things around the house, I did pretty well. There were a couple of things that I didn’t get done because I didn’t have the stuff to do it, but many of the big things got done. So that was good.

I also set out to finish another run of Persona 5, and I did that. This time my waifu was Futaba, but I found myself missing Makoto in that role. Futaba, however, is awfully sweet at times, and in that path, although how upset she gets at Christmas ruined that event for me, since it didn’t end in any way happily and she seemed very hurt. I think Makoto is aware that you’re hiding something but gets less upset by it, whereas Futaba seems to feel betrayed by you keeping secrets from her. But, overall, the arc was still interesting.

The interesting thing was that I finished Persona 5 during the first week and then — despite having planned to play games every single morning — I didn’t play a game again for the rest of the week. I let it drift into the weekend and then never picked anything else up. I planned to play Trails of Cold Steel and finish both the first and second games, and never even loaded them up. Right now, I was planning on playing the Star Trek adventure games from GOG, but now find myself watching SF Debris’ playthrough of Dargon Age and reading Shamus Young’s Mass Effect series and being tempted to play them instead. I actually have two unfinished Dragon Age games to play if I want to, but I’m tempted to start a new one anyway. Of course, both series have third games that I don’t want to play, which counts against them, so I’ll have to see …

I did nothing on my own personal projects. At all. This isn’t a big disappointment because I didn’t put a high priority on doing anything with them, and so only had a couple of minor things that I handwaved at but never got around to in any significant way. I’ll have to start doing something now that I’m back.

So, overall, it was a pretty good vacation. Time didn’t pass as quickly as it normally did, probably because I had an incredibly set routine that I definitely followed (since it was based on watching the Olympics in the morning, which ended early leaving me time to do lots of other things). And I did get caught up on some important things. It would have been nice to play more games and do more on personal projects, but it’s not a big deal that I didn’t do that. I’m definitely content with how things worked out.

Extra Credits on the Cost of Making Games …

February 28, 2018

So, as a follow-up to the video talking about how much video games should cost, Extra Credits did a video talking about how much it costs to make a AAA game and about how there isn’t really that much room to cut costs there. I’m not going to get into whether, for example, marketing is as important as they make it out to be or whether graphical fidelity is really as important to the console market as they say, but what’s interesting about it is that they take the idea of as slimmed down a studio as you can get and say that that would be 200 people working for 2 years to finish a AAA game. It so happens that I, in fact, worked in a 200 person department making software (not games), and I can say with certainty that if that’s the minimum case it isn’t at all sustainable.

The issue is that those 200 people would be working on a product for two years, and the company would see little to no revenue from that product for that entire two years. In our case, we were releasing an update to the product at least once a year if not multiple times a year, and also were adding things to that product and not starting over roughly from scratch. While franchise games aren’t quite starting over from scratch, even they are doing more than adding new features to a pretty much finished existing game. The closest we have to that are the sports games that EA does so well, and that’s only if they only do roster changes and not engine updates or major features. In our model, if we wanted a completely new product — particularly if that was supposed to be a replacement for the existing product — what we did was use the old product’s revenue to fund the new product. We’d shift people away from the old product to work on the new one, while still maintaining enough people to add new features and fix bugs to generate new releases that generated enough profit to cover the development costs of the new one until it had enough market share and revenues to generate profit on its own. But we could do that because we were developing mission critical software that our customers did not want changed. They didn’t want new interfaces or new engines or any kind of new experience. New experiences with that software cost them money in terms of training and potentially in the effectiveness of their operators. They wanted, ideally, one product that did everything they wanted it to do and that when they needed new technologies it was just added to this product and worked in pretty much the same way as all the other technologies did. That’s obviously not true for games, where customers generally purchase a number of widely varying products that they can roughly use in parallel.

So, what we have in the gaming space is a product that takes two years to make a game, costs a fortune to make — again, a 200 person department/studio has a large number of fixed costs — and the game has to earn its money back in a shockingly short amount of time, because games don’t have a huge productive shelf-life. You’re looking at a percentage of revenue after one or two years even if you gradually reduce prices that the product I was on had during the last 2 – 5 years of a 20+ year run. And you have to be working on the next game almost immediately, even before you see how well this one has done, because you can’t stretch the next game out for longer than two years. So we can see why AAA game developers would really like to get a model like ours was, where they build a basic software product and do add-ons to it for the next while, so instead of developing an entire new game over two years, they instead build a set of add-ons every six months, say, and get either a constant revenue per month (a subscription model) — or an in-flux of revenue when each add-on is released (DLC, expansions, and loot boxes). The EA services model and, of course, loot boxes are the more recent and controversial attempts to do just that.

The problem is that this model does not work very well for video games, at least in the long term. The customers for games generally don’t want to play just one or a small number of games for years and years. They like some variety, and to even have a stable of games that they play and so don’t even necessarily play the same game the next day. They also have strict time and budget restrictions when it comes to playing games, since it comes out of their entertainment budget. The more that they play a specific game, and the more they have to pay to keep playing that specific game, the less time and money they have to play or purchase other games. If one game becomes really successful and charges a significant enough percentage of the average gamer’s gaming budget, it can lock out other games as there just aren’t enough gamers left who are willing to play and pay for those other games while they spend most of their time on that one. This can not only hurt existing games, but can of course greatly impede new games, who can’t even break into the market because everyone else is still playing that old game. And this, of course, will also impact new games from the same studio, as their players are still playing the old game. Should the old game hit saturation where they can’t add anything interesting and their customers are tired of the existing game, they may — and are likely to — lose customers to something else faster than they can get an alternative up and running. If anyone still has any alternatives available.

And this isn’t actually speculation, but is something that we’ve seen already in the MMO space. In 2014 I talked about MMO saturation, with there being a large number of MMORPGs still running, with World of Warcraft being the killer game that hampered new MMOs when they came out. At the time, MMOs were the big thing, in large part because they provided this sort of revenue stream. But once WOW gained prominence, new games struggled, and a number of promising candidates faded away far earlier than the original games had, and weren’t profitable. Most MMOs had to adopt some kind of Free-To-Play model to generate sufficient revenue to keep going. While you can talk about the MMO shooter games like Destiny and Overwatch, MMOs aren’t the growth industry that they were back then, and it very much seems like they are fading a bit. I don’t know of too many new ones coming out, and Shamus Young — my main source for industry information — used to play a lot of them a lot.

If AAA gaming companies try for this expanded revenue stream, they are likely to run into the same issues. Even the sports sim genre hits this because the revenues from the previous years’ games tend to fall off fairly sharply when a new release comes out, but this steady revenue system wants to prolong the life of existing games. There are some ways to mitigate this — extra things being compatible with multiple games, for example — but aiming for this sort of revenue stream is not going to help games as much as you might think because of the very nature of games. If you prolong the life of a game, people don’t buy new ones, but you need them buying new ones, too.