Empathy as Self-Justification

June 23, 2017

So, Katha Pollitt is complaining about liberals being asked to show empathy and understanding for those voters that didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Her main argument seems to be that liberals already show more empathy than those people and so being constantly reminded to show empathy is annoying. The problem is that she does so by completely ignoring what empathy actually is and instead ends up claiming to have and be showing more empathy simply because of the policies she supports, and in so doing shows that she doesn’t actually have any empathy or respect for the people that she’s complaining people keep telling her to have empathy and respect for.

She starts off by misrepresenting the situation:

And that’s not even counting the 92,346 feature stories about rural Trump voters and their heartwarming folkways. (“I played by the rules,” said retired rancher Tom Grady, 66, delving into the Daffodil Diner’s famous rhubarb pie. “Why should I pay for some deadbeat’s trip to Europe?”) I’m still waiting for the deep dives into the hearts and minds of Clinton supporters—what concerns motivated the 94 percent of black women voters who chose her? Is there nothing of interest there? For that matter, why don’t we see explorations of the voters who made up the majority of Trump’s base, people who are not miners or unemployed factory workers but regular Republicans, most quite well-fixed in life? (“I would vote for Satan himself if he promised to cut my taxes,” said Bill Thorberg, a 45-year-old dentist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “I’m basically just selfish.”) There are, after all, only around 75,000 coal miners in the entire country, and by now every one of them has been profiled in the Times.

First, it’s not like we haven’t been seeing a large number of articles appealing for empathy for those who would be impacted by, say, the death of the ACA, focusing on people with health problems who were only able to afford treatment with the ACA but who now can’t. So there are more than enough counter-narratives from the liberal side to balance the narratives from the conservative side.

Second, one of the reasons for all of these articles is in fact that people were not expecting them to vote for Trump. Thus, there is a lot of interest in figuring out why they did so. Pretty much everyone already knows why those 94 percent of black women voted for Clinton, and at least all of the liberals like Pollitt think they know why those “well-fixed”, “regular” Republicans voted for Trump … although her summary is almost certainly wrong for most “regular” Republicans, as extreme exaggeration starting from a basis of stereotypes and bias tends to be. For liberals specifically, the interest and admonishments happen because they want to see how they can get these votes back. Pollitt herself hints at the importance of this when she talks about how these areas have, under the existing system, disproportionate power — citing the “3 million more votes” line yet again — but ignores that Obama and Bill Clinton managed to win enough votes — or, at least, enough apathy — from them to win elections, while Hillary Clinton didn’t. There’s certainly reason for liberals to want to see if they can pick up those votes and thus win elections, and denying that any changes need to be made might start to slide into “repetitive insanity” mode.

Pollitt then moves towards “two wrongs make a right” territory:

But here’s my question: Who is telling the Tea Partiers and Trump voters to empathize with the rest of us? Why is it all one way? Hochschild’s subjects have plenty of demeaning preconceptions about liberals and blue-staters—that distant land of hippies, feminazis, and freeloaders of all kinds. Nor do they seem to have much interest in climbing the empathy wall, given that they voted for a racist misogynist who wants to throw 11 million people out of the country and ban people from our shores on the basis of religion (as he keeps admitting on Twitter, even as his administration argues in court that Islam has nothing to do with it). Furthermore, they are the ones who won, despite having almost 3 million fewer votes. Thanks to the founding fathers, red-staters have outsize power in both the Senate and the Electoral College, and with great power comes great responsibility. So shouldn’t they be trying to figure out the strange polyglot population they now dominate from their strongholds in the South and Midwest? What about their stereotypes?

Well, first, because they have the power to, in fact, determine who will win the election, it is in the best interests of liberals to figure out how they can get these people to vote for them. That means understanding them and what they want. These are people who, at least, won’t turn up to vote for just any Republican and might even (gasp) vote Democrat on occasion. That they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton means that something in what Hillary Clinton said didn’t appeal to them and even turned them off. If you have no interest in figuring out what that is and how you can use that to your advantage in the next election, you either have to believe that they will always vote and vote Republican — which, given Bill Clinton and Obama, is flatly false — or else you have to decide that you don’t care if you win or not. You can do the latter on a basis of principle — promising them what they want violates your moral principles — but a) Pollitt here is not suggesting that those specific people are the evil and selfish ones — for her, those are the “regular” Republicans — and b) any liberal who wants to take that tack can’t have ever argued that people should have held their nose and voted for Clinton despite disliking her. You can’t stand on principle only when it’s convenient for you and still be a person of principle.

But the issue here is that this is definitely “two wrongs are all right”, where someone who presumably thinks that morality and moral decisions should be based on empathy is saying that that only counts when the other person is doing it, which is invalid. To use a personal exmaple, I, personally, believe that basing morality on empathy is a really bad thing to do and oftentimes borders on being evil. By Pollitt’s logic, people who base their morality on empathy should not bother applying empathy to me or trying to understand me, even if they need me to work with them on things. This is despite the fact that since I lean Kantian/Stoic and definitely lean towards rationalistic morality they actually could convince me of their side by simply appealing to why the action is right rather than by asking me to think of how I’d feel in that situation (to which my usual reply is that I can see how they feel but that, in and of itself, doesn’t make the action right or wrong). I can justify not trying to climb the “empathy wall” for them because for me that’s not relevant to making moral decisions. They cannot. Thus, Pollitt would be justifying acting immorally towards me on the basis that I don’t share her morality. That seems to contradict her line in the post that she wants to help all people (more on that later).

And at the end of the day, this is all false anyway; there are lots of attempts to get those people to feel empathy for those people that Pollitt is concerned about. It seems that for the most part it’s had as much impact on them as the liberal calls for Pollitt to show empathy for those who voted for Trump had on her.

What difference does it make if I think believing in the Rapture is nuts, and hunting for pleasure is cruel? So what if I prefer opera to Elvis? What does that have to do with anything important? Empathy and respect are not about kowtowing to someone’s cultural and social preferences. They’re about supporting policies that make people’s lives better, whether they share your values, or your tastes, or not.

Um, no, that’s not what empathy and respect are about. She’s trying to pull a “deeds, not words” argument here, but it doesn’t work. Empathy is about understanding who people are, what they want, and why they want it, and respect is about not looking down on them for those things that they want that are different from what you want, and treating them as having an equal right and justification to pursue their own wants and needs even if they don’t want what you want. To take on her examples, I don’t care for either opera or country — the predominant music form of those areas — but I can at least potentially understand why they might prefer those to what I prefer, and I don’t look down on them for liking things I don’t like and not liking the things I like. Pollitt here seems to, in general, do both, and liberals in general, in fact, have been acting that way for a while now, and arguably that’s what cost Hillary Clinton the election: the idea that Clinton and the Democrats only had any respect for them if they thought “the right way” and wanted “the right things”. They never tried to understand what they wanted or why they wanted it, and when they did usually argued that what they wanted was wrong and they were bad people for wanting that. That is not a way to get people to vote for you.

Sorry, self-abasing liberal pundits: If you go by actual deeds, liberals and leftists are the ones with empathy. We want everyone to have health care, for example, even those Tea Partiers who in the debate over the Affordable Care Act loudly asserted that people who can’t afford treatment should just die. We want everyone to be decently paid for their labor, no matter how low they wear their pants—somehow the party that claims to be the voice of working people has no problem with paying them so little they’re eligible for food stamps, which that same party wants to take away. We want college to be affordable for everyone—even for the children of parents who didn’t start saving for college when the pregnancy test came out positive. We want everyone to be free to worship as they please—including Muslims—even if we ourselves are nonbelievers.

What should matter in politics is what the government does. Everything else is just flattery, like George H.W. Bush’s oft-cited love of pork rinds. Unfortunately, flattery gets you everywhere.

The problem is that she defines herself as “having empathy” entirely on the basis of the things that she thinks are right or important and thus carries on the idea that those who disagree are evil or ignorant. But that’s not necessarily the case. Let me use the example of the ACA. A large number of the ACA’s strongest supporters in my experience are liberals who either a) have serious medical problems themselves or b) know people who have serious medical problems. So of course their “empathy” is going to kick in towards finding a way to help those people. Many of them are also people who are mostly self-employed — or, again, associate with people who are — and so don’t have health insurance through their jobs, and hold out little prospects of getting it. So, again, that they find health insurance to be the most important issue is reasonable, given their context. But not everyone is like that. A poor family working a labour job that is generally healthy is likely going to less concerned about their health care than about their job, even if they think the ACA benefited them. Those coal miners and manufacturing workers? They had to note that Clinton was at best not saying anything about helping them with their jobs and was at worst promising that they’d lose their jobs. Now let’s take a middle class manufacturing worker, or worker in general. Many of them had health insurance through their jobs before the ACA. And what I learned is that much of the time, for these workers, their health insurance premiums increased. So they actually ended up paying more for what is arguably the same health care that they had before. They aren’t likely to see it as all that great a deal given that … and they’d have a point.

And all that people like Pollitt will do is chide them for not having empathy, and point to their trying to help certain specific people with an appeal that certain things “just ought to be covered” as their argument. I’m not saying that Pollitt et al are right about that. I’m not saying they’re wrong about that either. I’m saying that if you don’t understand what these people want, you aren’t going to be able to demonstrate to them that you a) care about what they want and b) can make their lives better. So all you’ll end up doing is coming in, putting things in place “for their own good” that actually leave them, specifically, worse off than they were before, and then end up angrily denouncing them as selfish, ignorant, and evil when they refuse to support you because, well, what you do keeps hurting them instead of helping them.

This is why Pollitt’s empathy is self-justifying. She defines the actions that show empathy, and is willing to stick to them no matter how much it hurts some people, and then when she is asked to consider people other than those she most empathizes with hides behind “But my actions really show that I care, no matter what they think of it”. Which is … a bad argument, but highlights the problems with empathy: it is easier to empathize with people you understand. Those other liberals are asking Pollitt to come to understand more people so that she can properly empathize with them, and Pollitt is mustering lots of reasons to avoid doing that. That’s not something that someone who wants people to act out of empathy can do, as it ends up with her only applying empathy to those she thinks “deserve” it, for whatever reason, and hurting people for their own good. And she — and many liberals — don’t seem to see that.

And, as Dukat said, that’s bad.

Thoughts After Re-watching .hack//Sign and Liminality

June 21, 2017

The first anime that I really watched and really got into was almost certainly “.hack//Sign” and “.hack//Liminality”. Well, I might have watched “Sailor Moon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh” first, but in general I thought of those as cartoons rather than as anime, and really didn’t realize or understand what anime was at the time. Sign and Liminality, on the the other hand, were clearly anime. And while I still don’t really watch a lot of anime, it was them that made me realize that such things existed and were worth watching.

How did I get into them? Well, the “.hack” games came out on the PS2, which I owned at the time, and as a JRPG fan I found the premise and gameplay interesting enough to give it a try. The games came with Liminality, and since I had them anyway I might as well have started watching them. And I enjoyed them, which is what I think gave me the push to give Sign a try. And I really enjoyed Sign.

The key here is that the plot of Liminality and Sign is not exactly interesting. I mean, it’s a fleshing out of a plot for a JRPG that wouldn’t be nominated as one of the best plots ever made for a JRPG. The premise of something going on in an MMO-world that was impacting people in the real world was different, but there’s not that much that you can do with that plot-wise. And Liminality and Sign, to their credit, didn’t try. Instead, they both focus on characters and character interactions, with the plot being little more than a big picture that has a major impact on the lives of the main characters, Liminality in the outside world, and Sign in the MMO-world.

And that’s what grabbed me about the series, and grabbed me this time, too. While this time Tsukasa annoyed far more than I think he did the previous time I watched it, and BT’s duplicity also grated more, Subaru and Bear and Mimiru were as intriguing as ever, and I found a new appreciation for Crim. In Liminality, while Yuki really annoyed me I really liked Mai and Tokuoka, and so was willing to sit there and watch them do various things in an attempt to make things better.

This time through, the last disk of Sign was a bit of a slog to get through, which also happens to be the point where they move from characterization to having to rapidly advance the plot. I preferred the general character interactions, and loved the callbacks to previous character moments, like BT echoing Bear’s “I’m gentle, but not a pushover” line from, I think, the first episode later in the series. I didn’t feel that way about Liminality … but then that one was only four episodes long, so the last episode still had character moments and enough plot to keeo things going.

I managed to get through three of the four games in the series and had started the fourth, and mused about playing it again recently. But, all in all, I think the animes worked better. But maybe I’ll play it again and change my mind.

Re-Reading the Malloreon

June 19, 2017

So, after re-reading the Belgariad, I have now moved on to re-reading the Malloreon. I was really interested in seeing what my impressions of the Malloreon were this time, because I remembered liking it better than the Belgariad — although, again, it wasn’t my favourite Eddings series — and I wanted to see if, this time, that impression would hold up.

The beginning was … disappointing. It started with the same kind of homey, simple life establishing the relationships and the basic story line like the Belgariad — focusing on Eriond for part and Belgarion’s being a king and his various issues around that — but a lot of the time that seemed dull and problems seemed to be invented for the sake of having some kind of problem to deal with, so they could explore the characters (like the incident in Arendia and the problems between Belgarion and Ce’Nedra). Admittedly, the early parts of the Belgariad weren’t particularly riveting either, but I think it had two main advantages. The first is that it was our introduction to the characters, and learning about them could be used to hold our interest. In the Malloreon, we pretty much already knew the characters except for Eriond, and Eriond is not a particularly interesting character, although he’s likable enough. The second reason is that the Belgariad was also filling us in on a lot of the lore of the world, which I personally found interesting and intriguing. Again, that’s already mostly been done for us in the Malloreon, and the new parts are part of the big mystery of the work, and so aren’t really explored early in the series. So the first part, up until they start on their big quest, seemed to drag for me.

Once the quest gets going, though, I still think I like it better than the Belgariad’s quest. It’s more focused, and doesn’t have anywhere near as many side issues as we had during the Belgariad. Also, for the most part it’s dealing with one overarching mystery and quest that’s already set out, unlike the Belgariad’s quest to find the Orb mixed in with finding the king and and his wife and then setting off again to find Torak. By the time the introduction stops dragging, we know that they have to find Geran and head off to another confrontation with a Child of Dark. Also, the main personalities of the characters are established and so Eddings adds a couple of new characters to the mix, which makes things different but still allows us to think of Silk as Silk, for example.

However, I’m just at the end of the third book and the quest really seems like it’s starting to drag itself. The problem is that the entire third book doesn’t really seem like it actually does anything, or anything interesting. If Eddings had really positioned it as “They’re hunting for Geran and get caught up in this demon thing because they need Zakath on their side and he can’t leave due to the plague”, then it might have worked, but as it is the plague seems to be mostly irrelevant at this point, a plot point introduced to move the plot along and add a minor inconvenience, and the demon sub-plot, while related to the main plot, is something they get dragged into rather than something they have to take on directly. Add to that that Ce’Nedra’s and Garion’s manipulation by Zandramas is old hat at this point and so doesn’t really add any drama, and I was really wondering what the point of all of this really was, other than to extend the work. On top of that, Zandramas faces off with Garion a couple of times in the quest but every time the confrontation is totally anti-climactic: a minor battle in dragon form, a confrontation that Cyradis heads off, and at the very end of the third book a confrontation that Poledra heads off. The confrontations seem to add little, and for the most part keep driving home that nothing can happen in those confrontations because at least Zandramas risks losing, as does Garion. So why keep having them face each other if nothing can come of it? At least the cat and mouse game where Zandramas tries to delay or mislead them and Belgarath and the others have to work around that would be interesting, if it actually focused on that. But even the thing that most angered Belgarath — cutting out the relevant sections of the book he needed to find out what was going — wasn’t actually Zandramas’ doing, but was instead Torak’s. Thus, the main villain of the work has really done little if anything to impede her enemies and to seem like an actual threat, other than her having Garion’s son.

That being said, up until the last quarter or so of the third book I was indeed enjoying the quest. It’s only there that I start feeling that we have artificial drama and problems, and that the chase seems to have gone on for far too long already. It might have been better if instead of having the Orb be able to track Zandramas, they instead had to try to chase her by finding clues and deciphering the prophecies that she was following. That way, the side events could be more easily woven into the story, and I wouldn’t feel like they’ve been chasing her specifically for far too long.

I’ll have to see what my feelings are on the work after reading the last two books.

Philipse and God’s Necessity

June 16, 2017

So, it’s been a while since I commented further on Philipse’s “God in the Age of Science”, but I am still committed to finishing it one day. I actually haven’t finished reading it yet, because I felt I needed to go chapter-by-chapter and comment on it, and so I’m reading a chapter or two ahead, commenting on it, and then going back to it. So things might change when I read later chapters, but so far that hasn’t really happened.

Anyway, here Philipse is talking about questions of whether or not God can exist necessarily, and again invokes Swinburne as his main source, seemingly both for ways that God can be necessary and for criticism of ways to claim that God’s existence is necessary. This is problematic because Swinburne’s idea of making God’s existence necessary seems to me to be fairly eccentric and esoteric, and so doesn’t seem to comport with the most famous arguments for the necessity of God. Philipse and Swinburne might think that that is a benefit on the basis that the more famous arguments don’t seem to work at all, but I’m not as convinced of that as they are.

At any rate, the move here is to eliminate purely conceptual arguments for God’s necessity and so for his existence. Philipse sets up a purported dilemma for the theologian: either they argue that God necessity is a purely conceptual one like that of numbers and so empirical evidence is neither possible nor required to demonstrate the existence of God, or else they argue that God’s necessity is an empirical matter but then run the risk of all of their arguments for why, say, the universe needs a cause being applied to God. The main issue here, though, off the top is that this does not apply to the theologians who are most likely to argue that God exists necessarily, which are theologians who are more conceptually/philosophically based than empirically/scientifically based. Any purely philosophical theologian is not even going to blink at the first horn of the dilemma, as that is likely one of their main arguments. Philipse may argue that he’s demonstrated that in the “Age of Science” the existence of anything requires empirical evidence, but obviously I’m not convinced of that. So if a philosophical or conceptual theologian actually makes one of these purely conceptual arguments work, I’m certainly not going to be all that concerned that it means that we can’t use empirical evidence to prove the existence of God. The important thing would be proving the existence of God, not how one actually managed that.

And unfortunately the only real argument that Philipse musters against the philosophical theolgian here is one from Swinburne: a purely conceptual God doesn’t seem like one that is worthy of worship. This does not work for Philipse — even though he tries to make it work — because Philipse is clear — and he goes on and on about this in Chapter 9 — that he is after bare theism, which is examining theism at a base level without, say, reading in too much from religious works and texts. But whether or not God is worthy of worship or not is not a proposition of bare theism, but is instead a proposition of religion. If, say, someone proved that an Evil God actually existed and everyone decided that that God wasn’t worth worshipping, that wouldn’t change the fact that God, in fact, actually exists. The key here is that Philipse cannot get away with arguing that a particular conception of God cannot be used because most religions wouldn’t accept it because, nonetheless, that concept would defeat atheism. And so a conceptual God who is necessary in the way numbers are necessary cannot be ruled out because arguably it wouldn’t be worshipped. If it would still count as a theistic God, then it has to count against Philipse’s atheism.

Now, there is an issue here for the natural theologian. The natural theologian is going to want to be able to use empirical evidence to prove the existence of and the properties of God, because that’s pretty much the definition of the field. But what they are going to want to avoid is, in so doing, making God a natural entity. We can restate the dilemma more clearly as this: natural theologians want to be able to look at the natural world to find evidence for the existence and properties of God, but is so doing have to avoid making God an entity just like any other entity, or else it won’t be God anymore. Which, when put that way, is less like a dilemma and more like a challenge: how do we preserve God’s “specialness” while still using evidence from the natural world?

As I said above, I don’t find Swinburne’s answer to that all that interesting, so I’m going to completely ignore it. What I am going to do is take Scholastics’ argument for God and show that it, in fact, manages to, at least potentially, meet that challenge. The idea, let me remind you, is that what we have is a Ground of All Being. Without a Ground of All Being, nothing can exist, and so we know that the Ground of All Being exists. But note that this argument relies heavily on observations of the natural world: things exist in the natural world, and so there must exist a thing that grounds their existence. Thus, we can go out and see if things exist, and if they do then a Ground of All Being exists.

This isn’t all that monumental, of course, but it gets interesting when we start asking what properties the Ground of All Being has to have, because the argument is that not only does this ground the bare existence of things, but also the existence of any positive properties that we observe in the world. So, do we find conscious beings? Then the Ground of All Being must be conscious, and have “perfect” consciousness, because the properties in the natural world are merely reflections of or participate in those ideal properties that the Ground of All Being possesses. Do we find moral beings? Then the Ground of All Being is ideally moral. Do we find agents with agency? Then the Ground of All Being has ideal agency. And so forth and so on.

What we can see from this is that, given that theory, the Ground of All Being — that the theory calls God — must exist necessarily, but all of the arguments for that entity and for its properties are natural/empirical. We know what properties God has by looking at the properties that exist in the world, and then applying them to God, and we know God exists because the natural world exists. This, then, seems to effective go between the horns of Philipse’s dilemma. If it works, of course.

This also answers the question that Philipse raises again, which is why the universe can’t be the thing that has necessity. The answer is that, under this theory, it can, but then it would be conscious, have agency, be moral, be omnipotent, be omniscient, and so on … at which point it would be God for all intents and purposes, and Philipse would be doing nothing more than quibbling over the name.

So, even if we accept that the natural theological approach is the only one that has validity, there are indeed potential ways to answer Philipse’s challenge that don’t rely on Swinburne’s. So we can’t eliminate necessity that easily.

Next chapter Philipse looks at whether the theory of God has any predictive power. He’ll obviously say “It doesn’t” but the hard part is going to be demonstrating that.

The REAL burning question of Persona 5.

June 14, 2017

I don’t care what you say anymore this is my waif(u)
Go ahead with your own waif(u), leave mine alone!

Okay, so the other constant big question in Persona 5 is: is there a canon or semi-canon love interest?

In general, in game, the Persona games don’t have a canon love interest. You can pick whichever girls you want to date or not date and not much, if anything, changes in game. However, Persona 3 seems to have broken that, both for its own game and for the previous game, Persona 2:

1) In Persona 3, there’s an S-link based around an MMO version of Persona 2 that links Tatsuya and Maya, and that S-link, when completed, links to a romantic interest (that is never consummated, even as an implication).

2) In the Answer, it seems at least clear that Yukari had strong feelings for the MC, and was jealous of Aigis for that reason (which is also what drives Yukari to want to go back and interfere in the final battle). The implications of that can also make Aigis a canon romantic interest.

Some will argue that this only means that they cared about the MC, not that the MC cared for them, but that’s a shaky argument. And there are some arguments that Jun might be more canon than Maya in Persona 2, but given Persona 3 I find that hard to swallow.

In Persona 4, there doesn’t seem to be a canon love interest. Yukiko is the one that is presented as being closest to the MC in story, but Rise is the one who is most aggressively pursuing the MC. There’s also Marie from Golden. But Golden and Arena didn’t make any strong hints about relationships like the Answer did, and so it’s pretty hard to determine if there is a canon love interest there.

So what about Persona 5? We don’t have any works that expand that universe yet, and so we don’t know if they are going to steer this towards a conclusion like they did with the Answer. But there are arguments for each:

1) Joker, when he first sees Ann, is struck by her looks. She also is said to be the most aggressive at expressing her feelings for Joker and pushing the S-link towards romance. The counters to this are that her main character trait is striking looks and in the other story sections she doesn’t really seem all that interested in Joker, and vice versa.

2) Makoto gets in story seemingly romantic scenes with Joker, like when she turns to him to protect and comfort him while frightened in Sojiro’s house and when he shoves her out of the way of a falling rock in Futaba’s palace. You can say that those are just scenes and aren’t canon, but her being the one in that situation has to mean something. Her S-link also treats the romance part like a bit of an aside.

3) Futaba’s S-link directly takes on the romance option. However, a lot of the interactions are more brother and sister than romantic.

4) Haru is probably the most upset if you turn her down for a romance. However, there’s really nothing else to indicate that she’d be the canon love interest.

My opinion? If there is one, it’s probably Makoto, because of the focus that she gets in the game itself and because of those extra scenes. Futaba would work as well, but the relationship with her and Sojiro really seems like Nanako and Dojima 2.0, so making that the canon romance might be a little awkward. I’ve always found Ann to have more chemistry with Ryuji, and again there is little in story to indicate that Joker and Ann might be interested in each other. And Haru comes across as too minor a character to make the canon romance. And the other, non-party S-links are too easily ignored to count as canon romances.

That being said, unless and until we get expanded universe works that make one of them canon, the Persona series has been incredibly good about making each love interest viable, which means that you can pick the one that makes the most sense for you and the story/character you are playing, even if that happens to be Haru. So go on with your own waifu … and leave mine alone [grin].

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 12, 2017

So, with Pittsburgh winning the Stanley Cup last night, I went a respectable 10 – 5 this year. Home ice advantage also went a respectable 9 – 6. What’s most interesting about that, though, is that that’s exactly the same as what happened last year.

Anyway, that’s it for hockey until October, other than, well, the expansion draft, the entry draft, free agency, etc, etc.

The burning question of Persona 5 …

June 9, 2017

So, now that I’ve finished it and read around online a bit about it and talked a lot about Social Justice angles wrt Persona 5, seemingly the key question is this: should Persona 5 or Persona 6 have a female protagonist?

Note that there are two main ways to do a female protagonist in this series, and the Persona series has done both. First, you can give the player the choice of whether or not they want to play as a male or female protagonist, which is what they did with P3P. The other way is to create a game that only has a female protagonist, which they did with Maya in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. So, since they’ve done both before, surely they could do at least one of them again, either in an extended Persona 5 — which given P3 FES and P4 Golden is almost certain to happen — or in Persona 6. So let’s look at how and if that might work.

In Persona 5, there are a lot of anime cinematics. If you wanted to give the player a choice of protagonist, you’d have to do scenes for both the male and female protagonist. Also, you’d have to make sure that any line that refers to “he” is also re-voiced to use “he” or “she” for the appropriate protagonist, or else try very hard to never actually do that like they do for the protagonist’s name, which is going to be a lot more work. And then you might have to rework a number of the S-links, including the dating ones, allowing pretty much any character to be romanceable — and thus have Christmas and Valentine’s Day scenes reflecting that — if you don’t go the better route of rewriting them to make sense for male and female protagonists. For example, Iwai is far less likely to involve a teenage girl in his conflicts with the Yakuza and Ohya is not all that likely to pretend that she is dating a female protagonist to hide the fact that she’s investigating her partner’s disappearance (even if she leaned that way). In short, making a dual protagonist is a lot of work, and some story elements won’t work as well if you do that. So, in general, I think that for the most part they should pick one and have that as the main for the entire series. While I enjoyed the option in P3P — and found that the female protagonist was a more interesting character than the male one — I can see that adding the option again would be too much work for what you’d get out of it.

Okay, so then should Persona 6 go with a female protagonist? At first blush, my first thought was that it wouldn’t be a problem at all, given how much I liked the female protagonist in P3P. But on reflection, I noted that it would cost me something that I really liked about the Persona series: the ability to react to it roughly like how _I_ would have reacted to it, including who I hang around with and, importantly, who I dated. Obviously, with a female protagonist I wouldn’t be able to do that, and so would have to base it entirely on what character I was playing at the time. Which isn’t generally a problem for me, but it would take something away from the Persona series that’s pretty unique for me.

Now, people can say — rightly — that at that point I’d know how female players feel wrt the series, since they don’t get that. And that’s a fair point. But the issue here is that, for me, the Persona series has been that way for me for so long that I wouldn’t quite get the feel from Persona 6 if they did this that I got from the other games, which can’t help but feel like a let down. While I’d almost certainly be okay with it, other fans might not. Thus, that might hurt sales or the impression people have of the game and the series, which will hurt the franchise. Are there going to be enough female gamers deciding to jump onto it now for their unique experience to make it worth the risk? I doubt it, personally.

And so I think the best advice here is to let Team Persona decide what they want to do with the series. If they want to tell a story that works best with a male protagonist, let them. If they want to tell a story that works best with a female protagonist, let them. And if people really want to see a Persona-like series with a female protagonist then starting a new series with that is the way to go. After all, we’ve seen a number of these “dating/life sim JRPGs” starting up since Persona 3 at least partly rode that to success, and so a game that takes the Persona elements but starts with a female protagonist from the start should be do-able, if there’s a sufficient market for it. And since if it is done well there’s a good chance that I’d buy it and play it, this would be the ultimate chance to prove that, yes, there’s a market for these kind of games.

I suspect that the typical “Social Justice” objector will bristle at this suggestion, but hopefully some company will think that maybe they can get some mileage out of this — if the market is really there.

And the winner is …

June 7, 2017

… Dragon Age: Origins.

For a long time it really seemed like The Old Republic was going to be the game. Other than the possibility of wanting to park in a cantina when stopping for the night — and so having to travel back to it from where ever I happened to be at the time — it seemed to fit reasonably into the schedule — I’d probably be able to finish one planet each session, while having to leave the inter-planet quests for the next one — and had interesting stories to work through that I hadn’t gone through in a while. I’d be able to create new characters and do different things, which would be interesting. So it seemed a pretty good choice.

And then I remembered about the updates. Typically, updating after a long period away takes hours, and so at least one session. Updates week-on-week might not take that long, but then there might be periods where I had to put the gaming on hold for a few weeks due to other issues, and thus I’d end up spending that session updating and not playing, which isn’t fun. Or I could try updating the evening before, which I don’t have time to do. None of that really worked for me.

Dragon Age: Origins has none of that. Its biggest detriment is that I might want to play Inquisition after playing Dragon Age 2 to complete the set, and I trust myself to either not play Inquisition or resign myself to slogging through it again.

I started as a Noble Dwarf Warrior, and made it out of the intro story and through Ostagar, ending my play session when arriving at Lothering. I’m playing on Casual, and so far Alastair almost got knocked out by the ogre (troll?) in the first tower, but otherwise my health is good. We’ll see how long that lasts. I enjoyed the intro story, and so far am playing my character as an incredibly polite, loyal and dedicated person who has a dry sense of humour and is a little bitter about all the betrayals, and so comments when Alastair suggests going to Arl Eamon because Eamon is honourable that, hey, Loghain was honourable, too. But I loved the comments he can make like calling Alastair a very strange human or, when Alastair goes on about Callain getting him to wear a dress and dance some kind of dance that Alastair has a very odd idea of the king, while knowing that Alastair was being sarcastic.

He was also very polite and respectful to Morrigan and Flemeth, which they both appreciated (and I managed to surprise Morrigan with that, which makes me actually like her more than I did on my first playthrough).

So, that’s the game I chose, and the reasons for the ultimate choice.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “The Belgariad”

June 5, 2017

So, I recently finished re-reading “The Belgariad” by David Eddings. What I found was that the work was interesting and generally entertaining, but that the end seemed both rushed and to drag, which is a marvelous achievement for an author [grin].

The reason, I think, is that we had a relatively long, slow-paced, and lore-enriched opening quest, where Garion leaves the farm where he grew up and sets off with Polgara, Belgarath, and the rest to retrieve the Orb from Torak’s minions and return it to Riva, which then gets settled … and then almost immediately thereafter after some small plot events — the betrothal to Ce’Nedra, for example — Garion, Belgarath and Silk head out again for the final confrontation. Which is, as we all know, the main event driving the entire series, which means that it has the most importance of pretty much everything. Unfortunately, it can only involve a small number of characters and there isn’t really anything all that interesting to do in that quest; the whole point is for them to get to Torak as quickly and silently as possible, with as little fuss as they can. Throwing major obstacles at them would both pad out the length — and Eddings says in the intro to the Mallorean that there were length constraints on the Belgariad that were relaxed for the Mallorean — and start to get a little ridiculous given how few people they had; either Belgarath and Belgarion blast their way through all enemies, making the obstacles not obstacles, or else their problems would be ridiculously constrained to the non-magic skills that Silk, Belgarath and Garion happened to have.

So, to avoid this and to keep everyone else in the mix, Eddings instead seems to take a page from “The Lord of the Rings” and has Polgara, Ce’Nedra and the Western kings muster a large army to distract the enemy from Belarion and the others. Which isn’t a bad idea, but we know that this army is nothing more than a distraction, but it takes up a lot of space in the book without us finding out all that much that’s interesting. There are moments of humour and characterization, but they are few and far between and the battle itself is a bit anti-climactic given what its nature was. And, again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing but it seems to take up too much time relative to the important quest, which then gets short-shrift. And then having Polgara, Errand, Ce’Nedra and Durnik arrive at the final confrontation for reasons of Prophecy seems to make the battle scene even more pointless. All the really important stuff happens in the final confrontation, and so the details of and lead up to the battle seems like padding, while the part where they travel to the final confrontation seems like it just happens with little build-up or attention.

However, as I said, the book is still enjoyable. What Eddings does really well is build lore around the world, which is why he managed to squeeze two five book series and two prequels out of that world and that lore. The characters are generally archetypical but interesting, and fit into the world well. Eddings does manage to fit a good bit of humour into the work, which is nice.

I’m now re-reading “The Mallorean”.

Re-reading the Belgariad …

June 2, 2017

So, this comment in this post from Shamus Young resonated with me:

It has been bugging me for years: maybe the problem isn’t the games. Maybe it’s me.

Now, I never really had this for games, because with games I was generally able to like some and dislike some of both old and new games, and also because with games I was usually able to figure out and outline exactly where I felt the new games were going wrong and where the old games had gone right, leading to the conclusion that a lot of modern games really weren’t as good as older games, for all of their technical wizardry. I felt the same way about TV shows and movies, although I was a bit concerned about the fact that I rarely laughed out loud anymore, even at comedies (this was clearly broken when it came to “WKRP in Cincinnati”).

But after doing the Hugo Award Assessment, , and noting that the only books I really read were movie and TV show tie-ins, it did get me wondering if it was just nostalgia, or if the older books really were better than the newer ones. That was a reason to re-read “The Status Civilization”, after having already re-read Zelazny’s Amber series because I needed to remind myself of what happened in it for an Amber Diceless game that I was running. But in David Eddings’ “The Belgariad”, I faced my greatest test yet. Of the three series that he had completed when I started reading them — along with all of my friends in high school — the “Elenium” was my favourite. I also recalled trying to re-read it a year or so ago and finding it a bit clunky. So I was prepared for frustration when I read it, but needed stuff to read and wanted to go through all of the Eddings books — including “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress”, which I definitely liked — to both keep my reading time occupied and to, well, re-read those series that I recalled liking at some point. So with trepidation I started reading it and …

… came to the conclusion that it was just really entertaining.

I’m not sure what changed. Maybe it just was my mind having that comparison to works that were incredibly clunky and boring that the minor issues with the “Belgariad” faded away. But, at any rate, it was far more enjoyable and worked so much better than any of the “Hugo Award” nominees, including the ones that the anti-Puppies really liked. And as far as I can tell it didn’t actually win any awards.

And it’s not like the series is male-dominated. One of the most powerful beings in the world is a woman, Polgara, and she’s actually presented as being more competent than Belgarath, even if he’s more powerful and more tricky. There tends to be a bit of a give and take between men and women in the series, even if men often take more than they probably should. So it’s not really male power fantasy either. It seems like a series that even the Social Justice side in fantasy could enjoy, so it’s not like I enjoy it because it avoids or rejects those lines.

So what’s good about it? The characters are entertaining, and the history is detailed and told in an interesting way. The plot is a little shaky, but the links to that deep history make up for that. The plot, then, fades into the background and instead is replaced by interesting characters walking their way through the history and, in fact, creating history themselves by fulfilling the prophecy. The world is properly detailed and we find out things about it when we need to and in interesting and compelling ways rather than it being a complete info dump for no reason. Sure, the introductory prologues could be seen as that, but that’s why it’s a prologue: it gives you the information you need to know in an interesting format if you like history.

So, so far, I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m enjoying reading it much more than I expected. And since I liked “The Mallorean” better — or, at least, remember it more fondly — this bodes well for my reading of everything Eddings did that I liked.