Archive for July, 2010

Not funny? Or not fun?

July 14, 2010

Shamus Young at Twenty Sided Tale does a webcomic called Stolen Pixels on “The Escapist”.  The webcomic series is really funny and you should all read it.   But he almost had a fairly disastrous situation when this happened to him (fortunately, he was able to turn it around into something funny):

http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=8643

Basically, he wanted to use Garry’s mod to do his comic, and he’s insanely busy and so on a very tight deadline.  The software is on Steam, so he was on-line, went on in on-line mod, and then it seems that the software decided that it wanted to update.  But, somehow, the system was too busy to allow that, so he decided to say “Screw it!” and work off-line.  Except that once the system decided that it was out-of-date, it flagged itself as such and the Steam software says “You can’t use Steam off-line if you aren’t up to date!”  So, he couldn’t get the update — to allow it to work on-line — because of traffic on the Steam servers, but then couldn’t back out of it and work without the update because Steam decided that you shouldn’t do that.

My big question is: Why?  Why in the world did anyone think that doing that was a good idea?  Heck, why did anyone think that forcing you to update is a good idea?

Now, for Shamus this could have been a big problem, since this is essentially a paying gig for him.  But I’m going to be more shallow and relate it to the average, run-of-the-mill person who simply would like to play some games at some point: me.

Since, my PC is old and out of date.  I know that the most recent components in it are at least 7 years old.  I can’t play anything new, and have a hard time playing some of my older games — MMOs, mostly — that have updated their graphics at all.  I need to at least add more RAM to get those to work well, and really should get a lot more updated to do that.  So, thinking about that — and thinking that, hey, this system may not last — I was pretty much set on updating my desktop PC, getting new components and avoiding — hopefully — sudden system failure, and as a bonus being able to play some of the most recent games.  Since I’m not getting a PS3 any time soon, that sounded like a good use of money, and I could afford to spend enough to get a pretty top-of-the-line system so that I could play without worrying about anything for a while.

And then the DRM schemes raise their ugly heads.  See, I look at Steam, and look at this problem.  If this ever happened to me with a game, I’d be disappointed, annoyed and upset.  I don’t normally patch (unless I have to).  I don’t even like turning my connection on if I’m not playing something on-line.  The fact that you have to turn the automatic update thing off for each game is really irritating, and the fact that if you wanted to update something you might get stuck by other people doing things on the servers is not good, either.  At least for anything that isn’t an MMO and that I might want to play — even on-line — without logging into official servers or Steam.

See, I’m a simple man.  I just want to have a game, start it up, and play it whenever I want without having to worry about all this stuff.  I’m not against downloading games — and so avoiding the “Go to a store and get it” — but I don’t mind having to go to a store either.  But in all cases, at the end of the day, what I really, really want is to have a game that I can install, uninstall, start, move and play whenever and however I want.  If I pay for the game, I want to have the freedom to play it how I want to play it without all this validation and interaction and extras and all of that stuff.  I want to be able to never, ever patch it if I don’t want to.  I want to be able to play it on a machine that I never hook up to the Internet.  I want, well, to be able to play it.  And the new DRMs and the like stop me from doing that, at least potentially.  So they stop me from having fun.

So, if I get a new PC, the only games that won’t irritate me look like: MMOs.  Why?  Because I have to log into them, and have to play them on-line, and have to patch them when they patch the servers.  It’s the price of getting that unique set of gameplay, and I’ll accept that.

I wouldn’t accept it for a single player game, like Sakura Wars.  I wouldn’t accept it for a mod program like Garry’s Mod.  I won’t accept it for the bulk of what I’d buy in new games.  So, then, is a new PC worth it?  Are MMOs enough to bother getting a new system?

I’m not so sure anymore …

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An incompatibility to be met with apathy …

July 13, 2010

Jerry Coyne, again, is talking about how science and religion are incompatible, and boils his position down to this (that he’s tired of repeating):

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http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/my-continuing-debate-with-karl-giberson

“But I too would also answer “yes, of course”  to the Big Question if “compatibility” meant only this: “can someone be religious and also be a scientist/accept science?”  You’ll see on the video that I dispose of that idea right away (and how many times do I have to do this?), defining compatibility as compatibility of method and results: do science and faith achieve their understanding of the world in the same way?”

———————

Okay, you can stop saying that, at least to me; I completely agree that science and faith do not achieve their understanding in the same way.  Unfortunately, if this is what he’s going on about, he’s not only disposed of the original statement, but also disposed of his own case.

Let me start with the standard replies:

Do philosophy and science achieve their understanding in the same way?  No, not really; there are certainly valid philosophical methods that science would flat-out reject.

Do formal science and every-day reasoning achieve their understanding in the same way?  No, not really; there are certainly valid scientific methods that every-day reasoning will not generally use (such as formal peer reviews, formal controls, etc, etc).

Essentially, Coyne’s “compatibility” is one that is uninteresting.  Science and faith do not use the same methods because they aren’t the same “way of knowing”.  All his definition does is turn the debate over whether or not science and faith are compatible into a discussion over whether or not they are the same thing.  My apathy knows no bounds at that; we all already knew that.  This sort of incompatbility, then, should give no one pause.

Now, Coyne would have a case if he could claim that you can only use one “way of knowing”, and then if we discovered that they were “incompatible” he could say that you really do have to choose one or the other.  But, of course, this is far beyond what he’s actually saying … and is flat-out wrong besides.  We can indeed use different methods at different times.  I don’t do formal science when I’m poking around in my backyard trying to figure out when the best time to cut the lawn is.  I don’t do science when I’m doing morality (because I don’t think it applicable).  I don’t do science when trying to decide if I like that blueberry/apple cup I bought.  There are lots of cases where at least formal science is too extreme and skeptical for what I need.

I’ve already talked about being able to get a valid and reasonable way of knowing by rejecting skepticism from Larry Moran’s trifecta of principles that you need to be science.  Faith, clearly, can be achieved by only rejecting skepticism.  It’s not an unreasonable claim to say that maybe religion and gods are best analyzed with less skepticism.  Or maybe it isn’t.  But certainly one can rationally decide that while evidence and reason are still required for examining religion, skepticism isn’t.  And that would give a radically different mindset than that of science.

Now, Coyne could reasonably object that that’s fine if they really have a NOMA-type position and you don’t use different methods to study the same thing.   But once you do, you have an issue; you can’t use two different methods to study the same thing.  However, this is also not true, as is proven by the field of Cognitive Science.  It studies, for want of a better word, cognition.  It brings together radically different fields with different methods and conclusions, from philosophy to linguistics to neuroscience to psychology to … well, a host of others.  And they all do look at the same thing from radically different ways of knowing.  And this is to Cognitive Science’s benefit.  The different ways of knowing lead to differing views on the topic, which leads to every field not being able to just dogmatically follow their own fields.  Philosophical theories get challenged by empirical data.  Scientific theories get challenged both by philosophical implications — ie the consequences contradict something that we are philosophically loathe to give up without really good evidence, like phenomenal experiences being able to actually cause actions — or claims that the empirical evidence doesn’t support the theory as strongly as some think it does.  Work that comes out of small fields — say, linguistics on language — gets incorporated into other fields and at higher levels.  And vice versa.  So, studying the same thing with different methods is not necessarily bad either, and so we can have a scientist using both science and theology to study the world.  As long as when he writes he’s clear about the standards of each and when he needs to apply them — ie as long as he doesn’t write theology for scientific papers and strict science for theology papers — there’s no problem there.

Now, a valid complaint can be raised here: But what happens when they disagree?  This gets us down to conflicting claims which is what people like Russell Blackford and Sean Caroll are most concerned about.  Now, I’m not all that interested in that sort of incompatibility, but it’s miles more interesting than the simple interpretation of what Coyne said above … and may well be what Coyne is actually concerned about: if these are different methods and have different standards, and they can talk about the same thing, what happens when one claims to know X and another claims to know Y?

Why this doesn’t concern me much is that presuming that both methods really are ways to get to knowledge — ie are ways of knowing — then there should be ways to settle it internally.  Clearly, if both claim to know and really can get knowledge that they disagree is prima facie evidence that one of them, at least, is wrong about that particular phenomena.  If they are wrong, then they should be able to discover why they’re wrong and which is right.  This would mean, in the case of science and faith, re-examining the science and the theology to see which one is inaccurate.  This, then, can lead to the idea that properly understood theology doesn’t conflict with science, by pointing out that for claims about the world science is much better at it and in fact aims precisely at determining what is there than religion is.  So, we concede scientific fact to science, and say that our theology cannot conflict with scientific fact.  If it does, we have to change our theology.  The caveat is that if a claim is not scientific fact, theology need not change to adapt to it until it becomes fact.  So, if something seems to be a consequence of a scientific theory — even one that is fact — but is not necessarily one, or if science accepts something on the basis of a methodological principle and not on the basis of exceptionally good proof, then theology need not accept that consequence … yet.

It’s clear that any religion that says “I’ll conform to scientific fact, but won’t allow myself to be forced to conform to anything else science says” is both compatible with science and different from it.  There are, in fact, interesting ways religion can be incompatible with science … but few religions are (YEC is an excellent example).  So, again, Coyne can indeed define compatible that way … and we are not only free to but should greet that sort of incompatiblity with utter apathy.  It’s just not worth worrying about.

De Dora on accomodationism …

July 12, 2010

There’s a link to an article by Michael De Dora on accomodationism.  I got it from Accomodation Watch, which I’ve mentioned before.  At any rate, here’s the article:

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/show/appeals_to_common_practice_dont_make_science_and_religion_compatible/

Note that at this point I haven’t read the full article yet.  I got as far as this point and had to stop:

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“The practical evidence wielded for the compatibility argument usually includes people like Francis Collins, the geneticist and Director of the National Institutes of Health who is an evangelical Christian . If devout religious believers can be scientists, the argument goes, there is no tension between the scientific and religious approaches to the world. Yet this line of thought ignores the real issue: the difference between practice and theory (or, is and ought ).”

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Um, no.  The difference between practice and theory and the difference between is and ought are, in fact, completely different things (pardon the inadvertent pun).  When we talk about theory and practice, we talk about an abstract hypothesis of how a field works — a theory — and then about how that field really works — practice.  When we talk about is and ought, we’re talking about the difference between descriptive and normative claims.  Descriptive claims do, in general, talk about how things work in practice, which is probably where De Dora gets confused.  But normative claims are not merely in theory; they are facts about how things ought to be done.

The best way to see how this could impact his argument is to look at it this way: when you find a difference between “in practice” and “in theory”, generally theory gives way to practice.  The famous paradox of Achilles and the tortoise is a prime example of this.  The mathematics said he’d never overtake the tortoise.  However, real life testing proved that he would.  So, there was a paradox, and the mathematics eventually gave way.   The scientific mindset is even stronger on this, as even the most elegant theory that is contradicted by the facts either must change to accomodate the facts or must fall out of favour.  In general, theory gives way to practice.

This, however, is not true of descriptive and normative.  It is expected that if the descriptive does not match the normative, that the descriptive will alter itself to match the normative.  In short, if you have a normative principle, and you find that people aren’t acting that way, the solution is not to change your normative principle to accomodate what people actually do, but to make people do what the normative principle demands.  The normative, therefore, does not give way to the descriptive; if they clash, it is the descriptive that must be altered.

So, before reading the rest of the article, we can see that De Dora does need to settle these questions (and I’m not saying he hasn’t; again, I haven’t read the article yet).  If he wants to make an appeal to practice vs theory, he’s in deep trouble since he’d also have to overcome the general principle that if theory and practice clash, practice wins.  So if the theory says that you shouldn’t be able to be a good scientist if you accept religion, and it turns out that there are some good scientists who are religious, or if the claim ends up being that adopting both viewpoints can only impede your scientific work and it turns out that for some scientists it actually seems to improve it, De Dora will have lost.  That’s why he needs to drift into normative territory, to demonstrate that scientists ought not be religious.  But he’ll still have the issue of pragmatics: if it works for them and can even enhance how they do science, where’s the problem?  What normative claim can he make against scientists doing science in a way that makes them do science better?

Ultimately, the only really decent argument he can make is to argue that if science and religion really are incompatible that some don’t think they are is not an issue; they’re just wrong about that (some will go further and talk about cognitive dissonance and all sorts of other crap, but that would bring it back to practice/theory above and we don’t want to go there).  However, this has nothing to do with practice/theory or is/ought.  It’s just a claim about fundamental definitions and how those interact.  At best, you’d get into arguments over whether accepting something that’s wrong to make your science better is a good way to go, or if we really need to accept only what’s true even if it’s detrimental.  That’s a massive philosophical argument that I’m very sure De Dora won’t get into in this article.

So, now I’ll go to read the rest of the article.

… And I’m back.  And he did try to aim at an ought argument, it seems, by summarizing it this way:

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Indeed, consider the logic of Leshner’s argument:

1. Many scientists are religious/have religious faith.

2. Therefore, science and religion/religious faith are compatible.

And now imagine instead that the following argument was being made:

1. Many people drink alcohol and drive.

2. Therefore, drinking alcohol and driving are compatible.

We would obviously object here, and we would be absolutely correct to do so.”

———————-

Weeeeeeel, not necessarily.  See, that logic is, in fact, completely and totally true: you can indeed drink alcohol and attempt to drive a vehicle.   What we’d rightly object to is the idea that because people do drink and drive means that people ought to drink and drive.  Considering the risks involved by impaired driving, we can make a moral claim that drinking and driving is unacceptable.  So you shouldn’t do it, even though you can.  Thus, a normative claim … and one that has decent backing.

Now, let’s look at how he finishes it:

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“Yet the drunk driving logic is no different than the logic Leshner uses to boast of the compability of science and religion. This is precisely why philosphers file Leshner’s argument under the “appeal to common practice” fallacy : even if a majority of people believe in something or engage in some practice, that does not mean the belief or practice is acceptable, correct, justified, or reasonable. If one wants to make a case for the compatibility of science and religion, he or she must not point to the abundance of easily partitioned human brains, but instead provide philosophical reasons why science and religion are actually congruous and do not conflict. ”

————————

The problem is that he’s shifting the burden of proof here.   It’s not up to accomodationists to prove that science and religion are compatible or can be made so, it’s up to incompatibilists to show that they aren’t compatible in an interesting way.  The fact that many intelligent people have no problems internally reconciling faith and religion is, in fact, a reasonable challenge to an incompatibilist position; if they are so obviously and inherently incompatible, why don’t these people have issues with it?  This doesn’t mean that they aren’t incompatible, but it is something that incompatibilists have to explain.  De Dora has not attempted to explain that, but has instead simply dismissed it out of hand.

And he’s dismissing it incorrectly.  The “appeal to common practice” fallacy is a normative fallacy, showing that you can’t disprove or prove a normative claim by descriptive evidence.  But he hasn’t established any normative component or argument at all, at least not here.  So, is this a normative question, or a factual one?  Is it about normative/descriptive, or about theory/practice?  If it’s about theory/practice, the appeal to common practice fallacy does not apply, as we really would be looking to see how they interact in practice and so appeal to common practice would in fact be relevant and meaningful and actually settle the question, and so wouldn’t be a fallacy at all.  If it’s about normative/descriptive, then precisely what normative principle should we appeal to to say that scientists ought not hold both religious and scientific viewpoints even if they can without impeding their work and appreciation of either.  If we don’t have this normative principle, his objection cannot get off the ground.  And it isn’t the job of accomodationists to prove that there can’t be such a principle, or that science and religion are compatible, either.  We can doubt his claims perfectly well without having to prove that he’s wrong.

What would it take to convince me that God doesn’t exist?

July 9, 2010

There’s a new round of comments on asking theists what would convince them that they’re wrong and that God doesn’t exist, spawned from atheists listing what would convince them that God does exit.  Jerry Coyne has a big post here:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/what-would-convince-you-that-god-exists/

Which references Greta Christina:

http://www.alternet.org/belief/147424/?page=entire

Which references Ebon Musings and a post asking for that from theists and pointing out what he’d accept as prove that God does exist:

http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/theistguide.html

Since the latter has a dearth of responses and is still accepting them, I’m going to toss my hat into the ring.

Before I do that, though, some long caveats and issues to address.  Hey, the “verbose” in the title ain’t there for show, you know [grin].

1) He comments that at the time of writing he had not personally met a theist who would accept the possibility of being in error.  I am a theist who accepts that.  I do this, though, in a not-quite-straightforward way; to me, my belief in God is, in fact, a belief in the epistemic sense.  I claim that while I’m a theist because I believe that God exists, I also claim that I don’t know that God exists.  Because of this, the implicit claim is that I could indeed be wrong, because that’s what’s implied by having a belief and not knowledge.   I accept, then, that I could be wrong.  I don’t think I am — else I wouldn’t even believe it — but since I merely believe I could very well be wrong, and I accept that.

2) I’m an agnostic theist; I believe that God exists but also believe that because of the qualities of that God no one can know whether or not God exists.  So this, obviously, causes a problem when someone asks me “What would it take to prove to you that God doesn’t exist?”.  Because the answer is “Nothing that we can, at least, practically test”.  I suppose I’ll have some idea when I die, but that’s not exactly a practical test, now is it?  So, for me this may not be a fair question; I don’t think proof — either way — is possible.

3) There is a bit of a difference in what can be said about the evidence that atheists require to accept that God exists and that theists require to accept that God does not.  Recall that the claim “God does not exist” is, in fact, a negative existence claim; it, obviously, claims that something — God — does not exist.  Thus, proving that God does not exist is proving a negative existential.  Thus, atheists asking what it would take to prove to theists that God doesn’t exist is essentially asking theists what prove they’d require to prove a negative … something that many people are skeptical can be done.

Now, I deny that.   Negatives can be proven.  You can prove that some key quality of an object is incompatible with the existence of something else, and then make the positive claim that that something else actually does exist.  This would then show that the object doesn’t exist, since it and the thing that you just proved existed cannot both exist in the same universe.  However, you can’t prove non-existence strictly empirically, by looking real hard.  That limits the sort of proofs that theists can accept as real proofs of the existence of God.  So it isn’t really fair to ask theists to provide the evidence that would get them to accept that God doesn’t exist and compare that directly to atheists doing the same thing;  in that scenario, theists have by far the harder job.  Because of the nature of the claims involved, that this happens is fair; theists are indeed making a positive claim, and so to have evidence that it isn’t true is going to be, in essence, proving a negative.  It’s just not fair to draw conclusions about how they view the belief itself from this.

Now, if the question was “What would it take for you to stop believing that God exists?”, then that’s a little more fair … but becomes both subjective and runs headlong into epistemology (ie when should you stop believing that a proposition is true, and on what grounds) and so is a more complicated question than an off-hand “Give me reasons” response can handle.

So, that out of the way, my initial comment would be to stick with my agnosticism and say that there is no such evidence that would compel me to stop believing that God exists.  But while reading Greta Christina’s post, it now seems to me that that would be too pat an answer, because there are some things that would force me to abandon my belief in God and, at the same time, cause me to believe — and even know — that God doesn’t exist.

And it all follows from the claim above: how do you prove a negative?  So, they all follow from the arguments that would prove a negative.  None of them, therefore, are strictly empirical, and tend towards the deductively logical side … which may be unsatisfying for atheists asking for it.

1) Prove that the concept of God I’m using is, in fact, self-contradictory.  So, presume that I accept that it is critically important for God to be omnipotent, and you can prove that onmipotence is, in fact, self-contradictory (the old and hackneyed “Can God create a rock that He can’t lift”).  Then I couldn’t accept a God with those qualities.  The same would apply if I accept that God must be omnipotent and omniscient and you can prove that He couldn’t be both.  In all of these cases, that concept of God is demolished and I could no longer accept it (this doesn’t mean that I can’t accept an altered form, though).

Note, however, that this is really, really hard to do, at least in part because in arguing against such proofs I can point out mistakes or errors in definitions.  For example, for me I limit omnipotence to “Can do that which is logically possible”.  So in the case of the rock, my reply would be “Either it is logically impossible to create a rock that it is logically impossible to lift or it is logically impossible to be able to lift every rock.  If  the former, God cannot lift every rock, since there can exist a rock that omnipotence — limited to the logically possible — cannot lift.  So God could create a rock that omnipotence cannot lift, and thus that He could not lift.  If the latter, then there is no such thing as a rock that cannot be lifted … and so God cannot create such a rock.”  To address this, we have to hammer out what omnipotence really means and what it really implies.  And I won’t accept definitions that are created just to prove it logically contradictory; we’d need good reasons to think that that was the definition in the first place.

2) The second way is exactly as outlined above: prove that there exists something that is incompatible with the existence of God.  The “Problem of Evil” argument is precisely this sort of argument: prove that there would be no — or at least less — suffering in the world if an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God existed, and you’d have a disproof of, at least, that God.  The arguments that free will and omniscience are incompatible are also of this sort, as it forces a theist to give up something: free will or that sort of God.

These, then, are the ways to “disprove” the existence of God, and as you can see a number of them have been attempted for ages now.  Unfortunately, they don’t work, and my agnosticism makes me skeptical that they would ever work.  The qualities of God are such that such disproofs just don’t work; God can maneuver around such proofs and most empirical attempts just by, well, hiding really well.

So, in the same light as the atheists, here’s what won’t convince me:

1) Assertions of “There’s no evidence”, “there’s no good reason to believe”, etc.  While these sound good, the problem is that they aren’t really true.  They rely on specific notions of “evidence” and “good reason” that need to be hammered out at the epistemic level, the level of deciding when evidence is good enough to believe something and what reasons are good or bad reasons to believe something.  After all, in most circles religious texts at least count as some form of evidence, just not particularly conclusive or reliable ones.  So saying “There’s no evidence” is far overstating the case.  Saying “There’s no evidence that you should base a belief on” is both delving into epistemology, and probably contradicts something that they believe.  If they were right that there was no evidence, then the point would be a good one … but there’s far more work to do when the claim really is “There’s no evidence that I accept” (which is a fair claim, but only for that specific atheist) or the stronger “There’s no evidence that someone should accept” (which is likely not a fair claim).

2) “Empirical” proofs based around qualities that are not critical to the concept of God.   So, arguments of “The Bible gets some science wrong”, or “How come the creation story isn’t accurate?”, or “How come there are multiple religious texts?” aren’t good enough.  We aren’t sure why God does things, and they aren’t really critical to His existence.  It is very easy to accept that there is a God and that there is some corruption in the religious texts — as they were passed by word of mouth — or that God exists and that the message was pitched differently to different areas, and so on and so forth.  So, it has to be over critical features of God: creating the universe being the big one.   Now, some may reply that they’ve done that and the concept of God shifts, and yes, that’s probably happened … but as long as the shift is valid your argument is not as convincing as you might have hoped.

3) Arguments that it evolved as a “meme” or anything that links it to it having qualities that mean that it would replicate.  Any idea that survives will have those qualities, true or not.  That it shares qualities with ideas that survived but were not true doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

4) Arguments that I’m being childish or superstitious.  That’s what you have to prove, you know.

5) Arguments that I don’t know that God exists, or that my arguments don’t prove that God exists.  Yes, but I don’t accept that that means that you can’t believe it, and that’s an epistemic claim anyway (so you need to say a lot more than that).

I’m sure there are more, but I can’t think of any at the moment.  I’ll update later if I think of some.

So, that’s it.  Feel free to discuss.

Not going Rogue …

July 6, 2010

So, I booted up Rogue Galaxy last night … and decided that it won’t be the next thing I play.  This is because its combat is real-time action-based, and I don’t like those sorts of games.  I can play them (I’ve played the X-Men: Legends games and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance) but while the game looks interesting the setting isn’t as appealing as the other games were, and not enough to make me put up with the combat, at least for now.  I might pick it up later.

So, I have to look at a new game …

Sakura Wars: Final Thoughts.

July 6, 2010

After having finished the game, here are my final thoughts on it.

The game, as I’ve said ad infinitum already, is an interactive anime.  That’s what it is.  It’s structured like an anime, the battles play out like anime battles, the issues that come up and how you address them are exactly like anime issues and situations.  It’s not a particularly deep anime, either story or character wise, but it is an anime, and is generally entertaining in that vein.  It’s more a wacky anime with potentially serious issues than it is a serious anime.

One thing that works against it as a dating simulator is probably a side effect of the fact that it is a not particularly deep or serious anime: all the dateable characters — and, in fact, almost all of the characters — are deeply, deeply eccentric.  In the Persona games, you have characters with deep-seated emotional problems that you have to solve.  In Sakura Wars, you have that … and a deep-seated eccentricity that is somewhat related to that emotional issue.  The saner ones are an obsession with the law or with eating, and it can lead right up to being a flower child, having multiple personalities, or rejecting any form of gender or personality identification.  This leads to a problem with dating one of them; while you can (mostly) eliminate the underlying emotional problem, you can’t eliminate the eccentricity.  For example, I couldn’t find Diana appealing because while the general personality was interesting, her eccentricity was irritating.  Fitting them into separate roles — like Persona did — worked okay, but the eccentricities meant that if you liked the personality but hated the eccentricity, you couldn’t find the character appealing.  And I think it pretty reasonable to say that in anything that includes a dating sim, you’re supposed to want to date at least one of the characters.  Especially since in Sakura Wars you actually have to date someone, unlike in the Persona games where if you didn’t want to you wouldn’t have to date anyone at all.

The other issue is that in the RPG elements you don’t get to be yourself, like you can in the Persona games.  You are, in fact, playing Shinjiro Taiga.  And he, like almost all of the other characters, is eccentric himself.  In fact, he’s also a huge dork at times.  That can be amusing, but it limits you and causes major issues when it only gives you a one sentence reply to set the tone and then runs with it.  For example, in the end I had a chance — when looking at the stars — to say “Not as beautiful as …” and decided that I wanted to run with it and make the cool, suave, and cheesy line of “Not as beautiful as you”.  Well, he stops short — which makes sense, I guess, given the trailing off above — but no matter how much she badgers him into finishing the sentence he won’t do it.   But I would have.

(Oh, and if you want to see him being a total dork,  just do the ending where you choose Subaru.)

Another problem is one that comes up in these games:  your actions in the world have an impact on it, but in too strong a way.  Knights of the Old Republic had the same issue, but the Personas (mostly) avoided it.  In all three cases, there are mechanical advantages to building up relations with people or acting in certain ways.  In KotOR, it was mostly that you’d get light or dark side shifts that affected how much Force points your powers cost (and so affected which ones you used)  and eventually gave you extra bonuses if you got all the way to the highest levels of light or dark side powers.  Which meant that, at times, you had a desire to choose a light side or dark side option not because your character would, but because you wanted the mechanical bonuses of being more light or more dark.  In the Personas, building up S-links means that when you fuse a Persona it gets an experience boost based on your rank in the associated S-link and it also — if I recall correctly — generally let you fuse the top form of that Arcana.  However, as long as you did some S-links, you’d be able to build a pretty good stable of pretty good Personas that would let you do well in the game, at least on Easy (and probably Normal) mode.  So you didn’t have to max out every Arcana, and so you could easily decide to only hang around or date people you liked.  You could tick off most of your party and still do okay.

Sakura Wars takes the S-link idea and imports the mechanical advantages into the game.  The better you get along with your team members, the more bonuses they get in combat.  Tick them off, and they get no bonuses (and might get penalities).   So treating the members of your team like you’d react as your character risks hurting your chances in the upcoming fight, possibly enormously.  So you have to try to keep them all happy with you.  I suppose that’s what might happen if you were in that situation really, but it does limit your interactions since you generally have to spend your time trying to please them as much as possible to get the best bonuses.  Essentially, you can feel like your character has to lie to them and tell them only what they want to hear.

Fortunately, it isn’t that bad, since a small loss of happiness on their part doesn’t have that much of an impact, and you can make it up with later good choices.  But it’s a limitation on your character that I found a bit annoying.

The combats are anime-style combats, which generally means that they’re all gimmicky; once you know how to approach it, they’re generally easy, but if you don’t you generally won’t win, either.  This can lead to easy combats if you see the gimmick early, and impossible ones if you don’t.  I didn’t use Joint attacks at all — and had no idea how to use them — until one of the last battles.  Then I had to learn to use them to get multiple hits and kills in one attack.  And then I used them constantly.  I should have had more incentive to use them earlier in the game, I think.  That’s not really the fault of the game tutorial itself — since I’m pretty sure it did explain them to me at some point — but is more of the game; at some point before then, I should have wanted to use them.

That being said, for that the problem might be more with me than with the game, since I have a tendency to do just that: ignore one really good ability for most of the game because the simpler methods work for me.

Also, the time limitations don’t work well.  You may be looking for a particular character to interact with — at one point, I was looking for Subaru to make her my official “date” — but any place you stop costs time.   But there aren’t a lot of hints about where you have to or want to go.  You might be able to figure it out, but it changes over the course of the game.  It’s not generally a big deal, but it’s too easy to miss things you really want to do because you don’t know where the things that are interesting are.  Having that potentially happen at the “big date” part is just unacceptable; you shouldn’t miss out on the girl you want because you don’t know where she is.  (I missed Subaru the first time, and had to redo from the previous save point to get it).

So, these are a lot of negatives, or at least potential negatives.  What’s good about the game?

Well, the way it shifts everything when you make your choice of who to date is done really well.  Images change, order of discussions changes, and it seems to be a lot of work.  Or, at least, having played through it once it looks that way.  I think that you’re supposed to choose Gemini (from how some of the images and pictures and conversations go) but you have to really look closely to see that.  I chose Subaru, and she becomes very prominent in the rest of the game, with dialogue choices and images changing to show that she really is the destined girl.  It looks really, really good, at least to my possibly less discerning eye.  So you have to give kudos for the effort to, in fact, make the choice of who to date relevant to the story, and consistent with it.

It’s also fairly interesting story wise.  While it isn’t deep, it’s entertaining and worth watching.  It fits somewhere in between — in my opinion — utter fluff and something with really deep characterization and story.  Some of the resolutions are just cheesy if you were really taking it seriously — especially the ending — but there’s stuff going on and a clear (at least at the end) goal to accomplish and clear consequences if you fail.  And the goal is big enough that, yeah, you do care about it.  It’s worth paying attention to, in at least some ways.

The anime cutscenes, the wandering around, and the battles all flow fairly seamlessly into one another.   You don’t get taken out of suspension of disbelief as you move from one to the other.  This is really nice.

While it uses save points, the save points are generally well-done and mean that you wouldn’t have to reply all that much if you mess something up.  You can also rematch any fight that you’ve lost, so it only causes an issue if you wanted to stop for the night.

And, finally, this is the only game that I’ve ever played where the MC can tell a female team member to massage her breasts and not only have that not offend her, and not only have that actually improve her opinion of you, but if you chose a specific option/attitude earlier you can have that be a crowning moment of inspiration.  That’s gotta count for something [grin].

Overall, it was worth playing and might be worth playing again.

Sakura Wars: I kept my promise …

July 5, 2010

I finished Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love last night … about a half-an-hour before I was going to turn in for the night.  Thus, not only have I added another game to the list of games that I’ve actually finished once, I kept my promise to finish the game over the Canada Day long weekend.

It wasn’t looking promising.  I managed to get past the battle that I had been stuck in, but then got a bit stuck in another battle.  I finally managed to get past that … but then hit the next mission and found that a bit challenging.  In that case, the walkthrough helped, and I managed to get past it … to the next fight.  Which I lost a couple of times before finally beating.  At that point, it was getting late — for me, at least — and I was wondering if I should try it, since I figured I’d lose at least one more time before beating it.  But the last battle wasn’t all that hard, and I beat it the first time through without losing anyone.

So, finally finished.  Now I can move on to Rogue Galaxy …