Archive for November, 2014

The Professors Who Most Influenced Me Philosophically.

November 30, 2014

There have been a number of professors throughout my formal philosophical career who have in some way greatly influenced my overall philosophical views in a very profound way. And maybe it’s that Christmas is coming, maybe it’s that I’m bored, and maybe it’s just that I’d like another post to extend my “posting every day” streak, but I’m feeling an urge to list and thank them at this time. I’ll use their real names, but not their locations, to give them the ability, if asked, to say “Um, that wasn’t me! It was someone else with that name!”. These are in no particularly order (and I hope I get the spellings right):

Rob Stainton – He’s not only the reason I even HAVE a Masters’ degree in Philosophy, but he’s also responsible for my favouring dualism when it comes to mind. Which is ironic considering that he’s a staunch materialist.

Andrew Brook – Also very influential in my overall views on consciousness — despite, again, being a staunch materialist and absolutely not a qualia freak — but even more importantly was one of the main driving factors behind my developing the view of the distinction between the psychological and the phenomenal.

Paul Raymont – This may seem relatively minor, but explained to me that Kant’s Categorical Imperative refers only to consistency, not desirability, which greatly impacted my views on Kant’s moral system, which have greatly impacted my own views on morality.

Diane Debrule – Introduced me to Greek philosophy and consciousness, and also was instrumental in my examining the similarities and differences between the Virtue Theories of Aristotle and the Stoics, which has not only greatly informed my views of Stoicism, but of Virtue Theory as well.

Heidi Maibom – Introduced me to the Stoics, or at least in a sense where I found them interesting, formed my views on emotion and how it relates to morality (again, ironically she does seem to hold the exact opposite view than me), and was instrumental in my discovering the link between simulation and theory with regards to empathy. Ultimately, being Stoic-leaning and distrusting empathy-based moralities started with her, for good or for ill, although again that’s probably not her own view.

David Matheson – Probably the person who is most responsible for my interest in epistemology, and on a specific note also taught me that the “p is true” condition of knowledge does not require certainty, which I’ve just realized the importance of … which is one of the main reasons why I thought of listing these people and thanking them. So that’s something else to blame him for.

Vincent Bergeron – Again, it might seem minor, but I had never done anything on Aesthetics or Art until his course, which produced this.

There are other professors out there whose courses I’ve really enjoyed and that I’ve learned a lot in, but these are the ones that had an overall impact on my philosophical views and interests. So I owe them a debt of thanks for doing that … even if they might have wanted to have a completely different impact on my philosophical views and interests [grin].

Fee-fees. Nothing more than … fee-fees

November 29, 2014

So, over at “Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men”, Ally Fogg recently said this:

I hate to break it to you Martin, but a primary message of feminism is that the world does not (or should not) revolve around the sensitive fee-fees of middle aged, middle class, straight white men and our boners. Demanding – or even politely requesting – that feminism rebrand itself to become more palatable to men like you and me is deep, deep into the territory of waging war for peace or f***ing for virginity. If you want feminism to become more palatable to swallow or an easier cloak to don, the only course of action is not to change feminism, but to change yourself.

Now, this isn’t really a prime example of what I’m going to talk about here, and normally Fogg is actually better at this than most feminists or those who are feminist leaning, but you really should note the very, very dismissive response to a comment that the word “feminism” has certain implications that cause feelings that are a barrier to his acceptance of it. It’s suddenly that feminism isn’t about the “sensitive fee-fees” of a certain group of people, which has the implication that feminists don’t have to care about the feelings of that group … in particular, in this case, white, middle-aged, middle-class men. And as I said, this isn’t a particularly good example of this — but it’s handy — and elsewhere you can find even more dismissive comments that pretty much suggest that women, at least, don’t have to care about the feelings of men at all, and that men expressing hurt feelings over something are being overly sensitive and that their hurt feelings can not only be ignored, can not only be dismissed, but are even things to mock and make fun of.

This leads to a massive logical problem in feminism, or at least feminisms that accept this.

A major component of feminism — and from those who love to use the “fee-fees” line — is that the feelings and experiences of women are too often not taken seriously, dismissed and disregarded. Men — the argument often goes at least — need to take the feelings of women seriously. Which is perfectly fine, but if you argue that someone needs to take your feelings seriously, it’s really, really hard to get that when you then turn around and argue that you don’t have to take their feelings seriously. I’m perfectly willing to consider your feelings, but if you won’t consider mine in return then, well, I feel no obligation to care about your feelings. Caring about someone else’s feelings is a two-way street: to get people to care about yours, a good start is to show you care about theirs. A really bad start is to demonstrate that you not only don’t care about theirs, but that you will sanctimoniously defend your right to not care about theirs. People are likely to reciprocate the amount you care about their feelings to you, at which point you can do the math.

Now feminists can counter that they don’t need to care about the feelings of men because society, by default, already does. Putting aside how accurate that is — patriarchy seemed to care about the feelings men were supposed to have, not the ones they did have, just as it did for women — the issue here is that being out and out dismissive of feelings is in no way caring about them. You can make an argument that you already have considered their feelings as much as is reasonable if you don’t express that as not caring about them at all … and this also runs into the issue that those they criticize for not caring enough about the feelings of women can counter with that as well (and often do).

This leads to the next way to go: to argue that their feelings, in that case, are invalid. They are judging the world through the perspective of privilege, and while they do feel that way, they ought not feel that way. And so since their feelings are wrong and invalid, they need not be respected and considered. The issue here is that this opens up the idea that feelings don’t have to be considered if they are invalid or based on a faulty perception of the world … and there’s no reason to think that this is limited only to the “privileged”. So, then, this means that if someone thinks that what a woman or group of women are feeling is based on an incorrect perception of the world or that the feelings are invalid, then they also ought to be able to argue that … without getting accused of ignoring their perceptions or “gaslighting” them.

The conundrum, then, comes down to this: if we should respect the feelings of others just because they are the feelings of others, then the feelings of men — accurate or not — need to be respected and not dismissed. But if one introduces the idea that we can indeed judge feelings as valid or invalid, then the feelings of women are just as open to that sort of judgement as the feelings of men are. At the end of the day, this pretty much demonstrates why the Golden Rule is a very good one: if you don’t treat others the way you expect to be treated, it’s nearly impossible to avoid hypocrisy.

The Harms of Religion?

November 28, 2014

Stephanie Zvan over at Almost Diamonds recently wrote a post that claims to give at least an example of how even liberal religion is harmful. Her discussion of what the clearly harmful fundamentalist religions and what liberal religions have in common is this:

However, even religious sects and practices that are significantly looser in their scope can still cause damage. Even liberal sects still expect conformity to some rules. Even religious groups that focus on serving others still recognize a divine authority, even as they say that authority commands them to pro-social behavior.

As long as that authority exists, religion will continue to damage people. Yes, even liberal, non-fundamentalist religion.

So, essentially, she starts here by saying that even liberal religions have rules and have an authority, which is what makes them damaging. It’s a bit weird to talk about having rules as being a bad thing in and of itself. I’m guessing here that the main thrust of her objection is not that they have rules, and not that they have authorities, but that they have an absolute, unquestionable, divine authority that people are subject, and that even if that authority is telling them to do good things being subject to that overwhelming an authority is a bad thing.

Her main example is about religious-based counseling for mental illness, and how she thinks that religious authority could relate to that. Her first potential problem:

First off, I emphasized to my friend that, to the extent the patient had any “responsibility to get better” that responsibility was solely to the patient themself. I didn’t do this because of some notion that a patient has to want to get better in order for therapy to work but because the idea that a patient is responsible to someone else for the success of therapy can be toxic.

This is true in any therapy. The idea that someone with mental illness owes it to their family, for example, to get better can create unrealistic expectations for therapeutic outcomes. Instead of learning how to live with, manage, and work around their mental illness, someone may feel that the only successful therapy is the therapy that puts everything back the way it was before the onset of illness. It can induce pressure to get through therapy quickly rather than focusing on the process of therapy itself.

The idea that someone with mental illness who doesn’t get better through therapy is letting others down can also induce significant amounts of guilt. This is bad enough when the people “let down” are family or friends. When it’s God who wants to you to get better according to your therapist and your program, you’re failing at so much more if therapy doesn’t succeed. You’re failing in your duty to the divine, a divine that would not have commanded you to do the impossible.

But it seems that the toxicity of the responsibility comes from the idea that you do indeed have a duty to them to get better, and that you are letting them down if you don’t. With God, however, the idea would be that there is an entity that loves you and does love you (mostly) unconditionally. God wants you to get better, because God loves you. But I would assume that almost any religiously-based counseling program — and certainly a liberal one — won’t make it out to be a sin for you to not recover (unless your actions are a sin, of course, but even then seeking help would be seen as an unvarnished good). So without a duty to God to recover, you can indeed proceed without that sort of responsibility to recover that Zvan talks about. There is no reason to think that God doesn’t want you to be better, even if better doesn’t mean you go back to the way you were before.

And having that one loving figure constantly in your life can help, even as an authority figure, by giving you one entity that’s always supportive and loving pretty much no matter what you do. When you’re alone and feel unloved, and even feel unloved because of this mental illness, the structure of at least liberal religions is that God still loves you anyway. God wants you to get better, and would even want you to “Stop sinning”, but the liberal concept is that sin doesn’t make God stop loving you, and that God never rejects you no matter what you do. You can only be separated from God by rejecting him, and being in therapy with religious undertones is clearly not rejecting God. So, you always have support, which can be a good thing and something that might be hard to find outside of this sort of religious authority.

Which leads to the second point:

The other problem I cautioned my friend about was forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness. The relative going into therapy has legitimate reasons to be unhappy with the people around them. The way the world has treated them has contributed no small amount to their mental illness and to their capacity to work around that mental illness to have a productive life. Should they feel inclined toward forgiveness, they have a lot to forgive.

Now, there are good reasons they might want to reach a place where they can forgive the people who have injured them. There’s a small but respectable amount of psychology literature that suggests forgiveness can be therapeutic. Whether the effect comes from the exercise of empathy that forgiveness requires, from some kind of emotional relief due to forgiveness itself, or from some other factor isn’t clear, but the effect seems to exist.

However, while forgiveness is a good thing, pressure to forgive is not. As with pressure to “get better”, it adds stress and takes focus off therapy as a process rather than a pass/fail test. And again, this is only amplified when it’s a deity telling someone that they should forgive the person who hurt them.

Telling people that God wants them to forgive is still a strong element of even liberal, non-fundamentalist religion. The idea that God has a plan for you may entail more benevolent plans in a non-fundamentalist sect, but it still exists. Failing to live up to those plans still creates guilt at a time when the focus should be on improving life for someone with mental illness.

I find that a lot of challenges to the “forgiveness” portion of religion — especially Christianity — seem to somewhat misrepresent what forgiveness is, and reflect a modern or secular idea of forgiveness that’s a bit problematic. The general idea seems to be that you can only forgive someone if they didn’t do anything wrong in the first place and/or make amends for what they did. Without that, you can’t forgive them. What state you’re supposed to be in before that isn’t usually made clear, but based on experience seems to be that you stay in a state of anger, dislike and distrust until they do. In short, you stay hurt. What they did is then supposed to still bother you, and it isn’t resolved until they do that. Forgiveness is seen as resolving the issue, and it can only be resolved with exoneration or repentance. And if they are unwilling to do that, then they cannot be forgiven, and the issue cannot be resolved, even for you in your own mind.

Religious forgiveness, I think, is different. To forgive someone in the religious sense, you don’t need to decide that they didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t need to decide that they aren’t a bad person. You don’t need to decide that they’ve done sufficient repentance. Religious forgiveness is pretty much all about you. It isn’t something that they have to earn, but is something that you give. At the end of it all, it is you putting the issue behind you, and letting it go away. They did something bad. Accept that they did, accept that they are flawed as you are flawed — although they may be more flawed than you — and stop feeling hurt or expecting penance or plotting revenge or being angry at them or the incident. If they take your cloak, shrug and move on with your life. Don’t stay and harbour ill thoughts about them until they make amends. Don’t demand amends at all. Make forgiveness be a state of you instead of a state of the world.

In terms of mental illness, putting aside past wrongs and past issues can be key to many treatments. Forgiveness, in the religious sense, is essentially doing just that. So not only having that as a key virtue from the religious worldview, but having the example of the overarching authority figure who forgives unconditionally as long as we say “Sorry” — and even sometimes if we don’t — can strongly encourage that. And there is no reason to think that in the religious context these things can’t be processes. Liberal religions certainly don’t expect people to be perfect. And a good religious therapist that things that forgiveness is important will certainly structure it so that they highlight their own difficulties with forgiving while still holding onto the idea that forgiveness is something to strive for, because in all religions no one is perfect. Everyone’s a sinner — except maybe that guy — and so failing does not single you out as someone who is particularly bad. If you’re having a hard time forgiving someone or something, the typical religious response — especially for something really serious — is going to be “I can definitely see how that would be tough to forgive, but remember that God indeed forgives all of us no matter what we do”, providing the example to life up to while acknowledging that we aren’t expected to be able to do that all the time. It’s a lot harder for a secular approach to do that so clearly.

Zvan’s big push is that the authority turns the good idea into a demand, but that doesn’t follow from the examples she uses. Thus, it strikes me that the real issue is that she doesn’t like the authority and the idea of forgiveness found in religion. Which is indeed something that can be debated, but it doesn’t really work to try to use the examples she gives here as examples of the harms of religion without a) recognizing the benefits as well and b) ensuring that the harms she cites really do follow from the doctrines themselves in the way she describes. On deeper reflection, I don’t think they’re really there, and so are no better and no worse than an equivalent secular approach. Thus, not a harm from religion, specifically, at all.

Criticizing Criticizing Fiction …

November 27, 2014

So, after setting the table yesterday, let’s talk today about the specific arguments. Dadabhoy spreads this out among three posts, but even though that would stretch out the posts here and thus help my goal to make a post a day until I get sick of it or can’t anymore, I’m not going to do that. There are two reasons for this. The first is that all of the posts are relatively short so splitting it up would just be making a short commentary, and the second and more important one is that the points seem to be interrelated and often seem to call for the same sort of analysis and response, and so there’d be a lot of repetition. I’ll still try to deal with each point separately and yet still try to interweave them when reasonable, which might end up being confusing. We’ll see how it goes.

1. It’s just fiction and exists merely to entertain. There is no need to take it so seriously.

Firstly, and most importantly, this is a clearly disingenuous argument. If the person making the argument actually thought that the fiction in question weren’t to be taken seriously, then they wouldn’t be bothering to defend it. Instead, they would have quietly ignored arguments regarding the problematic elements of the fiction and resumed their mindless enjoyment of it. That they speak up at all says that they take at least their fandom of it somewhat seriously.

I think that this runs into an issue of conflation over seriousness here, which gets us right to the issue between evaluating its implications and evaluating it as a work. Clearly, someone can think quite highly of a work and yet still give this response, if they feel that someone is denigrating the work as a work by reading things into it. I think that this is what caused a lot of the outcry over Arthur Gies’ review of “Bayonetta 2”, that after spending most off the review gushing over the mechanics, he docks it for its over-sexualization:

When Platinum Games is on, it’s really, really on, and Bayonetta 2 is in almost any respect that counts a better game than the first, whose mechanics were already exemplary. But every time I’d feel on a roll, enjoying my time with Bayonetta 2 immensely, I’d be broken out of it by another cheap shot of T&A. I would be wrecking a flock of angelic or demonic enemies, sliding in and out of witch time almost at will, and then the special weapon I had picked up became a literal stripper pole for Bayonetta to dance on, because … well, because, I guess.

I won’t guess why the blatant over-sexualization is still there, often more intensely than before. But it causes an otherwise great game to require a much bigger mental compromise to enjoy.

So, a great game, but because it has an element that the reviewer doesn’t like, the score gets docked. So anyone that doesn’t mind the sexualization — because over-sexualization is actually a judgement — and loves the game is going to feel upset that the score for the game is being docked for something that, arguably, isn’t really about the game at all. At least here, the elements are so tightly interweaved into the game that, yes, it does actually impact it, but in a lot of cases the criticisms are indeed reading in. One common example of this are plot holes in some games. Are they there? Sure. But if the story is just there to move you along to the next action sequence, criticizing it for not having an epic story isn’t treating the game fairly, and is taking the game and its purpose too seriously.

Furthemore, fans who defend their favorite works with this argument are demeaning the object of their love far more than those who bother with criticisms of it. Are they saying that their treasured fiction has no effect or impact on the world whatsoever?

No. The answer is that in the work that’s being examined, it was never meant to change the world. It was meant to entertain, which they argue that it does. So criticizing it for not changing the world, or arguing that it’s bad because you argue it changes the world in bad ways, to them really is missing the point of the work, and taking it too seriously. While, for example, many episodes of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” addressed strong social issues, a lot of them and a lot of their jokes were, in fact, just goofy fun, and trying to see how they might address social issues and then criticizing them for not doing that effectively when they weren’t trying is indeed problematic … and taking them far too seriously for what they were intended to do.

If the idea that fiction could influence reality seems to absurd, then consider the flip side, where fiction reflects reality. Are fans really saying that the fiction they adore is so poor at world-building and character-development that it cannot serve as a mirror of or statement about real life? A well-built fictional universe with fully-realized characters can very much serve up insights about the societal context of both the creators and the consumers of that universe. Even poorly-conceived worlds and characters often betray the biases and preferences of their creators. The reactions and interpretation of fans, in turn, betrays their biases and preferences.

Certainly, but that in general says nothing about the work itself. You’d be doing either 2) or 3) here, not 1), but a lot of the time it looks like 1), at which point you will be challenged that your academic analysis is a reflection of you taking it too seriously and judging the work based on that. Sometimes, those criticisms will be invalid, as you will be doing 3) and they’ll take it as doing 1). Sometimes, though, it will be a valid criticism and not just disingenuous or flimsy. It will all come down to context.

As an American, I find tracing the vampires vs. zombies line against the Democrats vs. Republicans one to be a highly pleasurable pursuit. That I do so hardly demands that everyone feel that way, yet I find myself chastised by people for doing what I like. I find that more than a little hypocritical given that those people’s transparent excuse for being opposed to me doing what I enjoy is that they enjoy the thing about which I choose to think critically.

Examining those topics in light of that sort of analogy isn’t really a problem, and if you enjoy doing that then please do indulge. After all, I certainly do that with Philosophy and Popular Culture. But the problem comes in when you try to address a particular work. First, you risk trying to read that into the work. For example, if I write a zombie or vampire fiction, it’s unlikely that that is what I have in mind — not being American and all — and yet if the claim is made that that’s what my work does show, even objectively, people and I would have right to complain that you are taking that work too seriously, in the sense that you are reading massive philosophical, social and political points out of it that aren’t there. This is magnified if the claim is made that the work is somehow inferior because it doesn’t manage to tease out those particular issues well when it had no intention of doing so. So sometimes the argument works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t have any examples of when she specifically gets this argument, and so can’t say whether the argument works against her or not. But the argument is not just obviously wrong, as she at least implies here.

2. The adaptation of this fiction cannot be blamed for elements that are true to its source material.

The best recent example with which I have some familiarity comes from the new Constantine TV show. … I will turn my focus to episode three, which addresses so-called “voodoo.” In the case of “voodoo”, as with “gypsies”, so far, I’ve found that Constantine punches down in a way that cannot be explained away via loyalty to the source material.

What most people know as “voodoo” is a religion that arose out of oppression. People of African descent who were brought to the Americas against their wills used their religious practices and beliefs as a way of resisting oppression. Unless you are a Christian hell-bent on characterizing all non-Christian faiths as demonic and Satanic, you have no reason other than the racism you have been fed to consider the religious practices that came from enslaved African peoples to be more inherently evil than those of any other religion.

And how so many of us have been fed. From theme parks to Disney films to music videos, negative and Othering fictional depictions are all most people know about so-called “voodoo”. Constantine feeds into this narrative by putting forth the claim that “voodoo priests” epitomize the worst traits of humanity.

The “it’s canon!” defenses of the racism are either than Constantine is an asshole that hates everyone or that the creators of the show are bound to the negative depictions found in the comics. In either case, the excuse is that the show is merely adhering to the comics and therefore cannot be criticized for its depictions.

This criticism, I’d say, definitely slides into Activism Criticism. There’s no real criticism of the work as a work in and of itself, nor how doing that impedes the work. There’s no criticism that the adaptation is a worse adaptation because it does this, and in fact she seems to conclude that it is indeed a “better” – meaning closer — adaptation doing this. So her real objection is that the adaptation could and should have avoided this because of the social consequences, and she’s presuming that it can be done.

I’m not a Constantine fan, so I don’t really know the full context of this. But it may not be that easy to adjust the adaptation in the way she describes. Let’s assume that practitioners of voodoo are one of if not the main villains of the piece. They drive all the evil stuff that the hero fights against in the comics. If that’s true, them they do need to be presented as villains in the adaptation, and it’s reasonable to argue that the initial characterization of voodoo in the work was done to drive that villainy and make it obvious. Now, let’s put aside the not unreasonable argument that it was the other way around, and that voodoo was chosen because the common depiction made it easy for people to see them as villains, and look at what an adaptation would need to do here. In order to set up them as main villains, they have to be set up as really, really evil, especially if Constantine is not pure (and from what I know he ain’t). So him claiming that they do epitomize the worst traits of humanity establishes this: we see them as evil right from the start. If you don’t want them to reflect voodoo there, then either you have to replace them with a new villain group — which is a massive and difficult departure from the original work — or try to present them as nuanced and grey from the start … when your entire purpose here is to start them, at least, as being totally on the “immoral” side. So since those options are either difficult or risk ruining the adaptation, you start them out completely on the evil side. None of this means that you can’t add nuance later, and considering how television is going it’s certainly arguable that adding nuance to them later — with good practitioners or with more grey villains — would greatly improve the work.

Now, Dadabhoy can legitimately ask if that means that she shouldn’t raise the criticisms. After all, even if I’m right — and I concede that I might not be — I myself just pointed that the work would likely be better if they eventually added nuance to voodoo, in line with her perceptions of what real voodoo is about. Do I think that this will just be done if we don’t highlight the issue and ask or demand that they do it? Or will they simply stick with the overwhelming cultural impression if we stay silent?

I do think that these are things that can be talked about. The question is whether you talk about them as examples of 1) or as examples of 3). If as 1), you don’t actually criticize them for it, at least when talking about the adaptation. If they decided to stick to the book as written — even as they don’t for other things, like the main character’s bisexuality — then that isn’t something you can criticize the adaptation for as an adaptation, unless it really doesn’t work in this time and on the medium. Which it seems to, which seems to be what the 3) complaint is about. What you can do is point out that because they are doing an adaptation they have a wonderful opportunity here, to take villains that weren’t nuanced and add nuance to them, and you can even claim that doing this would challenge these assumptions which would be good as well. But the key is not to claim that the adaptation is necessarily bad or flawed for sticking to these tropes, as an individual work, but that the medium and the time allows it to not stick to those tropes and possibly create something even better.

Or, you can do it as 3), where you hold it up as an example of this prevailing attitude and note whether the attitude is still prevalent today — ie whether or not modern audiences really need it to be that way or would see it necessarily that way — and what the impacts of that are. But this wouldn’t be a comment on the individual work itself at all, but just use it as an example of that overarching theme. Sliding this into 4), which is where she really does seem to want to go, a criticism can be made that, say, more adaptations need to be braver with things like this, or that we need more shows of this type to represent voodoo fairly, as opposed to what’s being done here. But, in general, these arguments don’t want to imply that it’s a bad adaptation or even a bad show — in terms of its entertainment value — because of this representation. That would start mixing two very different arguments, and if I criticize anything about Activism Criticism, it is that it too easily falls into mixing those sorts of arguments.

3. It’s fiction and is not meant to be a political statement / politically correct.

This argument strikes me as being pretty much the same argument as 1), which is really summarized as “You’re reading too much into this!”, except that this one is aimed precisely at political/social statements.

Regardless, the argument is invalid for one simple reason: A lack of overt political messaging does not mean that a work of fiction has no messages and is therefore “neutral.”In the case of the messaging transmitted by fiction, a lack of intention is less than unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Well, to get this counter off the ground, you have to establish two things: a) That the messaging is really there and not just something that you find in it and b) That the work is not being evaluated as something that it isn’t, as in a political statement when it’s just supposed to be an entertaining work about robots that turn into cars. And for those, the intent of the work of fiction is far more than unimportant, and is in fact crucial. Criticizing or lauding a work for its messaging that isn’t actually there is going to get a reaction … particularly if you’re criticizing it. If the work is not attempting to give a political message, then it is indeed a neutral work. There may be implied messages, but again that’s a 2) or 3) argument. A work will reflect its social conditions, but that again isn’t something you can level against the work. Here, again, is where Activism Criticism mixes up areas, because it will often look at a specific work and judge it specifically for reflecting what are considered to be problematic political or social views instead of simply pointing out how this reflects these common views that we are trying to change and need to change. And this gets people up in arms, as in the Bayonetta 2 review; how can you say that this work is particularly bad when it just does what everyone else does? The work itself is high quality and entertaining, so that it reflects the views that people actually hold — rightly or wrongly — makes it bad?

3) type analyses will note that it reflects it, and talk about the attitudes themselves as being problematic or not. 4) type analyses will criticize the work for reflecting those attitudes. This is indeed the problem with Activism Criticism, that they attack the work for what it does.

It is the assumption that a certain type of person is the “default” that leads to the argument that fiction featuring that type is not making a “political” statement. White cis hetero male concerns are “concerns” so assumed to be so universal that they don’t even need to be framed as such, while racial/feminist/queer/economic concerns are framed as “political.”

I’ve always found that this sort of analysis shaky, and the Activism Criticism framework allows for an easy way to see why. First, let’s talk about two of those “concerns”: cis and hetero. Since most people are indeed cis and hetero, those concerns really are more universal than the concerns of those who are not, in the strict sense that they represent more people than the converse. So a show striving to be representative would still focus far more on them than on others, and so those groups will indeed be seen as the default. This isn’t a problem. A problem would be if those concerns are never represented at all, not if they aren’t seen as the “default”. But the issue is that those additional concerns are often seen as political because they are often portrayed and represented in ways that are, indeed, political. Critics often start from the political realm talking about the discrimination that the groups face, and then move from that framework to the representations in the media and in specific works. So they start from the political realm, use that as a buttress to talk about the work, and then complain when people say that they are making the work political. They are. If you look at every analysis that Dadabhoy did in the series that references political and social issues, the analysis is critically dependent on the political and social issues in the world and outside of the works themselves. It is rare that for the “default” groups that that sort of analysis is done … precisely because they are seen as the default and so no one ever considers the political and social issues surrounding that. But that still means that in general simply using the default does not have the political ramifications that adding in the non-default does. The political ramifications of such a choice exist in the politics of the world, not the politics of the work, while in general Activism Criticism purports that for non-default characters the politics is in the work itself, for good or for ill, and that a work that, say, includes a bisexual character is to be commended for making an explicit statement, whether or not the work intended to do that or just decided that it would be cool to try something different for a change.

With this real world politics wrapped around minority issues, it’s no wonder that any attempt to include minority concerns is seen as a political statement. It does not help the matter at all to insist that things that aren’t wrapped in this real world politics are somehow equally political. They aren’t. What works is to acknowledge that you don’t have to be making or be seen to be making a political statement if you unwrap the minority concerns from the real world politics and just present them as characters in your work, and treat them precisely as that. Failure to do so is to indeed claim that a work that is not political is indeed political, and open yourself up to a valid criticism of this type.

It should come as no surprise that I think that Activism Criticism is the main reason why Dadabhoy gets these criticisms, and that in that framework they might be valid. This is not to claim that she shouldn’t be an activist over these things, just that if she is going to do so she has to be very clear about what precisely she’s criticizing. And she may be. But when people aren’t, they will indeed get these responses … and they won’t be flimsy. They’ll be valid.

Criticizing Fiction …

November 26, 2014

Heina Dadabhoy has put up a three post series talking about criticizing fiction and three common arguments that she, at least, gets when she talks about doing it, three arguments that she doesn’t find particularly strong. I’d like to go through those arguments, but before doing that I want to talk a bit about criticism of fiction in general to put this into a context, because I think that in some cases those arguments aren’t flimsy at all, while in some cases they are.

There are, in my view, different focuses that one can have when criticizing fiction:

1) You can criticize a work of fiction as a work of fiction, in and of itself. This means that what you are examining the work to see how well it works as a work of fiction, what it does right, what it does wrong, what could be improved. You look at presentation, plot holes, characterization, world building, and all sorts of things like that, but you don’t go too far into the philosophical, political or social implications of all of that except in service to seeing how those implications and elements impact the work as a whole. So while you might, say, liken the world of Star Trek to a communistic society, you would only bring that up to, say, point out a contradiction in the actions of the main characters, or to show how that focus limits opportunities to advance characters or plots. I’d say that Chuck over at SF Debris does mainly that sort of analysis, as does Shamus when he talks about video games, and that’s what I do in my Philosophical Writer’s Guide. Here, the purpose is to find the elements that the work itself clearly contains and to judge the work based on that.

2) You can do a philosophical analysis of the work, and look at what the philosophical implications of it are. The Philosophy and Popular Culture works do this sort of analysis. Here, you pull out the philosophical issues, but those issues don’t have to actually be in the work themselves, and you don’t have to claim that the author meant for them to be there. Sometimes, they are explicitly there, like the discussion in Angel over whether he should have stopped Jasmine or not, or the question of whether Batman should kill the Joker or not. But sometimes they are just implied, like the question of whether it’s right to make a Robin or not. Works of fiction can raise interesting philosophical issues and provide excellent thought experiments to get people to at least understand what the issues are in a manner that is easier to grasp than a long philosophical argument. But the real key here is that if you do this analysis, you aren’t necessarily saying anything about the work at all. Even if you criticize the answer they came up with, it doesn’t say anything about how effective the work itself is. Often, it’s precisely the opposite: the work is effective because it takes the “wrong” answer, either for dramatic effect or because that’s what most people will relate best to. So, in a philosophical analysis, the work is used to highlight or clarify a philosophical issue, but the work itself isn’t really being examined in and of itself, so a philosophical analysis doesn’t say much about the work in and of itself … but that philosophical analysis itself can be used to highlight good and bad things about the work itself if the philosophical implications matter to the enjoyment of the work.

3) You can also do a political/social analysis of a work. This is similar to a philosophical analysis, except that you look more at the impact it could have or the commentary it could make on political and social issues, or the impact that political and social issues and themes had on it. Again, this sort of analysis can find things that aren’t in the work, and ultimately isn’t a comment on the work itself, overall. Dadabhoy’s example of analyzing zombies and vampires as reflections of the fears of the left and the right in her first post is an example of this sort of analysis.

To look at how these all differ, I think using the Marvel Civil War is a good example. You can criticize the Civil War for not being clear on what registration was all about and for making it so that it was hard to cheer for the side that was ultimately supposed to win because of the bad things they were doing. You can analyze it as a clash representing the three main competing philosophical positions in ethics. Or you can ask about the political and social implications superhumans would have on a society, and if a solution like the Registration Act would be the best or even a credible solution. All of these, I think, are legitimate ways to criticize fiction, but they all have radically different goals and implications … and only the first really says anything about the work itself.

There’s another way to criticize fiction, and while I’m not sure that it isn’t just a subset of the third one, I want to highlight it here: Activism criticism. This is when you take a work and analyze it in terms of what it means to a culture in terms of its social or political aspects, and judge whether the work furthers or harms certain specific political and social views. This is what I think people like Anita Sarkeesian and Dadabhoy herself often seem to focus on. The issue with this sort of analysis is that it kinda combines the aspects of all of the other kinds of criticism, in that it does talk about the work itself and in some sense passes judgement on it, but it often does so by appealing to things that aren’t necessarily in the work itself and are just implications, like the philosophical and political/social analyses do. Thus, it can end up finding that a work is “good” or “bad” from this perspective by appealing to things that were certainly not intended by the work and that are potentially more in the perspective of the critic than in the work itself.

In my mind, one of the major issues with the analysis of fiction has been judging a work not based on what is objectively and intentionally there, but on what the analyst brings to it themselves. This is not a problem for types 2 and 3, but if it bleeds over into judging the work itself people who disagree with the judgement will be frustrated that the judgement seems to be based on factors that aren’t actually in the work. How can you argue against a judgement that a work is bad or reflects harmful attitudes against someone who is reading those themes into the work? And these are often not simply expressed as opinions, but as objective criticisms of the work, especially in the case of Activism Criticism. If these things aren’t objectively demonstrable or even easily objectively demonstrable, there will be push back … and I think that some of the criticisms that Dadabhoy highlights as flimsy are, in context, just that sort of argument: you are reading things into the work that aren’t really there because they were never meant to be there, and you’re just taking the work as something that it isn’t to either judge it as bad or consider it worthy based on this invalid reading in. But we’ll see more on that next when I look at the arguments.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (honourable mentions)

November 25, 2014

So, in this last post, I’ll talk about the games that didn’t quite make the cut. I could have just added them and gone to 60 or something, but for a lot of these games I don’t really feel that they are good enough to make the list of my favourite games, but they deserve to be mentioned as good games in their own light. So here they are, in no particular order:

Final Fantasy X: I like Yuna and can even tolerate Tidus. I like Lulu better though. The game was fun, although I hated the puzzle sequences when you were trying to get to the interior of the temple. But it’s not that memorable. It’s that game that I should finish sometime, not that game that I remember really fondly.

Afterlife: I talked about this game here, but I remember it more for wishing that I could play it and play it well than actually playing it. It was a unique game, but again I don’t really recall playing it that much.

Dragon Age Origins: The best thing about this game is the fact that you have so many choices for how you start the game, based on who you are and who you want to be, including what race and gender you are. But I find the gore that stays on you to be a bit much and jarring in cutscenes, the world is a bit too dark for my tastes, the combat is a bit too frenetic for me to handle and I dislike games where you can miss companions (I had to start over once because I missed Leiliana). I am planning on finishing this game, but I’m not sure it will ever make the list.

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love: The interesting thing about this one is that I forgot about it when I was making up the list, and then wanted to add it onto the main list while writing in the descriptions … and then decided that even though at first blush it should be on the list, it wasn’t better than the 50th game for me. I liked the game, but I had more fun overall with the other games. Go figure.

Space 1889: What was great about this game? Tying it to the Victorian era and giving you related vices and virtues. So, the setting and the implementation of parts of that. I never got far in the game though.

Archon: If any of my friends from high school are reading this, they’ll probably wonder why this isn’t in the main list. I guess it’s because while I love the concept of chess where you actually fight over every square, and it implemented it well, it never really had anything like a story to it or anything, nor any way for me to build one. So, again, when I compared it to the 50th game on the list, it came up a bit short. But, still, “Kill it with your snake thing!”.

Now I’m sure that there are games that people think should be on the list, or should be there in a different order. All I can say here is that this is my list based on my own opinion, and I’m not trying to say that these games are necessarily better or worse than any others objectively. But let me finish by mentioning at least one set of games that people probably will be wondering why I didn’t mention them at all: the Fallouts, and Planescape: Torment. And the reason for that is pretty much the same for all of them: I was never able to get into them for some reason. I own them, they’re on my list to play, and they are the sort of games I liked, and yet they leave me cold. I can’t explain why, and I have tried to play them, to no avail. So perhaps this must remain one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Anyway, that’s it for the list. After this, I hope to get back to some philosophy and the like for a while, for those who care more about that than about games.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (1 – 10)

November 24, 2014

10: Fatal Frame: This game contains my favourite female character ever and maybe my favourite character ever, and the game was very creepy and had the perfect atmosphere for the sort of game it was trying to be. So after talking about it recently, what more do I have to say? Well, how about why it’s only 10th on the list. The reason? It’s fairly short, and sometimes it’s too hard to solve its puzzles without a FAQ. But considering the strength of the games that are left on the list, that’s enough for it to only come in at number 10.

9: City of Heroes: My favourite MMO. Classes played differently enough to allow for my altitis, especially combined with the mass of character customization options. The early levels weren’t boring, and the game did play reasonably well solo at least at low levels. Task forces were amazing additions and some of the most fun I had in the game … and that was even with me playing with other people. The Hallowe’en events were really cool. I was really, really sad to see this one go.

8: Star Wars: Rebellion: I’ve talked about this game here, and again there isn’t much more to say about it.

7: Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom: An interactive movie attached to a flight simulator, true, but it’s a good one. It examines a number of deep issues, I like a lot of the characters, and the choices are actually big ones and ones that you can indeed role play a bit. But the very best thing about this game is how it ends and how you win the game: not in the cockpit, but on the Senate floor. You have to win a debate against the man behind the latest war and who wants to remake humanity stronger, faster and better, with or without their consent. This is a game that embraces its interactive movie component as much as it does its flight sim component … and the PS1 version has an invincible mode so that I could, indeed, actually finish it.

6: Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII: This is a strategy game where you aren’t a nameless and faceless leader, but are a person who gets hired to lead armies. You can get married. You make friends. You get promoted. You play politics. You do more things day to day using your skills than leading armies. One of my most memorable moments was when I played a character that was the son of another general. I was working for one city, and my father was working for a city that they wanted to invade. They asked me to go and do something dishonourable using that relationship. I told them no and quit, and moved away from the battle altogether. Remember, this was in a strategy game, not an RPG, and it followed from the actual events in the game. That moment solidified this as one of my favourite games ever.

5: Hardball 5: Now, you might be wondering how a sports game got up this high on the list, when no other sports games even made the list. The reason is that this was the perfect sports game for me. When I created my own personal roster of players and made them great — but still great for certain roles — and played this on the default difficulty, I pretty much won every game, but they were pretty much all close games. I didn’t blow them out 15 – 0 very often, like I do in MLB 07 The Show. And that’s what I want out of a sports game: to win but to have it be close. I’d rather take a blowout win than a close loss if that’s what happens in most of the games I play. And this game did it without trying, and no game in no sport that I’ve tried has even come close.

4: Knights of the Old Republic: This game captures the Star Wars feel and has interesting characters to boot. You get to play as a Jedi. The story is interesting. The combat system works and is cool. Really, what can I say about this game? It may seem a little clunky now, but it’s still an interesting game.

3: Suikoden III: The tri-view system is an amazing way to tell the story. The characters are great. The story is great. You can actually get the stars without an insane amount of trouble, although the reward for that is a bit slim. The battles are done well and even involve some strategy. It’s not quite as addictive as the Personas, but it’s definitely an excellent RPG.

2: Persona 4: And my top two games are games in the same series that are, in fact, both about equally good. This is the one where the dungeons mean something, but where the S-links mean less. This is the game that got me to buy a Vita, for the Golden version. And yet at the end of the day, it sits just a wee bit behind Persona 3 for one main reason …

1: Persona 3: This one gets the nod for my best game ever over Persona 4 because … it started my love for this series. I bought it, put it aside for a few months, and then decided to try it on a long Christmas vacation. I loved it so much that when it ended I immediately started over, which I never do for games that don’t have a different story or let you take a different path with a different character. This was a very linear game, but the story was strong and the S-links were amazing. This is the game that also started me down the path of looking for games with dating sim options, and for me this is a true RPG in the sense that I get to decide who my friends are and how I live my life and, through that, what kind of person I am, while still remaining in a world where I have a power and have to save it. This is my favourite game ever.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (11 – 20)

November 23, 2014

20: Shadow Hearts: Covenant: This game isn’t far off of Shadow Hearts, and it is more detailed and more advanced, but it seems to involve a lot more running around than Shadow Hearts did, and the story is also pretty good. But the characters are definitely a bit goofier, and so it doesn’t quite have the charm of Shadow Hearts. But the additions are good … if, again, tending towards goofy rather than serious.

19: Wizardry 8: This is the game that can distract me with itself. The mix of classes is good and the personalities really make for a different experience when you play it, and it definitely lends itself to, say, creating the Order of the Stick or groups like that and seeing how they do. Its combat, however, can be a bit annoying and long, especially at higher levels and when you just want to get somewhere. I still return to this game every so often.

18: Disciples 2: I recently talked about this game here, so, well, go see why it ends up here on the list over there.

17: Defender of the Crown: A very nice mix of turn-based strategy and action combat. I became unbeatable once I learned how to joust well enough to win territories that way, but I also mastered sieges and swordplay. The only downside I had was that in the game I had I couldn’t rescue the fair maiden and get married … because the game would crash at the … interesting part. Another game that had a nice mix of styles that ensured that you never got stuck doing the same thing over and over.

16: Dark Age of Camelot: My first MMO, and my first attack of altitis. Lots of classes, so lots of room to make characters, and three realms representing three of my favourite mythologies gave me lots of room to create and play characters. Its biggest problem was that it was a bit hard to solo most of the classes most of the time, and even then I wasn’t that fond of grouping, and it did involve a lot of grinding. And I got lost a lot. But otherwise a fine MMO. And that was without me experiencing Realm vs Realm, one of its big selling points.

15: Sentinel Worlds: Future Magic I: An excellent space RPG. You selected a crew for various roles — which ended up being my friends — and then had to help solve a mystery, starting with a massive battle in space. You switched between space and ground fights, and the story unfolded around you. I never managed to finish it, but that was because I think I had a bug … or missed something in the days before online walkthroughs. I don’t think I’ve played a space RPG this good since.

14: X-Men Legends: Rise of Apocalypse: This is by far the strongest of the Legends/Alliance series of games. It introduces gimmick fights but doesn’t overdo them. The story is strong and well implemented. It has Deadpool in it as a playable character. And since he’s a boss, he gets to talk to himself as well in replays. There’s just nothing wrong with this game at all.

13: Persona 4 Arena: You know how I like story in my fighting games? This one has the best of any game I’ve ever played. You can see the twist coming and it’s still wrenching. And on Easy mode the auto-combo let me get through the fights and experience the story. I’m not sure that this is a game that fight game fans will appreciate, but the story aspects are definitely my type of fighting game.

12: Knights of the Old Republic 2: This comes in a fair bit behind the first game, but I’m not one of those who really hates the ending and the less than finished bits. I liked the attempts to deconstruct some gaming tropes, since it was done in an unobtrusive manner; you’ll get it if you know the games and if you don’t it won’t puzzle you or cause you any grief. So, why does this score so relatively low? Kreia. A lot of people like her character, but she didn’t work for me, as none of my characters would want her around. My light side characters — even the pragmatic ones — wouldn’t care for her grumbling about helping others, and my dark side characters wouldn’t like her constantly telling them not to pursue their evil whims. While she might give an interesting perspective, she’s just so annoying about it that in story and playing as an RPG she really doesn’t fit. I kept her on the ship and never let her leave unless I needed to take her along.

11: Shadow Hearts: The game that introduced us to Yuri Hyuga, an irreverent anti-hero with some charm and a lot of attitude. The story was dark and yet had enough humour to lighten up the mood when necessary. The Ring system was an interesting twist on traditional combat. Fusions were interesting as well. This game rarely put a foot wrong.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (21 – 30)

November 22, 2014

30: The Sims: I never played this as a game where I tried to guide my “pet” to a good life. I always tried to build a story out of it, although the game was often a bit cumbersome to do that really well. A lot of the expansions added really cool options and not just new items and clothes. And this is a game where I commented that my Sim had a better life than me, and posited that that was because he didn’t own a TV … but did own a hot tub. There was enough storyizing there to keep me interested, and the sequels haven’t managed to do as well.

29: Master of Orion 2: I love hotseat games. I really do. What I loved to do in this game was create a Babylon 5 set of races and pit them against each other, all of them played by me. My only regret is never being able to get the council option to kick off in the version I had, which might have let the game end.

28: Infiltrator: Your job was to infiltrate various bases, given various tools and various missions. You started out flying there in a helicopter, then walked around using sleep gas and the like on guards, finished your objective, and got out. A lot of fun to play.

27: Turrican: A simple C64 platformer, with varying weapons and power-ups and the ability to stand still and generate lightning that you can guide to your enemies. One of my most memorable moments with this game and in high school was trying to beat it late into the night with a friend and managing to, well, not succeed [grin]. Hurt by the lack of ability to save … which is why we played it so late.

26: Curse of the Azure Bonds: Probably the first AD&D game that I played that had a strong enough story to carry my interest. The story was turned into a very good novel, and then a trilogy. It had all of the standard tropes that AD&D games had at the time, including creating your own party. I never managed to finish it, but it was probably one of the first RPGs that I got addicted to.

25: Star Trek (arcade): From Spock’s opening “Welcome aboard, Captain” — which I always answered, which probably led other players to think I was insane, and maybe it’s untrue — I loved this game. It didn’t have the Star Trek feel, as it was nothing more than blow up Klingons and dock at Starbases to get repairs to blow up more Klingons until you clear the level. But it was a lot of fun to play.

24: Mass Effect: A friend of mine kept pushing for me to try the series, but by the time I was interested you couldn’t get this game. So I tried Mass Effect 2, and might have gotten past the first stage before ditching it. Then the pack for the PS3 came out that had all three of them, and I finally sat down to play the game. Started out by creating an Ivanova-type character but after trying to build the avatar said “Hey, that’s Michelle Forbes from when she was in Star Trek!” and decided to make her a Helena Cain ex-pat. Playing as her without the full on insanity was very interesting. I loved the heat sink mechanism and hated that ME2 ditched it, because it let me blast away at things without just giving me infinite ammo, and let me choose the weapon I wanted without having to worry if I could find or purchase enough ammo for it. Even though I didn’t care much for the MAKO, I liked its way of exploring systems better than ME2’s. For me, this game is far superior to ME2, which is why I can’t really get into playing ME2.

23: Pirates!: A mix of RPG, sailing combat, and trading game. One of the first games that really let you be free in who you were and what you did, and a game where sometimes if you were good enough with a sword you could take ships that you had no business taking. This is regarded as a classic and for very good reason.

22: Majesty: Instead of being the hero, you’re the guy who pays them. Again, a light-hearted simulator game with some good humour and a very interesting take on the fantasy-type of story.

21: X-Men: Legends: The first of the X-Men: Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance style games, the success of which started that franchise off that has now, lamentably, seemingly passed into history. It had an interesting way of handling combat, and let me essentially take on Wolverine and attack things while letting my reasonably competent companions fight. It required you to take along certain characters a little too much to solve problems for my liking, and the final battle was massively difficult, but other than that it was definitely a fun game to play.

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (31 – 40)

November 21, 2014

40: Fatal Frame 2: This is one of the games that justifies my deciding to not simply add entries by series. Anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time knows what I think about Fatal Frame. Obviously, I don’t think of this game anywhere near as highly. It’s not a bad game, and they added a number of things that should have made it better, but changing from a mansion to a town reduces some of the cramped creepiness, even if adding a pet makes it creepier in some ways. But the biggest knock against it is the section where you lose the camera, which I never got past. But it’s still memorable.

39: Marvel Ultimate Alliance: I think that this game manages to generally do Quick Time Events right, as you don’t get DIAS but instead just have to stay alive for one extra round if you miss it, and there’s usually a good scene after the QTE so you don’t have to miss anything cool. Unfortunately, this game is also the one that ramped gimmick fights up to 11, after they were done well in Age of Apocalypse. But this game also ramps up or introduces the idea of consequences for your actions, albeit in a very minor way, which is a nice touch.

38: Elder Scrolls: Oblivion: After Morrowind drove me to a homicidal range after about an hour of gameplay, playing this game didn’t seem like a very good idea. And I think I played it on the PC first for a very short time. And then I got it for the PS3 and didn’t finish it despite my character’s lack of pants. But when I took the game on as Angel without the vampirism, I actually started to enjoy it a bit, and did manage to finish it. So far, no such luck for Skyrim.

37: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday: This was not my first AD&D style RPG, nor was it my first space-based RPG. But it was the first time I played that combination, and I did remember Buck Rogers from my youth. The new classes were interesting, and it let me create a full party … and I never finished it.

36: Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land: A JRPG version of Wizardry, trading in the Western RPG tropes for the JRPG tropes. Including meeting friends in the dungeon and having to bond with them to be able to pull of your more impressive moves and tactics. I never did manage to finish it, but part of that was because the disk was a little less perfect than the others and so when my first PS2 started to go it stopped playing it first … while I was playing it. It’s simplified compared to Wizardry 8, but was still fun.

35: Age of Wonders: And soon after justifying my not simply adding entries by series … I hit a series where other than 3 — which I never played — the two games are pretty much the same in quality. This game let you play hotseat and create your own maps, and wrapped that all around an interesting magic and combat system with a personalized leader. You can’t really go wrong.

34: Age of Wonders 2: This game just added more to the original game, which gives it the slight nod. But the two are pretty much interchangeable.

33: Lord of the Rings: The Third Age: I have a weakness for works that insert themselves into an existing canon and talk about other events and the like without contradicting too much the original works. I love “I, Jedi”, which arguably fixes the “Jedi Academy Trilogy”. And I love the parts of “Legions of Fire” that does the same for some things in Babylon 5, as well as the “The Passing of the Technomages” which does that for the technomages in B5. This is probably because as a writer I’m actually better at writing those sorts of inserts than I am at writing original stuff, which might make me a natural fanfic author (which means I should write some, I think). This game actually, in my view, manages to pull it off fairly well. The characters are interesting, the story doesn’t seem to contradict at least the movies too very much, and I managed to finish it. More than once. It implements the interesting system of “Use your skills to level them up” but hurts it with “But they depend on MP that you can’t always restore easily”. This is a game I would consider playing again.

32: The Old Republic: When I play MMOs, I have a strong tendency towards altitis. This is the one MMO that’s an exception to that rule, which is both to its credit and its detriment. It’s bad because there just aren’t as many combinations of unique characters as there are in other games, given the class and story restrictions. It’s good because the story drives you forward more than you see in other games and so you want to stick to one character more than you would otherwise. That means that this is the only game that I’ve hit the initial, at least, level cap with, having a few characters that have hit level 50 and having completed a few stories (Sith Warrior, Sith Sorcerer, and Smuggler I think). I still play this game fairly frequently, and am looking forward to another Christmas vacation burst with it. The biggest problem with the game is all the other people; I tend to try to play when no one else is on, which sometimes is hard to do. So I guess my biggest complaint about this game is that I would have rather seen it as a single player successor to the Knights of the Old Republic games, and think of the MMO portions as necessary evils. In fact, think about that for a second: take all of the stories — which do interconnect — even in their slight shallowness, and build a single player game where you walk through all of them, on both sides, and only then do you get the entire picture. How cool a game would that be?

31: Icewind Dale: I tried to play Baldur’s Gate repeatedly, and hated it. So I didn’t try Baldur’s Gate 2 until very recently, and then simply forgot about it. But I loved Icewind Dale when I started playing it. Part of the reason was that it let you create your own party, which Baldur’s Gate didn’t. I don’t mind companions, but at the time I really did want to create my own characters and play with them, and build the stories and relationships that way. This was, of course, before I became fascinated with JRPGs, which broke that a little. But this game let me create my all-female evil party and play it for a bit. Shame the old-style combat was just a bit too annoying to me to finish. The only thing that IWD 2 had over this were the extra classes allowing for greater diversity of characters, but overall it wasn’t as good a game as this one, that managed to let you feel like a party of inexperienced adventurers suddenly thrust into the role of the only hope for the Dale.