Archive for November, 2014

Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games (41 – 50)

November 20, 2014

50: X-Men: Next Dimension: I don’t play fighting games to fight. I play fighting games to experience or create my own story. This game’s story was too difficult for me — I got stuck at the fight where Forge has to win only to lose in a cutscene — but taking on the Arcade mode ran through multiple locations and multiple opponents in each, which could let you build a story out of the encounters with some kludging, if you knew the X-Men canon well. Which I do. And you tended to face a main adversary at the end — Wolverine always fought Sabertooth last, for example — which allowed for more story-based fun.

49: M1 Tank Platoon: I think I had already started my practice of putting my friends into games before this, but I definitely did that in this game. Which made it interesting to see them get promoted … or get their tank brewed up and have to replace them. Other than that, the campaign was interesting and the combat easy enough that it didn’t frustrate me but deep enough to give me some choices and require some strategy. A good game to play when we were still in the Cold War.

48: Gunship: For a C64 game, this was a surprisingly strong flight simulator. It popped to mind when I was trying to remember what C64 games I loved, and definitely deserves to make the list.

47: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe: This was one of the first fighting games I played where the story was both easy enough and fun enough to satisfy me when I played it. “Khaaaaaaaan!”

46: Injustice: Gods Among Us: This one, though, had a stronger story than MK vs DC Universe.

45: Star Trek: Birth of the Federation: This is actually a pretty good implementation of a Star Trek turn-based strategy game. You get the main races. You get the minor races. You get the planets. You get the ships. What you don’t get, which makes it inferior to Star Wars: Rebellion, are the characters. This was a game crying out for academies to train characters and special units, and it didn’t do it. But, otherwise, it did manage to get you feeling at least a bit like you were in that universe, and probably more so than any other Star Trek game I’ve played.

44: Dungeons of Daggorath: One of the first games I played on an actual computer, a Co-Co 2. A very entertaining dungeon crawl with an interesting hit point system — you died when your heart rate got too high — and some decent strategy options as well (when you use magic, and the ability to leave items around for the monsters to try to pick up so that you can wail on them, but since that increased your heart rate …). I never managed to finish it, but I definitely played a lot of it and would like to see some of those elements back again.

43: Risk II: You might be thinking “How can a game that just implements a board game make it onto the list?”. And “Axis and Allies” didn’t make the list, so it isn’t that it’s based on a board game and let me automate all of the annoying things that board games can have (I’m looking at you, “Babylon 5 Wars”). But this added something that the board game couldn’t do: Same Time resolution of movement and battles. So every player gave their all their moves, and then the game resolved them all simultaneously, which include border wars (you attacked me and I attacked you) and mass invasions over multiple borders. Sure, I played it against myself hotseat — which is not abnormal for me — but that was still a very interesting innovation, and made it more fun to play. I always played this game with Missions and Same Time, and it definitely kept me entertained.

42: Tropico: This was a very cute little game. The later games added more options that really do seem interesting, but that I’ve never managed to play them for long enough to really get attached to them. This game I did manage to play a bit. It was a unique little “God Game”, that also mixed in a lot of humour and didn’t take itself too seriously.

41: X-Wing Alliance: I could have selected X-Wing or Tie Fighter here, but this is the game that I most remember out of all of them. The story is strong, but the best part of it for me was the simulator, where you could create your own set-ups of fighters and fleets and fly them against each other. This even let me set up little mini-campaigns and storylines, which is something that I dearly love.

My Top 50 Most Personally Memorable/Favourite Games

November 19, 2014

So, Shamus Young did a list of the top 64 games. At the end of it, he said this about the project:

But the other thing I learned from all this is that these lists really don’t mean anything. My list isn’t really meaningful except as “List of Top 64 PC Games Played By Shamus Young that He Felt Like Talking About.” There’s a bit of value in that from the standpoint of trivia and curiosity, but it tells you more about me than it tells you about videogames.

Now, I had already decided to do a list of my own before he posted that — again, I’m scheduling things ahead and I’ve had content lately — but that sums up one of the main reasons that I decided to go ahead and do this. As I write more and more about video games, it’d be nice to have an article or set of articles that can sum up what sorts of games I like and what kind of player I am. And while a summary article would be shorter, it really can’t sum it up as well as a list of my favourite and memorable games and the reasons why they’re on the list and in the positions they are.

So despite the fact that I’m all about objectivity (well, not really), this is going to be a completely and totally subjective list. I’m not going to make any claims about whether these games are objectively better or worse than any other games. Any games that don’t make the list are either games that I haven’t played, or didn’t like or remember enough to make the list. In fact, how I generated the list was to first scour my memory to pick out the games that I remembered fondly, and then went through the games that I had handy to find ones that I when I saw them I thought “Oh, that game! I loved that game!” and then added it to the list.

Note that unlike Shamus I’m not limiting series to one entry. This is because I guess I play less games than he does ([grin]) but mostly because in a number of cases I liked one game in the series a lot more than others, or didn’t even like or play some entries in the series. It’s not reasonable for me, then, to try to judge the quality of various series, and I do have the room to judge each game individually.

I ended up with 50 games in the list, with some honourable mentions left over, and so will run these starting with 41 – 50 every day until I get through them all (the honourable mentions will come last). So if you’re here mainly for the philosophy … well, I have a lot of those sorts of posts in the archive and that will unfortunately have to hold you for the next week or so. For those who like video game posts, then this might interest you.

The Argument From “I’ll Hold My Breath Until I Turn Blue”

November 18, 2014

I’ve been talking a lot about free will over the past little while, but for reasons that you’ll see in the next post, I wanted to get this little rumination in today. The key reason that people are so determined to preserve free will is the idea that our conscious deliberations matter, and that what we decide consciously really does impact our behaviour. The challenge from hard determinists has always been that that is itself determined by environment and brain state, which always implies that it doesn’t really have an impact, except possibly as a feedback loop where the experience causes a reaction just as any stimulus would. This is why Libet’s experiments are always cited as evidence that free will doesn’t really exist; they purport to demonstrate that our conscious deliberation can’t impact the decision because the decision is made unconsciously before we consciously make it. On the other hand, our instincts and hard-wired desires are also often cited as reasons to think that we don’t have any meaningful kind of free will, because they are actions — often very complex and direct actions — that we take automatically in response to a stimulus, and they can indeed be conditioned to be automatic and unconscious reactions. So, again, conscious deliberation doesn’t seem to be necessary.

But you get an interesting result when you combine some of our strongest instinctive and automatic responses and conscious deliberation. Take, for example, breathing. We all do this automatically, pretty much from birth. We don’t generally have to think about it. We can, however, consciously override this instinctive behaviour, and hold our breath. But we can’t do it until we die. However, we can hold it until we lose consciousness. Thus, as long as we are conscious, we are capable of overriding this very basic instinctive behaviour, and doing so completely. All our body can do is make it very uncomfortable to do so, but it can’t actually force us to breath … as long as we are conscious. As soon as we lose consciousness, then this behaviour kicks in again and we breath. But as long as we are conscious, we can override this basic and vitally important bodily function.

This suggests that our conscious deliberations and actions can influence our behaviour, as we can consciously override this instinctive behaviour as long as and only as long as we are conscious. In addition, this suggests that our conscious deliberation can override pretty much any instinctive behaviour that isn’t just completely automatic — like the heart beating — because this one is just so fundamental and yet we can override it as long as we can maintain conscious control. Both of these things suggest that conscious deliberation matters and isn’t just an instinctive and automatic response with good special effects. And this seems to strike hard at the hard determinist position … or, at least, a hard determinist position that attempts to strike at conscious deliberation and deny that it is the determining factor in much of our behaviour.

The Objectivity Myth …

November 17, 2014

So, in Shamus Young’s Twitter feed that I read at his site I came across a link to this video about a presentation at a conference by Maddy Myers about “Gonzo” journalism and, more importantly, and the issues games journalism is having due to an overly strong focus on objectivity. Now, it’s a video and I don’t see a transcript handy, so you aren’t going to get a lot of quotes, for which I apologize. But it seems to me that this video illustrates the main problem with the “Gonzo” style of journalism.

When the title of the presentation is “Why Games Need Gonzo Journalism”, it’s pretty safe to presume that the main goal of the presentation is to argue for that position, and to do so in a way that will appeal to people who either disagree that it does or are at least on the fence about it, and aren’t sure if games need “Gonzo” journalism. The problem is that this video doesn’t spend a lot of time arguing for that position. What it does is, it seems to me, follow exactly what Myers thinks is the way “Gonzo” journalism should be done: it talks a lot about her own experiences and the experiences of others, lists people she thinks are doing it well, and makes a few minor points — mostly about how other forms of journalism have already shifted towards this sort of model — but doesn’t make a coherent case for why this sort of approach is good and works for games. Now, it might be fair to say that my attitude is part of the problem, as I was looking for an objective approach and she thinks it better to have an experiential approach. But my counter is that if you want to convince someone to side with you — especially if they already disagree with you — it is a difficult thing to do by focusing on your experiences and your perspective. Chances are, if they shared your perspective and experiences that closely, they’d already agree with you. So what you’d need to do is appeal to their experiences and perspective, and try to guide that towards your desired conclusion. Or, alternatively, you could present the facts and arguments, and let them filter it through their own experiences to come to the conclusion you want, or express their perspective through facts as well. And that can indeed include facts about your experience.

See, part of the issue here is that I think everyone has an overly strict idea of objective and subjective. Myers talks about using “I”, and while I’m sure she doesn’t really consider that a definitive criteria for subjectivity, I just want to note that I use “I” all the when talking about philosophy, and even in formal papers (see my pages that represent my actual essays) but don’t think that I’m making any kind of subjective argument or appeal to personal experience. Those are as objective as they come. As I also just said, talking about your own experiences doesn’t make that critically subjective either, as long as those are treated as facts that need to be considered and not as simply a statement of opinion. So when it comes to game reviews, there are indeed going to be times when you have to talk about how you experience it, and when you have to acknowledge your own biases. That’s not an issue. The issue is to make sure that we don’t conflate opinion and fact.

Why this is important is that I definitely see the worth of the sorts of works that she cites. I definitely think there’s value in people reporting on their experiences at a conference, or with a game, or with game journalism. I think there is value with people talking about how they experience games, and in fact my whole “Not-So-Casual Commentary” line was spawned from my considering what my experiences as a gamer were and noting that they were a bit different than anyone else’s. But I also see the value in objective assessments as well, where people list the facts of what was presented at a conference, the technical specs of a game, and an objective review that lets me decide if this is the sort of game that I’d want to play. Again, you don’t have to be limited in a review to just listing off the features, but you do have to present it in such a way that the experiences are more facts than opinions.

And I see it as being very hard to effectively mix the two, as someone who likes both sorts of works but doesn’t generally want them at the same time. If I’m trying to decide whether I should buy the full series of Star Trek: Voyager, I probably shouldn’t really watch Chuck Sonnenberg’s reviews of them to decide, because he’s clear that these are just his opinion and that while he does analyze them in a semi-objective way, it’s not necessarily a good representation of its features in order to allow me to decide “Will I enjoy watching this?”. While I bought Saint’s Row the Third after reading Shamus’ comments on the game, I had to do that by filtering his comments through my own goals and desires and ended up distilling it down to one precise note about something that he liked and really pushed my own buttons. The more you appeal to your own perspective in talking about a work, the harder it is for me to distill it down to a set of facts that I can use to then build up my own opinion about what that would all mean for me, who is rather definitively not you.

If you mix the two, then I have to wade through a lot of subjective experiences in order to get to what I’m really interested if I’m looking to decide “Buy or not?”. On the other hand, I also encounter a lot of “dry” technical data if I happen to be interested in the author’s personal perspective and experiences. To paraphrase Miles O’Brien’s mother, if you try to combine personal accounts and reviews, you’ll end up doing neither very well. The two do have different goals, and combining the two just ends up with major portions of your work not appealing to people who aren’t explicitly interested in both right now.

There are definitely uses for both, and I think that both need to be represented in games journalism. But neither is inherently superior to the other. Neither are inherently more interesting or more boring than the other. Can the same person do both? Sure. Can the same person do both at the same time? I argue not very well. If people can do so effectively, then I say more power to them, but I don’t agree with holding that up as some ideal that everyone should strive for, because even if done well it often is less effective than a more focused work. To cycle back to my first paragraph, as I think this video highlights: as someone interested in the debate, I found the lack of facts … disturbing, and found the focus on experiences to be distractions from what I personally needed or wanted to know to decide if she was right or not. So I don’t consider it an effective way to argue for the position. This is not to say that the presentation was bad or boring or whatever, just that since I came to it as an argument it seemed to lack the things needed to convince me. As a presentation of her experiences with “Gonzo” journalism and what others have done with it, it would be quite effective. There is indeed room for both, and they don’t have to be in the same car all the time.


November 16, 2014

One of my favourite RTSs is a little known title called “Star Wars: Rebellion”. It picks up the struggle immediately after the Battle of Yavin, with many of the Rebellion’s greatest heroes out on the rim at Yavin and the Imperials spread out throughout the galaxy. You played as either the Rebellion or the Empire, and you usually had two sets of goals: capture or destroy the other side’s main headquarters (Coruscant for the Empire, a mobile HQ for the Rebels) and capture two important characters from the other side (the Emperor and Vader for the Empire, and Mon Mothma and Luke Skywalker for the Rebels). To aid in this, you had a plethora of characters, ships and units from the movies and from the EU, most of which you had to recruit or research before you could build or use them. Ultimately, success was measured by how much of the galaxy you controlled, but each planet had an approval rating that said whether they supported the Empire or the Rebellion. If you held a planet that didn’t care for your side, they would rise up against you, costing your their resources and potentially the use of their facilities, and requiring a large garrison to maintain order. They might even flip to the other side if you weren’t careful.

The characters you gained had four main abilities. They had Diplomacy, to sway popular support to your side, Combat, to let them fight for your cause, Leadership, to command troops, and Espionage, to snoop out what the other side was doing, see where they were vulnerable, and even to sabotage their troops and vessels. But importantly, these characters were characters. They were more than just stats. Sure, the stats were important, but what was really interesting was the ability to put Grand Admiral Thrawn or Garm Bel Iblis in charge of one of your main battle fleets, or send Leia or Darth Vader out to woo a planet to your side. There were even special events for some of the characters. Han Solo occasionally had a run in with bounty hunters, and if they ever captured him the main characters would run off to rescue him. Characters traveling with Han Solo moved twice as fast. Luke ran off to Dagobah to train at one point in the game. In general, it really did capture at least some of the feel of the movies like no other Star Wars game has, in my opinion … and the only real criticism I have of it is that it could have done so much more.

In one Rebellion session, I ended up looking up at about 3 pm or so, and thinking that I needed to start thinking about eating soon. The next time I looked up, it was about 9 pm, and I realized that I never had actually eaten, which makes this one of the only games to make me lose track of time and I think the only one to make me lose track of time that badly. This is because there was always lots to keep you occupied. You wanted to see if that planet would join you, and when you saw that you wanted to get your Star Destroyer and move it into your fleet, and then move that fleet to attack a planet and see how that turned out, and so on and so forth. You had to wait for things to happen, but you were always waiting, things were always happening, and you could increase the speed if nothing was happening so that you never got bored. This made the game very addictive. Even the end game was fun, as you hunted down the last few planets of your enemy on the Rim and sent a massive fleet to crush them.

Star Wars: Empire at War attempted to combine that feel with the feel of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, but without popular support it seemed a bit hollow to me. In my opinion, an expanded Rebellion was what was needed, and what we didn’t get.

Stoicism in the Stars

November 15, 2014

The second essay in “Star Wars and Philosophy” is “Stoicism in the Stars: Yoda, the Emperor and the Force” by William O. Stephens, and attempts to relate the Jedi philosophy to Stoicism. Obviously, that’s a position that interests me a great deal, and I will say that Stephens does a credible job of it, although I’m not entirely convinced. But that depends a great deal on which set of Stoics you prefer, as the Roman Stoics — especially Seneca — placed a lot less value on asceticism than the Greek Stoics did. For the Stoics, the worldly desires were always indifferents, but views varied on whether one should avoid them or if one could indeed pursue them, as long as one did so virtuously and not viciously. Seneca definitely advocated that one could pursue them, and his view is the view that I’m most drawn to.

Which leads into my take on this essay. Stephens notes, correctly, that the Emperor and Yoda are a lot alike. They are both patient, disciplined, and seemingly quite ascetic; we don’t see the Emperor engaging in any kind of hedonistic pleasures. He and Yoda seem, in the original trilogy at least, to be mirror images of each other: disciplined, devoted monkish types aiming at mastery of their respective versions of the Force. So how do they differ so that one of them is evil and the other good, and how does Vader fit into all of this?

I think the key is what each serve. Stephens seems to see the Emperor and Vader as people whose souls are inflicted by vice, and that the Emperor lacks the understanding of what is virtuous and what is vicious. I see the Emperor, rather, as someone who doesn’t understand what are virtues and what are vices, but instead as someone who does know the difference, and yet chooses the vices. The key, for me, to the Emperor, is that he treats vices the way you are supposed to treat virtues; he sees the virtues as valueless and values the vices. Now, you can’t really value vices if you understand what they are, so the Emperor values them the only way they can be valued: instrumentally, as a means to his own pleasure and enjoyment. The Emperor enjoys acting in vicious ways. He enjoys hurting people. He enjoys manipulating them. He enjoys dominating people. He gets no pleasure and sees no utility in the virtues, like compassion, or in loyalty to or faith in one’s friends. For the Emperor, the vices are what have value, not the virtues … and not the indifferents. Truthfully, it’s not clear that my analysis here is that much different than Stephens’, because in a sense someone who values the vices and not the virtues doesn’t understand what truly has value and what doesn’t, and that’s pretty much the definition of what a virtue or a vice is according to the Stoics. But even to the Stoics there is a difference between the person who doesn’t know what are virtues and the person who knows what virtues are and rejects them outright. I argue that the Emperor rejects the virtues and choose to pursue the vices.

Vader is another matter. Starting from the prequel trilogy, we see someone who is manipulated by his emotions because of his deep concern for indifferents into becoming “evil”, but not as someone who, in and of himself, chooses vices over virtues. He joins with the Emperor initially to save his wife from death, and love is a Stoic indifferent. He convinces himself to commit more and deeper depravities in service of this goal. He attacks his wife in a rage over a perceived betrayal of him by her, and in a real sense a feeling of loss of the indifferent that he was trying to preserve. Even his attack on the Tuscan Raiders was done in service of an indifferent: the life of his mother and the desire for revenge when that indifferent was taken away from him.

Even his normal rage follows from this, this time in service to the indifferent of his own life. In one of the EU books — I think it was “Shadows of the Empire” — Vader is seen trying to use his rage to allow him to survive outside of his armoured suit. He manages it for a short time, but simply can’t sustain the rage long enough to keep it going full time, which frustrates him. It is reasonable to think that Anakin’s rage and anger is what gave him the power to survive the wounds he received in his battle with Obi-Wan, and even after he loses Padme his rage essentially keeps him going, and guides most of his actions. He only starts his “redemption” when faced with another indifferent: the life of his son, and the dream of ruling with him.

This, I think, can colour the scene at the end of “Return of the Jedi”. We focus in on the Emperor’s face and see his glee at hurting Luke. It’s clear that the Emperor could kill Luke a lot faster and less painfully than he does, but the Emperor is enjoying it, and so tries to extend one of the few things that still gives him pleasure. Vader watches his son being essentially tortured to death, and hears his cries for help … and looks to the Emperor. Who is enjoying it, treating it not as a necessary task, but as something enjoyable. Vader himself at that point doesn’t understand virtue in and of itself, but he still has the prod of the indifferent and can see quite clearly the viciousness — in both senses — of the Emperor. He sees, in that instant, that the path of the Dark Side is vice, not virtue … and decides to oppose vice. But he does so primarily still in service of an indifferent, his love for his son. Vader is still not a virtuous man.

In the hangar bay, Vader takes a massive step when he asks Luke to take his mask off. While he says that nothing can stop his death, it is indeed quite possible that he could be saved, if he channeled his anger long enough to get his suit repaired and new life support installed. But at this point, Vader lets go of one of his major indifferents; he lets go of life and accepts death. It was still done in service of an indifferent — he wanted to experience the love of his son — but he still understands at that point that life is not valuable in and of itself, and so releases his own dark will and lets himself die. So at the end, Vader was not redeemed as a Stoic sage, but he started down the right path. At the end, he started to understand.

My Top Ten Best Female Characters.

November 14, 2014

The “Not-So-Casual Commentary” tag originally referred to a column I wrote on a now-defunct gaming site. In order to reproduce the content that is now hidden behind links that go no-where, I managed to get my friend who kept a backup of the articles to send me them, so that I can now reproduce them as articles on my blog. Here is the one that I’ve probably missed being able to reference the most.

10) Margarete G. Zelle, Shadow Hearts: Competent, skilled, irreverent. She basically takes the events in stride — mostly — and takes no guff; she in no way indicates that she’s out of place on the team, and always presents herself as an equal partner. She’s fun to watch in more ways than one.

9) Karin Koenig, Shadow Hearts: Covenant: She leads the military force that starts the game. Sure, she doesn’t do much, but she’s fighting Yuri, so she isn’t going to be successful. She remains a competent fighter the entire game, and can bring Yuri up short in conversation. Her outfit is revealing but they lampshade it; she’s not exactly happy about it but it’s what was available, and there’s a very funny scene about it . And she does have a very, very strong desire for love, which might count against her, except that while it does drive plot points it doesn’t define her character.

8) Mission Vao, Knights of the Old Republic: For a teenager, she’s competent and reasonably intelligent. She’s hopeful and naive enough to give a hopeful vibe to the ship without going overboard. And killing her is your proof of being a dark sider in the game, making her a useful morality pet. Almost every time I go dark side in that game, I try to find a way to save her life, but I can’t . Why? Because while Carth will run away when you go dark side — even if you’re supposed to be in love — Mission won’t leave you, and will still try to convince you to do good. You have to kill her because she has guts.

7) Mira, Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords: Mira is competent, intelligent, tough, and looks quite good in the dancing girl outfit [grin]. She has an interesting nemesis arc. Her path to becoming a Jedi is interesting. And most importantly, she rejects a romantic relationship with the lead outright. And it doesn’t come across as excessively “feminist”, in the sense of being proof that a female character “doesn’t need a man”; her analysis is pragmatic while conceding that she might find it interesting.

6) Visas Mar, Knights of the Old Republic, Sith Lords: She has an interesting background and is an interesting character. She’s tough enough to be a main character and even a team leader when she has to be despite being technically blind. There’s an underlying romance there and it’s a somewhat interesting one. She’s also clearly intelligent and interesting.

5) Chris Lightfellow, Suikoden III: She leads the knights in her section of the game, and is probably the best overall fighter amongst them. She cares about people and wants to help. She has a strong sense of honor. Everyone’s in love with her, but it’s for good reason rather than as a Mary Sue. She’s certainly a character that you can admire and even feel for as you play her story.

4) Chie Satonaka, Persona 4: Ultimately, she gets to be this high on the list only because when I looked at the artbook I thought I’d like Yukiko and not her. After playing it, I like her and not Yukiko. Converting me is a good way to get on my list of favourite characters! Anyway, she’s strong physically and mentally, really seems to care about people — she’s the first to try to include Nanako, and her S-link is all about that — and while she has a quick temper and isn’t exactly smart and is a bit of a tomboy in terms of personality, she’s really nice and embarasses cutely, which she does a lot. She ends up knowing what she wants to do and her link isn’t about her own personal selfish desires, but is about her figuring out her path in life. That makes her a very interesting character, who made me a believer.

3) Lyon, Suikoden V: Strong, cool under pressure, competent, loyal, honourable. Rose from a tragic backstory with the help of the MC’s father to join the nights and become the MC’s protector. But she’s also a very nice person, and someone who you can really, really like if you like nice people. For me, she’s the reason I’ve never finished Suikoden V; if you don’t get all the Stars of Destiny, I don’t like her ending, and getting all the Stars is pretty hard in that game. Since getting that ending would ruin the game for me, I can’t finish it. That’s how much I like her character.

2) Mitsuru Kirijo, Persona 3: I’ve long felt that Yukari in this game is a strawman of a modern, strong female while Mitsuru represents the ideal. Yukari is strong in a totally uncompromising and often idiotic way; she’s often inconsiderate and has to have everything her own way. Mitsuru, on the other hand, is strong and incredibly competent. When she gets angry, things happen. There’s no denying, then, her strength . But Mitsuru really does care for people, even if she may seem a little cold, and if you follow her S-link you can see that there is much more to her than strength. She ends up looking for someone who can be as strong as her so that she doesn’t have to be strong all the time. That makes her a character that isn’t one note, and I think best represents the ideal of a modern woman: demonstrating strength and weakness at the same time.

She also gets bonus points for being a character that I didn’t think I’d like the most and then becoming my favourite character.

1) Miku Hinasaki, Fatal Frame: Of all the female characters, she’s probably the most real. She’s not a hard-boiled mercenary type, tough as nails. She’s a young girl who decides to go to a haunted mansion to find out what happened to her only remaining family. She doesn’t even start out with the camera weapon; she gets it later. She’s brave, but still demonstrates fear. She gets the chance to feel compassion for the ghosts that she ends up having to free. With only a little effort, you can imagine meeting someone like her in real-life. She’s a heroine that manages to maintain being female without pounding you over the head with it.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order):

1) Alice Elliot, Shadow Hearts: She’s an interesting character, and her heroic sacrifice almost got her into the top ten. She leads the team successfully while Yuri is … incapacitated. But at the end of the day, she’s just too typical a damsel in distress for most of the game to be really interesting, even though she is very likeable.

2) Bastilla Shan, Knights of the Old Republic: She has the exact opposite problem of Alice Elliot, as she’s clearly not the typical damsel in distress but is too annoying to make the top ten. I can tolerate the character, but she really is annoying.

3) Fuuka Yamagishi, Persona 3: She’s really nice and really intelligent, and she gets some growth in the game. But in terms of personality she isn’t all that interesting; it’s a fairly standard “girl with pressure from her parents” plotline. She’s nice and an enjoyable dateable character, but that’s not enough to make the top ten.

The Argument From Theology …

November 13, 2014

Jerry Coyne is talking about free will again. In this post, he summarizes a number of discussions, many if not all of which are from the Templeton dialogue, but at the end he says this:

I’ll end by saying four things. First, I believe that much compatibilist philosophy, whether it’s stated explicitly or not, rests on the Little People Argument: believing in some kind of free will—even if it’s cooked-up and also bestows free will on computers and amoebas—makes our society more moral and harmonious.

Second, there are many ways to define “compatibilist” free will. Are they all right? Shouldn’t we decide what we mean by free will in advance and then see if we have it? If there are many ways to achieve compatibilism, shouldn’t only one be the right answer?

That leads us to my third conclusion: compatibilists don’t define free will at the outset and then see if we have it. Rather, they start with an assumption: we do have some sort of free will, and then they make an argument to support their view. This exercise involves justifying an a priori conclusion, and is more akin to theology than to science—or even to good, rational philosophy.

I left out the fourth because it talked about the Templeton Foundation specifically, which I have no real interest in discussing.

The interesting thing is in what he says third, which seems to follow from the first two: he compares compatibilism, as a philosophy, to theology. Which is something that he does in a lot of cases: take an argument, try to argue that it works like theology, and then dismiss the field in its entirety because it looks like theology. Even in a lot of his posts on free will, he doesn’t particularly engage the arguments, but simply says that having free will means dualism — and even resorting to quoting what the common person believes literally as if that should define the philosophical position — which is a religious concept (it actually isn’t) and that we have to get rid of that stuff as much as we can, and that compatibilists have some psychological reasons for preferring it as opposed to having real philosophical or factual reasons for it, and so they can be dismissed. But he’s completely wrong about this.

What compatibilist philosophy rests on is the fact that hard determinism and libertarianism present two incredibly unpalatable positions when examined philosophically. Libertarianism, if correct, implies either some new form of causation or a non-physical entity that’s involved in this, and forces us to accept that all of the evidence that all physical things are deterministic at least fails when it comes to human decision making. But if we accept hard determinism, then we have to accept that all of our talk about decisions, and justice and pretty much everything we’ve come to understand and learned about human behaviour at best has a completely different meaning than what we thought it did, and at worst is completely meaningless. So, we can’t see how a libertarian free will can work in our current scientific framework … but the hard deterministic scientific framework seems to force us to give up all of those useful psychological and moral terms that have been working for and seem to provide a good understanding of human behaviour. So either toss out science or toss out psychology; take your pick.

So compatibilists have reasonably asked if we really do indeed have to choose. Can we keep the important aspects of free will — all of those psychological and moral terms that do seem to work in describing our behaviour — while accepting that the world is indeed deterministic? So despite Coyne’s assertion here, they don’t just say “We have some kind of free will, so now let’s argue for that”, but instead say “The evidence for and usefulness of the decision-making aspect of ‘free will’ seems too strong to be denied, and the evidence and usefulness of the deterministic view seems too strong to be denied … so maybe we don’t have to deny either“. In short, maybe it really does act like both a wave and a particle; maybe we really do make decisions in a meaningful way even though the world is determined.

So, while it may indeed be the case that a number of compatibilists find the idea compelling because they see that a world where people deny that their decisions matter has nasty consequences, philosophically there’s much more to it than that. If you are going to place compatibilism into an analogy with religion, I think most of them would fall much more into the “New Atheist” camp: you are telling them something that isn’t true/you don’t know and them believing that would cause massive societal issues and harm. Stop telling them these harmful things that you don’t know are true. That’s almost certainly Dennett’s view here, as his view of consciousness probably isn’t compatible with hard determinism — he wants to think that mental processes still do stuff — but he’s as naturalistic as they come.

And this is coming from someone who is an unabashed libertarian. I think their position wrong, but I can see the philosophical underpinnings that motivate it. Coyne, despite having many opportunities to see it, doesn’t see it yet. But that does not mean that it isn’t there.

Right Makes Might …

November 12, 2014

I’m not sure if this is a new attitude, but I’ve been seeing something across the blogs I read and even actions in the world and in the world of politics: people protesting the use of certain tactics against them or their policies and goals, while doing the same thing to others in pursuit of their own policies and goals and justifying the latter on a long set of rationalizations that all eventually boil down to, in the end, “We can do this because we’re right”. So you can discriminate against people because, hey, gender or racial equality is something that it is right to promote. You can riot and cause property damage because, hey, your cause is just. You can hound, insult and harass people, and deliberately try to harm them mentally and emotionally, at least, because your cause is just. You can try to get someone fired from their job because, hey, they said something wrong and that shouldn’t be allowed to stand unopposed. You can impede and inconvenience all sorts of people by taking up public property that everyone should be allowed to use unrestricted because, hey, your cause is just and they’re just whining if they complain that you are stopping them from using what they have a right to use because, hey, your cause is just … even if they don’t agree.

Now, I could go and find examples of all of these, but that’s not really my point. My point is indeed that this attitude seems prevalent, and that people, in general, seem to support certain actions and people who act in certain ways when they agree with them … and then classify the behaviour and actions as wrong when others do it. They seem to think that anything they do in service of the right or the truth is justifiable, and anything that anyone does in the service of what they think is the wrong or the false is unjustifiable. Heck, I even have an example where a criticism is seen as an attack on someone, even though it was polite and reasoned. There seems to be nothing that anyone in the wrong can do that isn’t seen as being an egregious offense and, more worryingly, nothing that anyone in the right can do that is an egregious offence. This attitude is not “the ends justify the means” — which I think is one of the most dangerous principles anyone can hold — because in that case people do still try to only take the most extreme means when they absolutely have to. This attitude really is more like you don’t have to think at all about what means you are using if you are in the right.

This attitude, it seems to me, carries across pretty much all political, social and even opinionated views. Our society seems to not only accept that sometimes you have to do extreme things to do the right thing, but that extreme things are always justified in service of the right. So you always have people decrying rudeness or insults used against them and their ideas while in almost the same breath firing them right back at their opponents. You have people complaining about being forced to think a certain way while in almost the same breath trying to force others to think their way, using the same methods. You have people decrying as terrible the use of public shame against positions they think are reasonable while in almost the same breath advocating publicly shaming the people who disagree with them. And I’ve seen this from even the most reasonable of commentators.

This attitude scares me like no other. “The ends justifies the means” is bad, but at least, again, most people won’t run to the nastiest means unless they think they have to. For “Right makes might”, the only protection we have is the personal values of them … and a lot of people are really, really complete and utter jerks. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


November 11, 2014

So, I haven’t been playing a lot of video games lately, which has been bugging me a bit. It’s not so much that I don’t enjoy playing them anymore, but is mostly that whole ennui thing; I just never really get around to starting it. Except for baseball. I started a complete season in about September, and am now about 84 games in, and so am on track to play a complete season of baseball for the second time. But that was about the only game I was playing, and I did want to play a bit more.

Now, one of the issues is that I ended up wanting to watch some things on TV, and I can’t play on the PS3 and watch TV. So that let all of those games out. And nothing on the PS2 was really grabbing me. So I thought that playing on the Vita again would work … but didn’t have any games that were interesting for it. I could have played the Personas on the PSP that I haven’t finished, but that didn’t appeal much to me either. So I started looking around to see if I could build my Vita library a bit and find games that I wanted to play.

So I was browsing in a store and saw “Conception II”. It looked very similar to the Persona games, and was done by Atlus, and I had the helpful store clerk help me look up the combat system, which was also very similar to the Persona games. So, I picked it and another game up without much research into what the game actually was; they looked interesting and what I was kinda looking for, so I bought them. And then after delaying for a couple of weeks, I finally sat down to play it.

Now, I’m a philosopher, and so when I hear the word “Conception” I think of “concepts”, those things that philosophers work with every day. Again, I did almost no research on this game, and had no idea what the premise was or what the original game was about. It turns out that they meant “Conception” as, essentially, conceiving babies. Now, I knew that you produced Star Babies — that was stated on the back of the box — but didn’t know that that meant, well, essentially producing babies. So the game’s entire premise starts from sexual innuendo, which I wasn’t really expecting. And the game does indeed go all in on that; there is a lot of innuendo throughout the game. “Classmating” — how you produce Star Babies — is pretty much always referred to in ways equivalent to having sex. Your clodish friend Clotz takes constantly about that. The girls act as if it’s something similar. The headmaster refers to it that way. Add in normal innuendo about relationships and there’s a lot of sexual innuendo there.

Which, to be honest, doesn’t really bother me much. The only thing I can see about it that might be problematic is that the way it’s done pretty much guarantees that this game will stay niche. For people who want a Persona-style game, there’s quite a bit more innuendo there than they had, and so they might be turned off by that. But for people who might prefer a more strongly sexual dating sim in their games, there isn’t that much actual sexual content there either, so they’d probably prefer a hentai dating sim. So it looks like it strikes between the two biggest markets for dating sim/life simulator games, and only people like me who don’t mind the sex but aren’t really looking for it either will really be able to get into it.

I also find the game a bit confusing so far. The tutorial is pretty good, but there are a lot of options in the game, and there’s no manual to explain them. And since it drops the “timed” idea of games like the Personas or “Sakura Wars: So long, my love”, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, or what Rest is doing. It moves time, but time isn’t supposed to be a constraint, so if I talk to the three girls that I can talk to before I run out of … something, and then Rest, is that causing issues, or is that what I’m supposed to do to make sure that I catch all of the events? How much does equipment matter? When should I be cycling babies? All of that is a bit confusing to me, and I really want to get into the story and not miss anything cool or important … and I’m precisely the sort of player who will miss things that are cool and important.

Beyond that, though, the game is entertaining. The characters have interesting personalities with some quirks, but those aren’t as overwhelming as they were in Sakura Wars. The graphics are impressive, especially the zoom ins to the girl when you meet them outside of the dungeons. The combat so far is a bit repetitive but not overly boring, and the first dungeon went quickly and had a purpose avoiding the feeling that it was just grinding that Persona 3 gave. Overall, it doesn’t seem like it will be as good a game as the Personas, but it might give Sakura Wars a run for its money.