Archive for September, 2015

Lost Dimension: Thoughts After Finishing It Once

September 30, 2015

So, I finished “Lost Dimension” once, and have restarted. This is because the game really, really is built to be finished more than once, because you only get the True Ending if you finish it having maxed out relationships with all of the characters, and you have to erase two, maybe three of them before you’d be able to do that, so that leaves three characters to do the second time around. After finishing the game once, the game itself points out that you need to do that to understand everything, and so it encourages you to play it more than once. However, this does make the first playthrough a bit disappointing, as the ending is more confusing than scary.

The biggest annoyance I have with the game is that it’s often a bit unfair. As far as I can tell, at least on the Vita, you only get one save slot, and if you restart the game it uses your clear data as the save slot. This is bad enough, but it autosaves a lot, and only warns you that it’s going to do that when you go to the Judgement Room, although it does that everywhere else, too. For example, I just accidentally selected Himeno for Deep Dive when I wanted Agito, reset and noticed that on loading my save it started me from the start of my Deep Dive into her mind. I suppose they do that to stop save scumming, but it’s really annoying as it forces you to be very, very careful. You can pretty much screw up your entire game by accident and be stuck because of this. Also, there’s a section where you have more than the usual number of traitors. The game doesn’t warn you about this at all, so if you don’t know it’s coming you don’t know what you need to do to avoid it, and so might end up killing off an innocent. That being said, the sequence with a traitor at the end is interesting. Still, I’d like to be able to avoid that.

But putting that aside, the game is interesting. The combat is fast-paced yet has some strategic elements to it, including how you use your characters and which enemies you target first. You have to manage HP, GP (Gift Points) and Sanity, so you can’t just spam your powers (although I did that a lot with Himeno and used items to heal her up). Being able to give other characters the abilities of characters you’ve erased leads to some interesting combinations, which I underused, other than giving Himeno the Levitation ability which let her move very quickly which, combined with her fire abilities, made her a very deadly character. I was very glad that she didn’t turn traitor on me in the first game.

The characters have interesting backgrounds, but you don’t get to interact with them in enough depth. You have conversations with them after missions, and doing so gets them to their highest level of affection with you, and then you run a special mission with them — the only missions that you can’t run more than once — which reveals something about them. But the general conversations are thin and often boring, and at least after the first time through there’s nothing at the end to say how these relationships turn out in the future. So they could be more, but end up being pretty much just asides that are mildly interesting and can help you develop feelings about the characters. As an example, the first time through by the second time you had to erase someone I had started to really like Yoko and hate Zenji, and when the possible traitor came down to those two I was very disappointed that it was Yoko. As another example, hearing about Himeno’s story made me far more sympathetic to the rather harsh and bitter person that she was. But a lot more could and, in my opinion, should have been done with that.

The way you influence your team members to vote properly is interesting. You do it through telling them who the traitor is, and by using them or not using them in combat, as the team thinks that people who do more in combat are less likely to be the traitor, despite the fact that it is made clear many times that the traitor fights just as hard as everyone else does. This leads to how the game facilitates grinding without actually pushing grinding, as you rarely have to grind just to get levels, but instead have to grind to determine who the traitor is, to make sure that your team votes the right way, or even just to get S ratings on all of your missions. I only officially grinded once on my first run — on Easy, of course — and that was just to get money to get the best equipment, not to get levels (I got levels along with it as well, which made the final mission pretty easy). I very much appreciated that, as grinding is much more fun when you’re doing it for another reason than grinding.

Overall, this game is similar to the Personas in terms of story and associations with your team mates, but it’s lacking a lot when compared to those games in terms of overall impact and effect. I’d say that this game is a good start to a potentially promising game series, and if they make a sequel I’d certainly be interested in checking it out, but it isn’t really there yet. It’s a fun game, worth playing, but it’s easy to see where it can be improved in the future. If they can do it, they might have a legitimate competitor to the Persona games there.

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The Moral Quandary of “Tuvix”

September 28, 2015

So, as SF Debris returns to new videos in October, I found myself pondering a commentary on an older video, that of the Voyager episode “Tuvix”. Now, I’ve only ever seen anything from this episode through Chuck’s review, and can’t even watch it again to refresh my memory, but I was thinking a bit about it and want to highlight its moral quandary, and how that moral quandary would be solved by the three main ethical views: Deontological, Consequentialist, and Virtue Theory.

So, let me summarize the episode. Due to a transporter accident, the characters Tuvok and Neelix are merged — along with, it seems, a plant — into an entirely new being, with a completely new and different personality and mentality from the other two. Tuvix thinks of himself as a completely separate person, not as merely an amalgam of Tuvok and Neelix. Eventually, they discover a way to use the transporter to separate Tuvix back into Tuvok and Neelix. Tuvix doesn’t want to undergo the procedure, arguing, essentially, that the procedure is nothing more than killing him. He appeals to the rest of the crew to help him avoid the procedure, but no one helps. Eventually, they get him down to Sick Bay, where the Doctor refuses to perform the procedure as doing so would be a violation of his oath as a doctor. Janeway performs the procedure herself, with Tuvok and Neelix restored and Tuvix eliminated.

Chuck, in his review, definitely took Janeway to task for this, if I recall correctly, taking the side of Tuvix, and arguing that this was, essentially, the murder of a sentient person. However, that interpretation is valid only if one considers that Tuvok and Neelix were, in fact, actually dead. If not, then we have to consider their wishes and situation as well, and things get far more complicated. For example, while the Doctor might be said to have a duty to do no harm to Tuvix, what duty does the Doctor have to Tuvok and Neelix? Does he have a duty to cure their condition? What demand can they make on him as his patients as well? After all, again, they aren’t really dead; they in some sense exist in Tuvix. So you can’t consider Tuvix merely a separate entity, but instead as a separate entity formed from two other entities. Given that, the interests of Tuvix have to be considered, certainly, but so do the interests of Tuvok and Neelix.

Given this, let’s look at how the various moral theories might approach this question, from the perspective of both the Doctor and Janeway:

Deontological: Many deontological theories are based around duty, and the context of the decision make it easy to evaluate this from the context of what each has a duty to do. As a doctor, the Doctor has a duty to do no harm to any of his patients, so he can’t sacrifice one of them to save two others. He can perform triage in situations of limited resources, and one can argue that this is indeed one of those cases: given the resources the Doctor has, he can either save Tuvix or save Tuvok and Neelix, but not all of them. However, this would be rather shaky, as the Doctor would have to take a direct action against Tuvix to save Tuvok and Neelix, as opposed to simply not taking time or resources. It is reasonable to suggest that taking a direct action to sacrifice the life of one patient for that of two others — essentially, directly killing one to save two — is a violation of his medical ethics, as no one would expect, say, that a doctor letting someone die so that they could use their organs to save other people would be acting in line with medical ethics. So it is reasonable to think that, here, the Doctor’s decision is the one that he is indeed compelled to make by his medical ethics.

But does that make it inherently wrong for Janeway to do it? I think that many people over-interpret the universality of deontological ethics. Just because one person would be, under a deontological view, morally constrained from taking an action, that doesn’t mean that everyone is, therefore, also so constrained. If I’ve taken an oath against committing violence, then I can’t morally take any violent action because that would violate my oath. Someone who had not taken such an oath would, however, to be able to take violent actions — if moral otherwise — because they wouldn’t have an oath stopping them from doing that. Here, the Doctor’s oath as a doctor constrains him from performing the procedure on Tuvix … but Janeway has taken no such oath.

So we need to consider what Janeway is morally bound to do under a deontological view, and I think here it also returns to duty. Janeway has also made an oath, and it’s an oath to protect her crew. While you can question how well she did at that throughout the series, morally she is bound to protect the well-being of her view. Tuvix may be considered a member of her crew, but Tuvok certainly is and Neelix has more of a claim on that than Tuvix does. Even if she considers them all equal, she has to consider that performing the procedure will be sacrificing one of her crew to save two others, which is something that starship captains have to accept: sending a crew member off to die to save others, if there is no other option, which there isn’t here. And that’s if she even considers that Tuvix really is a distinct individual, as opposed to merely an amalgam of Tuvok and Neelix. In that case, she’d have no duty to save Tuvix and every obligation to save Tuvok and Neelix. So I think that, under deotological ethics, it is reasonable to say that she is morally obligated to perform the procedure. Only a very strong rule against killing — like the Doctor’s medical ethics — could change that.

Consequentialism: While things are probably more complicated, this comes down to the idea that you can sacrifice one person to save two. Under almost all views, this would result in better consequences if we are judging the morality of the action by its consequences. You can make a case for the Doctor that doctors having a strong proscription against sacrificing their patients is overall better even if there are cases where it isn’t, due to the above example of sacrificing a patient to harvest their organs, but there doesn’t seem to be even that argument for Janeway. This is one of the reasons why consequentialist theories can actually seem heartless and downright evil, at times, as they can only justify individual autonomy by appealing to the consequences of having it, not to something inherent to either the moral view or to the individual themselves.

Virtue Ethics: The most relevant virtue here, for Janeway and the Doctor, is probably also duty, and the oaths they’ve taken. As such, this probably works out the same as it does for deontological views. The difference is that, under this view, it is them as persons that is evaluated here; they act as only they can given the people they are and the commitments they’ve made, and aren’t just following the rules. If Janeway is a proper starship captain, she performs the procedure; if the Doctor is a proper doctor, he refuses. You might be able to appeal to other virtues like, say, compassion … but as soon as you start considering Tuvok and Neelix themselves in the mix and stop thinking of them as dead, they deserve compassion just as much as Tuvix does, which means that it doesn’t help (Virtue Theory does not, generally, merely sum the impacted people). Duty, however, seems to work out reasonably well.

So, contra Chuck, I think that the Doctor acted properly, as did Janeway. It’s only if you think of Tuvok and Neelix as dead or otherwise unworthy of consideration that it becomes clear that performing the procedure is morally wrong. Once their interests are considered, things get more complicated, but ultimately at the end of it all performing the procedure is probably the more reasonable option for most people.

The Easy Road …

September 25, 2015

So, I was playing The Old Republic this morning, with a massively overleveled character — who got that way due to my normal XP gaining tricks as well as the 12X story mission XP bonus that’s currently running — and started thinking about games and difficulty in general, and thought that the ideal sort of game in terms of difficulty is one where if you are slow, cautious, meticulous and willing to spend a lot of time playing, you can breeze through the game fairly easily, but if you want to take more risks and be more adventurous you can get through faster, but require more skill and are more likely to die if you screw up. Also, given that, it’d be nice if you could give little options to help casual gamers along, such as little ways to gain extra XP with a bit of a cost, or little things that can give an advantage, but that you actually have to deliberately aim for in order to succeed. And the theory, then, is that if you do this then the hardcore gamers can simply avoid using them and retain the challenge, while the casual gamers can use them to avoid having the game be too overwhelming for them. In theory, everyone wins.

There’s only one slight problem with that: a lot of the time, the hardcore gamers are the ones who actually use those tricks, while the casual gamers simply never learn about them. If you make them hard to figure out — ie you only figure out that they exist if you’re trying to find them — it’s the hardcore gamers who figure them out and the casual gamers don’t even know they exist. This means that the hardcore gamers learn all of the tricks to make the game easier, and the casual gamers don’t, which means that the hardcore gamers complain that the game is too easy and the casual gamers complain that the game is too hard. This is the exact opposite of what you wanted. On the other hand, if you make it very obvious, then the casual gamers find out the tricks and at least manage to reduce the challenge of the game to a manageable level for them … but the hardcore gamers also figure that out and still complain that it’s too easy. This isn’t what you wanted either; you were hoping to provide challenge for those gamers who wanted that while allowing those who didn’t want that much of a challenge a way out.

It’d be easy to simply tell those hardcore or challenge gamers that if they don’t want the game to be too easy they should just deliberately avoid taking advantage of the tricks, and in fact that’s what’s done a lot of the time. It’s an argument that I myself have made and found reasonable in the past. But I now think that the challenge gamers generally don’t like that argument because it comes across as saying that if they want the game to be challenging, they ought to deliberately play inefficiently and play deliberately less competently than they can. They have to deliberately hamstring themselves to have anything like a challenge in the game. But, they can protest, shouldn’t it be the game that sets the challenge, not them? I think that for them one of the main things that they take pride in is in playing the game by its own rules to the highest standard possible. That means that if the game puts in tricks to allow players to gain experience, items, money, powers or whatever more efficiently, they take pride in finding those tricks and exploiting them. If this makes the game too easy, telling them that they were free not to do that really misses the point of what they want out of a game. Essentially, it becomes a case of telling them to stop having fun because their having fun will eventually make it so that they’re bored to tears. It’s reasonable, when thought of that way, to say that that’s a problem with the game.

This is why the only way to make it work is, in fact, to present them as deliberate, conscious choices outside of the game, not in-game. So, difficulty levels, difficulty sliders or menu options work, because then the player isn’t, in fact, simply exploiting the rules in-game, but instead is determining what the rules of the game are. If a player decides to play on “Easy” and then complains that the game is too easy, it’s definitely reasonable to tell them to play on a higher difficulty level then. The same thing would apply to someone who, say, decided to activate a 25% increase in XP item that then means that they level faster than normal, as long as they had to purchase it. But something like Rest XP wouldn’t fit into that, because all that requires is stopping in the right places when you log out, and maybe cycling characters … all of which are exploiting things that are just in the game, not something that you consciously have to seek out.

At any rate, balancing the challenge of a game so that all players can enjoy the game and get what they want out of it is a monumentally difficult task. And game developers need to hit as broad an audience as they can in the age of the AAA blockbusters, so they can’t just make games for casual or for hardcore gamers (generally; there are still a lot of games that can focus on an audience). This is an issue that simply isn’t going to go away.

Lost Dimension: First Impressions

September 23, 2015

So, as hinted at in my last post, I did put Dungeon Travelers 2 aside for a while, and instead turned to Lost Dimension. The main reason for this was that the grind was getting me down a bit, and Dungeon Travelers 2 is a good game to play when I want to play something for a couple of hours … and I’m off for a while, and so have time to play for longer stretches.

Anyway, Lost Dimension is a game built around a climb to the top of a tower to face a terrible evil (stop me if you’ve heard that one before). In this case, the evil is a terrorist known as “The End”, who’s blowing up parts of cities from orbit and threatens to detonate nukes in most of the major cities of the world. You are part of a team of psychic-powered teens sent in to stop him. So far, a pretty standard JRPG setup. However, there’s a difference. There are traitors in your team, and you have to root them out. One of them is either revealed or remembers being one every floor — I’m not sure what the procedure is supposed to be — and at the end of each floor, before moving on, you have to choose one team member to be “erased”. But it isn’t the case that you simply decide that, as it’s determined by vote, with the three characters with the best record in the battles getting two votes each. You, of course, are always one of those characters, as you’re the only one guaranteed to fight in every fight. Okay, I suppose it’s possible if you take mostly the same characters every time and you don’t really do anything, but at least on “Easy” that’d be hard to pull off.

At any rate, it isn’t just guesswork and randomness. First, after every battle you “hear” the voices of your team mates. There are three potential traitors generated each turn, and their text is displayed in red. By subbing team mates in and out and watching the text, you can get an idea of which of those three are the ones that might be the traitor. From that, you can then move on and deep scan each of them, which involves a little mini-game where you run through their heads chasing their words, and once you reach them you’ll know if they’re the traitor or not. This means that you should know who the traitor is long before the “Judgement” phase, especially since you can replay almost any mission at any time (the exceptions to this are the character specific missions you need to run to build up bonds).

Okay, so you’ve figured out who the traitor is. Now all you have to do is convince the others that that is who the traitor is. You, in general, have two main ways to do this. First, the characters with the worst record in the battles are automatically suspected. So if you have a traitor with an excellent battle record, all you have to do is run a number of missions without them and with the current character that is believed to be the traitor and eventually that will change. In addition, the rest of the team will talk to you after every battle, and either suggest a traitor, or else ask you who you think it is. Tell them the truth, and the projected vote will change to be the way you want it to go.

The combat system itself is interesting. It’s a turn based approach, where you have to face a number of enemies with different abilities. Early in the game, there’s not much to it, but later you actually have to learn strategies and know what your objectives are. For example, one mission threw a number of enemies and a number of devastating fixed emplacements at you, and I died a couple of times with it … before realizing that the objectives were only to kill the two main tank mechs. Focusing on them and taking some deaths led to my getting an S-rank on that mission, after getting slaughtered the first couple of times (I did grind a little to get more levels as well). You have a number of weapons and a number of powers at your disposal, and you even get to use the abilities, to some extent, of the characters that you’ve “erased”, which is how I now have a really, really nasty Himeno (I hope she doesn’t turn traitor).

The number of missions is a little light, and the game is probably a bit short (I’m almost to the final floor after playing it a bit starting on the weekend). But the game seems to be built for you to play it once and then immediately play it again to get the true ending, which I might do considering how short it is. So far, it’s fun and worth playing, and the character interactions are deeper than the first part of the game would suggest … but the character interactions are also a bit repetitive, and so doesn’t have the depth that you get in a Persona game or even, really, Conception II (which might shock people, I know). At any rate, so far, like Dungeon Travelers 2, it’s a good game and I’m thinking about looking for other games like that for the Vita or PS3.

Dungeon Travelers 2: Thoughts as of Chapter 7

September 21, 2015

I wouldn’t have thought it possible … but Dungeon Travelers 2 is actually making me miss playing Conception II.

This is not because Dungeon Travelers 2 is a bad game. It is still at least a semi-addictive game, and one that I have and likely will put a lot of hours into. The problem, though, is that all that it really has going for it is the dungeon exploring … but the dungeon exploring seems, to me at least, to be needlessly annoying. They add a lot of things that could be really annoying — anti-magic zones where your magic doesn’t work but the enemies’ does, one way doors, hidden doors, dark zones, etc — and then seem to structure them to be maximally annoying. Not, for me at least, dangerous, but instead really, really annoying. It’s not like, say, Persona 3 or Persona 4 where there’s just a lot to explore if you want to explore everything, which sometimes requires backtracking, but instead there are sections that seem to be explicitly designed to force you to backtrack over and over and over again to explore everything, while you fight random bosses that move from a challenge to, essentially, “They’re going to take off some of my HP, so I’ll have to case Circle Heal after the battle, maybe”. Admittedly, I’m still a little overlevelled, but that really shouldn’t make someone like me like the game less … and if I wasn’t overlevelled, I’d be cursing this even more.

The main issue for me in the game right now is that outside of the dungeons, there really isn’t anything else to the game. Compared to, say, Conception II, the story is too shallow to sustain interest, as is the interaction with the characters, despite them being potentially interesting (mostly because I don’t see any way to actually directly interact with them outside of canned events). The only thing that it has over Conception II is the one thing that I really hated about Conception II: the grinding. Potentially, Dungeon Travelers 2 requires grinding, as bringing new characters up to appropriate levels can take a long, long time. But I’m able to create a relatively balanced party using 5 of the 6 initial characters, a party that with my overlevelling can pretty much handle anything I need handled. And so grinding so far, for me, has simply been wandering through the dungeons to get to the end, chasing optional bosses, and doing quests (which also aren’t as interesting as Conception II’s).

The story mode is about half the actual game, and if I get that far that will probably be it for me. I don’t know if I’ll continue with it, or if I’ll put it aside for a bit to play other things. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s one of the few games I have where I can play for an hour or two and feel like I’ve accomplished something, but also can keep playing it for hours and hours without getting incredibly bored. It’s a good game, but I’m not sure it’s really the sort of game for me. So it won’t be a classic for me, is what I’m saying.

Gothic Anxiety

September 18, 2015

The next essay in “Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy” is “Gothic Anxiety” … no, really, it’s not an essay from “Batman and Philosophy”, but is from “Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy”. It’s essentially uncredited, and covers off a trope used frequently in, at least, Gothic Horror: the idea of double selves, specifically doubles and dopplegangers.

The relation to the reimagined “Battlestar Galactica” series should be obvious, since it seems to contain both. You have doubles specifically when it comes to the various human Cylon models, and internal dopplegangers play a large role in Gaius Baltar and Caprica Six’s story arcs. The essay does a reasonable examination of those cases, but I think doesn’t really explain why these things are commonly used as horror tropes, per Jekyll and Hyde and variations on that theme.

For doubles, the fear is, I think, fairly obvious. There’s a fear of them taking over your life, as also seen in movies like “Single White Female” … and then killing you off so that they can live it. There are concerns about an evil twin using your face to commit evil and letting you take the blame for it. There’s also the fear of having to fight someone who pretty much has exactly your skills and abilities to stop them from doing evil, to you and to those you love.

There is a bit of this in the doppleganger as well, as there is the fear that you have this personality inside you who is not you, who might be literally trying to take over your life, through taking over your body. But I think that there’s another big fear, which is the fear that the doppleganger isn’t some foreign personality that has infected you and is trying to take over, but is, in fact, really you. A part of you that you don’t like. A part of you that you repress. A part of you that might, in fact, actually be you. Maybe that personality is who you really are, and the person you are now is the facade over top of that. That fear, the fear that you aren’t who you think you are, or that you are in fact capable of the evil that that personality is committing, drives a lot of the horror of that scenario, it seems to me.

As the essay points out, Baltar and Six’s cases are not like that. They are more complementary, providing help and benefit and supplementing their own abilities. They may, in fact, reflect ignored or buried parts of their personalities — assuming, of course, that they aren’t actually angels — but those personalities are benign and helpful. They bring good aspects of their personalities forward, generally, and reveal things that they need to worry about. The competing doppleganger is not of that sort. It either competes with the main personality, or brings forward aspects of their personality that they don’t want to face, live with, or even have. Even if they are what’s necessary, they do what the main personality doesn’t want to do, at a minimum. And that is frightening on a number of levels, from losing control to understanding that that person is who you really are.

The Argument from Theology … again.

September 16, 2015

So, Jerry Coyne posted a post from Dilbert on free will, and again retreated to the argument that those who accept free will in any sense — be they compatibilist or libertarian — are acting like theologians, presumably in that they don’t simply accept his arguments and evidence as being compelling (which, of course, isn’t under their control if Coyne is right) and thus don’t just accept his position.

Leaving out the comic, here’s pretty much all of Coyne’s post:

Dilbert tells Dogbert that doesn’t think we have any—at least of the contracausal, “libertarian” sort.

I like the last panel, which goes along with brain-scanning experiments that give the surprising result that you can predict (with 60-70% accuracy) the results of a binary decision up to ten seconds before the person who “makes” that decision is conscious of having made it. Of course, compatibilists and libertarian free-will advocates have found reasons to dismiss these experiments as evidence for free will. This is one of many ways that such people resemble theologians (another is that they think that belief in free will—even of the compatibilist sort—is, like belief in God, essential to keep society moral and harmonious.)

So, the first point thus says that Dilbert is either a hard determinist or a compatibilist, since compatibilists reject libertarian free will. Thus, what he says in theory can apply to them as well. Of course, he then goes on to strongly imply if not outright state that compatibilists and libertarians reject the Libet experiments simply because they want to dismiss them and don’t like the results, not because there are serious problems with them. He then goes on to add in the other argument about how some might argue that people believing that we don’t have free will might have a negative outcome, in line with his other arguments about how they only reject the positions because of those consequences … the “We all know that this is true, but let’s not let the rubes know because they’ll act badly” argument. All of which many people — including his commenters — have disabused him of repeatedly.

But if we want to go down that route, Coyne’s own behaviour doesn’t flatter him. First, he talks repeatedly about the importance of accepting hard determinism because of the impact he thinks that thinking that we are morally responsible for our actions has on society, especially with regards to punishment of offenders, including but not limited to reasons for the death penalty. While others have pointed out that you don’t need to be a hard determinist to come to the same conclusions about punishment and the death penalty, the big issue here is that if Coyne doesn’t think that his strong stance on those social consequences means that we ought to say that he is only accepting it for the consequences — rather than him, you know, really thinking it true and wanting people to accept that truth because knowing that truth will happen to lead to better results — then there’s no real reason for him to claim that about compatibilists either. If we ought not examine his psychology in order to determine if free will exists or not, there is no reason for him to examine the psychology of compatibilists or libertarians either.

But, even worse for Coyne, it would be quite easy to claim that Coyne’s behaviour is like that of a lot of creationists: come up with something that they think is evidence for their case, and then when people point out that the evidence doesn’t support their position the way they think it does retreat to claiming that they are dismissing that legitimate evidence. Add in a claim that the only reason they disregard the evidence is because it actually proves their view false and they don’t want it to be false, and we can see that this is exactly what Coyne does to compatibilists.

Now, I don’t claim that Coyne really is acting like a creationist. But I do claim that these sorts of arguments are counter-productive and useless. Either the evidence supports the conclusion or it doesn’t. Coyne is either right or he isn’t. Coyne reacts rather badly to people trying to dismiss his arguments on the basis of psychology, but insists on doing it to others, and then — intentionally or no — tries to win through an argument ad hominem by saying “You’re just like those really bad people that you don’t want to be like! Stop being like that! Accept my view!”. Coyne has not established his position strongly enough to insist that everyone must accept it or they just don’t want it to be true, and so are rejecting it irrationally. Some probably are, but Coyne dismisses all who reject his idea. He doesn’t have the evidence to support that strong a claim … which is a bad thing for someone so insistent that we should follow the evidence and come to our beliefs rationally.

On What Matters: Subjectivism and Ought Implies Can

September 14, 2015

So, as briefly noted last time, there is a potential issue with Parfit’s idea of reasons, especially if he wants them to be normative, if they go against the beliefs and desires that we actually have. If we act based on the beliefs and desires we have, but don’t have certain beliefs or desires, it seems like a normative push to act in another way will violate the set rule of the normative that says that “Ought implies can”, which works out to essentially say that I cannot be normatively bound to do something that I simply am unable to do. In Chapter 4, Parfit tries to reply to the argument of the Subjectivists that this is indeed what rejecting Subjectivism does, but he does it in the annoying way that I’ve seen throughout most of the book so far: by taking an analogy or example, analyzing it shallowly, and then insisting that therefore he’s proved his point.

The example he uses is this one: if I say that you ought to have helped that blind man across the street, if you reply that you couldn’t have, it wouldn’t be a good justification of that claim to say “I didn’t want to”. Certainly, it is the case that you physically could have done it, but since the Subjectivist views Parfit is criticizing do accept that we can only that which we have some desire to do, that’s not sufficient for Parfit’s purpose. If we return to the snake analogy, we can see that someone who had no idea that running away would result in the snake striking and that staying still would result in it calming down enough for you to get away, we can see that while we might be able to physically stay still that there is a sense in which we can say, at least, that we simply cannot expect anyone to actually act that way. The same thing, then, can apply to this case: can we say that we can expect someone to do something that they have absolutely no desire to do?

In the example Parfit gives, it seems that when we reject the “I didn’t want to” argument, we don’t do it on the basis that the person really didn’t have any desire to do that. We seem to assume that in some way they knew that that is something that people expected and so had some reason from that to want to help the blind man across the street. So when they said they didn’t want to do it, they didn’t mean that they had no desire to do it, but that their desire not to help overwhelmed their rather slim desire to do that. In short, “I just didn’t want to” is not an expression that they completely lacked the desire, but an expression of the fact that avoiding the inconvenience of doing that is what they wanted more. We then judge them as a person based on that condition, and note that their desires are selfish and shallow. But they still, in fact, had those desires, and had the desire to help them across the street … but, after consideration, helping them simply wasn’t as important as it was for them to avoid that inconvenience.

So this isn’t an example of completely lacking the desire. In these cases, we generally presume that the person understands why it would be good to do that, as the reply is not “Why would I do that?” but instead a shrug and a “I just didn’t want to”. While we’d still judge the former person harshly, that’s closer to simply having absolutely no desire or no motivation to actually help them. To put it better, it might be a case of someone who merely calculates the pros and cons of helping the blind person, decides that they ought to help the blind person … and yet simply never moves to help them. Essentially, to have absolutely no real desire to do something might be like analyzing dispassionately a situation and deciding that the ideal course of action is to help the blind person, but even knowing that simply doesn’t do it, and when asked for reasons it isn’t the case that they want to do something else more, but that even with that calculation simply having no desire to actually act on that calculation.

If this can happen, then this is very bad for Parfit’s structure, because he would be committed to saying that we could indeed have the most reason to do something that we have no motivation to do, and if we have no motivation to do it we’d be incapable of doing it. Parfit’s structure of inherent reasons that he relies on so much for agony seems to encourage this sort of impartial, idealized calculation to get to what you should do, but he doesn’t link it to any motivation. If this sort of calculation is self-motivating and so always results in the appropriate motivation, then Parfit’s arguments don’t really work, as Subjectivists now have reason to say that it still always boils down to the desires you have, but that reasoning ideally will always lead to you having reasonable desires. If, however, it is possible to reason yourself into one of Parfit’s objective reasons and still lack the motivation to actually do that which Parfit says is objectively what you have the most reason to do, then Parfit would insist that someone is normatively bound to act in a way that they are not capable of acting, violating ought implies can.

There is more in this chapter, mostly discussions of Frankfurt and Rawls, but this is enough for this post. I may or may not pick those up in the next post.

Tropes vs Women: Damsel in Distress Part 1

September 11, 2015

So, in honour of Sarkeesian adding a new video — the first “Tropes vs Women” video this year — let’s start at the beginning and look at the first part of her examination of the “Damsel in Distress” trope.

Before we get into this, let me remind you of what I talked about last as a set-up for this on what the “Damsel in Distress” trope is supposed to do: it’s supposed to give the player a reason to play through the game. Thus, it has to provide something that the player cares about in order to push them to complete the game. Thus, any damsel has to be something that both the player and the character care about in order to provide that kind of motivation.

One way to think about Damsel’d characters is via what’s called the subject/object dichotomy. In the simplest terms, subjects act and objects are acted upon. The subject is the protagonist, one the story is centered on and the one doing most of the action. In video games this is almost always the main playable character and the one from whose perspective most of the story is seen.

So the damsel trope typically makes men the “subject” of the narratives while relegating women to the “object”. This is a form of objectification because as objects, damsel’ed women are being acted upon, most often becoming or reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found or a goal to be achieved.

The problem is that I think this is just the first place where she equivocates on the meanings of words in order to make her point. Sure, it’s the case that in literature you have a subject (the protagonist) and objects, which is pretty much everything else in the story. It’s obviously true that the plot will centre on the protagonist (or protagonists) and the everything else in the plot will be there only to further their plot and their goals, but this doesn’t reduce them to “objects”, in the sense that they’re considered to be the equivalent of, say, your equipped sword. They can indeed remain characters, and in fact the Damsel in Distress trope requires that. Simple games rely on us automatically considering them such in order to gain the motivation for us to try to save them, while more complicated games build them up as characters in order to, again, give us the motivation to go out and rescue them.

Let’s use Persona 4 as an example. In the game, the relationship with Nanako is one that is encouraged and established throughout the game. They insert her into various scenarios to encourage you to relate to and become attached to her throughout the game, including through her Social Link. At one point, she herself is abducted into the TV World, which drives you to try to rescue her. But unlike the others, as she is so young the effects of that world are worse for her, and she becomes hospitalized. At that point, the music becomes more somber, and I’ve definitely heard one fan of the series note just how empty coming home felt without her “Welcome home, Big Bro!” to welcome you. As the game progresses, Nanako, in fact, dies. This prompts the key encounter that can lead to one of the bad endings, as the protagonist and the members of the Investigation Team debate simply killing the abductor in revenge, which the protagonist must avoid doing despite desperately wanting to, as portrayed in the anime. The story builds her up as a character so that her abduction has meaning, and her death can drive the plot forward. So, in a sense, all of this really is to further the story arc of the protagonist, but that doesn’t mean that Nanako is just an object. She is and remains a strong character, and none of her qualities are removed in order to provide that. Which means that this:

Distilled down to its essence, the plot device works by trading the disempowerment of female characters FOR the empowerment of male characters.

Is flat-out wrong. The plot device works by building up a character such that the protagonist — whether male or female — wants to rescue them. If it applies more often to female than male characters, it’s likely for two reasons. The first is that a woman needing to be rescued is not likely to cause the audience to lose sympathy for her, which is not the case for male characters. The second is that in the shallower games all that a woman needs to do or bring to the table is to be attractive, and then she immediately becomes worthy of being saved and, in fact, having the male protagonist be willing to sacrifice their life to do that. This is, of course, not true of a game like Persona 4 where the character is developed to be one that you want to rescue, but in general it is quite easy to get away with a female Damsel in Distress having nothing more going for her than being beautiful and a woman, and it being expected that, again, the player and the character will be willing to go to extreme lengths to save her. This is the flip side of the sexist trope; men are expected to risk their lives to save women even if they have no other reason to do so than that the woman is attractive. They need bring nothing else to the table, while men need to be heroic and capable to get their happy ending.

So, from this, we can see:

The pattern of presenting women as fundamentally weak, ineffective or entirely incapable also has larger ramifications beyond the characters themselves and the specific games they inhabit. We have to remember that these games do not exist in a vacuum, they are an increasingly important and influential part of our larger social and cultural ecosystem.

That this, at best, outdated. Sarkeesian says this:

So the woman in question may or may not play the victim role for the entire game or series while our brave hero may or may not even be successful in his rescue attempt. All that is really required to fulfill the damsel in distress trope is for a female character to be reduced to a state of helplessness from which she requires rescuing by a typically male hero for the benefit of his story arc.

So, we can have a strong, capable heroine who is temporarily made a captive (sometimes in unbelievable ways). This, then, means that the trope doesn’t have to present women as being fundamentally weak, ineffective or incapable. For example, the entire plot of “I, Jedi” is about Corran Horn having to rescue Mirax Terrik, but that in no way presents her as being fundamentally weak or ineffective or incapable; in fact, other than his having Jedi powers Mirax is often presented as being far more capable than he is. But she’s incapacitated in a relatively credible way as a spur to drive him on. So, then, we can ask why it is that Mirax is captured. Well, we can return to what the trope aims for — she’s his wife and the most important person in his life. But, also, we can see that her being captured here doesn’t impact her character. Female characters can be captured and seem vulnerable without it spoiling their characters, much of the time. That isn’t true for most male characters, which is something that we should indeed fix. But the key point her is that the Damsel in Distress trope relies on it being the case that women can be vulnerable without it undermining their characters in a way that men can’t. So it isn’t that women are seem as necessarily weak or vulnerable, but that women can been seen as weak or vulnerable while still being sympathetic characters that we should all want to save.

At its heart the damsel trope is not really about women at all, she simply becomes the central object of a competition between men (at least in the traditional incarnations). I’ve heard it said that “In the game of patriarchy women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.” So for example, we can think of the Super Mario franchise as a grand game being played between Mario and Bowser. And Princess Peach’s role is essentially that of the ball.

The two men are tossing her back and forth over the course of the main series, each trying to keep and take possession of the damsel-ball.

The problem is that this representation is actually massively rare in the Damsel in Distress trope. As even Sarkeesian pointed out right above that, the woman’s love is seen as a prize or reward, as something that has inherent value, while the ball only has value as a way to score points off of the other person. There are a number of plots that rely on the woman simply being another way to prove that one of the people is better than the other, but typically these end with the hero winning out because he sees her as more than that. For example, in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, the Sheriff of Rottingham forces Marian to marry him in order to save Robin’s life. She agrees, but says that he can only have her body, but he could never have her mind or her soul … to which he replies that he’s totally okay with that. The joke works because, typically, we expect that to be something that would bother the villain, that he couldn’t possess her entirely and so, somehow, still loses to the hero, while in this case he doesn’t care about that at all. Following on from this, the reason we want the hero to win in these cases is that he doesn’t merely want to possess her, but instead wants to win her, where winning her means that she accepts him and comes to love him, and love him for the qualities that he possesses and demonstrates. In short, the hero wants to earn her love, while the villain wants to force it. In essence, the villain is bad because he treats her as an object, while the hero is good because he doesn’t. And who wins is determined by the decision of the damsel, and her feelings; a damsel that felt that the hero didn’t really love her wouldn’t, in fact, give him her heart and soul either. No one cares to have the ball unless it gets them further to their other goals, and no one asks the trophy who they think ought to win the game.

So, that’s pretty much all I want to say about the first part.

Dungeon Travelers 2: First Impressions

September 9, 2015

So, as of writing this post, I’ve been playing Dungeon Travelers 2 for a while. I’m just starting Chapter 5 out of supposedly 10 Chapters, but there’s supposedly a lot of game to play after the story ends, with optional dungeons and the like. I’m hearing that there’s about 88 hours of content in the entire game, but if that includes dungeons then it might be more or less depending on how quickly you do dungeons. I think I’m a little slower than average.

Anyway, the game is pretty fun. One of the things that could make it addictive is that it does a good job of always giving you something to do or to be striving for. You need to explore the dungeon to find the mutant, or find the person you need to recruit, or finish off a quest or two, or, well, any number of things. But each chapter has both a dungeon and a dividing line, so there are always places where you can think “Here’s a good place to stop for the day”, making it a bit more casual friendly. It’s a game that you can play for a couple of hours and feel that you’ve made some progress.

There aren’t any difficulty levels, so I can actually comment on the combat. So far, the game hasn’t been all that difficult. There is some variance in skills and the like, but for the most part I tend to just do what my characters do best. That being said, I know that I under-utilize Alisia’s “Defender”, “Cover” and “War Cry” abilities, which might make some fights go easier than they have been. That being said, I lost one fight to a boss … and almost beat it the first time. The reason for this, I think, is because I’m a bit over-leveled in the game, mostly because I spend a lot of time wandering back and forth from the entrance. Early in the game, I did that to restore HP and TP and to cure statuses. Later, as TP became more plentiful and my Maid/Bard was able to restore it, I did it to sell off items before I lost them, and to generate seal books to generate some cash so I could top up on items. I’m pretty reliant on items, actually, especially in the final boss fights; there’s one item that you can buy from the treasure hunter that heals all of your characters for a large amount, and I’ve used one of those in each of the last two boss fights to get through it (Melvy’s “Circle Heal” works well enough, but sometimes I’d really rather she blast things). Because of this, I’ve found myself pretty short on cash for most of the game, especially since after starting to get quests I’ve been hesitant about selling the things you find in the dungeons because often those are needed to solve quests, and if you sell them all off you have to go out and get them again.

That being said, I’m disappointed in the quest system. I would have liked it to be something like the ones in Persona 4, where you get a list of things to do, you do them, they get completed, you get the reward, and then you get new ones. Here, there are multiple levels of quests, and they recommend quests for you to do, but you can do the same ones over and over again. Also, as far as I can see they only list some of the total quests, and it changes every time you return to the Library to check. Which means that if you know that you can solve a quest, you may not be able to trigger it when you want to, which is annoying. That being said, it does give you some rewards when you’re out doing things that you’d be doing anyway, so it isn’t bad that way, and might give you some kind of purpose if you have to grind some levels to be able to win a fight, which is nice.

The dungeons can get a bit convoluted, with traps and one way doors and locked doors and things like that. However, they almost always give you quicker ways to get places as you explore the dungeon and need to push further in to further your quest, like unlocked doors and portals. I got a little confused in the tower at times, but that had six floors … and, as per usual, I ended up spending a lot of time walking back and forth from the entrance to my latest explorations.

I guess I have to comment on the purported fanservice. I don’t really find it all that big a deal, really. Both the main characters and the monsters have a variety of costuming from demure to risque, depending on class and model. So, in-game, there’s really not much there to bother anyone that’s, well, played games at all. The events also range from fanservicey to normal. The worst are probably the defeats of your fellow party members (these are the ones that typically include the “tying up” scenes), but so far only one of them was all that explicit. So I don’t really see fanservice as an issue here, but your mileage may vary. I will say that there’s much more fanservice in Conception II than there is here; if you can tolerate that game, you should be able to tolerate this one.

In terms of characters, so far the women are quite stereotypical, but generally fun. At least to this point, the game is quite goofy and not particularly serious, and the personalities reflect that. There are more serious storylines coming up, but for the most part the story is shallow but kinda fun, which is probably all you want in an explicit dungeon crawler.

Overall, I’m enjoying the game. If the difficulty jumps up because I’m not sure how to build proper characters, that will probably end and the game might not get finished. But, so far, it’s looking like a game that I can play for short and long periods of time, which makes it a pretty good game. Although I can’t imagine restarting it once I finish it …