Archive for June, 2016

Final Thoughts on the “Dragon Age” Series … So Far

June 29, 2016

So, let me talk about my overall thoughts of the “Dragon Age” series so far: as a fantasy RPG series, it’s … good. I’m not sure that I want to replay the series again — especially since I don’t think I ever want to replay “Inquisition” again — but it was worth playing. And while I’ll do a full comparison later, I think there are some parallels between it and the “Mass Effect” series: an excellent first game with a deep and engaging story, a second game that takes things in a different direction and gets more personal, and a third game that tries to bridge the two … and fails. I think Inquisition suffered more from the move to an open world game than it did in trying to make a personal story inside a deep story, and it had the benefit of having no need to actually wrap up a long story arc, but the simple length of the game hampers its attempts to, well, do anything. It’s hard to feel a deep and personal attachment to what’s going on in the world while you’re searching for shards and running errands, and it’s hard to really get into the story when most of the time you spend in the game is spent doing things that aren’t directly related to that story at all. The story and the characters get buried under the weight of all the things that you can and maybe even need to do to be able to beat the game.

Dragon Age: Origins, then, has the best story out of all of the games, and it is no coincidence that it also seems to have the most interesting choices to make … even if many of them don’t seem all that momentous, and thus seem like tough personal choices. Ultimately, though, I think I like Dragon Age 2 the best, but that’s mostly because its gameplay fits exactly into my preferred way to play a game: run through all available side quests and then advance the next story quest secure in the knowledge that I’m at the right level to take it on. Inquisition just has too many side quests for that style of play to be fun, but also encourages you to do just that to ensure that you have enough levels.

I also strongly dislike the move to Dragon Age Keep, and hope that in the next games they rip that out and move instead to an in-game way to configure the world. But I think that’s a lost cause.

Anyway, the series was good, and I’m just more happy to finish the latest game than I am disappointed in how it ended.

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Thoughts on “The Grapple”, Book 3 of “Settling Accounts”

June 27, 2016

Eventually, Turtledove’s works end up as a slog.

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Adversarial Negotiation

June 24, 2016

So the second post that this post by Miri at Brute Reason inspired is about negotiation, and follows on from the idea that I talked about last time, which is that she wants more money and different hours, but makes no attempt to discuss or point out or even consider how her getting what she wants works out better for her employer. She’s trying to get as much as she can, but she doesn’t even consider what that would mean for her employer. Sure, we can see why she wants that deal, but why would her employer want to give it to her?

It seems to me that we’ve adopted an adversarial approach to negotiation, where we see the exchange as us trying to get as much as we can for ourselves while at best not being concerned with what the other party wants, and at worst even wanting to get what we want at the other party’s expense. But in pondering this, this seems to me to be utterly ridiculous, especially if we think that we might not have more power than the other party does in the exchange. If we have more power than them, we can force them to accept the worse deal … right up until the point we don’t have that power anymore, at which point at best they’ll walk. If they have more power than us, in general we won’t be happy if they impose on us and will grumble about how “unfair” they were … and won’t feel any obligation to hold to the deal if they can no longer impose on us. And if we’re equal in power, then this sort of negotiation … won’t go well.

It seems to me that most people calculate whether or not their negotiation was successful based on whether or not they “win”, whether they come away from the deal better off than the other party. But to me, it seems that the ideal negotiated agreement is one where no one wins because both parties get everything they need and want from the deal. If the two parties got together, gave their lists of what they wanted, and had the other side say “That works for us!” that, to me, is a remarkably successful negotiation, even though no one actually “won”. It’s only that sometimes it’s not possible for all parties to get what they want that negotiation becomes a problem at all, and even in those cases it seems to me that we ought to want the other party to be as happy with the deal as possible, if for no other reason than if they are happy with it, they are more likely to stick with it or deal with us in the future. If they feel that we’re cheating them, how likely are they to want to keep dealing with us?

Thus, we need to abandon the idea that we need to “win” a negotiation — ie that we need to do “better” than the other party does in any negotiation — and instead hold to the idea that we want the best possible deal that satisfies the most needs and wants of all parties. We don’t want “steals”, but instead want deals that, on reflection, everyone says they’re happy with. Or at least content with.

Final Thoughts on “Dragon Age Inquisition”

June 22, 2016

Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably the least casual-friendly game that I have ever played.

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Thought on “Drive to the East”, Book 2 of “Settling Accounts”

June 20, 2016

One of the big problems with Turtledove’s WWII works — outside of “Worldwar” — is that he most often can’t really conceive of how things could have turned out differently, reusing the same events and themes throughout.

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Tropes vs Women: Lingerie is not Armor

June 17, 2016

So, Anita Sarkeesian has posted her next entry in the “second season” of “Tropes vs Women”, which is an odd way to put it since she’s completely redone her approach to the series, mostly because as she herself has said she doesn’t really have the time to do what she said she’d do in what was supposed to be a “single season” series. It also implies that there might be a third season, although given what she says in her explanation of the format change that doesn’t seem all that likely, as at least originally there is was implied that the change existed solely to allow her to, well, get the series actually finished at some point. But that’s all an aside anyway.

At any rate, this video talks about “Lingerie is not Armor”. If you’ve never heard of that trope before, the relevant trope on TV Tropes — and, warning, this is a link to TV Tropes — is “Stripperific”. Essentially, it’s the idea that especially female characters are dressed in outfits that aren’t practical for the role they play in a game, but are instead inordinately sexy, highlighting their … ahem … attributes more than you’d expect for someone doing what they’re doing. The most well-known example of this is, in fact, the “Chainmail Bikini”, so it’s been around for quite some time. Now, Sarkeesian, of course, needs to do more than simply point out that the costumes are sexy, because for her feminist arguments to work — meaning, her specific ones — she needs it to be the case that the characters are, in fact, completely sexualized and objectified by such outfits. If they are characters that also happen to be sexy, her arguments mostly fail.

At any rate, let’s start by looking at her first example. She talks about a ad for “Perfect Dark”, that definitely is highlighting the attractiveness of Joanna Dark and does play on both that and her femininity — with the “What are you going to wear?” line — in order to sell the game. But as I’ve said before, it’s going to be the case that even female players want a character that’s competent and confident as well as sexy and attractive and maybe even feminine. So that in and of itself isn’t a problem, and the text itself really sells that she is, in fact, strong, capable and confident:

“Welcome to 2023. Big businesses now merge with alien nations. An ancient war is being fought under the sea. The president is about to be cloned. And it’s your job to try and save the world. So you’ve got an important decision to make: What are you going to wear to work?

From the team you brought you GoldenEye for N64, meet special agent Joanna Dark in Perfect Dark, where you’ll find out that the only person man enough to handle a job like this is a woman.”

I won’t say that this description isn’t problematic — it is — but it does definitely highlight how capable Dark is. Contrast this with Sarkeesian’s “translation” for a male character:

Welcome to 2016. There’s a war out there…somewhere. You’re not sure where, exactly. Anyway, the important thing is, you’re Special Agent Jake Grimshadow. It’s your job to save the world. The only question is: What are you going to wear? …. WAIT… WHAT??

Sarkeesian says that this would never happen, and that it shouldn’t, and she’s right … because this is a commercial that relies on portraying the character as an utter moron who knows nothing and might even be someone who’s simply looking for an excuse to kill things (which seems to be Sarkeesian’s default interpretation of, at least, male game players). The only thing it keeps is the “What are you going to wear?” line, which can easily be interpreted as a line mocking that stereotype of women … one that, however, many of them actually live up to. The problem I have with that line is that that line, specifically, might undermine our faith in the character, making her seem shallow and uninterested in the actual mission, but it’s important to note that since that add was almost twenty years ago that’s based on a modern interpretation. Now, we expect women to not care about what they’re wearing that much, especially when going out to save the world. Then that sort of shallowness was more common, so common that it didn’t seem shallow at all.

In contrast, Sarkeesian leaves out anything that establishes the male character as being confident or capable, adds a line that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes of men, and then tries to get us to see how ridiculous this really is. Yes, what was done there was problematic, but when you use examples like that and that sort of gender shifting what you really want to do is keep the translation as close to the original as possible in both form and intent so that you can highlight the problem. If, for example, Sarkeesian had kept it the same but instead replaced the “What are you going to wear?” line with “Which guns are you going to bring?”, would it have had the same impact?

At any rate, the question you need to ask is “Is Joanna Dark sexualized and objectified here, such that she is or is to be seen as nothing more than a sexual object for the enjoyment of the presumed male player?”. And the answer, I think, is “No”. You are supposed to see her as confident, capable and sexy, not just sexy.

Part of the issue with this video is that Sarkeesian wants to use fighting game examples to prove her case, which is that female characters’ outfits forgo reasonable protection in order to highlight their attractiveness and sexiness, but this assumes that the outfits in fighting games are, in fact, designed primarily for protection. So, for example, she highlights Cammy from Street Fighter:

Cammy from the Street Fighter series is a British special forces operative whose thong leotard does a better job of calling attention to her butt than of offering any kind of protection.

So, let’s compare Cammy’s outfit to that of the male characters in the original Street Fighter II game (because I haven’t kept up with the variants). Like, say, Sagat, who pretty much only wears trunks. The same is true of Dhalsim. And E-Honda, who wears the traditional sumo outfit. And Zangief. Even Ken and Ryu, who are mostly covered up, wear karate gis that, well, don’t provide a lot of protection. The only character who wears any kind of actual armour is Vega, because in character he wants to protect his pretty face. So, based on this, protection is not in fact a main priority in the Street Fighter series. So about the only complaint she can have when comparing her to the male characters is that her outfit and her stances show off her butt a lot. The latter doesn’t fit into a “Lingerie is not Armor” trope, and my reaction to the former is “Just what is your obsession with butts anyway?”.

Later, Sarkeesian talks about more practical outfits:

It’s not hard to imagine what more practical clothing options might look like for some of these characters. But if you’re having a hard time envisioning that, I will let you in on a little secret:

For those of you who aren’t familiar, there is this thing called a sports bra. Sports bras are designed to keep breasts held in place to better facilitate athletic activities. In other words, they are used to prevent “jiggle physics” in real life. In the real world, there are many female martial artists, athletes, and women in combat roles that developers could use as inspiration when designing and dressing their female characters.

So, then, we can look to an example that she missed, which is Sonya Blade from the original “Mortal Kombat”. Sure, her outfit bares her midriff, but is pretty much exactly what women wore while doing, say, aerobics at the time, and thus what people actually wore doing athletics. If Sarkeesian complains about how it doesn’t provide protection for someone who is actually fighting, then we have to look at Liu Kang and Johnny Cage who aren’t wearing any kind of armour either, and fight in what, well, martial artists wear, as seen with Sub-Zero and Scorpion as well. In general, in fighting games characters are dressed to, well, demonstrate their character more than being dressed for protection, mostly because if you try to introduce armour — and “World Heroes” did this with Jeanne — you either have to give it to all of the characters, give that character a huge advantage (because the armour would absorb blows that the other outfits wouldn’t) or else make the armour cosmetic only. The latter is usually what’s chosen in fighting games, which is why we have Jeanne because she’s clearly modeled on Jeanne D’Arc.

Thus, the outfits in fighting games tend to be modeled for character expression, not for protection, and thus also, in some ways, to provide maximum movement, which is why characters — male and female — often don’t wear all that much. In fact, in the Mortal Kombat movie, it’s actually a bit jarring that Johnny Cage fights in a shirt and dress pants, because fighters generally wouldn’t wear that (although, arguably, Cage is more used to that because in the style of movie he acts in that’s what he’d normally wear) because it’d be too restrictive. No, it’s in RPGs that we typically note the issue, because armours are supposed to actually provide protection, and the stereotypical “Chainmail Bikini” leaves critical areas exposed. Sarkeesian’s focus on fighting games, at least initially, hurts her case. Even focusing on first-person shooters runs into the issue that if one is going up again people with guns, until recently armour was not exactly likely to help much.

That being said, when fighting zombies where one bite can infect you and turn you into one, people should wear more clothes. Of course, again, regular, non-feminist gamers have already pointed that out:

I’m not trying to be a puritanical busybody, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s vacation here, but maybe if zombie bites are that much of a concern we should think about putting on some shirts and pants? The plastic sheen on your skin tells me you’re laying on the sunblock really thick. Maybe that’s good enough, but I’m just saying that having a layer or two of cotton and denim between your flesh and their teeth wouldn’t hurt. Just a suggestion.

Sarkeesian highlights the “hyper-sexualization” angle:

Because clothing can shape our first impressions of a character and has a tremendous influence on our sense of who they are every time they are on screen, sexualized outfits can contribute to what’s called the hyper-sexualization of female characters. Hyper-sexualization in the media occurs when a character is designed to be valued primarily for their sexual characteristics or behaviors. In hypersexualized characters, these attributes are highlighted above all else and made the center of attention, while everything else about the character is made secondary.

But the question then becomes: in any of her examples, does hypersexualization actually happen? Are these characters really seen primarily for their sexual characteristics, which everything else secondary? Is Cammy’s leotard, for example, seen as more primary than her being a British Special Forces agent? Sarkeesian, throughout the entire video, simply points to the outfits and says that they’re bad and the problem. She doesn’t examine the characters in detail to see if it fits or works for them, or if they are presented as characters that are competent, capable and sexy. In short, Sarkeesian doesn’t examine whether the sexiness is a defining trait, or a secondary attribute, while insisting that the problem with the outfits is that they, in fact, make the sexiness a defining trait.

Which is where she gets into trouble with an actual feminist theory:

Games and other media often work to frame this sexualization as a positive thing for women. They blur the distinction between female sexualization and female power, and as a result, sexualized female characters are sometimes celebrated for being perceived as “owning” their sexuality in a way that is empowering. But it isn’t actually empowering because the sexuality these characters exude is manufactured for, and presented as existing for, the presumed straight male player.

Sarkeesian has to ride that last part about it being designed for a straight male player very hard, because otherwise she runs the risk of being charged with “slut shaming”. The feminist theory is this: patriarchal society has always put strict limits on women and how they express their sexuality, which mostly meant that “good” women didn’t dress revealingly or sexually at all, and only to the extent that it was required in order for them to do what they needed to do. A woman who would dress “impractically sexily” was seen as, well, being a slut, and being openly available for sex. Thus, as soon as you saw a woman dressed like that, you were encouraged to think of her as, well, primarily a sexual object. The feminist response to that is, in fact, that women have to be able to dress sexy without having it be seen as in and of itself making her into a sexual object. Sarkeesian later references this point when she tries to talk about healthy sexuality:

The sexualization of female characters is about designing them, dressing them or framing them in ways that are specifically intended to be sexually appealing to presumed male viewers or players. Women’s sexuality, on the other hand, exists for themselves, and for those they care to consensually share it with. And sexuality can be expressed or experienced in any kind of attire.

But even here, she implies that women shouldn’t need to dress in sexy outfits in order to express their sexuality, implying that a woman willingly dressing in the way these characters dress is framing themselves as being appealing to men, not for themselves. But this is, in fact, the essence of slut shaming, which is the idea that a woman who dresses a certain way is to be seen as a sexual object for the pleasure of men, and nothing more. Thus, it is a perfectly valid feminist criticism of Sarkeesian to say that all she does is look at the outfit a woman is wearing and immediately concludes that, given that outfit, we should all consider her to have “sex” as her primary attribute, which means that she’s doing exactly the same sort of thing that the patriarchy does.

To settle this, then, we need to find a way to look beyond the outfit and determine if this is a character that wants to wear this outfit and one that is just wearing it because the game designers want to engage in some Fanservice. And the way to do that is to, in fact, look at the character herself and see if the outfit is something that that character would wear. Sarkeesian, unfortunately, has blocked herself off from this way of going about it:

Out of all the arguments that are tossed out to defend the impractical and objectifying clothing that women are made to wear in games, there is one in particular that I hear the most often and that is perhaps the most pernicious. That argument is: “Maybe that’s what she wants to wear!” Which is ridiculous. These women are fictional constructs. That means that they don’t dress themselves or pick out their own clothing. I can’t believe I have to say this. All these visual designs are deliberate choices made by the developers …

She also contradicts herself, however, when she talks about good expressions of sexuality:

These moments aren’t presented as titillating morsels of sexuality for players. Rather, they function as expressions of the characters’ sexuality that deepen our investment in the characters and their relationships to each other.

Except … how can it be an expression of the character or, rather, how can it be more an expression of the character than the former is, that she just wants to wear outfits like that, or has a reason to? In both cases, you have a fictional construct and are trying to derive its wants and desires from that construct, which is done by the designers. So if you can’t derive a “This is an outfit that that character would want to wear!” argument from that, you can’t derive a “She’s expressing her sexuality!” from that either. So Sarkeesian ends up being limited to either arguing that the former argument is invalid and the latter argument is valid only because it aligns with her own thinking on those issues — and thus, all female characters have to align with what she thinks is reasonable, even if other women wouldn’t think the same way — or else she has to rely heavily on the “Well, games are designed with men in mind!” argument which leaves us unable to determine how a game aimed at a general audience ought to work, and ends up being nothing more than an argument of “Don’t just design games for men!” with no real guidance on how to design it for women, too. Neither of these are options Sarkeesian should want to take.

So it seems to me that what we really, really want to do is focus on the characters and not their outfits. Thus, as I said before, Catwoman gets a pass because the character archetype she’s playing would indeed highlight her sexuality, even as a deliberate distraction. Miranda Lawson gets a pass for the outfit, but the game doesn’t get a pass for the camera angles that overly highlight it. More demure characters ought to dress more demurely, and more, um, sexual characters should dress more sexily, according to the overall standards for the genre that it’s in. Even in RPGs, there are definitely going to be some female characters who wouldn’t want to wear armour that’s generically male; they might still want to look like a woman even while totally protected, and thus might wear more form-fitting and feminine armours. But the Chainmail Bikini ought to be right out, since it couldn’t provide the protection a woman in that setting would need.

So, great, we can do this if we can justify it from the character. But then we run into the problem of Ms. Fanservice, which here is more the issue of a character that, it seems, is designed with the idea of being Fanservice first and foremost, and has nothing else beyond that. This, it seems to me, is what Sarkeesian is really annoyed about here, even if she can’t identify it, because it is only here that the character has their sexiness as their primary attribute. Fanservice itself isn’t a problem with a character that is loved for more than that; a shower scene for the character that you most like for their personality is a bonus, not a defining trait. But here, arguably, the character is built to provide fanservice, and the most interesting traits of them are the ones that justify — even if weakly — the fanservice that they provide.

If we look at Sarkeesian’s examples of failed attempts to justify the costumes, it really looks like this is what she’s aiming for. I don’t want to talk much about Bayonetta because she’s arguably justifiable in terms of powers and personality and I don’t know enough about the game to say one way or another. But Cortana and Quiet can provide us with an interesting way to try to assess the situation. Cortana:

The superintelligent AI companion Cortana from the Halo franchise has always been depicted as naked, and when asked about why this is, franchise director Frank O’Connor said, “One of the reasons she does it is to attract and demand attention. And she does it to put people off so they’re on their guard when they’re talking to her and that she has the upper hand in those conversations. It’s kind of almost like the opposite of that nightmare you have where you go to school in the nude, and you’re terrified and embarrassed. She’s kind of projecting that back out to her audience and winning intellectual points as a result.”

Meanwhile, male AIs in the Halo universe do wear clothing; the idea of them trying to “win intellectual points” by walking around naked is ridiculous. But we rarely question the extremely widespread association of sexualization and power when it’s applied to female characters.

And Quiet:

So you see, she can’t wear clothing because she breathes through her skin! These ludicrous narrative justifications don’t “make it okay.” Regardless of whatever absurd explanation a game might provide, it should go without saying that the only real functionality of outfits like this is to titillate the presumed young straight male player base.

But is that the case with both of these? How can we tell? Again, fanservice in and of itself isn’t a problem, and a female AI that’s learned that it can seduce or bemuse men by presenting itself naked seems more sexist towards men than women (ie “Show some skin and men fall all over themselves for you!”). As for Quiet, the idea that she needs to absorb oxygen (ie “breathe”) through her skin is an interesting one and has that implication (it would be a plot hole if she was still fully clothed). So how can we tell how to interpret the character and these reasons without doing what Sarkeesian does and dismissing them out of hand?

Remember, the idea is that the “Ms Fanservice” character has those traits only or primarily to provide an excuse for the fanservice. So if that trait isn’t just for that, it should matter to the character for important reasons beyond that. It should become a character point and, ideally, a plot point. So, for example, for Quiet there should be a scene or scenes where you can’t take her along or where you have an issue because you can’t have her swim out because she’d be submerged in water and thus would drown, even with a breathing apparatus. Or, alternatively, you can have her complain about how men don’t take her seriously because she can’t dress more modestly. In fact, you can pair her with someone who dresses modestly and discuss the differences in attention they get from men for that. There are numerous ways to make the point be important to the character more than it just being something that lets then dress sexily, and this is arguably precisely the sort of thing that Sarkeesian wants in how characters in games are built, thought about, and characterized.

I say “arguably” because when Sarkeesian gets into talking about sexuality she seems to kinda miss the “characterization” part:

The Last of Us: Left Behind features female characters who express romantic feelings for each other, rather than exuding a sexualized energy that is directed outward at the player.

And in Firewatch, though it’s only heard and not seen, Delilah expresses sexual desire for the player character, Henry.

Now, I originally had a throw-away point about Sarkeesian potentially treating workplace sexual harassment as healthy sexuality, since Delilah and Henry were co-workers. And then I went to look it up, because I wanted to make sure that I was right and discovered two things: 1) Delilah is Henry’s supervisor and 2) Henry is married to someone who is not, well, Delilah. Thus, one of Sarkeesian’s main examples of healthy female sexuality, in fact, fits the paradigmatic definition of sexual harassment and encourages adultery (because there’s no indication that Henry and his wife have an open relationship). How can she think that that is a reasonable and good depiction of sexuality?

So, even interpreting her charitably leads to a conclusion that Sarkeesian does not consider a supervisor suggesting a sexual encounter to an employee to be sexual harassment … if it’s a woman doing it to a man. After all, she constantly exempts cases where men are put into similar positions to women in her tropes analysis on the basis that given the social context it’s not an issue for men as it is for women. But here, the reason that a supervisor approaching an employee for sex is seen as always being or at least risking harassment is because of the power imbalance; the employee always has to worry if this will impact their job. Sarkeesian can try to claim — a la the sociological definitions of sexism and racism — that men have power and women don’t, but here it is the woman who definitely has power here. She could try to use the idea that the man would never turn down an attractive woman in this situation and so doesn’t this should be seen as always welcome (and so we should ignore the general case that even if welcome it’s a bad idea) but this is just fostering the idea that men want sex with all women all the time, which is as harmful as many of the attitudes she decries. She could argue that because of the way society is he needs to fear losing his job less than a woman would, except that female supervisors can still retaliatory fire and a man that’s out of a job is looked on more negatively than a woman would be. About the only argument that’s left is that he could get a job easier than a woman could, which isn’t true in this economy.

And none of that would justify the encouragement to adultery.

Fortunately — or unfortunately — it’s equally consistent with what Sarkeesian has shown in the past to conclude that she didn’t really play or understand the game when she used this as an example, or that she didn’t think of the implications of the scene. Pick the one that you like the best.

Now, moving onto the examples, what Sarkeesian gripes about in other examples is this:

But sadly, when consensual sex does occur, it’s often presented as a transaction or as a reward for player accomplishment. Whether that accomplishment is completing quests, or just choosing all the right dialogue options to get the sex cutscene to play.

So, returning to “Firewatch”, we note that in that game you can choose how to react to Delilah, including ignoring her. So, presumably, if you ignore her, this scene won’t happen. Thus, you’re going to have to choose the right dialogue options to get that scene. Otherwise, she’ll offer to have sex with you no matter how you treat her, which isn’t healthy sexuality at all. Thus, it is just as much a transaction as anything else she talks about. Also, this implies that in her first example that relationship occurs no matter what you do, which takes away player agency and so in allowing them to create the story to their standards. That’s a huge step backwards for games! Modern games are improved by allowing the player to decide who the PC loves or doesn’t love, hates or doesn’t hate, kills or doesn’t kill. For some reason, Sarkeesian wants to take huge leap backwards in order to prevent, it seems, straight male characters from having any fun she doesn’t like. Okay, okay, that’s too harsh, but she wants to take away something that I really like: the choice of romances and the quests and dialogues that lead to them.

But even as a point of female characters expressing their sexuality, the point fails miserably. See, those quests and dialogue options consist, in most games — Bioware being the leader in these sorts of interactions — of you picking the dialogue options that are right given the character that you are talking to. Heck, even the dialogues are tailored to the person you are interacting with. In Conception II — a game that Sarkeesian will dislike intensely — your interactions with the characters that build towards getting a relationship with them are in conversations that relate to specifics about the characters. You have to help Miss Chloe balance singing and being a teacher, Fuuko with her confidence (and with a ghost), Narika with her fear of public speaking, Torrii with her odd inventions, Feene with her photography and loneliness, Serina with her, sigh, A-Cup Angst and Ellie with the fact that she’s not quite human. Even the thinly veiled analogy for sex — so thinly veiled that it might as well not be there — is actually critical to advancing the relationship, which is why I, myself, never managed to get a relationship in that game when I played through it, because I stopped doing the “Classmating” because I had enough Star Children and wanted to save the Bond Points for combat. Sure, you’re “choosing the right options”, but the right options depend on the person you’re dealing with, and you have to also spend time with them to increase the bond with them.

Also, in Dragon Age, in order to build your relationship with someone you had to give the right responses to other people based on what that person wanted you to do. This is what drove my character to move from a bitter, cynical City Elf to a much better person because of the love of Leiliana, as she had to act nicer to others to keep that relationship up. Again, it’s choosing the right options, but the right options for the character you are dealing with, meaning that it forces you to think of them as more than just an object for sex.

And the quest that I had to do to get the relationship with Josephine in Dragon Age: Inquisition? Challenge her arranged suitor to a duel that I, as a mage, was going to lose and then when asked why I did it say that it was because I loved her. That’s definitely thinking of that as more than simply for sex.

Maybe Sarkeesian doesn’t mean these sorts of things when she talks about only choosing the right dialogue options, but we don’t know because she laments how rare “healthy sexuality” is and then never mentions these as examples. So does she know about them and hate them for some reason, or does she not know about these examples from, well, relatively well-known games that follow the model she’s criticizing? Who can say?

In conclusion, Sarkeesian does a more shallow analysis of the “Stripperific” trope than has already been done. We need to look more at how the outfits fit the character than simply say “Look, boobies!” and think that that reflects some kind of interesting meaning, and Sarkeesian fails on multiple levels to do that, ironically leaving herself open to criticisms from feminists, non-feminists, and gamers in general. A quite astounding achievement for one small video to pull off …

Charitably

June 15, 2016

So, in preparation for talking about the latest “Tropes vs Women” episode, I’ve decided that I need to talk a bit about what I see, at least, as intellectual charity, especially since it seems that many people get confused about that, so much so that they decide that they don’t want to or don’t need to do it. This, I think, is because most people see it as interpreting the arguments of your opponents in the strongest way possible, which then can look like apologetics. At a minimum, it can easily look like you’re reading into their argument things that aren’t there in order to make the argument stronger, or to look like it’s saying things that are more “normal” than they are. Thus, it fits into the notion of “steelmanning”, where instead of reinterpreting the argument in such a way that it’s easier to defeat, you reinterpret in its strongest form (and, in my observation, it seems to be the case that almost everyone who actually says they’re steelmanning doesn’t actually manage to do that). So, at the end of the day, when you interpret charitably you make the argument look stronger, and often make it look stronger than it really is.

This is not what it means to interpret charitably. Interpreting charitably, at its heart, in intellectual pursuits is to interpret what someone is saying in such a way that, essentially, you don’t jump to any unwarranted and unevidenced conclusions about what they’re saying. So you always try to interpret what they’re saying in such a way that it makes the most sense, given what they believe and what they’d be likely to argue. To me, there are two big principles in play here:

1) Always interpret what they’re saying in line with what they ought to believe given both their words and their overall philosophical position. In short, always interpret them as consistently as you possibly can. This causes problems for a lot of Internet debaters because their primary argumentative method is to find a seeming contradiction in their opponent’s position and then declare victory based on that, which means that when someone points out another interpretation that isn’t contradictory they get upset at the reinterpretation. But in general most people will not hold contradictory positions knowingly, so either there is a contradiction there that they need to work out — and they’ll always be able to bite the bullet and take one side or the other — or else your interpretation is incorrect and they didn’t really mean that. We can see this in Kant, actually, because in his first edition of “The Critique of Pure Reason” it looked at times like he was advocating for an Idealist position, so he added a section later that explicitly refutes Idealism, and insisted that he wasn’t advocating for Idealism. At that point, you can’t just accuse him of being an Idealist and having a contradiction in his position, clearly. What you can try to do is show that those sections only work if one is actually an Idealist, and no other position could accommodate those ideas. Fortunately for Kant, this is probably not true for him.

What this doesn’t mean is that this sort of interpretation always has their argument come out looking better. All you’re doing is interpreting it in the way that best fits their overall philosophy. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily come out looking less extreme or more mainstream or whatever. For example, if you interpret Rand charitably you can blunt arguments about “It’s really in your best interest to allow this sort of regulation” because while Rand is, in fact, very much opposed to government regulation she opposes it only because she thinks that it doesn’t benefit her to have it, and thus in those cases if you could prove that she’d have to accept that that sort of regulation should happen, which thus makes her view seem less extreme. On the other hand, a charitable interpretation of Rand would indeed say that if someone gained no benefit from helping someone else, they would be permitted to completely ignore them, even to the point of letting them die, which is a pretty extreme position (given what Rand says elsewhere, you can’t go so far as to insist that they’d be morally obligated to ignore them, but at a minimum they are not morally obligated to help). The same thing applies to Utilitarianism. It’s a charitable interpretation of Act Utilitarianism to say that it would have to countenance killing someone if that had the most utility, an extreme position, but it’s also a charitable interpretation to say that it has to be based on the knowledge that the person actually has and not on some kind of idealized determination based on all possible knowledge that anyone could have, which is a less extreme position.

2) Where allowed given the considerations of 1), always prefer less extreme interpretations to more extreme interpretations. So, to use a Stoic example, you don’t insist that they have to be eliminating even those emotions that we don’t feel — ie calm passions — when their focus is on the felt emotions and the link wouldn’t have been known at the time. Applying this principle will, of course, almost always involve making the view look more reasonable as it always makes it look less extreme, but applying this principle avoids arguing from rhetoric and often arguments from strawmen, where what you do is expand the view to its most extreme possible interpretation and point out how ridiculous it is. This does not mean that you can’t use argumentum ad absurdum, as long as you show how the absurd conclusion follows directly and necessarily from their position. So don’t conclude that when they say “X is this” that they necessarily mean “All X is this” if a) you can interpret it as being “Some X is this” and b) saying “All X is this” is an insanely stupid argument, unless by their own positions “All X is this” is more reasonable.

Note, of course, that for all of these the actual words of the actual people always trump any charitable interpretations; if they actually say “All X is this” then take them at their word. But interpreting charitably means interpreting in a way that is most consistent with their positions, and so is interpreting in a way that is most likely to be true. And in any give and take with anyone, you can always learn if your interpretations are right or wrong.

Thoughts on “Return Engagement”, Book 1 of “Settling Accounts”

June 13, 2016

So, I rolled the dice with “The War That Came Early” and lost. Now I’m rolling the dice with “Settling Accounts”, also by Harry Turtledove. Am I going to win, or has it come up “Snake-Eyes”?

(more…)

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 13, 2016

So, with Pittsburgh winning last night, I ended up at 8 – 7 for the playoffs, which is just over .500. A little disappointing, but a decent result. On the other hand, if I had just picked the team with home ice advantage to win in every series, I would have gone 9 – 6. So it looks like the best bet is still to choose the team with home ice advantage.

Well, that’s it for hockey until the World Cup of Hockey in September.

Life’s Like That …

June 10, 2016

So, Miri over a “Brute Reason” has recently made a post talking about how employers love advocating for self-care because it means that they don’t have to pay their employees fairly and don’t have to give them reasonable paid time off.

Every professional training I go to includes a section on burnout and self-care. My thought is always the same: just pay me what I’m worth. Pay me what I’m worth. Pay me what I’m worth. And give me enough paid time off.

That’s it. I don’t need bubble baths and chocolate and massages and silly TV. I need more money. And I need more rest.

I hope to get three posts out of this one single post, and first up I’m going to talk specifically about the idea that Miri’s problems here are because her employer isn’t giving her enough money and enough paid time off.

Now, in doing this, I’m exceptionally likely to trigger Miri’s “condescending” detector, which always irritates her. So, she can see this as me being condescending and even “mansplaining” … or she can see this as someone who has 20 years experience working full-time and balancing work and life giving advice to someone who has been working, based on her own account, for about a year or so.

So here’s where I start being potentially condescending, by outlining two very basic principles that I’m sure she already knows, but it’s important to state them outright. The first is that, in life, as the Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you want. To put this more philosophically/academically, what this means is that everyone has goals that they are trying to achieve, but that there are always constraints that limit how one can achieve those goals. So you can’t always achieve your goals by the most efficient method or in the manner that you’d prefer, and sometimes you can’t even achieve all your goals given the constraints you have to deal with. If you’re in the latter case, either you have to remove some of those constraints, or change your goals.

The second thing is that it is no one’s job to help you achieve your goals. In particular, it is not your employer’s job to help you achieve your goals. The agreement between you and your employer is that they pay you to do the work they need you to do, and you use that money to achieve your goals. But what your labour is “worth” doesn’t depend on what your goals are, but instead on what your labour does to achieve the goals of the company and what return the company gets on that labour. Miri’s comments here imply that her employer isn’t paying her fairly because she can’t get the things she wants or needs, and no where does she consider analyzing her pay in terms of what it would be reasonable to expect given what she provides to the company.

Thus, it behooves us to examine her list of the things she needs and consider two questions wrt each entry. First, can Miri achieve her goal — or at least her main goal — in a different manner than she considers here? And second, should we expect her employer to provide enough pay/free time to be able to do the things she wants to do? Remembering that she’s only been working for about a year.

So let’s start with the top of the list:

enough money and time off for an occasional, non-fancy vacation

I suspect that “vacation” doesn’t mean “I’m taking time off to do things and get caught up”, but instead she means something like a trip … somewhere. But Miri has been only working there, at least, for about a year, and I think that she’s recently out of school. Sure, it might be nice for her to be able to take a trip, but she really shouldn’t expect to be able to do that in a year, given that she has other expenses to deal with and obviously isn’t at the top pay and vacation scale for her profession (lacking experience). But a trip away — presumably for more than a week — is definitely a want here; it’s something that she wanted to do, not had to do. I’d like to take another university degree, but right now I simply don’t have the time. When I first graduated, I didn’t have the spare money. Life’s like that.

But if she just wants the relaxation, she can take some time off and take day trips on weekends to places that are interesting and nearby, or a weekend trip somewhere close, which would be both cheaper and fit into her weekends. Without knowing why this is something that Miri assert she “needs”, I can’t really say anything more, other than that for most people, this is not a need, and that in my opinion if you consider this an actual need then the problem is with what you consider to be a need. Few people really “need” a trip vacation.

time to prepare healthy meals every day

Later, Miri says that she is home from 5 – 11 every day and has free time to do “self-care”. That’s enough time to prepare a health meal every day, even if it means that you end up eating at 8 pm. But, on top of that, what Miri really needs is not the time to prepare a healthy meal every day, but to be able to eat healthy meals every day. That doesn’t mean that you have to cook them from mostly scratch every day. There are a number of options, if Miri can afford it, to provide quick and yet still healthy meals that some people seem to like, but if that’s a problem then she can do what I eventually had to do: take a day on the weekend and cook healthy meals ahead for the week that she can freeze and then thaw/microwave. If she doesn’t have a freezer other than the one in her fridge, that would be something that it would be worth investing in, so that she can do this and so that she can buy a number of things on special and then use them over the next few months or so. Doing this will give her healthy meals without having to do it every single day and find the time to do that.

enough sick leave to actually stay home when I’m sick (I had to go back to work with a raging flu, fever included, after just two days because that’s all the sick days I’d accumulated after 7 months of work)

I’m not sure of the circumstances of her workplace, but in general most places give about a week a year, which is pro-rated based on how long you worked in that year. If you start in January, you get the full week … and usually can use it ahead of time. If you start in May, you’d only get half of that. This isn’t great, but it does seem “fair”. The issue is with sick leave as a whole; employers really shouldn’t want employees coming in when they’re sick, because it risks making other employees or the customers sick, the sick person won’t be at their physical and mental peak anyway, and it risks making the recovery time longer and so the employee works at less than peak for longer. The issue here is that if you give people more time off that they ought to use when they are sick, then a number of employees will “cheat”, and use it to take time off in general. Some of them might even rationalize it as a “mental health” day, even when all of that “mental health” is that it’s a nice day and they don’t want to stuck inside. So giving a lot of extra days off risks people using them not because they’re sick, but essentially as extra vacation days. So, ideally, an employer wants to give enough sick days to cover at least how often the average employee gets sick in a year, but not so much that they use it as extra vacation. And the last thing they want to do is demand that everyone who gets a cold prove that they were really sick.

What some companies are doing is remove formal sick days completely, and let people call in sick, but if they do that too often or too suspiciously let the managers deal with that as if they are trying to take advantage. This might be the better solution. At any rate, I’d agree that sick time needs to be dealt with by businesses, but not necessarily that she should be, in general, be given more of it.

enough money to not have to worry almost constantly about money.

You’ve been working for a year now. Yes, you’re going to have to watch your money until you build up your savings. If you are really constantly worrying about it even when you aren’t spending money, that’s probably a problem with you.

enough money to have enough savings to not worry about being financially ruined by a medical or other type of crisis

You’ve been working for a year. It is not possible for an employer to pay you fairly in such a way that you’d have that much savings yet. Let’s imagine that to cover a crisis, you need at least $50000 to be really secure. So your starting base salary would have to be $50000 to get that in a year. But that doesn’t include taxes and deductions, and that being 40% of base seems not unreasonable, so that puts you at $70000 a year. And let’s assume that basic, every day costs work out to about $30000 a year. So, to do that, you’d need a starting salary of $100000, fresh out of school. Do you really think you’re worth that much, Miri? Do you think most people are?

enough time off work to go get my fatigue diagnosed and properly treated, let alone to get regular physicals and screenings like you’re supposed to

Have you considered using some of your vacation time to do that? One of the things that I most hate is that professionals only work during, well, regular working hours. If this is that important, then maybe you need to use your vacation time to attend the appointments … or even take unpaid leave to do it.

Again, you’ve been working a year. You’ve just managed to get to the point where you’ll get full accrual. You aren’t going to be able to get everything yet, and this is a condition that even you have to admit is beyond the norm.

enough time off work to go to therapy

As is this. How regular will this be? How often do you need it? Is it possible to get a therapist that will offer you an appointment after 5 (the same thing applies to the doctor above)? If you wanted/needed this twice a week and it took a half a day each time, that would require you to have 52 sick/vacation days to do that, which is over ten weeks. That’s likely not going to happen, especially since it would leave you no time for everything else. Even a half day a month is a week just for that. How long do you think an employer can function if they have to give two weeks for regular therapy/check-ups, and then two weeks for people being unexpectedly sick, and then two to three weeks so that people can take vacations and time off when they want it?

a schedule that allows me to sleep from 2 AM to 10 AM rather than from 11 PM to 7 AM

So, if right now you end at 5, this means that you’d have to end work at 8 PM instead. What are you doing from 5 PM to 8 PM? And what about your fellow employees? Are they to work the same hours as you, or do they get to choose their own hours as well? So how would you handle someone like me, whose current preferred work time is 5 AM until 2 PM? And what about someone who wants to sleep until noon and work after that? They’d get in pretty much when I’m leaving. Hope we never actually have to work together. And there are also issues around when your customers and clients get in, and when the work needs to be done. Yes, it’s not good that you can’t get your preferred sleep schedule, but if everyone got that nothing could function. So, life’s like that.

a work schedule that allows for an adequate lunch break during which I can consume real, healthy food

What’s stopping you now? Likely, it’s that you’d have to go out somewhere to get it (or cook it yourself) and don’t have time in the half hour – an hour that you likely get. But if you work in an office, then you can do that whole “cook it ahead on the weekend thing” and have real, healthy food. Failing that, you can fall back on the traditional “brown bag” sandwiches which are, in fact, real and even healthy food. How much time do you need, and what are you doing in exchange? And what impact would the amount of time you need have on your job and your customers/clients?

enough money for a gym membership that includes a pool (swimming is my preferred indoor exercise)

So, if you really want to swim, maybe you should just register at a local pool or YM/YWCA and just swim. There may be other things that you need to do, but how many of them can you do outside of a gym … even if you invest in some cheap weights or exercise equipment? Do you really need a gym membership to stay in shape, and if you do can you get a gym membership for a place without a pool and then get into a pool for free/cheap? If you can’t, then maybe you need to go to an exercise that isn’t your preferred if you can’t afford it yet. There’s no reason to think that wanting a gym membership with a pool is something that indicates that your employer is not paying you what you’re worth, and a gym membership period is not — and need not be — a basic employee right. It’s an extra… and you seem to be treating it like a need. You need to get exercise; you don’t need to get that in a gym or a pool.

enough time off work for an occasional mental health day, like the day after I got into a horrible car crash and was too scared to drive to work but had to anyway

Once you get full accruals of sick and vacation time, you probably will, if you are willing to use your vacation time for those occasional issues. You don’t seem willing to do that, and so likely have even less time off than you really do if you limit vacation to only, well, vacation.

I used vacation once upon a time to take half days off so that I could take classes and finish another degree. I take vacation to get things done, and on my vacation always schedule the things that it’s hard to do during the work day done. Since you can’t take trips anyway, this really might reduce your stress level.

enough money to not have a six-figure student loan debt

Student loans are potentially a problem, yes. But an employer is not going to pay you enough in a year to eliminate that much debt, as that would require them to tack on $100,000 to your salary which, to get the other things, is already over $100,000. All you can do is work out a plan so that you can pay it off at a reasonable rate given the salary you have, and building a budget that lets you life comfortably within your means is generally hard work. But your employer didn’t really ask you to take on that much of a loan, and they aren’t obligated to pay it off … and they’ve already factored the worth of your education into your salary.

Ultimately, life’s like that. I obviously don’t think that everything is perfect, but a big part of getting out into “the real world” is understanding what you need, what you want, and working out plans so that you get everything you really need and as much of your wants as you can. As you work longer, in general you ought to be able to achieve more and more of these wants, as your salary increases and you build up some savings. If you aren’t saving right now, maybe you need to look to see if you are spending too much money. If you still can’t, then maybe you aren’t making enough. Is that because your employer pays unfairly, or because your work isn’t worth more than that? Settling this question is important to determine what your next step should be, if you are in that situation. But no, it’s not just that employers are treating you badly. You need to adjust, too.

Life’s like that.