Archive for September, 2016

Shomi nothing ..

September 30, 2016

I heard from my manager yesterday, and had it confirmed from a number of sources, that the Internet streaming service shomi is going to shut down at the end of November. Which I actually had and recently talked about, so that’s a bit of a disappointment for me. It’s even more of a disappointment for me since I actually recently started watching some movies on Friday and Saturday nights, and shomi gave me ready access to shorter movies that I hadn’t seen or hadn’t seen in a while but wanted to watch.

So, as one of the roughly 500,000 people who actually paid for the service, what did I think of it? Well, for me, the biggest impression I had of it was that it was a service that I paid for but didn’t watch all that often, but at roughly $10 a month it was worth it for the times when I did watch it. Even if you count in the two full years, just watching Doctor Who alone (twice) would cover the cost of the DVDs for that one series, and I also got to watch “What I Like About You”, “Ned’s Newt”, “X-Men Evolution”, “The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” and some movies. Just renting the few movies I watched would cost me as much as the monthly fee, for the most part. I was pondering dropping it, but every time I thought about it it always came back to the idea that it was cheap enough to keep around for those times when I wanted to watch something on it.

That being said, I found that its selection — especially for TV shows — was a bit slim, and most damningly at least the set-top software was buggy as heck (I only ever used the set-top for it). I can easily see someone having to balance Netflix, Crave TV and shomi deciding that shomi was the more expensive and less useful of the three, and ditching it.

So, I’ve cancelled my subscription because I’m not going to watch it enough in the next two months to justify keeping it, and I’m not that likely to be interested in whatever they automatically move it to — see my issues with comics on that — so I’d rather have that $20 back. But the big question, then, is what do I do now? Do I sign up for Netflix or Crave TV? The problem is that I don’t want to watch either on my computer and don’t want to set things up so that I can run them on my TV directly (the reasons for which amused my manager. I think.). So the main reason I had shomi in the first place was because I could get it from the set-top box, and my main frustration with it was how that, in a lot of cases, didn’t work at all. Netflix and Crave TV aren’t even there, and aren’t likely to be. I definitely liked being able to watch movies and TV shows without renting or having to buy the DVDs, but I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle of setting things up so that I can do that (points mentioned in the discussion included Chromecast, Wi-Fi, and a router. I’m not convinced it’s worth it for me to set all of that up just for that).

So I’ll definitely miss shomi, but don’t really think I’ll miss it that much that I’ll feel the need to replace it. And since I was one of the customers where the competitors were no where near as good an option, that might well explain why shomi didn’t really succeed.

Ever Notice?

September 28, 2016

So, when I was in high school, there were ads for Clorets that I really liked. No, not the ones with Kramer from Seinfeld, but earlier ones that starred someone who looked and talked for all the world like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer — Anthony Stewart Head — and essentially were “in life” cases where the actor would be in a situation and ask if you ever noticed how in certain cases no one says anything about something, and they don’t say anything about your breath either, so you should use Clorets and be sure. For example:

“Your boss is an idiot, right? And just when you’re telling everyone that no one ever tells you he’s listening. It’s the same thing with bad breath. [turns around to see boss standing behind him] No one ever tells you. Be sure, use Clorets.”

There was another one about an elevator, and it turns out that at one point after it came out I went on a school trip with my friends — who all knew about my love of those commercials — to a museum, and we got on the elevator to move between floors with some other people. I was standing at the front of the elevator, with everyone else mostly behind me. Silence fell. And I couldn’t resist, and said:

“Ever notice when you’re standing in an elevator no one talks to you, they just stare blankly at the numbers. Have you got bad breath? Have they? Be sure, use Clorets”.

Now, again, I was standing at the front, so I couldn’t confirm this with my own eyes, but I am assured that two things happened:

1) My friends cracked up.

2) The other people looked at me like I was insane.

Ah, memories [grin].

It is interesting to note that in my last of high school I used breath mints, but didn’t use Clorets. The reason? “Clorets don’t taste very good” [grin].

Leaving Las Winnipeg …

September 26, 2016

I follow sports quite a bit, and probably should post more about them. I’m going to look into that in the future, but let me set the stage by talking about Jacob Trouba, a defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets, a restricted free agent, publicly asking the Winnipeg Jets to trade his rights. Obviously, a number of fans are upset about this. Jets fans will obviously see this as a betrayal, while other fans will note that he seems to be holding out for reasons that aren’t really valid.

I, personally, don’t really have any problem with the request … except for the fact that it was made public. Trouba, from what I’ve read, has decided that he’s better as and wants to play as a right defenseman and not a left defenseman. On the Jets, there are two defensemen on the right side who are both seen as being better and as having more seniority than him. Thus, if they stay on the right side and he wants to stay on the right side, he’ll be relegated to the third pairing, and get the least amount of minutes. But the coaches aren’t likely to ask the two ahead of him to change sides, and are willing to ask him to do that. So his choices are to play on the right side and be on the third pairing, or move to the left side which he doesn’t want to do.

Now, if he was indeed actually under contract, then the reasonable reply to him would be to suck it up and play the way the team wants him to play. But he’s not under contract. While as a restricted free agent his options are … restricted, he still doesn’t actually have a contract to play for the Jets. If he really feels that the team, as constructed, isn’t one that he wants to play for and he’s willing to sit out until he can get a deal with a team that he feels fits him better, what’s the problem with that? This is the sort of thing that contract negotiations and contracts and employment are designed for.

Now, you can argue that his reasons don’t make sense. because lots of players have changed sides and positions and been very successful, so he really has no reason not to make the move other than that he doesn’t want to try, which has led to claims that he’s being “lazy”. But, again, this works if he’s under contract. As he isn’t, why shouldn’t he take any steps that he’s willing to take to try to get a contract in a situation that’s as ideal to him as possible? He’s not bailing on the team, but is just pointing out that the team doesn’t seem to be a good fit for him right now and he’s not willing to sign a contract with a team that isn’t a good fit, no matter how much control they have over his rights. They can keep his rights, but they can’t make him sign a contract with them if he doesn’t think it’s a good deal for him.

So the only issue I have is that they made it public, which puts the team under pressure and lowers the market value. However, I suspect that they did this not to put pressure on the Jets, but instead to encourage offer sheets from other teams. That being said, doing so publicly might well encourage the Jets to match the offer sheets just to stick it to him, so again it doesn’t seem like a great way to make that work.

It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out, and if he really means this or if it’s a negotiating tactic.

Busy Work/Gaming

September 23, 2016

So, recently, I’ve become very, very busy. This was a combination of work becoming really busy and the normal “one-or-twice a year” things that I have to do in September/October, well, obviously, coming due. Normally, I deal with those things by taking vacation around that time, but this year the powers-that-be put a busy time in September and October — as should be obvious from the second sentence of the post — and I’ve already talked about why taking vacation in the busy times really doesn’t work for me. Suffice it to say that with those things coming up and with the work thing, I’m pretty busy right now.

But I still want to do things other than work, like the Hugo analysis and reading (yes, it is still on-going). And one of the things that I really wanted to do was play some games, because after finishing The Old Republic I hadn’t really been playing anything … and even then I was pretty much only playing TOR. So, given that this state is likely to persist for about another month and a half, as per my wont, I made a schedule for it. And discovered that I had a decent block of time weekend afternoons/evenings to play some games. Great! Now all I have to do is choose a game.

The first consideration for me was “Am I going to want to watch TV in those timeblocks?” Because if I didn’t, then PC games work well, and I even have VTMB and KotOR2 games in progress that I could finish, which would be a big plus for me. But if I did, then console/Vita games work better, because while I can play PC games and watch TV that involves me cranking up the volume and mostly ignoring it, so background TV? Good. Semi-interested TV? Bad.

And it turns out that baseball season is ending and the playoffs will run during that time, and I actually like watching the baseball playoffs. And they tend to run at about those times. So it is likely that I’d actually want to watch, and if there’s something on TV that I want to watch I often tend to, well watch that instead of doing what I wanted to do. So that made me lean console. On the other hand, the baseball often ends by the time I’d be starting to play, which might leave me with nothing to watch, which would make me lean PC. However, with the CFL ramping down and the NHL and NFL starting up there’d almost always be some kind of sports on, and in the rare cases where there wasn’t I’m sure I’d be able to find something to have on just for noise so … console/Vita it is.

So, I had been doing a number of things to remind me of the Persona series — watching P4: The Animation, listening to the soundtracks, etc — and so thought that it might be a good idea to replay P4: Golden. Except … I almost finished watching the Anime before revamping my watching habits as part of my rescheduling, and so when playing it I’m really just playing the story that I just watched. Sure, I’ve not only done that before but even enjoyed it before, but right now I’m busy and tired and, well, am just not up for doing that. So I need something else.

I considered playing Dragon Age again … but then I’d want to do the entire series which means that I’d have to struggle with the Dragon Age Keep again and have to deal with Dragon Age: Inquisition again. Yeah, let’s not. So then, maybe Mass Effect? But then I’d have to deal with the stupid resource gathering in ME2 again. Still, I think I could tolerate that more than I could tolerate Dragon Age again.

But what else? Persona 3? The dungeons are grindy and boring, and I only have two 3 hour blocks a week and want to feel like I’m getting somewhere. Conception II? Same problem, only more so. Dungeon Travellers? I think I’d have to start over because I’ve forgotten what secret areas I’ve found. Valhalla Knights? Maybe, but the shopkeeper influence mini-game can be tough on the fingers. Lost Dimension? Replaying it after you’ve seen the entire story isn’t that appealing. Agarest War? That “grinding” issue again. Skyrim? Hmmm … but I’d have to find it first. Oblivion? Maybe. Overlord? Can you play that for three hours and only three hours in a session? LA Noire? Same idea. Saint’s Row? Maybe.

I could always go and play PS2 games, but I moved my PS2 off to make room for the PS4, so that’s a bit problematic, and something that I’d only want to do if I didn’t have anything else to do. Go back to PC games? Maybe. TOR again? I hope not [grin].

Anyway, this post is here mostly because my reasons for rejecting Dragon Age and Mass Effect amuse me, and I needed to write a blog post at some point [grin].

To All the MMOs I’ve Loved Before …

September 21, 2016

To all the MMOs I’ve loved before.
That I played for months or more.
I’m glad they came along.
I dedicate this song.
To all the MMOs I’ve loved before.

So, after having finished all of the class stories in The Old Republic, I ended up musing about the MMOs I’ve played that I’ve really, really liked. And it turns out that there have been three of them, that I’ve loved for (mostly) completely different reasons.

Dark Age of Camelot: This was the first MMO that I ever played. I was drawn to it not because it was an MMO, but because it created three legendary/mythological realms that also happened to be among my favourites. I’ve always been a huge fan of Arthurian legend, and obviously given the game this MMO was going to have that as a major component. But the other two realms — Norse and Celtic — were also among my favourites. The whole “online” thing was a detriment, and not a benefit … but no one else was doing anything like this and no one else was even likely to do anything like this. If I wanted it, I was gonna hafta play this and put up with those icky “other players” that I had heard about.

The game itself lived up to expectations, at least in terms of setting and the link to the legends. The realms were noticeably different, and the classes mapped nice to the legends and, even better, were interestingly different between realms. Classes of the same basic role still managed to look and play differently in a way that linked them to the legends. Given this, I kept creating new character after new character to play around with different concepts.

The gameplay, however, didn’t suit me. It was a bit too hard to solo in the game — which is understandable, since you were never meant to solo — and, more importantly, there was no real overarching story to the game to push you to the next area. Yes, you were encouraged to go to new areas and do new things, but there was no story to follow, and you mostly did that to get enough levels to participate in Realm vs Realm … which I had no interest in. I also constantly got lost because the game — like most MMOs at the time — didn’t give you quest markers, the death penalty was annoying, and I was constantly cash-strapped.

This was my first MMO, and it set the stage for my altitis, because it was always so much more fun to start a different character in a different class in a different realm than it was to actually play a character to the higher levels and even into RvR, at least for me. A game with less diversity would have bored me when it got too hard (I’m looking at you, World of Warcraft), but Dark Age of Camelot kept me coming back to try out new classes and new characters:

City of Heroes: If Dark Age of Camelot started my altitis, this is the one that cemented it. The wide variety of costume and appearance options made creating new characters as actual characters far too easy. The varied powersets worked to create actual characters, and also played differently between classes and often between primary and secondary powerset combinations in the same class. New powersets allowed for new characters, making it all the more tempting to start over with a new character.

While soloing still wasn’t encouraged, it wasn’t as hard as it was in Dark Age of Camelot. Blasters had the hardest time, at least in my experience. There were overarching stories for each area and starting area that were fun, and I loved the few task forces that I managed to play.

However, at higher levels, again, soloing became too hard. Also, again, there was no overarching story to draw you from area to area, so you moved on when you had a high enough level. And finally, my highest level character got stuck in one of the cases where if you were high enough level to move on but your level was a little low for the quests and enemies you had to face.

Given the diversity and the fact that the introductory quest lines were fun, starting new characters became my standard approach to the game. This was my favourite MMO.

Star Wars: The Old Republic: With respect to everything that I loved about the previous two MMOs, The Old Republic is worse. There is less diversity in classes and settings and appearance. But it has two big advantages over the others. The first is that it is much more solo friendly. And the second is that it has a clear and interesting set of class stories that push you on to the next planet and, ultimately, to the end game. Of the three, it’s the game I love the least, but also the game that I’ve actually hit max level in.

The heyday of MMOs seems to be fading a bit; I don’t hear as much about new ones as I used to. Maybe I’m just not tuned in enough, though. At any rate, I wonder if I’ll ever find MMOs that I’ll love as much as these … all of which I either can’t play anymore or, at least, likely won’t play again, or for much longer (TOR).

The Expression of “Necrotech”

September 19, 2016

After I wrote last week about fiction being used to do nothing more than express an idea or emotion or whatever we have a “Big Idea” from John Scalzi’s site that pretty much admits to that. It’s K.C. Alexander talking about her book “Necrotech”, and all she says about it is, well, that it represents her. She describes the protagonist thusly:

I don’t like boxes. And neither does Necrotech’s protagonist—a type of woman whole sub-sections of societally-minded folk remind us don’t and shouldn’t exist.

Riko is a splatter specialist (that’s Tarantino level of gory mess, in case the title wasn’t clear) with all the agency of a man—and in being this, she tests the boundaries of what a woman in a book is supposed to be in this enlightened age of women’s rights. She is not soft. She is not tender. She would prefer to put a boot in your teeth instead of “work it out”, she lacks all maternal instinct, and her flaws are loaded for bear. With all the swag of a street thug, a policy of pleasing herself first, and a piss-poor temperament for emotions, she’s nobody’s idea of a good girlfriend.

She tends to somewhat proudly think of herself as a bad boyfriend.

And she came from a space of deeply engrained social erasure.

This … is a rather odd idea of what it means to have “the agency of a man”, it seems to me. Moreover, this doesn’t exactly sound like an interesting protagonist to the story. What we have here, it seems to me, is the typical “asshole” protagonist. Except … we aren’t really supposed to like the “asshole” protagonist, nor are they to be written that way. In general, we want to see assholes brought down in our fiction, and put in their place. The only exceptions are those asshole protagonists who are assholes to their enemies but who can be nice to their friends. About the closest I can picture of an actual asshole protagonist who is the unvarnished hero might be James Bond, but even he isn’t really an asshole, as he plays games and does deadpan snarking, but we can see that, at least in part, that’s to keep people at a distance because if he starts to care and he loses them it devastates him, as we see with his dead wife.

Read K.C. Alexander’s description of Riko and tell me that there’s anything like that with her.

So, in general, with asshole protagonists we either see that they really do have a heart of gold that they use the assholishness to hide, or else they get humbled and learn to overcome that, and thus win in the end through that realization. A good example of the latter is the “Justice League Unlimited” episode “The Greatest Story Never Told”. Booster Gold starts as someone who is, well, a prime example of the asshole protagonist. He is incredibly annoying, and only gets topped briefly by the Elongated Man. But as things go along, he gets humiliated and humiliated and has to accept that he is, in fact, a loser, and only came back to this time so that he could be something other than a loser … but his experiences prove that he is, still, nothing more than a loser. But in that the hot scientist that he was simply hitting on points out that he’s the only one who can even try to save the day, so he had better go out and do it. In that, he succeeds … and we finally cheer for him because he’s shown the self-awareness and humility to make him worthy of saving the day and, in the end, being the hero … even if it is only to him and the scientist.

Again, read the description of Riko and tell me if there’s anything like that there.

Unvarnished “asshole” protagonists are unlikeable, but Alexander thinks that some people, well, might like Riko, as she herself seems to. But on what grounds should we like her? It’s not that she has a heart of gold, and it’s not that she learns humility, so what is it that she thinks we’ll find appealing, like she finds it appealing?

I am Necrotech’s Big Idea. Me, and the people like me who are so often told that we can’t, don’t, shouldn’t. That what we are, what we present, is problematic for the greater society. The cause. The fight.

I know why I started writing this woman who does not care what you think of her. Whatever else the overarching themes, I know why Riko is the heart of it, the voice of it, the eyes seeing it all unfold.

I am Riko—with my snarl in place to warn away any asshole who wants to tell me how I should behave, my finger upraised to everyone who ever told me I was doing it wrong, my heart wrapped in diamondsteel where nobody can reach it to re-program what is mine. Like Riko, I’m not exactly bulletproof, but I can take it with a bloody smile and still come back to kick ass.

My name used to be Karina Cooper. I wrote what was, in so many ways, expected of me. And when I started Necrotech, I defied every expectation. And because I did, it suffered every rejection—until I realized that the ‘me’ that had been cultivated was not the me I was. That I had spent my life thinking I was strong and individual and independent, only to learn that I was so very wrong. And most of all, that the book I’d written wasn’t Karina’s story to tell.

Now my name is K. C. Alexander. Riko may be me incarnate—cranked to 11—but I like to be called Kace.

She so effusively loves that character because that character embodies what she thinks she is … or what she wants to be. She sees herself hemmed in by rules — or that she at least was hemmed in by rules — and sees this character as an expression of being free from that. The character is good because of what it expresses, not because of what it is as a fictional character … because what it is as a fictional character is, in fact, unappealing. So those who can relate to those feelings will like the character, and those who can’t won’t. But it seems to me that good fiction — and the fiction that the anti-Puppy side seems to want — allows us to like or cheer for a character even if we don’t feel the same way as they do. Even if we find James Bond to be an old-fashioned, misogynistic jerk … we still want him to win because the character and the context means that he — and only someone like him — can win, and we can in some sense, maybe, enjoy the way he achieves the goal that is both a good goal and one that we should want. Yuri from Shadow Hearts is similar, as he starts as a misogynistic jerk and evolves into a genuinely good character, so we can enjoy the snark as being aimed at his enemies knowing that, at least with his friends, he doesn’t really mean it.

I don’t see anything like that in this description. And Alexander could not be clearer about wanting to expressing ideas, and a number of them:

If you read Necrotech and think it has nothing to do with this woman-who-acts-like-a-man, that’s okay. There are enough Ideas in the book, in the series as it will be play out, to talk about, think about, embrace or reject.

But is she going to argue for them, explore them? Or is she just going to toss the ideas out there and hope that we’ll find them interesting enough to enjoy the book?

My bet’s on the latter.

A Parable on Privilege … and Perspective

September 16, 2016

So, I was reading some comments on Pharyngula, and this old “Privilege 101” post was referenced. It’s titled “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege” and is essentially a thought experiment aimed at showing how the concept of “privilege” works and, presumably, why it’s a useful concept to bring to these discussions. But in reading it, it became clear that the parable worked better to demonstrate my idea of “perspective” than it did to demonstrate the idea of “privilege” … and, in fact, proved just how vacuous and harmful the idea of “privilege” really is in those sorts of circumstances.

Let’s start not with the meaty thought experiment, but instead the simple example that follows from the definition of “privilege” as per Google:

This is the basic heart of the idea. Privilege is an edge… a set of opportunities, benefits and advantages that some people get and others don’t. For example, if it’s raining in the morning, and you get up, get dressed, climb into the nice warm car in your garage, drive to the closed parking lot at work, and walk into the adjacent building, you don’t get wet. If you go outside and wait at the bus stop, then walk between busses for your transfer, then walk from the bus stop to work, you do get wet. Not getting wet, then, is a privilege afforded you by car and garage ownership. So far, so straightforward, right?

Well … no. Because we don’t particularly see that as any kind of edge, or anything at all to talk about. We might say that someone who had that sort of situation was “lucky”, but we wouldn’t look down on someone who didn’t have that — we’d just note that they happened to get wet, and maybe should think about, say, getting an umbrella — nor would we see that as any kind of big advantage that the “privileged” person was getting. And, more relevantly to this discussion, the “privileged” person would certainly see and understand the situation of the “less privileged” person. This is because the common case is the one where you don’t get that, and so we all clearly understand the differences here, which puts that case definitely in the realm of “perspective”, where the person who doesn’t have to get wet has a different perspective — read: different considerations — than the person who does, but everyone understands the perspective of the other (for the most part; there are issues with never actually going outside and those closed parking lots and garages that aren’t being considered here) and no one claims that the supposed benefits or advantages are unearned. In general, the concept of “privilege” is never used for cases like that.

Next, we get a real world similar example:

Some examples of social privilege work exactly the same way, and they’re the easy ones to understand. For instance, a young black male driver is much, much more likely to get pulled over by the cops in America than an old white woman. Getting pulled over less, then – being given the benefit of the doubt by an authority figure – is in this case, a privilege of being white. (I’m not getting into the gender factor here, intersectionality is a whole different post.)

It’s a very good thing that the author didn’t get into the gender issue, because it would have revealed how this specific example, in fact, totally demolishes the idea of “privilege” as it is commonly used, and even as it is used here: to talk about the privilege of being white. Because that old white woman is also going to get pulled over less often by the cops in America than a young white male driver, and in fact than an old white male driver will. A young white female driver will get pulled over less often than a young white male driver. And, in fact, it might be the case that a young black female driver will get pulled over less often than a young white male driver. Sure, a young white male driver is less likely to be pulled over than a young black male driver, but at this point talking about that as “white privilege” is rather odd given the starting point. A more reasonable example would be to point out that across the board, whites get pulled over less often than blacks, as long as all other factors are held to be identical. That might be true, but is rather hard to demonstrate. And most will accept that if that happens, it’s actually unfair, and it’s not the case that whites are privileged but instead is the case that blacks are treated incredibly unfairly.

So casting this example as an example of privilege doesn’t help. At best, it hides injustice under a banner of “they get things I don’t”, and at worst it devolves into a convoluted mess where each group has some sort of privilege over the other in the exact same example, rendering the assessment meaningless.

Let’s skip past the example of street harassment — I’ll come back to it later — and jump straight to the meaty thought experiment, which I’ll quote mostly in full:

Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.

The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.

This is not because the dog is a jerk.

This is because the dog has no fucking clue what the lizard even just said.

Consider: he’s a nordic dog in a temperate climate. The word “cold” is completely meaningless to him. He’s never been cold in his entire life. He lives in an environment that is perfectly suited to him, completely aligned with his comfort level, a world he grew up with the tools to survive and control, built right in to the way he was born.

So the lizard tries to explain it to him. She says, “well, hey, how would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

The dog goes, “uh… sounds good to me.”

What she really means, of course, is “how would you like it if I made you cold.” But she can’t make him cold. She doesn’t have the tools, or the power, their shared world is not built in a way that allows it – she simply is not physically capable of doing the same harm to him that he’s doing to her. She could make him feel pain, probably, I’m sure she could stab him with a toothpick or put something nasty in his food or something, but this specific form of pain, he will never, ever understand – it’s not something that can be inflicted on him, given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his favor in this instance. So he doesn’t get what she’s saying to him, and keeps hurting her.

Most privilege is like this.

So, let’s look at this example, and see how the two of them should approach this situation to make it work out for each of them in the best possible way. Now, let’s presume that the dog really doesn’t know what the term “cold” means, so saying “I get cold when the temperature is that low” isn’t going to mean anything to the dog. What should the gecko do? Well, the gecko ought not use the line — from the street harassment example — of how the dog would feel if the gecko did that to him, nor should the gecko be looking for ways to make the dog feel her discomfort. What the gecko should simply do is, in fact, say that the temperature being that low makes them sick … with a description of the symptoms, if necessary. If the gecko did this, then they ought to very quickly be able to get to the root of the problem, as the dog would simply reply that if the temperature is set up any higher then the dog will feel sick. And they’d then realize that the issue is not with what they are doing but is instead with the fact that they have incompatible environmental needs, as the dog wants the temperature lower and the gecko wants it higher. And thus, since neither of them are jerks, they have to find a compromise solution, which could be them leaving the temperature at a compromise level where both are uncomfortable, segmenting themselves off with relatively equal amenities in their own rooms, and only having to enter the other areas when they wanted to interact, or even to them realizing that they can’t actually live in the same house with each other.

But this mindset does not, in fact, in any way claim that one of them is “privileged”. It just presumes that they have differing perspectives, and note that it is equally important that the gecko understand the dog’s perspective here, or else the gecko will end up making the dog uncomfortable with her solution … and perhaps end up making the dog as uncomfortable as the dog made the gecko if the gecko simply takes her perspective and ideal solution as the actual answer.

To get this closer to the typical idea of “privilege”, let’s assume that the dog has moved in and the house is set exactly at the dog’s comfort level, and then the gecko moves in. Again, the dog knows how to change the temperature, but sees no need to. What should the gecko do? Again, the gecko should merely point out how the temperature affects her. She might get an initial response of “It’s always been this way and has worked”, but once the gecko manages to get across how things look from her perspective the dog — if it is not a jerk — ought to be able to realize the problem … which then puts us back in the original problem: if the dog raises the temperature to the level the gecko wants, then the dog will be uncomfortable, and if it stays where it is, the gecko will be uncomfortable. Thus, we need a compromise.

Again, claiming that the dog is “privileged” does nothing here. The gecko still needs to understand the dog’s perspective, even if it is the “privileged” one, in order to come up with a workable compromise. The only work that “privilege” can do here is to guilt the dog into accepting an inferior compromise where the dog ends up being less comfortable than the gecko to make up for that “privilege”. However, it invites arguments over “privilege” and if the dog really has it, and if the gecko needs to compromise to satisfy the “privileged”. Meanwhile, “perspective” quickly gets to the heart of the matter: things look very different from the dog’s and gecko’s views, both have valid perspectives, and both perspectives need to be given equal consideration to come up with a reasonable solution.

So now let’s look at street harassment:

A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.

A pretty common male response to this point is “that’s a privilege? I would love if a group of women did that to me.”

And that response, right there, is a perfect shining example of male privilege.

Let’s apply “perspective” to that example. And the first thing to consider is why men would say that. And the reason is that men don’t get such obvious indications that women are, in fact, sexually interested in them. They instead can only find out if they are attractive by, well, getting sex with women. So having feedback both on their general attractiveness and on that specific women find them attractive seems like it would be a pretty good deal, and the argument here is that women ought to like that, too … and might miss it when it’s gone. So that’s roughly the male perspective.

But, of course, we’re not done. We need to consider this from the perspective of the women who are bothered by it, and find out why it does. And I can think of three possible reasons. The first is that they feel threatened by this: they worry that it will turn into something other than simply leering and catcalling, but will instead lead to groping and even to sexual assault. The second is that they feel “objectified”, treated and turned into nothing more than objects for sex rather than as real human beings. The third is that they find it intrusive: while being flirted with can be a thrill for them, they’d rather that happen in more appropriate circumstances and not when they are just trying to get to work or to the store.

And now … we still aren’t done. Because just because each side has a perspective doesn’t mean those perspectives are right, especially when it comes to the solution they propose. So we need to evaluate the perspectives to see if the claims and complaints and solutions are credible. I’m going to start with the female perspective here, for reasons that will become obvious later but relate to the name of the blog [grin]. So, with the first one, the link between catcalling and actual groping and sexual assault isn’t that clear. It seems likely that men who would grope or sexually assault will likely also be willing to catcall, but it isn’t clear that catcalling in and of itself leads to that. So the link between that and the actual threat of those things is not necessarily clear (anyone who has the evidence and disagrees, feel free to correct me. But it will’na matter in the end). So the first isn’t any kind of trumping argument. The second argument, however, is actually just a really bad one, because it seems clear that it isn’t just making sexual references that would be a problem here. After all, do you think those women would feel better about it if the men saw them reading a physics text and yelled “Hey, babe, work that relativity?”. I don’t find that likely, but if you think they would and have an argument for that, again, feel free. And from that, it does seem like the last argument is the better one: being thought of as sexually appealing isn’t bad, but catcalling is just too intrusive and is done in inappropriate contexts, which makes it, in general, really, really annoying.

Now, let’s turn to the male perspective. And … there isn’t really one here. There’s no real reason I can think of for men to want to catcall or be bothered if they can’t do it. “Leering” is a little more problematic — because looking at an attractive women walking by ought not really be a problem — but for the most part the more rude and egregious forms of street harassment are things that men ought to have no real problem stopping. The argument I presented above is one based on arguing for what women ought to want, but such arguments tend to fall by the wayside when those in that perspective say they don’t want that, unless you have a really strong objective argument for why they ought to. We don’t have that here. So there’s no real argument from the male perspective for keeping street harassment and an actual not unreasonable argument for stopping it. So, from the “perspective” approach, street harassment should be stopped.

Now, does anyone really think that the “privilege” argument, even as outlined in the post, gets to that point anywhere near as well? All of my points are even thing that can be challenged if someone has better arguments. Either the “privilege” argument will do the same thing as “perspective” and merely take the long way around, or it won’t be considering all the relevant viewpoints and so will be vacuous, and be more likely to lead to a long drawn out fight than any kind of reasonable discussion.

We can also see this when we consider the last set of examples:

So, quite simply: don’t be that dog. If you’re straight and a queer person says “do not title your book ‘Beautiful Cocksucker,’ that’s stupid and offensive,” listen and believe him. If you’re white and a black person says “really, now, we’re all getting a little tired of that What These People Need Is A Honky trope, please write a better movie,” listen and believe her. If you’re male and a woman says “this maquette is a perfect example of why women don’t read comics,” listen and believe her. Maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, maybe you think it’s oh-so-perfect to your artistic vision, maybe it seems like an oversensitive big deal over nothing to you. WELL OF COURSE IT DOES, YOU HAVE FUR. Nevertheless, just because you personally can’t feel that hurt, doesn’t mean it’s not real. All it means is you have privilege.

These examples are set as being absolute stipulations, where the right thing to do for the “privileged” is to accept not only the perspective of the “unprivileged”, but also the proposed solutions without the “unprivileged” having to care, at all, about the perspective of the “privileged”. But why can’t we ask the queer person what the problem they have with my naming the book that, if it really does work for my artistic vision better? Why can’t we ask what’s wrong with it if we don’t see what’s wrong with it? Maybe the “unprivileged” person is just plain wrong: they are misinterpreting how things are being used in those cases, they’re missing the point, they’ve read in an intent that isn’t there, the context of the work makes it clear, or maybe they are just being oversensitive. Or maybe they aren’t. But the only way to settle that is for both sides to give their perspectives and their facts and then we see who is right. Maybe they both are. Maybe they’re both wrong. But until we sit down and hash it out, we can’t know that. To return to the thought experiment, the dog believing the gecko does not and cannot mean that the dog is therefore forced to agree to turn the temperature up to the gecko’s preferred temperature, because that would really hurt the dog. By the same token, believing that someone feels a certain way does not in any way force me to think that they’re right nor that their preferred solution is the right one. Two well-meaning people of differing perspectives ought to be able to share those perspectives and come to a reasonable compromise, or be able to convince the other that their view is right. That the “perspective” model forces this is one of its greatest strengths. Plus, it has the benefit that no one will be fighting to avoid the “privileged” label, and so we won’t get into contortions like we saw in the “pulled over by the cops” example.

There is nothing that the “privilege” concept does better than the “perspective” concept, and it does a lot of things worse, as the thought experiment clearly demonstrates. In creating that thought experiment, the author has instead provided the best possible example of how the “privilege” concept fails.


September 14, 2016

So, John Scalzi runs a number of “Big Ideas” at his site, which strikes me very much as being proof of my idea of fiction as nothing more than the expression of an idea. The “Big Idea” that focuses on Robin Talley’s work “As I Descended” strikes me as another one of those ideas that are just really, really bad. The original premise of the work isn’t a bad one: a modernization of Macbeth. Doing it as a “Young Adult” novel doesn’t seem to be all that great an idea. Setting it inside a high school seems to be potentially interesting but a potentially disastrous idea. And it only gets worse from there.

Macbeth is, obviously, an extremely bloody play. Before I started As I Descended, I’d never even considered killing any of my characters. I’d written dark stuff in other books, sure, but death is so final. Shakespeare was writing about a brave, accomplished medieval warrior who broke character by offing a few specific guys (after a career spent slaughtering presumably less important people).

Um, since she was setting it inside a high school, she might not have needed to deal with so much blood. After all, if I recall correctly — I have no yet managed to read that “Complete Works of Shakespeare” that I have, but I covered it in high school — the key to Macbeth is not that he kills people. Macbeth does not kill Duncan or Banquo, for example, because he wants to kill people. He kills them because he feels that killing them is the only way to achieve his ambitions, ambitions that he is spurred upon in by his wife. So he’s trying to get them out of the way. In a high school setting, there are many ways to get people out of the way that don’t involve killing them, especially in the world of high school popularity. Character assassination can easily substitute for actual assassination there. And if she had done that, she might have been able to avoid …

I had to take a contemporary 17-year-old girl whose previous experiences with violence had been limited to a few kicks on the soccer field and make her into a would-be violent criminal. I went through months of false starts before I could figure out how to get Maria (and, to be honest, me) into the necessary emotional place.

The Psycho Lesbian trope (note that this is a link to TV Tropes). No possible problems with invoking that trope, right?

Shakespeare’s casts tend to be larger than your typical YA novel’s. So after much consternation I wound up combining characters here and there, and scaling others back where I could. In my favorite instance, I fused Banquo and Lady Macduff into one character named Brandon.

But … Banquo and Lady Macduff have very different roles in the play. You can interpret Banquo as the too loyal and too trusting friend to Macbeth — as I argued in a high school essay — or as someone ambitious himself who was angling for advantage but Macbeth got to hm first, but that role is, in fact, utterly and critically important. Lady Macduff isn’t that important and is mostly a spur to Macduff, but if you combine the characters then all you would do is reduce her role to that. You could just as easily have simply eliminated Lady Macduff and let Macduff oppose Macbeth for reasons other than simple vengeance for the loss of a loved one (which, to be fair, he actually had other motives as well).

Brandon and Mateo wound up forming a nice counterpoint to my Macbeth/Lady Macbeth (Maria/Lily) combo, in that their relationship is much less dysfunctional.

Okay, this might be open to interpretation, but was the Macbeth/Lady Macbeth relationship dysfunctional? You can argue that they were well-suited for each other and it was only the means they had to use to gain their mutual ambitions and the fallout from that caused the breakdown of the relationship.

Despite her claims that she researched critical essays — although she only mentions it for one speech — she doesn’t really seem to understand the play, and herself admits spending lots of time trying to figure out the blood metaphors and the like by pouring over the play itself. She says that she wanted to do as literal a retelling as possible … but her setting doesn’t lend itself to that, having neither the actual goal nor the attitude that would allow for all of the killing that she somehow thinks have to be there. She also, in the quotes, doesn’t seem willing to either take a stand on her own interpretations or allow that for others. She seems to be inserting her own takes into it, but is unable to see what is really important to keep and what can be changed.

Now, you can argue — with some justification — that criticizing it like this is a bit out of bounds if I haven’t — and am not going to — read it. The issue is that here I’m taking what the author is proud of in the work and saying that, given what I know about the play, that she shouldn’t be. What she focuses on is not only not what is great about the play, but in fact seems, to me, to detract from it. We can discuss this, of course, but just as I wouldn’t have to watch “The Phantom Menace” to see that introducing midichlorians as the explanation for the Force is a bad idea, I don’t need to read this book to know that turning Macbeth into what seems to be a common psychopath is also a bad idea.

I sense much bad ideas in this work.

Fictional Expression

September 12, 2016

So, I was reading this excerpt from a novelette on Analog, and wondering why it was so very, very badly written. I actually zoned out in the middle of it because I just didn’t care about it anymore. Sure, the idea of aliens trying to buy the moon was an interesting idea, and sure the idea of tags and emotion tags was interesting, but the story just didn’t seem to go anywhere, Instead, there were a number of asides about the ex-boyfriend of Rose and things like that, that didn’t seem to add anything to either the plot or the characters. Heck, even the idea of a princess in Britain trying to emulate Diana would have been interesting if it had been explored. And in thinking about that and about “Cat Pictures, Please” — which struck me the same way — it got me thinking about what primary purpose those stories might have had … and about primary purposes in general.

It seems to me that there are a number of primary purposes that a work of fiction can have. Note that they can include some or all of these elements, but there is always generally a primary purpose to the work, something that the work is really attempting to convey. It seems to me that there are these primary purposes:

1) Narrative: The primary purpose here is to relate an event or events. Essentially, this fictional work is just trying to tell a story. A good example of this would be the original Mass Effect game, where the story of Saren and the Reapers was the primary focus, and the world and the characters there to facilitate that.

2) Character: The primary purpose here is to introduce and explore interesting characters. The plot and all other elements are there to support us finding out about and following the interesting characters. Mass Effect 2 is a good example of this, as the plot is literally nothing more than an excuse to go out, recruit and interact with those interesting characters.

3) Emotional: The primary purpose here is to elicit a specific emotion in the person experiencing the work, be it fear, joy, sadness or something else. Horror works are the prime examples of this, as, for example, in Lovecraft’s work all of the plot and characters are there only to allow for the horror to come to the fore during and at the end.

4) Exploring an idea: I think that Chuck Sonneberg’s view of “high concept” stories fits this really well: you have an idea that sounds interesting, and you want to play it out to see how it would work in the setting that you’re in. This can range from simply taking an idea like “What would happen if Captain Picard was turned into a child?” and seeing how it would work to exploring both sides of a complex moral issue. But, in general, you are exploring the idea, not merely expressing it nor arguing for it.

5) Arguing for an idea: The work is trying to argue that a certain idea is correct by analogy to the fictional world they’ve created. “Atlas Shrugged” is a good example here, as it is blatantly obvious that that is her goal, but other, more highly regarded works do this as well, like “1984” or “Brave New World”. Science fiction and fantasy are actually really good genres for this because they are so open that it is easier to create worlds that you can use as an analogy to support your argument than it is in other genres.

6) Expressing an idea: The work just wants to express an idea or number of ideas, without either exploring them or arguing for them.

I submit that “Cat Pictures, Please” and “No Strangers Any More” are aiming at the last category, as the authors are just expressing ideas that they like or are important to them without really exploring them in detail or taking the time to argue for them. The problem with doing that is that in a work of fiction simply expressing an idea is boring, and triggers the precise reactions I had to those works: 1) These are interesting ideas but aren’t explored, 2) The ideas don’t seem relevant to the overall story and 3) This would be done better as an essay than as a story. After all, if you want to simply express an idea, you’d generally write an essay or a post talking about them, and someone who was interesting in either your opinion or in the ideas would be willing to sit down and read you simply talking about them. But sticking them into a work of fiction seems to be taking the long way around if that’s all you’re doing, as both exploring an idea and arguing for it all benefit from the analogy that fiction provides, but if you’re simply expressing the idea introducing it through analogy seems a convoluted way to do that, and risks obscuring the idea that you’re trying to express.

Given this, if I’m right, then there are two likely possibilities for why their stories end up in category 6). The first is that they are, in fact, trying to argue for their ideas, but never get past merely expressing them; in short, they heavy-handedly express them, but don’t properly use the analogy to make their point, leaving the ideas disconnected from the rest of the story. The second is that the main purpose of their writing is to express ideas and emotions and things that are important to them, and they are far less concerned about anything else in their works. You can decide for yourselves which interpretation is the more charitable, as both are ideas that have been expressed by modern fiction writers.

What this means, though, is that any works that end up in category 6) are only going to be interesting to those who already agree with the ideas, as they won’t need arguments for those ideas, and will often feel that this is an author who “gets” them, expressing the ideas that they themselves have always wanted to express or see expressed in works. But, again, as a work of fiction itself doing that will be boring and convoluted, and so anyone who doesn’t already agree or who even disagrees with the ideas will find the work wanting. Thus, potentially we’d see the sharp divide in opinion over such works.

Tropes vs Women: Are Women Too Hard To Animate?

September 9, 2016

So, the not-quite-latest video in the Tropes vs Women series is Are Women Too Hard To Animate? Female Combatants. It starts off by looking at the controversy over “Assassin’s Creed Unity” where Ubisoft claimed that they couldn’t add playable female characters to the multiplayer portion of the game because doing the animations and models would be too expensive. Sarkeesian notes this about it:

A number of experienced game developers joined the chorus of voices calling out the absurdity of Ubisoft’s claims. Animator Jonathan Cooper, who had previously worked on Assassin’s Creed III for Ubisoft, tweeted, “I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.” And Manveer Heir of Bioware summed up what Ubisoft was actually saying: “We don’t really care to put the effort in to make a woman assassin.”

This … is pretty much the extent of her research into what it would take to do. She references another case, that of Far Cry 4:

Ubisoft’s disregard for female character options didn’t stop with Unity. Also at E3 2014, the director of Far Cry 4 admitted to a similar issue with that game’s online co-op mode, saying, “We were inches away from having you be able to select a girl or a guy as your co-op buddy.” Again, the excuse for why this option wasn’t available was that it would just be too much work. And yet again, what they were really saying was that they just couldn’t be bothered to do the work it would have taken to provide that option.

The thing is … Anita Sarkeesian, whether you think she deserves it or not, has a name presence in games at the moment, which comes from having made Time’s 100 most influential people list. If she actually wanted to answer the question that she titles the video with, she could easily have contacted Ubisoft and asked them to explain just what it was that would make it be so much work or be so expensive. Given her name recognition, they’d be far more likely to accommodate her than they would be most other people. And yet it seems that Sarkeesian is uninterested in doing the research to find out what was really the case, instead pretty much implying that it wouldn’t have been that hard and that they couldn’t be bothered to do the work. Which is indeed technically true, but obviously it would be more reasonable for them to take that position if it would require re-doing 8000 animations than it would be if it was only a day or two of work.

Now, I’m not an expert by any means, but I have read a fair bit around the issue and I work in software design, so I’m going to take a stab at thinking out what might have happened here, without insisting that anyone is lying. In software, there are usually multiple ways to do something. Some of them are faster but don’t work as well — or don’t cover as many cases — and some take longer but really work. I’d imagine that Cooper’s solution is simply to re-do the skins and re-use all of the existing animations. And this can indeed work. But the risk you take is that if you take detailed motion captures of men and then put female skins on them you’ll end up with female characters that, well, move like men. This can run into a number of issues, from it resulting in characters that no female would want to play to interaction issues as the skin is based on, say, a bigger or differently shaped frame and so it might mess up hit boxes and the like.

Now, if something really will only take one or two days to do but you aren’t sure if it will work, in software the usual practice is to prototype it: implement a quick and dirty version of it and hand it over the testers to see how it works. So it’s quite possible that they actually tried Cooper’s idea and noted that, yes indeed, it looked stupid and didn’t work. Then, left with only the longer option that would take too much work and time for the effort, they decided to not include the option of female characters in multiplayer.

Now, I can’t say for certain that this is what happened. But that they felt the need to mention it at all suggests that they were considering it — and knew that they’d get some push back on not including it. Given that, it’s not all that likely that it would have only taken them a couple of days to do that and yet they still decided not to.

However, this is mostly an aside — despite it being pretty much the title of the video — because the real question here is spawned by Sarkeesian’s conclusion. She says that they couldn’t be bothered to do it, and the question is: Should they be?

Now, up until now what Sarkeesian has been advocating for are things that don’t inherently or necessarily increase the actual costs of a game, and thus don’t inherently impact the profits of the game. Sure, there might be extra work to create female protagonists or to avoid the damsel in distress plot, but for it’s not necessarily the case. Most RPGs, for example, only need to do different skins for the characters to add female protagonists, which is why RPGs have constantly and consistently done that for ages now. So the only risk to the profits of the company are that some players may not buy a game that has a female protagonist or uses a different story. But here we have a case where, indeed, the claim is that it will cost significantly more to add female characters to the game. So while in the previous cases getting more sales by appealing to female gamers would be a nice boost and a reason to maybe give it a shot, here, those extra sales would be required to avoid taking a loss on that specific feature.

This actually hurts the companies that are more likely to want to appeal to new audiences — including the female audience — in order to expand their profile: indie games. Shamus Young recently created a new game called “Good Robot” with Pyrodactyl, and as it turns out it didn’t make as much money as expected. From the comments in that linked post, it seems that this has put the company on a far more shaky financial position than Arvind — the guy who runs it — is comfortable with. So, a company like Pyrodactyl might, indeed, want to try to increase their audience by appealing to female gamers. But, as outlined in the post, every feature that takes time both delays time to market — which can be critical — and the cost of the product, which directly impacts profits. So they assess every feature to see if the effort to implement it will increase sales enough to increase their profits. Thus, the question to ask is: does it actually do that?

I talked about FIFA 16 in another post, as a game that deliberately added female players. What has happened to its sales since the introduction of female players? Well, FIFA 2015, up until this point, has sales of almost 19 million units. FIFA 16 has sales of about 16 million units. While FIFA 15 has had another year to make sales, that doesn’t look like a huge boost in sales. Also, in at least the UK — a very big and important market for soccer — sales were down in the first week. So it doesn’t look like adding female players to the game added to its sales.

So, pretty much every company is going to — quite reasonably — be wary of taking the time to add female characters if they aren’t likely to see increased sales because of it. If Sarkeesian et al can’t appeal to the idea that it will increase profits to add female characters, then all they have to fall back on is the Social Justice argument: game companies need to be fair and need to promote the Social Justice issues that they think are important. But doing so might reduce their profits, and might actually drive indie studios and even studios in big companies out of business. Are they to be required to drive themselves out of business to satisfy an agenda that is not theirs?

This only gets worse if attempting to address those issues can be a no-win situation. The rest of Sarkeesian’s video discusses whether or not they should include female combatants. The reason she has to address it is that it is a feminist question of whether including them is perpetrating and promoting violence against women or not. Sarkeesian argues that it isn’t as long as they are not sexualized and are capable of fighting back, but the issue here is that a company that tries to address feminist issues risks getting it wrong no matter what they do, as some feminists deride them for not having women combatants in the game, and some deride them for having women combatants in the game, which might mean that they don’t even pick up the limited gains they hoped to see by attempting to address those issues.

Assuming that anyone even pays attention to their attempts. Sarkeesian has been better at highlighting games that do things reasonably lately, but it is still the case that games get far more attention for doing it wrong than for doing it right.

So, should gaming companies put in the extra effort to allow female characters if their framework doesn’t really support it? From a strict profit and loss standpoint, they probably shouldn’t. As a long-time RPG player, I really do want to see the choice … but I’d understand if they don’t want to, and instead want to play it safe. The video games industry is too tight right now to afford to guess at what might benefit, and female characters don’t seem to be a benefit.