Archive for January, 2019

Thoughts on “The Exiles Trilogy”

January 31, 2019

Continuing my reading of all the Ben Bova fictional novels I own, the next one is “The Exiles Trilogy”, a collection of the entire trilogy of … novels, I guess, although they’re closer to novella length than novel length in my opinion. Anyway, the linking theme of them is a group of geneticists and rocket scientists are exiled to a space station because their research is seen as a threat to the stability of the world, and so they decide to convert the space station into an interstellar craft and leave Earth instead, to the somewhat blessing of the Earth government. The first work details them being exiled and converting the space station, the second work details them arriving at the first planet, and the last work details them finally settling in on the planet they are going to inhabit. As this is a Ben Bova work and he tends towards harder science-fiction than others, there is no faster-than-light drive and so each work focuses on a different generation of people as they take the years and years to get to where they were going.

All three of them are standard Ben Bova works, for good or for ill. The good is that Bova tends to build interesting worlds and situations, but unfortunately here that’s done the best in the first book and is uninteresting in the second book. While the World Government exiling many of its best scientists isn’t particularly credible, Bova does manage to present a world there where instability is avoided through sheer force of order, and there is an explanation given for why they see them as too much of a threat, even though “Not everyone will be able to go!” isn’t a particularly good one for the rocket scientists, who have to be exiled as well to make the plan work. The second work, however, sticks to a mostly standard set-up, and the third work reverts to a society run by and populated only by children, following on from disagreements that caused the adults to kill each other. The former is rather dull as a world, and the latter is somewhat nonsensical given the previous two works and so seems to only exist to create the specific situation that Bova is exploring there.

Unfortunately, the standard flawed character drama still exists, including the moustache-twirling villains and the love triangles. Again, the first work works best, as the head of the World Government is at least a bit sympathetic even as some of the other members are standard villains, and the love triangle, though contrived, makes some sense. The problem here, though, is that it centres on the female character not being sure about wanting to be exiled and having issues with that, which while understandable is something that drags down the plot in a number of ways, especially when she ends up being incredibly cold to the male lead because of it, which makes her a bit unsympathetic, as if she hated being dragged into that so much she could simply take the opportunity given to her to leave. In the second work, the villain at least changes, but it changes into one part of the triangle being insane, despite the efforts to hide that fact. In fact, the efforts to hide that fact hurt it when we find out the truth because it makes things seem far more contrived and pointless. Additionally, the female part of the triangle here comes across as an unsympathetic character because she starts with a Lady Macbeth sort of role: encouraging the other member of the triangle to push the other man out of the leadership despite that being their agreement and saying that she loves him more than the other despite her being arranged to marry him and so promises to marry him instead of the other one if he does so. And then she spends the rest of the work refusing to commit to either of them, and the only interesting thing she does is set a trap to catch the person who killed her father due to the disagreement over whether to stay or move on to another planet. The third work is even worse, as the second part of the triangle is a moustache-twirling, power-mad villain whom the female part of the triangle has no reason to be interested in and is portrayed as not being interested in, and she herself does a number of stupid things either out of a desire for power or out of fear that cause problems for everyone involved, and the work isn’t clear about her motivations in these cases. The love triangle here is pointless and the villain idiotic and incompetent.

Overall, again, typical Ben Bova works, with the typical Bova virtues and flaws. The first work is actually reasonably entertaining, but the last two suffer greatly, as the best parts are the things that were done so much better in the first work and the worst parts are just bad. It’s unlikely I’ll ever read the entire trilogy again, which means that I’m unlikely to read the first work again because it is combined with the other two. Still, it could have been worse, as it was interesting enough and at least the three works combined worked out to about the length of a solid novel, which means that they were short.

Thought Process As I Choose a New Game …

January 30, 2019

So, as already noted I’m going to pick a new game to play. I’m biased towards RPGs, want to actually roleplay in it, and can’t play more than an hour or so at a time. This post is a semi-real-time account of the thought process I’m going through to pick that game. It’s not quite real-time for three reasons:

1) The post is going to come out a few days after I’ve picked the game, so it’s not directly in real-time.

2) My mind never shuts off, so I have been and possibly will be thinking about it while not writing the post.

3) This will be edited to avoid being too repetitive.

But, hopefully, it will reflect my thought process for choosing things like this, while allowing me to work through it at the same time, which I was going to do anyway.

So, the time restriction limits me to PC games where I can pretty much save anywhere. To get a good list of those to look at, I looked at my list of video games and also filtered my GOG games list for RPGs.

As I already said, I tried Wizardry 8, but I screwed up the voices — I accidentally gave Skye/Daisy/Quake a voice that was perfect for Simmons, reminding me of that every time she said something — and didn’t want to redo it, and decided that I really wanted to roleplay in a game anyway.

The best PC game for roleplaying that I can access right now is The Old Republic. Add to that that I’ve been rewatching — or, rather, relistening to — Chuck Sonnenberg’s runs through the game and this seems like a really strong contender. The problem is that I don’t think I could play it for only an hour or so a night and get anywhere. It takes me 3 – 4 hours with the new model to finish one planet, which is about an hour or so per area, but it’s really going to feel like I’m rushing out to do something and then running back to the cantina to get rest XP. So while it’s a possibility I don’t think it’ll work.

I could play Knights of the Old Republic again, but right now I’m watching Agents of SHIELD which encourages me to create a character from that show, and I already did Coulson in it, and so also played it not too long ago. I could play Sith Lords instead, but I had started that one after my KotOR run with May and found myself disliking the thought of doing the early quests and dropped it, which is likely to happen again. Still, starting KotOR with a new character might work.

I could play Bloodlines again, as there’s quite a bit of roleplaying in that game. Unfortunately, there’s also so much combat that playing it for only an hour or so will probably get frustrating at times.

There’s also some of the old Black Isle/Bioware games. Baldur’s Gate is a game that I probably should play, but it annoys me enough that I should probably skip it. The same thing is true, although less so, for the Fallouts. Baldur’s Gate 2 is an option but … I don’t know. There’s always the Icewind Dale games, although the first one is better for roleplaying while the second one has more classes and so has more interesting character creation. I could also try to play Torment, which is probably the best of the lot for roleplaying but is a game that I’ve never actually been able to get into.

I could also try to play Arcanum again. I didn’t mind it the first time, but the searching was a bit like Baldur’s Gate’s, which gets grindy.

There’s also the Gold Box AD&D games, which would potentially have decent roleplaying and are games that I’d like to play and finish. But I think Icewind Dale’s roleplaying is better.

There’s also the Might and Magic games, but I think the roleplaying is a bit light in them if I recall correctly.

There’s also Age of Decadence which is supposed to be strong for roleplaying, but I’m not sure that I want to play something new that I have to learn right now, which also is the case for the Krondor games.

So, I think that Might and Magic is out, because there are games I’d rather play than them. I’ll leave them on my list for when I want to play and finish games (weekends). And my preferring Icewind Dale leaves out the Gold Box games, for now at least. I think I’ll drop Torment, too.

Since Icewind Dale is coming up so often, let’s see if those games will play on my old PC, as Wizardry 8 wouldn’t install requiring me to buy it from GOG to try it.

And it looks like Icewind Dale II will install and run, but Icewind Dale won’t (it acts the same way as Wizardry 8 did). I don’t really want to buy the Enhanced Version anyway and the price is too high. But let me take a risk and try to install it on my laptop to see if that works.

It turns out it does. So I think I can narrow it down to Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2, or KoTOR with an Agents of SHIELD character (I’m leaning towards Simmons). I could create a pretty decent party with either Icewind Dale or Icewind Dale II, but there’s something appealing about roleplaying a game with Simmons as the main character. Although TOR or Sith Lords would probably be better for that.

Of course, taking the time to install Icewind Dale is kinda pointless if I don’t play it. Then again, it’s small and I will probably want to play it again at some point.

Playing as Simmons just seems way too appealing right now, especially since she’d be such a different character than I normally play and it’d be a completely different personality from Revan so that twist would be interesting, and KotOR allows for some interesting roleplaying. So that’s my choice: KotOR as Simmons.

So that’s how I go about making these decisions, which is probably a bit odd and too detailed to make sense to most people.

Thoughts on “The House That Never Dies: Reawakening”

January 29, 2019

Seemingly, “The House That Never Dies: Reawakening” is a sequel to an earlier movie that I haven’t seen, and so I’d have to be prepared to be a little confused when watching it. However, about the only thing that could be in common between the two is the house itself, which is a little weird because that’s not really mentioned in the movie. So if it’s a sequel and if the movies are directly related, then the movie itself doesn’t do all that great a job of highlighting that or tying it into the plot, which is similar to how “The Tag-Along” worked wrt “The Tag-Along 2”: other than bringing a character back and referencing the mountains, there’s not a lot of plot continuity between the two.

Like those movies, this one is, again, an Asian horror film, with all the good and bad that that implies. This one focuses around the story of a doctor whose husband is restoring an old house which is linked to a story in the past about a disgraced and semi-exiled general, his wife, his second wife, a doctor, and difficulties in childbirth. There is a strong jealousy and cheating undercurrent, and this undercurrent starts to manifest between the main character, her husband, and his assistant. The movie flips back and forth between the historical events and the current day issues, with odd, supernatural events happening throughout the modern parts.

This, however, is what most hurts the movie. The historical tale is actually interesting, but we don’t get to focus on it very long before it returns to the modern story. And the modern tale could be interesting even as a straight drama but it doesn’t get the time to properly develop because of the historical flashbacks and the pauses to do creepy things. Ultimately, it seems like both stories would have worked better as Western-style horror than as Asian-style, where the focus would have been more on the characters being supernaturally influenced to essentially become the historical ones rather than simply having parallels between their stories and potentially an implied influence (that doesn’t really seem to be there, as the assistant was never interested in the husband). As it is, the drama is interesting, particularly the historical drama, but the supernatural elements and having to link the two drags it down.

The movie wasn’t terrible, and so killed some time. Like so many of these movies, it’s not a movie that I hated and so could never watch again, but I have no strong desire to watch it again.

An Aspiring Jedi’s Handbook of Virtue

January 28, 2019

The next essay in “Star Wars and Philosophy” is “An Aspiring Jedi’s Handbook of Virtue” by Judith Barad. In it, she compares the Jedi to Plato’s Guardians, and also makes references to his famous cave analogy, placing the Jedi firmly in the Platonic framework. For the most part, the comparisons work, although using Yoda training Luke to balance things is a bit shaky. The Jedi could indeed be Plato’s virtuous warriors, although to what extent they are Platonic or Stoic is an open question.

I’m going to take on her discussions of emotion, however. Plato, the Stoics and the Jedi all want to restrict emotion in ways that we would consider harsh. Barad wants to use Aristotle’s idea of balance to moderate these views a bit, to allow for things like righteous anger or compassion — as an emotion, not as a virtue — to influence our decision-making. In both cases, her overall argument is that these things can work well and are even necessary for us to act virtuously, falling back on the common arguments that we need righteous anger and compassion to motivate us to do good and act virtuously. She says that compassion is why we care about everyone and not just ourselves, and that righteous anger can lead to just action.

In the Star Wars universe, anger, righteous or not, rarely leads to good actions, and rarely does so for long. The issue when it comes to justice is that just actions are actions that are determined not by how anyone feels about them, but instead by what is truly just or not. It’s a rational determination, and neither anger nor compassion facilitates the determination of what is just. A heinous action may make you feel angry, and even justifiably so, but that doesn’t change what the actual just action is. You might feel compassion for someone who has done a wrong, but that doesn’t change what the just response to them is. This is because the just action will always take into account all relevant factors. If the factors that made you feel compassionate towards them are relevant to what the just action is, then the just action will already take them into account. So the determination of the just action should be identical if all of those factors are relevant. It’s only when the factors aren’t relevant that they would differ. It’s the same thing for righteous anger. If the factors enraging you are relevant, dispassionate justice would take them into account. It’s only when they aren’t that the assessments would differ.

And the problem with emotion is indeed made pretty clear in Star Wars: it encourages you to do things that, later, you regret doing. Anakin, in a rage, attacked Padme and gravely injured her because he thought he had been betrayed, when in reality he hadn’t been at all. He also slaughtered the entire Sand People village, which he later at least somewhat regretted. His love for Padme led him to choose Palpatine over Windu, combined with his fear of losing her. If he had paused to consider his actions and gather all the facts, he probably would have chosen something else. Emotions are quicker and easier ways to acting at least somewhat virtuously, but they are also seductive. Once you start accepting them as the judgements of what is right or wrong, then they will constantly seduce you into following their recommendations … even if those recommendations are incorrect. You can’t fix that by trying to balance them, because balance is a dispassionate assessment, and righteous anger and compassion are not dispassionate.

If you’re going to create warriors with the power of life and death over others depending only on their own judgement, you don’t want that judgement clouded, and righteous anger and compassion could your judgement. This doesn’t mean that you don’t show concern about others, but that you don’t let that concern override what you know is right, or encourage you to do what’s wrong.

Manitoba Scotties Qualifiers …

January 28, 2019

So, it turns out that there was some curling on this weekend after all, with a number of qualifiers for the Scotties going on. The most interesting provincial final this weekend, at least to me, was the Manitoba one, mostly because of the story behind it.

Tracy Fleury used to skip a team out of Ontario — she’s from Northern Ontario — but she picked up a team from Manitoba that had been abandoned by their skip and so now curls out of Manitoba (Scotties rules say that you can have one player from out of province on your team). She did well, ending up with the bye to the final in the Manitoba playdowns. Kerri Einarson is the well-known all-skip team, who ended up having to play in the semi-finals but won that handily to get to the final.

Did I mention that the team that Fleury skips is, in fact, Einarson’s former team?

So both teams had to want to win this one, considering that while they had played a few times on the Grand Slam this is one of the first really, really big games, since there’s only one provincial spot and the Scotties is the big event in women’s curling. Sure, Einarson was almost certain to get a wild card spot — a one-game play-in to fill out the last spot — but she had to want to be guaranteed to be there for the entire week and had to want to prove that her move left her with the better team. On the other hand, even if they remained friendly with Einarson — and I have heard nothing to indicate that they haven’t — Fleury’s team was going to want to show that it was a mistake for Einarson to leave them for the all-skip team. So there was a lot of history here to play into the story of the game.

And the way it started only added to it. Fleury had the hammer in the first end because she had made it straight to the final, and was forced to take 1. And then Einarson took five in the second, and it looked like the rout was on.

And then in the next three ends Fleury outscored Einarson 5 – 1 to have it tied at the midpoint of the game, scoring two in the third end, forcing Einarson to 1 in the fourth, and scoring a big three in the fifth.. Suddenly, it was a game again.

However, after the mid-game break things continued to go Fleury’s way. She outscored Einarson 7 – 1 in the next four ends to win the game 13 – 7 in nine ends, including five stolen points (the only stolen points in the entire game). Fleury’s team grabbed the momentum and Einarson’s team couldn’t get it back. As the commentators said, the 5 in 2 was a team effort on Team Fleury’s part with all of them missing shots and making strategy mistakes, and the rest of the game was a similar team effort for Team Einarson, producing an amazing comeback for Team Fleury.

Picking a team to cheer for in this one wasn’t easy for me, because I like both teams. But the better story was the team Einarson left to improve her chances coming up big and getting the spot Einarson craved over her, so I was cheering for Fleury to win. Einarson, however, will get to the wild card game and so might earn her berth that way … and she only managed to get to the finals from there last year. Then again, that was with the team that beat her last night.

Picking Video Games … Again

January 25, 2019

So, coming out of my recent vacation, it was time to figure out what game I was going to play. I originally started replaying Persona 5, since I had two timeslots where I could play a longer game and I figured that I could make good progress in it before the Scotties and finish it then while watching the curling. But then I lost one of those two timeslots and decided that I would rather watch the curling than play a game during it, but would need that time to finish Persona 5. So that was out.

With only one timeslot to play games for a significant time at a stretch — 3 hours or so — most of my console games ended up not being a good fit, as they would generally be too long to play for only 3 hours a week but wouldn’t fit into the roughly an hour at a time timeslots that I have the rest of the week. So that left me with some of my PC games to play, which worked out because I did want to play some of them and finish them.

I decided to play Sunrider Academy, since I had simply let it lapse for the past couple of months, but since I let it lapse because it could drag I decided to only play it on weekends, because then I’d have more guaranteed time and so be able to push through and finish it but it wouldn’t be the only game I was playing. I then decided what game to play for the other three days, and decided that I didn’t really want to do strategy games and decided that I wanted to play an RPG, and Wizardry 8 kept calling to me, so I started playing a game of it creating a party with characters from Agents of SHIELD.

And I quickly stopped playing it, for two reasons:

1) I messed up some of the voices, and didn’t want to have to recreate the characters again, and the fun of Wizardry 8 is having the characters spontaneously talk like their characters would.

2) I decided that I actually wanted to play an RPG where I could roleplay, and Wizardry 8 is not that sort of game.

So, back to the drawing board there. The good thing is that there was a lot of snow and bad weather this week, so my schedule got messed up and I couldn’t really play games a lot anyway, so there I didn’t really lose much. Hopefully I’ll figure this out for next week.

Thoughts on “Voyagers”

January 24, 2019

Continuing with my examination of the Ben Bova works that I own, today I’ll look at “Voyagers”. And in reading this, I’m really starting to detect a pattern with his works: an intelligent and masculine hero, scientifically minded, who ends up in some sort of love triangle involving an attractive young woman, with various hurdles placed in their path by the main villain, stuffed into a plot that involves a scientific and/or environmental concern built around a premise that’s interesting itself and far more interesting than the character drama, but which often gets shunted aside for the inferior character drama.

Here, the main character is Stoner, who detects some kind of alien craft while looking for astronomical data, and this discovery builds into a somewhat interesting examination of the Cold War era politics that would be involved if something like that would actually happen. Eventually, this leads to a mission to meet it, and of course Stoner wants to go along because he’s obsessed with the craft, and he just so happens to have been an astronaut first and so qualified to do so, which is in no way any kind of contrivance. Meanwhile, his sometime assistant, Jo, is completely in love with him, but is also ambitious, and gets blackmailed into spying on him by one of the main villains, a rival professor … and also into sleeping with the professor, which causes a split between them that the book spends a lot of time trying to resolve. The additional member of the love triangle is at least potentially a Soviet scientist who despises the politics of the Cold War and so helps Stoner on a number of occasions, but that never really goes anywhere. His wife is a Soviet agent who uses a Manchurian candidate to disrupt the mission, but is discovered in the end so that the mission goes ahead.

One of the big flaws in the book is the ending. Stoner goes on the mission, finds an alien is suspended animation in it, and then because they don’t have the time to bring it back decides to freeze himself to go along with it until it returns to Earth with its orbit. This is a nonsensical decision. First, there was no need for that; the craft was supposed to come back — Stoner relies on that as an argument — and in his normal lifetime, if I’m recalling correctly, so he would have had some chance to study it anyway, and certainly could have from the data and pictures they took. Second, it also seems pointless, as there isn’t any chance of his interacting with the alien or the aliens that sent it, which would have been a good reason for him to tag along. As it stands, there is no reason for him to do so nor is there anything he could actually do there that would make it worthwhile. Third, he had just reconciled with Jo, and this pretty much ends that relationship, making the relationship even more pointless other than to have someone there to cry over him when he doesn’t return. So the ending is a pointless downer ending pretending to be a somewhat hopeful one. It’s telegraphed well, but still isn’t very satisfying.

Other than that, Bova’s villains remain of the “moustache twirling variety”, with limited motivation for their actions other than jealousy or Cold War politics. This makes them very uninteresting. They also aren’t particularly inventive villains, which means that again we start to wonder why the heroes can’t stop them.

So, as is usual for Bova, the plot and premise is interesting but the execution is weak, especially in how it focuses on the characters without building really interesting characters or character drama. The book was okay and moved well, but overall isn’t particularly interesting and is a book that I would be able to read again but feel no real desire to read again.

Game Association

January 23, 2019

I haven’t talked about a video from Extra Credits for a while, so let me look at a recent one today. The video is about “The Catharsis of Doing”, and talks about how games by their nature get us to actually do things, which then can affect us in different ways than simply watching a movie or reading a book can. This, of course, is at its base rather obvious. Chuck Sonnenberg, for example, talks about how Dragon Age Origins showing you the impacts of your choices as your army heads out for the final battle (in part 10) makes that incredibly epic, pointing out that if you see the dwarves marching that means that you chose to not save the Forge and allow the creation of golems instead, and that the mages being there instead of Templars means that you managed to save the mages. So, it is definitely the case that you doing things does make things different than just passively watching other people do it. But then that raised a question for me: do what extent are you, the player, actually doing it?

Because most of the examples in the video, and even Chuck’s example, rely heavily on the player associating themselves strongly with the character they are playing, so much so that they really see themselves to be the character in the game. If a game is going to make you feel regret for the choice you made, then it’s going to have to be the case that the character is you and not a character you are playing. If you feel frustrated over not being able to get over a hurdle in a game, or feel like a success because you did, then that game and game session is going to have to become part of your life and one of the things that are a crucial part of it. And if you feel good for making the choices that lead to the army that you have, then again it’s going to be you, as the player, who decided that, and not your character.

This way of thinking, I now realize, is rather foreign to me, because I tend to play not as myself but as character. I played 9 or 10 characters in The Old Republic, none of which were me in any way (despite a friend making that assumption when I showed him my first character, which I was trying to play as Corran Horn). Even in the games that are closer to me — for example, where I use my own name — I’m not really me. I might try to make decisions as if I was me, but in general I’m always asking myself what my character would do, not what I would do.

Sure, when I’m just playing a game and focusing on the gameplay, then failing at it feels like my own failure, and that can impact my mood. But even then, if games are supposed to be an escape from the world if I’m feeling frustrated I know very well to avoid playing games that will frustrate me more, and it is far more often the case that frustrations in the real world will make me less able to tolerate frustration in a game than that frustration in a game will add to my frustrations in the real world, because it’s only a game, after all. And it’s hard for me to feel regret in a game because it’s never me doing it, but instead is my character doing it. For example, one of my TOR characters was a Michael Garibaldi ex-pat — who was the brother of my Sith Warrior — who started out in the Empire, got drummed out of the military for drunkenness and then went to the Republic as a Smuggler once had a choice in a quest to side with either an attractive Sith or an attractive Jedi. He didn’t have any real loyalty to either side, and spent his time flirting madly with both of them. When it became clear that the Jedi wasn’t going to offer him a tryst as a reward but that the Sith was, he sided with the Sith and killed the Jedi. Now, this is a pretty despicable thing to do, but I didn’t feel any guilt or regret over doing it, because I didn’t do it. That character might have regretted it later when he reformed, but I didn’t.

For me, in general, when I take an action in a game I’m either doing it as a character in a game, or am doing it as part of the game itself. I might take an evil action just to see what happens if I do — like killing a romanced Carth at the end of Knights of the Old Republic as a Dark Side character — or else to get a mechanical advantage in the game. But I don’t strongly associate myself with characters in a game, whether RPGs or other games. They are not me, and I am not them.

But I’m starting to realize that for many people this is not the case. From the complaints about not being “represented” in games to this video, it seems to me that for many people their escapism isn’t into a story of another world or of something that is not them, but is in fact them themselves. They might be trying to escape from their life into a world where they can have a better life, not a world that isn’t their life. So if that life doesn’t go the way they’d like it to, when they do things in that life that doesn’t align with their view of themselves and their morality, when the character in that life simply can’t be them for whatever reason, then the illusion of that being a separate and better life is shattered and their escapism and any kind of catharsis from that is lost.

The thing is, we know that we can have escapism without having to make that sort of strong association. Books, movies and TV shows, as the video points out, don’t allow for that and yet have always been excellent escapist media. By allowing the player to strongly associate themselves with the characters in the game, games allow for a different type of escapism, but I’m not sure that that sort of escapism is a good thing. It seems to me that the negatives pointed out in the video follow precisely from that sort of association, and yet if we, as they advise, try to remember that it’s just a game then the positive forms of catharsis that they talk about are likely going to be lost as well. Unless you think of your character as you, you will not get the “good” kinds of catharsis from your character doing things or achieving things, but once you do make that association you’ll also get the “bad” kinds of catharsis from your character doing things you wouldn’t or failing to achieve things. You can’t have one without the other.

I think this ties back into the “assumed empathy” that I talked about last week: people perhaps having less and less ability or less and less desire to associate themselves emotionally with people who are not them or not like them. This encourages them to instead of relating to the character make themselves the character and relate to the game and plot and emotional resonances that way. I don’t think this is a good thing, because it risks taking away the fun of the game, the fun of doing things that you wouldn’t do normally and in fact have little interest in doing just for the heck of it. It also seems to me to make the outcomes of the game have far too much importance. For me, my interest in finishing the Persona games had nothing to do with the games or my life in them itself, but instead from the external commitment I had made to do so. So when I couldn’t quite finish Persona or abandoned Persona 2 that was a personal failure not because my character who is me failed, but because I didn’t achieve a personal goal of mine. But I could be consoled in that by considering that in deciding to abandon them I had taken into account all of my desires and goals and capabilities and decided what was more important to me, and could make plans to do it later. That’s because it was all me as me, and the details of the game itself were completely separate from that; the goals of the characters were not important goals for me as me because _I_ wasn’t doing anything in the game itself. Only the characters were.

As I said, associating strongly with the character in a game is a foreign concept to me, so I don’t know if my impression of how those who do it do it is accurate. But if it is that way, then a failure in a game or a perma-death of a character could be devastating to people who feel that their lives are ruined because of it. That can’t be healthy.

Thoughts on “The Killing House”

January 22, 2019

While this movie was, again, relatively cheap, what grabbed me about the movie was its premise as stated on the back cover: three people trapped in a house killing each other over and over again in a competition until one of them manages to win. It also then added that they were running out of food and so might all die anyway unless they manage to come up with some other solution. Which is, I suppose, true, but is massively misleading about what kind of movie it is. For example, it suggests that the movie might well be a Saw-like movie of creative kills, but as this is an Asian horror movie — it’s Chinese, I believe — that’s not what it’s about.

For all of these things, I tend to analyze more how the movie works and issues I have with it or that the movie raises rather than do an actual review, so of course I tend to massively spoil the movie in talking about it. I’m going to do that even more so here, and this one seems relatively recent, so I’m going to continue below a fold here in case someone wants to watch it unspoiled.


Sympathy for the Devils: Free Will

January 21, 2019

So, here it is, Monday again, and I was pondering what to post given that Monday is actually one of my regular posting days (I’ve started adding posts Tuesday and Thursday to take care of the backlog). Sure, curling was on this weekend and so I could have cheated and made that post my Monday post, but that seemed unsatisfying for some reason. But the issue is that I’ve pretty much finished talking about Doctor Who, which is what was filling up the Monday posts before this. Before that, I was posting about the cheap horror movies, but now I post them on Tuesdays, and don’t want to mess with that because I tend to need a quick post for Tuesdays and those posts are pretty quick. I’d post about other movies or the like that I’ve been watching, but I don’t have anything new this week. So, what should I post this week?

And then I remembered my old “Philosophy in Popular Culture” tag. I had decided that I wanted to post more philosophy this year, and had decided that part of that was continuing that series, as it has lagged for quite some time now. Over three years, in fact. Those posts are philosophical and generally relatively quick, so it seemed like a good fit … especially since we got quite a bit of snow over the weekend and so on Sunday, when I was writing this, I was going to have to shovel it and probably wasn’t going to want to do anything else after that.

So, the essay I’m going to look at is from a new book “Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy”. I had bought this a while ago — probably close to the time I stopped writing these posts — and had decided not to read the book but instead to read it essay by essay when I commented on it. That means that I’ve owned it for likely years and haven’t read anything but the first essay. I may reconsider my stance on reading it. But, anyway, I had read this essay originally and meant to talk about it, never did, and am now returning to it.

The essay is “Sympathy for the Devils: Free Will” by Greg Littmann, and it’s an examination of free will in the context of D&D, and especially in light of the Evil and Always Evil aligned races. Unfortunately, this is the most interesting question — can we really say that races that are “Always Evil” really have a choice in being evil — but he addresses that specific question at the beginning and then dovetails into standard hard determinist arguments against free will, which are both less interesting and more problematic. So I’ll leave the specific problem of “Always Evil” races to the end, and talk about his other points first.

After using the thought experiment of a cleric who slides down a trap and collides with the rogue and having the rogue determine that the cleric had taken an “evil” action in attacking their fellow party member, attempting to show that such blame was unfair (in an attempt to get us to see that calling the evil races evil for what they also have no choice over), Littmann immediately segues into an argument that we are all, in fact, physically determined and so have no choice either. The immediate problem here is that saying that eliminates that entire thought experiment, as we should consider the cleric to have acted just as wrongly by just sliding into the rogue due to the laws of physics as by making an actual decision to attack the rogue. So the rogue’s actions, by that, shouldn’t been seen as unfair and so, by extension, neither should the actions of the party in attacking evil creatures. This, then, should cause us to doubt whether we should have sympathy for the devils at all; perhaps the most reasonable action is simply to treat any action that harms others except as direct retribution or attempt to prevent hard as evil and react accordingly, even the thought experiment with the cleric. More philosophically, we can note that the difference between the cleric falling and the cleric attacking is a fact about the internal state of the cleric, specifically about intentions. If intentions and determinism are not compatible, then his thought experiment doesn’t work under the deterministic view that he purports to hold.

Which leads to where he goes next, which is to talk about compatiblism. He invents another thought experiment to attack them: imagine that a succubus has “seduced” the fighter and made him attack the party, and the party, once he is freed, decides to execute the fighter in response because the fighter attacked the party. Using the definition of compatiblism that says that it is about acting on your desires, he says that holding the fighter responsible seems unfair, but since all desires are equally determined we are all in that situation all the time, so it isn’t fair to hold us responsible either. The problem is that, again, he bases this on an idea that forces us to distinguish between the internal motivations of the person, and even worse is one that compatiblists — the group he is going after — have already taken into account. Most compatiblists who deal with decision-making argue that a free choice is one that is made from a person’s decision-making capacity when that capacity is functioning properly. If the succubus is exerting exceptional influence over the fighter’s mind, then the fighter’s decision-making capacities are either not involved in the decision or are not functioning properly. Thus, he shouldn’t be held accountable for attacking the party. But if he had decided to attack them based on fully functioning capacities, then he should be held responsible for his actions. Littmann’s example relies on us having this distinction in mind, applying what we think we should do for what we consider “free” decisions to the case that we don’t think is “free”, pointing out how unfair that would be, and then trying to apply that back to the “free” choice, arguing that the “free” choice is no more free than that one. But we could just as easily decide that we were wrong to think that in the case that was not “free” it would be unfair to “punish” them. Littmann’s gives no reason for us to think that that solution is any less reasonable than the one he advocates.

This only gets worse when he makes the same sort of argument that Jerry Coyne does about the consequences of his arguments: we cannot justify retribution, but instead can only justify causing suffering on the basis of rehabilitation or preventing others from causing suffering. Putting aside that changing our thoughts on the matter requires our internal thought producing systems to not be deterministic and so be “free” which is what he had to deny to make his other arguments work, the question we can ask here is: why not? Is there any meaningful concept of evil without people being able to have meaningful intentions, for good or evil? If we can’t claim that the evil races are evil because they aren’t free, then how would it be in any way evil to kill them for the harms they cause or, in fact, for any reason we want? Why should we think that we are only “allowed” to cause suffering if it will prevent suffering? Sure, that was how we defined good and evil before, but that, as Littmann argues, is determined by and embroiled in our idea that the choices are free and that intentions matter. If our choices aren’t free and intentions don’t matter, then what we do and why we do it don’t matter either. So why stick with the outdated idea of morality that Littmann rejects or, rather, why should we reject the things he rejects and accept the things that he wants to accept?

I’ll skip the discussion of how things being random don’t save free will, but will now backtrack a bit and talk about his idea that, following on from Einstein, the future is fixed and so we can’t have any kind of meaningful free will. Compatiblists who tie it to decision-making processes, of course, don’t have an issue here, but even without that this isn’t as clear as Littmann thinks it is. I like to use this thought experiment: imagine that I have a time machine, and I go into the future, observe the outcome of your free choice, and then return. Even if that was by that necessitated to happen, would that automatically make it not a free choice? Well, no, it would seem that by definition it would still be a free choice, because my simply coming to know what that choice was going to be had no causal impact on your decision-making process. Even under determinism, there is no way that my coming to know that could causally impact that process, and so it can’t impact that process and that choice one way or the other. And this would seem to hold to free choices as well; there is no causal mechanism that could impact that. You could reply that my thought experiment isn’t possible if we have free will as the future could never be determined beforehand, but this gets into complicated ideas about time travel that are too long to get into here. Suffice it to say, his argument isn’t as clear as he thinks it is.

It doesn’t help that he himself provides a counter-example to his own argument: that of randomness. He implies that randomness is still randomness under such a system, and that there’d still merely be a fact about what that random process spit out. Well, then why wouldn’t the same thing be true of free choices: the choices are free, but there’s a fact of the matter about what free choice was made. So that argument doesn’t really do for him what he hopes it will.

So let’s return to the more interesting example: what do we do about creatures who by their nature are evil and so don’t really get to choose whether to act evil or not? Well, there are two basic way to look at them. First, we can see them as having evil desires by nature that predisposes them to act evil. As long as it is possible for them to act on other desires and so not act evil, then we can rightly punish them for acting evil. However, if they are literally incapable of acting on any other desires or not in an evil fashion, then they seem more like a force of nature than like a person, and so we might be able to justify killing them simply on the basis that it is not possible for them to do otherwise and we want them to stop harming other people. So the stronger Littmann’s case is that they cannot freely choose to do evil, the more we should be inclined to say that we should take dramatic steps to prevent them from committing evil, which would then justify the “Detect and kill” paladin: anything that comes up as “Likely to harm others” — the only meaningful notion of “Evil” that Littmann allows — should just be killed out of hand to prevent that. As they are not free, there are no other options. But don’t blame us for it: we aren’t free either.

Arguments against free will tend to rely on free will presumptions to make their case, and Littmann’s essay is no exception to that. And one of the main issues with hard determinism that is responsible for the existence and possibility of compatiblism is that their conclusions, if they hold strictly to them, seem so counter-intuitive that they simply cannot be true. But if they weaken their conclusions, then they seem like compatiblists who simply don’t want to admit it, which is pretty much true of Coyne much of the time. Free will, then, seems far more complicated than most hard determinists will allow.