Too Many Masters

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If not for its ball-punching and pointless difficulty*, X-Com Terror From The Deep could have been my favorite game of all time. And that explains why Star Wars sucks now. And shows that loving and worshiping are on a spectrum, but also binary and exclusive. Let me start over.

*If you beat this game, you didn’t play well. You spent weeks and months quicksaving and quickloading the same play over, over, and over again until 1000 1/100 chances all come out 1. Imagine if to read As You Like It, you had to have your balls electrocuted every five minutes. Imagine if you paid good money to have some master carve an ice sculpture, then have them put a tarp over it so you and everyone else can’t see it, then smash it with a hammer, under the tarp. It’s not that TFTD was great art, but so you know what I mean when I say “bad design.” Or “pointless.” I mean aggressively so. I mean an insult.

Bowl Projections.

Because I don’t feel like working.

BCS Championship Game: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Rose Bowl: Oregon State vs. Penn State
Fiesta Bowl: Southern Cal vs. Texas Tech
Orange Bowl: Boston College vs. Cincinnati
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Capital One Bowl: Georgia vs. Michigan State

The Hazards of State Owned Enterprise, an editorial

During the Bailout season many have critiqued the government for reverting to a socialist like method of resolving our current economic woes. Much like many of the socialist systems we must avoid the pitfalls inherent in the economic bailout process. Chief among these perils is becoming the patrons of non-performing loans to State Owned Enterprises (henceforth SOEs).

The conundrum is that political favors may have been promised in exchange for support this election. The electorate, particularly those in the automaking industry may be expecting or even feel entitled to a portion of the 700 Billion in exchange for their support in the recently finished election. Rather than worrying about placating lobbyists and special interests, it is the duty of newly elected government officials to ask whether or not these loans make long term sense. Ideally the long-term benefit of the nation as a whole should be paramount to the failure of domestic companies and resulting unemployment. The loans that we have issued have not been used as intended, sitting in the coffers of companies or have been eaten up by debt assets.

Automakers are not financial institutions. Though they are large major corporations that employ thousands, on could not call them an integral part of the financial sector. They are in part a weather-vane for the economy, but by no means is their survival essential to the preservation of American ownership of real estate. The automakers have a long history of terrible performance. A five year decline in stock price of 86% for Ford, thanks but no thanks. If they are unable to compete in foreign or domestic markets (GM may have the most popular non-state contracted car on the market in China, the Buick, but VW, Citroen, and Fiat are much more commonly seen on the road), that is not the fault and responsibility of the US taxpayer. Strategically they chose poorly in their niche market of large, fuel inefficient cars.

Now that energy sustainability has supposedly become a priority on the presidential docket, how can our president elect justify propping up manufacturers of gas guzzlers? Oil is a limited resource. The technology that the automakers sell is outdated and consumes far too much of this resource. Though automakers have made token efforts to develop alternatives to gasoline, they have in a large part hampered the development of other technologies out of selfishness. The first diesel engine was run on peanut oil, so we have known for more than a century about alternatives, but been restrained by political connections from making the necessary dramatic changes. Not only would bailing out the auto-making industry not make fiscal sense, it does not make environmental sense.

Classical examples of SOEs becoming a drain on the economy are everywhere throughout Asia. The Chaebols of South Korea, which drove the national development of steel, cosmetics and chemicals, and electronics and cell-phones, became a tremendous burden for Korea in the years 1997 and 1998. Japan’s current economic problems, with growth hovering around less than 1% and banks struggling to keep interest rates positive, can be largely attributed to their SOEs, the Zaibatsu. Japan cannot pull out of these industries because of long-standing connections between managers and the government and promises of life-long employment. The United States should not follow down this same path. China, who many see as an economic power-house, quietly passed its own 600 Billion dollar bailout and Consumption stimulus package because of SOEs. China is held captive by non-performing loans to SOEs that the state-owned banks renew year after year. They have no choice but to do so, or else watch their economy implode. If we are “socialist” let’s not fall in to the same trap as other socialists before us. Unlike these countries that seemingly have no choice; we are faced with an important choice.

Shame on you Barney Frank and president Bush for considering placing the United States in to a dilemma which we have seen the unpleasant outcomes of again and again. To newly elected officials I would offer this word of warning, at what cost comes domestic protectionism. I would urge you all to oppose giving handouts that do not make sense. In the short-run, this may benefit the economy and help prop up ailing companies, but it creates an unhealthy system of dependency which it is difficult to extricate one’s self from. What happens when the car companies come crawling back again for another handout?

Definitions of Fun

 

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That link at the end of my last post got me thinking. Wait, no. Trying to manhandle a snot monster 500 times while the fixed camera blocked my view of it, only to finally play really well and succeed, and have the game grade me a “D” and dock points because I had played well in the wrong way. Then barking at my own furniture for 20 minutes over this. THAT got me thinking.  

I blame Japan.

Because come to think of it, a few months ago I went and bought a bunch of classics on Ebay, to replay when I couldn’t sleep. At first I was reminded of what great things designers used to do with limited hardware. Genuinely good storytelling, strategy and fun can all exist in a product accessable to kids, but programmed, scored and scripted by adults. Some things are a “waste of time” only if you consider reading fiction a waste of time. Or playing chess. Both.

Then I got to The Coliseum.

(doesn’t snow muffle itself?)

 

 

See, the time wasting argument isn’t just vulnerable to stupid games with bad stories or lonely boy indulgence or violence as a posture. It’s undermined by Smart Games played to 100% completion by the best gamers. There’s an element of weeding out here.  You have at least two ideas of what “complex” and “challenging” mean. Devil May Cry is the best example of one of them.

The DMC games are famously hard. The controls are awkward and sensitive, the enemies are very strong, and you die very fast. The payoff for feeling like you suck at first is, once you get good at it, it’s really fun. Throwing one guy up in the air, jumping backwards off his flailing body keeping yourself afloat by firing guns downward into him, reversing momentum off a wall, landing a sword combo off a completely different guy before you hit the ground and ending that 2 seconds of your time with a pelvis shattering downward kick because you changed weapons and set yourself on fire while you were at it becomes completely normal. Very rewarding too, because you know if you fuck up even a hair, you’ll be back to an empty life bar and bukkaed by lizards.

Frozen deadly lizard spunk: do not want.

What we have so far is a game. You set your mind to mastering a closed system, bat it like a toy mouse for a while, and then resume your life a little more let off. You know, play.

Then a jack springs out of the design box, and goes right for your inner child’s balls.

This should have warned us, really.  

See …  

The game grades you (S,A,B,C,D) each time you finish a level. So you can win more winnishly or less winnishly, a tradition going back to the flag poles at the end of Mario levels, and a lot like how Bills fans look back on super bowls as how badly we lost them.

“D”

Only, the game rewards you with progress by this score. So if you get lots of C and D’s on levels, your character will be slower to level up. So the game will get harder and you will do even worse. The whole thing really encourages you to nail it. Fair enough. I check the Internet. A high score requires you:  

1) finish a level quickly

2) find all hidden items and rooms

3) take little damage

4) kill all enemies with as many close-range combos as possible

Starting to get the picture? It gets worse. You’re also docked points for going in and out of a room more than once. And docked if you use special items.

So what you’re being asked to do, is explore everywhere but don’t backtrack, get into every fight but don’t waste time, find new powers but never use them. Play slowly and carefully, but fast and efficiently. Figure out every hidden goal, but complete them so fast they’re like a practiced routine.

Or else we make the game harder.

Is this a goddamned arcade? Does it expect me to pay Sony by the minute? Don’t they know making me play over and over and over again like I’m memorizing Deuteronomy while a Rabbi whips my bare naked ass is not a selling point?  

My God … they don’t.

As far as I know, Japan is not populated by angry gay Jews, so I’m left to conclude they thought “mandatory replay” was what we wanted. You know how some games are addictive, how they have a certain quality that makes you want to sink hours into them? Usually for me, that’s because they’re fun. The time sink is a side effect of pleasure. But what if it were the point? What if you wanted to lose those hours yelling at your TV, just to prove you could? What if more than fun, or skill, or creativity, the main thing the game demands is time you’re willing to feed it, to show how much you’re a person who will feed his life to video games?

It’s not just Japanese culture at work here. It’s a division of nerd culture seen at every gaming table. Who’s playing the wargame to win, and who to paint figures? Who’s trying to tell a story about their warlock, and who’s trying to max out all their stats and collect more platinum? Who “wins?” Who’s the best at the game? Someone who has mastered every rule and has won the most points or someone who is having the most fun?

 {SPREADSHEETS}

One thing that’s for sure: the internet and the success of video games has brought this dialogue out from moldy basements. And major media products can take sides.

 

 

What makes you want to play the fun out of something? To take something creative and light and make it into a grind toward perfection? Can’t you eat your jelly beans without taking them in and out of the jar 100 times until they’re stacked from bottom to top by density and left to right by color?

You could go off on a tangent here about Autism, Aspberger’s, the “spectrum,” and how nerd culture is or is not shared self-medication. That’s not interesting to me because I think you could call that “all of life.” If you want to tell me Candice Bushnell is less of an obsessive than Bill Gates or Peter Molinieux, just save the air.  

If Cormac McCarthy and Tom Robbins had a child … and fed it crystal meth …

That said, there is something disturbing about selling a time-suck as a time-suck. You understand how people get into an addiction cycle with crack, gambling, or Civilization III. It feels good. Your brain or body feel more alive. It’s human to lose a sense of balance.

SOMETHING SMART AND A TRANSITION GOES HERE

The devil usually asks for blood or your name or something, but I like the stories where he asks for years. That comes closer to the point. When you’re afraid you can’t use talent, charm, appeal, or skill to fit somewhere in life, there’s always time. Somewhere, someone will take your time.

[Fight Club Groups]

And sorry if any of you play it, but that’s kind of how I see World of Warcraft. And how I see speed run videos and the right end of the Bell Curve on leaderboards. At some point, you stopped showing that you liked to play games and were skilled at them, and started showing how much of your life they’d taken up. 

So do I like Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy and X-Com? Of course. Is gaming a hobby of mine? Am I a nerd? Sure. But like healthy friendship, hobbies should be something free. And when they look like a trap designed to make you Prove Yourself in order to Deserve Them, it’s time to walk away. 

Finishing something, like being The Best or being Worthy of Someone, is a false and stupid goal. 

And there are better Lovecraft homages around. 

 

[IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS]

Who was waiting there

You ever get brought around by a bond villian’s monolouge? Ever been tempted to sign up 100% for the silver jumpsuit and gas mask? Ever want to tun on and murder the care bears, because the crook-nosed baddie has convinced you with his oratory?

More specifically:

Marcia Harden is the shit.

And The Mist is almost on the same level, generally.

The Mist isn’t a monster movie. Or a Lovecraft homage, or a psychological thriller. It takes the best parts of those, and stirs them into a broth. The trail we’re maintaining here is the one cleared by Lord of the Flies and Day of the Dead. This is a movie about what people turn into when the lights go out. This is about the ethics of catastrophe.

It’s sooo easy to screw this up.

Cheap straight horror turns into comedy fast.

Torture horror, take a lesson here. Awful ways to die are scarier when they’re casual.  What’s worse than someone that cares about your suffering is something completely indifferent to it. The flip side of the will to live is, your body will always do its best to not die. This is really, really scary.

I hate to keep comparing everything to Aliens, but it’s hard with this subject matter. What gave those movies a big horror edge is the breeding cycle they came up with. The terror of being taken alive or impregnated underscored a lot of the panic and rage in the human characters. Because you can’t triumph over an enemy like that. You can’t “not give in” or reason with it or take away its satisfaction. It’s just acting on instinct. You are so alone, your torturers don’t even understand you. You are so powerless, you can’t even die.

Fire In The Sky deserves an honorable mention here.

Squiggle hard, die free.

In the later stages of the movie, the tension is just unbelievable. Because if these people could just get away from each other, just spend even one hour apart, in their own safe mental space …

“No Exit” requires a lot of the reader. But it finally comes around and makes the point that people endure a lot, maybe too much, to stay in a humane context. That being regarded in any way by another human being, even hatefully, is necessary to life. We need to be measured by each other, and will often be at our worst together before following any morals alone.*

But “No Exit” really could have used some monsters outside the doors. Some really scary fuckoff monsters that don’t comprehend how much it hurts when they have their way with you. That would have worked much better than the “suggestion” of a “void.”

The Mist brings this option to the table. Forgive that it whiffs on the ending. It’s a unique, thoughtful, and very scary film.

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*See also Ugolino and Ruggieri, Stockholm Syndrome, and my sometimes favorite movie.
**Fucking French