Election 2016: Double Standards on Parade

I remember when I was a boy of about ten years. Multiple women at least thrice my age called me “cute” or “handsome.” Two women kissed me without my consent, with one going so far as to grab me and force me towards her. My parents even claimed that one of my female teachers had “a crush” on me. And I was a very shy child — I have no idea how women would see fit to treat me if I was more outgoing. Nor, for that matter, do I have any idea how people would react if I was a ten-year-old girl and a man I barely knew forcefully pulled me towards him and kissed me.

Women discuss groping men without their consent all the the time. Sometimes, they even go through with it, possibly because they realize how unlikely it is that they’ll face repercussions. A woman molested a sports star in public, and no one seemed to care.

Now it’s been revealed that Donald Trump has been acting in much the same way those women have, and he’s facing serious scrutiny. I’d be lying if I said I was shocked.

A Primer on Pills


So there’s this new documentary out called The Red Pill. It’s from the point of view of a feminist who starts researching the men’s rights movement, and gradually starts to realize the movement may be in the right. Thus the film’s title: She “took the red pill,” or at least she did from the point of view of a men’s rights advocate.

The phrases “red pill” and “blue pill” have seen an upswing in use as of late, and they’re often associated with certain social and political movements. But given the potential of the expression, it shouldn’t be tied down to any one specific mindset.

The terminology of red and blue pills originates from the hit 1999 cyberpunk sci-fi movie The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowski… Well, let’s just call them the Wachowskis. It may seem odd for a motion picture to serve as inspiration for an idiom, but it’s hardly unheard of: You may have heard that someone who abandoned their moral principles in their pursuit of wealth or prestige has “gone to the dark side of the Force.”

On the off chance you haven’t seen The Matrix, here’s a recap of the relevant details with spoilers minimized as best I could. Keanu Reeves stars as office drone Thomas Anderson, though he prefers to use his hacker moniker “Neo.” Neo has been getting subconscious urges to seek a mysterious figure known as Morpheus. When the two finally meet, Morpheus compares Neo to Alice on the brink of the rabbit hole, and offers to show him “the truth” about something known as the Matrix. He presents Neo with two pills, one red and one blue, and offers him a choice:

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

It wouldn’t be much of a movie if Neo took the blue pill. After ingesting the red pill, Neo is shown the shocking, devastating truth about his entire life: It was a complete lie.

It was a computer simulation the whole time, to keep his mind occupied and unable to see the world for what it really is. Nearly everyone he knew was also trapped in the Matrix, created by sentient machines to harvest humans’ body electricity. (So why, you ask, do the machines bother farming humans and setting up this simulated reality to use their body electricity for energy, instead of just burning whatever they’re feeding them for fuel directly? Well, that will have to be a story for a different time.)

Morpheus introduces Neo to others on his team, most of them former Matrix inhabitants who have presumably taken the red pill themselves. They live a rather miserable life, manning a futuristic hovercraft and roaming a wasteland devastated by the war between man and machine that machine won. Their mission is to “unplug” more people from the Matrix and give them the red pill, so they too will be awakened and realize the truth about the world. But Morpheus explains this will not be easy:

The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

It would seem that not everyone would be open to the idea of leaving the reality to which they have grown accustomed and start exploring the real world. In fact, not all those who have already been unplugged are satisfied with their choice. One of Neo’s shipmates confides in him that he wishes he took the blue pill. He’s aware that he would be living a lie if that were the case, but at least he wouldn’t be stuck in a vast dystopia eating food of dubious origin on a tiny ship. “Ignorance is bliss,” he moans as he savors a bite of juicy steak that by his own admission is really nothing more than a few lines of code.

Such is the choice to be made by the inhabitants of the Matrix. Do they take the red pill and learn the bitter reality of the world around them? Or do they take the blue pill, and remain in a comfortable dream world, avoiding unpleasant truths at the cost of their own freedom?

That dilemma is central to the expressions regarding red and blue pills. When you are offered the chance to see the world for what it really is, do you accept, and risk facing unpalatable realities, but gain enlightenment and the ability to improve the world? Or do you refuse, and continue to live a life that is fake but comforting, being part of the problem as you allow the state of the real world to stagnate?

It is rather obvious that this allegory feels relevant to those who believe the common consensus about society does not reflect the actual state of it. It’s especially useful when the speaker believes that people believe falsehoods about their reality because they have been brainwashed by a malevolent, powerful force, and the truth is difficult to take in and handle.

Therefore, to “take the red pill” is to accept the knowledge of how the world really is and how it functions. To “take the blue pill” is to be offered a chance at the truth, but to refuse, as they are so helplessly lost in lies that they refuse to consider they have been lied to, or they prefer a comforting lie to an inconvenient truth.

Here are some ways the terminology of pills can be used:

“James has suddenly started questioning the effectiveness of the 12-step program the court ordered him into. He must have taken the red pill.”

“Of course it’s in the Rothschilds’ best interests that everyone keep taking the blue pill.”

“I didn’t really consider the possibility that Jews control the banks and the media until I took the red pill.”

“Don’t send your kids to public school — they’ll be force-fed the blue pill every day they’re there.”

“A redpilled group on campus is challenging the gender studies majors who claim that gender is just a social construct.”

“Bonnie still refuses to read about how the world is really run by a cabal of humanoid lizards. She really must have swallowed that blue pill hard.”

The speakers in each of these situations may or may not be correct in terms of these statements, but they are using the expression of red and blue pills correctly in the context of their beliefs.

The same cannot be said of some I’ve seen using these sayings. The most glaring error is attempting to adopt the action of taking the blue pill as a badge of pride: “I’m glad I took the blue pill.” This makes no sense, just as you would not say, “Well, I guess ‘not being the sharpest knife in the drawer’ must be a good thing!” If someone accuses you of taking the blue pill, the proper counterargument is that the pill allegory does not apply to the topic at hand, or that it is in fact they who have taken the blue pill.

So there you have it. The allegory of pills can be useful when discussing matters of censorship and unpleasant truths. Just don’t assign the idiom to any specific movement.

Also, if you really haven’t seen The Matrix, you should. But do yourself a favor and take the blue pill — pretend the sequels don’t exist.

Subtleties of the NAP

Conservative vlogger Paul Joseph Watson recently released a hit piece on Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for President. Many of his criticisms are perfectly valid, but he starts off his rant by accusing Johnson of endorsing measures that violate the “non-aggression principle.”

The non-aggression principle, or NAP, is an axiom commonly used in libertarian circles, and it essentially amounts to “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” It is their method of determining the ideal legality of any action. Any action that does not impinge upon the rights or well-being of others should be legal; any action that does — whether committed by civilian or government entity — should be illegal. The government should have the power to violate the NAP only to punish individuals who have themselves violated the NAP.

So Watson asserts that Johnson’s policy proposals fly in the face of the libertarians’ dearly beloved NAP. For examples, he lists his support of mandatory vaccinations for children and a carbon tax to discourage excessive production of greenhouse gases. And indeed, both of these concepts seem to run counter to the NAP and libertarian values in general, at least at first glance. But remember the government power that is allowed them even with the libertarian mindset: The power to inflict punitive damages upon its citizens if said citizens’ behavior is detrimental to others.

Should it be within a person’s rights to refuse to have their children vaccinated against infectious disease? Their children themselves may beg to differ when they are suffering from an easily preventable strain of whooping cough. And the lives of other children are jeopardized as well, given their community’s now-weakened herd immunity. The metaphorical nose doesn’t seem especially safe from the swinging fist.

Then there is the issue of the government’s taxation on emission of greenhouse gases, intended to function as negative reinforcement. The excessive production of such substances may not seem very criminal, but then again we’ve been conditioned to think of crime (theft, murder, fraud, assault, and the like) as something that has immediately perceptible consequences. Indeed, excessive damage to the environment is probably something that libertarians should consider controlling (an issue about which I myself made an inquiry once to Gov. Johnson, and later received a response that left something to be desired).

And it’s true that an individual’s impact might be infinitesimal on a grand scale. But perhaps I could produce counterfeit money so realistic that its recipient could spend it without any problems, and so on ad infinitum. It doesn’t seem that any noses are being broken by my fist, so does that mean my actions should be legal?

Of course not. My actions may not directly impact any one individual, but they still lead to overall inflation, as well as my profit despite nonexistent contributions to society. I, like antivaxxers and polluters, would fail the “What If Everybody Did It” test, something that should probably be administered when determining whether the non-aggression principle is being honored.

Obviously, this does not mean that the solutions proposed by Gov. Johnson are practical or feasible, or even the best means to solve what he believes to be problems. But the underlying concept of using governmental control to solve these problems may not necessarily violate the NAP.

The NAP has some intricacies that are not readily apparent, especially when it comes to violations that are not readily apparent. Mr. Watson can be forgiven for believing that Gary Johnson’s proposals make him a poor example of a libertarian, but it’s a good idea to make a thorough assessment of any action before judging measures to control that action.

Five Awful Movie Taglines

5. Die Hard (1988)

Uhh… No, it isn’t. When John McClane first realizes the plaza building is under attack, one of his first courses of action is to call for help, so the odds won’t be against him. After all, he may want to rescue the hostages and have the training of an NYPD officer, but he’s only human — which is kind of the point.

After audiences had their fill of Stallones and Schwarzeneggers, Bruce Willis breathed new life into the action hero archetype with John McClane. McClane would never refer to crime as a disease with himself as the cure. He would never wax poetic about crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him, and hearing the lamentations of their women.

So he was clearly a different kind of action hero, and Die Hard was a different kind of action movie — which would seem like its main selling point. But no, the tagline makes McClane out to be no different than the larger-than-life meatcakes before him. How often do you see a tagline that actively negates what the movie has to offer?

4. Psycho (1998)

The necessity of Gus Van Sant’s practically shot-for-shot Psycho remake was and always will be questionable at best. It certainly doesn’t help that its tagline depends upon audiences’ foreknowledge of the original film to work, and implies that little will be different this time around. How exactly does one expect to sell tickets by saying, in effect, “You’ve already seen this before”?

3. Yogi Bear (2010)

Come to think of it, I don’t really feel like dwelling too much on this one. All I’ll say about it is that the poster doesn’t help matters. Moving on.

2. Clockstoppers (2002)

On its surface, the tagline “What if you had the power to stop time?” is merely boringly simplistic. But given that this movie is targeted at teens and preteens, it really becomes a problem.

It insults the intelligence of the one group of people who really don’t want their intelligence insulted, and would prefer to be treated as reasonably mature whenever possible. “What if you had the power to stop time?” is so lacking in nuance that it sounds more fitting as a premise to a Saturday morning cartoon rather than a movie that adolescents wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen watching. It also sounds like the prompt for a school writing assignment.

On the plus side, however, this tagline can inspire you to create taglines of your own that follow the same format. “What if you could enter someone else’s dreams?” “What if your daughter was possessed by the Devil?” “What if your family started to draw you into organized crime?” “What if the ghost of your father visits you and claims he was murdered by your uncle so he could be crowned King instead?” Have fun!

1. Contact (1997)

Let’s get this out of the way first. I liked Contact. Yes, even the ending. But this tagline… It’s a matryoshka doll of terribleness. Where to start?

First, there’s the overall structure. A tagline consisting of multiple paragraphs is not unheard of, so long as there is an overarching focus. Nothing of that sort in Contact‘s horrifically disjointed tagline: It meanders listlessly from one possible point of interest to another. It’s as if the marketers resorted to throwing random bits of what could pass as a tagline on the poster to see if anything would stick.

Furthermore, bombastic claims about the film’s epic scope are far too vague to leave any impression. Messages from deep space and journeys to the heart of the universe could be featured in anything from a space opera to a gory extraterrestrial monster movie.

And as for who will be the first to go, why should anyone care if they’re not yet familiar with the plot? The question is of little importance, as they haven’t been introduced to any of the characters and see no reason to root for any of them in particular. And why is this such a point of contention anyway, as potential viewers are unfamiliar with the context of the issue and don’t understand why everyone who wants to go can all go at once?

For a story about a woman overcoming the odds to explore different worlds, communication with extraterrestrial civilizations, and humankind’s place in the universe and potential to better itself through science, the tagline causes it to come off as boring.

Distributed Social Networks (And Other Means of Decentralization)

AsteriskIt’s an era of uncertainty for the Internet. While the technology behind it improves, the laws surrounding it are poised to suck out its lifeblood. SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, CISA, the TPP: The powers that be seem intent on subjecting the public to a nonstop barrage of threats against online freedom and privacy until we’re too exhausted to fight back.

There is, however, one proposed means of ensuring online communications remain uncensored and private (or as private as the content creator intends): Decentralization. Rather than having all Internet traffic managed by ISPs, which are hardly dependable as guardians of the First and Fourth Amendments, every Internet device is directly interconnected to form a “meshnet.” Encrypted content makes its way around the globe by jumping from node to node.

Needless to say, of course, the logistics of this proposal mean it will take some time to come to fruition. There needs to be a number of people, living in the right places, who are willing to invest their time and money into making a meshnet a reality. There have been a number of promising-looking plans mapped out, such as Hyperboria and MaidSafe, but few are counting on their becoming a reasonable replacement for ISPs any time soon.

However, there’s one thing everyone, even the not particularly computer literate, can do in the meantime to stymie the forces that aim to restrict what they can speak about and search their digital papers and effects. They can join what is known as a distributed social network.

Most social networks have a few things in common. First, all the content that is shared within the network is routed though a choke point: The network’s servers. Second, they are for-profit companies that rely on ad revenue.

Therefore, it is in the best interests of the social networks to trawl through the content that is posted by its users, in order to tailor their ads to them… Or sell the information to third parties. Furthermore, as they are businesses who have brands to protect, they may succumb to demands to censor content — from customers complaining about “offensive” content, from other corporate entities worried about content that threatens their own business (such as negative reviews of their products), and from governments looking to suppress information. Finally, all that content collected onto a single set of servers makes it a ripe target for governments out to snoop on their citizens.

A distributed social network is different in those key aspects. It is not owned, furnished, and maintained by a single corporation. Anyone can set up an account on their own server, or join a preexisting host. The accounts can communicate with others on different hosts, just as users of two different email providers can email each other. Most of these hosts are funded by their users’ donations.

The user can choose from a wide variety of such hosts, or create their own. This competition means that the user can select a host that has a reputation they find agreeable, in terms of their policy on privacy and what content is allowed. One that relies on donations rather than ad revenue will mean it has little impetus to collect users’ personal information. The user can share any content, so long as it’s not illegal. (And if their host does censor anything, the user can simply move to a different one.)

Right now, the most prominent distributed social network is Diaspora*. You can read more about it here, and find your “pod” here. And yes, many Diaspora pods offer you the option to post content simultaneously to other places such as Facebook, if you’d prefer to wean yourself off them rather than going cold turkey.

Join and tell your friends. Or just tell your friends, if you yourself aren’t interested — you might be surprised at who else is. And, of course, you can share with me here (or here).

One small step at a time, we can pull ourselves apart from the pillars that comprise the present Internet, and form the Internet as it was meant to be.

“I’ll Be Progressive on Your Behalf”: Silencing Diverse Voices for Their Own Good

I suppose there’s something of a silver lining in this news item from San Francisco.

It used to be that whenever I was asked why I held “Social Justice Warriors” in such disdain, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’d probably start out with their consideration of their own feelings before the facts, or their unending quest to censor speech they consider offensive, or their tactic of handling dissenting opinions by demanding they be disallowed rather than engaging in honest debate.

If only there was a single story out there that succinctly illustrated the flaws in SJW logic because it was so utterly ludicrous, I might have thought. Well, it seems that wish has now been granted:

The principal of Everett Middle School in San Francisco tells KTVU that the results of the school election have been publicly announced.

The results had been withheld immediately after the election because the principal felt that the winners weren’t diverse enough.

We’ve learned that the majority of the winners were white, despite the fact that the student body is 80% students of color.

The incident happened at Everett Middle School in San Francisco’s Mission District. The voting was held Oct. 10, but the principal sent an email to parents on Oct. 14 saying the results would not be released because the candidates that were elected as a whole do not represents the diversity that exists at the school.

The email went on to say they were thinking of ways to value the students who won, while increasing the diversity of the group.

Long story short: A diverse student body was allowed to vote for which classmates to represent them in a democratic election. The students democratically elected candidates, most of whom just happened to be white. The school’s principal halted the election process, because the elected candidates do not “represent the student body” due to their lack of racial diversity.

They don’t “represent the student body”? They were democratically elected by the student body. How much more proof do you need that they represent the students?

The principal says she wants “to make sure all voices are heard from all backgrounds.” THEY JUST WERE.

A common SJW tactic (that has been repeatedly used against yours truly) is to conflate criticism of their talking points with prejudice against the groups they are [claiming to be] helping. Do you support the right of people to write and publish hate speech? Then you must agree with said hate speech. Are you against programs and institutions created with the intention of providing assistance disenfranchised groups (regardless of their actual results)? Then you must be prejudiced against those people.

But this principal seems to have finally tipped the hand of the social justice movement. She, like so many SJWs, considers diversity for its own sake of higher importance than democracy. She wants to force her students’ government to be as diverse as the overall student body, over the wishes of those very students.

In other words: In the interests of giving minority students a voice, she is silencing the voices of those minority students.

And yes, the principal in question is white. That doesn’t necessarily make her actions any more or less wrong. But I suppose it does make them more ironic.

The most laugh-or-cry moment in this news story is her describing her actions as a “learning experience.” An experience of learning what? That decisions made via democratic elections can be altered by another governing power, and this is not to be questioned? Or that minorities are so ignorant they can’t be trusted to vote in their own interests?

I know enough about the SJW mindset that I can probably guess the principle’s rationale. The minority students must have been brainwashed or gaslighted (gaslit?) into believing that the white students were the best choices to represent them. They must have internalized the prejudice against them to believe that it should be white students on the student council… Because the factor of race trumps all others when considering a leader. (That last sentiment may not have entered her thought process to the point that she was conscious of it, but it’s a concept that is heavily implied in the SJW philosophy. Especially where arguments for affirmative action are concerned.)

There’s a panel from Plebcomics that’s strikingly accurate in its depiction of the Social Justice Warrior’s line of thinking:

"You poor, ignorant, stupid fool who has internalized white supremacy and racism! Don’t worry, I’ll fight the good fight for you, since you are obviously too brainwashed to know better! I’ll be offended on your behalf!"

In light of this latest news, however, they seem to be stepping up their game in claiming to speak for minorities in a way that silences their own voices.

They’re being progressive on their behalf.

Five Years of MLP:FiM

Five years ago, if someone from the present met me (having used a time travel spell) and informed me that I would be a fan of the latest incarnation of My Little Pony, I would be rather incredulous. Not about watching something whose target demographic I was clearly outside, but about watching something whose express purpose was to sell merchandise. Such entertainment never sat well with me, both due their ethical standing and the quality of their actual entertainment.

But as of today, I see no shame in calling myself a brony. Part of it’s due to my changing political views regarding capitalism. But it’s mostly due to MLP:FiM proving itself to work despite the constraints of a demanding executive board, and having an appeal all its own (as I’ve discussed before). Had the show been broadcast on IFC with none of their characters appearing on toys or tiny backpacks, it would probably draw in subscribers to Adbusters.

The only moments when MLP:FiM irritates a little is when it can’t help to remind the viewer of why it exists, usually in the form of plot contrivances wherein the main characters all change their physical appearance: Different color schemes, pretty butterfly-like creatures, or even sparkly crystalline versions of themselves. Especially problematic are the instances where knowledge of where the show’s priorities lie leads to the predictability of major plot revelations. (Does the mysterious chest with magical keys contain something surprisingly drab and ordinary, à la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Or will it be something bright and shiny, whose miniature physical simulacrum will stand out in an aisle at Target?)

After having seen the Big Special Episode whose airdate on the show’s fifth anniversary was presumably deliberate, the cynical part of my brain wants desperately to remind the rest of it that its major reveal was probably due to the demands of the merchandising department. But as it has been for the past several years, I can’t help but set such concerns aside and enjoy the show for what it is.

Many of those outside of the fandom find bronies odd, if not outright depraved, and given some of the show’s fan-made content, it’s hard to blame them. But given what the overwhelming majority of bronies are like and what they make, I will still readily count myself among their ranks. I’m not ashamed to be part of a community whose members can take inspiration from this and create something like this. For all its occasional, shall we say, eccentricities, the bronies are not something to be feared or even underestimated (in terms of both their artistic talents and philanthropy).

Even so, I suppose I’m not very hardcore a brony. I have yet to attend any conventions. I have purchased no merchandise save for the comic books, a DVD, and a hat. (Perhaps some traces of hippie reside in me still.) And I’ve only drawn one piece of fan art (which — SPOILER WARNING — the Big Special Episode has officially rendered non-canonical). But if anyone asks me point blank if I’m a brony, I’d certainly say yes.

And if someone asked me “Who is best pony?”, as someone already had when they saw me in the hat, I’d just as certainly reply, “Twilight Sparkle.”

Why Gamers Watch Gamers

So it would seem that Jimmy Kimmel has ruffled some feathers with his jabs at YouTube’s new service for video game streams:

And indeed, it would seem that many gamers can’t take a joke and their response has been childish at best (though it can be assumed a solid chunk of those replies were from actual children).

But one can’t help but empathize with the gamers a bit. The entertainment they enjoy has from its inception been regarded as somehow inferior to other media, lacking some sort of quality that earns it status as true art. And gamers themselves are not held in very high esteem in contrast to those with more traditionally revered hobbies. Perhaps it’s only to be expected that when Kimmel joins those piling on them, they’re not in the mood to take a joke.

Kimmel dismisses the comparison of video game streaming to spectator sports by saying it “isn’t like watching people play football, it’s like watching people play fantasy football.” But are spectator sports themselves as intrinsically fulfilling as some examples of seeing others play video games?

To watch another person play a video game is to see them experience entertainment and have their skills tested simultaneously. Even watching another person view entertainment can be entertaining in of itself, for example, seeing audiences react to a certain scene in The Empire Strikes Back for the first time:

And seeing others performing feats of skill can always be enthralling, from showcases of athletic prowess to acts as simple as food preparation:

Surely, many would deem it worth their time to watch others show their skills at video games as well?

But there’s a glaring difference between spectator sports and spectator “e-sports.” There are only several sports that are watched by wide audiences. Their athletes are restricted by the rules of the game, and there is no backstory to the game besides the backgrounds of the teams and players. All the action is constrained by those rules, and there will be no twists in the narrative, or at least none that extend beyond those that are possible given the game’s constraints.

Yes, you can make this stuff up.

However, there are thousands of video games, most of which strive to create both their own unique set of rules and a dramatic narrative.

So while people can watch a few seasons of football and see nearly all of the passes and plays possible given the game’s rule set, it would be practically impossible for them to watch other people choose all the possible means of playing through a highly complex computer role-playing game, let alone play through them themselves. Many developers pride themselves on constructing games so exhaustively crafted they will respond logically to whatever input the player gives them. Many games are so intricately designed that it’s impossible for one person to experience everything the writers, programmers, and voice actors have prepared for them. Why not provide a platform to show gamers the routes they have not taken themselves, and what would have happened to them if they had? Otherwise, the developers’ efforts would have been for naught.

And as it was with The Empire Strikes Back, it’s entertaining to see others react to plot developments in games as well. Who wouldn’t be interested in how others reacted to the big twist in Knights of the Old Republic (perhaps the greatest Star Wars game yet released)?

So perhaps there really is an appeal to watching others play video games that Kimmel has not considered. If it’s socially acceptable to spend a solid portion of one’s waking hours watching other people play one game, it should be just as fine to watch people other types of games as well.

Don’t knock it till you try it.

Sharing the Crazy in a Box With a Side Order of Fries: The appeal of Freeman’s Mind

The original Half-Life, released over fifteen years ago, was a milestone for first-person shooters on the level of Doom. When it first came out, many predicted it would set the standard for shooters to come and its features would be copied by countless other games, and history proved them all right. Concepts such as a narrative that stayed with the point of view of the playing character (not even an opening cutscene) is now a staple of the genre today.

Of course, another way the game proved innovative was the character it assigned to its protagonist, Gordon Freeman — or lack thereof. The player only knows what he looks like from the box cover art, as he’s never seen in the game itself due to the first-person perspective (and odd absence of reflective materials). Information about his professional background could be inferred from a letter from his then-future employer regarding his new position, shown in the manual. And in the opening of the game itself, there is some superimposed text about him, though that focuses on such data as his education, job title, security clearance, the ominous-sounding “Disaster Response Priority”… All minutia within the realm of some bureaucrat. (Or, perhaps, some sort of outside observer? But that’s another story.) As opposed to, say, Doom‘s space marine, who as the manual notes “assaulted a superior officer for ordering his soldiers to fire upon civilians,” no background information provided for Gordon sheds any light on his morals, actual personality, or unspoken goals outside of his career.

This, of course, allowed gamers to have their own ideas for who Gordon really is, what he makes of the mess and the violence that he in a sense started himself, and where he hopes to be at the end of the ordeal. Was Gordon a classic hero, who immediately takes the initiative to rescue his coworkers and set things right by any means necessary? Or is he merely a common working stiff who just wants to live another day and escape the situations into which he is thrust?

The player was free to think of Gordon in any way they saw fit. However, it seems unlikely that any of them had a concept of him that was anything similar to how he is as portrayed on Ross Scott’s web series Freeman’s Mind.

Freeman’s Mind is a series of videos showing a playthrough of Half-Life, complete with a narration purportedly comprising Gordon’s inner thoughts. According to this inner monologue, Gordon is still the Gordon as presented by the game: A young theoretical physicist with a doctorate from MIT, now working at the “Anomalous Materials” department of a sprawling government research facility in the New Mexico desert. After being in the middle of an experiment gone horribly wrong, he must now must face off against extradimensional aliens and soldiers assigned to purge the facility of any witnesses.

But as for his character and personal life, the narration goes into further detail: Gordon’s pastimes include recreational use of prescription opiates and hitting on unwilling coworkers. After the ill-fated experiment, he never once considers the fate of the other personnel or the outside world with the aliens teleporting in, instead focusing on his own well-being (something he clearly holds in very high regard) throughout. After discovering that the hostile military forces know him by name, his plans shift to hijacking a ride to Massachusetts, grabbing a stash of gold he’d buried in case he was caught embezzling, and making his way to India. Meanwhile, he still makes his way around the facility, as one is forced to do by the game, although he sometimes gets distracted by the occasional supply of tranquilizers or morphine.

This version of Gordon is different than a usual gamer’s conception of him primarily because he’s not aware that he’s in a video game, and therefore does not take cues as a gamer would. He doesn’t pick up a highly powerful weapon because he takes seriously a warning that it’s still unstable. He takes his time coming to the conclusion that the marines have been orders to kill personnel as well as aliens, and mistakes their shooting at him as sheer incompetence. (“I’m on your side, you [expletive] idiots! How many of you do I have to kill for you to understand that?”) He is concerned about things a gamer would know is not an issue, such as aliens teleporting into the walls and support structures as well as out in the open, which would presumably explain why it’s falling apart. (“We’re turning into the Swiss Cheese of the Damned!”) In later episodes, however, Freeman seems to have learned the unspoken rules and language of video games to some extent, even though he wouldn’t consider it as such. (“It’s glowing. Therefore, it must be important. I think that’s how the hierarchy works around here: Whatever glows has more status.”)

Scott also lends credibility to Freeman’s character by giving him an appropriate level of scientific expertise — the one area in which his astronomical self-worth is actually warranted. This leads him to point out inaccuracies in the science of the game, both in terms of his colleagues’ knowledge (Why would they need to keep something as pedestrian as the equation for gravitational force written on the whiteboard?) and the new scientific frontiers invented by them (How can a teleporter not preserve momentum?). Freeman often takes time out to ponder how such things work, while a gamer would of course accept it and move on.

But all the nerdy, self-aggrandizing humor doesn’t fully explain its success. What appeal do gamers see in watching other people play what they’ve already played?

With Freeman’s Mind, Scott has spawned a long line of “Mind” series, all videos of playthroughs accompanied by the playing characters’ interior monologues. They have a structure similar to that of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, with a middleman commenting upon source material in real time, both presented to the viewer.

But MST3K tackles film, a medium that is traditionally viewed by many people at once in a large room, and discussed among them afterwards. And if that discussion of the artwork isn’t enough, there is no end to more critiques and observations of it in the media — as it is, after all, a Legitimate Work of Art. By contrast, video games, at least single-player games, are consumed one isolated player at a time, with nobody with whom to share their experience and analysis of the artwork afterward, save for some nooks and crannies in the Internet.

And Half-Life certainly has its memorable experiences: Being at Ground Zero during the disastrous experiment; seeing the supposed rescue team gunning down a fellow scientist; watching another scientist grabbed by a massive tentacle that smashes through the window; suddenly falling in a shark cage, then dropping into a body of water containing something that necessitates the shark cage; being left for dead in a trash compactor that’s just started compacting; carefully navigating a room filled with trip mines, rigged to start a chain reaction ending with nuclear warheads. Such moments set it apart from previous shooters, which usually lacked any truly striking moments outside of cutscenes and boss fights. After playing Half-Life for the first time, many a gamer sought out others to share their experience of innocently pressing an elevator call button, only to cause the elevator to plunge down the shaft, carrying a few screaming scientists with it.

It is only natural, then, to be curious about how this incarnation of Gordon Freeman would react to such moments, fighting new enemies, picking up new weapons (“Now I can solve up to eight hundred problems a minute!”), and noting other interesting features of Black Mesa Research Facility and the Xen “borderworld.” Video games deserve dissection as much as any other art form; for entertainment’s sake, why not have it performed by a megalomaniacal manchild?

Freeman’s Mind, which will soon finish its run unless Scott tackles the sequel, succeeds mainly due to Gordon’s constant off-kilter musings. But the overarching draw to the series is the opportunity for gamers to gather in a common space where their experiences are shared, and see how one alternative take on their playing character would handle them.

The appeal is guaranteed, of course, when Scott’s Freeman reacts to his inadvertently causing his aforementioned colleagues to fall to their deaths by thinking, “Oh man, I hope at least they were jerks.”

A gift of insight into the mind of a gender feminist

In lieu of any material goods, I thought I’d give my readers something that’s priceless in its own way: A glimpse into the mind of a modern feminist. And not just any feminist either, but victim extraordinaire Anita Sarkeesian. Here she is discussing the five “creepiest” Christmas songs, which I’ll describe here if you’re reluctant to add to the video’s view count.

Naturally, any list of creepy Christmas songs includes such songs as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” whose titular character earns the supposed “love” of his peers by proving his worth, which is the result of a physical feature he’s had since birth rather than achieved.

I’m kidding, of course — perhaps any such list except for this one, which apparently defines “creepy” as “having an undertone that the female population would consider creepy, by virtue of their gender.” So, of course, there’s the likes of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” as well as “All I Want for Christmas is You,” in which the singer expresses no desire for any gifts other than a mate.

But wait. As Sarkeesian herself notes, that song can be performed by both men and women. So perhaps I was wrong, and she really is viewing this from the perspective of both genders…

…Never mind. Here’s her reasoning of why it’s still creepy when a man sings it:

[I]t’s not any less creepy when a man sings it because the lyrics could be interpreted as bordering on “Stalker Territory.”

Get that? When sung by a woman, this song is sexist against women, because it implies that a woman’s goal is first and foremost the acquisition of a significant other. When sung by a man, this song is sexist… against women, because it makes the man out to be the stalker, like so many men really are.

Such is the logic of the gender feminist mindset. Is it any wonder that they find it so difficult to consider that perhaps gender inequality is rooted in something more complex than some vast “Patriarchy,” and that double standards in society oppress men just as much as (if not more than) women?