Author Archives: Pete

So-Called Social Justice and Free Expression Don’t Mix: My thoughts on the latest threat to the artistic integrity of video games

I suppose I should preface this by acknowledging I haven’t been diligently keeping tabs on the “GamerGate” movement. I am not a heavy reader of gaming journalism, as I am not too avid a gamer — I complete perhaps three or four feature-length games a year. But I still appreciate the artistry behind the games I play, and it is that artistic integrity at stake, in the long run. That’s why I find the current, censorious movement in gaming to be so troubling.

Efforts to censor video games are, of course, nothing new. One canard that refuses to die is that violent video games lead to violent behavior in those who play them, and game developers and consumers have had to fight the resultant efforts to censor content (even though repeated studies have refuted this theory). Now, the industry faces another charge against its work: It’s sexist. According to victim extraordinaire Anita Sarkeesian, popular video games are rife with misogyny and pandering to the male demographic, even though there are now just as many female gamers in the market.

Of course, what Sarkeesian fails to consider is that female gamers seem inclined towards simple puzzle-based games, the kind that can easily be played on a smartphone or tablet; the audience of more time-consuming, plot-heavy games remain mostly male. And when your target audience is overwhelmingly male, it pays to feature male protagonists as muscular warriors and female protagonists as improbably shapely and scantily-clad. The results can be silly, no question, but how often has it been demanded that romance novels feature at least some pudgy, balding men on their covers? Every artistic movement is granted some suspension of disbelief so that it may appeal more to its audience. Why should games be any different?

But the people who now stand opposed to free expression in gaming aren’t just against the skimpiest of “armor” and the amplest of bosoms. The current movement consists largely of those known as “social justice warriors,” whose philosophy on free speech was best summarized as, “Your rights end where my feelings begin.” Known as the driving force behind “trigger warnings,” people of their ilk have gained notoriety by “debating” those who disagree with them by stealing and vandalizing their protest signs, and pulling the fire alarm* when they are slated to speak.

These are the people who have nominated themselves as the judges of what is and is not appropriate content for video games.

For an example of the threat SJWs pose to artistic integrity, let’s look at my favorite game franchise of all time: Fallout, a series that canonically spans four role-playing games and a combat-focused spinoff set in a United States after a nuclear apocalypse. Boasting an incredibly rich mythos and atmosphere, it chronicles humanity’s efforts to rebuild civilization from the ground up in an environment that has allowed the darkest elements of humanity to thrive.

A common enemy seen in all Fallout games are bands of violent bandits, known as raiders, who routinely pillage the more civilized communities in the wasteland. As feminists themselves would probably guess, those raiders count some rapists amongst their ranks. This has become an issue for some, as chronicled in this series of exchanges between a social justice warrior and one of the series’ designers.

Exerpt from the discussion

One of Fallout‘s strengths is its uncompromising look at what the worst of humanity has to offer, and all art must be uncompromising to maintain its integrity. But here is someone who wants the narrative to be softened, defanged, for no other purpose than to avoid making a small fraction of the games’ audience uncomfortable. What sort of artists would permit this?

Some artists, of course, may be easily swayed by the appeal to supposed equality and fairness. (Legendary designer Tim Schafer, for example, appears to have been suckered in already.) But the main threat comes from ill-advised investors on new game projects. The most highly developed and promoted “AAA” games require budgets rivaling those of Hollywood blockbusters. And the higher a game’s budget, the more willingness to sacrifice artistic expression in order to avoid potential controversy. (Yes, it might seem hypocritical to denounce self-censorship of art while condoning pandering to the audience, as I’ve defended above. But the key difference is that pandering is the choice of the artist, while altering content to appease the social justice warriors is yielding to the power of the censor.) And there have already been movements to pressure games to contort themselves into SJW-approved content:

Special thanks to @SabrinaLianne for the screenshot, and alerting me to this.

But the question arises: What if there’s a dearth of female gamers because they’re put off by male-centric games, and there are no games that cater to them because they don’t appear to be a significant demographic of the gaming audience? What would it take to break the cycle?

The answer is not, as the SJWs have proposed, to browbeat existing games into submission and deny them free expression. It is to put more effort into attracting women to the games industry, allowing them to design games that appeal to female audiences. In other words, to expand the industry and make more games, not to cut content from existing games.

And why hasn’t anyone taken the initiative to bring women into the industry already? Actually, they have. You can be forgiven for being ignorant about this, of course, as the SJWs don’t seem to care much for it. They seem dead set on cursing the darkness, with cratefuls of candles and matchbooks laying at their feet.

What drives the social justice warrior in this matter? Is it really to help the gaming industry reach different, untapped markets and providing underrepresented demographics with games they would enjoy? Or might this be yet another misguided attempt to make the world fair by forcing those perceived to be unfair to play by their rules?

In the end, I just care about the games, and developers’ right to portray what they want in them. If there is disagreeable content in a game, it should be regarded as controversial artwork, not a defective product. If video games are art, they should be entitled to the same rights of free expression as any other medium.

If you’d like to read more on GamerGate, some well-written and -spoken pieces on it can be found by Allum Bokhari, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Cathy Young. For more in-depth coverage, you can check out some resources put together by hardcore GamerGaters here and here. I haven’t exactly perused these myself, so this is not an official endorsement of them, but they should provide some counterpoints to the movement as it’s been portrayed by shamelessly biased media in the mainstream.

* Edit: It has been noted that I had brought this up while disregarding the violent actions of those opposed to Ms. Sarkeesian in order to silence her, such as sending her death threats. After some consideration, I must admit that it was rather hypocritical of me to imply that the false fire alarms were exemplary behavior of SJWs as a whole, while presumably dismissing the actions of those behind the death threats as those of a few bad apples within the GamerGate movement. Please grant me a bit of space for some hyperbole in the name of rhetoric, and take my words with a grain of salt. Thank you.

Two editorials from this week

The first from Jezebel on how to be a man in the age when we now pretend understand that gender is a social construct. Rule One: You can engage in activities considered feminine by society, and you’re still a man, provided you identify as one.

The second from Salon on how the NFL’s ban on purses in stadiums is sexist.

The feminists establish that it’s perfectly normal for a man to carry a purse. The NFL issues a rule that nobody, regardless of gender, may have a purse in their stadiums that hides their belongings. This rule is declared sexist against women.

Say what you will about the men who whine about ‘Ladies’ Night’ in bars and whatnot. At least their complaints are legitimate in that those policies are genuinely descriminatory. When feminists declare that genders should ideally be treated as equals, they can’t complain when rules that de jure treat genders equally de facto impact them more harshly.

Whence Cometh Bronies?

Well-muscled chap with Pony toys

Is the appeal really that difficult to comprehend?

It seems that thousands of words have been written about the enigma of the “bronies,” loosely defined as fans of the latest incarnation of the My Little Pony franchise, Friendship is Magic, who are outside its target audience of young girls. The majority of bronies are male, and in their teens to late twenties. A great deal of puzzlement has been expressed over why such an odd — and specific — demographic would take notice of a series that would stereotypically feature an endless parade of little girls (or their equine counterparts) serving tea in tiny cups to stuffed animals.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic takes place in the magical land (no really, that’s how it’s described in the first line of the first episode) of Equestria. Equestria is home to a wide range of animals and mythical creatures. Nearly every species is sapient, and the hoofed mammals (save for perhaps goats and swine), as well as creatures such as dragons and sea serpents, speak English (and some French). The ponies themselves are split into three types: Unicorns with magic powers; pegasi who can fly and walk on clouds; and wingless, hornless “earth ponies” who don’t need any pity because it’s rumored they have supernatural bonds with the natural world.

The main character is Twilight Sparkle, a scholarly unicorn given the task of studying the nature of friendship and reporting her findings to Equestria’s ruler. Said findings tend to arrive after twenty minutes’ worth of adventure and/or wacky hijinks.

The only other show I can recall that successfully employed a moral-lesson-per-episode formula was Doug, an only-slightly-surreal cartoon concerning the adventures and tribulations of an average 11½-year-old boy. Surprisingly watchable due to the fact that it never felt like being lectured, it was also notable for featuring daydreams that honestly seemed to reflect a preteen’s worries and fantasies.

But while Doug was a hit with its target audience when it was on TV, I can’t see it being of any interest to an older audience. While MLP:FiM excels at telling stories which (seemingly) just so happen to tie in with a moral, Doug never managed to present itself as a show that was primarily plot: It always seemed to be moralization first, entertainment second. Bronies would find Doug too preachy, even though it’s pound-for-pound less so than MLP:FiM, because its texture is too close to that of one of Aesop’s Fables.

Its characters were rather flat, as well: There was the standard issue best friend, love interest, bully, and wacky neighbor. In contrast, bronies are quick to praise MLP:FiM for its unorthodox group of protagonists. Here, the socially awkward bookworm is the main character, not the sidekick who is there to offer hints to the hero in their quest when the answer lies in some obscure legend. And one may be surprised to learn that the fashion-obsessed socialite with a Persian cat is not the bitchy girl who makes fun of the nice girls’ secondhand clothing, but is every bit as supportive and friendly as the others.

But beyond the reasons for praising and enjoying MLP:FiM that can act as a rubric for any show, there’s a quality inherent in it that I believe is the main reason it resonates so well among Generation Y. Writes Melody Wilson of the Washington Post of MLP:FiM‘s fandom: “In a generation weaned on irony and sarcasm, such fresh-faced delight can seem startling.

Not necessarily. Perhaps so many twentysomethings enjoy MLP:FiM, not in spite of its genuine wholesomeness, but because of it.

It’s true that our generation has been raised on TV shows that rarely end on an iris out while everyone onscreen is laughing. Judging by our taste in comedy, we prefer humor rooted in darkness.

In one of our most fondly remembered sitcoms, Arrested Development, the central theme seems to echo the beleaguered straight man’s insistence of the importance of family. But the family in question is in financial ruin due to the betrayal of one or more of its own members, who also include a shallow housewife who needs constant reassurance of her desirability, a thoughtless hothead with delusions of grandeur, and a man-child grappling with an Oedipal complex. In the same tone, Curb Your Enthusiasm has its would-be hero being the perpetual victim of endless misfortunes and miscommunication, and is only likable because it’s impossible not to pity him.

But the crowning example of cynical humor is probably the cult favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000, which (to squeeze a surprisingly intricate plot into its bare necessities) presents awful movies and short films, and humorous commentary provided by quick-witted audience members in silhouette. Here, they tackle “A Date With Your Family,” an embodiment of the idyllic life to which social conservatives wish to return, narrated by Hugh Beaumont himself and made back in the day when its title would not elicit snickers nor off-color jokes:

While the cast predictably mock the stuffy atmosphere of forced pleasantries and stilted conversation (“Emotions are for ethnic people”), a good portion of the quips are dedicated to twisting the wholesome family values enshrined by the short. References are made to the father disowning his children and the mother’s affair with the postman, as well as noting the unintended connotations of the description of the manner in which the teenage boy seats his mother at the table. Besides poking fun at the short, MST3K corrupts it and what it stood for.

This type of humor based on the skewering of traditional ideals has seeped into children’s programming, as well. The first episode of big kid’s show Adventure Time found a character devising a formula for resurrecting the dead, and ended with children being happily reunited with their late grandparents, in what seemed to be a deliberate nose-thumbing of the most sacred rules of kid’s entertainment. (Never, ever include any plot points that might give impressionable youngsters the idea that deceased loved ones can be brought back to life. Hell, even Nearly Headless Nick had to make explicit that only witches and wizards could become ghosts.)

Much humor, it felt, was to be found in darkness, so much so that audiences may have gotten the feeling that such darkness is necessary to be truly funny. If something was appropriate for a kid’s joke book, there was a limit to how funny it could be. And didn’t it seem like there’s a finite amount of jokes concerning the incompetence of public officials or the unscrupulousness of lawyers?

Generation Y’s entertainment fostered the mindset that humor was directly correlated with cynicism, something that was challenged with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

It was true that MLP:FiM occasionally let slip some references that may not have meshed too easily with its purported wholesomeness. In one notable scene, a new father is asked why his twin foals are a unicorn and pegasus, while both parents are earth ponies. His reply could be read as an attempt to reassure himself of his wife’s fidelity:

In another episode, the aforementioned fashionista pony escapes her predicament by guilt-tripping the antagonists who kidnapped her into releasing her, providing the episode’s lesson of “Sometimes your friends can take care of themselves” with a tongue-in-cheek example of them “taking care of” a problem by being manipulative.

And that convention of a girl having a party with several imaginary friends? That happens — when a party-loving pony convinces herself that her real friends no longer like her parties and no longer wish to associate with her — and this is how it plays out:

But while the writers clearly enjoy pushing the envelope, the less-than-savory elements never threaten to corrode the show’s moral infrastructure. MLP:FiM‘s overarching tone and theme of genuine friendship are never compromised. The characters are genuinely friends with each other, with no façades of good graces to curry favor. And when a friendship is threatened, it is always mended by episode’s end, usually in tandem with the episode’s moral. The sly winks to mature audiences only comprise the frosting on the cake for bronies; their true devotion is to the show’s earnest nature.

After wading through the grizzled, gnarled humor of contemporary TV, not to mention dramas striving for the grittiest of realism, it’s refreshing to cleanse oneself with the unironic good cheer that MLP:FiM has to offer. It must be comforting and invigorating for bronies to realize their souls haven’t been calcified by years of dark entertainment, and they can still enjoy a show intended for the very young. They still enjoy the other, disturbing TV, of course, but it’s nice to have MLP:FiM on hand to cleanse the palate.

Soon a season finale will air, a two-part episode dealing with a wedding between two characters who haven’t even been mentioned thus far. It seems doubtful that the bronies will revere it as highly as the previous two-parter, which featured a villain inspired by a trickster archetype character from Star Trek: The Next Generation and voiced by the same actor. But if MLP:FiM has demonstrated anything, it’s the ability to find fans and praise in unlikely places.

Image of what a typical brony might look like courtesy of Redditor ZachGates.

It’s here

I have finally received my invite to join Diaspora, the distributed social network. Rather than Facebook or Google+, Diaspora isn’t controlled by a large corporation looming from above in a windowless black tower — and it never can be, as the data is controlled by its users. Users select which ‘pod’ in which their information is stored, perhaps on their own home server. Diaspora is a solid alternative for anyone wary of the control Facebook and Google have over their networks and the information provided to them by their users.

If you wish to join Diaspora, you can sign up for an invite at joindiaspora.com or sign up at a different pod. If I know you personally, or you know of any other reason why I would want to invite you myself, you can ask me to via email (my address can be found on my website).

Thoughts on Our New Rapture Schedule

Regarding our impending rapture, it has come to my attention that it will not, as I had assumed, be instantaneous and occurring anytime within the 48-hour span when it is the 21st of May somewhere in the world. According to this article, the most visible proclaimer of the rapture, Harold Camping, says that the rapture will occur at precisely 6 PM.

What time zone, you ask? All of them. Yes, the rapture will come in stages, first taking souls along the International Date Line and then working its way westward, accompanied by all manner of destruction. It sounds like a reasonable explanation at first, but I soon realized that it raises far more questions than it answers.

I first thought it oddly coincidental that the rapture would correspond to time zones, a concept designed and implemented by humans. Would God really have any need to abide by the relatively arbitrary protocols set forth by his subjects, whom (I’m constantly reminded) are incapable of conceiving the plane at which he operates? And then there are the anomalies of places such as China, which would usually span five time zones but whose government maintains at one. Would God rapture China all at once, in accordance of the declarations of its government? A communist government, no less?

And will the rapture really occur at exactly 1800 hours local time? The Time Zone system does not smoothly allocate times from one location to the next, it goes by increments, usually an hour at a time. Thus, we’d be seeing bursts of rapture-related activity every hour, on the hour. What a bizarre sight that must be.

And this style of rapture seems awfully Earth-centric. I suppose all the astronauts currently in Earth’s orbit will be raptured when the places they are orbiting over are, but what if the rapture happened when humans were on the moon, or after we’d colonized Mars?

But all this is inconsequential next to my major revelation concerning this method of rapturing. I have concluded that if the rapture does occur in this manner, then atheists such as myself will be safe… Provided they are not too close to the west of the International Date Line.

The rapture, as I have come to understand it, proceeds as follows: those who are saved disappear instantaneously around the world, leaving personal items falling to the ground like in The Langoliers. The people who are left can do nothing but wander around aimlessly, occasionally stumbling into piles of clothing, until the end of the world (which would happen soon after).

In this version, the people who aren’t saved when the rapture occurs are screwed. Everything will happen in no time at all, and if the person you’re chatting with disappears, it’s too late.

But now I realize there’s hope for people like me. All the sudden breaking news stories and disappearances will equate to an early warning system. The moment after I hear reports on TV and the Internet about too many disasters and disappearances for even the most skeptical of atheists to dismiss as a coincidence, I will drop down to my knees and pray. And I invite all my fellow atheists to join me in reciting the following:

Lord, I know now that there is overwhelming evidence that You do indeed exist, as it has finally been presented to me. Previously, I could not help but be skeptical of Your existence, given the lack of any empirical evidence whatsoever, or reports of Your doings that could not be easily explained away as myths or outright lies. But now I have seen the error of my ways, and I am hereby converting to whatever religion and sect that turns out to be the right one. I know You might have some reservations about this, given my previous reticence to do so, but You must admit that it was rather forgivable of me to do so, given the circumstances. And frankly, if You’re really as just and merciful as everyone down here said You are, You would allow me entrance into paradise after only the slightest of punishment.

Oh, and all that stuff about infanticide, and sending people to a place of unending torment by following the urges in which You Yourself had imbued them, and whatnot? We’ll have a chat about that later, I guess.

Yes, it does at first seem that we’ve been given a lucky break. And then you realize that this luck will only extend to the atheists who are not living on the easternmost edge of the eastern hemisphere. After all, that’s where the rapture will start, and there will be little to no warning for them. It’s like why my sixth grade science teacher admonished us after our test not to say anything about it to the students taking it on later periods, as it would give them an unfair advantage.

So be prepared to repent, around mid-afternoon on the 21st in your area. But also take some time to mourn those who had the misfortune of living in the wrong place, and will be paying for it for all eternity.

In Memoriam

“A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?”

– Mark Twain

Dave, in his cave.

Is this thing on?

Mood: Insouciant

Music: Napoleon XIV, “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”

Welcome to the inaugural post of my new ‘blog. Right now I’m just deciding on the placement of the furniture and making sure the garbage disposal works.

If you’re feeling optimistic, you can expect to see more posts in the future, perhaps a bit more insightful than this one.