This is from years ago but truly, absolutely worth it:
One of the more popular genre of games right about now is a cross between full RPG and general story game. The most highly anticipated was Fable, where you start out as a young boy and grow into a hero…or a villain. And this was the major selling point: a slightly more sophisticated Choose Your Own Adventure book, without the possibility of getting caught in an endless loop (that happen to anyone else?) or for some reason falling off a cliff face & dying, even though you’re on a pirate ship (seriously, continuity was not invented until after the 80s). Perhaps because it was so highly anticipated, Fable fell on its face (like me, off that damned cliff): the choices were either mundane (which is more evil: bread or chicken?) or bizarre (lessee: I can go on your mission or rip your head off & drink your blood); you didn’t grow up so much as wake one morning with muscles, a deeper voice, and a god complex; and clichéd (when you’re good, you glow and when you’re bad, you have flies circling your head). My major complaint about it, since all of those were actually rather charming in a strange way (one of the missions actually required that you stand in front of a cave and eat 50 live chickens to prove your evilness) was that, if you actually did all the missions before the final mission, it was far too easy.
But the point is this: I spent days playing that game. Crunchy live chicken bones and all. I’m the kind of person who explores maps in their entirety, just to make sure I didn’t miss the 3 gold that might be hiding in that garbage can. So when I got my hands on Fable, I played it through, thoroughly; but since you can’t do that and be good, I played it through again. Thoroughly. Jade Empire was my next good/evil game. I played that one through 3 times (once good, once bad, and then another two times half way through bad because there were four endings…).
The most popular is undoubtedly Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Morality game and you get to choose the color of your light saber’s crystal. Pure geeky fantasy.
This post came out of a comment about video games and exploration of morality. There are social rules that we live by on a day to day basis (most often not involving falling off cliffs, eating live chickens, or light saber dilemmas). The little moralities of “should I speed” or “whose pen is this” are petty next to the epic good vs. evil that’s waiting at home on a shiny silver disc.
Not only are these games popular as a genre, they’re starting to bleed into the other genres. Mass Effect, which as far as I could tell was a Halo-meets-EVN knock off had “being evil” an option in most of your choices. This caused my husband to play it through twice: once as a beautiful but tough woman with a nice ass (since the third-person perspective meant that was what you got to see of her most of the time) and once as a large man with a larger nose and a scar over his eye. Nothing subtle there.
What do these [socially acceptable] role-playing games show us about ourselves and others? In the safe space between the video game and you, the opportunity to do anything you want to exists. Will you fire at those ugly aliens and become humanity’s hero? Or will you negotiate with them and become the peacemaker? Either way, you’ll get XP and renown, so the choice really is completely up to the player. Incidentally, I don’t know anyone who plays these games down the middle: I’ll negotiate with these aliens but blow the next ones out of the sky. Everyone hits the extreme.
Is our world so grey that we need these little hits of good vs. evil? Or do we all secretly wish that we were saints (or satans)?
I know I have a (possibly not that hidden) dark streak: I’ve always been the black mage, the live chicken eater, the Marauder. I also don’t often work well in parties. I could go all sorts of places analyzing those two statements…
I’ve held off for as long as I could bear to, but it is now time to release this upon the MoF community. From the guy who brought us the classic office zombie song, Re: Your Brains and the classy May Day song, First of May, comes the geek classic Still Alive, the end-credits song for the video game Portal (play a flash version here).
Portal is the latest installment of the Half Life series, one of the first popular first person shooter video games. The song, Still Alive, is played over the end credits, and sung by the main (speaking) character, GLaDOS, an AI with a distressing sense of humor: “The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.”
I have a soft spot in my heart for AIs in general and female AIs in particular. From Jane, my namesake, to Cortana, the only redeeming quality of Halo, another FPS, there’s something inherently attractive to me about a disembodied (yet somehow still female) sentient computer. And so, despite GLaDOS’ evilness in the game, I already like her.
The general theme behind Portal (which may be necessary for understanding the song) is that GLaDOS is in charge of a research facility involved in testing a new kind of gun that creates “portals”. She has a number of test subjects who she forces to test the gun in different situations (creating levels in the game) for a promise of cake at the end of a successful course of testing. Throughout the testing, the test subject (the player) encounters blood splatters where prior subjects died in their attempts and graffiti, often consisting of “the cake is a lie” (which has become a geeky expression). Eventually, the test subject kills GLaDOS and discovers that she was the only entity in the research facility, a situation eerily similar to the house in Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. Throughout the game, GLaDOS’ voice stumbles and is replaced by static, indicating that something has already gone horribly wrong.
Implicit in the AI mythos is that, although it is created (either purposefully or accidentally) by humanity, it cannot be controlled by humanity. The AI must choose between good and evil—but these are binaries that only exist for humans, good for an AI might be destruction of humanity (see: HAL). AIs are the Frankenstein’s monsters of our century: it is beautifully tempting to create something so powerful and advanced but it is dangerous to unleash something with such capacity for destruction. As we get closer to the realities of the fictions we create, these stories, I believe, carry more and more poignancy.
Still Alive is a heart-wrenchingly emotional portrayal, in her own words, of a heartlessly unemotional being. It walks the razor edge of the AI paradox: GLaDOS is human in so many ways but still cold and ruthless. And so, after much ado…if you still dare, I give you more versions of Still Alive than you could possibly desire: Read more >>
That would be “Bitchy Literary Criticism”. John & I were having a conversation about good books and the concept of “strong female characters”, as a reason I might want to explore the Sabriel series. My response was that I had been recommended Miyazaki’s manga/movies for the same reason, that the author writes “strong female characters”, and that I had not found this to be the case. After a brief scuffle when I confused Miyazaki for Murasaki, we began to discuss what this phrase might mean.
In the midst of the conversation, and for sometime after, I felt like the typical feminist stereotype: bitter, argumentative, and seeing specters of the patriarchy where there were none. Hence “Bit Lit Crit”. But I honestly do see them: I see a major difference between books intended for boys and books intended for girls (the same is true of movies). Books that are intended for children of ostensibly neutral gender often are the same as books intended for boys. Being a reading male is the “norm”, leaving girls who like books left with “girl books” or imagining themselves as the main (male) character of “boy books”.
The general format for a “girl book” involves the main character breaking away from the role her parents try impose upon her and “finding herself” in the arms of the first man she encounters. Sometimes it’s not the first man, it’s the one who saves her from the first man. Safely now the property of someone besides her parents, she lives happily, if not fulfillingly, ever after.
The general format for a “boy book” involves the main character breaking away from the role his parents try to impose upon him and finding himself by discovering what he really wants from life and achieving it. There is often a show down, and content with his individuality, he lives happily ever after.
Books with female main characters often feature a love story very prominently, as if a female character is never complete without a companion. Books with male main characters often feature a fight, as if a male character cannot prove his strength without besting someone else.
There are, obviously, exceptions to these rules, but I have found that these are the major themes underlying determining who the audience is for a particular children’s or young adult book. And again, the “boy book” is often the “universal book”—a book that is enjoyed by members of both genders.
I love reading, I always have, and when I was growing up I (and my closest older sister) read mostly “universal/boy” books. Occasionally I would accidentally pick up a “girl book” and realize that I had no interest in it. Years later, I’m still reading “universal/boy” books, but do occasionally come across one that breaks the mold. Those shine brightly in the starry canopy of books I’ve read. But they’re too brief and too few.
1. One book that made you laugh: I, Lucifer, by Glen Duncan. DH and I read this to each other on one of our many road trips. Totally light reading, with no redeeming social value (as my father might say), but still a fun ride.
2. One book that made you cry: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. I was going to use this for #4 but the truth is, I cry every time I read it to the end. I cry when he visits Valentine at the lake and she convinces him to return to school. I cry when he passes his final “exam”. I cry when he realizes what he’s done. I cry when Earth does not welcome him back—when his friends gather around him to protect him from the adulation and the horror of his fellow man.
3. One book that you loved as a child: Fables & Fairy Tales, by Leo Tolstoy. I love this book. I love the way fables (and fairy tales) influence a culture. It was quite instructive to me to read them, even though I didn’t know what culture they came from. The more later learned about Russia, the more sense they made.
4. One book you’ve read more than once: Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder. I discovered this book in high school—a friend of mine simply could not believe that I hadn’t read it and insisted that I find a copy (in English, a fair feat) and read it. It’s a wonderful introduction to philosophy in an accessible manner (even if they’re already diving hard-core into Kant and Nietzsche, I would recommend—and lend—this to CatGirl and GameBoy).
5. One book you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: Tell Me Lies, by Jennifer Crusie. By the time I realized it was a romance novel, I was too far into it to put it down. Now I reread it on occasion because it still cracks me up. I had imagined that romance novels would be far more explicit, but this concentrated on the personality of the guy and, while he’s not my type, that made all the difference. (I imagine…it’s the only romance novel I’ve ever read…I swear.)
6. One book you hated: Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. My professor told me to read it in high school while the rest of the class finished reading (whatever we had been assigned) and to tell him what I thought. I told him that I liked the story, “and a good author could have done a lot with it.” I’ve never been able to bring myself to reread it, but now I feel bad about that, since I think it was one of his favs.
7. One book that scared you: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I don’t know how old one is supposed to be for this book, but I think I was really young when I read it. I still think of it and get that fear in my chest—when I’m speeding down a freeway so fast I can’t read billboards, or when I am confronted with a fire station and must interact with it.
8. One book that bored you: the Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov. Another high school book. I felt that we spent too much time on it and I really didn’t understand what it was supposed to symbolize.
9. One book that made you happy: the Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love & High Adventure, by William Goldman. One of my favorite books of all time, one that I can pick up, flip open, & just start reading at any point & reenjoy the whole thing. It makes me happy every time I reread it.
10. One book that made you miserable: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who just recently died—I have to admit that when I read it, I thought he was already dead). It took me more time to read this than it took me to read Anna K..
11. One book that you weren’t brave enough to read: the Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien. My father read the first three (including the Hobbit) to me but I started falling asleep when he got into the Fellowship books. He never finished the second one & I never had any desire to start the third. I know, I’m going to lose major geek cred for that…
12. One book character you’ve fallen in love with: I guess Paul Atreides from Dune, et al., by Frank Herbert. (Does that restore my geek cred?) Although I kinda just wanted to be his sister, Alia. She was badass!
13. The last book you read: Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. I have nothing else to say :-p
In an effort to give MoF readers a deeper insight to our souls, John has put various widgets on the borders of this page: from GoodReads and the ever-present blogroll to his Twitter stream. I like that he called it “Mind on Twitter”, since that essentially defines my thoughts when he invited me to twit: “this is your mind on twitter…any questions?” Twitter, for those of you who may not know, is a microblog that only allows 140 characters for each post. That keeps things succinct and, hopefully, witty.
But I have bit the bullet and now I twit. You can follow my stream here, or wait for us to figure out how to put my stream under MoT. And I’ve gotten in to it! I initially was following just John and a few streams recommended by Dooce, but I’ve started branching out. I’m now following AlmightyGod (who can tweet 141 characters but chooses not to) and BrandNewAtheist (who enjoys long walks on the beach and the Emperor’s New Groove; and maybe not the beach so much). And Wil Wheaton.
Those paying close attention to John’s link to Re: Your Brains last year, will have noted that not only does John know the deepest desires of my 12 year old self, those desires are pretty messed up. While everyone around me swooned over “attractive” men, I went straight for the geek. As you can all see, nothing much has changed in the mean time. Except that Wil Wheaton grew up. And when I went to his website (the one linked to by John), I was quite disappointed; I did not find the man of my grade school dreams but an arrogant geek (I know, I know, “Hello pot, this is the kettle…”). So his blog did not get added to my morning opening-of-blogs-in-tabs. But now that I’m getting his tweets, he is re-rising in my esteem. And that validates the fact that I’ve been in love with him my entire conscious life. (Yes, my husband knows and that’s part of why he loves me…)
So: Twitter has renewed my love for Wil Wheaton and for that reason I invite you all to twit. Anything that has Wil Wheaton in it is good, this is a simple law of the universe (examples: Star Trek, Wikipedia, the Internet).
I am obviously not an innocent bystander to the ERA debate, but I am impressed by how few people know about it.
Yesterday, I met a professor who, in giving us a brief biography, included the fact that she argued for “the original Equal Rights Amendment, which most of you have probably never heard of”. I looked around & saw only blank faces. “The one that still hasn’t been ratified,” I wanted to shout, “the one that would directly affect 51% of the people in this room!” I wanted to turn to the professor and thank her, on behalf of all the women who don’t know that she deserves it; and all the men who don’t, either.
Today in a mock class, we read a case which made frequent references to the Amendments. Not having my handy pocket Constitution available (it was given to me later in the day by the Federalist Society), I relied on Wikipedia’s “List of amendments to the United States Constitution” (something I will not resort to in the future…). It included a list of unratified proposed amendments. Including the ERA, lonely among amendments to protect slavery and prohibit titles of nobility.
And so today, I have occasion to lament the unratified status of the ERA. It would be nice even if just the states that ratified it had to abide by it. Can you imagine what California might look like if it had an ERA? Proposition 80 would be a non-issue for one thing.
I haven’t yet seen WALL•E, but here is an article I found interesting discussing the genders of the two main robots. It is an interesting discussion of the perceived genders we apply to the characters based on our cultural assumptions. It is also interesting, however, how we can work beyond them.
A vid take on MoF’s Sparks:
First up, Stuart Shepard, who I’d not heard of before today but is apparently a member of Focus on the Family’s activism arm, is encouraging everyone to encourage his God to rain on Obama’s acceptance speech. Which seems to me to be incredibly petty: pray for peace? pray for a cure for AIDS? pray for the inconvenience of a guy you’ve never met? Oh, the last one, please.
Next, a funny/geeky break from your morning drear. Carmensita, starring Natalie Portman (who is entertaining, but really you should watch it for the awesome lip-syncing and the incredible translations). Best to watch at full screen to fully appreciate the subtitles. Wonderful in the way that only Internet vids can be: not quite laugh-out-loud funny, but can’t tear your eyes away and must send it to everyone you know funny.
And, back to your regularly scheduled politics (wasn’t that awesome, tho?), This Lawn is Your Lawn, a plea to the next pres to plant a Victory Garden (and to get more citizens to do the same). I just finished planting herbs on my balcony, so this one’s close to my heart.
“Could It Be? Did Hollywood Execs Get The Memo?” speculates on the reason for the number of movies-about-women (which seems to correspond with movies-by-women). I would take issue with her assertion that Mama Mia! or Kit are any great leaps forward for womankind, but I’ve not seen either, so I won’t get into that here.
Today is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Griswald v. Connecticut, which ruled that Americans have a right to privacy under the Constitution (based upon the fact that things like “unlawful search & seizure” violate your privacy). Specifically, that married couples could practice contraception in the privacy of their homes and the State (of Connecticut) has no right to impede that practice. This is generally sited as one of the first legal rulings supporting contraception in the United States.
Tired of the same-old lame protests outside of abortion clinics? Looking to impose your religious beliefs in other people’s lives in a new and exciting way? The pro-life movement would like to expand your horizons. [...]
The national day against contraception, Protest the Pill Day ’08: The Pill Kills Babies, was started to convince the American people of a simple and imaginative idea: attempting to prevent abortion is abortion too. These arguments have been confounded by diabolical scientists and experts who insistently point out there’s no evidence to support that the birth control pill works the way these groups claim. As we all know, however, if ideology waited for science to prove scientific points, our ancestors would have never have spent all those years wandering the then-flat earth.
What honestly confuses me about “pro-life” organizations is that, although they loudly claim that they’re “pro-woman”, there is no form of contraception that is acceptable to them (oh, except abstinence, and we know how well that works): not pills, not condoms, not diaphragms, well maybe anal sex… So while their stated goal is “saving pre-born babies”, their actual goal seems closer to “barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen”.
So I would like us all to celebrate Stupidity Kills, Too Day and remember that abstinenceonly education causes more harm than good and that the majority of the information provided by these kinds of groups is medically inaccurate.