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Draggin’ your companions around

“There’s a recipe to a good hero, Hawke, it’s like alchemy. Take one part down to earth, one part selfless nobility, two parts crazy fool, and season liberally with wild falsehoods. Let that percolate through a good audience for a while, and when you’re done, you’ve got your hero”. Varric

“But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke.” Ishmael

The threat was realized, the riots had begun. Only a specific holy relic could stop them. Good news! I knew where that relic was, and was on my way to collect it. Bad news? I had sort of promised it to a friend of mine, for her to use hundreds of miles away. To which do I give greater weight: the lives of hundreds of citizens to whom I owe little to nothing, or the life of a friend to whom I made a promise?

Dragon Age 2 is about friendships and loyalty. Family, duty, and interpersonal connections. At the end of the game there is a choice to be made. You don’t know what that choice means, but that’s almost besides the point. What matters is why we chose to do what we chose to do. I chose friendship. In return, my friend chose me.

As important as your friends are, Dragon Age 2 is a story about you, and your exploits. It is not a story told by you. In fact I’ll say that it’s unique among games in that– within the fiction of the game– it is a story that is being told. And it is being told by an unreliable narrator. Video games may not have found their Citizen Kane, but they certainly do seem to have found their Moby Dick.

I hated Moby Dick. Dragon Age 2 would be a far superior work of literature if it’s only virtue were the omission of anything resembling Moby Dick’s Chapter 32. Dianu.

The story of Dragon Age 2 is told by a friend of yours. A Dwarven man named Varric. He’s a self confessed liar, with a nose for adventure and profit. Other friends include a blood mage named Merrill, the captain of the City Guards, a former slave, an apostate and (former?) Gray Warden, and a pirate.

In a large departure from the fantasy RPG norm, the player is not able to outfit and dress up companions. Fantasy RPGs, much in like fantasy football, statistics min/maxing is very much what people play for. And yet, it doesn’t really fit the theme of this game very well. Your companions are just that- companions. Friends. You are not their commander, you are not on a mystic quest to save the world. It is very rare that I go into my friend’s homes and decide what they will wear– games shouldn’t be different. Thus a simple mechanical change reinforces the theme of the game.

The end of the game involves a friend doing a Very Bad Thing. That friend will do that Very Bad Thing pretty much regardless of what you do. Your choice is how you respond. For all it’s myriad faults, Dragon Age 2 does a good job at representing this key aspect of human existence: we cannot know the outcomes of our decisions. They may be good, bad, or irrelevant. What’s important is the attitude with which we confront those choices, and the reasons behind our decisions. The game presents a much narrower scope of action than I would like. But as a meditation on human existence, it works quite well.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: Fourth Sunday in March 2011

It’s Sunday morning. Sundays are for working the brunch shift and being happy you’ve got a job. Sundays are for sleeping in and being happy that your job gives you weekends off. Sundays are for kittens and rainbows and ribbons. Those, at least, are a few of my favorite things.

This week the first female major-party candidate for the American executive branch died. Also: the Canadian government collapsed in a wave of anti-authoritarian anger. There will be new elections soon, which the incumbent party is scheduled to win handily. Also: we continued our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

One of the reasons that many in the West were wiling to consider going to war in Libya acceptable was that we were asked by the Arab League to do so. The Arab League has backed out.

Civilization might be “three meals away from collapse”, but it turns out actual human beings are surprisingly willing to help one another out during times of emergency. This makes sense: our species is one which uses cooperation and meme sharing in as it’s primary survival strategy.

Years ago when I was dumber and more full of myself, I was devoted to Atlas Shrugged. I think I read that book three or four times in my senior year of high school. This, yes, says nothing good about me. There was a passage in the book where one of the tunnels collapsed and the newscasters called (quoting from memory) “A feat never to be equaled in our time” Basically: by making government so large, liberals had made the smart people remove their intellect. It turns out that in the real world, government is the organizing force behind huge projects. By shrinking government to a size wherein it can be “drowned in a bathtub”, we are actually seeing projects which cannot be contemplated in our time. In their zeal to preserve America from communists, conservatives may well have destroyed us.

The British Government categorically denies unleashing killer badgers in Iraq.

Since Iraq is such a swimming success, we decided to get involved in Libya also. If the Libyan rebels that we’re supporting seem like unusually good soldiers, capable of more than they ought to be, it’s because they got their training in Iraq, fighting against the US. Turns out that you can be both with us and against us.

XKCD on one of my least-favorite memes

20 billion is a lot of birds. I wonder how much they weigh? I wonder how much they eat? I wish I had something more insightful to say, but I thought you’d want to know: there are about 20 billion birds in the US.

This might be the perfect crime. I mean that quite literally. The GOP disenfranchises people who would vote against them, and keep themselves safe from retribution because… those who have been hurt have been rendered powerless.

So imagine that you have a job which pays so poorly that your family ends up on food stamps. Of course you go on strike. Gods be good! If your job can’t afford to pay you enough to eat, they’re not solvent enough to have hired you at all. Since the owners of capital hate the idea of parting with their money, they want to prevent that strike. So what do they do? They get their allies in the GOP to revoke food stamps from striking workers. I guess the Republican party would rather have people on the government dole than supporting themselves at the expense of an employer.

The F22 is a boondoggle. It requires between 30 and 34 hours of maintenance for every hour spent flying. It’s an expensive craft that is designed and built for one reason only: to destroy enemy aircraft in the sky. The Libyans don’t have aircraft worth speaking about. as a result, we’re not using the F22 Raptor in this latest war. The Canadian government is seriously considering cutting back their military as a deficit reducing “austerity measure”. Maybe we can think about doing the same. I know where to start.

possible reason we’re in Libya at all.

One of the reasons I worked so hard to elect Obama is that John McCain is a warmongering ass. I’m not really sure what a “monger” is, but I’ll bet that a quick Google search could tell me. Nevertheless, life is full of these little mysteries and I’m not sure I’m sad to see this one stick around. Also: the lack of a “President McCain” didn’t seem to keep the US from intervening in Libya. So who knows?

I’ve said again and again and again: there is dignity in labor. Labor has the right to bargain for a fair compensation. Capital does not have the right to violate a contract that has been agreed to. Do I support the Dorchester boycott? Of course I do! If you’re a fan the authors being screwed over by this publisher, you should also. The authors being represented by this publisher ought to consider a class action suit. And the various writer’s guilds ought to help them out.

Two things you ought to know: 1) there’s a website called “bad ass of the week”, and 2) this week’s bad ass is pretty damned bad ass.

I’m going to keep writing about Dragon Age 2. I swear! I’ve just been too busy playing it to write about it. Recently, my character was able to “romance” another. The scene was less titillating than it was creepy. All the emotional beats were correct, but the actual character models were off. Romance in the uncanny valley is a well understood phenomenon. I wonder what’s next?

The Federal government sent billions of dollars to stimulate the economy. The recession didn’t end. Turns out that State governments were cutting back on spending at the exact same time. The net result was fewer dollars in the economy, rather than more. The stimulus didn’t fail: it was never tried.

Unions: they make the world a better, safer, more awesome place. Unless you want to die in a fire because your boss would rather not spend the money to keep you safe.

How much does war cost? We don’t know, and don’t want to find out. That sort of worries me. I’d like to think that our government is accounting for things like 3 ongoing conflicts, and budgeting them into our national books every year. Turns out? Not so much.

If you have a Facebook account, Facebook will track you on every website with a “like” button. It doesn’t matter if you interact with that button or not– Facebook will see you and note your presence. Facebook’s business model is to learn as much about you as they can and sell that information to as many people as will buy. This sort of scares me, to be honest. So I’ve installed this little extension to keep that from happening. Sadly, I also have the “like” button on my site. Because I want the traffic that comes from people “liking” this on Facebook.

Kind small selection of links this week. Sorry about that: was too busy playing Dragon Age. This week’s theme? Flipping Capitalists 20 billion birds. In the comments, please let me know what you think the word “monger” means.

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I’ve Never Meta Dragon Age I Didn’t Like

I was surprised to find a monster at the center of the dungeon. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been: since the days when stone tablets were too precious to inscribe stories on, story tellers have been inventing labyrinths and putting monsters in them. Nevertheless, the magistrate had contracted me to find a criminal and return him to face justice. The father of his most recent victim had told me that no human would ever be held accountable for the murder of elves. The elf begged me to create justice by killing the human.

I’ve got a thing about justice. To me, justice isn’t merely a matter of outcomes. Rather, it resides at the intersection of correct outcomes and correct procedure. This is what makes, for instance, Batman so compelling. When outcomes and procedure stand at odds, I almost invariably side with procedure. But that’s me. I don’t know how Hawke will feel about it.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered not just any criminal, but a child molester. That seems simple enough. Also simple enough? Diagnosing this child molester as schizophrenic. This makes a difference. Perhaps he could be rehabilitated? He’d still need to be punished, but I’d rather have him productive and sane than not. That’s when I realized that not even in the 21st century can such a thing be accomplished. Fantasy medieval empires are “fantasy” because they involve dragons, not because they involve really high end mental health clinics.

And there’s another problem: the mentally ill child molesting murderer hasn’t yet faced justice because he’s the son of a judge. I don’t really blame the judge for not condemning his own child. I can’t even really blame the judge for sheltering his child from legal repercussions. There might be an element of racism (the victims, after all, were elves), but protecting one’s children is a very human reaction.

So there are my choices: ignore procedural justice and outcome justice by returning this person to his father, or, kill this person and anger one of the most powerful people in the city. I thought about it for a bit. That’s when I realized that this is a Bioware game. There is no way at all that any decision I make will be the wrong one. In another, better, game this would be a wrenching decision. I’d have to figure out exactly how much I’m willing to sacrifice for my sense of justice, or honor, or to simply protect a community. I’m betting Bioware won’t make this decision cost me anything.

I slay the monster.

When I return to the magistrate, he knows what has happens, and vows that I’ll be punished. He didn’t get the memo that I’m the hero of this story, and his job is to make me look good.

It is interesting to me that meta gaming with Merrill made me really bond with the game, but in this quest, meta gaming ripped me out of the story and made my decisions easier. I think the difference is that with Merrill, I used meta gaming to give my character a goal, and tools to achieve that goal. In this instance, meta gaming was the result of having seen through the system, to the underlying mechanics.

I think this wraps up my thoughts about Dragon Age 2, act 1. I’ll leave with possibly the best quote of the entire game so far. It’s why I love Merrill:

But don’t go that way, there’s this huge dragon” – NPC fleeing for his life.

“Oh! Are we going to go that way? I’ve never seen a huge dragon before!” – Merrill.

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: Third Sunday in March 2011– WAR

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for bombing targets in Libya and hoping that your intelligence agency isn’t accidentally targeting the embassy of a rival nation. Sunday is for lounging around in bed swearing that this time you really will finish reading that damned book. Sunday is for pulling the covers up high, thanking your ancestors that we’ve learned how to build weatherproof houses. Sundays are for drinking coffee.

This week: Humanity rose up with one voice and declared that Gaddafi is a bad, bad man and so we must help his citizens overthrow him. Also this week: Saudi Arabia decided that the pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain were bad, bad people and so they sent in troops to help keep the government from being overthrown. Also also: the world has declined to help aid anti-government protesters in Yemen- tanks being used against civilian targets is insufficient grounds for a war. And again, also: humanity put something around the orbit of Mercury. One more? Egypt held a vote.

My family owns the house I’m living in. My share is 1/9 of the total value of the property. We’re thinking of selling this place to capitalize on our mutual inheritance. I got to talk with the appraiser on Saturday- who is, let’s be clear, a salesperson- and he was convinced that now is a great time to buy. He and I very lightly got into an argument over whether home ownership makes any kind of sense at all. My opinion? Living in your single largest financial asset makes no gods damned sense. Making that asset liquid means moving. Anyway: here’s an opinion agreeing with mine. It must, therefore, be correct.

It’s good to remember that when facing a collective action problem, humans task governments to enforce mutually beneficial solutions. If the government is prevented from doing so, it’s proof that we need to overhaul our system of government. Contra my libertarian friends, this is not proof that we ought not have a government at all.

If war, earthquakes, foreclosure, and bankers weren’t scary enough, San Francisco is facing another kind of terror.

The patriarchy? It’s bad for your marriage. I really hope I’m able to rise above my upbringing when I find the right lady to partner off with.

Was talking with one of my coworkers. She was telling me that she basically spends her non-work time playing video games. We have, like, zero games in common. This amuses me to no end. She made the comment that she is just about the only woman she knows who games. I think that if women understood that other women game, there might be more women gamers. Communities can help overcome problems. And how female gamers are treated? It’s a huge problem.

Speaking of huge problems: the amount of radiation leaking from the Japanese reactors and into the surrounding area. Actually, it’s probably not a very big problem, mostly because their government made sure that the code the plant had to be built had a rather generous safety margin.

I am a proud member of the human species. I mean that seriously and literally. I am proud of what we do, and have done as a species. That video above? Made with human artifacts that we’ve sent out of our atmosphere and around other planets entirely. I don’t understand camping, but I do love to visit museums. So any article called “Infrastructure” is bound to get my attention. Click over for some beautiful pictures of human crafted tools serving the needs of humanity.

For some reason, humanity likes to sub divide itself into smaller groups called “races”. There is no biological basis for this construction, and yet we see these cultural groupings pop up repeatedly in human history. It’s odd to me how fluid these groupings are. The several ethnicities in modern “India” don’t tend to consider themselves “Indian” until they reach Western shores. Likewise the Han, Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Uighur (etc) who make up China don’t think of themselves as similar at all. But when you take all the above mentioned groups, add others, stick them in America (or Europe), suddenly they all become “Asian”. Bizarre. Anyway: Ok Cupid asks: what does dating look like in an America with fewer white people?

Speaking of race: Troy Goodfellow asks how the essentials of French character can be codified and numbered in a video game. This provides a lens through which we can examine the limits of video game design. I’m being a bit opaque, as I want you to click the link. Having said that, games do very badly with non-binary states. France prides itself on subtly.

We San Franciscans pride ourselves on our commitment to democracy. Why be satisfied with a single vote, when each voter can get three? As it happens, I rather like ranked choice voting, and hope that we see it used in more important campaigns.

Why be satisfied with attraction to a single gender, when each person can have attraction to three two. Short version? Bisexuality: not “just a phase”. Nor is it there for the amusement of the patriarchy. Nor should you take a drink every time I use the phrase “the patriarchy” on this blog. You’ll go blind.

I would prefer a world in which elections had immediate consequences. Neglect to show at the polls, and badness may ensue. Voters would know exactly who to blame, and who to punish for it. The fact that America can’t address many of it’s problems because we only put 59% of one of the chambers into the hands of a single party, and therefore legislation won’t pass… it’s a bit of a mess. I’m therefore shockingly ok with this. In the future, Wisconsin is going to know how to stop having these sorts of problems.

Which sort of does beg the question: why are Republicans so much more aggressive than Democrats?

War games have their own language. Their own vernacular. The truly hard core “grognard” games will try and model a particular conflict. What they mostly fail to to do is force players to make the same choices and decisions that actual historical figures made. Except, maybe there’s one game that might have managed it.

There’s a great line in Scott Pilgrim Vs the World: (quoting from memory) “I just discovered that music could be good, like, last week”. And I remember the exact instant I discovered music. I was 16 years old, and sitting in homeroom when someone put on “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Within a few months Kurt Cobain would kill himself. Yes, I was a late bloomer. If music be the food of love play on.

That was way too serious. Have some penguins.

Millionaires don’t feel rich, because they compare themselves to people who are even richer. Also: millionaires who don’t feel rich should buy pitchforks and torches for the rest of us.

In my professional life, I attend a lot of meetings. My jobs tend to involve meeting with people, learning things, and then making decisions based on what I have learned. The “making decisions about what I have learned” is a creative process. It involves a lot of writing, a lot of study, a lot of learning and creating and discovering. That’s why this article feels rather suspect. Can it truly be the case that creative people are merely getting started after 4 or 5 hours (roughly half a work day)? I don’t buy it. The writer is someone who is so paralyzed by the idea of meetings that he will actually lose an entire day’s productivity because of a 15 minute conference. Nonetheless, it is always worth thinking about different personalities in the workplace, and different ways to meet their various needs.

You know when you’re playing a game, and you go to open a door and you’re like “Dammit! This door doesn’t go anywhere, the designer must just have wanted to create the illusion of space without doing the hard work of creating that space!” Those doors are now coming to San Francisco. Because we San Franciscans live the surreal life.

Ever notice how the closer people live to one another, the more liberal they become? It’s almost like density fosters a sort of “love thy neighbor” mindset where people want to try and help one another out. I mention this because Texas is becoming more urban. I wonder how long until they turn blue?

The Slactivist attacks theodicy from another angle. Or is that “Angel”? I always get those confused.

Mario. He’s our culture’s Iliad

This week’s theme was drinking games. And Video games. In the comments below, let me know your favorite drinking video games.

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The two docs of DRM

Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester was interviewed by Jim Rossignol over at Rock Paper Shotgun. The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I’d like to highlight this bit:

We don’t use any DRM. We do however use Steam installers sometimes, but we’re not using that as an anti-piracy DRM. Actually we are using it as a way to make sure that our distributors actually pay us money. We’ve had problems with that in the past with box products, and not being paid, so having control of the Steam framework means we can turn off all the games in a certain channel and that puts pressure on distributors to pay up. That’s the whole story. Steam is not a DRM for us. Some people don’t like Steam, and I respect that, but it’s been useful to defend ourselves from unpaid distributor bills.

I wonder how often this happens? Which retailers are not paying for games? Which publishers are getting screwed? Is it localized or is it global? Perhaps most importantly: is there any way to deal with this that doesn’t punish end customers?

They say PC games retail is dying. I bet this is a large part of the reason why.

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These Dragons Keep Getting Older

After about three hours, I wrote up some first impressions of Dragon Age 2. It’s been about 10 more hours, so I thought I’d do a bit more writing. Also, I was prompted. To answer the question directly: the best part of the game has to be Kirkwall.

Let me back up a bit, though. With very few exceptions, I don’t really care for the combat in RPGs. Combat is what I have to put up with to get to the good stuff. A game that will let me use brains, guile, stealth and my wits will win my heart forever. Bioware didn’t make a game like that. Instead they give me codex entries. Yes, I will scour every environment to find a new dungeon just so I can find an obscure little bit of textual world building.* I’m basically here for the story, and the chance to make my mark on a (virtual) world. I want to explore fantastic locations and great characters. I want to get inside someone else’s head for a while and learn who else I could be were both nurture and nature wildly different.

Looking back, I think I started to really understand this game when I met Merill. Merill is everything my Hawke is not. She is sweet and shy and will use blood and death to shape the universe to her will. (I’ve written before about blood magic in Dragon Age). I am sarcastic, brash, and my magic is fire and ice.

Meeting Merill was grounding for me. My thoughts changed from “what is my next quest?”, to “I wonder what I need to do to make girl happy?” At that moment I was willing to lay all of Thedas at her feat, just to make her smile. At that moment, Hawke switched from third person to first.

There was a moment yesterday when I was on the docks at the city and I very nearly tried to smell the ocean breeze before catching myself. I actually leaned in close to the monitor to catch the scent before I realized I was playing a game. That was exactly when Merrill made a comment about it smelling like dead fish. That was the exact moment when I understood how much Kirkwall had become my virtual home.

But Merill, my dearest elven minx? I think I’m going to be stuck in Kirkwall for a while. If this relationship is going to go anywhere, you really need to learn to appreciate it’s pleasant stinks. That, or I’m going to be stuck buying you a lot of fancy perfumes to cover the city’s oder.

What makes Dragon Age 2 work– at least in the 11 hours I’ve played– is that I’m not the ultimate bad-ass of ultimate destiny. I’m just a person in an interesting place doing some interesting things. I’m looking forward to drinking with Varric, and slaughtering slavers with Fenris, getting Aveline to unbend. And perhaps spending time with Merill, getting to know the city we will make our home.

*Perhaps After Mass Effect 3, they should make a game where I can play an archeologist.

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Show me the money, baby

Senator McCaskill asks a series of very important questions:

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On the Aging of Dragons

The greatest strength of fantasy (a category that includes science fiction) — and it’s greatest weakness– is that it takes people with recognizably human characteristics and puts them in extreme and alien circumstances. The rules change according to the whim of the author. In the Dresden series, for instance, a wizard can create flame in an enclosed area– but the heat from it will leak out onto anything nearby according to the normal calculus of a deferential equation. In the Riftwar saga, however, Pug can toss around fireballs all day without toasting marshmallows a few feet from the flame. The trick, therefore, is to find a character to whom the rules can be explained, so that the author can fill in their audience.

We see this in non fantasy stories all the time, in fact. It’s no coincidence that so very many cop movies have a rookie cop and a days-from-retirement veteran. One person to explain the rules, and the other to be explained to. Also: culture clash is comedy gold.

Which brings me to video games. Characters in Role Playing Games (RPGs) are, just as the name implies, playing a role. We inhabit a character who has a position within and defined by the world. The problem is that our characters have names, histories, families– if they’re real people they have everything real people ought to have. Unfortunately we players have just begun the game. We don’t know the 15-50 years of back story that our character has developed.We don’t know the history they would have learned as a child the prejudice they would have imbibed with the milk of their infanthood. We are, in short, a stranger in a society we ought to know.

There are a few solutions to this problem. The most cliche is to simple give the character amnesia. It’s the perfect excuse for not knowing who their best friend is– and also gives the player an immediate goal that coincides with the character’s motivation. Another interesting way to do this is the same “fish out of water” technique I mentioned in the cop example. Commander Sheppard can’t know every alien race because the galaxy is vast and humanity is new. The Vault Dweller is fresh from a vault. All ties are cut in an alien environment.

And then there’s Hawke. Hawke is the main character from Dragon Age 2. Your Avatar in that world. The iconic image, is of course female*, though you can also play a male version of Hawke. Hawke is a different sort of person than any other I’ve inhabited. She has a mother. A brother. She has history we don’t know about. At all.

We do meet her as she’s running from everything she’s ever known, and on the way to a land that loves her not. This would almost be the classic piscis ex aqua situation, except…

In the second part of the first act, Hawke is given a choice about who to work for in the coming year. That year exists solely as a cut-scene. She develops new relationships and strengthens older ones, all without player input and without player knowledge of what is happening. Mechanically, we are led to assume that our Hawke is continuing in the direction we have pointed her, but it does lead to an odd disconnect between what the character knows, and what the player is able to learn.

One more interesting thing that Dragon Age 2 does that is worth mentioning:
In most any body of literature, we know what the hypothesis is, and thus when the story is over. A scientific paper will state this up front, along the lines of “we thought X was true, did some testing, and we were right!** the proof follows”. A work of fiction is a bit different, but generally within the first chapter we know what the goal is: “win the Trojan war”, “found Rome”, “Marry Romeo/Juliet”, “rescue the princess from the 8th castle”.*** This is utterly unlike real life. In real life, we simply do not know when our story is over. Mythologically, people who do learn this information go mad– but the fact that it’s mere mythology sort of proves the point.

In Dragon Age, the conflict takes a long time to develop. I’m 3hrs into the story, and I don’t know what Hawke needs to do yet. I’ve got a couple quests I can do, so I do them. I’m basically killing time within the story until it develops more. In this sort of aimless day to day existence, I am playing Hawke very much like an actual refugee might behave. I don’t know what to do with Hawke, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. But both of us know that she can’t just lay down and do nothing. This is a perfect marriage of character and player motivations.

Dragon Age 2 so far as managed to do something I’ve never seen a game do before, and do it in a way that I find intriguing. I’m not actually sure if this was the intended direction for the game, but I hope it was. Bioware has done something unique. I can’t wait to get back to Kirkwall.

*Suck it, Bioware Marketing.
** I can haz tenure now?
*** Yes, I did just compare Mario to the Iliad? why?

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Sunday Morning Reading Material: Second Sunday in March 2011– Spring Forward!

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for getting out of bed an hour early because congress still kowtows to the 3% of Americans who Farm. Sundays are also for doing chores before heading to work, and for being thankful you have a shitty, shitty job. Also? Sundays are for PAX– which really ought to be a conference dedicated to peace, rather than nerds. Also also: Sundays are for lounging around in bed or at the couch, drinking coffee and reading this very blog post.

This week: Japan experienced a seismic event of sufficient magnitude to shrink it’s national boundary by at least 8 feet. The very Earth on which we all reside was itself shrunk by this event. As I type this, the crisis is still unfolding. Also: the Governor of Wisconsin employed some possibly illegal tactics to destroy the public Sector Unions. As of right now there is talk about a general strike in that state. Must say: proud to be an American. Also: the world celebrated international women’s day.

Sometimes you write and you talk, and you harangue and you argue and you shout and you feel like you’re getting nowhere. Perhaps, though, a single lifetime isn’t enough to judge such things. After all, history is vast, and humanity is numerous. Still, one person, at the right place, at the right time, with enough conviction, set in motion a series of events which would– 150 years later– culminate in the ending of slavery in North America. This is what the “arc of history” looks like.

I don’t know what history will record as the final outcome in Wisconsin. If I did, I’d be making a lot more money than I am. Still, it’s important to take a stand. One voice, or one hundred thousand. The only things that matter are: “where will you have been?” and “with whom did you stand?” Me? I’ve been standing with the unions before the rest of the nation woke up and discovered they were under attack.

Know who I do stand against? Vigilantes. Murderous thugs at worst, wannabe Batmen (batmans?) at best. They create a society in which everyone is watching everyone at all times for any infractions. Morality police. In Israel, “Modesty Patrols” scream at women who don’t follow their code. In Saudi Arabia, people are killed. Enforcing the law is the proper function of the government, which can be policed by citizens.

In real life, if you fail at a task, there are consequences. Very rarely (in modern times) does that entail death. Games. though, are different. When players fail at tasks in games it’s usually game over, try again. Reload. Bill Abner talks a bit about how to make failure interesting.

How how not to fail with a one night stand.

My general feeling is that free speech means “consequence free”. Or, at least, free from consequences other than being thought an idiot, shouted down, or held in high esteem and made the god-emperor of Dune. You want to rent some microphones and hire a hall? Say whatever you want about whoever you want. Consequence free. But money ain’t speech. I’ve been a political fundraiser. Let me tell you: giving money to a politician is a fucking bribe. It’s legal, but that doesn’t make it morally acceptable. So when a bunch of Wisconsin firefighters decline to continue giving money to their declared class enemies, I think they’re acting in the right.

Work badge of a proud union member, worn by his granddaughter, as she fights for her future grandchildren.

This. This. This should make you very angry. In the United States, just 400 people have more wealth than that owned by half the nation. I think it’s safe to say that the US is no longer a democracy. How can it be, when “money is speech”, and 400 people can out-shout half the nation? How can the US be a democracy when the poorest half of the country are scrambling to buy food while the richest 400 people can buy access to politicians as easily as they can buy access to fancy new cars? When at least one major party is doing it’s best to make sure the poor have as hard a time as possible voting, this situation will be difficult to redress.

Let’s give a big hand to the government regulators at OSHA, who are serving us all by making our bosses keep us safe.

Macs? Not safer, just used less often.

I’m not what one calls a “joiner”. Even at my own birthday party, I was live-tweeting it because I have a hard time just being part of a crowd– even when that crowd is several of my closest friends. This probably owes something to my NVLD. Most of the times when I’m taking pictures at an event, I’m taking pictures of camera people. In a large sense, “meta” is how I cope. It sounds like Jess Barrow has a touch of this as well. She, as I, finds sports interesting in the way that it tends to create bonds between us and others, forcing her into the moment.

Interestingly, Ms. Barrow and I served together in Ohio, during the Obama campaign. I’m fairly sure we have never met, but we do stay in occasional twitter contact. If you are not on twitter, but are curious what all the fuss is about, this is a pretty good guide.

There is something deep in every nerd’s soul that gets deeply turned on by numbers. The fear is that we might start to– in TS Eliot’s words– measured out my life with coffee spoons. Games are basically computer programs, and all computer programs are a very large set of mathematical functions- numbers. The question, then, is how much math can game developers expose to players before the romance is lost? what does that say about us? What other questions might we ask for the purpose of rhetoric before you click the link?

These adorable birds are very angry and I want them!

So: there are places you can go where if you show up and fill out some paperwork, they will give you books, CDs, movies, and other information for free. Obviously, this is rank socialism. If you’re a profit maximizing firm, your goal is to turn every single consumer of all of your media into a revenue center. A library interferes with that, but there’s no real way to stop it. At least, there wasn’t, until books went digital, and publishers could put the D in DRM [digital rights management]. Let’s be clear on this: the fight is over ownership of culture. On one side the publishers believe that they have the right to decide which parts of the culture are monetized, and how. They believe that cultural artifacts arrive de novo, and thus it is wholly moral and just for people who create such artifacts to reap all the rewards from their hard work. On the other side, you have people who understand culture to be something created by every human being, ever day. West Side Story was stolen from Romeo and Juliet, which was stolen from Ovid, which in turn was stolen from someone else. And that’s just the good stuff. Imagine who the b-list modern author is stealing from (probably Ovid). Which is all a long winded way of saying the libraries are fighting back. This fight is every bit as important as the one in Wisconsin.

Did you say you wanted some map porn? Me too! My geeky soul is turned on by maps, and international organizations.

It’s only class warfare when the poor fight back. this is what we’re fighting for. This is a weapon of the other side.

I spent many, many happy hours playing Galactic Civilizations 2. It’s a game about empire building in space, where you get to build spaceships. Many of my readers have no interests at all in playing such a game. But they might want to know what it’s like to do so. This is an After Action Report. It’s quite, quite funny. That might not be enough. Here’s a sample: “Who would have thought repeatedly angering and insulting the most powerful race in the galaxy while completely defenceless could have consequences?” Go read it!

Let’s end on a happy note. Actually: the happiest possible note. the happiest man in America has been found

This week’s theme has been the secrets of the nerd soul. So dear nerds: what sorts of things delight you?

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In Solidarity

theuptake on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

In my last post I expressed some frustration with the protests. I wish to assure my fellow liberals that not only do I empathize, I sympathize. The math is as inescapable as it is disturbing. We absolutely need to change that math, because “not as bad as the Republicans” isn’t a bar anyone should feel comfortable making their voting line. It will, yes, require a (hopefully peaceful) revolution to fix.

Perhaps Wisconsin’s days of peaceful rage will be the first strike in a wider movement to reclaim and fix our broken institutions. Perhaps not. One way or the other, it’s the Good Fight. I can’t be there in person. But in solidarity with them, I’m leaving a live stream of the fight up on my blog.

GL HF, ladies and gentlemen. GL, HF

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