Mature Storytelling – Post to accompany vlogs

So I just now posted a duo of vlogs (it was gonna be just one but I had to cut it in half due to real-life interruptions) about something that bums me out… the lack of stories that really are “for adults” in anything more than a superficial sense.

Vlog part 1 – https://youtu.be/h-r-APVSiWc
Vlog part 2 – https://youtu.be/ymjmm_FUQOc

I also make reference to a post on my wordpress blog. That post is “How to Be Deep – State the Obvious” and largely talks about… well, something I bring up here actually.

Link to that blog post – https://jispylicious.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/how-to-be-deep-state-the-obvious/

But first, one thing I forgot to mention in the video is that I feel part of the issue is that “mature” has become kind of a joke, largely thanks to two things: The 90s and the Internet. The 90s because that was the age of Darker and Edgier with the purported aim of being “more mature” which instead often came off as something an angsty 13-year-old would be into (though it worked on actual 13-year-olds). The Internet, because every forum has those assholes who go on about how they’re “more mature” than whoever they’re arguing with in a last-ditch effort to wring out some kind of victory when they’re clearly wrong, often with definitions of “mature” that are self-serving and laughable.

So about my own thoughts on the topic of maturity, as it relates to telling stories.

It mainly comes down to one problem I have, that being that nothing really feels like it makes me question my assumptions or teaches me anything. I’m not asking for edutainment or for everything to have a moral, but rather… something more fundamental.

Whenever I hear a movie praised for its depth, very often the “deep” parts are something that aren’t really all that new or enlightening a concept. Like for example, some movies these days get praised as being mind-enhancing work simply for having women who are capable of holding guns or using swords. Which intellectually and philosophically is the equivalent of teaching people that grass is green.

Of course women can use guns and swords. If you have hands, you can use any tool that requires hands. Every culture on Earth knows that a knife in a woman’s hands stabs just as sharp as a knife in a man’s hands. If you really needed to learn that from a movie, you’re either five years old, or else very stupid.

Likewise, video games like Undertale get praised a lot for their message that “killing is bad.” But… okay, if you’re over the age of three and you didn’t already know this, I don’t want you anywhere near me, because chances are you’re Scissorman from the Clock Tower games.

In the video I bring up the Police Quest series as one of the few times I felt like a video game spoke to me as an adult and seriously made me rethink my assumptions. Like most people I went most of my life thinking of cops as an “enemy” of sorts, a symbol of authority who at best you want to speak nicely to just so you won’t go to jail. Playing Police Quest (which is a series of adventure games but with an emphasis on showing what police work is actually like, instead of glamourizing it like movies and television often do) actually gave me a respect for these guys because for once I was seeing their perspective and what kind of crap they have to put up with. I think I’d always be the guy who forgets to put his gun in the locker when taking a punk to jail, for one.

When I was young, it was easy to expand my mind. First time I played Final Fantasy VI (the SNES release, not gonna get into the renumbering issue) it impressed me mainly just because I had never heard of RPGs before and the idea of a video game having a story beyond “Evil Being Kidnaps Girl, kill Evil Being” was new to me. Same goes for anime… it was just new in general (or at least, so I thought at the time) for these kinds of stories to be told in essentially, cartoons. I was so used to stuff like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being my idea of what cartoons are that seeing something like Bubblegum Crisis forever altered the landscape.

But now those things are dull. RPGs might have been new once, but now they all seem to be the same vacuous “here is a dumbass kid who is destined to fight a dumbass evil being.” So many anime have “here is a rebellion against SomeBody, Emperor of Destruction” (seriously the exact title “Emperor of Destruction” is pretty common). I recently watched a Romance of the Three Kingdoms anime from the 1980s and the first ep made me cringe because it replaced a unique story with anime cliches.

Speaking of which, in Part 2 of the vlog I talk a lot about Three Kingdoms because its one of the major times as an adult I felt like something seriously expanded my conscious thought. It’s hard for me to talk about though, because its one of those things where I always feel like I’m underselling it, or else completely giving people the wrong idea (but I’m still probably doing better than Dynasty Warriors, or the afformentioned anime). I also want to avoid spoilers because I’m seriously thinking of reading the book aloud on Youtube.

But like, what I do bring up in the vlog is the example of the Yellow Scarves. In the original Three Kingdoms story the Scarves are basically a rebellion against an emperor who is basically not managing his kingdom at all and is letting his attendants do everything and his attendants are very much being all “oh man its great living the high life” without consideration of the little guy. In a western story, the Yellow Scarves would probably be the good guys, but here they’re a force that needs to be put down (and Liu Bei, the “hero” of the novel, is introduced fighting them).

Why is that? Well its a lot of things that I had to think about. One conclusion I came to was related to the Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times,” which is often used on people who piss them off. At first glance, that may not be much of a curse–we all dream of being pirates or soldiers or whatever, I mean most video games are about you kicking ass in a time of conflict.

But the deal is you have to turn this on its head… yeah, living in interesting times is cool when you’re one of the top dogs of said times, but normal everyday laymen are often suffering. Like you may be just trying to farm enough for your family to eat and suddenly some general busts in and says “gimme all your food to feed my army” if they don’t just chop off your head and take everything because, you know, war. They can make up any story they want.

Then I started to think, well, what if the Yellow Scarves took over and wound up not being any better than the Han were? I mean, there is wisdom in the old saying, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Essentially, a bad order may by certain perspectives be better than no order at all.

I directly compared it to a koan, a concept in Zen Buddhism where there’s these statements that seem strange, and you’re not supposed to work them out logically, but instead adjust your own perspective until the statement makes sense. Just the first chapter of Three Kingdoms is making me adjust my perspective, you can imagine what the rest of the 2000-page long book could do.

That’s also why that anime version made me cringe… admittedly it was only the first episode, but the narrator briefly presented the situation… but afterwards, the Yellow Scarves were just a Goon Squad for our Anime Fightan Heroes to beat up and show off their Fightan Skillz like this was Naruto or something. It was just nuts that a story so deep was now being reduced to shonen cliches. (and before you ask, I don’t consider Dynasty Warriors a good way to experience the story either, not just due to sanitization but simply because Dynasty Warriors heavily condenses several things. I do, however, think they’re okay to play if you’re already familiar with the story and can spot the differences though).

This, too, was a way I feel like nothing is for adults anymore… so many writers seem intent on strictly following convention. Whenever, for example, you have a supervillain, the hero will never ever think to just talk to them, even if they have something in common. I never once saw a superhero story where someone asked the bad guy “So wait, why do you want to do this?” Or if they do, its played for laughs. It seems they always have to bullsh– a reason for the two to hate each other in order to force an action climax. Just once, JUST ONCE, I want to see the Batman story where Batman and Joker sit down and simply… talk. Not about plans but like, about rock n’ roll or society or the president, and it ends with Joker deciding maybe he doesn’t wanna go on a crime spree today because he was able to get it off his chest, so he goes back to Arkham willingly. (This, though, would require a Batman who doesn’t go in fists swinging, which is itself part of the problem).

[That last paragraph was not in the vlog]

You could say the same for that Three Kingdoms anime. It took a unique situation and turned it into an anime cliche, almost like the person doing the adaptation just naturally saw things that way or else couldn’t think of another way to do it (to be fair it could be a case of just text having an advantage over visual mediums and was thus unavoidable, but still, it feels like the writer didn’t even try).

After Three Kingdoms, the last time I felt truly “expanded” was the first two Metal Gear Solid games, which I didn’t play until 2010. The first raised all sorts of questions about government, war, and the world we live in, and the second goes even further and makes you question fundamental assumptions about not just the game, but your own reality. The fact that people hated the second game probably contributes to why gaming went backwards and is now basically just children’s stories because everyone is afraid of backlash, so now all they do is state the obvious because that’s “safe.”

I guess the reason I’m raising a stink about this is two things. One, I’m hoping readers/viewers can suggest something that might satisfy me in this regard. Two, I’m hoping maybe pointing out this issue will nudge things in the opposite direction. Like I dunno, maybe a future creative type will see this and start thinking outside the box.

So, please go ahead and post your thoughts below. Maybe you agree… or you think I’m just an old man who is bored of everything. You might be right.

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The Myst Effect

Originally posted on the HG101 forums:

So, you guys have heard of the “Tetris Effect” right? Where you play Tetris so much that you start to see the blocks everywhere?

I’ve been benefitting from something I call the Myst effect. “Benefitting” because its made otherwise dull things a lot more fun. Also it happens even when I haven’t played Myst for years.

For example, I once went to Niagara Falls, and there was this like bridge leading to a tower thing you could go on and look down at the depths of the falls… and being there, I thought at the time, “Felt like a real-life Riven.”

Had the same experience again going to a science museum with my niece and nephew, said museum having some stuff you could mess with and a fake cave you could go through. Kept comparing the experience to Myst… which inspired my niece to ask what that is. Recently I got to show her, and she (being nine) got into it… we started figuring out the puzzles together (I pretended not to know the solutions) and I could feel she was getting wrapped up in it.

Which I fully support, because the Myst franchise is classic literature of gaming. One comment she made that I found odd tho is she said Myst reminded her of Bendy and the Ink Machine… which, umm, I don’t see it. Guess you have to be nine years old and a horror fanatic (I didn’t play Bendy myself but I watched JackSepticEye’s playthru).

Right now I’m going through Riven, gonna try to win without using a walkthru. It’s already quite a journey.

(The below is a portion of a later post)

I actually have literally been keeping a journal, something I felt I needed to do because Riven is bigger and in some ways more open, and also I keep running into things (like this one cave-painting) that I wonder if they’re important. I just got to the part where I found out Riven numbers.

(Just gonna throw this out there because it comes up in RPG topics too, but one thing I like about keeping a physical journal is… if there’s a weird cave drawing or symbols, I can just draw replicas instead of having to do a printscreen/alt-tab/copypaste into paint routine which sometimes causes games to crash… it also feels more authentic. I’m using one of those three dollar fake leather journals you can get at Dollar General, and one of those pens with multiple colors in it, because I find being able to switch colors helps keep it organized).

[Jispy re-reads what he just wrote, starts to wonder if he was Atrus in a past life]

EDIT – Just thought of some other silliness. Myst also gave me a respect for book cover design. In fact, a year ago I got on ebay and was hunting for the Myst novels… at first I thought I’d just cop out and go for the paperbacks or the 3-in-1 edition, but then I saw the hardcovers. I had to have them simply because, well, they LOOK so much like Myst linking books.

Haven’t read them yet. I remember trying to read Book of Atrus and getting a little bored but that was a long time ago.

But yeah… if I ever become a writer or a graphic novelist (seeing how bad my art is, its not likely) I’m probably gonna obsess over the cover as much as the text.

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Good Quote I found in a Youtube Comment

This is such a spit in the face because you really did try and want to be her friend and wanted some kind of middle ground. you would call me after speaking with franny and you’d be so excited about how she was finally “listening to our side” and shit. You were suspicious but hopeful something good will come from this but all that happened was once again being called alt right and neckbeards and being dismissed as only wanting money or hating women. everything under the sun besides simply disagreeing. meanwhile you’re on your vlog channel praising them about how nice they were. saying we should come together and talk because they’re not bad people.

this reminded me so hard about why i dont call myself “anti-feminist” but have no issue calling myself “anti-sjw”. they don’t want a middle ground. they dont want nuance, they dont want peace. they’re activists. they’re extremists. we are not. we find it easy to get along because we don’t give as much of a fuck. but you’re a straight white man who speaks out against feminism. and at the end of the day that’s all they’ll ever see. you’ll always be an “enemy.”

but dont let this bullshit stop you from talking to people you disagree with. if nobody at least TRIED it would be constant shit flinging at strawmen every day.

This was posted by Shoe0nHead in the comments for Armoured Skeptic’s “My Life Lesson”

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Stupid Defenses for the 2017 version of Ducktales

Okay, confession… for as much as I bash TV Tropes, the actual wiki is still a fun read and every once in awhile has some interesting trivia or observations that hold water. Call it a case of a broken clock being right twice a day if you want, but there is some good stuff there.

But there is also still a lot of stupidity, especially in the “YMMV” sections. I just recently beat Super Mario RPG again, and then read their page… and they describe it as if the game is insanely hard (I played without benefit of a walkthrough and it is honestly piss-easy).

Just now I somehow got to reading their YMMV page for the Ducktales reboot which began in 2017, and immediately the facepalming began.

For what it’s worth… I’m not a fan of Ducktales 2017. It started out with promise, but I had two major problems:

First of all, too much of it was reminding me of the style of writing used in shows such as Codename Kids Next Door and My Little Pony, where basically it wants you to take it seriously and yet will sacrifice everything for a joke. It’s funny how this is such a problem now when, if you watch the special features of movies like Back to the Future, they knew that being a comedy didn’t justify jokes at the expense of everything else.

This quote from TV Tropes sums up my problem nicely:

Angst? What Angst?: A criticism of the show that has popped up. It’s been noticed that the show tends to put overt focus on comedy at critical moments, that characters often react blithely to danger, and that emotional traumas are either glossed over or truncated.

Again, exactly the kind of crap I hate about most modern cartoons, and one reason I advocate that the 1980s and 90s were better (though admittedly, the much-beloved 1987 version of Ninja Turtles is where this particular cancer began).

My second problem with Ducktales 2017 is…. Webby.

At first, I joined with the rest of the internet in proclaiming her awesome. Thing is, immediately afterwards I saw this episode involving the boys taking her to a Chuck E. Cheese-style restaurant, and… well, without going into it, it became clear that the writers mistook “being quirky” for being a complete dodo. The breaking point for me was a scene where Dewey explains a white lie to her (a cheap way to get cups and straws) and even though she sees what he did and it isn’t hard, she keeps screwing up. In a situation where all she had to do was let a waiter think she wanted the cup for water and then wind up actually getting fruit juice.

That’s just one part… the entire episode is basically “look at how exceptional Webby is!” And I mean “exceptional” in a bad way. And apparently, this is all justified by her being a bit of a shut-in.

If I may be controversial for a moment… it kind of amuses me that people hate Teen Titans Go. I’ll admit I did at first, but after awhile I got into it. And see, part of what makes TTG work is that it never pretends to be serious or acting like it gives any sort of a shit. It’s stupid and it knows it. Shows like Ducktales 2017, on the other hand, are convinced they’re masterpieces even while having writing that wouldn’t be out of place in TTG, and its that little level of pretension that makes it just so much worse.

….

But I was mentioning stupid defenses.

For that, I go to the Broken Base page.

Early on, that page presents the reader with this:

Should the show even have violent conflicts between the heroes and the villains? Fans of the comics say it goes against everything the Duck comics stand for, while television viewers point out the fact that TV shows need to have faster-paced narratives with personal conflicts between the heroes and the villains. Adding onto this is the fact that the majority of the show’s villains are more bloodthirsty than they are in the comics, which several fans believe necessitates the use of violence by the heroes to vanquish the villains and restore justice and peace.

Sorry, this isn’t even opinion… the fans of the comics are unequivocably correct here.

Let’s start with “television viewers point out the fact that TV shows need to have faster-paced narratives with personal conflicts between the heroes and the villains.” Note they said “fact,” so apparently all television needs “faster-paced narratives” with “personal conflicts between heroes and villains.”

Because, you know, absolutely nobody watched Nickelodeon’s/Disney’s Doug back in the day… or Garfield and Friends… or Life With Louie… or Pepper Ann… or the Flintstones… or this long-running franchise starring a boy named Charlie Brown… OH WAIT those are all really well-known and considered classic.

Also, this shit about how comics are somehow allowed to be slower? The Carl Barks stories (which is what Ducktales is based on) were written from the 1940s to the 1960s, the era of compressed stories and three-stories-per-issue.

The second half, “the show’s villains are more bloodthirsty than before” runs right up against the Thermian Argument. That is, put simply, it ignores the fact that the only reason they’re “more bloodthirsty” is because the writers made them that way. So its a problem they brought on themselves.

There is one more problem, but we’ll get to it in a bit.

Scrolling down a bit we get this gem:

Should the show have an overarching Big Bad? One side points out that while the original comics have recurring antagonists, they didn’t have a be-all overarching villain despite a serialized narrative. The other side points out that what works in comics doesn’t always make it way into television (which usually does not run as long as comics and thus needs a tighter narrative), and how serialized television always has an overarching villain.

To repeat, the “what works in comics…” argument doesn’t even fly here because its not taking into account the period the original comics came from, where the model was very different. As for “serialized television always has an overarching villain” this is patentedly untrue, as plenty of cartoons even today don’t have an overarching villain, or even a villain at all.

But there is another reason this and the other defense in Ducktales 2017’s favor don’t work… and it’s invoked by the mere fact that I have to always say “2017” so you don’t think I’m talking about the first Ducktales cartoon from the 1980s.

Yeah, consider that: this is a reboot. So if all these things were inevitable or somehow mandatory, the original cartoon would’ve suffered from the same problems.

Funny, then, that it doesn’t!

This is exactly what makes these defenses so braindead: That they ignore the blatant fact that Ducktales has been done before and done very differently. It’s kind of hard to take claims of “it must be this way” seriously when you can point to the same thing being done elsewhere and say “what about this, then?”

It’s just like people who defend the flaws of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy but then can’t answer why those same flaws weren’t present in the Ralph Bakshi version (which isn’t denying that said version has its own flaws. The point is that if you claim a certain flaw is something somehow necessitated by the medium, then it has to logically happen every single time an adaptation is made into that medium. If there’s even one instance where it doesn’t, then its not necessitated and thus, you are full of shit).

But I know this is likely to fall on deaf ears. Humans are not logical creatures and are more about justification than fact.

One of the dumbest conversations I ever had, in fact…. someone in a Youtube comment claimed that 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was Gary Gygax’s proudest achievement… and I linked him to an interview where Gary himself outright stated he’d had nothing to do with 2nd Edition and did not approve of it. This person immediately went on to call me names and accuse me of having all sorts of blindnesses in the face of the fact of the man himself saying he had nothing to do with 2nd Edition. This, friends, is humanity in a microcosm.

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Reviewing a Review for “A Primer for Old-Skool Roleplaying”

Note: If you read this article before Feb 9th 2019, you might remember it being… different. Well, here’s the truth: I forgot I had made this post and so did a second take, thinking I had never answered Leonaru’s review. Only to re-check and find I had… but I liked my re-take more anyway, so I replaced the original.

….

Well, it happened. I got triggered.

Actually, what happened was I discussed Dungeons & Dragons and wound up bringing up the classic Primer on Old-School Roleplaying PDF by Michael Finch, which led the person I conversed with to mention a review of it on RPG.net by one Leonaru.

I’ll put it bluntly: While there are decent points made here, Leonaru’s review also contains a crapton of “missing the forest for the trees,” and parts that sound like deliberate misinterpretation. Worse yet, Leonaru seems outright ignorant of real trends that even I, someone who got into tabletop gaming through computer game spinoffs, has known about for a long time… and those he acknowledges, he justifies with false equivolence.

Let’s start with the first part that really bothered me:

The second “Zen moment” is called Player Skill, not Character Abilities. The message is that old school player don’t rely on the hardcoded abilities their characters have but instead are (once more) creative and describe everything. Of course, the dichotomy here is false one – having a skill on your character sheet doesn’t prevent you from describing what your character does.

The problem here is Finch’s PDF wasn’t talking about the text of the rules, he was talking about player psychology and expectations.

I’m honestly kind of shocked that someone would even debate that rules influence the players. Is Leonaru that guy who checked Wesker’s desk fifty times in Resident Evil 2 and managed to find the hidden photo despite getting a generic “nothing important here” description the first forty-nine times (which most players only see once and move on because the whole point of that message is to tell you nothing is there and since you get the same message for other legitimately empty desks, you have no reason to doubt it?)

Before you say that’s a video game and clearly different… one pet peeve of myself and other D&D players I’ve met is how video game-y thinking has influenced other media over time. I remember being in a tabletop D&D game where I was playing a thief, our party was attacked by orcs and we were all first level. I didn’t wanna risk my six HP so I said “I climb up the nearest tree and start attacking by throwing stones, sticks and whatever else at the orcs.”

The DM allowed it. The other players tho were like “Wait, you can do that? Holy hell, I thought this was like Final Fantasy where all you could do is swing your sword, hold up your shield, use an item or run away.” I remember at least one player asking if he needed to have ranks in Climbing to climb a tree.

Fun fact… my own first RPG experience, before I even knew what RPGs were, was when me and other buddies would sit around telling each other “interactive stories” (we were like, ten, and our actual inspiration was Choose Your Own Adventure). At first we would list options but the players would point out other things that made sense from a real-life perspective, so the rule was basically “if you can do it IRL, you can do it in the game.” We never had character sheets, never had to check what feats or proficiencies we had. That stuff never happened until I found out about D&D and bought actual rulebooks.

The third “Zen moment” is called Heroic, not Superhero. Here, the authors describes that old school games are gritty, with player character that don’t have “super-abilities”. I guess being able to fly, bringing back people from the dead or teleportation don’t count as superpowers. The example here is that players don’t become Superman, they become Batman. How Finch could overlooked that the abilities an OD&D character (especially the mage) can gain include flight, X-ray vision and being able to deal with a dozen mooks at once is beyond me. These aren’t just Batman-level abilities. This is literally Superman territory. The other examples aren’t any better: Apparently an OD&D character will never become “stronger than a dragon”. Considering that an OD&D white dragon has no more than five hit dice, this is (again) ridiculous and makes me question whether the author is familiar with the content of his own retroclone.

Facepalm. Just freaking Facepalm.

Let’s look at Finch’s original PDF real quick:

Old school gaming …. is the fantasy of taking a guy without tremendous powers – a guy much like yourself but somewhat stronger, or with slight magic powers – and becoming a king or a feared sorcerer over time. It’s not about a guy who can, at the start of the game, take on ten club-wielding peasants at once.

Yeah, see the parts I bolded? They’re kind of important… and something Leonaru totally ignores. So right off the bat, Leonaru’s argument is a strawman anyway and that’s enough to debunk it, but…

Really, what gets me is how absurd Leonaru’s logic is here. By his logic, the fact that Dragonball Z’s Goku is immortal by the end of the manga means he was always immortal, and the fact that Alexander the Great eventually became a great general means you would be perfectly justified in asking a three-year-old Alexander (say, if you had a time machine or something) to lead your armies.

Hell, here’s the ultimate thing that puts lie to Leonaru’s argument. Let’s suppose I had a character… say, a Paladin who had Gauntlets of Ogre Might, but I decided I wanted to start this same character over at level one, with NO magic items, at Leonaru’s table… and immediately I say “I want to lift up Mt. Everest!” Would Leon allow that because my character may eventually get Guantlets of Ogre Might because he did in a previous game?

I just… can’t even wrap my mind around this logic.

So getting back to Leonaru’s editorial, the last part that really bothered me was this:

The last “Zen moment” is called Game Balance. He first message here is that old school games shouldn’t scale encounters according to the party’s power. They should be random and deadly. D&D has random encounter tables in all editions up to D&D 3e and nothing forces a DM to balance encounters, so once more, I fail to see what’s specific to OD&D about this

Oh, nothing “forces” you to scale encounters. There are absolutely no modules, “suggestions” or online articles which encourage it… well there are, but you can ignore them, right? After all, it’s not like there are popular accounts of the RPGA kicking people out for running games in which party members die or anything. If its not in the core rulebooks, it doesn’t exist!

Hey, let me make a few similar statements:

There’s no hard-coded rule that prevents you from making a video game with an Adults-Only ESRB rating. What? Popular retailers like Wal-Mart and entire countries like Australia might refuse to stock your game? Well that’s on them, its not encouraging you to do anything!

There’s no hard-coded rule that comics in the 1960s had to submit to the Comics Code Authority. Yeah, popular retailers won’t stock it and you’ll make no profit, but its not a hard-coded rule per say…

There’s no hard-coded rule that Hollywood movies have to feature a white American protagonist. Sure distributors might shaft your movie on the grounds of fearing lack of profitability if you don’t, and you might be technically veto’d by said distributor if they have significant say in the production, but there’s not actually a rule for it…

Hell, here’s a real one I once heard–someone on TV Tropes once argued there was still Free Speech in Nazi Germany because you could, technically, still just walk up to individual people and talk to them. Sure, you might get arrested if you said something about the regime, but you could still do it, so that’s free speech, right?

People often accuse me of treating people like they’re idiots. Maybe I would stop doing that if people would start thinking things through to their logical conclusion and realize how their rationalizations could be use to justify stupid or outright wrong things (or even how their rationalizations often just fly in the face of observed reality), and instead make honest, good-faith attempts to understand where opposing viewpoints are coming from. Just a suggestion, feel free to ignore it.

Sigh

In a previous blog post, I had intended (but cut it out due to that post running long in the tooth) to go on a tirade about bad experiences I’d had with the “old-school” D&D culture. In essence, I like old D&D’s rules more, but the culture that goes with them–which is basically a bunch of xenophobic white horny guys who will jump the table if you dare suggest a woman can be a fighter or admit to ever having had a dungeon idea be inspired by an episode of Inu-Yasha (because anything that’s not an old cliche’d pulp from the 30s is bad, see). They came off like the kind of like a Social Justice Warrior’s parody of what conservatives are like, except they were for real.

The problem was I find old D&D’s rules/gameplay legitimately better. But therein lies the problem… if I want to play with people who will accept my strange ways, I have to also accept modern D&D’s extremely computer game-inspired, heavy micromanaging, ten-page-long character sheets where you can’t do anything unless you have a Feat for it and DM’s who will penalize you for climbing the tree or trying to take out the bridge because you know you can’t kill the ogre.

And yet another problem with the “new school” crowd rears itself… they’re dishonest apologists for newer editions. They remind me of when Final Fantasy VII was new and it was verboten to ever say anything bad about it (even though it was overrated as all hell, and I say that as a guy who used to love JRPGs). Leonaru’s words about Finch are an example. Another is the response The Spoony One’s Counter Monkey show got when he dissed D&D 5th Edition… to this day you still see lies like “he claimed AD&D 2nd Edition was flawless and perfectly balanced” (he didn’t–quite the opposite in fact), or “he whined about balance after whining about players who want balance” (he pointed out that a lot of the concepts are badly thought-out and easily exploited, and his rant was about coddled players who hate having to actually think or worry that their character might die–it was very clear in context that “balance” is often used as a euphamism for “I want to be able to cowboy out and solo tough dungeons even though this is supposed to be a game about teamwork,” as emphasized by the example of players who want to play as fairies).

Simply put, fans of modern D&D constantly lose me with how they’re pretty much willing to lie and misrepresent the position of anyone who advocates for an older edition. Hell, I’m sure that after I publish this blog post, I’ll be accused of being a nostalgic (even though I only played D&D recently, except for computer games) and have all sorts of words put in my mouth. Because honesty is hard.

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My Understanding of Dungeons & Dragons

Note: If that Wayc guy still wants to contact me, I replied to his comment with how to contact me. I didn’t hear from him after that so I assumed he hadn’t seen it, and he left me no way to contact him.

We now begin the blog post proper

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So, while I rarely got a chance to play the actual pen n’ paper Dungeons & Dragons, I do read a lot about it, and here’s what I’ve come to understand.

Keep in mind, I’m speaking as a guy who was introduced through computer games, which is normally a bad thing, but…

Well… apparently (especially if blogs like Grognardia and documents like “A Primer on Old-School Gaming” are any indication) if you want to get the experience of playing D&D in video game form, the place to look is NOT Pool of Radiance, Baldur’s Gate, or Wizardry…

… Rather, the place to look is games like Zork, King’s Quest, and Monkey Island.

The way a lot of sources describe the experience of D&D (before it became numbers-focused and computer-gamey) reminds me more of the problem-solving mentality of such games than anything else. For example, the Primer I mentioned brought up the issue of discovering traps. In the olden days apparently, instead of saying “I use my check for traps skill” and rolling a percentile, players were instead expected to ask intelligent questions about, and pay attention to, their environment. This was, for example, the reason the ten-foot pole existed: If you suspect a trap, you could poke the floor ahead and see if anything happens (and it didn’t necessarily have to be said pole you poked with–a cane, a piece of broken-off cobblestone you happened to find nearby, a stick off the ground, all would do the job).

The difference is that in D&D, any reasonable solution could work. Annoyed by that part in Phantasmagoria where the lead character will only pry open the trapdoor with a crowbar? In D&D you could try to do the same thing with a longsword if you wanted, the DM would allow it because its logical.

The genre of computer game that is actually called RPG (and which is usually recognized as the descendant of pen n’ paper RPGs) tends to instead play up the numbers aspects, which from what I’ve heard had a bad effect on the original product. Hell, one reason I hated Third Edition at first sight is because it looked way too number-crunchy to be played without the aid of a computer–a clear sign to me that the game was made with PC licenses in mind. To hear certain fans say it, the game never got any better.

To be honest… while I like electronic RPGs, I always felt that the adventure (whether text, parser or point n’ click) genres had a bunch of advantages, my only gripe being the common “only one solution in-game when in real life you’d have tons of options” issue. In that sense, pen n’ paper role-playing sounds like those but in an idealized version that lacks that problem… unless you have an unreasonable DM.

The problem, then, is… well, if I ever played D&D, that is how I’d want to play it. With players using water to find pit traps and then looking around for deactivation mechanisms, or opening chests from behind in case of poisoned darts, or saying “I feel along the edges of the painting for anything that might be a switch.”

The problems I anticipate, then, are:

A: Players who don’t understand what I’m getting at, give me constantly confused looks and wonder why I feel its wrong to just say “I use my disarm traps skill,” and are still confused even when I explain it to them in baby talk.

B: Players who get what I’m going for, but want to play their way anyway because its their preference, and who want to force it on me.

C: That one guy who wants to be a fucking powerhouse badass. I’m sure we’ve all had that player (and its invariably some little kid)–they just come in and say “well I have a magic wand that conveniently solves all my problems!” and trying to veto that just makes them mad.

D: People who want to play a more recent edition, or else an entirely different RPG that I’m not at all familiar with.

See, here’s an issue I have IRL… my area doesn’t have a lot of D&D players, and those that exist have always been of one of the above types. The thing is, its either live with it, or don’t play D&D at all. What can a person do?

This, incidentally, is why I don’t like multiplayer-focused computer games as well: They may be the best thing ever, but it means jack shit if nobody else is playing. They are very much collectivist in that if you like something that everyone else hates, the game will change to accomodate the majority. At least with single player, my subjective experience is maintained come rain or shine.

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Half-Life and Fanboy Stupidity

So for some reason I wound up finding this reddit topic where someone calls Half-Life an overrated franchise. I’ll get to my own opinions in a moment, but first I want to talk about one of the replies.

To give context to the reply I’m about to quote… a responder claims that nobody hated HL (the second especially) when it was new. In response the OP digs up two reviews from Mobygames and two from Gamefaqs which criticize the game and all four were from the days of its original release.

To which the responder says:

I have never heard of “Moby Games” in my life, so I’m going to go ahead and take a wild guess that you typed “Half-Life review overrated” in Google and cherry-picked the site that held the most negative reviews.

Okay, what the fuck kind of gamer on the internet has never heard of Mobygames? And how exceptionally stupid do you have to be to assume the site was “cherry-picked” just because you somehow never heard of it?

That would be like if I presented Sonic the Hedgehog as an example of the 90s mascot with ‘tude trend, and you said “I’ve never heard of Sonic the Hedgehog so he couldn’t have been that well-known or representative.”

…..

Now, to be honest, at one time I used to be a big Half-Life 1 fan. Half-Life 2 I never got to play due to my having shit internet and it requiring Steam, which effectively locked me out. That said, HL2 is one of those Undertale-like cases where I know a lot about it without having to play it just due to how much its discussed. I know about Ravenholm, City 17, the Combine etc.

Now, just from what I do know, I kinda think the OP in that reddit post made a cogent point about realism and behavior. To be honest one thing that struck me as I got older is that part of Half-Life’s appeal seems to be just the nerd fantasy aspect–Gordon Freeman is the ultimate dork, and here he is killing the military (all designed to act like your high school bully and stereotypical jocks, or else a leftist’s idea of what a conservative is like) by the dozens. I’m sure so many people were into it because they imagined themselves as a badass scientist killing Biff Tannen again and again.

That said, for me Half-Life is one of those things where its appeal was ruined by the sequel, because on my end my favorite aspect of Half-Life was the mystery of the events surrounding Black Mesa, what was really going on and what exactly you had done. It was enticing to go through the game again and again, and play the expansions, searching for more clues and information… sort of like the appeal Five Nights at Freddy’s had for some people.

It created what I call a “Thunderbolt Situation.”

Let me explain: There was this cartoon called 101 Dalmations: The Series (which was sometimes okay, though it featured Cadpig, the cutest animated dog ever), and one episode involved the pups watching Thunderbolt (basically a Rin-Tin-Tin-kinda character) but then the power goes out. To pass the time, they make up their own stories for how the episode ends. Then when the power comes back they catch the episode on a rerun, and find out what really happened and… it sucked compared to their imaginations. The moral is “sometimes your imagination is better.”

This episode stuck with me because its a truth I’ve seen play out again and again, especially with franchises of any sort–invariably the more official answers you get, the more they suck. FNAF started out interesting but became this absolutely idiotic nonsense. I’ve talked about this on reddit (and shockingly people agreed with me).

Half-Life is in the same boat. When the sequel came out, the mysteries were all ruined, because the answer was just so lame. Oh, so it was all leading up to an alien takeover of Earth. I recall The Spoony One talking about a similar problem with The X-Files: for all its buildup, you knew the ultimate reveal was gonna be “evil aliens trying to subjugate humanity” and once it came to that, it was just so stupid, another saturday morning cartoon.

It would’ve been nice if HL had gone in genuinely strange directions–like I dunno, maybe the Earth could’ve developed these zones of weird plasma that mess with people like in that old cartoon Spiral Zone, or some chaos from outside time was trying to get Freeman to do a very specific thing for ramifications only it could understand… but well, that kind of thing is probably too much for a mere FPS, where the audience just wants to point and shoot. It’s no wonder Call of Duty is so popular–the logic in those is always see a terrorist, shoot a terrorist. Hideo Kojima found out the hard way that gamers hate it when you play with expectations or try to make them think.

Well, I’m just ranting now. Bottom line, sometimes things would be better if they stopped after the first installment.

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My Beef With Atheism (At Least on the Internet)

I don’t consider myself particularly religious, but one group I don’t really like is Atheists… at least, the atheists I’ve been exposed to online.

Lemme tell you about one of the most terrible experiences I ever had on the internet. This was back when I used to go to fan-forums for certain cartoon shows. On one of them, a recent member (an 11 year old girl) was just chatting it up, when someone happened to click a link to her livejournal and saw in her profile that she was Catholic.

Suddenly, several members–including one (supposedly) 21-year-old man and a couple of older teenagers–suddenly started attacking this 11-year-old girl nonstop, going on and on about how she’s a horrible oppressor forcing her religion on everyone… even though she actually never brought up her faith at all, religion actually never entered the conversation until the attackers themselves brought it up. The girl’s own reaction was basically “What did I do?”

I rushed to her rescue, pointing out how it was the attackers being dicks–and also how they were doing the very things they accused the 11-year-old girl of (and yeah, I reminded them that they were adults antagonizing a child and how that made them all rather cowardly). To their credit… they decided to fight with me instead.

….

I’d like to say this was an aberration, but in all honesty, the above is all too typical of Atheism and Paranormal Skepticism on the internet. People who hold those beliefs tend to believe that merely having them makes them So Smart and Enlightened, because people on the internet like getting kudos and gratification without effort ya see, and on this high they like to go and lord their righteousness all over everyone else.

The irony is that this is what they accuse religious folks of doing. But if you point this out, they pull the same card that SocJus sometimes does and is like “Well its okay if WE do it because we were oppressed for centuries!”

Keep in mind, the “oppression” they speak of is stuff like having to play Dungeons & Dragons in secret because of a short-lived panic among certain conservative groups in the 1980s. I’ve seen at least a few people on Twitter use that as justification for a church shooting that happened a few years ago. Again, an example of these people being just as bad as they claim religion is.

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Another aspect I’ve always hated about Atheism is that atheists tend to be ignorant of the thing they hate. Even though Atheists themselves say that “reading the Bible is the quickest way to become an Atheist” and they like to point out how most Christians only read the bible to look up choice quotes to take out-of-context… thing is, most Atheists do the exact same thing and have never read it cover-to-cover like they say you should.

Also, anyone from a non-Western country might already be spotting another issue: Atheism tends to have a default understanding that All Religion = Christianity. I’ve even seen this openly stated on Penn & Teller: Bullshit–according to them, all religion is about how someone claimed to be the son of God, got a lot of followers, performed some magic tricks that they tricked people into thinking were miracles, then died and left a prophecy of their eventual return.

Oh, so were all the pagan religions that pre-dated Christianity also all based on messiah figures? Or what about Taoism and Buddhism, which aren’t anything like Christianity and emphasize finding the truth for yourself? yes, Buddhism technically has the Buddha, but one of its core teachings is “if you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha”–in other words, that blindly following directions isn’t the same as being a true buddhist.

….

Probably the biggest lie Atheists bring to the table is the idea that religion is somehow at odds with science. The actual truth is, science wouldn’t exist without religion, because the first scientists came from religious backgrounds–in fact, they began looking into the workings of the world because they thought it would help bring them closer to God!

Part n’ Parcel of this is that atheism likes to rewrite history. The Galileo story is famous, but what the classic telling leaves out is that Galileo actually had the approval of the church to publish his book, but decided to be a dick about the whole thing, and that was the real tipping point. The Crusades are another, and yet historically that had less to do with spreading faith and more to do with land-grabbing, resource allocation, and Sir Richard being a violence-loving dick. Basically, any time you see religion blamed for something, chances are the real truth is far more basic and material and religion is just being scapegoated.

You’ll notice that atheists like to downplay that one of the causes of the French Revolution was scientific rationalism going too far and people deciding it was okay to kill just because you accidentally said “oh god!” or something like that, because in their narrative, eliminating religion would bring world peace. My experience with atheists has led me to believe the exact opposite.

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How to Be Deep: State the Obvious

So I was just having a skype chat with a friend and we got to shooting the crap about recent trends in media (particularly indie gaming but both of us have a tendency to jump the rails), and we got to talking about Undertale and Five Nights at Freddy’s.

Thing we ended up talking about is how both wound up getting a perception from their fanbase that they were some sort of deep, complex or intellectual experiences, basically for putting a lot of complexities on top of what, played straight, would’ve been straightforward premises. Undertale in particular often gets said to be this really moving mind-opening experience for teaching people that violence is bad.

Like… wait, people don’t already know that violence is bad? This is seriously something none of Undertale’s fans had ever heard before or realized for themselves before going on a pacifist run?

I saw a similar reaction to the movie “The Dark Knight.” Okay, this is kinda spoilery I guess, but….

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Well, you had a chance to back out.

Anyway, at one point there’s this scene where Joker does a “social experiment” involving placing bombs on two boats, handing the switch to the bombs to the people on the opposite boat, and saying “if you want to live, blow up the other boat.” On one boat there’s this big scary black man with a convict suit on, and he’s made out to be a criminal who will blow up the boat so he’s intimidating everyone into handing the remote to him… then he throws the remote out the window.

I remember for years (hell, I still see it even today) people pointing at that and being like “Oh how enlightened this movie is for being about how you can’t judge people by looks!”

Again, if you’re over the age of ten, this is something that modern society should’ve already taught you.

It’s not like that scene is even original–the He-Man episode “Heart of a Giant” basically did the exact same thing (presenting a nominally-scary person and showing he’s actually not what you think) and that’s just off the top of my head. So something a children’s cartoon from 1983 did was suddenly being hailed as forward-thinking in the early 2000s.

But its not even just works of fiction. On Youtube, there are all these channels that are… well, “political commentators” is probably the umbrella that covers most of them, though even that not very well. They tend to divide into Left or “SJW” (Shaun and Jen, hbomberguy, etc) or “Rational Skeptic” (Sargon of Akkad, Armoured Skeptic, etc). Of these, the only one worth watching is TL;DR and even he’s not perfect.

Now, every last one of these channels has people who preach to the high heavens about how their chosen talking head is the one true messiah and so wise and enlightened, when really, all they do is parrot your own beliefs back at you, and thus what you’re really praising is having your biases confirmed. That’s right, depth is code for bias confirmation now.

It’s funny how these channels obstensibly dislike each other but they’re very similar. I mentioned my own fave is Teal Deer, who apparently fought with Shaun and Jen (a fight I feel he won, incidentally), but they’re both very similar in a few respects… both, for example, talk a lot about how you can’t trust news sources because they’re all biased and will word things in ways intended specifically to support a narrative. Despite this, both are bad about taking everything they read at face value when it supports their own predisposed beliefs… or, if you’d rather, when it confirms their narrative.

It’s all so stupid.

As long as we praise people for the intellectual equivalent of drawing a circle using a drawing compass, we’ll never produce anything of true merit. Or really advance our thought.

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Being a Creator is Daunting These Days

So I’ve long wanted to write a book or draw a webcomic or something, and I have plenty of ideas… but the internet has… not exactly killed my enthusiasm, but it has significantly hurt it.

One problem is that everything is political now.

Most of my fiction involves (and in at least one case consists almost entirely of) female characters, usually in heroic roles. During my troper days I did a Batman fanfic where Batman was actually a girl (but still called “Bat MAN” to throw people off). That kind of thing isn’t unusual for me… and is one reason I laughed when certain Tropers tried to claim I was sexist for not seeing the rampant misogyny they claimed Sailor Moon had.

But these days, female characters are a political point. Look at Rey in the new Star Wars movies, or the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters. In both cases there was a political incentive to make “strong female characters” and it led to a backlash where people hated the characters, but the creators just accused the critics of hating women.

It makes me a little afraid that if I publish damn near anything with a woman character, especially any that might be powerful enough to fight Batman and win, I’d have either the Social Justice side on my back because “she fell in love at one point, SEXISM!” or else the competition saying “this is pandering to feminists!”

Fuck politics.

The other problem is, of course, the internet has revealed how stupid a lot of people are. The Age of Internet Reviewers showed that most people (at least, most people who make reviews) are incapable of following a storyline if you don’t explain everything to them in clear, concise terms… and sometimes, even if you do. Remember when Film Brain and Bennett the Sage both didn’t understand the significance of Penguin having papers that would implicate Max Schreck in wrongdoing in Batman Returns? Or the time CinemaSins claimed there wasn’t a gate anywhere in the Warcraft movie and it was right there in the scene they were showing? Or how about the time (which I made a video about) when Dom went on and on about a racist term in the book Goldfinger which was actually never in the book at all?

This wouldn’t be so bad if people weren’t prone to automatically believing everything a reviewer says.

So that’s the situation any creator finds themselves in. Their work is either political or its misunderstood by dumbass reviewers… possibly even dumbass reviewers who happen to have a political bent.

Frankly I almost sympathize with the fact that Hollywood doesn’t even try anymore.

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