We Insist on Ethical Perfection in our Icons

I’m not talking about the kind of icons who run spandex-clad across a comics page, or slaughter legions of brown people on the silver screen. I’m talking about the sort we have in our workaday world; politicians, actors, it doesn’t matter. We raise them up on pedestals, and we insist that they be morally perfect. When they fail to maintain a standard of behavior that we don’t hold ourselves to we pretend to be shocked while our secret hearts consume every detail of their falls with masturbatory glee.

I think Laurie Penny overlooks this in her recent article on Assange in the Independent. She’s not wrong in that we can, and should, insist both on freedom of speech and transparency of governance as well as women’s rights. I’m not trying to “mansplain” her argument away, because I, personally, find no tension that must be resolved within the idea of acknowledging the good that Assange has done via WikiLeaks, and insisting that he be called to account for any rape or sexual assault he might have committed.

Unfortunately, most of us are brought up to believe the ad hominem argument is a valid form of argumentation. For those not familiar with the ad hominem it translates as, “argument to the man.” It’s a tactic in which rather than addressing the substance of the argument you attack the character of the person presenting that argument. In short, “Assange is a rapist, so obviously his work, and thus the work of WikiLeaks, cannot be trusted.”

It doesn’t help that Assange and WikiLeaks have themselves presented the charges pending in Sweden as being exactly that. Which among other things doesn’t help the cause of feminists and social justice workers, because whatever Assange’s intentions, whether or not he’s guilty, dismissing the allegations as simply part of a smear campaign add to the already problematic environment that surrounds rape prosecutions. To put it another way dismissing these charges contributes to the perpetuation of rape culture.

But this post really isn’t supposed to be about Assange per se. It’s supposed to be about his supporters. The ones Ms. Penny talked to, and the ones pontificating in the media. Is there some misogyny in play? I do not doubt it. Are we seeing rape culture at work? I would be the last person to say no. Yet equally at play is our refusal to accept the fact that Julian Assange is only human, and might very well be a shitbag of a human. After all, we ask ourselves, could some rapist shitbag really be a hero?

The answer is that, no, a rapist shitbag can’t be a hero. Rape, alongside slavery, is the most morally abhorrent crime that one can commit. It tops murder by a wide margin. If Assange committed rape we shouldn’t regard him as any kind of hero… but that doesn’t invalidate the message he spread through WikiLeaks.

So long as we insist on moral perfection in our icons, and believe that media delivered ad hominems are a perfectly valid claim none of this is going to change. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Julian Assange or K-Stew. Nowhere on this planet is there a morally infallible human. Quite frankly the vast majority of us don’t even follow an internally consistent ethical system, so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that as a culture we find the equivalent of, “Eww, Billy eats boogers; he can’t be my friend!”, to be a valid justification for claiming we should ignore accusations of rape.

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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Activism, Pop Culture


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Actually, I’m the one who gets to Decide if you’re a “Real Geek”

Apparently someone who styles himself Joe Peacock said some things for which John Scalzi took him to task. Mr. Scalzi rather scathingly demonstrates that his “geek cred” far outstrips that of Mr. Peacock, thus is anyone ought to be the arbitrator of what does, or does not, make one a geek it should be him.

Unfortunately for Mr. Scalzi I’ve got something that far outstrips him. No, it isn’t awards or award nominations. It isn’t consulting for a television show or being invited to conventions. As you might have guessed by this point it’s philosophy.

Ontology is generally considered to be a subset of metaphysics that, in brief, is concerned with the categorical nature of things. That’s admittedly simplifying things, but for practical purposes we can consider that defining what it means to be a person, and then as a subset of what it means to be a person, defining what it means to be a geek to be ontological questions.

As such I have taken it upon myself, in my role as philosopher, to once and for all define what it means to be a geek. Should you then fail to meet this criteria… well, you’re fucked, but I’m sure we’ll think of something we can call you.

Let us begin. The most obvious definition of what it is to be a geek is to be someone who likes geeky things, or engages in geeky activities. As a working definition this seems rather problematic, as it simply circles itself. So perhaps we should then examine what makes a thing geeky.

Comic books are generally defined as geeky. As are video games, science fiction and fantasy media, a fondness for toys that stretches beyond childhood… I’m sure we could add any number of other criteria. If these things are all ontologically geeky, one would think that they should have some degree of commonality. Comics, video games, as well as sci-fi and fantasy are all frequently known for over the top action… but then so are any number of films, television shows, novels etc. that aren’t typically regarded as being geeky. What about powers beyond the mundane? Again, most geeky things seem to feature, magic, super science, super powers etc.. Maybe those would provide us with a solid foundation. At least as long as we ignore the Bible, which features numerous uses of magic and super powers, or the type of magic realism that is generally considered to have emerged in South America and usually gets labelled as literary, rather than genre fiction, and thus mainstream rather than geeky.

And what about outliers. The Avengers, though I honestly find myself in agreement with Ebert’s review, made a fuckton of money. The Hunger Games and Twilight, had they not captured a mainstream audience, contain elements that under normal circumstances would place them firmly in geektown (the same also seems true of paranormal romance in general – it seems to be considered romance, and thus largely excluded from the category of that which is geeky). Heroes, The Incredibles, video games making more money than I’ll ever see in a lifetime. Unless we presume that all the money these things make comes entirely from geek pockets then it would seem that there are people consuming, enjoying, and possibly even considering themselves fans of these things, who do not otherwise consider themselves, or are considered by others, to be geeks.

I could provide additional examples, or continue picking at the issue, but for the sake of word count I think that these couple paragraphs provide a decent overview of the problems that can crop up when we start trying to set hard limits on what a thing is, particular on something so broad as geekdom. Sure, it’s easy to say when someone is a Harry Potter fan, but it gets significantly more difficult when we then try to translate that into determining whether that characteristic is enough to qualify him/her/it as a geek.

Part of the problem is of course that implicitly or explicitly we often assume metaphysical referents for these questions, and thus mistake questions of something else as being ontological or metaphysical concerns. One that I’ve frequently come across is confusing a difference of aesthetics or intent as demarcating a difference in category; which simply isn’t true. And of course those who have read this blog previously will be aware that I dismiss metaphysical referents for most things out of hand, and these sort of problems are among the reasons I do so.

Judith Butler examines a similar problem in relation to defining femininity/what it is to be female. I’ll admit to my paraphrasing here being a bit rough, as it’s been a few years since I slogged my way through Butler (in fairness she’s a strong thinker, but rarely exciting to read). No matter where you start out, or where you end up trying to define that which is feminine you always wind up with a definition that is incomplete, and worse, exclusionary. This is because femininity isn’t just some abstract social construct, it’s because femininity is a performed social construct. This is doubly true of geekdom, because we can’t even fall back on the specious arguments that biological sex is the same as gender; being a geek is made up exclusively of performing the role of the geek, whether one elects to take that role on one’s sole, or it’s socially imposed onto one. I’m admittedly making a bit of a jump here, because this statement touches on some things I haven’t really talked about in depth on this blog, but ultimately what makes one a geek is part of performing that role as part of performing one’s personhood.

If you’re read this far, you might have realized that despite the title of this entry, and my previous disagreement with Jessica Mills over some of the finer points of a similar topic, I’m largely agreeing with Mr. Scalzi. Joe Peacock can’t define what makes someone a geek. John Scalzi, as he rightly says, doesn’t get to do it. Even I, with a superpower that as part of its purview is meant to handle this very sort of thing, and thus means I am qualified to make such grand pronouncements, find myself unable to draw a clear line in the sand. What is it that makes a geek? Performing the role of a geek, and/or being regarded as a geek by the world around one. The ways in which one can arrive at one, or both of those criteria are effectively limitless.


Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Geekery, Philosophy, Pop Culture


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Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut not Worth the Price of Admission (and it’s Free).

Last week I got the urge to replay the first two games in the Mass Effect series. While looking something up in relation to those earlier games I noticed that the new downloadable content for Mass Effect 3, in this case a pack that was supposed to modify the endings, was slated to drop 6/26/12, which fell beyond the date I would be finished with the second game, but would be right in the middle of where I would be if I went ahead and started the third game.

I have talked before about my disappointment with the ending of Mass Effect 3Had I not already been playing the earlier games I likely would have avoided the Extended Cut pack entirely, but as it wasn’t I didn’t see any particular reason not to go ahead and give it a try.

Honestly, I should have just given in and watched the changes on YouTube. I’m going to use bold letters for this part, because I am feeling very emphatic; not only does the Extend Cut not address a single of the problems I had with the game’s ending, but it doesn’t even do what it claims it sets out to do.

My primary problem with the ending of Mass Effect 3 was never lack of “closure”; it was lack of a coherent, well-written endgame. Rather than feeling as if any of the choices I’ve made have mattered, as if the hours I put in collecting war resources and getting my readiness up to 100% (and don’t get me started on how it fell to 99% when I had to restart due to a crash), I still get magical AI/god/Reaper-collective-consciousness boy, who feeds me a little song and dance before giving me three choices (after, of course, facing down the Illusive Man and still not having enough Paragon points for the final dialogue option even after doing all kinds of Paragon shit). That, far more than the predictably ambiguous scene which implies that Joker and Edi are about to become the dysfunctional parents of a future race of technorganic beings, is why the ending of the game falls utterly flat.

But let us set that aside for a moment, and talk about closure, and making players feel like the choices they made throughout their Mass Effect experience matter. This, rather than the poor writing of the endgame, were the issues that Bioware claimed they were addressing with this content pack. As I said above, they fail to accomplish either of these goals. Rather than being given information that might have been both interesting and personal to my experience, such as what happens to Tali? How does having left Wrex alive and curing the genophage affect the galaxy? What about Garrus? The Virmire Survivor? What about the Rachni (whom I spared for the second time)? No, the updated endings don’t bother to address any of the specifics of my gameplay experience; instead, I got some narration accompanied by static images telling me that I have brought about technorganic synthesis at the cost of my own life, and in doing so ushered in a new golden age. Sure, some of the static shots show the characters I traveled with or interacted with along the way, but as I said, nothing truly reflective of my experience of the game beyond which of the final three options was chosen. Not to mention that there’s nothing in the “hidden” post-credit scene that at all explains how what is happening there is in any way linked to either the gameplay that has gone before, or the ending that I chose.

The Extended Cut content pack for Mass Effect 3 might be free (at least until next year), but it isn’t worth the cost of admission. It does nothing to address the actual problems with the game’s ending, and goes so far as to not only fail to accomplish its stated goals, but in giving me a canned response unrepresentative of my gameplay experience manages to leave me feeling further alienated and dissatisfied with the way the series ended as a result.

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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Pop Culture


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Charlie Manson, Sitcom Star

During some beer-fueled tweeting last night I happened across the info that Charlie Manson is up for his latest, and what will most likely be his last, parole hearing later today. Even today, Chuck tends to exert a certain bizarre fascination over people. I’ll admit that when I went through the typical “rebellious” teenage interest in serial killers that strikes certain people of a morbid disposition I found him to be one of the more interesting cases. He was an umpteenth-times loser who’d spent more time out of prison than in, yet he managed to gather his own personal band of fanatics. These folks then went on to commit what, in some ways, was they ultimate crime against the American psyche; they killed a woman who was white, attractive, famous, and pregnant. What the “Manson Family” did was horrible under any circumstances, but when they chose the particular victims that sent them up the river they made a costly mistake, and became an example of the “dangers” of counterculture. In effect, Chuckie and friends were not rebelling against the system, but became the kind of rebellion that Foucault talks about; one that exists to visibly violate the rules so that their punishment can serve as an example to others.

Unlike Tate’s husband Polanski who fled his own crimes, Chuckles fulfilled his Foucaultian role to a T, drawing down far worse punishment than he would have if he had transgressed against someone less “important.”

This is where I come in. Years after any morbid interest in the psyche of killers I happen to overhear the opening of The Brady Bunch, and realized that one could insert the line, “Here’s the story of a guy named Charlie,” without breaking the underlying structure of the tune. Normally these sorts of thoughts simply pass through my head, and leave a chuckle when they go. Alas, this one decided to stick around, and kept clamoring to get my attention.

The idea kept popping up, insisting I do something with it, so finally I jotted down a few notes and took to the internet. My first task was to refresh my memory as to some of the pertinent details of Chuck’s life. While I was doing that I consistently ran in to people talking about how evil he was – perhaps the most evil man to ever live, even. Again, Chuck was a loser who spouted catchphrases with meaningless content, and often unintelligible form while rambling on about his plans to build a bunker to survive the coming race war (which wasn’t coming fast enough for him, so he was going to help it along). I can think of any number of men and women who have done far worse than he did, yet his transgressions against fame and beauty earned him a higher place in the dark parts of our psyche.

Armed with these thoughts I realized my course was clear; I must deconstruct the myth of Manson. Not through evidence or argument, but by inverting his position in the collective unconsciousness. I would turn Chuckles into a pathetically comic figure, fit only to be laughed at. Yes, my intent was to make him the star of a terrible sitcom.

My original impulse was to make a webseries around the concept. Webisodes were starting to get more attention at the time, and it seemed a natural fit given that the central premise was a sitcom, and that I have a background in theatre (also I wanted to jump on the bandwagon). Unfortunately it also required equipment, people, and resources that I simply didn’t have access to. So I scrapped that plan and reworked it as a webcomic.

Not that doing it as a webcomic came off without a hitch. The first artists to express interest flaked on me. Finally I dragooned an old friend, who’d originally volunteered to do inking and/or coloring on the project, into doing the whole thing. The early strips varied quite a lot as we tried to settle on the size and style for the strip, and we changed the format after the first 15-episode “season.” The sitcom premise remained intact, with each strip representing an episode in a season-long storyline, with short “commercials” filling in between seasons. It even managed to pick up its share of regular readers, though never so many as to make me internet famous. However, life, as is its wont, intervened and season two went on a hiatus from which it never recovered. Maybe one of these days the comic will return, but I wouldn’t lay money on it. Though if you like it by all means let me know; a show of support might convince me to get the wheels turning on the return.

Presuming you’ve made it this far, I know present to you the comic in its entirety:

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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Comics, Pop Culture


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No, I don’t think Someone need like a Genre to Review that Genre

So the new season of Game of Thrones got a less than kind review that also happened to take pot-shots at fans of the show. There’s also apparently been a kerfuffle over a review of The Hunger Games, which I don’t have a handy link to. I’ll be honest with you, dear readers; I don’t give a fuck about Game of Thrones. I don’t have HBO, and I haven’t read the books. From what I know of the premise, it just seems too politically focused, and too much politicking and intrigue quickly bores me. It could be I am wrong about this, and one day will discover that I think it is the most awesome series ever. That day is not today. I’ll also freely admit that I give even less of a fuck about The Hunger Games. I have also neither read nor watched it, and have no plans to. That is why I won’t be reviewing those things.

Let’s get that out of the way up front. If you’re going to offer a “review” of something, you should be familiar with that particular book/movie/album/sex toy/whatever. If you’re not actually familiar with the thing you’re supposed to be reviewing you’re not engaging in a review, you’re presenting a comment, and an incredibly uninformed one at that.

What I’m here to talk about is the idea that we should expect reviewers of geeky things to be a fan of said thing/a geek in general/familiar with the genre/at least not hate the genre. These are all pretty much bullshit.

Let’s start with the idea that you shouldn’t assign a reviewer who hates either the genre under review, or even the specific material in question. I hate Plato. I think his work is lacking in pretty much every way it is possible to lack, and is the source of some of the most destructive ideas in human history. I also think Descartes is shit. I have reviewed the work of both men despite that fact. I’ve have torn into their ideas. At the same time, I have countered weak ideas presented by their critics, because if you’re going to criticize their thought you should make damn sure you know what it was they were actually saying. Philosophical writings aside, if someone can articulate why they hate Game of Thrones, or why they think fantasy in general is a subpar genre unworthy of consideration beyond a simple, “it is fantasy, and fantasy is shit,” I am perfectly content to let them review it all they want.

Let us move on to those levels of familiarity whose criteria is slightly more involved than “not having active antipathy for the material in question.” This is often a significantly worse idea than a reviewer who is apathetic or antagonistic to the material at hand. First and foremost, if we are familiar with a genre we often accept that genre’s conventions, even if those conventions are shitty/sloppy/stupid. It drives me nuts when we handwave away something that is weak, and that deserves to have criticism heaped on it in big steaming piles, just because that’s the way things are done in genre X, and everyone else does it that way, so we just accept it and move on. The only things I can say to that are: What the fuck? And cut it the fuck out.

Even if we are going to uncritically accept the conventions of a genre, why should a new reader coming to the genre be left unaware of them? They don’t have the same assumptions about what to expect as we do.

There’s also another problem, and that is the problem of language. There was a cat named Wittgenstein who said some things about language. No, not an actual cat – I’m sure there have been cats named Wittgenstein, but they are neither capable of human speech nor writing philosophy. Anyway, ignore Wittgenstein’s earlier work; he doesn’t get interesting until he shakes off Russell’s tedious influence. One of the things Wittgenstein talks about is the way in which different groups have their own dialects. Certainly most of us are familiar with the concept of regional dialects; they way a common language shifts and differs from place to place. Saying soda vs. pop, or the pronunciation of certain words, for example.

Wittgenstein goes beyond that, however. Even within the same region, a builder and a banker have different languages. I’ve talked before about how our environments are part of shaping us, are in effect part of who we are, and our language is part of this. Even though the banker and the builder might both be from Boston, and are both speaking English (for sake of argument we will presume they are both native speakers of English), both their past and present experiences shape their ways of understanding and conceptualizing the world, and thus shape the languages they speak.

Geeks are no different. We speak a language that is often incomprehensible to those outside the tribe. For that matter, we further subdivide ourselves into clans that often have difficulty speaking to each other (despite claims of inclusiveness for all, geekdom is still as fractious and tribal as ever – this is but another manifestation of that). If we can’t even speak clan-to-clan, how the hell can we meaningfully review something for anyone other than other members of our clan, who are presumably already fluent in our clannish tongue, let alone to those who aren’t even in the Geek tribe?

We already see some of this in this most recent NYT piece. Their audience is not geeks.I suspect that they conceptual audience they keep in mind when establishing the paper’s “voice” don’t even give a fuck about the existence of geeks. This shows in the language they use to speak to that audience. Snide jokes about Dungeons & Dragons, and using D&D as a referent for the concept of fantasy in general, is perfectly in line with the conceptual schema from which their language arises.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a sneering piece of snobbery that isn’t particularly effective as a review, but that’s what the NYT is about, really. I don’t go to them for actual reviews, I go to them for the snobby opinion; doesn’t matter if the material in question is genre or not.

Even if the NYT woke up tomorrow and started publishing actual, critical reviews my immediate thought still wouldn’t be to appoint a geek to review geeky things. We’re often not the best choice of critics – our general affection for the thing being reviewed blinds us to its faults. There’s also the simple fact that we’re often not the best ambassadors of our own interests. They often horrid public behavior of geeks aside, we’re too wrapped up in our conceptual dialect to be able to effectively communicate to those who don’t speak the lingo. This is problematic enough when we’re dealing with our own; if we’re trying to speak to others it often renders the message unintelligible; which is, I suspect, a less-than-ideal choice from the point of view of most publishers.

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Posted by on April 3, 2012 in Geekery, Pop Culture


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Could we have a Little less Nostalgia, Please?

I confess I might be a tad grumpier than usual today, goslings. I attribute this condition to a combination of my naturally surly disposition, and a headache that has been plaguing me for close to a day. That aside, I would like to present you this as a prelude to discussion:

Have you watched it yet?


I”m not going to keep talking until you have?

Done? Good.

For those of you who were to young to have lived through the relevant era, this wasn’t a real cartoon. However, what it does is brilliantly sum up the essence of various cartoons and televisions shows from the 70s and 80s, and that essence can be summed up with a single word: feculent.

I can already hear many of you crying foul, citing your fond childhood memories of He-Man, Transformers, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Robotech, or whatever your poison of choice was. I say thee nay! Oh, I certainly won’t deny that many of us, particularly those of us who identify as geeks, have fond memories of these television shows. They were often played an integral role in the shaping of our nascent geekhoods. That doesn’t mean these were good by any reasonable standard. Quite frankly, they were often poorly written, over- or poorly-acted, had production values that could vary widely in quality not only from season to season but even episode to episode, and generally were not good. Yet we loved them as children, and from that love has arisen the willingness to endow these shows with qualities they never possessed. We do not love these things because they are good; they are good because we love them.

This is one of many, many reasons I’m getting tired of the outcry whenever some beloved childhood property gets a modern remake. Were the live action Transformers films terrible? Yes. So was G.I. Joe, and TMNT as directed by Michael Bay will likely also smell richly of shit, because that is how he rolls. Yet none of these properties are ruined by this fact, because they were never good to begin with; all that Michael Bay et. al. manage to accomplish is to add a new stench to an already rich bouquet of stink.

Even if, and that is quite a large if, these properties managed to overcome their own mediocrity when analyzed with an eye unglazed by the cataracts of nostalgia, the existence of these remakes does not somehow ruin our childhoods. Much as is the case of the Mass Effect 3 ending, our experiences with these television shows, they way they delighted us, the ways they helped to shape us, have already occurred. Barring an accident of the Phineas Gage sort, the onset of severe dementia; there is also the very slim chance of my being proven wrong about the non-existence of time qua time, and thus the possibility of time travel existing outside the pages of fantasy; this cannot be taken away from us. Beyond this, people who like to throw around the term “rape” in relation to these remakes need punched in the mouth repeatedly. Possibly until they die, because I’m tired of having to tell people the same thing more than once.

I’ve talked about the ways in which fictional stories can touch us, and we enter a type of emotional ownership with them. I understand that we can feel like these “inferior” remakes are somehow an insult to the things we loved. Except that isn’t true, because many of those things we love were already crap, and the existence of a new, also shitty version, does nothing to remove the experience that we once had. So while I’m perfectly willing to stand up when I think objections are valid, this isn’t one of those times. Bitching about these remakes solely because they’re remakes of things we love is nothing more than whiney fanboyism. Now fucking well quit lest I be forced to cut you.


Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Geekery, Pop Culture


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Weighing in on Mass Effect’s Event Horizon

I don’t post much these days. In part that’s because I have very little to say that is directly relevant to the reason I started this blog. My comic reading has been declining for a while now, and once I finally got around to reading Marvel’s Fear Itself the decline took a sudden, sharp increase. I’ll be honest: Fear Itself was terrible. Certainly there were individual issues that were good (watching Squirrel Girl out kung fu Wolverine being a moment I was particularly fond of) when taken as an aggregate, as an entire narrative arc, dare I say it when viewed as an “event” it was not worth the time it took to read. It was Fear Itself that forced me to unambiguously confront the static nature of mainstream comics; the ways in which they simply recycle what has gone before with what I suspect Terry Pratchett would unflatteringly call a “newish” coat of paint.

Whether or not you agree with Alan Moore that the industry has been locked in a paradigm largely defined by what he did with Watchmen there’s no real innovation in comics. While narrative might have grown more mature in certain senses, and not simply in the “let’s add more blood and tits” sense, the superhero genre has not grown. Unfortunately with the superhero genre largely being defined by the “Big Two” this means that even non-mainstream comics suffer from this problem, since as has always been the case in so many other ways Marvel and DC are where many of the indie crew takes their cues from. It makes a certain kind of sense to follow the conventions that have worked for the successful companies, right? (Note I said it makes a certain kind of sense – I never said it was a good kind of sense).

Regardless, this was not a realization I was terribly comfortable with addressing directly, rather that the oblique fashion I had always approached it with in the past. I like superhero comics. I think great things can be done within the genre while still using the conventions of that genre (while still allowing us to twist and break those conventions as we please). Yet I increasingly have no desire to read superhero comics… because there’s only so much of the same shit, different day I can stomach.

Not that I’m here to talk about Fear Itself, or even comics – this is all just my way of thinking out loud, as well as providing a spoiler buffer for those who might find the link via a source that includes a portion of the post’s text. Which means it is time for the awkward segue into a post I hadn’t planned on writing; however, with Bioware’s Dr. Ray Muzyka posting a statement about Mass Effect 3 and the way people have been responding to its ending, I decided to set aside all the reasons which had made me not write this, and write it anyway.

I have invested a great many hours into playing the games that make up the Mass Effect trilogy. According to Steam I’ve invested ~91 hours to the first game, ~117 hours to the second, and I would guess ~40 into the third. If we add all that up and divide by 24 we wind up with ~10.3 (that’s a repeating 3, if you’re feeling the need to be precise). That means I have spent roughly 10 and 1/3 days of my life playing a Mass Effect game, and that doesn’t even count the time I spent reading things that were in some way related to the game (news articles, wiki entries, character class guides etc.).

If we look at all the days of our lives, 10 1/3 isn’t so much, is it? Should we total the hours, we will spend far more of our lives than that asleep, or in voiding our bowels. Yet when compared to the average videogame experience, some of which I’ve spent over 100 hours with, others which have been completed in 6 – 8 (and a few in less than that), 10.3 days of my life is a rather heavy investment of time and energy.

That I spent so much time with these games suggests that I have derived an above-average amount of enjoyment from them. This is not to say that I think they have been perfect games. I have talked before about the ways in which I think the Paragon/Renegade system, and the overly-obvious way that system was implemented in dialogue simply reinforces an archaic “kill puppies for Satan/hug puppies for Jesus” morality system. While I like the character of Thane Krios overall, I find the dualism he articulates to be so weak that a first year undergraduate could destroy it without breaking a sweat, and EDI’s comments about what constitutes the transhuman condition to be very ill-defined. Certainly I appreciated that on the whole Mass Effect was willing to touch on philosophical issues, but I tended to be disappointed that they tended to do so in ways that were both blunt (often clumsily so) and watered down. While playing the second game my fingers were reduced to bloody nubs, and my mouth became a font which spewed nothing but profanity more than once during the course of Garrus’ recruitment mission.

While I consider all of these valid critiques, and they were all things that to one degree or another detracted from my play experience, none of them was significant enough either on their own, or when taken as an aggregate, to spoil that experience.

For all those hours invested in these game, for all the enjoyment I derived from the playing of them, the ending of Mass Effect 3 was an utter disappointment. There is no other way to put it. It was poorly explained, did not sensibly follow from what had come before it, and in all respects was a textbook example of poor writing. In short, the ending of the game was simply not up to par with the overall quality of the series, and when viewed as the crowning moment of the experience that is Mass Effect left me bitterly disappointed. While I do think the vehemence of some of the backlash has been unwarranted, simply dismissing it as fanboy entitlement, or claiming that people shouldn’t be upset because it is just a game are, as far as excuses go, complete and utter bullshit. I’ve talked before about the ways in which our capacity for empathy can be engaged by things which are not at all real in the classic sense of real (as well as here, though the focus in this case is dreams, rather than fiction). In a very real sense, and in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with being unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, these games, and the characters contained within, become real for us. While they might not exist, they affect and influence us in ways which have meaning.

I also quite strongly disagree with the idea that Mass Effect 3‘s position as being the last of a trilogy, and thus being in certain respect an ending in and of itself, somehow obviates the installment from conditions we might otherwise expect it to have. I’m afraid that is simply not the case, and the reason it is not the case is by its nature as an installment. While the underlying condition of a trilogy is indeed that each portion is part of an overarching narrative, they must also each have their own working parts; each unit must, in effect, duplicate the macrocosm on the microcosmic level. To put it in less fanciful terms – if one of the parts is busted the whole damn thing has problems.

I also want to touch on the idea of the artist’s vision being inviolate. That this is the ending the folks at Bioware wanted, and as such we must, by its very nature, respect it. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, such utter horseshit that I am not entirely sure where to begin. First, it presumes that videogames are in fact capable of being art. I remain unconvinced of such claims on the whole. While it might certainly be true that videogames have the potential to become art, and perhaps some have managed to become art, I suspect that nature of games as games might well provide a not-inconsiderable barrier to engaging with the experience as an experience, rather than engaging with the experience within the context of rules and how to achieve the best outcome (a point I have touched on when I discussed the implementation of morality and decision systems in games). However, for the sake of argument I am willing to set aside my doubts, and accept that games can be art. I’m going to tell you a secret: art is changed because of audience demand all the time. In the realm of videogames it happened in relation to Fallout 3‘s ending. Films and television shows use focus groups and early screenings, and reshape their final product based on these focus groups and screenings on a regular basis. Fine artists, including those artists we hold up as being the very incarnations of art, frequently shaped their work based on the desires of their patrons. Art is important. Allowing the artist a degree of autonomy is also important. Art does not, however, exist in a vacuum. Moreover, art is also frequently product, and like any product is going to find itself subject to commercial demands. It may not be pretty, but it’s certainly true.

For the record, I say these things as someone who has absolutely no desire to see a new/revised/expanded ending to Mass Effect 3. I fully went into the game expecting Shep to die. In truth, I expected Shep and/or Shep’s love interest to plunge themselves into the fiery heart of the Crucible, thereby becoming the Catalyst and saving the galaxy. I appreciated this not being the ending, as such an ending would have been predictable and cliche. Which would have made it several orders of magnitude better than the way in which the game did end. Changing the ending, however, even if those changes make the ending better, does not change the fact that I have already experienced the ending – it is now a part of me. I would much rather that it has been done right the first time instead of supporting a petition to lock the door well after the horse has escaped, burned the barn down, made his way to Vegas and spent all my money on hookers. My point is not simply to log my own discontent with the ending, but to stand counter to those who feel that we should neither feel discontent, nor should we voice it. I will, however, say that you should voice it without being a dick… a point which I will freely admit many people have failed on.

Overall, my experience with Mass Effect was an enjoyable one. It was a worthwhile journey. The destination, however, was not worth that journey; so much so that I remain unsure that I will make the journey a subsequent time with other characters.


Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Geekery, Philosophy, Pop Culture


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