Monday, August 29, 2011

Linkstorm: What It Is

I generally like No High Scores, even if I can disagree with them, and after playing Mass Effect, I find Brandon Cackowski's remarks on morality systems in video games to be highly disagreeable. He boils every variation on the theme down to a paradigm of good and evil and then proceeds to pick apart how invariably neither option is "good" or "evil."

Of course they aren't; Mass Effect's Paragon choices aren't saintly things between those choices you are shooting and killing a lot of dudes. All of that is considered by most people and especially Cackowski as being "not good." I don't contest that; but since the path is called "Paragon" and not "good," who gives a flip? Morality systems are there to let a player develop their character along consistent guidelines, not shepherd them to keep within certain guidelines.

Sadly, the systems to do this are often bipolar, and like many bipolar systems, fail to fully capture the full character and contours of participant attitudes.

Working on a "principles" system would be preferable to the current model of just packaging xenophobia, violence, antisocial tendencies, and utter dickotry into a package labeled "Renegade," and forcing me to be a xenophobe (aka a space-racist) in order to satisfyingly explore the true potential for violence and dickotry that Shepherd can offer. I'm sure the same goes for other games.
That's for me. I'm sure that the bundled attribute decision model works well for most people; you take an identity, and what you're supposed to do from that point forward is informed by that identity.

Which is--if you were waiting for my approval--a fine, but not entirely admirable way to go through life. Whether you define yourself as a "Christian," a "Catholic," a "Homosexual" or anything else, that's not bad. It only goes awry in two situations:

If you're a good person, then your identity is the best. If your identity is the best, why isn't everyone else that? In addition to the like-likes-like nature of humanity, it isn't enough that we are something if someone else is something different.
Image from Think4Yourself tumblr. Passed on from Mike Mitchell. Cherry-picked sampling of the worst of humanity courtesy, as always, of Facebook.

XKCD has had something to say about it, but the larger issue is that by publicly identifying yourself as something, it indicates your values, choices, and beliefs, and when people who've identified themselves differently see that proclamation, they can't help but to react-- however inarticulately--with a strong expression of how wrong your values, choices, and beliefs are...if only because of the insult they imagine from you being different.

The complication is that whenever some is wrong, and loudly wrong, people should stand up and say something against it. When someone says, "Maybe Hitler was right," if no one explains that "No, it's still the case that Hitler was a terrible human being," then that incredibly untrue and dangerous thing is allowed to proliferate.

The trick, of course is teaching everyone that just because an idea is different, does not mean that it's untrue or dangerous.

The second problem is an "ingroup" problem. I've recently started following @homophobes. It's not because I love to watch people hate on gays (I'd rather have a monopoly on that, actually.), but because these people exist, and ignoring them, marginalizing them, and writing them off never addresses the issue. The issue isn't that these hateful people see others as different, but that they see them as not the same enough.

It sounds dumb (predictably, because it is dumb), but it's another identity issue; "man" is an identity. And one of the really, really, really, central points of the traditional view of "man" is sleeping with women (admittedly, for good reason). The major cause of backlash against the emergence of homosexuality is that the definition of "man" isn't supposed to include both halves of sex.

It's the same thing between Christian groups, even the ones who go so far as to denounce Mormons. "If I'm a Christian, and I don't believe in the plates, then that person can't be a Christian either." You can see it's slippery though; maybe plates do fit into a person's definition of Christianity. When I was younger, my sister was a Wiccan and I was thusly introduced to Houma's tiny Wiccan population. My impression was that they all got different books on Wicca from the bookstore and then got together to talk about who was and wasn't Wiccan enough according to the books they bought.

Identity is an ephemeral thing, and until we start outlawing words and codifying their meanings (which implies some level of organization and education, which safely leaves US, and especially The South, out of any such schemes in the near future), people will incessantly fight each other over linguistic identity turf.

Sorry guys, this is becoming more "storm" than "link."

Also bad is the imposition of identity onto others. For example, the Bert and Ernie gay thing. As Cracked points out; they're muppets and if gays want to be seen as regular guys who just happen to prefer sex and/or romantic relationships with other guys, then you can't drag asexual puppets into it. It's fair (but pretty dick) to out existing high-profile homosexuals to show that you are regular people who are just slightly different, but trying to create a narrative where those who cannot possibly be gay are gay because they fulfill gay stereotypes or "just seem gay" isn't helpful to the larger cause and is in fact damaging to it. Trying to stamp other people who could not possibly be in your group as members doesn't benefit anyone. Self identity is the cornerstone of identity.

Perhaps worse still is whenever people try to make someone else of a different identity. Sorry guys, even though Innistrad spoilers kinda warrant their own blog, we're going to be doing the DC thing for the next few days/weeks/until something shiny or hot distracts me.

No! No Linda Carter for you!

Coelasquid mentioned something particularly insightful related to her drawings of the Justice League (and others) based on the now infamous variant cover for the relaunched Justice League comic coming out.

The root problem is that these characters are the result of people who have a conscious identity making characters who have a different identity. I'm not saying that white dudes can't write black women, or that middle-class Baptist Hispanic women can't write middle-class Southern Baptist Hispanic women because of some inter-identity breakdown of understanding. What I'm saying is that when white heterosexual dudes think of a "fit guy," they think of Superman (With clothes on.). When others think of the same thing, their perceptions provide equally telling bias in a different flavor according to how they reckon the identities of "fitness" and "guy."

That's one reason a hegemonic creative staff isn't quite as strong as a heterogeneous staff, and nothing demonstrates that better than Dwayne McDuffie's sardonic pitch for Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers back in 1989, highlighting the association between African-Americans and skateboards that was prevalent amongst the creators of Marvel comics at the time.

Similarly, Wonder Woman is "the female" superhero, and if the artists, writers, and editors at DC can't portray her as anything but the heterosexual male view of female, then yes, they do need to hire more women because they're gambling everything to attract new readers. When you're gambling, you have to be smart, or the house is going to win and in this metaphor DC is not the house; their potential readers are.

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