Gun Running, Fallouting

Last time, on Athena Falls Out, we made it to Los Angeles. The glitz, the glamour, the broken dreams and general desperation, the foul creatures wandering the streets, it’s not all that different that modern day LA. Athena met the police and mayor of the village of Adytum, who all wanted her to kill the Blades, then she met the Blades, who are actually pretty cool people that everyone lies about.

So you guys decided to side with them, but didn’t specify how. I’m going to go with the means that does not lead to me fighting a whole town by myself, and that starts by us going somewhere else in LA.

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First, we go to a library to the west. This doesn’t have anything to do with the quest, but there’s a few interesting and rewarding things here. This library is the headquarters of the Followers of the Apocalypse, a group dedicated to promoting peace and harmony throughout the wasteland. Haahaaaaaaaaa, good luck with that. But still, their mission is admirable. And it’s good to have someone working towards it. Even if they are doomed to failure forever.

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Athena heads inside the library, and starts chatting with the first person she sees, a woman named Katja. Katja asks a lot of questions, and really doesn’t buy Athena’s insistence that she’s just a simple traveler, saying that nobody goes to the Boneyard of Los Angeles if they don’t have to. Eventually, Athena gives a bit more details, saying that she’s here to hunt down a water chip, even though she’s not anymore and the developers really should have put another option at this point in the game.

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Katja does open up at that, at least, and starts providing some other information about the area. Apparently, the Followers of the Apocalypse are straight lousy combatants. Not surprising that the people who are most interested in peace are those who are most ill-suited for its alternative, eh? Still, Katja talks about them as if she wasn’t a member of their group and stationed right in their blasted library.

Yeah. Fallout wasn’t so much ‘completed’ as it was ‘finished’. There’s a lot of content that obviously needed another pass, and the Boneyard is probably the single area of the game most full of it.

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Anyways, when Athena mentions that she doesn’t plan on staying around the Boneyard too long, Katja asks to come along. Athena accepts, and now our party’s grown by one.

So Katja is the final companion available to you in the game. So you’d probably think she’s the best, right? Nope. Not at all. Not by any means. She’s probably actually the least useful companion we could get. See, Fallout is a sprite based game. That means characters can only use the items and weapons that the creators gave them animations for. The player characters are the only characters in the game that have animations for all weapon types. The others are a bit more limited. In Katja’s case, she’s using a character sprite that only has the animations for knives and SMGs. Any sort of melee weapon is horrible. And remember, we’ve got our rule of not giving NPCs burst fire weapons. That’s the recipe for Athena dying a horrible and accidental death. There are single fire weapons that use the SMG animations that she can use, but they’re not that great. Moreover, Katja’s survivability isn’t the best.

Still, though, it’s another pair of hands and another ally in a fight. It’s hard to say no to that. She’s not the best, but she is adding to our party’s prowess. Continue reading

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Constructed Worlds vs Civil Rights Metaphors

This post is basically a re-run of a post that I wrote two years ago.  The ideas are all the same.  But Detroit: Beyond Human came out and got all high profile while committing the grave and fatal sin of pressing my pet peeve buttons, so here we are again.  Let’s talk.

I think we can all agree that racism, sexism, all those -isms are horrible things.  Sure, we can come to a whole host of interpretations on what sort of behavior falls under those banners, where the lines are, how much of an impact they have in modern society and how much they should have, what needs to change to get there, and why we’ve let stupid assholes control the discourse on all sides of these matters, but beyond all the battle lines there, I think we can agree that these are bad things.

Lots of creators are moved by this, and want to write about it.  That’s a good thing.  A fair amount of how many people interpret their world comes through the media they consume, and this opens the door to exploration of it.  Lots of creators also like to write about robots and elves and constructed worlds and all sorts of exotic and unrealistic places and people.  That’s also a good thing.  Take us all outside this meatspace shell where everyone has their stresses and their troubles and has to deal with the fact that they will never look as good as I do.  Some creators like to put those two together, and write about the prejudice that their completely different and unusual people face in this world.  That’s also a good thing.  At the very least, explore how rights and social structures and whatnot work in that world, perhaps also getting people to see the mundane matter from a new perspective.  All good so far.

But then some creators take things a step further than that.  They take their constructed race, and try to tie it with the historic civil rights issues faced by some other targeted class of people.  And that’s where it stops being a good thing.  Because in so doing, they undermine the entire point they think that makes, and do a disservice to the whole movement against those issues.

The big, bad thing that so central and horrible about all those isms is that they ascribe a treatment to and a mentality against a people based on mostly immaterial differences.  A person’s race, gender, sexuality, beliefs, etc. has next to no impact on the vast majority of the interactions a person has with the world, and treating them differently according to these factors is injecting a whole host of problems into their lives based on nothing more than your own stupid ideas.  That’s the crux of it.

But a most of these constructed peoples that are used as allegories for real world issues?  They do have demonstrable, practical differences from the rest of the people.  In games, maybe they have different stats.  Or access to different unique abilities.  In stories, maybe they have different physical or intellectual capabilities.  Maybe they’re connected to different living gods or magical hiveminds.  Or maybe they’re robots, and nobody has reason to believe they’re sentient beings.  Whatever.  But they have material differences that go beyond surface level.

Again, that’s fine.  You can still make a lot of points about prejudice when talking about them.  You can make a lot of good, compelling points.  The prejudice against them may still be horrible.  That’s fine.  But by trying to use them as a metaphor for real world prejudice, you’re tying a prejudice that’s grounded in some material difference to a prejudice that’s completely ungrounded, and that weakens everything involved drastically.

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The X-Men probably present the biggest example of the problem here.  So, for a refresher, the X-Men and the other associated titles are about mutants, a race of humans who by a quirk of genetics have powers that they often can’t control and, at least going by the named characters in the series, are generally geared towards combat.   Central conflicts regularly center around the abundant anti-mutant sentiment in this world.  For years, the series called back to the civil rights struggles of its time, but twisted them in a way that was specific for their world.  That was all fine.  They used the real-world stuff to inject realism and explore prejudice, but the mutants weren’t equated with any real group, weren’t intertwined with any real world cause.  This meant all this exploration could happen without undermining any real world groups of people.

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But slowly, that line started to erode.  And the mutants started being obviously equated with real groups.  First with the black rights movements, then drifting over to the sexual equality issue as time went on.  Direct parallels between them were drawn, to try and make that connection clear.  The struggles faced by our beloved X-Men were equivalent to the struggles faced by these other people out there.

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What’s the problem with that, exactly?  It helps people make the connection when they’d normally be barred by their preconceptions, right?  Not so much.  See, there’s a bit too much difference between them.  Specifically, mutants?  When they find out about their powers?  They often do so explosively.  Examples abound in the mutant materials of kids hitting puberty and accidentally killing a whole bunch of people.  Some mutants still can’t control their powers, and do a whole bunch of harm on accident.  Even those who can still misuse their special abilities to the detriment of the mundane people around them.  Yes, even the good guys.  And that’s avoiding the whole issues of evil mutants, entirely, of the fact that there are people out there who can wipe whole countries off the map with a thought and that the only means of stopping them are in the hands of an uncontrolled military force.  So… yeah.  There’s a lot more to justify prejudiced views against mutants than there are against the real world groups creators try to equate them to.  Doesn’t mean those prejudiced views aren’t horrible in result, but they’re a lot more grounded.  Trying to say they’re the equivalent to the ungrounded prejudice real world groups face undermines those groups.  Hell, what’s presented as bigotry in the X-verse has a lot more in common with the gun control debate than it does with civil rights, and writers end up making a very different point than they’re intending to about that.

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So what’s the issue with Detroit: Become Human?  They try to make a similar point about the horribleness of prejudice against androids.  To be honest, I don’t know enough of the material to talk about how it’s handled yet.  But what really grinds my gears, is the connections they try to draw to the real world.  The androids’ uniforms, the arm-bands, the ubiquitous triangles, all draw iconography from the way Nazi Germany forced its ‘undesirables’ to dress in real world history.  The racism and classism there should go without saying.  The horrors against humanity there would be absolutely galling for any reason, but they were still based on a bunch of largely imaginary differences between peoples.  The implication that that is equivalent to the struggles of a people for whom the differences are concrete and the general public seemingly has no reason to believe the androids are even sentient of is… well, it’s frustrating to me.  Now, given my lack of knowledge of the material, it’s possible that they develop that.  Turn that connection into something more meaningful than it appears at first glance.  But given the cartoon caliber characterization of its early scenes, I’m not counting on that.

So yeah, that’s my bit.  This isn’t a great horror of modern writing, or even a big deliberate disrespect to the struggles of survivors.  Just a pet peeve of mine, but one I’d love to see be handled a lot more smartly in the future.

From Zero to One

By the numbers, the most effective, the most deadly enemy in video games is probably the goomba.

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Specifically, this goomba here. The first goomba you face in the game. I would bet that this one goomba has slain more players than any other creature in video games. Grandma gets you a new NES for Christmas, you plug it in with the game it came with, you jump into good old Super Mario Bros., start figuring out the controls, and bam! Before you even have any sense of precision with your jumping, before you even know how to properly maneuver, you’ve got the weakest enemy in the game in your face and bearing down on you. That has happened to thousands and thousands and thousands of players over the years.

For those of us steeped in video games, veterans of the form, that goomba is a complete non-issue. Seriously, one jump, a bunch of minute mid air navigations, we’re on his head and then on our way. A whole bunch of instinctual things going on there that we don’t even think about. Even if you’ve never played Super Mario Bros. before, even if 2-D platformers are completely foreign to you, if you’re enough into video games that you made your way to this blog, you can crush that goomba no problem. Because you’ve built up the gaming skills to know what to do.

Yet, if you don’t have that experience, that first goomba is a completely different challenge. You first have to recognize it as a threat, then recognize the movement that threat is making, predict the immediate actions of the threat, determine the appropriate response, mentally map the buttons to press to execute that appropriate response, evaluate the timing of the appropriate response, move yourself into position to execute the appropriate response, then press one button to launch yourself into the air than use the pad to control your descent.

You and I would be able to do this with all the efficiency of a professional athlete in the midst of the game. Most of this won’t even enter our consciousness, we’d just act on instinct and and put our active mind beyond it. Because we have practiced every single step in that process, or at least something very similar, over and over and over and over and over to the point that it doesn’t even require a thought. Again, it’s a very different game to someone just getting into the medium.

So how do you bring someone to that point? With everything that games have to offer, from the thrill of action to the mind-bendingness of puzzles to the sense of accomplishment of success to the involvement of the narrative and beyond, games have a lot to offer. They are an art form, a very multifaceted one that has some really great experiences within it, but one with a barrier to entry. And how do you take someone over that barrier?

That’s a problem I’ve found myself posed with recently. My most frequent Player 2 is my daughter. But her gaming journey has been a very sheltered one. Usually, she’s on the couch, backseat playing for me as I dominate games like I dominate all things. In recent years, she’s taken to picking up the controller herself, in pretty limited fashion. She’ll ride on the back of my kart and chuck items ahead of me as I drive in Mario Kart: Double Dash. She’ll copy along with what I do in Cooking Mama. She’ll take the reins of my cap and fly around in Super Mario Odyssey. She’ll wander through Kirby’s Epic Yarn with me, my carrying her through the dangerous parts. She’ll have fun, but these have largely been experiences where she doesn’t have much impact on the game, and is not at any real risk of failure. She’s not going to feel the sting of failure in these rolls, and she’s not really going to have to challenge herself. She gets frustrated at losing, and so everything we’ve been doing together have been experiences that I can carry her through. It’s all been very safe for her.
She’s decided she’s done with that. She’s tried some single player fun. She can wander around and catch bugs and fish in Animal Crossing. She can jump around Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64. But she wants more. She wants to grow and expand to becoming a True Doom Murderhead like her main man Aether. She’s been wanting to get into the same type of games I do. She wants to play appropriate to her level, of course, but she still wants to get into the type of game where she needs to be overcoming conflict, facing off against enemies, and navigating strenuous situations.

And that’s where I’ve been having issues. Finding a game that I can use to introduce her to the skills needed to succeed. And it’s been a lot harder than I expected. I set her up in Kirby figuring that’d be about as simple and flexible as it comes, had her watch me play through the first level, had her practice all the controls, and she still froze up when faced with her first enemy. As simple as that game is, just playing games in the first place involves so much mental actions that even a simple mindless encounter to me is overwhelming to her.

It makes me think of my own journey through video games. I remember being exposed to them for a while through friends before I ever felt comfortable enough to pick up the controller on my own. Once I did, my learning experiences were mostly through the standard classic fare. Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Kung Fu, the first two areas of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 over and over and over. I wasn’t aware of my skill progression there, but obviously, that did build the fundamentals I needed to find success in future games, and I kept building up on that over the years and decades since, to the point where I’m the planet-shattering warbeast I am today.

But how do today’s newbies do that? Going from 0 to 1 on anything skills-based is generally one of the hardest steps. And modern games are generally a fair bit more complicated than they were when I was growing up. The skill progression would be very similar, I’d imagine. But I find myself more stumped as to how to instill that in someone, how to put them on the path to competence while still engaging them with what they’re playing on the way there. Trial and error just doesn’t seem to work anymore.

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For the time being, we’ve got ourselves going back several years to River City Ransom, and that seems to be working the best for her. Requires a lot of basic positioning skills, while still being mashy enough that she can still be a meaningful part of the game just hammering on buttons without thought, and the beat up guys/get money/go shopping gameplay really feeds into the reward structure that resonates with her. Most importantly, this is one of the few games I’ve found that, as long as I’m running interference as the other player, she only needs to focus on one or two things at a time, cutting through a lot of the mental processes that altogether can be overwhelming and lead to freezing.  So that’s working for use right now. Next steps are still to come however. Hopefully I’ll stumble onto something that works then.