Responding to a Tweetersation

Fellow blogger Syl over at MMO Gypsy mentioned on Twitter a dislike of specific elements of the HBO television show Game of Thrones when she asked:

I responded:

In return, Syl replied:

And a very reasonable exchange of tweets on the matter with a wide array of opinions ensued. I, however, opted to retract my statement given the limitation of Twitter. After some prodding, I decided to write this post.

Even with the full weight of a blog post at my side, this is a complicated matter for me to express both eloquently and carefully. Wish me luck!

It begins with empathy. Apocryphal or not, there are two stories that have long been canon in the narrative expression of who I am as a person.

First, I recall at a very young age my mother being quite upset that someone had eaten some leftovers which she had particularly marked for herself as a lunch the next day. The culprit was never identified and I don’t believe it was me (though it could be, cold chicken is delicious). All the same, I remember the intensity of the sadness I felt for her.

Even as young kid, I was aware how much my mom sacrificed daily for the family. It seemed cruel that such a simple thing as ‘relying on your lunch to not get eaten’ could not be taken for granted. Especially considering the matter after many, many more years of experience, I know exactly how frustrating it can be for a perfectly reasonably expectation to be completely denied.

Second, my father and I were at a video rental store (ancient locations where the insides of Redbox machines were displayed in a large area without touch screens, instead opting for actual touch and employing a greasy teenager to not screw-up). My dad is a big fan of Nascar, so naturally he gravitated toward a box with the Nascar logo emblazoned boldly. Picking it up, he showed it to me and said, “Let’s watch this.”

With all the intensity of a young kid who has yet to learn about tact, I proudly and loudly responded, “Dad, that’s a Nintendo game – you don’t watch those!” The look of disappointment in his own mistake obviously scarred me for life because I still think about it from time to time.

I start here because the prevailing theory in my head of who I am as a person revolves around an innate ability to empathize with others. I’ve always felt a rather strong connection to other people’s emotional well-being, and I tend to be a quick read on other individual’s state of being whether obvious signs are on display or not.

Now, add to the mix a kid who is introverted, shy for most of his life, who often feels disconnected from the real world and the bigger picture becomes clearer.

As I said in my post about my car accident in January, “There is a dangerous side to my personality: I crave experiences.” I’ve always had a strong imagination and a love of creating. Often because of my natural introversion, I live more in my mind than in the real world. That’s why books and video games have always been a natural fit with me: I value the new experiences.

When you combine that with a deep tendency toward empathy, even a poorly written or acted bit of fiction can touch the deepest parts of my being. It is an addictive feeling where I take on (briefly) the life of another person. No matter how fictional they may be, I lose myself in similar ways, I’d argue, to how a method actor can lose his or herself in a role. In fact, there have been times when I jump up and act out the part, especially when I was younger and more foolish. Even now, it is incredibly risky for me to finish a book (or anything else, really) close to when I am going to sleep. The rush of energy that flows through me almost always guarantees a few hours where sleep will be impossible due to excess brain activity, reenactment, and critical evaluation.

Sticking with the same quote, the ‘dangerous’ nature of my experience-cravings comes from a real desire to experience actual pain, actual danger. That’s not exactly true, but it also isn’t exactly untrue either. In improving my understanding of living and the people who do it daily, I have a deep, dark curiosity constantly striving to not only experience their highs but the lows that often define them even more. I turn on sad songs not necessarily to relate to them personally, but to feel the sorrow and loss and despair of the artist.

My love of Game of Throne’s sadism is my love of feeling-and-experience collecting. Great writing and great acting heighten the intensity of the high and, like an excellently written book, I take on briefly a different point of view with experiences (thankfully) foreign to my own.

It doesn’t hurt that A Song of Ice and Fire, as a book series, has helped renew my interest in the fantasy genre at large. The naively romantic whitewashing of pseudo-medieval societies as places of great adventure where heroes are celebrated for moral and mythical quest-accomplishing had long convinced me that the genre was incapable of generating the emotional resonance I find worthwhile. Instead of trials of faith where the heroes belief in his own destiny or in the love of someone in dire need of his help is all that motivates his journey,I demand complexity, relatability, and an experience reflective of actual human beings, not their mythicized counterparts. Predestined heroism is a novel idea, but not an idea of which I want to read in my novels.

Back to the matter at hand, I suppose I spoke a bit too soon when I responded to Syl’s tweet in such a manner. Honestly, I spoke without thinking at all. Unlike so many personal posts I write where I willingly give you insight into how I might view something (myself, the world, or otherwise), this one is an admission I do not give without serious hesitation. When Syl describes Martin’s work as having a ‘voyeuristic joy of torture’, I am the audience member taking a voyeuristic joy in the story Martin weaves, and that includes the torture, murder, rape, desolation, and mayhem that is so prevalent throughout it.

I don’t apologize for it. I won’t. Mostly because I believe in my ability to separate fact from fiction. Even if I take pleasure in it, I do not believe for a second that these depictions are changing me to be more violent, more misogynistic, or more rapey. No more than I think a violent video game causes people to go out and murder en masse, I do not avert my eyes from the screen for fear of subversion.

If the full weight of my opinion is to be levied here then I think precisely the opposite. My voyeurism leads me to walk in these people’s shoes. To fully understand the human experience, we cannot close our eyes when it gets dark out, thinking our own temporary blindness enough to really see the matter at hand. We must open them completely and take in the true darkness before us.

The beauty of the mediums we have constructed as a culture are their ability to widen our perspectives to their widest viewing capacity. In doing so, we can finally see the full spectrum of the human experience, a spectrum that gets a lot darker than the rainbow we’d like to see it as.

What the players want – who can say? | MMO Gypsy

Only on MMO Gypsy, “What the players want – who can say?”

I’m sorry Syl, but whether you like it or not, this post is the single greatest thing you’ve ever produced in my eyes. And that’s saying something!

I’ve struggled for a long time now to say exactly what Syl had to say in a post that would deliver it nearly as clearly or eloquently. I’ve failed. Part of the problem is that, for me, the mantra ‘Vote with your Wallet’ far outreaches the MMO communities where it is popularly tossed around. Its reach is global, buried deep inside the psyche of Homo Economicus. Add to it my general distaste for how often gamers break out the “its a business” card to shut down any idealist’s dreams (or a realist’s hopes for a world less boarded up by ‘divide and profit’ capitalism).

The end result? A great big problem, a lot to say, and will that has been incapable of expressing anything at all so far. Also, a host of economic books on my Amazon wishlist, as well as a few interesting papers/articles/etc. on economics dutifully Pocketed for later research.

Thankfully, this post has let me say at least a little something on the matter. In a world where the vast majority of decent MMOs are of AAA quality, as a gamer, I’ve been moving more and more away from AAA titles. I favor indies. I love those games that aren’t intended to be megahits yet they manage to resurrect my entire love of a genre (Bravely Default). I suppose once my Kickstarted games finally start seeing release they will prove my love of crowdfunded gaming too.

Frankly, I am tired of paying for your marketing and voice acting budget, just so you can deliver me a MMO so spread out that I barely get a month before the mystery is completely gone, the mechanics are mostly mastered, and I’m ready to be bored by someone else’s copy/paste leveling treadmill instead of your’s.

Yeah, that’s MMO burnout, but I feel entitled to it. I’ve cut my teeth on this genre and earned every second I have now to complain about it. Decades plus of experience and all that jazz.

That’s why I had this to say in response to Syl’s excellent post:

I agree with you. Frankly, “vote with your wallet” has long since struck me as being absolutely absurd. It’s a fun adage and bit of advice, but only shallowly so. It’s right up there with “be yourself.”

How exactly does a company understand what less cash flow from people ‘voting with their wallet’ means? For example, I am boycotting EA, so I am effectively ‘voting with my wallet’. Assuming they noticed, how would they tell my objections to Origin, my problems with their uses of old licenses, or their butchering of games like SimCity aren’t just me being broke or turning into a pirate or dying off?

They don’t. They need metrics to even begin cracking that code, and even then, I am insignificant on any scale. My opinion will never matter as long as all I do is not pay. Worse, since people believe this wallet-voting crap, companies take success as a sign from the People’s Republic of Consumerstan to MAKE MOAR YESTERDAY.

There are areas where ‘voting with your wallet’ holds up, but those are on the extreme other end with indie titles and Kickstarters. Places where there aren’t millions and millions of dollars at stake and a publisher in the way trying to guide everything they can to maximum profit margins. Overall though, it’s a piss-poor idea when we are talking major gaming companies and MMO projects with huge amounts of money on the line.

In those cases, ‘voting with your wallet’ is the equivalent of voting for a political party rather than the individual candidates. It’s a big blank check to do whatever you want with my ‘votes’ because your organization is too big to understand why I’m giving you those votes in the first place.

With MMOs specifically, I think the genre as a whole has become far too dependent on market-driven design. Part of that is due to the fact that developers are inundated from both sides with demands. MMOs are a large investment, so publishers and investors want certain things done. MMO players are incredibly fickle and varied in their interests and they want other things done. It’s a giant mess.

For me personally, I will always respect games that can sell me on the passion of their creators. That’s where most MMOs fail. They have each become so dependent on taking cues from one another to maximize their marketability, that companies have backed themselves into a corner. Launch a MMO without full PvE, PvP, and end game, that isn’t 100% balanced and bug free? You are dead in the water. Launch a MMO with all of those things? Congrats, you just produced a near exact copy of an already established game, but the graphics are better and you’ve got voice acting! … wooo …

Companies love blaming players for this, as do other players. To me, the problem is developers and publishers with no backbone, dreaming up illusions of making gigantic profits. MMOs don’t work like other games. You can’t make a “complete” product at launch because there is no such thing as a complete MMO. The genre isn’t about the sprint – it’s about the marathon. In all their feature-rich blandness, new MMOs don’t impress me enough to hold my attention longer than a month or two if that. By then, I’ve hit cap, done all the content, had my fill of the various modes and am ready to move on.

“Aha!” you may be now thinking, unconvinced reader – “Clearly the problem is you, the person burning through these games with no concern for putting down ‘roots’”, you add.

You may be right, but I do think specialization helps prevent this. I didn’t start up World of Warcraft to achievement hunt, pet battle, do arenas, etc. I started it because it was the best PvE game on the market for a long time. I stayed with it for years because that seemed like Blizzard’s biggest focus while they added other features to enhance the package. Then those other features become equally, if not more important – the game expanded and in doing so seemed to also feel smaller.

That’s the genre in a nutshell. It’s a lot bigger now, but too small for me to fit anywhere anymore.

You can find my comment here. Feel free to respond directly to where I posted it originally. Oh, and as to be expected, read Syl’s post before responding to mine. It’s always handy to have the full context!

Continue to MMO Gypsy …

#PlayerVsDesigner #Economics #PassionliteMMOs

Hajime no Ippo: Rising (Anime, 2013)

This post is going to be a bit different. Unlike the rest of you silent ‘friends’, The Otaku Judge has reigned as Murf Versus’s most prolific commentator for a long time. Up until now, I haven’t really had a chance to mention his blog. Today, that changes because I’m going to take inspiration from his excellent reviews.

BEFORE WE CONTINUE, if you didn’t click either of those two links, here’s your last chance. I really do recommend his blog. More than just anime, he often reviews older games as well. Plus, the writing is solid, to the point, and the blog as a whole is easy on the eyes. No reason not to read it!

IppoLogo

Hajime no Ippo: Rising aired during the Fall 2013 anime season. It is the third set (or whatever you call them) in a lengthy series that follows Makunouchi Ippo, a rising star in Japanese boxing, as well as other members of his gym. Originally, I had intended to do an episode-by-episode recap but I quickly lost interest (recaps aren’t really my thing). Nevertheless, I watched every episode of the series, loving every minute. Ippo has long been one of my favorite series to watch and Rising did not disappoint.

For the purposes of the review, I am going to focus on the Rising‘s final four episode arc. As a prequel set long before Ippo was even born, it won’t be a spoiler that ruins your interest in the show. Yet, as one of my favorite singular arcs in any anime ever, I think it is necessary to spread its singular greatness to fans and non-fans of Ippo alike.

Story

At the conclusion of Rising’s season, Ippo’s coach, Genji Kamogawa, reflects on the recent successes of his coaching career and, along with boxing rival and best friend, Nekota Ginpachi, tells the story of how the two fought an American boxer in post-World War II Japan, at the height of their fighting careers. While there are parallels to Ippo and his own rival, it is the setting that differentiates Genji and Nekota from modern-day boxing, as well as setting the stakes.

Early on, Genji reflects at how amazing mankind is for being able to recover so quickly from something as traumatic as nuclear war. Poverty and hunger run rampant in the makeshift cities that have sprung up in the wake of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To make a living, Genji and Nekota work as prize fighters competing in amateur boxing matches. Despite being rivals themselves, their mutual competitive spirit spurs them both on to not only be better fighters but incredibly strong friends.

When a mutual friend and fellow fighter is defeated easily by an American soldier in an amateur boxing match, Nekota and Genji are both horrified by the American’s attitude. Not only is he larger and stronger than any of the Japanese fighters, but he takes great glee in destroying the ‘inferior’ Japanese. Later that night, Nekota and Genji are both alarmed by a woman named Yuki screaming. The same American soldier from earlier has chosen her to be his, believing that he can freely do what he wants with whomever he pleases. Despite their strengths and talent, Nekota and Genji are both beaten by the American who clearly is more than just an amateur boxer to Genji’s more experienced eyes.

Thankfully, Yuki manages to escape unharmed and the three quickly strike up a friendship. Nekota quickly takes a liking to the young lady, and when he realizes she is homeless, invites her to stay at Genji’s place since he has an extra room. Nekota also invites himself to move in.

Characters

This naturally leads to a bit of a love triangle, but the story never gets sidetracked in doing so. Instead, the focus is on the relationship between the three, as well as the continued friendly rivalry between the two boxers. Not wanting to overstep his friend’s obvious feelings, Genji doesn’t try to fight for Yuki’s affections though she is naturally attracted to his quiet, reserved, and more mature nature.

While the setting is bleak, Nekota, Genji, and Yuki are all perfect examples of Hajime No Ippo‘s ability to portray powerful characters full of heart. The series time and time again balances perfectly the right levels of humor and seriousness needed to make you fall in love with each character. Nekota is often funny, though utterly sincere. Genji is far more serious, though never by sacrificing likeability. As the only character without prior backstory, Yuki manages to be completely charming. As a victim in many ways of a country shattered by war, she’s a reminder that Nekota and Genji aren’t just fighting for money to survive, they are fighting to inspire an entire people to overcome great tragedy.

The American, of course, provides a perfect person to blame. He’s egotistical, incredibly strong, and uncaring. He’s a powerful weapon dropped into a culture with no ways to counteract its presence. He is the reminder of American dominance and an American victory that killed over a quarter-million of their fellow countrymen. To balance out the sheer cruelty of his character, his boxing trainer and fellow soldier is a man who learns to respect the will of Japanese fighters to not give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Of the few American characters present, he’s the only one that shows the possibility of a mutual respect between the two cultures in the future.

Fighting Spirit

No arc in Hajime No Ippo is complete without a real fight. Rising’s final bouts do not disappoint. As common theme throughout the series is the idea of a person’s ‘fighting spirit’ – it is the will that forces a fighter to continue fighting no matter the odds, the damage they’ve taken, or the despair they have begun to feel. After Nekota realizes a previous boxing-related injury sustained while fighting Genji will soon force him to retire, he decides to take on the American as one last show of strength and to prove to Yuki how much he cares for her.

There is very little about Hajime No Ippo’s fighting that can be described as over-the-top. The entire series is very well-grounded in actual boxing terminology, training, and techniques, and its special attacks are taken directly from real boxing moves from throughout the sport’s history. It is in the series’s realism that it best manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. This isn’t a show where the hero pulls a random trick out of a hat. Instead, this is a series that shows real talent, real hard work, and a real fighting spirit doing its best to grasp victory.

In other words, the fights with the American are incredibly tense. Though the show is well-grounded, it is nearly impossible to predict how a victory will come about or if it will come about at all. Given the sheer hatred you feel for the American as well as the love you feel for Genji, Nekota, and Yuki, these final fights leave you completely invested in their outcome.

They certainly left me yelling at the screen.

Overall

Though I love the entire series, it can be difficult to convince anyone to watch the entire run of Hajime No Ippo since it is nearly one hundred episodes long. This arc, however, stands perfectly alone and does an amazing job both summing up the anime’s strengths as well as sells you on wanting more.

I also happen to think that the setting is a perfect place to tell some really amazing stories about the human spirit. There are few modern examples of tragic events such as American bombing of Japan. Even in its utter horror, the Japanese people’s ability to persevere and rebuild is nothing short of amazing. Rising’s final arc is a microcosm of this larger story.

It stands as a perfect example of mankind’s fighting spirit, one that best exhibits itself outside the boxing ring where civilization is rebuilt anew time and time again, never surrendering to the odds and never giving up.

Click for the show's CrunchyRoll page. This arc runs from episode 22 to 25.

Click for the show’s CrunchyRoll page. This arc runs from episode 22 to 25.