An Educated Guess

Musings on life in general

Mass Effect 3 has proven incredibly unpopular among the gamer community, ironically not because it isn’t good, but because it’s too good. Or rather, too good for the lackluster ending it provided for the series. But is the ending really lackluster, or is it just a question of our perception?
I’m going to argue that the ending was actually fine, and that if you’re upset about it, it’s your own fault.
EA, over the last several years, has perpetrated a gigantic hoax. They managed to convince millions of gamers that their decisions in the Mass Effect series mattered. Even more impressively, they did this while the first two games provided no proof of  it whatsoever. Frankly, the degree to which they pulled this off is staggering, and the amount of backlash on the internet right now is indicative of the sheer scope of it.
Consider, for a moment, the first two games in the series. Both had a definitive starting and ending point, and at no point was there any way for those to change. Yes, by jumping through a variety of hoops you could influence which characters were there at the end with you, but overall that had no bearing on the actual story. In Mass Effect 3, likewise you could influence which characters lived and died (to a lesser extent). In fact, there are no real examples of player decisions impacting the story of the game anywhere throughout the entire series.
So why did people suddenly expect that to change for Mass Effect 3? Well, this largely has to do with EA and the way they promoted the game. They kept deferring the ‘payoff’ of the player’s decisions from game one to game two, and then from game two to game three. When the eagerly-anticipated changes failed to materialize, the players were understandably upset.
Or is that understandable?
The sad fact of the matter is that people should have expected this. It’s sort of a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” situation. EA had the opportunity to have Mass Effect 2 actually diverge in storytelling, but they didn’t take it. They didn’t take that opportunity in Mass Effect 1, either. So really, if you’re playing through the whole series, you’ve essentially been fooled twice already by the time you even get to the third installment of the series. The fact that you’re still holding out hope by that point reflects poorly on your gullibility.
That said, what this clearly requires is a completely different paradigm in order to appreciate these games. They’re obviously not awful games, because millions of people have played them. Presumably not all of them were tricked into doing so.
Some of you may be familiar with the game Knights of the Old Republic. It was intended to be a stand-alone game (we’ll ignore KOTOR 2 for the moment), and it fully capitalized on the ability to make choices and have those choices be both A) satisfying and B) wildly divergent. This type of freedom was what people expected from the Mass Effect series, but even in the first game it was apparent that this was not what was going to be given.
The Mass Effect series didn’t actually have any real freedom of choice in it, but instead gave players only the illusion of choice. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows the developers to tell a compelling story that in other mediums may have afforded no choices to the player whatsoever. Furthermore, it increases the player’s involvement and attachment to the series by allowing cosmetic changes to the plot based on the decisions that the player makes. Essentially, it’s a step up from the purely linear narrative, and I expect that in the future, nearly all video game narratives will be told in this form.
When you look at the Mass Effect series in that light, the entire series not only makes sense, but it’s internally consistent and rather satisfying. Part of the reason why the backlash is so strong is because the addition of choice has added the concept of ownership to the player. That is, the player, through having made these decisions and played for hundreds of hours, feels like they in some way own the story and should have some say in how it ends. Take away that misconception of ownership, and suddenly the ending becomes much more palatable because players can appreciate that essentially the entire game was the ending to the series rather than just the last five minutes.
So was the ending good? It was okay, but not great. But hopefully I’ve shown that it was as good as the rest of the series was, and it was appropriate given everything that had come before it. EA certainly bears some responsibility for mismanaging the expectations of its fans, but the fans also had every indication that things weren’t going to work out the way they wanted. Don’t be so quick to buy the hype in the future, and I promise that you’ll be less frequently disappointed!

Mass Effect 3 has proven incredibly unpopular among the gamer community, ironically not because it isn’t good, but because it’s too good. Or rather, too good for the lackluster ending it provided for the series. But is the ending really lackluster, or is it just a question of our perception?

I’m going to argue that the ending was actually fine, and that if you’re upset about it, it’s your own fault.

EA, over the last several years, has perpetrated a gigantic hoax. They managed to convince millions of gamers that their decisions in the Mass Effect series mattered. Even more impressively, they did this while the first two games provided no proof of  it whatsoever. Frankly, the degree to which they pulled this off is staggering, and the amount of backlash on the internet right now is indicative of the sheer scope of it.

Consider, for a moment, the first two games in the series. Both had a definitive starting and ending point, and at no point was there any way for those to change. Yes, by jumping through a variety of hoops you could influence which characters were there at the end with you, but overall that had no bearing on the actual story. In Mass Effect 3, likewise you could influence which characters lived and died (to a lesser extent). In fact, there are no real examples of player decisions impacting the story of the game anywhere throughout the entire series.

So why did people suddenly expect that to change for Mass Effect 3? Well, this largely has to do with EA and the way they promoted the game. They kept deferring the ‘payoff’ of the player’s decisions from game one to game two, and then from game two to game three. When the eagerly-anticipated changes failed to materialize, the players were understandably upset.

Or is that understandable?

The sad fact of the matter is that people should have expected this. It’s sort of a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” situation. EA had the opportunity to have Mass Effect 2 actually diverge in storytelling, but they didn’t take it. They didn’t take that opportunity in Mass Effect 1, either. So really, if you’re playing through the whole series, you’ve essentially been fooled twice already by the time you even get to the third installment of the series. The fact that you’re still holding out hope by that point reflects poorly on your gullibility.

That said, what this clearly requires is a completely different paradigm in order to appreciate these games. They’re obviously not awful games, because millions of people have played them. Presumably not all of them were tricked into doing so.

Some of you may be familiar with the game Knights of the Old Republic. It was intended to be a stand-alone game (we’ll ignore KOTOR 2 for the moment), and it fully capitalized on the ability to make choices and have those choices be both A) satisfying and B) wildly divergent. This type of freedom was what people expected from the Mass Effect series, but even in the first game it was apparent that this was not what was going to be given.

The Mass Effect series didn’t actually have any real freedom of choice in it, but instead gave players only the illusion of choice. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows the developers to tell a compelling story that in other mediums may have afforded no choices to the player whatsoever. Furthermore, it increases the player’s involvement and attachment to the series by allowing cosmetic changes to the plot based on the decisions that the player makes. Essentially, it’s a step up from the purely linear narrative, and I expect that in the future, nearly all video game narratives will be told in this form.

When you look at the Mass Effect series in that light, the entire series not only makes sense, but it’s internally consistent and rather satisfying. Part of the reason why the backlash is so strong is because the addition of choice has added the concept of ownership to the player. That is, the player, through having made these decisions and played for hundreds of hours, feels like they in some way own the story and should have some say in how it ends. Take away that misconception of ownership, and suddenly the ending becomes much more palatable because players can appreciate that essentially the entire game was the ending to the series rather than just the last five minutes.

So was the ending good? It was okay, but not great. But hopefully I’ve shown that it was as good as the rest of the series was, and it was appropriate given everything that had come before it. EA certainly bears some responsibility for mismanaging the expectations of its fans, but the fans also had every indication that things weren’t going to work out the way they wanted. Don’t be so quick to buy the hype in the future, and I promise that you’ll be less frequently disappointed!

A Culture of Inaccuracy (or You Tried Your Best)

How many times have you seen the above quote used to promote individuality, or not “taking the easy road”? Probably a lot.

But guess what? That’s not what it means. In the poem, a man finds two paths diverging in a wood and thinks to himself that both paths are about equally as well-traveled, with one maybe being slightly less so. He chooses one and walks down it, and then thinks to himself how, many years from then, he will likely be telling the tale with a sigh about how one day he chose one path over another, and that’s how he arrived at where he ended up. That sigh is one of regret, because he anticipates, like many people, not being satisfied with where his life has gone.

The only real important part of this is that in the poem, making one path more or less traveled is entirely an arbitrary decision by the narrator. So what the quoted portion above really represents in the poem isn’t some sort of moral about always choosing the least-traveled path, but instead is a reflection of humanity’s tendency to attribute blame to things that don’t deserve it.

This is akin to another quote that pops up all the time, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” You may recognize this one from Hamlet. People use it all the time to espouse the benefits of being true to yourself. But guess what? When Polonius says that to Laertes, he means the exact opposite. He doesn’t mean that Laertes should be true to himself, he means that Laertes should damned well do what he’s told.

Any half-witted scholar could tell you these things. It’s not like these are hidden gems, or anything. All you need to do is read the original source material and these things practically jump out at you.

To make matters worse, people will actually defend their inaccuracies with statements like, “That’s what it means to me,” or “It means different things to different people.”

No. It doesn’t. You’re welcome to make your own textual analysis of Hamlet, but if you don’t create a supporting argument that’s textually relevant and makes sense, you’re just wrong.

You don’t see engineers saying things like, “But Newton’s Second Law means something different to me.”

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of gray area out there in the world. What’s in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? What happens next in Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49”? Does a Jackson Pollock painting REALLY mean anything?

While I want to say that some things are simply not up for debate, that isn’t true; we should always question. That’s what science is, after all: constant questioning. There’s always the chance that some core belief we hold may be wrong.

There’s a huge difference between questioning something and supplanting it with your own explanation. Questioning is saying, “Is that really true?” Supplanting is saying, “Hamlet is a play about oranges.”

People seem to have forgotten where to draw the line. It’s as though that method of questioning everything has removed our culture’s ability to put faith in anything at all, and as a result we see people putting faith in completely inappropriate places.

This is further expressed by a society-wide fear of telling someone else that they’re wrong, especially where children are concerned. In a politically-correct culture, making someone else feel bad is tantamount to a crime, and nowhere is that more true than in the schoolroom. If a teacher makes a student feel bad, the student complains to their parent, who complains to the school (or the board), and the teacher gets reprimanded. What are we teaching our children? That they can’t be wrong? What an awful thing to do to a child.

The sad fact of the matter is that not everyone is good at everything, and it’s far more important to learn where your real talents lie than it is to be good at everything. A student who gets all A’s should be a rarity; how many people do you know who are good at everything? And yet A-students have become the norm. It’s expected for a child to bring home straight A’s, or there’s something wrong with them. You should not get an A for having “tried your best”.

This is just another example of promoting inaccuracy, but instead of being inaccurate about the meaning of a play or a piece of art, they’re helping to create an entire life of lies.

As a culture, we need to start praising the truth and the pursuit of truth, or else we’re going to end up in a hopeless mess where no one knows anything. I don’t mean to imply that there even IS always a truth to espouse, but in those cases, espouse that there’s no truth! I understand that incorrect, inflammatory articles get more attention, but someone needs to stand up for accuracy and be willing to correct those who spread false information.

That someone is you. Do your best… The future of humankind rests on your shoulders.

(Source: sarahxmay, via okellyjaneo)

I love this picture so much.

The chicken or the egg dilemma

Recently I’ve been called to mind of the dilemma of the chicken and the egg, and have read a few things about it. Without exception, every explanation that I’ve read fails to take Lamarckism into account.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, he’s always been one of my favorite figures from high school biology. Lamarck had his own theories on evolution before Darwin, and these have largely been ignored in favor of Darwinian evolution (aka natural selection).

You may or may not have any idea at this point what this has to do with the perennial chicken-or-egg dilemma, which of course far predates even the idea of evolution. Well, many people have tried to answer the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” with greater or lesser success over the years. I’m going to go ahead and pass on providing the religious answer, and will instead talk a little bit more about evolution and how it relates to the chicken and the egg.

The question as to whether the chicken or egg came first is really asking whether a chicken laid the first chicken egg or not. According to Darwinian evolution, the first chicken egg was laid by a creature that was not a chicken. This is because in the theory of natural selection, evolution occurs by reproduction. That is, new traits are not developed over the course of a creature’s life, but instead occur through mutation and are manifested in offspring. This theory has been borne out over the years and is now generally accepted, thus settling the question in many people’s minds that the egg did, in fact, come first.

However, people often forget poor Lamarck. Lamarck’s idea was that creatures do develop new characteristics during the course of their lifetime, and those characteristics are then passed on to their offspring. Meaning that the first chicken egg was laid by a chicken, because that creature passed the ‘becoming-a-chicken’ threshold during its life. This theory, for many years was regarded as incorrect and discarded.

But recently I’ve come to see a few articles implying that Lamarckism may actually have been correct, at least to some degree. It’s generally accepted that creatures don’t spontaneously develop new traits during their lives (when was the last time you saw someone randomly grow an extra arm?), but at the same time, creatures do undergo a process called adaptation. Meaning that certain traits that they already possess can be enhanced and then (and this is the important part) those enhancements can be passed on to their offspring.

So, evolutionarily speaking, where does this leave us with chickens and eggs? Well, unfortunately it’s impossible to know exactly when the first chicken crossed the ‘becoming-a-chicken’ threshold, but it’s entirely possible that the fine-tuning of chicken-ness happened during the first chicken’s lifetime, meaning that it could, indeed, have been the chicken that came first. The stronger case is still for the egg, I think, but considering that people have been ignoring poor Lamarck, I thought that it was worth expounding upon.

Food for thought!

Those of you following me probably already know that my wife and I started this group. It’s still pretty cool to see this photo circulating so much.
For the record, I’m in the back wearing the tall shako, and my wife is kneeling in front of me with the blue blouse.

A beginning

I enjoy Facebook just fine; it lets me keep up with lots of people, and generally serves its intended purpose of being a social media hub. However, every now and then I get the urge to write about something at length, or to post photos, or to do something else that Facebook isn’t especially good at.

Megan recently made a Tumblr for herself and seems to enjoy it quite well. So I figured that I’d make a Tumblr also, and see how it goes. I miss LiveJournal from time to time, but I don’t really have any desire to go back there. I suspect that I can have almost all the same functionality here on Tumblr, so we’ll give this a go.

You’ve gotta start somewhere, right?