Friday, August 31, 2018

Wasteland 2

"I just don't need none of that Mad Max bullshit.
Well the suit got tight and it split at the seams
But I kept it out of habit and I kept it real clean.

We are hummingbirds who lost the plot and we will not move"

Modest Mouse - Bury Me With It

So here's me doing some shopping in Wasteland 2.

Judging by the NPC merchant's nonsensical chatter, how far into the RPG would you say I've gotten? Is this a lighthearted tutorial where breaking immersion doesn't really matter? Is it the early game played for laughs to offset the more serious story later on? Is it some mid-campaign comic relief? I'm almost done with the game, in fact. I have been almost done with the game for some weeks, making less and less progress every time I fire it up only to think "ugh, not another badger fight" and shut it down again.

A month ago when I finished my replay of Fallout I noted the jarring tendency for old-school computer game designers to lean on pop culture references instead of developing a coherent game world. As a throwback to 80s/90s gaming, Wasteland disappoints by failing to disappoint in that department. Not only does it begin with a gratuitous old-timey FMV cinematic but carries on with one cheap sound bite after another. Leve L'Upe Mine? Honey badger don't care? Screaming goats? The James King Bible? Don't get me wrong, I laughed my ass off at some of these as well as some of the other humorous elements like the perpetually blind stinking drunk Scotchmo or Ralphy singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall - he sounds so earnest!

But, ever so gradually, you get to scraping little to nothing underneath those pop culture crutches, that overtly charming facade. No truly engaging or memorable characters. The world, far from capturing the monomythic feeling of escalation in Fallout fashion, jars you out of your desert reverie with an early mission against plant zombies then continually sabotages itself by shoehorning humor into otherwise dramatic situations, managing neither to pass it off as dark humor nor to isolate it into comic relief moments. Worse still, this tendency only deepens as you leave the first half, Arizona (largely dedicated to nostalgic developer masturbation over the first Wasteland game from 1988) for California, where the developers seem to have lost any and all interest in their own story. One of the final zones, Hollywood, obviously meant as very memorable for its quirky pimps, hoes, teenage runaways, junkies, pushers and religious extremists, somehow manages to fail at being either sexy, outrageous, moralistic or in any other way engaging.

This would all be less noticeable if Wasteland 2 hadn't also been an overambitious project which simply lacks the content to fill its dozen different quest hubs. Everything gets reused ad nauseam, from character portraits and generic banter to random encounter maps to enemies. Most groups of humanoids contain the same mix of ranged / melee combatants and the animals are even worse. Three of the four major species re-appear from the beginning of Arizona to the end of California with no rhyme or reason. The few well-orchestrated fights get lost in the redundancy.

In terms of more practical gameplay options, it's again a pot luck of good but poorly integrated features like ammunition stockpiling and management, status effects which can be cured with consumable items, very powerful but single-use AoE missiles. The skill system trips into the recruitable NPC system. You create 4/7 of your party at the start and pick three more out of the tramps and thugs you encounter along the way. Since skills don't stack, this inevitably yields very high redundancy. Many skills were also poorly thought out and end up next to worthless (Animal Whispering) while others like Lockpicking are blatantly over-emphasized.

And on and on. There's a solid line between telling a joke and being a joke, and InXile sinply did not treat this project as professionally as they should have. There's only so many times the player can be gratified by thinking "I've heard of that!" when encountering references to old 1980s video game consoles and other non-sequitur trivia. Almost aggressively badly written at times, its balance wrecked by "toaster repair" easter eggs and other exploits, over-stretched far past what its actual content could illustrate, Wasteland 2 just wears thin much too quickly. Which would be fine if they weren't taking customers' money for an actual game and not a self-congratulatory trip down memory lane.

For the same post-apocalyptic Fallout-ish turn-based roleplaying, Dead State did more with less production values.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I've always been perplexed at brassiere commercials seductively marketed toward men. Men don't care about bras. It's women who are obsessed with the damn things. Men, on the other hand, are less shallow. To us, it's what's inside that counts.
edit 2018/08/30
re-written for more funnierer

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Ready Player One Better

"Just think of all the people that you knew in the past
That passed on, they in heaven, found peace at last
Picture a place that they exist, together

There has to be a place better than this, in heaven"

2Pac - Thugz Mansion

Is Ready Player One good?
I asked this question with regard to the movie Interstellar three years ago. "Good" in that case referred to Interstellar's representation of space exploration SF to the wider public. In the case of Ready Player One I'm referring to its representation of computer games.

While leafing through Wikipedia links for my "Cutscene Tagmatization" rant three posts ago, I discovered that my distaste for video game cutscenes is shared, among others, by Steven Spielberg (which prompts me to wonder what he'd think of my game / movie / music analogy at the end.) In any case, this rendered me more amenable to watching Ready Player One for a family movie night when visiting relatives a week later. It's more or less what you'd expect: a children's movie with stock villains and monomythic heroes, effects cranked up to 11, twists telegraphed, plot tangled unnecessarily around primate courtship rituals. And damnit, senor Spielbergo's still got it. I can't hate the damn thing. It was fun to watch. But it did raise some questions about timing and references.

A movie about playing a video game would've seemed fresh and edgy from the era of Tron to around Y2K, but this waning decade finds us already several years past the tipping point where the game industry began to outstrip the movie industry's looting. If anything, a video game about making movies would seem a lot more daring nowadays. Weirder still to see it aimed at a young audience for whom MMOs and FPS clans have always been a part of pop culture. But if you were going to do it, might as well have utilized better poop culture references than Godzilla, King Kong, Doom, Gundam, The Shining and a nameless appearance by a Starcraft space marine. What made this utterly mundane clutter of wolfmen, Draculas and mummies worthy of a Spielberg adaptation?

In place of Interstellar I recommended the more interesting Europa Report. In place of Ready Player One you're better off partying like it's 1999 with eXistenZ, lacking pop culture references but much more insightful when it comes to gaming, gamers' mindset and the wider repercussions thereof. Decidedly not aimed at children, being as it was directed by David Cronenberg.

But if you're going to cobble together a big budget cross-media two hour tirade of references, at least pick better ones. Give me a series of murder mysteries in a town where everyone lives in Morrowind cantons and crabshell houses, inhabited by Haibane sipping tea at the Triplets of Belleville's house, Gordon Freeman draining septic tanks in his hazard suit, Jubal Harshaw and Smiling Jack playing chess, Molly Millions running a boxing gym, Crista Galli running a telecom, the Bebop in place of a mail truck, The Nameless One and Susan Ashworth co-owning a funeral parlor, Tyler Freeborn as an investigative journalist, Strelok running a tanning salon and Jan Jansen running a bar which serves nothing but turnip juice, Haviland Tuf as a pet store owner, the Grieving Mother babysitting Kills-in-Shadow's brood, Karan S'jet as a mysterious agoraphobe who only speaks through electronic means, Rahan as the town's all-purpose scientist, Chairman Yang as the stodgy old heartless industrialist/landlord, Wesley Crusher as the first murder victim and Cadfael as an inquisitive young pre-pharmacy major turned detective.

Come on Spielberg.
Get cracking.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Cutting Through the Treacle - TwitFaceTwitchTube

"Feeling your sting down inside me
I'm not dying for it"

Godsmack - I Stand Alone

Back when I used to get more involved in online games and the player guilds thereof, I would occasionally grow annoyed at the repetitiveness and inanity which flooded my guild chat window. Most of that chatter consisted of greetings, which seem quite pointless given that your grand entrances and exits are already automatically announced to any guild member who cares to keep the "log-in notifications" UI option flagged. So I'd liven things up by magnanimously providing smart-ass rejoinders to any hello or good-bye which rubbed me the wrong way. Among my favorites, I'd taunt anyone who said "hello, people" or "good night, people" with:
"We're not people. We're just random collections of pixels on your screen."
- and as far as you get to demand of a fellow player, that's all I am. Wintermute. Basta. We shoot lazorz at goblins together. We're not automatically friends. Friendship should never be required for basic goblin-laser interactions.

To my great shame, after over a decade of pointedly avoiding any of their products, I've recently started playing Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm MOBA to fill my quota of blowing tween brats' idiot heads off with rockets. Though I've grown accustomed to all sorts of false advertising, cash grabs, market manipulation, datamining, microtransactions and other charlatanry and robbery by the game industry, I'll admit old Bliz upped the ante with this loading screen "hint":
"Playing with friends grants you a 50% bonus to experience granted after playing a match."

OK, sure, there might be some practical reason for this. Maybe it shortens the team-making algorithm's search a bit. As likely as not, it's also touted as promoting "community spirit" or some other codependent tripe. Really, the rip-off artists at Blizzard are just well aware how many customers remain in their uncreative multiplayer extravaganzas merely to maintain their existing online connections. And they're not shy about exploiting your emotional weaknesses.
Pushing it to the extent of punishing me for queuing solo undermines such games' strongest selling point. Automated matchmaking exists precisely so as to save me the anguish of associating with any of you shiteating degenerate subsentient vermin for more than one match at a time. You are pixels on my screen, no more. Moreover, players should never be rewarded for trying to stack the deck in their own favor by stacking teams in random matchups. An alliance of convenience is already convenient. That deal doesn't need to be sweetened.

But it's a sign of our hypersocial times.
I also recently grabbed War for the Overworld, a by-the-numbers copycat of Dungeon Keeper of dungeon keeping fame. I decided to hold off on playing it after my first attempt, when it ground to a halt on the very first tutorial mission.
Now, either that's a memory leak the size of Niagara Falls* or these assholes really think their piddlin' little 20x20 tile 2D playground for a dozen units is supposed to take up over three Skyrims' worth of RAM. Looks like someone didn't bother paying for bug testing. On the other hand they did bother wasting development time on integrating every possible form of interwebz hot air.
I didn't pay you $15 for a link to TwitFaceTwitchTube. Nor do I want to sign up for your spamletter. As for spotlighting your niece's custom map for me to download and uninstall in disgust five minutes later, I'll pass. "Chat with the devs" - ? To accomplish what? Have your representative at the Indian call center tell me your buggy p.o.s. of a product's "working as intended?" Or try to sell me three dozen DLC packs?

Players can and will socialize in games, and providing the basic tools for them to do so aids even single-player games via discussion forums. However, as the decades drag on, more and more developers have been using social media tie-ins as a crutch, as a distraction to keep customers busy chatting to each other instead of rationally evaluating the product's performance. In contrast, here's the main screen for FrostPunk, a beautiful piece of game designerin':
Look, ma, no twits!
A good cook doesn't need to mask the food's flavor with too much salt, grease or capsaicin. A good architect doesn't need to over-decorate a building's facade to distract from its structure. A good game gives you the game, to stand on its own, not to be engaged in as some form of simian social posturing, as the popular thing all your "friends" are into - but as a solid work capable of withstanding cold-blooded, independent scrutiny. Even in a multiplayer game, I'm here for the game. Other participants are merely a necessary evil.

* That this program's acronym very nearly spells out WTF OMG was merely a hilarious bonus.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Let Him Talk

Here's a quaint story from an equally quaint American Midwestwern suburb. A decade ago, back in my mid 20s I had to live with my parents. Not the best of circumstances, but it did come in handy one night when my father was out of town and my mother got an acute stomach infection. I was awakened in the witching hour by a loud thud and the family dog whining pitifully in confusion. I discovered my mother unconscious on the floor, having collapsed trying to get out of bed.

Long story short, I find myself twenty minutes later stepping through the sliding doors of the nearest hospital's main entrance with a middle-aged woman shuffling beside me leaning on my arm, sweaty, weakened, woozy from dehydration and fever to the point she barely knew what planet she was on. Top it off with a bruise below her eye where she'd knocked her head against the bed frame in her fall. The nurse(?) behind the admissions desk asks my mother what the problem is. I start "Hi, she's-"
"Let her talk!" the nurse snaps, glaring at me, loudly enough to make the few people in the waiting room glance over in surprise.
Sensing me tense up my mother squeezed my arm, took a couple of deep breaths and gathered her strength to slowly, painstakingly convince the pinhead of a nurse that no, I wasn't an abusive husband and she wasn't a battered wife because
Well, ok, she didn't word it that way, and in fact made no mention of the nurse's presumption but only presented her illness. My mater certa's a hopelessly polite person. Old World manners, dontchaknow.

The assumption was obvious. It was obvious to the nurse accusing me of beating a woman until she couldn't stand (and then taking her in to get treated???) and it was obvious to me, obvious to everyone else in the room, obvious even to the dehydrated little matriarch so weak she could barely speak, being delayed from her treatment to appease some knuckle-dragging pissant's self-gratifying paranoid fantasies about pervasive male violence against women. Nothing was said outright and it didn't need to be said. We all knew it already. We all know men are evil. We are born and raised to know this. Every stranger in that room already knew I was a criminal, as soon as a woman raised her voice at me.

This is just one tiny, low key, utterly mundane example of the injustice we take for granted. I wasn't even fired or arrested for unwittingly wandering across a woman's line of fire. A lot of men aren't that lucky. This is no newfangled conceit, either. It's the endlessly verified (pre-)historic truism which gave rise to #MeToo, medieval chivalry, the Violence Against Women Act and Popeye the Sailor cartoons. We are by default ready to believe that any man might harm any woman at any time... and to have him physically punished for the sake of our self-righteous blind belief.

By now, everyone in the anglophone world has heard of the Men's Rights Movement, possibly in deeply dishonest TV reports painting them as vicious extremists wanting to chain women to the stove or some nonsense. I actually have my own quibbles about men's rights activists, and even more complaints about what's been idiotically termed "the manosphere" on teh internets. For the moment, let's address the central issue: most media figures (even when they refrain from calling it a "hate movement") vilify the MRM as unnecessary at best, because what possible rights might men need?

How about the basic human right not to be presumed a violent criminal for the heinous act of driving my mother to the hospital?

Pretty sure that one was in the Magna Carta somewheres...

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Cutscene Tagmatization

Yes, that's a word.
Look it up.

If you've played Wasteland 2 you probably remember this little cutscene because the ensuing fight against that mecha-scorpion is the bitchiest bitch that ever bitched a bitch. To introduce this moderately satisfying boss encounter, the game cuts to it smashing through a house to get at you and rearing up menacingly in a cloud of cement dust and rubble.
Of course, you'll probably die to its machine gun stinger, so you'll need to reload your save, and watch it burst through the house and rear up menacingly in a cloud of cement dust and rubble all over again.
Rawr! Rawr I say!
Then you'll probably die to the baby scorpion adds it enthusiastically shoots out of cannons on its back, so you'll get to reload and watch it once again burst through the house and rear up menacingly in a cloud of cement dust and rubble. Again.
Then you might get fried by its flamethrower AoE so when you reload you'll get to watch it again yet again once again and again burst through the house and rear up menacingly in a cloud of cement dust and rubble. Again.
And again.
Rrr- yawn?

Released in 2014, Wasteland 2 banks largely on nostalgia, which may explain its failure to address this decades old nuisance of repetitive clicking through cutscenes or dialogues. (Old RPGs were quite prone to this; the Final Fantasy series is infamous for unskippable cutscenes.) Compare as one example to Dragon Age: Origins, which five years earlier already knew enough to either autosave or allow the player to save the game after most lengthy expository dialogues instead of segueing your ass right into a boss fight, thereby sacrificing neither exposition nor the customer's time.
Why is that so hard?

I also recently tried Meridian: New World, a fairly unimaginative and self-indulgent bush league RTS also released in 2014 and also prone to dragging the player willy-nilly through cutscenes. Trying to play through the campaign, you constantly find your controls locked as the screen starts shifting around to SHOW YOU new objectives frame by agonizing frame. Its creators seemed more concerned with dramatically fading to/from black and panning the camera and interposing redundant voiceovers than with actually designing interesting units or a functional interface.

Meridian being a SciFi RTS, it inevitably recalls the original Starcraft and its cinematics. Quite a lot of effort went into those old clips of hydralisks and space marines duking it out or of Tassadar furrowing his lack-of-eyebrows. In the era of two-dimensional pixelation, cinematics served as the high-definition eye candy rewarding advancement through missions. As game engines improved, more and more cutscenes started being played through a game's regular graphics, merely at a closer zoom level with additional voice acting. The ease of this method has led quite a few companies to over-indulge over the years, to the point where you start feeling like a spectator to the designers playing their own product. The worst offender which jumps to my mind would have to be Dreamfall, from 2006, which may as well have been titled "Machinima: The Game" for all its perfunctory, linear ambling from one piece of exposition to another. Yet developers keep making this error. The Pillars of Eternity sequel, an otherwise valid product marred by incompetent storytelling, made players trudge through a minutes-long recap of the first game before they could even reach character creation. It took several post-launch patches to add a "skip intro" checkbox, presumably in response to endless exasperated customers' demand.

However, handled properly, cinematic interludes can indeed add to an interactive product. Old-school adventure games with their very limited gamut of player choice tend to bank heavily on proper timing creating the illusion of action and consequences in an otherwise completely linear piece of interactive fiction. The Secret World, which tried (and failed) to straddle adventure games and MMOs provides both positive and negative illustration:
"Stop" indeed. Cinematics and cutscenes are just that. A stop from the action. For the most part TSW used cutscenes as old '90s games used to: introductions to or rewards after a mission. The part of the game where you're not playing the game comes before or after playing the game. Duh. However, the last fight in The Darkness War instance consists of two phases of beating on a boss, sandwiching a mid-fight intermission of listening to a long-winded old fart wheezing out the tale of pure light burning enemies blah-blah-blah. In fact in most of my DW runs you can see players doing exactly what this tank does occasionally starting from ~ min 3:20 to ~4:10 - jumping around in boredom through the old narrator's "fire:good!" blather, waiting for the real action to start up again.

Listening to grandpa telling tall tales is no substitute for actual gameplay.

The last mission of the Tyler Freeborn arc (from which the above screenshot is taken) toyed with this passivity as did other of TSW's most memorable high points, tying you to a table or running you through a cubicle farm with no interactable elements. That last Freeborn mission is a fan favorite and rightly so, yet I wonder how many have stopped to think that you don't actually do much of anything during the whole ordeal except walk forward. Yet it's never dull. Largely it's a matter of well-executed aesthetics, but also of the tone-setting "stop... no, don't stop" at the start. You're never truly left with nothing to do; the narration advances as you walk and you're constantly looking around for your next foothold.

It's in actuality a victory lap referencing the entirety of the first third of the original game, and instead of capping gameplay off with a completely passive cinematic, it renders that requisite cinematic interactive. TSW has done this on numerous occasions, making you arrow-key your way through a story, adventure-game fashion, and it strikes me as the correct take on implementing cutscenes into games which haven't technically needed them for over a decade.

Lesson 1: DO NOT interrupt gameplay for this very special announcement. If theatricality is to be its own functional tagma, then don't let it metastasize into other, more vital morphological units.
Lesson 2: If you're going to do it, allow the player to pace the damn thing, to at least slow or fast-forward the incoming passive stimuli by fiddling with the environment. Don't completely wrest control of the interface from the player.

Games are not movies just as movies are not symphonies. Game cutscenes should be used as sparingly as film scenes where a completely black screen emphasizes the soundtrack. Very, very sparingly.

(and minor Dragon Age: Origins spoiler)
The Tyler Freeborn example is by no means unique. Returning to the example of DA:O, your approach to the Broodmother battle is played in much the same way, as a semi-interactive cinematic foreshadowing the upcoming boss encounter. You trudge through caves filled with the gory remnants of your enemies' carnage and their primitive totems while listening to the droning, haunting, echoing chant of a lone friendly survivor.
The first time you hear Hespith's voice you probably stopped as I did and looked around for its source. The muddled narration advances as you do, at the pace of your pacing through the cavern, until you finally reach her to get the whole grisly story of the Darkspawn's manufacture process for axlotl tanks.

Quite a few games have hit upon this gimmick but it has yet to replace, as it should along with scripted NPC vs. NPC encounters, the bulk of old-school cinematics.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

World Legendarily Secret; Skies Manned Up

I've been talking about the not-really-multiplayer game The Secret World on this blog since before it came out. For all its aesthetic charm, it also serves as a prime object lesson for misdirected design priorities. By 2015-16, three or four years after its launch, it was pretty much dead. Around this time in 2017, Funcom surprised me by not scrapping the project but instead relaunching it as "Secret World Legends" with even more dumbed-down gameplay, half its group content excised, wall-to-wall bugs and its original emphasis on immersive puzzle solving ignored.

I mistakenly assumed that if they relaunched it they must intend to actually do something with it... which proceeded to not happen. Instead they re-hashed their old seasonal content and lengthened the loot grinding treadmill. In April 2018 they at last rolled out their first new content in three years (since MFB) an unambitious new South Africa zone with a couple of decent single-player boss fights but half its supposed content marked "coming soon."

"Soon" is apparently four months later and amounts to even more faction reputation grinding plus a grand total of one new actual mission. Knowing TSW's storied past of pervasive bugginess I gave it a few days since the new patch launched on Aug 01, to let them hotfix whatever would inevitably turn out unplayable about it. Today I tried that new mission.
And it bugged out.
I'd love to claim prescience but even a bat with earplugs could've seen that one coming. But hey, hey, in all fairness, relogging did fix the bugged item, triggering the next cutscene...
... can you tell what's coming?
Why, yes, yes it did, the mission did bug out yet again, immediately, and this time irreparably.
Three fucking years.

And yeah, I'm pissed because back in 2011 I preordered myself a lifetime subscription to a slow-motion train wreck. In contrast, I later also preordered No Man's Sky which turned out to be a very fast-motion train wreck. Even two years later, NMS' overhyped, disastrous launch has remained the stuff of legend. Ignoring that few of its buyers could get their purchase running in the first place, its gameplay was limited to highly repetitive, aimless resource acquisition and arcade-style whack-a-mole FPS combat with no tactical or strategic elements whatsoever.

People were rightly angry. Hell, I was one of them. Nevertheless, I warned against completely dismissing NMS. Its core planet-generating algorithms, environment interaction and resource management mechanics provide a very solid basis for further development. I said all that while not really expecting that further development. After a fiasco of such caliber, it's traditional for a game development studio to simply pocket the remainder of their customers' money and skulk off into the sunset having gained some work experience for their resumes. Or string their subscribers along with timesinks, as MMO developers like Funcom are wont to.

Hello Games chose not to.
They patched most video card issues, and though the game loads slowly it now runs reliably enough.
Amusingly, the compass I demanded in my first post got implemented soon thereafter and comes in handy enough on occasional long foraging trips. It's not much but it's something, and something is more than I expected.
Over the past year and a half they've continually added base-building features, fleshed out the campaign storyline, added more resource storage functionality, toned down the constant pirate attacks and made it easier to avoid them, added more terrain sculpting, and their latest patch overhauled the resource system, presumably in preparation for further developing the crafting tree. They've even been toying with a multiplayer function.

I can't in all honesty give NMS a very hearty recommendation, even as it stands now. It's still quite flat and repetitive for its purported galactic scope. When I said it needed an overarching framework I didn't mean putting the player on the rails of some strict, linear plot, but giving the player the means to build one's own trading / piracy empire, to make one's own sandy-boxy plot. Some satisfying home-making aside, I doubt it's going in the right direction... but then it's still a pleasant surprise to see it going in any direction at all.

Hello Games took their lumps, ate their well-deserved heap of humble pie, then buckled down and have steadily been improving their product at no extra cost since release. Whatever you've heard about NMS, it's now at the very least worth a second look, and after that FUBAR launch it's been treating its customers a lot better than we've learned to expect from the customarily predatory game industry.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Angels? None.

"Want me to save the world
I'm just a little girl"

Marilyn Manson - Get Your Gunn


Star Trek: The Next Generation
Seriesdate: 1.14
Angel One

By my understanding widely viewed as one of the worst TNG episodes and I really have to agree, despite its much higher production values (more extras, lavish sets and costumes, abundant props, etc.) than other first / second season fare. For one thing it's plagued by a bland, scatterbrained B-plot about a shipboard sniffles epidemic involving Wesley taking skiing lessons, Geordi taking control of the bridge, Picard pouting and some oft-mentioned, never seen Romulan threat lurking somewhere behind the scenery.

For the other thing, its A-plot made even less sense. The Enterprise visits a matriarchal planet. This inexplicably causes Troi and Yar to mentally regress to giggling schoolgirls at the sight / thought of Riker in a frilly V-neck shirt seducing the planet's leader... on which account he flips a 180 after five minutes of PG13-rated smooching to declare he's not that kind of boy. Then they go ahead anyway. Then they argue about it some more.

Well, anyway, back to that confused mess in a minute. Let's talk about El Goonish Shive, a webcomic about high school students with magical powers fighting supernatural threats. Because that's never been done before. The dialogue in EGS frequently tangles in an unending mess of snowflake posturing about homosexuality and gender roles, which combined with teenage relationship drama should make it utterly unreadable if not for its creator's comedic flair. Prepare for idealized angelic females, villainous males (unless they're endorsed by women) and all the usual spiel.

Like most webcomics, EGS is burdened by a constantly ballooning cast of redundant characters, one of whom, Tom, was introduced for the express function of trying to seduce the group's resident ice queen, Susan. This act is so vile in the eyes of her friends as to warrant an "I might have to hurt this guy." Why, you ask? As described here, because he was cozying up to her and trying to get her to ask him out as though it were her idea and not his. We're of course already perfectly comfortable condemning any male who fails to throw himself at women's feet. Tom's villainy goes a step further by trying "to make her take the initiative" -*le gasp!*
Bbuuuurnn hiiiiimmm!

I addressed this when discussing pickup artists. What is Tom doing that billions of women have not done since the dawn of time? Hovering around a man, gaining his trust, worming under his skin, teasing and taunting, soft non-committal words, casual non-committal intrusions into personal space, never saying anything outright but baiting him into taking all the risk of action while personally maintaining deniability. The hallmarks of feminine behavior, from lipstick to "on your knees!" marriage proposals. Tom is being condemned for trying to take advantage of women in the same way that women have always taken advantage of men, for infringing on women's copyright on entrapment. Only men can get condemned for feminine crimes.

The women of Angel One are certainly not manipulative. "Here, the female is the hunter, the soldier, larger and stronger than the male." They're imperious, lectured in the big moralistic speech at the end for standing in the way of social progress by not letting their adorably shrimpy male counterparts vote. The episode gets panned as sexist, presumably on the basic universal assumption that women are wonderful and should never be portrayed as in the wrong, but note how they're in the wrong. By adopting masculine demeanor. Not a word is said about what the men of Angel One are actually doing all that time. If this truly is a gender-flipped society, then we should reasonably expect males to adopt feminine tools of sexual, emotional and social manipulation, with cute, sexy, pouting little Lord Macbeths guilting and shaming their Ladies into risk to further their own ambitions. Would it be wrong for men to do so?

Angel One teaches us that women can only sin by adopting a traditional overt, declarative masculine mindset. EGS teaches us that covert feminine manipulation is only wrong when adopted by men. Neither is saying anything we haven't otherwise had megaphoned into our brains from the cradle onwards. Men are evil, but the only thing worse than masculinity is a man who refuses to play his masculine role when women demand it. Femininity itself can suffer no criticism.

To what end?
For that, flip to another old comic strip, 9 Chickweed Lane to learn: "Give her the upper hand and she'll always hold it out to you." Awww, how sweet. A willful ignorance of female self-interest. An expectation of self-denigrating male servility. A lifetime of throwing oneself on the barricades to ensure that women always have the upper hand.
Human instinct. How... sweet.

"Selective judgments, good guy badges don't mean a fuck to me"

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

So this guy with a turban walks into a tauren bard who challenges him to a duel:
"It's time to face the moo, Sikh!"