Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Icewind Dale

I've almost finished with Icewind Dale. I was actually a bit confused about the pacing of the game. I kept thinking i was playing through an extended introduction and aaaaany minute now things would get interesting. However, when i noticed that my characters were hitting level 10 and computer D&D adaptations tend to run to about level 18-19 in the main campaign, i finally realized that was it. That repetitive, linear series of aggravatingly scripted combat encounters is the whole game.

For once, i don't want to be too harsh in my criticism. I dislike Icewind Dale at the moment mainly because i am unfairly comparing it to Planescape: Torment and they were simply intended to be diametrically opposed in terms of development focus within the D&D rules. Torment was story and atmosphere; Icewind Dale is combat. In that, Icewind Dale has suffered much more severe weathering when compared to later RPGs. Good writing is still good writing. Inevitably, improvements in game engines brought about improvements in gameplay mechanics. The later D&D-inspired games i've played became gradually easier on the eyes, more slick and less glitchy, through NWN 1&2 to Dragon Age which did a thorough job of trimming away the unworkable or useless parts of pen-and-paper RPGs in a computer adaptation while keeping the D&D feel. After being spoiled by Dragon Age, Icewind Dale felt punishing to play through.

There's no reason to even address storytelling or role-playing, as it features only tangentially in the campaign. You go from one fight to the next in a succession of telegraphed fetch/kill quests. Given that the only choice you usually have is between doing a quest or missing out on that section of the game, Icewind Dale fails as miserably at forcing you to role-play as Torment excelled at it. The few moral choices you make have no real impact.

Icewind is still quite interesting however as a study in game design. Given its singular focus on combat mechanics, it contains very interesting attempts to work pen-and-paper mechanics into a computer adaptation. I haven't yet gotten around to complaining about RPG wizards being reduced to fireball-tossing, but i did post on the subjects of Thief/Rogue oversimplification.

Icewind's spellcasting is actually slightly more interesting than in the later NWN games, largely because spell effects are so punishing that hard counters become a necessity. Dispel, Silence, Cure this-and-that and the "Bless" line of buff spells are crucial to your party's survival. There are plenty of monsters immune to various effects and i found my death mage almost useless in some areas while being the party's workhorse in others. The only way my caster-heavy group survived the early portions of the game was by charming a goblin here and an orc there to thicken my front line a bit. Ghoul Touch and IceLance turned ettins into easily-kited, harmless target practice. Large encounters which would've easily overwhelmed my group became easy money through my druid's Entangle spell. Overall, despite all the fireballs and cloudbursts and skull traps, my spellcasters' best source of outright damage was the constant stream of hits from slingshots and darts. This is how it should be. Magic should not be just a stand-in for a sword or gun.

Better yet, this is the only D&D adaptation i've played so far in which my rogue's ability to scout ahead was crucial. Only Dragon Age came close. Spell range exceeds vision range and most AoE spells spread pretty wide, so having my rogue as a spotter for my casters made initiating a lot of fights much easier. Stealth meant more than a damage bonus for my first attack. Yay!
Just as important is the rogue's frailty and relative weakness. In NWN 2, i annoyed my online D&D old-timer acquaintances to no end by telling them that my main combatant was Neeshka, the party's rogue, and it was true. I made her into a WoW rogue, just because i could and because there was no other use for a rogue. I could buff her to be as powerful a melee combatant as a fighter. In Icewind Dale, my fighter was the undisputed lord of hack'n'slash, as it should be, while my cleric was able to take a few hits and my thief stood waaaay back and peppered enemies with her shortbow. Again, the thief's main use to the party should be sneaking. Yes, there is a lack of variation in what a thief can do, but at least the focus was right.

The most important part of the game is having a balanced group. You will need several melee combatants, a trap disarmer and both divine and arcane spellcasters in Icewind Dale. I avoided multiclassing since it seemed much less interesting after NWN2's more complex implementation. My party was:
Thief (gnome, no large weapons)
2 mages (one Enchanter for mind control and death spells and one unspecialized for magic missiles, extra buffs/summons)

Given that there is no way to prevent spell disruption aside from not being hit and this made my cleric much less dependable, i quickly found that my group was paper. My game experience has been a constant scramble to shore up my front line with charmed monsters or summoned creatures or keep enemies controlled with roots and slowdowns. And i loved that part of it. It was my choice to play that way and i should damn well be punished for it, just like someone who creates a fighter-heavy group should have to pay a cost. Unfortunately, as is the case with these games in general, the large number of enemies makes a party of brainless thugs endlessly hack'n'slashing a much more viable alternative to a group of nerds in dresses. Three or four fighers and one divine, one arcane spellcaster with a thief multiclassed somewhere in there would really yield the easiest gameplay. As things stand, i'm not ashamed to say i played Icewind Dale at -1 difficulty. With a relatively unresponsive interface, a general lack of defensive options for casters and monster AI that tends to be impossible to peel off a weakened target,  squishiness results in too many saved game re-loads.

There are many flaws in the design. Aside from being somewhat of a grind, many of the encounters make somewhat too frequent use of monsters appearing out of thin air all around you when you reach the middle of a room or having to go through doorways which drop you into instant melee combat. Encounters for which the player cannot prepare, which are mainly defeated by reloading a saved game with the knowledge of the "surprise" as your main weapon, should be used only on the rarest occasions. This game's full of them. Also, the Infinity Engine's limitations did not allow for much leeway in designing functional environments. There is a thin line between 'subtle' and 'invisible' and this game, unlike Torment, falls on both sides of it. Many of the doorways, ramps, walkways etc. in the campaign tend to be featured as shapeless blobs blending into the background.

Overall, Icewind Dale is not worth playing. Its best features are hampered by the age of the game engine. Unless you're a die-hard fan going through all these old titles, do yourself a favor and play an RPG where characters aren't sliding along the ground and constantly shifting a few steps this way and that during combat because it was the best method available for handling collision a decade and a half ago.

Monday, April 29, 2013


I amuse myself sometimes listening to The Rachel Maddow Show. I'm not entirely interested in the news as a whole. World's goin' to shit and since the rest of you are happily helping it along, i ain't gonna worry about saving you. I do dabble in the juicier news stories sometimes, especially when they're framed in the appropriately derisive manner prompted by the irrationality of human behavior. I can stomach small doses of outwardly leftist commentary.

Years ago, when i watched no news, no television whatsoever, i remember glimpses of NBC and by extension MSNBC as regular old news channels. Forced objectivity. Kow-towing. Seems MNSBC now wants to sell itself as progressive, with the "lean forward" slogan and all. That's appropriate. They certainly are not stepping forward. They're barely even leaning. They're ever-so-slightly poking their noses forward out of the safety of the bunker of mass-appeal to criticize random examples of the worst behavior displayed by the American political system. Still, it's more than i remember any news or political commentary outlet doing. Even NPR had been cowed into servile toadying in the years after the Homeland Security spy ring secret police program started revving up.

MNSBC is not progressive. It's a public anti-Republican lobby. It's a bastard child of the Democratic Party, and that party is conservative. Luckily for the democrats, they have the rabidly fundamentalist, luddite, backwoods reactionary current incarnation of the Republican party to make them look good. I mean, honestly, no matter how spineless and ineffective the Obama regime has turned out, it'll still look like a new Enlightenment after eight years of Dubbya. The best thing one can say about spam is that it's not Alpo.

But it's nice to run a segment from some MSNBC show, usually Maddow's, while i'm doing something which doesn't use up my speech processing capability. Largely, it's a matter of aesthetics. News anchors have always tried to outdo each other in normalcy, to appear as innocuous and safely mainstream as possible. The one good thing to be said about the right-wing shock-jocks like Limbaugh is that they at least have a personality. I can respect an honest villain. There was however, no mirror phenomenon on the progressive side, with its meek, sniveling half-hearted attempts to pander to public opinion. The nice part of MSNBC's commentator line-up is that it looks genuine. They don't mind looking involved, educated, urbane and gods-forbid, sometimes maybe even clever. They've got a lesbian always making mountains out of molehills when a gay rights issue hits the press, a vaguely African-themed face going on about race relations and various Jews talking about money. Cool. At least they're making me roll my eyes for the right reasons.

I have made several posts in the past raving against the idiocy of post-modernist relativism. Western society, before it does anything else, must re-learn the very concept of critical thought. What makes MSNBC worth at least an occasional listen is their willingness to do away with forced objectivity, to take a stand at least on the most obvious issues. It's almost nothing. If they didn't have the fanatics on the right wing feeding them such morally unambiguous villainy, it truly would amount to nothing. Still, it's nice to hear someone with an audience say that no, ignorance is not equal to rational analysis, lies are not equal to truth and these do not deserve equal consideration.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Shifting Demographic - Omnipresence

The journey is part of the gift. Or the product.

Back when World of Warcraft first launched, it attempted to become the best MMO ever made, complete with meaningful PvP objectives and a game world that required players to plan their movements through it. Shocking, but true. The following anecdote dates from the first few weeks after release.

I was an elf playing with my mainly human guild off in the eastern kingdoms, making my way through the wetlands north of the dwarf starting area back to the port town which connected the game world's two continents. At the docks, who should disembark but a fellow elf who ran up to me and asked me if i could tell him how to get to Westfall because he needed to meet up with his guildmates in order to enter the 'Deadmines' instance.
My answer, it would surprise anyone who's used to the way things are now done in WoW-clones, was not "just click that button on your UI and you'll be instantly teleported there". I told him he'd have to walk east along the road until it turns south past the graveyard, keep south through the two tunnels then take the right fork past the dwarf tower, keep going to Ironforge then take the subway to the human capital of Stormwind, then ask for directions from the locals.

During my time in Azeroth, i killed tens of thousands of mean-lookin' monsters. According to overall game marketing principles, dat's s'pose'ta be my only interest. No activity could ever rival the sheer instinctive joy of hurting something to make oneself feel like a big man. Oddly enough, little moments like giving someone directions did a lot more for me than killing a hundred zombie bears. I'm weird that way. In fact, there used to be a lot more of us weirdos around cyberspace. MMOs were created by and for us, for the ones who wanted an entire world in which to escape. Part of this escape was size.

I mentioned in a previous post that the most popular advertising gimmick of early MMOs was sheer size. This was sometimes presented in terms of land area or number of solar systems but more frequently customers were brought in by the promise of lengthty periods of walking. "It would take you this many hours to cross the game world" was a big selling point. We reveled in our ability to get nowhere fast. It meant being part of something huge. It meant we had entered the matrix, an infinite world of ideograms. We wanted the promise of carving out our own corner of something too big for us to ever control. We understood that slow progress is meaningful progress, that it was the perspective of proportion which gave meaning to our virtual selves. That was the MMO before the concept was undermined, while it was still a niche product.

When WoW managed to break into the mass market and investors suddenly saw a chance to sell many, many more copies than they'd dreamt of before, one of the first mass-market consumer complaints was that it took too long to get anywhere. World of Warcraft was derided as "World of Walkcraft" because the average moron saw the journey as an unforgivable break in his routine of hurting things to make himself feel big. One of the first ways in which MMO designers pandered to the small-minded masses was by making every one of us into a Kwisatz Haderach, by letting us be in many places at once, by making teleporting the chief method of travel. Azeroth and everything that came after it became homogenized into triviality.

Nothing shrinks a persistent world quite like teleporting. If you're never more than ten seconds' casting time and a two-minute jog from anywhere, then that's the size of the game world. If everything is within a few hundred steps of a teleport location, then the world is only a few hundred steps wide. The persistent world in itself becomes only a waste of processing power. Distance that's unused is nonexistent distance. Size is meaningless.

Yet MMO customers still pay for that size. The justification for the subscription marketing plan was the maintenance cost of that gigantic world which would take hours upon hours to cross, and the justification is still being used even while the product no longer offers that feature. There is a zone in LotRO called Forochel, largely uninhabited by players because of its remoteness and relative irrelevance in the level-grind, and because unlike most places in LotRO, it still requires the player to traverse large distances. It is the great Arctic waste of middle-earth.

The important point is that it's not being used. Players pay to keep it online. The maintenance costs for the processing power required to keep Forochel and its hordes of yeti and polar bears online are not shouldered by the developers, but by the customers. That's a crucial distinction between the old nerdy audience and the mass market. Today's customers are perfectly happy paying for something they don't use just so they can pretend they're playing something with all that distance they never use. As bad as the old overcompensating geeks were in their desperation for a surrogate for real-world self-worth, as stupid as all the griefing and cheating and exploiting of ten years ago was, at least they weren't begging to get ripped off.

I was taking it for granted, and perhaps i should not, that anyone could recognize the various form of teleporting. If you get on a horse in LotRO and instead of clippity-clopping your way across the fields the game just skips to the destination, you just teleported. If there are a dozen solar systems in a line in EVE-Online and you can warp from the first to the last, you just teleported past ten of them. If your character in any game "travels home" to a preset location instantly, you're teleporting. It's a feature that can and should be used very, very sparingly, and currently it's being abused to no end.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Camelot Still Chained

It's times like these i wish i had an audience.

As part of my round-up of potentially playable MMOs, i mentioned Camelot Unchained as the most likely to deliver something interesting. The project is currently nearing the end of its kickstarter campaign: 6 days to go, $600,000 to gather. Things look bleak.

I'm not quite sure what will happen when the project fails to meet its goal. Deadline extension? Start another fundraising drive? Likely as not, they'll be forced back to the old investors, and that will destroy the game. From the start, the idea was to give themselves the freedom to do whatever they could never do if under the thumb of a bean-counter constantly cracking the whip of profit: "surveys show we'd sell five thousand more copies of the game if we don't let players harvest their own resources" etc. As soon as disinterested bottom-liners get to overwrite creativity, it's done. May as well dig out your old WoW CDs.

It's times like these i wish i had an audience to cajole, bamboozle and connive into backing my frontrunner. It's times like these i wish not every ape on the planet equated power with credibility and waded solely in the mainstream for the joy of the communal muck of it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Atlas Shrugged

One brilliantly written scene in Man in the Chair (man in the flesh? Flash that man, the thing in itself? - but i digress) has the young pupil mention that he heard some guy at school say something that sounded interesting by some guy called... Na-iee-chee? Na-ya-chee? At which the old mentor thinks for a second and then sputters and stammers in incredulous rage:
"NIETZSCHE, you stupid, ignorant fart"
and then adds:
"Nietzsche was full of shit... most of the time."

The value of a thinker is not the value of a saint. Thinkers are not embodiments of perfect adherence to a doctrine, paragons of virtue as defined by a supposedly higher authority. The reverence one holds for the insights of a "Nayachee" should never be wholesale worship and proselytism. They can be full of shit (most of the time) and still prove greater allies in our intellectual development than any number of sensible types who can only regurgitate zeitgeist and bask in acceptance.

The three books i would recommend to any intelligent individual are Stranger in a Strange Land, Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Atlas Shrugged and it's not because they offer any great insights into the nature of existence, but because they exemplify the struggle of any mind with the capacity for awareness against the mindless glut of social apes which know only dogma, fad and pandering in their blind grasping for social rank. Those three are by no means the only such works. They simply happen to be the ones which reached me when i needed them.

I stand by Atlas Shrugged in the face of seemingly endless willful misinterpretation. On one hand, Rand's fanbase is every bit as annoying and irrelevant as trekkies, groupies or any other writhing mass of faceless, obsequious proselytes. On the other hand, the people who should have the intelligence to see the worth of objectivism at its purest and most basic seem perfectly content to condemn that work along with its self-serving (pun intended) fanatic adherents.

For instance, here's what prompted this post. This seems like the only attitude the supposed intellectual elite finds acceptable toward Atlas Shrugged, the dualistic assumption that to praise the book at all one must swallow every bite of bullshit Rand dished out. Oddly enough, it's the same attitude taken by the fans themselves.
Ayn Rand was an anti-communist and by all appearances anti-socialist reactionary. Trying to read the book as a treatise on economics is like trying to read Hamlet as a treatise on corruption in the aristocracy. You're missing the point. It's not Rand's conclusions, her Utopian recipe, that make objectivism and its expression in Atlas Shrugged so valuable an ally to a mind struggling for intellectual advancement through the morass of instinct and social protocol of human society, but her observations.

No, the central conflict in human society is not the mistreatment of the rich by the poor, as the book is commonly interpreted. That precept is every bit as ridiculous as it appears on the surface, and it wasn't by any stretch Rand's own central theme. There remains the very real issue however of the enslavement of ability and intellect by inferior beings, and this is what Rand hoped to remedy in her blind reactionary adulation of free market economics. She was wrong. Anyone with half a brain should spot the central fallacy throughout Atlas Shrugged.
She repeatedly portrays the public's idiotic incompetence to make rational decisions. This holds true. The public buys into the most blatant lies. The public is susceptible to advertising. The public makes decisions on products and social policies based on early indoctrination. They choose sex-appeal and vague delusional promises of an increase in social rank to lord over each other. The public has and always will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into a better existence by the few intelligent, progressive individuals who shackle themselves to the idea of progress.
It never gets better, because human society is still based on the idea of power, of competition for influence. The slightest imbalance builds on itself. This is above all true in a free market system. Yes, sometimes the winner truly is more deserving, but overwhelmingly, competition is carried out through the expedients of theft, false advertisement and sabotage. There is no way for the best of us to succeed when one must appeal to the public. They are either destroyed or enslaved. It is the rich, in their efforts to maintain control over the masses, who handicap thought, ability and creativity, who eliminate whatever threats they can't enslave.
Capitalism allows those without ability to use existing power to tear down more competent competition. It rewards, not productivity and quality, but destruction, cut-throat elimination of more intelligent individuals as dangerous rivals.

Rand's social roots and personal limitations blinded her to this most basic flaw in her reasoning but this in no way invalidates her observations on the hopeless struggle of intelligence within naked ape society. It is criminal for the would-be intelligentsia of left-wing politics to denigrate the book in an effort to undermine their adversaries. It is, again, an abuse of power granted by social influence. The greatest flaw in politics is not that there are scheisters trying to brainwash the moronic masses, but that the moronic masses are given the right to determine overall policy because their stupidity makes them buy into the lies of con-artists. Humans are simply not intelligent enough to govern themselves.

You want to sell yourself as a progressive? Stop taking the fashionable easy route of attacking a thinker who is being abused by the American right wing just as Nietzsche was abused by the Nazis. Stop attacking Rand simply because she recognized the inherent disparity in mental level among the human species. Intelligence is better than stupidity. Better minds should not be dragged down to the level of the hoi-polloi. Beer-chugging deadheads and bible-thumping backwater backbirths should not have the same number of votes as university professors and research scientists. Society does not progress. Individuals do. Individuals of superior intelligence are superior beings. The problem with this society is that it's run by the richest 1% and not by the smartest 1%. Smarter people are better people, more valuable people, and should be treated as such. Give that devil her due, she may have been dead wrong about many things, full of shit most of the time, but she was right about the core issue. In her own words:

I am an innovator. This is a term of distinction, a term of honor, rather than something to hide or apologize for. Anyone who has new or valuable ideas to offer stands outside the intellectual status quo. But the status quo is not a stream, let alone a 'mainstream'. It is a stagnant swamp. It is the innovators who carry mankind forward.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pop Hits of 1990(-ish)

The year is 1990. The child is seven years old.
That's me on the carpet, the one rearranging wooden blocks into a fort for my toy soldiers. My family's brand-new color TV is running in the background, softly enough not to bother my parents, uncle, grandmother and great-aunt as they talk around the table. It tends to be tuned to VH1 or to musical segments on other channels because there's never anything good on anyway. I don't actually have a concept of artistic expression at that time but i can appreciate the 'catchiness' of tunes on an animal level and i am fascinated by the notion that those people on screen are allowed to dress up weird, be loud and make funny faces and voices at each other.
Now, most of what i hear goes in one ear and out the other. I have no context for pop music and no frame or reference by which to judge it. Two decades later, i realize that a surprising number of musical snippets from the late 80s sound familiar despite the fact that i've never specifically looked up music from that period. Subliminal programming works.

However, the context of the programming is somewhat unique. I was exposed to various hits, but i had very little pressure placed on me about whether or not to enjoy them. My appreciation was based almost purely on how catchy the songs were to my ten-year-old ears. So, i've been wondering lately, how does that old stuff hold up? How do the all-too-popular, catchy tunes of those years actually fare in terms of content, meaning and complexity?

Some lend themselves to easy answers.
Michael Jackson may have been largely a stage entertainer and not a cerebral musician, but many of his big hits are relatively complex by pop standards and you can't tell me this lacks meaning in its social context. At the very least it's not the eternal "ooh baby baby i love ya baby" one learns to expect from pop. He had energy. His best songs were driven, purposeful.
I feel like i'm on much more solid ground with Jean-Michel Jarre. Huge influence in techno. The song i remember listening to at seven was Calypso but if you really want a short, clever treat, listen to this using headphones. No, i don't think one can reasonably contest Jarre's importance. He's one of those rare individuals who could make "art for art's sake" into more than a smokescreen for uninspired simplistic fads.

With others though, we get into shaky footing.
This, for instance, captivated me when i heard it in the mid-90s. It's repetitive, simplistic dance-fodder. Never goes anywhere. Was i ever that young?
I'm marginally less ashamed of liking Ace of Base. At least this song and couple of others have... well, lyrics, such as they are. The songs progress slightly from start to finish. Still, i can't believe i never realized all their songs sound exactly the same. They had a catchy hook and rode it to death.
I know i was listening to Sinead O'Connor. I remember the bald scalp, but i don't remember the actual songs. Not a good sign. Hearing some of it now, it sounds fairly generic, just a mass of vocalist-centered ditties with no real depth. 
I think Return to Innocence owed its popularity to the music video more than anything. Fast-forwarding, rewinding, etc. were still considered clever novelties by many, myself included. I'm tempted to just qualify it as mindlessly easygoing, touchy-feeley new-age crap, but to be honest it's honest. That obsessive chanting which makes up the Enigma songs i've heard is well performed. It embodies the idealized vague noncommittal desire to make oneself seem deep and interesting which defines much of the New-Age movement. If you want some quality ululating to which to attach your own mental imagery, there's your song.
Still, there's not much there. A passing fancy.

On to the pleasant surprises.
On to Walk like an Egyptian, which was a great song to hear as a child because, well... yeah. Any excuse to clown around. I listened to it again after hearing it in Religulous and was surprised to find that those words in between the "ey-oh"s were actual lyrics. I don't mean just "yeah baby baby" etc. but an honest-to-goodness poetic theme, a toned-down, upbeat, kiddie-safe version of transience. I'm not much for sugar-coated social comentary, and maybe my opinion as an adult male is a mite skewed by the fact that the gals looked good struttin' their stuff in that video, especially the short redhead, but still, it's a decent little tune.
But if the Bangles might curry favor with their overgrown 80s hairstyles and hobo-chic fashion sense, Scatman John must exonerate me. I am not sexually attracted to men, much less to lawn gnomes. I like the song in itself. Obviously, the draw for me as a twelve-year-old with no great interest in music was again, the clowning, but listening to it now i like the message. It works as poetry: "Everybody's born to compete as he chooses, but how can someone win if winning means that someone loses?" Preach it brother, i hereby declare you an anarchist in the true sense of the word.
Here's another sociopolitically charged song: Istanbul (not Constantinople). Apparently it has a long history, being dredged up now and then since its appearance in 1953. Can't say i entirely care for the original version, too slow-paced for my tastes without making up for it through complexity. But, this one arguably sounds better than the 1990 TMBG song. Transience, indeed.

However, i'm not one for subtlety. I'd rather overwhelm than leave doubt.
I don't know if 99 Luftballons had ever ceased to be popular since 1984, but it was certainly being dredged up in a big way in 1990-91, likely in response to the gulf war. It amuses me that American audiences, ignoring the lyrics altogether, tend to interpret its mocking derision of military machismo as a lighthearted romp (i myself was reminded of the song by seeing it referenced in Scrubs in a scene where the characters are joyfully kicking a roomful of balloons around). This is not a happy song. Apropos of nothing, that blond snot with the carefully-tousled hair in the video? Makes me wanna smack that self-confident pretty-boy pout off his face. I should know better than to watch music videos, i know, i know.
It doesn't pull punches. It treats martial bravado as the hollow, delusional grasp at social rank it really is - each one thinking he's Captain Kirk. Imagine it superimposed as the soundtrack to a war movie. So much of human conflict is not villainy but sheer stupidity. The cold war insanity which likely prompted this song was a perfect example. How can you react to that mindset?

Hast du etwas Zeit für mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich

Slow down, boy.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Not a writer, still blocked

"2 a.m. and i'm still awake writing a song
if i get it all down on paper it's no longer inside of me
threatening the life it belongs to"

Anna Nalick - Breathe (2.a.m.)


I am not a writer. Those characters live only in my trainwrecks of thought, useless to other minds. They've been growing there, along with many more, since my mid-teens. There was a moment in my freshman year of high school when playing make-believe became a making of worlds, and ever since then slivers of my psyche have been growing into their own landscapes, grinning and frowning new faces, making new habits, stereotyping themselves and breaking their own stereotypes. They inhabit expansive interstellar empires or personal nightmares. Some got tired of their initial adventures and demanded new lives, and i keep giving in to them, spoiling my creations rotten, giving them more and more of myself.
Shadow grew from a superheroine to a Jungian archetype and back. Cliche or not, she just liked having special powers. Theodore got sick of being a bit-player in an adolescent power fantasy, abandoned his partner Hubris and sought out Angela in a dreamscape only to betray her. Marcus refused to play the hero no matter how much i wanted to make him into one so i could pretend to identify with him. They're all cowards and martyrs, scheming, reckless or shy, failed heroes and antivillains. A fantasy story turned into a fantasy world. Superheroes became all-too-human social prime movers. An entire world of grays and shades expanded out of my lazy view of an overcast sunset over a city's industrial decay.

All this happened in my head. I can't write. I've tried and failed. No matter how inspired i think i am, no matter how many times i go back and alter what i've laid down before, my attempts have been utter trash, unfit to line bird cages. I think Darwin was the first to rebel, to tell me that if all the personality i can give her is that of a starstruck teenage girl, she'd rather inspire a deep lungful of poisonous oxygen than take any more part in my pathetic attempts at storytelling.

I cannot communicate ideas. I fail in every way when i try, and the ideas got fed up with it and are refusing to cooperate. They're tired of being written as simplistic, pathetic caricatures of themselves. I cannot write. This is a problem. They're not vacating the premises or coming out on paper, and they keep multiplying. The ideas refuse to die or be born. There's a dragon now, clawing his way around the back of my skull, a pitiful, slithering, venomous thing retching fear and sneering at the gigantic shadow-dragon i had dreamt up in high school as a primitive, half-baked abortion. The Roothairs blindly swarm around him, blaming him for interrupting the creation of their planet while Atman waves them all aside in search for a never-materialized chthonic quest.

Yes, Shadow, i know i'm worthless, i know i always have been. Yes, you've always told me, and you've always been right, Shadow my shadow, everlasting, everpresent, ever-me. But please, i beg you, go bother one of the others for a while. Go tell Wisteria she's a selfish relic, go tell Agnes she's a self-centered, shortsighted brat. Go tell the martyr wraith that redemption is an empty farce and hound the moon-mad werewolf packs about their exploitation of Artemis as a scapegoat for their own human viciousness. Go tell Cassandra she's just an attention-whore and call the scheming Serqet out on her fossilized dualistic mindset. Go to Atlantis and deride the Shapers' vain ambitions.

Just stop constantly whispering to me that i can't write, Shadow. I know i'm worthless. I should've known it ever since i drew a blank trying to describe your voice.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Misplaced Narrative of Tyler Freeborn

Since getting into a screaming match with my LoTRO guild (not sure why they haven't kicked me out yet, i'll likely have to give them the satisfaction and quit) i've been looking more and more into other games, including another look at TSW.

I made mention before of TSW's central identity crisis. More than WoW-clones which are a bastardized, castrated, idiotically oversimplified version of the MMO concept, it is clear that TSW's creators never set out to make an MMO at all, regardless of whether they realize this themselves. Their brains just don't seem to run on that track. They're storytellers not game-masters. Now, WoW-clones are bad games. TSW however has a great deal of quality material in it, and you don't even need to squint very hard to find it. It's right there in the aesthetics, narrative depth and mission design. It just never coalesces into a coherent multiplayer game.

At the end of my last post i also mentioned that the developers seem at least somewhat aware of their strong points and are now focusing on single-player content. I've played one of the new mission packs in the past few days, The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn and i am again amazed at the discrepancy between the high standard of interactive storytelling and the stumbling, awkward implementation of gameplay mechanics. Most of the usual highs and lows apply. The mission pack is divided into four stages with the last being the cinematic pay-off for your efforts. Visual artwork, audio, writing, that fourth mission has it all. It was beautiful. The rest...

I guess i should start my complaints with the hand-holding. As a game, TSW's best feature is puzzle-solving. Overall, it makes scarce use of the gigantic glowing waypoints telling players where to go which have become such an unwelcome standard in most games. You're expected to be able to find a location on the map now and then based on verbal description, or figure out which overly-ornate key fits into which slot to open a secret door. The Freeborn arc, however, lacks any intellectual demands whatsoever. It's a nonstop "go there, kill that" routine for the first two missions.

Speaking of those first two missions, they felt disturbingly like sheer unadulterated, tasteless filler. They remind me of myself trying to put together a mission arc about a mad scientist in City of Heroes but prefacing the actual story with a largely meaningless warehouse heist and sewer hunt. They amounted to the same kind of linear, predictable, running back and forth timesink which plagues other would-be MMOs.

It's the third mission which really takes the cake though, and this requires two short pieces of explanation.

One: There is an NPC compound which the player must access for several non-combat missions. It tends to be rather aggravating in itself because coming into aggro range of any NPC in it immediately bounces the player outside, only to have to hop over the fence again, etc. As a one-shot affair it had its place in the game, a nuisance but also a welcome change of pace from other gameplay mechanics. However, the developers decided to re-use it for the third Freeborn mission, while giving the player no logical way to go about the objectives other than trial and error, with the assurance of getting bounced outside several times because of randomly encountering some NPC.

Two: TSW has you pick up a lot of objects from the environment, in traditional adventure-game fashion. Normally, getting within a step or two of an interactable object causes it to light up. Not too hard to spot, not too easy. One of the first "improvements" made after release was the addition of an environment interaction tooltip. From several steps away, you can have the UI bring up a gigantic text marker telling you to "PRESS BUTTON XYZ TO USE THIS".

Now, in the third Freeborn mission, you have to pick up three objects inside that compound with the invincible patrolling NPC bouncers. You're not told in which of the four tents they're to be found. It turns out they're minuscule microscope slides. They're too small to be noticeable, unless of course you use the "i'm too lazy to look around" text marker feature. In other words, you're not supposed to figure anything out. Timesink. No reward for intelligence. It's all trial and error and repetition and having things randomly being pointed out to you in floating UI text. This is not a strong point in a puzzle-solving game.

Tyler Freeborn had a good story to tell. The various artists and writers did a solid job with the videos and the last mission in the arc, the pay-off. Even the music, the subtle background thrumming matching the earlier Draugar siren song used in other parts of the game, was thoroughly enjoyable. The awkward, ham-handed way in which the necessary player interaction was handled though largely detracts from the experience.
People, keep in mind you're supposed to be making a game. Keep it coherent. You can't just separate it into grind and pay-off.


Nine Inch Nails' Closer is one of the most famously under-appreciated songs i've ever heard, while oddly at the same time one of the band's most successful. It's tempting to liken it to the many examples of musicians metaphorically using sex, religion or anything from a white rabbit to a brand new ding-a-ling to push their own agendas on a completely unrelated topic, but at its most basic, Closer really can be taken at face value. Reznor really was talking about sex. It's one of those delightfully controversial works of art which tend to polarize the audience so quickly and forcefully that little is left at the true center of the analysis. Respectable, educated listeners instantly dismiss the song as frivolous mass-appeal as soon as the first chorus pounds its way across the backalley of their consciousness while the concert-going masses never heard anything but the chorus.

Though i make a habit of pointing out the hidden depths of this song anytime it comes up, this particular post was prompted by a webcomic. I won't talk about Leftover Soup at the moment but the author's comment below that page of the comic reminded me that even those of us who plumb hidden depths vertically can land far from each other horizontally. I won't quote his entire post but the relevant bits are:

"There is a tendency to assume that any song with a lyric like "I wanna fuck you like an animal" must be a cheeky, naughty, hedonistic tune about the animalistic joy of boning.
But the song isn't called "Fuck You Like An Animal". The song is called "Closer".
"Closer" is a song about addiction. It's a song about depression. It's a song about obsession and desperation and resignation and darkness. It's a song about a profoundly unhealthy and unhappy person seeking a temporary oblivion in carnal excess.
It's not a beautiful song, by any stretch of the imagination. It's not a happy song, it's not a love song, and it's certainly not a sex-positive song.
But it's a song that expresses something true, and, as such, I think it's an important song."
First off, i would disagree that it is not a beautiful song. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" and while the behavior portrayed by the song is not necessarily beautiful, the multifaceted understanding displayed in the songwriting is artistic expression at its finest. The human world is ugly. In this new millennium of antidepressants and 'it's just an opinion' we have lost too much of our ability to recognize this truth and appreciate a portrayal of our individual clash with that ugliness as artistic beauty.
I cannot dispute the claim that Closer deals with depression, obsession, desperation, self-destruction. The entire album on which the song is found, The Downward Spiral, was a thorough exploration of self-hatred and hopelessness beautifully arranged from the tone-setting Mr. Self-Destruct to my own favorite song of all time Eraser and the moment of letting go in Hurt. However, Closer still deals with a specific facet of self-destructive behavior not only as a part of the individual's greater downward spiral but as a loss of self in itself.

To be a human male is to be a slave. I don't mean this simply in the general sense that we are all slaves to our emotions or instincts. Females' behavior is certainly by and large governed by nothing more than mechanistic tripping of various instinctive triggers in their own brand of primitive competition for social standing and reproductive success. I also don't mean that males strictly can never say no, that we are absolutely incapable of placing any interest prior to immediate sexual gratification. The pattern need not be absolute in order to define our interactions, especially when reinforced by millennia of societies based on the family unit.
We do have a weakness for women. This was a very useful evolutionary adaptation, our innate desperation to protect and provide for our mates. It kept lots of cave-babies safe and fed. No matter how much Lifetime pushes the image of men as wife-beaters and rapists, it never comes to that with most of us. We never use our superior muscle mass against our mates because evolution has endowed them with a host of behavioral defenses to stop us in our tracks. Overall, we are less aggressive toward women than toward each other. We let them get away with murder. We give them special treatment in return for a nod and a wink. We panic if they start to cry where we would only be disgusted with each other for the same behavior. Worst of all, we assume the utter unassailable moral high ground of women because a few hundred generations of history reinterpreted through our modern feminist prism have cemented the instinctive dynamic of men as the hired muscle of women, dumb violent brutes who are by definition always wrong, whose only moral action is allowing themselves to be tamed and civilized by women.

The difference between the webcartoonist's approach to the song and my own seems tied to the verses we zeroed in on. My interpretation has always centered on the very first words:
"You let me violate you
You let me desecrate you"
You let me. You condescended. You threw me a bone. You sacrificed yourself. You dirtied your pristine, divine female flesh with my disgusting male animal presence. Female is inherently superior to male and the only meaning males can have in their lives is the desperate search for female approval.

Males' instinctive tendency to be cowed by their mates' presence, their willingness to be nagged and shamed and teased and guilted into anything for the promise of sex is exactly what it sounds like: leverage. Yes, Closer is a song about self-destructive behavior but it is not only the desperation for sex that's destructive, but the subservient nature of a sexual relationship, the disparity in instinctive attachment to one another. Other songs on the album like Piggy or Ruiner hit on instinct itself and its internal effect on the individual. Closer and Reptile are valuable for their attack on the glorification of sexual relationships, of the sick control which defines our sex-withholding paradigm of mating rituals.

"Help me get away from myself" - "Help me become somebody else" - a loss of self, the subversion of a male's individual persona in the instinctive scrabble for a mate is not just an expression of addiction but of the sickeningly pervasive, glorified, unquestioned societal hold of that addiction over the male mind.

"You get me closer to god" - "You make me perfect" - the assumption of the innate superiority of that which holds leverage over you, of that which is endowed with the goal of your wants is a reductio ad absurdum of the absurd pedestal on which modern society places the female viewpoint, at once victim and authority, self-defined angelic.

"You can have my everything" - the glorification of the sexual act, the assumption that sex is worth anything and everything else, that the only way for a male to secure reproductive rights is to surrender his material possessions from paying for dinner to alimony payments to working dead-end jobs to be a good provider is a throwback to everything our culture shoves down our throats. It is almost a verbatim regurgitation of the recurring lyric in every bestselling romantic song, the assumption that a male must be utterly, self-effacingly, suicidally devoted to his mate.

"You can have my absence of faith" - "You tear down my reason" - brainwash me, please. Erase me. Destroy me to feed your own instinctive need for control.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The second computer my family ever bought, the one on which i started really getting into games, was a Pentium with a dizzyingly fast 166 MHz processor and full VGA graphics capability. It came with a few pieces of software to sweeten the deal, among them two games: PGA Something Tour and Magic Carpet.
This post is not about the golf game.

Magic Carpet did not hold my attention much. It was a simplistic twitch-game FPS and while the novelty of flying around shooting fireballs took quite a bit longer to wear off than that of... putting... it did little to keep me interested in the way that Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries, C&C: Red Alert, Sim City 2000 or Starcraft did.

However, Magic Carpet did keep to one important concept which fell by the wayside in later years' FPS and RPGs. Spells (fireballs) were cast using mana, but mana was a finite resource, not an infinitely regenerating gigantic pool from which you could shoot fireworks almost indefinitely. It was a physical (spiritual?) resource actively gathered as you played, jealously hoarded and fought over, a la Magic:The Gathering. It was not a meaningless freebie implemented just for show.
Even the game's backstory involved mana becoming the 'spice melange' of the world. He who controls the stuff you use to shoot fireballs controls the universe.

That was the style at the time. Other series like the original Diablo or TES 3: Morrowind also used a finite, actively replenished mana pool, while Diablo 2 and TES 4: Oblivion did not. The audience gradually decided that keeping track of mana was just a lot to think about and we all know thinking causes school shootings. The death of the mana-as-resource concept was merely a minor side-effect of the overall simplification of computer games to appeal to the moronic masses. Let's revive it.
Come on, that spell can't have more than a 47-mana cost. 

However, in order to bring back a meaningful use of mana, one would have to apply the same necromantic ability to the entire over-arching concept of resource management, from mining nodes to depletable quivers of arrows and guns with bulky packs of ammo which need to be carried around. Resource management requires foresight and planning and that requires thought and thought, well...

causes fireballs.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The one time i'd like to see people toe the line

One of the most common problems in team games is that each worthless idiot on your team always plays for his own score and not the team objectives. Most manifestations of that mindset can be explained. I am not currently talking about spawn camping or ninja-looting or kill-stealing or any of the other petty greedy fixations of the worthless imbeciles in online games, but about a behavior which cannot be explained by selfishness alone.

Say you're in a team PvP game, be it isometric RPG-style, FPS or AoS, or even a team RTS. The behavior pattern is the same. In the instant when two armies clash, that utterly crucial first impact, there's one common rule:

That is not what happens in online games. Players mill about indecisively for a while, then something happens, combat is initiated in some way and... inevitably more than half instantly panic and scatter. This is not a self-serving action. It leads to a loss regardless of whether it increases your personal lifespan by a few seconds. It doesn't matter whether one side is winning or losing. It is not a retreat. People simply panic in fear of dying - virtually. They run in random directions, not always away from the fight, without actually attempting to help a teammate or attack the enemy.

Intellectually, i can see the instinctive behavior patterns which give rise to virtual cowardice but it remains as alien a mindset to me as an earthworm's aimless wriggling on the sidewalk. I cannot fathom what can be going through the average idiot's brain when he wets himself and scampers in fear of dying in an online game. How do they rationalize it? Do they? These are the same cretins who use 'it's just a game' as a catchphrase to excuse any immoral behavior they so desperately adopt in order to make themselves feel big.
Want to steal loot? It's just a game, go ahead. Want to download a cheat? Lighten up, dood, it's just a game. Want to use only one weapon because it's currently overpowered, ignoring the rest of the game's options? It's just game, who cares. Want to sabotage your team, kill some allies? Come on man, it'll be funny and it's just a game anyway.
How is it not "just a game" when those same macho troglodytes have to hold the line against an enemy attack?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

47% right

"then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, 
to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, 
to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; 
so that the strong should not harm the weak; 
so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, 
to further the well-being of mankind."
             - graffiti on a bunch of rocks from ~3800 years ago

By now, Mitt Romney's "47%" speech seems to have gained lasting notoriety in a political arena where facetiously civic-minded power-grasping is normally taken for granted. His accusations of weakness, laziness and parasitism finally suggested the obvious to the brainless mass of voters whom he had targeted with his comments, that Romney did not see them as equals or even useful cogs in his power structure but as convenient future victims on whom to play out his fantasies of power struggles. 

However, it's not particularly relevant that a power-hungry sociopath, the alpha-type who tends to work its way to the top of any structure, be it religious, political or corporate, would have that attitude. It's a given. A society which promotes competition for its own sake will inevitably make leaders of the morally bankrupt. The much more serious issue is that the accusation was taken as an insult. The crucial misinterpretation of the very concept of government is the view that government should not ensure and protect basic necessities. It is the idiotic doublethink of this prevalent notion that government should not govern.

"47% who believe they are entitled to health-care, to food, to housing, you name it"
In that list of 'you-name-it's i would include education, and i should hope that a lot more than 47% of people believe they're entitled to it. I'm always reminded of the catch-phrase thrown at me in high school in the driver education program "driving is not a right, it's a privilege!" - well, no, mr. teacher good sir, driving is a necessity, because this combustion-giddy society, instead of providing safe, useful mass transit and self-contained communities which don't require you to drive 15 minutes (or walk for an hour each way) to a mega-super-mart to get even basic groceries, has made an automobile a basic necessity. The case is even more straightforward with the older historical necessities. 

Every power structure, if you're not using it as a means to gain power over others for yourself, has only one logical purpose: as a protection racket. A government is supposed to keep others from threatening and enslaving you. It's supposed to protect you from, say, the petty thug next door who'd love to beat your brains out and rape your wife to death. Or maybe against the religious nut who thinks he's got a supernatural mandate to force you to chant the word of dog. Or maybe, just maybe, against the corporate robber-barons who want to keep you a wage-slave while stripmining the land around you until there's no land or you left. In its best possible interpretation, a government is supposed to improve our lot altogether, to further the well-being of mankind. 

I am still at heart an anarchist. A universal refusal to attempt to gain power over others is the only way for a sentient species to live. I'm also not stupid enough to believe that humanity in its current state can handle an egalitarian society free of power-structures. This is not a sentient species. You will first have to prune away the idiots who cannot handle the concept of cold-blooded, long-term, mutually beneficial cooperation. They'll amount to most of the globe's population. However, if genocide is not to your tastes, you'll have to go through the painstakingly slow, centuries-long process of raising the level of thought of the public until they are ready to live in a better world. Now, there's a very old concept in psychology, Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" which though questionable as almost everything in the soft sciences (and quite a bit of the 'hard' sciences) nicely illustrates the reason why governments refuse to further the well-being of mankind. Basic needs must be attended before higher functions can be achieved. I see the currently popular interpretation uses a five-tier system. I prefer a more straightforward three-tier system which incorporates the overarching importance of instinct, since humans are to a large extent still little wind-up toys.

Physical, emotional, intellectual, in that order. 

The physical level also includes instinctive drives. Populations cannot think if they are hungry or homeless, if those physical concerns rule their actions. They also cannot think if they are kept in a constant state of instinctive tribal warfare, if they constantly believe themselves in competition with the whites or the blacks, with the towel-heads or the infidels, with the fags on the west coast or the yuppies on the east coast, with capitalist pigs or communist dogs. Mob mentality takes over. They also cannot think while their right to mate is contingent on adherence to a particular doctrine, like say, having to marry in a church before they're allowed to start humping. They will adhere.

At the emotional level, you have three moles to whack, the three basic emotions: fear, anger and greed. You cannot ask much of a population that lives in fear. They cannot think while they live in constant fear of 'terrorists' bombing them, whether those wear turbans or air-force uniforms. They will side with whoever is promising to remove that fear, whether it's in their interests overall or not. This also covers every other type of fear: fear that your boss can afford to fire you at any moment because there's a surplus of desperate unemployed apes just waiting to take your place. Fear that without a job you will starve, fear that the police will barge into your home to drag you into prison just to flex their muscles, fear that the gangbangers down the block will kill you for your electronics so they can keep bribing the police not to break down their doors. 
An angry population will also never vote in their own interests. They will vote against themselves as long as they are kept in a constant state of outrage over fictitious issues like patriotism, religion or threats against machismo. 
A greedy population turns on itself. 

The intellectual level, since it does not exist in most human apes, must be actively promoted. Gaining a sufficient level of education to have some historical perspective on social trends, to know the difference between and value of both theory and empiricism in order to become able to critically analyze the promises of politicians is not some extraneous ivory-tower conceit. It is a requirement of rational decision-making. Higher education is not frivolity. It is a basic right which is being denied through economic means to the vast majority of the population.

The core issue in governments' refusal to provide for these needs is a fairly recent sociopolitical backsliding in the past couple of centuries in England then the U.S. and then in the world at large. It stemmed from the capitalist glorification of competition which chimed only too well with instinctive social competition. It can be summed up quite succinctly:
Anything goes.
For millennia, since Hammurabi instituted his laughably unfair system of laws, humanity has been plagued by corrupt systems of government. No society, not even ancient Athens, managed to get everything right. The core principle however remained the same. Even in the sickest depths of feudalism there lived the idea that a lord had a duty to protect his people and ensure the harvest did not rot. Though most lords utterly failed in these tasks, it was still understood they they were bad lords. They failed at lording. Better lords did a better job of fairly upholding the law and improving the lot of their peasants. 
The modern reinterpretation of the right of the rich to take whatever they want from the poor, of the right of the strong to harm the weak, of the very existence of the legal fiction of a juridical person rendering our modern corporate lords unaccountable for their actions is a legitimization of the worst abuses of governments, a return to the primitive notion of "might makes right." The great coup which allowed for this paradigm shift was the ease of indoctrination brought about by mass-media control. Never before has it been so easy for the rich to convince the poor to make the rich richer, by promoting the utterly meaningless fable of "upward social mobility" - by glorifying injustice.

Things will not get better. This moribund society has broken every one of Hammurabi's tenets. It is handing its penal system and armed forces to the wicked and the evil-doers themselves, to the very corporations against whose excesses it should protect. It has glorified the ability of the strong to harm the weak, of wealth to keep amassing wealth. It has vilified enlightenment as unmanly and weak, glorified jocks over nerds. It has done away with the idea of well-being itself, recognizing only the extremes of workaholism and hedonism as ideals. Thanks to post-modernist denial of objective quality, it even became capable of ignoring the need to determine righteousness in a logical manner and opened itself up to endless factionalism to fragment itself even further. The system is self-perpetuating because once the public makes all the wrong choices and allows the wrong people to gain power over them, it is in the interest of those very same powerful individuals to keep the populace from thinking, to keep it hungry and scared and stupid, so that it keeps reinforcing those wrong decisions that keep the mighty right.

Welcome to the world before 1800 b.c.e.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Of Berries, Noumena and Laissez-Faire Intellectualism

I like blueberries. I also like truth. Truth, much like berries, comes in a few varieties.
There is verifiable truth. Am i or am i not currently holding a blueberry in the palm of my hand? You could verify that by having me show you my open hand.
There's also logic. Since i'm typing, you can safely determine that i wasn't holding anything in my hand. Logic, thought, allows us to form a clear conceptual framework from observed phenomena which may or may not represent the absolute truth. Regardless of whether or not i actually went through the trouble of typing one-handed just so i could ambush you with an argument-demolishing berry, the correct course of action in the absence of other evidence was to work on the assumption that i was berry-deprived.
That interpretation, the awareness that since there's no reason to assume a hand contains delicious fruit when it's most likely empty, is also truth. It is the truth as best an intelligent mind can discern it with the information at hand. It is mutable, but not inconsequential. We live our lives by that sort of truth whether we want to admit it or not.

Logic also helps us determine the validity of the concepts presented to us. I can understand why blueberries are called such as opposed to let's say, blackberries. Problem: more and more over the past couple of decades i've been coming up against irrationalists who insist that because they like blackberries more, blueberries are just another kind of blackberry.
It doesn't really matter what kind of fruit we're talking about. Political fruit, religious fruit, racial or economic fruit, big world-splattering fruit or tiny entertainment fruit. The mindless apes of the world have hit upon the ultimate argument "that's just your opinion." Atheism is just another kind of religion. Economic deregulation is just another kind of regulation. Outsourcing is just another kind of production. Feminism is just another kind of equality. War is just another kind of peace. Torture's just another kind of not. Wrong is just another kind of right.
I wonder what Douglas Adams might have said if he ever saw the religious taboo mentality expanded to every aspect of society. This is what blind, naive, idealistic tolerance gets you: a world in which any attempt at reason is met with a mealy-mouthed irrational retrenchment, in which every last knuckle-dragging imbecile believes himself entitled to refrain from thinking because all opinions are equal, because he can never get called out on his stupidity. This is the society which has made "just an opinion" its guiding light, in which the poor buy houses and cars they can't afford and education implies a bank loan, because debt is just another kind of property and wage-slavery is just another kind of freedom.

Looking around in random directions, there are very few signs that anyone even sees how sick a pattern it's become. That comic's naively optimistic in itself. If you do ever stand for truth against comfortable mutual reassurance, expect to stand alone. There will be nobody to help you shake the stupid out of the empty heads around you. They will instinctively band together, the half-wits with the no-wits, in defense of their un-analyzed lives, because it's more comfortable to be liked than to side with the ogre calling others out on their thoughtlessness. Certainly i'm not going to stop calling people out on their blind adherence to comfortably popular opinions. Luckily i'm nobody myself.

If you'd like to witness the state of morality, go online. Better yet, go into an online game. See how people behave when they have nothing real to lose or gain. Try to make a rational argument and see if anyone sides with you. Get shouted down for trying to nudge anyone out of their instinctive social behavior patterns. Get told, again and again, that it doesn't matter that others are wrong, it's your fault for telling them they're wrong. Don't rock the boat. Bend over and take it.
Increasingly, the most popular catchphrase in online games is 'lulz u mad bro' - because nothing can be more pathetic than being that lone loser still standing for something, taking a determined stance for an idea while the rest of the world has happily moved on to mindless complacency. Nothing is worse than being better.