The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

GamerGate and Representation

I was very interested in GamerGate when it first popped up. I... well, not "enjoyed" Depression Quest, given the subject matter, but I did find it to be a very powerful story, even if it's not perfect, and I was a little taken aback by the fury directed at Zoe Quinn. Saying that I was one of her defenders is probably incorrect, since I haven't really posted anything on this topic before, but if I were picking sides, it would be that one.

Nowadays my attitude is part bemusement and part exasperation. I don't know how or why people can justify defending that particular banner anymore, given how nobody has really found anything significantly corrupt about Quinn and any game journalism outlet, and watching them try to find more post hoc rationalizations is frankly rather irritating. Even if they do manage to come up with some potentially problematic issues to worry about. Especially if they try to justify the crap that was originally directed at people like Zoe Quinn or Anita Sarkeesian by pointing to legitimate problems.

Of course, even if I don't care enough to follow the whole issue closely anymore, I still happen upon references from time to time (and that usually spawns a bit of a tab explosion as I start clicking through to other new references). Such as this analogy I found on Memebase.

It did make me stop and think for a moment, even if I don't agree with the point of this particular post. So I thought I'd share what I came up with.

Mostly, that has to do with the comparison between the past's concerns about satanic messages, and the present's concern with sexism, racism, or homophobia. How the present concern is portrayed, though, is at best incomplete, and at worst deceptive. I think there's a difference between active discrimination and poor representation, and that most of the problem we have is with the latter. The former is fixed by eliminating discriminatory stereotypes; the latter is fixed by adding more stories about different kinds of people to the ones we're already telling.

Basically, I'm not trying to argue that modern games are all sexist. I do think they reflect society's prejudices (as does almost every other form of media; video games are by far not the only medium struggling with this issue right now) and that we should try and tell more stories than just "prince (or plumber) saves princess"... but that doesn't mean we'll never tell that one again.

That doesn't mean we have no problem at all with discrimination; there are still some tropes that need to go away and never be heard from again. And just because we can still tell stories about the princes of the world is no reason to make every princess in those stories a complete idiot (which is really just me restating the discrimination point more dramatically). Nor do I expect the defenders of the current status quo to be placated by the fact that many people are more interested in expanding the scope of gaming and gamers than they are with limiting what we currently have.

But it's worth pointing out that GamerGate's detractors don't really want to destroy video games or denounce everything we currently have as unacceptable. We really just want to make room for everyone here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Report: The Handmaid's Tale

... in which I just finished reading a book: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It's a dystopian story centered around the US as a totalitarian, patriarchal Christian theocracy - but that much you can get from Wikipedia.

As with a lot of dystopian fiction, it is not meant to be a comfortable read. Even though I'm probably not who this book is aimed at, since I'm already doing what I can (inasmuch as I am involved in political activism at all) to see that such things never come to pass in the US, it's still the sort of thing that makes one think.

In particular, I end up thinking about what my political opponents - the Christian organizations standing up to see their morals enshrined in the public square - really want, and how much this dystopia really matches their end goal.

Some of it probably does match. It doesn't take much imagination or effort to find those who think abortion doctors, gay or lesbian people, or rival religious adherents should be executed, as the Republic of Gilead in the book does. It certainly doesn't take any effort at all to find those (and not all religious people, at that) who think we need to enforce a more moral society.

But I also think of the Christians I know personally, and their ideals, and I know that they would recoil from the idea of enforcing adherence to their beliefs and moral restrictions with secret police and public executions. They just want what's best for everyone... their definition of "best" varies somewhat from mine, but I'm still confident they would not want to hurt that many people and destroy our freedom to see it happen.

I question how else they could ever get the widespread adherence to their beliefs and morals that they seem to want - or fear what they might do if or when they eventually come to believe that themselves - though. And while I don't want to say that the best intentions in the world aren't a valid defense, they're still only a valid defense if one can legitimately say that any harm that resulted was sufficiently unforeseen. I question whether that's the case when the damage done to people's lives is the intended mechanism to force them to change themselves.

In the end, there seems to be no answer but to proceed carefully and question the possible negative consequences of our own goals. We certainly don't seem capable of listening to our opponents when they point out those negative consequences.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Here we go again

I was expecting something like the last two months to happen. Namely, when my ship pulled back in and my home Internet connection once again became available, my interest in writing hit a brick wall as all of my free time went back to computer and arcade games.

Of course, now we're going underway again, so there should be more to see on my blog for a while.

... I can't promise it will last beyond my next return to home port, unfortunately.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Entertainment as a Duty

Like clockwork, here comes another Steam sale. Their summer sale might be bigger than most of the little deals (almost every single game on my wishlist is discounted to some degree), but it's still just the same marketing tactic that every gamer I know alternately loves and hates.

Of course, thinking about all the games I want to buy so I can play them inevitably reminds me of the games I've bought and haven't played yet.

I don't, entirely, blame Steam or successful marketing for the fact that I have a backlog. (And not all of the entertainment I have in my backlog is Steam games anyway; the list of anime I want to watch and non-Steam visual novels to finish is rather long too.) Some of that convinces me to buy things I don't want or need, but some of it is simply informing me about things I'll find entertaining.

For that matter, that same psychology that marketers play on can also help me make time to relax with my games. If I've spent money on something, I'm going to feel like I had better get my money's worth out of it. Not strictly logical - there is a reason it's called the sunk cost fallacy - but I don't have all that many qualms about letting it work for me.

The problem is that it usually goes too far, and I find myself dealing with a rather paradoxical stressor. I can't use my leisure time to relax, because there is too much that I need to enjoy doing, or else...

In my rational moments, it's easy to note that there is no sensible end to that "or else". I've already spent money on these things, in most cases. At that point, it doesn't really matter how much or how little fun I get out of it, except inasmuch as I can use it to help decide what I should and should not buy next time. And feeling guilty about doing something else I enjoy because I'm not playing a game or watching an anime that I don't enjoy as much... well, I did use the word "paradoxical" up there.

Unfortunately, getting that logic through my head when I'm not in a mood to listen to anything sensible isn't always that easy.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Steam and Gaming Notes

Yes, at this point I'm just trying to come up with excuses to write more posts about my personal life.

So, first item: I play lots of computer games, and I'm spending increasing amounts of time using Steam as a social networking platform as well as its original function as a games library and distribution system. So half of the excuse for writing this post is to provide a link to my profile, in the unlikely event that someone reading this is not already friends with me on Steam.

The other point is that I'm considering trying to write posts about the games I play on my blog. I think that idea is probably going to be sitting on the back burner for a while, but we'll see.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Engines of (Musical) Creation

So about a month ago, right before we left on our current patrol, I decided that I didn't have enough random bits and pieces of computer software. So I decided to add an music/audio editor and synthesizer to the list of software tools I possess.

Specifically: Vocaloid, version 3, code 01: Miku Hatsune. (And I got the version with an English voice library.)

What's unique about this is that the Vocaloid software is designed to synthesize vocal tracks. Essentially, what I paid for was the database containing each of the sounds that a vocalist might make while singing (ideally) any song that one could imagine. Then I use the included editor to designate pitches and timing intervals, and the program takes those sounds out of the database and plays them back at the right pitches in the right sequence.

While it might not seem possible, I can assure you (having listened to a lot of Japanese Vocaloids music) that the result is surprisingly realistic. There's something slightly off about it, something that generally makes it possible for the listener to tell that they're listening to something artificial, but it's still very, very close to the real thing.

Of course, there's only one possible use to which I could put such a thing: write music.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite there yet. Frankly, even after a month of toying with this in my spare time, I'm still trying to get the editors it came with to work properly. Getting Miku to sing some of the old chorus warm-up exercises I remember from high school was rather fun and amusing. Getting the results to sound as realistic as possible will take longer.

And writing an actual song of my own will take a level of musical theory knowledge that I don't think I ever possessed, even when I was practicing on the piano every day and taking chorus classes. (Incidentally, misreading a key signature and the notes on a staff when I tried to get Miku to sing Irish Folktale was... not exactly one of my prouder moments. As good as my memory is, dredging up details I haven't used in six years isn't the easiest thing in the world.) I'll get there... eventually... if I stick with this... but I'm not there yet.

So where am I going to go from here? Well, I already have some things I can use to get some practice. The audition music from high school (the aforementioned Irish Folktale) is both readily available and relatively simple, yet adding flourishes to it will still serve as a good learning experience. And if I get bored with that, well, I managed to find some sheet music for Frozen in a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur, so I can always have Miku sing that as well.

For that matter... I've found some pretty good instrumental music (mostly connected with Internet games I play) on the audio section of a website called Newgrounds, and the Creative Commons license it's released under means I can do whatever I want with it so long as I don't try to sell it. So maybe adding lyrics to some of that would be worth a try.

Not sure where I'm going to post whatever I come up with, though. I suppose that will be more important when I actually have something to share, though.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fanfiction Notes: A Song for a Starlight Miracle

One of the things that dropped off the radar last year when my interest in blogging waned was the announcement that I actually do have a complete (albeit very short) piece of creative writing posted on the Internet: one of my fanfiction pieces, set in the web novel City of Angles. It's called A Song for a Starlight Miracle. In addition to using my blog to announce that, I was going to post author's notes, so that I could explain how I came up with the story, what I liked about it, and what I didn't.

I briefly considered trying to write those author's notes now that I'm back, but with a year's separation in between me and writing that story, I didn't think I remembered enough about the writing process to capture everything I'd wanted to. Then I found a file on my hard drive... I'd thought that I hadn't written anything since there wasn't anything in my draft post list, but apparently I did. I touched it up a bit to reflect the time that's passed between when it was written and now, but it really didn't need that much editing. So:

First off, a couple quick acknowledgements for the songs I quoted in the story (all of them are real songs, but all of them are also originally in Japanese; I’m fairly certain I didn’t screw up too badly but I can’t vouch 100% for the accuracy of my translations)
Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari (anime: Bakemonogatari, artist: supercell)
Kitto Koi wo Shite'iru (anime: Dog Days. artist: Yui Horie)
Philosophyz (game: Rewrite, artist: Runa Mizutani)
Shinkai Shoujo (Vocaloids, artist: yuuyu )
Hidamari Basket (game: Hidamari Basket, artist: Yoshino Nanjo)
telepath ~hikari no tou~ (movie: A Certain Magical Index, artist: Sachika Misawa)
With that said. The rest can be read now or after you read the story, depending on whether you want to see the story or my thoughts about it first. Also, there will be unmarked spoilers for details from chapters of City of Angles through //008: Heart of the City below, so you might want to read that first if you care about spoilers.

The plot is heavily inspired by the old computer game Planetarian – a kinetic novel created by the Japanese game company Key. Essentially, I took the plot of that game – repairing a damaged projector in a planetarium – and put it in the dream world of the City of Angles, where what was a metaphor for the change in the main character can have a very strong impact on the world. Not that I really needed to give that particular metaphor more strength… I just wanted to play a little with the notion of a world so strongly affected by the thoughts of its inhabitants.

Of course, my main character has her own major change, and where my story differs from that inspiration is that I spend much more time than Planetarian did describing how my character specifically got to the point where she needed a positive change. (Planetarian did describe the apocalypse that makes it a post-apocalyptic game in some detail, but spends little time on the Junker’s personal history.)

I’m not quite sure why I started using songs as a framing device for all of this and/or how well it works. Mostly, I wanted to write a music-based story – and to capture and pass along the emotions that some of my favorite songs make me feel. Which isn’t always happy, obviously, but there it is. (For that matter, I may have misrepresented some of them – I don’t actually know the plot of Bakemonogatari or the themes of Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari that well. I know I partly misrepresented Philosophyz; that’s part of the reason why I skipped some parts of it.) In the end, I’m not sure if trying to get an insert song (or songs) of sorts into a written story really works all that well. And in my case, since I was trying to fit a new story to established music, I had to adjust my own plot to compensate. (Not that I necessarily mind that.)

Also, a note on point of view: The third person POV is something which just sort of happened; it’s the POV I’m most comfortable writing, so I never really even considered trying anything else. It may make my descriptions of Melody’s feelings a little more awkward, but I think it still works anyway.

On that note, I’m actually fairly proud of Melody’s character. I think it turned out… about like an average teenager, perhaps, but with enough edges to put her a little past your typical teenage angst. I certainly hope it turned out that way, since that’s what I was aiming for. I’m not sure if I really managed the grief and loss in part three that well, but... I guess I have no choice but to trust the judgment of the people I had review it.

As usual when I start trying fanfic, I’m not sure about how well I use previously established characters. My representations of Bedlam, Echo, and Lucid are fairly one dimensional… which may be fine, given that their role in the story is to represent the choice that Melody goes through (and is fairly brief, as well), but I’m still not sure if I really should demote them like that. It certainly doesn’t make sense as I look back a year later; Bedlam and Echo now have much more characterization in the canon. (Although I suppose I can always say that my story is set before Penelope’s involvement forced them to change and grow.)

Of course, I kind of wish I could bring myself to read the story again. I went back to look at it in preparation to edit/publish this, but somehow I felt too embarrassed to read it. Not quite sure why.