Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Game Reviews: Thomas Was Alone, Hyrule Warriors, Super Mario 3D World

Thomas Was Alone

I heard about this short indie game via's Xbox podcast. Like most indie games, its greatest strength is a combination of simplicity and creativity: it's a 2D puzzle-platformer, and challenging, but not frustrating. You play as a group of Artificial Intelligence programs that have recently gained self-awareness (Thomas being the first) - but this is as far from a 'militaristic dystopian warning about AI run amok' as you can possibly get. The AIs see themselves as simple colored rectangles, navigating simple mazes, to learn more about themselves and the world they inhabit. They're totally harmless and not even remotely threatening - and these little colored rectangles possess more character and personality than countless dozens of generic gun-wielding action heroes put together. The AIs are curious, self-conscious, selfless - they have doubts, they get worried and jealous, they fall in love. The story is told through gentle, playful, storybook-esque narration at various points in each of the roughly 100 short levels, which adds to its overall brilliant uniqueness. And the story is certainly not a downer, especially not with such cheerful, uplifting music.

I only have very minor complaints about the game - it might be just a tad too simplistic, and the story could be told in a slightly more straightforward manner - but I really found myself liking the 2-3 hour game MUCH more than I was expecting!

Overall: 8/10

Hyrule Warriors

Hey guys, I have an idea! Let's take The Legend of Zelda, and turn it into a button-masher without puzzles, and give it epic large-scale battles like The Lord of the Rings, and make sure the player feels like a game-changing badass the entire time.

Hey, it works :p

The game is definitely fun - fun enough to overcome its repetitiveness and then some - and its co-op is a blast (Steph and I played the entire story mode together). It's also more of an RPG than most Zelda games are, with a fairly complex character/weapon-development system that took a full evening of manual-reading and experimentation to fully understand. The story mode is a neat little homage to three of the best Zelda games: Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword. (Er....a neat little homage to two of the best Zelda games, and Skyward Sword.) But the game also includes a second mode that serves as an homage to the first-ever Legend of Zelda game, on the NES - unfortunately, that mode is....dull. Steph and I had a great time with the campaign, but the "NES mode" comes off as more of a slog than anything else. Personally, I'd have preferred it if they dropped that entirely and made the campaign a little meatier. Either way, the main thing this hack-and-slash excels at is making the player's character - Link in particular, though there are LOTS of playable characters - feel like a neigh-unstoppable one-man-army. Like I said, it just works.

Overall: 8/10

Super Mario 3D World called this game "sublime" at one point - I wouldn't go that far, though it is pretty damn good. I will say, however, that this game failed to surpass Super Mario Galaxy 2 (my second-favorite Mario game of all time) for me personally, which leaves it quite a ways behind Super Mario RPG (I don't see my favorite Mario game getting usurped any time soon).

It had a shot at passing them, though, because this game is kind of a combination of some of my favorite Mario games - it has the straightforward and oldschool "reach the flag pole before time runs out" setup as the 2D New Super Mario Bros. games, the fantastically smooth and precise(-ish, more on that below) gameplay of 3D Mario games, and the "top-down-ish" perspective of Mario RPG. It also nails co-op play, as Steph and I had a ton of fun on this game just like we did with Hyrule Warriors. Co-op is really becoming one of Nintendo's greatest strengths. All of that combines with the eye-popping colorgasmic HD graphics to make this game tie with Mario Kart 8 as being the best-looking Nintendo games ever.

All that said, the game has at least four non-negligible problems. First, its 3D nature and intricate level design makes you want to explore all the stages thoroughly and leisurely - so why did they put the fxcking timer in the game? Sometimes it seems like I'm just getting into a level's groove when I hear the classic "you'd better hurry the fxck up" jingle that dates all the way back to before I was born. I don't want to worry about rushing through a level - they're beautiful and intricate, and I want to take my time exploring them, damnit.

Second: Nintendo has gotten into the really bad habit of feeling like they need to make the last couple levels on any given Mario game brutally, unforgivingly hard. The last two stages of SM3DW (and the last stage of Mario Galaxy 2) are such an unbelievable pain in the ass, I already know that I will literally never play them again after I beat them on this initial 100% playthrough. Because (A) life is too short, and (B) controllers are too expensive these days to throw them at the wall. Retro Studios already completely ruined my beloved Donkey Kong Country franchise by taking the "Haha look how hard I am!" approach, I don't need that crap in my Mario games too.

Third: part of the reason Steph and I had so much fun in this game is that we used this epic trick to reach 1,110 extra lives very early in the game. So not once have we had to worry about running out of lives....but I can easily imagine myself not liking this game anywhere near as much if that weren't the case. We burned through HUNDREDS of extra lives trying to find every secret in the game, and having to stop every ten minutes to go find more 1-ups would have made the game far less enjoyable. On top of the fact that most modern games have done away with the concept of extra lives completely - we're not pumping quarters into arcade machines anymore, so why even limit the number of times I can retry a hard level?

Fourth, and most egregiously:

Ever since 1996's Super Mario 64, Mario has had an offensive move that doubles as a jump-precision-enhancer. Whether it's a mid-air kick or a spin-punch, you can use it to both attack enemies and give yourself an extra split-second to land a jump where you want it (kind of an important thing in a platforming game). This game features five playable characters, and only ONE of them has that move in this game (and you don't unlock THAT character until the game is already about 70% beaten). But after you do unlock the character with the spin attack, the game makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE. No more crappy lack of precision, no more nerfed offensive power. Unlocking the spin attack makes the game infinitely better, makes it feel as tight as Mario games are supposed to feel. So why doesn't every character have it? Hell, why doesn't MARIO even have it? It makes absolutely no sense.

Those four issues held the game back from being the new flagship standard-bearer for all future Mario games. (If I were to add a fifth one, it would be how annoying the new cat suits are. I hope Mario never suffers the indignity of saying "ME-OWWW" ever again.) To be sure, SM3DW is tons of fun overall, the new-school jazz-inspired soundtrack sounds great, and the eye candy is awesome. But it's sure as hell not "sublime".

Overall: 9/10  (Hey, even an "ehh" Mario game is still better than most games out there.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Oppression That Liberals Need To Take Seriously

So in the same month that Rolling Stone publishes a terribly flawed story for the purpose of pushing a narrative that maligns an entire gender, conservative website Breitbart publishes a shockingly liberal article that makes several extremely intelligent and well-reasoned points that are fundamentally pro-gender-equality.

When the hell did we start living in Opposite Land...?

That said, it's still Breitbart, so not every point the article makes is valid.

(Article reposted in its entirety. My highlights in red.)

The Sexodus

"My generation of boys is f**ked," says Rupert, a young German video game enthusiast I've been getting to know over the past few months. "Marriage is dead. Divorce means you're screwed for life. Women have given up on monogamy, which makes them uninteresting to us for any serious relationship or raising a family. That's just the way it is. Even if we take the risk, chances are the kids won't be ours. In France, we even have to pay for the kids a wife has through adulterous affairs.

In school, boys are screwed over time and again. Schools are engineered for women. In the US, they force-feed boys Ritalin like Skittles to shut them up. And while girls are favored to fulfill quotas, men are slipping into distant second place.

Nobody in my generation believes they're going to get a meaningful retirement. We have a third or a quarter of the wealth previous generations had, and everyone's fleeing to higher education to stave off unemployment and poverty because there are no jobs. All that wouldn't be so bad if we could at least dull the pain with girls. But we're treated like paedophiles and potential rapists just for showing interest. My generation are the beautiful ones," he sighs, referring to a 1960s experiment on mice that supposedly predicted a grim future for the human race.

After overpopulation ran out of control, the female mice in John Calhoun's "mouse universe" experiment stopped breeding, and the male mice withdrew from the company of others entirely, eating, sleeping, feeding and grooming themselves but doing little else. They had shiny coats, but empty lives.

"The parallels are astounding," says Rupert.

Never before in history have relations between the sexes been so fraught with anxiety, animosity and misunderstanding. To radical feminists, who have been the driving force behind many tectonic societal shifts in recent decades, that's a sign of success: they want to tear down the institutions and power structures that underpin society, never mind the fall-out. Nihilistic destruction is part of their road map.

But, for the rest of us, the sight of society breaking down, and ordinary men and women being driven into separate but equal misery, thanks to a small but highly organized group of agitators, is distressing. Particularly because, as increasing numbers of social observers are noticing, an entire generation of young people—mostly men—are being left behind in the wreckage of this social engineering project.

Social commentators, journalists, academics, scientists and young men themselves have all spotted the trend: among men of about 15 to 30 years old, ever-increasing numbers are checking out of society altogether, giving up on women, sex and relationships and retreating into pornography, sexual fetishes, chemical addictions, video games and, in some cases, boorish lad culture, all of which insulate them from a hostile, debilitating social environment created, some argue, by the modern feminist movement.

You can hardly blame them. Cruelly derided as man-children and crybabies for objecting to absurdly unfair conditions in college, bars, clubs and beyond, men are damned if they do and damned if they don't: ridiculed as basement-dwellers for avoiding aggressive, demanding women with unrealistic expectations, or called rapists and misogynists merely for expressing sexual interest. 

Jack Rivlin is editor-in-chief of student tabloid media start-up The Tab, a runaway success whose current strap-line reads: "We'll stop writing it when you stop reading it." As the guiding intelligence behind over 30 student newspapers, Rivlin is perhaps the best-placed person in the country to observe this trend in action. And he agrees that the current generation of young men find it particularly difficult to engage with women.

"Teenage boys always have been useless with girls, but there's definitely a fear that now being well-intentioned isn't enough, and you can get into trouble just for being clumsy," he says. "For example, leaning in for a kiss might see you branded a creep, rather than just inept."

The new rules men are expected to live by are never clearly explained, says Rivlin, leaving boys clueless and neurotic about interacting with girls. "That might sound like a good thing because it encourages men to take the unromantic but practical approach of asking women how they should behave, but it causes a lot of them to just opt out of the game and retreat to the sanctuary of their groups of lads, where being rude to women gets you approval, and you can pretty much entirely avoid one-on-one socializing with the opposite sex."

"There are also a lot of blokes who ignore women because they are scared and don't know how to act. It goes without saying that boys who never spend any time alone with women are not very good at relationships."

Rivlin has noticed the increased dependence on substances, normally alcohol, that boys are using to calm their nerves. "I've heard a lot of male students boast about never having experienced sober sex," he says. "They're obviously scared, which is natural, but they would be a lot less scared and dysfunctional if they understood 'the rules.'"

The result? "A lot of nice but awkward young men are opting out of approaching women because there is no opportunity for them to make mistakes without suffering worse embarrassment than ever."

Most troublingly, this effect is felt more acutely among poorer and less well educated communities, where the package of support resources available to young men is slight. At my alma mater, the University of Cambridge, the phenomenon barely registers on the radar, according to Union society president Tim Squirrell.

"I don't think I've really noticed a change recently," he says. "This year has seen the introduction of mandatory consent workshops for freshers, which I believe is probably a good thing, and there's been a big effort by the Women's Campaign in particular to try and combat lad culture on campus.

The atmosphere here is the same as it was a year ago - mostly nerdy guys who are too afraid to approach anyone in the first place, and then a smaller percentage who are confident enough to make a move. Obviously women have agency too, and they approach men in about the same numbers as they do elsewhere. There certainly haven't been any stories in [campus newspaper] The Tab about a sex drought on campus."

"I think that people are probably having as much sex as ever," he adds. At Cambridge, of course, that may not mean much, and for a variety of socioeconomic and class-based reasons the tribes at Oxford and Cambridge are somewhat insulated from the male drop-out effect.

But even at such a prestigious university with a largely middle- and upper-class population, those patronizing, mandatory "consent" classes are still being implemented. Squirrell, who admits to being a feminist with left-of-center politics, thinks they're a good idea. But academics such as Camille Paglia have been warning for years that "rape drives" on campus put women at greater risk, if anything.

Women today are schooled in victimhood, taught to be aggressively vulnerable and convinced that the slightest of perceived infractions, approaches or clumsy misunderstandings represents "assault," "abuse" or "harassment." That may work in the safe confines of campus, where men can have their academic careers destroyed on the mere say-so of a female student.

But, according to Paglia, when that women goes out into the real world without the safety net of college rape committees, she is left totally unprepared for the sometimes violent reality of male sexuality. And the panics and fear-mongering are serving men even more poorly. All in all, education is becoming a miserable experience for boys.

In schools today across Britain and America, boys are relentlessly pathologized, as academics were warning as long ago as 2001. Boyishness and boisterousness have come to be seen as "problematic," with girls' behavior a gold standard against which these defective boys are measured. When they are found wanting, the solution is often drugs.

One in seven American boys will be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at some point in their school career. Millions will be prescribed a powerful mood stabiliser, such as Ritalin, for the crime of being born male. The side effects of these drugs can be hideous and include sudden death.

Meanwhile, boys are falling behind girls academically, perhaps because relentless and well-funded focus has been placed on girls' achievement in the past few decades and little to none on the boys who are now achieving lower grades, fewer honors, fewer degrees and less marketable information economy skills. Boys' literacy, in particular, is in crisis throughout the West. We've been obsessing so much over girls, we haven't noticed that boys have slipped into serious academic trouble.

So what happened to those boys who, in 2001, were falling behind girls at school, were less likely to go to college, were being given drugs they did not need and whose self-esteem and confidence issues haven't just been ignored, but have been actively ridiculed by the feminist Establishment that has such a stranglehold on teaching unions and Left-leaning political parties?

In short: they grew up, dysfunctional, under-served by society, deeply miserable and, in many cases, entirely unable to relate to the opposite sex. It is the boys who were being betrayed by the education system and by culture at large in such vast numbers between 1990 and 2010 who represent the first generation of what I call the sexodus, a large-scale exit from mainstream society by males who have decided they simply can't face, or be bothered with, forming healthy relationships and participating fully in their local communities, national democracies and other real-world social structures.  

A second sexodus generation is gestating today, potentially with even greater damage being done to them by the onset of absurd, unworkable, prudish and downright misandrist laws such as California's "Yes Means Yes" legislation—and by third-wave feminism, which dominates newspapers like the Guardian and new media companies like Vox and Gawker, but which is currently enjoying a hysterical last gasp before women themselves reject it by an even greater margin than the present 4 out of 5 women who say they want nothing to do with the dreaded f-word.

The sexodus didn't arrive out of nowhere, and the same pressures that have forced so many millennials out of society exert pressure on their parent's generation, too. One professional researcher in his late thirties, about whom I have been conversing on this topic for some months, puts it spicily: "For the past, at least, 25 years, I've been told to do more and more to keep a woman. But nobody's told me what they're doing to keep me.

"I can tell you as a heterosexual married male in management, who didn’t drop out of society, the message from the chicks is: 'It's not just preferable that you should fuck off, but imperative. You must pay for everything and make everything work; but you yourself and your preferences and needs can fuck off and die.'"

Women have been sending men mixed messages for the last few decades, leaving boys utterly confused about what they are supposed to represent to women, which perhaps explains the strong language some of them use when describing their situation. As the role of breadwinner has been taken away from them by women who earn more and do better in school, men are left to intuit what to do, trying to find a virtuous mean between what women say they want and what they actually pursue, which can be very different things.

Men say the gap between what women say and what they do has never been wider. Men are constantly told they should be delicate, sensitive fellow travellers on the feminist path. But the same women who say they want a nice, unthreatening boyfriend go home and swoon over simple-minded, giant-chested, testosterone-saturated hunks in Game of Thrones. Men know this, and, for some, this giant inconsistency makes the whole game look too much like hard work. Why bother trying to work out what a woman wants, when you can play sports, masturbate or just play video games from the comfort of your bedroom?

Jack Donovan, a writer based in Portland who has written several books on men and masculinity, each of which has become a cult hit, says the phenomenon is already endemic among the adult population. "I do see a lot of young men who would otherwise be dating and marrying giving up on women," he explains, "Or giving up on the idea of having a wife and family. This includes both the kind of men who would traditionally be a little awkward with women, and the kind of men who aren't awkward with women at all.

"They've done a cost-benefit analysis and realized it is a bad deal. They know that if they invest in a marriage and children, a woman can take all of that away from them on a whim. So they use apps like Tinder and OK Cupid to find women to have protected sex with and resign themselves to being 'players,' or when they get tired of that, 'boyfriends.'"

He goes on: "Almost all young men have attended mandatory sexual harassment and anti-rape seminars, and they know that they can be fired, expelled or arrested based more or less on the word of any woman. They know they are basically guilty until proven innocent in most situations."

Donovan lays much of the blame for the way men feel at the door of the modern feminist movement and what he sees as its disingenuousness. "The young men who are struggling the most are conflicted because they are operating under the assumption that feminists are arguing in good faith," he says, "When in fact they are engaged in a zero-sum struggle for sexual, social, political and economic status—and they're winning.

"The media now allows radical feminists to frame all debates, in part because sensationalism attracts more clicks than any sort of fair or balanced discourse. Women can basically say anything about men, no matter how denigrating, to a mix of cheers and jeers."

That has certainly been the experience of several loose coalitions of men in the media recently, whether scientists outraged by feminist denunciations of Dr Matt Taylor, or video gamers campaigning under the banner of press ethics who saw their movement smeared as a misogynistic hate group by mendacious, warring feminists and so-called "social justice warriors".

Donovan has views on why it has been so easy for feminists to triumph in media battles. "Because men instinctively want to protect women and play the hero, if a man writes even a tentative criticism of women or feminism, he's denounced by men and women alike as some kind of extremist scoundrel. The majority of "men's studies" and "men's rights" books and blogs that aren't explicitly pro-feminist are littered with apologies to women.

"Books like The Myth of Male Power and sites like A Voice for Men are favorite boogeymen of feminists, but only because they call out feminists' one-sided hypocrisy when it comes to pursing 'equality.'"

Unlike modern feminists, who are driving a wedge between the sexes, Men's Rights Activists "actually seem to want sexual equality," he says. But men's studies authors and male academics are constantly tip-toeing around and making sure they don't appear too radical. Their feminine counterparts have no such forbearance, of course, with what he calls "hipster feminists," such as the Guardian's Jessica Valenti parading around in t-shirts that read: "I BATHE IN MALE TEARS."

"I'm a critic of feminism," says Donovan. "But I would never walk around wearing a shirt that says, "I MAKE WOMEN CRY." I'd just look like a jerk and a bully."

It's the contention of academics, sociologists and writers like Jack Donovan that an atmosphere of relentless, jeering hostility to men from entitled middle-class media figures, plus a few confused male collaborators in the feminist project, has been at least partly responsible for a generation of boys who simply don't want to know.

There is a Part Two to this article - unfortunately, it's not nearly as fundamentally liberal as Part One is, and lapses into some of the same legitimately misogynistic tropes that conservative sites like Breitbart are known for.

However, it does include the following passage, which should be deeply disconcerting to anyone concerned about true gender equality:
[Men] point to the fact that they are more likely to be murder victims and more likely to commit suicide. Women do not choose to serve in the Armed Forces and they experience fewer deaths and injuries in the line of work generally.

Women get shorter custodial sentences for the same crimes. There are more scholarships available to them in college. They receive better and cheaper healthcare, and can pick from favorable insurance packages available only to girls. When it comes to children, women are presumed to be the primary caregiver and given preferential treatment by the courts. They have more, better contraceptive options.

Women are less likely to be homeless, unemployed or to abuse drugs than men. They are less likely to be depressed or to suffer from mental illness. There is less pressure on them to achieve financial success. They are less likely to live in poverty. They are given priority by emergency and medical services.

Some might call these statistical trends "female privilege." Yet everywhere and at all times, say men's rights advocates, the "lived experiences" and perceived oppression of women is given a hundred per cent of the airtime[...].
The constant refrain we hear from the feminist movement is "Anyone who believes in gender equality counts as a feminist!" Yet here we have several clear-cut examples of areas where gender inequality puts men at a disadvantage, and what do we hear from those feminists on these issues?


Friday, December 5, 2014