Since I Doubt Chad is Going to Respond…

…Though I hope I’m wrong…

…I’ve decided to take a page out of Vox’s book and actually respond to people’s criticisms of me, however petty I think they may be. I do think it’s important to refute accusations against my character, lest rumor spreads.

Chad says this in response to this post:

And, so far, you have shown yourself to be a feckless man, behaving like a little girl afraid to get her hands dirty. To say you’re done and then retreat to here to take a last stab…

Me saying I was “done” refers to this comment I made on Free Northerner’s blog in the thread “A Quicker Response”. At the end of my fairly long comment I wrote this:

Frankly, I’m tired of the discussion. The more your (general “your”, not you specifically) view is clarified the more and more convinced I am that it is nonsense.

You get the official last word of the discussion. Thank you for the time. I’m cynical and biting but thankful regardless of your, and everybody else’s, discourse with me. Come down to my blog if you’re ever bored.

Now, to address Chad’s accusations:

1) I wasn’t responding directly to Chad, who apparently thinks my world revolves around him.

2) I made this exact point almost word for word in the original discussion, giving him every chance to respond to me.

3) My username links to my blog, making this ridiculously easy to find – so much so that he found it within a day of my writing it.

4) Chad also neglected to mention that in the same comment where I said I’d be ending the discussion on Free Northerner’s blog I also invited him to mine. Perhaps I need to understand how to retreat better?

5) Chad thinks this blog is a “retreat” to get in a “last stab” because I “don’t like getting my hands dirty”, despite arguing about this subject in at least two, possibly three if I remember correctly, threads on Free Northerner’s blog, and on What’s Wrong With the World, and with people on Zippy’s blog, and with people on Cane Caldo’s blog, and with people on my own blog. Man, my retreating needs some serious re-tooling.

6) And finally, and most importantly, the post that supposedly was an example of me continuing the discussion after I agreed to end it (though it wasn’t a continuation of my discussion with him and was responding to a general bone of contention I saw continually crop up) was written about five and a half hours or so before I said I was interested in ending the discussion on Free Northerner’s blog.

So, any way you slice it, Chad was completely and unequivocally wrong, and rather bitchy about it besides.

I await my apology in due time. *Holds breath*

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Review: “The Walking Dead” Video Game, Season 1 (Mild Language)

Spoiler warning, of course.

I had a very long review over halfway written that was swallowed up by the internet gods, and so here is “The Walking Dead” Video Game Review, Take 2:

TL;DR: I tentatively recommend the game but only if you can get it on sale, because the story and gameplay are simply not good enough to justify paying the full price.

Full Review:

I have never played a more joyless, depressing, nihilistic game in my entire life. Major scenes include

  • You dying
  • A child getting bit by a zombie
  • You having to shoot that child in the head
  • You having to shoot that child in the head immediately after his mother shot herself
  • All of this happening directly in front of the father
  • Rescuing a character only for them to die later anyway (so, so many times)
  • Chopping off your own arm and then later learning that it did nothing at all to help you in the slightest
  • And, finally, lest we forget, you die. Get bit by a zombie and die. The end!

This game was more than depressing. It was nihilistic. It had no meaning except to say that life was shit and we’re all going to die, and nothing we do really matters.

The choice system of the game is an excellent example of this. First, the good: It’s probably the best I’ve ever seen such a system handled. Instead of saddling you with a “good” choice or an “evil” choice a la BioShock, “The Walking Dead” gives you a ton of situations where you need to make snap judgments and decisions. Instead of judging you for them later and sticking you with the moniker of “good guy” or “bad guy” the game merely takes the consequences into account and moves on. Whatever happens, you live with it. This is a major and laudatory development in the design of choice systems in gaming, and “The Walking Dead” is rightly praised for it.

Unfortunately, this is also one of the game’s biggest weaknesses. For all of the illusion of choice that you get in the game when you actually get right down to it the game is incredibly linear. Each episode (the game is split into five “episodes”) starts and ends at the same location no matter how you played through the game. No matter what happens, you’re going to die. No matter who you save, if the game decides they need to die later, they’re dead, and they just take the choice out of your hands next time. All of those little alliance-building decisions you need to make throughout the game? Window dressing, ultimately.

It took me a while for the light bulb to finally click on, but when it did I immediately started taking more risks. Run into the zombie horde for supplies instead of holing up? Why not! I’ll make it to the final episode! The most egregious example came during a point late in the game where you (Lee) have the choice to either leave Clementine (an 8 year old girl who has become a daughter figure to you) in a house while you go off on a supply run or bring her with you. Of course, I brought her with me. Why wouldn’t I? I knew Clementine had to survive, after all. For one thing, there was no way they were killing an 8 year old girl. For another, she’s on the cover of the sequel. And so here was Clementine sneaking into an area that is notorious for killing children, and I had absolutely no fear that this was the wrong move because I knew Clem would survive anyway. Spoiler: Yep.

The absolute worst decision in the whole game, though, comes in Episode 5 – the last episode. After you get bit by a zombie you have a choice to either have your arm cut off in an attempt to slow the infection or even stop you from turning, or to keep the arm under the theory that it’s not going to work and you like that arm.

Of course I got the amputation. And I was honestly, seriously hoping that, hey, maybe Lee would survive if I took this option. Maybe it would at LEAST be ambiguous. But nope. All they did was give you the choice to gruesomely chop off your own arm with the sole goal of grossing you out. It was cruel and unnecessary. It seemed like the game’s entire goal was just to impress upon you the fact that life is meaningless and hope is wasted. Sure, you save Clementine, but save her for what? A world where everybody is royally screwed over. And Clementine has had a lot of time throughout the game to come to the inescapable conclusion “I need to become a killer in order to survive, and not just of zombies”.

Now, these sorts of characters can be interesting, but this game made a sincere and concerted effort to beat you over the head with its special brand of ultra-nihilistic horror and depression. Wheeeeeee.

The plot hit so many zombie apocalypse cliches that somebody who was listening to me play in the background actually burst out laughing. It wasn’t that the dialogue was bad; it wasn’t. It was just all said a billion times before. And the plot of Episode 5 was just ridiculous. My one-armed character who just lost a ridiculous amount of blood and is dying slowly of a zombie bite was able to run across rooftops, make flying jumps, and at one point just take a meat cleaver and slash his way through a horde of thousands of zombies (in an incredibly badass scene, to be fair). I know I’m saying this about a zombie apocalypse game, but I’m going to say it anyway: It made no sense.

Now, with that said:

Somehow, some way, by Episode 5 I was really invested in the story. That final scene where Lee dies in front of Clementine is achingly sad, and kudos to the developers for creating such a strong emotional bond between you and her. When another character got overrun by zombies trying to rescue a different character my immediate reaction was one of sorrow. I was always tense, worried a walker (zombie) would come on screen and grab me when I wasn’t looking, a real achievement for the game. “The Walking Dead” excelled in atmosphere. Episode 2, my favorite one, especially had a creepy haunted house vibe going for it that fit the whole horror feel of the game beautifully. When it came to emotion and atmosphere “The Walking Dead” really shined.

And now, the moment of truth: What do I really think about the game?

“The Walking Dead” is a game that basically attempts to be the big-budget equivalent of “To The Moon”. It has extremely basic gameplay and its major selling point is its story and to a lesser extent its beautiful cel-shaded graphics. In “To The Moon”, it’s story and music.

In my “To The Moon” story review I praised the game for taking risks that major developers wouldn’t make by coming out and boldly announcing to the world “I’ve created a story so good that I don’t even need gameplay”.

I was unfair to the big name developers. “The Walking Dead” does exactly that, but with one crucial difference: The story wasn’t as good. It was good, don’t get me wrong. The story was engrossing and in its own way entertaining. But there was no sense of hope, no life, to the game, and it was so cliche-tastic that I can’t possibly just come out and call the plot great. The father/daughter bond Lee and Clementine develop with each other is done pretty well, but it ends up being done even better in “The Last of Us”. And if we’re comparing the story to “To The Moon”, well, forget about it. “To The Moon” blows it away completely. For that matter, “The Last of Us” has a better story as well. The story just isn’t bold enough to back up the big talk.

So, do I recommend it? Hmmmm…yes, I’ll give it a tentative thumbs up. I intend to get the sequel when it goes on sale as well. It was emotionally engrossing, the atmosphere was great, and while the choice system (the one major aspect of this game that sets it apart from everything else) was flawed it was sill an original idea pulled off quite effectively. Still, of the big three zombie games (“The Last of Us”, “Left 4 Dead 2″, and this) “The Walking Dead” is clearly the worst. Don’t get it unless you can get it on sale like I did. I ended up spending about six bucks and change, definitely worth the price. It’s not a great game, but if you’re in the mood for soul-crushing depression and bleak existential nihilism wrapped up within a cool choice system and pretty graphics, you can’t go wrong for six bucks.

And let’s face it, we’ve all had those days, right?

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But it’s all so clear to me!

Lost in the midst of this discussion on the morality of Old Testament genocide is that when one side claims that it is very clear that God is ordering genocide and the killing of infants in the Old Testament what they’re really saying is that that their interpretation of a several thousand year old book, written by many different authors, during different time periods, by a culture vastly different from ours, and in a language they don’t understand is MORE likely to be correct than the fact that killing babies is always evil.

If you’re utterly convinced that your interpretation of the verse means we can overturn natural law I would argue that that it’s a good time to remind yourself that you, in fact, are not God, and not a Sacred Author, and not an infallible interpreter of Scripture. You’re a man who is arguing that, because of your understanding of certain Old Testament verses, that it is okay to kill babies. The problem here is not with natural law; it is with you.

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A Quicker Response

Free Northerner responded to my post about God wanting a woman to commit divorce with this:

a) Is she a prophet through whom divine revelation flows?

b) Where in that mess of self-justification does God directly and undeniably command her to divorce?

All I read looking through the link is someone selfishly deciding to do something, then looking for every possible excuse to not feel guilty.

He has a lot more after that, but it has nothing to do with the point I made. That’s because this is the quote I responded to:

If after a period of prayer, fasting, consultation with trusted Christian leaders, and testing the spirits I understood the spirits were those of the Lord I would obey [and kill infants].

His answer is that the woman’s spiritual discernment process was clearly off. He is right, and what he apparently does not realize is that this illustrates the problem with his position beautifully.

And by the way – divorce was permitted under the Old Covenant. God ordering people to divorce in certain extreme situations while Israel was still under the Old Covenant is not even remotely comparable to divorce after the arrival of Christ, and it’s actually disappointing to see both FN and Cane miss this and try to use it as a “gotcha” (Cane apparently thought that the Catholic response would be that it was really a “mass annulment” that occurred, but both forget that Catholics don’t disagree that divorce was permitted under the Old Covenant, which is why Jesus’s new rule about divorce was so radical).

Anyway, his response is bad and avoids what he actually said. My guess it’s that he realizes it would be incredibly damning, though I suspect it is more of a “rationalization hamster” that’s leading him to avoid facing his own words directly rather than pure dishonesty.

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The New Masthead

My old one, “I’m a guy who’s not a philosopher but acts like one, etc…”, was too long, and I wanted something that reflected my worldview more succinctly. Who better for that than Lewis?

I’ve mentioned it before, but that line (“If you must weep, turn your face aside and see you wet not your bow-string”) is my favorite line in all of literature. It is said by King Tirian to Jill after the talking horses are slaughtered en masse in “The Last Battle”. How can anybody not love Tirian after that line? Every time I read it I feel a mixture of lingering shame and stirring bravery.

As Christians, we weep for the world. As a self-described cynic, I lament the world’s flaws. But I must never let my tears wet my bow-string.

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God Suspended the Moral Law for this Divorcee

Look at it yourself. This woman first talks about how horribly unhappy her marriage is. No physical abuse, no adultery – but look, she was REALLY, really unhappy! So she looked to God for advice:

I studied the passages over and over again. I prayed and prayed. I prayed for guidance and not deliverance…Studying the word of God strengthens you. It strengthened me to my decision – deliverance and freedom.

So you see, she didn’t just get divorce all willy-nilly. God was okay with it! God STRENGTHENED her decision! But she’s still not sure. So she talks to her pastor:

[My Pastor] could not recommend divorce to anyone. But he did not say no. I would not have gone through with my decisions  if he had told me not to file for divorce…

So you see, her Pastor doesn’t condemn her. God must be on her side!

So she decides the divorce, and in case she wasn’t sure, God gives her a message that it was the right thing to do. From a preacher:

An evangelist came to Church soon after I decided to divorce. He went on to describe how psychological rape can occur within relationships…there I stood dumbfounded. God was talking to me…near the end of the service the evangelist was even led to pray for divorce, not reconciliation. All along the way God laid out morsels for me to feed on until I was ready for what He wanted me to do.

So let’s get this straight: This woman tested the spirits. She prayed, “Over and over”, she consulted trusted Christian leaders, and she understood the Spirits were from the Lord. Thus, the moral law was suspended, and divorce is a-okay.

All right, let’s get it straight now: That’s ridiculous. Whatever you think, God isn’t okay with divorce because you’re unhaaaaaapy. That’s not how it works. Divorce is evil and God hates it, period.

But baby killing, that’s a different matter:

If after a period of prayer, fasting, consultation with trusted Christian leaders, and testing the spirits I understood the spirits were those of the Lord I would obey [and kill infants]. Depending on the ‘level of wrongness’ (for lack of a better term springing to mind), this period would be longer and more intense. I might also try to bargain with God as per Abraham.

Spot the problem here.

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Review: “One Bright Star to Guide Them”, by John C. Wright

First off: Some spoilers, but I’ll try and give up as little as I can. Now:

TL;DR review: After reading the BRILLIANT “City Beyond Time”, and being a huge Lewis fanboy, I found “One Bright Star to Guide Them” disappointing, though still good.

Long review: It was with surprise and delight that I noticed Vox announce the publication of “One Bright Star to Guide Them”, John C. Wright’s new book. He plugged it like this:

It is a beautiful novella in which Mr. Wright once more proves himself to be the Master of the Final Word; in all my reading I have yet to discover an author who is more accomplished at writing elegant, perfectly-fitting endings that leave the reader in breathless awe…If you are a fan of John C. Wright or C.S. Lewis, this is one novella you simply will not want to miss.

So you can see why I bought it almost immediately and devoured it hungrily like a ravenous hyena.

And my thoughts?

I was honestly a little…disappointed.

A large part of the wonder of sci-fi and fantasy is the incredible imagination and world-building involved in the stories and novels. “City Beyond Time” took place in a strange, amazing world of historical figures grouped together in a glistening utopia with a dark underbelly and watched over by a private eye quite literally lifted directly from 30’s noir. The logistics of time travel were probed and investigated in fascinating ways in each story, and nothing was ever as I expected. I can recall fewer reveals in literature that worked more effectively than Wright’s reveal of the identity of his detective’s client. Put all of that together with the fact that Wright is an excellent prose writer and you have one of the best time travel collections ever written, an absolute masterpiece.

“One Bright Star to Guide Them”, by contrast, was hampered by what it was trying to do. Wright’s basic conceit was “What if the Pevensie kids were found again after they turned middle aged and asked to fight evil in modern Britain?” Sure, the characters and world aren’t EXACTLY the same as the Narnia books, but it was obvious he was trying to draw that comparison. This is fine fanfiction, but it allows for little in the way of clever world-building, one of Wright’s biggest strengths. And that’s a damn shame.

The plot wasn’t exactly generic, but it wasn’t particularly creative either. I never knew exactly what was going to happen next, but I did know that it would involve him finding the sword re-forged (we’re ALL looking at you, Aragorn) and having to figure out a way to prove himself worthy to use it. And I knew he’d have to try and recruit the other (former) children in order to try and get their help as well as get their amazing macguffins.

There is nothing wrong with any of this. Predictable, simple plots are not necessarily bad; the devil is, after all, in the details. I have made the point a couple of times that I think that “Portal” has one of the best video game stories of all time despite the entire thing basically being “Prison Escape”. But Wright constrains himself too much. He tries to be C.S. Lewis, and he succeeds perhaps better than anybody else would, but at the expense of himself. There’s no creative world-building, nowhere for his grand imagination to truly stretch, and none of the characters are anywhere near as memorable as Detective Frontino from CBT.

And the problem, too, is that the whole point of the story is to use Lewis’s basic style to explore a new point not touched upon in the Narnia books; namely, childhood will end one day, and the adult world has its own battles. But did he really need to ape Lewis to make this point? It’s not like I don’t hear it often. Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is quite similar to this story, and makes much the same point (“We’ll all grow up one day, and then we’ll have different responsibilities”). Now, the stories are not the same. But there’s a similarity in style there that made me pause and think to myself, however briefly, Isn’t this message a little stale by now? And part of the problem was that I could see it was driving towards that point just by reading the summary blurb. That’s too bad. I was hoping Wright would subvert my expectations.

And finally, a quick word on the ending, because Vox specifically touted it as being “elegant and perfectly fitting”: It’s not. It relies on a deus ex machina and a predictable twist, introduces an Aslan-like lion beast, then sends our hero off into the world as a mentor. This is a good ending. It worked well. But it wasn’t particularly elegant, relying on events that didn’t really seem particularly clever. They just felt inevitable.

Now, inevitable can work when you build the story around the climactic moment, making it the focal point and having everything that occurs in the story previously build up to it in some way. I made the point that the ending of “His Last Vow” had an air of inevitability to it, and my point was meant to be complimentary. But this was not that type of inevitable. It felt inevitable in the sense that, yeah, he had to win, and after he “won” there was still too much unresolved and more aesops to be given. Like the music at the end of Full House, you were just waiting for some point to be made so the story could then end. Like I said, this isn’t necessarily BAD but it is, at best, neutral.

In summary: 7.5 out of ten stars. Wright’s prose is simply too good to merit below that, and as far as aping Lewis goes Wright succeeded brilliantly. The novella definitely captures the feel of Lewis’s Narnia books. But the story gives far too limited a scope for Wright’s breathtakingly huge imagination, and the plot isn’t creative enough to be memorable. In the end, Wright is no C.S. Lewis. He is John C. Wright, something entirely different and more than good enough. He can ape Lewis as well as the best of them, but it doesn’t suit him. 7.5 out of ten stars.

Recommendation: It’s three dollars on Amazon right now and well worth that price, but if you’re only going to buy one book today by Wright get “City Beyond Time”, which is, after all, only two dollars more. But if you have three dollars to kill, I’d call it money well spent for sure, especially since you’re not going to find it in the library.

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