The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posts Tagged ‘HERE’S WHAT I THINK’

A different kind of list

Posted by Matt on March 13, 2011

It’s another tier list. Because these are easy to do, but also interesting.

So may I present The Unarguable Tier Rankings of Major Simpsons Supporting Characters*

Top Tier
(These are the best of the best. These characters have developed the knack to not only be great gag characters, but can easily carry their own storylines, often contributing to some of the series’ best episodes

Mr. Burns
Grampa Simpson
Ned Flanders
Principal Skinner

Mid Tier
(These characters carry many of the same strengths of the Top Tier class, being funny for one-off gags as well as having enough character to support a story, but they lack the sheer versatility of the Top Tiers)

Chief Wiggum
Mrs. Krabappel
Patty & Selma
Reverend Lovejoy
Mayor Quimby

Mid Tier
(These are fun characters to have around, but generally are not strong enough to really carry a strong storyline)

Groundskeeper Willie
Maude, Rod & Todd Flanders
Superintendant Chalmers
Kent Brockman
Lenny & Carl
Dr. Hibbert
Mr. & Mrs. Van Houten
Dr. Nick
Comic Book Guy
Jimbo, Kearney, & Dolph

Low Tier
(One-note joke characters. Often times funny, but all-in-all flat.)

Professor Frink
Hans Moleman

(*Discounting guest star characters like Sideshow Bob, Fat Tony, etc., who are made to be able to carry a story on account of being guest star characters. I didn’t include the Hartman duo of Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure because they’re sort of in a class of their own).

Posted in Idiot Box, Observations | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Posted by Matt on November 18, 2010

You know what archetype in fiction is really boring now? Serial killers.

A lot of creators just seem to think that making your antagonist a serial killer (or sometimes your protagonist) will automatically add weight. It’s especially bad in the case of antagonists, and ESPECIALLY in the case of antagonists in genre fiction. It doesn’t feel wrong for some crime fiction to still utilize them, although it’s still usually to the same effect: our bad guy is a BAD GUY holy shit (serial rapists are slowly replacing them, though). But in the case of something like a superhero comic? It feels overplayed and dull.

Every new villain now seems to be a serial killer, or almost one. Some older villains have been retroactively turned into serial killers. And you know what? In a genre that allows you to literally do anything, this just lacks scope. There as a time when mad scientists trying to steal all the diamonds in the city or take over space with robots was considered cliche. Now I want them back, because at least you didn’t automatically know what they were going to do.

That’s one of the problems I have with serial killers as antagonists: they are completely predictable. Let’s take a look at a prominent example: The Joker. The Joker started off as more of a traditional detective fiction killer, than drifted to become more or less a themed criminal, and today has basically gone through various phases of absolutely insanity (and overuse). It makes sense for the character to be made scary, because scary clowns are classic, and it’s a nice dynamic to have the good guy base his theme around something feared and his archenemy based on something benign. But while some may feel that The Joker is only scary if he’s a homicidal maniac who has caused more deaths than all the world wars combined, that’s not really true. In fact, what makes Joker scary is that he’s unpredictable. You never know if his gun is real, or whether he’ll rob all the party supplies stores in Gotham or fill the reservoir with poison. Only he gets his own jokes. Once you make him a crazy guy who will off you in seconds, he just loses what makes him frightening, and just turns him in another killer psycho in make up.

This is a problem that seems to have afflicted most of Batman’s villains, homogenizing them to the point of tedium. I was relieved to hear that the new Nolan Batman movie would not The Riddler, because I knew what direction they’d take him, being all dark and ‘realistic’ and all. The Riddler isn’t a villain I would see being a murderer at all; I think he works a lot better as a big-time thief. That may seem even smaller scale, but it’s good to pit the hero against different kinds of challenges, instead of just making them all essentially interchangeable, except maybe they use different kinds of knives or whatever.

All I’m asking for is a little variety in MOs, and therefor a little variety in the kinds of stories being told. Not everything needs to be gore porn, so you can stop with the serial killers now.

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Posted by Matt on September 2, 2010

The phrase ‘Hollywood is out of ideas’ kind of confuses me. I can understand the frustration when you hear every other day that a board game or Youtube video or glob of spit on the sidewalk is being made into a movie. It seems that everything that already exists is getting made into a movie these days, even other movies.

But the thing…’Hollywood’, that fictional entity that is meant to encompass all the studios in America…doesn’t really have it’s own ideas, does it? Okay, all these licenses being acquired and greenlit obviously comes from the brass. And even great movies started out like this; Jaws is a classic, but it likely started with some CEO saying “That Peter Benchley book is popular, make a movie out of it”. The closest thing the studios themselves come to creativity is going with a general idea rather than just a license, like saying ‘People want movies with cowboys!’ or ‘People want movies about the war!’.

So, in essence, Hollywood never has ideas, or at least original ones. The ones with the ideas are the screenwriters who pitch their scripts to the studios. They’re the ones who, one way or another, have to mold a story from the mud, whether it’s their own or something given to them.

It’s a strange thing, really. Most movie ideas come from the top-down, I must admit, but there are still examples of big movies that were screenwriter pitches first, Alien being a prime example. Still, I think there is enough evidence to suggest that most of the creativity comes from the bottom, from those more directly connected to the creative aspect of filmmaking. So then the idea that ‘Hollywood is out of Ideas’ seems faulty, as for the most part, the ideas are not created by the studios, but by the screenwriters, or directors, or even designers; and I’ve heard very little that leads me to believe that they are out of ideas.

This leads to what the actual problem is, though: ‘Hollywood’ isn’t willing to take risks at all, so they are less willing to buy a script unless it has some connection to something that already exists, or is championed by a bankable actor. It’s getting absurd, and the fact that the studios are buying the rights to board games is only the beginning. It seems that they have become so timid about making money back on their investment that they will take anything, literally anything, that might have some sort of recognition factor, no matter how minuscule, as being a safe bet. And they need safe bets: they are losing money all the time, as people just stop going to the movies, preferring to watch them at home, or to rampant Internet piracy. And the budgets are ballooning, because in order to get the quality and star power that is expected of major movies these days you need to START with tens of millions or more (consider that most major actors will cost six figures on their own, and that you usually need a bunch to get some peace of mind). The model is bloated as hell, but that’s just where the studios have led themselves.

This is, as one can tell, bad for upstart screenwriters who don’t have the connections to get into the mercenary part of the industry. They have to start somewhere, but there seems to be less opportunity in the film industry than ever before. There are still some smaller studios that are probably more receptive to new ideas, but it’s probably difficult getting in contact with them for much of the same reasons it’s difficult to break into the big part of the industry: you need connections.

In conclusion, it’s not that Hollywood is out of ideas, it’s just too scared to buy new ones.

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Posted by Matt on August 5, 2010

One of the things that frustrates me about the standard-issue arguments about religion is how myopic they almost inevitably are. Usually, there tends to be two ‘sides’: some nebulous form of Christianity, and non-believers. Christianity serves to represent religious belief as a whole, which is of course very much a product of the western origins of these conversations. There are often variations on these two sides: sometimes the Christians are casual, sometimes they are fervent; sometimes the non-believer is agnostic, and will repeatedly bring up how they don’t dismiss the possibility of the supernatural, even if they show no reason to believe in it. But aside from the intensity of the debate, these don’t really alter the fundamental problems with the argument.

One of the maxims of the elder gods of the online atheist community (places like Pharyngula) is that there is no point in debating the hardcore religious defenders, the fundamentalists especially. They have no actual argument, no desire to argue any point, but will revel in their inner huckster and just try to sell their religion to the audience via emotional pleas and instilling guilt, alongside the usual ad hominem and out-and-out lying. There is no reason for any intelligent person to enter into such a debate, which exists merely to give their opponent an advertising opportunity. So, for the most part, the kinds of public debates you often see between well-known unbelievers and believers are little more than elaborate pitches to the audience, where the better snake oil salesman is the winner, not the one who uses, you know, facts.

This alone stifles actual attempts to inform, as well as permeates that myopic view of the debate, as it’s almost always an atheist with several major books about how much they don’t believe in God, and either a true Christian nut or some pencil-neck Catholic nebbish whose never had his passive-aggressive newspaper columns challenged. As I’ve said, I know this is because most of these debates occur in the west, where Christianity is the dominant religion and the thing that immediately comes to everyone’s mind when someone says ‘religion’. But religion is far more complicated than these black and white arguments would imply, even within the context of Christianity. How can one say that the argument of the religious representative in this debates really represents religion, when his particular belief in God doesn’t even square with the other people who believe in the same God? This is the reason ‘arguments’ like Pascal’s Wager are so utterly worthless on their face: it’s not that one could simply believe in God, or not believe in God; there are countless gods one could believe in, and countless ways to believe in any of those gods. It is NOT simply atheism vs. Christianity.

This is what leads me to think that there is very little reason for unbelievers to try to argue against religion, and should instead let religion argue itself into oblivion. The fact is, although you can present the logical argument for why one should avoid believing in any of the permutations of religious belief, it won’t matter to the person you’re arguing with, or the audience. Most people believe in a certain religion for reasons that aren’t logical or something that could be easily debated: culture, family, social relationships, subjective emotional reasons, etc. At some point (mostly through the misuse of education), some will go on to concoct bogus ‘logic’ to defend their belief, but it still all comes down to a subjective, often heavily societal-based, origin for their religious beliefs. Considering this, the best one can do is simply provide facts about what we know about the nature of the universe and call out extreme cases where religious incursions cause direct harm (which ranges from violent extremism to more local, social problems like the gay marriage debate). They don’t really need to ‘prove’ religion wrong, nor is it a particularly easy or worthwhile task.

No, if someone wants to challenge people’s beliefs, there is simply no better argument against religion than religion itself. Simply put, the multitude of mutually-exclusive belief systems, all coexisting all over the world, and each entirely convinced of its own status as the sole truth, will likely make someone question their beliefs at an equal, if maybe slightly greater, rate than the arguments against belief entirely. Why do they believe that they can only find salvation through Jesus Christ, and not that they should pray to Lord Krishna, or that life is part of the cycle that must be broken through following the example of the Buddha? Because of the way the religion argument is framed, very few are ever confronted with this question, which I think is fundamental to either reaffirming their own religious belief for whatever reason way they imagine, or really getting them to think about why. And no matter the conclusion, at least they know a little bit more about the nature of belief.

Of course, even getting that far can be difficult. Aside from western arrogance, one of the reasons other religious beliefs are never brought up is because the religious side of the equation (as established, whatever brand of Christianity they found a volunteer from that week) are often completely dismissive of beliefs other than their own. The other religions might as be speaking gibberish about rainbows and Martians. I even find it among atheists: for whatever reason, the beliefs of Mormons are somehow less believable than those of mainstream Christianity, for example. It just doesn’t make sense to me: it’s like arguing whether Star Wars or Godzilla is more ‘fake’. There may be more or less harmful proclamations within their scripture, but that has nothing to do with whether or not the religion is more ‘real’ than another. If you think they’re all fake, what does it matter?

These are the difficulties of this line of reasoning, although really, at the point where someone will dismiss someone else’s god or belief in god while continuing their own, there is likely no argument that could convince them to even consider looking at their beliefs critically.

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Posted by Matt on April 27, 2010

I know a lot of comics blogs probably have at least one post where they describe what they would do if they were in charge of Marvel and/or DC, and I’m likely the least-informed out of the lot of them. Even so, I have ideas, and I can post whatever I want, so fuck off.

So, here’s the pitch:

Marvel and DC stop publication of all monthly comics. All of them.

Creators seeking to use their copyrighted characters would pitch their story ideas to the company. Those stories would published as complete graphic novels, or would be released as a serial story via either a monthly anthology magazine which could contain those stories, excerpts from already-published graphic novels, reprints, and original short comics; or, periodically online on either the company’s website or through devices like the iPad. In both cases, the collected edition would be published a short time after the serial story is completed. This way, characters can be kept in circulation, creators who desire to do so will still get a chance to work with those characters, and comic shops will still have things they can sell.

Rewrite the publishing polices to allow for the publishing of more creator-owned series. While they may not be able to control or financially benefit from those properties, the chance of getting a wider variety of stories published would allow them to pursue new demographics and venues, increasing their reach.

Of course, the chance of any ideas like these being pursued any time soon is slim. For both companies, comics publishing is just something they do on the side. Both have licensing to bring in the money, and now both have large corporations backing them. Despite the ruckus they might raise whenever a new big direction in their comics is coming up, they don’t seem to be that interested in how many people actually read them.

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Posted by Matt on March 13, 2010

The Worst Words #3


I truly have a hard time believing in the concept of real ‘evil’. For the most part, I can only see it in the dilutions that are only viewed as evil by weaker minds. However, if there is one thing that I would consider truly an example of evil, it would be marketing. The evil of marketing is multi-faceted: it could only appear in a society that is economically, scientifically, and culturally advanced enough that excess is even possible, meaning that even our greatest human achievements can be easily tainted; it is inherently manipulative, as it based around convincing people to buy things of wildly varying value by any means necessary; it abuses science and art, two of the great facets of human civilization, in order to perform that manipulation; and in the end, it is a mindless entity which exists solely to make money, and everything else involved does not mean a damned thing to it: it could be selling the next great human advancement, it could be selling a worthless trinket, it could be selling genocide, but that doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t care about anything other than maintaining the endless cycle that is its existence. It is far beyond the minds that created it at this point; the marketing ideals are now in control.

So yes, I don’t think much of marketing.What disturbs me along with that is that not only are people being manipulated by the marketing devices, many of them do so willingly.

As I said in a previous post, the Internet age has given people a vast knowledge base from which they can access at any time. The people of the Internet culture has accumulated an absurd amount of information about the things they are interested in. I doubt anyone decades ago could tell you as much about the inner workings of their favourite TV shows or movies as the fans could today. It’s not just that viewers are becoming more obsessive, it’s that it’s all there for them. People seem to have accepted this new freedom of information as an essential part of the culture. People scour the Internet for casting rumours and early script reviews. They know the industry, and they know (most) of the tricks used by the marketeers to make things appealing, whether they be entertainment or other kinds of products.

I remember being struck while studying media texts in a sociology class how close the concept of the ‘media-savvy’ was to my own experience. The definitions and problems posed by the text almost exactly described what I had observed during my years as part of various media discussions. The problem with the media-savvy is that, with all their knowledge, with all their capacity to gain discerning taste and reject some of the cruder elements of pop culture, they choose not to. They watch and they buy just as anyone else would; no matter how embarrassingly mediocre something like SNL gets, they’ll still pay attention to it, even if they complain about it the entire way. They still don’t think twice about what the commercial is trying to do, they will enjoy it nonetheless. This says something not only about how hypocritical and intellectually lazy western society can get, but also in the kind of power marketing has. Even when the Emperor is naked, the crowds will still praise his regal look.

I’d typify the type of person I think of above as the average reader of the pop culture blog (which includes stuff like The AV Club, although they are usually of more integrity than the rest of the media-savvy world). Another offshoot of this culture are the type who I see often on videogame message boards, the ones who not only accept marketing, but actively seeking to be marketed to. This is where ‘hype’ comes in. Hype is the artificial kind of anticipation that these types obtain, a short-lived high that, like a drug addiction, needs to be administered in increasing doses in order to maintain the same level of satisfaction. It is entirely unnecessary, of course. Surely a big game should hook you on what it has, and doesn’t need the regular bluster.

To see someone in a discussion go from ‘totally hype’ to ‘zero hype’ is a total non-event. The shift usually happens when there has been proper marketing for a lengthy period, and usually doesn’t mean a thing. Like a difficult child, they’ll say they are running away, and maybe they’ll even pack a bindle filled with crayons and cookies; but they are too reliant on the product to ever leave it. As soon as the producers drop another bombastically-presented slice of information, they’re back at the forefront, and the cycle begins anew. But no matter what mood they are in currently, it’s almost guaranteed they will buy. Even the most indignant fan, filled to the brim with entitlement, cares too much about their object of fandom to leave it alone.

Thus is the artificial nature of hype. The nerd culture, as one should have been able to determine if you’ve read any of my rants, thrives on seemingly being doted upon by their entertainment supplier of choice, although it is only an illusion. And as stupid as they may appear (and, for the most part, are), they are still media-savvy, maybe even more than most, so they bring this entirely upon themselves more often than not. Every time I see someone online talking about being ‘hype’, I cringe – it often seems to have replaced genuine excitement for something empty. Which is just one of the many byproducts of marketing.

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Posted by Matt on March 8, 2010

Now to finish the series.

Star Fox

It’s actually only been four years since the last Star Fox, but that one was on the DS and had stylus controls so everyone hated it. “We need another REAL Star Fox!” they will say. The last one closest to the older games came out 5 years ago, but it had on-foot missions, so they hated that too.
Essentially, what they want is a remake of the first two games (which is funny because 64 was essentially a remake of the first game) with Wiimote controls. But that doesn’t require a full disc-sized game (just like F-Zero), unless you want to make it pretty, which is what they also want. So Nintendo is pretty stuck when it comes to this series.
Not that I’m totally against it. Arcade shooters aren’t all that common today, with only a few (including, surprisingly, Nintendo themselves with Sin & Punishment 2) daring to do it. And the game isn’t a bad fit for Wiimote controls. With the Remote/Nunchuck set-up, you have the ability to give the crosshairs and ship movement more freedom, and hell, throw in shaking to do a barrel roll if you must. But of course, every fucking game on the planet could work with remote controls. There’s gotta be more to it to justify it.
How about online multiplayer? Maybe, but even a more robust system is more of an elaborate extra than a real innovation. Some might suggest making it more like Rogue Squadron, with mission-based levels and epic battles (isn’t that what Assault was? I don’t know, I didn’t play it)? That could work, although it seems to lose a bit of that arcade charm if it isn’t on-rails and just about shooting down as many Escherian spaceships as possible, although there’s nothing that would stop it from doing both.
This is a bit more difficult to think of, as there seems to be equal sway for both an advancement into more modern gameplay and retaining the classic simple gameplay system. And even then, is simply turning it mission-based a big enough leap to justify a completely new, big budget game? I don’t know.
Miyamoto has shown to secretly likes the franchise, and that the biggest hurdle the series faces is a lack of popularity in Japan, much like Metroid did. A swing towards more western markets could be good news for the series, and let’s not forget that the aforementioned S&P2 was made because the game was a pretty popular Virtual Console download all over the place, especially NA. So, while I don’t expect anything new for Star Fox anytime soon, it’s not totally impossible. And I can’t say for sure that there needs to be a whole lot of brainstorming done in order to make it worthy, although listening to the fans clamoring for regression may not be the best idea.
It’s an odd situation, this. Maybe even more odd than the situation for Pikmin.

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Posted by Matt on March 6, 2010

Continuing on the journey to madness:

Kid Icarus

Here it is: the big daddy of possible revivals. Considering that there hasn’t been a Kid Icarus game since 1991, one can understand why that is so. Also, the fact that as a Metroid-esque game centered on Greek mythology, it can provide something that is not normally found in most Nintendo games.
On one hand, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason for Nintendo to make another game bearing the Kid Icarus name; the original came out nearly 20 years ago, and the games only resonate with a small section of the gaming populace. The only reason to produce a new Kid Icarus game would be to please a few hardcore fans, and that’s about as niche as can be. As for my own feelings, I don’t think a game should ever come out just to shut up a real niche audience, especially when those resources could be used for more worthwhile projects.
Yet…yet there is something about KI that could make for a good game. As a myth buff, I kind of enjoy the Ancient-Greece-as-told-by-Nintendo style that the game offers (which is partially why the supposed Factor 5-developed concept art being tossed around did nothing for me: they just looked…so dour and generic). Considering that the major Greco-Roman-themed game these days is the juvenile God of War series, KI could provide an alternative Hellenism game (still juvenile, but in the innocent Nintendo way). A Zelda-style adventure game using the archery, flying, and multiple-worlds ideas featured in the original game could be pretty neat, actually.
Not that I ever expect the game to come out at this point, for reasons I already explained. But still, even those who hate the first game must admit there’s some potential there.


This series is in a slightly different position then the rest I have and will talk about, as Nintendo has already stated there is some level of development going on for a new Pikmin game. But that was two years ago, and there has been very little said about it since (except that it has been stalled as the EAD team has been sidetracked by a billion other projects). And who knows how much we should expect from statements that something is in the works – two years ago, they could have still been kicking ideas around and nothing more.
Pikmin is an odd series, as the original idea was pretty strong and didn’t immediately call out for a sequel. We got one anyway, and it actually did what sequels are supposed to do by taking the base elements of the first game and using them to make a different experience. If they are making a third game, it would rather disappointing for it to not follow in the previous game’s footsteps and do something a little different, although it seems most fans would enjoy something not terribly different from the last two games, but with Wiimote controls (which they technically already did by remaking those games with Wiimote controls, even though the second one hasn’t made it over here).
I really don’t have many ideas about where they could go with Pikmin. The underlying gameplay is about strategy and exploration, with the first game applying those to a survival theme and the second to a treasure hunting focus. Considering they added a two-character mechanic in the previous game, it would make sense for them to expand it to include co-op this time, instead of just dedicated multiplayer modes. They could add a number of new environments to explore (the fact that the game essentially takes place in someone’s backyard gives them lots of interesting possibilities). Other than that, though, and I’m at a loss. You’ll have to get back to me on that.

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Posted by Matt on March 2, 2010

And for no reason, I will now look at the sequel viability of several Nintendo videogames, part one of whatever. Enjoy…or not!

Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong, despite being one of the most well-known names in gaming, is not exactly a major franchise anymore. Or, at least, not since the days of the Donkey Kong Country series. Since Rare left, Nintendo has not been entirely devoted to releasing a steady stream of DKC-esque platformers, instead opting for more experimental stuff (like the Jungle Climber games) or going back to the original arcade games in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong line.

Despite what some gamers might say, this isn’t entirely a bad thing. To be honest, the Rare games, while still fun, were highly derivative, and just wouldn’t stand out in the modern game environment. Jungle Beat, which I will admit is a favourite of mine, was a breath of fresh air for the franchise, and for Nintendo as a whole (they really haven’t made many arcade action games this past decade, aside from stuff like Sin & Puinshment). It would be great to see more games in the same style, but I’m not expecting it or anything.

I think it was also a good idea to make more games like the old Donkey Kong, because people often forget about the series’ roots, and how utterly enjoyable those roots are. Having released a new Mario vs. Donkey Kong as a downloadable game last year, I think they’re pretty good for now, though. But, if you want to ‘revive’ the franchise, here’s a thought: combine Jungle Beat with the older games. That would be an exciting idea.

The last major F-Zero (not counting the cartoon spin-off games on the GBA, as most people don’t) came out in 2003, so there’s been a pretty decent gap. Things have also advanced a bit since the GC days: Nintendo, for one, has embraced online play, to a degree. So: been a while since the last game came out, online play is now possible, what’s stopping them from releasing a new F-Zero?

Well, perceived level of interest for one. Fans are clamoring for it, but they always are, and they barely make up a majority of the market. That’s just being realistic, though, and that’s not what this post is all about in the end. So on to the fantasy developing!

As much as online play would add to the game, I can’t help but feel that it would still need more in order to feel like a satisfactory sequel. It could be cool, then, if they released a graphically-enhanced, online-enabled remake of F-Zero X on WiiWare. It could give the fans something to look forward to, distracting them while you consider how to improve the concept further. Unfortunately, as cool as idea would be, the distraction probably wouldn’t last long, as fans would tune into it pretty quick and complain how lazy it would be compared to making a ‘real’ sequel. Fans are picky like that.

On the other hand, chances are they’d take a graphically modern, online F-Zero as a retail game, even if it didn’t have much else added (which would indeed lead to an eventual backlash). So really, they are only selectively picky. Or completely bipolar. Whichever term you prefer.

I don’t have many ideas myself about how the series could go. Part of me thinks that, in order to keep the series’ pretty well-respected legacy intact, they really shouldn’t make a new game unless it will really add something to it, no matter how much the fans beg. Rather not rush out a sequel just to satiate the hordes…especially when they’ll just complain it’s not as good as previous games and turn against you.

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Posted by Matt on March 1, 2010

The Worst Words #2


The Internet has given us many great things. It makes communication easier, it gives people the opportunity to share their talents to a wider audience they couldn’t possibly reach before, it gives us a wealth of information we can access with the push of a button. I’m sure there are many other benefits that I am overlooking, too.

On the other hand, it has helped raised a generation of isolated, self-absorbed children who are never forced to look at the world through any other perspective than their own. With all that information available, it is truly astonishing that most people would rather find places that reaffirm their own preconceived biases rather than actually use this great tool to learn. This is the great tragedy of the Internet.

And this is where opinion comes into play. Opinion, on the Internet, has become the great cop-out, a way for someone to be able to exempt themselves from an argument, especially if they are unable to actually argue a point. It also acts as a shield from criticism, whether it be of yourself or (in the case of most nerd sites) whatever it is you’ve become obligated to defend. “Well, that’s just your opinion” is the weasel phrase, a standard for anti-thought individuals.

It is a problem in the real world, too, where opinion and subjectivity is used by individuals and groups to validate or elevate their position, even if it is obviously wrong. The evolution ‘debate’ is one of the greatest examples of this, where anti-science organizations get to say they are ‘interpreting the evidence differently’, which is utter drivel, and anyone who looks at the facts would know that. But people still let them get away with being factually inaccurate (and, at times, compulsive liars and propagandists) because they, too, see the issue as being a thing of interpretations, rather than what it really is, which is a clear-cut case of reality being challenged by those who would rather live in a fantasy world.

Part of the problem is a postmodern one. Many people have begun to question the ‘truths’ of the world around them, and have been taught that perspective controls everything, and all ‘facts’ are interpretations. While this line of thinking can be beneficial, especially in the highly manipulative marketing-based environment we live in, it does NOT work in all situations. It does not work in the realm of science, which is based entirely around empirical evidence and testing that are as far removed from subjective spinning as possible (not that it is possible to be entirely objective, even in science, but that is no excuse to look at it as just another voice among countless others). And, while a tad more problematic, it has no place in the realm of criticism.

Most of us, being mindless consumers, have come to loathe the critic, whether it be the movie critic, the music critic, or even the political critic. They are associated with negativity, with having arcane tastes, with not agreeing with the majority (and boy, are the majority ever the best judges of anything). Besides, once we apply that postmodern perspective, than they just become another voice. What they have to say is no more important than what some random guy on a forum has to say. It’s all just opinion, right? The problem is…no, no it isn’t.

While there are many lousy critics out there (their numbers bolstered thanks to, get this, the Internet and its lack of editorial standards), to deny them any sort of authority is to be foolish. The average movie critic will see many more movies than you or I ever will; they will also have see a wider variety of movies, they will understand the history of cinema, they will have seen a thousand different examples of good and bad acting, good and bad plot, good and bad special effects (all of which are among things in movies that are NOT subject to much subjectivity; a non-existent story is a non-existent story, no matter who you talk to, and bad acting is bad acting, and so on). They are true film experts, and despite their connection to negativity, the good ones always love what they do, and love movies. Not only that, but the best of the best also know how to think about what their watching, even if it’s mindless entertainment, and then explain those thoughts in a clear manner.

We may not agree with them all the time (see, subjectivity isn’t completely dead, and knowing how to apply subjectivity when appropriate is a sign of real intelligence), but clearly their thoughts on something can be worth more than the average Joe. Just like the scientists who have studied a subject, whether it be evolution, or physics, or the climate, we can put priority on what they have to say, because clearly they know what their talking about. So despite us being told to distrust authority, that’s no reason to disregard experience and knowledge.

None of that matters on the Internet. It is a very modern, very democratic line of thinking that puts everyone on the same level, whether that be the scientist and the guy off the street, or the movie critic and the casual moviegoer. In this mindset, all opinions are equal, and all claims are opinions. The truth is a rare beast, and usually only encompasses ubiquitous, grade-school factoids, like the sky being blue, and turtles being reptiles, and what have you. All other things, animal, vegetable, or mineral, are up for interpretation. And you can’t tell them they’re wrong, because that wouldn’t be polite. Not that they would listen, anyway, not when they have had their opinion reinforced by dozens of other like-minded individuals and whatever phony ‘evidence’ they can pluck from the depths. The Internet has made it much easier to become enlightened, but it also has made it easier to delude yourself into thinking you are right about everything, and never have to confront conflicting views. The echo chamber effect that the World Wide Web provides can be catastrophic to the discourse, turning it into gangs of dittoheads yelling their thoughts at each other without having considered anything that is being said, because they don’t have to.

Clearly, this kind of thinking is wrong when it comes to the real world. The evolution/creationism, climate change, and war/peace narratives are just some examples where all thoughts are valued the same, despite many being backed by, you know, reality, that have a clear impact on the world. However, one could trace this kind of thinking back to the simpler things, the world of arts and entertainment. Since this world is considered one of trifles, no one really puts much thought into how subjectivity/objectivity plays into it, but Creation Museums and angry comments on IMDB all originate from the same irrational ideology, one that says you have every right to think the way you do, even in the face of the better-informed, the more accurate…you get the idea.

What makes the nerd world version of the opinion fallacy worse is that it usually based on less than nothing. A person will choose to disagree with someone about something they have not experienced firsthand. I have encountered numerous examples of forum-goers dismissing the early negative reviews of a game they are looking forward to, merely because they have decided that they will like the game beforehand. They can’t have this predetermined opinion be challenged, so they choose to ignore people who disagree with them. Even if their object of desire turns out to be no good, they will often force themselves to like it, although the opposite (being disappointed in something and then deciding it is THE WORST THING EVER) is also highly prevalent, albeit it seems that you can predict the latter reaction by whether that person has had a bipolar reaction to just about everything related to it.

As could be surmised from the David Jaffe post, I don’t think putting your faith in the masses is a particularly swell idea. Especially when that mass includes people who have make judgments before it even makes sense to. I’ve heard people on forums say things like “I’d take the opinions of people on here over reviewers”, and this is wrong-headed. Unless of course you want everyone to agree with you, in which case that would be the proper path to take. Anyone who is not stupid, however, will know it is wrong.

This mindset is also terrible for the growing communities of artists online. Places like DeviantArt and the like, less real venues for artists and more havens of shitty fan art, are filled with prima donnas who surround themselves with warm, fuzzy comments from their half-wit online friends, and hate being criticized for anything (you know, the kind of thing that Your Webcomic is Bad And You Should Feel Bad was tackling back in the day). This is the opposite attitude anyone who takes pride in their creative output should have. If you write, draw, or compose music, or all three, you have to take criticisms, even angry ones laced with ad hominem attacks, into consideration, because otherwise you will never improve as an artist. This is what the editorial process did back before there was an Internet, but now that editorial process has been shoved into the background, and once again people prefer to be surrounded by praise, and will dismiss anything else as ‘flaming’, ‘trolling’, or the dreaded ‘just an opinion’.

This may be one of my biggest beefs with the Internet culture, which I am very much a part of, as you could tell by how long this article has been. It works in with the previous theme of misuse of the term maturity – the ‘just an opinion’ attitude is another sign of a pure lack of maturity, unable to see any other view but your own, unable to admit when you’re wrong, and dismissive of those who challenge you. It kills any sort of intelligent conversation, it limits imagination and intellectual growth…it’s just an absolutely frustrating thing to have to deal with, and I don’t see it going away any time soon. Thus is the curse of the Internet.

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