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Monthly Archives: January 2013

It is interesting and I find it funny considering the recent trend in this blog about video games, so I think my first ‘non serious’ blog in a while about video games should be rather… interesting.

Now when I say ‘fail’ I am being a bit harsh, Skyrim is a pretty solid video game…just it has one glaring flaw in it.

A remarkable lack of interesting characters given the game is supposed to go on for hundreds of hours of gameplay. Sure some of their arcs might be interesting at first, but then when you get through the game, they get around and prattle on the same nonsense which gets old…fast.

And the main character himself, there is no, or at least very little connection to him (or her.) Granted you can play in a wide variety of ways and do a lot of different things with powers, talents, race, and the morality of your character…but there is no voice. Nothing really distinctive. Only clicking on a set number of options which…in a four hundred hour game (low balling it) these actions rarely matter outside of those quests. They are never mentioned and you usually forget about them or anything else you have done long before you finish the game.

So despite all the scenery, despite all the customization with character and choosing your perks despite the outstanding combat and gameplay, and the adventures you have with your companion…I can only take so much of the game before moving on. And while I want to, and will, finish it one day, it just can never have the same appeal as a Mass Effect or even, occasionally, A Call of Duty.

Which keep in mind stars the adventures of the very vibrant and distinct Soap MacTavish and Price.

To me, this is the one thing that distinguishes good fiction from bad fiction. Or Outstanding fiction from just plain good or descent fiction.

You can have all the epic explosions you want, you can have all the epic plots you need to fill a two thousand page tome, and all of this stuff does have a place and could be considered ‘good’ but without truly deep characters that cause you to care about a universe or a genre, it cannot truly stand.

Which is something that a lot of people continue to talk about. People rarely tout the Original Star Trek for its stellar plots and outstanding cinematography…but yet the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is remembered and still revered to this day.

I do not care about Babylon 5 so much because JMS was able to create a complicated plot line which he wrapped up in a satisfying matter. I care about the characters that went along for this ride, and a deeply personal narrative where all of them had their own narratives, their own stories, their own personal problems and weaknesses that got you to sympathize with them, and yet when most of them overcame their weaknesses, or adapted to them, you were there to share in the triumph.

This is how you create great fiction, this is how you get someone to care, not by giving someone a bunch of meaningless options where no one really cares but through a deeply rich and personal narrative to explore. Not by having the characters say the same damn thing for most of the game, but by giving them unique reaction and arcs to what is going on. Not to make bland cardboard cut outs, but characters with problems, issues, that you can overcome.

If you can do this, you can make a story come alive.


Well I have been doing a lot of blogs on the recent string of gun control and debates erupting in the wake of the Sandy Hook Shootings. Trying to cover it from video games, and guns.

But to understand how to solve the problem you must deal with the causes of the problem.

So just what is causing the problem? Is it a Video game? Is it video games in general? Or is it something else?

Well since I have played video games off and on for most of my life, and have not seriously thought about bringing harm to another human being in that time, it is clear that they are not the cause of this problem.

But are they then a symptom?

Well considering that you get what you tend to put into something, out of it, you tend to get crap out of crap, and considering society is often responsible for what it consumes in terms of media…which then encourages the media to produce more content that is tailored to the interests of the individual block of society.

The answer seems to be yes, it’s not the fact that we may be having more violent tendencies from these video games, but these violent video games are feeding those violent tendencies. Which can be both good or bad. It can alleviate the tensions and the stress placed on the individual, or it can lead to them wanting to go out and actually imitate the action. There entire world view will be twisted enough where they do not want to just stop at video games but ‘try it in the real world’.

Now this does not make it anymore the video games fault as it did before, just making the point that this stuff is a reflection of societal values and not the cause of societal values.

So you tend to support the media you consume, which only then encourages more media to be made in that vein.

From a gaming perspective this means more games, so the charge will go, like Call of Duty, since it is a wildly successful franchise setting new records seemingly with each installment… so video games then try to emulate that success with their own franchises and installments. Gamers complain about this when their beloved RPGs, for instance, become more streamlined and shooter like.

From a society perspective means that if we are addicted to violence it’s not because that violence exists, rather that violence in our media reflects that something our current society will tolerate.

Whether this is a good or bad thing remains largely to be seen but the point of the matter is attacking the symptom, whether it be guns, video games, or bows and arrows, will not actually solve the problem. Only addressing the root causes will. Through education and good judgement, through learning the difference that a video game is just a video game and the other stuff is not the video game. That what happens in real life is very different then what happens in a video game.

Only then maybe we can begin to scale back the ‘mass shootings’ and solve the violence problem in our society.

Recently, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre two competing, and yet oddly coherent, narratives have emerged. Mainly, it is all the Video Games fault, or it is all the guns fault.

Now guns, they have their defenders, whole organizations devoted to their defense, and some very good points have been made in their defense. The national attention is there and the message is well articulated…but there seems to be little defense for Video Games. Or at least none who have made this point.

In response to this and other tragedies Glenn Beck hosted a noted military psychologist on his TV program the other day, and the claim was that we are now raising a generation of killers through video games and the media. That Video Games are teaching people to kill, desensitizing people to kill, and is in effect causing the violence. Media and the rest of the ‘culture’ for that matter.

Now the arguments were very compelling actually, the idea that was presented that video game companies could be using the same tactics that the US Military uses to forge soldiers to sell a product, is interesting. I would buy it even, if it weren’t for one thing.

It’s never happened to me.

Now I want to make it very clear here, Glenn is not advocating for Government actions and bans, he is advocating for the individual to take action. He is simply pointing out what he believes this is a dangerous cultural problem that needs to be fixed through the individual and individual family. The day after his program aired his co host announced he had removed all the violent games, including Lego Indiana Jones, from his home. Beck even said that technology is like fire, it is good if you are the master of it, but bad if it is the master of you. So even he seems to be close to the answer to this problem….

Because it all comes down to the individual.

I am struck by this fact because I have been playing violent video games on and off since I have been..what? Six? Seven? Somewhere around then.

I was playing games like Ape Escape, Spyro the fire-breathing dragon. Crash Bandicoot which involved a…Bandicoot which twisted around in a tornado like pattern and blasted people out-of-the-way… well by people I mean demon spawned animals and stuff…or something…owned by a fat headed guy. Which then later evolved into a game where you were running around a race track launching missiles and bombs and TNT and Nitro at your fellow drivers, either human controlled or not.

To my early teens, playing games like the Medal of Honor Frontline, and Conflict Desert Storm I and II. Battling the Iraqi and Nazi Regimes, taking down tyranny by waging a special war as a Delta or OSS operative.

To my late teens waging a different kind of war in Conflict Global Terror, my first rated M game, which coincidentally involved the charters from Desert Storm fighting Neo Nazis…today.

To my early 20s with the Mass Effect series, the Call of Duty franchises, with blood and guts galore.

But yet, with roughly a 15 year ‘career’ in Video Games, by killing and destroying millions of beings from Nazis, to Trolls, to Cyber Zombies, I have not committed a murder, had nary a violent thought about a classmate or fellow human being, and in point of fact I was a lot more violent before my video game career then after it. But then again I was five, and mighty confused.

In fact I have often used Video Games as a stress relief, when I have had a bad day of school, stressful, or just really pissed, gone on the Play station, and went Orc hunting in Lord of the Rings.

Video games can inspire people to do a whole lot of things, out of jealousy, or ‘teaching them’, or whatever. But it is irresponsible to blame an inanimate object on any of our societies problems. After all it is a lot harder to kill someone with a video game, then a gun! I mean can you just imagine grinding away at a person’s head with a DVD?

The fault is with the individual, the lessons are from the individual, and the lessons are to the individual. The inspiration is to the individual.

Because during the program the Psychologist friend of Glenn’s made the argument that gaming is actually teaching people marksmanship. That people who play Video games aim for the head.

Now this is something I wonder. If I play Ace Combat or Madden NFL can I be a Fighter Ace or an effective football coach? So this argument fascinates me.

But this argument also has two big problems:

First of all most games that involve shooting aspects you get the message often loud and clear ‘aim for the head’. But that is a sound Marksmanship principle you can pick up almost anywhere, from television, to documentaries, to army training manuals, to the mere fact that your biological computer is in your head, might be a good place to shoot! And games can also teach one that it might be better to shoot people elsewhere, their chest for ease of accuracy, their legs to show them down, but again anyone can almost tell you the same thing.

And then the principle might be there, but often enough the actual combat situations aren’t. When you shoot a character in a video game there is no recoil, no wind, nothing for you to gauge how a real life shot should behave. All of these need to be taken into account in the real world.

And even games who do that, like the sniping missions in the Call of Duty series, taking in wind and the Coreilas effect, you don’t feel the wind on your face, you do not have the gun in your hand, you do not and cannot judge how the wind affects the bullet in the real world. Never mind other considerations.

But even then it is the individual who is important.

Sure a video game can ‘teach’ a gang member in east LA where to shoot a cop. But it could also teach a cop in Atlanta how and where to shoot, or what the situation calls for in a bank robbery and a hostage situation. Or it could teach a kid how to act to defend his kid sister from a robbery.

It is not the technology, not the media, not the fiction, not the gun, and certainly not the oven toaster causes deaths. Its how we use them, its how we chose to act with this technology.

And for other opinions on this issue visit this article:

Sandy Hook is still fresh in our memories, and their has been a ‘rash’ of shootings in the news, police shootings, school shootings, and mothers protecting their families…and children protecting their sisters.  All with guns.  Good and evil. 


And in the wake of the tragedies and the recent events a huge debate has started in this country over what is causing this rash of violence, and how to stop it.  I will address what is causing it later in the week with other blogs. 

As for the solution?  I am not sure I have one.  Just an observation that maybe we can stop gun violence, at the end of the day, by making sure the good guys have guns. 

During the climax to the Eric Flint Novel 1632 the town of Grantville found itself under siege.  Or more to the point the Grantville High School found itself under siege.  From a vicious band of Calvary and horse mounted warriors which were, at the time, renowned for their ruthless pursuit of their enemies. 

They were attacking a High School full of kids, teenagers, and families, in order to specifically cut the heart out of the new nation and cause them to suffer from a huge loss of morale and their technological might. 

But they were stopped, by one twenty something with a shotgun, by another with a semi automatic rifle, with a much larger round then the one shot from certain versions of the AR-15, by armed teachers, and by the forces of Gustavus Adolphus riding in at the last moment waving sword and wielding pistol, all combining to stop the attack with only minimal ‘allied’ casualties. 

Now this is not proposing a solution, this is certainly not saying that armed guards in schools are the answer, in fact I think this is a dumb idea and a bit counter intuitive in its own right.  And unneeded. 

This is merely an observation, and to again echo the NRA press conference after Sandy Hook, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun…or a sword or a a good guy with a gun. 

A gun that can make rather large holes in you, like maybe a ‘Assault Rifle’. 

And while we never hope for violence, we never want violence, and violence responding to violence might not be a ‘solution’, at least we have the option of defending ourselves when the time is right. 

And these weapons might not be needed, but then it only takes one incident when they are needed, and aren’t legal, to appreciate their need. 

So, ban gun free zones, throw the idea in the dumpster, put the thought in any criminals mind that any time they walk into the building there could be at least one gun, if not more. 

Open up schools to teachers, janitors, administrators, and student volunteers for community service, as long as they are adults, to sheriff’s posse’s and parent patrol groups.  Anything to keep these kids safe from harm. 

And if anyone is willing to challenge this notion, then they will be met with, good guys with guns. 

This ‘honor’ goes to the ending of Mass Effect 3. Something that taught me a lot about a wide variety of subjects and most of them I hope to address in this or later blogs on this subject, cause believe me, I am not done.

Now this is still an issue worth blogging about for two reasons. First of all it has taught me a lot. About fandom, writing, and the human condition. In point of fact it has changed what I was going to do with the ending of my own series of books I hope to write and publish one day. And two, despite it being months later, despite ME 3 almost being a year old, it is still talked about. I still talk about it. Game magazines and media still talk about it and fandom continues to talk about it in one way or another. And while the issue has mostly quieted down there still seems to be a lot of hurt feelings from this.

This blog will be an attempt to address two things, the ending itself and the various things that went into it, and what I have learned about it.

First right off the bat there is a new theory going around the interwebs, a theory about ‘why the end is really a lot more ‘artistic’ then we gave it credit for’ theory.

The current theory basically says that the ending was meant to be kinda a grand statement on the utility of life and how your choices not mattering was actually the point. That no matter what you do, you can’t escape fate or, in this case specifically, the mechanical twistings of the cycle.

Now I myself wondered this within weeks of my finishing the ending. Because the world of Mass Effect is based, in large part, on the work of HP Lovecraft. Without going into too much detail Lovecraft postulated that the universe largely does not care about humanity and what we do, and can wipe us out at any second.

This rings true because of the Reapers, the Cycle, and forces beyond our understanding.

Yet I reject this theory and find it unlikely because even in the original ending the protagonist/ player was faced with threechoices. And contrary to popular opinion they had widely different outcomes and ramifications and actually were choices.

But if the above theory was true the player would not get a choice at all. He/She would gather the forces of the Galaxy, do everything right, and then lose the war. He/ She may then play the game again, do a bunch of different things…and lose the war.

There would have been no Crucible, (if there was it would be destroyed,) and no ending choice. Probably no Catalyst either.

Just it, the last scene would be a Reaper beam slicing the Normandy to ribbons…then you would be faced with that picture of the Galaxy Map before you were going to go assault Cronus station.

Now when people talk about the ending, even today, a large number of them bring up the same complaints:

The Mass Relays were destroyed and thus destroying all life.

Well yes, while it was shown in the Arrival that the destruction of a Mass Relay would lead to a Super Nova that would wipe out entire star systems, hence at the original ending, when the relays went exploding, naturally all of life around the Galaxy (or the vast majority of it since some races were not in the same system as a Relay) would be exterminated.

Now we can assume two things with this, either the original writers intentionally set out to exterminate the universe and make you a big monster, or they simply forgot. There responses would indicate they forgot…or they were a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

After all, who would wipe out the universe as the ultimate solution to a Galactic problem? Are we to assume that is what they set out to do? Pardon me for being skeptical but I do not think they would do this, I do not think anyone would do this. And without actual evidence to the contrary, IE cut scenes showing entire worlds burning, I chose to believe that the destruction, or the eventual damaging of the relays in the extended cut, did not destroy the Galaxy.

We just did not have enough evidence from the Original Endings to make a reasonable claim, which is one of the problems with the ending, but you cannot draw a bad conclusion on not enough data, that is still a bad conclusion.

Your choices weren’t reflected in the ending.

True, but they weren’t supposed to, you just spent the last 40 hours or so wrapping up plot lines full of decision makings.

Your ending choice was an arbitrary A, B, C, where the only difference was the color!

No, even before the Extended Cut it was clear that this was not the case. The three endings had very different outcomes and conclusions, they just looked the same. But anyone can tell you that two events that look the same do not have to be the same and human perception is often flawed…

The ending violated the themes of the series.

I think in all the ways that the ending did fail, this is still the most apt in some ways. Having everything boiled down to three choices? Right.

And then they were Control, Synthesis, and Destruction.

While all three options were presented throughout the series Shepard never, ever, had the opportunity to say ‘you know Saren…your idea sounds cool…I like it…but you go too far!’ Nowhere throughout the series, not one instance.

All it was defeat the Reapers.

Which meant that the ending came out of nowhere when it was presented to us. We were supposed to choose, two options, that we had been in fact opposition to for three whole games? All in the name of defeating Synthetics and Organics? Which was also out of nowhere?

So then what have we learned from this?

That people can doggedly stick to their perceptions in the face of millions of pieces of anecdotal and actual evidence. No matter what comes along to counteract their perceptions, they say, the ending sucks because the universe explodes!

No sorry it doesn’t.

There are millions of legitimate complaints to make about the ending…but really?


Do not introduce and dump a bunch of new stuff onto your audience at the end. Like the ending did with a new character, the Catalyst, who simultaneously dumped on everything from the Reaper origins to just the origins of life.

So for future reference…don’t do!…and neither will I.

And you can’t rush art.

Because even with the ending, if they had just one more day, a week, maybe a couple of months could have been improved drastically.

They themselves have proven it with the release of the Extended Cut which drastically improved on the content of the ending as it stood and added a lot more context to what was going on and showing your decisions mattering.

Because ultimately, and maybe this is the point, despite the ending, all the tragedies and the feelings of inadequacy, for me the ultimate tragedy, and the ultimate lesson is how much it could have been improved. Even using the premise of the original ending or starting over there were vast improvements to be made. Even the Extended Cut isn’t perfect, better yes, perfect, no.

But whether it was simple scalpels, or a bludgeon to rewrite the whole thing, it could have been done.

So take what you will from it, but it is important for writers to always check, challenge, and question…if what they are doing is right for their stories.

Well good day. 2013 is here, and 2012 left a lasting mark on not only my life, but the lives of everyone in this country and probably the world. From the Mayan doomsday prophecy not working out, hence shocking us all, to Barrack Obama being reelected to Supreme Court rulings and wide new releases in the world of entertainment.

Now I have been busy lately, not blogging, and in more of an entertaining mood so I am going to do something a little different. A light-hearted blog to reflect on the old and listen to the new, well mostly light-hearted, as I comment on the news from the last day.

Best Movie Release of 2012:

2012 was actually a year where I made it out to the movies, a lot, for me, anyways. Hence I saw a lot of the releases this year and any movie that interested me, that was a good year for movie, an it is tough to choose.

But nevertheless I have to give the nod to Skyfall.

Skyfall was almost the perfect movie and it was, as I noted in my blog on the subject, deep, deeper for a Bond movie. It had a message and a theme.

And it wasn’t slow, it didn’t have any silliness, and didn’t have any scenes that really dragged on any appreciable time. It just did its thing in a very no-nonsense manner, and pulled off several Bond motifs to perfection. All the while continuing the reboot of the series.

The Avengers, Act of Valor, and the Hobbit all have things to offer, but Skyfall had the most complete package. Great villain, good plot, great characters, and some really cool action. All it was really missing was a good romance.

Best Game of the Year:

Mass Effect 3.

While I confess that my video gaming immersion has been a bit lacking this year, and really all years, Mass effect three stands tall by far and away over any of its competition. Sure it had its flaws, and numerous among them beyond the ending. Speaking of the ending though it does still drag the experience down a bit, even with the extended cut.

But the action, the RPG elements, the characterization, and the epic conclusion to one of the most entertaining series in any medium was well worth the effort and the wait.

It was worth it seeing Shepard solve the problems that they were presented with over three games and five years of dramatic experience. And whether Commander Shepard wa male or female, the story, the character, and the interaction came to one of the most enduring conclusion ever.

Best Television Series:

Doctor Who.

The show that needs no real introduction, smart, witty, and epic telling the adventure of a very old being and his adventures in time and space. Superbly written, fantastic characters, and terrific acting.

Best Political Moment of the Year:

The failed recall of Governor Scott Walker/ Michigan passes Right to Work legislation.

These were the moments that really gave people hope, that the Union power in this country could be broken and reduced in some significant way.

And while someone pointed out that perhaps the current string of right to work legislation could infringe on the ability of businesses to work with unions and sign contracts with them.

And while this is a valid point we need to break their strangle hold before we can have that conversation. We need to reduce their political power a control and importance, then we can determine what rights they might have.

Worse Political Moment of the Year:

The Supreme Court Upholds Obama Care.

While the relection of Barrack Obama was hugely important to the country it would have meant little in the long run without the Supreme Court upholding the passage of the Obama Care mandates…because they were suddenly a tax. Thus affirming the Constitution to not be a bill or document that helps affirm freedom and liberty, but a bill that grants the Federal Government unlimited power over our medical decisions. Taking away the right of the very thing that the bill means to add, the right to Health Care.

And it does so in one of the oddest ways possible, all tax bills must originate in the House, the health care bill originated in the Senate….so that by itself should have made it unconstitutional. Nevertheless this is the beginning, and not the end of the struggle of liberty.

The biggest tragedy of 2012:

The Sandy hook Elementary Massacre.

Not only was this a tragedy of blood, where almost 30 people were slaughtered, women and children alike, but it was a tragedy of another sort.

Whether it is the murder of people in an elementary school in Main stream America, or the senseless slaughter of people enjoying a movie, or a political statement, all of these tragedies are compounded by the fact that the fascists and dictators in this country leap on the opportunity to take away the ability for the American people to defend themselves from the same criminals that cause such events.

The conversation, we are led to believe, is between whether or not we need more control over guns, or more Government Workers, armed to protect our children in schools. Neither is the answer, an only promotes the idea that it is up to the Government to protect us and our charges.

Ignoring all the facts and all the common sense that Gun Control does not work, if it did then these tragedies would not have happened in the first place in the very places where guns are banned.

So 2012 was a wild and zany year, and while 2013 should give us plenty to talk about, it also does not look quite right and should be a nice breather, at least until 2013, keep fighting the good fight my friends.