Zetsubō Sensei

Hahahahaha yeah.

I love this essay about essays about quitting academia:


Also, this is an old one, but I am just now realizing how relevant it is:


I am trying to be open-minded about Indiana, really I am, but it has not been working out for me. I guess I am just a prejudiced, snobby East Coast urban elitist. But seriously? When even rural Georgia is better than where you live, probably where you live actually does objectively suck.
Got Porn?

On Hollywood storytelling and the persistence of Catholicism.

I got bored last night and painted a few canvases, and while I painted I watched The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. I've never read the novels, and I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to either movie, and I'm probably getting the two movies mixed up, but they're both terrible so who gives a shit. Anyway, the premise of the films seems to be that there is some major threat to the Catholic church, either a secret about Jesus (Collapse )) or a canister of antimatter, and renowned author Dan Brown Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon must solve puzzles and save everyone.

Wikipedia tells me that, as of July 2012, 18.85% of the world's population is Catholic, which is a lot of people, but the two films characterize their central crisis – the fall of the Catholic church – as being something that the protagonists definitely don't want to happen because it will result in worldwide political and economic chaos. This central crisis struck me as silly, because honestly, I don't think there is anything short of a catastrophic impact event that could destroy the Catholic church; institutions like the Catholic church are remarkably persistent.

Let's say that a major revelation concerning Jesus (Collapse )) was revealed by a source so indisputable that the Vatican couldn't refute it. First of all, why would this even matter? Catholicism is magic. M-A-G-I-C. Real-world scientists of both the natural and the social varieties have 99.99% proved certain things (homosexuality exists in all mammals! there is a strong linear correlation between the number of children in a family and the likelihood of the early childhood death of one or more of these children!), but none of these discoveries have hurt the Church or its doctrines in any way, shape, or form. Second, I'm not trying to say that people of the Catholic faith are mindless sheep, but I think human beings in general have a tendency to believe whatever their leaders say and to forgive mistakes when apologies are offered. If the Pope got on the radio this afternoon and said, "Sorry guys, we had the wrong idea about birth control, and the planet can't sustain many more people, so all you ladies should probably go make an appointment with your gynecologists," half of Catholics would be like, "Okay, I don't like it, but whatever you say," and the other half would feel vindicated because they were already using birth control anyway. What I'm trying to get at here is that Catholicism is just as much of a cultural and tribal identity as it is a set of religious doctrines, and the destruction of the Vatican city or a major shift in the way we think about Jesus (Collapse )) is not suddenly going to cause 1.32 billion people to stop identifying as Catholic.

When people talk about Hollywood movies being ridiculous, I get the feeling that this is the sort of thing they're talking about: Lots of drama and explosions being necessitated by a central conflict that makes very little sense if you stop to think about it for more than five minutes.

Race in Pokémon X and Y.

So there were three black people in Pokémon Black and White: Lenora, Iris, and Marshal. (Maybe Alder was supposed to be Native American, but maybe I'm not going to go there.) Aside from those three characters, everyone else in the entire game was either white or Japanese, depending on how you interpret the default light-skinned anime person.

In Pokémon X and Y, Grant and possibly Olympia are the only named non-white characters, but just about anyone else, from the player to the NPCs in the towns and cities to the other trainers that ambush you in the "wild" areas, can be one of three races: default light-skinned anime person, definitely white, or a sort of pan-POC race that could be anything from black to Hispanic.

This configuration does three things, I think. First, it sets up "white" (as coded by light blond hair, pale blue eyes, and slightly pinkish skin) as the only definite race. Second, it literally sets up "default light-skinned anime person" as the default, which is interesting in that "default light-skinned anime person" is clearly not the same as "white." Perhaps, in America and Europe, white people see Asian people as POC; but, in this game made in Japan, Asians are totally "white" in the sense that they're the default race: You look are a stick figure (in this case, the "default light-skinned anime person" protagonist) and see a Japanese/Korean/"Asian" person. Third, whereas Grant is definitely of African or Caribbean descent (as coded by his dark skin and afro-textured hair), the "pan-POC" race erases racial difference more than it emphasizes it. The "pan-POC" race could be interpreted as Indian, or as Middle Eastern, or as Pacific Islander – or as mixed race (but probably not "Asian").

I don't want to make value judgments about the implications of this configuration, and I don't want to problematize my own interpretation of these races in light of different theories of resistant reading, but I do want to say that the games make it totally natural for people of different races to be everywhere and in every profession without any sort of racial stereotyping or any mention of race at all. Even areas that are meant to be stereotypically French, such as Aquacorde Town and Laverre City, have the same mixture of races as the more cosmopolitan areas.

Also, as I'm playing the new Pokémon game, it's really starting to bother me how other Japanese games (such as FFXIII) have like two black people. Is it really so hard to have racial diversity in a game filled with tons of NPCs? I'm not going to say that FFXII handled racial diversity in the best or most politically correct manner, but at least it managed to populate its world with several different races who mixed freely in all but one of the game's large urban areas, and that was awesome! Racial diversity is also part of what makes MMORPGs interesting and fun, you know? I feel like someone needs to send a memo to Japanese companies like Square Enix and Namco Bandai.
Older Than You

The problem with Final Fantasy XIII.

Is that Sazh and his son are the only non-white sentient beings in the game. What's up with that?

I think the main story portion of Final Fantasy XIII, which takes maybe forty to fifty hours to complete, is great. The graphics are gorgeous, the level of attention to detail is amazing, the way in which the narrative threads come together is fascinating, the battle and leveling systems are interesting, and the linearity doesn't actually bother me that much, all things considered. I also like the world, the character relationships, and the main themes of the game.

After the main story ends, however, the developers tried to drag the game out for another forty or fifty hours, and the two primary methods they use to do so are so artificial that they're painful.

First, instead of giving the player more areas to explore, the game only gives the player more enemies to fight. These enemies are very powerful but not necessarily interesting. Your party does the same thing that your party has been doing for the past four dozen hours, except now, instead of a major battle taking ten to fifteen minutes, each major battle takes at least half an hour. That's, again, at least half an hour of buff-heal-attack buff-heal-attack buff-heal-attack for every battle against a palette-swapped enemy with a huge health bar. Some of these enemies don't get interesting until the player has already invested forty or fifty minutes into the fight, at which point the enemy flips out and kills everyone, game over. The worst thing about these fights is that, if you win them, they don't reward you with anything except bragging rights; they don't really help your party get stronger.

And that's the second thing. There is absolutely no way for your party to get stronger after the game except through dozens and dozens of patient hours of grinding. The ratio of time invested to rewards earned is miniscule, and there's no way to speed up the process. I don't want to go into the details of how this process works, but I could probably study for and pass the bar exam in the time it would take to power up a party in FFXIII to the level the game demands to fight some of its post-story bosses.

FFXII also had a lot of monster hunts, but what was great about these hunts was that (a) they required exploration, (b) they required strategy, (c) they rewarded the player with tons of neat spoils, (d) they rewarded the player with additional narratives and artwork and world building, and (e) the player didn't have to wait until after the game was already over to undertake them. Also, if your party wasn't strong enough to win against one of these monsters, the game let you know right away instead of stealing an hour of your life. FFXII was a long game, but it never felt artificially long, and it was always up to the player to decide how quickly she would move through the story.

In conclusion, I think that maybe FFXIII could have been a better and more satisfying game if its developers had been content to let it be what it was without trying to artificially expand it by making everything after the story take forever to do. Sometimes a game "only" takes seventy or eighty hours to complete, and that's okay. Not everything needs to be a MMORPG, which aren't really that fun when they're single-player anyway.
Kamineko 08

Talent and recognition.

Sometimes I think about M. Alice LeGrow.

I just finished reading the first volume of her new graphic novel, The Elephant Book, which was published with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. It's a great book, and I enjoyed it, but I think it could have been infinitely better with professional editing. The art and pacing were wonderful, but an outsider with experience in editing could have said things like "this character is underdeveloped, and you should take this very specific opportunity to develop her," or "your reader might be a little lost here, so you should trim down this wide panel and include another panel pointing the way," or "you're coming on too strongly with the central theme here, so cut out this sentence of dialog to leave it more open to the reader's interpretation." In other words, an editor could have helped the artist make the small touches that would render her work less amateurish and more of a polished product.

The point of the above paragraph is not that I think LeGrow is a bad artist or writer, because I don’t, and in fact I have been a huge fan of her work ever since the first volume of Bizenghast came out in 2005; I actually used money I didn't have to buy extra copies of the book and to send them to some of my friends from high school. My point is that I think she's a fantastic artist and writer, and that I don't understand why she isn't working with a real editor at a publisher like Oni Press or Arcadia. I might understand if she has a strong commitment to the indie and self-publishing scene, but I've never seen her at any recent anime conventions or at any of the local Philadelphia and Baltimore comics conventions. If she's not in it strictly for the community, but rather for the art, then wouldn't it make sense for her to contract herself to a publisher and distributor so that she can reach more people and, you know, get paid?

Obviously this is just speculation; but, reading between the lines of her blog, I wonder if maybe she couldn't find a publisher for The Elephant Book. Maybe she's a huge bitch who's difficult to work with, but I really haven't been getting that impression from what she's written and what people have written about her; she seems friendly and responsible.

What I'm trying to say is that it breaks my heart that the latest work of someone as motivated and talented as LeGrow was self-published through the Ka-Blam digital printing service and doesn't even have an ISBN or barcode. It just doesn't seem fair.