Tag Archives: reality

The passage of “Obamacare” highlights republican disconnect with reality.

30 Jun

Last week Obama’s healthcare reform legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court. CNN and Fox, showed just how little facts matter to them in their rush to be first to break the story by neglecting to read the whole document before declaring the legislation dead. Meanwhile, republicans showed just how little facts matter to them by promptly exploding upon hearing that the legislation passed.

Some republicans hilariously threatened to move to Canada as a result of this ruling. Little do they know, Canada has universal healthcare much stronger than anything passed in Obama’s legislation.

Romney promptly came out and denounced the legislation, vowing to repeal it on his first day in office.

Which is hilarious because in 2006 it was his idea:

In fact, the whole notion of an individual mandate, the government forcing you to buy something against your will, was originally the brain-child of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation.

You see, the anti-free market notion of being forced to buy health insurance was developed by conservatives. Obama’s legislation was crafted by the health insurance industry. It spoon feeds them 30 million new customers who are required by law to buy from them.  Back in 2009, when all this was starting, 77% of the country supported having a public (government) option to generate competition and help keep prices down. Competition would have been bad for health insurance industry profits, so they made sure to take that option off the table. Instead we got this watered down legislation. Yes, it’s better than nothing at all, assuming it lives to take full effect, but what we needed was real systemic reform and this is not it.

But you see, conservatives are masters of compartmentalization and ignoring cognitive dissonance brought on by hypocrisy. None of the above mentioned facts will have an effect on them. They will continue to scream about the evils of making sure everyone has access to health care, and how this whole thing is liberal big government taking over their lives. This just goes to further highlight what I’ve been saying is the rosetta stone to understanding conservatives:

Objective reality and facts don’t matter. Narrative does.

In other news, republicans ban scientists and city planners from discussing sea level rise.

Are colleges liberal indoctrination mills?

28 Feb

Last week republican presidential candidate Rich Santorum said Obama was a snob for wanting all Americans to have the opportunity to go to college and get an education. He said this to the cheers and applause of a crowd of happy idiots.

The fact that higher education is good is almost axiomatic. (Don’t worry, we’ll wait while our conservative readers take a moment to google that big word.)

Got it? Good. Moving on.

Why do republicans like Santorum despise higher education? Simple. They view colleges as indoctrination mills where faithful, pure, and impressionable young people go to be brainwashed by a bunch of godless Marxists.

I would say the problem is that they are unable to accept that reality has a liberal bias, but I think the issue is deeper than that.

I don’t think they understand the concept of reality in the first place.

Without understanding the concept of reality, any argument made to stress the importance of reality might as well be in an alien language. They simply aren’t capable of comprehending. This isn’t because they’re bad people, or that they’re inherently stupid, just that they’ve never been exposed to the concept and have consequentially built up their entire world view on a foundation of ignorance.

I think this lack of an understanding of reality is the driving factor behind not only their disdain for education, but their mistrust of science and fervent religiosity. (But I’ll get to that in a moment)

How to do you about explaining reality?

Well, right now you’re in reality, whether you know it or not. It is the same as a fish that might not realize it is in water, but nonetheless is swimming in it. This place you’re in, it has laws. We don’t know every law there is, but we’ve been steadily finding out. So far we know this about the laws: You can’t break them.

This is not like a law against speeding where you can break it, and then get a ticket. You are not physically able to break these laws.

This place you’re in, it does not care who you are, how much money you have, or how strongly you feel about something. It will act in accordance to its laws and if you refuse to play along, you do so at your own peril.

So how do we know how to act in this place that has its own laws and doesn’t care about us? We watch. We test something and see how it works. If it does work, it fits with reality, if it doesn’t, then we must abandon the idea because it doesn’t fit. This may be extremely uncomfortable because people often have a lot invested in an idea, only to find out that it doesn’t fit. (And then a lot of them try to ignore that it doesn’t fit, only to eventually be destroyed for not playing along)

The richest, most powerful man in the world can stand on a beach and command the tide not to come in, but reality doesn’t care. If he refuses to move, he will drown. (That’s called natural selection, but that’s a different topic)

Unfortunately, republicans grow up being told that the world they live in is a certain way, even though that’s not how the world really is. Again, it’s not because they’re evil, or stupid, they are simply misguided. The older people telling them how the world is were also misguided by their parents, and their parents before them. Nevertheless, the children are taught to respect authority and that not questioning (faith) is a virtue.

The big disconnect comes with the idea of testing your views against how reality works to see if they stand up. This notion of testing is the heart of the scientific method. This disconnect also explains why conservatives are hostile to science. They just don’t operate that way.

College is a testing ground. People go to college in order to test ideas and see how they work. It is safer to test ideas in college where people outside won’t be impacted if something doesn’t work. Would you want a bridge builder testing a new design on an actual bridge that your family had to drive across? No. You’d want them to test it elsewhere to make sure it works, THEN come build the bridge.

College is a free market of ideas. This is possibly the only place we can make an analogy that conservatives might understand. What is the free market? Companies that are able to adapt survive, companies that don’t, fail.  (Also a form of natural selection!)

In college, ideas that work succeed, ideas that don’t, fail. So with this in mind, lets look at colleges.

Yes, colleges tend to be more liberal. A conservative would look at that and think “well obviously that’s because all the teachers are Marxists.” The truth is, it is not that the professors are Marxists, it is that conservative ideas fail the test against reality. If they passed, if ideas like “less access to birth control=fewer pregnancies” held true with reality, then you’d see colleges backing that.

Colleges are instead a reflection of reality. If colleges look liberal, it’s because reality is liberal.

So what’s a conservative to do? Change and adaptation are antithetical to conservatism, so instead the buckle down and shove their fingers in their ears even harder. They denounce education, denounce learning, and try everything they can to undermine the threat to their understanding of the world. This usually is in the form of disuading people away from education, like Santorum just did, cutting funding to education, or even building up their own bubble.

It is possible for a child to go from home school, to a private evangelical college, to the job place without ever having to come in contact with a new idea. Naturally, the results are disastrous, but since they’ve been brought up to believe that the conservative  world view is unquestionably correct, the fault for failure must always rest with some foreign enemy or saboteur.

The real tragedy is that, with these people in control of the country, when they refuse to move for the tide, we all drown.

The language barrier

1 May

Lately I’ve been realizing just how much of a problem the language barrier is when it comes to just about everything. We use language all the time to communicate. Verbal language, written language, body language, computer language, etc. So many of the difficulties we have are caused by the language barrier.

In order for a language to work, everyone communicating must use the same definition. If I say “boat” and you think of what I would call a “horse”, then the language doesn’t work. The whole point is to communicate an idea by evoking in you the same mental image/concept I’m picturing. (Denotation)

But perhaps the most complex and problem causing aspect of language is connotation. Denotation refers to the literal object/concept, but connotation deals with how people interpret/feel about that object/concept. Everyone has their own personal experiences, preferences, and biases. Whenever I write, one of the most difficult tasks is trying to choose words that will convey the same emotions and flavor for a concept that I feel, but to my audience.

So we have two aspects of language that affect how we communicate ideas: denotation and connotation. In order for us to communicate effectively, both must line up. Lately I feel like this is an almost impossible task.

Take politics and religion. Two extremely important topics that impact the lives of billions of people everyday. They are also two of the most emotionally charged topics given how they are fundamental to how many people think about themselves, their identity, the world, their place in it, and how things ought to be. Given the extreme personal nature of these topics, any given concept’s connotation might vary widely from person to person. Same can be said of denotations.

For example, it is almost impossible to have a discussion about religion. In order to have good communication and a rational discussion, both parties must agree on the definition of terms. What is religion? What qualifies as a “religion”, what doesn’t? What is a god? What are the qualities associated with this concept? What is a Christian? What qualities/beliefs are associated with that concept? The answers to all of these will vary from person to person. (This is why I get some much crap when I generalize because what might apply to someone else might not apply to you, and vice versa.) You could spend hours debating these concepts alone before you even got to actually discussing what you wanted to discuss.

Instead, most people skip this phase and go straight into firing off their memorized lines at the other person. Nothing gets conveyed, nobody’s mind gets changed, they might as well be speaking in foreign languages; in fact, they pretty much are.

While I’ve noticed denotation problems seem to populate the realm of religious discussion, problems of connotation are particularly rampant when it comes to political discussion. A perfect example is the term “liberal.” Conservatives are masters of language manipulation. They can take a word, shift its connotation, and thus frame and entire issue in their favor. For decades they did (and still do) this with the word “liberal.” By repeating the word with an ugly connotation, as if it was an epithet, they shifted the flavor and emotions surrounding that concept to something ugly. “Liberal” became something disgusting, something to hide from, something un-American. Today’s hot button word is “socialism.” Conservatives are pushing to shift the connotation of that word to something akin to communism.

So how is a rational discussion of ideas and concepts possible when, at the word “liberal”, you think “un-American, big government, communist, elitist”, and at the word “conservative”, I think “fascist, bigoted, greedy theocratic American Taliban”? Short answer: it isn’t.

The sad fact of life is that rational discussion of the issues is no longer possible. The idea of having a “debate” is a complete farce. In order to actually have these discussions we would need to first agree on the denotations and then connotations, otherwise we’re speaking different languages. Quite simply, we don’t have the attention span for that. Instead, all of our issues are decided by who has more babies, which demographic is dying out, and who gets their voters to the polls. That’s it. Reality be damned.

Trying to understand the rules of the game

2 Jan

Natural selection is the engine that drives evolution, but within the heart of natural selection is a concept that is central to all of existence; there are rules to the game that determine who wins.

This concepts of rules exists in every aspect of our lives. The rules may change from scenario to scenario, but nonetheless there are rules. We are born into this game not knowing what the rules are for each scenario, and as we grow up we hope to uncover little by little what those rules are. In order to survive and prosper you must understand the rules of the game, for it is only then that you can manipulate and maneuver through them.

The most immediate and glaring example of the existence of these rules is in evolution, from whence we first discovered the concept of natural selection.

In evolution, the goal of the game is to survive and pass on your genes to your children. Nothing else matters. Anything that hinders you in this process will be phased out. A bird better adapted to catching a worm will survive and have children more successfully than a bird more poorly adapted to this task. Those are the rules. That which is most efficient in helping you achieve the goal of the game wins. There is no mercy or tolerance for anything less. Such is the brutality and indifference of nature.

One of the biggest challenges we face growing up is uncovering the true rules, the true mechanics of the game which are often hidden under the more palatable false rules.

For example: “Just work hard and you will succeed” portends that the most efficient and best way of achieving the goal of succeeding is by hard work. Surely the harder you work, the more you will succeed.  While hard work is definately needed in a lot of situations in life, this is a misleading explanation of the rules.

In 2010 Nike’s CEO Mark Parker made 13.1 million dollars. The average Vietnamese Nike sweatshop worker makes $.26/hr. In order for the sweatshop worker to make the same as the CEO, she would have to work nonstop for 5,748 years. Most of these workers are trapped in sweatshop jobs with the choice to either work 40 hours in overtime a week or starve to death on the street.  Obviously in this scenario the notion that “hard work equals success” is a delusion.

A less extreme example is in the American workplace. Yet again, as children we are told that the rules are “hard work equals success” and that knowledge gives us a leg up. While these are both true in some degree, we quickly learn that this is not how the game functions. In order to achieve the goal of getting a promotion and being “successful” it is more important who you know than what you know.

We see the same thing in the dating world. From the onset guys are told that in order to succeed (ie, have lots of sex) the rules are “be sweet and caring.” Yet what it takes years for some guys to figure out, and others never learn, is that maximizing sweetness and caring in an attempt to maximize success fails because sweetness and caring equate to boring, and boring = death. Hence why aggressive asshole guys are more successful in having lots of sex because, while they might be assholes, they’re interesting.  (Now if the goal was to have a stable and healthy relationship and not just copious amounts of sex, then the rules would change and sweetness and caring would be more important)

Another great example of the concept of rules and false rules in action is politics. Ostensibly politics is about how to best lead the nation, how to best maximize the quality of life for the people who pay taxes and make up that nation. A naive person who still believed this would likely also believe that the rules would favor politicians and legislation best suited to this end. (I was once one such naive person) However, if you closely follow politics long enough, you will quickly discover that this is not the goal of the game, nor how the game operates. The game has never been about “the nation and the people who comprise it.”  That is just glittery lip-service every politician gives to half-heartedly mask the true mechanics of the game, namely the self-enrichment of the powerful players (the politicians) within the game.

In politics, as in much of life, those with the most money win. It is the cold and indifferent fact of the game, no different than the fact that the slower bunny will be dinner for the wolf. We may cheerfully delude ourselves with David and Goliath stories, but in the end the mechanics are what they are, irregardless of your strongest desires.

This is why nothing more than PR campaigns and package re-branding will ever be done about global warming until the problem is so severe it starts seriously hurting profit margins. (By which time it will be too late and our life sustaining eco-system is destroyed) This is why despite a 70% approval of a public option in healthcare the measure was defeated. Competition would have been bad for business for those who were writing the congressmen’s checks.  This is why America’s deficit will never be brought under control. Politicians will pay lip-service and feign outrage over the debt and then turn around and add $3.9 trillion in debt over the next 10 years by giving taxcuts to themselves and the other richest people in America.  That is the reality of the politics game and how it is played.

So the question then becomes “Is there a way to change the rules?” I honestly don’t know. The only example I can think of where we’ve changed the rules slightly is in basic survival. Over the centuries science has developed new technologies that increase our life span. Child mortality has fallen drastically in most parts of the world, and many people who normally would not have survived thousands of years ago do. Chances are you’re one of them. I know I am. I have poor eye-site; if it were not for the science of optics, I would be blind to everything 5 feet away from me.

Even if the rules pertaining to human survival have been tempered by technology, the rules regarding prospering and politics have not. Ultimately the rules regarding those two games effect the rules regarding basic survival. (Earlier I gave the example of global warming) So far we as a species have been unable to effect the rules governing politics and prosperity except by temporarily resetting them through violent revolutions.  “Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders become cruel.” I’m not sure if it is possible to effect a paradigm shift other than regularly tearing everything down. But I digress.

I just wanted to reflect on the existence of these rules that govern every scenario and how one task of growing up is discovering these underlying principles through experimentation and observation.

How I like to think about the world

14 Dec

Contrary to what the title and general theme of this blog might lead you to think, this isn’t going to be about religion or politics, or even any kind of world view; instead it’s about something a lot lighter.

I have a funny way of looking at the world around me. If I’m not particularly focused on any one thing, often when I see something or someone, I instantly think of six degrees of separation. That might not seem strange when thinking about people, but it is when you apply it to objects. How do I apply that 6 degrees of separation like thinking to objects? Well for example I have a pencil sitting on my desk. Now when I see that pencil I like to think of the rubber in the eraser. Is it real rubber? If so, where is it harvested? By whom? Who are the families of those who harvest it? What are their lives like? If it’s synthetic, who manufactures it? DuPont? Who are the workers? Who are their families? What are their lives like? What about the wood and graphite? Who are the people involved in harvesting and processing those materials? What is the history of the forest from whence the wood came? What about the aluminum joining the wood and eraser? Where did it come from? Was a mountain strip mined for the minerals?

I could go on about this pencil, but I think you get the idea. I do this for a lot of things in the spare moments between actual thoughts. I think about these things automatically, without having to force myself to consider them. It’s like a firework. It explodes and goes in a million directions, but only takes a second or two for each streak to reach its conclusion. I thought that my thinking like this might have had something to do with majoring in history, doing reenactments, and working as an archaeology intern. All three of those things get you thinking about the people connected to objects, and what their lives were like.

It’s not always about people though. Sometimes I just like thinking about how something works. I like to explode things in my mind. (Not like fiery boom! explosions, but like engineer schematics.) Perhaps that comes from always building and designing things as a kid. I’m not great at the math behind it, but I understand the concepts of how things work. For the longest time I thought I was the only one who thought like this; then I say this Röyksopp video that really visualized how I perceive the world. I was blown away watching it, realizing that somewhere, somebody also analyzed the world like this and was able to animate this video about it. Check it out:

I really love thinking about the world exactly like in that video. ^_^

Lastly, there is another strange thing I think about a lot that I might as well put in this post. I have this fascination with small rooms. Don’t ask why, I have no idea. I just really love thinking about how I could fit everything into a small space and make it look nice. I do this most often when in bathrooms. I love to look around and think “Ok, how could I fit everything, bed, cooking area, clothing storage, etc, into this bathroom. If I was going to live within only this space, how would I make it look great while still being functional? For fun sometimes I imagine how zero gravity would affect the design and placement of items.

Well like all strange ideas, if you can think of it, chances are people in Japan are doing it. Yep, I just tonight found a cool news story about a man who built an entire house that is no wider than a parking space. His trick was to go vertical. Still, it’s really fascinating.

The atheist dilemma:To be a dick or not to be a dick.

12 Oct

One of the issues the atheist community is currently internally debating is the issue of strategy: How to go about achieving our goals; namely a world where religion does not interfere in politics or science (in the classroom or by restricting what science examines), and where non-believers are not demonized or penalized for their disbelief. Basically: How to get us from the current position of religious saturation in all aspects of life to post-atheism where religion isn’t an issue.  There are many aspects to this process including how we organize ourselves, what do we call ourselves, how do we best allocate our resources, what court battles do we pick to fight and when, etc… The issue I wanted to talk about today was how should we go about helping the religious to see things our way,  thus weakening the power religion has over society and our lives. What I am discussing falls under the umbrella debate on accommodationism/reconciliation (whether science and religion can be compatible. I don’t think they can, but that’s not what I want to focus on).  Instead, I would like to discuss how we interact with religious people, the tactics we use, the tone of voice, etc.

The other day I read this post on Rule Hibernia titled “Richard Dawkins doesn’t get it”. Here’s a little excerpt that kinda encompasses the point of the post:

“This is what Dawkins and other don’t get: Some people you just can’t reach. Simple as that. People believe in god and religion for a whole bunch of reasons but the fundamental point is that they are all thinking in a human way, and humans it seems have a natural propensity to believe in rubbish that isn’t true. This applies to pretty much everything, not just religion. Every single atheist on the planet has blind spots, religion just happens to be off their blind spot list. We all believe certain rubbish that’s not true.The biggest mistake atheists make is to try and reason with the religious. I get so bored when I hear religious argument nowadays. I used to engage in it myself but I stopped when I finally got it. You’re not going to convert people to atheism if that is your intention. And if you want to debate for the sake of it then what’s the fucking point in that? You’re just wasting your time. The best way to deal with religious people is humour and ridicule. Slag the shit out of them. Show how retarded they are in a funny way. It makes you feel better and makes a religious person feel worse, but best of all, there is no comeback for ridicule. When you can get others to laugh at a person’s stupidity it’s very difficult for them to come back from it. And let’s face it, making fun of religions is as easy as a Catholic priest raping a 9 year old altar boy with loads of lube.”

Rule Hibernia’s sentiment was reiterated in part by The Good Atheist podcast (episode 107) at the Atheist Alliance International conference in Montreal, QC. Jacob Fortin gave a short speech entitled “Be a dick” (around the 25 minute mark in the podcast) where he highlighted the why it’s sometimes necessary to be a dick. He argues that occasionally it’s best to shame the average believer by showing them how little they know. Yes they will hate you and get defensive, but it might lead them to examine their beliefs later on in an attempt to better defend themselves next time. Secondly, it is important to shatter the notion that anything can be sacred, that something can be beyond questioning and ridicule. Lastly, Jacob said the most important thing being a dick does is that it provides relief for other atheists. He points out, and rightly so, that a lot of atheists are isolated in extremely religious communities and are forced to keep silent day in and day out. It’s like a boiler about to explode. Listening to other atheists ridicule religion provides a refreshing dose of relief.

The counterargument, or “Don’t be a dick” side, was presented at The Amazing Meeting 8 by Phil Plait who gave a speech aptly titled “Don’t be a dick.” In the speech he made the following points:  How many people have changed their mind because somebody made them feel awful? How do you tell someone they’re not thinking clearly when they’re not thinking clearly? Our brains are wired for faith; when you debunk a position, you end up reinforcing it. Skepticism is a tough sell: no magic, no afterlife, no higher moral authoritative father figure, no security, no happy ever after. On top of this, our reputation with the rest of society isn’t that great. In many cases people will prefer magic over science and prefer fantasy over reality. People’s sense of identity is wrapped up in their beliefs. With all the odds stacked against us, why the hell would we want to make it harder by insulting people? What is our goal every time we engage somebody? Are we trying to score personal points and make oursevles feel good, or are we trying to win the game?

This issue was also brought up on the podcast Reasonable Doubts. On that episode their guest was accommodationalist  Chris Mooney who made the following points: People like Dawkins and PZ Myers are really hostile sometimes; it’s not going to persuade anyone who is not on the fence. If you can’t be calm and rational when talking to another person, you’re not a very good practitioner of reason, but this doesn’t mean we have to be nicey nicey. Mooney and the hosts of Reasonable Doubts brought up a recent study on Science and Religion Today by Geoffrey Munro, professor of psychology at Towson University. The study found the following: people are more receptive to science that might disprove their beliefs if their worth and value as a person are affirmed before they go into it. People don’t make up their mind simply on facts. When people are presented with scientific information that contradicts their beliefs, they tend to devalue science and it’s ability to answer such questions. Basically, shouting at someone and tearing them down does not win them to your side, it only makes them despise you and hold onto their beliefs that much stronger…go figure. (This conclusion is backed up by several other studies, google “backfire effect”)

After the interview with Mooney ended, the hosts continued on to ask these questions: Do we alienate people who could be our allies on some things? What if we were back in the 60’s and you’re trying to get civil rights passed? Do you try and treat racist people with respect, affirming their self-worth, even though they hold such horrible and wrong positions? How do you act differently when you’re debating a factual issue (like the world being 4 billion years old) as opposed to a moral issue (like the catholic church systematically hiding and protecting thousands of child rapists, deterring condom use in AIDs infected Africa, or excommunicating rape victims for having abortions) Should you coddle people when presenting science and ridicule when talking about morality?

The Chariots of Iron podcast has also talked about this a bit. In episode 29, titled “Counter-evangelism” (starts around 1:11:00) they suggest the following approach: Don’t be a dick, avoid arguing with them, instead use the Socratic method till they hang themselves. Play stupid and get them to say out loud the ridiculous stuff they believe. Hopefully then ridicule won’t be overly necessary. The whole point is to plant the seed of doubt, not to deconvert them outright. Once the doubt is there, it will start them on the path to deconversion.

So how do I feel about all this? Well it’s a mixed bag. It’s undeniable that the science points to the fact that blasting someone out right for their beliefs will not change their mind. I think it’s obvious that when trying to plant the seed in someone’s head you must do so gently and respectfully. Try not to let them know what you’re actually doing. There is an old Buddhist proverb where Buddha comes across a burning house with children inside. The children do not know the house is on fire, and they won’t understand if he shouts to them to run because of the fire. Instead he calls to them that he has toys outside. The children run out of the house and only after that is he able to explain that the house was on fire. I feel that most of the time we have to act in a similar way. This is not to say we must compromise on the facts, but we must take baby steps. If you can get someone to accept the fact of evolution then that’s a step. After they’re comfortable with that, then you can start slowly working on pushing them further, one step at a time. If you push to hard and too fast, they’ll close up and you’ll never get through to them.

What about ridicule? Is it completely useless and counterproductive? Not entirely. Thomas Jefferson once said “Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions.” Here is where I think Rule Hibernia has a point: There are some people out there that are absolutely impervious to reason and evidence. Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, Pat Robertson, Kent Hovind, and Bill Donahue come to mind. Trying to use reason against people who deny that reason is a means of arriving at truth is pure insanity.  For these people the goal is different. The goal is not to change their minds, that’s impossible; the goal is to publicly destroy their credibility and integrity. This is where ridicule works best. As the hosts on Reasonable Doubts discussed, I believe the nature of what you’re ridiculing determines how you ridicule. People like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort make fools of themselves with their factually ridiculous claims about the physical world. Here you can just satirize them without much venom. People like the pope, however, are much more sinister in their transgressions. Despite the fact that the pope and his confederates are guilty of actual crimes, they are also guilty of a great many moral ones. (Like the ones I pointed out earlier) In these cases vicious ridicule would be applicable.

Chris Mooney pointed out that combative authors like Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Hitchens don’t win over converts and I’m inclined to agree.  This does not mean that such authors don’t have a role to play. Combative authors are most effective when targeting people sitting on the fence and rallying other atheists to action.  Their books, along with podcasts, youtube videos, and local meetup groups are often the only bubble of relief that many atheists can retreat to. When you’re an underpowered and maligned minority, it’s vitally important that you have a minority space. Combative authors and satire play a role in this minority space. Outside, however, ridicule has no place in discussion with another person who’s heart and mind you’re trying to win over. It only alienates and deemns them and reflects poorly on you if your positions can’t stand on their merits alone.

Making games more like life

15 Sep

Lately I’ve been playing this game, STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, which is the last in the trilogy of STALKER games. The graphics are pretty nice, but the interesting thing about this game is how it tries to mimic real life, not only in terms of looks, but in terms of play. Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation gave a nice review of the first game in the series “Clear Sky” where he pointed out that while ” in most FPSs the player is some kind of hybrid of man and refrigerator, able to take entire munition dumps to the face, while the enemies all have armor made out of whipped cream and skulls made of cake, it seems going into this game everyone got their character sheets mixed up…” You see, in the STALKER series there are several mechanics that attempt to make the game more life-like, despite the horrific radioactive, monster filled setting. When you look through the scope of a weapon, your weapon wobbles slightly, as you fire on full auto, the gun kicks up, you become exhausted very quickly after running for a long time and need to stop to take a breather, you get hungry if you don’t eat for a while (which depending on how long you’ve gone without food, will greatly affect your energy regeneration), when you get shot, not only do you really get hurt, but there is bleeding to worry about, (same with all wounds, you need bandages to stop the bleeding that will slowly sap your health), weapons wear down quickly and start to jam more and more often, NPCs don’t like it when you walk around brandishing your weapon, and most importantly: the environment will quickly kill you if you don’t pay attention to your Geiger counter. I would argue that it’s mechanics like this that really make a game more immersive than just graphics alone, but graphics have come a long way. Check out this demo for the CryEngine 2 from Crytek. The graphics are three years outdated now, and the engine is being replaced with a more advanced cryengine 3, but it’s still amazing and highlights some of the graphic advances that go into making a game more immersive:

Now I enjoy that and I wish I had a computer that could run that, but it got me thinking. If the goal of game developers is to make games more and more lifelike, theoretically we’re eventually going to get to a point where video game graphics and game mechanics are indistinguishable from real life. How does that fit with the idea that games are an escape from real life? Will real life lose it’s appeal?

As I’m writing this I’m starting to have second thoughts about what I originally set out to write. I don’t think the fact that games are becoming more and more lifelike will eventually become counter intuitive. After all, while the mechanics and immersion will start to bring games closer and closer to the world we’re trying to escape, at the same time the settings and events played out in those games will still allow us to transport ourselves from our current reality.

Unlike some Sci-fi I don’t foresee a world where everyone abandons real life in order to play video games. I feel this way for a host of reasons but mainly because some people will just not be interested, and other will be too busy with life, like feeding their families, to be able to indulge in devoting large amounts of time to virtual space. Plus, I think there will always be a niche of people who like to play “old school” games, regardless of the medium. I realize I didn’t really take a position here in this post, or discuss in detail the deep philosophical questions, but I guess that’s because I’m still unsure myself. If this topic interests you, I highly recommend you take 20 minutes out of your day and listen to this talk given at TED. It’s pretty thought provoking.

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