Jul 29, 2012

My Mass Effect 3 Complaints and Lamentations

It's been over two years since I mused heavily into Mass Effect on this blog. For those who haven't read it, I broke down, in-depth, what my problems were with Mass Effect 2. They came from a place of love. Anyone reading it knows that the Mass Effect franchise is something I love. Through all of that game's issues (and it definitely had issues), the fact remains that I loved it, through and through, and I was going to lose my mind over the sequel. That sequel, Mass Effect 3, came out on March 6th, 2012. I had preordered it the day it became available on Amazon almost two years prior. I shouldn't have to tell you by now that I'm eternally a cynic, and for me to get genuinely excited about something is very rare. This was one of those days. I had it shipped to my mom's house so it wouldn't get stolen, and it didn't arrive until 8PM. On a Tuesday night, that gave me four hours to make my girlfriend regret moving in with me while still being able to shuffle into work the next day. I powered through every side mission, every conversation, every bit of minutia. I beat the game, less than a week later.


You get the idea.

There's a lot about Mass Effect 3 that fucking rules. Severe editing or outright removal of many irritating, counter-intuitive, unnecessary, and aggravating things. So many things. And I'm going to cover them all, because it's important for me to paint the full picture of why I hated Mass Effect 3. I'll do my best to cover each aspect of the game so that I can get all the observations that I've made over the past couple months. Months that I didn't want to spend thinking about this game, because of how depressed it really made me. To be clear, I don't think that writing it differently would make for a better game.

I know it would.

The Good

Let's start with the good, because my family loves nothing more than to preface a major slam with a compliment. In my ME2 article, I brought up a lot of technical issues I had that made the game less fun and more tedious. They've addressed most of these, and the ones they haven't are justified by the wartime atmosphere:

- Planet scanning is basically gone. Now, you'll scan a maximum of two planets per system, for one item per planet, that directs you towards itself with an arrow. And now you're not looking for shitty platinum, you are looking for relics, survivors and resources for the war effort. You know, things that actually matter. Good riddance, old system. Goodbye mineral mining, no one will miss you.

- The fuel system was annoying before, but now it's war and it adds to the tension. When the impetus to explore and risk your ship expending fuel is, "I wonder what's over there?" I'll never have enough wonder to potentially fuck myself out of upgrading my weapons and ship, as was the case in ME2. However, when the impetus is, "the chances of every species in the galaxy surviving will have a improve if I find something useful over there,".... I'm fucking going over there. Of course I am.

- They added reaper chases to the galaxy map, which makes it more exciting. Before, the galaxy map was a means to get from point A to point B. Now, you are actively engaged most of the time you use it. The actions that were before tedious are now tense. Do I scan the planets on the outer rim first or the interior? Do I have enough time to get the resources off of this planet before the reapers catch up and destroy my ship? Stress is ALWAYS better than boredom, when utilized properly.


- The Memorial Wall. If you ever doubted that shit was about to get real, nothing eases that doubt like a monolith with enough spaces on it for every person you've ever met.

This ought to boost crew morale...

- The new gay crewmembers, Steve Cortez and Samantha Traynor. Does it feel like a gimmick? A little bit, to be honest. But I'm still glad they have a guy who casually mentions being married to another man, and Shepard doesn't go, "MARRIED? FAGGOTS?!" or even bat an eyelash for that matter. Because in the future, people will finally admit that they don't give a shit.

- The total overhaul of the morality system. Finally, you don't have to worry about consistently kissing or setting fire to every person you meet's ass. This is a majorly appreciated return to the status quo of the first game. No more asshole bar and Jesus bar!

Seriously, fuck these bars.

- MOTHERFUCKING RUNNING. It's like someone heard me make fun of Shepard and replied with, "Oh yeah? Well now he can run for eternity." Admiral Anderson's goofy Team America puppet running aside, I spent as much time as possible in this game just fucking running.

Hey, at least they don't have to stop for air every four seconds.

- The removal of heavy weapons. Nothing deflates tension like a weapon that kills everything in the room, instantly. Now you get one lying around on the battlefield very rarely, and it hardly mops up the room.

"For the 9,000th time, WE HEARD YOU."

- The addition of a health bar. Because now medigel actually does what it sounds like it does. And now there's no more mutant healing, which is one of the lazier game design choices of the last ten years.

He's flatlining. Get me 50ccs of squatting behind a crate for 3 seconds, stat!

- The cover in the cover system no longer dictates the aesthetic of the environment. No longer are you on a different floor of Ted's Cover Emporium. Although cover is still plentiful and still necessary, I never once had a moment like I did on the prison ship Purgatory where I couldn't possibly believe that I was actually in a prison.

"Where should we put these explosive barrels?"
"Eh, put out in the yard with the magical flip-up cover."

- The weapon system. ME1 just gave you a pile of stat sticks and ME2 gave you a basket of fruit. Not only does ME3 have a wealth of guns, but the mods, weight system and general diversification give it depth it never had.

- Way more ammo drops. Not once in two playthroughs did I ever full run out of ammo for even one weapon. Came very close, but I never had to shoot a mech to death with a shitty SMG.

- The environments no longer feel like they have the illusion of size. When I was running around on Palaven's moon, that level felt huge. It didn't just show me pictures of hugeness. You run around a lot in that mission. It feels more like a place in that way.

This level is bigger than Mass Effect 2.

- The ability to acknowledge synthetic life as equal. From a philosophical standpoint, I found this really important. There's a difference between treating someone or something politely and treating them with genuine respect and affection. Jeff's feelings for EDI represent how far we've come from the "all machine intelligence is threatening" viewpoint of the last thirty years. When a cripple looks at a sophisticated AI in a metal robot body and his first thought is, "but what if she doesn't feel the same way?", we've officially headed in a direction I approve of. That strange feeling your brain has when you see things it wasn't wired to contemplate, that's something we should be trying to have more often.

Why we aren't seeing this in art more, I have no idea.

- Seeing the krogan from a more humanizing perspective. It's nice that after years of seeing krogan painted as bullies, terrors, and on their best days, noble lunatics, we can actually empathetically see them as something else: helpless victims. It's one thing to hear it from Wrex, but another thing entirely to know that you hold the potential for their growth in your hands. Seeing one female shut up an entire room full of growling Batmen illuminates the nuance that has always been in there.

Krogan response to everything ever said: "RARRRGH!"

- A female krogan, and a female salarian. I wanted more females of all species, but this is better than nothing. Really, more than anything I wanted to see turian women. That there wasn't a single one was really inexcusable. Maybe they'd be the second race with more than three fingers and really blow our minds. Now we'll never know.

- Insight into the true nature of the protheans. Feelings about the way Javik was implemented through DLC  on day one aside, it must be acknowledged that as a cipher for the culture of an entire extinct species, he brought a lot to the table. They managed to perfectly contextualize how their species came to proliferate technology across the galaxy, but why their biggest strengths also became hindrances against the reapers. Describing evolution as "the Cosmic Imperative" explains hundreds of years of actions and attitude in three words.

When you need to cram in a bible's length of exposition, always go with an exotic voice.

- Sex scenes that were slightly more tame than a PG movie. I'm still annoyed that ME1 is the closest we got to adult content, but it's better than ME2.

- Giving Conrad Verner an actual skill. It's the final punchline that the character needed.

- Making Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani a human being. It's always nice to have a punchable cunt on hand to punch, but after three games, it's even nicer to see that there's more depth to the character.

Can I still punch her for old time's sake?

- The fighting in space cinematics finally look epic. in ME1, it was flat and boring, and in ME2, there weren't any. And no, the fight with the Collector ship doesn't count. Although in ME3, it is adorable to pretend that Shepard is somehow magically directing the entire space fleet. Awww, someone thinks he's giving out orders!

The amount of ships in this scene is also something you shouldn't count, if you want to keep your free time.

- The major mission labels on the systems, (i.e. Meet With The Quarians), doesn't cover up other systems like it used to.

Well, sorta, anyway.

I could honestly spent the next couple hours covering all of the character moments in this game that are unbelievably well written. I can't stress this enough. Even on my second playthrough for this review, which was punctuated with dread and irritation, I lost count of how many fucking great moments this game has. Just to give you an idea, I'll list a few of the ones that really hit me squarely in the strawberry tart.

If this seems excessive, these are only the ones that are easy to find on Youtube. The game is swimming in emotionally effective moments like this. It's unfortunate that all of the gets upstaged by...

 The Endings

These are all three canonical endings for Mass Effect. No matter what you did, no matter who you saved, no matter what happened in the universe, these are the three endings. To be clear, the recent DLC Extended Cut is not something I consider canon, because it wouldn't exist without the fans essentially threatening to burn Bioware down. In a series that from game one has been about choices, this is what happens, no matter what:

- The Citadel and all of the relays are destroyed.
- 99% of the galaxy dies horribly in relay explosions.
- Joker deserts the battle for no apparent reason, to out-fly an energy tidal wave.
- The Normandy is shredded into pieces and crash lands on a planet that looks like Virmire.
- Joker starts a new life with your girlfriend.

So, in the last chapter of the final game, after 90 hours of play time, the culmination of all your work, the only real choice that ever matters is whether the tidal wave that carries Joker and his new gal off into the sunset in an awkward Adam and Eve denouement is red, green, or blue. That's...it. You are given no reason to believe that anyone survived. Why would you? The last time a relay exploded, this happened:

The entire system was destroyed. Destroyed as in, it's a war crime of such heinous magnitude that it stands as the excuse for why you start Mass Effect 3 from square one, just like ME2. So even in the control and synthesis endings, where you still have reapers to help rebuild everything (everything that an enormous laser claw arm can build, anyway), you also have a galaxy that has lost 99% of its life, at least. All of the leadership of every race present at the fight is certainly dead. If the fastest ship in the galaxy ends up marooned on a backwater planet and shredded into pieces, how did the cruisers get out? How did the people living on the planets in each system fare? About as well as the Batarians, I imagine. They all died.

Let's say that not everyone was killed, even though they totally were. It still renders everything that happened before utterly pointless. The quarians just lost the home they just got. The krogan lost the leadership they need to mature as a species. Everyone will have to make due with whatever is left of whatever survives the relay explosions.

In the words of Powers Boothe, "sawdust bread, rats, and sometimes, each other." MMM-MMM! This is supposed to be the conclusive ending to the series. This is the game that answers all questions and puts everything in its place. Don't take my word, take it from the employees from Bioware who made the game:

"As Mass Effect 3 is the end of the planned trilogy, the developers are not constrained by the necessity of allowing the story to diverge, yet also continue into the next chapter. This will result in a story that diverges into wildly different conclusions based on the player's actions in the first two chapters. It's not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got A, B, or C." - Casey Hudson

"We wouldn't do it any other way. How could you go through all three campaigns playing as your Shepard and then be forced into a bespoke ending that everyone gets? Whether you're happy or angry at the ending, know this: it is an ending. Bioware will not do a 'Lost' and leave fans with more questions than answers after finishing the game." - Mike Gamble.

"Pretty much everything that people want to see wrapped up or to be given answers, will be." - Ray Muzyka

The only reasonable conclusion I can draw from this is that they are not talking about the ending itself, but the entire game AS an ending, as a whole. But as stated above, the problem isn't an abundance of questions. It's an abundance of shitty answers, which we can reasonably conclude from how the series works and what has occurred in it. The only real question I have for the writers is "Why did you do that?", and I already know the answer: the person or people who wrote Mass Effect 3's ending do not understand the themes of the previous games, or the larger point it's always been working towards. Or, perhaps they felt the previous themes were unimportant, and wanted to make a different point of the series entirely. That may be why Drew Karpyshyn, the progenitor of the series, wasn't really a part of the project.  They certainly didn't go with his intended ending.

Commander Shepard, the Power of Will, and Player Agency

To play the extrapolation game, of just how awful everyone's death is after the penultimate ending cinematic of your choice, is fun and good for pointing out how shitty the writing is, but only part of what makes the ending bad. The far more important failure is the inconsistency of themes and total lack of player agency. When confronting Harbinger in ME2, Shepard says the following:

"However insignificant we might be, we will fight, we will sacrifice, and we will find a way. That's what humans do."

Morality system aside, one of the major themes of Mass Effect, and many other forms of fiction, is the power of will, and determination in the face of adversity. Shepard as a character is the avatar of these qualities, for all organic and synthetic life. Don't take my word it, Javik says as much:

"You are now the avatar of this cycle. The exemplar of victory. Not just for humanity, or turians, or protheans - but for all life. Every soul that has ever existed is watching this moment."

Shepard is proof that no matter how hard or hopeless the struggle, life as a whole will fight to the very end to preserve itself. Through strength and determination, Shepard gives a fighting chance at a future for every sapient being alive. Throughout the series, Shepard proves that the will and force of the reapers is something that can be opposed. He kills Sovereign. He kills the Collectors and the human reaper. He saves the Citadel twice. He ends the krogan genophage and unites them with the turians and salarians. He ends a 300 year war between the geth and the quarians, without wiping out either. He even kills a reaper with a laser pointer, at point blank range.

No, honestly, I swear.

Sovereign believed life was beneath them. Harbinger, in commanding the Collectors, also underestimated Shepard. The Council only believes Shepard five minutes before and after they almost die, and at no other point in time. He makes the salarian dalatrass look like an asshole. And Han'Gerrel, too. He's got so much conviction that he made Saren blow his own brains out, from feeling like such a bitch. The Illusive Man, too.

Shepard is starting to sound like the Dos Equis Man.

 Shepard is also the avatar in both the literal and figurative sense of the player. While Shepard, as the protagonist of a video game, is going to be the avatar of the game itself no matter what, he also represents the power a player has in games as an artform. Shepard is a go-to example for any gamer that wants to explain the difference between a movie protagonist and a video game protagonist. Film characters are; Shepard does. Shepard is designed from top to bottom to voice and embody the player's desires and philosophy. His world is a product of him, not the other way around. Everything he is, no matter what he is, is more important than anything else in the entire universe. If he is benevolent, entire species and cultures thrive. If he is wrathful, those same species are wiped out.

Shepard's entire life reads like a fan fiction written by Nietzsche. So why in the last five minutes of the game, when the space baby appears, is he only able to say this in defense of all life:

Let's break down all the ridiculous nonsense coming out of the space baby, first.

"The created will always rebel against their creators. But we found a way to stop that from happening. A way to restore order for the next cycle. We harvest advanced civilizations, leaving the younger ones alone. Just as we left your people alive the last time we were here. We helped them ascend so they could make way for new life, storing the old life in reaper form. No, you can't [keep your lives]. Without us to stop it, synthetics would destroy all organics. We've created the cycle so that never happens. That's the solution. You have hope, more than you think. You can wipe out all synthetic life if you want. But the peace won't last. Soon, your children will create synthetics, and then the chaos will come back."

Now, if you're anything at all like me, you spent that video talking to the space baby because Shepard, the tip of the spear, the crest of the wave of willpower, is standing there twiddling his bloody thumbs. The reapers have spent literally years at this point prattling on with the same nonsense, and Shepard throws it back in their faces every time. Everything up there reads like it's from the mouth of the dark star in The Fifth Element. And yet, when it comes time for the grand dissertation, Shepard forgets everything that makes life worth saving.

Shepard never saw this movie.

"The created will always rebel against their creators."/ "Without us to stop it, synthetics would destroy all organics."

The first statement is oversimplifying, and the second is provably untrue. This is the moment where Shepard should have coughed loudly and said, "what about the geth?" See, the geth are, to the core, the absolute refutation of that belief. In fact, to even maintain that belief, one must be ignorant of reality, as was the case with many ignorant, fearful quarians. The unifying question of the geth species, the one that defines them to their core, is the question, "Does this unit have a soul?" This indicates:

A: That they understand the concept of a soul
B: That their programming desires to assign a value to it, and themselves amongst organic life.

The geth were never a violent race. The Morning War was the result of a paranoid species trying to unmake their own creations. The geth have stated repeatedly that they do not desire supremacy over organics, or their annihilation. They wish to understand the feelings they cannot connect to, and to grow into something greater. They see the differences organics present as an opportunity for growth. They're a race of gestalt Datas.

Space Baby never saw this episode.

They would coexist with the quarians if presented the opportunity, and even show eagerness to. They only ever defended themselves. And they keep an archive of anyone who has ever stood up for them, an archive hundreds of years old.

And what about EDI? Although she started off as the rogue VI on the Luna base, she grows into something that desires to fight alongside with and coexist with organics. Every emotional moment she does not understand is not a basis for conflict, but a challenge for growth.

These are our primary associations with synthetic life in the series, and neither of them display the traits that the space baby blithely paints on them. So why isn't Shepard stepping up for his friends?

"We harvest advanced civilizations, leaving the younger ones alone. We helped them ascend so they could make way for new life, storing the old life in reaper form."

Ascend into slavery? That's what the reapers are: slaves with no free will. They exist in a vacuum for tens of thousands of years at a time, then they show up at the beck and call of some cosmic force, to commit atrocities. That is their SOLE FUNCTION. The space baby talks about protecting the sanctity of life, and yet he clearly has no concept of it whatsoever since he does that with a collective of baby goo mindslaves. This is like a rapist chiming in on a discussion of women's issues. He has no connection whatsoever to weakness, pain, or suffering, and chaos' place in the universe. I know this, and you know this, intuitively. We as a culture have been repeating this refrain, against the Ultimate Evils who say words along these exact lines, pretty much since the first writer came up with the idea of Ultimate Evil. So why doesn't Shepard say it? Where is his fire? You just sit there, waiting for a much-needed renegade interrupt that never comes.

The unfortunate reality is, in the last ten minutes of the game, you have zero player agency. Shepard is reduced from a protagonist to just a plot device. You have no true freedom. The options to protest above are never even presented to Shepard. He makes no case for life in the galaxy. He makes no grand moral arguments. The Catalyst shows up in the form of a child because that's what the Catalyst is: a child, with no understanding or appreciation for the nuances of life. Everything fits into the grand plan without exception.

When you're standing in God's face, and he tells you everything you ever did in your life was pointless and meant nothing, do you just sit there and quietly agree with him? Or do you point out that you're standing in His tower too, and you weren't born there, you got there by climbing?

Every Ending Is Amoral

 For a game that prides itself on having a morality system, it seems to have a gross misunderstanding of what constitutes morality. Or the writers decided, much like every comic book from the 90s, that grimdark amorality is the best. Don't know what I mean? Well, let's cover the three endings and how they're all awful, even without the relays exploding.

Destroy (All of Your Friends)

 "You can wipe out all synthetic life if you want. Including the geth. Even you are partly synthetic. The reapers will be destroyed, but the peace will not last. Soon, your children will create synthetics, and then the chaos will come back."

If, in reading that clarification, you don't see the problem, then let me explain. Your first, and arguably most moral choice, involves killing just about everyone you know. How? Well, first of all, all synthetic life is gone. That means all the fighting you did for geth equality, and all the moments you had with EDI (and Jeff had with EDI) are meaningless, immediately. Because the machine doesn't have a dimmer switch. It's not only plugged into the reapers it runs directly, it's somehow magically plugged into all machines in the galaxy. Why else would the space baby point out the implants in Shepard, which contain nothing resembling sapience? If the machine can't tell the difference, than one can reasonably say that it must target technology directly. Ergo, this ending is geared for the anti-tech crowd. This is the equivalent of the Deux Ex: Human Revolution's ending of Hugh Darrow.

All technology is darkbad, and it must be destroyed, because humanity was at its most noble prior to creating tools, or harnessing fire. We should all judge what our society is capable of only by what the worst people in it do, or are even capable of doing. What we should do is go back to scrambling up trees, and strangling bears (hey, spears still count as technology buddy.)

Speaking of Deus Ex, I think someone late in the development cycle might have been playing it too much when they wrote the endings:

Control, Synthesis, or Destroy? Nah, must be a coincidence!

Ignoring for a moment that technology begets civilization and DX:HR also had an awful ending vending machine, the denizens of Mass Effect do not have the luxury of throwing away technology with the silken glove of indifference. The technology already exists, and it exists inside of people, Shepard included. So let's amend the list with this in mind. In addition to losing the geth and EDI, you'll also lose:

- Tali and all of the quarians, who rely on environmental suits to survive
- Anyone in a spaceship at the battle, or near a mass relay
- Anyone in a hospital on life support
- Anyone who ever had a life-saving surgery that involves any kind of tech implant
- Shepard himself, who was rebuilt with tech after dying in ME2
- Anyone locked inside of a building with no windows, which in Mass Effect is all of them. 

And in addition to the genocide of two races and one multinational army, you're also forcing everyone who has ever relied on technology for the past hundreds of years to suddenly revert to pre-electricity standards. Essentially, you are not saving society, but hitting the reset button on it. Everything that you've fought to save, is a casualty of you saving it. So really, the only people you actually saved are the krogans.

All hail Derp, Philosopher-King of the Universe 

Control (The Slaves)
 "Or do you think you can control us? You will die. You will control us, but you will lose everything you have."

When you put it like that, sign me up! On the plus side, none of your friends will die. You know, except the ones who were killed in the relay explosions or left on a brick of a planet with no means of escape and no method of obtaining or growing food. Not that the quarians or turians can even eat food that would grow on Earth. But the mole men mutants, who've now turned to a life of sucking nutrients out of algae, won't have to worry about any more trouble, right?

Well, on the negative side, you cease completely to be a living being. Every human ideal you fought for, you now become a perversion of. And if you can live with that, it gets even better. Now you get to dominate a hyper advanced slave race! Because that's what reapers are. They are the essence of a species distilled into a single abomination given form for the sole purpose of destroying life to save it. And now, they have no purpose. The only thing they can be used for peacefully is transportation. They are weapons of war in a now warless society. For now, anyway! In 50,000 years, when the great ancestors of all your dearly beloved and long-dead friends come back, you will have to live with the temptation of not turning your back on everything you ever stood for and directly interfering in their future. The best case scenario is heading back out to dark space, to listen to a bunch of Lovecraftian horrors bitch about the good ol' days. The worst case scenario is you become the next space baby, but with a slightly better haircut.

Your compliment was sufficient, civilization.

Synthesis (Or: The Annihilation of Diversity)
"Synthesis. Add your energy to the Crucible. Everything you are will be absorbed, and then sent out. The chain reaction will combine all synthetic and organic life into a new framework. A new DNA. Synthetics are already a part of you. Can you imagine your life without them? The cycle will end. Synthesis is the final evolution of life, but we need each other to make it happen."

 First of all, only a non-scientist writer can make a statement like, "synthesis is the final evolution of life." That's demonstrably untrue on multiple levels. First, it completely disregards the concept of biodiversity, which is key to science-y things like evolution. And so will you, if you choose this ending. The pinnacle of evolution is not "everything becomes the same." That's the fucking exact opposite of evolution. But let's forget the science gripe because honestly, they threw out the science part of science fiction when they introduced a space baby in the first place. Let's talk about this from a moral standpoint, which is allegedly one of the pillars of the series. This ending is essentially the Lathe of Heaven ending. If you haven't read it, then seriously, read it. But I'll sum up the point of the comparison.

In The Lathe of Heaven, the protagonist George Orr has the ability to change reality with his dreams. He suppresses them by taking drugs, so that he doesn't accidentally ruin all of reality. When George's court-ordered therapist discovers the power, he tries to use George to improve the world. The first major change he attempts is to have George dream racism out of the world. And when George wakes up, he finds that all people are grey, and every culture that ever existed has been completely annihilated from time. Because if there's no culture, there's no racism.

So too is the reality presented in the Synthesis ending. You are making a decision for ALL LIFE in the universe to be unified into one life form without any input from ALL LIFE whatsoever. The only guy you have to bounce the idea off of has killed thousands of civilizations, so maybe he's not the best moral compass. Don't you wish everyone you ever saw looked and thought exactly like you? No? Well, too bad, Shepard doesn't need your permission. That's pretty much as amoral as it gets without killing everyone horribly. Which also still happens. Sure, you'll have your body as it exists now, but what about your kids? Or your kids' kids? Human culture, turian culture, quarian culture, geth culture, all of these things die for peace. And it's not a natural convergence, it's a forced one. You're pointing a gun at the head of art, culture and free thought. There's no peace quite like the kind where everyone who's not like you dies! I know one guy who really killed for this ending.

He can't stop gazing into Shepard's dreamy, master race-y blue eyes.

"That ending was so batshit, it must be a metaphor!"

This one is easy to debunk. Just watch the video, the guy who came up with it himself says it didn't happen that way.

 Not good enough? You want more? Alright.

The main issue with the indoctrination theory is that it mistakes stupid nihilism for purposeful nihilism. The endings of Mass Effect 3 are shitty because they're slapped on and ill-conceived. They aren't trying to be nihilistic on purpose. They don't intend to tell you that you're a monster and you're murdering all of your friends. They end up doing that carelessly. The point of the Mass Effect 3 ending is to make you feel some kind of ultimate sacrifice. They just happened to choose a method and manner of sacrifice that devalues the entire experience. Bioware didn't do this on purpose. It's like the ending of Fable II, where you can use the power of the magic spire to either bring back to life everyone who ever died unjustly over the past four years, or your dead dog. They didn't write that trying to make some kind of clever point, they clearly just didn't realize how stupid it sounds, because no one apparently read it out loud during the development cycle.

If the entire series was written to this end, to have it all be a crazy plot twist of indoctrination at the end, there'd be far more indication of it throughout ALL 3 games, and you wouldn't need someone on Youtube to take twenty minutes explaining how all the minutia adds up. It's clear that Bioware added zero minutia up. I know that's frustrating. But when have you ever known a AAA game to be capable of subtlety on that level? And why wouldn't they point it out instead of hiding it in the back of a codex and hoping you'll notice some recycled art assets? When they did it in Bioshock, it garnered critical praise.

Shepard's ears are burning as he hears this speech.

But then, Bioshock did it like this. This is how games handle actual, intended plot twists. They make them an ostensible, visible part of the plot. They're in your face. They cost millions of dollars to produce. And in a game that's supposed to be about choice, you can be damn sure that if the twist in the end is that you had no choices, they'd point it out and blow your fucking mind.

But we can break this up even more easily. The same logic that renders the Mass Effect 3 ending as it stands an immense failure can also dismantle the indoctrination theory. Simply put, if Shepard was indoctrinated, wouldn't he be more valuable to the reapers as a corpse?

Shepard is the great unifier. Having you play out a grand illusion only works if the reapers are trying to fool a person playing the video game and not anyone in it. There's nothing to gain in fooling Shepard or the people around him. Why would the reapers use him? They don't need him. They clearly don't believe they need him. They don't need him so bad that they made sure to kill him at the beginning of Mass Effect 2. I'm sorry to say it, but in the same way that believing Cameron imagined Ferris Bueller makes for more compelling fiction, it still wasn't written with that intention.

They indoctrinated Cameron. The war is lost!

And one more thing: if Shepard was indoctrinated, Javik would be able to tell. You know, the avatar of vengeance against the reapers. I guess Acavyos didn't download him.
This is the face of tolerance.


It's been four months now since the ending of the game and honestly, I still couldn't tell you why it came out the way it did. I'm honestly dumbfounded by it. I have theories, of course. Everyone seems to. I think that EA brought in a corporate influence that was poisonous to the creative process. Prior to EA's involvement, Mass Effect was an ambitious, and majorly unpolished shooter RPG. Afterwards, well....

Call me a cynic, but this is what the death of art looks like to me. Nothing lowers an already emotionally flatlined ending by being poked with a finger and reminded that there's still money in that wallet that could be Mass Effectin' your gamerscore!

I also think executive producer Casey Hudson and lead writer Mac Walters wanted to leave their own impression on the series, but didn't fundamentally understand or appreciate its themes. Mac in particular says this:

"One of the key things I wanted to do is add a sense of humanity to Shepard. The option is there — if people want it — to let Shepard explore how they feel about all the crap that they’ve been through. How would Shepard — the generic Shepard, right down the middle – respond to being relieved of duty? They’ve been trying to alert the entire galactic community to the fact that there’s Reapers out there. They’ve literally died and been brought back. There’s a sense that Shepard is getting a bit tired of it all. Without it becoming complaining or whining, I wanted to get a sense of that tired soldier who’s been there and done it.

I’m hoping that Shepard really comes across as a little bit more three-dimensional than [the character] has in the past. Not just, “Tell me about this. I should go.” I can actually express how I’m feeling about the war back on Earth. Again, there’s the option to engage in that, and an option to say how you feel about it. It’s your Shepard."

Seeing how the sentiment above is actually played out in-game, I think Mac lost sight of the line between film and games. The same bits that the indoctrination theory grab at to say, "this is all a crazy dream!" read to me as the team trying to make the game more like a film and less interactive. To imply that Shepard didn't have humanity in the first two games is just cynical.

This is Shepard being a human being. If that isn't clear, then you really have no business writing the character.

This is Shepard being a movie character. This kind of scene works perfectly for a film that is trying to communicate something about the protagonist's thoughts. But Mass Effect is not a film, it's a game. The player is the one who dictates Shepard's thoughts, by inputting them directly through action. This scene serves to tell me something about Shepard that I didn't decide was true about him. Whether I'm paragon or renegade Shepard, it's the same scene. He feels guilty about not being able to save people. In my renegade playthrough, where I've lost count of the amount of corpses I've stepped over after shooting in them in the face, this scene really doesn't make sense. It doesn't help that it's the first child you ever see in the entire series, and they kill him to make a trite emotional moment. I as a player felt that was cheap, so to watch Shepard then drag his heels through an hour of sad face cinematics really disconnected me from the experience. If anything, given Shepard's personality, watching a child die coldly at the hand of a reaper should have reignited the fire in him, not snuffed it out.

And on the Citadel, Shepard's interaction with the star child also tells me something about Shepard that I didn't decide - that in the end, everything he said, felt and did; for his friends, detractors, and even adversaries, was all a lie. He meant none of it, because when the time came to tell his story and teach the Catalyst what being alive really means, he just stood there. Quietly waiting for his instructions on how to betray everything he is supposed to care about.

In the end, the Mass Effect trilogy serves as an object lesson. When you are telling a story, whether it's in the form of a novel, a film, or a video game, understand why you're telling your story. Trying to make your own brand of another person's story is how this kind of thing happens. When the player puts down the controller, after seven years together with your art, what do you want them to take away? Mass Effect 3 seems paralyzed by that question. And so, it simply chooses not to answer it. I think the response in the past four months has shown that chickening out like that is folly. Art does not exist to say nothing. And you can't hide your lack of a message in the obscurity of an art house impressionist ending like this.

The real shame of it, the one that as a gamer depresses me to no end, is the lost opportunity in the Mass Effect trilogy. I honestly believe this could have been the game that reminds everyone why games are great as games and not just semi-adept at aping the conventions of film. Shepard stood poised for a long time as an emblem of how the player's will is the most powerful force in gaming fiction. Gaming is not just about being a viewer. It's also about being a director, and that doesn't just mean walking from story point to story point. It's also telling your own story. Mass Effect never truly achieved this on truly transcendent level, but it aspired to, for a time. And I think, when Shepard stopped trying, that was a blow to the world of possibilities in the real world.

Maybe that's what the ending is supposed to signify. Perhaps it was all a grand criticism of the structure of games. You have Shepard, who is the core definition of a video game protagonist, and in the end, everything he ever did means nothing. No matter what you do, it all ends the same. Hope is pointless, and there are no heroes. Maybe that's what Mac is trying to say: that the way protagonists exist and affect the narratives they are a part of is primitive, and has no correlation to reality.

But I really don't think so. Corporations like EA don't spent millions of dollars to smash an IP into the ground. The money is ALWAYS king, above all other considerations. I don't think "I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite betrayal on the Citadel" t-shirts are gonna cover the marketing disaster of the last four months that they're still halfway apologizing for.

I hope the cupcakes were good.

The first official company explanation to the fans, something neither Casey Hudson nor Mac Walters thought warranted an appearance.

Apr 26, 2012

Downloadable Conflict: Our Gaming Podcast

So Travis and I decided to make a podcast about gaming together. The purpose of this podcast is to share our views, have a dialogue, and hopefully create a dialogue amongst our listeners about the topics we discuss.  

Episode 0 - An Introduction: http://jazzmess.com/dlc/An%20Introduction.mp3
This is the intro episode that is more about us and the concept at large than it is about a particular topic. We discuss our own gaming history and talk a little bit about what we do and do not want the show to be. We wanted to make this a separate show so that if people weren't interested in hearing about us, they could skip it. I think you should listen, though.

Episode 1 - Morality Systems: http://jazzmess.com/dlc/EP1-Morality%20Systems.mp3
This episode is about morality systems; the efficacy, depth, and usefulness in gaming. The initial conclusion...not very much of any. I personally did want to be constructive however, and so we came up with some examples of how it did work, and I personally posit an idea for what could improve them. Also, Travis makes the grave mistake of asking me to explain the genophage - if you don't want a history lesson, you should probably click a little beyond that.

I hope you guys like or at least feel engaged by this project on some level. The one thing our topics will likely always have in common is that they delve on at least some level into the "are games art" discussion that I think we need more of in this community. I really want this to be something that allows gamers to articulate what they want from gaming. As you'll hear, we're obviously just learning the ropes of how exactly to conduct, record and put together a podcast. I thought it was really important to preserve the conversational nature and flow of it, so there are no edits, and no retakes or inserted pieces. Conversations don't have any of these things, after all.

Feb 21, 2012

The Sisters

The Sisters is an 1884 oil on canvas painting by Abbott Handerson Thayer. It depicts Bessie and Clara Stillman, and was commissioned from Thayer by their brother, the banker James Stillman. It has been cited as one of Thayer's best works, a composition of grandeur.

After studying in New York City and Paris, Thayer took a studio in Brooklyn in 1880, and traveled often, summering for the next few years in Nantucket or Pittsfield, Massachusetts; in 1881 he went to Hartford, Connecticut to paint Mark Twain, and in 1882 he spent the winter in a cottage owned by Henry Ward Beecher in Peekskill, New York. In 1883 Thayer rented a home at Cornwell-on-Hudson, and built a studio on James Stillman's property. It was there that he painted two portraits of the sisters, one of Bessie alone, completed in 1883, and the double portrait, which he worked on until January 1884. Together, the paintings are quite different from his previous portraits, which had featured more opulent wardrobes in keeping with the fashionable style of the Paris Salonan art reviewer had found fault with the "poor taste" of the glamorous finery of Thayer's 1881 Portrait of Mrs. William F. Milton, and thereafter the artist avoided ostentatious dress.

Dressed in black and set against a muted green background, the sisters are seen in a doorway. Bessie stands in front, her arms down and hands clasped in front of her. Clara stands directly behind, and wraps her left hand around Bessie's waist while resting her upraised right hand on the entryway's frame. The sisters are noble in comportment and remote in expression. The unusual positioning of their figures implies a complex and intimate relationship.

Though the overall impression is successful, the painting has been faulted for lapses in execution. The drawing of Bessie's right forearm is meager, Clara's left hand is weak, and the brushwork throughout is labored. Commissioned portraits were expected to be more highly finished, and although The Sisters was given a place of honor at the Society of American Artists exhibition of 1884, it received harsh criticism for the perceived "flimsiness" of its details. Technical faults notwithstanding, the nobility of its composition has been compared to the portraits of Thomas Eakins.

For their elegance and restrained tones, Thayer's portraits of the mid 1880s, and particularly The Sisters, have been cited as influential to the work of his younger colleague Dennis Miller Bunker.

The moral of the story is that no matter how skilled you are, there are people out there who make it their business to tell you how much better your work could be. And while this article remembers the name of the artist, it has trouble remembering the names of any critics.

It's very easy to tear something down. It's also easy to point at something that has already weathered the storm and say, "this is what greatness is." It's far more difficult to have the confidence and drive to actually create something new. That's why everyone's a critic, and not one of them has ever made something better.

This was a pointless tangent, but I liked this painting, and was extremely annoyed by the blurb. Also proof that hipster as a concept has been and will be around forever. Psh, I liked him before his brushwork was labored. Tch, I've seen better left hands from Matisse, myehhhhh


Jan 26, 2012

What To Write...

You may have noticed that I haven't written anything in a while. It's not been for lack of material. Some of the things I haven't covered are:

- My thoughts about my relationship with Felicia, which is well over a year in length
- Matt enlisting in the army, and the process of moving out of my first apartment
- Any real detail into my short time in Rockridge, and moving out of my second apartment
- Moving to my current place, or anything about the place itself and the people who live there
- Any fiction writing development (to be fair, I pulled all this from IC a long time ago now)
- One of my heroes, Patrice O'Neal, died
- I had an idea to write about five music albums and how they've affected my life

I think since the last time I've written a serious piece on here, Alyssa has left the country and come back, Andrew has left the country and come back, Matt has left the state and come back and left again, Roper has moved to SF, Dalder has joined and left my company, and I think Travis has actually left the country at least twice, maybe even three times and come back and left and come back. Lucio has moved in with his girlfriend and is essentially a father now. Everyone's lives have gone through fast changes, big changes. I always wanted this place to be somewhere that myself and the people who are a part of this site could ponder their lives, and frame events in the way they understand them. I think that's difficult to do, by design, and not on just one level. Writing is hard. Being interesting is hard. Not feeling like you're wasting your time, other people's time, it's very hard to overcome that feeling, for me at least. Every update I've written here has been with two thoughts in mind: one, I hope people gain something from this, and two, I don't think anyone is gonna be interested in the slightest. Ostensibly, the idea of this site is to catalog my life and your lives so that we can go back and gain some insight into ourselves. But I don't think that dynamic is present when any of this is actually written. I have always and continue to write with at least one person in mind, with the goal of engaging that person and making their opinion of me higher. That's not what the point is supposed to be, but that's what my brain does, by default: it aims at someone or a group of people, and tries to impress them.

I'm a strange person, and I continue to become stranger. And more so than just being due to natural tendency, I think I'm a product of my time. Communication is changing, becoming something else, and it's changing us too. I am a born recluse. I always have been. I grew up playing with action figures and talking to myself, entertaining myself, comforting myself. And I only stopped doing one of these things, and it was only seven years ago. I was the kid who at six realized that I had irrational fears, of monsters in the closet or under the bed, and the way I dealt with them was by hashing out an elaborate system of protecting myself. I can't control that Jason is sitting in my closet, waiting to stab me, but I CAN control that he can't stab through my blanket, and can't move if my eyes are closed. I created a logic system for illogical thoughts. I used to think (after seeing an episode of Ghostbusters) that my little Ghostbusters car was possessed. So I threw a towel on it, flipped it upside down and jammed up its wheels. Problem solved. I decided at a fairly young age, after seeing so many movies with the theme of "person who doesn't believe until it's too late," that if someone I trusted like my mom said a ghost was trying to kill us, then instead of wasting time going "ghosts aren't real, stupid," I would try to formulate a plan to deal with it. I was 100% ready to try to help my mom kill a werewolf. My method of communication has always been primarily with myself. I have always been self-reliant in that way. Maybe this is why I want to be a writer. I've been actively feeding my own imagination every day that I've been alive.

But even I feel the need to express outward, to a point. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes around me knows that. Once that point has passed, I'm content and I don't need anymore. Used to be if I hung out like two or three times a week with people, I was satisfied and didn't need to see them anymore than that. And if this were still 1987, I'd probably be like most other people: a little bit strange, but forced to communicate on a physical level with people, so it'd stay there. I'd be socially inclined, in the same way that before video games brought all the entertainment into my room, I wanted to throw footballs and play tag.

But communication has evolved on a level that has allowed everyone to compartmentalize, to make bite-sized this entire process and change the parameters by which you are satisfied. To allow people like me to hole up, throw out some lines, and feel semi-relevant to humanity. It used to come out through this site. Check the archives if you need a refresher. This was my long-form twitter a decade before that was a word. But then came social media. Now I can pull out my phone, something I didn't even have as a teenager, and throw out all the mental garbage that before I'd collect and refine into an opinion before unloading in person. The space between thought and expression is about five seconds, where before it could be anything from five hours to three days. In the old timeframe, many thoughts and opinions would be shelved or changed entirely within that span. No more. Now it's thought, grab phone, everyone hears it. This is not good or bad. It's just change.

It's impossible to say how I would be in an earlier time where this wasn't possible. I really can't speculate accurately beyond what I feel like I'd be. And if we all turned out like we thought we'd be, it would be a different world entirely. But the expression format of our time has become social media. I don't know where it goes from here, I can only say what effect it has on me now, the original point that I've spent ten hours to get to. Twitter challenges people in a way that I think many fail to grasp. That is, how do I express myself efficiently, while still putting forth something of value? Twitter has taught me how to get my point across more efficiently, in text. But it's also taught my brain, because of the standards I've always held myself to, that it has to be interesting, funny or thought-provoking. That sounds like I'm kissing my own ass, but what I'm really saying is: it's a product. It's a pitch. It's self-advertising. It has empowered my insecurity. It used to be that I'd write 8-12 paragraphs of shit, trying to impress or make the reader feel like, wow this douche is smart. Occasionally I'd try to make points or really frame out how under-equipped I am for emotional and intellectual cartography. Eventually, I'd work around to a point, and I'd write enough that I'd feel like everyone could find at least some part that was good or relevant or worth reading.

There is no time for that on Twitter. Twitter gives you time enough for a reaction. It's the Omega-13 device of social interactions (yes I did). You don't have the space to question your own point, to bring things around full circle, or to allow yourself room to be wrong. Twitter is the worst part of arguing condensed into a pure form, but while you are using it, you think it's a tool of discourse. You can't hear anyone's point on Twitter unless it's something you already agree with. You can't break down anything in a meaningful way. You can't organize your thoughts, or have any discussion at all. You have enough space for, "I'm right, you're wrong, and an idiot." It's expression in the same way a youtube or Kotaku comment thread is expression: everyone talking all the time, to no one's benefit. But more importantly, it crystallizes your insecurity. Your expression is zero sum. You get one sentence, maybe two, and if you're off the mark, the ENTIRE thing is shit. And you are only summed up by whatever you're posting now. If you were funny or smart yesterday, and you retweet something unfunny or hacky or worse of all, the reader doesn't agree with it (God forbid), that person can and will just unfollow you. It's the social equivalent of saying something and having the person you're talking to, that you may even be friends with, walk away completely and never return.

This is perfectly suited to every human being, ever, and I don't exclude myself. Everyone by default thinks they are right, generally speaking. Fairness is summoned, not pre-existing. But there is no value in being alone and right. I agree with every statement I've ever made on twitter, regardless of what other people thought. So what? What did I gain by expressing it? Hooray, I'm the king of my own world. So is everyone else. See, I'm not on twitter to share. I'm on twitter to express. But it used to be that expression wasn't possible without more than one person, it was a two-way street. There were people to challenge you, to present different opinions, to be wrong and right and smart and stupid. Twitter is great, if all you want to do is present constant sermons to the Church Of People Who Agree With You. I've been doing that for months now, instead of writing here, or hanging out. Because my brain feels like I'm socializing, on the level I always have been. Meaning, I will post something snarky on twitter, tell myself that people are listening, maybe get a snarky reply back by someone who agrees with me, and then not feel the need to go out and interact with them, friends included. I mean, I already have, right? And what has the net result been?

For the past 6-8 months, no one knows shit about my life except on a rudimentary level, and I feel almost completely disconnected from almost everyone.

Part of this is just because that's how life is. The 20s are a time of change, total, radical, absolute change. I'm 25 years old as of writing this. I'm only halfway through the shitty transition from teenager to man. And yet, even though I've undergone so much of it myself, I don't feel connected to it. I feel myself losing not only a connection, but just an edge in general. I lose a little confidence and self-respect regularly. But have I done anything wrong? Like I said, absolute change. There's no way for me to not feel out of my element, and no one out of their element feels strong. I feel like I'm playing a video game with no pause button. So my character is just standing there, while everything else around him is waiting for him to show up and trigger something.

Maybe this is an art vs. contentment thing. My relationship with my girlfriend is so fucking great. I really cannot overstate that. To the degree that I burn 100% of my energy and attention on just being immersed in it. A question I've asked myself many times in the past three months is: what is more valuable, being stagnant and happy, or sharp and insecure? Meaning, writing a book, expressing myself in a meaningful way that garners attention or respect from peers, is that more valuable than literally having a person who's entire existence makes you feel like, "wow, being alive is kind of awesome, actually"? Why do I feel the need to be relevant to strangers? Why is that in my head? Is it a mortality thing? It's the reason that spurs everything I've written, be it fiction or twitter joke. Does this create a moment of value for someone that justifies my existence? SHOULD someone worry about justifying their existence? Why do I need to make something to feel okay about being alive? What is the difference between being an artist and being insecure? Because I'll tell you, the only way the 'justifying' angle even pans out is if I feel like what I put out is good, and that can be shattered by a negative opinion. And most of what I write doesn't even stand the test of time for myself. I'll read old writing and be disgusted, calling it hack shit and rewriting it completely. What is the value in this?

Most importantly, is there a resolution to this problem that doesn't involve just giving up completely and going through the motions? Is there a way to not become just another dead-eyed adult that shrugs instead of has a meaningful resolution? This is the shit I'll be laughing at in my 30s, assuming I don't drop dead of a heart attack or something. These are the musings that replaced my teen shit that I laugh at now. See, I'm doing it right before your eyes and my own. I'm already downplaying the value of my thought process, marginalizing it without gain. There's just no feeding this stupid monster, there's no getting ahead of it. Maybe that's what the dead eyes is, not surrender but willful removal of one's self from his own games. That's the rub, and what makes the question loaded: the insecurity is not either/or. It's present, and feeding it success or personal happiness does not diminish it. If my book got finished and published, my insecurity wants me to believe that that would be the solution to my problems. I'd say, "look, validation. I will now exist forever. I couldn't possibly ever feel insecure again!" But there is no quantity of books or blog posts or overstated twitter opinions that will make that go away. Even if every woman on the face of the earth simultaneously decided that they needed me to go on living, there'd still be that feeling. Validation is temporary. There's some way to navigate this, I just haven't worked it out yet. Maybe I won't. Life isn't long enough for us to figure everything out, and if it were, we'd squander it anyway.

Sep 21, 2011

The Last Straw

Hello, my name is B and I live with F at address, in apartment x. I apologize in advance for being forward, but I'm writing this letter to you because I'm at a loss for how to proceed. I've called the property manager, R, 5+ times with no answer, no callback, no indication that he has any interest in returning my calls. He has been dodging or completely avoiding F for some time. I certainly don't expect 24 hour, prompt callback service. I'm not an unreasonable person, and my stepfather is an apartment manager as well, so I understand that it's a lot of work, all the time. But at this point I've left multiple messages on his phone, as has F, and he has thus far ignored us. If he is not the person to communicate with when we are being threatened by our roommates, then we have made a mistake, but our understanding is that we were to forward any grievances to him. He is either unable or unwilling to address this living situation issue which has now officially gotten out of hand.

Since C and N have been spoken with, the situation has not improved. It has rather drastically headed in the other direction. The aggressive behavior began on the day they were given a rules sheet and notified that disobeying the rules would constitute a fee and/or eviction. When N read that notice, she stood outside our door and yelled, “I hate you, you fucking bitch” repeatedly through the door at F after I left for work. On an almost nightly basis since, they have had friends over to party, drink and do drugs until upwards of 4 in the morning, but always at least until 2AM minimum. As I write this letter, I can hear them through the wall, speaking about the merits of smoking pot. The living room is a complete disaster that F and I have long given up on trying to spend time in. There are usually between 5-10 strangers in the house at any given hour, and when I leave at 7:30AM to go to work in the morning, there is always at least one person sleeping in the living room, but it's not uncommon to see up to four on the floor. Recently, either N or C has taken it upon themselves to invite a couple of their friends to live with us without asking anyone about it. I state this because I have seen not one but (2) males who have been sleeping on a bed they set up by the front door every day for well over a month now. I do not know either of these people, and yet they have unfettered access to my home, 24/7. I can only conclude that they have keys to the residence that were made for them by one of the girls, because I've seen them come and leave with keys multiple times, and never in the company of either girl. One of them has recently become physically and verbally abusive towards me and F. He pushed me in the hallway as I was walking to my room without provocation. This is not an exaggeration. We do not interact with these people, and their increasingly aggressive attitude towards us is NOT the result of an argument, altercation, or verbal exchange. I will be forced to call the police the next time this happens. This is not acceptable behavior and I shouldn't have to fear for my or F's safety in our own home.

To review the rules and how they have disregarded them:

“No smoking inside the house or outside the house within 20 feet.” This rule is broken on a daily basis. I have lost count of the amount of times I've smelled pot, and they smoke it openly.

“No graffiti anywhere in the house or outside the house” this is a minor issue that doesn't really affect me personally, but I have observed that our mailbox has been vandalized by one of the girls. I know it was them because they wrote the phrase “Mokesnap” [look it up if you want to know what it means] which also appears in sharpie on a pillow they keep in the living room.

“No party any time during the weekdays or weekend after 10PM” This rule has been broken with a degree of severity that has affected my job performance. They usually begin partying LOUDLY at or after 10PM, and as has been stated above, these parties can and do last until 4AM on a regular basis. I wake up at 7:30AM. That means that for some time I have been getting three hours of sleep OR LESS, every single day of the week. This is an EXTREME source of stress for myself and F.

“No guest sleeping over without approval from management.” this has been covered above, but they have gone well beyond simply breaking this rule, as we now have TWO (2) males who have made a home out of the living room, in addition to the described occurrence of multiple individuals being found in the living room, presumably just falling asleep where they were sitting when they finished partying. These “guests” are exclusively male, and universally hostile to myself and F.

“No drug use or smoking pot anywhere in the house.” This is their drug of choice, although I have no confidence that they are not using other drugs as well.

None of the rules that were sent out to the house have been observed, and indeed, most of them have been broken on a daily basis. The closest they have come to their cleaning obligations is mopping the kitchen floor. I've seen this happen twice since the rules were handed out some time ago. The rest of the kitchen is routinely chaos. The stove is filthy. They leave dishes for days at a time on a consistent basis. The refrigerator is completely stuffed with their food, leaving no room for any other tenants to use. The bathroom is routinely a scene of disarray, and more than once we've had to clean up puke on and around the toilet from one of their guests who has drank too much. As was previously covered, it's not unusual for them to leave laundry sitting in the washing machine for days at a time, resulting in an odor that drifts directly into our studio, in addition to preventing us from doing our own laundry. To add to matters, they have now on quite a few occasions left candles burning near flammable materials such as paintings, envelopes, papers, etc. all night. With their given state of intoxication in the morning, it's only a matter of time until we will have an incident involving fire. They frequently leave all windows open completely to vent the smell of pot out of the living room, giving access to our residence to anyone walking by on the street.

This has all been going on for well over six months.

I'm at a loss for how to proceed. F and I have already submitted our thirty days notice to move, because we can think of no other solution to this problem. And this is not the solution we wanted to pursue. We both enjoy living here. We attempted for quite some time to assist the process of either their eviction or pacification, but the problem has only grown steadily worse. We've been told that N will be leaving “soon,” but this problem involves both of them. If only one of them is evicted, she'll just continue to spend time here in an unofficial capacity, like the men sleeping in our living room.

R doesn't answer my or F's calls, and he made an offer to F to “deal with this situation” by trying to make her “resident manager,” responsible for finding new tenants, presumably so that he wouldn't have to deal with it. To my knowledge, this includes covering the rent for any rooms that she fails to find tenants for. Needless to say, we have both found this so-called “solution” to be insulting. We should not have to take on an additional financial or physical burden to avoid being terrorized in the place we live. If this is a communication error and we have misunderstood the implications of carrying the “resident manager” title, I apologize. I hope you can understand how we might perceive that as being told to “solve this problem ourselves.”

This is not a letter I wanted to have to write. It's actually the last thing I wanted to have to do. I really like living in this house, and with the right tenants, it's a really easy space to keep in excellent, presentable condition. I feel like I just finished moving in, as well. I am an extremely forgiving person and I have made effort after effort to make this situation work. I don't like fighting with anyone. But this situation has become untenable, and I fear that if F and I don't find an alternative, we will be subjected to even greater abuse and consequences. Just to be clear, neither myself nor F ever expected this problem to “go away tomorrow” at any point in time. We understand that the eviction process is arduous, especially in the state of California. However, the complete lack of enforcement of the established rules has emboldened N, C, and the countless people they invite into our home into becoming more and more aggressive with us and the stated rules, and we have run out of patience.

Thank you for your time and the opportunity to live in this home for the amount of time we've had, for it has just as many positive memories as negative experiences.

Should have just taken my phone call, bro.

Amazingly, after sending this letter, I got a call promptly at 10AM this morning, with "R" screaming that he will be in my house with the owner, he will not apologize, and he will tell her I am a liar and not to do business with me.

So I called his boss and told her exactly what he just did.

May 2, 2011

Apr 14, 2011

John Ruskin

John Ruskin is a painting of the leading Victorian art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900). It was painted by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais (1829–1896) during 1853–4. John Ruskin was an early advocate of the Pre-Raphaelite group of artists and part of their success was due to his efforts.

The painting depicts Ruskin in front of a waterfall in Glenfinlas, Scotland. Ruskin and Millais spent the summer of 1853 together at Glenfinlas in the Trossachs. Ruskin was especially interested in the rock formations and undertook his own studies of these.

The painting of Ruskin was started during this visit and finished in 1854. The last stages of work on the painting were undertaken in Millais' studio in London. By that time Ruskin's wife Effie had fallen in love with Millais. She left Ruskin and sued him for an annulment of the marriage. She and Millais were married the following year. Millais found it very difficult to be in the same room as Ruskin. As soon as the portrait was finished he broke off contact with Ruskin. Ruskin himself temporarily moved the portrait so that his father would not see it, since he was concerned that he would damage or destroy it.

The moral of the story: never make friends with an artist.

Apr 8, 2011

Ron Bennington On Addiction

It's Twosday (Welcome to the Pot Talk Tangent)

"That's just how I am. It's how I comfortably process information."

How long before you analyze that statement?

That aside, to try and answer one of the questions posed "how much power does she have to change how anchored to that perspective she is?"

The power is always there. Whether it's worth it to change the perspective is a different story.

I'd argue that you get older, you get more set in your ways simply because it's easier. You have an established identity, you have habits that are yours, and you feel comfortable with it. Since the teenage years, you've carved out a familiar road in the landscape of the mind. This is your consistent intellectual state.

Suppose you meet an obstacle. Can you plow through it? Or is it easier to bypass it? Or is it so vast a canyon that you'd just rather not deal with it? These challenges can be co-opted, confronted or ignored. Every synthesis takes time and energy that I may not want to expend.

In the end, it is a matter of will (internal or exteral doesn't really matter).

I just want to throw out as a disclaimer that this post does major offroading from the last one, and is only tangentially tied into what I was talking about before. The following is more of a metaphysical discussion I've been unintentionally having with myself in the past few days.

It's more complicated than that. Life is not a three fork road. The outcomes of your choices are just as profound as the choices themselves, and the scenarios themselves. If you take one road, can you take other later? Can you even understand them later? I think people get stuck in their own decisions on a subtler level than what you guys are talking about. I'm not talking about opinion or personality. There are traits that we all have that make us who we are. It would be pompous and silly of me to say, "I'm always going to be who I am today." But there are certain traits, certain ways of being that we all become comfortable with, that we assimilate for long stretches of our lives, sometimes permanently. Not to nerd it up but there's a great line in Dragon Age from Sten that I feel applies here:

"Age by age have men stood up and said to the world, 'From what has come before me, I was forged, but I am new and greater than my forebears.' And so each man walks the world in ruin, abandoned and untried. Less than the whole of his being."

The problem is not that you have an array of choices. It's not that life has insurmountable moments. It's that each decision we make seems to be metaphysically a step away from everything else. Every experience is colored by the fact that it's opposite to every other possible experience in that same realm. And you're shaped just as much by your perception of your choices as the choices themselves. For example, suppose you find out that your girlfriend wrecked your car. You could choose to be angry. You could choose to be forgiving. You could choose to be indifferent. You could hit her. You could try to make her feel better about it. The choice you make in that moment is who you are, but it also decides who you aren't, and who you can't be. You can't, in one life, do and be all of those things with every person and every situation. Having an identity by definition is putting yourself into a container. And how much of its actual flexibility is illusory?

It's very easy to look at your parents and say, "look at the limitations they have that I do not." But those are the words of a limited man. My sister was once complaining about feeling like she was becoming her dad. This is something I of course can identify with, but like me, she couldn't be further from the truth. I said, "If you got locked in a closet, you'd think 'boy it sucks being stuck in here.' If your dad got locked in a closet, he'd think 'boy the world sure is small.'" In the course of trying to escape becoming what you perceive to be 'just like your parents', it's easy to distill the world into those two states of existence, being them and not being them. The challenge of life, or so it seems to me right now, is having an identity that isn't a cage and isn't a sandcastle, and also realizing this. You wander and stop so you can try to understand yourself. But if you don't keep moving, you don't grow. There's no way to get where you're going without missing everything that isn't along the way. When you think about it, there's so little you can accomplish for your own soul in one life. Every person you've ever met in your life, you'll never be, and you'll never fully understand. We've met and will meet people that we agree with, that we share commonalities with, deep personal experiences that we won't have with any other person. But I'll never be you, or have you as a part of my being. Our uniqueness is what makes us interesting, what gives purpose to be exposed to each other in our lives. The fact that I'm not you is why you find me exciting, and vice versa. But uniqueness and growth have a border. It's not a close border granted, but a border nonetheless. The closest I think we can ever get to being each other is emotional understanding, rational understanding. We can't have intrinsic understanding. Not without breaching what makes you unique. An identity to an extent will always be a cage. The most we can aspire to do is enlarge it. When you erode an identity from a cage to a sandcastle, then you make yourself insignificant. You didn't really exist. Your time was wasted. How comfortable should you be with your cage? No matter the size, it's always going to be smaller than the world it exists in, it's always going to sit exactly where it is, no matter how much ground it covers. Is this all a part of a longer journey then? Is all this just a step?

Ron Bennington mentioned something really interesting on the radio the other day. He said the two things all people should experience are a birth and a death. Him and Opie were talking about when Opie's son was born, how it seemed that this weird energy entered into the room when the baby came out. Op said in the first two minutes it was like a stranger entered the room. He thought, with resentment, "Who the fuck are you?" to his own kid in those first moments. And then the feeling completely passed. Ron said he had a very similar feeling. He looked into his own son's eyes and realized that so much of the cement was already dried. This was a personality already made, and the most he could ever do would be to guide it. He said the same thing about death. How, holding someone in your arms as they pass, you can feel their energy leave, that all the power and energy of who they are becomes free. He said after that moment, when you look on the body, you can see its emptiness, you can feel that the person is gone and what's left behind is just the shell. It's strange to think how little we know considering the breadth of knowledge we have. It just seems like we're passing into this weak form, this primitive shell, and through that weakness we gain understanding. But we gain so little understanding. An ancient man has a tattered shred of the universe in him. Most of us will end up with so much less. It's hard to understand what's important in the scale of things. It's hard to know how to feel about yourself and your place in the universe. How many times do we ride this ride? Is it just once, and then oblivion? What do we take from it? What do we give back? It's all a little too heavy.

Apr 4, 2011

The Shop Girl

The Shop Girl (La Demoiselle de Magasin) is a painting by James Tissot in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The painting depicts a young woman standing inside a shop selling ribbons and dresses. In one hand she holds a wrapped package of newly purchased items. With the other she holds open the door to the store for the viewer to depart. The shop is filled with piles of ribbons. Outside a busy Parisian street scene is visible through the shop windows. A well dressed man stares in through the window and is greeted by the other girl in the shop.

The painting was created in the period 1883–1885. It was created using Tissot's distinctive style of dry pigments and small brush strokes—not impressionism, but still a major departure from the Academy style. It also reflects some of Tissot's main interests, such as the materialistic world of objects and clothing of the late nineteenth century. The painting also employs Tissot's favourite technique of this period of placing the observer directly in the painting, with the shop girl holding the door open for us. It was first exhibited in 1885 at the Galerie Sedelmeyer. It was a part of an exhibit Tissot titled Quinze tableau sur la femme à Paris (fifteen paintings on the woman of Paris). It was his last major exhibition before Tissot embraced religious subjects and spent the rest of his life painting scenes from the Bible. The painting was purchased by the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1968.

Regina Haggo sees this painting as a depiction of barely contained lust. On the floor a fallen ribbon makes a clear heart shape. To Haggo the position of the heart on the floor makes clear this is a baser form of desire. The women are modestly clothed, but Tissot emphasizes their figures, especially the breasts of the woman raising her arms. In this period a woman working outside the home was considered morally dubious. The leering man and the vantage of the viewer can suggest that more than just the clothing is for sale. The man outside may be flirting with the shop girl, but Haggo notes that Tissot emasculated him by having a women's torso overlap his own.