24 April 2013

A Game of High-Stakes Bureaucracy

I suppose you'd be justified if you think the idea of a game based on checking papers at a border-crossing sounds like it could be a little boring. But if you're like me, then the forthcoming game Papers, Please will quickly start to win you over. It begins when you realize that far from simply pestering commuters at a rather benign border-crossing in Northern Europe or some such place, you're actually working for the paranoid government of a fictional Soviet-era republic just reopening its borders after a bitter war. Then there are the visuals, the stark simplicity of which evoke both old school gaming and the bleak, repressive world in which the characters live. And while it does of course involve the repetitive, machine-like tasks that constitute the job, the game is primarily concerned with capturing the humanity of the situation—that of your character and of the countless souls who come before you with the hope of making it into the country.

I first heard about the game over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and was very much intrigued, but instead of trying the beta I decided to hold off until the full game was released. Then tonight Nerd³ posted a play-through of the first few levels and I was at the download page before the video was done. As the RPS article extolls (but which I couldn't really appreciate until I saw it in action) there's a certain appeal just in the "tangibility" of the game. Despite it being about checking forms it's actually quite engaging to play, both from the interactivity and the sense of power over people's lives. You manually take their documents and spread them on your desk as you compare names with names, numbers with numbers, and photos with faces. And then of course there's punching down that great big stamp, leaving an indelible mark of your judgment and sealing their fate one way or the other.

23 April 2013

A little poem about murder

The image to the right turned up in my Facebook feed tonight. I almost looked right past it, but the last line happened to catch my eye and upon reading the rest I was disgusted.

Generally I don't start religious or political discussions on Facebook but I do make exceptions, so I thought for a while on whether this case should be one of them. In the end I decided it wasn't worth it. But I still find the whole thing quite infuriating, so I'm going to vent my frustration here.

As you can see, in addition to being a shitty poem it has the audacity to claim that the reason for the increase in school shootings is the fact that official moments of prayer have been done away with in many schools.

First of all: who the hell thought a blithe little poem such as this was an appropriate way to broach the subject of the violent deaths of children? It's so hideously disrespectful that I can hardly believe it's real.

Next, you may have noticed that I was somewhat particular in my description of the state of prayer in schools. The poem claims that it's "illegal ...  to bring the Lamb of God to school, or even speak His name," but that's an outright lie. Nowhere in the United States is it illegal for a student to mention God in school—the Abrahamic one or otherwise. Nor is it illegal to pray in schools. All that's happening is that "moments of prayer" are being replaced with secular "moments of silence;" if a student wants to pray during a moment silence, they're perfectly able to. The fact that this poem is lying through its teeth doesn't do much to secure the position on the moral high ground that it so obviously thinks it deserves.

My main problem with it, though, is how intellectually insulting it is. It takes a complex and tragic problem and has the arrogance to proclaim that all it comes down to is that people aren't praying enough to the author's particular deity. Basically, all you atheists and Buddhists and Jews have the blood of scores of children on your hands for not praying, or praying wrongly. Other than being incredibly offensive, it's a lazy approach to a serious problem. If we were to throw our hands up and decide this was our "solution" we'd be condemning many more children to death. Our kids deserve serious thought put toward real solutions, not cop outs and excuses.

And lastly I can't help but mention the horrible light in which this poem puts its own God through its claims. According to the poem, the allegedly omnipotent God sits by and watches as children are brutally slain because a prayer quota hasn't been met. Sorry, little Katie, He might say, if you'd only prayed a little harder I might have stopped that bullet...

I've got no use for any god that operates like that, and I've gotta wonder about anyone who thinks that sort of behavior is deserving of worship.

22 April 2013

Grimes - "Oblivion"

I think part of what originally drew me to this song was that the second half reminds me of the old GoldenEye and Perfect Dark soundtracks from the N64. :P

Even apart from that I like the song, though, and quite a few others from Grimes. Both she and her music are cute and goofy, with a nice hint of creepy.

(If you want a comparison for the old N64 games, I think the similarities are especially obvious in this one from GoldenEye and in this one from Perfect Dark. It's actually to the point where I really wonder if it can be a total coincidence, but even if it's not I'm totally okay with that; I think those games' soundtracks are an excellent place to draw influence from. Their music [by Grant Kirkhope] was one of the better parts of games that were already fantastic to begin with.)

New Zealand gives me hope

Last week New Zealand's House of Representatives passed approval for same-sex marriage in that country, to take effect on 19 August. That's encouraging in its own right, but there have also been a couple of awesome videos to come out of the process.

The first is of National Party MP Maurice Williamson giving an impassioned and funny speech on why the bill should pass: