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Tag: video games

On Grand Theft Auto V’s Attempt at Self-Justification

Spoilers ahead

It took me a while to realize what GTA V was trying to achieve. Yes, there are many statements in game about American capitalism, movies and celebrity culture, and a political system where leaders and bureaucrats think about “getting ahead” more than doing their job. Ricky McAlister pointed out the challenge of trying to keep away from these topics, particularly the first: the “C” ending has Michael talk about outsourcing and putting profits offshore while killing an investor. Franklin mentions that he’s not sure how different the “capitalism” he, Michael and Trevor practice is from the investor’s.

Let’s talk about the basic story before I offer a more developed critique. Franklin is a small-time hood whose girlfriend broke up with him to find someone more established and ethical. Franklin meets Michael while stealing cars. Michael is a retired criminal who through a corrupt government agent got out of the robbery business. His last robbery involved him getting shot, one of his partners getting killed, and the third partner – Trevor – disappearing. A fake funeral for Michael opens the game. Michael has a new name, a family, a lot of money and a lot of issues. Michael ends up taking Franklin under his wing, showing him how to do bigger and better heists, because his anger, obligations to the corrupt government agent that’s protecting him, and want of being a movie star push him to be daring. Trevor shows up when he realizes Michael is alive and wants into the gang. Trevor is a psychopath who will kill anyone over anything. He controls people using fear and anger; his broken logic is a strength that keeps everyone else on edge. Trevor has established a very profitable meth operation outside of Los Santos, the LA replica Michael and Franklin operate in. But Trevor also is very attached to the past, loyal to the old gang to a fault. He’s been sending letters to the old partner, believing him in prison and not dead. He wants to bust him out. The central action of the story revolves around Michael’s betrayal of the old gang when they were about to be caught to protect himself and his family. The old partner is lying in Michael’s grave, and it is just a matter of time before Trevor realizes the truth.

You can see that when the story is told with just the characters involved, there’s a lot fewer “-isms” and more fundamental issues at work. Franklin wants to move ahead, but can he move ahead while letting go? It’s hard to be rejected and invest seriously in a new life. Franklin is dealing with disappointment, and some of the more writerly moments in the game deal with this theme. When about to meet Dom, Franklin talks at length about his issues to a dog that seems to understand his every word. That dog disappears entirely, as if it never existed. It’s a comic but telling moment in the game, that Franklin doesn’t really have anyone to vent to. His disappointment makes him lonely.

Michael has all kinds of anger and guilt issues. At one point, a guy trying to make it in movies explains what hardships he faces. As the bottom of the barrel, he gets a lot of abuse for a mere opportunity. It’s convincing. However, it convinces Michael to irrationally scream “shut up” at him. Those anger and guilt issues stem from the fact that he wanted to live a dream, got what he wanted, and still wants to live a dream. His love of the movies, his escapism, is one half of the key puzzle of GTA V, the one Franklin fits into.

The other half is Trevor. At first, he’s just sick and very difficult to stomach. Later, as Franklin finds himself “straight” with Trevor and even Michael won’t kill him, you realize that he is a sick cartoon. He’s got control over anyone he wants through violence. His special ability is a “rage mode” where he takes virtually no damage and deals out a ton. As ridiculous as GTA is, with Michael and Franklin basically having slow time abilities as well as the typical ability to kill a small army, Trevor is that much more ridiculous. He gets property at the drop of a hat because of his meth operation. Everyone is an enemy to him except some dumb hicks who admire his honesty.

Michael represents an older version of the good life. Family, white picket fences, old movies and heroes. Trevor is about rage, drugs and control. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the game feels like a first-person shooter most with Trevor around. But gamer culture obviously is not exclusive to FPS games. GTA V has something to say about America and sold $800 million on its first day out. The real critique GTA is offering with Michael and Trevor, who are player-controlled, is about itself. American escapism nowadays is continuous with what American escapism was. Before, you’d watch Joe Pesci shoot a kid that mouthed back to him in Goodfellas. Now you have a controller as GTA tells you to plant a bomb to kill the Lifeinvader CEO. What GTA V tries to do is justify the sandbox game, its particular right to parody mass media and industry. To do that, it has to justify gaming metaphorically.

That’s the larger purpose behind the shots it takes at capitalism and government while having you run around with a bunch of murderous psychos who cannot possibly be justified. The critique of capitalism in game is utterly laughable. Each company’s stock has a competitor. Wreck the competitor by murdering their CEO or, in the case of an airline (sigh) by blowing up jetliners, and the stock you own will go up by leaps and bounds. There is no way you could possibly use this game to educate anyone about the financial crisis or mountains of debt we have – you can’t show that the self-interest and good intentions of a number of actors got out of hand, coupled with some greed. It’s all greed and corruption in game, with your murderous psychos being used as tools by even more murderous, greedy psychos. The real reason to introduce capitalism for the sake of critique is to compare its practitioners with our characters, who are player-controlled criminals. In other words, there’s a reason why Jimmy, Michael’s son who does nothing but smoke weed and play video games, saves his Dad and betters himself. In a world where we can be reduced quickly to dog-eat-dog, what’s wrong with escapism through video games?

The critique of government is along the same lines, but has a bit more substance. The private army that is the Blackwater parody is ridiculous. The real threat from mercenary firms in American lives is not that they run around America killing Americans, but that they are invisible to the body politic for the most part. However, the interagency competition between the CIA and FBI parodies in game is much more serious and one of the more convincing storylines. The agents will do anything for promotions and glory, and the willingness to do anything to make it look like one is useful – to torture and kill on rumor as opposed to building a case – makes too much sense. The game goes beyond a shallow libertarian critique. It is very clear the profit/promotion motive can never be a substitute for justice or moderation, which you must have in law enforcement. It is also very clear that we only see utility in terms of getting ahead.

And that’s where the game’s strength and greatest failure lies. In giving the player the chance to make his three psychos work together, the game mockingly hints that some kind of fraternity can exist between gamers themselves even as the rest of the world goes to shit in the name of productivity and accomplishment. Michael’s speech about outsourcing and offshore profits is about placing trust in the people around you. It really has nothing to do with capitalism. But at the same time, this is not a serious ethos. Not in the least. Michael’s complaint about Trevor – a complaint that, in addition to his own selfishness, makes him want to kill Trevor – gets watered down as the game goes on. It isn’t clear it should be watered down; Trevor kills and tortures in excess, even for a GTA game. The very first thing Trevor does in game is sadistically kill a character from a previous GTA game. My brother remarked how that other character couldn’t catch a break. He was part of a fairly serious storyline where he had to kill in order to defend himself and ended up an exile. I get that GTA V is trying to break from that sort of seriousness, but this was a really tasteless way to go about that. It undermines any moral the game might try to consider, including an attempt to justify the sandbox given. It undermines the previous work the company has done well.

That sandbox, as others have noted, suffers from lazy writing. The absolute worst example of this is the “choice” given Franklin near game’s end. The FBI wants Trevor dead; some rich dude wants Michael dead. You, as Franklin, can choose to kill either or neither. Problem: Franklin has, not too long ago, saved both characters in quests you couldn’t choose. And both characters have saved him and his friend even while wanting to kill each other. Franklin verbally admits his gratefulness for all this. It’s cute to say “well, this parallels the choice Michael made,” but that’s not even true as Franklin admits at some point. The choice Michael made was complicated and difficult; the choice you face is the product of bad writing that stays untrue to the character Franklin is. I could care less about the A and B endings that come from killing Michael and Trevor. They’re not products of a serious storyline, of writers that know what they’re doing.

Finally, there’s the misogyny, however unintentional. There is no female in the game that can be taken seriously. I’m thinking this was somewhat intentional, to create a “boys only” club atmosphere might justify gaming even in its stupidest forms. Unfortunately, gaming isn’t justifiable in its absolutely stupidest forms, and the game’s slapsticky attempts to pin misogyny on our media-at-large fall flat given how it depicts women. Giving any of the characters a serious love interest with extended dialogue could have fixed this easily. I was calling Molly, a crooked lawyer working for the investor, with Michael and Franklin, thinking that there might be some kind of plot there. Nothing. Franklin probably has a self-realization when he tells Molly that she should quit being so in love with the investor, that it isn’t going to happen, but that just shows how shallow a character Molly, who has something like 40 words in game, is. Her whole character is known in 2 seconds. And don’t get me started on Maryann or Abigail or the utter mess that is Amanda.

GTA IV was too dark for me and I honestly enjoy the play of V a lot more (however: everyone should read this on GTA IV). Some of the satire – especially the Weazel News bits, the glory that is Bleeter, and “Fame or Shame” – is just incredible. But yeah, too much snark, ridiculousness and cheap jokes hurt what might have been a good statement about our newer attempts to live the dream. We do play games, just not the games that actually run over people to steal their money and leave them dead.

On Bioshock Infinite

Spoilers ahead

1. It would be an understatement to say Elizabeth and Booker are well-crafted and believable characters. Sure, at first glance they seem to be cliches, bits and pieces of stories we’re heard far too often. Booker seems a laconic, thoughtless thug who can only be moral if tasked appropriately; Elizabeth a waif with naive dreams who alone injects a moral element into the narrative. We’ve seen this before, no?

Not even close. I’ve been thinking a lot about how convincing and involved their relationship is – that definitely inspired the poem – and what struck me is how irreducibly complex they both are. Booker is no meathead. He’s a realist who lives out the consequences of such a view. The same realism that allows one to do inhuman things in the name of necessity also creates the guilt that comes from such things. It’s nearly impossible not to see as one’s victims see unless one can convince oneself about being right about everything. Booker has a morality which stems from his perspective(s) and a host of anger and guilt issues. He can certainly see other points of view and understands trade-offs; he actually navigates moral ambiguity rather well. Where things get most confusing for him involve issues of self-worth – more on this later. For now, it suffices to say that it is hard to take note of all this while playing because you lose control of Booker at key moments, most notably when he beats a person to death. I suspect this was intentional, that we would commit horrific acts of murder playing Booker then get mad when we lose control of the character for a second because he has to commit a horrific act of murder. Our perspective is that he simply is very angry. The truth is that he’d probably like some control himself, but control is a matter of people believing in you and you believing in yourself.

Elizabeth comes off as some kind of Audrey Hepburn-esque waif who is vulnerable and needs to be rescued and impossible not to love because of her idealism and emotions. I imagine there’s a number of feminist critiques about how she’s a “trope” all over the place, but if Bioshock Infinite teaches anything, it’s that how things appear are not how they are. Elizabeth is supremely well-educated and skillful, able to handle herself after being locked in a tower for years because her powers of observation have been honed by her educating herself.  She doesn’t express naive idealism: she sees events happen and wonders aloud about causality. That leads her to see positive possibilities, but she’s not blind to the negative. Just horrified when the negative happens, as any normal person would be. What’s stunning about Elizabeth is how heroic she has to be in order to be normal. All her learning about codes and physics doesn’t sit still, but makes her wonder about who she is, whether she has the right to be free. She has guilt and anger issues too, and while at times she vocally places blame, one shouldn’t take her particular pronouncements about people too seriously. She’s thinking through the issues she confronts aloud. It isn’t hard to notice how deeply she loves Booker from early on, how she wants obligation, reciprocation, responsibility.

2. The plot is crazy and the whole quantum mechanics/alternate reality/time travel stuff gets out of control. So here’s the spoiler loaded summary: a veteran of the Battle of Wounded Knee, Booker DeWitt, is having trouble living with himself after his actions there. (The Bioshock team knew what they were doing in creating this character: the United States of America gave out 20 Medals of Honor (!) for a massacre.) To deal with the guilt, he goes to get baptized. Now things get weird: in one reality, he goes through the baptism and becomes Glenn Beck on steroids.  He starts styling himself a prophet, renaming himself Comstock, and denouncing America for its “sins,” which include bringing in people of other races and religions and not reverencing the Founders (which emphatically do not include Lincoln). You can probably infer what he thinks about a minimum wage and child labor laws. He gets industrialists and scientists to build him a floating city where he can firebomb civilizations he doesn’t like into oblivion. He attacks China and he has plans to annihilate the USA.

In another reality, Booker DeWitt tries to go through the baptism but can’t. He says that he can’t believe some water can cleanse him of what he’s done. So he becomes an alcoholic and a single father and starts amassing gambling debts while running a failing business.

It is essential to note that Comstock’s island does not float because of “large balloons.” Some kind of quantum generator suspends it. In other words, whereas floating is normally about holding a position in space, what Comstock’s island is really trying to float over is time. Time in the game is pretty much subjective: it is usually based off of the decisions one makes. One travels time indirectly by going to other realities where other choices played out. Now the first Bioshock was about freedom, the second about mind control. Could either produce a utopia? Bioshock Infinite is more daring with its counterfactual: the ultimate utopian dream involves control over time. What if you could undo your sins or an original sin and stop all evils simply? What if you could assert that the self you’ve chosen is superior to all other selves you could be? If you had such technology, what you’d find is this: you might undo the moment you thought you created a chain of evil. But you’d still be the same person you were, and a whole bunch of awful possibilities for you and everyone around you would still exist. Those possibilities will probably be worse than they were before you started surgically fixing your past, present and future.

Comstock, inspired by the amazing success of his gospel of hate, has absolutely no compunction about tearing holes in space-time to get whatever he wants. His baptism is time travel, his complete remaking of himself, ridding himself of guilt by denying that he ever did anything that should be considered a crime. That he has the actual power to mess with space-time allows him to extend his Providential narrative. He can have a story where an evil liberal America strayed from its path and was destroyed by heavenly fire foretold by a Prophet. He’s got a story, but there’s a catch: he can’t have children. When he finds out that DeWitt has a kid and a lot of debt in another reality, he sends a man to pay DeWitt for his daughter. Booker takes the offer and immediately regrets it, going back to find his daughter, only to see his infant be thrown through some weird portal. This leads to years of drinking, before the man appears some years later with a deal: step through another portal and go get your daughter back. But stepping through the portal isn’t risk-free. Booker has temporary memory loss from entering the other dimension and doesn’t know who he’s rescuing or why until the end of the game.

3. All throughout the game you encounter tears/portals that allow access to other dimensions. You need to travel through them to get the sequence of events that allows you to stop Comstock. You also get hit or drown and nearly die – or actually die – at least a few times before the end. The player can tell these times are distinct because the game cuts to Booker’s office, where he is in the process of mulling over giving his daughter away. There are even times where you remember you’re dead in other realities; you start bleeding out your nose and need to be snapped back to the reality you’re in. And, of course, there are parallels between all the realities and the places most familiar to Booker that, like all the other things I’ve listed, make one wonder where Booker is the whole time.

I will leave it to more diligent gamers to document all the instances and track exactly what reality Booker is in at which point in the game. The timeline of the game for most people is going to be a mess. The importance of the timeline is this: the end is far, far crazier than anything I’ve told you about above. At the end, DeWitt realizes he’s Comstock, because his daughter, both tortured and empowered by Comstock, has command of creating tears/portals and seeing other realities. She sees literally infinite possibilities: at any given point, one can choose and create a whole other reality, and she can create doors to those places if she isn’t creating those places herself. Her powers seem to come from the fact that he wanted an heir to continue his legacy of hate. It isn’t enough for him to have control at present, his vision needs to be the future. When her full powers are restored, as he was siphoning her power to keep her locked up and trying to make her share his hate, she realizes DeWitt is Comstock and has to convince him of what he is capable of. Since DeWitt is hellbent on eliminating him, he willingly lets his daughters from the other realities that featured Comstock drown him at the place of his accepted or rejected baptism. The idea seems to be that if DeWitt dies at the baptism, that creates a new decision tree: either he goes to the baptism and simply drowns, or he doesn’t even consider getting baptized and stays DeWitt, alive and drunk with a daughter who won’t be taken away. Put that way, the ending almost doesn’t seem as nihilistic as it actually plays out on screen. It’s pretty sick to watch, although you get an epilogue where DeWitt is alive, in the office, and rushes to see if his daughter is still there.

I think every time I’ve commented on Bioshock previously, I’ve talked about how the experience of playing the game can distract from how much sense the villains or heroes can make. We usually need to use our imagination to reconstruct things from their perspective, to see the appeal or actual reasoning of what they did. But there’s a limit to this. A daughter drowning her father is exceptionally cruel, especially since you run into an older Elizabeth who carries on Comstock’s hate and burns NYC to the ground. It isn’t clear she’s caused exclusively by Comstock, just as it isn’t clear that killing DeWitt at the place of baptism stops DeWitt in all realities from being Comstock. The difference between DeWitt and Comstock can’t be coincidence, but all the multiverse talk seems to indicate that. If one says the difference between DeWitt and Comstock is moral, fine, but that leads to this: why should DeWitt pay for the other’s sins? Even for a second? Of all people, the daughter knows this: she sees all possibilities, and earlier in the game, she sees how far DeWitt will go to rescue her, even admitting that he wouldn’t give up his daughter and saying, for her own elder self’s firebombing of NYC, that time alone can break one. She sees more than anyone else why Comstock and DeWitt really are two different people; even before DeWitt willingly dies, it is clear how much more he suffered for not being Comstock.

4.  I posit that the trick to the ending is to avoid the multiverse stuff as much as possible and focus on the moral development of the characters. Booker really does grow throughout the game – he gets into his hero role, he does love Elizabeth as an independent, strong woman. His devotion is admiration; he is clear about this at various points. The anger he expresses throughout the game is pretty much directed at Comstock, who he can’t recognize immediately as himself. A good clue that he isn’t interested in killing indiscriminately is when fighting other veterans of Wounded Knee. The player can spare the chief nut who wants to die with honor.

What Booker loathes, then, is literally a part of himself. Booker, in choosing not to be Comstock, saw that trying to wash away guilt with water alone was just an exercise in self-delusion. He saw what he was capable of and stayed away from it. Once was enough, and he is adamant throughout the game that he is no hero.

There’s more that makes Booker a profoundly moral character: Why does he give up his daughter? What breaks him? “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt” pounds through his head continually throughout the game. It isn’t just a moment of weakness, remembrance that he traded his daughter for coin. He didn’t trade his daughter for coin. He didn’t trust himself to be able to raise anyone after what he did. He didn’t see himself as capable of morality. This, again, is very evident from his more macho talk to Elizabeth early game about what he’d rather she didn’t know, even though he doesn’t know it himself.

5. Killing Booker, then, is more than a cold or cruel act. It’s easy to make the case that he gets used, has some kind of innocence despite his awful deeds, and is certainly pitiable. Which brings us to his daughter, originally Anna but renamed Elizabeth. Again, she can see this more than anyone; she shows in curious ways that she recognizes Booker as part of her. I’m thinking of when he fights the songbird and pretty much drowns and is almost magically rescued by her; when she stabs Fitzroy, killing for the first time, and says it runs in the family; when she willingly lets the songbird take her away than let it hurt Booker; finally, that she won’t raise a hand against Comstock despite all the talk of killing him. There’s at least two times Booker’s nose bleeds and she’s the one telling him to snap out of it.

We’ve got to wonder what exactly the source of Elizabeth/Anna’s power is. Who has the power of God and can’t remember who their Dad is, though they can tear holes to other dimensions? This has to be connected with where Booker actually is; even without much of the quantum mechanics stuff, this story is breaking down.

I’ve said Elizabeth has a thirst for knowledge that extends so deeply it becomes a want of self-knowledge, that she’s willing to question her ideals as she works through them, that she has the power to open doors to other realities and see other possibilities completely played out. Comstock wanted to make Elizabeth exclusively his daughter by giving her the gift of prophecy through physical means. He uses a giant robotic songbird to keep her trapped in a tower that is shaped like a statue of her, watching her constantly. I think the songbird more than any experimentation Comstock did gives us the metaphorical clue we need to how Elizabeth has power. Not only does she like to learn, but DeWitt left her, so to speak, to the birds. She talks about the songbird being a friend early in life and a warden later. How does she tear open doors to other realities? Because she likes to learn and wants freedom. She is trying to see possibilities clearly while everyone else is blinding themselves.

This leads to why I don’t really think Elizabeth kills Booker in any sense. She talks about her power being a form of wish fulfillment. It’s pretty clear what the wish the 17 year old made was: she wanted to learn who her father is. That’s what set up the chance for redemption for Booker. You see baby Anna reach out to Booker; the 17 year old Elizabeth reach out; the older Elizabeth also reaches out. When Booker “drowns,” the player sees all the other Elizabeths disappear except the one who accompanied Booker the whole time.

The floating island, Columbia, is all about deconstructing the world Elizabeth knows. That world is created by an arbitrary, cruel father bent on justifying himself no matter what and literally leaving his kid to a bird. In other words: “Comstock” is at least as much a projection of what Elizabeth thinks her father could be as he is something within DeWitt. Elizabeth is trapped inside a tower that looks like her: she sees that even if her father might be proud of her, he has some romantic idea of her or thinks her no better than a tombstone. It makes perfect sense that an abandoned child in America would correctly see a lot of hate and stupidity in the name of a divine mission. But for our purposes, “Columbia” is where Booker approaches Anna.

When the tower is destroyed, Columbia is finished. The scene shifts to doors out in the ocean, doors everywhere. This is Booker’s mind: everything done there is about Booker remembering.  Elizabeth/Anna has already forgiven him – the most important clue is right before the drowning, when it Elizabeth is scared of Booker going through a particular door. The metaphorical interpretation of the drowning is that Booker sees what he’s capable of, of how much pain he can cause, and the guilt overwhelms him. The Elizabeth he seems to know and knows him moves toward him but sounds brainwashed as Booker keeps saying the word “smother” and telling himself about how Comstock never can be allowed to be born. The Elizabeths and Booker complete each other’s thoughts as one mind in this scene; they are obviously not one mind throughout the rest of the game (there are two characters in game that are actually one mind and contrast rather sharply with Elizabeth and Booker). The “death” seems to me to be the end of a dream more than anything else. It’s the realization that Booker would never choose to be Comstock, that he would rather die than be him. Elizabeth/Anna, again, had seen this earlier. The only person who needs to know that his guilt and sin, while real and requiring judgment, are not the end of everything is Booker.

6. Does America have original sin? Yes and no. To say no, you need the reality of Elizabeth, of a daughter still wanting a father that abandoned her and willing to see the good. And you need the realism of Booker, where he can see so clearly what he’s capable of that to tell him the possibilities excites his imagination to fantastic levels. It’s almost like you’d need someone else to walk him through his own mind, but he can be spoken to, perhaps in his office about to drown in his own guilt and break himself. At one point when Booker is knocked unconscious/dead, he envisions the Elizabeth he knows in the office at the moment someone is knocking on the door about the girl and debt.

The temptation is to say that everything that happened is all in Booker’s head. I’m contending that Elizabeth is real, that the potentially awful future is real, that the guilt is real, but the self-realization for Booker is only in his head. The weird thing about this interpretation is how it reads Comstock entirely out of the picture. Nothing is real about him; he’s a construct Booker feared and that Elizabeth/Anna saw as the only “Dad” that could be had, a psychotic abuser.

The deeper reason why Comstock isn’t real is that he erases himself. He doesn’t need to be beaten to death, DeWitt doesn’t need to be drowned. Those tears going to multiple dimensions all throughout Columbia weren’t caused by Elizabeth alone. The whole place was unstable in its very inception and when he tore through his dimension to get Anna, well. The only things that could make Comstock real are a daughter who hated and a father who quit on himself. This makes two funny things about Bioshock Infinite: how the daughter never hated, the father never quit, despite the fact one spoke of killing an abusive father and desecrating an abusive mother’s grave and the other while drunk, broke and depressed gave away his child. There is heroism in everyday life. What prevents it is when we doubt ourselves and each other and indulge the doubt, when we don’t let people be human and be different or make mistakes, when we use others’ weakness for exploitation. America has original sin as long as it indulges the sin. The reality of the present is why the past, why the future. Booker himself understands this, despite a guilt he knows has to linger: he takes every opportunity to point out what happened at Wounded Knee was horrible and not to be celebrated. Why is Glenn Beck on the air, when fictional characters in video games see the truth?

Bioshock 2: Libertarianism, Transhumanism and the Will to Believe

Spoilers galore ahead

1. I finished Bioshock 2 last night. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the opening – mind control makes you shoot yourself in the head 30 seconds into the game, then you resurrect 10 years later – the idea of Rapture (the city you explore) is one of the best premises I’ve come across in a long while.

Some background, familiar to those of you who’ve played the first Bioshock. Rapture is an underwater city created in the 50’s by ultra rich Ayn Rand fanatics who want to live entirely independent of government. They get their wish and for a little while things go smoothly to a degree. There’s all the capitalism one could want and some issues with class and indoctrination, but nothing fatal.

Then people find a sea slug that when mixed with their blood gives them super powers. The rich quickly become angels and demons of a sort and the poor are relegated to merely human status. The problems don’t just stem from the scarcity of superpower blood additive; the more of the substance one has, the more powerful one can theoretically be. This leads to people pretty much eating each other. A former gangster, in the name of getting more additive for the people, finds a way to mass produce the stuff and stages a rebellion against the city’s founder. Things get bloody quickly and the whole city becomes an insanity-filled ruin. The substance isn’t perfect and deforms people over time. It certainly does not promise immortality just yet.

As a critique of libertarianism and Objectivism, Bioshock’s plot is powerful. I’m really amazed gamers can play this and not have doubts about some of the views popular in the gaming community. I remember attending libertarian events. There was always ranting about how bad government was and almost no thought about how low some individuals we knew were actually going. The assumption was once the evil government was removed, whatever is left is good. Bioshock just explodes that: power is real and people want it. Take away restraints and those who have advantages will abuse them for any number of reasons. When there’s no formal order, everyone can become more fearful and paranoid. For all its problems, law protects us from each other.

2. The setup of a fallen Rapture is not without nuance. Bioshock 2 presents the educational amusement park dominated by Rapture’s founder, Andrew Ryan. The voice of Ryan and several animatronic Ryans preach the evils of the surface to children in exhibit after exhibit. Government takes away from honest, hardworking farmers, stifles scientific progress, prevents artistic free expression. As you explore the area, Ryan Amusements, you encounter the audio diaries of several of the major characters. One of the gentlemen who wanted to create the park wanted a genuine amusement park, a place where children could have fun. His vision seems to have been completely appropriated. Ryan himself, though, expresses doubts about the mode of education involved. He concedes grudgingly that the approach of Ryan Amusements as a whole works. The larger tension of how freedom and education reconcile is driving the darker emotions on display. Aristotle does not think children or animals have rational choice. If Aristotle is even close to being right, the consequences for an immediately practicable political ideology are huge, and not just for the children being indoctrinated. The doctrine itself is in a way pretending that freedom is a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Bioshock 2 concerns Sofia Lamb, a psychiatrist with a literally cult following. Ryan and the former gangster are dead following the first game, and Rapture was a dystopia then. Now her cult “runs” what’s left of an already that much more wrecked Rapture, with drug addict super powered post-humans everywhere. She once accused Ryan of unleashing the egoism of everyone in the city. Given where one finds that accusation, it might be thought a comment on Ryan creating a cult of personality. Ryan saw her cult as a collectivist menace. Both run cults of personality but seem willing to accept that irony. Ryan thinks of what he’s achieved as liberty. A little egoism never hurt anyone, as long as they’re free.

With Lamb, the problem runs deeper. She sees self-awareness as pain and greed. Utopian individuals are possible, but they need to be completely disinterested. Her cult of personality is a stepping stone to a greater good. She’s using it to collect more of the superpower substance for her daughter. Her daughter will have near infinite mental resources and powers. She can be the first citizen of a true utopia. It’s weird: in game, Lamb comes off as shrill, menacing and insane. Writing out what she’s after – hey, if we get rid of self-interest, aren’t these superpowers usable? – makes her project look a lot more feasible and interesting. Give the superpowerful family ties and selflessness: that’s not just a perfect society, but an angelic realm, no?

3. Why this can’t work is tricky. The conventional narrative, given by the game: the rarity of the superpowered substance required a new race specifically devoted to having the sea slug in them, producing and storing the stuff in their bodies, collecting it from corpses lying around the city. This was the Little Sisters: genetically modified to have it pump through their veins and lacking any superpower besides regeneration, as well as mentally conditioned to see the world as roses no matter how bleak it is. “Little Sisters” are loyal to a fault to “Big Daddies,” behemoths designed to defend them to the death while they harvest/produce/store.

Lamb’s daughter for a complex set of reasons was turned into a Little Sister. This turned out to be a blessing for her mother’s plan, as it meant she could process a large amount of the substance without becoming deformed or insane. But it also meant that she became attached to a “Big Daddy” – you, the player in Bioshock 2 – and since she has some issues with Mom, is trying to get you to rescue her.

The larger issue is “What is family?” and Bioshock 2 doesn’t disappoint. You, as a Daddy, are almost entirely a construct of your own daughter. Lamb’s make-a-family project has a lot of validity to it – again, this is very hard to see while playing – and it looks like the daughter picked that much up from Mom. Your daughter resurrects you using the system set up to empower her. The choices you make as a player are prompts conditioned by the fact you have to attempt a rescue and, in it, learn her history.

It’s a very strange circumstance: a parent almost entirely created by a child, one who has to learn a child just to act himself. Even stranger is the outcome, where the daughter learns from how you act. Who she grows up to be is completely dependent on what you do in game. What is the difference between “almost entirely” (your daughter’s construction) and “entirely?” (her moral formation)

4. If I knew the answer to that, I’d be a lot richer. Suffice to say the question on my mind is how the libertarian framework created the collectivist, religious one. It would be easy to limit that inquiry to “conditions:” the failure of libertarianism on a practical level created the need for something more egalitarian. The story of Rapture allows for that explanation. I don’t think it’s good enough.

It’s not good enough because people’s attachment to what looks like order in game is too convincing. In the midst of death and destruction and a complete lack of anything like civility, people are that much more in awe of someone with a title or some kind of power. Again, I don’t think that’s just “hey, when you’ve got no power, you make the person who does a god,” although that’s sort of true. Nor is it nostalgia from memories of a time things were more ordered, although that might be true.

Something about self-awareness leads to a deeper consideration, but it isn’t clear why. Lamb and Ryan and everyone else in Rapture are right to emphasize the utility of reason. Who cares if you know more about yourself through a book? What’s more important is that knowledge can benefit all or be used to increase your pleasure or pride. Yet the daughter wants self-awareness above all and her mother thinks she is a monster for this.

I can’t tell you what freedom is, but I can see what hesitation is. Independent of any moral concerns, hesitation – reason as restraint – seems to be the flip side of reason as utility. Self-awareness may be nothing more than pain and greed ultimately. But we like to think that it is about our sitting in judgment of ourselves, having some control over who we are. Maybe that’s the real reason why a cult with no pretense to anything divine, only an earthly hope, takes over in Rapture. Only Lamb really believes in a selfless order. All those in awe of her might respect the fact she has the distance to think about things and put them together for herself, to form something appropriate.

League of Legends: Videos of Note; Support & Jungler Roles in Blind Solo Queue

1. Dissertation is going well – I still have chapters to hand in, but what I have I’m increasingly happier with – and there’s a letter by Jefferson I need to put your way.

First things first, for those of you playing League. There are a few videos I’ve watched that have contributed mightily to my game. I’m improving very quickly because of the aim of having no wasted moments whatsover when playing. You probably want to watch these videos if you’re playing League:

  • Scarra plays new Kat – how he sizes up his opponent is a thing of beauty. He watches her mana bar, waits for her to miss a shot and see she’s got nothing left, then goes in & attacks. He also helps hugely with the counterjungling, and the comments on Rengar being overpowered at the end are spot-on.
  • Zekent plays ability power Janna – I didn’t watch all of it. I got the idea fairly quickly and it is an awesome idea. Before this video, I focused on using Janna’s shield as primary support. It protects your teammate for 5 seconds and gives an attack power bonus. I still put a point in that at 1st level, of course. Now I also make a call on whether I need to rush deathcap to throw tornadoes at people and kill them. Best game with that sort of setup was 2 kills, 24 assists, no deaths. We simply marched up bot lane and took out every turret into the base.
  • Sullla’s Twisted Treeline video is as good a discussion of strategy you’ll ever hear. His Shaco jungler video is something I have to take very seriously, because the jungler I’m running now is Amumu. The Amumu jungle discussion by loudscast is terrific for someone like me new to jungling. You do have to set up the runes and masteries exactly like he says and copy his move order (must get blue, otherwise you run out of mana fast). I didn’t have the right runes before and paid dearly for it. However, Shaco can completely destroy Amumu, as Sullla demonstrates.

2. The most difficult thing with playing with a group of random people is the predominant idea that your stat line reflects your value. They’re not even looking at assists – that’s just killsteal attempts for them. Sullla argues that “Elo Hell” doesn’t exist, that good players can find success at ranked by learning and adjusting. I don’t play Ranked, but I’m not so sure about his argument. I think the perfect counterargument is whether one should have to carry one’s team all the time. It’s not as much fun as one might think.

And if people don’t value support and jungle roles at all, you will be carrying your team all the time. A number of teams I’ve been on with level 20 + players have openly told me not to pick a support character when I asked them what team needed. They will say in game I’m doing nothing even as I’m spamming heal and mana buffs (or, in the case of Janna, killing enemies with tornadoes. I’m still not doing anything because I’m not directly stopping them from running out and dying).

Jungle is even more thankless. A team with very experienced players said they wanted me to jungle. To jungle as Amumu, you have to get blue buff, the mana buff that makes you recharge that much faster. That means at level 1, someone needs to leash/help you kill the epic monster who has the buff. It takes a few seconds. This team told me they’d help, then when I asked 93284927929 times for help, they sat in lane and did nothing. I ended up jungling on my own, struggling, but of course by 10 minutes I had the best cs, kills, items.

3. We need advanced stats for League. The Honor System is a huge step in the right direction. I’ve run into guys playing ranked who’ve just nitpicked about my game and other people I’m with repeatedly. I know enough to know they’re obnoxious jerks who will get beat by me in game very soon. They have no idea what it takes to make a team work, that you get people to play their best and have fun, not dictate every play to them.

But advanced stats would get League culture away from “40 kills is pro.” It isn’t: it just means you’re playing people who don’t really care to be better or are having a very bad day. It also probably means you’re cheap. The best advanced stat is wins. If you’re on teams that win all the time, you’re either lucky or doing something very right. Things you can do very right that don’t show up on stats:

  • Missing out on farm (cs/minion kills) because you want to avoid dying. You’ll still level, just passively through your minions and tower firing.
  • Luring out enemies.
  • Warding, checking the overgrowth for hidden enemies.
  • Protecting teammates by being a human wall. Yes, this gets you killed. But you might save multiple teammates doing it.
  • Calling out mia.
  • Treating people well.
  • Protecting turrets. The game is a tower defense game.
  • Taking turrets fast. Yes, getting killed to do this can be very worth it.
  • Taking advantage of your champion’s strengths.
  • Playing situationally.

Advanced stats would be something like “farm per minute early game.” They would depend on the champ. For example, Yi and Annie have powerful midgames but taper off in endgame. An advanced stat would say an average Yi has a certain efficiency in midgame – maybe a certain number of champ kills and turrets in that time – and then compare the Yi you play to the norm. I remember distinctly one time I was up against an overpowered Yi in mid-game. I simply waited him out and scaled really well into endgame. He ended up being someone I ganked multiple times, as opposed to the guy who carried his team. Advanced stats would show how I built midgame to be ready for endgame, and how Yi may or may not have stalled. The metagame still has much worth exploring.

League of Legends: Getting Ready for Ranked

1. Some of you know the main reason I’ve been playing League of Legends is eventual ranked competition. This is not so I can say “I am the greatest gamer ever” or some other ridiculous thing. I am curious as to how team strategies work and how elaborate they can be. I also want to be attentive to what makes good team play besides strategy – main thing I’ve learned is that a positive personality goes a long way. Riot Games’ “Honor System” has done a lot of good in that last regard. While most people are totally fake – it’s not hard to tell they’d curse you out if they didn’t have to worry about being reported – the people who want a better gaming experience have become more visible and are making friends and allies quickly.

2. What I’m doing to get ready for ranked games is getting familiar with more champions. I bought Soraka to learn support and Amumu to be a better tank. The support role is one where you shouldn’t be getting kills of champions or minions. You should be healing and buffing the team continually and especially at critical times and keeping deaths low. You should be placing wards, which give you visibility of other parts of the map. A good support line is something like 0 kills, 3 deaths, 12 assists. I’m still not really good with Soraka – when I get good, Starcall, her aoe attack, will be deadly and I’ll use her Silence (the “Infuse” skill cast on an enemy) effectively. But in the games I’ve played with her I’ve kept deaths down and prolonged teamfights and laning through heal and mana buffs.

“Support” is a role; “tank” is a type of champion that’s helpful in teamfight and in particular situations. I’m struggling to lane with Amumu. Not killing enough minions normally means being behind on items. However, most of the people I’m playing are overaggressive and frequently get killed by my tank, who has two local aoe’s (W & E) skill. So Amumu has been terrific for me – lots of wins, few losses, and I’m learning how to make him impenetrable as I almost always have a pick of items.

The plan is to learn the jungler role with Shyvana and buy a few more support and ranged champions and familiarize myself with their play (Sona, Tristiana, Lux and Leona might be the only ones I get). There are two champions I’ve decided not to play: Kog’maw and Rengar. Both are way too powerful and when I’ve steamrolled teams with them, it’s because the people on those teams have been very careless. Then I’ll start Ranked and see how much more I have to learn, after some more Draft games. I’d like to know how many champions I need to be decent with before Ranked; last hitting is an art particular to each champion and does involve a lot of muscle memory.

3. Having Katarina as a main has really taught me a lot. The reworked Katarina is hard to use. Playing with Annie and Amumu recently, I had forgotten just how hard they can hit compared to Kat (answer: a lot harder). I don’t know the numbers, but you trade off a lot for Kat’s uniqueness. And I have to say, I really like how Kat is built now. I just wish she had a little bit more hitting power. I think scarra’s game with the reworked Kat tells a lot. Given what position he’s in for the kills he nearly gets, it’s less his opponents are terribly evasive and more that Kat might need a bit more damage.

That having been said, I love the mobility and uniqueness of Kat as of now. That she can ult and stay invisible in the bushes – my goodness, that’s just amazing. Hit an opponent with everything and be hidden? The one-second boost of mobility on the W skill if you hit a champion – it’s like you have a manual blade rush where you can go around stabbing everyone on the battlefield. The laning with Q and W gets sweet with a little bit of ability power. Kat pushes minion piles like no one else I’ve seen, save Shyvana. And Q, Bouncing Blades, is a great skill. It keeps opponents off balance and requires some precision to use.

Riot did a lot right with the rework. Still, it is very frustrating at times playing Kat. I’ve had some beautiful games with her recently, the best one being a 13-3-13 gem where I dominated my mid lane, got champ kills and cs, bought awesome items, went and ganked in other lanes and razed turrets. It was a zigzag that happened so quickly that it felt like a straight march to the enemy nexus. However: one of the reasons I was able to rack up the kills early is that the only person Kat can reliably damage early game is another Kat. I fed off a clone who had no idea what they were doing.

I’ve had other, great games. But most of the best ones have extremely quiet lines for an assassin. Lines like 1 kill, 10 assists. And perhaps the most telling thing about the new Kat’s weakness is when the enemy decides you are a liability and goes out of its way to gank you repeatedly. Granted, I didn’t fight on the best teams in those situations. But I was by far the best player on those teams and was dying repeatedly with almost no other recourse.

I’m going to be that much more mobile with my main. I think I can make her that much more deadly. Still, transitioning into other characters from her is mainly learning how they last hit. It does feel like the game’s that much easier, because Kat’s that tricky to play.

League of Legends – More on Katarina: Perhaps Get that Amplifying Tome Early.

Yesterday, I had one of my best games with Katarina. Our whole team overperformed – think we forced a surrender in a little over 20 minutes – but one kill stands out. I told deathmanjustin, who is a terrific teammate, to show in mid. He did and my opponent, Teemo, got distracted for just a second. He turned to face deathmanjustin and fire. I had been a bit low on health and running away and healing. In a second I turned around, shunpo’d (teleported) behind Teemo, hit W for spin attack, R for finisher. Teemo was dead in the time he could blink. Stat line for a game that ended quickly: 4 kills, 4 assists, no deaths.

I’ve been playing with Fiora and Mord, too. But there’s nothing so far quite as exciting or engaging as playing Kat. She has a strong midgame and endgame; early game, her mobility makes her very dangerous. Moreover, you don’t just sit around doing one thing over and over in lane. More on that later. Her attacks have a number of different uses – increasingly, I’ve been using Death Lotus (her finisher) to keep people away from turrets and push them to areas where my teammates can pick them off. Powering up her Q skill early gives me a decent ranged attack to taunt others with. My Kat feeds on overaggressive opponents and makes the most of tanks in front of her. A game doomed from the start – we were 4 on 5 from the outset – almost became winnable because a tanky Singed was willing to stand in front of me and lure attacks and attention. With that, I quickly racked up multiple assists and kills using shunpo, spin attack, finisher, dagger or some other combo. It wasn’t enough, because my other 2 teammates decided that they didn’t need to participate in the battles we requested them to. So it quickly became 5 on 2 and we hit surrender.

I’ve run into a few terrible Kat’s who have no idea how to play the character. One was really clueless, jumping into 2 on 1 encounters far from the turret. Trust me: it’s a lot better to turret hug than go out and die. You can get levels hanging around your minions killing. Another was just pretty useless. The latter is who I’m aiming for with these comments – Kat never should be useless. She does a lot of things and you should always be thinking what you can achieve in game with her. Remember: stats don’t matter. Luring an enemy into a gank will not get you a kill or assist. It may get you killed. It is, of course, excellent teamplay and the sort of thing you do to win and build credibility.

From what I’ve been seeing, the advice people need is what to do with Katarina early. Tuoooor’s discussion of item builds in his guide is excellent – I’m almost studying it, it’s that good. After the initial Boots of Speed and 3 health potions, I think that you have to make a call whether you need the Sorcerer’s Shoes or not immediately. Use O around 5 mins and bring up the scoreboard and see where everyone is. If people aren’t upgrading the shoes or defense, the Amplifying Tome – +20 ability power – will be how you snowball the game. It’s dirt cheap and makes your laning and killing wraiths with Q & W that much more effective. Moreover, when you Shunpo (ap damage), W (ap damage), R (ap damage). The Tome can turn into the Lucky Pick, which ensures an edge in getting your endgame setup.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t been worrying too much about health. I use Kat’s mobility to get out of bad situations and I’ve been remembering the various characters I’ve fought and scouting from there. I’ve been working on being situationally aware. I use the scoreboard (O) to look for people not at my level to target. I think future Kat builds will focus on giving her more health in addition to ap. A tanky Kat dealing consistent damage while staying in encounters longer will probably be a lot for any team to handle.

League of Legends: Introducing Katarina & Some Thoughts on Gameplay

This was supposed to be a post on poetry, but the library closed at 6 today.

1. I am nowhere near a good Katarina player yet. I got run over by a much, much better one just now who built up massive attack damage (AD), ability power (AP) and armor & health. She had 25 kills and a few deaths; I had 2 kills and 14 or 15 deaths or something. However: my team won, even when we were outnumbered for a while because one lagged out.

The two guides I’ve been reading about Kat are at solomid and mobafire. I’m referring to them as I play more and more to tweak parts of my game. Still, the guides don’t talk straightaway about what you’re supposed to actually do with Kat. It took me a little bit to figure it out – she’s really weak and not good at laning. It is very easy for someone like me, who’s been playing LoL a couple of weeks, to fall apart with her fast.

So here’s what I’ve come up with that’s helped me survive:

  • Kat’s mobility is the key to her game, at least from what I can see. Despite being bad at laning, you still have to do well-enough in your lane and not cost your team the game. Since she moves fast, move in for last hits on minions and then move away. It is alright to be back at the turret quite frequently. Got Bouncing Blades, the Q skill? You can last hit multiple minions – just be patient with it.
  • Don’t forget to push minion piles. It’s really important to make your opponent have to fight minions when you’re squishy.
  • Don’t forget the dagger mark Bouncing Blades leaves. You frequently need to hit those with the mark to get the damage she needs to be doing. Q followed by W is devastating in lane once you have some decent ability power – Kat will level nicely then. Still, you don’t want to wait for that. I usually go mid lane and do a bit of wraiths and sometimes wolves when I’ve moved the pile.
  • Kat assassinates with burst damage. You throw the dagger (Q), move in via shunpo (E) which does some extra damage, hit Sinister Steel (W) and maybe the Ultimate (R). Thing is, you will never kill anyone who has a full health bar or magic resist with this. You’ve got to spend gold on upgrading ability power and attack damage. You need levels and almost always one or two on prey – Kat’s health is always a concern. And actually, you’re gonna find yourself kill stealing a lot, because finishing the weak is what Kat does best to charge herself up for more ultimates.

I know. This stuff sounds super basic. I’ll be telling you next to hide in the bushes and switch lanes for easy targets (I am telling you this, btw). But it really is important if you’re playing Kat and not changing your playstyle in bad ways. I always keep count of cs – never want to fall behind too much with levels or minions, the xp and gold are both necessary to have a solid endgame.

2. Which brings me to gameplay. I’m around a bunch of people who think killscore is everything. There are people beating me who never bother to kill minions and level up properly. They’ll beat me because I beat myself (or, more likely, people lag out and I quit).

I’ve had a few great games with Kat. They were all quiet and I dominated in more or less subtle ways:

  • One game with two friends who are newer at the game than I am went great. I used Kat to switch lanes frequently and gank their opposition. They were being picked on, so once Kat was leveled enough I spent a bunch of time pushing minion piles and killing overaggressive opponents. Once I had an advantage of a few levels, the game snowballed fast.
  • Another game I was accused by someone of feeding (dying too much and giving the enemy massive gold and xp). I died exactly once when this accusation was hurled at the 10 or 15 minute mark; I had 3 kills. Very quietly I picked up a bunch more kills and assists. Kat can be a great defensive player because of her mobility. Once you get Sorcerer’s Shoes, she can lure people to turrets and areas of ambush, then run full circle around to fight. The key to this one was moving from lane to lane watching for easy targets while coming back to move the minion pile in mid.
  • My best game was a defeat where we had one guy lag out. That guy should have been reported; he fed, dying 16 times in 10 minutes or so, and then he might have quit. He was level 6 and going at people twice his level. I didn’t kill everything in front of me. Rather, I worked with another teammate closely. Best kill was where Kat didn’t attack at all. I simply said in chat I’d lure out an enemy champ. I did, and my teammate hit him with everything he had. Enemy champ died and we got a turret.

Which brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a while. I signed up for League of Legends because I like teamwork. A large part of teamwork is willing to do things that get no stats. There’s no stat for being a decoy and letting your partner hit the enemy hard because you’re busy trying to dodge, heal and stay alive. There’s no stat for using your ultimate to keep 4 rushing enemies at bay. There’s no stat for encouraging your teammates or sticking to your gameplan and consistently leveling, no matter how bad the fight is going.

What I want to see is more appreciation of the things that make smart tactics and strategy and less raw number crunching. On paper, after all, I had a horrible game against the better Kat player. We won even with just 4 for much of the game. I did something very right at some point. It’d be nice if someone else was there to witness it.

Introducing League of Legends – some ideas about Annie and Kayle

I started playing League of Legends because of the work of Sullla (sic). His Civilization IV posts were invaluable to me in making the most of every turn. More importantly, he understands how to make gaming count, how to make the most of thinking about gaming. The best gamers I know can explain the game world to you, how the mechanics stand out as unique/fun, convey theme, or in the case of strategy games push you to make and utilize a decision tree. This comment of Sullla’s from a rant about a broken game illustrates my point; for context, Civilization is a turn-based game where you choose to build cities and units to create an army:

The standard version of Civ3 forced the player to make a classic strategic choice in the Ancient Age. On the one hand, you could pursue war with swordsmen, who at 3/2/1 possessed the highest attack and defensive stats of the age. Swords required iron though (the most valuable resource), and were slow-moving and could not retreat from battle if losing. Most importantly, swordsmen were a dead-end unit; no upgrading, ever. Any shields invested in them were only good for a relatively small window of opportunity. Horsemen, on the other hand, were fast and could retreat from battle if losing. They had much lower stats than swords though, at only 2/1/2, and cost the same 30 shields. Unlike swords, horses had the advantage of being upgradable to first knights and then cavalry, so they were the much better long term investment. Thus the choice: do you go with the superior defense and greater punch of the soon-to-be obsolete swordsman, or with the speed and upgradability of horsemen? These kind of choices are the meat of strategy games; take them away and chess turns into tick-tack-toe.

League of Legends is not turn-based. It is real time multiplayer fighting. Still, the strategic considerations are manifold. Teams of 5 work to destroy each other’s base. The bases produce minions that stream through 3 lanes, each trying to get to the other source. The minions fight with each other and powerful tower cannons block their way. There’s a jungle with a ton of beasts and powerups and places to hide between the lanes. And there are a bunch of characters to choose from, each with different abilities and strengths.

So there’s lots to know and keep track of. Teams need to have a certain balance and need to be prepared for certain threats by other teams. You also need to know the terrain and understand where powerups and hiding places lie. In game, other considerations emerge. I lost a game recently where my team was way ahead in killing the other enemies’ champions (not minions, but other human players) because my team never bothered to attack a turret. The other team racked up the losses but took down all our defenses and destroyed the base.

Right now, I’m playing a lot with unbalanced teams where people don’t really know how to work with each other. The losses are usually coming against high-level guys who are more mobile and more powerful. There’s not much I can do at times but stay back and quietly level against minions and wolves and wraiths in the forest. But I’ve had my moments, too, riding a 4 game win streak recently where I killed 6 in a row in one. Or the best game, where I purposely went to an online friend, paired a “tank” with a ranged attacker, and watched him rack up 32 wins. I got 11 assists and 1 kill playing support. The other team surrendered, I think, before 20 minutes were up. He didn’t die once.

So a few things that have helped me survive a fairly brutal introduction:

  • Working on “farming.” Some players in game have declared that killing minions isn’t important. With Annie, I’ve spent a lot of time working on getting the last hit. It takes time to know how much you’re weakening enemies and get that “feel” for what it takes to get a last hit per hit. (Last hits only get you gold and XP).
  • The spacing you employ in farming is huge. Your opponent will be farming next to you. An early hit can drive you back toward the turret and delay your getting a wave of minions. I’ve been buying Boots of Speed and 3 Health Potions and moving back and forth for safe targets a lot. I also try to push enemies back when they leave themselves open. Minimizing pursuit is a good idea. A lot of good battles turn into being routed with overpursuit. Besides, when playing Annie, the best is getting to level 6 quickly and unleashing Tibbers stun on the enemy farming with you. There’s a huge payoff for quiet but efficient leveling.
  • The wolves, wraiths and golems in the jungle respawn and can be killed multiple times for XP and gold. A game where I was getting killed repeatedly by the other team led me to go into the jungle and fight these beasts over and over. We lost badly, but I had items and comparable levels by the end. And I don’t think me dying repeatedly on the front lines would have helped, since you get good gold and XP for killing other players.

Generally, I don’t think Sullla’s Annie guide can be taken seriously enough. Her stun and bear attacks are powerful. The only thing I’d amend the guide with is this: I’ve been having some success buying that “Blasting Wand” at around the 15 minute mark. Usually I can see if I’m not going to make 3000 gold at the 20 minute mark by around 15 minutes (the goal is the Rod of Ages). And there are good reasons to farm well, but not farm as much. Annie is a target and for a beginner player without Flash, people will go at her in gangs. There’s also not much margin for error. Upping attack power quick is a good way to keep your team in the game.

The other thing – it can make sense to stack armor on Annie in games with unbalanced, uncoordinated teams. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost because we had too much offense and no tanks or defense. When the other players start going down, Annie is especially vulnerable. In one game I started putting a ton of armor on her and found that with Molten Shield, she could frustrate the others just long enough to enable my team to regroup. Again, your mileage will vary. Annie is certainly not a tank. But if you’re like me and you like to play defense, this is something to think about in games.

Ultimately, Sullla is playing a different Annie from me. He’s leveling up faster and crossing lanes to help teammates. When I’m facing 2 in a lane, I’m pushing. My goal is to go back and forth and keep them both from getting minion kills and levels. I don’t care if I level up as fast. Spending money for slight edges that will help me protect my turret and frustrate two or three opponents is worth it for me.

The other champion I’ve been playing is Kayle. She’s got issues with foot speed. But a point on “Righteous Fury,” her E skill, is a point well spent. In fact, I can safely say that if you play Kayle, that’s your optimal first skill. It’s a great skill and upping attack speed and power is a must. At the same time, with decent starting defense, she has the potential to be a great tank. Both Kayle and Annie are 450 IP – dirt cheap champions to own. And I can’t say I hate playing them.

Skyrim and Political Philosophy

Spoilers galore ahead. Not intended to be correct or comprehensive by any means. Certainly not objective. I simply want to make a few observations and get the Elder Scrolls community talking.

1. Once upon a time there were dragons whose power may have stemmed from words. They established a rule of sorts over men. Then the goddess came along and gave man the Voice – the power to use those words. Man defeated the dragons, at least for a time.

If we say that primordial chaos is not “nothingness,” that it could be words floating around, then this tale is some kind of combination of Genesis 1 and the myth of Prometheus. Maybe man is the creature that in putting words together has articulate speech. If so, what are the limits of his power? Much of Skyrim is devoted to a literal dispute over who is a god and who isn’t.

2. Like all political philosophy, the divide between political things and cosmology is problematic to say the least. The political things point to ever higher orders: underneath all the dogma is genuine wonder about what man himself is, where he belongs. But that doesn’t mean there’s any logical link between political things and cosmology.

In Skyrim, there are at least two before your character who used the Voice very differently. One was Talos, who had the Voice, got an army with it, conquered everyone, “ascended into heaven” (see Livy’s account of Romulus’ “ascension” to see what my level 23 Imperial-leaning mage thinks of that story). Then there’s Jurgen Windcaller, who realized that the ability to kill people simply by speaking might be connected to something higher. The Greybeards – monks who offer you guidance no matter what your race, who don’t care whether you’re their religion or not – look to Windcaller for the realization that “the Voice should be used for the worship and glory of the gods, not for the glory of man.”

Either Ulfric is the second coming of Talos, complete with plans for Nord supremacy. Or my heavily biased account above is right and the racism of the Stormcloaks against the Dark Elves is just one aspect of abusing the Voice. Is it possible to derive a morality, a way of acting toward one another, directly from accepting or rejecting an account of the origins of the world?

Not in the least. The question is why we have this choice at all, how Skyrim as a place and collection of peoples is shaping itself. Watching them, we actually open up a huge can of worms about our own perceptions. Self-determination is not necessarily a liberal principle. It can entail intolerance and closed-mindedness; early on in the Politics, Aristotle makes some observations that seem to mark any given tribe as tending toward empire. Ulfric’s general, Stone-Fist, is very open about wanting to conquer the elves after throwing the Empire out of Skyrim.

Yet self-determination seems to be an indispensable condition for freedom. The freedom the Empire gives is closer to what we have nowadays as freedom and we find a million ways of complaining about: security and order are paramount. The law is not in our blood but allows a diversity to tolerate each other and form a cosmopolis.

3. And all of you are aware what is above is oversimplified. It’s easy to use Skyrim’s mythology to generate questions. For example: How do Daedra fit into this? They are worshiped, but don’t seem to establish rituals or conventions like the gods of the pantheon do. My provisional guess – I need to play a lot more Skyrim to figure this out – is that they are desire itself for the most part (yes, this includes Daedra who govern things like darkness or twilight). Take the example Daedric prince of hunting, Hircine. Hunting doesn’t quite involve the skill set pottery does. One can characterize it, especially given its signification in ancient cultures, as a display of mastery. One out-beasts the beasts, so to speak. Hircine is insane as a result: he can’t tell who to aid, hunter or hunted, except in terms of creating the greatest hunt possible. The extremes desires lead us to exist outside of us and create situations desire itself cannot work with. Hence, it is another Daedra who created a weapon that can banish his kin. Azura might be the desire of change for the better. That kind of desire rarely likes to hear it is wrong.

Right now there’s a charming book in my inventory called “The Importance of Where” which would more than suffice for a children’s book. The story asserts “where” is not simply location or a target: it is the matter of demonstration or proof. A preface to the tale by a scholar wonders which race’s tale this is; the Dark Elves and the Dwemer both seem to have claims on it. The know-how of the Dwemer resulted in magnificent creations that outlasted the race. The Dark Elves are surviving through their know-how even as they could be thrown out of Skyrim. I haven’t come across any Dunmer ruins yet.

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