Imbolc 2019

Imbolc was actually a couple of days ago, but today is the day when I’m looking at what I accomplished not only since Yule, but since Imbolc clear back in 2018. Back then I was wrapping up the Year of Endless, the first year of this blog in which I committed to post an article a day, every day, no matter what. Having not stumbled across the chapter-by-chapter book review format, this was way harder.

Early on in the year I was heavily focused on writing and completing outstanding projects. I began pushing my professional GMing service in an attempt to provide a creative fund for things like book covers and editing, and then that wound up surprisingly successful and taking up a huge portion of my free time. I never did make it to a million words because it was easier to take the games I prepped for my professional GMing and clean them up for commercial release than to write novels entirely from scratch. I was even able to release a professional quality adventure.

All of this has kept me very busy while still leaving me in a constant state of anxiety as to whether or not this is going anywhere. My professional GMing has built up a respectable income, but that income gets eaten almost as soon as it comes in fueling the illustrations for these adventures that may or may not ever turn a profit. People liked the idea of Petals and Thorns and backed it in the first Kickstarter, but I won’t know until the next Kickstarter if they like Petals and Thorns itself. How many of the people who bought the original will turn up for the sequel?

This particularly makes me nervous because of how totally everything else has been put on hold to make this happen. It’s not just that I tried something and it might not work, it’s that I haven’t been able to put any significant effort into improving my video editing, or into trying to break into writing professionally, or into finishing up my remaining outstanding projects. Most of 2018 was dedicated to tabletop RPGs, and I won’t know until my Kickstarter concludes sometime in late March or early April if that was a good idea.

Last year’s theme was the Year of Burning, the idea initially being that I was going to invest a lot of effort into making my writing profitable, which then abruptly pivoted to making tabletop RPGs profitable when that started taking off. I haven’t settled on what to call it, but 2019 is going to be either the year when this succeeds or else the year when it crashes.

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Lifestream, Mako, and Gaia

Jay Foster opens up this essay by talking about the Lifestream from Final Fantasy VII, but don’t be fooled. He’s mostly here to talk about the Spirits Within.

Jay Foster’s name is so generic as to make him practically ungoogleable, but the contributors section identifies him as “teach[ing] in the Department of
Philosophy at Memorial University of Newfoundland,” so this is one of our professional type philosophers. So was JK Miles, the mind behind Paragons and Knaves from Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy, so my expectations aren’t necessarily all that high. In this essay, he uses Final Fantasy VII’s Lifestream and the Gaia spirit from The Spirits Within to discuss environmental philosophy.

Gaia Theory in the actual real world is the idea that the entire planet is a single organism. We refer to humans and antelope and whatever as organisms because although we are made up of distinct organs, only collectively are those organs able to survive. Our kidneys clearly have a wholly distinct anatomy and metabolism to our heart, but the fact that our kidneys can only survive when physically plugged in to the rest of our body is what causes us to describe it as a component of an organism rather than an organism unto itself.

Like many definitions attempting to describe the natural world, this one runs into some edge cases where we basically say “okay, but it’s close enough.” How many organisms is a single starfish? You can slice one in half and two new starfish will regrow from the fragments. Does that mean it was actually two organisms all along? Aren’t there better ways to define an organism, like “a mass of organic material that is continuously connected and capable of reproduction?” Maybe (yes), but what’s important to this essay is how accurately that definition describes organs in relation to organisms rather than organisms to each other. An organ is an organic component of an organism unable to function or even survive without being attached to the organism. You can remove a kidney from a human and the human will live (you’ve still got the other kidney), but unless attached to a different human, the kidney will die. Small amounts of tissue die pretty quick when cut off from the rest of their organism, but are such a non-threat to the organism as a whole that nobody thinks anything of taking a tissue sample whenever it would be helpful to diagnosing a medical problem. That’s not a risky procedure to the organism at all despite being 100% fatal to the removed tissue.

Which brings us to Gaia Theory: Humans are each individually a component part of the world, and if you remove a single human from the world, the Earth’s greater ecosystem will not notice, but the human will rapidly die unless transplanted to another world also capable of supporting human life, like the kidney transplanted to a different human body. A colony on Mars or Luna would allow us to safely leave Earth, but only for specific destinations that have artificially been prepared to support human life in Earth-like conditions – no different from an artificial human shell created to keep kidneys functioning indefinitely when removed from a body. If your end goal is to keep as many kidneys alive as possible, it’d make sense to build as many of those as possible and transplant kidneys from dying humans into them, but it doesn’t change the fact that the kidney can’t survive without a compatible organism, or else an artificial replacement intentionally engineered to keep the kidney alive as though it were a compatible organism.

As such, could it not be said that humans are organs or tissue, a component part of the Earth’s ecosystem as a whole?

Continue reading “Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Lifestream, Mako, and Gaia”

Can We Please Move Cyberpunk Past The 80s

I accidentally posted my Saturday review post on Friday, so you’re getting the Friday article on Saturday instead.

Cyberpunk was invented in the 80s, and it remains horribly mired in that time period. At the time of writing, cyberpunk as a genre explored a plausible near-future, one which has in many ways come true. Although the cybernetic augments never really came to pass, cyberspace mostly did, as did the megacorporations and the cyberpunks who oppose them. The cyberpunks turned out significantly more amoral than a lot of cyberpunk stories wanted, but a lot of the best ones had their cyberpunk protagonist as exceptional amongst their peers for not being an amoral criminal, and in any case the cyberpunks do exist. We’ve reached the stage where the megacorps are winning serious victories against them and it looks like the cyberpunks are probably going to lose, but they’re real. Military drones, not to mention Amazon delivery drones, put us in clear view of a cyberpunk vision of robotics. It’s basically just the cyborg augments that haven’t happened, and even then we have some promising prototypes.

But a lot of details were got wrong, and some of the predictions never came to pass. The Soviet Union surprised everyone by dissolving way ahead of schedule, and Japan surprised everyone by failing to take over the world. Cyberspace went wireless long before we invented even the faintest prototype of a technology that might one day develop into a neural interface, meaning that the future of neuro-cyber interfaces is more likely to be a USB stick you plug into the port in the back of your neck, rather than a heavy duty cable hooked up to a room-filling supercomputer. Flying cars never became a thing, but the cyberpunk stories that posited them had dropped the ball even on 80s tech. Helicopters already existed and weren’t remotely fuel efficient for personal use by the middle class, and the only thing that would change that is a sudden abundance of fuel, something which no cyberpunk author ever predicted (indeed, many predicted a fuel crunch would get worse than the crisis in the 70s, but it never did).

Cyberpunk as a genre seems constantly rooted in being the future of the past, the predictions of what today would be like according to 30 years ago (2019 is a pretty cyberpunk year, although any year in the 21st century was within the cyberpunk-y range). Cyberpunk stories too often remain glued to the predictions that failed. Japan still looms large over the world, wireless mysteriously dies off somewhere between 2020 and 2070, and flying traffic fills the cityscape like it was Coruscant.

And if that’s what cyberpunk is, then sure, whatever, Fallout does the same thing but for the 1950s and it works fine. No one seems to be making the kind of one or two generations hence fiction that cyberpunk originally was, though, even though it seems like the year 2040-2050. Military drones having taken over more combat roles from flesh and blood soldiers, replacing not just planes but tanks, ships, even infantry, corporate dystopia firmly entrenched, and the world full of last generation’s cyberpunks. Hackers and data thieves aren’t a radical new thing, but a dying breed, lamenting the loss of their digital frontier to expanding corporate power. Are these stories happening and I just don’t hear about them? And if not, why not?

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Judging the Art of Video Games

Alex Nuttall delivers this judgement mid-way through his essay:

Interesting characters, plots, and art design are found throughout the Final Fantasy series.

In his defense, he had no way of knowing at the time how Final Fantasy XIII would turn out.

This essay is an examination of Hume’s belief in an objective method of measuring the quality of art through the lens of the three status effects traditionally inflicted by the malboro monster in the Final Fantasy series: Sleep, Confusion, and Charm. The concept of an objective measure of art likely sounds immediately stupid, and it is. Hume was foolish to take his views to the extreme that he did. But that doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong. Consider the fact that it is obviously true that some pieces of art are more popular than others, and also that it is much harder to make a work of art one way than another. In other words, that an objective level of technical proficiency can be demonstrated by an art piece even if technical proficiency isn’t the final say on the subjective quality of that art piece. And the popularity of an art piece is correlated fairly strongly to its technical proficiency. Sure, the most technically proficient art pieces are rarely very popular, and it’s often true that the most popular movie/game/whatever on the market right now doesn’t have much technical proficiency, but pay attention to the general trend instead of the extremes and the overall pattern is that higher amounts of technical proficiency do correlate to more popular art. People seem to enjoy an impressive performance.

And consider also how near-universal the opinion, even if subjective, that someone who’s seen a larger amount of art in a certain medium or genre is better qualified to judge the quality of that art as compared to someone who hasn’t seen much at all. Everyone agrees that art is subjective and it’s impossible to measure whether one work is better than another, and yet everyone also agrees that a judgement of a work’s quality will be more accurate when coming from someone who’s seen more than just one or two other works in the same medium. Sure, people deride critics for being out of touch, but they also deride people who gush about the quality of the one book they’ve read or the one horror movie they’ve seen. People who read lots of books or who watch lots of horror movies are held to be a better judge of a book or horror movie’s quality than people who’ve only read or seen one, and that statement is only ever controversial when paired with the mutually exclusive statement that art is subjective and can’t be “more accurately” judged at all.

Continue reading “Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Judging the Art of Video Games”

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucalt

This essay spends a lot of time talking about, as the title implies, Nietzsche and Foucalt. This is kind of unfortunate, since Nietzsche and Foucalt were objectively wrong. I don’t mean in the sense that their philosophical opinions were fundamentally invalid because I have unlocked the secrets of objective morality and can measure the ethicalness of a statement with the inarguable exactness of a ruler measuring length. I mean that they justify their philosophies using a history that never happened.

Let’s start with Foucalt. Foucalt describes an evolving opinion of madness in which, during the middle ages, insane people were considered to have some greater understanding of the universe that humanity was unable to grapple with, driving them mad. Sane people could thus learn by listening to them for scraps of intact wisdom that fell from their shattered minds. Then, in the Age of Enlightenment, reason become the ultimate source of good, which meant those whose reasoning was impaired became inherently evil, whence the insane asylum was developed.

The problem with this is that we don’t have a goddamn clue how the insane were treated during the medieval era, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the insane asylum is not a new thing. The Royal Bethlehem Hospital is the oldest psychiatric institution in continuous operation, having been “treating” the mentally ill since at least 1403, at which time its inventory included multiple sets of shackles, stocks, and locks. No record explicitly states that these were used to restrain mentally unstable patients, but it’s hard to imagine what else a set of shackles would be used for in a hospital. There’s no evidence that treating the mentally ill like criminals regardless of whether they have actually committed crimes was an invention of the Age of Enlightenment.

Nietzsche claims that in the beginning, “good” simply meant “superior,” in the objective sense of being better at something. Like a sturdy chair being good compared to a flimsy one. Then at some point there was a “slave revolt” in which the weak ruled over by the strong grew tired of being subjugated and developed a morality in which “good” was associated with virtues like meekness and compassion. The closest you could get to such a “slave revolt” would be the rise of Christianity in the late Roman Empire, but that then led to medieval Christian kingdoms in which the strong subjugated the weak even more than they had under imperial Rome. Nietzsche talks of the “slave morality” as reigning over the modern world he lived in and only beginning to crumble during his lifetime, but he lived in 19th century Germany right amidst the great powers of Europe who were at that exact moment scrambling for Africa, and in so doing committing the latest in a long history of colonial atrocities against native populations across the world. The idea that the European powers contemporaneous to Nietzsche operated under any kind of morality that exalted meekness and compassion is laughable. The success of early Christianity had turned those concepts into moral buzzwords but powerful empires had never once followed them no matter how Christian they claimed to be.

This isn’t a history book, though, it’s a philosophy book, and while the digressions elucidating Foucalt and Nietzsche’s completely inaccurate histories take up plenty of space, they aren’t the ultimate point. Rather, the ultimate point is an existential one: Kefka’s omnicidal mania is not especially manic. After ascending to godhood, Kefka sees no meaning in the world and has therefore decided to destroy it. This perspective isn’t insane. It doesn’t defy reason. You can’t sit down and objectively prove that it’s morally correct for the world to continue to exist. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of people want to go on living and Kefka’s desire to end everything puts him in opposition to practically everyone he hasn’t already killed, but that doesn’t make him unreasonable. He has a terminal goal that’s different from everyone else’s.

Then it ends by speculating that Kefka’s near-annihilation of the planet was the best thing for everyone because the struggle to overcome him made the six-ish people in the party better, and apparently the untold hundreds of thousands of lives he exterminated along the way don’t count for shit. I’m not sure Kylie Prymus thought this all the way through.

Speaking of that guy, he was studying for a PhD in 2009 and now manages a game store. His education field claims he has a master’s in philosophy from Duke University, but nothing about a PhD, so I guess he never finished that thesis. This isn’t the first time someone with a degree specifically in philosophy has submitted an article that drops the ball on ethics to the tune of completely forgetting hundreds of thousands of innocent bystanders murdered, but it is the first time a degree from as prestigious a university as Duke has managed it. Achievement unlocked, I guess.

Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Spiky-Haired Mercenary vs. The French Narrative Theorist

What you are reading is an emergency backup plan that should’ve been put into action eighteen hours before it actually was. This isn’t really the kind of thing I want to do while letting the LitRPG genre cool off, for two reasons: One, I think this blog would benefit from a new kind of content, and I did one of these books before, and two, a significant benefit of my reviews is that they force me to take a closer look at books in a genre I have at least some intention of writing in, and I don’t particularly plan to ever contribute to one of these books or start up a competitor series or whatever. But we’ve once again reached that point where I’m already behind schedule which means either I review Final Fantasy and Philosophy article-by-article in order to buy myself some time to figure out what I really want to do with my M/W/Th/Sa articles or else I just let those days lie completely fallow until I think of something. So welcome to the Chamomile review of Final Fantasy and Philosophy, where our motto is “at least it’s better than a blank page.”

Our first article is brought to us by one Benjamin Chandler, whom the contributors section at the back of the book informs is a creative writing PhD from Flinders University, Australia. Normally I try to dig up more information on these guys online, but with a lead that cold I’m not even gonna try. In any case, he falls firmly into the category of “not actually a professional philosopher,” so in context of this post, he basically exists solely to produce this one essay for Final Fantasy and Philosophy.

We get this paragraph towards the beginning of the essay:

The characters in FFVII possess two different types of signifiers. The first type is built into the characters by the game developers, so we might call them presets ; they are the fixed aspects of the characters: hair color, speech, age, and so on.
Cloud Strife is a spiky-haired badass, Aeris is an ill-fated Cetra, and so on.

So we can add Benjamin Chandler to the list of people who don’t get the point of Final Fantasy VII. Cloud Strife isn’t a badass, he’s a mook cosplaying a badass.

Continue reading “Final Fantasy and Philosophy: The Spiky-Haired Mercenary vs. The French Narrative Theorist”

Someone Else Made Content About Not Making Content So I Don’t Have To

Door Monster released a sketch this week which is about not having time to do a real sketch. This is convenient, because it gives me something semi-relevant to link to after staring at a blank word processor for over an hour and failing to come up with any ideas. I’ve released dumber things while struggling to maintain a daily schedule in the past, like that other time I linked to a Door Monster sketch that was vaguely relevant to my current mood.

LitRPG Reviews

I was going to wait until I had ten of these to make another directory post, but by the end of number seven it really felt like I had run out of things to say, and I’ve decided I should probably look into other genres and maybe even entirely different media for a while before I come back to it. Since that means it could be a very long time before I make another LitRPG review, I’m going to make a for-now complete directory.

  1. Way of the Shaman: Survival Quest
  2. Way of the Shaman: The Kartoss Gambit
  3. Threadbare: Sew You Want To Be A Hero
  4. Threadbare: Stuff and Nonsense
  5. Awaken Online: Catharsis
  6. Divine Dungeon: Dungeon Born
  7. Succubus

I don’t have a whole lot to say since the last one, but I will mention that Sew You Want To Be A Hero is neck and neck with Stuff and Nonsense and pulls ahead mainly because, though the major flaw is completely unresolved, it does at least not have the issue of aimlessness that the original had, and that the Kartoss Gambit suffered from a lot from Danny getting exclusive access to several very special and unique quests. He isn’t your usual LitRPG protagonist who’s ultra-amazing just by having basic gamer instincts because he does make honest to God mistakes in his quest and nobody fawns over him for how great he is until after he’s put in a lot of effort to get there (and even then, their motivations for doing so are pretty cynical rather than pure starry-eyed amazement). It’s still a few baby steps closer to that direction than Survival Quest was, though. Plus, there was that one really boring woodwothe quest.

I’m probably going to continue reviewing books of some sort, but I’m not sure if I’ll continue adding to this same ranking. Comparing the latest Brandon Sandersen or whatever to this niche genre might end up being too apples to oranges for a ranked list to make sense even as the subjective evaluation of a specific guy. Guess we’ll see when we get there.

Video GM’s Guide: The Art of Adventures

I didn’t end up even doing my full suite of audio fanciness to this one, let alone try to improve the video, since I wound up spending most of the week focusing on the Petals and Thorns sequel. Good news is, that’s on schedule! I’ll focus more on video improvement to the next episode, since that one’s about dungeon design and actually lends itself to an obvious visual depiction that I can make just by screen recording Roll20 rather than hiring an animator.