Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Positive Discrimination and glee

Positive discrimination is a dirty word. It seems unjust from the outside, and tends to be generally opposed. I'm moderately in favour of it.

Why? Well our society is unjust. The representation of women and minorities in high paid workplaces and parliament is poor. Worse yet, this is a situation that reinforces it- women don't want to become engineers because women don't become engineers. If we make no action then it will take a very long time for society to become equal- there is no real trend for it without pushing. We know that positive discrimination works- the all female shortlists massively increased the amount of women in parliament, until it was decided that such lists were wrong, and now there is no such increase.

By being white and male, I have priveleges that others don't have. I am the default- anything else in media or work is considered the other. This is an unequal situation.

Bear in mind that positive discrimination is obviously still discrimination, but that doesn't necessarily matter. White males do not need to have the scales balanced- they are already tipped in their favour.

Look at this link. Avatar (I'm going to call that rather than the airbender bit), was very much a show which celebrated Asian traditions... and was casted for white people. Such actions should be unacceptable.

Worse yet was Glee's choice to hire an able-bodied person to play Artie's role. The casting crew make the usual excuses about how wonderful the actor was, he was just right for the role. I'm always a little curious about such declamations- they stink of laziness to me. Frankly, unless there is a serious reason why a disabled person could not play their role, a disabled person should play that role. Why? Well disabled people would not be able to play any of the other roles. Other people auditioning had many options, but disabled people had ONE role they could apply for, and an able-bodied person got it instead. There was really no-one else? Theres a lot of talented people out there, I refuse to believe the actor who plays Artie was very good. Something like this simply should not be acceptable.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Barriers fo entry

Heroes of Newerth is a paid for game based heavily on the hugely popular defence of the ancients mod for W3. It was reviewed recently, and the reviewer reasonably pointed out that the game doesn't help out at all- there are no tutorials, no single player mode, you are dropped into an unfriendly environment where you are shouted at for making mistakes, which you are bound to do, as the game is excessively complicated.

Of course, the comments thread is full of people attacking the reviewer, some claiming that she is simply not hard core enough. Now theres a term. I would consider myself a fairly "hard core" gamer. After all I've been gaming for nigh on twenty years, and play a variety of genres and consoles. Yet I find games such as DOTA unpleasent. I'm certain there is a good game there, but I would have to stagger through hours of painful work before getting good enough to enjoy myself. Why would I do that? Why would I do what is effectively homework to access the good stuff? The thing is, theres so many OTHER amazing games that do allow me to play without having to work first.

These games aren't bad, but by having high barriers to entry they exclude perfectly good players who are happy to give said game a miss. This is precisely my issue with dwarf fortress. After playing a follow on game for around 4 hours and realising I STILL didn't know what the hell I was doing, I decided that the interface and lack of guide was obnoxious.

[mini DF rant here. The creator has focused on creating an absurdly simulationist game which means that some lovely emergent behaviours arise. However, given the choice between having individual bones modeled, and having an interface that is not excruciating to use, I know which one I would prefer].

An important point is that playing one game for hundreds of hours is no more hardcore than playing dozens of games for dozens of hours- its just a different approach. Fair play to those people who can get past those barriers- I'm sure there are terrific experiences waiting for them, I'm just happy to get my terrific experiences elsewhere.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The true value of critisism

Its rather easy, and entertaining, to be negative. Many popular critics exist who's main goal is to tear down terrible enterprises. Its enjoyable stuff, and very funny in the right hands. The true art, however, is to explain what is good about a film.

The ability to express, in an articulate and interesting way, what makes a piece of art worthwhile is magical. Look at Amadeus, where we have the beauty of Mozart's music laid out for us in such a way that enriches the experience. At their best, a critic should be able to provide ways of seeing a piece of art that you were unable to before. This is one of the reasons why I love film spotting, a film podcast from Chicago. Both critics are able to explain very well what makes a film worth seeing, in such a way that makes me want to watch it again, so I can appreciate the things they see that make it special.

We will not always agree with critics. Many things are subjective, and while there are objective measurements one can apply, how you rank them may vary (I might prefer a beautifully crafted shot over a carefully constructed narrative, for example), but a good critic should allow you to understand why they have taken the position they are at, even if such a position is not true for you.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Gerrymandering and the new coalition

So politics has a new face, and its one of coalition. Good stuff. Coalition is, I suspect, healthier for democracy. Strong government isn't a good idea if most people don't want it. I'm not convinced no government is worse than a government nobody wants. Lets ignore the irony of the conservatives rather desperate campaign against the hung parliament (at least they kept up the promise of deals behind closed doors eh?)

So, we're not going to get PR this election. But we should get AV (although some conservatives will campaign against it, and I will be utterly intrigued as to what those arguments actually will be- see my next post), which will mean more lib dem seats, and will give the lie to the notion that different voting systems are repellent to the voters. We shall see anyway. I will campaign robustly for AV.

Meanwhile, there have been some rather paranoid cries about the tories already gerrymandering, and the 55% rule being a way for them to grip onto power.

OK. First of all, gerrymandering. Yes, the conservatives want to reduce the number of seats so that they have around the same number of voters per region. Yes this may benefit them electorally. However Labour did EXACTLY the same thing, and the system is currently rather biased against the tories (it is of course most biased against the lib dems. Also, any rejiggering, by nature of the parliament, will not be able to be unilateral- at the very least the lib dems will have a say, and will undoubtedly oppose a situation where the tories rule for ever (which many blogs have ludicrously suggested- the conservatives aren't actually oozing evil people!).

The 55% rule. Lets be clear, while the details are not clear, this is how it will probably work. We will have fixed parliaments, which are generally speaking good things, and to dissolve parliament before that we will need 55% of the vote in the house. However, votes of no confidence will STILL require the same simple majority- a government that has lost the support of parliament will not be able to govern, and either a new government will need to be formed, or there will need to be concensus on getting parliament dissolved. If anything, 55% is a bit too low- a government with a decent majority could easily whip their party into dissolving parliament early, thus negating the fixed term, but hopefully the change in rules will mean that such an option would only be politically tenable if it was clear that the government could no longer rule.

I don't know what people were thinking a government without a majority which failed a no confidence vote could do- it wouldn't be able to pass anything!

One thing it is worth worrying about is that the lib dems and conservatives are apparently planning to appoint an absurd amount of peers to take away the Labour majority in the Lords. Why they're doing this rather than working immediately towards PR there is utterly unclear. Labour promised reform in the HOL as well, and utterly failed to deliver- if anything they produced a situation worse than the hereditary peers.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Urgh, election results

[I'm covering a lot in one post, as theres a lot I want to say about the election]

So traumatised by the election results was I that I felt unable to comment. Previous to the elections I had felt energised, believing that the Liberal Democrats were not only a party offering a real alternative, but they might be in a real position to deliver change in the next election. I knew the system was broken, but with the numbers the lib dems were polling I thought they stood to make substantive gains. Under a hung parliament, which looked exceedingly likely, they stood in a good position to demand electoral reform.

Then polling day came. The exit polls appeared, and while, like the politicians in the studio, I wanted the results to be wrong, I knew that the methodology behind them was exceedingly solid. So I wasn't surprised, but was disappointed, to see them mostly accurate. In particular, the liberal democrats have managed a gain of 1% of votes, while losing 5 seats. For fucks sake.

The British electorate had spoken, although what it was saying is not clear. Each politican will claim the narrative here- some might claim they wanted a hung parliament, the conservatives will claim that they wanted the conservatives in. Neither is clear- after all a vote does not allow one to express these opinions (incidentally, this is why political engagement beyond voting is rather vital, but thats another day). The one thing that seemed certain was that the voters didn't really want Labour around anymore. 29% isn't as bad as some people thought for Labour, but its still a fairly large slap in the face, disproportional number of seats non withstanding.

So why did the lib dems do as badly as they did? I don't think one can underestimate the utter media blitz directed against Clegg. The Murdoch press were unrelenting in their attacks (often ungrounded and utterly misleading) on the lib dems, and both the Labour and Conservative parties focused their ire on the lib dems. No doubt the lib dems lost vote for unpopular policies such as immigration (which, while smart, is not a vote winner sadly). Its also worth pointing out that the liberal democrats simply have so much less money than Labour, and certainly the conservatives.

There isn't much of an ethos of member donations in this nation for parties- the internet actually provides a neat tool for members to donate to a party they want to get in, but I don't think most do it. Instead parties get a lot of their funding from shady millionares, or the unions for Labour (who are just as shady really). This is a fundamentally undemocratic problem, and is not going to be fixed by the conservatives. One person having a massive influence on a parties direction is not a good thing, it is not good for democracy, its not even good for rich people- Murdoch having power over the parties only cements his position of power.

Of course working against the liberal democrats is their broad base. The electoral system is just cripplingly unfair. I understand the notion that we need strong governments, but there are countless governments in Europe that manage to produce them, and they are just so much more fair. Labour shouldn't be able to talk about coalition right now- if we were in a fair system it would be the conservatives and the liberal democrats.

So, what coalition am I in favour of? Now unlike many of the left, who are angry at the very idea of a coalition between the conservatives and the liberal democrats, I think it is kind of absurd to dismiss the conservatives out of hand. To do so assumes that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are a block of one. They're not. Many lib dems voters did want Labour out this election, and voted accordingly. Clegg is right in that the party with the most votes and seats DOES have a right to govern. The only issue is, that its clear from this election that we need electoral reform, and funding reform. The conservatives offer neither.

Its true that the parties act in their own self interest. The lib dems want proportional representation and a fairer party funding system because it would benefit them, but in this case it does happen to be the right thing to do. I am distraught by the notion that we may not acheive that.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Why electoral reform

Today I will be casting my vote in Southampton Test. My choice is a bit bleak. I could vote labour, a party I have no faith in anymore, and I feel need time out of power, simply to keep the tories out. Or I could go with my heart and vote lib dem, and possibly contribute to a tory victory here. The latter possibility is unlikely anyway- I doubt power will change hands here.

I'm pretty sure I'll vote lib dem, as every vote counts as an argument for electoral reform- the more absurd the results look (and I'm fairly sure they will)- the more the main parties might actually have to face up to the need for a change.

Worse yet, if I lived 15 minutes up the road, then my vote would be FAR more important. I would be in a marginal constituency which has been tirelessly campaigned in (indeed I helped a little last night, participating in one way even if my vote doesn't count). The people 15 minutes away are members of the group of voters who will actually decide what happens this election.

So vote today, and hope that next election your vote might count.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Top 5 films of the decade

Inspired by film spotting, that most excellent podcast, I've decided to post my top 5 films from the last decade.

Its a tough one, and I have some honorable mentions that I'll share at the end. Note, I will in all probability spoil each film that I talk about here.

#5 No Country for Old Men: The Coen brothers have often shown an obsession with showing characters falling because of their obsession with riches. Here the main character is actually damned for his pity- he could have gotten away if he hadn't come back to give a dying man some water. This is a cruel film, about the harshness of the world. Our protagonist does not die during INSANELY tense scenes earlier in the film, but is murdered off camera. Anton Chigurh, who gives a brilliant performance, does not get caught, or punished, and the only misfortune he suffers is due to random chance.

#4 The Incredibles: Yes, I know, on some level, that WallE is better. Except I have seen few things that have managed to accurately capture the family dynamic as well as the Incredibles. I have seen few films with action as kinetic as this film. Its a brilliant, funny, family story, and I will hold it above other Pixar films for a long time to come. The moral at its core is a tiny bit muddled, but otherwise I find this film flawless.

#3 City of God: Wow. Now this is one hell of a film. Filmed using actors from the slums of Rio De Janiero, this tells the rise of a gangster with no soul, and the war erupting when he decides to take control of the entire region. As the narrative proceeds, and we see a monster take more and more control, we also follow our protagonist, who is learning how to be an adult, falling in love, and doing his best to escape the slum. Of course, his escape only underlines all those who failed to do so, and instead took up a gun, dying before their eighteenth birthday.

#2 Memento: Still probably Christopher Nolan's best film, the central conceit here is brilliant, and is vital to underline the mystery at the heart of the film. We follow the film from the perspective of one who has forgotten all he has done, and it leads to moments of hilarity, and moments of tension. A splendid film that should be watched by all.

#1 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Well it had to be, didn't it? The perfect marriage of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman to make a film about love and memories, and how forgetting does us no good. The imagination, the wit, the soul on display here is splendid to observe. I don't think Gondry has been as good since- Science of Sleep explores the same themes, but felt a lot more empty than this work. Great performances here from everyone- I love both Carey and Winslet in this film. We get to see the best and worse of their relationship, and even the ending works (something that often lacked in Kaufman's earlier films).

Honorable mentions- The Dark Knight is the best super hero film so far, but is outmatched by other films on this list. Amelie is a beautiful fairy tale, and could easily be on this list. Children of Men would definitely be on this list if I had watched it more than once- I absolutely loved it, but am worried that my memories might be unfairly fond. Spirited Away is amazing, and was really just pushed off here. Slumdog Millionare is fantastic- a dark fairytale in the slums of India.

What's everyone elses' top 5?

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Are genres unhealthy for games?

What sort of a game is Pirates? Is it a strategy game, an action game, perhaps even a mini-games game. There are two things we can certain about Pirates. One is that it does not fit easily into any genre, the other is that it is bloody brilliant.

Pirates isn't about being in a genre, its about capturing the idea of being a bucaneer. So it does its best to simulate the important parts of that. You can sail the ocean, fight other vessels, seduce the governers daughter, even become a hero for a particular nation. You can dig for buried treasure, or (in the original at least), get lost at sea, and have to deal with endless mutinies as your food runs out and theres no coast in sight. Pirates is a game of ambition and scope that you don't really see nowadays.

Perhaps such gems are, and always be rare, but I do wonder if the strait jacket of genre limits game creation. I wonder if developers these days, were there to be no game of Pirates, creating a new one would feel limited by the current games in existence.

Does it help us to shoe horn games? There is something to be said for wanting to make the best of a genre- a honed fps, a well crafted platformer, and that approach yields fruits. Yet for something new, and exciting, you really need to start wiht a concept- an idea. Populous is remembered as perhaps one of the earliest god games, which have now become to be regarded as real time strategy games. Yet there is an incredibly under explored mechanic in Populous. For all the exciting spells available, what you spend most of your time doing is leveling and misshaping territory, depending on your particular needs, shaping your people by either forcing them to spread out (on hilly ground), or settle down (on nice level plains).

The history of gaming is littered with games that displayed a surprising amount of ambition- carrier command, the remake of which looks timid, Hunter a 3d person action game for the Atari ST which I'm pretty sure only I remember...

I guess I don't have a point with this ramble, just a wondering that maybe strait jacketing ourselves isn't the best of plans.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

I am an evil sleeping genius

Upon sunday morning we had a christening to attend. Said christening was near Worthing, and would require traveling. So we would need to get up at 6:30, an unholy hour indeed.

The night before we had been out, and while we left relatively early, I had foolishly decided to have a couple of drinks. This led to a rather disturbed night.

I woke up at 10 past 7, with Alice asking me whether we should be up yet. In a panic I declared we only had 20 minutes to get ready, and rushed to be ready.

Now thanks to my massive amount of paranoia against such a situation, we arrived at the station with 10 minutes to spare, rather than the half an hour I might well have thrust upon us, but it was quite the rush to do so. It emerged, however, that this situation was not, as I might have thought, caused by the alarm going off.

Instead, at 6:30, when the alarm had gone off, I reached over and turned it off. Alice asked me whether we should leave. I replied that it would be fine, and went to sleep.

At 5 to 7 Alice woke me up and asked if we should get up. I said no, and went back to sleep.

Finally Alice's attempt at 10 past 7 succeeded.

The worrying part of this narrative is that I have absolutely NO recollection of this conversation. This is not the first part that this has happened. I do things while asleep that I not only forget later, they are utterly counter to my natural instincts.... Thats more than a little disturbing.

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