How Portal’s Turrets Model the First Step to Empathy...

Because Portal is an iconic video game series within geek culture, I felt like I knew almost everything about it before I started playing. I already understood the concept—a young woman, Chell, wakes up in a testing facility, solves puzzles at the instruction of a demented A.I., and attempts to escape Aperture Science. My foreknowledge made the learning curve seem really shallow, and I already knew about GLaDOS’s personality, having heard so many of her lines out of context. While I enjoyed the game immensely, none of it seemed particularly new to me—except for the turrets. The turrets are the complete antithesis of GLaDOS. Whereas GLaDOS is out to get Chell, the turrets are just doing their job. GLaDOS insults; the turrets say please. GLaDOS lies and manipulates; the turrets are completely straightforward. When I encountered them, the turrets hadn’t been programmed to encounter test subjects. Instead of the military androids they expected, they got Chell, and they weren’t quite sure what to do with her. It’s a far simpler answer than I want it to be. I’d love something more complex that gives me permission to stay in a bad mood. As the turrets tried to fulfill their job with limited information, Chell dropped them from the ceiling, hurled weighted cubes at them, or just picked them up and tossed them, but their tone never changed from polite helpfulness. As they shuddered and died, I was startled and intrigued by their words: “I don’t blame you.” “No hard feelings.” “I don’t hate you.” “Why?” The turrets didn’t seem to take Chell’s attacks against them personally. Rather than get angry at her, they asked her to stop. And when she didn’t, they didn’t hate her for it. They weren’t offended by her actions, and...

The Freedom of Failure in Ender’s Shadow Jun05

The Freedom of Failure in Ender’s Shadow...

After reading the novel Ender’s Game, I discovered Ender’s Shadow, a parallel story about Bean’s journey through Battle School and the war against the Formix. There was a surprising lack of repetition for two novels that covered the same events; the protagonists had such different backgrounds, attitudes, and personality that each novel told a very different story. And I was surprised to realize that the story I preferred was Bean’s. I think the main reason for my preference is that if I had to choose to be one of the two characters, I’d pick Bean. For one thing, Bean’s story has an upward arc that ends with him gaining a family, while Ender’s continually dips down in fits of despair, and he is finally banished from Earth and his family; for another, Bean shows mercy to his enemies whereas Ender destroys them; and though Bean struggles with acceptance, he eventually becomes part of a team, while Ender is continually isolated. When there’s no way to win, Ender stops; only way not to lose is not to play. But the biggest reason I’d rather be in Bean’s tiny shoes is because unlike Ender, who must never lose, he has the freedom to fail. This is drawn into sharpest relief when Ender confides to Bean his struggle to remain undefeated. Bean asks him why it matters if he loses one game, and Ender’s reply speaks of desperation: “That’s the worst that could happen. I can’t lose any games. Because if I lose any—” We, along with Bean, are left to speculate what the consequences could be. In Ender’s Shadow, we see Bean wonder if Ender fears the loss of his reputation as the perfect soldier, of the confidence his army has in him, or of the confidence...

Where the Sea Meets the Land: Ego the Living Planet, Iron Man, and the Power of Relationship May29

Where the Sea Meets the Land: Ego the Living Planet, Iron Man, and the Power of Relationship...

Brandy, you’re a fine girl, What a good wife you would be But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea. “We’re the sailor in that song,” Ego tells Peter in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. “There are fine girls out there, but they aren’t for us. We’re made for bigger things.” And by “bigger things,” Ego meant taking over the universe. When Ego first discovered life elsewhere in the universe, it disappointed him. It wasn’t as powerful, as strong, or as perfect as he was. So he began a plan to terraform (Egoform?) every planet, replacing all known life with himself. Nothing else, not even the love of an earth-born River Lily, was worth putting aside this meaning Ego had found for his life. This plan of expansion was Ego’s sea—his life and his love. Nothing on shore could compare to it, and to him, it was worth destroying the distraction Meredith Quill posed to him. Ego’s story reminds me of another sailor in the Marvel universe—Tony Stark. Being Iron Man is Tony’s life, his sea. Building the suits and coming up with better ways to protect the world have become so much a part of who he is that he can’t stop, can’t slow down, not even for Pepper. At the end of Iron Man 3, Tony blows up the Iron Legion, effectively promising Pepper that she’s his priority, and that he’ll do better for her. But by The Avengers: Age of Ultron he’s already in over his head trying to save the world, and by Captain America: Civil War, he’s spent so much time on the sea, there’s no one left for him on land. I can understand where both Ego and Tony come from. Though I’m not all-powerful or a genius, I have a bit of the sailor in myself as well. As a creative from birth, when I don’t get the time to work on any of my many projects, I end up feeling purposeless, like a sailor on land. I miss my sea of hobbies, and sometimes it does seems like the people on land are distractions. And sometimes, even though I want to focus on the people around me, I am drawn back into my projects, ignoring the people I love even while I’m with them. But what happens when I get so lost in my accomplishments and in the purpose I’ve created for myself? What happens when I reach my goal and then move on to the next, and then the next, and then the next, because I need that purpose to survive? What happens after Ego conquers the universe, after every planet is part of him? His purpose, the meaning he’d created for his life, would be accomplished, and he would be alone forever—and for real this time. What happens if Tony devotes his entire life to creating inventions that protect the world? He won’t be able to protect mankind from itself, and will inevitably run himself to the ground trying to. What happens when I focus all my time and effort on making, building, creating? The frustrations I encounter while designing will build up, and begin to outweigh the joy I find in creating, especially as the things I create continually fail to match the perfect expectations I hold in my head. The sea is beautiful, and there is nothing wrong with loving it. Having a purpose, finding meaning for your life, is essential. But when you lose the context of relationship, and set sail never to return to land, it’s easy for the meaning to warp and mutate into something far less beautiful. Ego found life that existed outside of himself, and was disappointed by it. But rather than using his power for the benefit of others, he decided that greatness lay in replacement rather than cooperation. Had he gone back to Meredith, he might have...

A Response to Time Loops Apr24

A Response to Time Loops...

In All You Need is Kill, a novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka turned into a manga (and the source material for the movie Edge of Tomorrow), the earth has been overrun with aliens known as Mimics. New recruit Keiji Kiriya is stuck in a time loop that starts the morning before his first battle and ends mid battle the next day, if he hasn’t died before then. When Keiji realizes he is trapped in the loop, he tries several times to escape, but there is nowhere for him to run to. So on the fifth loop, he commits himself to fight against the loop—to train and learn until he overcomes it. And he does. He pushes himself, trains his mind, and learns how to fight effectively, because every time he fails and dies, he can start again, having learned from his mistakes. It’s slow work. Every day he has to go through the same conversations, the same basic training, before he can focus on becoming a better soldier to escape the loop. Every time he wakes up, his progress is erased, except for the little piece he learned that he carries in his mind. I admire Keiji’s dedication. It only takes him four failures, four loops, before he vows to fight the loop, and he doesn’t break that vow. Some days he gets through his mundane tasks only to break his back minutes into training. The loop starts again, and he goes through another three hours of push-ups before he can begin his true work. I can relate to the feeling of being in a time loop. Sometimes it feels like the world gets reset when I go to bed. Every morning I make my bed, make breakfast, do the dishes, walk to work, come...