Can We Forgive Rogue One’s Heroes? Jan18

Can We Forgive Rogue One’s Heroes?...

In a film about good intentions, heavy consciences, and tainted legacies (also, lasers), the cry for redemption is what stood out to me the most. The line between scoundrel and hero is blurred in Rogue One. Galen Erso, the lead scientist behind the construction of the Death Star, wonders if history will remember him as one of the Galaxy’s greatest villains. Unwilling to die like his wife (who makes a stand rather than be a slave to the machinations of the Empire), he makes a deal to help complete the Death Star, believing his actions will be justified by adding a kill switch in secret. Guilt, when faced head on, transforms its subject into a willing sacrifice for good. Captain Cassian has compromised so much of his conscience as a saboteur, and he wonders if there will ever be a momentous enough victory to justify those actions. If he kills for the ideal of freedom that never appears, is he no different than an empire filled with men following violent orders in the name of a peace that is never established? Saw Gerrera, a fanatic, leads a militant terrorist-like group in the face of the Empire. Gerrera has fought too long, making too many compromises to feel like a hero. When in possession of a turncoat Imperial pilot who brings news of the Death Star’s flaw, Gerrera tortures him. While he saved Jyn Erso as a child, he abandons her when she comes of age in a perhaps misguided effort to keep her identity hidden. It’s another difficult choice to weigh heavy on his conscience, but made with good intentions. Desperate circumstances have led these men to embrace disgraceful methods, and they are all of them ashamed. The Turning Point Galen Erso, Cassian Andor, Saw Gerrera, and many of the Rebels...

The journey doesn’t end here Mar05

The journey doesn’t end here

In the Return of the King, Pippin collapses beside a blood-stained Gandalf as they both listen to the orc army chop away at the final barricade in Minas Tirith. Emotionally and physically depleted, Pippin looks over at Gandalf and says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.” Gandalf looks just about as tired and scared as the little hobbit—and certainly they are in a  seemingly-hopeless situation—but he perks up, sensing the same inauthenticity, the same falseness we feel when a story is too glib or too grim when it portrays death. “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take,” Gandalf says. “The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… and then you see it.” “What? Gandalf? See what?” “White shores.. and beyond. A far green country under a swift sunrise.” “Well, that isn’t so bad.” “No, no, it isn’t.” Death is a truth of mortality that cannot be faked Tolkien explains that The Lord of the Rings is ultimately about mortality. In an interview with the BBC, he claims that all stories are really about death, quoting Simone de Beauvoir, “There’s no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to man is ever natural. His presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.” Death is an important theme in fiction, perhaps the most important theme. The stakes have to be high to keep people’s attention, and there’s nothing more exciting than a battle for life. The reason high stakes are so gripping is because, in the end, most of our art is consumed by thoughts of mortality. And when a character appears immortal, we break free from the narrative. The Song of Fire and Ice series is intoxicating because of its brutal treatment of characters and “no one is safe” rule. Characters are on the chopping block (sometimes literally) almost every chapter. There are no redshirts here, or more accurately, anyone could peel off their coat and find a crimson uniform underneath. George R.R. Martin doesn’t shy away from the brutal truth: we know instinctively, deep down, that our time can be up at any juncture, any chapter. But more than just the fascination with dying, viewers and readers are moved by sacrifice. In the original Transformers film (the 1986 version), the most iconic Transformer, Optimus Prime, dies 20 minutes in. His death inspires Ultra-Magnus and the rest of the Auto-Bots to victory. Throughout the film, your mind returns to Optimus, wondering if he will come back, if he will be rebuilt. But he never is. The Auto-Bots end up winning, but their win costs them. They do not emerge unscarred because Optimus Prime is gone forever. Fast-forward to 2007 and the Michael Bay version of the same franchise. Throughout the film, you hear the quote: “No sacrifice, no victory.” And Optimus Prime himself says, “[I am] a necessary sacrifice to bring peace to this planet” and “If I cannot defeat Megatron, you must push the Cube into my chest. I will sacrifice myself to destroy it.” “No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take,” Everything in the rebooted Transformers points towards the sacrificial death of Prime. But in the end, Sam uses the cube to destroy Megatron and everything is right in the world. Optimus doesn’t die, and the death of Megatron costs so little that the victory feels superficial. Sacrifice is often what makes a good story great. Take Superman’s death; he sacrifices himself so someone else can live. Take Gandalf the Grey, who metamorphoses into Gandalf the White, or Peter Parker, who emerges from the death of uncle Ben changed forever. Death doesn’t...

Does it matter if I’m a jerk in a video game?...

Dean Hall’s mod of ARMA 2, DayZ, recreated a grim wasteland that has become an enormous hit. The indie developer successfully created an open world zombie game, but it’s success did not arise from the horror of walking undead, but from the other human players. These other players roaming the same wasteland with you, players that might kill you simply to steal your can opener, were far more terrifying than anyone with rotting flesh. The game was more of a social experiment than anything, and given the complete freedom of the world, it became every avatar for themselves. Naturally, abuse followed. Experienced players carrying heavy firepower have the ability to pick off new players easily, and this inequality is made worse by the game’s perma-death setting where you lose all your equipment and have to respawn at the beginning. Many experienced players take delight in terrorizing new players in a variety of ways, such as forcing them to read books out loud to avoid being shot or yelling obscenities over their dying bodies. Sometimes the better side of charity and human decency would pop up in stories like the “polite robber,”—where a player steals one item from another player’s backpack, but replaces it with a less valuable item and doesn’t kill him— though they are few and far between. Games like Rust capitalized on the popularity of DayZ and literally had new players spawn naked with nothing but a rock in their inventory. Grand Theft Auto also causes a stir because of the player’s freedom to kill, maim and steal. Many in the gaming community roll their eyes at the arguments of de-sensitization and contend that at the end of the day you are driving over pixels, it’s “just a game.” No one is actually being harmed. You can easily ruin a real person’s day, just as if you were being a jerk on the subway in real life. But the line is blurred in a game like DayZ. You can easily ruin a real person’s day, just as if you were being a jerk on the subway in real life. It begs the question, does it matter if we are jerks in a virtual world? What does morality have to say about hurting, rather than helping, someone in a world without consequences? Or is it Hall’s fault for creating a game that rewards players who take what they want? Journey was a game heralded as one of the most moving experiences for players, and like DayZ, players would find themselves sharing an online world with other players. During early iterations of the game, creator Jenova Chen allowed players to physically interact with each, but found instead of working together, players would often try and push each other off of cliffs. He explained players in virtual worlds are like children, they will do whatever gives them the greatest response. In a game, killing someone, especially with consequences like perma-death and the loss of progress and items like in DayZ, this is the greatest impact you can have on a virtual world and its inhabitants. So Chen took out the ability to physically interact with each other. Instead, players could only work together, and communicate in cheery chirps. The result? People worked together, they bonded, and had the polar opposite experience of the trolls of DayZ. “I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy?” —Jenova Chen People have the capacity to be both trolls and good people. The choice is our own, yet game designers hold a lot of sway; they can bring out the best in their players or the worst. They can reward cruelty and selfishness or charity. In competitive multiplayer mode of the MMO game Destiny,...

Shades of Grey in Dragon Age: Inquisition...

My biggest regret during my 100+ hours playing Dragon Age: Inquisition was sentencing a man to a life in prison. Because of my decision, he goes through interrogation (maybe some light torture). He was a power-hungry mage and he had it coming, though; he had allied himself with an evil demigod and helped bring years of misery to millions. When it came time to sentence him—a cool story feature in DA:I is where you act as judge and jury, on a customizable throne of course—I dropped the (level 39 war) hammer. However, there had been a few other options; I could have tried rehabilitating the man by putting him to work teaching other mages his skills, and another choice was to sentence him to death. In the moment, I felt a lifetime in jail to sit and think about what he’d done was suitable. But later on, a companion of mine I greatly respected comments that it was “such a waste” to jail him for life. Looking back at that moment I felt like he was perhaps right. The beauty of Bioware games is the shades of grey they weave into character motivations and subplots. On the surface, the rogue mage was a monster, but Bioware delights in pulling back the layers, and giving the player a tough decision by revealing another side to the story. The crimes the mage committed were out of desperation, a grab at unholy power in an attempt to save the life of his son. Now, as I review the full picture, I feel the guilt crawl in where righteous anger once sat. This is Bioware storytelling at its best. Video games are so often guilty of painting character motivations in broad strokes; you know an evil wizard is...