To punch or not to punch...

Punishing bad guys is the staple to most video games, and for good reason. After all, who doesn’t feel satisfied after sending Bowser hightailing it away, destroying Ganondorf  by using his own magic against him, or giving Sephiroth what for? These games appeal to the desire to right wrongs and to give the villains what they deserve. I want to bring justice to my wounded hero, naturally. The Mass Effect series has some impressive dialogue and morality options (yes it is unfortunate that you have to choose mostly Paragon or Renegade options to get the most out of the game, but I won’t get into that here). I like getting to make my own mistakes and deciding whether I want to punch someone in the face or not, rather than watching the hero commit to actions beyond my control. As such, I get to choose (to an extent) how to carry out justice as Commander Shepard. Many scenarios in the Mass Effect games require choices that affect later outcomes, and a lot of those choices involve dealing with injustice. How I go about doing something is just as important as the end it accomplishes. Is it the “right” choice, for instance, to kill the Rachni Queen on Noveria, or to let her go? The rachni are incredibly dangerous and previously hostile, as proven from the Rachni Wars. The queen’s offspring had just rampaged through Rift Station, slaughtering a lot of people, and you don’t know if she is telling the truth that she wasn’t behind the attacks. Would killing her be just? On the other hand, the scientists on Noveria had trapped her and used her children in an experiment, and if she is telling the truth, she had nothing to do with the murders. Maybe...

The Mennonite and the Lurmen Mar26

The Mennonite and the Lurmen...

The episode begins like any other episode thus far in the series. Separatist forces are winning on a particular war front and the Jedi (namely Anakin and Ahsoka) arrive just in time to help turn the tide. Except this time, in Season 1, Episode 14, “Defenders of the Peace,” reactions are different. This time, the Jedi run into the Lurmen and Asoka is baffled by their beliefs. The Lurmen are a neutral race and fervent believers in pacifism. Every situation is so different that you can really only hope to make the best decision at the time. The separatists land, lay claim to the planet, and extend their “protection” (easily understood as oppression) to the villagers. The Lurmen don’t necessarily want this, but they don’t resist. “We will offer no resistance.” – Tee Watt Kaa (village elder) As I watched the episode, I could not help but consider my own background. I went to a Mennonite high school and eventually graduated from a Mennonite university. The beliefs of the Anabaptist movement run deep in my veins. I see similarities between the historical Mennonites and the Lurmen. Given that my last Mennonite history course is more than a decade past, I opted to recruit Conrad Stoesz to watch and discuss this episode with. He is an archivist at the Mennonite Brethren Archives in Winnipeg, MB, and an expert on Mennonite history. I hoped that he would see some link between Mennonite history within this episode, and I was not disappointed. Kyle: Did the episode in any way have some relation to Mennonites, or am I way off? Conrad: No you’re not way off. The struggles between values and practicality. The leader that wanted to stay true to the things that have been done, the way they have...

Abandoning our humanity Mar25

Abandoning our humanity

Attack on Titan is a brutal story that centers on one theme: survival. The only humans (that we know of) live in a city protected by gigantic walls, which prevent the Titans—giant, humanoid creatures that consider humans their chew toys—from entering. You might foresee the problems that could arise when Titans break through the first wall that surrounds the city, Maria, and flood the outer ring inside, causing thousands of refugees to retreat back behind Wall Rose (or be Titan dinner). I, however, was too caught up in the terror of the people and watching a mother get chewed up before the eyes of her traumatized son to think about what would happen later. After the citizens who escaped have made it to safety, after everyone, including me, has breathed a sigh of relief, the shoe drops. Hunger sets in as a food shortage becomes apparent. The space in the inner walls cannot support all the refugees who had flooded in from the outer ring, which is now overrun with Titans. Is it worth becoming a monster so your children don’t have to be? What does the government to do in response to this crisis? Something horrendous. But something that I might do in the same situation, because I can’t see an alternative. They send about 250,000 of the refugees (20% of the populace)—farmers, blacksmiths, architects, gardeners, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers—on a “mission” to reclaim Wall Maria. It’s a suicide mission, a glorified reason for getting rid of the extra mouths to feed. Armin’s grandfather is one of the people enlisted to go, and we see him saying goodbye to Armin with a grim but determined expression. He knows exactly where he is going: to his death. Technically, he chooses to go, but is it really a choice? Is there really another option? Sure enough, every single one of the refugees is crushed and eaten by the Titans, and this is one of the many reasons the main character of the show, Eren, vows revenge on the creatures and, along with Armin, joins the army to fight against them. I was too caught up watching a mother get chewed up before the eyes of her traumatized son. The needs of the many, as it were. RIP Leonard Nemoy. Armin, generally the voice of wisdom in the show, says at one point, “You can’t change anything unless you can discard part of yourself too. To surpass monsters, you must be willing to abandon your humanity.” Is abandoning your humanity worth mere survival? Are you abandoning the very thing you are fighting for by doing so? Or is it worth becoming a monster so your children don’t have to be? Everyone has a choice, but it is those decisions that seem to have no right answer that I dread facing. Would I have the courage (or folly) to make the same decision and walk off on a mission that if actually succeeded, would mean abandoning my own humanity to accomplish it? It is hard to say one way or the other until Titans decide to invade Canada, but I do know I would be terrified of the ethical decision before me. Whether it be Adama or Obama, these tough decisions are not new. At first sight, in Attack on Titan the needs of the many mantra can be interpreted as sacrificing your life for the lives of all the others who are left behind. That’s noble. That’s honourable. But the scary thought is pondering a future where it might be necessary for someone to sacrifice their humanity to preserve the humanity of others. That choice is...

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal Mar18

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal...

The best kind of traitor lives in a world of grey. They are not just evil for evil’s sake, but they have motive, they have passion, they are doing what makes sense to them. Even when I want to throw the TV remote at Jayne’s head when he betrays Simon and River during their heist on Ariel in Firefly, I can’t help but understand his desire to leave the cruddy life of space piracy to find a tropical planet to live the rest of his days with the reward money (or, more likely, spend it on his own ship, Vera upgrades, and “other” services). The conflict in him is obvious throughout the show. He’d grown attached to the Serenity’s crew. This was a hard decision. It was possibly made easier because Simon and River were relatively new and they weren’t a part of Mal’s crew. Not to mention he didn’t really like either of them. I don’t think even Jayne could have turned Kaylee in to the Alliance if she was a wanted convict. It is only when Mal shoves Jayne out of the airlock doors that we begin to see the true measure of Jayne’s character. Mal: “I should’ve shot you the second I found out what you did.” Jayne: “That would’ve been the right thing.” Could our scruffy-looking, loot-loving, gun-toting criminal actually be sorry for what he did? When Jayne realizes he’s going to die, he doesn’t plead for his life. He doesn’t try to explain his actions. He says to Mal, “Do me a favour… Make something up. Don’t tell them [the crew] what I did.” This. “I could either move forward or stay in the past. But the only way to move forward was to forgive myself.” This is why...

Companions and the ‘verse Mar02

Companions and the ‘verse...

Prostitution—that delicate word that you don’t bring up unless you’re debating Canada’s new law on the subject. It’s a topic that’s dealt with pretty openly in Firefly, though, as one of the Serenity’s crew is a registered Companion. From watching the show, I get the notion that being a Companion is an elegant and respected occupation within the Alliance, though Mal doesn’t seem to agree. Inara: “You have a strange sense of nobility, Captain. You’ll lay a man out for implying I’m a whore, but you keep calling me one to my face.” Mal: “I might not show respect to your job, but he didn’t respect you. That’s the difference. Inara, he doesn’t even see you.” Mal, in fact, spends a lot of his time trying to protect Inara and takes the chance to detour from her requested destinations as much as possible. Though it seems Inara has quite a high social status, as demonstrated at the end of “Shindig.” The Alliance has made prostitution as safe as possible for Companions, it would seem. Atherton: “Well get ready to starve. I’ll see that you never work again.” Inara: “Actually, that’s not how it works. You see, you’ve earned yourself a black mark in the client registry. No Companion is ever going to contract with you, ever again.” Do we impose the morals of society at large onto those who do not agree with them? This status differs completely for prostitutes who are not protected by the Guild, as we see in “Heart of Gold,” where the crew of Serenity answer a distress call to help out a prostitute. The woman is pregnant and a powerful man named Ranse Burgess has threatened he will take the child if it’s his. It’s apparent the prostitutes deal...

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,...

Let’s be bad guys! Or good guys? Feb19

Let’s be bad guys! Or good guys?...

I am a flan. I won’t deny it. And no, that wasn’t a spelling error (“flan” roughly translates into “hardcore Firefly fan,” due to a fortunate slip of the tongue by Nathan Fillion). It was no surprise, therefore, that a few of my “loving” friends recently sent me the Cracked.com video “Firefly Crew Were the Bad Guys.” The video and a variety of discussions on the internet about it, some overly profane and some not, raise a lot of great points to their cause: the Alliance are the good guys. *Collective gasp* Here are the basic points of the argument: Zoe: “Preacher, don’t the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin’?” The Alliance creates order throughout the galaxy by establishing space stations, maintaining a military presence and distributing medicine. Those outside of Alliance “control” tend to be quite unsavoury. Mal and Zoe are biased sources, so their perspective of the “evil” Alliance is skewed. The Alliance has established “freedom of religion” and “safe and legal prostitution.” (Personally, I am not sure the latter is a plus, but that’s just me.) The Alliance has created a strong enough economy that a preacher and a companion can afford space-rent. The Alliance’s treatment of River could be seen as acting as the greater good for society. Here’s the problem with the premise of these arguments (and the beauty of Firefly): humanity is far more complex than simple archetypes of good guys and bad guys. The Firefly crew and the Alliance are all bad guys… and good guys. That is what makes Firefly so grand. We see ourselves in these flawed characters, in the good and in the bad. The world of Firefly swims through the fog of moral grey areas with a relatable grace. Book: “Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat...

Finding beauty in the end of Korra Feb16

Finding beauty in the end of Korra...

I was a little surprised, though looking back at the show’s last two seasons, I can see there were subtle hints. Korra has her relationship with Mako in the first seasons of the show, but then there isn’t much in the way of romance after that. However, her friendship with Asami grows throughout the entire series, to the point where she writes Asami a letter and tells her what is going on in her life when she doesn’t open up to any of her other friends. Even though the ending does not jive with my personal beliefs, I found it beautiful. During my introduction to the show, I actually wasn’t sure if Asami would last past season one; she is given the opportunity to join the Equalists and has motive for doing so, but she ends up sticking with Korra throughout every ordeal. I’m glad she does, because her tough, independent, and moral character is largely why I continued watching The Legend of Korra to the end. Asami faces all sorts of temptations and has every reason to spite Korra (you’d think benders murdering her mother and Korra stealing her boyfriend would be enough to turn her to the dark side), but instead she responds with love and friendship. So of all the things that happen in The Legend of Korra series finale, the moment that stands apart most is the final scene where Korra and Asami are staring at each other romantically, holding hands and heading off into the glow of the spirit world together. This ending to the series caused quite a stir. Some viewers responded with confusion, some with denial, some with anger, and some with delight that their hopes for “Korrasami” had come true. I might have seen the ending coming if I hadn’t been watching the show through a heterosexual lens,...

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...

Swinging a mile in Spider-Man’s tights Feb02

Swinging a mile in Spider-Man’s tights...

“With great power comes great responsibility.” This six-word sentence, said first in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) by Ben Parker to a young Peter Parker, has become one of the most iconic sentences in all of comic book history. This statement condenses Marvel’s purest sense of heroism into a balanced and understandable concept: those of us who have the ability to do good are charged with the duty to do so. Peter Parker is the hero who most comic fans wish they could be. Wolverine is indestructible, but lonely. The Hulk is the ultimate power fantasy, but lacks self-control. Iron Man may be a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, but he’s not exactly well adjusted. Marvel is no stranger to heroes with grey-area morality.Kids grow up pretending to shoot webs from their wrists and swing from lampshades because something about Peter Parker and Spider-Man has resonated with them for over 50 years. In 2012, Marvel shook things up by ending 50 years of Amazing Spider-Man and starting up Superior Spider-Man to run in its place, with a surprising twist. Otto Octavius has swapped his mind with Peter Parker’s and left Peter to die in his own deteriorating body. For two years, Otto becomes Spider-Man. Having inherited all of Peter’s memories, he believes that, unshackled by Peter’s concrete morality, he can be a better hero, and—you guessed it—a superior Spider-Man. To New York City, Spider-Man is still Spider-Man—he’s still spinning webs of any size and catching thieves just like flies. The first time anyone notices something is off is when Superior Spider-Man corners a murderous villain named Massacre. Spider-Man turns Massacre’s weapon against him and publicly executes him by shooting him in the head. Though Massacre deserved to pay for his crimes, this is not something...