Archive for April, 2012


Opinions

On Facebook today, I noticed that a friend had posted a link to a petition to be signed, expressing outrage that the Canadian government had reopened the debate on abortion.

And then I made a terrible, terrible mistake.

I recognize that the few people who bother to read this are almost all female, so I feel like I need to tread lightly here. Unlike my last entry, which likely elicited yawns, this one could inspire outrage. The joke I made last time about having my head placed on a pike could come to fruition if I’m not careful, so let me explain a few things before I tell you what my terrible, terrible mistake was.

Firstly, it should be noted that Canada currently has no law on abortion whatsoever. Nothing in the Criminal Code of Canada applies to abortion. There used to be a law governing abortion, but when this law was struck down in 1988, no new law was created to replace it. Abortion is not legal because the law says it’s legal. Abortion is legal because the law says nothing about it at all. This may seem like semantics, but it’s an absolutely vital and often overlooked part of the debate.

Second, the Canadian government is not looking at criminalizing abortion. Anyone who tells you this is lying, or crazy, or a militant feminist. Or all three. What the Canadian government is doing is looking at creating a law governing abortion, like the majority of Western democracies have. At worst, the government would cap abortions at something like 24 weeks as our British friends have.

Third, nothing is likely to come of this action. There’s just too much opposition.

Okay. With that out of the way, let me tell you what my terrible, terrible mistake was.

I…

Geez this is tough.

I commented on that post with the three points I made above, and then ended by saying that I wouldn’t be opposed to the creation of a 24 week cap.

There, I confessed. Go on then. Stone me to death.

No?

Well why not? Why haven’t you crucified me?

What’s that you say? You’re telling me that I’m entitled to my opinion? Seriously?

Well isn’t that a relief! Here I was, thinking that we were living in Paris in 1793, where the penalty for having an opinion was death by guillotine. But we’re not, are we? We’re in Canada in 2012.

Well, you could have fooled me. Because a half hour after I posted I received one of the most scathing responses I’ve received in my life. The entire thing was typical extreme feminist bullshit (“don’t call a fetus a child, it’s offensive to women” “Stop trying to oppress us”, etc), but that’s not what bothered me. What bothered me is that I was told that as a man, I had no right to an opinion on this subject.

No right to an opinion.

As a politics student, I have studied the philosophies of a great many dead white men, many of whom were terribly misogynistic, but even they never claimed that a woman didn’t have the right to an opinion. Many of them said that woman shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or join the work force, or to leave the house, but not allowed to voice an opinion?  The most recent philosopher that I can think of to voice the point of view that a person should not be allowed to have an opinion based on their gender was Aristotle, over 2300 years ago.

I’ve never understood why some people get so aggravated over other peoples’ opinions. They’re just words. My words don’t have any more power than yours do. They don’t harm you, or anyone else. You may disagree with them, sure. And I welcome that – In fact, I would love to hear what your opinion is.  That’s one of the beautiful things about living in a democracy. Everyone has a different perspective on life. But just because someone’s perspective isn’t the same as yours doesn’t lessen their right to express it.

This applies to pretty much everything.

I don’t agree with the views expressed by members of the Church of Scientology, but I don’t deny them the right to express their viewpoint.

I don’t agree with those who argue against gay marriage, but they’re just as free as I am to express their opinions.

I don’t agree with Shulamith Firestone, the single most radical feminist writer I’ve ever come across in my education. She advocated using technology to end sex as a means for reproduction, calling for mandatory in vitro fertilization. This would free women from the “barbarism” of pregnancy. She also believed that sex should become solely a means for pleasure, and everyone, regardless of age or gender, should be allowed to practice it. In one particularly interesting passage, she advocated the legalization of what we would call “child molestation”. Now, I don’t agree with her in the slightest, but she has the right to express her opinion.

 

The only exception is when the opinion itself is harmful to other people. Hate speech is not and should not be considered permissible. James Keegstra, who taught his students that Jews are lesser human beings and that the Holocaust was a fraud, was not just expressing an opinion. He was harming his students, and he was justly punished for this. But as long as an opinion does not harm anyone or disallow competing opinions, why get upset?

Here’s an opinion for you, if you’ll allow me to have one: Everyone should have the right to their own opinion in so far as their opinion does not harm you or take away your right to your own equal opinion.

You know what I love? Silent protagonists.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, silent protagonists are exactly what they sound like: They’re benevolent folk who don’t say anything. Ever.

Silent protagonists don’t work so well in film, television, or books – for obvious reasons. You wouldn’t have an epic series if Harry Potter had zero lines of dialogue over the course of seven books. It just wouldn’t work.

Now, video games are a different story altogether.

 

…Come on now, don’t roll your eyes at me like that. I promise that this’ll be a good one.

Anyhow, video games are different from other forms of media in that you, the player, are the protagonist. When you read Harry Potter, you don’t become Harry Potter. You have no control over his actions. All you can do is observe. When you watch Criminal Minds, you don’t become Derek Morgan (much as I’d love to). Again, all you can do is watch as he kicks ass and takes names.

When you play The Legend of Zelda, however, you do control the protagonist’s actions. Move the control stick, and Link moves along with it. Flick the Wii Remote, and Link raises his sword. You can’t be a passive observer while playing a video game – if you stop controlling the protagonist, the protagonist ceases all action.

You with me so far? Good.

For those of you who have played video games in the past, I’m sure you know what a cutscene is. But in case you’re one of those people who rolled your eyes at me at the beginning, let me explain: A cutscene is a short movie sequence that takes place in the middle of a video game. They occur somewhat frequently in video games, and are used for character development and advancing the plot. Here’s the key bit: during a cutscene, you have no control over the protagonist. That’s right – waggle that Wii Remote all you’d like, Link can’t hear you. Most cutscenes last for less than a minute, but during that minute you have no control over what your protagonist does or says.

I’m not so bothered by the loss of control over what a video game character does during a cutscene. I accept the fact that in the course of saving the world from certain destruction a protagonist is going to have to take actions that cannot be acted out with a controller. I get that.

What bothers me is the loss of control over what a video game character says during cutscenes. Think about the number of times you’ve yelled at a character in a movie “WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT!?” It’s a very similar experience in video games, with the added level of frustration that comes with having had control of this character just seconds before.

If you’re playing a video game, you want to model the main character in your image, whatever that image is. When the protagonist says something that you don’t think he should say, you get annoyed. The problem is that everyone has a slightly different idea about what a main character should say in any given situation. Game developers are aware of this problem, and have come up with two solutions:

1. The “Western” solution, generally used by American and European developers, which centres around customization and giving the player a greater degree of control over what the protagonist does and says throughout the game.

2. The “Japanese” solution, which entirely eliminates all of the main character’s dialogue.

Here’s where I’m going to argue a very controversial position. Ready your pitchforks.

I like the Japanese solution better.

If this were a proper gaming blog with a large following, I would be dead by now, and my head mounted on a pike for all to see. As my following is much more docile (and much fewer in number), I shall now justify my heresy.

The beautiful thing about silent protagonists is that you’re free to imagine that character however you’d like. Video games are all about immersion – about allowing you to escape the world that you inhabit and temporarily become The Hero. Silent protagonists allow you to do this by removing everything that might distance you from a character. When I hear the gruff voice of Solid Snake talking, the illusion is broken, and for a few moments I’m aware that I’m just playing a game.

But when I play the Legend of Zelda, for an hour or two I’m no longer Mike, Internet Blogger Extraordinaire. I’m Link, the Hero of Time! Link, a silent protagonist, can be whatever I want him to be. This creates a deeper connection between the player and the protagonist, and allows for a more fulfilling gaming experience, in my opinion.

Since I’ve used Harry Potter as an example already, I’ll use it once more to conclude. Do you remember reading the Harry Potter series before the movies came out? Do you remember what Harry sounded like to you before Daniel Radcliffe gave him a voice? Millions of people were reading the same book as you, but each one had a different idea about how Harry looked and sounded. Even if you loved the movies, I think you’ll agree that there was something amazing about that. Silent protagonists are the video game equivalent. They allow millions of people to play the same game and get something different out of it.

For that reason, I think that video game characters should take a page out of Link’s book and just shut up.

The Tie-Dye Dog, Reprised

A few weeks ago I posted a story about being six years old, and having a jerk make fun of my Father’s Day present.

That blog was not supposed to have a happy ending. It was supposed to end on a sour note, causing you to lose all faith in humanity.

For whatever reason, when I got around to writing out the conclusion, I thought of a way to make it end on a positive note, and I decided to go in that direction instead.

The result was utter garbage, and for this, I am truly sorry.

This is how The Tie-Dye Dog was supposed to end:

***

The world functions on a truth-by-democracy basis. No one is ever objectively right about anything. It’s all about perception. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, or how “right” you know you are. If people who are more powerful than you think that you’re wrong, then you’re wrong. If they think that you’re crazy, then you’re crazy. If they think that you’re a loser, then you’re a loser.

That’s just the way it is.

Unfriending

Let me tell you, if there was any justice in this world, that last blog would have been nominated for multiple awards and been featured on the evening news for a week. Easily my most brilliant blog ever. Ah well.

 

Today I’m going to write a blog about unfriending, or  defriending, or whatever you call the process of removing friends on Facebook.

An increasing number of people have taken to “trimming the fat” on their friends list and deleting people who they are no longer in contact with. This seems to make sense. After all, who cares if that person you went to elementary school with 10 years ago had bad acid reflux last night?

Well… I do, for one. And I feel as though this unfriending trend undermines what social networking is supposed to be about in the first place.

For me, Facebook isn’t a place to keep in contact with my close friends. You know what I use for that? It’s called real life. Here’s how it works: If I want to know what my buddy Adam is up to, I walk across the hallway to his room, and knock on his door. If I’m in Woodbridge and I’m curious about what Nick is up to, I walk around the block to his house. I don’t need Facebook to see what Adam and Nick are up to – I can just ask them.

Now, what about those people who I haven’t spoken to in months, or years? What about those good friends I once had who drifted away over time? What about that person I met on vacation that one year? With these people, you can’t just ask what they’re up to. It’s awkward, right? But Facebook allows you to keep up with their lives all the same.

Surely I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders what long lost friends and acquaintances are up to. And if you’re anything like me, what do you do? You look them up on Facebook, of course!

That, for me, is what Facebook (and social networking as a whole) is about. Not the people you know well, but the people you don’t know anymore. Personally I’ve never unfriended anyone, and I don’t have any intention to ever do so.

I was a little bored today and decided to make this graph, which shows the amount of times people used Google to search for the terms “Kony” and “Porn” during the month of March.

This, my friends, may just be the greatest graph of all time. I think it speaks for itself.