top search of the week

Prose about death

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Week ending September 21, 2014

A number of search terms relating to prose and death brought readers to the blog this past week. A welcome respite from the usual suspects.

Earlier this year, I posted an excerpt from the book The Short-Timers – which is the basis for my favorite movie, Full Metal Jacket. The title of that post is Death Prose and the excerpt goes on to describe the moment of death for one of the central characters – and also a major deviation from the movie’s plot.

I suspect that someone vaguely remembered the post and was searching for it, resulting in the wide shot group of prose and death hits.

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video games

Magic and Steel: The Predator Drone as Magitek Armor

Predator

Something fun for the weekend.

One of my favorite pieces of music from the Final Fantasy series is ‘Devil’s Lab,’ which is the mechanical theme played while exploring the Magitek factory in Final Fantasy VI. Magitek armor, for those not in the know, is the fusion of magic and technology to create a powerful weapon.

I don’t know what gave me the thought, but as we soar into the future, I can’t help but think that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or “drones” as we commonly know them, are our Magitek armor. It’s the fusion of all of our best technologies to create a beautiful and deadly machine, without too much thought given towards the ethics of the matter.

If I were to visit a drone factory, this is the music I’d expect to hear.

In drafting this post, I listened to a lot of different version of ‘Devil’s Lab.’ This one, done 8-Bit style, was the most interesting.

Cyberwar, as it were, will be waged to ‘Circumambient‘ by Grimes.

The picture is a promotional still from Horse Volume, the studio behind the upcoming game ‘The Sun Also Rises.’

reaction

Rage Against Women

w6u-gender-she-s-so-hot-right-now-genderGender, she’s so hot right now.

Gender.

In the past few weeks, two worlds that I follow closely have mirrored each other: women in video games and women in the military. The role of women and the way women are treated have been the topic du jour in both circles and in many ways, that interest has manifested itself through gender-bashing in both cultures, at least online.

A couple of weeks ago, a piece written by Brian Adam Jones for Task & Purpose (The Sexist Facebook Movement the Marine Corps Can’t Stop) garnered a lot of attention in military circles. In that piece, Jones calls out the numerous military culture sites – mostly on Facebook – that feature misogynistic material often shared by active duty service-members. Many of those sites share pictures of currently serving female service-members in a completely inappropriate “hot or not” style. On those sites women aren’t taken seriously as service-members, and are often referred to with demeaning memes and images. There’s a “pile on” effect that goes on, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of users jumping in, sharing and liking to create the effect of an exclusive male community where women just aren’t welcome.

While this was going on, in the video game world, #GamerGate was unfolding. The whole GamerGate thing is complicated (you can read more about it here or take a trip down the rabbit hole), but it essentially boils down to a lot of the same stuff that is happening in military circles. That is, the culture is starting to wrestle with the role of women in what has been (until now) a traditionally male-dominated culture. There are movements of angry young men (and some women) who accuse certain gamers and game journalists of pursuing a “social justice” agenda in the video gaming community and that video games themselves, and to a lesser degree, the culture surrounding games, are the ultimate victim in this struggle.

Article after article is being written about women in the infantry or women going to Ranger School. And article after article is being written about women’s role in games, how they are depicted and how they are treated as players.

The major things these worlds have in common are their traditionally male-dominated cultures, a changing social dynamic where spaces once denied to women are gradually being opened, and a vicious internet culture that aggressively attacks “outsiders.”

In the case of the military, there have been standing regulations against women serving in certain roles. As those regulations have changed, the military has adapted and grown. With the exception of the unregulated social media spaces, that growth has been, for the most part, responsible and professional.

In the gaming world, however, there are no such rules prohibiting women from participating. There are just norms. Norms that say gaming is a male space and that space is policed by (mostly) male gamers.

“The Fappening” confirms their tenet that men, not pretty girls, are what makes the world—or at least the internet—go around. It confirms that they know more about technology, and privacy, and basic iCloud maintenance. It reassures them that the web is a patriarchal place, that the biggest risks in online life apply not to them but to nubile young women, who, granted the power of sex appeal, risk losing it all when that sex appeal is publicly distributed.
Roisin Kiberd (Vice)

Modern military culture and gaming culture are strikingly similar. Especially online. As I’ve written about before, gaming is no longer an obscure hobby for nerds in the military. Everyone’s gaming, and the soldiers who aren’t are the weird ones. Gaming culture bleeds into military culture, and to a lesser extent, the opposite might also be true (I’d argue by its sheer size, gaming culture is more dominant than military culture).

I think a lot of the anger and aggressive language probably stems from a similar place for both cultures – that is, a fear of losing one of the “last all-boys clubs.” Whether it be the infantry or Call of Duty, these have been spaces dominated by men, and inside them, as female marine Capt. Serrano elegantly writes, men “…can fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together.”

While she isn’t lying, she’s telling the “Little Rascals” version of what actually happens. “Raunchy jokes” is a polite way of putting it. The conversations that take place in an all-male infantry unit is an ultimate “ungoverned space.” Similarly, the relative anonymity provided during a Gears of War death-match tempts (mostly) young men to say whatever it is they want, which for whatever reason, is usually anti-women and anti-gay. When that rhetoric shifts online to social media- in both military and gaming cultures – it manifests itself in threats of violence and rape, usually as “just a joke.”

It all feels like a friction point in a long, long ideological struggle. To rage against women – whether it be in video games or the military – feels terribly backwards, and I can’t imagine a future where anyone will look back on this moment in time and nod approvingly at that behavior. This silly process is probably a painful but necessary step in moving this whole thing forward.

video games

How a 1990s Strategy Game Predicted the Birth of ISIS

jake-busey-contact

Okay, that was a ridiculous headline.

But I’ve been thinking lately about Civilization II, a game that I spent countless hours playing in my attic room during summer vacations. I enjoyed taking a civilization from its infancy and growing it into the space age, trying my best to satisfy my bloodlust through war while being sure to keep some other civilizations alive to keep things interesting.

As the game progresses, from the stone age through medieval times to the present and beyond, I was always perplexed by the emergence of the ‘fanatic’ unit type. Usually towards the end of the play-through, when my civilization was technologically advanced and beginning to explore space, ‘fanatic’ units began to populate. They were a kind of dismounted infantry. They sucked at fighting and were easy to destroy. But they were annoying, destabilizing, and a distraction.

They came from governments that shifted to the ‘fundamentalist’ type. The fanatic units were aggressive and cared little for self-preservation.

As a teenager, I never really understood why such ‘backwards’ units would emerge. In the years before 9/11, I always pictured them as the Jake Busey-from-Contact type of fundamentalist, not the al Qaeda/ISIS variety. Still, they were attacking my mechanized infantry with waves of untrained ‘fanatics’ and it was annoying.

It’s interesting now to think of the ‘fundamentalist fanatic’ as a reaction to the civilization that’s sending men to the moon, but also working towards keeping the “other” civilizations at bay and away.

soldiering

The Officer Separation Board and the Junior Officer Exodus

“Also, how I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half-sheets of note paper.”
The Waves

The line above is from the play-poem The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It is one from among many great lines, but that one reminded me of something I had written about before, which is the dismal realization that a successful military career fits neatly on a single sheet of paper or PowerPoint slide. That is to say, a military career places you on a rail cart that has very few deviations along the way. One can predict with reasonable certainty, the next twenty years. In order to stay on that rail cart, you simply have to outperform most of your peers and make zero mistakes.

For twenty years.

The fallout from this summer’s Officer Separation Board is pretty much over, as far as I can tell. A few articles were written about it, the most prominent, I think, the back and forth that occurred on The Best Defense in, uh, defense of or against MAJ Slider.

And it looks like there will likely be more “force shaping” events, like Officer Separation Boards, in the future.

It creates an additional consideration for junior officers whose initial service commitments usually expire within 4-to-6 years of joining. Part of the equation of whether to “get out” or “stay in” will likely be where they think they’ll stack up in a potential, possibly fictional, future Officer Separation Board – something I’m sure the group that just went through it didn’t think they’d ever have to face – especially not during wartime. Not only will the junior officer have to weigh things like job satisfaction, benefits, and service when considering whether to get out or stay in, but how he or she thinks they stand when lotty-dotty-errbody is considered for separation and someone has to go.

A majority of those who were cut had something derogatory in their file, as seems to be the case with MAJ Slider. Getting promoted and moving along the rail cart is no promise of suddenly having that rail cart kicked over by Uncle Sam if the need to reduce numbers comes along.

Future OSBs may not have the luxury of cutting the low-hanging fruit (derogatory marks on file). Cuts might need to be made much deeper, especially if the force reductions become more severe.

Back to the pondering junior officer, the calculus that goes into whether to stay in or get out not only considers if you’ve messed up, but includes a calculation as to whether you can maintain zero-defects and glowing reviews indefinitely. Otherwise, the axe may be inching nearer.

Among military circles, the military “brain drain” or junior officer exodus has been a recurring topic of discussion. To a junior officer trying to determine if it makes sense to stay in for a full career, the prospect of future OSBs will surely factor into that decision making practice, likely tipping the decision towards getting out.

I’m of the mind that military service is just that – service – and there should be no hard and fast expectations of what one is “owed” in terms of future employment. That said, it would be foolish to ignore the things going on in the background and making the best decision possible given all of the relevant facts, with a little bit of voodoo and reading the tea leaves when appropriate.

video games

Saving Catiua

Catiua Suicide

Catiua’s suicide.

I’m still slogging through Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I’ve finally reached a point in the game that I remember reaching the first time I played it and abandoned it. I know I am nearing the end. Or, at least, I think I am nearing the end. When I played originally, I followed the Law route (which means you know what I did at Balamusa). I eventually got to the part where Catiua kills herself in front of you. It was pretty heavy stuff for the the fifteen year old me. Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing.

The other day, I finally rescued Catiua only to see her kill herself again. The game let me save just before the dialogue and I was presented with a couple of choices on what to say, which hinted at alternate outcomes. I took a deep breath, and before I continued with the game, I decided to reset it and see what would happen if I chose a different dialogue option.

Given the two options of dialogue, I chose the “other” one, which kept the conversation going a little longer opening up a second pair of dialogue options. I chose the option that I thought most natural, and she killed herself a second time.

I reloaded again, a lá All You Need Is Kill / Edge of Tomorrow and went through the dialogue again, choosing the “other” option again, which resulted in Catiua collapsing and apologizing, and most importantly, not committing suicide.

A new cut-scene appeared and Catiua joined the party. I saved the game and went to lunch.

There, I started to regret resetting the game (twice!) in order to make sure Catiua joined. One of the things I love about Tactics Ogre (and Mass Effect) is how your in-game decisions have lasting effects. The in-game dialogue options hinted to me that there may have been a way to save Catiua – whom I assumed always killed herself on the Law route from my first play through over ten years ago. As I finished my lunch, I felt guilty for having made the wrong decision that led Catiua to kill herself and not accepting that fate and replaying it for a more favorable outcome.

The game, now, feels a bit skewed. I’ll finish it out, and once complete, there is an option to go back and make different decisions to “see what happens” and fully explore the game. That’ll be the first thing I do. But I feel a bit like an impostor.

The whole episode is similar to the death/saving of Shadow in Final Fantasy VI, which gets a great write-up over at the A.V. Club. In the era of GameFAQs, it is getting harder and harder to be surprised in video games anymore. Perma-death and game-changing decisions are still too easy to avoid or double-back over. Despite resetting the game to get the result I wanted, I know I would have enjoyed this part more if I would have accepted the consequences of my initial decision, which is why I did what I did at Balamusa, by the way. It’s also why I will forever “Tell them I held the line…

It’s all a bit complicated. I thought it interesting and I wanted to get it down here before I forgot about it. There’s so much to say about Tactics Ogre – a very adult game, way before it’s time.

 

top search of the week

American Infidel

American Infidel M4

Week ending August 31, 2014

The top search of the week was american infidel. As I’ve written before, most of the traffic that comes to this site comes through my posts about the use of the word ‘infidel.’ A variation of the search term is usually responsible for bringing people here.

This is the first time that american infidel  topped out the list. A quick Google search shows that the top hits are a clothing line, a motorcycle club, and a Facebook page for the clothing line (with over 350,000 ‘likes’). You can click through all that if you want. You’ll find exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve been following this trend the way I have.

What’s becoming more interesting about the infidel  phenomena is how it is spreading outside of the military realm. Most of my posts on the subject have been geared towards the military and veteran community. Looking through some of those sites, it’s clear that regular joe-schmo Americans are starting to identify themselves as infidels, which is both absurd and troubling.

On the topic, On Violence had a post last week on the topic that gives a nice shout out to Carrying the Gun. It’s worth checking out, as their analysis is always good and usually more biting than mine.

reaction

Having Your Cake and Eating it Too: Oscar the Grouch and Veteran Branding

Last week it was revealed that the Philadelphia VA compared disgruntled veterans to Oscar the Grouch in an internal training presentation. Some veterans voiced their displeasure at being compared to a fictional, grumpy, homeless green monster by changing their Facebook/Twitter avatars to an image of Oscar the Grouch and using the hashtag #iamoscar. Mostly, it received disinterested yawns from veterans who saw this as par for the course when it comes to their VA experience.

"Has anyone ever compared you to Oscar the Grouch?"  "Nah, nah man, shit man, nah. I do believe.

“Has anyone ever compared you to Oscar the Grouch?” “Nah, nah man, shit man, nah.”

My take: being compared to Oscar the Grouch kind of feels in line with somebody saying they’re having “a case of the Monday’s.” It seems like something a peppy human resources person would say in a training presentation, probably at the VA. It’s not terribly offensive, just lame.

There is a double-standard though, when it comes to veteran indignation. On one hand, we get angry when we’re all called heroes, we’re depicted as crazy, or compared to Oscar the Grouch. On the other hand, we’ll lose our shit if someone says we’re not all heroes, chuckle and blame minor outbursts on latent PTSD, and buy t-shirts that label us a “Dysfunctional Veteran.”

The common denominator, it seems, is that veterans as a whole are okay with making categorical statements about ourselves, when it serves our interests, but don’t like it when others – mostly civilians – chime in and have something to say that we don’t like.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of giving one group of people exclusive rights to say this or that thing. It’s exclusionary and it shuts down dialogue.

From a PR standpoint, comparing veterans to anything other than golden pillars of freedom is unwise. But the harm done with the Oscar the Grouch thing is minimal, compared to the stream of harm we do to ourselves by “owning” labels that are derogatory or condescending.

 

middle east

Iraq’s goofy “Anti-ISIS” propaganda commericals

Here are two videos which are supposedly being shown on Iraqi television. I’m ambivalent about them. At first, I thought it was pretty cool that they’re putting something out there countering the ISIS narrative. Good on them – comparing ISIS to rats and the Iraqi military as a lion with the support of eagles (a very obvious nod to the US, I think). The second video depicts a crazed, wild-eyed jihadist playing with a snake before a kitted-out Iraqi commando shows up at the door ready to do the business.

Well done, I thought.

I wonder, though, how Iraqis might see these videos. They’re pretty freaking cheesy, and I think cheesiness knows no boundaries in an age where everyone watches American movies. The one with the lion looks like the final project for a computer graphics major at a community college. It reminds me of this silly intro I had to sit through over and over again when I was at Fort Bragg and went to the movies on the weekends.

Maybe I’m just being overly critical. Maybe everyone thinks these are awesome.

ISIS, for their part, does a pretty good job with media. What’s going on here?