Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Abstraction

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With Mass Effect 2 having been released and more or less universally lauded as a role-playing game on the depths of its character involvement (and the cleverness of its using Mass Effect 1 saves to continue your character’s personal storyline), there appears to be the opening of a particular wound in the gaming world: Namely, the ensuing debate whether RPGs as a genre deal primarily with

moral dilemmas, lateral thinking and personal choices

and/or

ability charts, character statistics and combat abstraction

as Mass Effect 2 has effectively stripped a great deal of the latter’s involvement in the character development process. People say it feels more “actiony,” meaning that your character’s ability to hit a target is dependent far more on your ability to hit a target rather than a dice roll plus a modifier based on your character’s vital statistics and experience.

That said, the line of demarcation seems to fall along whether those people have been raised on pen-and-paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or their computer analogs like Baldur’s Gate. It’s not unrelated to the amount of hate directed towards DnD’s 4th Edition rules for “dumbing down” the game, when Wizards of the Coast specifically made the new edition to cut down on munchkinism because they saw it as getting in the way of the game.

In my opinion, anything that cuts that sort of abstraction down is good, because the abstraction itself leads to ridiculous events that make no sense in the real world: You’re no longer simulating how your character would act in the world, you’re looking for ways to exploit the abstract system you’ve set in place of the world. This is nipped right in the bud in a pen-and-paper game because such a game must be lead by somebody who has the right to call shenanigans on obvious exploitation of loopholes, but computer games don’t have live gamemasters keeping tabs on you.

With the absence of such oversight, odd things happen. Rather like our monetary system, where our potential for productivity may remain the same yet we are plunged into an economic depression. How, for instance, houses cannot be sold yet homelessness still exists, or, for that matter, how the relative value – itself an arbitrary indicator of an abstract concept – of a house can be manipulated by people who are placing bets on the solvency of its owner’s debtors and thus how houses get built far from established infrastructure and services and lay empty and useless long after their occupants have been forcibly removed.

We’re in love with systems that allow us to explain the world around us, because the very nature of these systems, having been invented by us, can be understood by us, but they’re very silly things indeed and ultimately have little relation to the world at hand.

Just Desserts

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We need a new WPA. Wasn’t that one of Obama’s basic promises?

Also, Critical Mass got what they always wanted: Attention. Serves ’em right.

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