General -

Just in case you want to read ’em all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that libertarianism is the only form of political philosophy that can ultimately work, because it is the most in line with fundamental human nature.

Liberal philosophy, or social liberalism, is flawed in its reliance on the state (i.e. force) to arbitrarily redistribute one thing or another (money, education, health care, opportunity) in pursuit of the preservation of civil rights. Conservative philosophy, or social conservatism, is equally unworkable in the long run because it risks dismissing one man’s civil rights in preservation of another man’s traditional values. The problem with both of those ideas is that they ultimately rely on one entity’s (be that an individual’s, a party’s, or even “society’s”) perceptions of the way things should be in order to make policy decisions. You may believe gays have a right to marry, or that everyone has a right to basic health care, but how can you irrefutably tell someone who disagrees that their belief is wrong? On the flip side, you may believe that embryonic stem cell research is immoral or that Creationism should be taught in science class, but to impose those beliefs on everyone via government mandate is to at some level deny others the right to come to a different conclusion. No matter which way you come down on it, one person is imposing his beliefs on someone else, and right and wrong become a matter of who has the greatest ability to enforce.

The only real long term solution, in my humble opinion, is embodied in libertarian philosophy. At it’s core, it is the individual’s right to believe and act as they think best, restricted only such that the exercise of such rights does not interfere with any other individual’s right to do the same. It recognizes the inherent selfishness of human nature — that at the end of the day, despite anything one might say to the contrary, people will choose to act in the manner that they believe most benefits them. This applies at the individual level: if I think sitting on my couch all day every day eating Burger King and entertaining myself is what will give me great pleasure, and to me the immediate gratification outweighs the long term health risks, I’ll likely do it. It applies at the macro level: if the price of oil increases to a point that it becomes economically viable to invest serious capital in developing alternative sources of fuel, you can bet there will be companies pursuing it. And of course, it applies to all aspects of politics as well: if a politician can gain more power and retain it by voting for pork barrel spending, increasing governmental regulation of health care and promising it “for free,” or supporting a war only tangentially related to the attacks on 9/11, you can bet he or she will do it.

Libertarianism is the ultimate free market. Let people/companies/industries do what they want (or what they believe is best). You can put whatever restrictions in place that you want, that’s still what they’re all going to do anyway. If the government never taxed cigarettes, the price would be lower and more people might smoke, because at some level that’s what they wanted to do. Raise the tax to $500 per pack, and almost no one would smoke, because they’re still making that assessment about what’s best for them, and given the cost, choosing not to do it. Ban smoking entirely — most people will choose not to because in their assessment, it’s in their best interest not to run afoul of the law. But at the same time, it will incentivize others to fill the vacuum and provide product to those people whose assessment is different (i.e. they want to smoke, despite it being illegal). No matter what you do, people will always choose to do what they believe is best for them given all the circumstances. All you do by restriction, regulation, and taxation in pursuit of your own individual political philosophy is push around the pieces that make up that assessement. And each time you do it, you infringe on one entity’s rights in order to do so.


Common Question #1: Isn’t that just anarchy?

Enshrining individual rights doesn’t mean societal breakdown or the abolition of all government. A state would be necessary to perform functions that would not practically work on a large scale in a purely market-based system, most especially the protection of individual rights. Breach of contract. Law enforcement. Punishment for crimes. “Aha!” you say, “but what are those laws based on?” Quite simply, the law is broken when I do something (in the free exercise of my individual rights) that hinders your ability to do what you want. Considered objectively, that one basic rule is all you need to guide the whole of government policy.


Common Question #2: Won’t that create a world of haves and have nots?

You mean unlike what we have today? Allowing individuals greater freedom to do what they think is in their best interest makes it easier for people to achieve their goals, including material and monetary acquisition. It’s all well and good to believe you’re doing good by demanding an artificial, government mandated floor for those who fail, but the more floors you create (food, education, housing, health care), the more has to be taken from those that don’t need those floors. Leaving aside for the moment the infringement occurring on those individuals’ rights, it also creates incentives for them to find ways around the mandates, to become less generous rather than more. Because people will always assess what’s best for them differently, they will invariably come to different conclusions and make different choices. Some of those will be better than others; you’ll never be able to prevent some from rising and some from falling. The world of the haves and have-nots won’t be fixed by giving people the opportunity to fail, but it’ll only be exaggerated by drawing an arbitrary line and telling the people on one side, “You are a have-not. You need to be helped,” and the people on the other side, “You are a have. You need to pay up.”

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Is it wrong to manipulate people?

People often say it is, that it’s wrong to use or manipulate people for what are ultimately your own purposes. But in truth, we do just that every day. If you convince a friend to go to dinner with you instead of heading straight home, you have, if transparently, manipulated him into doing so. When an advertisement results in your buying a product, millions of dollars have often gone into that manipulation. If you tell a man about to leap to his death from a bridge that “You have so much left to live for!” and he believes you and steps down, you’ve manipulated him. So when does normal, everyday manipulation become bad?

I contend that never really does. The measure of the evil of manipulation lies in its method and intended result, not the degree of manipulation employed. To kill someone because it will make someone love you, the methodology is evil even though the result would be positive. And conversely, to court someone with gifts and compassion to make them kill someone is positive methods but a wrongful result. If methods are right and the result is good, the amount of manipulation is inconsequential, assuming the requisite degree of skill.

Even so, where manipulation gets its reputation is that no one likes to be deceived. If you convince your friend to dine with you because you simply don’t want to be alone, he might balk at the deception that you aren’t also interested in his personal company. If an advertiser told you from the start that their goal isn’t to highlight the good of their product, but just to get you to pay money for it, I suspect you might be less likely to make an impulse buy. And if the man on the bridge knew that you really didn’t feel he had much going for him, but just that you’d hate to see him end his life, the manipulation might not work out so well. At the heart of manipulation is that it restricts what the target (and indeed anyone else whose involvement requires them to behave in ways they might not absent the deception) knows of the truth of the matter. Some might call that wrong, but then they likely just aren’t aware of the times they actually do it.

Truly excelling at the art of manipulation requires the instigator to accept the above principles. The greater the stakes are, the further from the target’s natural reaction is from the intended result, the more careful and deliberate the deception must be. Your friend may not need much convincing to go to dinner, since he’s hungry as well, so not much is required. But a true paradigm shift in a person’s way of thinking may require much planning and difficulty.

This can be especially complicated for even one skilled in the art when the subject matter is subjective (such as matters of the heart) rather than objective (such as buying a Coke). A manipulator may have to not only deceive the target, but himself as well. Extreme planning is required and he must be crystal clear in his own mind the positive intended result, as otherwise he risks losing sight of the intended result and getting caught up in his own web, entering the realm of the pathological liar. A final and necessary part of the planning is resolving the manipulation at the endgame, lest he end up living a lie, forever doomed to maintain the loose threads of a manipulation that will never die.

To those that would still decry the amorality (or immorality) of this practice, keep a few things in mind. Every person, without exception, is basically selfish at heart; they want to be happy, they want to achieve their goals in life, they want to be free from pain. To vary degrees, every person employs manipulation for their own intended results. The line between right and wrong lies in what the outcome is and how it is achieved, not in how far one will go to get it. No one ever likes to be deceived, and they’ll always tell you as much. Then they’ll go convince their friend to go to dinner.

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There are substantial puzzles when we ask what matters other than how people’s experiences feel “from the inside.”

Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences? If you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences, selecting your life’s experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select the experiences of your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there’s no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside? Nor should you refrain because of the few moments of distress between the moment you’ve decided and the moment you’re plugged. What’s a few moments of distress compared to a lifetime of bliss (if that’s what you choose), and why feel any distress at all if your decision is the best one?

What does matter to us in addition to our experiences? First, we want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them. In the case of certain experiences, it is only because first we want to do the actions that we want the experiences of doing them or thinking we’ve done them. (But why do we want to do the activities rather than merely to experience them?) A second reason for not plugging in is that we want to be a certain way, to be a certain sort of person. Someone floating in a tank is an indeterminate blob. There is no answer to the question of what a person is like who has long been in the tank. Is he couragous, kind, intelligent, witty, loving? It’s not merely that it’s difficult to tell; there’s no way he is. Plugging into the machine is a kind of suicide. It will seem to some, trapped by a picture, that nothing about what we are like can matter except as it gets reflected in our experiences. But why should we be concerned only with how our time is filled, but not with what we are?

Thirdly, plugging into an experience machine limits us to a man-made reality, to a world no deeper or more important than that which people can construct. This clarifies the intensity of the conflict over psychoactive drugs, which some view as mere local experience machines, and others view as avenues to a deeper reality; what some view as equivalent to surrender to the experience machine, others view as following on of the reasons not to surrender!

We learn that something matters to us in addition to experience by imagining an experience machine and then realizing that we would not use it. We can continue to imagine a sequence of machines each designed to fill lacks suggested for the earlier machines. For example, since the experience machine doesn’t meet our desire to be a certain way, imagine a transformation machine which transforms us into whatever sort of person we’d like to be (compatible with our staying us). Surely one would not use the transformation machine to become as one would wish, and thereupon plug into the experience machine!*** So something matters in addition to one’s experiences and what one is like. Nor is the reason merely that one’s experiences are unconnected with what one is like. For the experience machine might be limited to provide only experiences possible to the sort of person plugged in. Is it that we want to make a difference in the world? Consider then the result machine, which produces in the world any result you would produce and injects your vector input into any joint activity. I won’t pursue here the fascinating details of these or other machines. What is most disturbing about them is their living of our lives for us. Is it misguided to search for particular additional functions beyond the competence of machines to do for us? Perhaps what we desire is to live (an active verb) ourselves, in contact with reality. (And this, machines cannot do for us.) Without elaborating on the implications of this, which I believe connect surprisingly with issues about free will and causal accounts of knowledge, it’s merely worth noting the intricacy of the question of what matters for people other than their experiences.

*** Some wouldn’t use the transformation machine at all; it seems like cheating. But the one-time use of the transformation machine would not remove all challenges; there woudl still be obstacles for the new us to overcome, a new plateau from which to strive even higher. And is this plateau any the less earned or deserved than that provided by genetic endowment and early childhood environment? But if the transformation machine could be used indefinitely often, so that we could accomplish anything by pushing a button to transform ourselves into someone who could do it easily, there would remain no limits we need to strain against or try to transcend. Would there be anything left to do? Do some theological views place God outside of time because an omniscient omnipotent being could fill up his days?

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If you’re not aware of my little sleep adjustment experiment I’ve been doing, please first read the post below this one, There and back again, or how to outlast the Jet Lag

2/20/08 ~ 1:45 PM (San Francisco):
Status: Mission Accomplished
To all the nay sayers out there, it can and HAS been done. I got into SF at 10am, was a little drowsy by 10-11 PM, but slept well that night and haven’t looked back. There has been nothing even remotely close to the sleep/wake cycle reversal that usually accompanies distant global jet lag, and I was ready to go, on my feet all day, from Day 1. In conclusion, it looks like my theory of offsetting the misery with a few uncomfortable days pre-adjusting for the trip paid off handily, and I should be nice and completely on California time by the time I head right back into Tokyo.

2/17/08 ~ 12:00 PM (Tokyo):
Status: Mildly strained
This will probably be the last update I do before heading to SF. It’s about T-minus 6 hours till the plane takes off, and about 2 hours till I have to head out the door. I’m feeling pretty tired, bleary, and strained, all of which should make it that much easier to fall fast asleep after take off. I’m also not nearly done packing, so I think I’m going to get to that…

2/16/08 ~ 7:45 AM (Tokyo):
Status: Enthused
Major development! So as not to miss out on a networking opportunity here in Tokyo, I have for no charge altered my reservation, now set to depart exactly 24 hours later, on Sunday. In terms of adjusting my schedule, this extra day is a boon. I won’t be able to incrementally adjust my schedule any further (or I’d sleep right through what I changed the flight for), but being given another day and night that’s 3/4 adjusted to San Francisco time will make the last bit that much easier. In terms of my condition, it’s now almost the same time I went to bed at two “night”s ago, and I’m feeling just dandy.

2/15/08 ~ 8:50 PM (Tokyo):
Status: Ready to fight
No more Benadryl, so dramamine had to do. But regardless of the sleep aid, I got a great night’s sleep, even later than my schedule planned. My plane leaves in just over 21 hours and I need to pack, but I’m quite pleased with how things are going on.

2/15/08 ~ 11:00 AM (Tokyo):
Status: A little cranky
From 3 PM yesterday now is just about 20 hours, and so far so good. I hit a wall at about 9 o’clock when my energy bottomed out and I began to feel like I was just pulling an all-nighter, though it’s nothing in the realm of “suffering.” Just one more hour to go until sleep, where I plan to sleep as long as possible and see if I can’t cut into tomorrow’s 23 hour day.

2/14/08 ~ 3:20 PM (Tokyo):
Status: Surprisingly rested
Wow, Benadryl knocks me the @#$% out! This has been an excellent development, as I slept solidly from 8am until now, and really only got up because I actually have to DO some things during the day today. But this bodes extremely well as we go into the more difficult days ahead…

2/14/08 ~ 7:00 AM (Tokyo):
Status: Sleepy
If this is the worst it gets, I’ll be fine in the long run, though I am feeling a bit tired at this point. My biggest concern isn’t my ability to shut my eyes in about an hour. It’s whether my body will let me sleep a full “night” after I do so. Still, much as I’d like to lay down right now, I can plow through one more hour. I hope this pays off…

2/14/08 ~ 4:00 AM (Tokyo):
Status: Fine
So far so good. I wrote the intro post not long ago, and not much has changed. I’m a little tired, but being up and chatting with people back home is passing the time plenty fast.

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I’m back in Japan again (not that anyone reading this most likely doesn’t already know), living in Tokyo for what should be my final semester of law school. I have been here just over a month, and the time has come for me to briefly head back to the States. This Saturday, just over three days from now, I fly to San Francisco via Japan Airlines’ only non-stop flight to attend the Game Developers’ Conference. On the one hand, it’s an exciting opportunity to network and get my résumé into the hands of numerous would-be employers. But at times it feels like a nearly futile effort to break into the industry that interests me more than any other. I’m not going to give up on it, but with graduation and real life responsibilities waiting in the wings, at some point the practical side of me requires an alternative course of action. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there yet, and certainly not the focal point of this post.

It’s nearly 3 AM here in Tokyo, which corresponds to 10 AM Pacific Standard Time. I’ll only be in SF for one week, during which I’ll be required to go pretty full steam from as early as 8 in the morning till however late I can at night. I only have one law class before leaving, from 6:30 PM tomorrow night, and nothing at all on Friday. Thus, my thinking is to do whatever I can to minimize the effects of jet lag upon my arrival, and ease my transition (however brief) back into a U.S. time zone.

I searched online for any reports of others who have tried to implement a plan similar to mine, but to no avail. I’m certainly not first, but not finding anything solid, felt a need to document my experience here. Most suggestions went in the form of trying to fall asleep an hour or so a night earlier, as much as needed. That course won’t work for my situation for a number of reasons… Nearly all my classes, including tomorrow night’s, stretch from early evening until after 9 PM, and I can’t well hit the hay in the middle of a class, now can I? I’d need to go to bed in Tokyo at 8 o’clock at night to be hitting a cool 3 AM bed time in California, so even assuming I could go home right after class and immediately sleep (pretending for a moment I’d actually get to sleep), I’d still be staring down a 5 AM goodnight on the west coast. Much more likely, I’d lie in bed and gaze unproductively at the ceiling, and come out not significantly closer to my goal. By pushing myself to stay up, I force a certain level of cooperation from my body. I’m not hoping for complete success, but that’s what this documentation is meant to keep track of.

Starting out on this voyage through the Tokyo after hours, I project my ideal sleep schedule to go like this:

Current (Average)
  Tokyo San Francisco
Sleep at 2:00 AM 9:00 AM
Wake at 10:00 AM 5:00 PM

Weds./Thurs. Night
  Tokyo San Francisco
Sleep at 8:00 AM 3:00 PM
Wake at 3:00 PM 10:00 PM

Thurs./Fri. Night
  Tokyo San Francisco
Sleep at 1:00 PM 8:00 PM
Wake at 8:00 PM 3:00 AM

Fri./Sat. Night
  Tokyo San Francisco
Sleep at 7:00 PM 2:00 AM
Wake at 2:00 AM 9:00 AM


That schedule shouldn’t be too difficult, but a couple points are worth mentioning.

  • As you can see, my current sleep schedule is almost the opposite of what I’ll be needing in the U.S., so there is a lot of work to be done.
  • The hardest segment will undoubtedly be the push from Friday into Saturday, where if all goes according to plan, my already sleep-discombobulated body will need to stay awake a full 23 hours. This problem can’t be easily remedied, since my plane leaves Japan at 6 PM local time, so to attempt a “night’s” sleep before that would mean I’d be wide awake on the plane, through the wee hours by California time, and much of my work would be undone. It’ll be tough, but if I can make it…
  • …by the last day of the schedule, I’ll effectively be on San Francisco time. For the first three tables, it’s the Tokyo time that really matters, since that’s where I’ll be living. But look to the San Francisco time on the final table — that’s where I cross over the Pacific. Incidentally, my plane lands in SF at 10 AM PST.

Bear in mind, this schedule is optimistic at best. Even if I can force myself to it, there’s no guarantee my circadian rhythm will adjust at the same pace. Frankly, I’m really not sure how or if it will work, but only one way to find out, and if the alternative is to certainly be dead on my feet for 1/3 or more of my trip, I’m game to give it a try.

I’ll also keep a log in a second post of how things are going, how I’m feeling generally, and hopefully a wrap up post when it’s all through. Anyone have any thoughts?

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While I wouldn’t engage in the activity myself, I feel the need to relay the experiences of a friend who dove headfirst into the world of Real Money Trading (RMT). For the inexperienced, RMT refers to gold trading in the world of MMORPGs, a controversial practice wherein people trade their real dollars for virtual ones. Many people, including the game makers, object to this since it provides a deus ex machina way of gaining a substantial advantage in the game world. I have my objections as well, but I also have sympathy for the plight of my friend, whose negative experience with the vendors reflects a deceptive business practice that ought to be noted for anyone out there, regardless of your opinions on RMT.

So for either the prospective currency buyer or someone just interested in not screwing people over, I’d like to present my friend’s experience purchasing (or attempting to purchase) from several of the more “reputable” establishments:

IGXE ( – My friend had purchased successfully from them in the past, so he was not expecting much trouble. They also had a few novel tricks to attempt to circumvent the game makers’ attempts to intercept the transaction, which seemed interesting. However, the experience was absolutely unacceptable. They did have live chat with customer service representatives (where a real person answered!), but the person obviously spoke little English. Delivery of the currency was never done, and eventually the order was cancelled.

MMORPG-SHOP ( – Thinking this place might offer a better alternative than IGXE, he tried to take advantage of their equally novel methods of delivery, as well as some positive comments found online. Unfortunately this situation was even worse. Getting delivery from them was like pulling teeth, and didn’t occur for more than three days despite their “instant delivery.” However, they did deliver, so they deserve props for at least that.

IGE ( – The largest and most established of the RMT vendors, surely this experience had to be better? Well, yes and no. Their live chat seemed only to be available to people placing orders or selling entire accounts (order inquiries and other questions are not deemed worthy), but unlike the others, they were actually relatively prompt about returning emails. Their delivery was a fair sight short of the “instant delivery” that was promised, but the increased communication made it feel only slightly less like he was getting the run around. Unlike the other two, however, delivery was actually accomplished, so on this fact alone, it should be the only place you should consider if you wish to engage in this practice.

Overall, the impression I got from my friend was that the entire industry has a lot of snake oil, which is only possible because it is a bit of a grey market due to its proscription by the game makers. All vendors offer huge amounts of currency available for “instant delivery” to whatever game or server you like, but this hardly seems the case. Is this due to a poor “just-in-time” delivery system gone horribly wrong? Are they hoping customers will pay and not expect anything close to what was offered? With these questions alone, I would steer clear of the whole industry. Grinding for hours in the game is certainly preferrable to the hours of grinding with the RMT vendors, as my friend sadly has done.

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I was tempted to let the post title say it all, but I suppose I should write something as well. Bioshock, for both PC and Xbox 360, closes out my Summer of Adventure with a high explosive shotgun blast to the head, and after quite a mixed bag of games lately, reminds me of just how lofty the bar can go.

In some ways, it’s hard to review a game like Bioshock. The story revolves around an underwater city named Rapture and is based loosely on the concepts of objectivism and pure meritocracy of Ayn Rand (who even receives an in-game homage as the city’s creator, Andrew Ryan). Things begin as an airplane your character is flying in crash lands right in front of a Bathysphere — a Myst-esque transporter that whisks you into the depths. To say much more than that is to risk touching on plot points I’m certain some readers would prefer to discover for themselves. All I will safely say about the story is: it does not disappoint, right up until the end.

Virtually everything else in the game is nearly without peer. The visuals are beautifully varied and logically laid out (unlike so many games), yet for its relatively high PC system specs, runs rather well if you machine is in range. Aurally, Rapture is on par with other PC shooters’ extremely realistic sound effects, but features some harder-to-get-right, excellent voice acting, as well as haunting, period appropriate (if rare) music. As far as gameplay itself, it plays as a standard shooter with above average weapon choices — mostly the usual shooter staples fleshed out with several types of ammunition each and performance upgrades — and an equally realized “magic” system based on genetic modifications called Plasmids.

I could seriously go on for quite a bit longer singing Bioshock’s praises, but sadly the most compelling part, from the way everything from the first moment of dialogue to the Plasmids to the Big Daddies and Little Sisters, the game’s imaginitive and most recognizable inhabitants, ties into that most powerful element of the game: the story. A few fetch quests aside, the plot stays remarkably on track, and what kept me moving forward wasn’t the environments or the freedom to solve problems however I chose (though freezing enemies solid and letting the aerial machine gun sentries I had hacked blow them to bits became my favorite), it was a genuine interest in the outcome. It’s a personal feeling I haven’t felt in a game in a long time.

Maybe it was the first-person perspective. Maybe it was the feeling I got every time I rescued one of the Little Sisters, with Garry Schyman’s score stirring in the background. Whatever it was, it was a deeper level of enjoyment than I have been used to in my videogame hobby, and it comes highly recommended to anyone that reads this.

Score: 9.5 / 10

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It was about two o’clock in the morning, mid February, with the snow sliding slowly down the windshield, illuminated by the street lamps of the parking lot. I was wearing my maroon dress shirt with dark slacks, black loafers, and my creased leather jacket, shivering in spite of my silver car’s steamy interior. It was time for me to be heading home, nothing more to be done here. She was out of my car, out of my life. Now I just had to pick up the pieces and say good-bye.

I had always wanted to go to Japan. Ever since I could remember, I somehow knew I’d find a life for myself there. So I learned to read, learned to write, all over again, and packed everything up my sophomore year. I flew out on September eleventh, and little did I know when I started that day that when I returned, my world would never be the same.

I went to live in Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capitol, a city bathed in the new age neon glow and old age cherry blossom. It takes some adjusting. She was there too, a kimono-clad beauty wasting her days away selling Star Wars merchandise in a tiny collector’s shop. I met her in a downstairs night club on Kawaramachi as she left behind drunken friends to bum a smoke on the club’s grimy steps before the last train home. She was twenty-one or so, small and gracefully put together. She didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Japanese, but I was the only gaijin who’d give her a fix, and from that moment on, I was her gaijin.

We said our good-byes in the bustle of a hundred people in the center of Kyoto’s main station, a tearful embrace and a hunger to see the road ahead. We promised things that could never be. We wished for things that could have been, but were not. I left her that day for home, and I think my heart left with me. That was until she showed up here.

She closed her moist eyes and bit her lip, turning her head into the passenger window frame. Her world had changed and so had mine. The warm air of the interior fell silent as her fragmented voice died in her mouth, and I put my arm around her in a final, bittersweet embrace. She started to tell me if I ever came back again, but stopped. Squeezing my arm, she stepped out of the car and into the falling snow, a rush of cold air hitting my face like a castigation. You can never go back, I told myself, and started the engine.

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I’m a pretty ordinary gamer, not dissimilar from most anyone who might read this site. I’m in graduate school, I have a job in IT, and like many twenty-something Gen X-ers out there, find my precious time to actually enjoy games fast dwindling in the midst of real world obligations. So I was delighted when I was offered a job at a major gaming blog (or, to be honest, a satellite of a major gaming blog). It sounded great – the chance to write about videogames, as I frequently do in my own blog, but now to get paid for it! Sure, it would be a lot of work, but I’m so immersed in their content already, making the jump from blog reader to blog writer couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Actually, it felt a little like a bait and switch… when I was hired, they did tell me that they wanted 50-60 posts per month, so I could say I had been warned. But they failed to mention how little help they would give me in learning where to get news, or how little they would be willing to work with other, real world priorities. I cautioned them I was only accustomed to getting my gaming news from big sites like Joystiq and Kotaku – I didn’t have any resources to bring in news by myself. They assured me it would be no problem. Yet when I finally came on, finding news consisted just of crawling message boards and RSS feeds for anything related to the console we covered, and trying to decide if anyone actually cared about it enough to post.

The pay was a set amount per post, which at first sounded nice. I’m sure I’d have gotten better at the process, but the final post I did took over two hours, from finding the news to writing it up, gleaning game details from Japanese magazine scans, editing the images, and getting a slew of technical corrections from the lead blogger. Ultimately, by my math, it means I worked for less than minimum wage today.

Another problem I had was understanding their method of “You must have x many posts or else!” They were paying a set amount per post, so if I post their “minimum” I get that amount; if I post ten posts in a month, I’d get the post amount times ten. Any deficiency doesn’t actually cost them money. But the corporate blogging world doesn’t work like that, it seems. The whole enterprise suckles off a massive corporation’s largesse – and for the full time people for whom that’s their only job, good for them. However, forcing people to post artificially large quantities, even when there’s no real news, just serves to dilute the quality of what they’re covering.

Why not bring on as many bloggers as you need to get the number of posts you want in a day, and let them post as they see fit? You’ll get perspective out the wazoo, and all the stories will be things someone cares about, and you don’t pay any more for the trouble since you pay by the post. Of course, increasing the number of bloggers will by necessity increase the turnover rate, and unless you’re very careful you risk diluting the writing quality, but it can be done, unless your goal is creating quantity of content, not quality.

In the blog’s chat room prior to resigning, I approached the topic by asking what they do on slow news days, since your post requirements remain the same. Almost predictably, the lead blogger went off on how she hates this “myth” of the slow news day – there’s always news. Alright, I’ll bite… there’s always news items out there that fall within the scope of the site that can be put written about, but how many people care about them? Is it really worth the dough to the corporate overlord to post about obscure Japanese games when maybe only a tiny handful of people give a flip?? The same goes for site-created features, which pay more per feature. By focusing on post quantity rather than asking whether what they are making means anything to anyone, you get a lot of well-written, filler sludge.

I like to write about videogames, but this was something different. It was writing about the topic of games, but with complete disregard to what made any of us play them in the first place: love of the games themselves. In the world of corporate blogging, it doesn’t matter whether you care for what you’re writing about – it’s whether someone who’ll read it and generate ad revenue might care for it.

My life’s not getting any less filled with obligations, and soiling the pasttime I cherish by keeping my nose to an artificial, quantity-driven grindstone is not what I want to spend my only bits of free time doing. At the end of the day, that was the final straw. A really telling warning that I should have picked up on was that a friend and fellow blogger mentioned at one point how infrequently he got the opportunity to actually play games anymore… he just writes about them now.

By the end, the lead blogger had lost all pretense of friendliness, and it felt like she was just being critical of me for its own sake. The seeming powertrip applied to every question and minor mistake was on top of the hard time given for not posting often enough, despite my real world moving from one city to another, preparing for a graduate level law exam, and applying for a job post-graduation. It made me wonder if this was the reality of paid blogging shining through – quotas and deadlines and a façade of professionalism.

For my part, I’m content to be back on the other side of the fence, able to focus on more career-oriented (and hopefully higher paying) priorities, and grinding my nose on videogames because I actually enjoy them.

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Eventually, I just had to put Odin Sphere down.  I’ve played so many games over the summer, some excellent and others just decent, I felt like I could give even a slightly flawed game the benefit of the doubt.  So it’s with a sad heart that I present my first review in my Summer of Adventure of a game I did not finish.  Hopefully, you will understand why. 

You know when the most immediate connection between a game’s title and its meaning is a gameplay mechanic largely invisible to the characters, you have a problem.  While it is certainly possible that some all-powerful “Odin Sphere” becomes a pivotal element of the plot, as far as I could tell from my playing, it just refers to the layout of the game’s every stage.  You see, each area is broken up into smaller stages, each a flat 2D plane, seamlessly connected end-to-end, circular-like.  (And well-drawn as the backdrops may subjectively be, it also makes for some pretty repetitive and generic locales.  –“Ooh, a snowy mountaintop.”  Next stage: “Hey, isn’t this the exact same snowy mountaintop?”– )  It would be like renaming The Legend of Zelda “The Nine Levels Each With A Triforce Piece of Zelda.”

And for the near-universal praise given to the game’s story, I found myself disconnected and bored with the whole thing.  I realize the Valkyrie girl has some severe family issues, her dad is a philandering scumbag (who oddly gets the other half of the game’s title…), and there’s certainly a major war going on.  But in this day of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion‘s endlessly explorable game world and Final Fantasy’s cinematic effulgence, a couple short and disjointed cut scenes peppered with generic dialogue from a few random NPCs just doesn’t cut it for plot development, no matter how well voiced.  Not that the also lauded voice acting is really all that great either.  The actors do well enough, but it doesn’t help the story much, and I haven’t heard that much needless echo effect used in dialogue since Symphony of the Night.

The criticisms aimed by reviewers at Odin Sphere, on the other hand, are absolutely spot on, and probably a little forgiving.  Item management is atrocious — what was the last RPG you played that doesn’t even have a menu screen??  Everything from consumables to cooking to which single accessory you choose to equip is done via a few item rings (think Secret of Mana from 1993, and that game had a menu system as well!), and the 10-12 slots you have in those is all you get until you can afford to stop buying health items and drop insane amounts on extra bags.  Before that point, however, you’ll find yourself in a painful dance of item management from as early as the first full area, having to decide which items to keep and which to abandon.

All this might be excusable if the rest of the game was just a ton of fun, but that’s hardly the case.  When you’re not talking to lifeless NPCs or running in circles jumping up and down, the combat is an entirely single-button affair.  You can jump of course, and glide by double-jumping (one actually interesting innovation), but you have just one attack button, which you can chain into combos by — you guessed it — pressing repeatedly.  Okay, so it’s generic, but what takes the game out of the realm of fun is how they then ruin that combat system:

  • Enemies who just tear holes in you at Normal difficulty (forcing you to fill that limited inventory with whatever health items you can afford to buy or grow);
  • The POW system that forces you not to attack too continuously or Valkyrie-get-woozy and faints;
  • The utterly nonsensical system of levels and stat progression: experience is gained entirely through eating (oh, were that true!), enemies release glowing orbs upon death that can be either absorbed into your weapon (which also gains levels, obviating the need for an actual inventory) or into plants to help them grow into more food (which then gives you experience).  Oh, and you can create items as well through yet another system, alchemy, whose overly complex system of mixtures and the inability to create anything until you acquire its recipe (even if you have the components) just serves to further clutter your small backpack.

In the end, I just found myself sitting back and thinking, “I’m not having any fun with this!”  And to me, that’s the point where you put the game away.  Perhaps some will find it fun, and I’m sure the ability to replay the same plot over and over with different characters from other perspectives just makes the story nigh Shakespearean, but frankly at this point I don’t give a damn.  I didn’t make it that far.

Score: 5.5 / 10

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