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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Personal Defense Carry: I Don't Get the "Weight" Problem

One of the factors that most people consider when choosing a personal defense firearm for everyday carry is the weapon's weight. The thing I don't understand is why.

Weight just seems like a non-issue to me. The biggest difference in weight I can think of would be a 1 pound pocket pistol against a 5 pound or so large-caliber revolver. The difference being 4 pounds, which is about as much as a person's body weight fluctuates in a day just through food intake and waste evacuation. In short, it's not something especially noticable and something that pretty much anyone would get used to in a relatively short amount of time.

The fact of the matter is, very, VERY few people face the same problems as a soldier. A soldier has to carry anywhere between 25-80 extra pounds of gear wherever he or she goes. When you have to lug so much, of course every ounce counts. Unless the civilian in question is carrying a 40 pound purse for some reason, a personal carry firearm's weight should be the last thing on their mind when making decisions.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Video Games as High Art

There are three games that stand out to me (and thus, three games that I bring up) when the discussion of "games as high art" comes to the table. Now, it's no coincidence that these three titles are the same as three of my four favorite games of all time, but the reason they are my favorites is because they stood out to me, not the other way around. The three titles in question are (in alphabetical order) - Ico, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Missile Command. Let's look at them one by one, shall we?

First, let's start with the elephant in the room, Missile Command. I know what you're probably thinking "How can an arcade game from the 80s that's a bunch of dots and lines and bleeps and bloops be 'High Art'?". What few realize, at least conciously, is that missile command makes perhaps one of the most poignant anti-nuclear statements of all time. Game designer James Portnow (Extra Credits) perhaps says it best The elephant in the room isn't sonoticeable now, is it? Missile command is the perfect blend of narrative, gameplay, immersion, and entertainment.

Moving on, Ico is perhaps the closest to missile command perfection that one may find in this modern era of slick visual presentation. Let's get this out of the way, yes, even though cutscenes are infrequent, Ico is an incredibly visual game (unlike MC). The environments are vast and beautiful and serve to deliver an immediate sense of scale not possible in a non-visual medium (like the Lord of the Rings movies did for the books). The aesthetic of the castle in which the title character is trapped and the characters themselves are unique and almost feel like moving paintings. The biggest difference between Ico and a purely visual work is that almost everything that you see is as a result of player action. Ico is close to Missile Command in design in that it's very minimal. There is no hud, controls are relatively simple, and very little of the story is explicitly stated. Most of the story is created by the player as they guide Ico and Yorda through their trial. The true beauty in Ico is the game's ability to illicit emotional attachment to a fictional character. In many ways, Yorda was a proto-companion cube, except she was much better than the CC because the attachment is formed by the player, not by some witty dialogue that treats her like a living thing. As you spend time with her, a bond is formed. Things change from a necessity to protect her (since the puzzles are unsolvable without her) to a desire to do so as evidenced by a near-endgame event during which almost everyone (myself included) automatically jump toward Yorda instead of running for freedom. It is a truly unique experience that is yet unmatched in it's emotional immersion in any medium.

Now, you may be wondering why Ico and not the significantly more succesful Shadow of the Colossus. It has nothing to do with success, I assure you. It has to do with the fact that the narrative, while limited, is almost entirely told through exposition instead. The game is certainly unique, but uniqueness alone is not enough to herald something as an example of high art.

Finally, we move on to what is perhaps my favorite game... Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. MGS3 is probably as far away from Missile Command in terms of narrative/gameplay integration as one can get before falling into visual novel or JRPG territory. Non-interactive cutscenes aplenty that act as exposition with gameplay contributing very little to the story. This is somewhat justified in that in most of them the player character is an inactive observer anyway. However, the gameplay does one thing very well. Better than any film I've ever seen. It creates tension. That's not to say that previous games in the franchise don't, but not nearly as well. In every previous game in the Metal Gear franchise, the player is given sufficient cover/concealment to avoid contact with the enemy. Once the player memorizes the patrol pattern, one can easily maneuver from cover to cover. MGS3 is different. In MGS3, true sources of cover (walls, boxes, etc.) are few and far between. You must instead use imperfect concealment (grass, stumps, etc.) combined with conventional camouflage uniforms to maximize your camo index (chance that an enemy will pass by without noticing you). Unfortunately, there is no way to conventionally get 100%. This means that no matter how well you camouflage yourself, there is a chance that the enemy will spot you. This makes it so that every time a soldier walks near you, you completely stop moving, your heart beats a little faster, sometimes you ready your weapon and your eyes are pasted to the screen as you wait to see if that 85% index will be enough to fool this guy. If he does notice you, you have a very short amount of time to act before he calls for help. This situation is replicated throughout the game and it never gets any less intense. The other point in favor of this game is a single occurence toward the end. After defeating your character's mentor in a duel, a cutscene is interrupted and the game becomes playable again. Only one action can be taken, executing your mentor. The game forces the player to pull the trigger. In my opinion, it is by far the most compelling artistic choice I have ever seen in any medium and one that is only possible in video games. Also, MGS3 is the only thing that has ever made me cry manly tears.

So that's that I guess. Probably could give it a little more thought, but I can always elaborate on points later, if anyone cares (or reads this).

Taking Requests

I'm not really the type to just spontaneously share my opinion on random stuff all that often, so if there is something that you'd like to read my opinion on either leave a comment or message me on twitter @HDCamel.

Gun Control: Let's get things started nice and heavy

My basic opinion on gun control can be summed up in four words: "I don't like it."

For some, this would be sufficient. For most, it isn't. If asked to elaborate I usually break it down into 5 main points:

  1. Gun control has never reduced crime

  2. Gun control only keeps guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens

  3. "Guns vs Cars" is an unfair comparison

  4. The vast majority of gun owners aren't criminals

  5. Fear of gun owners is irrational

To elaborate further on each of these points

1. Gun control has never reduced crime

Gun control has never had an effect on total violent crime no matter how strict the policies are. All that ever gets reduced are shootings. Stabbings, beatings, and the like always rise when gun control policies are put in place. In many ways, this is actually worse since gunshot wounds are easier than ever to survive (thanks in part to the popularity of the low-powered 9mm round) and advances in ballistics and forensics make gun crime easier than ever to solve.

2. Gun control only keeps guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens

Most gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained weapons anyway. Stricter policies only make it harder to legally obtain a firearm.

3. "Guns vs Cars" is an unfair comparison

Comparing gun deaths to car deaths is completely nonsensical. For starters, almost all car deaths are accidents. Sure, most gun control advocates compare accidental deaths, but a car's safety features are designed to save lives in the event of an accident. A gun's safety features exist to prevent accidents. When there is an accidental discharge it's almost always user error (though occasionally the gun is poorly designed or manufactured). Instead, one should compare accident occurence. Cars have several times the number of accidents as guns despite being only twice as prevalent. In essence, though a gun is definitely more likely to kill or seriously wound in an accident (as that is it's primary function) it is far, far less likey to have one in the first place.

What can we do to prevent gun accidents even further? In my US Governmnet class in my senior year of high school, we learned a great deal about most of our constitutional rights, what they mean, and how to exercise them. However, we didn't dwell on the 2nd like we did on most of the others. As owning a firearm is a constitutional right, I believe that basic firearm safety should be taught in public schools.

4. The vast majority of gun owners aren't criminals

This is mostly an argument against registration. If gun owners are required to register their firearms with local law enforcement, it basically equates them with sex offenders. If ever a gun crime happens in a given area, then all gun owners in that area (at least the ones with a same caliber weapon) fall under suspicion and investigation automatically. Why is this bad? Chances are high that the investigations will acheive nothing beyond harrassing legal gun owners since, as stated above, most crimes are done with illegally obtained weapons (i.e. ones that wouldn't be registered). Aside from that, the Sex Offenders Registry made up of people convicted of sex crimes) has had no discernable impact on sex crime occurence. Why would a gun registry (made up of people who have been convicted of nothing) be any more effective in either stopping or solving gun crimes?

5. Fear of gun owners is irrational

Tying in to the above statement, there is no legitimate reason to fear a legal gun owner. If they own or carry a gun then chances are they bought it in a store, which means that they passed a criminal background check, which means that they aren't a violent criminal or person deemed mentally incompetent.

And that about sums up why I feel that gun control is an irrational waste of time and money.

New start

Twitter just isn't enough to contain my full opinions on most things. So I thought I'd use this old dead blog of mine to vent every now and again. Maybe I'll actually update it this time.