July 24, 2011

Admit It

I've decided to vote Republican in the next election. For one reason that has nothing to do with policy (foreign or domestic) or any issues. Well, sort of. I'm voting Republican because, deep down, and I suspect many people feel this way, I want to see what happens if the villains win.
It's a sad truth that the villain rarely gets anywhere in fiction. Audiences won't stand for it (see below: we consider ourselves the good guys), and it doesn't sell so well. Watchmen was an awesome thing among comics, but it took a long time for it to be adapted to the big screen (and even then we had to have an anti-government, pro-rich folks boner so big it rivals Dr. Manhattan's). Even in V for Vendetta, a movie about a terrorist, we needed to have him be the good guy for it to sell. Moral ambiguity upsets our stomachs.
But the same is not true in real life. We re-write history to paint ourselves in a good light, but current events let you assign hero and villain roles as you wish. Each political party considers themselves the good guys, or Batman, to our troubled nation. I, however, see them thusly:
Republicans: Joker
Democrats: Stupid safecracker who shot one guy, then couldn't figure out that maybe the Joker would kill him too, despite having just fucking shot a guy on his team!
And while I love Batman, I, like most of us, paid my ten bucks to sit in the theater and watch the Joker blow shit up for two hours. The problem is that Joker loses, while the Republicans have demonstrated an ability to engage in base and vile villainy, and still pull out a win. So, when a villain in real life can win, and you've never seen that (not really) in fiction, the temptation becomes too much, and you must vote for them. Just imagine if one of those groups of people on the ferries had blown the other group up; or if Batman hadn't figured out the Joker's plan to switch doctors and clowns, or if Harvey Dent had killed Jim Gordon. It would be terrible, and awesome, to watch. And if I can't see it in the movies or books, I'll settle for real life. 

July 2, 2011

Space Satan Whispers in Our Ears...

Digital Morality

I’m a big fan of Nietzsche. He cuts through a lot of what I see as bullshit, to strike at the heart of morals. I mentioned last time that no one sees him-or-herself as the bad guy, though we can recognize when we fuck up. We all make our own morality, even if it entails only slight changes to whatever is usual near you.

I am not a fan of Ayn Rand (actually I think she was an insufferable twat) so when I play Bioshock and Andrew Ryan starts screaming at me “A man chooses! A slave obeys!” I prefer to see the connection to Nietzsche rather than Rand (although Ryan’s super-capitalism-whatever falls within her ballpark).

Bioshock is a fun first-person shooter that asks an interesting moral question: is it okay to kill kids (like, if you really need to)? While I don’t like kids (they poop and don’t clean it up) I’m against killing them. I guess it’s just how I was brought up, which may make me old-fashioned. That said children give you superhuman powers (maniacal laugh sold separately) makes me go, “ehhh,” but I’m still firmly on the anti-child-murder side.

But the real interest isn’t in the moral choices themselves, but what they mean. Spoilers ahead, but this game is pretty old now, so if you haven’t played, you probably won’t. Jack (the character you play) is closer to a Big Daddy than a real human. He was constructed from a stolen fetus, and is actually Andrew Ryan’s son (with his hooker mistress, a lady who got the decidedly short and shitty end of the stick). Ryan, the guy you’re trying to kill for most of the game, is the enemy of Atlas, aka Frank Fontaine, who has programmed Jack to respond to a certain phrase, “Would you kindly?” that makes Jack do whatever he wants. He uses this phrase all the time, and it’s not until after the reveal (when Ryan forces you to kill him [he figured it out] to prove a point) that the player sees how neatly they’ve been led along.

This brings me back to the kid-killing. You kill kids for superpowers. Or, you can save them to get fewer superpowers. Atlas is pro-murder, but - and I just noticed this on my last playthrough - he never uses the command phrase to force you to kill. That decision is left in the player’s hands. (One explanation is the dev team wanted moral choices so didn’t force you, but that’s the less interesting idea, so fuck it). The player is put in a place that seems beyond good and evil, and presented with a choice that means survival or death; can he, or she, ignore the conventional morality and make the hard (evil) decision? Is it possible, because Jack thinks (for most of the game) that he is human, that Atlas was unable to force this sort of monstrous decision to the conclusion he preferred?

In a world built to deny the traditional rules and morals, your cynical heart can run free. You can get all up in Rand’s philosophy that doing what is best for you is somehow best for everyone (hint: it’s not) or you can take a look at the Nietzschean subplot and determine, free from former constraints, what it means to be moral in a world that has gone shithouse rat-style crazy.