Two Minute Game Crit – Zone of the Enders 2 and AI

 

This video is community funded. To support my work and help me make more of these, please consider visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.

In a recent issue of Five out of Ten Magazine I wrote an article about the idea of technological determinism in Zone of the Enders 2. Technological determinism is the theory that a society’s forward direction is defined by the technologies available to it. Or in other words…

NOHMAN: “Since the dawn of history, Human beings have realised various forms of energy. Civilizations have progressed with them.”

I want to expand on this with regards to artificial intelligence, which crops up in Zone of the Enders through the characters of ADA and Viola.

So as you can see this is a hack and slash action game based around mech combat, and ADA is the AI installed in your mech.

KEN: “ADA, please look after him.”

ADA: “If I have to.”

She’s gas, and even though she’s clearly her own person, at the end of the day she’s still got it in her head to be subservient to humans because of her programming. Despite how some people encourage her, she doesn’t value her own life.

DINGO: “How can you throw away your life for no reason?”

ADA: “I don’t need a reason.”

On the other side of things is the Viola AI, a rabidly destructive machine modelled after the personality of a tenacious soldier named Viola. The AI’s a success insofar as it mimics her combat abilities, but totally fails to capture her essence.

Whereas the original was “immortal” through sheer force of will, the Viola AI replicates this passion for life through deceit – it’s actually just being mass-produced, not resurrected.

Here we have two different degrees of AI, one wholly synthetic, the other amalgamated from some abstract concept of humanity. In practise, the main difference between the two is the Viola AI is in every way a wholly vapid automaton, completely derivative, while ADA is an entirely new type of lifeform.

Viola is a zombie. ADA is a frontier.

Viola’s a T-1000. ADA’s a Tachikoma.

…One more.

Viola’s the Borg, ADA is Mr Data.

Now, unlike Shodan or GLaDOS, Zone of the Enders isn’t interested in framing AI as some harbinger of doom. Instead it’s much more interested in similarities, like the way humankind and AI-kind are equally suffocated by the militarism that results from technological determinism.

People like Viola are made as cogs for this relentless engine, and miraculous creatures like ADA are thought as void of sentience as the soulless Viola AI.

Now, if you’re not convinced that humanity objectifies itself by objectifying AI, just trust me. Because…

DINGO: “You should take time to worry about the meaning of your existence later.”

(Also)

DINGO: “I’ll get rid of it while you’re doing your homework at home.”

 


 

 

Video description:  Continue reading

On the much hated and woefully overlooked Codec radio

On the much hated and woefully overlooked Codec Radio

This piece is community funded. If you enjoyed this article, please support my writing by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron. 

In a recent video on Persona 3, I talked about how the dating sim-slash-dungeon crawler uses its menus to overlay a certain optimism towards the glacial crisis that was—and still is—complicating the future of Japanese society. This aspect of Persona 3’s menus arises from an assumption I make, and I don’t think it’s too controversial an assumption, about menus existing in games as a mode of introspection.

What do I mean by this?

In an alternate universe I provided a couple of examples to give this interpretation more weight, one example of which was the codec menu in the Metal Gear Solid games. Unlike that marvellous alternate universe, however, time in our universe runs at a rate of one second per second, and to keep the video short and within its scope the example of Metal Gear Solid had to be cut. Instead, I’d like to expand the idea in this article, partly as a complimentary piece to the Persona 3 video, and partly to justify a shabby and safe assumption about videogames that as far as I can tell nobody has contested. Continue reading

Two Minute Game Crit – The Role of a Menu

 

This video is community funded. To support my work and help me make more of these, please consider visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.

I mentioned before when talking about Vagrant Story, how menus work as a form of introspection, since a menu always represents something internal to the character you’re playing. You can learn a lot by looking at what menus occupy your time and interest.

Persona 3’s a good example because its menus are very pretty, which helps when you spend so much time in them, and also, usefully, they’re quite poignant.

So, what are the menus where you spend, or I should say where I spent most of my time? You have:

  1. The social links menu, showing all the people you can hang out with and when in the week they’re available.
  2. The persona fusion menu, which is a recipe book for mixing persona.
  3. And the battle menu, where you select the attack options of persona you have equipped.

Each of these menus connect back to your use of persona, obviously, but notably they also represent the planning of these relationships across different frames of time: the long-term, when plotting out your week of social activities, the medium-term, when mixing up which persona to bring with you tonight, and the short-term, when strategising with persona in battle now.

It’s clear that time is a big theme in persona 3—clocks, calendars, the Dark Hour—but what about the mental act of planning? Well, planning is important because of NEETs.

In Persona 3 there’s an epidemic of something called Apathy Syndrome, which makes people so apathetic they stop attending school or work and just fall out of society. When you’re using your Persona to fight monsters, you’re doing it to combat Apathy Syndrome, the jeopardy of which relates the growing concern in Japan over the rise of NEETs and Hikikomori, terms used to identify a category of mostly young people who are falling through society’s cracks.

Some do so unwillingly for economic reasons, while others are disenfranchised with what they see as the oppressive, career-led lifestyle that’s socially expected.

Many Japanese games emphasise community and legacy to touch into this sentiment and rouse interest in social participation, and Persona 3’s no different. It wants you invested in planning for the future by asking you to get active in thinking about an allegorical long-term social crisis. In Japan it’s a population crisis and irresolvable pension schemes and collapsing industry.  In the game it‘s Nyx coming along and eating everyone’s souls.

And the first step to combating this, is by opening your menu and getting involved.

 


 

Video description

Stephen Beirne talks for two minutes on how Persona 3’s menu system links the fictional epidemic of Apathy Syndrome to Japan’s real life youth crisis.

If you like this video, help Stephen make another one by becoming a patron and tossing a few quid his way: https://www.patreon.com/stephenbeirne:

Music: Blind Alley
Composed By: Shoji Meguro, Kenichi Tsuchiya
From: Persona 3

Footage courtesy of:
TaD6644AuxiliatrixieDrawer-samaMoogleBossXxDeadlyViperxXVisualOtakuStudiosAP ArchiveReuters

Further reading:
A LONELY LOCKDOWN: THE HIKIKOMORI PHENOMENON, Post Bubble Culture, March 2011

JAPAN’S POPULATION PROBLEM, Forbes, June 2010

YOUNG PEOPLE AND WORK IN JAPAN: FREETERS, NEETS, TEMPORARY WORKERS AND SHY ABOUT WORKING ABROAD, Facts and Details, March 2012

SHUTTING THEMSELVES IN, The New York Times, January 2006

Irish Travellers and American Blindspots

PAL testcard

This piece is community funded. If you enjoyed this article, please support my writing by visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron. 

I’ve written several times in the past on what it’s like to be Irish in the midst of the loose amalgamation that is the culture of videogames. I’ve tried to emphasise my surprise and suspicion that comes in hearing an Irish voice, an Irish character, in a game, and my delight in finding something I feel sincerely speaks to Irish narratives or identities.

What little cultural background I gave usually came in the form of brief anecdotes about how little we see Irish folk in games, which of course is proportionate to the country’s contribution in the grand scheme of the industry. Through negligence I withheld the more substantial context of the lack of presence of Irish identities in media beyond that of only videogames. Since today I’m writing about ethnicity and whiteness and representation, and I’m writing from a perspective that I’m increasingly learning is distinct from the bulk of my peers, this context is kind of necessary. Continue reading

Two Minute Game Crit – Weapon Degradation


This video is community funded. To support my work and help me make more of these, please consider visiting my Patreon and becoming a patron.

Transcript:

Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.

Weapon degradation. Lots of people hate it. This whole business of weapons having a durability stat that you have to monitor in order to stop them from shattering into a billion pieces. And this is considered disruptive. There’s the sense that, when weapon degradation is working it interrupts what videogames are normally for, which is hitting things with other things. And when it’s not working it’s because you’re putting in the busywork to keep the game from annoying you.

This is not universal. There are plenty of games that are remarkable for their use of weapon degradation, like Fallout 3 and Dark Souls and The Last of Us. You can see the trend there that these have narratives which centre on survival, and the world being banjaxed. We can tell when needless busywork or additional stuff contributes to a game on a whole or takes away from it. As always it’s all about what the stuff says in the respective context.

One of the best games with weapon degradation, one of the best games in general, is Vagrant Story, a wonderful, incredible jrgp dungeon crawler Square did between Final Fantasies once upon a time. It’s got this great big cast of characters but the protagonist, a peacekeeper named Ashley Riot, spends most of time alone as he’s a solo operative.

Instead of friends, he has weapons, lots and lots of weapons. Your life is consumed by the introspection of inventory management and stat planning.

For our purposes, look at the two bars on the top left here, DP and PP. DP is Damage Points, which decrease as you wear out the weapon, usual durability stuff. PP is where it gets interesting. These are Phantom Points, and they increase as you use the weapon. The higher both of these bars, the more damage the weapon does. When Damage Points reach zero the weapon becomes kind of a dud, but you can spend a weapon’s Phantom Points to repair its durability.

The narrative of Vagrant Story is all about themes of body and soul, balancing identity and power through self-sacrifice. So Ashley’s weapons are building up a phantom, a ghost, an identity, but the more of a sense of personality they get the greater the risk to their strength. They grow fragile.

This all contributes to the weapon’s other, highly important stats of class and affinity, which also change through use and also build up in each weapon a sense of character. And then you can make your own weapons out of parts and give them their own name to call them by. ‘Wand’ might not be the best example of that though.

So, Vagrant Story. A great example of how to do weapon degradation.