Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Fallout Series Theory: Why the End of the World Didn't Matter

Polishing up a Youtube comment of mine and selling it to you all as a rant? I really am evil.

I noted a series of videos by an individual going by Oxhorn a little way back in another Fallout rant as being thoughtful and worth watching for any diehard fan of the Fallout series. In 1 of his videos, he talks about how there have been some people who have left comments on his videos about the evils of prewar society, who have said that perhaps the great war of Fallout that brought about the end of the civilization was actually a good thing, in bringing an end to a society so filled on every level with evil. Classy guy that Oxhorn pretends to be, he uses this video to highlight the fact that the tragedy and cost of the war to good, decent, average people could never be justified no matter how much evil it also wiped away, an opinion I completely agree with--no victory over evil can ever be achieved when it comes at the sacrifice of innocent bystanders.

But I’ll go a step further than that. Because I believe that even in terms strictly of punishing the wicked, the nuclear war of the Fallout series was utterly meaningless.

You see, punishment is not, nor should it ever be seen as, a goal in and of itself. Punishment exists for the purpose preventing wrong behaviors (or at least, behaviors perceived as wrong), whether preventing them before they occur, or preventing them from occurring again.

- When your child does something wrong, you shouldn’t be punishing him solely because he did it--you should be punishing him with the intention of making sure he knows that there are negative consequences for wrongdoing, and the hope that the knowledge of these consequences will keep him from doing it again. You’ll still punish your son again if he pulls this shit once more (and probably punish him more harshly, since he now should really know better), but the purpose each time is to find a level of consequences that will prevent him from doing wrong.
- When the government warns you that there will be a fine for littering on public property, the intention isn’t supposed to just be drumming up some extra revenue for Town Hall--the purpose of the fine is to dissuade you from polluting before you have a chance to do so, preventing wrongdoing prior to its happening. They’ll still fine the shit out of you if you do it, but the expectation is that knowledge of the punishment will keep that from happening at all.
- When you’re sent to prison, the intention isn’t supposed to just be to make you miserable for months or years--the idea is to put someone whose presence is dangerous to society into a place in which he/she cannot harm that society again before learning not to do so. That’s why prison education and rehabilitation programs were so vital--they’re accomplishing what the institution is meant to do, which is to improve and preserve society’s order and welfare by removing behaviors that threaten it, and remaking those who engaged in such behaviors into potentially productive members of society. Such programs are sadly almost entirely gone, now, since corporations have made the process of incarcerating American citizens into a profitable business rather than a necessary social function, but that’s a whole other subject, for a more meaningful rant blog than mine. The point is, though, that prison is not meant to be the purpose of its own existence, it's meant to be a functioning means to the purpose of maintaining society.

When you punish based on simply wanting to cause suffering to another who has done wrong, you lose sight of what punitive measures are meant to accomplish, and lessen yourself as a person in the process by embracing hurtful malice that doesn’t help you or anyone else. Punishment, and the threat of punishment, must exist as functions of preventing/eliminating wrong behaviors. When it becomes just about making someone who has done wrong suffer for their actions, it ceases truly being punishment, and simply becomes the useless, self-destructive concept of revenge, which serves no one, and lessens or harms everyone it touches.

So now that we’ve established how I see punishment, how I believe punishment must be seen if we are to successfully persist as a society, let’s bring it back to the topic at hand. The world of Fallout before the day of nuclear devastation is a world nearly exactly like our own, one in which corporations carelessly harm countless human beings with their policies and single-minded dedication to profits, in which politicians lie to the masses and use human lives like currency to satisfy their own vanity and lust for power, in which criminals both petty and organized prey on the weak and give into their base impulses at the expense of others, in which cultural factions attempt to divide and confuse the masses through the tools of paranoia and bigotry...and, it’s important to remember, it’s a world in which the majority of people are decent and honest, a world whose reason for being so flawed and terrible is not that most people are, but rather that the engines of capitalism and politics that rule society favor and elevate dishonesty, greed, narcissism, and psychopathy.

With this understanding in mind, with our knowledge of Fallout’s lore leading us to fully realize the terrible sins of the political and economic rulers of the prewar world, we might initially think that nuclear punishment was an acceptable, even necessary solution. Get rid of the organized crime bosses, get rid of the corporations that used and abused people on every level without a single care so long as it was profitable, get rid of the government that used the hopes and anguishes of its citizens solely to promote its own interests. Get rid of it all, give humanity the punishment it has brought on itself, and ring in a world without the complex social vices that the old one had built over the centuries.

But unfortunately, as punishment for the old world’s evils, the bombs were a complete failure. Because war never changes.

Oh, certainly, many of the horrible people of countless heartless corporations met their just ends, as did many of the evil social leaders and criminals of the world. But Fallout shows us that humanity after the bombs is, at its core, the same as humanity before the war.

What was the point of nuclear punishment for the world’s criminals? The same acts continue unabated in the new world. Raiders and organized factions like the Gunners still steal and murder for their daily needs, as surely as any petty mugger or violent thief does. Some individuals do it for even less than that--Allen Marks, of Fallout New Vegas, steals and murders from people not because he needs their resources to live, but because they have special bottle caps that he collects in the hopes of trading to a prewar machine for a fabulous treasure. Countless raiders torture and destroy people for their own twisted satisfaction as much as any prewar serial killer, like the Fens Phantom, did. And there’s only more organized crime in the Fallout world than ever before--from Junktown’s Gizmo to New Reno’s families to Diamond City’s Triggermen, with hundreds, thousands of raider groups and mercenary gangs mixed in, the nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of organized crime. They simply traded the Eddie Winters of the old world for the Gizmos and Darion Khans of the new.

What was the point of nuclear punishment for the world’s evil governments? The same kinds of corrupt groups in power persist after the war. The NCR, while admittedly not outright evil just yet, uses unjust economic pressure to annex territory and force all the world around them to play by their rules, just like the US government. Cruel, horrible culture-destroying warlords still violently overtake all they come across, as evidenced by Caesar’s Legion. Fanatical, totalitarian bigots still seize control and warp the minds of entire societies, as seen with the east coast Brotherhood of Steel by Fallout 4. Self-important tyrants still decide that the rest of the world should hold their values and engage in the societies that they feel are correct, and attempt to force that new world on others violently, if The Master is anything to go by. Political leaders still lie to, manipulate, and betray those they are sworn to protect and represent the way the prewar senators did for their corporate masters, if Mayor McDonough’s sniveling ambitions to please the Institute are any indication. And those with power still seize the lives of those without, snuffing out their culture and forcing them to live as lowly workers in the conqueror’s culture, as seen by House’s transformation of the tribes near New Vegas into the 3 families running his casinos. Arrogant societies still dismiss those who are different as less than human, and look for any reason to control or destroy them, if Vault City is indicative of anything. The nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of corrupt and oppressive politicians and governments. They simply traded the Genghis Khans of the old world for the Legion’s Caesar, the Adolf Hitlers for the Overseer Lynettes and Arthur Maxsons, of the new.

What was the point of nuclear punishment for the world’s self-important psychopaths who set themselves and their purposes above the good of their fellow man? The same kinds of arrogant, inhuman disregard for life and morality didn’t end. The Institute ignores the plight of the Commonwealth’s people as they pursue some intangible, undefined future of humanity that sacrifices the species’s heart and soul for technological advancement, just as Vault Tec designed horrific social experiments in its vaults to abuse those who came to them for shelter in the interests of discovering new understandings of social dynamics and ways to increase productivity. The original Brotherhood of Steel has, by the time of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, fallen so far as to mistake their purpose and ignore the plights and needs of humanity, in favor of dogmatically following the letter of their law rather than its spirit, withholding the aid and technologies that the people around them need, just as, prewar, food and other resources were withheld from the populace so that they could instead benefit the military,* whose purpose in fighting the Chinese was supposedly more important to the welfare of the USA’s citizens than having a decent meal. Ashur of the Pitt works his slaves to the bone, assisted by his violent gang of enforcers, for the sake of building an empire around his precious cure, ignoring the needs and welfare of his slaves in favor of his vision of what they and the rest of the world needs, which is much the same as countless logs we can find throughout the series that show employees being expected to work unethical hours to advance the interests of military research in the name of patriotism that would never benefit them. The nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of those who use and abuse humanity in its own name. They simply traded the Stanislas Brauns and Lieutenent Governor Grahams of the old world for the Fathers and Elder McNamaras of the new.

What was the point of nuclear punishment for the greatest of mankind’s evils, the corporations? The same kind of soulless, careless pursuits of money and power at any cost continued undeterred. Tenpenny, Porter Gage and the Nuka World raider gangs, Eulogy Jones, Iguana Bob, Theodore Collins, Griffon, Talon Company, Set, Kellogg...from coast to coast, throughout the 200 year period after the bombs dropped through to Fallout 4’s events, the wasteland has no shortage of swindlers, of cheats, of those who put profit above the wellbeing of their customers, of those who will not hesitate to kill for the sake of money, who will overtake the honest work of the innocent and steal or destroy it for their own benefit, who will sell out their fellow human beings for the sake of economic gain, and who use their money and influence to destroy anything inconvenient to them, regardless of who it hurts. The nukes accomplished nothing if they were meant to punish the evils of those who bring harm to others in their pursuit of wealth. They simply traded the Nuka-Cola Quantums of the old world for the Bob’s Iguana Bits of the new.

And finally, what was the point of nuclear punishment for the evil members of humanity when so many of those sinners escaped that retribution altogether? The US government, the controlling, manipulative entity that detained citizens for their heritage and opened fire on peaceful protesters, wasn’t wiped out; it simply hunkered down and became the Enclave, re-emerging decades later to once more terrorize the people of the country from coast to coast. Bradburton, the head of Nuka-Cola who overworked employees, overcharged customers, and put money over human beings’ safety, survived for 200 years after the end of the world. So did Eddie Winters, infamous crime boss of the Commonwealth. Stanislas Braun, Professor Calvert, both powerful men whose actions and influence harmed others, continue to cause suffering after the end of the world and the beginning of the new one. If anything, Braun’s evils only bear their true fruit from the nuclear rain, as the Vaults began to perform their horrific tests upon humanity and he began to personally torment a dozen people’s minds for over a century, and Calvert’s intent to control the Maryland area only begins to move forward in the decades after the bombs drop. And even if the heads of Vault Tec are (perhaps) destroyed by the war, the evil intents and methods of the company live on in at least 1 employee who survives, Overseer Barstow. The most the nukes did to punish them was to bring on terrible boredom and loneliness for many, but even then, we see no indication that this isolation taught them anything. Winters is still an ass, Braun becomes shockingly cruel before finally becoming tired of life, and Barstow carries on Vault Tec’s mission as though nothing happened. Maybe Bradburton gained some humanity, but we’ve no indication one way or another. The nukes were such a failure as punishment for the evils of the world that they could not even wipe many of those great evils clean.

The Fallout series makes it a point to prove that the human race is flawed before AND after society’s nuclear reset button is pushed; War Never Changes because humanity never changes. I’ve always loved the fact that the series bases itself so strongly around 1950s aesthetics, because we have a tendency to idolize that age of American culture as somehow safer, more moral and upstanding, than everything that came after, while in reality it was no better. The darkness in human beings was still exactly as present as ever, before and after. And similarly, the evils of humanity before the war are those of humanity after the war, simply given new faces and new nuances of the world to twist to their vile purposes. And thus I say that anyone who views the nuclear devastation of the Fallout series as just and effective punishment for the evils of the prewar society is wrong...because to succeed, punishment must end and prevent bad behaviors. But the evils of humanity continued, as they always had, as they always do.

* Well, the military, and those high in power. Mayor Hildenbrand might’ve been doing dick all to actually benefit the people of Boston, but he sure as hell made sure he wasn’t going hungry himself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Tales of Series's Naming Oddity

Is it just me, or is the Tales of series very weird in how they name their games? No, I don’t just mean how some of the titles lately are just nonsense words with no meaning (what the fuck is a ‘zestiria’?). Others have poked fun at that far more effectively, not to mention succinctly, than I could. I mean in the sense that every game in the series I’ve come across to date* seems like it’s been mis-titled with the name meant for another installment of the series.

Like, take Tales of Symphonia. Now, given the name, you’d think the game would have a major theme of music, right? Like, the symphony. Symphony --> Symphonia, right? And the game isn’t totally unrelated to music,’s not really a huge part of it, as far as I can glean. Which isn’t by itself odd or a bad thing or anything; it’s not like, say, Vandal Hearts or Legena: Union Tides have titles that really make much specific sense, nor do several dozen other RPGs. It’s kinda the genre’s thing. Still...well, wouldn’t Tales of Symphonia have been a better title for Tales of the Abyss? I mean, Tales of the Abyss makes some decent sense as a title, since the abyss is an actual plot point to the game, but after a while, said abyss is sort of not really that big a deal to the plot. Just becomes a part of the world that you take in stride. But think about it--music is a huge, thematic component to the plot of Tales of the Abyss, because the game’s central, thematic conflict revolves around the question of whether destiny can be (or even should be) resisted and broken, and in TotA, destiny takes the form of a score, as in a song, laid out by some god thing trapped in the center of the earth or some such fanciful RPG gobbledegook. Point is, wouldn’t you think that for a game whose major plot point is a song of destiny, a name like Symphonia would have been a better choice, rather than for a game whose connections to music, tangible and abstract alike, are slight, even tenuous?

And the examples just keep piling up the more I look at the series’s history. Tales of Destiny, for example. Nothing especially strong, fate-wise, in ToD’s plot. But again, Tales of the Abyss would have been a great choice for the name Destiny, since, again, its primary concern is a question of mankind’s reaction to and conflict with inevitability. For that matter, Destiny would have been a fine name for Tales of Legendia, too, since the main point of its second half is that the heroes are opposing a recurring cycle of destiny that will destroy their world. Hell, it’d still work better for ToL’s first half than for ToD’s entirety, since the first half is about whether or not different peoples can come together to work and live in peace, in spite of the conflict and suffering that seems, historically, to be their ‘destiny.’

And heck, while the Abyss might be an alright name for the game it’s given to, and relate to something real and basic in the game, it might be, from a narrative standpoint, a better name for Tales of Zestiria, since that game’s ostensibly about purifying the human heart and pulling people and society up from the malevolence of their darker instincts, which is sort of like the abyss of their hearts. A bit of a stretch, sure, but I personally would like the thematic appropriateness over the simple fact that there’s an actual abyss in Tales of the Abyss. Or Tales of Zestiria could have been more appropriately named Legendia. Legendia is an okay title for the game that actually has it, in the sense that it’s a throwaway RPG title that wouldn’t conflict with like 95% of all fantasy RPGs in existence...but Tales of Zestiria’s got a lot of emphasis on the fabled history of the Shepards, and the events of the past having led to the game’s current conflict. Which would make Legendia fit quite well to it, while the actual Tales of Legendia doesn’t really have much in the way of fact, it’s unusual for how little it has to do with legends. Most RPGs have at least a couple! And for that matter, Tales of Symphonia also has a lot of its plot focus on events of the past and various legends, so that would have been much more aptly named Legendia, too.

And it even seems weird for the games of the series that I don’t know about. Like, maybe Tales of Eternia is, in fact, appropriately named. I wouldn’t know; it’s on my To Play list. But in case it’s not, then Eternia would have been a fine title for Tales of Phantasia, since ToP involves a fair amount of time travel in its plot, and the name Eternia sort of implies a focus on time. Tales of Hearts probably is well enough named, since hearts are a vague enough thing that most RPGs that involve any sort of dynamic characters could apply, but on the off-chance that Hearts doesn’t really have much to do with that title, it sure as hell would have been a great one for Tales of Zestiria, what with ToZ’s focus being on this poorly-explained ethereal miasma that’s born of and/or infects human hearts to make people into secret invisible monsters and so on.

It’s not like it matters or anything, of course. But this unique trait that the Tales of series seems to have of giving its games titles that would have worked better for other installments in the series did seem odd enough to be worth making note of.

* In fairness, that’s less than half the series, but still.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Millennium 5's Spontaneous Attention to Romance

Yes, I know none of you have played the Millennium series. Well, too bad. How am I going to keep my Followers count’s slim figure if I start making rants that anyone wants to read?

The Millennium series is an odd little quintology in numerous ways. The dialogue’s written crudely, with a seeming prejudice against many types of punctuation, yet frequently it’s well-spoken and witty enough that it doesn’t seem like there’s any particular lack of understanding for it that might come from a non-native speaker. It’s a 5-game series, yet feels pretty strongly like it’s just a single slightly long game that’s been chopped into pieces in a very arbitrary fashion...and yet it also does feel very right as a saga rather than a single title. Its setting seems pretty haphazardly thrown together according to what the plot needs when, but at the same time, it sort of does have a decent amount of lore going on with it. Altogether, it’s not a good series, only decent, and yet I found that I came away from Millennium with distinct fondness for the series.

But 1 of the weirder things about it, which I can’t really understand and think is vaguely detrimental, is the sudden decision partway through Millennium 5 to start throwing questions of romance into the mix of the party’s dynamics.

I mean, for the span of 4 games, we’ve got no hint of romantic interests in the cast. Well, besides Jack, of course, and to a lesser extent James, but I don’t qualify “strikes out with every female he sees with every other breath he takes” as romance. Obnoxious, yes, romance, no. Everyone else in the sizable party has better things to do with their time, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be any real chemistry between anyone present. Heck, most members of the party don’t even seem to especially like each other, even by the end of the game. Which is another of those oddities I mentioned about the series; rare is the RPG in which there are multiple characters in the main cast who don’t ever start getting along. Romance is just not on anyone’s radar from Millennium 1 - 4, completely unmentioned, not even vaguely hinted at, and honestly, it’s not really missed at all, when so many members of the cast barely even manage to work together as peers.

So, for 60 - 80 hours of the series, no one’s interested in anyone else, save Jack and James wanting to screw anything that owns a vagina. And then, a third of the way through Millennium 5, Benoit spontaneously develops a crush on Karine.

There’s absolutely no lead-up to this. Like, whatsoever. Completely out of left field. I mean, I’ll grant you, Karine and Benoit have been part of the team the longest, so he’s had the most time to know and appreciate her over anyone else, but no part of their interactions for 4 entire games have given any indication that he’s been developing feelings for her. The majority of their interactions have been Karine urging him to man up and stop being so pessimistic and cowardly, which doesn’t really strike me as the sort of thing that would inspire strong feelings of affection and attraction.* The rest of the time, they’ve just been putting in their 2 cents on the situations that come up around them. Where the hell have these feelings suddenly sprung from?

But eh, alright, whatever. If Millennium wants to suddenly add a forced, nonsensical crush into the narrative, so be it. Rapid Onset Romance is an old RPG tradition, after all.

Except that that’s not the end of it. For some reason, after this point, the game seems to feel it absolutely necessary to make romantic feelings and musings a repeating focus, potentially pairing up the ladies in the cast like they’re overstock items that have to be moved out of the warehouse at all costs. Marine gives Jack a moment of actual consideration, for some odd reason, and indicates that maybe she’ll seriously consider his advances if he does well in the upcoming tournament that they need to win (which doesn’t really speak well of Marine’s character, I have to say). A quiet moment between Blondie and Marine that actually provides some much-needed lore and character development for each of them devolves into an unexpected discussion of which boys in the party are cute, with Blondie talking about how Abu is totally her type. And of all the ridiculous things, Salome actually starts acting interested in the Bear. Uh, yeah, okay. No pairing in the history of video gaming has ever stunk so badly of ‘Writer Felt Obligated to Just Pair Every Woman Up with Someone’ as that.

What was it that really got your engine running about the Bear, Salome? Was it the unending stream of verbal abuse that flows from his mouth to every single person he meets, yourself included? His constant insistence that everything you and the rest of your friends are doing is completely futile and that you’re all worthless? Maybe you’re really into men so eternally pissed off that Vegeta himself would say, “Dude, chill the fuck out”? The guy has less emotional depth than Oscar the Grouch, for Kallu’s sake!

This unexpected and out of place focus on hook-ups even goes as far as the ending of the game, in which we’re told (in the cannon, good ending) that Marine eventually falls in love with and marries Lord Dragon. Which, I mean, is fine, I guess; if anything, their brief interactions still manage to form a stronger basis for possible romantic interest than Benoit’s and Karine’s, and certainly anything is better than throwing Salome at the Bear. But it still seems odd that there’s enough time for the ending to tell us what Marine’s love life will be, but not to let us know most other standard, expected ending things. Does her father ever come out of his coma? Does her mother ever have the curse on her lifted? How does every other party member’s life go? Who does what in Marine’s new government? How about some more details about how things progress for Mystland in regards to the rights of the peasantry, and how Mystrock’s society and economy change to deal with this?

Why do I come away from this series with a more complete understanding of the course of Marine’s love life than the resolution of her entire blasted quest!?

I dunno. I know it’s a small thing, but this really does bug me, because the sudden, uncalled for attention to schoolyard crushes in this last leg of the series takes a substantial portion of what little real development of characters’ interactions we get in this game. Maybe if Salome hadn’t been busy poking the Bear about his feelings on the ladiez, and then lamenting to Karine afterward about how it didn’t go so well, we could have instead gotten a scene that actually developed Salome and/or the Bear a little (Gaia knows he could have used it) as they have an honest conversation, followed by a scene in which she and Karine interact about something actually substantial and relevant to them or their quest. Maybe if we didn’t have to make Blondie and Marine’s conversation devolve into a “Well which boy do you like?” chat, we could have gotten more of the serious lore and character solidifying that it had been providing up until that moment.

Then again, maybe not. There’s no guarantee that anything better would have replaced this sudden, inexplicable romantic attention. It’s not like adding this RPG equivalent of preteen slumber party gossip took any actual effort that might have been applied to something else. Still, I hate the RPG standard of viewing romantic feelings as no more than a box to check off, and these insubstantial and completely spontaneous little flirtations with flirtation in Millennium are certainly no more than that.

* Then again, there’s precious little that Shion says to Allen throughout most of the Xenosaga series that doesn’t boil down to the same sort of emasculating criticism, and he’s inexplicably in love with her, too. Is this just a thing? Some trope I’m not aware of in anime/RPG culture, in which a guy just falls in love with a woman for the fact that she constantly criticizes his courage and worth as a man? Because it’s stupid, and offensively unhealthy. I’m not saying that Allen and Benoit aren’t whiny little milksops that need to get their shit together for quite some time in their respective franchises, mind you--they totally are. But I am saying it’s a big problem when those criticisms form the majority of the interactions off which romantic feelings can be based.