Electron Dance
30Jan/15Off

Links: Kardashian Assassin Trigger Puzzle

  • What can we make of the historical accuracy of Assassin's Creed?
  • Does everyone have to love Elite?
  • Did you hear about the efforts made to save Peter Kassig's life that ultimately failed?
  • Are trigger warnings causing more harm than good?
  • How do you make a good puzzle game?
  • What, have you really put in a link about that Kim Kardashian game?

Find your six click escapes below.

LONG “Colonising History: The Culture and Politics of Assassin's Creed” - James Patton

There's no suggestion that values are socially and culturally formed, that they can only arise at a certain time and place because of what makes up the cultural mindset. In other words, this is an example of that weird Western idea that democracy must be exported everywhere because it's suitable for literally everyone even if they don't realise it yet.

“Mostly Dangerous” - Rob Fearon

I hate Elite's place in the videogame pantheon because instead of making space a wonderous place to explore, instead of visualising a myriad of breathtaking things, it made space a job. It made you a courier in a vast nothing. Sometimes it let you shoot lasers but lasers in videogames are abundant things. Wonder, I fear, not so much.

LONG “The race to save Peter Kassig” - Ali Younes, Shiv Malik, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili

"There was apparently some white boy from Princeton - I assume from the State Department or Department of Justice - who quipped, 'We're sending a Jewish anarchist lawyer who represents Hamas to the Middle East to negotiate with Isis and al-Qaida over Kassig?'," Cohen says. "And apparently some serious true believer responded, 'Who the fuck else would we send?'"

“Hazards Ahead: The Problem With Trigger Warnings” - Richard J. McNally

Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder. According to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD, especially in civilians who have suffered trauma such as sexual assault.

“A Good Puzzle Game Is Hard To Build” - Marsh Davies

But even a great puzzle game like The Talos Principle, whose puzzles do escalate to an extreme level of difficulty, doesn't necessarily introduce new ideas with the speed required to generate an engaging sense of pace. I found that some of the mechanics were outstaying their welcome during periods when many puzzles in sequence felt like reconfigurations of the same conundrum, without expanding or advancing my understanding.

“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and the Price of Fame” - Gita Jackson

When Mrs. Kardashian West wakes up, she is working. When she goes grocery shopping, she is working. When she is with her family, she is working. Every word she speaks and outfit she puts on and decision she makes must be made in respect to the fact that it will be recorded and analyzed.

Small Print

Some of these links are sourced from recommendations and apologies for not acknowledging where they came from. I throw scores of links into Instapaper every week and I have no record of their origins. Note also that links are not endorsements of any kind.

Also, if you get really bored, the Weapons of Progress Twitter account slowly dribbles out links which may or may not be related to my not-gonna-be-finished-for-a-while book on videogame economics.

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  1. Wait, did you really put in a link about that Kim Kardashian game into this article? Hint: it’s the last one…

  2. Hooray, I made it into the roundup! Thanks so much, I didn’t expect to make it. :D

    Loads of interesting links. The Kardashian article was a bit of an eye-opener.

    I initially was really enthusiastic about the Trigger Warnings article: “This is interesting! I’d never thought of this before! Wow, actual articles! Look at the science! Studies! This must be right!”

    Then I finished it and started thinking about it. I realised that while all the data points are presumably correct (because science), the whole article is kind of written in a slightly “I know what’s best for you more than you do” kind of way? I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is all good information. I think that anyone who has gone through trauma or has PTSD could benefit from some of this information, because it could help them manage their condition and understand what’s happening to them.

    But the more I thought about this, the more unsettled I got. The article is called “The Problem with Trigger Warnings”. So presumably it’s written in order to undermine the practice of appending TWs to things, the goal being for the practice to eventually die out. (I have to make his assumption because while the article has some good data points, it doesn’t actually bother to have a conclusion tying them all together.)

    So according to the article there are 5 reasons why TWs are bad.
    1) Most survivors don’t develop PTSD. (This is neither here nor there – it’s good to know but doesn’t affect the issue, because we all knew TWs were not for the majority anyway.)
    2) PTSD isn’t uncommon when the trauma is sexual assault. (Good to know.)
    3) Many rape survivors recover within months of their trauma. (Also good to know – this should give hope to rape survivors who are overwhelmed in the aftermath of their rape – but is also irrelevant to the TW argument since, again, we all know this is not for the majority, it’s for the minority of people who could have horrific flashbacks.)
    4) Confronting triggers, not avoiding them, is the best way to overcome PTSD.

    Okay, this is the one I have a real problem with. The study says that PTSD sufferers were able to overcome their traumatic memories by reliving them in a safe environment (therapist’s office) and reliving it themselves, narrating it detail by detail. At first these relivings were very traumatic, but over time they became easier to deal with. This is good. But this is NOT the same as being suddenly surprised, in a text you thought would be okay to read, by a triggering event such as a character being raped or assaulted. The key thing here is control: in the therapist’s office the survivor is in control of the narrative, they can take it at their own pace, and they are in a safe space. When you’re reading a book for homework in the library, or a blog post on the train, or listening to an audiobook while driving, you are not in control of the pace or direction of the narrative, and you are NOT in a safe space. The commute is not a good place to have a breakdown.

    The article seems to suggest that we should get rid of trigger warnings to help people:

    “Warnings on syllabi can enable those who have suffered a traumatic event to avoid reminders that can trigger discomfort. But as the following studies show, these warnings may be counterproductive.”

    So… we should stop putting TWs on things because by tricking people into reading triggering stuff they didn’t sign up to, we’re actually helping them? We care so much that we don’t trust them to manage their own recovery, and think we know better? Reeeeeally?

    It does go on to say:

    “The use of trigger warnings doesn’t just underestimate the resilience of most trauma survivors; it may send the wrong message to those who have developed PTSD.”

    It is true that PTSD survivors should be reassured that they are resilient, that they have a good chance of beating this, and that we absolutely should encourage them to define themselves in terms of their strengths and personal achievements rather than in terms of their victimhood (the article’s point 5). But TWs should surely be part of these people’s toolkits, to allow them to manage their exposure to triggering content. Surely we can give people the tools and encouragement they need to help themselves without taking away the TWs they need to navigate a very difficult point in their lives?

  3. Well, I don’t pretend this is anything but me being banal and pissy, and I do basically agree with the point that shallow examinations of the past are a cheap means of glorifying the present, but… I think Patton completely dropped the ball when talking about the historical context of that “liberty! liberty!” speech.

    This is just me talking about the early modern period which I’m super interested in; it’s only barely a criticism of Patton’s article. I’ll try to be interesting.

    Y’know… the basic assertion -that the people of the time would not have been interested in democratic ideas- is as wrong as it is right. I mean, democracy still wasn’t the go-to thing (you need only look as far as Shakespeare to see that whole “going against the natural order is wrong” shtick, and Shakespeare did his stuff fully a century after AC2!), and, technically, saying “Democracy as we understand it had not been *invented*” is not *literally* wrong, but… the span of centuries between the 13th and 16th (or thereabouts) is when democracy was being *created*.

    The historical surge of yeomen archers won the early days of the Hundred Years’ war for England and cannons built by French freemen won the war back for France, the English counted on elected burghers as a valid part of government, Louis XI abused the wealth of the cities to bring the barons to heel, class war defined the later stages of the Hussite wars, the Swiss had long since been kicking the asses of far more powerful nations using the strength provided by Greek style democracy, and everywhere the cities became more powerful, more prominent, and bound less often by the lesser nobility. On the other hand, the plague forced Germany to increase serfdom dramatically, Spain allowed the reconquista to retard the peninsula’s growth, and Scandinavia was merely keeping up… but even in these places industry and trade made for a growing class of freemen.

    The fuck of it? Democracy (to one extent or another; I’m not going to pretend these cities were without class warfare) only happened because of the kings. Despotic monarchy made democracy possible. And, so, we’ve got democracy happening all over Europe under the protective banner of the kings, and the slow degradation of the feudal structure. The knighthoods fell, the pikemen rose, and democracy would eventually conquer the world.

    The fall of the barons, the rise of the kings, the coming fallibility of the pope, the introduction of gunpowder, the conquest of the forests, the oncoming flood of nationalism… all the major trends of the early modern era were triggered by the growth of cities. But they were still only kinda-democratic.

    The “democracy” we had in the era of AC2 is nothing like our own; it’s warped, distorted, and crude. But, it is also the very foundation of our modern ideas. Here is the moment in history in which people were *creating* the ideas that we call cliche, and well… you see how I could adore the early modern era, right? I’m such a fanboy.

    So, while a speech that endlessly repeats a then-unknown buzzword like liberty would fail horribly, that’s not to say that a better made speech wouldn’t capture peoples’ hearts. Say, a speech that explains what liberty *is*; a speech that is passionate, concise, delivered by a humble and noble individual; a speech that recognizes peoples’ concerns, and recognizes that they are valid; a speech that declares that all people -regardless of rank- have souls and are therefore human; a speech like that might be very effective on a crowd of this era, and might even be fantastically insightful and poignant to a modern ear.

    Maybe a speech like the one in Maoyu episode nine, timestamp 10:30, which can be watched here: http://www.crunchyroll.com/maoyu/episode-9-i-am-human-617497

    I am the *biggest* fanboy.

  4. @mwm:
    You’re right, I did drop the ball there. My problem was that I’m not an expert on Italian culture or history from that period, and thought that my ropey understanding of European history in that area was enough. I assumed that these people at this time were much more stuck in a feudal mindset which, as you eloquently showed, they were not.

    Although the basis of that point is pretty much wrong, though, I still think there’s something there worth examining in the way the scene (and the series) is portrayed for modern audiences. All of those things you mentioned, that would make the speech work for a Florentine audience – a speech that takes liberty as its theme and explores it, a speech delivered by someone noble, humble and with enough popular support to seem like a hero, a speech that speaks to people’s everyday problems and treats them like human beings rather than like disposable peasants – I don’t think these things get very much attention in the game at large. Rather than showing us how liberty, democracy and the rights of man were just dawning in this era, I think the game takes it as read that they just sort of exist. Which is a problem, because it’s important to recognise that democracy is not a magical, liberating thing that just appeared one day, but is something that came about as the result of social processes – which means that it may not be the best system.

    Just to clarify: clearly you understand all this, I just don’t think the game does. I’m just thinking that even when the game shows us something that is historically appropriate (the “Liberty!” scene) it treats it so shallowly that we learn little about the past, and strengthen the “Democracy is the best!” narrative we’re all stuck in at the moment.

  5. Yeah yeah, totally. I mean, the basic point I was going for was “well, yeah, Assassin’s Creed treats history like trash, but look at this work that *doesn’t* do that”. Y’know… I kinda like anime, and, one of the big reasons I like it is ‘cuz -for one reason or another- a lot of anime is good at exploring these complex conversations in a way that isn’t solely for the “chosen few”. Works like “Maoyu”, “Spice and Wolf”, “Fate/Stay Night”, “The Monogatari Series”, “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, “Katanagatari”… They manage to fully explore ideas that I’ve only seen hinted at in western cinema.

    But, uhh, anyways. I agree that works like Assassin’s Creed should stop willfully avoiding criticism of -well- anything. Though, I *don’t* agree with the assertion that this serves to artificially prop up the existing system. I’d argue that diminishing the base of people that are good citizens just screws over everyone, based on Roman history.

    And I really do feel that western civilization’s biggest problem right now is not that people are not putting enough pressure on their representatives, but that they’re putting *too* much pressure on their representatives. There’s too many people who are too vocal about things they understand too little. There’s too many demonstrators and not enough citizens.

    The long and short of it is, “if you have good people, you get a good government”. So, yeah, mainstream works that explore meaningful topics without being condescending? Fuck yeah, let’s get more of that shit.

  6. James – I meant to put you in last time but I completely forgot until I’d compiled all the links… and I just haven’t done a links post since.

    Interesting caveat you’ve pulled out of the TW article! It’s a good point.

    I’ve always wondered if there’s any analysis on whether the average TW can be a trigger in itself? (i.e. I wasn’t thinking about it until I hit the TW) But, from what I understand, there are all sorts of triggers – a smell, a scene, a sound – that plastering TWs over the most obvious trigger is very weak protection indeed, that TWs almost end up as a proof-of-concern-test regardless of benefit. It’s also very Swiss cheese, a Google search may inadvertently throw something up and take to a link that goes south quickly; you’re never going to mask every obvious trigger – so it seems the cause is doomed from the outset. Add to this that the TW is widely misunderstood; I recently saw a TW for “ableist speech” and I can’t think of the PTSD event that might be associated with that. I *do* tend to believe our attitudes have skewed too much towards victimhood than survivorship in recent years and that has wider repercussions.

    On your AC piece, the critique is interesting, but at the end it’s the call to arms I’m unsure of. I’m all for improving the intelligence of movies/books/games but – what are you hoping for? I mean, AC comes across to me like the sort of pop junk you wouldn’t expect genius from let alone historical accuracy from – The 300, Gladiator, Braveheart.

    mwm – I don’t think I have much to add to your ongoing conversation with James. Keep up the good work =)

  7. @James – I’m partway with you on the TW thing. As usual, though, I sit somewhere in the perceived middle ground. TWs have their place and they are of value (I won’t give any specific examples as I do not personally need TWs, nor do I often write material that would likely require them). However, along with a lot of other chunks of the conceptual framework of feminism, the idea has been taken up and used a lot more widely than is really appropriate. Hence over the last few years we’ve begun to find trigger warnings used in frankly odd places, as the article acknowledges. All that said, I think your paragraph after the numbered list is very astute.

    @mwm – really interesting comment! You have inspired me to pick up my European history books again.

    @James & @Joel – I liked the AC critique a lot. Never been a fan of the series, but still. I agree that the call to arms at the end is where it falters most (mwm’s input withstanding). As Joel points out AC is basically pop historical so historical rigour is never going to be a focus: it’s instead going to be concerned with telling a story that the largest possible audience can understand and relate to whilst including as many (often detached) historical signifiers – largely visual; architecture and costume is often done really well in pop historical games and films – as possible. Without wanting to seem like a back seat critic, I might have gone further* and used the critique of AC to boost into a larger critique of pop historical products in general. Not so much “these things are wrong!” as “these things are pernicious”, as you rightly observe elsewhere.

    * if I could be bothered to write anything so in-depth just for the hell of it, which is pretty unlikely. :P

  8. BLIMEY that was an awful week. Apologies for my late response – don’t know if anyone’s still reading but I’ll respond just in case. You guys made some good points and I’d like to talk about them.

    @mwm: Well, by “the existing system” I don’t mean democracy – I mean capitalism. I do agree that this kind of media (broad-brush, simplifying, no sense of history, “We are the best people who have ever lived”) is very damaging to democracy, because democracy requires an educated populace to work optimally. But it’s great for consumerism, because people will buy this stuff to have fun, glide over it with minimal resistance because they don’t have to think, and will then by the twenty sequels.

    As for the problem with democracy right now – well, that’s a helluva question, isn’t it? But I thiiiiink I disagree with you here as well – though I’d love to be proved wrong since it’s not my area. It seems to me that the problem with American politics right now is the entrenched systems: processes like gerrymandering, money influencing campaigns in a big way, and of course the terrible media. In the UK (where I come from) I’d say that we’re structurally ok except that we have 2 big parties that nobody really likes and a load of smaller parties that are either too specific to get any traction (Greens) or run by total racist whackjobs (BNP).

    @HM: on trigger warnings – I think we broadly agree. I do think we think of people as victims too often, but really, what else can we do in a culture that gives such little thought to how we treat rape victims/survivors? I wonder whether we have been coaxed into focusing on victimhood so much – “Look, this is HORRIBLE!!!” – because mainstream culture denies rape survivors that affirmation (“No, it’s not horrible, and besides you should have worn something more modest”).

    Hm, the ending of my piece. To be honest, at that point I was so strung out and tired that I wasn’t sure how to end. I felt like I’d said everything I wanted to say – but that something still had to be said at the end.

    To be honest, though, I don’t think it’s really a call to arms. It’s very emotional, yes, but it’s not calling on readers to do anything particularly radical like boycott these games. Instead, I’m just suggesting that people re-contextualise their approach to these games and to history, and try to realise that the narrative is kind of rigged.

    @Shaun: Yes, I’m not sure it was a great way to end the piece. :P Like you say, it does falter there. The problem, I guess, is that this is AAA. What do I expect? That they hire a cultural studies professor and a history professor and have them vet all the writing? I’d love that but it’s never going to happen. Like you say, the best we can hope for is probably to warn people that this is insidious and tricksy. As you say, it’s not exactly wrong: the portrayal of non-white people, for example, is spot on, and some of the cultural stuff kind of fits with the setting? Buuuut there’s a lot more to the story than that, and the game’s narrative works alongside our culture at large to kind of conspire against the truth, in a very gentle but far-reaching way.

  9. *buy. I blame the cold! Totally not my fault!

  10. I’m not sure I’d agree that we’re structurally okay in the UK! Our electoral system rewards entrenchment and has been tweaked repeatedly to make it harder and harder for alternative voices to get inside that system. When electoral reform actually came up as a possibility, it was so hamstrung as to derail the substance of the debate. We have an unelected component that parties in power will merrily stuff with more of their own peers as there don’t appear to be any hard limits on the number of sitting members. The two tiers of our Houses are so messed up that, at present, the inclusion of unelected pseudo-nobility is actually a good thing because they will sometimes shoot down legislation that the overwhelmingly ideologically unified Parliament pushes through with minimal debate or public referendum.

    When you don’t want to get rid of a huge group of unelected (and largely old, white and male) people with substantial power of the British state and its governance because they help mitigate some of the worst excesses of a largely like-thinking government, you have a serious problem.

    What’s interesting to me about the UK at the moment is the growth of the smaller parties you mention. The Greens almost have a party membership (note: membership numbers, not just polling as a protest vote) equal to that of the Lib Dems, and are ahead of UKIP (the more insidious party of racists and whackjobs, the BNP having repeatedly imploded over the last three years such that its membership and management is in tatters). They’re still widely perceived as a single issue party but this is less and less the case. They’re also the only party on the national stage that is overtly against austerity.

    Anyway, sorry, this is all very off-topic!


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