Monday, 30 May 2011

Breaking News: People Die in War

Newspapers love war stories. That's pretty much their bread and butter for generating readers unless they're a paper which focuses on which sort-of-celebrity left her knickers at home the other day. So of course you get a bit of recycling when it comes to the stories because there is a fairly limited set of ways to talk about us massacring middle-eastern people protecting freedom in the west. Mostly I don't mind them, it's good to know about what is going on in the different wars that are going on and good to be reminded of the death and waste of life that comes from them on a fairly regular basis. The ones that really get on my nerves though are the ones which state, with shock and dismay, the number of British dead over the course of the campaign. I mean of course it's bad that people die, and individuals deaths are of course being mourned by their friends and families as is only right. The problem is that the newspapers forego the individual impact on families and try to tell us that we should be depressed by the number of people that have died in the campaigns.
This man shoots people for a living, he has a chance of dying doing it

The problem with this is that, to me, all these figures do is prove how technologically superior and relatively well-equipped we are compared to the people we are fighting. In a recent article the total number of deaths in Afghanistan has reached 368 British soldiers. While the linked article is pretty much a eulogy for the son of the author, where the figure is used solely to bring up the other families who have lost sons and daughters, there are plenty which produce the figure as a shocking number. A figure which is meant to provoke the response of "oh my lord, that's a terrible number of people". The problem with this is that we have been in Afghanistan for ten years now, which makes that an average of around 37 deaths per year. Compare this with the epitome of senseless waste of life, the first day of the Somme, where we lost 19, 240 British soldiers in a single day. That means in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan we have lost 52 times less lives than in a single day of the Somme.
Probably more graves in this one site than were lost in the entire Aghan war so far.

I suppose the argument goes that we have learnt from the two world wars about the tragedy of war and that even a few lost men provides more of an impact now that it did in 1914. However if that was the case, surely we should be as bothered about losses on all sides of the war, not just our own losses. If we really are 'better' and believe that the mere existence of war is a tragedy, then surely the losses of Aghanistan lives and the losses our allies have suffered are just as important as our own. Yet you barely see these figures published, especially not in the kind of stories where we mourn the loss of life of troops.

For the sake of balancing this, here are some figures from wiki (so probably not reliable, but should give a rough idea) of the losses that have been suffered. The overall friendly losses for the war have been 13, 107 ( 36 times the amount we have lost personally). The overall losses for the taliban and associated forces were 38,000+ , bringing the total loss of life for both sides to 51,107. The number of civilian casualties is estimated to be 14,000-34,000, bringing the total amount to 65,107-85,107. These are figures which should provoke the feeling of "my god, that's a lot of lives lost", especially considering the number of civilian casualties. Of course, compared to the first world war the amount seems trivial, with the total number of deaths from all sides in Afghanistan being less than just the UK's civilian deaths from the first world war (roughly 109,000).

Of course, using these figures just as figures is pointless and stupid, which is why every newspaper who has published the number of British deaths as shock figures should be ashamed of themselves. To group them together and use them as statistics is a disservice to them as individuals, and their family and friends should mourn them individually. However, the idea of using the figure to politicise their deaths is idiotic. The figures aren't shocking, the loss of a person who is your son or daughter is shocking. Wars cost lives, that's a simple fact. Keeping track of British losses like some kind of scorecard isn't the right way to go about it. You either think war is a senseless waste of life, and vilify it as a concept entirely, or you accept that while war is terrible it is necessary, in which case you have to accept that lives will be lost.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Booze glorious booze

As you may have guessed from the fact that I'm a northerner, I am pretty fond of beer. That isn't really a surprising thing as most of the country is, but I figured I'd lay that fact down anyway for what I'm about to ramble about today.

So every now and then we get newspapers publishing stories about new figures or concern in the NHS over the amount of drink-related health problems there are in the UK. The latest one I've seen being about the number of drink-related hospital cases reaching 1 million a year. This has almost doubled since 2002/3, where there were 510,800 reported cases. Every time an article like this appears they say that they need to look at their approach to alcohol in the UK, but every time the approach stays the same. Increase taxes on alcohol, do nothing else. All this does is make people just as drunk, but slightly poorer. I can't remember a night out when I've thought "oh I shouldn't buy another pint, it's too expensive" after I've already have six or seven, it's a case of cash machine, more booze, win at life.
A night of moderate drinking at university

The only thing raising tax on sale of alcohol does is increase the stranglehold on alcohol from supermarkets and further destroy the pub trade. Since 1981 pubs have been on the raw end of every policy implemented by governments, leading to over 16,500 pub closures over the past 30 years. Due to the number of pub closures, the amount of tax actually generated from the tax hike is massively reduced. Data from The Guardian suggests that in 2010 the government lost over £254 million in taxes, and this can only have increased over the past year.

So the current policy leads to there STILL being an increase in medical alcohol-related cases and leads to lesser tax income than simply having a lower tax but more pubs open. The reasoning behind why there are more alcohol related cases is quite simple. The people who pay attention to the NHS propaganda about alcohol effects and the people who pay attention to tax and price increases are sensible people. Sensible people aren't the ones at risk from alcohol anyway, so you end up with a higher concentration of lunatic pissheads like myself still drinking and less sensible people out on a friday night. As such you get more people telling each other to drink more and think less around on a night out, and less people encouraging you to have a glass of water or to go home early. On the plus side, this means you have less whining fairies out on a night making everything dull. On the down side, everything is more expensive and you have a higher risk of waking up with a drip in your arm or a whale in your bed.

So what can be done to stop the high cost to the NHS that all us alchies going into hospital is causing? Obviously higher and higher taxes aren't doing anything. While the future plan to ban the sale of alcohol at lower than tax value will be a start of helping to ease the problem of supermarkets, I honestly don't think a real difference will be felt until the government taxes open alcohol, as served in restaurants and pubs, as separate from contained alcohol, such as when you buy a crate or cans from a shop. This would then allow them to tax each at separate rates, giving a lower tax grade to open alcohol which is served in a controlled environment. This would then allow them to put a higher level of responsibility on landlords to ensure customers are behaving properly and not getting too drunk because the landlords will be able to afford to stay open if they throw out a few customers who are acting stupidly.

These changes may have a helpful effect, though I am not sure how successful they would really be, as the main issue is cultural. We just enjoy getting drunk and binge drinking a lot. Whereas a French family may sit down for a meal over a few hours and enjoy a bottle of wine or two between them, we prefer going out with friends on a friday night and getting absolutely trollied. Nobody thinks this is anything other than terribly bad for their health. I think if you did a survey of people out on a night enjoying themselves, no matter how drunk they were if you asked them if drinking was good for their health they would say no. The obligatory take-away at the end of the evening is never helpful either. So a campaign from the NHS about the health issues related to drinking isn't going to be news to anyone, and as such won't change any attitudes or behaviours towards drinking. In fact, from my experience of people reading drinking information pamphlets, all they use it for is working out how to drink more effectively, and how to stay under the driving limit while having more than one pint.
Douchey, Pukey, Slutty and Bellend: the dwarfs
the other seven don't talk about

The problem I feel with the approach previous governments and the NHS have taken to drinking is that they seem to take away self-responsibility. By preaching to people about how it's bad to drink too much and raising taxes to try make people drink less you create a rebellion feeling in many which comes from feeling people are trying to control what you do. The approach needs to be more based on the responsibility of the individual to themselves and to their friends, and should encourage people to act instead of telling people off. Being 'punished' by the government with higher taxes simply makes people feel like teenagers at school, and brings out the desire to rock the boat and smash the system. Cultural changes don't come about through changes in law, they come about through changes in lifestyle and the way people think. Neither of which are done well through taxation.

If the government truly want to save money for the NHS from the result of too much drinking there is a quite simple solution, even if it is slightly draconian. Remove the rights to treatment on the NHS for illnesses and problems caused by excessive drinking. The problem of this of course comes within the homeless community, where alcoholism is rife and they don't have the money to afford support. This could be worked around in the same way that student loans are, in that a debt is placed which if you can pay, you pay. If you can't afford to pay, the debt would remain until you could, or until a lengthy amount of time has passed. The same system could be used for drug misuse and tobacco.

 However, this does have the rather large issue of being incredibly old-fashioned and overly strict. It would be a band-aid solution aimed at reducing costs rather than a long-term solution at reducing drinking in the country. However I, for one, would hate it if the children of tomorrow were taught that moderation is key and they should be sensible. 80% of teenagers would never get laid if it wasn't for the effects of alcohol, and the massive wave of depression amongst youngsters that would cause would be palpable. Not to mention, once I'm a pervy old man looking to find some younger women, it would be terrible if they all refused my offers for drinks because they had already had one vodka lemonade and that was enough for them thank you very much.
The Perfect Woman

It might cost the NHS a lot, and it might be the single biggest issue remaining in our society, but we all have to go one way or another don't we? I'd rather spend my time drunk and loving it until I die of acute liver failure than have a long healthy life with nothing to do on a night except watch terrible television and play endless games of scrabble. Give me the ale and an early grave any day.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

America pretends to give a shit about Britain- Britain believes it.

It's quite cute how British politicians and media outlets seem to still believe the UK is some kind of major world player. Obama comes to visit us and gives us a speech about how "we" are important players on the world stage and how the special relationship between the UK and the US lives strong and is important to world peace and some other stuff. But do we really believe that? The UK's presence on the world stage is pretty much limited to a supporting role these days. We can help or hinder whatever it is the US is trying to do, which is why they want to keep us on their side, but the idea that we are "partners" is quite overblown.

All right so for a country of our size we do have a comparatively large impact on the world, but we seem to keep forgetting that we need to keep that "for our size" part in mind. We're essentially the greatest irritant to superpowers, which is fairly impressive in itself, but we don't hold much power any more. We're pretty much 5th best at everything, good but not great at everything.

Laugh fools, your future leader demands it
Obama's speech to the UK parliament today could have been rewritten much more simply to just be "We like you, would you please keep supporting what we're doing with money and troops?". Who can really blame us for pretending we're still a big player though. For a hundred years or so we were the biggest empire in the world and one of the primary world movers and shakers. Unfortunately that is over, and we are struggling to accept the fact that we are just one of the herd now. Especially as we have transformed ourselves into a financial capital of the world. You can't really make a cultural impact being a financier. When you look back over the annals of history you don't go "my god, that country was rich" or "wow, that country really financed a whole bunch of stuff". It's cultural impact which is remembered, and we've not really got much power on that front any more. Admittedly, we still produce more than our fair share of good books, films and music. But what happens when they become truly successful? They bugger off to America to become popular over there because of the much larger and more important market.

On the plus side, it does me we get rid of people like Russel Brand and Piers Morgan as they swan off to break the US. It's quite amusing how well an utterly hated leech like Morgan has done over in America simply because they don't bother to look past his posh British accent to the slimeball underneath.

Britain's greatest loss to the US
Another element of Obama's speech which was amusing was his insistence that the time for western leadership was not over, but that we should continue to lead despite the upcoming world powers in other areas. He said this as if anyone was expecting the western powers to just step down gracefully and let other people run the show. If eastern and asian powers do rise to the level it appears they might, do we really think that the west is just going to let them run things? It is inevitable that western and more modern superpowers will either come to work together or clash in the future. The idea that anyone even thought of the US backing down from the world stage is frankly laughable.

Monday, 23 May 2011

And now we speak to Elaine from Television's "People on the Toilet"

It's a sad time in the world of tv entertainment when one of the best channels left is one that almost exclusively shows repeats of programmes from the BBC and the past few decades. And if it wasn't for a few comedy gems, Doctor Who and Sherlock, even the BBC would pale in comparison to the mighty man-channel that is Dave. Why are so many other channels filled with complete rubbish? What could possibly justify the sheer amount of drivel that fills the schedule on a day-to-day basis.

The main problem is that people are idiots. A bold claim one might say, but the evidence is clear. Programmes such as Jersey Shore, The Only Way is Essex, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and a whole host of documentaries on things like "the child with an arse for a face" get huge viewing figures while good comedies, documentaries and dramas are left with a comparatively pitiful number of viewers. So what do the people at the stations ask for? More crap obviously, which is why we're getting Geordie Shore soon (oh joy).
If these are the people you respect the opinions of when it comes
 to music, you pretty much deserve whatever you get

Look at the way game and quiz shows have progressed. We've gone from Mastermind and University Challenge, through Family Fortunes and The Price is Right, to Deal or No Deal. That's  right, this generations idea of a great family entertainment game show is one which boils down to picking a box, crossing it off the list and getting whatever is left at the end. The fact that so much is hyped around the task of picking a random box from a random person is a real signifier of how stupid people are getting. This is a game where the outcome is essentially made at the start of the program, by which box the contestant is holding. You could quite simply just open that box and give them that amount of money and the rest of the show would be an empty gap filled by the terrifying presence of Noel Edmond's beard.

She might have won a lot of money, but she can't help but fear the beard.
Then there's the entire genre of  talent contests. A concept which was dying out a decade or two ago as it was though of as old-fashioned and dull. I mean who really wants to see a bunch of talentless morons sing, dance or whatever it is for half an hour. Of course, the brainwave came to some tv executive who will go down in history as a worse person than Hitler,  Joseph Fritzel and Janet Street Porter all rolled into one, that people would enjoy this kind of thing way more if they got to vote on who stayed and who went. So instead of having a group of knowledgeable  talented and experienced people deciding, you got a bunch of fat, feckless morons with as much musical know-how as the packet of doritos they're gorging on deciding who gets to stay. Apparently this was a rejuvenating idea, because suddenly talent shows went from being barely watched and dying to being the most popular shows on television.

Of course, letting the public vote wasn't the only thing that made them popular again. Probably the biggest and most universally used idea even outside of talent shows was the concept of shooting footage of all the people who applied who were terrible and awful, and letting the public have a good laugh at them. The main draw of shows like X-factor for many people is not the contest, but the early episodes in which they get to see deluded idiots failing to sing and Simon Cowell having a go at them. It should really be disgusting that we think it is all right to publicly humiliate and belittle people and find it entertaining, but lets be honest, we've done it all throughout history and it's a cornerstone of human comedy. People enjoyed going to the stocks and throwing rotten fruit at people, and half our jokes rely on something bad happening to someone else.
I should really use less stock photos. Geddit? Eh? Eh?
I'll get my coat.

This was fine when we still accepted that it was kind of wrong to do. We laugh at someone falling on their arse but think to ourselves "oh I shouldn't really laugh at that". However television producers have embraced it as the tenant behind so many different programmes that it is getting out of hand. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding may pretend to be showing us a different culture and exploring changes, but really it is an excuse for the average muppet to have a good old giggle and scoff at the silly ways of the gypsys and how they dress their children like midget prostitutes. All of the "reality" shows like Jersey Shore are based around the fact that most people will find the cast laughably stupid and will enjoy taking the piss out of all the dumb stuff they do.

This is kind of acceptable when you've got shows like Total Wipeout, when we laugh at people falling off podiums and getting hit by spinning padded objects. But in shows like this, the people go on knowing that they're going to make a fool of themselves, and what we laugh at isn't something that's valuable or a part of their character. We laugh at them falling down, but we don't laugh at them as people. In shows like X-factor, when we see a person who genuinely believes they are a good singer get ruthlessly slapped down by Cowell and the gang, we're often laughing at someone who isn't prepared for it, at something which is important to them, and we are laughing at them as people. We laugh at how deluded they are, at how they are bad singers- aspects of their individual character. Admittedly these people generally have it coming to them for applying to be on a terrible show like X-factor in the first place, but should we get as much joy from mocking others as we do? Isn't it kind of the lowest form of wit? Rather than telling jokes, making comments or observing the folly of elements of the world we look at an idiot who doesn't know they can't sing and laugh at how stupid they are. It's the modern equivalent of a village idiot but on a national scale.
Village idiot or X-factor contestant- who can tell?

The main problem is who can we blame for television being terrible? As businesses, producers should be making what people want to watch. We can't really blame them if what people want to watch is awful, intellectually insulting pieces of toss. You can't really blame society, because we've always been attracted to stupid things and it isn't like we could train people to like better programs. Idiots will be idiots, and they'll enjoy watching even bigger idiots so that they don't feel as bad about their own stupidity. The only real solution would be to go against all the teachings of our society, capitalism and democracy and admit that what is most popular isn't what should be made. But that isn't a real solution, it's just patching it up by not letting people watch what they want. Is it really a problem that there's dumb stuff on for dumb people? As long as there's an audience who is entertained by it, surely that is fine. The main issue is that it obstructs the production of good shows because time and resources are taken up making hundreds of terrible shows for terrible people. There needs to be a return, not only in television but in our culture in general, of the Industrialists concept of giving back. To Industrialists, in particular Andrew Carnegie who wrote about the issue, the rich who accumulated wealth should use it to make society better. As such, corporations who are doing well should make use of their profits to better the community and the lives of others. In terms of television, awful but popular shows should be used to accumulate wealth in order to fund the production of quality shows that are intellectually stimulating or culturally worthwhile. At least then when you're at somebody's house being made to watch some dreadful harridan getting her clothes off on national tv you could respectfully applaud her contribution to the arts. Unfortunately purely 'for profit' organisations seem to have forgotten the teachings of our ancestors. The only company which really does this still is the BBC, due to the impact of the licensing fee. However, given the amount of bile people spew at the license fee, who can tell how long we can count on this happening. Then we will be forced to watch Dave 24/7, viewing repeats of shows we've watched thousands of times, but which are still better than the drivel on every other channel.

Unfortunately there seems little hope on the horizon that the style of culture that is needed will return. The style of rich man who led to houses being built for their poor workers has gone. Which is a shame, seeing how we generally think of ourselves as better people than the industrialists who worked their people to death and who made young children work long and dangerous hours to survive. We should be keeping the good ideas of that generation and adding to it with our good ideas, such as "don't make your workers kill themselves doing your job".

We can only hope that in the future television companies come to understand that simply showing programmes aimed at the lowest common denominator will result in a large section of the population not bothering to watch tv at all. Personally however, I'm recording what few good shows there are left, so that I have plenty to watch once all there's left to watch is people on the toilet and Hollyoaks omnibuses

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Exercising Freedom of Speech is Like Circulating Child Porn

In other news, twitter is now a respectable news institution with the need to uphold truth and justice and not, as most people thought, a gossip-mill for people who have too much time on their hands to post inane comments about what they just had for lunch.

The Lord Chief Justice has said recently that there need to be stricter controls on the internet and ways of punishing those who spread lies. He compared those who spread lies on the internet with people who circulate child pornography. He is of course referring to the injunction placed on a premiership footballer surrounding issues regarding a possible blackmailing by ex-Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas. Ironic really that a Big Brother contestant is involved during an attempt by the state to shut down freedom of speech. According to the judge, comments on twitter by numerous people revealing the identity of the footballer are a terrible travesty of justice. That this sleazeball can say this while keeping a straight face as he tries to legally uphold the process of keeping the press and general public gagged regarding things it would be slightly uncomfortable to talk about would be comedic if he wasn't the Lord Chief Justice and in charge of actually making and upholding the law.

Give people the right to say what they want? Preposterous!
I could imagine this type of thing being said by some crazy right-wing bloke with a skinhead and more tattoos than teeth, but from the guy in the top position of authority amongst the judicial system? To use as ludicrously loose an analogy as the chief justice himself, for him to be supporting the gagging of free speech is like the head of the green party supporting National Burn Coal for Fun Week, or like a Yorkshireman supporting an alcohol ban.

The problem I have with this is that laws already exist to stop newspapers and media sources from publishing lies about people through the libel and slander laws. What injunctions implicitly support is the banning of the media from reporting on things that are perfectly true. When the chief justice says he thinks people on twitter spreading lies are terrible criminals, what he actually means is that he doesn't like people on twitter saying the complete truth about things he doesn't want people to talk about. If people on twitter were lying and gossiping, it wouldn't be unusual anyway. The average twitter user has the wit and intelligence of a mop, and I wouldn't trust the writings of anyone on a site which has the primary purpose of allowing people to find out what Justine Bieber ate for breakfast. Twitter is not a news source, it is people talking about whatever they want in a small amount of words. To ban people from gossiping on twitter is the same as banning gossip on the street or in the pub. And would anyone want to live in a world where the pub isn't a den of obscene lies and fanciful gossip?

An overpaid, overexposed  footballer being bribed over
 their seedy love life? Who'd have guessed?

Not that I personally think it is right to stop even news and other reputable sources from commenting on events, especially as libel and slander cases exist for the sole purpose of stopping them from fabricating information regarding events and people. Injunctions are treading on the toes of the staple elements of freedom: freedom of press and freedom of speech. I might wish that the complete moron I'm talking to would stop expressing their love of homoeopathic remedies and how traditional medicine is a corporate lie machine built to keep people oppressed, but they have the right to say that, just as I have the right to tell them where to shove their bottle of diluted lavender oil. To say that traditional medicine doesn't work is pretty much provably wrong, and under the kind of world the lord chief justice seems to suggest would be clapped in irons and imprisoned. As much as that idea holds some appeal, as the world would be a happier place without alternative medicine believers clogging it up, I respect their right to be a free and living idiot. But for a newspaper to post the actual news about a court hearing which is actually going to happen is apparently illegal in this day and age.

The most worrying thing is that there aren't more people up in arms over this. In America, people get angry if you even suggest that it might be a good idea not to let uneducated rednecks keep enough weapons to form a small army. Yet in Britain the freedom of press is suppressed and the head of our legal system suggests banning idle gossip online and we struggle to raise a "meh". Admittedly, it's probably because everyone is too busy tweeting about it.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Millions of People Across the World Preparing for Huge Dissapointment

Tomorrow, on the 21st May 2011, millions of people around the world will be mildly disappointed that the rapture hasn't come and taken away all the over-zealous Christians who keep banging on in the news about how we're all doomed. In a recent survey I conducted in my bedroom, 100% of non-believers would be quite happy if they were eternally damned if all the religious nutjobs in the world disappeared tomorrow.

Harold Camping, an 89 year old crazy man who is receiving far more attention than he deserves, has predicted that tomorrow will be the beginning of the rapture, the time when Jesus Christ comes down to earth and takes away believers to heaven, leaving the rest of us doomed to die in a series of interesting and twisted ways. Essentially kind of like the Saw movies but with lower production values.

By the 21st of October we will apparantly all be dead, giving us a good 4 months to enjoy life with no ringing in our ears from being told we are going to hell for our sinful ways. A North Carolina atheist group is organising a "Rapture After Party" for atheists, which I encourage around the world for obligatory orgies and goat sacrifices once we're rid of our preachy do-gooding neighbours.

He thinks he's getting saved. Unfortunately statistics prove that there
 is a 9/10 chance that he has abused at least one child in his past.

It seems that every year now we are getting predictions for the end of the world. Every single one of these lunatics get inordinate amounts of airtime from mainstream media (and even more from terrible and lazy bloggers like myself). Why do we even bother to pick up these stories any more? It's the news equivalent of going out onto the street and broadcasting the ramblings of a drunk homeless man on the evening news as a main headline. There are enough real problems in the world to keep us occupied for our entire lives. People are dying of famine all across the world, easily curable diseases are ravaging the lives of people across Africa. Hell, there's even plenty of cats stuck up trees and light bulbs that need changing. At least those problems are real and have any chance of actually happening.

It's just an example of terrible "water cooler" news. Stuff which terrible middle class people in offices who have nothing interesting to talk about can babble over while they get a coffee or while they should be doing their job. Everyone knows it is bollocks, even the people saying it probably know it's bollocks deep down, but we'll happily say to each other "So *chuckle chuckle* do you think the world is going to end on Saturday?" and then some office clown can turn around and say something like "Well if it does at least I won't have to pay back my mortgage!" or some equally inane and unfunny joke. Then they'll all chuckle heartily and go back to their desks, ready to keep on wasting their lives chained to a desk writing things which have no impact on anything except a number in a machine. Convincing themselves that hey, while they might have dreamt of being a singer or doing something meaningful in the world, at least they're paying the bills and sending little Jonny to private school. Sitting there, drudging their way through the days, they need this kind of  possible-but-never-actually-going-to-happen excitement to keep themselves from realising that in their 70 years on earth they could be seeing the world, fornicating madly with anyone and everyone or sampling the pleasures of a thousand different joys that the world has to offer. Instead the file tax returns and cry gently into a pillow at night.

Hey Ted, did you know we're going to die cold and alone having done nothing of value?

So maybe we do need these shitty news stories? Maybe the world really would fall apart and end if people got so depressed with the reality of life that they just stopped doing their worthless jobs. Maybe these apocalypse stories are the only thing between us and a real apocalypse. Or maybe it's just shit, lazy journalism made to shift newspapers and fill airtime because our media overlords know we're all the terrible kind of people who pay attention to this crap even though none of us believe it and most of us scoff at the idea of it. Clever bastards.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Electronic Arts is not raping your favourite game series. Calm down and carry on.

Throughout the vast and mysterious lands of internetdom there are many games forums and places for the uneducated masses to spout their idiotic ideas about video game production where all can see them. Normally it is fairly easy to ignore them because they are morons and can't even type literate sentences to begin with. However, there are some trends in comments that seem to carry on and on, picked up even by people who manage to spell the words in their posts correctly and who don't have an obsession with caps lock.

One of the most common of these I see is that whenever a company or game series is acquired by EA, there are comments about future games they release having been "ruined by EA", and a heavy insistence that EA has made the game be bad. Even if people think the game is good, flaws in the game are often attributed to the influence of the evil new overlords of the company.

Often these flaws are things which are only mildly annoying glitches or game design choices which the person in question doesn't approve of. Sometimes there really aren't any additional flaws, so flaws that were in the game series before EA took over are attributed to being their fault.

What people don't seem to get is that often these game design choices have nothing to do with EA, or even if they are from them, are part of a wider series of changes in game design in general, which probably would have come into the game eventually anyway.

EA: purveyor of games and harvester of a thousand innocent souls

I'll use Dragon Age 2 as my main example here, as it's still fairly fresh in people's mind and I've had some decent exposure to the horrific amount of ranting about the game. The main problems people have with the game seem to be that it is too easy, that it has been simplified, the removal of some rpg elements and the recycling of areas. Most of these (probably all if you search hard enough) have been blamed on the acquisition of Bioware by EA, and EA's influence on the game design process and the game release schedule (ie/ "EA told them to make it like this" or "EA made them rush the game out")

Hawke does not appreciate being called "dumbed down"
The problem I see with this is that other than the recycling of areas, which I honestly have no idea why they did or thought they could get away with, most of these issues are long-standing trends and changes within both RPG's in general and more specifically Bioware (and their related companies) games. If we look at the differences between Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 we can see this really clearly. Upone each of these games release (except Baldur's Gate, though possibly there was then, I wasn't paying much attention at that stage in my lie) there was moaning from a contingent of fans of the previous game about "dumbing down". Neverwinter was thought of as Baldur's Gate for easy-mode players, Jade Empire was the beginning of the cries from PC gamers of the "console dumbing" of the games made by Bioware. Mass Effect and Dragon Age were both thought of as too "action orientated" and there was a lot of moaning about the lack of rpg elements in both.

Part of this is true, the games have lost some depth here and there. However, the vast majority of it is actually streamlining the games, taking out elements that were trash or horrificly irritating and which served no purpose other than to frustrate or artificially lengthen game play times. For example, while Baldur's Gate is a classic game which I love and will always love, there are hundreds of irritating and pointlessly complex elements to it- like having to pick up dead party members equipment and carry it about on another character until you can resurrect them, and then spend five minutes re-equipping every single item they were using. Or the fact that if your main character died the game was over, despite the fact that you had two clerics with resurrect in the party and your entire party was full health. It also required an ungodly amount of pausing and starting to play it on any difficulty above the lowest setting. Not to mention dialogue trees that were both obtuse and often pointless.

Walls of text: The reason you play video games

People often had a go at the dialogue wheels that were introduced a few games down the line, but I honestly don't see where this sense of nostalgia comes from. The dialogue wheels simply mean that you know what you are selecting when you select it, instead of choosing dialogue branches which often, unless you played with a guide or it was your third play through, gave results you didn't expect at all. Often leading me to think "Oh, I'm evil for saying that?".

Admittedly some of the fun with the older games came from being able to break the game engine or twist what you were meant to do. Going on killing sprees of civilians for no reason could provide some light entertainment, and marking people with junk so you could spam them with spells from off screen provided some good ways around fights. But surely we should be glad that game design now doesn't require us to break the way the game was meant to be played in order to do well.

But anyway, back to the original point. No matter the changes that were made, most of them are to do with overarching trends in game design itself, and not much to do with EA being evil and terrible and "mass marketing" games. Games are getting easier partly because old games were hard for no real reason, and in unsatisfying ways which only crazy tech nerds enjoyed because they could work out how to break the AI to win.

All Dragon Age 2 really did wrong was to continue the trends that had preceded it but with EA as the owners, so not only did the "old-school" come out of their closets to moan about how it was bad because it was dumbed down but the massive EA-hating crowd came out of the woodwork as well. This created some form of evil coalition of morons, and both seemed to merge in order to form some kind of conglomerate "EA is dumbing it down" group.

Some elements of DA2 I would indeed like to see gone, such as I liked equipment whoring for my allies as well as my own character and didn't really find the "hunt for armour plug-ins" to be very satisfying in that regard. But even then, I'm blaming Bioware for that, not EA. Overall I liked the game and found it enjoyable with a great story and some really good companions. It has its flaws, it has bad elements and if they recycle areas like that again in the next game I'll be hunting for blood. But the rants about it being awful and EA being a demonic hell-fiend which rips the soul from any game series it touches? Worse than the nobheads who spell microsoft with a $ symbol while paying £2000+ to apple for a piece of hardware microsoft would let you buy off third parties for half the price.