The Monday Papers

PC

Mondays are for hoping your new graphics card arrives, seen as your old one got burgled last week. I’m fine! It’s fine! Burglar: caught. Videogames: written about. Here’s the best writing from the last week.

For UpperCut, Grace Curtis spoiled Life Sim games forever. She’s managed to describe the listlessness that crept into my Stardew Valley farm so eloquently that the prospect of ever booting up something similar now fills me with dread. Thanks, Curtis.

But after a while, something strange started to happen. I got into a routine. I figured out which villagers I wanted to woo and devoted my time to painstakingly growing their next gift, to saving up for my next coop or barn, all the time with an eye on the clock, watching for the next season change or story event. As I’d imagine is the case with real life farmers, I was so busy doing manual labour I didn’t get a lot of time off. But, every now and then, I’d set an evening aside and stroll down to the docks for a bit of fishing. I’d stand there next to old Willy and wait for the prompt to reel in my hook. And wait. And wait some more. When it got dark Willy would go inside, and I’d still be standing there with my fishing rod, reflecting on the crushing emptiness of it all.

For Polygon, Kazuma Hashimoto demonstrated how Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t grapple with the nuanced depictions of samurai that the developers were inspired by, and is a worse game for it. This is a much more informed opinion than that seemingly displayed by the developers, which is of course the point.

Fox and Sucker Punch’s game lacks a script that can see the samurai as Japanese society’s violent landlords. Instead of examining the samurai’s role, Ghost of Tsushima lionizes their existence as the true protectors of feudal Japan. Jin must protect and reclaim Tsushima from the foreign invaders. He must defend the peasantry from errant bandits taking advantage of the turmoil currently engulfing the island. Even if that means that the samurai in question must discard his sense of honor, or moral righteousness, to stoop to the level of the invading forces he must defeat.

Eurogamer’s “Someone Should Make A Game About” series continues to delight. Here’s Alexis Ong explaining how the Chinese underworld works.

The ten courts of hell (some interpretations claim there are 18, but hey, who’s counting when you’re having a good time) is a sprawling metropolis under the ground, filled with tortured souls that feel pain just as they did in corporeal life. Each is presided over by a judge-king who answers to Yanluo Wang, and besides these main courts, there are thousands of smaller, lesser hells, too – the potential number of side quests and expansions are mind-boggling. There’s even a preexisting currency that could be retconned into an RPG – joss paper (often called “hell money” in the west), a relatively modern invention traditionally burned as offerings to the dearly departed.

For Vice, Patrick Klepeck analysed worker representation in Alien: Isolation, contrasting the grim message of the original 90’s film to the even grimmer message of the 2014 videogame. It’s a disturbingly astute reflection on capital’s onward march towards destruction.

That flirtation is symptomatic of Isolation’s ultimate weaknesses. The plodding lethality of the Working Joes, and the clunky weaponry that Ripley can bring to bear against them, is at first an expression of Isolation’s purposes. Just like in the original movie, your character is a tough survivor, but not a trained, well-equipped warrior. Weapons are mostly effective at buying time to escape. But Isolation is so very long, so much longer than it ought to be, and so the Joes become an enemy you not only have to fight, but fight in large numbers. The Alien also becomes an annoyance more than a foe, well before the game tosses a hive’s worth of them at you. Isolation’s early confidence as a focused homage to a lean sci-fi masterpiece eventually crumbles under pressure for Additional Content. While Isolation might be talking about economic pressures, it’s also clearly a product shaped and undercut by them.

For The Guardian, Zahaan Bharmal reported on the concept of “lyfe”, designed to accommodate for the fact that our existing preconceptions might be limiting. I think it probably makes more sense to just adopt the following as appropriately accommodating characteristics required for life rather than bothering with a whole new umbrella category, but I’m just your average chump with a philosophy degree.

This led Stuart Bartlett, a complexity scientist at Caltech, and Michael L Wong, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington, to develop a new hypothetical concept: lyfe.

In their recent paper, they define a “lyving” organism as satisfying four criteria: dissipation (the ability to harness and convert free energy sources); autocatalysis (the ability to grow or expand exponentially); homeostasis (the ability to limit change internally when things change externally); and learning (the ability to record, process and carry out actions based on information).

With this definition, life is just one specific instance of lyfe. And in Bartlett’s opinion, there is a higher probability of finding lyfe on Mars than life. A chance event in Martian history may have sculpted lyfe differently from that on Earth.

This Psyche piece (a new offshoot of Aeon) by Craig Schamel is good. It’s about how self-help books are adrift from social and economic facts.

Yet much of the self-help literature on economic and career success is still written in the vein of Carnegie’s book, and consequently reads as if one were always a free agent negotiating for (and with) oneself without a social context. Another author unhindered by social context is Mark Manson, who wrote the bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck (2016). Manson takes umbrage with the modern focus on self-esteem and our sense of ‘entitlement’. But this perspective is personal. In Manson’s worldview, self-esteem quickly becomes entitlement and then narcissism. What is overlooked is the unwarranted focus on self-esteem that’s been so popular in narratives of the past several decades. Social science research shows that a person’s self-esteem doesn’t necessarily explain his or her accomplishments. Beyond that, leaping from inflated self-esteem to entitlement, as Manson does, serves to promote questionable social agendas, for example undermining social welfare programs while promoting welfare-for-the-wealthy through mechanisms such as public-private partnerships.

A treat:

Music this week is Albion & Pheonix by The Levellers.

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