The Mold Republic or some kind of pun like that, I dunno

Star Wars: The Old RepublicI was reluctant to agree with this article’s extremely negative assessment of Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s F2P model until the author got to his own ideas for how it should have been implemented; then it all began to click into place.

Conclusion? Lock out parts of the story and give free players unlimited access to multiplayer content. In other words, the exact opposite of what BioWare actually did.

It began to make sense to me because it dredged up memories from my childhood, long before “free to play” existed as a business model. Sometime after shareware stopped being a thing, developers who wanted to give away portions of their game for free (as a gift, not a demo, which is a different situation) did indeed tend to give away the multiplayer portions. It was the singleplayer content that would be reserved for paying customers.

It’s possible that this has been going on since well before I remember, but my earliest memory of this happening was Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Half a decade later Sierra did it with F.E.A.R. (which is annoying to type, but not as much so as S.T.A.L.K.E.agh my fingers). Just a few months ago EA of all people started giving away the multiplayer-only Battlefield 1942(I suspect somebody pulled the old “ask them while they’re half-asleep” trick on EA’s execs.)

In all of these cases, the reaction that I perceived amongst gamers was mostly “holy shit that’s awesome.” It was largely seen as a gift, not as a marketing ploy. Given the timing, you could make a reasonably strong case for the latter two being attempts to drum up interest in, and thus ultimately revenue for, the console version of F.E.A.R. and Battlefield 3, respectively, but the fact that people didn’t approach that fact nearly as cynically as they do TOR’s free-to-play system just goes to show that there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about carving up your game and giving pieces of it away for free.

And while there is, correspondingly, a right way and a wrong way to do free-to-play, the fact that publishers now regard it as a business model rather than a gift is probably a large part of the problem. If you give somebody a cupcake (or a hit of crack) in an attempt to entice them into buying more cupcakes (or crack) in the future, they still tend to accept the initial cupcake at face value, because technically there are no strings attached. Poorly-implemented F2P is more akin to giving somebody a free cupcake in a lockbox and then charging them $5 for the key, while still pretending that it constitutes a gift.

Wait, what was my point with all this? I guess that back when developers and publishers had a better reputation for generosity, it was usually the multiplayer portions of their games they were giving away while charging for the singleplayer, rather than vice versa. I’m just observing a correlation there, rather than claiming that A causes B. For the record, most well-received F2P MMOs more closely resemble the author’s other suggestion:

Instead, I’d go the extra light-year and sell alternate space ships. Currently every class only ever gets one ship, but I’d plunk down alternatives and charge a good $50 to $100 in the store for them. Seriously. It’s the ultimate cosmetic upgrade and a perfect example of the kind of thing you can sell for very big bucks.

Of course, if you did that, you’d also have to let players ride on each other’s ships. How else would you show off your new digs to your buddies? Then take another step to add a ship decoration system, where you can get furniture and what not and decorate your ship, much like house decoration in all those other MMORPGs. Have looted decorations, have crafted decorations, and — of course — fill the cash shop with premium decorations.

This pretty much exactly describes Star Trek Online’s business model (minus the furniture), although STO suffers from its acquisition by one of the shoddiest F2P publishers on the planet. At any rate, the STO players who can actually still access their accounts don’t seem to complain too much about it.

Libertarians: On what planet do they spend most of their time?*

Not the one I live on:

Imagine receiving a paycheck not subject to income tax. The full amount is yours, and you are free to divide it between consumption and investment according to your subjective preferences.

Ah yes, the age-old dilemma. How much of my meager paycheck do I spend on groceries, bills, rent, etc., and how much do I spend short selling stocks?

(Also, seriously, what is the deal with libertarians and Republicans constantly forgetting that payroll taxes exist? The author is American, so you’d think he’d know how US taxes work.)

*Yes, that’s a Barney Frank quote. Also, h/t Jesse Taylor.

You are a doofus

It’s always fun to stumble on a comment like this:

The U.S. cannot be a totalitarian dicatorship as long as the average American has firearms in their home.

However, if enough people allegedly clamor for it and if the average American can be disarmed, starting with “military style assault rifles” then moving to “multiple shot weapons”, then to all handguns and eventually all guns, then we can become just like China, but without the jobs.

Honestly, I’m not sure what people like this are picturing in their heads when they masturbate to their fantasies of fighting the good fight against the big gubbamint. I guess they see themselves mowing down waves of government bureaucrats in FEMA-branded jackboots as they rush the front door of their house, census forms in hand.

By contrast, here’s what I see, if the US government were ever in a situation in which it chose to use its full military might against its own (white) citizens on its own soil: Captain America up there would have his cheap Chinese-made AK-47 propped up on his windowsill, ready to mow down some goons, and then the US government would flatten his house with a Predator drone or an AC-130.

It’s not like small guerilla groups have never taken on, with varying degrees of success, far larger and better-equipped military forces, but this isn’t the 18th century. Even in the US Civil War, the Confederacy only stood half a chance because it had professionally trained soldiers and officers joining its cause, rather than a scattered group of bitter, antisocial fuckwits who want to play John McClane.

Livin’ Large

The_Sims_-_Livin'_Large_CoverartIf I never hear the phrase “live within our means” in the context of the federal budget again, it will be too soon. The great myth that drives both the Village and the media narrative—a myth easy enough to buy into for a bunch of privileged goons who would still have a comfortable retirement to look forward to if Social Security evaporated entirely—is that Americans have been living large, that we’ve come to expect too much from our government.

Come to expect too much? What have we been getting? One of the worst qualities of life in the developed world, gun violence and incarceration rates that even Russia would consider ridiculous, crumbling infrastructure, expensive and inefficient profit-driven healthcare, ballooning costs for increasingly ineffective higher education… if this is living large by modern standards, the people of Northern Europe must be living on the set of Star Trek.

The truth is that America has been living large, but Americans have not, with the obvious few exceptions. We’re an empire with military force projected all over the globe, after all, and empires project their military force to gain tangible material and cultural benefits. Instead of tea and spices, of course, our main import is economic and military acquiescence, which may not sound tangible, but I assure you it has the power to make Dick Cheney rock hard. (We get the tea and spices, too, of course, but that’s a secondary perk at this point.)

Just to fill in the gaps a little, let me remind you that despite conservatives generally being big fans of hard currency, it was Nixon who finally detached the US Dollar from gold, and also add as a hint that one of Saddam Hussein’s last acts as a sovereign leader was to make some offhand comments about maybe starting to sell his oil in euros instead of dollars. America’s great imperial project, one apparently so subtle that modern gold-obsessed libertarians are too dense to notice it, has been to transform the US Dollar into the world economy’s new gold, because as the sovereign issuer of said US Dollar, that gives the US government some enormous advantages.

If these things seem rather high-level, that’s sort of the point: as Americans, we certainly benefit greatly from them—it would be grossly disingenuous to pretend that we do not—but they’re not for us. We might generally prefer the peace of mind of affordable healthcare that doesn’t constantly threaten to bankrupt us, or financial systems that don’t put us at the mercy of Mitt Romney’s colleagues, rather than the more profitable adventures in supplying terrorists and drug runners with guns so that we can later bomb them and any children who happen to be in their vicinity, but nobody cares what we prefer. At any rate, while we’re certainly in the top tier of quality of life in the world, we’re scraping against the very bottom of that tier. We know what a modern industrialized society is capable of providing for its citizens, and we’re not getting it.

So this persistent myth that we’re demanding too much of our government and living large off of it is irritating and infuriating. If the fat trimmed from America’s exorbitant lifestyle must come from our pantry rather than from our imperial playroom, we’re looking at a banana republic quality of life, because there’s not as much buffer between that and where we are now as Obama seems to imagine. My only question is this: why is it becoming conventional wisdom that we don’t have a right to expect anything better?

Happy Doomsday!

I grew up in a relatively small, extremely Baptist town. So when I moved to a larger city and befriended a lot of liberals, I was at first surprised to discover that many of those liberal friends had parents with New Agey inclinations. But it makes sense, because back in our parents’ generation, New Age thought was the refuge of choice for people who liked the “love” and “compassion” bits of liberalism, but not the “reality” or “critical thinking” bits.

Having been raised surrounded by many of the fuckheaded assumptions that underpin New Age “philosophy,” these friends often don’t understand my disdain for the whole movement. But today serves as a helpful reminder, because the whole issue of December 21, 2012 encapsulates the core stupidity of New Age pretty handily.

The core of New Age seems to be this: see some aspect of a non-white culture that seems nifty. Instead of studying about it or learning about it from sources that draw in any way from the actual culture in question, ask a white person to tell you what it means. That white person may or may not have studied the culture in question (probably not), but they don’t see why that should stop them from interpreting it. Make sure to divorce the concept completely from its original cultural context and imagine that it was all about your white middle-class American life all along. Cultural appropriation at its finest.

And so it is with 2012. See, there are still people alive today who identify as Mayan. And by and large, they don’t appear to believe the world is ending. But why ask them? There are white people around who would be happy to tell you they know better.

This is what conservatives want for our children

As usual, the world that “pro-family” conservatives want to build for our children is markedly disturbing:

Israeli-SchoolchildrenFor the sake of conversation, we’ll assume that a) this picture is real, and b) it depicts what it’s being touted as depicting, which is an armed Israeli schoolteacher. From what I’m given to understand, this scenario is common in Israel, so the picture isn’t unbelievable by any means.

If you’re a decent human being, this picture should depress you. The necessity of carrying a rifle around while teaching children is tragic. The “necessity” is also arguable (guns have never proven effective as a means of defense), but we’ll leave that aside for now, because even to the extent that it is necessary, it’s a deplorable and regrettable situation. It represents a failure on the part of the state of Israel to conduct its foreign affairs in a manner that doesn’t endanger its own children.

Conservatives, of course, will never see it that way, because they view Israel as being surrounded by a horde of Muslim barbarians. They view violence against Israel by those Muslim “barbarians” as inevitable. I, by contrast, view Israel as a bully and an imperialistic wannabe that regularly abuses and starves the people whose land it stole, and then acts victimized when those people retaliate.

If that teacher is herself a decent human being, she is hopefully unhappy that she must carry a rifle around in the course of doing her job, a job that is not supposed to be in any way militarized.

What’s disturbing about the American conservatives who are passing this photograph around in response to the Newtown massacre is that it excites them. They want a world in which we must tote rifles around while attempting to teach our children. This is the world they want our children to live in.

That’s fucked up. It’s fucked up that they so zealously attempt to defend the “innocence” of children against the knowledge that people have breasts, penises, and vaginas, but want just as zealously to teach their children that people maim and murder each other for the shittiest reasons, and that Real Amuricans are always prepared to maim and murder as well.

(h/t Roy Edroso)

Emphasis on Twit #13

In theory, Despicable Tweets should allow a real renaissance in what I’m trying to do here with Emphasis on Twit. It’s a veritable goldmine. But I haven’t felt a strong desire to pull material from them because, a) that’d be cheating, and b) it’d be redundant. It’s a fantastic Tumblr that, for the most part, lets the despicable tweets speak for themselves, which is a skill I never really mastered. That said, here’s one that I felt compelled to crib from them:

Okay then. There are two points to make here: 1) Who gives a shit. You have every right to feel that way. In a similar vein, there were and are non-white individuals who believe that their own race really is inferior to whites. (Read Ellison’s The Invisible Man for a vivid portrayal of such a person.) But feeling that way does not invalidate the cause of racial/gender/sexual/everything else equality. Nobody’s forcing you to participate. Well, except when you reap the benefits of a century’s worth of feminist activism, but that’s a landmine I don’t intend to further traverse.

2) As Despicable Tweets points out, the ensuing conversation makes it clear that this person doesn’t really have any coherent idea of what feminism is or is trying to do anyway. Most of it devolves into half-witted transphobia anyway (what any of that has to do with the core of feminism, which doesn’t have the most amazing history of trans acceptance in the first place, is beyond me, but if I know one thing about conservatives it’s that they’re still in the three-year-old phase of being fascinated by their own genitals). In fact for the most part it’s all pretty boring—somebody who thinks they’re hardcore because they cling really hard to the status quo. Bravo.

With that in mind it’s almost not worth making a whole post about this person, but there’s a distinction here that I think is important to keep in mind. As most any feminist knows, you will meet women on a fairly regular basis who do not want anything to do with all that feminism business. On this basis alone I believe it’s important not to judge a person. As a man, telling a woman that I know what’s better for her than she does—i.e. “it’s in your best interests to be feminist, dumbass”—would be just a teensy bit antithetical to feminism. Moreover, many women may well have good reason to choose not to identify as feminists: as I said above, trans people have not always felt 100% welcome within that community, nor, needless to say, have women of color or various other non-white, non-middle-class women. I strongly believe that feminism is getting far better in this regard, but that history doesn’t just go away and I would never fault someone who’s been at the receiving end of it for refusing to ignore it.

And then you have people like the tweeter above who’s just a fuckhead. Again, I try not to make snap judgments, but she really lays her fuckheadedness out pretty plainly for us, which on Twitter takes quite a bit of doing.

And the Hanseatic League is responsible for Greece’s economic woes

I haven’t seen ACORN tossed around as a bogeyman among the right-wing commentariat in a while, so maybe I haven’t been paying attention. Because apparently they’re still fresh in the mind of the right-wing voting base, half of which believes that ACORN stole the 2012 election for Obama. Now, the root feeling underneath all of this is that a black man couldn’t possibly have won the election legitimately, and as such the specific mechanism by which they choose to believe that Obama stole the White House is irrelevant, but still, ACORN? Seriously? They might as well have blamed it on Reptillians or the Illuminati.

ACORN logo

Activities conservatives erroneously associate with ACORN: voter fraud, existing.

But then, I suppose it fits the pattern. Like “communists” or “socialists” or “Christianity,” ACORN is just a cypher for whatever conservatives want it to be. Just as many conservatives, no matter how vocal their opposition to communism, couldn’t actually coherently describe communism if asked (or capitalism, for that matter), many if not most of them never actually knew what ACORN was. It’s important to its role as bogeyman that they don’t, because what it was—a lower-income community advocacy group—was fairly mundane. Incredibly important, and its demise is a travesty, but my point is they didn’t exactly have the world by the marionette strings.

The crucial point, however, is that those conservatives who did know what it was still had reason—racist, despicable reason—to be opposed to it. They just aren’t the kind of reasons they’re able to say out loud as much as they’d like (because racist, despicable, etc.). Part of ACORN’s efforts were devoted to making it easier for people in lower-income neighborhoods to vote. Most of those people were racial minorities. And if there’s one group conservatives hate more than poor people, it’s poor non-white people.

But you can’t just come out and say, “These people want to ensure that black people have equal access to our democratic institutions, and I have a problem with that,” even if that happens to be true. But don’t worry, conservatives. You don’t have to say a word. Your despicable racism speaks for itself.

We can all be capitalists! and other fuckwitted ideas

A couple weeks ago, Wonkette covered the wingnut antitruth, popular among the various faux-intellectual right-wing think tanks, that Thanksgiving is a celebration of the triumph of capitalism over socialism. As the story goes, the Pilgrims tried the whole socialism thing, nearly starved, then realized the folly of their ways and finally got their invisible hand out of their pants and got to work like good capitalists.

It’s probably obvious enough why this whole notion is fuckheaded, but you should read the article either way because it’s great. But what strikes me most about this whole revisionist history is that, as an anarcho-socialist linked to in the Wonkette piece points out, the glorious free market utopia the Pilgrims build in the wingnut tale isn’t actually capitalist.

Let’s look at the setup again: each family has its own farm and each family keeps the fruits of its labor. And that’s basically it. Now, if that sounds like capitalism to you because of all the mumble mumble bootstraps mumble mumble, ask yourself this question: who, in this scenario, are the capitalists?

Syndrome

“And when everyone’s a capitalist… no one will be.”

If you answered, “Everyone,” congratulations! That’s a really dumb answer! Such an arrangement cannot, by definition, be capitalistic. Just as you can’t be a predator without prey, and you can’t be a salesperson without a customer, you can’t be a capitalist without laborers. Capitalism is, by definition, a system wherein the means of production are owned by somebody other than the people who do the actual labor of production.

“But wait,” you might say. “Couldn’t that also describe feudalism?” Yes, yes it could. Congratulations, you’ve just spotted the man who’s been behind the curtain for the past 600 years. You know, the one who hides his uselessness by handing out worthless facades of fulfillment.

The notion that even ordinary Joes and Janes like you and me can be capitalists too is merely the latest con job used to keep the laborers from noticing that they’re being screwed. 401(k)s, the widespread availability of credit, and the push for universal home ownership are all Reaganomics-era innovations designed to give you the illusion of control over your financial life while, hilariously, actually serving as yet more vectors by which to transform you into a serf. You may also recognize these things as being major factors in the recent economic crisis.

Anyway, it’s that particular con that the narrative of Pilgrims as Noble Capitalists was designed to serve. The fact that it’s incoherent and ahistorical, not to mention the fact that you’ll never see Warren Buffet subsisting entirely on the produce of his own two hands, is irrelevant. The fact that these supposed champions of capitalism don’t even seem to understand what capitalism is is also irrelevant, because what they’re actually championing is class inequality and the suppression of labor rights. So yeah.