Let’s take stock.
My country now has an Executive branch which lost the popular vote and is likely compromised by a foreign government – a government which is historically hostile to the United States and has a vested interest in curbing the U.S.’s global power as it attempts countless power grabs for itself. Wars which were unthinkable four months ago now loom all around us.
It has a crippled Judicial branch missing 13% of its federal judges and a dysfunctional, 8-member Supreme Court, due to a concerted effort on the part of that Executive’s political party to cripple it and keep it crippled.
And it has a gerrymandered Legislative branch under the control of the same political party, which refuses to investigate the Executive because they share a party, regardless of the unprecedented and terrifying news that is exposed day by day or the desperate efforts of the nation’s intelligence and free press communities.
In ten years, we will look back at these days in one of two ways.
We will lament the fall of modern day Rome.
Or we will celebrate the moment when we rose up as one and took power back.
We can still seize the rudder, though time is quickly running out. We can still push back, and push and push and push until the rotten tumor at the heart of our government tumbles over a cliff. We still have a hope of a future where we can say, “That was the year we woke up. That was the year we said, ‘No more.’ That was the moment – on the cusp of their victory over compassion and reason – that we stood, and we fought, and we won.” We can still realize a future where we set the childish notions of pollution and hatred behind us. Where we require our technology to be subservient to our wisdom, not the other way around. Where we begin to transform this planet into something thriving, holistic, and beautiful, a realization of humankind’s greatest and deepest potential.
But it is a mutually exclusive proposition. We are on the knife’s edge, and gravity is pulling us the other way – away from that magnificent future, and toward failure.
That failure means surrendering not only a hundred years of social policy advancement, decades of climate work, and a social expectation of safety and respect. Those things were largely products of the past that some of us had foolishly taken for granted, but losing this fight also means losing the future. It means falling into a modern dark age, where science is ridiculed, the truth is determined solely by our malevolent leadership, and “social justice” becomes a term of mockery. It means watching the world literally suffocate under the weight of its own pollution, and witnessing an apocalypse that unfolds in slow motion over the span of our lifetimes: storms that annihilate our homes and extinctions that devastate our food supply. It means starving and warring and dying, all while the men in charge shriek that it’s not real and wage war against those who dare to trust evidence, condemning, imprisoning, or killing them.
Some say our children will ask us, “Where were you? What did you do?” I say we will ask ourselves.
The dangers in play in the U.S. are replicated worldwide. This all comes back to who we are as a species. We are explorers, investigators, and creators. We have discovered unprecedented wonders of technology, but if we don’t define them, they will define us. This is the moment when we decide whether the energy we’ve discovered destroys us, or propels us forward; whether our powers of communication create a brilliant focus on truth, or suffocate us in lies.
This is not just the most vital moment of your life. It is not just the most vital moment of my nation’s existence.
It is the most critical moment for our species in modern history.
We must stand up.
We must fight.
We must win.
“I’ve lost my faith in humanity.” I hear this all the time. It used to be a sarcastic remark. These days, more and more often, people mean it literally.
If you are a person, like most people, who believes in the scientific method, who believes in the values of equality and basic human decency, who believes the words “social justice” are not dirty, how could you not lose faith in humanity right now? In my home country of the USA we see all these values, on a federal level, being put to the torch. And terrifyingly, this phenomenon appears to be happening globally. We see it looming in the UK, in the middle east, in Russia, in France. It’s frightening. It’s enough to make you question everything you believe in.
But let’s talk about faith. Let’s really talk about it. The words “faith in humanity,” like so many others, have become a throwaway term. We are drowning in words in this era, swamped by so many of them that they’ve become a torrent of irrelevant garbage.
But they are not irrelevant. They are precious. They have meaning.
They are powerful.
When I was still a Christian, my faith was my bedrock. It was unquestionable. I hinged everything else upon it. I would say, “You can take my home and my belongings, you can torture me and kill me, you can eradicate all sign of my beliefs from the world, you can even brainwash me, but you cannot touch my soul. You cannot take my faith.” This was profoundly comforting. My faith was about believing in something greater than myself, something that would persist beyond my own demise. Something fundamentally unassailable. At the time it was, specifically, a faith in God and in my own eternal soul: both ideas which I have since come to believe are false.
Perhaps you’ve experienced that earthshaking realization, perhaps not, but even if not, please bear with me for a moment. When that bedrock shattered, it left me in freefall. I was furious at myself, at my former religion, and at everyone who had my old beliefs. I felt tricked—not in the way of a victim who is scammed out of their credit card, but in the way of a person waking up from the Matrix.
I also experienced deep depression as I tried to figure out what the purpose of life was. If nothing of my self would survive past death, what was the point of my being here? I felt like I was floundering, surrounded by death on all sides. I had to chop through it, to work it over in my mind a million different ways, to find the purpose I was lacking, and when I did find it, guess where it was?
In my children, and my wife, and my family and friends. In preventing the needless suffering of others. And in life’s little joys: music and gaming and good food.
Atheists, when asked about the meaning of life, will often reply, “You have to make it yourself.” This made no sense to me at the time. Today, thankfully, it makes more sense than the old worldview ever did.
“But it’s all so fragile,” I thought. “Death can end it all.” And that’s true. That old faith—the belief that everything I loved would survive forever—was gone. Everything I love about my life is fragile. The atheist’s revelation is a bittersweet one: you learn to truly love the best things about your life only by realizing they will die.
Faith, I decided, was for suckers. The idea of believing in something stubbornly, of ignoring countering arguments if they didn’t fit my worldview, was antithetical to everything I now believed. How could an atheist possibly have faith?
I asked this question from a place of despair, but in answering it, I found something surprising: solid bedrock.
Humanity is 200,000 years old, give or take, though our best research tells us our journey began long before that, likely with single-celled organisms in a primordial sea. Awe of the cosmos is one of the hallmarks of a conversion to atheism, and I have certainly experienced it. But while contemplating the vastness and complexity of the universe fills me with awe, thinking on humanity’s journey from that primordial sea strikes me speechless.
I posted on this last week, but think of all the hurdles we overcame to get where we are. Extinction struck countless other species all around us, yet the thread that became humanity survived. Our best research tells us that when homo sapiens prevailed against homo neanderthalensis, some of the key elements that set them apart were imagination, depth of understanding, and—to a great degree—music and art.
Think on that. Truly ponder it.
That spark you feel when you hear music that makes your heart soar? That wonder that comes over you when you see your favorite film, or get lost in your favorite book or painting? That is what makes us fundamentally human.
Humans are unique not just because of our opposable thumbs, our intellect, or our capacity for compassion. Humans are unique because we embody all three. We have the power to affect our world, the capacity to build on our knowledge from one generation to the next, and the wisdom to recognize our faults.
History tells us how we apply these gifts. Yes, if you choose any given era from our tenure—including the current day—you will find evils. Rape, enslavement, genocide, invasion—evils made all the worse by the fact that, to a great degree, they are our invention.
But if you look at the arc, from the beginning of our journey until now, you will see who we truly are. You will see a trend toward wisdom and justice. Wars that give way to lasting peace. A tightening of the moral fabric that binds all of us—not just a single family or tribe or province or nation, but all of us. An expansion in our knowledge, as stone tablets gave way to hand-written books that gave way to mass-printed books that gave way to the full scope of human knowledge in our pockets.
We are a species that reaches. We are a species that craves truth. And thankfully, we are a species that shows compassion. In the long story of our journey, we have seen that compassion birthed and strengthened. Yes, there have been setbacks. Yes, there have been failures. But if you look at history’s evidence of who we are the trend is ever upward.
That is where I found my new faith—a belief in something greater than myself, that will persist beyond my own death. Not a faith that I prop up stubbornly, but one that props me up. Not a faith that ignores scientific arguments, but one that is based on them.
Yes, I believe we stand at the cusp of a dark time in human history, possibly the darkest many of us will have witnessed in our lifetimes. I stand prepared to fight it with every ounce of my being, but I am also braced to lose: to witness generations of progress fall aside, to witness a resurgence of superstition and hate and ignorance.
But such philosophies of hatred have risen before. Always, they have fallen. The losses they inflict are terrible, but in the vastness of the cosmos, they are a blip on the radar. The trend prevails. Humanity cannot change what it is.
So you see, I am prepared for this battle. Because no matter how it ends, I know who will win the war.
They can take my home and my belongings. They can torture me and kill me. They can eradicate what scientific research they can reach. They can even brainwash me with propaganda until I forget who I am and what I believe.
But they cannot take my faith in humanity.
Against a universe of infinite death, we were born in the sea.
Against a place of nightmares, wrought in magma and ash, we bore children.
Against endless ferocious predators we thrived, winning a cosmic relay race of inconceivable scale to become ourselves.
Against the chaos of an indifferent world, we created music.
Against ignorance and superstition, we discovered enlightenment.
Against ancient hatreds, we birthed compassion.
Against the laws of nature, we soared.
Against the naysayers, we advanced.
We do not stop. We do not turn back. It is not our nature. Our trajectory is upward.
Evolution will not be thwarted by mere ignorance or hate. We are a force of nature, and we are unstoppable.
The first screenshots of FF15 came out years ago and I was disappointed from the get-go. I knew turn-based combat was a relic and I wasn’t going to hold its lack of that against it, but the main characters looked, basically, like a boy band. Four teenage boys, all dressed in identical black, strutting around like peacocks when they weren’t driving a car around.
Wait—a car?? Where were the chocobos? If I wanted to drive a car I could play GTA.
The atmosphere was an immediate turnoff for me, and the later screenshots of Cindy, the pornstar mechanic, only made it worse. The death of my love for Final Fantasy had been a long time coming, but I figured it had finally arrived. FF15 was the first main series FF game I could remember that I had no plans to buy at launch.
When the demo came out, it only cemented this resolution. I found it to be pretty, but uninspired, the combat a weak derivative of a thousand other action games that had done it better and an overall feeling reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts, a game of which I’d never been a particular fan. Launch day came and went, and I stuck to my guns.
A friend of mine picked it up, though, and told me a bit about it. He actually enjoyed the combat and found the game interesting enough. And I read a few reviews that said the driving experience was persuasive in its own way and that it could even be fun to turn on the car and choose “auto” to have one of your party members drive it instead of you. What? What is fun about that? I was perplexed and suspicious, but also intrigued.
Then the price dropped to $35 for a day or two just before the holidays, and I caved. I bought the game on disk and left it sitting on top of my PS4 until last week.
Now, I’m only three hours in, but so far, and I can’t believe I’m saying this—
I love Final Fantasy 15.
What? What about the dudebros? The lack of female characters, except for the one with her tits hanging out all the time? What about the car that drives itself? What happened?
Well . . . turns out, this is a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
Let me get this out of the way first: I’m still disgusted with the presentation of Cindy. Particularly as the only female character in (at least the first three hours of) the game, forcing her to wander around in Daisy-Dukes and a permanently-open blouse with her pink bra on display strikes me as irresponsible at best, and a clear indication that the game designers think of women solely as sex objects at worst. I’ve heard people say, “Come on, she doesn’t look like a porn star,” and I’m here to tell you, yes she does. When your television displays a woman walking into public with her shirt wide open, showing off a barely functional bra, you are watching a porn. That is pretty much the definition of porn. I don’t have an excuse for her, and her presence in the game makes me hesitant to play FF15 at all with my children in the room. If there were more of that sort of thing, or if Cindy were a more central character, or if she were the only noteworthy element of the game, I’d never turn it back on.
Thankfully, none of those things are true. The central focus of the game is the four Dudebros: Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. And I’ll admit this, too: I was a little embarrassed to be playing those Dudebros at first. I have never been half as cool as the nerdiest of these guys. They are trying so hard. On the status screen they pose, carefully holding their chin just so or angling their shoulders into a certain easy lean. We can debate whether they’re actually cool, but they clearly believe they are cool—or at least, they believe it’s vitally important to be perceived as cool. These guys strut constantly. Every word they utter is carefully calibrated to radiate confident nonchalance. They dress and speak and pose like each other, not because they’re cookie cutouts of one another, but because they’re friends, and friends who want to be cool are known to do that.
And that’s the thing I didn’t see coming: these guys grow on you.
Final Fantasy 15 is not just any epic adventure. It is that greatest of epic adventures: a road trip. A bunch of guys, close friends, who are comfortable in their own skins and have an established camaraderie, hopping in the car and driving. They have a destination in mind, sure, but they’re in no hurry to get there, and along the way, wherever they lay their head is home.
But, look, I’m not doing it justice. It still sounds like it’s just a setting, but that’s not it. This road trip—at least thus far—is not what the game’s about, it’s what the game is. I am on this road trip, and the other characters—two-dimensional stereotypes though they may be—are on it with me. The best part of a good road trip is the company, and the FF15 designers knew this. You are thrown on this journey with three friends: a nerd, a jock, and a spaz. They react to each other and to you. You’re the prince of their kingdom, but as a player you immediately get the sense that because these guys are your friends, they don’t let you skate on that. They give you shit for screwing up. They rib and tease each other. They tell you to take your jacket off when you whine about it being hot. They call for you to stop because they’re hungry, or exclaim how awesome the shop is when they go inside. One of them cooks dinner every night, and everyone else fully understands that if he weren’t along, they would all most likely starve. (I have a theory that preparing and serving food to another human being is one of the simplest, most earnest expressions of love we have, and when Ignis gives me dinner, man, I feel it.)
You would think adding random monster combats to this formula would break suspension of disbelief, but amazingly, it actually enhances the feeling of camaraderie. The characters shout to each other by name in combat to cover each other or take advantage of an opening. Now, we’ve all seen that before, but there’s something special here, something that takes it to the next level. For once—finally—the AI characters in my party don’t just feel like window dressing. I never wish they weren’t there because they’re only getting in the way. I’m grateful for them. They belong there. They deal real damage in combat, even killing monsters before I can get to them. They heal me when I go down, expressing authentic, teenage-male concern for my well-being: gruff but sincere. They make me want to answer, aloud, alone in my living room: “Nah, I’m fine, man, it’s all right.”
Square has done such a great job with these characters, with this sense of immersion, that I can honestly say this is the first video game I’ve ever played that I would truly qualify as a “role-playing game”. No, I wasn’t allowed any input on what that role would be or how it would look, but that is exactly why it works. The experience is immersive and well-conceived, but most importantly, it’s persuasive. I don’t want to
play the game again because I want more XP. I want to play the game again because I want to be there, on that road trip, with those guys. I want to lounge in the car while a friend has the wheel, fiddling with the music until I discover with joy that I can play the soundtrack to the first Final Fantasy game (!). And not only that, but for the first time in my life, I’m in a car full of guy friends who dig that music as much as I do!
Taken in this context, I can forgive and even sympathize with the decision to not include a female character in the main group. These are high school guys on a road trip. I get it. I’ve been there. And while I still wish Cindy had been presented differently, her state of undress makes it that much more vital and appreciated that the Dudebros never talk about her disrespectfully. They talk about her when she’s not there, yes—but there is none of Trump’s “locker room talk” here. She’s hot, and one of the characters wants to come back to try and impress her. He plans to do this by getting his own car. His fellow Dudebros support this. There’s no vocal misogyny, no “I’d like to tap that” (though I’m sure they all would), no commenting on her tits or her bra size. Coming out of a game that included a pornstar mechanic in the first place, this development left me surprised and deeply pleased. I only hope that this attitude persists throughout the game.
So yes, FF15 has surpassed my expectations. So far, it’s a great game. I want to play it some more.
But it’s more than that. This is a huge claim, and I don’t make it lightly, but I think FF15 might be the herald of an entirely new gaming style.
When I play FF15 and consider the VR headset sitting next to my TV, I imagine the two of them melding. Imagine taking that road trip in VR. Imagine a future where you don’t just play a game, you have an experience.
Yes, I was never as cool as Noctis. But maybe that’s the whole point.
Who among us doesn’t wish they’d spent a few years in their twenties backpacking across Europe, or just jumping in the car with a gang of friends to see where the road leads? Who doesn’t miss that easy, nonchalant thrill of finding a place to stay for the night and making it your own, of watching your friends go in and casually inspect the place?
Look, I’m in the twilight months of my thirties. I’ve got two kids. My days of road-tripping with friends are behind me. But how cool is it that I can fire up my PS4 at night, and sample that experience?
Imagine this trend catching on. Imagine new games that maybe even do away entirely with the status bars and the number crunching, and simply place you in the Apollo 11 just before liftoff, or let you roleplay a first day on the job or a first date(!). A melding of television and video games with a heavy smattering of the classic RPG ideal thrown in, an entirely new form of entertainment.
Final Fantasy 15 isn’t that experience, not yet. But I love what it gets right.
And who knows? With any luck, maybe Final Fantasy 20 will be.
Two things of note from Trump’s news conference yesterday:
1) Trump shouted down a CNN reporter and would not allow him to ask a question. This was after the rest of the crowd (including the one Trump brought in – more on that in a second) had quieted down to let him speak. This is exactly the kind of behavior I expected from a President Trump, and it will be damaging to our freedom of press, our freedom of speech, and the fabric of our democracy. I was glad to see the CNN reporter did not let up and continued to press for the question. CNN also published a defense of its story yesterday which was grounded and factual. These are the types of responses our press needs to continue to make to this sort of oppression from Trump, or they will start to be silenced.
2) I’m not seeing this mentioned a lot, but to me it is a very big deal. As the press conference began, I noticed many of the speakers introducing Trump were pausing in their speeches. (And yes, they were speeches–short, but prepared all the same.) I found that odd. It sounded like they were waiting for applause. And it turned out they were–people started applauding or cheering when prompted, particularly in the middle of Trump’s speech. At first, with dawning horror, I thought the press was cheering. I learned later that it was actually a small crowd of supporters Trump specifically had brought in.
Let that sink in. Trump brought a group of supporters in to cheer for him during a press conference.
A PRESS CONFERENCE!
Later yesterday, Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess champion, commented that Trump’s press conference reminded him of a Russian one. It is easy to see why.
I heard a story on NPR not too long ago about Russia, and about Russia’s history with authoritarianism, and how the culture there is predisposed to allow dictators. Democracy was a trial for them, and many of them didn’t care for it because it was difficult and economically costly. Exploring all the reasons why democracy failed in Russia would require a fully-researched book, but the main point I want to make here is that America is unique, to my knowledge, in that it *began life as a democracy*. We have been self-governed from the beginning. We expect our leaders to answer to us. We expect them to perform. We expect them to suffer consequences if they get out of bounds. It’s ingrained in our culture, in our history, in our literature, in our upbringing, and it crosses political lines. It is a great part of what makes us–ALL OF US–American.
I could have been scared by yesterday’s press conference, but I wasn’t. More and more, Trump is simply proving out all the things I suspect about him from the beginning. Now the worst has come to pass, and he will be in the White House. I’m past being scared. Being scared doesn’t help anything.
Yes, I do believe he has designs–witting or not–of transforming this country into an authoritarian regime. Not out of idealism, but because his hubris will allow him no other method of governance. He believes he is always right and should always be obeyed. Everything else flows from that.
But his failure to understand the way this country is governed will also be his downfall. People with very little political experience or prior motivation are waking up. The press is waking up. A nation that thought itself beyond bigotry and hatred is waking up.
He is treading on a sleeping snake, and history has shown that that snake bites.
I read an article in the National Journal this morning (thank you C. Bates, an intelligent person from a different political and religious persuasion, for a civil conversation and food for thought) about how democrats lost the election last month in large part due to an overly aggressive position on climate change. Specifically, that turning a deaf ear to the concerns of out-of-work coal miners and other disaffected groups cost them a lot of votes. I don’t believe Trump or the Republican party has put a good answer on the national stage for these folks that is realistic or functional, but I do believe the point is valid. These people are getting left behind, and if we are a decent society, we need to help them. Not “we” as liberals or “we” as conservatives, but “we” as Americans and to a great degree, as human beings.
There are free market solutions out there that seem viable (Cap & Trade, Fee & Dividend), which could function in tandem with another popular response and one I’ve frequently mentioned myself: in a directed shift to a green economy, people will be needed to build the solar panels and windmills, to install them, and to maintain them going forward. I think that’s all true and I think it would help control these issues—but possibly only in the short term. Assume a perfect “green revolution” that lasts 20 years and results in a near-zero emission environment. Once all the panels are installed, so to speak, aren’t we back at square one? Aren’t all those blue-collar sectors out of work again?
Of course, I think that’s a bit short-sighted. More likely is that the technology will continue to advance, and will require upgrades and replacement over time. So the demand for work will continue to increase—but that does not guarantee that human beings will be the ones doing it, because if we’re talking about a period 20 years in the future, we may also very well be talking about drones and robots that can perform the work at a fraction of the price. In other words, technology taking work from people. This isn’t science fiction; it has been happening for years, in the auto and manufacturing industries and elsewhere.
I have a lot of sympathy for the coal miners who are out of work. I understand the reasons, or I think I do: a double whammy of the natural gas alternative being drastically cheaper, and the Obama administration’s “war on coal” (which fueled much of the backlash in last month’s election), driven by a need to respond to runaway CO2 emissions. Said emissions, of course, are the natural result of the industrial revolution and subsequent Information Age, a period in which we as a species are advancing faster and further technologically than we did in all the previous eras combined.
If the coal industry is driven to extinction under the heel of technological advances, it will not be alone. Countless industries are fighting for their survival in the modern world, including traditional print news and just about every publishing medium there is—book publishing, game publishing, music publishing, all are nearly unrecognizable from 20 years ago, hammered into new shapes and sometimes into oblivion by the relentless capabilities of the most visible global technology of the past several decades: the internet.
In my own state of Minnesota, we have a significant population in the iron range that are victims of closing iron mines. Globalization is a primary driving factor in these closings—globalization driven by an unprecedented surge in communication and travel technologies.
And now I begin to see a pattern.
See, this is where I think we as human beings are not really aware of the full scope of our impact on the world. I’m not sure we’ve come to terms with exactly how powerful our technology is, or how vastly it is going to change our lives in the coming 20 to 50 to 100 years. I suspect the underlying issue here is much bigger than coal vs green or domestic vs import or even economy vs climate change.
The underlying issue is that our technology is a tsunami.
It is not “just” changing the way we communicate and purchase and travel. It is in the process of utterly transforming every single aspect of the way our species functions. From how long we live, to how we make our living; from what we know and what we say to what we are. I believe that we started something massive with the invention of the telephone and the automobile in the late 1800s, something that is nowhere near being finished.
Look, a lot of this language is intimidating. I don’t mean to make it sound frightening, and in my heart of hearts, I think it will ultimately be a good thing. This idea has been a source of great comfort to me over the last month, as we’ve seen a sudden, drastic surge in hate crimes and speech across the U.S. I, like many others on all sides of the political spectrum, am appalled by the reappearance of emboldened white supremacists on the national stage, whatever title they operate under.
But I think they, like nearly everyone else, underestimate the power of the very tool that enables them. The technology that let them find each other on the internet, to mobilize and stop feeling isolated and powerless, has also drawn the world together in a fashion absolutely unprecedented in history. Globalization—as painful as it is for sectors that lose business overseas—is not just about the free market. It is about the free exchange of ideas and cultures and people. The reason white supremacists feel so threatened is that racial boundaries are vanishing, with a speed that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago. My own daughter—a blue-eyed dishwater blond whose grandfather is an unmistakably black man—is a fantastic example of a phenomenon spreading across the world. My neighborhood, a fairly affluent housing development in a borderline-rural suburb, is filled with families of every color, many of them interracial. Cultures are likewise intermingling, with knowledge of nearly every single one available at our fingertips, and my children bragging in the backseat with their friends about who has more Pokémon with names in the original Japanese due to online trading.
I suspect we will see an effort to marginalize people of color and normalize hate speech in this country over the next several years, and that our technology—along with the tolerance, understanding, and peace it has enabled—will be a bulwark against it. Because you can’t put this genie back in the bottle. Technology—whether it is busily destroying our global climate or cementing new global relationships—is a runaway train. We can talk about regaining the world as we used to know it, but none of us are prepared to eliminate all global trade, smartphones, work-at-home programs, decades of advances in medical health, the bullet train, the passenger jet. And even if someone claimed they were, even if they launched an all-out war against the advancement of technology, they would have to use technology to wage said war (!), and they would ultimately lose. Popular support for tech is simply not going away.
A better approach is to ask: where is this runaway train leading us? Is there any way to get a handle on it, to look ahead and make sure we steer away from the cliffs?
Market forces are driving us toward more and more automation, but paradoxically, at some point, maximum automation destroys the market. If workers are pushed out of the equation because they have no jobs, who is buying the final product? Without wages coming in to the system to enable demand, supply doesn’t matter and the whole system collapses. This collapse would not be pretty. It would look like global war or constant riots—riots, not the largely peaceful protests we see so many of today. So what’s the alternative? And how do we get there?
I have some ideas, but this post is long enough (and probably dreamy enough) already. I may explore them another time, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue, and that’s an open invitation to all political persuasions and backgrounds.
I will just say this: there are two things I am sure of. The first is that the solution to this problem will almost certainly not look like anything we’ve done before. Developing it will require historic courage and imagination, whatever form it ends up taking.
The second is that we are a species that has reached beyond our own solar system, that has split the atom and discovered DNA. We can do this. We are up to the task.
Thanks for reading. All civil comments welcome.
I got a PSVR last week, and apparently, I have a lot I want to say about it.
First, you should know that I’ve been excited about the prospect of VR since I was a little kid. Total, holodeck-like immersion was the holy grail of my childhood imagination. When Nintendo released the Virtual Boy in ’95, I didn’t get excited at all because it was obvious to me that the tech just wasn’t there. But when I started seeing near-photorealistic graphics in the PS3 and PS4 eras, I started getting excited. And when the Oculus Rift was announced, I pretty much started bouncing in my seat and have yet to slow down.
The Rift proved to be far too expensive for me, so when I heard about the PSVR, I was thrilled. No, it wouldn’t be as high quality as the Rift. But would it work? There would be no holodeck, obviously, but would a sense of immersion—even an incomplete one, even a first-gen one—be realized? Even 20 years on, there is a lot of skepticism left over from the VB debacle (misplaced, IMO, but there all the same), so a mistake at this stage could be devastating. Immersion was key; without it, we could all end up waiting another 20 years.
And the PSVR, as a living room system that just barely ekes into the upper stratosphere of the “affordable” descriptor, was where it had to happen. It didn’t really matter how immersive the $2k VR systems were. The tech isn’t really proven for a broad consumer base until it’s also within financial reach.
So I preordered, and I waited. When the package arrived Thursday before last, I took the rest of the day off to try it out.
I’d heard a lot about how extensive the setup process was, but I’d mostly brushed it off. I shouldn’t have. It took almost an hour to set this beast up, and when I was done, the beautiful cord-free environment I had so carefully cultivated in my living room over the past 18 months was demolished. Cords sticking out the front and back of the PS4, hanging off the sides, jammed likewise into the new processor machine from every angle. That part sucked, but I didn’t care. I’d been waiting 30 years. It was time to dive in.
I’m gonna start with the negatives, because there are a lot of them.
Getting the headset situated just right on my head was both a) very difficult, and b) very important. If it wasn’t situated just so, the image was blurry, which made the games pretty much unplayable. The problem was that the back strap, intended to anchor the visor in place on your head, kept slipping slowly upward. It couldn’t grip my hair, and while I briefly considered shaving my head (did I mention I’m really excited for VR?), I ultimately decided it was a design flaw. Thankfully, it seems the process just has a learning curve: after several more attempts over the ensuing week, I realized that the trick is to make sure the forehead rest is snug and low on your head first, and then settle in the rear
strap. That helped make things more stable, but now the visor was closing off my nose. A lot of fiddling is necessary every time I use the thing to strike the right balance between having the visor stay on and being able to breathe while doing it.
Once I had the visor on nice and tight, I fired it up and was treated to my PS4 dashboard on a massive, private theater screen. It was really cool! . . . until the upper left portion of the view started blurring, then the upper right. The blur spread until it clouded most of my view, and I had to remove the visor to figure out what was going on. The culprit? Condensation, forming on my glasses. Like, not just fog, but honest-to-god water droplets. It was really bad. But the experience was enticing enough that I limped along through it, periodically removing the whole apparatus in order to clean off my glasses.
The good news is that, again, I’ve managed to mitigate and nearly resolve this issue over the ensuing week. The PSVR documentation advises you to make sure the front visor is tight against your eyes in order to block outside light—but that is exactly when the condensation starts. If I leave the visor just slightly extended, letting a sliver of light in along the bottom, the condensation becomes a non-issue. I guess my eyes need to breathe? Who knew?
Physical manipulation of the device aside, at least the VR part works without a hitch, right? Well . . . not exactly. The resolution is low enough that distant objects can sometimes be difficult to make out, and nearby textures are much simpler than what today’s gamer has grown accustomed to. The screen door effect is real and omnipresent. And the viewing angle is restricted to about 100 degrees, so your view feels like you’re wearing blinders that extend about an inch to either side of your peripheral vision. This is an absolute shame in games like Thumper where you rocket through a giant, expanding ring or explosion; instead of the absolute wow factor that experience should have as the ring expands through your peripheral vision and vanishes behind you, it all ends up being held at arms’ length.
Still, you can look around and view your surroundings, and that’s really cool—but the system also has major drifting issues. Over time (sometimes as short a time as 60 seconds), the viewport angle will drift to the left or right. In other words, in order to look straight ahead in the virtual world, you actually have to turn your head slightly to the side. Then further to the side. Then further. The first time I noticed the issue it had crept up on me, and my head was twisted nearly a full 90 degrees to the right. The system expects some drift, and advises you repeatedly to hold in the Options button to recenter the view when needed. This works great in the dashboard and certain games (Eve Valkyrie), but there are far too many games (all the VR Worlds titles, Thumper, a
scattering of the demos including Rez) where all it does is cause a slight skip in your virtual location—like, say, hopping you a centimeter to the left. The view itself is still completely off-center. The only fix is to either exit and restart the game entirely, or, if possible, exit to the main menu of the game, then turn off and restart VR mode (I did this routinely in Thumper, but not all games have this option). Thankfully, checkpoints have been plentiful in everything I’ve tried so far, so I’ve never lost progress due to this issue (well, I did in Thumper once, but that was because I used the wrong game exit option and didn’t fully absorb the warning message before quitting). But the fact remains that this should not be necessary, and having to do it interferes severely with the aforementioned sense of immersion.
Sadly, I have no fix for this issue yet. There are a number of theories on Reddit, including the idea that having too many lights in the room messes with the PS Camera’s ability to track the headset, that the PS Camera may be mispositioned, or that the distance from visor to camera must be exactly six feet. Some people have gone as far as returning their headset and reported that the new one didn’t have the problem, indicating a hardware issue (man, I hope not!)—others have said their replacement had the exact same problem. I’m hopeful that it’s a driver issue of some kind that can be patched, or failing that, that they can patch fixes to individual titles to make the manual re-centering fix work in those games.
So. With all these issues, can it possibly still be enjoyable? Is that holodeck promise still even visible from here?
The answer is a resounding yes.
This is first-gen tech, and it feels like first-gen tech, but despite all its problems, it has enticed me back again and again. The sensation of being in a haunted house in VR Playroom, shooting invisible ghosts with your ghostbusters-style lightning gun, is convincing and powerful. When it’s not forcing you to slowly crane your neck to the side, Thumper becomes an all-encompassing, zen-like meditation on the nature of speed, rhythm, and the cosmos. And the bite-size VR experiences in VR Worlds are universally awesome. Here is where you get to ride in a deep-sea diver cage to a sunken nuclear submarine, like a Universal Studios thrill ride in your living room. Here is where you get to crane your head upwards, throwing your gaze to a drifting asteroid overhead before engaging thrusters to land on it. Here is where you get to finally—finally—pick up virtual guns and load them with your own hands before shooting your way out of a botched heist.
For someone like me, a true believer who’s been waiting his whole life, these experiences are well worth the price tag—both in terms of dollars and the constant fiddling with the headset and the drifting viewport. Just being able to turn my head and look around makes the screen door effect and the poor resolution fade into irrelevance, but PSVR offers so much more. I can sit for ten minutes on VR Worlds’ title screen, knocking my controller into the spinning sphere in front of me to watch (and feel!) it spark, splash, or grind in response. This stuff is seriously cool, the kind of cool you want to experience again and again and show off to your friends.
The drifting, the fiddly headset, the limited viewing angle–these are first-gen problems. They’ll be corrected. What’s important is the core experience, and that, I’m thrilled to report, is everything I’d hoped it would be for affordable first-gen tech.
So no, this isn’t the holodeck.
But if you squint, you can see it from here.
So you say you’ll vote third party or sit out the election because Clinton makes you angry. You’re not worried about Trump because he’ll lose anyway, and besides, if Clinton loses, it will be because she failed to bring the left wing together.
You keep saying that a Trump win would be “on Clinton.” The contention, as near as I can tell, is that if Trump wins, it will be Clinton’s fault. I guess this helps you soothe your conscience as a voter.
So let’s be honest about what we’re talking about here. One of the candidates is a transparent fascist, a man who has publicly announced his intent to use nuclear weapons and drag the entire globe into war, a man who constantly denigrates women and makes lewd comments about his own daughter on national television, and who has repeatedly threatened to make life hell for everyone who is not a cisgendered white male. The other is a progressive with an excellent resume whose politics you don’t agree with 100%.
Because you are “angry,” because you are “disillusioned,” you’ve decided to withhold your vote from this race. You have the power to influence the result, or at least the strength of the result, in what is without a doubt the most important presidential election in our lifetimes, but rather than use that power you will abdicate it. This is okay in your mind because if Clinton loses it will be her own fault for not being exactly the person you think she should be.
Is that it? Am I understanding the argument?
Because my understanding is that YOU are the voter. YOU will be making a choice, either to have a voice in this election or to stay silent. If YOU make the decision to cut off YOUR OWN voice, that is not on Clinton. That is on YOU.
Tell yourself whatever lies you need to so that you can find a way to “stand on principle” and grant this horrific egomaniac, this wannabe dictator, a chance for power on a global stage. Tell yourself they’re the same. Tell yourself that Clinton would be just as bad – that she would also use national catastrophes to talk about how right she is, that she would also turn families against each other and advocate violence as a solution to political disagreement, that she would actively seek to dismantle our free press, share military secrets with Russia, and “joke” about how great fascism is.
But you cannot change the fact that responsibility for your vote is YOURS. It is not Clinton’s. It is not Trump’s (at least, not yet). It’s not mine, no matter how much your decision may appall me. It is YOURS. Pretending otherwise is cowardly and intellectually dishonest.
You’re better than that . . . aren’t you?