Who is to Blame for the Violence in Charlottesville?

On Saturday, August 12th, 2017, a rally called “Unite the Right” took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was there white nationalists congregated to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Counterprotesters soon arrived to harass the rally participants, with the situation escalating into chaotic exchanges of violence. One person, Heather D. Heyer, 35, died when a car rammed through a group of counterprotesters, and another two state troopers died in a freak helicopter crash.

The conflict that erupted in Charlottesville was not self-contained, but the result of an accumulation of lingering resentments that resurfaced, either from the 2016 presidential election or from the current political climate that we live in. It is an extension of one of the worst ideological rifts in our country’s history, and another clear demonstration of two opposing groups’ inability to sort through their differences rationally.

It should not be understated that both radical conservatives and progressive liberals are at fault here, as President Trump was quoted with saying on Tuesday that “I think there’s blame on both sides.” Trump subsequently received scrutiny for not specifically condemning the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists. Nonetheless, the counterprotesters (i.e.: Black Lives Matter & ANTIFA) are just as guilty of inciting violence and causing discord as they were. That’s not to say that I agree with what the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists stand for—their values are acutely incompatible with everything I believe in. However, at Charlottesville, there were no white knights.

Police officers, too, have received scrutiny for not “keeping the peace.” At the same time, whether you’re on the right or left, a police officer or just a regular citizen, these days it is virtually impossible for you to understand another person’s point-of-view (and even sympathize with it) because “he or she is not on your side.” And it’s this attitude of taking sides that’s spiraling what are supposed to be peaceful protests completely out of control.

Turn the clocks back to March 11, 2016, when the Trump campaign cancelled a rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago because of increasing safety concerns. Footage shows Bernie Sanders supporters disrupting the event by shoving, harassing, and shouting at Trump supporters. You did not see this kind of animosity during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and even post-2016 presidential election, tensions between the right and left continue to soar, with Charlottesville illustrating that uncomfortable reality.

Generally speaking, people should discuss their opinions rather than attack them. In the case of Charlottesville, it would have saved three lives, and in the case of the University of Illinois, voters would have been able to see their preferred candidate in person without any disturbances. This behavior should of course not be solely encouraged of protesters and counterprotesters, but of all Trump supporters and former Clinton supporters alike, Democrats and Republicans, males and females, and people. No matter your beliefs, age, gender, or skin color, the best way to diffuse any conflict is through simply talking about it first. And even if you find yourself in disagreement with someone else, what exactly do you think that throwing punches and shouting obscenities are going to accomplish?

Obviously the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists should be vehemently condemned by anyone with a modicum of common decency, but the fact remains that violence will always be unproductive, no matter who it comes from.

Conflict resolution is a skill. Let’s all start practicing it before the next civil war breaks out.

Are We Living in the Golden Age of Television?

Are we in the midst of an era when television is in its prime? Can it soar higher than it is now, or is it as good as it’s ever going to be? These are two questions that circulated through my mind after finishing the critically acclaimed first season of HBO’s Westworld (2016), a television show based on the 1973 movie of the same name. Westworld is about a fictional, western-themed amusement park where attendees (or “guests”) pay large sums of money to fulfill their darkest desires. In essence, the guests are permitted to murder or have sexual intercourse with the park’s “hosts,” human-like androids that occupy the park, while the “programmers” write the scripts for the hosts and control all of their behaviors.

Westworld is renowned for its thought-provoking examination of the relationship that mankind has with its own technology, and of key themes that include fate, free will, life, death, God, reincarnation, and the nature of human consciousness. I could spend hours—literally days—talking about these things, but keeping within the scope of this article, I will save that for another time.

I didn’t think Westworld could live up to the standards I’ve set for other shows that I hold such a high opinion of, but Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Bicameral Mind”) proved me wrong. In this 95 minute finale, the writers managed to deliver an unbelievably satisfying payoff to the preceding 9 hours I spent with the show, addressing almost every single inquiry into the world, characters, and narrative direction. Even better, almost every scene had its own “Shyamalanism,” a term I coined that describes how the revelation of a plot twist incentivizes an audience to re-watch a television show or movie to spot out the Easter eggs they didn’t notice the first time around. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that much like M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies, there are certain story bits in Westworld that you would easily overlook upon first watch, but would blow your mind upon a second or third watch. That is the mark of brilliant storytelling, because to truly deliver a satisfying payoff to any great piece of media, you have to display things in plain sight and subvert attention from them until they become relevant to the twists that you want to reveal.

I bring up Westworld because it’s one television show out of the dozens of high-grade shows that have come out in the past two decades. Between 1999 and today, we’ve gotten amazing shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter, Prison Break, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, Sherlock, Stranger Things, and my personal all-time favorite, Breaking Bad, which I consider to be the Mona Lisa of Television for its complex layered writing and exemplary character development. Let’s not forget the spin-off to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, another show commonly considered to be golden entertainment.

So are we living in a golden age of television? As a matter of fact, we are. Don’t believe me? There is already a Wikipedia article aptly titled “Golden Age of Television (2000s–present).” Apparently, there was a golden age of T.V. in the 1950s as well, but the 2000s golden age is being dubbed the “New,” “Second,” or “Third Golden Age of Television” because of transformations in the way that we consume media. In addition, the critically acclaimed aforementioned shows have (each in their own right) changed the language of episodic filmography, effectively revolutionizing how stories are told on the small screen. After all, television is a language, and every good show has helped us see it as one.

But if film is a language and every language evolves with time, then what has modern television done to evolve the way in which it is being communicated? There is a long list of examples, but here is a condensed version: Breaking Bad was the first show to take a seemingly innocent and virtuous character, and transform him into a cold, calculating, and ruthless one. Dexter was the first show to make its audience root for, and empathize with, a serial killer. The Walking Dead was the first show to combine realistic human dramas with a zombie apocalypse. Game of Thrones was the first show to depict adult themes in a fantasy setting and regularly kill its lead characters. Stranger Things was the first show to successfully emulate ‘80s media. And finally, Orange is the New Black was the first show to make its side characters more interesting than the main character.

It might seem overly reductive to say that these shows were the “first of their kind,” and while that is true to a certain extent, they were unarguably the first of their kind in the modern era of television. That’s why we’re living in the New Golden Age of Television.

However, golden ages by definition don’t last forever, so when will we see television start to drop in overall quality? It’s hard to say, as it could be in another 10, 20, 40, or even 100 years. Nobody knows for certain, but what is certain is that if our beloved T.V. shows can continue raising the bar, they’ll never get boring.

Angry Joe Versus His Audience: A Response

Angry Joe is a YouTube content creator who has amassed over 2.8 million subscribers. He is best known for his Angry Reviews: 30 to 40 minute long video game reviews of high production value consisting of skits, special effects, angry rants, and in-depth critical analyses. Joe gained popularity from his propensity to call game developers out on their greed and hypocrisy, especially with respect to overpriced DLC and microtransactions.

Recently, Angry Joe announced that he would suspend production on Angry Reviews until at least September so that he could take a much needed 2 month long vacation. This resulted in a massive backlash that would be marked by persistent hatred and criticism and a net reduction in Joe’s subscriber count. Fans of the esteemed game reviewer were notably and understandably upset, complaining that Joe was already on vacation and didn’t need to take any more time off. Joe responded by disabling comments and ratings on subsequent videos, and ranting on Twitter about how he has been producing quality free content for the past 9 years and has thus earned himself a break.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I, too, was a part of the criticism that beset Joe’s vacation announcement. I wrote a comment saying that we fans need to band together and dislike every piece of content that isn’t an Angry Review to send the message that Joe’s behavior isn’t acceptable. It received up to 55 likes, and shortly afterward, Joe in fact disabled comments and ratings on his Game of Thrones review.

Joe then addressed the censorship of his fan base on the 27th, reasoning that he wanted to prevent the more negative side of his community needlessly attacking fans of his Let’s Plays, trailer reactions, and movie reviews in the comment sections. Joe also illustrated that the current content drought isn’t anything new to his channel—there simply aren’t any games right now that he is interested in reviewing, so he took time off until the triple A titles come out.

As upset that I am with Joe for turning a blind eye on his own audience and leaving it in the dust, I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I forgot about the emotional toll that the Internet can take on someone, and overlooked just how much work goes into a single video game review of Joe’s caliber. To put things into perspective, my Halo 5: Guardians review was 32 minutes long, but it took over THREE months to produce with the constant interference from work, school, and other responsibilities. That’s about 100 hours in real time to create a half hour YouTube video, but because this is the Internet—the cesspool of ignorance and entitlement—people somehow think that a 30 minute review equates to 30 minutes of work, which isn’t true. The argument that “Joe doesn’t have a real job” is therefore invalid.

I hope Joe takes as much time as he needs to recuperate both mentally and emotionally from this debacle, but I also expect him to come back with some kickass reviews in the fall. Until then, I’ll see you guys on the next… Angry Joe Show!

Destiny 2 – Beta (First Impressions)

The Destiny 2 Beta has concluded as of July 25th. I’ve invested about 15 hours into testing all three character classes, The Crucible, the story mode, and the strike. Here, I am going to discuss what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what needs to change for launch day. I believe that this longer article will sum up all of the criticisms that have thus far accumulated.

Initially, I was not impressed with Destiny 2. The guns felt weak, abilities took too long to recharge, and the 30 FPS was a massive step down from the 60 FPS that I’ve become accustomed to. What’s worse is that The Crucible felt like a blanketed downgrade from everything that made the first Destiny’s Crucible experience so much fun. For the purposes of this article, however, I am going to attempt to keep my complaints as levelheaded as possible.

DISCLAIMER: I understand that this was a Beta and therefore not representative of the complete experience. All of my criticisms are liable to be, or have been, addressed.

The Story Mode

The story mode was decent. It was grandiose and a return-to-form for Bungie’s exceptional approach to storytelling in First Person Shooters. I’m happy that NPCs are actually DOING THINGS now and not simply spouting exposition at us through a radio. One complaint I have (the same complaint I have with The Taken King’s story mode) is that the game thrusts you into this large-scale conflict without any meaningful setup. It would be nice to see a calm-before-the-storm cinematic that precedes Gaul’s assault on The Last City, similar to the award ceremony in the beginning of Halo 2. Another complaint I have is that, yet again, our characters have zero personality and do not utter a single word.

At any rate, if Bungie can maintain the level of quality that they delivered in the first mission throughout the rest of the campaign, then I will be very pleased.

The Strike

The Inverted Spire strike is pretty much what you would expect from any strike in Destiny: plow through hordes of enemies until you reach a bullet sponge of a boss. Interestingly, my team and I died 5 times on the boss fight, and thus I commend Bungie for actually challenging the player and not making the mission so exploitable. I can’t imagine what this would be like on Nightfall difficulty.

Overall, I was not very impressed with the strike, but it is good time-killer in the event that you want to sit back, relax, and shoot mindless aliens for 20 or so minutes.

The Gameplay

Now I can talk about the nitty gritty—the REAL meat of my criticism: the gameplay and The Crucible. First off, I know I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but abilities charge way too slowly. This includes the Super ability, grenades, and supplementary character abilities. As my disclaimer noted, this has probably already been fixed, but I’d like to talk about it nonetheless.

To put things into perspective, in a typical strike, you will only get to use your Super twice, and no more than three times. And The Crucible? Forget it. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll only get your Super in the last 2 minutes of the match (when EVERYONE ELSE uses it). That is ABSOLUTELY pathetic for a game whose majority of fun derives from utilizing unique abilities that alter the dynamic and flow of its combat. Destiny 1 was special because I got to live out my childlike power fantasy by wielding the Light of the Traveler and vaporizing my opponents into thin air. I still get to do that, but those moments of empowerment are few and far between, and ultimately take a lot of enjoyment out of the equation.

Also, who in their right mind at Bungie Studios thought it would be a good idea to nerf melee damage THIS drastically? In The Crucible, it takes up to THREE punches to defeat your opponent. That desperately needs to be changed, because dumping several rounds into somebody but then having to stab them two times severely disrupts the fluidity of closer-ranged encounters and leaves you more vulnerable to team shots.

Gunplay is as always, smooth and solid. Say what you want about Bungie as a developer, but they understand shooting mechanics. In fact, much of what keeps people coming back to this game after all these years is just how good it feels to shoot things. But remember when I said that the guns felt weak? I meant it. Unfortunately, the primaries that we were given in the Beta often felt like peashooters, while the sniper rifle felt like a slightly stronger scout rifle. Again, this is subject to change, but right now, guns are underpowered.

Finally, the transition from a PRIMARY/SECONDARY/HEAVY loadout to a PRIMARY/PRIMARY/SECONDARY loadout really hurts the PvE experience. While I can understand this design choice for PvP to a certain extent, in PvE, it’s insipid having to switch between two mediocrely powered auto rifles and rarely getting to use a sniper, rocket launcher, or shotgun because power ammo is so scarce. I sure will miss my Fatebringer/Blackhammer/Gjallerhorn combination. Can we please go back to the way things were in this regard? Of course, it is more balanced as it is now, but sometimes, balance is boring.

The Crucible

So how is The Crucible? In short, watered down.

I thought I was going to despise the 4v4 format, but it’s not as bad as I expected. The maps are specifically scaled down to accommodate 8 players instead of 12, and so you’ll encounter your opponents about as frequently as you would on a map that’s been built for 6v6. Despite this, I prefer the classic 6v6 format because in 4v4, there are fewer opponents to engage with and thus fewer opportunities for extremely satisfying multi-kills. Why is it that Bungie can’t just do what they did with their Halo games and design some maps and modes for 6v6, and others for 4v4? Blanketing 4v4 across ALL maps and modes is a colossal step backwards because not everyone is going to prefer these smaller-scale, less chaotic matches. Personally, I want to see Combined Arms and Rumble make a return.

I love and hate the new scoring system in Control. I love it because it’s been simplified in such a way that I understand how points are distributed between both teams (in Destiny 1, it was convoluted and made no sense). I hate it because it needlessly rewards assists. If I kill somebody, I want it to MATTER. In other words, I want to feel like I deserved it. However, in Destiny 2, if you so much as scrape an opponent and one of your teammates deals let’s say 90 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted a full point (i.e.: +1 point). Alternatively, if you deal 100 percent of the damage, you’ll be allotted two points (i.e.: +2 points). With that said, it appears that the only indicator of individual performance is Efficiency, which is a special number on the scoreboard that aggregates your kill/death/assist ratio, level of accuracy, and other factors. However, I want the scoreboard to display the number of times you acquired FULL kills relative to the number of times you died. Currently, the game has either eliminated or minimized these statistics in favor of giving everyone on the team a participation medal.

By the way, I hope to God that we are not solely relegated to Quickplay and Competitive in the final game. THIS IS NOT OVERWATCH. Destiny 2 is expected to promote diversity and versatility by featuring multiple playlists that cater to different preferences and different play styles. It should NOT be this restrictive and barebones.

A couple more suggestions that I would like to offer are to increase the score limit in Control from 75 to 100, and to increase the rate at which players’ health bars regenerate to both deter and prevent incidences of team shooting. It is very frustrating when, upon legitimately outplaying your opponent, someone else comes from around the corner to “clean you up” because you couldn’t recover in time. As for Control, the score limit is a little too condensed for my liking. Bumping it up to 100 should make matches last for just the right amount of time.

Skill Based Match Making is ever so prominent in Destiny 2, and just like in Destiny 1, I am routinely punished for performing well. Whenever I have one great match or a string of great matches, I am pitted against full teams of 4 and get utterly decimated. Why should I be forced to play my heart out every single match against players who are just as good if not better than me? I said it before and I’ll say it again: Bungie needs to either abolish or restrict SBMM to COMPETITIVE-ONLY playlists so that The Crucible can remain a lighthearted, laidback experience. Not every game on the market needs to be an eSport.

Fellow Destiny player Tibbaryllis2 puts it perfectly, “The game is infinitely better when you go through a cycle of games where you have some close matches, you stomp some people, and you get stomped by some people. You need all three; one helps you get better, one helps you have fun, and one keeps you humble.”

Final Word

Believe it or not, I criticize Destiny this harshly because I love it and want it to succeed. It’s the only game that keeps me coming back to it on a consistent basis, and I’ll be damned if it sacrifices its identity to become another generic, bland, dull, and dry shooter game.

So far, Destiny 2 is not a game plagued by poor design, but rather by poor design decisions. It seems that Bungie’s best answer to the complaints players directed toward Destiny 1’s PvP experience is to literally nerf everything that made it fun in the first place, and achieve a more leveled playing field in a panicked attempt to please its entire player base. In doing so, they punished the PvE-centric audience.

I hope that come September, my opinion on the game improves and does not worsen. In either case, I’ll be here to call it out.

Thanks for reading.

Video: Why We Are Already Living in the Apocalypse: A Walking Dead Video Essay – Part 3 (Philosophy)

Here is Part 3 of my 5 part Walking Dead video essay. Stick around for Part 4!

How to Take Advantage of Any Disadvantage

I have a genetic skin disease called rosacea. My grandmother passed it down to my father, who then passed it down to my brother and me. Rosacea is characterized by episodic, superficial dilation of blood vessels beneath the face. This usually occurs on or around the nose and cheeks, and just below the mouth. It can be quite irritating when, upon extended exposure to heat, my skin itches and flushes so much that I look as red as an apple.

Of course, I could lament and complain about my rosacea all I want, but that won’t change the fact that I will always be stuck with it—at least until they are able to come up with some long-awaited cure for it. The best thing I can do for now is attempt to manage the condition every day by applying skin cream that reduces flushing and inflammation. “Treatable, not curable” is my motto.

Using my skin rosacea as an example of how we can adapt to the circumstances that we are involuntarily thrust into, let’s put things into perspective. While I could let my rosacea get the best of me and never go outside again because I just cannot tolerate episodes of flushing and inflammation, I would miss out on so much in life if I stayed home all the time. In the same vein, the mere management of our physical and mental disabilities is infinitely preferable to giving up and admitting defeat by virtue of their unwanted existence.

Allow me to share with you a story that perfectly illustrates what I’m talking about.

Last week, I attended Michigan’s Adventure (an amusement park) with my father and brother. I was initially apprehensive about tagging along because I didn’t want to have to fight the 4th of July crowds. I tagged along anyway because my dad insisted that it would be the last time we’d ever go there. While I had a fair amount of fun, that old and familiar childlike excitement eluded me and was instead replaced by an almost melancholic desire to return to a simpler time.

In many respects, the trip didn’t go as planned: my dad rear-ended the driver in front of us, and wasted over $100 on fast passes that we barely used. What’s worse is that I arrived home with sunburn that itches at this very moment. Maybe I should’ve trusted my apprehension and persuaded my dad to stay home after all—I could’ve circumvented a damaged vehicle and saved $100. But I figured that if I hadn’t gone, then I wouldn’t have acquired the material to write this article.

The highlight of the trip was easily seeing a man with his girlfriend, who unfortunately couldn’t walk due to an unknown disability and thus needed to be pushed around in a wheelchair. We first encountered the couple at a water ride, and it was there the man picked up his girlfriend and carefully helped her into the canoe, leaving the wheelchair behind until they returned. We encountered the couple a second time at The Wolverine, and once again, the man picked up his girlfriend and helped her into the coaster. Most attendants felt inconvenienced from having to wait their turns for longer than usual, but I stood there in awe of this man’s enormous determination to show his girlfriend a good time.

Let’s face it, how many disabled people have you seen ride a roller coaster? Not very many I’d assume. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to tell that this was a man of initiative. He could’ve easily told his girlfriend, “Sorry honey, but I don’t want to risk aggravating your disability just so that you can ride a few roller coasters. It’s too dangerous.” The fact remains that her disability wasn’t a factor in her enjoyment. And so, whereas most men wouldn’t let their disabled girlfriends see the light of day because it’s “too risky,” this man took charge. It spoke volumes of his character and was a testament to how far he is willing to go to express the love he feels for his girlfriend.

More people need to be like this man. Stop making excuses already and take charge of your fate, or else let it get the best of you and spend the rest of your life feeling like a victim.

You Shouldn’t Joke About That

I have to be very careful with how I word this article, or else people will think that I’m the most heartless bastard to ever exist.  Regardless of its execution, I’m writing this entry for my personal blog, and thus I should be allowed the freedom and flexibility to say whatever comes to mind first. Even supposing that you might not agree with me.

In my sophomore year of high school, my English teacher told the class that (and I paraphrase), “You need to be careful with your words, because you just never know when you might upset someone.” I took his advice into deep consideration because there are extremely sensitive people out there who, even at the thought of lightly insensitive joke, will plunge into an epileptic rage. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all jokes, offensive or lighthearted, span a metaphorical minefield: one false step and you’ll “set off” somebody else’s feelings. So where am I supposed to step in the minefield that is humor? What jokes am I allowed to make, and what jokes should I simply keep to myself for fear of striking a nerve?

There is an elevated level of ambiguity in acceptable versus unacceptable humor. What one person might find funny, another might find distasteful, so it’s important to always think carefully before you make that final, fateful punch line. But what if acceptable versus unacceptable humor, by its very subjective nature, is unknown?

I condemn such phrases as, “You shouldn’t joke about that” and “That’s not very funny” because the line separating topics that can be joked about and topics that cannot be joked about is obscured. We’re all unique individuals who have had different past experiences from which our senses of humor have emerged. Therefore, when I make a joke that fails to comply with your standards for acceptable humor, it’s not really necessary for you to express to me that you’re offended because I couldn’t have known that you would find it offensive in the first place. In fact, I’m offended that you’re offended!

Okay, okay. I need to moderate my tone now because I promised myself that I wouldn’t let this article devolve into an angry rant. But here me out for just a few more paragraphs.

George Carlin, my all-time favorite stand-up comedian, argued that you can make a joke about pretty much anything as long as the exaggeration that constitutes the joke is so out of line and so “out there” that is has no basis in reality. In other words, the setup of the joke should be mundane enough to where the punch line completely throws it off balance. That is something I consider to be the ingredient of a great joke—offensive or not.

Of course, there are limits that should not be pushed. For example, when an unfathomable tragedy such as a terrorist attack or school shooting occurs, we should probably put off making jokes about it for a while to give people the time and space to grieve. Making comedic references to a specific incident with the intent to downplay the enormous misfortune that it’s caused does come across as rather brash and ill-conceived. As far as sensitive topics are concerned, I don’t believe that they are entirely off-limits, and neither did Mr. Carlin.

I for one employ offensive humor as a way to emotionally distance myself from how chaotic this world can be. Many times, I feel like pointing fingers and laughing at something awful makes it less threatening.

But that’s just me. You might believe that some topics should never, under any circumstances, be joked about, and that’s okay. If we’re having a conversation and you happen to find that something I said upset or unsettled you, do not hesitate to call me out on it so that I can readjust my language accordingly. But to say that I’m not “allowed” to joke about [insert topic here] is an obstruction of my own free will.