Archive for June, 2010

Sinister Simulation

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

This 22 year old architect from the Philippines “spent four years wallowing in equations and graph paper” and created a self-sustaining city named Magnasanti using the game Sim City. When I played Sim City, I found it frustrating at every turn and could never get to a point in the game where I really felt in control. If the budget wasn’t bleeding money, fires, monsters, or rioting citizens seemed intent on destroying my cities. I used to feel a bit impotent in my inability to respond properly to the demands of the game, but, after finding out that it took an aspiring architect just under four years to master the game, I don’t feel so inadequate.

His name, Vincent Ocasala, even sounds like the moniker of a fictional mastermind, and people who read about his feat, watch the youtube video, and read his interview seem to find him a bit terrifying but, to me, he more closely resembles the genius anti-hero archetype found in animes such as L from Death Note and LeLouch of Code Geass. I don’t know the effect that completing this game had on his mind because his philosophy seems a bit villainish, and he shows an unbridled affection for the game that he slaved over for years in order to successfully master. I don’t find him so immediately sinister because this interview seems like a smaller part of an unfinished story.

It’s possible that Sim City has its limitations and Vincent’s city exists as one of many possible solutions that the algorithms in the game allow for. If the creators designed the game deliberately so that only this type of city could maintain the highest population level without cheats, then I would identify them as the shadowy figures lurking behind the scenes in this existential tale.

What human being would think a city should have the ability to function indefinitely in this form:

“Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place…

There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.”

“The city symmetry uses a modified version of the symbol [the Bhavacakra, the wheel of life and death in Buddhism] to represent the sinister intent of enslaving all of its citizens for all eternity.”

“…none of its citizens seem to live past the age of 50.
Health of the sims was not a priority, relative to the main objective. I could have enacted several health ordinances which would have increased the life expectancy, but I decided not to for practical reasons.”

If you make it all the way to the end of the interview, there’s a twist. If you’ve seen animes like Death Note or Code Geass, then you know that the anti-heroes, for the sake of righting wrongs on a global scale, must resort to using harsh, unsavory methods in order to act as catalysts for the type of revolution that their world desperately needs. Instead of viewing it as an illustration of right ideology, Vincent explains it instead as a cautionary tale:

“It shows that by only focusing on one objective, one may end up neglecting, or resorting to sacrificing, other important elements. Similarly, [in the real world] if we make maximizing profits as the absolute objective, we fail to take into consideration the social and environmental consequences.”

This serves as a prime example of video games as high art especially if the creator’s intended to do this, and it wasn’t simply a failure to produce an unbeatable game.

The love of money is “a” root of evil, but idolatry in any form can be detrimental to an individual or a society as a whole particulary when it involves the pursuit of things that we collectively consider worth pursuing. An unchecked pursuit of safety, comfort, or happiness can easily lead to the devaluation of the value of human life, possibly the life of the pursuer, possibly the life of a person who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or possibly the value of human life in the context of a society.

I think that I’m a bit idealistic; I don’t think there was ever a time in history when a society ever came close to a proper approximation of the value of human life. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” falls short especially when people start throwing around phrases like, “You have nothing to worry about if you’re innocent. I’m innocent and…” Take the case of Henry Skinner in Texas who sits on death row because his lawyer valued his time and his paycheck more than Henry’s life and the justice system values the perception of being just so much more than this man’s life that waiting a month for DNA testing could sully that glistening reputation .

Also there’s the case of 3 guilty-until-proven-innocent detainees, who died in U.S. custody because of how highly we value national security and how alluring a cash reward for turning over people to the U.S. was for people in their home countries (further rant by me here )

As an economics major and a part-time philosopher, I know a little bit about the actual difficulty of calculating the value of human life, but that doesn’t give us license to be callous monsters.

Ghost in the Shell Laughing Man

"I thought what I'd do was I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes"

I’ve been comment-starved since January.  Let me know if you

Categories: Faith, Life, Politics, video games

Survival of the Righteous

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

A year or two ago, I learned that the concept of survival of the fittest and natural selection were not inextricably linked. Survival of the fittest has its roots in the idea of natural selection, but the theory of natural selection has the ability to stand on its own. I value the theory of natural selection highly, and I see it at work not only in biological sciences but also in business, in philosophy, and in politics. I also see it more clearly now in how religions have competed with one another over the years.

Many Christians believe that the staying power and proliferation of Christianity over time serves as evidence of its veracity; they believe that the inherent truth within and value of Christianity allowed it to survive and thrive for such a long amount of time. This is a survival of the fittest interpretation.

Originally, people who believed in survival of the fittest also believed in a hierarchy in nature. Simply put, the fittest, most capable organisms survive and reproduce in a way that breeds out and displaces the inferior as if nature is some kind of fair competition with set rules and concrete conditions. On the other hand, under the theory of natural selection, an animal may survive just from sheer luck like during, I believe, the first industrial revolution when a certain color of moth outlasted the others because the type of ash spewing from the factories made them less visible while making others more visible. In that example, those moths didn’t develop that color in response to their conditions; they were just fortunate to be that color during that time. I believe that divine providence and its various adaptations over time, rather than its true or appealing message, deserve credit for Christianity’s survival and popularity.

People commonly fall into the trap of analyzing past events and movements from a modern perspective rather than in the context of the world at that time. Christianity has evolved over time, but I feel that we look at Christianity as if the things that we value today have been the things that Christians throughout time have always valued. We forget that it took the actions of Martin Luther in the early 1500s to repopularize the idea that Christians are saved by grace and establish the foundation for the Protestant tradition that so many Christians today participate in one way or another. We also forget that history provides us with plenty of examples of leaders throughout time who cared very little for the two greatest commandments.

We tend to say that in spite of the more infamous leaders Christianity survived, but we forget that in order to preserve, expand, or consolidate their power, selfish men must regularly do things that benefit the group because they recognize in some small way that they still derive their power from having the support of the masses. These leaders commonly made shrewd, intelligent, and ruthless decisions in order to preserve their power and keep their religion alive. They may not have been godly men, but their worldliness regularly allowed them to enjoy success in their time and ultimately keep Christianity afloat long enough and spread it far enough that people could eventually value it for the reasons that we value it today.

(I’ve been using a lot of common pronouns and not specifically describing leaders. It’s because I’m lazy. If you really want to know, scroll down on this website , and just google several of the names of the popes found on that page.)

Over various eras, Christian values have shifted in obvious ways. Many of the elements have remained consistent, but the ability of Christians over time to shift emphasis from place to place while maintaining a certain consistency fits perfectly with the concept of adaptation. Christianity in our era is significantly different from and more diverse than Christianity during the Age of Enlightenment. As much as we like to give Christianity credit for its influence on Western thought and society, we must also recognize that Christianity has had to adapt to changes in Western thought and society similar to how an animal, such as a beaver, may have and exercise the ability to alter its environment but is limited by the resources offered by that same environment. In some instances throughout history when people have done things in the name of Christianity that we beg critics not to focus on, Christianity was able to survive and even spread its influence more aggressively as a result of those actions. In those instances, the aggressiveness and political savvy of political and church leaders rather than the credibility and consistency of Christianity’s message allowed for its success and expansion.

Now let’s talk about divine providence. I don’t have a problem saying that God’s action allowed Christianity to endure and expand for as long as it has, but, in my mind that’s radically different from saying that Christianity’s validity deserves credit for its ascendancy. There’s a difference between a competitor defeating its rivals through skill and will and the competition organizer awarding points to him or her because the organizer has a stake in the competitor’s success.

There are several instances of this throughout history that serve as examples of divine providence, but I’ll pull just a few examples from The first one actually spurred me to think about Christianity in these terms and had to do with the fact that a cultural formality halted the Mongolian westward conquest.

“Folks, this was the Mongol Invasion of Europe. And shitty Europe, with its clunky knights and piss-poor peasantry, could do absolutely nothing to stop it. The Mongols…defeated the armies of such greats as Hungary, Austria and the Holy Roman Empire…

Then, the Mongolian leader, Ogedei Khan, died. And everyone had to go back to Mongolia.

Why? Because Mongolian cultural traditions required everyone to go back home when a new khan ascended…

One recent book speculates that the Mongols’ destruction of the Islamic heartland, and their comparative non-destruction of Europe, was what allowed the West to become the power center it was…New trade routes opened up, and new contacts were made between the major centers of population…

So while China and the Middle East were getting their shit burned, Europe was gaining new contact with the East. This, in turn, motivated the Age of Exploration. Hence why the West has nukes and computers and technology today, while everyone else has goats and carriages.”

If that guy didn’t die then and they didn’t adhere so strictly to tradition, you must realize that the world would be a radically different place. Before the Mongolian’s destruction of Baghdad, as tells us, Baghdad had been “the biggest deal on the planet for at least 500 years”. The Islamic countries in that region were culturally, scientifically, and militarily superior to the European nations; they were just unfortunately closer to the Mongols than Christian Europe.

One thing that I feel like discussing here is that the American hating, terrorist spawning brand of (Wahabi) Islam that a lot of people have come to see as the true face of Islam was developed in the 1950s. Before then, out of the major religions, Muslims were as liberal and progressive, possibly more so, as they were. Talk about adapting wrong.
*Back to topic*

From another article, I rediscovered that Mongolians used bubonic plague in biological warfare, the same bubonic plague that killed 30 to 60 percent (big variation) of the European population. This turned out to be a good thing

“First, the Plague left behind a sudden shortage of labor, thus landlords were forced to compete for workers by offering higher wages and better treatment. A lower population also brought cheaper land prices, more food for the average peasant and a relatively large increase in income among the lower classes over the next century.

In fact, it has been argued that the Black Death brought about the end of Feudalism, the establishment of Capitalism and was one of the major factors that caused the Peasant’s Revolt and ultimately, the Renaissance.”

Without the plague brought over by Mongols who couldn’t conquer the Europe because of one death in the family, Europe would not have developed the resources and power necessary to dominate the world and allow for proliferation of Christianity.

Also #1 on this list, , it’s possible that when Constantine claimed that he “saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message, ‘Conquer By This’…it was apparently just a massive, flaming meteorite that just happened to be flying by at that moment “. If you still say that God made that meteorite happen at that precise moment, then the only reason that Christianity got to enjoy their status as a state-sponsored religion for the first time was because Daddy “cheated”.

There are several other instances of Daddy cheating throughout history that I don’t really care to get into, but I am sure with google, cracked, and some fresh eyes I could find more for you later.

The point of all this isn’t to question Christianity’s veracity or to say that there’s nothing appealing about it; it’s just to say that being true or right or good doesn’t guarantee you success, certainly not in this world. I remember reading a historical fiction called I, Claudius that really hammered this into me. It painted a picture where the most noble, competent people were killed off by the ambitious and power hungry who feared their popularity; as I alluded to before, part of the reason for Christianity’s success lies in the fact that along with the noble and competent the ambitious and power hungry also rose to high ranks in the Christian hierarchy. It might seem a bit too harsh to lack at it that way, but I think that the good being persecuted and the selfish enjoying success is something that the Bible tells us to expect. While we can expect God to bless us and make life a more rewarding experience for us, I don’t like when Christians look at validation from the world as evidence of their righteousness. I also wrote this because it’s always fun for me to find new examples of natural selection.

Extra – Dunno Where to Stick It
Another example of my beef is when the bare minimum requirement of a nation’s law slightly resembles God’s law, if one viewed God’s law, as Patton Oswalt would say, “in a half remembered nightmare through a cracked window of regret”, and Christians point to it as justification for seeking legal means to impose their system of morality on others and disregard the country’s continuous emphasis and evolving respect for the rights of the individual. That’s for another post though or maybe for revision of an old post.,535/,17239/

Contrarian Gem

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I frequent the website IGN regularly, and the contrarian corner articles have become one of my favorite features.  In them, the author offers an antagonistic perspective on whatever video game is hottest at the time.  The author doesn’t simply nitpick like a photographer critiquing a top model contestant or a pick-up artist chastising his protege for not negotiating a threesome properly.  The writer challenges the consumer’s idea of excellence similar to how Socrates forced his fellow Greek citizens to examine their own culture and reevaluate their definition of good.  The writer regularly uses evidence from culture, history, and life experience to reach his conclusions, and when he does, his points often have applications that transcend the video game world introducing fresh, valuable perspectives on the basic concepts to anyone willing to notice.

In the following excerpt, he compares playing the newest iteration of Final Fantasy to his experience building a wooden fence around a small garden in Madagascar.  It’s unsurprising that he finds physical labor more difficult than playing a video game, but the way that he frames his argument enhances the juxtaposition in provocative way.

Begin Excerpt

[early on he is referring to Final Fantasy combat.  It’s a game where you play a character who uses spells, weapons, and armor to take down imposing mythological beasts.]

The most literal purpose of this system is to apply human logic to an array of barbaric spells and attacks with the sole purpose of subduing every living creature that surrounds your party. It’s a contradiction in terms, perverting a quality of thought and careful planning for a purpose that should only be tenable in the absence of human logic. It’s a fantasy in which your body can do the extravagantly impossible if you just logically plan for it ahead of time.  It’s a relief from the real world constraints where the gap between even the simplest ideas and their physical execution is the widest.

It took me three days to build my fence in Madagascar, digging in the hot sun, winding metal twine around sticks that were three inches in diameter. I felt a great and manly pride when it was finally done, looking at it in the evening air after the last day’s work. I pushed against it, feeling how tightly set in the ground the sticks were. I tried to wedge my fingers between the cracks, but there was no give. That’s a great fence, I thought to myself. All the math about how much wood, twine, and time would be necessary to cover the garden had been right on. I had bloody blisters on my hand, sandy red dirt all over my body, and my muscles ached from the continual exertion in the sun. But I had won.

A week later, I woke up and found three baby pigs eating my tomato plants. I couldn’t change into any other paradigm or hit the “retry” button. I ran outside and chased the pigs away and stared at the narrow gap in the corner that they’d come through. I could have wished for a menu command to let me “close hole,” but XIII’s the kind of game where the only option would have been “burn pig.” And in the pulsing blue menus, either choice would have been equally arbitrary and without meaning.

End Excerpt from

So in this game, you use all these make believe weapons and armor and spells to take down monsters, and you do it successfully by solving relatively simple math problems, observing and reacting to simple patterns, and using your common sense.  In the real world, you build a a small fence of wood and wire to the best of your ability, and you fail to keep baby pigs out.  Compared to his paragraphs, my two-sentence summary doesn’t really do it justice.