Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Happy Chinese New Year!

February 27, 2015

And in its honor, a primer to understanding China’s international relations:

Let’s say I’m China, and I have this delicious cake. It’s fluffy and moist, covered in all the flair with like chocolate flakes and candied rose petals and stuff. Written on top in pretty floral icing are the words “China’s Territorial Integrity.”

Along comes Britain who says “give me some of that cake.”

I ask why, and he says that it’s for free trade. I am reticent, and he wants to compromise. I ask what I get out of this compromise, and he says that I get to keep the part of the cake that I already own.

I do not think this is a good deal. He pulls a gun on me and cuts himself a slice anyway.

We will call this the Treaty of Nanjing.

Emboldened by Britain’s example, others – France, Russia, Portugal, Japan, the US, etc – do the same thing. Tientsin, Whampoa, Peking, Shimonoseki, Boxer Protocol, Twenty-One Demands, etc, etc, etc.

At one point, the US decides that, as one of the “compromises”, everyone gets to share equally in the cake. Everyone, that is, except me, who actually owned the cake in the first place.

We will call this the Open Door Policy.

Finally, when I’m left holding a tiny slice of what was originally left of my cake, I decide I’m done.

I buy a gun, I take some tactical classes, and the others are weakened due to fighting amongst themselves.

I start reclaiming my cake. It’s not a perfect process, and the icing got smudged or had bites taken out of it, but by and large it’s starting to look like the way it did before.

And then, the thieves that stole my cake in the first place have the gall to set themselves up as the arbitrators of whether this is correct and proper.

They’re standing there, wringing their hands that formerly held pieces of my cake that they took, making anime eyes at me and whining about my “saber-rattling” and my “territorial ambitions” that threaten to “destabilize the region”, asking why won’t I find a “peaceful way to reach compromise.”

And I’m just standing here, going “you have got to be kidding me.”

I’ve seen what your idea of compromise looks like.

There’s two definitions to that word, one is to actually meet in the middle, and the other is to concede, and it’s real obvious which one is meant whenever they say China needs to “compromise”.

(Original credit for the cake analogy goes to LawDog, whose original version I also agree very strongly with)

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Fighting Evil By Moonlight – Let’s Watch Sailor Moon Crystal, Episode 3

October 17, 2014

Act 3 – Sailor Mars

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Stop drop and roll Jadeite cuz you just got BURNED (hey, foreshadowing!)

Open to Jadeite getting chewed out because he’s failed twice in a row so far to obtain the Legendary Silver Crystal, and the other Dark Generals are seeing this as an opportunity to perform. Nephrite and Zoicite both offer their services. Here, we learn something interesting – Beryl has not told them what the crystal is or what it does. She replies that it’s an immensely powerful energy source…but the fact she says “not to worry about it” makes me think there’s something else to it.

Actually, given that they world for the “Dark Kingdom” and summon daemons as a normal thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up sacrificing all four of them to give the thing its initial charge.

Anyway, Jadeite gets another chance, and we cut to a girl on fire.

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No, not that one. Or that other one.

Something ominous is coming, she says.

Cut to school, where there’s a rumor about a devil bus, route 66, that if you take it at 6PM, you’re never seen again. Usagi sleeps through the gossip, and through Luna reminding her that she and Ami have a meeting…until Luna mentions it’s at the arcade at which point she’s all up on that like a marine on a stimpack. We see Ami standing next to a Sailor V poster, which makes me wonder about their Sailor Guardian powers – what exactly is it that makes them all end up in the sailor suits? Is it just that Sailor V is a popular game series, so their powers manifest as the sailor suit that V wears? And in the AU where it’s, like feudal Japan, they’d all be running around in differently colored samurai armor? Or would they always wear the sailor suits? Anyways, while Usagi’s busy gaming, Ami asks Luna what their next move is, to which the kitty replies, “protect our Princess and the Legendary Silver Crystal”. Ami’s perplexed expression indicates she doesn’t know what that is either, although she also doesn’t ask.

They leave the arcade, and Ami’s still going to cram school, which I’m going to assume is better now that the teacher from hell is gone. She mentions to Usagi that a really pretty girl is on the bus at that time, which catches her attention. As Ami gets on, Usagi notices that the route i the same one as the “devil bus”, so she hops on and-

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Now there’s a girl worth fighting for

Usagi’s is hella smitten.

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“Time to break out the L-word, Usagi.” “Lesbian?” “The other L-word.” “Lesbians?”

Meanwhile, the girl gets a vision, and Usagi is still smitten.

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She could be a part…time…MODEL!

Anyway, Hot Chick gets off, and Usagi follows her. They end up in a Shinto shrine, trying to find her. Meanwhile, cut to Hot Chick, who turns out to be a shrine maiden. She feels a great disturbance in the Force, so she operates up, exorcism spell in hand…and smacks Usagi in the face with it.

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Yu Mo Gui Gwai Fai Di Zao!

Hot Chick explains that she felt a demonic energy earlier, and mistook Usagi for the source, which is why one of the Four Rules is “always be aware of your target and what’s behind it before you shoot.” We also learn that she has two ravens named Phobos and Deimos which are pretty badass names for a pair of pets/animal familiars. Cut to people praying at the shrine. Mii-chan, one of their daughters, has gone missing. They suspect it’s the Devil Bus before running off. Here we find that Hot Chick’s name is Rei Hino. Mii-chan is a little girl that always plays at the shrine while waiting for the bus. There’s a local folklore that says there’s five hills around the area, but there’s like a sixth secret hill, and the Devil Bus vanishes there at 6PM. Locals call it being “spirited away” (no, not that one).

The next day, Usagi and Ami get matching watches. Usagi wants to visit Rei again, and Luna agrees, noting that she’s beautiful, has spiritual powers, and is a shrine maiden, so she may be the Princess.

Hold on.

So, Luna doesn’t know who the princess is either? Her, Beryl, and Tuxedo Mask are all running around blind? This is actually pretty intriguing, and I kind of want to see where they go with this.

Anyway, Ami’s gotta go to cram school, so Usagi’s on a bus by herself. Luna informs her that the watch is also a communicator (seriously where does she get these fancy toys?) and is about to say more when suddenly a wild bishounen appears! We finally find out his name, Mamoru Chiba, a high school sophomore at a private school.

Awkward silence ensues.

Cut to the shrine, and Mii-chan’s mom wants Rei to find her with magic, but Rei’s all like, “uh, my powers don’t quite do that.” She suggests calling the police, but some other bitchy lady is like “her daughter’s missing! y u no help!”

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Middle schoolers – better than the police for missing children.

So, this is interesting because it indicates that some humans have had magic powers ever since before Luna showed up and turned Usagi into Sailor Moon. Anyway, the adults then accuse her of having Mii-chan spirited away, but Usagi comes to the rescue. She offers to help Rei find the missing girl. Rei thanks her for the offer, but would rather go it alone. Later, she lights a fire and tries to locate Mii-chan with her powers. Instead, she sees someone else, and Usagi in trouble.

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The night is dark and full of terrors…but the fire burns them all away.

So she runs out, trying to find Usagi. A bus stops by, and she gets on, only to see Jadeite as the driver.

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From Dark General to bus driver. Yeah, Hell was hit pretty hard by the economic recession.

Right when recognition hits her, though, Jadeite casts sleep, which is super effective. Fortunately for Rei, he manages to drive right past Usagi, who recognizes Rei from the window. The bus speeds past her, and is about to crash into a wall, but suddenly a portal opens up. So Usagi chases after the bus, and uses the pen to transform…into a flight attendant? She jumps up and catches on the the back, but drops Luna in the process. Good thing Tuxedo Mask is there to catch her. He’s too late to follow Usagi, but is starting to confirm that yes, Usagi can do that transformation thing.

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I’m sure he’s just trying to get to Platform 9 and 3/4

Cut to Ami at the cram school, getting a call on her watch. It’s Luna, telling her Usagi’s in trouble. Oh Luna, is there anything you can’t do? Also cut to the…Hell dimension, I guess? Jadeite’s got a whole bunch of unconscious people, all hostages to lure out the Sailor Guardians. Meanwhile, Usagi’s stumbling around, demoralized because no one’s there to help her, until she gets a call. Ami and Luna are actually smart and know how to do things, and they suggest Usagi transform so they can pinpoint the magical energy. This works, both girls are transformed, and now it’s time to go on the counterattack. Just in time, too, because Jadeite is being a total creeper right now.

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I’ve seen enough hentai to know where this is going

Fortunately for Rei, Usagi is there to cockblock him (I guess…do demons have cocks in this setting?). Mercury opens with a mist, and calls out to Usagi to save the kids while under cover of fog, but Jadeite reveals he has freezing powers. The mist condenses, depriving both Sailor Guardians of cover. Ah well, what did you expect, Sailor Mercury? This is Mars’s highlight episode, so none of you are allowed to be useful. Anyway, Jadeite blasts both of them with ice. By this point, Rei wakes up though, and grapples with him, which given that Jadeite is some kind of super daemon lord thing, only amuses the guy.

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I think you should just…let it go~

Too bad for him, Rei’s powers chooses that point to manifest themselves into sweet burnination. Luna tosses her a pen sceptre thing, and she becomes Sailor Mars. There’s this heavy rock guitars motif going on during her transformation sequence that I like, in contrast to the strings and choir chanting for Moon and Mercury’s transformations.

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Need a light?

Jadeite tries blasting her with ice, dating this show because everyone who grew up in the post-Pokemon era knows that fire is super effective against ice. Mars no-sells the attack, then goes all Sozin’s Comet on his ass, forcing him to run away.

Cut to the police, and all the children being recovered.

Thoughts

I rather liked this episode. Ami’s episode was a tad generic, and even if you didn’t know anything about this series, you would have been able to predict that it was gonna be “down-to-earth everygirl befriends nerdy girl, and nerdy girl is going to save the day, affirming both girls’ friendships”. This one actually is a little less stock; Rei has a bit more self-confidence going on, but there’s some subtle vulnerabilities there too. You can see that she is kind of lonely by herself, and you get hints that it’s because of her powers that 1. alienates other people to her and 2. makes her unsure of where she fits in society. Her status as a shrine maiden gives her a sort of authority, but with that comes responsibilities that, being a teenager, she isn’t really ready for. When people accuse her of shady things, you can see that she’s hurt by it, but she’s too proud and dignified to show it. Push comes to shove, though, she gets right down to it. Seriously, her vs. Jadeite could basically be paraphrased, like-

Jadeite: hahaha silly human your meat-hands cannot harm me

Mars: FUCK YOU I HAVE MAGIC

Anyway, that’s the long version of the characterization front. The short version is…maybe this reminds me just a little bit of another story about a girl with magic powers who feels repressed by them and needed the power of love and friendship to feel accepted and at peace with her powers, eventually saving the day.

As far as world-building goes, this episode is alright. We confirm that everyone is stumbling in the dark. Which could work, because that way we’re discovering things at the same pace as the characters, and avoids situations where characters suddenly randomly explain things that should be basic knowledge to them for the benefit of the audience. Also, it raises interesting questions about people who have had magic powers just on their own. Are they all Sailor Guardians? Are there more of them across the world? Are they just candidates but need Luna’s magic touch to make them full-blown Sailors? Is this just kind of going to get skipped over?

Usagi’s relative uselessness is getting annoying, though. Hoping that gets better once the team’s introductory episodes are up.

Until next ep.

Fighting evil by moonlight – Let’s Watch Sailor Moon Crystal, Ep1!

July 11, 2014

So, I realized that I actually quite like reviewing stuff (see the Fate/Zero posts), and being that Sailor Moon, the show that I’d always try to watch as a little kid but could never get home in time for just got a reboot, this is as good a show as any to start doing it again. I’ll be approaching this from the perspective of someone who knows the general idea of the original material, but am very fuzzy on the details beyond “five young teenage girls WITH ATTITUDE (and the main girl’s boyfriend, and her little sister or something?) fight the forces of evil!” So, let’s see how this holds up.

Let’s get this show on the road

We open with a shot of the solar system.

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Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

Cut to a sparkly queen woman floating into the arms of a sparkly bishounen man, about to liplock…but it was all just a dream, as Usagi Tsukino, 14-year-old schoolgirl, wakes up and is late for school.

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7:00AM, waking up in the morning/Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs/Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal

In her hurry, she steps on a cat (a very resilient cat, if it can take the full weight of a person), removes the strange bandaid on its head to uncover a moon-shaped bald patch (nope, nothing strange about that at all), and then runs away when it tries to scratch the hell out of her face. Usagi finally makes it to school, but is like super late and has to stand outside.

Meanwhile, a wild ANTAGONIST appears! He calls up some kind of shadow demon woman and tells her to find a “Legendary Silver Crystal”.

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Summon Minion

Cut back to school. Usagi is daydreaming about the princess from her dream. Test results are out and…holy crap, Usagi, how the hell did you get a 30!? BETCH ARE YOU EVEN ASIAN. Although, to be fair, it’s an English exam, and who cares about that, right? English is like hella useless anyway, it’s just lit crit that is rendered utterly redundant by tvtropes – oh, wait, they’re in Japan, this is the *language* class which is actually useful. Ah well, it’s okay Usagi, who needs English when you can just speak American instead?

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Asian Grading Scale: A=Acceptable, B=Bad, C=Crap, D=Death, F=Fake your death and start a new life elsewhere

During the same time, we’re introduced to her muggle friends, a girl named Naru and this super nerdguy named Umino. Being that I know enough of the show to know that they’re not going to be Sailor Scouts later, we can safely write them off as unimportant, I think.

School lets out, and Usagi is talking to her friends. There’s been a rash of break-ins, apparently, but some vigilante named Sailor V caught them…wait, there’s already a Sailor V? This is somewhat new to me. I thought Moon was the first one, and then she finds all the other ones? Anyways, one of her friends then notes that she can totally relate to robbers – who wouldn’t want to steal jewelry? It’s so pretty!

…wimmenz, amirite? </trollface>

We learn that Naru’s mom owns a jewelry store, and they’re having a discount sale, so the girls go. Naru notes that this is actually the first time they’ve done this kind of thing, and now that she mentions it, her mom does bear a slight resemblance to the shadow woman that appeared earlier…and now she’s internally monologuing about feeding off the shoppers’ exuberant energy.

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Hey, vuja de

Usagi left, because her test scores are unlikely …she has now bumped into Bishounen McDreamy (yes, I know it’s Tuxedo Mask/Darien/whatever his Japanese name is, but that’s just what I’m going to call him, as he appears with bishie sparkles and everything)

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So…how long until they’re going on spaghetti dates while adorable stray animals serenade them in Italian?

Anyway, turns out this guy’s looking for the silver crystal too. Cut to Usagi walking around wishing she was Sailor V, then she wouldn’t have to put up with any of this. She ends up at the arcade, wherein she hits on this random other hawt guy who works as a part timer. Motoki is his name, but being that he too is a muggle, I think we can write him off as unimportant.

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Welcome to the Friendzone. Please take off your shoes.

Usagi goes home, sees the cat again, and notices the moon mark on its head. More importantly, her mom notices her test score. Oh jeez, run for your life, Usagi! Tiger Mom up in this bitch!

Usagi gets kicked out of the house, while her younger brother gets back home – wait, she has a younger brother? I thought pink-hair chibi girl (forgot her name) was her only sibling? Anyway, cut to Tuxedo Mask, sneaking around, operating operationally. And then to Naru’s mom, who is absorbing life energy from everyone who bought jewelry using the jewels themselves as a conduit. Naru walks in on her…which she shouldn’t have done, because now Monster-Mom is going to silence her forever.

Cut to eye-catch…ok the pitch black on the skin is somewhat creepy. Seriously you start looking from the bottom up and it’s like…okay, she’s just got leggings on, whatevs, leggings are hot, and then you look up and HER FACE IS BLANK.

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KOH THE FACE-STEALER WAS HERE

Cut to Usagi who has a dream of the princess again, only to be woken up by a scratch. It’s the cat, and HOLY FUCK the cat can talk. Its name is Luna, and it tells Usagi that there’s trouble in the city, but she can help! …but Usagi ignores her, thinking it’s just a dream. Fortunately, Luna knows how to get a girl’s attention…with shinies! Unfortunately, she didn’t count on Usagi being so focused on the shiny that she still is ignoring Luna. But soon enough, Usagi starts paying attention, and Luna teaches her to say the words. Cut transformation sequence!

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In brightest day…in darkest night…no evil shall escape my sight…let those who worship evil’s might…beware my power, Green Lantern’s Light!

So she’s transformed…and apparently her hair buns are also evil-detecting radar!? This is new to me. Cut to Tuxedo Mask, about to dynamic entry into the jewelry store…but Usagi beats him to it. Naru’s Mom (who reveals that she’s not the real mom, just a replacement who’s tied up the real one in a basement somewhere) is all like, “who the heck are you?” Cue the time honored tradition of new superheroes realizing that they forgot to pick out a name…so Usagi decides on Sailor Moon. Demon Mom is unimpressed though, and calls up a bunch of mind controlled minions, for which Usagi is entirely unprepared, running around like a chicken with its head cut off while Luna facepalms.

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BETCH DO YOU EVEN OPERATE

Anyway, Usagi falls down and begins crying…but fortunately for her, she has Black Canary’s sonic scream which knocks out all the minions, leaving just Mother Monster (no, not that one). Luna teaches her another attack…and oh hey her tiara turns into a chakram that obliterates Monsters Of The Episode in one hit.

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Normally I’d start referring to you as Xena, Warrior Princess at that point…but Rachel from Animorphs already laid claim to that title.

With the Monster defeated, Tuxedo Mask now formally introduces himself, before leaping into the night.

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I must now flee…sexily.

Meanwhile, Sailor Moon is now being watched through an EVIL crystal ball. The next day, Naru only remembers passing out but seeing a Sailor Guardian come to save her. We end on Luna noticing a blue-haired girl walking around campus, one of a…mercurial disposition, as it were.

Thoughts

OK, so, not bad for an introductory episode. It follows a pretty standard origin story format. We meet our main character, our main love interest, a couple of unimportant muggles, and the bad guys are somewhat vague right now, but I’m sure they’ll start making more frequent appearances once Usagi gets her team together (dibs on Jupiter, btw).

On a technical front, animation is nice and crisp, and the CGI looks pretty good. Hidden villains are always good from where I stand, as long as the mains are making a decent effort to locate them.

Until next ep.

Frozen is in Westeros theory, revisited

January 6, 2014

So that previous post of mine resulted in a plotbunny that wouldn’t stop hopping around in my head. Which is a testament to how good Frozen was; rare is the media that can inspire me to write stuff. Although I think the sheer amount of ASoIaF and song lyric quoting I’ve done counts as cheating…but only a little.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9991191/1/A-Song-of-Ice

Frozen Wild Mass Guessing (and MASSIVE SPOILERS AVOID IF HAVEN’T SEEN)

December 30, 2013

In the alternate universe where the climax happened a different way…

Wherein the belief that she had inadvertently killed her sister did not cause Elsa to collapse in a BSOD moment, but instead caused her powers to spiral out of control in grief…

The rampaging ice powers froze most of Arendelle’s inhabitants, with the exception of a few who fled to the kingdoms to the south.

In her resulting grief and loneliness, Elsa tried reanimating her frozen subjects, much like she did with Olaf. But due to the corrupted nature of her magic, something would always be just a little “off” about them, and each iteration just exacerbated the problem a little bit. Still, she kept trying, each setback only prompting her to try harder. In her personal quarters, there stands the frozen statue of Princess Anna. One day, Queen Elsa said, she will perfect the process, and then they will have their old life back, even if it takes ten thousand years. Standing by their side is Olaf, because some people are worth never seeing summer for.

Meanwhile, the refugees of old Arendelle describe to the kingdoms they fled to of a land of desolate and everlasting ice, where the snows fell a hundred feet deep during the long night, when children were born and lived in darkness, and the White Walkers moved through the woods…

TLDR: FROZEN IS THE ALTERNATE UNIVERSE OF WESTEROS.

Also, among the survivors:

Hans made it out and hopped on a boat back to the Southern Isles, or as it will become known in the future, the Iron Islands. Due to his firsthand experience, he begins delving into magical research. This is why the Faith of the Drowned God worships Cthulhu, and why their rituals and magic still works to an extent.

Wesselton also made it back alive. Also affected by witnessing the sheer savagery that sorcery can unleash, he pours the kingdom’s funds into creating the Citadel, ostensibly as a public works project and an investment into higher education, but really to research means by which human technology may quash and banish magic from the earth forever.

Kristof and Sven, in the meanwhile, also made it back. He wandered aimlessly for a while, before rescuing a young woman who happened to resemble Anna from bandits or wolves or whatever. Said young woman happened to be the only daughter and child of a fading Noble House, whose so-called allies were basically waiting for the patriarch to die so they can divide up its holdings. In gratitude to the young man, they marry their daughter to him, and forever take the majestic caribou against a field of gold (like the young man’s hair) as their sigil. Upon finally coming into inheritance, Kristof Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End, never forgot the homeland of his first love, and swore to revitalize it one day. Thus he created an order of men, good men, to keep watch at the borders, ranging beyond it even, to look for signs that old Arendelle would revitalize once more. And when it became clear that such an event would not happen in his lifetime, he ordered a young Brandon Stark, gifted in the craft of construction, to erect a great Wall such that the order of watchmen would always have a home base from which to carry out their eternal mission, their long watch which began as soon as the night fell upon old Arendelle.

Let’s Watch Fate Zero, Ep 25

May 18, 2013

Grand Finale: Fate/Zero

Aha! A title drop!

Excalibur cuts down as Saber looks in horror, and she has an epiphany – the sense of betrayal she’s feeling now, that’s why her men betrayed her. Just like Kiritsugu never bothered to get to know her, simply proclaiming a righteous goal and ordering her to act in pursuit of that goal, so did she do the same, never truly leading others the way Iskander did. In her last moments in the real world, she ponders whether this is her punishment.


That resignation…it’s just so sad.

Excalibur’s light is visible from like super far…and when the smoke clears, there’s a hole in the sky, just like the Kiritsugu saw inside the Grail. The blast manages to, among other things, knock Gil on his ass, and he gets up just in time for a massive torrent of blood to fall from the hole and engulf everything, blowing things up and eating up the city like it was Zerg creep.


Not impressed. Just surprised, is all.

Meanwhile, Ilya wakes up in Einzbern mansion, having the bad dream that she was a cup with seven lumps inside her that Iri saw in her vision.

Cut to Kiritsugu, who sees all this and is horrified. So…I guess destroying the Grail actually released Angra Mainyu who was inside?


Ya done goofed, Kiri.

Aside: since the rest of this episode didn’t clear it up at all, another explanation is in order. The Grail War was initially a ritual thought up by the three mage families of Einzbern, Matou, and Tohsaka to reach Akasha/the Root, which is the source of all magic. Only Tohsaka is still trying to do this; Matou is just after eternal life, and we don’t really know what Einzbern is after. In the previous Grail War, the Einzberns attempted the game the system by summoning Angra Mainyu, the Zoroastorian spirit of all the evils in the world, as an eighth class “Avenger” in place of Berzerker. Since a Servant’s power is a function of both age and notability (the more well-known the legend, the stronger it is, but to counter it, the older the legend, the stronger it is – thus more obscure Servants aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage), they figured that Zoroastorianism being super ancient and Angra Mainyu being literally the first scapegoat would make Avenger super-powerful. However, they didn’t realize that the original Angra Mainyu was just the victim of troll logic – his tribe figured that if they arbitrarily designated someone as the vessel for all their sins, then they would be guaranteed for salvation. Since if that someone has 100% of all evil, then that means everyone else cannot possibly have any evil, in dazzling display of a logically correct premise driven by an absurd premise. Thus, they picked a random guy, tied him up, beat him and mistreated him and tortured him and cursed him and all, until he died cursing the society that created him. But, because scapegoating became a thing afterwards, and because his “sacrifice” did lead to a certain measure of “salvation” for his tribe, he became eligible to become a Heroic Spirit and thus summonable by the Grail. Anyway, Avenger turned out to be a super weak Servant that died way early – scapegoats pretty much only get to be scapegoats if they are victimized already – but the sheer amount of hate he had for the world that summoned him again ended up corrupting the Grail as it absorbed his energies. Thus why it responds to Kiritsugu’s wish with a marvelous display of troll logic. And why childmurderer Gilles de Rais could be summoned for the current Grail War despite not being actually heroic. And why it’s leaking Zerg creep and blowing stuff up.

Cut to Kiritsugu, who’s digging around for survivors. He finds a dead little boy and cries in despair that not only did he not save the world, but he failed so utterly hard in doing so.

Cut to Kariya, who walks towards Sakura in Matou manor. He returns her to the Tohsaka residence, where Rin is happy to be reunited with her sister. Wait, Aoi is there too and not all deadified? And now the kids thank are him…and call him dad. Well that’s not weird at all. Oh, he was just hallucinating. He’s actually falling down into the pit of worms, to be quickly consumed, while a way-too-calm Sakura looks on, noting that this is what happens to those who defy Zouken Matou. After perusing some forums, the conclusion you are supposed to take is that she is literally so broken from all the wormrape and mana drains that she doesn’t know what to think – she’s so mentally broken that she barely recognizes the man who entered the Grail War with barely a hope of winning so she can be free, and instead the only idea that comes to her mind is that this must be another “lesson”, meant to teach her that resistance is futile. Only work brings freedom.


You have ten more years of this to look forward to, Sakura. Good luck.

Cut to Kirei who wonders where he is – wait, how is he not dead? He’s being dug out of the rubble by a naked Gil. It soon becomes apparent that we are missing some vital information that the show left out – again. Gil says they were all consumed by the black mud of the Grail, but then it spat him out, and he’s taking it to mean that the gods wish for him to return to rule the world. Gil then laughs at how they all thought the Grail would grant their wish, but it turns out everyone involved in the 4th Grail War were played.

Repairing vital missing information, part II: So, remember in the previous episode, how Kiritsugu was communicating with Angra Mainyu who’s taken the form of Irisviel? Same thing happened to Gil. Angra Mainyu confronted him and raged at him and stuff, but thanks to Gil’s MASSIVE ego and pride, he manages to out-troll Angra Mainyu enough to make it retreat back.


Scapegoat? Please. The world, and everything in it is mine. All its goods, and and all its evil. What need have we for a scapegoat? If there is evil in the world, then I will bear it on my shoulders alone, because I’m Gilgamesh, King of Heroes, bitch! Now scoot!

Kirei remembers getting shot in the head. He asks why he’s still alive. Gil doesn’t know either. All he knows is that when the Grail spat him out, it also gave him a new body to go with it, and since his and Kirei’s souls are bound by the Master-Servant contract, it probably is also why Kirei is alive again. Maybe. Possibly.


Shit dude, I’m just the King of Heroes. Read how the world works? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Kirei looks around and realizes that the destruction around him is what he wanted, taking a full on leap into the realm of crazy as he realizes his holier-than-thou father gave birth and raised a son who only derives joy from the pain of others. But he’s happy now, because he’s finally found the answer to his life of questions – what does he want? Schadenfreude! Although now he’s looking for how to replicate the same feeling, and resolves to see Angra Mainyu born into this world.

Kirei would survive into Fate/Stay Night, overseeing the Grail War there and being an integral part of the endgame.


Yes my teeth and ambition are bared, be prepared!

Meanwhile, across from Kirei, Kiritsugu wanders in a daze. Kirei sees this and immediately prepares to throw down some more, but Kiri turns away to dig for survivors.


People live when they are saved.

Cut to new narration, by someone looking up through hazy vision at Kiri. Is it a young Emiya Shirou? I think it’s Shirou! It is Shirou! Shirou internally monologues that he didn’t know what was happening, just that when he first looked up, he saw a man who seemed happier about finding someone alive than Shirou himself was about being saved. Kiritsugu, meanwhile, is relieved, being thankful that he saved at least one person.


“He who saves one life, saves the whole world.”

Cut to TV, which airs a report about a fire that consumed much of downtown Fuyuki. It is being watched by the MacKenzies and Waver. Martha MacKenzie walks over and wonders if “Mr. Alexei” made it to England, and Waver responds that he did, and called without regard for the time zones and woke him up and everything, the big dunderhead.


Then they rode back…but not the six hundred.

With the Grail War over, Waver decides that he should leave and return to his life of magery. But he’s got some things he needs to do first. So he talks to Glen and Martha Mackenzie, telling them that he’s thinking of doing some travelling, but he should find a job first to fund this expedition, so if they don’t mind, he’d like to stay with them a little longer. Martha is happy that her grandson is growing up and talking like “Mr. Alexei” (ugh, my feels), while Glen just winks approvingly. As Waver goes up to clean his room, he notices that Rider left a mess and expresses regret that Rider couldn’t have taken Waver with him. Ah well. He’s just not there yet, so he’ll have to work harder. Yes, that’s the way, Waver. Don’t worship your heroes. Become them.

On a side note, a popular theory is that due to the bond that this version of Iskander shared with Waver Velvet, the long dark-haired guy you saw back when Ionian Hetairoi was summoned the first time was not one of the diodochii, but actually an adult Waver, taking his place as one of Iskander’s retainers. I personally believe it’s meant to be one of the diodochii, but it is a rather heartwarming conclusion to Team Rider’s development arc.

In the meantime, Waver’s eyes falls on a package that Rider ordered, but never opened. Turns out it’s the original edition of the “Admirable Grand Strategist” game, which comes with a bonus t-shirt.


Everything can wait. I’ll play it for you, my friend.

Feels.

On a side note, they put hella lot of detail into this series look at this shot of everything Iskander left on his desk. Not only can you make out just barely that it’s a conquerant (lol) wine of grande-cru-classe-tier that he’s drinking, but behind the wine bottles is a DVD (or I guess it’s VHS, being the 90s and all) set of “Land Armies of the World”, and you can make out that he has a bunch of Shakespeare volumes, as well as some books about the Air Force and what appears to be a book on Che Guevara (at least, I can see a “Che G-” in there).


That’s dedication right there.

Cut to a funeral service, with Kirei reading Job 19:25, “For I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day on the earth:And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God…” So… it’s a service for everyone who died in the Grail Wars?


This, audience, is the cost of your amusement. Go feel bad.

Rin is there, so maybe it’s just for Tokiomi, but I’m gonna say it’s for everyone who died in the Grail Wars since the Church is the referee after all. As Rin leaves, Kirei approaches her and strikes up conversation. He tells her that that as the new head of House Tohsaka, she handled the situation stoically and with poise, and that Tokiomi would be proud, and she will clearly inherit House Tohsaka well. He then asks why Rin didn’t bring her mom. Oh, so Aoi isn’t dead? She’s wheeled out…and we discover that Kariya choked her so hard he gave her Alzheimer’s. Aoi doesn’t realize her husband is dead, and that the funeral is actually for him, and seems to be seeing things because she’s also not aware that Sakura isn’t with them any more.


Well…now I see why Rin is so Tsundere.

Kirei leaves, but not before giving the Azoth dagger to Rin first, the dagger that Tokiomi gave him as a sign of his trust. Holding the last thing that belonged to her father finally cracks Rin’s hard exterior, and she breaks down in tears.


Man, this is like that scene in the Land Before Time when Littlefoot sees his shadow on a cliff wall and thinks it’s his mom who died in the earthquake…

You know, this scene would be heartwarming if it wasn’t obvious from Kirei’s shit-eating grin that he’s doing this just to troll her emotions.


Kirei. Such a dick.

Arturia finds herself back where she was, upon a hill of of broken swords at Camlann. She cries because she’s failed, and she had to put down another knight again, and this time she knows what those who turned against her felt, just what made them do it.


Isn’t it sad, Saber?

Flashback to Lancelot telling her that he was driven to madness, not because of anything she did, but because he couldn’t forgive himself. Because she was so righteous and above it all, she never passed judgement on him or Guinevere. If she’d punished him, then his heart would have been at peace, and he wouldn’t have fallen into madness in his quest for atonement, leading back to Iskander’s condemnation of Arturia as a woman who only knew how to be a paragon but didn’t know how to inspire others.

Saber, realizing this, has a breakdown, feeling that she is truly unworthy of being king. She promises to the corpses and empty armors strewn about her that one day, she will get the Grail and use it to fix her mistakes. Saddeningly, this is juxtaposed with Lancelot’s last words, that still, Lancelot has to acknowledge she as the greatest of kings. By result, if not by personality. Everyone she followed believed this. Which puts another element of sadness in this – it truly wasn’t her fault, and she was being too hard on herself, and both the people who tried to save her from that, Lancelot and Iskander, ultimately failed in that regard.


You were the best of us, Arturia. One such as you, none of us could match.

Cut to Kiritsugu, narrating the epilogue. He tried to contact the Einzberns, but they wouldn’t let him in, and put up a magic barrier around their mansion that prevented him from getting close to him. That whole mess with the grail blew out his magic circuits, so he couldn’t have done anything to get around it, and he never saw Ilya again.

But he moved on. After Ilya, no one was ever taken from him again.

He built a new life for himself. He adopted Shirou. And he took in “Taiga” Fujimura, a young woman who reminded him of Shirley and would go on to become a teacher at the school Shirou would eventually go to.

Five years later, Kiritsugu and Shirou have a talk on the nature of heroism on their porch steps. Kiritsugu tells him that five years ago, he was a hero. At least, he tried to be. But he gave it up, because it was way too taxing. A person can make the kill/let die X number of people to save Y number of people where X < Y decisions for only so long. When someone becomes an adult, it gets hard.


Sorry kiddo, but I’m too old for this [stuff. he said stuff.]

Shirou replies that well, since Kiritsugu couldn’t be a hero, he’ll do it. If it’s too hard for an adult like Kiritsugu to do, then just leave it to a kid like Shirou to chase his dream.


Oh, Shirou, you poor child of summer.

The light shines on Saber at the hill of swords, as if to tell her that things will eventually be okay.


It’s gonna be alright, this is love and this is life.

Cut to Kiritsugu feeling relieved, as Shirou’s words remind him that yes, even though it was hard, he did want to be a hero once, and that was a good feeling.


Su…per…man…

Emiya Kiritsugu would die after this conversation, after deciding this was his most treasured memory.

Five years after that, the Fifth Holy Grail War would start, forty years ahead of schedule because this one did not end with a wish being granted.

Rin Tohsaka would be chosen as a Master to compete. She would intend to summon a Saber-class Servant, but get an Archer instead. She would get into a fight with the Lancer, which would eventually spill over into the Emiya residence. And there, a teenage Shirou would find himself drawn into the Grail War, and using the magic circle drawn to heal Irisviel about ten-or-so episodes earlier, summon a Saber-class Servant, a blond woman clad in an armored dress, wielding a European broadsword made invisible by the wind magic surrounding it, whose first words to him would be the very same words she spoke to his adoptive father ten years ago:


“Art thou my Master?”

Final Thoughts:

This series…man, this series.

Any and all issues with philosophy were discussed in previous entries.

Kiritsugu was, indeed, a man who lived for his ideals and were driven by them to despair.

Everything about this series mirrored that.

In the beginning, we were introduced to a cast of characters, who for the most part had an ideal, some positive goal that we’d approve of. Well, maybe not Team Caster, but for the most part this was the case. In the beginning, everything was awesome, especially that giant five-servant-melee near the docks. The first Servant casualty was Assassin, which no one cared about because no one wants to see sneak killing of Masters when they can see Lancelot drive an F-15 to dogfight Gilgamesh in an ancient Indian UFO, and then it was Caster, who again no one cared about because he was fuckbeans crazy.

And then the likeable combatants start dying off, and manly tears ensue, until those tears finally drown the world, and I think that metaphor just ran away from me faster than Ionian Hetairoi got curbstomped by Ea (too soon?).

All the battles, no matter how badass, resulted in some kind of sadness, some kind of tragedy. And in the end, pretty much no one other than the bad guys got what they wanted. Saber didn’t save her kingdom. Kiritsugu wasn’t able to save the world because the Grail got corrupted. Lancer didn’t get to redeem himself for being forced to betray his lord. Kayneth and Sola died like dogs. Tokiomi was backstabbed (literally) and never reached The Root. Berserker’s rage was spent, and in the end his final words went unheeded and only contributed to Saber’s despair. Kariya…was fate’s chew toy. Rider ultimately lost, though he gets the consolation prize of at least enjoying the ride, and also failed to save Saber from her ideals. And Assassin went out like a little bitch after getting out-tactic’ed by Alexander the Great. The only people who really got what they want were Team Caster (yay childmurder duo!), Kirei who got to finally indulge in his dark side, and Gil who managed to turn Kirei to the dark side. Short of that, Waver gets the consolation prize of maturing.

Like Gil said, turns out they were all played for fools.

But just as Kiritsugu found solace in saving just one person, we the audience do so as well with the knowledge that ten years after the events of Fate/Zero, Fate/Stay Night will happen, and will fix all the problems caused by the Grail Wars once and for all, and it will be none other that Kiritsugu’s successor, Emiya Shirou, who will lead this transformation. And later, after that, Waver Velvet will eventually become Lord El-Melloi II after helping the heirs of Kayneth’s family deal with the loss of their leader, and dismantle the Grail War system altogether.

This series was full of tragedy, but eventually it all gets better.

And it’s all because Kiritsugu’s last act was to save this guy:

Gun Control 20 Questions! (written by failsauce activist)

January 26, 2013

Found this lovely little questionnaire when I was linked to this lovely response which also features a lovely analogy using delicious CAKE. Anyways, I’ll play too!

  1. Do you believe that criminals and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns without background checks?

    No. This is, however, implying that after we mandate background checks, they will no longer be able to get their hands on guns ever, which is like saying after we said no one is allowed to have alcohol, people stopped having alcohol.

  2. What is your proposal for keeping guns away from criminals, domestic abusers, terrorists and dangerously mentally ill people?

    You can’t. Not all of them, anyway. Two subsets of gun used for crimes here, guns owned by criminals used for crime and guns owned by normally law-abiding good people that criminals get their hands on. To prevent the second group, make whoever the gun is registered to pay a fine if someone they know uses their gun for crime. There is no way to keep guns away from the first group because #1, so really, any gun control plan is incomplete unless it also deals with what to do about those who slip through the cracks – that is, what do you do when a bad guy with a gun shows up.

  3. Do you believe that a background check infringes on your constitutional right to “keep and bear arms”?

    Not if it’s just one at the time of purchase and it’s done in a quick and snappy manner.

  4. Do you believe that I and people with whom I work intend to ban your guns?

    I don’t know you, so I can’t comment for you. But yes, a sizable proportion of the gun control crowd would like to ban guns.

  5. If yes to #4, how do you think that could happen ( I mean the physical action)?

    Frog boiling. The default state of America was that civilians could own the same guns as the military. Eventually, you gradually enacted more and more nerfs on the armaments that law-abiding gun owners can have, nerfs that are often unreasonable and ineffectual (banning bayonet studs and barrel shrouds? really?), to the point where NY now only allows you to have magazines that hold a maximum of 7 rounds. Keep in mind that 10-30 rounds per magazine is industry standard, and that criminals by their nature do not follow these laws, so they will still have their normal sized magazines while law-abiding citizens now only have their nerf mags. And you do it sufficiently gradually, so that each generation thinks the gun law limits in their day are normal and reasonable, and then you say that you’re just taking a little bit more because compromise.

  6. What do you think are the “second amendment remedies” that the tea party GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada( Sharron Angle) has proposed?

    Armed insurrection against a government that no longer represents the interests of its people, which is how this country was founded in the first place. That said, anyone with a brain should be finding it blindingly obvious that Angle doesn’t actually mean we should up and overthrow the US government of which she is a part right now, or even just Harry Reid for that matter. It’s generally not a good idea to issue gun threats when you are surrounded by lots of people who have guns themselves.

  7. Do you believe in the notion that if you don’t like what someone is doing or saying, second amendment remedies should be applied?

    I believe in proportionality. If we disagree on great taste vs less filling, then no. If we disagree on whether my TV that I bought from Best Buy is actually his TV that he bought from my home using a five-finger discount, then yes, second amendment remedies are just what the doctor ordered.

  8. Do you believe it is O.K. to call people with whom you disagree liars and demeaning names?

    I believe in calling a spade a spade. If they are lying, then it’s ok to call them liars. If they are factually incorrect or applying faulty logic, then I should be allowed to make unflattering remarks to their intelligence while pointing out how they are wrong. It should be noted, however, that ad hominem is more often used by gun control advocates, since between them calling gun owners callous and gun owners calling them violators of the Constitution, at least the latter is true.

  9. If yes to #8, would you do it in a public place to the person’s face?

    I believe the proper term for someone who speaks poorly about someone behind their back but not to their face is “whiny punk-ass bitch.”

  10. Do you believe that any gun law will take away your constitutional rights?

    The ones that nerf the capabilities of gun owners who use their weapons for self defense compared to the threats they are likely to face do.

  11.  Do you believe in current gun laws? Do you think they are being enforced? If not, explain.

    Current being the initial Firearms Control Act back in 1934, sure. As to whether they are being enforced, I’ll get back to you once I buy my first piece (have been shooting friends’ weapons all this time).

  12. Do you believe that all law-abiding citizens are careful with their guns and would never shoot anybody?

    I believe most are careful and would not shoot anybody that did not threaten them first, and should not be subject to further limits due to the actions of a tiny subset who are not.

  13. Do you believe that people who commit suicide with a gun should be included in the gun statistics?

    No. Killing yourself is incredibly easy. It doesn’t matter if guns are twice as easy as stabbing yourself in the chest or cutting your wrists down the highway or tossing a radio in your bathtub is still really easy. Furthermore, if you believe suicide is a personal choice, you should not be restricting someone’s access to methods by which he/she may accomplish that choice. If you believe suicide is a mental illness, your focus should be on that, not guns.

  14. Do you believe that accidental gun deaths should “count” in the total numbers?

    They count already in any number crunching I do.

  15. Do you believe that sometimes guns, in careless use or an accident, can shoot a bullet without the owner or holder of the gun pulling the trigger?

    Without anyone touching the trigger? I do not believe this is possible. Even if it is, that is a tiny tiny minute miniscule freak occurrence that is highly irrelevant.

  16. Do you believe that 30,000 gun deaths a year is too many?

    Not compared to, at the minimum, over 60K successful gun defenses per year, and like a million at max. Also, keep in mind lower death rate in other countries that have total gun bans is also because the criminals there no longer need a gun to establish force superiority over you. A knife will do. So really, this gets into how much you believe in “millions for defense, not a cent for tribute.” Also also, there are actually 10-15K gun *casualties* (injuries and deaths combined) per year.

  17. How will you help to prevent more shootings in this country?

    Again, two subsets. Against surprise guncrimes using weapons owned by good guys, make the currently registered owner partially liable for them in the form of fines, thus incentivizing them to secure their weapons properly. Against guncrimes committed by criminals, let people who already carry concealed (that is, we trust them already to not shoot people) do so everywhere. It takes, at minimum, 2-3 minutes for police to respond (source: I was an orientation advisor for the University of Texas. This is a 40-acre area with its own dedicated police department. The response time will only be longer elsewhere). In a “gun-free zone”, your chances of survival unarmed in that 2-3 time period is 0. Your chances armed is, at the least, greater than 0. You can easily google countless cases that all support one conclusion: the best way to prevent a violent person from commit violence, or at the least minimizing the damage he can do, is to have someone present with similar or greater force capability. Do keep in mind that the Aurora shooter skipped over two movie theaters that were closer to him in favor of one that had a “NO GUNS” sign.

  18. Do you believe the articles that I have posted about actual shootings or do you think I am making them up or that human interest stories about events that have happened should not count when I blog about gun injuries and deaths?

    Statistically, for every one of your articles about guncrime there are at least six stories of guns being used to save lives. Furthermore, deciding policy based on knee-jerk reactions to singular events is a classic case of missing the forest for a tree. Mass shootings account for a very tiny proportion of guncrime, and the common thread is that those take place in gun-free zones. Far more likely is that you will be home-invaded and need something to defend your life, if not your property, from criminals before the cops arrive.

  19. There has been some discussion of the role of the ATF here. Do you believe the ATF wants your guns and wants to harass you personally? If so, provide examples ( some have written a few that need to be further examined).

    I think if gun control thinks need is so important, then they should justify why ATF needs my personal information if I am a law-abiding human and our country supposedly runs on presumption of innocence. Or at the least, if they are also so big on prevention, cite cases where having the shooter’s information would have helped prevent the shooter or mitigated the damage.

  20. Will you continue a reasonable discussion towards an end that might lead somewhere or is this an exercise in futility?

    I am interested in reasonable discourse. What about you? Will your people be discussing practicalities, or will it be the same “think of the children”/”we have to do *something*” well-meaning but at best useless, at worst harmful rhetoric? Because, really, of all the literature I’ve read, it’s the gun owners who think about things like what it would take to actually prevent bad guys from getting guns and police response times and difference between active shooter situations where there was someone present with a gun vs no one present with a gun and such, while it’s mostly control advocates who advocate either bans or completely useless measures that are a waste of time and taxes. Really, if anyone is causing the debate to be an exercise in futility, it’s not the NRA.

    Well, that was fun.

Connecticut School Shooting Musings

December 19, 2012

Or, Sh!t Concerned Citizens Say (that don’t make no sense, yo).

On December 14th, 2012, an armed gunman entered an elementary school and shot twenty kids and six adults to death before turning the gun on himself. I think enough of my friends/acquaintances/people-who-will-probably-no-longer-be-friends-after-reading-this have posted their outpourings of grief and support.

I myself prefer to analyze the problem and attempt solutions. As well as attacking argumentfail because that’s fun too.

1. Arm the teachers! Arm all the teachers!

Arming the teachers – defined as giving them all guns is hella stupid. While guns dominated the battlefield despite their individual inferiority compared to other weapons due to requiring much less training time, training time is still necessary to operate them properly. Even in a state like Texas you would have a decent amount of teachers who have not handled guns. Basis common sense tells you that the risk of accident in this case far outweighs the risk of another shooting, given that shootings occur relatively rarely.

However, this just means you need to control for firearms proficiency when deciding who to arm. It is known that CHL holders generally can be just as if not more proficient than actual police/military personnel, depending on how much range time the CHL holder has and what the cop/soldier actually did (obviously an Army mechanic isn’t going to have too much combat experience). There is no reason why teachers who already have CHLs should not be allowed to carry. At my high school we had a cop who was armed. If we trust him to not have misfires that would scare the kiddies or to go on a shooting rampage of his own due to a bad day, why do we not trust teachers to do the same, especially when we trust said teachers to practically mold our kids minds anyway?

According to this seemingly neutral website, there were 613 fatal firearms accidents and 15,698 nonfatals. There are 300 million guns in the US total, owned by roughly 70-80 million adults, or a quarter of the US population (roughly 300 mllion). This is an accident rate of less than .007% (using 20K/300 mill) per gun, or .027% (20K/75 mill) per adult owning a gun. There are 7.2 million teachers in the US and roughly 300 million people in the US. Thus, an extremely basic analysis makes for 1.8 million teachers who own guns, having 480 misfires/year. This number, however, needs be further modified to account for school days, which the Dept of Education says is on average 180, bringing us to 236 teacher misfires per year. Divide this again by the number of teachers and multiply by 13 (number of grades, K-12), and this gives you a .04261% chance of your child being in the classroom when a misfire happens. This is not accounting for the fact that it must be lower, since not everyone who has a CHL will carry, and the liberal slant in higher education means that the percentage of CHL holders among teachers will be lower than the national average. In contrast, you have a 1.19% of being hit by a car, a .84% chance of committing suicide, .518% chance of accidental poisoning, and .089% chance of drowning.

1a. Hello Kitty guns for the kiddies!

The reductio ad absurdum argument of “well maybe we should give the kids guns too” also does not work because no one said that, so it is a strawman. As well as being absurd. The difference is that I am saying people who are already trained in firearm use and safety and are already trusted by society to be in a position of authority over children should be allowed to carry if they so choose. This is, again, not nearly the same thing as arming all the teachers or arming any of the students.

2. Control the guns! Control all the guns!

I was initially very against the idea of gun control. Since then, I have come to realize it does work to a limited extent because the situation actually not as simple as “if you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns”. There are actually three sets of guns here – guns owned by reasonable people which are not used to commit crimes, guns owned by bad people which are used to commit crimes, and guns owned by reasonable people or were initially obtained legally that a bad person eventually gets their hands on and uses to commit crimes (such as the case in the Connecticut shooting). If it is “more difficult” – and by that I mean the standards as to who is legally allowed to own a gun is more stringent, possibly in terms of sales to family with mentally ill people or something – to obtain guns, then the third subset will decrease. This can be coupled with a gun buyback program.

However, it is highly important to recognize that these measures do nothing to the second subset of guns. Bad guys do not surrender their guns, thus it is still necessary for good guys to have them. And no, only allowing police to have them does not cut it.

I was an Orientation Adviser for the University of Texas, which has its own police department. The official statistic that we inform incoming students is that average response time for UTPD is roughly two minutes. Two minutes is a VERY – and I cannot emphasize this enough – a VERY long time for an active shooter to do a lot of damage. And keep in mind, UT is a mere 40 acres in size. If you are somewhere with an active shooter, it will almost certainly take longer for the police to arrive.

Gun control is only relevant in controlling the numbers of guns obtained legally by normal people who just happen to, say, live in the same house with mentally unstable people. It does not affect guns already in the hands of criminals or mentally unstable people, because criminals do not follow laws and guns are non-perishable products.

3. Ermahgerd, semi-automatics!? WTF Y U NEED THOSE

The reporting around this and my Facebook friends’ statuses reveal to me that despite having not shot a gun in my life, apparently I know much more about guns than most of the media. Yay for Texas I guess?

Semi-automatic is a word that sounds scary because it has many syllables. It really only refers to a gun that gets you one shot per trigger pull. It is not quite a “weapon of war”, as military-use weapons are selective fire – that is, in addition to semi-auto, you can also select full auto (hold the trigger to spray), or burst. A cowboy’s six-shooter is technically not a semi-auto, but in terms of rapidity of shots is the exact same thing, differing only in shots required before reloading. The bolt-action rifles that were used in WWII would be the next step down, but those are still only marginally slower than semi-auto. To make any perceptible difference, you would pretty much reduce law-abiding folks to toting around muskets and flintlock. If you think “good” at that, you obviously have never been home invaded. Or considered that again, such laws do not affect criminals.

There is a blogger who I follow who posted an account in which there was a doctor who lived in the same neighborhood as he did who got home invaded. Doctor grabbed his revolver and shot one of the invaders, but he ran out and had to reload and that’s when the other invader shot him dead.

So to answer “why do you even need semi-automatics”, it’s because the bad guys already have them. Banning them only puts all the good guys at a disadvantage.

3a. Assault Weapons Ban

Dianne Feinstein wants to reintroduce the Federal Assault Weapons Ban to “get weapons of war off the streets”. This merely proves that Dianne Feinstein doesn’t know shit about guns or war. First off, the term “assault weapon” does not exist. There is such a thing as an “assault rifle”, but that just means a rifle that is magazine fed and can be set to semi-auto, full-auto, or burst, but those are already illegal for civilians to own anyway. The Federal Assault Weapons ban to which Feinstein refer is but a laundry list of features guns aren’t allowed to have selected mostly on the basis on how scary they look. From wiki, the banned features are:

For semi-automatics, the ability to have a detachable magazine and two or more of the following

  • Folding or telescoping stock – of marginal use when shooting. Only makes them take up somewhat less room when transporting. If you remember the scene from Jurassic Park, the warden had one of these that he was using to hunt the escaped velociraptors before they went “clever girl” on him. Man, that assault weapon feature worked out real well for him, huh?
  • Pistol grip – slightly improved ergonomics, nothing more.
  • Bayonet mount – I think everyone who supports the Federal Assault Weapons Ban also cheered when Obama did that “we also have less horses and bayonets” retort to Romney during the debate.
  • Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one – all this does is reduce the muzzle flash so that the enemy cannot pinpoint your location using that. Yes, it helps the crazed gunman doing hit and run like the DC sniper a while back. It also helps homeowners defending their homes against invasion because they are not blinded when firing their gun defensively.
  • Grenade launcher – this one I actually kind of agree with, but then I thought about how useful they might be in case you had a home invasion or an active shooter and you shot some smoke grenades off. Since you know the terrain much better than the shooter, I am thinking this should really only benefit you, and as such I’m inclined to say don’t ban the launcher, ban the actual explosive grenade.

Semi-automatic pistols with detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  • Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip – this seems like it was meant to limit magazine capacity. But, according to same blogger I paraphrased above, hi-cap mags are prone to jamming because too many bullets aren’t good for the springs. In the hands of the Lawful Good guns group, it only helps. In the hands of the Chaotic Evil group, banning these don’t help because the Chaotic Evils will just hang on to them. Whether or not the Adam Lanzas of the world have access to these would not impact the damage they can do, because there is very little difference between killing twenty unarmed children with a normal gun that you maybe swap out a magazine for and killing twenty unarmed children without swapping.
  • Threaded barrel to attach barrel extender, flash suppressor, handgrip, or suppressor – another one of those things that benefit defenders as well as attackers. Suppressors make it hard for someone to hear you shoot (but they do not, contrary to what movies suggest, silence a gunshot). They also reduce recoil and prevent hearing damage.
  • Barrel shroud that can be used as a hand-hold – most ridiculous item on this whole list. Barrel shrouds are a safety feature. They make it so you don’t burn yourself if you ever need to grab the barrel because shooting guns tend to make the barrel very hot.
  • Unloaded weight of 50 oz (1.4 kg) or more – neutral.
  • A semi-automatic version of a fully automatic firearm – I guess this is just to ban the possibility of you converting it to be full auto?

Semi-automatic shotguns with two or more of the following:

  • Folding or telescoping stock – covered above
  • Pistol grip – covered above
  • Fixed capacity of more than 5 rounds – helps only criminals.
  • Detachable magazine – helps only criminals.

Most of these things are features that help someone defending their homes from invasion just as much as they help the criminals. And in a situation where the criminals have access to these things already, preventing normal people from getting access to them only helps the criminals.

3b. Well, other countries have good gun laws and few shootings!

Many also cite the absence of gun crimes in other parts of the world, to which I say: confounding variable. One must realize that violent crime is achieved by the criminal being able to bring about more force than any prospective victim is able to respond with. In other countries, where most civilians are likely to be armed with nothing but their bare hands and harsh language, it only takes a knife to get them to part with their wallet. Here in the US, where a good amount of civilians are armed anyway, it requires heavier firepower along with the advantage of initiative for a criminal to make good with their loot. Now, if you are okay with this, fine. Just realize that this is in effect paying off criminals so they don’t do worse things to you.

The problem with any kind of firearms or firearms feature ban in the US is that there are already a lot of guns at large that will not be turned in because they belong to criminals. This is vastly different from other parts of the world where there was never widespread public ownership of firearms, thus one can’t simply say “look at Australia, they banned all their guns” or “look at Britain, they banned all their guns” and expect it to work for the US. It also does nothing to make schools safer  the real problem is that a school is a public land that isn’t fenced off and has many possible attack points for someone wanting to enter violently. Being that we don’t want to turn schools into fortresses, the only thing to do is to realize that there’s next to no way to prevent an active shooter from entering. Any countermeasures must necessarily be from the perspective of what to do when the next one happens (since even if mental illnesses did not exist, criminals still do).

Oh I guess there’s that thing where rights aren’t supposed to get taken away just because a small number of lawbreakers have their goals achieved somewhat easier because that right exists.

4. Silly gun nut, the Second Amendment is for militias!

There are two ways this argument goes. One is that the Second Amendment is for militias, not random-ass people getting access to guns. It should, however, be noted that you cannot have a militia without civilians owning and training with guns. We do have an army, but regular military and militias are not the same thing, and the Founding Fathers most certainly did intend for the United States to have both, given their mistrust of centralization of governmental power and their experiences in fighting off a regular army due to a well-maintained militia. They wanted a militia to overthrow the government in case the government ever became tyrannical and to provide one last line of defense in case the United States does become attacked and the regular military alone isn’t enough to handle it. Private ownership of guns goes hand in hand with having a militia.

Faced with this, the common counterargument is that given the mismatch in power between the regular US military and any grass-roots armed resistance efforts, such measures would be useless anyway. Or that the US government simply isn’t tyrannical enough to warrant the continued presence of an armed militia. The former belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the art of war, namely, that it is not necessary to actually be stronger to deter. During the Cold War, the US and NATO were, objectively, stronger than the Soviet Union. There was not an attempt to attack and defeat the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union would have been able to destroy the world in its last moments. On a more personal level, back in middle school there was this bunch of kids who would pick on me all the time because i was a fat unathletic Chinese kid with delusions of kung fu mastery. And I would fight back, all the time, but objectively speaking, if we were counting damage dealt against damage taken, I lost all the fights. However, they stopped picking on me when this continued and they decided it was not worth it when the assistant principal took notice and gave us both detentions due to Zero Tolerance. All that really needs to happen is the ability to cause enough damage to deter, to escalate the situation to one the enemy finds intolerable. And if a bunch of third-world insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan can give pause to the mighty American war machine, the chances can only improve for American insurgents who would have had superior training and insight into the American psyche, as well as being far more difficult to other-ize and dehumanize as the enemy.

Which brings me to the other counterargument, that our government is wonderful and fuzzy and what do you mean “overthrow tyranny” or “defend against invasion”, that can’t happen here in the US! The problem with this is that it’s purely an emotional and sentimental argument unsupported by fact. The world has seen plenty of warm and fuzzy governments that eventually went despotic. Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire comes to mind. As does Sparta’s transition to the relatively normal city-state of myth (Helen of Troy’s first husband was a king of Sparta, mind) to what in modern terms would be a slave-owning military autocracy. And let’s not forget that Hitler was voted into power, or that North Korea started out ruled by Kim Il-Sung, hero of WWII who was a major leader of the anti-Japanese resistance, in contrast to South Korea, ruled by an authoritarian strongman who spent most of his years in the US apart from the people he was supposedly leading. Similarly, history is filled with nation-states that were once strong but then declined and got conquered by others – again, Rome, Sparta, every single interation of the Chinese dynastic cycle, etc. So the US being the same, starting off nice and free but turning despotic, or currently being strong but eventually declining in power or having more powerful neighbors and gradually getting Red Dawned is not impossible, merely improbable. And, to borrow a quote from the aforementioned blogger – low probability is not a risk management strategy. It is not impossible but merely improbable that your house will flood, so you get flood insurance because if it ever happens the results would be catastrophic. Is there any reason to not apply the same reasoning to governments?

5. God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost! Repent, for tomorrow you die!

There seems to be a somewhat vocal minority saying that apparently all these shootings and crimes is because we took God and prayer out of schools. To this I say, betch please. The lack of God did not cause this to happen any more than his existence prevented it. Takes some goddamn (har, c wut i did thar) responsibility for childrearing instead of using religion as a crutch. Seriously, the corollary to this idea is that the all-knowing, omnipotent, benevolent God let this happen because we stopped paying homage to him. Or he’s just “testing” us…for what, really? Our resolve? Our sympathy? And he could not find some way to do this that did not involve having a crazed gunman kill twenty kids? Why the hell would you follow a God like that? Zeus may be a prick who can’t keep his prick to himself, but at least with him you know where you stand. Plus you are also ignoring the millions (AND MILLIONS!) of atheists who don’t go out and decide to kill children.

On a side note, Deism is all kinds of awesome and it’s what the Founding Fathers believed. If you have religion, and it inspires you to be a better person, awesome. Don’t push it on others, and don’t push it as panacea.

Besides, there is no god but Tzeentch, Khorne, Nurgle, and Slaanesh- *BLAM! Heresy!*

6. The solution to guns isn’t more guns!

I am a martial artist. Let’s say someone is trying to physically assault me. Would you say that the solution to fist isn’t more fist? Or would you say that the correct measure is to use my kung fu to defend myself? If the solution to guns isn’t more guns, police would not carry guns.

As has been covered many times, the situation now is that many do have guns, and there is no way to prevent them from instigating a shooting. Yes, we can have all the mental health counseling programs we want. Yes, we can have less violent tv shows or at least more tv shows that deal with nuances in terms of how to use violence responsibly. Yes, we have have a host of things. All of that is useless if a criminal decides he wants to shoot up a mall unless they give him money.

As a martial artist, I believe strongly in the idea that self-defense is a human right. Because while we have laws, there exists that gap in time between when a breach in the law occurs and when law enforcement can show up, and I find the idea that we are obligated to remain docile in that meantime reprehensible. You cannot have self-defense if the defenders are not allowed to match the attackers in combat capability. That leads to the aforementioned situation in which the doctor was shot dead because the home invaders had more ammo capacity than he did.

The TV show Revolution, written by J. J. Abrams, is a godawful show filled with plot holes and protagonist centered morality and characters being artificially dumbed down so the plot can be moved forward and many other sins of writing. But the early episodes did have some good moments, including a monologue by the side character Aaron. See, Aaron is a fat and unathletic nerd who always got picked on by the jocks at his school. But then he graduated, went to college, studied computers, and went to work for Google in a tech job while his former tormentors ended up flipping burgers at McD’s. And then the Blackout happened, all electronics stopped working, militias confiscated all the guns, and right when his life was good, he went right back to living in an entire country ruled by the jerk jocks who tormented him. There is some truth in the saying “God created man, but Sam Colt made him equal.” An unarmed jock easily outclasses an unarmed nerd. A jock with a gun is only marginally more dangerous than a nerd with a gun. Historically, the samurai never enacted a gun ban due to guns allowing lowly peasants to easily kill the flower of Japan’s fighting men. But the fact this myth persists indicates we all accept at a basic level the gun’s ability to equalize defense. Life with no guns does not mean no crime, it merely means criminals just have to have bigger muscles and sharper knives than their victims.

Solutions

Currently, the solutions being bandied about – gun control, improved mental health, permitting concealed carry in more places, etc – are being suggested in opposition to each other. They are presented as being mutually exclusive, and that is a mistake.

As stated before, there are three groups of guns – 1. guns belonging to criminals used used for crime, 2. guns belonging to law-abiding citizens not being used for crime, 3. guns belonging to law-abiding citizens being used for crime. There is also a time constraint – any solution will require time to implement fully, and it is important to maintain public safety in the interim.

Obviously, we don’t have to do anything about Group 2. Gun control does work for Group 3. But this can only be controls that increase the penalties for when something goes wrong. Thus, I would propose some kind of national gun registry, where every gun sold gets a serial number and a “seller” and “current owner” data field that logs who owns it at any point, be it a storefront or a customer. If a guncrime is committed, the popos look at the serial number, find who the gun belongs to, and punishes them. This gives incentive for gun-owners to lock up their guns and prevent others from using them improperly and gun-sellers to actually do background checks. In addition, a national mental health database would be good too. If you live in the same household as a mentally ill person, you are responsible for whether they use their guns for ill.

In the meantime, better mental health services would be pretty awesome as well. As I am not nearly as well versed on mental health as I am in strategery and tactics, I’m not going to spend time talking about something I don’t understand – a virtue that many who do comment on these topics should keep in mind.

In addition, as a friend of mine pointed out, the fact that so many of these shootings end in suicide for the shooter indicate that these are really a combination of a glorification of violence as the solution to problems as well as a failure to instill the idea of personal responsibility in the youth. Suicide here is very much the easy way out when you don’t want to deal with the consequences of murdering a boatload of people. Obviously something within the culture must change. However, what cannot happen is a cultural shift to make violence in and of itself bad. As long as evil exist in the world, pacifism is an ideology that only helps the bad guys. Better would be more series like Game of Thrones, in which while there is conflict, all of the factions have at least a decent reason for why they are fighting, or Macross, in which while violence is useful for self-defense and buying time, ultimately conflict resolution is achieved by finding common ground and convincing the other side you have more in common with each other than differences, or Fearless, in which violence is bad when you are using it for your own ego, but good if you are using it to defend the weak from being preyed upon.

However, improving controls and mental health services and culture are somewhat long processes, and again only takes care of one of the subgroups of guns being used for crime. As previously mentioned, America’s situation is different from other countries in that there are already massive numbers of guns floating in circulation, many of which have features that would be banned if their owners would actually follow gun laws (which I hope is obvious to everyone that they don’t). It must also be recognized that in places where shootings do happen, there is nothing preventing an active shooter from entering and doing their business – most schools have open campuses which mean anyone can walk in, and the cops can’t be everywhere at once.

We all know the ideal solution to any problem is prevention. However, here prevention is not an option available to us. Just think about all the ways you might keep an invader out of your home – lock the doors? Schools can’t do that because people come in and out all the time. Fence it up? Same thing. Metal detectors? That would slow student inflow to class to an unreasonable crawl. Limit the number of entrances? Same thing. The fact stands that schools (and most public places in general, such as malls or department stores or parks or coffee shops) are open areas meant to facilitate the inflow of large numbers of people. There is nothing you can do to prevent an active shooter from entering these areas. The only meaningful discussion is how we can stop a shooting after it occurs, and I have yet to see any better alternative to allowing people who the law already permits to carry their guns everywhere else to do so at schools too.

From a tactical standpoint, an active shooter entering his chosen location has the advantages of firepower, surprise, and initiative. Normally, the defenders have a terrain and numbers advantage, but because they have no way to fight back, this is nullified. The shooter is obviously better armed, his presence causes an initial panic, the interim before police arrive and get their bearings gives him time to run wild.

If you arm even only one or two of the defenders, however, things change dramatically. The shooter now loses all of his advantages – he loses the firepower advantage because firepower is now roughly equal, he loses his surprise advantage because the defenders can actually react, and he loses his initiative advantage because someone shooting back now forces him to react. In addition, the defenders now get to bring their advantages to bear. Numbers turn at worst even (since it’s usually only one or two active shooters), and usually it’s the better case of turning against the shooter since even one or two defenders with guns can, at the least, keep the shooter pinned for someone else to close to melee. The defenders now also get to use their terrain advantage, since they generally know the layout of the locale better than the shooter, and it should be noted that this is also an advantage they have over actual police.

It should be noted that when CHL holders were present at shootings, the shootings ended very quickly. Leaving the handling of active shooter situations when they happen (and they will happen, because even if the kind of gun control measures I or even the Left propose worked, they will not eliminate all shootings and we still need some kind of countermeasure) to the police is a reactive strategy. Allowing at least some people to be armed is still reactive, but at the very least it greatly reduces the reaction time.

Senator Feinstein speaks of getting weapons of war off our streets. This is funny because it’s clear she does not understand the art of war at all.

Now, are there risks? Yes. Misfires do happen. But very rarely guns just go off on their own out of the blue when they’re holstered and the safety is on. The proper course of action is then to perform data analytics more sophisticated than what I’ve already done to determine what would cause less deaths, an increase in misfires or accidents due to allowing teachers to go armed on campus, or the current situation where everyone is at the mercy of the shooter until police arrive. Whichever one causes less death is the one we ought to opt for.

Closing remarks

The shooting happened on December 14, 2012. Just a day prior was the 75th anniversary of the Rape of Nanjing, an event in the early stages of the Chinese theater of World War II in which, following the surrender of the Chinese garrison in Nanjing after a several-day battle, the invading Japanese army then proceeded to engage in a six-week massacre and mass rape of the Chinese civilian population. 300000 people were killed – that is, one dead every 12 seconds – with more being dragged off into slave labor camps or “comfort women” stations. And it must be restated that these were either disarmed POWs or civilians who, due to China’s relatively low tech level at the time, had no guns.

Contrast this quote from Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto about what would end a war with the United States.

“Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians, among whom armchair arguments about war are being glibly bandied about in the name of state politics, have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.”

There is another quote that is often misattributed to him that runs like this:

“You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

Made up, yes. But what does it say about the reasonableness of the idea behind the quote when so many can pass it around without any doubt of whether he actually said it?

I bet the citizens of Nanjing wished they had guns when the devils showed up on their doorstep.

My right to bear arms may end at your right to feel safe. But your right to feel safe ends at my right to be safe.

Mass Effect trilogy comparisons

April 9, 2012

I got into Mass Effect 1 about a year ago and fell in love with the series. Everything about the first game, from the setting, to the characters, to the interspersal of balls-awesome to jaw-dropping-funny to tearjerking-sad, rubbed me the right way, such that purchasing ME2 and pre-ordering ME3 were no-brainers for me. And now that I’ve finished, I feel the need to write this series comparing the progression of the Mass Effect trilogy. Currently, it will go over the setting, story, gameplay, and characters, as well as a special segment about the ME3 ending. Ctrl+F for any of those words to skip to them, because it’s late and I don’t feel like looking up how to do HTML anchors.

Setting:

In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.They called it the greatest discovery in human history. The civilizations of the galaxy call it…MASS EFFECT”

Having just gotten into shooters and finished Halo 1 and 2 for PC, my next move was Mass Effect on the recommendation of my roommate. Set in a strange and wondrous new future in which humanity discovers a technology cache left by an extinct race called the protheans that allows them to alter the mass of objects at will, becoming part of galactic society at large and joining all the other species who have also found similar technology caches, Mass Effect 1 was, in a word, amazing. The sheer expansiveness and scope, as well as the many details uncovered over the course of the games, did a superb job at immersing me into this strange new world, as well as illustrating how the ability to manipulate one of the fundamental principles of the universe changes everything. Faster-than-light travel is achieved by sending ships through giant mass relays, which create a corridor where the mass of a spaceship is temporarily reduced to zero, giving it near infinite speed. Guns work by chipping sand-sized flecks off a block of metal, propelling them, and reducing the mass to zero, completely eliminating the need for ammo. Magic works by exposing babies to element zero, who then grow up to become “biotics” who can wield the mass effect with hand gestures. From the in-game encyclopedia to conversations with random passerby to even the idle elevator chatter between your squadmates, I could believe that this was a living breathing world, one that we could be living in if only we could unlock the secrets of the Higgs boson.

The universe is also deep and engaging, filled with many alien races and exotic locales. The major players are the Council races, who have formed a sort of Space-UN that based out of a space station at the center of the mass relay network called the Citadel. They are the asari (monogender female natural biotic space elves), salarians (short-lived smart fragile types), and turians (space Romans with a militaristic and pro-civic-duty culture), but there are also hanar (peaceful space religious jellyfish), drell (ninja lizard folk), quarians (technological genius space jew/gypsy/Bedouin), volus (finance dwarfs who are bad at fighting), and krogan (proud warrior race guys). Each of these races have their own distinct history that shape who and what they are. The quarians accidentally created the geth (a race of AI), tried to shut said AI down for fear of the anti-AI laws, and were driven off their homeworld and now live on a vast fleet of migrant ships. The krogan are supertough explosive breeders who saved the galaxy from destruction once only to turn into conquerors themselves and were stopped only after they were hit with the genophage, a depopulation bomb that raises their infant stillbirth rate to 99.9%, which in turn led them to become into a race of death seekers and mercenaries. But these races aren’t just defined by their hat; you always run into individuals who subvert their race’s stereotypes, from a valley girl quarian to a volus biotic god to a krogan who tries to save his romantic relationship with an asari by singing love poems in the public square.

Amidst this strange new world, the game presents several main themes:

First is simply “what is humanity’s place in the galaxy?” Humanity’s development at the game’s outset is very much the skilled newcomer; despite being the youngest race on the galactic scene, they’ve also made the most progress in the shortest amount of time and are known for being the most innovative/unpredictable. Their first brief war against the established galactic powerhouse ended in a draw, they are widely known to be the most innovative, even inventing the concept of a spaceborne aircraft carrier. Is humanity’s future to be a respected equal in a multilateral society? Or is to take up the homo sapiens’ burden to lead the rest of the galaxy to greater heights without being held back by the entrenched established powers? In other words, should humanity be Space-Europe? Or Space-America?

Second is “what is the true nature of synthetics and organics?” The Council (the Space UN) has always had laws against the development of AI on grounds that synthetic life is inherently opposed to organic life. One only has to see how many films we currently have about robots turned against their masters to recognize why this resonates among us. But is this really true? Are synthetics inherently hostile to organics, or do they only attack because they know how much organics distrust them, and would rather not go gentle? Is “synthetic/organic conflict” really a chicken-or-the-egg question?

Third and finally, is “to what extent can a race be judged based on its hat?” The turians are stuffy traditionalists, the krogan are violent blood knights – yet Garrus Vakarian, your turian squadmate who sticks with you across all three games, is quite the independent individualist and cowboy cop, and Urdnot Wrex, your krogan squadmate from ME1, yearns to make his people into something better than a race of mercenaries. Yes, in many ways, stereotypes exist because they are based upon facts – Garrus is a good soldier, and Wrex is easily your most likely squadmate to suggest a violent solution, but it is always important to note that while individuals may conform to stereotypes, they are not necessarily identified by them.

Across all three games, these themes are visited and revisited, and the resolutions based on what choices you make. This is a part of what makes this series great – it is entirely possible to have big grand debates on what really is the “right” thing to do in a lot of the choices you are presented with.

Story:

ME1:

At the game’s outset, the human Systems Alliance has colonized substantial parts of space, and you are Commander Shepard, a human military officer who is sent to oversee the shakedown run of humanity’s newest and most advanced spaceship, a stealth frigate. Along the way, your mission is sabotaged by a rogue Spectre (think space-cop-with-a-do-whatever-you-want-and-get-away-with-it-badge) named Saren Arterius who is leading an army of geth (robots who haven’t been seen outside their hometurf since they rose up against their creators), and things spiral from there, resulting in you becoming the first human Spectre, picking up a ragtag crew and forging them into an elite fighting force to stop Saren’s plan to destroy the galaxy once and for all.

As previously mentioned, the great attention to detail from the set design to random conversations to even the gameplay itself leads to intense immersion in the setting. Combat will make you feel like a badass future space marine. The main plot gives you a great deal of openness and freedom. You start off on the tutorial level (the aforementioned shakedown run). From then on, the leads you have on Saren unlock mainline missions on three worlds, each of which leaves you with a choice to be made. Afterwards, you reach Saren’s main base, at which point a sacrifice must be made or several, and then it’s a race against time to stop Saren once and for all. In between, you will come across many sidequests, most of which end up giving you a real sense of exploration. You hear from someone or come across an intelligence cable or get tapped by your former commanding officer to help them with something that requires your specific set of skills picked up over a long career, land on a planet in your armored personnel carrier, look at your map, check out anomalies, and investigate. Often you run into sticky situations and deal with people who will comment on your character’s background before a shootout starts. The main missions are similar, and in my opinion the integration of vehicle segments and on-foot segments really added to the atmosphere. Note: this is merely about integration between vehicle and on-foot segments. The actual driving mechanics are in the gameplay section. Go there before you start complaining about the Mako.

Being an RPG, Mass Effect has a karma meter, and your decisions change the story’s progression. Interestingly, instead of a good/evil bar, you have a paragon/renegade bar instead. Basically, either way you are the hero who saves the galaxy, but paragons are the idealistic individualistic hero who is generally compassionate and gives others a second chance, as well as being in favor of a multilateral power balance between the races of the galaxy, while renegades are the cynical pragmatic anti-hero who believes that a dead enemy is an enemy that can’t rise up against you a second time and having more of a humanity-first mindset. For example, in the Mass Effect backstory, there was a bug-like race called the rachni that almost destroyed the galaxy until the krogan were found, technologically uplifted, and used to wipe them out. You encounter a queen hatched from an egg and experimented on to breed more docile rachni.  By the time you meet her, she’s trapped in a containment cell, and you have your hands on the button to flood it with acid. She promises to be good in return for you letting her go; the paragon choice is to take her word (which is given under considerable duress), the renegade is to finish the job the krogan started (and possibly lose an ally in the process…as well as committing, you know, genocide). Also, your ability to charm/persuade is determined by how many points you put into the relevant skills, so you are also not penalized for not sticking to one morality.

The one problem, however, is that while paragon/renegade is supposed to be idealism/cynicism, the game itself presents it as good/evil a bit too many times. For example, there is a mission where there is literally no point in taking the renegade path. Colonists have fallen under control of a mind-controlling plant alien, who you must kill to release them from its control. Naturally, it sics the colonists on you. You can use acquired knockout gas or punch them to nonlethally disable them for paragon points…or you can gun them down as a renegade. Being that they’re all colonists armed with light arms, and you’re a badass space marine with top of the line upgraded armor and weapons, and flanked by similarly badass individuals, and also supposedly loyal to humanity, there’s pretty much no reason at all to pick the renegade option. Also, in the final choice, the paragon option is the only one that actually makes tactical sense – the Big Bad and his goons have attacked the Citadel defense fleet. He has split his forces so that he must go to activate a mass relay, separated from the rest of the battle. At this point, the human fleet can come in. Now, basic tactics points to the best thing to do is to swoop in to relieve the Citadel fleet. Why? Because there’s only three possibilities: either the Citadel fleet can deal with the rest of the Big Bad’s flunkies, in which case coming in to help only reduces losses on your own side (if you outnumber the enemy by a factor of x, you can outfight them by a factor of x^2); if the Citadel fleet is of equal strength, then coming in to help is still the better option; if the Citadel fleet is weaker, then your human fleet will still have to deal with the Big Bad’s mooks. Sometimes it is done well though; in the Bring Down the Sky DLC, batarians (space North Korea slavers with a hate-on for humanity) hijack a human scientific installation on an asteroid and try to crash it into the human colony world of Terra Nova. In the end, the terrorist leader reveals he has hostages in a room with a bomb, and presents you with a choice: go after him and doom them to kaboom, or save the hostages, allowing him to escape. The Paragon choice results in you saving hostages and being thanked of course, but the Renegade choice ensures that he can’t try the same thing again, as well as sends the message that hostage taking will not work on humanity, at the cost of some innocent lives.

Finally, something must be said about the twist at the end, where you finally find out the true nature of Saren’s super-advanced warship (“I am Sovereign”), why the protheans went extinct (“Reaper…a name given to us by the protheans to name the destruction they could not understand”), learn of the real origins of the Mass Relay network (“Your technology is based upon the mass relays, our technology. By using it, your civilizations develop along the paths we desire.”), sacrifice a beloved squadmate whom might have been your love interest (“Fight hard. Die proud.”), take down a mechanical eldritch abomination (“Rudimentary creature of flesh and blood…you exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it””Fifth fleet, hit it with everything we got!”), and decide once and for all what humanity’s place in greater galactic society is, the first among equals in a multilateral society (“By the Goddess, it’s the Alliance!”), or the leader of the free galaxy (“They’ve…closed communications.”). You won the battle, but the war has just begun, and it ends with you striding off, grimly determined to continue the fight. All in all, between the vast setting, the engaging characters, the plot twists, the uniquely non-exclusive karma meter, and the sheer immersiveness of it all, Mass Effect 1…rubbed me the right way.

I’m Consultant Zhang, and this is my favorite game on my external hard drive.

ME2:

Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, was by and large a disappointment. At the end of ME1, everyone was up and ready to fight the Reapers, the immortal race of sentient starships waiting in the edges of dark space, poised to wipe out all organic life. At the beginning of ME2, this was forwent in favor of pretending the problem does not exist and doing absolutely nothing to prepare, while a mysterious new race called the Collectors are abducting humans from their colonies. Meanwhile, you die in the very beginning and are brought back to life by Cerberus, a humanity-first terrorist organization with too much of a fondness for playing with syringes and initiating idiotic experiments that only result in more humans being killed, some of which you foil as part of sidequests in ME1, one of which could have been your Shepard’s backstory as the sole survivor of a surely brilliant and well-thought-out and not at all frivolous experiment called “let’s you (marine squad) and him (thresher maws, big giant sandworms that spit acid) fight”. Project Lazarus (the project that resurrected you in the first place) is their only project that has ever succeeded. Overall, it tried too hard to create artificial moral ambiguity by forcing you to work with the big well-intentioned-extremist organization and making said organization the only faction who cares about the missing colonists due to everyone else being given a case of terminal idiocy,

The Council (Space UN leaders) that you might have sacrificed human ships to save? Dismisses the abductions as a human problem and continues to believe Reapers don’t exist. Liara, the cute biotic archaeologist who might have been your love interest? Refuses to join you to go on her own revenge quest against a guy who did something bad to you in the past but isn’t exactly in a position to threaten you now. Ashley/Kaidan, the one you chose to save in ME1’s endgame, and who also might have been your love interest? Blows up at you when you show up to save them from a Collector attack as soon sa they see that Cerberus is backing you, refuses to even let you explain yourself, even if you have a squadmate from ME1 with you. Wrex…well, Wrex is actually trying to unite the krogan clans, so he gets a pass. But otherwise…the sheer amount of stupidity on almost every single major ME1 character’s part to allow the plot to move forward is just ridiculous.

Overall, the plotline is to gather up a team of the most skilled individuals in the galaxy and go on a suicide mission to the Collectors’ home based beyond a mass relay that no one has returned from. But each of your new squadmates (because only two of your previous squadmates are willing to take “I didn’t contact you in the past two years because I was dead, and I’m only working with Cerberus because they resurrected me through magic-science and only for this one mission to save human colonists because no one else wants to do anything” for an answer), comes with some kind of personal issue that affects their performance, and not completing their “loyalty mission” reduces their changes of coming back alive. The endgame has a rather interesting “suicide mission” mechanic, where you need to pick squadmates for certain specialist roles, and choosing the wrong specialist results in people getting killed. This I found to be interesting, but also a little too easy for what’s supposed to be a suicide mission as long as you do what the game strongly hints you do. As much as it would be emotionally damaging, I think it would have been improved if having everyone survive was not possible. No matter what, some squadmates will die even if you did everything right. There is actually a fanfic called Renegade Reinterpretions which reimagines the storyline of the entire franchise; their suicide mission does have this feature, which is what actually got me thinking about it in the first place. Then again, some people do manage to lose people even though the game all but shouts at you to do everyone’s loyalty missions, so maybe I’m just that much smarter than the average human.

Setting-wise, Mass Effect 2 introduces you to the Terminus systems, which are the lawless frontier areas of space that refused to live under Council control. Unlike ME1, however, in which many of the places you visit have someone to talk to or something to kill, ME2 only has a few places where there are NPCs to interact with, and there’s no investment in completing sidequests. In ME1, someone will contact you about a problem they have, and you choose to solve it or not. In ME2, most sidequests are instead you going into random star systems and scanning random planets for no reason other than “something might be there” or “I need more minerals so I can upgrade my gear” (even though you should theoretically be able to buy more minerals elsewhere). There’s no sense that you’re really helping anyone, other than a little mission summary screen at the end and the occasional email. In addition, most sidequests are much too similar: go to a place, find mercenaries, kill mercenaries, grab loot. With ME1, at least, there’s usually a little exploration to be done and always the chance of a thresher maw popping out to keep things interesting, along with a little part where your questgiver thanks you for your efforts. A lot of your efforts in ME2 seem ultimately meaningless.

Speaking of meaninglessness, a lot of your previous actions you made in ME1 get little more than a nod in ME2, with renegade actions getting the worst of it. Saved the rachni queen? A single message from a passerby about how she’ll help you against the Reapers. Killed her off? Nothing. Saved the Council? They’ll still blow you off. Blew them up in ME1 to replace them with humans? Turns out humanity doesn’t have enough political clout to keep things that way, and they new Council still blows you off. Also, the persuasion points are now combined – your ability to intimidate is determined by renegade points obtained divided by total paragon/renegade points possible to obtain, thus returning to the old RPG model of penalizing you for not sticking with one morality path. Also also, the paragon-good renegade-evil dichotomy is worse here. There were quite a few decisions that really should have been the opposite way around. For example, in Tali’s loyalty mission in which she is tried for treason against the quarian fleet, if you cannot use the persuasion option, the paragon choice is to lie about the war crimes her late father committed and get her exiled from the fleet, while the renegade choice is to tell the truth, resulting in Tali being acquitted, but her father being unpersoned and costing you her loyalty in the process. Now, think about this for a minute: Tali is a good friend – in fact, she and Wrex were my favorite squadmates from ME1, and she is one of the only two ME1 squadmates to join you again, but committing perjury just because your friend asked you to is considered paragon, while telling the truth and letting justice be done is considered renegade? What the hell, karma meter? Plus, some bones they do throw renegades are unsatisfying due to a sense that you could not have predicted the results. Example: if you let the council die in ME1, the turians will decide that this is grounds to break the space-Washington-Naval-Treaty that limits the ratio of dreadnoughts each Council race can have and start building more ships, which presumably leaves the galaxy better prepared for the Reapers. The problem is that there is nothing hinting this might be the end result for such a major choice, and so there’s no sense of agency for the player, no sense that “yes, I caused this good thing to happen”.

In addition, ME2 feels like almost an entirely disjoined story from ME1. In ME1, your main antagonists are the geth, who you later find out are servants of the Reapers due to a belief that the Reapers are the ultimate expression of what synthetic life should be. Along the way, you discover many fundamental truths about the MEverse, as well as a lot of backstory as a direct result to your travels that’s at least tangentially related to your quest to stop Saren and the Reapers. ME2 adds pretty much nothing useful to the overall narrative. The two biggest revelations are that Reapers reap organic races to use their genetic material to make more Reapers, and that the Collectors used to be protheans, genetically altered to be the Reapers’ servants. Besides those two things, there is nothing new brought to the table. The Collectors-as-a-new-enemy angle came out of nowhere, with not a single hint that this was what ME1 was working towards, and neither of the two revelations really impact what you the player has to do anyways. The revelation is an example of a violation of the law of conservation of detail – only tell the player/viewer what they need to know. It is important, for example, to know that [SPOILER ALERT]Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father in Empire Strikes Back, because that sets up Vader’s eventual redemption and heel-face turn by Luke in Return of the Jedi[END SPOILER], but it was not necessary to know that Anakin Skywalker was a pretty good pilot and used to be an ace podracer. Reaperoduction and Collectivization is interesting, yes, but it doesn’t really affect anything; their presence to the MEverse is not unlike ketchup on a steak. Far more useful was the visits to the krogan homeworld and the quarian migrant fleet as part of the recruitment and loyalty missions for some of your squadmates, which give you more information on the depopulation bomb’s effects on krogan society and additional insight into the quarian-geth conflict respectively, which in turn shows up in ME3.

There’s a lot of other minor inconveniences for ME2 as well. The elevator sequences with squad chatter are gone, replaced by generic loading screens that take way too long. Your ship is too big, requiring you go go through the same generic loading screens if you want to talk to your squadmates. Your squadmates have very few dialog options in between mission, which in turn makes it hard to form emotional attachments to them. Only about half your squad – including Garrus and Tali – are actually likeable (more in the characters section). The text is way too small. Also a host of gameplay issues, to be covered in the gameplay section below.

I have heard the proposition that the “theme” of ME2 was what it means to be a hero when no one is watching and without support. I will say that this is a good theme for a movie or tv show or book, and a terrible theme for an interactive piece of media like a video game. With the former, you have the actor’s skills to convey to you the character’s feelings of frustration at being the one man, alone, betrayed by the country he loves, now its last hope in its hour of need, allowing you to empathize with the character’s feelings of negativity. In a game, you the player are that character, so instead of empathizing, you are the one who feels all that negativity. Being that games are supposed to be fun, this is generally not a feeling games should impart to the player, unless it is like Bioshock where you realize you were working for the Big Bad the whole time, or in Modern Warfare 2 where your character gets shot and burned to death by your CO, but the common thread with those games is that you the player have a chance afterward to set things right.

The one plus I have for ME2’s story is that you at least get to meet a few interesting characters, namely Mordin Solus, the salarian doctor who developed the genophage, and Legion, the aforementioned geth squadmate who gives you insight into the geth side of the conflict. And of course, having Garrus and Tali back was great, even if Tali was nerfed into near-uselessness. But by and large, ME2’s story is mostly forgettable in the grand scheme of things.

And by forgettable, I mean this: consider other trilogies. In Star Wars, A New Hope was the discovery of Luke as a Jedi and showing the first real blow the Rebels struck to the Empire. The Empire Strikes Back was, well, exactly what it said on the tin, but also the revelation of the relation between Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader, thus setting things up for the final battle of Return of the Jedi. Or in Lord of the Rings, Fellowship was meeting everyone and starting the quest to Morder, Two Towers was Frodo and Sam continuing their quest and meeting Gollum, while the others strike at miniboss Saruman and gather their forces, setting the stage for the destruction of the Ring and the destruction of Sauron’s host in Return of the King. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, season 1 was Aang needing to learn waterbending, so they take him to the Northern Water Tribe, along with introductions to what the war is like, Season 2 was Aang needing to learn earthbending, so they take him to the Earth Kingdom, while Zuko’s story arc really kicks off and you see more of what the war is like, then in Season 3 Aang needs to learn firebending, so they take him to the Fire Nation to do that, while gathering everyone they met from seasons 1 and 2 for one big strike against the Fire Nation while Aang faces Fire Lord Ozai.

The common thread between all of them? Part 1 gives you introduction and builds the world, Part 2 gives you as much or little worldbuilding as required but still moves you towards the eventual goal that Part 3 is supposed to work towards, and Part 3 is the culmination of all that. In ME1, you met your squad and uncovered the truth about the mass relays and fight the Reapers. In ME2, you fight the wacky wayside tribe and learn what happens when love blooms between a Reaper and an organic race, and the sole contribution of the ME2 plot (note: the plot, meaning the main storyline, not the characters or the ship upgrades obtained, etc) towards ME3 is…100 or so war asset points if you kept the Collector base. Everything else you learned was largely irrelevant.

I have not played any of the DLC for ME2 other than Arrival, Zaeed, and Firewalker, so I can’t really comment on a lot of them storywise, only that they were pretty ordinary.

Also, what’s better than 300000 dead batarians?

300001 dead batarians!

/trollface

Seriously though, I fuckin’ hate batarians and batarian apologists. They’re nothing more than the space version of that schoolyard bully who comes crying home because one day they picked on the new kid who turned out to be a black belt.

ME3:

And now we go full circle. Mass Effect 3 is, in my opinion, what Mass Effect 2 should have been. The Reapers are here and they’ve hit Earth first, so you, as Shepard, have to convince all the factions of the galaxy to put aside their differences and grudges and unite for survival. Meanwhile, Cerberus shows its true colors, ending in a hare-brained scheme to try to control the Reapers, and so half the game is stopping the Reaper assaults in key areas enough for your alien allies to be actually able to spare troops and ships to tak back Earth, and the other half is shutting down Cerberus’ attempts to sabotage your efforts.

The sense of exploration is back, albeit somewhat reduced; you still travel around the galaxy using the same terrible toy-spaceship GUI in ME2, but scanning this time is both much faster and more relevant – instead of just finding minerals so you can have a fancier gun, you’re now scanning for lost technology to build a superweapon or cultural relics to boost ally morale or just warships/commando teams cut off from communications waiting to be reconnected with their parent units, each one giving you a higher score towards the fleet you can summon at the endgame. Also, planet scanning was simplified from ME2, with an additional caveat – your scans alert Reapers, and if you scan too much in a Reaper-infested system, they will come after you.

The overall narrative structure is more linear than ME1, but also more free than ME2. ME1 gave you three plot-worlds in the beginning that you could do in any order, followed by two more plot-worlds plus a final dungeon, along with free reign to do sidequests whenever you want. More fun in that it let you complete everything, but also led to fridge logic as to why you were tagging mineral lodes or collecting ancient turian combat insignia while ignoring the distress call from the human colony under geth attack since the main storyline started. ME2 had you drop whatever it is you were doing as soon as a Collector mission hit. More logical yes, but just adds to the feeling of being railroaded. ME3 finds a middle ground along with adding a sense of urgency –  a small number of sidequests are available between plot chapters, you can do all of them in whatever order you want prior, but some sidequests are unable to be completed if you wait too long.

ME3 really gets the galaxy at war aspect across. As you walk around the Citadel, you’re surrounded by civilians affected by war, be they refugees, waiting loved ones, soldiers on leave or awaiting deployment, or anyone in between. Quite a few sidequests involve you delivering dying messages from soldiers and delivering them to their widows. News of the war, as well as the extreme measures being taken in some theaters, is everywhere. There’s a good deal of continuity with the previous games; the conclusion to the Blue Rose of Ilium nearly brought sand to my eyes. And all the races you’ve met – turian, asari, salarian, quarian, geth, krogan, vorcha, geth, drell, volus, hanar, elcor – all have a role to play, especially as you travel the galaxy and pick up war assets.

Specific chapters of note: Tuchanka and Rannoch. On Tuchanka, you finally get to resolve – or not – the racial tension between the krogan and the salarians due to the latter developing a depopulation bomb that was used on the former. One of your squadmates from ME2 plays a pivotal role, and the resolution to that chapter is just heartbreakingly beautiful, a glorious capper to one scientist’s quest for personal redemption. Or, if you didn’t play it right, heartrendingly tragic as you tried to outsmart everyone, only to be forced into a confrontation with a former friend that turns ugly. Or, if you played it right the other way, magnificently in its bastardry and bastardly in its magnificence, and it’s really hard to tell which it was. Seriously, this chapter literally made me cry, it was just that good. Rannoch, on the other hand, allows you to resolve the quarian-geth conflict, but only if you made the right choices. Otherwise, much like Tuchanka, one beloved teammate will die following the genocide of their entire people, all because you did not do enough.

As for the choices you can make, they finally fixed (sort of) the paragon-good-renegade-evil dichotomy here. A lot of choices now only raise your general reputation – adds one point to paragon and one to renegade. And paragon choices you’ve made previously can backfire. and if you did what the karma meter thought was the right thing back in ME2…it will be harder for you to achieve a perfect resolution in ME3. Otherwise, one squadmate that followed you throughout ME2 will die, and genocide will happen again. Of special note, in both cases you are given reasons to betray a squadmate who might have stuck with you through thick and thin. In Tuchanka’s case, Urdnot Wrex may have been a brogan…but once you are finally on your way to deliver the genophage cure, he starts to idly talk and dream about restarting the “ancient glories of the krogan”, the same ancient glories that led to war between krogan and the rest of the galaxy in the first place. Add to the mix that the current genophage is actually meant to stabilize krogan reproduction rates – Tuchanka is a death world where only one of every thousand krogan grow to infancy. In the previous games, you come across many worlds where krogan settled, and the result is always the same – population explosion leading to overuse of resources leading to those worlds quickly becoming barren. Imagine what happened when rabbits and cane toads were introduced to Australia, now imagine the rabbits having assault rifles and armor and all the ferocity and does-not-give-a-shit-ness of a honey badger, and you can start seeing the wisdom in not curing the genophage. As for Rannoch, most Shepards probably went through the previous two games sticking up for quarians as much as they could, except now they’ve gone and provoked a war with the geth without bothering to at least talk things out first. Yet Tali’s been a good squadmate, and you certainly don’t want to doom her people, but it is they who are the aggressors and they who are the weaker war asset to have. Legion has also been a good squadmate who’s made a pretty compelling case for his own people’s right to live, and you also don’t want to doom them, but they’ve also started augmenting themselves with Reaper tech even if it for defense, and we all know the track record of those who accept help from the Reapers.

I will say, though, that the Cerberus chapters are the weak parts of the story. It is revealed early on that Cerberus turned against humanity and went all for itself, wrecking the hopes of pretty much any renegade player who supported them in ME2 based on a humanity-first mindset. In addition, they have some victories that unfortunately seem a little too scripted. For example, their best operative, cyborg-ninja Kai Leng, shows up to foil one of you late-game missions. He succeeds at this, mainly because both he and his air support have plot armor. It is impossible to get rid of all his shields via combined Overload and anti-materiel rifle headshot, and the gunships that you used to take down all the time in ME2 are now unable to be targeted at all. Afterward, he sends you a taunting email that gets you angry at his character for all the wrong reasons – your anger isn’t at what he has done, but rather at the fact he’s only able to send you that email because the plot protects him. Now, it is true that your first confrontation with Saren on Virmire back in ME1 was similar, but with a key difference – after you deplete his health, an explosion knocks everyone off their feet in a cutscene, which gives Saren the opening he needs to get away. Frustrating, maybe, but understandable. Here, you are held back by an enemy that you should have been able to kill in combat, but are not.

Kai Leng deserves a special mention here, as far as weaknesses of this game goes. Bioware makes the same mistake they did with Zaeed, by confusing “badass” for “character”, instead of merely a facet of character. A character is badass not just because of what they do, but what other options were available to them, and what kind of enemies they fight. Kai Leng has very few onscreen accomplishments, consisting primarily of cutting down a terminally ill (admittedly, pretty badass beforehand) drell who should have died of his disease six months ago and was fighting pretty stupidly in the cutscene, chasing down and (depending on how ME2 went down) possibly failing to kill someone less badass than you, the aforementioned getting to your objective before you and surviving a fight with you due to plot armor, and finally fighting and ultimately getting killed by you – hardly achievements to brag about. In the first instance, he has a fight scene against Thane Krios, a drell assassin who was one of your ME2 squadmates, and ultimately kills him. It is supposed to be an emotional scene, and begins your revenge quest against Kai Leng, but it falls flat because the way the scene played out, Kai has a sword and biotics, while Thane has a gun and biotics; not only does Thane insist of running at Kai for their fight for some bizarre reason, but he also doesn’t take the effort to finish Kai off after knocking him to the ground with a biotic punch. And so while Thane’s death may seem sad for others, to me it was just highly meaningless – you get the feeling the only reason he died was because he put himself into the enemy’s preferred attack range and because he apparently didn’t learn to never assume your enemy is down unless you know he’s dead.

Also Kai Leng is ethnically Chinese and trains wushu, judging by the butterfly kicks that are his dodging animation, yet he uses a straight-edged katana. Where the fuck is your cultural pride, guy?

Apart from Cerberus, the only other real annoyance I have with the main story is the Vent Kid. See, in the beginning of the game, the Reapers attack earth, and you see a little boy hiding in a vent. You’re too big to fit, so you beckon to him and try to get him to come with you, but he simply says “you can’t help me”. Something makes you look away, and when you look back he’s gone. Later you see that he got on to an evacuation shuttle that’s immediately shot down by a Reaper. Then you start having nightmares about him. The part that bugs me is this: why is my Shepard so torn up about this? I understand this from my paragon wuxia hero Shepard who does actually want to save everyone and is so far pretty successful at that. But my other two Shepards? One is a colony kid who (as far as she knew prior to an event in ME1) was the only survivor of a batarian slave raid on her home colony and crawled through a mountain of corpses to get to where she is today. The other…caused those mountains of corpses. It makes no sense for the failure to save one little kid to affect them that much.

But on the whole, ME3 is the game that ME2 should have been, with you running across the galaxy looking for allies. Even better, your paragon/renegade decisions in the previous games finally come to a head here. The rachni chapter is concluded, the final fate of the Feros farmers is revealed, even the random fanboy and one of the collection sidequests from ME1 somehow managed to get tied together. Finally you get a sense that all your previous choices mattered, that all your efforts have led up to this one moment of awesome. Also, the cool blue color scheme of ME1 is back, as opposed to the unsightly orange of ME2. And that is wonderful.

There are some who like the ending. Most of my friends who played it found it wanting. I myself don’t care for it. I know there are some who still haven’t reached it yet, and it’s really so polarizing that it deserves its own section, so suffice to say that a SparkNoted version of my views is: the ending works if and only if you take a part that makes up maybe 20% of the trilogy, being generous, alongside a single line of dialog with one squadmate to be the main theme of the entire franchise, as well as accept everything you are told by what could possibly be a figment of your imagination or space-Cthulhu’s brain at face value. Otherwise, it fails hard at resolving anything.

To conclude the story review, right now, I will say this: If I were designing the series, here’s what I would do. ME1 is still ME1. ME2, instead of railroading you to work with Cerberus, is just the first half of ME3, focusing on anti-Cerberus efforts while trying to discover lost tech left by previous cycles, having it so that Cerberus is still trying to find a way to control indoctrination and Reapers, but it is they, not the Collectors-out-of-nowhere who are trying to build their own because they found a derelict Reaper, and because their operations are in the Terminus, you would still end up having to recruit the more engaging ME2 squadmates (namely, Mordin). Same as ME2 regular, except without Council acting like idiots and the main enemies actually being someone you knew from ME1. And then ME3 starts with Arrival, and ends with everything being wrapped up in a satisfactory manner that gives closure to all the plotlines introduced, not just one, even if that ending is “you can’t stop the Reapers, but you can do what the protheans did – seed beacons all over the galaxy with instructions to continue doing so until one day, a future cycle will end up defeating the Reapers for good.”

Gameplay:

Mass Effect is a standard Bioware RPG, except due to being a Third Person Shooter, action is more fluid. You put points into your accuracy with various weapons; if you are a tech class you have abilities to overload shields or hack enemy mechs, and if you are a biotic class you have a host of telekinetic abilities. Powers can be mapped to keys for immediate use, or accessed by pausing and selecting a target.

ME1:

The combat really made me feel like I was a future super soldier. As previously mentioned, there are not ammo limits due to future guns shooting sand-grains of metal propelled forward via mass effect, so the only real limit is the amount of heat this generates. Fire too much, and the gun will overheat, rendering it unable to be fired for a short period of time and promoting firing in bursts.  Powers are fairly varied and can be combined for great effect; one of the best combinations is using biotics to lift up a krogan warboss, rendering them weightless, then throwing them great distances. Vehicular combat, while cumbersome at times, is no more cumbersome than certain other games. The wide open environments on sidequest worlds make it possible to use a variety of tactics, from rushing in and running people over with your APC, to sniping the enemy from hundreds of meters away and thinning the herd before going in, to simply sitting atop a cliff and blasting everyone to bits you’re your APC cannon. And before anyone starts complaining about the Mako, I will say this: the Mako did not, for me, handle any worse than the Warthog from Halo; to the contrary I preferred actually being able to shoot while driving, and in addition the problems were because most of the planets you landed on were way too mountainous. There was nothing wrong with the Mako by itself.

The inventory system, on the other hand, was somewhat clunky. You end up with so much loot that you start getting the idea that all Spectres fund their missions by having a gunrunning operation on the side, and there is no sort option for what you have. But overall, I found ME1 fun to play.

ME2:

Alright, no way to say this but blunt. I hated the shit out of ME2’s gameplay. First off, air-cooled guns were replaced with heat clips, which have a finite capacity to store heat until they have to be ejected and replaced with a fresh one. If you think this sounds like magazines in modern guns, congratulations, you have seem why this dashes any feeling you the player may have about being in the future. Not to mention in-universe, this is nothing but sheer idiocy: imagine if you were an American soldier in Iraq, or a Vietcong guerilla: would you want a gun that you’d have to have a little fire discipline to use effectively, or a gun that fires a little bit faster but turns into a stick once you run out of magazines? ME1 made me feel like a true future warrior. ME2 made me feel like a WWII grunt. Honestly, I don’t know what the worst part is, that reintroducing the need to reload and adding a complication to the military logistics chain is presented as an advance in technology, or that people actually seem to buy this line of argument, or that people accept it because it makes the game harder and therefore better. To the third, I would like to say that neither easiness nor difficulty is to be commended on its own. There is good difficulty, achieved by making enemies tougher (like Covenant Hunters from Halo being vulnerable only on the orange spots) or making the AI better (like how ME3 enemies try to flank you). Then there is artificial difficulty, achieved by simply giving enemies more shields/health depending on difficulty level, or by giving you not enough shots with your primary weapon to kill everyone.

Or, by making it so that using powers now create global cooldowns, meaning you can only ever use one power at a time, while making it so that powers can only affect one type of protection at a time when there are three different protection types, at most. This means Throw will not work on anyone with biotic barriers, armor, or shields; Overload only works on shields, Incinerate will only work on armor, etc, making the power-heavy classes (Sentinel, Adept, Engineer) pretty useless as far as offensive powers go. The other nitpick about powers is how points now must be spent in an arithmetic fashion – level 1 powers need 1 point, level 2 needs 2, 3 needs 3, etc. In ME1, even if you weren’t working towards a power level, every little point at least increased the efficacy of your powers or passive stats. In ME2, you’ll usually end up with a few squad points left over.

Also, there is way too little variety in what weapons and weapon upgrades you had. ME1 did suffer from an overly diverse inventory, yes. The proper fix for that is to reduce the amount of gear available, reduce drop rates, add a sort feature, etc. It is not to get rid of everything altogether. You are basically stuck with a high-damage-low-fire-rate weapon and a low-damage-high-fire-rate weapon for each class, unless you choose to buy DLC weapon packs. On a related note, ammo upgrades are now powers, which leads to the conclusion that tech genius Tali managed to forget how to stick an incendiary upgrade pack into her shotgun between the events of ME1 and ME2. In my opinion, what should have happened was that Incinerate and Cryo Blast became the Soldier powers. Techers get to keep some form of Sabotage along with Overload and biotics are still biotics, with ammo upgrades still available to everyone, along with heat clips being an upgrade that lets you immediately cool down a weapon a limited number of times if you didn’t want to wait for your gun to aircool.

Finally, perhaps I just haven’t played any good ones, but cover-based shooters are currently proving way too gimmicky for me. Just hug a chest-high wall to be impervious to almost all damage while popping out and slowly whittle down the enemy’s health. I prefer cover utilized like in Halo, where it exists, but you can’t hug it – it will only protect you as much as you put yourself into proper position.

I also found the vehicle sections inferior as well. Here, to replace the almost-universally-reviled Mako, we were given the Hammerhead, which is a fast and light hovertank that can jump and speedboost. It does handle much better and shoots guided missiles with good frequency. Unfortunately, it also can’t take hits at all, and there are those fans with too much time on their hands who note that the Hammerhead will freeze up on a certain planet when the Mako handles fine on a different planet with a lower temperature. In addition, the Hammerhead missions are very much stand-alone and not integrated with on-foot segments, adding to the overall feel of gimmicky-ness to the whole deal.

All in all, gameplay in ME2 felt way too generic compared to ME1.

ME3:

Again, like with story, this is what ME2 should have been. Heat clips are still there (boo), but at least gun capacity can be upgraded, and enemies drop more often. The weight mechanic (the more guns you carry, the long your power cooldowns) is also pretty unique and adds an additional consideration when deciding which gun to take into battle. But best of all, where ME2 gave us artificial difficulty, ME3 gives us true difficulty in the form of more enemy variety and MUCH enhanced enemy AI. They’re actually forcing me out of cover by throwing grenades, or concealing their movement with smoke grenades, or setting up turrets/long range support to pin me while their flunkies/melee specialists flank, or…point is, now they actually fight smart. If only ME2 was like this. On a related note, the DLC squadmate pretty much proves that heat clips are a step backwards; he is a prothean frozen in time that you recover. At this point, prothean technology is still more advanced than what the Council races have, and it should be noted that his gun still aircools, with the heat clip being used to vent all heat right this moment – that is, the more advanced gun is still the ME1 gun.

Additional movement options (combat roll, crawl around cover, fire and advance to next cover) are nice, although sometimes they are clunky. More than a few times I’ve wasted seconds on my cloak because I wanted to leave cover in a corridor and sprint out, only to run to the other side of the corridor. But that combat roll saves like no other. Also, I am very much a fan of how heavy enough weapons gib enemies. Nothing like a round of chunky Cerberus salsa to make my day. Especially when it comes from an anti-materiel rifle or a Carnage shot.

If there is one negative part, however, it would have to be enemies’ abilities to either dodge or no-sell my own powers. I have lost track of the sheer number of times a Cerberus flunkie has managed to elude my Incineration blasts by simply moving backwards or sidestepping. These are supposed to track the enemy, how are they not hitting? Also, I would like it very much if games with grenades would have it so the grenade lands where your targeting reticule points, instead of making you aim upwards to simulate the lob. Yes, in real life, you do throw it up higher. In real life you also have much better control of your arm and can rely on more than a wild ass guess as to how much you need to overshoot the target for it to land where you need it to.

Characters:

ME1:

Everyone was engaging and, best of all, has something in their backstory or some kind of hidden depth that adds to whatever your initial thought of them might be based on their character type.

Ashley – tough soldier woman, but as you converse, you find out that she also has a deep love for Tennyson poems, and dresses in sensible armor to boot. Starts off semi-racist (though more humanity-first than alien-hate), but can be mellowed out.

Kaidan – relatively well-adjusted, but as the first generation of human biotics, has a pretty rough backstory. Starts off as a firm believer in multilateralism, but can be persuaded into more of a humanity-first stance.

Wrex – BROGAN. As mentioned before, violent and fight-happy like all krogan, and quite resigned to his people’s fate (“You ask a krogan if he’d rather fight for credits or find a cure for the genophage, and he’ll choose fighting every time. It’s who we are.”). Later conversations reveal that he’s also one of the few who think there’s something more to what the krogan can be. Also the designated cynical deadpan snarker.

Garrus – didn’t use him much, but a turian who breaks the mold. Normal turians are supposed to follow orders even if those orders are bad. Garrus thinks that’s stupid…which is why he quit the Space-UN-Police to work with you. Has a distinctive sharp-pitched British-accent-mixed-with-Southern-drawl voice.

Liara – cute somewhat naïve archaeologist girl with mad biotic skills. She starts off not knowing much about the rest of the galaxy, but you can help her learn – especially in regards to this strange emotion humans call “love”.

Tali – cute spunky action girl; what your little sister would be if she was sweet and charming and can blow up geth with her shotgun, when she’s not hacking them to blow each other up instead. You can call her out on the fact that her people created the geth and then tried to destroy them, to which she will tell you to get off your moralizing high horse because even if that was a terrible decision, her people have already paid for it may times over in millions of lives lost and the fact that they are now stuck as space nomads who have to live in enviro-suits becomes living on a sterile spaceship wrecked their immune systems.

Over the course of the game, you will develop deep relationships with all of them. This is in addition to the many many side characters, some of whom will make you seethe with rage (“look, I didn’t sign on for this [terrorism thing]. This was supposed to be a simple slave grab.”), others of whom will make you cry (“it hurts when she…when I remember me.”), others of whom will make you bust a gut (“I’ve had enough of your snide insinuations.”).

ME2:

You got more squadmates. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem as the second Transformers movie did, that there were so many robots that your finite attention is diluted, resulting in each one getting less individual focus. Also, some characters just are way bland. Examples, in rough order of acquisition:

Jacob: Cerberus flunkie who joined because the human government has too much red tape. Decently well adjusted, which is surprising for a fictional character. Unfortunately this also makes him a bit lacking in personality.

Miranda: Cerberus flunkie cheerleader bitch, genetically engineered to be perfect, who doubles as Ms. Fanservice. Every single Cerberus experiment gone pear-shaped was the work of a rogue cell, or The Illusive Man (Cerberus’ leader) didn’t know about it. It’s almost hilarious how she presumes to be in charge. At one point she introduces herself as my second-in-command, and this is sufficiently early on that it merely leaves you thinking, “no, Miranda, you’re not the second in command. That would be Garrus. Then Tali. Then Chakwas, then Joker, then everyone else, then my aquarium fish, then the trash compactor, and then you.” If you were a Sole Survivor Shepard, nothing should have stopped you from murdering both her and Jacob, then stealing their shuttle and high-tailing it as soon you left the Project Lazarus base.

Garrus: One of the few squaddies worth having. Really grew between ME1 and 2. Went from that squadmate I never really used to the one I used all the time because he can snipe things. Really becomes a bro here, as one of the few non-Cerberus people you can trust, who will even take your side against your idiotic human ex-teammate on Horizon. Garrus Vakarian, battle-brother, comrade, FRATURIAN.

Jack: HATED Jack. It’s like Bioware tried to go for a darker and edgier River Tam from Firefly, except they forgot part of what made River great was that she wasn’t dark and edgy, but a scared little girl who happens to have massive powers that she doesn’t understand and causes her pain. Here…I get that Jack’s a broken bird, and some like healing their wings, but I think that for most people, one look at her would be enough to determine that she’s just not worth the effort of healing. Jack was the result of a Cerberus experiment to create the perfect human biotic by cutting into children and making them fight each other in gladiator games. Her loyalty mission involves going to blow up the abandoned ruins of the lab where she grew up. Afterwards, she has a “confrontation” with Miranda, who continues the “it was clearly a rogue cell, and The Illusive Man didn’t know about it, so you can’t blame Cerberus” line, and if you don’t have enough morality points you will lose one of their loyalties. Personally, I would not have minded spacing both of them. Also…wearing pants and a cable tie around the breasts isn’t conducive to battlefield survival.

Mordin: The very model of a scientist salarian. One of the other few squaddies worth having, and the only one to actually have varied dialog when you visit him between missions. Provides much humor. When you meet him, he’s running a clinic on a wretched hive of scum and villainy, providing free medical care to those suffering a plague outbreak. He has a pleasant demeanor, which makes the revelation that he worked on the genophage and is responsible for millions of stillborn infants all the more shocking. Better yet, he maintains it was the right thing to do, as otherwise there would have been a massive war of extinction between the krogan and other races. Thus, Mordin also exemplifies what it truly means to be a renegade – you will make the hard choices that result in untold deaths, and it will eat you up inside, but ultimately you know that the galaxy is a safer place for it.

Grunt: The Team Krogan, or as I like to call him, Wrex the Lesser. Genetically engineered to be the “perfect krogan,” whatever that means. Acquired by opening the breeding tank he was grown in. Could have been dislikeable, except for a youthful enthusiasm for fighting and killing things, which oddly enough stimulated my parental instinct. What’s that, Grunt? A mountain of Collector corpses just for Mama/Papa Shepard? I’m so proud of you! Implications for my fatherly abilities…disturbing.

Samara: The Team Asari. A justicar, which is like a wandering knight-errant who has an unbending morality code. Her loyalty mission involves hunting down her space-succubus daughter. Blandish until you start talking with her and uncover a somewhat tragic figure pushed to the life she chose. Cruelly enough, you can also betray her for her daughter on the grounds that if you were sufficiently renegade, then her code will require her to try to kill you after the mission ends. Unfortunately, this piece seemingly never pans out. Come on, Bioware, throw the renegades a bone here.

Thane: Drell assassin suffering from a terminal disease and wants to go out doing some good in the world. Great with sniper rifles, greater for murdering Collectors by the dozens. Seriously, his powers are pretty much tailor-made for destroying Collectors and husks. Character-wise, seems to be a Kaidan replacement, being the real grounded one who isn’t a Cerberus flunkie. Has some interesting backstory, but still mostly bland. Storywise, exists to be a cystic fibrosis stand-in and tell you all about drell culture.

Tali: Cute as ever. She became less useful due to shotguns being nerfed and powers not working on things with protection, which means no more hacking geth tanks like in ME1. Her loyalty mission lets you meet the quarian Migrant Fleet, however, so there is that contribution at least. One of the few worthwhile squadmates.

Legion: A geth sniper who you meet in one of the later missions. In what I feel to be one of the weaker moves of the franchise, reveals that not all geth are against organics – in fact, the ones you fought in ME1 were what they called “heretics” because they want a future given to them by the Reapers, while the true geth want to develop their own future and in fact don’t even harbor grudges against the quarians for trying to wipe out the geth, to the point where they’ve actually been taking care of and maintaining the quarian homeworld for the quarians’ eventual return. And just like that, the geth crossed into Na’vi territory, going from what might have been tragic victims forced to act by outside forces beyond their control to Purity-Sue who you almost want to get killed just because they’re so unrealistically good. Look at the Na’vi! They live in harmony with their planet, they’re nice and natural, they’re happy in their simplicity, they just these perfect people who live on a beautiful world without pollution that these humans want to wreck just to mine minerals! Look at the geth! They’re just misunderstood, they just want to be left alone and loved by their Creators and they bear the quarians no ill will for trying to kill them, and it’s only the bad ones that you fought in ME1, and even them were just a tiny minority of all the geth! The problem with this new interpretation of the geth is that it makes them more perfect than Miranda can ever be, which in turn removes the ability to see them as real people. It is also conveniently forgotten how they would immediately attack and destroy any ship that ventured into geth space. Again taking a page from Renegade Reinterpretations, I think it would have been superior if it were the pro-Reaper geth who were the true geth, allying with what does really amount to be the pinnacle of synthetic life, and it were the anti-Reaper geth who were the heretics, driven to cooperate with organics. Anyway, the geth parts also lets you ponder the thought of how much should a different minority color your feelings about the population as a whole. In spite of this though, Legion himself is still pretty cool, giving you insight into the geth thought processes, even if it may not have been the best plot twist. Plus, all the fun of “teaching” that came with Liara get repeated with Legion.

Zaeed: Guddamn hardened badass who used to be a merc captain, is what they were going for here, but they forgot that “badass” isn’t character, a mistake they repeat with Kai Leng in ME3. Provides some much-needed firepower early on, prior to the acquisitions of Grunt or Garrus. Doesn’t really do much, however, other than serve as a meatshield Mind-bogglingly, in the suicide mission, he is not an acceptable choice to lead a fireteam. There is some said about him being too much of a death seeker, and how in all his previous missions no one else came back alive, but that should be irrelevant – just because he has a death wish doesn’t mean he loses all knowledge he would have had of tactics.

Kasumi: never got her DLC. No comment.

ME3:

Your previous surviving squadmates return here – Garrus, Tali, Liara, and whoever survived Virmire are back. In addition, you get two more squadmates.

EDI: The AI of your ship that Cerberus built now can upload herself into a captured cyborg infiltrator body. It is great and more than a little heartwarming seeing the robot girl learn what it means to be human. And also more than a little endearing that with every new thing she learns, she repeated affirms her determination to stand with you, organic life, against the Reapers. A compelling addition to the team.

James Vega: A new squad member who replaces Wrex as the team shoot-stuff-guy. Your standard soldier who was the sole survivor of a successful mission and now feels survivor’s guilt. He is meant to be the character who represents a newcomer to the franchise, and I’m sure there’s a joke about how Bioware’s trying to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd somewhere. On the whole, he’s fairly bland as a character. Would have preferred a team krogan again.

As for the others:

Kaidan – Oh Kaidan, such a dork. Still retains his ME2 idiocy early-on, and it takes nearly getting killed by a Cerberus cyborg infiltrator to snap him to his senses…after which he then thinks he can rekindle a romance with you. Despite you romancing someone else in ME1. Despite blowing you off without giving you a single chance to explain yourself in ME2. Despite not even showing any sign of support at your trial in the beginning of ME3, when James freaking Vega showed you more support. Despite the fact he distrusted you enough to pull a gun on you during the Cerberus takeover based purely on the fact you worked with Cerberus on exactly one mission that ended up with you stealing the ship they gave you and converting the entire crew to abandon Cerberus. Sure Kaidan, we’re totally cool enough after that, that I’ll let you jump in my pants. Dork.

Tali – Became much more useful now that hacking and sabotage are combined, so she’s actually able to bring her powers to bear on things that aren’t geth. Still totes a mean shotgun and deploys combat drones. Grapples with the chains of commanding due to a recent promotion, after which you can console her. Also has led me to refer to straws as “emergency induction ports” forever.

Liara – finally returns. Pretty useful and good emotional support throughout the games. Her Singularity is a very rechargeable insta-disable on most enemies. That cool-head-on-shoulders thing comes in real handy, as she’s the one who gets the idea to create more prothean beacon equivalents (data recordings about what the Reapers are and how future generations can fight them).

Garrus: becomes a true bro here. He was with me in almost all my missions. Becomes a real beast once I gave him the anti-materiel rifle, and his maxed out Overload one-hit-kills shields. More importantly, as the only real seasoned soldier, experience officer, and part of my crew since game one, he’s also the only squadmate I can truly talk war with. Tali and Liara are civilians at heart; EDI is more concerned with learning to be human; Kaidan is a bit too mellow; James is a bit unseasoned; Garrus, being tapped by his own people as their only Reaper authority, grapples with much of the same issues that Shepard does, making decisions that sacrifice one million here to save two million there and wondering if it was worth it. You feel a true kindredness with him that almost makes me regret not romancing him with my femShep. That’s the terrible calculus, Gar-bro. But we’ll push through it. Order me a Jack-and-diet if you get to that bar in heaven first.

Ashley – I haven’t played any of the Sheps where Ashley survived Virmire as of this writing, so no comment.

Javik – Day 1 DLC for money is a terrible idea that is a relic of the era before object-oriented programming and downloading game installations directly on to your computer. Never got From Ashes, probably will never. No comment.

The main draw is that everyone from the previous games shows up again. Sometimes they fall a little flat (Aria T’loak! Give me a quest to pick up merc bands to help you take back your crime empire! Spend the rest of the time looking sulky at the Citadel bar.), but other times they are great (Hey Thane, OH MY GOD ARE YOU NOW FIGHTING AN ELITE CERBERUS NINJA OPERATIVE THAT IS WONDERFUL). Most character threads from the previous games are tied up or at least given a nod. That is…until the ending.

Ending:

Note – this part assumes you have finished the entire trilogy. If spoilers will ruin stuff for you, and you think you might revisit the earlier installments, stop reading. Otherwise, proceed.

Alright, here it is. Most people I’ve talked to have hated the ending. So far, out of my circle of Mass Effect friends, exactly 1 person has liked it. Now that I’ve finished and have some time, here are my thoughts.

Premise: In ME3, you discover plans for a secret weapon of some kind called the Crucible, which was developed through the efforts of all the survivors of the previous Reaping cycles. Part of the game is to collect war assets so that enough brilliant minds are working on it that it can be finished. But it needs to be activated by a thing called the Catalyst to work. Once you reach the Catalyst, it manifests itself as a little boy that you failed to save in the beginning of ME3. The Catalyst informs you that he is the “intelligence behind the Reapers”, and that the reason behind the cycles is because organic life and synthetic life are, in fact inherently opposed to each other. Organic life will always create synthetic life, at which point it will always rebel against their creators and cause a massively destructive war, and so the Reapers were created to prevent this by allowing organic civilization to flourish up to the part where they can build synthetics, then harvesting them and turning them into DNA goo and converting them into Reapers to preserve their “essence” before they can destroy themselves in the inevitable organic-synthetic war. This was the best solution that this being of logic could come up with, but he wants to see if organics can do any better, so the the fact that you made it to the Crucible means that you forced him to alter his logic. In the end, you have 3 choices: use the Crucible to control the Reapers and make them go away, destroy all synthetic life including the geth and EDI, or synthesis – let it rewrite the collective DNA of every organic and synthetic to make a new lifeform. Whichever one you choose, it requires using the mass relay network to propgate the energy wave, destroying the network in the process. The animations are mostly the same, differing only in the color of the wave, and squadmates who make it off the Normandy otherwise. And then, after the credits roll, it is revealed that the events of the game are a story relayed to a child by his grandfather.

This ending works if you accept the following:

  1. That the “role of synthetic life” theme mentioned way back in the beginning of this piece is the primary theme of the trilogy.
  2. That the other primary theme of the trilogy is that everyone should make their own future instead of relying on the future others build for them.
  3. Everything the Catalyst tells you is to be accepted at face value.
  4. The grandfather is either telling his grandson history (like how in my native Texas, we sometime bounce the young’uns upon our knees while regaling them with tales of the heroes of the Alamo) or quasi-historical legends (like how in my other native Beijing, we sometimes bounce the xiao-zai-zi upon our knees while regaling them with tales of Guan Yu of the Three Kingdoms who crossed five passes and killed six enemy generals to return to his sworn brother and liege lord). Not just a bedtime story.

Regarding point 1, that was something of a theme in ME1 that got expanded upon more in ME2 and 3. And in the end, you finally resolve this by deciding whether synthetics are to be the servants of organics (Control), to be destroyed completely (Destroy), or to merge and live in harmony (Synthesis). Regarding point 2, there is the fact that because every other race discovered the mass effect technology left by the Reapers and found the Citadel, maintained by a species called the Keepers that no one knows anything about, whatever technological progress they made stopped there, limited by what the theory behind mass effect will tell them in a situation not unlike Harry Turtledove’s “The Path Not Taken” short story. This is further expanded upon by how in the current cycle, because the Council races are stuck into developing along the paths started by mass effect technology, they are at an utter loss when confronted by outside threats like the rachni or the krogan, and why humanity who began space travel before finding the mass relays are the most innovative of the races. This is also expanded upon by Legion’s explanation that the true geth rejected Reaper help because accepting it limit geth development to Reaper visions, while denying it leaves every possibility open. Thus, blowing up all the mass relays also enforces this theme, that by destroying what the Reapers left the galaxy, you’ve now opened up all possibilities for everyone. Regarding point 3…it’s a game, I suppose taking what you are told at face value goes with the territory. And finally, if it turns out to just be a bedtime story, this would, in fact, make the endings suck. Because then it means nothing you did really meant anything, none of the characters you got attached to mattered, it was just a story and nothing more.

Here’s why they don’t work:

  1. The question of the nature of organic/synthetic existence was indeed a theme. It was not the only theme. And really, it was not much of the trilogy as a whole. It actually was not the main theme of ME1 at all; to be a theme, it has to be something that is actively debated throughout the story, and the end of the story leads you to a conclusion. In ME1, it’s pretty much unambiguously decided that organics and synthetics are inherently opposed – both need space to grow, so conflict is inevitably unavoidable, but there is ultimately no real negotiation that can happen because organics don’t have anything that synthetics want. The only time this is remotely questioned is in a side conversation with Tali that leads up to the previous point, so that’s 0% of ME1, which was really focused on the “role of humanity in greater galactic society” theme. In ME2, this is brought up a little bit with EDI’s existence as the AI of the rebuilt Normandy. But it only really shows up after you recruit Legion and start talking to him, as well as on his and Tali’s loyalty missions. We can calculate how much of the game’s content this is as follows: You have ten squadmates (assuming no DLC). Each has a loyalty mission. Eight have recruitment missions. In addition, you have six more mainline missions (Get out from Lazarus, Freedom’s Progress, Horizon, Collector Ship, Derelict Reaper, and Suicide Mission), in addition to a host of sidequests. This makes for twenty-four missions total, out of which three (Legion’s LM, Tali’s LM, and let’s include their entirely skipable conversations as another mission) deal with organics vs synthetics. This is a whopping 12.5% of ME2 dedicated to that theme. Even if you count conversations with EDI and that brief interlude where you play as Joker to unshackle her, this is still less than 20% of the game, a percentage that goes down if you assign any mission value to the sidequests, or if you include DLC missions, as well as a percentage that is not noticeably higher than the krogan-salarian conflict or Thane’s personal guilt complex or Miranda’s daddy-issues. As for ME3, this is revisited only on the geth-quarian segments. Now, there are 15 Priority: [location] missions, and the geth-quarian ones make up exactly three of them, after which nothing is heard about them ever again, so that is 20% of ME3. 0% of ME1, 20% of ME2 (being generous), and 20% of ME3 makes for 13.3% of the whole trilogy dedicated to the organics/synthetics plotline, and yet somehow it’s important enough to warrant the ending to the entire franchise being based around it?
  2. ME1 was great because all that technology was explained and both seemed advanced and was advanced, whether in the fluff or in actual gameplay, and it was treated just as technology. ME2 started a bad precedent by beginning to assign morality to technology, culminating in the possible destruction of the Collectors’  Reaper-producing base on the grounds that you’ll “find a way to win this war without sacrificing the soul of our species,” along with a single line by Legion about building your own future vs asking for others to give you their future. This falls flat for the following reasons: it wasn’t using mass effect technology that hampered the galaxy, it was the fact that the galaxy was prevented from advancing by both the Keepers who kept everything functional so that there was no need really find out how it worked, and by the Reapers were there to reap everyone before they could find out how it worked. Also, you are given hints that even though the Reapers gave everyone the mass effect technology, they can still be beaten with enough effort. Vigil, the prothean VI from the end of ME1, tells you that the Reapers do harvest new tech developed during each cycle, so it’s not like using pre-existing technology really preventing new technology from developing. One mission in ME2 has you going on board a derelict Reaper who took a near-death blow from a massive mass accelerator cannon, indicating that even the technology they gave you could be used to defeat them. The end scene to ME1 as well as several Codex entries and cutscenes in ME3 demonstrates that Reapers can be killed if you shoot them enough and don’t let them get the drop on you. Some of your best assets, like the Thanix cannons/missiles, the Normandy II, and EDI herself, are derived from Reaper tech, proving that just because the source of the technology is the Reapers doesn’t make it bad. And even the geth, when threatened, used Reaper code to turn themselves from a collective hivemind of programs into fully-fledged AIs. “Make your own future” rings especially hollow when you consider that the entire Crucible, the thing that lets you actually stop the Reapers, is technology inherited from every single organic race from every cycle before the current one. Also consider that in real life, just how much scientific progress is made not by cloistering yourself off to “build your own future”, but by standing upon the shoulders of giants. If “make your own future” was a theme, it’s a spectacularly bad one unsupported by pretty much the entire franchise as well as real life. Destroying the relays, as far as story is concerned, is nothing but literary symbolism bullshit to demonstrate how we’ve thrown off the limits the Reapers imposed on us, even though it wasn’t the tech itself that was limiting, a symptom of the cancer that’s plagued literature since the first English professor of some ivory tower liberal arts college decided symbolism-hunting was a worthy pursuit.
  3. The Catalyst introduces himself as the intelligence behind all the Reapers, beings who are known for indoctrinating organics to serve their bidding. Why on Earth would you accept anything he says at face value? Why aren’t you even trying remotely to argue with him? “Organics and synthetics are fated to always fight each other? Really? What about that peace I’ve negotiated between the quarians and geth? What about Joker and EDI, who are almost certainly getting it on once I finish this?” Yes, it is possible that the answer would have been, “look, Shepard, I’m just a machine. I’m limited by what the code that wrote me says I can do. Just pick one of three and run with it.” Yet the question is why does Shepard not even make the effort to ask? Or even just decide, “screw it, I’m not trusting anything you say. Each cycle is only one more Sovereign-class Reaper being made anyway, so as long as we’ve destroyed more than one, that’s score one for Team Organics. And at least two were destroyed on Palaven, and presumably more, we’ll keep building warning beacons for future races and just attrition you to death until one cycle, in the far future, the last Reaper will look upon the works of organics and despair.”
  4. OK, this will only be in response if the events turned out to be just a bedtime story the Stargazer was telling his grandkid. “But The Princess Bride was a bedtime story too, and that was awesome.” True, but herein lies the fundamental difference between a participatory entertainment like a video game and a non-participatory one like a book. You read/watch instead of enact The Princess Bride. You don’t fall in love with Buttercup, get kidnapped by pirates, become the Dread Pirate Roberts, fight a master swordsman and Andre the Giant, utilize your immunity to iocane powder, become tortured to mostly dead, rescue the princess from her marriage to a warmongering prince who will kill her so he can war, kill the man who killed your father, and ride off into the sunset. You are told, from the very beginning in fact, that this is a story. Their efforts are part of the story that you enjoy because it is their story. In Mass Effect, you did all those things. You saved the krogan (or not). You brokered peace between the quarians and the geth (or not). You saved the rachni from extinction (or not). You demonstrated to the galaxy that humanity has the capacity for self-sacrifice (or not). You were the Dark Knight that protected humanity even as the rest of the galaxy called you terrorist and spat upon your name (or not). And you were never told that this is a story until the end, making it seem like a bigger slap to the face that in spite of everything you did, all your efforts didn’t even matter to the fictional people in the “real world” of the games. And not even Buzz Aldrin voicing the Stargazer – a move that seems to me more planned to deflect criticism by drawing the support of astronomy nerds – can salvage it. It also makes you wonder what kind of life the kid’s going to have if your Shepard was renegade, but not renegade enough, such the kid’s legendary hero is the same guy who gunned down two of his closest friends and allies all just so he could fulfill a backroom deal to solicit both krogan and salarian support back on Tuchanka.

Of course, because if point 4 is actually true, my anger will pull a Destroy Synthetics ending on every piece of technology I own, let’s pretend that never happened, so let’s move on to other matters.

More reasons the ending doesn’t work:

  1. Plot holes – The Normandy is with you when the final battle to take back Earth starts. It dropped all your squadmates on the ground. It’s actually being used as the flagship by Admiral Hackett, who’s directing the battle. So what’s it doing trying to outrun the mass relay energy wave? And if you got one of the better endings, and EDI and/or your love interest was your ground team, how exactly did they get picked up by the Normandy to begin with? Did your band of brothers who stuck with you when you had to take back the Space-UN-HQ from an army of robots, work for a terrorist organization, go on a suicide mission, stand trial for wiping out 300000 civilians, fight eldritch abominations on foot, and hundreds of other near-death experiences ditch you now? I’ve heard it posited that maybe they gave you up for dead when Harbinger shot everyone, and so they thought the next best thing was to flee the scene and spread as many warning beacons to the future as they can, yet this should have been explicitly stated if that was the case. It still does not answer how it was that parts of your ground team got onboard the Normandy in the first place, or why Hackett agreed to let the flagship bail in the middle of battle.
  2. The Catalyst’s terrible logic – For being the intelligence behind the most advanced AIs in the galaxy, the Catalyst sure is pretty dumb. It wants to prevent synthetics from killing organics…by creating synthetics to kill organics. Sure, some of the races in each cycle are preserved in Reapers, and by “some” it really means “a small proportion of one species.” You know that not all species get harvested, because the Reapers in this cycle went from going after the turians to going after humanity once the human Shepard defeated the turian Saren. It’s also a given that the vast majority of organics will be killed trying to resist the Reapers. So, to draw a comparison, what the Catalyst came up with is really not unlike trying to save the pandas by throwing all of them into a meat chipper, sticking maybe half the resulting panda slurry in a freezer, welding that to a Roomba, and declaring Mission Accomplished. Not to mention what happens if the organics in a cycle gets destroyed by their synthetic creations – what then? Do the Reapers just wipe out all the synthetics in that case? Additionally, if Synthesis was within the Catalyst’s power to do so, why not just do it the first time around, instead of choosing the option that leads to most prolonged suffering?
  3. No closure – What happened to everyone else, who’s not Joker, EDI, or my love interest? Wrex, brogan? Garrus, fraturian? Tali, little sister who’s now all grown up? James, over-bulked gorilla? Kaidan/Ashley, reconciled friend? Liara, always have my back?The turians who helped you? The salarians? The asari? The krogan who you’ve spared a long slow genocide (at least, I hope you did, you monster)? The quarians/geth who (hopefully) are now working together after 300 years of hate? No closure is actually given to any of their plotlines. And this is not a case of me (or anyone critical of the ending) being unable to accept open-ended endings. I liked the wuxia classic Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain, which had a cliffhanger (will Hu Fei kill the man to avenge his father over a misunderstanding? Or will he let himself die to end the cycle of revenge? Or will his hesitation mean that the snowy ledge upon which they are fighting collapses before he makes a decision, dooming them both? It doesn’t matter, because he’s already come to terms with his inner turmoil.); I loved The Grey (does Ottway win, or does the wolf alpha? Doesn’t matter; the point is that the man vs nature conflict is resolved – nature wins, and the man vs himself conflict is resolved – go down fighting. Once more into the fray.); I rather liked The Lady Or The Tiger, because the whole point is that woman is fickle and you are supposed to make up your own ending based on how misogynistic you are. This is not the case with Mass Effect – throughout the series, we were told that you are supposed to defeat the Reapers and decide who makes it out based on what choices you made in the three games (or not, since we were also told that it would be possible to lose to the Reapers). Yet, once we reach the ending, this was not resolved at all – yes, we beat the Reapers, unless you think Indoctrination Theory (see below) is true and you didn’t choose Destroy, but there was no answer at all to whether any of the races made it out alive. And that is a terrible thing, because if the krogan didn’t make it out alive, then that means Mordin Solus died for nothing. If the quarians or the geth didn’t make it out alive, then that means Legion died for nothing. If the asari didn’t make it out alive, that means the protheans who pinned their hopes on them died for nothing.
  4. No other themes resolved – ME1 was all about humanity’s place in the galaxy (in case you were tired of my favorite words in the English language, they were “one among equals in a multilateral galaxy or leader of the free galaxy”), and your ending choice was supposed to reflect that, except it didn’t. Save the Council? The former. Blew them up? The former, except even more so because now the other races elect angrier Councilors to replace the ones that died. This was supposedly a choice we were to have, except the choice was made for us. And the thing is, it didn’t even have to be that way. Blowing up the Council didn’t necessarily have to yield an all-human Council, but at least one pro-human Councilors would have been nice. Instead, this was ditched entirely, and oddly enough either proves the paragons right (being one of equals makes the others more likely to help you) or the renegades (“more likely” means nothing if it just makes them think about it harder). Similar to the previous point, none of the “how much can you judge a race by its stereotype/hat” plotlines were really resolved either. Yes, you made peace between the quarians and geth, but how long will it last without the common enemy of Reapers to make them hang together? You cured the genophage, but can Wrex and (to a greater extent) Eve really prevent the krogan from trying to recreate to Krogan Empire, especially since their lifespans are finite? We’re never given the answers to any of those. Again, this does not mean that I can’t take open-ended endings. The thing is, there’s a difference between open-ended and not-answering-anything, and this is definitely a case of the latter, as we were promised that all our choices would culminate into definite endings, and that did not happen.
  5. You got your magic all up in my science – How, exactly, did the Crucible’s options even work? I can understand a massive energy wave that destroys them all or a massive signal that controls them all, the strain of propagation for which destroys all the mass relays. I cannot understand a massive wave of energy that rewrites the DNA, computer code, and building materials of every organic and synthetic being in existence. Where in the name of Athame did that come from? Also, how does the Crucible/Catalyst decide what “synthetic life” is even supposed to be? Alright, the geth, sure; EDI, fine; AVINA? The Hammerhead VI (virtual intelligence)? Tali’s combat drones? Whatever future!Microsoft’s version of Clippit is?

On a more meta level, we the players were promised wildly divergent endings based on what choices we made, and explicitly told that the endings would not be you choosing three buttons. Yet this is exactly what happened. All endings are the same, differing only by what color the beam is and who makes it out of the crash-landed Normandy. No closure to anyone and anything else, in addition to all your war assets having very little additional contribution to the ending scenes beyond their combined totals allowing you to choose a button instead of having one chosen for you.

All in all, the ending resolves (kinda) one plotline, while leaving a multitude of other questions unanswered, and so my final verdict is that the endings are on the whole highly unsatisfactory.

Also, the Catalyst/Vent Kid looks like Joffery Baratheon/Lannister from Game of Thrones, and that is just another reason to hate him.

The Catalyst/ending? Or Joffery?

Yes.

Indoctrination Theory:

If this turns out to be true, I will shiv a dude. Simply because if you were being slowly indoctrinated all along, then there really is no meaning to anything you did. The ending is still “pick 3 buttons”, except now two of the three are bad, the same things that didn’t get resolved still aren’t resolved, and the whole game becomes an exercise in being trolled by Bioware.

Alternate considerations:

I personally hate when people bitch about something without offering any alternatives, so here’s my vision of what a better ending would be. My personal suggestions for improvements are very simple.

  1. No space magic. But isn’t there already magic in the form of the Mass Effect and biotics? Nay, for in the words of the illustrious Edward Elric and Agatha Heterodyne, “it’s not magic, it’s science!” I would say, no energy wave. The Catalyst is the intelligence behind the Reapers? Fine. Let it control them. And let the Crucible allow you to hack into and control the Catalyst. You can use it to tell the Reapers to destroy each other/dive into the sun/ram asteroids/stand there and get shot at until they die/whatever. Or you can be in control of an immortal fleet of sentient starships, waiting at the edges of dark space, ready to be sicced upon the enemies of humanity. Simple, sensical, and doesn’t invoke the questions of “what do you mean, ‘all synthetic life’?” and “Five words, star child: EDI and the geth.”
  2. More meaningful war asset implications. Currently all they do is enable you to make choices or not at the Catalyst. What would be great is if you had, short of anything else, radio chatter reflecting at least one asset from every race, be it an exultant “scoped and dropped! I love this rifle” from an asari commando squad, or “Payback time! Destiny Ascension, hit it with everything we’ve got!”, or a human squad going “we’re being overrun by husks!” interrupted by the characteristic roar of krogan, or a “badassfully: for Dekuuna.” Something to let me know that these war assets that I’ve spent the game acquiring are actually being put to use somewhere.
  3. Actual divergent endings. I would have it so you could return to Earth and start the endgame as soon as you stuffed the Cerberus coup on the Citadel. The endings would be layered something like so:
    1. Worst ending: you don’t stop the Reapers. Your war assets are too few, so the Crucible gets blown up midway and everyone dies.
    2. Next best: you don’t stop the Reapers. Your war assets are too few, but the Normandy and other stealth-capable ships get away and plant all the life-habitable worlds they know of with beacons detailing everything that is known about the Reapers along with plans for a new Crucible.
    3. Next best: same, except you get a cutscene showing some future race discovering the beacons, and eventually destroying the Reapers.
    4. Best: Everything works. You get your choices as outlined in Point 1.

Feel that my suggestions aren’t that great? OK, fine. Then again, this is something I pulled out my ass in like ten minutes. I’m sure if you gave me Bioware’s story department’s budget, I’d come up with something superior. But really though, I’d have to say the ending is an unfortunately unsatisfactory end to what was otherwise a highly satisfactory game series.

This has broken the 18 page/16K word mark, and I think this has gone on long enough. If you made it through all that, thank you very much. You, sir, are a true brogan. Or an asisari, if you’re a girl, ma’am. Please leave a comment though. Even if it’s just “tl;dr”.

The Real China-Tibet Story

August 3, 2011

I visited Lhasa from the 24th to the 29th of June, seeing the city as well as Namtso Lake, and conversed with a friend who has been working there since May. The previous post was about the unique and interesting things I saw, but now I feel the need to post something serious.

 

This post is about the extraordinarily skewed account of the history between China and Tibet presented by Western media, one brought about due to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan independence movement’s ability to tell a story that resonates deep within the Western psyche, such that any counterargument is readily dismissed as Chinese propaganda. I myself have first started paying attention to the issue back during the March 14th 2008 riots that brought Tibet to the center stage of international affairs. Doing research of my own, comparing sources from both China and the West, I had reason to doubt much of the accounts of the Free Tibet movement, as well as the fact-reporting methodology of the western media in this case (note to any prospective journalists reading this: if there are two sides to a story, and one side refuses to comment, the proper response is not to present the other side’s account as fact). But it was visiting the area that allowed me to see just how badly the media failed at presenting a fair and balanced account in favor of a good story, one that sounds like:

 

“Tibet was its own country, an idyllic utopian Shangri-La before the Chinese invaded in 1951. Now the Tibetan people’s culture is being erased, they are not allowed to practice their religion, and the influx of Han migrants is forcing them to become second-class citizens in their own homeland, oppressed by the government.”

 

Allow me to deconstruct this line by line.

 

Caveat: the facts I present below are either a matter of public record, received from my friend who works there, or derived from my own observations, and the conclusions drawn from these facts. As this is not a scholarly article, I’m not exactly going to go all MLA citations up in here; a good chunk of them will consist of “talked to this guy” or “visited this place” anyway, and you can Google the rest for yourself.

 

“Tibet was an independent country before the Chinese invaded”

 

Technically true…back in the 7th century, when the Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo entered in a political alliance via marriage to the Tang Dynasty. Move forward in the timeline to the Qing (1644-1911), and you will find this was not the case. After the dynasty of Tibetan kings fell Tibet entered a period of disunity that ended when the 5th Dalai Lama, with military support from the Qing emperor Shunzhi, consolidated control over the region of U-Tsang, which is what is now the Tibet Autonomous Region. In fact, the title of “Dalai Lama” was one bestowed upon the 5th by the Qing emperor. This is why there is very little heard about the 1st-4th Dalai Lamas, because the title was applied retroactively to them, back when they were just one of several holy men and not The Holy Man of Tibet. In addition, the central Qing government in Beijing has always had the power to “confirm” candidates for reincarnation of Dalai and Panchen Lamas, and the Snow Lion flag that the current Free Tibet movement uses was originally the army flag of the Qing garrison in Tibet. A free Tibet nation-state has not existed since the Qing.

 

All in the past, right? Who cares? Sure, I’ve established that Tibet used to be part of China, but the US also used to be part of Britain, and we all know that it’d just be plain silly for Britain to claim ownership of the US now, right?

 

The PRC bases its claim to Tibet not just on a simplistic “this used to be ours, so it should still be ours” as the Free-Tibet movement likes to claim; rather, it is on the established principle of the Succession of States, which basically means that when a country changes governments, all land that belonged to the old government by default is transferred to the new government to do with as it sees fit. This is why the map of the United States does not change with every presidential election; just because we switched from Bush to Obama does not mean Texas is no longer part of the Union due to it voting for McCain. As for what determines land ownership, that is a mite fuzzier, but a good rule of thumb is international recognition. If a hostile nation recognizes a piece of land as belonging to you, then there’s little ground for a third party to argue that it isn’t.

 

One can find many foreign maps of the Qing that put Tibet squarely within its borders (the Perry-Casteneda Library at the University of Texas has one, last I checked). When Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the Qing and established the Republic of China, ownership was transferred to the RoC, as can also be established by foreign maps of the era. Thus, when Mao Zedong overthrew the RoC and established the PRC, ownership legally speaking transferred to the PRC. The key here is an unbroken line of internationally recognized ownership. The US may have been part of Britain, but the US also successfully launched a war for independence against Britain resulting in international recognition of the US as a sovereign nation. Nothing similar ever happened in Tibet.

 

One can bring up Younghusband’s expedition that seemingly repudiated Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, but that opens up another can of worms. First off, Younghusband’s expedition was undoubtedly one of imperialist shenanigans. The fact that he (and by extension the British) had to launch an expedition confirms that Tibet rightfully belonged to the Qing as a matter of international law. Second, if we are to hold the results of imperialist intervention by a foreign power as valid, then we must also hold the subsequent Communist invasion of Tibet as equally valid – possibly more so, as the CCP can be argued to be reclaiming territory taken from China, while Younghusband’s expedition was more or less naked imperialist aggression. You cannot have it both ways; if Younghusband’s expedition was valid, then so is Mao Zedong’s; if it is not, then Tibet still belonged to China by the succession of states.

 

One can argue that Tibet enjoyed de facto independence under the Qing or the RoC. One may also argue that territories should have the right to secede. These are all irrelevant to the fact that, as a matter of international law, Tibet has been a part of China since the 1600s and is legally part of the PRC.

 

“Tibet was an idyllic Shangri-La”

 

There is a trope in fiction called the “Noble Savage”. It refers to the tendency in modern humans to look at primitive peoples and romanticize what they perceive to be the positive aspects (freedom, the idea of living by the strength of one’s own arms, spiritualism) and downplay or ignore the negative ones (short lifespan, little to no medicine, horrid sanitation). This has been very much applied to Tibet. Nowhere can this best be seen than in the sheer amount of mineral resources used in construction and still available for mining.

 

The “spirit tower” for the 5th Dalai Lama (tower under which he is buried) is constructed out of 3721 jin (half that number in kg) of gold, with many precious stones (turquoise, coral fossils, amber, etc) inlaid. The towers for the other Dalai Lamas are of similar construction, along with the many temples and Buddha statues, all of gold and precious stones. The paints used for wall paintings and thangkas are also made of such materials, gold from gold dust, blue and green from ground turquoise, red from powdered coral fossils, etc. To this day, there are still mineral deposits sitting on the surface, visible to passer-by.

 

What does this mean?

 

The presence of so much gold being used for nothing but religion indicates they have no trade, and that their production possibilities frontier is extraordinarily skewed and extraordinarily small. They enjoy none of the benefits of trade that one learns about in high school economics, none of the opportunities that trade and a diversified economy brings. This includes things like consumer goods that are not yak or barley products. This also includes things like widespread education and medicine – the average life expectancy for Tibetan commoners was somewhere around the mid-thirties, compared to the mid-sixties for Tibetan nobles or religious figures. Tibet was highly isolated before the CCP came in 1951, and their holy men did very little to fix that.

 

Speaking of which, there is very little to indicate that these people were any good at ruling. Consider a theocracy in which the method of succession was finding the child who happened to fit the signs of being the reincarnation of the previous leader. Consider all the political intrigue that would surround any succession. Now consider the fact that the 9th-11th Dalai Lamas all died extremely young, in their teens or twenties, all due to “ill health” and that it was around this time that silver became very popular among Tibetans due to their supposed poison-detecting properties (in actuality, silver is highly reactive with arsenic, and has properties that inhibit bacterial growth). Also consider that, while those in power were sitting on their vast lodes of gold and silver and stones, there were very few attempts to use that to build roads and infrastructure to expand the domestic economy and create more opportunities for the Tibetan people. What conclusions might one draw from these trends?

 

Tiny PPF and theocratic rule aside, were the Tibetan people happy? Perhaps, but it is doubtful whether they knew a better life was possible, especially given a Buddhist culture that reinforces the idea of a bad current life is punishment for sins of the previous life, while performing according to one’s station in this life leads to reincarnation into a better next life. Other sources – and not just CCP ones – describe them as serfs. It is not my objective to argue the truth of this; merely to demonstrate that life before the CCP was not sunshine and bunnies under the enlightened rule of the Dalai Lamas.

 

“Tibetan culture is being erased, and the people are not allowed to practice their religion”

 

It really doesn’t take actually going there to figure the falsehood of this one. Currently, Tibet is a money sinkhole for Beijing. Tourism, comprised largely of people who want to see Tibetan Buddhism and people who are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, is a major part of Tibet’s economy. More tourism = less of a money sinkhole = financial incentive for Beijing to help preserve Tibetan culture. Yes, some things are gone, but mainly the theocratic parts and the parts that naturally go away due to modernization (for example, yak butter churned by machine rather than by hand). The essence, the art forms, the prayers, the principles for living life, they still remain for those who want them.

 

Going there, though, really helps hit it home. Temples all over the place. Yak butter for Buddha lights all over the place. Worshippers all over the place – and from what I understand, it’s hard to avoid accidentally stepping on them during religious days. Lots of praying people. And lots of shrines dedicated to Dalai Lamas 5-13.

 

Wait, what? Dalai Lamas? Aren’t they not allowed to worship that guy?

 

Well, not exactly. It is only the current Dalai Lama, the 14th incarnation, who is not allowed to be worshipped. And even then, it is purely a political issue, not a religious one, centered on China perceives to be the current Dalai Lama’s separatist agenda. The 14th claims to have shifted from wanting Tibetan independence to “greater autonomy for the area of Greater Tibet” – however, Greater Tibet is an area that encompasses the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as significant portions of Qinghai and Sichuan (Amdo and Cham). The problem with the latter two areas is that those were never under his jurisdiction in the first place. The Dalai Lama traditionally had control over U-Tsang, and the Panchen Lama control over Amdo and Cham, which makes the desire for “Greater Tibet” seem less like altruism and more like a land grab. The rationale for outlawing worship of the 14th Dalai Lama has everything to do with policy (anti-separatism, secularism in government) and very little if at all to do with religion.

 

The other problem is that he and his supporters make claims that are either patently untrue or intellectually dishonest. He claims “cultural genocide” – however, the Tibetan population has been climbing steadily since CCP rule, and Tibetans themselves are exempt from the One-Child Policy; if this is genocide, then it is quite the most unsuccessful genocide in history. Their culture – minus the parts that says Tibetans are supposed to live in a theocracy – isn’t so much being eroded as changed over time as all cultures do. Yes, the Cultural Revolution did happen, but that was an act that harmed all Chinese, Han, Mongol, Hui, Uyghur, Bai, Tibetan, and otherwise; Tibetans were not singled out which makes the “genocide” label untrue. The 14th Dalai Lama makes promises of democracy and laughs at the idea that he might reimpose religious rule – but it is the CCP coming in with their modernizations and technology and trade that showed Tibetans the possibility of a different life and made it impossible for them to go back to theocracy. A promise of democracy costs the Dalai Lama nothing, and it is a promise he could make only because of the CCP.

 

If the Dalai Lama was to come back and take up his role as simply a religious leader, China would be fine with him. As he and his supporters seem unwilling to give up their political power, reconciliation is unlikely – but to blame only China for this is nought but favoritism.

 

“Influx of Han migrants causing Tibetans to become second-class citizens”

 

There is an influx of Han migrants, as is generally the case when large development projects occur. However, the “second-class citizens” part is not true. From my friend, I learned that of the landowners – by which I mean the people who hold the 30/50/70 year leases on land meant as a temporary measure until the CCP figures out how to reconcile private land ownership with socialism – most are Tibetan. Sure, there are still plenty of impoverished Tibetans, but there are also plenty of impoverished Han Chinese. The important part is that Tibetans do not seem to form a disproportionately large subset of “poor people”, but they do form a significant proportion of “holders of capital”.

 

In addition, having already established that Tibet is legally part of China (again, unrelated to whether you personally think Succession of States is valid or secession is a right), it also follows that there is nothing inherently wrong for a Chinese citizen to move legally within China’s borders. Lots of Sichuanese workers moving in and undercutting Tibetans? That’s merely a market economy at work. In the US states are not allowed to enact protectionist policies against other states, so why should China further restrict Chinese movement from other provinces into Tibet?

 

“Tibetans are being oppressed.”

 

Are they?

 

For the most part, given a little thought, they do not seem like an oppressed people.

 

It would be easy to think that, especially if you had a camera and took pictures of military police stationed around Lhasa, especially if you went to get all the right angles and the right lighting and the right caption. Such a photo might win you a Pulitzer – the Chinese soldier, armed and impassive, staring intently into the masses of Tibetans he is supposed to oversee, looking for any sign of discontent, be it a Snow Lion flag or a small photo of the 14th Dalai Lama, while Tibetan beggar children pray in front of their collection bowls – and it would have been worthy an award named after man who started a war between the US and Spain based on utter lies.

 

Based on personal experience, both my own and my friend’s, the MPs are easy to ignore. My friend adds that they are also very good about giving road directions.

 

Based on the general experience of past rulers of all empires in the world, quashing the local culture in an area where you are the minority has never worked out well. The CCP is many things, but retarded isn’t one of them.

 

According to my friend, among the older generation of Tibetans – the ones who grew up when the Dalai Lamas were still in power – many do have the feeling that they were invaded and conquered by the CCP. And there are some who view Han Chinese with hostility, even enmity. But the younger generations generally do not care so much, as they know life is much better now than it once was. Their society is much more mobile, they are finally connected with the world, they can have fruits and vegetables grown in the plateau, their culture and experiences are now more diverse, they have opportunities beyond herding yak and growing barley – all in all, they can do so much more than their ancestors did.

 

My tour guide to Namtso was in Lhasa when the March 14th 2008 riots started. People were not allowed out into the streets while the military police maintained order. He and his non-Tibetan neighbors soon ran out of food in their apartments. Their Tibetan neighbors saw this, boiled their rice into gruel, and shared it with their Han neighbors. They did not have to do this, and it would have been perfectly justifiable for them not to do it, yet they did anyway.

 

Does this seem like the behavior of a recently conquered people to their oppressors?

 

One of the restaurants I went to, Accordion Bakery, is owned by a Tibetan-Han couple, and while it is somewhat noteworthy, there is no stigma attached to it. Consider their example, and consider the look that, say, a mixed black-white couple might still get in the US today.

 

In what oppressive society does the dominant class marry into the dominated class?

———————–

Conclusions

 

Again, as I must mention once more, set aside your notions of whether succession of states is valid or whether secession is a right or whether the Dalai Lama is really all that important to Tibetan Buddhism or whether all facets of an ancient culture must be preserved at whatever cost or any of the other values-based arguments you may have. I aim not to change anyone’s worldview. I do aim, however, to possibly change the conclusions you may have drawn about Tibet by adding new information to the fact pattern.

 

The conclusions I have drawn, aside from confirmation that the PRC has a legal basis for its claim of ownership over the Tibet region, is that objectively speaking, life for Tibetans as a whole have improved under Chinese rule. If, at some point in the future, the Dalai Lama comes back, or if Tibet manages to become independent and a successful nation-state, most if not all of the credit must go to the PRC in its efforts to develop the region from nothing. Imagine the mountains of gold and silver not being used to build infrastructure, but solely for religious icons. My tour guide to Namtso was an ethnic Hui who one day asked his Tibetan friend “who do you believe in more, the Dalai Lama or the Chinese Communist Party?” His friend thought for a while and replied, “I believe in the Dalai Lama, but life is better now.” Due to Chinese rule, the Tibetan people now know to separate church and state.

 

I personally find it distasteful that when the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” it is “separation of church and state,” but when China does the same, it’s oppression. With regards to free exercise, my observations lead me to the conclusion that limits to the free exercise of Tibetan Buddhism are little more than similar limits on the free exercise of Hinduism’s caste system or Christianity’s stoning punishments. It seems less important whether they are allowed to worship the 14th Dalai Lama and more important whether they have choice in to what degree they allow the traditional Tibetan Buddhist ways to influence their lives.

 

I welcome intellectually honest and well-thought-out debate and critique of my facts or logic. Arguments based on values (basically, anything with a “should”) will be ignored and occasionally mocked in private to my friends.

 

A good site for “intellectually dishonest debate tactics”. http://www.johntreed.com/debate.html Use this checklist if you wish to opine. I do realize that technically “I heard it from a friend who works there” counts as hearsay, in which case your burden of proof rests on disproving my friend’s credibility, not simply shouting “hearsay!” and denying everything else in this post.