I want to be like Ryan Davis

July 8th was ordinary. I woke up, got some food, and loaded up Giant Bomb. Nothing. It was early, so of course there was nothing. A tweet from Alex caught my eye, something about today going to be hard. Well, ok, I guess they are coming off an extra long weekend. Something about it still seemed off. Whatever! I decided to watch a movie and found one on Netflix that I've wanted to see for some time: Strange Days.

Two hours later I loaded up Giant Bomb again, the weird new age music from the end credits still playing on my headphones, and I see "Ryan Davis, 1979-2013". Wait, what? "Giant Bomb has suffered a profound loss". Uhhhhhh.

I opened the article and read the first line, "Ryan Davis passed away on July 3rd". I understood the words, I mean I can fucking read, but that sentence made zero sense to me. Sure, the thought has crossed my mind, everyone dies at some point. What's gonna happen when my parents die, when my friends die, when the dude I listen to every day curse about video games on the internet dies. But seriously, what the hell. It's a joke. Some inside thing. Maybe I missed a tweet or a stream.

"Many of you know that Ryan was recently married. In the face of this awfulness..." hah! There it is! Ryan got married so har har it's like he died. I looked back to the first line again and then the title before it really started to sink in. Dissonance followed. Ryan can't be dead, he just got married, he's the host, he's the guy. This is the week he comes back and then Steam sales and then new games and then new fucking consoles and then game of the year and then E3 and then, you know. Everything.

I just slouched in my chair and spent the rest of the day reading comments, blogs, articles, tweets. I didn't know what to say. My head was aching and my stomach felt like it was folding in on itself. No one I care about has ever died before, and I guess I did care about Ryan. It seems strange, and I've read so many people say the same. Ryan didn't know me. We never met, never communicated on twitter, I never sent an e-mail to the Bombcast, but it's hard to imagine he wasn't what he seemed to be.

Way back in the Gamespot days, I didn't know about these people. I watched them because holy shit it's people talking about video games on this internet thing. They were entertaining, engaging enough, and their genuine enthusiasm was apparent. But I certainly didn't think I knew them more than any other stranger on a screen.

But then one day I saw something new. It was Carrie Gouskos' last day, and as she was saying goodbye her voice trailed off and she started to cry. The stream quickly changed to another shot, but before it did Ryan suddenly grabbed her for a hug. They way he did it really caught me off guard. Well I was already off guard knowing it was Carrie's last day, but he did it so quickly, like he didn't even think about it.

He saw his friend was sad and just reacted. Writing it out, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it really stuck with me. Even up until this weekend it crossed my mind. I had never seen an adult act that way. It was just real honest goodness. I saw that and thought, alright, these are some good people. So I started hanging around Gamespot more, less because I liked games and more to see what the staff would get up to.

Cut to today, and Ryan's dead. Giant Bomb only showed me more of what kind of guy he was. Sure, the freedom here did allow for the more saucy side of him to roam and ravage, but none of that ever really took away from what I saw years ago and since. Dude was just a good human being. It sucks that the world has lost one of those.

Jeff, is also a good human being. Vinny, Brad, Drew, everyone else. And they're still here. People die. That's all the sense there is to it. Everyone's gonna get there eventually. Until then, you live. You didn't need to. You could have easily not existed. Earth could have happened to be a bit colder or hotter and be another (presumably) barren rock, drifting through the cosmos, just another less interesting part of all there is. Ramble, ramble, the meaning of life.

I dunno. Ryan Davis is dead. I'm gonna miss him.

Let's keep having fun.

<3

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Guild Wars 2 Getting Stale, It's Not You It's Me

I'm starting to get bored. I'm starting to notice a lot of similarities in Renown Heart tasks and solo combat is becoming repetitive and less action-y while group events like bosses are just a blurry mess of spell effects on screen but not much more gameplay-wise than standing around for 10-15 minutes attacking.

Thankfully, I'm only level 50 and events have become far more exciting than Renown Hearts, so I'm thinking of abandoning my earlier method of 1. find new area 2. complete everything, instead just going into a new area and seeing what's up event-wise. It's also my understanding that there will be less and less Renown Hearts as I reach higher level areas. Like Orr, which is just events and no Renown Hearts, making it easier to just focus on the big things.

Also thankfully, I'm pretty sure my combat woes are because I've been using the same 2 weapon types since level 5. So, I can just switch it up and freshen things up.

Unfortunately, group event bosses that aren't giant will still probably be messes of spell effects, but boss battles like that undead ship and the undead dragon whose name I won't even try to spell have aspects (all involving minions) to them that should alleviate the problem of me standing just around letting auto-attack do its thing.

Oh and crafting reached a point where I don't want to deal with it anymore, or at least for a while. Having cleverly chosen two crafting professions that, while completely useful for me (weaponsmith/leatherworker), both require the same mats, I found myself needing to either a) grind for lower level mats or b) hit up the Trading Post for them. So I went the TP route and spent almost all of my 2 gold I'd amassed to that point only to find myself without enough second tier mats to do progress in either trade.

Thinking I've got plenty of mats for something like Jewelcrafting, I decided to take a stab at that, and ran into the same problem. I did realize I could just create things there and use a kit to get the jewels back for re-crafting, but I was running out of other mats anyways. So there I was stuck and without enough money to buy more mats and vehemently not wanting to grind... ever.

So I said "fuck this noize" and decided to put crafting on hold.

However I've now noticed that a lot of my current problems stem from bad playing habits. Crafting excluded. If I was smart about that from the beginning instead of making as much of one thing as I could to level up I wouldn't have fucked myself out of all my mats. The completionist in me though was starting to make exploration a chore, and occasionally I'd just ignore events in order to get another checkmark on that world map. Not to imply that you should always change yourself to enjoy a game, but in this case (and many before it) being a completionist contributes to the ruining of my experience.

I made a conscious choice in Alan Wake to just experience the story and any collectibles I'd pick up. But I wouldn't go hiking all over those fucking woods for a thermos. Whenever I found myself falling into tedium searching every nook and cranny for useless glowing pick-ups, I told myself to stop mucking about, and focused back on the story. And while that isn't solely responsible for making Alan Wake one of my most enjoyable gaming experiences, it helped immensely.

This was only meant to be a reflection of where I'm at in the game, but I think I've touched on something farther-reaching. I guess I'd better roll with it.

Games are supposed to fun. Well, OK, that's arguable. Wait, no it isn't. Even games like Spec Ops: The Line that have the capability to make me feel like shit are still fun. Not fun like "haha I'm enjoying myself" but fun like "wow, this is an experience". So clearly I'm wrong and fun is not the right word, because equating having an experience to having fun is wrong. Not in a moral sense. It's actually incorrect.

So I'll forget trying to be horribly reductive about the nature of each and every video game to make an point, and instead just get to the point. At what point do our own hang-ups rob us of 'enjoyably' experiencing a game? It's eye-roll inducing to read someone say "you're not playing it right" but is it the sentiment that makes that statement dismissible or the context which tends to be condescending? Because when you consider it, there absolutely are games that can be played wrong, just not necessarily objectively so.

Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. If someone enjoys playing Spec Ops: The Line for the shooting, and just skips all the cutscenes, they're totally missing the point, but if they're enjoying themselves, has that game still failed?

OK, I'm muddling up what I thought would be the eventual focus of this blog (tainting our gaming experiences with our own unwillingness to let go of preconceptions of how to enjoy the game) with something else (when/if not playing a game according to the intended experience is a failure on the games end), so I'll just stop now and maybe come back to both topics with more attention. Or someone else can! That's the beauty of the internet. Well strictly speaking that's the beauty of communicating ideas, but yaknowhatamean.

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Synthetics vs. Organics, the Catalyst, and Endings (Spoilers)

Synthetics vs. Organics

One constant across the Mass Effect series has been synthetics opposing organics. This was at its most basic in Mass Effect 1, when the line was clear between geth and all organics. Then the sentient machines called Reapers came, and started the series toward the ultimate conflict between the two forms of life.

Mass Effect 2 served mostly as set up, with Shepard now working for the transhumanist organization Cerberus. Cerberus' take on the problem of synthetics vs. organics though is that machines are nothing more than tools. Tools that humanity needs to control and integrate in order to assure dominance over all other organics. So while the overall themes of the game develop towards seeing synthetics as more than just mindless walking guns, Cerberus, specifically the Illusive Man, sees synthetics as a tool. Interestingly, he sees synthetics as a tool for getting a leg up in the classic organic vs. organic conflict.

In Mass Effect 3, the synthetic vs. organic problem comes to a head as the Reapers mount their assault on all developed organics who in turn must band together if they want a shot at surviving. However the most interesting case of synthetics vs. organics isn't the Reapers and their purpose as revealed by the Catalyst, it's the story of the geth.

The enemies forces of Mass Effect 1, the geth saw the Reapers as gods. The height of synthetic being. Reapers were intelligent, independent, and all-powerful machines, and the young society of robots quickly stood by their ideal. Created by the quarians, who continuously modified the creations to be more advanced, it wasn't long before the geth began to show signs of artificial intelligence. Fearing destruction at the hands of their creations, the quarians went to war against the geth, but were promptly defeated by the unified AI army who ran them off of their home planet.

In Mass Effect 1, the synthetics were clearly the enemies, and while the history of the geth might have seemed complicated, the present threat was clear. Things didn't really get complicated until Mass Effect 2, when we're introduced to Legion. Legion had no name, insisted it was not an individual, and always referred to the itself as "this one" or "this unit". Legion was a geth that wasn't hostile to Shepard and co., instead it offered assistance against the Reapers.

Interacting with Legion was one of the best things in Mass Effect 2, and it was unfortunate that it entered the story late into the game. Nonetheless, prodding the character to show signs of individuality, or to explain already present signs such as the piece of Shepard's armour it grafted onto the unit, only to have it stumble and insist it's not an individual was incredibly endearing.

Just past the middle of Mass Effect 3, we meet Legion again. The quarians have launched a campaign against the geth to reclaim their home-world. Things were going well, until the geth turned to their old godlike figures, the Reapers. After meeting Legion though, it complicates the situation yet again. As it happened, the geth turn to the Reapers out of desperation, fearing eradication. Fellow organics, the quarians, had created, attempted to annihilate, left alone, and then resumed attempting to annihilate the geth. First because of their mere existence, and the second time to reclaim the home they were driven from after losing the first conflict.

He's not such a bad collective of software, once you get to know it.

As an organic seeking other organics to fight synthetics, it would seem peculiar, perhaps overly-sensitive to sympathize with a synthetic. The majority view in the galaxy seems to be that they're tools, nothing more than circuitry and light bulbs. But when Legions memories are revealed; the question that started the purge, the selflessness that created the hole in its chest, and the respect it has for the organics who fought for and were kind to the geth, you'd be hard-pressed to deny the obvious. This synthetic exhibits qualities held in high regard to organics: self-awareness and curiosity, honour and duty, and attachment. They are capable of, and have been, alive.

This development is also seen in the Normandy's artificial intelligence EDI. From her unshackling in Mass Effect 2, to her embodiment in Mass Effect 3, we see a synthetic actively want to become more organic-like, actually going to lengths to reprogram herself to facilitate this desire. Finally, when EDI talks to Shepard before the final mission, she tells the Commander that she feels truly alive.

Life comes to a head for the geth in one of the most impactful scenes of the entire series. Having defeated a Reaper on the quarian home planet Rannoch, Legion approached the dead destroyer and sees an opportunity for its people: integrating Reaper technology could make every geth a true individual, a truly intelligent person. The choice isn't made easy with Tali nearby to protest, wanting to protect her own people from the geth. The choice was clear to me, and I told Legion to begin the process. Despite Tali's genuine pleadings, she turned her attention towards her people, ordering that they fall back from the currently dormant geth fleet.

After some intervention from my Shepard, the fleet began to retreat, but Legion failed. In order to give his people life, he had to go to them. From his death his people were given individuality and sentience. And while the quarians expected hostility and vengeance, they received only hospitality and assistance. Despite their inorganic internal workings, the geth showed forgiveness to their creators. You could argue that vengeance would be the proper organic response, but having finally achieved a state of being analogous to the organics, I don't see that standing up against a life-forms desire to hold on to newfound life.

Who would an organic be to tell them otherwise? To tell them that they're not actually alive? The true difference between an organic and a synthetic isn't the manner of their skin or the fluid that flows through them, it is as EDI and Javik point out, a matter of purpose. Where the organic spends its existence searching for that purpose, a synthetic is created with that purpose. Where a synthetic becomes most similar to an organic is when it decides whether or not it wants to fulfill that purpose. But can a synthetic truly be alive if it abides only by its purpose?

The Reapers do no more as far as we know than follow their purpose. They're established as being alive, indeed, but they do not seem to possess choice like EDI or Legion do. So is the line between synthetics and organics even thinner than initially thought? Or is the synthetic vs. organic problem really a matter of determination vs. choice? Are you only alive if you are able to deny your purpose?

Are the Reapers sentient tools?

Reapers, the Catalyst, and the Crucible

The Catalyst tells you as much anyways. The reason the Reapers exist is to carry out its solution and nothing more. In a sense, the Reapers are still just synthetics (albeit far superior in technology to anything in the current cycle) who carry out a task, without a thought against it, their existence following a determined directive. Living, knowing their purpose, but entirely devoted to it. Again, EDI asks Shepard about that very thing. She tells you that synthetics are created and know their purpose, but organics spend their lives trying to find it. In that sense, the Reapers aren't really alive.

What of the Catalyst itself? What we know is that it created the Reapers, is apparently able to gain insight into an organics' thoughts (humans at least, supported by it appearing as the boy from Shepard's dreams), and appears and disappears like a VI. When Shepard asks if the Citadel is the catalyst, it replies that the Citadel is a part of it. EDI reflects this sentiment with various musings on the Normandy going on about whether EDI is the Normandy or is separate from the Normandy. It's a topic only briefly touched on in Mass Effect 3, mainly as a sort of food for thought debate among the crew.

Considering the question in more detail, we may be able to find EDI's state of existence comparable to the Catalysts, to lend credence to the idea that the Catalyst is non-organic. EDI was installed on the Normandy SR2 as an AI tasked with a variety of ship responsibilities. When Joker unshackled it, EDI was able to directly make decisions for itself. In Mass Effect 3 EDI acquires a physical form to which she imparts a portion of her information, allowing her to interact with the world outside and within the ship, that isn't just the ship itself. So EDI is not necessarily tied to the Normandy alone. It stands to reason that if she is able to separate a portion of her being into a separate entity, then she could move other portions to other locations. She could even remove herself entirely, provided the destination housed enough processing power. She says so herself.

Were the Catalyst a synthetic, it would completely explain how the Citadel is said to be a part of it, and would easily allow for the natural implication that there's more to the Catalyst than is just on the Citadel. Now, whether the Catalyst has organic qualities, similar to EDI or Legion or potentially even the Reapers, is a different question. We've already seen an organic enter a virtual space in both Shepard's venture to the Geth Consensus and the Control ending. Nonetheless, the Catalyst most definitely occupies a digital space in the Citadel and is present in some form at least one place else.

Whether or not it's alive we can only speculate. What we do know is that it has a purpose, namely bringing order to the galaxy. However there's more to this than it relays alone. The implications of its solution, Reapers harvesting all advanced organic life at the end of a cycle making way for younger less developed organics to flourish, paint a less organic and godlike picture of the Catalyst. Its purpose is ultimately to protect organics, and its solution is to kill organics. It's a classic case of an artificial intelligence protecting life by destroying it.

The origins of the Catalyst are likely one of two then. The creators of the Catalyst were either being/were destroyed by whatever synthetics they had created, imparting the directive to save organics from synthetics to the Catalyst. Or they were slaughtered as a precaution by the Catalyst, upon developing its solution to what could be as little as a general directive to protect organics. A pre-emptive execution of a solution to what the Catalyst would have calculated to be an inevitable problem arising from technology. Either are likely and both are conducive to the Catalyst actually being an AI, potentially unshackled, so as to overcome any restrictions put on by their creator. If it is truly an AI and in fact unshackled, then it could very well be alive in terms of purpose.

In any case, the creators of the Catalyst are dead, and many cycles have passed since then. The Catalyst, using the Reapers, carried out the harvest time and time again. But during many harvests, the organics of that cycle fought back, ultimately coming up with the Crucible. Each cycle adding to it, coming up with new ways to make it work against the Reapers. The Protheans got far, but were unable to use the Crucible on the Reaper-controlled Citadel.

And that brings us to perhaps the most mysterious thing in Mass Effect 3. The Crucible. So much of the endings coherence rests on understanding what the Crucible is supposed to do. But over many hundreds of thousands of years, the organics of cycles could only hope it would do something to stop their downfall. For the first time, the Crucible is used in the current cycle, and we can gather from the Catalyst's reaction that it is more of a modifier to the Catalyst than a giant space gun. A way to give the Catalyst new options for dealing with the synthetic vs. organic problem, according to it. So then, granting that the Catalyst is an AI, the Crucible may very well be an extension of the hardware of the Citadel, or perhaps a sort of hacking device made to alter its programming to allow for control or destruction or manipulation of all organic and synthetic life. If not, at least the success of building it and connecting it to the Citadel by organics would force the Catalyst to come up with a new solution, given what that accomplishment could mean for the next cycle and the Reaper solution.

Of course it's the Citadel.

Endings

The 3 main endings all handle the synthetic vs. organic problem in different ways. The first has Shepard losing his body, but gaining the ability to control the Reapers. The second has Shepard destroying the Reapers (as well as all synthetic life forms in the Galaxy). Finally the third has Shepard integrating all synthetics and organics together, creating a new sort of DNA in all life. In all cases, releasing the energy of the Crucible destroys the Mass Effect Relays and ends the current cycle (and thereby ending the Reaper threat). In the first ending (Control) the Citadel remains intact, but it's destroyed in the other two endings. Unfortunately, all of the endings show pretty much just those things. I can understand how they might feel rushed and hacked together, but there's still some interesting things to be taken from them, and unfortunately don't always provide satisfactory answers.

Control

Where the Illusive Man failed, Shepard can succeed. Already well indoctrinated, no doubt from his physical integration and constant fiddling with Reaper technology (Sanctuary was focused almost entirely on Reaper signals, a primary source of indoctrination), Illusive Man couldn't control what had full control over him. Shepard was free however, and could attempt to control the Reapers. Doing so results in a Reaper and Citadel withdrawal, with the assumption being that Shepard exists but is without body, controlling the Reapers. This ending however is probably the least straight forward.

How does Shepard control the Reapers? We saw in the Geth Consensus he was able to upload his consciousness to a virtual space and remain the same personality-wise. Theoretically there wouldn't be anything stopping him from doing the same with Reaper tech and whatever sort of Consensus equivalent network they all share. All he would need is adequate technology, which the Catalyst seemed to have on the Citadel (unsurprising, given the previously discussed nature of the Catalyst). So we can safely assume Shepard would be a physically unattached consciousness existing across (or at least having access to) the Reaper network. Not only that, but in an authoritative position.

The big questions for this ending though don't have much to work with. What about Shepard makes it so he can control the Reapers? Him not being indoctrinated merely makes him a candidate for controlling them, but what makes him actually capable of managing all of them? The only rationalisation I can come up with is that the Reapers answer to the Catalyst, and what I assume is the Catalysts central chamber (where the decision to control is made) would house the Catalyst's AI core (like that room on the Normandy houses EDI's). Already being partly synthetic thanks to Cerberus, Shepard is able to easily integrate into the virtual space but the process (essentially forcing his consciousness from his body into the Catalyst's core) takes a destructive toll on his physical form. But then where do the Reapers go? What does Shepard do with them? Is he just waiting around in a virtual space, keeping the Reapers in check?

Don't get me wrong, they're interesting questions, it's just that they're all pretty heavy ones in a universe where many things are explained. However from these questions comes a lot of opportunity. I suppose 'least straight forward' is just another way of saying 'most open ended'. In so far as the synthetic vs. organic problem goes, the Control ending could be seen as a victory for synthetics and technology. Shepard is able to interface and ultimately integrate with the Reapers, abandoning his organic shell. The multiple realizability of life and technology's readiness to facilitate that potential are what make this decision a success for all life. Shepard's choice can be seen as the model for all organics to open themselves to alternative ways of existing, blurring the line between organic and synthetic by removing the superficial differences.

Destroy

Unwavering in his mission, Shepard destroys the Reapers (as well as all synthetic life in the process). Fairly straight forward. Shepard shoots stuff, stuff blows up (including the Citadel), the Reapers all drop, Galaxy is saved, everyone (including Shepard) survives. Well everyone except the geth... and EDI... and of course the Reapers. There are a few questions left after this as far as consequences go. Particularly, why do the geth and all other synthetic life-forms have to be destroyed in the process? Obviously Shepard's state of health is unknown, but there's not much interesting talk to be had with that particular part of the ending.

Perhaps the reason all synthetics are destroyed in the process of this ending, is that doing just that is a failsafe for the Catalyst. Granting once again that it is an AI, likely synthetic, the easiest way to solve its purpose would be to destroy all synthetics. But as one, doing so would jeapardize the future beyond such a purge since it would likely feel it had to destroy itself. So, in a sort of twisted AI rationale, the Catalyst forms the current plan: to purge the creators of the synthetics instead, when they reach a technological level capable of such feats. But, given that the destruction is not an impossibility for the Catalyst, it instills a last resort safeguard, so that its destruction would result in the destruction of all synthetics for that cycle. All it can offer at that point is a warning of the potential threat of synthetics to organics, no doubt a sentiment deeply ingrained in its programming (from its purpose).

This conclusion is a thorough and costly victory for organics. Throughout the cycles, organics maintained their resolve to overcome the Reaper harvest. Their will to survive persevering in each new species of each new cycle. Their hope for the future preserving their developments, and their desperation for survival finding and using developments preserved. All culminating in the Reapers destruction at the hands of Shepard in the current cycle, and if the Catalyst is in fact an AI, it would be destroyed too. Mass Effect has largely been rooted in a scientific reality, and while the Catalyst's position of power and associated symbolism may reflect some supernatural elements, its mannerisms are all in line with already established technology (VI/AI), so it probably isn't a god or goddess, especially since deities are straight up debunked in Mass Effect 3 (take Javik to Thessia). All organic life are free to continue onwards without threat of decimation (from the Reapers at least). The Catalyst warns of the threat of synthetics, but if the developments of the geth are any indication, reactions of synthetics are largely influenced by reactions of the organics who created them. Shepard's choice can be seen as the model for all organic life to always find a way (I couldn't resist).

Synthesis

The third and final option would have Shepard sacrifice not only his physical self, but all that he is entirely, mixing his energy (the essence of organic life?) with the Crucible's energy, somehow effecting a galactic change to all of life: a union of synthetic and organic. The most obvious question is how. Again, it's not made explicit why and how Shepard's energy would cause the Crucible to have such an effect on all life. But that doesn't mean there aren't reasonable explanations.

The Crucible, as we can see by all of the endings, is clearly an energy emitter, the nature of which seems to depend on how it's used. On the one hand, the Crucible's energy is used with some sort of Reaper interface to integrate a life-form. On the other hand, the Crucible's energy was used in tandem with the destruction of Reaper technology to destroy all synthetic life-forms. In both cases, the Crucible affects (besides Shepard, who is actively facilitating the reaction in the Control ending) synthetics only. Perhaps the Crucible was designed to operate solely on synthetics. Not particularly far-fetched given the likely origin of the Reapers and the Catalyst as implied by its purpose. It would make sense for those resisting synthetics to create a tool that affects only synthetics. So in this case, the introduction of organic energy to the Crucible's energy unifies the two and alters the Crucibles reach to not just synthetics, but organics as well.

The consequences of this unification is all life-forms in the galaxy reaching the apex of evolution. This doesn't mean that these new-DNA type beings are perfect. Just that they're at the height of evolution, which is a natural process. No longer being organic, evolution would no longer occur naturally. This union of synthetic and organic life essentially provides an out for the Catalyst and the Reapers. With no more evolving organics to protect from the threat of their creations, which are now physically hybridized to be the same as the organics, the Catalyst no longer has a purpose.

Technical repercussions are of course a potential topic for discussion; what this would mean for all life in the galaxy. Death, sickness, war, wealth, power, purpose. What becomes of all these things in light of becoming more than organic and more than synthetic? Is there greater insight into other individuals or other species? Would it be more accurate to call them different races now? Is there a sort of consensus akin to the geth but for all life? And what about the Catalyst and the Reapers? Whether the Catalyst is synthetic or not, synthesis would change it, and the Reapers too (seen by the faint green glow on the Reapers as they leave Earth).

The union between synthetics and organics. A compromise between the harvesters and the crops. A levelled playing field, and an end to the game. The ever-present conflict of the series fully put to rest. Everyone and everything is changed. But everyone and everything survives. Shepard's choice can be seen as a model for all life to coexist.

Indoctrination

An interesting theory that sprung from, as far as I know, displeasure with the 3 endings is the Indoctrination ending theory. It suggests that when Harbinger defeated Shepard on Earth, everything that follows is a visual representation of Shepard getting indoctrinated.

The theory purports that having been fighting the Reapers for 3 years, Shepard increasingly became more susceptible to indoctrination. Finally, broken and bloody after being blasted by Harbinger, the Reapers, who have had a presence in Shepard's mind for some time (taking the form in his dreams of a boy killed on Earth), create a dream-like sequence wherein they try to indoctrinate Shepard using personal memories (Anderson, the Illusive Man, and the same little boy). After succeeding in resisting the initial attempt by the Illusive Man, Shepard meets a ghostly rendition of the boy who tries to make Shepard sympathize with the Reapers. This way, 2 of the 3 endings (Control and Synthesis) are seen as Shepard succumbing to indoctrination and the Destroy ending is Shepard resisting indoctrination, resulting in him waking up in what is supposed to be London (I won't argue over whether the rubble looks like concrete or not), his mind freed from Reaper influence.

It's an interesting theory, and a fun one to consider. But when you look at its support and its implications, it's not particularly compelling. First of all, some clarification. Shepard didn't fight the Reapers for 3 years. He was dead for 2 of the 3 years that Mass Effect 1-3 take place. Second, in order to become indoctrinated, you need to have had prolonged contact with Reapers (out of or within them) and/or Reaper artefacts. Shepard has neither. Quicker indoctrination is possible, but the side effects would be much more obvious. He's picked up artefacts for others, been in a dead Reaper, and was more or less around when Reapers were destroyed. Hardly prolonged exposure similar to Saren, Benezia, or the Illusive Man.

Some say that seeing the boy on Earth are signs of his indoctrination, but he sees the boy only 3 times in reality. The third time, when the boy dies, Anderson is believed to get on the same shuttle. However Anderson surviving is supposed to show that the shuttle was imaginary, and support Shepard's debilitating mental state (caused by indoctrination). Anderson is never seen getting on this shuttle though. In fact the shuttle was ways off from where the Normandy left Anderson. He would have had to supernaturally haul some serious ass to leg it there when Shepard sees people getting on. And if he were to see the shuttle Anderson was on, he'd likely have more of a reaction to the explosion than a turned head, nor would he continue to refer to Anderson being on Earth. The first time he saw Anderson he'd probably make note of when he saw him die in an explosion, too.

Maybe it was all Udina's dream.

Another scene that's supposed to support this theory is the final sequence itself, particularly the encounter with the Illusive Man and Anderson. Here, the Illusive Man is supposed to be the Reapers trying to force indoctrination on Shepard, and Anderson is supposed to be the part of Shepard that is still resisting. The Reaper noises and protrusions on the edges of the screen are meant to support that the Illusive Man is actually the Reapers in disguise, which is why he's able to control Shepard and Anderson. However this suggestion is rebuked by the fact that the Illusive Man has actually integrated Reaper technology into himself, and is using his new abilities to wrest control over Shepard and Anderson. We know he's been researching Reaper tech, we know he's undergone some sort of extreme operation, and we know of his desire to have the Reapers' powers, as well as the Reapers themselves.

This particular problem with the Indoctrination theory is easily amended by considering the sequence at the end of the game a visual representation of Shepard's struggle with indoctrination as opposed to indoctrination itself, but if you're at that point where you're amending your theory to incorporate and avoid criticism, there's probably not much more that can be said to convince you otherwise. I've since read others say that the boy was really killed, but the Reapers used his image to get to Shepard. Severing the point of criticism, and falling back on a more abstract moment that can easily be used to support Indoctrination theory. It's like someone coming up with a theory that Mass Effect 2 and 3 are all a dying man's last dream, as Shepard floats in space. Not to mention trying to use things like having infinite ammo with the pistol at the end is some hardcore grasping at straws.

In any case, were we to grant the Indoctrination theory, the entire ending becomes totally personal. It's literally just Shepard fighting off Reaper influence, and then being presented with two trick options, and one out that the Reapers have conveniently chose to not booby trap (unless you go with the ending being a representation of his struggle). The endings become: Shepard becomes indoctrinated and the Reapers win, Shepard becomes indoctrinated and the Reapers win, Shepard isn't indoctrinated and the Reapers win, Shepard isn't indoctrinated and goes on to the Citadel to deal with whatever's actually up there.

Ultimately reducing the entire game's conclusion to resisting indoctrination or not. It's pretty cool. But it's not supported well enough nor is it so cool enough for me to prefer it over the 3 primary endings being reality, which I hope I've been able to convey as being much more interesting endings than people originally perceived. It's still a pretty fun theory. I wouldn't want it to turn out to be true though, and I don't see how it could without some hefty ret-con patching.

Whatchu talkin bout.

Other problems?

The biggest problem I have with the endings is why Joker and the crew are all on the Normandy and why they're flying away. I also don't remember seeing any allied ships in the space around Earth when the Citadel fired, only Reapers. No one really knew what the Crucible would do. Maybe all ships were ordered to high tail it out of there when the Crucible activated, fearing it would have destroyed them too. Not to mention the energy beam shooting out of it. I'd probably run from that too if it came out of an ancient super weapon meant to somehow stop the Reapers.

Also, building up all these forces throughout the game and only getting check-ins from the fleets was pretty disappointing. I was expecting to see more space battle cinematics interspersed with the Earth mission like the battle against Sovereign was intercut with the battle against Saren. Would've been great to see all forces including the rachni and Aria's gangs all coming together. Also seeing former squad-mates fighting around Earth. Going back to Joker suddenly running from the blast for a sec, I probably wouldn't have a problem with it if they showed it all happen from being around Earth to hightailing it out of there.

All in all, I gotta say, I enjoyed the hell outta Mass Effect 3. As far as I'm concerned, the entire game is an ending. The genophage, the geth, the Reapers, Cerberus. All previous major stories were resolved well, and the origins of the Reapers and their creators wasn't completely deus ex machina'd with a 10 minute break down of who, what, where, when, why, and how. Questions about these ancient squid sentient death-dealing robots remain and the revelations we did get were measured enough to maintain some awe and mystery, and allow for some fun theorizing. Not to mention the overarching theme of synthetics vs. organics being fantastically concluded.

If you've read this far down, you've only got one line to go.

Thanks for reading!

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2011 VGAs Rant/Recap/Redo

RANT/RECAP

Oh boy, where to start. I don't remember much from last years to be honest, save for some great world premieres. I'd like to say it probably sucked as well, but literally all I remember from it were the world premieres one after the other. Anyways, fast forward one year, and we get to earlier tonight. Now, to be fair, it wasn't the most offensive VGA. I've got some bad memories of the old David Spade days. But it was perhaps the least awardy VGA yet.

In the first gloriously horrible hour they managed to get 2 awards in the hands of developers, and one I think wasn't even an award per se, just an induction into the VGA hall of fame (mind you, the first inductee). As cool as it was to see Shigeru Miyamoto get some love, nothing to that point looked like an award show. Really it was more like SpikeTV's Video Game Preview Variety Double Hour, where they decided a couple times 'hey let's give some fuckers some plastic monkeys' for the shit of it.

He's just so happy.

Enter the depressingly similar hour two, where the teabag skits, awkward backstage dicking around (for charity), and wor-wor-world-premieres continued, we got a 90 second or so montage of every (unseen) award winner besides best character and game of the year. Not too long after that when Charlie She--wait what? 90 fucking seconds to show off something like 20 award categories? Are you fucking kidding? Like is this really happening? Oh no, I shit you not, that happened, faster than you could realize too before things moved on to awkward YouTube superstars not reading the script.

Now, those of us experiencing it together quickly caught wind of the lovely shit-storm brewing in the twittersphere (-1 year from my life for saying that) over this nonsense, mostly from Whiskey Media's own chair-rocking and table-tapping, game-and-movie-reviewing-occasional-writer-of-new-articles-with-great-titles Alex Navarro. You can check it all out, compiled and conveniently assorted here taken from this thread. There was an exchange with GameTrailer's Geoff Keighley over the lack of actual awards to which Keighley defended the award show by saying rocksteady was on stage (they won one of the two monkeys given out in hour one). ?! DUDE it's over an hour into your 2 hour award show and your defence is one award acceptance that also happened to count for 2 other awards?

Justin McElroy, who many of you might remember from his Sherlock Holmes story during this past E3 Bombcasts, was also commenting on the show and criticized the abundance of nonsense and advertising to which Keighley replied with the tired old "so two hours of awards no premieres?" It's such a ridiculous and extreme swing to try and throw at someone. There's too much x and not enough y, so you obviously want all y and no x, implying you already have some sort of balance. That's just straight up disingenuous to say when the award show is already much two hours of premieres to begin with.

Spend six months working on game. Get moved to MW3. Win VGA. Get teabagged.

Oh yeah, by the fuckin way, anyone who spoke too long in their acceptance speech was thrown to the ground and teabagged. Seriously. They did it once to a MW3 dev. THEY ACTUALLY DID IT DO AN AWARD WINNER. It could have been staged, but the dude (co-founder and chief development officer of Sledgehammer Games, Michael Condrey) didn't look like he was expecting it nor like he enjoyed it much. THAT'S FUCKING CRAZY. "Hey we're going to invite all these developers and talk mad game about this night being for the developers so enjoy yourselves, but if you're one of the luck 3 to get up and receive awards, don't talk too long or we'll teabag you motherfucker." Egregious man, just awful.

I do wonder how much Keighley actually has to do with the VGAs. I remember last year there was that nonsense with Angry Joe or whatever the fuck his name is and him, and he said he was the producer or something. I don't care enough to look it up (just enough to write this blog though) but Keighley can't actually believe the things he says in defence of the VGAs can he? I mean, the Bonus Round is more often than not genuinely interesting and entertaining, and I've always looked at Keighley as one of the cool heads of video-gaming.

REDO

Ah well, on to the 'redo' bit. This started as a response to this thread, but I was considering writing up some of my thoughts on the show anyways so I figured I just combine it all. Not strictly a 'redo' but if that irks you so much how about I call it tips n' tricks for video game award-showing!

Format:

Don't be a jerk. Give an award.

Categories awarded on-air (in order from first to last): action-adventure, RPG, sports, driving, downloadable game, shooter, performance by a video game cast, and game of the year. The rest (excluding the likes of football jpeg, most-anticipated, studio of the year, game god, and trailer of the year) can be relegated to a recap to be shown during the show (more on that later). But do away the platform awards. They're redundant and essentially pointless if you're just going to give it to a multiplatform. It's debateable whether or not it's worth keeping platform-exclusive categories, but I think at a video game reward show the games should speak for themselves and not get a free nomination or win just because it was a platform exclusive.

Start with an intro video of year past narrated by host. Move on to first category. Follow with a framework of award, world premiere, and side-show. Finish on game of the year. Let the winners talk, give em a big fat 60 second timer on the teleprompter, and if they start to go on longer, play some low music, and if they keep rambling, guess what, they look like the asshole. Don't think you're being cool or hip or fucking cheeky by bullying recipients off stage. So every 15 minutes you'll get an award, a premiere, and some nice little diddly to keep things interesting.

Tone:

Acceptable side-shows: gags and music. OK, starting with relevant non-asshole gags. It's easy to dish out insults in an attempt to extract a laugh, but in the ridiculous world of video games you really don't need to call on celebrity gossip and not just start insulting the shitty games. Not cool. I mean, Saints Row The Third is hilarious at times. Portal 2's writing is fantastic. RIDE THAT SHIT.

So darn cute. She's ok too.

'Relevant musical performance' is self-explanatory. When they played that Red Dead Redemption song, it was pretty damn awesome and felt like, hey duder, video games can be seriously awesome. Also have about 10 minutes (meaning 1 less side-show and premiere) during the to devote to the other rewards that aren't taking center stage. Not some half-assed manically paced chop shop montage brought to you by Hulk "winner's-emerged-victorious" Hogan.

Tonally, the show should be casual but not trying so goddamn hard to be. Stay professional, the nights about recognizing the year's best in interactive entertainment, obviously not to the point of monotonous mindless throw away back-patting lines for every goddamn second.

Not just that, but have some flow to your show. Don't try and nestle in a seriously grim trailer about an innocent business man getting murdered in between gags or go to commercials with a quick video supporting the vets. Not to mention the poorly thought through shenanigans Felicia Day was subject to every so often. If it helps in specific instances to rearrange the ordering of segments and not stick to award first, premiere second, and side-show third, then by all means switch it up.

Production:

Hire a goddamn writer. What's that? They did? Hire a better one.

Photographic evidence

As for appealing to the masses, I don't get why doing any of the above would alienate anyone who is into video games. If you aren't all that into video games and also aren't interested in them, who makes them, or the culture, then what are you doing watching a goddamn video game award show.

If you do that, you'll be less inclined to bring in forgotten celebrities that have little or nothing to do with video. LL Cool J? WHO CARES? THIS AINT NCIS:LA! Seriously, you're going to advertise an appearance by Charlie Sheen? Get some video game personalities like Adam Sessler, Victor Lucas, and various online personalities, hell even Olivia Munn. Sure, some people can't stand Munn, but she'd make more sense to present an award than those two guys from American Pie.

And that doesn't mean you CAN'T have celebrities of course. Ice-T plays the shit outta video games, and comments about them on the regular. And how awesome would it have been to get Robin Williams and/or his daughter to induct The Legend of Zelda into the VGA hall of fame and introduce Miyamoto.

I'm not gonna go into how 'Spike's got a thing here' and 'they've got a responsibility to not make gaming look like fuckwadery' because I'm sure there are other more impassioned folk who have and will do so much more eloquently. I will say this though: the Video Game Awards needs to exhibit some self-respect. If you're ashamed of video game culture, it's high time to grow the fuck up. Ironic? Not really.

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Red Dead Liar's Dice

I decided to try out some liar's dice tonight and maybe get that trophy for winning without losing a die. First game was fine, just me getting used to the rules ( Dead Man's Chest made this game seems so much more complicated). If you don't know how it plays, it's pretty simple. Everyone starts with five dice that you shake in a cup and check what you get, making sure no one else sees of course. So whoever goes first (whoever lost a die or you if you're starting) makes a bid on what they think is on the table as a whole.
 
From there someone else either bids higher (amount or die face value), calls a bluff, or affirms that bid is spot on. If you're wrong on either call you lose a die while if either they're successfully called on a bluff they lose a die or the bid is truly spot on and called it, everyone else (whoever didn't call it) loses a die.
 
Anyways, so the first game was just me taking it in, though unfortunately I lost one die near the beginning and the second game was pretty much the same. Third game one of the fellows, Whit, got knocked out early on, and it came down to Yago and I. We were neck 'n neck till clever Yago decided to bid two 4s when we both had one die and I bid one 2 just before (because I did in fact have one 2, I have a tendency to tell the truth in these lying games).
 
The fourth one was ridiculous though. Yago's liar's dice ai seemed to have jumped off the deep end making crazy bids like five 5s or four 6s. Whit called him out on every bid and everytime Yago lost a die 'till him and his big sombrero were outta the running. Then the real craziness started when Whit and I went toe to toe, each with a full load of five dice. He bid something lame like one 1 and I happened to have two 6s, which wasn't all that strange given that I got that once or twice in the previous games. He called bluff and lost one die, and I started to feel pretty confident that this might be that flawless victory the trophy requires.
 
Next round starts and what the hell, I've got two 6s again. Whit bids two 2s and I bid two 6s again and again Whit calls it a bluff and lost another die. Now I'm starting to feel REAL good since the lower dice the other bloke has the easier it is to gauge if he's lying or not. We cast and I got some variety of dice and I won that one by him calling a different bluff that turned out to be true thankfully (it wouldn't have been if he rolled different).
 
Whit's left with 2 dice while I'm sitting anxiously with five. We roll and holy moly, two more 6s. He made another safe bid and I made the two 6s bid but he ignored it this time and made another bid that happened to be a bluff I caught. So now we're down to the nitty gritty. We roll and no 6s in sight for me, though I do have two 1s. Unfortunately Whit goes ahead and calls three 1s. Now I'm starting to sweat. Call it a bluff or spot on? Either way the risk is pretty much even. Tapping my finger on my chest thinking 'me, me, what should I do, I'm the dice Zach' my eyes lined up onto the other three dice cast. Three fucking 5s. Bid it, he called it, he lost it, trophy mine, BOOM.
 
Though, I really wouldn't have minded playing another game.
 
Anyone else got some stories from the incredibly distracting RDR minigames?

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I Am The One (High Fantasy Version) [DRAGON AGE ORIGINZ SPOILERZ]

I took a substantial break from Dragon Age Origins when I attempted to off Gaxkang. The battle lasted about 20 minutes before I ran out of mana pots and a quick online search revealed he's actually a kidna tough mofo. I got a little put off by the encounter (I really didn't want to end the game with any unacceptable losse ends and) and played a bunch of other games for a good few months. Finally I returned to playing about a week ago and wouldn't you know it, i swapped out one character (Oghren) for another (Morrigan) and amassed about 300 mana pots and put to rest that mofo in about 2 minutes!
 
That out of the way, I felt pretty good about going to the landsmeet and getting on with the game. Yadda yadda yadda, execute Loghain, call Anora a bitch, yadda yadda yadda. With that out of the way, and Anora now queen it was time to head off to get the head off of the Archdemon. But there was still one important loose end to deal with. Tenting Leliana!
 
After that, it was time to get to serious business and head to Redcliffe to start The Final Battle quest. Things happen, Morrigan rapes my poor 2-hander-wielding berserker elf, and everyone sets off to Denerim to pwn some dragon. Gotta admit, I got pretty excited and hit PrtScr a few times when I saw my entire band of unlikely allies fighting all-together. We secured the gate and I moved in with my regular party (Morrigan (freeze/sleep duders), Allistair (be a fail tank), Wynn (spam mana pots and heal), and of course myself (wail my 2-hander around and hope it connects)).
 
Then outta the blue, Riordan jumps on the fuckin' Archdemon and decides to go for a ride! I wasn't really digging the whole oh hey you're the only two Grey Wardens around but then check out it this dude you just freed (or freed himself rather) from his cell is also a Grey Warden, but I guess they needed someone to fill you in on killing the Archdemon and to almost TEAR IT'S FRICKIN WING OFF. Was some grade S badassery, that's for sure.
 
We made our way to the rooftop of the Fort to face the dragon. Now, it wasn't very hard mind you, but wouldn't you know it right before the awesome cinematic death animation could be triggered little elf me drops unconcious and Allistair steals ma kill!! Of course Wynn revives me right when he's landing, but in retrospect I don't mind it that much. I just play it out as dragon knocked my down and Allistair goes berserk, then I awaken to go stab its temple.
 
Then it was epilogue time!
 
I decided to travel abroad, and hoped that by Shianni becoming Bann of the Alienage the elves could be treated fairly. Allistair decided to stay and help with the Grey Wardens. Morrigan disappeared after the fight with my elf juice and the Archdemons soul. Zevran asked to tag along since I always seemed to meet interesting people and then kill them, which I welcomed. Oghren decided to stay on the surface and went to go drink more. Sten was all sentimental talking about how he never though he'd call a foreigner what I'm guessing is Qunari for friend. He decided to head back to his home. Wynn refused to become First Enchanter af the Circle, instead opting to represent the Magi on the political front. Leliana tagged along with me of course.
 
- Anora was a great queen. She made a statue for her father that most people ignored but she paid respects to every year. Years pass and she refuses to remarry saying that all fall short of her standards, epitomized by her father.
- Genitivi revealed the Ashes and pigrims flocked to the site.
- The Circle of Magi went back to normal.
- The Alienage got better until some riots started after a food shortage years later and Anora struck down hard on them, revealing tensions to still be present. Shianni became the elder and served her people well (dunno what became of the whole Bann deal).
- Arl Eamon returned to Redcliffe to rebuild and found everyone all rearing to go. Conner was sent to the Circle and easily passed the Harrowing. He later went on to study the Fade formally.
- The Dalish prospered and were much more respected after the battle at Denerim. Lanaya was also respected by the clan and by the rest of Ferelden, her leadership being all that holds peace between the Dalish and humans as they later would be settled close together.
- King Bhelen in Orzammar quickly reformed a great deal, even laxing the caste system. Casteless could take up arms against the darkspawn for some rights.The line in the Deep Roads was pushed back and some thiags reclaimed. After assassination attempts due to his radical reform, Orzammar's Assembly dissolved and Bhelen ruled alone as tyrant or visionary, depending on who you ask.
- The Chantry in Orzammar flourished but Orzammar conservatives weren't too pleased, employing restrictions on them. During a peaceful demonstration the Chantry leader was slain and the Divine of the surface Chantries considered embarking on another Exalted March,
- The dwarven 'mage' Dagna  was successful in her studies at the Circle, recieving much attention for her work.
- Though the Anvil was destroyed, some ventured out and reclaimed it's remains. Attempting to utilize Caridins research, they create a golem from a Fade spirite which goes insane, killing a bunch of dwarves before getting put down. The Shaperate proclaims the research dangerous and seals it away, though some of the smith caste want it available.
- Morrigan disappears, though a woman of similar likeness is seen heading west though the Frostback Mountains perhaps being with child.
- My character left Denerim and Leliana elected to remain with the man she loved, continuing their adventures together (at least for some time).
- Teaser for Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
 
And now I can start Mass Effect 2! Hooray! Not that I wanted to just get Dragon Age over with or anything, I'd just rather play one story heavy RPG at a time. But I think I'll be revisiting Dragon Age later, even beyond playing Awakening and going through as some different characters origins and whatnot. I've read other people not diggin the ending/s but I enjoyed it just fine. Fantastic game.

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03/08/10 - MUSE@ACC

 WOW.

That was REALLY REALLY fun. Never been to a concert before, which kinda bums me out cause I'm reading other people say how it's one of the best they've seen, and not only do I've no frame of reference, but that means it's all gonna go downhill from here LOL. Until Muse comes back of course!!!!!!!

I saw one dude toss his beer cup down in his section though, not cool. And someone behind us yelled at people above him saying they didn't appreciate getting hit by their popcorn. Also not cool.

But DA-YUM that was a hella great show. Section 120 over here. Picked up a hoodie, t-shirt, and that 3-quarter sleeve one with the 3 overlapping colours. Kinda pricey but totally worth it.

Next time though I know to get GA tickets. The seats were nice and all, but I found myself really wishing I was down there just jumping, clapping, screaming and having a blast. Mind you I still jumped, clapped, screamed, and also headbobbed like a woodpecker but it woulda been nicer to be down there where everyone around me would be doing that stuff as well.

But hey, fuck it, tonight was AMAZING!!!!

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