Atheism – How did I come to it? What does it mean now?

•10/07/2014 • Leave a Comment

I have what I feel is a very standard experience when it comes to my conclusions on atheism. In spite of that, I feel warranted to write about that here. What? It’s not like I’ve been away for 3 years working or anything, I’ve got nothing else to do!

I was raised as a catholic. I volunteered as an altar servant for the church I attended for a few years as well. The community was quite pleasant, and they’d have some interesting activities they’d host. I felt pretty welcome there even, and I hold nothing against them today.

So why turn to godlessness? A few problems arose with my religious beliefs. The problem of hell was something I had thought on even from an early age. A problem of eternity was another. Would a loving god sentence anyone to eternal suffering? It’s a question that’s brought up frequently by atheists, but still a valid one. And what of the alternative? Heaven itself represents eternal existence.

Well, why the fuck is that a problem at all? Because it’s incredibly boring. There’s an old saying about taking everything in moderation. You can’t worship a being for all of time and really stay sane. No, really, try mentally devoting yourself to a genocidal asshole for even a few hours and you’ll probably find yourself wishing you’d just watched paint dry or something. Eternity is terrifying in its own way, even more than nothingness.

My answers to these problems came initially in the form of deism. Deism is, in fairness to it, a way of deriving religion that avoids authoritarianism, so that’s pretty cool. It’s based on the belief of a God using reason and observation. It’s like science, but without any…er…science. So that’s kind of a problem. I had this phase for perhaps a few months before realizing that being a deist was just a waste. Maybe there is a clockwork deity who actually made the universe. That presents its own set of problems though. Why worship a being like that at all? Why even acknowledge its existence? If it chooses to punish and reward believers, what makes it any different?

Atheism was the conclusion to arrive at. But what of my own morality afterwards? If God doesn’t dictate what is right or wrong, then who does? What does?

I have not taken any courses in philosophy. What kind of morals could I possibly live by if I reject moral arbiters? Having empathy for others helps. Atheism doesn’t leave a void for me in terms of morality. On the contrary, the rejection of morals via authority allows for humanism and science to fill the gap. We are all that we have in this world, and thus, we each deserve humane treatment. If we lack an afterlife, we have a stronger reason to hold onto this one. We have a reason to respect the humanity of others, though not necessarily their views.

This can be taken further as well. Humanity at its core has performed atrocious acts throughout history, and disenfranchised many societies and cultures. Why doesn’t might make right? Aside from just being kind of assholish, not acknowledging the plights of those less fortunate doesn’t create a level playing field. Those who are on top have a huge advantage, and that advantage can help them steamroll.

This is why views like feminism, income equality, and civil rights matter. Letting all minds into the arena and giving a boost to those who need it is important. Sure, criticism is still useful, but so is keeping illegitimate authority from dictating what is or is not acceptable when it comes to humanism.

So, what does atheism mean?

Everything. For all of us. We are the masters of our own minds, the caretakers of our societies, and the ultimate arbiters of our own futures.

Mass Effect 2

•03/19/2011 • 1 Comment

Well it’s been a few months, but I’ve been busy. I’d been meaning to write a review for a game I finished recently, Mass Effect 2, on top of a few other things happening over the last while for me. Now, I was hoping to hold off on this until all the DLC for the game was finished, but I think I can just update on how each bit of DLC is as I go along (Arrival is coming March 29th for example, so expect a review of that in April). Be warned that as usual this review will contain spoilers.

You just couldn't get enough of it the first time.

There’s a lot to go over with this game, so let’s start with what I bought – the Mass Effect 2 Digital Deluxe Edition. It’s available on Steam and comes with some pretty nifty things, including a comic, the soundtrack for the game, a documentary on the making of Mass Effect 2, and a digital art book, along with access to the Cerberus network and some free items for DLC stuff. Speaking of extra stuff like that, Mass Effect 2 also has quite a few comics that go along with it and 3 novels that go with the series in general (along with an incredibly shitty iPhone game taking place before this one), and I highly recommend trying to obtain all of them except that last one, as they are surprisingly good.

The start of the game is a bit of a shocker. The Normandy is attacked by a mysterious ship and gets completely decimated. Shepard tries to save Joker from the destruction but just ends up getting himself killed.

Wait, what? You’re dead in the first 5 minutes of the game? Yeah, that’s right. Mass Effect 2 doesn’t fuck around. However, through the power of SCIENCE, Shepard’s body is recovered by Cerberus (remember those assholes from the first game?) and he is brought back to life through the Lazarus Project.  After an unfortunate incident involving mechs, Shepard meets up with the head of Cerberus, the mysterious “Illusive Man”.

TIM

This fucker probably smokes a field of tobacco a day.

And no, that caption isn’t an exaggeration either, I swear to fuck there’s no scene in which this guy is not smoking constantly. The Illusive Man explains to Shepard that his ship was brought down by a mysterious race known as the Collectors, a group that go through the Omega 4 Relay to trade highly advanced technology to other races in exchange for odd requests, such as people with green eyes, female krogan, or any other peculiar requirements one can think of for an exchange of living people. Those people are never seen again, and it’s impossible to track down the Collectors, as no one who goes through the Omega 4 Relay is ever seen again. Whoops! It’s been a few years since Shepard has died, and in that time the Collectors have gone and abducted human colonists from the Terminus systems for an unknown reason. The Illusive Man informs Shepard that he’ll need to collect a group of highly skilled professionals from across the galaxy to try and find a way to stop the Collectors – a suicide mission, essentially.

You not only get characters for the upcoming mission but also have to upgrade the new Normandy that Cerberus has built for you so that it’s not destroyed instantly again by the Collectors. A few old squadmates return, and your choices from the last game will have an effect on certain parts of Mass Effect 2 as well. After a halfway point in the game, you can start doing loyalty missions for your squadmates. A loyalty mission is a mission basically given to you by a squadmate which develops that member of the team more, and when you finish it you’re able to unlock a special power for that squadmate and have them perform better during the suicide mission. Similar to the first game, you’re also able to romance certain party members, though that does present one annoying thing regarding achievements – you can only get the Paramour achievement by romancing a new party member, but that betrays the one you might have had in the other game. Personally, as a renegade, in the first game I went with Ashley as a romance and in this one went with Jack, as it completely fits my concept of Shepard to be a cheating bastard.

Sorry Ashley, Shepard's more interested in the unhinged biotic lady now.

There’s also some other interesting changes made from the first game. The Mako no longer exists, though you can get something similar in the Firewalker DLC but it controls infinitely better (the M-44 Hammerhead). Instead of exploring side planets like the first game you scan planets for minerals using probes, which cost credits. Credits in this game are pseudo-finite (you can only get infinite if you bet credits at the vorcha pit but this is painfully stupid and slow) so you want to try and make most probes count, plus using probes can sometimes let you do side missions. Since the Collectors are nowhere near as numerous as the Geth, during most side missions you are forced to fight against one of three mercenary groups – the Blue Suns (turians, batarians, and humans), the Blood Pack (krogan and vorcha who also use varren as attack dogs), and lastly Eclipse (salarians, asari, and humans who also use mechs). You may be wondering “what the fuck are vorcha”, and the answer to that is that they are absolute fucking mooks who pose barely any threat to you whatsoever, so no worries.

Right off the bat in this game you can start on Insanity difficulty, and you absolutely have to use cover if you want to survive this time. Thankfully the cover system is much improved over the old system in Mass Effect, and directing your squadmates is incredibly easy. This game is actually really interesting compared to the first in another way, which is that if you import a save from Mass Effect, you can get all the achievements in the game in one playthrough as opposed to the 3 full playthroughs you needed for Mass Effect. Overall the game is about 30 hours shorter than Mass Effect if one considers getting all the achievements in both games. Combat is much improved in the sequel, and while still fairly easy, Shepard is a much more vulnerable character in general compared to his immunity-spamming counterpart from the first game. Many enemies will try to get around cover, making my infiltrator annoyed to no end, and enemies will try to pin you down with covering fire or biotics at times while drawing closer. Fighting the Collectors can be a particularly annoying experience due to the presence of Harbinger – a total asshole who can possess any Collector on the battlefield, rejuvenating them and giving them annoying biotic attacks to deal with.

Roleplaying options are fairly similar to Mass Effect, but a few key things have changed. For one, clicking “Investigate” no longer makes my PC crash for no fucking reason. Secondly, during conversations you will sometimes see a mouse icon at the bottom right of the screen. This is called an “interrupt” and can increase your renegade and/or paragon scores, letting you do certain cool things such as shooting hostages an enemy is trying to hold, pushing people out windows, shooting people, or shooting more people (can you take a guess which kind of triggers I liked?). Instead of Charm or Intimidate as something you can manually level up, you instead are judged now based on the amount of paragon/renegade points you’ve accumulated over the game to see if you can choose the appropriate intimidate or charm option. This is particularly aggravating for anyone trying to go with both kinds of options, as you need to stick with one or the other to make some really important intimidate/charm options near the end of the game which can affect the suicide mission.

Lastly, the inventory system has been removed entirely. Breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’ll never need to turn another fucking crate full of items into omni-gel due to lack of space.

Let’s go over some of the DLC. The digital deluxe edition came with the Aegis Pack, which has the M-29 Incisor sniper rifle, and it’s pretty fucking awesome as I carried over my renegade Infiltrator from the first game and this is one hell of a gun.  The Aegis Pack also has the Kestrel armor which is equally nice for an infiltrator. The Collector Weapons’ and Armor also comes with the Digital Deluxe Edition, giving you access to Collector Armor and a Collector Assault Rifle, neither of which I gave a shit about, so we’ll move on.

The Normandy Crash Site, Zaeed – The Price of Revenge, Cerberus Weapon and Armor, Arc Projector, and Firewalker Pack are all free DLC items you can download, and they add a decent amount to the game. After that, you have to start buying DLC via Bioware points. Kasumi – Stolen Memory adds a useful party member to the mix with a fun loyalty mission, the Equalizer Pack gives you some more armor and frankly isn’t worth the money for an infiltrator, Overlord lets you go on an interesting side mission, and Lair of the Shadow Broker is one of the best DLC missions I’ve ever seen. From here you can get even more DLC if so inclined – Blood Dragon Armor for registering Dragon Age: Origins, Inferno Armor if you preordered the game from certain retailers, Terminus Weapon and Armor if you preordered from EBGames,  and 3 items if you happened to buy Dr. Pepper. As you can tell, given that this writeup on DLC has taken up about a third of this fucking review, Bioware didn’t skimp on all the extra stuff you can have in Mass Effect 2.

While I haven’t covered everything this game has to offer, that should be enough to interest some people into trying the sequel. The plot is weaker than the one Mass Effect had, but offers more development for the characters. Overall it’s definitely a 4/5 game that you should check out when you can. I’m looking forward to Arrival on the 29th. (P.S., Admiral Hackett returns in it, he was awesome in the first game). You may also wish to check out the shitty iPhone game, Mass Effect Galaxy, if you want more backstory on Jacob and Miranda, two characters that are also in Mass Effect 2.

All in all, Bioware did a pretty great job with the sequel. Be sure to get it, even if the main story is a little short.

Another step backwards for society

•10/21/2010 • 4 Comments

Hey folks. It’s been awhile but I’ve been busy. I’m here today mostly because I am angry, which is always a good sign.

Recently a man, Jon Langbert, was not allowed to stay as a leader in the Boy Scouts of America, and can you guess why?

Let’s make it multiple choice:

A.) He is a bad leader.
B.) He is a criminal.
C.) He touches children in their sleep.
D.) He follows the rules of 2000-year-old goat herders and denies who he is.
E.) He likes dicks.

Well, time to post your answers…alright, ready? Here you go.

I have no idea if he is an atheist. I don’t care if he’s an atheist or not. Regardless of religion, being treated like shit just because you like the same gender as you is wrong, full stop. The Boy Scouts of America have gradually been losing membership since the year 1999, while, oddly enough, the girl scouts who don’t seem to have this discriminatory policy have had increased membership.

Where has this taken place? Texas, of course. By this point it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that Texas is overrun with stupid. But speaking about it is what’s going to change things in the state.

As you can probably guess, the Boy Scouts also reject those who are atheist or agnostic? Agnostic? Yes, the Boy Scouts literally want nothing to do with you if you so much as doubt the existence of their omniscient shithead. It also brings up the problem of agnostic Christians (they exist), which adds another layer of stupid to the mix for the Boy Scouts of America.

Here’s hoping that Jon Langbert’s situation turns out for the best.

Sexism and Vidya Games

•07/20/2010 • 22 Comments

After watching the absolute disaster that was the RealID idea pushed forward by Activision, the world got to see some fun discussion on why RealID is ridiculous. One of the chief complaints was of stalkers online, which has all led to me deciding to make a post about women and gaming in general.

To cut to the chase, women have it really hard when it comes to online games. If a woman announces that she is a girl, she is treated as an attention whore or has to put up with manchildren trying to defend every action she takes and generally being sycophantic in hopes of receiving sex. If she does not announce it, she has to put up with manchildren who use sexist, homophobic, and racist slurs.

I would say the worst genre for this would be MMORPGs. In an MMO, any ‘girl gamer’ is simply going to be told that she only arrived at her position due to sucking up to men. At least in a first-person shooter, if a girl can demolish you, she is going to at least get grudging respect from the manchildren.

The community is only one problem though. The game industry itself is terrible when it comes to portraying women. Women that are wearing extremely revealing “armor” in a time where that would be ludicrous, breast shots, vapid personalities, and failure of the Bechdel test are all common. However, that’s just the games themselves. Women are treated horribly within the game industry as well.

Assassin’s Creed should be proof of this. What started as a game produced by Jade Raymond quickly had a comic published about it basically implying that Jade was able to sell the game so well because she was a slut. The patriarchy has had a real hand in making sure women don’t buy these games, because they would analyze them. They’d point out how fucking ridiculous modern gaming is.

I’ll look at a few examples of games that I feel weren’t sexist and some that definitely are.  Let’s start with the positive:

Portal – a simple, 2-hour game that has only one male character that was known about, who happened to go insane and die. You play as a silent character, and yet this character, Chell, struggles against a machine who harbours a love/hate relationship for Chell. Anything portrayed as sexual by the machine, GLaDOS, is entirely creepy and could not be interpreted by basically anyone as loving, let alone ‘sexy’.

Being a space-faring, gun-toting, rethuglican wingnut isn't just for men anymore.

Mass Effect – The level of respect aimed at Commander Shepard applies whether he is male or female. One of the game’s more prominent villains also happens to be a female, and while she takes orders from Saren, there is a deeper, more personal conflict tied into fighting this villain. Female Shepard herself is able to have a pseudo-lesbian relationship (with an asari, who can mate with either gender) or a straight relationship with a biotics officer, and not one enemy or ally looks down on her just because she’s a woman. Likewise, as a male Shepard, you can constantly rely on your female crew members as strong, independent characters. I don’t really like Ashley much, certainly, but she still excels at getting the mission done.

If I go for a certain achievement in Episode One, Alyx gets to essentially escort us for the entire game!

Half-Life 2 – While Half-Life itself was certainly not sexist, it wasn’t really pushing towards any strong female characters either. Gordon interacts with no female characters at all, in fact. This changed with Valve’s Half-Life 2 entry. Alyx Vance is a character who compliments Gordon perfectly, both having quite a bit of respect for one another and saving each other’s lives more times than one can count. Alyx herself is an absolute beast gameplay-wise. She has infinite ammo and health that regenerates so rapidly that she needs to be under fire by many enemies at once for her to even come close to death. This, granted, applies to all the other major NPCs who you ‘escort’ (more like get escorted by), but Alyx is with you in all 3 Half-Life 2 episodes. She is an intelligent and quick-witted character as well, and Gordon couldn’t have gotten past certain puzzles without her handywork.

Now to take a look at some bad examples:

Capture The Flag, but revolting!

Fat Princess – This game is essentially capture the flag, only the flag is a fat princess. Women are constantly told by the media that they need to be slim to be attractive, and this game doesn’t help matters at all. The princess is essentially useless, as befits a flag in these types of games, portraying fat people as useless to society. This game misses the mark completely when it comes to equality of the sexes.

I will surely be protected from weapons wearing this!

Soul Calibur 2 – This could basically apply to fighting games in general. Look at what the female characters tend to wear: revealing outfits all the time. And I do quite literally mean revealing. No one would go into a fight dressed like that! You’d be dead in seconds!

Overall, the state of the video game industry is in a dire state if we cannot portray females in games as something other than objects for manchildren to lust over. Females are told off when they play games, when they make games, or when they complain about games. Look at the number of pro female game players in the world today. Some are prominent, such as TossGirl, but the majority of pro game players are male. Women are not taken seriously in an online video game environment, instead either worshipped or ridiculed just because of their gender, and certainly told off if they admit that they aren’t slim super models.

Women will have a lot to handle to take back gaming from the patriarchy, but as with all change, we all must fight to ensure that this is possible. Even minor issues such as video games can have huge repercussions on the way men think about women in the real world.

It seems Argentina has come to its senses

•07/15/2010 • 1 Comment

Argentina has just legalized gay marriage after 14 hours of debate about the issue. Wait, 14 hours? For a debate about human equality? Weird. It shouldn’t have taken even 1 full minute, but I digress. This is great news!

If only Maine or California would follow suit sometime and join the civilized world, but those two states are too busy being told what to do by Mormons who shouldn’t be involved with politics.

I wonder how long it’ll take for religious groups to start saying Argentina is bound for hell? I’m not sure at this point it even warrants a reaction. Hell is starting to look far more like a paradise then their Heaven ever did.

Fuck Vox Day

•07/02/2010 • 6 Comments

The Internet’s favourite misogynistic, libertarian fuckwit has posted a screed about PZ Myers.

What do I even need to say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? It reeks of the misogynistic bullshit that represents the pick-up artist community as a whole. If you treat women like objects or like games, you’ll soon be rolling with them. Don’t bother treating human beings as human beings, just act like they’re tools to be used (and thrown away).

It also reeks highly of projection. Perhaps Vox Day is having his own problems? I have to admit, the idea of dating the insane doesn’t strike me as wise either.

Apparently atheists are throwing ‘hissy fits’ over the idea that they want equal rights just like any other human being. Because social movements in America have always been pushed by accommodationists, right? Just sit at the back of the bus and you’ll get your rights soon enough, no worries!

His last line should make anyone want to gag as well. Since when has atheism been a religion? Only Vox Day, the internet superintelligence (of the Dunning-Kruger effect) knows for sure!

He’s been somewhat of a jealous type ever since PZ Myers declined to debate with him. In one of the comments on his blog, he describes PZ as a “sprinter” as opposed to being a “brawler”. I don’t think Vox Day realizes that people in the audience don’t just get to pick and choose fights with the athletes in the ring. Likewise, why would a scientist decide to debate someone who is not only not a scientist, but is also pushing the agenda of creationism?

Only Vox Day knows for sure!

Mass Effect

•07/01/2010 • 4 Comments

I figured that this week to make up for not being able to write last week that I’d do 2 games. One is the promised bad game that will come next post, the other is a current one I wanted to take a look at. As usual, there will be spoilers for Mass Effect. You have been warned!

Ever wanted to play Baldur's Gate? In space?

Mass Effect is a western action RPG developed by Bioware in 2007. You play as Shepard, either a female or a male Human Systems Alliance soldier who can have several different backgrounds. Were you born on Earth? Raised on a spaceship? Are you ruthless, always getting the job done for the mission? Or do you prefer to get everyone out alive? Your decisions will influence what kind of missions you obtain and how characters interact with you.

You begin the game aboard a ship called the SSV Normandy as you set out to investigate a disturbance on a planet called Eden Prime. Without rambling on about the plot too much, you discover a beacon there belonging to the Protheans, an ancient race that was wiped out by the Reapers, a sentient machine race. This beacon is activated by Shepard and makes him see visions of the Prothean race, giving him insight into a grave warning – that the Reapers may come yet again.

Leading the effort to bring back the Reapers is Saren, a turian (alien race) Spectre (an officer who is above the law and works for the galactic council) who has gone rogue for reasons unknown and is leading another sentient machine race known as the geth who worship the Reapers as Gods.

Did you really need me to tell you that this guy is a villain?

You soon become a Spectre yourself and make it your duty to stop Saren at any cost.

Mass Effect incorporates third-person shooting with role-playing game elements. You are able to pick several different classes at the start of the game which are all good in their own ways, so it’s a fairly well-balanced game at that. The 3 main aspects of a character is their ability to use tech (the ability to reverse engineer or hack objects), biotics (think of the force from Star Wars or spellcasting), and combat (the ability to not give a flying fuck about bullets entering your cranium). All 3 are quite good, and my first character was an Infiltrator who is decent at both combat and tech who was also a renegade, as I’ll explain below.

Mass Effect features a unique morality system as well. You can either be a paragon (upstanding citizen of the law) or renegade (gets the job done at any cost, kills anyone he needs to, never gives up his gun never negotiates with terrorists, acts like an ass and is discriminatory; think a republican only actually competent and sane), and your decisions can put either bar up by some amount. You could even be sometimes paragon and sometimes renegade! It’s an enjoyable system because for once it’s not about good vs. evil. Sure you killed every enemy in the room, but that just means less people to terrorize the galaxy later. Being above the law means that you don’t have to worry about stopping right where you are like a criminal scum.

Dialogue choices are present like in most Bioware games, only this time you barely even need to think about which option is renegade and which is paragon. Paragon options are usually at the top, renegade ones at the bottom, and fence-sitters in the middle.  You can use your social skills to either intimidate people being unreasonable or persuade them like a diplomat. Renegades also tend to be able to sell stuff at a high price while paragons can buy things at low prices, but neither matter because you will have 9,999,999 credits before the end of the game and barely need to buy anything.

This brings me to the problems of Mass Effect in general. You have 150 items as your inventory limit. If you go over this limit, you must discard anything new you pick up until you’re below 150 items. There are no words for just how enraging this is, as you will constantly be picking up items as you open containers, which also give you experience. You will be selling items almost every time you return to the Normandy!

Secondly, and I think anyone who has played the game will agree with this, is the Mako. This is a vehicle you use to explore uncharted planets and the main plot mission planets. It controls about as easily as a man riding a toy car to work, which is to say it is a terrible terrible vehicle and should never be used again. You will be amazed at just how much the Mako flips around while you drive on rough terrain, how it fails completely to climb hills, and how absolutely fucking useless its guns are on Insanity difficulty.

It also happens to be a glitchy piece of shit. Observe:

Thirdly, the game is ridiculously easy even on Insanity. Do you remember how I said that characters who specialize in combat never need to worry about bullets killing them? They obtain an ability called Immunity that makes them nearly invincible for several seconds. As an Infiltrator, you can reuse this power incredibly often, nearly as soon as it runs out. All in all only the sniper enemies will give you any trouble once this is said and done.

Lastly, while this is just a bug in the PC version, it annoyed me enough to post about it. If you click “investigate” as a dialogue option, sometimes the game will crash. There is nothing you can do about this except saving before you talk to NPCs and wish to investigate. You can only imagine how frustrating this is. Some other minor glitches include your squad members getting stuck in walls, enemies getting stuck in walls, and a certain puzzle on Noveria being unsolvable if you exit out of it.

All in all Mass Effect is a great game with some minor flaws. I would encourage you to try it out as it’s rather cheap on Steam and has, supposedly, an even better sequel.