Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feeling Crabby

Did you know that crabs feel pain? Neither did I, but it's right there in the science journal of experimental boilology. It says "If you cook crabs they'll die screaming horrible deaths of utter agony." Or something like that. I mean, look at this article in the Globe and Mail, titled "That lobster you are going to boil feels pain: study".

Wait... are lobsters crabs? 'Cause I'm pretty sure they have different names for a reason. Also... what the hell! How do you know if crabs feel pain! Did they interview the crabs?

EXPERIMENTER: "Ok, now I'm going to give you a light shock. I'll move it up a little after each one and you tell me when you feel that it qualifies as pain."

CRAB: "Gotcha."

EXPERIMENTER: "How's that?"

CRAB: "Tingles a little, that's about it."

EXPERIMENTER: "What about now?"

CRAB: "It's a bit uncomfortable, but nothing I can't handle."


CRAB: "That's weird... my claw keeps snapping open and closed."

EXPERIMENTER: "Ok, I'm going up again."

CRAB: "Ow! Yeah, that hurts."


CRAB: "What the hell!? Yeah, I already said it hurts. Turn the damn thing off!"

EXPERIMENTER: "A little bit more..."

CRAB: "Aaaah! Stop it!"

EXPERIMENTER: "You smell so good right now."

CRAB: "What is wrong with you!!!! Owowowowow! Wait, what's that?"

EXPERIMENTER: "Oh this? Ummm.... Stage 2 of the experiment requires me to melt some butter on you. It's nothing to worry about."

Honestly though, how do you quantify pain in an animal? For people it's easy, you just ask them. So what did they use as a criteria for the crabs? Apparently, learning quickly to avoid a stimulus is enough. For example, here’s the crab experiment:

1. There's two caves.
2. Crab goes into one cave.
3. Crab may or may not get a shock.
4. End of trial one.
5. Crab goes into the cave a second time, crab gets a shock.
6. Crab says "eff this" and tries the other cave.
7. Ergo, the crab feels pain.

Whaaaa??? Why does that mean the crab was in pain? I mean sure, as people we can extrapolate and say "yeah, that probably hurt." But by that logic we'd also say anteaters hate their freaking lives because ants taste like ass, whereas in actuality anteaters probably think ants taste like tapioca pudding.

Let me put this another way. I'm going to show you the exact same experiment with a person, and you can tell me whether this behaviour can be explained as straight-up proof that crabs feel pain:

1. There's two elevators.
2. Paul goes into one elevator.
3. Paul may or may not smell fart.
4. End of trial one.
5. Paul goes into the elevator a second time, Paul smells fart.
6. Paul says "eff this" and tries the other elevator.
7. Ergo, Paul feels pain.

See? Step 7 makes no sense. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't describe that scenario as a painful experience (that would be one helluva toot), yet by the crab experiment criteria it's "painful".

Just one more reason to be critical of everything you read.

Ever heard of Gamma world? It's a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, made by the same people (Wizards of the Coast), and more or less using the same rules. The major difference is that it's futuristic sci-fi instead of fantasy.

This is the description of one of the powers for the character that controls electricity: "You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like a spaz."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? "Jerk and dance around like a spaz"??? Since when was the word "spaz" used by anyone a) older than 11, and b) not totally out of touch with derogatory terminology?

Now, some of you regular readers may be aware that I discovered I was epileptic about a year and a half ago, so obviously I'm going to be more sensitive about this. But this description could basically be written as "You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like an epileptic.", or ""You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like a retard."

Including that description in a game book validates its use as a non-offensive term, which it is not. Some people would say that it's part of the vernacular now and has lost its offensive tone, like the words "gypped" (gypsied) or "heepy-jeebies" (Hebrews and Jews). I disagree, because people still use the word spaz specifically in the derogatory manner, directed at the group it's derogatory towards.

At any rate, I wrote the letter below to Wizards of the Coast:

Hi there,

I have a simple request of you, which I hope you'll take seriously.

In the description of the Electrokinetic power "Electric Boogaloo" you say "You zap your enemy with an arc of electricity, making your foe jerk and dance around like a spaz." As an epileptic, the use of term "a spaz" makes me sick every time I see it. Maybe the person who wrote it didn't realize the term "a spaz" means "an epileptic", and was unaware of the painful association that terminology has for any person who experiences grand mal seizures, particularly those who experienced seizures when young. Regardless, could you change that description in future versions of the rulebook? I want to play gamma world, but I literally can't play an Electrokinetic character. Given that there's a thousand other ways to describe the power without using those words, I don't think this is an unreasonable request.

Take care,

And this was their response:

Greetings Paul,

Thank you for contacting Wizards of the Coast Game Support, we appreciate you for providing feedback. This email is to inform you that we have received your comments, and while we cannot guarantee an additional response, we do appreciate that you took the time to bring your thoughts on the word choice for Gamma World.

Thanks again, and if you have any additional questions or comments for us, please contact us again. Have fun, and good gaming!

Translation: Yeah, whatever.

So hey, Wizards of the Coast; go screw yourselves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Games and Ammo

Note: I'm not completely insane, so please don't read this post under the belief that I'm somehow arguing in favour of anything other than rational thought.

Can we chat, just for a moment, about guns?

The recent shootings in the US have been brutal. Absolutely, unabashedly, brutal. When something like that happens it's a wake-up call for an entire culture... a chance to ask "Are we doing it right? How could we do it better?"

It's good to know they've come up with a solution:

I'm going to zoom in on that top left corner for clarity's sake:

Yes, that's right. Guns aren't the problem in these shootings. Video games are the problem.

What? How the hell does that work? Seriously, this was the front page of the NY Times for Sunday, January 13th. Apparently in the US, while people were racing out to buy automatic weapons in fear of laws that might happen, they were busy pointing the finger at video games because, hey, some of those shooters played video games (and yes, I'm going to quote extensively from that article).

Look, I know a lot of people want a scapegoat here. But in this instance I'm going with the tiny shards of metal travelling at the speed of sound over a bunch of images on a television. For crying out loud, there's a real opportunity here... who could possibly benefit from deflecting the argument away from guns?

"...public rhetoric has clearly shifted since the shootings, with politicians and even the National Rifle Association — normally a fan of shooting games — quick to blame video games and Hollywood movies for inuring children to violence."

Oh. So you're telling me that after a bunch of people get killed with guns the NRA is pointing the finger at video games? You think they don't have a horse in this race? Folks, that's like the liquor industry arguing that the most effective way to combat drunk driving is to regulate milk. A little critical thought would be nice.

One of the problems here is that lawmakers don't know their ass from a teakettle when it comes to games. They simply say "violent video games" without really understanding what that means. For instance:

"There have been reports that Mr. Blah Blah*, the Newtown gunman who killed himself after his rampage, liked World of Warcraft and other violent games, as do many young men."

Whoah, hold on... what the hell just happened there? What was the point of the "as do many young men" part of that sentence? Are you saying the guy is like many other young men, so don't blow the games thing out of context? Or are you intimating that there's a whole bunch of young men out there who are potential killers? Christ... you went to journalism school, didn't you? A little clarity would be nice.

Back to my original point, which was the part about how he "liked World of Warcraft and other violent games." Uhhh... anyone out there actually seen what WoW looks like?

Yeah, that's a regular murder simulator you're got there. If there's a way to sub-menu a person to death, this guy's primed to do it.

Come on. Please educate yourself on the issue.

"Studies on the impact of gaming violence offer conflicting evidence. But science aside..."

Sigh. This quote says so much. "You can have your science, but what you should really be listening to is my gut instinct..."

"Residents in Southington, Conn., 30 miles northeast of Newtown, went so far as to organize a rally to destroy violent games. (The event was canceled this week.)"

Well at least we didn't get all the way to book burning.

“I don’t let games like Call of Duty in my house,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said this week on MSNBC. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”

THAT'S WHY THERE'S A MATURE RATING ON THE BOX!!! WE'RE TELLING YOU NOT TO LET YOUR KID PLAY IT!!! Congratulations for being a parent who can read. No, really, bravo. By the way, you know who puts those ratings on the box? The games industry. And they did it on their own. You think that happened with films? FYI, the average age of a gamer is 35. It's not like they're shipping a free copy of Call of Duty and a package of Marlboro's with every Super Mario Brothers sale. Oh, and by the way:

"2009 research by the Federal Trade Commission [credited] game makers for going further than any other media group to shield children from inappropriate material. Major retailers like GameStop consistently refused to sell “mature” rated games to minors, the commission found, and game makers usually did not market them to children."

So yeah, there's that. We're deliberately trying not to put violent games in the hands of kids. The only thing that can get in our way is crappy parenting, but lord knows that's not going to be part of the argument. By the way... do any of you readers think the games industry has to do any of this? Actually, we don't:

"The industry’s biggest political asset may be the 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court that found restrictions on the sale of video games to be unconstitutional.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, wrote that evidence linking games to violence was unpersuasive and that games had the same legal protection as violent literary classics like Grimm’s Fairy Tales or “Snow White.”"

So here's the summary: There's no conclusive evidence that violent games preclude children towards violent acts, but the games industry regulates itself anyway, even though the US Supreme Court says it doesn't have to. There is evidence however, that when people get shot to death there is a gun involved.

Take this opportunity to fix a problem, America. Don't squander it on rehashing an argument that a) has no scientific basis, b) is already being addressed, and c) has no direct relationship to the problem.

Perhaps surprisingly, the most salient quote in the entire article came from a Texas Republican:

"Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, suggested that the focus on violent video games is misplaced. He called the games “a healthy form of education and entertainment for our family” and said ratings made it easy to keep inappropriate games from his children."

Hear hear.

*I don't think that splashing the media with the names of these mass murderers does anything to help the problem. In fact, I think it's partially why they do it; to gain a measure of fame in compensation for a life of anonymity. I'll be damned if I'm going to contribute by putting the guy's name in my blog.

Why is it that so many people don't remove the foil from packages of dip, cream cheese, sour cream, etc? They just kind of open it halfway and then leave the rest attached so that it stays there when they put the lid on, forcing them to laterally excavate dip from under the foil like a coal miner. Does that foil have some sort of magical properties I'm unaware of? Just remove the foil and enjoy unencumbered dip access!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Drinking in Your Television

Why is it that people in film and television never finish a drink unless it's supposed to say something? Here's the ways people handle a drink on TV, and how the scene invariably ends:

The Angst Drinker
Holds their beer/highball loosely, never really takes a sip. Probably plays with the label/straw and talks straight down into the bar, only occasionally turning to look at the person they're talking to. Deep thinking moment.

EXIT STRATEGY: Takes one actual sip, places the drink emphatically on the bar, then grabs their coat and leaves. Note: This person ALWAYS has a coat hanging folded on the back of their chair.

The Brief Conversationalist
This guy just drops by and is greeted with a "can I buy/get you a drink?" They accept the drink, have a 12 second conversation, and never touch their beverage.

EXIT STRATEGY: They just walk away, leaving the person who got them the drink stuck with the bill for something they never even tried to have a sip of. Note: Unlike real life, this person rarely gets punched in the face for being a dink.

The Casual Gathering Folk
This is any scene where a bunch of people are drinking. The drink is there simply to say "Hey, I'm enjoying some time with my friends." At no point will anyone actually drink from their glass. (See: Mother, How I Met Your).

EXIT STRATEGY: The scene simply ends, the alcohol is just a prop. Note: Sometimes a character raises their glass to their lips... this is an indication the camera will cut soon, as we will never actually see that drink make it all the way to their face. EXCEPTION: People drank their faces off on CHEERS.

The Perfect Changer
There's at least one empty on the table at the start of the scene, and they probably order another one before it's done. It will be served with less than 10 seconds left in the scene and they will never touch it.

EXIT STRATEGY: The perfect changer somehow is always able to finish the scene by reaching into their wallet, pulling out two crisp bills, and walking away. This guy is either the most generous tipper on the planet or a massive jerk. Note: Nobody in the history of film has ever paid for a drink using a credit or debit card except in the following scenarios: a) They are absolutely cranked and angry that their card has been declined, or b) They got cranked last night and left their card at the bar, then they go to retrieve it and adventures ensue.


The Non-Drinker
This person – generally a woman – "doesn't usually go out", but some stressful event (usually involving the workplace or an ex-lover) causes them to go out with their friends in an opening scene of the movie, wherein they finish their drinks. As a result they get way too drunk and make "a huge mistake", generally meaning they met the love of their life but don't realize it yet.

EXIT STRATEGY: Camera fades to black, immediately followed by them waking up with a raging hangover and not remembering what happened the night before. Note: Within 5 minutes their hangover will be a non-issue. This is forgivable, since otherwise the rest of the movie would be them shaking on their couch and wondering whether sticking their head into a cold bathtub would allow them to absorb the water straight into their brain.

The Alcoholic
Almost always a guy, he finishes his drink in every scene. Only alcoholics finish their drinks.

EXIT STRATEGY: Doesn't have one. Every scene ends with them having "another one", or with another character dragging them away against their will. Note: This person will either look like a hobo or a millionaire, there are no in-betweens. If they look like a regular person they'll have a drug problem, not an alcohol problem. EXCEPTION: Regular people can be recovering alcoholics, just not active alcoholics.

I actually don't care about the Canucks this year. Thanks NHL, for destroying 25 years of passion for my team.

Heeeeyyy... how you doing Whitecaps? You're looking mighty fine this evening...