Polybius

I like video game history, I like urban legends, and I really like seeing people put a tremendous amount of research and effort into their videos.

With that, I present you Retro Ahoy‘s documentary on Polybius, one of the most prominent myths of the video game world.

First a summary: according to the story, Polybius was a mysterious arcade game available for a brief time in Portland in the early 1980s. Descriptions of the gameplay are vague, but was said to be abstract and strange, combination puzzle and shooting, supposedly highly addictive despite its abstract nature. However, those who played it began to experience odd side-effects such as nausea, amnesia, night-terrors, and behavioral changes. Then a few months after its first appearance, mysterious men in black appeared and wheeled the machines away, never to be seen again.

The rumor is that the game was a CIA experiment: testing mind-control or personality-alteration technology on the general population.

The video goes into greater detail of the story, its history, place in video game culture, and (most impressively) seems to track the legend back to its source. Though even then, there’s still a potential mystery left unanswered to tickle the fancy.

It’s a long video (over an hour), but well-worth it.

I recommend you check out the rest of Retro Ahoy’s channel: the guy puts a ton of research into his work, especially for his longer videos. If you have any interest in video games or video game history, he’s well worth the time (his equally-long and in-depth documentary on ‘The First Video Game‘ is also a must-view).

AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movie Quotes

Obviously don’t completely agree with this line up (nothing from The Princess Bride? Ghostbusters? No “Like tears in rain”, no “I am your Father”, no “You all think I’m licked”? Seriously?), but it’s a respectable collection. In any case, the editing and accompanying music is excellently done.

Enjoy

It can also be found here.

Saturday Music: Skillet

I’m not musically inclined, so I’m not really qualified to discuss the objective musical quality of any band. My criteria for music that I like is a purely subjective enjoyment and / or that it sparks some creative juices or gives a good emotional charge.

The result is that I only rarely get attached to actual bands; I mostly go on a song-by-song basis. But one of the few that I regularly return to and find a reliable source of songs I like is Skillet.

I’ve mentioned them before, but the short version is that they’re a rock band with Christian sensibilities. Or perhaps a Christian rock band. Or a rock band that happens to be composed of Christians. Some of their songs are explicitly religious, others are just rocking awesomeness or gooely emotional.

But whatever the subject matter they have a tendency to hit just the right note for my tastes. I go to them fairly often for my Appreciation videos and have a few other creative ideas for their work down the line.

If you haven’t heard them before, I offer a selection of some of my favorites of their songs for your enjoyment.

(There are two versions of this one: one with a growl, another without it. This is the one without, since that’s what I prefer)
(This one pretty sums up my feelings about Progressive movements)

Mauler Vs. Snyder

I have absolutely no interest in the Snyder cut of Justice League and I never did.

Honestly, the man who made Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, the guy who openly sneered at fans of Superman who expected a hopeful, upbeat hero and arrogantly likened experiencing his ‘mature’ and ‘gritty’ version to losing one’s virginity (while displaying an absurdly childish understanding of human behavior, storytelling, and consequences throughout), and we’re supposed to be excited that he gets carte-blanche and an unlimited runtime?

When I first heard about this and started seeing trailers, I figured it would be completely different from the original cut: a different story, with a lot more things going on. Then I started seeing summaries and reviews and I thought, “Wait, so this is the exact same Steppenwolf / Mother Boxes story, only told over four hours? That plot was thin over a two-hour film: you stretched it out to four?” Similar to how I’ve heard there’s a six-hour cut of Black Panther: a film where well over half the theatrical screentime is pure filler. I have to wonder just what they heck these filmmakers are wasting time and money on.

Enter the legendary Mauler (legendary as in I was legitimately uncertain whether he still existed as a reviewer, as it’s been eight months since his last video), who seems to have hated the Snyder cut and the praise it’s been getting so much that he did a rush job to tear it apart.

It isn’t his best work (he jumps around a lot in this one, a consequence of the rushed production it seems), but as usual he bring clear, logical arguments and side-by-side footage to illustrate just how bad this version is and to make the case that, believe it or not, Joss Whedon actually did all he could to save the damn thing.

(Learned that most of the few moments I actually liked from the original cut, e.g. Superman showing up with a corny line about justice, Supes and Flash saving civilians, Flash commenting on how digging up Clark with super-speed felt disrespectful – literally the one moment I actually liked the Flash in that movie – were original to Whedon’s cut).

(And seriously, Flash can time travel at will? Cyborg can control all machines on earth? What the heck is this?)

Mauler does a great job of breaking scenes and character arcs down logically, illustrating why they do or do not make sense and what they bring to the story or take away from it.

I particularly liked his summation of why Snyder doesn’t deserve any slack:

“How many directors get to shit out a horrendously written movie destroying established, beloved characters with a multi-million dollar backing and an all-star cast? Three times?”

Language warning, by the way: he’s no Razorfist, but he doesn’t mince words.

“Four ***ing hours and the characters are almost as thin, if not thinner, than a two-hour cut? How the **** does that happen?”

(By the way, can we please stop with the boom reverb on alien / demonic bad guys? They do it in every film these days and it’s really old, making them all sound exactly the same. Again, like a child’s idea of how a meany villain ought to sound. I’d like to point out that Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Powers Boothe, Ron Perlman, Kevin Michael Richardson, Corey Burton, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Michael Ansara, and so on didn’t need it for voicing far more intimidating and memorable versions of the DC villains).

Friday Flotsam – Psych Issues and I Get a Review!

1. First and foremost, my appalling ego requires me to advise you all to hop over to A Song of Joy for a review of my first published book: The Wisdom of Walt Disney. It’s also the first review of that book that I’ve received. To say more would be unpardonably self-aggrandizing.

2. In celebration of this fact, I offer the accompanying video tribute to Mr. Disney that I made to go along with an updated release of the book a few years back. All the films shown in the video are discussed in the book.

3. As I’ve noted before, I suffer from what I’ve been calling ‘Depression’. Now, the thing to keep in mind is that psychological issues are different from diseases. In a typical disease (at least, most of them) you have an objective constant in the form of the micro-organism that is causing it: the Smallpox virus or the pneumonia bacteria are species of organism that have certain characteristics and behave a certain way. But psychological issues don’t really have this; the brain begins acting in a particular way which may or may not stem from one of several causes and which may or may not follow the pattern of other brains under similar circumstances. In any case, when it comes to the brain, we only have the symptoms: there is no ‘depression virus’ where we can say ‘Ah, there’s the constant!’ In other words, as far as we know (at least from what I understand), a bodily illness is a substance – an objective thing – while a mental illness is an accident – a pattern.

Yes, I know that we have brain chemistry, but the thing is that 1. there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with that: do the chemicals cause the thoughts or the thoughts release the chemicals? The fact that we can direct our thoughts and recognize them as rational or irrational suggests the latter, at least in part. 2. Neurochemistry is such a new field that I wouldn’t hazard anything upon it that isn’t backed up by more established knowledge (brain scans have gotten results from dead salmon, so something’s not quite right there) and 3. Whether we call the symptoms thoughts or brain chemicals doesn’t really change the question: it’s still something that is happening in or being done by the brain, not, as far as we know, an objective entity that is reacting with it.

Which means that there is no real limit to the form of the pattern. The Bubonic Plague always acts within a certain range of behaviors because the Plague is only a particular bacteria. But theoretically there could be as many mental illnesses as there are potential unwanted connections in the brain.

4. Anyway, long story short, after being frustrated by various different approaches for recovery I’m working on developing my own. My particular issues seem to be an odd cocktail of depression, anxiety, a dash of OCD, and maybe a few other things (not that these ‘official’ diseases aren’t often found together), all tumbled together with a base character that’s fairly out-of-the-ordinary to begin with. So I’m trying to draw whatever seems useful from a bunch of different approaches designed to combat these various constituent issues and work out something tailor-made to my own situation.

Just starting off, in the ‘gathering info’ stage, but so far there have been some interesting results. At the moment I’m working through ‘Brain Lock’ by Jeffry M. Schwartz, which details a self-directed therapy for combating OCD. I’d definitely recommend it, even if you don’t think you have OCD, since I believe the approach could easily be modified to other issues: it’s simple, but makes sense and the methods advised have a solid pedigree, such as the insight that behavior changes thought, so that the key to change is to act contrary to inclinations: a fact embodied in the practice of ritual and objective moral law. Seeking to alter unwanted thoughts by recognizing their irrationality, dwelling upon the truth and acting accordingly is essentially just “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

In short, your feelings are secondary: your actions and your beliefs are primary.

I tend to trust insights and advice that A). recur across multiple different books from different authors dealing with different problems – the ‘action reinforces thought and thought directs action and both trump feelings’ insight keeps coming back again and again – and B). harmonize with traditional philosophical and religious thought: that is, with the ideas of the people who actually built functioning societies rather than the people who parasite off of them.

I’ll probably share more of this as time goes on.

Miracle of the Vistula

In August 1920, newly independent Poland stood all-but alone against the newly risen monster of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were looking to eliminate the old bastion of the Church from their borders, as well as give themselves a route to foment and take advantage of the chaos in Germany, hoping to spark a Communist revolution in Karl Marx’s homeland, from whence it would spread through the rest of Europe.

On the Feast of the Assumption, the outnumbered and outgunned Poles smashed the advancing Soviets at the Battle of Warsaw, dubbed “The Miracle of the Vistula.”

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2Fc7%2F44%2F8b%2Fc7448bfbf21d41cb59fa01f0371f3196.jpg&f=1&nofb=1
“Don’t worry everyone, I’m here to save the world. Again.”
-State Motto of Poland

One of the highlights of the battle was a Polish cavalry unit breaking through Soviet lines early on to capture an important radio tower, which they used to broadcast readings from the Book of Genesis in Polish and Latin to the Soviet troops. Which is a quintessentially Polish thing to do.

This video does a pretty good job of summarizing the context and events of the battle. I pass it along to you in the hopes that we can start making this pivotal event better known.

Exceptionalism vs. Patriotism at the Everyman

Wherein I tackle American exceptionalism and try to explain why we need to give up on the idea:

I don’t say this just because our system of government and society barely resembles that which existed at the nation’s founding (even allowing for the passage of time and development of technology). Nor because we have recently witnessed the departure of what may well be the last legitimate president we will ever have, leaving the nation in the hands of criminals. Nor do I say this on account of slavery or racism or any of the other sins of our past (which are only to be expected).

It isn’t even because I think the philosophy we based our nation upon is incoherent and dangerously self-contradictory, or because I think the narrative underlying it to be thoroughly false.

No, the reason we need to give up the idea of our own exceptionalism is that it is fatal to patriotism.

As Americans (as I assume most of our readers to be) this may shock you. It may even sound like nonsense. But I beg you to try to understand what I’m saying.

Suppose a man were to say to his young son “I love you because you are the smartest, best behaved boy in school.” Suppose then that the boy gets a poor grade on his test, or gets into trouble with the teacher. What is he to think? The most natural thing would be for him to fear that his father would no longer love him, or not as much because he has shown himself to not be so smart or so well-behaved as his father believed him to be.

It is unlikely his father would really feel that way, but the boy would think so. He would think so because that would be the logical deduction from his father’s words. Therefore, even if the boy never does break the rules or get a bad grade, he will have that fear in the back of his mind of “what if…?” “What if I fail this test? What if I make a mistake and get detention? My father won’t love me a much anymore.” He will thus either work fearfully and fervently to ‘keep’ his father’s love or else despair and give up entirely. One thing is sure though: any love of the subjects themselves or any enjoyment in the ordinary life of a schoolboy will be crippled because none of them can be enjoyed for their own sake. They must go toward the satisfaction of that all-important condition.

It is the same for a husband and wife. A woman whose husband tells her “I love you because you are so beautiful” will fear the aging process and, just as much, fear the inevitable rival whose looks outshine her own.

If you ask why you love someone or something, you may give reasons (“She’s so sweet and so lovely!”  “He’s so strong, so honest”), but the real, proper response – which it is important to understand whether or not it is directly stated – is simply “because you are yourself.” As Professor Von Hildebrand says, to love something means to perceive the unique idea in the mind of God that it represents: to see it as something unique, irreplaceable, incomparable.

This is the great danger of American exceptionalism: it seeks to justify patriotism. Worse, it actually takes those justifications seriously. We are to love America because she is the freest, most just nation on earth, the nation that corrects the mistakes of the rest of the world, where equality and opportunity and liberty reign supreme.

Read the rest here.

There’s obviously a lot more to be said about all this than I was able to fit in or had time to adequately research. But if there is one idea, one section of this essay that I would wish to be ingrained in the readers’ mind and to hammer home as much as possible, it’s this:

No nation is meant to be a creed. It is not our duty to save mankind or to be the shining example for the world to follow. We are not the new Jerusalem, we are not the last best hope of earth, we are not God’s chosen people. America is not the Church. It isn’t even Rome.

Catholic Match Catch-Up

I’ve been taking an extended break from Catholic Match while trying to get the rest of my life together.

But I still write for them intermittently, which means that, as a side effect of my break, I’ve been missing when my own essays appear (these things are written months in advance). So today I’m going to offer the three most recent posts of mine that have appeared there:

January 26: Should You Date Someone with Different Politics?

Let’s talk politics.

We live in a peculiar world in this regard. A world in which political matters are often taken very seriously, in some cases to the point of being essentially a religion. But, with this being the case, the question cannot help but arise; should two people form a romantic relationship from different ends of the political spectrum?

If I had to give a short answer, it would be “no.”

If I had to give a somewhat more nuanced answer, it would be “probably not, but it depends.”

You see, it is one thing to have political disagreements with a friend or neighbor, to hash things out and come to verbal blows every now and again with someone you like and see regularly. It is quite another thing to do this with your spouse, for your partner in life to hold a different understanding of the world from yours. Just how much this will disrupt your relationship depends on what place politics has in your life and, yes, what those politics are.

I’m afraid there’s no getting around it; political views are not created equal.

Some are more compatible than others, some are more open to opposing views than others. Because, every political perspective is, at the bottom, a narrative for understanding the world (at least as far as the interactions of society are concerned). Depending on what that narrative is, it will tend to create more or less hostility toward a different narrative and those who hold it.

A classical liberal and a libertarian, for instance, will likely get along better than either will with a socialist or even a mainstream liberal, because the narratives of each side directly address those of the other as being fundamentally opposed to their own, while regarding each other as more or less variations on the same premise. Whether this is true or not (that is, how the actual content of a given political philosophy compares to another) is, for our purposes, less important than whether they believe it to be true.

The short version is that if you think your spouse is perpetuating a moral evil or encouraging tyranny and oppression, then your relationship will have problems.  

Read the exceptions and how they’re a potential relational time-bomb here.

February 1, When We Feel We Can’t Wait

Why do we bother?

We pay our dues, we maintain our profile, we run our searches, make the effort to reach out…and nothing happens. We seem to be doing everything right, but no one responds, or if they do, nothing comes of it. So why bother to keep it up?

Do you remember the incident in the Gospel of John at the pool of Bethesda? A man had lain beside it for thirty-eight years hoping to be cured, but each time the angel disturbed the water, someone else got down first and he missed his chance. Or the woman with the hemorrhages, who had suffered for twelve years and spent all she had on doctors, only to be made worse.

I wonder how frustrated they must have been. How much they must have begged for God to take away their infirmities, no doubt wondering why He had abandoned them, what sin they had committed to suffer so.

But the truth, though they could not know it during their long years of suffering, was that God had heard their prayer, and He was preparing something special for them. He meant not only to cure them in His time, but at a time and in a manner that would glorify Him and them to the end of world. In fact, He was building them up to serve as types of every sinner and every suffering soul who seems left aside, passed over, and forgotten by God. One could almost put it that God forgot them for a time in order to show they were never truly forgotten.

The Almighty has His own purposes, which we cannot know ahead of time.

They may or may not correspond with what we want, and almost certainly don’t correspond with what we expect. Probably most of them we won’t understand until after death, when we see the whole form of our lives and of history itself laid out before us. But we can catch glimpses of it even now: how often do we want something badly and are denied it only to find something far better later on, or to discover some truth of ourselves or the world that we may never have realized but for the opportunity created by this disappointment?

Much about the dating scene today, online or otherwise, seems to encourage discouragement. Like the man by the pool or the woman with the issue of blood, the case seems hopeless and intensely frustrating. But also like them, no doubt God has His plan for each of us, which He will bring to fulfillment when the time is right.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we just keep doing the same thing as we’ve always done. Perhaps we should vary up our approach, perhaps we should explore other avenues. That’s as may be. But we should continue to make the effort, even when it seems pointless.

Find out more here

February 10 Reflections on the Year of St. Joseph

The present Liturgical Year has been declared a special year of St. Joseph.

Lord knows we need his intercession right now more than ever, but we won’t go into that.

Instead, in order to prepare ourselves properly to celebrate this year, let us reflect: who is St. Joseph?

He was a carpenter, which is to say a relatively respectable man in his community. Not wealthy, but what we might call comfortable, as he was able to travel and seek accommodations at an inn; though for a temple sacrifice, he could only afford the two turtledoves reserved for the less wealthy. He was what we might call a skilled tradesman, though he was of noble blood through at least two lines.

We are told he was a righteous man, as would only make sense. There is a venerable tradition that, like his wife, he had taken a vow of perpetual virginity from a young age. Certainly, he cared for and guarded the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son for as long as he lived.

He is not directly quoted in Scripture at any point, though he serves as the protagonist of St. Matthew’s introductory material. This tells us of his doubts regarding whether to take his betrothed into his house after she was found with child (which the Saints tell us was not because he doubted her purity, but because he doubted his worthiness to be part of the Divine scheme) and of his angelically guided efforts to evade the persecutions of Herod.

More important than any of these details is the nature of his mission.

St. Joseph was the man fitted by God the Father to stand in His place to God the Son: the man who taught God to be a man.

In that curious household the natural hierarchy of the family—father, mother, child—was reversed: the child was greatest, the mother next in prominence, the father next after her. And yet (for such is the nature of goodness) at the same time it was not reversed. The Divine Child, we are told, was obedient to His human parents (Luke 2:51), and His immaculate mother was likewise obedient to her husband.

Responsibility thus fell to St. Joseph of caring for God’s two most perfect works. As Pharaoh elevated the Patriarch Joseph as his steward, so God made St. Joseph “master of his house and ruler of all his possession” (Psalms 104: 21).

Read more about St. Joseph here

Weirdness Epic

I think I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Ross’s Game Dungeon, one of the more unique game-review pages on YouTube. Rather than striving for ‘relevance’ with reviews of the latest triple-A games, Ross tends to aim at more obscure, odd, or interesting games, old or new.

It’s hugely entertaining for two reasons: one because Ross comes across as very genuine, like he’s just a guy talking about things he likes. He’s open about the fact that he just picks games to review or topics to cover because they seem interesting to him. The other is that his sense of humor is very much to my taste. A lot of it is of the ‘say something utterly outrageous with a straight face’ variety which I adore. He swears sometimes, though not very often and it always feels warranted, not just a cheap way to get laughs.

Like most people, I found Ross through his Freeman’s Mind series: a playthrough of the original Half-Life where Ross narrates his interpretation of the famously silent protagonist’s thoughts on the events. That’s a brilliantly hilarious series as well (“Give peace a chance! Or at least stand still”), but I’d recommend any viewers who haven’t played the game itself and have any interest in doing so should play the game first to get the full experience (I swear I will do a full Half-Life essay at some point).

I also find many of his videos on other topics to be interesting. I don’t like when he gets onto global warming or peak oil (which happens sometimes, though he at least tries to back up what he says with research), but his talks about, say, improving the GUI or VR are great, and I especially appreciate his efforts to sound the alarm on games being destroyed (see his Games as a Service is Fraud video for an excellent summary of the problem).

Here’s an nice, low-key episode to give you an idea of what Ross is all about: Puzzle Agent

But for Saturday, I’m going to present what I think is his magnum opus in terms of game reviews: possibly the weirdest, most surreal, most insane game ever made. And I mean literally insane, as in some viewers might find this hard to watch because the game honestly feels like its internal logic and aesthetic sense is that of someone with legitimate mental illness. Not just ‘quirky’ or imaginative, but genuinely insane. I can’t even think of any other examples of that sort of thing that I could compare it with.

Put it this way: the instruction manual for the game includes a statement from the developer that “This game is not the fruit of a sick man’s mind.”

They actually felt the need to assure people of that in the introduction to the manual.

This on top of a truly surreal, slightly disturbing artistic and musical sense and…well, it’s really hard to convey just what this game is like. Ross describes it as “The Odyssey of Gaming,” an utterly unique epic of weirdness that very few souls have explored, let along conquered. You really have to experience it for yourself, and the best way to do so is with Ross as your guide.

I give you Armed and Delirious. Proceed with caution!

Escape to Some Fantastic Schools

Want to take your mind off things? Pick up a volume or two of Fantastic Schools (now both available in paperback: a nice, thick volume to decorate your shelf and that can’t be digitally taken away from you).

Official Blurb:
Have you ever wanted to go to magic school? To cast spells and brew potions and fly on broomsticks and—perhaps—battle threats both common and supernatural? Come with us into worlds of magic, where students become magicians and teachers do everything in their power to ensure the kids survive long enough to graduate. Welcome to … Fantastic Schools.

Vol. 1
Follow a girl trying desperately to find her place in a school of dark magic, a band of witches desperate to prove they can be as good as the wizards, a school of magical monsters standing between the evil one and ultimate power, a businesswoman discovering the secrets of darkest evil … and what happens when a magical education goes badly wrong.

Vol. 2
Follow a mundane teacher striding into a world of magic, a spy on a mission, a guided tour of a magical school, a school dance for monsters, a dangerous reunion … and many more.

Follow us into worlds different, magical …

… And very human.

My own story, Halloween Dance is the final entry in the second volume. It’s all about the trials and complications of young love, particularly when the boy has a troubled past and is covered in scales, the girl is outgoing, friendly, and gorgeous, but can’t show her face without killing someone, and both are attending a school for monsters where unspeakable evil can strike at any time.

Pick up a copy today and escape into some fantastic schools.