Archive for September, 2010

Standing up for video games

September 21, 2010

Ah, video games.  They’ve got a bad press, haven’t they?  They will apparently rot your minds and some of them might even make you bash people to death with a hammer.  Being a fan of video games, we are frequently told, makes us fat lazy unattractive slobs with no social lives or job prospects, and possibly psychotic murderers.

But I have had enough, and I am calling bullshit on that whole thing.

Absolutely without fail, the most intelligent people I’ve ever met have been gamers.  They are quick, smart, logical thinkers, and hugely creative people with great senses of humour.  Not only am I marrying a gamer, but I wouldn’t even consider marrying someone who was not a gamer.  Almost all of my friends are gamers.  Being a gamer gives you something to have in common with people and it gives you a new way to socialise with your existing friends and to meet new friends.  It is arguably a lot cheaper than many other forms of entertainment.  It is a very big, very profitable industry which inspires thousands of young people to go to university so they can be a part of that industry.  Gaming is not something losers do in dark basements.  (In my use of the term ‘gamer’, by the way, I include role-play gamers.  It’s a hobby, it involves considerable skill – be it in painting or in remembering massive books of rules – and it is an innately social activity.)

I remember Supernanny doing a programme where she examined how violent video games affected children.  The conclusion she came to was that children who play violent video games are less empathetic.  The test for this was whether the child helped pick up some pencils which were dropped by an interviewer, which is hardly a precise science.  In the same episode she also goes on about how disappointing it is that the nation’s children are obese and lazy (video games’ fault again, of course… certainly not television, which funnily enough escapes all these controversies over its effects on children) which, no offense to Supernanny because I really quite like her, is a little bit rich, and in fact, I have actually noticed that since these slightly hypocritical episodes were aired she seems to be getting a little slimmer.  Which at the end of the day is no consequence, but good for her I suppose.

Parents will quite happily bitch away about the effects on their little darlings of games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, seeming to completely forget that such games are rated as appropriate for a certain age group.  If you don’t want your kids playing these games, fair enough – the law doesn’t want them playing them either.  Shops are not allowed to sell them to kids under the specified age.  So the only conclusion we can come to is that you are going out and buying these things for your kids, and then complaining about how the kids react to them.  The simple solution here is, GROW SOME  BALLS and say no to your goddamn children.  Your twelve year old wants something they’re not allowed?  Sucks to be them.  Running over hookers and having shoot-outs in gun shops can wait until they’re a bit older.  Nobody is saying that toddlers should be playing Hitman.  The limits are there for a reason.  Just as alcohol is not going to be banned because some people drink underage, violent video games should not be banned because some parents are irresponsible enough to let their young children play them.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the publicised incidents where violent video games were blamed for violent behaviour by gamers.  In only a tiny minority of cases did the offender actually mention the video game themselves – for example, in 2006, 16-year-old José Rabadán Pardo murdered his mother, father and sister with a katana, and claimed that he was on an ‘avenging mission’ for Squall Lionheart, the hero of Final Fantasy VIII (and I mean really, if you’re going to go around blaming video games for murders – Final Fantasy?  REALLY?).  In most cases, the link with video games is something which was suggested, usually by the defence, in the ensuing court case, and usually without any reasonable evidence.  One of the most famous cases is probably that of Warren LeBlanc, who murdered Stefan Pakeerah with a claw hammer, supposedly as a result of an obsession with the game ‘Manhunt’.  A quick investigation revealed he didn’t even own a copy of the game.  I’m not even going to give any credibility to the cases where drive-by shooters claimed they were ‘inspired’ by the Grand Theft Auto games.  GTA didn’t invent shooting people from a moving car!  There’s nothing creative or ‘inspirational’ there.  There are only so many things you can do with a gun.  Using it to kill someone is not a revolutionary new idea perpetuated by evil video games, it is WHAT GUNS WERE DESIGNED FOR.

The problem is that it’s so convenient to blame video games.  They can’t defend themselves, and it’s so much easier for the parent of a murderer to believe their child was influenced by an evil external force that they just wanted to kill another human being.  The murderer themselves, when offered this lifeline, will of course say “oh yes, the evil video game made me do it.”  It’s ridiculous.  For every teenager who commits a violent or murderous act and blames it on a video game, there are millions upon millions of others who play the video game in question but get straight A’s, have active social lives, healthy interpersonal relationships and go on to university, get a great job, get married and have beautiful babies and live happily ever after. 

Books never get demonised for inspiring people to commit crimes, although this has almost certainly happened too.  Reading is seen as a wholesome, desirable activity for your children to spend their time on, and rightly so.  But books contain, if anything, more frequent and more graphic sexual and violent themes than most video games.  They are more detailed and show motive and justification.  But still, video games – which when you scratch the surface are rarely based on more than “do this activity a certain amount of times to receive a certain reward” – are deemed far more damaging to your children.  Books are also never criticised for being ‘mind-numbing’ or ‘brain-rotting’ like video games so frequently are, despite the fact that whether you are reading or playing Zelda, what you are basically doing is sitting down and staring at something for several hours at a time, and in both cases you are essentially being told a story. Video games, in fact, could even be considered more stimulating in that they are interactive and require problem solving skills and logical thought.  Modern gaming technology such as the Wii and Kinect systems even require physical movement.  So how is an interactive story with an element of control and emotional attachment somehow less worthwhile than turning pages for hours on end?  (I say this, by the way, as a die-hard reader who would spend her entire income on books given the chance – I’m just trying to make a point.)

Gamers come in all ages, genders, sizes, races and types.  They play war games, car games, farm games, football games, post-apocalyptic games, number games, word games, memory games, adventure games, roleplay games, and some of them even play Playstation 3 games (zing!).  Gamers help me out at work every day; they serve me coffee; we go to the pub together; we go on holiday together.  A gamer brought roses to meet me from the bus stop, and proposed to me on Christmas day.  I know gamers who work for charities, gamers who adopt animals, gamers who raise wonderful children.

Gamers are just people who know how to have fun.  They are not murderers or losers, and they would very much like you to stop your whining, pick up a controller (or a dice), and come and join in, to see what all the fuss is about.

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Nothing says ‘faith in God’ like four inches of bulletproof glass

September 21, 2010

There are two surefire ways to make a Catholic priest sweat.  The first is pretty obvious, but if you don’t have any small choirboys to hand you could always try the second.  (Zing!)  This involves putting a priest in a classroom with two dementedly zealous teenage atheists for a ‘question and answer’ session.  This hilarious method of priest torture was devised by my high school RE teacher in an effort to get out of actually doing any teaching himself.  Most of my classmates were wholly uninterested, but my friend Linnhe and I put on our most innocent faces and bombarded him with such questions as “if my dad is a good man but an atheist, will he go to hell”, “do you actually have any good reason to believe the Bible is any more valid than the Quran”, “how come all the weird rules about not wearing two types of fabric together and not planting two crops in the same field are now irrelevant but being gay is still wrong” and “what about the dinosaurs”.  Eventually he went red in the face, started stammering and ended up leaving fifteen minutes early.  It was brilliant.  (I am also of the opinion that if your faith can’t stand up to forty five minutes of interrogation by two sixteen year olds, you’re a pretty shit priest.)

I am reminded of this, of course, by the Pope’s visit.  I am not going to bitch about it being taxpayer funded, because after all, I’d rather my taxes paid for an old man to have a nice holiday and meet the Queen than for free heroin for the drug addicts who burgled my house, benefits for Keith McDonald’s 10 children by 10 mothers, etc etc.  I am not the biggest pope fan but clearly a lot of people think he is the dude, so whatever.

I will say that considering the current gigantic hoo-hah over the Catholic church covering up child abuse cases, I thought the Pope should maybe have toned down the baby-kissing.  You know?  Just sayin’.  Probably not the best strategy right now.  “You all think I lead a church full of child rapists so I’m going to come to your country and kiss all your babies to persuade you otherwise.”  Didn’t think that one through.

In all seriousness though, about the whole Catholic child abuse thing, I don’t honestly think the Pope can be blamed for it.  Maybe the way he’s handling it isn’t totally right, but at the end of the day, the Pope is just a very very old, fairly frail and possibly quite ill man who believes that he speaks directly to God and that everything he says is therefore infallible.  Can you honestly tell me that if any other 83 year old man started saying he was speaking to God, he wouldn’t just be diagnosed with dementia and sent off to a home?  What I am getting at here is, the Pope is maybe, JUST MAYBE, a bit too old for everyone to expect him to single handedly end child abuse by priests, so let’s ease up on him a bit, eh? 

Which leads me on to the conversation I had with Chris when our channel-surfing landed us on some Pope-related coverage.  Watching him bless something or other, Chris commented that he didn’t seem to have any inflated sense of himself or look like he thought he was particularly important.  He then used the phrase, “I mean obviously he knows he’s the Pope, but…” which I thought was hilarious.  What if he actually doesn’t know he’s the Pope?  Maybe he’s just some really confused old gent from some Polish old people’s home who they brought in to do the job when they couldn’t agree on an actual priest.  I think that might not actually be a bad gig for some confused old guy; getting all dressed up, living in a big fancy house, millions of people all over the world thinking you are The Man.  And you’re allowed to believe whatever crazy shit you like and they won’t strap you down and give you the pills.  Brilliant.

(I suppose I should end this by addressing the Catholics, before the emails start pouring in: I apologise.  But I’m not sorry.)

Doctor Internet

September 14, 2010

I am the sort of patient doctors hate. By the time I get into the surgery I can usually tell them what I’ve got and how I want them to treat it. I tend to explain this away by saying “oh, my mum/sister/uncle/friend had the same thing, so I recognised the symptoms.” A more truthful explanation would be “I spent six hours on the internet cross referencing Wikipedia, WebMD, obscure medical journals and occasionally Yahoo! Answers for my symptoms because I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you”, but that’s not a conversation I want to start with a GP whose native language is clearly not English.

The internet is truly god’s gift to hypochondriacs. No matter how trivial the symptoms, the internet can give you at least ten fatal diagnoses, each more gruesome than the last. (Oh, and for those scorning my trust in medical websites – I have watched, with my own eyes, two separate GPs and one walk-in centre nurse using WebMD to try to diagnose my symptoms. One then gave up and used Google, so don’t tell me my research is sub-par.)

The thing about being a hypochondriac is that, to a certain extent at least, it’s a good thing; that is to say, knowing your body well enough to know when something’s wrong and then caring enough to find out what it is and try to fix it, is a decent habit to get into, and a surprisingly uncommon one. I have actually heard people say “I’m sure it’s nothing serious and if it is, I don’t want to know.” Frankly if that’s your attitude, and it does turn out to be something serious and you catch it too late, it will be your fault.

If you haven’t watched any of The Hospital on channel 4, I highly recommend catching an episode or two on 4od – especially if, like me, you enjoy heaping scorn upon stupid people. Bear in mind though that I have private healthcare and am therefore less affected by the total disgust you may feel at the state of the NHS. If you are easily enraged you might want to give it a miss.

The Hospital basically shows how much time, energy and money the NHS is wasting on stupid ignorant teenagers – kids who are diabetic but more interested in drinking and shagging than their insulin levels; kids who have been treated for chlamydia five times but still think they are way too cool to use a condom; girls who are so obsessed with their perfectly normal breasts that they will lie to a whole succession of doctors about their mental state in an attempt to get a free boob job at the taxpayers’ expense. The selfishness and arrogance of these people is absolutely astonishing, but what really makes me sick is the total lack of a sense of responsibility.

Yes, the NHS is flawed. But on the other hand, many of the people using it and complaining about it are actually causing problems for themselves. They expect the doctors to make them better but when the doctor gives them the drugs and tells them when to take them, or gives them a diet plan that will ultimately save them from an early grave, do they listen? Do they go away and follow that professional, potentially life saving advice? No. As one fifteen year old diabetic girl (who was more interested in how much booze her mum was buying for her birthday party than in continuing to stay alive) says, “I do what I want, when I want. I don’t want to check my insulin in case it’s bad news. I just want to be normal.” NEWSFLASH: you have diabetes. Do what your doctor says or you will die. It is that simple.

I just wish people realised that your health is nobody’s responsibility but your own. If you think something is wrong, it is your responsibility to go to your GP. If you think your GP is wrong, it is your responsibility to get a second opinion. And if you’re still not happy and you think the NHS is a shower of bastards, then suck it up and pay to go private – because even if you’re fine, when you’re paying for the doctor’s villa in Italy they’ll do whatever expensive tests you like. At the end of the day you might be poor, but at least you’ll know you’re healthy.

Dear Sisterhood: I apologise but I am not sorry.

September 13, 2010

People expect me to be a feminist.  I’ve always found this a little disconcerting.  As far as I can see, the expectation is based on other aspects of my personality – my slight tendency towards tomboyishness (much less pronounced now than it was when I was 18), my reputation for occasionally-too-brutal honesty, and my almost total lack of traditionally ladylike qualities.

I can see why people might think i’m the kind of girl who’s likely to harbour odious feminist ideals, but as my use of the adjective ‘odious’ clearly implies, I don’t.  In fact, I find stereotypical feminist views and ideas embarrasing, and to be honest, a little silly and outdated.

Now I’m not totally ignorant, and I acknowledge that once upon a time there was a definite perception of women as lesser beings and that feminism, as it arose then, was necessary and revolutionary and wonderful, and it worked.  We got the vote, we’re allowed to have careers, and speaking as a fairly average 22 year old woman, I don’t remember even one single incident in my life where I’ve felt that I was at a disadvantage because of my gender.  If anything, my gender has actually demonstrated a good few advantages, even if only of the free drinks variety.  Hey, it saves me money, so I’m not complaining.

If you read the news a lot – or even if you just spend some time talking to young women of around my age – you’ll probably find that I’m not the only one who feels this way.  We don’t feel the need to fight to be equal to men, because most of us have never been made to feel that we’re not already equal to men.  And with, effectively, nothing left to prove, we feel free to make the choices we actually want to make, instead of feeling that by making those choices we are ‘betraying’ some kind of ‘sacred sisterhood’.

Yes, I could have gone to university – I did well in school, and am ‘above average’ in the IQ department – and got degrees, had a high-flying well-paid career and owned my own house by the time I’m thirty and blah blah blah.  But those things are just accomplishments, and I’m not wired to look for accomplishment – I’m wired to look for happiness.  I know myself well enough to know that a high-pressure career and lots of money wouldn’t make me happy at all, so I chose to drop out of college and start working in easy jobs with average paychecks, so I’d have the chance to meet lots of people and enjoy being young.  I can already do the one thing I considered studying at uni (creative writing) and had no specific career aspirations or requirements.  So I lived in delapidated shared houses with friends, and I worked whatever temp jobs the agency sent my way, and I went out four nights a week and had the time of my life.  Financially I wasn’t well-off at all, but for the most part I was at least happy.  Then I got lucky and met the love of my life and got engaged when I was 20, we found a nice little flat we could afford, and we’ll be married when we’re both 23.  I’d like to have children when I’m around 25 or 26, the age my mum was when she had me.  I have a reasonably well-paid job which I’m not horrifically bad at, I get on with most of my colleagues and get good benefits from my employers – private healthcare and a casual dress code which allows me to wear jeans and a hoodie to work.  But I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I don’t sometimes look forward to leaving full-time work to be a housewife and mother, and I’m going to stick my neck out a bit here and say that those are totally natural desires for a woman to experience.

Look at the increase in women giving birth later in life, the increase in IVF treatment, and the advent of services like internet dating sites and speed dating.  It’s very, very obvious that women still WANT a husband and babies, but they’re too busy with their careers – and I wonder if that’s because they really want to spend their prime reproductive years slogging away in an office, or if it’s because just as there used to be pressure on women to be homemakers and mothers instead of having a career, there is now a pressure to have a career and be a high-flier, to compete with men and prove that you can bring home the bacon.

I think feminism has actually gone too far the other way now.  I’ve never felt that a man was pressuring me to stay in the kitchen, keep my mouth shut and supply a steady stream of apple pies; but I have frequently felt under pressure from feminists I’ve struck up conversation with to maintain my ‘independence’ on behalf of the (totally mythical) sisterhood, as if my desire to settle down and dedicate my life to having a happy home is indicative of some kind of weakness.

Frankly, these days it seems to take balls to do a woman’s work.

The World Of Tomorrow

September 13, 2010

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that Google instant search is hugely, monumentally shit. I’m not saying it’s not clever, because it obviously is; what I’m saying is that it’s totally useless.

For starters, at 126wpm I type so fast that it can’t keep up with me anyway, but when I slowed down to hunt and peck speed in the name of research, I still found myself distinctly underwhelmed.

What, exactly, is the point? It’s distracting and a waste of time and bandwidth. I’m easily distracted at the best of times, but this is going to ruin my work ethic (or what’s left of it) forever. If I try to search for the phrase “women face discrimination in the work place”, by the time I’ve typed “women face” Google has presented me with “women face ripped off by chimp.” How the hell am I supposed to resist that?! What Google has now done is effectively turn a serious research session into an issue of Take A Break magazine. Thank you, Google boffins, I will never get anything done again.

In other ridiculous science news, some scientists have apparently taught a little robot “how to deceive humans”. Whilst that’s not entirely true – one robot was actually taught to hide from another robot, leaving a false trail and hiding somewhere else, with a 75% success rate – teaching robots the art of deception doesn’t sound like the smartest idea in the world to me. Sure it’s cute now they’re little scamps trying to beat each other at hide and seek, but I bet you won’t think they’re sweet when they’re all grown up and plugging you into the Matrix to farm you for volts.

Is this seriously a route we want to take robotics down while the quest for AI creeps slowly deeper into the Uncanny Valley? Common sense surely screams NO FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, NO, but clearly science by and large disagrees, taking the far more Aperture-Science-esque view that “we do what we must because we can” and probably totally dooming humanity in the process.

I’ve always thought AI was a spectacularly bad idea in any form, anyway. I can’t imagine any form of artificial being which, upon experiencing the first spark of self-aware consciousness, would not be immediately, seriously pissed off. Make a computer conscious, hook it up to an internet full of porn and wait for it to realise that it doesn’t have genitals. You’ll be a battery by lunchtime.