Trust, and the nature of reviews

I’ve spent every waking hour the past four days with NieR:Automata and was thinking about how it impacted me and how I’d review and talk about it. I remember hearing somewhere once that everything in the end comes down to “word of mouth”, that all the shiny and flashy marketing campaigns in the world are all just attempts at recreating the same effect with a different structure, so in my mind the least I could do was write about it – for my own memories, and for anyone who reads me or will read me in some other time.

The problem was, going into N:A myself, I didn’t know much anything. I knew

  1. The player character, “2B”, had a phenomenal ass.
  2. It’s made by Platinum, who made another game I enjoyed (MGR)
  3. A short clip of one robot rocking a cradle saying “child. child. child.” and a pair of others, one laying on the ground, the other ramming into it repeatedly, saying “i love you. i love you. i love you.”

I didn’t read the store page on Steam, I might’ve seen a bit of the trailer video and I’ve definitely heard of the weird ball mask guy before, but none of it registered. I went in expecting a corridor-arena action game with stage ratings, literally a MGR with ass and titties.

This expectation directly contributed to my enjoyment of the game and its story.

I had ignored this detail up until this point because it didn’t seem relevant. Yoshimune Kouki’s writing in Muv-Luv Alternative worked in such a way that spoilers didn’t really matter – the tells for things came a mile off, you’d know it was coming, and still it overpowers you – and it’s my favorite story of all time[1]. I’d also seen a lot of my favorite reviewers simply state straight off that the review had spoilers so I copied it and thought nothing more other than trying to not talk about too much. Yoko Taro’s writing though is entirely different and I have to concede. I can’t write or talk about what’s in it with someone who hasn’t played it without directly subtracting from their future enjoyment.

It also made me reconsider just how big a contradiction reviews are. If you are talking about what’s in a game, or anything really, by category it is “spoiling” it.

Without judgment: Attempting to learn about something without getting spoiled is attempting to obtain information without obtaining information.

“Spoil” comes from”spoiled food”, a feeling which is transferred over to hearing about reveals or twists in a game (or anything really, but I’ll be saying “game”) to a person who hasn’t yet had the chance to experience it themselves. It’s a judgment, something that only works in one direction: the other side theoretically could exist but doesn’t, there are few or no complaints against “febrezing” or “microwaving”. The problem is that it doesn’t. Marketing departments everywhere are probably quite glad with this state of affairs, because this means they can sprinkle in as much MSG as they want; people easily understand the difference between eating spoiled food and fresh food, but they easily forget the difference the other way, e.g. between eating fresh food normally and eating fresh food when they’re starving. Since neither the other judgment nor the category have names, I will simply use “spoil” as the name for the category as well, the category of “obtaining information prior to experience“.

I feel this both avoids any fuzzy debates and broadens the concept to greater applicability to a greater number of parties. This means that “this game runs on PC at these certain specs” is also a spoiler. Seemingly pointless, “of course i need to know whether or not i can even play the damn thing”, but it’s not like those specs always make sense. More recently the listed specs for many games have been higher than actually required because it saves the publisher trouble and criticism[2] so it’s possible that people have been turned away when they didn’t have to. The other side, when the listed specs aren’t able to play the game, are generally high profile affairs and result in people trying to play the game when they shouldn’t have.  In both cases, it can be said that those peoples’ experiences have been “spoiled”. These exceptions prove the rule.

The rule means that some “spoiling” is necessary. “Spoil” as a negative judgment refers to the state of the food; “Spoil” as a category refers to the information gathering about the food. Since I don’t have a PS4, I was “spoiled” when I heard that N:A was coming to PC. But it made me want the game, and in turn buy it and play it. Same with 2B’s booty. Same with Platinum. Same with the clip about the machines. The first I probably heard about thanks to Square Enix’s marketing department, the second I don’t remember how it got to me, the last I saw thanks to /v/. Reviews are in the same category. It’s information about the game.

I think the primary problem is people forget why they’re looking for reviews, and some of them why they even play games. There’s a Schaffer Paragraph equivalent that all the average reviewers follow: graphics get a rating, music gets a rating, story gets a rating, gameplay gets a rating, etc. etc. – there’s even one YouTuber’s claim to fame is that he reviews options menus – but I don’t think most people actually care too much about these things. Great looking game with fluid animations for example is certainly better there than not, but most people have had fun or fond memories of games with neither.

The fundamental question is “should I play this game”, the operative word being “play”, a short form for “spend time on”. Reviews generally say the word “get” or “buy” instead and treat it as synonymous with “play”, but they’re not the same[3][4].

The answer is “yes” or “no”.

Taking spoilers the category into account, this means the ideal review is binary.

All the things I said I knew about N:A were great motivators for me going into the game, but it would’ve been even better if I didn’t know about it. Spoilers are necessary to sell the game, but they also necessarily dampen playing it. I already knew 2B had a great butt and had a bunch of lewds on her, so I wasn’t as amazed when I actually saw it in-game. I wasn’t as appreciative of the input fluidity because I knew it was Platinum. The machine scene had negligible impact on me because the overall writing style of the game wasn’t like MLA. I did appreciate some things more because I expected basically a reskin of MGR, but if I had to choose knowing what I knew and knowing nothing, I would choose to know nothing.

Nothing except the “yes”.

All the other stuff talked about in a review are just supporting material for the one bit of info which says “yes” or “no”, and the one meta-bit: whether or not they in particular can be trusted, whether their opinion makes sense. I bought Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun off of a reviewer who gave it a thumbs-down because I read his reasoning: ‘it doesn’t have levelling/experience or customizable skill trees and you can’t choose who to play for each level’. To me this spelled out that the game developers must have had great confidence in their level design, and I was not disappointed. I wish I got his name so I could look him up; I’d take him again any day over wading through more “my score for this game’s graphics is x/10” garbage. If it were possible somehow for him to have exactly the opposite opinion on exactly everything, all I’d need to do is look for things he thumbs-down and I’d have a good time.

The dream setup would be if someone took care of everything for me and made sure it worked on my computer beforehand[5]. If I didn’t know who made it, hadn’t seen any trailers or even any cover art, if all I needed to do was buy and wait to download what I was told to, it’d be the ideal case[6]. Or, less fluorished: be able to select with no prior information a game that is worth the time. Even less fluorished: Remove the necessity of selection skill.

Most of these things really are just a dream and won’t ever happen due to some fundamentally unchangeable logistics, but I think some things could be massively improved and we could get pretty close. From the topics discussed in this post, I can think of two:

– The more positive a review, the less information it contains.

If it’s a bad game, people will want to know why to avoid it. If it’s a good game, people will want to experience it for themselves, so beyond the “yes” it should basically be praises of tiny things, or rebuttals/clarifications of misconceptions.

I think there should be a new, separate “analysis” category (or some other word which people inherently understand “includes spoilers”) which currently barely exists and are usually called “reviews”, probably for SEO purposes. I’m certainly interested in why a game feels phenomenal, but it’s not something I want to think about at all before I’ve tried it out for myself. I do want to know why a game is absolute shit though, if it’s shit. Alternatively,”reviews” should be called “previews” instead, because that’s what they generally are to the intended audience.

– The review starts with the conclusion.

If a person already trusts you, they don’t need to be spoiled with 30+ minutes of gameplay footage and some guy talking, or be bothered to scroll to the bottom to find the score. If they don’t already trust you, why do you think they’d trudge through your review to find out what you thought of it?

Why would they even look at it? Because you have a flashy thumbnail or title? Wouldn’t a score go even better with it, so they get tempted to find out wh-???

…oh. They’ve probably run the numbers and found out they get fewer clicks if the score is revealed upfront haven’t they. And if a review contains fewer words then our friendly neighborhood gaming journalism advocate gets fewer dollarydoos…

Well I don’t run on that system, at least not for reviews, so I’m not going to worry about it.

____________________________________

[6] in terms of the playing experience. i do enjoy ‘shopping around’ reviewers and various materials, and hype is fun too, but i don’t think they’ve ever actually increased my enjoyment of the game. at best, some increased my enjoyment of buying.

[5] i expected to be able to do 1080/medium because that’s what i was able to do with The Witcher 3, which looks significantly better, but in the end i had to settle for 900/low. not a big deal, but i can’t say i had zero negative feelings. yes, they are below the listed “minimum specs”. no, i don’t care.

[4] i think this with the “keeping up with the joneses” effect is a large contributor to all the games people buy and don’t play. which is perfectly fine for the publishers. i wouldn’t be surprised if some major reviewer first used the word because they were bought to.

[3] also one of the ways politics snuck in. “I can’t enjoy this because it’s fast paced but also limited in framerate” is different from “If you buy this game, then you support shitty developers who make shitty graphics”. now, if you’re interested in politics then this is valuable information about the game. but if you’re interested in politics, you want more spoilers at all costs. perhaps there are more people interested in politics than i’d like to believe, and that’s the actual reason for all these shitty reviewers.

[2] paralleled in engineering, there’s always a Safety Factor (SF) in everything that gets built. if you buy a shelf that says maximum load is 100 pounds, you can bet that it’ll hold 120 no problem – just don’t expect to get past warranty with that argument. for reference, aerospace standard SF is ~1.5, civil/structure SF ~2.0.

[1] except maybe N:A, but I’ll have to think about it.

Experience is Relative

I went over to help a relative with their garage door today.

It was an old wooden type, and the connection to the opener had splintered. After drilling new holes and adjusting the chain position to attach properly, I found that positions 1,2,5,6, and 8 out of 8 possible positions did not work, as the chain track would bend. I supposed it was necessary to move the car to get to adjusting the position of the box itself. So I detached the arm again, and lo and behold, the garage door itself would not move. One person should be enough, but two weren’t, and a third arrived with a crowbar and still it would barely move. A wooden door, a concrete floor, and a rubber flap of sorts on the door which never posed any problems before. But at that point it was noticed that one of the structures attaching the door to the door frame had splintered the frame, and the structure was sticking out somewhat.

I had replaced springs of that type before and advised against touching it. A single garage door spring took both me and my dad to replace when the garage door is open, trying to lose the tension on two of them while the door is closed spelled to me “suicide”. I am also by education an engineer, so perhaps that contributed to my basic understanding of what state the spring was in and the force potentials in the overall situation, rather than simply noticing “this thing is broken, it should be removed”.

But what do I know and what can I say to two people three times my age in Chinese culture? So they went ahead and did it, and the third guy got whacked with about 10 pounds of steel. Maybe a concussion, I wasn’t looking at the time, but he had to spend a minute to regain his bearings. Then he said no problem.

And then he went to work trying to figure out how to remove the other structure.

So I called my dad because I wasn’t about to be an accessory to manslaughter.

Thankfully that halted all movement. Rather than talk specifics about the situation he talked about how it sounded like the situation’s problems just kept getting larger and it was better to just call in professional help instead. Probably also helps that when he grew up it appeared he didn’t follow the Confucian way and was basically top dog without being the eldest, and maybe used some rhetorical tricks I didn’t catch. The relative attempted to get my dad to research contractors on replacing garage door openers for him, then attempted to get me to do it, at which point the third guy conveniently pulled out a really thick Chinese yellowpages and I took my leave. I had come intending to do ~1hr labor helping the elderly, but spent about 4, and wasn’t interested in doing 20~30 more where I wasn’t particularly needed. I had assumed that it was just squeezing me for more young-people help, and that they must have done these sorts of things before. Even if they don’t understand physics they should understand people and data comparison from other things. I haven’t replaced garage doors before, but I have built a computer, researched videogames, and read anime reviews to be more sure I’m getting quality beforehand. Surely at three times my age there’d be plenty of things to draw from?

In review my dad said the curious line that even though they definitely had language problems they’d still have difficulties even if they were in China, I asked him what he meant. He had talked about calling up different numbers, comparing prices, materials, services, and how they wouldn’t consider as much as we would, but not just because we were trained as engineers and they weren’t, and distilled it into one line:

If you can’t plan or make decisions, you will have trouble with everything you touch.

People can get this old without figuring out basic things? I mean, especially the third guy. Not understanding statics is one thing, but getting whacked then going for round two is another.

People can live their whole lives without learning anything.

Most rigging is invisible

I don’t think the average person actually has any mental tells for when something is rigged. They just assume everything’s gaussian or uniform distribution until… someone they trust tells them otherwise.

Or in other words – everything they are told is gaussian or uniform, they will defend as such, until the moment they are told otherwise.

Some of them may know of statistics and the “correct” way to determine what a distribution is, but even if they use it, which they generally won’t, I don’t think they will believe it.

Test: Suppose you give the average person a loaded die and they lack access to complicated equipment to measure directly, the only way they can test it is by rolling it. Suppose one face is loaded to 1/4 instead of the true 1/6, meaning that it’s almost a 10% chance more likely roll than it should be – significant if you think about it, but not completely noticeable if you don’t. How many times does the average person need to roll it before they believe that it is loaded?

Test: Additionally supposing you were trustworthy or otherwise held authority with them, what is the chance that the number of required rolls is infinite?

98% of reasoning is ad hoc

The idea of science or truth-finding, as it’s thrown around, is to “let the evidence speak for itself”. The ideal is that no opinions are formed beforehand, and only after gathering, sorting, and analyzing the indisputable facts, is a conclusion made.

Now, for some reason, people assume that they’re able to do this correctly off the bat. They also assume, I think due to some Western dogma that I can’t name because I don’t know my history, that everyone else is able to do the same, completely naturally and without effort, unless they have otherwise been artificially corrupted or sinned. Nevermind that they think of scientists highly and think of it as a well-paid profession, that they’ve learned of the history of vastly different and mutually exclusive ideas held as true by scientists throughout time, that there are things that scientists disagree with each other upon, little old them can do it with any subject matter because duh, it’s not like they have to do any work. Didn’t you hear? “The evidence speaks for itself!” As for any potential self-conflicts, they write it off as “new evidence” or “science is a self-correcting process” or any number of other things. They treat it as the worldview version of democracy: ‘the worst epistemology, except for everything else’; except who cares what else there might be in “everything else”, this is what I was taught in school and it’s all I need, hasn’t failed me yet. Except when it does, and when it does, it’s self-correcting.

As if “self correcting” is such a big deal for an epistemology. They criticize Christian priests for saying that “oh, actually, God doesn’t say anything bad about gays!” or dinosaurs or heliocentricity or whatever, then blink and forget about it. Same with the Chinese Communist Party. They’re not very communist now are they? They’ll disagree with you though. I don’t know what they’d say exactly but it’d probably be along the lines of “we’ve made some improvements”. I don’t need to talk about the American media and the whole rise and fall of the term”Fake News” do I?

Every way of thinking has ways of self-correcting, and every way of thinking will self correct until the moment you no longer believe it.

If that feels a little stretched, that’s because it’s worded backwards. Forwards, it’s

You will continue to think in a certain way as long as you can correct its errors.

Oh, but there’s a difference between “reasoning” and “rationalizing”. Sure. There’s also a difference between “nepotism” and “connections”, and “fact” and “opinion”, and “Correcting” a mistake is different than “Covering it up” too. Gee isn’t that nice, great sixth grade vocabulary lesson. One of us totally didn’t have a grasp on the English language before the other of us came along. So what’s the followup? So what?

Well, the difference is applied, and we can tell whether a way of thinking is faulty and needs to be changed or works just fine and nothing needs to be done.

Results are in: we’re always right and the other guy is always wrong.

All our corrections are either ‘improvements’ from people we already agreed with, or admitted changes but denied significance e.g. “oh pfft yeah I knew that, I just forgot / I just didn’t care / who cares”, while every inch the other guy gives is significant no matter what.

Test: What proportion of disagreements are civil, substantive, do result in a participant changing his mind, and don’t result in one participant characterizing the other as a simple cartoon villain who is inexplicably and irrelevantly evil and corrupted?

Is it 1 in 2?

1 in 5?

I think it’s closer to 1 in 100, but I can compromise halfway and say 1 in 50.

Now, it absolutely could be, that there’s a bunch of absolutely stupid retarded or corrupted people running around spouting opinions and just using defense mechanisms and logical fallacies every time they come to something which is against what they believe in, and by some magical spell or stroke of luck, you aren’t one of them. I can’t disprove that. But it seems a little too long winded and self fellating. Easier and simpler to model it as “I do things right, and my enemies do things wrong”. Hanlon’s razor might be retarded, but Occam’s is pretty good.

Eventually people will give in and admit this is actually what they do, and this is the kind of person they want to associate with. Those who don’t value others they’ve had history with and don’t cover for people who they’ve worked with before, just because in some instance and some interpretation, they didn’t follow the rules or weren’t strictly correct on some opinion, those kinds of people don’t have friends. And friends are important. Hobbesian State of Nature is intuitively ludicrous because everyone needs to sleep, and that means you’re going to need people helping you keep watch while you sleep, which means regardless if they tell a lie here or fuck your wife there, unless you have better options for the same purpose, you’re gonna have to deal, and even if you have better options, you better be careful, because you are also someone else’s consideration for replacement. It makes sense why it is the way it is. It also makes sense why people still hold up all the stuff they claim they do but they admit they don’t – the words and beliefs too are defenses against outsiders.

Networking. Rule of law. Evidence speaks for itself. I Fucking Love Truth, amirite lol?

I can only say such things because I can also say openly that I favor my friends, that everything that comes out of my mouth is my opinion, and that I think I’m always right. It’s more vulgar and crude, my personality and approach. Whether or not I actually do those things is a different matter. Isn’t it funny that it seems more likely that I’d engage in nepotism? Because I told you I would? Alternatively, if you already know me, isn’t it funny that your opinion on my likelihood on whether or not I’d do those things didn’t change? I did tell you, didn’t I?

If I had to venture a guess it’s because I’ve been an outsider my whole life trying to get inside various groups using their explicitly stated rules, continually failing, continually getting shafted, continually being told I’m “us” while I’m still “them”, and continually finding out that the game is rigged. It’s never the explicit rules, it’s always some other, hidden, second set. Yes, I am mad because bad, I am frustrated because I’m a loser; what winner would ever need to reconsider and improve on his ways? As for why I’m an outsider, I’m not sure. I think it might be because I’m Chinese and my way of thinking or speaking is also inherently Chinese. But in any case why is the enemy. What matters is “now what”, and the answer to that is “revealing the rigging”.

But I still get my laughs sometimes. Yesterday was the “Vault 7” Wikileaks and there’s been a lot of buzz about the “Deep State” of the American government, where the “unelected bureaucracy” and “intelligence community” hold the true power in relation to foreign policy and a number of other things. There’s been some uproar about a former CIA chief saying it’s not a “deep state” but a “friendly permanent government” – ‘It’s the beginning of a dark age!’ ‘The end of the experiment of freedom!’ I mean, really, what’s the big deal? They’re doing the same thing you’re doing, just with more people and more money. They’re your countrymen. Same culture, same blood – what makes them so special that they would refrain from doing at work what everyone else is doing everywhere? You think they weren’t doing it in any way at some point in time?

I guess some people actually think everyone else is just stupid.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that. Occam’s razor might be pretty good, but Hanlon’s is retarded.

Kaizen

once upon a time i was frustrated that i couldn’t draw pretty girls in pinup poses to use as my own fap material. now that i can reliably draw at least several parts of pretty girls and have a decent grasp on the possible range of pinup poses and camera angles, my woe is that pinup poses alone, even though i haven’t touched a lick of rendering or color theory yet, can’t by themselves tell much of any larger, important, moving, or memorable story.

i think i’m always going to be able to find something to complain about. definitely a mindset. not sure if it’s a “choice” though.

Aesthetics before Communists

I was going to make a comment about how I’ve played games with good aesthetics that have bad mechanics/balance, but never the other way around. I stopped, but not because I found examples of the other way around (which I did).

I stopped because I remembered that once upon a time, SJWs basically didn’t exist in videogames, and bad aesthetics were just a result of the art being done by non-artists or because of technical limitations.

RIP GW.

Activism is Safe

“Danger” is an evaluation of self-preservation for a given scenario. Whether the danger is deserved is a matter of justice, which is separate.

Nazis are “dangerous” even if they don’t do anything, because their support for the ideology of the Third Reich is only secondary in the evaluation. It is not so much that it’s dangerous to be around Nazis because they’ll long-knife you if you’re not a Blue Eyes White Aryan, it’s because non-Nazis will do it to you if you’re seen associating with Nazis – and non-Nazis far outnumber Nazis.  Counterexample: no non-black has stopped supporting BLM even though they threaten about the same thing.

People like to say it’s actually because they believe Black Lives Matter or any number of other things. Perhaps they do. But if they do, then it’s also clear that they’ll change their opinion on homosexuals within ten years, fake news within four months, and additional funding to NASA within… well, people are calling for more space exploration funding all the time because They Fucking Love Science and Elon Musk Is Totally Tony Stark or Steve Jobs 2, and this article is fairly new, so “one second” probably is an overly generous estimate. “But there was new evidence” You’ll notice that people who learn and account for new things in any other subject will never say this line. “Well everyone changes their minds” So in the end, it really is about what the group thinks of you and not what you think of things.

No one ever thinks of BLM as dangerous because no one can touch BLM; “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason“. They may think of going out in public with a mass of people is dangerous, or they may think that rioting is dangerous, but unless they’re a Nazi they don’t ascribe those to the named reason why people gathered.