The Machinery of Order

I’ve been out playing a videogame the past few days, and Saint’s Row: The Third has got to be the most fun game I’ve ever played. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who asks. I got the game packed with all of its DLC for 25 (normal cost: 100) on Steam’s summer sale; it’s still at that cost for the next 24 hours or so, and 50% off until the 22nd. Just the game itself costs 13 (normal: 50).

It may be the best game I’ve ever played. It doesn’t take the title for sexiest models or greatest storyline (TERA; Muv-Luv Alternative). Many things, like the income system and the general open world gangster setting have been observed in other places (Assassin’s Creed; GTA). However, the writing was what put the piece together. The humor was really what kept me going – I never really cared for driving across the map to do a car theft just to drive it back to the other side of the map. Weaving around or evading cops was pretty fun, but it wasn’t anywhere near… good. I’ve had chuckles or moments of excitement and tension in a game before, but it was during Saint’s Row: The Third that I had my first time laughing out loud and excited at doing what I was doing.

It was the superior writing that illustrated to me the other most important reason why I found the game fun:

I was guided through the whole thing, and while I wasn’t guided I didn’t know what was going on.

I’ve finished the main storyline, and I still don’t know where things are. I’ve used maybe half the guns available to me and don’t know how to operate the other ones. I’ve stolen cement mixers, motorcycles, and schoolbusses, but I still haven’t found a stationary lamborghini or a truck head to make my own. I’ve touched watercraft a grand total of twice and both times for missions, and I’ve used airplanes once because I wondered if there were any. I was at the last mission when I figured out there was a bonus for doing nutshots, and only shortly before that did I figure out that using the phone menu to call certain “homies” would summon them to fight alongside you.

A while ago I pondered the reason why I stopped playing Skyrim. I thought it either had something to do with the fact that I took on too many quests at the same time, or with me looking up stuff on the wiki. At the time I took the former more seriously, but didn’t revisit it when I got bored of the game. Having too many things to do affects your ability for purposive action in a fairly obvious manner: it’s the definition of a dilemma if we throw bad consequences in, and the definition of paralysis if we don’t. The second one, however, has more value than I understood then: the ability to know where things are before you’ve looked for them with no linked consequences though (i.e. paying for maps in-game, or doing favors for an NPC who then shows you how to do this or that) warps your mind. The more you can obtain advantages in something without putting in resources (all-encompassing for risk, time, capital, etc.) relative to that, obviously you’d care less about it. If you learned a whole course online and not from the professor you were enrolled with, you wouldn’t give him an ovation in the last lecture. If you had an innate talent for something, you wouldn’t feel as attached to the skill as the guy who worked his ass off to get to the same level. For many activities this caveat can be overlooked, since we actually seem to be fine with not caring about our jobs or classes, and we actually do need to build a base understanding of many things that have a very low probability of intriguing people. In a game however, you are only doing one thing – playing the game (If you were only looking up, say, shooting techniques and not running techniques, it would be different.).

These two are part of a larger principle.

I’ve quoted John Titor on how knowledge is a function of time and situation – I already do not believe that information is strictly good. It was clear to me that there are better and worse situations for any given piece of information. But now, I am taking it to zero and infinity: Some knowledge must always be known, and some knowledge must never be known. A rather awkward wording since “always” and “never” would be read as time adjectives, but the structure at least mystically captures my intent. If it is true that knowledge is a function of time and situation, then it is clear that it is at least possible for some things to never be good.

However the devs ended up balancing the economics and the damage and the sizing and all the factors of Saint’s Row: The Third, the important thing was that it kept me on rails. The fact that it is open world and you can mostly do what you what mostly how you want as long as you aren’t in missions is tangential to why the game is amazing. It is quite possible for a story to be mind blowing and intense without giving you any options at all – it’s called a book, or a movie. And there are many of them which are better than supposed open-world games. In Skyrim, I played it for the main storylines. I didn’t enjoy sorting through what I could carry around. I gave up on alchemy early on. Smithing was only so I could have cool stuff to use so I wouldn’t die during those main missions. Dragons were okay, but not why I played the game. In Just Cause 2, the only thing that kept me going was new trinkets. The story wasn’t too good, and I started loathing the game after a while because you can’t ever outdo the AI. There were no big interesting things to do. It was always an, oh, I can do anything I want to…. but I don’t want to do anything. The average free-to-play MMORPG these days is also, by definition, open-world. But you aren’t seeing any of them at the top of any charts, and rather than playing one of them, it’d probably be better for you to watch Fight Club again.

The best open-world videogames are those which show why these characters are the main characters, and why these storylines are main storylines. It isn’t just because they have screentime dedicated to them (an absolute value). It’s because they have more screentime dedicated to them (a relative value). It’s because you give them the screentime, and you know why you are giving them more screentime. This I contend is the reason why truly free and true sandbox games are never super big hits and never really remembered. The Sims allows you to create your own character and build your own house, but it gets repetitive real quick because it’s only about the next gimmick. Cities XL allows you to build your city however you want. With some rules of course: if you put your residential right next to heavy industry and have shops nowhere to be found, people aren’t going to come to your city. But even with these rules, there’s nothing to create. It wasn’t a creative act – after the first few placements, things I did were not positive anymore, but rather anti-negative. I was no longer building, but fixing. I need to build more of this, or more of that. No real sight of the big picture, the only thing seen is what to do on the margin. The world becomes the margin and only the margin – and because what that margin is about changes on a moment to moment basis, because there is no unifying purpose or whole, life itself becomes halation.

It isn’t just the “getting more stuff”, or “go to work make a family grow old with your love” that’s halation. If you live in the margin, all of it is halation. You can’t escape it. The margin is the halation.

“All this choice made it possible for me to do better but I felt worse.”

“There’s no question that some choice is better than none but it doesn’t follow from that that more choice is better than some choice.”

“The value of choice depends on our ability to perceive differences between the options.”

It may be a useful perspective to see differing people and professions as simply the training and experience which allows us to make choices. Ignore the non-person logistical details of muscle memory, jargon, capital, and business connections. If we just look at the person logistics, the mental logistics, this is all there is:

The ability to perceive differences is what differs one mind from another.

Everything else – religion, culture, discipline, language – is a tool for that, because differentiating is what allows us to act in reality. What is creativity, experience, or leadership, but the ability to decide on the better one where it counts, to perceive differences and thus live in a world that others don’t even know exists? This is the reason division of labor exists in any group – because better decisions are made by those who can perceive the relevant differences. Those “professionals” are used as such not because they have a higher probability of making the right decision, but because it significantly lowers the probability of horrible effects from coming into existence.

I was an anarchocapitalist for a long time, and the most asked question (aside from “who will build the roads”) was “should everyone really have access to nuclear weapons”? I always had some long answer about how everything would be decided by the free market, how nukes would be expensive and they’d probably have some really stringent contracts and controls. Kind of bullshitty, really. It’s not really access for everyone then is it? Should everyone be able to have a nuke, yes or no? Most people answer no, but they don’t have a principled answer because they live inside halation. “No because people could get killed” means nothing, because it’s really easy to point out where murder is the best possible option (read: good). And then they run through random topics like headless chickens, talking about capital punishment and the prison system, whatever. The answer is no because people don’t know how the fuck to use a nuke.

The same concept applies everywhere because in 99% of possible human activity, you don’t know what to do.

There are some people better than others, at any given point in time. Yes, you could learn. Yes, you too could gain some of the abilities the pros at whatever field have. But right now, you don’t know. Right now you don’t have the skills, the perception reservoir. Do you disrespect a 70 year old kung fu master now, because you can beat him up and eventually you might be able to learn everything he has to say? Do you look down on doctors’ advice, because if you spent enough time on Google and Wikipedia, you too could make an informed decision? Do you ignore the captain and flight attendants’ advice or orders because you might eventually go to flight school and learn all the things there are to learn about safe conduct aboard airplanes? Would you just ride alongside in a cycling race, even though your failure to understand peloton mechanics could do anything from ruining the race or ruining the lives of more superior competitors? It doesn’t matter what you could eventually do if you spent however much time on it, and this concept will still apply even when humanity gains immortality. One can not act now with the power he will have later.

It is a fact of life that you will have situations where your best course of action is defer agency to do as you’re told. Better people do not see more options. They see less. It is the people who don’t know any better who see everything at the same time, not knowing what to do or how to act. The best person for the job in any given field is the one that sees the fewest and most correct options. Not so obvious is that the fundamentals of anything are the most difficult. It is obvious, however, that the best people in their fields are the professionals, or the pros.

The best people at social organization, i.e. those who are best at understanding and managing the condition of man both in themselves and in others, are the aristocrats.

Just as the pros should make decisions because they are the best at finances or engineering or art or whatever, the best at politics should rule in politics. Aristocracy – rule by the elite. And of course, there is a best of the best.

He’s called the monarch.

Note that any reactions about slavery or feudalism or imperialism or things like that are all simply uses magic words. I have not mentioned any specific political policies (outside of the nukes thing). What I have done is go through the logic and ended up here. Another common reaction I saw when I argued anarchocapitalism was that it was simply a world of chaos, and that eventually, gangs would form and some dictator would be on top – and we need a state to counter that. This is more correct and desirable than they think.

Equalitists bitch that we are oppressed right now, but really, right now is about as close to what they want as reality can get it. You have all your choices of salad dressings, bread, lettuce, apples, and cakes at the supermarket. All your life choices and change you could make whenever you want just by going back to college. All the women in the world are now open to you through a massive array of online dating sites. Co-ed dorms. Co-sex bathrooms. Co-sex workplaces. The more equal we get the less happy about that we get. People are confused about why things aren’t getting better, and think that if only things would get better, they’d get better. Really. They don’t realize that the problem IS the confusion.

What we have right now is an extremely high amount of chaos. Professors aren’t taken seriously in their lectures, and less important fields are now on equal ground as more important fields, political leaders are seen ss more electable if they are more like the common man. The hundred million choices at the electronics stores. Cultural relativism. Philosophical relativism. Identity relativism. Everything might as well be fucking equal now even if it isn’t yet; getting things more equal will not change anything because all it does is dissolve MORE things into the halation. Marriage, religion, tradition, and politics have already gone to shit. You name it, it can go to shit too.

Gangs form in chaos because they are better at the unifier than most people. They are better at providing happiness all things given than others are, and they are upheld as leaders. If this is not true, the gangs fall apart because the group is not as good as another group. Small groups of superior skill will always form, and power relations will always be established because they are symbiotic. Dictators are simply whoever happens to be the best of the best at the given point in time. Those who do not survive a reasonable test of time are brought down and remembered as tyrants. Those who do survive and prove themselves to be that much better at the unifier than everyone else for a long period of time are remembered as heroes.

You have people who you defer to in your lives. You do. Maybe you don’t know their names, maybe it’s Wikipedia. But you defer to some human agency, in some factor. You defer to them not in the same way you’d defer to an opponent or an enemy, not in a purely responsive manner, but in a submissive manner. Maybe it’s not even an entity, but some idea. The philosophy you subscribe to, no matter how much you’ve made it yours, was contributed to by someone else. You did not choose everything in your life. Someone else makes choices for you in some way, and you like it. If you don’t like the choice, you at least like that you don’t have to make the choices that led to that choice. If your mother made you or bought you all your meals and you liked that better than having to drive out to wherever, buy stuff and come back to prepare everything yourself, you deferred to your mother and she had power over you. We are not free agents. We are parts of greater wholes, whether we are the monarch who makes the political decisions for a nation or we are a child who decides what dolls she wants to play with. The monarch respects and follows the advice of his advisors or mentors. The child does her chores and eats her vegetables.

If the monarch does not defer and does not make good decisions, he will be overthrown. If his advisors plan behind his back and work against him, they will be executed. If the child does not defer and chooses bad things, she will not have a fun childhood. If her parents are too controlling, they will not have a good time as elderlies. All optimal relationships are symbiotic. If the quote “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” seemed familiar, that’s because it was from The Godfather.

We are all children who no know nothing in some aspect of reality; players who need game world designers.

I loved Saint’s Row: The Third because the devs were masters. I’d join the Saints if I were in Steelport because they are the best, not just because they have the aesthetics and style, but because they are the most powerful, morally correct, and funny of all the groups. The open world game structure is great, but as Just Cause 2 showed, without a great plot the freedom means nothing. Who cares if the mechanics are amazing, if the game moderators are always there to screw things up? Why does it matter that the items look good, if they’re in a game where the market is inflated by farmers and nobody at the studio has a fix for it? I’d rather read a book, oppressive as the storyline is, than deal with that. Similarly, there are many, if not most, things in life where it really would be better for society and individual health if people didn’t need to choose things. Yes, we all know how good freedom can be. But it is not the only thing that is required.

Order (aka happiness) is the general unifying principle of human activity. Not freedom (aka equality).

And Order is created through Authority.


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