Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Culture Change

So I don't know what is the deal with Barns and Noble but they have done a fantastic job making it as horrible place to go be as possible.  Say what you want about Books a Million but at least they have chairs that don't make me want to kill myself and everyone around me.

That said I ended up buying a political journal at Barns and going to read it at Books.  There is a message in there somewhere I am not sure where though.

Moving onto the topic at hand I've been reading more and more articles on entitlement spending (medicare, medicaid, and social security+other stuff) so as to better get a handle on it.  Entitlement spending is one of those issues that sounds like it can be fixed with the magic wand of common sense but in actuality are quite complex.  As a result everyone seems to have a dismissive overly simplistic idea of how to deal with it.  None of the major news outlets are doing much to help matters.  Of course then again what are they gonna say, "this is some complex shit and here are some sources so you can go educate yourself?" No they are going to knuckle down and do the best they can with summaries.  Oh well.

To give a little bit of background one of the most intellegent peices of writing I've read on the topic is that our Congress is grossly under equipped to handle entitlement spending.  Congress, while capable of great things and passing sweeping legislation, is to short sighted to effectively plan for increased costs of entitlements, and to appropriately deal with the problems that causes.  The narrative of the baby boomers taking the surplus, running away with all the money and fucking over the kids is a symptom of that.  That narrative is true only to a point.  It is mostly a short sighted congress inflating entitlements so as to stay in power and no one like the senate, president or an independent commitee coming by and saying "knock that shit off".  I mean jesus most people prolly assumed that when their social security benifits increased it was done so in a way that wasn't "more loans".  We have to remember that our level of political awareness was nothing near this level 10 or even 8 years ago.  So there is a lot of catching up to do.

Anywho the article came up with some neat ideas how to address the problem.  Good for it.

Moving on the other article I read was more interesting to me because it advocated more of a culture change instead of various policy changes.  This article was both amazing and loathsome at the same time which is quite a feat.  While I and the author both advocate culture changes and government getting the fuck out of the way of said culture changes the article advocated an increase of institutions like marriage and churches whereas I am advocating...well something else.  I mean I have the damnest feeling that if I were to take that article and use it publicly as evidence supporting gay marriage I'd get an awfully angry letter from the author stating that's not what he meant.  He never came out against gay marriage specifically but considering the fact that every other solution to his problem involved churches I just got that feeling.

Still we have plenty of common ground and he did bring a really interesting and fresh perspective to the subject.  In the 60's lots of things changed, distrust in government, the rise of divorce, the fall of church attendence, and the worst welfare program ever was enacted.  Maybe wellfare came in the 70's damnit now I wanna know...60's I was right!  For those of you who don't know for every dollar you earned you recieved one less dollar of funding.  So if you got a shitty low paying job that didn't make ends meet you would be receiving less wellfare dollar.  I'm not joking they put that shit on a 1:1 ratio.  So most people made more money sitting at home.  Not only that but most people made more money having more kids and staying at home.  Hence the welfare queen.  Things have improved in most states.

Not a bad idea even though it got off to horrible start and is still an inherently broken system which produces behaviours on the inverse of that which it would like to inspire.  The problem is that it chased off thousands of charitable organizations that the government all the sudden felt the need to micro manage.  The article used the example of the San-Antonio based "Victory Fellowship".  The following is rage inducing.  Over the course of 40 years this program helped over 13,000 people get clear of drugs and alcohol.  They were nearly shut down by the government because they used faith based techniques  and they employed former fellons instead of following some rediculous sets of standars set by the state who is so far removed from any sort of problem what so ever that you can pretty much tell they were coming up with this shit by ear.  Okay yeah whatever not a fan of faith based but they were helping so many people.  A venerable institution helped that many people in such a tiny area?  Holy shit these people should be awarded congressional medals, have statues built after them, they should appear in text books and be applauded as American heroes.  Instead we did the direct opposite because of the stupidity inherent in bureaucracy.  Plain and simple.  The story of Victory Fellowship isn't unique but it is interesting to see what sort of work welfare did to usurp the various forms of citizenship we once had.

Okay so this guy believes that famiies and churches are the answer.  Good for him.  The problem is that for most people who haven't grown up christian churches are pretty much a poison pill.  To many of them a weird.  I know I've been to some weird fucking churches.  To many of them do nothing for the community around them.  To many of them just aren't very good.  Add that to the negative press the catholic church garners, the jesus hates fags people, the nice folks who stand on street corners informing me that I am going to hell, the guys who just kinda show up on campus and tell me I am going to hell, the pushing annoying christians who won't leave you alone even when you are really into your book or vigorously typing, the KKK, and the mormons and you have a serious god damned image problem.  That isn't to say that there isn't some great churches out there.  I am saying that they have one massive image problem.

I am also saying they are totally unnecessary.  The idea of citizenship is a problem in our country.  To often I encounter people who believe they deserve while offering nothing in return but sob stories about how much they deserve.  There is a lot of undirected mailice to the poor and less fortunate that I never really understood but I see it all the time.  But this is the start of a tangent.

We both believe that a change in culture is nessisary but he wants to go back to a previous set of ideal when you can't.  We can never go back things have changes and changing them back is the opposite of progress which is what we both want.  The thing is that we have to enact changes in our culture that promote being better people.  Once upon a time taking a large bonus while not adiquetly paying your lowest earning employees was a mark of scorn.  Now it is something people do.  It is accepted so much so that we want laws to stop it.  Changing culture is hard.  Really hard.  But it can be done.  It happens all the time without help from anyone.  Now if we could change it for the better well wouldn't that be something?

I think it can be done.  Certain anarchist groups have the right idea.  There are more and more organiations that are centered around non religious based do gooding.  This can happen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Social Contract and Gaming

I was going to update the movie blog and I might still actually but I feel like writting about this topic so whatever.  Also I am seeing Broken City tomorrow so I guess I'll update it with a big fat movie round up.  I also kinda wanna write something on unconvensional detective movies.  I have two so far and I prefer to do a 3rd... Who Framed Roger Rabbit I WIN!  So working out problems one day at a time.

Anyway back to the topic that I put in the subject line.  So social contract and gaming.  This popped into my head when we were playing Cosmic Encounters the other night at anime club.  Cosmic Encounters is one of my favorite games.  It is fast, frantic, fun, and it is almost impossible to take it personally because who you are attacking is randomly determined most of the time.  I like random!  Alliances last for a whole turn and then are more or less gone.  It is nice.  It of course encourages lying, back stabbing, double dealing, bluffing, and all the other things that excist in American games and that's when I started to wonder.

The concept of the non binding deal excists in one form or another in just about every game that has a deal in it.  It is this tantalizing ability to burn someone to come out ahead that is both omnipresent and yet, in just about every play group I've experienced, rarely used.   Take Cosmic Encounters.  You can take allies to help you.  You can take a lot of allies, then you can loose on purpose and take everyone with you.  You can also make a deal where both people can play a negotiate card and they can trade stuff.  If only one person plays a negotiate card they auto loose the encounter so it requires a lot of trust to get both people to play negotiate cards.  These are just basic back stabbing things you can do in the game and of course no deals are binding ever.  The thing is that these forms of the back stab are fairly rare reason being that once you burn someone no one else is ever going to trust you.  You make 5 people loose 4 of their ships to the warp because you failed to deliver victory by acident... well shit happens.  If you force everyone to loose 4 ships to the warp on purpose no one is going to trust you again for a very long time.  You essentially decided that you are going it alone, and any time you are being attacked then you have gaurneteed an instant and rather permenate alliance against you.

Now in a con setting I can see a lot of this coming into play and being very useful.  These are people you aren't going to be seeing again so why not put the devious fuck lever at 11.  It is part of the game.  However, when you are playing in a set group of people this starts to become less worthwhile.  Part of the reason is that it just makes it more difficult to make deals in other games.  Once you get that reputation for being a devious fuck head then it is hard to break it.  It is easy to write off the fact that it is "part of the game and people need to be mature" but there is the plain and simple fact that if I have to tie up one of my eyes watching out for your knife heading towards my back that I might as well just not ally with you in the first place and find a more stable/reliable partner.

I've found that being a good neighbor in a game often times gets you a hell of a lot further in the playgroup setting than being an asshole but that's me.

So the main reason is why bother in the first place?  Or to ask a better question what happens when we remove the non binding deal mechanic.  To examine this I am gonna look at two games Twilight Imperium and Diplomacy though not in that order actually.   Diplomacy is interesting because unlike most games with the "non binding deal clause" Diplomacy is built in such a way so that at one point during the game you are going to backstab someone else.  It is impossible to win without working with someone and it is impossible to win without betraying someone.  The game is pretty abstract on how the mechanics work but you are still capabable of doing some pretty clever things.  Still you can't do them without someone else.  As a result the idea of betrayal is on the tin.  It isn't optional.  Being devious is the only way to do it.  It isn't like Cosmic Encounters where most dickery is optional.  It isn't like Illuminati where you can change your mind during a deal at the last second causing someone you promised to help to loose, it isn't Monopoly where you promise to sell something and you don't.  In Diplomacy you gotta burn someone it is just a matter of who how and when.   A good poker face also helps because damnit James picked up what I was doing pretty hard when he saw me eying Turkey as he was eyeing Italy.  The Italian player came to the sudden deflated realization that she is to nice for the game.

My paint here is that when the game is built for the dickery it works.  Dipomacy isn't some fly by night game.  It has been around for over 50 years in dozens of printings.  It has been played by important people the world over.  The game, design wise, is literally a work of art.  It takes 10-15 minutes to explain and 99% of the complexity comes from the human interaction.  Most of all when I said it is physically impossible to go it alone I meant it. 

Diplomacy differentiates itself from its other American cousins in the fact that the art of the non binding agreement is an intrinsic part of the game that is inescapable.  Whereas in most other games it is tacked on as a sort of "oh yeah you can be a dick".  As a result it slips past the social contract.  Unless the gamer is particularly immature or vindictive it is understood that this is how Diplomacy is played and there can be only one.  

Just in case I didn't make it clear earlier in most other games it is possible to go it alone or to win without backstabbing your partners.  As a result the devious trickster guy generally finds himself to be the cheese that stands alone.

Twilight Imperium is different because first of all the game is pretty unrestrictive on the sort of deals you can make.  Despite this I would fucking kill for a military passage deal that excistis in games like Civ series and Europa series.  Still there are all sorts of deals from non aggression pacts, trade goods, votes, planets, initiative thingies, trade agreements, there are tons of things you can do and for the longest time all of it was non binding until the second expansion came out and they did away with it.  Now there are contracts we can give each other that come with consiquences for when a deal is broken.  Some of them are pretty stiff consequences at that.  The non binding deal is dead long live the binding deal!

So what is lost by throwing out the non binding deal?  Nothing.  I mean not really.  In fact it leaves the ability to free form backstab still intact because first of all no one would expect it, and second of all since the stabbed player is recieving immediate compensation the stabbing fits more into the over all structure of the game's mechancis and not just "player x is a dick and can't be trusted".  For the non stabbing inclined it is nice to have a layer of security to back up deals and should the backstab happen it is easier to plan around.  All in all it adds an extra layer of stradegy to the game without adding to the game's rather staggering complexity and it is a beautiful concept. 

I love the idea of the binding contract.  Do this or this bad thing happens to you.  It is a perfect concept that can be used in just about every game with a non binding contract system.  I hope it is something that starts making it into more and more games because in general the non binding contract feels more like a board game tradition rather than a deliberate design decision and that's silly.  Why not take it to the next level and make backstabbing an integral part of the game lie Diplomacy or add the binding contract and see what interesting new things can be done with it like in Twilight Imperium.  Alright back to work.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gaming Blah Blah

So it has been nearly a month since I updated this blog.  Part of that was due to the plauge which turned into a week and a half ordeal and part of it had to do with the fact that that I've been doing more rpg writing.  Lastly and the biggest reason is that since my computer only boots sporatically when it does I play the crap out of mine craft instead of doing useful things like updating my blog or stuff like that.  I kinda want to post my rpg stuff to my/a blog but I don't really do it often enough and it is ROUGH at the moment although it is pretty much the only writing that I willingly go back and edit which is weird and nice.  I've been doodling Mutants and Masterminds stuff getting my world more fleshed out and kinda putting my notes all in one place.  It is nice I do like gming that game though it is basically what if everyone on the Avengers is Thor's power level not just a bunch of people at disparate power levels working together to contain threats.

The next time I do it I wanna run a Suicide Squad/Thunderbolts style game because I think that would be an absolute blast.  I don't know when and how this will happen but I do want it to.

Moving on.  I have real topics.  Like I very much want to weigh in on the whole gun control thing again because it is important.  Again I advocate an attitude change not necessarily a law change but laws will factor into it.  I could do this but I don't feel like it.  This week has been emotionally weird for me and I just want to hang out a bit.  Also I will have to go find a bunch of links and I don't wanna.  Maybe I'll do it tomorrow night because that seems like a good Saturday night activitiy as opposed to picking up bitches or whatever the hell it is people do.

Back to fun things I want to go back to skirmish wargaming again.  I miss playing Malifaux a lot and I want to do it more but there is mainly the problem of time and opponents.  There is also the matter of just about everyone I know picking up the Relic Knights kickstarter but no one having the time to really play a skirmish game.  So I am hoping I can either make it happen on Friday's every once in awhile or perhaps Sundays with just James and random nights during the week with Cory/whomever else. 

In random news Sentinels of the Multiverse is now officially on my list of things I want.  It is cheap, co-op, with a variable difficulty and it looks like it is a lot of fun.  That combined with the new Battle-Con game will make a nice pairing of stuff.  I wasn't that interested in it before but it would be nice to have a co-op game that isn't as difficult to break out as Arkham, and as fiddly as Lord of the Rings.  As an aside I miss playing that game and I want to get more cards but it keeps getting shunted to the side because of other stuff coming out.

Alright lunch time is over and I feel great!