Persona 5: Almost impossible to put down

As I probably made obvious in the title of this post, I am absolutely gaga for Atlus’s fifth entry into the Megami Tensei spin-off Persona series. Persona 4: Golden was undeniably a masterpiece, and I have been looking forward to P5 ever since it was confirmed to be coming to PS4 in addition to PS3. In fact, I faithfully awaited the launch through a series of multiple delays. Also, gotta say it was a bit mean to JRPG fans that they were going to launch on Valentine’s day.

Now that I’ve had it downloaded and loved for a reasonable amount of time I wanted to share some thoughts regarding thematics and overall structure of the game. While it should be noted that I am not quite through my first play through (what can I say, finals) I feel I am currently facing a confusing set of emotions that should be articulated at this moment.

I plan to write more once I am done with the game, and my feelings and impressions will likely change as a result. But really I must say that while this is undoubtedly one of the best video games I have ever played, mechanically, stylistically, and by story it still has some parts that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Let us be fair, there are a lot of issues with social representation throughout almost all media, and in video games particularly. By these admittedly low standards, the Persona series has always been a few steps ahead of the curve where social progress is concerned. I’d look at the open-minded view they take in exploring the dungeon themed around the undefined sexuality and sexual preferences of Persona 4‘s Kanji.

Persona 5 has some similarity deep themes in the very first dungeon of Kamoshida’s castle where his abuse of his students is displayed. Given that the physical and sexual abuse is with two members of your party, Yosuke and Ann respectively, this isn’t some issue presented in the abstract, but an actual act of defiance where the victims are pursuing justice. Maybe a lesser game wouldn’t nudge me towards criticism of minutia, but Personais downright hypocritical.

This first criticism I feel I am wading into dangerous territory, but I promise I have logic if you see the argument to the end. I am very bothered by the games continued hyper-sexualization of its young female subjects, and Ann in particular.

I understand that many feel the sexualization of people considered underage in America and other Western nations. I understand that the age of consent is lower in Japan. I really don’t want to be an imperialist who tries to impose my standards onto others, but this is a piece of media that was made for myself and my market and I feel my criticism is valid. That said, P5 seems to at least somewhat agree that this is a way of depicting young women that is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character of either gender, that is kind of at the heart of any visual storytelling. I’m not going to write anything about Black Widow’s appearance being sexual because that is kind of the point and power of the character. She uses her sexuality as an a person fully capable of making her own informed decisions to manipulate the more basic parts of humans and the male gender in particular.

The problem is that the of the game seems to agree that the way the girls are depicted and treated is fundamentally wrong. The first quest is centered around stopping the “pervy” teacher who is pressuring underage girls into sexual activity. In the final boss fight, King Kamoshida drinks from a cup of lust where he literally consumes the mostly-nude bodies of young girls.

With this evidence, I think it is undeniable that the game considers Kamoshida’s view of high school girls as wrong as I would. Whether that is right or imperialistic is a discourse for another day. Now, accepting this condition, it stands to reason that Kamoshida’s distorted worldview includes a sexualized Ann in a bikini.

By cultural standards, especially those in the West, a young woman in a bikini is downright tame; however, it is hammered home that coach Kamoshida is doing something wrong by viewing Ann as a sex object. So, what does the game do? Repeatedly and heavily treat Ann as a sex object.

There is a pattern of making moments where the male characters of the Persona franchise awkwardly encounter their female counterparts in bathing suits. Personally, I find these moments at least charming, if a bit awkward. P5 is no exception to this trend. While these swimming scenes are low hanging fruits for examples, there are repeated instances where Ann is sexualized….. because.

Though I would say Ryuji is the worst explicit offender, there are multiple instances where they just stare at her or else make strange remarks. This would be fine in isolation, but it just keeps happening and I keep feeling weird. Take for instance the drive to Futaba’s pyramid. Obviously things are hot in the desert and they are trying to keep as cool as possible, but every guy in the back seat can’t help but stare down Ann’s shirt. Not subtly, they make a point of showing both Ann not being upset by this and the men not seeming to care.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Ann is an attractive young blond who is a part-time model as the result of her rich parents being fashion designers. It would have been easy to treat Ann as just an object of attraction. Persona 5 does not do that.

Ann is a romance option, and while her specific story missions do involve some work to become a better and/or more successful model, that is far from the point. She is doing it for herself so she can feel accomplishment through work and ultimately finds greater self value by side-lining modeling again. I can say all of that because she was the romance option I pursued.

Persona 5 does an exceptional job of making well rounded female characters. They are intelligent, complex, and a great sign of progress in an unfortunately misogynistic medium. While I applaud Atlus’s two steps forward, we must also acknowledge there one step back.

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The Nature of Androids and Humans: Criticism of Anthropocentrism and Class in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

 

Traditional literature and poetry can do a lot to help humans comprehend the meaning of minutia surrounding them, but some issues are to complex for a world that resembles our own. That is where Science Fiction comes in. SF (“SF” is a  common literary abbreviation for “Science Fiction” not “San Francisco,” the setting of the novel) serves as a means to take questions to the extreme for analysis at their logical (or sometimes illogical) final state. At the core of good science fiction is an examination of complex and real questions through a means that can not exist in the world as we know it. Indeed, we really should listen to Nigel Wheale’s statement, “[i]t really is time to take science fiction seriously” (297). By taking advantage of this newly validated suite of tools, authors can examine large issues about the essence of humanity and its interactions. One of the best examples of this is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, “a classic in the genre. […] It works on many levels and addresses a range of humanity’s most pressing concerns” (Axelrod, 84). Dick uses androids to examine the concepts of nature and artificiality in order to dissect the false privileged binary between the two.

A very basic question one might ask looking at Do Androids Dream? is whether or not Dick thinks of Androids as living things, but that question is far too reductive. Do Androids Dream? makes it clear that electric things are also alive through the protagonist Rick Deckard’s observation “The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are” (Dick 241). This sentence provides a good starting point for the scholarly work done around the novel. The issue of existence and of consciousness are taken as given. With the novel’s advancements in making robots more “human” there is no way to tell an organic human apart from a functioning android until they have expired to have a bone marrow test taken. Because it is so remarkably difficult to tell the difference between the two, the novel takes their consciousness and even sapiency as a given. The question is not whether robots are lives, but how they should be considered.

What makes a human? Perhaps it would be easier to define man vs. not-man if we were able to communicate with things that are not human, but at this point such conversations are beyond the realm of possibility. So we, as a species, are forced to discuss the issue among ourselves. By only being able to experience the concept of intelligence with itself, humanity was led to an anthropocentric worldview. This is a belief of human supremacy Per Schelde best summarizes as the feeling humans are “specially created with a purpose: their salvation and final happiness. Tied in with this purposefulness is the notion of a free will” (125). The ability to actualize desires is a central point of differentiation between what makes something living with a conscious and what is not, and therefore lesser.

This thinking establishes three levels of privileged class: human, animal, and other. This notion is one of the traditional ways that man has distinguished himself from machine. Dick upsets this balance with the introduction of intelligent machines that resemble the top caste (humans), androids. Through this unsettling, androids seek to leave the lowest caste, the other, to function among the hegemonic beings. So, asks Wheale, “what would be the difference between a physically perfect android kitted out with memories and emotions passably like our own, and a person nurtured through the usual channels,” and furthermore “what is an authentic human psyche” (298)? For centuries, the question was as simple as attempting a conversation (Similar to the traditional “Turing Test” to differentiate between a human and a computer consciousness).

In the real world, it is fairly safe to determine an entity’s humanity by looking at it. In Do Androids Dream? it may not be enough to isolate humanity at a glance. Mark Axelrod notes the difficulty wherein “androids have been reproduced to be exact replicas of real humans; therefore, they are difficult to tell them from real humans” (86). By using such a simple test to determine what is human for so long, mankind constructed what Christopher Sims names the “binary [of] natural/artificial” (68), wherein humans can converse, animals can react but not converse, and that bottom class, the other, which has no ability to recognize humanity, plants and inanimate objects (At this point in reality robots, largely incapable of intelligent thought, would belong to this category). Why are animals privileged above the other? Tony Vinci explains animals are granted a special status “for their ability to register human existence, but non-intersecting gazes between humans and animals position them as objectified commodities” (100). Within this critical theory not all animals are equal in their value to humans.

For example, many humans would value a dog over a fish for its ability to interact with, and even assist in human life. Dog is “man’s best friend” because it possesses enough intelligence to directly make man’s life better, and recognize our existence in contrast to that of other beings. Still, they are clearly lower because virtually all cultures will refer to other humans as various kinds of animals (English examples would include: pig, ass, cow, bitch, etc.). Many humans become greatly offended that they could have some distant evolutionary relations to primates. Though not human, humans value animals for their ability to enhance humanity. This leads to the third class, the other. The party of concern in the novel are the electric beings, both the artificial pets as well as the human mimicking androids. This is where the natural/artificial binary starts to become apparent.

Up to this point this essay has focused on what differentiates between the three castes in relation to their positions in Do Androids Dream?. I will turn now to look at how humans in the novel reinforce their position atop the arbitrary hierarchy. An iPhone has more utility and use for the average human than an elephant. The prior can serve any one of millions of functions for any modern person with at least one functional hand, whereas the elephant is a variant of nature that some humans find aesthetically pleasant. Yet, anyone who would choose to save an iPhone over an elephant would be looked at as a monster. So, humans will place some value in the “other,” for its utility, but its inability to recognize humanity makes it a cut below animals. Sims explains that this is because “modern Western cultures hierarchize the natural and the artificial” (85). This “difference” is an illusion, there is nothing between the two but human opinion. Those concerned with preserving the high station of the natural can not stand to see this change in the ancient balance of power. So, what then of the intelligent android?

Rick Deckard’s San Francisco exists after “World War Terminus,” a nuclear armageddon that killed most life on earth and left the rest irradiated beyond reproductive capability or, for the rich, fleeing to the safety of Mars with android servants. Where many real-life humans cherish their animals as a friend and companion, a pet is less of a companion to the post-apocalyptic person and more of a prized possession to convey social status, in part because of their rarity. Because the radiation has made it impossible for any species to reproduce in a fashion that would keep up with demand, only the rich can afford to have a genuine animal and everyone else can get electric mimicries, such as Deckard’s titular electric sheep, to try and convey status. In this society, “crimes against animals which universally horrify humanity” (Wheale 300) are fundamental to the maintenance of status quo. If humans are unable to have their reaction to violence against another living thing, how would they know they are human?

Drowning in anthropocentrism, humans promptly place themselves at the top of the organic/inorganic class system, and make moves to bring greater hegemonic status. In explaining the violence of humans toward androids, Axelrod explains “There is a fear that [androids] will create some kind of havoc if not eliminated, […] what kind of havoc they would wreak is not exactly detailed though” (86). Because they can be so hard to spot, humans need something to draw a line with. To this end, the humans of Dick’s imagination develop the “Voigt-Kampff” empathy test, administered by the protagonist Rick Deckard to suspected androids. The goal of this test is to detect empathy, which is decided to be the paramount human virtue by post-apocalyptic society. The primary reason for this premium on both empathy and  the testing thereof is that robots do not feel empathy, or at least not in the way that humans recognize.

The novel’s humans are very concerned with empathy, they even make it into a religion called “Mercerism.” In this newly founded devotion “Empathy is the paramount tenet of Mercerism” (Sims 74). That is where the value of animals is relevant. Vinci argues animals are able to produce empathetic emotions and comfort, but really “what humans are ‘with’ is not animals but the imagined lack of their own lack” (100). Counterintuitively, the humans of Do Androids Dream? rarely empathize with one another.

Axelrod describes the situation “Deckard’s thoughts, mediated by the narrator, are often insightful for Deckard himself; however, we know very little about his wife’s, Iran, thoughts and concerns on more than a superficial level” (91). By contrast, Wheale notes that in the 24 hours required for the novel to unfold, “Rick Deckard’s infatuation with Rachael [a Nexus-6 android]  is the most troubling instance of this problem. In the novel, bounty hunter and android sleep together” (304). Deckard has an intimate and emotionally meaningful connection not with the woman he has agreed to spend his life with, but a Nexus-6 model android he was sent to examine for signs of empathy just hours before. As Rachel notes, “You’re not going to bed with a woman […] don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t pause and be philosophical, because from a philosophical standpoint it’s dreary. For us both” (Dick 194).  In a world concerned with empathy on a religious scale, people don’t seem overly concerned with their fellow humans.

Wheale explains the “Do Androids Dream? employs this idea of ‘affect’ to distinguish between a ‘person-Thing’ and a human entity: humanity experiences affect (and affect-ion), robots don’t” (299). Some of those biological people don’t meet this definition of humanity as empathy. Wheale further describes this dilemma of people whosuffer from a ‘flattening of affect’, and in the test situation could be mistaken for robots” (299) because they are not mentally able to feel empathy. Though they are traditionally born and raised humans, they are incapable of the primary characteristic assigned to humanity by the global religion.

This isn’t the only criterion that can disqualify people from humanity, and empathy for these people seems to be in short supply. One of Do Androids Dream?’s major characters, John Isidore “had failed to pass the minimum mental faculties test, which made him in popular parlance a chickenhead” (Dick 18). Isidore is capable of some amount of empathy, as illustrated by his interest in animals and his android companions, but is not of high enough intelligence to be granted full and legal personhood which would allow Isidore to get a better job, own an animal, and/or flee the irradiated landscape of Earth for the safety of Mars. Both those with a flattened affect and sub-par mental facilities are biologically and genetically humans, but they are not considered such. So humanity isn’t even tied to biology as would be suggested by privileging animals over robots. Humanity is tied to power.

Having reviewed the negative consequences of using empathy as a means of differentiating mankind above all else, I will now show why this is a flawed test and a false construct. There is the “empathetic” practice of Mercerism itself. Iran Deckard demonstrates this in the novel’s opening scene when she connects to the Mercerist “empathy box” which shows the object of the religion, Wilbur Mercer going through trials and tribulations to spark empathy among his followers. Wheale describes this process as “tuning in to an ’empathy box’ each individual shares in the Ascent of Mercer, and shares the antagonism directed to their god-figure by some unknown enemies” (299). This allows for humans to share in the experience of suffering together with Mercer, virtually the definition of empathy; however, this experience is being delivered in an artificial manner. Galvan goes as far as to say “the empathy box, which despite its name more undermines than facilitates the experience of emotional community” (418).

Humans do not go to an event occurring live and/or in person, they are essentially watching a rerun on TV. It is still given to humans by the use of a human creation that artificially delivers an experience that is not actually happening in the moment. Optimistic skeptics might argue that it is inconsequential to receive in an artificial way because the “feeling with” of empathy is still natural. This would be a valid argument within the context of Do Androids Dream?, except the full experience of Mercerism, that world’s primary religion and inspiration of empathy, is fundamentally false.

Wilbur Mercer, believed to be an actual person, is revealed by Buster Friendly to be a man “named Al Jarry, who played a number of bit parts in pre-war films” (Dick 207) and then acted as if he were being persecuted for the scene before resigning to a secluded life in Indiana. This “empathy” was not with a real person or even a real event, but a purely synthetic experience Jill Galvan argues is primarily a means of the government to keep people from rebelling against the structure (417). Not only is the means of experiencing artificial, not only is the experience conveyed synthetic, the purpose of the storytelling is not organic and grassroots in nature, it is a means of the oligarchs within the hegemonic class to guard their power. This leads to the conclusion that either empathy can be artificial or is not any great virtue of humanity. Either way this outcome leaves humans without a jewel for their crown of anthropocentrism. Even worse, the androids are gaining ground in empathy. So, let us review the moral implications of differentiating humans as a uniquely superior and moral class.

In some SF it is easy to spot an android, they just look fake to even the unobservant eye. As previously noted, this is not at all the case for not so in Do Androids Dream? where a living human and function android can not be differentiated fully. Where Wheale notes “the latest generation of Nexus-6 ‘andys’ approaches nearer and nearer to human” (300) it becomes more and more difficult to tell a difference at a glance. That is where the protagonist, Rick Deckard, introduces the Voigt-Kampff test. One of the first conflicts presented to Deckard is testing the Nexus-6s. In this scene, Dick reveals that the Voigt-Kampff test was not the first of its kind, it is part of a series of ever more difficult tests. So, the definition/idea used in defining empathy, and consequently humanity, is not fixed, it has changed over time as the hegemonic humans have moved the goalposts and keep the number of privileged people to a minimum. This is not merely a group of people sticking to what they know for fear of the new, it is a concerted effort to suppress groups, both organic and mechanical.

Tony Vinci writes “The post-apocalyptic culture depicted in the novel is based upon anthropocentric values constructed in such a way as to belittle and disempower human and nonhuman others (‘specials,’ androids, ersatz animals) by defining the human as a specialized category of being that has exclusive access to empathy” (92). In this situation, the androids are not treated as people, but slaves. Perhaps androids might reach the same status as humans if they can meet certain conditions, specifically meeting the current definition of empathetic, but every time they are able to meet these standards of humanity, the powers that be change their definition so they to keep their club closed from anyone looking to climb the ranks. This includes some androids that would classically meet the definitions of humanity with flying colors.

Luba Luft is one of Deckard’s android targets found at an art exhibition and posing as an opera singer, a very bourgeois art. To be deconstructionist for a moment, arts are also called humanities meaning that someone who can perform a humanity on a high level should most likely be considered human. Luft is operating as a very talented human artist meaning she is not only expressing her own form of humanity, but also potentially helping organic humans achieve a more fulfilling life. In this scenario, Luft should be considered a human, or at least something on the order of an animal; however, Galvan writes

In effect, it is not the scenarios that Rick posits that might prove Luba Luft guilty; rather, it the resolute relationship of signifiers and signifieds-the vise-like stability of the dialectical code-that proclaims the law’s authority and thus already brands her a criminal. Deputized to administer the test, Rick insists repeatedly upon Luba’s “response,” but in Baudrillard’s view, of course, that response would only confirm the operation of the hegemonic code (421).

What this means in a power structure is that the signifiers are being perpetually changed to keep specific signifiers held in a position of lower power. The androids are trapped as slaves by this hegemonic sign.

Typically, the androids do not do much to resist their bondage, but Sims says “Rarely, an android slave will kill its master and flee Mars for haven on Earth” (67). Throughout the novel, Deckard, a bounty hunter, stands as a forceful means of differentiating between the natural/artificial binary, humans and androids, respectively. Just as the Fugitive Slave Act permitted white men to hunt after escaped slaves looking for a way to leave their masters. Humans are very concerned to see their position challenged on the top of the pyramid, and so they assert the whole of their power to suppress the rising forces of intellectual opposition following the model of Marxist theory.

Androids are transformed into the other, and, as Axelrod notes even largely resembling a traditionally marginalized European ethnicity. “Unlike the nonandroids, each android […] has Euro-Slavic names or features” (86). The hegemonic forces are using their privileged rank to exploit and oppress the lower classes from removing their privilege. Istvan Csicsery-Ronan argues “Hypercapitalism labors to replace them with the ‘multicultural’ coexistence of irresolvable, irreducible, and intractable differences that must never develop into serious challenges to imperial sovereignty. The utopian ideal of universal right and law is replaced by the imperial practice of corruption” (242). Once again, even looking beyond the abuse of androids, there is a good number of natural-born humans, like John Isidore, that are not being allowed to interact with more respected humans recognized as intelligent, empathetic, and generally better. It is just another way for the powerful to oppress the powerless.

Class relations are a very difficult thing to discuss in America. Csicsery-Ronay states “This is one reason why some Marxist critics consider the genre to be inherently critical, despite the fact that careful social analysis rarely plays a central role in sf narratives […] the way global capitalism prevents dialectical historical awareness from coming to revolutionary consciousness” (242). No one likes to acknowledge that people of a higher station do not view them equally as a result of class. That is really the brilliance of Do Androids Dream?. In this instance, Androids are used as a powerful equal to stand aside organic humans to show the violent hierarchies mirrored in nature and human society. Regardless of whether or not the work is explicitly, implicitly, or not at all Marxist, Dick forces readers of Do Androids Dream? to confront the fundamental power structures and assumptions of human identity.

Works Cited

Axelrod, Mark. I Read It at the Movies: The Follies and Foibles of Screen Adaptation. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007. Print.

Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “Science Fiction and Empire.” Science Fiction Studies vol. 30, no. 2 (2003): 231-45.JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. New York City: Ballantine, 2008. Kindle.

Galvan, Jill. “Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’.” Science Fiction Studies vol. 24, no. 3 (1997): 413-29. JSTOR. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Schelde, Per. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Science Fiction Monsters: Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films. New York, NY: New York U, 1993. Print.

Sims, Christopher A. “The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.” Science Fiction Studies vol. 36, no. 1 (2009): 67-87. JSTOR. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Vinci, Tony M. “Posthuman Wounds: Trauma, Non-Anthropocentric Vulnerability, and the Human/Android/Animal Dynamic in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association vol. 47, no. 2 (2014): 91-114. JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Wheale, Nigel. “Recognising a ‘human-Thing’: Cyborgs, Robots and Replicants in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’.” Critical Survey vol. 3, no. 3, (1991): 297-304. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Realistic escapism

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to escapist expressions. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I have always loved fantasy, comics, sci-fi, video games, anything that lets me escape to somewhere more fantastical than the world I live in. So, in the stressful media world of Trump’s America, I must ask myself why I can’t seem to lose myself in the worlds I love so much.

My Steam library is packed to the gills, I have a significant reading list on my Kindle, and there is a ridiculous amount of good content on HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. So much, in fact, that I needed to get an app to sort through it. There’s a really great app that aggregates movie and TV choices called Mighty, they describe themselves as Tinder for streaming. I made sure to input a lot of my favorite things so most of the recommendations are off the charts good. Things I wanted to see I didn’t know were available to me, and things I really like were appearing with my having no prior knowledge of their existence. Here’s the thing, none of them are the sort of escapist show I have been previously drawn to, Westworld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stranger Things, and any number of other shows I have enjoyed throughout the years. I have watched almost exclusively documentaries.

At the beginning of the semester, I once again read Book X of The Republic for my Introduction to Literary Criticism class which gives a blistering attack on the nature of art and literature, the harshest criticism possible, for art as a whole.. I don’t agree with it by and large, but Socrates largely argues that reality is hard to perceive so having multiple lenses to distort a vision of the world can make it exponentially more difficult to see the truth. In a world of alternative facts, I am turning to the entertainment with the fewest lenses to find my joy.

Want to know what I just watched? A documentary about government surveillance. That’s not as light as In Search of General Tso, but it shows some truth. Of course everything has its own flaws and distortions applied by its makers, that goes without saying. That’s kind of the point of Socrates argument in The Republic. That doesn’t matter.

It is impossible to be a proper citizen of an Advanced Liberal Democracy without exposing oneself to the news. That is quite simply essential to functioning in the world, but frankly, it really sucks in the last few years. Real and legitimate news is under assault, and those attacking it won’t even allow us the courtesy of marking it as such. Of course right leaning sights were more problematic in the election, but its not lack of center right news available to them from reliable sources, look at The Economist, Forbes, or The Wall Street JournalThey all have political angles that do not align with me, but they have reliable records. They made their names on reliability, not on clicks.

So I turn to documentaries. True, reliable, and entertaining. Even the darkest ones are infinitely better than what I get in the New York Times everyday. Top notch reporting, but it makes me feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown because the truth is so much stranger than fiction with the Whitehouse acting as a reality TV show. It’s just not the strangeness I like.

Silver linings

I won’t beat around the bush, 2016 was a bad year. I refuse to believe that it is just media coverage, this was a bad year. But there were a few things this year I really liked (mostly entertainment stuff for the purposes of this Post) and got me through, so I want to talk about them.

Music

The first thing is actually tied to an early unfortunate event, and that is Blackstar by David Bowie. I remember the moment I read about his death. I had “Lazarus” playing on Spotify when the Rolling Stone headline showed up on my Twitter feed. If you haven’t heard the song, it is Bowie’s song that kind of acknowledges mortality. That’s been read into plenty, but at least I’ve had something to listen to from the get go.

I really can’t mention 2016 without mentioning Kanye’s new album. I adored The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. I’ve written about Kanye already and recent events have shown some interesting turns in his persona, but Pablo gave me a lot to identify with and lean on for strength. Also, just go ahead and lump his concert in there because I’ll remember that little trip with Grace for years to come.

I actually saw quite a few concerts in the second half of my year. After I saw Kanye, I also got to see MC Lars, a longtime favorite of mine. He was every bit as nice as I could have hoped and the show with Mega Ran and mc chris was high octane and unique.

This year I had the habit of getting tickets to concerts as Christmas presents, the final show I went to was a Christmas show from Trans Siberian Orchestra. They make an incredible spectacle, but the highlight for me was when they had a tiger change into a dragon change into an attack helicopter. I still don’t know why they did that, but that has yet to affect the degree to which I care.

Film

The next thing I loved was the new Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar! which really shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s on HBO at the moment, and that’s good because it’s hard to explain all the reasons I like this venture without ruining a lot of things, not by killing plot points, just really cool and odd jokes. If nothing else, the sheer amount of incredible names should speak about why I’d be so thrilled by a period movie like this.

Sandwiched between the album and the tour, I binged some serious TV and I have to say, Netflix had a good years. Bojack Horseman has been going strong for a few years, but that blend of flippant humor with serious and potent commentaries on sensitive issues (i.e. mental illness, abortion, nontraditional relationships) is something that I can’t get enough of. Also, I didn’t expect to like Stranger Things, but there are few things made that so perfectly fit with what I live. I know I’m not from the 80s, but I don’t care. Just as I liked the setting of Hail Caesar! I adore that aesthetic that permeates so many things I love.

The other source of TV that entered my life was HBO. My family never paid for the cable subscription. We still don’t. But I subscribe to HBO Now so I’ve gotten to enjoy what they’ve put out, and it has been some wonderful stuff. I enjoyed Westworld and Veep but my favorite has to be Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I’m impressed with the sheer variety they can produce and there has yet to be a time I could not get out of a funk with those three magic letters.

Games

Before I say anything here, I must acknowledge that I’ve been playing a lot of older games this year. For instance, I’ve only recently gotten into Skyrim. Not the remastered on on consoles. The PC version. No special mods. I just finally found what makes it fun. If you want to know what has had a major emotional impact, look to Spec Ops: The Line. It incredibly subverts expectations to show what war is like. To be fair, I haven’t been to war. I probably never will. But I definitely can understand the stress there. That’s just the beginning of my list of older games I liked this year.

Another thing that was incredibly cheery was Stardew Valley. I love that game. I have never experienced something that so easily made me feel comfortable. When I think about the gameplay itself or the story, there’s nothing all that impressive. But the loop always makes me feel productive and relaxed. When paired with the incomparable soundtrack, it’s basically a digital blanket I can cuddle into.

In terms of time sinks, there has been little that could compare in my life to Sid Meier’s Civilization series, and Civ VI is not an exception. I don’t know if I like it as much as IV yet, and I certainly haven’t spent as much time with it. But its on its way. That could easily get to be my most played game. Full stop, It’s going through the roof as we speak. Twenty hours in a week, thanks to winter break. Life is sad sometimes.

Tech

I need to give a shout out to my phone here. I’m on my own phone plan now, and I adore the phone I have for it. While I don’t have the brand new OnePlus 3T, that wasn’t announced until a few weeks after I got mine, but I don’t care. I love my OnePlus 3. In our society, our phones have gotten to be an expression of who we are. My iPhone was fine, but I think this represents who I am better. It’s a smart buy when considering value. It’s unique because no one else has it. That’s my problem with Apple products. They all blend in. They look nice, but boring. Where my phone is concerned I want to feel unique, and it is.

Person

I can’t mention Stranger Things, Westworld and trashing on Apple without thinking about the person who spurred me to watch it, my wonderful girlfriend Allie. I try to keep an air of professionalism with this silly blog and not directly address her, but she is definitely my favorite thing about 2016. I’m not an easy person to be with, but she seems to be sticking it out. She leaves for Canada soon, but I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her. She makes me happy. I love her, and she’s my favorite thing of the year.

A galaxy of possibility

With the arrival of The Force Awakens, I was thrilled to see back into my favorite end of the universe. I won’t say that it was perfect, I understand the argument that Ray & company basically recycled good parts of previous entries in the franchise, but there was still enough to look to justify six trips to the theater on my part. Okay, maybe not justify, but at least satisfy. There’s a whole argument about how this actually falls in the tradition of Star Wars cyclical nature. So let’s not talk about that right now, let’s talk about why I’m super excited by Rogue One.

Rogue One is easily better than the prequels, but that is a low bar to leap. My personal rankings (from worst to best) would go: Attack of the Clones, Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith, Rogue One, New Hope, Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, and Empire Strikes Back. So, the brief adventures of Jyn (Felicity Jones) didn’t rock my world. Why am I writing about it? Because I love Star Wars and now I have a lot of hope for the future of the series beyond the central canon.

Member when Star Wars had a widely sprawling canon across multiple mediums? If you do, you almost certainly member when Disney reset the whole canon of the series beyond the films. Well, now we’re getting more non-movie additions, but there is still a massive graveyard of stories (mostly books and video games) that can still be drawn upon. Now, there is a chance to introduce them to the canon on a larger scale.

In spite of the fact that many Star Wars books (i.e. Darth Plagueis) and video games (i.e. Knights of the Old Republic) had great and well crafted stories, most people never paid attention because that was a bridge too far into nerdiness. If the Marvel movies, also under the helm of Disney, have proven anything, it’s that movies can make the really obscure and nerdy the very definition of mainstream.

The galaxy of Star Wars is (or at least was) far more consistent than the one from Stan Lee, but no less interesting. Still, I talk more about Marvel’s movies, just because the films have made it an easier discussion point. That’s where I can see Star Wars going.

I don’t want the stories to be churned out, but having a self contained story gives the universe a chance to produce more stories. A lot of the novels are games aren’t Star Wars in much but name and aesthetic, but that’s just fine by me. If that makes my favorite genre more wide and accessible to more people spurring more information and more discussion for me, that’s awesome. Is it possible this will go horribly wrong? Yup. Is it possible we’ll see more prequel-esque movies? Uh-huh. Is it possible we’ll get a Jar Jar Binks spin off? I choose not to think of it. But Rogue One gives me hope for future installments, especially with Donald Glover cast as young Lando.

Go West(world) young man

I’m finally on the hip edge of TV with HBO’s Westworld, and I have to say, it blew me away. There are a lot of issues the first season raised that I plan to talk write about later, like the representation of identity and self, but today I want to talk about my favorite character, Dolores. Let me just throw a quick spoiler warning here.

When I started Westworld, I was expecting Dolores to follow a very archtypical path of female empowerment, but even in the first episode I saw that would not be the case. If there’s one thing the show excels at, it’s subverting expectations. Maybe that is why I felt my initial pull toward Dolores, the writers made it clear from the beginning that she was intended for something special.

When I first started discussing favorite characters with my girlfriend, who I also watched a significant portion of the series with, she suggested that it’s because Dolores is hot. I won’t deny that Evan Rachel Wood is a very good looking woman, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s because I can identify with her character.

One of the things that has often held women back in entertainment is the male gaze. Almost all entertainment is made to please young men. Not only has that given an unfortunate homogeneity to entertainment, the perception has been that men can only identify with strong characters (read straight white guys). I am thrilled to report that Dolores definitely disproves such a conceit.

Many, myself included, might point out that I’m not an overly masculine figure to begin with. That is true, but Dolores remains a strong character. While she does become more empowered over time, there is never a point where the farmer’s daughter isn’t ready to go. This is your last spoiler warning before I go to some major plot points.

Maybe I’m just stupid, but one of the craziest realizations for me was that not all subplots in the show were happening in the same time, I certainly didn’t expect William to be the Man in Black. Assuming I wasn’t the only one, the reveal of Dolores bouncing all over the timeline caught me off guard at the same time that a mirror was held to my face.

I’ve talked a bit about my post traumatic stress, but one of the (admittedly stereotypical) manifestations can be traumatic flashbacks. If something negative and familiar hits me, I can be transported to a bad place, with almost no way to hold on. For now.

The way humans work reminds me a great deal of how robots work, just more complex. That’s why the representation of androids on Westworld grips me so thoroughly. My thoughts tend to align with those of Arnold. As far as I am concerned, they are sentient beings just as much as any human is, the means of controlling them are a little more obvious.

Hard determinism is a bit off-putting, but I can’t deny that the philosophy holds truth to me. As I’ve previously written, the way humans work is essentially an incredibly complex series of electrical pulses and chemical reactions, the hosts are just a bit more obvious.

Mae gets out of this loop by altering her code, I’d make an analogy to medication, and Dolores finds freedom with the help of another; which I’d compare to therapy. The strength and capabilities are deep in her to overcome and become a great person, or lead a revolution, she just needs to change some things, and move past some old scars.

Can I beat my demons just like Dolores shot Ford (seriously, what?)? Not yet. But I’m getting there. I just need to change a few lines of code in me.