Posts Tagged ‘ existential despair

Another Damned Election

I’ve lost count of the number of times I decided not to vote in this election. It wasn’t even anything to do with Congress, since I think the Democrats in Congress did a very good job this session (with predictable exception of the craven Blue Dogs). Rather, it was frustration with the Obama administration, and its air of entitlement toward the support of liberals, its reflexive centrism on issues where it accepted its enemies’ definition of the center.

The decision to escalate in Afghanistan, for instance, was one of the sorriest episodes of policymaking since Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Since that decision, we have seen countless stories on the corruption of the Karzai regime, and how it makes trust and collaboration with the Afghan government nearly impossible. But of course we knew that. We knew that before the policy review, and that’s why I was so opposed to increasing our commitment there. There was an insoluble problem that, for any military strategy to succeed, had to be solved. So here we are, with an Afghan war that is getting bloodier, an “ally” that is getting less reliable, and a strategy that seems to be treading water.

Detainee policy? State secrets? Obama hasn’t broken with the precedents set by Bush. Much though I love healthcare reform, I’d like to live in a country whose security policies don’t sicken me. I guess I’m glad that we’re no longer actively encouraging torture, but, to paraphrase Chris Rock, you’re not supposed to torture, motherfucker!

Then there’s the capitulatory Obama style. He never pushed back against “conservatives” who decided that railing against the deficit would be a winning issues. His promise of a spending freeze was laughable, a comically inept “me too!” moment from someone who is clearly too delicate for tough politics. In every negotiation, he has pre-emptively conceded on major points to demonstrate his centrism.

Blue Dog Democrats and the often nerveless, resentful Obama administration deserve to twist. But unfortunately, being a reasonable person means considering the alternatives. And they’re not good.

The Republican party never has and never will take responsibility for its role in creating the problems the country faces. Insofar as they’ve ventured toward introspection, they’ve largely settled on the kind of comforting narrative that David Brooks likes to use: the Republicans came to Washington full of virtuous purpose, but were corrupted by the city and eventually ended up abusing power. Note the lack of agency in this narrative. “Washington” corrupted Republicans, not that the Republican chose corruption or abuse, or promoted it. They were victims of political culture, one they had no hand in shaping.

With that in mind, the Tea Party was, in retrospect, an entirely predictable phenomenon. The very same people who had voted higher debts, who had cut taxes while allowing spending to explode, who had done their best to hamstring government oversight and regulation of markets… these hypocrites simply persuaded themselves that they had nothing at all to do with any of it. They convinced themselves they were a new force in politics, reformers and restorationists, and never experienced the slightest cognitive dissonance that their movement was laced with the exact same power brokers and insiders they were supposedly railing against.

That we’re still stuck with some kind of myth of “fiscal conservatives” in the Republican party is testament to conservatives’ limitless capacity for self-deception and the power of messaging to overcome facts and records. Yet they will doubtless spend the next two years blocking every effort to stimulate the economy, improve infrastructure, reduce the size and cost of the military, or aid the unemployed. They will probably manage to ram tax cuts through by tying them to the increasingly speculative “middle class”. All in the name of thrift and austerity.

I have no doubt that by Wednesday morning, the Republicans will be celebrating having “taken their country back.” Some good people will be lost in the election. Russ Feingold might be out of the Senate, one of the very few people who has actually be right about damn near everything in the last decade. Pelosi might leave the House, a lightning rod for criticism due to the twin sins of being a woman with power and having the temerity to exercise it.

That’s too bad, but ultimately I can’t do anything about it. If it were just a regular midterm I’d probably sit at my desk and watch the world go to hell. But there are local questions on the ballot and I’ve come to really like my adopted state, and don’t want the asinine sales tax initiative to go through, and I really don’t want Charlie Baker to win the governorship. His relentlessly petty, small-minded campaign ads have convinced me that as disgusted as I am with the state of American politics, I’ve got to go see if I can help Massachusetts remain a commonwealth of decency in a country of self-pity and pettiness. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what the GOP is selling this year.

Conferences, Trade Shows, and Hype Fatigue

This wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t force myself to read, listen to, and follow so many sources for videogame coverage. I am over-saturated with gaming news and commentary by choice, and it makes me cranky. Still, I hate announcement season. I hate the Kremlinology that takes place in the weeks before every conference or trade show, and the endless parsing that immediately follows.

Do you think Sony is going to reveal its motion controller at GDC or hold off until E3? How will Microsoft respond? What does Nintendo have to do to maintain its lead? What games will they announce at GDC, and what will Microsoft keep under wraps for TGS? How’s that going to play in Japan?

And these conversations repeat for nearly all of spring, summer, and early fall, as publishers and manufacturers parcel out hints and teasers from week to week. Stock analysts offer running commentary to help us keep score at home.

“Oooh! It looks like Take Two’s holiday line-up is in bad shape, Peter. I really don’t know what they were thinking there.”

“I’ll tell you what they were thinking, Bob. They were thinking, ‘Boy, I wish GTA 5 would come out already!’ Hahaha! But seriously, it’s going to take a big E3 announcement to keep this from turning into a rout.”

Then there is the self-congratulation that marks so many major announcments: Hideo Kojima sneaking onto the Microsoft stage during the E3 presentation while the MGS alert sound played, Cliff Bleszinski showing up to Microsoft’s GDC press conference with a Lancer and a promise that Gears 2 would be “bigger, better, and far more badass.”

This is not to say I find announcements boring or pointless. You think I wasn’t squealing with school-girlish delight when John Davison said that the next GamePro cover was going to be Civilization V? The day Valve announce Episode 3 (or Half-Life 3 as the case may be), I will probably pour myself a celebratory cocktail and start reinstalling the entire series.

But the wheres and hows of announcements don’t interest me in the slightest, and I don’t care that much about the details, either. I’ve learned to be skeptical of preview coverage and developers’ pre-release promises, which means I’m mostly content to wait for an actual game to be released before talking about it. I dislike the way we’re all co-opted into marketing campaigns as we press for details on an upcoming release (“Tell us about your co-op campaign!” “We’re going to do something interesting and different with co-op.” “OMG, they’re going to do something interesting and different with co-op!”).

I suppose I’m also troubled by the way announcement season often seems to degenerate into a thinly-disguised form of money worship. So much of what passes for industry analysis isn’t really analysis at all, but a series of ‘attaboys for people who are releasing new entries in product lines that have already made a mint, and tsk-tsks directed at publishers and manufacturers who aren’t as flush with exploitable properties. Then, with a nod vaguely in the direction of criticism, the question is asked: “But how is it going to innovate?”

And perhaps that’s why I’m a bit snarky this morning. The idealist in me says that GDC is a time to discuss what works in games and why, and to consider possibilities for the future while revisiting lessons from the past. But we end up talking about which ideas can be copied and whether or not the copies will sell. Then, without a trace of self-awareness or irony, we demand innovative games and “new IP” from companies that are never quite so happy as when they are releasing the same game over and over. And we have turned GDC into yet another platform for them to make their sales pitch.

With the exception of Gamasutra, so much GDC coverage seems focused on the commercial side of the industry. There are far too few pieces like this one from Destructoid’s Anthony Burch, covering Soren Johnson’s discussion of theme. In fact, a glance at Johnson’s Twitter reveals that he seems to be attending a different GDC than the one I’m reading about.

If I’m wrong, if there’s a lot of exciting, thought provoking material that I’m missing, please tell me so in the comments, and feel free to throw in some links. Still, GDC is a good time to rant and air grievances, especially if you remember what GDC is supposed to be about: serious art.