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    Nov 9th, 2018 at 00:06:42     -    Four Last Things (PC)

    I managed to commit the last sins of Wrath and Gluttony. It took me while to find the right dialog option, but in the end I only needed to kill a dude and eat all his pies. The confession and subsequent ending weren't terribly surprising given the timber of the game up to that point. I am glad that I gave away all my possessions to the beggar and apparently chose the right dialog options to have John give me the real talk, which felt like it probably doubled as the developer's manifesto.

    Despite the messages in the ending, I was paying more attention to the copyright element of the game, given the recent lectures. There are a few moments in the game, like when the character is talking to the lawyer and asking for legal advice, that allude to the difficulties and pitfalls of creating a game using clipped out pieces of classic artwork. Though I don't know the specifics of it, and honestly the legalities don't much interest me. The element I was piqued by was the fact that, while I did recognize a handful of the paintings used in the game, the vast majority were brand new. Though I suppose the original creators would have perhaps preferred a more flattering means by which to experience their work, the fact that I'm seeing their work at all is really only by virtue of the game. This is an element to the read/write cycle that is perhaps not always fully explored or given much credence. I like art well enough, but not usually enough to go to prestigious galleries or study the classic works in books or the like. However, having played this game I now have a passing familiarity and surface-level relationship with many artworks I would not have otherwise. Locking down works with copy protection and the like almost always means that it intrinsically remains within its home medium. As accessible as that medium may be, there will always be a contingent of people that do not engage with it for one reason or another. Having greater freedom of adapting and transposing work across mediums means that the messages encoded in those works can spread the their branches further. Surely some things are lost or changed during the transcription process, as is certainly the case in Four Last Things, but I do think there is still significant value in that use of existing works.

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    Nov 8th, 2018 at 00:14:28     -    Four Last Things (PC)

    Today, after much wandering around aimlessly and helplessly clicking on the same things over and over hoping for different results, I managed to commit the sins of sloth, lust, and pride.

    I had underestimated the shrewdness and indifference with which the game hides the solutions to the puzzle of sinning. There are only a few areas in the game, but quite often I was at a loss for what to try next. Of course the solution is always obvious once I finally figured it out. Even still, it's a funny layer to the game that one should have such difficulty in sinning, which is typically thought of as a persistent looming temptation from which one must always be vigilant to abstain. So the comedy of struggling through convoluted methods by which to commit sin has a cartoony misadventure sense to it.

    Extending that thought, and having committed many of the sins already, I am also noting a pattern in what it takes to accomplish the task of sinning. Obviously the goals, the "seven deadlies", are considered the notable and most egregious sins, however it seems that the little old man must commit a plethora of other "smaller" sins in order to accomplish more of them. For lust, not only does he have to lie to a portrait painter to get a specific painting, but then also swap it to steal another higher quality painting. Then after that, using the painting to invoke the skills of poet for a poem which he then steals and passes off as his own to woo a lady for sex! To commit the sin of lust, he lies, steals, and plagiarizes. Perhaps it could be said that all these things are done for the purpose of lust, but it's a funny oddity that none of these other undesirable behaviors seem to matter. Though I'm not sure if that's a criticism of the game, or the point of the game's satire of this Christian morality. I'm more likely to believe it is the latter.

    As a last reflection for the log, I was amused by the short moment it took to commit sloth. It is in ludonarrative harmony to just have your character lay down then literally do nothing with the controls. It isn't even a long time, however, at least for me it was something of a struggle to keep myself from making some input. As much as games are stereotypically considered an idle task for the lazy, the case is likely to be the opposite. That it fills a fidgeting need in some people to whom low effort but consistent feedback is appealing. Like loosening a knot. Not necessarily because you need the length of rope for anything, but because it's something easy to fidget with and feel like you are progressing. So this moment in the game where to progress, you must do nothing, feels like having to set the knot down and let it loosen on its own for a moment. It seems counter-intuitive and creates friction against the habit of continuous monitored input. It's a fun moment that indulges in the visible humor while also creating an odd gaming-based sensation.

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    Nov 5th, 2018 at 21:54:41     -    Four Last Things (PC)

    From the very beginning, the way Four Last Things sets up its win condition against its moral framework really impressed me with its effective simplicity. The first thing I find out about my player character is that he is a man who has committed every sin and wishes to confess. However, due to the amusing bureaucracy of the "Bishops?" the man can't do so at that church until he's committed each sin again, but in their territory. This singular moment performs mechanical, narrative, and ethical work in setting up the game world and situation for the player. It establishes the mechanic that you need perform each of the seven types of sin before you can win. The narrative is just as I first said, your character desperately needs redemption. And more interestingly, from an ethical standpoint the game is telling player that in order to eventually be a good and ethical person (at least in the eyes of the player character and his world) you will first have to commit not just a few sins, but every sin. By giving such a requirement, the game allows the player to shirk any implicit obligation to be a good person and instead take on the ridiculous perspective of seeking out ways to do "bad" things.

    The recent lectures about what it means to "play well" fall closely in line with this game. So far, I don't have a clear idea of how much the choice options in the game flavor the overall experience, but at the very least it affords the player methods with which to imbue the player character with a certain quality. Despite the quest to sin, the player could choose many dialog options that are not necessarily that of a "sinner", to perhaps play the role of the man who really wants to do good and be cleansed of sin, but is simply in a bad situation. For me, I've been doing my best to embrace the absurdity and simply try everything.

    I've only so far committed envy and greed, but I'm looking forward to how the rest shakes out.

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    Sep 27th, 2018 at 00:54:35     -    1979 Revolution: Black Friday (PC)

    Having finished this game, as well as having had the lecture on utilitarianism, I am still perplexed by the question of how justifiable one's projections or aspirations for future consequences are for their actions. Specifically, in terms of the game, centering around the idea of protests and aligning oneself with a cause. The narrative of the game, and its subject matter, is rife with the interplay and juxtaposition of various political and social ideals. Through the course of the game I was presented with people and perspectives of communists, religious devotees, capitalism, and nationalists. Each believing that the consequences of their ideals provides the best way forward for their country, or even humanity. Really the only reason a subset of these are united in this circumstance is the mutual rejection of the current rule over the country.

    In such a situation, where there is clear need or indeed even inevitability for a current government to be unseated, how does or can one ethically align themselves with a political or social idea to replace it? The utilitarian perspective instantly gets thrown into generalities as everyone in your country, or even the world, would be affected by such a change, and wrangling the calculus of that utility would quickly become ungainly. The Kantian approach on the other hand requires a maxim with which to posit as a universal law, this borders on tautological when speaking about political and social causes. Trying to deduce the strengths and pitfalls of these causes and their maxims would likewise result in amorphous outcomes. Though I think maybe I am having a trouble of scale, or nesting the ideas of political and social causes with moral frameworks in a nonsensical manner. Political and social ideals are in many ways posited moral frameworks of their own, so trying to evaluate them using another framework would only cause circular thinking. I guess my assumption was that the game had asked me to take a particular affiliation, which I don't think is actually the case. Rather it purposefully kept Reza as an outsider so that I could judge the scenarios from a "purely" moral standpoint.

    It doesn't seem like a particularly revolutionary idea, it is common in stories to bring an unencumbered outsider to a developed and complicated situation. This is usually a device that creators use to slowly introduce the audience to the scenario, they learn as the character learns, and Revolution 1979 makes use of Reza in a similar way. But I feel this device is more pertinent given the subject matter and the fact it is an interactive experience. As mentioned, the game and time period is characterized by a complicated clashing of cultures, causes, and belief systems. Reza is invested by his identity as an Iranian, but has been gone a long period such that he is at first unconnected to the current situation. He has no prior affiliation with any of the causes or ideals save for that he does have and care for a family, one in which each member aligns with a separate cause. In this way, Reza, and by extension the player, are able to divorce themselves from making decisions by affiliation, and instead take each scenario at its base moral level. The game does not consistently ask whether communism, nationalism, or religion is correct or moral. Instead asks "do you forfeit the safety of your family for your own?", "are you blameless in the consequences of your published photos, whether or not you intended them to be published?", and "can violence be justified"? In this way, the game provides an independent, generalized perspective, one that can be colored by a lens like utilitarianism, kantism, communism, or any other, but can also shirk the necessity to do so. One can push the rhetoric to the background if they so choose and evaluate on a more "pure" ethical perspective, or one of their choosing. Therein is where I believe the majority of the game's power comes from.

    All this being said. I wish the game were more polished in its technology and presentation, because I have a strong sense of its message and worth, but it is clouded and obstructed by jarring interactions.

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