Saints Row IV vs. Grand Theft Auto

I cannot stand the Grand Theft Auto games, or pretty much anything Rockstar makes. I want to like them. Every time I read the previews of the next GTA/Red Dead Redemption/L.A. Noire, I think oh, that story looks so wonderful.
Then the gameplay sucks: endless tutorials of games with poor control and punishing outcomes, little snippets of frustration in between endless cut scenes and even more endless driving all the way across fucking town to pick up a package.  I haven’t enjoyed a Rockstar Game since GTA III, and that was mostly for the then-new thrill of hijacking an ambulance and plowing through crowds of people, shouting “MISSION OF MERCY!  STEP ASIDE!”
So why did I love Saints Row so goddamned hard?
Part of it is, of course, there’s no driving.  Since IV is a Prototype-inspired fiesta where your gang member gets superpowers, I don’t have to spend ten minutes driving across town; I can leap across the rooftops and get there in two, picking up power-ups along the way.  Which is a considerable shortcut, but…
…it’s also that Saints Row wants you to have fun, while GTA wants you to be impressed.
Which is to say that Saints Row is inherently ludicrous: you start out on a terrorist-hunting mission where you wind up climbing up the side of a launched nuclear missile to defuse it, and when you let go and fall back to Earth you crash through the roof of the White House to land in the Oval Office, with a message that says “ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: ADULATION OF AMERICA.”  Then you’re elected President of the United States.
Then the aliens attack.
The missions in Saints Row are all bite-sized, about five to twenty minutes, and they’re all easily dispatched.  There’s a couple of the usual frustrating “Defend the useless thing/escort the useless person” missions, but the game seems to understand that we hate these fucking tasks and makes them comparatively easy.  The rest are just goofy, like when you wind up fighting a Godzilla-sized can of Red Bull.  (It makes sense in context.)  There’s a challenge inherent, but there’s also a feeling that the game exists to serve you.
Whereas with Rockstar games, I always get this sense that I’m crawling to them.  I must master their mushy controls, and if the mission is too hard, well, the attitude is that of a maitre’d in a bad fancy restaurant: you should have done better.  Their missions inevitably degrade into long slogs of not-particularly-fun orders from a taskmaster (remember the dating missions in GTA IV? Oh, the joy!) while I’m mandated to endure the dialogue.  And there’s a lot of failure, much of which I attribute to the inevitable terrible targeting and boat-like car control.
GTA seems to want me to admire what it’s doing: Look!  We’re like a movie!  See everything we have to do!  Except they’re not like a movie, they’re a bunch of cutscenes (and good cutscenes, it must be admitted) wrapped up in a lot of meandering awfulness.  And in their efforts to emulate the humorless world of Scarface and De Niro’s Greatest Mob Hits, they make a lot of it a chore for me.
Whereas Saints Row is like a vacation: fuck around, low consequences, do a lot of silly things.  There’s an underlying story there, and it’s surprisingly solid given the goofy structure, but when one of the tasks you must accomplish is “Be a Badass,” it weirdly enough makes you feel like more of a badass than any of GTA’s channel-marking.
I’m glad I finished it.  I may continue to play it.  That’s high marks for something where I’ve maxed out every power. But hey, when a game hands you a dubstep gun – a fucking dubstep gun – you wanna drop the bass on a couple of alien invaders.

So What's New With Shasta? (Warning: Cute Dog Picture)

So we’ve now had a little black dog for three weeks, and life is adjustment.  I have to get up earlier to take her for a walk (or Gini does, but I try to take that shift).  We can’t leave the house quite as spontaneously.  And, of course, Shasta is watching you pee:
(For the record, I took this photo while I was flossing. Regardless, that’s totally her “Whatcha doin’?” face as she sticks her head into the bathroom.)
Shasta is incredibly bright, but she’s also the least food-motivated dog I’ve ever seen, which makes it incredibly hard to train her.  She doesn’t beg for people-food; she barely seems to notice its existence.  So while she loves positive feedback, it’s hard to get her attention to a specific part of you, whereas other dogs will snap to attention when you hold up the Beggin’ Strip.  Still, we’ve gotten her about 70% of the way to a consistent “sit,” and she mostly doesn’t yank on the leash, but still.
She’s also still got a ton of separation anxiety, but that seems to be working its way out of her.  We leave the house and there are accidents, but she no longer whines when we go into a separate room and shut the door, and doesn’t immediately freak out when we go outside to, say, put out the garbage.  Still, she’s wired for company; we’ve trained her she can be up on the furniture if her red towel is there, and she pretty much refuses to be anywhere else.
She’s also less barky.  Cesar Millan helped with that; he said that there’s the lead dog, who chooses what the pack is hunting for, and then the top dogs are at the front of the pack, ready to fight.  It’s the dogs at the back of the pack who are on guard duty, barking if there’s any potential danger.  So if your dog barks a lot, she may think it’s her job to alert you – and you yelling “SHUT UP!” is just louder barking to your dog, who becomes convinced you’re glad she’s alerted you.  So we took the approach of not even reacting when she barks, and that instantly calmed her down.
She’s a dog, not a human.  Go figure.
It also doesn’t help that I’m reading Mary Roach’s “Gulp,” which has a whole chapter on dog food.  Dog food is like Cheetos; basically styrofoam with an intense outer coating of sniffy-flavor designed to get a dog to put it in their mouth.  Which is an uphill battle, because dogs don’t eat pellets in the wild.  The biggest issue with pet food, however, is the owners, who have to be convinced that their pet would like the food, even if the flavors of, say, decaying rabbit are completely appetizing to a dog.  But you have idiotic owners who are like, “My cat wants to be a vegetarian!” and so the pet food companies completely lie to you.  That tuna flavored cat food?  Pretty much the same as the chicken.  Cats want more consistency in food, but their owners are convinced they’ll get bored, so they swap labels.
Which makes sense.  The dog is not a human.  The dog has some adorbs traits, but I try not to map my own consciousness onto her too much.  It’s more fascinating to me to try to see how she thinks, and wonder how different her wiring is, and yet she’s every bit as complex as I am.
That’s pretty amazing, really.

How You Can Help My Mood, Part 1.

In light of a bunch of family deaths and life-threatening illnesses, things have been a bit… tense… in La Casa McJuddMetz.  We’ve been struggling to relax, with mixed results; the best way to unwind for me has been leaping from buildings in Saints Row IV, because I meditate by playing videogames for hours on end.  Only now are we beginning to feel slightly human.
But you can help.
Today’s help is the trivial bit, and for locals only, but it would get me to unwind: play Numenera with me.
Numenera, if you’ll recall, is the new roleplaying game with the fantastic mechanics I want to take for a spin, and I need vibrant adventurers to come make choices with me.  I’d like to start playing in September, with about four to five people, on a semi-regular basis during the weekdays.  I’ll be running the modules out of the book, as I’m in novel-revision space and I’m told DMing eats up some of the same mindspace reserved for fiction, so if you’ve got the book don’t read those bits.
If interested, contact me.
(Part 2 is the more serious bit, and it comes on Monday.)

Please. Give People Time To Be Stupid.

One of the odd facets of being a Blogger Of Mild Repute is getting occasional fan mail. Some of that fan mail goes something like, “Oh, you’re so tolerant and understanding of X, not like my parent/partner/friend.”
At which point I always blush, because there was a time when I was fuckingstupid. On any topic you care to image. Feminist rights, racial issues, transgender issues, BDSM spheres – there was a time when it was all new to me, and I was an insensitive dork.
(Which isn’t to say that I don’t fuck up massively from time to time still, but at least I’ve generally passed the “101” stage of education.)
Fortunately, most of you didn’t see that time when someone said, “I’m a transgendered girl dating a girl,” and I was all like, “Whoah, that’s crazy strange,” or the first time I encountered a master/slave relationship and said, “That can’tpossibly fucking be healthy,” or the first time I saw someone in an open relationship and went, “Wow, is that creepy. Who can care about their girlfriend and let her sleep with other people?”
Given that I’m polyamorous now, and my wife spends about a weekend a month with her boyfriend, obviously I’ve come around on this. But it took time. When people are presented with something so violently outside of their sphere of experience, there’s often this shuddering reaction of “Whoah, that’s insane! What – why would you even want to do that?”
Then there’s some questioning as to How This All Works, and while some morons never get past the initial “That’s not how things are supposed to be!” stage, the good people will eventually come to the sane conclusion of “Well, they seem to be happy and it’s not hurting anyone nonconsensually,” and incorporate that into their lives as “Just the way some people are.”
It sucks when they’re discussing you as The Freak, of course. But it’s also the same reaction a lot of people have to sushi – “Raw FISH!?!?” – and hopefully someone convinces them to have a nice spicy tuna roll and everything is all right.
The point I’m making is not that this flustering, idiotic reaction is okay. The world would be a much better place if nobody ever flailed so stupidly, and could accept on demand. But fighting against The Stupid Initial Reaction is like fighting against jealousy or anger or any other range of oft-unproductive human emotions. People sometimes have to say and ask some really stupid things of people regarding new experiences of any stripe before coming to the correct conclusions.
And me? I’m glad my uncle had a ton of gay friends when I was growing up, so that gayness never struck me as odd. I’m glad my mother had some black friends so I could get my embarrassing “Do you tan?” questions out of the way when I was eight instead of twenty-eight. That was a pretty awesome advantage to be given out of the gate, that kind of diversity back in the 1970s, and I’m glad I burned off the dumbness early on.
But I’ve said some staggeringly insensitive things about transgendered people, and misunderstood some mind-blowingly idiotic things about women’s rights, and made some blitheringly stupid assumptions about BDSM in my time. Because I was personally unfamiliar with those cultures, and had to educate myself one embarrassing interaction at a time.
I got better. And whenever I run into someone who goes, “Wait, you let your wife go off with another man?” and makes that initial disgusted face of “How does thatwork?”, well…. I ain’t thrilled. But I understand that this may be their first interaction with polyamory, and even if I choose not to be their teachable moment, this knee-jerk dumbassery is not necessarily their final word on this topic.
And so I try to have compassion. Because I know that sooner or later floating through the oft-squicky world of BDSM, I’m going to run into some other kink I’m unfamiliar with, and have a gut reaction of “Icky” – and though I’ve gotten better at reassessing and checking my initial reactions, I’m still probably going to go through a brief period of Absolute Stupidity before I can come to sanity.
If I’m lucky, I can keep that dumbness self-contained. But then again, I’ve had a lot of experience being an idiot. Others may be experiencing their idiotship for the first time, and it’s going to take them longer to get past that.
Let us hope they do, and try to have a little compassion.

"These Aren't People Who Care What You Think, They Just Want Eyeballs."

Miley Cyrus wants to be famous.  Which is wonderful for us!  Her desire for fame, and her success at it, means we get to turn her into a human pinata, make fun of her every life’s choice, give her nowhere to hide!
And that’s awesome.  It’s entertainment, watching mentally unstable people fall apart.  We need to send in more cameras to watch Britney cut her hair, Amanda go nuts on Twitter!  Let’s see if we can bribe her buddies to reveal the details of her last suicide attempt, talk a pharmacist into telling us what medications she’s on!
It’s okay, because they’re those types of people. You know.  Fame whores.  They don’t really feel pain; no, they got into this for the sole reason that they wanted us to pay attention to them, and so, really, isn’t it our duty to have photographers hiding outside their bushes with cameras, hoping desperately to catch them topless?  It’s their fault, really.  For being so dysfunctional.  For actually wanting fame in the first place.
So fuck ’em if they hurt, right?  Those “acting outs” aren’t real pain.  It’s just fake pain, designed to get sympathy from the media, which is all they want.
The reason I say this is because someone implied the other day that Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus were a different class of people who only wanted one thing: eyeballs.  As long as people were paying attention to them, those kind of people were happy.  Which made it all right to heap whatever scorn upon them you desired, because hey, man, those folks are wired differently.  Pleasure, pain, any PR is good PR to people like that.
To which I say, fuck that.
People in the limelight are still people, and they have needs and desires other than the attention of TMZ.  They can still be hurt by the betrayal of friends, of the lack of their own skill, by the stress of their jobs, by money problems.  They remain human beings.  In some cases very messed up human beings, since they’ve cross-wired “attention from external sources” with “self-esteem” in really bad ways, but they did not step past some threshold of human dignity the moment they had their first hit movie.
But the “they only want fame” is something we tell ourselves to make it okay.  It’s a meme we tell ourselves because deep down, a lot of people really, really like watching successful people self-destruct.  There’s no quicker way for a celebrity to get a headline than to have their personal lives collapse in a public way.  And I think that’s because we really fucking resent people with talent, and feel a little inadequate and/or jealous when we see someone at the top of their game – “Hey, why can’t I have all that fame?  Why don’t people pay that much attention to my art?” – and so humanity is weirdly reassured by watching the repetition of seeing successful people miserable.
Hell, that would make us miserable people, though, little more than vultures.  So what’s our next move?  Let’s dehumanize ’em.  We can do a double-whammy if we just say that the only thing famous people want is fame!  Because hey, wanting positive feedback from others is bad, right?  It must be, because we don’t get a lot of it – so let’s rationalize the success of a deep-seated human need by calling the desire for universal acclaim a character flaw.  And then, once we’ve established that the desire itself is awful and inhuman, we can say these celebrities are basically inhuman by attributing whole different claims of desire to them!  They’re not real people, man.  This swarm of hatred surrounding them?  They feed on it.  They love it.
Let’s give them more.
Look, I’ll critique Miley’s performance, because the performance was meant for me to watch, and I didn’t like it.  A blogger said that she loved the performance because, and I quote, “Miley is [dancing] around like an idiot. And I kind of love her for tricking MTV into letting her do that on national television.”  Fair, but I’m generally not impressed by Andy Kaufman-esque crowdplay.  What I saw was a bad and amateurish show, produced with the intent of me seeing it- and so I’m happy to critique the show, and perhaps the intent behind it.
But at the same time, Miley’s Dad Billy Ray is expressing concern about Miley getting out of control, and Miley has had a couple of Twitter-feuds with her Dad.  I don’t think Billy Ray is inhumanly thinking, “Well, she’s famous, and I’m famous, so this is all awesome.”  I think he’s worried about his daughter going the suicidal celebrity route, demolishing her life, and I think he has genuine regrets about putting her in the spotlight so young.  I think, while he did seek fame, he can still think that fame is a mistake.  I think there’s a human person underneath that – perhaps a foolish one, but not a guy wired so different that he’d be happy if his daughter was a drug-addled dysfunctional moron.
Did Billy want fame?  Sure.  Most of us do.  Most of us don’t have the talent or the guts or the luck to achieve anything like that fame – but given how successful COPS has been, I think it’s clear that a staggering amount of people would endure very bad things to have people recognize them.  You might not like it, but it’s a core human need.
Here’s the thing, though: once you get fame, it’s not at all what you thought it would be.  You can’t turn it off – you get accosted at all hours of the day.  People start commenting on how bad you look on a given day.  They assume because they know who you are, you must be rich.  They want to befriend not you, but this image of you that exists only in their head, and they get disappointed when you don’t live up to that.
There’s a cost that comes with all of this fame, and that cost is near impossible to calculate beforehand.  Just like every other human endeavor.  I think if we’re going to sneer, “Well, they should have known what fame would do to them!” and withdraw all sympathy, then we should also withdraw all sympathy for every bad breakup and career choice and parenting decision.
No.  As humans, we’re really bad at guessing what we want.  Much of the human existence consists of struggling madly to get our desire, acquiring it in a blaze of triumph, and then discovering that shit, this wasn’t really what we were in the mood for – the wrong girlfriend, the wrong job, the wrong party.  Fame is no different from any other aspect of humanity in that except that few people will ever get that level of furor surrounding them, and I think we then seek to justify reasons for beating the shit out of those who have succeeded at what we could not.
Miley is not a different breed of human.  She is a young woman, raised in a different environment that may well be full-on fucking toxic for her as she gets older, having spent her formative years in a state where practically everyone she meets is kissing her ass, where her every move is chronicled by flashing cameras, where the slightest option she makes thunders across headlines.  That’s not going to continue forever, though she’ll be warped by this experience just as every kid in a dysfunctional household will.  She’ll want fame, yes, but partially because she’s come to assume its presence, and its waning would be as weird and threatening to you as the loss of your hearing.
Yet she’ll still have other desires aside from this one thirst for fame.  They may be warped around it.  But she’ll come to distrust her buddies, to wonder what’s wrong with her that people don’t care about her new single, to feel like every move she makes must either be careful or buck fucking wild.
That gives her different challenges in life.  I hope she overcomes them.
I hope you don’t think she’s so different that she might as well be a lab rat. All I’m sayin’.