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Culture War Roundup for the week of March 4, 2024

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But let's put aside speculation about technical issues and focus on what is SBI's department: writing. Well, thing are not looking so good there either

There are maybe 10 AAA games that have ever been released with passable writing, and probably two thirds of them are from two studios (Rockstar and CDPR). That’s passable, by the way, not good (which would lower the number to maybe one or two, though I’d rather not debate which exactly they are).

Game writing was dreck before these consultants and is so now, too. The reason for this is simple - almost all game writers are D&D geeks who almost exclusively read science fiction and fantasy garbage and have no understanding of classical literature or even film to broaden their ability. Everything is a Marvel movie to them because it’s all they know.

Kotaku has written an article about it, the article's author claims that you can't be racist against white people.

Gawker was famous for paying writers for clicks, she seems to be doing a very good job. Amusingly, the same practice on the same website (then under different ownership of course) led in substantial part to the original Gamergate moment.

Like for example many western AAA titles in recent years struggle with modeling female faces for some reason, and the in-game models look uncanny valley-ish and quite unlike the people they're modeled after, and the conspiracy-inclined are saying that the characters are deliberately made ugly to challenge the patriarchal standards, or something.

Japanese games always anime-ify all their characters’ faces, even in the rare cases in which they use facial capture. It’s extremely jarring when playing yet another Japanese game with ‘realistic’ (by which I mean not-cartoon or exaggerated in art style) environments and anime plastic skin triangle face NPCs, where everyone looks like the picture Koreans bring to the plastic surgeon. But that’s a personal preference, probably.

Western games tend to go for direct scans rather than yassification. I think there’s a general emphasis on ‘more real’ characters, but it’s pretty common across the board. British TV tends to avoid casting extremely beautiful actors in many roles (especially in comedy and ‘gritty’ drama) and it seems to have been that way for a while, and probably isn’t the result of feminism. And, for example, the women in ‘Suicide Squad’ by Rocksteady, which you note these consultants worked on, don’t seem to have been made particularly unattractive physically in the clip you link, judging by Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman at least.

Mass Effect Andromeda

This really brought me back. But really, the face model for Sara Ryder does seem to look a lot like the final character model, people just cherrypicked pictures in which the model was mewing/posing instead of smiling or moving her facial muscles and therefore showed her prominent jowls and squareish jaw.

  • -10

I was going to make a similar comment about how VG writing is just bad, but I don't think it's just because they're nerds. It feels almost like the human race has become worse writers in the past few decades, it's like the torch was never properly passed on and it's become a lost art.

I think it's because everyone just does less. People used to be travelers, craftsmen, soldiers before they were writers, and the decades of life's experience flowed into their work. Nowadays people sit passively browsing information for hours on end, and base their writing on other books they have read, one more layer removed from reality.

I think there's something to this. Particularly in how so many character dynamics seem to reflect stuff that might be the most stressful part of a modern writer's lives, just transplanted to some fictional setting, such as, e.g. a fantasy princess rebelling against her arranged marriage in favor of her lesbian love interest, as was the case in Willow, I believe. Or in Star Wars, Admiral Holdo talking down to her hotshot male underling Poe for being a hotshot male who is upset that, as the leader, she hasn't communicated to her troops any information that would give them confidence that she has a plan for keeping the Resistance alive. There's just no sense that the writers had any understanding of the way people in these roles and with these responsibilities think and operate.

This extends to action scenes, of course, which break laws of physics in egregious suspension-of-disbelief-breaking ways that, say, Jackie Chan or even wire-fu Jet Li films didn't, which shows how little the choreographers or directors knew about actual combat and making it look believable (not necessarily realistic) within the setting. To say nothing of the even greater crime against good taste with the terrible camera work and uninteresting choreography you see in so many works (e.g. even the terrible The Matrix Revolutions from 2 decades ago had better choreography in its worst action scene than the even worse Resurrection had in its best one).

But I think there has to be more than this, because one very common refrain you see from writers in general and certainly the types of writers who support the promotion of (certain) agendas in writing is the power of fiction and narrative to change and influence people. There is no shortage of fiction from the past that they could learn things like how military structure works and why it works that way and how that would look when transplanted to a similar situation in a galaxy far, far away. It takes non-trivial research to get all this right, but personal experience, direct or indirect, isn't a requirement for writing these things well, or at least much better than what we're seeing these days.

And the fact that we see incredible incompetence in following basic narrative rules like characters going through arcs or setup and payoff also points at a deeper issue. These are things that someone who got a C in an undergrad creative writing course would understand and avoid. Some of it is surely that the garbage of the past got forgotten, so we're comparing the best of the past to the average of today. But there are like-for-like comparisons that can be made. E.g. the recent live-action Pinocchio remake presenting Pinocchio as an innocent bystander who only ever got dragged to doing bad things instead of giving into his temptations and learning from the negative consequences of them, along with his iconic lying-leads-to-nose-lengthening being used to help him get out of the cage instead of being punishment for lying to the fairy, shows that the writers simply didn't have a handle on the underlying themes of the story. They say that rules are made to be broken, but they also say that you should understand a rule before you break it, and the understanding of why these narrative rules were determined to be so good and useful that they were labeled as "rules" in the first place seems to be missing.

I think a lot of the problems stem from the professional inbreeding of writing and filmmaking. You are certainly correct about people having less lived experience. I would argue that in a lot of ways it goes much much further. In order to make it in Hollywood, you have to go to film school, and by the nature of college and student loans, you have to come from a certain stock to have the ability to study film, creative writing, or acting in school, As in at least upper middle class with a mommy and daddy able and willing to not only foot the college bill but support this budding Hollywood star for years while they worked on getting in. So we’re talking about at least 50 years removed from the time when their ancestors did ordinary manual labor in a factory, repair shop, store, or building site. They exist both in their families and among their peers in a world where nobody takes religion seriously. They also are not the kinds of people who watch boxing or MMA on TV and certainly have never been in a fight themselves. They don’t know anyone who’s been in the military. All of this means that not only does our author know nothing, but he’s surrounded by know nothings. And he’s likewise been taught by no nothings.

There’s not much of a chance that a person who’s never seen a real fight and never took so much as a karate lesson is ever going to understand fighting. And someone who doesn’t know anyone who’s ever been a cop or soldier can’t possibly understand the mentality of those professions.