View from across the ocean (28/5/15)

I said it a couple of weeks ago and I’ll say it again. Politics is weird. Bit more emphasis this week.

Let’s start with the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce getting on TV and letting us all know that Johnny Depp, currently on the Gold Coast filming the latest likely far-from-greatest Pirates of the Caribbean film, had to either send his Yorkshire Terriers (delightfully named Pistol and Boo) back to Hollywood or they’d end up being confiscated by customs and, I shit you not, euthanised (the terriers were undeclared by Mr Depp and not noticed by customs ’cause he arrived by private jet. This has apparently garnered a lot of attention in the USA (because of course it would), though I haven’t seen much about it on the Canadian news I occasionally follow (admittedly I don’t follow a lot), so it’s probably not news to everyone. But goddamn, I like picturing the scenario that led to a government minister getting on national TV and threatening a celebrity’s dogs. I can just imagine some customs officer reading through some magazine during his or her lunch break, seeing a picture of Johnny walking his dogs and going “Shit, did he declare those?” then showing it to a supervisor who decides to send it up the chain (’cause would you want to make a decision about what to do about Johnny Depp’s goddamn terriers?) in a progression of similar scenes until it landed on the desk of Mr Joyce, who I assume immediately called a press conference (with the Facebook ‘like’ button or hashtags appearing comically in his eyes). He certainly seems to have enjoyed all the press a bit too much (enough to get Kyle Sandilands to call him a wanker, and Kyle Sandilands would know). Maybe he was just hoping that Depp would pack his bags and go with them. I mean, none of us want to see another Pirate of the Caribbean film, but this isn’t the way to stop it Mr Joyce. This isn’t the way. The dogs, as I understand it, have since been sent home on another private jet.

Credit where it’s due, when Mr Joyce wasn’t threatening famous people’s pets this past week or two he’s been trying to calm down the anti-Halal movement amongst some of the Coalitions fan-base. And members. Senator Cory Bernardi, whom I have previously indicated I have a very low opinion of (and that ain’t fuckin’ changing any time soon), has managed to wrangle a Senate Inquiry into the Halal certification “racket”.  It’s alright though, ’cause he’s probably had Halal food before and it didn’t bother him too much (on an Emirates flight and everything!) He just wants to make sure people have all the information so they can make ethical decisions about what they eat. Because if you’re gonna be an Islamophobe you may as well have the government giving you advice on best practice. Thankfully members of the government across the lines who aren’t complete fuckwits, including Cruela De Vil himself Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, have pointed out that getting rid of Halal certifications will make it awfully hard to export our beef to such mostly-Muslim nations as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. This would be bad for consumers, who’d see the price of meat go up to cover the loss of international markets making it more expensive to put meat pies on our kid’s plates (won’t someone think of the children!), and worse for the farmers who are already officially dealing with a major El Nino event and another big draught (won’t someone think of the farmers!) If you can’t beat’em with an argument about not being a bigot, beat’em with an argument about not ruining the lives of our farmers and small businesses.

Then there was the insurrection (love that word, don’t get to use it as often as I like) in Cabinet this week, over a proposal by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, backed by the PM, to revoke the citizenship of sole Australian citizens assisting terrorists. Those who stood against such a suggestion included such lofty figures as Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and (dum dum duh daaah!) Barnaby Joyce. Unfortunately, Mr Dutton is still to be given the discretion to revoke the citizenship of dual-nationals for suspected crimes (not convictions, suspicions). I won’t go through all the reasons why I think that’s a bad idea, because other people already have far more eloquently then I’d be willing to. Suffice to say that while I, like so many others, would like to wash my hands of the Aussie-born arseholes posing with assault rifles, black flags and severed heads, revoking their citizenship is an impractical move that raises all sorts of issues regarding rights and discrimination, that is more likely meant to appeal to our knee-jerk intuition and secure a few more ‘tough on national security’ points at the polls than to actually discourage and prevent home-grown terrorism.

Then there was the budget. Good god there was the budget. The feel good budget. The fair budget. The budget of a desperate government knowing that it wouldn’t survive if it pissed off ninety percent of the voting public a second time. And, well, they managed to deliver, more or less. It’s certainly not the kind of budget to get economists jumping for joy. Too many cuts and some big, expensive plans for the future (like new tax write-offs meant to get small business owners on side) without any notable revenue raisers, or even the cauterising of the notable tax-dodges (like on high-income superannuation and negative gearing, something my generation will keep on griping about). Then there’s the piss-weak funding for everyone-agrees-this-is-a-problem-but-no-wants-to-do-the-hard-work-to-fix-it issues like preventing and reducing domestic violence. Oh, and of course there was the hope that no one in the media would pick up on the fact that Labor’s 18 billion dollar deficit was a “budget emergency” but a 44 billion dollar deficit isn’t.

Mr Abbott went and coined the term “Tony’s tradies,” an homage (a proper homage, where you don’t pronounce the ‘h’ and everything) to “Howard’s battlers,” the traditionally Labor-voting working class that kept former Prime Minister John Howard in the top job. Everyone seems to have ignored and forgotten it after having a good belly laugh (seriously Mr Abbott, surely you can hire someone to come up with better than that). The budget has certainly been better accepted than the last one, and the appeal to the middle class was probably the right way to go. God knows it’s nice to have a budget with a positive spin, trying to boost confidence instead of screaming that the macroeconomic sky is falling. All in all the Coalitions top players have done pretty well for themselves as well, bar a few slips here and there. At least they’ve done a far sight better than last year. Enough, at least, that Bill Shorten will actually have to start singing for his supper as Opposition Leader instead of just letting the Coalition do all the work for him. Can he do it? Maybe. I’m not filled with confidence over his past performances. We’ll just have to see.

Except Joe Hockey, of course. Couldn’t let a budget slip by without alienating another chunk of the electorate. This time? Mothers, wroughting the Paid Parental Leave system without their husbands’ knowledge. Ah well, such is life.

Joe Hockey and random talking Edited 28:5:2015
I really need to draw another Joe Hockey. The real man’s jaw is squarer than I do him justice. It’ll do for now though.

Truthfully though, the Opposition’s budget response was not any better, leaving me pining for the days Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan. Say what you want about how they came into leadership of the Labor party, they could put together a budget.

Continuing on. The recent yes vote in Ireland in favour of marriage equality has spurred on other nations to act, Australia amongst them. The Greens made a push in the Senate, and a few days ago Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek announced they would be sponsoring a bill in the Lower House. While I desperately hope it passes, and there’s good noises coming from all sides, there is more than a little doubt since it would be a ‘Labor’ bill being passed, rather than one that the whole Parliament could own (which Mr Abbott would prefer and would likely be more successful). Here’s hoping though.

In international news, the UK re-elected the Tories with a surprising majority, immediately filling my Tumblr feed with commentary from disenfranchised Scots who were just so disappointed with the rest of the UK. Seriously. I mean, I’m a left-leaning Aussie living in Canada, but it seemed to me like Cameron and crew were the best option in what is still a sensitive economic climate (but what the bloody hell would I know, yeah?) Shit, you guys have got an economically responsible government that’s being kept in check by a pro-Europe progressive PM with a decent track record on minority rights. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get one of those? Australia’s last one was in the bloody 80s. A definite negative, however, is that Mr Cameron has bowed to populist and party pressure to try and renegotiate the UK’s place in Europe and then hold a ‘in or out’ referendum on the matter, but no one’s perfect.

And, of course, there’s the FIFA scandal. Not much to say about this, aside from a very loud well it’s about bloody time. Funny thing, I’ve seen it a lot on the news over here in Canada where the FIFA corruption scandal is so shocking and alarming. There’s been very little about it on the Aussie news sources I kept up with beyond the occasional article updating on the allegations or calls for Sep Blatter to resign. I think for a lot of Australians the reaction’s been a bit like, “You say FIFA’s corrupt? Next you’ll be telling me the sky’s blue and water is wet.”

Alright folks, talk again soon.

Where’s she at then?

Assassin male and female blank Edit

I scribbled this out last year, just before Assassin’s Creed: Unity came out, when Ubisoft was taking flak for failing to include playable female characters in the co-op because it was too hard and expensive to animate them. Made one of my sisters chuckle, flew right over the head of my brother. He’s 14, god bless him, and just doesn’t quite yet have the best grasp of sarcasm and irony. He’ll get there though. Anyway. Fortunately for Ubisoft, the controversy (in my experience at least) died down a fair bit once the game itself was released. Unfortunately for Ubisoft that was because Unity turned out to be glitchy nightmare fuel (which sidelined women in plenty of other ways). Apparently animating male characters is hard and expensive too.

But it’s a new year, a new Assassin’s Creed has been announced and low and behold Syndicate (set in Victorian era London, at the height and centre of the Industrial Revolution) will star not just a mutton-chop and top-hat sporting male playable protagonist, but a female playable protagonist as well! We’ll be playing as twin sibling assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they battle to free London from the oppressive yoke of Templar rule by murdering them and their mates. Good stuff. They’re saying we’ll be able to play through most of the game as either character, aside from a few specific missions for each where they get their own character development. Great stuff. And hell, by the looks of it the gangs of London that will make up both the player’s and the antagonist’s armies of underworld gangs will be equal opportunity employers, meaning we’ll have contextually appropriate female opposition to stab. Fantastic stuff. Wait… yes, that’s still good. People are rightfully excited. Yet, after checking out the first few trailers, pictures and gameplay video I can’t help but think, “So, where the flying fuck is she?”

Seriously, look at the announcement trailer:

You hear Jacob talking, see Jacob standing in front of a growing army of street thugs, see Jacob leaping about and stabbing people. No noticeable Evie.

Then there’s the first cinematic trailer:

Again, Jacob talking, standing, leading, leaping and stabbing, along with him flying up walls with some sort of grappling hook launcher/retractor… which is actually pretty damn cool. Still. No noticeable Evie.

But wait, there’s the pre-alpha gameplay footage that’s just come out!

And there’s Evie! In the cut scenes! She does bloody exist! Of course, we only get to see her in those cut scenes and at no other time during the entire walkthrough. And even then Jacob takes the centre stage as the driving force of this particular (I suppose you’d call it a) plot point, with all the exciting lines and sense of humour, while Evie is calm and politely apologetic.

Ubisoft have since released a trailer introducing us to Jacob Frye, but seem to think another introducing us to the brand new collectibles is far more important than a trailer introducing us to one of the main playable characters. Shit, even the box art has got Evie crammed to the side while Jacob takes front and centre.

Now, I know it’s early days. I know that at any point the marketing team might flood us with information and images of Evie being the arse-kicking heroine that (I bloody well hope) we all expect her to be. I know that the creators are actually pretty decent at writing diverse and nuanced characters and they have far from the worst reputation when it comes to writing women. I know that they might simply be underplaying their first playable female in a main Assassin’s Creed title, not making a big deal out being able to play as a chick because it really fucking shouldn’t be. I know that the apparent sidelining of Evie in this first round of promotional material may have more to do with the marketing team still being terrified that boys think playing as a girl is ickie than with the game or developer following the same train of thought (I know that this disconnection between marketing teams and developers is still a major problem in Triple A gaming). I know, I know, I know. If you call me anything you call me fair-minded. The problem is that I do not have a reason to trust Ubisoft.

I can’t help but feel that a big part of the reason Evie will be a playable character is Ubisoft reacting to all the flak it took last year. And there’s nothing wrong with that. One of the great things about the video games industry is the way the interaction between player and developer, consumer and creator. It also goes without saying that including a playable female character is a big progressive step forward. But if they end up largely side-lining or stereotyping the character (in the game or the promotional material) than it won’t be nearly big enough, especially since it’s already been shown that including playable female characters in the story and marketing won’t hurt game sales.

Look at Bioware and the advertising for Mass Effect 3, where it reacted to the fans demanding that FemShep be featured in the art and marketing by allowing them to select a default look and then putting her in trailers and artwork, something that the developer carried over to the advertising of Dragon Age: Inquisition, where the narration of trailers was voiced by the actors playing both the male and female Inquisitors, and the main box art featured an ambiguously armoured figure. When Blizzard received complaints that it was using the same (stereotypical) body-shapes for its female characters in upcoming title Overwatch it responded with the (absolutely badass) Zarya. Both companies received a lot of goodwill from their fans for their responses, so there’s no reason for Ubisoft not to follow suit. But I’d argue that both Bioware and Blizzard (even when owned by EA and Activision) have a far better history of positive female representation in their games (not perfect, but definitely better) than Ubisoft’s development studios and the publisher itself do. Shit, when I googled “list of Ubisoft female protagonists” all I got was a bunch of articles about the controversy I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog, about Ubisoft’s lack of female protagonists.

So when I don’t see the lady in question featuring prominently – or at all – in the first round of announcements and hype beyond “you’ll get to play as her, we swear!” I just can’t bring myself to take their word for it.

Now, I’m probably just being facetious. Evie will probably be a great character with a great story and great development. And god knows I probably won’t have access to a console or PC capable of playing it come Syndicate‘s release. I’ll also mention that the only two Assassin’s Creed games I’ve enjoyed enough to play to the end were Brotherhood and Black Flag, so my opinion probably doesn’t matter all that much.

But still. Ubisoft need to be held accountable. It’s not enough to be able to play as a chick, she needs to be treated with the respect and power that the male characters of your games receive. At the very least, she needs to be given her own trailer before one announcing the fucking pre-order bonuses.

View from across the ocean (6/5/2015)

Politics is weird. Been an interesting time keeping track of the Aussie news this past week or two. Did anyone hear about that piece of coal the government’s planning on giving to the royal family to celebrate the new princess? The really pretty one? Was that a joke? I think it was a joke. I’m not sure I can tell anymore. Here’s what the news looks like from where I’m at.

Leadership wise, PM Tony Abbott seems to have pulled the plug on possible leadership spills for the moment, though that could easily change from “probably still won’t make it to the next election, and wouldn’t win it even if he did” back to “seriously, why the hell hasn’t this guy been given the boot yet?” if the upcoming budget has even a whiff of the things that made the old one such a disaster. Far more interesting was the sudden and apparently bloodless change in the leadership of the Greens yesterday. Christine Milne (best known as the Tasmanian woman who took over after Bob Brown quit) sent out a message on Twitter (the Aussie Polly’s megaphone of choice for important and/or policy related announcements, because fuck traditional media and press conferences) announcing that she wouldn’t be contesting her place in the Senate (family reasons), and because of this had resigned from her position as leader of the Greens Party. A leadership ballot was held at 11:30 in the morning, same day yesterday, and some bloke named Richard Di Natale had won it by 12:30. Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlum were made co-deputy leaders (because for some reason the Greens need two deputies). Done and dusted and leaving those of us who care about such things blinking twice and thinking “the fuck just happened?” The new Greens Leadership certainly isn’t talking. It certainly seems quick and painless. Considering that everyone was expecting Adam Bandt to take the top job in the party, however, and the speed of the announcements and ballot, I couldn’t help but think of a line from that episode in The Simpsons when they go to Africa: “He took power in a bloodless coup. Only pillow-smothering.”

Mind you, all due respect to Dr Di Natale (he’s an old hand and Greens veteran) but, as best I can tell, lacks the kind of public awareness amongst the new, young Greens supporters that the very social media savvy Scott Ludlum, Adam Bandt and even Sarah Hanson-Young enjoys. So I wonder if the most popular question he’ll be asked after “what were the circumstances leading up to you taking over?” or “when was the rest of the party made aware of Senator Milne’s plans to resign the leadership?” may just be “so, who the hell are you again?”

Good luck to him. We need a strong third party to keep the two big players (bastards, if you will) in line and honest, and that hasn’t been the Greens so far with their protest party mentality. Hopefully the change in leadership will allow for a change in policy.

Then there’s the recent incident of the Australian Ambassador to France Stephen Brady’s long term partner, Peter Stephens, being asked to wait in the car instead of greeting Mr Abbott upon his arrival in Paris. Mr Brady was understandably upset and offered his resignation, which was rejected. There’s a few different theories, including one where it was simply a bit of protocol miscommunication. Someone reckoned that since the PM wasn’t arriving with his missus it would be incorrect for the Ambassador to meet him with his mister. Mr Abbott’s made clear he wasn’t aware of the request, believes Mr Brady to be a fine, distinguished public servant and overall top bloke, and that the snubbing happened at the junior official level. I groaned a bit at one particular quote: “I’m the Prime Minister and I don’t normally concern myself with trivia.” C’mon Mr Prime Minister, don’t start going all aloof with us again after you did so well skolling that beer.

We’re likely going to be hearing about a billion dollar cut to Australia’s foreign aid budget, a strategic and geopolitically unsound decision in my opinion, but hey, I don’t get to make those decisions and Joe Hockey’s pretty desperate for cash. Y’know, like all those African and South East Asian countries that are about to find it a lot harder to pay for health and education to help pull their large populations out of desperate poverty. Though it’s not like a lack of education and an endless cycle of poverty breeds resentment that can be radicalised against us, right? Right. Most of that money will be pulled from Indonesia, something that the Indonesians might take the wrong way. You may have heard that they executed two Australians recently, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, along with six others. Now, the deaths of these two men is something I am not really qualified to comment on and a lot of people have done a far better job of it. Suffice to say I am always against the death penalty and supported all attempts by the Australian government and public to prevent the executions from happening. Point at the moment though is that them in charge are going to have a hard time convincing the Indonesians (and a lot of Australians) that this isn’t a reprisal from killing two of our citizens. It’ll be interesting seeing how Julie Bishops handles it, especially cause she strikes me as having the stones to not even bother trying.

What I’m really interested in seeing, however, is the budget. Hockey and Matthias Cormann need to pull something special out of their arses or at least one of those is going to face a boot. Hearing a lot about cuts, but not a lot about revenue raising, so I’m not expecting much. They were supposed to get some help when the RBA dropped the cash rate to 2.0% but the market reacted poorly to the news, so that might not be as useful as people were expecting. And now the unemployment rate has risen slightly (SLIGHTLY!). Then they’re talking about adding the GST to software downloads (including Netflix), making something far more expensive for Australians than it should be more expensive, and reducing the value upon which an imported parcel can be hit with GST to less then its current level of $1000.00. That’ll be popular.

Meanwhile, internationally, the UK’s going to the polls and Angela Merkel’s got into a bit of trouble because it turns out she was helping the Yanks spy on their friends. What’s happing in Canada… heh.

Reflecting on the myth, I expect I’ll always be a Nationalist. It’s who I am.

Back when I was in high school I planned on getting a tattoo. Specifically I planned on getting the Southern Cross, the five stars that adorn the Australian (New Zealand, PNG and Samoan) flag. Probably on my shoulder. Maybe my calf. Not important. Anyway, at the time the idea behind the tattoo was to demonstrate that I was an Australian and, more importantly, proud of that fact. The Southern Cross had after all long been a symbol co-opted by Aussie culture (despite the fact it is visible across the Southern Hemisphere) from the flag flying above the Eureka Stockade to the plane flown by Charles Kingsford Smith on his record-breaking journeys. Then the Cronulla Riots happened.

To my great and continued shame in the weeks before the riot I supported what was going to happen. I’d heard that a pair of surf lifesavers had been beaten up by bunch of Lebs, and I wanted to hear that those bastards got their heads kicked in for harming an Australian icon. A ‘fight’ was planned. Rumours spread a small army of Lebanese youths were going to descend upon the beach so good, honest Aussies better turn up in force. Other rumours said it was going to be a fairly multicultural affair, with Greeks, Turks and even a few ‘good’ Lebs joining up with their white Australian brethren to beat the shit out of those who were violently refusing to assimilate into our culture, our way of life. I may not have participated but I didn’t have a problem with it happening, and for that I am sorry. I was a fuckwit. I strive to be less of one now.

It did turn out to be a multicultural affair, since there was a pretty multicultural range of victims. A few thousand white morons rocked up to Cronulla and proceeded to harass (at the very best) and violently attack (at the far too frequent worst) anybody who looked remotely brown or ethnic, including Greeks, Turks and Lebs, while a thin line of brave police threw themselves in front of the mob. Watching it on the news and hearing the stories afterward you couldn’t help but be horrified at the thought of a bunch of arseholes wearing the Australian flag attacking their fellow Australians in a misguided attempt at avenging the perceived wounding of an Australian icon. Shitheads looking for an excuse to attack folk they already considered un-Australian.

The anger, the resentment, the disillusionment, the isolation of the communities that had been attacked was visible and raw. It was not the first time that nationalism was used to excuse senseless violence, but it was the first time I’d seen it and its results from more than an academic perspective. For someone who’d always associated the national identity with their own, it was a hell of a learning experience.

*****

This past April 25th marked the centenary of Anzac day, one hundred years since thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli peninsula, not even a year into the First World War, at a spot that we’d come to call Anzac Cove. Over the last century the mythology that has developed around Australia’s involvement during the eight month campaign has become a key part in defining the national culture, and I would argue that this mythology is the linchpin upon which most Australian nationalism is built. We don’t have the long histories of art, architecture and enlightenment that many other nations have. We are a young nation. We have our military history, our sport, our bushrangers and then a host of things to be ashamed of like the Stolen Generation and the White Australia Policy. When we have little in the way of widely and regularly discussed positive national mythology to start with, it should be no surprise that what we do have has been latched onto to by the national consciousness. Especially when they refuse to talk about the ‘fun’ parts of colonisation (I’d recommend John Birmingham’s Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney for that) and both pre and post-colonial Aboriginal culture (instead of, I shit you not, the literal bones left behind at a turn of the 19th century butcher’s shop that counted as the ‘Australian content’ of the high school ancient history syllabus).

The key word above is mythology, because make no mistake the popular memory of Anzac Day is far more taken by the stories and legends of the campaign than the actual history. Simpson and his donkey rescuing wounded men until he was killed (he was one of many, but the only one whose name is commonly remembered). The incompetent English landing our brave lads on the wrong bloody beach. The incompetent English soldiers playing a game of football on another beach while our brave lads were butchered capturing Lone Pine (mind you there were plenty of English troops getting butchered at different beaches at the same time as well). The incompetent English officer who decided that the Light Brigade should empty their rifles for a good old fashioned bayonet charge at the Turkish machine guns (actually it was an Australian officer, but that doesn’t make for as good a movie). Aussie troops playing cricket between artillery shells on the rare bit of flat land. Two-up. Mateship. The Anzac Spirit. Humour in the face of adversity. Courage under fire. Service and sacrifice. Warrior larrikins. The baptism of blood from which our great nation was forged or united or whatever. Good stuff. Maybe. Depends.

That bloody waste of life attempting to take the Dardanelles from the Ottomans has become our origin myth, with the Anzacs standing besides the USA’s founding fathers and Civil War leaders, the UK’s Winston Churchill and (literally on the other side of the battlefield) modern Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk as the referential arbiters of the national zeitgeist. We talk about the Anzac Spirit and what the Anzacs fought for with the same kind of conviction that Yank pundits bring to arguments about what Ben Franklin’s opinion on the gun control debate would be. Bringing up the Anzacs is a quick way to add credibility to a statement, argument or ideology. We make bold claims about what they fought for, what they would be ashamed of, what they would be proud of, their preference for lamb over tofu. There are few higher honours than associating ourselves (or our brands) with the Diggers of wars gone by, when we can get away with it. Can’t always, thank god and the law for that. This is of course failing to mention when some bastard on a bus (or train) decides to inform some poor family that the Anzacs fought specifically to keep out anyone not born on the British Isles.

Of course it’s not just the Gallipoli myth that’s used to justify or underpin Australian nationalism. Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian during the Great War, arguably did more to construct the image of the noble Australian sheep-shearer-turned-warrior courteously gunning down Germans with one hand while refusing to salute with the other than any other correspondent at the time or since, and he believed that it would be the battlefields of Passchendaele and Fromelles that would become the great Mecca for Australians coming to pay respects to their honourable dead, not Gallipoli.

Others point out that far from uniting the nation in a baptism of blood the Great War actually did more to divide it, as the reasons for entering the war (loyalty to Britain, the mother country) and the (failed) referendums over conscription split the country along class, religious and ethnic lines (that can more or less be described as “English vs Irish”). It is far easier to claim that the battles of World War Two did far more to unite Australia than the First did. The Siege of Tobruk where the second round of Anzacs earned a reputation for ingenuity and attack dog enthusiasm for a good fight. The Fall of Singapore, which shifted the mentality of many Australians away from “still a far flung British colony” to a nation that couldn’t keep relying on mum and had to start looking out for itself. The Kokoda Track where the Japanese Army was beaten for the first time, by soldiers referred to as “Chocos” because it was expected they’d “melt like chocolate” upon contact with the enemy.

The debate over which conflict should take precedence in the country’s collective consciousness is one argued by nationalists and national leaders. I’ve always been partial to the Light Horse Brigade’s campaign against the Turks in the Middle East myself, particularly the Battle of Beersheba (called the Last Great Cavalry Charge for a reason). Keating tried to push Kokoda as the fight we should focus on during his tenure as Prime Minister. But when I hear pollies talking about which bloodbath we should remember most fondly I can’t help but remember a few of my old history (and geography) teachers, back in high school, who’d joke that since it was a Liberal PM (sorta) that won the First World War and a Labor PM that won the Second neither party wanted to admit the other war happened (I myself am a bigger fan of Billy Hughes than John Curtin, mostly cause I’m a sucker for anyone who takes the piss out of an American President at important negotiations deciding the fate of the world).

Even the brutal battle at Long Tan during the Vietnam War has entered the positive national mythology. Gallipoli is still king though, and that’s not likely gonna change any time soon.

*****

At university ‘Nationalism’ and ‘Nationalist’ became dirty words, usually shorthand for some reactive leader, party or ethnic group responsible for half the unspeakable acts of violence over the last century or two. The “great disease of the twentieth century” as one of my lecturers called it. After all, it was the actions of a handful of nationalists that lit the fuse that started the Great War, and nationalist pride that allowed it to detonate so spectacularly. Or it became shorthand for the very mockable ignorant jingoists who live in perpetual fear of societal collapse, y’know, the kind of folk who took Pauline Hanson’s warning of an Asian invasion seriously, or who recently piled onto streets around the country (with their swastika-wearing kin) because some jackass reckons that Halal Certifications are being used to funnel money to ISIS or some such shit. Fucken ‘Straya cunt. At one point during a course on religion and violence, when looking at religious nationalism, the tutor asked us to raise our hands if we identified as Australians, identified Australia as our homes. Two people did, and one of them promptly dropped it when he found out that not identifying with any nationality, being a “citizen of the world” so to speak, was an option.

I might sound cynical. I tend to sound cynical. It’s part of my sense of humour. I blame my parents for letting me watch too much Blackadder growing up (though you could argue there’s no such thing). The thing is I am a nationalist. I always have been and likely always will be. I was the guy in that class above that kept his hand up (I remember jokingly stating that the rest of them could “get the fuck out of my country”). There was a time when I tried different labels, like ‘patriot’ (which carries its own clichéd baggage), but the substance hasn’t changed. I identify as an Australian first and foremost, and embrace the heritage and history that comes with it. Good or bad. I still call Australia home an’ all that implies. Living across the world on another continent with a different culture, sports and traditions, I have embraced this identity more than ever. I’ve fallen back on my accent, old slang and old profanity more than I even did back home. I talk about it every chance I get. I love Canadian beer, but I use it as an excuse to talk about Australian beer more than anything else. Poutine’s alright, but you really wanna get a meat pie inta yah. Stuff baseball, cricket’s way better. Good god I miss Aussie coffee, as I keep telling people. And thunderstorms. You can bet that when Anzac Day rolled around, I was happy to talk to anyone who asked about what it meant, and meant to me.

Because I’m proud of what I am. There’s an argument against national pride that effectively amounts to “why be proud of an accident of birth?” The fact that I was born in Australia and not some other nation was random chance, why should it matter that was where I came from? Add to this the fact that I’m the son of immigrant parents (my dad was born in Iraq, mum was born in England, they both came to Australia when they were kids), so I don’t even have that strong a claim over Australian history and heritage. I don’t have a grandfather who was an Anzac or a great-great-grandfather who arrived on a convict ship. Definitely don’t have any First Australian in me. But I’ve never felt this argument had much credibility. I am proud of Australian culture and history because it was part of creating who I am today.

I like who I am today, or at least who I try to be. I hope I’m a good person, though that’s for others to judge. I definitely strive to be one. This is because of the people that raised me, my parents, family, teachers and friends. It is also because of the culture that raised me. Like so many kids growing up I sucked up the mythology around the Anzacs every chance I got, and loved every bit of it. Good or bad. The virtues I aspire to are, rightly or wrongly, tied into that mythology. Egalitarianism, giving everyone a ‘fair go’, mateship, generosity, determination, humour in the face of tragedy, grace in defeat, sacrifice. These are all ideas that are embodied somehow within the mythology of Anzac Day. The Anzac Spirit. They might not always be the best virtues to aspire to, but I aspire to them nonetheless.

Now I’m not saying that other countries and cultures don’t produce good, noble, virtuous people. Nor that our mythology has a monopoly on any of those things above. I’m definitely not saying that Australia and Australian nationalism hasn’t produced more than its share of cunts (see the story at the beginning). That would be fuckin’ stupid. I am simply saying that if I can be called a decent person (and as I said, I hope I can), I can be proud of the people, places and culture that made me that way. I can be proud of my identity.

About six months to a year after I raised my hand and got a few laughs telling everyone else to fuck off, a friend from that class brought it up in conversation. At the time, she said, she’d felt like she was closer to being an Italian than an Australian, identified more closely with her family’s heritage than with that of the country she’d grown up in. This changed after actually going to Italy and learning, explicitly, that she was not Italian. After that, she told me, if asked the question again she’d raise her hand. She’d come to the conclusion that she was an Aussie. It was not her whole identity, she was not a nationalist, just that she identified as Australian.

*****

National myths, especially the ‘origin stories’ as I’ve heard them called, are often problematic. They’re often bloody. There is the mythos around first the Revolution and then the Reign of Terror from which Modern France was born. The long, bloody civil war in China against the Kuomingtang and Japanese invasion that ended with the Communist victory. The US Civil War which divided the nation then sort of united it. Kemal Ataturk’s successful defence of the Dardanelles against the Entente invaders, as I mentioned above, and the rise of the Young Turks as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Turkey we know and love emerged.

It seems you need a “baptism of blood” to inspire a nation’s existence, self-worth, values and purpose. Dumping a bunch of crooks onto a beach (guarded by another bunch of crooks) and telling them to build a city, or a bunch of old white men convincing other old white men that maybe life would be easier if everyone on the continent shared in a common defence, immigration laws, currency and rail gauge doesn’t exactly excite the popular imagination the same way that a brutal assault on an easily defined ‘other’ for politically malleable reasons, full of daring do and a healthy dose of sacrifice. As I said, we haven’t got much else well-known history that isn’t a dark stain on our national soul.

As far as these baptisms go though, the Gallipoli campaign and the legend of Anzac isn’t too bad. Yes, they don’t really provide us with the cast iron legal foundations upon which our nation is built in the same way that The Revolution gave France “Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité”. But the mythology also doesn’t carry around the same sort of baggage that many other nations and cultures have to (or refuse to). Not like the problematic aftermath of the US Civil War, where the courage, bravery, sacrifice and determination of the Confederate soldiers defending goddamn slavery is still honoured by Americans on both sides of the line. And, while definitely not all angels, the Anzacs certainly don’t carry the weight (or have to live in denial) of a genocide round their necks like the Young Turks do with their treatment of hundreds of thousands of Armenians, Greeks and other ethnic groups. (Of course there is far, far too little official recognition of the Frontier Wars that plagued the Black Australia pre-and-immediately-post-Commonwealth during white settlement and expansion, something that needs to be fixed).

Both the strength and weakness of any mythology is that it is open to interpretation by the popular conscious. Anzac Day certainly has its problems, like the glorification of war, the often one-sided hagiography of our returned and fallen servicemen and women, the commercialisation of commemoration, and the militarisation of Australian culture far too frequently used to create, justify and enforce a dangerous attitude of ‘us versus them’. But we can also use it do great good as well. It’s taken us long enough to admit that there were probably a fair few Aboriginals in the ranks, and that when they returned they were probably treated almost universally like shit (taking us another fifty years before we stopped treating them as part of the local fauna), but whose general experience of army life was one of equality of pay and treatment. It’s a history that can push a simple message through the thick skulls of white Australia: if the Diggers didn’t have a problem with indigenous Australians, then how bloody dare you? Well, it should be simple. One day we’ll get there. Then one day it might not even be needed.

Deconstruction of the myth is a necessary thing, and there are many great examples floating around academia and journalism worth reading. But reconstruction should not be ruled out if it can be used to promote the best values of our culture. We learn from history, but we’re inspired by legends. We need to make sure we’re inspiring people in the right direction.

*****

The non-Australians I’ve met and know are frequently surprised by how we act on Anzac Day. Yes, there is commemoration, as should be expected of the day but there’s just as much celebration. We mark Anzac Day with drinking and gambling, going to the pub to play two-up, punctuated by moments of contemplation. So different to the sombre ceremonies and minute of silence on Remembrance Day. I’m not entirely convinced this is a bad thing. It might seem disrespectful, but isn’t a healthy irreverence one of those traits that we, ironically, revere about the legendary Anzac? We’re certainly quick to step in when someone comes off as overly disrespectful, and it keeps things in perspective. We celebrate the lives of those who went to war for us, still put the uniform and still go to war for us, rather than mourn the dead. It keeps the focus on those who fought for us and still fight for us, rather than on those we fought. War is hell, but peace is great, and most of us have been able to only enjoy the latter because a few have suffered through the former. Maybe it still sounds disrespectful, maybe I sound disrespectful, but I don’t believe that’s the intention. I think, at worst, it’s the only way we know how to do things.

Is that a problem? Maybe. I don’t think so. But I might be part of that problem.

*****

I know the dangers of nationalism. I know the problems its caused. The wars it’s started. I’m not trying to excuse it. Simply trying to explain my own.

I didn’t get that tattoo. There were more than a few marking the skin of those draped in Aussie flags slinging racial slurs and informing the world that the Anzacs fought for Cronulla Beach, that the Lebanese had no right to come and interfere with an imagined social order. The Southern Cross tattoo, at least in Sydney, found a secure place on the uniform of the angry, discriminating Bogan. I’m not saying that everyone who bears that icon is a racist, they’re not, I know plenty who aren’t, it would be ridiculous to make that claim. But in my mind and those of plenty of others including the members of my Middle Eastern, dark-skinned dad’s family, it became part of the stereotype of the ignorant, racist bastards that make their presence known every so often in the worst possible ways. It’s not the worst part (the violence and abuse that makes people feel like outsiders is), but the fact that they try and legitimise the behaviour, legitimise the hate, with a claim of defending Australian culture, the Australian way of life, leaves me angry.

Because I’m an Aussie nationalist. I love the positive parts of that heritage, accept the bad, apologise and promise to always do better. To accept everyone who looked at Australia, or even arrived without knowing better, and decided it seemed like a decent place to live.

A decent place to live, which we can be proud of. That might not be what the original Anzacs fought for, that might not be what our current Diggers fight for. But it’s something I ascribe to the myth. That’s what I drink to on Anzac Day.

Hope that makes sense.

Thoughts and prayers with those currently serving, and those that have in the past.

Quick note: this is not an academic article or an extensively researched piece of writing. Mostly I’m just working off memory. There’s probably more than a few factual errors, and there are a definitely a few half-truths. This is a personal opinion piece, and no disrespect was intended towards most of the folk (live or dead) I mentioned in this post that I didn’t refer to with profanely. I have a sarcastic way of writing and talking.

Keeping Faith in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Part Three: So what’s it all about then?

Sorry this took so long folks, but here is Part Three. Part One can be read here, Part Two here.

So, we’ve established that the developer of DA:I is the ‘god’ of the game and that appeals to the player character’s faith in-game are also appeals to the player’s faith in the game. How does this relate to the story, politics and lore of the game and the world within? Well, let’s talk a bit about faith first more generally, in real life and in the game.

A few years ago, back at university, I found myself doing a course with the rather self-explanatory title ‘Christianity in Medieval Europe.’ It was a good course that covered everything from the iconoclastic debate, various heretical movements, the inquisition, Christianity’s evolving relationship with Islam, academia and scholarship, and of course the history of the saints. By the end of the course there were two things that really struck me, however. First was how fun it was to be able to use the word ‘flagellate’ in casual discussions (and I got to use it a lot). Say it with me, flaj-ell-ate. Fantastic. Second was that we still have a very low opinion of medieval Christians, one that comes from some very modern yet very old-fashioned misinterpretations of the reasons for faith, ritual and religious institutions in the Middle Ages. The assumption tends to be that Medieval Europeans were a bunch of ignorant flat-earthers who answered every question with “God did it!” or “because the local priest told me that’s what the scriptures said happened!” and whose lives were, as a result of this stupidity and blind piety, “violent brutish and short” (to use an overused quote). The reality was that this, for the most part, was simply not the case. Unless of course you were a Viking. Then it was a life goal.

The reality was that they either knew the world was round or would have responded to an explanation as to how we knew with the tenth century equivalent of “Well, that makes sense.” The reality was that for those Medieval Europeans the church and religion had less to do with answering how the world works in what we’d now define as a scientific sense and more to do with where their place in the world was. Categorisation instead of explanation. This is us (because we hold these beliefs to be true and perform these rituals), that is them (because they hold those beliefs to be true and perform those rituals). Social cohesion through the creation and/or enforcement of social norms. This behaviour is correct and righteous, that behaviour is wrong and sinful. The power of the church came in its power to codify or legislate the social norms affected by the belief and faith of the populace, because it controlled the rituals and ritualised elements of that faith. To take a quote from Mary Douglas’ classic book Purity and Danger (which I’ve been messily paraphrasing), “As with society, so with religion, external form is the condition of its existence… As a social animal, man is a ritual animal… Social rituals create a reality that would be nothing without them. It is not too much to say that ritual is more to society than words are to thought.” The religious institutions established a particular world view, a particular reality, and our divinely ordained place within it. This did not make Medieval Europeans stupid, it made them human.

That is what the folk over at Bioware seem to understand, so when they cribbed heavily off of Medieval European history (and they did crib heavily) they were able to do so at a very deep, conceptual level. The Qunari, for instance, may not seem superficially similar to the Islamic world in the Middle Ages (there certainly aren’t any Arishoks running about saying “there is but one God and Koslun is his prophet”), usually seeming more Asian in influence (pulling from Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism etc), but the Qun guides all parts of life and government in a way that would have impressed Muhammad (peace be upon him). The apparent stagnation of the Qunari  (they have gunpowder, but don’t seem to have advanced beyond basic artillery and bombs for centuries) is similar to the stagnation that eventually brought down the Ottomans. Similarly, the endless war between Tevinter and the Qunari is reminiscent of the Byzantine Empire’s piecemeal conquest by the technologically superior Muslims (their frequent battles for control of Seheron remind me of the various battles for Crete). The division of the Chantry between the Tevinter Imperium’s Black Divine and the rest of Thedas’ White Divine (based in Orlais) based on different interpretations of a specific passage (regarding magic), just how divine the prophet Andraste was, and a refusal to accept each other’s authority resembles the divisions between the Eastern Orthodox Church (and the Patriarch of Constantinople) and the Western Catholic Church (and the Bishop – Pope – of Rome). And of course Fereldan and Orlais are very obvious analogies of England and France (and their respective relationship with each other). Antiva is Italy, Nevarra is Spain, the Anderfels are Germany or Switzerland.

But all this is on a Macro level. On a micro level, they understand how people’s faith in god or the institutions that call upon his/her authority can be harnessed for good or ill. A lack of faith in the Chantry to protect them from the abuses of the Templars led to the Mage Rebellion. A feeling that the Chantry was taking them for granted led to the Templar Order also rebelling. Disillusionment amongst the soldiers fighting for the Empress or Duke in the Orlesian Civil War led to the rebellious ‘Freemen of the Dales’. The game’s main villain is able to gain so much support from Tevinter’s fringe nobility because he promised to halt centuries of decline and return the Imperium to its glorious and glorified past. It is understandable for Iron Bull to be a little disillusioned with the certainty of the Qun, even at one point joking about their religious leaders had been trying to explain why the Qunari hadn’t been able to conquer Thedas for centuries. Sera despises the institutions of the nobility and priests, and acts to get even with those who step on the little people, but recognises the futility of some grand revolution. Cassandra’s discovery of the Seekers’ secret history rocks her world view so severely because it disrupts her faith in the institution she’d pledged her life to. History is full of the disenfranchised striking out against the forces that had previously controlled their faith, and almost by default their lives.

The power given to the player in DA:I, the core story mechanic for much of the game, is not the magical Anchor on their hand but their control of the titular Inquisition. The Inquisition fills a vacuum of power, seeks to actually re-establish order and stability, and fix apocalyptic hole in the sky. It provides a new institution into which people are able to place their severely shaken faith. The player is able to then influence how that faith is harnessed, and shift the order of the world.

How this works in the story and why it all matters will be explained in Part IV. Just one more, than I’ll talk about a different game guys. Promise it won’t be as long coming.

Knights and flags and anthems and Taylor Swift on the radio. Happy Australia Day!

Australia Day Sketch - Edited

Seriously, Happy fuckin’ Australia Day. That weird holiday when people across the country are able to cover themselves in the Jack and Cross (a slang term for the Australian flag I just invented at this moment) without automatically being judged as racist bogans, parading how fair dinkum Aussie they are in a bizarre parody of national pride ripped heavily from July 4th episodes of American television.  Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie! and all that. I’d sooner deck myself in the green and gold, but that’s me.

The lead-up’s been a particularly strange one this year. It’s always a bit of a political wank, as both sides of whatever line you happen to be watching cloak their own ideas of “what it means to be Australian” (or some such crap) within the language of patriotism and nationalism. There were the usual articles about how for the Indigenous community Australia Day, the anniversary of the convicts being disembarked from the First Fleet (and, in the mature-rated history books, the crazy, drunken orgy that followed), is also the anniversary of the beginning of the bloody White European conquest of the continent. Some better (passionate arguments made quite reasonably, by members of the Indigenous community and supporters with proven records fighting for aboriginal rights, for a less culturally insensitive date), some worse (social media hipster liberals ’embarrassed’ by displays of national affection on a culturally insensitive date). But a lot of the air time seems to have been taken up by other controversies (loosely using the word here) this year.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten raised the old Republican debate in an Australia Day eve speech, reckoning that it’s about time we thought about cutting ties with the English Royal Family and figuring things out for ourselves. This is at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of rewarding people the government likes with knight and damehoods. One winner was (now) Sir Angus Houston, former Air Chief Marshall of the RAAF and Chief of the ADF, recently in charge of the search for MH370 (by all accounts a top bloke deserving of the right to put ‘Sir’ in front of his name). Another winner? Prince Philip. I shit you not, Prince Philip, the goddamn Duke of Edinburgh is now a Knight of the Order of Australia. ‘Cause he served in the Royal Navy and is the titular Duke of Edinburgh of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to be a Knight of the Order of Australia, it just seems like pretty small change compared to some of his other titles. Given His Lordship’s (or is it His Majesty’s? Royal Highness’?) sense of humour, I’d like to know what his reaction was when he was informed. Apparently it hasn’t gone down well with Mr Abbott’s own government who, aside from not all sharing his monarchist leanings, are upset that he’s disregarded his own word to use the honour to award prominent Australians (rather than foreign royals).

At the same time, the old argument about the need to change the flag to one that doesn’t give prime position to that of a foreign country did the rounds (as it always does this time of year). While I’m partial to switching to some version of the Eureka Flag, a pattern with some real history and meaning beyond ‘won a magazine competition about a century ago,’ but I don’t expect we’ll see a change any time soon. Unless the Kiwis change there’s first. Fun stuff.

Then of course there was the joy that came from a proposal by the National Australia Day Council encouraging all Aussies to get up at noon (Eastern Daylight Savings Time I’m assuming) and sing the two official verses of the national anthem. Personally, I wanted to kick the shins of whoever came up with that jingoistic tripe. Not only do Australians have a long, storied history of disrespect, flippancy and irreverence for such displays (the ANZACs of the First World War, for example, had a reputation for refusing to salute no matter how hard their British officers tried), but we had to endure the long-winded complaints by pseudo-intellectual lefties like myself telling people exactly why it was such an un-Australian suggestion. We needn’t have bothered worrying. Nobody gave a shit, and nobody sang the anthem.

But the real controversy, the real issue that rocked the nation, was Taylor Swift’s inclusion then exclusion from Triple J’s Hottest 100 list. The Hottest 100 is an annual cultural phenomenon in Australia, receiving millions of votes and listened to at any party, pub or gathering worth a damn. Run by the major public youth broadcaster, it tends to act as a cultural litmus test of what is relevant that extends across genres, leaping from punk and heavy metal to dance and hip hop. Given that the Js are listened to by the kind of folk who eschew commercial radio for being too commercial (and are unable to recognise a tautology when they say one) there was plenty of anguish over a campaign started on Buzzfeed to get Shake it Off by Swift onto the list. Seriously, people were not fuckin’ happy, which only fuelled the anti-hipster fires. Triple J remained relatively mum over the issue, finally announcing before the broadcast that she had been disqualified because of the Buzzfeed campaign (and a social media bandwagon jump by KFC). And again, people were not fuckin’ happy. It was probably the right decision by Triple J, who couldn’t let the lovers and haters get away with “troll[ing] the polls” lest it set a precedent. I don’t imagine Swift is shedding any tears over her disqualification, she certainly doesn’t need the press like so many of the other artists on the Hottest 100 list, and it really was an act of trolling. Still, while I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Tay Tay I don’t hate her, and it would have been a bit of a laugh if she managed to win. It certainly wouldn’t have been as bad as last year when Royals by Lorde was beaten for the top spot by Riptide by Vance Joy. Lorde was bloody robbed.

Christ, are other countries’ national days like this?

Keeping Faith in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Part Two: a question raised, perhaps answered.

So, continuing on from last week, there is a god and its name is Bioware. At least as far the world within Dragon Age: Inquisition (and the other titles made by this particular developer) is concerned. What does this mean?

At a glance, not a lot. On one hand, academically, the idea of audience participation as an act of ritual or faith is not a new one, nor is the idea of art creator as god of that particular work. Just look at the cultural treatment of the Star Wars franchise and George Lucas’ role over it. I once heard the Original Trilogy compared to the Qur’an and the Extended Universe and Sequel Trilogy compared to the Hadiths. Not the best analogy in the world, but not the worst either. On the less academic hand, as I said last week, we tend to spend most of that glance slaying bears, wolves, demons and dragons. ‘Cause slaying dragons is fuckin’ wonderful.

The Inquisitor did raise her mighty sword, and with a lion-hearted roar did issue her challenge, "Come at me bro!" And lo, the dragon came at her.
The Inquisitor did raise her mighty sword, and with a lion-hearted roar did issue her challenge, “Come at me bro!”
And lo, the dragon came at her.

But one of the things I’ve loved about DA:I‘s portrayal of belief has been the subversive* way that it compares the faith of its characters in the guiding hand of “the Maker” with the faith of gamers in the guiding hand of the developers. Let’s think about it this way: there are certain expectations that we as audience and participants have of the media that we consume, and we have faith that these expectations will be met. Within the above mentioned passive media these expectations can be as simple as expecting action in an action movie, singing and dancing in a Bollywood film, and spectacularly shot images meant to convey how depressing and meaningless humanity really is in anything by Lars von Trier. In superhero comics and cartoons we expect the villain to get away at the end of the episode (not least so the series can continue). In detective fiction we expect an answer as to “who’dunnit?” (even if we don’t always expect justice). When watching a horror movie we expect the protagonists (for want of better word) to do stupid things like split up, forget to charge their phones and generally not seek help from anyone useful so that the villain has the opportunity to pick them off in whatever gruesome manner they prefer. Our expectations are used by creators as shorthand to avoid lengthy and unnecessary exposition, and as tropes to drive the narrative forward. Video games have an additional layer of expectations laid on top of them, again often separated by genre and developer, in the form of mechanics.

In RPGs like DA:I (and other games by Bioware for that matter), we have certain expectations about how the mechanics will deliver the narrative. We expect an antagonist with impossible power and dreams of conquering/destroying the world. We expect a number of companion characters and allies who fill out certain archetypes and react accordingly to the story and the player’s decisions. We expect our avatar to either be given some power or weapon that for some reason is the only method of defeating the antagonist, or given the task of achieving/retrieving said weapon or power, through happenstance, destiny or the will of god. But Bioware’s writers were aware of this and used it to further drive the narrative.

Most self aware games, like most self aware media in my experience, tend to be examples of satire, mockery, or (at their artistic best) deconstruction. Horror films have Scream. Video games have the Saints Row franchise, which revels in the inherent ridiculousness inherent in common video game tropes with a straight face and the occasional knowing wink. Or Sunset Overdrive, which openly points out and laughs at the flaws of video game logic. DA:I isn’t satire, and I wouldn’t call it a deconstruction without some serious mental gymnastics, but it is fairly self-aware. Your avatar is given a mark, ‘the anchor’, right at the beginning of the game, that is the only threat to the game’s villain. Even when you learn that the anchor is just old magic, and that the reason it fused with you was simple accident and happenstance, the characters most defined by their faith (such as Cassandra) point out how convenient it was that you just happened to be in the exact right spot at the exact right time to become exactly what was needed. So convenient that it’s not a particularly difficult leap to assume that some divine planning was in play. Because it was.

I know I’m starting to sound repetitive right now, but I can’t stress the fact enough. The writers planned every twist, every coincidence and the consequences of every choice. The lore, the history, the rules, the science of the world. The artists designed and drew, the programmers made it a virtual reality. No matter the details of my character’s history that I’ve ‘headcanoned’ it is still limited by the decisions and narrative given by the game’s designers. Her destiny is still predetermined. We, the players, know that. We have faith in that. So when the characters and story appeals to our character’s faith in a fictional god or religion, they are in fact appealing to the player’s faith in the game. Exhausted and wounded (spoiler alert) after your first encounter with the game’s antagonist, the Elder One, your army defeated and your camp at Haven destroyed, the character Mother Giselle tells your character to have faith that all is not lost, to have faith that things will get better. She is also telling you, the player, to have faith in the game and its designers. Of course they aren’t going to end it there, of course you’re going to get stronger and wiser and ultimately defeat the villain of the piece. That’s how linear video game story mechanics work.

So, again, what does this mean? It makes the game’s narrative more compelling, whether we roleplay a religious character or not, since it compares our faith in the game with the faith of the NPCs driving the narrative. It makes the characters and their struggles more relatable, since their faith in the Maker’s plan is reflected by our own. It makes for a strong, compelling story that explores themes like the place of institutionalised religion in politics and power, race relations, and, of course faith, with confidence that everyone understands exactly what they’re trying to get across.

If I can string together a coherent post on the subject, there might be a part three next week.

 

*I’ve been trying to cut down on using that word, but I can’t think of a better one at this exact moment.

Sad, but still proud.

The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was check the news. Sombre, tragic, but relieving. Not a lot of new information at that point beyond that it was over and three were dead. There was still an exclusion zone in the city, which would remain for much of the day. City-bound traffic was gridlocked, probably not helped by people deciding to drive to work instead of catching public transport. Every half hour or hour the newsreaders seemed to have a few extra scraps of information to give us. Confirming a name, mentioning a rumour, providing a little more background.

Yesterday my sister called my mum from outside her place of work in Bondi Junction, talked about all the cops effectively locking it down. Mentioned at the end that she needed to go back inside. She was holding a timer and the security guards were giving her funny looks.

Well. Shit.

I’m assuming by this point most people have heard about the siege in Martin Place, in the middle of Sydney’s Central Business District, which ended with the tragic deaths of two hostages (RIP Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson) and the decidedly less tragic death of the gunman who held them for sixteen hours (Man Haron Monis, may he burn in a particularly warm circle of hell). My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the wounded, and the freed hostages. My city bled last night but thank god, the police and the other emergency personnel present that it didn’t bleed more. Those guys are awesome, and they proved it once again.

There are going to be a lot of questions being asked about the siege, and it’s going to occupy our media for a while. Probably sit in the international media for a while as well. Will this be considered to be a terrorist act in the history books, or just a lone nutjob publicity-whore with nothing to lose but relative obscurity? I think a lot of us are angling at nutjob. Why was a man with more than forty indecent and sexual assault charges, a conviction for sending insulting letters to the families of dead soldiers and a charge for being an accessory to his wife’s murder given bail? Because the Crown’s case wasn’t considered particularly strong. Wasn’t he on an ASIO watchlist? (If not, why not?). Is Fox News in the US really trying to use these tragic events to argue against gun control? Fuck those guys. How did our own media handle the event? Pretty well according to some, aside from the 2pm print edition of the Telegraph. How did our politicians do? Not too bad either. How will this effect Christmas shopping, upon which so many people rely for financial security? Not well, and you’re likely to get called a materialistic arsehole for asking.

It’s a sad thing to have happened. Martin Place is so iconic, so central. The Harbour Bridge might be Sydney’s smile, but Martin Place is part of its heart. The outpouring of grief is real and overflowing. But truthfully, I’m so fuckin’ proud of my city right now. Proud of the cops who dealt with the situation so calmly and methodically, who tried so hard to end the situation without blood but acted decisively when required. Proud of the news folk, who kept us updated but, for the most part that I saw, were careful about what information was revealed and how it was delivered (such as the using ‘gunman’ instead of ‘terrorist’). Proud of the speed with which so many Sydneysiders made clear that they weren’t blaming the Islamic community, and would support them against the racists and rabble rousers. Proud of the Islamic community. You guys know what you’re going to go through because of the actions of this one criminal, but you still choose to be part of our community. Our city. I’ll ride with you. Anybody that wouldn’t can piss off. They don’t deserve to live in our city.

There’s not a lot I can add to any conversation about the events yesterday and this morning that smarter, more involved folk aren’t going to be debating better than I ever could for days to come, but I wanted to say that. Because our city is strong, and I am proud of that.

Remembering what this day is about

Yesterday was the 11th of November, Remembrance Day, where much of the world spends a solemn, silent minute recalling what a bloody useless waste of life The Great War was and tries to promise never to do that again. Hopefully one day it’ll hold. Lest we forget.

If you’ll allow it I’d like to quickly rant about all the people who seem to assume that generalised portions of the population (particularly my fellow Generation Y’ers) need to be reminded. I notice these people popping up in various media outlets (particularly radio and the more tabloid-y newspapers) every Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day (I’m sure it happens with other country’s nationally specific memorial holidays as well). Baby boomers and older Gen X’ers (I can generalise as well) who lament how little today’s youth know about our brave boys (sometimes they remember the girls too) who have worn and died for our great nation’s flag. They pipe up and mourn the lack of education kids receive these days on Gallipoli, perhaps make some pithy and faux-wise statement about the lessons of mateship and determination that can be drawn from the mythology. Words like ‘the ANZAC spirit’ get thrown about, making it sound more like a holiday special than the bloody failure of a campaign costing thousands of Aussie and Kiwi (and even more British) lives that it was (but hey, at least it gave us Mel Gibson).

I normally manage to ignore most of this, but every so often I see, hear or read something small that gets on my nerves. A year or two ago it was someone complaining on the radio about how the people who decide the national curriculum wanted to reduce the time spent studying Gallipoli in history (because they felt not enough time was being spent on the rest of the Great War we participated in, the ivory tower-living bastards!). This year, on Monday, it was someone else on the radio.

“I want to request a song,” the voice of a middle-aged woman chirped from the speakers at work, “and remind everyone that tomorrow is Remembrance Day. It’s particularly special to me, because I had relatives that served in the wars.”

Really? I felt like shouting at the radio, You think that people need to be reminded that tomorrow is Remembrance Day? Like a teacher reminding her pupils that tomorrow’s art day so they better bring their coloured pencils. People might not care about Remembrance day, I’m not so optimistic about my generation that I believe everybody does, but they certainly know what goddamn day it is. It’s one of those pervasive cultural nails hammered into us from an early age, like Christmas is on the 25th of December.

Then there’s the justification for the arrogance, that she had relatives that served. Y’know, just like everybody else. Seriously, these were called World Wars for a reason. The first one may have primarily involved Anglo-Europeans, but I had a great grandfather from the Middle Eastern half of my family that fought in British khaki during and in between both World Wars. Given the number of conflicts that have occurred since (Australia participated in the Korean, Vietnam and both Gulf Wars as well as many peacekeeping operations and the Malayan Emergency) and the number of immigrants from former and ongoing warzones, chances are everyone’s had family that have a worn one uniform or another. I suppose no one else cares?

I know this seems to be a pretty trivial thing to be pissed off at, and not in keeping with what the day is supposed to be about, but I get pissed off anyway. It just strikes me a whole lot of ‘look at me and how much I care!’ self-centred attention-seeking that trivialises what we’re supposed to be honouring. It assumes by default that no one else cares and that’s just not true, especially considering that with an ongoing deployment in Afghanistan and a re-deployment in Iraq to ‘assist’ the local army and militias in their fight against Islamic State, we have very recent war dead, very recent widows, very recent grieving families, and the very distinct possibility of more.

We don’t need to be reminded what day it is and what it’s about, because I doubt very much we’ll forget.

“Oh, did my accent throw you off?” Or why I’m loving Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of stupid bloody fun. A lot of fun. The combat is quick and frenetic, the air boost (a double jump mechanic) is a nice addition that adds another dimension to the battlefield, the enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting (though repetition is inevitable) and the loot is, as expected, plentiful. There are flaws, of course. Clearing the same areas over again to complete side quests can be a slog, as can be navigating ‘platforming sections’ around insta-death lava. The campaign feels a little short (something that will probably be ‘fixed’ with DLC). A few characters skip being fun and go straight to being annoying (for example I think the internet so far has come to the agreement that Pickle sucks, though I don’t have anything against the kid personally, but hey I loved Tiny Tina right from the beginning). The Borderlands series lives and dies on its sense of humour though (crude, full of pop-culture references and not everyone’s cup of tea) and The Pre-Sequel delivers not just in spades, but in Australian spades (which are generally poisonous, covered in sharp teeth and usually aquatic).

This isn’t surprising given that the game was developed by Canberra based company 2K Australia, and just about every review I’ve read makes mention of it. Locations like ‘The Grabba’ (which many a cricket fan will notice as joke on The Gabba), references to a ‘First Fleet’ arriving on the already occupied moon Elpis (also part of Australia’s colonial history), outlaw bosses called Red Belly (who wear armour based upon the bush ranger Ned Kelly), a quest that’s an ode to ‘Banjo’ Paterson given by an NPC named Peepot and the absolutely hilarious talking shotgun ‘Boganella’ (I think I’ve already explained what a bogan is) give the game a distinct cultural flavour.

Given my own self-superior Australian nationalism (that I’m sure has come through in previous posts) it’s not surprising that I’d enjoy seeing such a strong Australianess (that is now a word) in a mainstream game, but what I really love about The Pre-Sequel is that they got it so right. I think the fact that Australian writers were writing Australian stereotypes kept the referential humour on the right side of the line between funny and cringe-inducing. Part of this is because they don’t rely on the typical icons and symbols to create that Aussie image. There’s no glaring Harbour Bridge, Opera House or Bondi Beach equivalents, creating a Space Sydney for a few iconic money-shots (and it would be Sydney, since what the fuck does anyone remember about Melbourne’s skyline?). There’s not any space crocodiles, kangaroos and emus. Nor is there a Kraggon Hunter or Shuggarath Dundee. The real joy, however, comes from the fact that they actually talk like Australians do. I’m not talking about the slang either, especially since there’s more than a little would be considered ‘old-fashioned’ at best (can’t remember ever hearing someone use the word ‘bonzer,’ even ironically, but I hope it makes a comeback – it’s a lotta fun to say). What I’m talking about is that the Aussie NPCs have a consistent grammatically Aussie way of speaking.

I think I counter example first might help me explain what I mean a little better. A few years ago I was a reading some science fiction novel I picked up on the kindle store for 99 cents or some other small amount. I can’t remember which one exactly, and that isn’t important right now. What is important is that it was written by an Yank, with a couple of Yank protagonists that encountered a working class, salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned slang spouting Australian. Anyway, the character used a word that stuck with me because it was inconsistent with the slang and background he’d been using up to that point. That word was ‘tussle’. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but when this largely forgotten character said he’d been hurt in a fucking ‘tussle’ I… winced… maybe… I forget, but I definitely reacted. Because this hard-swearing, hard-drinking, outback-living stereotype would never use a word like ‘tussle’. He’d say he was in a ‘punch-up’. Or if he’s really fair dinkum (heh) he might’ve called it a ‘blue’. Hell, he might’ve just called it a fight. But no bloody way would he call it a goddamn ‘tussle.’ Same as there’s no bloody way we’d “throw another shrimp on the barbie,” since we say ‘prawn’ not ‘shrimp’ (and as much as we love seafood you’re far more likely to see a piece of lamb and a few snags on an Australian barbecue).

Y’see using correct sounding slang isn’t enough, you need to use the right words, grammar and cultural quirks. That’s what makes the NPCs in The Pre-Sequel so refreshing, especially Janey Springs (I’d assume named after Alice Springs) who is the most vocal of the Aussie vocals. Little things like that Janey uses ‘ruddy’ instead of ‘bloody’ and the matter of fact way she tells us “Yep, gonna hurt lots” when we act as a human spark plug, the speed with which Red and Belly speak with each other (we tend to speak very quickly), a Scav using the adjective ‘sick-arse’, the name ‘Scav’ itself (The Pre-Sequel’s version of Bandits from the previous games) which is just shortened from ‘Scavenger’ (shortened words being the bulk of Australia’s additions to the English language), an echo recording of a graphic designer (complaining about incorrect font used on the Oz kits) who appropriately sounds like a Bondi Hipster

I’m not foolish enough to imagine that the “foreign writers don’t know how we talk!” problem is unique to Australia. I imagine that Belgians grind their teeth at their portrayal on French television, and God knows Aussie writers aren’t always kind to New Zealanders (even in The Pre-Sequel there’s a distinct-sounding, ‘bruv’-spouting Gladstone Katoa). But that’s for other people to worry about. I also know that I’d be enjoying this game without the Australianess, if Janey was flirting with Athena in an American accent or in Chinese. As I said in the first paragraph, it’s a lot of fun. But right now, if you ask me what I love most about this game I’d tell you it’s driving through Burraburra with a familiar accent telling me how much Kraggons suck. And they really do suck.

I’m hoping though that any future DLC will include an enemy called a ‘drop bear’. That would be awesome.