January 26 in Geek-dom: Please Stand By

*Isaac is taking the week off to graduate from college. That’s exciting. While he’s gone, here’s something else I’m really excited about.*
My post about Stranger Things has been cancelled until further notice. For one thing, I have nothing interesting to say about it. For another thing, I just saw a trailer for Please Stand By.

Guys, I am so glad that this movie exists.
Dakota Fanning (that’s one point in the movie’s favor right there) plays a girl with autism – okay, I’m convinced. She’s also a Star Trek super-fan.  And a writer. And it comes out a couple weeks before my birthday. Squee.
For the new readers: I have Asperger’s Syndrome. This means I was born to be a nerd. Whatever I’m interested in stays near the front of my mind pretty much all the time. It’s how my brain works. Some people on the autism spectrum get interested in mechanical devices, computers, or animals. I got nerdy fandoms (among other things). Dakota Fanning’s character got Star Trek.
So this movie is going to mix autism spectrum neurology with fandom. On top of that, the fandom is about people trying to navigate alien worlds. That’s what people on the spectrum need to do every single day. It’s perfect.
I cannot adequately convey how excited I am for this movie. I’m going to find the main character so relatable it’s almost ridiculous. The only thing that would make it better is if I was actually a Star Trek fan myself.
On that note, I should point out one potential pitfall with this movie. I really hope knowledge of Star Trek isn’t necessary for enjoyment of it. I doubt this will be much of a problem, but from what I understand non-nerds think Ready Player One is going to suck because it’s far too nerdy and movies are supposed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
But most likely, I will love this movie even though I’m not a Trekkie. One of my autistic/nerdy interests is nerds. I love watching people be unashamedly passionate about stuff, even if I’m not into it myself. And of course I love representation of neuro-diversity and watching someone like me navigate this crazy planet.
[Insert applicable Star Trek reference for sendoff.]


On Bond Girls

I recently watched my first James Bond movie, Skyfall.

I noticed two things. One: James Bond is another example of an action hero who wins through situational awareness. Two: Daniel Craig’s 007 interacted with four women before the halfway point. I’m pretty sure he sleeps with three of those women, and I think if his boss was closer to his age she’d be an option too.
I knew Bond had a reputation for being a ladies man and “Bond girls” are an archetypal trope. And I understand the random girl in the tropics – he’d just died (officially). But his fellow secret agent was patching up Bond’s wounds after a fight and he started unbuttoning her shirt. She didn’t even seem to mind.
Then he finds a girl who works for the bad guy. He finds out she’s scared of her boss, and he offers to help. What a gallant hero, right? Five minutes later (movie time) they’re in the shower together. I’m pretty sure you could call that taking advantage of a vulnerable girl.
I’m new to the James Bond fandom, but best I can tell Bond fans just accept that their hero is a promiscuous womanizer. It seems particularly ridiculous to me because of my Christian sensibilities. I have no evidence to say people who have a problem with the “Spy Who Loved Me (But Only For Part of One Movie)” are less likely to stumble than those who like him. And I know I’m usually pretty forgiving of fandoms as long as viewers are aware of the potential problems. But this one I’m going to come out and say it: there are heroic role models with better dating habits. Go watch something else.

I’m out of things to say. I’ll probably write about Stranger Things next week; stay tuned.

One Rare or Better: an essay on Microtransactions (Part 2: The Cons)

So, last week, I offered a few options in which Microtransaction systems work. But I feel like I should also cover the negative ramifications of it.

The biggest argument I’ve been hearing is that it’s effectively gambling. I agree with this statement. Loot boxes especially are a form of gambling that has gone unchecked. Especially in a full-priced game.

As such, with the gambling aspect, games with such systems have the potential to be money pits for people to spend a lot of money.

I don’t really have much more to say on the subject. The only way I an see microtransactions be an effective tool is in a free-to-play game. However, I say this because in many cases—especially the cases I’ve encountered—free-to-play games are still enjoyable without sinking money into it.

Normally, this is the part of the essay where I would propose a solution, except there really isn’t a good one that I can think of. Microtransactions aren’t going anywhere, because the developer teams want money. But the consumers aren’t having it anymore.

I look at the issue with Battlefront II, and I’m reminded of 1 Timothy 6:10, which reads in the NIV, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

I guess the best solution is to not put money into microtransaction systems. If you like the game, play the game. If you have spent money on it, don’t spend any more unless they release something you want. Every dollar you sink into the game, the developers get a vote of confidence. When you click, “Buy a Loot Box” (or the equivalent button,) they take it as support.

In conclusion, I am hesitant to say that microtransactions will go away, but it is looking like that could be the direction games are heading. I won’t be buying a copy of Battlefront II, but that’s because of financial and hardware limitations. I’m not boycotting games that utilize microtransactions. I still play Hearthstone, after all. Kobolds & Catacombs comes out tomorrow.

Now, what else is going on in the geek world? [Flips to Kotaku.] Wait. Why is Ryan Reynolds playing Pikachu?

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This Week in Geek-dom: Crisis on Earth X

Well, I haven’t seen Justice League yet. But I’ve seen the Supergirl/Arrow/Flash/Legends of Tomorrow crossover event, “Crisis on Earth X.” And it’s awesome. I’m not sure if Justice League could be much better.

This event was certainly better than last year’s four-way crossover. That one was very Flash-centric. This time, almost everyone got a time to shine. The Flash married, or tried to marry, his adopted sister. Green Arrow had a fight with his girlfriend. Supergirl and her sister tried to get over their exes. It wasn’t all romance, though. The Firestorm duo had an amazing story arc.
But that’s all B-plot. Here’s the A-plot: 52 realities to the left, on a planet called Earth X, the Nazis won World War II and conquered the world. Decades later, they’re marching on Earth-1. The Green Arrow’s doppelganger is, get this, the Fuhrer, and he’s married to Supergirl’s doppelganger, Overgirl (kudos if you get the reference).
This Aryan power couple has teamed up with Eobard Thawne, who 1) is still alive, somehow, 2) has changed his face. To review, this is how Eobard normally looks.

But when he’s working with Mr. and Mrs. Aryan Perfection, he decides to look like this.

Does this make sense to anyone? Because it sure doesn’t make sense to me.
Apart from this point, there’s a lot to love from a nerd standpoint. It’s crossover moment after crossover moment. Green Arrow versus Guardian. Green Arrow versus Supergirl. Green Arrow versus Heat Wave and Killer Frost. Flash versus Red Tornado. White Canary and Supergirl’s sister versus Prometheus. And more!
Also: Melissa Benoist and Franz Drameh are really good actors. Benoist’s performance as Nazi Supergirl is so cool. Drameh plays Jax, one half of Firestorm, and as I mentioned he has a really good story arc. But no spoilers.
There’s also some stuff to not-love from a Christian standpoint: LGBTQ+ representation. Like I said, Supergirl’s sister is dealing with a breakup – with a girl. Also, this event introduced two new (or kind of new, no spoilers) characters who are gay. Because Nazis are the arch-nemesis of any minority.
But the event has a pretty good moral. It’s not just about people fighting Nazis. It’s about superheroes fighting Nazi versions of themselves. Superheroes believe it’s up to the strong to defend the weak. Nazis believe it’s up to the strong to eliminate the weak. It’s so simple, but so very powerful.

One Rare or Better: an essay on Microtransactions (Part 1: The Pros)

Battlefront II Good
The Original. (Photo Credit: Steam)

So I figured I should say something about Star Wars: Battlefront II, but what has to be said that hasn’t been said already? It’s a wonderful, well-rounded game, with a lot of features and potential. Not to mention, it’s one of the few games that runs on my computer. I’ve clocked hundreds of hours into it already, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. The graphics are a little dated and—

Battlefront II Evil (youtube)
The Imitation. (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Oh. Yeah. The new Battlefront II. Yeah, that train-wreck.

Now, I am caught up on the controversy surrounding it. EA is trying to boost the sales of loot-boxes by lying about free DLC, and hiding said DLC behind a grinding system requiring in-game currency, requiring an absurd amount of time to get remotely good at the game.

This got me thinking about the ethicality of microtransactions. Are they good? Are they bad? Have they been done well? Are they a metaphorical cancer on gaming? The purpose of this post is to do a pro-con argument on microtransactions, while also factoring in where they should and shouldn’t be.

Well, the truth is, I have seen them done well in past games. DLC, in a way, is a bunch of microtransactions. Pay ten bucks, get another level, another character, another whatever. In that regard, they are good, because game developers sometimes want to make more content to add to the game later.

Battlefront II, however, uses microtransactions as a substitute for a leveling system. I have only seen a few games that pull this off well. One of those is Blizzard’s Hearthstone—I’ve mentioned it here before. It’s a collectible card game, so to get better, you buy card packs, either with gold you get from playing the game or with real money.

“Heroes of Warcraft” (Photo Credit: Blizzard / playhearthstone.com)

The difference, though, is that Hearthstone is free to play; Battlefront II runs for about sixty dollars on Amazon at the time of writing this. Hearthstone uses microtransactions as its only source of profit, whereas Battlefront II asks for money, then asks for more money so the developers can buy sports cars.

That said, I believe microtransaction mechanics are good in situations where it’s the only thing you’d have to pay for in the game. After all, I believe that every dollar you spend is your way of saying that you approve of a product, and want to see more of it in the future.

I’ll post my rant against microtransactions next week. Or immediately if you pay $4.99 for a loot box and get the right star card.

Sorry. Too soon?


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Last Week in Geek-dom: The Punisher

Marvel/Netflix’ The Punisher starts remarkably similar to Luke Cage: character introduced in previous show comes home after finishing his justice/vengeance quest; old friend suggests he put his special skills to use, and he does to protect a kid who was forced into crime; a female officer of the law wants to investigate our hero, and her partner thinks she’s kind of crazy.

Apart from those initial similarities, this show is barely a comic book show. The hero has no superpowers, the villains aren’t particularly animated, and those villains don’t get cool names. The show is more like Jason Bourne, John Wick, and Mission Impossible.
Kinda like Jessica Jones, the show is about veterans, some of whom have PTSD. I’m not sure how accurate these portrayals are, but they’re very well-acted, and I’m happy to see neuro-diversity. It shows that not all excessively violent people are evil.
This brings me to the big issue. This show makes it clear, even better than Daredevil Season 2, that the Punisher is constantly reliving his traumatic memories. Some come from his military service, but the worst of them involve his family being brutally murdered in front of him. There aren’t many healthy ways to  deal with this trauma. He could smash walls, wallow in loneliness, or brutally murder anyone he believes deserves punishment. One of those looks good on TV.
Castle’s actions are morally reprehensible on multiple levels, with or without a Christian worldview. Not only does he savagely kill people, but he makes a point of being judge, jury, and executioner: “No trials, no BS, they die.” This is definitely not a Christian vigilante, as Isaac described. But within the context of the show, we’re supposed to believe he’s justified. He needs to go that far every time, because of his PTSD. Yeah, I don’t really accept that excuse.

I wrote that much when I was about halfway through the season. Did Frank have any character development or redemption in the rest of it?
Sort of. He did leave one guy alive in the end. But that guy is going to return as a bad guy named Jigsaw. That’s not character development. That’s the writers preparing for Season 2.
Verdict: the show is kind of fun for geeks who aren’t expecting something like the Defenders collection. But there’s pretty much nothing redeemable from a Christian standpoint.

How Much Faith Can We Put in Superheroes?

The same technical difficulties that threw off my blogging schedule have made me fall behind on the TV shows I enjoy, including Supergirl. I recently got around to seeing Season 3, Episode 4, “The Faithful.” It’s about a cult based on the religion of Krypton, the planet where Kara “Supergirl” Zor-El hails from. This faith makes Supergirl out to be their savior. Kara is just as uneasy as clear-thinking Christians would be.

The show handles the issues (misinterpreting religion, extremism, etc.) pretty well. Not a lot of superheroes have this dilemma. The only other example I can think of is Bibleman.
Yeah, you know, the purple-and-gold Christian superhero. No, not Larryboy. He was in Charles in Charge, Eight is Enough, and … wait, really? The Dungeons and Dragons cartoon? Then he makes a show about Christianity for kids? There’s your correlation. Post over.

Not really. Where was I? Bibleman wanted people to trust that he could protect them from demons in goofy makeup and goofier outfits. But he didn’t want them to lose faith in God by putting too much faith in Bibleman.
Most superheroes – even ones who make my list of Christ types – don’t think about God that much. So what are we, the Christian nerds, to do with this? We could just say “Supergirl is fictional, Jesus isn’t.” But I want to go deeper.
Superman and Supergirl are all about truth, justice, the American way, and hope. The symbol everyone thinks is an S actually means hope, so their names should be Hopeman and Hopegirl. They’re really into hope.
Christians are also into hope. Hebrews defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for,” suggesting you can’t have faith without hope. But you can have hope without faith. It just won’t get you very far.
Supergirl, Star Wars, Once Upon a Time, and many other fandoms focus on hope, and many people provide hope to fans living in a dark and scary world. But if you tell people to have hope, eventually they’re going to need something or someone in which to put their faith and hope. And that’s when the Bible starts throwing up warning signs.
Superheroes can remind you to have H.O.P.E., as in Happy Optimistic Positive Energy. But be careful where you put your true, strong hope and the faith that backs it up.