Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On the Appropriateness of Thought

Think back to its unfettered infancy! When Isoceleria, in its bright salad days, offered posts that approached weekly? One movie review that was offered talked about whether or not it was appropriate to discuss moral heavyweights in the context of a lighthearted comedy. My answer at the time was no (although in a different context it would be yes), and I haven't wavered from that opinion. I also never gave a satisfactory explanation for why exactly that was the case. After a talk with my friend Brian, I'm finally equipped to give a good argument why.

The question is, when is it appropriate to have ethical or moral discussions about should the topic arise? Put slightly more tritely, when is it okay to think? To the scholar or the metaphysicist, the answer is always. If the question comes up, it must be answered; it must be answered immediately, to the best of the intellectual ability of everyone involved. After all, if not to examine the condition of life, what is the purpose of life at all? To the pragmatist or the cynic, the answer is never. What good is morality when you're dead? There are more pressing concerns, more important questions to answer now than "is (whatever) appropriate?" And to the idealistic-realist (which is what I've termed my own school of thought), the answer is completely contextual. It is always good to think, but in certain situations, the necessity of thought is better fulfilled with a different discussion than the one that presents itself.

Naturally I'm maintaining a sort of middle ground, finding a way to shift my argument centerward. People are always more willing to discuss when your opinion more closely matches theirs. My personal feelings on the matter allow for the sort of intellectual discussion that I prize to thrive, while also making sure I'm not wasting my time. And what would be considered an example of either? Arguing the ethics of a mechanic within a MMORPG is certainly the latter. The chat I had with Brian was regarding another discussion he had within the context of my second-favorite video game ever, World of Warcraft (my first, of course, being a tie among all of the Halo games). According to Brian, this discussion was regarding a certain practice in WoW that I'm not entirely familiar with. When presented with an argument like "People should frown upon (insert practice here)," Brian was irritated. I would have been too, though for a different reason. I don't think Brian would disagree with my placement of him into the pragmatist/cynic category. (To some extent, I'm a cynic too. Then again, I have some of those "scholar" characteristics as well. I see it as a continuum.) So it was understandable that he didn't want to have that discussion at all. My personal reason for not wanting to have that conversation would have been that having it wouldn't get you anywhere. While the argument of "supporting a practice against the will of the general public" is one that's generally worth having, contextually it's wholly irrelevant.

In this (as far as I can tell, mostly one-sided) debate, Brian was asked to present a counter-argument. Even though I know nothing about WoW, and though arguing it within the perspective of a video game is ridiculous, I respect the idea behind the general precept of this discussion. Here's my go. Saying that a large population "should" or "should not" adopt a certain stance is dreadfully difficult to argue. If the individuals within the population cared enough, the population would collectively change its mind. Because presumably this hasn't happened yet, it probably will not happen in the absence of some external galvanizing force. In other words, to effect this change, you must not only convince people that you are right. You must first convince them that they want to care at all.

Currently listening: Wincing the Night Away, the Shins

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reflections about Video Gaming

Inspired by (well, okay, straight copied and pasted from) an email exchange with Nick:

I honestly don't play video games that much anymore. For one, I don't have a television, which makes things a little tricky. Secondly, I don't really have time for them. Darn "homework" and "classes" and "housing job." The only new-generation console that I even considered getting is a Wii, and that's because of two things: 1) virtual console and 2) new incarnations of Smash Brothers and Mario Kart. Seeing as how the virtual console isn't at full capacity yet, and the other two haven't been released, it's not worth buying for the time being. I basically hate the Xbox (except for this brilliant thing on their classic arcade called "Geometry Wars" which is like Asteroids on LSD). I don't see the value in spending any money on the PS3, let alone $600. Ooh, it does Blu-Ray. Because I care about that.

Some people might attack any sort of video gaming at all as a waste of time, a completely non-constructive futility. I agree that doing nothing but play video games isn't constructive, hence my dislike of WoW, which I believe lends itself to doing nothing but itself. But I think that about pretty much anything. A frat guy who spends all of his time at the "house," an athlete who spends all of his time at practice or in the gym... none of that seems like a good idea. The primary values I get from video games are either the "this is slightly more intellectually stimulating than sitting on my chair and staring at a towel" single-player idea or the "this is slightly more interesting than watching a movie and talking about D&D" with my friends. The first case, I have approximately zero time for anymore. I'll start the day with 8 am Numerical Methods, finish at 9:45 pm with a staff meeting, and at that point, sitting in my chair and staring at a towel isn't out of the question.

As for multiplayer games, my main "group of friends" isn't really that into them (except for my favorite game of all time, Halo, and even that they're not as interested in as they might have been a couple of years ago). We might play video games, or card/board games (my friend Walter frequents game shops and regularly has these crazy games that shouldn't be nearly as fun as they are), or play D&D, or talk about D&D, or watch a movie, or have the occasional 4 am talk about morality and ethics. I don't see any of those as inherently better or worse than each other, and in fact an evening/night with that group of guys might well encompass most or all of them. The question is whether or not a social event is an end in itself or rather a means to some sort of more significant goal. I would argue that if it does further some sort of other goal, wonderful, but if it doesn't, that doesn't mean it wasn't worth doing.

Currently listening: "Plane Crash in C," Rilo Kiley