Dark Souls: The Final Verdict

The Dark Souls trilogy is utter nonsense, a polished turd in From Software’s Great Crown of Fraud. I have hated every From Software game I have ever tried. This time I got roped into Dark Souls 3 by a friend, who assured me that the game’s design has improved and been sufficiently streamlined to be tolerable. I am afraid this was a mistaken evaluation. The game is only slightly better than the last FS game I experienced, Dark Souls 1, which I played for ten hours until I realized what manipulative little shits these developers were, wasting my time, intellect, and effort with a soul-draining pallid color schema, an obnoxious, gluttonous fetish for grotesque necromantic aesthetics and monstrous parodies of European castles, and a game paradigm so Frankensteinian in its precise manipulation of human psychology. Abuse, punishment, reward denial, and an indoctrinated community of adorers who slurp every splash of urine that spews from this putrid fountain. I hate it with every fiber of my smoldering soul.

Oh look, it’s a swamp filled with poisonous enemies that have been mutilated by some mystical disfiguring contagion. Oh look, they all went to the same fencing school, all possessed of the same bizarre, awkward, unconvincing, insulting timing, as if they’d tested their swings hundreds of thousands of times against a particular humanoid with the exact same movement parameters. Oh look, that lumbering skeleton whose face twitches with indescribable torment and strains with its atrophied muscles just to lift its comical ax above its head also has the presence of mind to pause mid-swing for 0.3 seconds to catch a dodging enemy off guard. Oh look, I’m fighting a knight with slightly different armor. Oh look, no matter how good my gear is or how experienced I’ve become, they can all still two- or three-shot me. Oh look, there’s a quadruped monster who screams a bunch. Oh look, there’s a biped monster who screams a lot. Oh look, I’ve done all of this shit before. Why am I still doing this?

I have spent 120+ hours playing Dark Souls 3 over the past few weeks. It’s still hard to explain that previous sentence to myself. The best parts have been cooping with my friend, simply because coop puts the game on a more even playing field where every mistake is not punished to absurdity and the mere presence of another target disrupts the entire fragile paradigm, giving a poor player time to, dare I say it, recover from the normal vagaries of reality and the intended vagaries of this nightmarish holodeck. The worst parts have been the dull chore of finding out whatever arbitrary bullshit UNDEAD SKELETON #2187 has been programmed to do, learning how to vary your timing against its awkward timing over the course of an hour, maybe, and then repeating a sufficiently balanced sequence of button presses until the thing’s HP bar reaches zero. Lather, rinse, repeat until you want to break your controller.

The few bright spots in solo mode have been stumbling across bosses that minimize the bullshit and test your ability to fence and dance and time your shit in a way that doesn’t feel condescending. The Abyss Watchers, the Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Pontiff Sulyahn, the Lothric Princes, to name some. They’ve all been quite wonderful to fight, and they’re all connected by a common thread: there’s some lore behind their characters you can feel and experience as you duel them one-on-one on open field with no other mobs, adds, or ridiculous filler features to waste your time. Everything and everyone else sucks. Vordt is a barking frostdog. Treeballs is a test to see how well you can handle the game’s awful camera. High Lord Wolnir, a imposing behemoth of a skeleton trying to crawl his way out of the Abyss and whose single hand could crush you with ease, is just a check to see if you’ve ever played a video game ever. Hit the shiny things on his body a few times. Watch him die.

But no, what broke the straw’s camel back for me wasn’t even the gimmicky boss fights. No, it was the trash, as in the trash mobs between the bosses. Specifically one sequence in the last DLC, the Ringed City, in which I had to face off 20-30 mobs of the following types:

  • Frail undead peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.
  • Shielded undead knights with glowing red eyes who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Hulking giant undead knights who do stupid amounts of damage.
  • Frail undead caster peons in ragged robes who scream at you a lot and jump down and ambush you.

Wow, nice creativity, From Software. Working for you must be easier than EA’s Madden division. What skulking undead aberration should we put here in this next hallway? Eh, take this model of Undead Slave #2187, tint their clothes a little purpler, change their move-set a bit, and spam-populate the place. Done. Next. It’s amazing we’re not on Dark Souls XV by now, that From Software isn’t a giant assembly line with bored artists pumping these games out every four months. Why? What’s the obstacle? What’s the excuse? Everyone loves these games for some inexplicable reason. They make insane amounts of money. What’s the problem, From Software? Is that too shameless?

But what made me finally flip solo mode off for good was one of those caster mobs put on a secluded ledge behind the staircase of a descending spiral chamber, a ledge that served no purpose whatsoever and no one would ever build, a ledge that can only be accessed by jumping down onto a chandelier from a precarious rafter, then jumping onto the purposeless ledge, but since this is From Software’s majestic engine of wonder that won’t let you fall off any ledge until you’re either ten meters or ten millimeters from it, there’s a high probability that you’ll just miss the chandelier ledge and fall to your death. Oh, and you can’t ignore this caster mob because he can somehow see/hear you from fifty feet away and can cast through walls. I tested this. I tried ignoring him and found him casting on me through a dozen meters of pure stone while I’m fighting Mob Type #3 from the above list. HOW CHALLENGING.

Then I look up a guide and find out the next bonfire is still at least five minutes away. Oh, these developers are still manipulative little shits and I’m wasting my time. Bye, Lothric. Link your own damn fire, you hack frauds.

C2AeDSUWEAAUpy_

Loving Me

As a coda for my trip to Spain to do part of the Camino de Santiago, I watched and read Love, Simon.  There were feels. Many feels.

Let’s talk about those feels.

The most constant were “wow, what a cloying, rose-colored depiction of a disgustingly affluent white family and the minor problems of its protagonist in the tempestuous social hell that is high school” and “this is fine because that’s the framework of the story.” I raised my eyebrow a few times while letting things proceed.

Others feels included some crying, sadness, heartbreak, sympathy, and a most deep, simmering envy. I kinda wish I’d gone through all of this: a different past, a different life, something “more normal,” a halcyon alternate universe where I had an accepting home that would let me crush on boys and work out my emotions and sexuality in relative peace.

For those of you who don’t know, I was “homeschooled.” HOWEVER, because it is my Doom to be a Weirdo among Weirdos, this was not your stereotypical horror story of precipitous isolation and abuse. It was some strange hybrid of traditional-ish albeit private-ish schooling, Abeka text and video curricula (also Saxon, which was great, fun an instructive and f— you, fight me), and starting college courses at age 11 or 12-ish. Long story short…it was pretty okay! I mean, I missed out on a lot of peer-to-peer social interaction, a gap that troubles me to this day, but it was a decent upbringing that gave me enough socialization to not weird off every single human being I ever talk to, like Martin, who should have been hanged at the neck until dead. There’s enough evidence to suggest that, given how many friends I’ve made after going off on my own, that I’m doing all right. Well, even.

Alas, nostalgia, narrative, and hagiography are how we reckon with time and its pitiless march. Stores are the mental language we crave and depend on, morsels with a bow on top. The complex, chaotic, mundane reality of navigating the weather of our lives is boring. We have to tie things together in hindsight, which demands manipulation and distortion of some kind, malignant or benign. Things that seem obvious in the rear-view mirror escape our notice in the moment–and vice-versa. We forget it was like to be there and live that life because…we’re not there anymore. That life and person, in a very real way, are long dead.

Yet not forgotten. For whatever reason, I remember my formative years closer to that mundane reality: a mixed bag of good and bad, triumph and trauma, moments great, awful, and okay. I remember what a strange little kid I was and still am, both brittle and surprisingly resilient, like all of us. With that in mind, I come back to this question of “what if?” Could I not have had this, this cloying little love story? A part of me wishes with fury to say “yes, of course.”

The rest of me knows better: no, no, I couldn’t have.

My upbringing had flaws. My parents had (and have, thankfully) their flaws. Huge ones of great consequence. But the dirty little secret about parenting is that it’s mostly luck and fundamentals, which is what they got right. When push came to shove, I had a loving, stable home that was not so dysfunctional that I would dash my face against rocks to my irreparable harm. Emphasis on that first part.  This was not so much the result of their conscious choices–good or bad–as just the means and abilities available to them. it’s kinda hard to knock two educated nurses off their feet. This is the crux of privilege: the ground upon which you stand, the constraints that determine your location regardless of how badly you screw up. We were in a good place, although my sister, brother, and I endured a lot of pointless, absurd BS that’s just baffling today. Ripe black comedy material, there.

That applies to me as well. I was and am a quirky, odd, fragile geek who would’ve gotten stuffed into a locker, abused, bullied, and mistreated had I lived this desired other life. The simulations result in ten million disastrous outcomes and a handful of good ones. There’s only so much wishing and tweaking the factors to be done before they’re so unreflective of reality as to be useless. Things were as they were. I was who I was. Reaching this desired scenario requires stretching that truth to tatters.

The truth is, I lucked out. I had just the right foundation, just the right family dynamic, just the right personality, just the right outlets, methods, and opportunities to develop in a safe and healthy way, and just the right support networks to come in and save me when everything started to fall apart. I was able to keep the darker sides of this process contained until I was on my own feet and in control of things. I had other s— to worry about, more important stuff, than having a picturesque high-school romance story arc and coming-out experience. When I did come out, it was very casual and unremarkable to me, like flipping a switch installed a while before. There are worse alternatives. Much worse. In this stage of my life, I can work these feels out on soft, solid ground. I’ve already made some mistakes that, in other circumstances, could have ruined my life. Here, they dissipate harmlessly. That’s something to be grateful for, to appreciate, to not take lightly in light of the wisp of a wish.

I guess I can say that, even if I had the power to change things, to rewrite history, I wouldn’t. At least, not much. Maybe fewer stupid fights about household chores, a little more conversation and understanding between all of us in my family, but the overall sketch, well, I’m happy with it.

Sorry, Simon. I enjoyed the ride, but you’re just a fantasy, some popcorn for my spirit and soul, something to play with and put back on my shelf filled with postcards and memories from all the beautiful places I’ve been and the people I’ve shared this path with. The pleasure of any fantasy is that it’s not real. It’s not supposed to come true, because then you have to live with it, with unintended, unglamorous reality. Simon and Bram probably break up in their freshmen year at college, you know.

Or maybe they don’t. The book was better.

Love, Matt

The China Problem

Argument: China is already undergoing a demographic shift unparalleled in both speed and scale, transitioning from a young country to an elderly one within a single generation. Its vaunted “rise” is fraught and likely doomed, but this is not something to rejoice over. The many terrible crises China will soon face will be the story of this century. Our story.

Continue reading

Watching God’s Children

Christianity is so sad.

The psychology of it is on full display in this video. Behold how stupid these people are. They have no idea what they’re talking about. They’re completely oblivious to the reality of what the Bible is, where it came from, and the innumerable interpretations of it. There’s nothing resembling a consensus on Christian eschatology, and it’s pretty clear why if you actually read the material cited. Ezekiel? Zachariah? Hezekiah? Revelation? It’s all a bunch of rambling nonsense. Many clutch at very specific verses as examples of fulfilled prophecy (ergo, credibility), glossing over the 99% of the text that’s chock-full of incomprehensible references and predictions that never came true. The Bible is fantastic literature, but the idea that anyone would take it as some sort of concrete roadmap is beyond me.

I’m lying. Of course I understand, since I was Christian until the beginning of my third decade, but I also get why the uninitiated might be baffled. Of particular interest might be why Evangelicals are so obsessed with the Apocalypse. Well, they’re not. Obsession isn’t the right word. Yearning is. Once the Apocalypse comes, the grave tribulation they’re suffering–banal economic turbulence, liberals gaining more and more power and influence, young people falling away from the Church, gays everywhere, brown people finding a voice, other brown people blowing up white people on rare occasions–will disappear. All will be right with the world. Never mind how many people will die or suffer in the process by their own admission. Two thirds of Israel will die, but they’re heretics or whatever. Logically, it’s vital that they try to accelerate the timeline of prophecy (don’t think about it) as much as possible. Why would you want to sit around waiting for all this chaos to work itself out? If you donate $5 and vote for Republicans who “love” Israel, you’ll get you brownie points with God and make your salvation extra secure.

People wonder why I have such venom toward the religion that I came from. To be honest, I can’t understand why anyone who lived through it wouldn’t be a tad bitter toward this corrupt, broken institution, infested from top-to-bottom by charlatans, zealots, and bigots exploiting even greater bigots below them. Once you realize it’s all comforting lies for privileged special snowflakes whose fragile worldview can’t handle the slightest bit of nuance or discomfort, it all makes perfect, painful sense. These people are so insecure and frightened by anything and everything different or inconvenient that they’ll channel untold amounts of money into aiding and abetting a brutal policy of occupation against innocent people. It’s disgusting. There are two emotional conclusions you can draw from the modern state of Christianity in America: disgust or pity. Put any respect, admiration, or even empathy out of your mind. What you see in this video is an evil that needs to be defeated and buried. It’s scared people abusing the world because they can’t handle their own inner fretting, nothing more. Going to Israel and taking some tours of dusty rocks and hills is merely a highly elaborate ritual of masturbation. It’s a way to blow off steam and keep silencing those nagging thoughts.

I speak from experience. I spent much of my teens pouring over Christianity’s essence, studying apologetics, studying the Word, studying various outlooks and analyses of it, but the cold truth was I just wanted some certainty in my troubled life, for everything to make sense, for the constant gnawing doubt in my head to just go away and leave me alone. I couldn’t turn my brain off, so I took the only logical path available: finding satisfying answers. The only problem, as I realized far earlier than my conscious mind knew, was that Christianity didn’t have them. I hung onto the trappings of it for a while, but in my heart I’d given up a long time ago. I would force myself to go to Sunday-night church before raiding in WoW as a stiff ritual, hating every bored minute of it, tired of trying to socialize with other teens that I didn’t understand. That was the last ember of it all, somewhere when I was 18-19. The whole thing fell apart very quickly the moment the social and emotional impetuses ran their course. I can remember a quiet period of a few months in 2009-2010 where I my deconversion rapidly completed itself. The whole thing clicked. The door shut behind me.

Again, try to understand this through the frame of emotion. Intellect has naught to do with it. Unlike me, the people you see here can turn their brains off, can run headlong into comforting scammery, can embrace the most immoral and reprehensible behavior imaginable so long as you say the right words, make the right gestures, and use the right imagery. They’ll jerk off in front of Palestinians whose land has been paved and planted with suburbs. They’ll hoot and holler and cheer for a slimy scam artist like Trump. Anything. Anything to keep the thoughts away.

But Caesar, for God’s in His Heaven

Another day under Trump, another journalist wonders how it’s possible for white Evangelicals to support him with such zeal and passion.

One of the enduring puzzles of contemporary American politics is why white evangelicals, who loudly proclaim their devotion to the teachings of the Bible, continue to support the thrice-married, six-times-bankrupted, multiple-times-unfaithful, chronically lying president, who has, at the very least, violated three of the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness”) and arguably several others.

As someone who came from the Church, what’s far more remarkable to me is how people continue to be shocked by this.

Look, kids. Here’s the dirty secret about Christianity: there are no real Christians.

First off, this is something you can infer directly from Scripture itself. The Bible speaks quite plainly to how only God will be able to separate the “tares” from the “wheat” when Judgment Day comes, whatever “Judgment Day” means. It was precisely these kinds of verses that led me down the blessed path of full deconversion, away from Calvary: nowhere is complete, 100%, absolute, foolproof salvation ever stipulated within Christianity. None. It’s not there. You can be as virtuous as Christ Himself and still be a tare as far as He’s concerned. You might even earnestly believe you’re among the saints, but only God will truly know when the time comes. Salvation is a complete crap-shoot by Christianity’s own standards. There’s no way you can lock it down, no way you can believe and/or work hard enough to know you’re among that number. That’s why Calvinism gained any sort of popularity in the first place: it solves this fundamental problem, only at the expense of Christianity’s soul. It’s the fundamental downside of an omnipotent, omniscient Creator: He can do whatever He wants, pick whomever or whatever He wants to be in His particular 700 Club, and if He decided at the last minute to just change all the rules and condemn you, earnest, fearful believer, to eternal damnation, there’d be nothing you could do about it, because you’re a tiny gnat before your Maker.

All of that is neither here nor there, of course, because God doesn’t exist. But even if He does, God doesn’t matter, which is why the bickering over His existence is a giant waste of time. We can still measure the impact His ostensible touch has on human behavior–rather, the complete lack thereof. Christians are indistinguishable from their heathen brethren. They eat, drink, sleep, pee, poop, and fuck. They like socializing. They like having things and they like enjoying things, especially that sex thing. There is no behavior of any subgroup of Christianity, from the poorest to the elite of the elite, that falls outside the confines of anthropology. Scientists can detect variances and draw strong conclusions about the nature of the universe based on the tiniest variations, the most infinitesimal specks in a picture of the observable universe. Whatever Few True Christians out there would be very noticeable, even if the success rate of Christianity was something pathetic, like 0.0001%. That would still get you into the millions based on sheer math.

Now, Christians know this, far better than anyone. They have eyes, ears, mouths, and functioning nervous systems. It’s the reality they have to deal with, one with a complete absence of God in any practical, useful sense. They have to work with a Church and culture inhabited by and run by those same humans from top to bottom, no exceptions. Nope, not even Sir Awesome Hat up in Rome, despite two millennium of writing on the topic that boils down to a giant yuh-huh. The Pope is elected from within a tiny group of men who dutifully worked their way up the corporate ladder, complete with paper-trail. It happens on camera in front of the whole world. He’s just some guy. God has nothing to do with it. Any of it.

That means Christians–every last one of them, just like everyone else–are making this shit up as they go along. 

See, the crux of Christianity is Witness. Christians are supposed to be different from other people, to be distinct and undeniable, to reflect God before the world. But you can’t do that without, you know, God. There has to be some Divine Spark somewhere: your friends, your pastor, his superior, whoever, somewhere, someway the Spark has to trickle down so people can work off it, no matter how small.

Here’s an example: Christians buy insurance. Why? Because there’s risk in their lives.

“But wait, why is there risk? God is God. I should be protected if I’m saved.”

“Weeeeeeeeeeeeell,” says the Church, “I know we sold you on that, but reaaaaaaaaaally, there’s no way to guarantee either your salvation or God’s protection at any time.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for one, you’re not living up to the standard.”

“How am I not living up to the standard?”

“Well, I mean, come on, you’ve gotta be doing something wrong.”

“No, I didn’t. You know I didn’t. God as my witness.”

*God bursts in like the Kool-Aid Man* “BITCH ARE YOU QUESTIONING ME?”

“No no no, of course not! I love You!”

“Oh, cool, just checking. Here’s some more stuff now, ’cause I feel like it.”

….

You know what that’s from?

The Book of Job.

Yep. The whole point of the Book of Job, since none of you bothered to read it, is that Job is sinless but God can, surprise, do whatever He wants. The Book’s lesson is that no amount of righteousness, even complete perfection, is any basis to presume you’re shielded from bad stuff from happening to you. Conversely, your commitment to Him shouldn’t be contingent on whatever material boon He deigns to grant you, as that’s just not gonna work out well. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” So why is such a depressing lesson even in the Biblical canon, not that far from Ecclesiastes? Because practical experience informs us of this. Job is Christianity’s answer to a very simple question:

If God’s on my side, then why is He still fucking with me?”

Well, because He can and does. It really undercuts the whole Witness thing, which would logically lead to you forgoing the concept of insurance altogether. There are some Christians who do this, but 99% of the rest of the Church severely criticizes them for being fools, and rightfully so: they all end up being struck by normal disaster and get screwed. Job was right.

But this is a minor example. If God were really on your side in any appreciable way, then Christians would appear absolutely nuts to all other humans. They wouldn’t care about money, or politics, or what society was doing, or what anybody was really doing. They wouldn’t even care about particular moral foibles like premarital sex or lying. They certainly wouldn’t invent a cosmic travesty like Contemporary Christian Music to try to attract fellow kids. They would be radically different, their Witness completely undeniable, which would also mean it’d be very effective. It’d work. Christianity wouldn’t be beleaguered or in trouble or even remotely concerned by anything temporal. They’d be a supermajority born out by simple effectiveness. Who wouldn’t want to be Christian if the Fruit of the Spirit were real and demonstrably attainable by an average person? Who doesn’t want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, against such there is no law?

That’s what the Faith insists, but reality is completely different. Christianity is beleaguered. Christianity is marred. It’s inhabited by weak, filthy, shameful, disgusting, greedy sinners who have never had any right to lecture anyone. It attracts televangelists and charlatans. It attracts hypocrisy and deceit like flies to honey. It promotes abuse and pain. It’s unpopular and lame. Most devastating of all, it’s helpless. The Rock is tossed about by the vagaries of the World, its most hated Foe. Christians know exactly how much Christians suck, and Christianity most of all. What is God if He can’t step in and squash these icky gays and keep our kids from bumping uglies together in the woods? What is God if He can’t let me pray in schools? What is God if He can’t fix my marriage? What is God if He can’t tell me how to get my kids to like me? What is God if He can’t pay my rent? What is God if He can’t make my bones stop hurting?

Christians want an answer to these questions, relief from the immense burden of cognitive dissonance they carry every second, the cross that makes them all so miserable deep down inside. They just want something tangible for their struggle, not just Sunday promises and platitudes. Like any sane creature, they want some results. Everything should be going their way, easy peasy lemon squeezy, but it’s just…not. They pray and God doesn’t answer. They preach and no one listens. They try to stand up for their faith and no one respects them. You can’t call black people the n-word anymore. You can’t keep those Muslims out of the public square. The gays are everywhere. Everything and everyone is changing, but God sits up on His throne, silent as the grave, and I’m down here watching it all, waiting.

What’s that?

Mexicans are rapists? Yes, finally someone speaks the truth. Muslims are dangerous? Yes, a man after our own heart. He’ll put our people in the courts and put them back in their place? Yes, sign me up. Yes, Caesar, strike back in God’s name. Yes, do His will. We’ve been waiting for you. Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

How is that surprising?

How is that shocking?

How is that puzzling?

Christians are people. And people, if given a choice between power or principles, will always take the former. Power gets you what you want. Principles get you nothing, except some vague salvation some way off in the future after death, but I’m here now and my heart’s in the right place. After all, Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.

What’s a little blood?