Why Mass Effect 2 Sucks

Recently, Jonathan Drama’s brother, the esteemed Quintus Dellius, has been borrowing the Mass Effect series from me to play through. This simply opened up some old memories and wounds that I will probably never get over, in which like the revolutionary before me in Martin Luther, I shall dictate my grievances against the series in the games to follow the original. I first encountered Mass Effect about three years ago, when one of my friends told me to play the first one, and then subsequently the second at that point in time. The first Mass Effect is truly a masterpiece of its time. Although not a perfect game, the only things holding it back in my opinion where the smoothness of interactions and the graphics, which for a 2007 release were quite stellar. The second one I delved into shortly after the first, and I honestly stopped playing it about an hour into it, and had to pick it back up some time later to force my way through the beginning, like it was Assassin’s Creed. The third one I preordered way in advance, and was so excited for the release, only to be let down on the third day of playing it by the worst ending in any game I have ever played. For this week, I’m going to simply delve into Mass Effect 2 with my vitriol of the third to follow sometime next week. Fortunately, not everything in the sequels is bad (I did play through and probably will play through the series again), but to me they didn’t deserve the critical acclaim that was given. And here’s why.

Mass Effect 2

To me, the franchise ends right after Commander Shepard gets spaced. I’m dead and gone, see ya later, end of series. I get on with my real life, because my hero is dead. Which leads me into my first issue with the series (first title included). I hate that you can totally customize Commander Shepard. You shouldn’t let him be a her, or look like Samuel L, or have any first name you want. Because then the hero of the story is the gamer. And I don’t want a hero to be some moron who thinks the Mass Effect 3 ending was awesome. Give me a stock John 117, and then we’re golden. I like the customization, don’t like that “you’re the hero, save the galaxy!” Some kids don’t deserve to be heroes.

Secondly, Cerberus. Not only does the name make no sense (why did they decide to make them such a prominent factor in the game when they don’t even explain why they’re named after the three-headed dog that guarded the river Styx?), but Commander Shepard is totally okay with listening to the delusions of a terroristic mad man? Cerberus is a terrorist group. It would be like Iron Man dying and being brought back to life by the Ten Rings, and then after an explanation by the Mandarin on his world view, fighting for the Ten Rings. Whaaaaaaat?! IRL, Shepard puts a bullet into the Illusive Man’s brain and blows terrorists to kingdom come like George HW.

Thirdly, Miranda Lawson. In my second Marvel reference, the truth about her is just like Tony Stark puts it when arguing with Steve Rogers. “Everything special about you came out of a bottle.” She’s a petri dish, a science experiment, a robot. Genetically engineered to be the best at everything, looks, intelligence, combat, etc etc etc, she is nonetheless an immensely insecure character despite how she should probably have built-in protocols for security. What a freaking boring backwards character. The only reason they put her in this game was to give the fanboys a fantasy of something they’ll never have in real life. Especially because god forbid, they couldn’t include Ashley Williams again.

Fourth, the cover-up. Apparently, there was a massive coverup by the Council and Citadel government on how the attack by the Reaper Sovereign in Mass Effect was just a super big Geth ship. This is some straight up Michael Bay storytelling right here. Other than you know, the millions of people and government officials that were present on board the Citadel, not to mention the sophistication of recording devices and Reaper debris everywhere, there’s going to be a lot more evidence than any futuristic government can cover up to show that this mega attack that held entire fleets at bay is something a little more than Skynet robots burning down the house. Simply lazy storytelling.

Fifth, Harbinger. What a lame-ass villain. All this dude does is sit there and spew threats against you, and use this Collector General to speak. It’s not even clear that Harbinger is a Reaper, you just think he’s the general because that’s all you see. And he’s simply all talk. I delay his plans, kill thousands of his minions, and he continues to talk smack against me. Like bro, just shut up you haven’t beaten me yet. It’s like playing your little brother in a racing game. You’ve trounced him ten games in a row, and he’s always saying “again!” or “next time!”. Just no, I will own you every day. He’s got nothing on Mass Effect’s Sovereign, who was a pompous one cyborg assailant taking one for the team like a boss. The conversation you have with him on Virmire is just mind-blowing. You actually fear threatened and mystified as to what Sovereign can actually do. Harbinger is just Stewie Griffin saying “mommy” over and over again. Just shut up and go away, I’ll deal with you in my spare time.

6. Loyalty Missions. I understand how they’re supposed to have a bearing on the game, but if I’m supposed to be speeding around the galaxy trying to save human colonies from being raided by the Collectors, then I am quite sorry, but your little daddy issues, or ghosts from your past are gonna wait. You’ve signed onto my crew, for my mission, to follow my orders. And that means saving lives as fast as possible. To make things worse, the game is gonna punish me if I don’t hasten to my overall objective, by making my squad worse? Please. More bad storytelling. Do not create a game that’s a race against the clock when I can dilly dally for whatever amount of time I deem necessary to take care of personal issues my crew might have. We’re all big boys and girls, sometimes some things don’t get resolved in the name of the greater good. Like saving humanity.

Seventh. My squad. In the orignal Mass Effect, I had a hard time choosing my squad. Granted, Tali Zorah never joined my squad because she’s a space Jew that doesn’t have anything to offer, but I still had some great characters like Ashley Williams, Urdnot Wrex, Garrus Vakarian, Liara T’Soni. In the sequel, you have Garrus Vakarian. The only other two squad members who I would use either come in the DLC (Kasumi Goto) or last in the game (Legion). Grunt deserves to stay on ice the whole time. Jack is a weak attempt at making a character more than one-dimensional. Miranda is a robotic petri dish with a body like Kate Upton. Jacob is Kanye West without the talent or T-Swift disses. Mordin Solus is horrific in fights, and a motor mouth that doesn’t fully develop as a character in this game. Samara (or Morinth) is simply biotic cleavage. Thane Krios is a frog that does cartwheels in combat. Tali just likes to complain about her life trying to get Shepard to hit on her. And, if you know anything about Zaeed Massani, then you’re an idiot for actually talking to him. The characters are flat, and the game tries to force you to get to know them.

Eighthly, the removal of my inventory and the addition of ammunition. Granted, some of the Spectre gear from the original had ludicrous rates of fire and power, but if there’s one thing I hated it was scrounging for silly little heat clips and sitting there having to reload my gun and worry about ammo. There was nothing wrong with the original system, so why change it? And without a massive inventory like in the first installment, the game is inching toward a shooter than a true RPG. I liked picking up megatons of equipment and reducing all the garbage to truckloads of omni-gel. I liked not having “ammo powers” and being able to use a different type for each gun along with different mods for each. It’s an RPG, the more and the bigger, the better. Gimme my options!

Ninth. Electronic Arts. Which meant, at the time, online passes. Which got you access to the Cerberus Network, which has now been deactivated. Which means that even though the game was released only three years ago, there are some DLC that you can no longer get. It wasn’t necessarily good DLC, but neither were the maps Tombstone and Desolation for Halo 2 which were download only and are irretrievable. Doesn’t mean I don’t want it for completeness of the game’s sake. Also, EA ruins studios and games (see Pandemic Studios). I have no doubt that they had a hand in the demise of Bioware.

Ten. Fuel and probes. Why did they think it was a good idea to add fuel to the game, and the little mini-game that was hoping you didn’t run out of gas as you traversed systems? There was really no point other than to add a completely arbitrary problem to the game. And probing planets for resources and to find things might have been the worst idea possible. Who thought it would be fun to sit there and spam probes at planets for resources? It was way cooler to find a planet that you could land on in the Mako, and explore all around it by yourself running across random things and events on your way.

Who thought this looked like fun?

11. The little things. I loved being able to walk around the Citadel and the Presidium in the first one. Now my Citadel experience is reduced to the boring Wards? Give me a break, let me explore some more! Also, massive amounts of loading screens. When I just want to change floors on the Normandy, loading screen. When I go through a door, loading screen. It used to be an elevator ride or something instead of a loading screen, which felt like I was actually still playing in the game, not sitting and watching some screen with a spinning wheel of death. The races that they added to the game are also pretty dumb. Vorcha? Total space trash that contribute nothing but cannon fodder to the game. Drell? There are so few of them they don’t even have an overall impact on the game. Usually, when you add things into a great game, you want them to be improvements, not detractions.

As much as I didn’t like this game, I still own it and will probably play it again at some point in time, whenever I decide to make a run through all the Mass Effects. EA had a hand in the downfall of what would’ve been a great franchise, and one of the best space operas ever told, not simply just in gaming. They fixed a lot of the problems with the Mass Effect 2 for Mass Effect 3, but that didn’t stop the third installment from having its own smattering of issues. But, I’ve already gone way too in-depth and ranting/raving on this topic, so Mass Effect 3 will have to wait for another time.

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NFL Week 4 Picks

Last Week’s Record: 3-2  Overall Record: 8-7

Over .500…not bad.

Pittsburgh minus 2.5 at Minnesota (London) Matt Cassel is seemingly an upgrade over Christian Ponder but he is turnover prone and, believe it or not, Minnesota’s problem is not offense. They have been scoring points, their defense is the issue. The Steelers problem is their offense and I think this week is a perfect matchup to change their fortunes a little bit. Steelers win 24-13

Houston plus 2.5 v. Seattle – Some regard Seattle as the best team in the league but Houston needs this game coming off of a road blowout in Baltimore and Seattle is a different team on the road. I like Houston 23-17

Washington minus 3.5 at Oakland – Never trust an 0-3 road favorite but I think Washington will finally have a satisfactory matchup for thieir awful defense. Raiders are unsure of Pryor’s concussion health and McFadden has been as entertaining as Run DMC’s current rap skills. Washington 27-19.

Denver minus 11 v Philly Denver is 3-0 against the spread so far and the line is high but Philly just can’t stop anyone. I would not be shocked if they cover however because they can score but Denver can so easily win by three scores against any opponent than even money says Denver covers again this week at altitude. Denver 45-28

Atlanta minus 2 v New England: Gronkowski is not expected to play and Wes Welker is still playing for Denver so the Patriots are weapon-challenged. Ridley has been awful and Amendola is also on the shelf. This is a primetime game which usually favors New England but Atlanta is tough at home, especially coming off of a loss, and with the Saints undefeated the Falcons cannot afford to lose this game. Atlanta wins 30-27.

Top 5 Songs of the Week

In case you’re wondering what happened in music this week, I’m here to give you the 5 best songs released either as singles or as part of an album this week. Lets go.

1)  The Killers– “Shot At the Night”

I know you might be thinking that the Killers haven’t made anything good since their breakout album, “Hot Fuss”, but this song is a return that album’s 80’s feel and epic synth balladry.

2) The Royal Concept – “Gimme Twice”

This song has been a favorite of mine for a while, but was released this week on their EP entitled, “Royal”. For fans of The Strokes and Phoenix, for sure.

3) Ben Khan – “Eden”

An amazing little piece of electronic pop. Very similar to Jai Paul’s recent work.

4) Aloe Blacc – “Love is the Answer”

A bit of funky soul to end the week on a high note. The production from Pharrell has a great bounce, but gives Aloe the spotlight.

5) Phantogram– “Selling Nothing”

Seeing Phantogram live was pretty incredible. It’s been a long time since their first album, but this second track off the new album shows they are just as on top of their game as before.

BONUS TRACK:This track is not from this past week, but from last month, but its too great not too share. Enjoy!

John Legend – “Open Your Eyes”

 

My Favorite Lazy Saturday Video Game Missions

Have you ever had a wide open Saturday afternoon, where there was nothing to do outside because of the weather, and all that was on TV is garbage college football and re-runs of early 90’s movies? I can’t really say that I have, at least not for several years, but there was a time in my life where I would stare at my video game shelf and all my completed games and ponder what to play. Nowadays, I have an adult life and so many games to play (just on Xbox 360 I need to finish The Walking Dead Episodes 2-4, Dead Space 3, Batman Arkham City, Forza Horizon, Alan Wake : American Nightmare all the while needing to start Call of Duty Black Ops 2 while my attention now is wholly diverted to Grand Theft Auto V. And this isn’t even mentioning the 20 or so titles on original Xbox that I would love to get around to) that I don’t have time to go through some of my favorite games and their nostalgic replay value. But, if in such a fantasy land this were possible, here are the five missions I would choose to replay.

5. Star Wars Battlefront II – A Line in the Sand           

As a kid, this was the game that got me in the most trouble with my parents, and that I played the most. Back when I was 15 or so, on summer nights I would often steal my parents 20-year-old JC Penny television and put it in my room. Because they never used it, and it was usually sitting unplugged in their room, it would take a couple of days for them to realize that it went missing. By that time, I had already logged a good 10-15 hours playing Battlefront II, staying up late in the warm summer air blitzing my way through missions, and getting to the point where I was untouchable in this game. As far as the campaign goes, although not quite as solid an overall game as the original Battlefront, the storyline was far superior. In order to get the full realization of this mission, you have to play it on the hardest difficulty. Taking place on the planet of Kashyyyk, the most difficult parts originate from having to defend the oil fields (which have a finite amount of health) from a non-stop Separatist onslaught for about three minutes or so. While on lower difficulties you can just get in a tank and run a train, you’re dead in the water if you try this on hard, as the droid tanks will tear you a new one, while their buddies on foot will massacre the oil fields. It’s best to take out some rockets, lay mines, and get into the thick of things and just get messy to beat this mission. Once you defend the fields, you have to take the fight to the droid army using Yoda, who was in my experience the hardest Jedi to use thanks to the absence of saber throw and his small stature. And on hard difficulty, if you die as Yoda when the enemies focus their fire on you, you might as well give up because at that point the reinforcement count is so small that a comeback is next to impossible.

4. Mass Effect 2 – Suicide Mission

Mass Effect 2 wasn’t the best playing experience for me. I was massively disappointed with how it started following the masterpiece that was the original Mass Effect. The new ammunition, removal of the inventory system, and overall hijacking that EA did of the game didn’t make me too happy. There were plenty of bright spots in the game, but despite improved graphics and gameplay, it felt a lot clunkier to me. Still, some of the missions in the game were very well done, such as boarding the Collector ship or the derelict reaper. This includes the final mission, which if you played your cards right, not only did you get to have, um, “relations” with the mega-babe Miranda, but you got to save the galaxy afterward. Being able to choose who would go accomplish what task, such as scouting through the vents (always use Legion) and who creates the biotic shield (Samara or Jack if you desire victory), and seeing how exactly your actions and choices panned out were only part of what made this mission awesome. You also got to rescue your crew, shred Collectors with (if you chose it on the Collector Ship) the Widow sniper rifle, and lay waste to a human reaper with a nuke launcher. Plus, at the end you get to stick it to Martin Sheen, (I mean, The Illusive Man) and get yourself amped up for what was supposed to be an awesome third title.

3. Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare : All Ghillied Up

This has to be the best mission in any Call of Duty game made. One of the first ones I have personally ever played, this mission is just completely nail-biting. Crawling under trucks, through wasteland, under brush with a silenced pistol and sniper rifle, trying to remain completely off the grid by placing your shots and timing them perfectly, is just part of the experience that this mission offers. Plus, it’s one of the few missions where you get to play as series protagonist John Price, and it’s a good flashback that offers insight into the story. Having to make the shot that blows off Imran Zakhev’s arm by adjusting for wind and distance is one of the most difficult aspects of the game at first. After that shot, upon being discovered you have to escape to an extraction point while supporting the injured Captain Macmillian, all the while running and gunning with one free arm. It’s the perfect mid Saturday morning mission, right after pancakes and hot chocolate. I really need to be waking up earlier so that I can enjoy some of these things.

2. Halo 4 : Arrival

Although this is the most recent game by far, once this mission hit me I was immediately wowed, making it an instant classic in my mind. The second half of this game and storyline is simply brilliant, and starting a mission where I’m gunning through a Star Wars-esque trench run in a ship as the Master Chief, attempting to stop the Didact from reaching Earth is just so great. Then, I’m tasked with slaying my way through the Forerunner ship, picking up Gravity Hammers, Incineration Cannons and Binary Rifles along the way, while facing down hordes of Knights and Elite Battlewagons. To cap it off, Cortana is completely losing her mind, and decides to go crazy in the general direction of the Didact, who is busy assimilating the members of Earth to achieve his master plan. You inject Cortana into the system to digitally fight the Didact, and then burn your way through masses of Knights with a complete sense of urgency while the best score of any video game yet plays in the background. You come to the last terminal, and face down at least eight or nine Knights, one or two of which is always wielding an Incineration Cannon, and fight desperately for your life. The first time I played this on merely Heroic difficulty, I may have gotten slaughtered ten or eleven times in a row, before finally defeating the Knight Chieftain. Then with a sense of final victory, you get to blow the Didact to kingdom come, but are immediately captivated by the death of Cortana, who heroically takes one for the team to save the Chief. The gameplay, graphics, storyline, and cut scenes make this my favorite Halo mission yet.

1. Lord of the Rings : The Return of the King – Minas Tirith Top of the Wall

Along with Star Wars Battlefront II, this was my favorite game of my teenage years, aside from Halo. Based on, but released before New Line’s feature film, it’s amazing to play this game and remember that 10 years ago that these were cutting edge graphics. At its release, I didn’t yet own a new generation gaming console (being stuck playing NBA Shootout 2000 on PlayStation) so I could only play it in small amounts at the house of my friends or family. In fact, when I first actually bought this game around the age of 14 (about a year and a half after release), my parents forced me to sell it because they deemed it too violent for me, even though it was rated T for Teen. I played an excessive amount of it at my cousin’s house, who they at first didn’t have a memory card for their PS2. Which meant, in Sony’s nickel-and-dime-you-for-all-your-money plot, we could not save the game at any point whatsoever. So unless they kept the console on and paused at the game, we had to start over every single time. The furthest we had ever gotten was to this level, which on the Gandalf track of levels follows Helm’s Deep and The Road to Isengard. It involves playing as Gandalf on the top of the walls in Minas Tirith (as the level title would suggest), knocking down ladders and holding off being overrun by the forces of Mordor. The mini-map was at first rather difficult to decipher, but once you figured out where ladders were dropping and on what side the siege towers were advancing, the game got significantly easier. Apparently there’s a catapult somewhere on the map as well, which can be used to take down siege towers, but to this day I can’t recall how to get there, as instead I would use Gandalf’s ranged lightning attack to destroy them. It’s also possible to take down the flying Nazgul that terrorize the walls, but usually I would be so frantic to prevent being overrun that I paid them no mind. I take pride in the fact that I was the first one to beat this level on the memory card-less Playstation 2, advancing to the next level being Minas Tirith : Courtyard, before getting smashed to bits by trolls.

There are so many other games I could easily add, such as anything from Halo : Combat Evolved, Halo 3, Alan Wake, Mass Effect, Math Blaster, Commander Keen, KoTOR, or any GTA/Red Dead title, but these are the ones that happen to stick out in my mind. As the Pennsylvania weather gets colder, and if I possibly get bored with the massive amounts of titles that I currently have on my to-do list, maybe, just maybe, I will have to make some pancakes and hot chocolate, and play through a casual favorite flashback on a chilly Saturday morning.

Trimming the Fat: The Right Wing Agenda to Curb Excess Spending by Cutting the Grossly Unimportant Food Stamps Program

Have we lost our collective mind? Am I a communist because I used the word collective? The recent news outlining a 10  year proposal in the House to cut Food Stamps spending by $40 billion over that period provides a wonderful case study in the absurdity that is American Politics. The democrats are outraged because placing this program on the chopping block signifies a ruthless approach from the opposition to cut any program that funds Obamacare and that a staple of American social programs is negotiable in the first place. The republicans argue that the system is being schemed by lazy, undeserving omnivores looking to skip out on the grocery bill. I am outraged because people need to eat dammit. This is not a political bargaining chip, nor should it be a contentious issue from which Americans find themselves hopelessly divided. Approximately 4 million Americans will now lose their qualifications for food stamps. Luckily, says Speaker of the House Boehner, it will allow us to better manage our growing deficit-a masterfully manipulated scare tactic to justify any cost cutting (fat trimming) agenda item. People need to eat dammit. We can approach this issue from varied perspectives. We could prioritize what other programs or initiatives would be more justifiable pieces of meat of which the house could trim its fat, or we can discuss the implications that stem from this action’s justifications in the political and social sphere. Because our congressional leaders have approached this issue from neither of those two standpoints, we shall do both.

Get out your butcher’s knives and let’s slice up some spending.

DEFENSE SPENDING:  The United States spent nearly $700 billion in defense and military spending in 2012. That makes up 39% of all the military spending on a little place called PLANET EARTH. We spent more than four times as much than the number 2 on the list, the People’s Republic of China. When considering per capita figures, the average American (or on his or her behalf) spends 16 times the amount an average Chinese person spends on their government’s defense and military expenditures. The $4 billion a year that the House desires to cut from the Food Stamp program which would affect 4 million Americans is a mere .0057% or around half of a percent of annual defense spending. Hey military industrial complex…can you spare some change? America is hungry.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE and CONTRIBUTIONS: It’s seemingly very important that one must be elected before one can vote to take away American’s food stamps so how does this happen? Well, they raise a truckload of money. So much money that food just seems so microscopic in importance by comparison. The unlimited nature of election contributions and campaign financing leads to corporate and individual elite involvement on a scale that the average voter cannot comprehend. The process, in fact, belies the election process to that voter who doesn’t realize his vote is simply being bought and sold. Furthermore, that money infiltrates decision making and a lot of decisions are made based on the mantra of fat trimming and governmental efficiency. However, no one seems to be able to comprehend that that idea would lose an enormous amount of popularity as a campaign slogan and law making justification if the money that was poured into buying candidates and elections was available for the government to use to potentially…feed and care for its people.

CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLES: The person working for a multinational corporation “earning” minimum wage is paying their fair share of taxes and still can’t afford to eat (especially not anymore) and qualifies (or used to) for Food Stamps so their bosses are paying their fair share too right? Inexplicably wrong. A report detailing the prevalence and immense scale of corporate tax loopholes estimates that the U.S. will lose over $620 billion from 2010-2015 in potential tax revenue lost due to those moneys being qualified as tax expenditures (which is a bogus term used to describe loophole’d funds). Some popular examples include:

Deferral of Income from Controlled Foreign Corporations where Multinational Corporations hide profits in foreign countries deferring U.S. taxes and paying foreign taxes at preferential rates which will cost an estimated $172.1 billion over that aforementioned five year period,

Accelerated Depreciation of Machinery and Equipment: Corps can claim depreciation on equipment immediately which acts as an interest free loan from the Federal Government for the use of machinery and equipment corporations would be using anyway in order to make profit. This has an estimated 5 year cost of $51.7 billion in lost tax revenue.

Exclusion of Interest on State and Local Bonds: Companies are given tax credit so as not to pay double and state and municipal bonds in which cases they are involved in producing something for public consumption or benefit such as a stadium or a hospital at an estimated tax revenue loss over 5 years of $59.8 billion.

These examples show the rampant corporate impulse to withhold taxable profits from the government through the manipulation of loopholes in the corporate tax code. Closing or lessening the incentive to exploit these loopholes could feed many hard working slaves, I mean employees, of these multinational corporations that might lose their access to food stamps over the next 10 years.

Alright, so clearly there are other funds that have fit waiting to be trimmed that should have been addressed long before the Food Stamps program, but that was not the case and there are implications for this reality. Our political leadership has told us that two things: we cannot afford to pay for our citizens to eat, and that too many undeserving individuals are manipulating the system and ruining it for those who do need the help. The first implication is a moral one being framed in a political way which is outrageous. As I stated earlier, using this issue as a political bargaining tool is inhumane and that is precisely what is occurring here. The republicans have sent a message to the democrats just as they will with all Obamacare related legislation and that message is telling Americans that some of them do not deserve help to eat today. Digest that….

The second implication that needs to be discussed is the idea that there is always a moocher that is ruining the party for everyone else. I hate this antiquated fearmongering tactic because it doesn’t make any sense. If there really is a person who is going through a few LOOPHOLES (sounds familiar) in order to barely qualify for food stamps, would you trade places with him? The cast of the Kardashians is not forging paperwork so they can get free food. It’s just so absurd to believe that nonsense that hungry people who have no money and are trying to avoid homelessness or unemployment and can afford maybe a meal a day don’t deserve assistance. Beyond that asinine sentiment is the illogical nature of the idea that that perceived freeloader is ruining it for those who really need the help. How? We clearly can afford to do more and cut more in order to do so, so if you truly believe that someone is unjustly receiving food stamps assistance how can the appropriate response be to slash spending for the program entirely when you are admitting that there are those who truly need its help. In that case, which is the case in reality, the republicans are just shifting blame to imaginary people who are supposedly exploiting loopholes and drying out the food stamp well when actually, lawmakers are the ones that chose to drain that well in the first place. Making a dry well more shallow is not going to yield more water my friends. So, before we debate who should go hungry and who shouldn’t, why don’t we collectively trim the fat from the true freeloaders (the corporations), the morally malnourished (Congress), and the morbidly obese defense contracting subsidiaries. So next time you hear someone say, but what about the national debt? You say to them, “People have to eat, dammit.”

The Cultural Impact of Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve written a review on the gameplay and how much fun Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V is, and what I liked and didn’t like about it. But now, we have to examine the impact this game has on our current culture. And it’s going to have an impact for certain.

In the first 24 hours of being on sale, GTA V sold 13 million copies. 13 million. According to the 2010 Census, the United States has 308 million people in it. That means that roughly one in twenty-four people living in America bought the game within its first day of release. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that two million of those people (a liberal estimate) live outside of America. Still, that would mean that exactly one in twenty-eight people bought the game within this country.

Now let’s break it down via age demographics. Again, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that out of people age 45 and over, only 500,000 people bought this game on the first day. Countrywide, citizens age 45 and over make up 120 million members of the population. That decreases our ratio to 10.5 million copies sold, against 188 million. Which, is practically one in every eighteen people bought the game so far. Then, we’ll take out the youngest demographic. There are 74 million legally defined children (under the age of 18) in the United States. If split evenly, that means there are 4.1 million humans per each year. Again, we’re going to assume that kids age 0-10 did not buy this game at all, which amounts to another 41 million. We’re down to 10.5 million copies per 147 million, which is a ratio of 1 to every 14 people. Even though the game is rated “M” for Mature, and you are supposed to be over 18 years old to buy it, I’m allowing the age bracket of 11-18 because of the irresponsibility of parents and the greediness of companies to want to sell the game. So far, in America, one person in every fourteen (of the age bracket 10-44) has bought the game Grand Theft Auto V in its first 24 hours of release.

To break it down even further, we’re going to throw gender into the equation. Male-female ratios in the United States are very close according to the Census (49.2% males to 50.8% females), so we’re going to call it a 50/50 split, so 73.5 mil for both guys and gals. Let’s say, one sixth of girls ages 11-44 bought the game, which turns out to be 12.25 million, or 12% of the total 147 million. Which according to the ratio, means that 12% of the 10.5 million copies were sold to females ages 11-44. or 1.26 million. To finally simplify that ratio, it means that there are 9.24 million copies left to the 73.5 million males aged 11-44. Basically, that means one in every eight males aged 11-44 in the United States bought Grand Theft Auto V in its first 24 hours of being on sale.

Granted, this is based on A LOT of assumptions, and numbers/percentages that I personally made up. However, I don’t think these figures are terribly far from the truth. I do not believe that I concocted unreasonable numbers for the sake of creating “controversy”. These numbers are based on Rockstar Games revenue numbers of $800 million of sales generated in the first day, which generally equates to 13 million copies sold. I could calculate for margin of error, but I’ve done enough math in a blog post for the day. Of course, these numbers assume that all copies of the game sold for $60 a piece, as the Special and Limited editions were put on sale for $80 and $150 each, however these versions, as the title would imply, are limited.

What does this mean for our society? GTA V is an amazingly well done game. It was created with piles of talent, time, and money, at an award-winning studio known for quality products. Quality aside, it’s fun, and extremely addicting even without its amazing critical components. The world that Rockstar has created is simply fantastic, as evidenced by its amazing reviews and insane sales. My only hesitation here is the content. It’s a game that although there are a million PG things to do, there are a lot of R or NC-17 or X things you can do. Getting into an SUV and running over pedestrians, engaging the police in gun battles, or going to strip clubs are things that you can do very easily, and that everyone who plays the game does. Is it better that gamers are doing this on a virtual reality than in reality? Obviously. But anyone who would claim that playing this game for in effect, multiple days, does not affect them, is a complete liar. On some level, all of these negative (albeit, fun in virtual reality) acts, studies have shown, do compromise the human brain. And as my statistics cite, there are going to be a lot of boys of all sorts of ages (some more impressionable than others) that are going to be playing the crap out of this title.

Another accusation heaped upon games like this is that it desensitizes people to things such as meaningless violence and frivolous sexual encounters. And although this is true, you have to look at the current definition of sensitivity. With the day and age that my generation is surrounded in, the definition of what should and shouldn’t affect you on a personal level has changed. We are exposed to so much more information, mostly on the television and the internet, in ways we cannot avoid in basic daily lives. Because the world is a broken, rotten place, the things that are going to make headlines and that are going to sell are criminal acts, violence, and tragedy. We no longer live in an age where we hear about news via word of mouth, or read about it in the Sunday paper. It’s right in front of us, accessible, and forceful in our daily lives. Living any sort of normal “American” life is impossible, if you make an out-and-out attempt to avoid the main sources of desensitization. We have to re-examine our definition of sensitivity for our generation. To the generation of my parents or grandparents, yeah, I agree that we’ve completely built up a resistance and a commonplace demeanor toward sex, crime, and violence. But to my generation? This is simply normal, this is life. That doesn’t make it right, but it’s the way it is and is going to be. Unless you choose to live (and then die) in a bus in Alaska, you are going to be exposed to major forms of desensitization in everyday life.

I know for myself, that this game and others that I have played have affected me to some degree. Does this mean I’m going to go on a grand theft mission, or a shooting spree at a strip club? Personally, no. I can speak for myself and know what I am and am not capable of, and am in enough of a control of my actions to never do such a thing, especially when you see the consequences not just in the news, but in the game itself. Can it affect others though, who have more volatile or impressionable personalities? I think so, and it has. There have been numerous thefts and murders in the past, where the accused cited Grand Theft Auto as to where they learned or got their inspiration for their deeds. Does that make Grand Theft Auto evil? I don’t think so, at least not inherently. The same argument could be made that The Dark Knight franchise is evil for inspiring the Aurora shooting. Although extremely critically acclaimed, like GTA, it inadvertently caused irreparable harm on a bunch of human lives.

Which brings me to the bottom line. Grand Theft Auto V is a GAME. It sold a stupid amount of copies, and it’s scary how many young males will have the game according to my assumed statistics. It needs to be recognized however, that it is simply not reality, and something fun to do. You get together with your friends and have fun while playing online, but you have an actual life outside of the game. Go volunteer, play a sport, go to work, hang out with your friends or family, sleep, go out to dinner, just don’t let this game consume you, and you should be fine. Don’t model your life after this game, and take it at complete face value. You aren’t one of the games characters, so don’t try to be. It’s going to be criticized, and there are going to be people who commit dastardly deeds thanks to its influence, and it really is a shame. The fact of the matter is, a game called Homeless Shelter Volunteering isn’t going to be as fun as Grand Theft Auto because in GTA you do things which in normal life, you aren’t allowed to do. Let’s just be thankful that some people express their disobedience for the law through virtual reality only. Take the game for the fun it’s worth, and have a real life outside of your gaming console, and then maybe, just maybe, we can have some fun without anyone getting hurt.

NFL Week 3 Picks

Last Week: 3-2 Overall: 5-5

Philadelphia minus 3 v Kansas City. The Philadelphia Eagles spoiled their own home opener by not covering…anyone! The Kansas City Chiefs are a more balanced and limited offensive attack that will not be able to throw for 300 plus yards with Alex Smith at the helm. As long as Jamaal Charles doesn’t break off large runs and Michael Vick remains upright, the Eagles will win this one 31-23.

Minnesota minus 6.5 v. Cleveland. Goodbye Trent Richardson, hello Brian Hoyer. The Cleveland Browns offensive situation is offensive. They have a good defense but Peterson alone should be able to outscore the Browns. Minnesota Vikings 21-10.

New Orleans minus 7.5 v. Arizona. The Arizona Cardinals won last week. Chances are that lowers the probability of that event recurring this Sunday. New Orleans Saints are tough at home and the offense is yet to show its signature breakout ability and I think that will be showcased this week against the Cardinals. Saints win 45-24.

Baltimore plus 3 v. Houston. No Ray Rice? No problem. The Houston Texans could easily be 0-2 and so could the Baltimore Ravens, but I like Baltimore at home to eke this one out. Torrey Smith has a breakout game and the hampered abilities of Arian Foster lead to offensive stagnation for the Texans. Ravens 20-16.

Seattle minus 19.5 v Jacksonville. TEBOW TEBOW TEBOW. Oh wait, not yet. The Jacksonville Jaguars are pathetic, Maurice Jones-Drew is hurt and Blaine Gabbert is out (which might make this bet worse). The Seattle Seahawks are true birds of prey at home and will set up scores with their defense and Russel Wilson, along with Beastmode Marshawn Lynch will contribute to a blowout. Seattle 38-3

The Land of Opportunity?

We all know them.  The stereotypical, cliché sayings about America.  Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, The Great Melting Pot, A Land of Opportunity.  These sayings stir national pride in most Americans.  However, are these just old, crazy sayings that we say in order to hearken back to some bygone age of glory and nationalistic fervor? Is America really a place where an individual can come and be free?  Do we really cherish the sacrifices made by our heroes, here and abroad?  Does America really embrace diversity?  Do we as a nation celebrate each other for our differences?  Is America the place that provides equal opportunity for its citizens to succeed?  I think that these are very valid questions, not only for the nation as a whole, but for us personally.  I want to beg you not to misread me here.  I am not saying that I hold disdain for the many freedoms that I have under the Constitution.  Moreover, I am definitely not saying that I do not appreciate the sacrifice that thousands of men and women make daily so that I can enjoy these freedoms. I’m simply asking questions about how America really works.

Now, through the process of reaching my dream of making it big (in social work) (sarcasm), I have constantly been challenged to think on these questions.  Social Justice is one of the main Social Work Core Values.  Thus, in relation to this post I am rather biased on this hot button issue for myself, because I think that this is an important issue that should be talked about on all levels.

America.  This brings up a lot of different things for a lot of different people.  Should it ever be thought of as cruel, oppressive, or unfair?  I personally don’t think so.  Personally, I think that America should be thought of as a beautiful country, one that provides a level ground for individuals looking to better themselves.  A place that one can come to and find security and refuge from any circumstance.  It should be thought of as a country that takes care of its own.

Henry Kissinger recently posted something online that was in the same vein of things I have seen popping up all over social media.  These posts have been addressing our current Welfare system and how, in essence, they are sick and tired of having to pay for “takers”, individuals who use the system to support themselves when they are fully capable of getting a job.  This is such a fascinating perspective.  The assumptions that fuel this line of thinking are mostly based on personal experiences.  Whether these are people that we know/heard of that “use” the system, or simply just our life experiences and how we have seen life work.  Usually I would be like, “hey that’s your opinion and that’s cool,” but it really isn’t.  Webster defines greed as “the selfish desire to have more of something (usually money)”. People don’t like the “takers” because it’s their thought that they are having their money, time, or whatever, taken from them just for people to leech off the system. I do not think that this is an inherently bad quality to have the ambition or hunger for more, but it definitely is a slippery slope to desire things for personal gain at the expense of others. (In broad historical scopes, see Jackson and the Cherokee, Napoleon, Hitler, Cortez, Escobar, etc.)

As a white, middle class, male who lives in a suburban/rural area, my life has been pretty easy.  There was nothing really standing in my way of the things that I wanted to do with my life.  Even when I was in middle school, college was just a given.  That is what you do after high school.  And when we take a look at my primary and secondary education it was pretty darn good.  The teachers were all well-trained and we had fantastic learning materials: new books, mobile laptop carts, Smart boards with projectors in almost every classroom.  I mean our school was decked out with some pretty sweet things that made learning fun and interesting.  The staff of the school was fantastic, really loved doing their jobs and had a passion for the students.  This education really prepared me for what I would experience when I eventually attended college.  If this was the same across the board for every American, then yes Henry, it would be unfair for you to pay to support those who have had the same amount of chances as you, in similar circumstances.  Unfortunately for everyone, this is not even close to reality.

The fact of the matter is that we all know of schools where we would never want to send our kids, neighborhoods in which we would never want to drive through, let alone live in.  And we all know the “kind of people who live in those neighborhoods, and go to those schools.  And they deserve it, don’t they?  If they would only get a job, then they could move out to the suburbs, and then their kids could go to better schools.  And then I could finally stop paying for their housing, food, health insurance, addiction, etc.  Since they do not contribute, then they should bear the full weight of their incompetence, why should we that work, and work hard, pay for their laziness or petty wants?  If they actually wanted to be contributing members of society, then they should have their basic rights to survival, correct?

I want to take us back to the questions in the beginning, is everyone starting from the same place?  Let me set it up for us.  You live in the city, and we aren’t talking Upper Manhattan here. For those of you Susquehanna Valley’ers, think Reading or Altoona or Allison Hill in Harrisburg.  You have been born into a family without money.  So naturally your apartment complex or project is not adequate for your, or anyone’s needs.  Over-crowded, poor maintenance, “bad part of the neighborhood”, the odds are stacked against you.  Your mom works two minimum wage jobs in order to support your family, because your dad walked out on your family before you were born.  Your mother also had to drop out of high school when she was pregnant with your older sibling, thus limiting her potential job opportunities.  Even though she works two jobs it is still not enough to pay for everything, so you have to stand in a different line than your friends in school for your lunch.  Because your mom does not have time, you have never applied for a Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  So, when you get sick you don’t go to the doctor and have to miss extra days of school.  Because of your tardiness, due to lack of transportation, and persistent inability to focus, you are tracked as needed extra support.  As a result of this you then are separated from your friends in school because you have to attend special programs and classes, so that your school does not lose their already scarce funding.  Little does the school know, your lack of attention in class is a result of never having enough to eat.  The embarrassment of being the “poor kid” that gets the “unfair” free lunch is too much for you, your friends mean the world to you.  The school is so concerned about test scores and funding because they are already working with textbooks that are over 10 years old and in poor condition, and their class sizes average 40 or more students.  The teachers are usually either right out of college or those that other schools do not want, so dealing with “problem children” is usually not high on their priority list.  (There are still some great teachers that work in inner-city school districts) Because of your age and wanting to fit in, you begin rebelling as you grow up.  You get mixed up in the “wrong crowd” and your school work suffers even more.  Your home life is as volatile as ever.  Your mother is doing what she can but she is not around enough to really be a contributing part of your life and your older sibling wants nothing to do with you because you are not cool enough to hang out with them.  As a result you begin to look for love in other places.  Because of your ignorance regarding safe sex and inability to obtain contraceptive devices, you start a family as a teenager.  Rinse and Repeat the whole process.  Is this your fault?  Really?

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re not wrong.  This is a completely fabricated story and there are a lot of things that might not be true, as this point is only made for the sake of argument.  But there are a lot things that are more common than we think.  And the bottom line is when we see someone, do we ever really know what they have had to deal with to be in the place that they are.  The answer is no.  This story is an example of how it may be out of someone’s control, or capability to really and truly “pull themselves up by their boot straps.”

This brings me full circle.  Do any of us pull ourselves up by the boot straps?  I mean the only person that I can think of that truly did this would be like, Abe Lincoln, who wasn’t as underprivileged growing up as we are led to believe, and he was still white.  The rest of us receive immense help from the government.  Public Schools, tax breaks, subsidies for big business, banking and SEC regulations, etc.  Does that mean that because you were born into a certain family, you are better than others?  Is that what it comes down to?  Because your family makes more money, you’re a better person?  Because your school was funded properly, you get to judge?  Because you have white skin, you get to discriminate?  Because you were given what you need to succeed, you can expect success from those who weren’t?  I think that we need to check ourselves as a nation. We need to think to ourselves, have I really thought about, researched, or talked to anyone who has had a different experience in life than I have?  What if the tables were turned, would I want to be judged and discriminated against for things that are outside of my control? How can I really know how I would react in the same scenario without actually being placed in it?

Talk to your friends about this.  Talk to people who think different from you about this.  Talk to everyone about this.  Think about these things, and keep an open mind. Because someone else has had a different experience and opinion than you, doesn’t mean you should slam the door shut on them. To wrap up, how do we make America the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,  a true and celebrated Melting Pot,  a place where everyone can experience the Land of Opportunity? I personally don’t have the answer to this, but through open-minded dialogue and taking appropriate action, I think we can strive toward this perceived goal.

Grand Theft Auto V : A Review So Far

One of the most anticipated games of the year by gamers and conservative critics alike (to criticize for its absence of morality, not its gameplay), Grand Theft Auto V was finally released after nearly four years of development, yesterday. Personally, I stood in line for about half an hour to receive my pre-ordered copy at midnight on Tuesday at my local game store with a group of friends who had done the same thing. I even took all of Tuesday off work so that I could stay up and play with my friend, who we’ll refer to as Happy. We invested about six and a half hours into the game (until it was light out), and then caught some Z’s before I resumed to play for a little bit during the day. Through about 12 hours of gameplay, I’ve managed to complete about 21% of the story, but haven’t yet managed to even scratch the surface of this deep and hugely expansive game.

The first thing I will say, is that if you’re a parent reading this and your kid is playing this game and is under the age of 18, you may want to re-evaluate your parenting techniques rather quickly. Although there is so much you can peacefully do in this game (hunting, racing, flying airplanes, playing tennis, golfing, yoga, deep-sea diving, buying property, investing in the stock market), the game is obviously entitled Grand Theft Auto. Which means, it’s going to have many criminal components that you can’t really get around. This title specifically is centered around bank heists, coming in the wake of the current recession, and how three characters revert to their criminal ways to provide for their lives. Although the multiplayer content of the game isn’t going to be launched until October 1st, below I’m going to review the pros and cons of the game so far in my opinion.

Pros

1. Three Main Characters. After experimenting with new characters in the expansions for Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar Games decided to incorporate three main characters into GTA V, following the positive reception of the expansions and the intertwined storylines of the characters. While there are available missions for each character, you as the player have the ability to change between characters at your own discretion. If you’re getting bored with one, then just switch to another. This helps pace the game a lot faster, as you aren’t grinding through the game with one character and endless missions seen through their eyes as it seemed at times in GTA IV.

2. Largest, Most Detailed Map Yet. Rockstar has said that the playable area for this game is so large, that it could envelop the arenas from the past three games combined (Red Dead Redemption, GTA IV, GTA San Andreas). There are mountains, rivers, deserts, army bases, ports oceans, bridges, and the city of Los Santos (modeled after Hollywood/Los Angeles) all in one setting. It’s utterly massive, and thanks to the return of the ability to fly planes, the airspace has to be huge to allow such an arena.

3. Vehicles! The thing that irked me about GTA IV was that following (in my opinion) the best installment in the franchise in San Andreas, the vehicles took a step backwards. I couldn’t fly Harrier jets in IV, and that’s all I really wanted. The best part about V is that now you can do all that and more. After only being able to drive cabs of tractor trailers in IV, you can now drive full on semi trucks. Or logging trucks. Or 18 wheelers. You can also drive dune buggies, dirt bikes, ATVs, buses, firetrucks, ambulances, tanks, jeeps, halftracks, Humvees, or pretty much any type of car you can think of. You can also fly planes, blimps, fighter jets, C-130s, news helicopters, police helicopters, Apaches and Chinooks. Finally, you have the ability to pilot watercraft such as sailboats, yachts, speedboats, jet skis, and even possibly submarines.

4. It’s the Little Things. You know how in Call of Duty, you can add attachments to guns and change their skins? Well in GTA V, you can do all of that, and it’s only one small aspect of the overall scheme of customization. You can customize cars so specifically it’ll remind you of Forza, and you can customize your character in a way reminiscent of The Sims. You’re also handed a real smart phone that you can find side missions on the internet with, as you receive emails and texts and can surf the web, even being able to take selfie pictures with it. And this is all without mentioning the skills meters that were added for each character, in which you can choose to take place in different activities to advance your skills, giving your character better RPG-like abilities in-game. These include driving, flying, shooting and running, among others. You can hone all these skills by going to a shooting range, participating in races or triathlons, and by playing tennis, golf, or swimming.

5. It’s Rockstar. Which means, there’s going to be easter eggs all over the place, and even more little things than I listed above that you’re going to be able to waste hours and hours on. The spaceship and spaceship parts, along with some possible alien presence is already being discovered, but I can pretty well assume that won’t be all. And that’s not even touching the multiplayer aspect, which when that launches I’m sure will be absolutely stellar, especially if you have a good amount of friends to play with.

Cons

1. The Reticule. The shooting reticule is really rather annoying. The reticule for GTA IV was decent, although not perfect. For Red Dead Redemption however, it was perfect, just being a solitary white dot that you aim on the screen. It’s basically the same exact reticule for GTA V as Red Dead, but it doesn’t play the same for some reason. Perhaps it’s the brightness on my screen, and I should adjust it, but there are times where it seems really hard to see and difficult to aim, especially when blending in with lighter colors. This is a royal pain when aiming for the bullseye at the target range with a pistol, as it’s a bright yellow color.

2. The Graphics. Scenery is great graphically, and so is the entire atmosphere and universe (thunderstorms are particularly awesome). However, unless they’re trying to stick with a retro-esque GTA style, the styling and detail on people and characters in the game seems like only a slight upgrade from GTA IV which was launched six years ago. I’ll always say that the graphical realism of Red Faction : Armageddon should be the industry standard, no matter how lame that final product turned out to be.

3. The Radio Stations. So far, I have found the radio stations to be rather sub-par. Although there is a good mix of west coast rap and hip-hop (NWA, Snoop, Dre, 2Pac, Kendrick Lamar), there doesn’t seem to be that great of an assortment on the other stations. I don’t terribly care for country (although there was a Johnny Cash song) or hispanic music, dance, electronica, funk, or even their talk radio. My favorite station in GTA IV was Liberty Rock Radio, which had Smashing Pumpkins, ZZ Top, The Who, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Motley Crue and ELO all featured. GTA V’s counterpart, Los Santos Rock Radio is rather lacking, and doesn’t have a ton of real classic rock. I don’t count Phil Collins or Elton John as classic rock, and would rather have the harder assortment that IV had than the pansy array of V. There’s still the Steve Miller Band, Queen, and Foreigner, but nothing stands out as terribly fascinating. And I’m really going to miss Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” from IV. Plus, I can’t make my own radio station yet, and the interface for changing stations is really annoying.

4. It’s Rockstar. Which means, you’re going to have to wait to get online and play in gangs with your friends. Those two weeks in between game launch and online launch are painful, although it makes sense for them to do it as a company so that you familiarize yourself with the game and play the main product. It also means that you aren’t going to be rewarded for playing any of their other games. One thing I love is when studios give you bonuses in their new games as a thank you for playing (or finishing) their older games. It could be as simple as a cash bonus, or a car, or some type of gun. Who wouldn’t love to be able to use the Buffalo Rifle from Red Dead as a thank you for beating that game?

As you might be able to tell, the Pros are rather substantial and large portions of the game, and the Cons are nitpicky reasons that don’t really detract from the overall product. What does that mean? It means that overall, Grand Theft Auto V is an addicting masterpiece, a game that where it lacks in morality, it more than makes up in intelligent design and cohesive quality. And with still 79% of the game remaining for me to play, and the entire multiplayer experience as well, this title is going to see some major time in a lot of people’s consoles for some time to come. 9.7/10

NFL Week 2 Picks

Last Week’s Record: 2-3 Overall Record: 2-3

Shaky start, but here goes.

Houston minus 9 v. Tennessee. Jake Locker on the road can’t be good two weeks in a row right? Houston will run the ball to set up the pass and win by two scores. 38-17

Atlanta minus 6.5 v St. Louis. Atlanta needs this game and St. Louis narrowly escaped against the Cardinals last week. Atlanta is an incredible team at home. The Roddy White injury is damaging but don’t underestimate Stephen Jackson’s energy level going up against his former team. 34-20

Denver minus 4.5 at Giants. Peyton will stay undefeated in the Manning bowls. Neither team knows who will run the ball for them but luckily that’s why they have the Mannings to throw it. Of the two, Peyton is better than Eli and with the longer layoff after starting last Thursday that means more time to prepare. Giants secondary is not great. They need the D-Line to win the game if they are to win. 28-23

Washington plus 7 at Green Bay. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Packers win here but this is just too much to turn down. Green Bay doesn’t have a defense and Washington found a rhythm in the second half on Monday night.  Packers 31-28

Dallas plus 3 at Kansas City-This is an incredibly perplexing matchup. Dallas is a crapshoot on the road and K.C. is largely unknown. Kansas City was not incredibly crisp and efficient on offense last week and I think Dallas will be able to run on them and control the game, while Smith won’t be able to lead the comeback although it may be close. Dallas 24-20