Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook and the Stigma of the "Other"

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting a lot of media focus has been on mental care in the US, and not in a good way. The focus has been making punitive measures against those who would dare to have something be "not right" with them and ensuring that they lose even more of their rights. The same thing happens almost every major act of violence, the first step is to assign a sense of "otherness" to the assailant: he was a gang member, he was Islamic, he was mentally unwell, etc. Once this blame on some "issue" has been placed the media sets its fucking sights on this minority culture and finds every way possible to blame every world ill on it: how welfare creates a criminal class, how we "apologize" to Islamic nations, how psychological treatment is not reals, any attack on what our culture sees as an "entitlement". Of course this is bullshit and just a refusal to see that the real entitlements go to selfish SAWCSMs (Straight, Ablebodied, White, CiSgendered, Male): Rather than acknowledge that everyone is ENTITLED to a decent life, we make sure to vilify the poor as lazy; rather than let everyone be ENTITLED to their own religious beliefs we find the most extreme elements of other belief systems and attribute it to the whole group; rather than let everyone be ENTITLED to some basic feeling of happiness, society tells us we have nothing to be upset over and to just "go out into the world". While mental health does suck in the US, this is all simply a derail to avoid confronting a culture that feels entitled to guns and a culture that affirms a definition of "manliness" defined by power and violence towards others and this needs to change. Of course any attempt to change the culture is seen as (lol) misandry (just look as seminars telling people to not rape is "labeling all men as rapists") and there's no way to change this unless we are relentless in sending messages out to change.

As a personal note for the last 10 years I was conditioned to seeing my depression as a problem, I had to deprecate myself to fit in while being left to fight my personal demons and daily thoughts of self-harm/suicide alone. Last week I finally sought treatment as a last resort and I have literally never felt more free than I do now. So a huge FUCK YOU to everyone who marginalized and belittled me and I don't want anyone else to go through what I have and labeling anyone with a mental health issue as a future killer sure as fuck won't help.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do You Feel Like a Hero?

Do You Feel Like a Hero?  - My (Belated) Spec Ops:  The Line "Review"


With the exception of the original Ghost Recon, I have avoided every game that falls into the category of a "modern military shooter" for a few reasons:
1)  I don't really find running around the Middle East and killing terrorists particularly engaging or fun.
2)  I play video games partially for an escape and a lot of gunshots, blood, and death doesn't exactly do that.
3)  I value my video game time as a solitary experience and generally dislike multiplayer which is the main reason the genre exists.
So when Spec Ops:  The Line was released earlier this year I didn't even give it a second look due to its genre.  Luckily for me someone whose opinion I respect when it comes to writing/storytelling (Jesse Mason, @killgoldfish) convinced me to play the game.


"Yes, there is darkness to come.  But take heart, the storm will soon break"
-Konrad's final orders to the 33rd

We'll just get the actual gameplay out of the way first:  it's passable, but nothing exciting.  The only new mechanic they introduce is the use of breaking windows to "drown" your enemies in sand, but the execution is super confusing and you only have to make use of it around three times throughout the entire course of the game (these sand sections were the source of the majority of my deaths, :().  Otherwise, it's just a very ordinary third person shooter (with a slightly buggy cover system that sometimes doesn't do what you expect).  The game is not worth playing for the gameplay alone and if it didn't come so highly recommended I would have quit at around the two hour mark since the game takes time to pick up and the first 50% or so of playtime is your generic MMS (this is on purpose though, as will be addressed later).


"And yet, they still take time to smell the dying roses"
-Radioman, intel on the citizens of Dubai

The game's story is also pretty mediocre.  It's obviously supposed to be a "contemporary" (but alternate timeline) take  on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but has nowhere near the power of the original text or the other famous contemporary take on the story, Apocalypse Now.  The story, at times, seems like it has a lot of potential, but then the heavy-handedness of the developers shows up and dashes any hope of that.  The developers want you to know that war has consequences and people die.  They want you to know it so much that they make you walk (they don't let you use the run command in these portions of the game)  through corridors of dead bodies at least four times (I honestly lost count) as well as a few hallucinations where you see enemies looking like your team members (but kill them anyways).  On top of the heavy-handedness of the overall message, the ending is basically as cliche as you can get with the major revelation that the antagonist was dead the whole time and you've been carrying around the phone Rick uses to talk to Lori while a number of the events you've gone through in the game have been an illusion  (which makes no sense given how your team members reacted to the events, especially when you had to pick which prisoner to execute, unless that was all also an illusion) which is the most intellectually unsatisfying ending imaginable.  The story is still a drastic improvement compared to the usual privileged white American male fantasy of killing thousands of Brown people so it's not a complete flop, just not as good as it should be.

There are still a number of things the story does well though.  The voice acting is top notch and the characters are well developed as things spiral more and more out of control.  While walking through bodies multiple times dampens the emotional impact, there is one point where the player is given control of essentially a drone to bomb your enemies with white phosphorous (you have to kill every dot on the map or else you fail the mission) to then have to walk through a street of burning corpses only to discover that over half of the casualties you caused are civilians.  Another powerful scene is the point outside the radioman's base where the radioman tells you a small bit of backstory about every soldier killed (relevant xkcd).

Why the Game is Incredible

"Where's all this violence comin' from man?  Is it the video games?  I bet it's the video games"

While the gameplay and story of Spec Ops are nothing special, the game is simply groundbreaking in how it interacts with the player.  Contemporary video games, much like premodern paintings, act as a "window" into the world of the game with the intent of placing you in the "shoes" of one of the characters.  Impressionism, just like Spec Ops  was a completely uninspiring movement in terms of the quality of the final products (people who have Monet's Water Lillies as their favorite painting have no taste), but it was the first movement to embrace the medium:  they shattered the view of a painting as a window and instead embraced the canvas as a flat space.  Rather than use optical tricks to present the painting as a representation of something physical, the movement chose to purposely "flatten" the image onto the canvas.  The depth previously created by using perspective techniques was instead replaced by taking advantage of the physicality of the medium itself:  if something was supposed to be thick, you just used more paint.  Spec Ops then is the first game to take advantage of being a game (plenty of other games, just like many premodern paintings, broke the 4th wall and acknowledged the medium).

Spec Ops take on the morality/choice system is the most obvious example of this:  in the beginning of the game your choices simply do not matter and the game goes out of its way to show this to you.  The most jarring example is when you are presented with the choice to save someone who has important intel or to save two civilians (after watching a third be executed).  No matter which path you choose (the game took me an extra few hours because I chose to replay each choice multiple times to confirm my suspicions) everyone ends up dead and you end up with no intel.  While having choices that don't really matter is nothing new (not hiding the fact might be novel, but that's not a huge deal), it's what the game does starting at around the three hour mark that is:  it presents choices where there is only one allowable decision.  This is not the same thing as having no choice though, it's very obvious to the player that at any point the team could have just walked away from everything, but that choice was never yours to make since the choices are made by the characters in the game.  This removal of choice therefore serves a very important purpose in that it removes you from the position of a character and instead puts you in the position of observer making the game function as interactive fiction in the truest sense and, with this realization, all the game mechanics that originally seemed odd or quaint suddenly fit perfectly.  The third person perspective wasn't implemented just for the cover-based combat, but was to show that you're just along for the ride and function as an "invisible" party member.  The lack of an in-game soundtrack which is instead replaced by a radio station blasting across Dubai is suddenly the only way to implement music in the game while keeping the 4th wall intact.  Even the beginning credits, which cast you as a "special guest" along with your Steam username, play a role in establishing your role in this game as the aforementioned observer.

Spec Ops knows this reveal is a big deal and sets it up beautifully.  For the first few hours of the game the player can see themselves as the protagonist as he's the "hero" traditionally associated with the MMS genre.  It is only after the killing of a large number of civilians that the player realizes that he is not anywhere close to a hero and they're going to be dragged along for the ride.  The irony of Walker continually claiming to have had "no choice" but to do what he has done coincides with the player having less and less choices and the realization that Walker has had every chance, every opportunity to just leave and go home that frustrates the player as they wish more and more they could make it for him.  Instead, the player must endure hours more of senseless killing as they step further and further out into Macbeth (literal) river of blood.  In one mission your sole objective is just to "obey", if there was ever any doubt of how much the game cared about what you wanted.

The player is given one choice that affects how the game plays out, but I think it was inserted as a test to whether the player correctly understood their role in the game.  In the final scene the player is given the choice to observe as Walker kills himself as a consequence of all his decisions or to take responsibility for Walker's choices and shatter the mirror (also significant as without the person in the mirror to blame, the only person Walker can place the burden on is you).


"No matter what, endure.  Be ever vigilant.  Hold the line"

In the end, Spec Ops is not just an MMS, but instead an examination of the player/character relationships in traditional game design.  The antagonist being named Konrad (phonetically identical to Conrad, the author of Heart of Darkness) again lends itself to the idea that you are an observer (or reader, in this case) and not an active participant being told a story by others.  The title of this post comes from a question asked to you during a loading screen and the game makes sure that you answer it with a resounding "No".

Friday, June 8, 2012

Chris Tries to Play Poker, Post 1
Random $7 6max hyperturbo. The guy to my left when 6-handed was xartist, who is on the leaderboard for the stakes and the rest are randoms

Hand 3 I should have just raised over shove, but to how much? Thinking 80-100, but no idea.

Hand 19: How would you play it there post flop?

Hand 24: His call was disgustingly bad, :(

Hand 28: If your BB, what's your calling range here? Can you ever call with anything less than KK, AA even if you know villian is shoving ATC. Both other stacks are corpses.

Hand 31: Was this a bad call?

Hand 34 was a misclick, meant to shove, but wrong hotkey.

Hand 35: Should I have just called instead of keeping SB out of the hand? Should I have been in this at all?

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Life is Realistic

I succeeded in completing Project Manchester and arrived in Aberdeen on April 9th and stayed there until April 12th.  While I was there I got to meet some great people and decided to head to Stilring after in order to see Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument. When I arrived at Stirling I was unable to find the hostel I was supposed to stay at so I ended up in the first one I could find, The Willy Wallace Hostel and was planning to stay in Stirling, spending a day each in Glasgow and Edinburgh (for some reason this city is pronounced Eh-din-brah), until I left for Manchester for the GP.  On the Friday before the GP I had a choice of working on something that meant a lot to me or going to the GP and I chose the former.  Things ended up going pretty well and I really enjoyed it here (as well as having no real reason to return home right away) so I took a reception position at the hostel and decided to stay here for another month or so and I'm really glad I did (and you should all come visit me obv).

You can find an album with a bunch of the cool stuff I've done on facebook and I'll update it again when I'm not lazy one day.  

Since I'm not in the states I also decided to start playing online poker and wanted to give SNGs a try so I read Moshman's book and took some notes (feel free to correct me/add) and after browsing the 2p2 boards it was recommended I give hyperturbos a try.  So for around 3ish hours yesterday I 2-tabled hypers, got around 50 games in and ended up down 6 buyins (started at the $1.50s).  I think I don't even come close to having the hang of it yet so I'm going to post some stats images so you can try to help tell me what I'm doing wrong:

So, that's my life update for now, you can always reach me on facebook and I turned my tumblr into an AMA if you're bored  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Surviving the Judge Call: A Corollary to My Article

OK, just a quick not that I should have added to the article itself:

When you call a judge for a strategic call, DO NOT LIE.  As long as you're honest and admit when you noticed the trigger originally and why you didn't call a judge then you're fine.  However, if you lie and say you just noticed or something equally untrue you will be DQed for lying to a judge which is a DQ even if the fundamental action that started the investigation is legal.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Project Die Roll

Wizards has recently decided to extend the implementation of the Pro Tour play/draw rule (for those of you who don't know what this is, in the T8 the higher seeded player gets to decide to play or draw without a die roll) to GPs and PTQs.  This naturally brings up the question (or should):  "How important is winning the die roll?" (more formally:  What is P(winning the match|winning the die roll)).  In order to find the answer to this question (unless @mtgonline or @lee_sharpe decides to perform a divine intervention and just tell us) I'm going to start a little research project.  I'm asking for volunteers to fill out the following Excel Sheet for various daily events:

Put the following expression in column B to save time:  =IF(A7=1,2,IF(A7=0,2," "))

The most efficient way to fill out the sheet:
1)  Wait for the round of the DE to be over.
2)  Record the records of the round, as you can see above I just recorded each match as it appears in the DE results.
3)  Open a match to watch the replay.  If the player on the top of the screen wins the roll, assign a B in the third column.  If the player on the bottom of the screen wins the role assign an A.  Repeat for each match

4)  Repeat for the other three rounds.

So I'm looking for volunteers to help collect this data, if you're interested (and can commit to doing one whole DE) e-mail me at chrism315 at gmail dot com.

Chris Mascioli
@dieplstks on twitter

Thursday, March 15, 2012

MODO Tracking Tool

I was bored and created a spreadsheet to track results and profits (or losses) on modo. You can download it here.  You can also look at my oldish article on the EV of various events on Starcity.


The document is pretty simple to use, all it requires is that you input each event you play in, the date of the event, and your record in that event. The following screen capture shows the information required.
Date:  The date of the event (3/14)
Event:  The event type (allowable values are 2M (for a constructed 2-man), 8M (for a constructed 8M), DE (for a constructed DE), sDE (for a sealed DE), Swiss (for a swiss draft), 4322 (for a 4-3-2-2 draft), and 84 (for an 8-4 draft).  Please note that the limited event tracking does not account for the value of cards opened, but feel free to add that to your profit if you'd like.
Format:  The format of the event (for constructed:  T2, Block, Momir, Pauper; for limited:  M12 and ISD).
Wins:  The number of wins you got in the event.
Losses:  Number of losses you got in the event.

Since the Spreadsheet takes care of pricing, the only other thing you have to update is in a second included sheet which can be accessed by clicking on the tab on the bottom of Excel.

Once selected the sheet will look like this

All you have to do is put in the date (under Date) and the buying price for ISD, DKA, and M12.  If you do not put in the price for a date the tracking functionality will not track profits correctly.

I present this for free (and just give the raw sheets so they can be customized to your liking), but if you feel like you got any particular value out of this (or you just <3 me), feel free to donate (which will inspire me to make more/better/useful tools in the future):

Chris Mascioli
@dieplstks on Twitter

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Two known players have decided to have other people play in the MOCS for them today.  While this is usually impossible to detect, these two players decided to play in real life events (an SCGOpen and a GP) that are occurring at the SAME TIME as said MOCS.  It's time to make some call outs:

1)  Stephen G. Mann, smann on modo:

2)  Andrejs Prost, baconator5000 on modo

Chris Mascioli
@dieplstks on Twitter (follow me!  Please)

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Apparently twitter doesn't save tweets very long, here's the original three posts from my Stupid Fucking Magic Article Comment of the Day:

Scott Seaver

This comment was about Edgar Flores being banned
John Crutcher
This was about the playmat art

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Your Comments are Fucking Stupid: Women in Magic Edition

I'm not going to provide any commentary, the comments do that for themselves

Grahm Salva

Matthew Viviani

Andrew J. Nagy

Thomas Ray Smith, who is "a hopeless romantic, big teddy bear, with a heart of Gold. I have a good sense of humor, and a playful personality. I have a mature and intelligent mind. My heart is very passionate, and loyal.I am laid, back fun loving kind of guy"

Chris Mascioli

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Myth of Male Objectification

The fact that I have to write this blog post in 2012 is pretty scary, but the need for a clear definition of what objectification has been made strikingly clear by the comments on Jesse Mason's most recent article on females in Magic art (

Objectification is, by strict definition, the treatment of a person as solely a physical object rather than a sentient and emotional being.  So, when the subject of how females were objectified in Magic art was mentioned a group of scholars had a brilliant, earth-shattering, and novel idea that they all rushed to post (followed by these rogue academics patting themselves on the back):  MALES ARE OBJECTIFIED IN MAGIC ART TOO (so brave!).  While these posters are technically correct (the best kind of correct), they miss the real point of what is being referred to when one makes reference to objectification:  the transformation of a sentient being to a solely physical object to be used.

Let's look at what "male objectification" (it cracked me up a bit just writing that, sorry) looks like:

"Holy shit, he has no shirt!"  
"omg, look at those muscles!"
"That guy is ripped!  I'm jealous"

The fact that this piece of "art" (cracked up again, sorry) brings a deluge of homoerotic thoughts to sheltered neckbeards everywhere is a clear sign that it's an example of male objectification: the transformation of a powerful male into a purely sexual object.  Except it's not actually happening and is just a completely surface/trivial analysis.  If we actually examine the piece we see that Koth is in fact a symbol of power, agency, and confronts/challenges the viewer.  Koth is displayed not as an object for use, but as another type of object -- a monument to be in awe of and admire.  

Let's take a non-Magic look at something people claim is "male objectification" (at least writing this is keeping me amused) - underwear models:

Alright, so once again we have a not fully dressed male.  That means he's a sexual object/pin-up, QED!  Except, like Koth, his sexuality is used to create an image of power, another monument to the male form.  His pose which is seemingly relaxed is not one of acceptance/submission, but instead chosen to highlight his physical power.  His glance is once again a challenge to the viewer, asking not "what would you do to me?" but "what would you let me do to you?"

Now, let's compare these images to how a female planeswalker is portrayed, we'll use Argyle's Liliana of the Veil as an example (we're going to use the full art since we can get rid of the ridiculous tilt on the actual card, stealing this from Jesse's article mentioned in the intro):

The depiction of Liliana is very different than that of Koth.  The first thing that needs to be taken into account is the social context in how the images are viewed (for a more in-depth take on this, I suggest everyone reads Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", I took way too many Art History/Cinema Studies classes in college.  You can find some easy to digest sparknotes of it here).  Western society has historically given and still gives the majority of power to the male portion of its population and continually victimizes and oppresses women (if you don't think this is true, listen to a discussion about rape or birth control)

Therefore the "male gaze" (a term first introduced in the aforementioned Mulvey essay), when given a historical perspective, is one that depends on the political, economic, and sexual oppression of women.  

Liliana's state of undress is also in contrast to Koth's.  While Koth has no shirt to show power (watch any action movie that involves a fighting scene, the male actors involved almost always remove their top to highlight their physical prowess), Liliana's strategic lack of clothing highlights her as a sexual being, emphasizing her shoulders, cleavage, hips, and upper leg.

On top of this Liliana's gaze which is not presented as challenging the viewer (like Koth's), but is instead presented as inviting.  It is no mistake that Liliana is pictured in front of what appears to be a secret lair which you, presumably, want to take her  up to.  Comparing Liliana to some Goth pin-ups confirms the objectification present in Argyle's illustration

Anyone claiming that the objectification of Koth/male models is equivalent to the objectification of Liliana is just choosing to ignore that in the male case Koth is objectified to be a monument while in the female case Liliana is objectified to be another type of figure - a toy.

-Chris Mascioli
@dieplstks on twitter

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Pro Tour Testing Group Decided to Test the Fish Mirror

My Pro Tour Dark Ascension playgroup testing 
Working hard

Discussing possible lines of play 
Magic can be tiring

Everyday I'm shufflin' 
Every testing group needs a Tom Ma

The End Boss


Of course, just like every other group we share some good times together afterwards, however one participant imbibed a bit too much, but we got it on film

-Chris Mascioli
@dieplstks on twitter