On The Morality Of Mind Games

Nov 23 2014 @ 10:34am

Michael Thomsen describes the objective of Ether One, a game that recreates the experience of dementia for the player: “Your job is to dive into the mind of Jean Thompson, a sixty-nine-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, and retrieve a series of lost memories.” Players are encouraged to “collect” memories, represented by tchotchkes and mementos that can only be carried one at a time:

As a player, you’re never sure what’s important and what isn’t, so the system encourages you to take everything. This hoarding is repaid with periodic puzzles, such as a door with a numeric lock whose code can be found on the bottom of a previously collected mug. As the game progresses, these puzzles increase in complexity, as does the array of random objects filling the shelves. The collection gradually overwhelms the player’s ability to remember just where all of these things came from and why they seemed important enough to retrieve. Why did I bring this plate all the way back here? Whose hat is this supposed to be again? It’s a tidy simulation of the cognitive degradation of dementia.

Thomsen goes on to ponder the moral implications of games designed to simulate mental illness:

If a game is going to be a game, in the sense of a progressive series of challenges leading to a definite end state, it can’t represent dementia or Alzheimer’s with anything other than a self-conscious artifice. We’re used to suspending some disbelief to enjoy shooting games, but it feels like bad faith to say that a disease should be the basis of a similar kind of entertainment. Our desire to entertain ourselves within systems that make triviality and tragedy indistinguishable says more about us than the depicted subjects. If violent war games are driven by delusional power fantasies, then empathy games are driven by a parallel delusion about how caring we are in reality.

Quote For The Day

Nov 23 2014 @ 9:33am

“In democracies it is by no means the case that all who cultivate literature have received a literary education, and most of those who have some acquaintance with good writing go into politics or adopt some profession which leaves only short, stolen hours for the pleasures of the mind. They therefore do not make such delights the principal joy of their existence, but think of them rather as a passing relaxation needed from the serious business of life. Such men will never have a deep enough understanding of literature to appreciate its refinements. Fine nuances will pass them by. With but short time to spend on books, they want it all to be profitable. They like books which are easily got and quickly read, requiring no learned researches to understand them. They like facile forms of beauty, self-explanatory and immediately enjoyable; above all, they like things unexpected and new. Accustomed to the monotonous struggle of practical life, what they want is vivid, lively emotions, sudden revelations, brilliant truths, or errors able to rouse them up and plunge them, almost by violence, into the middle of the subject.

Need I say any more? Who does not guess what is coming before I say it?

By and large the literature of a democracy will never exhibit the order, regularity, skill, and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be neglected or actually despised. The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste,” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

Discovering The God Of Peace

Nov 23 2014 @ 8:34am

We’ve featured debates about Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence over the last few months. In a new interview about the book, she admits her views of God and religion have changed over time:

The change began while I was writing “A History of God.” I expected it to be like its predecessors: a rather smart, clever thing where I showed how people just “rejigged” the idea of God to suit their purposes. But things started to change there. I started seeing in depth how inadequate my idea of God had been. As a young girl, and a young nun, I thought of God as “up there.” Then reading all these people, Maimonides, Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas, all the great voices of the monotheistic tradition, and hearing them say that all our ideas of God are man-made and can’t possibly measure up to who God is — this was a start of the deepening of my understanding.

I tended to favor the individual and the mystical over the organized. But one of the things that I’ve learned is that religion is largely about community. People before Luther simply didn’t experience God in an individual way. You did it by living with the idea of God in community and acting kindly and creatively.

How she makes the case for the continued relevance of the tradition of religious non-violence:

Read On

God’s Unexpected Smile

Nov 23 2014 @ 7:35am

Recently we featured a survey of the Colombian writer Nicolás Gómez Dávila’s acerbic aphorisms. Matthew Walther considers a translation of his Scholia to an Implicit Text, noticing his idiosyncratic theological positions:

Though traditional Catholics will doubtless enjoy his digs at progressive clergymen and agree with his aesthetic objections to the Mass of Pope Paul VI, Gómez-Dávila’s orthodoxy, especially by the standards of the preconciliar Church, is very much an open question. He was almost certainly a fideist of the Kierkegaardian variety, starkly declaring that “if God were a conclusion of reasoning, I would not feel it necessary to worship Him.” He insisted that “Scholasticism sinned by trying to turn Christians into know-alls” and that it encouraged the higher criticism (“Christ did not leave documents but disciples”). There are also hints in his work, if not of outright universalism, then certainly of hope for the salvation of all, also expressed by Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the founder of this magazine: “I rather believe in God’s smile than in his wrath.”

If Gómez-Dávila is ever declared a saint, admittedly a very remote possibility, he should be taken up as the patron of nihilists—which is to say, of most of us on our worst days. His work is a complement to, if not a substitute for, gin, tobacco, and constant prayer. The fact that his tone is caustic and his political views incompatible with even a limited faith in liberal democracy should caution readers against complacence and placing ultimate trust in anything but the articles of the Creed. “I do not belong to a perishing world,” he wrote. “I prolong and transmit a deathless truth.”

A Short Film For Saturday

Nov 22 2014 @ 9:03pm

A portrait of Richard Thompson, the “cartoonist’s cartoonist”:

In an interview with Michael Cavna, filmmaker Andy Hemmendinger explains what motivated his tribute:

MICHAEL CAVNA: Congratulations on the beautiful documentary, guys. When did you first discover Richard’s work, and what inspired you to make this film?

ANDY HEMMENDINGER: Richard has been a friend and neighbor of mine for the last 15-plus years. I enjoyed his sense of humor from the beginning, and while I knew he did illustrations and cartoons, I’d never seen any of his work. One day, a friend of mine called up and said that he’d made fun of my last name in a cartoon that he’d done. After that, I started paying attention to his work.

I loved his sense of humor and began to read him regularly, especially when “Cul De Sac” started. It did surprise me that not everyone knew who he was, though. This past spring, I was visiting Richard and saw a self-portrait he’d drawn in which he was a chick that had just hatched. That image really struck me. It made me think of the endless hours he’d spent staring at a blank piece of paper, waiting for ideas to strike. Like staring at the inside of the egg. And now it wasn’t the lack of ideas that constrained him, but the Parkinson’s. [Ed. note: Thompson retired "Cul de Sac" in 2012 to battle his Parkinson's disease.]

Between the combination of this mental image and wanting … other people to enjoy his work as much as we did, we decided to make a film.

Responding to a book by Jeffrey Kluger, Brooke Lea Foster defends today’s young adults from accusations of narcissism:

[A]re Millennials any more narcissistic than, say, the Baby Boomers, who were once considered the most self-obsessed cohort of their time? Consider the 1976 cover story of New York Magazine, in which Tom Wolfe declared the ‘70s “The Me Decade.” One could argue that every generation seems a little more narcissistic than the last, puffing out its chest and going out into the world with an overabundance of self-confidence, swagger, even a bit of arrogance. These traits are simply hallmarks of early adulthood—it’s often the first time people are putting themselves out there, applying for first jobs and meeting potential life partners. Overconfidence is how people muscle through the big changes. …

[S]tudies have directly contradicted the idea that Millennials are the most narcissistic of previous generations.

Read On

Start-Up Of The Day

Nov 22 2014 @ 7:28pm

Smart Pipe, the latest in the Adult Swim Infomercial series of recent viral fame, gives a new meaning to disruptive innovation:

Recent Dish on technology and excrement here.

Fangs And Farsi On Film

Nov 22 2014 @ 6:44pm

Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night features a vampire heroine who claims her victims in a chador:

Performed entirely in Farsi, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is set in Bad City, a fictional Iranian ghost town (played by Taft, California, situated in the San Joaquin Valley) where oil rigs pump continuously and corpses are dumped in ditches. Plot is subordinate to mood and atmosphere … aspects enhanced by the film’s high-def black-and-white imagery. Yet punctuating the film’s pleasingly languid rhythm are jolts of fear and desire.

The girl of the title (Sheila Vand), never identified by name, slinks through Bad City long after sunset cloaked in a chador. She coolly observes the evil that men do before bearing her fangs and exsanguinating them, the fate that befalls her first victim, a heavily neck-tattooed pimp and drug lord (Dominic Rains). Those not guilty of any crime—besides possessing the XY chromosome—are still not above suspicion; in a demonic growl, our undead heroine warns a wide-eyed seven-year-old tyke wearing a tatty sport coat, “Till the end of your life, I’ll watch you.” This vigilante upholds a gender-inverted Sharia law.

Melissa Leon recommends that viewers reserve judgment about the movie’s gender politics:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Nov 22 2014 @ 6:13pm

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Scott Chasserot‘s portrait series Original Ideal explores how people envision their ideal selves:

The experiment is actually fairly straightforward and easy to understand. First, his subjects have their portrait taken in the most unadorned, simplest terms possible. Then, the photos are modified many times over into 50 different versions of the original that are all shown to the subject, one-by-one, while monitoring their brain activity using an Emotiv EEG brain scanner.

Based on the data from the brain scanner, Chasserot can pinpoint the photo that generated the strongest positive reaction. Finally, he posts the original image and the ‘ideal’ image side-by-side so you can see the differences.

See more of Chasserot’s work here, and check out a video about the project below the jump:

Read On

Hot Cookin’

Nov 22 2014 @ 5:32pm

Claire Lower mulls over the links between “food pornography” and the real thing:

Food porn, like pornography, is all about visual stimulation. Food is posed,painted, injected with fillers (chicken legs are made plumper with mashed potatoes), and masterfully lit for maximum appeal. Sometimes, the food you think you are seeing is something else entirely. For illustration, we need look only to the radical differences between promotional photos and the real thing when it comes to fast food. Like a 15-year-old boy whose only view of naked women has been online, we may be less aware of the artifice and may become distraught when real-life food doesn’t live up to the fantasy of food porn.

This was apparent when Martha Stewart – whose magazine is quite well known for its air of effortless perfection – shared some photos of some fancy food she was enjoying. The photos appeared to be taken on a camera phone in very poorly lit places and the results were – to put in mildly – not very attractive. The subsequent uproar was intense, and maybe a little undeserved. Though some of the photos were truly terrible, anyone who has ever Instagrammed a meal could see that this was a case of terrible restaurant lighting plus camera phone flash, two things which one is taught to avoid in Food Photography 101. Though no one should be surprised to find that Martha herself does not take the photos for her magazine and website, people were quite surprised to find that the reality of what Martha eats to be so far removed from the exaggerated representation of what Martha eats that we are so used to seeing in her cookbooks.