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Archive for May 29th, 2009

As I note in my Star Trek movie review, I have some quibbles with the film.  One of the bigger ones is the misuse of the very well defined “black hole” to present some sort of magical space singularity creating a variable time warp sort of… thing that kinda sorta sucks like a black hole, but not really.  To some people this isn’t a big deal, since hey, “it’s just a movie”.

Sort of like how WoW is “just a game”, and when they make fundamental changes to how stats behave, it’s not a big deal.  BBB fidgets a bit about the wonky itemization that seems to be going on in the current raiding scene, asking for some consistency in the approach, so that players don’t have to feel that they have been messed around with.  It’s really not too much to ask, as people don’t like parameters changing arbitrarily on them.

See, the way Star Trek arbitrarily and mistakenly uses the term “black hole”, it’s fundamentally ignoring what the already defined term actually means.  In WoW terms, it’s like the newest expansion of the game blithely saying that Strength now determines how many hit points you have, but only in that expansion, since hey, “it’s an alternate reality”.  Remember what the old stat did?  Did you itemize around it?  Sucks to be you, the system changed arbitrarily.  It’s just a game, suck it up.

That’s Hollywood Science.  Writers can’t even be bothered to understand the most basic definitions of words and phrases that they are ostensibly being paid to write about.  It’s a sweet job, if you can get it.

Do you see the difference?  Black holes are known entities, and should function the way they are defined to, or it’s just lazy writing and bad science.  The film’s red matter doesn’t raise the same red flags because it’s a new bit of magical technowidgetry, and they can do whatever they want to with it.  As oakstout noted, someone someday may indeed make red matter, because they wanted to understand the magic.  That’s not a problem.

It’s a microcosm of the “canon vs. reboot” debate.  If you’re going to honor canon, you’ve got to make more than a half-baked effort at it.  If you’re going to reboot and do your own thing, don’t use the same terminology, do your own thing.

True, this can be chalked up to a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.  Still, it’s a symptom of deeper issues.  As the Green Armidillo notes, The Persistent Reward is a Lie.  People don’t like being jerked around, being told one thing, only to be subject to something else.  At its core, it’s a betrayal of trust.  Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s incompetent, but it’s always an irritant.

It’s bad game design to teach players how to play the game, then arbitrarily change how the game functions.  True, a Silent Hill or Eternal Darkness game will use that specifically to mess with your head, but in a game that isn’t meant to drive you nutty, undermining the most basic elements of trust between player and dev is a dangerous road.  That trust is built on consistent application of action/reaction couplets, so that players can predict how they will approach the game.  A game that arbitrarily switches your UI elements might be fun if you want a gaming equivalent to a drug hallucination, but it’s usually just an annoyance.

You can extend the same thinking to finance (a big root of why the economy is broken at the moment is because of people changing the rules or trying to subvert them), language (“it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”) or any other interpersonal interaction.  If you can’t trust the other party, at some point, interacting with them will not be something you want to do.  It’s cheating, in other words, and it’s a  disservice to those who are interacting.

That’s why we have dictionaries with definitions in them.  If there are no standards for communication or interaction, there is no trust, and with no trust, a lot of things break down.  To be fair, language does tend to evolve over time (just check the definitions of “thong” or “gay”), for better or worse.  That’s not what I’m talking about here, though.  I’m talking about lazy writing and arbitrary changes that betray incontinent thinking or wanton disregard for what has gone on before.

Life needs to move on.  People change.  Things change.  As Remy of Ratatouille notes, “life is change”.  It’s inevitable that some things will change over time, and that some old ideas probably should be challenged.  They should be challenged from a position of intelligent questioning, though, rather than hack writing that panders to an ignorant population.

So it’s not so much that I’m mortally offended that “black hole” in particular is misused in Star Trek, it’s that I’m annoyed and dismayed that they couldn’t be bothered to even get basic science right in what is a dominant science fiction IP.  I’d expect it of a Lost in Space sequel, but not Trek.  It’s that laziness and incompetence that I’m bothered by, whether it’s just bad writers or good writers who feel they need to dumb down the “technobabble” to appeal to the unwashed hordes.

…which should be a nice reminder of those inevitable arguments from MMO nuts who complain about the “dumbing down” of MMO design.

It’s real.  Producers feel an urge to dumb down their products, rather than lift up the audience with something genuinely intelligent.  That, more than anything, is what bothers me.  I see entertainment as something that can have a side function of education and enlightenment, and when I see it stoop to stupidity, it bothers me.

With Trek specifically, I’ve always seen it as something that at least tries to be intelligent, even if it’s a bit hokey or simplistic.  That the recent film is rather brain dead is extra disappointing as a result.

I suspect that linguists similarly mourn the overuse of “like” in teenager vocabularies, or the corruption of the language that textspeak invites.  Good math teachers mourn the idiocy of Investigations Math, since it produces mental incontinence and incompetence.  “Moral relativity” is ludicrous to theologians.  The “old guard” doesn’t always just complain to complain.  There are very real, valuable aspects of the human condition that we lose when we embrace mediocrity.

Misusing “black hole” or changing the Spellpower system in WoW isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a step into stupidity via shifting standards, and I’ll always have an instinctive allergic reaction to that sort of thing.  It’s a betrayal of trust, and tacit approval of inferiority, one paper cut in a death of a thousand cuts.  By itself, it’s not a big deal.  But these things add up, and accepting them as “just a game/movie/show” can lead to problems down the road.

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