Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is Being Offensive Really All That Bad?

Lucky for me, blogs have a function that sends the comments made by readers to your email.  From
time-to-time, little gems of wonder come floating through my inbox, notifying me that an old article of mine has received a fresh comment.

Usually, it's comments on the article about Americans being dumbasses (see 80% of Americans Are Functionally Retarded); and because the universe has a sense of humor, the commenters on that article always tell me that the plugs in the picture are European.  It always gives me a chuckle.

But just yesterday, I received a comment from a user on my article "Jesus Digs My Style."  In the article, I featured the picture to the right.  It's one of my all-time favorites: Jesus flipping the bird.  I know that a lot of people find it offensive, and this user did not disappoint.  Here is what she said:

"Every right entails responsibility. I am very ashamed for having seen this image. You may call it anything you want, but for me, this is plain disrespect for anyone's belief and faith. You could have at least keep it to yourself. I did not read amything you have to say in your blog, the picture says it all. I'm not trying to be righteous here but seeing this, I feel ashamed how cruel men can be, and I have, in many ways, disappointed my God and i am very sorry for that. If there is one thing I want to ask from you, use your right to speak, for a cause. The world will be a lot better when people are sensitive enough not to harm and insult others. May my God, Jesus, bless you."
The people who know me personally know that I rarely shy from the opportunity to express my true feelings on important matters.  Many people find some of the things I say to be offensive, but fortunately my friends give me the chance to at least explain myself.  Sure, I offended this woman, but this particular line was most salient to me:

 "I did not read amything you have to say in your blog, the picture says it all."
 
Yes, words can be hurtful, and one should not ignore the feelings of others.  But too often do we shy away from saying things that need to be said all for the sake of avoiding offense.

Why?

For starters, we don't want people to think that we are insensitive assholes.  I, for one, do not relish legitimately offending someone I really care about.  Actually, when a friend of mine tells me that he or she is legitimately offended by something I've said, I immediately apologize because I don't like feeling as though I've done wrong to someone close to me.  I understand the desire to avoid being offensive--at least, I understand my own desire to avoid being deeply and truly offensive.

What I also understand about myself is that I do not enjoy being censored in any way.  There is a difference between self-censorship--fighting the urge to say something edgy because I don't want to actually hurt anyone's feelings--and being censored by others, being told that I'm not allowed to say something because it is "offensive."  When I am told that I can't or shouldn't say something, my immediate response is to ask "why?"

I should probably start posing a different question to people, because simply asking them "why" never elicits the response I'm looking for.  Instead, I should ask people this:  if someone you loved was engaging in incredibly destructive behavior--like drugs or dog fighting--would you not tell them that they have a problem simply because you don't want to hurt their feelings?  I would hope that any good friend would tell that person what they need to hear: stop using drugs, because you're destroying yourself and taking down your loved ones with you.

All opinions--even the crazy ones--have some truth to them.  I'm not suggesting that all opinions are "right."  The truth may be that the expression reveals something about the person who said it.  Shows like Family Guy and South Park go to great lengths to be offensive in the name of comedy, but you know what?  Sometimes, there really is something to some of their "offensive" humor.

So is it really all that bad to be offensive?  I think not, but that's because I see it as a matter of personal freedom and an exercise in discovering truth.  The most critical error in all of human history is that we humans consistently fail to listen to each other.  If that commenter had actually taken the time to read some of my writing, she would have seen that I do use my voice for a cause.  Perhaps it's my own cause, but I think increased self-awareness and fostering honest, open dialogue are worthy pursuits.

She couldn't bear to set her feelings aside and make an attempt to get to the heart of my message.  As a result, she's missed out on an alternative perspective on life--perhaps a way of thinking that she has not been exposed to.  She has given up on the pursuit of truth.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Recent(ish) Games that are Well Worth the Money

If Valve's Steam client were a woman, it would nag me about how much of my life I've wasted playing video games.  I don't consider it to be a waste seeing as how it's a form of entertainment like any other.  I could easily say that some people are "wasting time" by watching movie or television, but honestly, who cares how we choose to entertain ourselves?

There are a few games that have been released in the past 5 years that offer hundreds of hours of replay value and, thus, are worth more than you actually pay for them (especially if you buy them on sale).  So for anyone who just wants a great game to play--a game that is truly worth the money--here is a short list of some of the games that have sucked away my attention in the recent past.

Fallout 3/Fallout New Vegas

Arguably two of the best games of our generation, both of these titles--developed by Bethesda and Obsidian respectively--are set in a post-nuclear war America.  The cultural theme is 1950's sci-fi, and when that is blended in with vast open worlds, you have a recipe for awesome.  The gameplay is a first person shooter mixed with elements of RPG with a level-up system that is engaging and extremely dynamic.  Probably the best thing about the games is the variety in play styles available to the player.

Are you a crazy-ass bastard who likes to rush into a group of asshats, smashing in their heads with a sledge hammer?  Are you more the careful, stealthy type who likes to pick off his enemies before they even knew what hit them?  Or maybe you just enjoy firing mini-nukes in the middle of a town.  Whatever your flavor, these games have it.  Although the wastes of post-apocalyptic Washington DC is a surprisingly breath-taking setting (Fallout 3), I prefer fallout New Vegas for the simple fact that you can actually ally yourself with the "bad guys."

Both of these games offer hundreds of hours of gameplay.  Just to give you an idea, one playthrough typically takes me about 80 hours.  Be warned: the humor is dark, and you can be really, really evil if you so choose, so these games are not for the faint of heart.

Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition and Fallout New Vegas: Ultimate Edition can be purchased on Steam for $19.99 each.  Each of these includes all of the DLC packs.

Civilization V

A turn based strategy game, Civilization V lets you build up a civilization from the stone age all the way into a futuristic era.  You can play as a whole host of historical civilizations (I always opt for Rome).  Throughout the game you direct your scientific discoveries, you choose your forms of government, and you even decide what your religion is like.

As time progresses, you meet other civilizations vying for precious resources.  You can either befriend them or crush them.  Are you more into economics?  Well then you can focus on being a trade hub.  Want to conquer the world?  Build an army worthy of your glory!  Or maybe you just like being all diplomatic--that works too!  With the infinite variations and directions you can take, and with 6 different ways to win the game based on play style, this title offers limitless replay value.

Sid Meyer's Civilization V: Complete Edition can be purchased on steam for $49.99.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Honestly, any Elder Scrolls title is more than worth the money, but Skyrim is just the latest entry in this stellar series.  From developers Bethesda, Skyrim offers just about anything the heart could desire.  With a plethora of different classes/play styles, tons of quest content, and an awe-inspiring, winder landscape open world, this game is truly one of the great gaming masterpieces of our time.

Steam tells me that I have sunk 356 hours into the game since I bought it in 2011.  To add to that, there are several DLC packs that add more quest lines, loots, and the like for even more content.  The graphics are solid.  The AI is decent.  And the leveling system is a good mix between classic Elder Scrolls and the perks system common to the Fallout games.

As with many Bethesda games, if you take the time to understand how the game works, you can truly forge a hero of legend who has no problem one-shotting even the most hardened of dragons.  The game offers a very hard setting and a legendary setting.  Legendary is like a nightmare mode in which the game becomes insanely difficult.  This is recommended for players who have already progressed quite far into the game.

Just like in Fallout, a single playthrough can take up to 80 hours assuming you tackle 90% of the content.

The Elder Scrolls V: Legendary Edition can be purchased on Steam for $59.00.  This edition includes all of the DLC packs.  The original game can be purchased for $29.99 on Steam.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Dead at 46

The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman--known for his breakout role in Twister, and later for some of his truly remarkable performances in films such as Doubt and Capote--was found dead this morning in his NY apartment due to an apparent drug overdose.

Insiders say that heroin was found at the scene, and a needle was stuck in his arm.

It is always a tragedy when one so bright and so promising--a soul who truly brings joy and inspiration to so many--falls to the frailty of the flawed human character.  I, for one, will miss his truly stellar performances.

In the words of Pink Floyd, shine on you crazy diamond.