Difficulty in Dark Souls 3

Last year when I talked a bit about difficulty in video games, I mentioned the Dark Souls as an exemplar of difficult video game design. More recently, I had opportunity to play Dark Souls 3. I finished it too. So here are my thoughts.

Like other adventure games, Dark Souls 3 is essentially a power fantasy. It gives the player a sense of increasing power over time. It begins by disempowering the player, beating them down over and over. But the player is empowered to eventually succeed. And what makes this experience so effective, is that the success depends almost entirely on the player’s skill and cleverness, instead of their character’s level. After completing the game for the first time, you can start over from the beginning and find it significantly easier.

Something that this game makes me think about, what even is difficulty? Does it mean it’s mentally taxing? Does it mean it’s frustrating? Does it mean very few people can succeed?

In the context of Dark Souls, people seem to think difficulty means “You die a lot,” but I’m not sure this is the right way to think about it. New players die a lot, but instead of thinking of it as failure, you could think of it as a necessary part of the learning process. One of the Dark Souls taglines is “Prepare to die”, which is literally telling players that dying is a necessary part of the game. Dying is even a essential component of the narrative–you’re a cursed undead who comes back to life each time you die. It’s not like other games where if you die, the universe rewinds and the game says “let’s pretend that never happened”.  In other words, dying in Dark Souls is diagetic.

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Random notes on male victims of sexual violence

[cn: sexual violence, including rape]

So last month, I talked a bit about sexual violence. And when most people think about this topic, they imagine male perpetrators and female victims. But since my personal experience is in gay male contexts, I tend to think of male victims first. And male victims, well isn’t that a thing? You have all the usual myths about sexual violence, and problems with how we treat victims after the fact; but on top of that, you have even more issues that are specific to male victims.

In this post, I’ll discuss three disparate topics related to male victims. First, I’ll talk about some male-specific misconceptions. Second, I’ll talk about prevalence statistics, and complain about how people have collected these statistics. Third, I’ll talk about feminism.

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Paper: Asexuality in China’s Sexual Revolution

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015, for The Asexual Agenda.  A few small changes were made to incorporate corrections by commenters.

It’s well-known that English asexual communities are dominated by people in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. [The Asexual Agenda] has made minimal efforts to include voices from other countries, but one of our blind spots is China. You know, that one country that has three times more people than the US, UK, Canada, and Australia combined.

The thing is, between the language barrier and the Great Firewall, hardly anyone in the English-speaking community knows anything. The closest we’ve gotten is our interview with Robin, but Taiwan isn’t the same as Mainland China at all. And given the complete lack of communication, it’s possible that asexuality in China is so different as to be unrecognizable.

That’s why I was interested to see this recent paper: Asexuality in China’s Sexual Revolution: Asexual Marriage as a Coping Strategy. By Day Wong, in Sexualities, February 2015.

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Things I liked about grad school

To cap off my series on why grad school sucks, I’d like to talk about some of the things I did, after all, like about the experience. This will be more personally focused, and may describe aspects of grad school that other people would miss out on, or dislike.

I can read papers

I started out this series by talking about how physics talks are really bad.  Even now after finishing a PhD, I find that most talks are still incomprehensible. In contrast, I feel pretty good about my improved ability to read papers.

Note, the best way to understand more physics presentations, is to understand when a presentation is best skipped, and it’s the same way with papers. A lot of skill in reading technical papers comes from knowing when to skip a paper, or when to skip large sections of it. But also, as I got further in my Ph.D., there were fewer sections that I needed to skip, and I could return to old papers and understand them better. Some of my most satisfying experiences were going beyond mere reading, being able to critique papers in detail.

This ability extends beyond my own field of study, to other fields of physics, and to other disciplines entirely. I’ve mentioned before, I’ve read scholarly papers in math, psychology, sociology, gender studies, and law. Of course, some disciplines are more difficult than others.

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Is grad school doing what you love?

Many people place a special value on “doing what you love”. Should you become a corporate tool, or a real-life scientist? “You should do what you love” is the reply. And it’s a reply that is detached from any real cost-benefit analysis. Like, maybe you only sorta love being a real scientist, and maybe you don’t love the working conditions of a scientist, and maybe the salary of a corporate tool is so much higher that it enables you to do other things that you love. But you can’t make a snappy motto out of such considerations.

The problem with “doing what you love” is that it doesn’t come for free. If academic institutions need a certain number of grad students,* then they need to provide incentives for just enough people to apply. “Doing what you love” is one incentive, and it takes the place of other incentives that academic institutions could have offered instead. In other words, they don’t need to pay you well, or treat you well. However much grad students are willing to tolerate in order to do what they love–that’s how much they end up having to tolerate.

*I’m only talking about Ph.D. students and not Masters students. I’ve never heard anyone describe a Masters degree as doing what you love.

In economic terms, we can speak of the “marginal” grad student (a concept similar to the “swing voter”). For the marginal grad student, the expected costs and benefits are exactly equal, such that the decision to go to grad school could go either way. It may be that the marginal grad student thinks they would love being a scientist, but this is exactly offset by the costs. So for some people, grad school may be a good deal. But the deciding factor is not merely whether you love grad school, it’s whether you’d love it more than the marginal grad student.

Beyond that, I think even the marginal grad student is getting a bad deal. The marginal grad student expects they would love grad school, but ends up loving it less than they predicted.

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Link Roundup: February 2018

Bi Any Means Podcast: Atheism and Asexuality with Emily Karp – I was excited to listen to this episode!  I was interviewed on Bi Any Means a few years ago on the same topic, but this interview should be more up to date.  As they discuss in the episode, atheist communities have become more cognizant and accepting of asexuality, but unsurprisingly, it very much depends on which communities you interact with.

Sapiosexuals: The Science of People Who Are Turned on by Brains – Rebecca Watson criticizes sapiosexuality and a recent study about it.  I also have a very negative reaction to sapiosexuality, and my main association is with men in skepticism who are low-key complaining that there aren’t enough intelligent women around.  On the other hand, sapiosexuality also has some connections with ace communities, and I realized that there are other angles to it–which is not to say that this eliminates my criticism of it.

I agree with Watson that the study she describes is garbage.  Asking people if they’re attracted to intelligence is not useful methodology.  Unfortunately, Watson’s suggested methodology of using electrodes and fMRIs is also problematic.  See there’s this infamous study of bisexuality, and long story short, objective measures of attraction have issues.  I propose instead that we give people a bunch of fake dating profiles and ask them who they would be interested in.

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Bi people who date one gender

Remember that time when the OKCupid blog claimed that most bisexuals on OKCupid were lying?  Although their interpretation is highly suspect, it is based on some rather interesting data.  Apparently (as of 2010), 41% of bisexual-identified people on OKCupid had only sent messages to men, 36% had only sent messages to women, and only 23% had sent messages to a mix.1

It’s possible that many people are lying, but are the numbers so surprising that we need to resort to such a conclusion?  Bisexual people are attracted to multiple genders, but they aren’t necessarily actively seeking dates with multiple genders.  For example, we can imagine someone who is a 4 on the Kinsey scale (”predominantly homosexual, more than incidentally heterosexual”) deciding that they should just focus all deliberate dating efforts on people of the same gender.2  Maybe if someone of a different gender came along, they would be open to a relationship, but as far as deliberately messaging people on OKCupid, it’s easier to just stick to one gender.

There are also many obvious differences between m/w, m/m, and w/w dating cultures, and differences in the social repercussions of those relationships.  It is easy to imagine that a person might prefer one or the other, even if that preference is limited only to a particular time in their life, or just to the OKCupid platform.

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