Joey’s Podcast Playlist

I spend around ten hours a week commuting to and from work.  I used to listen to talk radio in the truck, but I think that led to elevated blood pressure and the overuse of football stats in everyday conversation.  To better pass the time, I started listening to a few different podcasts.  These give me enough free options to find something that suits my mood and helps me learn something new.  Here are my recommendations:

  • B.S. Report with Bill Simmons.  In addition to being The Sports Guy on ESPN, Simmons is also editor-in-chief on Grantland, a website that covers sports, pop culture, music, and even pro-wrestling on occasion.  These podcasts cover the same gamut of topics.  Rating: PG-13.
  • PTI.  Pardon the Interruption is a 30-minute spors show that airs weekdays on ESPN.  This is the audio from the show.  I don’t have cable, so I listen to yesterday’s show during my morning commute.  Rating: PG
  • Freakonomics Radio.  The guys who wrote the Freakonomics books also have a podcast.  Like the book, it covers a little bit of everything in a bizarre way.  The premise is: What do the numbers say about Issue X?  What do we do about it? Rating: PG
  • Friday Night Comedy.  If SNL’s Weekend Update came from England and was half-an-hour long, it would be Friday Night Comedy.  This podcast from BBC Radio has a panel of comics talking about current events (both European and global). Charming. Rating: PG.
  • The Game Informer Show.  Game Informer magazine, which (predictably) covers video games, has a weekly podcast with game reviews and industry news.  I tend to share their tastes ratings-wise so this is a helpful resource to find lesser known games.  Rating: PG/PG-13.
  • The Indoor Kids.  This is from Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Network of podcasts and shows.  Basically, a comedian and a psychologist (who are married) talk about specific video games or game-related topics.  Some of the more interesting ones involved asking what, exactly, a game is.  Swearing and blue humor abounds. Rating: R.
  • Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. Another podcast from a comedian, although not necessarily a funny podcast.  KP and Samm Levine (of Freaks and Geeks fame) spend an hour or two talking with some kind of artist about their craft and life.  This is my favorite podcast right now because you get a couple of hours of some of your favorite artists/celebrities in a laid-back and largely non-snarky format.  Some of my favorites were Zach Levi, Chris Hardwick, Chris Pratt, and recently Damon Lindeloff. Heads up on swearing. Rating: R.
  • Unbelievable? A British podcast that tackles relevant and controversial topics of faith in a safe and respectful way. You can be disagree without being mean! Yay! Rating: PG.

I also listen to these while working out, although listening to Nathan Fillion talk about Halloween costumes for fifteen minutes probably won’t help your run time.  If you’re like me and you like to zone out during workouts, podcasts might be a good move.

Finally, a lot of these have existed for dozens or even hundreds of episodes.  If you want a jumping on point, let me know and I’ll give you specific suggestions.

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What are video games?

While making my morning and afternoon commutes to work, I listened to The Indoor Kids’ podcast #27, Are Video Games Art?  You can get to that particular podcast on iTunes or by clicking on the link and going to page 2.  Film Crit Hulk was the guest.  This particular podcast got me fired up for all the right reasons.  The conversation ranged from sexism, definitions of art, the recklessness of war games, and how playing a first-person game is necessarily so different than a third-person game.  (The podcast is Rated R for language – heads up.)

I don’t much about Film Crit Hulk, except that his comments on the sexism in Arkham City resonated with me.  It’s hard to talk about how video games are evolving when even the best games involve women in skin-tight clothes with breasts the size of overripe melons.

Anyway, I recommend the podcast and the Hulk link if you’re interested in the topic.

The discussion itself takes me back to what Nathan and I have been talking about on and off for a few weeks – Should we be calling things like Braid, Mass Effect, and Shadow of the Colossus “games”?  Are they something else?

When I think of a game, I think of checkers or football.  When I think of a video game,   I think about Pong or Madden or Halo multiplayer.  What’s in common with all of these?  There are set rules, players have to play within the rules, and ultimately a winner is decided based on the rules.

Mass Effect isn’t necessarily like those things.  People call it a “space opera”.  It’s a narrative about, amongst other things, genocide, ultimate reality, man’s place in the universe, the right to survive, decency in hard times.  Like written science fiction, it’s a commentary on our world and a suggestion on how we could live.

Mass Effect is different than a game.  In a game, like football, we watch because we know we have a set of rules and the drama will unfold within that set of rules.  What will happen on 4th and 2 with 47 seconds left?  The drama and excitement comes because we know, in roughly 47 seconds, a winner will emerge.  In Mass Effect, there is drama because there aren’t rules.  The future is uncertain; the morality of the protagonist is uncertain.  This is more like things that we often consider art, like literature.

Maybe “video games” aren’t “art”, but they have certainly developed the ability to evolve beyond “video games”.

I’m not saying that all “video games” aren’t games, or that they are all art, or that they all should be art.  What I’m saying is that technology has developed to the point that I can use my Xbox 360 to engage in an experience that makes me think about important things.  I like that, and I hope more people realize it, and I hope parents think about what their kids are playing, and I hope adults think about what they’re playing, and I hope the Mass Effect 3 DLC comes out before July.

It’s About More Than Just The Journey

Something you may have seen in the news lately is the uproar over the end of the video game Mass Effect. A series about a small group of soldiers, scientists, and doctors facing a galaxy-wide crisis, this was about a team overcoming impossible odds to save the day time and again. This sounds like your run-of-the-mill video game. You’re almost always the hero. You almost always face a world shattering crisis. You almost always save the day. While I won’t go into spoilers about the end of the series that has caused so much drama, the argument over it has sparked an interesting thought. Is a story more about the journey than the destination as we’re sometimes told? And why do stories like these impact us so much in the first place?

I’ll start with the first question. I’m sure most if not all of you have heard the phrase, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Oftentimes this is when a story or a real life adventure ends on a note that seems somewhat unsatisfying when the rest of the tale was full of excitement and romance. Those people furious at the Mass Effect ending were quickly assaulted by attempts to placate them by well meaning citizens of the Internet working tirelessly to remind them of the good times they’d had.
“Remember fighting Sovereign at the Citadel in the first game? That was awesome right?” “What about that suicide mission that the whole galaxy said you’d never see the other side of? You saved not just yourself but your whole crew!” We long to look back on the journey fondly to ease the pain of an ending that is so unsatisfactory.

Why then does this feel like an empty attempt to placate? Why does it feel like the end should be satisfying? Obviously it didn’t meet expectations, so there must have been some idea in our minds of what the end of the story should have looked like. Stories, we seem to feel, should end well. This innate desire to see a story wrapped up in a way that does not merely provide closure, but also gives us the feeling that those involved have managed to triumph, seems to beg the author to give us some hope of a happy ending. There’s a reason we long for that happy ending. A reason we find stories that end poorly to be unsatisfying.

You see, our Creator, God Himself, The Great I Am, created us with a purpose. We were built to live out a story where not just the journey of day to day life, but the end result of our being was to bring Him glory and praise. We would have intimate contact with the source of all goodness and pureness and rightness in the universe. Our stories were meant to be good ones. When we read or play or watch the tales we spin today we long to see that initial creation restored. We want love to prevail. We want good to triumph over evil. We want the helpless and broken-hearted redeemed. The reason we want our destination to be just as satisfying as the journey is because we know somewhere down deep that there is a destination worth reaching. God has placed the desire for Him in our hearts, and the best part is we can journey with Him to a redeemed world once again through the blood of Jesus Christ.

As you go forth this weekend celebrating a risen Lord and Redeemer, remember that Christ died so that we might join him on the journey to redeem the Earth and all that is in it. We are allowed the privilege of seeing a people redeemed. The thing it took to break the cycle of hopeless endings was the Son of God on a cross and a stone rolled away. How glorious to know that our God didn’t just redeem our stories… He is redeeming our destination, and that’s why we want a happy ending. We have a God who died and rose to give us one.

While that might seem an odd leap to make from a simple bit of bickering about the end of a video game, I think it’s important that we dive deeper than our mere feeling of dissatisfaction. We must seek out the underlying meaning to why we feel a story should end well. We long for our own lives to mean something, so when we feel worthless or uninteresting we turn to entertainment to provide that release. Time and again we come away unsatisfied, but those that do seem to satisfy, the stories that Samwise Gamgee would claim “really matter”, point us back to a Creator and a Savior who gave us life for something better. And that’s something to get excited about.

Righteous Throat Chops, or, Wrecking Shop in Tights

Thanks to David for getting us started with our central question of “Should superheroes kill?”  David’s answer was a resounding yes, with the caveat that the killer in question would have a “perfect sense of justice.”  In other words, I think he was saying “No.”  We’re imperfect people with imperfect knowledge, and we often have mixed motives.

In his discussion about vigilantism, David notes that heroes often pop up when our laws and law enforcement system are unwilling or unable to address wrongs.

This is important because when ask if a superhero should kill, we’re asking a question, at least in part, about law.  The legal question has a few prongs – does the hero have legal authority to kill (James Bond, SHIELD, US Army), is the killing self-defense instead of murder, does the hero have a reasonable belief that the bad guy was going to use deadly force against someone else, etc.

Frank Miller’s Daredevil at times struggled with his motives for recklessly running around NYC in tights, looking to give out beatings.  Was he helping NYC or hurting NYC by setting a bad example and undermining legitimate authority?

In the early 1980s, Daredevil famously played Russian Roullete with a villain that he  hated, Bullseye.  Between trigger squeezes, Daredevil tells a captive Bullseye that fewer people would have to die if DD just killed Bullseye once and for all.  In a utilitarian way, ending Bullseye’s life would be the “good” thing to do.  If the villain went back to jail, Bullseye could get acquitted, get out of jail, and kill again. Everyone knows it.

What ultimately stops Daredevil (a Catholic attorney) from killing Bullseye is his respect for law.  From DD’s point of view, justice does not belong to Matt Murdock/Daredevil, it belongs to God and, in our culture, our legal system.  They have legitimate authority.  If Daredevil was a killer, he would be a murderer, because he has no legal authority to make the call on who should live or die.  In America, we as private citizens have collectively turned our rights of vengeance and justice over to our government.  No individual has a right to carry out justice.  No one is above the law.

As an avid comic/video game fan, it can be frustrating to see Batman let Joker go to Arkham Asylum, just to get out and harm Gotham again and again.  It seems foolish.

So, is Daredevil right or wrong?  Is David right or wrong?  Should heroes kill?

David’s “No” seems to come more from the moral half of the question.  Can a morally corrupt person ever righteously choose to end someone else’s life?  That does seem to be the harder question, and there are several reasons why we may answer that in the negative.

First, if the villain is killed, he’ll never have a chance to change.  In comics, pro-wrestling, and video games, bad guys will often switch sides at some point.  Maybe they’ll relapse into being bad again, but sometimes they stay good.  Additionally, sometimes normally good people may do something generally considered to be worth being killed for (John Clark in the Tom Clancy-verse).  If a hero ends that “villain’s” life, he’s ending the possibility of good.  An interesting example in the Bible is Paul. At one time he was a vocal persecutor/executioner of Christians; he later became a Christian leader.  If someone took him out early, there wouldn’t be much of a New Testament.

Second, it’s debatable whether a sinful person ever has the moral authority to kill another person.  This is the whole “plankeye” problem.

Third, and most chilling, if we don’t agree to subjugate ourselves to law when deciding who may be an executioner, then by whose moral standards are the guilty punished?  Are we usings Punisher’s standards?  Or Batman’s?  Or Rainbow Six’s?  Or some (admittedly) bad-a assassins?  Or Crusaders?  Or jihadists?  Where’s the moral bright line?  One murder? Five murders? One attempted murder? Stealing?  Our legal system is imperfect, but at least it aspires to be fair and evenhanded.  All actors have an idea of what they can expect.

When we see grievous wrongs, we want to see them righted.  We want justice. Punishment seems to be a part of justice.  That’s why a hero’s righteous kill is appealing to us in comics, movies, video games.  We want good to win out over bad.

As Miller’s Daredevil figured out, though, sometimes it’s hard to figure out who’s the good guy and who’s the bad one.

So, should superheroes kill?  I’ll give you the classic lawyer answer – It depends.  If the hero has legal authority under the law and deadly force is justified under the law, then we as a society have decided that the hero should kill.  A vigilante shouldn’t kill.  Someone with a hidden identity can’t go through the legal system to prove it was a justifiable homicide, so I don’t think they deserve the protections of the law.  That’s what “outlaw” means.  Someone outside the law.

That yes makes me uncomfortable.  I hate to burden anyone with having to harm anyone else.  Yet, that’s our world.  That’s what we as a culture have decided that certain members of our executive and judicial branches of government will do.

Heroes shouldn’t kill.  But they should do plenty if this:

 

 

Vigilante Justice

Note: This post contains plot spoilers for the ending of Watchmen. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you, go check it out.

Joey has posed the question “Should superheroes kill?” This post will answer that question completely and clearly and serve as the final word on the matter. (If you believe that then there’s a Nigerian prince that needs your help.)

With this question I am assuming two things: 1) the superhero in question intends to serve the good of the people, 2) killing would be considered an illegal action under normal circumstances. In order to address this question, I’m going to talk about the larger concept at hand- vigilantism.

A vigilante is one who acts outside the law of the land but with good intentions. This is necessary when the existing law enforcement is impotent, or when there is no law at all. The superhero is one who has special powers or skills and can use them to enforce justice where the law fails. But is this allowable when the superhero has to break the law to deal with those who are also breaking the law?

This tension is explored in many superhero contexts, but the two examples that stand out most are The Dark Knight and Watchmen. Is it ok for Batman to tap the phones of the people of Gotham if it’s for their safety? Should it be excused when Ozymandias murders thousands of New Yorkers for the sole purpose of preventing a global war that would kill many more? The superhero vigilante is one who is placed in a position where they must make a tough decision for the greater good.

The vigilante theme is popular in video games as well, where you actually get to be the vigilante. Here’s a few examples:

  • Mass Effect 2: The official law-keepers of the galactic scene have chosen to ignore the truth, so the player (as Commander Shepard) teams up with an outlawed terrorist organization to address an impending threat to the galaxy. Whether or not he kills anyone is up to the player. At times, the existence of an entire species hangs in the balance.
  • Fallout 3: The D.C. area has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland and you play as a survivor who can either help corrupt bureaucrats rise to power, or defend the cause of the helpless innocents struggling to survive. This is a situation in which the only law is the one you choose for yourself and others.
  • Bioshock: The central figure, Andrew Ryan, is more of a cultural vigilante. He decided that in order for society to progress, people would need freedom from things such as “laws” and “ethics” to experiment with new ideas in science, art, and medicine. To accomplish this he builds an entire underwater city away from the rest of the world so that people can do as they please. As the player you enter this world and fight psychotic, mutated people and monsters in diving suits so, yeah, you see how well that idea worked out.
  • Assassin’s Creed: In any of these games, you play as a member of the secret order of Assassins who work in secret and in subversion to the law to oppose another secret society that seeks to rule the world. There is no doubt that in this series of games people believe it is justifiable to kill for a cause.

Pictured: due process

These games are all popular due in part to the fact that you get to play as some form of vigilante. We want to be the vigilante, or at least root for them. We want someone that can work outside the confines of the bureaucratic nonsense. We want the bad guys dealt with, even if it’s through somewhat dubious means. We want justice!

This happens to tie nicely to a recent post by fellow ‘Boother Dani who pointed out the problems with the response to Kony. It seems the best we can do is a meaningless tweet, which may or may not really do anything. This is where we yearn for a vigilante. We recognize that something is wrong and evil needs to be brought to justice, but the established means of making that happen just isn’t working. (If a masked man or assassin kills Kony tomorrow, I swear I had nothing to do with it!)

The vigilante is most desired when the spirit of the law is violated, but the actual power of the law fails to address that violation. The pastor at the church I attend is preaching through Galatians right now, a book which has a lot to say about the law. The “Law” in Galatians is the Jewish Mosaic Law, not the general “law of society” that we’ve been discussing, but there are definitely parallels. One thing the pastor has pointed out is that the law is a diagnostic, not a cure. The law shows us what is right and what is wrong, but it does not solve the problem. In spiritual terms this means that God’s Law shows us our imperfections, but following that Law will not bring about our salvation (because we can never fully satisfy that Law), thus the need for Jesus.

Similarly, our human laws are intended to order our society, but our laws are only as good and effective as those who create and enforce it. And who makes and enforces the laws of our land? Sinful, fallen human beings. That’s not a slam on politicians or lawyers (keep up the good work Joey!), but rather a fact of our condition as a people. The law as it stands is insufficient, thus the need for a vigilante, a superhero.

So, should superheroes kill? Well a decision like that requires a lot of moral fiber and wisdom on the part of the superhero. Justice should be done, but who is wise, fair, and objective enough to shoulder the burden of such a choice? My answer to the question is that a superhero should absolutely kill if the situation calls for it….but only if they have a perfect sense of justice.

We can trust this guy to execute justice, right??

This is a gray area and it will continue to be a gray area on this side of heaven. The uncertainty around this topic is precisely why stories continue to feature vigilantism as a theme. We could (and probably will) wrestle with this problem indefinitely and the comic book sequels will multiply like rabbits. But we have hope that there is a superhero, the ultimate vigilante, the creator of all law, who is not absent or too impotent to bring about perfect justice for all of us.

Why Superheroes Matter

I love big stories.

If you what you’re selling has heroes, villains, moments of greatness, triumph or tragedy, then I’m there.  I’m in.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the Bible, pro-wrestling, comic books, Shakespeare, or video games.

The simplest answer as to why I love the big stories is, “I just like them.”  They’re fun and entertaining.  If I were to sit down and think about it, say at 8am on a Saturday morning, I’d say there’s more inside of my answer.

First, big stories are a philosophical tool to help me think about my own world.  When given the chance to do something good, even at a personal cost, should I do it?  What makes a person good or bad?  Is it that simple? Is violence acceptable? Is exclusion from society ever acceptable?  How far should we take human genetic engineering?  Are we all truly created equal?  As someone with background in law and politics, I think of all of these things are important to think about, especially in a democracy.  We have sway in what our culture decides is important and appropriate.

Second, big stories remind me that we all have the potential to become great or horrible and we just take the choices that we make seriously.  We may not be fighting destructive mutants or organic machines trying the destroy Earth, but as C.S. Lewis explains, we are fighting for our souls:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.

Third, big stories encourage me to contribute whatever meager efforts I can to try and serve.  There’s a story in the Bible where Jesus feeds thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He gets the meager amount of food, blesses it, and BAM! Food for everyone.  Not only is that thrifty, it’s also a miracle.  I think Jesus doing something miraculous is obviously a focal point of the story, but more interesting to me is that Jesus got the foosd that he started with (five loaves, two fish) from a kid.  In the story, a young boy is willing to give his meal to Jesus to help.  It may not have seemed like much, but now that kid is immortalized as helping Jesus perform a miracle.  What can he do with us?

So that’s why big stories matter to me.  That’s why I learn about redemption from a video game about cowboys, or the value of life from a game with space lasers, or humility from a comic about a blind guy who does flips in tights.

In the upcoming week, Nathan, David and I will be talking through an issue of interest to all of us – should superheroes kill?  We’ll get into that later.

For now, if you’re interested in critically thinking through video games, check out Reclaimer 105, the blog of our very own David.  He’s going through the morality of Mass Effect right now.  You might also look into a book called Superheroes and Philosophy.