More Than One Aikido

From what I have written before, it might seem like I have always learnt and pursued one Aikido, and to an extent this is true, but it is also true that I have studied at more than one school. While Exeter Aikido is where I spend most of the year as a student, I am also a seasonal visitor to the Kyushinkan Aikido dojo in Leicester. The only reason I have not written about them previously is because I did not have permission, but now that I do have permission, I have a chance to write about both Aikido schools I’ve studied under, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

But first, something that’s common to all Aikido, indeed to all martial arts, in my opinion. I believe that in the purely technical aspect, all Aikido is for killing. If this were not the case, I do not think Aikido could call itself a martial art in the first place. This most likely sounds somewhat odd given Aikido’s association with peace and harmony, being called the gentle martial art, and Aikido’s highest aim of neutralising any attack without harming the attacker.

So why do I believe this? There are plenty of reasons, but I’ll start with another name for Aikido, one favoured by the late great Nishio Shihan. Nishio called Aikido the Forgiving martial art (or Yurusu Budo which I do not know the kanji for) which, to my mind has a slightly different nuance to “the gentle martial art”. Why does Nishio use the term forgiving instead of gentle? To forgive is usually used to just mean “to let something slide” or “to let something go”, that kind of thing, but what does it really mean? To forgive is to withhold punishment which could be exacted otherwise. It is to give permission for a wrongdoer to continue existing when the forgiver could, and in some interpretations simply has the right to erase/destroy that existence. If you’re talking in terms of divinity and God(s), forgiveness is usually meant to suggest, the deity in question spares the life or soul of one who has sinned or broken their covenants when the deity in question has the absolute right to punish that wrongdoing. That is forgiveness; to hold the absolute power and right to destroy yet choose not to use it.

Therefore, it is my understanding that Nishio’s nuance in calling Aikido “forgiving” was to insert this meaning into the technique and philosophy of Aikido. That is, at the highest level the Aikidoka should at any time and at will absolutely be able to end the life of their attacker and furthermore, the Aikidoka should always choose not to do so. This is why I said that the purely technical aspect of Aikido is for killing. All techniques should have the character of creating an exploitable opening which can result in the uke’s immediate death. The moral aspect of Aikido is such that training partners elect not to murder each other on the mat, and human beings choose not to murder each other if they happen to be in a situation where combat is unavoidable.

To look at it another way, the highest point of Aikido is to be able to choose to neutralise your attacker while doing no harm to them and allowing no harm to come to yourself. If you can’t both kill, maim and harmlessly neutralise then it’s not a choice. If your only capability is to neutralise then very well, you may subdue attackers forever, but there’s no reason for their attacks to ever cease, since they know they’ll be fine no matter what they do. The threat of grave injury or death should always hang over the neutralised, they should feel it, that they’ve survived by the choice of the martial artist alone, and that that privilege could be revoked on a whim. That’s what Aikido at the highest level is, to my mind.

As a side note, I believe that this is also the highest level of all martial arts. Since, if a martial art is a system of movement which teaches the student principles which allows them to defend themselves against any possible attack (within reason, no unarmed person can reasonably defend themselves from a grenade in their pocket, or an unmanned drone missile, or a knife in the back from someone they simply don’t see or hear or smell coming), then a martial art should therefore familiarise the student with every possible method of killing as well as every method of defending. Only once the student has mastered all of the above will their martial arts be complete, hence, at the highest level all martial arts should aspire to this form, where life and death is a matter of moral choice and a technical given. I feel that those methods of attack and defence just happen to boil down to just one or two movements and principles which expose the body to injury and disrupt its balance which can and should be found in the basics of all martial arts, and attack and defence at that point don’t really distinguish themselves from each other. But that’s kindof by the by.

So if this is the highest level of all martial arts, why are all methods not the same? Well, I would say it’s like telling someone who knows no geography, who doesn’t know even the shape of the planet, and who has never seen a map, to go to the imperial palace in Tokyo. Even if you’ve heard “Tokyo” is the destination, you’ve no idea what or where that is or what direction to travel in to get there. So you ask around. You ask someone in London and they might say, “take a direct flight from Heathrow airport”. Ask someone in Roppongi or Akihabara and they’ll tell you to get a taxi or hop on the train or something. If the person you asked in Roppongi told you to take a flight from Heathrow, it’d be an absurd suggestion. So the student has to figure out where they are and not everyone starts standing in the same place, even if the destination that everyone’s looking for is the same. There are lots of different routes, some intersect (if you’re going to Tokyo from Osaka, you’ll probably end up going part of the way with people also from Kyoto and Nagoya) and some never do (a plane flying to Tokyo from Hong Kong has no reason to ever fly the same route as one from Washington D. C.). So each martial art is like that. A different route is all. Some suit different people based on where they were standing to start with. Finding a teacher is like finding a map or a signpost to where you’re going. It might even be like finding someone who’s willing to accompany you the whole way if you’re lucky.

And now I can go back to Aikido, and specifically my two schools, Exeter and Kyushinkan, which are, as I described above, two different routes. I would describe Exeter Aikido as fully Omote Aikido, and Kyushinkan as fully Ura Aikido. Omote and Ura aren’t really well understood terms even within the martial arts as I see it and they tend to be more just a naming convention. But generally in Aikido, Ura techniques involve a spin or a rotation and Omote techniques are direct and “to the point”. In this context I’ll characterise Omote techniques in Aikido as “filling space” and Ura techniques as “giving space” (though that doesn’t necessarily reflect how the terms are used in Japanese or in any school, it’s just how I’m using them here.) Therefore, I feel that Exeter’s Aikido is most characterised by the entering movement as tori (the executor of the technique) moves forward to fill the uke’s (the receiver) space and unbalance them. Kyushinkan, on the other hand, is most characterised by the offer, that is the free space which tori invites the uke to attack, the perceived opening which leads the uke’s movement and the tori can then exploit to produce imbalance. An Omote technique is like running a steamroller over the tube of toothpaste. The toothpaste slowly gets completely squeezed out of the tube because it has nowhere else to go. An Ura technique is like putting a vacuum pump on the end of the same tube of toothpaste. The toothpaste gets sucked out because there is a vacuum, an empty space, and it rushes to fill that space. That’s the idea I’m pushing at.

So in Exeter the tori is always moving, always searching for gaps in the uke’s balance, a weakness to exploit, a pivot point around which uke’s centre can be disrupted and uprooted. Of course, ideally, that unbalancing movement is completed in a single step, all of uke’s balance is completely taken and the technique is complete. This is similar to Bruce Lee’s “be like water” where the rushing flow of liquid fills up all the fissures and crevices in a rock face and can eventually split it open. It’s that kind of feeling. Generally, taking ukemi there feels like a constantly mounting pressure as I have less and less space to move, less and less space to attack, and eventually my own impetus to attack means I cannot take any course but to fall or flip or break. The technique leaves no other space for me as uke to move into. It’s a bit like being cut in half, a feeling which one of our highest ranked ladies often invokes, the balance of my body going one way, my supporting limbs going the other way.

On the other hand, at Kyushinkan tori often begins in stillness. With a katate-dori (wrist grasping) technique the offer doesn’t differ much from at Exeter in that it must be clear and produce a reaction in uke. But something like shomen-uchi (front strike) attack is a bit different, in that where in Exeter, tori might immediately enter to unbalance uke, at Kyushinkan tori once again waits and offers. That is, tori offers their face to be hit by uke, and presents uke with the opportunity to come into tori’s space. the Kyushinkan headteacher is particularly good at this. He bobs his head forward in a way which is immensely inviting and makes wanting to hit him almost irresistible (which may not be a good thing in every situation but in this contexts is great). Of course by the time I’ve attempted to strike him he’s already moved and I have to chase him which leads me to another vacuum and so on. As uke it feels like not so much orbiting something or being sucked towards something as spontaneously faceplanting the floor. I did in fact, take ukemi on my face from ikkyo the other week. Mat-burn isn’t so pleasant on the cheeks, let me say that. It’s that kind of accidental “oops” and splat, which is a bit different to the Exeter feeling which is more like starting a sentence and immediately being cut off. You get time to say “I-” and then it’s tori’s turn to speak and they don’t stop til you hit the ground. At Kyushinkan the sentence runs faster than you can say it. You think you’re leading the conversation but really, tori has the hymn sheet and the conductor’s stick. The more you try to out-talk them the quicker you play into their hands. That’s probably why I hit the ground so fast, it’s cuz I go in fast.

At the end of course, they’re both two sides of the same coin and they both become what I call “binary Aikido”, which feels neither Omote nor Ura to uke in the end. It just feels ‘on’ or ‘off’ hence ‘binary’. I haven’t felt this that often from techniques, and I don’t think I’ve ever done it, but it is quite eerie when it does happen. You get that cold sweat that’s mainly fear and bewilderment, and you get pain. The cold sweat comes in the “off” step where you don’t get any response from tori, which is bewildering since you were certain you hit something, or should have hit something, and initially terrifying because it’s like stepping into thin air when you were sure there was another step on the staircase. The pain comes in the “on” step, because your body has no time to prepare for the technique engaging. There’s no tell, no wind up, no cocking or chambering step and no signal or telegraph to respond to. It just happens. The degree of pain is all down to tori’s choice and in truth, there might be no pain at all. But usually you run into an atemi (strike) or are thrown so abruptly you hit the ground without having time to process how you got there or, with locking techniques, you just experience a very sharp compulsion to drop to your knees and tap out (or flip should the lock call for it). Actually, it’s very exciting to experience too, it’s not just terrifying and painful. It’s like finally realising where exactly Tokyo is in relation to where you were standing (to bear out the directional metaphor). In simpler terms, it’s like going to a concert and being inspired to take up an instrument. Suddenly you know what you’re aiming for and you want to be able to do that, to do better than that, to be the person who other people aim at. That’s the kind of feeling you get from a really perfect technique too. At least on the safety of the training mat. If it’s elsewhere well, you might be dead.

So there’s some stuff about Aikido and whatnot. This week happens to be the UKA summer school, which I’m not attending this year, so all the Kyushinkan guys have gone off to train there so there’s no training for me. I went last year and the year before but I won’t talk about that now. Another time perhaps :D.

Anyway cheers for reading. My thanks to Exeter Aikido (https://www.facebook.com/exeteraikido) and Kyushinkan dojo (http://www.kyushinkan.com/) for giving me permission to write about them.

Later!

威豪

A Bloodborne Wish List

So Gamescom was this week and they’ve shown a bunch of work in progress footage from Bloodborne, a PS4 title which is due to be released next year, from the studio and director who created Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls.

I’mma warn you now, this one is actually about videogames, so it might not be the best read for everyone. No complaints if you read on anyway xP.

When I finished the first Dark Souls, I said that an ideal game would offer the satisfaction, challenge, and player flexibility of a Souls-type game, and also the fluid movement, responsiveness and outright “I look really cool”-ness of an Assassin’s Creed game. Bloodborne looks like it might fulfil that wish. Therefore, I’d like to talk a little about a couple of other wishes I have for Bloodborne, and other future games in general.

Here’s an easy one to start with; non-rubbish collision physics. In a videogame I want to be able to do everything I can in real life, and then more. For example, in a game I can take a few bullets, the odd stab to the face, and fall a few hundred feet every now and then and it doesn’t really matter. In games I run everywhere (or as long as my stamina bar lasts). I’d be exhausted inside 20 minutes if I ran around as much in real life as I did in games. Stuff like that is an extension of a natural ability (running) or an addition of an ability that just doesn’t exist (wounds healing spontaneously). And of course in a game I have permission to fight people with swords and shoot them with my gun and beat them with my fists. So when in-game my avatar comes up against an ankle high ledge and can’t walk over it because either I lack the ability to jump or raise my leg, or the collision detection means I’m walking into an invisible wall it really upsets me. Less of that would be nice. If the game needs to limit my movement just put up a big wall or make it an endless drop or something. Fake invisible walls are super annoying and amongst other things they: break the player fantasy, expose the game engine in a way which is jarring, stink of sloppy and slightly lazy design. Of course if the rest of the game is good enough such a thing is barely noticeable and I won’t complain. But it is something that niggles.

That one’s quite achievable, this next one isn’t. I don’t think it’ll be in Bloodborne, or any game in the near future either. I would like RPG (particularly Souls type games) games to revamp Strength and Dexterity as parameters. As far as in-game stats go they’re usually the primary offensive stats for melee weapon users, but in actuality they’re very boring. The primary reason for their boringness being that all that these in-game stats do is increase the damage numbers of your attacks and make certain weapons usable. In terms of is this a sensible system, the answer is yes. The numbers STR and DEX represent the player’s physical strength and skill at arms respectively. It stands to reason that use of certain weapons requires the player to be strong (you can’t carry a giant sword if you aren’t a bit strong) and have a modicum of skill (you can’t effectively fence with a rapier without a little bit of training in the art of swordplay) and some require both (to carry around and operate a large anti-materiel rifle you need both strength and training in certain skills). It also stands to reason that the more strength and the more skill the user has, the more effective they will be with the weapons they are presented with, hence increasing STR and DEX increases damage numbers.

So what’s my problem with this way of doing things? Even though it might be a good simulator of the player’s growth, it doesn’t actually present the player with any growth at all. The player’s actions themselves do not change whether your STR and DEX are very low or very high (apart from perhaps using a different weapon). The animations the player has for attacks and weapons are the same either way. The root problem here is movement rigidity or command rigidity. The player-avatar carries out the same moves corresponding to the same commands every time. Games with a “skill-tree” type level system or a turn-based combat system don’t usually have this problem because the player isn’t as active in combat or in deciding their avatar’s development as the skill-tree pre-ordains what the player may or may not learn and the order of combat is already regimented by the turn-based structure. However, this is where I think the kind of ‘free-levelling’ system that Souls games have can learn from skill-tree games.

A skill-tree rewards the players with the next specific “skill” along in the tree when the player reaches the necessary level. Like trees, skill-trees often branch, so the player may specialise in one type of skill, but investment in one branch means it is impossible to access certain other skills down other branches. The game distributes the increases in statistics without player input, by either predetermined increments or chance distributions. The “skills” that the player gets to choose are basically the new moves the character gets. The free-levelling system in Dark Souls and the ilk lets the player directly choose their stat distributions with each level, but there is no procession of “skills” trotted out to the player. Their “skills” are actually their own skills, that is, to be able to pull off flashy moves and show-stopping combos, the player has to learn to perform the inputs and execute them with the requisite timing. There is no simply selecting what move you want from a list and letting it play out (though there is a different skill to using that properly). What Souls loses out on then is that the combat system is therefore very simple. You have your attacks and that’s it. You only get to decide how hard each one hits by increasing your STR and DEX values, but your moves will always be the same so long as you use the same weapons and the like. How you chain them together is up to you, but ultimately, that skill belongs to the player whether they are level 1 or level 100. Hence, sometimes it feels like levelling up in Souls games is barely a reward, and the increase in the avatar’s ability is only noticeable if you’re busy watching damage numbers and direct hit modifiers and damage scaling all the time. And that sucks all the fun out of fighting.

So what I’d love to see instead of STR and DEX just raising your damage numbers which just simulates an increase in skill and strength, is an actual tangible increase in the player-avatar’s skills and strength. How to implement? I’d love to see something like weapon swing-speed increase with STR. The biggest foible of very big heavy weapons is their slowness, which never alters no matter how much STR the player accrues. The player can become very good at timing their attacks, but the weapon itself never speeds up. I think a good reward for players who invest a lot of stat points in STR would be to scale weapon swing-speed with STR. Obviously, an eight foot greatsword should not come to be able to swing faster than a single handed sabre, but within reason, it should get faster at 40 STR than at 20, and perhaps it should get almost as fast as your quick little scimitar.

Of course, this makes it hard to want to pick a DEX weapon over an STR weapon, especially since the main advantage to DEX weapons is that they outpace STR ones which are usually bigger and heavier and thus do more damage and have more range. To make them almost as fast? Wouldn’t that invalidate the use of DEX weapons or rather, how do you alter DEX levelling to balance it against the STR build? Well, frankly, I’d want DEX weapon swing speed to also scale with STR, just with diminished returns. That is to say, a stronger person should be able to swing their sabre, or flash their rapier, or draw their katana slightly faster than a less strong person. But how much faster the weapon gets should not be on the same scale as a gigantic greatsword or a towering lance, which should be almost immovable without any strength, but much easier to wield with some. In addition to that, which would then give an advantage to players who used both STR and DEX, I would want DEX (which stands for, let’s not forget, dexterity) to reflect an increase in skill with the weapon. The best way I can think of to simulate that would be to give the weapon more moves, or rather, an option to use new moves.

In Souls games your moves with a single weapon never change. A high DEX should allow the player to also “level up” those moves. There are a couple of systems I have in mind which could work for this. The first unlocks ‘advanced’ versions of the same moves as your DEX passes a threshold. So a single slash could become a quick double slash, or a dashing slash with longer range. A powerful slash could gain a charging-up quality which allows greater guard breaking and damage. A high DEX could also open up potential for more fluid combos from light attacks into strong attacks and even special critical combos at very high DEX, which should be difficult to perform in terms of player skill, but highly rewarding in terms of damage. Obviously, this kind of reward should only be open with an heavy DEX investment. The main issue with this system is that even though the player now has a selection of advanced and simple attacks to choose from, each weapon still only has one (albeit extensive) set of moves which belong to it, which isn’t too bad, except for certain situations when a weapon’s moves simply can’t reach certain enemy hitboxes (horizonal slashes can’t touch very short enemies, long thrusts often miss especially tall and thin enemies).

The second idea I had deals with this previous problem, and I imagine is somewhat simpler to implement. It’s simply that at higher DEX, you should be able to use movesets from other weapons, with more of them being unlocked as you go. This should obviously be within reason, you can’t use a dagger like an halberd, and it’s not possible to swing a two handed greatsword like a double-ended twinblade. That being said, if it’s reasonable it should be allowed, so you could swing a katana like a longsword, or use a scimitar like a rapier. Of course those examples are actually quite useless, since it makes no sense to use those move sets. But, for example, if you’ve played Dark Souls, especially in PvP, can you imagine using the katana’s dashing attack to any reasonably sized weapon? That’d be a serious bonus given its speed and range and might be, for example, a higher DEX reward for sword-type bladed weapons. Why I don’t think this idea is too great is that it’s kindof patchwork to just open up all the moves from other weapons to use on one weapon which isn’t really so much progression and development as variation. I also think that very quickly players will settle on their favourite moves which will invalidate using lots of the others.

My final idea is probably the least practical. It requires a much more precise hitbox system. Instead of having controls correspond to a certain type of move (light, fast, strong, slow), they would correspond to a certain angle.(vertical, horizontal, thrust, diagonal left to right from below, etc.). At certain angles enemies should have weak points or certain combinations of moves should be able to open up an enemy’s guard for a critical attack, for example. As DEX increases, more varied angular combinations should lead to different critical attacks, and different critical results too, including but not limited to limb loss, slow-down, a percentage life-loss, a continuous life-loss, and perhaps even weapon loss and disarmament. This would also have to be based on a more precise hitbox system and depend on where your weapon’s attacks land, cutting off an arm, a leg, piercing the chest cavity, cutting off the weapon-hand etc. I don’t think this kind of precision is currently possible in the type of games I have in mind, as it almost crosses into the territory of fighting-games proper, which really can’t be implemented in an action RPG at the level I have in mind with the current technology. One day though, that’d be nice.

It should be noted that all these systems should apply to STR weapons as well as DEX weapons, but again, with diminished returns. You should be able to expand your abilities with your great hammer, but not too much, since there are only so many ways you can smash an enemy with a giant lump of metal, it ain’t exactly as subtle as weaving your way through an enemy’s defences and cutting through a narrow gap in the armour with a katana blade.

Now, I don’t know anything about programming or game design, so I’ve no idea how practicable any of my ideas are. But then, as someone who loves playing games, I feel like it’d be really exciting to me to have a more complex expanded combat system in an action RPG type game, which generally are notorious for slightly awkward, cumbersome, and clunky fight systems when compared to the more stylish beat-em-up type games.

Anyway, that’s that.

If anyone who actually knows anything about real videogame design is listening, well, just let me know you heard me by bringing out a brilliant game in ten years’ time or something.

If you ain’t into videogames, mad props for reading all the way to the end. xD

Cheers,

Geebs.

“A Poisonous Ideology”

I hadn’t planned on writing anything else so soon after I posted the last one, but I saw the paper on the table and it annoyed me. On the front page article entitled “Our Generational Struggle Against a Poisonous Ideology”, David Cameron is quoted as saying that, amongst other things, Islamic extremists are an imminent threat to British soil which requires an immediate response in a struggle which he envisages will last the rest of his political career. Full article for interest: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11039214/Our-generational-struggle-against-a-poisonous-ideology.html

I usually refrain from being political because I’m not political, so I make no comment on policy here. What I want to say instead, is that whether or not David Cameron actually said what he is reported as saying or if it’s just journalism doing its thing, I think the article has a great irony to it when it calls the beliefs of certain ‘extreme’ Islamic groups “poisonous ideology” while simultaneously forwarding its own.

The article speaks a rhetoric of fear and dehumanisation which should be so hackneyed and simplistic to anyone who knows any Postcolonial/Race theory that I’m surprised a good journalist could have conscientiously published it. Maybe I give too much credit to journalists’ consciences? A few of the offending sound bites include but are not limited to:

“Warped and barbaric”, a straight up appeal to savagery, aligning the subject with either a lack of or somehow degenerate form of civilisation. The same kind of rhetoric was common in the literature of the empire and the slave trade.

“We face in Isil a new threat that is single-minded, determined and unflinching in pursuit of its objectives”… “Already it controls thousands of minds…”. This is the rhetoric of the swarm, the hive mind which is singular and multiple at once, that which is ordered but uncontrollable. The fear in this metaphor is akin to that of disturbing an hive of hornets and finding inside a mass which is united in will, but unpredictable in action, a force whose power is motivated anarchy. Isil becomes this kind of creature. When combined with the idea of “poisonous ideology”, it is not only swarm but also virus. “Already it controls thousands of minds…” and could infect and intoxicate more is the suggestion. This type of swarming, seething, uncontainable characterisation can be found in other depictions of ‘terrorist’ and ‘militant’ bodies in such works as Black Hawk DownBody of LiesCall of Duty 4Green ZoneArgoZero Dark Thirty, etc. Of course there is no mention made of the group itself being made up of human beings with whom dialogue might be possible.

“this is not a religious war, it is a struggle for ‘decency’ and ‘tolerance’…”. Espousing decency just serves to reiterate the supposed indecency, inhumanity, and uncivilised ‘nature’ or whoever we happen to be staging our ‘[non-religious] war’ against. Furthermore, ‘tolerance’ itself is an horrible word which is based upon the dominance of one belief system over another. To tolerate is to allow that which is tolerated to exist on the proviso that the tolerators have the power to destroy it at any point. Crucially, the tolerated is never a body on equal standing with the tolerator and it is always the tolerator’s right to renounce their tolerance at any point. The idea of tolerance is a failure of understanding and a renunciation of the pursuit of equality.

It is clear to my mind that this kind of approach to ‘extremist’ groups such as Isil is not conducive to any kind of resolution. To be sure, David Cameron and his government do need a stance and a policy but, as I said before, I make no comment on policy. I do think it would help if they started by not basing their work on a discourse which is so archaic that it belongs in the era when Britain was an empire founded upon the exploitation and subjugation of every other group of human beings it encountered. While it is well known that poison can be used as medicine in the right quantities, I think there are few rhetorics as poisonous as that of empire, colonisation, and the dehumanisation of supposedly lesser races. I think that more than anything, the discourses that this article presents are their own toxin which needs attention before anyone can consider the proposed “poisonous ideologies” belonging to other belief systems.

Just wanted to get that off my chest.

Thanks for your time.

Gabriel.

Being Realistic (About Video-Games)

It is common to hear, when listening to a conversation about video-games (or simulation-type games generally, for that matter) an appeal to “realism”. That is, that aspects of the game which are “realistic”, are considered good, and aspects which are somehow not realistic are detrimental to the overall experience. Now, it might be obvious in, for example, a shooter, that such a simple dichotomy is false. Why? Because while it may be unrealistic for an enemy with a high number of hit-points to survive being shot repeatedly in the head, it is equally unrealistic for the player to be shot and yet experience no hampered movement, no impaired aim, no shaking, no pain, and in fact, no significant reduction in combat ability whatsoever, especially considering that in most current shooter games the player’s health regenerates after a short period of time, as if they had never been shot in the first place. Furthermore, usually, only one of these two ‘unrealistic’ game aspects is complained about, and it isn’t the one that’s advantageous to the player. So given that the binary is so simple to oppose, why does it persist, not just in video-games, but in plenty of other situations as well?

Let’s take the video-game to start with then. I think that it is safe to assume that a very small number of the people (if any) who play a shooter like Call of Duty, or a stealth game like Metal Gear Solid, or a slasher like Dynasty Warriors, or a fighter like Street Fighter, or a simulator like Farmville, have ever: fought in a war, undertaken a CIA espionage mission, had a live-blade swordfight to the death, been in an all-comers no-holds barred fighting tournament, or owned and managed farm. Given the above, I believe that it simply makes no sense for anyone to make any claim about this or that in a videogame being “realistic” or otherwise, having had no real-life experience to compare it to. It is therefore the case that when a player talks about the game being “realistic”, they are actually talking about the game being close to an ideal of what the situation would be like in their imagination, or in simpler terms, the game just doing what they want it to do. To be “realistic” in this case, is just to get closer to fulfilling the wishes of the player, not approaching ‘real experience’ at all.

But then, that’s the point of a video-game in the first place in a lot of ways. It is a medium which enacts the fantasy of the player in the first place. Unlike a book or film, which it shares a lot with in terms of narrative and presentation, the video-game requires a slightly different kind of active participation than the other two. In a lot of cases, the player simply plays herself, which is arguably not the usual form of a book or film. Even in the cases where the player takes the role of a set character, the player must still motivate that character to act at all, and thus their identities become entwined through gameplay. In this way, the game itself is player wish-fulfilment. It allows the player to do (even if only vicariously) what he or she perhaps never could otherwise. The game provides the player with the simulatory tools to fight a war, to devastate armies with a swish of the sword, to cast magic, and go on adventures, and earn millions on your farm or zoo or rollercoaster park. The appeal to realism becomes then, how well the game can allow the player to feel that they have accomplished such tasks as if he had performed them with his body and bare hands. This is why when the game produces a situation which seems unfair, such as temporary invulnerablility in opponents, crops failing based on a random number generator, and enemies which are simply programmed to do things that the player can’t (like fly or something) then it is called “unrealistic”. Such moments interrupt the suggestion that the player could be performing these actions in the flesh, 1) by reminding the player that this is, in fact, a game based on code and algorithm, and 2) disrupting the player’s fantasy by illustrating that they cannot simply do what that fantasy would envisage, in other words, by being difficult. It’s like watching a film or reading a book filled with heroes and heroines you want to emulate, who turn around and constantly remind you that you, in fact, cannot at all emulate them because the work itself is fiction. And wouldn’t that be an annoying book to read.

The allure of video-games therefore, is that the player is invited to emulate the champions of the story, or even be that champion herself. The more advanced video-games have become, the more they have progressed towards becoming “more realistic” in order to enhance this simulation. Examples include, but are not limited to, vast improvement in graphics, sharper and ‘more intuitive’ use of controllers, moving away from the screen and controller at all and producing more physical interfaces such as the Wii remote, and the Oculus Rift immersion helmet, and while it is currently impossible to attain the same precision, or simulate the same volume of information in a virtual world as in its physical equivalent, closing this simulation gap, is what I believe the video-game as a medium will pursue in the future. The narrower the simulation gap, the closer the player will be to having ‘real experience’ of doing what the game currently allows vicarious or simulated experience of. At the point when the simulation gap reaches zero, it may be such that video-games become like being Neo in The Matrix and to perform an action becomes as simple as mastering the code and believing in the potential of your own mind. The video-game at that stage will be simultaneously at its most “realistic” and yet also at its most fantastically absurd. Simultaneously embodying a world and a player which are absolutely faithful to their physical counterparts, yet allowing them to behaving in ways which were impossible before. This is the video-game as an engine of fantasy. Its “realism” is all about supporting the impossible and reflecting it as ‘realistic’. Rather than respecting the limits of reality, it allows the player to surpass them and live in the realm of the imaginary.

So much for video-games being “realistic” then.

This has just been a quick ramble, because I wanted to say something about this idea aside from the mostly dull “there’s no point comparing because a videogame can’t approach the volume of information necessary to simulate the everyday sensory world”. Of course, it’s also interesting when you think about how “realistic” other simulations are such as how combat is simulated in martial arts training, and sports matches are simulated in coaching exercises. How rehearsals simulate performance and an exam might simulate a situation which demands random information recall (tenuous? Maybe.). I might talk about such examples another time.

Sorry for leaving the blog blank for a while. Composing that tiny poem took more creative juice than I was prepared for.

Thanks for reading~

Gabriel.

A Story about Two Swords

There is a folklore legend (though I have heard it said that this legend is true, I don’t think historically the two could ever have met given the eras their work dates from) about the two Japanese swordsmiths Muramasa and Masamune and it goes something like this. The two are placed in a situation where they must challenge each other over who can produce the finer sword. The swords they produce will be hung down blade first in a river to test how well they cut. Muramasa, the younger of the two, produces a sword with an exquisitely sharp edge which slices through everything in the river including leaves, branches, fish, etc. etc. Masamune’s sword however, cuts nothing at all when it is hung in the river. In spite of this, Muramasa is not declared the winner of the contest. In the version I wish to relate, I think the quality of the swords is judged as a draw or left ambiguous with no winner declared. It is consistent throughout the various iterations of the tale, however, that Muramasa’s swords are declared cursed blades or demon blades, and Masamune’s are called divine or holy swords.

Why did Muramasa not claim victory? Why was his sword, which was sharper and the better cutting implement not judged to be superior? The monk who judged the competition suggests that while Muramasa’s sword is clearly an excellent blade, it knows no restraint and is bloodthirsty (if you don’t like anthropomorphising bits of sharp metal, sorry, gonna have to deal with the metaphor), which is why it becomes known as a cursed blade. It is a sword which must always draw blood otherwise it will never be satisfied, a blade which cuts indiscriminately. Masamune’s on the other hand is a sword which never cuts without reason, which never cuts without purpose. It is a sword which espouses discipline, forgiveness, and restraint, and always seeks to avoid bloodshed, which is why it cuts nothing in the river. As such, the monk calls this blade divine, a blade which has the moral character making it worthy to judge a person, a blade which has the right to choose whether to give or take life.

So then is Masamune’s blade the better sword owing to its dignity and conscience? Not, perhaps according to samurai tradition. The samurai (if you really buy into all that) thinks of himself as his master’s sword above all other things and like a soldier his highest tenets are loyalty and obedience. A sword has no place choosing who or what it cuts in this tradition. It is simply a device for murder and a servant which follows orders. In this, Muramasa’s sword is superior, its only purpose to cut, never to judge what deserves to be cut or otherwise.

Can a better be decided?

I would argue that the answer is no, that the martial artist should always wield both. If your only sword is a Masamune, then you’re Jesus turning the other cheek, which is surely admirable in many respects and if you’re willing to sacrifice even your life for a belief in forgiveness then mad props, go for it. But, I’d argue that the real test of a martial artist isn’t really in self defence. It’s my firm belief that almost all situations which demand self-defence are avoidable. I think push only comes to shove when it’s someone else who you, as the martial artist, become obliged to defend. And I can’t really turn the other cheek on someone else’s behalf if they’re getting beat up.

And here I’ll need Muramasa’s sword. If it becomes necessary, should I need to kill in order to perform self-defence of another person (or whatever term you want to come up for that that’s neater and less of a mouthful), I believe that if I am a martial artist, I should definitely have that ability. Of course, I should always avoid using it if I can, but I should know how. I believe this is part of all martial arts, though Aikido is quite explicit about it. When Aikido calls itself ‘the forgiving martial art’, I believe this is what it means. The Aikido practitioner ought to be able to destroy his or her enemy at any time, but he or she should always choose not to. That’s what it means to forgive. It is to have the power to exact a punishment for wrongdoing, but to withhold that punishment out of mercy. And for that the martial artist needs to hold Muramasa’s sword in one hand and Masamune’s in the other, which is why I say that one cannot choose one over the other.

There are plenty of other interpretations for this folktale, and plenty of other ways of demonstrating the same principle (often called katsujinken [roughly: life giving sword] and satsujinken [roughly: life taking sword] in the traditional martial arts of Japan). I just thought this one was a nice story.

Anyway, this one has been quite heavily martial arts-focused (even compared to some of my others, which I consider less so) so if that ain’t your thing, thanks for bearing with me this far. Or perhaps you could consider it something of an ethical lecture too, if that’s any better?

Cheers for reading~

Geebs.