All posts by Sean Li

NYC

More Topics

I have several post ideas floating around but it’s always easy to get stuck in drafts. Here are topics that I’ve been interested in recently and might write about.

  • The meaninglessness of most things on the Internet, particularly due to the lack of context. A lot of “arguments” I see these days are made in short Facebook posts, tweets, or viral stock images with a sentence of text on them. This is actually fine in certain cases, precisely because there is context spanning much more than a sentence. If Nate Silver tweets one line about a something about an election, I can say “Hmm that’s interesting.” However, if the same tweet were made by a random person, I would immediately start thinking instead, “What are the credentials of this person? On what evidence is this claim based? Does this person have a political agenda? Do I expect certain biases to exist?” This isn’t to say that Nate Silver is a perfect being, but when I see a tweet from him, I really have much more to consider than just one sentence.
  • The one-upmanship or “Keeping up with the Joneses” effect in competitive or “socially competitive” gaming. This harks back to the early days of Diablo 3, and also applies to Hearthstone and many other games. There is a mathematically vast number of possible “builds” or “decks” that people can play. Of course, we don’t expect all of them to be very good, and there are probably some redundancies in how you count things, but there should probably be hundreds or at least dozens of “viable” styles of play. But with Hearthstone being a zero-sum game, any more viable deck will beat a less viable deck, and most people are competing to win, so everyone ends up using the same 1 to 3 decks. My quote from the last post was: “how optional, bonus things become requirements…. Things that were ‘amazing’ become ‘okay,’ things that were ‘okay’ are now ‘terrible.'” Also, how does this apply to real life?
  • Video game economics and socioeconomics. Namely, how emergent properties of trading and economics form in massively multiplayer games like WOW and Diablo 3 (w/auction house).
  • Social norms and social capital, versus financial capital. This is maybe a more personal topic. When I was in college and younger, despite how I hated certain social norms, I went along with many of them anyway. But now that I have a job and can easily support myself, I no longer feel the need to abide by certain social norms that I don’t particularly care for. Given this, I wonder how much of abiding with social norms before was just to build up social capital to improve expected earnings, whereas now I no longer care as much. One example is that even 5 years ago, I used to not blog about video games, and posting something like this would have been unthinkable.
  • Various economics, Effect Altruism, and rationality topics. In particular, a few below.
  • Cost disease. Regarding the famous Scott Alexander article on the topic earlier this year. This is really fascinating and the results of this really should matter for your political beliefs.
  • The meta confirmation bias – “Everyone who disagrees with me is under confirmation bias.” It seems like these days a lot more people know of the existence of the confirmation bias, but don’t understand it well enough to know that it applies to you even if you are aware of it. I think this occurring more and more. People are generally aware of echo chambers now, but the erroneous conclusion people have reached is now “oh, everyone on the side other than mine is in an echo chamber whereas my side is free speech.”
  • How my interests work, and how I categorically dismiss certain things. It’s my understanding from real-life conversations that I have a weird utility curve/set of preferences, and this could be a really boring or interesting topic. For instance, I despise eating food because I think it is a waste of time, and if there was a way to be just as healthy but not have to spend time eating anything, I would do it. For this reason I also don’t really understand eating meals over $25 (the threshold would be lower elsewhere but I live in Manhattan…). I  don’t like travel because I think the Internet is just better, and I also don’t play board games (besides some chess because I used to play it a lot) because I think video games are just better.
  • Sharing knowledge online. As a meta point, why do people say anything at all on message boards/yahoo answers/stack exchange/reddit/quora/etc.? I used to post a lot on online forums (though most of my posts are gone through let’s say a long story). And why do I blog?

Travel vs the Internet

I’ve explained to many people in the past year why I don’t like travel. This summarizes my main reasons:

  1. It costs lots of transportation time, both getting to and from the destination, as well as local transportation at the destination.
  2. Costs money.
  3. Stress of booking flights/hotels and keeping constant track of time to not miss such flights and connections, etc.
  4. Nonzero chance of being stranded or catching some unusual disease.

In addition, famous landmarks/cities give me roughly zero enjoyment or value. If I’ve already seen something in a history book or website, know about its historical significance, and have seen many pictures of it including in pop culture like movies or TV shows or even in video games, I feel like I gain nothing from visiting it in person.

The main thing I actually do like about travel is that you get to explore new places, ideas, and cultures. Which is why I think browsing the internet is just a better version of traveling. In addition to the exploration of new things, it doesn’t have any of the negatives mentioned above:

  1. Transportation is on the order of seconds or even fractions of a second spent loading web pages, rather than hours and hours on a plane or at an airport.
  2. People generally already have computers and internet anyway, so it is free.
  3. No stress of booking any flights/hotels, no deadlines/schedules.
  4. You can’t get stranded on the internet or catch real life diseases.

If you get bored at any time, you go to a different page. You can expand your perspective in minutes by simply going to a forum or news site of a different ideological affiliation. You can learn things so much quicker. And so forth.

I’ve held this position against travel for roughly 7 years., though it’s definitely open for debate. Anyway, back to the internet!

Video Game Ratings

mario

Here are my video game ratings on a scale of 1-10. I’m open to (good) suggestions!

Platform is PC unless otherwise stated. Year is when the game was released.

Key:

  • 10+ (favorites) – bold orange
  • 10 – bold purple
  • 9 – bold blue
  • 8 – bold green
  • 7 – bold
  • 1 to 6 – normal

2017

  • Mass Effect: Andromeda – 9
  • Nier: Automata – 5

2016

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – 7
  • Doom – 3
  • Grim Dawn – 2
  • Layers of Fear – 6
  • Offworld Trading Company – 2
  • Quantum Break – 8
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider – 7
  • Stellaris – 3
  • The Division – 6
  • The Turing Test – 7
  • XCOM 2 – 8

2015

  • Cities: Skylines – 7
  • Fallout 4 – 9
  • Grand Theft Auto V – 4
  • Heroes of the Storm – 7
  • Kerbal Space Program – 2
  • Life Is Strange – 4
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – 5

2014

  • Civilization: Beyond Earth – 8
  • Deadcore – 4
  • Divinity: Original Sin – 1
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – 7
  • Endless Legend – 8
  • Far Cry 4 – 7
  • Hearthstone – 9
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – 5
  • The Talos Principle – 5

2013

  • Bioshock Infinite – 10
  • Dota 2 – 7
  • Europa Universalis IV – 1
  • Gone Home – 6
  • Metro: Last Light – 6
  • Outlast – 6
  • Path of Exile – 10
  • Remember Me – 4
  • Saints Row IV – 9
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist – 7
  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – 4
  • The Swapper – 2
  • Tomb Raider – 9

2012

  • Borderlands 2 – 4
  • Diablo III – 10
  • Dishonored – 6
  • Dragon Nest – 6
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – 5
  • Mass Effect 3 – 9
  • Spec Ops: The Line – 7
  • Torchlight II – 4
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown – 6

2011

  • Batman: Arkham City – 3
  • Crysis 2 – 6
  • Dead Space 2 – 7
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 8
  • Might and Magic: Heroes VI – 6
  • Portal 2 – 7
  • Saints Row: The Third – 8
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 3

2010

  • Assassin’s Creed 2 – 2
  • Bayonetta – 4
  • Bioshock 2 – 4
  • Civilization V – 9
  • Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) – 7
  • Mass Effect 2 – 9
  • Metro 2033 – 6
  • Mirror’s Edge – 2
  • Starcraft 2 – 10
  • World of Warcraft: Cataclysm* – 10

2009

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – 5
  • Dragon Age: Origins – 5

2008

  • Dead Space – 6
  • Far Cry 2 – 3
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – 8

2007

  • Bioshock – 8
  • Crysis – 4
  • Mass Effect – 10
  • Portal – 9

2006

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – 5

2005

  • Age of Empires III – 4

2004

  • Half-Life 2 – 2

2003

  • Enter the Matrix (PS2) – 4
  • Rise of Nations – 8

2002

  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PS2) – 7
  • Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – 10

2001

  • Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) – 5
  • RuneScape – 5
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube) – 8

2000

  • Diablo II – 6

1999

  • Age of Empires II – 4

1998

  • Starcraft – 10

*The convention above is to list by release date of the original game, regardless of when I played relative to expansion packs or DLC or beta testing. However, as the expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was released 6 years after the original game, I’ve listed it as separate.

These ratings are my subjective opinion and reflect how much I enjoyed playing each game. For instance, Half-Life 2 (2004) is considered one of the best PC games of all time, but playing it for the first time in 2017, I got bored of it very quickly. On the other hand, I found Quantum Break (2016), which has mixed reviews, to be really fun.

As I’ve mentioned before, rating video games seems a lot harder than rating something more standard like movies. There is a lot more variance in time played, games have different goals, and pricing is not so simple. There are some games that I included which seem like good games for some people or even myself at different points in my life, but at the time of playing it was clearly not for me. For the sake of statistics (not excluding negative results), I have included games even where the time played is very small, in the hope that someone with similar tastes in video games may benefit from such a list.

I generally like newer games better than old, but since I play out of order, it may be the case that for two games released in the same year, I played one of them on release and the other 5 years later, and had disparate ratings between the two even if they were similar in quality, depending on which I enjoyed more at the time.

Below are additional comments for each game. For a lot of the newer games I can use Steam or some other tracking to see exactly the hours played; for older games I can only estimate.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 101 hours

This is an excellent game. However, I can see why it got so many negative reviews. I think the main thing is the disconnect between what many people expected and what the game was intended to be. People seemed to want Mass Effect 2 revamped, but Bioware took this in a different direction. Namely, even before release, it was very clearly stated to have open-world elements, and that the plot would involve humans and other Milky Way species exploring parts of a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy to find a new home. The game’s title even contains another galaxy. Based on that, I went in expecting a focus on exploration and environments, and on these fronts it definitely delivered.

Exploration/Environments – This is where Andromeda shines. The overall graphical look is bright but realistic. Some (though not all) of the planets are breathtaking, and the main player ship and space station look gorgeous. Without spoiling the plot, there are enough varied environments to cover a huge range.

Pacing – The game starts off very slow. It has a couple of large tutorial missions, and it took me about 10 hours to get to the point where I had a full base and could start exploring at will. Once you get to this stage, the game really picks up. Though, because the game is basically open-world, it is still slower than any of the first three Mass Effect games. The slow pacing may be offputting to people, but I thought it was definitely worth it.

Facial animations – For some reason, this game has received an incredible amount of criticism over facial animations, and while I would agree it is not 100% realistic, I would also like to point out that it is a video game. If I wanted 100% accurate facial animations, I could go talk to someone in real life. Also, I noticed that only the human animations seemed off, as if Bioware was really trying to enhance here but made some mistakes. On the other hand, the Turian/Salarian/Asari/Krogan/other-alien animations seemed fine.

Characters/Dialogue – Similar to above, I don’t expect games to have super convincingly realistic characters or dialogue. Regarding the dialogue, there were certainly good moments and cringey moments, but it never took away from the game immersion. Plus, sometimes the game is self-referential in addressing how awkward the dialogue is. My personal order from best to worst of the original trilogy is 1 (known for story/exploration), then 3 (known for combat), then 2 (known for characters).

Combat – I would agree with the critics here that the combat is extremely good.

Plot – The overall premise is really exciting – exploring a star cluster in the Andromeda galaxy and finding a planet for habitation. Of course, things don’t go as planned. The main story was pretty straightforward but was fleshed out enough to be satisfying.

Nier: Automata (2017)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 5 hours

One of my greatest pet peeves is backtracking, and it is exceedingly horrible in this game. Yes, I got to the point in the game where you unlock fast travel, but still, those early hours were incredibly painful. The quests are boring, and the environments seem mostly bland with vast stretches of nothingness.

This could have been a 2/10, but the combat definitely comes to the rescue. The first 30 minutes, which is basically a well-scripted tutorial level that comes before any of the problems mentioned above, was mind-blowingly awesome.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 23 hours

This follows up Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), and it definitely lives up to its predecessor. The best thing about the new one is that you have tons of ways to complete missions, giving it a high amount of player choice and replayability. It’s also the first stealth game I’ve played where it actually felt fun to go completely non-lethal; I didn’t feel the same way in Human Revolution, Dishonored (2012), or Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013). (Not that those were bad games—just that I preferred the lethal approach in them.)

The story is very interesting but it gets heavy-handed for a video game; I would normally praise this but I feel like this game basically forced many story elements on you in sometimes annoying ways, e.g. being ID’d by police for the tenth time. Basically, the world is divided into mechanically-augmented people (“augs”) and non-augmented people (“naturals”), and there is lots of blatant discrimination and segregation against augs, including the player character. It’s clear what this parallels in real life. It had potential to be best social commentary in video games, but the story is told in a way that comes off as painfully obvious/sometimes annoying, rather than a more subtle “show, don’t tell “approach.

Doom (2016)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 9 hours

Maybe it’s because I never played the original Doom (1993), but I really couldn’t find anything satisfying in this game. The graphics were nice and detailed, but that was it, and it really didn’t capture the scary feel for me like Dead Space and Dead Space 2. I felt like I was just mindlessly jumping around/dodging/shooting from one level to the next. And maybe I quit the game too soon, but the player character never really felt powerful; every gun that felt good to use ran out of ammo really fast.

Grim Dawn (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 17 hours

This game is pretty fun for the first few hours, but it then devolved into your everyday ARPG. The plot was uninteresting, graphics were meh, and gameplay felt really slow and repetitive. It doesn’t compare at all to Diablo III or Path of Exile, and you’re better off playing either of those if you crave an ARPG.

Layers of Fear (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 3 hours

This game is Escher painting meets jump-scare horror. I’m generally not a fan of walking simulators, but this was well done. The best parts are when the spatial orientation is messed up, such as when you walk into a rectangular room, turn left, go through a door, and end up in the same room.

Offworld Trading Company (2016)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 5 hours

As a professional trader, I was really excited about the premise of this game and really wanted to like it. You get to trade resources, take out loans, and buy out other companies! Better in theory I guess. After I finished one match, I had basically no interest to play another.

Quantum Break (2016)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 8 hours

This is one of gaming’s underrated gems. It has one of the most compelling plots of any game, and it is both perfectly rational and mind-blowing. It’s also a weird game in that it is part game and part live-action TV show. The combat is not spectacular but it’s good enough to not detract from the story.

Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 16 hours

Something about the combat and environment didn’t feel as good as in its predecessor reboot Tomb Raider (2013), but it’s still a solid game. It just never made me say “wow” like the previous game did. It does have insanely good graphics.

Stellaris (2016)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 12 hours

Had potential to be good, but resource management, combat, and diplomacy were all lacking. At one point in a game against an easy AI, I just wanted to end it so I amassed a fleet and went to war with the AI. However, I didn’t choose the objectives carefully (demanded 3 of their 5 planets), and after a while the AI just surrendered the planets I demanded, thus forcing peace without my ever agreeing to it. Then began one of my most frustrating hours in video gaming. It turns out having 3 extra planets is a nightmare because of resource maintenance and civil unrest, and it was pretty clear that this was just draining my resources, and that I would be better off just giving away these planets. However, the game doesn’t let you do that. I had to wait the requisite amount of time before you could declare war again, and by that time my resources had basically gone to zero and I had been forced to disband most of my fleet.

The Division (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 20 hours

Has really beautiful graphics and is an open-world Manhattan! It doesn’t have enough of the city to visit where I currently live, but I did manage to find my former Murray Hill apartment in-game! There are a lot of mixed opinions about this game, but my experience was positive. The graphics are nice, and there is a real sense of progress as you spend more time. The main downside is that the combat feels very repetitive. It’s basically a cover-shooter MMO.

The Turing Test (2016)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 6 hours

Decent puzzle game in the style of Portal/The Talos Principle with interesting enough mechanics and pretty nice story and graphics. The Europa landing scene that happens early on was epic, one of the best landing on the ground scenes in video gaming and film. I enjoyed this game much more than The Talos Principle. For the most part, there weren’t any super gimmick puzzles, and the philosophy was pretty elementary but well organized, and it didn’t feel like too much.

XCOM 2 (2016)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 43 hours

I liked this one better than the 2012 game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It has really solid graphics and customization, and the core turn-based squad combat feels great. The DLC was a blast. It is brutal in terms of difficulty: I played on the easiest setting and still felt like I needed to save/reload constantly.

Cities: Skylines (2015)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 10 hours

Had fun building a city. It was exactly the experience I expected.

Fallout 4 (2015)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 128 hours

I had recently gotten bored of open-world games. GTA5 and Witcher 3 felt super overrated and not that entertaining, while Far Cry 4 was actually good but became boring towards the end. However, Fallout 4 drew me back in. The RPG, combat, story, open-world, and crafting elements are all superb.

My last real-life vacation was in Boston, but exploring a fictional future post-apocalyptic Boston was so much better than exploring real Boston. It’s incredibly detailed as well: you can find all kinds of historical landmarks, and even the Freedom Trail exists in-game. I found the DLC to be pretty good, though I think I’m one of the odd few who prefers Nuka World over Far Harbor.

I’m giving it a 9 instead of 10 because I really didn’t like using the settlements: the system itself seemed fine, but I didn’t like having it be required rather than optional. Also, the load screens could get annoying. For example, why are there three load screens between the Commonwealth and the main deck of the Prydwen?

Grand Theft Auto V (2015)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 7 hours

It had some good plot moments, the character switching is pretty cool, graphics are decent, and there is a ton of content. But the thing I can’t stand about this game is the realism and slow pace (at least in the beginning). Yes, I’m complaining about GTA5 not because it is violent, but because it is boring. For a game that literally has “theft” in its title, there’s not too going on.

In contrast, if I go 7 hours into Saints Row IV, much more plot and action will have occurred. It feels like in my 7 hours of play in GTA5, nothing really happened, and to make something happen, I will need to elaborately plan the details of a heist and spend effort doing that. I quit the game after being asked to prepare for the first heist.

Heroes of the Storm (2015)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 15 hours

A solid game, pretty fun since I’ve played Blizzard games extensively and it’s cool to see all the crossovers from different franchises. I could see myself playing this if I get bored.

Kerbal Space Program (2015)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 44 minutes

This sandbox spaceship-building game is probably awesome for some people but I’m clearly just not the target audience. As much I love space and sci-fi, this was among the most boring 44 minutes I have ever spent in a game.

Life is Strange (2015)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 16 hours

Definitely had a great plot with some memorable and gut-wrenching moments, but the whole experience (all 5 episodes) felt excruciatingly slow and could have been over in half the time. I also encountered a very frustrating glitch near the beginning which meant I had to restart the first un-skippable minutes a couple of times. It had potential to be an 8 or 9.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 58 hours

This has got to be the most overrated game of the last few years  (along with maybe Skyrim). It’s not a bad game—in fact, it is pretty good. But I really don’t understand how it has universal acclaim from both critics and the wider playerbase. It is not even close to “the best RPG of all time” as some claim.

The combat was boring and extremely repetitive, and nothing else could really make up for this. Player control and movement never felt good, though briefly controlling Ciri at times was a surprisingly good exception. Graphics were awesome, but the controls made exploration more annoying than exciting. And the backtracking through certain paths in the main Novigrad quest chain was horrible. Basically, the first 5 hours are very good (before repetition sets in) and “On Thin Ice” is one of the best video game set pieces ever, but everything else felt lacking.

Civilization: Beyond Earth (2014)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 39 hours

Definitely an underrated game. It is often criticized as being Civ 5 in space, but how is that a bad thing? You build a settlement on an alien planet. The soundtrack is ridiculously good and somehow makes me think of actual grand space exploration, of solemn optimism and hope after a great tragedy (like 2016). The main thing lacking is definitely the uniqueness of the sponsors/beginning choices. It never felt like you were really choosing between different options.

Deadcore (2014)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 2 hours

A pretty interesting/fun platformer for an hour or two. The game gets intense quickly and becomes far too hardcore. Beating certain puzzles felt very rewarding, but it devolves into having to perfect the art of insane controls/timings, which is not for me.

Divinity: Original Sin (2014)

Rating: 1/10

Time played: 10 hours

A game where I clearly lack the required patience level. It was good for the first 30 minutes, including a tutorial highlighting the combat system. But it went massively downhill once I entered the first city. I got stuck quickly on the main quest, and all the gates leading out of the city were shut and the guards told me I didn’t have enough experience to venture outside. After some frustration in figuring out what I was supposed to do, I did one of the things I dread most in gaming: look up online how to get past the first level.

As an aside, I strongly believe a well-designed game should not make you do this. For example, Portal is an extremely well-designed game in terms of difficulty curve and I never felt like I needed to look up solutions online even for hard puzzles. In Divinity: Original Sin, not only could I not figure out how to do anything, but I could not even figure out what it was I was supposed to do. I should not be brickwalled in the very first town.

Other things: graphics were meh, controls felt bad at times and movement especially in a city felt really slow. The dialogue is pretty boring and I ended up just skipping them as quickly as possible. Once I finally ventured outside the gates, I found combat to be much less interesting than I had thought at first (although this was after ~4 hours of frustration and I felt pretty negatively at this point). I really wanted to like this game, probably because of sunk time fallacy, but it was to no avail.

Overall, I can see how the game can be really fun for some people, but it was probably the worst gaming experience I’ve ever had.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 57 hours

This is a wonderful game, with some amazing landscapes and scenery. The combat is pretty good but again repetitive. However, it is definitely a step up from Dragon Age: Origins (2009). The quest system felt kind of weak, in that it was vastly overwhelming and I ended up not caring much for most of them. Exploring was awesome though.

Endless Legend (2014)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 25 hours

Solid 4x game. The game and ui are very pleasing to look at and it feels very polished. The factions all feel cool and unique. Some of the tech choices seemed useless but I haven’t spent so much time on it. Also, the tactical fight view felt like a waste of time, as there aren’t that many decisions to make, nor are there difficult decisions. I eventually just had combat always auto-run.

Far Cry 4 (2014)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 39 hours

Overall a pretty fun open-world game, though nothing was spectacular. The main quest is good, side content is good, combat/stealth is okay, and exploration is great.

Hearthstone (2014)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: est. 450 hours

A card game where you can basically spend countless hours. It’s made by Blizzard so it’s super well polished. The actual mechanics are pretty simple but combining cards in different combinations is really cool, and the classes all feel unique even if they are just WoW classes.

The only reason I am not giving it a 10/10 is that for a game that is always online and probably 90% multiplayer, it has roughly no interface for talking to other players other than a bizarre 6-emote system. I understand why Blizzard left out chat, but this really bugs me. Overall, the game is excellent.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

Rating: 5/1o

Time played: 23 hours

This game is often praised for its combat, and I definitely agree, at least for the first few hours. At the beginning, the story, exploration, and combat are all superb (other than ranged combat).  However, after a while it becomes very repetitive—every fight and side quest feels the same. Still, there is enough cool stuff left to plow through the rest of the game.

The Talos Principle (2014)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 12 hours

A puzzle game with a philosophical twist, but it doesn’t compare to Portal or Portal 2 at all. Some of the actual puzzles were superb, but the story really got in the way. I grew increasingly annoyed every time Elohim talked, which was like every five minutes. A good number of the puzzles felt like filler, making the game length pretty bloated. For context, I spent more time on this game than Portal and Portal 2 combined, and it was maybe half as fun as either.

The puzzle distribution was as follows: 20% were tutorial-ish (but still pretty fun as there are interesting mechanics), 30% were really satisfying to solve, 40% were grindy/a bit repetitive, and 10% felt like cheap gimmicks where you had to know or stumble upon some trick. But overall, it’s solid, and there are many puzzles.

Bioshock Infinite (2013)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 39 hours

Easily one of the best video games I have ever played. The plot is unmatched. It continues to explore social and philosophical themes like in the original Bioshock (2007), and it does so in even greater depth. Character development is among the best in any video game. The city of Columbia looks amazing and inspires just as much awe as Rapture. And you get to see some of the apparent utopia in action before conflict breaks out, as opposed to how in the original Bioshock, you start well after society has already crumbled.

Level design and atmosphere are superb. It had one of the most memorable enemy types ever, which was simultaneously comical, scary, and very sensible in terms of how it fits into the plot: Motorized Patriots. Everything fit together very well, making Columbia a living, real place.

Dota 2 (2013)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

I’ve played many more hours of Dota 1 than 2, so I’m not really sure if I’m rating Dota 2‘s improvements over Dota 1, or just Dota 1 itself. Anyway Dota 1/Dota 2 is a really good game, though I cannot see myself having fun playing this as I did 10 years ago.

Europa Universalis IV (2013)

Rating: 1/10

Time played: 51 minutes

Similarly to Kerbal Space Program and Divinity: Original Sin, this game isn’t actually bad but it was a combination of realizing “obviously not for me” and “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do and the tutorial clarified almost nothing.”

Gone Home (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 54 minutes

Decent mystery/walking simulator, has a good amount of content while not wasting any time.

Metro: Last Light (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 8 hours

A dark, gritty post-apocalyptic shooter. Felt very similar to the original Metro 2033 (2010), but had enough improvements and the story felt fresh enough.

Outlast (2013)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 1 hour

A survival horror that is the only game I have ever quit due to its being too scary. So I’m giving it a solid rating despite that I stopped playing.

Path of Exile (2013)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 300 hours

This might stay the best ARPG of the decade. It has a combat system that is easy to get the basics of, but it is incredibly complex, allowing for tons of depth. It has a mind-boggling amount of customization in both active and passive skills. And the combat can actually be fast. There are not many games that feel anywhere near as good when you are super geared, where you can use one skill to clear an entire screen full of enemies, use a very fast movement skill to get to the next screen in under a second, clear that screen, and so forth. I think Diablo III is a really good game, but Path of Exile is just better.

Remember Me (2013)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

Storytelling and scenery were impressive, but combat was super frustrating. You often fought multiple enemies at once, and there was basically no AOE. Combat was based on combos, but you had to break combos to dodge attacks from many enemies. And there were invisible enemies that you couldn’t attack without doing certain things.

Saints Row IV (2013)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 38 hours

This is basically the Family Guy/Monty Python of video games. It’s very fun, mainly from the outrageous plot, relentless parody of other video games (the GTA and Mass Effect series immediately come to mind), numerous jokes/references to pop culture, and some unexpected mini-games (like Family Guy cutaway gags). You get to play an old-style 2D side-scroller game within the game during a key plot moment, and at other times you can chase a fast-moving, flying golden orb in what is essentially street Quidditch. And you can shoot people with a dubstep gun that causes them to move in beat. Oh and you get superpowers.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 19 hours

Solid stealth game. One of the few games that actually got me to replay some levels.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (2013)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 3 hours

A squad tactical shooter that had really weird controls and it took a long time for combat to feel reasonable. The intro mission was actually pretty fun because you had squadmates with powerful abilities and the visuals of the base. However, the game lost its luster after that. I also encountered various technical issues with this game that were quite frustrating.

The Swapper (2013)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

Learned that it was not for me. The first few chambers were pretty cool, but the entire point of the game (clone/swapping mechanic) quickly became a chore.

Tomb Raider (2013)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 15 hours

Excellent storytelling and environment. The protagonist’s character development is one of the best in recent gaming. Graphics and combat were also really good.

I felt like I can’t give it a 10/10 because of one particular annoyance, which was that the early levels were littered with things/areas that couldn’t be explored until you get mechanics from later, and this fact was very unapparent. I spent what felt like a couple of hours early on trying to get past a certain area, before I realized much later that you need to get rope arrows for it.

Borderlands 2 (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 11 hours

Was genuinely fun for the first couple hours, but then it felt like a leveling grind. There were some humorous aspects of the story, but it felt very over-the-top and disjointed. I never cared for any of the characters. The RPG elements were mediocre, while shooting was good but had its annoyances. I wasn’t a fan of the graphics style, and I could not stand the backtracking.

Diablo III (2012)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 600 hours

I still think this was an amazing game on release, and that the early criticism and subsequent nerfs to Infero, the hardest difficulty level, were unjustified. The game definitely did have some issues. The variety of skills was excellent, and the ability to respec was awesome for trying out new things.

Most of the controversy I think comes from socio-economics/behavioral-economics, in that the original Auction House allowed players to bypass all of the end-game and immediately get the best items, thus the chance of ever finding a better item is exceedingly small. Once I realized this, I played without using the Auction House, and the game was actually incredibly fun. (Yep, that linked post was me, and I still wonder if it contributed at all to the Auction House’s demise.)

Dishonored (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 26 hours

Overall a good game. I encountered weird and devastating technical issues that definitely bring down the rating. In addition, the game provides you with the option to go combat over stealth, but the combat aspect was definitely lacking. I remember reloading from saves over and over and over again.

Dragon Nest (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: est. 30 hours

Still has among the best combat I’ve seen in an MMO. However, the game was extremely grindy and repetitive.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (2012)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 47 hours

A decent RPG, gets repetitive but is enjoyable most of the time.

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 51 hours

An excellent game. It felt like Mass Effect 2 with better combat/RPG elements. I don’t understand why people hated the ending; I thought it was fine. Instead, the reason I can’t give it a 10/10 is that it didn’t feel like it improved upon Mass Effect 2 very much.

Spec Ops: The Line (2012)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 6 hours

I can’t tell whether this game is overrated or underrated. Combat-wise, it is a simple pretty boring shooter, but it has a pretty deep plot where you really reflect on the actions you have done. Without giving away too much, I thought the white phosphorous scene was among the most memorable and disturbing in video gaming.

Torchlight II (2012)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

It would be a pretty good ARPG in a world without Diablo 3 and Path of Exile, but it just doesn’t compare to them. I had some fun but the combat pace feels really slow (in comparison to D3 and POE), the story is basically as filler as a video game story can be, and the skill system has nowhere near as much depth.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 18 hours

A really solid game. The missions are really fun, but from the strategic perspective it always felt like you were in a rush, though it gets better once you start building satellites.

Batman: Arkham City (2011)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

I didn’t play much of it, but it felt identical to Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), and I couldn’t stand playing a game like that again.

Crysis 2 (2011)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 6 hours

I liked this game a lot more than the original Crysis (2007), as it had much better gameplay, graphics, and story. As a New Yorker, I found the exploration in New York City is pretty amazing. However, I still could not stand the general repetitiveness of fighting the same enemies ad infinitum.

Dead Space 2 (2011)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 10 hours

A very scary and enjoyable game. The environment/atmosphere is amazing. Graphics were fine, and shooting was done well.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 28 hours

Gameplay was not very fun at the start, but it becomes phenomenal once you start building up augments. Excellent story and settings. Good stealth and action. It really gives you many ways to complete a mission.

Might and Magic: Heroes VI (2011)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 80 hours

A pretty interesting premise where you coordinate strategy on a grand map and also run tactics on smaller map. The tactical battles are actually really fun, if a bit repetitive. The campaign was excruciatingly difficult and I gave up somewhere along the Sanctuary campaign (I had beaten the Haven, Necropolis, and Inferno campaigns and some of the missions I had beaten only by exploiting certain AI behaviors). The games are very snowball-y, where the more units you preserve early on, the fewer units you will lose later on. And the computer scales up in power every so often, so if you snowball too slowly, you reach a point where it’s impossible to win.

Portal 2 (2011)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 8 hours

Great game but for me it lacked the intrigue/mystery of the original Portal (2007). And I thought it dragged on for way too long.

Saints Row: The Third (2011)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 32 hours

An awesome game. I played this after Saints Row IV, and while much of the absurdity exists in The Third, it was much more down-to-earth and I liked it less. However, one of the final missions was ridiculously good (the one where “Holding Out for a Hero” starts playing).

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 77 hours

While the game was a pretty solid open-world RPG, I found it to be vastly overrated. I also had one of my worst experiences in video gaming ever. Pretty early on, I unwitting contracted Sanguinare Vampiris and became a vampire, which was super annoying. Trying to live as such a creature, I repeatedly failed to feed on the blood of NPCs, as they would just start attacking me. Finally, I went online to lookup how to get rid of it, and it took a couple hours of maddeningly following online instructions (and once getting glitched and having to start over again) to finally cure myself.

Apart from that, the game is probably okay (6 or 7/10), but the vampire experience was very memorably horrible. I also got glitched on multiple other quests that I couldn’t finish. And the story is not very good. The only thing it has going for it is that it does open-world gaming correctly. (Even so, having played World of Warcraft for 3400+ hours, I did not find a generic buggy fantasy open-world game to be super compelling.)

Assassin’s Creed 2 (2010)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

In the not-for-me category. I found the combat pretty uninteresting, the setting uninteresting, and even the parkour/platforming/stealth pretty bland. Also, it had some really weird controls for PC.

Bayonetta (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 4 hours

I played the PC port that came out in 2017, but because of the massive time gap, I’m including it under the original release year.

The graphics and style are really nice, and it also has a good sense of outlandishness in terms of plot and characters. The environments are very good. The combat was cool at the beginning but it soon became repetitive, and some of the “trials” in-game were very annoying. I could not get myself to finish the game.

Bioshock 2 (2010)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 1 hour

Could be good, but I literally could not play it much due to a game-crash bug that would happen as soon as I stepped into a certain area needed for the main story. During the moments when I did play, it seemed very much like the original Bioshock.

Civilization V (2010)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 110 hours

An awesome game. It is one of the few non-Blizzard games I have spent over 100 hours in.

 

Halo: Reach (Xbox 360) (2010)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: 8 hours

One of the few console games on this list. Reach was a solid game, though I’m not really that opinionated about it.

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 46 hours

I replayed the game recently (2017) in anticipation of Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017), and I feel like there’s no way this is the best title in the Mass Effect series so far. In fact, it might be my least favorite (though still miles better than most video games). I forgot how boring the planet resource mining was, or how annoying the hacking/bypass puzzles are. Still, its RPG/combat/sci-fi/plot/character-development/atmosphere/graphics are all insanely good.

Metro 2033 (2010)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 8 hours

I got glitched at the end of a level and didn’t want to replay the whole level. Otherwise, it is a pretty solid post-apocalyptic shooter.

Mirror’s Edge (2010)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 33 minutes

A parkour/platformer. It was super frustrating to play, I died repeatedly in the first level. The controls did not feel very fluid for a game all about running. Then I got to a point indoors where the frame rate dropped dramatically. The graphics and environment was really cool, and the plot was not bad so far.

Starcraft 2 (2010)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 200 hours

It was the only relevant RTS game for a long time. Multiplayer is great, and the campaigns are spectacular. I can open up the game in 2017 and it doesn’t feel outdated at all. Speaking of not outdated…

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (2010)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 3472 hours

Of all the games I’ve ever played, this one has the most time spent by a long shot. Also, while the original game World of Warcraft was released in 2004, I started playing in late 2010, which was technically during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, but 95% of my playtime and 100% of my endgame play was during Catalcysm. Thus, I’m counting the game as Cataclysm for the purpose of the review, but it’s really a review of WoW in general.

The game is unmatched in terms of quality. It’s a 12-year old game and it still does certain things much better than any game I’ve seen. Having a spell book and being able to drag skills to a menu of hotkeys is amazing—I’m surprised how many newer games have obviously worse control systems than this. The inventory system is 10/10—you just press B and you see all of your items at once and can use or examine any of them while still running or fighting, without having to scroll through menus or lists (*cough* Skyrim, Witcher 3Fallout 4). I guess that’s the advantage of being designed specifically for PC. The UI is just so much better than games released even a decade later.

And it did open-world 7 years before everyone went “omg open-world is awesome” with Skyrim. You could walk from one end of Kalimdor to the other without a loading screen. And Kalimdor/Lordaeron/Outland/Northrend are each much bigger than Skyrim. The classes all feel unique and have tons of backstory behind them (partly because it was based on a lore-rich franchise). And while the graphics are a bit dated, they do enough to maintain a sense of awe and wonder.

The way I describe WoW to people who haven’t played is this: WoW is actually two games in one. The first is a leveling game, in which you get to max level and which feels like every other RPG except it is much more polished and the story is better. That is about 10% of the game. The other 90% is after you hit max level. Then the real game starts, with dungeons into raids.

Most of my memorable experience was during Tier 11, or the first set of raid bosses in Cataclysm. The fights were not trivial and had pretty complex mechanics, which I was unused to in an RPG game at the time. Up to that point, most “boss fights” I was accustomed to were just big things with tons of HP and damage, and to beat the boss, you just get really strong weapons and armor and you win. However, WoW bosses were largely not like this. Sure, they had big HP bars, but they also had plenty of mechanics. There were bosses where even if your group’s gear sucked, you could still win if your coordination was good enough. And for most bosses, even if you had insanely good gear, your whole group would die if you didn’t respond to boss mechanics properly. There were 10-person boss fights where if 9 people played perfectly and the last person made one mistake during a critical time, it was game over for the whole group. And that was the fun part—getting 10-25 strangers on the Internet to communicate and coordinate effectively with one another.

The only problem is that the game is too good, to the point where it is addicting. I spent literally a third of second-semester-freshman/first-semester-sophomore years of college on this game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 7 hours

Was pretty fun at first but the combat became quite repetitive. Fortunately it was a pretty short game. It had some great levels with Scarecrow.

Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 31 hours

While the combat was really cool for the first few hours, the game got super repetitive. The RPG elements are ok but plenty of the dialogue is very boring and should be skipped. I could not hold enough interest to finish the game.

Dead Space (2008)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: 5 hours

A really scary game. I actually liked Dead Space 2 better than than this one.

Far Cry 2 (2008)

Rating: 3/10

Time played: 1 hour

Fits the not-for-me category. I picked this up in 2015 along with Far Cry 4. The graphics/controls felt pretty aged and the malaria was already annoying.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) (2008)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 20 hours

It was good like Melee. I still don’t see why people liked Melee so much over this.

Bioshock (2007)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: 18 hours

Had excellent philosophy and exploration of Objectivist themes and also a stunning environment of Rapture. However, some of the levels felt pointless, there was a medium though not a frustrating amount of backtracking, and there was the escort mission.

Crysis (2007)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 12 hours

This game didn’t really feel complete. It had numerous graphics issues even setting it on low (though the same computer could run Crysis 2 with no problem), there were large quantities of basically the same enemies, and the plot was super lacking until entering the alien structure. This game basically felt like a sandbox though I wasn’t expecting it to be one.

Mass Effect (2007)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: 19 hours

Basically a perfect game. Great story, sci-fi, combat, RPG elements, and environments. Exploration using the Mako was pretty cool. Some of the planets—Noveria, Virmire, and Ilos—are still memorable. Saren/Sovereign were impressive antagonists.

Portal (2007)

Rating: 9/10

Time played: 3 hours

Despite being a short and simple game, Portal was extremely enjoyable. It had a surprisingly good story given that there were only two characters, one who never spoke and the other who was an AI. The pacing/learning curve was perfect.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: 9 hours

Pretty solid, though it had extremely dated graphics/interactions by the time I played it (in 2014). Still, it was fun enough.

Age of Empires III (2005)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: 18 hours

I never really got why Age of Empires II was so popular (or why it’s better than III). I thought III was a reasonable game.

Half-Life 2 (2004)

Rating: 2/10

Time played: 1 hour

This game is either vastly overrated or it has not aged well. Either way, I had no fun playing this game in 2017. The plot, graphics, and physics system don’t compare at all to later games. One of the physics puzzles, the one where you stack a bunch of cinder blocks on one side of a balance beam, seemed to be bugged, as even after figuring out the stacking immediately, it took a good 10 minutes before I glitched my way across. Even with all the blocks on one side, I could not jump across normally. I also got stuck more than once and had to reload the level.

Enter the Matrix (PS2) (2003)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: est. 20 hours

Had some pretty good cutscenes, even if the best were just taken from the movie, and had pretty cool fights/scenes. Still, I got super glitched even on a PS2 and literally could not proceed with one of the characters due to an infinite load screen.

Rise of Nations (2003)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 60 hours

I always thought this game was better than Age of Empires II, mainly because the UI was so much more modern. The “Conquer the World” campaigns are really fun, and 1v1 skirmishes are great. The different nations were sufficiently different from one another to feel unique.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PS2) (2002)

Rating: 7/10

Time played: est. 30 hours

I remember this as a great platformer/exploration/Australia game for the PS2. It is also maybe the only game with collectibles that I 100%’d, collecting every single thunder egg.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 500 hours

Had a really good campaign with fleshed-out characters whose moralities are not black and white. Really good multiplayer, and the best map editor I’ve ever seen (better than that of Starcraft II in terms of ease of use). Maybe half the time I’ve spent on this game was in the map editor, learning how to code and do things (and developing Smota and helping out with Battleships Pro). The map editor was good enough for maps like Dota to be created, spawning the entire MOBA genre.

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) (2001)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: est. 5 hours

I didn’t play much of this game, though I remember not being an FPS player at the time and therefore not being too impressed.

RuneScape (2001)

Rating: 5/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

This was the first RPG game I ever played, and it was pretty cool though super grindy. I also learned market making. Basically, stand at a bank and offer to buy coal for 100 gold a piece, and then immediately offer to sell at 200 gold a piece. People traded a lot, and I collected the spread a lot.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube) (2001)

Rating: 8/10

Time played: est. 15 hours

This was basically the ultimate party game for years. Still, I never got why people obsessed that this was better than Brawl.

Diablo II (2000)

Rating: 6/10

Time played: est. 50 hours

Maybe I didn’t go far enough in this game, but I basically never found a really impressive item or got to the part where my character felt strong. Most of my playtime is also without the expansion Lord of Destruction. The game was certainly fun, but I think it is overrated.

Age of Empires II (1999)

Rating: 4/10

Time played: est. 10 hours

Having played Starcraft at the time, I could not understand why people liked Age of Empires II so much. The controls seemed obviously worse than in Starcraft, though I still remember it being ok.

Starcraft (1998)

Rating: 10/10

Time played: est. 100 hours

A very good game. It was my introduction to the RTS genre, and it was a blast. All three races Protoss, Terran, and Zerg felt cool and unique. Controlling units was very difficult at first but it became pretty cool. The map editor was just good enough that many good custom maps were created, and the multiplayer was a really fun experience.

***

 

I’m planning to update this list every once in a while with new games.

I also have a list of movie ratings.

On Reviewing Things

Every year I go through the movies I watched that year and assign a number from 1-10, adding it to my list of movie scores. For example, last year Arrival (10) was the best movie, followed by Star Trek Beyond (9) and Rogue One (9), while the worst was Assassin’s Creed (2). You can see the full list here.

arrival

This year I want to add a list for video games. But this seems much harder to do, for at least the following reasons:

  1. There is so much more variance in the amount of time spent. Most movies are about 2 hours long, plus or minus an hour. But video games can range from one hour to many thousands of hours. I think the shortest video game I completed (depending on what you call a video game and what you call “completed”) was Gone Home in 54 minutes, while I roamed the World of Warcraft for 3472 hours.
  2. There are lots of different goals in video games. Most movies can be graded on the same rubric. But for video games, there is again much more variance. For single-player/story modes, do you count the experience of just going through the main story, or all the side content as well? Do you care about the story at all if it’s a sandbox game? For RPGs, do you count the experience as getting to max level (if possible) or rather the full scope of endgame content? For multiplayer, do you care about the fun aspect or competitive aspect or even spectating? What about graphics/sound? “Art” games? How do you judge the quality of multiplayer when very few people are playing?
  3. Pricing. Movies generally cost about the same to watch in theaters and to rent. Games have lots of pricing models: one-time purchase, free-to-play, subscriptions, microtransactions, etc. It’s tough to compare across different price levels or models. What about expansions/DLC? What about games that start off bad but get better as more patches are made?

This makes me think rating games on a scale of 1-10 is not as meaningful as for movies. But I will probably try anyways.

Edit (3/5/2017): I made the list of video game ratings.

Trump

Like many Hillary Clinton supporters, I was stunned upon learning that Donald Trump won the election. How could the so much obviously worse candidate win? How did the vote go to the candidate who promised to reverse decades of progress in international relations and is openly racist and sexist?

My very very blue Facebook feed was a deluge of people talking as if the apocalypse had just occurred. It was a funeral of collective mourning. Reassurances were made as if to calm the nerves after a global tragedy in which millions had perished. Some people felt that, because of aspects of their identity, they would now be demoted to second class citizens. I saw the hashtag spring forth: #notmypresident. Moving to Canada was on the table. People suddenly cared about how stupid the electoral college was. People were in shock. It was the beginning of the end of America.

And it went deeper than that. To the Left half, it was inconceivable that Trump would gain the vote of a single person, let alone half the American electorate. One person asked who are you, Trump voters? One can blame the social media echo chambers for this, but that is not the point. The real question is, for a liberal who values the rights and dignities of minorities, women, and LGBT people, how can one even begin to empathize with the other half of the nation, the Trump supporters?  The deporables? The racists, bigots, and homophobes?

In this small pocket of the electorate in my Facebook feed, I saw the great disconnect. It was an implicit assumption, an overriding narrative in almost all the posts, that anyone who voted for Trump must be all of these deplorable things: racists, bigots, and homophobes. And then I remembered why, despite voting for Clinton, I am becoming disillusioned with being a liberal. In previous posts I talked about being against the “safe space”/”social justice warrior” movement. Among the many reasons is the following. One of the tenets of of the current social justice movement is that “all white people are racist.” I’ve seen that phrase almost verbatim many times scrolling through Facebook in the past few years. I understand what it actually means, and I can definitely see where someone is coming from if they use that phrase. However, you can see the problem with this approach, right?

I try to imagine I am a random white person who just heard this statement for the first time. And then I am asked by the Left to join them, to sign on the dotted line under the phrase, “I AM A RACIST.” Sound appealing? Didn’t think so. It worries me a lot that the Left’s extreme faction is, for all its good intentions to combat racism and sexism and homophobia, building a wall that shuts out precisely the people who need most to be exposed to some liberal ideas or people. After vilifying big groups of people for so long, you’ve finally alienated them, leaving the alternative of Trump.

Most of the responses I saw after the election will only further this divide. Not everyone did this, but many people wrote off Trump supporters as the basket of deplorables: racists, bigots, misogynists, and homophobes. Can you see how this is a discussion ender, not a starter?

*

This was my attempt to empathize with a Trump voter. The story is not as simple as “all Trump supporters are deplorables.” In the CNN exit polls, for instance, Trump had the vote of 21% of non-white people, 42% of women, and 43% of college graduates. These are all considerably higher than zero.

In this post I pointed at the backlash against the recent social justice movement, but this is clearly not the only reason Trump was elected. I am also still optimistic that Trump won’t be that bad for the world, and I agree with Clinton’s plea that we keep an open mind.

Postmodernism, Progress, and Social Justice

My very simplified story of human progress is this:

Humans have improved their conditions over time, with incremental growth for most of history and exponential growth in modern times. These improvements have been made in all aspects of human life: technological, economic, cultural, social, political, medical, and ethical. There were grave setbacks along the way but we now live in the best time there ever was for our species.

I think this roughly applies to America as well, which makes the platforms of Trump and Sanders puzzling. As I wrote previously, the slogan “Make America Great Again” presumes that it is not already so, and the idea of “capitalism has failed you” coming from the other end of the spectrum is not much better. Between Trump, Sanders, and Clinton on this topic, only Clinton possesses a sane view, that “America never stopped being great.”

Anyways, I have wanted to write a longer post on human progress for a long time, ever since the bizarrely hostile responses to this 2014 post on social progress. Some people do not accept progress, and I feel like it is mostly because it doesn’t fit their narrative. If you start off with “The West is evil because colonialism,” etc., then it is difficult to also keep in mind all the progress made through human history, largely by the Western world.

The main points are:

  • We made progress.
  • It is easy to forget and/or be unaware of this progress.
  • How postmodernism is related to this.
  • How the “coddled” college student and “social justice warrior” phenomena are related to this.
  • How the presidential campaigns are related to this.

Once again, in anticipation of the response to later sections, I want to disclaim that I fully consider myself a liberal on social issues. I am pro-equal-marriage, pro-choice, pro-feminist, pro-gun-control. I plan to vote for Hillary Clinton.

We made progress

I feel like this section is unnecessary but I also know there are people who deny progress. So let’s do a history refresher. In a prior post I wrote about a few pieces of progress in the last 10 years:

Remember 10 years ago? That’s not even the 1990s. That’s the early 21st century. In these dark ages of 2006, there was no iPhone, no Snapchat, no Twitter. There was neither Tumblr nor Tinder nor Uber, while Facebook and Youtube were in their infancy. 55% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage while only 35% were in support; today, those numbers have flipped. New art and new science have developed. The US emits less CO2, and global wind power capacity has increased by a factor of 6. Global poverty has continued to decline, infectious diseases take fewer lives, US cancer mortality rates have fallen, global childbirth mortality and child mortality rates are down, and even as the world population goes up the number of people undernourished is decreasing.

That was actually the hard part, limiting progress to just the last 10 years, with a start time of just before a global financial crisis. If you go back further, say since the dawn of agriculture, it is hilariously easy to come up with progress. Every item around you, from your clothing to electric lights to the smartphone or computer on which you are reading this post, could not have been created in earlier times. But you don’t have to worry about that, as there was a 25%-33% chance you died before reaching age 5. And if you did survive, you better hope you don’t succumb to illness, as death rates for some diseases were 70-80% and you didn’t have the luxury of modern science and medicine. Tribal warfare often killed a quarter of a tribe’s total population, a figure that makes even World War II seem tame. Assuming you survived, you were overwhelmingly likely to be in a position of no political power, a slave or peasant. The standard of living was, by modern standards, approximately zero for thousands of years.

[Graph 1, Graph 2Graph 3]

gdp_long_term

gdp_per_capita_slide

gdp_growth

The things continued for thousands of years, and then some different things happened in the 1500s–1700s. A Renaissance, a religious Reformation, a Scientific Revolution, an Enlightenment, and an Industrial Revolution lifted the Western world out of the darkness and into modern times. And the standard of living took off, alongside huge decreases in violence and big expansions in human rights.

It is easy to forget and/or be unaware of this progress

It’s so much easier to think of current problems than to think of problems that we have already solved. For example, we used to (and in some backwards regions of the world, still do) accuse neighbors we didn’t like of witchcraft and stone them to death.  We used to engage in ritual animal and even human sacrifice. We used to engage in fatal duels to defend our “honor.”

Regarding torture, here is Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature:

[T]he sporadic, clandestine, and universally decried eruptions of torture in recent times cannot be equated with the centuries of institutionalized sadism in medieval Europe. Torture in the Middle Ages was not hidden, denied, or euphemized. It was not just a tactic by which brutal regimes intimidated their political enemies or moderate regimes extracted information from suspected terrorists. It did not erupt from a frenzied crowd stirred up in hatred against a dehumanized enemy. No, torture was woven into the fabric of public life. It was a form of punishment that was cultivated and celebrated, an outlet for artistic and technological creativity. Many of the instruments of torture were beautifully crafted and ornamented. They were designed to inflict not just physical pain, as would a beating, but visceral horrors, such as penetrating sensitive orifices, violating the bodily envelope, displaying the victim in humiliating postures, or putting them in positions where their own flagging stamina would increase their pain and lead to disfigurement or death. Torturers were the era’s foremost experts in anatomy and physiology, using their knowledge to maximize agony, avoid nerve damage that might deaden the pain, and prolong consciousness for as long as possible before death.

And from another post quoting the same book, on the decline in rape:

“Well into the 1970s marital rape was not a crime in any state, and the legal system underweighted the interests of women in other rapes. Legal scholars who have studied jury proceedings have discovered that jurors must be disabused of the folk theory that women can be negligently liable for their own rapes…” (395). Stats from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show that the annual rate of rape from 1973 to 2008 had fallen by 80%. Pinker notes, “In fact, the decline may be even greater than that, because women have almost certainly been more willing to report being raped in recent years, when rape has been recognized as a serious crime, than they were in earlier years, when rape was often hidden and trivialized” (402). Thus a decline by a factor of five in reported cases could and probably does mean an even greater decline in actual cases. On the flipside, since awareness of rape is up so much, people generally perceive it as a greater threat today than it was decades ago.

I point this out not to say “Tada, progress!” but to put these issues in historical context. Pointing out that things have gotten better does not mean that the status quo is acceptable. Much of it is not, and there is so much progress yet to be made. But it is delusional to want to return to the good old times because they were free of violence and conflict. They simply weren’t. They were far more violent and intolerant than today (see Pinker’s book).

In addition, we now have social media, where grievances that would have been considered trivial in the past can now instantly rile up thousands of people (perhaps rightfully). This creates a situation where fewer bad incidents cause the world to look worse.

Given how widespread the pessimistic view is, I don’t fault anyone for thinking things have gotten worse, but at the same time, I find the numbers quite startling. Some 46% of Americans believe life has gotten worse since half a century ago, versus 34% better and 14% same (via Pew Research). “By contrast, 88% of economists said the U.S. is better today than in 1960 and 87% see today as better than 1980” (source).

How postmodernism is related to this

One way to deny progress is to argue that progress as a concept is impossible. Progress implicitly assumes an objective measuring stick; thus, it cannot exist as there is no objective truth, only subjectivity—progress is nothing but a social construction. Another way is to argue that progress is a colonialist ideology developed by Western nations to oppress non-Western nations, and that anyone who argues for progress must be automatically racist.

That is my caricature of postmodernism, but I’m honestly not sure what else postmodernism is (as used in popular rhetoric).

Here are some passages from Edward R. Friedlander’s “Why I am Not a Postmodernist“:

The “postmodern” university gurus talk about the “dead white males” who produced the canon of literature that we have treasured over the centuries as cruel, oppressive, stupid, and deeply wrong-headed. But a fair reading of the classics — even before the enlightenment — will reveal a huge range of ideas — many of them far ahead of their times — about the rights of minorities, women, and the poor. There are many deeply sympathetic portrayals of LGBT culture and people, and appeals both for religious tolerance and religious skepticism. And no culture other than the much-maligned “European” (including America and Australia/New Zealand) has ever made a systematic effort to understand and value the other cultures of the world. Anyone who tells you otherwise is taking an obviously false political stance to deceive you.

And:

Postmodernists complain that science is a cultural prejudice, and/or a tool invented by the current elite to maintain power, and/or only one “way of knowing” among many, with no special privilege. For postmodernists, science is “discourse”, one system among many, maintained by a closed community as a means of holding onto power, and ultimately referential only to itself.

[…]

We still hear a great deal today about “multiculturalism” and “relative values”. But everybody that I know, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion, seems to want the same basic things. This begins with health, reasonable personal liberty and security, and a reasonable chance to have one’s initiative rewarded. Postmodernists talk about being “dehumanized” by science and technology. If they really believed this, they would trade their academic positions for the lives of subsistence farmers in the world’s poor nations, or (if they could) the short, sickly, miserable lives of chattel-serfs in the ages “before technocracy”. There they will discover that what people want isn’t “cultural integrity” or “multicultural sensitivity”, but health, food, safety, and a reasonable opportunity to choose one’s own course through life. Those who would deny them these basic human needs aren’t the scientists. It is the tyrants and ideologues of the right and the left.

And:

Science isn’t a conspiracy of power-hungry monsters against the human race. The real enemy is superstition, ignorance, and silly lies. And if you live in America, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, or Western Europe, most people in the world would gladly trade places with you.

In the twentieth century, Norman Borlaug developed new agricultural techniques in wheat that are often credited with saving the lives of a billion or more people. Yet almost no one has heard of him. I’m guessing it might have something to do with the fact that despite his huge steps in solving world hunger, his life-saving results appear numeric rather than anecdotal. And his doing this while being a white male Westerner certainly did not fit the postmodernist narrative. I would bet someone has already complained that teaching about him in school is “problematic.”

Postmodernism the movement might be long dead, but its specter continues to haunt us. All of the following can be rooted to the postmodernist style:

  • Science is just another way of knowing, no different from emotion, etc.
  • The great counternarrative, that progress is a myth, that the Western world is evil.
  • The rise of New Age wisdom versus Western science and medicine.
  • The study of STEM fields is often considered inhuman/cold, whereas currently it probably has the highest benefit for humanity.
  • Over-sensitivity to criticizing other cultures.

The last point has to do with criticizing anything that is not Western. Here is an anecdote. (Anecdotes are inherently more valuable than statistical data because the latter implies a tacit Eurocentrism.) My very liberal Facebook feed contains lots of “social justice” posts. Yesterday there was a disturbing CNN headline that read, “Pakistani men can beat wives ‘lightly,’ Islamic council says.” Being someone in a civilized country that cares about the plight of others, I was pretty offended by this and expected a lot of outrage on my Facebook feed, but instead, I saw none. I’m guessing it has something to do with how the typical post fits the narrative of “The West/white people are evil,” and this story, about how an “Islamic council” of non-Whites in a non-Western country has been/is doing something evil, does not fit that narrative and is thus rejected.

How the “coddled” college student and “social justice warrior” phenomena are related to this

Still one of the greatest articles on this is “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. I fully encourage everyone to read that if they have not already. And earlier this week, Nathan Heller wrote in The New Yorker a piece called “The Big Uneasy“:

Aaron Pressman, a politics and law-and-society major, told me that he has always felt free to express his opinions on campus, but has faced “a lot of social backlash.” One of his ambitions is to become a public defender, and he has studied the free-speech work of the A.C.L.U. Last year, when he noticed a broadly worded clause about flirtatious speech in Oberlin’s new sexual-harassment policy, he advocated for more precise language. (His research told him that such broad prohibitions were often used to target ethnic groups.) “A student came up to me several days later and started screaming at me, saying I’m not allowed to have this opinion, because I’m a white cisgender male,” Pressman recalled. He feels that his white maleness shouldn’t be disqualifying. “I’ve had people respond to me, ‘You could never understand—your culture has never been oppressed.’ ” Pressman laughed. “I’m, like, ‘Really? The Holocaust?’ ”

And:

How, then, to teach? Two years ago, when the Black Lives Matter movement took off, “it felt like it was going to be a moment when we were really going to have a national conversation about police brutality and economic inequality,” Kozol said. She was excited about her students’ work in Cleveland and elsewhere. “But then, at some point, it became really solipsistic.” A professor who taught a Comparative American Studies seminar that was required for majors went on leave, and, as she was replaced by one substitute and then another, Kozol noticed something alarming: the students had started seating themselves by race. Those of color had difficulty with anything that white students had to say; they didn’t want to hear it anymore. Kozol took over the class for the spring, and, she told me, “it played out through identity politics.” The class was supposed to be a research workshop. But students went cold when they had to engage with anyone outside their community.

Seriously, what is happening? Have tribalism and postmodernism returned?

Don’t get me wrong—social justice is one of the best things ever to happen, one of the few parts of history that can be universally viewed as good. The affirmation of human dignity for every person regardless of circumstance is the most important one that can be made. But the contemporary movements resemble one-sided yelling more than discussion.

Questions of justness and fairness are hard, but you do not gain voice by preventing others from voicing theirs. A democratic society should not base its decisions on whose echo chamber is bigger, or by whichever group can frame the narrative to disqualify the other group on the basis of race or sex or other identity. The way to counter a bad idea is to present a good idea, not to call for tribal hatred and witch hunts against its proponents. Some of the most intolerant people are those who preach tolerance the loudest.

One paradox here is that as more progress is being made in social equality, the bigger an issue it becomes. From “Microaggression and Moral Cultures” (Campbell and Manning 2014):

According to Black (2011), as noted above, changes in stratification, intimacy, and diversity cause conflict. Microaggression complaints are largely about changes in stratification. They document actions said to increase the level of inequality in a social relationship – actions Black refers to as “overstratification.” Overstratification offenses occur whenever anyone rises above or falls below others in status. […] a morality that privileges equality and condemns oppression is most likely to arise precisely in settings that already have relatively high degrees of equality… In modern Western societies, egalitarian ethics have developed alongside actual political and economic equality. As women moved into the workforce in large numbers, became increasingly educated, made inroads into highly paid professions such as law and medicine, and became increasingly prominent in local, state, and national politics, sexism became increasingly deviant. The taboo has grown so strong that making racist statements, even in private, might jeopardize the careers of celebrities or the assets of businessmen (e.g., Fenno, Christensen, and Rainey 2014; Lynch 2013).

Basically, places that have progressed the furthest toward equality are precisely where further microagressions feel like they matter most.

In this sense, one might be delighted that the university ruckuses are going on as evidence of increasing equality. But it is also the dangerous arm of postmodernism where feeling is regarded as highly as fact.

I am frightened that this movement is not only ignoring progress, but also actively trying to reverse it. You saw the self-imposed seating segregation from earlier. Freedom of speech is gradually receding in favor of oversensitivity, especially of criticizing cultures that are blatantly regressive compared to the Western world. Diversity of ideas is frowned upon, and even the idea of democracy is now considered part of a sinister colonialist agenda.

How the presidential campaigns are related to this

Here is Bernie Sanders yesterday:

As cited before, 88% of economists disagreed, saying that living standards are better than they were in the 1960s (and 87% say better than in the 1980s). Yet from popular sentiment, it would seem like Sanders is right.

To be fair, Sanders supporters are still more grounded in reality than any group of Republican supporters. Here is a poll via Pew Research on whether life has gotten better or worse than 50 years ago:

pew_better_worse

Basically, Republicans generally are more pessimistic than Democrats, with Trump supporters the most pessimist. Democrats are more optimist, with Clinton supporters the most optimist.

This is kind of surprising as everyone I know who is against the progress narrative is Democrat, but then again, I don’t know many Trump supporters, nor do I expect many people reading this to be Trump supporters. The one I really want to address is Sanders and the tendency to pin all of society’s problems on capitalism.

Two years ago, when I graduated from college, I never thought I would quote a former hedge-fund manager on capitalism non-ironically. But here is Andy Kessler to college graduates [via WSJ]:

Those of you I hear gagging in the humanities section are going to have to unlearn a few things. Harvard recently released a survey showing that over half of Americans ages 18 to 29 do not support capitalism. Ouch. You can almost feel the Bern.

Don’t be fooled. Capitalism is what allowed you to wander around this leafy campus for four years worrying about finals instead of foraging for food. It delivered the Greek yogurt to your cafeteria and assembled your Prius. The basic idea is to postpone consumption. Then invest in production to supply goods and services that delight customers. Next, generate profits. Rinse and repeat.

It’s widely known that Sanders supporters tend to be young people. I feel out-of-place as a 24-year-old that supports Clinton, but in 2012 I voted for Jill Stein, whose platform is essentially identical to that of current-day Sanders. I definitely felt the Bern (the Stein?) when I was in college, so I can understand where all the Sanders supporters are coming from. I learned a lot about economics and capitalism since 2012, and I no longer support the Stein/Sanders camp. When you look at those three graphs from earlier where the line is roughly zero for most of human history and then skyrockets to the current day, that is the force of capitalism in action. That is progress. That is the constant exchange of bad ideas, systems, tools, governments, and moralities for better ones.

It is difficult to talk so much about what seems so obvious, but yes, humans have made lots of progress, especially in the very recent past. It is easy to forget about this progress with the 24-hour news cycle and social media, but it happened. We may live in the best time there ever was, but we have to be careful to not seek return to a false mythical world of the past. Instead, we should work to better the very real world of the future.

YOLOing, Holes, and Facebook

martin_shkreli

Millennials Just Want to YOLO

It is a month old but still one of the most amazing articles on millennials. Ok fine, to be fair, it is a particular group of millennials who bet all their money in the stock market and discuss their trades on Reddit and revere Martin Shkreli. I will just link to the article here [via MarketWatch] and copy in some of its glorious quotes:

“Y-O-F**KING-LO,” the teen wrote, flashing his trading statement. “900 to 55K in 12 days!”

On Reddit, he’s known as “World Chaos,” a Florida high schooler who earlier this year multiplied his money by betting against the S&P 500. His real name is Jeffrey Rozanski, and the 18-year-old’s appetite for risk would make many seasoned market players facepalm.

And:

That was peak “WallStreetBets,” the Reddit forum where “YOLO” is the war cry, Martin Shkreli is a role model, and irreverent traders trawl for tickets to quick wealth. It has become what one member calls “the beating heart of millennial day traders.”

And:

The latest obsession on WallStreetBets is UWTI an exchange-traded note that has become a favorite of younger investors — thanks, in part, to the Reddit forum. It is a near-perfect embodiment of the YOLO spirit: Highly volatile, it uses a combination of derivatives and debt to amplify bets on oil, creating opportunities for quick profits.

And:

“This subreddit, they love Martin Shkreli,” said Asad Butt [hahahaha], a 25-year-old Pennsylvania trader who posts frequently to WallStreetBets. “He is living their dream. He got rich. He might have lied and cheated along the way, but [on the forum] that’s encouraged.”

“People want yachts,” Butt said. “They want to be rich. The joke is we are all aspiring millionaires. Shkreli actually did it. He’s a hero.”

Are you not entertained? At this point, you might as well just read the article since you’re reading half of it anyway, but I’ll throw in some more quotes:

Talk of “YOLOing” — going all in on a huge bet — is frequent, if not constant.

And:

“If you find anything volatile and high risk, that’s where you’ll see people flocking,” Rogozinski said. “Are we encouraging risky behavior? Yes.”

And:

“UWTI for LIFE baby!!” a subscriber named DrFreshh wrote in December. “History tells you all the patterns. It’s a big time win! Been researching for 20 hours straight (except for the occasional cigarettes). This is it boys and girls! Life savings on the line, we have hit the gold mine. Ask me anything and I can tell you why its bullish like none other, or the yacht is on me.”

When asked how many shares he intended to trade, DrFreshh responded, “100,000. 200,000. that’s pennies. This is an opportunity of a lifetime! I’m gonna invest like its get rich or die tryin.”

And:

Teen trader Rozanski, meanwhile, admitted that his big win was “pretty much dumb luck.” He thought about buying a Ford Mustang with his haul, he said, but decided to keep the money to fund future investments, celebrating modestly: His mom took him out to see “The Big Short,” and he bought a new computer with two monitors.

“So I can trade better,” he explained.

I think people should be free to do what they want with their money, but at the same time, YOLOing all your money seems like a bad idea. Having a yacht is nice, but so is having more than zero dollars.

Usually I would make the standard boring disclaimer that nothing on this blog is ever financial advice, etc., but here is some actual financial advice—do not be like the people mentioned in that article.

Crawlspace for Sensitive Dragons

Occasionally I read Quora for amusement. This answer by Antonio Kowatsch seemed pretty usual for a Quora answer, until I got to the comments. First, here is the question and answer:

What are some examples of bad design?

I really don’t know if this has been mentioned already but in Hong Kong there are many Skyscrapers with holes. Quite literally holes. There is a reason for the unusual design: These holes are supposed to provide a safe passage for Dragons. (This is not a joke) Since they don’t really serve an actual purpose they are literally a waste of space, which happens to be an already scarce resource in Hong Kong. This definitely classifies as a design flaw.

Here are a couple of these so called Dragon gates/holes:

holes_in_buildings

And then bam, people in the comments start defending the superstition that is feng shui and accusing Kowatsch of cultural disrespect. I want to give a little bit of a preface first before showing the comments:

  • I wouldn’t bother criticizing the comments section of a YouTube video or CNN article or Facebook post, but for some reason I have higher standards for Quora comments. Maybe the mistake is just that, and I should be ignoring these comments.
  • To the extent that “political correctness” is a real issue, I think these comments help demonstrate it. I’ve posted before about why some people are overly sensitive, and I can relate to the frustration that Kowatsch feels in his addendum. The process now is basically, someone gets offended (or tries to speak up for someone else theoretically getting offended), and instead of engaging in a rational debate, they say they are offended, shutting down any further discussion.
  • Oversensitivity is at least laudable in spirit when trying to defend a group of people. But in this case, the original poster pointed out a particular the way buildings were built that was based on superstition. Criticizing ideas, especially superstition, does not equal criticizing people.
  • Besides the accusations of cultural insensitivity, there are also people who say things like the holes are good because they allow wind through. But when it comes to physics, you need to actually do the physics, not just invent stories. The classic example is that in projectile motion, even Aristotle wrote that an object would keep moving in the launch direction until it ran out of impetus and then drop straight down. Makes sense. Except things actually move in parabolic arcs.

Here is the addendum, still by Kowatsch:

EDIT: OK, I didn’t think that so many people would argue that those “holes” are actually practical. But here I am. Exorcising this mental colic once and for all. People have left all kinds of baloney comments saying that they were “practical” because the wind could pass through them. Long story short; it’s bollocks and it does make me somewhat furious, I admit it. You may not know it but I studied physics and those holes don’t stabilize the buildings, but rather destabilize them. You know what would happen if really strong winds would act on those buildings? They would fold in half (horizontally) . Everyone who knows a little bit about statics & building physics would know that the load transfer in those buildings is suboptimal to say the least.

So here you go with some comments:

So you don´t like Feng Shui and the part about the dragon, too bad. But please understand: this is just your opinion, at the best an argument to building efficiently, but does not take into account the customs and traditions of the people living there. On the other side: there is a reason why those wholes [sic] are in those buildings: developers sell these flats like sliced bread. So a lot of HK people seem to have a different opinion from yours.

And:

Now, lets ignore all these engineering issues. Those holes make those buildings ‘special’ and ‘interesting’. It has cultural values and gives a uniqueness which other cities don’t usually have.

It is not a bad design according to me.

And:

According to this logic, anything that’s not a perfect rectangle box is a bad design.

What if they’re not trying to optimize for living space but to create a coherent skyline with cultural flair? Dragon legends are cultural – just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it bad design. Unless you think HK people actually believe in dragons.

And:

This concept is very much similar to Indian Vastu. First let me talk about the science. When you are designing a tall building (I am an Architect myself), wind load becomes a crucial element in structural loading. So these holes or punctures in the surface let wind flow through them easily. Hence better stability.

And:

The holes are an adaptation of the skyscraper to the culture of Hong Kong, making the buildings acceptable to the people of the island.  To mock them as a design flaw as you do shows a lack of cultural sensitivity and tolerance.

And:

Ask the residents of the buildings how well the Feng Shui is working for them, then one can say if the holes are bad designs or not.

And:

Your answer is culturally biased. Xenophobic even.

Yep. When you disagree, call the other person culturally biased.

This section might just be overreacting to idiots in a comment section, but I see this same sentiment in many other places.

Now economically, in terms of whether real estate companies should construct buildings like this, that is completely up to them. If there is demand for buildings with holes in them, then by all means, make some supply. And if they are so aesthetically intriguing that they generate a lot of tourism, then sure, I’m in full support of holes. However, when someone talks about the relation of these holes to mythical dragons and feng shui, that is not xenophobia—that is stating a fact.

In related news, here is yet another “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus” article, by Bloomberg and Koch via the WSJ.

Facebook Bias, cont’d

Last time I talked about the Gizmodo story on Facebook employees allegedly manipulating the “trending” stories section to suppress conservative viewpoints. Since then, many more articles have popped up about it, and it seems like people really care about this topic. So let’s double down with another section.

I made the following points in the previous post:

  1. Facebook is a company, not a government organization. It does not have an obligation to be politically balanced.
  2. As a company, Facebook’s main goal is to generate profits, and if it does so better by instilling a liberal bias, then so what? In the scale of moral quandaries, this is pretty benign compared to what other companies do.
  3. Facebook is a social media site, not a news agency. And neither has an obligation to be politically balanced.
  4. There is some argument that the news media already has a liberal bias. If so, how is Facebook’s liberal bias different from that of other forms of media?
  5. Liberals tend to post more political things on Facebook than conservatives. So even if nobody working at Facebook is tweaking knobs, you should see more liberal posts than conservative ones, and liberal posts should trend more often.

One important thing I failed to mention was people perceived Facebook to be balanced (even though I claim it never was), and that this perception of balance is crucial. When people go to Fox News or The Huffington Post, they have expectations of political bias, but when they go to Facebook, they expect none (even though my points #4 and #5 argue you should). Thus, learning that Facebook is biased can be jarring.

As you can see, I am pretty calm about this, mainly because learning about this bias does not affect me. My Facebook circle is generally young, highly educated, and often academic, all three being strong indicators of being liberal. As a result, 95% of the posts I see are liberal anyway and I already don’t expect any semblance of political balance whatsoever when I login.

That said, I can see why some people would be taken aback. Facebook’s algorithms are still a complete mystery to me (probably rightfully so), and I feel there is not much transparency about what is going on behind the scenes. I don’t want to live in a house where I can see all the wires running through the walls, but understanding what happens when I plug something into an electric outlet provides some peace of mind.

Also, even if Facebook is right in claiming that no one is outright manipulating the trending section, it is almost certain that the reviewers are biasing the news subconsciously. Then again, what would that imply? Would you have to rely on algorithms to avoid this? But what if the algorithms too are biased? A NYT piece has more to say about Facebook and biased algorithms.

Here is Tom Stocky of Facebook, in a Facebook post:

My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.

Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.

The comments section of this post are so hilariously critical of Facebook, but as I said earlier in this blog post, “I wouldn’t bother criticizing the comments section of a YouTube video or CNN article or Facebook post.”

Facebook also released a 28-page document which is the detailed instructions manual to review trending topics. It is basically exactly what you would expect, though I do like the redacted lines.

Here is a Vox article that ties the bias to the echo chamber effect of social media, claiming “Facebook’s most biased curator is you.” The Atlantic opens with, “Facebook Doesn’t Have to Be Fair.” And here is Marginal Revolution on how the bias is probably demand driven.

I generally agree with these three articles. It is easy to call out “bias,” but what does that word mean in this situation? And even if it is biased, would it be wrong? I claim neither answer is obvious.

Misc

The New Yorker on the popularity of Donald Trump in China:

In many respects, ordinary people in China, or the “old hundred names,” as they are called—a colloquial catchall for those commoners who didn’t make it into the history books—are not unlike the largest segment of Trump supporters: of limited education, dispossessed, and frequently overlooked because of their distance from power. Abstract principles, which Hillary Clinton has been known to proclaim in China—of human rights and women’s rights—seem less relevant than the practical economic challenges facing the average citizen. “Trump is an exceedingly smart man who has had remarkable success in making hotels and towers and TV shows,” a Chinese blogger posted on a Web forum devoted to American politics. When someone else asked about Trump’s trade policies, many of which are hostile to China, the same blogger responded dismissively that Trump is “a businessman first and foremost” and “will do what is in both countries’ economic interest”—giving voice to the sentiment, perennially popular in China, that pragmatism inevitably reigns in the end.

The Washington Post on a debate by economists on the utility of Econ 101:

Even more problematic, some of the empirical research most celebrated by critics of economics 101 contradicts itself about the basic structure of the labor market. The famous “Mariel boatlift paper” finds that a large increase in immigrant workers doesn’t lower the wages of native workers. The famous “New Jersey-Pennsylvania minimum wage paper” finds that an increase in the minimum wage doesn’t reduce employment. If labor supply increases and wages stay constant — the Mariel paper — then the labor demand curve must be flat. But if the minimum wage increases and employment stays constant — New Jersey-Pennsylvania — then the labor demand curve must be vertical. Reconciling these studies is, again, way beyond the scope of an intro course.

Scientific American on why people edit Wikipedia articles for free:

Instead of public recognition, Gallus credits the success of this experiment primarily to the effect of identification with a community. That is, the symbolic recognition of receiving Edelweiss with Star made editors feel like they were part of an exclusive group. Although contributions that editors make to Wikipedia pages are public, no one gets direct credit for authorship. In the study, only about 6% of recipients publicly displayed their award on their user pages, so we can interpret this as an indication that Wikipedia editors responded well to private recognition rather than celebrity.

CNET Roadshow on the owner of a Tesla and Tesla blaming each other for crash:

While running errands, the owner claimed he parked his Model S behind a trailer. After a minute of standing near the car and talking to a fan of the brand, the owner went inside a nearby business. Five minutes later, he came out to a car with a crushed windshield and A-pillars.

After bringing the issue to Tesla’s attention, the automaker claimed it was not Tesla’s fault. Rather, the owner was “not being properly attentive” when using the car’s Summon feature, which can autonomously park the vehicle using its built-in sensors. The owner claimed he never engaged Summon.

Slate on the realism of virtual reality:

I couldn’t move. And I wasn’t laughing anymore.

Rationally, I knew that I was in a tiny, makeshift room in a convention center, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers watching me wobble and shake. I knew I was standing on a carpeted and fully corporeal floor, my arms held out for balance, and that I only had to walk about six feet in a straight line to finish. But it didn’t matter. The moment I moved to take my first step off the building and saw nothing but a wire separating me from a 1,300-foot fall to the ground below, some primal, reptilian part of my brain started screaming: YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.

The Guardian on a woman fired for not wearing heels:

Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney in east London, arrived on her first day at PwC in December in flat shoes but says she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

Thorp, who was employed as a temporary worker by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, said she was laughed at when she said the demand was discriminatory and sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a pair of heels.