Monday, November 5, 2012

Video Game Villains and Arguing Politics

If you're a video game villain, the classic strategy goes like this. In the beginning, you throw your weakest underlings at the hero. As the hero defeats the weaker baddies, you send progressively stronger  creatures out to dispatch him or her. You save the truly elite underlings for the heroes who have proved themselves more than a match for the weaker guys. Why doesn't the villain just attack the hero with the strongest forces at the beginning of the game? Well, that would violate the logic of video games.

For some reason, there are people who approach debate about current events the same way. They start with their weakest arguments, and then bring out the stronger arguments only only after the weak ones have been pathetically defeated. Since there's no video game logic operating here, I've been wondering why they waste other people's time this way.

Some topics particularly seem to attract this. One example is arguments over the continued existence of the Electoral College in the USA. I'm not saying that everybody who thinks the Electoral College is a good idea does this; nor am I saying that this behavior is limited to one side of one issue. But I've seen supporters of the continued existence of the Electoral College do this time and time again, and it's what made the 'video game villain' analogy pop into my head.

National popular vote means that if you don’t live in New York City, L.A., or a handful of the other major cities, you might as well not even bother having a vote.

But why? That doesn't make any sense. If you're a resident of Smallsville, Ruralstate, you might feel bad that Smallsville won't have the same voting clout as, say, Brooklyn, New York. But select any given neighborhood or area of Brooklyn that's got the same population as Smallsville, and with a straight popular vote the two places will have exactly the same importance. Despite how it may look from a distance, large urban areas are not homogenous blobs but rather large agglomerations of people, every one of whom has the same amount of free will as an individual resident of Smallsville.

After several people rejected the above post, the same poster comes back with:

There are voting differences in every city, but in general in today’s climate, urban centers tend to vote differently than rural centers. As an example, I live near Seattle, which tends to dominate the politics of Washington state along with Tacoma and Olympia. The rest of the state doesn’t have enough population to counter-balance the voting bloc here in the Puget Sound metro area. At times, this has resulted in taxes being levied state-wide that really only benefit the folks in the Puget Sound area.

Color me crazy, but I don’t think it’s a necessarily sound policy on principle to elect leadership based solely on raw popularity. The Electoral College, while imperfect and in need of an overhaul, is still a method to inject some level of compromise into the process that allows for some level of balance that the tyrrany of the majority is not likely to provide.

If the first post was a low-level mook who could be killed to a bop to the head, this is a much more powerful foe from one of the game's later levels. There's a lot to argue with in the first paragraph -- for example, why must geography be the sole determining factor? As long as you're subdividing the electorate into different groups with different interests, why stop at geography? -- but that's entirely the point; there is a lot to argue with there. Very unlike the first post, which evaporates into nothingness the minute you think about it seriously, like a video game mook who just runs in a straight line and explodes harmlessly if you throw a rock at him.

The best explanation I can think of for why people do this has to do with the Colbertian concept of 'truthiness' -- people instinctively post what feels right to them, without regard to the fact that if it doesn't instinctively feel right to someone else, that person might think about it logically, and the post would never survive that.

I suppose one could extend this to the video game universe, and speculate that video game villains attack heroes with their weakest baddies first because these are the baddies that most potently symbolize the hatred the villains feel in their hearts. And so they send them out first, without regard for the fact that they just wander about randomly and can be killed by hopping on them.

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