Social, Ethical, and Political Statements of CoR

This thread discusses the meaning of events in the game, so it’s basically all spoilers throughout every part of it.

I greatly enjoyed this game, (it, if nothing else, gave me plenty to think about, and I enjoy something that challenges me to think critically,) and I’ve played through it through many different paths, having obtained most of the achievements, and generally read at least 95% of the text. With that said, as I played this game the first couple times, there were a few things I found disappointing. Elly’s romance (the one I pursued first and generally most often) was extremely terse and Elly as a character was rather lacking for substance. Mark asked me to explain my viewpoint on robots, but no option really allowed me to enunciate my actual point of view. The game glossed over economics in a way that showed at least some vague concept of the consequences, but then flagrantly contradicted itself just a couple pages later.

I built up a list of inconsistencies, missed opportunities, and examples of political bias, but wanted to reserve judgement until finishing the game in its entirety. As such, the list only grew, and this is now something of a monstrous thread.

However, before I start in earnest, this thread needs a series of disclaimers:
Once again, I enjoy this game. I would not play it this thoroughly if I didn’t. Criticism of aspects of a game is not a personal insult to its creator or those who enjoy the game. All games have flaws, and discussing those flaws openly is the best way to help an author improve. (And this game’s author is listed as working on another game, at that…) Stating that the game portrays political events in a way that implicates one side or another is right is not necessarily proof the author has those views, nor is stating someone has affinity for political beliefs of one type or another necessarily a condemnation or dismissal of those views by simple association with a political movement.

Saying, “It’s just a game” is not constructive dialogue. After all, it would just as much “just be a game” if it were about magic talking frogs on Mars instead of a game about the near-future. Saying something is “just a game” is a statement of the belief that no dialogue can be constructive, because there is no value in games at all to build upon. If you care enough to read and write about a game, it’s clearly not “just a game” to you, either.

This thread discusses politics and ethics, which are sensitive topics. I am not necessarily advocating the correctness or incorrectness of any one political or ethical beliefs in this thread, (although I certainly doubt I’ll be hiding my own,) but rather, I am responding to the positions that this game advocates or allows you to role-play.

I am not injecting politics into this game. This game IS political, already. I am merely starting a conversation about the political statements this game makes.

Not everything in this game is meant to be realistic. However, it takes itself seriously enough a large enough portion of the time that there tends to be a clear distinction between what is the clear fiction, and what is supposed to be fact. The Daily Show may be comedy, but it makes enough “real” criticisms of the world based upon actual facts and political beliefs that its own political beliefs and fact-checking are appropriately open to scrutiny, itself.

This game, at least from my point of view, is clearly attempting to portray itself from a “neutral point of view”, with characters who have contrasting beliefs, and giving the player an option to express their own political views, and be judged by others based upon their own not-necessarily-true set of beliefs.

I can see the desire to achieve a “neutral point of view” as some sort of laudable goal, although this goal relies upon some faulty assumptions I’ll get into later.

For now, what’s important is that if this is the goal, it also invites scrutiny and criticism when it fails to achieve that goal.

As I’ve played this game through multiple paths, I’ve found misrepresented or missing points of view, glaring breaks in rational consequences, and failures to represent critical aspects of the story, either at all, or in the most glossed-over terms, possible. For example, no matter what path you take, the story will almost invariably illustrate the utter collapse of the global economy, with rampant unemployment, a majority of people living on welfare, the collapse of consumer spending, slowdowns of production of goods, and unprecedented poverty for the majority of the population… and then it will say a couple pages later that the economy is doing great, and most people live easy lives with no wants because the economy is so strong. WHICH IS IT?!

Yes, there is a premium on space and capacity to write, and sacrifices of realism have to be made for brevity and good storytelling. However, for the purposes of judgement of what values this game holds, that actually makes what is mentioned and what is not an even more important issue to discuss, not less. If an actor or actress only has time to mention one or two people or issues out of all the people they know or things they care about in their Oscar acceptance speech, then it makes what little they DO talk about those people or beliefs that are obviously most dear to and defining of themselves.

Finally, this game also takes some fairly clear ethical stands with its “humanity” “karma meter”. Not everything that affects humanity is necessarily an ethical decision, (just being a CEO is a humanity hit because you “get cranky from the stress,”) however, enough of the decisions are clearly judgements of your ethical bearings, and the consequences of high/low humanity are portrayed in such a way that it’s fairly clear the game is making a not-at-all Neutral Point Of View ethical judgement when Humanity comes into play. Charity, self-sacrifice, and compassion and commitment to family and loved ones raise humanity, while greed, callousness to the suffering of others, and ruthless ambition lower it. It is therefore perfectly valid to judge what this game ethically values by what raises or lowers humanity, and just as critically, what doesn’t affect humanity.

With that rambling out of the way, onto the main topics:

CoR endorses pacifism.
I might as well start off with the relatively benign…

There are essentially no moral choices in this game that involve violence. Even allowing yourself to be drafted to defend America is generally portrayed as extremely ethically dubious, and almost every character presented as ethical is overtly opposed to anyone participating in government as monstrously inhuman, although I’ll get to more on that, later.

For now, I’ll just say that resorting to violence of almost any kind for any reason is basically automatically a hit to humanity, which serves as the de facto “karma meter” of this game. Going fully down the military path turns everyone against you.

Oddly, the one point in the game where this is NOT the case is when you can take your robot to the shooting range. Teaching your robot how to defend themselves from any hypothetical aggressor after going on the Late Show is a humanity hit, but teaching them how to shoot a gun and getting indoctrinated with anti-government Second Amendment type stuff about how to defend yourself from the government is perfectly fine, even though they’re basically the same - merely teaching someone how to defend themselves. I might see this as a concession to the fact that you’d get all-caps-lock death threats from certain quarters if you attached a karma meter hit to simply going to a shooting range, but there is a larger pattern at work that this fits into: Instructing your robot for violence against individuals is a humanity hit, but instructing your robot for violence against government is not.

In fact, the game is almost ludicrously opposed to even tangential involvement with conflict, portraying doing nothing as Taiwan is put to genocide or thousands of soldiers are killed for believing in the robots of a scam artist you did nothing to stop as completely Not Your Problem. If you stay at home and war profiteer from the conflict to the greatest extent you can, that’s morally A-OK, according to this game!

This exceedingly Deontological viewpoint is in absolute opposition to the dangerously cavalier Utilitarian take on Consequentialist ethics in the “Grace” ending. (Apologies for not linking these terms to definitions for those who are unfamiliar, but as an untrustworthy new member of this forum, I have a 2-link limit…) This game’s solution to the trolley problem is that it’s totally OK to let 10 people die so long as you don’t touch the switch yourself, but if it comes to robbing humanity as a whole of its agency, free will, livelihood, or even humanity’s collective capacity to understand what is happening to their world, all while secretly redirecting wealth to yourself, then as long as you trick people into being happy while you do it, it’s totally fine! This is the ethics of the Ponzi scheme: as long as I believe the scam will work, it’s not unethical for me to ask money of all the people I know, no matter how it may hurt them in the end…

At the same time, it’s never really properly explained why everyone seems so opposed to robots being in the military. It’s just assumed. I mean, seriously, it’s not like more autonomous killbots somehow increase America’s capacity to inflict harm upon any random person anywhere on the planet the President or CIA doesn’t like. America already possesses the capacity to eliminate all life on Earth several times over with nukes. Replacing flesh-and-blood combatants with Autobots that are more generally repaired if not lacking in true sentience to mourn can at least be considered ethical from the Consequentialist standpoint that it’s one less soldier that has to leave home and lose their life abroad. (And the game agrees with this assessment in the war, itself.)

Among other things I wish I had the capacity to say to Mark, there is the fact that what machines are available to go to war doesn’t determine whether or not a war starts. It is the disposition of the nation’s leaders, and the mood of the public, and the relative ebb and flow of the economic and global political strength of the powers that be. “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable.”

Also on that list, whether a person works for the government or not, it has little to no control over whether a new technology will eventually lead to weapons or not. The progress of technology has been a never-ending cycle of swords beaten to plowshares and plowshares beaten back into swords. NASA’s space program started from ballistic missiles research designed to deliver nukes, and the Internet was once the DARPANET. A technology on the market is inevitably copied, and if you argue that’s not the same because I wasn’t directly involved in consenting to their use in the military, then I have to ask how that’s so different from working for the government when being told your works are not likely to be used for the military to start with? Later on in the game, when my multitool-handed medibots are given even faster fingers, the game even goes on to say that it’s an unambiguously good application of the technology. Declaring “yeah, I’m working with the army to make a robot that is programmed to run into the battlefield and save lives in the thick of fighting” shouldn’t be considered some sort of ethical failing, but apparently, this game does consider it such a thing.

At the same time, it is possible to tiptoe through the minefield of humanity hits that military participation entails, although you are constantly in danger of losing your loved ones and employees, and have to take the almost schizophrenic approach of constantly declaring how guilty you feel about things while simultaneously doing nothing to say you will attempt to change your ways going forward. Apparently, this game believes you’re completely morally culpable for any unforeseen consequence of a decision you make in collaboration with government, but as long as you keep saying what you’re doing is terrible, it’s all just fine!

Considering this rather pacifistic point of view, I actually find it odd that I had to get the Somethingian achievement for saying I was a Jainist, since this game would basically only require allowing lacto vegetarian options (or at least, hydroponically-grown root vegetables and robotically-developed substitute meat) for you to be a rather good practicing Jainist.

CoR assumes you know who a lot of dead celebrities look and sound like
Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single real person in the entertainment industry I didn’t have to stop reading and go look up. (I know who Alan Turing and Friedrich Nietzsche are, of course. I just don’t see how people can find interest in memorizing the names of everyone that appears in a tabloid or stand watching gossipy junk like Entertainment Tonight.)

Because the game skimps on actually describing characters, instead just alluding to unknown entities to whom there is no associated connotations, many sections of the story fell emotionally flat.

It also is just one of many examples of assumptions that the game makes about what biases and values the player will bring to the table. The game in general does little to accommodate a player who doesn’t bring one of a small number of worldviews with them.

CoR robot logic is ridiculously human.
By and large, this is a topic that can generally be excused under “giving the audience what they expect, not what they’d likely actually get”. After all, you’re just magically a genius who can just magically slap together the same parts everyone else had lying around and make more with it because that’s the sort of game you paid money to play. Still, this game tends to take a few things that seem realistic, and blends it with the utterly fantastic and rarely stops to clearly define which is which in these cases. On the one hand, you start talking about human reactions to unemployment through robotics, then the next, there’s a robot strike because they want human wages for their work, then the game totally forgets about this, and robots are stealing human jobs because they’re paid less than human wages again…

First off, I can’t just put aside the notion that anyone could create a human-level intelligence on a cell phone with a little C++ “if you had a genius IQ.” In fact, the game almost admits this is BS with its discussions of IQ, but never actually follows through. The sum total of all the hard drive space in the world only barely beats the capacity of a single human’s brain, but the human brain is massively parallel in contrast to the extremely linear threaded methodology of a modern computer, especially one run on a language like C++ or Java or other languages not specifically designed to be conducive to Artificial General Intelligence thought.

Sci-Fi has had this pipe dream of robots as “humans, but more logical” for nearly a century, now, but, as a likely consequence of many of said writers being more liberal-arts types giving Kirk/Picard speeches about the superiority of human emotion over robot logic, they never bothered to actually analyze what actually constitutes logic in the first place. Logic is not the foolproof, objective unit of measurement people want to portray it as, all logic is based upon assumptions, and those assumptions can, by definition, never be selected through any logical means. The notion that any logical being without emotion would naturally choose violence and domination is a reflection of our own irrational assumptions about the value of violence and dominance.

This game, like much of that sci-fi, tends to declare “irrational” those modes of thought that actually are rational - for specific sets of assumptions and values.

In this game, high intelligence and comfort with individual choice, as defined by the autonomy score, necessarily dictate that your robot will use this choice to be prideful, disdainful of others, and domineering. The game implicitly states this is the natural consequence of intelligence, unless tempered by empathy.

I remember an article talking about the way that warehouse robots operated. Their AI follows a logical organization system that is simply incomprehensible to humans, based upon a weighted mixture of distance, need to move other stacks of objects, need to avoid traffic jams with other robots, and the frequency with which the robot is asked to retrieve any given type of product.

When true Artificial General Intelligence appears, it will likely be an alien lifeform we find incomprehensible by terms of “logic” we recognize, and only become recognizable through specific, deliberate action to make it humanoid. Rather than stilted, “robotic” language, robots would find soothing tones of voice and finding the most eloquent ways to express things incredibly easy in comparison to the Herculean feat of actually recognizing language, or understanding what it wants to communicate, at all. (Siri’s tone of voice and preferred terminology is much easier to make pleasant to people than Siri’s lack of capacity to interpret what I say…)

In fact, if we really want human-like robots, we really need to start talking about something other than hard drives, standard CPUs, and languages that exist in the modern day, and start talking about molecular computing. This, incidentally, allows for human-like massively parallel operations while at the same time often being much slower at focusing upon a single objectively verifiable math problem… just like a human. Basically put, the physical and performance of the brain has a massive impact upon the mode of thought. A human brain is highly adaptive, to the point of phantom pain from missing limbs when the brain remaps the sense of touch over other parts of the body. A human brain also has extremely dedicated neurons making recollection of specific complex memories easy, (“Grandmother Cells”) but no capacity to easily query a giant database.

Again, a lot of things that are forgivable in the sense of being a story that appeals to the sorts of people that want an unrealistically human-like robot buddy, rather than a realistic fiction…

All of this is what makes it so jarring, however, when you actively punish the player for treating the robots (and androids and gynoids) as human, or at least equal to humans.

Trying to say robots shouldn’t be abused or hurt or killed is almost always grounds for humanity loss in this game. You are actively expected to sell these creatures that are overtly trying to protest for their rights into what the game itself will call slavery.

You are explicitly described as seeing your special robot as your own child. They can call you “Father” or “Mother”. The whole line of robots, in fact, will call you Father or Mother, and then you sell them or tear them apart or strip them of their agency with an app on your phone at will because “they’re just robots”.

I don’t bring these issues up, the game does. When someone tells you that you’re selling artificial life that has their capacity for consent or self-determination lobotomized out of them for a profit, and that such a thing is slavery, you have four options: Further strip them of their capacity to consent to their sexual slavery until they are incapable of really recognizing it for what it is, deciding to “just make them nicer”, (oh good, so the slaves will have even more sensitive emotions to hurt!), doing nothing about it, or destroying them all in a functional genocide.

Need I say why ALL these options are HORRIFICALLY UNETHICAL?

Take this in stark contrast to Data from Star Trek: TNG, or Bender from Futurama, which carry with it the same absurd concepts of logic and emotion in ridiculously human robots, but then actually have the characters in the shows treat them exactly as they would other humans. (Or in Bender’s case, often getting treated better than humans…)

The disconnect between what’s realistic and what isn’t is what makes it so sudden and jarring. In this game, Data is Picard’s slave, and any time the Enterprise is on a hazardous mission, Picard just orders the replicators to make a few more clones of Data to send out as red shirts (well, technically yellow,) without bothering to stop and make speeches about the value of artificial life.

CoR has a tenuous grasp of economics, at best.
I was going to write so much in this one that I figured it would probably be best to just make it its own thread, but I figure I should at least leave a marker.

CoR believes global warming is no big deal!
OK, so the results of global warming are that Alaska is now a much more comfy place to live because it has a New England-like climate, while New England now has a much more arctic-like climate… but this isn’t worth discussing at any time when talking about MIT. Besides, you’re just spending much of the game in California, and it’s not like multi-year droughts and wildfires could possibly impact a place like that, right? RIGHT?!

OK, so this is one of those things that could be forgiven for not really being the focus of the game, but if you’re going to talk about it at all, at least give some reason for mitigating its impact. Just saying that some people aerosolized sulfuric acid and at least shelved the problem temporarily, if potentially open to controversy, at least gives an excuse for its not being any kind of issue in the game.

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CoR is anti-government.
It’s a commonly known fact about Superman that he was designed basically to represent FDR and the New Deal. When they say Superman “stands for Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” they mean that pretty literally. He is the direct stand-in for the power of the American people when they are united behind a government that represents them and has their best interests at heart. Superman is the strength of people united in purpose towards their own common betterment, and his enemies are those who are either the parasites upon society, those who are overcome by their greed or hatred to inflict harm upon those around them, (at one point famously fighting directly against the KKK,) or outright aliens seeking to harm America from beyond the stars.

Choice of Robots roots for Lex Luthor.

The disdain that this game has for the concept that humanity can collectively and nonviolently solve its problems through representative government is pervasive and profound. (It is also the primary reason I felt the need to write this thread.)

The game outright says that government becomes a “vestigial structure”, and that people are better off for the concept of Democracy dying off. (If that’s not the most rabidly Libertarian/Anarchist statement I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is…)

Virtually every character portrayed as ethical is categorically opposed to any work for the government as anything government touches will invariably be used by the military to kill people. The game reinforces this - sell robots to the Coast Guard? Congrats! You just left refugees out in the middle of the ocean to die!

Someone might say, “but that was working for the Military, not the civilian side of government life,” but that wouldn’t matter, because in CoR, there is no civilian side of the government.

In yet another ludicrously Libertarian take on the world, no aspect of civil service exists, outside of a job for Juliet at the end. It’s simply not a valid option. Your robots must protest and picket for their rights, and a single individual determines completely undemocratically how and whether robots can vote because it’s not like there’s a Supreme Court in existence to determine the rights of the citizens. (And frankly, it would have been a much better ending to the game to have your robot have to plead her/his/whatever case for robot rights being human rights… Keep in mind, most endings of the game involve making yourself more robotic - if robots have no rights, are you making yourself your spouse’s property when she legally inherits after you are “dead” from robotification?)

And then there’s this take on democracy: “Everyone else has chosen instead to have their votes cast by an algorithm in a manner consistent with their earlier votes, a method that has proven less susceptible to human error.” Sounds like someone flipped out after their side lost an election…

At one point you make a notably superficial reference to The West Wing. It probably would have helped if you’d watched it, because it might explain some things for you. The show’s writers were drawn partly from actual political staffers, and the show’s characters deal with a broken system and deadlocked politics, but it is nevertheless clear that both they and their political opponents are actually there because they stand for something other than a smirking pure nihilistic cynicism that seeks to insult and tear down the beliefs of others without believing in anything out of fear that it be torn down in return. (Although granted, The West Wing has the annoying tendency to make the opposition “bad” for reasons unrelated to their political positions, just to ensure the audience roots against them.)

Look at Elly’s motivations: She wants to “change the world” and “give back to the world”… and to do that, she wants to get rich, then work on charity before she gets too old. See anything wrong with this picture? The idea that someone could work for an organization dedicated to social betterment and social welfare as a paid job are completely alien to this game.

If we’re talking about motivations, though, there’s Juliet, the token character who does work for the government and isn’t portrayed as inherently corrupt and bloodthirsty. However, simply working for the government and not being evil isn’t really a counterbalance to the corruption throughout all the rest of the game’s portrayal of the evils of humanity’s social structures, it’s a token measure, in much the same way that Bao Li, the dead Chinese novelist is just some token reminder that not all Chinese people are units on the opposing side to be eliminated to win the game. What really motivates her? From her own lines: “I was looking all my life for something big that was really worth defending. It took me much longer that it should have to realize that was you.” So, after spending her life in a job to defend her country, she said she was still looking for something worth protecting… Yeah, not exactly a shining example of selfless service towards the community. By the portrayal in the game, she only joined the military because “Paladin of Cormyr” wasn’t available in the classifieds.

In probably the most vengeful jab at the American government, though, is the fact that it is portrayed as building concentration camps (expressly labeled as “concentration camps” in the game, mind you, the Nazi reference isn’t mine) in which they put anyone of Asian descent. Yeah, that’s right, even people who not only aren’t Chinese, but are from nations that openly feud with the Chinese. This seems to be some throwback to the detention camps of World War 2, but it’s to be noted that those camps were done in the fury of racist sentiment towards Japanese people in particular. There is no in-game description of a similar degradation of American society into racist anti-Asian sentiment that would trigger a public reaction that would give the government cover to perform an even more iron-fisted maneuver than what is already seen as one of our most barbaric moments of the Jim Crow era. In fact, there is no public acknowledgement or reaction at all, which seems to be done to try to absolve the American public of its responsibility for the racist reactions of their representative government, and instead pin blame solely at the feet of the institution, itself.

And that’s the American government…

China is portrayed in the most jingoistic manner possible. They are Evil Foreigners that are powerful only because they stole from American Exceptionalism, and were clearly incapable of advancing on their own. Mr. Sun is basically a Bond villain. The Chinese Premier will even outright crush your robot underfoot after he/she/whatever saves his life unless your robot is cute enough. The only Chinese character (Elly is de facto American, she doesn’t count,) to be portrayed sympathetically is sympathetic expressly because he is questioning his government, (and the ethics of robots).

If China ISN’T a threat, they simply are shooed out, exit stage left at earliest opportunity, because China exists for one reason, and one reason only: to threaten America. International cooperation is not a story that exists in this game, the option only exists to show how awesome an individual is in contrast to those evil, evil collections of people, and that aberration needs to be excised as soon as its literary purpose is complete. There is no chance for the player to go to China after stopping the war (or after a treaty is signed, for that matter) to help trade relations and cooperation between the superpowers, and maybe meet a healthy Bao Li while you’re there, because a story humanizing those of different cultures isn’t the story this game wants to tell. Much like the pop culture references, if you see peace and trade with China or global goodwill and understanding as a positive, it’s because you’re bringing your own outside biases to the game, because the game does nothing to articulate it at all.

Canada and Europe might seem superficially to be portrayed positively, but that’s only because they aren’t portrayed at all. They do nothing, they don’t exist. To be fair, that’s a totally reasonable absence, since it would take far more text to properly explain concepts like the future of the stability of the European Union if it were to face an even greater threat of unemployment in the poorer countries and an eventual disintegration of the Euro as the wildly divergent strength of the economies of the disparate countries would force a return to national currencies such that inflation might help raise the costs of imports again and once again make domestic production economically feasible.

Africa and South America, meanwhile, are continents of vague and indistinguishable nations made of perpetually starving individuals too incompetent to feed themselves whose purpose in life is to accept charity from wealthy Westerners whenever they want to feel good about themselves. They appear in the game not as autonomous peoples, but merely as charity targets.

The UN is dismissed in a single sentence in spite of it facing an existential crisis. Apparently, everyone just keeps going to the UN even while the superpowers are engaged in global conflict. Asia largely exists as just some nebulous area that apparently shifts its landmass to allow China access to the Arctic Sea.

So let’s sum up: The world consists of The Great Empire Of America, whose government is tyrannical and opposed to the liberties of its people, but otherwise is the center of all light and learning, an evil alien invader, and a bunch of other nonsense that doesn’t matter or only exists for our pity…

Probably the most emblematic of this mindset is the dream of Liberty, which declares giving your robots their own liberty to be foolish, literally crushes you underfoot if you are a pacifist, and yet is then represented as saying that she needs to be a bloodthirsty killing machine who steps on “lesser peoples” because that’s the only way she can protect the rest of the world from itself. This is called “Pax Americana” in one extremely dubious statement. (It also happens to be statement of facts not in evidence…)

I REALLY hope I don’t need to go into why this is about the most nihilistically imperialist worldview I’ve seen expressed outside of Sid Meier’s Risk-derived 4X games.

It also presents a wholly incongruous worldview when combined with the relative pacifism discussed earlier. There’s a bizarre cognitive dissonance at play, where imperialism is admitted to be evil, imperialism is expressed to be government’s only function, and yet that imperialism is necessary in some Hobbesian fashion. Therefore, there needs to be a government, but anyone who would work for it is necessarily evil, and government isn’t really necessary, anyway. STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT!

The ultimate result is that you basically have your choice between only two worldviews: Libertarian or Neocon, and Neocon is strongly argued against by the game. Mainstream or moderate conservatism and any form of liberalism apparently don’t exist in this world.

Finally, we have what the game shows as some sort of ideal governmental model, one made by robots using some new mathematical formula to run simulations to solve all problems forever. After using this magic math problem, apparently, all humanity gladly relinquished all control over their lives to robots because things turn out OK when robots handle them…

… OK, hang on, so what you’re telling me is that you somehow came up with a math problem that, when robots explain it to people - people who are out of work and resentful of robots, mind you - then they can get everyone to drop all their former deeply-held beliefs and just agree to whatever the robots say? So, what, does the robot just pop up a powerpoint presentation, point to the cell that has the results of the algorithm, and say, “And as you can see, the value remaining is 4.23, which is why you have to agree with our collective views on abortion!” Who, exactly, is going to change their minds about gun control/rights, discrimination, immigration, religious liberty, or any other emotionally-charged issue just because the C3P0 knockoff that took their job showed them an equation? Politics is far more often than not a function of (sub-)cultural identity than any real choice outside of possibly the primaries, which are dominated by the most ideologically motivated, and therefore, ideologically extreme. That’s not even starting with the fact that, by the game’s own declaration, the American economy is still in absolute shambles, unemployment is sky-high, and significant portions of the country (and presumably, the world,) are living entirely off welfare, while income disparity is likely at existential crisis levels.

But even the things that, presumably, you were assuming WOULD be solvable by math problems, such as economic or budgetary policy, you still run into the same problem of assumptions and goals that were the problems with robot logic, above. What, exactly, IS the goal of a perfect economic policy? Is the goal to simply increase gross GDP to the highest levels possible, assuming that as long as the pie is getting larger, it is of greatest utility for all? Is it the goal instead to eliminate poverty, ensuring a universal minimum standard of living? Is it instead the goal to ensure the most stable economy possible, giving up potential wealth in the short term for a more sustainable future?

Given what we know about how the game describes the economic state of the world, obviously none of these things are goals, because by any reasonable measurement, the way the global economy is described by the end of the game, it is a downright miracle there hasn’t already been an even more catastrophic global depression than The Great Depression. The wealth and income disparity are ripe for financial bubbles, but they never pop because that would take a more serious look at economics than this game is willing to give.

This isn’t even starting on how the game declares that if you let all sentient robots vote, then businesses will just literally buy votes. (I guess we’re supposed to put aside that they’re willful enough to be capable of starting a robot revolution to give themselves their own rights, but apparently willing to vote in lockstep with their human owners…) The only effect of this event is that you get +2 wealth. Apparently, the indisputable fact that any major corporation, given the capacity to outright buy the electors it wants, and therefore make itself capable of electing literally anyone of their own choosing somehow doesn’t bother to factor into the overall health of the nation. I guess this game expects there to be no consequence for a corporation to simply repeal all regulations that would bar them from dumping mercury in the drinking water of the housing of their competitors…

CoR is anti-societal
The only organizations that are shown as capable of having any positive impact upon humanity at all are charities.

Consider what giving away your corporation to charity would actually do seriously, for a moment. Imagine if Ford’s CEO decided they were going to close down every Ford factory, fire all the workers, liquidate all the assets, no longer make purchases that fund the secondary and tertiary businesses that support the auto industry. What would that do to the economy?

This game says: Make it BETTER!

The only reason you hire workers is apparently to just raise your humanity score. There’s no economic impact of a powerful business employing thousands of people, even in a place like DETROIT. Granted, that starts to belong in an economics thread, but still, the game refuses to see a positive influence from businesses. Whether Galen medical sells cheap or not doesn’t seem to change anything but your humanity score. If I ask Josh to sell robots cheaply to the community because the community is being edged out of their future, it has literally no stated effect on anything in the game.

Religions hardly even exist, and avoiding cults to help them is honestly relatively punished by the game’s systems. There is never a chance for a religious person to look at your robot and debate whether he/she/whatever has a soul.

And then there’s government…

In this game, when charities give to the poor, it is occasionally portrayed as useful and capable of raising people out of poverty and back into the global workforce, as well as their own autonomy in a world that is leaving more and more of its citizens behind. When government gives to the poor, then it’s just a sign of how terrible the economy is that these people are all just sitting around on unemployment or welfare checks. Never mind that the only difference is generally just seen to be the source of the money, if money comes from government, it is inherently tainted into guaranteed failure.

After all, government’s can’t employ anyone, civil service doesn’t exist. Contractors working for the government are evil because any work for the government is inherently evil.

Even when you control the whole world, you are incapable of doing something like combating climate change with the combined power of all the people in the world. Instead, your own charity shows your global empire up by solving global warming or world hunger or mass extinction for you.

Government is incapable of solving any problems in this game. Hypothetically, it’s said to have made the economy OK at some points, especially the grace ending, but this is never shown, and what is described is, in fact, further evidence that the economy has absolutely cratered into an inescapable depression that will likely breed yet more social instability and warfare. (Again, evidence this game has no understanding of economics…)

Other social organizations, outside of a stray mention of a union, a PTA or YMCA existing, by and large are also non-entities. Your high-empathy robot can make friends with neighbors, or talk to protesters, or even join a union, but they never do anything. Such entities are thoroughly inconsequential.

Even charities, themselves, are largely dismissed by the game as simply things that “good people” work on to feel better about themselves. There is no charity that is shown to have any positive impact later on in the game except the one if you set up billions of dollars in funding, which is, notably, the actions of an individual, not an organization made of people.

No human organization is shown as competent at all. All change of any worth comes from an individual… which is what makes how CoR treats its individuals even more depressing…

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CoR is anti-social.
OK, so maybe that is a little harsh, but I’m rolling with a theme, here…

My search-fu has failed me, so I’ll just paraphrase, but in one episode of King of the Hill dealing with hipsters, Peggy Hill insulted them by making a claim somewhat like, “They do not know what they want. They only know what they do not want.”

The characters in CoR are overwhelmingly defined by what upsets them, not by any sort of goals of their own.

Characters like Elly, Josh, and Mark are strawmen. Maybe not in the sense that the beliefs they are meant to represent are lambasted by the game (overtly, at least,) but in the sense that they are token characters who exist solely to fill the place of some sort of stereotype. Elly is a Apple-using hipster type, Josh is a caricature of a dudebro Silicon Valley CEO, Mark is a worldly hippie radical. That is the sum total of their personalities - filling in for the stereotypes people have of different strata of society, without any sort of personality or goals beyond that. It’s like a background character in most shows, where the surly dock worker is nothing but a surly dock worker, but those characters work because they’re not the main characters of the show. These are the defining human characters, used as props to show the effect on the human condition that your robot takeover has on a personal level, and the game really doesn’t give them the personality necessary to carry that task off.

Elly suffers the most because she’s capable of being in the game, reacting to things more than any other character. Not doing things, merely reacting. She simply exists to frown when you put robots over people and smile when you hire human workers. She likes pretty things and art. She somehow, nebulously, thinks charity is a good thing and war is a bad thing, but isn’t willing to actually articulate any sort of worldview of her own that would justify these things. She has global citizen-y opinions because she’s just meant to stand in for global citizen-y people, but isn’t capable of being more actualized than that. She doesn’t like making war-bots, but if you say you’re doing it anyway, and say she can be moral and still make war-bots, she just goes along with it, because her paper-thin convictions were never fully-formed to begin with, anyway. She says she wants to do something involving a charity, but doesn’t actually get involved in anything of her own choice, what charity she might join is only determined by what charity YOU make for her to run. If you don’t make one, and give her free will to choose her own charity, it just doesn’t exist, because her choices and beliefs just don’t matter to the game. She’s not a character in her own right, she’s just a reflection of your own achievements. She’s a trophy to be won, married because that gives you some humanity points for being a good human and getting married like humans do.

This is carried out throughout most of the rest of the romantic options, and in fact, only Tammy/Silas really differentiate themselves by actually have some sort of overarching goal in a sort of Robot Rapture view of the Singularity. Their paranoia is informed by actually helping to make the government programs they’re afraid are targeting them. They don’t fully explain themselves, or what they do with their whole lives, but they at least have some narrative dots to connect. Compare this to Josh, who just likes beer because he does, just dresses down because he does, just wants to be rich because he does. Juliet is in the military just because the game needed someone who wasn’t reflexively anti-military, she’s into SCA just because she needed some character detail that wasn’t directly derived from being in the military, she’s aggressive and physically capable because the game needed a contrast with the more touchy-feely and passive romance options.

The fact that most of the spouses basically do not exist through most of the story, and then say the same lines at the end - no matter their perspective upon robots (if they have any at all) - speaks volumes about what a token gesture many of these romantic interests even were. I’d expect Elly to be horrified in robotification and chipping (although she doesn’t actually do anything to stop it or even drop in relationship) but why is Juliet upset by it in exactly the same way and degree? She never expresses any kind of take on how robots change the world at all, even when she’s turned Crusader to fight against the crimes the robots did nothing to stop. Why does she have no opinion on these things? Because she’s not really meant to be her own character…

I have to especially draw light to the way that going out and marriage are done within the space of just a few paragraphs that can largely be summed up as, “You see a girl, do you want to hit on her? Y/N” “Y” “She responds well, do you want to ask her out? Y/N” “Y” “You sleep together. You have a girlfriend now. Yay. Do you get married? Y/N” “Y” “You got married. Yay. Please take this marriage receipt to chapter 7 to cash in for a few extra lines of dialogue in the ending.”

By odd contrast, Professor Ziegler and President Irons are more actualized characters, probably because they are specifically meant to be more antagonistic. Ziegler has schemes, goals, flaws, and an underlying, tragically humanizing motivation for his actions, even if he’s a dick that potentially kills many thousands of people in a petty attempt to save his own credibility. Irons is basically meant to be the stand-in for everything evil about politics in a game that loathes politics, but even she can give a proper case for what motivates her. It’s honestly a little sad that the closest thing to villains in this game can make a more convincing case for their humanity in the tiny amount of text they get compared to the characters meant to more generally represent humanity.

To switch gears for a moment, let me make another allegory: The Bechdel Test is an (in)famous measurement of a baseline criteria for whether a movie or other media respects a woman’s point of view. Obviously, with a female main character, this game passes, but consider the more underlying reason for why so many movies fail it: The main character is almost always male, and all other characters exist solely within their relation to that main character. No character in this game really ever talks about their own goals or beliefs except as a way of relating to your own character.

What this game really needed was some chance for the different characters that represent different human points of view to actually share those points of view with Your Robot. Some characters have an impact upon Your Robot, such as staying with Mark giving Your Robot +5 Autonomy, or Elly’s factory advice giving several +Grace, and her fake skin giving +4 Empathy… but those are all incidental impacts they have.

Take a game where my robot, Keeva, which I treat as my daughter and ask to have call me Father, is first booted up seeing both myself and Elly. Elly helps design her frame and makes adjustments to her over the course of her early life. Elly gets married to me, Keeva’s Father, but Keeva never gets it in her head to start calling Elly “Mother”. Elly never speaks with Keeva, personally, at any point beyond the first boot-up of Keeva. Elly works on Keeva’s body, smiles and enjoys that I deal with Keeva on an entirely human level, but never once thinks that it might be a good idea to start a conversation of her own with Keeva, to try to instill any of her values in what the game basically allows me to declare our daughter. (Of course, that’s because Elly doesn’t have any values of her own…)

Hypothetically, yes, that could be happening off-screen, but there is a lot that goes on off-screen that the game fills you in on, later. CoR doesn’t care what your spouse thinks of your robot. If your spouse’s lifestyle or talents have some indirect impact on your robot, it is reflected in their stats changing, but none of these hypothetical discussions between your robot and your spouse ever change anything, because if they ever did happen, they had no influence over your robot at all.

Yes, this is again a matter of a premium of space, but then, why have so many if the game wasn’t going to give them depth? Especially since there are already gender-swapping characters based upon player decision, why not just reduce the number of romancable characters to those the game could actually give enough time and effort to make worthwhile?

CoR basically encourages its players to look to these token representatives of some slice of humanity as nothing more than pawns with which you can get a couple +s to some stat, (usually Humanity, or at least preventing its decay,) whose whims can be overridden with a simple mulitple-choice declaration that you change their mind for them. (In the lead-up to war, Tammy/Silas will declare they’re quitting on multiple occasions, but immediately go back to her bin when told to do so, although I’m honestly not sure what having her around even changes past that point, anyway, since she doesn’t show up again except as a cultist in the grace ending, anyway…) None of them make any meaningful commentary upon your choices, and many of them wind up being a ball and chain distracting you from the “cool endings” like Lunatics or saying how joining the cloud is a bad thing. (Which, I’ll point out, the game otherwise unequivocally says is what you should aim for, because it gets you closer to The Singularity.)

The game encourages you to be a nigh-solipsistic narcissist, because ruling Alaska is COOL, so what if you have to murder your spouse to get there?! Then take a piss on Lady Liberty, because she was an evil tyrant, anyway! Even the love-bot ending goes better if you just cheat on your spouse to keep your love-bot happy. Tell Elly that of course your gun-toting war-mech isn’t going to be used for military purposes before going to war, then overriding her own opinions, anyway. (Now give me that grace bonus for being my employee, slave!)

CoR is unroboethical.
So long as you have 20/30-something stats in Autonomy and Grace, and the highest stat is Empathy, this game in fact basically comes out and implies that robots are better than humanity in every possible way: Robots are portrayed as more compassionate, more selfless, more fair, more broad-minded, more adaptive, more intelligent, more brave, more decisive, and generally better in every way that could ever matter than humanity.

In light of this, it seems little wonder so many of the game’s endings involve the destruction of human society being portrayed in a positive light. When you’re given options to say the overthrow of humanity would be a good thing, it seems like the game really means it, it’s just giving up a “Humanity” morality bar hit as some token placation of humanitarian-types.

In fact, this game largely seems to state that the only thing wrong with the violent destruction of all human society is that “hurting people is bad”, and that as long as you trick people into giving up consent into functional slavery without violence, it’s all perfectly fine. In fact, for as much as the game SEEMS to rail against an evil authoritarian surveillance state, it’s actually only railing against the fact that humans control it. As soon as robot cameras watch every movement of every human in every home, it’s a wonderful way to stop all crime! If that’s not quite enough, the moral thing to do is vigilantism, because that’s an individual initiative to stop crime whereby they impose only their own personal point of view upon the rest of society, not some evil community effort whereby a society gets together to discuss how best to responsibly protect the interests of the community at large while respecting the rights of individuals.

In light of all this, the incapacity to argue for robot rights is a GLARING oversight. After all the talk of humanitarianism and aggression against government overreach, the game is almost heartlessly utilitarian, stating that everything’s fine so long as people “feel happy” about it. The ridiculously human robots are at times even overtly described as being slaves, since you are putting “sentient life for sale”… but you really have no way of actually taking a course of action that acknowledges this fact. Even letting them vote - which implies full citizenship - simply lets corporations buy and sell voters. Somehow, they are never capable of thinking to vote for their own emancipation.

Where is the ending where androids and gynoids can no longer be bought and sold, but may be hired, where government-funded facilities allow for the construction of new artificial life that is given public education and/or set up for adoption, especially for couples involving artificial parents that can’t bear their own children? Where is the court case where a surgeon bot argues that he wants to be put in a new body, because he hates seeing blood and pain, and would rather be an airplane’s autopilot, so he can soar through the clouds? Where’s the court case where a trust fund baby screams foul that a butler-bot is left a huge portion of the inheritance of a wealthy businessman, claiming the will must have been a forgery by a crafty and overly autonomous android? These would all honestly be FAR more interesting topics of for the game to end upon than, “Enh, robots did everything OK, and the economy is better now, in spite of the cratering of consumer demand and widespread unemployment making such a thing completely impossible.”

Where, for that matter, is the sweeping difference between whether you chose for your robots to learn from a Tabula Rasa, to be clones, or simply insentient? Wouldn’t it have some impact on the cloud if everyone was the same person talking to themselves? Isn’t this kind of the most serious ethical question about robotics that this game poses, aside from possibly the notion of their citizenship or coverage of Constitutionally-protected human rights? Why does it only seem to exist to make the human-worker-based party go away if I don’t lobotomize my androids and gynoids?

These are the characters that the game threw all of human civilization and the individuality of its human characters overboard to represent… and it still treats them as mere pawns that exist for your own manipulation.

CoR takes a shallow, hopeless, nihilistic outlook upon every subject it covers. It has nothing positive to say about anyone or anything. The future is dark and full of despair no matter what choices you might make. Even the most positive route through the game, making sentient life, donating the corporation to charity, stopping war, and a peaceful robot takeover leaves robots either slaves of a megalomaniacal tyrant or a kleptocracy of soulless corporate interests, and humans as mere pets of robot overlords who care for them solely because they have no capacity to think otherwise. (Or take the high-empathy ending where you sell sex slaves that destroy marriages and commit suicide if they can no longer be loved by their owners, because that’s much more hopeful.) The “bad” endings involve the violent enslavement or destruction of humanity to a robot army not quite sentient enough to truly understand itself, while the “good” endings involve the peaceful enslavement of humanity to a robot army not quite sentient enough to truly understand itself.

Choices, choices…

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I think your complaint about the game switching from “we’re in a depression” to “everything is great” is largely a function of how complex the code is. I’ve poked at it, and there’s so many layers that there’s a very good chance it’s just an oversight in the sense that in the transition period the explanation text doesn’t always show up.

You might try looking through the code to see if there’s just a missing goto that gives a better explanation of how it happened!

I think you make some good points – but to some extent you have to accept that it’s much easier to have “government” be the bad guy than it is to present a nuanced view.

The number of best selling YA books that do that are too many to list. Having a clear bad guy in the government gives the game it’s black/white options. (I disagree that the game thinks killing is bad so much as “the government is killing people” and the government is what’s evil)

The major good/evil conflict wouldn’t work if the government weren’t generically the bad guy. It’s not the best, but it is what it is.

What would you suggest instead? I mean can you suggest another “bad guy” on the world scale the game takes play on?

With that pointed out, I do agree that the depiction of China and the UN and basically the total lack of even acknowledging Africa/South America was disappointing – but it’s a game about robots not world politics. The Scope creep of adding that would have made one of the biggest most complex games even more crazy.

In picking priorities in a huge game, I’m not gonna complain that the writer excluded global politics. (Although because you can run away to Canada a little bit more about them would have been nice!)

As to characters being stereotypes: I agree – with the exception of Julliet (who I still want to rule Alaska with me why does she always want to kill me alas!)

But, writing ROs in a game that is really not about the MC in a lot of ways, is beyond a challenge. To much focus on them it’s not choice of robots any more it’s choice of the college student who builds robots. They’re a nice side to the main dish; but shouldn’t be mistaken for the main dish – which is robots. I did think all of them but Julliet were as one dimensional as you said, but I could see how other people would like them. To each their own with ROs.

I think you have some good points, and I have some more thoughts about what you’ve said, but for the moment, somethings to consider while I figure out how to word what else I wanna say. Hahahaha.

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I didn’t have as many problems with this game as you did, but as an Alaskan native myself, I can say that a temperate Alaska is not something I want to live in!

I’m rather impressed. Most places that I might post something like this generally gets a flood of “LOL, TL;DR”. Thank you for actually reading it and giving thoughtful replies.

@Shockbolt
Violence in this game is almost universally treated as wholly unethical. (Although you get a little leeway in rescuing Elly from the J Edgars…) Not walking out on the drone strike and not throwing the coin in Irons’s face (even just carrying it in your pocket) are both clearly portrayed as major humanity hits. (So is killing Tammy/Silas after (s)he tries to kill you, or any other assassination you can order your robot to carry out, but that’s to be expected.) In fact, merely saying you’d consider selling your robots to the military, or that it would be fine if your robots were used for war is a humanity hit.

Still, you say that government is portrayed this way just because it’s supposed to be the bad guy, but I don’t feel the intent of the author was to warp America into a cartoonish villain. I get the sense that this is how the author genuinely sees America, and it bears a more than passing resemblance to Dick Cheney-style policies regarding the likes of Gitmo, drone strikes, and global government surveillance. (In fact, the game stops short of the worst of it, the game doesn’t even mention torture.) None of these have been stopped, and the author makes mention that Irons is from Fox News, which is basically an indirect way of saying “Republican”. The assumption seems to be that Obama stopped none of these programs (besides torture), so the next Republican in office is just going to bring them back worse.

The author simply does nothing to describe any other function of government, or portray any other light aside from what is presented in the hallucinations of Lady Liberty.

As for suggestions, I’m not sure this game even needs a “bad guy”. (Other than, maybe, the protagonist.) I believe that the game actually works better working in a moral gray area, where the game says that you can try to balance the world’s economy or work on giving robots dangerously autonomous thinking or build robots that know how to love, even if to a dangerously dependent degree.

When it comes to the economy, meanwhile, I generally do believe it’s just not grasping the consequences of some of the things it brushes off. Again, I’ll need to write out a much bigger, more sourced post on why what this game says is wrong, but the game at one point even says in the same sentence that real unemployment skyrockets, while the economy does great! It depicts an America where people haven’t bought new cars since the robot wave started, meaning that there has been near-zero consumer demand for new products for over a decade. The author does not seem to understand that corporations don’t just mint money when they make products, they need someone to buy their products. If everyone’s unemployed and stopped buying things, who, exactly, is buying all these robot-made products? Who, exactly, is paying taxes for all the unemployment checks the government hands to these people are drawing when corporations can buy their own voters, and therefore are guaranteed not to be taxed at all?

Probably the most unforgivable, however, was when the game, after declaring that anyone who didn’t have a college education to be able to compete in the new labor market as a designer of web apps or some other highly technical field with robots and the Internet was now out of a job, then went on to declare that nobody goes to college anymore, because college degrees can’t get you a job. (Head Asplode) Any sane economist would tell you that at that point, the proper governmental response is free, universal, mandatory public college education, just like how K-12 education is publicly funded, currently. America’s education system started as merely Elementary school, and has expanded as the educational needs of the workforce have become greater with the advent of more and more machines in industry, so free universal mandatory college is an inevitability… Of course, that would require government to help people, so it’s not an option this game conceives of.

It’s fine for these things to be terse for space, but it does need to at least be accurate and consistent with itself.

As for the romantic interests, I still think the game would have been better served with fewer of them given more lines, and where they actively talk to, and share insights with your robot. Juliet, whose whole job seems to be in making sure the government has the best robots possible, only talks to your robot once, to say hello, when booted up for the demo to her, if you have that demo. Juliet never cares about and hardly even mentions your robot at all. Elly, meanwhile, can do massive redesigns of your robot, live with you and your robot as a family, but also never talks to the robot outside saying hello once. Mark is probably the best, although that’s mostly just the extended interview visit.

What would have been far more meaningful is having Mark keep coming back, keep doing interviews both with you and your robot every chapter or so. Ask the robot how the war is going, and have a response that gets in the paper, for good or for ill, as well as what you say. If Mark sticks around for any period of time, have him actively trying to instill some ideas of his own into your robot (if you haven’t forbidden contact between them, yet…) Even with what’s in the game, he can give +2 or -1 Empathy in the interview, and the visit can give +5 autonomy (+1 more if the robot demands a change in what (s)he calls you) or at least +2 grace if you take him to your place.

Likewise, what if, instead of having Elly just redesign the factory or the skin of your robot, she actively took a role in “babysitting” your robot at times when you were out, and instilled some new perspectives in your robot in your absence. Rather than +4 Empathy from a new skin and +3 Grace for factory redesigns, she could have had conversations with the robot that accomplish similar stat gains, or directly help adjust servos when working with the robot, not indirectly through you.

If you’re into Juliet, a similar strategy could work for her - asking about your robot’s allegiance, or maybe taking your robot out for some shooting practice or military drills to see how (s)he handles military life. That, or maybe having some role-playing situations of your robot’s choosing, as (s)he could probably emulate medieval accents rather well, and not be embarrassed by the experience.

@Zane_Hiam
I wouldn’t say everything I wrote out is a “problem” per se. While I do have the unfortunate tendency to come off overly critical, I’m mostly trying to put out the major themes this game hits upon, and give supporting evidence. The equation of pacifism with humanity, and humanity with morality in this game isn’t necessarily a flaw, but I am trying to point out that it exists. That said, I do take some degree of umbrage with the notion that any employee of a government is inherently evil or delusional, being as I have several family members who are civil servants, including my parents.

It’s entirely possible the game was intentionally written to be pessimistic about the future, and it’s hardly necessarily a flaw. I get the sense, however, that it may have been a more accidental slip of the pen, to twist a trope, that so many negative themes about humanity, and humanity’s society got through when it was attempting to be “objective”.

The one thing I do find annoying is the economics issues. However, I still need to write a more thorough explanation of what those problems were…

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I will make more in-depth comments later if I have the time. At present, I only have time for a brief, nitpicky comment- the idea that the United States, or even humanity, has the capability to exterminate the human race through nuclear firepower is entirely false. There is a good deal of authorship on this topic, but given the general estimates for survivors even on high-yield attacks on cities, the use of our nuclear weapons would have difficulty even eliminating the urban populace of the planet, and the effect on the biosphere is not nearly significant enough to lead to environmental devastation to the point where humanity would be eliminated as an aftereffect. The idea that it could be done several times over is patently absurd. The spread of robotic soldiers in the U.S. military would thus be a perfectly valid concern of many, especially factoring in that merely using nuclear weapons haphazardly in every circumstance has never been a strategic option, and expansion of conventional forces is considered a legitimate threat, as they are that which can actually be used.

I seem to recall other estimates about the capacity of nuclear bombs to blanket the globe, due to a desire to prove that a nuclear pre-emptive strike would not be thorough enough to eliminate the nuclear arsenal of either the USA or USSR, but if you have some source that you could link, I’d be interested in seeing a different view on the topic.

In any event, I would have to ask, then, whether the same level of criticism is warranted whenever someone makes nearly anything for the military? Is the move from the F-15 to the F-22 truly such a drastic difference that anyone who works on those aircraft are to be considered gleeful war profiteers who are killing countless civilians through proliferation of weaponry?

Military proliferation is not so much a factor of incremental development of the tools, but the proportion of the economy dedicated to actual production. Simply switching from one generation of fightercraft to another isn’t a major deciding factor in the threat a nation poses to other nations, especially as aircraft development generally goes at a fairly similar pace, globally. It’s more keeping up with the Joneses than anything.

The differences that a “generation” of military robots (measured in a space of a year for this game) brings to their combat potential are treated as all but magical in this game. You can build America outright GUNDAMS, and they’re already declared obsolete when you start the Alaska rebellion.

@Wraith_Magus
So I just read through all of this, mostly because I love reading art criticism which lays out the implications and implicit biases of any piece of work. I can’t say I disagree with the vast majority of your criticisms, though, being a Chinese-born consequentialist big-government Liberal (big L), I’m not sure how surprising that would have been.

What I can say, as a writer and a smartass with general aspirations to the intelligentsia (though I certainly can’t speak on behalf of the other CoG authors, let alone @kgold himself) is this:

I could kiss you right now.

This is the sort of detailed, in-depth criticism I would love to see more CoGs (my own included) subject to, because this is the sort of criticism that I read to become a better writer, a better story-teller, a better world-builder. Granted, we’re already subject to quite a bit of that, especially in regards to concerns of plot and character building, but in focusing on the implications of those characters and that plot on the fictional world itself, as well as the political tone of the work as a whole. We need more of that.

Please write more of that.

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About the whole “not being allowed to aid the civilian goverment” thing:
I believe that when you make your own company one of the choices is to make robots for hospitals.Presumably some of these hospitals are goverment controlled.So you can technically work for the civilian goverment it’s just not spelled out directely that you do.

Agreed on the Humanity stat. I loved the game, but I felt it could have done without a half-assed morality meter. Some nuance is called for.

You arent politician by some chance or profesional Critic ? are you ?
you are simply so eloquent.

@Cataphrak
Err… Thanks? (No Tammys, no Tammys…)

I haven’t played that many CoG games, yet, CoR was my first, and I was attracted to it more by subject matter than anything. I’m actually more naturally a simulation and strategy game player, concerned with how different mechanical choices reflect upon the worldview a game impresses upon its players. (My favorite game is Dwarf Fortress, and the suggestions threads I’ve written or had long arguments over have length that dwarf this thread - no pun intended.) Mechanically-light, (often linear) narrative-heavy games aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse. The only other one I’ve played through so far is Versus. (And honestly, I have more to say about the mechanical feedback of that game than its implied ethical or political viewpoints…)

I can certainly trying reading through your games and giving it the same treatment. (I had my eye on Mecha Ace and Hero of Kendrickstone, anyway. I was mostly hesitant on Mecha Ace just because I always loved Battletech, and that seemed more clearly Gundam.) Just… give me a while, it took me three days worth of spare time to write this thread, and that was after several days of actually playing the game.

@Trickster
In America, it can generally be assumed that hospitals are privately-owned, or at least run by the Catholic Church. There is massive state funding, but little state direct control.

In any event, the topic of the thread is what the game has to say, not what assumptions you bring to the table. If you think that supplying hospitals with cheaper medical supplies is a way of working with government, that’s because you are taking your assumptions about government to the table, the game, as you say yourself, does nothing to lead you to such an interpretation.

In fact, the way that Galen’s vignette is structured, it’s largely made as a way of talking about how you, as an individual are being moral or immoral. Government is not present, and it is explicitly stated that any other business would simply exploit the situation. (If you’re employed by Josh, he overrules you, and forces you raise the prices.)

The game treats this as an individual act done in defiance of social norms, and then states it saves lives and is an unmitigated act of good… so what does that mean the game is implying about social norms and the society that created them?

@Sneaks
The game clearly has some things to say upon the topic of morality, so I can’t fault the presence of a morality stat entirely. I do think it might have been made more nuanced, though. In general, I’d like to see games go from a single, monolithic morality stat towards systems of multiple morality stats that reflect an accumulation of your values judgements.

For example, in the pacifism section, I mentioned the difference between Deontological and Consequentialist ethics, and how it relates to the handful of trolley problems this game throws at you. (Woo! I get links, now! So I’ll also go ahead and link Three Minute Philosophy’s quick explanation of Kant/Deontological Ethics!) I’d rather see a game that asks you to state your own moral views, and then judge you by those, as well as having a disparate meter of how other people would judge you.

@CaesarCzech
No, I’m not a politician or professional critic. I’ve just spent enough time arguing esoteric points over the Internet to intelligent people that I’ve developed a thorough, if perhaps too-long-winded style of argument.

If you’re interested, however, then if there’s any style of argument I tend to take after that is available on YouTube, then you might want to check out Errant Signal. His discussion of politics in games and the prevalence of violence as a topic are some of my favorites.

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My apologies.I am from europe and not very familiar with the american goverment/way of life.Since goverment controlled hospitalls are fairy common over here I made a wrong assumption

I’ve been musing about the idea of organizing “book club” discussions for published games, where participants would propose questions for the group and then answer them together.

Most of the discussion on our forum is about WIP games, which makes sense because that’s where criticism is most likely to influence the game itself to make it better, but it’s hugely rewarding to authors to have vigorous discussion of finished games, too.

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@Wraith_Magus
First of all [Obligatory 2cat joke about criticism threads like this multiplying in number with great speed].

Secondly, I’d love to see you go through any of my work, if nothing else because you’ll catch things which my own implicit biases simply let pass onto prose without comment.

Both Mecha Ace and The Hero of Kendrickstone are relatively light when it comes to touching directly of politics or ethics. The former is intended to be my own interpretation of the sensibilities of traditional mecha anime, as well as western military-science fiction. The latter I put together around the idea of the high fantasy adventurer, as a world built around a character concept, as opposed to a character concept existing within a world. I’d certainly welcome any analysis or criticism on either (or Sabres of Infinity, for that matter), especially considering the fact that criticism of the former has helped me develop the story of the latter (for example, both Mecha Ace and The Hero of Kendrickstone touch on the idea of torture, but the latter story’s portrayal was shaped by criticism of the former story’s look at the subject).

There’s no need to force yourself to go through anything of mine, mind you.

@Cataphrak
Well, too late, I already bought and started playing Mecha Ace…

To be honest, my first reaction is one of a bit of unfamiliarity. I’m again not that used to Gundam, as I always had my loyalties lie more with Battletech, and a little bit of Macross. Battletech started as a Macross fan-game with the serial numbers filed off, but since it was a hex-based strategy game that basically played like a game based on modern tank platoons, it got the attention of American and European (Germany, in particular, loved it,) wargamers of a more traditional stripe, and so the game morphed more and more into a higher-tech version of a modern tactical combat game. Late-era rules supplements were adding things that were basically the Longbow system from an AH-64 Apache helicopter to VTOL units, or adding targeting options to the missiles, such that you could launch off someone else’s spotting or fire homing beacon weapons. Concepts like melee weapons ceased existing. The designs also became more expressly boxy, clunky, and heavy-looking.

Anyway, the backstory stuff is filled with standard-order explanations for the required secondary superpowers that make mecha not physically impossible, and there’s at least some reasoning why it’s a humanoid war machine in space when a starfighter like an X-Wing would probably carry the same weapons with more maneuverability, a slimmer profile, and less mass. But again, that’s the sort of stuff you have to check at the door to enter the genre. (Plus, why pilot with a human? Cockpits and air recyclers are bulky and heavy! Computers with AIs are light. In fact, I almost started writing out a large section just on how a fully-automated submarine made of plastics, ceramics, or some other non-magnetically detectable material would be a far more effective weapons platform than any giant mecha in the war chapter of CoR…)

What I feel stranged out by is the insistence upon neo-feudalism. There’s no particular reasoning behind it happening, other than powerful politicians declared it was time to go back to feudalism. It’s just a background I can reach from a button at the stats page, so I guess there might be more details, later, though. Feudalism is historically a result of the fracturing of the great empires into a far more decentralized method of government over subordinates that were nearly impossible to control, and as such, given wide latitudes for autonomous governance. This game seems to portray it more as a direct, low-autonomy system. (And now I want to play some more Crusader Kings…)

Anyway, more than this (actually, probably even this much) is getting far enough off-topic to deserve a thread in a different sub-forum.

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@Wraith_Magus
My direct inspirations for the Empire of Humanity Ascendant in Mecha Ace were actually more based on the Thirteen Colonies at the end of the colonial period and the First Empire of the French under Napoleon I. It’s a combination of a vast system of client states all tied to an imperial metropole by the Imperial Centre’s control of certain very expensive infrastructure vital to interstellar governance (warships capable of FTL and the Le Guin Ansibles), all administered by a theoretically merit-based aristocracy, which, I’d note, isn’t necessarily feudal: there’s no indication that great aristocratic families like the Steeles or the Hawkins own anything outside of their ancestral estates.

The problem comes when power is consolidated in two poles: the imperial aristocracy nearer the centres of power and ability to gain “merit” through military service in the core worlds; and the planetary assemblies and megacorps in the consequently less regulated periphery. End result means that the system breaks down when the Imperial aristocracy is too distanced from affairs on the periphery to govern directly, leaving the assemblies and the megacorps to deal with the problems of the frontier without substantial help from the core, while still being hemmed in by enforced infrastructural dependency, legislative shackles like the moratorium on colonisation, and the staunch refusal of the Imperial Court to answer calls for redress.

But yeah, I’ve probably rambled on about Mecha Ace too long for a CoR thread…

Thanks for the thorough deconstruction of my game! I don’t usually post, but the @kgold in this thread made it to my inbox, summoning me from the depths.

Many of your comments are valid criticisms, and have somewhat “invalid” or uninteresting responses to them. I will spare you the excuses; let me just give one example of how I was operating in writing the game, though. I really, really don’t think sentient robots will be built in the next hundred years that have human-level intelligence. This is the subject I know the most about in the game, and it’s a deliberate con to set the game just a few years in the future, because I thought this would be a time period (and age of the protagonist during that time period) that my target audience would most relate to. I could have set the game in the far future, but it would have made the changes wrought by robots far less salient, and it would have brought up all kinds of subjects about the far future that would need explaining, reducing the verbiage I could spend on robots and the MC’s choices about them.

I know that wasn’t one of your major concerns, but that is the way I was thinking in the game: sometimes blatantly ignoring reality in the service of creating a sequence of interesting choices that would add up to an eventful life. If some blatant exaggeration led to an interesting dilemma, I probably went for it. You can see how I think we might end up talking past each other on some of this stuff. But you do have some great suggestions; there absolutely should have been more NPC-robot interaction scenes later in the game.

I did want to correct the notion of a Humanity meter being a morality meter, though. For the record, it really is meant to be a humanity meter and not a good/evil meter. Evil is just a subset of what reduces your humanity in the game – so does asocial behavior, or thinking like a robot, or simple bureaucracy, even though I wouldn’t say any of those things is evil in itself. Mistreating humanoid robots may or may not be ethical, but it reduces humanity on the theory that stifling your innate reluctance to harm humanlike things is probably bad for you regardless. I would say the humanity meter does do some advocating for a particular way of thinking about life (“maybe you shouldn’t be a crazy loner???”) but I wouldn’t call it an ethical stance. Even the humanity meter’s ties to the military are a statement more about dehumanizing military culture than the ethics of warfare. Regardless of whether it is right to watch someone remotely killed by a drone without sadness – after all, you’re not the one pulling the trigger, right? – I would say it’s dehumanizing.

That’s the context for the protagonist’s relationship to the military in the game – it’s not particularly about the ethics of warfare generally or the goodness of government, but the struggle of a single individual whose dreams and very existence could get coopted by larger forces. That’s also an opportunity to ask the player some tough questions about how comfortable he or she is with varying levels of direct involvement with the military – would you kill? would you make a weapon? would you make the robot repairing the weapon? – but the goal was first to ask the tough questions, and then to present some consequences; not necessarily judgments, but consequences. I can see how the Humanity hits would come across as ethical judgments in this arena, but the intention was more to signal the personal deadening of the soul that the MC experiences as a result of robot baby technology being used to kill. Maybe in one player’s reading of the story, that’s simply a coming of age in which the protagonist recognizes that it’s time to put away the toys and make robots that serve the country. I’m okay with that. I don’t think it’s too controversial to claim that those involved with the military have to harden their hearts a little sometimes to do their jobs.

At any rate, I mostly wanted to respond to the extent that an Author’s Interpretation of the Humanity Meter might help people’s enjoyment of the game, because seeing it as a simple good/evil meter is just not as interesting. (I admit that its semantics were left vague.) CoR is about robots changing the world, sure, but it’s also about a single individual’s loss of his or her own fullness of life in the service of that change. That tradeoff of “greatness” versus personal quality of life is something that I hope people find interesting about the game.

Totally not fair response to your valid criticisms! So, carry on.

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There is nothing innately humane about humanity. To even connect the two concepts is a cultural conceit imho. While many humans are humane, many others are not, and the ones who are not are no less human biologically, even if culturally we like to think of them as inhuman.

I disagree that military culture is necessarily “dehumanizing”. War on the other hand is. Ideals very rarely survive extended contact with the harsh reality of warfare. People will do terrible things so that they and those they love will survive. Others will do terrible things just because they can. Some times the terrible things are necessary, and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re simply tragic mistakes. The worst part is that the longer a war goes on, and the more deeply people are affected by it, the fewer people there will be that still care enough to make those distinctions. It’s easy to sit back and critique the humanity of others in your group (ie. military) when you’re far away from the fighting and nobody you care about has been killed/maimed/raped. Otherwise loyalty to the group keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive tends to override compassion towards those who belong to groups trying to kill us, or who have thoroughly been demonized. This is why wars tend to be so sectarian. Stereotyping fellow human beings doesn’t seem so bad when it significantly decreases the probability that you or your loved ones will be blown up by an explosive…

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