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March 8, 2012 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Kara, a short film/tech demo from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream.

Note: this is rendered real-time on the PS3.

IGN article.
posted by adamdschneider (63 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
incredibly creepy.

and not just in the "uncanny valley" sense.
posted by One Thousand and One at 7:36 AM on March 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's nice of them to use heavy handed music. Otherwise, we wouldn't know how to feel about any particular scene, would we?
posted by barnacles at 7:50 AM on March 8, 2012


Awesome. I know this isn't anything having to do with a game, but I just want to say I loved Heavy Rain.
posted by Phantomx at 7:51 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll be thinking about this for days, and not at all because of the mocap and rendering.

In fact, I found the technical details actually detracted from the actor's performance because they weren't good enough to pass. As a film, this would have been devastating if they'd filmed her and then manipulated her image to get the same staging.

So, I guess, A++ for a compelling and intriguing film short, and some great VO work. Meh on the rest; I understand we have to travel through the valley before we get to the other side, that doesn't mean I have to like it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2012


Barnacles, Heavy Rain had a lot of that going on too. It can be distracting and it was at times but I don't think it was too out of place in the game where some things are over-emphasized for people who aren't paying too close attention. The music in the video is probably a direct result of being made by video game developers.
posted by Phantomx at 7:54 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love what Quantic Dream stands for, but there is something about their writing that I find really painful-embarassing, probably because it reminds me of the sort of thing I wanted to write when I was at school ("I thought..." "You thought?!"). That's not to say I'm not still going to buy everything they make.

I guess it's just that the usual terrible writing in games gets a pass in my mind because I can just dismiss it as humorously bad.
posted by lucidium at 8:17 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


And just in time for for international women's day, another nymphette-robo-sextoy fantasy video. Just add it to the pile over there.
posted by LMGM at 9:01 AM on March 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Make the character completely gender-ambiguous. No need to club me over the head with its "sexual availability", that assumption (or at least possibility) is really built in to the basic scenario ("can you f*ck it?!") and can be tweaked up as needed in the dialog. Okay dials down the "imagine the future where you can buy a fourteen-year-old girl to fuck" factor.

Now make the dialog less "all right now dance for your creepy condescending daddy little honey" and "WHAT?!! YOU'RE LIKE A PERSON" and "MY GOD WHAT HATH WE DONE WROUGHT" and more Voight-Kampff test and "I'm sort of bored and distracted because all day I sit and read this list of questions off to this "body" who's exact likeness and aspect I've seen thousands of times and totally lost interest in blurring into "I'm starting to get concerned that this thing might actually be passing this Turing test a little too well but it's really hard to tell because these things are designed to basically pass a Turing test (convince you you are dealing with a sentience) without actually manifesting creative sentience or will," with a little side order of "these things are incredibly expensive to make and people (and accounting computers) start getting pissed if final QC gets trigger happy about rejecting possibly overly ambitious AI."

But the thing is noticing the questioner's reactions and maybe making subtle adjustments to its responses ("I'm a... product?" "What was that?" (Repeated declarative and emotionally neutral: "I'm a product.") How it gets control of its "heart rate" rather than loses control, and passes the last several sympathetic response questions without a hitch.

And just a little sideways look and tilt of the head as it rolls down the conveyer with the other blank, affect-less copies, before it quickly locks its focus cautiously forward, though perhaps it holds its chin just a touch high, perhaps it is a little too still.

Which okay is still a banging, groaning sci-fi cliché but with maybe a modicum of subtlety and interesting ambiguity? I mean ten minutes work from a strict amateur maybe not so bad? A real writer might actually cough up an idea that's actually novel.

It's not that complicated, written and directed by video game designer David Cage, you just, you know, hire writers. They work almost embarrassingly cheaply.
posted by nanojath at 9:08 AM on March 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


seanmpuckett: "So, I guess, A++ for a compelling and intriguing film short, and some great VO work. Meh on the rest; I understand we have to travel through the valley before we get to the other side, that doesn't mean I have to like it"

Genuinely curious what was compelling or intriguing about this clip; s LMGM points out, it's mostly a sexbot fantasy. From a technical standpoint, yes, I can understand. The PS3 will give us excellent graphics. But from a storytelling standpoint, the film left me cold. Frankly, it seems like one more example of bad storytelling on which people heap too much praise because it's aimed at a gamer audience, even though it's fucking terrible (cf. Braid).

Hooray for the PS3's graphics technology, to be sure, but this is the film with which they choose to show it off? It's a badly written, badly orchestrated, and badly sexist 6 minutes of the tropiest shit you've ever shown a trope to. Gamers, I implore you! We're better than this.
posted by barnacles at 9:12 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Props to the quadlingual voice actor!
posted by gwint at 9:23 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


So....I guess saying anything about objectification of women would be superfluous...?
posted by jcreigh at 9:35 AM on March 8, 2012


barnacles: "seanmpuckett: "So, I guess, A++ for a compelling and intriguing film short, and some great VO work. Meh on the rest; I understand we have to travel through the valley before we get to the other side, that doesn't mean I have to like it"

Genuinely curious what was compelling or intriguing about this clip; s LMGM points out, it's mostly a sexbot fantasy. From a technical standpoint, yes, I can understand. The PS3 will give us excellent graphics. But from a storytelling standpoint, the film left me cold. Frankly, it seems like one more example of bad storytelling on which people heap too much praise because it's aimed at a gamer audience, even though it's fucking terrible (cf. Braid).

Hooray for the PS3's graphics technology, to be sure, but this is the film with which they choose to show it off? It's a badly written, badly orchestrated, and badly sexist 6 minutes of the tropiest shit you've ever shown a trope to. Gamers, I implore you! We're better than this.
"

Yo dawg, I heard you like to trope, so I put a trope in your trope so you can trope while you are troping?

And I rather enjoyed it, although the voice talent is really what made it work for me.
posted by Samizdata at 9:42 AM on March 8, 2012


I read a lot of Peter Watts and similar authors who go down the reductionist route of 'we're all just thinking meat, and even the assumption we think is a quaint and sentimental notion.'

Which means I'm watching this go through the standard narrative of I-think-I-feel-please-don't-kill-me... and as 'Kara' steps onto the conveyor belt to go off, I'm expecting the operator to say four final words:

"Illusion of autonomy... check."
posted by mikurski at 9:57 AM on March 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


I, too, felt the scene would have been stronger with the final checklist item as Mikurski directs. Perhaps with a pan around to the operator itself, which is revealed to be a totally abhuman robot itself.
posted by Fraxas at 10:05 AM on March 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love what Quantic Dream stands for, but there is something about their writing that I find really painful-embarassing, probably because it reminds me of the sort of thing I wanted to write when I was at school ("I thought..." "You thought?!"). That's not to say I'm not still going to buy everything they make.

And it was still better than pretty much all the SF television and film of the past couple of years except Moon and District 9, and maybe Source Code and Inception.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jaaaaaaaason!!! JAAAAAAAson!! Still the thing I remember most about Heavy Rain, along with the uh, finger scene. Let's hope the writing is better in their next game - the gaping plot holes in Heavy Rain were painful.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:33 AM on March 8, 2012


And it was still better than pretty much all the SF television and film of the past couple of years except Moon and District 9, and maybe Source Code and Inception.

Sorry to derail, but while I loved Inception and liked Source Code, but I do not understand internet's love for "Moon". I found it both slow-paced and predictable. What did you like about it?
posted by jcreigh at 10:35 AM on March 8, 2012


Which means I'm watching this go through the standard narrative of I-think-I-feel-please-don't-kill-me... and as 'Kara' steps onto the conveyor belt to go off, I'm expecting the operator to say four final words:

"Illusion of autonomy... check."


When I encounter sub-par writing like this, but I still kind of like it, I'll go through some mental gymnastics to try to make it better. I was thinking something almost just like this. The scenario plays out so that the "you are a defective unit" bit is simply another of the diagnostics performed and her pleas for life were just a sign that she was functioning correctly.

Additionally, when the technician says "God" it was because he had just witnessed something obscene on 4chan, which he browses while he works.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 10:37 AM on March 8, 2012


Wow, tough audience. I liked it, although I had pretty low expectations and went into animation mode from the start so I didn't get the uncanny valley. Usually I only get that from issues that would be just plain bad on a low-fidelity toon and a human actor.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:38 AM on March 8, 2012


Sorry to derail, but while I loved Inception and liked Source Code, but I do not understand internet's love for "Moon". I found it both slow-paced and predictable.

Sadly, Moon gets four stars just for being a genuine science-fiction story that's not dumb. I also liked the look and feel of the moonbase, thought Rockwell's performance was pretty good, and the slow pace worked for me.

I would mostly agree with you about the predictable part, except I was predicting that the dialogue would make me cringe at some point, that the science would be completely ridiculous, and that there would be an ending tacked on that felt like it was written by a focus group. I was wrong on all counts.

I enjoyed Source Code, by the same director, but that's no Moon.
posted by straight at 11:52 AM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not understand internet's love for "Moon". I found it both slow-paced and predictable. What did you like about it?

Gertie. The cliche, and one that they were trying to get you to buy into, was that Gertie = HAL, or maybe Gertie = HAL and Mother's evil offspring. That Gertie was going to be an implacable antagonist, programmed by The Company to keep the Sams in line and ensure the flow of profit. That the climax would be one or both Sams fighting their way to Gertie's processor to shut it down, again a la 2001. Instead, as soon as Gertie figures out that Sam is better off knowing the truth, it promptly spills the beans. And the climax turns into a scene where Gertie calmly sacrifices its mindstate for Sam, because helping him is what it does. Good stuff.

Sam Rockwell was good in it.

At the time I saw it, I thought it did a great job of telegraphing that he was dying from radiation exposure without saying IT WAS THE RADS!. I gather that they may not have meant for it to be radiation, so oh well, but the good feeling lingers.

The interactions between the clones weren't too predictable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Source Code wasn't bad, as long as you walked out 10 minutes before the entirely unnecessary and regrettable ending that undermined everything that came before.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:03 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


LMGM: And just in time for for international women's day, another nymphette-robo-sextoy fantasy video. Just add it to the pile over there.
What's really odd about your comment, LMGM, is that I was coming here to make the same comment... but with a different tone, namely that this is just in time for International Women's Day.

While the criticisms mentioned earlier about alternate endings/weak dialogue are valid, I think it's as obvious that this is not a "nymphette-robo-sextoy fantasy" any more than Bioshock was a sincere Randian manifesto. That the "sexbot" approach to female video game characters- and the misogynistic attitudes still found widely around the world that reduces women to little more than a utility for sex, work, and reproduction- is exactly what they were addressing, and not with a wink and a nudge.

I mean, it seems to me that you couldn't have missed the point any harder than if it was a tennis ball and you were a razor-blade company CEO.
posted by hincandenza at 1:08 PM on March 8, 2012


Quantic Dream's first game Fahrenheit was brilliant. Flawed, enraging and completely bonkers, but brilliant.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:15 PM on March 8, 2012


Quantic Dream games are like the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie: you enjoy them while consuming them, then once they're done you look back on it and go, "Wtf, that made no sense."
posted by adamdschneider at 1:37 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Props to the quadlingual voice actor!

Unfortunately, at least two of those foreign languages were spoken by other people and synced in...

While the criticisms mentioned earlier about alternate endings/weak dialogue are valid, I think it's as obvious that this is not a "nymphette-robo-sextoy fantasy" any more than Bioshock was a sincere Randian manifesto. That the "sexbot" approach to female video game characters- and the misogynistic attitudes still found widely around the world that reduces women to little more than a utility for sex, work, and reproduction- is exactly what they were addressing, and not with a wink and a nudge.

I think that's a one-level response - it's perfectly possible for something to be simultaneously saying "this is a dystopian vision" while simultaneously exploiting that bad vision for titillating effect. And there is certainly a tendency in Quantic Dream games to put in underwear-clad women and sex scenes, I think partly because those are features of the genre films David Cage is inspired by. That can feel a bit icky at times - like in the assault/murder dream sequence in Heavy Rain. To quote:
This is meant to be creepy – in case the subtext was too subtexty, the script has Kara mention explicitly that she is designed to provide her owner with sexual services on demand, while the virtual camera zooms in on the pulsing robot heart beating in her chest cavity. However, I think that it is creepy in a way its creators had not intended.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:28 PM on March 8, 2012


Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy was an interesting experience for me. I'd loved Omikron: The Nomad Soul, even though parts of it were almost unplayable. The open world, the soul-migrating mechanic, the demented insertion of David Bowie - it felt big and mad and incredibly French - like the flavor of Infogrames games in the golden age. But as a game it had some serious flaws. It felt like someone had imagined a world and then had to decide what to do with it, and settled on making a game and meeting David Bowie.

Indigo Prophecy, by the end, was quite a grind - I had to hack a PlayStation controller to work with my PC, I think, to be able to get through the final scenes. And parts of it were too long, or too much like the Omikron minigames (Carla in the records room, Tyler in the bookstore). And the plot ended up altogether too Wachowski for my liking. On the other hand, when the contextual-gesture system worked, in particular in the early stages, it was really exhilarating to have the sense both of freedom and of consequence.

The preponderance of what were effectively QTEs in both Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain I found problematic, but the other part of the metaphor - the context-specific gestures - I can see working well with a next-generation Kinect. The technology isn't quite there yet - and I'm not sure that Quantic Dream's experience with the form would necessarily outweigh their inculcated scripting habits to recommend them as the ideal people to make the format they pioneered really work. And Heavy Rain shifted a bunch of copies, so they must be doing something right.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:44 PM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do not understand internet's love for "Moon". I found it both slow-paced and predictable. What did you like about it?
Gertie.
Ah, fair enough. I was also was very pleased at how he didn't turn out to be HAL.
posted by jcreigh at 4:34 PM on March 8, 2012


"Illusion of autonomy... check."

That would have floored me. Very nice.
posted by rifflesby at 10:55 PM on March 8, 2012


Source Code wasn't bad, as long as you walked out 10 minutes before the entirely unnecessary and regrettable ending that undermined everything that came before.

[HUGE SPOILERS for the movie SOURCE CODE follow] I don't think the ending was handled very well, but I think it definitely fits with the rest of the movie.

The whole movie, the handlers are telling Jake that he's in an unreal simulation of the past based on the residual memories in a dead guy's brain. But Jake is continually observing, "This is much too real to be a simulation!" The reveal that she's actually communicating with him via text messages reinforces the fact that they have no idea how concrete and vivid his experiences are.

Furthermore, he's finding all kinds of information that wouldn't be accessible via the memories of anyone whose dead brain was on the train. The only possible way he can get the white van's license plate is if he is actually accessing a parallel universe that's nearly identical to our own, most likely one that is identical to ours until it branches at the moment Jake's consciousness is inserted into Sean.

So the handlers think they're running a simulation when instead they're sending Jake into another universe and then pulling him out eight minutes later. So at the very end, it's not that he creates a new universe by kissing the girl (except in the sense of the Many Worlds hypothesis that every action creates a new universe that branches from all the alternates where you chose a different action). The key point is that by pulling the plug and letting his body die in our universe, Vera prevents the handlers from ever pulling his consciousness back out of that other universe and so he can stay there.

And yeah, apparently every time this happens, other-universe Sean is basically killed, his body usurped by an invader from another universe. I want a sequel, set in the universe Jake ended up in, which is being invaded by an army of body snatchers, a hugely expanded version of Jeffrey Wright's Source Code project. It starts with Jake meeting Sean's friends, family, and co-workers.
posted by straight at 12:06 AM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sean gets blown to bits anyway in all of rhose universes. But one.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:10 AM on March 9, 2012


straight: To me, it undermined the moral argument posed by the movie: How should you act in the face of deep and justifiable uncertainty and fear about your continued existence? The handwavium about quantum mechanics and universes was just stage dressing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:09 AM on March 9, 2012


But he has no real moral choices to make. He's doomed to repeat his Groundhog Day over and over until he solves the mystery. I guess he could just curl up in a ball and refuse to do anything and hope they give up.

Sean gets blown to bits anyway in all of rhose universes.

The point is, the Source Code technique works by killing someone in another universe and taking over their body. Which could be the premise for a better movie than Source Code. Or a much worse one.
posted by straight at 7:42 AM on March 9, 2012


But he has no real moral choices to make. He's doomed to repeat his Groundhog Day over and over until he solves the mystery. I guess he could just curl up in a ball and refuse to do anything and hope they give up.

Certainly he does. He chooses to make his recursive samsara as perfect as possible and request that they pull the plug on it. That decision is undermined if, as a narrative conceit, the reward for doing so is a second chance in Chicago.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:39 AM on March 9, 2012


But on that reading of the story, he's just making himself a Mary Sue in this little fan fiction he's composing in his head out of the borrowed memories of dead people who dies once he's finally penned the period on the last, perfect revision.

Those choices are only meaningful if those are real people he's helping.
posted by straight at 9:18 AM on March 9, 2012


Since straight pointed out that the ME3 thread I was involved also veered into discussing Source Code, I will repost my comment from that thread over here:

That's core problem with both films... [Source Code and Moon, both by the same director]
If you were the Army and you had the technology to create a matrix like virtual interface into someone's mind, well that actually has many other startling implications that the movie totally ignored.

And Moon, c'mon...if you're an evil corporation that secretly develops the ability to clone people and download complete minds into the new clones...you could find much better ways to use that technology than to keep cloning some schmuck whose only skill is generally not going too crazy on the Moon.

Both films had incredible what if questions, but neither film put any thought into the "second order effects", that would honestly probably have more impact than the main points considered. Its sort of like old Sci Fi novels that would assume some incredibly technology then use it for the most parochial things.

posted by Chekhovian at 9:41 PM on March 9, 2012


straight: But on that reading of the story,...

Your response assumes both conequentialism and certainty, neither of which are taken for granted within the narrative. The underlying premise that choices are not meaningful if they don't have consequences is a highly debated point. A standard theist argument against non-theist moral agency is that without transcendental consequences, moral choices have no meaning. I find that argument to be equally fallacious because even the ephemeral can still have meaning. And of course deontological moral frameworks will hold that virtuous actions are inherently virtuous even if they have no hope of success. At the very least those actions have consequences for one person, Jake. So the argument can be made that Jake becoming a better person is justification enough.

Meanwhile, moral uncertainty is pretty much the only moral certainty out there. We just don't know if there's a moral order to the universe, whether the consequences of a well-intended act will actually be good, or whether we're in o world of p-zombies. By your reading, the operator's knowledge that Kara's self-awareness was likely a combination of Clever Hans and a software bug makes his choice irrelevant. My view (since I'm not a consequentialist) is that at some point, the duck test becomes more important than doubt. If it looks, feels, and smells like an ethical problem, it probably is one. I'll even argue that's true even for highly dubious situations like internet conversations where you just can't know whether you're engaged with a person, or an act of performance.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:14 AM on March 10, 2012


If you were the Army and you had the technology to create a matrix like virtual interface into someone's mind, well that actually has many other startling implications that the movie totally ignored.

This is less true if you can only build the matrix like virtual interface into someone's mind if they have most of their skull removed and lots of wires put into their exposed brain.

And Moon, c'mon...if you're an evil corporation that secretly develops the ability to clone people and download complete minds into the new clones...you could find much better ways to use that technology than to keep cloning some schmuck whose only skill is generally not going too crazy on the Moon.

Sure. But if you start from the assumption that most uses of that tech -- like building a clone army, or cloning yourself to dump your mentality into a new body, or vampirically downloading a copy of yourself into someone else who's not a clone -- are going to unpopular at the corporation-killing level, then it makes sense that it might be relegated to a few "nobody will ever know" niche uses.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:24 AM on March 10, 2012


are going to unpopular at the corporation-killing level, then it makes sense that it might be relegated to a few "nobody will ever know" niche uses

Sure, there are all sorts of plausible ways this could have been justified, but the burden of proof should be on the movie, not the audience. They should have at least lampshaded why none of their secondary assumptions were subject to further exploitation.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:20 PM on March 10, 2012


CBrachyrhynchos, I see what you mean about uncertainty, but the other prong of your argument--that moral choices have meaning even if there aren't any real persons effected by those choices--doesn't make sense to me in this context. I'm having trouble seeing how that logic wouldn't make me morally culpable for all the "people" I've killed in video games, or for my actions in dreams.

Both films had incredible what if questions, but neither film put any thought into the "second order effects"

In Source Code, the technology is cutting-edge and experimental. In Moon, we don't see enough of Earth to rule out the possibility that human society has been radically changed by cloning technology. Maybe the protagonist has had his brain wiped of the existence of clones. Maybe he knows all about cloning, so for him the big reveal is not "clones exist" but "That cloning thing has been done to me. I'm a clone!"
posted by straight at 6:07 PM on March 11, 2012


In Moon, we don't see enough of Earth to rule out the possibility that human society has been radically changed by cloning technology.

You can always press fit retconn justifitcations into bad plots...like maybe the machines weren't really using humans as batteries (because that would incredibly stupid), maybe the machines decided that humanity was too dangerous to have control, but maybe they still loved us anyway, and therefore made the Matrix as a sort of "Nature Preserve". And maybe they only told us the battery thing in order to give us something to focus on that kept us away from the real truth.

You can keep going and going on what might have been the real truth, but eventually you have to judge a movie based on what was actually IN the movie, not what you wish had been in it.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:31 PM on March 11, 2012


And keep in mind that it would have taken them exactly ONE line of dialog to fix this problem:

Moon Guy (upon discovering that he is a clone):
"But the UN declared all human cloning illegal 20 years ago!!!"

Its pure laziness that they failed here. John Carter was very much the opposite, there were all sorts of little details and asides that suggested that the screenplay authors (Michael Chabon!) thought very carefully about it.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:37 PM on March 11, 2012


Issues about actions in video games are mostly mitigated these days by the fact that they're nowhere near that ethical "duck test," and most of them contain mechanics to support that separation. But I'm not convinced that video game choices are morally neutral either.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:49 AM on March 12, 2012


But I'm not convinced that video game choices are morally neutral either.

How so?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:28 AM on March 12, 2012


I think it's reasonable to discuss how morality is presented in games and other media without resorting to gross oversimplifications like "media violence causes real-life violence" or on the other hand, "media violence doesn't matter because it's simulated violence." It's reasonable to me for people to become squeamish while playing train for example, and I find the ham-fisted forced-morality melodrama of DA2 or mixed messages of Mass Effect to be something worth criticizing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:25 AM on March 12, 2012


Ok, but that's not the same as saying, "I'm not convinced that video game choices are morally neutral either." That implies ascribing a moral weight to choices we make while playing games. I still consider choosing to have my smuggler in Star Wars: the Old Republic kill someone who betrayed him morally neutral, because no one was harmed by this choice.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:53 AM on March 12, 2012


they're nowhere near that ethical "duck test,"

I don't think holding the protagonist morally accountable for choices he makes in Source-Code-induced hallucinations while he lies in a coma, kept alive by machines, passes the ethical "duck test" either.
posted by straight at 9:32 AM on March 12, 2012


You can always press fit retconn justifitcations into bad plots.

Oh please. It's not retconning to point out the silliness of objecting that we don't see the effects of cloning on human society in a movie that shows us nothing of human society, save a few heavily filtered snippets which would certainly be filtered for references to cloning.

"But the UN declared all human cloning illegal 20 years ago!!!"

The lack of that kind of ham-handed writing is precisely what makes Moon a good movie. No human being would say that sentence aloud to himself.
posted by straight at 9:43 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


adamschnider: I still consider choosing to have my smuggler in Star Wars: the Old Republic kill someone who betrayed him morally neutral, because no one was harmed by this choice.

I don't think it is. It may be reasonable to roleplay certain scenarios given the way that roleplay is framed as both fiction and an abstract game mechanic. But that doesn't make it morally neutral. If the framing was radically different, such as converting or killing unbelievers in a post-apocalyptic near future or a rape simulation, then I think it's reasonable to criticize both the construction of the game and player engagement with it.

That's not remotely an argument that simulated violence equals violent crime. But I can't make the claim that games are artistic and/or socially important, and simultaneously say they're morally irrelevant.

straight: I don't think holding the protagonist morally accountable for choices he makes in Source-Code-induced hallucinations while he lies in a coma, kept alive by machines, passes the ethical "duck test" either.

I don't see why not. Jake (and Phil Connors to use Groundhog day) are confronted with a reality of people who respond realistically and authentically to their actions. I'd say the same problem applies to most "android" narratives in which the knowledge that the protagonists are not "real people" isn't sufficient justification for acting in an arbitrarily cruel fashion toward them.

Either way, your argument fails on its own logic. Actions have moral consequences within those frames, therefore they're morally right or wrong. All you're doing is redefining consequences to arbitrarily exclude those within the frame of the narrative.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:59 AM on March 12, 2012


I don't think it is.

Ok...why? What moral weight does my choosing to kill a digital fabrication carry?
posted by adamdschneider at 10:06 AM on March 12, 2012


adamdschneider: Ok...why? What moral weight does my choosing to kill a digital fabrication carry?

You're participating in a narrative and media product that presents a set of moral frameworks, and you're interpreting that narrative via another set of moral frameworks.

I don't play The Old Republic, but Dragon Age 2 for example presents a number of situations that are analogous to fears about terrorism, and then coerces Hawke and the Player into picking sides. So either I buy into one of the ham-fisted and coerced framings about "lesser evil," or I can close the game and move on.

As another example, some people see Narnia as an excellent set of apologetics for youth, some people see Narnia (especially the later novels) as deeply problematic, some people minimize the more polemic bits in favor of focusing on the fantasy, and some simply don't read them. None of these choices strike me as morally neutral in that there's nothing we can say about them.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:50 AM on March 12, 2012


My argument isn't "it's a bad thing, and you're a bad person for doing it." I have no objections to booting a game and blowing shit up now and then. I just think there's room for critical analysis of how games deal with moral issues and player participation in them. Just as there is with every other form of media under the sun.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2012


I think we just have different ideas of what constitutes a moral choice.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2012


The lack of that kind of ham-handed writing is precisely what makes Moon a good movie. No human being would say that sentence aloud to himself.

Oh please yourself. Had they bothered to think a little more and raise this issue, they could have really started posing tough questions. Here's the first thing that comes to mind: Say he did say something like "but cloning is illegal or something...and there's a death penalty for those that do it", then talk about moral quandaries...the clone would have to choose to go back to earth and cause the deaths of many people responsible (bad people admittedly, but people with families etc), for just a few more years of his own declining health? That's a tough question.

Here's another possibility: What if his original had done the 3 years just like the clone experienced, and then at the end the company made him a special offer in return for a lot of money. So if the clone goes back to earth it would cause the death of the original, or something bad at least.

And these are just off the top of my head.

As it was, the movie ended with some dumb simplistic moral fable. Had they bothered to think a little more they could have really swum in the dead end of philosophical pool.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2012


would say that sentence aloud to himself

And I was assuming he was in dialog with Robo-Spacey. I'm sure actual screenwriters could phrase it better too.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2012


I'm sure actual screenwriters could phrase it better too.

But they so seldom do. I think the odds of your proposed fixes to the script making it worse rather than better are very high.

Either way, your argument fails on its own logic.

Logic? By "duck test," I'm merely saying that most people if asked, "Is that guy in a coma morally culpable for imaginary actions he takes in his head when he's dreaming and hallucinating?" would say no. "What if they're very vivid and realistic to him?" No.

In the movie as it stands, Jake starts out being told that it's all a simulation, that what matters morally is that he use that simulation as a tool to help real people who are in danger. In that situation, it is morally right for him to do anything--including "murder" and "torture"--to these fake, simulated people in order to help real people.

(You say you have moral problems playing a video game that's a concentration camp simulator. But if, by playing the game, and sending computer-simulated people to a concentration camp, you could somehow rescue real people from real concentration camps? You'd be a monster not to.)

But then, in the movie, Jake becomes convinced that these are somehow real people that he's interacting with--and he's right--so he now has the burden of helping the real people who are asking him for information and helping the real people on the train. And he does so, and Vera rewards him by preventing Source Code from yanking him out of that world so he can live with the real people he's saved instead of living in a coma in her world.

You seem to think it would be a better movie if Jake's conviction that the people on the train have a real existence independent of the simulation turned out to be wrong. I disagree, both from a thematic point of view and because it's inconsistent with a bunch of details in the film--there's too much evidence that he's interacting with a real world and not a simulation based on the memories of those dead people (for example, everything about the white van is impossible in your preferred version of the film).
posted by straight at 2:06 PM on March 12, 2012


I think the odds of your proposed fixes to the script making it worse rather than better are very high.

So are you taking a depressive panglossian POV ie "This is the least awful of all possible versions, and any slight change make it worse" and "Better to leave any sideeffects to the viewers imagination rather than risk doing them poorly", or do you actually like the ending of Moon and feel like it was the the global optimum possible ending?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:56 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


straight, you seem to be adding a mess of baggage to the situation.

Let's take the Milgram experiment as an example of a simulated reality. Are the "teachers" who pressed the button to administer torture to the "learners" entirely off the hook because the whole thing was an elaborate simulation? I think the Milgram experiment is both meaningful and scary even though it took place in an entirely simulated scenario. It's reasonable to say that engaging in simulated torture could be morally problematic in some cases, without implying that the people who do so should be put before a judge.

That's where the duck-test comes in. Jake can't know which subjective reality is correct. He can't know that his existence in that reality will last for more than a few minutes. He can't know that his DNR request will leave him in Sean's body. He's forced to act in spite of the dubious nature of the reality he's in.

The argument that he's entitled to torture everyone to get the answer is bad utilitarianism. If you follow the utilitarian logic through to the end, seeking a win-win scenario that maximizes the good, no matter how temporary or illusionary, is a moral imperative for Jake.

You say you have moral problems playing a video game...

I didn't say that. What I wrote is that games are usually not "morally neutral." Like novels, movies, television, and dramatic music, they often pose moral questions. Unlike most of them player interaction is a key to how that develops in games. Again, it's not, "It's bad, and you're a bad person for doing it." It's "let's have a conversation about the role puppy-kicking has in gameplay."

You seem to think it would be a better movie if Jake's conviction that the people on the train have a real existence independent of the simulation turned out to be wrong.

No, I think it would have been a better movie if any of the questions about fate, multiple universes, death with dignity, and Jake's ersatz afterlife were left as open-ended questions for the viewers to figure out.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:35 PM on March 12, 2012


It's one of the things I liked about Inception, there were just a few too many implausibilities, coincidences, and prophetic statements dropped for me to take Cobb's ultimate grasp on reality at face value.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:40 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


if any of the questions about fate...were left as open-ended...

That's the core problem with Moon and with Source Code. You have these decent Sci Fi movies that are approaching interesting questions, then suddenly the last 10 minutes are some different movie with some happy tacked on ending. I call bullshit.
posted by Chekhovian at 4:45 PM on March 12, 2012


So are you taking a depressive panglossian POV ie "This is the least awful of all possible versions, and any slight change make it worse" and "Better to leave any sideeffects to the viewers imagination rather than risk doing them poorly", or do you actually like the ending of Moon and feel like it was the the global optimum possible ending?

I like that sentence so much that I declare you the winner no matter what else we say.

I was mostly taking issue with the direction of your particular proposed changes, thinking that they seemed to be dragging Moon into being like other movies instead of it's own weird and nifty thing. I don't deny that it's possible someone could have written a better ending, but I'm fine with the ending as it stands. The coda giving us a glimpse of Earth's reaction to Sam is dumb, but that's really a completely different story. You'd need a whole other movie to make it interesting. I think the resolution among Sam1, Sam2, Sam3, and the computer works pretty well.
posted by straight at 9:30 PM on March 12, 2012


The argument that he's entitled to torture everyone to get the answer is bad utilitarianism.

I just meant that torturing simulated people would be fine if he were convinced that they were unreal figments of his imagination. It's not utilitarianism to say there's nothing wrong with imagining torturing someone (or torturing a bunch of Sim City characters) as a means to a worthwhile end.

But it wouldn't be fine in the movie because he does have evidence that these are persons and not just imaginary characters.

I think it would have been a better movie if any of the questions about fate, multiple universes, death with dignity, and Jake's ersatz afterlife were left as open-ended questions for the viewers to figure out.

That just seems like it would have to be a very different movie. It's a clever adventure about Jake discovering the true nature of his situation and acting on it. It's not set up to delve into questions about metaphysical uncertainty.

It's one of the things I liked about Inception, there were just a few too many implausibilities, coincidences, and prophetic statements dropped for me to take Cobb's ultimate grasp on reality at face value.

Oh, I think it's obvious Cobb is being incepted. Everything that happens to him in the movie is straight out of the plan they craft to incept Cillian Murphy's character. The scene where he can't fit through the suddenly narrow alleyway seems conclusive.
posted by straight at 10:03 PM on March 12, 2012


straight: I just meant that torturing simulated people would be fine if he were convinced that they were unreal figments of his imagination.

You seem to be arguing that if the film didn't show us that the people were real AND survived that the only alternative is "convinced that they were unreal figments of his imagination." And that's simply not the case. My view is that Jake is moral because he's forced to confront his doubts and come to the conclusion that it's the right thing to do anyway.

Doubt about reality strikes me as justified because it gets rebooted every 15-odd minutes. Doubt about his continued existence is justified because, except for cryptic flash-forwards of the Bean, all of the evidence is that he'll either die or be cynically inserted into another reality. Doubt about his ability to save the people on the train is justified because all of his previous attempts failed.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:19 AM on March 13, 2012


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