Kind Lady

The Previous Blog Posts Referenced Within this post can be found in links within the post, but can also be found here:

The Warrior Mother: Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
The Holy Mother of Nisan

Having just finished Time Enough for Love, I feel compelled to blog on the subject.

The book details some of the exploits of the oldest man alive, over two thousand years. It's mostly viewed through the lens of his descendants wanting to record his wisdom, the kind of wisdom one can only accrue from living in four different millenia, two hundred different planets, uncountable professions, etc. No single series of events unifies the story, other than the involvement of Woodrow Wilson Smith in all of them to some degree. Among the primary stories of the book, however, are the story of Woodrow's greatest love, his travelling back in time to meet his birth family, his relationship with a self-aware computer, and his rekindling of his love for life associated with the recording of his previous exploits.

Thematically, the book is about two things (or at least two things stood out to me, there's a lot there): The healing power of love, and the relationship between love and sex.

Heinlein asserts, in a thesis kind of way, that sex is a natural extension of love, and that most social taboos, while they may have served some purpose at some time, are just that, evolutionary tools. As humanity grows beyond their usefulness, they deserve to be dropped. Example: the traditional taboo on incest serves no purpose once genetics advances to the point to pinpoint all possible reinforceable defects. Not that it suddenly makes it a good idea, but it's morally equivalent to having a child with a someone you're unrelated to, who happens to have the same chance of reinforcing an undesirable trait.

Likewise, he seems to suggest that concerns about monogamy, adultery, birth control, and so forth might have been pragmatic at some point, but have outlived their usefulness. He argues (indirectly, of course) that sex is a natural extension of love, and for those who are capable of loving many people at once, there's no reason why they shouldn't.

This is somewhat amusing because, to a large degree, Robert Heinlein is clearly just a very dirty old man, the kind that you call the school about when you find out that he's coaching your 16 year old daughter's volleyball team. And yet, he's a good enough writer, and adamant enough about love that it's difficult to be put off by his emphasis on sex. As Natalie said when I was discussing the book, "He's a dirty old man, but he's a very genteel dirty old man."

Which brings me to my second point. In the subplot about the main character finally tiring of life, and then rekindling his passion, a woman named Tamara is brought in, who is, essentially, a prostitute. Of course, in Heinlein's world, without social taboos, prostitution is elevated to an art form, not unlike any other performance based skill. Woodrow describes what he suffers from as a sickness, and says that Tamara cured him. Not just (though it is involved) by sleeping with him, but by her sheer presence, care, and love.

So appears the second theme of the book. Heinlein asserts that love by itself heals, or, more specifically, that in these people (almost exclusively women, possibly reflecting a reality, or possibly just a bias on the author's part) who have the healing touch, the most important quality is an unfathomable capacity for love.

It's important to note the cause-effect relationship here. These women have enough love in their hearts for the entire world, and sex is a natural extension of love. They are so good at what they do because they truly love each and every one of their clients. The fact that they can make money loving people is a happy coincidence in Heinlein's world, which in no way cheapens the experience itself.

The healing power of love, and the archetype of the woman that has enough love in their heart for the entire world are common themes. (Heinlein's Healer Archetype has a high co-occurrence rate with The Warrior Mother, though it's worth noting that they aren't quite the same thing)

Xenogears, among numerous others, makes the same assertion (the tremendous healing power of being loved by the right person), though I chose this one in particular because the woman who has enough love in her heart for the entire world is so cleanly crystallized in the form of Elly.

Since Elly figured so heavily into my definition of The Warrior Mother, I think it's time I elucidate the difference between the two, and slightly amend my definition of both.

Both archetypes, The Warrior Mother and Heinlein's Healer, have this mysterious power used for some kind of healing. Both are almost exclusively women. (Usually because a power that's deeply seated in pacifism and healing is thought of as a traditionally female quality)

However, first of all, the Healer, as it appears in Time Enough for Love is not a multidimensional character, while the Warrior Mother almost always necessitates a character arc. (which I explain here) Secondly, the Warrior Mother still loves, but she loves fiercely, compared to the gentle passion of the Healer. The relevant analogy, as was mentioned before, is to a she-bear. She's selfless, and loves her cubs, but will absolutely kick your ass if you mess with them, and is much more likely to do so if you threaten those she loves than if you threaten her.

That being said, I think my original list needs to be revised. Mist (Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance), Schala (Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross), Yuna (Final Fantasy 10), Aeris (Final Fantasy 7), and a few others from the list, are really versions of Heinlein's Healer. Female, quiet, humble to the point of lack of self-awareness, and charged with some great duty because of the immensely positive quality of their soul.

The Warrior Mother archetype, more accurately defined, doesn't necessitate that their love be all encompassing, merely that they love, and do so with a fierce conviction. Since their power more often implies violence, they are more disposed towards coming of age stories associated with mastering their power. Likewise, their power is more often clearly defined, though often just as magical. For those of curious, Terra (Final Fantasy 6), Marona (Phantom Brave), Lufia (Lufia and the Fortress of Doom), and Elly (Xenogears) stay on the list.

Elly, in fact, (and by Extension, Nausicaa, more on that later) is the perfect embodiment of both archetypes at once. She is quiet, doubts herself, must come to terms with her power, fights and kills to protects those she loves, is capable of loving the entirety of humanity at once, and has some sort of magical power associated with her love that allows her to heal the hearts of those around her.

Next, why are these archetypes so popular, and so powerful?


The Elitist Nature of Difficulty

This month’s roundtable topic of difficulty (hosted by Corvus at Man Bytes Blog) seems particularly apropos, given my current absorption in Landstalker, one of the most notoriously difficult games I’ve ever played.

The fact that I’m enjoying Landstalker this much necessitates the question of why I put up with as much punishment from this game as I do. Instead, however, I’d like to tackle the question of varying difficulty levels on a single game.

I played through Fire Emblem for the GC, and enjoyed the normal mode a great deal, but I found that it was a little easy for me. I grew up playing Shining Force 1 and 2, Vandal Hearts, and have probably sunk about 24 days of play time into various versions of the Advance Wars Series. Turn based strategy comes fairly easy to me.

So, I went back to play Fire Emblem on Hard difficulty, and found myself utterly uninterested. By “Hard” difficulty, they just meant that they had buffed the attack, defense, and evade stats of all of the enemies (or similarly nerfed all the same stats on all of my characters). The AI, as best as I could tell, remained entirely unchanged. The game was most definitely more difficult, but more difficult just because they punished me harder for the errors I committed. The same misjudge of how much damage an enemy does that might cause a small shuffle in my battle plan before now would require a restart, because I lost an important character.

Needless to say, I wasn’t very pleased, and didn’t complete the game a second time. I think I speak for everyone when I say that an increased difficulty level that encompasses more inventive AI, and more difficult puzzles is always more rewarding that an increased difficulty level that merely increases the health and damage of all the monsters.

Advance Wars, particularly Advance Wars Dual Strike, were very good examples of a hard mode that didn’t gimp your abilities in any way, but required that you made much more efficient use of your resources to pass the challenge at hand. Sometimes, the computer was more intelligent, sometimes the odds were just stacked more heavily against you, but it required that you play the game not just tighter, but better. How exactly they accomplished will be saved for when I write about my love affair with the series, but suffice it to say that the game accomplishes this impressive task.

Of course, the problem with producing more satisfying variations in difficulty is that it requires more work. The relationship between the riddles in Silent Hill on low difficulty and extreme difficulty is almost non-existent, to the point that it might as well just be an entirely new puzzle game. That hardly seems fair, though. In order to have really satisfying difficulty variations, your designers need to work twice as hard as your writers, composers, artists, or producers? (Assuming everyone works equally hard to begin with, which is a patent falsehood) Of course, it’s also a patent falsehood that creating a new overlay of difficulty over an old game is exactly twice as much work, but I do submit that there is a rather linear correlation between additional work and additional enjoyment derived from the difficulty level.

So, what then? Wouldn’t a designer’s efforts be better put into creating additional games, a sequel or some such to the hypothetical game they’re working on in the first place? Yes, I’m aware this is a shamefully simplistic way to look at things, but assuming that you have an extra body of work that your designers are going to do, where do you put it to maximize the your profit?

More satisfying difficulty variations translates into more replay value, which can indirectly translate into sales, but what about just making another game, using the hypothetical puzzles that have been designed? Would that game just have to be entirely more difficult than the game that came before? It requires questioning the egalitarian nature of games. If there’s another chapter in a story that I’m involved in, but it got created to go with an insanely difficult set of puzzles that I can’t beat, I’m going to be pissed that this next chapter of the story is inaccessible to me, because I’m not good enough at the game.

My initial reaction to “I want to see more content, but I’m not good enough at the game to get there” is that it’s kind of unfair, but what is the whole concept of difficulty, other than something that prevents people from accessing new content entirely at their own pace? A more difficult game gives us a larger sense of accomplishment when we overcome the challenges that have been set out for us, but no matter how easy the game, we have to believe that there’s someone who can’t quite make it over the last hurdle. Do they just get shafted?



This is a short story I wrote in my spare time last year, spurred on by an excellent English teacher I had at the time. Thoughts?
Maya had spent her entire life searching for her “Other Half”. Her high school career was spent deflecting questions from her mother about “bringing home a nice boy” and being asked for help on her classmate’s homework. Maya knew that her mother would laugh at her optimism, (the sudden departure of Maya’s father had affected her profoundly) so she kept up with her muttered responses and non-committal answers, forcing her mother to pretend more and more that she really knew who her daughter was.

Maya followed her dream, her more public dream, and went to a prestigious pre-med program in Washington, in hopes of becoming a pediatrician, but her valedictorian speech contained nothing about how she didn’t really want to go to Washington at all, and how much she hated being “the smart one”. It didn’t say anything at all about her dream to be a farmer’s wife, homeschooling her children and hauling their harvest to market.
But go to Washington she did, and she didn’t hate it as much as she thought she would. She planted a garden, and bonded with a few other women who had rented plots of land in the same area. They talked almost daily, but Maya didn’t know anything about them other than this one’s penchant for radishes, and that that one sometimes shared her homegrown grapefruits with the other girls. She noted with some dismay that she was the youngest by far, and one of a few ones who wasn’t married.

Things continued like this for almost three years. Maya gardening, visiting her mother only when she had to, staying in as often as she could. She used some grant money she got because of her grades to rent her own tiny house on the edge of town, where she planted fruit trees and left out bowls of food for the stray dogs and cats in the neighborhood. Most of the trees were tiny, but she purchased a single semi-mature apple tree, hoping to have a crop as early as next year.
She always shied away from getting a pet, though, because she didn’t want the responsibility, so she was surprised when a dog that had been hit by a car turned up in her meager front yard, and she found herself carrying it inside to help ease its final moments. She didn’t know if it was a feral dog or not, but it waited patiently, still unable to stand, while she got a blanket to wrap it in, and it calmed down when she held its head in her arms. The dog died, of course, the Mercedes had made sure of that, but Maya still felt sick to her stomach having watched it.

Maya buried the dog with the blanket in her backyard, at the base of the still growing apple tree. She sat, staring at the mound of dirt until well after it got dark, before going back inside and resuming her studying.

A year later, the tree had fully matured, and Maya brought apples to share with the women at the garden.