Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pavlovian Entertainment: What is Plaguing Anime Today

Of fangs and maid outfits...


In the field of behavioral psychology, there is something called classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning is a form of associative learning that was first discovered by Ivan Pavlov. Classical conditioning, when put into layman's terms, makes one think of "Pavlov's Dog". The idea behind Pavlov's Dog is that the dog would automatically salivate in the presence of meat powder, but that if the presentation of meat powder became associated with another form of external stimuli (such as the appearance of the person who typically feeds the dog), then that other form of external stimuli could, in and of itself (separate from the presence of meat) cause the dog to salivate.

Pavlov took observations like the one above pertaining to dogs, and used them to formulate classical conditioning.

Now, classical conditioning certainly has its practical uses, particularly in the field of psychology. But its not without its limitations and critics. One obvious criticism of it, of course, is that its a form of reflexive learning, where autonomic reflexes and vague mental associations takes the place of a person applying critical and self-aware thinking to the problems at hand.

At this point, you may be asking "What does all of this psychobabble have to do with anime?"

Excellent question, good reader!

And that is exactly what I'm going to delve into now.

In the world of entertainment (including anime), there is frequently a Pavlovian element at play. For example, there are specific and frequently seen sequence of events that lead to the viewer having a very specific expectation of what will come next. One of the most prominent and well-known examples of this is the following: When Lois Lane falls (or is pushed) off of a high-rise rooftop or ledge, seemingly about to crash to her doom, we expect to see this happen...



For some, the scene above is vintage Superman. For many Superman fans, it is a comforting and nostalgic reminder to them about why they love The Man of Steel. So when they see Superman catch a falling Lois Lane, they crack a grin and think "Good ol' Supes to the rescue of Lois again, just as I expected! Great to see the genuinely noble hero rescue the girl, eh? This is why I want to be like Superman!" 


However, for some, this is a disliked cliche, or an example of a trope that has overstayed its welcome.

Still, whether you like it or not, it's not that big of a deal, as long as other elements of the specific Superman narrative that contains it, constitute a good story with compelling characters and gripping character moments. In other words, there is something in the narrative that appeals to our intelligence in order to compliment Superman saving Lois which appeals at the level of classical conditioning.

But... what if a Superman story was just about him going around and doing cliche Superman-y things? Rescues a cat out of a tree, gives a plummeting airplane a safe descent, catches Lois falling off of a high ledge, and caps off the day by stopping a couple thugs (brandishing hand guns and wearing handkerchiefs over their mouth and face, of course) from making off with a little old lady's purse.  To all but the most hardcore of Superman fans, this would likely bore them to tears. It may even elicit sighs and eye rolls.


And this brings us to modern anime, and what I think is the real issue plaguing it, which moe has ended up being the whipping boy for.


Consider the first episode of the highly anticipated Winter 2011 anime Infinite Stratos. Now, this anime is not without it strengths (solid male lead, good character designs, excellent mecha action). Also, I don't want to go too hard on it since it's only had one episode so far, and it could certainly get much better as the series goes on. However, the comedy portions of that one episode is pavlovian entertainment if ever there was any, and hence is helpful here for demonstrative purposes.

So far, the female characters are pure archetypes, even moreso than our previously referenced Kryptonian friend. Much of the comedy is of a situational nature, and those situations are ones that most long-time anime fans have seen myriad times before. This comedy, by the way, takes up a very large portion of the first episode. The tsundere behavior in this episode is prototypical tsundere behavior, and comes largely from... wait for it... the childhood friend of the male lead! Who woulda thunk it?! ;)

Oh, and the male lead also has a sister that is harsh to him. ...Where have I seen that before?



In fairness, there's nothing wrong with having a few Pavlovian elements in one's entertainment.  Like Superman saving a falling Lois Lane, or Tsuruya flashing the lone fang smile while wearing a maid outfit, they can be a pleasant reminder of just what made (some of) us fans in the first place. Furthermore, cliches and tropes are cliches and tropes because they tend to work; they tend to achieve the desired emotional effect.

However the key, again, is complimenting such cliche and trope elements with a good, solid story. While some "individual trees" can stand out as testaments to the conventions that have shaped their particular entertainment genre, "the forest" still should be awe-inspiring and
thought-provoking in its totality. The problem is that too many anime fans are no longer seeing the forest through the trees: they're no longer caring about the story or character development, and are only caring about desired pavlovian elements.

The anime industry has responded to such fans by giving us a lot of animes that are more fusions of pavlovian elements than a true story. This has raised the ire of some older anime fans that became anime fans due in large part to animes with engrossing narratives. Animes such as these:






All of the above anime shows have their pavlovian elements, which I won't deny. But all of the above also have sincere narratives and genuine character development. They're not just a mechanical assemblage of genre conventions aiming to make anime fans salivate like Pavlov's dog.

Sadly, too many modern anime are little more than mechanical assemblages of genre conventions. Furthermore, too many fans respond positively to that. Just look at the avatars of many message board using anime fans; many (perhaps most) of them are from particularly pavlovian scenes. Just look at many anime-based internet memes. They, too, tend to arise from the reinforcement of pavlovian genre conventions rather than from truly epic moments that are great even in the context of the wider story that they arise out of.

I hate to say it, but many anime fans have endured a lot of classical conditioning, and don't seem to be aware of just how much they're turning their brains and critical thinking off in order to wallow in pavlovian entertainment.


Now, many modern moe critics are also fans of old-school (i.e. pre-2000) anime, and were drawn into the industry by anime shows with gripping and intellectually satisfying stories, and multidimensional characters that were more than one or two-note archetypes.

Many of these anime fans are wondering "What happened?" They have a vague sense that something is not quite right (and perhaps have a very nebulous notion that its related to what I'm talking about in this blog post), but they have a hard time putting their finger on it. So they look around the modern anime industry, and they've noticed the greatly increased prominence of moe over the past few years. Moe itself is frequently a pavlovian element: much of it operates on the same level as Pavlov's classical conditioning.

So they say "Aha! That's it! Moe is the problem!"

But then, moe fans (like myself) can counter that by pointing towards good modern animes like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the Nanoha series.

So it's not moe, per se, that's the problem.

The problem is that anime, in a wide range of shows (not just moe-centric shows), has increasingly become pavlovian entertainment. Pavlovian entertainment means that the pavlovian elements (such as Supes saving Lois Lane) are considerably overwhelming other elements of the entertainment.

This can probably be said to be the chief difference between K-On! and K-On!!.

The first season (K-On!) is mostly pavlovian entertainment, with its beach episode, its (thus far) shallow characters, and its aim to please through a collection of pavlovian moments rather than through any sort of meaningful character development or intellectually rewarding story.

The second season (K-On!!), however, gives greater depth to its key characters, fleshes out their wider world making it more real and immersive, and has a keener eye for continuity and character development and theme.

K-On! and K-On!! are both very moe, but one has the real problem that modern moe critics are concerned with, while the other doesn't.


And what the moe critics said about moe in this ANN podcast (kudos to acejem for linking me to it) are valid complaints... it's just that they're valid complaints about the increasingly pavlovian nature of anime (and some of its fandom), and not about moe, per se.

Zac and friends are partially right: What they call "moe" (i.e. pavlovian elements) can become effective masks for crappy stories and shallow characters, as fans obsess over the cute maid outfits and the generic pantsu shot while the story surrounding it might as well not be there at all. These pavlovian elements can let animes get away with being abysmally weak in certain key areas. The "comfort food" defense is a good defense of shows that are moe, but aim to be more than just pure pavlovian entertainment. I say this because true comfort food has a certain wholesomeness to it that classical conditioning often lacks.

I'd even go a step further than Zac and friends - genre-based pavlovian entertainment erects massive barriers for new fans. Genre-based pavlovian entertainment is largely "insider jokes", after all, and so to Joe and Jane Average Outsider, it does come across as very alien and inaccessible to them. The anime industry may have a hard time expanding its fanbase if it continues to rely so heavily on genre-based pavlovian entertainment. It really is the same sort of problem that Star Trek ran into with excessive technobabble and time travel shenanigans, and what comic books ran into with insanely intricate continuity knowledge requirements for its readers (i.e. Superman's comic book background would take a thick book to sum up in detail, and comic book readers are expected to know it all).


So... I'm actually very sympathetic to (some) moe critics. I would simply say that they're good police officers that have unfortunately caught the wrong culprit. Oh, the culprit can be found in moe-centric shows, but it can be found in mecha harem comedies like Infinite Stratos too. The culprit is the entertainment equivalent of classical conditioning. The culprit is Pavlov's dog. Time to take that dog to the dog pound, and give us more shows with good multidimensional characters (and moe characters can be this) and strong stories.


I know that this post will likely be a controversial "hot button" one of sorts. It might piss off a fair number of people. But I felt compelled to write it, because I want more compelling anime stories. Any and all comments are welcomed, though. :)

12 comments:

  1. What an interesting post to get things rolling, though I might have strayed from the use of the word "problem" as a definitive label and tried to word it more along the lines of "difference". People don't like being told there's a definitive problem with a particular approach to entertainment in my experience.

    In spite of that, Pavlovian entertainment seems like a pretty apt description of the way some anime works nowadays, but I also like what Zac described as a sort of "checklist" that some fans go down in terms of what they expect to see and as long as they can make as many ticks as possible on that checklist this is generally enough to create a strong attachment. I think the only real "problem" per se that can arise from this is when that type of fan comes into contact with another type of fan, like for example Zac who describes his values in that podcast you linked, and there's just no connection, thus causing discussion to get bogged down.

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  2. Agree on some parts, not on others.

    I do feel that a lot of anime are written such that they basically say “we used this trope, so laugh”. From that perspective, they feel like they’re designed for a conditioned audience. And I totally agree that the problem in modern anime is overuse of clichés, not moe itself.

    However, in some cases I’m not sure this makes the anime less accessible. My reaction to the harem antics in Infinite Stratos was the same as I had to similar antics in Love Hina way back when… only dampened somewhat by a feeling of “I’ve seen this before”. I think I would have liked the show better when I was first getting into anime.

    On the other hand, last year I rewatched Moon Phase and today I rewatched the six “Melancholy” episodes of Haruhi, both for events I was hosting. And I actually got a “moe” feeling for characters who I found merely cute at best the first time around (Mikuru included, despite my tendency to harp on her). So while I’ve always kind of liked adorable and/or charming girls, something has changed my attitudes since then. I supposed you could call that conditioning, although personally I feel it’s a combination of conditioning – mainly by sheer exposure to cute anime girls - and “acquired taste”.

    So from that perspective, moe does have two negatives:
    1) Viewers who have “moe” reactions are likely to be quite forgiving of moe works, making moe a potential contributor to clichés (here, I will admit that moe can be a problem for modern anime).
    2) New fans won’t get “the full experience” that experienced fans get because of lack of conditioning.

    It’s notable that all the early shows with moe content I watched also had significant other appeals for me:

    Moon Phase: sugary cute (Even when I wasn’t into moe!) + dark elements + slick visuals by Shinbo (similar to the recent Madoka Magica in terms of attractive traits, actually)
    Full Metal Panic (Tessa is moe): Great mecha action and comedy
    School Rumble: Attractive girls and comedy
    Haruhi: Haruhi’s antics, Kyon’s wit, and Yuki’s general awesomeness

    My entry into full fledged moe would probably be Kanon 2006, which had fantastic art and atmosphere combined with attractive girls. Can’t say I really had “moe” feelings for the girls at the time though, those came as I got more familiar with the concept of moe. Would I have liked stuff like K-On! if I wasn’t already a moe fan? Hard to say, there are definitely things I liked about the show that I’m pretty sure aren’t just from 4-5 years of potential conditioning.

    One thing that does bug me is that a lot of moe critics don’t realize that while I’ll usually react positively towards any show with moe, other characteristics – storyline, characterization and artwork – do play a major role in how I separate the “okay” from the “great”. I do think there is a tendency on the part of many critics of moe to overestimate the extent of Pavlovian responses among anime fans even if I agree that they’re there.

    Sorry about not having a cohesive argument throughout that, but I think it sums up my thoughts pretty well.

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  3. Sorry I haven't been around much... computer kinda died on me and I had to replace it. ^^;;

    If you don't mind, I'm actually quite familiar with something similar in another of my favorite pastimes, so I think it would be appropriate to bring it up here.

    Let's say you have something based around shooting stuff. I can almost guarantee that you'll see some white guy(with optional traits of machoness, emotionlessness, and/or space suit) fighting aliens/mutants/zombies and/or terrorists/Germans/Russians, depending on the setting. Obviously, I'm referring to video games here, particularly your typical first- or third-person shooter. And while the "standards" may be different for other genres, the Pavlovian aspect of it all is still very apparent. That doesn't mean they can't rise above and beyond these traits, but it largely seems to be "good enough" to just meet certain requirements to put a game out, meaning that it has basically gotten to the point that one game is practically indistinguishable from others in its genre.

    Whether or not anime has gotten to the same point video games arrived at during the last five years or so, I really can't say. However, I do think it provides a very real and quite valid point to mention that video game developers who rely on this sort of thing are almost all currently "in the red" in terms of profit margins.

    While I may be alone in this thought, I do believe there are similarities between what is currently going on "behind the scenes" with anime and what has gone on with video games in recent years. I'm sorry if some of my comments seem like pointless rants as a result. ^^;;


    Anyway... I'll admit that I'm a little guilty of being drawn to my own Pavlovian "checklist" when it comes to anime I'll watch... which basically amounts to "prominent female character who isn't completely and utterly useless and/or a blatant sex object," "character or plot aspect reminiscent of someone or something I liked in another series," and "THAT WAS AWESOME!"... though I've found I'm occasionally lenient with the first point if they fit the second. =P

    But, again, I seem to be ranting and not actually -commenting-. Pretty good points(which I've already brought up in my earlier rant) here, and while I can't confirm or deny the validity of it(due to not being able to watch much over the last few months, and only watching a very limited scope prior to that -anyway-), I think it's a pretty good case you've provided. Sorry I can't say more, but the ranting may have taken its toll on me. ^^;;


    (For the record, if anyone knows of an example of any first/third person shooter that features an emotionless macho white guy in a space suit fighting undead mutated aliens that somehow happen to be terrorists of mixed German/Russian ancestry, please let me know. The sheer ridiculousness of such a thing would be more than worth my time. =P)

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  4. First of all, I would like thank you for pointing out the philosophy of Pavlovian elements and classical conditioning. Although I "knew" of these elements, I was unaware of the specific term or social condition that the "comfort" of Pavlovian elements bring out.

    I would like to point out that unfortunately, every form of entertainment medium suffers in varying extents to classical conditioning. I would like to focus on saying that even "mainstream" forms of entertainment are victims of this phenomena because they contain "mainstream" Pavlovian elements that are accepted as okay by the majority of people living under a certain culture (western, eastern, country-based etc). Comparing to this Pavlovian elements that are accepted within a particular subculture or fandom, I would argue that mainstream Pavlovian elements are much more dangerous.

    To give an example, have a look at the Hollywood film industry. Original films based of original sources have become extremely rare if not almost non-existent in this day in age, and we are now plagued with innumerable numbers of movies that are comic book adaptations and sequels. The sequels component in particular somewhat concerns me personally as it now seems to dominate numerically compared to non-sequels. There is a lot more Shrek *insert number here* and Harry Potter *insert title here* than say the next Gran Torino, Inglorius Bastards, District 9 or Inception. As you have mentioned, Viewers of these comic book adaptations and sequels are typically fans of the originating series and newcomers will often not understand some of the insider jokes or references that these various adaptations and sequels may portray and I see this as a problem.

    However, I'm in no way saying that non-original/non-sequel are the only good form of movies. I recently watched Toy Story 3 and I have to agree with the masses that overall it was a fantastic movie that had the intended effect to be aimed towards as many people as possible, and not just for kids or fans of the former two movies. Like you said, as long as Pavlovian elements are backed up by a good story, meaningful characters and character development and is not reliant on "insider-references", then it is perfectly fine.

    I can see this same trend in the video gaming industry. In the west, we are plagued with way too many mediocre first-person-shooter or sandbox games, and in the east, with mediocre J-RPGs and Korean MMOs. The funny thing also is that some games such as the Call of Duty franchise or The Sims franchise have become so popular and sold so many copies that it is now part of "mainstream" culture. In fact, you can argue to call mainstream form of entertainment while in the past it was considered "nerdy".

    Yet, Pavlovian elements are still clearly existent in these mainstream form of entertainment. For example, in many FPS games such as Call of Duty, if you are to do a Pavlovian checklist, it will contain:

    a) Usually a "macho" like male protaganist
    b) Variety of weapons with various attachments - "gun porn"
    c) Blood, Violence, Flashy "manly" over-the-top cinematics
    d) Often portray the US Military or the "Allies" as the good guys and glorify them whilst denigrate its enemies, typically Middle-Eastern terrorists and Nazis.

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  5. If it contains all of the above criteria, then chances are it will be considered a "good game" and a "good seller". To make things worse, these are even socially acceptable as part of "mainstream" culture. To ask a related question, when was the last time did you play a WWII-based FPS game where your main character was a Nazi and you were for fighting for the Nazis (outside of Multi-player)? Then ask, how the public would react if such a game was made? The most probably answer would be that it may ring alarm bells as being inappropriate. To give an example, a certain Act in Modern Warfare 2 made you play as a Terrorist as the mission objective to kill civilians. It was highly controversial and was even attempted to be banned in countries such as Australia.

    What I'm trying to say here is that some Pavlovian elements are socially accepted, whilst others are considered to be "nerdy" or "weird", but from how I see it, they all have the similar effect of potentially downgrading the quality of a work's plot, characters and development. What's worse is that in mainstream entertainment, certain elements that are outside of the notion of Pavlovian can be "controlled" and "filtered" by censorship, a call to ban etc. because it's not seen as "socially acceptable".
    I will stop here since it branches off to another topic along the lines of "freedom of expression".

    Coming back to Pavlovian elements for "moe", I think you have generally covered its effect on the anime industry. 0utf0xZer0's two negatives (that moe fans tend to be more forgiving of moe works and that new fans won't get the full experience due to a lack of conditioning) also summarizes the problem of moe very well.

    On a different note, you have now convinced me to at least try the second season of K-on! despite me disliking the first season :p.

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  6. Wow, lots of great comments to respond to. Let me take these one by one:

    Kaioshin Sama - Glad you found it interesting. Zac's checklist point was a very good one. Part of what I'm saying with this blog post is that the checklist in question is made up of character traits and common scenes that some anime fans have kind of been conditioned to expect/want. There has to be a tsundere, it's great when there's a girl with twintails, etc...

    If an anime meets the checklist requirements of such fans, that's fine, but there should be more to the anime than just that, and sadly there sometimes (if not often) isn't.


    0utf0xZer0 - Your first paragraph in your response nicely sums up the bulk of the points I'm making with this blog. Glad we're in agreement here. :)

    I'll admit that if Infinite Stratos was one of the first ten or so animes that I've ever seen, then it's typical harem antics would probably not make me go "meh" as much, and I would have laughed a lot more at those antics. However, I think that the classical conditioning argument helps to explain why some hardcore anime fans haven't grown bored of these really old jokes yet (whereas I have, probably since I don't feel a need to embrace anime genre conventions just because I'm an anime fan).

    As far as accessibility is concerned, I think that an issue for some new fans is that they might see something that the conditioned hardcore fans find highly amusing/pleasing, and they wonder "What's all the fuss about?" Even for somebody like myself who's been an anime fan for a long time now, there's still some anime genre conventions that I just don't get the appeal of.

    Lolicon, for example. While I don't necessarily mind seeing a cute tiny young girl in an important role (a good character can come in all shapes and sizes of course), I don't quite get why a fan would find that exceptionally appealing and a necessary character type to have in virtually every show (as compared to a full-bodied adult woman).

    It seems a bit odd to me that anime goes full-tilt for sexual taboos that makes many folks (including myself at times) feel very squicky, and seems to almost go out of its way to avoid standard sex appeal that just about anybody could appreciate.


    All of the above being said, you're right that moe critics tend to assume that all moe fans don't care about story strength or character development or other basic elements of good literature, when this is simply not the case (you and I alone prove this).

    That's why I'm basically saying "Moe critics, the issue isn't with moe, per se. The issue is with animes that are little more than collections of pavlovian elements, be those elements moe or otherwise".

    That's what I'd like to see the moe critics focus more on, because there you find real issues of concern for the accessibility and quality of anime, imo.

    (Cont'd in next comment).

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  7. tigermoon - Great to see you back! :) Hope your new comp works well for you. Great points on video games.


    acejem - You're definitely right that Pavlovian elements are in every entertainment medium, at least to some degree.

    Perhaps a good analogy here is that Pavlovian elements are like the icing on your cake, or the salt on your french fries. They can add a dash of flavor to "food" (i.e. a story) that is fulfilling in its own right.

    However, just like a cake that's mostly made up of icing, or french fries with a visible layer of salt over it, these pavlovian elements can be overwhelming if given too great a prominence. They can become a real turn off to all but the biggest lovers of icing/salt. I hope that you get my analogy here, lol. ;)


    Beyond this, you touch on two good points. Pavlovian elements can have the effect of shutting out interesting alternatives, hence limiting creative expression. I myself have often wondered why so many shooters or war games won't let you play the antagonist side. I've always enjoyed playing as Nod or the Soviets in Command and Conquer games, simply because it gives the player an interesting and different feel (not to mention different unit and base types to experiment with, of course).

    You certainly don't have to be an actual Nazi or Neonazi in order to find the idea of playing a WWII German soldier interesting. So it's unfortunate that Call of Duty (and other WWII games) don't give folks this option.


    You're also right that pavlovian elements can be self-reinforcing, even in a moral or cultural sense. This has a wider impact at a mainstream level, yes, so I can see why you'd consider that more dangerous than more niche fandom pavlovian elements.


    However, as it pertains to anime, what worries me a lot in this particular area is how many hardcore anime fans have become so caught up in the pavlovian genre conventions of anime that they're now starting to see them as "normal", when they're anything but normal to Joe and Jane Average.

    This sort of thing can make it harder for average, everyday people to even relate to hardcore anime fans. While it's fine to like something that's unusual (I myself often do), I think that there's a danger in liking the unusual while thinking that it's normal.

    Here's the main reason why: In order to effectively promote or defend the unusual to Joe and Jane Average, you need to be aware that it is unusual. That way you can spin it as "refreshingly different" and "an unique experience", rather than befuddling Joe and Jane Average by acting like what is so very unusual to them is actually normal.

    It also helps when defending what you like. I think that the otaku fandom would probably be a little less stigmatized if they were more like Kyousuke from Ore no Imouto. In other words, that they could defend their interests the same way as Kyousuke defended his sister's interests to his father (i.e. "Yeah, I know that a lot of this stuff is really strange, and I don't expect you to 'get it', but it makes her happy, so maybe we should just let it slide").

    I think that Kyousuke's approach is better and more effective than anime fans defending what they like to non-fans with lines like "What's wrong with you, you baka-gaijin? Don't you see how incredibly moe that is? And those wintails and wincest; aren't they just the best thing since riceballs?"

    You can only effectively defend or promote the unusual when you yourself recognize that it's unusual, imo.


    Anyway, that's it for now. Thanks for the great replies everyone. :)

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  8. @Triple_R:

    In a lot of ways, quite a bit of modern anime humour actually mirrors internet humour: it’s heavily meme based. This is most obvious in the case of anime like Lucky Star or Seitokai no Ichizon, but it also shows up in more subtle ways.

    I don’t know about lolicon itself, but I think the trend towards prominently featuring a flat chested girl is certainly mimetic in nature.

    It’s been common practice to pair your lead male with a tsundere then bring in a yamato nadeshiko rival for contrast for a long time. However, I’d tend to credit Shana with popularizing the idea of a flat chested tsundere vs. a full figured rival, and Zero no Tsukaima for popularizing the idea that the tsundere should be super sensitive about it.

    It used to be that a flat chest girl or loli was “part of this complete harem”. But nowadays, a lot of flat girls are given major roles, and they’re frequently tsunderes. To me then, it makes more sense to explain the prominence of flat chest girls in terms of a meme started by Shana and ZnT than to say it’s a preference of anime fans. I suspect that full bown lolicon is also fairly meme driven.

    Having been on the “outside” of quite a few memes, I can certainly attest that they can make access difficult for newbies, although this isn’t always the case. I personally think that a lot of people can see the humour in a tiny girl being aggressive.

    @Games discussion:
    “I myself have often wondered why so many shooters or war games won't let you play the antagonist side. I've always enjoyed playing as Nod or the Soviets in Command and Conquer games, simply because it gives the player an interesting and different feel (not to mention different unit and base types to experiment with, of course).”

    RTSes in general seem to be a lot more likely to give played the choice to play either side. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts actually gives players an opportunity to take command of German forces.

    For some reason playing the bad guys in FPSes always seems to get more bad publicity though – given the flak EA got for calling one player team Taliban in the multiplayer of the new Medal of Honor reboot, I’m not surprised nobody is too keen on making a single player campaign where you play a German (although players have been doing this in multiplayer for years with little controversy).

    I think it’s also interesting to note that NOD and the Soviets are less ruthless in latter C&C games. C&C1 and Red Alert 1 both had missions where many of your targets were civilians in the NOD and Soviet missions. I can’t remember anything similar in more recent games.

    Finally, I do think that part of the reason multiple campaigns are more common in RTS is because of the different units. Note that one of the few FPSes that does let you play other sides is Aliens vs. Predator (at least the 2000-2002 ones, not sure about the 2010 one), which obviously features different gameplay styles in each campaign. Command and Conquer’s sole FPS outing allowed you to use a variety of GDI and NOD equipment in multiplayer, and while this was enough to make it my favourite team vs. team multiplayer FPS, the differences between the equipment was less pronounced than in the original game.

    As for the FPS discussion, I’m not sure I’ve kept up with FPSes (outside Borderlands) well enough the past few years to give a solid analysis, but I do have to admit that the fact that Call of Duty gets yearly releases and still sells super well does make it feel like there’s a lot of “checklist” buyers there as well.

    (Hell, if you include the United Offensive expansion for the first COD and consider Medal of Honor: Allied Assault an “honourary COD” because it was made by a lot of Infinity Ward’s developers before they created Infinity Ward… there’s been a new game every year since 2002.)

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  9. Warning: Rant incoming. Not suitable for little children.


    Great article; this issue actually pisses me off so badly I can't even type a reply to it for at least a day, lol.

    I know taste is subjective, and each to their own. But in my opinion... WHAT THE GOD DAMNED FUCK

    But really, the analogy is perfect; the studios have really gotten people hooked and they have gotten enough people to instantly salivate given the mere showing of certain triggers... even if what's actually offered has no meat (substance)

    It hit home hard for me, especially with a certain part of Haruhi. Oh, Kyoto Animation and Kadokowa, mastering the art of jizzing over the fanbase in their callousness, but what's even worse is that it was enjoyed.

    I'm getting the strong feeling that telling that the ability to tell a good story is being undervalued. For every Aoi Bungaku we get, we get twenty soulless halfass baked stories meant to just sell like cheap fast food.

    I'm not even talking about artistic value or some abstract value. Shows are actually praised for occasionally glossing over such minute details of character, motivation, and the settings that they are in. If we draw a line connecting all the plot events, we leave with practically nothing of value, besides this character being the next sex symbol.

    Suddenly, even shitty storytelling becomes acceptable because it is still above average relatively speaking. And that's what's happening to storytelling-- setting low standards and meeting them. (Eva 2.0, Angel Beats, OreImo) Or just manage to fail to meet them anyways (Unlimited Blade Works), sending us into a downward spiral of fail.

    "But Archon d00d, these sold well, which means they succeded to their audience" <<--- that just proves my point.

    It's not like I don't like fan service. Hell, I probably love moe as much as the crazies. I like Angel Beats; but I'm also not blind either. I have to get the impression that they're trying to tell me a story, and introduce characters that they spent more than 3 minutes on. And I'm not even expecting perfection at all; I just want to know they gave a damn. Nanoha's 1st season may have had a horrific mess of a plot, but at least it had memorable moments and characters so I don't feel like I waste my time. The story still has value; at least they told a story.

    When I see shit like Unlimited Blade Works, where they don't even TRY to tell a story, I feel insulted. It's as if they're saying "Hey, enjoy this, you're supposed to!"

    Of course, if you don't, you'll be portrayed as a troll that is out to offend people. And that's why I'm posting it here, so some oversensitive moderation isn't gonna go delete my post. =P

    But hey, this doesn't cover all anime thankfully; I salute the few writers out there who don't resort to the carrot and stick routine.

    And yes, since I enjoyed Trek back then, the analogy depresses me a little. I could probably spend a few pages ranting about Enterprise and Voyager, but nobody want to see that.

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  10. Two points:

    1) Classic conditioning is not complete without the possibility of deletion. If the conditioned stimulus (CS) no longer precedes an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), the conditioned reaction (CR) grows weaker and eventually ceases completely.
    In order to maintain the intensity of the CR, without the presence of UCS, the CS will have to be enhanced. Which is exactly what the anime industry does.
    This, intensification, however, eventually reaches a limit, in this case a legal one, as the sexual content in some series reaches soft porn levels.
    Classic conditioning is also counteracted by another phenomenon of human learning: Habituation.
    The repetition of a stimulus will gradually erode a reaction. This is more popularly known as "dulling".
    A stimulus will have to be different to a certain degree to elicit a reaction, e.g. our attention (or pleasure etc.)
    This, too, is something a given industry will try to achieve: evoking the feeling of novelty with the minimum amount of variation.

    2) You don't need conditioning for tropes and clichés to work, since they originate in the basic human need for meaning in life.
    Take the "I'm chosen" trope. You have a young individual of either gender, quite inconspicuous and perfectly normal (or should I say boring?) when suddenly the world faces destruction by German zombie alien forces.
    And suddenly, this young individual is at the centre of the menace, for he/she is the only one who can save the world.
    At the very core of this trope, we have the transformation of something meaningless and ordinary to something important and remarkable.
    The former is what a lot of people feel they are, the latter is who they'd like to be. The consolation in this trope therefore functions as the fulfilment of a basic human desire and needs no conditioning.
    I would consider such tropes to be UCS, and quite different from CS.

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  11. Very good analysis!

    I'm a bit of a lightweight when it comes to anime, and a large part of it are those staple scenes/archetypes/tropes you describe. However, those were very strongly present in the average 90s anime, too, including the moe-related ones.

    What I find weird on a personal level is that I greatly enjoy both seasons of K-ON!, even though I dislike just about every other high school slice of life because of the reasons. I did not even waver when watching the first season for the first time. I think it might be because the (clearly existent) tropes are already handled with a bit of subtlety. And Yui herself is a deconstruction of the ditzy airhead from day one.

    However, I'm also a proponent of the theory that much of the grief with of modern anime (and videogames) comes from our increased exposure to it as well as the medium's expansion. Both things cause us to witness more bad things instead of only accessing the good things through a "filter", like it was before the internet. Horrendously bad anime and games existed at all times.

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  12. I was compelled into an excessive fan rant mode.

    @Archon_wing, I agree with some things that you have said, but I'm afraid I cannot tolerate what you have said regarding Unlimited Blade Works.

    The reason being that, the movie didn't do the whole story the justice it deserved, if you have played the visual novel Fate/Stay Night, you'll notice that a lot of things from there are missing from the movie, since they were constrained by time and budget. If you notice the FSN (Fate/Stay Night) anime adaptation, which takes the Fate route of the FSN VN, you'll notice that it contained some mix of some of the routes in the VN and even though it was a 20+ episode, it didn't do the story the justice it deserved. The character development, the tearjerking moments, the comedy, the story; it wasn't fully portrayed because they didn't have the time and money to do it (or rather, wasn't willing to as they had other priorities). Unlimited Blade Works is a wonderful story with character development, the pursuit of ideals, life and love. Of course there are cliches and tropes used, but it was well used. I can understand calling the movie adaptation of the Unlimited Blade Works is bad, they practically butchered the great story. However, calling Unlimited Blade Works itself is bad is like calling a whole country bad just because of some politician and some of the citizens, it's like you're justifying the use of the nuclear bomb drop on civilians because the politicians and some citizens are bad.

    @careph exactly!

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