We Don’t Have To Fear What We Don’t Understand

Next week I’m turning thirty-one. I’m okay with it; I don’t mind getting older. But I’m scared to death of getting old.

Bill Dwyre of the L.A. Times is an old man. I don’t know how old he physically is, but I can read this column where he called advanced statistics in baseball “gobbledygook” and know that he’s an old man. That column is embarrassing enough on its own, all but pining for a time when guys just “wanted it more” or whatever cliche newswriters told themselves in their time; that it’s attached to the dying medium of a newspaper makes it almost tragic. At least the L.A. Times isn’t locking its content behind a paywall, like the local Kansas City Star has done.

There are plenty of strong takedowns of Dwyre’s article already, like Graham Womack’s and Matt Welch’s. I don’t watch baseball, so I don’t have anything specific to add in that respect. But I do pay close attention to articles like this, if only to know what to watch for in my own life.

We’re all engineered to be selfish and prideful. The things that we like are the best things, and the things that we don’t like are less than the things that we do like. Our choices are correct. If I spend my day watching television and you spend your day playing videogames, the immediate reaction is to say that I made the right decision, and that the thing that I like is better than the thing that I don’t like. If there’s any reason to feel guilty of the thing that I like — societal or otherwise — this reaction is significantly stronger. It’s something I’ve struggled with before, and as I get older i’m very mindful of it.

I watch a lot of football, and football is obsessed with lionizing the previous generation. Anyone who played in the seventies is from the Golden Age of Football, Back When The Game Really Meant Something. A bunch of guys slamming into each other for regular three-yard gains, that’s when Football Was Football and Men Were Men. This current generation of football, the read options, the spread offenses, the disguised zone blitzes, any change to the rules, any change to the stars, it just further separates football from Football.

It’s not enough to idolize the previous generation, though, the current generation has to be torn down to make room for the memories. A few years ago NFL Network did one of their Top Ten episodes, with the topic being tight ends. #8 on that list was Tony Gonzalez, then playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. Ranking above him, a selection of “classic” tight ends, like Dave Casper, John Mackey, and Mike Ditka. I could fill an entire column with my hatred for this list, but I’ll keep it short; the list was made by a bunch of old men afraid of the current generation, so they tore it down to make room for their memories. The best tight end of all time, the only offense for the Kansas City Chiefs for a decade, a player who could not be covered by a linebacker, cornerback, or safety, a man whose only professional drawback as a player is “he is an enthusiastic, but only capable, blocker,” never mind his actual role on the team, and they rank him #8 so they can pat themselves on the back about how great things were in their day.

It’s cowardice.

I’m all angry again.

I get 90% of my videogame coverage from Giant Bomb, and I’ve noticed two really good changes this year. The first thing is coverage of iOS games, and they’re treated with equal respect on the site. There wasn’t a period of hand-wringing, there wasn’t a disclaimer of “these aren’t REAL games,” there’s just Brad Shoemaker obsessing over Kingdom Rush, Patrick Klepek getting spooked by Year Walk, and Jeff Gerstmann commenting on any number of ninety-nine cent games on the podcast. That’s fantastic. Gaming is changing, and there’s no point in being afraid of it for change’s sake.

The other thing came out of a podcast, and I don’t have a transcript or the podcast itself handy, so I’m going to paraphrase. In the midst of a discussion on Gears Of War: Judgment, Ryan Davis made a casual derogatory remark about the fiction in Gears of War, and Jeff Gerstmann cut him off. “I don’t think the problem is with Gears of War, the problem’s with us. Just because this doesn’t resonate with us doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are people — I’ve seen them! — that really, really care about the Gears stuff, and that means Epic’s doing something right there. It doesn’t do anything for us, and that’s fine. It does a lot for them, and that’s great.” Ryan Davis hesitated, then said, “You’re right! That’s a good point! I’m sorry!”

That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t listen to much new music. I don’t watch any new TV. I’m excited for games that remind me of things that I played when I was younger. I read a lot of books again, books that I’ve read multiple times, books that remind of my childhood or young adulthood. But I’m trying to balance this out. I try to read books by new authors at random, to find new stuff so I don’t get in a rut. I play games I wouldn’t otherwise, like Asura’s Wrath, Hakuoki, and Bastion, to try new things. I’m on a forum full of people older than me and younger than me, and I find that mix of viewpoints and opinions really valuable. I need to keep finding it that way, too, or I’ll stagnate creatively and personally. And if that happens, why bother trying at anything anymore?

I don’t understand a lot of what’s popular now. I don’t understand the appeal of the ‘fun.’ band (I cannot figure out how to reference them) or paranormal romance novels. I don’t understand the appeal of tower defense videogames or anything like DOTA. I don’t understand the appeal of the Adventure Time show, or why you’d want to put a bunch of GIFS in your book reviews on Goodreads.

But my lack of understanding doesn’t mean it’s bad, it doesn’t mean I’m right, and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means they’re different, and there’s never been anything wrong with being different.

I don’t mind getting older, but I don’t want to be like Bill Dwyre. I don’t want to get old.

It’s Time To Get Serious About How Serious We Are In Videogames

Edward Kenway, allegedly much more interesting than his humorless grandson.

Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed 4 today, a week after the rest of the internet announced it for them by leaking everything from box art to Gamestop posters to plot synopses to bar codes. The timeline of the game’s development doesn’t make it strictly a reaction to the reception to Assassin’s Creed 3, but a few words I’ve read in the previews have pointed to that being at least part of why Edward Kenway is who he is. One of those words was “Ezio,” and if the plan is to have Edward be like the charismatic Italian from the three Assassin Creed 2s, then the series has a chance to be great again.

There are plenty of problems with Assassin’s Creed 3, but I want to focus on one of the biggest problems for me. Assassin’s Creed 2 was one of my favorite surprises of this generation, Brotherhood was nearly flawless, and Revelations had some incredible high points, and easily avoidable low points. The element holding these games together was Ezio Auditore, and his journey from the easily-angered novice assassin in AC2 to the world-weary snarker in Revelations, the end of his story. Ezio was a fantastic character, one of the best of this generation, and I think that’s in no small part due to the fact that he was never afraid to smile.

The gameplay of Assassin’s Creed 2, for me, was running along rooftops, boffing archers in the back of the head, and then throwing dirt in the eyes of guards that came to investigate before inserting hidden blades into eye sockets. When I was done with that, I’d run up to the highest thing I could find and then fling myself off of it into a hay bale. Do you know what that is? That’s hilarious. And while Ezio wasn’t cackling like a madman as he plummeted 150 feet into three feet of hay, he handled most twists and turns in his story with a wink and a nod, a general acknowledgement of how crazy these things were. Sure, he may be chasing after the most corrupt of the Borgias, but he’s going to take the time to chat up the pretty lady. He might be investigating the disappearance of Altair’s artifacts, but he’s also going to go on a picnic with this gorgeous bookseller who seems to be the only other person in Constantinople with the same level of smirk.

Connor lost all of that. He had an unbearably tragic backstory, sure, but so did Ezio. There was hardly ever a smile, hardly ever an acknowledgement that this was fun, just grim political drama played out around a young man who couldn’t be bothered to even learn what was really happening. There was no fun in Connor, which was strange because much of the game was still fun, if you define fun as springing out of a haystack with an ax to ambush an innocent deer.

Lightning vs. The Guy With The Purple Feathers In His Hair

Another series had a similar problem for me, which is a shame, because five years ago I considered Final Fantasy to be my favorite videogame series. Final Fantasy XIII, the showcase for Final Fantasy for this generation, told a story that was almost entirely devoid of mirth, and what comedy that was there seemed to be a little too close to a minstrel show with the portrayal of Sazh. This is a series where Cecil regularly broke out into dance, Bartz was Bartz, an octopus played the piano, Cloud dressed in drag, Squall dreamed he was a moron, Zidane paused mid-escape to grab a girl’s butt, Jecht got drunk and fought a shoopuf, and Vaan repeatedly botched talking to girls. It’s a series that wasn’t afraid to laugh, and it was much stronger for it.

Why is it so important to be able to smile? Because without it, we have no point to return that character to.  Lightning’s always been a bitter pill, Connor’s always been a stoic jerkass. Why do we want to get invested in this character? They’re not any fun, they don’t have anything to be happy about.

Compare to the Investigation Team in Persona 4.

Investigation Team GO
Investigation Team GO

Persona 4 Golden is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. That humor serves two purposes — it humanizes the characters, and it endears them to us. It also gives us something to invest in — we’re not hoping for some fantasy time when the characters can be happy, we’ve seen it. We see it in how they interact with Nanako, with the trip to the beach, with the ghost stories together at the ski lodge. A smile doesn’t prevent the writer from being able to deploy drama throughout the game, it just weaponizes that drama. Separating Connor from Achilles doesn’t make us feel anything but anger toward Connor because it’s Connor’s own fault, and they just yell at each other all the time anway. Separating Charlie from the rest of the Investigation team because you know all those wonderful moments because you played them, you laughed along with them, you’re invested in them. Angry Man With Gun isn’t a character any more than Joe Doom was in Doom.

It’s okay for videogames to be fun, and it’s okay for the protagonists to have fun when they’re in the game. It feels like a bunch of people missed that this generation and made as many humorless games as they could, all in a row, and we were buried under a glut of grim-faced men holding guns on box art, because in the grim dark future of videogames there is only grimacing masculinity and laughter is for babies.

Even To The Moon wasn’t afraid to crack jokes, and I bawled during that game. Repeatedly. Those jokes further made those characters people, more than any number of maudlin chords and This Is When You Are To Be Sad moments would have, so when those moments did come along my heart broke just like it was supposed to. The jokes never took away from it, they just made it so much more powerful in the end.

It’s supposed to be fun, people. Don’t be afraid to smile.

The Perils of Celebrity Game Writing

As most everyone following the games industry knows by now, 38 Studios, the developer behind this February’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, laid off all of its employees after failing to make a single loan payment to the state of Rhode Island, after borrowing $75 million and asking to borrow more to pay back the first loan.

The first post I didn’t finish on Loading Screen was a non-review of Amalur, because I lost interest in writing it after I lost interest in playing it. I still don’t have much interest in writing an Amalur review, because frankly the game’s not very good. It’s not very bad, either. It’s flat, uninspired, and after the first few hours you’ve seen everything you’re going to see. It’s a set of very pretty hallways with fun and energetic combat that never grows or changes. I lost interest in it before I even got to the second area tileset.

I still adore Big Huge Games, though; Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends are among the best real-time strategy games I’ve ever played, and their work on Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties gave that game life it had long since lost in my library. There’s a lot of talent and promise in that team, and I hope the spirit of BHG lives on in whatever studio snaps up their people. I hope everyone hurt by this mismanagement lands on their feet quickly, and this is just a nightmarish situation that depresses me greatly. My ire is aimed solely at the celebrities involved with this game.

I don’t have any insight or valuable input into what happened with 38 Studios. I’m no insider, just a pretender. But I do think this article has something that I can comment on, as a gamer and a writer.

The passage of note is this:  “R.A. Salvatore, a fantasy writer who helped develop the games, is slated to receive $1.46 million from 38 Studios in October under the terms of a consulting agreement he signed with the company in 2007. He is also eligible to earn up to $5 million in royalties from sales of “Reckoning” and other 38 Studios products.”

That strikes me as a terrible waste of money, and for once in my life I’m not disparaging R.A. Salvatore’s writing. (Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s awful. Not Richard Knaak awful, but awful.) Salvatore added absolutely nothing positive to Amalur, and instead did a lot to bring the quality of the game down through his work.

Most NPCs in Amalur have anywhere from 5-10 bits of interest in their dialogue options, all with names like “Well of Souls,” “Tuatha,” “Darrenville,” “Elves,” what-have-you. Clicking on any one of those gives you fully-voiced unique dialogue about that specific item, specific to that one character. None of it’s any interesting or any good, except once. The one sidequest I did that felt worth my time was helping a man who accosted me in the forest. He turned out to be a wolf turned into a man by a prankster fairy, and he needed me to help him get back to his lupine state. His dialogue had some actual energy and humor behind it, and while I wasn’t blown away like this was the best thing in the history of videogames, I was sufficiently charmed enough to tackle this rather annoying fetch quest.

Every person in Amalur is an encyclopedia of useless knowledge, reciting facts about a history that’s completely irrelevant to your current adventure. You are run down in the street by names with no fewer than nine consonants every time you ask somebody if they know where the blacksmith is. With each person having their own dialogue, set up in two different UIs (some characters have a Mass Effect-style radial menu, some characters have an Elder Scrolls-style vertical menu, and even worse, some characters switch back and forth between them depending on their last line), the player is left wondering what lines are important and what lines are just background flavor. Salvatore said in an interview that he wrote over ten thousand years of backstory for Amalur to get the game world just right. It shows. And it’s all terrible.

I do want a rich and storied world in my video games. I play games primarily for the story — even the Warriors franchise has a great story appeal to me, thanks to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Sengoku era. But this is a game. Writing a game is almost nothing like writing a book.

I am not a great writer. I think I’m pretty good, but I’m not great. I hate to use an example from my own book — a book that’s not even out because I’m taking forever on the rewrite — but I want to use a passage from it to illustrate what NOT to do in gaming.

The Ember Forest, just south of Delenn, earned its name in the aftermath of the worst fire in the city’s recorded history. For four weeks the forest burned, with flames consuming miles and miles of the thick forest, from the western shore all the way to the eastern mountains that made up part of the pass in which Delenn sat. The fire survived the best of the city guard’s efforts, a group of magi from the capital, Kasilos, and a week’s worth of prayer during the height of its damage. It took a steady week of torrential rains to finally extinguish the fire, an act that the druids of Arcell were quick to claim credit for. It was through Arcell the Lifegiver, the God of Nature, that the city itself was spared, they said. Regardless of what saved the city, the forest was ravaged by the weeks of destruction. Even after the rain had fallen, the forest smoldered, with so many patches of red mixed with the ash that, from the mountain pass, it looked like the plains ran thick with lava.

The druids worked to restore the forest, and their rituals met with early success. The first plant life to grow after the fire had flowers that bloomed the same color as the flames. Either the emberbloom flowers took their name from the forest or the Ember Forest took its name from the flowers, and scholars argued both sides for years.

“Huh.”

Scholars also disputed the cause of the blaze. Some pointed to other instances in Khazair’s history, claiming that forest fires are a common occurrence, and to have one of this magnitude was just an unfortunate coincidence. Others pointed to the reports that metal was found near the southern end of the forest, melted almost beyond recognition. They argued that the metal matched the stock used for the holy symbols for Scinterra, the Goddess of Fire, and that this must have been the work of a violent sub-sect devoted to one of the lesser gods. They backed up their assertions with cultist propoganda found in Delenn that spoke of “Cleansing by Fire” and other loaded statements. The sect never claimed credit for the fire, and the investigations never led to a suspect. Delenn authorities closed the case with the cause listed as natural.

“Well, well.”

The Ember Forest’s recovery from a decimated wasteland into its current, thriving state is a testament to the power inherent in both the magic and the people of Quintana. Before the disaster, worshippers of Arcella and Narkend regularly clashed over theological issues. The druids argued that worship of the Goddess of Death placed too much importance on just one aspect of the natural cycle of life. The mages of Narkend felt that the druids focused too heavily on the big picture, foregoing individual concerns for the “circle of life” they so often referenced in their research papers. Yet, after the fire, both groups worked hand in hand to return the Ember Forest to its previous splendor. The works the druids accomplished could not have been done without the rituals Narkend’s mages cast over the land, using the forest’s own death to bring about new life. Descendants of that group, both in lineage and in philosophy, still travel Khazair and the rest of Quintana helping with disaster recovery, calling themselves Eternal Life. They serve as a testament to what is possible when the people of Quintana embrace their differences, instead of stand rigidly by their doctrine.

“Hmm.”

Chamber sighed, and lowered his book. “That’s the third time, Dante.”

The redhead riding beside him shifted in her saddle and looked at Chamber, eyebrows raised in a good impression of surprise. “Third time for what, Chamber?” she asked him.

“Third time you’ve made some little noise like that.”

“I can’t say I have any idea what you’re talking about,” came her innocent reply.

“Oh yes you do,” he retorted, riding closer to her. “You do this all the time.”

“You’re probably just hearing some noise in the woods,” Dante said, indicating the forest around them. “It really could be anything. Maybe you should be more alert when we’re traveling through an area this dense.”

“I don’t know what you have against me reading when we’re riding somewhere. What is it?”

That’s not bad. That style works very well in writing, because it lets me present something interesting — the area in which the next few chapters will be taking place — in a way that tells you more about the characters in those chapters, namely that Chamber is a reader and Dante likes to annoy him to pass the time. That’s a scene I can build from, and introduces character traits that will be important later on, and failing that just add more to the characters themselves. It also means that if the trees start throwing fireballs at people later on it’s not completely insane. (They don’t.)

If I were to try and establish this kind of history in a videogame, I wouldn’t. I straight up would not even try. I may have all that written down in a world-design document, it may be important for the history of the world and how everything evolved, and it may mean a lot to me. But I would show a forest, perhaps have a character mention its name and fire off one line, maybe two, and then I would keep going. It’s writing for a game, not a novel. In a novel, I, the writer, am important. In a game, you, the player, are important. I need to stay the hell out of your way while working to heighten your playing experience.

Games writing is not novel writing. I cannot emphasize that enough. Every time I hear that a novelist is working on a game story, I cringe and prepare myself for the worst, because games writing and novel writing have made for some terrible bedfellows. Amalur is one of those. Salvatore’s philosophy for using that 10,000-year history was to make sure he crammed it in everywhere in the world, because he’s R.A. Salvatore, he wrote the Drizzt novels, let’s make sure everyone knows just how great a writer he is.

Obelisks cover the game world, each one telling you some story about the world as you play, like the audio logs in Bioshock. But there is no lead-in or explanation of why this is important, and the first area’s obelisks are a rather twee song by a would-be folk singer about a lost love of the gods. There are either eight or ten obelisks per area, and each area takes hours to explore if you are chasing down all 150 sidequests per area (and I do not recommend doing this). You may come across Obelisk Six days after you found Five, and have completely forgotten why an old man is singing to you in his Children’s TV Show voice. But since each obelisk gives you XP, you’ll be loathe to pass it up. Since R.A. Salvatore wrote it, he was loathe to cut it, so it’s in.

The Elder Scrolls hides its historian goals inside books, books that are entirely optional to read and do not offer any serious game advantage to those who elect to read The Lusty Argonian Maid versus those who decide that slaying dragons sounds like a better use of their time. The worldbuilding is done in such a way that you learn about the world by finding things in it. When you walk into a dungeon and find bandits painting the walls in body parts with one dead troll between them, but streaks of blood leading further into the dungeon, you know exactly what happened there. You also know what you’re going to do about it — you’re going to go kill that surviving troll and hope that he’s sitting on treasure, and not something else far worse hidden far below.

In Amalur, there is one surviving guy who is willing to tell you his life story and every detail in his day that led to him coming down the path to this cave with his friends, where they were suddenly set upon by a troll — trolls, incidentally, have a terrible fear of fire stemming from how they were cursed ten thousand years ago by Agartha, when she came down from Old Murkenville — that’s the village where two of the gods were born, Agartha and Morwen — sisters, they — fair as a summer’s day, pretty as a lark, ’til one day they went a-dancing right outside the Hillside Park…

On Marriage

(Editor’s Note: Something else that I wrote, this time July 1st, 2009, posted on the other blog. I used to rant a lot — A LOT — and while I had grown out of that phase by this point, occasionally things would happen to draw me back in. As you can see here, Ms. Loh’s column triggered that relapse, and I decided to vent about it on the Internet like anybody else with a broadband account. Much to my surprise, the link at the bottom of the post still works, though I haven’t re-read her original article because I don’t have time to be irate this morning.)

Sandra Tsing Loh wrote a column for The Atlantic on June 22nd, 2009, titled “On Marriage: Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The subtitle, as it appeared on MSNBC.com, was “Author Sandra Tsing Loh is ending her marriage. Is it time you did, too?”

No, Ms. Loh, it is not. Honestly, you shouldn’t have either. Or, and this is more likely, you never should have gotten married in the first place.

In Ms. Loh’s article, she explores the reasons behind the split. The catalyst, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was Ms. Loh’s affair, though she couches it in far more flowery language.

I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. This turn of events was a surprise. I don’t generally even enjoy men; I had an entirely manageable life and planned to go to my grave taking with me, as I do most nights to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book. Cataclysmically changed, I disclosed everything. We cried, we bewailed the fate of our children.

When you strip out the five-dollar words and the Ivy League-educated writing, what she is saying is that she broke her marriage vows. This happens in many relationships, more than it should, but many couples are able to get past it and continue growing. Would Ms. Loh be one of those?

No, she would not.

…I realized … no. Heart-shattering as this moment was — a gravestone sunk down on two decades of history — I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together. In women’s-magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage. And as Laura Kipnis railed in “Against Love,” and as everyone knows, good relationships take work.

Ms. Loh quits instead.

She goes on to say that she would continue to do the tasks she had always been doing, “like so many working/co-parenting/married mothers” do, and she lists out a number of acts most parents will recognize; picking up her daughters from school, taking them to doctor appointments, and the like. But in this passage, she strays down a few tangents, like “I can earn my half — sometimes more — of the money,” and “I can drive my husband to the airport; in his absence, I can sort his mail,” and “I can make dinner conversation with any family member.”

Ms. Loh, you will please excuse me if I do not submit your name to President Obama for a medal of honor. What I see in that paragraph is a sense of entitlement and haughtiness about your place in the relationship. Why do you emphasize that you are making more money? Why do you stress that you are able to “sort his mail,” as if this is some tremendous hardship but you, God bless you, will push through and manage? Why do you feel that making dinner conversation is some remarkable achievement? This is nothing to be lauded. This is basic human existence.

But please, Ms. Loh, do go on.

Which is to say I can work at a career and child care and joint homeownership and even platonic male-female friendship. However, in this cluttered forest of my 40s, what I cannot authentically reconjure is the ancient dream of brides, even with the Oprah fluffery of weekly “date nights,” when gauzy candlelight obscures the messy house, child talk is nixed and silky lingerie donned, so the two of you can look into each other’s eyes and feel that “spark” again. Do you see? Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.

Oh come now.

Now, Ms. Loh, I will admit that I cannot understand all of the particulars of your situation. I am only 27 years old, after all, and I have been married merely nine months. But I don’t need to be in your age demographic or your position in life to deconstruct your statements. Your tone gives your opinions away, even as your words attempt to obfuscate your meaning — you don’t care and you don’t intend to care. The dismissive phrase of “Oprah fluffery,” the wording of the “messy house,” and the emphasis placed on your “staggering working mother’s to-do list.” In your opening paragraph you stated that you cheated — not in so many words — and yet here you have already retreated behind your sandbags of workload and age groups, hardening your defenses against any blame.

So no, Ms. Loh, I do not see your point. There are many couples that do get through this period just fine, working together and relying on each other. But I’m interrupting you, I’m sure you have a point you’re working toward. Please, continue.

Sobered by this failure as a mother — which is to say, my failure as a wife — I’ve since begun a journey of reading, thinking, and listening to what’s going on in other 21st-century American families. And along the way, I’ve begun to wonder, what with all the abject and swallowed misery: Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?

It’s generally considered improper to write out laughter. Use your imagination.

Again, Ms. Loh, you hide behind your excuses. You say you failed as a wife, but you sneak that out behind a primary failure as a mother. And your journey towards enlightenment is nothing more than a poorly-disguised attempt at self-vindication. Your marriage has failed, so it’s not your fault, it’s marriage’s fault! How did I miss that? You cheated and your marriage fell apart, and the reason you decided to quit on it was because you saw the light. Remarkable.

I will gloss over the next few points. Ms. Loh proceeds to blame failing marriages on the United States of America, religion, and the lack of nannies. Americans attend more church than anyone else in the western world, and agree with the statement “Marriage is an outdated institution” less than anywhere else in the western world, yet Americans have the highest divorce rate. I find this a little strange, because when I think about those statistics, I wonder why people who think that marriage is outdated have much better success with it than Americans do.

I admit I don’t really understand the nanny bit. She states: “My domestic evenings have typically revolved around five o’clock mac and cheese under bright lighting and then a slow melt into dishes and SpongeBob … because yet another of my marital failings was that I was never able to commit to a nanny.” This seems to be primarily more misdirection, blame placed on society because she felt it would be seen as exploitative.

Ms. Loh now has Girls’ Night dinners with her friends, in her divorced person’s “oddly relaxed” schedule. In setting this scene, she labels a number of marriages, the Romantic Marriage (“Think of those affectionate 80-somethings in convalescent homes, still holding hands.”), the Rescue Marriage (“…partners who fit each other like lost puzzle pieces, healing each other from mutual childhood traumas.”), the Traditional Marriage, where the man works and the woman runs the home, and the Companionate Marriage, where both husband and wife have a career and they handle all the tasks together. She asks what type of marriages we have now, in the 21st century, and then introduces us to her friend Rachel. Or, more correctly, Rachel’s house and her husband’s cooking.

Picture a stunning two-story Craftsman — exposed wood, Batchelder tile fireplace, caramel-warm beams, Tiffany lamps on Mission tables — nestled in the historic enclave in Pasadena dubbed Bungalow Heaven. Rachel, 49, an environmental lawyer, is married to Ian, 48, a documentary-film editor. They have two sons, 9 and 11, whom Ian — in every way the model dad — has whisked off this evening to junior soccer camp (or drum lessons or similar; the boys’ impressive whirl of activities is hard to keep track of). Rachel is cooking dinner for three of us: Ellen (a writer, married with children), Renata (violinist, single, lithe, and prowling at 45), and me. Rachel is, more accurately, reheating dinner; the dish is something wonderfully subtle yet complex, like a saffron-infused porcini risotto, that Ian made over the weekend and froze for us, in Tupperware neatly labeled with a Sharpie, because this is the sort of thoughtful thing he does. Ian subscribes to Cook’s Illustrated online and a bevy of other technically advanced gourmet publications — he’s always perfecting some polenta or bouillabaisse. If someone requests a cheeseburger, he will fire back with an über-cheeseburger, a fluffy creation of marbled Angus beef, Stilton, and homemade ketchup. Picture him in bike shorts (he’s a cyclist), hovering over a mandala of pots that are always simmering, quietly simmering. To Ian’s culinary adventurousness, Rachel attributes the boys’ sophisticated taste buds — they eagerly eat everything: curry, paella, seaweed, soba noodles. My own girls are strictly mac-and-cheese-centric (but I’ve been told in therapy not to keep beating myself up over the small things).

Never have I seen a more blatant attempt to meet a word-count limit.

Ms. Loh’s friends commiserate about their marriages. Rachel, the one referenced above, says that she is now considering divorce because she never has sex anymore, along with some other reasons.

“Ian won’t have sex with me,” Rachel says flatly. “He has not touched my body in two years. He says it’s because I’ve gained weight.” Again, we stoutly protest, but she goes on. “And he thinks I’m a bad mother — he says I’m sloppy and inattentive.”

The list of violations unfurls. Last week, Rachel mistakenly gave the wrong medication to the dog, a mistake Ian would never make. She also forgot to deglaze the saucepan and missed the window to book the family’s Seattle flights on Expedia, whose chiming bargains Ian meticulously tracks.

Rachel sees herself as a failed mother, and is depressed and chronically overworked at her $120,000-a-year job (which she must cling to for the benefits because Ian freelances). At night, horny and sleepless, she paces the exquisite kitchen, gobbling mini Dove bars. The main breadwinner, Rachel is really the Traditional Dad, but instead of being handed her pipe and slippers at six, she appears to be marooned in a sexless remodeling project with a passive-aggressive Competitive Wife.

I would agree here that Rachel’s husband appears to be a jerk from this telling, but I don’t see anything here that screams out “Divorce him!” Has anyone heard of marriage counseling in their elite subdivision?

But enough about that, let’s go here.

Of the four of us, Renata has the fastest-thrumming engine, as evidenced by her rabid in-the-moment sex-tryst texting (“omg he flyz in 2nite on red i @ 2 am!!!”). One imagines a string of men toppled behind her in ditches like crashed race cars. “My problem is, I’m a dopamine freak!” She waggles her hands in the air. “Dopamine!”

“Helen Fisher!” Ellen exclaims, pointing at her.

Ms. Loh, your friends are idiots.

Ms. Loh goes on to explain that Helen Fisher wrote a book explaining hormones that lump people in to four categories; The Negotiator, the Builder, the Director, and the Explorer, who is tied to the dopamine that gets Renata all foolish, as seen above. Explorers are attracted to Explorers, and Builders to Builders, but Negotiators are attracted to Directors, and vice versa. One of Ms. Loh’s friends slaps the book and exclaims that her problem is that she’s an Explorer married to a Builder.

Here’s the problem with this idea; it’s too neat and simple. Dropping people into four categories and claiming that it breaks down how attraction works is no less stupid than lumping them into twelve categories based off the Zodiac and claiming that it breaks down how attraction works. It allows you to look at someone as a preconceived label, not as a person. It’s too easy to then dismiss any problems as that elusive “incompatibility” instead of actually working through a problem and solving the issue.

A running theme in this article is the avoidance of any kind of “work” on a relationship. Upon being asked if he wanted a divorce Rachel’s husband said no, saying they must show discipline and work at the marriage. At that, Ms. Loh adds the parenthetical comment “again with the work!”

Ms. Loh posits that “it’s clear females are dissatisfied,” saying that more and more divorces are being initiated by women. She then paints a remarkable picture, and I would be doing it a grave disservice to not present it in its original form.

If marriage is the Old World and what lies beyond is the New World, it’s the apparently stable men (comfortable alone in their postfeminist den with their Cook’s Illustrated and their porn) who are Old Worlders, and the Girls’ Night Out, questionnaire-completing women who are the questing New Worlders.

Ms. Loh continues to state that women get a bum deal, being told to “work, to parent, to housekeep, to be the ones that schedule ‘date night,’ only to be reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches, and then, in the bedroom, ignored.” She presents a few modest proposals, the first of which states that high-revving, sexually-frustrated women could have two men, the “postfemininst” male doing all the work in the house, and the fun-loving boy toy on the side to play around with. This is due to the fact that rekindling the romance is “biologically unnatural.” The children should be raised in a tribal society, from 1-5 years of age, by the woman and her female kin, with men coming by every now and then to provide sex or put up shelves. Then, once that is done, push the children off on the father, or the “superdad,” so the Type A woman can then work and presumably run around with her aforementioned boy toy.

In closing, she states:

In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage — or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.

Ms. Loh, I will not follow your advice, because I must consider the source of the advice. In this case, the advice is coming from a biased, self-righteous, sanctimonious fool.

From the beginning of your article straight through to its conclusion, you dodge, duck, sidestep, and avoid the true issue; according to your own writing, you are the reason this marriage failed. It was not society, it was not latent feminism, it was not America, it was not God. It was not a roaring fireplace or a screaming child. It was not macaroni noodles and a talking sponge. It was not level shelves and a travel schedule. You, Ms. Loh, are the reason. You failed. And here I am not pointing to the affair, because couples can and often do work through that kind of transgression.

You failed, Ms. Loh, because you quit. You gave up. You took a look at your marriage, shattered primarily by your own actions, and you decided that to fix it would have been too hard. Yes, you disguised this as well, claiming biology, society, and other excuses that have no bearing on this. You failed and you gave in. You betrayed your husband’s trust, and decided that because of this, you would not try to restore the marriage.

And what have you taken away from this? A horrible sense of entitlement. You refuse to take responsibility for anything that has happened. You are so full of yourself, so overflowing with confidence, that you believe that it is the world that is wrong, and you, you and your little nest of harpies, you are the ones that are correct. And what’s more, you drag down all women with you. You claim it is the woman’s right, that because you are women you can take this stand. Men are the stodgy idiots blundering about the Old World, while the intrepid explorers, pushing boundaries, exploring new lands, filling out questionnaires — filling out questionnaires! — are the New World. Your audacity astounds me, Ms. Loh.

In closing, Ms. Loh:

Your marriage is over, and despite your best efforts, you have only yourself to blame. You are a failure, a quitter, a coward, a fool, and an embarrassment.

It’s a shame your ego will never let you see it.

-Matt Bowyer

(The link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31452178/ns/today_relationships/ )