Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Guarding the Garbage

Now that I have successfully completed my Undergraduate Degree, I can finally turn some attention to some of the things I've recently been ignoring, such as this blog. 

To end the overly long hiatus, I am going to discuss something that I overheard in my local co-op, and how I have chosen to respond to it. I hope, in reading this, some of you might think about doing something similar. 

Yesterday, when I visited my local co-op on Lovelace Road, Norwich, I overheard a managerial figure, loudly boasting to his employees. As I walked past the group, I overheard this manager boast about how he had heroically protected the bins of his co-op from bin-divers who were trying to obtain the food he was intending to throw away. Naturally, his employees commended him on his efforts.

In all honesty, I was rather disgusted to overhear such a flagrant display of ignorant behaviour. That the manager of a co-operative store, a chain which has gained a lot of support for their ethical practices (indeed one could argue that their brand image depends upon it), could so openly declare his disdain for the inconvenience of dealing with what he unreservedly considers to be "theft", was rather sickening. 

Firstly, those who steal food from bins rarely do so as a hobby or for "fun" (somehow diving through waste for morsels of food doesn't scream fun to me), they do so because, strangely enough, they cannot afford to pay for food, or obtain food through other means. To accost people for doing this, to threaten them with legal action is a foul act of demonisation. Effectively looking someone in the eye and stating 'you cannot afford food, but how dare you refuse to starve'. Due to particular economic attitudes, through no fault of their own, 1,084,604 people nationwide have been forced to rely on food banks.

Screen cap taken from the Trussell Trust

Secondly, if you are going to be throwing that food away, you are making a very clear declaration that you can no longer profit from the sale of this food. If you can no longer capitalise upon it and yet it is still edible, why seek to vindictively deprive people who cannot afford to put food on the table from that which is no longer of any value to you? 

After hearing this, I decided to do a little research into Norwich food banks and into the East of England Co-Operative's stance regarding the support of food banks. According to the Norwich Food Bank website, 8,905 local people (3,072 of which are children) have been forced to rely on their service in the past year. Therefore, there is evidently a need for the service within Norwich. Furthermore, according to their website, the East of England Co-Op are "dedicated to helping them ensure they have enough food available to be able to continue to provide this valuable service." [citation

On that same page, they state that they have "have foodbank collection points in every one of our food stores". Having never seen one in the Lovelace co-op, I engaged in some minor espionage and discovered this:

Though far from empty, the collection point is tucked into the back of the shop and is far from advertised, save for the tiny laminated sign on the front. Sure, you can easily enough deposit your food into it, but you're only going to find it if you're actively looking for it. This was rather discouraging. 

Furthermore, I would like to draw your attention to what is on the secluded pinboard above the collection point.

This is far more encouraging. Excellent work, Lovelace Co-Op. A shame that your manager stood fewer than 10 feet away from this very certificate, demonising the very people you are apparently "generously supporting", but at least this is something, right? I am not going to detract from your good work, you have evidently done a lot of it, but the very principle behind this act of giving has been undermined through your willingness to waste perfectly edible food. 

Considering the recent push within France to force Supermarkets to give away their unsold food to charities, I think it is clear that more can be done to aid services like the food banks, which, considering the impending benefits cuts and other austerity measures, are likely to be used even more over the coming year. 

In response to this, I have emailed one of the Executive Team members of the East of England Co-Op. (Searching for about an hour or so, I was only able to find one of their email addresses, unfortunate, some might say). I have implored them to consider donating the food that would otherwise go to waste to those who need it and to discourage their staff from demonising the poor, especially due to the commitments the brand has made to either practice.

After all, the nearest donation point for the Norwich food bank to Lovelace Co-Op is but 10 minutes down the road. 

So I encourage you, not only to donate what food you can spare to local food banks or other charities, but also to take a look at some of the businesses near you and encourage them, in whatever way you can, to donate their food, rather than simply throwing it away. Write to these businesses, let them know what you think. My whining (or the whining of those who have whined before me) is not going to achieve anything if nobody else kicks up a fuss. 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Victory in the Qun - Platonic Influences in Dragon Age

With a new university term starting tomorrow (accompanied by an increasing awareness that it is going to be academically demanding) I thought now to be an ample opportunity to write up an entry which I have been intending to write for a while. 

Once again, my attention is fixed on Dragon Age, but this time it is not a character I wish to examine, but one of the fictional belief systems: the Qun. To put a philosophical spin on things, I am going to compare the Qun to the political philosophy of Plato, as found in the Republic. Though I am loathe to make strong claims as to where particular ideas within fiction have come from, I think that there is more than enough similarity between the two systems (and also enough of a difference) to indicate that the Qun has been at the very least influenced by Platonic philosophy.

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Defining the Qun

In short, the Qun is a philosophy in both a capital "P" and lower-case "p" sense. It is both an series of positions taken towards the exploration of both the world and abstract concepts as well as, in the lower-case "p" sense, a way of life. Essentially, it is a philosophical approach to being, comparable to religion in the way it generalises its principles and seeks to extend them, sometimes through the overt use of force, upon those who do not abide by it. 

It regards itself as being singular as a form of truth: to live by the Qun is to live an ordered life of purpose, whereas to live outside of it is to live in a state of chaos. In this sense, it is highly pragmatic, focused upon end results and attempts to create a perfect society. This is further reflected in the assigning of roles from birth. Every Qunari has a singular role, which is also used as their name, and their entire lives are devoted to fulfilling it. 

We know that knowledge of the Qun is not something that is easy to come by, for not even all Qunari are fully aware of the system by which they live. For most, they simply know as much of the Qun as they need to in order to fulfil their assigned role, with only the priesthood aware of the bigger picture. 

To simply, here are the most important points of the Qun:

  • Every Qunari is assigned a role, which is also their name. Their entire lives are dedicated to this role and though the role can change, it is not a matter of personal preference or choice. 
    • These roles can have their basis in established gender roles.
  • Questioning the diktats of the Qun is seen as a moral failure, the response to which is "re-education".
  • There exists a natural order of things, embodied in the Qun. It is meaningless to struggle against this order, the very act of struggling is an illusion. 
  • The Qun is a path of faith, to abandon it is to embrace chaos. 
  • Existence is a choice, and within existence itself there is a choice between order and a mindless struggle against it.
  • Everything is part of a universal order.
Adaar doesn’t usually wear vitaar but what if
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The Triumvirate

Though we have relatively little interaction with Qunari society and are never shown what their people are like on their own terms (we always seem them out of their own environments and through the lens of outsider cultures who are, almost completely, in opposition to them, regarding the Qun as a dangerous force), conversations with various Qunari / Tal-Vashoth (those of the Qunari race who have chosen to live outside of the Qun) do reveal to us how their people govern.

Qunari society is divided into three parts and each of these segments possesses a different figurehead/ruler. The three parts represent the body, the mind and the soul. The bodily branch is known as the Antaam, and is ruled over by the Arishok. Mind is represented by the Arigena and consists mostly of craftsmen. Finally, Soul is embodied in the Ariqun, leader of the priesthood. 

The Arishok is a military leader and the Antaam consist of soldiers and other miltaristic agents. Their role is to protect the Qun and to spread it through military force. They are the only branch of the three who venture out of Qunari lands and are exclusively male, due to the belief that only men can be proficient warriors. Interestingly, women are able to serve in the military, if they show the aptitude, but they are regarded as male should they do so. This indicates that there biologically female individuals can be competent warriors, but that competency in martial practice is seen as masculine. This also indicates that the Qunari regard gender as distinct from biological sex.  

Always female (though others in this branch of society may vary), the Arigena rules over the industrial, agricultural and mercantile aspects of their society. They are fundamentally providers, crafting what the Qunari need and ensuring that it reaches all areas of society as needed. 

The Ariqun, leader of the priests, can be either male or female and serves as the ultimate spiritual guide of the people. Fundamentally, their role is to ensure that the Qun is upheld as well as to interpret it in times of uncertainty. Under this branch fall the Ben-Hassrath: enforcers of religious law who can be of either gender. Their role is to seek out those who are straying from the path and re-educate them, as well as ensuring that new converts to the Qun follow their assigned role. Effectively, they are inquisitors, religious police. The other important segment are the, exclusively female Tamassrans, who are in command of breeding and have huge influence with the society. They decide who breeds with who, what roles Qunari are assigned and are also responsible for educating them into these roles. 

Whilst the Qunari view these three segments as equal and necessary, their is a strong implication as to a lack of power balance. The Ariqun, who is in command of the very philosophy which dominates the lives of all Qunari, seemingly possesses the power to exile even other leaders should they see fit. The importance here is that there is no actual hierarchy, but their is an implied imbalance of power.

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So how does any of this relate to Plato?

Well, on the level of appearances, Plato too devises his 'perfect' society as having three distinct branches: the Crafters, the Warriors and the Rulers. Furthermore, Plato envisages a society in which everybody is given a clear role based on the aptitudes they display in youth. His system does not possess the concept of family as we see it, instead raised collectively by a branch of the rulers in charge of educating the youths. 

The connection to the Qun is evident, as the three elements of Qunari society very easily map onto the three Platonic categories. The Arigena has the crafters, the Arishok has the warriors and the Ariqun is in charge of matters spiritual. Each three areas has an important degree of overlap. Plato's crafters exist to provide for all within his Republic, they keep things running on an agricultural and industrial level, so do those ruled by the Arigena. Warriors of the Qun exist to protect it, as do the Warriors of Plato's Republic. Importantly, there is no indication within Plato (as far as I am aware, at least) of there being any reason for the Warrior caste to invade other lands to spread the Republic's ideals, as there is the Qun. Though they are not known as rulers, the priesthood under the Ariqun serve the same role as the Philosopher Kings in the Republic: they guide the society and control the roles of those born into it, as well as raising the children collectively. 

Another interesting point of comparison is in the ability of those who live by the systems to understand them. Plato argues in the Republic that certain incorrect mythologies must be used in order to ensure that people of the Bronze (and perhaps Silver) category are discouraged from questioning the order of things. In this sense, it is a white lie in order to prevent them from trying to understand something that they, as Bronze souls, are unable to. Likewise, as aforementioned, those who live by the Qun know only enough of the Qun as is relevant to their position, with only the Priests able to fully understand how the system functions in regard to itself. Both systems seem to have an attitude that some people just cannot grasp the bigger picture and therefore cannot be told it. 

by Egor Gafidov
Image posted by Shinmakoss

However, there are some interesting differences.

Perhaps to be considered as a central difference is the concept of hierarchy between the three categories. The Qun, at least theoretically, considers each segment of their society to be equal. Plato certainly considers each of the categories to be necessary, for a healthy society (he compares society to a living organism in which each part needs to function properly if the whole is to function at all). However, he does make a value distinction between the three categories. He assigns each segment a metal. The Crafters are bronze, the Warriors are silver and the Rulers are gold. This has the implication that the Rulers are more important, if not overtly more valuable, than the other segments, and establishes an overt hierarchy. The more egalitarian nature of the Qun is further embodied in each part of society having their own ruler. Whereas the Qun implies that each aspect of society has a command of itself, Plato has a distinct class whose role is to philosophically rule over all aspects of society. 

A second important difference is gender roles. Plato does not discuss gender specifically in the Republic, though some discussion is given to biological sex (there is also no indication that he would have considered the two to be different concepts). Interestingly, he seems to abolish it as a problem within his Republic, arguing that men and women are equally capable. This is, however, specifically regarding positions within the ruling class of Gold Souls, which is open to both genders, somewhat, within the equivalent Qunari caste. However, there is no statement that women would be excluded from the Silver Souled warriors. 

A third point I find interesting, is the terminology used within the Qunari triumvirate. The three segments are thought to represent body, mind and soul. Plato talks of his Republic as an extension of the individual soul, which he sees as consistent of three parts: appetite, spirit and reason. Illustrated in his allegory of the charioteer, he views appetite and spirit to be the lower portions of the soul (bronze and silver in turn) and argues that they must be guided (though, at least under my interpretation, not strictly controlled) by reason (the charioteer). There is a discrepancy between the way in which these terms correlate between the two systems. Appetite, the most bodily portion of the soul, nicely fits with the category of Body with the Qunari. Yet Plato assigns this to his Bronze crafters. The Qun assigns it to the Warriors. Further, spirit, the portion of the soul assigned to Warriors by Plato closely correlates with Soul, which is given to the Priesthood under the Qun, who are representative of the Ruling class within Plato. Reason, which correlates more closely with Mind is given to the crafters. It seems here as if there is a clear reference to Plato's system, though a deliberate turning it on its head. The portion of the soul (or, at least, its equivalent) given to the Rulers, Plato's highest caste, is instead given to the equivalent of his lowest class. 

Image posted by Bitter Siha

Therefore, whilst I do not think that the Qun is simply a fictionalised representation of Plato lifted directly from the Republic, I do consider it to be a fictionalised account of Plato in the sense that many of its key concepts and ideas are clearly derived from various aspects of Platonic philosophy. Personally, I think there there is something absolutely enthralling about representations of the Qun throughout the Dragon Age saga, something that is at once extremely attractive and yet utterly repellent. What draws me to it is its evident basis in what I consider to be a fundamentally very interesting philosophical system. It breaths a new kind of life into the system, placing it into a fantasy context, trying to understand how individual characters might feel about the system, personalising Plato's relatively impersonal system. 

Needless to say, I hope that we learn more about the Qun in further Dragon Age instalments and that it does its job of providing a fresh supply of food for thought. . 

Image posted by Kalenkos
Thank you for reading!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Meeting the Inquisition

So with the, relatively, recent release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third instalment in the Dragon Age saga, we have been introduced to a fantastic new cast of characters. It took me a while before I was able to play the game, but I have recently been devouring it eagerly. As the university term is about to begin once again, I thought it would be interesting to produce a couple of entries on the saga. Naturally, with such a large number of new characters (and more than a few recurring) I could not resist the temptation to type all of the characters with MBTI. 

Needless to say, this entry is going to discuss the characters in relative detail. There may be spoilers. Consider yourselves warned. 

With that in mind, let's get right in there.

The Warriors

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Blackwall - ISFJ (The Protector)

Typical of an ISFJ, Blackwall has an incredibly strong sense of duty and this manifests in his strong dedication to the Grey Wardens. His dominant Introverted Sensing (Si) manifests in a clear understanding of general forms, of the way in which things should work. Though not entirely bound by them, he regards traditions highly, often more willing to adopted the tried and tested ways of behaving, slow to embrace novel methods. In his devotion to the Wardens, a further respect for the lessons of the past is revealed. Through speaking to him, he reveals a constant interest in his previous experiences, discussing his decision to reject the aid of a Chevalier, which could have led him to a previous life. Further evidence of the traditionalism of his Si is revealed though this is revealed further through his auxiliary Extroverted Feeling (fe). When faced with that which would challenge his personal views, his response is primarily emotional. Disrespect the Wardens and he immediately becomes hostile and openly disapproving. His understands how others feel and is able to respond to them emotionally, with compassion. However, his Fe is contained by his Si, for he keeps mostly to himself. His tertiary Introverted Thinking (Ti) allows him to hold consistent views and subject his past experiences to criticism. As this is introverted, Blackwall is able to organise his experiences and feelings into a logical structure of his own design, allowing him to develop his own approaches. It is down to the independence granted to him by his Ti that Blackwall is able to operate independently of the Grey Wardens. His somewhat rebellious or independent streak is further encouraged by his inferior Extroverted Intuition (Ne) which encourages him to move towards novelty and is sometimes able to lead his Si astray. 

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Cassandra - ESTJ (The Supervisor)

Almost every fibre of Cassandra's being is focused upon establishing order and control within her external environment. Without a doubt, her dominant function is Extroverted Thinking (Te), through which she focuses her attention on the outside world and seeks to see the rational connections between the various concepts of her environment and arrange them in such a manner as to serve a particular goal. She professes that her superiors always criticised her for acting too hastily, and this is evident of the quick conclusion producing abilities of her Te. After all, the Inquisition is born from both Leliana's vision and Cassandra's pragmatism. Under her orders, all of the component parts are brought together and moulded to fit a singular purpose. What marks Cassandra as an ESTJ over an ENTJ is that the order she seeks to enforce is not one of her own making. It is not her own vision that she seeks to fulfill, but another's, albeit one she shares. In the absence of Justinia's guiding hand, Cassandra turns to her past experiences and the established way of things for inspiration, an indication of her auxiliary Introverted Sensing (Si). Relying on routine gives her an extreme respect for the status quo, though she recognises that some things need to change. Her tertiary function, Extroverted Intuition (Ne) aids in the development of these new conclusions. When she encounters that which disillusions her to the established ideas (such as the discoveries concerning the Order of Seekers during her personal quest), she is forced to use her Ne to reveal a new path, connecting the established ideas, known through her Si and enforced through her Te, to explore new possibilities. Cassandra is not one to share her feelings, keeping them close to her and dealing with them in solitude unless she is very close to the one with whom she is sharing them. As her inferior function is Introverted Feeling (Fi) her emotions can become problematic for her, influence her behaviours in a less than conscious manner. Whereas she may see herself as a disciplined and rational Seeker, she is susceptible to her motions that she cares to admit. Take, for instance, her arguments with Varric. 

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The Iron Bull - ESTP (The Promoter)

Undoubtedly among the reasons he was selected to be Ben-Hassrath, the Iron Bull's dominant function is Extroverted Sensing (Se), indicating that he is extremely present. In short, Bull Keeps it real. He is less concerned with the ways in which things should be (as one might expect from a Qunari) in either a generic or abstract way but is more content to deal with things as they are. In spite of his association with the Qunari and the Qun, he has spent so much time away from it that he has learnt to be far more pragmatic and down to earth than idealist. The ease with which he can be encouraged to abandon the Qun and live as Tal-Vashoth for the sake of his friends is evidence of this. He also adores physical sensations, as is evident to anyone who takes him to slay a dragon. Simply because he is not dedicated to the Qun does not mean that he does not like structure. As said to those who romance him, he likes structure and organisation in the world, something to tame his impulses and this is evidence of his Introverted Thinking (Ti). When encountering something novel, he is quickly able to organise it into his personal system, which has certainly been shaped by the Qun, though it is not limited to it. Bull is open about his feelings, though is less serious about them at first, as is clear to any who romance him. Due to this Extroverted Feeling (Fe), he can seem very much like an open book, for any feelings are easily shared. In this position, however, the function is relatively simplistic. Underneath it all, he is guided by gut instincts and raw luck. This is representative of an underdeveloped inferior Introverted Intuition (Ni).


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Varric - ESFP (The Performer)

Highly observant, Varric's attention is near constantly fixed upon the state of the world around him. He regards events and people and objects and absorbs them all through his dominant Extroverted Sensing (Se). Varric enjoys new experiences, for his delight comes from taking these and weaving them into over the top tales and stories. Furthermore, he has fine taste, epitomised in his love of commerce and money, which is a fundamental drive for his mercantile side. The true analysis comes from his auxiliary Introverted Feeling (Fi) which reviews his experiences as produces private emotional responses and an internal system of subjective ethics. Interesting, this leads him to fail to involve himself with either side of the Mage/Templar war, though he is not unsympathetic to its nature. The presence of such sympathy is shown through his remaining with the Inquisition and even contacting Hawke for their assistance, even though he could easily leave. Varric does have an idea which he wishes to push out onto the world: one in which he is able to live a relatively quiet life as a merchant, making enough money by which to live and ultimately keeping himself free from the dangers of the grand stories of history. This tertiary Extroverted Thinking (Te) is what ultimately leads him to stay with the Inquisition, for he realises that without its success, he cannot have his ideal life. His inferior function, Introverted Intuition (Ni) does not seem all that developed to me, though perhaps further reflection will reveal more to me at a later date. 

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Sera - ESFP (The Performer)

Similarly to Varric, Sera simply wants to lead a quiet life outside of the grand chapters of the history books. Her dominant Extroverted Sensing (Se) manifests through her attitude of living in the moment, her ability to be incredible flexible and her love of novel sensations. Were she able to, Sera would fill her days with the pleasures of food, wine, song and women and, like Varric, it is her realisation that she cannot have her goal, through her tertiary Extroverted Thinking (Te) that she ultimately remains with the Inquisition. Auxiliary to her Se is Introverted Feeling (Fi) which manifests itself through pranks and playful attempts to engage with others. For example, she constantly mocks Vivienne for her nobility, though she does not seem to want to cause offence so much as engage in some harmful expression. Beneath everything, she seems to hold several principles which effect the rest of her behaviour, evident of an Inferior Introverted Intuition (Ni). She does not seem to critically engage with these, which make them her greatest weakness. An example of such is her unreasoning dislike for the Dalish "elfy elves". 

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Cole - INFP (The Healer)

Though the dominant function of an INFP is Introverted Feeling (Fi) which is focused far more upon the self, rather than the feelings of others and whilst feeling in an extroverted form is more able to pick up on the feelings of others, the way in which Cole interacts with emotions seems to me to be highly introverted. Due to the fact that he is a spirit, Cole's personhood and sense of self are often called into question. Speaking with him reveals that he is very unclear as to what he is and who he is and this void is filled with the needs of others. He experiences the pain of others, not through empathy, but through living it himself, he literally experiences their pain and their memories and then deals with the emotion internally before he 'helps' them. This, coupled with the fact that he treats all those he helps in a highly individual sense, rarely, if ever, regarding them generally betrays a strong sense of Fi. The manner in which he helps others is often through helping them forget, though he approaches each case with a sense of wonder, every one of them requiring that he test several approaches, making them forget him each time her fails. This is evidence of his auxiliary Extroverted Intuition (Ne), which helps him expand on a key idea (that of helping another) and allows him to generate novel ways of approaching them. Tertiary is his Introverted Sensing (Si) which naturally turns him away from the world and places him in a dreamlike state (which is obviously augmented by his being a spirit). His experiences of people allow him to develop, and he is able to look to previous cases in order to develop a method of helping, though ultimately he prefers to use his Fi and Ne in conjunction. Extroverted Thinking (Te) is his inferior function and it manifests in his desire to eliminate pain, an end goal to which he is always working. However, this function has often, in the past, at least, caused him issue. He used to murder individuals in order to help them, so dedicated to his goal was he. 

The Magi

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Dorian - ENFP (The Champion)

Dorian is driven by a desire to improve the world, though he has no clear goal in mind, no clear vision of the future. Primarily, he desires to make things better in Tevinter, though he has no clear idea as to how to go about this. He shows himself as wondering at the potentials which lie within the future, with all the potentials. Due to this, I consider his dominant function to be Extroverted Intuition (Ne). Whereas Solas and Leliana (to be discussed later) both work toward a "closed conclusion" with a specific nature and path, Dorian champions liberation in order to open up worlds of possibility. He is not deterred by the insurmountability of the problem, for he deals in possibilities, not in facts. Personal emotion is highly motivating for Dorian. He champions the liberation of Tevinter because it is personal to him, because his personal ethic demands it. This is demonstrable of auxiliary Introverted Feeling (Fi) which concerns the subject itself. It is further evident in his demand for authenticity above pleasing others. Rightly so, he does not wish to change himself to please his family or his culture, and, though the act is not without challenge, he finds it easier than he might have done to bear the burden of his exile, for he has earned it through being his genuine self.  This goal and his sense of self lead him into becoming a voice for those who a voiceless, or at least he desires to become such a thing. Genuinely, he wants other people to be themselves, and he realises that the world must change in order to allow it. This reflects his tertiary function Extroverted Thinking (Te) through which he seeks to impose an order of things, no matter how lax this may be in practice, upon the world. His inferior, and thus most problematic, function is Introverted Sensing (Si) which is predominantly concerned with the past and his own experiences. Dorian struggles with these, mainly due to the nature of them as so different and overtly opposed to the sense of genuine self he has created with his Fi. The past is a place of worry for him, thus he turns himself to a future of infinite possibility. 

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Solas - INFJ (The Prophet)

This section will include discussion of spoiler material most explicitly, and is also based upon my own theories and understandings of the character. When originally considering him, I had him penned down as an INFP, the same type as Cole, however, all things now considered, I am almost certain that he is an INFJ. However, I think that, like many INFJs, he is guilty of putting on masks and appearing as another type. I think it is possible to mistype him as an ISFJ. 

Look away now. 

As is revealed in the post-credits epilogue, Solas is in fact Fen'Harel, the Dread World, a deity of elven myth who has survived the fall of Elvhenan. There are currently many theories as to the nature of this character. In short, I consider him to have indeed sealed the elven Gods, save for Mythal (and perhaps Andruil), who were, like him, ancient elven rulers. In doing so, he created the Fade and sealed away the spirits, alongside the other Gods. He then rested and upon awakening, discovered that his people had been overwhelmed by the Tevinter Imperium. Since, he has single-mindedly pursued the goal of releasing the Gods. 

Solas is fixed upon the future and his singular pursuit of a very important goal and he constantly seeks it, it defines him entirely. This is a fundamental trait of Introverted Intuition (Ni) his dominant function, for he always looks for the connections between ideas, in this case various articles of magical power, in order to know best how to bring these elements together in the right way and thereby achieve his goal. Furthermore, he is captivated and repulsed by Dalish myths, in which he is portrayed as a traitor and an antagonist. When looking at the tales, and the fate of his people, he looks beyond facts, seeking deeper meaning, another trait associated with Ni. It is further reflected in his want to understand spirits and the Fade, a world of hidden and concealed meaning. His drive is emotional, he feels so very strongly about his failure. This is his auxiliary function, Extroverted Feeling (Fe). As we seek him in Inquisition, he keeps his feelings to himself most of the time, mainly due to his attention focused on his goals and his inner world. However, he is among the first to speak out when emotionally engaged with an issue. He will switch from a quiet demeanour to one of anger the moment you chose to take a path he objects to. Another reason he is so distant is due to the fact that his Fe seeks out connections, though the connections he wants, those with his people, are impossible or unwanted. Modern day elves reject him. However, when he speaks with Flemeth/Mythal (Flemythal) during the epilogue, someone with whom he is very close, he instantly becomes expressive. However, his pursuit of his goal is not mindless. He is not simply guided by instinct and emotion, he rationally assesses before taking a step and this is his tertiary function, Introverted Thinking (Ti). Thought the conclusions he reaches are attained through Ni and Fe, he checks his methods through Ti. His connection with the physical is far weaker than the mental, shown in his preference for the Fade over reality. He is able to understand his experiences and study them, but that which he experiences for himself is far less important to him than the deeper meanings and emotional responses they produce on inspection. This is evidence for an inferior Extroverted Sensing (Se). 

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Vivienne - ENFJ (The Teacher)

Though she does not always care about it, Vivienne is supremely able to understand what others are feeling. She is empathic in the sense that she is able to comprehend and play the social area to her advantage. Should the inquisitor take the view that justice and lofty concepts are more important than people, she responses to say that most people would never be able to understand such an abstract position and that people need to be cared for first and foremost. This is her dominant Extroverted Feeling (Fe) coming out to play. However, though she prefers people to ideals, she is rather concerned with ideals herself. She has a clear vision of the future for Mages. She wants the Circle to be restored and young magi to be protected and nurture. ENFJs generally concern themselves with the nurturing and teaching of those they care for and her understanding of the Circle as a place where magi can be protected clearly shows her compassionate side. Her clear vision for the future and her almost stoic ethics (she seeks reality as a series of necessary restrictions and the wise focus only on the choices they have, something I will be discussing in depth later, I would imagine) reveal that she is fluently able to understand deeper meanings. Introverted Intuition (Ni) is thus her auxiliary function. Importantly, her tertiary function, Extroverted Sensing (Se), expresses itself in her affluence and her desire for beauty. Vivienne has high standards and good taste. She delights in pleasant experiences, though is not dominated by them. As she tells Blackwall, she misses her comforts, but does not need them. Though it is not her greatest trait, Vivienne is able to understand her inner thoughts in a structured and coherent manner due to her inferior Introverted Thinking (Ti). 

The Advisers

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Cullen - ISFJ (The Protector)

Defined largely by his desire to serve others, Cullen's attitudes are defined largely on reflection through his past experiences and established traditions. His motivations for joining the Templars was born out of his need to do good and to help others and he certainly seems more willing than most templars (save for the moments immediately following the collapse of the Ferelden Circle during Dragon Age: Origins) to sympathise with Magi. During Inquisition, he reflects often on his experiences during Dragon Age II in the Kirkwall Circle and these experiences directly feed into his attitudes towards the present. This is typical of a dominant Introverted Sensing (Si) function. His judgements and his conclusions are heavily motivated by his emotions. He cares for people, which both leads him to value magi and also demand, temporarily, that they are heavily restricted in order to protect others. Though he is certainly able to act in a detached and purely 'rational' manner (evident of a tertiary Introverted Thinking (Ti) function) his central mode of operation is emotional. He seeks to provide and accommodate his allies and, though he will often share his opinions and his capable of criticism, he values unity and coherence above all else. This is the work of his auxiliary Extroverted Feeling (Fe). At his core, he is shaped by a desire to seek novelty and new ideas, which is his inferior Extroverted Intuition (Ne). However, this function is not so developed. 

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Josephine - ESFJ (The Provider)

A diplomat through and through, Josephine works towards unity and harmony. She is able to understand the feelings of others, abstract herself into their perspectives and then fluently manipulate, plucking the right strings at the right time in order to provoke the desired response. Her intention is to ensure that the Inquisition is viewed positively and to avoid war and conflict with other organisation. Her warmth and her tendency towards harmony and kindness is representative of Extroverted Feeling (Fe) her dominant function. Among the reasons she is so good at being able to perform this task is through being able to rely on her own experiences. When in doubt, she turns to the past, reflects on previous situations and how she can best learn from them. This indicates that her auxiliary function is Introverted Sensing (Si). However, she is certainly not bound by her own experiences and she is able to produce novel approaches and ideas through abstract thinking. When presented with a problem, she ensures that there is a way around it. She can smooth over situations with other organisations and this penchant for problem solving is aided by her inspired sense of novelty, which is representative of a tertiary Extroverted Intuition (Ne). Though she has relatively little need to, she is able to reflect upon the internal consistency of her ideas and approaches, developing an inner framework and approach. This is her inferior Introverted Thinking (Ti).

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Leliana - INFJ (The Prophet)

In a previous entry, I typed Leliana very differently. This was done at a time when I did not understand MBTI and its subtleties as I do now. As mentioned regarding Solas, INFJs have a tendency to hide themselves behind the mask of another type and this may be true of Leliana.

During Inquisition, Leliana more than any other character is concerned with the final outcome, with the fact that the Inquisition is working towards a particular set of goals. She is not so limited as to think that is purpose is solely to close the Breach and end the crisis, for she realises that its goals will be far more wide-reaching. What she desires is the levelling of the playing field, so to speak, to equalise things for all people. Through her series of informants, she gathers together many experiences, though these do not directly shape her attitudes so much as the deeper significances of them. It was by her vision that the Inquisition was able to come into being, and there are hints that it was her vision, shared with Justinia, which eventually led to the creation of it. For these reasons, I contend that her dominant function is Introverted Intuition (Ni), focused on outcomes, conclusions and, as any good spymaster, on connections. I struggled to decide between INFJ and INTJ when I was typing her this time around, though I think that her auxiliary function is Extroverted Feeling (Fe). She cares for others and it is her compassion and her anger which drives her towards her vision. Furthermore, as a Bard, she has developed this function and is able to manipulate the emotions of others through her exceptional reading abilities. Though guided by inner inspiration (somewhat divine, one could say), Leliana does consistently use her tertiary function, Introverted Thinking (Ti) to ensure that her framework of approach is logically consistent. However, she is willing to sacrifice somewhat on it if doing so allows her to feel as if she is remaining true to her guiding vision. She does possess a love for fine things and for external sensations, which is represented in her inferior Extroverted Sensing (Se), though she is a far more conceptual being, which is shown in her preference for remaining behind the scenes. When she has to, however, she is able to engage directly. She was, after all, very helpful to the Warden in Dragon Age: Origins.

So there we have it, an MBTI analysis performed on each of the characters. Let me know what you think. Of course, I may be wrong. We shall see!

I hope you enjoyed reading. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Umbridge - The Ultimate Evil

Unfortunately, this past university semester has been exceedingly busy, leaving me thus unable to update here, due to all the essays, readings, studies and all manner of university type things in my life. Now that Christmas is upon us and tis the holiday season, I have some time (admittedly not all that much) to do some independent thinking and prepare a few entries for here.

So, to resume my entries here, I thought something festive and light-hearted would be in order. Naturally, I decided to write about evil. One of my favourite philosophers, and a truly undervalued one at that, has much to say on the topic of evil, though her conception of it is somewhat different to that most of us have. When most of think of evil, we think of great acts of violence, of murder, of war, of exploitation. Hannah Arendt, the philosopher whom I value so, naturally views these things as evil, but these violent evils are not so despicable as banal evil: a careless evil, one driven by thorough ordinariness and refusal to accept personal responsibility rather than a sociopathic desire to do harm to others. I was brought to consider this topic through my recently rekindled interested in Arendt, in anticipation of my dissertation next year, and was further driven by my having watched the biopic accounting her experiences at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. 

Hannah Arendt, in all her glory.
Image found here.

Though my discussion is not graphic, I would like to inform anyone reading this that it makes direct reference to the Holocaust and very real and tragic historical events.

Recently, a good friend of mine was watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in which, I'm sure we all remember, appears the character of Dolores Umbridge. Truly the villain of the piece, it is intriguing how much hatred many people, myself included, feel towards this woman. Considering that the true villain, Voldemort himself, is not as hated as she, there must be some reason as to why Umbridge is so reviled. Turning to Tumblr, a renowned source of fan-materials, it was extremely interesting to find that there is widespread sympathy for Tom Riddle, the boy who becomes the Dark Lord. This man is a pure-blood extremist, a character who can be easily likened, and for good reason, with Hitler himself. Yet there is sympathy for him. For Umbridge, there is no such thing. 
Image posted by Zamanlordicesi 

As illustrated in the above picture, there is certainly something a little strange going on here. How can we dislike her more than we dislike a "truly" evil group of people who kill and torture in order to further their ideas?

I contend that Arendt can help us understand Umbridge much more fully, that her insights into the nature of banal evil can explain why we all have so much hate for this exceedingly pink individual. 

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Firstly, for the sake of context, I feel it appropriate to provide a little background detail. As the story goes, Hannah Arendt, a German Jew and holocaust survivor, managed to escape to the USA, where she eventually taught in a university. When Adolf Eichmann, a notorious Nazi war criminal, was caught and set to stand trial in the newly formed state of Israel, Arendt offered to attend and write several articles on the trial for the New Yorker. When she arrived and viewed the ongoing trial, she was surprised. Not because Eichmann was a terrible, evil man, but because he was exceedingly mediocre. 

I find that there are several similarities to be drawn between the two figures of Eichmann and Umbridge. Firstly, both of them are incredibly bureaucratic. Eichmann was a ranking official in the Nazi regime, which is infamous for its autocratic rigidity, and strict hierarchy. In turn, Umbridge is of the Ministry of Magic. When we first meet her, she is focused on loyalty to the ministry, to upholding its policy to the letter, rather than the spirit of the law. She is inflexible and harsh,delivering out horrific punishments to those who do not submit to her immense lists of restrictions. 

This leads me into the second, more troubling point. As mentioned earlier, Voldemort's regime and its hatred of "mudbloods" should be read (I will go as far as saying that) as a reference to the Holocaust. It is organised persecution on a massive scale. In the very real Holocaust of the 20th century, Eichmann's role was to organise the deportation of Jewish people from the Ghettos and have them relocated to the concentration camps where they were to be brutally executed. Likewise, Umbridge is given the role, upon her return to the ministry, of hunting muggleborns within the ministry and having them shipped off to Azkaban, the famed wizard prison. Though it is not explicitly stated within the book, I do not think it a terrible leap to assume that Voldemort's regime has no intention of letting these people live. Both Eichmann and Umbridge have the role of sending people of a certain ethnicity off to die.

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But this is not the banality of evil. This arises in a third similarity between Adolf Eichmann and Dolores Umbridge: mediocrity. Neither of these individuals do the terrible evils that they do out of personal ideology or sociopathic tendencies, but out of a sense of personal advancement. They are both attached to large, bureaucratic networks which they serve without thinking. In fact, they are discouraged or completely prevented from thinking or from exercising any sense of personal agency. All they are permitted to consider is the potential for their own promotion, if they do their assigned role well. Through an unreflective following of orders, Eichmann contributed to the Holocaust. In the same way, Umbridge inflicts suffering on the students of Hogwarts and then upon Voldemort's scapegoated people. 

In this sense, we can read her character as a representation of those who follow the pre-established rules without first thinking of their legitimacy. It is far easier to follow laws and rules than it is to break or oppose them. Umbridge is what happens when bureaucracy takes over from moral agency, when we simply "follow orders" as was the excuse invoked time and time again by Eichmann at his trial. 

Umbridge refuses to be a person. Through refusing to reflect, refusing to use her own moral agency, she allows her entire being, her will, to be subsumed into the system she is serving. Her individuality fades and she becomes nothing but a token for the hierarchy she wishes to advance within. She is boring. She is nobody. 

This is why Umbridge is hated more the Voldemort. The Dark Lord at least has the dedication to follow his ideas through, to perform actions (terribly evil and depraved actions which can never be morally justified) in which he believes. There is passion in his depravity. Umbridge, however, is banal to the point of being unable to truly understand what she is doing. So dedicated is she to herself, to her own promotion and doing well at her job that she forfeits her agency, her identity, she becomes nothing, rendering herself so lacking in perception that she fails to realise what she is doing.

Just a thought. 

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Jack - Beneath the Surface

One of the greatest strengths of Bioware games is their ability to provide their players with character driven stories, which revolve around the individuals within them, rather than basing the events on impersonal forces. This is certainly true of the Mass Effect series and in particular is a strength for the second game in the series, the majority of the plot is in dealing with the backstories of your squadmates and helping them achieve closure. Amongst those characters, one has a particularly evocative and colourful past. 

I am, of course, speaking of our favourite psychotic biotic: Jack.

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Subject Zero

I think it to be of vital importance that, in discussing the character of Jack, one should be aware that her story deals with some exceedingly important issues, and that none of them can be considered to be anything but 'heavy'. Whilst she is the product of speculative fiction, which allows its composure to present extreme cases and 'undiluted' concepts (that is, ideas which are not confounded in their representation by the sheer number of factors which might do so in real life), the issues she is dealing with parallel those situations being endured and encountered by a huge number of people (most of which are women). 

Centrally, Jack's narrative is one of abuse. As a child, she was raised in a human colony until Cerberus (an organisation who considers their MO to be allowing humanity to flourish into the best they can be) spotted that she was showing the signs of becoming a particularly potent biotic (an individual capable of producing mass effect fields through conscious control of their nervous system, in conjunction with several small nodes of element zero which are placed into the individual's body). She was then taken to a facility on Pragia. Thus begins the trauma.

The Pragia facility used human children as test subjects, the intention being to push human biotics beyond their current limits. From the first, the researchers noted Jack's potential and she was made the pride of the facility, with treatments first being given to the other children (all of whom were considered expendable) before being tried on Jack. In spite of their want to protect her, she was submitted to isolation as well as physical and psychological torture, all of which was thought to augment her biotic abilities. During her time at the facility, she was known as Subject Zero.

Jack eventually managed to escape the facility, though, unfortunately, this was not the end of her abuse. She was found after her escape, raped (or so it is hinted) and then sold into slavery. Ultimately, this leads her into a life of space piracy, with her having committed almost every violent crime you can think of (besides rape), certainly including arson, murder and torture. Eventually, she is caught and detained in a Blue Suns prison, where she is sold to Commander Shepherd and joins their crew. 

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Isolation and Objectification: A Living Weapon

During her time in the Pragia facility, Jack was kept alone at almost all times. She grew up believing that the Cerberus facility was the entire world, knowing nothing else beyond it, for her memories of the colony are exceptionally faint, if they at all remain. Kept in a small cell, she was able to see those outside it, the other children, interacting with one another and she would scream at them for hours, trying to attract their attention. Of course, this in itself was another kind of psychological torture, for the cell was designed so that one inside could look out of it, whilst nobody could see into it. Through making it appear as if she were being ignored, Cerberus ultimately conditioned Jack to disregard any attempts at verbal communication with others, as any attempt she made to reach out to those she could see, so close to the other side of her window, were paid no heed. Thus, she was conditioned to know that she was always alone.

The intention of this was likely to force her to be self-reliant which, to a degree, has been achieved. However, a terrible side effect of this is that Jack is unable to trust others or form meaningful relationships. Even after her time at the facility, she was used and abused by those who could have become her saviours. All of this lead her into a world of criminals, into a social world in which no individual is respected, in which everybody uses everyone else. Everything she has ever known has told her that she must be willing to use others to her own advantage if she wants to survive, She is egotistical as a mechanism of survival. 

There was only one set of conditions under which Jack was able to interact with the other children at the facility: arena-like combat in which she would be forced to demonstrate the dominance of her biotic abilities by defeating and killing the other children. This was not only done to test her abilities, but also as another kind of conditioning, encouraging her to develop a love of killing. Considering her violent attitude, disregard for the majority of life as well as her reports that killing induces within her a feeling elation, Cerberus were ultimately successful. Violence becomes a way of expressing herself. Thus, Jack is a conditioned killer, a human weapon. 

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Furthermore, had she interacted with the other children outside of this arena, they would have treated her with hatred. Not only was she killing them in the arena for sport, but many of the other children were being slaughtered in experiments which were ultimately for Jack's "benefit". However, Jack, in her egoism (though we cannot blame her for it) is unable to see the suffering of the other children, more willing to believe that they hated her for being better and stronger than she, rather than being able to understand what was being inflicted on them in order to, in a twisted way, protect her, in her capacity as an asset of Cerberus.

This ultimately works, leading Jack to believe that she managed to escape the facility alone, only realising upon her return years later that things were not quite so simple. Cerberus security was weakened the night that Jack escaped, for the other children had rioted, thus distracting her guards. In the confusion, she believed that children, those she had been conditioned to kill, had turned against her and thus she slaughtered everybody in her attempt at escape. Whilst predominantly self-sufficient, Jack, like anyone else, requires other people, she is unable to endure everything alone.

Jack is objectified in every single way an individual can be objectified. She is meant to become a perfect weapon, a literal tool for the use of others. She is raped, turned into a object to satisfy the pleasures and desires of those who rape her. Though the psychological damage caused by rape are not to be understated, the conditioning applied to her, involving psychological torture, causes damage beyond that caused by the element of rape alone (which, of course, is more than enough to deal profound emotional, physical and psychological damage). 

The result is an individual, someone who considers herself as ultimately alone, ultimately separated from everybody else. She has had all of her autonomy taken from her, her ability to self-define has been almost entirely crushed, with the only things which she has been able to have any control over is her revenge (though this is of course debatable, for much of it is determined by that which has been done to her) and the name she has taken for herself: Jack.

Interestingly, the player can become part of this objectification by choosing to have casual sex with her (which is consensual, you do not force yourself on her). However, choosing to do results in Jack locking you out, preventing you from getting to know her. You turn her into an object, and for the remainder of the game, she acts like it, closing herself off, keeping apart. It is only through seeing her as a person and not as something for Shepherd to use for sexual pleasure, that Jack can be truly known, truly acknowledged. Of course, there is the option to pursue a romance with her, but even if the player chooses to simply be friends, they provide a great help to Jack. Importantly, they do not save her, for she has to save herself. They do, however give her the encouragement she needs.

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By the time Shepherd first meets her during the second game, Jack has suffered through almost everything a human being can suffer. In spite of being created as a powerful biotic, she is unable to prevent others from taking advantage of her. By the time she arrives at the Blue Suns prison, she has been terrible mistreated and this continues during her time there. Of course, she lashes our and claims revenge through killing those who mistreat her (violence being the only way she knows how), but she ultimately fails. Shepherd finds her trapped in cryogenic stasis. She is literally frozen, locked out of the world. 

The True Renegade

We can see some interesting parallels and contrasts between the stories of Miranda and Jack, two characters who are considered, by the narrative itself as well as many players of the game, to be opposites to one another, with Miranda representing authority and Jack representing anarchy.

Cerberus created Jack, they are her eternal foe, having taken everything from her. Even though they have made her biotics so much stronger, they reduce her ability to define as anything beyond a weapon. For Miranda, Cerberus have empowered her, given her a means of sustaining herself outside of her father's influence. The result is opposition: hatred and love for the same organisation.

Furthermore, both Miranda and Jack's stories have an element of manipulation, produced from what we can term actively transhuman philosophies. Miranda was created through enhanced gene therapies and such, the intention of her father being to create a superior, "perfect" heiress. Whilst Miranda struggles with this, mainly due to the weight of expectation placed on her, the "enhancements" applied to Jack are a far more potent and dark source of hardship. Miranda was designed, created, planned before she was born. Jack was abducted, experimented upon and made in a very different way: she was taken, already a living human being, and effectively melted down and reforged. 

It is certainly true that Jack can be defined in opposition to authority. In having lived most of her life, especially the integral, formative portion, without the ability to define herself, without any kind of liberty, Jack has developed this oppositional attitude in which she feels as if she needs to always assert her independence, resisting all forms of influence from others. All authority structures she encounters, including the laws of Council space, remind her of a time when she was held entirely within another's power and acts as a kind of trigger, calling her experiences towards the surface of her mind and with it the confrontational attitude, from which she has drawn the strength to create walls against her abuse.

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Jack's appearance, including the shaven head and skin covered in tattoos etc. is modeled to reflect styles adopted by many subcultures, which by their very nature as subcultures exist to rebel against certain norms and trends within mainstream culture. She fights her objectification through the transformation of her body into a canvas. She is one of the few game characters who is able to walk around almost entirely topless and yet not be sexualised. Further adding to her rebelliousness, her opposition to any kind of restriction, the very concept enough to remind her of her trauma.

I think it important to note that Jack's understanding of the world (centrally her opposition to authority) is more than simply tainted by her experiences with Cerberus, it is instead completely defined by it. She has never had the chance to experience the galaxy, and the diversity within it, in a context which exists outside of her abuse. She has no stable memory of anything before Pragia, grew up believing the facility was the entire world, she has never been able to experience things with the required degree of neutrality in order to form anything resembling a complex or comprehensive understanding of the subtle ways in which things work. Jack is more animalistic in her understanding, violence and exploitation, the only things she has ever known, are ultimately what define interaction for her.

There is, however, an indication that Jack does seek some kind of deeper understanding, for she joins a cult with the intention of embracing their dogma and providing her life with some structure. This willingness to accept that there might be something more to the world than the simplistic, violent understanding she possesses shows that, in spite of its hold on her, Jack is able to begin dealing with her abuse. However, for reasons unknown, she flees the cult, though she keeps her head shaven.

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In attempting to push the boundaries of human biotics, Cerberus, as is, apparently, in accordance with the typical outcome of their work, have ended up creating an exceptional weapon: a human with exceptional biotic strength. However, in doing so, they have ripped out many integral parts of Jack's humanity, more specifically her capacity for empathy and emotions beyond that of rage and other forms of anger. They critically wound her ability to relate to others, leaving her isolated and lonely.

Whilst it is easy to summarise Jack's story as an abuse or rape narrative, both of which hold some truth to them, I think it important to note how the two concepts have been handled within the narrative so applaudably. All of these abusive events are spoken of in the game itself, though Jack does not reveal them openly and does not talk about them at length, they are shown to have affected her very deeply. The fact that have had so deep an effect on her, and that they drive her narrative, rather than that of another character indicates that the use of rape within the narrative is not done to add "tone" to the game or to make it edgy or gritty. The effects and impact of these traumas are explored (though the depth is limited, as one would expect from a game which is not entirely focused around these topics).

Jack, should she be given the chance, is able to built something for herself, is able to become a tutor, to protect her students and nurture them in her own way. This outcome is exceptionally pleasing, for it is not the tragic ending which victims of abuse are so often given and it is furthermore not miraculous. Jack's trauma and its effects are not magically washed away, making everything okay and dismissing the true impact of her suffering, but it is shown as being something that she is strong enough to deal with, to keep moving in spite of. Jack is a victim, and this is important, but she is so much more than this. 

Additionally, though she is shown as developing beyond her lust for violence, she does so in such a way as to allow her to retain her oppositional attitude, allowing her to change without surrendering who she fundamentally is. Jack is a subversive, she exists to set others on edge. But this does not prevent her from being an exceptionally warm and affectionate character, provided you do not allow yourself to, perhaps without at first realising it, becoming a part of her cycle of suffering.  

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