Eden’s Gate: Nuclear Apocalypse

Spoiler Warning: I’m going to talk about Far Cry 5 and discuss elements of the story. This time, I totally am talking about the crappy ending. And how crappy it is. And why it’s crappy.

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually played Far Cry 5. I’ve told this story before. I’m too poor to be frivolous about purchasing games. I resent Uplay and that Ubisoft mandates it to play its games. I really liked Far Cry 2. I was really sad that Far Cry 3 was comparatively dreadful. And I’m still bitter enough to complain again (and again and again) about that stupid QTE knife fight with Buck. I want to play FC5 but I definitely don’t want to pay Ubisoft full retail for it, especially considering it is far removed from the FC2 level of quality. Consequently, all my information about FC5 is off the web.

Regarding Creative License: Use my ideas! This time I’m not focusing on the alternative Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate commune at hope county. As this piece discusses eschatological fiction, the American doomsday cult experience (or, really, doomsday cult experiences from anywhere) have been consistently contrary to doomsday. That is to say, so far, every alleged prophet has failed to predict the end of the world. And as such, neither has Joseph Seed in the RCEG version of the story. That said, the material discussed here may still be useful. As usual I’ve been lazy about attaching a Copyleft or Creative Commons licensing template. contact me if you need me to do so. As per usual, if you quote me verbatim, attribute as appropriate, but use the ideas freely.

Every Motive Escalate, Automotive Incinerate

This one is ranty.

At the end of Far Cry 5, the world ends.

More specifically FC5 ends with a nuclear strike. Several detonations rain down on Hope County and Joseph The Father Seed (who is curiously still alive at this point) proclaims it is the apocalypse, as per the futurist interpretation of Revelation. A Sheriff’s Utility Van that wouldn’t be able to start after a nuclear EMP does so anyway, and if at any time during the following wild ride the player shoots Seed to limit liabilities, the van spontaneously explodes without explanation, killing the Deputy.* Assuming Seed is unmolested, after a brief drive through fire and devastation, eventually everyone the Deputy tried to save is dead and Seed remains alive.

At which point Seed makes the Deputy his bitch. Roll credits.

Players online have been discussing what it all means, speculating the nuclear explosions could all be a hallucinogenic dream, or Seed’s few remaining followers were waiting for Joseph’s signal to detonate stolen bombs. There’s little information to go on, but occasional news from the radio broadcasts (heard through-out the game from vehicle radios) report of negotiation breakdowns between the US and the DPRK. So Montana may just be on the receiving end of a nuclear attack from North Korea.

A nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea is unlikely in real life, and wouldn’t go down the way it’s imagined in the FC5 endgame, but I’ll get to that.

Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs

I’m going to take a moment for a sub-rant (a rant within a rant): It distresses me that in this era, some people — in this case, players and developers of Far Cry 5 who have admitted as much — believe nuclear exchange is a plausible mechanism for divine apocalypse.

No. That would be the stupidest possible divine apocalypse ever. Literally stupid. A compound chain of many human beings in adversarial positions acting senselessly, contrary to their own interests.

Large asteroids steer towards the Earth only as a matter of chance. By the grace of God they hit us or don’t. So far we’ve been really lucky that space is big, that asteroids are comparatively small, and it’s really easy to miss the Earth. Sometimes small ones have hit us and killed a lot of stuff, just not everything. A big one could reset the evolutionary clock to microbes, or before.

Global pandemics are an ongoing risk held only in check by a robust network of disease control laboratories that work every single day to stay ahead of the germs. Infectious microbes keep mutating making prior treatments obsolete, yet commonly retaining all the stuff that allows them to flourish. Again, one divine supergerm that proves too robust for us to crack, and we’re fucked.

And there’s nothing for supervolcanos either. Ordinary volcanoes are a power so awesome we’ve regarded them as gods themselves, and fed them no small number of sacrifices so that they’d just take it easy. Supervolcanoes are inconceivable, except we’ve seen the damage and extinction they’ve wrought in the geological timeline. If the Yellowstone caldera blows (for example), it’s like Pompei for the planet. Wiping out civilizations by volcanic eruption is a classic God move. A Supervolcano would be entirely in character. Right in Montana, no less.

For any one of these, and countless others, one could blame it on God’s divine plans to reboot the world because we suck, or because it’s a good thing to reinstall the operating system once in a while.

But a nuclear exchange isn’t a divine apocalypse. That’s entirely on us. That’s not just someone doing a stupid thing, but many many someones doing a long chain of specific stupid things in order to set off a nuclear strike and retaliation. The stupid would have to pervade the administrations and military commands of several antagonistic countries. The human species would really have to work at it to start a nuclear war, and these days — with some rare exceptions — everyone is sure that we really don’t want one of those. Ever. No matter how much we hate the other guys.

As of 2015 we’ve had seventy years without a nuclear war. The human race appears to be rather adept at circumventing this kind of stupid. It helps that nuclear weapons require a fine-tuned chain of events to detonate properly, and it takes a determined country to develop them (and develop effective delivery systems). Still, the Soviet Union and NATO were on decidedly unfriendly terms. There were some alleged close calls and delicate negotiations between the US and USSR but despite doubt and public panic the Cold War’s years were spent a great many steps away from nuclear exchange. Both nations were committed not to initiate a first strike. Eventually the Soviet Union’s Politburo decided against retaliation for sake of the species.

The only scenario we could imagine, ironically, was a religious fanatic looking to kickstart doomsday so that Jesus could return and collect the souls languishing in Hell. Reagan wanted to be that guy, but he just didn’t have the heart to first strike. It was too shitty a thing to do. As such nuclear madmen only get into power in fiction. And in that same fiction, when Presidents authorize first strikes, we still have to ponder why a national security advisor might fail to shank the President first for the good of the entire world. (I’m very sorry I had to do that, Mr. President.)

The cold war is over, and a nuclear exchange would still be stupidity.

Kissinger’s Realpolitik was a confrontation of the reality that in negotiations between nuclear powers, ideological principles might have to be set aside in order to preserve peace. India’s and Pakistan’s enmity for each other has been fanatic and pertinacious. And they’ve both had nuclear weapons pointed at each other for about forty years now, often in the hands of extremists. Yet to this day, thankfully, not a one has been launched in hostility. I can only speculate on how they managed not to blow each other to nuclear kingdom come, but forty years is a solid record for cool heads.

Granted, the chances of nuclear war remain nonzero. And if Trump gets too kooky, hopefully Mattis will be there, steak-knife in hand. Our peerless President seems eager to drop one. But it’s still on us, not on a divine need to flush the system.

The Ladder Starts To Clatter With Fear Of Height, Down, Height

I speculate the attractiveness of a nuclear apocalypse for divine purposes is for the same reason we favor recounting the Titanic disaster despite the countless other times people have died by the hundreds at sea as a vessel sank from under them. The Titanic sank over about two hours, which is about the right amount of time for watching drama unfold. Nuclear holocaust fits into a similar time window. Maybe our doomsday predictors want doomsday to fit into a two-hour movie.

I say this because the apocalypse we’re actually watching unfold has yet to be associated with the second advent. And yes, alleged prophets continue to promise the second coming is imminent. Granted, the looming disasters from climate change feel distant and less certain from twenty-plus years away, and they may only be cataclysmic and disastrous, affecting a large fraction of our population, rather than bringing humanity right to extinction. And yet, with each day as we continue to do very little to mitigate its effects, the threat grows worse and more certain. And it may become an extinction-level crisis yet. I digress.

To be fair there’s also commonly an ideological barrier. Most Christian denominations are allied with climate change denialist political groups, and doomsday cults don’t work when you’re predicting the end of the world somewhere between twenty and eighty years from now. Doomsday cultists want EOTWAWKI this month.

But the doomsday cult story is not an eschatological story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: The leaders and followers of doomsday cults have had to repeatedly confront what happens when the apocalypse is disappointingly tame, and everyone is still around and still expected to continue doing their arduous commune chores. It usually leads to a lot of pissed off followers, which is about when matters within the cult get exciting. Books have been written on this stuff, and it will be the basis of what happens when I get back to the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate when Joseph Seed’s prediction for doomsday fails, and large numbers of the RCEG Commune’s 3000-ish followers start having doubts and getting restless. Because restless doubting followers is also a part of the American Doomsday Cult story.

Obviously, I should also discuss doomsday stories, and how a Far Cry-like open-world shooter might do one justice. Well done apocalypses can be very satisfying.

Wire In a Fire, Represent The Seven Games and a Government For Hire and a Combat Site

So what happened at the end of Far Cry 5? (View it here. It’s the middle one.) Let’s assume it’s not a druggy halucination and let’s assume Eden’s Gate did not acquire its own nukes found left in the corner of a decommissioned silo. (Though crazier things have been known to happen.)

If we supposed for a moment there was a nuclear exchange with North Korea, and we assumed that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities were at the high end of realistic estimates, it means the DPRK might have a handful of Taepodong-3 ICBMs (heh… dong. That may never get old.) This is the launch vehicle that could actually reach the contiguous United States. If we assumed they had a dozen of them and guidance systems to hit a city-sized target, they’d prioritize according to a retalitory strike, that is, they’d air-burst nukes over population targets, none of which would be in Montana, even if they had a dozen launch vehicles and payloads.

More likely, North Korea had a handful of payloads and launch vehicles, but without guidance systems, and had readied them to deter a US shock and awe campaign set on regime change. The US at behest of the hawks in the administration called the bluff, and the DPRK launched their ready ICBMs without guidance, hoping to get lucky enough to hit the continent of North America, and in proof that the cosmos-according-to-game-developers has a sense of humor some of them (perhaps all of them) dropped on Hope, Montana, providing for Joseph Seed a rather localized apocalypse.

This means there’s hope for the Deputy yet, that FEMA may come to their rescue, and in due time Seed’s rap sheet and FBI person-of-interest statuses may arise, and they may separate the two. Dunno if they’ll ever deprogram the Deputy from all the magic drugs and behavior conditioning and whatever Joseph does to mindfuck people though. For the Deputy, it may mean life in a psych ward. Only you can make this world seem bright

* Whenever Joseph Seed is in custody in FC5 (typically at the beginning or end of the game), the Deputy can, when piloting a vehicle, turn around and shoot him. But doing so causes the vehicle to spontaneously explode, resulting in a game over. Since Half-Life 2 (if not earlier) it’s been an acceptable convention to define certain people as mission-critical personnel and present a non-standard game over, which would have been somewhat appropriate considering that shooting a man in custody has moral ramifications. But the car spontaneously exploding suggests that a supernatural power is intervening in the most petty way possible. Note this is the only ending in which Joseph Seed can actually be killed (even though he can — and will — be shot multiple times during his boss fight and still emerge unscathed one cutscene later.) Seed says multiple times God won’t let you take me and in this case — where God is the Far Cry 5 development team, he’s absolutely right.

Perhaps the point was to imply God doesn’t care if his prophet is Psycho-murder Jesus, and when God’s plans interfere with your civilization’s sense of law and order and protecting its members, well, it just sucks to be you.

In that case Gravity Bone did it way better.

Advertisements

Eden’s Gate: Just Folks

Spoiler Warning: I’m going to talk about Far Cry 5 and discuss elements of the story. There may be spoilers including the (crappy) ending. Actually I may not have discussed the crappy ending this time.

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually played Far Cry 5. I’m poor. I don’t like Uplay’s tedious interface or Ubisoft’s client mandate. Far Cry 2 was awesome. Far Cry 3 comparatively sucked. And I couldn’t forgive the QTE knife fight with Buck and I have no real way of responding to the deficiencies that Ubisoft might understand except to be twice shy, and lower the price point at which I purchase Ubisoft games. Consequently, all my information about FC5 is off the web.

Regarding Creative License: Use my ideas! Yes, our society’s laws regarding intellectual property have gotten crazy and controversial, and as such we litigate early and often. But my intent here is to discuss games I want to see made rather than to tie ideas up so that they can’t be used. As such, it would be contrary to my intent to demand repayment or even credit if a game developer had interest in my ideas. Read them. Enjoy them. Use them. My effort has primarily been to take the fiction created for Far Cry 5 and modify it so that it reflects history in the US regarding new religious movements (cults) the crises we’ve experienced around them and the effects on people caught up in or around them. Regarding copyright, my promise may not be good enough, and you may need me to attach a Copyleft or Creative Commons licensing template. I’m being lazy now, but can attach one later as necessary. Also, if you quote me directly, attribute as appropriate, but please use the ideas freely.

There Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down

Last time, I talked about Far Cry 5, an open-world shooter that takes place in (fictional) Hope County, Montana, in which a doomsday cult has constructed an intentional community. Except it’s not an actual religious movement, but a band of supervillains with mind-control powers (magic druggy gas, Clockwork Orange style magic conditioning, and what looks like just a vaguely explained legion of fanatically loyal henchmen).

The pre-release hype for Far Cry 5 promised implicitly (if not explicitly) a robust contemplation of Montana life and cult phenomena (not to be confused with occult phenomena). So when the release turned out to say very little (and even went out of its way to be conspicuously neutral) it raised a lot of outrage from the paying, playing public.

And yet it also raises the question: What would a game look like that did provoke thoughts, pose questions and examine what dangerous religious groups are about, and how the United States responds to them? I’ve since endeavored to answer that question.

I started to imagine the specifics of such a game: It would take place in (fictional) Hope County, Montana, and allow for exploration of a lot of Montana-authentic terrain and engagement in Montana-authentic activities. In Far Cry 5 Hope is also home to Eden’s Gate, but in our version it’s the commune and headquarters of the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate (or RCEG), who’s bought up about 8000 acres in Hope County, and has about 3000 RCEG parishioners living at the commune full time, and yes, it even has its own radio station.

If These Wings Don’t Fail Me, I Will Meet You Anywhere

With a population of that size, RCEG is pretty darned big for a growing new religious movement.

The RCEG is a national movement is bigger and scarier than the Church of Scientology in the late 20th century. Conservative estimates suggest another 10,000 RCEG members are scattered throughout the states with a (comparatively) tiny number abroad. About a year before the game begins, Joseph The Father Seed moved to the Hope County commune. At that time it became the declared address of the RCEG headquarters.

RCEG coverts seem less like scary cultists and more like kooky cultists. You may know someone who knows someone who is RCEG. Maybe a famous person or two is associated with RCEG. Another famous person or two has a relative at the Hope commune and is freaked out that she’s being brainwashed into a doomsday zombie. The celebrity actually said doomsday zombie.

RCEG members are commonly talked about as Seedies. Some wonder if Seeders is less perjorative. It’s controversial. On the Tonight Show Joseph and his flock are the butt of doomsday jokes, and politicians making radical statements are associated with Seedies for easy laughs.

Curiously some RCEG members interviewed by newsmedia call themselves Seedies and take the term in stride. They seem well adjusted, if slightly too chipper. Disappointingly, such interviewees do not trigger easily and start cursing Hellfire when contradicted. They don’t confess to giant secret orgies or celestial marriages and they don’t talk in tongues. In fact the only odd thing about the RCEG is that they’re certain that the world will end soon. Real soon. This month.

I See a Band Of Angels and They’re Coming After Me

The demographic numbers above include everyone. The elderly. Children. The disabled and infirm. It includes those unable to pick up a rifle. It includes those unwilling to pick up a rifle. It includes those who are so purely pacifist they won’t take up arms even to defend themselves. (It’s a piety thing.) It includes everyone from the fanatically devout, to the ones who are there for the sing-alongs and country cooking to the ones who are quietly looking for a way out before they lose their goddamn minds.

So, if the shit goes down, who is the player fighting against? Not all three-thousand are going to whip out guns. Less than half of them will, in fact. It breaks down like this:

The commune maintains a security contingent of about 400 trained volunteers who can attack and set up ambushes and otherwise present the bulk of trouble, should negotiations fail. In the game when the player is creeping around where he shouldn’t be, these are the ones who respond. When one of the Seed siblings is arrested, these are the ones that will be there to make a stand should he or she decide to resist.

To be fair, however, most of the RCEG security contingent are interested in keeping peace in the commune. They’d rather deescalate an incident, especially if the threat of an ATF siege looms over them like the Sword of Damocles. As such, the commune has a crime rate typical to the state of Montana. Incidents happen, and the security manages most of it.

When county law enforcement attempts to intervene, victims are pressured to refuse to press charges so it can be handled within the commune. Joseph Seed holds or appoints a court of arbitration that usually results in religious penance (known for being painful, arduous or life-threatening regarding violent incidents.) In all cases to date (as of the beginning of the game) no one has attempted to appeal to the Justice System of Montana. (Lawyers and social workers investigating RCEG have argued its followers may not be given the option).

When outsiders talking about the RCEG commune say They even have the fucking cops, it’s the security contingent they’re talking about.

In a pinch, the RCEG can muster an additional force of about 800 unorganized militia (Are short-supplied and will only defend their own home terrain.) After that, in the case of a seige or showdown, they have to resort to old, infirm and children. And they will.

Within the security contingent are the Chosen, agents trained personally and in secret by Jacob Seed in order to manage special situations that threaten the RCEG. These are the black-ops forces of RCEG, so secret that even Joseph doesn’t know about them. The Chosen are conditioned to be willing to kill innocents or sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the RCEG. They believe their own souls are prepared for Heaven, thus can act without questioning their orders, no matter how heinous or criminal. These men and women have little fear for their lives. And they are the agents who will assassinate a congressman or attack a town with bio-terror weapons if that is what is needed. About thirty to fifty members of the Chosen are trained and ready to carry out Jacob’s will on a word.*

I Know It Was God’s People; I Seen ’em Doin Right

This breakdown of the RCEG population belies how the situation at RCEG is going to be delicate and how the player will be challenged. There are more lives at stake than the player’s own.

Most members of the RCEG are well-meaning Americans, interested in a peaceful, spiritually grounded life of toil and productivity in service of God, family and community, until the imminent end of the world. But Montana and Federal law enforcement are looking for cause to intervene just because organized groups are scary when they sequester themselves too much. Sooner or later our investigators are going to find something.

And when that happens Law Enforcement’s going to want the parish to willingly pick up its toys and go home. And to the RCEG followers, the commune is their home. Both RCEG leadership and law enforcement will interpret the ultimatum / refusal to cooperate as an us-versus-them conflict. Each will see the other side as a monolithic, unreasonable and unsympathetic enemy.

Left to the natural course of events, a whole lot of innocents are going to die.

The player’s challenge is not simply to survive. The RCEG is destined either for a poorly planned raid that will turn messy and end in flames or a community rapture in the form of mass suicide on the (alleged) day of the apocalypse.

The RCEG is about to become the greatest bloodbath in US history, unless the player determines how to stop it.

It’s not going to be easy.

* In recent decades, Christian terrorism in the United States have fallen under hate crimes (blacks, Muslims and gays are common targets) and attacks against abortion providers and women’s health providers. As RCEG’s focus is about recruitment and preparing for the reckoning, they don’t shoot up abortion clinics, which is a good thing, given that be used as justification by the FBI to get warrants signed.

Eden’s Gate: Far Cry 5 and Cults

Spoiler Warning: I’m going to talk about Far Cry 5 and discuss elements of the story. Spoilers be here blah blah.

Disclaimer: I haven’t actually played Far Cry 5, and am disinclined to purchase it at full value, both because I’m poor and because I’ve been wary of the series since the mandatory QTE knife fight with Buck in Far Cry 3. Also voting with my wallet and, micro-purchases, the undersupported content client, etc. etc.

Regarding Creative License: Ours is a rather litigious society, to a fault when it comes to intellectual property. My intent here is to discuss games I want to see made, rather than to tie ideas up so that they can’t be used. As such, it would be contrary to my intent to demand repayment or even credit if a game developer decided to use my ideas. I do provide some fiction based on – yet alternative to – the fiction presented in Far Cry 5. I took the game narrative and elaborated with values and conditions that would be plausible if Hope County and Eden’s Gate religious group existed in the real world. (I’m still not sure how they afforded / built the statue.) That said, feel free to use it all for whatever purposes. My word may not be good enough, so if you need me to point to a Copyleft or Creative Commons licensing template, let me know and I’ll attach it. (I’m just being lazy and not doing it right now). If you quote something I wrote verbatim, of course, please credit me. The words are mine. The ideas are everyone’s.

This Post is Huge: Yeah. 2800 words and counting. Really it’s three related parts that feel too dependent on each other to publish separately: Part One acknowledges Far Cry 5 was supposed to look at cults, separatism and divisionism in American society, but didn’t. Part Two, which is divided into two smaller bits, begins the process of imagining what it would look like if we made a game that did examine cults, etc. Part Three addresses the term cult which is loaded and ambiguous and not useful for examining either religious or follower-explotative organizations. So yeah, there’s a lot of material here and there will be more still in future posts. There are a lot of ideas here. Enjoy!

Traveling Through This World Of Woe

So what happened with Far Cry 5?

Far Cry 5 takes place in the fictional county of Hope, Montana, and is about surviving in a zone controlled by a violent doomsday cult. In 2016, well before Far Cry 5 was released, Ubisoft’s hype machine took full advantage of the rising divisiveness between liberals and conservatives, between urban Americans and rural Americans, and between the religiously devout and the irreligious. This tension only progressed in 2017 as the Trump era was fully realized. Then in 2018 Far Cry 5 was finally seen by the public. And regarding social division in the US, regarding the phenomenon of doomsday cults, FC5 said… nothing.

Far Cry 5 was released in early 2018, and didn’t address any of these things at all. To the contrary, as Chris Franklin, observes Ubisoft endeavored to assure FC5 said as little as possible, and ended up implying more than it intended.

Eden’s Gate, the fictional cult in FC5 follows a Christian faith. The New Testament is quoted often by the Eden’s Gate leaders, especially The Revelation with obvious millennialist interpretation. And yet, Jesus isn’t mentioned even once, not in sermons and not in the gospel music. And it’s conspicuous.*

Brainwashing is done using a fictional mind-control drug rather than the more common recruitment and organization methods used by cults, including camaraderie, peer-pressure, appealing to desperation, isolation and indoctrination.

And then, nuclear Armageddon (nuclear holocaust over Montana, at very least) occurs in one of the possible endings, which begs that conversations should be had, and yet FC5 fails to contribute to that conversation at all. Moreover, this is the only ending possible if the Deputy (the player) confronts Joseph Seed and Eden’s Gate. Alternative endings are had by choosing to walk away, leaving seed’s brainwashed, drug-addled victims to languish and suffer under him without hope for rescue or justice. To me, it presents an unsatisfying, depressing, unresolved dilemma.

To be fair, it may just be that the sheer cost of FC5 in capital was too much to behold without company pressure to adhere to risk-adverse best company practices. (Granted, the Catch-22 between getting nuked and letting evil prevail — in this case evil refers to the oppression, murder and abuse of followers and victims of Eden’s Gate — is clearly outside any syllabus of best practices.) It’s likely Ubisoft’s development team felt they couldn’t afford to offend anyone (and lose that market) and hence endeavored to create as politically bland a product as possible. The thing is, as Disney’s showed us many times, by trying too hard, it’s easy to end up making unintentional statements (case in point, Chicks dig the sweet ride, the implicit moral of Aladdin). Mr. Franklin observes FC5 endorses being a rural prepper (not to be confused with a preppy) and implies this is a better alternative than being a doomsday cultist. Better still is to not fully embrace prepping, but to instead make friends with preppers, and perhaps being prepperesque without fully committing.

There’s also a certain gross hypocrisy, given western media is willing to explore, play with and risk blasphemy of non-Judeo-Christian faiths. Even the predecessor to FC5, Far Cry 4 offended Buddhist groups with its box art in which the antagonist, Pagan Min (no relation to Burmese king in the Konbaung dynasty) sits irreverently on a sacred Buddha statue using it as a makeshift throne. The grievances of those groups were, as is typical, disregarded entirely. Games (and western media in general) explore religious themes casually and with frequency, with Judeo-Christianity being a major exception. Considering the prominence of Judeo-Christianity in western culture, it warrants scrutiny and critique in media, including within games. And still Far Cry 5’s premise presented that opportunity to its developers, and they steered entirely clear. (The Binding of Isaac serves as a notable counterexample that openly explored Christian and biblical themes. Despite its success on PC, The Binding of Isaac wound up getting banned from iTunes) One can infer from this game companies are afraid of reprisal by religious extremists. FC5‘s avoidance of mentioning Jesus at all certainly suggests that Ubisoft harbors such fears. If Ubi doesn’t worry about violent retaliation, then litigation, political censure or loss of sales from boycotts by offended parties. It’s an example of chilling effects silencing speech.

But FC5’s worst implication, I would argue, comes from portraying Eden’s Gate as something closer to comic-book a mind-control themed supervillain gang than a real world religious institution. There’s a mastermind overlord and his trusted lieutenants, each of whom feature a uniquely-themed superhuman power with which to control his or her followers. (Jacob uses military themed brainwashing techniques; Faith drugs her victims; and John just has an inexplicably endless army of abduction teams and will kidnap and hold loved ones hostage — is that a superpower?**). This implies real-world doomsday cults in the US are not a worthy topic for consideration, hence Ubisoft felt theirs needed to be turned into cartoon caricatures.

For a moment I want to reiterate what I’ve opined before regarding games that address real world issues. Most games, and almost all AAA games don’t, choosing instead to create fictional threats to confront. It’s better for the industry and for the art that games boldly endeavor to examine real world matters, including the violent hot-zones featured in Far Cry (e.g. failed African states, human trafficking in the south Pacific, civil war in the far east or violent cults in the rural US). Even if games poorly represent such situations, it continues the conversation. In contrast by avoiding real-world problems and choosing instead only to portray fantastic conflicts adds nothing at all. A poorly-considered argument will, at very least, invite better-considered ones.

So what does better look like?

I’m Only Going Over Jordan

There’s already been plenty of discussion online regarding FC5, much of it critical. and for those interested in whether or not the game is playable and worth suffering its problems for its fun bits, I invite you to seek it other critiques of the game and decide for yourself at what price point it is worth obtaining and playing.

Because it’s the same franchise as Far Cry 2 (about which I’ve raved to excess ) I want new Far Crys to be good and I want to love them. (And I want prevalent fire physics back! And I want plentiful, plausible first-aid animations and region-accurate weather! And game effects like malaria and deteriorating guns!) But I’m getting distracted by re-opened wounds, and it does no more good to (further) beat the dead horse of how FC5 is okay, but not awesome, not terrible yet still disappointing.

So instead, it’s better to imagine something closer to what we wanted. Let’s consider what feasibly could have been with a bit more research and creative latitude. FC5 is what it is. It’s not going to change now. But by imagining what is missing, we can inform games of the future. We’ve seen this happen before.

It’s a long journey. Let’s get started.

Golden Fields Lie Just Before Me

Suppose I was able to produce a game with the same design and premise of FC5. It’s an open-world first-person game with shooting, exploration, survival, collectable-hunting and so on. I have set the game in Montana and got my level designers to take a trip to Montana and get it right.

It will include all the activities I can find that Montanans like: hunting, fishing, boating, plane flying, beer drinking, pasty-eating, Burger Diving, ice-climbing, horse-riding, skiing, driving too fast, geyser-watching, rodeo-scoring, axe-throwing and testicle festivalizing. Anything that seems to fit well into Big Sky Country.

Suppose, then, I want to make the primary antagonist the armed violent fanatical division of a doomsday cult commune. I want my doomsday cult to feel authentic to the American Doomsday-Cult Experience. I want the problems with my fictional doomsday cult to reflect the problems faced by historical doomsday cults in the US and by people, civilians and responders, who have engaged them. I want to address real problems of religious communes. And while I’m at it, I want to provide a glimpse of the lifestyle, social dynamics and politics of Montana, so that Montananas feel I’ve done them right. And in all of this, I want to come up with interesting, satisfying stories.

What would that look like?

Dark Clouds Will Gather ’round Me

In order to address cult phenomena fairly, I’ll need to clarify what I’m talking about. The word cult itself is problematic. And regardless of whether we’re talking about new religious movements, unorthodox political activism fronts or even peculiar countercultures, once US society brands a group as a cult, its members commonly end up alienated and marginalized, sometimes even violently purged. Our society doesn’t like scary new social trends.

In the mid-20th century, cults referred to any new religious movement (now, aptly called new religious movements or NRMs) Christianity has about 40,000 distinct denominations, but this does not include non-denominational churches who have defined their own creed or statement-of-faith, most of which would still qualify as NRMs. (Religions have to get pretty old before they’re not new.)

During the 20th century, new movements were automatically distrusted to be dangerous merely for meddling around with scriptural interpretation beyond what God intended (as according to other, slightly-more-orthodox faiths). This is partly because differing religious faiths were more antagonistic than they are today. (In contrast, since the new century, Christian churches are less threatened by their fellow schisms than they are new atheists, Islam — perceived as a monolithic front — and opposition groups to common Christian-right political fronts: Abortion-access advocates, gay-rights activists, feminists and so on.) In the 1970s, it was common belief that all churches outside the one true one were instruments of Satan. This presumption extended, of course, to any new religious movement that failed to even adhere to an established orthodoxy.

NRMs also faced the anti-cult movement which automatically regarded them as fraudulent scams that brainwash victims before exploiting them for money or labor. Since many institutions did exactly that, whether regarded as a cult or otherwise, anti-cult movements kinda had a point. Or would if they hunted indoctrination and exploitation wherever it was found.

More recently, sociology professor Janja Lalich discusses cults in her TED talk. For purposes of her talk, she redefines cult as an organization with an authoritarian, pyramidal heirarchy that recruits via manipulation (generally targeting people suffering from loss or trauma and offering them easy answers and a place to feel better), that pressures followers to divest themselves of their lives outside the organization, and ultimately seizes total control of each individual and how they live. By this definition of cult (Lalich freely admits) many established institutions qualify, The Roman Catholic Church, The Southern Baptist Convention, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Church of Scientology. Major Islamic foundations, including the Taliban, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Ahmadiyya Caliphate fit Lalich’s definitions of cult. Also religious dictatorships such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran would also qualify. Lalich also believes cults need not be religious in nature, and that nations, commercial enterprises and organizations can be cults as well.

But this means for sake of describing Eden’s Gate, cult is not a good word to use, even if it qualifies under Professor Lalich’s definition. Granted it’s used a lot, and I’ll still refer to it when outsiders refer to Eden’s Gate as one. But for our purposes Eden’s Gate is an NRM. It’s still dangerous, apocalyptic, and has violent contingents and is going to be a problem for Hope County. A rose by any other name and all that.

I’m Only Going Over Home

So what the heck is this situation that has beleaguered Hope County?

Well, as I mentioned above, Eden’s Gate is more something of a supervillain band, with a brigade of fanatically loyal henchmen thanks to it’s leadership’s repertoire of mind control techniques. So let’s not do that.

Instead, let’s occupy Hope County with the Reformed Church of Eden’s Gate. (Properly, it’s the Reformed Baptist Church of the Jesus Christ Advent of Eden’s Gate). The RCEG is a new religious movement that that has gained a considerable following and a handful of rich patrons, and is moving into the intentional community phase of expansion. As such it has secured about 8000 acres in Hope County, Montana. Currently over three thousand parishioners live on the commune, and as such it features a security contingent of about five hundred volunteers.

With these figures, the RCEG is a major social movement, and will be one of the hallmarks of its era. All of Montana including the Governor is flipping its shit over how crazy and popular this new movement is (and they do call it a cult.) It’s likely the President of the United States has commented on occasion about Eden’s Gate, and in committees in both houses, bills have at least been considered regarding this Eden’s Gate thing in Montana.

Developments at Eden’s Gate occasionally make national news.

Meanwhile the Eden’s Gate Commune has among its population about twenty to thirty undercover agents and informants reporting to the FBI, the ATFE, local law enforcement and news agencies. And no, they don’t all know about each other.

Things are about to get so exciting!

* Jesus is mentioned in the opening scene (watch it here). Sheriff Whitehorse exclaims Jesus! in the opening scene as the police helicopter passes by the the Father’s Statue. I haven’t checked to see if Jesus! is ever used as an expletive in secondary dialog. Jesus! is a common expletive in 2010s-era games that do not feature doomsday cults in Montana, so it might be used in FC5 as well to convey alarm and distress.

Regarding the Father Statue, it’s kinda amazing. Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro is thirty meters tall and took nine years to build. The Father Statue’s height is not listed anywhere. Visually, I’m guessing it’s 60-70 meters tall. (Comparatively the Statue of Liberty is 90 meters), and likely it was built in one third of the time, thanks to some amazing feats of engineering and construction. It probably cost the church around $6 million, so it was a pretty major expense.

** According to materials available online, John augments his baptismals with an unknown blue chemical (not to be confused with Faith’s white gas), but it’s not actually mentioned (that I know of) in the game proper.

For comparison, Jonestown was 3800 acres. The YFZ Ranch was 1700 acres. Big Muddy, the Oregon property where the Rajneeshpuram was settled was 64,229 acres, but the city itself only took a small fraction. Trementina Base is two squares of 400 acres each. Mount Carmel Center is 941 acres. So the Eden’s Gate community project is pretty darned huge, the Deathklok of cult communes. Plenty enough to provide housing, farms, private schooling, it’s own police department, a radio station and one superfluously huge statue. Fortunately for Eden’s Gate, there’s plenty of hydroelectric power in Montana, so they don’t have to worry about setting up a nuclear reactor, but they will have to set up sewage treatment centers and their own internet.

White Privilege

I don’t like the term white privilege now that I have an understanding of what it means. When I first heard it, it made me think of affluent white people in fancy country clubs, sipping martinis and playing tennis or golf. I lived much of my childhood on a street of townhouses adjacent to such a club, but my parents weren’t of the strata that could afford going there. In walking home from school, its golf courses were an obstacle I was expected to circumvent, but instead I would cautiously and stealthily traverse. I got good at watching for golfers, and crossing between swings. Most such golfers were kind about my trespasses, but some weren’t.* Since then, I realized, paraphrasing Groucho Marx, posh country clubs are exactly the kind of clubs that wouldn’t have me as a member, and I wouldn’t join if they did.

And then, I never really experienced white privilege in the workforce. Yes, I was tall, handsome, male and Scandinavian pale — the ideal clerical employee by all appearances, fit to work my way into managerial ranks — But I was also awkward, antisocial and specialized in IT before clerical offices commonly had IT devices. It was an age when typewriters were the norm, and WordStar was state of the art, before LANs and Windows servers became commonplace. I also didn’t react well when employers pulled shady shit that was abusive to their employees, which they did at a remarkably high rate, and that was what eventually made me unemployable.

Years later, though, when writing at cafes was the Bohemian Thing To Do, I was always able to sit down at a cafe and not order anything and not be bothered by up to an hour without getting nagged.** I’ve also been allowed to use the bathroom facilities of such places before ordering. And this poses extreme contrast to what happened at the Starbucks at Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia on April 12, 2018, that not only showed inhospitality to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson (refusing to let them use bathrooms before a purchase) but the clerks called 9-1-1 to report them for trespassing only three minutes after they entered the place. (According to the Late Show, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson arrived at 4:35. 9-1-1 was called at 4:37). Nelson and Robinson were arrested, handcuffed and detained for eight hours. The district attorney decided not to press any charges.

Does that present an example of white privilege? Because that is not privilege at all. That’s a basic right. Nelson and Robinson did not stink of feces or lack of hygiene. They weren’t brandishing weapons. They weren’t shouting at imaginary colleagues. They weren’t playing Gangsta Rap at loud volume. Nelson and Robinson did not do anything untoward, and yet they had the police called on them, and were detained on a dubious charge for eight hours. That’s not absence of a privilege. That’s an absence of basic human decency. It’s a failure of civilization to preserve equal rights and equal consideration for all.

The shops at Rittenhouse Square, it turns out, have a history of being less-than-welcoming to nonwhites. In one case a man was searched while leaving a bookstore, and a book he owned was challenged. He was detained until the shop owners confirmed none of their stock was missing. In another case, a long-term Apple Store employee revealed the Rittenhouse Square outlet had a policy to closely monitor black walk-in guests (but not white walk-in guests) and to kick out black teens (but not white teens). Black women have reported harassment by security at couture resellers.

White Privilege in Pennsylvania, 2018 — basic decency not extended to non-whites — means being treated as human and not as vermin.

As I think about it, this smacks of a lot of other experiences I’ve had regarding disappointment in my society. White Privilege is like discovering my smartphone was made by slave labor in a Foxconn plant in China or that the US has ongoing programs to massacre villages as part of its national security policy. I don’t want White Privilege, and I don’t want to patronize institutions or establishments that privilege whites but not nonwhites.

But at the same time White Privilege is not getting murdered randomly by police because they confused my phone for a handgun in the dark. I’m torn in that I don’t want to get gunned down by the police, but also that my pale skin is what keeps the police from gunning me down.

Can’t they not gun me down because I’m a human being, an American and am regarded as having a right to live?

* This was La Cañada Flintridge in the seventies and eighties. In its 2010 census it reported 68% Caucasian, but in the 70s and 80s, persons of color were pretty rare. My elementary school had maybe two or three dark-skinned kids. The community’s whiteness meant lines of division were between churches and social strata. Membership the country club was one of those delineating indicators.

I’ve realized no amount of homogeneity and conformity in a society will ever allow it to get large without tensions between groups. Racial, cultural and religious divides are simply the most convenient ones to draw when looking for someone else to blame for society woes. Large societies will always feel like pluralities, and those societies that learn to suppress or tolerate that feeling are the ones that will dominate.

** It is considered gauche to not patronize an establishment once you’ve decided to hang out there, but it’s also equally gauche for the hosts to be pushy about it, and my colleagues and I would avoid places that did. Typically I’d come in, settle down and then buy something within fifteen minutes, even if it’s just a coffee or small snack. I might wait longer if I came in during a rush and there was a line. Some places would get pushy, and would set and enforce concrete rules (e.g. No hanging out for more than one hour or No using the restroom until you buy something) These kinds of measures typically resulted from consistent teen or college-student visitors (who were broke and noisy). But these sorts of rules would spoil the ambience of casual hospitality, and make the place unfit for bohemian society.

San Francisco cafes commonly featured a pluralist range of customers, so an incident like the one at the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks would not occur due to race…or religion, or sexuality, or association with a counterculture. San Francisco society is very tolerant of weirdos, which is one of the reasons I was attracted to living there. Also, there were a lot of cafes and we bohemians could be really choosy, favoring one cafe over another as a meeting place based on trivialities like snack selection or where power outlets were placed.

Pep Pills

I’ve been playing Homefront: The Revolution a bit, enjoying the heck out of the open-world gaming. As is typical of 2010-era shooters, there are a variety of common foes. There’s the common KPA soldier, the suited chemical technician, the sniper, the armored heavy trooper. And then there’s the rusher.

Rushers in video game shooters are something like rushers in gridiron football, in that they rush their targets. Often they’re extra tough. Some have a shield that needs to be shot around.* And rushers are armed with a close-quarters weapon, a machete, a club or a shotgun. Video game rushers often battle cry as they charge as a bark (that is, an audible indicator to players that this guy is going to rush). In Dead Island there were rushing zombies who’d bellow to the sky upon seeing a target before sprinting in a frenzied attack (and who contrasted to ordinary shamblers who might only muster a modest jog).

KPA rushers (that is rusher-type soldiers in the fictional Korean People’s Army in Homefront: TR, not in the actual KPA) are of the shotgun variety, and while the regular units don’t seem extra tough, the hazmat version is in a fireproof suit and isn’t affected by incendiary attacks (like Molotov cocktails). KPA rushers suffer from drawbacks common to rushers in other video games. Sometimes they rush when they don’t have a direct path to their target, and sometimes they rush into obvious certain death, say into a kill-zone. Given the distinct battle cry of KPA rushers, it’s allowed me make some inferences of the KPA hierarchy.

Specifically, KPA officers can, with a button (or more likely, a double-click) automatically inject rushers with adrenaline, to give them that extra bit of spring in their step. That way the troopers really feel like charging in there and kicking ass, even if that means charging into a solid barricade, or charging into the fire of a machine gun nest.

To be fair, my supposition might be influenced by StarCraft. The Terrans can upgrade their Marines (infantry units) so they can be Stimpacked, which makes them happier and more eager to fight (and makes them faster, tougher and shoot better) all at the cost of a small amount of health. Stimpacks are doubly useful once Marines have Medics on their side who can quickly heal them back to full during a breather after a well-earned victory. Used effectively, stimpacks makes marine units super good. Used poorly and it gets them killed.

This is to say, yes, the KPA officers likely assess the situation much like a top-down RTS, where data from cameras, particularly surveillance drone scans, is interpreted by a central computer and interpreted for them as a situation awareness map. And when KPA troopers are moving too slow for an officer’s patience, or not shooting the targets adjacent to them on their map, it becomes very easy to habitually disregard the interests of the troopers on the ground and use the auto-injector as a prod.

I may also be inspired because our militaries do it in real life. In WWII, the United States GIs called them pep-pills which were doses of amphetimine. The Wehrmacht also used amphetamine supplements to improve unit fighting enthusiasm. Drugging our armies for battle turns out to be a long standing tradition.

The US still uses amphetamine to this day (maybe discontinued in 2017) as part of fatigue control for pilots on long-range flights, under a medical officer’s close supervision. US infantry experimented with cocaine for infantry use, and currently are looking at modafinil to combat fatigue for circumstances that don’t allow for sleep or relief. Our armed services still use something to improve pep. Exactly what is classified, but I hope it is something safer than amphetamine or cocaine.

One difference, though, is in real life militaries, our soldiers willfully pop the pills. The problem of getting dosed by an automated system activated by an unsympathetic remote officer or a situation-assessment computer is thankfully an experience still confined to the realm of dystopian speculative fiction.

So far.

* Handheld bulletproof shields are commonplace in games, and many mooks can carry them and serve as a considerable menace to their foes. In real life, handheld shields can sometimes stop handgun bullets, but are too light to protect against rifle rounds. Police and military have some anti-rifle shields that can be rolled around, but are too heavy for lugging by a single officer. In modern combat, bullets graduate upwards a lot faster than armor does.

Similarly, infantry armor can stop penetration of assault rifle rounds, but the shock from the impact will still typically lay a soldier out. Common police and infantry vests are sometimes called second chance armor because they do greatly increase the chance of surviving a direct hit to fight another day. They don’t allow the infantryman to keep fighting the same day. Still, game armor often bounces bullets. Even in Homefront: TR, KPA heavies are able to ignore most enemy fire and keep walking, though they still topple with a sniper shot to the face.

This is not to say infantry armor is not useful, though. War involves a lot of bullet fragmenting and shrapnel, and humans are still very susceptible to getting deaded by stray bits of flying metal. Most of these can be handily stopped with good personal armor, which is why Imperial Stormtroopers wear full body armor even though they can still be downed with a single blaster shot.

Cat: Thresholds

My sweetheart and I (and the crew, Miss Taz, Ren and Stimpy) have moved again. This time it was only a four mile difference, from Vacaville to another part of Vacaville. Interestingly it feels like moving from Strangetown to Pleasantview. The previous place was more in the outskirts of civilization, with fewer trees and undeveloped surrounding lots. The new place is older. The trees are taller. The buildings have the staggered architecture that was popular in the 90s and pleases me. And we’re right next door to some major shopping plazas. Before, it was a mile to the nearest business (a hospital), now, I could actually go get some groceries, more or less. It’s possible that the nearest Safeway is as close to my place here as it was in San Francisco.

When you’re a vampire it can be the smallest details that make a big difference. In this case, the doorways in our house have nice, wide threshold dividers. In The Sims 2, I believe they were called divicrats. They were little lines, available in the fence-and-gate category, and sims can walk over them. On public lots, I used them to guide lines to the espresso kiosk, and to reduce fights between rival sims, also to reduce general reactions to fights and to nudity. It also prevented Mrs. Crumplebottom from getting outraged at decency at the far side of the lot.

On private lots, divicrats also blocked stench and allowed two family members to use bathroom stations without privacy concerns (e.g. showering and peeing), depending on how relaxed I wanted my family to be about such matters.

Vampires (and fairies and their ilk) tend to be a bit exacting about matters of consent and hospitality, and as such one might expect clearly delineated thresholds to keep us away (or in our place) much like crucifixes in movies. Rather, they’re comforting, as they remove question if we’re in or out of the threshold of someone else’s domain. Similarly crucifixes and other religious holy symbols serve as warnings that people can be offended by profanity or blasphemy or heresy. If we reveal too much of our nature, that usually counts as blasphemy or infidelity.

Though this raises a point of propriety regarding vampires (goblins, malignant spirits or other untoward creatures) in sacred space: Is the depravity in being such a creature, or knowingly letting such a creature into sacred space? If it is the former, then there is no actual status change once in the forbidden zone, and it is up to the supernatural elements of the place to defend it from beasts like me. If it’s the latter, then there’s argument that I serve the custodians of the space by not informing them I am profane.

As an old person, I prefer to avoid situations where such offenses can manifest. Yet as a young person it excited me to see how I could infiltrate places due to vague thresholds and ambiguous policy.

Especially if I had mischief to manage.

Good Guys With Guns

Check In: So, I’m moving. Again.

I’m only moving across town, what’s a difference of about four miles. But I like it here. And the new place is going to take an adjustment period much like this place did. Different adjustments, but adjustments. It’s going to be another adventure and I’m not big on adventures right now.

Still, it is going to be better for everyone involved in general. The boo (that is, my grandson) will be around more often. The teen will be closer to high school. We won’t have just one person that can fetch emergency groceries. We won’t be as distant from shopping or schooling or transit-to-San-Francisco. If everyone else is happier, I’ll feel happier as well. Much more so if my own lifestyle is more-or-less unchanged.

For now, that feels like a lot of ifs.

For now, I’m facing the process of moving. I’m facing the tedium, the toil, the exertion. For now it looks all overwhelming and scary.

So far it’s involved a lot of bureaucratic hoop-jumping and getting ducks in a row. So far, I’ve been angsting about the flaming hoops and errant ducks, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without my sweetheart. And I bet the boo is going to struggle with it when he’s older.

And so I’ve had a hard time focusing on matters like Korea, or the dissolution of civilization as we know it, the stuff I write about.

In Jon Snow’s early adventures*, he encounters Samwell Tarley on his way north to become one of the Night’s Watch. Sam is a self-proclaimed coward, and it is because of this cowardice, a tendency to be paralyzed in the face of danger, that he is rejected by his family and forced at swordpoint to join the Watch. In his adventures with Jon, Sam proves bright and resourceful and loyal. He’s not much good in combat but otherwise an okay guy and pretty useful to have around. Sam even becomes a POV character in the later books.

Right now, in the real world, another man is being disgraced of cowardice, School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

During the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, within the few minutes that Nikolas Cruz was gunning down students and teachers in the school halls, Deputy Peterson stayed outside in a defensive position and did not move in to attack. And for doing so, a lot of public figures hate him and find him a shameful coward.

Generally, it is considered tactically unsound to rush a gunman without knowing exactly where he is. It’s accepted that in the circumstances, Cruz outgunned Peterson: Cruz’ rifle was higher powered and longer ranged than Peterson’s handgun. (Peterson is not a trained CQC specialist) And then modern police culture conditions our officers to Get Home Safely. Our law enforcement culture is catastrophically afraid of civilians with guns, and news stories are many in which police draw first and shoot early. Sometimes they shoot at shadows. Sometimes they brandish when there’s no clear and present danger (like at an unarmed driver in a moving car on a freeway).**

And yet, Peterson has been shamed widely by state officials, by elected representatives and by mainstream media for failing to rush into a dangerous situation which presented a high risk of resulting in his own death. Deputy Peterson was immediately suspended without pay for his cowardice, and he has since retired.

Maybe School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson deserves a bit of slack.

War historians might argue whether it is ten percent or fifteen percent or even twenty-five percent of the soldiers on a battlefield that cause ninety percent of enemy casualties, but we know it’s a small portion. (These days artillery and air strikes do most of the killing.) Our rigorous training for the US armed forces, particularly the United States Marine Corps (who are typically the front-line infantry in any conflict involving US units) does everything it can to prepare soldiers for front-line engagement with the enemy, to encourage our recruits to become relentless, unwavering killers. But to this day, we have no means to test a soldier for the willingness to move into open danger, and we have no means to test a soldier to be willing to kill another human being, even a thoroughly dehumanized enemy.

It wounds us to actually kill. Some say we have to kill our own spirit in order to take the lives of others.

And so a lot of our soldiers fail at that moment of reckoning, more than those who succeed, according to our records. So many of our green units are cowards on the field that we have long since excised from military law the crime of cowardice and pardoned those who were convicted of cowardice in WWI (posthumously. Most cowards were executed by firing squad.) In modern armies, we commonly just transfer non-killers to less-direct positions, such as artillery, or into the massive supply and communications infrastructure, where there’s room for plenty of non-killers and even some conscientious objectors.

This is to say Deputy Scot Peterson is not particularly unique as a someone who actually fears for his life and might hesitate to kill, even duty calls to shoot someone who direly needs to be shot, such as a rampaging gunman. The character for which he has been impugned is commonplace among all of us, and I dare say among our law enforcement officers.

It is a common thing for a human being to refuse to take the life of another. Generally, this is a good thing, as most human beings get along way better by not killing each other. It’s a good thing that taking life is a line hard to cross, that killing is a big deal.

It goes the other way, too. Those of us who are brave killers sometimes have difficulty not being too eager to kill in more peaceful times. Our generals have watched for what they call natural soldiers which is to say they fantasize about creating a clone-army of Audie Murphy, people who function calmly in combat conditions and kill the enemy without even an instant of empathy or consideration. These days we call Murphy’s condition the thousand yard stare, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It’s an embarrassment of the good-guy-with-a-gun notion: When circumstances call for a good guy with a gun, most good guys are going to be less than eager to enter a kill-or-be-killed confrontation. And those who are eager might find killing too attractive a recourse outside such dire circumstances.

Good soldiers in wartime are often not good soldiers for peacetime, and while I can’t speak from experience or data, I suspect police officers good in a firefight may have difficulty with the day-to-day monotony outside of one and the non-lethal yet humbling misbehavior of high-school adolescents.

* Referring to George R. R. Martin’s magnum opus and great epic A Song of Ice and Fire, popularly known for the HBO series based on the books, Game of Thrones

** This is a development since the 1960s, before which police were known to serve lifetime careers having never brandished their firearm once outside the gun range. Federal agents (such as the FBI) didn’t even carry more than a service revolver, relying on local precincts for back-up until the latter half of the 20th century. The pretense was well known: shooting a fed would unleash a manhunt that could not be evaded, and would only end in The Chair or a bone-shredding ambush.

This all changed during the drug wars, what started as a war against cannabis and opium growers and distributors, and is now a larger industry than the drug trade itself. Between the corruption of the police and the ruthlessness of the drug industry, it created a change in attitude from To Protect And Serve in the 1950s to Get Home Safely in the 1990s, even though for most officers in most precincts the job is still not very dangerous at all. Still, as recently as the 2010s, high-profile investigators, prosecutors and police captains who might successfully collar a major drug lord can count on paranoid sleepless nights for the rest of their lives, considering how likely it is they will be cut very short.