Tacoma - title

Here's another short sci-fi game from my Steam backlog. Tacoma is Fullbright's sci-fi follow up to its masterful walking sim Gone Home. This time around, instead of playing as a young girl discovering the secrets of your family, you play as an agent of a corporate conglomerate sent to retrieve the company's A.I. hard drive from a defunct space station in which an emergency threatened to kill the entire crew. Instead of reading notes and journal entries, you instead replay holographic representations of logs that the station's onboard A.I. recorded of conversations between the station's crew members.

You have to eavesdrop on recorded conversations as holograms move around the station.

The whole process is much more active and player-driven than the exposition of Gone Home (and other walking sims) because the holographic recordings of the characters move around the stations and converse in real time. You don't just walk into a room and read a conspicuously-placed note or listen to passive narration. You'll have to follow the characters between rooms, and keep track of multiple conversations at once as the characters come and go, and as they split up from large group meetings and start to have smaller, more private conversations. Each recording will usually have 2 or 3 independent conversation threads for you to follow. As you follow each character around, you'll also be spying on their personal text messages and emails.

This gives a greater sense of participation from the player (compared to many other walking sims) and provides a greater illusion that you are solving a mystery. That being said, there's nothing too challenging about finding and listening to all the possible conversations. They aren't elaborate puzzles that will take time to figure out. You just follow each character around the space and listen to them. It keeps the player interacting with the game space without ever applying a high bar for progress.

Don't expect to be stumped by the puzzles.

Without spoiling too much, there is only one ending, and you aren't going to be punished for not uncovering all the available evidence. The worst aspect of the game's "walkign sim" nature is that you're also never asked to apply any of the knowledge that you acquire from your investigations other than a handful of numeric combination codes for unlocking doors and the like. These codes are basically just progress gates to provide the illusion that the game has "puzzles", but the early exposure to these key codes will further encourage the player to snoop around more thoroughly for potential clues to future puzzles or progress gates. It isn't very intellectually challenging, but it does encourage the player to pay more attention.

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GameStop

Last week saw a rare convergence of video games and the stock market in popular news coverage. Well, not video games directly, but rather, one of the most popular video game stores: GameStop. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week or two, you've probably been hearing about how a group of Reddit posters got hundreds of thousands (or millions) of fellow Reddit readers to buy and hold stock in GameStop over the past few months, raising its stock price from $5 per share to a max of almost $500 per share. This was much to the dismay of many Wall Street investors and hedge funds, who had been betting that Gamestop would lose money. Those hedge funds have been losing those bets due to the actions of these Redditors, and some very rich people are suddenly losing a little bit of money.

I'm not going to talk too much about this because Jim Sterling already released a fantastic Jimquisition episode about this very topic yesterday. It's seriously one of their best work ever, despite not being directly about video games, because it strikes right at the fundamental core of why the video game industry is so corrupt and exploitative: because that's just how American corporate capitalism is: corrupt and exploitative. So check out that Jimquisition if you want to hear more ranting about how the stock market is really just a casino for rich people who like to bet on everyone else's lives, how it's unfairly rigged against small investors, and how it creates perverse incentives for businesses and investors to hurt the workforce. I am in absolute agreement with almost everything that Sterling says in this video.

Monday's Jimquisition about the GameStop stock story is one of Jim's best works.

Nevertheless, I do want to talk a little about this topic because the excesses and exploitative nature of American corporate culture is a particularly frustrating issue that I am very passionate about criticizing. Full disclosure: I (along with some of my colleagues and friends) did buy stock in GameStop (along with AMC, Blackberry, and Nokia) as a form of protest against the corrupt and rigged Wall Street system, and in the hopes of making a quick buck. Unfortunately, I bought mine at one of the peak prices and, as of the time of this writing, I've personally lost several hundred dollars on the purchase, since GameStop's price has been dropping. But I haven't sold yet. I'm in it for the long run.

The hedge fund managers who were suddenly at risk of losing millions of dollars (or more) because they bet on GameStop to fail were suddenly calling for government or regulatory intervention. They wanted stock purchases to be frozen, or for regulatory agencies to bail them out because they lost their gamble. The stock trading app, Robinhood, even conceded to these demands last Thursday or Friday, halting the purchase of any new shares of GameStop and even closing out the accounts of some users who had purchased the stock. They did this in the name of "protecting users from a volatile market", but really, it was almost certainly to protect the hedge funds who were losing money.

I'd like to remind my readers that these hedge fund managers who were crying foul are the same people who complain about government regulation, taxes, minimum wage laws, and so forth on the grounds that the market should be "free". They, after all, make shit-loads of money trading volatile stocks and using various investment strategies to manipulate the prices of certain stocks for their own personal and professional gain. But the moment that the average consumer starts to use these same systems and rules, these promoters of "free, un-regulated markets" start crying foul. It's not "market manipulation" when they gamble with other people's money; but they want to say it's illegal "market manipulation" when we, the average plebs start gambling and winning their money. Elites want "free markets" when they are exploiting those markets for personal financial gain, but when the average pleb starts exploiting it, suddenly, these same corporatists want regulation and welfare from the state to protect them from their own bad bets. Please remember that next time you hear someone criticize progressives for "just giving handouts to the poor". At least the poor need the money or benefits. These hedge fund managers can get by just fine without their precious GameStop short sells. But they don't care. They're greedy sons-of-bitches and want to squeeze the general public for every last penny they can get out of us, even if it means thousands of people will be laid off of their jobs and fall into poverty.

Worse yet, these same elites love to criticize poor and middle-class Americans for not investing our money. But when a bunch of us decide to try, they cry that we're manipulating their markets. Because that's what they think it is: "their market". They only tell us to invest (and then blame us for not following their advice) because they know that the majority of Americans don't have enough disposable income to be able to afford to invest any meaningful amount. Maybe we can put away a few hundred or thousand bucks into the stock market, but even the collective tens of millions of us are not putting the quantities of money into the market that these elites are.

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In the last post, I talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected me personally -- which [thankfully] was not much. This time, I want to present some of my thoughts and opinions on the response to the pandemic from a policy and societal perspective, as well as what I perceive to be the lessons that we (as a society) should have learned.

Some of the most essential workers in our economy are the ones who are paid the least. Health care workers, delivery persons, postal workers, grocery clerks, warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and so forth were the people who had to keep going to work because our economy and lifestyles would grind to a complete halt without them. The median wages among employed individuals in the United States is around $49k per year. Yet according to Salary.com, the average salary for a professional truck driver is only around $42k. Contract or gig drivers (such as Amazon couriers) make far, far less.

Restaurant and grocery store workers also make far less than delivery drivers, often earning minimum wage (or less than minimum wage if you also make tips). Those who maybe kept their jobs, but were reliant on tips were especially hurt during the lockdowns, due to a lack of business and in-person contact.

Low-paid delivery persons and fast food workers were essential,
and had to keep working while the rest of us stayed home and safe.

And then there's the healthcare workers, who were literally putting their lives on the line every day, helping to take care of sick people and possibly exposing themselves to infection on a daily basis. Registered nurses (usually employed in hospitals) make decent pay, but the majority of support staff in private clinics are not necessarily registered nurses. This includes receptionists, phlebotomist, clerical staff, and other assistants. As of 2018, medical support staff earned an average of less than $40k per year!

Remember, these are the people who, during a pandemic, were considered "essential" workers who had to keep working (while everyone else stayed home) in order to keep a bare minimum economy running, and to allow the rest of us to continue to go about our daily lives. When shit hit the fan, we didn't look to lawyers, or corporate CEOs, or hedge fund managers, or brokers, or realtors, or movie stars, or athletes. Aside from doctors, we didn't need any of the traditionally highest-paid classes of workers. We needed truck drivers, postal workers, warehouse workers, grocery clerks, and food service workers, and of course medical staff. So I hope you remember this next time you hear someone say that these workers deserve higher pay, or that minimum wage should be increased.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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