Nov 28, 2011

Mass Effect 2 is a white supremacist game

To begin, a disclaimer to avoid misunderstanding. I have no knowledge or opinions of the Mass Effect 2 designers' and developers' actual political views, so I'm not talking about them. What I intend to show is that Mass Effect 2 tells a story that shares many characteristics with the way white supremacist movements see themselves, and co-opts the player into sharing that narrative. Contains spoilers.

Despite being a big fan of the first Mass Effect, I really didn't like its sequel. I found ME2 incredibly disappointing in many ways, and I share many of the views put forward in this article. While the gameplay in itself was a big letdown, what made the game actively distasteful for me was the way it not only trampled all over continuity from ME, but it does this to make you participate in a white supremacist story.

In Mass Effect, the player encounters a rogue Alliance black project called Cerberus, which aims to create super-soldiers. During the course of the game, it becomes obvious that they've gone totally insane, fighting Alliance personnel, including the player character, and perpetrating all kinds of atrocities. They're basically Unit 731, only worse. In fact, if your character has the Sole Survivor background option, it turns out that the people responsible for the death of your former unit, who spent years torturing the only other survivor, are in fact Cerberus. Because the first game is quite immersive, I have to admit that by the end I figured my character had a fairly negative opinion of Cerberus, to say the least.

Having said that, it was a bit of a shock for me when the Cerberus we meet in Mass Effect 2 seems to have nothing to do with Cerberus from the previous game. In the second game, Shepard dies and is resurrected by Cerberus to work for them. The Cerberus operatives you meet enthusiastically explain to you that you've got it all wrong: Cerberus isn't a bad organization at all! They're an independent human supremacist group, bankrolled by a reclusive millionaire, and not some horrible terrorist organization that murdered your entire unit!

What makes the game truly shocking, and totally killed the series for me, was that your character is forced to go along with this. Yes, that's right: my character, who's an Alliance military officer and has seen first hand what Cerberus does, who indeed was mainly known before the events of the first game as the only survivor of a Cerberus atrocity, is now gladly putting on a Cerberus uniform.

It gets worse when you're introduced to your new ship, which is exactly like the old ship. There are even some of your old crew members on board, but they all seem to have entered some strange parallel universe, having renounced their former loyalties, if not even their personalities, and gladly joined a paramilitary human supremacist organization. If this smacks rather strongly of rewriting history in general and Holocaust denial in particular, that's because the game does. What's worse is that this isn't just a couple of characters talking. It's not like this is their version of what Cerberus is; instead, this seems to be the common view of everyone you encounter on Cerberus. Back in Mass Effect, Cerberus and its atrocities were headline news; now it seems collective amnesia has set in, to such an extent that the in-game documentation now gives a whole new view of Cerberus. You're also effectively prevented from seriously questioning it; such topics as the Sole Survivor background being pretty much taboo.

The absolute nadir of the game comes when you encounter a former squadmate from ME, who asks you how you can possibly be working with a disgusting terrorist organization like Cerberus. This isn't even lampshading, it's much worse: your character is being called out on the game's retconning. What are you supposed to say? My answer: because the game forced me to. I can't even begin to imagine what my character would say, because I'd pretty much lost all immersion in the world by then.

The jarring continuity problems are so bad that the most sensible explanation for ME2 would seem to be that your character wakes up in a parallel universe. I've been struggling to find a good analogy to how the rebranding and whitewash of Cerberus felt for me. It's rather like if one were to write a story about an Israeli commando who wakes up from a coma to find that his unit has defected en masse to Hamas, and explain to him that Hamas isn't a terrorist organization at all but a pacifist charity. Or a British left-wing pacifist deciding that maybe the SS isn't so bad after all and joining it when he's told that the Holocaust was really just a lie. And Josef Mengele, who would have fit right in at Cerberus, was a good Samaritan.


If it was just that Mass Effect 2 is really bad at continuity, I could just chalk it up to the generally juvenile and subpar quality of the writing, which produces memorable scenes like this one:

The "ass" in "Mass Effect" seen in the picture is one of the new characters, whose only real game functions are to explain away your previous notions of Cerberus and, well, that. Speaking of characters, most of the recurring characters are also more like parodies of themselves, from Tali and Garrus both actively ridiculing the previous game and delivering frankly embarrassing fan service, to the totally ludicrous transformation of Liara that reminds me very strongly of the Mad parody of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic. Liara's reinvention as a gangster and "information broker", and Garrus's new personality as a sort of lame Turian Punisher, are not only ridiculous but again, offensive to the previous game. Remember the whole side plot with Garrus, where you investigate an unsolved case from his C-Sec days? Where you can guide him in either the "paragon" or "renegade" direction? Turns out you needn't have bothered, because he's going to go and become the Turian Punisher either way.

One of the new NPCs you recruit is Jack, a powerful biotic who was the victim of cruel Cerberus experiments and, unsurprisingly, hates them. You get the same old propaganda line from Cerberus and their on-board cheerleader: the great leader didn't know about it and so on. That may be an attempt at narrative ambiguity; either you believe them or you don't. But the problem with that is that you're not allowed to act on it in any way.

By the way, biotics have been completely nerfed, so you don't actually need her for anything. She only has special cutscene powers.

More jarring universe-breaking follows when you meet the ship's AI. That's right; in the first installment of the series, everyone completely freaked out when AIs were even mentioned, and now here they are, happily living on a ship with a built-in AI. The only person who even notices is Tali, and even she can just be talked out of it. Then again, you can talk her into happily co-operating with a Geth, too.

But the problem isn't just poor continuity: what's being done with Cerberus is morally distasteful as well. In Mass Effect, Cerberus was an organization dedicated to human supremacy and the creation of a "super-man" in order to defeat the aliens and conquer the galaxy for man's living space. Sound familiar? It should, because Cerberus seems to be rather directly based on the SS.

So in Mass Effect 2, you're revived by the SS, and two cheerful SS officers explain to you that you've got it all wrong! They have nothing against the Jews or Slavs as such, it's just that they're concerned with maintaining Germany's racial purity and standing in the world community. Of course, some individual SS members or member organizations, even, may have undertaken some suspicious activities in the past, but those have probably been misrepresented and anyway, they can't keep track of everyone. (The really atrocious examples are simply ignored, and you're not allowed to ask.) What matters is that their leader is a great man with a great vision for the future of our race. Surely you'll put on this SS uniform and follow his orders!


So right at the start of the game, you're forced to go along with rewriting history in a manner that rather too strongly resembles Holocaust denial. It then starts getting worse. Soon enough, you're initiated into the main plot of the game. Evil aliens are abducting thousands of people, and the Alliance government doesn't care. Therefore, it's up to the heroic racist militia of Cerberus to stop the evil aliens and save humanity. You see? It turns out the racists were the good guys! The government is corrupt, and its entanglement in a sinister one-galaxy government means it doesn't care what happens to ordinary folks. Luckily, the racist militia does care, and by defying the government, they save lives from the alien threat.

This is a narrative that could have been cooked up for a video game by a Midwestern racist militia or a European neo-fascist group. The main character is a brave government agent fighting on the side of good. He's resurrected by a racist group he's previously fought against, but finds out that after his death, the government has stopped caring about the people. Some of his former colleagues are now members of the racist group, and talk about their alienation with the goverment and its cover-ups of their heroic deeds and the coming alien menace. Only the enlightened elite that make up this militia group understand that the government's destructive policies of multiculturalism are leading to the destruction of the human race, but for saying this they're branded as racists. So the main character realizes that the racists are, after all, really the good guys, and the corrupt government is evil. He gladly joins a racial supremacist organization and battles the evil aliens.

In sum, Mass Effect 2 is the most disgustingly racist game I've ever played in my life.

Oh, sure, there are aliens on your team. That's not historically inappropriate; there were all sorts of nationalities in the Waffen-SS, too. The plot of the game still is that the government doesn't care if thousands of people are dying, because it's more interested in covering up alien attacks for some senseless nefarious reason, and people need armed anti-government racists to protect them from foreigners. I'm surprised they don't make you plant a truck bomb at an Alliance office building.

From what I've heard, in ME3 Cerberus will once again be your enemy. I wonder how they're going to pull that off. Retcon the retcon? Unless ME2 is rewritten out of existence (it was all a dream!), the fact will still remain that while the Alliance (federal government) stood by and did nothing, Cerberus (white supremacist militia) saved thousands of people from the aliens. Never mind that this whole notion of the Alliance being so corrupt and evil that they don't care about people any more comes out of nowhere.

I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest some more plot points for Mass Effect 3, in line with the new creative direction taken by ME2:

- the Alliance bans firearms and sends squads of aliens to collect them from human patriots
- main character discovers the "Protocols of the Elders of the Volus", proving the Volus are secretly allies of the Reapers
- the Council races join forces to create a New Galactic Order, a socialist one-galaxy government
- the New Galactic Order brands all humans with a barcode and bans the non-coded from buying and selling
- main character finds out that an ultra-secret cult, the Space Masons, secretly controls the Alliance

There's a lot of mileage to be covered here. The game could be called Mass Effect 3: The Shepard Diaries.


Mass Effect 2 was an insultingly bad game. If you were a fan of the first Mass Effect, ME2 went out of its way to slap you in the face. Instead of a dynamic, ambitious CRPG, we get a second-rate Gears of War clone that occasionally masquerades as a racist adventure game. Oh, and don't forget the planet-scanning mini-game, which was almost as much fun as stabbing yourself with a rusty knife.

The game also manages to be disgustingly sexist. As part of your crew, you have a sort of SS yeoman, who, of course, is a cute girl. If you get talking with her, it's possible for your character to develop a kind of romantic sub-plot with her. The consummation? A kiss? A sex scene? No.

You get to use her as a cabin ornament.

It's literally sickening. And, of course, there are no more same-sex romance options, because in the Space SS, that's just wrong.

In this hyper-sexist environment, what was merely poorly executed in the first game becomes actively troubling: every alien race is made up of a single gender. The only exception is the quarians, who seem to come in male and female; in neither of the games do we encounter a single krogan, salarian or turian female. On the wiki, we can have some reasons: the salarian "females are cloistered on their worlds out of tradition and respect". The krogan: "Female krogan rarely leave their home worlds, focusing on breeding in an attempt to keep krogan numbers from declining too quickly. The few remaining fertile females who can carry young to term are treated as prizes of war, to be seized, bartered or fought over." And even though there's no "fluff" justification for never meeting a turian female, we just...don't.

In the first game, the stated reason for never seeing a turian female was, as per the wiki, insufficient time and resources. I can believe that, and I'm certainly not saying that every permutation of alien race and gender needs to be represented in every sci-fi game. Still, for every major alien species we meet, the females are cloistered on their homeworlds or kept as chattel, or are just inexplicably absent. The quarians are the only exception, and when it comes to the more exotic aliens, gender isn't even mentioned but the assumption seems to be that everyone is male. The more unusual alien species are confined to brief walk-on roles, so they're not very relevant. Notable among them are, of course, the volus, a mysterious race of merchant profiteers with prominent noses whose race is denied membership in the galactic council because it's inferior.

And then there are the asari. Even though the asari have only one gender, the in-game Codex describes them as an "all-female" race, surely a mindless statement. The Orion slave girls of Mass Effect, the asari look and act like blue-skinned human women. They're promiscuous bisexuals who, despite looking very human, are inexplicably sexually desired by all of the major races of the Mass Effect universe. The asari can be found throughout the galaxy as strippers and prostitutes, and the game makes sure to bring some loose blue women your way for flirtation and more regularly.

So each major race maps nicely onto a gender. The turians, krogans and salarians are all men, and the asari are all women. The former provide NPC soldiers and scientists, while the asari get by on their biotic powers. As a point of note, while ME1 included a female soldier, in Mass Effect 2 your squad members divide neatly along gender lines. The men are soldiers or scientists, or at best semi-biotics, while the women are biotics, plus a thief added in the downloadable content. In other words, in ME2 women need special powers to be useful team members, while men can just pack a gun and come along.

Yes, it's a man's life in the Mass Effect galaxy.

So, if you've always wanted to be a space nazi, heroically rescuing the overwhelmingly white and heterosexual human race from evil space foreigners, this is the game for you. It made me want to vomit.

Nov 21, 2011

Going to hell

Earlier, I explained about my lighthouse problem: to build a lighthouse with a lasting fire, I'm going to need some netherrack, which is only found in the Nether. Or, in other words, hell. So that's where I'm going.

If I'm going to build a portal to hell, I'm not just going to stick it in my basement or something. I can do better than that!

If you could see anything in this picture, you would see my underwater tower:

Using the map, I picked a spot along my subway track that was at about the deepest point of the expanse of ocean east of Epic Island, and started digging up. Building an underwater tower from the bottom up presented some interesting engineering challenges, which I was able to overcome.

I then built a glass-lined tunnel out to a flat spot on the seabed, where I erected my dome:

In my books, that's a suitably dramatic place for a portal to hell. Here's what it looks like from the surface, with Epic Island in the background:

Building the damn thing is a bother in itself as well, as it needs to be made of obsidian. Naturally occurring obsidian is rare and hard to mine, so the easiest way to procure some is by using lava. After hauling bucketfuls of lava over, the portal is finished:

All you need to do is set it on fire, and voilá:

Just walk right on in.


The Nether is scary. It's almost pitch dark and there are creepy moaning noises. My immediate purpose in coming here is easy to achieve: pretty much all of the ground is netherrack. But now that I'm here, I feel obliged to explore. This is where I've landed:

The glowing blocks are glowstone, which is the best artificial light source in the game: it gives off more light than torches, and also works underwater. Since I'm here, I gotta get me some of that. Only, here's the problem:

It's all above a giant lava lake. Sure, you can get to it, but it's nerve-wracking:

After I pocketed some glowstone and netherrack, it's time to make my way back to the portal...

...and get the Nether out of here. And finally, a lighthouse:


Nov 7, 2011

Jack Chick and the Apocrypha

I've discussed Jack Chick and his insane tracts before on this blog, but it's a subject worth returning to. Here to remind us why that is is Detective Constable Charles Ennis of British Columbia:

This may seem silly stuff to many of you readers and it would be if it weren't for the fact that so many people take these publications seriously. Chick's business has thrived for decades and his tracts are available in 100 different languages. Chick has distributors in England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany. Police officers have used these tracts as a resource. For example: The comic The Force was used as the basis for a history of Satanism presented by Detective Eisenbraun of the Rapid City Police Department in his presentation on Satanic Crime in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1989.

As it happens, The Force takes us right to the heart of the matter.

This rabidly anti-Catholic comic is part four of the Alberto series, the first installment of which you can read here. It's this kind of stuff:

It was a Freemason symbol! That's because in the late Alberto Rivera's conspiracy theory, the Catholic church controls not only the Freemasons, but communists, Jews and atheists all over the world, and, by the way, created Islam in order to destroy Jews and Protestants.

The remarkable Alberto Rivera was a con artist and fraud who sold his lunatic brand of anti-Catholic hysteria to Jack Chick by posing as an ex-priest who had become disenchanted with the Catholic world conspiracy. Thanks to WayBackMachine, you can read an exposé of him that ran in Cornerstone magazine here. Cornerstone may have been an evangelical looney magazine, but some evangelical nutcases were just too nuts for them. Here's a quote from the Rivera piece:

What does Jack Chick think about this? It's hard to find out, because he has made it a policy not to speak with reporters. But when he was finally reached by phone at his home, he said that he had never met a more godly man than Alberto, and that he knows Alberto's story is true because he ,.prayed about it." Jack says he expects his own life to be taken by Jesuit assassins.


Chick is a Protestant fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a name the movement has given itself, because it supposedly defends the fundaments of Christianity. Like all Protestant movements, they consider themselves more Biblical than the others (and certainly more Biblical than the Pope!), and almost all fundamentalists profess a belief in Biblical inerrancy. The latter is the idea that the Bible is completely and entirely true; a position held by, for instance, Republican presidential candidate candidate Rick Perry. He also believes the Authorized King James Version of the Bible to be the only true word of god.

Now, I take an almost macabre interest in the Biblical exegesis of fundamentalist Christians, because I'm somewhat interested in the Bible as a text, and because it's entertaining that they paint themselves as "Biblical". Most of all, though, the notion of someone claiming the Bible to be "infallible", or that they believe it "literally", is just too hysterical to pass up. So now our blog has a "Bible" label.


This time around, I'm going to take a look at Jack Chick's downright bizarre "King James onlyism", in the form of this tract:

Here's the blurb:

See the behind-the-scenes struggle to destroy the King James Bible, and how God preserved it.

Just so you know how reliable our sources are, and appreciate the tie-in with Alberto, this is what appears on the very first page:

Yeah, thanks, "ex-Jesuit priest" Alberto.

To start off, we're told an incredibly bizarre story about how Catholics assassinated the Puritan translators of the King James Bible:

Presumably, this is some of the "information" provided by Alberto, as I've been unable to find a single non-Chick source for this notion that a Catholic conspiracy murdered any of the King James Bible translators. Alberto seems to just, I don't know, make stuff up.

We're then told that "Satan has always tried to change, add to or take away from God's words", first in the Garden of Eden and then:

So according to Jack Chick, the Old Testament Apocrypha are a Satanic plot against Christianity.

Obviously, the notion that no "true Christians" have accepted the Apocrypha is a fairly well-known fallacy in itself, and taking it at face value makes some rather drastic claims about the Christianity of, say, the earliest church. Also, the Apocrypha were never "denounced" and totally rejected by Judaism, even though they weren't included in the canonical Hebrew Bible. However, he argues against the Apocrypha some more:

So, Jesus never quoted the Apocrypha, sez Chick. He didn't really quote any of the Old Testament books that much, but made frequent allusions to them. The trouble is, he also frequently alluded to the Apocrypha. Here's a few examples (from the King James Bible, naturally).

Matthew 6: 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
Sirach 29: 11 Lay up thy treasure according to the commandments of the most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold.

Matthew 7: 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Sirach 27: 6 The fruit declareth if the tree have been dressed; so is the utterance of a conceit in the heart of man.

There's several more direct allusions to the Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, which has the most awesome name of any Biblical book ever, including Jesus' parable of the seed falling on stony ground.

For more examples, contrast Jesus' refrain from Mark 9 ("Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched") with Judith 16:17:

Woe to the nations that rise up against my kindred! the Lord Almighty will take vengeance of them in the day of judgment, in putting fire and worms in their flesh; and they shall feel them, and weep for ever.

Even though it's slightly anticlimactic that the Book of Judith is just called the Book of Judith, it has inspired some great art, like Judith by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, which I was going to show here but got censored by Blogger, and the similarly named Judith, by Valentin de Boulogne. Dudes really liked painting her.

One more example: Jesus' description of god, no less, in Matthew directly echoes that given in the Book of Tobit:

Matthew 11: 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.

Tobit 7: 18 Be of good comfort, my daughter; the Lord of heaven and earth give thee joy for this thy sorrow: be of good comfort, my daughter.

The title "Lord of heaven and earth" also occurs in Luke 10:21 and Acts 17:24, but nowhere in the Old Testament. So the famous devotional song "How Can I Keep from Singing?" is an apocryphal reference.

There's a whole bunch of allusions and references to the Apocrypha in the gospels, which isn't the least bit surprising, since the Greek Septuagint was the Bible used by the early Christians, and it included the Apocrypha. But I guess that in Jack Chick's books, the apostles weren't True Christians.

But wait, there's more!

And this is where things get confusing. When Chick, or whoever is actually responsible for this tract, talks about the "Alexandrian manuscripts", presumably he is referring to the Alexandrian text-type, which is one of the oldest surviving sources for the New Testament. However, he also mentions the Old Testament, which I suppose might mean he's talking about the Septuagint as well, which was created in Alexandria. So is he seriously saying that the Bible used by the apostles was a Satanic lie?

Elsewhere, Chick offers a bizarre justification for these views by comparing the contexts in which Alexandria is mentioned to Antioch.

Again with the "true Christians", this time with the bizarre idea that the Emperor Constantine was the pope (he wasn't), and the somewhat startling claim that the Vulgate is also "satanic".

The named source in the tract is a book by David W. Daniels called Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?. Here's a section of the blurb:

There is not one history of the Bible, but two. One is a history of God preserving His words through His people. The other is of the devil using the Roman Catholic church to pervert God's words through her "scholars."

Once again we encounter the bizarre notion that the apostles and early Christians weren't "God's people", given that they were using a Bible based on the satanic Alexandrian manuscripts.

I don't recall seeing this kind of pure hatred against the Apocrypha before. After all, in Protestant tradition, the Apocrypha were considered, as Martin Luther put it, not canonical but worth reading.

I think one of the most vital clues is in the word "scholars" and the quotation marks around it. Belief in Biblical inerrancy and literalism is one of the foundations of Protestant Fundamentalism, and I imagine at least part of it comes from the fact that many fundamentalists aren't very well-read in Biblical scholarship and exegesis. Instead, they stubbornly insist that the Bible can be read "literally", a ludicrous idea, and I imagine they see Biblical scholars who debate the merits of different translations and the Apocrypha as suspicious intellectuals with edumacations. It's also been argued that the roots of Protestant fundamentalism are in Calvinism, which took a very dim view of the Apocrypha.

The key thing to remember, though, is that Catholics are evil:

Yeah. When the inquisitors come for you, they'll be using that law. As I understand it, the Synod of Toulouse in 1229 banned the owning of vernacular Bibles, but I'm not entirely sure about that one.

What I am fairly sure about is that scholarly opinion considers the Textus Receptus to have been compiled from several Greek manuscripts by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1516. All of his sources dated to the 12th century or later, and were mostly of the Byzantine text-type. As Wikipedia puts it, "most modern scholars consider his text to be of dubious quality". Certainly by the standards of modern exegesis, you'll have a hard time justifying the idea that the Textus Receptus is somehow more truly preserved than, say, the Alexandrian manuscripts. Today, this position is only held by Protestant fundamentalists who are completely opposed to any textual criticism of the Bible. Like Jack Chick!

What's even funnier is that some of Chick's comrades on the evangelical right consider Christian humanism and Erasmus himself to be pretty much anti-Christian. While most Protestants regard Erasmus as one of the fathers of the Reformation, Protestant reformers see his "Christian humanism" as a plot of the Catholic church to destroy Christianity. In his documentary series How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer described Christian humanism as not Christian at all, and Rus Walton asks: "Is it not another snare, another delusion, another trap to draw man away from God?"

Just in case you think these are some random crackpots, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann has described watching the Schaeffer films as "a life-altering experience".

So while Jack Chick considers Erasmus to have been a divinely inspired hero who is faithfully preserving the true word of god against a grand Catholic conspiracy, to other Protestant fundamentalists, he's one of the chief agents of that selfsame world conspiracy. This is a wonderful example of what happens when you don't approach history on its own terms but as raw material for a conspiracy theory. When Schaeffer wants to prove that secularism is the greatest evil facing Christianity, he creates a monolithic "humanism" and projects it back into history. Of course, he also thinks the Catholic church is evil, so he tacks that on as well. Chick, on the other hand, wants to prove that the King James Bible is the direct word of Jesus, so he creates a pseudohistory of "inspired texts" leading up to it. Of course, he also thinks the Catholic church is the greatest evil facing Christianity, so he tacks on a monolithic conspiracy theory.

The net result is that Erasmus of Rotterdam is either a tool of the Catholic world conspiracy, or a heroic Christian warrior fighting against it. I guess the lesson is that making actual history fit a lunatic conspiracy theory can be surprisingly hard.

Next, though, we learn that the Inquisition was set up specifically to target the Textus Receptus:

This notion, along with their casualty figure, is just pure nonsense. Certainly Erasmus was critical of the Catholic Church, even in the Textus Receptus itself, but the idea that the whole Inquisition was put together to weed out the Textus Receptus is ridiculous. The notion that the Textus has a different teaching on salvation from, say, the Vulgate, is also basically just made up.

One particular example of a difference between the Textus and more modern texts is the Comma Johanneum. It's worth reading this little piece from Wikipedia:

The words apparently crept into the Latin text of the New Testament during the Middle Ages, "[possibly] as one of those medieval glosses but were then written into the text itself by a careless copyist. Erasmus omitted them from his first edition; but when a storm of protest arose because the omission seemed to threaten the doctrine of the Trinity, he put them back in the third and later editions, whence they also came into the Textus Receptus, 'the received text'."

The modern scholarly view is that the Comma Johanneum is a later addition, and Erasmus himself agreed. However, he re-inserted the passage after protests, and now Chick and other King James Only -fundamentalists insist that it is divinely inspired.

The funniest part of all this is that Erasmus used the Vulgate Bible in creating the Textus. So even by Chick's standards, the Textus Receptus is satanic. The dodge they use to get out of this is to insist that the Textus Receptus itself was divinely inspired, as Chick indirectly says in this tract, and now we've firmly crossed over into cloud cuckoo land. It also, once again, begs the question of whether Erasmus was a divinely inspired Christian or an evil anti-Christian Catholic, but never mind.

After several panels of old, recycled anti-Catholic propaganda, including the notion that the Gunpowder Plot and Spanish Armada took place because of the Textus Receptus, we get this tidbit:

Why, exactly, would this be disastrous to the Catholic Church? The tract claims that the Textus Receptus teaches that salvation only comes from Jesus and not the Church, but as no evidence is offered for this position and I can't find any, we have to regard this as having been made up. In all probability, this is a Chick-Rivera fiction to make the Catholics look bad.

However, we're directly told that the Apocrypha would have diabolical effects:

I can't, for the life of me, understand what in the Old Testament apocrypha, which was included in the King James Bible, would make Protestants suddenly convert to Catholicism. To me, this is the biggest single mystery of this tract. How on earth would getting Protestants to accept the Apocrypha as canonical suddenly make them Catholics?

All the reasons I've been able to find online for rejecting the Apocrypha are either totally spurious, like simply asserting that they're just not cricket, or criteria that could also be used to disqualify any books. For example, several instances accuse the Apocrypha of contradicting books in the Bible; well, the canonical books do that all the time as well. I genuinely don't understand why Chick's tract is so implacably hostile to the Apocrypha in the first place, let alone what sinister Catholic purpose they can possibly serve.

After a brief rehash of the fictional anti-Puritan assassination plot, we're told that when the Apocrypha were omitted from the Bible, God won:

Of course, this is followed by assertions that all subsequent Bible translations have been engineered by the Vatican because they're evil.

The Puritans are prominently represented here because most American Protestant fundies consider themselves to be the spiritual descendants of Puritans. I'll have to talk about that at some point, but for now, let's just go on with the propaganda.

Actually, it's these panels toward the end of the tract that bring us closer to understanding why this tract hates the Apocrypha so much.

As we're once again joined by "Dr." Rivera, we can try to offer an answer to this implacable hostility toward newer Bible translations and the Apocrypha. All "Biblical literalists" profess a belief in a monolithic Bible that contains only one message; after all, if the Bible were to contradict itself or even be ambivalent about something, it couldn't be interpreted literally. Now, this kind of interpretation isn't actually possible, but it is possible to insist that it is. If the Bible is mostly read by uneducated people who don't know the first thing about history or exegesis, I suppose they can imagine that the Bible can be regarded as being literally true.

The above panels make it pretty clear that this tract's hate is directed at exegetes who actually know about the Bible in its historical context and about textual criticism. After all, their knowledge threatens the whole notion of Biblical infallibility, by pointing out where the King James Bible contradicts itself, is flatly wrong about historical events or geography, and similar things. This, of course, is anathema to them, as is the general shift in opinion toward viewing the Bible as a historical text among texts.

So what better way to banish these doubters than by implying that they're part of a Vatican-directed satanic conspiracy?


There's a classic fundie quote floating around the Internet:

The only thing I don't like about them is they sell foreign language versions of the KJB. I don't think that's right. We know the only true translation is the 1600's version in English. It's too risky for anybody to translate that into other languages. Mistakes can creep in... and that can lead to heresy. True Christians should only read English.

To most people, that's pretty funny. However surprising it may seem after reading the above tract, Jack Chick is actually a fairly moderate King James Onlyist. He seems to belong to the "received text only" faction, who maintain that the Textus Receptus was divinely preserved to serve as the basis for the Dinsdale, erm, Tyndale Bible and the King James bible.

Others, though, believe that the translation process that gave rise to the King James Bible was itself divinely inspired. Chick hints at that when he says God oversaw the process, but although he says the original authors of the Old and New Testament were divinely inspired, he doesn't extend the metaphor to cover the King James translators.

There is yet another view, sometimes called Ruckmanism after its vocal exponent, Peter Ruckman, a Christian lunatic who believes the CIA is secretly breeding aliens in underground facilities. As Jack Chick predicted he would be assassinated by Jesuits, in 1997 Ruckman predicted the government would have him killed in the next few years because he knew about the brain transmitters they had implanted in African-Americans and all the other nefarious CIA plots he's invented. Of course, making predictions that fail to come about is very Christian. Intriguingly, Ruckman also seems to think that anti-abortion activists are Darwinists. Yes, you read that right.

Ruckman believes that the King James Bible constitutes revelation in itself. He's said: "Mistakes in the A.V. 1611 are advanced revelation!" He considers that the King James Bible, as more recent divine revelation, is superior to any earlier manuscripts or translations. He attacks an "Alexandrian cult", which according to him believes that the original text of the Bible has been lost, and that therefore no final word of god exists on Earth. The Textus Receptus, on the other hand, he considers a separate text from the "Alexandrian cult" manuscripts, even going so far as to say that the Septuagint is a deliberate forgery created to discredit the Bible.

Ruckman's views are so extreme that the majority of the King James Only movement is opposed to them, let alone other Christians. What's interesting here is that Chick's narrative parallels Ruckman's in many places. Chick's strange references to "Alexandrian manuscripts" now appear to be derived from Ruckman, as is the primacy of the Textus Receptus and its fictional history. On Chick's website, we can find a strong defense of Ruckmanism.

However, in the tract, Chick doesn't quite go the whole hog. He replicates several parts of the Ruckman narrative, but portrays the Textus Receptus as the divinely protected original word of god, and doesn't claim divine inspiration, let alone revelation, for the actual translation process of the King James Bible. I imagine Chick has toned down the Ruckmanism to make his tract have a wider Christian appeal, but in doing that he's created numerous inconsistencies. In insisting that both the "Alexandrian manuscripts" and the Vulgate are satanic, but that the Textus Receptus is the "preserved" word of god, he's created a textual history that just doesn't add up. Of course, he may claim that the textual history of the Bible is all a Catholic lie. That's really a kind of "get out of jail free" card for conspiracy theories: if the history doesn't work out, just claim it's a conspiracy. Works for everything from ancient aliens to Bible translations.


To end on a sobering note, this can all seem like the deranged fantasy of an almost 90-year-old man who publishes comic books on the Internet. But like I said earlier, the current governor of Texas, who is one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, actually believes that the Bible is infallible. So this isn't just a study in Internet lunacy, but in contemporary American politics.

To recap, in this post we've seen that in the world of Jack Chick, only the Textus Receptus and the King James Bible are the word of god, and the "Alexandrian manuscripts" (possibly including the Septuagint) are satanic. The way these conclusions are reached tells us quite a lot about the theology of Jack Chick, and about his cavalier disregard for history and Bible exegesis, and his positively danbrownian dedication to simply making stuff up. Or, if you prefer, lying. All this will also have some interesting implications later on, when we continue our series of blogistic exegesis.

Oct 31, 2011

In a station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
— Ezra Pound

This is just a short post to let you know what I've been doing. It's extremely exiting for me, but unfortunately not very photogenic: a subway.

Here's a wall in my underground base:

I've now turned it into a staircase that goes down to my first subway station:

My idea is to eventually have multiple parallel tracks, but I'm starting with one. What you need to get started is a button or lever, a powered rail and a minecart.

Then plonk down 37 regular iron rails after it (for optimal speed!), followed by another powered rail, this one permanently powered by a redstone torch:

And you're away! Traveling by minecart is much faster, and on a properly constructed track, safer, than on foot. Some engineering may be required; for instance, I had to build this bridge over my chasm:

Of course, while digging that secure track, you might run into some unexpected surprises.

I wrote about mob spawners in my last post, and I've now gone from never having seen a dungeon in my life to running into one every time I start digging...

But in the end, this is what you get: a quick and safe underground ride in a minecart.

As I said, digging this damned long tunnel was neither very interesting or photogenic in itself, but it's very rewarding. I have a subway system! Here's an approximation of where the line runs on my composite map, with the "stations" marked in. As you can see, I've nearly reached Epic Island!

The one at the bottom (furthest west, that is) is my underground base; the next station down is the latest tower I've built, and the last one, well, you'll see!

Oct 12, 2011

It's dangerous underground

There's one constant in a Minecraft dude's life: mining. Amidst all these surface escapades I've been chronicling in this blog, I've also been regularly returning to my big dig and carrying on digging, with the occasional company of underground chickens:

Mining is necessary. Sure, I've got plenty of rock, but all the good stuff is down at the bottom of the map: redstone, gold, diamonds... Not to mention the lava I need to build my portal to hell!

It's not all work and goodies: here's what I ran into!

The fiery box next to the chest is a mob spawner, which creates monsters to ruin your day. You can do all sorts of clever things with them, mostly by devising fiendish traps to kill the spawning monsters and get the loot they drop, but that's a project for another day. For now, I've walled it off with an earthen bank.

As I kept digging, I started hearing a funny squelching noise from above. I went back to look:

Slimes! They're a rare beast; I knew they existed, but never saw one before. Now there's two!

Slimes only appear in certain chunks of the map, and at its very lowest levels, so it looks like I'm lucky enough to have a slime-generating chunk directly below my main base, and that I'm very close to the bottom! And, after a sequence of events, I find myself with some slimeballs:

They're useful for piston-related purposes, and somewhat rare. So when and if I decide to immerse myself in the wonderful world of pistons, they'll come in handy.

And soon enough, I've hit rock bottom:

The dark squares there are impenetrable bedrock. That's as deep as the map goes; there's nothing under those blocks. Here's the view from the bottom:

It kind of looks like a chasm, even if I say so myself. Frankly, I was a little disappointed at not finding any of that elusive lava that I'll need to get to hell, but luckily, as I expanded my dig, I came across this:

Next time on my Minecraft posts: some Ezra Pound.

Oct 5, 2011

Mojang vs. Zenimax: the court papers

We've been posting about Minecraft for a while now on this blog, but we haven't really talked about Mojang's ongoing lawsuit with Zenimax Media, owner of game studios like id and Bethesda. Frankly, we think the whole thing is stupid, and have been hoping that Zenimax would come to their senses. If you don't know what's going on, in very brief summary, Mojang are releasing a game called "Scrolls", and Zenimax are suing them over it, claiming it violates the copyright on the "Elder Scrolls" series.

Yesterday, Kotaku ran an article on the lawsuit that took a new slant on things by painting Mojang as the villain of the piece. Titled Mojang v. Bethesda, or: I Hate it When Mommy and Daddy Fight, in it author Russ Pitts makes the case that Zenimax are merely defending themselves against a nefarious bid by Mojang to "patent" [sic] the word "Scrolls" and thereby, in fact, sue Zenimax.

If one were to attempt to judge based solely on Twitter and the blogs, Zenimax would appear to be the bad guy here. Notch, perhaps attempting to bolster that perception, has put on his hurt face, claiming Zeni is "picking on the little guy." But after looking at Mojang's "Scrolls" patent application, I'm not so sure the case is as black and white as many would seem to believe.


In other words, Mojang intends to own the word "scrolls" in pretty much every form of visual entertainment media, not just in videogames. This means that, if the trademark is upheld, the company could rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever. Now, that would only be a problem if you were a successful media company planning to use the word "scrolls" in some form of entrainment media … Oh wait … that's right. If you're Zenimax, this trademark fucks you. Hard.

The Kotaku piece has generated some acrimonious commenting and twittering, including several people attacking Notch and calling him a liar. Now we're going to participate in the discussion! To be specific, three things annoy us about that article:

1) the cavalier approach it takes to intellectual property law

2) its misrepresentation of events

3) the fact that Kotaku freely admit they can't read the legal documents, but write about them anyway

For the last point, simply see Kotaku's article Notch Vs. Bethesda: The Court Papers, where they link to said papers, but admit they don't know what they say.

While Kotaku has the documents in question, no one here speaks Swedish.

That, of course, doesn't stop them from running an article where they make Mojang out to be the bad guys.

On this blog, however, we can read Swedish, so we've had a look at the court documents. You can find them here. They tell a story that's quite different from the one invented by Mr Pitts.

A disclaimer: we're not lawyers. We're just reading what we've been shown. This blog post simply consists of our personal opinions on the case and on Mr Pitts's article about it. As we've understood things, the legal documents published by Mojang are in the public domain.


Mr Pitts's allegation is that Zenimax are suing Mojang over Scrolls to prevent Mojang from, in turn, suing Bethesda over The Elder Scrolls. He puts forward the notion that Mojang's ""Scrolls" patent application" [sic] is so broad that if Zenimax doesn't sue to stop them, they will be in a position to stop Zenimax from releasing Elder Scrolls games.

If the trademark is valid, Mojang would be able to claim infringement and potentially take Zenimax to court. They might not win, considering Zeni's ownership of the trademark preceded Mojang's, but Mojang could force Zenimax to settle or face an injunction which would keep all of those millions of copies of Skyrim off of store shelves and out of the hands of gamers, depriving Zeni of many, many millions of dollars in revenue.

He goes on:

Seem unlikely? Think again. Companies do this all the time.

Using the power of hypertext, Pitts links to four examples of "companies doing this all the time" from that sentence. Let's look at them.

#1: Trench vs. Trenched

MCV: Trenched blocked by board game trademark

Upcoming XBLA title Trenched has been blocked from release due to a trademark dispute with a board game.

Eurogamer reports that the game clashes with trademarks held by an abstract Portuguese board game Trench. The trademark was filed by Trench's designer Rui Alípio Monteiro in 2007 and covers both board games and computer games.

Like Double Fine's Trenched, the board game is based on military strategy and is set during World War I.

The video game Trenched was eventually released as Iron Brigade. This doesn't seem to me to be a case of a company maliciously suing another to cause millions of dollars of damage; instead, the Portuguese board game's designer had a pre-existing trademark on a World War I game of practically the same name, which he was planning to expand into a video game. It seems reasonable that his claim would be upheld.

#2: Apple vs. Amazon

CNN Money: Amazon wins skirmish in 'App Store' battle with Apple

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Apple has been dealt a blow in its "App Store" trademark case, with a federal judge denying its request for an injunction to stop Amazon from using the term.

Apple filed a lawsuit against Amazon in March, saying that it has used the term "App Store" since 2008 and applied for a trademark at that time. Apple argued that Amazon's "Appstore," an Android marketplace that launched in March, infringes on the trademark and is confusing to customers.

Amazon fired back, saying the mark is generic and therefore not protectable -- and even if it weren't generic, Apple "cannot demonstrate any likelihood of confusion."

Judge Phyllis Hamilton mostly sided with Amazon in her ruling on Wednesday in California district court, in which she denied Apple the injunction it sought.

Hamilton wrote that she "does not agree with Amazon that the mark is purely generic," but also said that "there appears to be no need for a leap of imagination to understand what the term means."

Apple failed to prove its main points, she said, including: that Amazon's "Appstore" name will confuse customers, that it infringes on Apple and that it dilutes Apple's brand.

Here we have Apple being the evil corporation that we consider them to be, effectively trying to make the word "app" an Apple trademark instead of a generic term. Again, I'm not sure how Amazon and Apple fighting over a word are anything like Zenimax and Mojang. Note, if you like, that even though the court didn't agree that the term is generic, they still denied the injunction.

#3: Tim Langdell vs EA

Techdirt: Court Denies Injunction Against EA Over Tim Langdell's 'Edge' Trademark; Slams Langdell

We've covered a few different stories about a guy named Tim Langdell who held a trademark on the term "edge" in video games, which he had used many years ago, and still sorta kinda maybe uses as part of his operation, "Edge Games." And yet, he seemed to think that trademark law means he owns the word, as it relates to video games, forever. So he's been threatening iPhone developers and sued EA, claiming the company's Mirrors Edge series violates his trademarks. EA has fought back strongly against the claims, and Brian alerts us to the news that a court has denied Langdell's injunction request and slammed Langdell in the process, suggesting underhanded practices which could result in criminal penalties.


When a judge calls you a troll and threatens you with criminal penalties in a lawsuit you initiated... you've got problems. Reading through the actual ruling is incredible, in what it describes about what Langdell has done.

The article describes Dr Langdell's doctoring of evidence, including sending the court photoshopped images (!), which in our opinion is more like fraud than a legitimate copyright case. Essentially, Dr Langdell claimed that his trademark on the name "Edge" stops EA from releasing Mirror's Edge, because it contains the word "edge". His suit was thrown out of court.

Dr Langdell is especially relevant to the case at hand, because Mr Pitts refers back to him later. But we'll get to that.

#4: Activision vs EA Activision 'Rocktober' trademark conflicts with EA's Brutal Legend marketing

When Activision sent out a press release this morning regarding a Guitar Hero DLC discount, we couldn't help but notice a tiny trademark symbol dangling precariously above the term "Rocktober™." That got our mind grapes juicing: Isn't that the term EA has been using to market Brütal Legend's upcoming [strikethrough: October] Rocktober 13 release? It is!

Lo and behold, we turned up an Activision trademark filing for "Rocktober" dating all the way back to 2007. An EA representative was unable to comment at the time of this posting, but assured us we'll have an official statement from the publisher soon. We've also reached out to Activision for its side of the story. In the meantime, we've dropped the text from Activision's press release -- or as it's no doubt being dubbed by lawyers, Exhibit A -- after the break.
Activision press release:

The article doesn't actually mention either company suing the other, i.e. "companies doing this all the time"; what it says is that a third party noticed both EA and Activision were promoting their games using the word "Rocktober", which Activision had apparently filed a trademark on. This doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Zenimax-Mojang case.


Having provided these links, Mr Pitts goes on to directly compare Mojang to Dr Langdell:

Besides, if Mojang were as naive and innocent as Notch claims, why the far-reaching trademark application? If one were being generous, one could assume that Mojang is simply attempting to cover all potential bases, which, for a game as potentially all over the map as Scrolls could make sense. But if we're drawing comparisons to the case of Tim "Edge" Langdell (and I am), it pays to remember that Langdell was the one who applied for broad and far-reaching trademarks on the use of a single word, who attempted to sue EA over Mirror's Edge and Future Publishing over Edge Magazine and many, many other companies large and small, and who, ultimately, was pilloried for obfuscation and fraud.

While the comparison may seem attractive on the surface, it's rather more complicated than that. Dr Langdell seems to have effectively run a phantom game company, given that he had to photoshop and otherwise concoct evidence that he was actually doing any real business. As the court ruling puts it:

...given the suspect nature of Dr. Langdell’s representations to both the USPTO and the Court concerning plaintiff’s current and future sales and business activities, it is an open question whether plaintiff’s business activities legitimately extend beyond trolling various gaming-related industries for licensing opportunities.

The court effectively found Dr Langdell to be a copyright troll who maintains a fake game company solely in order to sue real game developers. So drawing a direct analogy to Mojang is a substantial accusation that we feel shouldn't be made lightly, or in fact at all.


So Mr Pitts's scenario is that Mojang are copyright trolling by launching a game called "Scrolls" and trying to trademark the name, planning to later sue Zenimax for infringing it with the Elder Scrolls series.

That's nonsense. Not because of any knowledge or assumptions I have about Mojang, as Mr Pitts puts it:

This begs the question of whether or not Mojang would ever do such a thing. "Surely the cute and fluffy, fan-friendly designers of the cult-hit Minecraft would never play such a down-and-dirty trick," you might say, and I, for one, would love to believe that to be true. But if you're Zenimax, and you're sitting on a multi-million dollar videogame franchise with the word "scrolls" in its title, you can't take that chance.

It's nonsense for a simple reason:

Mr Pitts doesn't seem to understand what a trademark is. Indeed, throughout the article he seems to confuse trademarks with patents. Trademarking a name doesn't give the trademark holder sole authority to decide who gets to use that name for any purpose. Mr Pitts claims:

In other words, Mojang intends to own the word "scrolls" in pretty much every form of visual entertainment media, not just in videogames. This means that, if the trademark is upheld, the company could rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever.

This is absolute rubbish. It is, however, delightfully taken to its logical conclusion in one of the comments to Mr Pitts's article:

They would own the trademark to anything with "Scrolls" in it. Not just use of the word "Scrolls" on its own.

Including libraries of historical documents.

Yes. Because that's exactly how trademarks work.

A trademark protects against products that might be confused for the trademarked product. For example, in one of the cases Mr Pitts quoted, a Portuguese game company successfully filed suit for trademark infringment against another company. The case was upheld because the WWI computer game "Trenched" was so similar to the WWI board game "Trench" that they might be confused for each other; someone buying the computer game might think it was based on or affiliated with the board game. That seems perfectly reasonable. It doesn't mean that no-one can ever use the word "trench" in the name of a game, let alone that the Portuguese company suddenly "owns" all World War I books or trench coats. Using Mr Pitts's logic, however, the Trench trademark would mean that no-one can ever include the word "trench" in the title of a video game. Trademark law simply doesn't work like that.

Mojang's trademark for Scrolls doesn't mean they've somehow "patented" the word "Scrolls", as Mr Pitts implied. It also doesn't mean they "could rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever". It doesn't even mean that they can sue anyone who has the word "scrolls" in the title of their game. No: it means that if someone else releases a game called Scrolls or something very similar, that consumers will mistake for Mojang's Scrolls, then Mojang can take action.

Under US law, in a case of trademark infringment the plaintiff has to prove the infringing trademark is the same as, or similar to, their trademark. The court determines whether the trademark has been infringed upon by using the "Sleekcraft factors", so named after a Supreme Court case that set them out. Those factors are:

1. Strength of the mark
2. Proximity of the goods
3. Similarity of the marks
4. Evidence of actual confusion
5. Marketing channels used
6. Type of goods and the degree of care likely to be exercised by the purchaser
7. Defendant's intent in selecting the mark
8. Likelihood of expansion of the product lines

In other words, in a trademark infringment case, the party bringing the case has to prove that they have a valid, pre-existing trademark, and the product they claim is infringing on their copyright is sufficiently similar that consumers can be misled into thinking they are buying one when in fact they are buying another.

Mr Pitts's scenario of Mojang suing Zenimax over, say, Skyrim, is patently ridiculous and would be thrown out of court in any jurisdiction. Zenimax have been publishing "Elder Scrolls" games for 17 years and, indeed, own the trademark to "The Elder Scrolls". To obtain an injunction, Mojang would have to demonstrate that their trademark to "Scrolls" (from 2011) is stronger than Zenimax's far older, better-established, multi-million-selling "Elder Scrolls" trademark, and that Zenimax are intentionally selling and marketing Skyrim in such a way as to confuse consumers into buying it, thinking that they were buying Scrolls. The very idea is laughable. We don't, for one minute, believe that Zenimax's lawyers really feel that a trademark on "Scrolls" would threaten their upcoming release of Skyrim.

Such a hypothetical lawsuit would be dismissed as pure trademark trolling, exactly like Dr Langdell's suit against EA was. Given that Mr Pitts diretly refers to Dr Langdell's lawsuits and the Trench-Trenched lawsuit, it's puzzling that he doesn't seem to understand how trademark law works. Mojang could not "rightly take action against anyone else using the word "scrolls" in any form of media whatsoever", because they don't have, and couldn't get, a trademark on the word "scrolls" in "any media whatsoever".

Mr Pitts makes much of the fact that Mojang's trademark application includes things like TV shows and clothing, again failing to understand that this trademark would only cover TV shows, movies, clothing and whatnot directly related to the game "Scrolls". It doesn't cover any movie or clothing line that uses the word "scrolls" in any context, just ones that could reasonably be thought to be related to the game. Just yesterday someone tweeted to Notch, saying Mojang's trademark of Scrolls "would even be hurting book writers". Again, this would only be true of books that could be reasonably thought to be connected with the game Scrolls, not any book with the word "scrolls" in it.

In coming up with a scenario like this, predicated on the false assumption that "Mojang owns the rights to the word "scrolls"", Mr Pitts is simply demonstrating his ignorance of trademark law. His notion that succesfully trademarking "Scrolls" would jeopardize Zenimax's Elder Scrolls franchise is nonsense. Notch has also since stated that Mojang offered to drop its trademark of Scrolls in exchange for Zenimax dropping the lawsuit, but this was rejected. That would seem to be the final nail in the coffin of Mr Pitts's theory


While we're puzzled as to why someone would write a lengthy attack on a game company engaged in a trademark lawsuit without even seeming to know what a trademark is, we're even more confused that the same author would posit motivations for Zenimax in filing the suit without having even read the papers they filed. As we mentioned earlier, they are available online, and make for interesting reading.

Zenimax's case against Mojang is based on the allegation that Mojang are deliberately releasing a game called "Scrolls" to fool customers into confusing it with Skyrim. Yes, you read that right. Far from claiming that Mojang intend to trademark troll them, as Mr Pitts maintains, they are postulating a conspiracy by Mojang to confuse customers.

Zenimax are claiming that Mojang are using the name "SCROLLS" to market "identical or similar" goods to those covered by Zenimax's trademark for "THE ELDER SCROLLS". Both terms are capitalized throughout. They assert (sections 3.1-3.5) that they own the trademark to "THE ELDER SCROLLS", have been releasing Elder Scrolls games for 17 years and sold millions of copies. That's fair enough, but then things start to get interesting.

They maintain that Mojang are using the "confusable" title "Scrolls" to market their video game to be published in 2011 (3.7), despite knowing about Zenimax's plans to publish an Elder Scrolls game in 2011. They quote an interview with Notch, where he says he's played Oblivion, to prove that Mojang know about the Elder Scrolls series (3.8).

In section 3.9, the conspiracy theory begins. We'll quote:

Vidare är klarlagt att Mojang är metvetna om den kommande lanseringen av THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrin och att Mojang har för avsikt att dra fördel av kännedomen om spelserien THE ELDER SCROLLS. Efter att ZeniMax tillkännagav att THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim skulle lanseras den 11 november 2011 tillkännagav Mojang att de skall lansera den slutliga versionen av sitt första spel MINECRAFT på samma datum. Vid tillkännagivandet uppgav Markus Persson att datumet sammanfaller med lanseringen av ett par andra spel och filmer, däribland Skyrim, och att den inofficiella motiveringen var "us too" (Sv "vi också"), bilaga 9. Mojang har därefter antytt att spelet inte kommer att lanseras på detta datum. En samtidigt lansering av MINECRAFT och THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim utgör visserligen inte direkt intrång i ZeniMax varumärkesrättigheter. Det är emellertid uppenbart att Mojang därigenom avser att i konsumenternas ögon koppla samman lansering av MINECRAFT med lanseringen av THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim och därmed dra fördel av den internationella kännedom som upparbetats kring spelserien THE ELDER SCROLLS.

Our boldface. Translated, the last two sentences read approximately:

A simultaneous release of MINECRAFT and THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim does not really violate Zenimax's trademark rights. It is, however, obvious that Mojang intend thereby to join in the consumers' eyes the release of MINECRAFT with the release of THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrim and thereby take advantage of the international fame of the game series THE ELDER SCROLLS.

That's... ridiculous. They're really saying that Mojang picked 11.11.11 as the release date for Minecraft in order to leech on Zenimax's PR, as opposed to picking it because, well, it's 11.11.11.

As a note of legal interest, they run through the criteria for trademark infringement, including similarity between the marks, the actual goods or services, and how well they're known on the market (4.2). And further, in 4.3-4.5, they make the case that the overall judgment on the case must take into account the likelihood that the "average consumer" will confuse the two marks.

The document refers to some cases brought before the European Court of Justice. In Gut Springenheide GmbH and Rudolf Tusky v Oberkreisdirektor des Kreises Steinfurt - Amt für Lebensmittelüberwachung, the ECJ ruled the following:

37 The answer to be given to the questions referred must therefore be that, in order to determine whether a statement or description designed to promote sales of eggs is liable to mislead the purchaser, in breach of Article 10(2)(e) of Regulation No 1907/90, the national court must take into account the presumed expectations which it evokes in an average consumer who is reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect. However, Community law does not preclude the possibility that, where the national court has particular difficulty in assessing the misleading nature of the statement or description in question, it may have recourse, under the conditions laid down by its own national law, to a consumer research poll or an expert's report as guidance for its judgment.

Our boldface. This is effectively the same requirement as the wonderfully named "moron in a hurry" rule of English case law. Wikipedia:

It appears to have been used first by Mr Justice Foster in the 1978 English legal case of Morning Star Cooperative Society v Express Newspapers Limited [1979] FSR 113.[1] In this case, the publishers of the Morning Star, a British Communist party publication, sought an injunction to prevent Express Newspapers from launching their new tabloid, which was to be called the Daily Star. The judge was unsympathetic. He asked whether the plaintiffs could show:

a misrepresentation express or implied that the newspaper to be published by the defendants is connected with the plaintiffs' business and that as a consequence damage is likely to result to the plaintiffs

and stated that:

if one puts the two papers side by side I for myself would find that the two papers are so different in every way that only a moron in a hurry would be misled.

The "moron in a hurry" was also cited in the Beck v. Eiland-Hall case, featuring the infamous Glenn Beck.

So under trademark law, when Mojang has a trademark for "Scrolls" and Zenimax has a trademark for "Elder Scrolls", it doesn't follow that Mojang's trademark means they automatically own the rights to everything with the word "Scrolls" in it. Instead, as explained in Sabel BV v Puma AG:

Mere association alone is not enough to justify a finding of a likelihood of confusion

As we explained, Mojang's trademark for Scrolls doesn't mean they can sue anyone who has the word "scrolls" in the title of their game. It means that if someone else releases a game called Scrolls or something very similar, that consumers will mistake for Mojang's scrolls, then Mojang can take action.

Similarly, Zenimax's existing trademark on "The Elder Scrolls" doesn't mean they "own" that phrase or any of the words in it. Instead, to uphold their claim of trademark infringement against Mojang, they must demonstrate that a "reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect" consumer would mistake Mojang's Scrolls for Skyrim.

This is what Zenimax sets out to prove in the papers they filed in Stockholm, and frankly, we find it amusing. The best part is 4.14:

Även innehållet i de dator- och videospel som tillhandahålls eller planeras att tillhandahålls under de motstående kännetedknen uppvisar stora likheter. Båda är exempelvis äventyrsspel som innefattar magi och utspelas i en bergsrik fantasivärld. Dessa likheter är uppenbara vid jämförelse mellan den officiella trailern för ZeniMax spel THE ELDER SCROLLS V: Skyrin som lanserades 23 februari 2011 och den första trailern för Mojangs spel SCROLLS som lanserades den 25 augusti 2011. Representativa skärmbilder och kopior av respektive trailer lilägges, bilaga 13-15.

In this section, Zenimax claims that the content of the games is very similar. The boldfaced sentence reads: "Both are, for example, adventure games that include magic and take place in a mountain-rich fantasy world." As proof, they offer the official trailer for Skyrim, which has mountains, adventure gaming and magic in it, and the Scrolls teaser, which has no gameplay footage at all, but admittedly does include some mountains.

This is where it all gets really stupid. On, the game is described as follows by Jakob Porser, its lead designer:

The game we envisioned had elements from the collectible card game genre as well as from traditional board games. It would be a strategic game with a strong foundation in tactical game play but with a touch of random and chance guaranteeing a never-ending stream of curve balls. You would control the outcome of battle by creating, modifying and refining your arsenal to overcome the obstacles in your path. The game would challenge you with ever changing content and let you explore the world and cleanse the lands of harm, one monster at the time. It would give you the opportunity to test yourself with your peers by battling other players using a long list of tournament templates ranging from friendly matches to ranked league matches. From quick, small sized tournaments to world championships!

Notice that it says "collectible card game genre" and "traditional board games". Here's how the game was discussed in an article on Wired UK this March:

Wired UK: Scrolls: Minecraft creators reinvent collectible card games

Swedish independent games developer Mojang, which is behind the phenomenally-successful Minecraft, has announced its newest title -- Scrolls.

Scrolls will be a hybrid of collectible card games, such as Magic: The Gathering, and boardgames. Players place different units, buildings and siege weapons on a virtual gameboard, assembling a collection of scrolls to play from before the battle begins. To win, you'll need to balance up spells, units, equipment and resources. Some sample cards can be seen in the gallery above.

"I don't think there are many similarities between Minecraft and Scrolls, if any," Jakob Porser, lead designer on Scrolls told "I guess you could say that both games encourage the player to actively take part of the game and not just sit idle as a story unfolds in front of them, but as for genre they really do not have anything in common."

Where, in all this, do you get an adventure game set in a mountain-rich environment? Here's some sample cards from Scrolls. Cards, because it's a CCG.

How can anyone in their right mine confuse that with Skyrim? To paraphrase the "moron in a hurry" idea, how much of a moron, and in how much of a hurry, would you have to be to think Scrolls was Skyrim?

Here we'll gladly submit ourselves as evidence. It should be obvious to anyone reading this blog that its authors are complete morons. Yet even we never confused Scrolls for Skyrim. The short introductory text on the website was enough for us to realize that Scrolls is a lame Magic: The Gathering rip-off, and we're not interested. Meanwhile, we've been under the constant impression that Skyrim won't be a collectible card game but, in fact, a role-playing game. Or, if you like, an adventure game involving magic and all that.

As we said earlier, The Elder Scrolls series is a 17-year-old, multi-million-selling game series of no small fame in the gaming community. Indeed, Zenimax themselves allege just this in the papers they filed. Yet they're claiming that gamers will accidentally go online and download Scrolls, thinking that they're going on Steam or down to the shops to buy Skyrim. Further, they're saying that Mojang are deliberately trying to confuse people into doing that.

They go even further in 5.5, where they maintain that Mojang's plan to give out alpha versions of Scrolls at Minecon 2011 will "dramatically increase the damage to Zenimax".


In our opinion, there's no way any "reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect" average consumer is going to accidentally download Scrolls, thinking that they're buying Skyrim. Surely gamers can tell the difference between a downloadable card game and a mass-marketed computer role-playing game. What makes the Zenimax case totally ridiculous is that they either don't realize that Scrolls is a collectible card game, or they're deliberately misrepresenting Scrolls to the court. We anticipate Mojang should have a fairly easy time pointing out that Scrolls is not, in fact, an adventure game involving magic, set in a mountain-rich environment.

Only a complete moron with their hair on fire could possibly buy Scrolls and think he had bought Skyrim.

We think - and this is pure speculation - that Zenimax were gambling on Mojang not risking a court case and the risk of substantial damages. Now that they are going to court, in our opinion Zenimax's case rests entirely on substantiating a plot by Mojang to deliberately hoodwink customers into confusing Scrolls and Skyrim. We find it hard to imagine that succeeding. Apparently Mojang feel the same way, which is why they're going to court. We applaud their bravery in doing so.

We don't know why Mr Pitts wrote his uninformed attack on Mojang and attempted to brand them as dishonest trademark trolls, and it would be illiberal of us to speculate, let alone to speculate on the motivations of people who were prompted by Mr Pitts's article to attack Notch on Twitter. We don't want to make the opposite case, either, and claim that Zenimax is an evil corporation bullying independent game developers around with its legal department, even if we wouldn't be the only ones saying that. We don't know if there's a villain in this story at all. Maybe Zenimax genuinely do believe that Mojang are dealing dishonestly, although we find that difficult to swallow. It's even harder to believe the case Zenimax are making. For all we know, though, they may even be right. We can't claim any insight into Mojang's operations.

Overall, we find ourselves at an uncomfortable impasse, because even though we think Mojang's Minecraft is one of the best PC games ever made, we think The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind shares that distinction. We were also pleasantly surprised by Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, both excellent Bethesda games published by Zenimax.

Even if there isn't a villain in this story, though, in our opinion Zenimax is certainly acting like one. Unless their claims of Mojang's malicious intent are conclusively and thoroughly upheld in court, this will look like a big game company trying to trample all over a popular independent developer. Even worse, they're grossly misrepresenting what Scrolls is in an attempt to get money from Mojang. If they were really this concerned about the integrity of their trademark, wouldn't they go after, say, the browser game "Scroll Wars"? That actually is an RPG, unlike Scrolls.

In this day and age, we think few people are going to side with the big corporation making unreasonable accusations against the cheerful, sympathetic indie developer. It's a virtual certainty that the bad PR from this lawsuit has already caused far more damage to Zenimax than any hypothetical Skyrim sales lost to Scrolls ever could.

As for Mr Pitts's article and the people attacking Notch and Mojang because of it, we can only bemoan the fact that in the Information Age, people can't even be bothered to find out what a trademark is before accusing Mojang of "trying to patent a word". Clearly these people have access to the Internet; they could try to make at least some effort to understand how trademarks work before, say, writing an article that tries to make Mr Persson into Dr Langdell. It reflects poorly on Kotaku that they should publish such an ill-informed personal attack during a fairly high-profile court case.