Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let them eat cake

Dear Diary,

Here's a bit of retro-posting for you.  I'm going to tell you about one of the all-time legendary computers games that probably influenced me to become a physicist.

I'm talking about the original Half-life.

The game opens on a scientist going to work in a secret, private corporation's complex by tram past, among other things, a radioactive pit.  The subtitles inform you that you are Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist from MIT.  Now, as a nine year old, that theoretical physics thing sounds super dope because no one who is nine years old knows what physics is, so it must be something completely wicked.

That first subtitle holds up well and good until you start thinking about what kind of work Dr. Freeman actually has considering his background in theory.  His job is to be blithely ignorant to all things going on in the facility and push samples into laser beams.  He does this excellently.  But, why did they hire a theoretical physicist to do this?  Is it that an experimental physicist would know too much about pushing samples into laser beams and the work is hyper-classified?  If their goal was to find someone who would definitely never figure out why their experimental appartus was a bad idea, they picked the right guy.  Rather, the game should be focused around you sitting at a desk and pushing math around on a piece of paper.

When Dr. Freeman activates a resonance cascade opening a trans-dimensional portal to allow aliens into our world (almost the first thing you do), he immediately becomes the "hunky, studly" sort of life saving scientist (a la Tony Stark/Ironman, but without any dialog or attitude) and you start to wonder how he knows how to deal with headcrabs (class at MIT? PHYS 301: Monster Management? PHYS 302: How to Save the World from your Research?).

What are the teaching people at MIT, anyway?  How did he get through MIT if he doesn't know what a resonance cascade is?  Does the physics department there also include courses on how to use weapons in case your physics research opens trans-dimensional portals...or is that something he learned at his first postdoc?  Maybe it's a product of the Manhattan project?  Could Dr. Freeman not get a regular postdoc and so had to settle for causing an alien invasion?  I know the job market is bad, but whoa...

Let this be a lesson to all of us:  theorists cause the alien apocalypse working in a theoretical job.  This game is really a lesson in hiring people with the proper job training...and not getting too over-invested so you get impatient waiting for Half-Life 3 to come out.

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