Video game communities, social economies, give us something that we never had as economists before. That’s something of an opportunity, a chance to experiment with a macroeconomy. We can experiment in economics with individuals. We can put someone behind a screen and experiment on the subject, and ask him or her to make choices and see how they behave.
That has nothing to do with macroeconomics. Macroeconomics requires a different scenario. You conduct controlled experiments with a large economy. We are not allowed to do this in the real world. But in the video game world, we economists have a smidgen of an opportunity to conduct controlled experiments on a real, functioning macroeconomy. And that may be a scientific window into economic reality that we’ve never had access to before.
Yanis Varoufakis, talking to Peter Suderman, “A Multiplayer Game Environment Is Actually a Dream Come True for an Economist”, Reason, 2014-05-30.
March 4, 2015
February 22, 2015
At Open Culture, Dan Colman looks at how Monopoly evolved and changed before it became a fixture in children’s games, despite the intent of the original designer:
The great capitalist game of Monopoly was first marketed by Parker Brothers back in February 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Even during hard times, Americans could still imagine amassing a fortune and securing a monopoly on the real estate market. When it comes to making money, Americans never run out of optimism and hope.
Monopoly didn’t really begin, however, in 1935. And if you trace back the origins of the game, you’ll encounter an ironic, curious tale. The story goes like this: Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips (1866–1948), a disciple of the progressive era economist Henry George, created the prototype for Monopoly in 1903. And she did so with the goal of illustrating the problems associated with concentrating land in private monopolies. As Mary Pilon, the author of the new book The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, recently explained in The New York Times, the original game — The Landlord’s Game — came with two sets of rules: “an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents.” Phillips’ approach, Pilon adds, “was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.” In other words, the original game of Monopoly was created as a critique of monopolies — something the trust- and monopoly-busting president, Theodore Roosevelt, could relate to.
For more on the modern game, here’s the Wikipedia page.
February 9, 2015
In the Chicago Sun-Times, LeeAnn Shelton reports on an arrest in Las Vegas for computer-related crimes and (effectively) attempted murder by falsely reporting a serious crime at another address to get the SWAT team to raid that location.
A gamer known online as “Famed God” — who made up a murder to get police to go to an unsuspecting west suburban resident’s home last year — is behind bars in Nevada awaiting extradition.
Brandon Willson, 19, was arrested Thursday after authorities searched his home in the 4600 block of El Presidente Drive in Las Vegas, a statement from the Will County state’s attorney’s office said.
Willson used a computer to contact Naperville’s 911 center on July 10, 2014, and claimed a murder had happened at a home in the city, prosecutors claim. Naperville’s Special Response Team responded but found no crime.
The practice involves someone falsely reporting a dangerous situation to send police to another person’s home. It is known as “swatting” because the hoax calls can lead to deployment of SWAT teams.
Calling it a “dangerous prank,” State’s Attorney James Glasgow plans to craft legislation that would make swatting a felony in Illinois, the statement said. The bill would also require anyone convicted of swatting to reimburse municipalities for the cost of the emergency response.
February 2, 2015
James Lileks on when gaming stops being fun … because of the damned controller:
My wife asked if we had an xbox 360, and I said we did. She said that someone on the neighborhood mailing list wanted one and could we sell it. I balked. I haven’t played it for some time but there were two games I wanted to get back to, some day. Why had I stopped? Because I can’t play console games. I can’t aim. I can’t figure out the buttons. Once upon a time I was an ace at Halo, but that was long ago, and now there’s just TOO MANY BUTTONS. I’m a keyboard-mouse man and so it has ever been.
I will never finish those games. The reason they were unfinished was because my characters had walked into walls and fallen off horses and the controller felt like a ceramic croissant in my hand. One of them started out interesting, but turned into a driving game as I chased a suspect. My inability to drive had no bearing on the story; even though I rammed the car into phone poles and fire hydrants and mowed down pedestrians by the dozen, all I got was a “be careful!” from my partner.
Every standard image of console gamers shows them sitting back on a sofa, right? Plinking away, trash-talking, relaxed. Every good game I’ve played on a computer has had me on the edge of my seat. Literally. Tense. It’s the difference between playing and inhabiting, between popping in a game disk like you’d put in a movie or turn on the radio, and entering a world. It’s odd, really: the computer screen feels interactive, responsive, an immediate field of action, perhaps because it’s a couple of feet from my face. When I’m sitting in front of a TV, it feels peculiar to interact with it, because it’s supposed to be doing all the work. ENTERTAIN ME! If you do nothing during a game your character stands there, and that makes the TV screen like the real world. It’s like walking away from the TV for a few hours and coming back to see the news anchor is sitting at the desk eating a sandwich.
So out it goes. It’s a relief, really. When entertainment feels like obligation it’s best to look elsewhere.
I wonder if James was playing L.A. Noire, as that was pretty much the point at which I stopped trying to play the game … and my partner said something remarkably like “Be careful!” before I put down the controller and turned off the console.
January 31, 2015
A multiplayer game environment is a dream come true for an economist. Because here you have an economy where you don’t need statistics. And elaborate statistics is what you use when you don’t know everything, you’re not omniscient, and you need to use something in order to gain feeling as to what is happening to prices, what is happening to quantities, what’s happening to investments, and so on and so forth. But in a video game world, all the data are there. It’s like being God, who has access to everything and to what every member of the social economy is doing.
Yanis Varoufakis, talking to Peter Suderman, “A Multiplayer Game Environment Is Actually a Dream Come True for an Economist”, Reason, 2014-05-30.
January 26, 2015
If there is a heaven just for game designers, it has a new archangel. John Hill, best known for designing the groundbreaking board wargame Squad Leader, passed away on January 12. He was inducted into The Game Manufacturers Association’s Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Hall of Fame in 1978; Squad Leader was inducted into the HoF in 2004.
His many boardgame designs include Jerusalem (1975), Battle for Hue (1973), Battle for Stalingrad (1980) and Tank Leader (1986 and 1987), but John was always a miniatures gamer at heart, and anyone who ever got to play a game on his magnificent game table considered themselves lucky. Squad Leader was originally intended to be a set of miniatures rules, but the publisher, Avalon Hill, asked him to convert it to a cardboard-counters boardgame design. His Civil War miniatures rules Johnny Reb were considered so significant that even Fire & Movement magazine, which primarily covered boardgames, published a major article on the JR system. Most recently John designed Across A Deadly Field, a set of big-battle Civil War rules, for Osprey. He completed additional books in the series for Osprey that have not yet been published.
January 24, 2015
I just finished watching the ArenaNet livestream from PAX South, where they introduced the first expansion for Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns.
Lots of unanswered questions, a few of which are answered in the new FAQ.
Dulfy has the livestream notes if you want to read about what was revealed.
January 13, 2015
NCSoft, the Korean company that owns ArenaNet has registered a trademark for a Guild Wars 2 expansion called Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. Here’s the Reddit thread.
December 31, 2014
At Massively, Andrew Ross talks to the lead author on a recent paper that — unlike the pop-psych headlines in the newspapers — shows a much more positive side to gamers and online gaming:
Every time we talk about scientific research on Massively, readers argue that results from game studies should be “obvious” and are a waste of time/money or that everyone knows MMOs are filled with anti-social trolls. Kowert told me that game studies are “not unique in these criticisms,” though “they may seem stronger within this field due to the perceived frivolity of games and gaming as a field of study”:
Even though gaming continues to grow in importance and popularity within society, there is still so much that remains unknown about how and why people are using this medium and what are its potential uses and effects (both positive and negative). For example, it has long been assumed that online game players are all reclusive, overweight, lonely, teenage males. This is reflected in the cultural stereotype of the group as seen in the news media and popular culture (Make Love, Not Warcraft, anyone?).
In her paper Reconsidering the Stereotype of Online Gamers, Kowert and her colleagues examined the validity of these stereotypes. As we discussed yesterday, the results proved that the opinions people hold about gamers don’t quite match the media’s stereotypes, even among non-gamers. Without research, we wouldn’t have this information, and for me as a gamer, it’s encouraging to know that times are changing. Plus, it gives you ammo when Uncle Frank tries to put down your hobby this holiday season.
During my examination of the research into online games and real world friendships among emotionally sensitive users, I realized I could see myself in the findings. As a child, I was very shy; part of the problem was that I didn’t know how to react to people’s emotions. One article about social gaming and lonely lives argued that people who game a lot can sometimes have trouble connecting with non-gamers. Many “enthusiastic hobbyists” also have this issue, whether their hobby is sports or soap operas or games.
Kowert says this is correct to an extent; we’ve all met the hardcore sports fans who spouts sports jargon. “There is some uniqueness in the social profile of individuals who choose to exclusively engage in hobbyist activities that are mediated by technology, such as online games,” Kowert told me. “For instance, you state that you were shy as a child and preferred standing in the background rather than diving right into new social situations. Knowing this about yourself, you may have been more apprehensive to join, let’s say, a sports club or a board game group, than popping in on an online forum discussing sports or joining online gaming club.”
In other words, it’s not that all people who play online games are shy or are using the internet to overcome some of their social problems, but for those who suffer from those problems, online gaming could be a good way for them to meet others. Being online allows people to share a social space without the fears and consequences associated with face-to-face socialization. For example, I rarely went to parties in high school, but I did run events in the online games I played, especially in older MMOs. In more raid-oriented MMOs, people constantly told me I was doing something “different,” something unique or strange, and that made me stand out as also being different. In short, I was using the game world in a different way than other more mainstream gamers did, which echoes Kowert’s research about emotionally sensitive players using game spaces in unique ways. She explains:
Previous research has largely focused on the relationship between MMORPG play and social outcomes, as MMORPGs are believed to have a unique ability to promote sociability between users (see Mark Chen’s 2009 book Leet Noobs for a more in-depth discussion of the social environment of MMOs). As cooperation between users is often crucial to game play, the social environment of MMORPGs differs from other genres, such as multi-player first-person shooter games where gameplay is more about competition than cooperation and the social environment is more often characterized by competitiveness, trash-talking, and gloating (for more on this research see Zubek & Khoo, 2002 [PDF]). These differences in social environments are likely to differentially impact the social utility of the space as well as the social relationships that may come from it.
December 22, 2014
• The psychosocial causes and consequences of online video game play were evaluated.
• Over a 1- and 2-year period, evidence for social compensation processes were found.
• Among young adults, online games appear to be socially compensating spaces.
• No significant displacement or compensation patterns were found for adolescents.
• No significant displacement or compensation patterns were found for older adults.
Due to its worldwide popularity, researchers have grown concerned as to whether or not engagement within online video gaming environments poses a threat to public health. Previous research has uncovered inverse relationships between frequency of play and a range of psychosocial outcomes, however, a reliance on cross-sectional research designs and opportunity sampling of only the most involved players has limited the broader understanding of these relationships. Enlisting a large representative sample and a longitudinal design, the current study examined these relationships and the mechanisms that underlie them to determine if poorer psychosocial outcomes are a cause (i.e., pre-existing psychosocial difficulties motivate play) or a consequence (i.e., poorer outcomes are driven by use) of online video game engagement. The results dispute previous claims that online game play has negative effects on the psychosocial well-being of its users and instead indicate that individuals play online games to compensate for pre-existing social difficulties.
December 15, 2014
At BoingBoing, Jason Louv talks about getting back into his teenage passion (Dungeons and Dragons), but also worries that as a culture, we’re losing our opportunities — and capability — to imagine:
There’s just something about high Arthurian or Tolkienesque fantasy that cuts so deeply into the Western unconscious, finding a far more central vein than anything that Lovecraft or Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jack Kirby were able to mine. Nothing beats the experience of the Grail Quest, of becoming a heroic adventurer in a medieval world full of fantastic creatures, on a mission to slay the dragon and liberate the princess — or at least get some decent gold, treasure and experience points.
Until I left for college, fantasy paperbacks and comics were my world when I was alone, and role-playing games were my world when I was with friends. And how much more real, in a way, the inner palaces of my adolescent imagination felt to me than the gritty “reality” of so-called adult life, of endless war, losing friends to drugs, economic chaos, tumultuous relationships, chasing dollars.
Am I so wrong to want to go back to the Garden?
The Interior Castle
While our culture dismisses any use of the imagination as wasted time — something that distracts us from the “real” world of quantification and monetization — mystics and artists throughout history have told us that the imagination is the vehicle which brings us into contact with reality, not away from it.
William Blake is an exemplar of this approach — “The world of imagination is the world of eternity,” he wrote. “It is the divine bosom into which we shall all go after the death of the vegetated body. This world of imagination is infinite and eternal, whereas the world of generation is finite and temporal.”
In 1577, the Spanish Carmelite nun Teresa of Ávila wrote a prayer manual called The Interior Castle, which describes her path to union with God as a kind of epic single-player Dungeons and Dragons game. In it, she describes a vision she received of the soul as a castle-shaped crystal globe, containing seven mansions. These mansions — representing seven stages of deepening faith — were to be traversed through internal prayer. Throughout the book, she warns that this imaginary internal world will be consistently assaulted by reptilian specters, “toads, vipers and other venomous creatures,” representing the impurities of the soul to be vanquished by the spiritual pilgrim.
Sixty-five years earlier, St. Ignatius of Loyola designed his Spiritual Exercises as the training manual of the Jesuits, in which adherents were to deeply imagine themselves partaking in incidents from the life of Christ, creating inward virtual realities built up over years as a way of coming closer to God. Similar techniques exist in many world religions — in the stark inner visualizations of Tantric Buddhism, for instance. Such mystics speak not just of the vital importance of daydreaming and fantasy, but of the disciplined imagination as literally the door to divinity.
As we progress into the 21st century, this is a door that we are slowly losing the key to. The French Situationist author Annie Le Brun, in her 2008 book The Reality Overload: The Modern World’s Assault on the Imaginal Realm, suggests that information technology is causing blight and desertification in the world of the imagination just as surely as pollution and global warming are causing blight and desertification in the physical world. We are gaining the ability to communicate and hoard information, but losing the ability to imagine.
I literally cannot get my head around what it must be like to be a child or teenager now, raised in a completely digitized world — where fantasy and long reverie have given way to the instant gratification of electronic media. There can be no innocence or imagination or wonderment in the world of Reddit, Pornhub and 4Chan — just blank, numb, drooling fixation on a screen flickering with horrors in a dark and lonely room, the hell of isolation within one’s own id. I recently saw a blog post about a toilet training apparatus with an attachment for an iPad. No, no, no.
Just as electronic media is stripping us of our right to privacy, so is it stripping us of our right to an inner world. Everything is to be put on public display, even our most intimate moments and thoughts.
We need to go back. We need to re-discover the door to the inner worlds — a door that I believe encouraging young people to read printed books, and to play analog role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, can re-open.
December 9, 2014
Noah Berlatsky talks about feminist videographer Anita Sarkeesian’s criticism of the portrayal of sex workers in video games and how that contributes to negative views toward all women and the sex workers who take issue with Sarkeesian’s presentation:
In her series of controversial videos critiquing sexism in video games, Anita Sarkeesian often focuses on the way games treat sex workers. She points to games like Hitman: Absolution, in which characters can dump the dead body of a stripper over a railing as a way to distract police; or Saints Row, in which characters are encouraged to steal prostitutes from one pimp and deliver them to another; or Grand Theft Auto, where having sex with a sex worker increases health much like quaffing an energy drink. Sarkeesian concludes that sex workers in many video games are viewed as commodities and objects, rather than as people — and that they are often targeted for violence. In Red Dead Redemption, for example, the player is rewarded with an achievement for kidnapping a sex worker and murdering her.
Violence against sex workers is a serious problem, both nationally and internationally [PDF], and Sarkeesian makes a good case that the games she discusses treat that violence as fun, enjoyable, or even laudable. But Sarkeesian’s videos have not garnered much praise from those most directly affected by these tropes. On the contrary, many sex workers have argued that Sarkeesian’s videos contribute to the objectification and stigma that she claims she is trying to reduce.
Much of the criticism of Sarkeesian has centered around her terminology. She doesn’t call sex workers “sex workers.” Instead she refers to them throughout her video series as “prostituted women.” That’s a term often used by writers who see all sex work as automatically exploitative or harmful to women, and by those who want to criminalize sex work. Sex workers have repeatedly tried to ask Sarkeesian on social media to reconsider her language, but she hasn’t responded, and has continued to use the term. For example, in this recent tweet she says that fans of Grand Theft Auto have been harassing her by sending her images of “gameplay of the use & murder of prostitutes.” The fact that gamers are using images of sex workers to harass Sarkeesian seems like it fits into her analysis—violence against sex workers is deployed in a misogynist way, in order to harass and intimidate a woman. But at the same time, Sarkeesian, by referring to the “use” of sex workers, seems to buy into the same logic, treating sex workers as things or utilities, rather than as human beings. (Sarkeesian did not respond to a request to comment for this article.)
This seeming contradiction is tied to longstanding tensions between some strands of feminist cultural criticism and sex workers. Sarkeesian’s criticism of video games is in a tradition of feminist analysis that goes back to the 1980s, when theorists like Andrea Dworkin argued that “Pornography is used in rape — to plan it, to execute it, to choreograph it, to engender the excitement to commit the act.” Dworkin saw sexualized images of women as directly implicated in misogyny and violence against women — which could mean that women taking part in pornography, or in sexualized imagery, were seen as themselves culpable or morally flawed. Thus anti-porn feminists like Julie Burchill declared that, “When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women.” Anti-porn feminists and video games here come together in celebrating violent attacks on sex workers.
November 16, 2014
In Kotaku, Luke Plunkett explains why of all the AI leaders in the game, none are more likely to espouse the philosophy “nuke ‘em ’till they glow, then shoot ‘em in the dark” than India’s Gandhi:
In the original Civilization, it was because of a bug. Each leader in the game had an “aggression” rating, and Gandhi – to best reflect his real-world persona – was given the lowest score possible, a 1, so low that he’d rarely if ever go out of his way to declare war on someone.
Only, there was a problem. When a player adopted democracy in Civilization, their aggression would be automatically reduced by 2. Code being code, if Gandhi went democratic his aggression wouldn’t go to -1, it looped back around to the ludicrously high figure of 255, making him as aggressive as a civilization could possibly be.
In later games this bug was obviously not an issue, but as a tribute/easter egg of sorts, parts of his white-hot rage have been kept around. In Civilization V, for example, while Gandhi’s regular diplomatic approach is more peaceful than other leaders, he’s also the most likely to go dropping a-bombs when pushed, with a nuke “rating” of 12 putting him well ahead of the competition (the next three most likely to go nuclear have a rating of 8, with most leaders around the 4-6 region).
Update, 16 November: Fixed the broken link.
November 1, 2014
While I probably won’t have enough spare time to add World of Warships to my gaming habits, I’ve been interested in watching the development of the game. Here’s their latest reveal, the aircraft carrier class:
Published on 30 Oct 2014
Wargaming gladly announces the release of the third episode of World of Warships developer diaries series. This video is dedicated to aircraft carriers, the most unique type of vessels in World of Warships. Enjoy!
October 29, 2014
The Popehat grand poobah suspects that if you’re passionate about #gamergate, you’re probably wrong … or at least, wrong-headed about your passions:
GamerGate is label-heavy, and labels are lazy, obfuscating bullshit.
Labels are supposed to be shorthand for collections of ideas. I might say “I am libertarian-ish” because it’s not practical to go around announcing the whole array of views I hold about demolishing public roads and privatizing the air force and so forth. This, up to a point, is useful.
It stops being useful when we argue over labels instead of over ideas. Take, for instance, “feminist.” A person who describes themselves as “feminist” might associate that term with their grandmother being the first woman in the family to go to college and their mother defying a sexist boss in a male-dominated job and the development of laws saying women can’t be relentlessly harassed in the workplace or fired for being women.1 Someone who routinely criticizes “feminism” might be thinking of Andrea Dworkin saying all heterosexual sex is coercive, or that time a woman snapped at him when he held a door open, or the time someone embarrassed his friend by saying his joke was sexist. When these two people use the term “feminist” in an argument, they are talking past each other and engaging with strawmen rather than ideas. The feminist is engaging the anti-feminist as if he opposes women in the workplace or supports gender-based hiring, which he doesn’t necessarily. The anti-feminist is engaging the feminist as if she thinks all marital sex is rape and as if she thinks jokes should get him fired, which she doesn’t necessarily. Neither is really engaging in the particular issue at hand — because why would you engage with a person who holds such extreme views? Why would it matter if the person you are arguing with has an arguable point on a specific issue, if they also necessarily (based on labels) stand for everything you hate?
Oh, and reacting before thinking (or instead of it)?
People are going to say things about your favorite parts of the culture. Some of these things will be stupid or wrong. It is swell to use more speech to disagree with, criticize, or ridicule the criticism. But when you become completely and tragicomically unbalanced by the existence of cultural criticism, or let it send you into a buffoonish spiral of resentful defensiveness, people may not take you seriously. Rule of thumb: a reasoned rebuttal of wrong-headed cultural criticism mostly likely won’t require you to use the word “cunt.”
There are ten points Ken covers in the original post. I really do recommend that you read it all. By my count, he gores everyone’s ox by the time he’s at point four (and by point five, he’s blaming Canada in the footnotes).