Quotulatiousness

May 20, 2015

Minecraft – the latest moral panic

Filed under: Gaming,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Techdirt, Karl Bode pours some scorn on a deserving demographic:

Like many people, video games have been an integral part of my life for about as long as I can remember. From my days visiting Wildcat! BBS systems where I’d play Trade Wars 2000 — to obsessing over the Apple IIe, IIc and IIgs — video games were not only an integral part of my childhood, they actually helped forge an adult career path. Swapping out graphics cards and building new PCs to play Quake 2 led to a job in Manhattan legal IT, which in turn resulted in a life focused on writing about technology. Aside from a few tics, I like to believe I wound up relatively normal, and video games have made my life immeasurably more rewarding.

That background usually forces me into the role of video game evangelist when surrounded by folks that, all too frequently, are engaged in hand wringing over the diabolical moral dangers games purportedly present. At a party recently, some friends expressed muted shock because a colleague’s kid was, instead of being social, playing a game in which he was “herding human beings and keeping them in a barn to eat.” I had to explain (skipping the part about how you’d need a mod to actually eat them) how this behavior wasn’t indicative of a Jeffrey Dahmer in training, he was simply engaged in normal problem solving behavior on the new frontier […]

Despite the fact that Minecraft is simply an amazing evolution of the Lego concept for the modern age, the moral panic surrounding the game never quite seems to abate. The latest case in point is over at the BBC, where the outlet implies it has heard all of the pro-Minecraft arguments before, it’s just choosing to ignore them in order to portray the game as an unpoliced virtual-reality hellscape that’s rotting the brains of children everywhere. While there are some good points embedded within, there are notably more bad ones, like the argument that kids should instead be reading, because reading engages imagination and builds character

May 9, 2015

A rather satisfying way to punish an in-game cheater

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

BBC News picked up the story of a Guild Wars 2 player who’d been cheating on a massive scale:

A character controlled by a hacker who used exploits to dominate online game Guild Wars 2 has been put to death in the virtual world.

The character, called DarkSide, was stripped then forced to leap to their death from a high bridge.

The death sentence was carried out after players gathered evidence about the trouble the hacker had caused.

This helped the game’s security staff find the player, take over their account and kill them off.

Over the past three weeks many players of the popular multi-player game Guild Wars 2 have been complaining about the activities of a character called DarkSide. About four million copies of the game have been sold.

Via a series of exploits the character was able to teleport, deal massive damage, survive co-ordinated attacks by other players and dominate player-versus-player combat.

To spur Guild Wars‘ creator ArenaNet to react, players gathered videos of DarkSide’s antics and posted them on YouTube.

The videos helped ArenaNet’s security head Chris Cleary identify the player behind DarkSide, he said in a forum post explaining what action it had taken. Mr Cleary took over the account to carry out the punishment.

H/T to MassivelyOP for both the original story and the BBC News link.

April 30, 2015

When Dungeons and Dragons met LEGO

Filed under: Gaming,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

A picture really can convey a thousand words:

Lego version of 1977 D and D box

I’ve often contend that three of the most significant influences on my adolescent years were: LEGO building, computer programming, and playing Dungeons & Dragons. With this latest mosaic project, I more or less bring all of those things together (the LEGO and D&D are obvious, while behind the scenes I have the software program I wrote to help me map out the whole mural).

For those not quite as nerdy as myself, here’s the background on this image. It is the cover to the boxed set of the 1977 version on the game Dungeons & Dragons. This was the first version of the game released as the “Basic” set. It was the first set that my brother and I owned and played with. Obviously, the countless hours I spent reading the rulebook and perusing the illustrations made a pretty big impression on me. In fact, I still run a Basic D&D campaign semi-regularly using this very set.

April 28, 2015

Fever dream meets DOOM

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ever have one of those fever dreams where you’re moving through the terrain of a video game? Want to recreate that experience for some reason? You’ll want to download Doomdream:

doomdream

Ever play a video game so often that it shows up in your dreams?

That’s the idea behind Doomdream, an interactive experience created by Ian MacLarty to simulate what his own dreams look like after he’s been playing the classic 1993 shooter Doom all day.

Although there are no enemies, no combat or really any plot, it generates a labyrinth of pixelated gray tunnels and bloody stalagmites for you to wander in forever, recreating the nightmare of so many players who got lost in the purgatory of Doom‘s looping levels, searching fruitlessly for an exit sign.

H/T to BoingBoing for the image and story.

March 11, 2015

“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background”

Filed under: Business,Gaming — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

I’d expect some legal action is pending over this little contracting embarrassment for Undead Labs:

Undead Lab’s State of Decay became a cult hit when it released back in 2013. Last year, the developer announced State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition. This updated iteration packs in previously released DLC along with a 1080p graphical overhaul. And once the visuals became clearer, developer Undead Labs realized their contracted help for the game hid an abundance of phalluses in the game.

While working on State of Decay, Undead Labs hired contractors to help build some of the backgrounds. For reasons unknown, those contractors scattered a collage of genitalia across the backgrounds. However, the original version of the game was a low enough resolution that the naughty bits flew under the testing radar.

“Some of our contractors worked a ridiculous amount of genitalia into the background,” says Geoffrey Card, senior designer at Undead Labs in an interview with XBLA Fans.

H/T to John Ryan for the link.

March 4, 2015

QotD: The macroeconomic insights of MMO gaming

Filed under: Economics,Gaming,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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.

February 22, 2015

The forgotten history of the game of Monopoly

Filed under: Business,Economics,Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

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 Landlords Game board based on 1924 patent

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.

Monopoly board

February 9, 2015

Accused “SWATter” arrested in Las Vegas

Filed under: Gaming,Law,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:46

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

The point of diminishing interest

Filed under: Gaming,Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

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

QotD: MMO economies

Filed under: Economics,Gaming,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

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 24, 2015

ArenaNet formally announced first GW2 expansion #GW2HoT

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:28

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

Rumour confirmed – Guild Wars 2 expansion coming

Filed under: Business,Gaming — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:21

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.

GW2 Heart of Thorns

December 31, 2014

The psychological value of online gaming

Filed under: Gaming,Health,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:17

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 20, 2014

Repost – Induced aversion to a particular Christmas song

Filed under: Business,Cancon,Media,Personal — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.

It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Mr. Gameways' ArkBack in the early 1980’s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameways’ Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. “Tape”.

An ad from the year of Trivial Pursuit (via OSRcon)

An ad from the year of Trivial Pursuit (via OSRcon)

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50’s stuff (“White Christmas” and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned “Drummer Boy” song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from trying to grab boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It’s been over 20 [now 30] years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

December 15, 2014

The world of the imagination

Filed under: Gaming,Health,Media,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

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.

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