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 31, 2015
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 20, 2014
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”:
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.
Back 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”.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
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).
October 26, 2014
Andrew Sullivan carefully dips his toes into the #gamergate war:
Many readers have warned me not to dip a toe into the gamergate debate, which, so far, we’ve been covering through aggregation and reader-input. And I’m not going to dive headlong into an extremely complex series of events, which have generated huge amounts of intense emotion on all sides, in a gamer culture which Dish readers know far, far better than I. But part of my job is to write and think about burning current web discussions – and add maybe two cents, even as an outsider.
So let me make a few limited points. The tactics of harassment, threats of violence, foul misogyny, and stalking have absolutely no legitimate place in any discourse. Having read about what has happened to several women, who have merely dared to exercise their First Amendment rights, I can only say it’s been one of those rare stories that still has the capacity to shock me. I know it isn’t fair to tarnish an entire tendency with this kind of extremism, but the fact that this tactic seemed to be the first thing that some gamergate advocates deployed should send off some red flashing lights as to the culture it is defending.
Second, there’s a missing piece of logic, so far as I have managed to discern, in the gamergate campaign. The argument seems to be that some feminists are attempting to police or control a hyper-male culture of violence, speed, competition and boobage. And in so far as that might be the case, my sympathies do indeed lie with the gamers. The creeping misandry in a lot of current debates – see “Affirmative Consent” and “Check Your Privilege” – and the easy prejudices that define white and male and young as suspect identities (because sexism!) rightly offend many men (and women).
There’s an atmosphere in which it has somehow become problematic to have a classic white, straight male identity, and a lot that goes with it. I’m not really a part of that general culture – indifferent to boobage, as I am, and bored by violence. But I don’t see why it cannot have a place in the world. I believe in the flourishing of all sorts of cultures and subcultures and have long been repulsed by the nannies and busybodies who want to police them – whether from the social right or the feminist left.
But – and here’s where the logic escapes me – if the core gamers really do dominate the market for these games, why do they think the market will stop catering to them? The great (and not-so-great) thing about markets is that they are indifferent to content as such. If “hardcore gamers” skew 7 -1 male, and if corporations want to make lots of money, then this strain of the culture is hardly under threat. It may be supplemented by lots of other, newer varieties, but it won’t die. Will it be diluted? Almost certainly. Does that feel like an assault for a group of people whose identity is deeply bound up in this culture? Absolutely. Is it something anyone should really do anything about? Nah. Let a thousand variety of nerds and post-nerds bloom. And leave Kenny McCormick alone. This doesn’t have to be zero-sum.
October 18, 2014
For one thing, the average online gamer is female*:
The confusing, nasty muck of the Gamergate scandal, in which anonymous attackers have harassed and sent death threats to women linked to the video-game industry, has morphed into a bitter culture war over the world’s $100 billion gaming empire.
But the fight has also highlighted the minefield facing an industry still learning how best to attract — and protect — a new generation of American gamer. The danger, analysts said: The fight could scare away the growing market of women the gaming industry wants.
The stereotype of a “gamer” — mostly young, mostly nerdy and most definitely male — has never been further from the truth. In the United States, twice as many adult women play video games as do boys, according to the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s top trade group. Male gamers between ages 10 and 25 represent a sliver of the market, only 15 percent, according to Newzoo, a games research firm.
Yet America’s 190 million gamers, 48 percent of whom are women, still play in a harsh frontier. About 70 percent of female gamers said they played as male characters online in hopes of sidestepping sexual harassment, according to a study cited by “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” author and law professor Danielle Keats Citron.
“It’s just like playing outside when you’re a teenager. It’s still a jungle out there,” said Peter Warman, the chief executive of Newzoo. Of the women who played as men, he said, “they wanted to be treated equal on the virtual battlefield.”
* Actually, the Washington Post headline mis-represents the data slightly, so this isn’t an accurate statement either.
October 17, 2014
In sp!ked, Allum Bokhari looks at #GamerGate:
The gaming community is no stranger to cultural warfare and moral panic. In the 1990s, a cohort of censorious, ‘family values’ politicians waged a ceaseless campaign to regulate the gaming industry, following a series of panics over the ultra-violent Mortal Kombat series. In the early 2000s, the socially conservative activist Jack Thompson gained notoriety for engaging in a stream of litigation against video-game companies, arguing that they were responsible for everything from gang violence to school shootings.
The tenor of moral panic has changed since then. Now, the main source of fear, loathing and general misanthropy in the gaming industry stems from the cultural left rather than the socially conservative right. Similar to the old right, the new cultural warriors argue that games promote violence and reinforce so-called rape culture. Arguments that games perpetuate sexism and racism are also fairly common. Instead of being seen as mere escapism, the tastes of modern gamers are portrayed as dangerous and subversive, a threat to right-on values. Gamers ought to be feared and shunned. In this remarkable video, a cultural warrior goes on a tirade against mainstream gamers, culminating in the destruction of a copy of the controversial video-game Grand Theft Auto V before a cheering crowd. The misanthropic disgust with ordinary gamers is palpable.
The growing contempt of the games-industry elite for the preferences of gamers has accelerated in recent months. Following a major confrontation between gamers and activists last August over allegations of journalistic favouritism, article after article has been published decrying the gaming community for its alleged bigotry, sexism and narrow-mindedness. The worst examples of ‘social-media harassment’ were used as an excuse to present gamers as a mass of hateful savages. To those familiar with the regular and sometimes absurd panics over football fans, this language will sound familiar.
You may well ask how these activists are able to sustain these bizarre beliefs, particularly given the mounting evidence that gamers are actually a pretty diverse and welcoming group of people after all. One explanation is their fondness for echo-chambers, maintained through exclusive email groups, social media blocklists and mass deletions of user comments on open forums. The extent to which the new cultural warriors will go to remove uncomfortable opinions from view is quite extraordinary. Reinforcing, rather than challenging, one’s own biases has become the norm.
October 3, 2014
My final Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. After 250 posts at GuildMag, I’m not burned out, but my new job (and the daily commute) won’t allow me enough free time to do the column justice, so I’m trying to go out gracefully. Aside from my “farewell address”, there’s the usual assortment of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction from around the GW2 community.
Published on 2 Oct 2014
Our heroes emerge victorious… for now!