Monthly Archives: April 2013

New Spurring the Centre on Boston

You can read it here; it’s about the Boston Bombing again, this time about the potential ramifications of the bombers’ possible Caucasian Muslim identities.

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Another StC on Patton Oswalt and the two responses to terror

It can be found here, but I’ll repost it here on LC.

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From Facebook:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

There are always two sorts of ways that these things can go. You’ll see both, always; the question is which is stronger.

First, you have the desire to lash out. The desire for vengeance. The world has been upended, YOUR world has been upended, and you want to make it balanced again. Even if you can’t go back to the way things were, you can “fix the balance” and restore your perception of a just world by punishing the person who did it.

That has a lot to do with the American reaction to 9/11. (Which was and is entirely understandable, and shared by many people around the world.)

The second, though, is what Patton talks about: the people running towards the blast. It’s that desire to stick together and help each other out in dangerous, scary, and difficult circumstances. It’s the desire to prove that you’re better, that you’re stronger, and that you care about your fellow humans. It’s about empathy; about rejecting the attackers’ treatment of lives as objects by showing that you treat other people as people.

That ALSO has a lot to do with the American reaction to 9/11. I don’t think people necessarily understand it as much. Vengeance against the other is easier to grasp than empathy with the members of your community and nation.

Yet I believe that it’s the empathic reaction that is ultimately the most effective. It shows the terrorists that you’re beyond terror. It shows that attacking you will only make you STRONGER. It’s a full and complete repudiation of their treatment of your fellow man as objects.

It is the triumph of the Good, and I believe that that’s where true security comes from.

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Boston bombing reaction now at “Spurring the Centre”

I’ve just started a new straight-politics/policy blog called “Spurring the Centre“. I named it after this weekend’s Spur festival in Toronto, and intended it to talk mostly about the Spur festival. I’ve got a few entries on that, but clearly the events in Boston have intervened.

By training and disposition, at least, I’m a conflict analyst. I know security issues pretty well. So I’ve written up an early response to the Boston Bombing. Yes, this may well have a big impact on games, but right now I’d prefer to focus on security.

I’ll try to remember to link them here.

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Dan Cook and the value of academics

There’s a good piece in Gamasutra by Dan Cook talking about older game designers and the “rebellion” against them that seems to be going on among younger and/or indie designers. I’d recommend you read it.

That said, I was a bit disappointed by the comments. I feel like some people have missed the point. (Or maybe I have?)

It doesn’t seem like Daniel’s trying to argue that the schools are terrible, though he’s certainly making a backhanded case for certification. It seems to be more that there’s a tendency to treat older designers like Cook and Koster as a sort of Authority handing down Law About Games.

Koster’s “Not-A-Game” tendencies aside, that isn’t really how they see things. They’re a generation of tinkerers and wonderers, trying to feel things out, who made some mistakes, had some triumphs, and developed some ideas. They don’t believe that they have all the answers, nor that they’re Authorities to be obeyed or rebelled against…they just have insights and beliefs that come from a long history of design.

(And, as Cook said, the biggest failing of absolutely everybody involved in gaming is that they’re completely blind to history.)

Where I part ways with Cook is on the question of academics. He came across as dismissive. Yes, academic analysis can be dry and jargon-ish. It’s still valuable. Academics worth the name specialize in turning experience, data, and cases into theory. Sure, they may not be game designers, but that isn’t their job, any more than it’s the job of a military historian to strap on a broadsword and go carve up some knights.

I know I keep on banging on about the guy, but that’s one of the reasons I find Grant Tavinor’s work interesting. Yes, he’s an academic. Very much so. But because he’s an academic, his work does a good and careful job developing theories that seem to elude off-the-cuff designers. The reason why his definition of video games is so good…

X is a videogame if it is an artefact in a digital visual medium, is intended primarily as an object of entertainment, and is intended to provide such entertainment through the employment of one or both of the following modes of engagement: rule-bound gameplay or interactive fiction.

…is because he employed the theory of disjunctive definitions (where two things can be sufficient yet neither are necessary) in order to solve the knotty problem of whether games need to be systems-focused.

This definition doesn’t come from vacuum. It’s the culmination of a long and fairly dry essay about the nature of video games. It’s an end-point of a lot of careful, slow thought, instead of some sort of blinding insight. That’s why it works so well. Sometimes you have to take it slow and work it out.

Yes, it has jargon. Yes, it’s kinda tough going. Yes, the linked essay and Tavinor’s excellent book Art of Videogames can reveal the sort of reservations and cautions that you see in all good academic analysis. And, yes, reading Tadhg Kelly bang on in bite-sized bloggy chunks about characters-as-dolls and about how the Zinesters don’t get how tabletop proves that players only really care about systems is a lot easier.

But it’s  worth it.

Academics have their place. And, if the job’s done right, they don’t pretend to have all the answers. There’s room for rebels and discontent; in fact, the best academic writers and thinkers practically BEG for rebellion and discontent. They practically feed off it. Something to think about.

(Oh…and they love talking about history.)

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STOP IT. Stop with the formalism thing. Stop it right now.

A very simple response comes to mind:

“Tadhg Kelly, please stop trying to tell me ‘what games are’. To be extremely blunt, judging by both your site and your CV, I don’t think you’ve earned the right.”

Granted, I haven’t earned the right to tell anybody what they should think is or isn’t a game either. But I’m not trying to claim it

You know who HAS earned that right, though? Anna Anthropy. Remember her? The woman who’s supposed to be at the vanguard of the “zinesters”? Her output has been excellent. Lurid title or no, Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars demonstrated a clear mastery of simple, elegant, oldschool game design, and she went into no small amount of detail in explaining exactly how she employed that mastery. She’s done that over, and over, and over. She’s a good critic and a great designer.

If she’s calling stuff like Dys4ia a game, I’m going to be very reluctant to disagree with her, because she’s actually really good at making and judging the things.

The funny thing is that I’m not actually a gigantic fan of the anti-mainstream backlash. I get it, but I think that there’s more mastery and craft in mainstream than the “zinesters” are necessarily always willing to admit.  I also  don’t root my disagreement with Kelly in the political and identity elements of games as Anna does. (Though I do respect those responses.)

I’m simply not impressed by these attempts to turn games into empty systems of rules, and to straitjacket criticism by forcing critics to engage them solely as systems of rules. If that was EVER the case, it’s long over. It’s over in board games, it’s over in card games (CCGs are far more than their rules), and you’d best believe it’s over in video games.

If you want to know “what games are”, you don’t need Kelly. Go read Grant Tavinor for the definition of games:

X is a videogame if it is an artefact in a digital visual medium, is intended primarily as an object of entertainment, and is intended to provide such entertainment through the employment of one or both of the following modes of engagement: rule-bound gameplay or interactive fiction.

INTERACTIVE FICTION. “Rule-bound gameplay”… OR INTERACTIVE ‘EFFING FICTION.

This problem is solved. This discussion is OVER. Grant Tavinor solved it back in 2008. Now go do something productive.

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Diablo 3 Auction House was “a mistake”. (Guess who WASN’T mistaken?)

So here’s Blizzard talking about the auction house on Joystiq:

[Diablo 3 Director Jay] Wilson said that before Blizzard launched the game, the company had a few assumptions about how the Auction Houses would work: He thought they would help reduce fraud, that they’d provide a wanted service to players, that only a small percentage of players would use it and that the price of items would limit how many were listed and sold.

But he said that once the game went live, Blizzard realized it was completely wrong about those last two points. It turns out that nearly every one of the game’s players (of which there are still about 1 million per day, and about 3 million per month, according to Wilson) made use of either house, and that over 50 percent of players used it regularly. That, said Wilson, made money a much higher motivator than the game’s original motivation to simply kill Diablo, and “damaged item rewards” in the game. While a lot of the buzz around the game attacked the real money Auction House, “gold does much more damage than the other one does,” according to Wilson, because more players use it and prices fluctuate much more.

A “mistake”, you say. “Everybody uses it”, you say. “made money a much higher motivator than killing Diablo”, you say. “Gold does much more damage”, you say.

What’s that phrase?

Oh.

Yeah.

F**KING NAILED IT. 

[D3 is a] CASH economy. In previous RPGs, you’d generally trade time and a little luck for your gear and capabilities. In a game like World of Warcraft, for example, there were stark limits on what you could buy; most high-level gear needed to be earned through gameplay. Not in Diablo 3. Everything can be legitimately bought and sold in Diablo 3, whether on the Auction House or just between players. Absolutely everything.

Gear? Just buy it with gold. Enhancements (gems, in this case?) Gold. Weapons? Gold. It doesn’t matter whether it’s early-game magic gear or end-game legendary weapons dripping with power, all of it can be yours if you have enough gold. And, sure, there’s also the real-money auction house, but that’s only one small part of it. Gold and real money are interconvertible currencies as well; gold in Diablo 3 is a currency as much as any other, albeit one that’s backed by a game-maker instead of a state.

That changes things a lot. It makes the game’s economics ultimately much like the real world’s economics, where the value of things are usually reducible to cash. Your time, your luck, your skill in acquiring gear—it really just determines your gold-earning power…

…Look a little closer, and you’ll see why these things are contributing to the sense of ennui and dissatisfaction that is plaguing the game, and have been plaguing it since the game was launched. It’s why people are complaining that they just don’t find it “fun” like they did Diablo 2—and it might just be why the reviews seem not to capture these issues.

Unseemly to gloat? Maybe. Don’t care.

You all better recognize.

(Yes, yes, h/t to Ben Kuchera, who needs to get over it and unblock me on Twitter already.)

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