Archive for the ‘Computing and the Internet’ Category

Just not getting it

I’m a big fan of Roger Ebert’s work.  I read his movie reviews with a general sense of enjoyment, both at his acerbic style and at his insight into the medium he enjoys so much.  He loves film and that love comes across in his work.

As arguably the most prominent movie critic in the world, Ebert holds an unparalleled position of power and influence over that most tenuous of subjects – What is Art?  Sure, there are myriads of critics who write about stage productions, about books, about ballet, and about everything else that people do that can be criticized, but film has a central place in the artistic views of the average American in the 21st century.  Besides music, film is (I believe) the most commonly appreciated art form in American in the 21st century.

So when the foremost critic of one of the foremost and most influential of modern art forms talks about whether something is Art, people listen.  The problem is, Roger Ebert hasn’t got the damnedest idea what he’s talking about when he talks about video games. Continue reading

You Better Run, You Better Take Cover

I’m frankly unsurprised that the movement by the Aussie government to censor all the dangerous and subversive material on the internet is now reaching its greedy hands out towards online gaming.  This is after all the natural next step, if you’re a repressive regime bent on mindlessly preventing consenting adults from any exposure whatsoever to sex or violence, or for that matter entertainment in general.

I lived in Brisbane for 2 years 8 months, returning to the States last November.  I can attest firsthand that the internet access there was already fairly miserable, with outrageous ping times and frequent DNS problems.  Now the Aussie government is proceeding with its (frankly insane) plans to filter more or less everything crawling through the pipes connecting the Land Down Under with the rest of the world.  This will inevitably add to the already-terrible pings there, making even “legitimate” internet use more cumbersome – this serves nobody and hurts the nation at large.  I wish I could say I’m shocked but I’m not; the Aussie government is sadly all-too-much like the American and British governments, in that it’s often run (or controlled, or heavily influenced) by ultraconservatives who lack a fundamental understanding of how people have lived for the last 30 years.

The latest twist in the scheme involves filtering content in online games.  The obvious problems here, beyond the simple and compelling evils of censorship in general, include the difficulty small indie games face in getting a rating, as well as the unpredictable nature of all online games.  When you log into any MMO, you’re warned that the game experience may change during online play – which is to say not only that the game’s developer might patch in changes to the game, but that other players are unpredictable.

What does this mean?  If this plan is consummated, it means Aussie gamers likely won’t be able to play games like Spore or Sims 3, because if even one user creates content that’s objectionable and unsuitable for 15-year-olds (hello, penis-shaped aliens!), the whole game will be refused classification.  It means that small indie games like Plants vs. Zombies will likely be unavailable to Aussie gamers because they’re not rated.  It means games like AoC are very likely to be unavailable in Oz (boobies and blood!), but this could even extend to behemoths like WoW (which does, after all, have plenty of ultraviolence as well as drug and alcohol use).

I have no objections whatsoever to a government seeking to educate its populace about becoming responsible, mature adults.  If a government feels it’s necessary to censor materials available to children in order to protect them before they’re old enough to be educated, that’s also fine and reasonable.  I do however object in the strongest possible terms to any government censoring the content available to consenting adults “for their own protection”.  The sweeping and general nature of the Aussie internet censorship movement deeply disturbs me, and the extension of this movement to include games available online is frankly ridiculous.

Please spread the word.  Our Aussie friends are at substantial risk of losing access to a lot of games that are not only harmless to adults (and even to children), but that are by their nature educational and help to form social bonds.  This is a grave injustice.

Thanks to Ysharros for the heads up.

Worst Capture the Flag Server EVER


Shall We Play a Game?

Well, I can’t say I’m surprised it’s an emerging field, but I’ll admit I didn’t know how far things have already come on the cyberwar frontier.  Tron might not be as futuristic as we think, but thankfully Snow Crash still is.

Appeal to Authority

Well, this morning’s blog reading has been interestingly recursive for me.  Cuppycake tossed a pebble in a pond and the ripples have been more or less predictable – bloggers have been discussing the merits of blogging about game design.

I’m going to toss in my tuppence here.  Cuppy refined her original post by saying, “design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and relevant people in the industry making kick ass content aren’t reading a word of what you say (and if they are, they’re laughing).”  This saddened me because I can’t help but think less of her for her elitist attitude, and moreso for the classic appeal to authority fallacy.  We should only listen to what professionals say, because they’re professionals!  Nonprofessionals have nothing to contribute!

The fact that someone works as a game designer doesn’t mean they’re good at it, or every game would be devoid of design flaws.  Similarly, the fact that someone doesn’t work as a game designer doesn’t mean they’re not good at it, which I had thought until this morning was blindingly obvious but I gather isn’t.  Game design is a multifaceted art, and a broad range of skills in other fields can contribute to success at game design.  Game design can be influenced by psychology, sociology, economics, history, linguistics, math, physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, and countless other fields; by extension, people with interest or skill in those fields can contribute to the field of game design.  Moreover, the video games industry is notorious for paying poorly and offering insane working hours, which simply doesn’t compare favorably to other industries; many of us are influenced by such meta-concerns despite our love of and potential skill at game design.  Then, too, there are doubtless some very skilled people out there who want to break into game design but haven’t yet… they’re trying though, and perhaps someday they’ll succeed.  Should we ignore or marginalize their input now since their foot isn’t in the door?

There’s also the fact that game design, as a field, includes more than just computer game design.  I’ve never launched a commercial computer game (only done CRPG design for hobby ventures and one failed startup) but I have coauthored game supplements in print.  Does the lack of industry experience in one aspect of game design make my input meaningless?  I gather that CRPGs sprung wholly formed (a modern Athena) from the minds of Raph Koster and Richard Bartle… and weren’t based on anything existing in other areas of game design.  This came as a surprise to me frankly; I had always labored under the misconception that CRPGs were based heavily on the design of RPGs, which in turn derived from wargames and other games.  I guess it simplifies things to know I can stop studying other aspects of game design since they don’t apply to CRPGs. 😉

OK, sorry, heavy sarcasm.  It’s a Monday and I’m dragging (sick all weekend).  I’ll try to tone it back a bit.

The insular approach Cuppy seems to favor is self-limiting; if people working in game design only listen to other people who are working in game design, then they tend to create a system of shared expectations and limitations that can become quite a rut (witness everyone’s attempts to clone WoW).  Cross-fertilization is so obviously desirable in this of all fields that I’m puzzled how someone can claim with a straight face that hoi polloi like yours truly are ignored or at best mocked for our tawdry dilletantism.  Even if 90% of what game design blogs discuss is nonsense, reading things you don’t agree with can spur insights and tangents that are of value.  Then, too, there’s that other 10%, which I think it unwise to ignore.  

I ~loved~ “Designing Virtual Worlds” by Richard Bartle, but I didn’t agree with all of it.  I still found it valuable though, even when I disagreed, because it led me to some interesting thoughts about how and why I disagreed.  I re-read it every few years still, visiting it with a fresh perspective.  I still don’t agree on some points, despite Mr. Bartle’s impeccable resume and indisputable authority.  Go figure.

But then, surely Galileo was wasting his time doing that pointless research, since the Church already had all the answers? 😉

An essential step towards… what?

I just read an interesting press release about a new piece of legislation calling for the creation of a National Cybersecurity Advisor.

So… will this help prevent gold sellers and game account hacking?  Will it stop 419 scams and viagra spam?  No?  How does it help ME then, I ask you?

All joking aside, it seems like this is an essential step towards protecting us in the Brave New World.  I can’t help worrying though that it’ll be a step towards Big Brother.  Or maybe Skynet, or Operation Dark Storm Cloud.  OK, I grant those latter two aren’t terribly likely. 😀