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Archive for February, 2011

Whoa: CDS for the masses

Is Zero Hedge’s take on the new CEBO correct, that these are effectivelyely CDS for the masses?  These would be listed on the CBOE, offer $1000 payout on bankruptcy of associated name, per contract.

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Look, I know that games and scores and measures give us something to look forward to.  They provide motivation and such.  Really, I get that.

But I don’t want my world any more like a game.  I have plenty of games, and in many ways we as game devs have been trying to peel the feeling of being a game out of the game.  Consider things like Dead Space, which tries to move the UI into the world…or the games that seek to do away with the UI altogether.

Look, trying to make the world more like a game, or address problems as games…sucks the life out of them.  In a sense, it minimizes both the problem and the solutions by entrapping them within a box, hollowing out the cores of their meaning in themselves, and forcing them to derive meaning instead from their alignment on an access of high scores and game-completion cutscenes.

A game is not a livable environment.  It is a one off.  Games do not continue, in general: they have some sort of end-condition.  So: let’s say you make a game to lose weight, where you score yourself on how many calories you didn’t consume, how much exercise you did, and how much weight you lost.  You lose all your weight, and reach your goal.  Now what?

The game gets boring, that’s what.  Every sort of scoring mechanism gets boring, eventually: we plumb it’s depths to the extent of our desire to do so, then move on.  However, not every problem is approachable in this manner, and so we inflict a sort of shallowness on things to try to solve them, only to find we have failed to do so for any serious length of time.  Instead, we’re left with the same problem and a bit of shame that we made so light of it.

TO go back to the weight thing, it’s not enough to lose weight: you generally want to keep it off.  That, however, requires consistent habits.  A game is not habit-developing except within the game world itself.  Since we exit the game world when we complete the game, we tend not to maintain those habits.  For the weight loss…well, we would no longer have that overriding game goal hovering overhead.  In general, we would tend to drift back to old habits…and regain the weight.

Now, games do teach meta-habits, but they tend to be things necessary to win at games.  To wit, a game that teaches us about reducing our carbon footprint will teach us two sets of things: factual pieces which may as well have come from wikipedia and additional ways for pattern recognition (which is used in general puzzle solving).  There’s nothing particular to games which makes them better conveyances for factual information than, say, a book or a movie.  At best, we can say certain minds are better able to remember the supplied information if it comes from a game and requires re-use (though I can reply that context has been shown to be highly important to recall, so outside of the game environment we might have issues remembering the facts the game taught us).

Stop getting your game in my life.  I have enough of them, and they had damn well better stay stored on my shelf and not go leaping about assigning point values to how well I can open a door.

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Via Rock, Paper, Shotgun, comes a trailer for a new zombie sandbox game.  The trailer is…well, amazing, I think.  An absolutely brilliant piece of mind-twisting cinema that is horrific from almost any angle.  For people who dislike horror: the trailer is not for you.  For people who dislike the reminder of the simple reality of gravity, this trailer is not for you.

For anyone else who dares, here it is.

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Steve Waldman of interfluidity writes stuff in response to Tyler Cowen writing stuff.  I can recommend reading interfluidity without reservation.  Go, do so.  Come back in a few days.  I might even have a new post (in line with my current schedule of “a day or so after Lum posts).

One bit I wanted to pull attention to:

For the most part, Tyrone pointed out, technological progress, is labor displacing. It simultaneously creates valuable new techniques for reconfiguring real resources while diminishing the number of people who are required to participate in those transformations, and who can therefore trade their participation for spending power. There is a myth among neoliberal economists that labor markets have always “adjusted” sua sponte: that when laborers were displaced from farms, “higher value” factories arose to employ them; that when the factories were downsized and offshored, a more pleasant, higher-value service economy came to be; etc. That narrative is wrong, he told me. At best it is criminally incomplete. With each technological change, new social institutions had to arise to sustain dispersed purchasing power despite a reduction of numbers and bargaining power of workers in old industries. Displaced workers ultimately did find new work, but only because the new social institutions “artificially” created buyers for all the things displaced workers reinvented themselves to sell. Without this institutional innovation, Tyrone tells me, something like the Great Depression would have been the new normal. Historically, institutions that have arisen to sustain purchasing power despite increasingly labor-efficient core production include direct government transfers and expenditures, labor unions, monetary policy interventions, financial bubbles and financial fraud.

Basically, the standard cybernetics argument!  This single insight into techonogical progress is the foundation for damn near every scifi novel ever, particularly any that touches on the social situation of their posited future.

Dystopian scifi focuses on the inevitability of the masses losing out.  In that case, in a capitalist society, the owner of the means of production (which roughly means the owner of the implementations of technology) reap the benefits of technological advancement, while labor is relegated to cogs in a machine that increasingly has little use for them, until they become completely displaced, totally irrelevant, and utterly incapable of finding a handhold in the increasingly distant, technologically advanced society.

While the lot in life of the displaced masses tends to improve in ways, that advancement certainly doesn’t seem to have done much for their lives relative to those of medieval peasants of Europe and Russia.  They still live in relative poverty, at the whims of property holders who really don’t give a shit about them.

Utopian scifi instead focuses on the freedom engendered by such technological transformation.  It is a good thing that labor isn’t needed: that labor is freed to do things that require a more human touch.  Surely if a robot can do it, it probably isn’t worth wasting a human’s time on it (assuming non-sentient robots or whatever; I don’t want to get into discussions about the ‘other-chassis-ed’).  Those free humans now have opportunities to go do something else!  And since stuff is cheaper, purcahsers now have more money to waste on what would have been considered useless crap, but now gains potentially new value.

For instance, this blog is a prime example of what Utopian scifi authors consider a win for technology: a complete waste of time for both you and me were we both living in grinding poverty, but with the leisure engendered by new technologies (because now we don’t have to waste time worrying about food and shelter), now suddenly my asinine commentary on philosophy, games, and economics can be viewed as a new value! (think Pyramid of Needs here).

What I find interesting is that “progress” must be viewed through a variety of lenses.  Dystopians have a pretty solid reason for arguing that new tech screws most everyone over.  Utopians have good arguments for saying the exact opposite.  And I say they’re both right, because it entirely depends on both your point of view on what’s better and on the frame in which the technology occurs.

But ignore me.  Go read Waldman.

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