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kmellis
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Putting aside my initial enthusiasm for UO and the possibilities of MMO virtual worlds, I can't recall a genre and approach to games that as intellectually excited and fascinated me as Maxis's simulation toys did. (And, really, what Koster et al imagined UO would/could be is just sort of an extreme expression of that concept.) So, what happened to all that? Oh, yeah, The Sims. Seriously, there was a special time when there was a literal conjunction of the worlds of gaming as specifically represented by Maxis (and SimRefinery!) and cutting-edge interdiscplinary science as represented by the Santa Fe Institute, with regard to simulation, complexity, comprehension, pedagogy, and some other neato stuff.
Toggle Commented Jul 17, 2011 on Tiny Tower: FAIL at Brainy Gamer
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Well..okay. The whole atom bomb thing seemed to be snark. Most privacy is and always has been protected by social taboos. I think we've lived through an era which is historically very exceptional--where urbanization and other related things have created practical barriers protecting privacy that we've come to rely upon and believe are normal and necessary. But networked IT are collapsing those barriers and we're thrown back to the historical norm where it's pretty much trivial to know almost everything about the people around us. And, as has always been the case in the past, and is presently the case still in our culture with regard to the people physically closest to us (and thus where there are few to no practical barriers protecting privacy), we will have to learn to maintain privacy by way of codes of behavior. It's just that right at this moment, hardly anyone is even thinking that maybe it's not appropriate or right or good to Google people we know and read everything that results. Because we're accustomed to the practical barriers, we wrongly intuitively think that the lack of a practical barrier is almost an invitation. But we don't think that way with, say, our roommate's mail on the kitchen table. The vast majority of these emerging problems will necessarily be solved by adjusting standards of acceptable personal conduct. Some people will violate such standards, just as some people always have. And some powerful people and institutions will violate them, or attempt to, because they are powerful and they will be willing to violate informal standards of behavior because of what they perceive as compelling self-interest in combination with the expectation that they cannot be effectively sanctioned. It is in those cases that legal regimes will be necessary.
Toggle Commented Jul 1, 2011 on Facebook Never Forgets at Terra Nova
You're being willfully obtuse. I explicitly mentioned an example where legal protections would be necessary.
Toggle Commented Jul 1, 2011 on Facebook Never Forgets at Terra Nova
Neither technology nor "opting out" are going to solve these sorts of privacy problems. Most privacy issues have never been resolved by law or technology or anything of the like. They are resolved culturally. Cultural standards of behavior evolve which protect privacy. The sooner people begin to understand this, the sooner they'll begin to alter their behavior because of a sense of propriety, and the sooner we will regain the sense of privacy we've lost. And that means that those of us who are among the first to become aware of the necessity for such cultural changes should lead the way with our own behavior. Don't poke your nose into stuff that's not your business. You know when you're peeking into someone's private life and it's most likely an intrusion. Don't do it, then. Some kinds of people will institutionally be intrusive, regardless of notions of privacy. Notably, potential and current employers. Legal protections will be necessary in these sorts of cases just as they have been in the past. But much of our lives are going to be "easily" available as electronic data one way or another. There absolutely is no avoiding this. Much of what we tend to think of as private right now is available as part of the public record for anyone who knows where to go and what to look for. People such as neighbors and friends and employers and acquaintances generally don't indulge their curiosity partly because it would take effort but mostly because it would be understood as an incredibly rude thing for one to do and there'd be hell to pay, if discovered. We don't read other people's mail/email or rummage in their purses and wallets, even though in many cases it is trivial, not difficult, to do so...it's right there, on the kitchen table. We mostly don't do these things because we've been trained to think that it would be wrong to do these things. Some people still do, of course. Some people break laws, too. Some people do terrible things. That we can't eliminate all of this doesn't mean we can't eliminate most of it. The real intrusion is when it's a matter-of-course, when it's acceptable for an employer, say, to Google you and hold your Facebook photos and wall against you.
Toggle Commented Jul 1, 2011 on Facebook Never Forgets at Terra Nova
To be clear, while I am quite certainly progressive on cultural issues and particularly so with regard to sex, my criticism wasn't so much at Edward's views specifically, but that in their conservatism they exemplify, well, conservative thinking that Edward would be, at the very least, skeptical of with regard to virtual worlds. In many ways, of course, this is completely normal. People are normally conservative on some matters and non-conservative on others. But I think there is more of a comparison to our cultural conventions about sex and relationships and our cultural conventions about all the matters intrinsic to the various controversies related to virtual worlds. People have deeply-set, strongly intuitive, and very traditional ideas about what is "real" and what is not real, about what it means to "play", about what kinds of relationships can be formed absent actual physical interaction, about money and property and work. In each of these cases, much of Edward's research and commentary challenges these deeply-set, strongly intuitive, and very traditional ideas. He's skeptical, and rightly so. Indeed, he's right and the conservatives are wrong. They're blinkered, they're seeing virtual worlds through a very distorting lens of convention and an inability to think clearly about the unfamiliar. But that sort of blinkered thinking is exactly what I read in his comments on sex. It may well be that my views on sex are not "correct" in the sense that Edward's views on virtual worlds are correct. But that's somewhat beside the point. The point is—just as in the case of virtual worlds—that we not demand that gaming conform to our preexisting view of what games are, how people "really" interact, and what it all means...but to take a step back and ask what sex could mean in gaming and not what it should mean.
Toggle Commented Jun 26, 2011 on Where Are All the Sex Games? at Terra Nova
So, it's "no", then.
Toggle Commented Jun 20, 2011 on Where Are All the Sex Games? at Terra Nova
c3, was that comment supposed to be in English? Or, you know, coherent in any language?
Toggle Commented Jun 19, 2011 on Where Are All the Sex Games? at Terra Nova
A significant point to make about BitCoin specifically, which I discovered today, is that right now it is the currency used for the (apparently) burgeoning TOR-based CL-like/EBay-like anonymized illegal narcotics website, "The Silk Road". If this isn't driving law enforcement attention to BitCoin now, it will be, shortly.
Toggle Commented Jun 17, 2011 on A bit too far? at Terra Nova
"The game should show how sex is ultimately about new life, that other features of sex are epiphenomenal add-ons that are fun but aren't the essence of the thing, how the act of creation can be ruined in so many ways if the parents don't commit themselves beforehand to self-awareness, growth, maturity, commitment, and responsibility." Oh, please. *rolls eyes* I am trying to imagine a comment by someone on virtual worlds that exhibits this same sort of deeply conservative mindset, telling us what VWs "really" are, filled with platitudes about human nature, good behavior, and so heavily overloaded with normative assertions. It would be pretty much the polar opposite of anything you've written on VWs.
Toggle Commented Jun 17, 2011 on Where Are All the Sex Games? at Terra Nova
No, I don't think that Stabs's point was excellent, contra Lisa. The fear of stranger/online pedophiles is way, way, way out of proportion to either their numbers or their proportional contribution to pedophiliac abuse. This is directly comparable to the similarly disproportionate fear and paranoia with regard to stranger rape. In both cases, the vast majority of assaults are perpetrated by people known to, or close to, the victim. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes and most sexual abuse of children is committed by family and friends of family. In both cases, the real danger zones are not dark parking lots and online chat rooms, but workplaces and homes and other "safe" places. That our culture is so strongly resistant to recognizing this, and correspondingly plays up far lesser risks and greater fears, have everything to do, I think, with a deep psychological avoidance of admitting and confronting what sexual violence really is and who it is who really commits it. It's not profoundly alien, monstrous "others"——it's people we know and sometimes, sadly, love. Which, in its own way, is much more frightening than the truth. Thus, we project our fears onto persons and places where we believe we are more able to protect ourselves and those we love. Make sure parking lots are well-lighted and online chat rooms are monitored and, yay!, we've significantly reduced sexual assault! Except...not really. So, no, pedophiles online are not really a problem, in context. For every pedophile who trolls online for children, there are ten who troll among friends and family...and get away with it. Meanwhile, sadly and ironically, partly because of this irrationality, we rely upon friends and family to educate children about sex, which they for the most part do not (excepting, of course, the pedophiles, who are happy to take up this responsibility). We seem to be relatively okay with kids learning about sex from online porn, but very not okay with kids learning about sex from online sites intended to educate them about sex.
Toggle Commented Jun 17, 2011 on Where Are All the Sex Games? at Terra Nova
Dr. Pangloss, I think you need to tend to your own SimGarden.
Toggle Commented Jul 30, 2010 on Arcadia at Brainy Gamer
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That's a good point, though I think it probably doesn't refute Michael's point. Internet discussions about the quality of regional accents in media is often very amusing to me because, as you say, there's always someone to say that an accent isn't genuine or correct and it is not infrequent that it turns out the actor isn't assuming it, it's their native accent. I haven't seen any linguists discussing this, though I would like to. It seems that a large portion of people are not reliable at assessing the conformity of their own regional dialect (and are much less reliable at assessing non-native dialect) yet firmly believe themselves to be. My theory is that this is due to the combination of there being more variation than they expect and that they are less aware of how they and the people around them speak than they believe themselves to be. When they are looking for inaccuracies, they will find them. Southerners automatically assume all southern accents are faked and thus find fault with them, even when the actor is southern. And, as you say, peoples' ideas of the English accents of people whose native language isn't English are strongly influenced by traditional media portrayals of such accents that may be incorrect.
Toggle Commented Dec 6, 2009 on Laying it on thick at Brainy Gamer
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Lisa, I cringed at some of what Brutus wrote but I wouldn't exactly characterize it as a "flame". More importantly, I think he's largely right. It's no fun to say so because I mostly agree with your point-of-view. The two substantial criticisms are, I think, that your public statement is inappropriate and counter-productive, and that it is poorly written. I haven't looked at your dissertation but your writing here made Brutus's claim about the problems with the writing in your dissertation credible to me. Hopefully, he's mistaken and you've prepared it with much, much more care. But that leaves the more important criticism about the way in which you're responding to what you perceive as provocations by the committee. I think it would be a grave mistake to repeat what you wrote to the committee. Perhaps that is not your intention. Nevertheless, it reveals a very defensive attitude that won't serve you well. ("Defensive", of course, in its common and not most literal usage.) With the attitudes your committee has already displayed, it's obvious that you come into this with a certain credibility deficit. Being passionate and defensive will, to their minds, validate this bias. You really need to play, and beat them, at their own game.
Toggle Commented Dec 5, 2009 on I dwell in possibility at Terra Nova
I've long believed that interactive storytelling is (with caveats) a counter-productive and unattainable goal, both in computer game design and elsewhere. Besides observation and experience, my basis for this belief is that there's good reasons why so few people are competent storytellers. Most of the audience, and gamers, are not. My caveat for this view is that active and creative competent authorial storytelling in the context of an ongoing interactive story is possible and desirable. We can see this demonstrated with a good DM in D&D, for example. I remain baffled why MMORPGs don't employ people to serve this function. Anyway, this is not possible in single-player gaming until the advent of AI. So I think I strongly disagree with the implicit assumptions underlying Smith's self-criticism. Designers shouldn't be looking for ways to allow players to create their own stories because, in my opinion, to the degree to which designers are successful at this is the degree to which the resulting stories will usually be unsatisfying. That said, I do agree that there's a vast space of storytelling possibilities that video games have only begun to explore. For example, for fifteen years I've wanted to see (and have considered the design of) 3D rendered real-time narratives that allow near complete viewer control of viewpoint (and perhaps time). Such narrative structures would retain the authorial control of cause-and-effect and the complete details of the storytelling, but would require authors to structure their narrative in ways that allow the story to be experienced and discovered from almost any point-of-view. I think variations on this theme are the future of storytelling, not simulations where someone assumes control of a character in a narrative. The latter is gaming and is necessarily distinct from, yet related to, storytelling qua storytelling.
Toggle Commented Aug 20, 2009 on Emerging at Brainy Gamer
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Huh. I've not played RB and I've only watched a couple of videos of people playing. As a lifelong percussionist and drummer, it certainly didn't look to me like actually playing the drums. Perhaps I'm biased on this because I'm arguably oversensitive to the very common notion that playing percussion is not actually musicianship. What I saw when I watched the video of someone playing RB was an emphasis on very crudely hitting the main beats. But that's like saying that playing the guitar is approximately playing a few simple chords. What's actually difficult with a drum kit is to isolate and separate each hand and foot from the rest. Playing sixteenth notes on the toms probably looks complicated and is thrilling to a non-musician, but it's trivial. Approximately playing a simple beat is trivial. Indeed, I think there's a relationship here with the rise of drum sequencers. Good drumming, good percussion in general, is all about rhythmic nuance—it's how one very subtly deviates from the strict mathematical requirements of the beat. All that said, I certainly can imagine how RB could greatly improve the quality of listening to popular music by teaching people to hear and understand what the different instruments are doing. But teaching any real musicianship? I'm skeptical. I've heard reports of guitarists who had their playing damaged by GH and RB.
Toggle Commented Aug 7, 2009 on Rock Band University at Brainy Gamer
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Jeff, I basically agree with everything you say. It's just that I think that people are too hard on economists and economics. People have an idealized view of science and holding economics to the standard of this idealized view is unfair. Are economics and economists doing poorly in comparison to others? Certainly. But I think they're doing better than some others, too. There's hardly a time in any science when the majority of authorities working within it aren't teaching current theory as "Gospel Truth". There is lip service paid to the value of healthy skepticism; but the limits of this are revealed in the grant process and in tenure committees and the like. If you want to challenge the status quo, you have to carefully find the right allies and choose the right battles to fight. Yes, "physics envy" is a problem in many sciences and, yes, it's particularly evident in economics. But I think that it's a natural and useful corrective against the lack of a certain kind of necessary rigor which preceded it. It's been an overcorrection which is almost certainly itself entering a period of correction. However, I disagree with you that economics is "essentially" a branch of social psychology and not calculus and statistics. Rather, I think it's the conjunction of these and has already demonstrated a greater affinity to mathematical description than any of the other social sciences. It seems to me to be obvious why this is the case. Where recent economics has gone awry has been in its conceit that it's exactly the opposite of what you are asserting: that, instead, it's close to being exactly like physics and not at all like psychology. And, here too, it seems to me to be obvious why this isn't the case. Another social science which reminds me quite a bit of economics, in the context of the evolution of a science, is linguistics. Prior to the mid-20th, linguistics was even more in its infancy than economics; it was at a pre-Newtonian level of development. It was teleological, built around unquestioned assumptions, and argued from supposed first principles. Then, it became empirical with descriptivism and developed a more mature theory as a result. However, from my perspective, this theory has ossified in the same way that rational choice theory has ossified in the core of economics. Contemporary theory in both fields has been so enormously more productive and validated than anything that had come before that it's almost impossible for practitioners to recognize its flaws or to imagine alterations or alternatives. Challenging the status quo in any way is (falsely) thought to be equivalent to regression. But my deep intuition about these similar moments in a science's evolution is that they represent a sort of pressure building up behind a creative dam—that while it superficially appears that progress has completely stalled, what's actually happened is that the field has made important progress and now is necessarily "stuck" in a fashion that almost always results in a sudden creative flood of advancement. It takes time for a science's practitioners to become aware that they've accomplished about as much truly useful work with the tools and viewpoint at hand. Scientists like to think themselves essentially neither conservative or progressive with regard to their science. That is to say, they imagine themselves to be perfect empiricists, following where the facts lead them, neither recklessly forging ahead nor timidly holding back. In truth, science as a culture is conservative, and rightly so. It is loathe to discard techniques and theories that have demonstrated even minimal utility. Scientists are terribly loathe, as individuals, to be perceived as hand-waving bullshit artists who recklessly march off into speculative fantasy and mistake doing so as "science". It takes a *lot* of demonstrated failure of contemporary theory for scientists to become willing to seriously question it. This isn't a bug, it's a feature. The general public, especially, has a romantic view of science and scientists as embodied by the visionaries, the Einsteins and the like. But the truth is that almost all alternative, new, radical scientific theories are proven to be *wrong*. Einstein was special, but he wasn't unique in his gifts or his experience—he was more likely to have been proven wrong than right. The visionaries are piss-poor models for how real science progresses. My point is that it's unrealistic and unfair to expect any science to quickly realize that it's stagnated or otherwise gone awry; it's unrealistic and unfair to expect it to quickly correct itself once it does recognize these things. It usually needs some conspicuous failures. It needs a build-up of pressure sufficient to break that dam. I think that contemporary economics, rather than being a pseudoscience that is shortly to be proven to everyone to be useless quackery (as so many critics believe lately), is more likely about to reach a point where it's willing to creatively reinvent itself in a fashion that typically correlates to a period of great progress. Its contemporary failures represent a necessary opportunity and likely paradigm shift, not its imminent demise.
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"If economics wants to be taken seriously as a science, then academic economists need to behave like scientists; priority should be given to observing and documenting how the real world works. Instead, academic economists make unjustified assumptions, and cherry-pick data to fit their models." I mostly agree with this. However, a study of the history of science shows that the conventional understanding of the "scientific method", especially as espoused by many scientists(!) is remarkably naive and simplistic. Which, itself, is revealing, I think. In truth, there's a subtle continual interplay between theoretical reasoning-from-first-principles and empiricism that is necessary for the development of a successful science. The naive view of science is a sort of comic-book empiricism, a vast and diligent accumulation of facts by which an insightful and powerful explanatory theory is derived. In truth, scientists must have some theoretical framework within which they can begin to even differentiate relevant from irrelevant data. Think about the famous "correlation is not causation" maxim. Without theory, having only data, all there is is correlation and every theory consistent with the correlation is equally valid. From Smith onward, Economics as a nascent science has been attempting to discover theoretical frameworks which are useful. In my opinion, as a non-economist but student of the history and philosophy of science, it's not done too bad of a job of it. Are the rational agent assumptions more than a little silly and unrealistic? Of course. But so are half the assumptions of Euclidean geometry. (Or, a level deeper, to the classical Greeks, who were profound Idealists, the notion of these perfect abstractions which comprise geometry seem perfectly acceptable. But are they? There are no true circles in the real world.) When I consider the development of physics or of chemistry, I see scientists both working within and struggling against the simplifications inherent in their blinkered contemporary over-arching theoretical models. When those models become too constricting, when they fail, then they are collectively forced to salvage what they can and move beyond them. The evolution of the discipline of economics is just following this path. It's not that each of these past theories are stupid and those who supported them badly intentioned; it's that it takes a long time, a lot of work, and a lot of being very wrong about a great many things, before a science matures. You simply can't get there as quickly as you would like. And make no mistake: economics is a social science. Math, then physics, then chemistry are the most mature and most successful sciences because they are, essentially, very easy. These are the low hanging fruits. Biology is orders of magnitudes more complex; and the interactions of large numbers of intelligent biological agents incredibly more complex, in turn. Sure, it's misleading for me to imply a full reductionism here; but, even so, you get my point. Everyone seems to be grandiose in their expectations for economics as a discipline—economists and non-economists, alike. It's got a long, long way to go before it will be as successful as many imagine it already to be. But the fact that it's as immature as it is is not an indictment of it as a science. It's merely an indictment of those who don't understand how immature it is. Allow me to put this slightly differently: scientists and non-scientists tend to ridicule old, discredited scientific theories such as the existence of phlogiston or the geocentric model. They are wrong to do so because implicit in this is the conceit that current, presumably "correct" theory could spring fully-formed from the head of Zeus or something and into today's classrooms. The old and discredited ideas were necessary (in some form or another) waypoints for us to get to where we are now. Rational expectations? It's not quite right, often very wrong, but it's not stupid, anymore than phlogiston was stupid. Of course, at some point holding on to discredited theory becomes, arguably, stupid. All those economists who are unwilling to see how their science has failed recently are behaving stupidly. But then...it's stupid to expect people to be so rational, isn't it? We're moved by animal spirits and pride.
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The question of what human behaviour has its roots in genetics, and which arises as a result of a conscious choice, belongs to the broad category of facts which empirical observation can determine, or at least suggest The science is suggestive, but not unambiguous. It is not irrational or anti-scientific to believe, as a tentative conclusion, that sexual orientation is primarily a "lifestyle choice" or, perhaps, culturally influenced. As a longtime supporter of gay rights, I remain puzzled by my compatriots enthusiastic support of the genetically deterministic model of sexual orientation. First and foremost, it seems to me to be a underwhelming defense of homosexuality—"nature made me do it" is pretty weak compared to "I decided to do it and there's nothing wrong with doing it". Not to mention that the history of racism, for example, strongly implies that biology is no impediment against bigotry. The bigots will be just as happy punishing genetic homosexuals as they would homosexuals-by-choice. I vastly prefer not to implicitly cede the moral territory to the bigots by avoiding the question of choice. I say that there's nothing wrong with homosexuality or gay sex, regardless of why someone is gay. Secondly, biologically determinist arguments are typically associated with the right, not the left. It's the bigots who enthusiastically endorse naturist explanations of human behavior—sex and race are two good examples. Why is the dominant thinking on the left that culture and choice determines sexual and racial differences yet somehow it's enlightened to explain sexual orientation by genetics? I suspect the answer to this is that even among large swaths of the supposedly tolerant left, there is still a significant amount of homophobia and it's much more comfortable for everyone concerned to say that their child or sibling or friend was "made that way". But if being "made that way" is the primary justification for the social acceptance of non-traditional sexual orientation, then what of those who were not made that way? I'm straight, but I've experimented with gay sex. I guess there's no defense for me, huh? I have gay friends who are certain they were born gay but, more to the point, I also have gay friends who are not. And it simply doesn't matter. Either it's morally acceptable, or it's not. Those of us supporting gay rights should assert that it's acceptable, without qualification, without regard to biological or cultural origins. And with regard to science and empiricism, the overwhelming body of evidence regarding genetics and human behavior is that neither a pure naturist nor a pure nurturist explanation is usually sufficient. Human behavior is complexly interdependent upon many variables and it's almost certain that sexual orientation, like sexually dimorphic behavior, arises through the interplay between genes, environment, and choice. It is not scientifically accurate to blithely assert that sexual orientation is genetic in origin.
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