Presented without comment #10

A journalist kicking it old school on Twitter‘ by Mark Colvin at The Punch.

The phones were the first to go, replaced first by push button models and electronic switchboards that let you do your own dialling, then gradually by mobiles and smart phones.

The trusty typewriter became electric, then in the eighties came models with a page or two of electronic memory, then desktops, the ubiquitous laptop and now the tablet.

Somewhere in there, the last of the copy-takers retired, the end of a craft which had lasted less than a century. The telex took a long time to kill, but by the early nineties was starting to fade out, killed first by the fax, then the arrival of the world wide web.

The bugger, bugged‘ by Hugh Grant at The New Satesman.

Him …It started off as fun – you know, it wasn’t against the law, so why wouldn’t you? And it was only because the MPs who were fiddling their expenses and being generally corrupt kept getting caught so much they changed the law in 2001 to make it illegal to buy and sell a digital scanner. So all we were left with was – you know – finding a blag to get your mobile [records] out of someone at Vodafone. Or, when someone’s got it, other people swap things for it.
Me So they all knew? Wade probably knew all about it all?
Him […] Cameron must have known – that’s the bigger scandal. He had to jump into bed with Murdoch as everyone had, starting with Thatcher in the Seventies . . .

Me What’s his son called?
Him James [Murdoch]. They’re all mates together. They all go horse riding. You’ve got Jeremy Clarkson lives here [in Oxfordshire]. Cameron lives here, and Rebekah Wade is married to Brooks’s son [the former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks]. Cameron gets dressed up as the Stig to go to Clarkson’s 50th birthday party [NB: it was actually to record a video message for the party]. Is that demeaning for a prime minister? It should be the other way round, shouldn’t it? So basically, Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election . . . So that was my submission to parliament – that Cameron’s either a liar or an idiot.
Me But don’t you think that all these prime ministers deliberately try to get the police to drag their feet about investigating the whole [phone-hacking] thing because they don’t want to upset Murdoch?
Him Yeah. There’s that . . .

Noise Chamber‘ by Leigh Alexander at SexyVideogameland.

I think I let myself be so available that some people became more interested in me — and not even me-as-a-person, but me as some kind of visible entity that could be commanded to react and share herself on command from strangers — than in my writing, even when my writing’s what made me initially visible to them.

 

A short word on Portal 2

This post is spoiler free so stress less.

I just wanted to try and briefly elaborate on some comments I made over twitter last night. I asked on twitter, “Does anyone care that I don’t think Portal is quite as amazing as everyone seems to be saying?” which was an attempt at avoiding the love-it-or-hate-it dichotomy. But it didn’t really help, and the discussions that followed left me unsatisfied.

One of the things that I prize highly in a game is enduring appeal. The epitome of this is Far Cry 2: I can literally play that game for hundreds upon hundreds of hours without it losing it’s appeal. There are a myriad number of characteristics that go into evaluating a game on this criteria: variation, openness, procedurality, linearity, aesthetics, etcetera, etcetera. Notice here that I’m not avoiding replayability not just because It’s Not A Word but also because it obscures all these factors that go into what gets lumped under ‘replayability’.

So Portal 2 then. Yeah, it’s actually as great as they say it is. But… I know without a doubt that I’m not going to be playing it in a months time. What does that mean? Does that make it worse than Far Cry 2? For me, yes, but not objectively so. It’s only worse because I can tell it is not going to grip me in the same way, shake me around and show me some amazing things, before throwing me to the ground and leaving me there panting and saying “Please sir, can I have some more?”

Portal 2 is not that. Valve games are almost never that (Left 4 Dead 1 & 2 were a bit of that). I still enjoy them, but I want to be gripped by a game. I want to be caught up in its fiction; caught up in its premise; caught up to the point that I want to inhabit that world. I want to be held by a game such that playing it feels like slipping on a comfortable new skin. I want to be held so tightly by the appeal of the game that whenever I boot it up I breathe a sigh of relief. I want to play a game that is like coming home.

Far Cry 2 was all of those things, for more reasons than I can justifiably list (aesthetics, story, setting, fiction, tone, themes, sound, visuals, lighting, engine optimisation, length, breadth, depth, etc, etc, etc.). Portal 2 will never be those things. This does make it ‘not as good’ in my books. But my books are open for all to see, and they’re horribly, terrifically and unfairly biased.

Responding to a comment I made on twitter about wanting a new Far Cry 2 to play, someone (probably Manveer Heir) once asked me “Don’t you want a new game to play instead?” Well, no because Far Cry 2 was all these things to me and I wanted more of that. But also yes, because the appeal wears off eventually, otherwise I’d just be forever playing Far Cry 2.

But I know that no game will ever quite capture me again in the same way. It’s impossible because, partly, it’s down to me. FC2 came along at just the right time to capture me entire gaming zeitgeist. And with every thing that would be changed in a hypothetical Far Cry 3 it risks upsetting the balance. So I don’t exactly want a new game, but I can’t keep playing the old one forever.

In the mean time, Portal 2 will do in a pinch. Though I’ll probably be on to something else once I’m done. It’s just not that gripping.

Presented without comment #9

The Different Types of Comments People Leave‘ by Leigh Alexander at Thought Catalog.

The internet is widely perceived to be a ‘content democracy.’ whereby an equal-opportunity platform places all contributors on the same footing. Most are under the impression there is no longer much perceptible difference between an ‘online publication’ and a ‘blog,’ which is something anyone can start and which an increasing number of individuals operate or have considered beginning to operate. Most are under the impression that any opinion is a qualified opinion and that, moreover, one should express one’s opinion, qualified or otherwise, at any possible juncture as they have a platform by which to do so that is equal or near-equal in relevance and credibility to the platform once dominated by ‘the traditional media.’

Commented Out’ by Khoi Vinh at Subtraction

I’m not blind to the fact that the world is changing. First, blogging in the style that I cherish — the Blogger/MovableType/WordPress.org style, you might say, where each blog is a kind of an independent publication — now feels somewhat like a niche activity practiced by relatively few, where it once seemed like a revolutionary democratization of publishing. What seems more lively, more immediate and more relevant right now is what I might call ‘network blogging’ — content publishing that’s truly integrated into a host network like Tumblr or Twitter, that’s not just on the network, it’s of the network too. It’s simpler, faster, more democratic than what came before. It’s not my preferred style of blogging, but it’s hard to acknowledge that it’s not incredibly exciting in very different ways.

Subtraction.com: Commented out‘ by Marco Arment (founder of Instapaper).

Comments have always been a dysfunctional medium. They solve a real problem: authors’ need for validation, criticism, and feedback. But they solve it in a way that discourages civility and following up, and encourages hatred and spam.

To address the same problem that comments solve, I post links to my articles on Twitter, read my responses there, and react if necessary. This has most of the value of ideal comments, but with very few of the drawbacks.

A Personal Crysis

I reviewed Crysis 2 for Killscreen, and in it I said things like this:

Crysis was actually two things: a tech demo, and a sequence of tropical playgrounds built to demonstrate how much fun it can be to jump off rooftops onto the heads of North Korean soldiers while a gentle breeze blows serenely through palm fronds. The game saw generally lackluster early sales, as players struggled to afford the hardware upgrades to run it. Crysis 2 appears to have fallen prey to forces larger than itself, and lost touch with both its tech-demo playground and Club Med holiday simulator.

I was pretty hard on it, I guess, but was I unfair? I don’t think so. For a medium that can very nearly depict any virtual environment imaginable, from the most fantastical extra-dimensional levels of Xen in the original Half-Life to the verdant savannah’s and swamps of Far Cry 2, videogames have just so much potential for originality and sheer aesthetic beauty that it frustrates me to the point of grinding teeth how little of that potential is used. Hence, Crysis 2’s decision to abandon it’s tropical island roots in favour of, let’s be honest, courting the lucrative CoD dollar. In the review I flesh out some of the implications on of this approach and mark the game down heavily for it. For those of us that live in urban environments (and I have only done so technically for less than a year – I used to live in a city in a national park) the natural environment is soothing and restorative, studies have shown that even the presence of potted plants helps restore attention. So here’s a few pictures of the plants I keep on my balcony, in lieu of a pretty and invigorating Crysis 2 environment:

Sweet rocket and chives in a planter

White Bok Choi and Cos Lettuce

Flatleaf Parsley, repotted from a self-sown shoot at my mother's house

Jalapeno Mexicana

My sprawling Lemon Basil plant

Don’t you feel better already?

Presented without comment #8

Is Twitter Biased? Yep‘ by Jonathan Oake at Spongeist.

Is Twitter biased? Of course it is. It is a self-selecting sample, and as such will always exhibit a bias. If you set up a stall offering free cupcakes, you’re going to get a sample bias towards the kind of people who like cupcakes. If you set up an online short-messaging service which integrates especially well with internet-capable mobile devices, and is particularly useful for sharing links, you’re going to get a strong bias towards:

1. People who use the internet (students, white-collar knowledge workers)

2. People who have internet-enabled mobile phones (white collar knowledge workers)

3. People who are well-read (students and white-collar knowledge workers)

Are Twitter Trends the New Barbershop?‘ by Tanner Higgin, at Gaming the System.

Recently, a friend of mine joined Twitter and the first direct message he sent me was a simple question: “Why are all the people posting on Twitter trendsblack?”

It was an intentionally exaggerated but honest and innocent question and one I had been thinking about a lot lately. In the past few months, I had unscientifically noticed there was a a new topic trending each day supported by tweets from predominantly black users. (And let me note here that my trends are geolocated and cover the LA metro area so this may be different, or perhaps not even apply, depending on where you’re living…)

The Story of #ims211‘ by Sean Duncan, at Se4n.com.

At the time, I had around 750 followers on Twitter, with a small cluster of game developers, educators, scholars, and journalists following me. I figured we’d get maybe 10-20 tweets back at us, just saying “yo.” Then, I assumed, the class would get my point that Twitter is a simple and amiable way to connect with a variety of folks interested in games. What I didn’t expect was that my tweet would get retweeted as widely as it did — thanks to a number of folks (Darius KazemiJason McIntoshBen Abraham, among others) for getting the ball rolling. That ball kept on picking up speed, and I think entered orbit sometime mid-afternoon on Tuesday.

Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil‘ by Clint Witchalls at The Independent.

In his latest book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A new theory of human cruelty, Baron-Cohen, argues that the term evil is unscientific and unhelpful. “Sometimes the term evil is used as a way to stop an inquiry,” Baron-Cohen tells me. “‘This person did it because they’re evil’ – as if that were an explanation.”

“Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

 

Apologies and News

Something went seriously haywire with the blog back-end the other day. It started posting the RSS of all my Facebook links as individual posts on the site. No warning, nothing changed, it just decided to start doing it. Weird, right?

Anyway, now that’s fixed (I hope) here’s a podcast I have a small cameo in. SuparnaGalaxy is coming to your platform of choice soon.

Edit: It started doing it again, but I think I’ve tracked it down to a server cron job that never worked before suddenly starting to work. Thanks for nothing SuperGreen Hosting.

Presented without comment #7

The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent‘ by George Monbiot at The Guardian (make sure to watch the video).

As the Daily Kos has reported, the emails show that:

• Companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

• This software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

• Fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically reposting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.

• Human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and retweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.

• With some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, “make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to fictitious personas.”

Churnalism or news? How PRs have taken over the media‘ by Paul Lewis at The Guardian.

A new website promises to shine a spotlight on “churnalism” by exposing the extent to which news articles have been directly copied from press releases.

The website, churnalism.com, created by charity the Media Standards Trust, allows readers to paste press releases into a “churn engine”. It then compares the text with a constantly updated database of more than 3m articles. The results, which give articles a “churn rating”, show the percentage of any given article that has been reproduced from publicity material.

4Chan Founder: Zuckerberg is “totally wrong” about online identity‘ by Anthony Ha at Social Beat.

Poole argued that anonymity allows users to reveal themselves in a “completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way.” One of the things that’s lost when you carry the same identity everywhere is “the innocence of youth.” (“Innocence” isn’t the first word that would come to mind when I think of 4chan, but okay, I’ll go with him here.) In other words, when everyone knows everything you’ve done online, you’re a lot more worried about screwing up, and you’re less willing to experiment. Poole compared this to being a kid, moving to a new neighborhood, and having the opportunity to start over. On the Internet, you don’t get that opportunity.

“The cost of failure is really high when you’re contributing as yourself,” Poole said.