It’s A Small World… But Which One?

By Kieron Gillen on September 14th, 2010 at 1:06 pm.

There’s been some developments from yesterday’s story where assorted organs have implicated the board-game Smallworld in a child-neglect tragedy. As we updated, the erroneous Warhammer shot’s been pulled but the makers of both games have spoken out about the tragedy, both actually denying it’s their game. You’ll find the statements and my thoughts below…

Days of Wonder, maker of the board-game and its ipad version, blogged about it and then issued a statement. Here it is…

Newspaper editors across the Atlantic seem to be living in a fantasy world – perhaps to the point where they will write anything.

Contrary to incorrect reports published in several English newspapers and their respective websites, Days of Wonder’s Small World board game is not connected to the tragedy that occurred in the London suburb of Swanley, where a mother reportedly let her children starve and the family dogs die while she played in an online virtual world whose name might be similar to, but is totally unrelated to the family-friendly Days of Wonder board game.

Apparently journalists and editors of some British newspapers can’t be bothered to check facts and distinguish between “smallworlds.com” and the family board game “Small World”, created and marketed by Days of Wonder.

“Since when are board games a source of danger and cause for addiction?” asks Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder, the publisher of the Small World board game, who prefers to take such journalistic mistakes with a sense of humor, even if he regrets this unfortunate news item. “One wonders if reporters check their sources! The information published on the websites of the Daily Mail and the Sun has spread like wildfire on the Web. The copyrighted images attempting to incriminate our Small World game have circulated from England to Australia and no one bothered to check if this was indeed the right game in question.”

Contrary to the misinformation relayed on the web, the board game Small World cannot be played online and there is no invitation to play it on Facebook. Launched in April 2009, Small World was originally only available as a physical board game, with a digital version (non-online) released on the iPad to critical acclaim just six months ago. Winner of the Games Magazine 2010 Game of the Year award, Small World is a two player game on the iPad and plays with up to five players in the physical version.

“Our philosophy has always been to create family friendly games that are fun to play with others, not alone. It’s the total opposite of an online game that would isolate the player in a virtual world.” said Eric Hautemont.

Days of Wonder is currently considering legal action regarding this misrepresentation of the Small World board game and hopes the newspapers responsible for these defamatory statements will give similar coverage to a retraction. To help the editors of the Daily Mail and The Sun to make up their own mind of any addictive nature of the real Small World, CEO Eric Hautemont invites the respective editors to contact Days of Wonder to receive a complimentary game – either as the physical board game or the iPad version.

However, Mitch Olson, from the online social MMO Smallworlds who seemed the most likely candidate for the game in question, comments…

I was made aware of this tragic story just this morning, and I see that other concerned citizens have posted about it on the SmallWorlds forums. As with any form of addiction, individuals who become addicted to an online game need support to help them break the cycle of addiction they become trapped in.

In the story which is currently making it way around various media sources, the game in question has been cited as Small Worlds. We wanted to take the opportunity to clarify to our community that this is not SmallWorlds.com. A few news agencies have used SmallWorlds.com images erroneously when the story is about another game entirely.

Internet addiction is something that we need to take very seriously indeed. Do you know anyone that you feel spends what you would consider to be an unhealthy amount of time on the internet? If you do, I’d really encourage you to help; here’s a good place to start – http://www.netaddiction.com/

With best wishes to all our players – and with a sincere reminder from all of the team at SmallWorlds.com to look after yourself around the time you spend playing online games. SmallWorlds is great fun.. when its part of a healthy balanced life.

What to make of this all? Well, it’s clear that Days of Wonder game can’t be involved. It’s simply not an online game. Mitch, however, appears to have simply bought what the press are saying. However, if we can’t say for sure that means Smallworlds is the game which the lady neglected her children in order to play. It is entirely possible there’s another Smallworlds out there, which is somehow beneath the radar of google. I don’t think it’s likely, obviously, but it is possible.

I don’t think the exact character of the game matters, for the general point. When presented with a depressing real life, a retreat into an online game with a social element is something that can happen no matter what the character of the game. It’s not about the game. It’s about it not being their life. The press reaction to turn this into a story about gaming – and gaming of a traditional fantasy sort – rather than engaging with the sadness at the heart of this is the problem.

UPDATE: Mitch has made another statement.

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59 Comments »

  1. Yehuda Berlinger says:

    Mitch’s statement came early on in the news cycle, and I think he simply bought the press’ statement without thinking about it. I’m hopeful that he’s been made aware of his error, by now (I’ve emailed him for a statement).

    Yehuda

  2. Clovis says:

    I had a pet fish die because I played too much Agricola.

    • Skurmedel says:

      Lucky you didn’t play Race to the Galaxy.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      My friend, the Imaginary Purple Non-Friend from R’Lyeh, died while I was playing Arkham Horror. With six, count ‘em: six, expansions. I also needed an extra table because my extra-large table that usually seats 15 people for holiday feasts wasn’t big enough. The table later committed suicide due to abandonment issues.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I had a fishman assassin that died because I forgot to look at his ship’s shields.

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      I raised 6 sheep, 4 wild boar, & 2 cattle. But I had to kill them for food to feed my burgeoning family.

      And in the game.

    • Bret says:

      I lost fifty some soldiers under my command to alien invaders from beyond the stars.

      And I was too busy playing X-Com to notice.

  3. Archonsod says:

    It’s also equally possible they made the whole thing up. Wouldn’t be the first time the press have invented a non-story.

    • AndrewC says:

      The original story apparently came from court transcripts in which the game was mentioned (taken from Kieron’s post from yesterday) – but hey, don’t bother checking your sources.

    • Caleb367 says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Besides the all-too-obvious interest in fear-mongering and internet-bashing – actually checking out on facts is counterproductive if you’re in cheap scandals – wouldn’t that be freaking hilarious if the whole piece of news was a hoax.

      “RECTIFY: the thing we were talking about some time ago somewhere may or may not be exactly coincident with the commonly used concept of being not entirely untrue…BUT IT KILLS CHILDREN”

  4. Rich says:

    “Newspaper editors across the Atlantic seem to be living in a fantasy world – perhaps to the point where they will write anything.”

    Yes. Yes they will.

    • Lack_26 says:

      I wish there was some form of regulation to try and get newspapers to check their sources, stop them printing rubbish and hold them to some actual journalistic standard. That or the BBC publish a daily paper.

    • Rich says:

      I’d rather Channel 4 News just had a decent website. Better quality journalism than the beeb, but I’m not really interested in watching video segments.

    • Cooper says:

      The regulation against crap journalism is called not giving money to blatant untruth-mongering gossip rags.

      Unfortuantely, that’s the kind of material a lot of people lap up gleefully as it simply reinforces their petty predjudices and ignorance. Yay!

    • deejayem says:

      There is the Press Complaints Commission, although in its current state it’s not really fit for purpose due to being a) legally powerless, and b) funded and run by the institutions it’s supposed to monitor.

    • Nikolaj says:

      I find it funny how they complain about newspapers in general, yet their statement is in the form of a newspaper article.

  5. Dinger says:

    …I have to say, KG, your line of argumentation (fix the life, not the games) sounds dangerously close to similar arguments for legalizing drugs.
    Certainly, people who have depressing lives are more likely to escape. Alcoholism is higher in certain social-economic classes. But there will also be people who are predisposed to addictive behavior.
    We live under the socially-constructed illusion of free choice; regardless of how much we may or may not have, when it comes to addictive behavior, we have very little, and what little resistance we have depends on our social surroundings.
    We’ve had games for quite a while that have catered to addictive behavior, and to creating communities of addicts who reinforce each others’ habits. The latest wave of social games crassly applies behavioral psychology to dirt-simple games to create communities of addicts whose sole purpose for existing is to generate revenue.

    So, while the press will jump on the “games are evil” bandwagon at any opportunity, we need to distance legitimate games from the intemittent-positive-reinforcement-based lifebandits that are our there.

    • mandrill says:

      @dinger: Whats so dangerous about similar arguments for legalizing drugs? Drug addiction is not the cause of society’s ills. it is a symptom, just as any other kind of retreat from reality is a symptom. It says a lot when large portions of the population want to retreat from the shitty world we’re living in to occupy a virtual world or a drug induced (I’m including alcohol in there) stupor.

      Maybe if people were happier with their lives they wouldn’t feel the need to escape from them. We should be asking why people aren’t happy, but of course that doesn’t make anyone any money does it?

    • Nallen says:

      @Dinger I don’t follow. I mean what you’re saying is true, but is your solution to remove everything that could possibly be in harmful when used in abusive quantities? I think ‘fix the life’ is exactly the solution.

    • Dinger says:

      The problem with the “legalize drugs/improve reality” argument lies in that, if we were to transpose the video game argument to drugs, the “legalize drugs” side of the argument would also include some sort of laissez-faire capitalism, as if pharmaceutical companies were capable of acting in society’s best interest. I mean, you think the meth problem in the US is bad now? Imagine what it’ll be like with GlaxoSmithKlineNovartis starts pushing the stuff! That won’t improve reality, but make things even worse!

      So, when we say “improve reality/legalize drugs”, we usually end up conceding a hefty dose of “regulate and tax” alongside “legalize”. Most of us would rather not go down that route with videogames. But we’ve got people developing games where every mechanic is evaluated for its capacity to further a cycle of addiction and payment, with no concern for providing any real benefit, entertainment or otherwise, to the user. The closest analogy is casino gambling, and that is heavily regulated.

      In short: it’s an argument that very quickly leads to the position it tries to refute.

    • Xercies says:

      I actually think drugs should be legalised, at least then you have a clue how many people are doing it and can show them the support and stuff they need. and in fact countries where they have legalised some drugs has shown a decrease in that drugs use. So yeah.

    • Dinger says:

      Hey, I agree that drugs should be legalized, and regulated. For drugs are entertaining, and when people’s lives aren’t entertaining, they tend to escape to something that is. But drugs (and “medications”) are also highly addictive, and huge pharmaceutical companies do everything in their power to preserve their profits from legal drugs (the crap they spam the airwaves with) and illegal ones (crystal meth cannot be made without the cooperation of Big Pharma).

      So right now, some drugs are illegal, and the regulation serves nobody.

      What does this have to do with video games? “Fix Reality” fails when your reality becomes all about getting a fix. We can’t say deny that games are addictive and at the same time condemn Zynga for their Platinum membership club (minimum buy-in: $500). Bogost and Blow have been going on about this for years. Video Games are powerful, and it is the duty of all of us to make sure the world we escape to is a virtual republic and not a crackhouse.

    • Michael says:

      I think we need to stop defending these addictive, online, cash cow games as if we were all part of one big, besieged, gaming family. In my mind, Zynga et al fall under the same category as those late night roulette shows on ITV, though not in the same league. They just exploit misery and deprivation. They have no benefit to society and do a fair amount of harm. I’d be very happy to see them go the way of the crazy frog.

      Of course these types of judgements are not easy. Binary logic just doesn’t cover it. The difference between a bad game and a harmful one is purely in the amount of harm caused and that’s not an easy thing to measure. All games could be said to do some harm – being addictive, aggressive and sedentary activities – and also some good – being tests of intellect, co-ordination, planning and co-operation. It’s a question of where you draw the line, except it isn’t a line because there are a lot more than two dimensions involved. Ultimately, it’s one of those things that comes down to human judgement.

      Games can do many things. Sooner or later they were bound to start doing some harm. I think the community needs to recognise this and stop acting like the victimised innocent.

  6. Xik says:

    Move over problem gamblers, substance abusers and alcoholic’s.

    *SIGH*

    ..
    .

    Forget that silly thing called facts, all the anti-gaming groups are going to have a field day.

  7. Jahkaivah says:

    I would laugh my ass off had Mitch pointed the finger at Warhammer Online, and then Mythic came foward to say it was Smallworlds.

    • The truth says:

      Mitch just wants to get rid of unpleasant guests like always. People are banned from the game for no reason, just because they dont agree with a person who has a bigger level on game than you.

  8. Mory Buckman says:

    There’s a third one: The wonderful Flash game Small Worlds by David Shute. This name is way too common.

    • Jahkaivah says:

      @Mory Buckman

      I even remember RPS doing an article about that game.

      Of course it’s an even less likely candidate for addiction.

  9. Alex says:

    Such as? To know exactly how hard I should laugh at your lack of logic. Games are entertaining, entertaininment makes you feel good, if you have issues you may escape to that entertainment and ignore your actual life, leading to such tragedies. Fix the life, not the games, which are far from drugs, much like any other entertainment medium.

  10. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    This is pretty messed up. What game *were* they talking about after all? I’ve been looking for it myself and still found nothing.

    In any case:

    ““Since when are board games a source of danger and cause for addiction?”

    Anything can be a cause for addiction, board games aren’t different. It depends on the individual but to try and shrug away at some hinted responsibility (which they really wouldn’t have anyway) with this kind of comment is two-faced.

    • Torgen says:

      Well, for one thing, most board games require at least two people, whereas most computer games can be played alone.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      But it can become destructive nonetheless. I remember a player on some D&D sessions I had aeons ago was having, shall we say, difficulties letting go of the role he played on the game. Not sure how that ended for him since I moved away and it was harder to arrange plays with the group, but pretty much everyone in it noticed. All of them said he wasn’t like that before.

      So i guess there was nothing satanic about D&D, only psychotic :/

  11. Altemoer says:

    That Mitch Olson fellow seems a skeezy chap. I mean, he doesn’t just state that his game is not the “culprit”, but proceeds to point his finger at the board game. And then going on to link to the net addiction stuff, I get the feeling he just really wants to avoid the bad press, instead of fighting the idiotic way the tabloids have portrayed videogames. Egh

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Eric Hautemont is just as bad:

      “Since when are board games a source of danger and cause for addiction?” asks Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder

      That’s a wonderfully loaded statement very strongly implying that video games are “a source of danger and cause for addiction” right there.

    • Altemore says:

      Hm, both of them snakes then. I’d argue that Olson is worse for pointing fingers, but no point in that. I suppose it’s not the companies’ responsibility to talk about what’s wrong with the press, but only to cover their ass in cases of irresponsible reporting like this. Not a negative comment, can’t expect them to do anything else.

    • Jahkaivah says:

      @Alexander Norris

      I don’t see it. He’s just saying that a social MMO is much more likely to be played to obsession than a board game. Which is perfectly true.

  12. SheffieldSteel says:

    When it comes to problems and pain, people are surprisingly likely to accept the obvious explanation and the simple solution… even if the explanation isn’t convincing and the solution isn’t proven to work.

    Hence the rush to blame a game for a very complex issue with this person’s life. All we need now is for someone to propose that all their problems would have been solved if only they’d taken this dietary supplement, homeopathic remedy, or whatever.

  13. Cat says:

    Ironically enough this has probably advertised Small World board game above being totally unheard of.

  14. Allandaros says:

    I’m so sorry.

    Playing Agricola is punishment enough.

    • Allandaros says:

      Er, that last @Clovis.

    • Clovis says:

      Huh? I was under the impression that Agricola was pretty popular among boardgamers. Plus, it has cute little cube shaped animals just like Minecraft ;-)

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Out! Philistine.

  15. Malibu Stacey says:

    I guess it’s OK to neglect your kids & pets if you’re watching “reality” TV & soaps all day or bothering god or reading “celebrity” magazines but you touch one video game……..

  16. JohnnyMaverik says:

    “Apparently journalists and editors of some British newspapers can’t be bothered to check facts”

    He only just worked that out?

    Seriously, most British newspapers should come with a giant health warning on it saying “this is all at least 50% complete bollocks and following any advice found with in these pages will probably turn you into a bigoted and ignorant prick, with the weirdest diet ever because all food give you cancer, but on the plus side then we’ll employ you”.

  17. pipman3000 says:

    i found the culprit

    http://www.small-world.net/

    take ‘em away officer.

  18. John says:

    So many terran marines, so many…

  19. The truth says:

    http://forum.smallworlds.com/showthread.php?t=211121

    Mitch didnt admited it was smallworlds.com, but almost. He made this new statement, which its pretty much obvious that he knows something.

    And he keeps deleting all the thread that appear on smallworlds forum related with that story. Shame.

  20. sajdfkl says:

    They are merged with the first one that was posted. It is not necessary to make 50 threads on the exact same subject. Exactly where does he almost admit it? I read that whole thing through and I’m just not seeing it.

    • The truth says:

      Mitch keeps saying that “there’s a whole mess up” and “it’s not related with smallworlds” and keeps sending the fireball to the other game….

      On small world forum I never saw the owner saying it’s Smallworlds fault…It’s an immature text what he posted. He can be sued for saying that Small World is the game and not his game.

      Pretty much obvious huh? And also, Small World doesn’t fits in the description of the story. A women would get tired easily of playing that game.

      Quite the contrary, Smallworlds has dresses and all the girly stuff that would attrack a women of kids.

    • Appless Million says:

      “On small world forum I never saw the owner saying it’s Smallworlds fault” And on the other game I never saw the CEO say it was Small World’s fault

  21. Appless Million says:

    It could not be SmallWorlds.com the game does not have much fantasy, as said. The more I read this the more I am starting to believe that this story has been made up, really, a 13 year old not being able to take care of himself? There are many points to this story that seem hard to believe.

    • The truth says:

      I smell a Smallworlds player on here…

    • Appless Million says:

      Yes, yes I am a SmallWorlds player since open beta, and through out the years, this has happened to NO ONE who has played the game

  22. Robert M. says:

    Then if he says that show me the link dude. I play Small World and the owner never said it was our fault.

    Beside, Smallworlds players are mostly women and little immature kiddies, which fits on the description

    *Russian Pride*

  23. adonf says:

    agreed. this story has been made up to pollute our thoughts with the disney song and have us hum it all day. twice. damn you rps !

  24. BiggerJ says:

    This is going to end up with anti-defamation lawsuits, and the police are going to end up getting their hands on the computer involved in order to find out exactly what goddamn game it was. I’ve already got my popcorn in the microwave.

  25. InternetAddictionExpert says:

    The good point is that internet addiction can be treated clinically, and the affected person can get rid of the obsession. Check for resources at http://www.internet-addiction-expert.com