The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for putting off everything you’re meant to be doing, everything you want to be doing, and instead playing Football Manager till sleep. Best finish up that first season and post links to some of the week’s finest games writing.

  • This is from the week before, but I only read it recently and it’s worth bringing to your attention: American football team the Green Bay Packers are hooked on Settlers of Catan.
  • On any day in Green Bay’s locker room, you can find starting tackle David Bakhtiari, who introduced the game to the team, rounding up players for a Settlers get-together that night—and there’s no shortage of willing participants. But players may not know what they are in for. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn said he was interested in the game because it was “a nonviolent version of Risk,” referring to Parker Brothers’ notoriously lengthy game of world domination. But Flynn said the players take it so seriously that when he stopped by to play for the first time after a win last month, he was shocked by what happened when he attempted to turn on some celebratory music.

    “I was just trying to play some music—some Pearl Jam, and [Bakhtiari] wouldn’t let me. He wanted to hear the players talk and strategize. He was very serious,” Flynn said. “They take it to a different level.”

  • Kudos to anyone who turns off Pearl Jam. Meanwhile, Oliver Roeder compels you to stop playing Monopoly with your kids (and play these games instead). Which initially seems like it’ll be a good, opinionated list but turns out to be a data analysis based on ratings on the website BoardGameGeek.
  • In this data, one observation quickly becomes clear: According to the users of BoardGameGeek, games get better as children get older. Games for a 3-year-old average a rating of just above 5, whereas games for a 10-year-old average a rating above 6, for example. This isn’t surprising — games get more intricate, strategies more complex, play more engrossing. But there are quality games to be played at any age. To consider games that are fairly tried and true, I’ll restrict this analysis to those with at least 100 user ratings. This leaves us with 2,849 games recommended for children ages 3 to 10.

  • Kate Gray returns to the Guardian to talk about boob physics.
  • You’ll find a range of breast-related mishaps in video games, from over-stuffed, rigid lumps that protrude from the chest like a fist through a wall, to the comically large hooters favoured by fighting games and RPGs, often set in a parallel universe where breasts have the power to wobble violently, completely of their own accord, like a couple of drunken jellyfish in a mosh pit.

  • While you’re there, you should read Keith Stuart’s piece on having his laptop stolen, which is full of practical advice.
  • I didn’t see my laptop being taken and I was not confronted or assaulted by the thieves – but it was a shocking intrusion. I felt vulnerable and stupid, and for a few days, it ate away at my sense of control and security. What really got to me were the little things. I’d just downloaded a bunch of photos of our family Christmas, and there were emails I’d saved from friends and relatives, some of whom are no longer with us. There were sound files of incredible interviews, there was a document full of things I’d learned and studied about autism; things to help me with my son.

  • This piece on “gaming while black” from Joystiq is good, full of detail and data.
  • The stories Allen could tell probably wouldn’t surprise Dr. Kishonna Gray. Dr. Gray is an Assistant Professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies, and the founder and director of EKU’s Critical Gaming Lab, a hub for researching the immersive online environments within console gaming. She studies gaming and harassment from the player’s point of view.

  • Ian Bogost starts with a bold claim and then works hard to justify it: the algorithms that affect our lives, through Google and Facebook and Netflix, form “a new type of theology.”
  • Here’s an exercise: The next time you hear someone talking about algorithms, replace the term with “God” and ask yourself if the meaning changes. Our supposedly algorithmic culture is not a material phenomenon so much as a devotional one, a supplication made to the computers people have allowed to replace gods in their minds, even as they simultaneously claim that science has made us impervious to religion.

  • This five-minute video on the creation of a Mario AI is interesting, for the way it learns how to kill things and for the speech commands that order it to feel sad.
  • Half-Life levels from an isometric perspective.

Music this week is Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals. Start here, Spotify here.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Thanks for another good roundup Graham – just to note the Mario AI link seems to be missing!

  2. DanMan says:

    Kudos to anyone who turns off Pearl Jam

    Oh no, you didn’t, did you? WTF!? How dare you?! You.. .you… you hipster, you!

    • Brosecutor says:

      *puts on hipster glasses*

      I hated Pearl Jam before it was cool.

      • Geebs says:

        I can genuinely say that I can remember more songs by Creed than by Pearl Jam.

        • pepperfez says:

          I remember more twenty-car pileups than run red lights, so I’d say your perceptions are about right.

      • DanMan says:

        When was that?!? I certainly didn’t get the memo.

    • Minsc_N_Boo says:

      *Fire up torch* – Do you have a spare pitchfork you can lend me?

  3. Brosecutor says:

    Regarding the board game thing, there was an actually decent article on about games wot are better than the so-called “classics” – especially in the USA, terrible games like Risk and Monopoly are still going strong.

    • Viroso says:

      Why did you say Risk is terrible?

      • grom.5 says:

        Risk is… good enough (compare to Monopoly) but suffer from many problems. Too long to finish, not enough possibilities, too much reliance on luck (for your objective, your initial placement, your reinforcement and for each fight)

        I don’t know how many time we had some kind of chuck Norris who just refuse to yield against an army of 20 soldiers. It was pretty funny, but not something to experiment each time.

        It’s not a real strategy game, but it’s too strategic and long to play casually. It’s some kind of bastard.

        I can play some games, but there are so many better games this days, whatever you want. Strategy, fun, luck or a mix. Ask and you will find. (Smallworld is pretty nice for example)

      • malkav11 says:

        Because while there is some basic strategy possible, the vast majority of the game is down to chance-based die rolls. Possibly forgivable in a 20 minute game, but in my experience Risk tends to take more like five hours, and it is nowhere -near- deep enough to sustain that kind of length.

    • Vandelay says:

      Think that seems to be true wherever you are. Certainly here in the UK, I would imagine the vast majority of people still think of Monopoly, Cluedo (Clue for those in the US,) and possibly Risk when you say board games. You certainly don’t see much more than those and gameshow tie-ins in most non-specialist stores. There is no wonder why board games are looked upon with disdain by most people.

      Of course, it doesn’t really come as much surprise that sportsmen would be attracted to playing them, despite the shock that is reiterated throughout the first link.

    • Baines says:

      Of course the big defense for Monopoly is that most people aren’t playing Monopoly when they play Monopoly. They play some house mod that they learned or vaguely remember. Even if they don’t add new house rules, they tend to ignore the time limit and property auction rules.

      I’m not saying that Monopoly played by the manual is a great game, but it isn’t as bad as the 5+ hour slogs that people routinely turn it into.

      • malkav11 says:

        People argue that the oft-forgotten auction rule makes Monopoly better, but to me, auction mechanics make any game so much worse. Frigging auctions.

        • Nogo says:

          The auction doesn’t even work in practice because its incredibly rare for the landing player to pass up the property for obvious reasons.

  4. Runty McTall says:

    Apologies if I’m going blind, but is there actually a link to the Mario AI thing?

    • Jalan says:

      Definitely missing from that line, so don’t rush to the optometrist just yet.

    • SuddenSight says:

      It is almost certainly a reference to this video. Certainly an interesting bit of research, but the real focus is on speech processing and knowledge trees. The Mario game is being used as a simpler analog for the real world.

  5. LimEJET says:

    The next time you hear someone talking about algorithms, replace the term with “God” and ask yourself if the meaning changes.

    As a programmer:

    “I have modified the God to be more efficient by optimizing the internal breadth-first search God.”

    • Rich says:

      More fun to replace algorithm with “thingy”.

    • Pantsman says:

      Or try it with one of the quotes at the start of the article: “Google announced a change to its God”. Doesn’t work.

    • GameCat says:

      How efficient is running time of this God?
      Can we change it to O(n logn)?

    • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

      “Can we godically extract a convergent subsequence?”

    • Bereil says:

      “Okay students, calculate the number of processes of this God.”

    • arisian says:

      As someone who teaches computer science, I suspect this would become tiresome…quickly. Though as an academic computer scientist (and one who studies AI and machine learning, no less), I suspect I may not be the target audience for this article.

      If there’s one thing that actually studying computer science teaches, it’s that there’s nothing inherently magical about [God]s. An [God] is to a computer program roughly what a recipe is to a cake; it’s a high-level description of what you need to do to make one. Also, no one knows better than a CS researcher how much of the data we use requires human intervention before it’s useful; hand-tagging or labeling of data is one of the traditional jobs of the CS summer intern. Though admittedly, the goal is usually to get to a point where you can use an [God] to approximate the thing your undergrads are doing; it just takes a lot of human work (applied to both the data and the [God]) to get to that point.

    • arisian says:

      “Your God contains an infinite loop. If you invoke it, you’re just going to wind up having to kill it.”

    • Baffle Mint says:

      Hey, it works for people who aren’t programmers, too!

      Just to choose a random example, I happened to find this article in The Atlantic by a guy called Ian Bogost, who talks about the social implications of algorithms. Let’s try that with a quote from his article:

      Netflix’s and Amazon’s collaborative filtering gods choose products and media for us.

      He’s right, it still means exactly the same thing!

      Seriously, that Bogost article may be working hard to prove that we have a “theological” devotion to algorithms, but I would very much prefer it if he were working well.

      Bogost’s explanation of how we look at algorithms doesn’t make sense even if we limit ourselves to the examples he provides.

      • Harlander says:

        I do like the idea of some minor patron deity winnowing the wheat from the chaff in regard to what DVD you might want to watch, though.

  6. ScottTFrazer says:

    Definitely should not have been surprised that a link to 538 would end up in more of a “data-based” evaluation than an opinion piece. It’s kind of what they do over there :-)

  7. malkav11 says:

    The Packers playing Catan bit is fun not just because of the image of a bunch of professional athletes trading wood for sheep, but because of how comically unfamiliar with boardgaming the Wall Street Journal reporter seems to be.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      because of how comically unfamiliar with boardgaming the Wall Street Journal reporter seems to be.

      Indeed. As a comparison, lets ask someone versed in the board games field such as our resident board game aficionado Rab Florence to write an article on the intricacies of the derivatives market & see which article holds up better.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Holy arse I want to play that isometric Half Life game.

  9. SigmaCAT says:

    Holy massive big up for Pete Rock! Good read! Had to comment about PR, I’d probably have mentioned You Remind Me (but it’s not on the right album), or Pete’s Jazz. I’d have a whole family of little instruments with that bassline.

  10. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    That trendline on the graph in the Monopoly piece annoys me no end.

  11. Radiant says:

    Only reason to listen to petestrumentals is if you are sitting in car with a bunch of dudes getting high and ruing the end of “real” hip hop.

    • Radiant says:

      Also I’m just going to leave this slightly nsfw boob physics simulator here.
      link to

      • Jalan says:

        You can make the line so big that it eventually looks like a water balloon tethered to some string. Honestly I had a more interesting time with it having the color turned off than I did on.

  12. BreadBitten says:

    “Kudos to anyone who turns off Pearl Jam…”

    Graham buddy, you just earned yourself a new enemy.