The Sunday Papers

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Sundays are for apologising about the recent lack of Sunday Papers. Holidays and Rezzed are forces that cannot be defeated.

On The Verge, Laura Hudson argued that Ready Player One is emblematic (and part) of the problems that have lead to the “cyber dystopia” we currently inhabit. There were points in this where I made an involuntary “huh” noise as Hudson joined dots that I hadn’t quite connected before, creating a powerful challenge against privilege, careless nostalgia and the inherent value of connecting people to each other.

As many of the modern internet’s architects are declaring the internet broken, offering mea culpas, apologizing for their short-sightedness and irresponsibility, and getting called into Senate hearings, the book is a document worth reexamining in 2018; not because this novel-length blind spot has anything to say about where we are today, but because the ignorance and misguided optimism embedded in its pages is precisely how we got here. It is instructive now, as a road map for how we arrived at our present cyber-dystopia, and the dangers of building a world for “everyone” on the concerns and fantasies of the few.

Austin Walker’s piece on Waypoint about the value of designing your own character is especially interesting to me because he has the exact opposite of my own approach. I tend to just click through to the haircut that most closely resembles my own and crack on with the *actual* game.

For me, all of this is a game inside of a game, a little aperitif that gets me to buy in to the game’s world (and sometimes I get more enjoyment out of building my character than the main course). So long as I can find decent setting guide, fan wiki, or lore video that offers some introductory insight (but which doesn’t go into excruciating detail), I can easily spend hours reviewing the various factions, major characters, and historical moments of a given game world. All before reaching the tutorial.

Also on Waypoint, Kelsey Atherton and Ian Boudreau’s in-depth look into the history of gun customisation in both games and real life feels like an important read. I’m still not strictly against deliberately designing and customising in-game weapons to look cool, but that’s a view I welcome being put under a microscope.

Both weapons manufacturers and game publishers have clearly identified the gun as a sort of canvas for self-expression for both gun owners and players. In competitive games like Counter-Strike, a player’s personally tricked-out weapons have potentially high visibility: as players are knocked out during a round, their point of view often shifts to that of a player still up, with all eyes eventually on the last one standing. Having a rare or costly skin equipped during these high-pressure moments can make it feel like you’re more memorable, more competent, more elite. And as Riot Games product manager Adriaan Noordzij put it, “vanity doesn’t really have a price ceiling.”

At Eurogamer, Emily Gera looked into the dark frustrating pleasures of tedium games. It revolves around an interview with the creator of Universal Paperclips, who’s surprisingly reluctant to pick a side in the AI safety debate. The article turns elsewhere, but I can’t resist highlighting a point that gets overlooked: there only needs to be a tiny chance of an existential catastrophe occurring for it to make sense that we do everything in our power to prevent it.

Lantz’s excursion into paperclips isn’t so much a treatise into AI ethics. Instead, Lantz offers an even darker subplot for Bostrom’s dystopia: If Universal Paperclips is any indication humanity isn’t just going to be outsmarted by a superintelligent AI, it’s going to be a willing participant in its annihilation.

On Gamasutra, Richard Moss interviewed game devs about content that shouldn’t have been cut. Moss uncovers some interesting stuff about specific games that dropped ideas which I’d have loved to see, and takes a fairly comprehensive look at how and why those decisions get made.

Pivots can and sometimes do succeed, with final games that have a clear identity and cohesive design, but more often developers find that the legacy decisions of old come back to haunt them. Kelly concludes: “I think lots of developers who spend a few years on a pivot ask themselves, ‘What if we had just cut the things that didn’t work, doubled-down on the core loop, and got it out the door rather than spending another year (and lots of money) trying to reconfigure this into the new design that is also unproven?'”

Liz Edwards has been painting Fallout 4 from inside the game using VR.

The GDC vault is a treasure trove of interesting ideas and perspectives from inside the games industry. First up is the #1reasontobe panel, which invited people from countries around the world to share their reasons for being in the industry. Rami Ismail opens the panel by talking about the numerous speakers he contacted that couldn’t secure a US visa, and it’s worth watching just to have the stringent requirements for acquiring one laid out in one place.

A Mortician’s Tale creator Gabby DaRienzo spoke about ways to explore death in games.

Dream Daddy dev Tyler Hutchison spoke about the specific design choices geared towards inclusiveness in Dream Daddy, and how other games might replicate them.

Blooming loads of game designers spoke about what they want from the future of AI.

Paul Dean lead a panel that spoke about the app-infused future of board games.

Tom Francis spoke about how he could have done a better job of avoiding lengthy problems with the development of Heat Signature.

Many more people spoke about many more things!

I can’t think of a good excuse to put this frog in front of you but here it is anyway.

Music this week is Just Jammin’ by Gramatik. That song once came on in a restaurant where I happened to be sitting with fellow RPS staffers, and I remain proud of resisting the urge to shout about it despite kind of ruining that by typing this sentence.

38 Comments

  1. Don Reba says:

    Liz Edwards has been painting Fallout 4 from inside the game using VR.

    This is brilliant!

  2. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    Yay!
    The most vital RPS feature is back!

  3. Kollega says:

    I’m just going to make a sweeping generalized statement responding to “Ready Player One” article, and say this: our current issues is nothing but a result of dog-eat-dog individualism being accepted “the gospel” and many, many people on every level (especially the overwhelming majority of Americans) thinking themselves “the quickest gunslinger across the Wild West”.

    And honestly, the only way I can see any sort of change for the better happening is if we begin working towards a more social set of ethics. Not by pretending that “everything is fine” with our culture and society where 1% having everything and 99% being on the verge of starvation is “business as usual”. How? I don’t know in the long term, but we could start with banal small steps like demanding more oversight and regulation over our does-what-it-wants dystopian capitalism. That is NOT “too much to ask for”. Not if we want any actual betterment.

    Call me naive and my point reductive if you want, but social change for the better usually starts with people seeing that the current way isn’t the best way. And right now, we are having trouble even with that. There isn’t going to be any change for the better, towards the good of society, if everyone thinks “there is no alternative” to what we have now.

    And I don’t know about any of you, but I know we can do better than perpetuating a stereotypical cyber-dystopia.

    • titanomaquis says:

      What world do you live in where 99% of people are on the verge of starvation? It doesn’t serve your point to be hyperbolic in this instance.

      • Hartford688 says:

        Of course it is hyperbolic. But perhaps not for very long.

        link to theguardian.com

      • Kollega says:

        I’m pretty sure that if the things will keep going the way they are going, we will in fact see 99% perpetually on the verge of starvation. Even in the United States with their economic strength, something like half the population if not more live “from paycheck to paycheck”, with basically zero savings. I cannot remember where I read that, but I’m pretty sure of the factual accuracy of this statement. And if the rich keep getting richer and poor keep getting poorer, it’s easy to see how working people and even the “middle class” will fall below the poverty line, en-masse.

        Which is why the global society needs to realize that this is not good, not “the natural state of things”, and that something constructive has to be done.

        • Sin Vega says:

          The big problem with this whole outlook is that it’ll never be just 1% against everyone. The only way they can, and historically have always made that work, is by having a third to two thirds or so of the population in thrall by allocating a tiny fraction of their wealth to turn them against everyone else.

          There are enough people who are just comfortable enough to fear losing what they have to the poor, no matter how pitiful their share is compared to the handful of super rich arseholes.

          • Kollega says:

            That is unfortunately true. But I will not for one moment believe that this is the only way things could ever be. A better world is possible… and though I do not have any political power, and am very unlikely to end up in politics, as an artist I will sure as hell try my best to change things.

            Right now many people are dissatisfied – it’s just that, like I’ve said, they don’t realize that being class allies with all the not-super-rich people is even an option.

          • TillEulenspiegel says:

            Right, you’re describing the petty bourgeoisie. I wouldn’t expect anyone to slog through Marx’s Capital, but read the Manifesto; the parts which aren’t just complaining about obscure 19th century German groups offer a useful perspective which helps describe capitalism and class relations.

  4. I Got Pineapples says:

    You know, I was recently struck there is probably an article to be written about the article and twitter nonsense put forward by people of all political and, to perhaps be more frank about it, tribal stripes using Ready Player One as an illustration of other peoples moral degeneracy.

    Me?

    I just hope it all ends in something terrible happening to Wil Wheaton.

    Beyond his life so far.

  5. Monggerel says:

    That song though.

    This genre of “oldtimey music with gorillaz-hop beats slapped on it” offends my inner Bakunin in a way I cannot even really describe. I think it’s called electro-swing.

    It feels like the musical version of avocado-on-toast (there’s the new genre designation: avocado-hop).
    Like some absurd supernatural manifestation of gentrification itself.
    It makes me want to shower in rust water and play Red Faction Guerrilla and listen to Einstürzende Neubauten, to scrape the filth from my brain.

    • I Got Pineapples says:

      Electroswing!

      Because you want your youtube feed to be filled with Anime AMV’s!

      • Monggerel says:

        Electroswing whose mind is pure machinery! Electroswing whose blood is running money! Electroswing whose fingers are ten armies! Electroswing whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Electroswing whose ear is a smoking tomb!

      • Monggerel says:

        Nah, pretty sure I’m in the right here and that a less confrontational approach would be hipocrisy on my part.

        I think it’s important to be honest about what you believe, even if it’s ridiculous (or as in this case, emblematic of larger structural problems but distinctly inconsequential in this particular instance) and if that gets you kicked out of certain public spaces, well, live and learn.

        I’ll also add that I wouldn’t have referred to my “inner Bakunin” if I was completely dead-set hateful of [s]Moloch[/s] Electroswing and the people who like it. I guess “kind of jokey ironic consternation” doesn’t transmit well across the interwebs (or my particular writing style, which is oft described as “incomprehensible”).

        Toch yammer.

        • shitflap says:

          Counterpoint:You’re not in the right.
          Your allusions to Anarchism and talk of gentrification of music (?) don’t make any sense or seem to have any relevance, and are an incredibly pretentious and conceited way of trying to assert that the awful music suggestion that you raised somehow is more worthy, as it (presumably) more adequately fuels your sense of self-satisfaction.
          Or like Matt’s video reply said, don’t be an “incomprehensible” dick about other people’s music choices when they don’t line up with yours?

        • Mr. Unpleasant says:

          or my particular writing style, which is oft described as “incomprehensible”

          and masturbatory.

          • Monggerel says:

            I’m not any kind of critic though. Certainly I don’t make a living out of being opinionated. “Writing style” here literally means “how I write a thing, in this case, a comment on an article”.

          • Mr. Unpleasant says:

            Oh the video was just an added bonus.

        • TheBetterStory says:

          It isn’t hypocritical to express your opinion nicely. It’s just…nicer. Certainly you can go around being “honest” and completely not bothering to think about how your words affect others, but it certainly doesn’t give you the moral highground. There’s a reason we teach kids to think about what they say before they say it.

          Anyways, some more electroswing for everyone in this thread:

    • Catterbatter says:

      On the other hand, if you take the section between approx 1m and 2m and loop it, you’ve got some above average hold music. Isn’t that enough? What’s the hold music like in your ideal world?

      • Monggerel says:

        You know, that’s a pretty good point. I can see how my initial assumnptions about this genre were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its goals.

    • Caiman says:

      I’d say “fuck your musical tastes too” but really, I don’t care. :)

  6. Lacero says:

    I see Ai talk so I want to link to Ted Chiang’s writing on the Ai fear really being the fear of corporations.

    link to buzzfeed.com

    Sorry to link and run.
    Opinion Away!

    • Kollega says:

      And I’m going to follow up with this, more expansive, article that was posted in previous RPS comments in relation to that one.

      link to idlewords.com

      On a personal side note, the idea I find hardest to accept is that a “superintelligent” AI would never once reflect on whether turning the Universe into paperclips is a good idea. If we are talking about hypothetical super-powerful AI destroying all life on Earth, I would find “the destruction of biosphere in the name of postmodern abstract art” to be far more plausible…

      • Monggerel says:

        Having studied political science for the better half of a decade now, I find it absurd that more people aren’t talking about the most obvious concern about AI: a brand new, completely unprecedented kind of superweapon with applications in every conceivable field ever from military through social control through science to everything.

        I mean, for fuck’s sake, even Vladimir Putin knows this!
        “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” said Putin, reports RT. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” (link to theverge.com)

        Ignoring *that* problem though (lord knows we don’t want to give even more centralized power to states and or regimes), here’s another:
        I’ve grown up around people who work in the energy sector (every member of my immediate family, save myself) and so the primary question when I hear about a “really stronk computor” is: “what does it eat?” Your “paperclip maximizer” will still have to have an entire energy-industrial sector’s infrastructure behind it! Lemme guess, it will, in a matter of seconds, to preserve its own existence, assemble a fucking Dyson Sphere around the sun using drones right? Or just rewrite the rules of reality because “stronk maths”.

        Pretty much the same problem as the “blockchain”: energy’s *very far* from an unlimited resource.

        But no, don’t worry about actual effects in the actual world, let’s philosophize about the value of human virtue and the beauty of the world to which we should enculturate all our fucking ai supergods or else get eaten.

        And these are the *smart* people. Lorde knows you don’t want to see what the idjits make of all this.

        • Kollega says:

          Honestly, the hysteria around “strong AI” endowed with self-awareness and free will is extremely good at drawing away all attention from the issues of “weak AI” – the kind that just does what it’s told and is incapable of thinking about the consequences. And THAT is a massive issue that needs to be confronted. Mostly because so few people seem to actually give a damn about the dangers of “weak AI”, regardless of the long-standing science fiction staple of stupid but remorseless robot goons serving the villain of a given story.

          • Monggerel says:

            There’s a reason all good sci-fi is ultimately concerned about how societies function.
            It’s a cliche, but still true: guns don’t kill, people do.

        • patstew says:

          I strongly agree with this. The risk is not that we’ll make a computer to make paperclips, forget to tell it to only make the paperclips we need and never to make them out of people, then it will completely ignore the laws of physics and information theory, become arbitrarily powerful and turn everything into paperclips. The risk is that we’ll make autonomous military robots, tell the robots to go to another country and kill everyone, and they will.

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    alison says:

    That Ready Player One article was good, and it pretty much confirmed my preconceived notions of the book, having never read it. But what was even more interesting was the interview with Jaron Lanier that they linked to: link to nymag.com Man, what a great interview. He touches on so much relevant stuff in the tech industry and the world right now.

  8. MajorLag says:

    > The article turns elsewhere, but I can’t resist highlighting a point that gets overlooked: there only needs to be a tiny chance of an existential catastrophe occurring for it to make sense that we do everything in our power to prevent it.

    By this reasoning, one should endeavor to kill everyone that might conceivably harm them in the future. Which is to say literally everyone, since at the very least they compete for resources.

    • patstew says:

      Or that we should be doing everything in our power to develop the capability to destroy asteroids, or that we should eradicate flu, or whatever. The argument has to be based on the probability of the bad thing happening and the costs (including opportunity cost) of avoiding it.

  9. syllopsium says:

    The Ready Player One article is trying too hard to make a point. The book is poor, the film is worse.

    It’s inaccurate to say everyone in RPO is into 80s trivia – it’s only the key hunters that are obsessed, and that’s who the book targets. There are millions of people who go to school online and never touch the 80s, but the book (unfortunately) doesn’t cover them much. It’s a deeply shallow and lazy piece of writing.

    Likewise it’s ridiculous to complain about the central plot point of the Oasis creator giving away their wealth. Yes, it’s not targeting the well being of all the planet, but one of the key themes of the book is ultimately about the importance of real life.

    Similarly, the Internet does not amplify abuse. It makes things worse for some people some of the time, and better for others.

    The creators of social media that are inadequately policed can definitely be criticised, but note that they are services that have to make money, and moderation or social responsibility costs money.

    Also note that most people aren’t prepared to vote for laws that would fix this. The public have been told numerous times that in free social media you are the product and your information is being monetised, but this is repeatedly ignored. People aren’t prepared to look at other services (often ones you have to pay for) that would be an improvement.

    • wraithgr says:

      I found this sentence particularly annoying in an article that could make a better point if it tried less:
      “READY PLAYER ONE’S QUIXOTIC IDEAS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF ONLINE LIFE ARE NOT UNIQUE, BECAUSE NOTHING IS UNIQUE TO READY PLAYER ONE.”
      Um.

      Also, I haven’t read the book but when you mention the tons of people who use the VR world in a healthier way it kind of feels like you are complaining that the Harry Potter books don’t spend more time examining the day-to-day lives of “muggles”…
      I would expect the book about geek nostalgia to focus on the nostalgic geeks, no?

      • Turkey says:

        The world outside of Hogwarts isn’t a dystopian trash fire, though. It’s really weird to set up a world like that and not do anything with it.

        • syllopsium says:

          This. There isn’t enough explanation about why the world is dystopian, there is an excess of deus ex machina, it ticks all the lazy stereotypes, the main character is an immature stalker idiot, is borderline racist, and the examples of 70s an 80s culture it uses are obvious and lazy.

          The fundamental plot point is a good idea, but the writing and implementation are poor.

    • LuNatic says:

      Yeah, I really can’t understand the fuss behind Ready Player One. The plot (of the book at least, not planning to see the movie) is a poorly written ‘futurised’ version of the old ‘boy from humble origins becomes a mighty hero’ cliche.
      People might be forgiven for not seeing this, as it is well hidden behind 100 or so pages of the author wanking off to 80’s pop culture.

      Even the whole drawcard of a world that revolves around a VRMMO (an idea which is in no way original to this author, by the way) is poorly done. Every description of the game-world makes it sound like the poorly thought out, unbalanced, microtransaction filled trash that most gamers claim to hate.

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