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The Monday Papers

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Mondays are for scheduling articles that were meant to go up on Sunday. Sundays are for, if I’m honest, doing very little but laze around and play videogames. Here’s the best writing about them from the past week.

Here’s a marvellous piece from Holly Gramazio about Wilmot’s Warehouse and Brexit. Well, a bit about Brexit. For the most part it’s about why Wilmot’s Warehouse is very clever, which is much more fun to think about.

Once I went into a Waitrose, which is always a bad idea, and came home with a duck confit in a tin. I don’t even fully understand what a duck confit is: should it go with the tuna, in a general non-vegetarian protein area on the shelf? Or with the massive bags of herbs from the cash-and-carry, because it’s kinda fancy and French? Or: oh, how about it goes with the other bullshit groceries I bought in a panic and don’t know what they’re for?

In retrospect, I guess what I was doing with all this was: trying to feel like I was doing something. Brexit is such a strange looming thing, everything feels so ineffective, so why not get an extra jar of harissa – look, it’s on three-for-two! – and then spend ten minutes slowly moving groceries to make space for it next to the spices, then rearrange everything again and put it over by the pesto?

For Vice, Ricardo Contreras review of Monster Hunter’s Iceborne expansion focuses on how it does away with the pretence that you’re there for anything other than human advancement. Setting up shop somewhere and deciding you have the right to kill everything around you is indeed questionable.

There comes a moment, somewhere around the 10 hour mark, when Seliana is under threat of being wiped out by the titular Iceborne Wyvern, Velkhana. The Field Team Leader gives an impassioned speech as to why The Commission should stay in the Hoarfrost Reach instead of retreating back to their original base in Astera. “Aren’t we part of the ecosystem too? Then let’s fight as part of this ecosystem.” Gone are the half-hearted attempts to “research the ecosystem, and be in balance [with it]” as The Commander said just moments before (a statement not without its own colonial baggage). Now those ecological concepts are rendered synonymous with the self-interest of the invading settlers. This notion drives the central themes of Iceborne. No longer is the game couching your actions as “investigating” new monsters. This is now a fight for land. You’ve staked a claim in a new environment and by god, as a Monster Hunter you will defend that claim.

For Kotaku, Cecilia D’Anastasio examined why most of her friends find Overcooked 2 deeply stressful, while not experiencing that herself. I found it horrendously trying, but that’s mostly because I was playing it with a friend who’d frequently decide to start messing around in the middle of a level that was going well. My hackles are rising just thinking about it.

It can be nice to simulate real-life thinking patterns from your job or hobby without fearing any material repercussions you might suffer after messing up. It’s unusual for us to have concrete goals, like achieving 600 points, or receive concrete feedback, like a sad buzzing sound of failure. Friends used to working solo might not even notice how little they’re flexing their cooperation muscles in their day-to-day, and it’s only when they play Overcooked 2 that they realize it.

Talking about free will can get a bit pat, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it – especially when the chat concerns a debunking of THE neurological experiment people often cite as evidence that it doesn’t exist. As Bahar Gholipour’s article for the Atlantic points out, Aaron Schurger’s take on that study doesn’t really bring us any closer to an answer that’s grounded in neurological evidence. I don’t think we need any. If we don’t control the factors in our past that shape how we make decisions, in what sense are we exerting control when we make decisions in the present?

To many scientists, it seemed implausible that our conscious awareness of a decision is only an illusory afterthought. Researchers questioned Libet’s experimental design, including the precision of the tools used to measure brain waves and the accuracy with which people could actually recall their decision time. But flaws were hard to pin down. And Libet, who died in 2007, had as many defenders as critics. In the decades since his experiment, study after study has replicated his finding using more modern technology such as fMRI.

But one aspect of Libet’s results sneaked by largely unchallenged: the possibility that what he was seeing was accurate, but that his conclusions were based on an unsound premise. What if the Bereitschaftspotential didn’t cause actions in the first place? A few notable studies did suggest this, but they failed to provide any clue to what the Bereitschaftspotential could be instead. To dismantle such a powerful idea, someone had to offer a real alternative.

Also for the Atlantic, Fred Benenson pointed at some problems with AI automation you might not have thought about. I do despair a bit at the way AI supposedly only leaving us with hard, interesting decisions can so easily be construed as a bad thing. Making hard decisions all day does indeed suck – but increasing technological sophistication should fundamentally be about humans having to do less work. Maybe we could, you know, all work less and have a crack at finding fulfilment elsewhere?

When people talk about the effects of automation and artificial intelligence on the economy, they often fixate on the quantity of human workers. Will robots take our jobs? Others focus instead on threats to the quality of employment—the replacement of middle-class occupations with lower-skill, lower-wage ones; the steady elimination of human discretion as algorithms order around warehouse pickers, ride-hailing drivers, and other workers.

What’s less understood is that artificial intelligence will transform higher-skill positions, too — in ways that demand more human judgment rather than less. And that could be a problem.

I haven’t watched much of Quantic Foundry’s Nick Yee GDC talk about the 12 different motivations behind playing games. All I’ve done is skip to a few minutes in and chuckle at the sight of this slide out of context, but it’s an interesting premise.

Music this week is Farewell by Talisk.

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Matt Cox

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Matt is the founding member of RPS's youth contingent. He's played more games of Dota than you've had hot dinners.

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