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The Sunday Papers

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A plain white mug of black tea or coffee, next to a broadsheet paper on a table, in black and white. It's the header for Sunday Papers!
Image credit: RPS

Sundays are for making a house into a home, while wishing B&Q hadn't turned a nice sentiment into corpslop. Here's the best writing about videogames from the past week.

On Kotaku, Cecilia D'Anastasio and Dhruv Mehrotra's investigated the information tracking capabilities of Pokemon Go and Wizards Unite developers Niantic. It's an impressively thorough piece that avoids condemning Niantic, but nevertheless highlights many of the obvious and not-so obvious issues wrapped up in the ever-improving capacity large corporations have to manipulate their users.

Niantic is far from the only company collecting this sort of data. Last year, the New York Times published an expose on how over 75 companies receive pinpoint-accurate, anonymous location data from phone apps on over 200 million devices. Sometimes, these companies tracked users’ locations over 14,000 times a day. The result was always the same: Even though users had signed away their location data to these companies by agreeing to their user agreements, a lot of the time, they generally had no idea that companies were taking such exhaustive notes on what kind of person they are, where they’d been, where they were likely to go next, and whether they’d buy something there.

Holly Gramazio wrote a blog post about Minit where every 60 seconds she made herself start from the beginning. I have a lot of respect for this.

14. In the time-loop adventure game MINIT, you are trapped in a sixty-second cycle by your cursed sword, which is both agent of your misfortune and tool to act upon the world. You also have a watering can, which does not seem to be cursed. The watering can helps plants to grow. It puts out fires. It saves a stranger in the desert from dying. It does not free you from your timeloop curse, and I guess that's why you never need to refill it, because it never runs out of water before you are forced to travel back in time to a point where it was full.

15. As I play MINIT - a 2018 adventure game from Jan Willem Nijman. Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio and Dominik Johann - I think about how neatly the conceit of a timeloop curse explains so many of the conventions of videogames: the passers-by who always have the same thing to say, the vessel that never needs to be refilled. I don’t think MINIT is about these conventions, but

I liked Skeleton's blog post about the value of horror games. I'd have liked it even more if I had some examples of what they're pointing to here, though.

Horror is, to me, the most important way of telling a story. If you’ll even look into the most popular media out there now, you’ll see horror tropes have slowly been infiltrating them. Not just the simple aesthetic trappings of horror either, but writers and creators are less afraid of making the audience feel fear. Horror is important because it allows you to tell stories about things you generally cannot get away with. Not only does it allow storytellers to approach difficult subject matter, it also taps into emotions that other works simply cannot.

For MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao and Jonathan Stray created a tool that lets you adjust an algorithm's assessment of which people who are being held while awaiting trial should be released. It's an elegant demonstration of how quantifying fairness is fundamentally unachievable, highlighting the pitfalls of AI assessments while not condemning their use entirely - but there should definitely have been a bigger focus on the underlying injustice highlighted in this section.

Predictions reflect the data used to make them—whether by algorithm or not. If black defendants are arrested at a higher rate than white defendants in the real world, they will have a higher rate of predicted arrest as well. This means they will also have higher risk scores on average, and a larger percentage of them will be labeled high-risk — both correctly and incorrectly. This is true no matter what algorithm is used, as long as it’s designed so that each risk score means the same thing regardless of race.

Blogger Kastel wrote about how journalists reported on the KFC dating game, and specifically the media's use of a previous blog post he wrote before the KFC game was announced, which decried the rise of 'ironic pseudo dating sims'. I'm not familiar enough with the genre or issues raised to offer much comment on what counts as harmful parody to a marginalised subculture, but I still suspect that the KFC marketing stunt probably does.

That’s why the rebranding of Colonel Sanders in this ironic pseudo-dating sim is effective. He looks hip because the marketing team knows he can appeal to camp and people who like wacky and bad stuff. The worse the “””dating sim””” looks and reads, the more attention it gets. Bad publicity is still publicity. The Colonel Sanders here is manufactured to attract bad publicity and defuse it as something funny and silly. In fact, that’s what corporate mascots are supposed to do. Negative reviews can fuel the irony meter for this work and make it even more appealing. There needs to be some reflection on what writers and editors can do in order to properly criticize an advertisement that preys on the weaknesses of video game journalism; else, they become part of the marketing machine without realizing it.

As reported by Sara Harrison for Wired, scientists have found a gene involved in letting 1 in 4 million people get by on very little sleep. I will harvest them all.

Using those samples, Fu and Ptáček have now identified a new gene mutation associated with short sleepers, which they describe in a paper out today in Science Translational Medicine. The mutation is helping scientists understand how our bodies regulate sleep. It’s only the third short-sleep mutation found so far, though Fu and other scientists suspect there are several more. “We don’t know how these different genes converge together to regulate sleep,” says Fu. But each new gene discovery helps elucidate how these interrelated pathways control our 40 winks.

Music this week is Wet Field Day by Elephant Sessions.

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