Fractal levels of simulated reality, forsooth!

Paul Raven @ 13-10-2010

I’m sure I ran a story similar to this a while back, but I’m damned if I can find it in the Futurismic archives, so I’m gonna mention it anyway: it’s the one about the folk building logic-based processors within the virtual spaces of computer games, the latest example being the insanely popular (and rather lucrative) Minecraft. Find blocks of material with the right in-game properties, chain ’em together, and hey presto, you’ve got a simulated arithmetic processor made of non-existent lumps of an entirely fictional substance. Whole lotta meta, right there.

I think the reason I love these stories is because of the extrapolatory end-point: the implication is that given simulated spaces of sufficient size and complexity (and sufficient player-hours, or clever macros to obviate the need for such), one could build a computing device within that simulation which was itself capable of running a simulation within which another computing device could be simulated. Sort of like Nick Bostrom rewriting Lavie Tidhar’s “In Pacmandu”… it’s simulated turtles all the way down! Now, where’s the door back to my origin reality, please?

The Video Game Canon and The Age of Forgetfulness

Jonathan McCalmont @ 06-10-2010

0. Asking the Question

If you were a game designer and you were taken into your boss’s office and given carte blanche to create your own roleplaying game, what would your influences be?  My guess is that the games you see as central to the computer roleplaying experience vary according to your age and when you started gaming.

Screenshot from early computer RPG WizardryFor example, if you are currently a teenager then the chances are that you would be most influenced by games like World of Warcraft, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age: Origins, because these are the games that you are most familiar with.  If you are a slightly older gamer, then you might list titles like Final Fantasy VII or Suikoden.  Maybe if – like me – you are one of those thirty-something gamers who spent his high school years playing video games instead of getting to second base, then you might list Baldur’s Gate, Dungeon Master or Shadowrun.  Maybe you are even old enough to remember playing the original Wizardry and Bard’s Tale titles, and think that the future of CRPGs lies in ASCII graphics and getting the players to draw their own dungeon maps.

Well, you’d all be wrong.

And you’d all be right. Continue reading “The Video Game Canon and The Age of Forgetfulness”

Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb

Jonathan McCalmont @ 30-06-2010

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


I have never been to the festival of hubris and chest-thumping that is the American video games industry’s yearly trade-fair E3 (a.k.a. ‘E Cubed’, a.k.a. ‘Electronic Entertainment Expo’), but the mere thought of it makes me feel somewhat ill. A friend of mine once attended a video game trade fair in Japan. He returned not with talk of games, but of the dozens of overweight middle-aged men who practically came to blows as they jostled for the best angle from which to take up-skirt photographs of the models manning the various booths.

As disturbing and sleazy as this might well sound, it still manages to cast Japanese trade shows in a considerably better light than a lot of the coverage that came out of E3. Every so often, an event or an article will prompt the collection of sick-souled outcasts known as ‘video game journalists’ into a fit of ethical navel-gazing: are their reviews too soft? are their editorial processes too open to commercial pressures? do they allow their fannishness to override their professional integrity? Oddly enough, these periodic bouts of hand-wringing never coincide with E3.

E3 is a principles-free zone as far as video game reporting is concerned: Journalists travel from all over the world to sit in huge conference halls where they are patronised to within an inch of their wretched lives by people from the PR departments of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. At a time when cynicism and critical thinking might allow a decent writer to cut through the bullshit and provide some insights into the direction the industry is taking, most games writers choose instead to recycle press releases and gush about games that are usually indistinguishable from the disappointing batch of warmed-over ideas dished out the previous year. At least the creepy Japanese guys had an excuse for wandering around a trade fair doused in sweat and sporting huge hard-ons.

Microsoft Kinect with Xbox 360

Continue reading “Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb”

Making a game of disruption politics

Paul Raven @ 22-06-2010

More from John Robb: rewiring agitprop and non-violent protest movements as open-source games.

… in modern western societies, this elite group and their specialists are able to dissociate themselves from jobs when it comes to their private lives.  They live unencumbered within our impersonal society.  This window of vulnerability creates a yawning opportunity for innovative forms of disruptive non-violent protest.  One that pierces the organizational and societal veil of anonymity for these individuals by turning them into systempunkts (vulnerable nodes within the targeted organization’s network that would cause the most damage if disrupted).

Essentially, if you can successfully deter/coerce individual decision makers in this decision making group, you will win (and quickly).Early work on this type of protest can be seen in the work of 4Chan’s Anonymous and China’s human flesh search engine. Both of these open source movements have shown to be surprisingly powerful at targeting single individuals (and poor at disrupting organizations).

An aside: I find Anonymous fascinating, because (whether deliberately or not) they’ve created a fluid non-identity that can be picked up by anyone anywhere for any purpose. It’ll be one of those names that haunts the sidebars of news sites for decades, if not longer… and there’s always the possibility of a schism or interfactional split, which should be fascinating (and doubtless horrific and hilarious) to watch from the sidelines.

But back to Robb:

… any online group of sufficient size could launch an effort like this.  However, to really zoom the effort and turn it into a coercive tool, one modification should be made.  It should operate as an online game.

Well, pretty much everything else operates as an online game, even democracy itself. [/snark] More seriously, though, using the reward structures of games to entice people toward certain real-world behaviours has been proposed (and put in to action) by others, and has a certain resonance not only with the times we find ourselves in, but also our nature as homo ludens. Indeed, Robb himself proposed a kind of real-life Farmville to spread permaculture farming, but I suspect the amount of real physical work needed to achieve those sorts of goals will deter all but the most tenacious.

That said, science fiction writers got there first: Stross’ Halting State, and Walter John Williams’ This Is Not A Game, for instance. Maybe human society was always a game, and we’re only now waking up to a fact that politicians and uber-entrepreneurs have always understood instinctively?

We can misremember it for you wholesale: historically layered Londons, and the past as palimpsest

Paul Raven @ 28-05-2010

Via Bruce Sterling, one of the more obvious augmented reality applications, done elegantly: historical archive images overlaid onto the real (present/baseline?) world. The older I get, the more I become fascinated with history; if someone did up layers like this for the whole country, I’d probably never switch it off. [image ganked from TechVert; please contact for takedown if required]

London Museum archive photo augmented reality app

Give it a couple of years (or maybe less), we’ll be doing the same with archive video. Another few years, generative CGI that is practically indistinguishable from archive video. Alternate history as real-time immersive gaming experience… think of the 80-hours-a-week WoW player, and it’s easy to assume that some people will pretty much live in AR environments full time. A subsection of those people will make their entire living in that space, geographically contigious with baseline reality but offset (or derailed completely) from historical temporal flow. Whose laws will they obey? Who will they pay taxes to? What will their game goals be? Imagine a Victorian London ARG that’s something like The Sims – your goal is, basically, to survive your chosen socioeconomic mileue for as long as possible without dropping out… or dying in the attempt.

Related bonus link: MeFi points out an experiment into the mutability of memory as manipulated by doctored ‘historical’ images and media artefacts. Apparently not a very rigorous experiment, but nonetheless, the implication is that it’s alarmingly easy to convince us that a fabricated event actually occured. This is, hopefully, a temporary problem. It’s going to take us a little while to evolve the sort of high-sensitivity bullshit filters that an impossible-to-police internet demands, and ubiquitous AR will raise the bar another few notches; I suspect we’ll get there eventually. But unless technological progress hits a brick wall fairly soon, I suspect we’ll never fully catch up. This is a little like what evolutionary science calls an “arms race”, I think… though we’re now in an arms race with the cultural and technological output of our own species.

Thinking about it again, I guess we always have been… I’m sure I’m reinventing the wheel here (and if you can point me toward more thinking alonmg these lines, please pipe up in the comments), but the enormity of this revelatory idea has pretty much scuppered my chances of concentrating on anything else for the rest of the day.

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