Archive for the ‘Technology and Society’ Category

[Real] Caution!  This is an image of a real onion and should under no circumstances be confused with The Onion.  Trigger Alert!  Users who have experienced traumatic encounters, resulting in uncontrollable weeping, with onions in the past may find this image disturbing

[Real] Caution! This is an image of a real onion and should under no circumstances be confused with The Onion. Trigger Alert! Users who have experienced traumatic encounters, resulting in uncontrollable weeping, with onions in the past may find this image disturbing

I have been pretty critical of Facebook(tm) in the past but It now appears that I owe Big Friend an apology.  Because it has become clear recently that the folks at CareShare Central have been working diligently behind the scenes to protect us.  Not to protect us from the predatory wiles of advertisers or the social media giant’s own datamining practices.  Nor have they been working to protect us from pages devoted to sexual violence against women, or the avalanche of everyday idiocy represented by the YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! clickbaiters.

No, apparently they have been grappling with a much more weighty problem, one that clearly threatens to bring social media crashing to its knees.

Satire.

Well, not satire itself, exactly, but apparently the inability of some people to differentiate satire from the real thing.

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Crazy Desperation

You haven’t updated your status in three fucking hours! What’s wrong with you! (Photo by Eneas de Troya, Creative Commons License)

I’ve been taking a break from Facebook for several days.  But it seems Facebook doesn’t like being “on a break.”

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Witchcraft Image by Kelly Garbato

Image taken at the St. Joseph, MO museum by Kelly Garbato. Available via Flikr in accordance with Creative Commons license.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a blog that I like to check in with from time to time.  Written by four experienced UK game journalists, it focuses exclusively on PC Gaming (the fact that this still exists will certainly be news to major game retailers here in the US), the sense of humor resonates with me, and the focus tends to be thoughtfully eclectic.

Recently, one of the team, John Walker, posted an extended discussion of sexism in the gaming world in particular (that is both the world of players and the world of developers) and the tech world in general.  (It is a lengthy article, but if you are a reader of this site you’ll be used to that by now!)  Anyone involved with games who hasn’t been living under a rock (sadly, that actually excludes a lot of gamers, it seems, as will be seen in a moment) is aware of several general issues facing the gaming industry when it comes to gender.  There is the persistent problem of the underrepresentation–scratch that, the massive underrepresentation–of women at every level of game development.  While women make up a significant percentage of players in most casual gaming genres, they are still a distinct minority in many “traditional” hardcore gaming genres.  There is a pervasive culture of harassment of women players in many gaming genres which ranges from downgrading women’s participation by treating that participation as unusual, to the outright abuse that comes from feeling women have no place at all in gaming.  I’ve written several pieces for this blog that have looked at the hate-filled campaigns directed at women who have spoken out about misogyny in the world of gaming, or even at those women who have dared simply to offer an opinion on game design.

Walker’s article–“Misogyny, Sexism and why RPS isn’t Shutting Up”–makes no bones about its intentions.  But the real interest of this article is that for a lot of people outside the game industry the most obvious question would be why the article was even necessary.  So, you are going to continue to call out sexism and misogyny where you see it.  Awesome.  But, er, is there a problem with doing that in the world of gaming?

Oh yes.  A big problem.

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fail-poster-3xt27q0x2m-SIMCITY

 

Oh, DRM…Why has God forsaken you?  DRM has been a woeful failure for years now.  It has inconvenienced far more players than pirates it has stopped.  Now, of course, I’m not advocating piracy and all of this has been said before and all of it will be said again.  However, I am dismayed because I thought we had seen all of the worst DRM possible.  I never wanted to believe that a worse DRM could even exist and yet here we are with captain of industry, EA Games, bringing us a DRM that makes no sense and makes a beloved franchise brought back from the dead unplayable.

At midnight on Tuesday, March 5, EA Games released via their Origin digital distribution service a new incarnation of SimCity.  There has not been a new version of SimCity since SimCity 4 in 2003 (plus or minus 2007′s SimCity: Societies), but regardless the Origin download unlocks at midnight and almost immediately problems started.  So what could cause such problems so fast?  Three little words: Always Online DRM.   You see EA in all their infinite wisdom decided that “Always Online DRM” was the smartest and most effective DRM method.  Always on DRM means exactly what it sounds like: You must be online to play their game even if you are building a private city.  They did attempt to make it worthwhile for you to be online by allowing you to view other player cities and create regional economies where your city is affected by cities around it, but still at its core each player is building an individual city so why is there no Singleplayer mode?  There is private mode, but those players have been suffering the same issues as public players so let’s examine that now.

Always Online DRM should have been an annoyance or an inconvenience not unlike Diablo III’s Always Online DRM so Where did EA fail?  EA launched with only 5 Servers for THE ENTIRE WORLD.  There were two US servers (US East and US West) as well as two European servers and an Oceania server.  The US servers were constantly full giving players messages that they should try again in 20-30 minutes.  The servers were not even equipped to run a server queue.  They expected you to manually keep trying until you get in.  The European servers were region locked, but experiencing similar issues.  These issues have been occurring for almost 48 hours now to the chagrin of numerous players and ultimately requiring EA to shut down the servers and update them while bringing new ones online.

Hopefully this colossal failure will cause EA and other Always Online DRM minded companies to rethink the launch requirements that entails.  Polygon initially rated SimCity at 9.5, but actually downgraded to an 8.0 as a result of the rocky launch and connectivity issues.  In closing I would like to point to two salient thoughts on the subject.  Chris Kluwe tweeted “As a publisher/developer, if you’re going to push “always on” onto the consumer, then it’s YOUR responsibility to make sure it always works”.  It is EA’s responsibility to handle this kind of thing and it is mind boggling that they could have been unprepared for the server traffic.  Lastly I’d like to point Tycho of Penny Arcade who wrote:

Gabriel wasn’t able to get into SimCity last night to play, because the server wasn’t working and single player games don’t exist anymore, even if you are playing a private city and nobody can come in anyway.  So I would remember it, because it was important, I said here in the post a long time ago that “EA games come with free misery.”  This is why I stopped being an annual purchaser of Tiger Woods games: because this company has a serious, serious problem with execution at launch.  You would only fix it if it meant more sales.  But it doesn’t, because everybody already bought it.  Well, except me.

EA will only see a desire to fix their launch failures if they see more sales in it, but because we buy things so instantaneously all the more so now with digital downloads they only fix things after the fact.  So I guess the moral of the story is know what you need for launch, but for us players: be careful what games you choose to buy on launch day because buying a game on launch day is an implicit acceptance of whatever insane DRM you have to deal with.

A short time ago I wrote about the avalanche of internet douchebaggery that descended on Jennifer Hepler, a writer for Bioware who had the temerity to. . .well, open her mouth and offer an opinion about games.  Then Reddit got hold of it, and the next thing you she is being subjected to a torrent of misogynist abuse.  The level of pure hate directed at her was as revealing of a new, desperation on the part of hardcore gamers concerning the changing trajectory of game development as it was entirely typical of the neanderthal attitudes toward women held by many players and assiduously cultivated by game designers.

Well, it seems the bottom feeders are at it again.  Recently, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian put up a proposal on Kickstarter.  Sarkeesian runs the videoblog Feminist Frequency, where she offers thoughtful analysis of specific pop culture artifacts (like the Hunger Games series) or more general media phenomena relevant to gender issues.  One series of videos, Tropes vs Women, looked at a some of the most common stereotypes governing depictions of women in popular culture.  For her Kickstarter project she proposed an ambitious series of videos that would apply the Tropes vs Women concept to the world of videogames.  Given the shockingly retrograde depictions of women in most videogames (if they make an appearance at all) there is obviously enough material for an extensive series.  Sarkeesian is seeking funding to undertake a lot of background research for the videos, since her intent is for the videos to be freely available and supplemented with materials that would allow them to be used as teaching resources (the original Tropes vs Women videos are being used in this capacity).  The problem was, Sarkeesian made the same mistake as Jennifer Hepler.

She opened her mouth.

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This has absolutely nothing to do with videogames, I swear.

English: Artist rendering of SpaceX Dragon spa...

I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about the subject of my last post, the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery.  The most obvious reason, of course, is the first successful flight of the SpaceX Dragon, which returned to earth safely after supplying the International Space Station.  Sure, there was something a little odd about watching the footage of that splashdown into the ocean, especially for those of us who developed our early space imaginations during the Apollo era.  It was a little like seeing a cruise ship suddenly replaced by a caravel.  But it was undeniably inspiring.  Even more inspiring is listening to the designers at SpaceX, and even more so the company’s founder Elon Musk (for example, check out this interview on NPR’s Science Friday).  Clearly, this is a man with no shortage of vision.  This isn’t just about launching satellites or supplying space stations in low earth orbit.  He’s thinking about stations on the moon.  About exploring Mars.

Yet, I find myself troubled by the fact that we’ve essentially turned space exploration wholesale over to private enterprise.

To understand why, think about the reasons behind the situation that I described in my last post.  Why is it that we as a collective basically gave up on a commitment to space exploration, to the extent that we even begrudge NASA spending the cost of a Kardashian boob job on anything not connected with Google Maps?  As I indicated, there are a lot of spurious answers –”9/11 Changed everything!” Sit the fuck down, Rudy; or the idea that we should solve earthly problems first.  There are, however, two more credible answers to this.

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