Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Homage/IP Theft

Although I already posted one example of IP theft cultural homage in Fallout: New Vegas, I found another common one so I thought I'd share it. The famous holy hand grenades (count ye to three...) from Month Python's Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Some cultural items (or I could say cultural texts) are canonical to certain cultures, and knowledge of them serves as a cultural identifier. In the previous post, it was The Princess Bride, here it is Monty Python. References to Monty Python can be found in many geeky places, for instance there is fleshwound armor, a reference again to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in both World of Warcraft and EverQuest II.

So why do we do this kind of thing? Because we, as a species, love to play, and we love to play with the things we love. It's what we do. Belonging to a group is also very important, historically speaking we don't tend to survive on our own. Play is often done with others, and aids group-formation, and showing knowledge of in-group references like "holy hand grenades" shows group membership. Humans have been called hyper-social beings, and now we have all of this social media and here I am using some of it to show the sociality of some other people using a Monty Python reference. Of course I am also showing my group membership to this geeky crowd, since I am playing Fallout: New Vegas and I knew what the holy hand grenades were.

However I have reached a bit of an impasse with Fallout: New Vegas. One of the quests is glitched and you can't get past it, so it effectively stops your game right then and there, no way around it, unless you are on the PC. (I can maybe work past it by going back to my last save and ditching the companion who causes it.) I am not, however, the only person to feel that there are too many bugs in the game. One thing that bugs me is the large number of floating rocks and corners of houses where light comes through. There is even one rock formation that is not "closed off" on one side, so you can walk into it (to the far SE by the miner's camp near the lake, a bit to the left of the camp on that slope).

Friday, December 17, 2010

When There Is No Digital Sediment

I may have been thinking about the ancient peoples of Europe, or even Neanderthals, at the time, but I realized one thing some virtual worlds lack today is the archaeological record found in the layers of sediment put down by time. There is no digital sediment there.

This was not always so, I don't believe, particularly with MUDs. In the non-virtual world space, with Google and the Wayback Machine, there is plenty of digital sediment. Wikipedia is all digital sediment. In MMOs, I don't think there is any, although I don't know every MMO in this manner -- in EverQuest II, if you stop paying for your house or guild hall, it's off-limits. Any "history" was put down by the game designers and isn't the same as the history of the digitally lived experience, even when that "history" refers to the original EverQuest.

In Second Life, you have to buy space. I am not entirely sure what happens with space that is given up -- I'm under the impression it gets sold, either to another user or a land broker, but either way the digital objects are usually wiped and something new is put in, with no layering on the past, just an erasing. Although it make digital building easier -- and I am a bit hesitant to call it "building" since it has very little to do with building in the physical sense -- it certainly does away with one of the usual conditions of the real world. I imagine if the owner of a zone doesn't want it, and can't sell it, it gets erased. Eventually Second Life will have to shrink, but I don't follow Second Life currently (it's creepy) and I doubt the Lindens will trumpet the loss of "land" like they trumpeted when all the corporations and embassies moved in (when the corporations moved out, it wasn't the Lindens talking about it).

MUDs, since many of them were non-commercial and run on some university server somewhere, just built up stuff over time. There weren't exactly layers, but there were additions and additions and more additions.

Some games use history as a feature. Dwarf Fortress is one; once you dig away the rock in the mountain, it's gone. Sure you can essentially fill it back in, but not with original stone, you have to make floors and walls instead. The history of the space is often there. SimCity, from what I recall, had some features that were easy to undo (like zoning) but other ones that weren't. Overall, though, you could re-build anything in-game, erasing everything before it.

But if we want to deal with virtual worlds as real-ish worlds, or as real worlds but in digital form, we need to remember what qualities digital worlds don't have. History is vitally important to us, but often the digital sediment of the past is missing. It's not presented as a bug, it's presented as a feature.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Memex Contains and Is You

I am sure someone has pointed this out before, but I was looking at a blog post and there was the now-common "Like this on Facebook" link, and it struck me that we are the connected document.

It's like what they did in Caprica, which I thought was a good show. They portrayed the initial virtual world as full of porn and violence, and they built online independent avatars based off of the giant database of information about any particular person (and behavioral algorithms).

We can see the beginning of this distributed database, there is the more social side of it (Facebook, etc.), and the more commercial side of it (how that information is used to select advertisements to place on a page you visit). It is a web of connections and data, where you are at the center of it. Your online self is represented by this data, but in a stronger way that just it being a record of your actions online. With enough connections and enough data, it is you.

Reading Links (Mostly Wikileaks)

David Pogue about Corning's Gorilla Glass, very cool. (The odd man out in this listing.)

2600 objects to Anonymous' DDoS'ing in the whole Wikileaks thing.

Glenn Greenwald has some good and accurate coverage of the Wikileaks madness.
The New York Times has a nice piece on European reaction (bemusement and surprise) to the American fuss over Wikileaks.

Honestly I haven't seen any surprises at all from the relatively few leaked documents. It's not like the documents have outed the identity of any undercover CIA agents, that would be the Bush administration who did that.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Play and Homage (and IP Theft)

People like to play with the things they like. If we play with snippets of music, we are called pirates by the music industry. If we play with other cultural items, like TV and comic book characters, and if we do it in spaces like Spore or LittleBigPlanet, it's seen as acceptable (although I am sure it is a bit more complex than that, I don't have any insider info from EA or Sony about it).

What is interesting is when branches of the big intellectual property companies, like Sony (with Sony Music, and Sony's movie and television production), have spaces where intellectual property is borrowed by the company itself (although since companies are not people, obviously this is done by the people at the company). So Sony's EverQuest II has lots of cultural homages (or theft) in it, placed there by the people who work for Sony Online Entertainment. One "homage" is the epic (or something) questline for the swashbuckler character class, which is loosely but obviously based on the movie The Princess Bride. Swashies are pirates, right? And pirates are an important part of the film.

(Hmm actually I should, to be thorough, see if that's a Sony film -- but there are lots of examples in EQII that aren't owned by Sony, so even if this is not a good example the point still holds.)

Ok Wikipedia says it is not a Sony-owned piece of IP. It's Fox and Lions Gate and MGM. We are still on here with this example, good.

And this is found across companies and virtual spaces, so I was pleased but not too surprised upon some reflection to discover another Princess Bride reference in Bethesda's recent game Fallout: New Vegas (developed by Obsidian). In one cave you will discover big cave rats, but, they are not just big rats in a cave, they are rodents of unusual size. If you know The Princess Bride, you know there are rodents of unusual size in the fire swamps. It is possible this is done with permission, but I really doubt it. (That would also put a big dent in this argument.)

But, the whole point of this post is that I took a photo of it (since I play it on my Xbox 360, not on a PC where I could take screen shots and have mods, which would be cool).

(The "S" down at the bottom of the photo is light hitting the S in Sharp, the brand of television I have currently.)

Names and History

A nice point by Paul Graham about what we call touchscreen devices like iPhones, which I saw on boingboing (I thought, but can't find it, maybe not) and Daring Fireball:

The only reason we even consider calling them “mobile devices” is that the iPhone preceded the iPad. If the iPad had come first, we wouldn’t think of the iPhone as a phone; we’d think of it as a tablet small enough to hold up to your ear.
This is standard human behavior, we've done it before. We present new things in terms of the more-familiar then-current things. Horses led to horseless carriages, from which we dropped the "horseless" and "-riage" part of carriage to get just car (I believe), which we still drive. There was also the iron horse (the locomotive), and the wireless telegraph (early radio before voice was used).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Call of Your Sofa

I was passing through Times Square the other day, sadly, it's a terrible place, and Red Lobster should really be illegal (not just because it's fast food, but because of what they do to seafood), and I was amused by this Call of Duty billboard.

The current ad campaign has lots of "normal" people, and a few television-based people (Jimmy Kimmel and Kobe Bryant, I think), running around with guns shooting at a ruined building. The people on this billboard are supposed to be normal people (they are either actors or models though). They are each holding two pistols of some sort, and have two rifles on their backs (I will assume one is an M16, and, given the game, I hope the other is a sniper rifle).

I like most of the Call of Duty games. But this ad campaign is ridiculous.

When I play CoD, and when most people do, we are sitting on our sofas. We are holding a very light weight video game controller, just one, in both hands. We do not move. We do not run. We do not sweat (the people on the billboard, IIRC, are all sweaty from running around with heavy guns).

The people in the billboard are not holding one light weight controller. The M16, according to Wikipedia, weighs about 8 pounds. So, let's say that's 16 pounds on their backs (not too much). Well they could be M4 carbines, which weigh a bit less. As for the pistols, well Wikipedia gives the weight of the M9 in ounces and grams, so about 1kg, let's say 2 pounds (not much). Of course there is kickback from when the weapon fires, which isn't anything like the vibration of an Xbox 360 controller.

The Xbox 360 controller weighs about 250g, one-quarter of an M9 pistol, so the Xbox 360 controller is 125g in each hand compared to 1kg for an M9 in each hand like in the billboard.

The whole thing is pretty ridiculous. Reminds me of the NFL's "Play 60" campaign -- you should get exercise, just not when games are on, then we need you to sit passively in front of the television so we can sell your viewership to advertisers. (Remember, football is not the product, you are the product, and your attention is sold to advertisers.)

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that I forgot the weight of the ammunition and grenades. This could be... well I don't know, but, more than nothing. I have no experience carrying around a bunch of ammo or grenades. They are all metal though.