A Philosopher's Blog

Into the Darkness: Finger Biter

Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on July 31, 2017

The following is a podcast of my Call of Cthulhu adventure “Finger Biter” being run by Thomas Raley.

 

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Gaming & Groping II: Obligations

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on November 2, 2016

In my previous essay, I discussed some possible motivations for groping in VR games, which is now a thing. The focus of what follows is on the matter of protecting gamers from such harassment on the new frontiers of gaming.

Since virtual groping is a paradigm of a first world problem, it might be objected that addressing it is a waste of time. After all, the objection can be made that resources that might be expended on combating virtual groping should be spent on addressing real groping After all, a real grope is far worse than a virtual grope—and virtual gropes can be avoided by simply remaining outside of the virtual worlds.

This sort of objection does have some merit. After all, it is sensible to address problems in order of their seriousness. To use an analogy, if a car is skidding out of control at the same time an awful song comes on the radio, then the driver should focus on getting the car back under control and not waste time on the radio.  Unless, of course, it is “The Most Unwanted Song.”

The reasonable reply to this objection is that this is not a situation where it is one or the other, but not both. While time spent addressing virtual groping is time not spent on addressing real groping, addressing virtual groping does not preclude addressing real groping. Also, pushing this sort of objection can easily lead into absurdity: for anything a person is doing, there is almost certainly something else they could be doing that would have better moral consequences. For example, a person who spends time and money watching a movie could use that time and money to address a real problem, such as crime or drug addiction. But, as so often been argued, this would impose unreasonable expectations on people and would ultimately create more harm than good. As such, while I accept that real groping is worse than virtual groping, I am not failing morally by taking time to address the virtual rather than the real in this essay.

It could also be objected that there is no legitimate reason to be worried about virtual groping on the obvious grounds that it is virtual rather than real. After all, when people play video games, they routinely engage in virtual violence against each other—yet this is not seen as a special problem (although virtual violence does have its critics). Put roughly, if it is fine to shoot another player in a game (virtual killing) it should be equally fine to grope another player in a game. Neither the killing nor groping are real and hence should not be taken seriously.

This objection does have some merit, but can be countered by considering an analogy to sports. When people are competing in boxing or martial arts, they hit each other and this is accepted because it is the purpose of the sport. However, it is not acceptable for a competitor to start pawing away at their opponent’s groin in a sexual manner (and not just because of the no hitting below the belt rules of boxing). Punching is part of the sport, groping is not. The same holds for video games. If a person is playing a combat video game that pits players against each other, the expectation is that they will be subject to virtual violence. They know this and consent to it by playing, just as boxers know they will be punched and consent to it. But, unless the players know and consent to playing a groping game, using the game mechanics to virtually grope other players would not be acceptable—they did not agree to that game.

Another counter is that while the virtual groping is not as bad as real groping, it can still harm the target of the groping. To use an analogy, being verbally abused over game chat is not as bad as having a person physically present engaging in such abuse, but it is still unpleasant for the target. Virtual groping is a form of non-verbal harassment, intended to get a negative reaction from the target and to make the gaming experience unpleasant. There is also the fact that being the victim of such harassment can rob a player of the enjoyment of the game—which is the point of playing. While it is not as bad as groping a player in a real-world game (which would be sexual assault), it has an analogous effect on the player’s experience.

It could be replied that a player should just be tough and put up with the abuse. This reply lacks merit and is analogous to saying that people should just put up with being assaulted robbed or spit on. It is the reply of an abuser who wants to continue the abuse while shifting blame onto the target.

While players are in the wrong when they engage in virtual groping, there is the question of what gaming companies should do to protect their customers from such harassment. They do have a practical reason to address this concern—players will tend to avoid games where they are subject to harassment and abuse, thus costing the gaming company money. They also have a moral obligation, analogous to the obligation of those in the real world who host an event. For example, a casino that allowed players to grope others with impunity would be failing in its obligation to its customers; the same would seem to hold for a gaming company operating a VR game.

Companies do already operate various forms of reporting, although their enforcement tends to vary. Blizzard, for example, has policies about how players should treat each other in World of Warcraft. This same approach can and certainly will be applied to VR games that allow a broader range of harassment, such as virtual groping.

Because of factors such as controller limitations, most video games do not have the mechanics that would allow much in the way of groping—although some players do work very hard trying to make that happen. While non-VR video games could certainly support things like glove style controllers that would allow groping, VR games are far more likely to support controllers that would allow players to engage in virtual groping behavior (something that has, as noted above, already occurred).

Eliminating such controller options would help prevent VR groping, but at the cost of taking away a rather interesting and useful aspect of VR controller systems. As such, this is not a very viable option. A better approach would be to put in the software limits on how players can interact with the virtual bodies of other players. While some might suggest a punitive system for when one player’s virtual hands (or groin) contacting another player’s virtual naught bits, the obvious problem is that wily gamers would exploit this. For example, if a virtual hand contacting a virtual groin caused the character damage or filed an automatic report, then some players would be trying their best to get their virtual groins in contact with other players’ virtual hands. As such, this would be a bad idea.

A better, but less than ideal system, would be to have a personal space zone around each player’s VR body to keep other players at a distance. The challenge would be working this effectively into the game mechanics, especially for such things as hand-to-hand combat. It might also be possible to have the software recognize and prevent harassing behavior. So, for example, a player could virtually punch another player, but not make grabbing motions on the target’s groin.

It should be noted that these concerns are about contexts in which players do not want to be groped; I have no moral objection to VR applications that allow consensual groping—which, I infer, will be very popular.

 

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Gaming & Groping I: Motivations

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2016

On the positive side, online gaming allows interaction with gamers all over the world. On the negative side, some gamers are horrible. While I have been a gamer since the days of Pong, one of my early introductions to “the horrible” was on Xbox live. In a moment of deranged optimism, I hoped that chat would allow me to plan strategy with my team members and perhaps make new gamer friends. While this did sometimes happen, the dominate experience was an unrelenting spew of insults and threats between gamers. I solved this problem by clipping the wire on a damaged Xbox headset and sticking the audio plug into my controller—the spew continued, but had nowhere to go.

There is an iron law of technology that any technology that can be misused will be misused. There are also specific laws that fall under this general law. One is the iron law of gaming harassment:  any gaming medium that allows harassment will be used to harass. While there have been many failed attempts at virtual reality gaming, it seems that it might become the new gaming medium. In any case, harassment in online VR games is already a thing. Just as VR is supposed to add a new level to gaming, it also adds a new level to harassment—such as virtual groping. This is an escalation over the harassment options available in most games. Non VR games are typical limited to verbal harassment and some action harassment, such as the classic tea bagging. For those not familiar with this practice, it is when one player causes their character to rapidly repeat crouch on top of a dead character. The idea is that the players is repeatedly slapping their virtual testicles against the virtual corpse of a foe. This presumably demonstrates contempt for the opponent and dominance on the part of the bagger. As might be imagined, this act speaks clearly about a player’s mental and moral status.

Being a gamer and a philosopher, I do wonder a bit about the motivations of those that engage in harassment and how their motivation impacts the ethics of their behavior. While I will not offer a detailed definition of harassment, the basic idea is that it requires sustained abuse. This is to distinguish it from a quick expression of anger.

In some cases, harassment seems to be motivated primarily by the enjoyment the harasser gets from getting a response from their target. The harasser is not operating from a specific value system that leads them to attack certain people; they are equal opportunity in their attacks. Back when I listened to what other gamers said, it was easy to spot this sort of person—they would go after everyone and tailor their spew based on what they seemed to believe about the target’s identity. As an example, if the harasser though their target was African-American, they would spew racist comments. As another example, if the target was the then exceedingly rare female gamer, they would spew sexist remarks. As a third example, if the target was believed to be a white guy, the attack would usually involve comments about the guy’s mother or assertions that the target is homosexual.

While the above focuses on what a person says, the discussion also applies to the virtual actions in the game. As noted above, some gamers engage in tea-bagging because that is the worst gesture they can make in the game. In games that allow more elaborate interaction, the behavior will tend to be analogous to groping in the real world. This is because such behavior is the most offensive behavior possible in the game and thus will create the strongest reaction.

While a person who enjoys inflicting this sort of abuse does have some moral problems, they are probably selecting their approach based on what they think will most hurt the target rather than based on a commitment to sexism, racism or other such value systems. To use an obvious analogy, think of a politician who is not particularly racist but is willing to use this language in order to sway a target audience.

There are also those who engage in such harassment as a matter of ideology and values. While their behavior is often indistinguishable from those who engage in attacks of opportunity, their motivation is based on a hatred of specific types of people. While they might enjoy the reaction of their target, that is not their main objective. Rather, the objectives are to express their views and attack the target of their hate because of that hate. Put another way, they are sincere racists or sexists in that it matters to them who they attack. To use the analogy to a politician, they are like a demagogue who truly believes in their own hate speech.

In terms of virtual behavior, such as groping, these people are not just using groping as a tool to get a reaction. It is an attack to express their views about their target based on their hatred and contempt. The groping might also not merely be a means to an end, but a goal in itself—the groping has its own value to them.

While both sorts of harassers are morally wrong, it is an interesting question as to which is worse. It could be argued that the commitment to evil of the sincere harasser (the true racist or sexist) make them worse than the opportunist. After all, the opportunist is not committed to evil views, they just use their tools for their amusement. In contrast, the sincere harasser not only uses the tools, but believes in their actions and truly hates their target. That is, they are evil for real.

While this is very appealing, it is worth considering that the sincere harasser has the virtue of honesty; their expression of hatred is not a deceit.  To go back to the politician analogy, they are like the politician who truly believes in their professed ideology—their evil does have the tiny sparkle of the virtue of honesty.

In contrast, the opportunist is dishonest in their attacks and thus compound their other vices with that of dishonesty. To use the politician analogy, they are like the Machiavellian manipulator who has no qualms about using hate to achieve their ends.

While the moral distinctions between the types of harassers is important, they generally do not matter to their targets. After all, what matters to (for example) a female gamer who is being virtually groped while trying to enjoy a VR game is not the true motivation of the groper, but the groping. Thus, from the perspective of the target, the harasser of opportunity and the sincere harasser are on equally bad moral footing—they are both morally wrong. In the next essay, the discussion will turn to the obligations of gaming companies in regards to protecting gamers from harassment.

 

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Skepticism, Locke & Games

Posted in Epistemology, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on September 25, 2015

In philosophy skepticism is the view that we lack knowledge. There are numerous varieties of skepticism and these are defined by the extent of the doubt endorsed by the skeptic. A relatively mild case of skepticism might involve doubts about metaphysical claims while a truly rabid skeptic would doubt everything—including her own existence.

While many philosophers have attempted to defeat the dragon of skepticism, all of these attempts seem to have failed. This is hardly surprising—skepticism seems to be unbreakable. The arguments for this have an ancient pedigree and can be distilled down to two simple arguments.

The first goes after the possibility of justifying a belief and thus attacks the standard view that knowledge requires a belief that is true and justified. If a standard of justification is presented, then there is the question of what justifies that standard. If a justification is offered, then the same question can be raised into infinity. And beyond. If no justification is offered, then there is no reason to accept the standard.

A second stock argument for skepticism is that any reasonable argument given in support of knowledge can be countered by an equally reasonable argument against knowledge.  Some folks, such as the famous philosopher Chisholm, have contended that it is completely fair to assume that we do have knowledge and begin epistemology from that point. However, this seems to have all the merit of grabbing the first place trophy without actually competing.

Like all sane philosophers, I tend to follow David Hume in my everyday life: my skepticism is nowhere to be seen when I am filling out my taxes, sitting in brain numbing committee meeting, or having a tooth drilled. However, like a useless friend, it shows up again when it is no longer needed. As such, it would be nice if skepticism could be defeated or a least rendered irrelevant.

John Locke took a rather interesting approach to skepticism. While, like Descartes, he seemed to want to find certainty, he settled for a practical approach to the matter. After acknowledging that our faculties cannot provide certainty, he asserted that what matters to us is the ability of our faculties to aid us in our preservation and wellbeing.

Jokingly, he challenges “the dreamer” to put his hand into a furnace—this would, he claims, wake him “to a certainty greater than he could wish.” More seriously, Locke contends that our concern is not with achieving epistemic certainty. Rather, what matters is our happiness and misery. While Locke can be accused of taking an easy out rather than engaging the skeptic in a battle of certainty or death, his approach is certainly appealing. Since I happened to think through this essay while running with an injured back, I will use that to illustrate my view on this matter.

When I set out to run, my back began hurting immediately. While I could not be certain that I had a body containing a spine and nerves, no amount of skeptical doubt could make the pain go away—in regards to the pain, it did not matter whether I really had a back or not. That is, in terms of the pain it did not matter whether I was a pained brain in a vat or a pained brain in a runner on the road. In either scenario, I would be in pain and that is what really mattered to me.

As I ran, it seemed that I was covering distance in a three-dimensional world. Since I live in Florida (or what seems to be Florida) I was soon feeling quite warm and had that Florida feel of sticky sweat. I could eventually feel my thirst and some fatigue. Once more, it did not seem to really matter if this was real—whether I was really bathed in sweat or a brain bathed in some sort of nutrient fluid, the run was the same to me. As I ran, I took pains to avoid cars, trees and debris. While I did not know if they were real, I have experience what it is like to be hit by a car (or as if I was hit by a car) and also experience involving falling (or the appearance of falling). In terms of navigating through my run, it did not matter at all whether it was real or not. If I knew for sure that my run was really real for real that would not change the run. If I somehow knew it was all an illusion that I could never escape, I would still run for the sake of the experience of running.

This, of course, might seem a bit odd. After all, when the hero of a story or movie finds out that she is in a virtual reality what usually follows is disillusionment and despair. However, my attitude has been shaped by years of gaming—both tabletop (BattleTech, Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and so many more) and video (Zork, Doom, Starcraft, Warcraft, Destiny, Halo, and many more). When I am pretending to be a paladin, the Master Chief, or a Guardian, I know I am doing something that is not really real for real. However, the game can be pleasant and enjoyable or unpleasant and awful. This enjoyment or suffering is just as real as enjoyment or suffering caused by what is supposed to be really real for real—though I believe it is but a game.

If I somehow knew that I was trapped in an inescapable virtual reality, then I would simply keep playing the game—that is what I do. Plus, it would get boring and awful if I stopped playing. If I somehow knew that I was in the really real world for real, I would keep doing what I am doing. Since I might be trapped in just such a virtual reality or I might not, the sensible thing to do is keep playing as if it is really real for real. After all, that is the most sensible option in every case. As such, the reality or lack thereof of the world I think I occupy does not matter at all. The play, as they say, is the thing.

 

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Philosophy, Running, Gaming & the Quantified Self

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic, Running, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on May 4, 2015

“The unquantified life is not worth living.”

 

While the idea of quantifying one’s life is an old idea, one growing tech trend is the use of devices and apps to quantify the self. As a runner, I started quantifying my running life back in 1987—that is when I started keeping a daily running log. Back then, the smartest wearable was probably a Casio calculator watch, so I kept all my records on paper. In fact, I still do—as a matter of tradition.

I use my running log to track my distance, running route, time, conditions, how I felt during the run, the number of time I have run in the shoes and other data I feel like noting at the time. I also keep a race log and a log of my yearly mileage. So, like Ben Franklin, I was quantifying before it became cool. Like Ben, I have found this rather useful—looking at my records allows me to form hypotheses regarding what factors contribute to injury (high mileage, hill work and lots of racing) and what results in better race times (rest and speed work). As such, I am sold on the value of quantification—at least in running.

In addition to my ORD (Obsessive Running/Racing Disorder) I am also a nerdcore gamer—I started with the original D&D basic set and still have shelves (and now hard drive space) devoted to games. In the sort of games I play the most, such as Pathfinder, Call of Cthulu and World of Warcraft the characters are fully quantified. That is, the character is a set of stats such as strength, constitution, dexterity, hit points, and sanity. Such games also feature sets of rules for the effects of the numbers as well as clear optimization paths. Given this background in gaming, it is not surprising that I see the quantified self as an attempt by a person to create, in effect, a character sheet for herself. That is, to see all her stats and to look for ways to optimize this character that is a model of the self. As such, I get the appeal. Naturally, as a philosopher I do have some concerns about the quantified self and how that relates to the qualities of life—but that is a matter for another time. For now, I will focus on a brief critical look at the quantified self.

Two obvious concerns about the quantified data regarding the self (or whatever is being measured) are questions regarding the accuracy of the data and questions regarding the usefulness of the data. To use an obvious example about accuracy, there is the question of how well a wearable really measures sleep.  In regards to usefulness, I wonder what I would garner from knowing how long I chew my food or the frequency of my urination.

The accuracy of the data is primarily a technical or engineering problem. As such, accuracy problems can be addressed with improvements in the hardware and software. Of course, until the data is known to be reasonably accurate, then it should be regarded with due skepticism.

The usefulness of the data is partially a subjective matter. That is, what counts as useful data will vary from person to person based on their needs and goals. For example, knowing how many steps I have taken at work is probably not useful data for me—since I run about 60 miles per week, that little amount of walking is most likely insignificant in regards to my fitness. However, someone who has no other exercise might find such data very useful. As might be suspected, it is easy to be buried under an avalanche of data and a serious challenge for anyone who wants to make use of the slew of apps and devices is to sort out the data that would actually be useful from the thousands or millions of data bits that would not be useful.

Another area of obvious concern is the reasoning applied to the data. Some devices and apps supply raw data, such as miles run or average heartrate. Others purport to offer an analysis of the data—that is, to engage in automated reasoning regarding the data. In any case, the user will need to engage in some form of reasoning to use the data.

In philosophy, the two main basic tools in regards to personal causal reasoning are derived from Mill’s classic methods. One method is commonly known as the method of agreement (or common thread reasoning). Using this method involves considering an effect (such as poor sleep or a knee injury) that has occurred multiple times (at least twice). The basic idea is to consider the factor or factors that are present each time the effect occurs and to sort through them to find the likely cause (or causes). For example, a runner might find that all her knee issues follow times when she takes up extensive hill work, thus suggesting the hill work as a causal factor.

The second method is commonly known as the method of difference. Using this method requires at least two situations: one in which the effect in question has occurred and one in which it has not. The reasoning process involves considering the differences between the two situations and sorting out which factor (or factors) is the likely cause. For example, a runner might find that when he does well in a race, he always gets plenty of rest the week before. When he does poorly, he is always poorly rested due to lack of sleep. This would indicate that there is a connection between the rest and race performance.

There are, of course, many classic causal fallacies that serve as traps for such reasoning. One of the best known is post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). This fallacy occurs when it is inferred that A causes B simply because A is followed by B. For example, a person might note that her device showed that she walked more stairs during the week before doing well at a 5K and simply infer that walking more stairs caused her to run better. There could be a connection, but it would take more evidence to support that conclusion.

Other causal reasoning errors include the aptly named ignoring a common cause (thinking that A must cause B without considering that A and B might both be the effects of C), ignoring the possibility of coincidence (thinking A causes B without considering that it is merely coincidence) and reversing causation (taking A to cause B without considering that B might have caused A).  There are, of course, the various sayings that warn about poor causal thinking, such as “correlation is not causation” and these tend to correlate with named errors in causal reasoning.

People obviously vary in their ability to engage in causal reasoning and this would also apply to the design of the various apps and devices that purport to inform their users about the data they gather. Obviously, the better a person is at philosophical (in this case causal) reasoning, the better she will be able to use the data.

The takeaway, then, is that there are at least three important considerations regarding the quantification of the self in regards to the data. These are the accuracy of the data, the usefulness of the data, and the quality of the reasoning (be it automated or done by the person) applied to the data.

 

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Posted in Pathfinder, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 2, 2013
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Are Gaming Consoles’ Days Numbered?

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on March 27, 2009

OnLive, a new startup company, plans to offer the gaming world streaming games. The idea is that just as people now stream videos (mostly porn) and music to their PCs, gamers will be able to stream games to their PC or TV. The current hype is that OnLive might doom gaming consoles.

The OnLive system, image from Onlive

The OnLive system, image from Onlive

Using the service on a PC will most likely involve installing client software. For TV use, a hardware box (the OnLive Microconsole) will be needed. OnLive claims that it will offer the latest PC titles to gamers.

The service is supposed to offer numerous advantages. First, the hardware requirements are alleged to be moderate. The reason is that the servers are supposed to do the “heavy lifting” while the user’s PC or MicroConsole displays the images and sends output (game commands). If the service becomes a reality, this could appeal to many gamers-especially those who would like to play the high end games without buying a high end system. Second, OnLive will handle the patches and updates on their end. While patching games is easy enough, this would make keeping up with the latest patches and bug fixes effortless. Third, OnLive might be cheaper than buying games. I say “might” because the service is still in closed beta.

While the service sounds appealing, there is the question of whether it will doom consoles or not.

One obvious factor is the fact that Sony, Nintendo and (most especially Microsoft) swing some big sticks in the industry. If their people think that OnLive is going to be a major competitor to their consoles, they will no doubt use their considerable influence with the game companies. Platform specific games (Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3) are nothing new and the same sort of tactic could be used against OnLive.

A minor concern is that the service requires reliable, fast broadband. While this is not a major issue (most gamers already have broadband), OnLive faces the same challenge as online gaming with the additional challenge that OnLive will presumably have no offline play. After all, offline play with OnLive would just be normal computer gaming-why pay for a service that would let you do what you already do? Of course, online only games have been successful. Just consider World of Warcraft.

A more serious concern is that OnLive will need to provide the service at a reasonable price (after all, gamers with plenty of money for gaming will just buy high end rigs and the games) while still being able to purchase and maintain high end servers capable of doing something that servers generally do not do (that is, play PC games).  To get companies onboard, OnLive will also have to offer them the opportunity to make more money dealing with OnLive than they will lose from not selling games directly to consumers. This might be feasible. A game going out via OnLive would not need to be shipped to retailers on physical media, thus eliminating those costs.

Since some gamers are into mods, they might find the service unappealing. After all, I doubt that OnLive will let customers mod programs on their servers. Of course, OnLive could offer modded versions. Also, many gamers do not mod, hence this will not be a concern for them.

One rather significant reason that OnLive will not doom consoles is that consoles already co-exist with PCs. Unless OnLive can offer the content and experience that keep people buying and using consoles, the console is most likely safe from the threat of OnLive. There is, of course, some concern that OnLive could be harmful to retailers. Of course, this is the same worry that retailers who sell music and videos have had to deal with for years.

I’ll no doubt look into OnLive. However, to appeal to me it would have to be a significant improvement over how I currently game. I suspect that I won’t become a customer, though. I tend to get one game and play it through for a month (or months) rather than playing many games each month. But, for gamers who consume multiple titles each month, OnLive might be a good deal.

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The Brilliance of Warcraft

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on December 15, 2008

Although friends of mine had already been seduced back into the World of Warcraft, I held out until shortly after the release of the Wrath of the Lich King. Although I have two level 60 characters, I ended up starting a new character-that was “the plan” I agreed to with my friends Dave and Ron.

When I first started playing WoW a few years ago, I approached it like an online version of D&D: I tried to get immersed in the story, I sought the toughest challenges and brought my loot back to the vendors to sell. As such, I tended to miss out on the true brilliance of the game.

This brilliance is not the story, the setting or the game system. The story is standard fantasy with some sci-fi elements thrown in. The setting is quite familiar-a fantasy world with plenty of things to kill and loot. The game system is based on the usual class and level system (plus all sorts of hidden math that would, no doubt, boggle my mind).  The brilliance of the game is in its power to suck people in to play, play and play some more. To do this, the folks at Blizzard have made brilliant use of the classic mechanics of seduction and addiction. As such, WoW can bee seen as akin to Las Vegas, only with elves, loot, and instances instead of hookers, gambling, and fancy hotels. Oh, and throw in some eBay/QVC in there as well.

I could write volumes about the psychological mechanics Blizzard has used in the game, but I’ll just briefly hit on three.

First, there is the frustration/reward system. This is a classic mechanism in which the frustration of a task is finely balanced against a reward. The challenge is to make the task frustrating enough so that there is a feeling that the reward is earned but not so frustrating that most people just give up. This is the same sort of approach used in those county/state fair games of “skill” in which you play dozens of times in order to win a crappy $2 toy. Dating also involves the same sort of thing. In WoW, you have to grind through kill after kill to get decent treasure or to finish many quests. For example, you might need to get 8 gnoll paws from gnolls. But it turns out that the gnoll tribe you have been sent to decimate is mostly made of pawless freaks: you kill and kill, but they have no paws to loot. Just as you are about to give up, you find a paw. So, you keep on going until you are just about sick of it, then another paw drops. The whole game is full of this sort of stuff and this keeps people playing and paying.

Second, there is the auction house. When I first started playing, I didn’t visit the auction house. It seemed a bit weird to my classic D&D mindset and I also did not find the idea of playing eBay very appealing. But, my friends were sucked into it-they spend hours buying and selling fake items for fake gold in the auction house. This no doubt provides the same charge people get from buying and selling on eBay.  So, people will spend hours gathering up things to auction off to other players and then use the gold to buy things that other players are selling.

Blizzard has brilliantly designed the game so that most people will not find what they need while playing. For example, I worked my night elf druid to level 60 and found only fairly weak items in the course of adventuring. Put crudely, my equipment and weapons were crap. Meanwhile, my friends were buying top of the line gear at the auction house. The genius of this system is that some players play for countless hours to get the very rare good items. They then auction them off to other players who have less luck or less time. To buy the good items, you need lots of fake gold, so the other players need to do other time consuming things to get the gold they need to buy the stuff they want.  So, everyone is playing and paying for a long time.

Third, the game has various professions such as the mundane ones like, mining, fishing and cooking (really) to more esoteric ones like enchanting and alchemy. Some of the professions involve gathering-you go around mining or picking flowers to gather ore or herbs, for example.  Some of the professions involve creating items and these require every rarer raw materials. So, you need to get all the stuff you need to make things and then spend time making them. This creates a virtual economy in which people spend hours working at gathering fake resources and making fake items. Pure brilliance on the part of Blizzard. In real life, you have to pay people to do that sort of stuff. In WoW, people pay to do it.

Of course, Blizzard did not come up with the system overnight. The previous games of Diablo, Diablo II and the Warcraft series gave them perfect test beds for the various systems. For example, Diablo II showed that people would play countless hours hoping that good treasure would pop out of a dead monster.

Yeah, I do play WoW. But, I do my best to avoid getting caught up in the stuff that merely eats my time without being really fun. What I do enjoy is adventuring in a group and being able to play a game without being the one who writes up the adventures and runs the game.

Dice Age

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on April 12, 2008

Having recently lost a player, my gaming group is trying to recruit. Ron, our most obsessive gamer, has been scouring the net for gamers and ways to find gamers. By the way, this is D&D style gaming-as opposed to gambling or players in the sense of those hated by player haters.

One new resource is Dice Age which is sort of a Myspace for gamers-only without (so far) the porn spammers. So far the site is very small (14 members) but it just started and might become a powerhouse of geek networking. Then again, it might fade away into oblivion.

Another resource is Gleemax, which is owned by Wizards of the Coast. It is in the Alpha stage, although it has been operating for a while.

If you are a gamer, check it out. If you are a gamer in Tallahassee and want to join a group, then contact me.

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Gary Gygax

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died today at age 69.

Dungeon & Dragons laid the basic foundation for the games of today-including many of the latest video games, such as Mass Effect. Concepts like character class, hit points, level, and armor class originated in D&D and are now standard features in the gaming world.

Gygax deserves a great deal of credit for the ongoing success of gaming-he was one of the founding greats in the field.

D&D had a huge impact on my life-setting me firmly on my Nerdtastic path. Thanks Gary.

Order of the Stick provided a fitting tribute for him.

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