A Philosopher's Blog

Sexbots, Killbots & Virtual Dogs

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on March 30, 2014

Sexbots,_Killbots_&__Cover_for_KindleMy most recent  book, Sexbots, Killbots & Virtual Dogs, is now available as a Kindle book on Amazon. It will soon be available as a print book as well (the Kindle version is free with the print book on Amazon).

There is also a free promo for the Kindle book from April 1, 2014 to April 5, 2014. At free, it is worth every penny!

Book Description

While the story of Cain and Abel does not specify the murder weapon used by Cain, traditional illustrations often show Cain wielding the jawbone of an animal (perhaps an ass—which is what Samson is said to have employed as a weapon). Assuming the traditional illustrations and the story are right, this would be one of the first uses of technology by a human—and, like our subsequent use of technology, one of considerable ethical significance.

Whether the tale of Cain is true or not, humans have been employing technology since our beginning. As such, technology is nothing new. However, we are now at a point at which technology is advancing and changing faster than ever before—and this shows no signs of changing. Since technology so often has moral implications, it seems worthwhile to consider the ethics of new and possible future technology. This short book provides essays aimed at doing just that on subjects ranging from sexbots to virtual dogs to asteroid mining.

While written by a professional philosopher, these essays are aimed at a general audience and they do not assume that the reader is an expert at philosophy or technology.

The essays are also fairly short—they are designed to be the sort of things you can read at your convenience, perhaps while commuting to work or waiting in the checkout line.

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Can the Dead Walk?

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on October 31, 2011
A participant of a Zombie walk, Asbury Park NJ...

Image via Wikipedia

While George Romero introduced zombies to movie goers years ago, the fascination with the walking dead continues to grow like a zombie horde. While it is fun to watch the fictional zombies, it might be wondered whether or not the dead can really walk.

While “science” based zombies are standard zombies of most movies, there is also the classic supernatural zombie. These zombies are driven by supernatural forces rather than mysterious radiation or some sort of super virus. For example, the zombies I use in my Pathfinder campaigns are corpses that are possessed by unintelligent evil spirits of negative energy. Obviously, these zombies are make believe and are almost certainly not the sort of thing that could exist in this world. That said, if there is a supernatural aspect to this world (which seems rather unlikely) then supernatural zombies might be possible. I am, of course, inclined to think that they are not-mainly because of the lack of evidence.

As might be imagined, “science” based zombies would seem to have the best chance of being possible. It is also worth considering the possibility of what can be called a corpse suit. A corpse suit is a dead body that is “worn” by another living organism that moves it about, using it as protection or camouflage. Plants, insects and fungus have (in fiction, including several of my Call of Cthuhu adventures) been cast in such a role. While no known organism does this with human bodies, it does not seem like an impossibility. Of course, this sort of thing would not be a zombie in the strict sense. After all, the dead body is not walking itself but is being manipulated like a puppet.

One common cause of the “science” zombies is a virus or other such agent that re-animates (usually after killing). For example, my own Nightsiders (specifically “Dead Island”-not to be confused with the recent video game that uses the same name and basic plot) features a zombie agent that was being developed as a weapon. While an agent that causes people to act in zombie like ways certainly seems possible (as vividly portrayed in 28 Days Later), these people would not be zombies in the sense of being the walking dead for the obvious reason that they are not actually dead.

As might be imagined, the main challenge with creating the walking dead is getting a corpse to move under its own power. If the body is completely dead, then it would seem rather unlikely that it would be able to do so. After all, the dead nerve cells would not be able to direct the dead muscle cells to fire. Presumably the dead muscle cells could not fire, even if somehow signaled to do so by undead nerves.

One way around this, other than imagining some sort of undead cellular activity that is somehow not life (which might seem a bit supernatural), is to cheat a bit and allow for zombies that are partially alive. If parts of the brain, nervous system and muscles could remain alive (or were re-started after death) then a zombie of sorts would seem to be possible. After all, there could be enough neural guidance and muscle power left to move the mostly dead body around under its own power. This could, perhaps, be accomplished by a virus or bacteria that was rather selective.

Merely having a mobile mostly dead corpse would, of course, still not be quite enough. After all, the sort of zombie we are looking for does more than just lie on the table and twitch. It pursues the living and is presumably driven by an endless hunger for their brains.

Getting that sort of zombie seems rather tricky. After all the zombie would need enough mental functionality to be able to recognize and pursue the living yet be lacking enough so as to be a zombie (which are suppose to be unintelligent). The zombie would, of course, also need the motivation to hunt the living. Mere hunger would, of course, not be enough-otherwise zombies would just eat whatever they could find and would not be totally fixated on humans.

This challenge could be overcome by imagining that the agent that creates the zombie modifies the nervous system in such a way that the zombie behavior is created. There are, of course, diseases (such as rabies) that affect behavior and there are fungi that radically impact behavior (albeit primarily in insects rather than humans). However, there is enough of a precedent to provide a foundation for the imagination. Throw in the hypothesis that the agent was developed for military purposes and it would seem that we have a winner.

Thus it would seem that zombies (of a sort) are possible.  Happy Halloween.

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Diablo III & Selling Fake for Real

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on August 14, 2011
Demon Hunter [661]

"Cash or credit?"

While Diablo III will not be released for a while, it is already generating controversy. Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with the demons in the game but with certain features of the game. In a previous post I discussed the matter of Blizzard requiring Diablo III “owners” to be online in order to play the game. In this post I will discuss the auction house.

One new feature in Diablo III is the game’s auction house. While auction houses are nothing new in games (World of Warcraft and other MMOs feature them), what is somewhat new is that players can auction game items to each other for real money. As with a real auction house, Blizzard gets a fee with each transaction. There is also apparently a fee for cashing out the money for real money (but no fee for using the money to buy Blizzard stuff, such as games and in game items).

The selling of fake stuff for real money in games is also not new. Second Life has its own economy as do other games/online worlds. However, most of these involve participants selling virtual things they have made.  In such cases, the selling does seem to make sense. For example, if Bill designs an elaborate virtual house and sells it to Sally, this seems comparable to Bill selling Sally a drawing or photograph. However, in Diablo III, players will be selling loot that randomly drops from monsters which does raise a question about justifying paying cash for such items.

The obvious way to justify this is to argue that while the players did not create what they are selling (it is not like selling a drawing), they did put in the time playing the game to get the item. Of course, luck is also a factor-the loot drops are random, so getting good stuff that people will buy is both a matter of time and luck. As such, these transactions could be seen as comparable to the way prospectors found and sold random bits of gold or other valuables and then sold them. While the prospectors sold physical objects, the value of a flake of gold or a magic sword seem to be primarily in the mind. As such, there seems to be no problem with the selling of “fake” stuff.

One point of concern is that Blizzard would seem to be using players as laborers who mine Blizzard’s game for random items to sell to other players. Blizzard profits from selling the game and also profits from the game’s real money economy. This, some might contend, seems a bit shady. The obvious reply is, of course, that participation is voluntary: players do not need to buy or sell. Also, the players have a chance to make money while doing something fun-which makes this way better than most jobs.

Another point of concern is that this real money auction house will encourage hacking and item farming. Of course, the hacking is mainly Blizzard’s problem-unless people “hack” by stealing from players (as happens in Warcraft). Item farming is, fortunately, not a big concern. Unlike World of Warcraft, you can play Diablo III alone or just with friends. Hence, you do not need to worry about farmers showing up to ruin your game by grabbing up all the monsters. Also, by having a legitimate and controlled means of selling items, the auction house bypasses the black and gray markets that have grown up around MMOs. So, for example, rather than players giving their credit card numbers (or game account information) to people selling gold or leveling, players can just buy stuff through Blizzard’s auction house.

A final point of concern is the ethics of buying items in terms of fairness and in terms of what some might call the spirit of gaming. Being able to just buy items with real money is not cheating in the sense of breaking the game rules (since it is part of the game), but could be seen as cheating in the sense of violating the spirit of gaming. Among those who might be derided as gaming purists, there is a view that items and advancement in a game should be earned in the game. To simply pay cash is cheating since it yields by cash what should be earned by effort. To use an analogy, if someone could just buy a bike and be able to use it in a 5K footrace because she paid for it, then even if this were in the race’s rules, it would still strike runners as a form of “sanctioned” cheating. This is because an increase in speed should be earned and not merely purchased. Likewise, in a game like Diablo III, players should “earn” that magic sword or armor in the game, rather than being able to gear up their character because they have access to mom’s credit card.

It is, however, worth considering that Diablo III is not really a competitive game and, as noted above, players can chose who they play with. Going back to the bike analogy, if someone wants to hold a private race(and the times do not count for records, etc.), in which participants can buy advantages with real money ,  then it should not really be a matter of concern (other than to note that it seems a bit silly to pay money for such an “advantage” in such circumstances) to people who are not participating in the event. As such, my considered view is that it is silly for people to spend real money on fake stuff and it does seem a bit shady. However, if people want to do this, then so be it.

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World of GrindCraft

Posted in Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on February 27, 2011
Logo of Blizzard Entertainment

Image via Wikipedia

While I do enjoy World of Warcraft, the grind does, well, grind on me. I do understand that Blizzard uses the grind as a way of keeping people playing a longer time (and thus paying those monthly fees). However, it would be nice if they made the grind more pleasant. I suspect that would keep more people playing longer. After all, I assume that I am not the only one who has considered calling it quits in the face of the grind.

One grind is the reputation grind. In order to get certain items in the game, you need to get reputation with the faction that sells the items.  These include useful gear, enchants, as well as vanity items like pets and mounts. What bothers me about the reputation grind is that the content for gaining reputation runs out long before you actually achieve the highest reputation. So, for example, you might save the entire kingdom of the Ramakitties (as I call them) and still only be liked a bit. After that, you typically have to run dungeon after dungeon while wearing that faction’s tabard  to get the reputation. In some cases, the factions have daily quests that allow you to build up reputation by repeatedly doing the questions.

One obvious solution would be to add more content so that people can build reputation by doing new and hopefully interesting things rather than grinding away in dungeons or doing dailies. These grinds could also be improved.

A second grind is the dungeon grind. The instances have the better item drops and also are the source of the Justice and Valor points needed to buy even better items. To keep people playing and paying, it takes a long time to get the points needed to buy items and, of course, the item drops are random and very limited in quantity (usually one good item per boss).

While the dungeons are a challenge at first and then fun, they soon become something of a chore of seemingly endless grinding. In addition to it seeming a bit odd to kill the same boss hundreds of time, it also becomes boring to do the same thing over and over and over. One obvious solution is to add more content. Another fix is to have truly random dungeons that generate a random map, populate it with random monsters and drops loot from a huge list of items (rather than just a few). True, the bosses could not be as scripted as the fixed bosses, but at least it would provide some different experiences and break up the monotony of the grind. Heck, I’d be happy to send Blizzard all my own dungeon designs from years of gaming to help them out.

A third grind is the daily quest. While the idea of a quest that you can repeat daily makes things easy on Blizzard, it becomes boring very fast. In fact, it becomes very much like work: do the same basic damn thing day after day in order to get some minor payment. This would not be as bad if the quests were not rather dull (usually just gathering items or killing X number of things) or if at least made some sense as to why the quest was being done everyday. For example, it seems a bit odd to kill the same monster (like Chillmaw) everyday. It is like being trapped in Groundhog Day. It would also help a bit if it did not take so long to get decent rewards. I do get that they need to drag out play and that it should not be too easy to get the good stuff. However, unless you are willing to grind the damn dailies every damn day it will take you a very, very long time to get the good stuff.

One solution is to make the dailies more interesting or at least have a larger variety of dailies that cycle through. Making them make more sense would also help a bit. Adding more levels of stuff could also be a good option so that there is more of a feeling that your efforts are actually yielding some results. The items should also be added to with the various patches so that the rewards do not become obsolete or pointless when better items are added as drops.

A fourth grind is crafting and gathering. To make items in the game, players need to gather (or buy) the materials and this tends to be a rather slow process. Items often require a lot of materials and the really good ones typically require things that you can only get by chance (like the Chaos Orbs). This is all well and good for folks who are willing to spend hours grinding for material or the gold to get it, but it becomes a tedious chore for folks who mainly want to do interesting things involving new content. Of course, Blizzard keeps things slow to keep people playing longer and to also make things a bit harder for gold farmers. Ironically, though, it is often this grind that drives people to buy gold and characters.

The solution seems to be to either increase the rate at which materials are gathered or cut down a bit on what is required to make things. This could be offset by offering even more things to make at various item levels so that people still have the option to grind for countless hours to make the really good stuff. This would also offset the problem that crafted items tend to be rendered obsolete when new patches come out.

Of course, the best way to avoid the grind is to just not play. 🙂

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WoW & Character: Instance Wipes

Posted in Philosophy, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on February 13, 2011
Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

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Being an athlete, I have often heard people claim that sports both reveals character and builds character. My own experience supports these claims and hence I agree with them. While video games like WoW are not exactly like sports (sports requires a degree of fitness, WoW does not) they do seem to have the potential to both reveal and build character (both the game character and the real character of the player).

Instances and raids (which are basically tougher instances) often are the best opportunities to see a person’s character. In the latest expansion to WoW, raids and instances are rather challenging and wipes (everyone dying) are not uncommon and people react to these set backs in various ways.

Assuming that the wipe was not caused by stupidity or intentionally (people actually do this and then leave the party), most people are willing to make  another go of it. However, some folks immediately leave or spend the next several minutes tossing around blame or bitching rather than working out a better strategy. I suspect that the approach a person takes in instances also matches their real-life approach to set backs. For example, I will stick with a challenge in real life until I succeed or until it becomes evident that success is either not possible or simply too costly. I take the same approach to instance wipes-I will keep at it until I succeed or it becomes evident that we are all just wasting our time.

Interestingly enough, wipes can also be a character building experience. To steal a bit from Aristotle, what we do is what we are (or become). Someone who gives up in the face of a wipe learns to be a quitter. Those who complain and cast blame, learn to do those things. Those who consider why the group died and work on a better strategy learn an effective way to deal with setbacks and problems.

That said, it is also important to learn to recognize when the game is not worth the candle (or the electricity, to update that saying a bit). While persevering in the face of a failure can be laudable, there is a point at which pressing on is a bad idea. In the case of WoW, there are times when the group dynamic is simply “off” or people are too tired and frustrated as well. There is a wisdom in knowing when to call the fight and return to face it again another day.

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Retribution Paladin

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on January 2, 2011
a longsword
Image via Wikipedia

While I spend most of my WoW time tanking as a Paladin, I do have a  Retribution secondary spec for my character. While this is mainly for PvP, I sometimes DPS on those occasions when another guild member is tanking.

I have found that the Retribution Paladin nicely fits my play style and attitude: I like a combination of good damage, good utility and excellent survivability. While a Retribution Paladin cannot match the AOE damage of a mage or the DOT abilities of a Warlock, they can put out impressive DPS-especially against single targets (like bosses). Also, the combination of plate armor, self healing and various defensive abilities make paladins survivors. As many WoW players have said “If you don’t like dying, play a paladin.”

In terms of optimizing your character, it is hard to beat Elitist Jerks’ number crunching and theory crafting for Ret Paladins. If you want to know how to maximize your DPS, follow their guide.

Of course, there is more to playing than just toping the DPS meter (well, maybe). This is especially true in the early days of Cataclysm. People (like me) who sailed through heroics clad in high end epic gear have been returned to things once past, such as having to actually worry about what the monsters are doing and to be able to bring more to the fight than just damage.

While the Retribution paladin is all about damage, he can also provide support to the party. The most obvious type of support is the Paladin buff (we now have just two: Kings and Might). Using this is simple: if there is a druid in the party, use Might. If not, use Kings. The Aura choice can be a bit more difficult. If the tank is not a paladin, then Devotion is a good choice. If the tank is a paladin, then it depends on the situation-do you need protection from shadow/fire/cold attacks, a little extra damage output, or are the casters worried about losing casting time?

While people generally turn to the mages and shaman  for crowd control, Ret Paladins have Repentance which can take a mob out of the fight for quite some time. It works on most, but not all, types of monsters (see the talent). If you are playing a Ret Paladin, you can really help the party by taking a mob out of action while you kill his buddies. As always, handling CC has its own problems-such as folks breaking it with AOE effects or bad aiming. The basic tricks are to make sure that the target for CC are clearly designated and that everyone knows not to attack the CCed mobs prematurely. A good tank will pull the other mobs away so the party can tear them up with AOEs  and good a DPS will let him do this.

For short term control, the Hammer of Justice can be useful-but this is very short term indeed and its main function is to interrupt abilities.

Ret Paladins also have the Rebuke talent. This interrupt has a relatively quick (10 second) cool down and hence can be used quite often in a fight. While using it will mean you’ll do less overall DPS (after all, you could have been smacking the mob rather than rebuking it) this ability can really make the healer’s job easier by preventing damage and help the party in general by preventing various unpleasant things. One key trick to rebuking is knowing which ability to interrupt-after all, you don’t want to use it on some minor ability and then see it cooling down when a mob pops out something really obnoxious. It is also important to know what abilities can be interrupted. In general, ones that you cannot interrupt will have a shield icon attached to the mobs casting bar.

Ret Paladins also get the general abilities to create, hold and draw threat such as Righteous Fury and Hand of Reckoning. In general, you do not want to use these abilities in instances/raids. After all, even though you are wearing plate, you are not a tank. However, there are some exceptions to this, such as saving the healer from a mob or grabbing a mob that you know you can (and must) quickly kill. Hand of Reckoning can also be very handy for gathering up mobs when questing.

Ret Paladins also get the various paladin hands, such as Protection (which is mainly for PvP) and Salvation. In instances and raids, these can be handy for saving the healer when the tank drops the ball or something rather bad is happening that the tank is unable to deal with. The Hand of Freedom can be a very useful hand in some cases (although it is mainly for PvP), either to free yourself or to bust the tank loose. If you PvP, you will certainly want to put a talent point into Acts of Sacrifice. This allows your Cleanse to remove movement impairing effects, but only from you.

Like all paladins, the Ret Paladin can heal and remove certain nasty effects (like poisons). While non-Holy Paladins do not excel at healing, they get all the core healing abilities, including Lay on Hands and, at the highest levels, that handy AoE healing ability, Holy Radiance.

As a general rule, you should not be wasting your time healing-the healer should be doing a vastly better job than you can. However, there are exceptions to this. Obviously, if the healer DCs or runs out of mana, then you can step in to save the day. Of course, you need to weigh whether killing the monsters faster or keeping the tank healed will be more likely to lead to a win. Another case in which healing can be a good idea is in fights that damage everyone in the party. Using Holy Radiance will probably not save the day, but it can be a nice assist to the main healer. Then there is Lay on Hands. That can, and has, made the difference between a wipe and a win. While it is tempting to save LoH for yourself, you are a paladin. That means doing things for the greater good (or not, if you just play the class for the abilities rather than for the gaming mythology of the paladin) and this most often involves doing a miracle save of the healer or tank right before that last green sliver in the health bar goes away.

Removing nasty effects via cleanse will not add to your DPS, but it can be an important role. One reason is that the healer does not have to expend mana or time that he could be using to keep the tank alive. Another reason is that there may be many bad debuffs on the party and your helping out means that they are eliminated much faster and this can make a real difference. Of course, if you are solo questing, then you generally want to get rid of any debuff you can eliminate.

Last, but far from least, is the fact that all paladins can rez dead party members. There have been a few cases in which I was the sole survivor (or at least the only survivor who could rez). Being able to rez characters can be a real time saver for the party and makes near wipes a bit less annoying by removing the corpse run.

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The Fourth King’s Second Game

Posted in Humor, Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on December 5, 2010

My gaming group had our usual Christmas/Hanukkah event. As usual, I made everyone suffer through my 4th King’s Game. This year I added a new element: cards.

The Fourth King’s Second Game

As the story goes, three wise men or kings (not the same thing at all, of course) brought the baby Jesus some gifts. While this served as the theological foundation for the massive commercialization of Christmas, it also gave rise to Three Kings Day, which is celebrated in Puerto Rico. The gist of the holiday is that children put out grass and water for the Kings’ camels and they get small gifts in return. This holiday is on January 6th.

Interestingly, a little research revealed that there was a 4th king, King Bob. Unlike the Three Kings, Bob was not great with directions and ended up arriving at the wrong city, albeit long before the other kings arrived in the proper destination.

Since King Bob could not find the baby Jesus, he decided to give away the gifts via a game, which is now known as King Bob’s game. Alternatively, it can be called The Game of the 4th King.

King Bob later realized that he could make some fat loots (or “phat lewts”) by converting his game into a collectible card game. The following is King Bob’s prototype. It sucks like a Goblin Hooker, so You Have Been Warned.

Here is how the game is played.

What You Will Need

Gifts: At least 1 wrapped gift per player, preferably more. Cheap gifts are best.

Dice: Ideally you should have a D20 and some D6s, but for non gamers six sided dice will do.

Cards: I made cards for the game using images copied from the web. Since I don’t have the right to distribute them, I cannot include the cards.  If time permits, I’ll add an illustration free set to this post.

The Roles

There are two roles in the game: King Bob’s stand in and player. King Bob supervises the game but does not play. He also does not get any gifts. Optionally, King Bob can also play and get gifts, but that is bad theology.

Everyone other than King Bob’s stand in is a player.

Setting Up the Game

King Bob sets up the game by creating a pile of the wrapped gifts and defending them from the greasy hands of the players until the game starts.

Each player should have a die (or dice) and a board or piece of paper is needed to keep track of the order of play. Each player will also have a Bob Mat.

King Bob shuffles the deck of game cards (or not) and deals each player five cards.  Each player can then set up his Bob Mat based on the placement rules for the Bob Mat.

The Bob Mat & Card Types

Each player receives his/her own Bob Mat. The mat is used for card placement. It can also function as a cheap coaster or a rough napkin. The Bob Mat has spaces for four cards.  These cards can be placed face down or face up at the player’s discretion.  Each space only holds one card, so players must choose wisely (or not). There is also a fifth type of card, the Special Card. Special cards are not placed on the mat. Unless a player wants to show off or suffers from card holding fatigue.

Attack: This space holds cards used to attack other players. Well, not literally. After all, a card would not be an effective weapon. Then again, a paper cut can sting a bit. Cards that are Attack Items can be placed in this slot. A player may only have one attack item equipped at a time. Attack cards have a bonus (or sometimes a negative). This is added to the player’s roll as a bonus when s/he attacks.

Defense: This space holds cards used to defend against other players. Well, not literally. After all, flimsy paper won’t stop much (even if you proclaim peace in our time while waving it). Cards that are Defense Items can be placed in this slot. A player may only have one defense item equipped at a time. Defense cards have a bonus (or sometimes a negative). This is added to the player’s roll as a bonus when s/he defends against an attack.

Monster: This space holds cards used to attack and defend against other players.  These cards stand for fierce (or stupid…or even fiercely stupid) monsters. Cards that are Monsters can be placed in this slot. A player may only have one monster active at a time (there are some exceptions to this). Each monster has a bonus (or a negative). This applies to both attack and defense, making monsters very useful (until they betray you).

Threat: This space holds cards that do unusual, but usually bad, things.  A player may only have one threat active at a time (there are some exceptions to this). Threats include traps, poisons, bags of gold and other useful (or useless) items.

Special: These cards are special, but their mother still loves them. They are not placed on the Bob Mat, but are played during the turn. Some special cards can be played at anytime, even when it is not the playing player’s turn.

Placement Rules: A player can only place a card on a space that matches the card type. Cards can initially be placed face up or face down. Players are not (unless the card specifies) required to place any card. However, all cards except the special cards must be placed before they can be used in the game.

Initiative

Gamers will be familiar with this, but non-gamers will not. For the non-gamers, this is how you determine the order in which the players take their turns. To determine this, each player rolls a die (preferably the standard D20). The player with the highest roll goes first, the player with the second highest goes second and so on. In the case of a tie, reroll until it is settled. Play goes clockwise.

Starting the Game

The game starts with the player who has the highest initiative. S/he selects one gift from the pile and DOES NOT open it. Shaking and such is allowed. The second player then has his/her turn and so on for each player until it is back to the first player. After the first player has selected his gift, the other players will have more options and the first player will also have these options on his/her second turn. Play continues in the order of initiative until the game ends (or a special card changes it).

Playing the Game

After the first player has a gift, the second player has his turn and so on until everyone has had a turn. The first player then has his second turn and so on. During play, a player has options. Only ONE option may be taken each turn. A player can take a different option each turn, but is not required to do so. At the start of each turn, the player draws a new card.  The player can place this card on his/her mat and replace another card, which goes back to his/her hand.

  • Pick a Gift: the player selects a gift from the pile but DOES NOT open it. The next player then takes his/her turn.  A player can also play one Special card on his/her turn, provided that it is playable outside of battle. The player draws a replacement card unless otherwise specified.
  • Open a Gift: the player opens one gift that s/he has in his/her possession and opens it. The next player then takes his/her turn. A player can also play one Special card on his/her turn, provided that it is playable outside of battle. The player draws a replacement card unless otherwise specified.
  • Take a Gift: the player attempts to take a gift from another player. The player who is trying to steal the gift is the attacker and the player who has the gift is the defender. The defender has the option of allowing the gift to be taken or resisting. If the defender allows the theft, the attacker gets the gift and adds it to his/her collection. If the defender decides to resist, then the attacker and the defender enter battle (see below). If the attacker wins, s/he gets the gift. If not, the defender keeps the gift. The next player then takes his/her turn. Defending does not count as the defending player’s turn and s/he can defend as often as needed.
  • Inflict a Gift: the player attempts to give a gift to another player. The player who is trying to give the gift is the attacker and the player who has the gift is the defender. The defender has the option of allowing the giving or resisting. If the defender allows the giving, the defender gets the gift and adds it to his/her collection. If the defender decides to resist, then the attacker and the defender enter battle (see below). If the defender matches or exceeds the giver’s roll, then the gift remains with the giver. If not, the defender adds the gift to his/her collection. The next player then takes his/her turn. Defending does not count as the defending player’s turn and s/he can defend as often as needed.

Battle!

Battle occurs when a player attacks another player (in the game, of course). The battle follows the following order:

  1. Attacker’s Special Card Phase: The attacker plays any special card that is playable at the start of combat.
  1. Defender’s Special Card Phase: The attacker plays any special card that is playable at the start of combat.
  1. Attack Card Reveal Phase: The Attacker reveals his/her Attack card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The attacker does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.
  1. Defense Card Reveal Phase: The Defender reveals his/her Defense card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The defender does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.
  1. Attacking Monster Reveal Phase: The Attacker reveals his/her Monster card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The attacker does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.
  1. Defending Monster Reveal Phase: The Defender reveals his/her Defense card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The defender does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.
  1. Attacking Monster Reveal Phase: The Attacker reveals his/her Monster card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The attacker does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.
  1. Defending Monster Reveal Phase: The Defender reveals his/her Defense card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The defender does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.
  1. Attacker’s Threat Reveal Phase: The Attacker reveals his/her Threat card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The attacker does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.

10.  Defender’s Threat Reveal Phase: The Defender reveals his/her Threat card (if not already revealed) if s/he wants to use it in combat. The defender does not have to reveal the card if s/he does not use it. To be used, the card must be revealed.

11.  Roll: The Attacker and Defender each roll 2D6 (or 1D10 for gamer nerds). Each player adds his/her modifiers to the roll. The higher roll wins.

12.  Attacker Replacement Phase: The attacker can discard any or all of his revealed cards. The attacker can replace any cards s/he discarded (unless the card specifies otherwise). The attacker can then place cards on his/her Bob Mat.

13.  Defender Replacement Phase: The Defender can discard any or all of his revealed cards. The defender can replace any cards s/he discarded (unless the card specifies otherwise). The defender can then place cards on his/her Bob Mat.

End of Turn

At the end of his/her turn a player can discard any cards and receive replacements. These replacements can be placed on the mat at the start of his/her next turn.

Ending the Game

The game ends as soon as no more gifts remain in the gift pile (that is, the players possess all the gifts). Players must take their gifts with them when the game ends, mainly because the game is often played with the intention of getting rid of bad gifts or items that King Bob no longer wants.

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Sharktopus

Posted in Aesthetics by Michael LaBossiere on September 25, 2010

The greatest thing since Velveeta. It looks like it even kills Crockett and Tubbs.

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Real ID

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology, Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on July 11, 2010
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Image via Wikipedia

Blizzard has created quite a frenzy with its announcement of its Real ID plan. Given that the feds are working on a Real ID system for “national security”, I thought it was odd that Blizzard would chose this term. Then again, maybe they are going for that Big Brother thing.

While the social aspects of this plan (such as cross game chat) seem fine and useful, many people are concerned with one critical aspect-the Real part of the ID. To be specific, this system makes players’ real names available. One of the main concerns is that when players post on forums, their real names will be visible.

The main argument for this has some merit. The idea is that people will be less inclined to troll, flame and engage in other hateful behavior in the forums. I suspect that some people will be less inclined to behave badly under such conditions.

However, having dealt with actual people, I know that this will generally not be much of a deterrence. After all, people are jackasses  in  person when you can actually see them. As such, I doubt that a posted real name will have a significant impact. Whether revealing real names deters bad behavior is, of course, an empirical matter and can be tested.

One of the main concerns about linking real names to posts is that it will allow people to find and harass other players in real life. While most WoW players are nice enough, there are many people who spend a great deal of time and effort annoying other players and spewing hateful comments. While most of these people would probably not be inclined to stalk people in the real world, I have no doubt that some of them would be thrilled to be able to escalate from being dicks in WoW to harassing people in the larger realm of the internet.

People who say that this will not be a problem simply do not know what these people are like. This is, of course, an empirical matter-if Blizzard implements this, then we can see the results (probably on the news at some point).

Not surprisingly, there is considerable concern on the part of female WoW players. While many WoW players are normal, reasonable well-adjusted males, there is a nasty undercurrent of misogyny and a creepy undercurrent of obsession with women present in most of the chat channels. While some of this is just adolescents spouting off, it is disconcerting to see people typing out things like “i want rape sisters of alli player” or ” killz men rape women and kids” or other, even more horrible, things. It is also rather icky to see what lonely or creepy folks type out in the channels. Finally, male players seem to often be obsessed with finding out which players are actually women. Real ID would give them the perfect chance to find out and then engage in all sorts of annoying and even dangerous behavior.

Naturally, people who do not want their names to appear in posts can simply not post. However, this seems to be a needless dilemma and Blizzard could simply let each player select a fixed alias for her account. That way there is a persistent identity but the person can chose whether this handle is her real name or not.

In my own case, I have no problem with posting under my real name. After all, I blog under my real name, publish under my real name,  and I do not worry that people know I play WoW. I have had plenty of experience with hateful emails and dealing with crazy people in person. I know I can handle such situations, though I prefer not having to do so.

However, this should be a matter of choice. Some people have excellent reasons for not wanting their names known in this manner and Blizzard should respect those reasons.

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Paying for Fake Stuff

Posted in Video Games by Michael LaBossiere on June 12, 2010
The Future of Credit Cards - Earning virtual c...
Image by pt via Flickr

Like all WoW players, I’ve gotten the in game spam from people selling gold, power leveling and so on. However, I recently decided to actually look into these services. Not to use them, but just out of curiosity.

Looking at these sites, I learned that they do profess to sell a wide range of goods and services. The most obvious is the sale of game gold. For a certain amount of real money (via PayPal or credit card) a player can get fake gold for use in game. However, these sites also offered to level characters, get reputation for characters with various factions, and to get emblems (used to buy high end items) or gear. To do this, all a player need do is order the service (“add to cart”), pay, and then hand over his password for his WoW account so that the employees of the service can play his character.

Obviously, handing over the password to a WoW account is a rather bad idea. After all, when someone has the password to an account, he can strip the characters of gold, sell of gear, and often gain access to the guild bank (and strip that). Of course, services that make money by leveling characters and so on have an incentive to not screw over their customers, so perhaps a person can hand over his account password without finding that his characters have been stripped.

One thing that struck me the most about the sites was the cost of the services. For example, one site charged about $1000 for 500 emblems of Frost (the highest end emblem that is used to but top end gear). While getting that many emblems would involve a lot of time, that is a lot of money to pay for fake stuff in a game.

On one hand, if people want to spend that sort of money for fake stuff, then that is their choice. It might not be a wise decision, but there is no requirement that people must spend wisely.

Also, if someone would rather pay than play to get the levels, gear or gold, then that is fine. To use an analogy, it is fine to hire someone to paint a house or buy a pre-made computer. Sure, a person could do these things herself, but painting or assembling a PC is time consuming and not everyone enjoys it. So, if it is okay to pay people to do stuff like that, it seems fine to pay people to level characters and such. After all, it can be a real grind to finally get that geared up level 80 character to play in the high end content. Running the same damn instances over and over can actually get a bit tedious, thus making playing more like working. As such, it would seem to make sense to hire someone else to do the tedious grind. That is what people do in real life when they have the money to hire people to do such tasks.

Of course, it seems a bit odd to hire people to play a game. It seems a bit like hiring someone to play monopoly until they have gotten property and hotels, and then take over at the end of the game. But, if someone wants to do that, then that seems to be their choice.

On the other hand, hiring people to do this does seem to be a form of cheating.  Someone who pays others to get his gear for him is not earning his gear, which would seem to be wrong (but, obviously, a rather small and insignificant wrong).

While WoW can be played against the computer (PVE or player versus environment), there is also play against other players (PVP). Players who are willing to pay others to get their gear for them (and have the money to do so) will gain an unearned advantage over the players who will not do so or cannot do so. This, it would seem, would be a form of cheating.

Of course, it can be replied that a person who buys the gear has actually earned it by getting the money to pay for it. To use an analogy, if someone buys a better computer than the one I built, then it would be odd to say that he did not earn the computer and that I did.

However, it could be argued that this is not like buying a computer but perhaps a bit like buying a trophy. Just because someone has the money to buy a first place trophy does not mean that he earned that trophy.

It is, of course, tempting to say that it is just a game and hence this does not matter at all. The same can be said about all games and sports as well, which might be quite reasonable. After all, people do get rather carried away about sports and they probably really should not.

When I am playing WoW and run into people with complete sets of amazing top end gear I sometimes wonder if they earned it or just bought it. When the player begins an instance run or PvP battle by insulting everyone else about their inferior gear and then goes on to play stupidly, I really suspect that the person bought their stuff. Then again, people can play a really long time and still be very bad.

In my own case, I would not use such services. Laying aside the ethics of the matter, it seems absurd to pay someone else to play a game for me. Also, I have better things to spend my money on, mainly real things.

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