New Games & Sports

Wooden Horses

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Horses made of driftwood. Not photoshoped but woodshopped. This kind of maniacal love (and why else would you do this?) makes my spirits lift.

Despite its fragile appearance, each horse weighs three quarters of a ton and is free standing.  Artist Heather Jansch has created almost 100 of these wooden horses, along with the occasional deer stag. Each stands at about five and a half feet. From an interview in the Mail Online.

Q    How do you fix the bits of wood together?

A  By whatever method works.  I love solving problems and experimenting.  Each sculpture is different.  One needs to give a lot of thought to it and have an understanding of the stresses and strains created by different poses and some idea of the weights involved. The structure must not only be self supporting, it must also be stable enough to cope with high winds without falling over.  Further, it must be strong enough to withstand being lifted by a crane to be positioned for exhibition.  The larger sculptures require a steel frame.  This is first painted with a rust inhibitor and then coated with fibreglass to give a roughened surface which both makes it easier to hide and stops the wood from slipping on bare metal. The wood is held in position for me to see and then tied with wire until I am sure it is right.  Finally it is screwed together and the screw heads covered with filler and stain. Inevitably we miss one or two as people take great delight in proving.

 

Pranksters 2.0

A clear emerging trend is nicely named and featured in the WSJ article,  New Pranksters.

Pranks have gone from legendary spoofs in college fraternaties in the 1950s, to subversive happenings by political activists in the 60s and 70s, to conceptual art pieces by maniacal artists into the 90s. Now they are errupting online as a social media web 2.0 event.

Examples of the new pranksterism can be found in the wonderful pranks by Improv Everywhere. (And they do seem everywhere; you can sign up for your local Improv Everywhere chapter, and you'll get email or Facebook notices when a prank in your neighborhood is about to hatch.)

My favorite IE happening is the Food Court Musical.

The Human Mirror -- a dozen sets of twins mirror each other on the subway -- is short but good, too.

Human Mirror

The new pranksters are new in this way:

1) New pranks are entertainment. Rather than being politically subversive, they aim for a wow!
2) New pranks are social. Rather than relying on a lone jokester, or even small band, these may involve hundreds or more instigators. The more the merrier.
3) New pranks are broadcasted. The audience is not primarily those who are present but those who are not.

The WSJ article does a swell job of rounding up some great examples and even showcases a few prank groups that are in the inevitable process of becoming commercialized.  Including being filmed for commercials -- a sure sign of their mainstreaming.


 

Heinlein's Fan Mail Solution

I found this letter in a folder of old correspondence from my days when I was editing at the Whole Earth Catalog. It is from the science fiction master Robert Heinlein.

Heinlein engineered his own nerdy solution to a problem common to famous authors: how to deal with fan mail.  In the days before the internet, Heinlein's solution was fabulous. He created a one page FAQ answer sheet --  minus the questions. Then he, or rather his wife Ginny, checked off the appropriate answer and mailed it back.  While getting a form letter back might be thought rude, it was much better than being ignored, and besides, the other questions you did not ask were also answered! Indeed, it is both remarkable and heartwarming that Heinlein replied at all to most mail. Can you imagine other great authors doing the same -- even with a form letter? Heinlein's form is very entertaining to read because you are forced to reconstruct the missing requests.

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Click on the image to see enlarged version.

But progress marches on, even in science fiction author's households. Ginny Heinlein said that by 1984, "with the advent of computerization in our household, we no long use the form letter to answer fan mail. I find that it is possible now, with the computer, to write individual letters in reply to fan mail faster than I could check off the answer on the form."


 

Truman Show Delusion

This caught my eye: In a NYT piece on the rise of patients pleading that they are stuck inside a very sophisticated reality-TV show -- no, really -- and they want to get out, just like Jim Carrey did in the Truman Show.

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Another patient traveled to New York Cit and showed up at a federal building in downtown Manhattan seeking asylum so he could get off his reality show, Dr. Gold said.  The patient reported that he also came to New York to see if the Twin Towers were still standing, because he believed that seeing their destruction on Sept. 11 on television was part of his reality show. If they were still standing, he said, then he would know that the terrorist attack was all part of the script.

I like the falsifiability of his ground-truthing test. Ground-truthing, that is examining a reported fact (yes, videos can be faked) yourself in first person, is not a bad practice.

Wanting to get out of, or "off your own reality show" makes total sense to me. I can see it becoming common.


 

The Wisdom of Public Prediction Markets

Prediction markets continue to proliferate. These communities use money to bet on outcomes in the future. If a prediction comes true, the winners reap the money from the losing betters. The price of a bet, or share, fluctuates over time -- and thus can be used as a signal for the community's opinion. In theory a prediction market taps into the "wisdom of crowds," but can also be viewed as conventional wisdom. However the results of prediction markets have been proven to be reliable conventional wisdom. (See my previous post on the subject.)

There are two kinds of prediction markets: ones where you bet real money, and ones where you bet funny money. Since betting real money keeps people honest (to reduce their loses), markets with real money are considered a much better indicator of opinion than a mere poll -- which has no "penalty" for being less than honest. But real money prediction markets are (stupidly) illegal in the US. So token markets like Long Bets and Bet2Give are devised to innovate around the law.

For instance, Hubdub trades token dollars. You are given $1,000 hubdubs at the start, and $20 each day you log on. You win or loose these token dollars on various predictions. There is a leaderboard which displays the highest ranked traders, showing how much they have gained in the last quarter. One fellow gained $1 million hubdubs, and now has a net worth of $3 million. Hubdub dollars are only good for bragging rights.

One clarification of how the price of a bet works (from Hubdub's FAQ):

If a prediction has a yes value of 43%, does that mean that 43% of people have voted yes?
No, not really. The forecast is dependent on both the number of people who have selected this outcome and the amount they have risked on it. Very roughly, 43% means that 43% of the money risked by users is riding on that outcome.

I was curious how closely the two formats (real and token money) might match each other so I hunted for a bet that I thought most prediction markets might share: the outcome of the US presidential election. From my brief survey, betting real dollars and token dollars give similar results.  More so, there is a pretty close convergence of price among all the prediction markets:

Roughly, the day after Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin gave her rousing nomination speech, all six different prediction markets price Obama winning at about 60%.

Betfair, based in England, trades real money to make bets. It is the biggest prediction market in the world in terms of numbers of bettors and dollars bet. It's bread and butter are sports events, including the Olympics, and card games, but it also runs bets on almost anything else including politics.

The day after VP candidate Sarah Palin's nomination speach, Betfair bookies put the odds for Obama winning at 1.6  and give worse odds for McCain winning at 2.72.

Intrade also bets real money, also mostly on sports, but also on many other wagers. On this same day, Intrade money is on Obama winning at 59%.

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On this same day Hubdub market rates on Obama win at 63%.

Chart

On this same day the Iowa Electronic Markets, which I've written about previously, and is the only prediction market in the US to legally use real dollars, has Obama winning at 59%.

Pres08 Wta

On this same day, Bet2Give also pegs Obama winning at 63 cents or 63%.

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Bet2Give is run on Newsfuture software and is sort of a non-profit demo for Newsfutures, which sells software for customized enterprise-strength prediction markets. They promise that a company can "harness the wisdom of your crowds." In Bet2Give you bet with real dollars but your winnings are given to charities, so technically you are not gambling.

Newsfutures itself runs a prediction market using token dollars. On this same day it shows a 60% chance of an Obama win.

Prezadem-3

PPX is another token market. Run by Popular Science magazine, it is their Prediction Exchange. It does not do political predictions, so there's no chart or price for a new US president. Instead it focuses on tech and commercial predictions. Such as: Will Netflix top 10 million subscribers by end of 2008? (You need to register to see the wagers).

My conclusion is that token money prediction markets carry the same validity as real money prediction markets, and that they are fairly consistent across markets. In that sense they are probably reliable indicators of what people believe at this moment (not be confused with reliable predictions).


 

Chips of Broken Glass

Last weekend it was cool, gray, misty. We took a two hour stroll along the beach at low tide. It was perfect.  The fog was comfortable and comforting. In the pewter light a father and his young daughter were picking up shards of weathered glass from the sand. We looked over their handful. "It's sea glass, " he said.

Sea glass? These bits have a name!?

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Now that we had a search image we saw "sea glass" everywhere. We soon had a pocket full. Here's our haul:

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A name yields knowledge. When I got home looked up sea glass. Aha!  There are books. There are collectors. There's a national association of collectors. And standards for colors. There's a annual convention of sea glass collectors and trade show (next one is in Delaware in October).  There are enthusiasts, professionals, feuds. Anything of perceived value will have fakes and counterfeits, and sea glass has those too.

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Maybe this network existed before the internet, but I doubt it. Most sea glass found is decades old, taking years tumbling in the waves to smooth to a satin finish. So sea glass has been found forever. But before the network age it was a secret discovery, a private hobby.  Collecting it was a quirk.

Now chips of broken glass is a sub category in the long tail. It is an activity tracked by the One Machine. In the goodness of time, the web will embrace even the smallest thing we give our attention to. If chips of broken glass don't escape the web's gaze, what can?


 

China Is an Island

China is the question mark in the equation of the world. Its answers affect the destiny of everyone else on the planet.  Which way will it head?

The picture below is the best single image I know of to explain the current riddle of China.  It is taken from a monograph on the geopolitics of China posted by the military/corporate intelligence website Stratfor, summarized by pundit John Mauldin in his Outside the Box column, and pointed to by Strange Maps.

China-Island-400 2

From Outside the Box:

Contemporary China is an island. Although it is not surrounded by water (which borders only its eastern flank), China is bordered by terrain that is difficult to traverse in virtually any direction. There are some areas that can be traversed, but to understand China we must begin by visualizing the mountains, jungles and wastelands that enclose it. This outer shell both contains and protects China.

China shares borders with more countries (14 in total) than any other country on earth. Very few of those borders have ever been very permeable to migration of culture, commerce and ideas because of mountains, deserts, swamps, and high altitudes. In many ways China has acted as an island for millennia. The very large zone of an impermeable buffer, and mountainous and unfarmable land is shown in this image as water.

What's left is the island of China. This is the traditional center of China, of fertile river valley farming, and home to the Han people. It is also the zone of manufacturing today.  It is where all of its giant, throbbing cities lie. The island alone is huge, still among the largest countries in the world.

Prosperity in China is found only on the island. Off the island, in the waters deep, China remains remarkably undeveloped. In fact the level of development in the "Chinese waters" is about equal to the low levels of the neighboring countries. I was surprised to find in my own travels that many towns in the Chinese waterland were as remote, poor, and disadvantaged as any places I had seen in Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan -- all neighbors of China.  Not coincidentally, this waterland is also inhabited by non-Han peoples, what the Chinese call their minorities. It is not just Tibet where the nan-Han are outnumbered. In most of the counties covered by this buffer zone (shown as water), minorities dominate. There are lots of them, speaking their own language, often their own dress. What is most remarkable is how remote the rich island seems from the outer waterlands.

The China everyone talks about is the island. China's worry is the outer zone will leave. Will they go the way of the Soviet Union and break off one by one? Will there be two futures? Much of the control-freak nature of the central political party has been trying -- at almost all costs -- to keep the whole waterland under control of the island -- to keep the country intact.  And when you look at this map, it is clear that a break up, or at least a break down, is a very real possibility. In fact the more you look at it, the more amazing it is that China has not devolved before now.

John Mauldin:

The first geopolitical imperative of China is to ensure the unity of Han China. The interior has remained extraordinarily poor. The coastal region [the island] is deeply enmeshed in the global economy. The interior is not. Beijing is once again balancing between the coast and the interior. Beijing's interest is in maintaining internal stability. As pressures grow, it will seek to increase its control of the political and economic life of the coast. The interest of the interior is to have money transferred to it from the coast. The interest of the coast is to hold on to its money. Beijing will try to satisfy both, without letting China break apart and without resorting to Mao's draconian measures. But the worse the international economic situation becomes the less demand there will be for Chinese products and the less room there will be for China to maneuver. The more effective it becomes at exporting, the more of a hostage it becomes to its customers. ...The fact is that the rest of the world is far less dependent on China's exports than China is dependent on the rest of the world.   

The large underdeveloped, rugged, and minority geography represented by China's waterlands continue to isolate China. This vast region acts as a military buffer, a cultural barrier, and a damper on economic improvement. Whether China can grow out of its island and spread, or whether it will have its waterlands removed, is a question that will influence its destiny as much as, or more than, the price of oil, or the actions of the rest of the world.   


 

Unthinkable Futures

While hunting in my archives for something else I dug up this exercise in scenarios. It was a small game Brian Eno and I played to loosen up our expectations of what might happen in the near future. We were both struck at how improbable current events would be to anyone in the past, and how incapable we are at expecting the improbable in the future.

This list of unthinkable futures -- probabilities we tend to dismiss without thinking -- was published 15 years ago in the Summer, 1993  issue of Whole Earth Review. Our intent was less  to correctly predict the future (thus the silliness) and more to predict how unpredictable the actual future would be.

Improbability is still a strong bias to overcome. Much that is happening today would have been dismissed as unbelievably bad science fiction only 15 years ago. The US with secret prisons torturing Muslims? Street sweepers in India with their own cell phones? Obesity a contagious disease? A trusted encyclopedia written by anyone? Yeah, right, give me a break.

Believing in the improbable is quickly becoming a survival skill.

Note: 15 years ago some of these predictions were far more outrageous than today, and some are more outrageous today than back then. We made short lists of ideas and emailed them to provoke each other. This is the aggregate of several rounds. I don't think we are especially better at it than others; anyone can play the game.

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Image of improbable stones balancing upon themselves from Bill Dan, a SF local who does the impossible.

Unthinkable Futures
by Kevin Kelly and  Brian Eno

KEVIN KELLY:

* A new plague seizes the world. As fatal as AIDS, but transmitted on a sneeze, and spread by airplane travelers, the virus touches billions within a year.

* Computer power plateaus. The expected doubling of power and halving of chip size slacks off. More computer power can be had, but it costs.

* Computer screens (both CRT and flat screens) are found to be dangerous to the health. Working at a computer is viewed as a toxic job.

* Alcohol is so severely restricted that people need "licenses" to drink it. Tobacco is, of course, prohibited from being sold. You can grow your own, though, and some do. The underworld moves to North Carolina as cigarets become contraband.

* American education works. Revived by vouchers, a longer school year, private schools and for-profit schools, the majority of Americans (though not the most disadvantaged) get the best education in the world.

* Japan is eclipsed by the Asian tigers. The success of Japan subverts itself: women rebel, the young drop out, the workers play, and the system declines.

* Catalog direct marketing dies. Inherently private electronic money and stricter privacy laws kill the hopes of bar-code dreams and direct marketing in general.

* Nobody wants to be a doctor. It becomes an over-whelming bureaucratic job with low status. Women and minorities become working doctors; men do medical research.

* The human genome project is halted by activists. Placards at demonstrations say: "Our DNA, Our Selves."

* Third World nukes become commonplace. Everybody has one, because everyone has nuclear power plants.

* Mass advertising is restricted. Billboards are categorically banned; advertising in subways, buses, removed. Towns take up "Advertising-Free Zones."

* People begin leaving the U.S. Many arrivals to the US keep resident status but choose not to adopt citizenship. The world sees more people without allegiance.

* It costs half a day's pay to drive your car into the downtown area of a big city, and a day's wages to park.

* No more employees. Everybody is hired as a consultant, each negotiates a deal with various goodies (benefits, insurance, perks). Even factory workers are treated as "consultants."

* Women retreat en masse from the commercial workforce. They stay with their families, work with nonprofits, or work part-time.

* All voice phones are universal flat rate. Data is still metered.

* American universities go franchise. Ivy League schools launch branches in Tokyo, Berlin, London.

* Revitalized cities squeeze out the urban poor to squatters' suburbs. Inner cities flourish. The poor take over the nearest suburbs, between edge cities and downtowns. With little transportation in the suburbs, the poor are really downtrodden.

* In a series of science papers, biologists prove that humans are weakening their gene stock with such artifices as eyeglasses and medical care, since "biologically inferior" stock now breeds. This sets off religious and scientific eugenics cults and social weirdness around "healthy" genes.

* Pills make a comeback. Psychedelics, smart pills, power drugs and a host of newly invented non-addictive head pills seep into the young generation, who have no memory of the last drug phase.

* Twenty-five years from now, the American public becomes even more conservative at the grass-roots level than it is now, and the Reagan years are viewed as "moderate."

BRIAN ENO:

* Everybody becomes so completely cynical about the election process that voter turnout drops to 2 percent (families and relatives of prospective politicians) until finally the "democratic process" is abandoned in favour of a lottery system. Everything immediately improves.

* It turns out that nearly all the conspiracy theories you ever heard were actually true -- that the world really is being run by 150 malevolent men with nasty prejudices.

* Smoking is proven to be good exercise for the lungs.

* Genetic research shows that it is possible to create gifted scientists, great artists, sublime linguists and supreme athletes. Everyone starves to death through lack of farmers, cooks and waiters.

* It becomes clear that there are significant racial differences between people -- that the stereotypes were right after all.

* Ordinary people routinely employ publicists.

* Public relations becomes the biggest profession in wealthy countries.

* Sexual roles reverse: men wear makeup and are aggressively pursued and harassed by women in ill-fitting clothes.

* Video phones inspire a new sexual revolution whereby everybody sits at home doing rude things electronically with everyone else. Productivity slumps; video screens get bigger and bigger.

* Suicide becomes not only commonplace but socially acceptable and even encouraged. People choose when to die: living too long is considered selfish and old-fashioned.

* A new profession -- cosmetic psychiatry -- is born. People visit "plastic psychiatrists" to get interesting neuroses and obsessions added into their makeup.

* Meanwhile, as the cult of youth fades away, plastic surgeons find a profitable new market in making people look interestingly wrinkled, wisely aged, and experientially weatherbeaten. Also, as Oriental aesthetics sweep the West, the traditional values of physiological symmetry and freedom of blemish are seen as naive and uninteresting. Perfect youngsters from Colorado, after years of fretful mirror-gazing, finally save enough money to get their noses put on wrong, or to have a few teeth blackened.

* Tanned skin is once again seen as the mark of peasantry. Sunblock-wearing becomes routine.

* Mass outbreaks of allergies unexpectedly solve all our transportation problems by confining almost everyone to their sealed residences. Telecommunications stocks soar.

* 2025 AD: A social archaeologist discovers a cowshed built from nineteen old Julian Schnabel paintings.

* Abandoned highrise projects become the residence of choice for the new urban chic, changing hands for ever-increasing sums, until finally only lawyers and stockbrokers (skillfully posing as members of dispossessed minority groups) are able to afford them.

* 2010 AD: California elects the first transsexual governor. All public toilets are redesigned at great expense.

* New drugs to pacify children (modern laudanum) are smilingly sold by big pharmaceutical companies (wish they'd hurry up!).

* A new kind of holiday becomes popular: you are dropped by helicopter in an unknown place, with two weeks' supply of food and water. You are assured that you will not see anyone else in this time. There is a panic button just in case.

* Seed companies start selling packets of unpredictable mutants produced by random genetic engineering programmes: "JUST PLANT 'EM AND SEE WHAT COMES UP!" Suburbia is covered with exotic new blooms and giant cucumbers.

* A new concept of "global Darwinism" takes root: people argue for the right of the human species to rid itself of weak specimens. Aid to developing countries ceases. Hospitals become "viability assessment centres" and turn away or terminate poor specimens.

* In reaction, a new definition of viability (based on memes rather than genes) is invoked. People are subjected to exhaustive tests (occupying large amounts of their time) to check the originality and scope of their ideas.

* A new profession, meme-inspector, comes into being.

* Schools abandon the attempt to teach the three Rs, concentrating instead on wacky and controversial "personhood" therapies. Everyone grows up bonkers in some way or another. The whole of the next century is like the late sixties.

* A highly successful new magazine -- Ordinary People, edited by the nonagenarian Studs Terkel -- focuses only on people who have never done anything in particular to deserve attention.

* A new type of artist arises: someone whose task is to gather together existing but overlooked pieces of amateur art, and, by directing attention onto them, to make them important. (This is part of a much larger theory of mine about the new role of curatorship, the big job of the next century.)

* The first Bio-Olympics, where athletes can have anything added to or subtracted from their bodies, take place in 2004.

* News is understood to be a creation of our attention and interests (rather than "the truth") and news shows are redesigned as "thinktanks," where four interesting minds from different disciplines are asked the question, "So what do YOU think happened today?"

* Later, four uninteresting minds (chosen from the pages of Ordinary People magazine) are asked the same questions.

* Direct-mailing organizations carry increasingly complex and subtle character assessments of their targets. To avoid being deluged by the resulting irresistible offers, people routinely begin buying inconsistent products. This is designed to confuse the profilers.* Pro-lifers, meanwhile, discover that women are less likely to miscarry if confined to bed and sedated for the first trimester. Congress bows to pressure and legislates rest.

KEVIN KELLY:

* AFRICA AWAKES -- Centrally located, Africa becomes the breadbasket of Europe, the Mideast, and the wider markets of North America. It becomes a postindustrial continent, a combination of high- and low-tech agriculture.

* GLOBAL COOLING -- After a steady increase in mean temperature, the Earth starts cooling off. Dire warnings are issued; no one pays any attention.

* INFO-TERRORISTS -- Hitting where it hurts most, a radical group with access to nukes threatens to destroy the Library of Congress if their demands are not met. No action is taken until the American public realizes that all the great TV shows from the past are stored there.

* GREEK OLYMPICS -- To save money, the Olympics are permanently sited in Greece.

* TEPID WAR -- America and Europe devise a new style of dynamic socialism, which they try to export against the wishes of a thoroughly free-market Russia.

* BARBECUES OUTLAWED -- Because of high carcinogenic content, nothing barbecued or burnt may be sold, nor barbecue paraphernalia. Private barbecues (cannot be seen from street, etc.) become hip underground.

* TV AMISH -- Groups, most of them religious, ban all TV, virtual reality, and artificial life in their communities. Immensely productive, educated and sane (and out of step), they begin to assume power.

* DIRECTED TAXES -- Software gains allow a certain portion of taxes to fall to the discretion of the payer. John Public can assign X amount of his taxes toward one service, to the exclusion of another. It's a second vote that politicians watch closely.

BRIAN ENO:

* The set of Terminator 9 is wrecked by a pressure group of offended industrial robots.

* Jesus returns to Earth and is discovered in flagrante delicto with a group of flagellant monks from Opus Dei.(*) Judas is rehabilitated.

* Famous and talented men routinely auction their sperm for huge sums.

* A microbe engineered to eat oil slicks evolves a taste for rubber.

Transport grinds to a halt on burst tyres. People stay home and have sex more, but condoms crumble routinely. World population doubles in six years.

* As scenario projections become more accurate and convincing, people become increasingly aware of the unwelcome results of their actions. All social action becomes paralysed, or is evaluated in purely negative language: "Is this course of action less harmful than that?"

* Traveling as a process enjoys a revival. People abandon the idea of "getting from A to B" and begin to develop (or re-discover) a culture of traveling: semi-nomadism. Lots of people acquire super new faxed-and-modemed versions of the mobile home. It becomes distinctly "lower-class" to live in a fixed location. Fast forms of transport come to be viewed like fast food is viewed now -- tacky, undesirable, fake.

* Manufacturers of underwear finally realize that men have different-sized balls.

* Prince Charles converts to Catholicism, thus avoiding becoming king (the monarch is head of the Church of England) without actually abdicating. (This is my wife's theory.)

* Big changes in education: A combination of monetarism and liberalism creates a new paradigm wherein schools are expected to be profitable manufacturing and research enterprises. This leads to:

* The infant think-tank, where the innocent genius of children is routinely tapped by captains of industry for large sums of money . . .

* Various highly original manufacturing industries: hand-painted wallpaper and postcards, naive sculpture and pottery, clothing design and manufacture . . .

* Teachers chosen (by the kids, of course) on the basis of their performance record and likely profitability. They are subjected to grueling and penetrating interviews by kids . . .

* The old concept of education "in the abstract" (i.e., unrelated to real tasks) is only practiced in the most be-nighted outposts of the civilized world (England, USA etc.) . . .

* Successful children are traded between schools for huge transfer fees . . .

* Schools completely abandon divisions based on age. People of all ages turn up and sort themselves into effective and profitable groups . . .

* People with lots of money give their children small companies as birthday and Christmas gifts.

* Television producers, impressed by the phenomenal success of the Clarence Thomas hearings, routinely stage semi-surrogate "hearings" where emotional issues are vented. These take the place of staged wrestling matches and roller derby for the thinking classes. Nobody is ever sure if it's all fixed, or partly fixed, or actually for real.

* The commonly held notion that it is correct to surround children with love, security and affection suffers a serious decline in credibility when it becomes apparent that kids reared thus are entirely unequipped for a world that is cruel, dangerous and insecure. Enlightened parents begin experimenting with new forms of toys: teddies with sharp teeth, building bricks with abrasive surfaces, mildly toxic crayons, unsafe play areas.

* Disabled people finally come into their own as remote operators of telerobots. They are the only ones prepared to commit the immense amount of time necessary to learn the finesse of working inside another body.


 

The Near-Death Experience of Dying in a Game

Clive Thompson, one of the keenest techno-culture observers around, has posted a particularly insightful riff on recent news that many game players get more of rush when others kill them, than when they kill others. It's worth quoting at length.

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Apparently the act of killing other people causes enormous strain on us; however, we actually enjoy getting shot to death. As Brandon Erickson summarizes it:
    "... instead of joy resulting from victory and success, wounding and killing the opponent elicited anxiety, anger, or both." In addition, "death of the player's own character...appear[s] to increase some aspects of positive emotion." This latter finding the authors believe may result from the temporary "relief from engagement" brought about by character death.
That latter argument makes sense to me. When I'm in a really intense firefight in a game, I'm a total wreck, emotionally. Sure, it feels good to vanquish my foes, but sometimes it's just nice to get a break, and dying is -- among, uh, other things -- certainly a break.

Part of this has to do with the intriguing aesthetic question of precisely how the first-person-shooter represents the player after the moment of death. Multiplayer Halo online offers my personal favorite death vignettes. The instant you die, the game shifts to a third-person camera perspective and follows your body as it slumps to the ground or, more often, goes pinwheeling through the air.

This sudden switch in camera angle -- from first person to third person -- is, in essence, a classic out-of-body experience, of exactly the sort people describe in near-death experiences. And much like real-life near-death experiences, it tends to suffuse me with a curiously zen-like feeling.
In the classic real-life near death experience, the dying person sees everything from a newly disembodied position that floats over their dead body, in a sort of all-seeing third-person viewpoint. Only in death, this new soul-view feels like the prime view, and their dying body is totally outside them. Clive continues:
The emotional narrative goes like this: During the gameplay, I'll be desperately fighting for my life, ducking behind pillars, firing spastically, and synaesthetically wincing each time I take gunfire. Just when I think I'm safe, I'll turn a corner, and whoa -- find myself face-to-face with another opponent who slams me with a surprise punch, killing me instantly. The final attack will give me one final jolt of amygladaic shock, and then ...... hey, I'm dead, and my body is floating through the air, and I'm watching myself just sort of tumble around lazily, like a ragdoll. It's amazingly peaceful.
The peace attained in near-death experiences is commonly reported. It will be very interesting to see what kinds of conventions emerge for depicting those transitional moments, and whether they elicit a universal reaction. Games are seen as ways to practice, play and rehearse all kinds of things. Maybe we can use games to practice dying as well?

 
 

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