Monday, June 28, 2010

a tall order, but no technological reason why it can't be done

Why do so many games have to suck in exactly the same way the real world does?

The stereotypical dweeb gamer is socially inept, always broke, and generally klutzy and incompetent. Contrary to stereotype, most dweebs don't want revenge in a sudden blaze of glory. They just want to get away to someplace where they won't be bugged. So why are most roleplaying videogames set up in a world full of taunting bullies, where you have to earn money and buy everything you need, talk to lots of strangers, and prove your worth -- usually with an element of small-motor coordination -- before you can even go certain places?

Don't tell me, "That's life." The whole purpose of amusement is to escape "life." I don't want to fantasize about overcoming the hassles; I want to eliminate the hassles. I want to be able to ignore the wound, not pick at it. No game can show all aspects of real life, anyway. (When was the last time during gameplay your character had to clip his toenails?) So why not have games that ignore money, social interaction, and the need for competence?

O.k., I'll admit that beating up, beheading, shooting, and exploding evil things is fun, but I'd like to do away with the rest of it. And even so, it would be nice to be able to stop shooting long enough to fully appreciate the gorgeously rendered scenery of modern games.

So here are some alternate modes I'd like to see built into every game, to make games more enjoyable for everyone.

Non-commercial Mode: No money. You don't have to earn it; equipment doesn't have to be bought. This doesn't necessarily mean no stuff. Treasure and useful items can be found, but you've automatically got the basic equipment.

Loner Mode: You don't have to interact socially at all. You still slay bad guys, of course, but you don't have to talk to anybody.

Tourist Mode: Access to all places without having to earn it; you don't have to possess or do anything special to get to any level or corner or room of the game. You can roam freely everywhere, looking at everything, interacting as you choose, without being in any danger or having to do anything you don't want to. You can approach nonplayer characters, but they leave you alone unless you do. Some games have a limited version of this, but it should be available at all levels, with everything unlocked.

Ghost Mode: Like tourist mode, except that as far as the game world and its inhabitants are concerned, you're invisible and non-corporeal. It's sort of like watching the game as a movie, except that you move your character through it, going where you want to go.

Hero Mode: In the classic age of adventure shows, the hero couldn't be killed. 'Nuff said.

Except for a few games in which the main character is a star, like Laura Croft or Leisure Suit Larry, character choice should be flexible, with mix and match physical features including sex, age, height, weight, coloring, style of hair, clothing, and name. Some games have this to some extent, but in many, "choice" just means a choice of a handful of characters, all of whom you'd rather not look like. There should be a couple of stock characters for people who don't want to take the time (or want a throwaway character while learning the game). There should be an anonymous mode -- especially useful if you have trouble thinking up names, don't want to use up a name on a character you plan to kill off quickly, or you can't stand the computer overusing your name like an annoying salesperson. Both male and female player characters should have the choice of dressing for comfort, practicality, and yes, modesty. All characters should be revivable upon replaying the game.

And all this with a look and feel that appeals to the inner adolescent, rather than the inner preschooler -- think superhero comics (and the darker ones at that) rather than cartoons. I like Sonic and Mario, but I can't take seriously being Sonic or Mario.

Other requests:

More creativity with settings. Much as I like standard outer space, future dystopias, and Celtic-based fantasy lands, I'd like to go somewhere else for a change. I sorely miss Heart of China (1930s China), Inca (Incas in space), and Space 1889 (steampunk).

No sappy stuff in hardcore adventure games. No child characters. No family, either living or recently dead. No romance. No emotions except fear, anger, and the glorious joy of blowing baddies up.

All non-online games should be, once installed, available at a click. No special discs to insert, no passwords, no copy protection challenges, no special boot-up or screen resolution changes. It should be possible to save at any time, and to store several saved points in case you want to go back.

And one more thing -- make all games always available for every version of every platform in existence. I want to play the original, wireframe Star Wars on my Mac.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

webpage so-called "authoring"

O.k., so this website is experimental, a first attempt at playing with a template-based website. I knew it would be restricting (so was switching from DOS to Windows), but not this much. Is there really no way to make the backgrounds of subsequent pages different from your home page? Whatta drag.

audio books (thing 22) revisited

Been there, didn't do that. The original objections remain. I'm afraid my only new activity on this one was to check back on the list of what's available and find that there still aren't enough interesting books out there to borrow -- even fewer in these borrowable audiobooks than there are in commercial ebooks for reading -- and I'm not much for listening to books, anyway. The video and music might be more appealing in a service like this, but my device doesn't support those formats. Ditto most (if not all -- it's too discouraging to check them all) of the language courses, which would be useful in this format. It would be nice to have a primary filter by device, so people don't have to search down long lists of items that they can't use.

podcasts (thing 21) revisited

This time adding the RSS feed to the reader (Google Reader) went smoothly. I chose podcasts from BackStory With the American History Guys, a highly interesting and entertaining radio show about various topics in American history.

However, in this case as in many others, it's more convenient simply to have the page marked and go straight to the source, rather than signing in to the reader.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

a fine dilemma

In Chapter 5 of his book, Cognitive Surplus, about the sharing of information online, Clay Shirky talks about human motivation in general, and, at one point, moves into a discussion of an issue of interest to librarians -- fines. A fine, by its monetary nature, changes a transaction or situation from one of purely social and emotional motivations to a commercial one. If policy is changed, and a fine for noncompliance is imposed in a situation that had previous been operated on the basis of honor, the fine will be seen as "payment." Misbehavior now has a price, and curiously, gains some legitimacy because of it. Furthermore, that attitude of a paid transaction remains even if the fine policy is revoked. He also recalls an encounter with an airline agent in which he referred to the extra money to be paid for changing the date of a ticket as a charge, while she firmly called it a "penalty," thus insisting that it was a punishment, not merely a shame-free payment.

All of this gives some insight into why so many people carry large and/or persistent fines on their library card. (The fact that some refer to checking out videos, and sometimes even books, as "renting" gives another clue to the same phenomenon.) At five or ten or twenty-five cents a day the price for keeping an item beyond the due date is an incredible bargain. The social contract of giving the next person a turn may never enter their minds at all.

Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions for a library, which is, by nature and mission -- and rightly so -- a "good guy." As the book points out, getting rid of fines won't turn people into selfless angels. After generations of issuing fines, the concept of a commercial relationship in people's minds would not disappear. Making fines high enough to be a significant deterrent would not necessarily deter those who could comfortably pay, but would be a serious burden on poorer people, the very ones who need public libraries most. So what about making it clear that a fine is a penalty, not a shame-free payment for rental or the extra convenience of extended time? The problem with that is that too harsh of a judgement makes people feel bad. And libraries are about empowering the disempowered, which often means being kind and unjudgmental toward people who are judged unkindly in almost every other public transaction. Some people desperately need to be cut some slack by the one institution that's compassionate enough to cut them any at all. But other people have an inflated sense of entitlement, or enjoy seeing how much they can get away with, and some only respond to strict rules. And many people just float through life with a blind self-centeredness, not even aware of the needs of others. Somehow, the needs of all patrons (and of the library itself) have to be met with the same rules, impartially applied.

And no, I don't have any ideas.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

conundrum embedded within

O.k. so here's a picture. It's a link, not a physical copy. Yet it's embedded in a way that it shows up as a picture.

Question, is this legally a link (which doesn't need permission from the "owner") or a copy (which does)?

(Note to any do-gooders who want to turn me in: I have full permission from the artist's estate to post this.)

A similar question: is it fully legal to embed items which, on their original page, freely give code for embedding, or is it to be understood that even that requires separate, explicit permission to be given any time someone actually uses the code?

[Note: Sometimes the graphic doesn't load. Sometimes if you hover over it, get the URL, go directly to the link (by typing or pasting the URL in the address bar -- when this stuff happens clicking on the blank spot where the graphic should be takes you to the host service's page), then go back to the blog, it will load. Really weird.]

Saturday, June 19, 2010

vids (thing 20) revisited

O.k., I've put this one off long enough. The problem, oddly enough, is not reluctance to do an unpleasant assignment, but rather guilt about doing a too pleasant one. YouTube has become one of the more wasteful timesucks in my life. So I suppose I can at least post one of the higher quality offerings (believe it or not, there is some high culture on teh interwebs) here.
Peter Arnstein, a pianist about whom I've posted before, has some more vids, including this one with violinist Michael Antonello:

(YouTube tip: If you like the topic or performer of a video you're watching, click on the poster's username in the info under the video. This takes you to that person's "channel" (i.e., page). Check the playlists. Often the person will have a collection of similar videos.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

web 2.0 tools (thing 19) revisited

A year later and most of the web 2.0 sites I've been able to find (and which hold any interest for me) still have the problem of requiring registration. I reached sign-in fatigue long ago, in part because of the inherent hassle of doing it, and of coming up with yet another username and password (and remembering them). And in part because the very act of signing up, of giving my name (even a pseudonym), feels like one more commitment to keep up with.