Pocket Lint #10: wrapped in plastic

A pick of the most interesting things I read this week. If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish weekly email on Fridays you can sign up here or using the form below.

Gunshot victims to be kept in suspended animation, to buy time for doctors to fix their wounds.

The pointlessness of unplugging: “We are only ever tourists in the land of no technology, our visas valid for a day or a week or a year, and we travel there with the same eyes and ears that we use in our digital homeland.”

The pseudoscience of Alcoholics Anonymous, which only has a 15% success rate, and the problems with “Cadillac” rehab.

The overprotected kid, the junkyard playground, and the importance of risk-taking play. ‘The problem, says Ball, is that “we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”’

Silicon Valley’s brutal ageism: “an extra burden of proof on the middle-aged to show they can hack it, on a scale very few workers of their vintage must deal with anywhere else.”

What happens as children grow up a little: “Like characters in Dungeons and Dragons, the little ones—with their distinct clothing and high dexterity—can’t carry heavy weaponry, but they can be dispatched to pick locks and fetch magical rings from small places. Sometimes they can heal during combat.”

Australia’s Guantanamo problem: the asylum seekers indefinitely detained on secret evidence without hope of release.

How to use game preorders as a bank.

Women don’t want to work in games, and other myths: perhaps the first piece I’ve read about women in the industry that’s actually, unapologetically, aimed at a female reader.

How we won the war on Dungeons and Dragons.

Tumblr of the week: Shit Private Eye Says

Poem of the week: Louis MacNeice, Snow

Free game of the week: Sleep

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Pocket Lint #9: outsiders

Back after a short break: here’s a pick of the most interesting things I read this week. If you’d like to get Pocket Lint as a regular-ish weekly email on Fridays you can sign up here or using the form below.

Nate Silver and the diversity problem
“What happens when formerly excluded groups gain more power, like techies? They don’t just let go of their old forms of cultural capital. Yet they may be blind to how their old ways of identifying and accepting each other are exclusionary to others. They still interpret the world through their sense of status when they were “basically, outsiders.””

Do psychiatrists think everyone is crazy?
“Though many object to psychiatry’s perceived encroachment into normality, we rarely hear such complaints about the rest of medicine. Few lament that nearly all of us, at some point in our lives, seek care from a physician and take all manner of medications, most without need of a prescription, for one physical ailment or another. If we can accept that it is completely normal to be medically sick, not only with transient conditions such as coughs and colds, but also chronic disorders such as farsightedness, lower back pain, high blood pressure or diabetes, why can’t we accept that it might also be normal to be psychiatrically ill at various points in our lives?”

Why personal change does not equal political change
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”

The era of Facebook is an anomaly. The idea of everybody going to one site is just weird. Give me one other part of history where everybody shows up to the same social space.

5 myths about how we use the internet

An illustrated book of bad arguments

A preliminary phenomenology of the self-checkout

Frog Fractions 2 has a Kickstarter, which promises not to give you the game until someone works out what it’s called.

Tumblr of the week: Animals Sucking At Jumping

Poem of the week: Shrinking Women

Free game of the week: 2048, which is essentially Threes, only more so.

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Spirits Walk

masked person with caption 'spirits walk'
It’s been a busy few weeks. This coming weekend Grant and I are headed to Melbourne to run Spirits Walk with Pop Up Playground. We’re headlining at the Fresh Air Festival, a yearly extravaganza of interesting live games, street games and creative play, and I’m hugely excited about it.

Spirits Walk is going to be a strange game. It’s a game about transgression, about crossing lines in public, about deliberate strangeness and feeling uncomfortable and doing interesting things anyway, because you want to know what happens next. There are spirits hidden in plain sight around the city, and each of them wants something from you: each has a task, and if you complete it you get a token of their esteem, or approval, or even affection. Your tokens open doors to another world, hidden just behind the real one: a place of symbolism and pageantry and a little bit of magic.

It breaks some new ground for us as designers and game makers, and we’re relying a lot on Pop Up Playground’s resources: craft and art and costuming, and the awesome actors who’ll be bringing our spirits to life. The game’s also very much Grant’s baby, in the same way The Trial was mine: he’s taken the lead in crafting and creating it, working with Rob and Sayra at Pop Up to make the whole thing happen. There are lots of moving parts, lots of elements working together, and it’s going to be an interesting challenge to make it all cohere. It’s also going to be a great deal of fun. It’s free to take part, and if you’re in Melbourne and you’d like to come along, you can reserve a space here.

After that, we’re going to try and be on holiday for a few days. It’s been a busy few weeks, after all.

Pocket Lint #8: things that live under bridges

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Where have all the workers gone?
“Whether as victim, demon, or hero, the industrial worker of the past century filled the public imagination in books, movies, news stories, and even popular songs, putting a grimy human face on capitalism while dramatizing the social changes and conflicts it brought… With work increasingly invisible, it’s much harder to grasp the human effects, the social contours, of the Internet economy.”

Netrunner as life hacking for perfectionism
“It was Netrunner that crystallized for me the uncomfortable fact that in real life I’ve always run away from any space I couldn’t see completely, from any challenge I might not be able to win, and from any situation where I struggled to succeed.”

The Blood Harvest
“Each year, half a million horseshoe crabs are captured and bled alive to create an unparalleled biomedical technology.”

Do invertebrates feel pain?
“We know next to nothing about whether or not these animals – or invertebrates in general – actually suffer. In Elwood’s experience, researchers are either certain they feel pain or certain they don’t. “Very few people say we need to know,” he says.”

The internet is fucked (but we can fix it)
Forensic look at what’s wrong with the internet in the US.

Partners as patrons
“I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.”

This machine kills trolls
Anti-vandalism bots on Wikipedia: complex tech solutions to complex human problems.

Remember the human
“Try to be courteous to others. See someone having a bad day? Give them a compliment or ask them a thoughtful question, and it might make their day better. Did someone reply to your comment with valuable insights or something that cheered you up? Send them a quick thanks letting them know you appreciate their comment.”

Tumblr of the week: Things Called Jazz That Are Not Jazz

Free game of the week: Into The Box

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5 things that made Journey to the End of the Night awesome

Runners preparing for Journey on the steps of the Powerhouse Museum

Runners preparing for Journey on the steps of the Powerhouse Museum

Last night I joined Grant and Bill Cohen in running a city-wide chase game called Journey to the End of the Night. It’s a US system, and it’s the first time it’s been run in Sydney, so we started off fairly low-key; in the end we had about 20 crew and about 60 players, which suited us pretty well. I ran & walked (mostly walked, admittedly) somewhere in the region of 7 miles around the city, coordinating runners by text message as we hunted down the players, and in the end we had 11 survivors who got round every checkpoint without being caught. It was enormous fun.

This is why it worked well.

The system

Journey is a very efficient system. It’s a simple, clear, uncomplicated ruleset that you can explain in a few words: run around all the checkpoints in any order, then get to the endzone, without being caught. If you’re caught, you have to chase the players. Catch three, and you can respawn back as a runner. Clean and crisp.

The core of the game is uncomplicated fun. It’s enormous fun to run around the city after dark with your friends hiding from people, especially when you know you have support nearby if you need it. It’s fun for fit people who enjoy running, and it’s also fun for people who like hiding and sneaking or thinking laterally about the logistics of things – it’s not always the best runners who win, it’s those who can avoid being caught. It’s a solid system that lends itself to all sorts of locations, and – because of the exponential nature of the catching system – it scales very well between small and large groups. Most of the success or failure of the game is down to the route you pick.

The route

We spent a lot of time ahead of the game scoping out potential checkpoint sites and creating a good route. There’s lots of variety in the areas we eventually picked – even if you don’t see a chaser for the whole time, you run through a mix of heavily-populated areas where anyone might be a chaser, and quiet back streets where there might be one around any corner. We picked checkpoints that weren’t easy to chain with public transport, though a couple of guys took an unorthodox ferry-and-tram route to save themselves some time. (I’m still impressed they did that.)

The checkpoints themselves were sometimes a little tricky. Two in particular gave us problems with spawn camping – player chasers lurking on the obvious entry and exit routes and ambushing runners, which wasn’t massively fair. It’s almost impossible to make rules to mitigate that sort of behaviour, so you have to rely on level design; when you don’t have the ability to manipulate levels yourself, because you can’t actually remodel traffic intersections just for your own games, sometimes you’re stuck with less-than-ideal areas. A good checkpoint is one that’s small but completely open on all sides, rather than large but with only one or two useful ingress routes. The best checkpoints are in the middle of huge open spaces with lots of potential cover, so players end up ducking in and out of hedges, trees and play equipment just in case there are chasers around.

Andy

Andy, aka the Terminator

Andy, aka the Terminator

Speaking of which: our star chaser, Andy, was a one-man army who managed to create exactly the right feeling of paranoia and fear right from the start. He’s a long distance runner. He went running before the game started, for fun. By the end of the night he’d acquired the nickname ‘Terminator’. One man hid under a car to escape him. Another vaulted into a construction site. Some people recruited passers-by as camouflage to help avoid his gaze. He was so fast and had so much stamina that hiding or outwitting him were your only options as players: simply outrunning him would never work. He was astonishing.

And from a crew perspective, he was invaluable too: he was checking in at regular intervals, letting us know which way players were scattering so we could set up less-manoeuvrable chasers to give them a good run. He was happy to go where he was needed most, and responsive to instructions. And, despite being the scariest thing in the game, he only caught two runners: the rest just had very near misses. Andy was incredible.

Froth

It’s been too long since I ran the sort of game that finishes up with froth. At the end of the night, we set up a couple of tables on Observatory Hill, a tricky-to-reach but beautiful park with gorgeous views across the harbour. By the time I got there most of the survivors had arrived and crew were still trickling in from across the city. I walked in to be surrounded by stories: the making of mythologies, happening around me. Many of them about Andy.

Froth is a LARP slang term for discussing events during a game, but out of character, afterwards. It lets you process what’s happened during an event, collaboratively building a single story out of the most exciting moments, turning what can be quite a disjointed experience into a coherent narrative.

GIving people space to froth after a game is one of the most important things you can possibly do. And lots of sporting events do it too: Tough Mudder, for instance, has a superb back-slapping and beer session once the race is over, which is all about frothing over what’s happened to you during your run. You make friends, you meet up with folks you lost on the way, you get to hear the stories of other people’s miraculous successes or so-close failures.

The view from the end zone

The view from the end zone

When I walked up to the hill last night, before I’d managed to get a bottle of water and say hi to the other crew, four different runners had already told me a little story of how they escaped a chaser or how they caught one of their friends or what happened when Andy showed up.

The players

People are amazing. People turned up last night to a random free event, excited to see what happens next, willing to suspend their disbelief and explore and create together. People turned up happy to play – playing to win, playing to have fun, playing to see what happened next.

That goes for the crew, too. We had a superb volunteer crew, all happy to take hours out of their Saturday nights to run around, sit about, sign papers, chat to players, and chase them around the city. We quite literally could not have run the game without those people, and they all made it better for the players by being so committed to maintaining the playful nature of the evening.

One woman got caught early on and then tried to head her friend off by taking a shortcut to where she knew he’d have to go. Then they had a tickle fight – he won, and left her giggling on the floor as he sprinted away into the darkness. With players like that, the game can’t help but be fun to run.

What’s next?

We’re going to be running Journey again in Sydney, I hope – there’s definitely appetite for it. But first, Grant and I are running a new game, Spirits Walk, in Melbourne in collaboration with Pop Up Players, on March 7, 8 and 9. You can reserve a space here.

Pocket Lint #7: glitch mobs

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We have known boys, but none have been bullet-proof
“We are replanting our underripe fruit, graveyards becoming our gardens, and tending far more memories of boys than moments with full-grown men.”

The founder of 4chan on anonymity
“It’s incredible what people can make when they’re able to fail publicly without fear, since not only will those failures not be attributed to them, but they’ll be washed away by a waterfall of new content.”

Twitch Plays Pokemon, in which 80,000+ people simultaneously play the same game of Pokemon Red, creating a sort of giant ongoing metaphor for the evolution of internet community. And the miraculous progress of Twitch Plays Pokemon, which explains the importance of the Helix Fossil.

How the potato changed the world

The construction of a Twitter aesthetic
“You’re trying to find a way to state contradiction. You’re writing a cartoon caption for a cartoon that doesn’t exist”

For 700 years, the people of Geel have taken in people with psychiatric illness and cared for them as family members
“My father always said, ‘These are the best children. They must sleep in the center of the bed.’”

Dismantling the five silliest responses to calls for more women in videogames

Games by humans
“If a games journalist is interviewing a developer about a game, they typically only have access to the lead developers, the ones in charge. Usually, the journalist’s access to these developers is through the publisher that is bankrolling the game. The dozens or hundreds of men and women actually making the game are hidden from the public behind the doubly thick wall of their employers and their publishers. We can’t speak to them and, more often than not, their employment contract means they can’t speak to us.”

A worldwide registry of roller derby names

Finishing, beating, playing through, bursting out: worldwide ways to talk about completing games

Automatic Guardian comment generator

Tumblr of the week: Sorry, Asylum Seekers

Free game of the week: You Have To Burn The Rope

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Pocket Lint #6: in the dark

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Georgina Henry obituary
I was privileged to work with George, albeit briefly, and she will be very much missed.

How colleges flunk mental health
“Colleges are very accustomed to accommodating learning and physical disabilities, but they don’t understand simple ways of accommodating mental health disabilities”

Climate change is happening, now, and could lead to global conflict
“Delay is dangerous. Inaction could be justified only if we could have great confidence that the risks posed by climate change are small. But that is not what 200 years of climate science is telling us. The risks are huge.”

Good Samaritan backfires
Arrested and detained naked in a solitary psych cell after calling an ambulance to help injured cyclists.

The rise of the Facebook truthers
“Something about Facebook makes journalists lose their minds. How else to explain the seemingly unending procession of stories based on wild speculation and implausible conspiracy theories?”

Unnecessary surgeries to correct male babies
“In contemporary American culture, much is still demanded of “real men”: To be commanding and composed. To be courageous and chivalrous. To be rugged, strong, and low-voiced. And to be able to pee standing up.”

Listen to the purring, electromagnetic weirdness of mushrooms

Our Flappy Dystopia
“We, as global, national, and artistic communities, justify a lot of shitty things on the premise of making money. This industry justifies sexism, racism, and all forms of discrimination and oppression because of some unwritten right to make money. Why can’t we have equal representation of minorities in our media? Because someone wants to make money.”

Tumblr of the week: Flappy Bird Think Pieces

Free games of the week, Flappy Bird edition: Flappybalt; Maverick Bird; 171 other Flappy Jam games

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Pocket Lint #5: snowsight

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The Empathy Exams: deep, long read from a medical actor. Anything I say here will under-sell it.
“Empathy means realizing no trauma has discrete edges. Trauma bleeds. Out of wounds and across boundaries. Sadness becomes a seizure. Empathy demands another kind of porousness in response.”

What snow tells us about creating better public spaces

Poverty in academia (and other places)
“If we are a collection of our experiences, can you imagine how difficult it can be then to sit in polite conversation and try and engage about childhood holidays, where you learned so ski, and how to fit orchestra practice in around your job?”

The power of Flappy Bird
“Finally, and most importantly, we should learn once and for all that we will never really know what ‘the people’ want. The screenwriter and novelist William Goldman famously suggested that in Hollywood “nobody knows anything.” The success of Flappy Bird is above all a reminder that this maxim is as true in game development as it is in movie making.”

In defense of Twitter feminism
“In a world where the voices of white middle-class heterosexual men and women are privileged, it is striking that Twitter, one of the few spaces that allows for counternarratives and resistance, is now facing a barrage of criticism.”

A linguistic analysis of the language of doge.

Game openings are important
What’s wrong with the first 300 seconds of Bioshock Infinite

FLUSHED!, a zine exploring the intersection of gaming and toilets, is out now. Go get it.

A newsgames hackathon is happening in May. If you’re like me you might want to apply.

Tumblr of the week: Deep Dark Fears

Free game of the week: Candy Match Forever

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Dungeon Keeper may be a bad game, but it’s still a game

Reading this review of the new, free to play Dungeon Keeper mobile game in the Metro, I was struck by this quote:

We were going to refer to Dungeon Keeper as a non-game, but that’s not really accurate. It’s an anti-game. It is purposefully designed not to require thought, skill, or experimentation. Instead it rewards only money and, begrudgingly, patience.

And later, this:

But it doesn’t really matter what you play. Whether it’s the violent anarchy of GTA V, the dramatic splendour of The Last Of Us, or the joyful invention of Super Mario 3D World. Just play a video game, a real video game, and help stop these hateful anti-games from spreading their poison any further.

Specifically, I’m struck by the similarity in rhetoric used to attack Dungeon Keeper, and that used to attack other games – particularly Twine games, Gone Home, interactive fiction-ish games – based on their differences from “real video games”. The Metro’s far from the only place where this type of language crops up: just from a quick search, it’s in the comments on Pocket Gamer and Kotaku, and it comes up in Eurogamer’s review:

It’s always tempting to write this sort of free-to-play title off by saying it’s not really a game, and in a lot of ways it isn’t. But it’s Dungeon Keeper, and every now and then you see enough of that game to feel nostalgic, before it vanishes again behind a 24-hour cool down timer.

And there’s this from the Escapist:

I’m a big defender of most games – even ones I hate – when somebody says they’re “not a game.” The accusation of something not being a game is a blinkered and often weak form of noncommittal criticism. In the case of Dungeon Keeper, however, I can find no defense. It isn’t a game. It’s a cynically fabricated cash delivery system.

Exploitative game mechanics are still part of games. Games that cynically monetise the pants off their players are still games. We can’t No True Scotsman our way out of this one any more than we can those other games that most of the games community doesn’t like. “Not a game” is not a criticism, unless you think games can only be good.

Yes, Dungeon Keeper is a game. It’s OK to say it’s a bad game. It’s OK to say you don’t like time-gating and artificially preventing play and £69.99 consumable IAPs, it’s OK to say you don’t want to – or shouldn’t – pay for this kind of thing, it’s even OK to say it’s exploitative and unpleasant and that games like this are bad for their players and for the industry. It’s OK to be critical of a game while still acknowledging that it’s a game that can be, that is, played; it’s OK to say that games, this medium you love, are not always perfect and contain bad things and even do bad things, without needing to push those things outside the medium entirely. It’s astonishing how hard that seems to be for some mainstream games writers to do.

Pocket Lint #4: edgewise

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When mainstream media is the lunatic fringe
“Mainstream media cruelty is actually more dangerous, for it sanctions behavior that, were it blogged by an unknown, would likely be written off as the irrelevant ramblings of a sociopath. Instead, the prestige of old media gives bigoted ranting respectability. Even in the digital age, old media defines and shapes the culture, repositioning the lunatic fringe as the voice of reason.”

Davos to Detention: Why I hate coming home to America
“The last four times I’ve traveled abroad (to Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon and Switzerland), Homeland Security has detained me upon arrival.  It’s as frustrating as it is ironic, because although in Arabic my name, Ahmed, means, “blessed,” each time I land at JFK airport, I can’t help but feel somewhat cursed.”

It is expensive to be poor
“If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.”

How long have I got left?
Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely.

readme.txt
Readme files in game mods: a feminist perspective

Unfinishable games
Let’s stop pretending that “done” is an aspirational state.

List of animals with fraudulent diplomas. Related: Sir Nils Olav, via @mildlydiverting

The Bloodbath of B-R5RB
The tale of the largest and most destructive battle in gaming history.

Downworthy, a browser plugin to moderate hyperbolic headlines

Tumblr of the week: Dimly-lit Meals For One

Free game of the week: Chancery Lane – analogue board-game Mornington Crescent

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