Archive for February, 2009

24
Feb
09

Video Games and the Geneva Conventions

Kotaku reports on some father who decided to only let his son play Call Of Duty if he reads the Geneva Conventions beforehand and follows them in the game. If he or his multiplayer friends don’t follow them, the game will be put away for a while. Strange but interesting idea to teach your kid some ethics. The comments to the article were partially interesting (especially them pointing out that it is against the Geneva Conventions to punish someone/a group for something another individual did) and they are making me think that somebody should make a (war) game like that, where you are actually encouraged to be good or to reflect on how a war should be fought, if at all.

One idea could be to sign an agreement in the game before it starts, like, the “[Game Title] Conventions”:

() I agree to not attack medics
() I agree to not harm prisoners of war
() I agree to not harm civilians
etc.

And then you have to cross them off, and if you don’t agree not to attack medics, then in return the warring nations (i.e. your opponents) will attack your medics, too, or kill your friends if they are taken prisoner, or harm your family if they get to them. So the game will get harder if you don’t obey any rules. And if you do sign the agreement and you do attack medics anyway or civilians, then you will be put on trial after the war is over and potentially put in prison.

Also, you could invent some scenarios that make players question whether or not to follow an order. Make people aware that obedience to authority is not imperative (anyone remember the Milgram Experiment?). Of course, this is difficult in a game where you are mostly automatically following “authority” because that is what leads you through the story. You have missions to complete, not because you submit to authority but because otherwise you can’t finish the game. So I suppose in a game these situations can mostly just be created by giving you a choice, which makes you – more than is the case in reality? – aware that you actually HAVE a choice. So the only way to circumvent this would be to not tell the player that he has a choice. Which, in turn, would make him feel a lot LESS like he has a choice than would be the case in reality, because we’ve played video games forever, and the fact that the game only continues after you’ve completed every step of your mission statement is just the most normal thing in the world (compare Learned Helplessness?). Compromise: Show a disclaimer at the beginning of the game that it is your duty to disobey unlawful orders. :)

Bioshock had the element of being “good” or “evil” a bit, too, of course, although the reward was a bit too evident (even if you don’t harvest the Little Sisters, you still get a lot of Adam because they are so grateful). Then again, for me, I always do the good thing anyway because I feel such empathy for all those virtual characters. That’s also why I was always so nice to the replicants in Blade Runner, too. And why I don’t start wars in Civilization. And why I always accept the side quests in Morrowind. :)

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20
Feb
09

Cheese and Video Games = awesome

Beyond Good and Evil being sold with cheese

How ingenious is this marketing strategy? In Canada, they are selling mozarella cheese with a copy of the game Beyond Good & Evil. Like, right in the packet, with the cheese. That would likely make me buy more cheese, and I don’t even like cheese!

Maybe next they can sell fruits and vegetables with video games to encourage a healthy lifestyle for gamers. That might be more effective than Wii Fit!

Link: Ubisoft: Want Beyond Good & Evil For Free? Buy Some Cheese [kotaku.com]

09
Feb
09

Rambling: Rubber Duckies in Science

I suppose the most important feature of a rubber duck is its cuteness. Who wouldn’t like to have a rubber duck? If you have a rubber ducky, you’re never alone. They’re probably the main reason why some people still take baths, rather than to take showers that are quicker and conserve water.

Anyway, this article is about something I came across while I was browsing the Wikipedia. It is about Friendly Floatees and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a.k.a. the Pacific Trash Vortex). The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is basically a patch in the Northern Pacific Ocean that is full of garbage. Stuff that falls off ships or garbage that is thrown into the sea, it all has to go somewhere, and so you have tons of plastic stuff collecting in the sea and killing sea life.

What does that have to do with the duckies? Well, there are so-called Friendly Floatees – 28,800 bath toys that look like yellow ducks, blue turtles, green frogs and red beavers – that fell off a boat once upon a time (January 1992).

Although each toy was mounted in a plastic housing attached to a backing card, subsequent tests showed that the cardboard quickly degraded in sea water allowing the Floatees to escape. Unlike many bath toys, Friendly Floatees have no holes in them so they do not take on water. (Wikipedia)

Ten months after they fell off the boat in the North Pacific Ocean, the first duckies showed up in Alaska. An oceanographer called Curtis Ebbesmeyer tracked the places where duckies showed up and used it to model ocean currents. He also consequently correctly predicted where more of the bath toys would show up. So the rubber duckies actually helped scientists in their research. Isn’t that sweet? At the same time, since only 1.4% of the ducks were recovered, I’m sure hundreds of them are hanging out in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch now.

Wikipedia actually says that two children’s books have been written about those ducks, but I have to say, I’m waiting for Pixar to make a movie about this. Of course I don’t know how to make a duck’s journey in the sea interesting, but then again, I wouldn’t know how to make a movie about a robot cleaning up the earth interesting, but Pixar did.

More about the garbage:
VBS.tv Sails Out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch : TreeHugger
Plastics, China, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Oh My!
Pacific Trash Vortex Could Signify Future of Our Oceans : TreeHugger

05
Feb
09

Books: The Audacity Of Hope by Barack Obama

I just finished reading Barack Obama’s second book, The Audacity Of Hope. It’s basically about his ideas on what politics should be, what policies he suggests that might improve all sorts of things, and it’s sprinkled with little anecdotes of his life.

The book is interesting and so are his ideas and suggestions. If you have followed his “career” (for lack of a better term) since he announced that he was running for the presidency – as I have – some of the things in the book will sound familiar, since it’s basically what he’s been talking about in TV appearances and such. It gets a little repetitive in a way when he basically keeps describing how people are generally decent and good and just trying to make an honest living, and how the government should help. However, it is very well-written and so pretty enjoyable to read, even when you’re at a part where you know what he’ll say next.

I did learn a lot about Mr. Obama through this book, though, and I still can’t help but wonder how such a decent, smart, self-reflecting guy managed to become President of the USA. (That sounds really offensive, but hey, it does feel kind of like bizarro world…) It will certainly be interesting to see whether he can manage to do a lot of the things he suggested.

I found myself enjoying the little anecdotes about his life he told in this book and so I expect that I will enjoy his first book, Dreams From My Father, more than this one. I’ll report back on that, however, so watch this space.

[The Audacity Of Hope by Barack Obama ** 364 pages ** Read in 19 days ** 18 Jan – 5 Feb 2009]