Author: themanoftwistsandturns

May 23, 2015

A philosopher plays Minecraft

On killing virtual dogs

I have killed three dogs in Minecraft. The way to get a dog is to find a wolf, and then feed bones to the wolf until red Valentine’s hearts blossom forth from the wolf, and then it is your dog. It will do its best to follow you wherever you go, and (like a real dog) it will invariably get in your way when you are trying to build something. ... I felt bad each time, while of course fully realizing that only virtual entities were being killed. Surely some of the sorrow I felt was imported from the real world, where I am fond of dogs and do what I can to avoid drowning or burning them. I could not be said to have developed a meaningful relationship with my virtual dogs, but I was pleased to see them each time they caught up with me, and I was a little sad to realize they wouldn’t be getting in my way anymore. I think I was right to feel at least a little bit bad about killing them.

May 13, 2015

An experiment in forced nostalgia and questionable parenting

Playing With My Son

My son Eliot was born in 2004 — the year of Half-Life 2, Doom 3, and the launch of the Nintendo DS. By the time he was born, video games were a $26B industry.

I love games, and I genuinely wanted Eliot to love and appreciate them too. So, here was my experiment:

What happens when a 21st-century kid plays through video game history in chronological order?

May 5, 2015

Character Assassination

Though they foreground models over characters, systems-oriented video games can’t evade the issues of identity politics

The pedagogy of simulation games — city simulators in particular — is worth meditating on. They are, ostensibly, about engaging with complex (though still incredibly simplified) models, coupled with rule sets that mark discrete goals. These range from the practicable (make sure there are water lines in your new residential zone so the houses can have plumbing) to the whimsical (call down an alien invasion). By being told to use a set of tools in a particular way, an individual can be taught how to engage with a system — the system that is the game.

“the pièce de resistance is the Fix-It Felix Jr.”

Arcadia: A Love Story

We make our way down the hall and he ceremoniously opens the door. It is a portal into the past. The first thing I see is a Donkey Kong cabinet, but then my eyes are drawn to a row of pristine gumball machines that look just like the ones at the Yellow Balloon where I got my first haircut on Ventura Boulevard in 1984.

Everyone who enters this room, Kooluris tells me, has the same reaction: They tell him about the part of their childhood it reminds them of.

May 27, 2014

Go is to Chess as Poetry is to Double-Entry Accounting.

The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win

The challenge is daunting. In 1994, machines took the checkers crown, when a program called Chinook beat the top human. Then, three years later, they topped the chess world, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer besting world champion Garry Kasparov. Now, computers match or surpass top humans in a wide variety of games: Othello, Scrabble, backgammon, poker, even Jeopardy. But not Go. It’s the one classic game where wetware still dominates hardware.
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