Andrew Gelman:

A quick rule of thumb is that when someone seems to be acting like a jerk, an economist will defend the behavior as being the essence of morality, but when someone seems to be doing something nice, an economist will raise the bar and argue that he’s not being nice at all.

Too Far From Noise

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As a ‘story game’ aficionado, I was hoping to like the well-reviewed and App Store-featured Far From Noise. It is very pretty and it touches on themes like depression and anxiety and despair that are not typically covered in pretty games.

Sadly, I found the game overlong and repetitive. Believe me, it’s not that I don’t understand magic realism or that I need constant action and input, but rather that it is superficial, poorly written, and mistakes childhood anecdotes with character development. It isn’t Philosophy 101 – it’s Philosophy 001.

I don’t find it especially interesting or satisfying to dunk on Far From Noise, given the evident heart poured into the game by its creator. I’m more interested in exploring why it was so well-received by the games press, but I’m also wondering how I can do that without coming across as an enormous asshole who thinks he understands philosophy and games more than anyone else – and believe me, I don’t.

So I’ll try it this way: if you want to read or watch a tale about depression and despair, there are plenty out there for every kind of taste. But if you want an interactive experience that isn’t a text adventure, there are slim pickings indeed, so when a pretty game comes along that references Thoreau and Emerson, it’s praised despite its considerable shortcomings, so as not to discourage others. And given that the games industry exists in a continual state of half-imagined, half-imposed inferiority to ‘higher’ art forms, it’s not surprising that people celebrate the few games that tackle more serious subjects, especially if those games have nice graphics and are bug-free.

The generosity of games reviewers towards Far From Noise doesn’t necessarily stem from ignorance or naivety or insincerety, but rather from their desire to grade on a curve – to judge it solely against other games instead of other media. Perhaps you think that’s appropriate, but I think it holds games back. It makes it difficult to distinguish truly great and beautiful games like Kentucky Route Zero from mediocre games like this one.

We should not be ashamed of expecting better.

The Fable of the Anti-Dragonist Thought Leadership

A riposte by Zarkonnen to Nick Bostrom’s The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, a tedious story that spends 5000 words telling us that death from ageing is bad and we should try to prevent it:

One day, an anti-dragonist on a speaking tour visited a town. When he arrived, most of the town’s inns were already full, and he had to make do with a small room in a small in in a run-down part of the town. The next morning, he stood outside the inn on his soap box and told people about how the dragon could be defeated. A small crowd gathered around him. When he had finished speaking, a woman asked: “My children are hungry. My husband went off to war against the tigers and never came back. How does killing the dragon help them?”

“Well, they too will one day be fed to the dragon!”

“But they are hungry now. My baby is very weak. She cries all the time. Even if she doesn’t die, she’s going to grow up stunted.”

“I’m sure you can find a way. Anyway, I’m here to talk about the dragon, it’s…”

Another interrupted him: “My son was killed by the king’s men three weeks ago. They laughed as they cut him down. No one will hear my case.”

“Well, I’m sure they had a good reason. Your son was probably a criminal.”

Another said: “My family beats me because I don’t want to marry the man they chose for me. Right now, I wouldn’t mind being eaten.”

“Listen. I’m not interested in the problems of you little people. They’re not my problems, and anyway, you’re probably lying, or exaggerating, or just not trying hard enough. But I’m scared of the dragon, because the dragon’s going to eat everyone, including me. So we should concentrate on that, don’t you agree?”

And the people rolled their eyes and walked away.

I look forward to spotting this Kings Cross tunnel in upcoming British sci-fi movies and TV shows.

Sandra, Interrupted

I’ll be honest, I enjoyed parts of Gimlet’s new podcast drama Sandra more than I thought I would. Basically, a young woman gets a job ‘being’ Alexa, and hijink ensue. It’s cute! Yes, it’s muddled and a knock-off of The Circle, and yes, it really doesn’t make any sense at all, but it’s fun.

Yet when I finished bingeing the seven episodes while wandering through Hampstead Heath yesterday, I was baffled. Surely there had to be more episodes? This was despite my having already read Nicholas Quah’s forewarning:

As much as I liked bits and pieces of the podcast, it’s hard to consider it as anything but jarringly unfinished. This first season ends on what is supposed to be a suspenseful cliffhanger, as Helen heads off to confront possible danger. But it really feels like the end of a long, confusing, overly revealing movie trailer: Sandra, coming soon to a theater near you. I think?

Like Quah says, it’s not a cliffhanger – the story just stops abruptly. And frankly it makes me question what the hell Gimlet think they’re doing over there.

A highly-upvoted Hacker News comment linked to a post I wrote twelve years ago on The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer:

a book from Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age … that is powered by a computer so advanced it’s almost magical, and it teaches children everything. It does this through a fully interactive story. It teaches you how to read, how to do maths, it teaches you morals, ethics, even self-defence.

Looking back at the post, I’m shocked by just how little I remember writing it. I suppose when you’ve been blogging for almost twenty years, that’s to be expected. It’s also a reminder that while blogging is rarely as viral as Facebook and Twitter, its permanence and searchability can pay dividends over decades.

Ninja’s Fortnite tournament, a fascinating mix of streaming, participation, $75 paid entry, and prizes ($2500 if you kill him, $2500 if you win a game), reminds me of what broadcasters like the BBC were trying to do in the 2000s. Back then, the tech and logistics for ‘massive’ games was too expensive, but it’s finally here now.