Sunday, December 30 2007

The Cardinal Rule of Gaming

As far as I'm concerned, every game has an unstated rule:
If everyone isn't having fun, you're doing it wrong.

There are three general types that people fall into when playing games:

Type one are those who follow the rule.  I try as much as possible to stay clearly in this way of thinking when playing a game.  This sort of player tends to be sportsmanlike if not chivalrous, and they find that losing a fair and closely fought game is better than winning in a blowout or due to some obscure rule quirk.

Type two are those that need to win to have fun.  This sort of player will use any twist or loophole in the rules to his advantage, and tend to be completely ruthless in crushing their opponent.  Mercy is not a word in their vocabulary.

Type two behavior is not always wrong;  thinking like a type two player while the game is in session is a necessity for tournament play in one on one games, but people who are type two when a game is over or especially on a consistent basis are real pains in any group.  Further, type two players tend to cause opponents to think the same way, in that defeating the guy that is pissing you off and knocking him down a peg tends to take over as the reason for playing.  With the inability to communicate directly with your opponent, type two behavior prevails on online gaming.

Type three behavior is more interesting, and only really shows up in games with more than two players.  These are the players that don't care about winning, only having fun, but only care about their fun.  These are the players that exist to play strategies that have no chance of winning but only serve to piss of one or more of their opponents.  I've seen it happen in strategic games when it becomes obvious that one player has no shot at winning due to the actions of another player.  The offended player will then devote his time and attention to attacking the player believed responsible for being out of contention.  This sort of player makes any sort of strategic planning next to useless because you can't assume they will make rational decisions, and may deliberately throw the game to another player.

What's odd is that a similar sort of thinking can be attributed to poitical campaigns.  Type one campaigns are those that think that the system is more important than the election outcome;  type two are those that view the results as more important than the system.  Type three are those that don't care about winning, only making a statement regardless of the effect on the system itself.

Posted by: Civilis at 10: 19 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Monday, December 17 2007

All Politics is Personal

There's an interesting discussion on John Scalzi's blog on the foundation of the Organization for Transformative Works, which "is a nonprofit organization established by fans to serve the interests of fans by providing access to and preserving the history of fanworks and fan culture in its myriad f

The most heated discussion on Scalzi's blog, prompted by the emphasis of the original post, is about the legality of fanworks such as fan fiction.  I have a confession to make:  I read fan fiction.  In college, I even wrote fan fiction.  More embarrassingly, I wrote a substantial piece of unauthorized fan fiction derived from another piece of fan fiction.  Fortunately, the document only ever existed in one of my older computers and in a single print out, which was read by one friend.  As far as I know, neither copy exists.

Most fan fiction, and a lot of other fan produced works, lies in a massive legal gray area.  One of the declared goals of the OTW is to start a legal framework to defend the existence of fan works.  While I believe this is a noble goal, I also believe from a practical standpoint that the idea of forming an official group to work towards legal protection is counterproductive.  The discussion has given me some insight into American politics and culture as well as further given me evidence to theories I've held about American culture today.

The first observation is that, to an outsider, fandom always seems irrational.  The same goes for any deeply held interest, from sports to religion to politics. If you are not interested in something, people who are deeply interested  always appear odd.  I don't understand what makes people enjoy watching sports.  One commenter in the OTW discussion who took an interest in the political discussion stated upfront that he didn't understand fans and why fans insist on centering their creativity on works based around a commercial property like a series of books.

To generalize this, it's because hobbies and interests are not universally rational.  If you don't find football fun to watch, then it makes no logical sense on a personal level why people would devote time and money to watching football.  If you enjoy watching football, it's a perfectly logical use of your time and money to watch football.  Why some people find football enjoyable and others do not is a completely different discussion.

Compounding the situation is that for most people, hobbies and interests are more fun if you can get together and combine your interest with other people
who share the same interest.  While it's fun for me to ponder which anime characters would take which other characters in a fight, it's more fun to throw my ideas against others in a debate in someone's comment section.  Likewise, it's more fun to sit around a TV with friends rather than watch TV alone, whether it's anime on TV or a football game.  This isn't universally true for any combination of people, but it holds out fairly well.

With the specific interest of fan fiction, it's that you have an audience of fans that shares a common interest that binds the people together to make the work of writing a short fan story enjoyable.  You have an audience of people that share your interest ready to read what you have wrote.  Part of the idea of fan created works is that they don't just consume but they produce back for the community of fans.

The second observation is that it is increasingly hard to maintain control of a creative work in the hands of fans, as technology makes it easier to take creative works and use them in unexpected ways.  The wargame I play, Flames of War, officially has rules for the major countries in European theater of operations for 1942 - 1945.  This hasn't stopped players, fans, for releasing rules for minor countries, for 1939-1941, for the Pacific theater, for World War 1 and for modern warfare. Why?  Because they enjoy what they do and want to expand on it and contribute back to their hobby.  In some cases, the minor country rules have even been officially recognized.  Anime fans produce fan videos, fan art, and fan fiction.  Even sports fans turn statistics into fantasy leagues.  As long as you have fans, they will take what they can get and produce more things to share with other fans.

The problem is that increasingly the people who make decisions regarding creative property are not fans and, hence, do not understand what it is that the fans are doing.  Their reaction, while sometimes legally and morally justifiable, will often to seem clueless and arbitrary to fans that see and understand much of the breadth of what their fellow fans do.  Partially it's a business decision to maximize short-term quantifiable revenue.  You can assign a dollar value to the right to use a creative work commercially; you can't assign a dollar value to long-term fan loyalty.  One of the commentators in the OTW discussion commented that fan fiction was morally unjustifiable because it corrupts the creators visions of their works.  It's ironic that my previous trip to Scalzi's discussion forum was prompted by a discussion of the legacy of Robert Heinlein, including the abomination that was the Starship Troopers movie, which was a licensed and therefore morally justifiable corruption of Heinlein's legacy.

Despite my opinion that owners of creative rights need to give fans leeway to be fans and that this relationship is in the long run beneficial for both fans and owners, I believe the OTW initiative is the wrong idea.  Attempting to craft explicit legal protection for fan works will prove detrimental to fans.  Right now there exists a legal gray area between things that are explicitly legal and things that owners will enforce.  By starting a grab for the gray area in order to increase what is explicitly legal, it creates a strong incentive for owners to grab as much of the gray area and explicitly establishing their rights both by increasing enforcement of existing laws and by pushing for expansion of copyright protections which can only serve to further limit fair use.  The concentrated legal and lobbying power available to owners will always be greater than the OTW and similar organizations.  Owners can and should defend their rights when fans cross the line, but overzealous enforcement only serves to destroy the fan base in the long run.

Both sides need to use common sense.  Part of that common sense is understanding that the other side doesn't see things as you do, and that they might have a different opinion on certain actions.  It's not possible to draw a sharp legal line between what is morally right and wrong, and any sharp line is prone to abuse.  The best bet for all concerned is to take cases in the gray area on a case by case basis.

Boring egocentric stuff continues below.

Posted by: Civilis at 10: 01 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Saturday, December 15 2007

Tis the Season!

I have been working off and on on a longer post on fans, fandom, the law, and outside observers, based on a lot of the news on the domestic entertainment industry and the recent developments in regard to anime and fansubs, and catalyzed by a post on John Scalzi's blog on the Organization for Transformative Works.  The problem is that it's the holiday season, and I have enough holiday related tasks on my list that it's going nowhere very slowly.

I just finished putting the lights on the Christmas tree.  It's a relatively unspectacular tree, as these things go, but its my tree, and that's whats important.  There's absolutely nothing geeky about it, and I'm worried that there should be.  I'm ashamed that my thought process went something like this:

1.  "The tree isn't geeky enough.  How could we make it geeky?"
2.  "You know what would be cool?  A Belldandy angel at the top of the tree."
3.  "I bet if I searched the internet, someone has already done that."
4.  "At least that'd look suitably angelic;  it could be worse..."
5.  "...It could be an Evangelion angel on top of the tree."
6.  "I'd bet if I searched the internet, someone has already done that."
7.  "Knowing Gainax, I'm surprised there isn't already an official one on the market."
8.  "I wonder what the Asuka version looks like?"
9.  "At least there's no Christmas themed military history or miniatures wargaming..."
(From Worth1000)

Posted by: Civilis at 12: 18 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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