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SOCIALNORMS LOVES
Final Fantasy VI, VII, IX and X
Myth: The Fallen Lords & Soulblighter
Halo Series
Resident Evil series (minus six...)
Donkey Kong Country
Chrono Trigger/Cross
The Warriors
River City Ransom
Midnight Club series
Metal Gear 1 and 3 (the others can die a postmodern, narcissistic death)
Marathon series

Mixed Martial Arts
Playing online with friends
Writing
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Xbox LIVE:Angry Liberals
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socialnorms
10:34 AM on 02.25.2010



Imagine getting shot by the guy talking horrendous trash. Or being able to call in artillery on him.

ABC News Ran this story about how Afghan soldiers and Taliban talk shit about each other using old-school two-way radios.

An excerpt:

"The Taliban will say things like why do you side with the Americans? Why do you sell out your country? You love Obama more than Afghanistan."

Being Mr. Angry Liberals on Xbox live, and with an avatar of Michelle Obama, I find that the Taliban are after my own heart.

Still, on Xbox Live the consequences are only as real as anybody lets their ego get bruised. Controlling irrational, abrupt impulses to send obnoxious nine year-old boys through a window is about as rough as it gets. But out there?

Hakmal said the standard response goes something like, "The Americans are here to help our country function again. They don't want to stay. They want to help, then leave. You should help, too."

Then the shooting starts.

I would totally break protocol if I were an Afghan soldier. And teabag.
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Does anybody else revel in crawling around on the ground, unseen?

I'm crawling around the bottom of the corporate ladder as I write this. But really, what I'm talking about is going unnoticed in natural settings. I love this stuff in games, and I love this stuff in real life.



I started thinking about this after I tried the co-op segment of the sniper level in Modern Warfare 2 a few weeks ago. I crawled around some, but, being impatient and not respecting the game's engine enough, I had a habit of coming up to my knees to draw fire and get the enemy's position the cheap way. The game punishes you for being so impatient, but if you've got a buddy to revive you the consequences aren't so steep.

There was a segment in that level with a stream, and I was brought back to my last duck and goose hunting trip in Canada. One day my old man and I were hunting a field in our usual style: goose decoys out, my dad hiding in the bushes holding back our spaz of a chocolate lab, and myself wearing 3D camouflage, laying out in the middle of the decoys, shotgun by my side with the muzzle resting on a green hat.

I can tell you that 3D camouflage, much like a ghillie suit, is amazing stuff. I've had geese land eight feet from me, first swooping so close to my face that the displaced air seemed as loud as an airplane. I could have grabbed the goose out of the air. When another goose landed just yards away from me, I came up to my knees, and the damn thing only honked at me. I think it was saying "What the hell?"

I shot that poor sucker. I kind of regret it. It was too easy. At the time I justified it by saying that's evolution and the dumbest goose of the flock got weeded out. In retrospect I wish I had been holding a goose call and could have honked back, "dumbass."



I'm digressing. Using that 3D camo with my old man last time, I watched a small flock of ducks swoop overhead and land somewhere on the field over a football field away. Assuming they would be wary, I crawled through the brush and the rocks and the thorny plants, enjoying the scent of Canadian farm field, rich with sweet decaying straw and ancient gumbo (clay-rich mud).

When I neared the birds I found them in a small pond of rainwater - hence the memory. I was again unobserved. Five teal, small ducks bearing the color of their namesake on their wings, were swimming around and shaking out their feathers, relaxed. At first I slowed my crawl to, well, a slow crawl. But I gradually noticed that none of the birds turned their heads toward me at all.

I closed to about fifteen feet and took aim. Then I asked myself a few questions. Should I try to group the shot pattern to hit multiple birds, or focus on just one? Where will the other birds fly toward after the opening shot? Are my shots going to alert a mark my old man is watching? Where will the birds drop if I hit them? Can I retrieve them there?



Were I playing Metal Gear Solid 3, my favorite game for crawling around and hunting and being real friendly with the soil and grasses, I would ask a similar set of questions. Will this shot alert the guard if I miss? Can he radio in for help? Will others see him drop if I succeed? Can I get to his fallen body and shake him down for items without being seen? Is he going to see me if he keeps approaching? Should I just get past him?

I had similar considerations playing paintball against my friends ten years ago. I crawled 200 feet along a drainage ditch to get around them without being seen. The limited vision you have when in grass six inches above your head is stifling. And really kind of exciting. You have to work so hard to see anything. You start to listen a lot more, and to create a picture of where everything is in your head, where you can see. I like when games reflect that phenomenon too.

I'm down for suggestions on other games that do a good job of this so I can get my crawl on.
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Jesse Schell's vision of the future - a future where games consume everything and are an unavoidable, universal cheap trick to control behavior, and this somehow improves people, is rubbish.

Click to here to see the video, referenced in Podtoid 138.

To summarize the video, Schell has some merit. The first half of his presentation dissected marketing strategies so well that I passed it along to some of the higher ups at my job. I work at a student information system company and our CEO has passions for a similar future. Or at least one that will consequentially make him richer.

Schell initially speaks about authenticity driving sales toward the beginning of the lecture, yet strangely, by the end, he speaks of a future that is entirely contrived. Cereal boxes letting kids compete in eating the most cereal. Fifty points if you stuff your chubby face more than the kid down the street. A hundred points if you beat your autistic brother on the English test. A thousand points and a $10 tax break if your poo tests free of phthalates and the government can sell it to a farmer.



At the end, Schell postulates that playing these games, some of which would be based around important things like protecting the environment or not peeing in the aquifer, could make people value the important things more.

Yet the impact companies would create virtual rewards for activities with intrinsic value is about ends vs. means. Every task in our lives could become about points, a means to keep us addicted and unhappy and buy the mega-corporations' boardmembers new yachts. They disregard and trivialize those ends that make us happiness - time spent laughing with friends, hours learning to paint or speak another language, chores teaching us the value of being organized. Each of these is now a "Quest" that is compared on the leaderboards, and are worth...more quests.

Take Halo 3 on Xbox Live rankings. Players accumulate experience points to grant themselves higher ranks. It sounds legitimate. Until, that is, you learn that the majority of high-ranking players got there by "boosting," using a loophole in the scoring system to rapidly rise in the ranks. You can still even pay people to boost for you.

The results bastardize the ranking system. You have high-ranking players who quit as soon as the odds are any worse than 100,000:1 in their favor, and who aren't any better than the mid-level players. You have the naive boys in awe of them, wondering how they can possibly beat a general. And you have me, asking that high-ranked asshole not to quit if he's on my team or banking on it if he's on the opposite team.



What, then, is rank good for? Nothing. Character is worth everything. A teammate who will communicate enemy positions and share weapons is invaluable. He or she is also extraordinarily rare. How does this player come to be? He or she disregards points and silly rewards and cultivates character by valuing camaraderie and friendship. Good soldiers don't learn accurate shooting because they want a medal. They learn it to keep their friends alive.

Yet so many of the kids I encounter don't care about that. They will do whatever it takes to unlock the achievements and get the points, be it cheating, deceiving, or outright paying for 'em. They'll kill you for the sniper rifle on a non-slayer match and boast about all their useless kills. They don't understand that the points don't matter and won't make them happy. Why would a system that perpetuates that ignorance make people grow up?

So I disagree with Mr. Schell. Company CEOs like to spout about how they are working toward a brighter future, and helping things and creating change and rainbows and unicorns with cotton-candy asses. It happens at my job four times a year, when the CEO tells us how we're making kids smarter when in reality we're only making administrators faster on the taxpayer's dime. Maybe CEOs are trying to convince themselves they're as worthy as anybody else. I would prefer they did it without the delusions.

I don't want a future of points systems, and I sure as hell don't want cameras and computers everywhere I go. That authenticity Schell values would be completely nullified by an inundation of cheap substitutes for joy. And as much as he would want it to improve people's lives, it could only be an artless, worthless manifestation of the desire to make as much money as possible.
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socialnorms
11:31 AM on 02.12.2010

Check out Ecko's sale for Halo stuff like this.





CHEAP! I just snagged the track jacket for a friend's birthday, $17 including shipping. I rather like that white tee, too...
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socialnorms
10:08 AM on 02.10.2010

This post wouldn't appear public, so after contacting tech support I had to retry. No, I'm not a spammer.
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socialnorms
10:17 AM on 01.08.2010

Check out this story from Uganda.



"According to officials trying to tackle it, the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity - and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly."

Wow. This is more macabre than any transnational quasi-corporational terrorist plot for immortality featuring a matrix-ripoff villain. And I love RE5! Now who's up for doing steroids and searching for their old partner in Uganda? I call the Hydra.

Uganda's president is no stranger to battling some rather heinous causes, even if they don't involve malevolent parasites. Paul Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front during the Rwandan genocide. For a good read on that, check out the book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families. Although Phillip Gourevitch clearly idolizes Kagame, Gourevitch's account of Kagame's exploits is pretty cool. Basically they marched in with a ragtag army and radios and just captured ammo and supplies as they went around, killing or imprisoning people involved in genocide. It was like...a video game plot. A good video game plot.
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