Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

Tag: history(Page 1 of 6)

How To Play An Ancient Mesopotamian Board Game

This is really cool, a curator at the British Museum found out how to play an ancient Mesopotamian game! He did so by searching through the museum’s archives and chancing across a cuneiform with seemingly bizarre instructions. Nobody else figure out what it was until his love of the game and that particular cuneiform crossed paths.

Irving Finkel has possibly the coolest job in the world – he’s curator of cuneiform at the British Museum!

Since 1979 he’s been trawling the Museum’s 130,000 clay tablets for clues about life in ancient Mesopotamia. In this film, he tells us about a particular tablet he found that contains the rules of a board game – a board game that he’s been obsessed with since childhood!

Thanks to a ghost.

On Diversity In Games And Technology

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When you think about people who work in the tech industry or in video games you probably think of someone who is white and male (like me). The demographic research backs this up. This lack of diversity is a problem because when an industry or any community is made up of a homogenous identity everyone suffers. We need diversity in communities for a whole myriad of reasons.

The current state of diversity in both games and tech reflects poorly on creators. Indeed, quite a few articles over the past month have looked into this sad state.

TechCrunch ran a piece interviewing David Perry discussing how some video game make everybody white for “historical accuracy”. Here’s just the first question:

AC: A few months ago, Tauriq Moosa got some epic blowback for posting an op-ed in which he criticized a game he really loved, The Witcher 3, for its lack of ethnic diversity.

The #GamesSoWhite hashtag and the opposition to it are the clearest examples in my recent memory, but there’s been a lot of buzz about the “diversity push” in TV this past year and other examples of backlash to whitewashed casting in historical settings like Exodus: Gods and Kings. There was even some buzz about attempts to add ethnic diversity to the Hobbit trilogy with the denizens of Lake-town.

As a scholar of medieval history, where do you fall on this kind of debate?

DP: First of all, in terms of history I’d like to say the vast majority of the medieval world as we think of it was all kinds of people with various shades of brown skin moving back and forth across borders. Yes, there were people in remote little areas who might have never encountered anyone who looked any different than themselves, but overall there was a lot of movement and a lot of contact and a lot of exchange of ideas, crossing transcultural, trans-religious, trans-ethnic zones.

There are a lot of people with different ideas about races, throughout the history of the Middle Ages, that talk about things like skin color — not in the same terms we do now, but thinking about the different ways we look and what that might mean. And so there’s entirely different ways of constructing “race” as well.

If all you care about is historical accuracy, it is certainly possible in any historical period to find a remote spot where everyone there looks completely homogeneous. But that is not, I would say, what medieval history looked like, in which people directly encountered and were highly aware of different parts of the world and what was going on.

To be clear, history in Europe involved all shades of people. Obviously today there is a whole mixture of people too from all backgrounds and from different experiences. However, even today people working in the tech industry tend to ignore this.

The Atlantic ran a business article titled When Discrimination Is Baked Into Algorithms, and in it they identify problematic approaches to computer automation design.

It’s troubling enough when Flickr’s auto-tagging of online photos label pictures of black men as “animal” or “ape,” or when researchers determine that Google search results for black-sounding names are more likely to be accompanied by ads about criminal activity than search results for white-sounding names. But what about when big data is used to determine a person’s credit score, ability to get hired, or even the length of a prison sentence?

Racism may not be as obvious as it once was, but it’s there regardless. We need to be conscious of this – or we may turn entire groups of people off of engaging in new technology or games. This the fault of the designers not recognizing their biases and not empathizing with their audience.

Juliet Khan has theorized three main reasons girls unlearn how to love video games. I won’t go into all of the rationale here, but it is a worth a full read. Here’s the three reasons summed up:

The first force is disqualification: It takes into account the fact that girls almost certainly have played video games, but then carefully categorizes the games they’re most likely to play as illegitimate.
[T]he second force that teaches girls video games aren’t for them: the social hierarchy of the gaming community, and the narrow, deforming spaces it offers to the women who do persevere.
This is the third force: marketing. “There aren’t really any games that seem positive to me,” my sister explains. “They’re all about violence and nudity. I don’t like how the female body is made out. It makes me really uncomfortable. All of the commercials are for guys.”

Seemingly inspired by Kahn’s piece an anonymous author wrote video games have a diversity problem that runs deeper than race or gender for the Guardian. It connects the dots between all these problems (and more) raised here into why it’s a problem all gamers should care about.

Sure, the industry is a tough place for everyone – it’s constantly changing. But if you already fit in, you’re going to have more ways to chase your passion through the hazards. I’ve seen women throw in the towel after a couple of years in the industry because they just don’t see a path forward that appeals to them. Others stay but find their creative fulfilment elsewhere. Studios wonder why they don’t get a more diverse range of applicants but the lack of project variety cannot be overlooked as a barrier to entry. If you’re a creative person and don’t feel passionate about the sorts of experiences a medium is producing, it’s tough to find the strength and inspiration to carry on.

Reasons to support diversity shouldn’t hinge on getting more games and more money. The only reasons you should need is that you are human and everyone else is a human. Respect each other.

I’ll leave this post on a bit of a positive note. Over in Sweden they are looking into ways to bring the Bechdel test to video games. Dataspelsbranchen is looking into it and Kill Screen covered it well.

Those social justice warriors known as the Swedes are at it again! Last year, four Swedish cinemas started indicating whether the films they screened passed the exceedingly low bar set by Bechdel Test for female representation. Now Dataspelsbranchen, Sweden’s videogames industry organization, is considering putting a label on future games produced in the country denoting whether or not they promote gender equality. Good on Dataspelsbranchen.

How Old Game Controllers Work

Pulse Sensor with game controller

Video game controllers have evolved quite a bit over the years from simple buttons to really technically complex controllers like the new one from Steam (which has sold out). They all operate using the same basic concept that the player presses a button and that button tells the game to do something.

Over time the number and arrangements of buttons has changed but the core concept has remained. Game controllers translate your physical input into something that makes sense within the game.

Many companies played with how a game controller ought to function and the ergonomics around them. From the simple Commodore 64 joystick to the button filled Atari Jaguar controller.

You can go to this website for a visual history of game controllers.

Dave Nunez has put up the innards of old game artifacts and they are surprisingly fascinating videos. He goes into the materials used (and why) then moves into how the actual game controller operates. These videos provide some context into why controllers are the way they are. One nifty part of his video is that he breaks down how the wiring works.

The first video he focuses on the Atari 2600 Joystick.

The second video is all about the classic Nintendo NES game controller.

And for fun, here’s Dave’s look at early video game cartridges.

If you don’t want to slice open your old game controller than you can always find some other use for them.

Internet Archive Releases Massive DOS Game Collection

Stunts!

Stunts!

The Internet Archive is amazing and it got even more amazing this week with the release of DOS games you can play in any modern browser! There are still some minor bugs I ran into but overall it works fine. Check out the complete collection here.

Here are some choice games:

Collection of popular game studios:

Good luck getting any work done in 2015!

Via MeFi.

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