Electron Dance
7Aug/14Off

This Link Drag is in the Sycamore Trees


This week:

  • How does Miasmata-a-like The Forest play?
  • How is it possible to play a game against your late father?
  • Why are governments interested in algorithmic regulation?
  • Why did Laura Michet stop writing on the internet (for a while)?
  • Can the NHS stop making mistakes by making mistakes?
  • How much fraud is there in crowdfunding?
  • If the big indie shakeout really is coming, how can you better your odds of survival?

Please find your seven click escapes below.

“Impressions: The Forest Early Access” - Matt “Steerpike” Sakey (This gets in because it’s just so entertaining to read.)

“How do you know they’re evil?” he said. “They beat me up and put me in a cave.” “Maybe they’re sheltering you.” “I just found a big pile of torsos.” “So they’re organized.” “Lady hanging from the cave ceiling.” “Upside down?” “Yes.” “New age health thing, island gravity boots.” “Skinned.” “The lady is skinned?” “She is.” “Maybe she wanted to cool off.”

“Gamer discovers his deceased father's ghost on an old Xbox game, challenges it to a race” - Casey Baseel

He literally found his dad’s ghost. In addition to saving tuning settings and unlocked extras, many racing games allow players to save data pertaining to a specific run around an in-game course. This data can then be reloaded to race against later.

LONG “The rise of data and the death of politics” - Evgeny Morozov

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

“Why I Stopped Writing on the Internet (for a while)” - Laura Michet (I feel a bit weird about sharing Laura’s essay, considering attention is one of the reasons Laura cites, but I know there are fans of Second Person Shooter here, so feel duty-bound to include it.)

When Kent and I started that site, we wanted to write thoughtful essays with vague academic overtones for a general audience. Shortly after the Witcher debacle, I had an email conversation with another games writer about whether it was possible to have real, meaningful conversations with ordinary people about games on the internet. I determined that it was not, and that it was not worth it, because that audience of “ordinary people” contained a substantial portion of assholes, and I didn’t feel like writing for assholes.

FAV LONG “How mistakes can save lives: one man’s mission to revolutionise the NHS” - Ian Leslie

Reading this, you may be incredulous and angry that the doctors could have been so stupid, or so careless. But when the person closest to this event, Martin Bromiley, read Harmer’s report, he responded very differently. His main sensation wasn’t shock, or fury. It was recognition.

“The Trouble with Crowdfunding the Next Big Tech Gadget” - Liz Logan

The initial campaign offered the rings as "perks" for donations of $175 and up, with a delivery date of April 2014. Now that that deadline has passed, the creators have posted an update on Indiegogo saying they've run into production problems and have postponed the delivery date to next month. Lateness is not failure for either product design or crowdfunding, but a lack of transparency is usually a red flag. Smarty Ring's updates are usually about a sentence long, and the creators have so far declined to share their working prototype.

"I don't believe it will ever ship," Enever says of Smarty Ring, and he calls the media coverage of the product "irresponsible."

“Surviving In the Post-Indie Bubble Wasteland!!!” - Jeff Vogel

Small game developers fit the archetype of the lone tinkerer, slaving late into the night, creating because they are driven to create, damn the consequences.

In my culture, at least, this is a truly powerful and beloved archetype, one buried deep in the cultural and professional DNA of our society. When people see you as a driven tinkerer, rich in drive and creativity if not in wealth, they will want you to succeed. It is then a short jump to actively helping you to succeed.

As long as they like you.

Some of these links are sourced from recommendations and apologies for not acknowledging where they came from. I throw scores of links into Instapaper every week and I have no record of their origins.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

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  1. Don’t feel weird!

    I actually wrote that article over a year ago and had it sitting in my publish list with a “very far in the future” publish date the entire time. Then it published BY ACCIDENT, after I’d forgotten about it, right in the middle of that whole “why do people leave games writing?” discussion that took place over the last month. Chance topicality. Someone saw the auto-post on my twitter feed and stuck it in Critical Distance. Weird chain of events.

    I had to go back and change all the dates so it made sense, actually.

  2. Okay, Laura, thanks! I’m wondering… is the “games writer” you had an email discussion with… me? We had a short conversation along these lines at that time. Just curious.

  3. Thank you for the link, my friend! Per my discussion with you and Gregg B, I have decided to embrace my consumerism and become a partial slave to Early Access. Sometimes it leads me to wonderful things.

  4. Yes, actually. I remember you reached out to me during the debacle, which was very kind. Unfortunately my decision had pretty much been made by that point.

    There’s probably an alternate universe where things turned out very differently, since I actually had a choice for my senior thesis: try to write a book full of games essays– essentially analog SPS– or write a novel. There were a couple weeks where I wanted to do the games essays thing in academia but I eventually decided that my department just didn’t have anyone in it who would be a good adviser for a games book. I was getting pushed around from one person to another and there were practically no professors in Dartmouth’s English department who had ever even played a digital game.

    And then there’s the issue of why you write an an undergrad thesis at Dartmouth at all. Experience? miniscule chance at prize money? Notoriety? Resume filler? You’ve gotta cover at least two of those or you might be left feeling like you’ve wasted your time. I realized that writing a book of games essays would be great experience… *for a job I didn’t want anymore.* Furthermore, there was no way of getting awards or notoriety for something the English department didn’t even want to understand. The “status rewards” associated with analytical games writing are only available on the internet or in games-centric academic environments. If I’d have pursued that road, I’d have been writing a huge amount of content for people who didn’t care about it, in an environment that it couldn’t easily be shared out of– even if I wanted to share it outside of academia, anyway.

    In the end the novel thing turned out just fine, though. I still occasionally work on it and hope to have the last 30 or so pages of the second draft written by the end of this fall. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to deliver such good work on it if I’d been writing for SPS the whole time.

  5. Really enjoyed the link haul, especially the piece on learning from mistakes in the medical industry. Over the past few years I’ve been made very aware of the huge gap between our perception of doctors (trustworthy, omnipotent forces for good who want to make our lives better) and the reality (in a phrase: human after all.)

    Laura: Sorry to hear you had to withstand such an onslaught! For what it’s worth, I don’t much care if a writer loves or hates a game that I love or hate – what I want from them is a new perspective. I loved Mass Effect 2 but if someone wrote a thought-provoking essay about it which pointed out something troubling, I’d read it and be glad I’d been offered that perspective. The only time I’d get angry is if they ignored something of real ethical/social import in the real world – eg. I have little patience for people who insist that fictional white characters should be played by white actors and that it’s “insulting” or “stupid” for them to be played by non-white actors.

    Anyway, sorry the internet is full of failpeople. Glad to hear you did so much to be proud and got so many positive experiences out of doing your own thing!

  6. @Laura: I think it all worked out for the best, of course, in the end – every month I review whether Electron Dance is a useful expenditure of my time (e.g. where is this going). The field is also a lot more crowded these days but I like to think SPS would have remained in bookmarks and link roundups and the like. Keeping the momentum going would likely be the challenge in my what-if scenario.

    Ah, seems as though I got you onto the Sunday Papers.

    @James: It’s not been a popular click as far as I can tell, but the medical industry piece is one of the most uplifting articles I’ve read in recent months, hence my FAV note. It turns an incident that would devastate any of us into something enormously positive and that will undoubtedly save many lives.

  7. This NS piece on Bromiley and the NHS is interesting. Fascinating parallels with the aviation industry.

    Private Eye has a feature in just about every issue about the problems with whistleblowing, accountability and investigations within NHS Trusts (with the focus being on particularly problematic trusts and the lives and careers ruined by them).

    It has always seemed so very strange to me that so many organisations choose to try and obfuscate or forget incidents, accidents, mistakes and malpractice rather than learn from the errors that were made. I’m sure there are equally strange and convoluted reasons why this is so.

    Similarly, I’m sure there are strange and interesting reasons why NHS culture has ended up so ossified into often dangerously unsafe working practices and habits of communication.

    Also enjoyed the piece by Vogel!

  8. The more serious the consequences of error, the more serious the resulting punishment. Our society, for all its commitment to fairness, loves to drag people through the mud and watch them flounder. Doctors who are caught making a mistake are looking at being lynched in public and potentially struck off; anything less is considered a cover-up. And so I can well imagine, faced with the severe downside risk, there is a concerted effort to bury honest mistakes and accidents before they bury the people involved – an accident and malpractice look identical from a distance. The punishments are so brutal that there is simply no case for honesty. It’s become learned behaviour over time, that these things just happen because no one looks at why: a vicious circle. There’s a distrust in authority which leads to… authority covering things up.

    The Vogel piece is a followup to his previous essay which, well, was controversial if Twitter was any judge. Which it isn’t because EVERYTHING is controversial on Twitter. Annnnyway. He was warning of the indie judgement day coming and one of his central arguments was “there are too many games” which led to him being disembowelled by a pack of Twolves. Not that Vogel seemed to be bothered.

    As you might imagine I have enormous amounts to say on all this… which is all going in the book and you’re going to have to pay for the privilege to read it. It’s going to be the first time in history you can acquire privilege through petty cash and you won’t even need to have it checked.

    I don’t know if I’m going to write something this week. I seem to be in (a) a stormy bad mood and (b) the only piece that’s nearly done is something about cynicism which is probably a poor idea because (1) I’m in a bad mood.

  9. There’s truth to all that, and the high media profile of cases like Baby P is a clear demonstration of what you’re saying, but outside of hot-trigger issues like infant healthcare and outright abuse I don’t know if I agree that healthcare mistakes that are made public inevitably lead to what you describe. After all, not every NHS Trust in the country has a culture of covering up mistakes or malpractice, allowing those who commit them to continue doing so, and destroying the careers of whistleblowers who are attempting to do the right thing.

    Of course there are too many games… whichever way you choose to define it, too, haha. There are too many to play, too many to even be aware of them all, too many to curate and judge, etc. There are more every year, too. Similarly there were over 500 fantasy novels published in the US alone every year not long ago; it’s probably a little higher today. Not even the most ardent fantasy fan or critic can read more than a fraction of that.

    But I’ve not read Vogel’s original post and don’t have time to right now (though apparently I’ve the time to leave comments on different websites), so I don’t know whether he was speculating about a bubble bursting (ala. the Atari video games crash, or the horror pulp novel crash) or ‘natural’ die back as markets balance themselves. I’d guess not the bubble, going by the comment on why he chose that word in the follow-up post.

  10. All I would add to that is “DOCTORS KILLED MY WIFE” makes a good headline. But there does need to be more transparency and I would hope Bromiley’s initiative really changes things.

    I think the disagreement over Vogel’s post comes down to whether “too many games” is an actual problem for part of the industry. Does it impact the average developer’s ability to live? Or will the merry-go-round continue unabated for the near future?


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