The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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4:33pm on Sunday, 23rd October, 2016:

Dual Society


The person in the seat next to me on the flight back yesterday arrived after I did. He was of sub-Saharan African ethnicity and spoke with an incredibly strong London streetwise accent. "That's ma seat, bro". After he got settled, he realised he'd lost his phone. "Ma phone, you seen it, bro? I lost ma phone, man!". We were delayed maybe a minute from taking off before the person in the seat behind found it.

I got chatting to my (plainly relieved) seat row companion. It turned out that he wasn't from London, he was Swedish, he'd just lived in London for few year. Hounslow, Southall, Streatham, Hackney, ... He'd picked up his English speaking to working-class Londoners, so sounded as if he was one of them. His Swedish was more like the equivalent of a home counties accent. In London, he's treated as if he's down with the bros in the hood, innit, but in Sweden he's treated as if he were from a wealthy suburb.

It's like he's some kind of superman with a secret identity.


7:36pm on Saturday, 22nd October, 2016:



I'm at Gothenburg airport, eating a burger that cost me three times as much as it would have done in England. The Heathrow flight is the last departure, so all the shops are closing down through lack of customers. I've picked up a cold that has dealt me a sore throat so bad I had to buy some ibuprofin.

I came down for breakfast n Skövde at 8:20 this morning, knowing I had 9 hours before my train to Gothenburg. Skövde is an odd town: it has a very compact centre, maybe three football pitches in area, and almost all the buildings look new even though some have dates on from the mid-1800s. I guess this is what comes of not taking sides in World War 2. It only takes about an hour to explore, maybe two if you go into a few shops and walk down streets you know won't have anything interesting in them. I didn't know what I was going to do for 9 hours — especially as it was raining.

Fortunately, there were people from the conference also having breakfast, so we got chatting. Eventually we broke up at about 9:45, as Warren Spector had a car organised to show him round some castles. He offered to take some of us along, too, which I would have jumped at but he wasn't due back until 5pm-6pm — I risked missing my train.

At 10am, I checked out and began my exploration of central Skövde.

At 11am, I finished my exploration of central Skövde. I went to the train station to see if I could use my ticket on an earlier train and have a look round Gothenburg, Unfortunately, my ticket was valid for a particular seat in a particular carriage on a particular train run by a particular operator that only runs that one train to Gothenburg a day.

I was trapped.

I ooched around the little shopping centre, which is quite nice (I wish we had one like it in Colchester) but it wasn't all that exciting. I bought some Läkerol, in the process making the useful discovery that they cost almost exactly twice as much in Sweden as they do if I buy them in bulk from Amazon.co.uk. I was hoping I could buy presents for my daughters, but the clothes in the shops all seemed to be promising except for a dash too much frump. No way would my daughters wear anything frumpy, so that was that. I did see something I know one of them would have liked, but it was too "no daughter of mine is wearing that!" for me to invest in.

I wandered around in the rain some more then found somewhere to have lunch. It was steak and roast potatoes, and was very reasonably priced. It probably passes for fast food in Sweden, but I liked it. I shall remember Mamma Mia's should I even find myself in a similar situation in Skövde.

After that, I went to the conference hall to look around the exhibition. I'd forgotten my entry pass, but bumped into a friend, Souvik Mukherjee, who was just leaving, so he loaned me his. The Sweden Game Arena had now been opened to the public, and there were queues of Skövde children waiting patiently to try VR games. It was difficult to move at times, although the people in cosplay seemed to have a worse time of because of their props. I was quite impressed by the laptop-backpack that MSi have developed to allow people to use VR without having to cable themselves to a PC. The battery life is 90 minutes, but there are two of them so they can be hot-swapped while playing. That's assuming you're going to be playing a VR game for 90 minutes, of course.

I left after about 20 minutes, bumped into Souvik again, and we spent the next three hours chatting in the hotel. Warren Spector reappeared just as I was about to leave.

In the end, I wished I'd had more time there.


5:21pm on Friday, 21st October, 2016:



I've given my presentation now at the Sweden Game Conference. It didn't go as badly as I feared given the time (the last talk of the last day), length (30 minutes) and subect matter (old white straight male talking about inclusivity), so I'll upload the slides when I get back. I don't think I managed to annoy too many people, except for the entire population of Thailand.

It's been a genuinely interesting conference: big enough to have lots of people to talk to, but not so big that no-one can bump into anyone by accident. I've had conversations with students, lecturers, developers, indies, CEOs of international companies, tech inventors, famous designers, financiers, and people I never found out what they did but they had opinions worth listening to. I'd certainly come back if I were invited again (despite never having mastered how to say "Skövde") (which would be much easier if the first three letters were pronounced the same as in "Skol").

Pro tip: if you want to talk about minorities without mentioning any actual minorities (whom you would invariably insult by making a well-intentioned remark that's actually a mis-step), talk about people who wear socks and people who don't wear socks. It seemed to work when I did it, anyway, although I guess I could have just struck lucky by finding an audience without any militant sock-wearers in it.


4:44pm on Thursday, 20th October, 2016:



The first day of the conference has been pretty good, with several interesting and entertaining speakers. I've also bumped into a surprising number of people with whom I was already acquainted, so could catch up with their goings-on. Perhaps better still, I've chatted to a people whom I haven't met before, but will now look forward to chatting with again next time our paths cross. Observation: the younger you are the less likely you are to agree with the statement "VR is just a gimmick".

I was on a panel about diversity and inclusiveness (the theme of the conference). The problem with diversity is that to be diverse you need a lot of people, so there were six of us on the panel — probably two too many. Also, I was the only old, white, straight male on the panel, which could have been rather awkward but I was able to rant about the British class system and so count myself as oppressed rather than as the beneficee of a number of structural advantages built into society.

Meatballs for lunch: Sweden is famous for them, and justly so.

As for the coffee, well let's just say I switched to tea after the first one.


6:33am on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016:

Early Start


I got up at 4am this morning to drive to Heathrow (which is where I am now). I have a 7:35am flight to Gothenburg in Sweden, from where I have a train journey to Skövde, the venue of the Sweden Game Conference at which I'm speaking on Friday. I don't like having to get up at 4am, but it does make for an easier drive. I might have considered staying in a hotel, but my return flight lands at 10:30pm so it might have been hard gettin a train home. Indeed, because I get back on Saturday, the train would have been a bus (again) anyway.

The theme of the Sweden Game Conference this year is Diversity. I prepared my talk well in advance, as usual, but am slightly worried because I was subsequently invited to sit on a panel and fear I may say all the stuff I have in my talk a day early. I could be writing another presentation on Thursday evening...

Skövde isn't pronounced as it looks as if it should be pronounced to English eyes: it's something like "ohov-de". Knowing that I can't pronounce it is a blessing, as it means I'm under no pressure to pronounce it properly — I stand no chance. So long as I can recognise it when someone else says it (for example, an announcer on a train), I should be OK.


10:31am on Tuesday, 18th October, 2016:

Parking Issues


The car park I use at the universiyt has automatic numberplate recognition. You drive in, find a place to park, then go to work. When you leave, you enter your numberplate details on a touchscreen and it tells you how much it costs (10p an hour).

That's what I used to do, anyway. For this academic year, however, I've bought a season ticket. Now, I don't have to enter my numberplate on the touchscreen, I can just drive out.

Given how long I park at the university, it's a bit more expensive for me this way. However, it does mean I no longer have to negotiate the smudge of snot that's been on the touchscreen's W for the past 8 months.


7:51am on Monday, 17th October, 2016:



My mother's paternal great-grandfather had four younger siblings. Here's how the 1871 Census describes them:

That explains a lot.


11:29am on Sunday, 16th October, 2016:

Fire Test


Yes, so, I may have clipped the fire extinguisher when I was getting my bag out of the back of the car.


8:52pm on Saturday, 15th October, 2016:



My explanation of why I didn't need a coat to walk 500 yards through the centre of Durham at night.


4:25pm on Saturday, 15th October, 2016:

Weigh Aye


The reason I hired a dinner suit was because yesterday I took part in a debate at the Durham Union — an old and very prestigious debating society at Durham University. So old and prestigious is it, that it's a black tie event (at least for the participants on the panels).

The motion for debate was "This House has Faith in the Existence of God". I was on the opponent side. Both we and the proponents concurred at the dinner beforehand that the result was likely to be determined mainly by how many members of Durham's substantial community of Theology students could be persuaded to attend by the three-line whip of their lecturers (two of whom who were on the proponent panel), so whatever the result would be was in a sense already predetermined and we could therefore be relaxed about it.

As it was, the result was a little shaky anyway. First it was decided by assent, in which members of the audience shout either AYE or NO and the loudest wins. It seemed to me that the NO side had noticeably more support, but the contingent of theologians were mainly sitting together on the side of the hall way from me, so that may just have been my perception. It did seem clear-cut, though, especially given how many theologians are men and thus in general endowed with louder-sounding voices than women.

However, as this was an early debate in the academic year and there were some first-timers present, a division was called (basically to show them how it worked). In this, the AYE side exit through one door and the NO side through another. The result was something like 60 AYE and 50 NO. Unfortunately, another 20 or so people remained in the hall for a meeting of the society's council or something afterwards, having been asked explicitly not to leave. They weren't sitting in the block of theologists, so would probably in the main have voted NO rather than AYE. Still, the result will be recorded in the records as an AYE, which is fair enough; you have to do these things by the rules. I'm not too upset by it; at least our side came second.

The format of the debate was that members of the proponent and the opponent panels took turns (proponents first) to make their cases in ten-minute speeches. Then, members of the audience could make points, often addressed as questions to the panels, but to which we weren't to respond. Each person who asked a question was given an invitation to a post-debate event at which the panelists would be in attendance. After the questions (or in this case, time) ran out, one member of each panel got to do a five-minute response (opponents first), then the vote was taken.

I was a little frustrated that I couldn't address some of the questions directly, as they were based on misunderstandings. I didn't, for example, say that a dog mauling a baby (which happened yesterday in Colchester) was evil; I did say that if the were a god, then that god could have stopped it but didn't. Nevertheless, the opportunity to explain matters did arise in the event afterwards, which was actually very good. I had some interesting and at times quite stimulating conversations with people there. On the whole, I therefore accept that this is a reasonable way of doing things for developing understanding and testing new positions, although I wouldn't recommend it for the House of Commons.

Weirdly, on the train to Durham I found myself sitting next to one of the other participants on our panel, with the third sitting behind him. What are the odds, eh? Also, on the way back I shared a taxi with one of the proponents. It's good that you can have meaningful conversations with people who have contradictory views to your own, as a consequence of which both of you can advance your understanding of your own position, and without coming to blows. For example, I'd certainly be happy to talk to Theology students about what they need to consider as we approach the time when their subject becomes experimental, because none of that is contingent on having a faith in the existence of a god of Reality.

Talking of Reality, I'm typing this in the waiting room at Peterborough Station, where I'm waiting for an hour for a train to Ipswich via Stowmarket on account of how, because of railworks, the train from London to Colchester today is a bus.


12:20am on Friday, 14th October, 2016:

Water PPK


You know how popular opinion is that no-one looks bad in a tuxedo?

Popular opinion is wrong.


8:26pm on Thursday, 13th October, 2016:

Twice as Long


The 24 packs of Läkerol I bought last month lasted just over four weeks, rather than the two I was estimating. I'd send off for some more, but I'm off to Sweden next week so will be able to pick up some replacement packs while I'm there.

This is assuming that the pound doesn't fall so low against the Swedish krona that I'm paying a fiver each for them, of course.


5:04pm on Wednesday, 12th October, 2016:

Outside In


I've put the images from my book MMOs from the Outside In on my web site now (http://www.youhaventlived.com/MMOSWTF/index.html), to go with the ones from MMOs from the Inside Out (http://www.youhaventlived.com/MMOSFTW/index.html). If you're one of the few people in possession of the book, you can now see what those grainy images are supposed to look like.

I received a royalty cheque for the books yesterday that came to just over $80. I had such high hopes for them, but a rushed deadline and bad launch for books works just the same as it does for MMOs. Their main intended readership (MMO players) aren't even aware of them, let alone giving them any traction. I'm somewhat disappointed.

Still, the way the pound is going $80 is going to be worth like £800 soon, so it's not all gloom.


4:38pm on Tuesday, 11th October, 2016:

IGGI Cohort 4


It's that time of year when we advertise for applicants to the IGGI Doctoral Training Centre, so here I am advertising it.

IGGI stands for "Intelligent Games, Games Intelligence": it's basically about the interface between games and Artificial Intelligence (either AI for games — the IG part — or games for AI — the GI part). The universities of Essex, York and Goldsmiths (London) run it jointly, and it's now the largest research group for AI and games in the world.

What makes IGGI attractive beyond its subject matter is the fact that it's fully-funded: not only are the fees covered, but students get a stipend, too. You're PAID to do a PhD! If you're starting an MSc or your final year of a BSc this year and you're considering doing a PhD, it's very well worth investigating.

We have something like 10-12 studentships available each year. At most one of these can be for an international student; the rest are UK/EU (and at the moment, the advice we've received suggests that the EU part is Brexit-proofed). For these 10-12 spots, we get 70 or more applications each year, so competition is tight. It's less tight (but still tight) for UK/EU students, though, as up to half the applicants are international.

If you're interested, check out http://www.iggi.org.uk/apply/.

This advertisement would be paid for by the IGGI super PAC if we had one.


5:42pm on Monday, 10th October, 2016:



Some of the articles I'm seeing about Brexit from both Remain and Leave campaigners are insulting someone's intelligence. I'm not exactly sure whose, though.

One of the positions that caused a recent slump in the pound was the suggestion that a hard Brexit was not desirable but would be acceptable. Why would the government say that? The usual "so their rich friends will get richer" argument doesn't apply here, because their rich friends don't even want to leave the EU. No, there's something else going on.

It's pretty obvious what it is, too: it's a negotiating tactic. The EU is saying "if you want access to our single market, you have to play by our rules" and the UK is saying "OK, well we don't want to play by your rules so I guess we won't be seeking access to your single market". The EU, which regards itself as the one with something to sell, thereby has its teeth pulled: the UK is essentially announcing that if the price is too high, we don't want to buy. The EU took a similar view when David Cameron went round asking for concessions before the referendum: "we have what you want and it's take it or leave it". It didn't give Cameron a bean, because it thought what it was already offering was quite sufficient to win the vote. This was a miscalculation. Theresa May's announcement that a hard Brexit is a possibility was telling the EU not to make the same miscalculation a second time. It may be a large, single market, but it's stagnant and protectionist, and if there are too many strings attached, well, the alternative is actually acceptable.

Likewise, when the government announces that there won't be a Commons vote on the final offer from the EU, that's also a negotiating tactic. Parliament is, like the Labour party, at odds with those whose votes matter to it. Labour MPs don't want Jeremy Corbyn as leader, but the members do. MPs in general don't want to leave the EU, but the electorate does. If the House of Commons were to vote on whatever deal the EU eventually offers, it's pretty certain to be voted down no matter what it is. Knowing this, the EU would make no concessions whatsoever in its negotiations, confident that the UK couldn't proceed unless Parliament agreed, which it wouldn't. Thus, by saying there won't be a vote, the UK ensures that the EU has to negotiate more seriously than it would if it knew there was going to be a vote.

Now that both of these are negotiating tactics is quite clear to me. The government means them to be seen as tactics and the EU negotiators will be seeing them as tactics. That's what they are.

However, that's not what I see in the various newspaper reports and comment pieces that cross my path. There, the possibility of a hard Brexit is pitched as being some kind of needless, reckless, feckless act by a government that believes so much that the UK is going to soar once free of its imaginary chains that it's willing to burn every bridge it can to do so as soon as possible. Alternatively, it's pitched as being an immense opportunity for the UK to break free from the repressive, stifling confines of the EU prison and escape to glory.

Similarly, the dismissal of a Commons vote is described in outraged terms as being an assault on democracy, steamrollering a right-wing agenda through against the will of the people. It's also described as being the epitome of democracy, side-stepping an obstructive elite that puts its own vested interests above those of the people it's supposed to govern.

Now if you're a journalist on either side, you know that at root your depiction of what's happening isn't what's happening. Well, I hope you do: if you're writing these pieces in the genuine belief that you're reflecting the primary motivations behind them, well you shouldn't be in the job. You're adopting the perspective that you are because you want to sell this point of view to your readers. So, do you think your readers are buying it? Wouldn't you have to have rather a disparaging view of them to do this? Don't you respect their intelligence?

Well let's suppose you do. We'll assume that you and your readers all know the real reason behind the announcements, but you're choosing not to focus on that because your aim is to undermine or shore up the process (depending on which camp you're in). Nevertheless, someone at some stage has to buy what you're saying rather than accept what's actually going on, or you're wasting your time. So what about those readers who cross-post your articles to Facebook? Did they buy your argument? Or are they too smart for that and are instead trying to persuade all those unsmart people who don't read the same newspaper?

Basically, anyone who concocts an interpretation of events which makes no mention of the actual rationale involved either doesn't understand that rationale or is expecting that at some point in the readership chain there will be people who take what's been written at face value. It's a cynical manipulation of those people, and an insult to the intelligence of everyone else.

I think maybe I play too many games...


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