(Ln(x))3

The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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9:10am on Friday, 31st October, 2014:

Hornsea, not Hornsey

Anecdote

There's an interview with me on Eurogamer that went up yesterday. This is a quite sympathetic piece, and I'm generally very pleased with it. However, even though it was conducted first-hand, there are a number of minor errors in it. It'll be interesting to see how these propagate as truths in the coming years (if they propagate at all). I'll list them here, but note that because they're negative that may make it look as if I think the interview is negative. I don't, I thought the interview was pretty good, as I've just said.

The interview was done at the Develop Conference in July, I think, and was recorded. The trouble with recordings is that when you listen back to them, you hear the phonetics but not the spelling. This explains why the article says I came from Hornsey (in Essex) rather than Hornsea (in Yorkshire) and Roy Trubshaw's surname appears as Trubshore. I'm sure that when I said the names of games, I italicised my speech, too...

The interview was conducted by Simon Parkin, who is rather younger than me and so can be forgiven for not appreciating the full horrors of computers in the 1970s. I'm reported as having said that BP donated computers to local schools, whereas actually they donated access to a computer to local schools, computers in those days being room-fillers. Also, there's some perhaps understandable confusion over the word "class". I added levels to MUD because I wanted people to have a feeling of what a class structure felt like, in the sense of the UK class system; I deliberately didn't put in character classes, because those pigeonholed people in exactly the way I didn't want people pigeonholed. Also, my first-class degree (ironic use of the word "class" there omitted in the article) was indeed the highest recorded back then; I don't think it necessarily is any more, though, which means it's not the "highest ever recorded", just the "highest ever recorded at that point".

It's correct that the head of the MIT media lab was one of the first people to play MUD remotely, but that's the current head, Joi Ito. There wasn't a Media Lab at MIT until 1985, which is six years after Joi first played MUD.

Most of the MUDs in the 1980s were similar in the sense that they combined social play and game-like play. They were wildly different in their fictions, with even games in the same genre sometimes being further apart in gameplay than, say, The Secret World and WildStar.

That's really all I can find wrong, except maybe quibbling about who was the faster programmer between Roy and I (Roy coded faster but made more mistakes, so if you go with debugged-lines-of-code we're probably both about the same, and this is somewhat faster than the average for programmers). It gives a fair picture of what happened.

Sadly, computer games as a whole are seen by the cultural elite as low-brow, lower-class fare, so it's not as if there's any battle been won here...



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8:17pm on Thursday, 30th October, 2014:

GameCity

Anecdote

I went to Nottingham today to speak at the GameCity event. I only had to do three things:
1) Be interviewed then give my future of VR shaggy dog story.
2) Be on a three-person panel talking about how great text is for games.
3) Sign a wall.

Only now, as I type this, have I remembered about 3). Sigh...



GameCity now has a five-storey building in the middle of Nottingham, which it has secured as the National Video Game Arcade, a cultural centre for video games (although from what I saw they have board games too) (and text games, which is why I was there). It's really impressive, there's a lot of space there. Having access to the contents of the National Videogame Archive (which is split between Nottingham Trent University and the National Media Museum in Bradford) will help them fill it, but they have a lot of plans so I don't expect they'll be able to display much.

Nottingham Trent, by the way, is one of two universities in Nottingham. To give a footballing metaphor, Nottingham University plays in the Premier League and Nottingham Trent is in League 1, pressing for promotion to the Championship. The fact that it's Nottingham Trent that has backed this, rather than Nottingham, speaks volumes about the way that computer games are treated by the academic establishment. Nottingham University should be ashamed of itself that it hasn't got involved with this project somehow. Ian Livingstone, the country's most senior and respected games industry figure, was at the event. I didn't see academics from Nottingham University queuing up to speak to him, though...

I had to leave the event early to get back to Colchester by 7pm, which meant I missed the talk by Zoë Quinn — currently at the centre of the GamerGate controversy through no fault of her own (unless you count being female as something that's her fault). I'd have liked to have heard what she had to say, although I don't think I could have said anything to her myself without sounding patronising, albeit well-meaningly so, which is probably not what she needs right now. What she does need, as she said in a BBC interview today, is for industry figures should "stand up and condemn" GamerGate. Personally, I'm not one to condemn organisations, because that means I'm attacking a veil, not the people behind the veil. GamerGate seems to consist of griefers, trolls, dupes and naïve gamers. Some are bona fide criminals; some are merely misguided, but they're giving legitimacy to the griefers by associating with them (and are still wrong). I condemn the former; the latter will come round eventually when they realise their fears are unfounded.

Hmm, given GamerGate, I can see how the academic establishment might actually want to talk to Zoë Quinn, even if they don't want to speak to Ian Livingstone. You could probably get a publication out of the former, but not the latter. It's not just a certain type of gamer who treats people as if they were NPCs...



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2:28pm on Wednesday, 29th October, 2014:

Changing and Not Changing

Anecdote

I found myself in Brick Lane, London, yesterday evening.

Last time I was in Brick Lane must have been about 1990. I went there because some American MUD players had told me about this type of bread called a "bagel" that we couldn't get in UK shops. There was, however, a Jewish bakery in Brick Lane that did a roaring trade in them and I should go there. I did, I bought a bagel, I figured I'd probably like them better toasted.

Back then, Brick Lane was still a mainly Jewish street. Yesterday, though, I didn't see any evidence of this past. It's now almost completely a Bengali street, packed with curry houses (several of which are award-winning). It would appear that Brick Lane has rather changed, then.

It's not, though. The reason it's not is because Brick Lane has always been about immigrants. Communities come to the East End, they settle, they prosper, they leave, then another community arrives. The Bengalis replaced the Jews, who in turn replaced the Irish, who in turn replaced the Huguenots. A hundred years from now, it'll be another group; a hundred years later, another.

So although the people and character of Brick Lane have changed, they haven't. In some sense, they're the same as they always were.

I can now buy bagels in my local supermarket.



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11:25am on Tuesday, 28th October, 2014:

On a Roll

Weird

I think that perhaps one of the machines at the toilet paper factory has developed a fault:





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7:05pm on Monday, 27th October, 2014:

Truthful Signage

Anecdote

Hmm, I hadn't realised that the sign in the car park pointing to the "stairs and toilets" was referring to the same place. Ughhh.

Maybe I'll take a different flight of toilets next time I park my car there.



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1:11pm on Sunday, 26th October, 2014:

Book Fair

Anecdote

It's the annual NSPCC book fair weekend here in Colchester, which I always attend if I can because it has some really interesting books in it. I could spend hours looking through the boxes of second-hand books they have for sale.

Well, normally I could. This year, I left after 30 minutes.

It's been going downhill for the past couple of years, to be honest. There used to be a section of old books — ones over 100 years old, in the main. There is no such section now. Either no-one is donating them, or they're being pre-sold to specialist dealers. I like old books, because they tell you so much about the times in which they were written. Today, the oldest book I saw was one on mathematical formulae to be used by steam engineers, dating from the 1930s (and in the same "technology" box as Windows 98 for Dummies). There were far too many books on gardening and cooking — it's as if they just bring out the ones they were unable to sell last year and add to them the ones that have been dumped on them in the interrim.

There is actually another reason I came back earlier than expected. Normally, there are people with come in wearing backpacks and obliviously block all movement in the narrow aisles between the boxes of books, so I expect that. What I don't expect are people who smell bad. There were three of them wandering around this year, and it was really quite unpleasant when one got near. I wasn't the only person to notice, either. The men (they were all men) in question didn't look as if they were tramps who'd just come in from a night sleeping underneath sheep, but they certainly smelled that way.

I looked at all the books that weren't fiction. I looked at the board games. I almost bought a book on Christmas in Victorian times, but it seemed to lump the entire Victorian period into one as if 1900 was the same as 1850. I went home with an empty bag, disappointed.



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12:02pm on Saturday, 25th October, 2014:

Scanning Error

Anecdote

In Sainsbury's today, I was trying to use the hand-scanner to scan a pack of mince and it wouldn't scan. I tried it on a bunch more and it didn't scan any of them. It worked on other stuff, just not the mince.

While I was trying it, a woman — I'd guess she was in her late 30s — who was also getting some mince (a different size, so hers scanned) asked me "are you having trouble there?". She used that particular tone of voice people use when talking to old people who are confused by new technology.

OK, she meant well, so I just explained that none of the packs I'd tried were scanning and so the code probably wasn't in the database, and we went our separate ways. However, it's really the first indication I've had that not only am I starting to get old, I'm starting to look old, too. My future of being patronised starts here.

I wouldn't care, but personally I don't think I look much older than my dad.



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1:48pm on Friday, 24th October, 2014:

Allergens

Weird

This sign is up in Zest, the café where I pay £2.25 for a hot chocolate every day:



Allergic to vegetarians? Don't eat anything marked V!



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6:52pm on Thursday, 23rd October, 2014:

Decomposing Words

Anecdote

To the workmen taking apart the 5-metre long wooden structure with ESSEX carved into it in enormous letters: start at the X end, not the E end. That way, when you'd removed two of the letters, it'll say ESS.



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4:45pm on Wednesday, 22nd October, 2014:

Cohort

Anecdote

I've just finished interviewing the last of the eight games students whom I've been allocated this year as their tutor. There were supposed to be nine, but one didn't show up. The point of the interviews is basically to make sure that none of them are at risk of giving up and going home: we lose quite a lot of students to homesickness, course too hard, course too easy, no friends, love-life issues, financial problems and so on. These tutor/tutee interviews are to make sure everyone is settling in so we can get them help if they're not.

Fortunately, few people in Computer Science have those kind of issues - they're mainly a social sciences and humanities thing. We tend to know in advance which of our students are likely to experience problems settling in, because it's usually down to their having an already-identified specific learning difficulty (eg. Asperger's syndrome). This means that I can flat out ask my tutees if they're going to jump out of a tower block and they'll laugh, rather than think about it.

I don't normally get to interview games students, as tutor/tutee allocation has traditionally worked by listing lecturers in alphabetical order in one column, students in alphabetical order in another, then giving each lecturer a block of 8-10 students in order. This has meant my tutees have had names beginning with A, which means most of them are from Arab countries, the governments of which have sent them to learn about telecommunications or electronics rather than games. I know nothing about telecoms or electronics, so haven't really been able to engage with them. This time, they've broken it down by module type instead so I got games students only. Yay!

I've only spoken to these eight tutees of mine this year, but if they're a representative sample of who's on the games degree then we've got a really smart intake. They're switched on, they understand games, they know what they want to do and why they want to do it. Most of them seem to me as if they have a definite future in the games industry - and some of them may well make their own future in it whether the industry likes it or not, they're very driven. I'm hugely impressed! I'm also kinda worried in case when I get them next year they'll find my module too wishy-washy; I may have to increase the intellectual content above its current level. Then again, I may have already had to do that as I don't know what the current cohort of second-years is like.

Oh, and two of the eight students I interviewed were female. I don't suppose that this means a quarter of the games degree's students are female, but if it does then we're halfway to what the ideal figure should be.



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9:41am on Tuesday, 21st October, 2014:

Electronic Age

Comment

Before we had email, we had mail. Before we had ecommerce, we had commerce. Before we had ebanking, we had banking. Before we had ebusiness, we had business. Before we had ecigarettes, we had cigarettes. Before we had ebooks, we had books.

Why didn't we used to have bola?



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2:24pm on Monday, 20th October, 2014:

Clouds

Anecdote

There were some unusual clouds over Colchester first thing this morning:



Well, unusual for Colchester. Other places probably have those spirally-looking things the whole time.



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11:31am on Sunday, 19th October, 2014:

mud.uk

Anecdote

In an attempt to bring UK domain names into line with those of the rest of the world, Nominet is issuing .uk names to people who have .co.uk names. You have 5 years to claim the .uk equivalent of your .co.uk one, then they'll be made available to everyone.

As the proud owner of mud.co.uk, I am entitled to buy mud.uk, so I've done so. I could have saved myself 5 years of fees by waiting until the last moment to do it, but that would entail my remembering that I had to do it.

Now begins the task of changing every use of mud.co.uk on the mud.co.uk site to mud.uk .

Hmm, maybe I'll just change my business cards...



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5:24pm on Saturday, 18th October, 2014:

Eh up

Comment

I saw this T-shirt advertised in today's Guardian:



Yes, that seems reasonable to me.



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4:26pm on Friday, 17th October, 2014:

Nominative Determinism

Weird

A van just parked outside our house with the following written on the side: "Matt Black Painter and Decorator".

Bit of a narrow range if you ask me.



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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).