Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Taking Fun Seriously

Serendipity abounds. I've been slow posting, and in the meantime, several items on the topic of "It's just a game, isn't it?" have come to my attention. First up, bunny ears.

It seems that to celebrate Easter, WoW introduced a new achievement which required players to find a female character from one of each of the races and catalog put bunny ears on her, presumably using some sort of gizmo. No permission of said female toon was required.

Some of the women objected. To them, a line was crossed and their avatars were sexualized without their permission. Many in the gaming community reacted just as is expected when challenged: It's just a game. It's just an avatar, it doesn't mean anything.

Credit where credit is due, Raph got here first:

But boy, avatars is a pretty special case. We have a lot of “specialized hardware” around this in our brains, and avatars tend to trigger a lot of it. For example, the fusiform face area or FFA is a part of the brain that seems to be involved in facial recognition, and also seems to fire off when identifying specific objects with fine distinctions (for example, it fires in birdwatchers when identifying birds, and in car aficionados when recognizing specific makes and models). The interesting thing is that the FFA activates even with iconified faces — with stuff that we just think of as a face.

It may be a game, but it isn't just a game. Your body and your mind reacts to it pretty much as if it's life. Some people manage to be pretty detached about the experience, but then that's true of life AFK, too.

Here's how I feel about it. People take their appearance seriously. WoW has lots of "zap someone's appearance" toys, but most of them only work on group members. So there's some form of implied permission there. The height of a players's avatar will affect their behavior, and so will the amount of "eye contact" another avatar is giving you.

So, I think WoW blew it here. It's not the moral equivalent of murder, but the moral equivalent of slapping a "hottie" sticker on the back of women at the park. I have little patience for those who argue that "people wear bunny costumes all the time, it's celebrating the Easter bunny." There are two problems with this, first, the people who wear the costumes choose to do so. Second, that's not the only meaning of bunny ears, which have been associated with sexual availability for at least 50 years.

Geez, just ask anyone who is a fan of manga and anime. The acheivement didn't require you put ears on male avatars, did it? I think there's be a lot less issue if it had. No, the female characters had to blow kisses at males. Doesn't that strike you as being a bit, umm, one-sided.

Anyway, not a mortal sin, but a mistake on Bizzard's part.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Where's the Pipeweed?

The New York Times reported today on new data concerning the fossils of hobbits found in Indonesia.

These bones were first found in 2004, but controversy remains over whether the bones represent a different species altogether, or just pygmy versions of homo sapiens.

A new study being released in Nature recounts many anatomical differences between the bones and homo sapiens, most notably the extremely large feet. Hair, of course, would not survive the 17,000 years. Still, some questions remain...

Dr. Jungers and his colleagues raised the possibility that the ancestor of the species was not Homo erectus, as had been the original assumption. H. erectus is known as the earliest hominid to leave Africa and make its way across Asia. At a symposium two weeks ago, several scientists edged toward the view that the hobbits emerged from another, more primitive hominid ancestor.

Well, nobody has ever claimed to know where hobbits come from, not even John Ronald Ruel himself. And any red hair would be long gone by now

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday Reading

Raph has a very interesting essay on game mechanics and the sort of things that make MMO's so highly addictive, by way of an Easter Egg game he did recently.

Now, there’s no reward in this game, there’s no winner or loser, and there’s no endgame. Yet even during testing, I had to tear myself away, and when put into Metaplace Central, average session length for the day went up 50%. But… in some sense, it’s a crummy game. Why this effect? Because the Easter Egg hunt is a confluence of a lot of highly manipulative tricks.

What are the tricks? And how do they operate in MMO's? Well, read the whole thing to find out why folks will raid four days a week or more, and why I go around with the title Exalted in front of my name.