Doom on the $100 Laptop

Who needs textbooks when it’ll run Doom?  Engineers from the One
Laptop Per Child Project have posted videos of themselves playing the
videogame Doom on the new children’s laptop.

Up next: the Darfur game?

Link: OLPC News: DOOM on the OLPC XO!, via BoingBoing.

More: The NYT features the project again today: For $150, Third-World Laptop Stirs Big Debate, and also has an active reader discussion about it.

Monitor Kids’ TV Time with BOB

BOB is a new gadget that you hook up to electronic devices to monitor and control the amount of time kids watch TV, play videogames, or whatever.  Of course, if you need a gadget to accomplish this, your parenting problems may not stop here.

I assume the marketing wizards who named this device never watched Twin Peaks.

Link: Bob, Media Time Management Device,
via Wired: Gear Factor.

Second Life at On the Media

I find the whole Second Life phenomenon fascinating (and possibly a little disturbing).  It’s been getting news coverage everywhere lately; NPR’s On the Media had a good story about it this weekend.  They talked with Mark Warner, the first presidential hopeful ever to make a campaign appearance in a virtual world, and also with virtual-embedded reporter Wagner James Au and real-world journalist Clive Thompson.

You can listen at On the Media –September 22, 2006, or read a transcript there after Tuesday.  More at Wagner James Au’s site as well: On the Media, on Second Life.

Crashing the Army’s Video Game Party

Salon has a fascinating article today about "America’s Army," the US Army’s recruitment video game that simulates the Iraq War, and artist Joseph DeLappe‘s protest work.  An excerpt:

To streak entertainment with reality, DeLappe has turned "America’s
Army" into a war protest and a memorial to dead soldiers. Since the
anniversary of the Iraq invasion this past March, DeLappe, chair of the
art department at the University of Nevada, Reno, has been playing the
game under the call sign "dead-in-Iraq," which is also what he calls
his work of "performance art."

He logs on to the game and does nothing. While other online players
around him simulate war — and eventually shoot him — he types into
the program’s chat interface — typically used for gamers to strategize
with one another — the name of each service person killed in Iraq. As
of Sept. 14, he’d entered 1,273 names of the 2,670 Americans killed
there; he plans to continue until the war ends. "I’m trying to remind
other gamers that real people are dying in Iraq," DeLappe says.

The military funded "America’s Army" in part to interest kids as
young as 13 to join the Army. The virtual rifle range (free to
download) is also a training ground for real combat in Iraq. With 7.5
million users since its release in 2002, "America’s Army" has become
the main place where young people learn about the military, according
to a 2004 marketing survey conducted for the Army. It’s an
"entertaining way for young adults to explore the Army and its
adventures and opportunities as a virtual soldier," reads the game’s
official Web site, which links gamers to a military recruiter.

"It’s probably the only game out there on the Internet, where if it
draws you in and gets you to join the military, you could die," says

Link: Virtually dead in Iraq | Salon Arts & Entertainment.

See also Joseph DeLappe’s site, which has images from the game.

Violence and Video Games

Yesterday I wrote that I was eager to see how people might defend the existence of "Super Columbine Massacre RPG!", a game enjoyed by the shooter who went on a rampage at a Montreal college on Monday.

Sure enough, Techdirt is on the case, with "Media Making Sure You Know That Montreal Shooter Played Violent Video Games".  They never address the point I was wondering about, though; instead
they focus on "anti-videogame lawyer" Jack Thompson, and go on to
repeat their familiar speech about violence and games in "Dismantling The Research Being Used Against Video Games". 

Their argument is irrelevant, though.  It’s a straw-man argument, even if there does happen to be at least one real character who fits the description — this Jack Thompson, who I’m not familiar with.  Most people who are concerned about ultra-violent games probably don’t think they directly cause violence.  Everyone knows that events happen in much more complicated ways.  But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that extreme exposure to violence can influence people — probably in ways we don’t yet understand, which is why this is a legitimate topic of study.

Denying the mere possibility that violent media could influence people is as absurd as saying that advertising doesn’t influence people.  (I owe this comparison to an article I read recently, but I can’t remember where.)

Getting back to my original question, Techdirt doesn’t answer why "Super Columbine Massacre RPG!" should exist in the first place.  I’m sure it’s not illegal, but surely the game is in very bad taste, "artist statements" notwithstanding.  I would hope that even  the most ardent defenders of more mainstream violent games could admit that.

Montreal Gunman Enjoyed Playing Columbine Video Game

Whatever your views on video games and violence, you can’t possibly not find this chilling:

A man with a black trench coat whose shooting rampage in a Montreal college killed one person and wounded 19 others before he was slain by police said on a blog in his name that he liked to play a role-playing Internet game about the Columbine shootings.

[…] he said he liked to play "Super Columbine Massacre," an
Internet-based computer game that simulates the April 20, 1999,
shootings at the Colorado high school by two students who killed 13
people and then themselves.

Link (SF Chronicle/AP): Montreal Gunman Wrote of Death, Hatred,

Updated story: Police say Montreal Gunman Killed Self

I’m interested in seeing how the technorati defend the existence of this game.

More links:  BoingBoing article.  The creator of "Super Columbine Massacre RPG!" has posted a statement.

Google’s Free Image-Tagging Work Force

The other day Google launched the "Google Image Labeler," a site that invites you to come look at pictures and type in descriptive words.  Users are paired up and their responses compared.  The more matches, the better your "score" and the better the image tags for Google’s image search.

Why would you want to do this for free?  Apparently it’s a game that derives from something called the "ESP Game," according to TechDirt, so for starters there’s the amusement factor.  I can’t imagine that will last long, though.  There’s also the joy of seeing your name on the high score page at Google.  Most of all, I imagine this appeals to the utopian "cult of information" that also drives Wikipedia and other online projects, including Google, whose followers believe that simply dumping and categorizing all the world’s information onto networks will empower and enrich people.  Google is still a hero for most of these enthusiasts, so it’s not a concern that they’re effectively being used as free labor.  Imagine if Microsoft tried this.

Interestingly, it looks like people are gaming the system, judging by "today’s top pairs" (see image).  I’m not sure if that user is suggesting an effective cheat or is saying that most images on the web are in fact "tits" — both seem plausible.


Via Boing Boing: Google uses game to get good image metadata with Image Labeler.

Previously in cheap online labor news: Human-Powered Artificial Intelligence (Amazon Turk).

Recent Reading – Suzuki, Midgley, Roszak, Coupland

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This strange line-up is some of what I’ve been reading recently:

The David Suzuki Reader: A Lifetime of Ideas from a Leading Activist and Thinker.  Like most Canadians, I know David Suzuki best for The Nature of Things, the CBC TV show he has hosted for the past 30 years or so.  This book shows more of his environmental activist side.  Lots of folks are talking about global warming, but unlike others (I’m talking to you Al Gore), Suzuki goes deeper to the root causes — our flawed economic system, and notions of technological progress and human superiority over nature.

The Essential Mary Midgley.  Mary Midgley is an ethics/moral philosopher who is well known in the UK as a social critic.  The main themes of her work are on human nature and ethology, on applying moral philosophy to current events, and on philosophy of science.  She writes incisively about science and its mythologies — how science isn’t just this abstract mechanical method that produces inevitable knowledge, as we’re supposed to believe.  It’s shaped by human concerns and beliefs that often fit the criteria of religion.

World, Beware! American Triumphalism in an Age of Terror by Theodore Roszak (buy it from the publisher, Between the Lines).  There has been a booming industry in liberal books since Bush Jr. took over, and most of them are not terribly deep or surprising.  Roszak gets beyond the trivial Bush bashing to tell what’s really been happening in the past 20 years — the neo-conservative agenda to realign the world to follow American corporate rule.  The book did not find a publisher in the US, and this first English edition was published in Canada (you can make of that fact what you will, which the blurbage encourages a little too much, I think).  So the book is couched as a warning to the rest of the world to beware of this emerging new colonialism.  This might sound like shrill, conspiracy material, but Roszak isn’t a crank; he’s a well-established and respected social critic.  His case here is intelligent, thoughtful, and convincing.

JPod: A Novel by Douglas Coupland.  And on a lighter note… I read this over the holiday weekend.  Despite the bad reviews, and never being attracted to a Douglas Coupland book before, I was drawn in by the subject matter — video games and the lives of a group of cubicle computer nerds (described realistically as "mildly autistic").  This demographic is one I’m painfully familiar with.  It’s a funny, quick read, and held my attention better than I expected — no doubt because the characters are (thankfully) far more interesting than your average nerds.