The Stirring of Long Dead Instruments

Every patient gamer has that one game. That one game that killed hype for them forever. The one that proved that no matter what ambitions a game set out with, no matter how sincere the dedication of its creators, it is simply impossible for any game to be more than a relatively minor iteration on what comes before.

Rutskarn’s moment, for example, was Oblivion, recounted here:

I remember how the official forums felt. People began to play the imagined perfect game in their heads long before boxes of the real one hit shelves. Everyone had their characters all planned out, everyone had their backstory written up–people were hatching assassination plots and writing fanfiction about them. I remember the tone of thread titles: “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you’re out of the dungeon?” “What’s your character’s motivation?” “What’s your build going to be like?” People made a lot of detailed plans. Basically all of them would turn out to be impossible.

Mine was Guild Wars 2. Sure, I’d been suckered in by Spore and come to regret it, but I hadn’t become jaded enough from just that one experience. Spore was sold on the strength of just one tech demo, a tech demo that showed off basic features of one stage of the game. Sure, the character creator was great, and when it shipped it was about as good as advertised, even, but the gameplay attached to that character creator was rubbish. And I should’ve seen that coming, because what gameplay had we seen in the Spore demo, even the really good one, the one that got the hype train going before they switched to the cartoon art style? Basic combat and a mechanic for spawning the next generation of your creature.

Guild Wars 2’s hype train was different. It wasn’t just one amazing system and the vague and ultimately empty promise that there would be a rest of the game, too, there was a vision for a complete game. The dynamic event system, the beautiful art direction, the team that took its time, always making visible progress but never committing to a release date, and the simple fact that Guild Wars had been amazing had me convinced even more deeply than Spore that this was going to work. I followed every update. I discussed the game on the forums. I became such a regular that the nickname I gave to the (otherwise unnamed) Deep Sea Dragon is used to this day. I was taken in. I was hype.

Continue reading “The Stirring of Long Dead Instruments”

Bureaucracies Are AIs

A thought has occurred to me lately: A sufficiently large bureaucracy such that the people evaluating whether procedure has been followed have little or no contact with the people being evaluated behaves a lot like an AI that happens to understand plain English instruction. That’s not to say that it will reasonably interpret plain English instruction, just that you can give the bureaucracy a rule like “con-goers cannot touch cosplayers without their explicit consent” and it will immediately understand that rule – but it won’t understand the spirit of the rule, only the literal meaning of the words.

I’m gonna clarify here that I’m referring to a rule that the Salt Lake Comic Con does in fact have, but which to my knowledge has never actually been enforced as though it were an AI. I don’t even know if the con staff are a large enough organization to require such a detached bureaucracy – it usually takes well over a hundred people to get to that point. I’m just using the example that prompted this train of thought, and while it would probably work better with a less potentially controversial one, I’m too lazy to think of one.

It’s weird as Hell that this rule would be interpreted purely literally by a sufficiently large bureaucracy, because pretty much every specific individual human who makes up the bureaucracy understands perfectly well that the rule isn’t fully literal, that while it’s a broad rule intended to firmly forbid things like unwanted hugs, there are some things that are technically physical contact but which aren’t meant to be forbidden – tapping a cosplayer on the shoulder to get their attention in a crowded convention hall to ask for a picture, for example. The reason I first started thinking about this is because I do this all the time – in a crowded and noisy convention hall, it can be the only way to get the attention of someone whose name you don’t know. A regular human being gets this and wouldn’t even consider throwing me or anyone else out for tapping someone’s shoulder, unless they were a megalomaniac on a power trip, in which case it would be immediately obvious to everyone watching that the problem is with them. If even one other person had input to the decision and wasn’t selected by the megalomaniac specifically for loyalty, they would very likely dispute the reasonableness of the decision to throw someone out for tapping a cosplayer’s shoulder just because that technically violates the “do not touch cosplayers without express permission” rule.

Continue reading “Bureaucracies Are AIs”