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Blogged Out: 'Democracy'

In his latest 'Blogged Out' column, veteran UK writer Jim Rossignol takes a look at the world of developer blogging with some views on Democratic games, Democratic rights, and Democratic system specs.
Welcome to 'Blogged Out', the news report that looks at the world of developer blogging and the conversations being had with the community at large. This week: MMOs, politics, and MMO politics. The Voting Game Democracy does seem to be in the air at the moment, particularly with the elections over here in the UK and in France. Meanwhile in the world of blogging a number of different blogs have linked to this article from Information Week by BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow, in which Doctorow argues that most persistent world games are actually analogous to dictatorships: “The money in your real-world bank-account and in your in-game bank-account is really just a pointer in a database. But if the bank moves the pointer around arbitrarily (depositing a billion dollars in your account, or wiping you out), they face a regulator. If a game wants to wipe you out, well, you probably agreed to let them do that when you signed up.” Whatever we might like to say about user-generated content it's still the case that operating in these theme park worlds is like spending money in Disneyland, or doing business in a benevolent dictatorship. Doctorow goes on to outline what a democratic game might look like: “Why not just create a "democratic" game that has a constitution, full citizenship for players, and all the prerequisites for stable wealth? Such a game would be open source (so that other, interoperable "nations" could be established for you to emigrate to if you don't like the will of the majority in one game-world), and run by elected representatives who would instruct the administrators and programmers as to how to run the virtual world. In the real world, the TSA sets the rules for aviation -- in a virtual world, the equivalent agency would determine the physics of flight.” A unrealisable pipe-dream, perhaps - how would such a world be constructed by committee in the first place? You'd still need design teams and visions and people in charge - but Doctorow nevertheless raises an interesting point. And perhaps such online worlds will become possible if we reach a stage where major gaming technologies begin to reach the stage of being abandonware. Ryzom has already come close to that, with its MMO engine now being entire open source. Fighting Without Fighting Meanwhile Greg Costikyan has written to NY governor Eliot Spitzer about the state's proposed legislation controlling the sale of videogames. "I am writing in response to a recent report in Business Week that your administration is considering legislation restricting the sale of digital games on the basis of their violent nature, and that your approach will be along the lines of legislation restricting sales of cigarettes to minors. I urge you to rethink this agenda, as it seems to me a fruitless attempt to infringe on the rights of New Yorkers, a likely waste of taxpayer dollars, and a wholly unnecessary attack on the 21st century's most vibrant and promising popular artform." You can read the whole thing right here. More letters please, and more democracy in action. "FBI! You're Busted." Speaking of bloggers defending games, there's been a stream of commentary related to Jack Thompson's recent claims about campus-killings and violent entertainment. Brian Crecente over at Kotaku starts the ball rolling, by linking to the document that Thompson seems to be referring to when he says "Almost every school shooter the FBI and Secret Service has found is immersed in violent entertainment." As it turns out, the document makes no such claim. The excellent Bill Harris chimes in on his "Dubious Quality" blog, pointing out that the document explicitly states: “This model is not a "profile" of the school shooter or a checklist of danger signs pointing to the next adolescent who will bring lethal violence to a school. Those things do not exist.” Bill says: "Do you see how the authors of this report are warning against the exact things that Thompson is saying? They are refuting everything he claims in the very report he uses to make those claims." I know I'm only adding to the media storm by posting all this, but why do US TV shows still give Jack airtime? Don't news shows lose credibility by consulting 'experts' with no credibility? The Last Man Damion Schubert also has a few things to say on the subjects raised by Crecente et al. "We get, on average, a couple serious attacks at a school every year. Worldwide. Most school shootings are personal attacks resulting in only a couple of dead - the school just happens to be the place the vendetta was carried out. Attacks like VATech and Columbine are anomalies. Statistical blips. In most years, your children are more likely to be killed by a Dog Attack. If Counterstrike made kids killers, we should be knee deep in the dead by now." Now all we need is for people start saying this on TV, and in the US House of Representatives... But Schubert also posts about video game fairness of a different kind. It's that unique failing of PCs: their free-falling age problem. Should we be making MMOs to cater for older machines? "MMOs are all about reaching social critical mass. About your virtual world being the place to be. Accessibility is key, and while for most designers this means silky smooth tutorials, intuitive UIs and a candy-coated level 1 to 10 progression, the very first accessibility test is whether or not your game runs at 4 frames per second in character creation on a machine that was top of the line just 3 years ago. Think of the children. Think of the wives. Or at least, think of their hand-me-down machines. Or perhaps, think about the subscription fees you're going to make from millions and millions of PC owners who don't have a Quad-Core hyperbeast sat on their desk. Cynical, moi? Hmm. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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