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The Esoteric Beat: Materials, MMO Economics, Hacker Fun

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at hyperfabric interfaces, u...
Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at hyperfabric interfaces, using MMOs to model economics, and hacker games. - Firstly, we reach out and grab some weird science, with the introduction of 'Hyperfabric' interfaces. Materials science is one of the areas where you can expect to see big advances in the next decade, and many of those developments will impact directly on information technology and, ultimately, on gaming. Hyperfabric is a fabric-based display and control device that acts as a kind of malleable, elasticised touchscreen. The device is enormously flexible and can be stretched and pulled even as it displays images, and, furthermore, it can tell where it touched, as well as how hard. Currently the material has only been used to create a generative artwork system shown at the recent Port Eliot Literature Festival in Cornwall, England, but game use is theoretically possible, and HMC Medialab have announced that Hyperfabric is now commercially available, should any enterprising souls have a use for it. - Next up this week is the familiar topic of virtual money markets. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that some progressive theory-hungry economists are now looking at the MMO worlds for models to understand real world economics. The way players react in games could provide clues to understanding how other markets might react in the real world. "Instead of theorizing about central banks, we could play out our economic policy scenarios through these games," said gamer-economist Edward Castronova in the SFGate.com piece. While this article concentrates on a few famous examples, and the burgeoning interest in Second Life, your trusty reporter can also report that the game Eve Online was, back in 2003, shown to a gathering of international economists in Reykjavik, some of who have reportedly prescribed the game's complex market economy has an study aid for students wanting to observe economic theories in action on a market the size of a small town. Some people, it seems, are already ahead of this particular curve. - Finally this week, The Register reports on a very different kind of game. 'Wargamez' is the event of the hacking year, with security specialists, military specialists and hobbyist hackers gathering at DEF CON in Las Vegas to play a game which tests the understanding of Internet warfare techniques. In previous years the different teams have been allowed to run their own servers, allowing for specialized operating systems to be installed to help defend against attack. This year the security professionals group Kenshoto, who run the event, decided to run their own server, courting much controversy amongst the hacker elite. Top net security types report that they won't be pleased if the same game is run next year and that a focus on Kenshoto's code auditing specialities won't attract the full spectrum of hackers if the event follows this form in coming years. For the rest of us, well, we'd better just stick to Uplink. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his progressive games journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times, to name but a few.]

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