Friday, March 18, 2011

"Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair"

There was a Minecraft sculpture contest at PAX East, and the winner was Nakki, with this awesome display of block-sculptury:

Click for full size.
The sculpture is of Penny Arcade characters Twisp and Catsby.

For those who haven't been inside of Minecraft, you'll have no real sense of the size of this 3D structure, which is made of hundreds of blocks that are about 1 meter high in the scale of the game. That makes this ... well, really big. It just makes me want to break into "Ozymandias."

Monopoly is for Commies

Henry George
This post about Monopoly from The Straight Dope (via Kathy Shaidle) made me realize that not everyone is aware of the bizarre origins of Monopoly. The game was, in fact, created to teach the evils of property ownership and promote Georgism, a kind of red-headed stepchild of socialism and capitalism. Georgism opposed private ownership of land and sought to replace all taxes and tariffs with a single tax on land use. George's beliefs have stirred a faint bit of interest lately thanks to Matthew Bellamy, lead singer/guitarist of Muse and an ardent Georgist.

The designer of the game, Lizzie Magie, was a passionate follower of Henry George, and created The Landlord's Game to illustrate (rather poorly) George's ideas. Lizzie was obviously a little light on the rhetorical skills, since the person who owned the most monopolies and properties actually was the winner in her design, thus proving that being a slumlord and robber baron is pretty cool and you should get started on that right away.

Henry George and Karl Marx hated each other, and George's definition of "socialism" would have made Marx see red. (Wait a second...) George had no problems with free trade and didn't hate capitalism all that much (although he really hated the Chinese). Monopolies and landowners, however, made him hoppin' mad. George was no crank, and some of his suggestions align fairly well with Distributism. He didn't believe the State should own land (he didn't trust them either): he thought no one should own land. In contrast to the sweaty lunatic ravings of Marx and Engels, he comes across as kind of sensible and moderate, even though his ideas are completely unworkable.

Lizzie's game did a pretty rotten job as socio-political propaganda, but it did help teach generations of aspiring capitalists the allure of easy money. As you can see from her original designs, that was probably not part of her plan. (That little circle in the upper right-hand corner shows the Earth encircled by the phrase“Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” It would later wind up with a more catchy name: "Go.")

Patents show the evolution of Magie's game. This is her first filing for The Landlord's Game in 1904:
And here's an original version:

This is the 1924 patent revision (filed under her married name of Elizabeth M. Phillips) which adds the concept of a monopoly for the first time.

This is a modern rendering of the 1924 revision.

In 1932, Dan Layman created Finance (published by Knapp Electric) which was one of the final stages in the evolution of Monopoly.

Finally, Charles Darrow ripped off all these elements and created Monopoly:

This is one of Darrow's early versions of Monopoly from 1933, printed on oilcloth and ... holy smokes, it's round!

And it all began with Lizzie Magie, shown below in a photo that captures her in mid-transformation into Groucho Marx.

PS: Monopoly has come full circle, so to speak. Monopoly Revolution, released last year, uses a round board like that found in Charles Darrow's original printing:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Forbidden Island in 3D

I love fan-made versions of board games. The good ones show some amazing modeling skills, and are always labors of love. This one is a sculpted recreation of GameWright's co-op sinking-island game Forbidden Island. The original game was designed by Matt Leacock as a family-friendly version of concepts from his hit, Pandemic. Here's one overview of the board, but check out the link for a full set of pictures. I think the creator is named Baptiste Derrez, but I'm not certain of that.

Here's a picture of the original for comparison:

The Wearing of The Grin

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, but I just have not been able to put in my usual gaming time. February through May is a busy season for extracurriculars around these parts.

But I didn't want St. Patrick's Day to pass without posting my favorite Irish cartoon. (Yes, "McDonald" is Irish, not Scottish. Although, in all likelihood, it's probably Scottish if I go back far enough, and I do have a remarkable fondness for Uncle Scrooge McDuck. Also, I'm fairly keen on kilts.)

"Now isn't this sight enough to set the heart crosswise?"

The audio is a little bit out of sync, but you can find this one on The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 1 DVD set.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cheap Clicks: Zynga Sexualizes Children

Click for full size

If you're wondering what the picture above shows, let me take a moment to explain it to you.

Zynga has a piece of crap "social game" called FrontierVille, which is just more of the same FarmVille compulsion-loop tripe, only with a pioneer theme. At a presentation during the SXSW Expo, Zynga's lead designer Brian Reynolds displayed this image showing something they learned from FrontierVille. See that picture of the girl with the sheep? Well, she may either be pushing it or hugging it, but a lot of people seem to think she's doing ... something else with it. (I know, it doesn't make any sense since a girl can't ... never mind.)

Anyway, Reynolds observed that this unexpected innuendo lead to "our highest post rate and our highest clickthrough rate." They attributed this to the unintended sexual innuendo. As the above slide observes, "the younger ones [meaning children who play the game] never notice any innuendo; the adults 'share' it constantly."

So they started deliberately adding things like "Scott just got wood" and "Margaret needs a few good screws." Haha! See! It's funny when we sexualize children for the amusement of adults! And waddaya know, the inhabits of our Jersey Shore culture kept reposting, responding and clicking through the posts with innuendo at a much higher rate than they did for the posts without.

Have we become such a debased culture that everything must be sexualized? When sexuality and innuendo is everywhere, then its mystique, and ultimately its appeal, becomes lost. We're raising up a hyper-sexualized generation by creating a public square wherein every piece of visual and audio stimulation is saturated in sexuality. That's not amusing or even erotic. It's just boring.

Popular culture is at an interesting point. There's a struggle going on right now between those who wish to push us further down the road of excessive sex and violence, and those who want to reclaim a more respectable tone for mass entertainment. Look at pop music, where the grotesque, derivative, perverse Lady Gaga and the sweet, talented, girl-next-door Taylor Swift have almost identical record sales. One exalts the freakish and outlandishly sexual, and the other exalts the commonplace and relatively chaste. It's the same in gaming, with the tug-of-war between the family-friendly Wii games and the uber-violence of some modern action games. These dichotomies are not hidden: in fact, they're part of the appeal, with each camp having their own advocates.

But when mature elements are deliberately added to something as apparently child-friendly as FrontierVille, the lines become blurred. Parents may overlook something like FrontierVille because it seems to be innocuous, but all the while designers are slipping in mature content under the guise of cartoon sheep and little girls.

I was disappointed to see Brian Reynolds attached to this kind of garbage. Reynolds is a talented guy who worked with Sid Meier and was the lead designer on Civilization II and Alpha Centari. Unfortunately, his own company, Big Huge Games, floundered despite doing two excellent games: Rise of Nations and Catan. I've met and interviewed Reynolds and he's a genuinely nice guy with a gift for making good strategy games. In this economy, I can't blame a man for going where the money is, and right now the money is with Zynga. I only hope some day he gets out with his dignity intact.

h/t Joystiq

Playful Quotes

"The life of a man is a combination of seriousness and play, and only he who knows the delicate act of balancing the two deserves to be called the wisest and happiest of men."

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play."

A Closer Look: French Tarot: Trumps 9 & 10

Many people are familiar with the standard Tarot suits (the "Major Arcana") used for "divination" purposes, but they're less aware that Tarot cards were created for playing trick-taking games and have a rich and diverse design history. These images are part of an ongoing series highlighting the art of a single deck used in France, which contains scenes of rural and domestic life in the 19th century.

Click to enlarge

Trump No. 9 detail.
Tarot Trump No. 10