Friday, July 19, 2019

Not Evil, but Spectacular

We should have a (spoiler-free) discussion about the song "Not Evil," from Lego Movie 2, because it is a triumph:


This song is an amazing success precisely because it's a ridiculous failure. Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi’s message is hopelessly broken.

  1. If the queen is good, skeptics will never take her word for it — she keeps talking about evil, imprisonment, and execution. 
  2. If the queen is evil, skeptics will never fall for her lies — she can't stop herself from talking about evil, imprisonment, and execution. 

In either case, her obsession with evil makes her more relatable. She's just like us!

Crafty rogues have entertained people for centuries, because being good is boring. The Book of Swindles was written during the Ming Dynasty in China. Reviewer Rob Moore wrote that “the success of the collection upon its publication in 1617 demonstrates that the author knew too well that the only thing better than alerting the reader to nefarious criminals is to let them in on the crime.”

Consider how many games let you be bad, knowing that your actions are wrong but letting you do them anyway. It can be as explicit as Grand Theft Auto, or as low key as a game like Donut County. The opening sequence of Donut County establishes that it is especially self-aware, as game designer Andrew Plotkin explained:

"it establishes right off that dropping people into holes is (a) wrong and (b) what you’re going to do all game long and (c) way fun. This is kind of brilliant." 

Back to Lego Movie 2. During the song, the queen engages in a bunch of questionable behavior that makes it impossible to tell whether she’s welcoming her guests or menacing them. (You can find similar behavior online: someone who is using the word “ally” to describe themselves hasn't made their creepy behavior any less creepy.)

Saying “This is X” is different from saying "This is not Y." What does “not evil” mean, anyway? In the classic D&D table of alignments, you’ve only ruled out three alignments, or less than half of the available options.
But it takes more than clever writing for the Lego sequence to work.

The conflicting messages would be a waste of time if they were delivered with less energy; it would fail if the “good” parts weren’t trying hard to be believable, or the “evil” parts weren’t appropriately suspect. Tiffany Haddish absolutely nails it at both extremes of the spectrum.

Listen to the (believably!) self-righteous way she announces “I never lie!” This is in the same song where she gives away an entire planet. Compare that tone to the way she lists off adjectives that people use to describe her. Ask yourself if someone completely innocent would have nearly as much fun reciting those words.

The whole thing is amazing.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Virals, Then and Now

From 2013: The timetable was off, but the idea remains valid. A gimmick that is overused will become ineffective. From a 2019 study:

We took a nationally representative sample of 2,102 British adults, and undertook an experimental evaluation of some of marketers’ most commonly used tactics. [....]

Two thirds of the British public (65 percent) interpreted examples of scarcity and social proof claims used by hotel booking websites as sales pressure. Half said they were likely to distrust the company as a result of seeing them (49 percent). Just one in six (16 percent) said they believed the claims.

The results surprised us. We had expected there to be cynicism among a subgroup—perhaps people who booked hotels regularly, for example. The verbatim commentary from participants showed people see scarcity and social proof claims frequently online, most commonly in the travel, retail, and fashion sectors.

And this entire thread is worth reading: Part of Twitter's problems stem from the fact that huge numbers of automated programs, and humans who act like them, are busy trying to generate social proof on behalf of their patrons. Even when the humans start seeing through it, the algorithms are still being refined to encourage it.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Is There Ever One Future?

Twitter thought that it was very important for me to see this:
So I read it. And I agree with this bit:

What made the virtual concert on Saturday afternoon so fascinating for me, was that this was the first time I really understood what some other commentators have already been saying. Fortnite is not just a game that kids play – it’s a place they go to hang out.

This article from Quartz compares the game to a skate park. Kids get home from school, log-on and hang out with their friends in a virtual world. The actual game aspect serves as the backdrop.

What I don't agree with is how the post goes on to make hyperbolic assertions that everyone will live in, and enjoy, this future. It's predicting a technological singularity for video games, snaring everyone in the same, homogeneous MMORPG. It's an investor's idea of what the future holds for gaming.

On the other hand, there's Jesse Schell, who has developed video games, written books about them, and teaches classes about new technology. He takes a more pluralistic view:

People always talk about platforms, platforms, platforms, but really it's about, "Where do you play?"

There's a reason we don't play MMOs in the living room. For like the entire history of MMOs, we've had one or two go to the living room, and they've all died. And they've all done really well at the PC desk.

So what I always say is, "houses have multiple venues." One of them is the hearth. And that's the living room. The family gathers together, and it's a group thing. And then you have the workbench. That's where usually the PC lives. It's a place you go privately, you do hard work, it's very lean-forward. Usually the PC's there.

That's from a Gamasutra interview with Schell where he discusses current applications for virtual reality. His book, The Art of Game Design, discusses these venues in greater detail, but the idea is that people have different reasons for engaging in play, and so they end up playing games in different places.

The problem with the Akre post is that it doesn't allow for that kind of diversity. It just folds everything into the Oasis from Ready Player One. And that brings its own set of issues. Vox has already tracked how attitudes have shifted since the book was published in 2011. (Some people still like it. And that's great! It's okay to like terrible things. It's less okay to declare that those terrible things will be the future for everyone.)

Overall, the tone of the post is consistent. It's a narrow view of a favorable future that is designed to appeal to people who like online games, esports, twitch streaming, Ready Player One, and the Super Bowl.

It's just weird that Twitter's algorithms thought I was one of those people.