Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Celebration of Free Expression!!!

Although the process was extremely long, the video game I created has been added to the Elko County Library! You can now check the game out at my local library!



Honestly, I was shocked. I had already given up on the process and simply expected the title would not ever be carried by the library- but it is. It has a nice display right at the front desk where most people cannot help but see it. In fact, it may have the best placement in the library.

So many of my stories have been about censorship it is nice to have a story which is not about censorship but about the ability to tap into the communications infrastructure.

So if you are in Elko, feel free to check out Tore Loves Eliza. If not feel free to download it online.

Feel free to thank the library by phone or email! Although they host gaming nights, this is the first video game in their circulation collection.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kommune 1541

This blog has been an on and off again project for a few years. The blog is not monetized, but it is a lot of work. Lately, I've been struggling too much just to try to take advantage of the network tools that would allow me to reach a broader audience. I have been extremely disappointed by the recent decisions of several moderators, most notably on Reddit/r/gamernews and MTGSalvation.

Even worse, I find that the blog no longer feels like my own in many respects. Too many things have had to change in order to try to get the stories out to the public. I've talked to some degree about the problems of censorship on this blog and feel that it is always in the best interest of the reader to have some understanding of the constraints under which the blog operates.

I don't think people realize how much forum rules and network rules can effect off-forum/network activity like personal blogs and the like. Again, in order to take advantage of network tools, it is critical that smaller and independently run operations modify their content to meet third party rules. A great example would be the NSFW tagging at Stumbleupon or Reddit. My own blog, for example, no longer has comment abilities because it could offend third-party sites that I need in order to effectively communicate to wider audiences. A certain amount of self-censorship may also occur. As a result, censorship permeates the internet as people try to walk the line of expressing themselves and still being able to communicate.

This is a line I no longer feel like walking. This will be the last month of blogging on 1541K.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ratings



Is TF2 putting the voluntary back in voluntary ratings?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A list of ten helpful responses to internet censorship

A common experience on the internet is forum censorship. In the past, people had to rely on admins in privately run BBS. Admin abuse was a common problem on BBS, but there were also admins which were so committed to the concept of free expression that they let practically anything in.

Today, most forums are moderated. We've come a long way from the days in which a BBS Admin would fight to preserve the free flow of information. Now almost every board is sanitized by spineless mods. Increasingly most forums, are merely playgrounds for bullies acting under the mod banner.

The mods take a very heavy handed approach to filtering information and there is often little a forum user can do to correct a mistake by a moderator.

As a general rule, you want to find forums that have a general set of guidelines and not too many subject areas. The fragmentation of forums makes communicating information to different subgroups difficult. This is done intentionally to sandbag information and prevent information from becoming effective. An excellent example of sandbagging is the Steam users forum where each game gets its own forum making it almost impossible for gamers to talk about common problems with each other.

Forums that have subforums with their own rules get problematic because it is hard to keep up with all the rules from one forum to another. This again is designed to provide censors with the upper hand as it will be easy to trip people up on hidden rules. In addition to that, the more subforums there are, the more likely a person is to be accused of posting in the wrong forum and having their thread removed.

What follows are the typical reasons for censorship and possible responses.

Basis 1: Your post is against the rules.

Your post is against the rules. There are rules against what you are doing.

Response 1: Rules are often a pretext for censorship. Hide behind the rules mantra if you want, but it appears your interpretation of the rules is simply that the rules were designed to eliminate all thoughtful and critical discussions.

Basis 2: Your post is spam.

Response 2: A lot of things get called spam which are not spam to achieve a form of censorship. According to Wikipedia, “Anti-spam policies may also be a form of disguised censorship, a way to ban access or reference to questioning alternative forums or blogs by an institution. This form of occult censorship is mainly used by private companies when they can not muzzle criticism by legal ways.” The rule against spam is a facially neutral rule which is being abused. My post is relevent and provides supporting material that enhances the discussion at hand.

Basis 3: We do not allow the posting of links.

Response 3: The denial of the ability to link to relevant material is a form of censorship. According to the Wikipedia entry on internet censorship, this is known as "Blocking the intermediate tools and applications of the Internet that can be used to assist users in accessing and sharing sensitive material."

Basis 4: It was a close call, but we erred on the side of caution and decided that the post should be removed.

Response 4: This is the Twoface policy: Heads: Freedom of Expression. Tails: Censorship. I prefer forums that don't leave freedom of information to chance. Funny thing is, it always seems to come up tails because of erring on the side of caution. Try to err on the side of freedom.

Basis 5: You should have included an explanation for the link in your post,so the moderator can have more information before making a decision.

Response 5: All the mods had to do was click the link and determine there was no reason to remove it because the link was both relevant and included supporting material including supporting embedded video. The burden of censorship should lie with the mods, not with the poster to establish why the post is legitimate.

Basis 6: The thread is closed because of what other people say.

Response 6: Allowing trolls to sidetrack a debate or closing a thread because of what others say allows people to exercise a form of heckler's veto. The appropriate course of action would be to remove the post by the offending troll, not close the entire thread.

Basis 7: The topic is not allowed because we are afraid of what other people might say.

Response 7: The hypothetical response of the audience is not a legitimate basis for censorship.

Basis 8: We are not engaged in censorship.

Response 8: I think the mods should familiarize themselves with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and understand that internet communication is now considered a human right.

Basis 9: We do not allow opinions only facts.

Response 9: This is viewpoint discrimination. What you call opinion, could easily be called viewpoint and the [companies/subject/forum] have a viewpoint as well. You just don't acknowledge it.

Basis 10: If you don't like it, find some other place to post.

Response 10: Forums across the internet act the same way. It will be censored no matter where I try to post it. Furthermore, I am not interested in participating in forums that censor my views, because I know that it will censor other peoples views as well. This means the forum itself is fake and will not provide me with access to critical and sensitive information.

Response 10: Bonus Material

The world-wide web was designed to try to promote and foster communications. It began as a government project and it still remains under US control. It is not clear to me why privitization would allow for the waiving of rights, as the rights being waived do not belong to the government. That is to say, the government cannot waive my rights unilaterally, through privitization. If they could, any rights would be entirely illusory. I should add that I focus primarily on Article 19, rather than the first ammendment, which is more global in character, because frankly the world wide web is more global in its effect and operations.


In Conclusion

The pretexts for censoring information are growing, so you might has well have some responses ready to go when you encounter censorship by the mods. Although many companies operate forums, few want truly critical discussions to occur. At the same time, co-opted forms of media are often given a pass, while independent voices are quashed. If I post a link to my blog, which is not monetized, I will have a greater chance of having my link removed than if I post a link to a mainstream commercialized site such as Gamespot or IGN. Unfortunately, Gamespot and IGN promote industry embedded viewpoints. They can be critical of games, but not too critical. They can pan a game mercilessly, but at the end of the day, they will also kick the hype machine into action when it is time to bolster the sales of a decent title. After all, their livelihood still depends on the overall success of the games industry. Their practices are short-sighted and counterproductive, however, as the elimination of constructive criticism will only slow the process of necessary change.

Hopefully, having a quick set of responses will help educate others about the problem of internet censorship even if your post is ultimately closed, the thread is locked, and you get banned.

Friday, December 9, 2011

House of Cards: Predatory Shipping

As I have been playing Magic lately, I have also been adding to my Magic collection.

One of the more daunting problems in accumulating Magic cards is the cost of obtaining them. It seems that various distributors of Magic card singles have pricing schemes which are suspect. Some Magic sellers choose only to cater to the rich players. The pricing of singles tends to be fairly high. I have seen cards selling for ten times their market value in some circumstances. People who sell at these prices are not catering to everyone. The effect of the price inflation creates artificial barriers to effective competition from low cost single alternatives and incentivizes the purchase of premium products.

Still, there are hidden mechanisms at work that may not be nearly as apparent as the outright price gouging that can occur in Magic card sales. Strangely enough, shipping is one of them. I have encountered shipping schemes that seem outright predatory in their characteristics. A merchant may overcharge for shipping until you reach a certain dollar amount. Let me be clear, I am not talking about sellers who charge actual shipping cost and then waive it after a certain dollar amount in purchases is reached- I am focused on those that overcharge for shipping and then waive shipping charges when a threshold purchase amount is reached. Predatory shipping in Magic the Gathering occurs because people who make smaller purchases overpay for shipping while people who buy more qualify for free shipping and will pay nothing at all for shipping.

Let's say you play in a group of 6 players. One player makes a purchase of $50 and qualifies for free shipping. The other players each make a purchase of around $6.50 and are charged $2.50 for shipping- but the actual shipping costs are only $1.71. The five players who are overpaying for shipping are basically subsidizing the sixth player. Again, there is nothing wrong with charging the actual shipping costs or waiving those costs if a purchase threshold is reached, the problem lies in cases where there is a shipping overcharge.

In order to protect themselves, players should always be acutely aware of shipping policies and practices. Be on the look out for packages which ship with bar codes instead of stamps or clearly identifiable prices on the envelope. Sellers may conceal the price of shipping because they know most people will not check to see what they actually paid for shipping against what they charged for shipping. Most shipping rates can be determined by searching online or even visiting a post office to inquire about the actual costs.

What can players do to avoid being a victim of predatory shipping policies? Players can delay making purchases until they qualify for free shipping. Players can, of course, purchase cards as a group to meet the threshold purchase requirements. Nevertheless, players lose the ability to build decks that can surprise their friends this way. In addition to that, those techniques only means the players themselves avoid victimization and not necessarily other Magic players. The final option is that players may simply wish to avoid doing business with businesses that engage in predatory shipping practices.

Hopefully, you can find a Magic reseller which does more than simply cater to the rich or one that preys upon the poor. Once again, gaming is not what it used to be, a hobby. It's a business sadly and the only thing that will save games from the businesses is a basic sense of fair play between the gamers themselves.

Owing to a discrepency between an invoice that charged more for ground shipping than the postage should have cost, I contacted AdventuresOn about their shipping policies and practices. According to AdventuresOn, "If we were able to pay less in shipping we would obviously charge our customers less. We want to have an incredible combination of cheap shipping and inexpensive cards." AdventuresOn also stated that, "Our shipping charges should cover the postage, as well as packaging material. Our system estimates the postage amount by the approximate weight of the items, the destination, and the method of shipping selected."

I pointed out to them that the invoice only stated there was a charge for "shipping", not "shipping and handling". I also feel that the underlying card prices reflect cost plus profit in most cases. AdventuresOn also noted that they had to use larger envelopes for shipping with toploaders, but I explained to them my order came in a standard sized envelope.

Finally AdventuresOn replied with this response:

"Our experience is that with using the 'letter' class mailing rates for larger number of cards "approx 8 cards or more" they arrive with postage due. Or they get returned to us. My research in the past has led me to believe that the problem is the thickness.reaches over 1/4" so it moves the package to the "Flats" (2.1 General Definition of Flat-Size Mail) rate structure."

I sent them a video reviewing their shipping policies and practices, I received the following email:

"I have spoken with the owner and he has authorized a refund of your shipping cost on your most recent order ($2.50 refund should appear in your paypal account within 4 business days) and we are reviewing and updating our website and making any changes needed to reflect that the Shipping charge is our closest approxamation to actual postage, but that any overages should be viewed as handling and materials charges."

A few things should be noted: the overcharge was not actually $2.50. According to the post office, the overcharge (on my most recent order) would only have been 79 cents. I sent them a follow-up email correcting this.

(The order which began the discussion and triggered the investigation was referring to was a charge of $1.00 on what should have been 64 cents in postage.)

I appreciate the fact that they are open to reviewing their policies and practices and hope that the new shipping charges will be more equitable.

Pending this discussion, I should also disclose that I placed a new order with CCGHouse. My guess is it would have been cheaper to purchase from AdventuresOn, but in light of my investigation, I felt there were equitable considerations that justified paying slightly more for the cards. Here is the video of my investigation:



An MTGSalvation Moderator removed the link to this story.

The full email exchange with customer service can be found here.

AdventuresOn's indifference to my purchasing preferences, created the opportunity to explore purchasing from many alternative vendors including CCGHouse, AllCCG, Troll and Toad, Magic Inferno, Ideal808, and White Lion Games. Update: It appears that AdventuresOn now provides free shipping on orders over $19.99.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking a break from blogging...

...and perhaps the internet in general. Rather tired of the stupid "cute" animal pictures, the powermad moderators, the not so subtle product placement, the mindless memes, and the trolls. Frankly, the internet is just not what it used to be. I shouldn't ignore all the upsides to it- the streaming entertainment, the low cost of consumer goods, the on-demand entertainment. It's just that the social networking sites and online forums are pretty weak.

As for video gaming, it is not what it used to be either. Gone are the days when new players found inviting multiplayer environments to play in. Instead, it is mostly noobstomping or pay2win scenarios.

It's the holidays anyway.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Great morning for Magic

Although it was only about 16 degrees outside at 7:00 a.m. here in Elko, the group slowly showed up for a few hours of Magic. We played a few rounds of one on one and then moved onto the group play. My decks are performing a little better overall, but a few still need serious revisions. At least one deck was a complete failure and the entire deck needed to be reworked. One bright spot was the performance of my decks as supportive decks in the Captain's matches. It is much easier to build decks which are supportive in those settings. After the morning session, it was decided we would play again on Monday afternoon at my house.

Monday Update: So I rebuilt one of my decks but it faired no better. Including me, there were a total of four people at the Monday session. It was fairly balanced play Monday afternoon and I was able to win one multiplayer round- only the second multiplayer round I have won. The final team match was particularly close and made for an interesting end to the session. I'm guessing the Monday sessions might wind down during the holidays, but it has been a great time to get together and play and a good chance to make midweek adjustments to decks.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Racism in Online Gaming



The issue of racism sometimes arises in multi-player settings. It is easy to conclude that someone else's bigotry should not prevent any player from playing or enjoying a server. Many companies have de-facto language barring racist language as do many servers. Nevertheless, racist language will be used by players in game chats or VOIP talk.

Obviously, a certain amount of psy-ops occurs in many games, but the racist language seems over the top. The language is certainly distracting, but is also deeply offensive. In addition, there are certainly many ways of being distracting without resorting to racist language. Battlefield Vietnam contained an excellent use of psy-ops that matched the game with its broadcasting of anti-US propaganda in level without being racist.

When another player uses racist language, an admin might kick them or players may respond to them. Interestingly enough, in many cases I've noticed the team with the racist tends to lose and I'm wondering if some of the players on that team sabotage the efforts or simply do not fight as hard.

Jean-Paul Sartre did not necessarily view racist speech as an opinion at all. Sartre felt that prejudice cannot be an opinion since an opinion offers legitimacy. Sartre felt the appeal of the prejudice was in its impenetrability. Sartre felt the appeal was a simplicity that provided stability and certainty- the bigot does not have to struggle with thought.

In societies like the United States, freedoms of speech are generally protected under sunshine theories- that is society wants to know what other people are thinking so it can take actions it feels are appropriate. It is felt it is better to have an open awareness of prejudices so that we can monitor the prejudiced. Suppression of hate merely pushes it dangerously underground and lulls social systems into a false sense of security. In a day and age when so many environments are speech sanitized, the expressions of racism in games serve as a reminder that racism still exists- which may motivate anti-racist actions.

That being said, laws prevent public accommodations from any form of racism. A pub server is in many respects a public accommodation. When a server promotes racist sentiment, it is much more serious than if an individual player did it. Servers that promote racism also reduce the gaming environment as good players who are offended will not play there. There are enough places with racist expressions and gaming need not and should not be one of them.