Thanksgiving (Is) For Games

I am deeply thankful for games, and for the people with whom I have played them over the years. I am particularly thankful for board games. Clarifications: I am not criticizing video games, or the people who play them; some of the board games I like best are actually card games; perhaps tabletop games is a better term than board games; I am not thankful for every tabletop game ever, and do acknowledge than many of them stink; neither am I thankful for every single person with whom I’ve played a tabletop game…

Is this board games’ golden age? Owen Duffy’s article in yesterday’s Guardian argues that it is. I agree, and hope that an even better (platinum?) age will follow. It is certainly a good time for board/tabletop games: “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually.”

So why is this a good time for board/tabletop games? There are at least two explanations. I think of them as the compliments explanation and the complements explanation.

“Games are simply getting better” is the compliments explanation. That quote from the article compliments designers and publishers of games on making better games available.

Another quote illustrates the complements explanation. “The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.” The digital and physical versions are complements, rather than substitutes. To be more specific, and perhaps more surprising: the existence of the digital version increases, rather than decreases, purchases of the tabletop version, even if the tabletop version costs ten times more than the digital version.

Dear readers of this post, it may be time for parting words. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope that you do so safely and happily. If you are “tabletop game compatible”–and I believe that most humans are–I hope that games play a positive part in your holiday season, and in the rest of your life.

If you are interested in the impact of technology on our lives, please bear with me for another paragraph or two. It seems strange that tabletop gaming and smartphone usage are on the rise at the same time. Who wants games with components of cardboard and wood, costing dozens of dollars, when there are so many mobile games available for a few bucks, or at no immediate financial cost? One answer is that such gamers are rare, and becoming rarer.

Despite our affection for them, the market for board games tumbled 9 percent in 2010 and the road ahead is straight downhill… With apps, every boardgame can be brought to the screen, be carried in your pocket…. online game centers… knit people together.

The quote, from Michael Saylor’s book The Mobile Wave (2012), presents an argument that games on mobile platforms will substitute for games (sometimes the same games) on the tabletop. The book presents an argument that connected mobile devices will substitute for pretty much every existing way we do pretty much any thing. I suspect that data from the few years provide tend to support the general mobile wave thesis.

But the games for which I am thankful seem to be buoyant, their cardboard boxes floating on the mobile wave rather than being swept away by it. I think that tabletop games will remain on top the the wave, although sales figures may bob up and down.

Here are some of the questions on my mind. I’d love to see responses, and further questions.

  • Will the current “golden age” of board/tabletop games continue, or even turn into a more precious age?
  • Are digital versions of tabletop games complements to, rather than substitutes for, the tabletop game itself?
  • In what other arenas are digital versions complements to, rather than substitutes for, “the real thing”?

Have a great Thanksgiving, or Thursday, or weekend, or whatever it is for you,
Andrew

ps edited for clarity on Dec 3, 2014

Parenting: Battles and Other Stories

You may have heard of Amy Chau, and her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. If so, that’s probably due to the excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. The headline was “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Here’s a quote.

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best.

My wife, who is Chinese, drew my attention to the WSJ piece. It upset her. Her views on parenting differ from the views presented in the excerpt. So do my views.

In the car today, I had the radio tuned to NPR (WAMU, to be specific), as I usually do. Amy Chau was on the Diane Rehm show. That spot shows that the book is to a large extent about how Amy Chau rethought her parenting style.

This is a story about media, as well as about parenting. Here are some headlines I could have used for this story/post.

  • WSJ shows only one side of a story.
  • WSJ and NPR show different sides of the same story.
  • Guardian writer lazily mistakes WSJ excerpt for book.

The trouble with the above headlines is that none of them is surprising. I wish that the last one was surprising. But there is an article in today’s Guardian that seems to mistake the WSJ excerpt for the book, and even for the author herself. The Guardian article is open for reader comments, and many of them based on the assumption that it’s fine to insult an author based on a Guardian account of a WSJ article.

Confession time. I haven’t read the book either. I did think unkindly of Amy Chau on the basis of an excerpt in the WSJ, which appeared under a headline almost certainly provided by a WSJ staffer, rather than by the author of the words selected to appear under the headline.

Perhaps, as we move from January 1 to Chinese new year (of the rabbit, not of the tiger, by the way), a resolution to cut back on jumping to conclusions about people might be in order.

Guardian's Open Platform

If I had to choose just one newspaper, it would be The Guardian. That’s a rather archaic opening sentence in this age of digital plenty, including as it does the terms choose just one and newspaper.

But I remember buying the dead trees version. I particularly remember running in to the newsagents next to Edmonton (north London, UK) train station to get my Guardian before getting on the train to work.

Most of the time I lived in France, I subscribed to The Guardian Weekly, which included articles from Le Monde and the Washington Post as well as from The Guardian itself. The articles from Le Monde were translated into English, those from the Washington Post not so much.

I now live in Washington Post territory. I’ve yet to buy the Washington Post newspaper, and I doubt I ever will. I do have the Washington Post website bookmarked, and visit it often enough to get annoyed at the register/login hurdle.

I visit the Guardian online multiple times most days. I appreciate its openness, as well as its content.

So I am particularly interested in the Guardian’s open platform. I read about it in a couple of recent articles by Mathew Ingram at GigaOM. Lest it seem that Mathew and I are uncritically besotted with openness, I’ll choose this quote from the first of his articles.

The Guardian’s ownership structure — it’s owned by the Scott Trust — likely has something to do with the paper’s interest in an open API, and its willingness to provide its content to others despite the lack of any immediate return, since it can afford to think longer term rather than just focusing solely on quarterly earnings.

In other words, media owned via financial markets and other mechanisms of impatience would find it harder to do what the Guardian is doing. Here’s my favorite quote from Mathew’s second article.

Open APIs and open platforms aren’t all that new. But The Guardian is the first newspaper to offer a fully open API… We thought it was worth looking at why the paper chose to go this route, and what it might suggest for other companies contemplating a similar move… I explore the topic in depth in a new GigaOM Pro report (subscription required).

I love this quote because, even as Mathew writes in glowing terms about the openness of a 190-year-old newspaper company, he tells us that we need to provide a credit card to have full access to his coverage. This from GigaOM, cutting-edge new media property, running on open source software, etc.

See, I haven’t lost my British sense of humour. It’s that same sense of humour that allows me to smile rather than curse when I note that the Guardian’s site is misbehaving as I write this. It reminds me of the paper being formerly and fondly referred to as the Grauniad, because of frequent tpyos.

Brits Investigate Politicians

It seems that some Members of (the UK) Parliament have been rather… irregular in their expense claims. In order to investigate the expense claims thoroughly, it is necessary to trawl through hundreds of thousands of documents.

The Guardian decided to crowdsource the trawling, by setting up a web site with copies of expense documents and an interface allowing visitors to classify each document. Michael Andersen at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab presented four crowdsourcing lessons, based on an interview with Simon Willison, who developed the web application.

Two of the lessons are psychological:

  • your workers are unpaid, so make it fun
  • attention is fickle, so launch immediately.

The other two are technical:

  • speed is mandatory, so use a framework
  • participation will come in one big burst, so have servers ready.

Note that the technical reasons follow on from “attention is fickle.” The framework was Django, and the servers were in the cloud, at Amazon’s EC2. Glyn Moody remarked that open source made this crowdsourcing project feasible. I’ll be more explicit (or perhaps more glib) and remark that this is an example of open source serving the cause of open government.

Is this an example of citizen journalism? It’s certainly an example of investigative journalism, with much of the investigation done by citizens.

Side Projects in Music, Software, etc.

The Guardian’s music blog describes The curse of the side project. Johnny Dee cites projects such as Robert Plant working with Alison Krauss instead of Led Zep, Alex Turner being a Last Shadow Puppet when he could spend more time being an Arctic Monkey, and so on.

I disagree with the post for three reasons. First, I don’t think that most of Dee’s examples stand up: I’m not a fan of fortune-making reunions, and I don’t think that three quarters of Led Zep, almost three decades after the death of John Bonham, would do anything to change my mind; and I think that The Age Of The Understatement is pretty good.

Second are side projects not mentioned in the post, such as Tom Tom Club and The Postal Service. Third, I think that Plant, Turner, and others should make the music they want to make.

Then it struck me that side projects are important in software. Linux was a side project for a student, del.icio.us made a change from work in equity trading, and so on.

I found the Guardian blog entry via Largehearted Boy, itself a side project of a sort. I find myself firmly on the side of side projects.

Presidential Wordle

The image shows words appearing in a certain blog, with word size corresponding to frequency. The blog in question is the official campaign blog of John McCain.

The image, along with its counterpart generated from Barak Obama’s blog, appeared in the Boston Globe. But, alththough I live in Boston, I saw it first on a Guardian blog, along with these words.

One overwhelmingly obvious fact emerges: the Obama campaign can’t stop talking about Barack Obama, and the McCain campaign can’t stop talking about Barack Obama, either. You can, of course, use these facts to convict Obama of self-absorption or McCain of relentless negative-attackery, as is your wont… I quite seriously wonder whether this might not be a more enlightening way of analysing the candidates’ messages than actually, you know, listening to their words in the right order.

The images were generated using Wordle, which most better bloggers drew to your attention a while ago.

Newspaper Websites

There’s a ranking of the top 25 newspaper websites at 24/7 Wall St (via Techmeme). 247WS is, by the way, nothing to do with the Wall Street Journal.

I was disappointed to find that it’s a ranking of large US daily metropolitan newspapers. So my favorite newspaper website doesn’t get a look in. I thought it was the world wide web.

The New York Times gets the top spot and an A grade from 247WS. However, it doesn’t get a link, and neither do any of the other sites. Evidence that 247WS doesn’t get the web mounts.

The Boston Globe is about halfway down the list, in 12th place.

It is odd that NYTimes.com is such a good website and Boston.com has such a long way to go. Both are part of the same parent company… There are some creative sections, like a homicide map of Boston, to keep readers on the site… But, the overall effort is uninspired. Grade: C.

My favorite newspaper website is The Guardian. Here’s a rather lovely bit from an interview with Ravi Shankar, in which the sitar man talks about being scheduled to follow Hendrix at the Monterey festival in 1967.

“I thought he was fantastic, but so very loud,” Shankar says now, shaking his head. “And then he would do that thing with his instrument when he would open up a can of gasoline and burn his guitar… for me, the burning of the guitar was the greatest sacrilege possible… I told them that even if I had to pay some kind of compensation to get out of playing the festival, I just couldn’t do it.” The organisers’ solution was to give Shankar his own stage for an altogether more civilised afternoon performance of assorted ragas, during which Hendrix sat quietly in the front row.

It might appear that my preference for the Guardian over the NYT, etc., is a bias in favour of the UK and against the USA. Let me reassure you that it isn’t. Why, I’m even in favour of the idea of naming July 4 Independents Day, rather than Thanksgiving.

Nostalgia and its Inferior Guardians

The inferior 4 have been posting of late about our culture’s out-of-control obesssion with nostalgia. Let’s not wonder what this says about, for example, their recent extensive coverage of 1960s novels.

Let’s follow them to my favorite paper, where there’s an article on how popular culture is increasingly defined by an unhealthy refusal to let go of the past. John Harris considers various explanations before deciding as follows.

The best bet, however, might be to recognise that fixating on the past is an in-built aspect of the human condition, but limited technology used to keep it in check… And now? Bandwidth and memory grow exponentially… The same technology that we once thought would propel us into a fast-changing future stokes nostalgic appetites and condemns us to a present so laden with repetition that it’s beginning to feed back on itself.

There are some good points in the ensuing online discussion. Of course, there was never ensuing online discussion in the days when I used to read my favorite paper on paper.

Radiohead: In Rainbows

ThomMy first two attempts to give Radiohead money for In Rainbows failed. But third time was lucky, or the site’s problems were fixed, and there were no problems with payment last night. Neither were there problems with download this morning.

So I’m among the millions of people currently listening to In Rainbows, and among the (thousands?) currently writing about it. The Guardian has a predictably large amount of coverage. For example, Paul Morely reviews it, pointing out with tiresome frequency that it’s too soon to do so.

The image is from a 15 years of Radiohead photo feature. It bears a pleasingly snide caption.

The Observer listed the Bends… as one of the 50 albums that changed music: ‘In parallel with Jeff Buckley, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke popularised the angst-laden falsetto… Without this Coldplay would not exist, nor Keane, nor James Blunt.’ Talk about a backhanded compliment.

I’m enjoying my first listen to the album, thanks very much. I paid 3.14 (+ .49) UK. I’m afraid to check how much that it is US$ these days.