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Wednesday Topsight, April 23, 2008

simearth-m.jpgEarly Bright Green: "It is when man shall have discovered the means of restocking the sea and of controlling its supplies that his "dominion over the fish" will be perfect. The power to deplete, which so far marks the utmost limit of his advance, is mere tyrrany. Dominon should embrace a more benevolent sway, and to that end no doubt the efforts of science and the might of law will presently join forces."

From The Sea-fishing industry of England and Wales: A Popular Account of the Sea Fisheries and Fishing Ports of Those Countries F. G. Aflalo 1904

Hegemonic Games: As the US global hegemony declines, the mainstream view is that China will move into its place. I don't think that's likely, but China will certainly rival the US as a sub-hegemonic actor. The fun's already begun, in fact, as demonstrated by Chinese soldiers patrolling Zimbabwe streets alongside Mugabe's troops:

Chinese troops have been seen on the streets of Zimbabwe's third largest city, Mutare, according to local witnesses. They were seen patrolling with Zimbabwean soldiers before and during Tuesday's ill-fated general strike called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). [...]

One eyewitness, who asked not to be named, said: "We've never seen Chinese soldiers in full regalia on our streets before. The entire delegation took 80 rooms from the hotel, 10 for the Chinese and 70 for Zimbabwean soldiers."

See also here. This is going to be messy.

Green Games (the fun kind): Jon Lebkowsky has a piece in the Austin Chronicle entitled "The Serious Play in Saving the World," building on the South-by-Southwest panel he ran in March. It's a strong piece on the state of green gaming, and both its potential and challenges. The article focuses on Pliny Fisk, who joined me on the SXSW panel, and his efforts to find an intersection between sustainability and gaming.

Fisk has been considering how you could use real-world data in virtual environments to model what he calls EcoBalance, the name of a board game he proposed in 2000, where "participants plan land uses at a settlement or regional scale according to the footprints required to balance natural resource supply and sync functions (i.e., natural capital) with human life support needs."

EcoBalance could evolve to be something more than a board game via Fisk's interest in digital convergence – increasingly realistic, detailed visualizations; fatter storage and faster CPUs; growing broad adoption of personal digital systems including mobile devices; and powerful support for in-world interactivity in massively multiplayer environments like Second Life.

As I note the quote Jon used, there has not been a better time for the emergence of a green game. In fact, I think that if the ancient planet model SimEarth could be re-compiled for current hardware, it could be a minor hit -- and a major one if the graphics & simulation code could be updated, too.

(Apparently, SimEarth can be downloaded from Abandonia.com -- if anyone gets it running, let me know!)

The Global Suburb: The suburban dream spreads around the world.

"Every year, we add 60 million urban residents on Earth," Stanilov says. "The countries most susceptible to embracing the American model are particularly those with a booming economy and an emerging class of affluent residents and consumers really eager to embrace the American lifestyles. They don't want just the house but the whole package, the three-car garage, the mall, all of that."

For many developing nations, however, the suburban ideal is stuck in circa 1980: a sea of lookalike single-family homes and shopping malls on the edge of the city. It's a model that many Americans increasingly are rejecting.

Suburbia is the logical result of economic growth in regions where density=squalor. System-focused enviros can't eliminate the pathologies of suburbia without both meeting the needs it satisfies and reinventing density.

Jargon of Note: RUMINT: Rumor level intelligence.
BOGINT — bogus intelligence
To the Right/Left of the Boom: the time before or after a bomb detonation, as imagined on a timeline. Emergency response crews usually work to the right of the boom, i.e., afterwards; bomb disposal crews usually work to the left of the boom.


To get SimEarth going:
- download and install DosBox
- start a dosbox session
- mount the unzipped file as a drive (type info mount in DosBox for instructions)
- run setup.bat, and let it run through. Should run fine provided you've got drive letter B: free.
- Choose 640x480 graphics and Soundblaster for sound
- Navigate into that dir (still in dosbox) and run Simearth.exe - should pop up immediately.
- Fiddle a little with DosBox's settings, and you should be able to have it running full screen, too.

I'm thoroughly interested in games and education, particularly education about attitudes, trends and concepts rather than just knowledge. Sim Earth's a great example of this - Sim Life was also quite a good one, particularly if you tried to use to develop diverse and sustainable ecosystems. Do you know if there's a recording of that panel you mention?

You might be interested in an article on games and social change in January's IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (http://tinyurl.com/42zm2w). There's several interesting games profiled there, including Peacemaker, Oil God, and Darfur is Dying. None take the serious simulationist attitude of SimEarth, but they're nonetheless very interesting..

There was actually a story on NPR a couple of weeks ago about the lack of "maturity" in the video game industry, specifically the industry's unwillingness to make games that focus on difficult, real-world issues, such as social justice or the environment, in the same way that Hollywood does. I'm not sure that Hollywood is the best comparison, but the industry critics made their point pretty well. I also think some people from the video game industry explained their positions pretty well, though. They said very few game designers think of games as a medium that should promote a message or agenda. Instead, good games should be fun. They are right that fun is key to making a game that people want to play. The challenge is making a game that models environmental factors well and allows the user to see the impact of their sustainable and non-sustainable choices on that environment that is just as fun as Guitar Hero or any other popular game.

I talked to Will Wright soon after SimCity was released about the possibility of using it for urban ecological redesign. He said it was definitely doable but, to my knowledge, nothing has really progressed very far on that front. But then, I ain't a gamer at all, at all.

I'd like to see an ecological game that uses _A Pattern Language_, New Alchemy's biological systems thinking, and permaculture as part of its worldview.

I'd also like to see a real "dashboard for Spaceship Earth," something I've been proposing online since, again, the early 1990s. But then, I'm not a programmer at all, at all either.

What I am is a self-published writer, in other words, just another Internet crank babbling to myself.

Re Green Games: I found a good overview of game design, I Have No Words & I Must Design. It's from 1994 but far from obsolete. If the article is right then Sim Earth-like game must allow more direct manipulation and player involvement before it becomes a hit. Unfortunately, the only way to check this theory would be to try and remake Sim Earth, a nontrivial effort.

Btw, Will Wright has been (for a rather long time) working on a Sim Earthy game called
Spore. It will probably turn out to be more like Settlers than Sim City but could still be relevant.


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