Red Shirt Guy

People who care passionately about something that seems unimportant to the rest of us are easy to mock. The satirical publication The Onion sometimes runs pieces by a nerdy know-it-all named Larry Groznic, who defends sacred works of geek culture. The headlines alone read like a compendium of obsessions: “When You Are Ready To Have a Serious Conversation About Green Lantern, You Have My E-Mail Address“; “I Appreciate The Muppets On A Much Deeper Level Than You“; “Now More Than Ever, Humanity Needs My Back to the Future Fan Fiction.” Part of the joke is that the internal concerns of any particular community appear picayune to the outside eye; but to be a member of a community of shared interests is to care, deeply and in detail, about things the general public doesn’t spend much time thinking about. If you want to see this effect in action sans Larry Groznic, go to a newsstand and buy a magazine on a subject you care nothing about. If you read Vogue, get Guns and Ammo; if you read Golf Digest, pick up Tiger Beat; and as you read, imagine what someone who liked that magazine would think about your interests.
— Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus

: Zubon

Community Engagement

The feeling that I did this myself and it’s good, often beats the feeling that Professionals did this for me and it’s perfect.
— Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus

I think we tolerate far more flaws in the MMO genre not just because making massively multiplayer games is especially hard but also because we feel a sense of collaborative development. Players feel like they are contributing something to the game in a way that is not possible in “one and done” games. There is iterative development. There are forums with developers there. There is player-created content. The community participates in testing. It is our game, not their game.

On the other hand, the vast majority of the playerbase is not engaged in the forums, and the biggest game in the Western market has the smallest player input relative to “Professionals did this for me.”

[Update: Alternately, someone has probably worked out the mathematically optimal build for your class. How often do you work through the options on your own, even knowing the math has already been done? How often do you see that theory-crafted build and tweak it, making it your own even though it is most likely slightly worse than the guide-perfect build?]

: Zubon

Love Over Gold

My first bit from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus is one of the hardest to quote without going to great length. He cites Edward Deci’s experiment with a puzzle game called Soma. Subjects were shown the Soma puzzle pieces along with how they could be reconfigured to make new shapes, given some sample shapes to make, and then given a break.

During his absence from the room Deci observed the subject through a one-way mirror for exactly eight minutes. The subject’s behavior during that break was the experiment. … Even with [a variety of distractions] readily available, many of the students kept playing with the puzzle on their own, spending on average about half of the eight minutes working on it.

[Deci had the students back for a second session. Half]…were told that they would be paid a dollar for every shape they assembled [$5 today, after inflation]. … The paid subjects, who now thought of the cubes as a potential source of income, experimented with them, on average, for a minute more of their break time than they had previously. Deci then ran a third session, where he simply repeated the experiment exactly as he had run it initially: all the subjects were asked to assemble shapes, with no pay for anyone. In this session, even though each subject received identical instructions, the ones who had been paid in the previous session showed markedly less interest in the shapes during the break than in the session where they had been paid; their average time spent dropped by two minutes, which is to say it fell twice as far, when the payment was removed, as it had risen when the payment was added in the first place.

Continue reading Love Over Gold

Cognitive Surplus (intro)

I read Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky this weekend. My next series of posts will be quotes from it, with or without the need for additional commentary.

This speech became the first chapter to the book. It serves as a summary for the whole thing, so if you read nothing else I post from the book, it is worth spending 15 minutes listening to it. (You can watch if hand gestures help you understand speeches, but the content is almost entirely verbal.) Come back if you feel like chatting about details as we go along.

: Zubon

Hat tip from 2008 to the sadly departed Jeff Freeman.