Tag: The New Yorker (page 1 of 5)

The art of Battle Royale-style video games

My kids like Fortnite and Warzone. The backstory to the genre, as told in this article is really interesting, along with the realisation that it fuses storytelling and competition.

Video games broadly fall into two categories: those which, like sports, emphasize competition, and those which, like films, emphasize storytelling. Battle royale is a rare harmonious combination, a mode that encourages both dynamic, dramatic vignettes and high-stakes rivalry. At Infinity Ward, the Los Angeles-based co-developer of the Call of Duty series, which has long established the template for online competitive shooting games, PUBG was disruptive and divisive. “You could see it propagating through the office like wildfire,” Joe Cecot, the studio’s multiplayer-design director, said. “People were, like, ‘How do we make something like this? What would our twist on this be?’ ”

[…]

In the video-game medium, where players prize novelty—and, typically, not social commentary—the key to battle royale’s future may lie not in tweaking its rules but in deepening its story. In November, Activision released Warzone 2.0, which introduces some new mechanics. There’s now more than one safe circle, so players are herded into pockets of refuge, and it’s possible to interrogate downed opponents, making them reveal the position of their teammates. These embellishments add subtle points of difference, but it’s unlikely that they’ll energize the form. “Battle royale will now always be a part of the tool kit, in the same way that we’re never not going to have the fifty-two-card deck,” Lantz said. “But there’s not a lot of people making new games for the fifty-two-card deck. When a thirteen-year-old hears that there’s a new battle-royale game coming out today, it’s already a little bit boring. Like, you know, boomer stuff.”

Source: How “Battle Royale” Took Over Video Games | The New Yorker

Walking around like Lionel Messi

I didn’t get a chance to read this excellent article in The New Yorker about Lionel Messi until today. It was published the week leading up to the World Cup Final, which of course Argentina won, making Messi possibly the greatest player of all time (behind Pele? RIP.)

What I like about it is that it shows that ‘work’ doesn’t always look like running around the place looking ‘busy’. In fact, the greatest people at a given thing are usually involved in the background while people are concentrating solely on the foreground.

Messi is soccer’s great ambler. To keep your eyes fixed on him throughout a match is both spellbinding and deadly dull. It is also a lesson in the art and science of watching a soccer match. If you ask any astute observer—an experienced coach or player or tactically tuned-in analyst—how to understand the game, they will advise you to take your eyes off the ball. There may well be an analogous precept, with a German name, in philosophy or art history or mechanical physics. The idea is this: to apprehend the main thrust of the narrative, to really wrap your mind around what’s going on, you must shift your focus from the foreground to the background.

[…]

[I]f you happen to be watching a match featuring Leo Messi, you’ll notice that something on the order of eighty-five per cent of the time, he can be found off the ball, strolling and dawdling and looking mildly uninterested. It is the kind of behavior associated with selfish players, prima donnas who expend no effort on defense and bestir themselves only when goal-scoring opportunities arise. Messi, of course, is one of the most prolific scorers of all time, with a career total of nearly eight hundred goals in club and international competition. His penchant for walking is not a symptom of indolence or entitlement; it’s a practice that reveals supreme footballing intelligence and a commitment to the efficient expenditure of energy. Also, it’s a ruse—the greatest con job in the history of the game.

A famous aphorism, usually attributed to the Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque, sums up the subtly visionary play of the midfielder Sergio Busquets this way: when you watch the game, you don’t see Busquets—but when you watch Busquets, you see the whole game. Something related might be said about the great Argentinean: when you watch Messi, you watch him watching the game. Another manager, Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, who coached Messi for four years at Barcelona, has described his walking, especially in the early stages of a game, as form of cartography—an exercise in scanning and surveying, taking the measure of the defense, noticing where the vulnerabilities lie, and calculating when and how opportunities might be seized. “After five, ten minutes, he’ll have a map in his eyes and in his brain,” Guardiola has said. “[He’ll] know exactly what is the space and what is the panorama.”

Source: The Genius of Lionel Messi Just Walking Around | The New Yorker

Algorithmic Anxiety

I listened to a great episode of CBC’s Spark podcast with the excellent Nora Young on what ownership will look like in 2050. One of the contributors talked about what it might look like to be “on the wrong side of the API”. In other words, the person responding to the request, rather than giving it.

We’re already heading towards a dystopia when people are having their behaviour influenced by black box algorithms that we don’t understand. This article talks about shopping on Instagram and listing property on Airbnb, but the point (and the anxiety) is universal.

Only in the middle of the past decade, though, did recommender systems become a pervasive part of life online. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all shifted away from chronological feeds—showing messages in the order in which they were posted—toward more algorithmically sequenced ones, displaying what the platforms determined would be most engaging to the user. Spotify and Netflix introduced personalized interfaces that sought to cater to each user’s tastes. (Top Picks for Kyle!) Such changes made platforms feel less predictable and less transparent. What you saw was never quite the same as what anyone else was seeing. You couldn’t count on a feed to work the same way from one month to the next. Just last week, Facebook implemented a new default Home tab on its app that prioritizes recommended content in the vein of TikTok, its main competitor.

Almost every other major Internet platform makes use of some form of algorithmic recommendation. Google Maps calculates driving routes using unspecified variables, including predicted traffic patterns and fuel efficiency, rerouting us mid-journey in ways that may be more convenient or may lead us astray. The food-delivery app Seamless front-loads menu items that it predicts you might like based on your recent ordering habits, the time of day, and what is “popular near you.” E-mail and text-message systems supply predictions for what you’re about to type. (“Got it!”) It can feel as though every app is trying to guess what you want before your brain has time to come up with its own answer, like an obnoxious party guest who finishes your sentences as you speak them. We are constantly negotiating with the pesky figure of the algorithm, unsure how we would have behaved if we’d been left to our own devices. No wonder we are made anxious. In a recent essay for Pitchfork, Jeremy D. Larson described a nagging feeling that Spotify’s algorithmic recommendations and automated playlists were draining the joy from listening to music by short-circuiting the process of organic discovery: “Even though it has all the music I’ve ever wanted, none of it feels necessarily rewarding, emotional, or personal.”

[…]

“Algorithmic anxiety,” however, is the most apt phrase I’ve found for describing the unsettling experience of navigating today’s online platforms. Shagun Jhaver, a scholar of social computing, helped define the phrase while conducting research and interviews in collaboration with Airbnb in 2018. Of fifteen hosts he spoke to, most worried about where their listings were appearing in users’ search results. They felt “uncertainty about how Airbnb algorithms work and a perceived lack of control,” Jhaver reported in a paper co-written with two Airbnb employees. One host told Jhaver, “Lots of listings that are worse than mine are in higher positions.” On top of trying to boost their rankings by repainting walls, replacing furniture, or taking more flattering photos, the hosts also developed what Jhaver called “folk theories” about how the algorithm worked. They would log on to Airbnb repeatedly throughout the day or constantly update their unit’s availability, suspecting that doing so would help get them noticed by the algorithm. Some inaccurately marked their listings as “child safe,” in the belief that it would give them a bump. (According to Jhaver, Airbnb couldn’t confirm that it had any effect.) Jhaver came to see the Airbnb hosts as workers being overseen by a computer overlord instead of human managers. In order to make a living, they had to guess what their capricious boss wanted, and the anxious guesswork may have made the system less efficient over all.

Source: The Age of Algorithmic Anxiety | The New Yorker