The Royal Game of Ur: Play the Oldest Board Game on Record – The New York Times

For 4,600 years, a mysterious game slept in the dust of southern Iraq, largely forgotten. The passion of a museum curator and the hunger of young Iraqis for their cultural history may bring it back.

The New York Times has a story on The Royal Game of Ur: Play the Oldest Board Game on Record. A curator at the British Museum, Irving Finkel, connected the translation of a tablet with the rules with an ancient board game of which there were copies in museums (see picture above). More recently the game has been reintroduced into Iraq so that people can rediscover their ludic heritage.

The nice thing about the NYTimes article, beside the video of Finkel who has an amazing beard, is that they include a PDF that you can download and print to learn to play the game.

The article and Finkel’s video talk highlight how influential a game can be – how a set of rules can be a meme that helps rediscover a game.

‘I saw the possibility of what could be done – so I did it’: revolutionary video game The Hobbit turns 40 | Games | The Guardian

The developer of the text-adventure game on how, at 20, she overcame 1980s misogyny to turn a Tolkien book into one of the most groundbreaking titles in the gaming canon

The Guardian has a story on Veronika Megler who developed the innovative text (and image) adventure game The Hobbit (1982), ‘I saw the possibility of what could be done – so I did it’: revolutionary video game The Hobbit turns 40. She went on to get a PhD and now is principal data scientist at Amazon Web Services!

You can now play The Hobbit on the Internet Archive.

People Make Games

From a CGSA/ACÉV Statement Against Exploitation and Oppression in Games Education and Industry a link to a video report People Make Games. The report documents emotional abuse in the education and indie game space. It deals with how leaders can create a toxic environment and how they can fail to take criticism seriously. A myth of the “auteur” in game design then protects the superstar leaders. Which is why they called the video “people make games” (not single auteurs.) Watch it.

The Universal Paperclips Game

Just finished playing the Universal Paperclips game which was surprisingly fun. It took me about 3.5 hours to get to sentience. The idea of the game is that you are an AI running a paperclip company and you make decisions and investments. The game was inspired by the philosopher Nick Bostrom‘s paperclip maximizer thought experiment which shows the risk that some harmless AI that controls the making of paperclips might evolve into an AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) and pose a risk to us. It might even convert all the resources of the universe into paperclips. The original thought experiment is in Bostrom’s paper Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence to illustrate the point that “Artificial intellects need not have humanlike motives.”

Human are rarely willing slaves, but there is nothing implausible about the idea of a superintelligence having as its supergoal to serve humanity or some particular human, with no desire whatsoever to revolt or to “liberate” itself. It also seems perfectly possible to have a superintelligence whose sole goal is something completely arbitrary, such as to manufacture as many paperclips as possible, and who would resist with all its might any attempt to alter this goal. For better or worse, artificial intellects need not share our human motivational tendencies.

The game is rather addictive despite having a simple interface where all you can do is click on buttons making decisions. The decisions you get to make change over time and there are different panels that open up for exploration.

I learned about the game from an interesting blog entry by David Rosenthal on how It Isn’t About The Technology which is a response to enthusiasm about Web 3.0 and decentralized technologies (blockchain) and how they might save us, to which Rosenthal responds that it is isn’t about the technology.

One of the more interesting ideas that Rosenthal mentions is from Charles Stross’s keynote for the 34th Chaos Communications Congress to the effect that businesses are “slow AIs”. Corporations are machines that, like the paperclip maximizer, are self-optimizing and evolve until they are dangerous – something we are seeing with Google and Facebook.

Wordle – A daily word game

Wordle Logo

Guess the hidden word in 6 tries. A new puzzle is available each day.

Well … I finally played Wordle – A daily word game after reading about it. It was a nice clean puzzle that got me thinking about vowels. I like the idea that there is one a day as I was immediately tempted to try another and another … Instead the one-a-day gives it a detachment. I can see why the New York Times would buy it, it is the sort of game that would bring in potential subscribers.

Masayuki Uemura, Famicom creator, passes

I just got news that Masayuki Uemura just passed. Professor Nakamura, Director of the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies, sent around this sad announcement.

As it has been announced in various media, we regretfully announce the passing of our beloved former Director and founder of Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies, and a father of NES and SNES- Professor Masayuki Uemura.We were caught by surprise at the sudden and unfortunate news .

Even after he retired as the director of RCGS and became an advisor, he was always concerned about each researcher and the future of game research.

 We would like to extend the deepest condolences to his families and relatives, and May God bless his soul.

As a scholar in video game studies and history, we would like to follow his example and continue to excel in our endeavors. 

(from Akinori Nakamura, Director, Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies)

Emojify: Scientists create online games to show risks of AI emotion recognition

Public can try pulling faces to trick the technology, while critics highlight human rights concerns

From the Guardian story, Scientists create online games to show risks of AI emotion recognition, I discovered Emojify, a web site with some games to show how problematic emotion detection is. Researchers are worried by the booming business of emotion detection with artificial intelligence. For example, it is being used in education in China. See the CNN story about how In Hong Kong, this AI reads children’s emotions as they learn.

A Hong Kong company has developed facial expression-reading AI that monitors students’ emotions as they study. With many children currently learning from home, they say the technology could make the virtual classroom even better than the real thing.

With cameras all over, this should worry us. We are not only be identified by face recognition, but now they want to know our inner emotions too. What sort of theory of emotions licenses these systems?

Dead By Daylight fans unhappy Hellraiser model is an NFT

Apparently Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) of game models are not going down well with fans according to a story, Dead By Daylight fans unhappy Hellraiser model is an NFT.

Even thought Behaviour isn’t selling the NFTs themselves, they are facilitating the sale of them by providing the models from the game. Gaming fans seem to view blockchain and NFTs as dubious and environmentally unsound technology. Behaviour’s response was,

We hear and understand the concerns you raised over NFTs. Absolutely zero blockchain tech exists in Dead by Daylight. Nor will it ever. Behaviour Interactive does not sell NFTs.

On a related note, Valve is banning blockchain and NFT games.

A New Way to Inoculate People Against Misinformation

A new set of online games holds promise for helping identify and prevent harmful misinformation from going viral.

Instead of fighting misinformation after it’s already spread, some researchers have shifted their strategy: they’re trying to prevent it from going viral in the first place, an approach known as “prebunking.” Prebunking attempts to explain how people can resist persuasion by misinformation. Grounded in inoculation theory, the approach uses the analogy of biological immunization. Just as weakened exposure to a pathogen triggers antibody production, inoculation theory posits that pre-emptively exposing people to a weakened persuasive argument builds people’s resistance against future manipulation.

Prebunking is being touted as A New Way to Inoculate People Against Misinformation. The idea is that one can inoculate people against the manipulation of misinformation. This strikes me as similar to how we were taught to “read” advertising in order to inoculate us to corporate manipulation. Did it work?

The Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab has developed some games like the Bad News Game to build psychological resistance to misinformation.

That viruses and inoculation can be metaphors for patterns of psychological influence is worrisome. It suggests a lack of agency or reflection among people. How are memes not like viruses?

The Lab has been collaborating with Google’s Jigsaw on Inoculation Science which has developed the games and videos to explain misinformation.

Replaying Japan 2021

Yesterday (Friday the 13th of August) we finished the 5th day of the Replaying Japan 2021 conference. The conference was organized by the AI for Society Signature Area, the Kule Institute for Advanced Study, and the Prince Takamado Japan Centre all at the University of Alberta.

At the conference I organized a roundtable about the Replaying Japan conference itself titled “Ten Years of Dialogue: Reflecting on Replaying Japan.” I moderated the discussion and started with a brief history that I quote from here:

The Replaying Japan conference will have been going now for ten years if you include its predecessor symposium that was held in 2012 in Edmonton, Canada.

The encounter around Japanese Game Culture came out of the willingness of Ritsumeikan University to host Geoffrey Rockwell as a Japan Foundation Japan Studies Fellow in Kyoto in 2011. While Rockwell worked closely with researchers like Prof. INABA at the Ritsumeikan Digital Humanities Centre for Japanese Arts and Culture, he also got to meet Professors Nakamura and Koichi at the Ritsumeikan Centre for Game Studies. Out of these conversations it became clear that game studies in the West and game studies in Japan were not in conversation. The research communities were siloes working in their own languages that didn’t intermingle much. We agreed that we needed to try to bridge the communities and organized a first small symposium in 2012 in Edmonton with support from the Prince Takamado Japan Centre at the University of Alberta. At a meeting right after the symposium we developed the idea for a conference that could go back and forth between Japan and the West called Replaying Japan. Initially the conference just went back and forth between Kyoto and Edmonton, but we soon started going to Europe and the USA which expanded the network.

(From the abstract for the roundtable)

At the conference I was also part two papers that were presented others:

  1. Keiji Amano presented on “The Rise and Fall of Popular Amusement: Operation Invader Shoot Down.” This paper looked at Nagoya tabloids and how they described the explosion of Space Invaders as a threat to the pachinko industry.
  2. Mimi Okabe presented on “Moral Management in Japanese Game Companies” which discussed how certain Japanese game companies manager their ethical reputation. We looked as specific issues like forced labour in the supply chain, gender issues, and work-life balance.

You can see the conference Schedule here.