Friday, August 20, 2010

Gaming Addiction? Nope. Just Self-Indulgent

According to an article on, a man in Hawaii named Craig Smallwood is suing popular South Korean game producer NCSoft because, he claims, they have made their MMO Lineage II too addictive. Smallwood claims that, between 2004 and 2009, he racked up 20000 hours of game time and is now “unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends.” A federal judge is allowing the case to go forward, though it does appear that this may be on a technicality in federal law that doesn't allow the case to be dismissed at this point.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new winner for the Stupid Lawsuits award!
Dear Mr. Smallwood, there are no chemicals or subliminal brainwashing in Lineage II that would cause you to be addicted. What you are calling "addicting", most people would simply call "entertaining". It seems to me that most people who play these games want them to be more entertaining and so suing a game designer for providing exactly what their customer base wants does not even come close to making sense.
Is it possible to be addicted to video games? Sure it is. I am an avid gamer myself and I am certain that there have been times when my wife has questioned my addiction levels. That is not, however, the game maker's fault or responsibility. They are providing a product we have paid them to provide and, if the game is "addicting", that just means they are doing a good job.
I have to say, I have never played Lineage II. I never played Lineage either. If it is that entertaining, maybe I am missing out. I have played other NCSoft games and they generally do good work. It would be a shame if they had to make their games less entertaining just because of certain idiots in their player base.
I have seen some people commenting that maybe these game designers should have some sort of counselling position on staff, someone who would pop in and "chat" with players who are spending "too much time" playing these games. Why? That is not the game designer's responsibility! Most of these games already do pop up in-game messages that say something on the order of, "You have been playing for an extended amount of time. Please take a break." Personally, I find even those messages to be annoying and intrusive. If some game designer decided to add some sort of teeth to the "take a break advice", I would simply take my game money elsewhere. I have no doubt that I am not alone in this regard. I am paying you. Shut up and provide the service and product I am buying.
There is a dark underbelly to this story. According to papers filed by NCSoft in their defense, Smallwood was engaged in real money transfers. Not being specifically familiar with Lineage II, I have to generalize this from my knowledge of other MMOs, but basically it means that he was either buying or selling game currency with real money, a practice that is expressly forbidden in the Terms of Service. It is so forbidden, in fact, that all of Smallwood's game accounts were terminated and banned in 2009. It is rather amusing that Smallwood did not realize that he was "addicted" until after he was banned, isn't it? There couldn't be an ulterior motive to this lawsuit, could there?
Open and ready access to the courts for redress of grievances is an American principle that certainly needs to be maintained. However, we need - just as much - to develop a system that will prevent trash lawsuits like this from clogging up our courts. This kind of lawsuit is largely to blame for the expense, inefficiency, and just plain frustration of our judicial system. Not to mention the fact that, if it does go to trial, NCSoft has to waste time and money on a defense when the defense should be as simple as "He's an idiot - case closed." There are a number of steps between here and a full-fledged trial, though. Hopefully a judge at one of those steps will toss this case into the trash heap where it belongs.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Expendables Not As Advertised?

I have been reading reviews for the movie The Expendables and it certainly seems to me that the marketing department either got this one wrong or was feeling exceptionally dishonest when they prepared the advertising campaign for this one.
Let me be clear that this is not a review for this movie. I have not seen The Expendables and probably won't be seeing it any time soon. That isn't a statement against the movie; just a statement against theaters. I dislike crowds and so I have to really want to see a movie before I will brave the masses to see something on the big screen. I will probably see this movie (and it does look like I will probably enjoy it), but I will wait until I can watch it at home and not have to put up with the pushing and shoving and noise and mess of going to the theater. While I do think I will enjoy it, I don't think I will enjoy it that much.
So why am I complaining about a movie I haven't seen but expect to enjoy? Because it really irks me when the marketing department tells me that I am going to see a movie that is not the movie on the screen. I walked out of Antonio Banderas' Desperado for that very reason (I was promised a cool action movie and got a cheesy comedy that just happened to also have some action instead).
The Expendables has been billed as a ... tribute might be the right word ... tribute to 80s action movies, complete with bringing together, for the first time ever, three of the biggest 80s action icons in one movie.
The first problem with that premise is that one of the three is not an 80s action icon. Bruce Willis is an action icon. There is no doubt about that. However, he was not such an icon yet in the 80s. In the 80s, Willis was a romantic comedy icon ("Moonlighting", anyone?). He had one stand-out action movie in the 80s (Die Hard which, to be honest and fair, was one of the nest action movies from the 80s) but the bulk of his action credit, and his status as an action icon, didn't come until the 90s.
It is a somewhat trivial complaint, I agree, but a legitimate complaint just the same. Would it still be cool to see Willis, Stallone, and Schwarzenegger together in an action movie, despite their being action icons from different decades? Absolutely! That, however, leads us to the second problem with this movie's premise.
Willis, Stallone, and Schwarzenegger aren't really in an action movie together. They all three appear in the same action movie and they even have a scene where they all three appear together, but that's as far as it goes. Their scene together is not an action scene; it is a talking scene. Three of the biggest names in movie action are finally brought together in one scene and they ... talk. Someone seriously missed an opportunity here.
The movie that is supposed to represent the glory of 80s action movies and star three of the biggest action stars ever, doesn't. It has, essentially, cameo appearances from two of them, and boring cameos at that. The bulk of the movie stars modern action stars or wrestlers who haven't even made it up to "action star" yet, and that is not what the marketing department promised.
None of this means that The Expendables will be a bad movie. I have already said that I expect to enjoy it. I like Jason Statham and Jet Li and, from what I've read, they appear to have prominent roles. I do think, however, that there will be quite a bit of disappointment with this movie and it will probably be disappointment that the movie doesn't deserve. It won't be disappointment with the movie itself, but disappointment that the movie was not what was promised by the marketing department.

The Universal Bill of Rights

I repost this one every few years in the (so far vain) hope that we will begin to move in the right direction and I will not feel the need to repost again in a few years. So far, no such luck, so I continue to try.

The Universal Bill of Rights

1. Every person has the right to be the sole authority over his or her own life unless the exercise of this right would initiate force, fraud, or coercion to directly infringe on the freedom of another.
2. Every person has the right to defend himself or herself against force from any other person. Every person has the right to prepare for this defense unless the exercise of this right would initiate force, fraud, or coercion to directly infringe on the freedom of another.
3. Every person has the right to be secure in his or her own possessions and to be the sole authority over those possessions unless the exercise of this right would initiate force, fraud, or coercion to directly infringe on the freedom of another. At no time and for no reason shall this right be violated without provable cause, due process, and just compensation.
4. Every person has the right to speak, write, or print anything or to express themselves in any other manner unless the exercise of this right would initiate force, fraud, or coercion to directly infringe on the freedom of another.
5. Every person has the right to be secure in his or her own belief and all the practices of that belief unless the exercise of this right would initiate force, fraud, or coercion to directly infringe on the freedom of another.
6. Every person has the right to freely associate or not associate with any other person or persons and to use any legally owned property for this purpose unless the exercise of this right would initiate force, fraud, or coercion to directly infringe on the freedom of another.
7. Every person has the right to equal protection under the law, where he or she is judged only by facts relevant to the present situation and no distinction is made for non-relevant facts, opinions, or beliefs.
8. Every person accused of a crime has the right to a fair trial where innocence is assumed and guilt must be proven. Every such person has the right to full and fair representation where all relevant evidence is reviewed and only relevant evidence is considered. All such people have the right to abstain from self-incrimination.
9. Every parent, because they are responsible for their children, has the right to limit the rights of those children toward the process of teaching responsibility for those rights. Every person has the right to expect parents to be responsible for their children. Every child has the right to expect their parents to provide protection, support, and education. Every child also has the right to expect their parents to only limit the child's rights in direct proportion to the child's understanding of and ability to be responsible for those rights.
10. Every person has the right to expect their government to perform those limited functions required of government to the best of its ability and using only such means as are actually required to perform these functions. Every person has the right to expect their government to make no attempt to perform extra functions which would limit the freedom of the people. The people have the right to demand or force the removal of any government which violates this right.

The Universal Bill of Non-Rights

11. Any person unwilling or unable to afford any other person or persons any of the preceding rights shall have his or her rights curtailed in direct proportion.
12. No government has a right to govern but does so only by the will of the people. No government has the right to perform any functions which would limit the freedom of the people and which the people can do without governmental interference.
13. No agency, business, or any other collective group has any rights or privileges as a group. All such groups are made up of people and it is these people who possess rights and privileges.
14. No person has the right to anything that was not earned, freely given, or acquired through legal contract.
15. No person has the right to succeed. No person has the right to wealth. No person has the right to expect anything more than to try. Everything beyond trying shall be seen as a bonus and not a right.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Getting Rights Right

While I am getting back up to speed here, I will sometimes go back through my files and republish older writings which seem oddly relevant now. Annoyingly, I apparently failed to put a date on this one, but I know for a fact it was before 2003 and probably after 2000. Not too bad a window, I suppose. At any rate, it was written somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years ago and I have changed nothing in it (though I may have corrected some punctuation last night - I was half asleep, so don't quote me on that).

Getting Rights Right
Do People Have a Right to Services?

Here lately, I’ve lost track of how often I hear people talking about rights. Every time I turn around, someone is screaming about his right to this or her right to that. Frankly, it’s gotten to the point where I cringe every time I hear it, which is pretty sad considering how ardent a supporter of rights I am. My apprehension with this, however, is understandable when considered in the proper light. It is virtually impossible to defend rights to the fullest when people can’t even agree on how to define them.
One of the most visible examples of this in the current public discussion is the so-called Single Payer Health Plan. This plan, under various modified forms and differing names, is basically modeled after the socialized medical systems that can be found in such countries as Canada and England (though it is interesting to note that both of these countries have actually been moving or considering moving away from this system and toward more privatization in recent years). The central point of any such plan is tax-subsidized medical services that allow all people to have at least basic access without payment rendered at the time of service or due at a later date. I won’t just say “without payment” because, unless one doesn’t pay taxes, the service has actually been paid for, only before the fact. In this way, it is similar to an insurance plan, though usually without a deductible or co-pay. The only significant differences are that the payments are controlled by the government through taxes and that no one is allowed to opt out, neither the patient choosing to not use this form of insurance nor the doctor choosing to not accept this form of payment.
Also central is the justification for the control issue that is necessary for the plan: everyone has a right to medical services.
This is difficult to argue against without sounding like an ogre. Whenever we see someone who is sick or in pain, most of us want that person to have the necessary help. We don’t tend to think past that point. With Step One right in front of us, we often don’t think we have time to worry about Step Two and we’ll just deal with that when we get there. While wanting to fix the immediate problem is a natural human desire, refusing to look past the immediate problem frequently gets us into more trouble than it’s worth.
What if the solution we demand in Step One creates a problem in Step Two? In this case, we haven’t really solved anything; we’ve only postponed the problem. Postponing the problem is exactly what we’re doing when we confuse the issue and assign the value of “this is a right” where it does not belong.
In the example of Single Payer Health Plans, if everyone has a right to medical services, someone MUST provide those services. In Step One the patient has received service, but in Step Two the provider has been forced to render service, regardless of personal choice. Can it really be a right if it forces the violation of another person's rights? A carpenter has a right to not build a house. A farmer has a right to not grow crops. Does a doctor not have the equivalent right to not provide medical services? Why can I force a doctor to operate on me when I can’t force a farmer to feed me? Has the very act of graduating from medical school somehow changed the doctor’s rights and, if so, why aren’t students warned of this before they enroll?
While some may argue that it is issues of health or “quality of life” that alter this situation, I believe that my choice of counter examples demonstrates at least the inequality of this philosophy. Surely we all agree that food and shelter are equally health and quality of life issues. Yet even when we do step into these areas, we do not insist that every provider must play within the same government mandated game. We interfere only on a case-by-case basis where we actually deem it necessary and leave everyone else to play their own game. Why the insistence that health care be given its own all-encompassing set of rules?
Furthermore, if health care is a right, what happens when no one can provide it? If we can force doctors to render service, can we not also force eligible students to enter medical school so that we maintain the necessary amount of providers? If those who believe that health care is a right cannot embrace the logic of this idea, perhaps there is a flaw in their understanding of rights. Why is it appropriate to force one class of people but not appropriate to force another class toward the same purpose? It is an inconsistency that cannot be answered.
The reason for this is a faulty definition of rights. When properly defined, one right cannot cancel out another. I have the right to write this essay and you have the right to not read it. My right to write cannot force you to read and your right to not read cannot force me to not write. That’s the way it works, or at least that’s the way it should work.
By this definition, the only way I have a right to medical care is if I can provide it to myself. A right to health care otherwise would cancel out the provider’s right to free association and remove his right to govern his own labor. In any other situation, we would quite rightly call this slavery.
No one has the right to inflict slavery on another person, regardless of the situation. While it would certainly be nice to help people have access to medical services, we should be careful to not falsely define this generosity as a right. Courtesy isn’t a right, no matter how much better it might make the world.
If one wishes to defend rights, start by defining them correctly and consistently. If one wishes to promote access to health care, start by remembering that there are people with real rights on both sides of the issue. Both of these can be done at the same time, but they cannot be done as the same thing. Doing so is actually a promotion of slavery, and slaves don’t have rights.
Besides, who would you rather have cutting you open: the provider by choice or the provider by force?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Basic Principles

Politically speaking, I run my life by two basic principles, which can be expressed by the acronyms TANSTAAFL and MYODB.
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
Mind Your Own Damn Business
Those may seem like simple rules, but they cover a wide range of behavior and circumstances. Odds are that any new law proposed, any stump speech, any referendum - in short, anything that comes from or pertains to government - can be measured by at least one of these rules (being able to be measured by both is actually quite common) and, if a decision cannot be made based solely on that measurement, such a measurement will at least provide a better understanding, rendering the decision-making process much simpler.
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Nothing is free. This cannot be stated more simply or more accurately. If some Talking Head is promising freebies, look at the other hand. Look up the sleeve. Look under the rabbit. Look anywhere and everywhere except where said Talking Head is directing your attention. The only thing you are really being offered is a Bait-and-Switch. There is a cost and if you can't see it, that just means it is more securely hidden than most.
The most common example of this Bait-and-Switch tactic is where the freebie really is free to you (financially speaking, at least - there are still too many other strings to count), but only because someone else is being forced to pick up the tab. You may think this is a great deal, right up until the time the cards are shuffled and it becomes your turn to pay the bill. It always works that way. Agreeing that someone has the authority to force someone else to buy something for you is the exact same thing as agreeing that someone has the authority to force you to buy something for someone else. There is no getting around this truth and your turn to pay will come around.
Any time someone starts talking about freebies, that is the time to start suspecting the worst. That person is either too stupid to know the real costs or is intentionally lying to you. Does either answer really describe someone you want to be in charge of anything?
Mind your own damn business. I cannot express clearly enough how disgusted I am that society as a whole has forgotten this rule even exists. There was a time when this was among the most basic and common education for children. That time was not even that long ago. Although it was already fading from popularity then, it was including in my upbringing, and I have not yet hit forty. Little more than a blink, in cultural terms.
Granted, even when this rule was commonly taught, most people did not live by it. This is one of the great hypocrisies ignored by those who want a return to "the good old days". There were no good old days. They have never existed. There were things that were done better then and there are things that are done better now. For the most part, the trade-off has been almost exactly even, with a net gain of zero.
Are you trying to get a law passed over something that has nothing to do with you and cannot impact your life? Shut up and mind your own damn business. Are you trying to force people to live your way when their way isn't affecting anything more than your precious sensitivities? Shut up and mind your own damn business. Are you offended because someone else took his or her life in a different direction than you took yours? Shut up and mind your own damn business.
Let me be absolutely clear. There is nothing in this rule that precludes civil discussion when we disagree, but there is a world of difference between civil discussion and legal action. You have every right to try to change someone's mind. You have no right to try to force that change when it is none of your damn business.
Whenever someone is proposing a law that you know does not pertain to him and you know does not pertain to you, stop and ask yourself: "What's the point?" Is there really a problem here that needs to be addressed or is there some unpopular group that someone wants to smash? Remember the corollary rule from TANSTAAFL: If you agree that someone has the authority to smash Unpopular Group X then you also agree that someone has the authority to smash Unpopular Group Y. Guess what. You are in Unpopular Group Y. I don't care who you are, I can promise you that there is something important to you that falls into an unpopular minority. Do you really want someone to have the authority to smash unpopular groups just because they are unpopular?
The backside of both of these rules boils down to people's tendency to forget that there is a backside to everything. Whatever you approve of in one direction will eventually be used against you in another direction. I have always said that the best way to protect my rights is to protect all rights. If I don't hand over that hammer, it can't be used against me.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in attempting to sum up the philosophy of Voltaire, said "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." (This quotation is commonly misattributed to Voltaire himself because of how Hall worded the paragraph in her book The Friends of Voltaire, where it first appeared.) While this quote deals specifically with speech, the basic principle is almost universal. Defend all that is not outright indefensible, or have no defense yourself.