Sunday, August 21, 2011

Economic meaning in children's books

In the NYT today, an article about economic meaning substituting for moral teachings in children books. To say that this is a new trend seems way overstated. Even in the article most of the books cited are old. Moreover, it seems to me that the best books about economics are those that go alongside numeracy (e.g., this).

One point struck me as wrong.
One of the most common themes in books for young people reflects parents’ fears that their children will become “bad” consumers, said Marah Gubar, director of the children’s literature program at the University of Pittsburgh. 
That often means rampant consumers are cast as villains, or at least losers. Take Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt are spoiled brats whose parents buy them whatever they want. And even in “Harry Potter,” Ms. Gubar noted, the appalling Dursleys shower their son, Dudley, with presents, a pointed symptom of the family’s wickedness.
First of all, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is teeming with economics beyond annoying, spoilt kids. The whole plot is one of innovator rights and the use of trade secrecy as a means of intellectual property protection. And, by the way, the moral message on that is in favour of such protection. Second, Harry Potter is unabashedly the Magical World of Monopolies. Almost every significant economic good or service is provided by a single provider from banking to wands to books and, finally, to school. The only exception is the entrepreneurial entry by the Weasley brothers into an existing but clearly underserved market. One suspects had Voldemort gone after the monopoly businesses rather than the government he may have been more successful in his evil ways.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Worst parenting mistakes

What are the worst parenting moves economists have made? Head over to Freakonomics to find out. Bruce Sacerdote almost killed his children sailing. Steve Levitt almost killed his children losing control of a stroller. Justin Wolfers is killing himself with a new puppy + ignorance (he should have talked to me!). And Bryan Caplan has apparently made no mistakes except not to have more kids and to sound continually like a broken record.

I'm there too with some terrorising of a one year old, incentive debacles and mistaken punishment.

GDC Europe Sum-up

Me, Marc and Jens got back from GDC Europe yesterday so thought I should write a small summary of the trip.

First of, some thoughts on the lecture:

My talk was scheduled the first day and was the first time I have ever had this type of lecture so I was quite nervous. This meant I had a bit of trouble relaxing and enjoying the other talks before mine. Also, the night before I had had the final practice round for the lecture, making my dreams that night filled with nothing but fragmented sentences from my script, which of course tainted the next day too. My head contained little but the lecture.

My first plan had been to learn the entire lecture and not use any notes, but during practice I always managed to miss something and felt having some kind of notes was more secure. As the lecture slides was pretty much void of text and the actual images often not very descriptive to what I said, I had to keep everything in my head. In the end, I am happy I made the decision of having notes as I did get lost a few times, but could quickly get back by a glance. Hopefully nobody noticed anything.

When it was finally time for the talk I was really worried if any of the videos would work, as there had been numerous problems when testing at home. Fortunately all videos showed perfectly!

Overall, I think it all went quite well and the audience seem to enjoy it too. There are summaries of the lecture at Gamasutra and Gamespot, and I will see if I can get the script up too later on.

I was also involved in a panel with some other people. My five minute presentation was pretty much an extended version of an old blogpost.

Once my lecture was done I could finally relax and enjoy the various lectures a bit more. As always there is a great mixture in quality and content. My favorites were probably a lecture about RPG mechanics, a talk on horror by the developer of the upcoming Silent Hill Downpour (even though I disagreed with plenty) and a talk about performance capture (by one of the founders of Ninja Theory).

Apart from the GDC stuff, we also attended something called the NotGames Fest. It was an exhibit that showcased a bunch of games that did not have a big focus on "fun game mechanics", and Amnesia was one of these. It was all much more nicely setup than I thought it would be. Visitors had to enter a atmospherically lit, cave-like room built up from cardboard. It was quite moody and fitted the exhibit perfectly. I really liked how it contrasted the normal, ear-deafening, sensory overloading exhibits videogames are normally shown in and had a very calm and serene feel to it instead. I hope that there will be more game exhibitions like this!

At the evening the exhibit also had a BBQ featuring hot-dogs in round buns, which was felt a strange (but still tasted good). Jens told me this some German tradition. Anybody know anything more about this strange way of hot-dog consumption?

Also like to note that two guys form the Italian company Santa Ragione gave us a free copy of their horror board game "Escape from the Aliens in outer space". We tried it while waiting for our plane to take off and even though we were probably a bit too few it was really nice. Will definitively play it again.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Horror Tip: Hide

I just saw this little horror game gem called "Hide". It is a very simple game with very simple graphics. Basically the game is all about finding five signs scattered across a map while avoiding being found. I think it is a great example in how not showing something properly makes the imagination go wild. The extremely sparse (yet workable) graphics and the atmospheric soundscape forces you to immerse your self and imagine your worse fear.

The game only takes a few minutes to play, so I suggest you all give it a go. And do not forget those headphones!

Friday, August 12, 2011

GDC Europe

Just wanted to inform everybody that I will be holding a lecture and be part of a

panel at GDC Europe next week.

The lecture is called "Evoking Emotions and Achieving Success by Breaking All the Rules" and will be about some of the design in Amnesia and also touch upon a lot of subjects discussed in this blog.

The panel has the name "Beyond Fun: Perspectives on Video Games as Expressive Experiences", which will include 4 other swell guys and gals. In it I will have a lil rant called "Games or Toys".

Both of these will take place on Monday and be one after another. Hopefully I can put something or link to video after the convention is over.

Will anybody here be attending?