Why video games are so flammable

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2013.  I was reminded of this post because I recently wrote about a queer theory paper about video game economics.  Wow, some of my references are quite dated!  And this predates gamergate!  Also, LOL at “I don’t intend to make a habit out of discussing economics”.

With Black Friday upon us, the flame wars over next-gen gaming consoles have really been heating up.  Which will win: the Wii U, XBox One, or PlayStation 4?  No one truly knows, but gamers everywhere agree that everyone else is wrong and should feel bad about being so stupid.

While I don’t intend to make a habit out of discussing economics, I do think that video game flame wars can be understood within economics.  The problem is twofold:

  1. There is limited space for video games and video game consoles, and everyone knows it.
  2. Video games are in a state of monopolistic competition.

Video game producers are most efficient when they make fewer, larger games, for many reasons.  Developing a game is a one-time cost, while actually manufacturing the game is cheap.  Selling more copies of a game is not a matter of paying for more manufacture, but paying for better advertisement and development so that more people want to play.1  Note that it’s much easier to advertise one big game than to advertise many little ones.  The main reason to have more smaller games is to better cater to different tastes (e.g. see the indie game industry).

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I joined YIMBY

So, in a bit of personal news, I joined the local YIMBY group. It’s a political group that fights for more housing.

California is currently in a housing crisis, which particularly impacts my generation because we move around a lot so we aren’t as protected by rent control. Also, we spent all our money on avocado toast. Many cities in California will welcome large companies that provide many jobs, but they refuse to let developers build housing near those jobs, leading to long commutes with large carbon footprints, from overpriced apartments in neighborhoods that don’t have as much political power to block housing development, because the older residents are poor. We end up displacing those poor residents and contributing to gentrification, all because the wealthier city where we work decided that if they built housing it would change the character of the neighborhood. It’s a complicated problem, but the solution must involve new housing.

I’m trying not to argue about it though. The important thing is not to persuade people, but to bring it to the attention of people who already agree with us and say, join our fight! This is a bit difficult since this is a blog with an international readership and housing is a very local issue. Nonetheless, housing shortages are a common political issue in many cities of the world, and you might check this map to see if there’s a YIMBY organization near you. Simply joining an organization makes politicians pay attention, but you might find other ways to contribute as well. And even if you’re not in California, the SF YIMBY group is a great informational resource that may help you understand your local situation.

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Religion as an axis of oppression

Earlier, when I was talking about the death of the New Atheist movement, and I mentioned the idea that New Atheism contained an implicit critique of social justice norms. In social justice, it is common to treat religion as just another axis of oppression, similar to race, gender, or orientation. Religious minorities, such as Muslims, are seen as an oppressed group. However, New Atheism problematized the social justice framing by pointing to the harm caused by religion. New Atheism wanted to make it socially acceptable to argue about religious beliefs.

So, I’m curious how this all rolled out, especially among readers who participated in New Atheism and then shifted towards social justice. How did you view religious minorities around five years ago? Have your views changed since then? If so, why?

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Link Roundup: February 2019

This month, I helped launch a blogging carnival about the aromantic spectrum–perhaps not of interest if you’re not into aro/ace community stuff.  But I think it’s rather momentous how communities centered on aromanticism rather than asexuality are now getting recognized by activist organizations.

The story so far of “New” Atheism from Kerala – I was recently talking postmortems of the western atheist movement, but here is a fascinating parallel history of the atheist movement in Kerala, India.  Not only did they have a feminist/anti-feminist split, but they also had a split regarding caste–with one side trying to fight the caste system, and the other side arguing that atheists should not talk about caste at all.

Why blackface persists in Asia and what Western media gets wrong – An old article–I was searching for articles about blackface in Asia, and this one was rather thoughtful.  It makes good points about how western media criticism is often unhelpful, because it just plays into the Chinese government’s narratives about how westerners are trying to sow discord.  On the other hand, it embarrassed the Chinese government and they’ll try to avoid it in the future, so wasn’t that mission accomplished?

Where I disagree with the article, is when it describes blackface in Asia as arising from tone-deafness rather than malice–this is not a way of dismissing criticism, but a way of arguing that blackface in China is different from blackface in western culture.  That… does not sound different.  I suspect that most instances of blackface in the US also arise from tone-deafness rather than malice; that’s what racism looks like.

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Warren is to the left of Sanders (and other observations)

When I recently read up on DW-NOMINATE, I learned a few things about certain political figures. DW-nominate gives every senator a score based on how left/right their voting behavior is, and sometimes the score does not match the senator’s public image.

In the 115th congress (2017-2019), the leftmost senator was… Elizabeth Warren. Not Bernie Sanders, where did you get that idea? After Elizabeth Warren, is Kamala Harris. Then we have another presidential hopeful, Cory Booker. And finally, we have Bernie Sanders–tied with Tammy Baldwin.

I made a plot! It’s copied directly from Voteview, with labels added for certain senators of interest.

A graph showing the DW-NOMINATE scores of the senate from 2017-2019 in two dimensions.

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Atheist movement postmortems

PZ Myers recently linked to a postmortem of New Atheism written by a Jacob Hamburger, and offered his own postmortem. I looked around and it seems this is a bit of a genre, with articles appearing in The Stream, Slate Star Codex, and The New Republic.

I also wrote my own postmortem, when I finally quit atheist student groups in 2017. I would identify the problem as a lack of organization, and lack of ambition to do better. But perhaps that’s symptomatic of a movement that was simply failing to engage people, which could itself be symptomatic of even deeper problems.

I don’t think anyone really knows what caused the death of New Atheism, but it gives everybody an opportunity to raise their favorite grievances about the atheist movement, and pretend that’s why it really died. It’s fuuuuuun. Let’s look at what people are saying.

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Origami: Life inside

Life Inside, designed by Ekaterina Lukasheva

Ah, here’s a lovely origami model that I have not yet shared.  Not much to say about this one.  It’s a 30-unit model with icosahedral symmetry.  I used 3 distinct colors, and the petals are curled with a toothpick.