Link Roundup: July 2023

First, I’ll plug this month’s Ace Journal Club, which discussed a paper about Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder and the “responsive” sexuality model.

AI Is a Lot of Work | The Verge – This article is about “annotators” or “taskers”, people paid to label data to train machine learning models.  You can think of this as people who are paid to do captcha codes endlessly.  Or imagine Papers Please, but it’s real.  As you might imagine, it does not pay very well.

From the data scientist end, this is a well-known process, although I don’t have direct experience with it.  Typically, you’d go through an intermediary, such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and never learn anything about the workers themselves.  Despite workers being paid poorly, it’s an inherently expensive process, and requires a lot of controls.

Games that Don’t Fake the Space | Jacob Geller (video, 31 min) – Video games often use tricks and illusions to make a virtual space seem bigger than it is, but not every game.  Some really are that big.  Now the question I always have about measuring video game spaces is, what’s the measuring stick?  Could we make the world bigger by making the character smaller or slower, or simply lowering the camera closer to the ground?  I feel like virtual spaces should be measured in square minutes instead of square miles.  I have to put a word in for The Longing, which has a big world by virtue of its protagonist walking very very slowly.  You tell the protagonist to walk somewhere, and then you quit and come back later, that’s how slow he is.  It’s not a conventionally “fun” experience, but it’s interesting to see games do big/slow once in a while.

string theory lied to us and now science communication is hard | acollierastro (video, 52 min) – Dr. Collier explains the historical context of string theory, especially the fraught matter of its communication to the public.  For the record, I never studied any string theory, or even anything adjacent to string theory.  So I didn’t know all this context, I only lived through it as an undergrad and grad student.  Yeah, the public’s obsession with string theory in the 00s was completely disproportionate and unseemly.  Then, when people started to turn on string theory, because they read one of those books by Lee Smolin or Peter Woit, that also struck me as disproportionate.  I share Dr. Collier’s view–string theory is just a not very successful body of research (so far), and that’s fine.  Research involves chasing a lot of dead ends.  This was a science communication problem, where one particular theory got so built up in the popular media, and it just had not earned the hype.

Somewhere in my topics list, I was going to argue in favor of the scientificity of string theory–and maybe I could still write that.  The point is, not all scientific theories are going to make predictions, because sometimes you don’t even know whether it can make predictions until you put the work into it.  The whole accusation that string theory is non-scientific because it doesn’t make predictions, I don’t agree with that at all.

The untold history of Barbie Fashion Designer, the first mass-market ‘game for girls’ | Polygon – In 1996, Barbie Fashion Designer outsold Doom, which had been published the same year.  It kicked of the “girl games” movement.  Although it may not look like much today, Polygon goes into how technically impressive it was.  Each outfit was rendered in paper doll form, and then animated in 3D, and then printed out on fabric so that players could recreate the costumes for their own dolls.  Barbie Fashion Designer and the girl games movement were heavily criticized from a feminist angle–but I think feminism is in a different place today, and may now celebrate this little piece of history.

Just Less. | Pervert Justice – Crip Dyke highlights the oppression of kids who are non-verbal or with other disabilities, and discusses the arc of social activism.

Why Do Japanese Games Handle Trans Characters so Differently? | Moon Channel (video, 24 min) – Moony talks about trans characters in video games, and how they relate to collectivist cultures.  I feel like the thesis is a bit undercut by how two out of the four examples were only made trans in the English localizations.  But certainly Bridget as a trans character is vastly different from trans characters in western stories.


  1. says

    @Rob Grigjanis,
    I 100% agree. I didn’t watch the video at all, I just listened to it. Commenters say they’re impressed by her ability to multitask, but frankly it just makes me think about how Sam Bankman-Fried was known for playing League of Legends while meeting with investors. Sorry, not impressive just rude.

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