January 2008 Archives


Tax return filing party at Zach's house!


I've joined OKCupid and have been spending my bored moments answering multiple choice questions in the hopes that it will lead to true love. After all, if I could score in the 99th percentile on the LSATs, I should be able to ace a match-making test!

OKCupid's schtick is that they give you lots and lots of multiple choice questions, which you answer. They then use an algorithm to translate your answers into a percentage match with all other OKCupid users. There are something like 3,500 questions that you can answer at your leisure, and the more you answer the more accurate it supposedly becomes.

Each question has three parts. The first part asks how you would answer the question. The second part asks how you would like your ideal match to answer. While you can only pick one answer in the first part, the second part allows you to indicate multiple acceptable answers. The third part asks you to rank how important you consider this question, with your options being Irrelevant, Slightly Important, Somewhat Important, Very Important, or Mandatory.

Once you've answered 500 questions, you gain the ability to submit your own questions to be added to the rotation. As a result, there are a lot of... interesting questions that cater to certain peculiar tastes. A classic example: "How would you feel if your partner urinated on you during sex?" I actually really like this. Having a huge swath of questions that deal with odd tastes allow more vanilla people and more kinky people to inhabit the same site and get potential unpleasant surprises out of the way up front. Which is to say, I would not be too thrilled to be urinated on during sex, and OKCupid allows me to register my personal distaste beforehand. I'd much rather answer the question now than be unpleasantly surprised in the bedroom. And, if you are into certain things, you can use OKCupid as a conventional dating site while also finding out who's into whatever your kink might be.

The downside of user-written questions is that many of them are redundant (No! I am NOT interested in a polyamorous relationship! Stop asking!), poorly worded (Is homeless primarily caused by laziness or impossible odds? Actually, I think it's primarily caused by a combination of mental illness and substance abuse, but that's not an option), or too abstract to be really meaningful in a dating context (If someone offered you a million dollars to marry them and make them a citizen, would you do it? I don't know, I'll tell you if the situation ever comes up). My favorite questions, though, are the really bizarre hypotheticals. An actual example:

You're given one chance to travel through time. How do you use it?
Alter events in history for the greater good.
Use past/future info for personal gain.
Alter something you regret
Do nothing--time travel could invoke chaos

I realize these goofy hypotheticals are intended to be only minor factors in your match algorithm, but what if you decided to mark a question like this as Mandatory? "I WILL NOT DATE ANYONE WHO DOES NOT TAKE THE INTEGRITY OF THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM SERIOUSLY!!"

Slavery and Violence in Gaming

Today, on the recommendation of a friend of mine, I purchased Struggles of Empires. As often happens when a game comes highly recommended, I bought it with only a vague idea of what it was about. I knew that it was a strategy board game that broadly dealt with the European powers during the age of imperialism.

I opened the box up when I got home and read the rules. It turns out that the game simulates the wars and power struggles that occurred between seven European powers during the Eighteenth Century. One of the major components of the game is the fight for colonies throughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Enslavement is an integral part of the game.

I don't mean this in an abstract way, like how in Puerto Rico you're importing "colonists" to work on your plantations, who happen to be represented by little brown discs. I mean that enslaving is something that you can (and, to be successful, should) choose to do. The game is played over a series of rounds, and on a player's turn he or she may choose among the following actions: Pass, Buy a Tile, Build an Army Unit, Move Units, Launch an Attack, Colonize, or Enslave.

This raises a lot of interesting points to thinkg about. To start: by being as open about slavery as Struggles of Empires is, is it, in a way, better and more honest about slavery than other, similar games? I've played plenty of Age of Imperialism simulation games, but all of them heretofore have politely skirted around the slavery issue. I mentioned Puerto Rico. Is it better to play a game where you import "colonists," or to play the same game, with the same theme, where you are being honest and importing slaves?

But there's another issue I'm somewhat more interested in. Every time the manual for the game mentioned enslavement I got skeezed out. I'll have a tough time playing this with people because the idea of playing someone who consciously chooses to enslave others is really discomfiting to me.

Why should this be? I think it helps to draw a comparison to video games. I can pick up a first person shooter and kill others without a moment's hesitation. Why do I not have a problem playing violent video games, while I do have a problem playing a board game where I enslave others?

One possible explanation is that violence and killing can be justified, under some circumstances, while I can't really conceive of a justification for slavery. I suppose, but it's not enough that violence can be justified, it also matters whether specific violence is justified. In most video games it is; you're a soldier in war time, you're killing in self defence, etc. But it isn't always. I will confess to having played Grand Theft Auto games without much in the way of moral pangs, and there's essentially no attempt to justify the violence in those games. I don't think justifiability is enough.

Is it desensitization? I think that's another big element. I've seen a lot of violence depicted in various media, and have myself controlled the violence in video games. But there aren't a huge number of depictions of slavery to begin with, and what depictions there are all tend to be couched in a narrative that indicates the indisputable evil of the institution. Moreover, there simply aren't a lot of opportunities to simulate slavery. As mentioned above, the subject is generally skirted in board games, and there aren't a lot of slave master simulation video games, thankfully.

I also wonder if, in a more general sense, I think of enslavement as a worse crime than murder. Part of this ties into the justifiability issue; there's never a good reason to enslave another. Maybe it's also a personal love of liberty. I'm not sure, if asked to make a choice, whether I would rather be dead or a slave, but I think I might rather choose death.

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