A dark epiphany of sorts

(I had this epiphany in the spring, but it bears repeating)

So I was sitting in the train listening to “Belfast Child” by the Simple Minds, and it again occurred to me that the only thing that really gets to me (apart from cruelty to animals) is the death of innocents caused by violent conflict or war – regardless of who causes the death.

I stand by Robert Fisk when he says that war is the total failure of the human spirit. Films about these things always get to me. Hotel Rwanda, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Hotaru no Haka all struck a chord. In contrast, stories of personal tragedies or hardship, love episodes and all that stuff don’t really get to me – sometimes I will semi-empathize but mostly I’m indifferent. It is really in times of collective misery, of senseless mass death caused by the faceless beast that is state-monopolized violence or (otherwise large powerful bodies of people) that my heart gets rent to pieces.

With that in mind I sincerely wondered why I wasn’t at all troubled by the violent games I play – the kind of games where you play as part of an army (whether general or foot soldier). I would think about Real Time Strategy games like the Command & Conquer series, or shooters such as the Call of Duty or the Battlefield series. I’m not much of a determinist and I do not believe these games influence or cause anything specifically, but I was fundamentally troubled when I realized why there was no inner moral conflict for me while playing these games (and having a lot of fun while doing it)

It is because these games are sanitized of innocent death.

Most first person games I know of take place in virtually deserted locales. The only thing you find in the city streets you traverse are enemy combatants. If it moves and if it’s not one of your teammates, it’s a legitimate target.

Ditto in strategy games. When you play through Company of Heroes or, you fight zee Germans in villages and cities alike – which are all ghost towns. The gameworld has become a military playground, an idealtype world where there are no innocent deaths because, plainly, there are no innocents available who would be able to die.

There are exceptions, of course. In certain C&C games civilians sometimes function as propagandistic plot devices; if you are the Good Guys (the yanks) you Protect Civilians. If you play the Bad Guys (Chinese, Arabs, terrorists etc) you Indiscriminately Slaughter Civilians.

This is also what upsets me. Besides presenting a skewed picture of war (where it comes down to pure tactics in areas with nothing but legitimate targets) it also denies the reality of war: that there are no good sides, and that everyone involved militarily acts beastly. Similarly, you will never find US ideological opponents – The North Koreans in Crysis, the Chinese and Arabs in C&C: Generals, the terrorists and the Russians (I shit you not) in Call of Duty IV, the Venezuelans in Mercenary 2 – do anything remotely honorable or morally sound.

Maybe one could blame the market – who would buy war sim games if civilians would die all the time? Because this is the reality of modern war: whereas in the days of yore the majority of casualties were soldiers, in modern times it’s mostly civilians, a large part of them children. Looking at a child torn to shreds by your grenade launcher, even in pixel-form, is bound to upset people (not to mention causing public moral outrage)

Still, I cannot help but feel disturbed by this selective amputation of reality from games who have have historical or current/near future themes.

Truth doesn’t sell?


Pep, sociology, background

pepijn.jpgI started writing this bit in the train a while ago to figure out my current affairs. This summer I made another one of those “what am I going to do with my life” decisions for the coming years. I chose to start studying sociology, so that’s what I’m doing now.

Why did I do that? To answer that, I needed to define part of who I am as well. This post is the result of that introspection. Enjoy.

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Recycling a forum post

(for my own reference) :p


In my studies I’ve been reading a lot of literature concerning Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and they’re generally about EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Ultima Online and so forth. Other texts are about textbased MUDs; things like LambdaMOO. These games typically have the player control a character. You always start out alone, and then find your way in the world, and eventually you may CHOOSE to join a guild/clan/whatever. Utopia is unique in the way that it injects you into a “guild” from the outset; it’s not a player’s choice. You’re forced to cooperate, and yet I think the concept of ‘free cooperation‘ is still applicable, since one can always choose to defect (or indeed, not to play at all).


A major peculiarity is Swirve’s rule that you don’t get to choose whom you play with. In other online games, players choose their guilds (family guilds, elite guilds) and/or choose to play with real life friends, family or workmates. One of the points I will try to make in my thesis is that this social function (of playing games with people close to you in order to maintain ties) is so strong that people who’d ordinarily not break rules in a game will resort to trading in Utopia.


There’s also this weird relationship between player-province-kingdom-alliance. I’ve read nothing in other MMOGs about true self-sacrifice, players ‘taking one for the team’. In Utopia, the province you’ve created over the space of several months can get decimated in less than two days in certain fierce wars, regardless of your skill. However (especially in the more skilled Kingdoms) players rarely mind seeing their creation destroyed like that as long as the Kingdom comes out on top. In public, people boast about their Kingdoms more than they boast about their province (or so it seems to me, maybe I don’t spend enough time with different types of players). I have this idea floating in my head about the Kingdom becoming the ‘character’ of some 20-25 players, the entity that they identify with. Then this Kingdom often sets out to join actual ‘guilds’, i.e. alliances.

Eight things about me, eh?

The rules:

  • We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.


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A Conundrum

You are a South African bush pilot. You fly in some critical medical supplies, enjoy a quick lunch at the hospital. It’s a stifling 113 degrees in the shade and you’re eager to get back up to the cool, high blue yonder. On the way back to your plane, you discover that the only bit of shade, within 1 mile, has become very popular. You start calculating the distance to the plane door and are wondering: “Do I feel lucky enough today?”

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Google and the US bent on domination!

So I was doing some research for a potential paper on information visualization and propaganda, and I stumbled upon these two videos. Note: the masterplan video was inspired by the ‘What Barry says’ video, as can be read here, when you click on “credits and contact”.


What Barry Says – Click to launch the video


Google’s Masterplan – Click to launch the video