Monday, 4 May 2015

Cuttings April 2015

Monster Hunter 4: why some video game communities are friendlier than others - article by Jonathan Allford in The Guardian. "I’ve played Monster Hunter 4 for a week and I am dressed in Kecha Wacha (a playful monkey) armour with basic weaponry. I am clearly a new player warily looking across a horizon of terrifyingly difficult encounters – and yet I’ve had players in powerful Gore armour sign me up to quests against a Gore Magala (a giant shadow dragon). At first I protested 'not ready, look at gear' but they were insistent, they had faith. Obviously we all died as me and another participant were still new, but after we found ourselves back at the Gathering Hall, the experienced player didn’t say anything beyond 'that was fun!'. Contrast that with DOTA2, where if you mistime an ability or Doom the wrong target, you risk a torrent of abuse for the rest of the match.... What I have most enjoyed – and been pleasantly surprised by – is how friendly and helpful the community is. As an online moderator, I’ve spent years dealing with abusive, disruptive and aggressive individuals. I’ve noticed, however, that some games seem largely free of the griefing, anger and intolerance that sometimes feels ubiquitous. I started to wonder why that was. What makes certain games more likely to attract friendlier communities?"

Did Douglas get it right? - documentary by Mitch Benn on BBC Radio 4. "Best known for 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', Douglas Adams was a huge fan of new technology and predicted an exciting future for the 21st century. Sadly he did not live to see it, as he died aged 49 in 2001.... In the year 2000, at the turn of the new millennium, Douglas Adams made a radio series offering a vision of the future that new technology would offer. He looked at the fast changing music scene, the coming of e-books, the future for broadcasting and made his predictions for what he described as 'extreme evolution'. But did he get it right? Now Mitch Benn takes on the challenge of seeing what Douglas got right, and what he got wrong."

Ursula Le Guin at 85 - documentary on BBC Radio 4. "Naomi Alderman talks to leading novelist Ursula Le Guin about her life and work and hears from literary fans including David Mitchell and Neil Gaiman."

From Snow White to Cinderella, the story of fairytales on film - article by Michael Newton in The Guardian. "With the wonderful exceptions of Disney’s Tangled and Frozen, I feel most of these movies [the recent spate of revisionist fairytale films] to be disappointing failures. Their innovation and their mistake is to shunt 'real people' into the tales, thrusting psychological complexity into a form that never was meant to deal in rounded novelistic characters. Instead, the best stories gave us simplified figures, and the depths were explored through the evocation of images and the potentialities of plot.... After these films, it is something of a relief to watch Kenneth Branagh’s new Cinderella, a movie that trusts the original tale’s profound simplicities. Here’s a film that permits the stepmother (played by Cate Blanchett) to be wicked – while letting us see how she might have become so. Blanchett plays the role both with pantomime gusto and with subtlety; from the moment she blasts out her Sybil Fawlty machine-gun laugh, we know the movie’s going to be good. Branagh’s understanding of acting is what’s most strongly present. Everyone shines, and there are no (or very few) ironic winks over the heads of the children. As the Fairy Godmother, Helena Bonham Carter seems to be channelling Dolly Parton, and Derek Jacobi proves genuinely moving as the dying King. Yet above all, it is Lily James who makes the film work; it is a hard thing to play goodness convincingly, to let us feel that the film’s moral – 'have courage and be kind' – is not a platitude, but something affirming."

Alexei Sayle: it’s time for a Marxist Top Gear - article by Alexei Sayle in The Guardian. "My credentials to replace [Jeremy] Clarkson [as presenter of Top Gear] are I hope clear ... Roland Barthes, the French literary theorist, philosopher and critic, wrote in a 1957 essay about the new Citroën DS: 'Cars today are the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals.' During the medieval era, the finest minds and artists were dedicated to what was at the centre of society, namely God; today it is consumerism, the insatiable desire for new and better products, and just as those great medieval places of worship were objects of wonder and awe, so the car now fulfils that function, expressing where we are as a society in terms of design, technology and aspiration. In the Top Gear studio the cars are objects of blind veneration, just like the statues of the saints in those medieval cathedrals. So what better place to reintroduce Marxist ideas than on a show dedicated to cars? Every single thing in the world can be revealed through a proper study of cars – fashion, economics, environment and politics – and I am the man to do it. And don’t worry: the show will still be full of its trademark irreverence – though its targets will now be the rich, the powerful and the reactionary, rather than Mexicans, the safety conscious and Morris Marina owners. Because I am not a dry or didactic Marxist; I am one of the fun ones."

Waving or drowning? - article by Amy Jenkins in The Guardian on her debt to Stevie Smith. " 'I have something to say' was my somewhat fragile raison d’être. The problem with becoming a mother was that it gave me a raison d’etre so much more robust that it trampled on the old one and sent it scurrying away. ... The real truth was that I needed a new reason to write (beyond the obvious financial one). In fact, I found myself so creatively bereft that I was thinking of giving up writing altogether. One day, casting around for inspiration on my book shelf, I pulled down that same old laurel-green copy of Novel on Yellow Paper. ... I began to see that, having given me lessons on how to write, Smith’s life and work might also provide answers as to why to write. ... [Frances Spalding’s Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography] quotes her on writing as follows: 'I want to get something out that is working away at me inside. It gives proportion and eases the pressure, puts the feelings at one remove, brings the temperature down … ' Smith was writing to metamorphose her pain into something that she could live with."

AA: America's Gift to the World - documentary by AL Kennedy on BBC Radio 4 telling the story of Alcoholics Anonymous and its methods. "Eighty years ago, Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob Smith created a route to recovery from a fatal addiction along with an enduring organisation. With more than two million members worldwide, AA is still considered by the majority to be the most effective rehabilitation treatment available to alcoholics. In an age of heavily commercialised recovery programmes, 'The Fellowship' continues to work with no active promotion and a consciously anarchistic and non-commercial structure. But few of us really know what happens. Through conversations with AA members, their partners, parents and children in Al-Anon and Alateen, AL Kennedy explores the method and treatment of the organisation, along with the story of its foundation and survival."

Downsides of being a convincing liar - article by Tom Stafford in MindHacks blog. "[Zoe] Chance and colleagues [at Yale University] ran experiments which involved asking students to answer IQ and general knowledge questions. Half the participants were given a copy of the test paper which had – apparently in error – been printed with the answers listed at the bottom.... As you’d expect, some of these participants couldn’t help but cheat.... The crucial question for Chance’s research was this: did people in the 'cheater' group know that they’d been relying on the answers? Or did they attribute their success in the tests solely to their own intelligence?... Self-deception won the day. The people who’d had access to the answers predicted, on average, that they’d get higher scores on the follow-up – equivalent to giving them something like a 10-point IQ boost. When tested, of course, they scored far lower."

Radical embodied cognition: an interview with Andrew Wilson - article in MindHacks blog. "The computational approach is the orthodoxy in psychological science. We try and understand the mind using the metaphors of information processing and the storage and retrieval of representations. These ideas are so common that it is easy to forget that there is any alternative. Andrew Wilson is on a mission to remind us that there is an alternative – a radical, non-representational, non-information processing take on what cognition is...."

Why this sentence is hard to understand - online excerpt from MindHacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. "The length of a sentence isn’t what makes it hard to understand— it’s how long you have to wait for a phrase to be completed.... We don’t treat every word individually as we hear it; we treat words as parts of phrases and have a buffer (a very short-term memory) that stores the words as they come in, until they can be allocated to a phrase. Sentences become cumbersome not if they’re long, but if they overrun the buffer required to parse them, and that depends on how long the individual phrases are." See also Why one of these puzzles is easy and the other is hard.

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