Communication: Essential to Problem-Solving as a Group

Scream Blame to Lose

It’s hard for me not to think of League of Legends as a social experiment: Five strangers, thrown together to solve a problem (made up of a series of problems). Sometimes it works incredibly well, other times, it goes incredibly poorly. I still don’t know if the single most important factor for success is execution or communication, but I have learned that communication matters a lot more than I initially thought it would.

After thousands of games, I have noticed some unsurprising patterns: optimism, clear and specific communication, and goal-oriented planning are consistently effective; negativity, blame, malice, and angry generalizations routinely lead to failure. While some games can be won with relatively little communication at all, I have seen negative communication cause losses that would not have happened amid total silence.

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been reflecting on the most recent election cycle. As someone with an interest in language, political science (the effort to describe and explain political phenomena), the effect of media on individuals and society, and a little US history, I am particularly struck by the current state of political discourse in the US.

A Nation of Arguments

The USA is a weird country from its inception. Before, during, and after the Revolutionary War, the country was arguing- constantly and continually- about the correct decisions for its political structure. What makes this weird is not that there was disagreement among the revolutionaries—every revolution has factions some internal struggles. What makes the US peculiar is that the revolutionaries kept debating, writing, and arguing. For years. Decades, even. They didn’t kill each other (except Burr v. Hamilton?), they didn’t just decide the other side was too stupid to see reason and give up, and they didn’t quit. This pattern for ceaseless debate and argumentation was the hallmark of US politics until about 1852, when the last two really great debaters and negotiators (Clay and Webster) died—and the nation plunged into Civil War less than a decade later.

But despite ongoing differences in an ever-expanding nation, the Federal government continued to debate and argue until they found a way to work together. Throughout most of the 20th century, Congress was divided into Red and Blue teams, but those teams repeatedly worked together for the greater good of the nation.

Echo Chambers and Intolerant Vitriol

It’s always hard to tell how your own time period compares to the times you never experienced. But I think there’s some objective evidence to support the claim that the US is more divided than it was at any time in the 20th century—and maybe at any time outside of its civil war.

There are a lot of problems and concerns facing the American people and the US political structure. Though it appears less immediate than some of those problems, I am most concerned about the condition of discourse. I am most concerned about this because it is an indispensable tool for politics in the US. If citizens and politicians cannot (or will not) rise to the level of the first 100 years* of political discussion and effort, I don’t know how much of America (as ideals, laws, political norms, etc) will survive the next few years. I am concerned about the future of a nation founded on debate and compromise that has no capacity for debate and no tolerance for compromise. I don’t know what comes of an America that loses its ability and willingness to doggedly wade through complicated political issues to reach understanding and compromise. If the past is any indication, it looks like 1860-1865.

I hope I’m just being an overly- anxious alarmist. I’ve had plenty of games where communication broke down, but then recovered.

 

*Let’s be real: it was not all sunshine and roses. Jefferson v Adams is up there in for the dirtiest smear campaign in US history. And the only assault of a US Senator, BY a US Senator, on the SENATE FLOOR, happened just before the Civil War. I don’t want to over-romanticize the past.

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How You Play The Game Doesn’t Matter If You’re Losing the Sport.

This year started with the gaming news that Blizzard bought MLG. With Overwatch in beta, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm enjoying steady, casual game play, and Warcraft capping off its gaming legacy with a transition to a different medium, Blizzard is in an interesting place to double-down on its efforts to dominate the eSports market.

I’m skeptical of the prospect of Blizzard creating the “ESPN of eSports,” of course. The NFL doesn’t own ESPN. If they did, who would get prime air time when football and baseball season overlap? Blizzard is incentivized to promote their own products over the products of their competitors. I don’t think there’s anything wrong or shameful about that, but it should be pretty obvious that there is a glaring conflict of interest in Blizzard prioritizing between tournaments for Overwatch and DOTA2 (owned by Valve).

 

Games: Sports :: Art: Entertainment. (Remember the SAT? Wait, they removed the analogy section?)

I’ve written a little about the distinction between art and entertainment before. While they can overlap, they really have different goals: art wants to explore or express something about the world, while entertainment wants to sell something (usually itself, sometimes also a sponsor). Games want to be played; sports want to be won.

Games* are meant to be fun in themselves, and they are played well whenever they are enjoyed by the player. Features such as scores and objectives can orient the player within the game, and provide context and direction, but a game need not rely on these features to achieve delight. Playing a game is, at its core, an aesthetic experience**, and how well you are playing can be judged largely by the extent to which you are aesthetically engaged.

Sports might be fun to play, but their raison d’être is “play to win.” The joy of sports is derived from victory, not from the mere act of competing in them. Features like scores and objectives are core to the experience, and their absence would be disorienting and entirely destroy the endeavour. The activity itself doesn’t need to be enjoyable, and there are right and wrong ways to play. A good sport might also function as a good game, but it must function as good entertainment in order to be successful. A stronger delineation between games and sports would allow developers to understand and focus on the proper goals and objectives.

 

2016: The Year of the Mouse?

With the year starting with some esports hype, and steady growth in esports for the last 5 years, will this year be the year of esports? No. It will be a year of esports, but not the year of esports. There are still the same barriers for eSports that Extra Credits noted almost 4 years ago, and an ESPN of eSports won’t solve those problems. Indeed, a true ESPN of eSports (with even half of that level of cultural penetration) can only be possible after overcoming most of those barriers. The photo at the start of The Guardian’s article is pretty telling: the photo itself clearly captures a massive logo that reads “ALL-STARS,” and the caption calls it the World Championship finals in Paris (not to mention that the Paris finals were held theatre-in-the-round style, which the photograph clearly does not depict). It’s a simple, harmless error, but I think it reveals two things about the mainstream relationship with esports at the start of 2016: 1) no one knows about it (to catch simple things obvious to anyone “in the know”), 2) no one cares about it (enough to do simple fact-checking). Esports will grow this year, but I’m not sure how much or in what ways.

EDIT:

After thinking a little more about it, I need to add something: Blizzard has some incentive to promote any eSport, because eSports is still relatively new. The NFL doesn’t get as much value from promoting other sports because most people know about traditional sports, which have over a century of history. Perhaps Blizzard could promote competitor’s games on the theory that “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

*Philosophers of Language have talked about the difficulty in defining a “game.” Wittgenstein also outlined a theory of language that treats language as a game, in which words are pieces within the game, and their meanings are the moves a piece can perform.

** Kant’s philosophy of aesthetics centers on the concept of “play” between the mental faculties of reason and imagination.

The Tort of Throwing: Causation and the Reasonable Corki

This is a really emotionally difficult post for me to write, and I have to start with a hard, personal truth: I lost a game of ranked League of Legends, and it might have been my fault. … 😦

Now that that’s out there, we can use my reprehensible failings at a video game to see how American tort law might view a claim about whose fault it is that my team lost. Corki’s poor positioning matters, but how can we parse out individual responsibility in a complex and interconnected situation?

I. Facts

I’ll keep the facts simple: I was valiantly leading my team to victory with my high-quality Corki play, and after more than 40 minutes of grueling effort and heart-pounding combat, both teams were in a position to win a game after just one convincing teamfight. As my team emerged from blue base toward mid, I expected that red team had just secured a 3rd dragon. A lone enemy appeared from around a corner. I saw an opportunity to pick off one opponent and thus gain a 4v5 advantage on the map, so I engaged. Then I found out that the rest of his team was behind him. I was immediately destroyed, and my team lost the ensuing battle. The game ended in defeat less than a minute later.

II. Bringing Charges

To their credit, my team didn’t rage at me. (Though perhaps this is not to their credit, as it may indicate that they simply failed to understand my error or the role it played in our defeat.) But if they were upset, perhaps they could have charged me with the tort of negligence. Negligence is a civil wrong resulting from a person’s failure to meet a “reasonable” standard of care. Most of the elements of negligence are easy to agree upon in the case of my Corki failure: I owed some kind of duty to my team, which I probably breached, harm or damages occurred (my team lost), and the harm was caused by my breach of my duty. (I’m stipulating that I had a duty just as a function of the idea of the game as a “sport,” which is a subject for another post.)

The most interesting part of accusing Corki of negligence is the question of cause. For all of the criticisms of our legal system as unreasonable, there is a common law requirement that someone be held negligent only if the person’s actions actually caused the harm. In tort law, the basic test for cause is the “but-for” test: “The team would not have lost but for Corki’s irresponsible engagement that got him caught and killed.” Corki’s defense here is to claim that the team may still have lost even if he did not get caught in a bad position: the team may have lost the fight anyway, the game may have continued for 10 more minutes before losing a different teamfight or losing to a split-push, etc. However, it would not be an adequate defense to claim that the rest of the team should have warded, or the rest of the team should have been in a better position, etc.  Those claims (no matter how true!) do not address the question of whether the caught Corki caused the catastrophic collapse of his team’s nexus.

III. Reasonableness (What online gamers are most famous for)

An infamous feature of tort law is the “reasonable person” standard. It is infamous because it expects an uncommonly high standard—it imagines a person who behaves according to textbook, carefully thought-out behaviors, who takes every expert-recommended precaution, every time. The “reasonable Corki” would always maintain proper position, communicate with exactness with his team throughout the game, and would err on the side of caution in every engagement. This is a particularly controversial standard to apply in this case because delicate caution is not always the optimal strategy when playing a competitive sport, dependent on reaction-time and seizing opportunities quickly. Indeed, if Corki went to trial for his negligence, he would call expert witnesses* (professional players, Riot employees and shoutcasters, coaches, analysts, etc.) to testify on the subject of whether Corki’s aggressive positioning was “reasonable.” The plaintiff would call their own expert witnesses who would testify to the contrary. In most tort cases, there is some consensus about how the “reasonable person” would behave because there is some industry or government standard on the subject (even if most people do not abide by that standard, and the standard is presented in a 1950’s short film in which a 13 year old in a collared shirt says “Golly Gee” at least 5 times in 12 minutes).

IV. Verdict: Guilty

Ultimately, it’s likely that Corki’s positioning will be found unreasonable according to the “reasonableness” standard in tort law, if only because it wasn’t the safest positioning.  However, remember all those claims about what Corki’s team could have done to prevent the loss?  Those claims might satisfy the possibility of contributory negligence, in which a harm may be found to have multiple causes and multiple defendants. Not all jurisdictions accept the doctrine of contributory negligence, but those that do may ascribe percentages of responsibility to multiple defendants, and make each pay according to their decided contribution to the harm. There is also the possibility of an argument for using the “substantial factor test” to determine cause in a complex system such as a game of League. (For this test, Corki would argue that the entire team’s actions combined an co-mingled to bring about the loss.).

*I imagine some testimony would look like this…

C9Sneaky: You have to be aggressive, especially if you’re the one with all the kills on your team. You have to carry, and if you’re the only one who can burst someone down quickly, you have to take that opportunity and your team needs to back you up. A fed Corki has a lot of burst, so you need to use that.
CrsCop: The ADC should be way back, stay safe, and just poke and kite back. Your job is to just stay safe and provide support, and let the team engage and fight.

CLGDoublelift: You just lost because you’re trash. Corki should never get caught. He’s so easy to play. Your positioning doesn’t even matter. If you can’t outplay while ahead, you deserve to lose.

Doublelift would not be a helpful expert witness.

T[i]M[e] for Teemo!

Lots of times, people never ask me “Mr. Not-At-All-A-Lawyerman, how can the US Patent and Trademark Office’s filing system and database benefit ME, a humble urchin-child with a cockney accent and sooty cheeks?”

After pretending to check the time on a jewel-encrusted golden pocket watch (which doesn’t work because it’s plastic), I tuck the fob back into my waistcoat and playfully tussle the child’s wool cap and say “Well, Xavierathon, you like Teemo, don’t you?”

“He’s my favorite,” always comes the excited reply.

“Well, let’s go on a magical adventure into the Trademark Electronic Search System, and see if we can learn about Teemo.”

“But what can we learn about Teemo from a database of registered trademarks?”

Trademarks are very much about business. When business people want to protect their ideas, they can use copyrights or trademarks (or some other things that won’t help Teemo). Since Teemo has become such a mascot for Riot and League of Legends, the business people at Riot Games, Inc. decided to protect the connection between Teemo and their business. The way they decided to protect that connection was through a federal trademark registration:

Teemo 1A

The only thing I find surprising about this is that they didn’t file the registration until December of 2014. I suppose they wanted to wait until the world championship was all wrapped up. But this is only one of two registrations Riot has for Teemo, and the second one is tantalizing:

Teemo 1B

The tantalization is a two-parter: the filing basis and the goods description. The first registration was filed on the basis of “1A,” meaning the product (the video game) was already out in the market and Teemo was all over it.  This second registration, however, is filed on the basis of “1B.” That is the filing basis of “Intent to Use,” and the company registering the mark promises that they plan to use this mark in commerce in the next 6 months.

A trademark is always used in connection with some good or service. For the first Teemo registration, the good is the game and the service is the ongoing support of the game. For the second Teemo registration, the goods include a lot of clothing items and… “toy action figures.”

What important lesson do we learn from the trademark database?

Action. Figure. Teemo.

Just to be clear: This is all public information. You don’t need a special password to use TESS or read applications for trademarks before the USPTO. You don’t have to sneak into Riot Offices to find out about this. Trademarks are one way that you can read signals of a business strategy. As businesses depend more and more on brand recognition and good will, trademarks become another language of business, like finance or marketing.

The sad, hidden snag about this is that a 1B application isn’t a promise to actually make the product(s) described on the application; it is a promise that there is currently a plan to make the product(s). So this application is not exactly a promissory note for a Teemo Action Figure. It is more like a promise that Riot has seriously thought about it.
But that’s still exciting for little Xavierathon.

Capitalism FAQ: Should You Respect or Abuse Your Customers?

No one likes to see a winner kicking the loser on the ground (unless we really, really hate the loser). We accept within our society that there are differences between people: that some will be more powerful or wealthy than others, and that’s just part of life. One of the limits on our acceptance of some inequality is the visceral rejection we have of abuse, of excessive exercises of power that do more to satisfy a desire to exercise power than actually further some external cause.

So, that’s one reason to be unhappy with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry right now.

These two ladies, through their lawyers and legal entities, are making great efforts to enforce intellectual property law against their fans— the very people who support and adore and ultimately finance their lives. There is good reason for us to judge harshly the multi-millionaires who attack the average citizen, but this is not a blog on Marxism or justice or truth. I’m here to write about law and video games.

So, let’s compare two approaches to intellectual property law in the 21st century. Let’s compare the business models and legal approaches of TS/KP with RiotGames, Inc. The framework to keep in mind is that most intellectual property laws don’t have to be enforced. There is no rule that you have to go after people for copyright or trademark infringements (generally). Yes, there are some sacrifices you make by not enforcing some of your rights, but it’s still a choice.

Though neither of them would like it (I guess they’re in some kind of feud, because being rich, acclaimed, and famous isn’t enough to overcome basic human failures), I’m comfortable using TS and KP interchangeably for this analysis. They offer the same goods and services for pretty much the same prices. So, their business model is $1 songs on iTunes, monetizing YouTube music videos, $100 concert tickets, royalties for radio and online audio services, sponsorships, appearances, and merchandise. They (with their enormous business operations) make musical products and sell them in the same way that musicians have since radio (with basic adaptations of the same model for television and internet).

RiotGames, Inc. develops, publishes, and maintains one of the most played video games in the world. Riot does not charge anyone to play the game. They do not charge for downloading, registering, playing, or for any other use of the game permitted by the EULA and TOS agreements. They will accept money for optional, purely aesthetic enhancements to the game, but this is the extent of their revenue (not counting their e-sports operation, which is distinct from the game and heavily guarded by NDAs that make analysis and explication difficult, if not impossible).

It seems obvious— even intuitive– that the business approach which demands more money would be the one to allow fans leniency with intellectual property. After all, KP/TS take in millions each year, so they certainly don’t need the extra potential money from meager merchandise sales to cover their expenses. Of course, for reasons we don’t need to explore, TS/KP are hell-bent on making sure their fans get no enjoyment from their manufactured musical entertainment apparatus without permission and a fee.

Equally intuitive is the idea that a company that gives away its only product must certainly be cautious and guarded with its intellectual property. That company needs alternative revenue sources, and almost everything it does is only recognized in a world of strong copyright and trademark protection. And yet, RiotGames has actively encouraged fans to interact with their work in every medium of creative expression. They even created a venue for fans to share and display their art, music, videos, poetry, and sculptures.

Here we have two different models, laid out for comparison. There are several questions worth asking: Which model is ethical? Which model shows respect for the fans, for the art, and for the artist? Which model engenders a sense of community and mutual appreciation? Which model will thrive in the 21st century?

For those who feel that, at the end of the day, the bottom line on the balance sheet is what matters, and should be what guides and justifies business and legal choices, here are those important numbers:

KP: 110 million

TS: 180 million

RiotGames, Inc: 624 million (2013), maybe over 999 million in 2014.

GG.

The Case of Mr. Justin Carter.

The initial shock and outrage among gamers has ebbed slightly, so it’s a good time to look at this issue a little bit. I’ll start with one observation: the facts claimed by the news media I’ve seen are really weird. Everyone tells the story a little bit differently, but as best as I can piece it together, Carter got into an argument in a League of Legends game, then kept raging on Facebook afterward. I’ve raged a little bit in League games in my day (I take it for granted that if you’ve played the game through to level 30, you’ve raged in a game at some point). But to extend the in-game argument to Facebook suggests two abnormalities: 1) next-level rage, and 2) that you were Facebook friends with the person at whom you were raging.

I’ll set that puzzle of the facts aside because I want to look at this as an example of a generation-gap manifest in law.

People rage and troll in online games. I would be surprised to find more than maybe 10 of the roughly 3,200 US Federal Judges really understood online gaming culture, much less participated in it. That’s not an unfair claim: being a judge requires looking at a lot of matters in which you don’t have personal experience. The claims that can be (and are) made under the law are far too broad for any human to have serious experience in every potential area of law or subculture that it might affect. Never the less, many areas of law involve tests that ask about the “custom and practice” of the relevant discipline. Contract law, and sales in particular, will often ask whether the conduct and contracting between parties is normal for that industry. Patent law often asks experts in a field whether a patent claim is nonobvious or novel. The point here is that there is legal precedent for fitting a legal claim into a specific context.

The second point is that there is a long tradition of internet culture that has embraced behavior that would be downright tortious outside of cyberspace. Penny Arcade touches on this in the second panel of this strip, which one author said was “only slightly exaggerated.” I am told to kill myself almost every week that I play Ranked Games in League of Legends. I have been wished a variety of cancers and terrible illnesses, have been threatened with some very creative forms of rape, and have been targeted with some threats that defy the laws of physics are they are currently understood. The culture of this particular game might be summed up well by the YouTube entertainer “Dunkey,” whose commentary in verse on Justin Carter’s case was this: “Dude going to jail for what he said/ Man, FBI must want me dead.”

Notwithstanding the online culture of trolling and raging and the legal precedent for considering the custom and practice to place a claim into its context, there are also legal precedents for taking threats legally seriously. Most news about this story has pointed to the fact that the comments of concern were specifically about shooting up a kindergarten classroom, and these comments were made some two months after the most horrific elementary school shooting in US history (arguably barring the Bath School Disaster, which employed explosives and was not so widely covered by broadcast news but was still a terrible tragedy).

My interpretation of this case is a clash of culture and law. This is an interesting clash because of the way that (in the US) culture and law shape one another over time, and it is usually the law that responds to the changes in culture. The added twist is that culture itself is clashing against the law from two sides: an internet culture of obscene threats and intense trolling and a newsmedia culture fueled by increasing violence and terrorism. However the law ultimately responds to the kind of online “conversation” (I can’t seriously call it that, of course) that is common in gaming, a full and responsible response will have to balance the non-seriousness of “things irritated 17 and 19 year olds are prone to say in their own bedrooms” with the very serious “reality that people are slaughtering people wholesale in offices, schools, churches, movie theaters, and shopping malls every day.”

The full implications of everything about this clash of 2 cultures and law should be deeply disturbing to us. One interesting result of this case has been California’s new “Undo Button” law for minors to remove their uploads from the internet. Text is here.

Lessons From Elo Hell: We Can’t Expect More from Data than we Expect from Ourselves.

     The goal of a matchmaking system is to produce worthy matches. Whether the match in question is made by a dating site or a a ranked videogame (e.g. League of Legends), someone must design an algorithm that takes in data about the players and arranges the players according to the data. However, the results are often unsatisfying. In videogames like  League of Legends, some players describe the unsatisfying results of matchmaking as “Elo Hell.” Some believe this Elo Hell does not exist, but others swear they are stuck there. I wonder: if it exists, can Elo Hell be described as a failure of data?

     The data at issue is supposed to be “how good a player is.” However, we have a hard time evaluating that ourselves- so how can we represent a formula for something we cannot describe? Can we create systems whose basis we do not understand? Ultimately, companies rely on data- but more data than they can manage. So they create algorithms to manage the data: information to govern information. But our programmers just aren’t perfect. Even when the code is error-free, the programmers cannot anticipate every use by every user. Google Chrome sometimes asks to translate my news pages from a foreign language into English- even though they’re in English; Microsoft Word keeps thinking I’ve misspelled or misused words when (after 5 minutes of being completely psyched-out) I am quite certain I have done no such thing.

What these various examples demonstrate is the way that our use of data can be limited: code can mishandle information (trying to translate an already-translated webpage), or sometimes the data itself might be unknowable. In this way, there are at least two kinds of limits in data management: code malfunction and data (input) weakness (relative to the desired use).