Of all the scientific standards the one that is still yet to be defined in pure scientific terms is the kilogram. Whilst all SI units, like meters, have their basis in real world objects they have since been redefined in pure scientific terms. The meter, once defined by the length of a pendulum with a half-second period, is now defined as the distance light travels in a specific time frame. The reasoning for redefining these measurements in absolute scientific terms has to do with reproducibility of standard objects as it’s almost impossible to create two objects that are exactly identical. Such is the issue that the kilogram has faced for much of its life, but soon it will change.
The picture above depicts a replica of the International Prototype Kilogram, a platinum-iridium cylinder machined to exacting specifications which defines the current day kilogram. It’s almost exactly sized brother, Le Grande K, is the standard by which all other kilogram measures are compared. There are numerous cylinders like this all around the world and they’re periodically compared to each other to ensure that they’re roughly in alignment. However over time there’s been fluctuations noted between the prime cylinder and its siblings which causes scientists all sorts of grief. Essentially since the kilogram weights are different, even by only micrograms, these variations need to be accounted for when using the kilogram as a standard. It would be far better if it was rigidly defined as then scientists would be able to verify their instruments themselves rather than having to rely on a physical object.
It seems we may have finally reached that point.
The trouble, you see, with defining something as nebulous as the kilogram in pure scientific terms is that it needs to be reproducible and verifiable. The International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) agreed to express the kilogram in terms of Planck’s constant (a link between a photon’s energy and its frequency). Essentially experiments would need to be designed to calculate the Planck value using the standard kilogram weight as a measure, which would then allow scientists to describe the kilogram as a function of a physical constant. There were numerous experiments designed to test this however the two that have come out on top were: creating a single crystal silicon sphere and counting the atoms in it and using a device called a watt balance to measure the standard kilogram against an electrical force. These are both scientifically sound ways of approaching the experiment however the latter method struggled to get the required results.
Essentially, whilst the experiment was capable of producing usable results, they couldn’t get the level of tolerances that would be required for verification of Planck’s Constant. It took several rounds of experiments, and several different research teams, to close in on the issues however in August this year they managed to hone in on Planck’s Constant with an uncertainty of 12 parts per billion, enough for the CIPM to accept the results for use in verifying a standard kilogram. This means that these results will likely now for the basis for scientists the world over to validate and calibrate devices that reference the kilogram without having to get their hands on one of the platinum-iridium cylinders.
The change of definition isn’t slated to come into effect until July 2017 and there’s further experimentation to be done between now and then. There is potential for one of the experiments to cause an upset with the other as any deviations from the currently accepted results will require confirmation from both. Currently the silicon sphere experimenters are in the process of procuring some additional test items for investigation which could potential cause this whole thing to start over again. However with the watt-balance experiment now having most of the major kinks worked out it’s unlikely this will occur and the further experimentation will ensure that the error rate is reduced even further.
It won’t mean much of a change to our everyday lives, we’ll continue weighing things with the same scales as we did before, but it will mean a monumental change in the way we conduct scientific research. Finally ridding ourselves of the last physical objects that define our measurements will free us from their variability, making them accurate in the most true sense. It’s been a long time coming but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll soon have no need for those platinum-iridium cylinders. Well, not unless you fancy yourself a really expensive paperweight.
If we spin back the clock a couple decades we find ourselves in a time when games fit quite easily into all of their genres. If you were told that a game was a Real Time Strategy you could be pretty sure it’d contain units, resources and buildings that you needed to build up in a strategic way in order to win. First Person Shooters were just that, you holding a gun and running from one end of a level to another ensuring that anything that got in your way didn’t stay that way for very long. Role playing games would have multiple character classes, pages of statistics and long running stories that would carry you through from the start right up until the end. Today however those kinds of boundaries aren’t so well defined with many games blending elements from several different genres which calls into question the use of these broad genres when classifying current generation titles.
Jonathan Holmes of Destructoid fame then asks if its time for us to retire the term RPG as it no longer seems to be a good fit for the games that fall under that genre. He makes a good point too, many games that include rudimentary aspects of RPG titles like levels, classes or statistics often get categorized as RPGs alongside other titles that seem far more deserving of the classification. Now that games are garnering bigger budgets and technology has advanced exponentially since the term was first used in the video games industry I’d have to agree with him that the use of the general RPG term is probably outmoded but we’re a long way away from retiring it completely.
For me personally if a game is to have the RPG moniker applied to it there has to be a couple attributes for it to qualify. Primarily it comes from being able to customize your playstyle to a fairly high level which is usually achieved through the use of classes or talent tree specializations. This, in effect, is what allows you to define your role in the game whether it be from a fire slinging mage to a half cyborg engineer who uses all manner of machines to do his bidding. Stat building, levels and all the other means to this end are really ancillary to the goal of being able to craft a role that you want to play within that game universe and that, in my mind, is the loophole that allows other games to have aspects of a RPG yet not fall into that genre.
However I feel that the term RPG is too broad to encompass everything that now fits under its original definition and that’s where the liberal use of prefixes is warranted. Whilst saying a game is a RPG might conjure a particular image for some and not others you’d be hard pressed to misunderstand what I mean when I said a game was a FPS RPG, action RPG or MMORPG. Each of these sub-genres each has a much more distinct set of guidelines for a game to fall under its umbrella and I feel is the proper way to identify games that blur the traditional definition of a RPG. In essence this means that the term RPG becomes a broad category that encompasses all of these sub-genres and can no longer be used to refer to a single category of games based on its original definition.
The redefinition of the RPG term is a sign that the games industry has grown beyond its traditional roots where everything fell neatly into the categories as we had defined them. I think that’s a wonderful thing as it shows that game developers are experimenting with game ideas that cross genres, blending elements from both in order to create game experiences that are truly unique. Indeed with all my reviews there have been many times when I’ve struggle to pin games down to one genre and that’s not just limited to RPGs. We may no longer be able to use the term to refer to a specific type of game but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the term entirely as the RPG ideals are still valid in today’s gaming industry.
Before I dive into the meat of today’s article I think a little disclosure is in order so you know where my biases lie. I’m undeniably an eSports fan, watching it grow from the tenuous beginnings to the burgeoning industry that it has become today. I’m also slightly invested in the whole idea myself, even though at my current skill level I’m still a worlds away from competing seriously. Still despite my biases my inner sceptic won’t stay quiet when there’s an argument to be had that seems to be rife with emotion and misinformation, which is what has pushed me to write about this today.
So since I’ve been elbow deep in writing about other issues this week I missed a massive Internet argument over whether eSports can be classified as a sport. The origin appears to be this article on Destructoid which, like previous articles to the same effect did, sparked a debate online which inevitably turned south as both sides duked it out. The latest instalment, and the one that caught my eye, was this post from Jim Sterling which focused primarily on the community’s reaction to the post and how such a reaction showed that eSports can never be considered a real sport because of it. After reading through it all and doing some digging on the matters at hand I’ve come to a couple conclusions and believe that both sides could learn a lot from each other.
The first, and I know this is probably pointless on the Internet, is that a level of courtesy would never go astray when you’re arguing with people online. It’s really, really easy to devolve into name calling and baiting when you’re arguing with a faceless wall of text but it does nothing to help your cause when you do so. It’s for that exact reason that I tend to shy away from writing any kind of emotionally charged piece here simply because it usually removes the meaning. The problem is exacerbated when you have to confine your words to the 140 character count of Twitter, leading to sound bites like this one which can be so easily construed as meaning one thing or another.
However I also know that reasoned pieces (like this one in response to the earlier Kotaku article I linked) tend to fall by the wayside, drowned out by the vitriol and hyperbole. This is because such articles tend to attract the most page views and discussion, generating a self sustaining organism of hate that proceeds to trample around the Internet. Such behaviour gives the false impression that one side is wholly represented by this vocal minority.
But that doesn’t mean some of the grievances raised don’t have some factual basis.
The crux of the entire matter appears to centre around the idea of whether or not eSports can be counted as sports. There are good arguments on both sides so let’s have a quick look at them, starting with the supporters. For them eSports counts as a sport because on the surface they share many similar aspects with the major difference being the lack of physicality. However the IOC (which Elsa mentions in her article) includes several non-physical sports in their definition of what constitutes a sport, lending credence to the idea that not all sports need to have the physical element. This is where Elsa’s article falls down for many eSports supporters as she writes that off in favour of her own opinion instead.
However Elsa is not alone in thinking this, in fact putting this idea to my close (relatively nerdy) social circle showed that most of them supported the idea that sports require a physical element. Indeed taking it further the straight up definition of the term “sport” usually gives something like this:
A human activity capable of achieving a result requiring physical exertion and/or physical skill, which, by its nature and organisation, is competitive and is generally accepted as being a sport.
Going from this it’s easy then to make the assumption that the general public would require the physicality aspect for something to be classified as a sport. This leaves us with quite the conundrum as both sides have a solid, valid claim to their arguments even if the expression of such hasn’t been done in the most respectful way.
As we all know just because the majority believes something does not necessarily make it correct. The general idea that a sport requires some physical aspect dates back to a time before we had the capability to compete in mediums like video games and thus I would argue that the definition of sports, as it current stands, needs to be reworked for modern times. eSports tick all the boxes of the generally accept definition if you take dexterity as satisfying the “physical skill” part of it. The term sport then becomes a much broader term and realistically covers a lot of things that we don’t necessarily consider sports today.
To use a space analogy it’s much like the definition of what constitutes a planet. For the longest time it was pretty much just the large heavenly bodies we had discovered in our own solar system. However as time went by and we discovered more planetary like bodies we had to start questioning what the definition of a planet really was, formalizing the idea. The definition of sports can then be thought of in the same light as we now have new entities that call it into question.
Sports then should be seen as a larger umbrella for skill based competition. The delineation then comes from the monikers that we then apply to the various sports in order to differentiate them from each other, although I can see many still using the generic term sports to refer to the heavily physical based variety. In reality this is just semantics that gives people an easy identifier to relate with others and should has little bearing on the larger argument.
Jim Sterling makes the point that he can’t take eSports seriously until there’s some actual debate about the topic as opposed to trolling and flame baiting. I was going to attempt to take him down on this one, saying there was a whole lot of reasonable debate to be had if he looked in the right places. Unfortunately it seems that there isn’t too much to be had out there, especially if you look at the comments on the articles in question and the various musing around on Twitter. We then seem to be at the mercy of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory where all of eSports most rabid fans are hiding behind the veil of anonymity where they can spout their vitriol to a large audience. This, I agree, does the case for eSports no good at all.
However it also does those on the opposite side of the argument no good to write something off completely because of the most vocal parts of the fan group. It is of course hard not to judge when all the evidence you have points towards the other side being full of childish twats, so hopefully this post can be the beach head into the realm of constructive discussion. I may be one small voice in the deafening choir that is the Internet but it only takes one to pave the way to a more rational debate.
These kinds of questions (are games art? can they be sport?) are a sign that games, both as an industry and a medium, are now as much a part of our society as print, movies et. al. have been before them. It’s unfortunate that such times are marred by the vocal few who so fervently support them leave their better manners at the door but that does not mean their ideas do not have merit, nor warrant further investigation. Even this rather long post barely scratches the surface of the questions that have been raised in my investigation of the topic and I’m very much looking forward to debating them openly, courteously and rationally with any who would take up the challenge, so long as they extend to me the same.
I recently made a comment about Newsbots and gave a brief definition of the term. Whilst that was appropriate in the context of the article I feel that the subject warrants a more further investigation into the culture of blogging, journalism and the ability for people to self-publish and re-publish news on the web. The last few years has seen an explosion of Newsbot type blogs, in both number and popularity. Whilst I generally feel disdain towards these types of news regurgitation machines they do have their place, as I will attempt to explore here.
First let’s consider the origins of the modern Newsbot. A great example of such a site, which has been around for many years, would be Slashdot. Formerly know as Chips ‘n’ Dip back in the pre 2000 days it quickly became a hub for the technologically inclined to gather and share news reports for one another. Over the years it formalized its reporting style and is now a giant news reporting site focused on generating (not always constructive) discussion between the geeks of the world. They are in the very essence of the term a Newsbot, as they seek out (or more accurately are sent) news from various sources which they then add their own little bit of flavour text to. Since this site is designed around this ideal and people use it as such I don’t consider their newsbotting a bad thing. I am in fact a daily reader and poster on the site.
However it would seem that the popularity of such sites spurred others to try and mimic the success, often by blatantly copying the style. Just to see what I mean about this head on over to Google’s Blog Search and have a look at the technology section (tech people are often the worst offenders since they can set up a blog in minutes). When I went there not 5 minutes ago the top 10 results were about Skype coming to the iPhone or Blackberry. Searching through the blogs shows that probably half of them are just dedicated to reporting news (why is it a blog then?) and the other half add no more then about a paragraph onto the actual story itself, most of them just quoting it from another news site verbatim. It would seem that many of them are content to rehash news that anyone in the field would know about already, and hope that they will go to their site rather than someone else’s.
It’s this kind of low value reporting that adds to the noise of the Internet. When I first created this blog (and its many predecessors) I wanted to create an unique aspect on subjects that peak my interest. Initially I fell into the easy world of newsbotting, but I quickly realised that the people I was writing to (mostly my friends) would have heard the news from other channels, and my small bit of flavour was of little to no value. After struggling with the idea of providing original content for this blog I eventually found my muse in analytical education on my various interests, something which has proven to strike a chord with like minded individuals.
I won’t hide behind the fact that many times I’ve become inspired by a certain news article or other blog. However, when I do I try to find the unique aspect behind the inspiration and bring it out to explore on this blog. In these days of instant information it is so hard to find content that isn’t just rehashed or paraphrased from some other source, and I hope that this blog provides just one more bit of signal in the noise that is the Internet.
It would be ironic if this post was newsbotted, however flattering that might be 😉