Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Not Too Big Of A World

I'm not quite sure how I missed this story, since it involved 1) board games and 2) the media screwing up. But somehow I did.

Basically, a woman in the UK got hooked on an online virtual game to the point that she let two of her dogs die and starved her children for two months.

It's a tragic story. But something quite irresponsible happened when the story was reported. (The link above is just to one of the stories with the most solid (though still wrong) information; any of the other versions of the story I saw either were no longer on the newspaper's web site, or had excised a lot of the information away. While I can't say for sure, it seems like all of the reporters worked off of the same source, since they all more or less made the exact same mistakes.)

Basically, whoever wrote the initial story got the information that the game she was playing was called Smallworlds.com, which is a fairly standard virtual game where a person creates an avatar of themselves and you spend your time playing hearts and mini golf with other people online. Fair enough. But the reporter apparently just typed in "Small World" and "Game" in Google and came up with the board game (by the company Days of Wonder) of a slightly different name. This board game--which I own and won all kinds of awards for being an awesome game--involves differing races (such as orcs and giants) trying to compete for living space. Two extraordinarily different things.

'Ello, tincanofcoldbakedbeansformykids69. You up for a game of knockoff Welltris?

The author, of course, confused the two, assuming they were one of the same, and also assumed that smallworlds.com was an online version of the board game. Now, the board game is a good game, but I'd be hard pressed to play it for an entire evening, let alone two months. Of course, the reporter, not able to find a screenshot of the online version of the board game--since such a thing does not really exist--they posted in the article a graphic for a Games Workshop game called Warhammer Online, which involves an online game where orcs and giants fight each other. This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with either smallworlds.com or Small World (the board game). It was an online game about what the reporter erroneously researched, so it had to be right! They even credited Days of Wonder for the "photo" of Warhammer Online. You know, so they don't get accused of not giving credit. 

Of course, complicating things is that there is an online version of the board game--but it's a pretty obscure sort of thing, and still not at all like anything described in the article. So even in the off chance that the reporter stumbled upon the reasonably unknown version of the thing that really didn't exist in a format that would make sense for the story, it still wouldn't have made the point the article was trying to make.

To complicate things, the organization that runs smallworlds.com blamed the board game, but only because they were also going off of the original article, which of course was wrong. And the main newspapers did print corrections, but of course at this point half of the articles are gone, half are rewritten, and half are left as is with corrections, so there is no longer any reliable way of looking at the story from an accurate perspective.

What is the point of all this? Well, two points, really.

1) Given how libel laws are in the UK, you would think that the reporter would have been a little bit more careful in their research. It was sloppy and potentially harmful to the sales of the board game. (Doubtful, but that's the sort of thing they look at in court.) Some reports I read were stating that the reporter was simply going off of the official court proceedings, which is a convenient way of blaming the court system (misreporting the court being quite the offense). Of course, that doesn't explain all of the additional "research" that still managed to get everything else wrong, including the Warhammer image. And it's a shame that, because of this mistake, board games--which tend to encourage socialization with other people--gets lumped into the stereotypical anti-social world of virtual reality and online games.

2) The article, of course, insinuates the exact sort of thing that I hate--blaming the activity rather than the behavior. I'm not saying that differing forms of entertainment that have historically been hit with the charge of "corrupting" individuals, such as rock and roll music and Dungeons and Dragons, don't have an influence. But it's an easy scapegoat which rarely, if ever, is the true cause of problematic behavior. In this case, the woman already had issues, and the game was simply something to point at so that the establishment can say "This caused it, not us." And, of course, in this case, the wrong scapegoat got fingered.

Of course, for me, it's a tragedy either way. For some reason, when it comes to things such as computer games or board games, where individuals spend hours upon hours of time poring over minute details just to win a meaningless game for no stakes, they're called social outcasts who need to get a real life. Thank goodness none of those well-adjusted guys in the mainstream are like that.



And, of course, if you do choose to engage in an inherently useless activity that sucks down all of your time and money for no reason except that everyone else is doing it, make sure it's a socially acceptable one.


At least the Disney ride didn't get implicated. Yet.

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