The Great Microsoft Solitaire Kerfuffle

Microsoft Solitaire

Everyday Microsoft Solitaire has a competition. It can be anything from a quick five match free cell with easy and medium games to a massive thirty game adventure with Klondike, Spider, Free Cell, Pyramid, and Tri Peaks with multiple expert games. Hundreds of thousands of players compete each day.

There are no rewards but time spent playing each game is tracked and players are ranked in a local group of fifty and overall, against all competitors. There are little ribbons for finishing in the top three of your group and a special Red Room where the top 100 players in an event are displayed.

I belong to a Facebook Group dedicated largely to playing in these tournaments, listing performances, talking about the games, etc. We’ve had a major kerfuffle and it’s an interesting one, at least I think so.

Cheating in Microsoft Solitaire

As you might expect, there is cheating. People cheat in a variety of ways. The main way of cheating is simply to have multiple accounts so you can practice the game on one account and then play it through more quickly on your main account.

Some people take this to the extreme; recording a successful playthrough with software and then replaying all the moves in just a few seconds on their main account. As a quick example, I finished the recent Free Cell mini tournament of three easy and two medium games in 4:09 and won my group by over a minute. I’m a bit of a Free Cell fanatic.

The Red Room first place at this moment is 1:35 with over 115,000 people playing so far. This time is, naturally, impossible without computer aided play and will be bettered as the day goes on and more people use this method. I’ve seen the top finisher with a time below ten seconds for the entire event.

To get away from all the toxicity on the main Facebook Solitaire page where these cheaters are often unpleasant, the exclusive little solitaire Facebook group to which I belong was created.

Are you Going to get to the Point Soon, Tom?

Thank you for being patient as I’m finally at the crux of today’s article. There is cheating going on in my group. Horrors! The differentiating factor is the cheater is using computer software. People are up in arms. Should we banish the cheater? Should we give the cheater another chance? Biblical references are being tossed around. People are angry.

Now, to let you in on a little secret; other people in the group play with multiple accounts and practice before playing on their main account. Some simply use the secondary account to study the board for a period of time figuring out best play in their minds before starting on their main account. Some practice multiple times to ingrain the quickest way to finish.

So, who is cheating really? Are only the people using specialized software cheating? Is anyone with a second, or third and fourth account, cheating?

Who is the Cheater in Microsoft Solitaire and Why do We care?

For me, there are no rules, so no one is cheating. There isn’t an official Microsoft Solitaire rules committee that makes decisions and disqualifies people who don’t follow the non-existent rules. I’m well aware people in my group don’t play the way I play. Generally, I open up Microsoft Solitaire after I get back from the gym in the morning, start the tournament, and play through each game in order. I don’t prepare, I don’t examine, I play. Am I the Pure Player? The Good Guy? The Fairness Adjudicator?

Not really, it’s just how I play. How other people play is their own business. I recognize my time is never going to be faster than those who play differently than me. I don’t worry about comparing my time with them or anyone for that matter. I get satisfaction from playing my best. I get frustrated when I play badly.

If someone in my group wants to use computer assist to get incredibly fast times, that’s their business. Now, does it annoy me slightly when he or she post all her or his fast times and brags about it? Sure. I’m not Perfect Tommy yet, but I’m working on it.

Conclusion

I don’t want to come off as sanctimonious here. If my fellow Solitaire enthusiasts get angry at the “cheating”, then that’s cool too. If they want to banish the cheater then I won’t stand in their way. I’ve just gotten to a point in life when people do things that don’t materially affect me, I just don’t care so much.

It seems to me this caring about how other people conduct their lives is out-of-control, particularly here in the United States. It’s not just Microsoft Solitaire. It’s a lot of things. I’m not going to delve deeply into all that today, but the idea is one of the reasons I identify as a Libertarian.

As Boy in the police stations advises: Your problem is you. You ought to spend a little more time dealing with yourself and a little less time worrying about what your brother does.

Tom Liberman

Is Monetization in Diablo Immortal Fixable?

Diablo Immortal

There’s a new mobile game on the market called Diablo Immortal and it’s generating a huge amount of hate in the gaming world. Diablo Immortal uses something called monetization as a method to generate revenue.

The game is free to play. Anyone can download it and start playing immediately. The makers of Diablo Immortal, Blizzard Entertainment, use in game purchases, or monetization, to make money. Nearly every gamer agrees the level of monetization in Diablo Immortal is unprecedented and a terrible direction for the industry.

My discussion today involves the idea something can being bad for one group or individual and good for another. Leading to difficult problems which are not easily solved.

What this blog is not about

One of the big arguments for monetization in Diablo Immortal is it’s really just pay-to-play rather than play-to-win. This is not my focus here today.

An argument for the pay-to-win model is that people can simply not pay. Again, not my focus here.
Another group argues that legislation against such predatory games will solve the problem. Again, not my focus.

However, I must cut through all the nonsense before I get to my actual point.

Addictions and Laws

People have addictions. Drugs including alcohol, food, gambling, love, whatever. Addictions exist and Diablo Immortal uses the underlying cause of these addictions to harm people. The game uses a tried and tested method based on dopamine. It works. People will be harmed.

Laws can’t stop it, although they can slow it certainly. If you make something illegal then a black-market arises which is worse than a legal, if predatory, market. Violent criminals gain huge sums of money.

Finally, my point

Diablo Immortal is bad for addictive personalities. It is bad for people who don’t have the time, money, or personal stability to play the game safely.

It is good for players who enjoy the underlying game and have the money, time, and personal stability to play it without trouble. It is obviously good for Blizzard Entertainment if it generates considerable revenue.

Where does that leave us? It’s not as simple as enlightened self-interest. I acknowledge this game will hurt people. I accept that addictions are real and the game taps into them and causes real harm. I fully get the manufacturers know it will cause harm and don’t care. The game won’t hurt me but I am not without empathy. I know it will hurt many people.

How to Fix the Problem

I’m against laws that outlaw such games for a number of reasons. The black-market as discussed above. The fact that many people can and will enjoy Diablo Immortal without negative consequences to their lives. Banning the game punishes those people.

The solution is elusive and difficult, as is often the case.

People who feel empathy for the harm Diablo Immortal will cause to others should not play. People who are against monetization of such games should not play. Friends and family must pay attention to those they love for signs of danger. Financial Institutions can implement notification policies when certain thresholds are met in regards to money issues.

Banning the game is a simple solution but it won’t work in the long run. Harassing the company might work in the short term but someone else will always take their place.

Easy? No. Simple problems have easy solutions. Difficult problems are not easily solved, no matter what an influencer might say. Don’t like my answers? I’m not surprised. Difficult solutions are never popular.

If enough people have critical thinking skills, empathy for the suffering of others, and understand the principles of enlightened self-interest; Diablo Immortal and its ilk will die. Good riddance.

Tom Liberman

Is Art Defined by the Constraints of the Medium?

Art Defined by Tic Tac Toe

During board game night a discussion broke out about how is art defined? While we delivered in the Wasteland Express the software developer opined that his job was artistic but that of an engineer was not. This being true because the medium in which the engineer worked was more greatly constrained.

Needless to say, strong opinions were hurled. I find the question of how is Art Defined to be an interesting question but the moral of the story, and the point of this blog, is more about how to we come to a consensus on a question that, by its nature, has no easy answer.

At issue; at least for the fellow trying to define software development as art, is how to we determine if an endeavor is so constrained that it can no longer be considered art. When confronted by thorny issues of this nature I think the best strategy is to simplify the question as best as is possible. It’s always going to be difficult, if not impossible, to determine what constitutes a line in the sand as far as constraints and be able to get to the bottom of Art Defined.

I started, on the drive home after having been thoroughly thrashed in the Wasteland yet again because I have too much fun making deliveries and taking on raiders and forget about the Victory Conditions, but that’s my issue and I’ve completely lost the train of thought on this sentence, best start again. As I was driving home, I thought about how most people who play chess at a moderately high level consider a well-played combination to be artistic. Certainly, chess has more constraints than engineering. If a game of chess can be artistic then we must conclude that a particular engineering design can be as well.

That being said, I must simplify further. How about checkers, I said to myself while waiting at a red light. Darn those red lights. No, even better, Tic Tac Toe. If we are going to simplify, let’s go all the way. Can Tic Tac Toe be artistic? No, I said to myself. End of story! Wait, I argued with myself, don’t be so hasty, Tom. Really? I replied. Yep, I answered. Let me give you an example.

In Game One the O player makes three moves and wins the game because the X player doesn’t make a blocking move. In Game Two the O player makes moves so as to block player X and set up a situation where she or he has two paths to victory and cannot be blocked. Is not Game Two more artistic than Game One?

We’ll, I said aloud to myself as the couple in the car one over looked at me like I was crazy. Did I mention I was waving my arms and hands to illustrate the moves on the Tic Tac Toe board? Well, you may have a point, I said nodding to the superior knowledge of me.

No, problem, I replied in an attempt at modesty. You would have come to the same conclusion if given enough time. Thanks, I said, although I suspect I was being a little condescending to myself.

In any case, if we decide that one Tic Tac Toe game can be more artistic than another, we are admitting the game can be artistic, although perhaps less so than a chess game, but artistic nevertheless. If this is true, it seems impossible to conclude anything other than all human endeavors possess the possibility of being artistic, regardless of how constrained they might be. There is the potential for art in all things.

This being the case, which I think I’ve proved to myself beyond a reasonable doubt, I think all engineers can now rest easy knowing they are capable of artistic designs. Now that I’ve resolved Art Defined, let’s tackle a bigger problem. How can I possible win a game of Wasteland Express if I don’t pay any attention to the Victory Conditions … a mystery that may never be solved.

Tom Liberman

World of Warcraft = Victory!

About a month ago I wrote about a candidate for the Maine State Senate who was being attacked for playing World of Warcraft. It was supposedly her “disturbing alter-ego”. Well, the election is over and … She Won!

Send your congratulations to her Facebook Page.

Hooray for the Horde!

Hooray for gamers!

And especially hooray for voters! Well done!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

World of Warcraft and Maine Politics

World of WarcraftI love this story and I eagerly await the outcome of the election.

In short, a woman is running for the State Senate in Maine as a Democrat and was “outed” as a World of Warcraft (WoW) player by her Republican opponent. There was an ad posted that quoted some of her in-game messages “I like to stab things”, “I love poisoning and stabbing”, “I can kill stuff without going to jail”, and similar. The goal was to discredit the candidate as someone who doesn’t live in the real world.

As far as I can tell the smear attempt has backfired badly and the candidate is getting support from everywhere, including a fellow Horde member who happen to be Republican.

The candidate is a big fan of Skyrim and gets a big thumbs up from me even though I’m not a MMORPG player myself. I am friends with quite a few players (long live the Alliance!).

The most interesting aspect of the story, for me, is the level to which gaming has saturated both the United States and the world. I love gaming and have been playing role-playing games since I was a teenager and plan on continuing until the day I die. It’s great fun and the fact that, apparently, the majority of people understand the difference between saying, “I like to stab things” in a game, as opposed to in life, is encouraging.

From Angry Birds to World of Warcraft; I say, keep playing!

Would that the spirit of cooperation between Republican and Democrat Horde members could somehow make its way to Washington D.C.

In the end, we’re all part of a great big faction called The United States of America.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Book: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water