Process Update #1: Civ VI, Lance Armstrong and Speedrunning

Meh! I’ve done it again. I've gotten so caught up in trying to produce a refined, finished product, that I haven't posted anything in nearly two weeks. So, as a reminder to myself that this blog is about process and not result, I have decided to write about the things that I am working on writing about, as unnecessarily meta as it might seem.

Civilization VI Epic Discussion

For a really long time now, I've thought that the Civilization video game series makes a really good learning and teaching tool for students to learn about how societies work. It's a really good simulation, based on very sound first principles, that leads to a lot of realistic emergent gameplay.

This is a series that I have been working on for – well, a very long time now. I've tried many different ways, and failed many different times, to find a format and a structure for discussing Civilization that is both clear and comprehensive. After many different attempts at trying to create this series, I think I've finally figured out how to do it.

There is so much to discuss here that I am going to need quite a long time to finish it all, but here's a list of some of the themes that I'm working on:

  • model thinking and the interaction of complex systems
  • emergent behaviour versus programmed behaviour
  • strategic thinking and decision making in Civ
  • tactical thinking, political pragmatism and cost-benefit analysis
  • the origins and limits of civilization
  • why is the monument one of the first builds?
  • the interchangeability of religion
  • what assumptions does the Civ game make?
  • war: extension of politics by other means
  • peace: what is it good for?
  • great people: accelerating or deflecting the course of history?
  • the value of culture and the difficulty of modelling culture
  • victory conditions, or: what is the role of the state?
  • diplomacy, the nation-state model and the balance of power
  • historical thinking and parallel universes

How Lance Armstrong Changed Cycling

This Deadspin article has been making the rounds recently. It's easily the best summary of what Lance Armstrong did during his time as a professional cyclist, and comes from the deepest well of knowledge about the sport of cycling out of all the coverage that I've seen so far. I highly recommend it.

One argument in the Deadspin article stuck out to me: the reason that the FBI and USADA were eventually able to gather all this evidence against Armstrong may very well be precisely that he intimidated everybody into submission for so long. That worked against him when Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, two of his former teammates with the least personal loyalty to Armstrong and the most to gain by exposing him, turned against him and turned the FBI's attention onto Armstrong.

From that point, Armstrong's former teammates – most of whom he had alienated personally, if not professionally – testified one by one by one. With the force of the federal government to mitigate their fear of Armstrong, there was less and less incentive to keep the omertà, the code of silence in professional cycling. When even George Hincapie, possibly the only Armstrong teammate to feel any genuine fraternal affection for him, testified – it was over. It was Armstrong's "et tu, Brute?" moment.

To understand how this dynamic built up in the first place, it's instructive to look at the very structure of professional cycling, the sport's financial incentives, the way a cycling race plays out on the road, the professional race calendar, cycling's doping history, and Armstrong's own particular personality. All of these separate factors played into the peculiar Greek tragedy that is Armstrong's transcendent rise and devastating fall.

The Incremental Nature of Speedrunning

In my last post about speedrunning, I was struggling to fit speedrunning into the framework of sport. Since then I've realised that there may be a better lens through which to view speedrunning: science.

Sure, speedrunners like to go fast. But a big part of what drives speedrunners is understanding the structure and logic of the virtual world they find themselves in, and looking for ways to use that logic to their advantage. There's an emphasis on the replicability of glitches, and the refinement of particular routes to their theoretical maximum potential. When the potential of a speedrun route is exhausted, the hunt begins anew for a new glitch, a new trick, a new route that offers more possibilities, which is a process that mimics Karl Popper's paradigm shifting model of science.

I've still got more ideas, but they'll have to wait. These three topics alone will take a while to write about. I'm hoping that these process posts will help to help me on track, by providing an outlet for me to express some intermediate ideas and arguments.

That's all for today!