February 11th, 2010


Heavy Rain sounds like a very good LARP

Interesting review here from Ars Technica about the upcoming computer game Heavy Rain. The upshot is that they are both intrigued by the game and nervous about its prospects, because it is a real, hardcore roleplaying experience. You aren't playing a marine with a big gun or a barbarian with a sword -- you're playing a realistic person trying to survive and help others survive a genuinely dangerous situation.

Throughout the description, I find echoes of old discussions of what makes a good LARP. This game is something that is rarely if ever seen in computer games, but which is a characteristic often seen in well-regarded LARPs: an RPG that is trying to put you deeply in the shoes of a realistic character, and provoke real angst and pain through it. You have to make real choices, which have profound in-game consequences for yourself *and* those around you.

I'm fascinated by the description. I have less than no time to pick up a new game (and don't currently own a PS3 to play it on to begin with), but I have to say, this is one of the most intriguing-sounding games I've heard about in years. Ars may be right that there simply isn't enough market for this sort of thing, but it sounds to me like a game that a number of my LARP-but-not-computer-gamer friends might actually get into...

Just bribe the country to do the right thing

One of the problems facing the climate-change debate has been the current political shibboleths, and specifically the anti-tax one. Every sensible economist is clear that the *right* way to deal with it is a flat carbon tax: it would address the problem head-on, would probably be least likely to distort markets in unfortunate ways, and would likely be pretty effective. But of course, anything called a "tax" gets peoples' backs up, so we instead wind up with the Democratic leadership creating a classic muddle, in the form of the wildly overcomplex cap-and-trade model. (Which is *probably* better than nothing, but I honestly can't say that with complete confidence.)

So I'm intrigued to read (in last week's Economist) about Maria Cantwell's "cap-and-dividend" proposal. From the description given there (and I need to learn more about the details), it sounds delightfully sensible. Basically, the notion is that any carbon cap will drive up prices: indeed, that's the point of any sensible proposal. So fine: auction off limited permits for all carbon-based fuels, and then bribe everybody with the proceeds. Seriously: take the money from the auctions, and distribute it to the populace. Their back-of-the-napkin kickback calculation is $1000 for a family of four.

It's not perfect, mind -- a carbon-tax system would still be simpler than a cap-based one -- but it's still far simpler than cap-and-trade. If the auction is mandatory and universal, it's likely to succeed in the goal of raising prices and thereby reducing carbon output. And the bribe (which is effectively a progressive redistributive tax, but a very well-disguised one) could be *very* popular if it was marketed properly.

I confess that I'm seesawing between being appalled at the concept, and admiring its elegance. The citizens'-responsibility puritan in me is vaguely unhappy at the notion of bribing the citizens to get them to agree to a system that will help everyone. But the economist in me just loves the way it aligns incentives, and the armchair political quarterback admires the simplicity of the message...