The Political Compass

For some time, I’ve had my web browser configured with its start page set to the random article link on Wikipedia:

The effect is that every time I open my browser, a new, random article on Wikipedia loads, which can often be severely distracting (so I make sure not to use this configuration at work!), but it’s almost always very interesting.

For instance, today the random link led me to this site:

Despite my skeptical view of questionnaires designed to pigeonhole your identity (think Myers-Briggs), I was immediately fascinated with the idea of the political compass, because it addresses a dimension (literally) of political viewpoints that the typical left/right dichotomy completely misses. It acknowledges that the traditional left/right spectrum is primarily (but not entirely) an economic scale, and it adds a second scale for social issues, with extremes it labels “authoritarian” and “libertarian.” I think the terminology is a bit muddled, since left/right would be better described as liberal/conservative or perhaps socialist/free market, but all of those terms have baggage. (Of course, in the United States, at least, so does “libertarian,” and the characteristics of “libertarianism” as described on the site are not entirely consistent with the Libertarian Party in the U.S.) Nonetheless, the terms are familiar enough to give a clear picture.

I was not too surprised to see where I ended up on the chart, although I did find it interesting that I was even farther down in the lower-left corner than the likes of Nelson Mandela and the Dalai-Lama!

(On a side note, writing this led me to another topic: the confusion of similar words. In my particular case, it was the old thorn in my side, farther vs. further. Luckily it seems I got it right. And writing the first sentence in this paragraph reminded me of yet another similar word problem: lead vs. led. I’ve noticed more and more lately, often coming even from respected sources, careless use of the word “lead” when in fact the intention was to use “led” — the past-tense of “lead” as pronounced “LEED.” But I digress [yet again].)

New Adventure Easter Egg Discovered!

Most loyal fans of the Atari 2600 game Adventure are well aware of the game’s famous “Easter egg” — if you bring an invisible dot to a certain screen and place another object in the same room, you can move through a barrier into a secret room with a self-congratulatory message from programmer Warren Robinett.

But few players of the game know that this is really just the first part of the Easter egg!

If you bring the enchanted chalice with you into the secret room (a gift for Mr. Robinett, to show your appreciation for his brilliant game), then proceed to the entrance of the white castle, you will see the rest of the Easter egg.

You see, Mr. Robinett’s motivation for the Easter eggs in this game stemmed from Atari’s reluctance to give its game designers adequate credit for their hard work. (After all, it was the designers of the games who were directly responsible for Atari’s financial success, but proportionate compensation for their efforts would’ve eaten into the corporate fatcats’ stock bonuses.)

It is widely known that Mr. Robinett was only paid his paltry salary of $22,000 in 1978 for designing Adventure, a game that went on to sell one million copies, thereby earning Atari $25,000,000. But as far as the public (and Atari’s management) was concerned, games were cranked out by mindless machines, not painstakingly crafted by computer programming geniuses who managed to pack elaborate and engaging game concepts into a meager 2 kilobytes of code.

It was this lack of respect and recognition that led some former Atari programmers to start their own company, Activision — the first third-party software maker. Every Activision game boldly proclaimed the designer’s name right on the cartridge label, as well as a photo and gameplay tips from the designer in the instruction manual.

But those unfortunate game designers back at Atari were left to find other ways to get their well-deserved recognition.* Many resorted to Easter eggs containing their names or initials, inspired by the bold work of Mr. Robinett.

And now, at last, you can see the full Easter egg from Adventure. While Atari’s executives laughed all the way to the bank in light of this game’s resounding success, Warren Robinett, game designer and computer genius, left Atari to pursue… other opportunities. And his dragons did as well.

Adventure White Castle

* Yes, I know Warren Robinett designed Adventure before Activision was founded, and he had already left Atari by then. But this entire article was all just a set-up for the visual joke anyway, so back off!