Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Genre, Genre, Who's Got The Genre?

Note: I'm posting this a few days late. Things have been busy - moving and all - I apologize in advance if some of the content is past its freshness date.

It feels like maybe I didn't quite come off correctly over at Corvus' blog concerning genre.

This happens to me often. I try to couch discussions of, well, pretty much everything in personal terms, but inevitably get seen as making proclamations.

And I possibly got too carried away on his commenting section. I'll try and reserve the bulk of my delusions for this vanity site.

It's tough, this writing thing. I purposely aim toward recognizing my subjectivity and qualifying responses with possibles, not absolutes. My feeling is that I'd rather be thought of as vague and unassuming than some kind of ideologue.

This seemed to happen with my post on difficulty in games. One of the commenters appeared to heartily disagree with my conception of a possible implementation of an idea. That just seems weird to me. The tone of the comments didn't seem to be, "Interesting concept, but I see it this way," but rather, "That idea will not work and should not work and should not be an idea." Maybe I'm just taking things too much to heart.

First and foremost I have a few questions for Chris (and Corvus and whoever else wish to chime in) concerning the game Ghost Master.*

Here are a few choice statements:

Chris -- "Games which defy genre conventions generally suffer badly. Our project Ghost Master’, for instance, suffered because it was neither sim nor strategy game (nor indeed a fit to any existing genre). Many strategy players disliked it because it was ‘too easy’ - because they compared it to other strategy games. But I didn't design it as a strategy game. Or a sim game. I designed it as a haunting game - because that's what it was (and because I defy, deny and resist genre-driven design practices). Sadly, stepping outside of genre hurt us badly . . . because genre in the industry is a marketing tool, and to deny marketing is a costly gamble. Or to put it another way, our innovation destroyed us."

Corvus -- " He intentionally avoided designing the game to fit a genre and when a 'strategy' genre label was applied to it, the game didn't do so well with fans of the strategy genre."

These seem like fair assessments. I can't attest to their validity because there are many things which are not transparent - the circumstances in which the game was developed and marketed, the general state of the game market at the time, the reactions of gamers that played the game.

The questions, then:

What specifically should have been changed in Ghost Master to make it conform more to genre? Assuming anything should have been changed, of course.

What genre do you feel it would have been better designed toward?

Do you think your practice, Chris, of not designing it as a genre game made it a "bad" game, or just a game that didn't sell well because it didn't match certain expectations? Is that a legitimate concern for you?

And as for it diverging from strategy games . . . what, exactly, are the defining characteristics of such games? What elements turned the strategy gamers away from the game (and made it not-quite-a-strategy-game)?

Would increasing the difficulty have been the simple fix to please the strategy gamers?

I'm not arguing purely about semantics here, but rather about the effect that semantical arrangements can have on our choices. Some say we group only because it's convenient, but we can also use the convenience of grouping as an excuse to dismiss.

And I'm not saying that games must be accessible to everyone, or appeal to everyone. Though if you make such a game, I want to know immediately.

There is both a subjectivity to genre and a commonality. At times it may be quite useful when communicating. Maybe that's where the line is for me - I use genre only on a social level and ignore it on a personal level.

I don't think genre is simply a marketing tool, but the marketing aspect of genre deserves to be examined thoroughly. I have read time and again, not just in the videogame industry but all forms of media, about how a project could not attain funding simply because it couldn't be hitched to a genre. Marketers, for the most part, understand genre to the exclusion of specific elements. Recognizing this may be perfectly all right, but that doesn't mean gradual change can't be implemented to alter the status quo.

I also realize that there are many different concerns of marketing that lead them to subscribe (mostly) to genre labeling. Defying expectations can involve risk, and risk must be gauged against profit.

Much of it becomes a question of what to compromise when. Which is an issue for individual developers. I can't tell them where to draw a line in the sand. Though I feel it's one thing to pitch to a publisher by couching your game description in marketable terms (It's an Action-RPG-Shooter! With boobs!), it's another thing entirely when the publisher begins to alter your work based around their expectation of a genre game to the detriment of your project.

In other words -- if working within genre confines makes the game more exciting, playable, fun, whatever, to you, then by all means, carry on.

Another aspect of genre lies in personal expectation. Contrary to some, I don't think that genres represent a strict consensus interpretation of form/content, but a fuzzy one.

Where, for example, to place Pikmin? Puzzle? Inasmuch as the player is manipulating game elements to solve problems . . . well . . . that's lotsa games (maybe all games?). Which might be good enough, but it also feels like an empty label, like labeling-for-labeling's-sake.

An important point, and possibly my main one, I feel should be made is that genres are often seen as fixed but do not have to be fixed. They can be expanded, altered, changed. New ones may be added. And maybe videogame genres are due for an update.

Genres 2.0. Maybe I'll have more on this later, when different ideas have been masticated thoroughly.

Trite Personal Anecdote Time:

In high school I had a band. Ah, glory days. In the wink of a young girl's eye.

I really liked this band. We weren't good, necessarily, but we liked to play and people liked to watch us play. Not that we had a ton of gigs.

One of the reasons I really liked this band, other than that we often started practice late due to Final Fantasy VII, was that nobody was overly concerned with what type of music we would play.

I know many bands get hung up on this point. Some of it speaks to personal preference, some of it to concerns that nobody wants to see a band that flits from song style to song style (Ween notwithstanding).

Perhaps we were blessed with indecisiveness or laziness. Whatever it may have been, we never really decided on a restriction. We pretty much just said, "If there's something you've got that you made up, let's hear it. Or if there's a cover you want to do, we'll try it."

Our first song was a funk instrumental, wisely named "The Funk Song." It was a good showcase for my masturbatory blues noodlings.

Eventually we built up a repertoire. We did a folksy instrumental with a jangly 12-string. We did some jazzy numbers, some metal songs. Our covers included The Humpty Dance (Digital Underground), What I Am (Edie Brickell), songs from Sublime and The Beastie Boys and whatever pop songs from the radio we could fake our way through. They even let me play Bourree (JS Bach) when the mood hit me.

Now much of what we played was loud and fast. This was, I feel, an effect of our own styles rather than adherence to genre. We weren't averse to playing slow and soft. The world of music was our lyrical oyster.

We probably wouldn't have "made it" without pushing toward categorization. But none of us seemed to care.

It's hard to find a group like that.

*This is not meant to sound cheeky, though I am pretty expert at sounding like a dick. Really, though, no offense meant to the parties I'm addressing - my questions are asked in all seriousness.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Chasing The Vision

Technology seems to get disparaged often, especially in media. People scoff at the fancy CGI in movies, saying, "Yes, but where is the soul?" And almost 70 years ago I can see people scoffing at the fancy stop-motion animation in King Kong, saying, "Yes, but where is the soul?"

Videogames that are predicated on the novelty of their technology may be seen as inferior to those predicated on the novelty of their gameplay. A natural prejudice, given the core of gaming - it's the gameplay, stupid!

Gameplay trumps all, however, seems an incomplete way, to me, of looking at each and every game (even though I've probably said that damn mantra before). There are many other things which I take into consideration that might seem shallow to other gamers, but which I may place on equal terms (depending on the game).

When I look at graphics I consider them as providing clarity of vision. In a medium which engages me first and foremost visually*, the way those graphics are presented can be very important to me.

I don't like aliasing. To me, it is a constant, glaring reminder that I'm but a set of eyes gazing at a matrix of intersecting squares. It certainly doesn't detract from gameplay when I go from a higher resolution to a lower one in order to make the game playable, but on an aesthetic level I am disappointed - it is as if I were allowed to see the Mona Lisa for but a second and then told that I can only really look at her if I smear Vaseline over my eyes. Gameplay may not suffer, but the experience drops in clarity.

Clarity does not presuppose any specific technical stats. But it is concerned with giving a designer as many options available with which to create their vision. Textures that go blurry when a player-character gets close are an eyesore to me - it's not simply a question of making things shinier, or prettier (though why should those be such awful goals?), but rather a question of offering more control. I'm not even talking about immersiveness here, but about what I, as a designer, wish to show to the player.

Once clarity is improved, it can always be muddied easily.

I'm waiting for the day when I see a game with jaggies as a tribute, the way some bands will put the skrtch-skrtch of records revolving underneath a song on a CD.

The driving-forward, then, of visual technology will continue to happen. It may be that there is an upper limit to that sort of thing - I won't pretend any knowledge on that matter.

Calls for intelligent agents and complex stories in games tend to ignore something - progress is constantly being made, just not at a rate equal to progress in graphics technology. But those are two very different things, possibly not comparable at all. Shift the entire industry focus to some idealized notion of better gameplay involving smart AI and engaging narratives would not be a guarantee of, well, anything.

This doesn't mean that people should cease to call for such things - only that decrying HD or dynamic shadows or fancy particle effects as a detriment to gaming, or even counterproductive, seems kind of ridiculous.

Yes, I'm saddened that the architecture of the Cell chips seems to prevent complex AI implementations but, well, where is this amazing AI? It must be somewhere, or else it is speculation. Will AI take a step backward because of the chip? That remains to be seen.

Many artistic movements have had debates concerning the evolving science of their art. I'm not worried at all for videogames, nor am I thrown by the crazy notion that games might look better but not really play all that different. It hasn't bothered me yet in my twenty-some-odd years of gaming.

Chess doesn't play all that different hundreds of years later. Well, unless you're on acid.

*And, yes, aurally, emotionally, intellectually, reflexively; But before those things, and as those are engaged, it hits my eyes.

Parting Shot

I can't believe
that during the whole Hot Coffee discussion I completely neglected to work in this line from that Bush song "Everything Zen":

"There's no sex in your violence."

That is all.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Spaminator 2: Marketing Day

"The SpamNet funding bill is passed. The system goes online at July 4, 2005. Human decisions are removed from servers. SpamNet begins to flood inboxes and blog comments at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 am Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. And SpamNet fights back."

Tag, You're It

Marc Ecko's
Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure has had some good press and some bad press.

It seems that some are resistant simply because Marc Ecko is an industry outsider. Well, and he says shit like, "[the game] will be genre-defining. Revolutionary. We will put the flag in the ground of popular culture with Getting Up." Still, his blog has interesting backstory on his attempt to get a game made.

He also said, "We have the chance to finally tell the urban narrative the right way, with soul and sincerity in the real voice of our culture. We're going to shatter cliche stereotypes and create the first truly authentic urban videogame experience."

Ridiculous claims aside, I like the game concept. Readers of this blog might recall my love of games in which navigating the environment plays a key part. And the games I've played with graffiti elements have been pretty fun. Still, I'm going to maintain a cautious interest.

My beef is that I wish they'd taken a different approach toward combat, i.e., downplaying it immensely. Maybe even discouraging it. Give you just enough fight to earn some time to get away - which would only reinforce what seems to be the main game mechanic, moving through the world (or "getting up", in the lingo).

It would be nice to see the game focus on cooperating with different groups while avoiding the authorities. At the very least have certain behaviors impact negatively with the citizens you're trying to spark into revolution. Violence can earn you disrespect from some counterculture forces - and respect from others. Choosing which path to take could have many in-game consequences.

Imagine getting the cold shoulder from other underground members because of your confrontational leanings. Or the more you used violence, against authorities or citizens, the more brutal the police would be with you and your allies. Eventually they might get orders to shoot on sight (with quick and deadly results).

Maybe it's just not part of my background, or maybe I'm just losing my taste for direct conflict as I get older.

Other links:

Our Mediated World



The Desire to Build

I was reading Gamespot's newest interview about Civilization IV. Some great stuff in there.

"GS: We've heard that roads no longer grant commerce. What's the reasoning for that? We assume this will cut down on the habit of planting roads and rails in every square inch of your empire. This created such an unseemly sight, as roads and rails littered every square."

Roads grant commerce?

Shit. I never really knew that. All those years, all those Civ games, and I missed that.

I feel kind of stupid for not knowing that there was an actual advantage.

The thing is, I'm still going to build roads and rails over every square inch of my empire. I did it before because I like having them all over the place, it feels like you're really developing an area. "Here, peasants! Delight in your transportation options!"

Maybe the developers aren't thinking so much of players' possible aesthetic choices, but really focusing on the game.

Which sounds like a good thing, for us gamers.


There are lots of game developers out there trying to design educational games for children.

I applaud them in their efforts, the results of which are often scorned by OG gamers. And, honestly, many times both education and gaming are diminished in the attempt to combine the two.

I'd like to see a company look toward making educational games for adults. Not "adult" games - rather, games aimed at what is commonly called "continuing education." Help us older folks get some learnin'.

Maybe a game that explores interesting facets of history. Both in broad sense and specifics. I really like minutiae, what some would label "trivia". I also like to read accounts of everyday living, not just the broad strokes that history classes seem to cover. It would be interesting to see a game that strives toward small, simple, compact explorations rather than broad, powerful ones.

Suggested reading is Thereby Hangs A Tale, a book where every word contains an awesome historical explanation, like a bowl of assorted chunks of fruit, where every bite contains different flavors to experience.

Somehow making a game that allows explorations of history like in James Burke's Connections series.

I have no idea what that might look like. Give me some time - and about five million dollars in grant money for research.

MIT has some examples of what I'm babbling about. Here's their more current site.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

My Final Thoughts On This Matter - Hopefully

Ah, Hot Coffee.

Rockstar, you little rascal, you stinker, you thorn in the paw of the industry.

You smut peddlers, you corrupters, you filthy liars.

Here are a few things I learned:

1. Some people think that the "big lesson" in all this is that we need to censor our games before they hit the market in order to keep the government from getting involved and censoring our games. Hahaha. Those people are fucking morons.

Here is what that statement can equate to: We are so paralyzed with fear that the government will begin regulating content that we will regulate the content beforehand, ensuring that nothing even possibly controversial will ever occur, simply because we cannot guarantee that our own elected officials will have enough perspective (and we certainly won't provide it for them) to protect our rights; An obvious path for a free society.

2. Rockstar is a terrible company and they lied and, and, and . . . And much of this from gaming advocates, who, like so many Democrats when there is blood in the water, join in the feeding frenzy in order to have their own lives spared. Remember Clinton? Yeah, it was totally about him lying under oath, it was the lie, it was the lie, it was the lie - or was it the reaction to a fucking blowjob which provided the big distraction from the really bad shit that was going down (forgive the pun)?

Misdirection still fucking works.

3. My god, wait until the "censor games" crowd realizes that the Japanese have been releasing games for years (readily available on the Internet, too!) that make Hot Coffee look like Bugs Bunny in drag kissing Elmer Fudd.

4. Rockstar shouldn'ta done what they done. They was bad.

I don't give a shit.

Again, much enmity flows from the industry itself as it tries to convince all those scared parents that, no, don't worry, the rest of the game industry isn't like that and never will be.

What might we gain by maintaining that games are (solely) friendly and not-objectionable-in-the-least?

We could damn ourselves to arrested development. Like movies, we can guarantee that for stimulation we will defer to violence - and thus make it more grand, more brutal, more fantastico!! Sex will remain the shhh, dirty-little-secret - just so mommies and daddies don't have to worry about teaching their children a prime function of life.

Oh, we'll still use it as subtext in advertisements. No problem there. Materialism at its finest.

Which leads me to . . .

5. We have a serious problem with sex in this country.

No, I don't mean that it should be anywhere and everywhere.

But our repression smacks of a sickness. Our dishonesty fuels our sexual dysfunctions. Our classification of the act as obscenity speaks to a deep sense of shame. Our unwillingness to accept anything but our own notion of intimacy can be disheartening.

That's all about that. If you think sex should be A or B but not C then have it your way. Of course, many people who feel in such a way also think that I should have it their way.

6. Here are some things that seem like secrets in this country (pardon the 'is-es'):

Tolerance is not acceptance.

Attempting to understand something is not condoning it.

Seeking answers is not subscribing to an ideology.

Forgiveness is not approval.

Regulation is not suppression.

7. The fingers can point to lots of people.

The industry's been talking a big game lately about copyright and the law when they think money's coming out of their pockets, but they conveniently forgot to back up Rockstar and mention that modding Rockstar's game is a clear and definite violation of their End User License Agreement. Looks like I can keep ignoring those fucking things and downloading as my heart desires. Controversy equals bad business.

Rockstar could never be a company seen as fully supporting its mod community (not by any argument I could make) - they don't shut them down, but they don't give them any help, either. No company-released tools, a closed file format, not even a mission editor (which I bemoan). For people so eager to get caught, they sure buried the content deep.

The politicians refused to take any parents to task. Why would they? Those are voters they have to court, and by tackling corporations they come out looking like roses. Hillary Clinton is a brilliant opportunist, always ready to show how eager she is to protect the family - and never holding the family accountable. Bravo.

Rockstar can take a finger, too, for all I care. At most, however, they could be accused of covering their own ass when they saw the circus sideshow that a dull bit of polygonal thrusting caused on this side of the pond. Despite the theories of (1) a year-too-late controversy-to-drive-sales, or (2) a rogue programmer leaving the digital boobies on the disc, or (3) the dire demonic forces of vidyagames, the best I would hazard to say about Rockstar is that a PR guy failed to tell the truth. Wow, what an eye-opener!

Parents get my waggin' finger, only because the ones that accept the responsibility for what their children consume have such a difficult job and shouldn't be lumped in with the one's buying whatever their mini-dictators demand. Still, if there's doubt whether something would be appropriate for your child, don't let them have it. If they seek it out somewhere else, ensure that they at least know what your stance is on the subject.

Oh, and I don't have children, so just ignore what I say and buy your kid Feast of Blood 2. Yes, it's about nutrition.

8. Two nipples beats a full clip.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This Game Sucks

Welcome to Apartment Search, an exciting new piece of interactive fiction.

You must find an apartment. Go nuts!

>>> I look for an apartment.

There are ten apartments available.

>>> Look at first apartment.

2 BR in Silver Spring. 1600/month, no utilities included.

>>> That's too expensive.

I don't know what you mean. That's the median rent for the area.

>>> Look at second apartment.

1 BR w/ den. Special, 985/month, all utilities included.

>>> Yes, that's perfect!

Oh, I'm sorry, you don't have enough gold.

>>> But I have plenty of gold.

No, you need three times that much gold.

>>> But I have enough gold to pay for the apartment. I'm not trying to pay for three apartments.

I'm sorry, but you need to have three times as much gold as you need to pay for this apartment in order to pay for this apartment.

>>> That doesn't make any sense.

Yeah, but what're you gonna do?

>>> Fight the power.

You cannot fight the power.

>>> Fine. Look at third apartment.

2 BR / 2 BA, all utilities included, 800/month.

>>> Awesome. Perfect, where is it?

In SE Washington D.C.

>>> Forget it.

Bottom line, ladies and gents, is that the wife and I have finally found (relatively affordable) digs, after much frustration and hair-pulling.

My number one priority is ensuring that setting up Internet service occurs as rapidly and problem-free as possible.

Be sure to compress housewarming gifts such as furniture into a .zip file and send them using PGP encryption.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I have two
minor design, er, guidelines (not rules in any way) that I'm going to discuss. They form a neat little feedback loop that sits nicely with my ingrained desire for symmetry.

The first idea is that repeated failure on the part of the player yields results (in the form of objects or alterations to the gameplay) most likely to help the player to succeed along with a commensurate decrease in difficulty.

The second idea, the other side of the coin, is that phenomenal success yields goodies unattainable by those having gone through the trouble, but also results in a commensurate increase in difficulty.

In other words, there's no reason that achievement and earning can't flow both directions along the power curve.

If we were to chart gamer characteristics with the truly hardcore/skilled on one side and the casual/unskilled on the other, we might get something resembling a bell curve, with the majority somewhere in the middle.

Games seem to do a good job of targeting specific sections of this spectrum. It seems much harder to cover it from end to end.

These two guidelines are not meant to function solely as a dichotomy, some kind of carrot/stick yin and yang. Instead I envision a fuzzy continuum feeding back to the player from different gradations.

By way of illustration I refer to The Simpsons: Hit and Run. I was delighted when this game offered, after five or six failures of the same mission, the opportunity to move on to the next mission anyway. In other words, the game kept track of my ineptitude and tried to minimize frustration by letting me get on with playing the damn game.

I might have been happier, however, if the game also offered to ramp down certain portions of the mission rather than simply skipping it. If the mission involved following another vehicle, maybe lower that vehicle's top speed. If I was told to destroy other vehicles, lower their hit points, or make them cluster together, or follow more constrained routes. And with every handicap given the player, restrict something on the back end. Make this restriction invisible, so that the player might not get the feeling of being denied the full game - and also so that if/when they do go back to those earlier levels and tackle them at the higher difficulties they are delighted to find extra rewards waiting.

How exactly these two guidelines might work depends very much on the specific game. If your aim is a multiplayer RTS, the goal is figuring out how to adjust to individual playstyles so that less-skilled players are given a handicap (but not too large of one) and more experienced players are given goodies that don't increase their advantage (perhaps grant them a unit which is difficult to deploy correctly, requiring a lot of coordination, but confers an advantage on the battlefield).

I really like it when a game rewards, not just an uber-player, but any player. This might be why I gravitate toward platformers, which liberally scatter random goodies throughout worlds but don't demand that all of them must be gathered in order to advance. Even those, at times, can vary wildly in their difficulty from player to player. Jak 2 varied, for me, between light and enjoyable to teeth-grindingly hard; I'm pretty sure I replayed this one particular section at least 30 times in a row.

It would have seemed pretty great if that game had recognized my clumsy-ass fingers and thrown me a friggin' bone.

Monday, August 22, 2005

My 360 Cents

I know a bunch of blogs
are covering the X-Box 360 stuff and they're doing a bang-up job.

I would just like to offer my own anecdote which, for me, was the deciding factor in not trusting Microsoft's ability to have any kind of grip on reality, at least where the console market is concerned:

I bought my X-Box refurbished from EB Games for about 120 dollars. It was approximately two years old. Not exactly a fossil.

It lasted about one year.

I can't remember now what game I was playing when my X-Box crapped out on me. I just remember that instead of the dashboard I got a warning screen and a numerical code.

I did a little searching online and discovered that my code meant the hard drive was bad. Bad meaning not-recoverable.

The one-year warranty I had purchased from EB Games had, naturally, expired.

"Not a problem," I thought. "I'm sure Microsoft has a good system in place for repairing or replacing hard drives gone bad."

So I called up the hotline and explained my situation.

The nice lady on the other end said that they could indeed fix my busted machine. For a one hundred dollar servicing fee. And so long as I paid shipping and handling to get it there and back.

Now around this time I happened to know quite a few guys in the barracks that were modding X-Boxes for about 60 bucks. The mod would allow the ol' Box to burn games and movies. They also threw in emulators for all major systems and a whole boatload of ROMs.

So, options:

1. Pay probably around 120 dollars to send my X-Box to Microsoft so they could rip out my old hard drive and put in a new one that cost them five dollars.

2. Pay probably around 100 dollars for another refurbished X-Box.

3. Pay 60 bucks for someone to rip out my old hard drive, put in a new one and load it up with functionality that would extend my original X-Box.

And, of course, questions sprang into my head. Why wasn't Microsoft selling certificates to computer repair shops to allow them to repair busted X-Boxes for less than the ridiculous 100 dollar base fee, allowing them to re-coup (I would guess) more than their mail-it-in scam? Why was a system only three years old shitting the bed?* Why not put in some redundancy so even if the hard drive does fail you can still play games (though you'd need a memory card to save them)?

So what did I finally decide to do?

Nothing. I was broke at the time (heh, still am). None of the options were actually viable.

But I'm fairly certain which path I would have chosen.

*This made me particularly mad because the X-Box had also been refurbished in that time. A Sega Saturn I bought in 1999 worked, and still works so far as I know - and that system was released in the US in 1995. An X-Box anomaly, or substandard components?

Join the Movement


Be aware of a new group. Current affiliates: Me.

The name?

G.A.J.E.T.: Gamers Against Jack "Eff-ing" Thompson.

For your consumption, an absolutely awful ID card whipped up in Paint. If anyone would like to become a member, well . . . go nuts. Maybe if someone has some experience making graphics that don't suck they can put up some kind of spiffy template.

The only stipulation is that the Agent Numbers be in binary. Simple enough.


Again, from Robert Anton Wilson:

"The strange people who have already started looking for Satanism in school books, Rock lyrics, Dungeon-and-dragon games etc. will really wig out when they start to feel the multi-media and Virtual Reality revolutions. The right wing will have nightmares in the late '90s that will make the 62 Satanism panics of 1982-1993 seem sedate by comparison."

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Meanwhile, In the Realm of Scientific Inquiry

Crazy-ass opportunists notwithstanding
, it nevertheless behooves gamers to continually explore the idea of just what, if any, effects any kind of media might have on human beings. Just as we would do well to explore every kind of social, political and religious information-structures in order to examine how they shape, mold and influence behavior.

I point my readers, then, to a July 2001 study entitled, "The Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression: A Meta-Analysis." It is, naturally, recommended reading. The author, John L. Sherry of Purdue University, looks at data collected from a wide range of study and extrapolates hypotheses based upon specific methods of joining that data, effectively giving a larger overall sample. While the efficacy of such analyses is difficult to maintain, there are some striking results.

I found this conclusion of particular interest: "Children and adolescents playing games in long stretches may transfer less aggression from the game playing situation to the external world than those playing for brief periods. Parents' intuitive reaction to limit playing time may actually be counterproductive, pulling the child from the game at a time when the largest aggressive effects are likely."

Also: "For example, there is a small indication that the effect size increases as the subjects get older, controlling for playing time and game type (year of study). This finding seems counterintuitive - we would expect younger children to be more vulnerable to the effects of video games."

Of interest to history buffs is a list of RPG-related literature which contains a small sampling of court cases waged against pen-and-paper RPGs. Older folks may remember the big Satanic scare in the 80s, which resulted in the discovery that the whole Satanic scare thing was complete and utter hysteria-induced bullshit.

My favorite case summation: "RPG not evidence that one who played was likely to become a terrorist, but merely 'enjoys mentalling challenging activities.' " But, see, in this country, enjoying the use of your brain often constitutes an act of terrorism.

For a good overview of violence in television programming with a constitutional bent, look here. There's a nugget in there about a study which concluded that from 1933 to 1974 (of statewide data) they found no consistent evidence of increase in murder, aggravated assault, burglary or auto theft.

However, they did note an increase in larceny, and this they attributed to the wealth of material goods displayed in television advertisements and on different shows. A case of the covets, America?

Is Pimp My Ride to blame, not GTA, for auto thefts?

Maybe we should start censoring materialism.

Well, no. A little hyperbole there. Just trying to think like the opposition - irrationally.

Following me back now, all the way to 1994, an essay by Ray Surette, Professor of Criminal Justice. This essay suggests that taking an extreme view - media does cause violence, media doesn't cause violence - is myopic and counterproductive. But what must be stressed at all times is that correlation is not (and never will be) causation. There is not a one-to-one correspondence. Not even computer software does exactly what it's programmed to each and every time.

Today's final lesson comes right from Robert Anton Wilson, an individual who has had an incredibly profound effect on my own thinking:

"In contrast to our deliberately optimistic sketch of the future, the latest Supreme Court rulings on "obscenity" are a backward swing of the pendulum, just as cynics have long been predicting. Once again we are told that parts of our bodies must remain dirty little secrets and that the state will use its powers of coercion to enforce this code upon us. To a rationalist, it is as if the highest court had ruled that we must all believe, or pretend to believe, in the doctrine of the Trinity. Some people can believe in a three-in-one divinity, and some can believe that the human body is foul; others can no more believe these propositions than they can accept the tenets of the snake-handling cult in Georgia which we mentioned earlier.

It doesn't matter what rationalists believe; they must not get caught exercising their disbelief."

Class dismissed.

Another Review Dashed

I was going to
give a huge, thorough review of Deus Ex: Invisible War. Until I did a quick internet search and came upon this review, which spells out almost everything I had labored to put into words. Fuck.

So I'm condensing my review and using it as an excuse to drift off into an exploration of theme and influences. Known as noodling, in guitarist circles.

From here on out, DE:IW is the abbreviation for the game in question.

I got DE:IW on an impulse buy at Best Buy, where they were selling it for a measly nine bucks. While I itched for some of the new breed adventure games, their price point remained at thirty. So the necessity for thrift bore out.

This game appeals to one of my main loves - conspiracy. It is the lovechild of Illuminatus! and Blade Runner and The Invisibles. Add a dash of feuding-coffeeshops-as-microcosm (not quite a cliche of any genre . . . yet!).

The school in which you, as main character, matriculated is known as the Tarsus Academy. It is a School of the Americas of the future, producing warriors specially trained (and modified) for use as political instruments. If the military is about decimation, the Tarsus agents are about surgical precision. The political organization in charge of the schools is the WTO - the World Trade Organization.

It seems the WTO has stabilized society after the Collapse (the first game is referenced well, though it would have been nice to give access to the backstory earlier in the game for those of us that can't remember the details). They fix prices, limit movement, enforce curfews and generally provide the predictable kind of socialism-tinged-with-fascism that has made places like Japan and Sweden such pleasant places to live - for some.

Opposing the WTO is the Order. They seek to make a global church. In other words, they wish to exercise the same kind of control the WTO has, only instead of economics they want to control religion. For those who wonder why this hypocrisy isn't readily evident to the members of the Order, well, that's just how religion is sometimes.

The Order is threatened by a group calling themselves the Knights Templar. In Foucalt's Pendulum one of the characters said that a lunatic was always recognizable "by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars." Then let us delve into lunacy.

The Templars are fanatical (more so than any of the other factions - which isn't saying much) as is evidenced by their willingness to decimate an entire city just to destroy a lab doing modification research. They believe in human "purity" - as in no genetic manipulation - and have infiltrated the two main factions in pursuit of their aim.

Melding the economic and religious conspiracy theories into the science fiction genre could have created a sloppy mess, but some fine writing manages to make it work. I've heard say that "true" science fiction presents a plausible world extrapolated from current advances - that it is a speculation based upon scientific knowledge, not future-fantasy.

Using this standard, then I can say that almost all throughout DE:IW provided plausibility, in plot terms (the gameplay needed some tweaking). The core conflicts center on debates that have only become more and more relevant since the game's release: genetics and human-modification, nanotechnology, weapons manufacturing, terrorism, globalization and ideology.

The introduction of NG Resonance delighted me. She is an AI construct as well as virtual pop star, a hologram hovering and gyrating in bars and public spaces. She acts in the game as a sort of impish partner - filtering information fed to her and trying to sniff out crime. Which I guess makes her a virtual informant; If not for her delightfully devilish willingness to expose all kinds of corruption and hypocrisy she might be seen as just another tool of the WTO. I was reminded of Jane, the AI construct that befriends Ender Wiggin in Speaker for the Dead. There is an enormous, confusing plot hole toward the end relating to NG, but her addition to the story was nevertheless a treat.

If there were a core to this game, it would be choice. The exposition of plots and philosophical debates force the player into a position where choices in-game can matter, not just to the player-as-gamer, but on a personal level. And while a completist might re-load a special save just so they can play out every possible outcome, there is bound to be one particular ending that resonates more forcefully with their own worldview. Playing through the other options does not render choice meaningless but acts as a way to bring closure to the 'what-ifs' - something which, at least at the moment, reality does not allow.

My major disappointment with the game is the lack of support available (not too surprising considering Ion Storm's final death spasm in February of this year, but still a damn shame). It is clear that the PC port was an afterthought. Even after installing the only patch released the game suffered from some glaring bugs, the worst of which was a random crash to desktop (occurred at least five times). There is also no map editor, and while the game is a few years old the engine still has much to recommend it: Speedy levels, dynamic lighting, a decent Havok physics system, nice sound propagation (courtesy of a modified Thief 2 system) and plenty of branching script options - good for compact, plot-driven levels.*

It actually seems perfectly suited to the notion of episodic content.

Let me call up Joss Whedon, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison and JJ Abrams and see if they're on-board.

*And here's hoping that the code resurfaces sometime shortly under some kind of open-source license.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rate Me, My Friend

In response to
a comment concerning a recent post, I have decided to give a breakdown on the current media ratings systems. A little compare and contrast.

Now, I'm far too lazy to spell out every single rating and analyze it. To be honest, I tried doing that and it just got far too tedious.

Instead I'm going to throw some links out there and let people go right to the source.

Here you go:

1. MPAA's Movie Ratings

2. ESRB's Videogame Ratings

3. TV Parental Guidelines Ratings System

4. A quick breakdown of some ratings systems

Note that music has no official ratings board, only those stylish "PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT LYRICS" stickers that tell kids exactly which CDs they want.

Now, all of these ratings boards are completely voluntary for producers of media. However, without the rating your product will be rejected by most distributors. This is, again, part of a voluntary system.

A movie theater doesn't let children into R-rated films not because of the rating, but because most R-rated films have content that could see them prosecuted by a parent under obscenity/child protection laws. In other words, the rating is seen as a guideline that provides a good indicator of how retailers can protect themselves. So the retailers make sure they protect themselves.

A rating is, in fact, not meant as anything but the broadest suggestion for parents. Content indicators are the latest nods toward providing parents with what they need. In my own opinion they are one of the better methods.

Consider the problem here. Parents have trouble vetting content for their children, because there is SO much media out there. A simple rating does not work for them (though it does a fairly good job for retailers) because they need more information in order to determine their own particular idea of what is allowable.

Hence the content descriptors, which attempt to categorize content. But again, there can be some ambiguity with the descriptors. Fantasy violence? How is that different from cartoon violence?

Now, that's obviously not good enough for some parents. But what, then, is a good way, for them, of determining appropriate media? It simply isn't feasible for them to read/watch/play everything before their own children.

One good way, I feel, is with sites such as kids-in-mind.com. They provide in-depth content reviews based upon several categories, and they consider quantity as well as context. Looking at any movie you can immediately see bullet points of different scenes in their respective categories. Reading just a few of these should be sufficient for almost any parent to make a determination.

Videogames are a little trickier. They require a new way of looking at ratings. A koan: How many incidents of violence are there in GTA: San Andreas?

This site seems to do a pretty good job, though the reviews using their own system are sparse (they refer to gamecritics.com after a few perfunctory reviews). This site, too (though I disagree with their idea that "violent media causes violence" has been proven). Here, too.

These independent sites represent, for me, the best kind of resource available to parents. Only by either 1) playing a game ourselves or 2) getting a broad sampling of how other people view the content can we make anything considered an informed decision.

The con side to those sites is that they all seem reactionary and censorial themselves. They represent the kind of people who feel that getting San Andreas out of stores completely is somehow a triumph, and not simply the mob restricting what's available (why not keep it behind the shelves? I know that Wal-Mart locks all their games away, so how hard is it for them to refuse sale to minors?).

A government censoring body is an absolutely despicable idea - we see how well they've done already determining which videogame elements deserve patents. We don't need centralization - we need collation from many different sources. We need specifics, we need information - not decrees.

And we need to realize that reacting to things with which we don't agree and/or understand by suppressing them is shallow and juvenile. Imposing your own values on everyone, marginalizing those who disagree, these are indications of a harsh ideology, one which really is inconsistent with any principles of freedom. Tolerance of opposing values does not beg or imply approval - it only asks for room to breathe.

End soapbox.

An anecdote:

Years ago, while I was still in high school, I convinced a friend of mine to sit down and watch Star Wars with me.

I saw her cringing through the entire film.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing." She shook her head slightly. "It's just that it's so violent."

I looked up at the screen again. Sure enough, someone's getting singed by a laser bolt and flying backward.

I'd never noticed it before.

Or rather, I hadn't considered it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Give Me Your License

Here's what I would do
if I received the rights to produce a videogame based on the Matrix license:

I'd make it turn-based and tactical.

The game made by Shiny, Enter the Matrix, was (and this is not meant to insult anybody involved) a horrendous, steaming pile of shit. My favorite element was the console-hacking, even though I needed to use the walkthrough to do anything with it (how about in-game hints? how about actually merging your gameplay?).

The Matrix MMORPG seems to be in a precarious position. They've drastically reduced their number of servers because there just aren't enough people playing. I admit that I haven't played it. I'm curious as to how, exactly, the Interlock system works. The theory behind it makes it sound pretty awesome. The reviews I've read say it's okay, but not fantastic.

But anyway . . . Enter the Matrix failed to capture something core to the movie - beautifully-choreographed fight scenes. Yes, they tried very hard to get the fighting done right, but doing that in real-time just won't cut it. Not even with a spiffy slo-mo effect. I would have been happy if, instead of a game, they had just released a nice little (easy-to-use) fight-choreography program. Like dominoes, set up some actors, give them some directions and start 'em up.

Maybe somebody could mod the upcoming Molyneux game The Movies for such a thing.

Not sure what kind of rules to impose on that system. Someone might know of a good and interesting and workable way to have simultaneous turns without it being all hinky. You could put points in attacks and reactions. Attacks would be chosen, reactions automatic. The body could be divided into different zones (head, elbows, hands, shins, knees, etc.) with various abilities associated - attacks, blocks, dodges, feints (more?).

I'm just kinda jonesing for another X-COM.

Looking Back


1. 1977 - Samuel Smithson v. Will Crowther
Mr. Smithson alleges that a videogame known as "Adventure" (programmed by Mr. Crowther) was responsible for the loss of his precious illiteracy.

2001 - Marc L v. Namco
The plaintiff charges that years of watching Pac-Man gobble yellow dot after yellow dot led to his current eating disorder and the crippling obesity he has had to deal with for the last twenty years. Said Mr. L, "I just remember all that time in the arcade, watching him consume and consume, hounded by googly-eyed ghosts, eating more and more pellets until he found one that let him drive back the monsters threatening to overtake him. Every time I felt the ghosts in my life closing in, I just kept eating and eating until I found the strength to beat them back . . . for a time."

3. 1989 - Chrisopolous v. Data East Inc and Bally Midway Mfg Co
A female identified only as Chrisopolous is suing both developer and manufacturer of the videogame "Burger Time", which she claims condemned her to working in the Fast Food industry for the past seven years. Her lawyer, Hampton Jocks, spoke on her behalf. "My client has been brainwashed by this horrendous leviathan-machine, this quarter-munching prostitute. This is not a game, this is a sandwich-making simulator. I urge all Americans to overreact by waving their guns in the air. By some act of viciousness or pure ugly spit we will win this one."

4. 1995 - People v. the Super Mario Bros (series)
A class-action suit was filed by Americans from all fifty states, alleging that they were encouraged by rambunctious platform-jumping in Nintendo's titles to perform dangerous maneuvers which resulted in ankle sprains and shin splints caused by repeated hopping as well as major head traumas from attempting to shatter objects with their skulls (most notably blocks of red bricks). Also in the paperwork are instances of ingesting feathers and then attempting to fly, consuming various kinds of mushrooms in order to promote growth (causing a fatality last March) and leaping face-first into large paintings (commonly in public art galleries).

5. 1949 - The People of Germany v. HG Wells
The citizens of both East and West Germany have filed suit against the estate of HG Wells in International Court, claiming that Wells' popular recreational wargame "Little Wars", published in 1913, influenced Adolf Hitler and caused him to plunge the entire world into a horrendously destructive war.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Innovation In the FPS Genre

The most obvious
joke that springs to mind: What innovation?

Also wish I could Photoshop a picture of John Romero with flowing locks and a blacked-out tooth with the tagline "What, Me Innovate?" in nice big font.

I like to imagine Daikatana as an extended satire on the FPS-genre. What else could explain Superfly Johnson?

I think a lot of the enmity toward Romero comes from the fact that the first really big "Rock Star" videogame developer was exactly like a rock star - egotistical, ridiculous, shortsighted, prone to excess, given to ridiculous press-statements, temperamental and, by all accounts, a spoiled diva. And he failed; We could have forgiven all else had he succeeded. We wanted Jim Morrison, not some prog-rock bass-player heroin-overdose.

Slave to the Label

First-Person Shooters hobble themselves with their own definition and endless re-re-re-iterations. The essence of the experience is boiled down and made plain, so any deviation must be given extra letters - FPS-RPG, FPS-RTS, MMO-FPS. The ol' Alphabet stew. Drastic innovation would require re-casting the term. "Keeping it real" means only smaller alterations are allowed.

We should not expect them to be more than the Action movies of the videogame world - this is a fair goal. To the point, reveling in the singular interaction between weapon and target, tightly-focused. The enemies might have personality, but they are always to be destroyed - there is no reason or point in understanding their motives (if given) beyond plot exposition.*

Action movies suffer the same genre-confines. Any attempt to break the format from its straightjacket results in the hyphenation game. Action-drama. Action-comedy. Action-docu-dramedy.

Done well, like Half-Life, FPSes are driven, linear experiences. This can be strengh and/or weakness.

Strength, because unified narrative becomes easier to maintain. Emotional cues can be more consistently programmed. The player can be directed. Paths may diverge, but placing a simulationist freedom on the game would probably break genre.

Weakness, because the pacing might not be compelling. Too much control might alienate players. You could end up with another Rise of the Triad or Chaser, stunningly banal in execution, stripped of urgency or drive. Or something much worse, like Shadow Warrior.

I speak here of narrative and pacing as effectively similar beasts. Doom has little narrative within the typical conception of story, yet each level can be seen as a text that the player traverses, which either focuses immersion and the desire to complete it (to "finish the story") or breaks it, losing the player.**


The multiplayer realm, of course, diverges. There the focus is competition. The rights to be the Action Star, top dog. The game becomes divorced from narrative and focused on setting, environment, sporadic player-transactions (you know, shooting).

Here it is even more difficult to speak of innovation. Essentially we are discussing sport, and thus people expect certain sporting conventions, chiefly the notion of fairness. There must be balance between competitors. There must be rules.

In a linear narrative, such considerations are not so important. Balance and rules can always be tossed aside in favor of moving the single player forward. Deus ex machina is allowed, though not necessarily welcome.

But in multiplayer deus ex machina can only be explained by cheating.

This does not mean that there aren't many different avenues to explore in this competitive milieu. The human capacity to invent new and varied sports is legendary, and under sufficient boredom a roomful of people can reasonably create a fuzzy-version of a sport every five minutes.

What remains to be seen, then, in multiplayer, is not how we can drastically alter the transactions (by, for example, adding a social element, degrading or destroying the shooter notion) but how we can add more weight to them, how we might imbue them with greater consequences in the game environment, how we might allow more player choice without promising the sociopathic autonomy of single-player.

Vehicles are a good example of this min-novation***. They extend the game, enhance player motion (vehicles that fly, for example, opening up the vertical dimension - which Tribes explored years ago), require new combinations of strategies and tactics.

The (relatively) Unexplored Country

Co-operative mode, that red-headed stepchild of FPSes.

It could be the best three or four-way action you'd find on your computer outside of your stash of svcds. Instead it's, for the most part, relegated to the afterthought, or not-thought-of-at-all, bin. Maybe the idea of narrative scares multiplayer designers and the multiplayer notion scares narrative designers. We need a Reese's Cup-style melding of the minds.

The best is yet to come. Because what's come before has been mostly shit.

Time to send more developers to trust-building corporate retreats until the concept of working-together begins to look viable in a game design.

*Or, in the case of Half-Life 2, desire to uncover the motives of the enemy becomes an enormous carrot dangling in front of the player.

Apologies for no doubt mangling any of a number of theories of interactive digital media.

***"Mini Innovation" -- not quite a full-fledged novel idea, not really an iteration, but more of an extension of a prior concept expanded to embrace a slightly larger concept.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hubba-Hubba Honcho

The Crushing Desire To Break Routine

Okinawa's the pits
if you're American, worse if you're a Marine. You spend almost all your time at Gate 2 Street getting liquored up with other Marines and starting or avoiding fights. That and trying your damndest to avoid stumbling into the buy-me-drinky bars because you'll get completely ridiculed the next day if you do -- but dammit, the girls in there are pros, in the therapist sense because more often than not the guys will spend all night and all their money just talking to them, getting so much needed attention (and so liquored up) that they forget about sex - or can't get hard to save their lives anyway. I've seen them, the single Staff Sergeants, whispering in the corner, and the girls with bright eyes and wide smiles and barely-functional English, nodding and smiling and loving every word. Those girls provide a service - I know where your mind is going - but I wouldn't be surprised if a study showed they do far less prostitution than is assumed.

My first ignorant voyage into a grimy example of the aforementioned resulted in a Jack-and-Coke that cost ten dollars (and which was clearly pure Jack) and a half-nude strip show that was less-than-enthusiastic. The whole place smelled of more desperation than I felt - at the time, at least - and made me uncomfortable. The loud jackass Jarhead drunks that stumbled in and proceeded to mock the Mama-san made me ill, so back outside I went. I would go at least one more time, months later, but only then to rescue a dear friend from the breach (he, in point of fact, had gone in to look for another dear friend and fell victim to the machinations of the therapist-sirens).

Enough about that bad scene.

Gate 2 got old very fast. Drinking, drinking and some karaoke. Now and then an unsuccessful attempt to bridge the communication gap; Got me into a Japanese-only bar once, but if you asked me what the conversation that night had been about I could only answer that it contained many, many gestures and confused headshakes.

No, wait. I remember speaking to the bartender.

Me: "So, what do you think of Americans?"

Bartender: [Nonchalant, ambiguous shrug]

Me: "They're assholes, aren't they?"

Bartender: "Some of them, yes."

Me: "I think they're all fucking assholes."

Bartender: [Laughing slightly] "I think maybe you half-Japanese."

Anyway, so many Marines do the whole get-wasted-at-night thing that they never actually get up in time to find out what to do in daylight. I became determined to find out.

A friend told me of Sega World. It is an arcade. A massive arcade, plunked down as if it were nothing unusual. In the States it would be called Dave & Busters and it would cost you money just to walk in the door.

But not in Okinawa.

The Throbbing, Pulsing, Flashing Hum

Sega World immediately assaults the senses. I am flush with the usual arcade sensory-overload, multiplied by the influence of alien culture. Peripherals of every size, shape and assortment sprout from machines, making joysticks seem oddly out of place where they pop up.

It takes me nearly ten minutes, with the help of a friend, to figure out the change machine.

I play a firefighting game. My friend and me, side by side, holding giant hoses with remarkable force-feedback mechanisms, aiming our nozzles at a giant screen, extinguishing fires and rescuing those trapped by the spreading flames.

There's a DJ-ing game that looks just as complicated as actual DJ equipment. I can't say for certain, because there are so many switches and crossfaders and whatnot that there's no possible way I'd be able to learn even the rudimentary controls without expending a large sum of money.

But what really gets my attention is something I don't get to play.

In the corner there are three giant widescreen televisions. They are displaying different camera views of a soccer game.

Getting closer, I realize that the game is entirely virtual. I mean, for god's sake, I can see the aliasing!

And in front of these screens are at least fifteen men, ranging from, I'd say, mid-30s to late-40s, all in business suits and all fixated on those gargantuan screens. In front of these men are cards. Cards! From time to time I notice that a man here or there will study his cards sternly. There is also, every so often, a subdued cheer that passes quickly.

My brain churns through the deductive process. I'm watching a fantasy-league soccer game (football to every other country on this planet). Except in this case the entire game is completely watchable. Those cards are players that the men are fielding. The stats on those cards are fed into a simulator, which uses them to derive a "live" football match.

I'm caught up in watching the match. The animation is so fluid, so convincing. The camera angles, the crowd roar, it's almost eerie. These are not players. The men watching are not players. But there is an element of play, like rolling marbles to see whose will go farther - the players set initial conditions, but the final result is a matter of the constraints of the system.

Me As Entrepreneur

I wonder why this hasn't been transported to the States? Not that I've heard of, at least.

It seems so brilliant on the face of it. Introduce it in some sports bar. American football, of course. Foster friendly competition. Form leagues. Provide an introduction to digital interaction for those not interested in console Madden but want more control than just watching. Perfect for the off-season. Display the "live" games around the bar - be sure to discourage betting *wink wink*. Beer sponsors. Might even be able to get around EA's lock on the NFL by playing up the non-interactivity.

Have people roll for their own stats. Create themselves as Football Hero. Then put their card up on a networked system as Free Agent. Let them track their card's history as it's traded, view their own statistics. Offer training camps to increase skills. Maintain a database of simulated games to show.

Let people become Managers and Coaches. Sign new players. A truly-casual Massively Multiplayer game, transplanted to an IRL social setting.

And maybe I'll make it happen someday. If pitched right, planned out, introduced with the proper attitude, it could lead to a greater acceptance of, if not quite games, at least digitally-aided play.

Here's A Challenge

Lesson Plan:

Any US Senator, without prior instruction or coaching, is to install and enable the Hot Coffee Mod, and play the game to the point where the sequence is played. Senators do not have to complete the sequence, but may do so if they feel particularly titillated. They will be given a PS2, a PC and unrestricted access to the Internet with no oversight whatsoever in order to complete the task.

Once you've completed the lesson and a proctor has checked your work, here are some questions to answer. Please use complete sentences:

1. Why would a parent allow their child access to a game clearly marked 'M' for Mature?

Bonus: Assuming the parent does not know what the 'M' means, why would they be so fucking dense as to allow their child access to a game titled 'Grand Theft Auto'?

Bonus to the Bonus: Assuming the parent has no notion of the concept of what 'Grand Theft Auto' could possibly be, how were they able to get enough neurons to fire to engage in intercourse and produce offspring?

2. How difficult is it really to have your child demonstrate for you ten minutes or more of each of their videogames so that you can judge at least some of the content for yourself to ensure it is in line with your values?

3. Imagine you are at a movie theater with your child. They point to a movie they want to see called 'Shooting People' rated NC-17. Do you buy them a ticket?

4. The world has gotten more violent. True or False? If True, back up your wild claims with flawed interpretations of medical studies and gross falsehoods. Threaten litigation on any who disagree. Be sure to use the phrase, "When I was a kid . . ." and then sugarcoat your own childhood memories.

5. You give your child unrestricted access to the Internet. What are you, a fucking moron!?

6. Your child spends hours in the garage, bringing in bottles filled with strange chemicals. You have no idea what is going on in there. Do you:

Take no interest whatsoever in what the little shit might be up to?
B. Do your fucking job as a parent?

7. How would a government body composed almost entirely of people completely and wholly unfamiliar with the current social conception of videogames be considered even mildly competent to determine public policy as regards those videogames?

8. Watch five episodes of Tom and Jerry. Isn't it absolutely wholesome and family-friendly the way the mouse tortures the cat over and over again? Now track down a Punch and Judy show, performed for children for hundreds of years. Explain how neither of these are in any way comparable to current violent media and how they are indicative of more "innocent" eras.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Puff Puff Pass

I've been considering
writing up a list in the vein of the "You might be a redneck . . ." jokes.

The concept is:

"Videogames might be considered art if . . . "

Anyone want to bite?

I'll start.

. . . developers start wearing turtlenecks and berets and affecting bad French accents.

. . . my copy of GTA gets covered in paint by Andy Warhol.

Yeah, they're almost as funny as the redneck jokes. *Sigh*

Also, a good friend of mine is busy up in NYC realizing his dream. Giving him a shout out, props, widgets, whatever I might have in my pockets. Awesome, bro.

Bloggers Are Not Authors

Take note:
Today's title is sarcasm on my part. Must look up the smiley for that sentiment.

According to some, videogames can never be art, and here's why.

Does anyone know any kind of possible way that people might arrive at what constitutes art and what is simply, um, not-art-but-kind-of-resembling-art?

Here's a hint . . . if something can be argued by lots and lots of different people over whether or not it could possibly be "Art", then it probably CAN be.

Videogames got goals. Paintings don't - or do they? Artist's intent is a goal. The artist wants you to get to a particular epiphany. If you don't, well . . . game over.

Poor analogy? Thickheaded videogame advocacy?

Arguing that videogames can't be art because they are too restrictive, then arguing that paintings are art precisely because they have the intention of restricting interpretation . . . what road is this?

Art must influence the viewer. By whose reckoning? Crucifixes in jars of urine compel no kind of unified view as far as I know.

A pool table - art? While not a hot debate, it is arguable. The design elements which make up its form, the ubiquitousness of tables - artsy, maybe?

Where a game such as pool might diverge from, say, Planescape: Torment, is in the latter's clear intent to evoke specific emotions in players. Pool, on the other hand, is an empty . . . pool . . . reflecting the emotions of its players - and soaking up their beer.

Which might be the divergence - is there deliberate focus to convey specific ideas or emotions? If so, should those be stamped with the Art seal of approval?

Videogames can be repeated, choices can be explored - and that is supposed to be a compelling example to restrict them from the category of art? Videogames do bind people to the consequences of their own actions, just in more discrete moments than some may find comfortable.

In fact, I reckon that these minor moments in which we repeatedly accept seemingly-meaningless consequences, these "little deaths", are a perfect reason to admit to videogames as artforms. By re-casting the notion of moral decision into playable fragments instead of a monastic life-long span, by forgoing rigidity for a fluid, ego-morphing experience, games can provide lasting impact on how people view themselves, essentially generating far-reaching consequence from moments of little consequence.

And what else in this world but Art could allow a statement such as that?

What to make of a text like Finnegan's Wake? I would maintain that content is derived from such a text by repeated explorations, much as a player might navigate a gamespace. The specific content is never actually altered from what is originally coded, but it is the striking interaction of thought that each specific person brings which informs the substance of the book as art. To some the book is a masterpiece of understandable incomprehensibility; To others, merely incomprehensible. Artist intent is notoriously puzzling, and any who claim some kind of ultimate key, to them I say - welcome back, Mr. Joyce, damn your eyes!

Tetris is artistic, in terms of design. Streamlined, simple to learn, immediately recognizable. But art? Impossible to tell the artist's intent. Of course, this makes it "Art" as much as any of Jackson Pollock's spastic paint-splatterings or the "ooh, colored boxes" approach of cubism.

Maybe I just don't "get" it.

A clear hole in the essay concerns gallery showings of art that beg for interaction. There are art pieces which demand buttons to be pushed, which take the viewer's own image and morphs it, which cry for participation and mass-interpretation.

The primary flaw in my argument is that the essay in question is mostly right, but only within its own stated definitions. And it's unclear what would be considered art by those definitions. They're just so strikingly procrustean. So, like, just paintings? But maybe not? Hardly convincing.

The essay's final argument is, well, strange. Games end, hence they are not art. But books end no matter whether we read them "correctly" or not. Movies end. Songs end. Art ends.

I know that this argument goes on and on. There are people that will maintain the stance that videogames cannot be considered art. There are people that maintain rap is not music. What is it to me? Why make a fuss at all?

The videogame industry and the players of videogames suffer from the prejudice of thinking of videogames as art. Maybe suffer is too strong a word. There are negative effects.

Because admitting that, at the very least, certain videogames can be art, provides them legitimacy as a medium. Legitimacy is important if we really care about choice in the industry. I realize that most games are filled with violent content - but do we wish the other extreme, games purged of anything that might deliver offense, stripped of any impact whatsoever?

There are people out there who feel that videogames are just as bad as cigarettes, alcohol and pornography - notably Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Think for a moment what he is saying. The notion is that videogames are poisons. They are devoid of any merit whatsoever. If you think that the stigma such labeling creates will be restricted only as it pertains to children, you might want to give the idea further consideration.

If we can't accept that some games are art, then the censors don't have to stop anywhere.

Keep in mind these are the same people that classify cryptographic materials as "munitions".

Oh, and just for the record, I really liked the site which contained the essay of which today's post was a criticism. So I'm going to put it up on the side.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Plugging Away

Take note
of the opening of a new site dealing specifically with videogame violence and tackling that nonsensical bogeyman Jack Thompson -- StopStopKill.

Full Disclosure: My own JT-related post is up on that site. I feel . . . I feel . . . kind of legitimate. Validated. Let's all live, love and hug.

Oh, and I'm adding that site to the links on the side.

My Hate Affair

Every few weeks
or so I tinker with programming.

Right now I've got Bloodshed Dev-C++ and Visual C++ Express Edition Beta 2 on my computer.

Plus a few different SDKs -- the one for Java 2, Microsoft Speech, HL2 -- and the Cg Toolkit.

But - I hate admitting this - I just don't get it. I never have. I've been metaphorically glued to a computer monitor (and the internet) for at least ten years now, three-fifths of my life easily, and I've never been able to program more than some text output and a loop or two.

I've tried analyzing exactly where the blockage sits - where that hurdle squats, preventing me from understanding more than the individual components.

Slogging back through the same tutorials I encounter every time I get it in my head that programming isn't impossible, I think I spot some of my difficulty.

There is a noticeable gap
between the general concepts and mixing them together in an application.

Almost every one of the "Learn How to Program Now, Stupid!" books I've bought follows a certain format:

1. Install IDE. Teach basic IDE concepts.

2. Basics of programming. Variables, loops, functions, that sort of thing.

3. Beginning program.

4. Adding to program until it becomes impossibly complex.

This doesn't seem bad, in theory. Work from general principles, apply to specific examples, extend those examples.

Except that's not quite what I need.

I need the core concepts to be constantly re-iterated, re-applied and altered. I need to see eighty different implementations of a WHILE loop. I need to be reminded over and over again what kind of information the different variables can hold. I need to have everything beaten into my brain until I can spot all the separate pieces of a function at a glance.

I've never seen a good explanation of namespace. Or what it means to have a program return different values.

The expectation seems to be that a person will learn the basics and store them in a mental toolbox. But my mind demands that I see how those tools are used for different jobs before they become useful to me.

My problem with programming books is the steep pricing. Fifty bucks seems to be standard, more if there's a disk or if it's particularly thick or an official reference. The beginner's books, then, are a gamble - will you actually learn anything? Then you have the books that use outdated software examples or are filled with shoddy, non-working code.

Some of the books I've browsed seem to be getting better. I think a lot of current programmers are more aware that their audience is no longer overwhelmingly composed of people that already program.

An idea which just flashed into my head: You have a perforated card in the front of your book which lists all the programming basics and assigns them a color-coded symbol. Then, all throughout the book, every example of code is marked with those symbols, to show dumbasses like me exactly where the basics occur. This might actually be a good project to do myself with some of the books I already own; Assuming I can sort out exactly what every particular stretch of code is doing.

Anyway, just thought I'd share the insight into my own frustrations.

Now to see if it will help me jump over that hurdle.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Desperately Seeking

Attention! Are you looking to challenge yourself to the utmost?!

Wannabe game designer in the DC area seeks like-minded, absolutely batshit-insane videogame-loving creative mad scientist-types to help create strikingly unoriginal videogame for the next shitty generation of wretched consoles.

Failure is certain. Conditions deplorable. Pay meager, if present at all. There is no hope.

I have no-know-how or experience whatsoever.

What I'm currently looking for:

Money-grubbing Whores
Someone with an empty garage
A decent job
World peace

If you have the desire to work a full-time job and then rush home only to spend hours cramped in a sweat-filled, spider-infested dungeon with a host of mental defects fueled by caffeine, dementia, a wing and a prayer, and any number of illicit, psychoactive chemicals, then you might have what it takes.

Do you want to join a team whose sole purpose is to suffer the maniacal whims of a self-proclaimed design-genius who will, once a day, shout lunatic proclamations at full volume, demanding their immediate implementation into a virtual space with no apparent rhyme or reason?

Join me or die!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

On Sore Thumbs and Manifestoes

I've seen
[the revolution] demanded by countless videogaming sites and blogs. The screeds often maintain that videogaming is for shit, the sky be falling, we need to wrest control from the capitalist pig-dogs.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, it is a historical imperative that will drive the failed current videogame development system into destruction and establish an indie-gaming utopia.

Yeah, right.

The videogame revolution I want doesn't really give a shit whether or not the big studios still exist. I'm not going to claim that the companies that have produced lots and lots of games I've enjoyed over the years are by-nature evil and wrong and must-be-taken-out.

Three words: World of Warcraft.

The videogame revolution I want is concerned with creative people being open to ideas from all sides, from all places, not stymied by narrow-minded prejudices toward studio games or educational games or children's games or any kinds of games at all.

The videogame revolution I want freely and openly admits that videogames aren't just kid shit anymore - and anybody that fails to grasp that is a moron who needs education badly. I want games with more sex than violence, I want people to stop being so prudish. I want to explore all aspects of human interaction, not just the ones stamped with government approval.

The videogame revolution I want readily admits that graphics can matter - and sound can matter, and silence can matter, and story can matter, and absence-of-story can matter, and control can matter - the game itself matters.

What I want is more tools for production. Easier tools. I want to see assets ripped from games past, I want failed products scavenged for scraps, I want constant improvement in resources available for free. I want full-fledged development suites that will sync me up with members of my team all around the world. Now, dammit.

I want designers to share real information. Show the thought processes for game elements, discuss the tweaking involved, reveal what formulae worked and what had to be redone. Give me numbers, show me what got cut, help other people learn what it really takes to get a game done (whatever that means).

I want to go to sourceforge and look through the game category and not find thousands of abandoned, barely-functioning projects.

Want a strong indie-scene? How about mod-makers stop making the same fucking bullshit Counterstrike ripoffs? Or Call of Duty ripoffs? Before we point the fingers at the studios maybe we should look at the overripe fruit coming from our own corner.

What about the spate of muds all built on the same framework and all recycling the same fantasy cliches?

For that matter, what about the hardcore wargames that haven't become any more accessible to players since their beginnings? That particular genre keeps itself insular and non-newcomer-friendly, guaranteeing a struggling existence.

Maybe we should go
to garage games, supposed champion of indie development, and demand that they release their content creation software and art assets free of charge. We'll see how much they fucking love indie then.

Or hell - let's go to all those famed content creators, the one's charging a hundred bucks for some art or sound assets, and ask them to give it away. Let's hit up the mocap centers and demand a free repository for the years and years of mocap data available. Ask animators to put their work up on the web.

Why don't we ask Molyneux to open-source Black & White? Or Wright to open-source Spore?

Or Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern to open-source Facade? How about it, guys?

I want open-source everything. I want pressure on all game companies to sell a product worth playing. I want a transparent industry - tell me if you're releasing your game six months too early because the publishing company is forcing it out. Tell me if the vision got derailed and you think it's just not that good. For god's sake, show a little bit of honesty.

This applies to everybody. If your RTS has a lot in common with other RTSes, let me know. I like RTSes. Don't lie and say it breaks completely unheard-of ground in the RTS genre. The gamers will figure that out for themselves.

Yes, I want developers great and small to come together in a big circle-jerk.

The videogame revolution I want loves videogames.