Saturday, April 29, 2006

Let's Get Physical

Is everyone ready
to shell out even more money on computer hardware?

Physics chips are on their way.

Time to go do terrible, terrible things for money.

The OS . . . of the Future!

For a taste of the advantages of a 3d OS interface, check out The Croquet Project. It seems to be an attempt at fulfilling all the promises of Java along with all the promises of large-scale networking: an OS environment that can be shared by anyone, completely modifiable at run-time, bit-perfect interoperability across platforms.

The major flaw I see is its reliance on OpenGL - even though in my experience I've had better luck and smoother operation from OpenGL-based applications. I've heard that current versions of DirectX like to overwrite any OpenGL files with special wrappers that lower OpenGL's efficacy. Not sure how true that is, but it sounds likely.

Then there are the usual concerns of what kind of system specs a person would need in order to run anything complex. And convincing people to go to an unproven system incompatible with lots of other programs. Also, it seems to require adjustments to programming practices, and that can be a difficult task.

Still, it seems much more extensive, user-friendly and workable than Java3d or VRML.


I also checked out the Windows Vista page, just to see what could possibly drive me to upgrade almost everything in order to run something that's going to, no doubt, force a whole bunch of DRM bullshit on me and leave the usual gaping security holes.

I'll say this - interesting but not compelling. The entire style is so clearly copped from Macintosh that I wonder who got paid to come up with the "design." Judging from the graphics and search options, I imagine this will be a hard drive and RAM hog, more so than the current version.

And five different versions? Not only confusing for consumers, but stupid in terms of compatibility for upgrades and customer service.

The features they offer aren't bad, and they'll be nice for people looking for them all in one place without having to look around the Internet.

The new Windows explorer will have tabbed browsing? So does Firefox (which is, y'know, free). The Sidebar will feature cool gadgets that you can install? So does Firefox. And my Google/Yahoo home page. What about tagging files? I've found the practice to be unnecessary on my PC - but if I wanted to, XP already has that functionality. Right-click a file, go to properties, select Summary and, if necessary, click Simple. Now add your metadata and use something like Copernic Desktop Search to index your files.

Basically it's going to be a flashier, even more bloated version of Windows with functionality that you can find in free, less-processor-intensive programs.

Not a big surprise.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shock Value

This just in --
Videogames will train your children to be violent bigot murderers!

If you're like me, you go to the mainstream media for all of your videogame news, because they're always unbiased and rational -- and would never exploit a story.


Take a look at this, from one of CNN's endless babbling talking heads shows:

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The creators of a video game called "Border Patrol" won't win any awards for graphics or creativity, but could take home a prize for bad taste.

(on camera): This isn't some expensive game for the Xbox. It's simple, free and on the Internet and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, dangerous.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: It puts in the mind of the player that they should be resorting to violence.

SIMON (voice-over): The objective? To shoot and kill Mexicans crossing into the U.S. The game's targets? Mexican nationalists, drug smugglers and most outrageous, breeders, pregnant women running with children. The more you kill, the higher your score.

[. . . ]

VORDERER: If somebody knows nothing, let's say, about a specific ethnic group and the only way he or she learns about that ethnic group is through the media -- in this case, through a video game -- then this video game has a great potential of, you know, impacting that person's view about this ethnic group.

SIMON: And that fits right in with the goals of the National Alliance, a white supremacist group. Shaun Walker calls himself the chairman and CEO. He says teenagers who might not read his books instead will buy one of its games.

SHAUN WALKER, WHITE SUPREMACIST: We gain several thousand new customers immediately that we wouldn't have had contact with.

SIMON: Walker's group is behind a game called "Ethnic Cleansing." The goal? To kill anybody who isn't white. The National Alliance says it has fulfilled a niche for people who want their entertainment skewed toward their racist ideology. WALKER: This allowed all the racially conscious white people that play video games to suddenly have a pro-white video game. So it was unique, and it's proven to be successful.

SIMON: How successful, the group won't say, but the game sells for $15. As for "Border Patrol," it's unknown who created the game. But what some call entertainment, others are calling violent and racist propaganda.


There you have it. Racist groups make racist video games. Bigots sell bigoted shovelware to other pinheaded bigots. I'm absolutely amazed by that.

But think of the children!

I do. I think teaching children to respect all human beings and recognize inalienable rights, no matter the person, is paramount, and about a trillion times more important than making sure they don't play some half-assed shooter full of racist caricatures. It's not like Shadow Warrior sparked a resurgence of Yellow Peril fearmongering amongst teenagers.

I know, here I am, coming to the defense of videogames yet again.

How's this, then? That Border Patrol game is in bad taste. I wouldn't play that shit.

Of course, a few weeks ago I was playing a Flash game where I was Dick Cheney, and I got to shoot old lawyers and liberals. Let me tell you, I fucking hate Dick Cheney, and playing that game didn't make me loathe that sack of shit any less. Maybe if I were fifteen I'd suddenly want to emulate an amoral, opportunistic oil man, push a war based on phony intel and wait for my heart to beat its last coursing of pus through my veins.

Also, I curse like a sailor . . . well, like a former Marine. So maybe I'm not a good barometer of what would be in good taste.

The Anti-Defamation League does a good job. They track extremists, so they're bound to run across pathetic extremist videogames. Here, though, it seems like they're aiming just a little too low.

When doing a news story on these games, which would be more effective: Hitting the panic button with the usual "media can influence people" non-epiphany? Or examining the larger narratives, the primal fear responses and how they feed back and are further disseminated by media, especially in the current age of rapid information exchange?

A game like Border Patrol fits into a much larger picture, in which extremist elements have transmitted their horseshit rhetoric into mainstream politics, notably through the right-wing. Raving lunatics like the Minutemen are suddenly being considered for Federal funds. The Republican Party knows that to beef up their scared, white base they need to drum up fear wherever they can, and that open border to the south is a good fallback position, now that they officially no longer care about Osama and want to divert attention from the debacle in Iraq. Plus all that other bad shit that might have something to do with Presidential approval at 32%.

That cheesy shooter is but a tiny slice of the national mood. Media always reflects a nation's dreams and fears. Why do people continue to act as if games are any different?

The White Supremacist game they reference, Ethnic Cleansing, is old news. Most of my gaming friends have probably never heard of it, let alone played it. You'd probably only know about it by going over to Stormfront or Resistance or some other thug haven. As an indoctrination tool, it's probably less effective than a mimeographed copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The news report should have covered that such a videogame was probably used to sublimate the feelings of impotence, isolation and need for belonging into a localized expression of virtual rage because, in reality, most white supremacists are far too weak and scared to act out, except for lobbing a few slurs they still find novel at the local McDonald's cashier. Which makes that game just a minor footnote in the indoctrination approach, somewhere below "make a collage bashing the ACLU" and "do a macaroni sculpture of a Confederate flag."

Maybe they could have gone deeper into the feedback effect created by the ever-increasing delusion of powerlessness that those groups foster, and how those feelings are manipulated by leaders on local and national levels to increase their harassment and intimidation. They'll find those most inclined to act out in reality and push them toward more extreme actions. And then, in turn, the climate of fear spreads to less extreme but nevertheless prejudiced groups, who latch on to the bogus wedge issue and flock to political bellwethers, who thrive on the politics of exclusion.

I don't know, that's just how I might approach the issue. Off the top of my head.

But I guess I could just go with the usual "playing with things will make Junior lose his mind" approach.

What else do we have?

I Didn't Expect a Kind of Spanish Inquisition

I awoke
in a dank, finished basement. A tattered Thundercats poster clung pathetically to the wall on one rusty thumbtack.

I was tied, hands behind my back, to an Official Spider-Man Folding Chair (tm).

My nostrils sucked in fetid air. Fetid air and . . . Ecto Cooler? "The Insufferable," I whispered to myself.

A halogen lamp clicked on, blinding me. "I see you're awake." Heavy mouth-breathing. The crunch of Tostitos.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"I'm asking the questions!" the voice snapped. It was masculine yet soft.

"Oh," I said. "It's just that you opened with more of an observation. I assumed it was rhetorical, not a question, per se . . . "

"Shut up!"

I heard a door open from somewhere behind and above me. "Phillip! I need you to unload the dishwasher!"

"Dammit." The voice, now properly identified as Phillip, shouted back. "Mom! I told you not to disturb me! I'm working on very serious stuff down here! And I told you to call me Darth Sipid!"

I started laughing.

"What? What's so fucking funny?" Phillip demanded.

"Oh." I shrugged. "The whole Darth name thing. Y'know, Vader means IN-vader, Sidious means IN-sidious. So Sipid means . . . well, I'm sure you'll put it together. One of these days."

"Look, just shut up, I'm serious here. You work for a videogame company, correct?"

"Yeah, sure."

"And you recently did QA for a major role-playing game, not that I should use that genre term, since it didn't fit the remarkably narrow-minded vision I have of what exactly that term entails?"

"Woah, shit. There was a question there, somewhere. Yes, I did QA for that game. That one. That unspecified game."

"So now the company is releasing a whole bunch of downloadable stuff, right? And they're doing it because they're soulless, greedy, money-grubbing bastards without a lick of sense. They just want to exploit their fans, man, the ones who have followed them for years and bitched as each title ended up being different from the one preceding it. They hate us, they mock us with their content."

"It's like, what, two fucking dollars? I've probably got two fucking dollars in change nestled against my taint right now."

"They're nickle-and-diming us, just so they can drive home in their ferraris and have sex with Natalie Portman clones and buy mansions in Ibiza where they will store the filthy lucre earned from their downloadable excretions in a giant Scrooge McDuck money bin, where they will dive through the money like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher, and toss it up and let it hit them on the head."

"Christ, you don't have to buy it. Ever heard of free will?"

"But they obviously held it back just so they could sell it to us. I'm sure they stripped out half the game. I thought it seemed a little short. If you're hardcore like me, you can complete every quest in only forty-eight straight hours."

"Do you have any idea how games are made? At all? Let me drop a few hints. The game is locked down at an early enough stage that proper QA may be done. That means no more content. Bugs get fixed and regressed, code gets optimized - basic playable functionality is the main requirement. Which means that stuff could get cut, and that stuff will go into an unfinished pile. Most companies will ignore this pile and move on to something else, or go out of business, which is a pretty common coda, even for major releases. If you want to invent Warren Commission fucking conspiracy theories about the MJ-12 holding back content just to gouge you . . . then make a tinfoil hat and start documenting chemtrails. Do you really think this downloadable shit is where the money's at? After you factor in the artists, designers, programmers and then the voluminous amount of QA testing which will guarantee a certain level of quality, which, if it isn't perfection then it won't be good enough for you no matter what, then you add in fees to the middlemen, your profit margin's probably two things: jack and shit, and jack left town."

"But you're charging way too much for some new art. Or maybe fifteen minutes of content. You're robber barons!"

"You spent how much on your computer? What about that new console? And then you add in your sound system, and your HD adapter and whatever other fancy extras you cobbled together. You're probably the type of guy who'll pay fifty bucks for a fansubbed copy of Teenage Tentacle Rape University imported from an opium den in Pattaya Beach. Then you drop maybe seventy bucks for a few hundred hours of content, and you pitch a major bitch fit over shelling out a couple bucks?"

"But it's not worth what you're charging." Phillip's breathing was getting heavier, more labored. Maybe he was having a heart attack. I hoped that was the reason.

"Face it," I said. "You're making up reasons to be outraged. Like I said, businesses need to cover costs. Tell you what, next time we'll base the price of the game on a standard content unit. Every estimated hour of gameplay is worth five bucks. A matinee at the movie theater will cost you about ten bucks now, for somewhere between 90 minutes and over two hours, so five bucks per hour seems fair. That way, you can just complain all at once when a game costs 1000 dollars. It'll be like the Neo-Geo all over again!" Spittle trickled down my lips. I was raving like Renfield.

"Liar! You just don't understand! We've been betrayed. Content should always be free. Or sell player-made mods."

"I agree, free content sounds great. When you figure out a good business model, let the entire fucking world know, because your miracle-working skills will be sorely needed. Sell player-made mods that would usually be free downloads on fansites? Yeah, I'm sure that'll solve your gripe. Id Software made bank with wave after wave of shoddy map packs with five good levels and forty filler levels that you could've gotten even on AOL."

"You aren't fulfilling my needs." Was that sobbing?

I nodded. "I know. I get it. You know why? Because I play games, too. All the goddamn time, not just at work. I get pissed off when I run across a bug. I get really pissed when a game crashes on me. But I have something you don't. I have perspective. You pin all your hopes on the next shiny new thing, hyping it up into the Second Coming, and when the released game doesn't match the Ideal Game in your head you explode with rage. And then you pin your hopes on some other white knight. Don't like our game? Then fuck us, right? Gothic III will be out soon enough, and it will be a million times better, and it will fulfill everything you desire. Sure it will. I'm all for a little righteous anger now and then, but why not refocus it into something positive? Hell, write up everything about the game that disappointed you. But don't waste your time speculating on the nefarious schemes of the evil videogame syndicates and their plot to snatch two whole dollars from you as if they were twirling their mustaches, planning to steal the grant money from the local orphanage. We aren't here to fuck anyone over."

There was no answer. I blinked into the light.

Phillip sighed. "Then why hasn't there been a patch yet?"

"Oh no." My eyes must've grown as large as dinner plates. "I know who you are. You're VentruYoshiDanteKillzU54. Please. Be swift, and merciful."


Again, not directed at anything in particular. Seriously. Complete work of fiction.

Monday, April 24, 2006


This blog has made
a number of mistakes since its inception. I have decided to clear the record, and my conscience. The following errors have been noted, and are deeply regretted:

-A month ago, I stated that, unequivocally, Burger Time has the most advanced AI of any game to date. It should have read "any game, ever, till the end of time."

-In a post I didn't write entitled "Epistemological Ramifications of Interactive Coitus," I didn't refer to Angelina Jolie as a "Historical Imperative for proper synthesis of the virtual sexscape." I regret that I never finished the dream starring me, her and her four-armed doppelganger.

-My slashfic epic, "More Than Enemies," starring Nemesis from RE3, Baloo from Talespin, Johnny 5 from Short Circuit and Barrett from FFVII, will not be released in a twelve-volume edition from Time Life Books, as reported by the Washington Post. It will come in serialized novella form in repacked boxes of Frankenberry cereal.

-I did not, in fact, "crack the story" on the PS3's built-in cappucino machine. My sincere condolences to the families harmed by this false information. Your loved ones will be missed.

-Nintendo Power never printed my letter discussing Birdo's clear method of reproduction, and how that factors into his/her method of copulation.

-Calling McFarlane's Evil Prophecy "The Videogame Citizen Kane" might have been a bit of an overstatement. It has more in common with The Graduate.

-C++ cannot be used by a skilled houngan to summon a loa. However, using it in conjunction with OO practices can help a budding Gnostic travel in the astral realm.

-I once, while drunk, called Shigeru Miyamoto a "talentless, bobble-headed shitstain hack." I thought I was talking to Hideo Kojima.

-In November 2005 I stated that Will Wright's new game would open the gates of destruction and herald the Apocalypse. This is untrue. The sequel to his new game will herald the Apocalypse, sometime around 2010.

-I compiled a list of nonexistent errors. I'm sorry if you read this far.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Do Gamers Have No Taste?

I saw Silent Hill
this weekend. I didn't hate it.

And yet, looking at two big review compilation sites, the movie is a pile of garbage.

Metacritic is the more interesting review site, because the critic metascore is 29%, while the User score is 8.8/10. I'm betting the Users that actually cared to comment were at least slightly familiar with the game.

The movie made me want to play the game again, which is a slight dig at the film and yet a thumbs-up as well. There was a faithfulness to the translation that did go a bit too far at times -- notably in the intrusive, overwhelming, often out-of-place soundtrack.

The dialogue was laughable, sometimes literally -- but sparse.

The story itself did all the right things, though it wasn't always backed by the best directorial choices. The little girl in the lead wasn't versatile enough for her role. There was a bit of overdone melodrama. The end makes the mistake of laying out "the big secret" all nice and neat, which tends to make people feel like the first hour and a half was a waste (show, don't tell . . . do they teach that in film school?).

I was surprised by some of the gruesome special effects -- gore movies with wide release are often toned way down. I'm wondering if we'll get any treats in a director's cut.

Again, it wasn't bad, but still highly flawed. I can't really think of any videogame-based movie that's felt more like an actual movie. Even with the obligatory cheesy setup for a sequel.

Still, I can't recommend it to anyone (1) not fond of the games and (2) not willing to forgive uneven plotting/mood.

But if you like good bad-horror-films, then you could find some things to enjoy.


Why didn't anyone tell me
that Unlimited SaGa is most likely the shittiest RPG ever created?

Oh, yeah. Nevermind.

That's the danger of browsing for cheap, used games and selecting on the basis of ignorance. Everything about the case said, "This might be a sleeper hit." An RPG with seven different overlapping storylines. Square-Enix. A needlessly complex battle system.

But the game communicates nothing except the worst ideas -- executed in the worst ways. Static back-and-forth dialogue bubbles over a painted background. Instead of walking around in real-time you choose locations on that same painted background. Movement on the world map is like a boardgame, choose your direction and move a space, then repeat. The voice acting . . . my god . . . it's like having your eardrums raped by Sanrio characters.

The graphics are ugly. The battles are nonsensical. The needlessly complex battle system is unfriendly, obtuse and actually saps fun directly through your thumbs. At one point a character had 0 hp, yet still fought. And nary a slow-moving, unskippable tutorial in sight. It seems like an attempt to innovate absolutely everything about Japanese RPGs without any reason or direction.

This is a dud. I should have known when the cashier told me it wasn't ten dollars, but five. "Hooray," I thought. "Cheaper than I thought."

And worse than I imagined.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Plays Well With Others


I might've found a few friends in virtual spaces over the years.

The Duck Hunt dog, sending titters of encouragement. Cheering you on as you waste round after round attempting to give him the sweet mercy he so clearly craves.

The crazy wizard Xan from Baldur's Gate, who joins your party, then gleefully tosses lightning bolts or magic missiles at his teammates during those crucial battles, cackling maniacally. I'll miss him. Shame I had to kill him.

Hell, even the enlightening chatter of the unwashed masses in my favoritest MMOs, with their homophobia, constant begging for gold/items and the unabashed way they gank you, provides a refreshing dose of humanity's greatness.

But it's not the friends I found within videogames that I treasure. It's those found around videogames.

Since I first started playing, the time spent with games was always sweeter with a real-life friend along for the ride.

When Doom came out, my friend Dane and I spent hours at night fragging demons and leaping backward in our chairs. I'd be perched close to the computer, listening for the far-off grunts of a Demon, helpfully alerting Dane at the first suspect noise. Lots of false alarms. We worked our way through the first episode shareware, then picked up the full game and worked through that as well. Eventually we hooked up some deathmatch using a null-modem cable, but that wasn't half as fun as being the voice on the shoulder while saving the world from the forces of Hell.

Then there were the weekend play-sessions of TIE Fighter with Paul. We'd alternate missions, the non-player serving the function of wingman, looking out for secondary or tertiary goals. With teamwork, we worked our way up the Imperial ranks -- including the secret Order of the Emperor.

The Warriors is a blast to work through with a friend. Especially when you get knocked out and your only hope is that your buddy doesn't get pinched or beat down, too.

Grand Theft Auto can be great as a communal game experience. It's perfect for laying down stupid bets like, "Use that motorcyle to jump that ramp right into the police chopper." Nothing like socialization through anti-social simulations.

Or take the game X-Men Legends. I'm inclined to agree with Chris Bateman that this game is a "hideously unbalanced and atrociously constructed game design." And that goes double for its sequel. But loading it up with a few friends present and enough controllers to go around greatly changes the experience. Suddenly it isn't about the repetitive slogging through uninteresting enemies but smashing things with your friends, calling out juvenile insults at the laughable bosses and using up all the mana orbs.

Playing with friends has a different flavor than playing against friends, or playing online with friends.

Competitive games can be good, but I find they unnecessarily heat the blood. They aren't exactly conducive to civil discourse. It can be fun to spend a few rounds sinking virtual lead into virtual flesh, but the interaction element is about as interesting as hearing a Tourette's sufferers greatest hits.

And playing online. Well, I mentioned that in the introduction. Even playing with friends online doesn't lead to friendly banter. Mostly it's just "what quest we doing?" and "need 6 more pelts" for a few hours. Add a Teamspeak server and you end up with a bunch of distorted, scratchy small talk -- along with the occasional Leeroy Jenkins.

Whether just watching or picking up a controller and joining in, I don't need friends in a game, so long as my friends are into the game.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I'm going to have to re-design this blog, and I'm dreading it.

HTML standardization is great, sure, except that sometimes it seems like a crock of shit. Add to that the myriad ways browsers might interpret even the most seemingly-innocuous tags and you may as well be giving yourself a root canal.

The main problem is the thin left column. It stretches the blog too far down and is poorly organized. The other big problem is that the template, while serviceable, is far too generic -- and that problem isn't helped by my terrible eye for graphic design. I do own a copy of the Non-Designer's Design Book, and it's an invaluable resource. I just lack the practice of applying visual design elements regularly.

Maybe I'll just fire up that dentist's drill instead.

Old Coin

Boingboing provided an interesting link to a story about a 2,000 year old counterfeit coin found in Italy.

This little nugget caught my eye: "This is not the first example of counterfeiting in the ancient world, but the researchers say that in this case the silver coating seems to have been created by a sophisticated chemical process."

My Conspiracy-and-Hermetics addled brain can't help but draw tenuous, unscientific links between disparate bits of historical ephemera.

Thus I conclude that the Italian coin could have only been electroplated utilizing Baghdad Batteries.

I should go before I rant about how the Bronze Age first occurred in Southeast Asia or that dolphins, humans and apes had a common ancestor.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Headlines Misleading, Claim Headlines

I'm not altogether certain
what to make of the survey cited over on Gamasutra. The bold claim is that teenagers are losing interest in gaming. Shock. Gasp.

But actually reading the body of the article, I smell a rat. And that rat's name is poor reading comprehension.

Look closely at this statement: "Interestingly, almost 80 percent of teens indicated that they intend to spend less time playing video games in 2006 and nearly 70 percent indicated that their interest in playing video games is decreasing."

Now, to put this in perspective, suppose I were given a survey about my goals for the year. I might say, "I'm gonna cut back on playing videogames, exercise more and eat healthier meals." And suppose a majority of the surveyed picked those same goals as their responses.

Would this make an accurate headline: 26-year-olds are spending less time on videogames, eating proper diets and increasing their physical activity.

If I were to take a follow-up survey a year later, the odds that I actually did any of my goals seems very slim. Sure, I wanted to do all those things. But then I sat in front of the computer . . . and the soda was right there . . . and so were the corn dogs . . . well, you understand.


Teenagers say they're losing interest in videogames. Of course that kind of statement, especially concerning such a medium where fickleness is legend, depends largely on timing.

We're at the tail end of the cycle for the last generation of consoles, so actual releases have slowed. A lot of companies have switched development onto the new systems. The Xbox 360 doesn't yet have an established library. Publishers are largely waiting for E3 before unveiling their wares for the upcoming year(s).

At best, these surveys provide a slice of the prevalent mood toward videogames more than anything concrete.

At worst, they can cause little ripples of panic through the industry, which usually lead to shlocky, overhyped garbage to try and draw the kiddies back -- No, teenagers, don't stop gaming! How about an Xtreme Chuck Norris Text Messaging Sex Bracelets game? Isn't that what you kids are into?

But I know it's so much more forceful to use a headline that makes some dire assertion or other. Anyway, I'm really hoping to blog a lot more this year.

Blogger Posting More Often, Says Blogger.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Unforgivable Curses

I wonder if
the folks who made Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the PC realize that, yes, in fact, computers can re-map their controls. I wonder if they considered that some people might like the options screen to display the control configuration. I wonder if they ever thought that, just maybe, people might want to use the mouse to navigate the menu. Or that using the arrow keys for movement is just a little bit too 1980s for a modern game.

Once you get used to the control scheme, however, the game is a nice diversion. The spells are interesting, the characters are -- ah, hell, just read the review linked above. They hit all the main points except for my gripe about the controls.

I still can't figure out why none of the Harry Potter games have attempted to break away from the nu-beat-em-up format established in licensed fare like The Lord of the Rings games put out by EA.

Potter is a property just begging for the Mario 64 treatment. Wander the school grounds, collecting clues, attending classes and playing level variations all while gathering gobs of knicknacks. There could even be a GTA element involved, what with vehicles like brooms and hippogriffs to ride.

These kinds of games never seem to escape from the must-have-mass-appeal mentality of kid-friendly IP. They make a game that is so inoffensive to anyone that it ends up being a kind of bland romp of lobbing projectiles and moving forward forward forward.

But what do I know?

I'm just a Muggle.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bargaining For the Narrative

I've been overly preoccupied
with attempting to stomp out the shortfalls in my political education, so my thoughts are a scattered mess lately.

Browsing through the latest games posted to 1KM1KT (1,000 Monkeys, 1,000 Typewriters), I've noticed that a large majority of them are based around auction/bargaining/storytelling systems.

Less than a year ago most of the RPGs on this site seemed to be centered on the dice-rolling/GM-centric model, filled with tables and stats. Nothing wrong with such a system. I actually find both types enjoyable, depending on your particular aim. I just like to make note of what I perceive to be a paradigm shift.

Anyway, getting back on track, all that political gobbledygook must've short-circuited something, because I suddenly had a strange vision of the UN trading in story tokens in order to suggest changes to treaties, define borders or regulate commerce.

Reading about how the American system of government was hammered out between the founding fathers put me in this state of mind. Especially as concerns that amazing bit of back-and-forth known as The Federalist. Or Jefferson's correspondence.

Politics can often be seen as different sovereign entities vying for control of a common narrative. Of course, the traditional bargaining chips and methods are essentially the usual primate dominance rituals. And with a world growing so interconnected, I think the ability to, at the very least, interpose more equality into the structure should be encouraged.

Let's say you're on a Finance Committee. You get together with the other members and decide that you can make a four-point bill. Each member gets four tokens. Those tokens can be used for different actions: adding a provision to the bill, deleting a provision from the bill, altering within certain parameters. This means that to author a full bill would require several members to work together. There could be measures put into place from allowing an outright killing of the bill. Perhaps spending a certain number of tokens (if the bill matters enough, you should be willing to lay down the tokens).

I suppose something like Nomic, only not so incomprehensible.

I may have to crack open a few of those RPGs and gut their methods. Something to consider as I continue to watch our fine system of checks and balances wither and die as an inordinate amount of power becomes invested in a single branch.

Gimme a break. I haven't played any videogames for a few days.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Larger Concerns

"It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress."

-Mark Twain

Hat tip to buttonmashing for looking into the recent Senate hearings concerning videogames.

The hearing is a good place to start to see where the battle lines are being drawn. The people pushing regulation are trying every tack they can to try and restrict content. Their arguments constantly shift, probing for any possible weakness.

This is not to say that they don't have concerns they feel warrant discussion. My stance, however, is that they're being incredibly preemptive, lack substantial scientific arguments and don't particularly care about freedom of expression anyway.

I like to think that if there were data to support the notion that violent media causes violent action that I'd be one of the first to support regulatory legislation. But the data simply isn't there. Instead what we get is a kind of magical thinking: Projection of action is as bad as action will lead to action.

I mentioned the PMRC, but censorship movements go back further. They also seem, to me, to be tied into larger repressive political and social movements. These aren't necessarily strict divisions in time, but swells of progressive thought and the inevitable backlash, an untidy ebb and flow of neophilic and neophobic temperaments.

In the 1980s, with the Cold War at its apex, concerns about youth culture again hit the forefront. Dungeons and Dragons was linked with a Satanic Panic (which turned out to be nonexistent). Even tales of alien abductions and cattle mutilations enjoyed a resurgence.

I think I've mentioned the comicbook scare drummed up by Fredric Wertham, beginning in the 1950s. The Korean War was also dominating headlines, the McCarthy hearings spread divisive paranoia throughout the United States and the rise of Rock and Roll fueled parents' concerns about all that youth and sex and youthful things. The typical licentiousness that each generation discovers and which is roundly condemned by the suddenly pure and good and moral parental generation.

The FTC has already reported that there has been a substantial decrease in minors being able to purchase M-rated games. Now, which has probably been more successful in getting this reduction: The anti-videogame hype and attacks on the ESRB or measures to educate people on the ratings system and concentrate on self-enforcement?

There's always something to blame; And it's usually not what's to blame.


Tension points, whether they are created by manipulative politicians, religious or social leaders, or whether they arise elsewhere in the world and draw us in, are easily exploited by those same politicians, religious and social leaders. They appear as a fulcrum by which highly contested camps vie for control of the narrative.

None of the self-appointed arbiters of the taboo ever seem to use their passion to fight those unfortunate social situations that reinforce actual, dangerous behaviors, which children see and emulate. They never seek to reduce those obvious pressures (in today's society typically related to money) which, you know, actually affect families.

Lieberman never focuses on legislation that aims to stem domestic violence or raise education opportunities in low-income areas or ensure children can seek out secure social support networks; No, instead he tells rape victims that a hospital shouldn't have to give them contraception since, "In Connecticut, it shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital." What a nice, moderate, fucking asshole.

There isn't charity or mercy or a sense of justice in people who look at Mortal Kombat and see a danger greater than poverty or government corruption or the fact that the "most advanced country on earth" can't see fit to provide medical care to over 45 million of its citizens (according to data from 2003 - see page 14).

It's insanity. That's the only way I can describe the neverending fascination of the moral fascists with the over-reaching desire to infantilize our entire culture. There are constant cries of how children grow up so fast. They learn such adult things. Maybe someone should crack open a fucking textbook and read about life only one hundred years ago: the public hangings complete with family picnics, or the marriages arranged before puberty, or constant work in the factory or on the farm. Or the government-sanctioned bigotry, the crippling diseases, the military draft. People are not fragile.

We're fast becoming a Crybaby Nation, and it's not the hippies or the peaceniks or the welfare state doing it. It's the scared shitless authoritarians scrambling over each other trying to legislate that old chestnut Vice, using Fear as a bludgeon. They're busy inventing bogeymen and sacking the treasury while figuring out how to fasten the straps tight so nobody gets away.

Anybody remember that there's a difference between Crime and Vice? Mr. Spooner, kick it old school.


At present, one of the goals I would most like to see is the acceptance of videogames alongside other technical/creative artistic endeavors, while at the same time presenting its novel simulo-sensation* presentation as just another conduit by which art is presented to minds, not necessarily as a more emotionally-affective "interactive" experience (the word "interactive" being inadequate and devalued at this point).

Legitimacy, if you will. And I'm not talking about finding the videogame Citizen Kane. What does that mean? Looking for the videogame Citizen Kane is like looking for the architectural White Album.

Yeah, it's that stupid.

*I use the word "simulo-sensation" to describe the meta-sensation which most video games rely upon to stimulate gamers. This might be accompanied by true physical simulation, or even a virtual physical simulation, but goes beyond that to acknowledge the meta-physical sensation of controlling a character like Mario. There is no true simulation of Mario jumping, and not even a virtual simulation, but a player might still feel a sense of vertigo or whimsy nevertheless.