Category: rants

Roger Ebert apologizes to the “kids”

As was the case the last time Roger Ebert wrote about videogames, the gaming websites are all talking about his latest post about gaming. He writes:

I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn’t seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

Well that’s fine. I’m glad he saw the light at least a little bit. However, I have the same problem with this “apology” as I did with his last post about videogames. Let’s look at the title for his post: “Okay, kids, play on my lawn.” Just like the last post he is still implying that videogame players are children. Sure, in this case, he is using the old cliche about old people and responding to people who wrote that he only dislikes videogames because he is old. However, it is still the second post in a row that he has made a connection between videogame players and children.

One step forward. Two steps back.

On Art and Violence

Now that the semester is winding down I’ve got a bit of time to blog (and write my last couple dissertation chapters and then revise all of them and write the intro and conclusion chapters…). A couple things have happened (and are in the process of happening) that have the gaming world buzzing: Roger Ebert wrote about videogames again and the Supreme Court is taking up the case of California’s law forbidding the sale of videogames to minors.

Regarding Ebert, he ends by asking, “Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?” which echoes my own call for all of us to stop caring about “art.” Tons and tons of people have tried to convince him he’s wrong — so many in fact that I don’t even want to bother hunting down links to some of the stories that do it. I’m not interested in arguing with him because I don’t really care if he thinks games are art or not.

However, it is very disconcerting that he seems to think that he can judge games by looking at screenshots. Would he write a review of a film based on the text on the back of the dvd box? That’s pretty ignorant to think that he can judge games in that manner.

Unfortunately, this is just the top of the iceberg because look at the picture at the top of his post. Now I have no idea if he picked that picture or not. I would say that he probably didn’t but he did pick the rest of the pictures in the post so perhaps he did. Regardless, the picture didn’t just appear by itself. Someone chose that picture. What is in that picture? A kid. So someone whether it was Ebert of just some random web guy, wanted to pick a picture of a gamer and they picked a kid — once again perpetuating the stereotype that games are for kids and in this instance also seemingly indicating that games are in and of themselves childish. Wow. That’s pretty sad.

OK, now onto the Supreme Court…

I’m pretty confident that the Supreme Court will say this law is unconstitutional not only because lower courts have consistently ruled that laws regulating videogame sales are unconstitutional but also because of the recent Supreme Court decision declaring a law banning animal cruelty videos unconstitutional.

Today the Diane Rehm Show had a segment on the Supreme Court taking on the Videogame law regulating videogame sales and had Leland Yee, the California politician behind the bill, Craig Anderson, the guy who has never met a form of media that didn’t cause aggression, and a couple other people I don’t remember. Now, I’ve previously criticized Anderson’s vague use of the term “aggression” so I was pleasantly surprised that Diane Rehm’s first question to him was “what is the difference between agression and violence?” Anderson initially tried to avoid answering the question but then Rehm re-asked the question and Anderson admitted that while violence is generally understood as an extreme form of aggression, it is very rare for aggression to actually turn into violence. I think that it really key because in that statement Anderson (who also in this CNN video says that videogame-caused “aggression” isn’t really any worse than film or television-causes “aggression” ) says that videogames don’t really make kids violent.

If the most well known person who thinks videogames cause aggression doesn’t think they make you violent then that makes the case that they are so bad that we need laws against selling them much harder to prove.

Personally, I look forward to the SCOTUS shutting down these kinds of laws once and for all.

…well that and Jack Thompson getting involved and saying some crazy things…

Movies can be scary too…

Allow me a non-videogame-related rant here… It is still about moral panics surrounding children and media though so it could easily have been about videogames instead of movies.

I caught a story on the local NPR station last night about someone threatening a lawsuit against Redbox because they sell “R-rated” movies. I searched for something about the story and apparently it got picked up by a few local news outlets including the Indianapolis Fox Affiliate and the Louisville ABC Affiliate. According to stories the whole thing is being stirred up by Vanderburgh Country Prosecutor Stan Levco.

Of course there’s two little details that neither of the two stories linked to above or any of the other stories I saw seemed to mention: First, The MPAA rating system “is a voluntary system” and the ratings are not legally enforced. The only possible grounds for a lawsuit that there would be would be under obscenity or pornography laws. Levco almost certainly knows this. So why is he causing a stir? That leads to the second missing detail: Levco is running for re-election.

So this is just a ploy to get into the headlines so that Levco can say he is “fighting for families” and concerned about “family values” without having to do anything. The minute I heard this story I immediately wondered if the guy was up for re-election because that’s the only time public officials try to start legal proceedings related to media. I guess Levco couldn’t find any easy videogame targets.

Heaven forbid that any of the media outlets that aired this story would take two minutes to wonder why Levco was doing this or anything… That’s some good reportering there…

Where have you gone Jack Thompson

Once upon a time Jack Thompson was the nemesis of gamers. Then he got permanently disbarred but that didn’t stop him as he claimed to be fighting the Florida Bar and probably lots of other crazy things. He also started writing an occasional column for some online conservative site.

Now, however, he seems to have disappeared. Once a search for Jacko on google news showed up all sorts of antics by him but now searching for Jacko on google news just returns the occasional story mentioning him as a foil and stories about other people named Jack Thompson. (I wonder if the actor Jack Thompson ever gets people accusing him of hating videogames?) Jacko hasn’t even posted a column since August of 2009.

I wonder if Jacko has just given up or if he’s planning some new media frenzy. I kind of hope he keeps at it because his insane claims sure were entertaining even if there were some people who believed his lies. [ad#ad-1]

Girls are dumb… …according to Sony

So this guy’s girlfriend is so dumb she doesn’t notice the guy pushing buttons on the controller or that certain scenes keep happening over and over when he dies? Or are they saying that Uncharted 2 is full of long cut scenes? It is nice to see Sony stretching out and advertising games to new markets like straight white men… (seriously though who is this commercial for? Any guy watching it who might be remotely interested would already be interested in the PS3. Maybe it is just to generate general brand awareness?)

Most Insulting Paper Title Ever?

I’m currently writing about LAN parties as third places and in doing some research I came across this article: Appeal of violent video games to lower educated aggressive adolescent boys.

Wow, could the researchers have a lower opinion of videogame players? So the only reason someone would like violent games is if they were uneducated and violent? Crazy.

I haven’t read the article so it could easily something more reasonable but as a title it sure is ponderous.

Resident Evil 5 Racism From Someone Who Hasn’t Played It

“I didn’t see any racist imagery in it”
“No one says anything about the Spanish people in RE4”
“Why does it matter what color zombies are?”
“Why do people have to read so much into things?”
“Games are escapism”
“They didn’t mean to be racist”
“This is made by the Japanese so why would they know about racism?”
“Someone who thinks this is racist is racist”

These are all comments that I’ve seen on places like gamepolitics, Kotaku, and Joystiq. I’ve been putting off writing about this because I really don’t know if it will do any good and I don’t want to get into some flame war. I imagine that the people who have made up their mind probably won’t change them very easily. However, with N’Gai Croal leaving Newsweek, it came up again and it seems like it will keep coming up. That coupled with a website story about an “expert” talking about the game has made me decide not to hold my tongue any longer.

For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, I’m talking about Resident Evil 5. More accurately though I’m talking about people’s reactions to Resident Evil 5 (more accurately than that I’m writing about people’s reactions to people’s reactions to the Resident Evil 5 trailer). I haven’t played RE5. I don’t have any current gen consoles so I probably won’t be playing it any time soon. But that’s ok because most of the online discussion has been about the trailer.
Now, at this late date it is kind of hard to understand what people are talking about because there have been several trailers for RE5. The one that people first picked up on was an early first teaser trailer which didn’t really show much.

Even a later trailer which showed more included the questionable lines, “there’s no reason here… no humanity.”

There is a lot more known about the game now than there was back when this first started. There have been countless articles and blogs written about the issue. N’Gai Croal got caught up in it when MTV’s gaming blog asked him about it and he gave his opinion about the trailer. Despite the fact that he didn’t bring it up and didn’t write about it himself, when people commented on him leaving his position at Newsweek, RE5 was inevitably brought up

I’m not going to say the game is or isn’t racist because, as I said, I haven’t played it. I’m not going to say the trailer was racist either. I do think that the early trailer did contain some imagery that was troubling in terms of its depiction of race when presented in isolation the way in which it was. The trailer has imagery that perpetuates stereotypes that everyone in Africa is poor and all of Africa is a desert.

Reading through the numerous comments on some of the stories some common themes seemed to come out. Most of the comments were pretty kneejerk and reactionary. It seems as if any criticism of videogames calls out the internet fanboys and the mere suggestion that a trailer for a game might be a bit racist is a horrible thing and requires vehement defense. One of the oddest and yet more common comments was something along the lines of “Anyone who thinks this is racist is racist themselves!” Ummm, what? So thinking something might not be the best way of depicting race makes you racist? That’s just bizarre.

Another common comment was “it is just a trailer.” Well that is true but that trailer just didn’t happen. They picked those scenes specifically because they wanted them to represent their game. When that trailer came out, no one knew what the game was like. All we had togo on was that trailer.

“They didn’t mean to be racist” No. I’m pretty sure they didn’t. So does that make it ok? I didn’t mean to break the law so I won’t get arrested? More importantly, people often use the excuse of “they didn’t mean it” as a way of forgiving something or dismissing criticisms. However, can we ever really know someone’s intention? We don’t have telepathy so all we ever have is perception. Even if someone says they don’t mean it, how can we know that they aren’t lying? No, intention isn’t ever possible to discern with total certainty and so all we have is perception.

“This is made by the Japanese so why would they know about racism?” Sadly, the USA doesn’t have a monopoly on racism. No they probably don’t know much about the history of racism in the USA. But Japan has a history of racism all its own, just ask Korea. Also they are pretty ignorant of other races. Japan is really homogeneous in its people. So they don’t have much experience with people of other races so they aren’t aware of it. Heck, blackface is still acceptable in Japan. And people of African descent aren’t the only ones stereotyped. In 2005 the UN called racism in Japan “deep and profound.”

More recently, a videogame site asked an anthropologist to look at Resident Evil 5 and lead their article with the pull quote: “‘It’s silly to call it racist’, says leading anthropologist.” I’m sure that Glenn Bowman, the anthropologist in question, is an excellent scholar but the fact is he is not an expert on videogames or even media in general and I think that really undercuts the authority of his opinion. The reason for this is that he, like myself, did not actually play the game so neither of us knows what it is like to play it. Perhaps more importantly, he doesn’t say anything about the camera angles used and I really think that this is what people are latching onto when they have a negative reaction to the trailers.

Because I’m talking about the trailers, perhaps the most appropriate way of looking at them is through the lens of films studies — yes, I of all people, am advocating applying film theory to something from the videogame world! Let’s be honest, these are little movies. Based on the comments and articles I’ve read and podcasts I’ve heard (and Rebel FM’s episode where they Discuss RE5 is pretty good), people are responding to these films as if the camera didn’t exist and looking only at the world presented within the game and not the camera angles, lighting or editing. Ignoring the fact that these are computer generated and not actually filmed (which perhaps make the filmic elements more important since all of them were purposely chosen and nothing within it “just happened” or was “already there.”), all camera work is subjective. Camera angles do not just “happen.” They are chosen and they are created. They picked camera angles to make the Africans look threatening. They used shadows to make the distinction between human and zombie blurry. They edited it in such a way that nothing was fully shown. We cannot just ignore the kino eye in these situations.

When attempting to look at these trailers critically it is a mistake to allow ourselves to be sutured into the game. The Resident Evil games have always taken cues from cinema and replicated dramatic camera angles and so especially when it comes to this game series we must not allow ourselves to pretend that we are there and that this is not a constructed work.

This is especially important when countering the claims of those who argued, “No one says anything about the Spanish people in RE4.” Look at the trailers for Resident Evil 4. None of them use camera angles, lighting, or editing in anything like the same way that the early trailers for RE5 do.

In the end, like I said in the beginning, I’m not saying that the game or the trailers are racist. I am saying that a lot of the things people have written aren’t taking the manufactured and, dare I say it, “cinematic” nature of the trailers into account.

Am I out of Touch?

I’m starting to wonder if I’m out of touch with the gaming community. I don’t have any of the current generation consoles. I have never played WoW. Because of this a lot of the stuff I read or listen to about new games doesn’t really apply to me.

I really got to thinking about this when listening to the latest episode of the Rebel FM Podcast that features ex-staffers of Electronic Gaming Monthly. In it they had a discussion of the feel of shooters. Throughout it all they were talking about console shooters. It was then that I found myself becoming a computer-gaming-fanboy.

I kept saying, “You are talking about console-First-Person-Shooters and therefore your opinion is irrelevant!” In my opinion playing a First-Person Shooter on a console is like playing basketball with a flat ball. Sure you can do it but I can’t imagine why anyone would actually do it if they had the ability to do it the right way. Halo may have had some nice play mechanics like the regenerating shield but it is the Candy Land of shooters — it is fun for little kids but any normal adult should tire of it quickly.

So am I just out of touch? Is it possible that Halo isn’t lame (I find that hard to accept)? Or is everyone else just crazy? (The truth is probably somewhere in between…)


Where’s my Valkyrie game?

So the film Valkyrie is out. In the film Tom Cruise uses Sientology to build a time machine to kill Hitler or something — I don’t know for sure, history wasn’t my strong suit. But what I do know is that it is a movie about killing Hitler. OMGWTFBBQ! If ever there was a storyline that gamers could get behind it would be killing Hitler. Where’s my Valkyrie game?!?!

Has a game ever made you cry?

This question is an old one and it is one that is often used by people from other mediums to question the ability of games to really impact the player and to have a kind of emotional maturity. Most recently it has been asked Over at International Hobo. I would bet that if someone were to ask if a game has ever made you cry you would say “no” — and you would probably be a liar.

Up until recently I would have said “no” as well because the question is usually asked in that context of telling a story that made you cry. That is a misleading way to think about it. People do cry over games all the time but they don’t cry over them because of the storylines.

So when do people cry over games? They cry when they lose them. I’m sure that nearly every kid has cried because they lost some board or card game. It is almost a cliche to show an athlete cry when they lose the big game whether it is the Super Bowl or a high school sectional.

So perhaps the problem isn’t that games don’t make us cry but rather that we just aren’t thinking about the reasons why they already do that.