Category: rants

That’s some good empowering there boys…

Wonderland has a story about a new website attempting to “empower female gamers.” This GirlsofCS seems to be nothing more than a Suicide Girls wannabe. One of the posters on Wonderland found that the site is owned by LANFusion where someone linked to a page on the GirlsofCS site where you can see the kind of “empowering” they are talking about. As I said over at Wonderland:

it doesn’t look like anything but yet another nudie site to me. Skinny 18 year old white girls… yawn.
I don’t see anything within the site itself that even talks about gaming.
If this is empowering, I don’t want to see what unempowered looks like…

I should have picked an easier line of research!

I”m currently in a class on Hollywood masculinity so I’m writing about the Aliens versus Predator games. (OK, not all of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Jaguar and I’m not really into RTS games.) However, to make my argument about the depictions of the different speicies and masculinity, I think I should rewatch the movies.
In this same class there are people wring about a movie they have chosen.
Now let me get this right, I have to play two games and an expansion pack AND watch seven movies for the same assignment they only have to watch one movie?!?!? Man, I am a moron!!! I should have been a film person!

Is It Just Me????

So once again, people are talking about videogame journalism and how horrible it is.

Reading these posts, however, it seems that people have very very different ideas of what “good” is. I know, I know, saying that taste is subjective is a pretty crazy idea! I’m not saying I’m some bastion of good taste. I liked the Doom movie after all…

Here was my comment on Slashdot:

Most of the comments here talk about horrible reviews, but is reviewing really journalism? Is Roger Ebert a journalist? Not to degrade reviewers. But do people really 100% trust one videogame review?

While I like reading reviews, I read videogame reviews the same way I read film reviews: with a grain of salt.

Maybe it is because of my research interests, but I’m a lot more interested in the non-review journalism such as articles that talk about trends in gaming or gaming culture. That is more of what I think of when I think about journalism instead of reviews.

What is most interesting is that one of the people Robin Hunicke mentioned as, “look[ing] beyond muzzle flashes, explosions and crisp sound” is also the same person that wrote what Something Awful called

…the most pretentious review ever written about anything…. You could write a gushing review of “Time Code” as a concrete poem shaped like a moebius strip and you would still be a galaxy away from Kieron’s review of Darwinia.

Then there’s everyone’s favorite Escapist Magazine. Am I the only one that couldn’t look bast the horrible pretentious layout? It may well be the best thing ever written about videogames, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been able to read a single article because– call me crazy — but I hate having to click next every three words.

The thing that most frustrates me is that all the complaining about the state of videogame journalism seems to imply that somewhere out there there is some field of journalism that doesn’t totally suck. Sure there are the exceptions and there are the rare good articles, but what are these people reading, listening to, or watching that they think that videogame journalism is some exception to the sad state of journalism? Complaining about horrible videogame journalism is like complaining about someone staining the couch cushion when the couch is sitting in the middle of a garbage dump. It may be accurate and a valid complaint, but it is kind of missing the point.

Game inspired by a tv show is released, so of course people write about how horrible videogames are…

Associated Press reporter Nathaniel Hernandez has written an article about Blitz: The League. It has gotten picked up by lots of papers. The version in the Chicago Sun-Times seems to be the most complete. Here’s the first paragraph of that version of the article:

In a gritty new video game about a fictional football league, players cripple their opponents, gamble and use performance-enhancing supplements.

The article goes on to make some comparisons between the game and some current accusations brought against some players. The article isn’t too bad, but it still mentions Mortal Kombat since that was known back in the day as a very controversial game.
The irony is, of course, that while the Blitz franchise has been around a long time, this version of “controversial” and “gritty” game was not originally going to be called, Blitz: The League, but Blitz: Playmakers, after the controversial ESPN show, Playmakers (warning: web site plays a stupid sound clip). Blitz was going to be called that, because one of the writers for the tv show worked on the game. So this controversial game is really an unofficial adaptation of a controversial tv show. Funny how the article spent all this time talking about the various and sundry aspects of the game and didn’t mention that…

I say videogame, you say video game. what’s the difference?

Over at Buzzcut, there is a post titled, “Videogames: Closing the Annoying Gap” which argues that “videogame” is preferable to “video game.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I just haven’t gotten around to posting about it. It is quite annoying to always have to search for both terms. It is also equally annoying to do a Google search for “videogame” and see “Did you mean: video game” but search for “video game” and not be asked if I meant “videogame.” (Of course there is also the term “computer game” which also gets used from time to time)

I think I prefer one word over two simply because it emphasizes the inseparability of the video from the game. I would actually prefer some sort of gamevideo term, but that isn’t a word in english. I also think using “video game” sort of makes it two separate things and that they aren’t a real synthesis of both.

The author of the buzzcut article argues that the difference is primarily geographic:

In the U.S., the habit it to write video games, as two words. In Europe, I usually see videogames.

I’m not sure I agree. I think the difference is deeper than that. Take a look at these search results on Google Scholar: “videogame” and “video game.” See a pattern in the results? Most of the search results for “videogame” are people who are actually researching videogames. On the other hand, however, most of the search results for “video game” are people who are really researching violence and the effects of videogames.

I noticed this a few months ago and the reason I haven’t posted on it earlier is that I am not quite sure what to make of it. I haven’t taken enough rhetoric courses (and no, there are no media, film, ethnography, or performance pages even though they are supposed to be equal parts of the department. But I digress…) to understand what difference that space really means. I suspect that it has to do with a kind of literacy or even respect for the medium. Those who use “videogame” have a different kind of literacy regarding the medium that those who tend to prefer “video game” do not. (Roger Ebert used “video game” in his review of Doom which started the whole deal with him). Of course I’m not saying that just because you use one term over the other means that you are smarter or more serious about videogames. However, I do think that it is interesting that the vast majority of violence stuff uses the two word phrase while perhaps not the vast majority, but a majority nonetheless, uses the one word phrase.

So anyone got any ideas? What is the meaning behind using one word over the other especially when they sound the same? This isn’t like “terrorists” versus “freedom fighters” or “invasion of Iraq” or “liberation of Iraq” but I do think that it is a similar kind of thing going on. A rhetoritician! A rhetoritician! My blog for a rhetoritician!

Roger Ebert Appeals to Authority…

Since the last time Roger Ebert told us we were wasting our time playing videogames, his website has posted a couple pages of letters from gamers. Most of them tend to fall in the “but game X has a lot of text and cut scenes!”

Well, Ebert’s Answer Man column appeared this morning with people still playing the same game and Ebert still using the same logic:

Q. Thank you for jump-starting a discussion about the relative artistic and critical merit of video games as compared to film and books. I do take issue when you argue that video games can never have the merit of a great film or novel. You say: “There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.”
Where you see a flaw, I see promise. Arguing that games are inherently inferior because books and movies are better at telling stories and leading us through an author-driven experience is begging the question. It’s like saying that photography is better than painting because photos make more accurate visual records.
The invention of photography sparked a crisis in the world of painting: “Why should we paint if pictures can do it better?” But then painters figured out that there were lots of other things that they could do, that cameras can’t. Now we see an enormous explosion of creativity in the world of painting. And another different explosion in the world of photography.
We agree that games are inherently different from films and books. I believe they are at their worst when they try to mimic films and books, and at their best when they exploit this difference to create experiences that films, books, and all the other art forms cannot. No one criticizes sculpture for failing to tell a story as well as a good movie.
Many people would agree with you that there aren’t yet any games that rival the best films or books that you care to list. Game makers are only just beginning to understand that games are not films/books with action sequences. I think that you’ll see that the more we work that out, the more we will find ways of creating meaningful artistic works that are unlike anything anyone’s seen before.
Tim Maly, designer, Capybara Games, Toronto

A. If or when that happens, I hope I will approach it with an open mind. This debate has taken on a life of its own. In countless e-mails and on a dozen message boards, I’ve found that most of the professionals involved in video games are intelligent and thoughtful people like yourself. A large number of the video game players, alas, tell me “you suck” or inform me that I am too old. At 63, I prefer such synonyms as “wise” and “experienced.”
Today I received a message from Professor David Bordwell (retired) of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who is generally thought of as the leading scholarly writer on film; the textbooks he has written by himself and with Kristin Thompson are used in a majority of the world’s film classrooms. What he said was intriguing on a practical level:

“The last dissertation I’m directing is on video games as they compare to film. The guy is bright, so we let him do it. But he brought his games and game platform to my house to give me some experience on this medium. I lasted through 15 minutes of ‘Simpson’s Road Rage,’ largely because my coordination is so poor. Even if I got good on the controls, what keeps me away is the level of commitment. The idea of spending hours at this boggles my mind.
“My student told me that the most sophisticated games require up to 100 hours to master. In 100 hours we can watch two Bollywood films or 50-plus Hollywood/ foreign features or 80 B-films or 750 Warner Bros. cartoons. Depending on how fast you read, in the same interval you can probably finish reading 20-30 books. Not to mention 25-35 operas or 100-120 symphonies. And that’s just for one game! On the basis of my very limited experience, and given my tastes (a big part of the issue here), the problem with video games is that they’re too much like life — too much commitment for thin and often frustrating results.”

So now we are down to quoting from someone who has spent their live devoted to studying film to say that film is better than videogames. Wow, a retired films scholar saying film is better than another medium, who saw that coming? Maybe I should ask the pope which religion is best? Moreover, he gets advice from Bordwell? While I’m sure that Bordwell has an open mind, it is just that…. zzzzzzz. Oh I’m sorry, I dozed off. Funny how that happens whenever I start thinking about Bordwell… OK, ok, that might be a bit harsh and a cheap joke (but not too far from the truth…)

But really, how much weight are we supposed to put behind the opinion of one films scholar. If one film scholar is that important, I can go call up Jim Naremore and get some quotes form him. I don’t’ think I need to since when I took a class form him I wrote about videogames and we talked for about half an hour about them and he seemed really interested in them. Not once did he tell me how foolish I was for taking all this time playing games when I could be reading Dickens….

Of course the whole “it takes a lot of time to get into videogames” is total hogwash. Recently, IU had a Godard film festival (crappy flash and sound a tthat link) that was put on by our department and I went to an hour long talk. Wow, obviously I haven’t spent enough time studying film to understand that crap. They showed some clips and if I had to sit through an entire Godard film I think I would spoon my eyes out. Clearly there is some sort of literacy there that takes hours and hours to learn. I find it ironic for Bordwell to say he doesn’t have time to play a videogame when he presumably has time to sit through things like I saw at that colloquiuum…

All I really have to say is that if we are going to start appealing to famous scholars to defend our taste, then people need to go read what should be the starting point on taste: Bourdieu’s book, Distinction. Appealing to elitists by claiming that your favorite thing has similarities to their favorite elite medium ain’t going to cut it. Elitists like elitism. Nothing we downtrodden masses have to say is going to change their minds. Moreover, claiming that *someday* *maybe* videogames will be as film-like as film or that we will have our own Shakespeare, is just lame.

When are films going to be as exhilarating as videogames? When will film produce their John Carmack? I mean, really, all these film guys do is pick up a camera and pull the trigger. Carmack reinvents the equipment we use to make a videogame every single time he makes a game. Let me know why a filmmaker develops his or her own camera, lighting, actors, physics, and lets the viewer star in it. Then film might be as inherently good as videogames….

Roger Ebert Gives Videogames Thumbs Down.

Over at Shacknews, there is a post titled, “Ebert on Video Games: They are Inferior” which basically talks about Ebert dissing videogames without even playing them. In his review of the Doom movie, Ebert writes:

The movie has been “inspired by” the famous video game. No, I haven’t played it, and I never will…

Wow, nice open mind you have there, Roger.
In his Answer Man column, the debate over the relative merits of videogames has continued with readers writing in attempting to defend videogames, and Ebert basically saying that he doesn’t know anything about them, but because he doesn’t know anything about them, that must mean they suck.
The October 30, 2005 Answer Man column begins with this Q and A:

Q. If “Doom” were just another action thriller, then I would have to say you were too generous by giving it one star. The movie frankly deserves zero stars. But is not just a movie. “Doom” was to games what “Rashomon” was to movies. It invented a way of showing something that had never been done before — what you call the “point-of-view shot looking forward over the barrel of a large weapon.”

“Doom” the movie is a tribute to this seminal event. This movie isn’t about clever camera angles, witty dialogue or subtle directorial touches. “Doom” has no pretensions, aspirations or delusions about what it is about. You aren’t supposed to wonder about the origins of mankind as you walk out of the theater. “Doom” the movie is “Doom” the game brought to the screen without messing around too much with the original. “Doom” works as a tribute because it fails so utterly as a movie. There is a reason so many video game-based movies suck: They are fundamentally different forms of representation. Thus by being faithful to the game, the movie pisses off the critic and pleases the gamer.

Vikram Keskar, Kirksville, Mo.

A. With friends like you, what does “Doom” need with critics? Surveys indeed show that more than half the movie’s opening-weekend viewers had played the game. I suppose they got what they were expecting. I am a believer in the value-added concept of filmmaking, in which a movie supplies something that a video game does not. Seen as a moviegoing experience, this was not a good one. There are specialist sites on the Web devoted to video games, and they review movies on their terms. I review them on mine. As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games.

Darn those “specialist sites on the Web” and their reviews of movies…
The critique of videogames continues in the November 13, 2005 Answer Man column:

Q. I’ve been a gamer since I was very young, and I haven’t been satisfied with most of the movies based on video games, with the exception of the first “Mortal Kombat” and “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” These were successful as films because they did not try to be a tribute to the game, but films in their own right.

I have not seen “Doom,” but don’t plan to, nor do I think that it’s fair to say that it pleases all gamers. Some of us appreciate film, too. That said, I was surprised at your denial of video games as a worthwhile use of your time. Are you implying that books and film are better mediums, or just better uses of your time?

Films and books have their scabs, as do games, but there are beautiful examples of video games out there — see “Shadow of the Colossus,” “Rez” or the forthcoming “PeaceMaker.”

Josh Fishburn, Denver

A. I believe books and films are better mediums, and better uses of my time. But how can I say that when I admit I am unfamiliar with video games? Because I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, and if there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a convincing argument in their defense.

That’s good thinkering there Roger. It is nice to know that Roger Ebert is omniscient and knows what everyone everywhere has done…
Although in the same column, he defends Dark City, a film I found to be incredibly silly and lame, so what does he know?
Not content to let the issue go, the November 27, 2005 Answer Man column contains yet another Q and A:

Q. I was saddened to read that you consider video games an inherently inferior medium to film and literature, despite your admitted lack of familiarity with the great works of the medium. This strikes me as especially perplexing, given how receptive you have been in the past to other oft-maligned media such as comic books and animation. Was not film itself once a new field of art? Did it not also take decades for its academic respectability to be recognized?

There are already countless serious studies on game theory and criticism available, including Mark S. Meadows’ Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative, Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan’s First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, and Mark J.P. Wolf’s The Medium of the Video Game, to name a few.

I hold out hope that you will take the time to broaden your experience with games beyond the trashy, artless “adaptations” that pollute our movie theaters, and let you discover the true wonder of this emerging medium, just as you have so passionately helped me to appreciate the greatness of many wonderful films.

Andrew Davis, St. Cloud, Minn.

A. Yours is the most civil of countless messages I have received after writing that I did indeed consider video games inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.

I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

Well, there we go, “videogames represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultures, civilized and empathetic.” Even though the letter writer lists a couple of books I have no love for, Roger ignores them and says that he doesn’t know of anyone who has cited a game “worthy” of his high level.

You know, I”m not fan of “art” because I’ve read Bourdieu and hate the smell of elitism in the morning. However, Roger Ebert goes beyond mere Auteur theory and venturing into pure elitism land. Of course, I tend to get feisty when I think people are being elitist. So it isn’t his denying the artistry of videogames that I dislike, it is his pure illogical snobbery about it. Of course, this is why I am opposed to people getting into the art thing. Some people just don’t get it and no matter how much we try, then never will. Pointing out cinematic games isn’t going to do it. As I said in my comment over at shacknews, “art” is just as meaningful a term as “beautiful.” We each have our own notions of what is or isn’t beautiful and we can argue about that definition without ever coming to a satisfying definition.

I hope that gamers will let this go and not go after Ebert. He’s never going to change his mind and we don’t need someone else taking Thompson’s side. Let Roger read his literature and watch his cinema. A friend of the devil may be a friend of mine, but someone who doesn’t like Doom is no friend of mine.

That Damned Biased Mainstream Media!!!

I guess those who complain about how biased the media is might have a point. The big news in videogames is, of course, the Jack Thompson Grand Theft Auto is a Murder Simulator, Devin Moore Video Game Violence Made Me Do It Case of Strickland vs. Sony. I’ve already covered 60 Minutes‘s horrible story about the case. In that story, I noted that Ed Bradley hadn’t even bothered to put Thompson’s name into google to find out about Thompson’s “colorful” history. Now, we have an even more egregious example of the portrayal of videogames in media.

Game Politics has been doing a great job of covering the case and they link to Tuscaloosa News who has two articles covering the case, “Attorney is subject in ‘video game’ case” and “Lawyer pushes to have standing in video game lawsuit” (stupid registration required, unless you head over to BugMeNot). The second story also links to a short videoclip of a local televison channel’s coverage, which they call, “Lawsuit Against Video Game Makers Continuing In Fayette.” All of these stories are mainly concerned with what is currently going on in the lawsuit, which is a challenge over Thompson’s ability to try the case. He is a member of the Florida Bar, and since the trial is taking place in Alabama, he has to get special permission to try the case there. So because of his numerous inflammatory press releases and hijinx with Penny Arcade, the defense is trying to get him removed from his case.

The story has been picked up by the Associated Press and is called, “Judge Asked to Dismiss Video Game Civil Suit and is said to be based on “information from: The Tuscaloosa News.” The funny thing is, nowhere in the AP story is it mentioned that the case is currently centered on Thompson himself. Oddly, the AP story does include an anti-videogame quote from Thompson.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. The AP edits down stories all the time. In this case, however, the AP has completely changed the message of the story, distorting it so that they are only concerned with the dismissal of the case, and not the question of Thompson, himself. Someone said, “No, we don’t care that this guy is being accused of being sensationalist and unfit to be involved in this case, we just want to get a quote:

“These Grand Theft Auto games are unique,” lawyer Jack Thompson of Miami argued on behalf of the victims’ families. “They are murder simulators. The only thought they convey is how to murder people and how to enjoy killing.”

So now I ask you, if videogames can’t even be fairly represented in a story that was originally about how a guy is sensationalistically misrepresenting videogames, then what hope is there?

Does the APA know good science if it hit them in the head?

I know I said I was taking a break from videogame violence stuff, but every time I ttry to get out, they pull me back in…

It seems that the American Psychological Association is in full press release frenzy. First off, I wonder why they bother. Every year they have their convention which is followed by a bunch of press releases. Is there the thought that this serves the public interest, or is this simply an association trying to hype themselves and prove that there is a reason for their existance?

Regardless, like clockwork, they have released a press release about a paper delivered at the conference and resolution about videogame violence. Of course it have been covered by tons of web sites. On Slashdot, there was much discussion about videogame violence. Always currious, this is the post I made:

I took about five minutes and went to the APA’s website and found that this great new study isn’t based on original research, but, according to the APA’s press release is simply a review of the research. So this “news” isn’t anything new at all. And, if you bother to read the subtitle of the press release, it says, “Boys Play Games Longer and May Be More Vulnerable to Increases in Aggressive Behavior.” Note the use of the word “may.”

If you read through the press release, we find that the lit review is presented by “Jessica Nicoll, B.A., and Kevin M. Kieffer, Ph.D., of Saint Leo University.” Those in academia know that it is kind of unusual for a prof to collaborate on a paper with an undergrad. Looking at his webpage I didn’t see any paper that seem remotely close to violence or media effects stuff. THe press release says they are from St. Leo, so a search of their website finds that on April 21, 2005 Jessica Nicoll gave a paper called “Violence in Video Games: A Review of the Empirical Literature” (page looks like ass in Firefox). That panel was chaired by Dr. Kevin Kieffer. So, unless the paper underwent serious revision between then and when it was given at the APA, this is really Jessica Nicoll’s paper.

That’s right, this paper that is getting a press release and all sorts of media attention is the work of an undergrad. While it is wrong to judge the quality of the paper without having read it, it seems safe to say that *gasp* just maybe this is being blown out of porportion a little bit…

This post says that she is a graduate student but I didn’t find any evidence of that and all indications are that the original April 21, 2005 paper was given when she was an undergrad.

This seems especially true when WebMD quotes Kieffer as saying

“The bottom line is we see three things,” Kieffer tells WebMD. One is short-term change toward more aggressive behavior. Two, there are gender differences: Boys play more often and they are more likely to be at risk of behavior changes. And three, some more vulnerable kids are drawn to these games — kids who are already more violent, and those with low self-esteem.”

…none of which sounds all that groundbreaking to me and pretty tame.

Furthermore, this post links to the APA’s “Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media.” If you look at the press release about that resolution you will see that at the bottom is states:

Committee on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media: Elizabeth Carll, PhD, and Dorothy Singer, EdD co-chairs; Craig Anderson, PhD, Brad Bushman, PhD, Karen Dill, PhD and Lilli Friedland, PhD.

As this post points out, If you look at the resolution’s references we see 3 papers authors by Elizabeth Carll, 4 by Dorothy Singer, 6 by Craig Anderson, 5 by Brad Bushman, and 2 by Karen Dill. OF all the people on the committee, Lilli Friedland is the only one that has not listed as a reference for the ill effects of videogames. One more cynical than I might think that these people have an agenda or something… (And this doesn’t even mention that they start the resolution stating, “…decades of social science research reveals the strong influence of televised violence on the aggressive behavior of children and youth..” as if were a given fact that too much tv makes you violent.)

Oh well, I suppose I should be thankfull that they didn’t bring up the old myth of rape in Grand Theft Auto since there is no rape in GTA…