Category: rants

I Don’t Really Love Gold(en Eye 2)

I got the chance to play a bit of the new GoldenEye yesterday. Now, I’m not some big hig muckety muck or anything, there was a booth set up on campus and had it, the new prince of persia, and a couple other games that aren’t out yet. Unfortunatly, I was running late for class and was only able to play GoldenEye2 for like 5 minutes.

5 minutes of pure hell! Now this won’t be a real preview or anything, but a mini-rant. I pretty much play FPS games every day. But I play them on computers. You know where this is going, right? IT took me the entire time to figure out how to control the damn game. FPS games simply aren’t made for controlers. I never got the hang of Halo (especially driving the damn vehicals) and I certainly wasn’t able to get the hang of GoldenEye2 in five minutes. I know the first one as well as Halo are insanely popular, but you can put it right up there with the Sims on the list of things about gaming that I don’t get. If you get it, more power to you. I don’t get the appeal of CSI or Law and Order either, so what kind of judge am I?

Other than that, the game pretty much looked like crud as well. It looked like is was using a first generation Lithtech engine. I only saw one level, so it might have been just that level. The rest may be beautiful as any other game on the market, but that level certainly wasn’t.

Illiterate Fools!!!

I’ve been having weird dreams lately. The other night I woke up from a dream about either a dissertation defence or a question and answer session after giving a colloquium. After I had finished waking up screaming and making sure there weren’t any professors hiding under my bed, I started thinking that so far in my graduate school career I’ve had to explain myself to people who had no experience with videogames. That is pretty crazy. When I get to the point of having to put together a dissertation committee I am going to force them to sit down and play some Counter-Strike.

But more than that, I have to think of how many pages I have had to fill with basic background information about videogames. As I lay there in be trying to fall back asleep, I realized that nothing is more of a testament to the fact that there really is a literacy to videogames than the fact that every time I go to write a paper for a class, I have to spend a few pages explaining what the hell it is that I’m talking about. So it is sort of a meta-commentary on the project that I am trying to make in and of itself. I’m trying to explain that there is a set of skills that one needs to develop to play most videogames and there I am having to give an education to my professors every time I write about it!

Associated with this act of explaining videogames to someone who doesn’t play them is the moral dilemma: do I have to write this crap again, or should I just cut and paste it from another paper? I like to think I have a pretty strict moral code, so I usually end up re-inventing the wheel every time, but hopefully there will come a time when I won’t have to do that.

Finally, since I mentioned a few posts ago that the videogames documentaries are creating a canon for the history of videogames, I am aware of the ways in which my constant rewriting of an explanation of videogames, I am engaging in my own canonization process in that I am canonizing what is a videogames and what people do in relationship to videogames. This, of course, has the risk of creating a narrow definition of videogames, gamers and the like, as well as putting blinders on to other forms of gaming. The moral of the story is that i’m sure I’m not the only one that goes through these dilemmas, and we all need to try to be aware of when we think of or write about videogames, we don’t do so in too rote or narrow a fashion.

Is it art or is it commerce?

I’m in the midst of unpacking, so this might not make much sense. Be warned!

I’ve been thinking about the state of videogame theory. I was over at the fairly newly launched and realized that it seems that all those who study games really aren’t studying the same thing. It seems there is a large amount of crossover between people who make games and academics. There are a lot of game makers who theorize and a lot of theorists who make games. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

In one sense, the interaction between the two is a good thing. It lets each side see things from the other side. I’m all for tearing down boundaries, and mixing things up.

However, on the other side, I would like to see a bit more separation between the two camps. I’m not sure I really all that interested in how to sell games or making better games or even using games for purposes other than to entertain. I don’t see that those have all that much to do with what I am interested in.

On some level, it is more of a personal problem. I don’t don’t want there to be a solid division between any approaches or goals to gaming. I’m just not sure that I want to read about some of those things. If I step back though, I think that the growing number of gaming blogs that have popped up in the two plus years since I started this site is a sign of the growth of the field. The fact that there are lots of sites that I don’t necessarily feel like they apply to me, and that I don’t feel the need to read regularly is a good thing, I guess.

German Doonsbury and Jack Thompson

Been terribly busy with the German class. I’m in the middle of doing hurried translations of some German-language videogame articles so I can write up an annotated bibliography and then go back to being a monolingual American!

This morning I saw that the comic strip Doonsbury had recently ran a week long series of strips about videogames. I hadn’t seen anyone mention it, so it is worth a read through if you haven’t seen it already.

Of course one of the stories that is getting the most buzz is the murder in the UK that is supposesd to involve the game Manhunt. Of course you know our good friend Jack Thompson had to get his nose involved. Some sources are even alledging the family of the murdered boy have hired him to sue Sony. Who knew that Jack was able to practice law outside of America? Of course now that the police have said that they don’t see any connection to the game, but that doesn’t seem to have caused Jack to say that he might have been wrong.

Has it been six months already?

It has been said that every six months the moral panic over videogame violence tries to rear its ugly head, and sure enough, nearly six months ago to the day I wrote a post about the public’s perceptions about violence and referenced a widely discussed New York Post column.

Well, now Nick Wadhams of the Associated Press has written a pretty wildly picked up article that once again Lawmakers are attacking Violent Video Games. Wadhams has written a fair number of articles on videogames before, so it is sad to see this new article to folow the stereotype so well.

Matteo Bittanti has written a great article about the formula for the moral panic and created, “The “Crusade against videogame violence story” CONSTRUCTION KIT™.

The most disappointing thing about the article for me is that it appeals to the same old sources: Iowa State University’s Craig Anderson, Mary Lou Dickerson, Leland Yee, Joe Baca, the National Insittute for Media and the Family and what report on videogame violence would be complete without a quote from my FAVORITE lawyer Jack Thompson?

Can we please get some new sources? At least Wadhams didn’t call up Dave Grossman but the new kid on the block, Evan Wright author of Generation Kill.

However, I must say that the reason why the use of sources is so disappointing is that not only are these people the exact same people who pop up every six months saying exactly the same things and for exactly the same reason, but in addition these are people with an agenda whose opinions are presented as if they had credibility. I’m sorry, but in my opinion none of these people have any credibility whatsoever. Of course if you are reading this then you probably know that. However, I don’t think it can be said enough. These are people with an agenda. I am not interested in the violence issue, but if we want to be able to talk about anything else the agenda that people have against videogames needs to be made clear and obvious so that we as academics can get on with more interesting subjects.

Untill that time comes, how about we all meet back here six months from now?

Use a cheat, go to jail

It has been widely reported that Gabe Newell has posted to the Half-Life 2 Fallout forums:

We’ve started taking legal action against cheating (cheat-sites, cheat creators,…) both in the US and abroad. This is in addition to the on-going investments in anti-cheating technology. You’ll see reports of this percolating up as various actions happens.

The reaction to this announcement at places like this games.slashdot thread have been mostly supportive of such announcements. However, you can’t have it both ways people. Everyone complains and complains about how evil the RIAA is for using people who download music. Why are we happy when Valve threatens legal action against people who have paid for the product?
I’m curious as to what grounds they are intending to pursue legal action. The DMCA? Copyrights? EULA’s? I thought we hated all those things too? When I heard that Valve was going to pursue legal action (and it isn’t entirely clear what that means, suing them for damages or attempting to prosecutes them for breaking a law), I was disturbed. I know cheating sucks, but legal action isn’t going to prevent cheating any more than suing people who download music without paying for it. Valve already pissed off enough people complaining about Steam (which I’ve never had a problem with) and with having Steam download Counter-Strike: Condition Zero in the background (even though the first time you started Steam after they added Condition Zero it DID tell you in the fine print that it was doing that) and I thought that more would be pissed off about litigation to solve their problems. Admittedly, some were, but the majority of comments seemed to be positive.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean people always want things that are good for them and don’t want things that are bad for them. However, from an ethnographic point of view, it is good to remind ourselves that as humans, our ways aren’t always consistent. I know I’m not and I guess I shouldn’t expect anyone else to be either.

Learning new ways to play vs. being taught a new way

Over at the IGDA web site, Matthew Sakey has written an interesting column, Reality Panic. In it he discusses the fact that when people were play testing Deus Ex: Invisible War,

At one point, testers approached a T intersection: to the right were laser tripwires and gun turrets; to the left was a locked door; and directly in front was a (usable) window. He said every single one of them, without fail, went to the right. One can imagine how frustrated developers must occasionally get when they watch gamers consistently employ Neolithic problem solving tactics when modern development tools make much more advanced techniques available.

The column makes a strong argument that the dominant paradigm of gameplay is changing. More and more things are possible, but we have been trained to think in narrow ways when playing games. We have been taught in a million little ways that the door can’t be opened and the window is a dead end. But that is no longer the case. Technology has progressed and allowed for more possibilities.

The problem is, no one told us that. As Sakey correctly points out, game designers need to reteach us. We can learn that the rules have changed on our own, but it will be much more effective, and much more satisfying if the game teaches us that the there are new possibilities open to us.

To take this farther though, I wonder if it might be possible that ten years from now, when we look back at the games where there were fewer possibilities and reminisce about how great they were just like we now reminisce about the simplicity of games like Pac-Man. Will we look at Quake and say that it was more fun, a better game because we didn’t have to worry about ragdoll physics and being able to find our own path?

I’m sure we will. I can’t wait until we get the “id classics tv games” that we hook up to our HDTV’s.

Same old story, same old song and dance

From time to time there are always those who like to pull out that good old, “How can you theorize games if you don’t know how to program them?” and argue that videogame scholars need to know programming in order to really understand what is going on in a videogame. While I don’t deny that there is some validity to that and I, myself, have a tiny little bit of programing experience (Logo, baby! I made a shooting game and everything!). However, there is another part of the story. I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that all the programming in the world isn’t going to help you really understand videogames because there is more to games than the software and hardware. There is the wetware, to go all cyberpunk. Yes, I’m talking about, once again, the people who play the games.
Therefore, I’m going to turn the question around, “How can you theorize games if you don’t know anything about ethnographic methods?” and I argue that videogame scholars need to know some anthropology, folklore or performance studies to really be able to articulate what is going on when we play games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t study videogames, I study the people who play them.
Anthropologists and Folklorists have been studying people for a long time now. They have written a whole lot about what people do in social situations. We should probably spend some time thinking about that. The more I think about videogames, the more I realize that the scholarly study of them really does require a unique background of information. There is the new media stuff, certainly, and there is the human computer interaction stuff, but there is also the good old fashioned human to human interaction too. We are people and we are doing things. What we are doing is just as important was what we are doing them with. So game scholars, take that intro to programming course, but make sure you also that that intro to ethnography, anthropology, performance, or folklore class, too.

Is it just me?

I’ve started leaving G4TV on in the background while I study or grade. Is it just me, or is the way the show Filter is set up vaguely offensive or at the very least creepy? For those that don’t know, the show is basically a Top Ten List show where they count down the Ten Best/Worst/Most games. Sometimes it will be the ten best fighting games, or the ten best boss battles, or whatever. Anyway, I recently noticed that every episode they have the host, Diane Mizota dressed up in a costume appropriate to the theme of the list.

If you think of the implications of that, its kind of creepy. So here she is, a person with no identity except that which the game gives her. It seems so weird. She is this empty vessel, which the producers fill with whatever the theme of the day is. Now certainly, that isn’t much different than ET on MTV or any of a million other shows, but do we really need to see a woman dressed up like Mario? As presented, she is little more than a doll that they play dress up with and young boys are supposed to drool at. She has no agency. No will of her own. To make matters worse, she is of Asian decent, so to the vast majority of viewers, she is probably already represents the Other. Let’s not even get into the fetishization of Asian women that so many male gamers seem to exhibit. So to the demographic that G4 seems to be strongly targeting, teen age middle american boys, she is doubly othered, woman and Asian and then they proceed to make her play dress-up in these goofy outfits.

Maybe I’m being a bit paranoid, it could be a lot worse. I mean I haven’t seen them do a tribute to DOA Beach volleyball yet or anything, but I can’t help but want to change the channel every time her show comes on because I can’t bear to see what outfit she is in every episode.