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Real world ethics and gaming?

It is often debated whether videogames are ruining the morals and ethics of youth, however, I have a different dilemma in mind. The question at hand is, “Is it acceptable to buy a game or other form of entertainment if you know that one of the people who created it holds views that you strongly disagree with?”

This is not a hypothetical situation, but rather one based firmly in our modern world for it seems that noted science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, who wrote a column for Compute magazine for many years, has a few things in the works that are of interest to me. He is working on the Advent trilogy of games, the makers of A Tale in the Desert have just just announced a MMORPG based on one of his stories, and he is going to write Ultimate Iron Man for Marvel comics. And he is also an outspoken critic of homosexuality and gay marriage.

I’m not here to debate if he is right or wrong. I can’t change your mind and you can’t change mine. I also think he has every right to say and think whatever he wants. The question is, just because he is involved in something that sounds interesting, should I support him by giving him my money? I don’t think I will, but I’m interested in what others think.

The end of IU’s EA University???

With EA buying out everything, I was interested to see some local news about EA. I’ve previously discussed EA’s viral marketing and attempt to turn my school into EA University, well it seems that this is in danger of coming to an end! According to the Indiana Daily Student, the guy who puts up all those stickers (and there are new ones up, but my camera is in the shop so I can’t take pictures of them) is going “to leave void in campus program.”

While there is no doubt the guy does a great job and deserves every penny he gets paid, it seems odd that the article doesn’t seem to question the mixing of academics and consumerism. You would at least think it would mention all the damn stickers!

Whoever fills the “void” on campus, it will be very interesting to follow the how gaming companies continue to spend money on advertising on college campuses.

Games as Texts…

In between playing Thief 3, I got a couple books in the mail the other day and I’ve started reading Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar and The Making of Doom 3. Both books are visually amazing, but they are interesting in comparison to each other. The Doom 3 book is full of suitably scary and gothy fonts and layout, while the Half-Life 2 book is more slick and streamlined. The Doom 3 paperback, Half-Life 2 hardback. It is obvious that they meant the Half-Life 2 book to be more of a coffetable book. So far the Half-Life book is much more informative than the Doom one, at least in terms of background info. The Doom book is much more concerned with the technical things, while the Half-Life one is a more historical book.

The biggest thing though is that the Doom book has an author, Steven Kent, while the Half-Life book is simply “by Valve.” Who knew that beside making games, the folks at Valve wrote books? Seriously though, while the book is full of lots of quotes, almost like a commentary track on a DVD, there still had to be someone who sat down and interviewed these people and put all this into some shape. Since I tend to spend a lot of time interviewing people and putting those interviews into some sort of order, I’d like to see the person who did that get some sort of credit besides contributing editor or manager. It is interesting that a company like Valve that has had issues with people stealing their work, would put out a book without attributing it to someone. There’s all kinds of theft in the world. Just because some of it is legal doesn’t mean it is any more right…

On another note this is my 101st post on movable type (ok, sure there might have been a couple test posts in there, but still!) Of course before I used movable type, I had a site on geocities that I put up sometime back in 2001, and then started using blogger in April of 2002. I finally moved to my own dot com site in January of 2004 where I will be for a long time to come. 101 posts in a little over a year, not so bad, if I do say so myself. Thanks for reading!

Different (Red) Factions, Different Experiences

In my continuing marathon of gaming before classes start again, I’ve completed Deus Ex 2 and have finished playing Red Faction 2. Notice I didn’t say I completed it. I couldn’t force myself to make it through the final boss battle but other than that, both games were fun in their own way. I must admit that after playing Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and Deus Ex 2, to start up Red Faction 2 was quite a shock. I have written before that the graphics of the new games were pretty naturalized for me and I didn’t really notice them. However, when I saw Red Faction 2’s two year old graphics, I suddenly did appreciate the prettiness of the other games, especially when I jumped into Counter-Strike:Source or HL2 Deathmatch.

Because I went from Deus Ex 2 to Red Faction 2, in addition to comparing their graphics, I also couldn’t help myself from comparing other aspects. The first thing I noticed was that both games betray their console heritage. I played both of them on my l33t computer, rather than the x-box and while both played find with keyboard and mouse, there were obvious consessions made for the consoles. The most talked about console feature in Deus Ex 2 was the small levels and the frequent loading. Interestingly, Red Faction 2 had small levels too, but they weren’t nearly as frustrating as Deus Ex 2’s — and in fact, because Red Faction 2 doesn’t feature any in game saves — another console carry over — the short levels were actually welcome. That I found myself hoping to end the level in Red Faction 2, and thus automatically save my progress, and yet dreading loading a level in Deus Ex 2 was interesting. Constant backtracking was the reason why the small levels in Deus Ex stuck out so much. I especially dreaded settings like Cairo where you had to backtrack through one level just to get to the other level you wanted to go to. I found myself longing for the little lightening bolt thingys that Riven had where you could just zip past things and skip the stuff in between. Red Faction 2, on the other hand, is purely linear with no backtracking through levels.

So we have one game that features non-linear gameplay, which is supposed to be the hottness, and one that features linear gameplay, which is supposed to be lame and broke-down, and yet the linear gameplay is less frustrating. Now I’m not saying red Faction 2 is better than Deus Ex 2 because I don’t think that is the case at all. I’m saying that gameplay is meaningless if the technology behind it isn’t up to par. Deus Ex 2 looked pretty and had progressive gameplay, but the technology of the levels hindered the gameplay and made it frustrating. Red Faction 2, on the other hand, managed to somehow turn 3 liabilities – short levels, linear gameplay, and no in-game saves, which are both technological limits and non-progressive gameplay, and make it work.

Red Faction 2 had a lot of other problems, losing the Mars setting, continued underuse of their Geo-Mod technology, stupid cut scenes, and lame characters just to name a few, but they managed to make an OK game. Playing these two games back to back made me stop and rethink the relationship between gameplay and technology and how gameplay needs to work with the limits of the game engines to hide the limitations of the engine. For the most part Red Faction 2 managed to hide the limitations of their engine, while Deus Ex 2’s gameplay unfortunately highlighted the limitations of its engine.

Stupid is as Stupid Does…

I bought myself a settop DVD recorder for Christmas and on my Christmas break I’ve been copying over to DVD all the videogame stuff I’ve recorded on VHS. Yesterday I watched some of the videogames are evil/moral panic stuff including First-Person Shooter (the internet archive has a cached copy of the site which seems to have gone offline, but because it was all fancy flash, not much is left of it) which details the story of the filmmaker and his attempt to understand his son who is obsessed with Counter-Strike. I know when I become a parent my first impulse will be to make a movie about my son rather than to try to actual join in and play the game myself.

I also watched PBS’s The Video Game Revolution which, while a history and not nearly as moral panic-y as First Person Shooter, contains segments with a psychologist who closely monitors his son’s videogame playing. That isn’t a problem, because any responsible parent should do that. However, instead of actually, you know, turning off the game and controlling the situation, the father repeatedly tells the kid to turn it off while the kid whines and moans — but continues to keep playing.

Now I’m not a parent, and it is certainly easy to gel like an expert when you aren’t one yourself, but it seems odd that these two examples, in which both fathers have some sort of credibility lent to them by their profession, filmmaker and psychologist, both seem so clueless not only about videogames but how to parent. Is it any wonder then that people who seem so clueless about their children also seem so clueless about what they children are doing? I guess that is why we need people like Jack Thompson to try and save us from ourselves…

kids and games and fears

Just before Christmas, on my drive to my parents’ house, I was listening to AM talk radio and ran across a station discussion kids playing poker. There were specifically discussing a 12/20/2004 story by Marco R. della Cava that appeared in USA Today under the title, “Poker at an early age: Not just another teen fad.” According to the article:

Now kids as young as 10 are being dealt hands, often with parents’ approval. Poker paraphernalia is being hawked everywhere from supermarkets to kiddie emporiums such as Toys R Us. All of which rings alarm bells for gambling addiction experts who warn that poker could be a slippery slope into other high-risk activities.

To those of use that play videogames, this sounds awfully familiar. From my experiences with teaching college undergrads, I can attest that among the men Texas Hold ‘Em is very popular, almost as popular as videogames. As someone who worked in a casino for a little over 2 years, I’ve seen first hand the dangers of gambling. (Of course the fact that the article talks about the dangers of gambling doesn’t stop at least the online version from linking to a page on how to play!)

On the radio show almost everyone agreed that there wasn’t much harm in kids playing poker, and I more or less agree. However, it is interesting that there isn’t more of an uproar about the evils of poker. There are a few stories, but I’ve yet to see anything about banning it or anything. It seems odd that a game where losing money is a built in part of the way the game works should raise fewer concerns in parents than a videogame which would have to have negative consequences when you weren’t even playing it to be a danger.

However, if you read the article closely, you will noticed that it places the blame on poker’s popularity squarely on television:

Why now? Flick on your TV. Expanding poker tournament coverage on ESPN, the Travel Channel and Bravo has had two compelling effects.

First, the slickly produced shows (ESPN employs more than 20 cameras, comparable to what’s used on major sporting events) have taught kids the fundamentals of a wildly popular version of the game known as Texas Hold ‘Em, which challenges players to incorporate face-up table cards into their hands.

Second, TV has granted quasi-celebrity status to a hip generation of poker stars who can lose tens of thousands with James Bond-like panache. Hey, why suffer through the indignities of Survivor when you can make a mint with a steely gaze and a bit of luck?

While no one can argue that TV is responsible for the current popularity of poker, it seems that rather than having some inherent appeal to it, poker is attractive because TV has made it that way. Now right or wrong, that is interesting because the subtext here seems to be that, once again, it is the media’s fault! Why else would it matter that the show was “slickly produced?” By including that “fact,” it seems that the author seems to hold an Adorno-esque opinion of television in that kids can be won over by the glitz and glamour of it, rather than having anything to do with the appeals of poker in and of itself.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that by discussing the effect of television, the author of the article, at least in part, makes this no so much that poker is evil, but that television is bad! So once again we have a subtext that implies that if it needs electricity, it is seductive and can manipulate us.

Last Post of the Year!!!

Winding down from the end of the semester rush, and getting reaquainted with my tv and computer.

Not specifically related to videogames, I found a few new tools invaluable for modern researchers.

The first, and everyone is talking about it, is Google Scholar. Sure, there are limitations to it, as some have noted, but when you are doing research on a topic like videogames but don’t care about violence, google’s quality sure cuts down the amount of time it takes to find stuff. And that, for me, is what I’ve been waiting for, is better quality in academic search, not quantity. Ebsco and jstor are cool and all, but sometimes they can be impossible to use effectively. Best of all, there is a search plugin for Firefox that lets you search just google scholar rather than have to go to the url to search it. I’ve found several articles that were in the traditional academic databases but didn’t turn up untill I used google scholar.

Another great tool for academic life is Abbyy’s PDF Transformer, which as one might imaging, turns PDF’s into text. There’s nothing that frustrates me more about writing papers than having to retype block quotes. With this, you just convert it to a .rtf file and cut and paste quotes to your heart’s content. Most classes use e-reserves now, which are just articles scanned into pdf files, and the converter makes it a lot easier. (most OCR software will do this as well, but the PDF Transformer is cheaper).

Amazon.com’s Look Inside the Book and Search Inside the Book feature which is great if you can’t remember where inside a book a certain quote was. If you are looking for a good quote, or a source for it, A9 is pretty good because is uses google’s database and also lets you use the “search inside the book” feature at the same time. There is also a Firefox search plugin for A9 too.

This next is kind of a dark tip, but related to PDF Transformer, at least in the way in which I use it is, because if you work at it a little, you can get access to page Amazon shows you (that file is on your computer somewhere if you look for it!) and using pdf transformer turn it into text. You can also look at more than just the 3 pages in a row that Amazon lets you by just “searching inside the book” for the page number. There is a limit to the total number of pages Amazon will let you see per day, however, as I found out when I tried to get a whole article from a book that way once…

LIke I said, none of those have much to do with videogames, but they certainly made my life easier and saved me a few trips to the library when I was writing about videogames

books? they still make those?

I was flipping through my copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly and saw an ad for something I don’t remember ever seeing an ad for in a gaming magazine before: a book! Of course it was for a novelization of Splinter Cell, but still, it was interesting to see in a gaming mag. Also of note was although it uses the logo for Splinter Cell, it doesn’t have a picture from the game on it, but rather a fairly generic picture.

On another note entirely, count me as a big supporter of Valve’s Steam. I’ve never had any problems with it that I know many have had, but the number one reason I am for it, is no more damn cd checks. Having built a new system and only gotten around to putting one cd drive in it, I have to say that cd switching sucks ass. The issue of switching cds was so irritating that I attempted to delve into the world of no-cd hacks, to no success.

One thing that I was originally in favor of regarding Steam was that on the older games like Counter-Strike in its various versions, Source and Condition Zero, didn’t have one of those stupid splash screens that tells you who made the game. So imagine my anger when HL2 had their stupid Valve screen. We know who made the game! Why do you need to remind us every single time we start the games? At least there is only one, I’m playing Deus Ex 2 and it has at least 3. Note to game developers: stop pissing off your customers! Seriously, does that stupid splash screen really help? Does anyone really think of Neversoft when they think of Tony Hawk???

gaming gaming gaming

I just submitted my final grades to the university, so my semester is officially over! Of course to celebrate, I have been playing lots of games. I still haven’t noticed any real trash talking on Counter-Strike:Source, so maybe trashtalkers really ARE 13 year old kids? It will be itneresting to see if lots of kids get Halk-Life 2 for Christmas and the ammount of crap in CS:S goes up noticably.
I’ve been trying to get into Deus Ex 2, but I just can’t seem to do it. Too much takling and the gun feels too wimpy. Continuing my long running hatred of the Unreal engine, Deus Ex 2 has already crashed once on me and this new computer never crashed on Doom 3 or Half-Life 2,,,
I’ve also been playing a lot of Civ3. It was all research, I swear! I got an A on the paper, so I guess I might try to publish it at some point. Below is a portion of the first page. Anyone interestested in the rest can drop me an email.

The Civilization games have been lauded as “The Best Game of All Time” by Computer Gaming World magazine and the “Greatest Computer Strategy Game of All-Time” by Time magazine, won countless other awards and is responsible for a slew of both spin-offs as well as knock-offs (Friedman, Civ3.com). It has even been the subject of numerous studies into the educational potential of videogames having been declared by one scholar as, “a particularly intriguing tool for studying world history in that it allows students to examine relationships among geography, politics, economics, and history over thousands of years and from multiple perspectives” (Squire 9). Despite these accolades, the Civ games have not gone uncritiqued by scholars who have noted some of the Imperialist choices that have influenced the game designs.
While many traditional forms of explicit colonialism have fallen to the wayside, and historians have reexamined the way in which histories of colonization is presented, to a large extent, historically-inspired popular entertainments have failed to rethink the history which they purport to present. In wargaming and in historical simulations, issues are presented in a simplistic good vs. bad format which almost always either depicts the European as good while those whose lands were colonized as bad or they are depicted in such a manner that all civilizations have the same goals and structure. In this paper the ways in which Sid Meier’s Civilization videogames present a highly simplistic notion of colonization, imperialism and empire will be discovered. Also explored will be the ways in which the game reinforces traditional notions of good civilizations vs. bad (or barbaric) civilizations, what it means to be civilized, as well as the ways in which the game makes other civilizations appear either completely western or so inscrutably Other that the only way to deal with them is through eradication. The purpose of this is not to condemn the Civilization series, its creator, or players as “bad” but, rather, to demonstrate the ways in which the legacies of colonialism and classical liberalism continue to play themselves out in places as seemingly benign as our entertainments and how our current culture remains a Civilization of Colonialism.

Civilization and Colonialism and Empire

I just turned in my paper about Colonialism and Empire in the Civilization series. I’m certainly not the first to write about it. However, it did take me a while to hunt down those who have. So in the interests of making it easier for people to find sources about colonialism and empire in Sid Meier’s Civilization series, here is my Works Cited:

WORKS CITED

Avalon Hill.  “Civilisation.”  1981.
Bako Bitz.  “The Culture of Civilization III.”  Jan. 15, 2002.  Joystick101.org.  Dec. 7, 2004 <http://web.archive.org/web/20040324004449/http://www.joystick101.org/story/2002/1/12/222013/422>.

“Civilization (board game).”  Wikipedia.  Dec. 7, 2004 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization_board_game>.
“The Civilization Legacy.”  The Official Civilization III Web Site.  Dec. 7, 2004 <http://www.civ3.com/legacy.cfm>.
Chick, Tom. “The Teaching Game:  All I Really Need to Know I
Learned in Civilization.”  Jan 2002. CGOnline.com.   <http://web.archive.org/web/20020124200343/http://www.cgonline.com/features/020118-c2-f1.html>.

Civ3.com. The Official Civilization III Web Site.  Dec. 7, 2004 <http://civ3.com/>.
Civilization 3 Complete. Atari, 2004.  
Douglas, Christopher.  “‘You Have Unleashed a Horde of
Barbarians!’: Fighting Indians, Playing Games, Forming Disciplines.”
 Post Modern Culture 13.1 (Sep, 2002).  Dec. 7 2004.
 <http://alpha.furman.edu/~cdouglas/barbarian.htm>.
Friedman, Ted.  “Civilization and Its Discontents: Simulation,
Subjectivity, and Space.” Nov. 22, 1997.  Personal Site.

 Dec. 7, 2004 <http://www.duke.edu/~tlove/civ.htm>.
Guha, Ranajit. Introduction.  A Subaltern Studies Reader,
1986-1995. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
 ix-xxii.
Lammes, Sybille. “On the Border: Pleasures of Exploration and Colonial
Mastery in Civilization III Play the World.” Level Up: Digital Games
Research Conference.   Eds. Copier, Marinka and Joost Raessens.
 Utrecht: Utrecht University, 2003, 120-29
Mehta, Uday Singh.  Liberalism and Empire: A Study in
Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought.  Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1999.

Memmi, Albert.  The Colonizer and the Colonized.  London, Beacon, 1965 (1957).
Meyers, David.  “Bombs, Barbarians, And Backstories:
Meaning-Making Within Sid Meier’s Civilization.”  Forthcoming in
Ludologica: Videogames D’autore: Civilization And Its Discontents.
Vitual History. Real Fantasies. Ed. Matteo Bittanti.  Milan,
Italy: Edizioni Unicopli.  <http://www.loyno.edu/%7Edmyers/F99%20classes/Myers_BombsBarbarians_DRAFT.rtf>.
Moumouni.  “Pretty Historically Correct.” Jan. 20, 2002.  Joystick101.org.  Dec. 7, 2004.  <http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:mSg0dZG2sg8J:www.joystick101.org/comments/2002/1/12/222013/422/13++site:www.joystick101.org++%22culture+of+CIVILIZATION+III&hl=en>.

Poblocki, Kacper.  “Becoming-State. The Bio-Cultural Imperialism
of Sid Meier’s Civilization.”  Focaal — European Journal of
Anthropology 39 (2002): 163-177.  <http://www.focaal.box.nl/previous/Forum%20focaal39.pdf >.
Sartre, Jean-Paul.  “Introduction.”  The Colonizer and the
Colonized.  By Memmi, Albert.  London, Beacon, 1965 (1957).
Squire, Kurt.  Replaying History: Learning World History Through
Playing Civilization III.  Diss. Indiana University, 2004.

Stephenson, William. The Microserfs are Revolting: Sid Meier’s Civilization II. Bad Subjects 45 (Oct 1999). Dec, 7 2004 <http://bad.eserver.org/issues/1999/45/stephenson.html >.
“Wargaming.”  Wikipedia.  Dec. 7, 2004 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wargaming>.