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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.

Cheap Bastard

I’m a cheap bastard. I hardly ever buy games full price. Well, I went to the evil that is Wal-Mart today and wow, they have lots of good games for $9.98! I finally picked up Max Payne (as well as Red Faction 2). Which points out the fact that, you know, I bought Red Faction 2, which is something I probably wouldn’t have done if they were full price. So of course, I just can’t wait untill ESPN NFL 2K5 comes out!
But anyway, to give you folks a heads up, there are some good deals lurking at you local Wal-Mart if you go past the boxes and look at the games in jewel cases.

EDIT: I’m refering to PC games. I don’t see consol games drop much below 19.95.

I hear they like it when you call ’em chicks…

A few days ago, Slashdot had a discussion titled, “Recruit More Women Developers, Attract Women Gamers?” which was mentioning the MSNBC article, “Gaming tries to shed boys’ club image” which discusses the attempt to get more women developing games so that more women will buy them. Of course a lot of the comments on Slashdot amounted to “make games that are fun, everyone likes fun” which totally misses the point that what is fun for one person isn’t fun for everyone. One of the posters brought up the Pew Internet study on college gamers (pdf file) but that study might be a bit misleading. I responded:

Actually I was at a conference back in April and one of the presentations discussed studies of the gender of gamers, and I think they referred to that Pew study specifically but I may be misremembering. Anyway they said that those studies tend to be a bit misleading because in general men and women tend to play different kinds of games, for different reasons and for different lengths of time. They said that women tend to play more card games and things like bejeweled online while men tend to play more of the retail buy in a box at the store and install games. Also they said that men tend to play for fun while women tend to play more out of boredom. Finally they said that men tend to play online for longer periods of time than women.

Now of course these are all generalizations and there are certainly exceptions, but I buy what they were saying and so we need to take studies about gender in gaming with a grain of salt to make sure that they aren’t whitewashing over some real differences.

Now the reason why I’m posting this isn’t because what I said was really insightful or anything, but because of the response I got. A woman gamer wrote a really great response to my post in which she discusses her thoughts on women and gaming. Go read it. It’s really interesting.

FInally before I go, go look at that MSNBC article again. Notice that first picture? While the gaming industry may be trying to attract more women, at least the people who picked the pictures for this article are still thinking in very traditional ways. “Let’s put up a picture of a game that women would be interested in!” “Oh, I know! They like the Sims! Let’s put up a picture talking about kissing and boys and all the yucky icky stuff girls like. Eeeww I hope I don’t get cooties from posting this!”

Lesen Sie Deutschen?

In order to get my language requirement out of the way for my phd I’m taking German this summer. The second summer session just started Friday (the day after the first session ended!) and we have to write a paper (in English!) using sources written in German. So what are some good internet available videogame essays written in German? I’ve run across a couple, but can always use some more.

Accuracy in reporting???

As most readers know they caught the people who stole the Half-Life 2 source code. However, in doing my usual Google news search for videogame, I ran across an interesting article about the source code theft. According to the Modesto Bee, “ Arrests were made in the theft of video game blueprints. From the article:

SEATTLE (AP) – Authorities have arrested suspects in a case involving the theft of software blueprints for the hotly awaited action computer game “Half-Life 2,” the FBI said Friday.

Who knew that software had blueprints? At least that explains why Half-Life 2 has been delayed for going on a year now. I’m no game designer, but I think you actually have to type all the code into the computer rather than write on that blue paper with white pencils.

I like to shoot people!

I was out playing Counter-Strike with some guys in the computer lab earlier, and while I know I am certainly not the first to say so, videogame scholars really need to read Clifford Geertz’s Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. (Note that this is an condensed version. Go find The Interpretation of Cultures or another book it appears in for the full version). Not only is Geertz an entertaining writer (something that is all too often lacking in academia, but he makes some interesting observations on what makes play and games exciting and involving.

E3 still offers intersting observations…

Robin Hunicke has some really great commentary on E3 over at her blog. Even though I’ve never been to E3, her thoughts pretty well match my own observations of it, especially in light of Tore Vesterby’s blog post that mentions that :

Gamespy is offering an official DVD of E3 coverage. I guess the booth babes are as important – if not more important – than the games when looking at their pre-order site and their promo text:

You’ll get 4 DVDs packed with over 200 game
previews, press conference coverage, looks behind-the-scenes, editor
cameos, even a booth babe featurette — over 11 hours of video, total!

Here’s my note to the industry: Yes, heterosexual men find women attractive. However, there are lots of other people in the world besides heterosexual men. Sure sex sells, but I tell you what, even I, as one of those who is in the target demographic, am getting tired of T&A. If we want T&A there are other places to get that. I get a dozen emails a day telling me where I can get that in fact. Everything has its place, and there is room for a lot more variety than the industry is giving us.

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.