Supreme Court’s Video Game ruling

I’m working on a post about some of the more outrageous comments I’ve seen in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling that video games are entitled to the same protections as films and music. I covered a lot of the more common misconceptions in a prior post where I discussed how film ratings are not legally enforced, how it actually is a first amendment issue, how violence is different than obscenity, and how media is different than regulations on alcohol and/or drugs. I’ve also discussed how there is no rape in Grand Theft Auto and how unless some store is still selling Custer’s Revenge or Rapelay then there aren’t any games that do feature rape. There is, however, one thing I don’t think I have covered: Tennessee.

When people try to correct the misconception that film ratings are legally enforced, occasionally someone will mention Tennessee. People will claim that Tennessee has a law which legally enforced film ratings. As far as I can tell this notion was started by a story appearing on a local Tennessee television’s website. In the story someone asked if film ratings were legally enforced and the television station replied:

In Tennessee, the legal age to buy a R-rated movie ticket — IS 18!

It’s not a new law, either.

Tennessee Code 39-17-907, enacted in 1989, states, “…viewing a motion picture designated “R” for restricted audiences, persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian…”

Violating the law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,500 fine and/or 11 months and 29 days in jail.

It seems like this story has been picked up by a few people since it was posted online and quoted as the truth. The problem is that the tv station is only quoting half of the sentence. If you read what the tv station wrote it doesn’t even mean anything. Here is the full text of the pertinent section of the law:

2010 Tennessee Code
Title 39 – Criminal Offenses
Chapter 17 – Offenses Against Public Health, Safety and Welfare
Part 9 – Obscenity
39-17-907 – Restrictions on showings.

39-17-907. Restrictions on showings.

(a) It is unlawful for any person to exhibit for public consumption, whether or not the exhibition is for compensation, any motion picture, film, movie, or videotape that depicts sexual conduct as defined in § 39-17-901, unless the exhibition is within a theater auditorium or other enclosed area that effectively removes the exhibition from the view of members of the public who are not voluntarily engaged in viewing the motion picture, film, movie, or videotape.

(b) Each theater at which two (2) or more motion pictures are shown in the same building shall maintain adequate supervision of the customers to prevent minors from purchasing a ticket or admission pass to a motion picture designated by the rating board of the Motion Picture Association of America by the letter “G” for general audiences or “PG” for all ages, parental guidance advised, and then viewing a motion picture designated “R” for restricted audiences, persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian, or “X,” persons under eighteen (18) years of age not admitted.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

I’m no lawyer but as I read it the law is saying that theaters have to have people around to make sure kids don’t buy tickets for a G or PG rated movie and then go see and R rated movie. It doesn’t say anything about making it illegal to sell R rated material to minors.

Oprah’s OWN? More Like PWN, Amirite???

Last week’s episode of On The Media had a segment on a documentary about Second Life called Life 2.0. Now, I’m no fan of Second Life. I’ve long been on the record that I don’t get Second Life. I still don’t get it. I know my fellow academics love to write about it but I don’t know why. I mean, I liked Snow Crash as much as the next guy but I still think Second Life is boring.

Regardless, at the end of the On The Media segment they mentioned something I did think was interesting: the Life 2.0 documentary is going to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s Network in August. Now, the low ratings OWN is getting aside, I think it is interesting that this documentary would air on a channel aimed at women rather than one aimed at gamers or one that regularly airs documentaries. They seem to think that this is something that would appeal to their audience.

Watching the trailer, I guess I can see why. It looks like the film focuses on the more extreme aspects of Second Life by featuring stories about two people who met online and left their spouses, some guy who has an avatar of an underage girl, and, of course, someone selling things.

I don’t know if this will appeal to OWN’s target audience or not but I do know I will be tuning in to watch.

Duke Nuke Them Four Forever

Back when Duken Nukem 3D came out there were lots of people pitting Duken Nukem 3D vs. Quake and arguing over which was better. Well, now that Duke Nukem Forever is out I don’t think there is really any game to compare it to.

Even if you ignore the storied history of the development of DN4, the game is really dated in lots of ways. The graphics look like they are about Doom 3 level. The humor is straight out of the previous game and the weapons are too. It also really feels pieced together from numerous different parts. There is a random strip club section which is just pointless. Perhaps weirdly, there is a whole section in an alien space ship that feels like it was taken from Prey complete with doors that look like vaginas. The physics are pretty weird too. For example, in one section you have to stack some barrels to tip over a shipping container and when the container begins to tip over one of the barrels floats in midair and if you get too close to them you bounce off weirdly. The most dated thing about it, however, is the gameplay. There are parts that feel very dated with basic physics puzzles and numerous boss fights.

The game it reminds me a lot of the original Half-Life for some reason. Oddly enough, Duke Nukem Forever was originally meant to come out back around the same time Half-Life came out. I wonder if it had came out back then if people would be pitting Duke Nukem Forever vs. Half-Life?

As it stands, Duke Nukem Forever is eminently forgettable. There is some juvenile and offensive misogyny in the game which might spark some controversy on slow news days. I think that Gearbox really just wanted to shove this out the door as quickly as possible so they could make their own Duke Nukem game. Maybe that one will be more memorable…

The Final Hours of the Final Hours of Portal 2…

So I’ve played through the single player portion of Portal 2 twice now — once normally and once with the commentary (although I did miss one of the comments at the very end because I pressed a button before I got to click on the commentary and then didn’t have an opportunity to listen to it). I haven’t played the co-op part though because I don’t have any close friends with Portal 2 and I don’t want to play it with strangers.

Anyway, I enjoyed Portal 2 but I wouldn’t say it was perfect. I wished there was more of the Rattmann stuff and while I’m a big comic book fan the Lab Rat comic wasn’t enough. I also felt the gel stuff, while fun, felt kind of unnecessary and like padding.

I think my biggest issue is with the writing. Without going into spoilers, I’ll just say that Wheatley’s storyline was extremely predictable and the revelations of GLaDOS was immediately obvious. Most irritatingly, for me, was Cave Johnson. He just seemed way too similar in style and humor to Team Fortress 2’s Saxton Hale.

A couple days ago I also had the opportunity to read through Geoff Keighley’s The Final Hours of Portal 2 ipad app. And by “had the opportunity” I mean I downloaded a copy of it not that I got a special showing or anything. And by “downloaded a copy” I mean I pirated it and then unzipped the ipa file and looked through the jpeg files that the text is embedded on because I don’t have an ipad. Apparently, the text is available on the Kindle even though the official website doesn’t mention it. I downloaded the free sample and the images were in black and white so I passed on it. However, now it is available as an Adobe AIR app on Steam and I did pay for that so I’m all totally legal now officer.

I found The Final Hours to be a quite fascinating read. I was left with wanting more though. I really liked books like Masters of Doom and the criminally out of print Game Over even though they are both flawed. While it is unfair to expect a $2 app to be the size of a full book, I would like to see The Final Hours of Portal 2 to be expanded to full length.

I’m a sucker for Valve games and I’m a sucker for “making of” books (about games I care about, mainly) so it is little surprise that I liked Portal 2 and The Final Hours of Portal 2. Like everyone else, though, I’m really waiting for more Half-Life.

wordpress updated

Just a fyi, I updated wordpress and once again had some trouble with it so if anything is broke please let me know.

Upgrading the blog software makes me feel like I do when I have to take my vehicle into the mechanic. It should be easy but it never is. Whenever you change one thing it turns out there are other things broken.

Next time my hosting bill is due I’m going to bite the bullet and move to a host that automatically updates wordpress for you.

Digital/Media, Race, Affect, and Labor Conference Presentation

This week at the Digital/Media, Race, Affect, and Labor Conference at my alma mater Bowling Green State University, I presented the aforementioned second half of my dissertation chapter on whiteness at LAN parties. As promised, here’s the slides from my presentation:

It starts out the same as the previous presentation so don’t think it is the same slideshow or anything. Now to try to get the dissertation finished!

Cultural Studies Association 2011 Presentation

On Friday I will be delivering part of my dissertation chapter on whiteness and lan parties. Unfortunately I won’t be able to really take in the conference because I have to be back in town for more research at a LAN party starting Saturday.

I’m delivering another portion of the chapter next month at another conference. I’ll post those slides then but until then here’s the slides I’m going to use at the cultural studies conference:

Bulletstorm Blown Over

I’ve been a bit busy with grading and writing and job applying so I haven’t gotten around to writing about the whole Bulletstorm thing.

For those out of the loop, the while “deal” started when John Brandon wrote a story with the pithy title, “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?” It isn’t of course the quality of the game that is at question but rather the morality of the game. Perhaps unsurprisingly the answer to the titular question was apparently, “yes.”

Rock, Paper, Shotgun covered the entire situation much more thoroughly than I ever could. They contacted the sources quoted by Brandon and found that nearly all of them had been quoted out of context.

While all of the sources quoted by Brandon responded to Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s requests for comments and interviews, there was one person who was curiously silent: John Brandon himself. For someone who has many articles that have been given questions for titles, he doesn’t seem to be eager to actually answer any questions himself. For a while he even protected his twitter account so that you couldn’t read it if you weren’t his friend.

I find John Brandon’s lack of comment on the issue to be really disappointing because I really would like to hear his side of the story. Why were the comments of so many of the people quoted in the article so twisted and taken out of context? Was it his doing or the editors? Why did he write the article in the first place? Why is he resistant to talking about the Bulletstorm column?

While he probably won’t ever answer any of those questions, he has unprotected his twitter account and looking back at the tweets he made immediately after the column came out but apparently before he protected his account make for interesting reading.

It looks like it begins on February 4 with his soliciting for people to comment on videogame violence:

Once the article comes out and people start twittering negative things about it, Brandon begins to have a few interactions with them:

So when called out for seemingly shoddy journalism he falls back on the old, “gamers live in their parent’s basement” line. That may be “journalism” but it certainly isn’t good journalism…

First LAN party and first LAN game?

I’m working on the intro to my dissertation on LAN parties and I realized that it might be good to talk a bit about the origins of LAN parties. So I’m wondering when the term “LAN party” first came into use. Can anyone remember hearing or using the actual term “lan party” pre-Doom?

I’m also interested in tracking down early PC lan games. I’ve tracked it back as far as games like 1990-91’s Spectre which sold a special “lan pack” but I’m wondering about games before that. I’m looking for games that functioned like traditional lan parties do where people use their own computer in the same room. I’m interested in games on personal computers and not earlier games that ran on mainframes so I don’t think things like Spacewar or even early MUDs are really what I’m looking for. I’m also not interested in games where two people would play side-by-side on the same computer.

If anyone can help me find the origin of the term “lan party” or early pc lan games I would greatly appreciate it!

The Third Fallout of the Witcher

Thanks to the Steam holiday sale I’ve just finished playing Fallout 3 and The Witcher. I’ve been thinking about them and I find the depictions of sexuality in them to be interesting.

As anyone who has played The Witcher knows, The Witcher is overtly sexual and features Sex Cards that are given out when the player has sex with someone. Of course the player, who plays as the male Geralt, can only have sex with a woman. Moreover, the sex cards have no real impact on game play. They are just trophies or notches on the belt of the player.

On the other hand, Fallout 3 takes the opposite approach and allows you to pick your sex but doesn’t really have any sexuality at all (at least that I encountered as I played it). You can’t have sex with anyone. One could argue that sexuality wouldn’t really fit in with the kitschy 50s-influenced theme of the Fallout series but there is also the fact that the SPECIAL system and the gameplay includes other realistic elements such as having to sleep and drinking alcohol so why not include sex?

As a thought exercise it is interesting to think how each game might change with the addition of a more open and non-heteronormative sexuality in the games. In Fallout 3 you can use your charisma to try to influence people but what if you could also try to bed them?

In The Witcher, there are several female characters that you not only have sex with but also have quest-based interactions. So when you encounter a woman you can try to bed her and you can also interact with her to further the game. With men you can only interact with them to further quests. Imagine how different your interactions with the men would be if you were trying to have sex with them as well? It would be a very different game.

Another aspect of these sex cards is that they are drawings of naked women. I’ve written before about how I don’t really get the point of looking at drawings of naked women and I still don’t. (I mean besides Betty Rubble, of course…) They censored these in the initial North American release but the “enhanced edition” is uncensored. I wonder if they would have made these things with naked male characters?

Apparently there won’t be any sex cards in The Witcher 2 Maybe the eventual Fallout 4 can take a little of The Witcher‘s sex and The Witcher can take some of Fallout’s flexibility.