Lazy days of summer…

It is indeed the lazy days of summer. I just want to lay in bed all day. But my adoring crowd of fives of fives of dedicated readers insist that I update my blog. Oh the responsibility of blogging!

Random game related things:

I’m playing through Half-Life again. I know that it has been talked about to death by many people, including myself, but it still has something going for it. Lots of people mention the great story, but even having played through the game more than once, I really don’t see where this plot is. Sure, there is a storyline, but I don’t really care about it at all. What makes it so interesting for me is just that it is put together oh well. Never are there places where you have to really guess what you are supposed to do which makes playing it such an intuitive experiences.

However, it is not all wine and roses. For a games that is this old, and is still being patched from time to time, I’m surprised that it has as many bugs as it does. Every time I ride an elevator, I have to jump at the end of the ride or else I get stuck and can’t move. It is incredibly irritating and serves to remind me of how fragile the reality of a game is.

On another topic, I don’t think I ever mentioned it but Dungeons and Dreamers is a facinating read. It is strongest when it concentrates on Richard Garriot of Ultima fame and somewhat weaker when it strays to other subjects such as the id people (which is probably weakened all the more by coming out after Masters of Doom). *Irony Alert* I think that by focusing so much on people, however, the book actually missed out on addressing a much more interesting phenomenon. I know, I know, I’m the guy who is always saying, “Videogames are about people!” and”Ethnography is da bomb!” but while the story of how Richard Garriot amassed a fortune, and helped to create an industry and then got forced out from the company he founded in his parent’s house is facinating, I think that it really serves as an illustration of a larger phenomenon of the corporatization of the gaming industry. Garriot’s story nicely illustrates how the computer software industry moved from something that people literally did in their garages, bedrooms and attics by themselves and hiring friends and family and marketing games themselves to a multibillion dollar industry which is driven by profit rather than artistic vision and now takes years and large groups of people to complete. It also signals the death of the autuer, which is in and of itself an interesting phenomenon in that to the vast majority of people who buy games they are an authorless medium. Had Dungeons and Dreams explored this aspect with a little more detail, it would have made for an incredibly facinating analysis. Oh well, I guess that’s my job!

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.

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.