Status Report

6 12 2007

So, we’re still around. Final exams/assignments and games have made us a little busy, so don’t expect too much writing until next week.

That being said, I wanted to comment on a few things, mostly relating to Gerstmanngate. I was hoping to do a post that discussed media relations with publications, based on a keynote that I heard in Winnipeg two years ago during the Western Prairie Northern Canadian University Press conference (WPNCUP). The speech was by Andrew Potter, who basically summed up his thoughts on “culture jamming”, which he published in a book he co-wrote with Joseph heath called The Rebel Sell.

The speech and book both left me with a lot to think about in terms of how media publications deal with advertisers, and why it may be better for them to have revenue through advertising than it would be to be entirely subscription based.

Unfortunately, I’m a little too tired to write it all out—hence all the linking—but also, I’ve been given something new to synthesize with Potter’s statements. N’Gai’s thesis on the contempt that publishers have for enthusiast press is insightful and reveals a lot more than I ever knew about the profession that I strive to attain.


kefka.gif Persepolian


Foreign Analysis: Rock Band

29 11 2007

I know it’s not my day, but I had something I thought people would like to read. A friend of mine (thanks Jinny) put me onto an article on by Sleater-Kinney’s guitarist,

An admitted non-gamer, Brownstein gives a humorous and thorough reveal about what she feels are the important differences between a real band and a “Rock Band”. It seems she enjoyed the game but, like most musicians I know, she holds onto the mantra that if you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars and thousands of hours pretending to play music, you might as well learn a real instrument. I don’t see why you can’t do both.



Foreign Analysis: Mass Effect

28 11 2007

Kotaku linked to a pretty interesting post over Magical Wasteland at about Mass Effect—or rather, what may have been left out of the game. Some of it seems nitpicky at first, but it’s actually provides some revealing insight into game development. I agree with most of what he suggests here, despite my extreme fondness for the game.



It may have guts and gore, but at least there’s geniune context to it

20 11 2007

Published in The Gateway at the University of Alberta, 19/11/07.

Despite the growing mainstream acceptance of video games, the idea that they’re just for kids is still infuriatingly prevalent. Nevermind that surveys have found the average gamer to be is in his or her late 20s; public perception and media spin constantly push the assumption that all videogames are toys for children, rather than entertainment for a variety of different ages.

While I’d like to say that influential members of the gaming industry—like the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)—heartily battle that perception, they probably infantilize video games more than anyone else. The prime example of this is Manhunt 2, Rockstar Games’ ultra-violent, psychoses-induced survival horror romp released this week. Originally intended for release last summer, the game was given an Adult Only (ages 18 and up) rating by the ESRB—gaming’s answer to the MPAA—due to its extremely violent nature. Since most retailers have strict policies against selling any AO-rated games, this rating effectively banned the game in North America, forcing the creators to marginally trim down the game’s gore before the ESRB dropped the rating to M, for players 17 and up. That’s a marginally better outcome than with the British Board of Film Classification, which outright banned the game.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, “So removing a scene where a guy gets his nuts ripped off is infantilizing?” Frankly, yes because while that action on its own has no context, it does in the game. You’re not just killing someone in cold blood; there’s a reason for it all, and that’s something any regular adult can understand. The murder stops as soon as they put down the controller. But the ESRB rating system’s inability to adapt to this growing maturity of gamers—continuously adding “content descriptors” doesn’t cut it—as well as the gaping chasm that exists between the Teen and Mature ratings hinders the industry’s development as its audience gets older.

For one thing, the distinction between a Teen and a Mature can sometimes be made by simply looking at the colour of the blood that spews from your enemies: green means Teen. Also, the age group that the word encompasses is far bigger than the ESRB seems to give it credit for: their rating deems it to be ages 13–17. I don’t really put much stock in a 13-year-old’s ability to fully understand the mature themes in a game like Grim Fandango or the sardonic humor and $100 words in the new Sam & Max games as well as a 17-year-old would.

This becomes important when the T rating encompasses vague situations like “violence, suggestive themes, and/or strong language.” For that matter, I doubt that a 17-year-old would get a drastically different message from Manhunt 2 than someone just a year older.
It’s a parent’s responsibility to determine what their kids should be playing. The problem comes when they can only rely on the ESRB’s content descriptors, which describe potentially offensive content in the game, except without that essential ingredient we call context—you know, that thing that tells you why you’d be committing any of these acts.

I’m of the firm belief that a game can be used to convey a well-written story and an adult, sometimes graphic, message. But the infantilization of the industry needs to change from within before public perception can change. Only then will games at least approach the maturity of the average 20-year-old.


Forgivaness, Puhlease. Also, thoughts on reviewing games.

7 11 2007

Many, many apologies for my absence last week. I had a lot of school work and real work to get done, and it took up a lot of my time. This week, however, I’ll be on the ball.

With that said, it’s no secret that I love podcasts, to the point of obsession. Not to say that I listen to every single podcast ever made—in fact I’m quite particular—but as someone who’s never really liked conventional radio, it’s a great alternative. There are a few non-gaming podcasts that I’m partial to—CBC Radio 3, for example, is fantastic—but my favorite ones have to be those of the 1Up Radio Network. Almost ever iteration of each podcast ranges from insightful, irreverent, to fucking hilarious. GFW Radio is usually all three.

Now, I usually listen to my podcasts religiously, but the tar-like bog of work I waded through last week prevented me from getting my fix. A few cold sweats, a Chai tea and some NHL ’08 later, I was finally able to listen to the 10/25 edition of GFW Radio, which was not only all three previously stated adjectives, it also touched on a topic I’ve been thinking about since reading a recent Kotaku article.

Starting at 12:20, the GFW editors begin to discuss the dynamics of game reviews, particularly how the audience can go into anaphylactic shock when a game gets an 8.5 when it was “supposed” to get a 9. Jastrick and I made it a strict policy never to use numbers when reviewing games on this blog, and Shawn Elliot brings up an interesting anecdote that clearly illustrates why:

“I had an interesting post-review discussion with someone at EA, they wanted to get my perspective on Medal of Honor: Airborne. It wasn’t a case of them challenging my review, they just wanted to supplement their understanding of it. And what was funny was that they looked at every line, and it started to seem clear that they were reading it in relation to, every single negative score is like…ok if a game is an 8, and there are only two comments that are explicitly negative, then each one of those must cost a point or something, and maybe if they look hard enough they’ll find 8 positive things.”

Now, I won’t entirely talk about numbers here, but I do find that rating games on a 10-scale is really very arbitrary. To use my own example, I was explaining to a female friend of mine that many men often rank women on a 10-scale that is primarily based in aesthetics. She continued to ask me things like, whatt constitutes a 9? How low will you go before you won’t sleep with the girl? How does a girl change these factors? Every answer on this list is subjective. Sure, there are universal basics that the scale is founded on, but anything beyond that is completely in the eye of the beholder. For example, my 10—a 9 with a healthy-but-not-too-freaky sexual appetite and a love of video games—is going to be far different from someone else. One commonality among most men, I told her, is that we won’t usually touch anything under a 5. So then it really becomes a 5-scale, which is similar to what was suggested in the Kotaku article.

A game review should be interesting, and informative, and should cover the universal factors of a good or a bad game—are the mechanics approachable, is it graphically acceptable, is the frame rate constant, etc. However, like they say in the GFW Podcast, they should also be something that sparks a conversation, not a flame war. It’s myopic to decide that, because you’re getting payed to review a game, you have the power to decide whether a game is a great game, or the greatest game. Everything you decide after the universal factors are subjective, and should be treated accordingly. That doesn’t mean that you have no authority on the matter. It simply means that your role is to make a decision based on your own tastes and give your audience food for their own thoughts and subjective likes/dislikes.

One thing I will say on the Kotaku article, though, is that I disagree with the notion that we too often review games are products instead of works of art. The argument here is that reviewers and gamers focus way to hard on how long a game is, how much time you get out of it instead of the value and enjoyment during that time. I couldn’t disagree more. And, just so I’m being current, I’ll use Orange Box as an example.

Let’s compare Episode 2 with Portal. Now, of the two games, I would say that, while I’m a massive Half-Life freakoid, I much prefer Portal. The game is funny, it’s charming, and the design of each puzzle is great. But the game is unbearably short. It doesn’t even begin to scratch the rusted surface of the oil drum that has “difficult” written on it until the 15th stage, and never does it become unbearable. After it’s over—which takes about 4 hours—you’re treated with a great little diddy at the end, followed by the crushingly depressing knowledge that it all ended far, far too soon.

Episode 2, however, while only a couple hours longer, is paced so well that I barely noticed how short it was. The difference here is that, while both games are below average in length, one game makes it impossible to notice while the other makes it impossible not to. The gripe over the length of a game is purely determined by how well the game hides it. Like Paul E. Dangerously used to say, “hide the negative, accentuate the positive.”


“Despite that, I chose to believe that the truth will out…”

31 08 2007

As reported by GmePolitics, The Virgina Tech Review Panel has released its final report, and low and behold, videogames (or video games) were not to blame. In fact, Seung Hui Cho barely played games at all. But I think the panel can say it better than I can. This paragraph discusses his early years:

“He was enrolled in a Tae Kwon Do
program for awhile, watched TV, and played video
games like Sonic the Hedgehog. None of the video
games were war games or had violent themes. He
liked basketball and had a collection of figurines
and remote controlled cars.”

And on his college years:

“Cho’s roommate never saw him play video
games. He would get movies from the library
and watch them on his laptop. The roommate
never saw what they were, but they always
seemed dark. Cho would listen to and download
heavy metal music. Someone wrote heavy
metal lyrics on the walls of their suite in the
fall, and then in the halls in the spring. Several
of the students believed Cho was responsible
because the words were similar to the
lyrics Cho posted on Facebook.”

This is great news for the industry, considering how many “prominent” political and psychological–if you can actually call him that–figures were screaming to god and all who would listen that video games beget violence, like the sky was falling. Video games have been absolved of creating violent psychos, at least in Virginia. That should make me feel pretty good.

But it absolutely doesn’t. One thing I’ve been saying since the whole thing happened is, why weren’t the students on campus properly informed? So much death could have been avoided had there been more notice than a two-hour-old e-mail telling young men and women that there might be a problem. So I decided to read the Panel’s report, top to bottom—Ok, so I skimmed through a few paragraphs here and there—and found some interesting stuff.

“At this point, the police may have made an error
in reaching a premature conclusion that their
initial lead was a good one, or at least in conveying
that impression to the Virginia Tech
administration. While continuing their investigation,
they did not take sufficient action to deal
with what might happen if the initial lead
proved false. They conveyed to the university
Policy Group that they had a good lead and that
the person of interest was probably not on campus.
After two people were shot dead, police needed
to consider the possibility of a murderer loose on
campus who did a double slaying for unknown
reasons, even though a domestic disturbance
was a likely possibility.

So why did those in charge of the University wait so long to inform students? Well, there were a number of factors. For one, the police were telling the University’s President and its emergency Policy Group that the first shooting—a double murder that took place on a campus dorm was most likely a domestic dispute, and that the murderer was probably no longer on campus. Statistically, the change of this being a much bigger incident was very low—hurray for resting on statistics. The Group was given no instructions or warnings by police to cancel classes or dismiss students from the campus, or even to tell them what had happened. Why did they wait for police instructions instead of taking control of their own campus and students who rely on them? Because in August 2006, a series of misinformation had SWAT teams swarming the school for an escaped convict who may have been on the campus, since the prison was nearby.

“In the eyes of the Policy
Group, including the university president, a
dangerous situation had been created by their
warning in that August 2006 event coupled with
the subsequent spread of rumors and misinformation.
The Policy Group did not want to cause
a repeat of that situation if the police had a suspect
and he was thought to be off campus.”

All of this being said, I think the most interesting thing covered in the report is whether or not the school should have canceled classes or put the school under lockdown after discovering the first two victims in WAJ. The panel states that stopping classes would have been feasible, if not difficult. They also state that, had the university taken any measure of action—because quite honestly, what they did was the epitome of inaction—lives could have been saved. But not all of them:

“It is the panel’s judgment that,
all things considered, the toll could have been
reduced had these actions been taken. But none
of these measures would likely have averted a
mass shooting altogether. There is a possibility
that the additional measures would have dissuaded
Cho from acting further, but…from what we know of his
mental state and commitment to action that
day, it was likely that he would have acted out
his fantasy somewhere on campus or outside it
that same day”

This is all pretty sad, and actually has made me pretty damn depressed for the day. I think I’m going to go take a nap, and have a good long think. Frankly, it’s moments like these that make me question who we really can rely on other than ourselves. What do we do when those whose job it is to protect us fail so gravely? /sigh, maybe slaughtering splicers will make me feel better.


“No human can make a game that good. Especially a white human.”

17 08 2007

If you go to Game Rankings right now, you may notice something a little…strange. Something not quite right. And if, like me, you are the kind of person who’s curiosity is peaked by this growing sense of dread and fear, you may seek it out, and come across the Reviews page for a little game called Bioshock. Suddenly those feelings begin to swarm all around you, choking you slowly as you scroll down and see what is causing it all. Tens. Tens everywhere, all around you. You can’t escape it no matter how hard you try, like taking a whiff of ass and not being able to rid yourself of that stench for hours, no matter how many coffee beans you sniff.

OK, so a bit theatrical. But I can’t help it. Honestly, I’m a little concerned. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been hyped for this from the moment I heard the second syllable in the title. Having never played the System Shock games, never dreading the wrath of Shodan, I wanted a way to redeem myself. But this is a bit much, no? I mean sure, I can’t judge the whole game from the demo. But so many 10’s? And the things these people are writing, these men and woman who I aspire to some day work side-by-side with, I can’t believe the way they lie.

Take IGN’sreview” for example. They claim the game is about 20 hours in length. I am to believe this obvious deceit? There hasn’t been a shooter longer than 12 hours since before time was created! To boast otherwise is ridiculous! Or how bout we look at what 1up had to say about it. They claim that the game makes you “think”, that your interactions may force you to “ask questions” and make “moral considerations”. What a bunch of garbage. When was the last time an FPS made you feel anything besides the glorious satisfaction you gain by tea-bagging some poor kid from New Brunswick? Never, that’s when.

Don’t get me wrong. I truly wish this game was as perfect as these idealists and dreamers would like it to be. But it’s not. This game they are talking about does not exist. It will never exist. It can’t be true. I refuse to believe it. It simply cannot be….can it?