Tales of the Rampant Coyote
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Thursday, February 18, 2010
 
IGDA Elections
For game devs interested in the IGDA, Scott McMillan of Macguffin Games now has write-ups on all 23 candidates for the ongoing election of board members.

IGDA Election - Candidate Scrutiny

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
 
Cruel and Unusual Punishment? No D&D!
Go to jail, no playing Dungeons & Dragons for YOU!

Game Over: Inmate Can't Play Dungeons & Dragons

Okay - on the one hand, I can understand that jail time shouldn't be an all-expense-paid gaming vacation. Especially in this case, where we're talking about a convicted murderer. So if a justice system decides not to reward inmates with a chance to sling some D20s, that's their prerogative. Fine.

But the justification - saying that playing D&D promotes gang-related activity? Ummm.... okay. I'll give the justice system a sliver of the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that maybe - MAYBE - they have actually observed the use of D&D in prison as a means to facilitate gang-related behavior. I don't have any familiarity with that environment, and really don't aspire to rectify that deficiency in my experience.

But really, my first impression that this is a silly, stupid, unjustified reaction based on leftover anti-D&D hysteria from the early 80s. And that's the part that really honks me off.

UPDATE: A law professor blog weighs in on the subject. And makes an amusing rebuttal to another comment about the potential criminal behavior caused by D&D.


"

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Thursday, September 17, 2009
 
Stormtrooper "Truthers"
The Death Star being taken out by a couple of X-Wings?

Nah. It had to be an inside job.

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Monday, August 31, 2009
 
Boycotting Games
What interests me the most about the hullabaloo surrounding Orson Scott Card's involvement in the popular XBLA title, "Shadow Complex" is that most of the journalistic opinions have seemed pretty fair and even-handed. Like this one:

The Turn of an Unfriendly Card

I share Card's religion, though not always his political beliefs. While I personally believe the aggression towards him and the game over-the-top and misdirected, I do support those who choose to vote with their wallets - and exercise their free speech to convince others to do the same.

I've refused to buy certain games not because of the political views of the developers, but the content (Postal comes to mind). Or their adherence to technologies and policies that were harmful to consumers (the PC version of Bioshock). But I'm sure I'd extend the same snubbing to a game where I felt my money would go to an organization or individual that might use my cash for purposes I find distasteful.

So how's that for a boring response?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
JT Vs. Utah
*SNICKER*

Okay, not that several people on my state legislature don't deserve prosecution - for failure to pull their heads out of their butts, if nothing else. But one would think that these kinds of antics showing the man's stripes would have a proper effect on his credibility.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009
 
The DMCA Eats Kittens. I Have Proof.
Well, okay, I lied. Maybe not kittens. YET. But maybe cars:

Right-To-Repair Act Proposed... for Cars

So apparently a non-dealer car shop breaking the encryption on your car engine's computer so they can repair it is a violation of the DMCA. Yeah. Encrypting the diagnostic chip in your car engine to lock out non-dealer service people. Brilliant. Ever get the feeling that in the war of the pirates and rip-off-artists versus the businesses, creators, and producers of the world, the consumers are the ones taking the most casualties?

You know, what's really needed here is consumer education. This is the first I have heard of this practice. Why is that? You'd think that the competition would have a field day making this known - unless they all do the same thing.

Hat tip to GamePolitics.

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Monday, May 11, 2009
 
Germans to Ban Paintball?
Ye gods.

This reminds me of a story I heard about a family friend who wanted to make sure her children grew up in a household free of suggestions of weaponry and violence. Then she discovered that her children were trying to shoot each other with the foam letter "L" - held like a pistol.

Paintball is not a sport for young, impressionable children, anyway. But neither is Counterstrike. I wonder --- after everything is banned, what will they blame the next shooting on?

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Monday, April 20, 2009
 
I Hear Wal-Mart is Still Hiring Greeters
Sucks to be out of a job in this economy, but it looks like Jack Thompson will remain "disbarred for life."

U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Jack Thompson's Appeal.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009
 
Political Minute
Sometimes I feel that if we put all our elected officials in a room together, the collective IQ of the room still wouldn't exceed that of a bowl of Cool Whip. But then I get reminded that yes, some of our leaders in my state and country actually pay attention and really do have detailed, intelligent discussions on all kinds of surrounding issues. And then they vote "wrong" anyway... :)

But I was very pleased to learn last night that the latest Utah anti-videogame bill, HB 353 (the "let's punish retailers who try and do the right thing" bill), was vetoed by Governor Huntsman. The linked site has his letter to Speaker Clark and President Waddoups explaining his rationale for the veto, which includes concerns about constitutionality and the "unintended consequences" of the bill.

On a totally unrelated front, I've become a fan of my district's congressional representative in Washington DC. As a freshman idealist in the minority party, his days may be numbered. But Rep. Chaffetz is tech-savvy, has leg-wrestled and played Rock Band (badly) with Stephen Colbert, and has "cot side chats" posted on You Tube weekly where he talks about what he's doing in Congress, how he's voting on certain issues, and why. Oh - and the cot: He is one of several members of Congress who live frugally and sleep in their office during the week rather than renting an apartment in town.

Chaffetz recently sent me an email detailing his opposition to a bill which was extremely straightforward and blunt. I liked that - and not just because I am unhappy with the bill. :) (It's totally non-game related: HR 1068, the so-called "Let Wall Street Pay For Wall Street's Bailout" act - which was really more of a "Let Wall Street's CUSTOMERS - and their customers' customers - pay for Wall Street's Bailout" Act).

Anyway - I'm thrilled the stupid bill got vetoed. But like popular-but-vapid first person shooters, I expect there to be a sequel coming out next year.

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Friday, March 13, 2009
 
Utah Bill a Setback for Parents, Retailers
Utah HB 353 passed overwhelmingly last night - a bill which, as far as I can figure - is nothing more than a stimulus package for down-on-their-luck lawsuit attorneys. It punishes any store (or, with senate additions, internet site - potentially like this one) that tries to do the right thing. Which to me, means: "Don't expose yourself to liability by trying to do the right thing." Or if you try, don't commit to it in public in any way, shape, or form.

Sounds like it made for cheap "family values" points for politicians who are tilting at windmills trying to fix something that isn't broken. And it sounds like what it will really accomplish is the opposite of its stated intention.

The bill was penned in part by disbarred lawyer and general whack-job activist Jack Thompson, and apparently our brilliant politicians decided to regurgitate his self-serving, fact-deficient hyperbole as arguments during the proceedings.

While El Whack Job insists that companies can't "opt out" of even the vaguest commitments now that the underlying rules have changed beneath them. I guess they found that suspending the Constitution for this medium was too challenging, so we've now got this new backdoor for trial lawyers looking to make a buck, and when "open season" gets declared it's not about the facts - it's about dealing with the legal fees to defend yourself.

In all honesty, I don't know if, when this gets signed into law, anything will ever happen directly. It's stupid, useless, and weak, but it's really a set-up for future legislation. I actually suspect that it's real intent is to punish those who attempt to do the right thing as a set-up for future legislation in a few years that will take retailers to task for not doing the right thing. Sorta like stealing a knife, stabbing yourself with it, and then suing the person from whom you stole the knife for the injury.

Reminder: Rampant Games' official policy is... to not have a policy regarding age. Ambulance chasers and corrupt (or stupid) politicians have warped what should have been a valuable tool for parents into a disease-ridden bag of political poop, and I won't be party to it.

Nor will I be voting for my current state representatives when they run for re-election.

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Monday, March 09, 2009
 
Should Game Ratings Be Enforced?
Sigh. Another week, another rant about game age ratings, I guess. I'm normally a fan of John Walker, but his latest essay left me cold:

Should Gaming Age Ratings Be Enforced?

Frankly, the very suggestion that parents should be imprisoned for allowing their child to play a game of an "inappropriate age rating" is abso-freaking-lutely ludicrous and disgusting to me.

Granted - there are some shamefully negligent parents out there who I feel shouldn't have been allowed to spawn progeny in any society. And I reluctantly agree that the state and community needs some level of authority to rescue children from parents who are abusive, negligent, or otherwise clearly screwed up. My reluctance comes from the feeling that I don't feel I could trust the government to hold a carton of eggs for five minutes these days, let alone trust them with these kinds of decisions.

But somehow holding a gun to parents' head over something as stupid as what really amounts to extremely broad and general age guidelines? Disgusting. At least the film industry was smart about how it named its ratings here in the U.S. - "PG" for "Parental Guidance." The government tends to get target fixation on the name and ignore the underlying meaning.

As a parent, if I feel my 10-year-old is capable of handling a PG-13 Harry Potter movie, then that's my call. I really don't think the government knows my ten-year-old better than I do. And I'm really glad my mom figured I was capable of handling PG-rated Star Wars when I was only eight years old. If dorks like Bill Hastings were in charge of things in 1977, that awesome experience would have been punctuated by her being arrested and me being sent to a foster home or something.

Walker does suggest that his favor of game ratings comes from a desire for grown-ups to be able to play their games. And since adult gamers outnumber the children by a substantial margin, that is significant. Being able to say, "This is a kid's game" versus "this is a grown-up's game" helps keep things a little clear in walnut-sized brains of government officials, who have the retention capability of Dilbert's pointy-haired boss. I used to agree with this attitude. Until I saw that categorization being used to hurt us, rather than help us.

Sorry, New Zealanders. I offer you sympathy. You guys have bad law on the books, and an idiot pushing for its enforcement. I fear my own country isn't too far behind.

On the other hand, I can't think of any better way to make video games seem cool than to make them an outlawed pastime. Booyah!

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009
 
Rampant Games Official Statement Regarding Age-Appropriate Game Sales
Just in case you didn't know, Rampant Games sells games.

I know a lot of you just come for the blog, and that's cool. But I sell games, too. I don't sell nearly as many as I'd like. I make way less than minimum wage doing this. But it's a labor of love.

I've got quite a few games on the website. Especially adventures & RPGs. If I ever find time again, I'll be adding more. And, of course, I'm spending much of what would have been "free time" writing new games that I hope you will enjoy.

I'm a Utah-based game seller. Yesterday, the state house passed an idiotic and counter-productive Utah bill penned in part by disbarred lawyer "Wacky" Jack Thompson. I figure there's a good chance it will become a law - even if a short-lived one - here in my state. Our house reps are apparently idiots, and I don't expect the state senate to be any better. Since it could theoretically affect me, I wanted to make an official statement of policy here. I want to advertise myself truthfully here, so that the local psychotic busy-bodies and ambulance chasers might not attack me on a technicality:

Rampant Games makes NO promises as to the age-appropriateness of these games for YOUR children. Nor will Rampant Games commit to enforcing its - or someone else's -opinions on age-appropriateness on customers.

I do not know your children. I do not know your standards. I've got my own standards for my own kids, and that's my responsibility. Your children are your own.

Games sold by Rampant Games are generally not rated by the ESRB. That system does not serve small independent game developers. And in truth - I prefer it that way. As we can see from this bill (and a whole bunch of failed bills before it...), the rating system has become corrupted and abused by people in power as a way to attack an industry they don't like or understand.

Now, I do try and add suggestions in many of the descriptions as to whether or not I, personally, consider the game to be "family-friendly." I really don't sell "kids' games." I sell the kinds of games that I like, and that I assume my visitors like. I do like - and sell - a lot of games that I feel are appropriate for my own children. But I also sell some that aren't.

Parents: I am not your babysitter. I am not your nanny. Nor do I think the government has any right to be.

Between stupid bills, technological limitations, and the nature of my business, I am not going to commit to policing my personal views on age appropriateness for the games I sell. Nor will I attempt to enforce some arbitrary politically-motivated "official" ratings system upon my customers, making it more difficult and confusing to purchase games online than it already is.

If your kid somehow has their own PayPal account or authorization to use your credit card, I would suggest that you keep an eye on how they use it. You really ought to make sure they aren't paying for porn access, funding terrorist groups, contributing to the Jack Thompson presidential campaign fund, or... oh, yeah.... buying inappropriate video games.

But I won't force my personal beliefs and opinions on you.

I think you, as a parent, should take an interest in the entertainment your child is exposed to. This can be difficult, especially when your ten-year-old ends up playing HALO or watching The Dark Knight at a friends' house. That's just life. You do what you can. I know it's challenging. I'm right there with ya. I think it is completely asinine that our politicians think they can hand-wave those issues away - especially by attacking a barely-related non-problem in the name of "doing something."

Ultimately, watching over your kids is your job as a parent for your children, just as it's my job with mine. As a seller of videogames, I am not going to attempt to second-guess you as a parent. If you think Fatal Hearts is appropriate for your eight-year-old, that's your call. If you don't think your fourteen-year-old is mature enough for Aveyond 2, that's also your call. You know your kids. I only know my own.

Now, if you have questions, please feel free to contact me and ask. Now, due to government regulation, I cannot commit to assisting you in any way, shape, or form. But I will say that in the past, I've either been in a position to answer said questions, or to contact the developer (many of whom I'm acquainted with via email, and some of whom frequent this blog and the Rampant Games community forums) and ask for assistance - whether it's been technical support, a gameplay question, or a question of content. I am happy to offer my own opinions and suggestions - so long as you, the customer, understand that is strictly my own opinion or suggestion and may be of no use to you.

I do this because I believe that this is the sort of thing that should be handled informally by parents and their chosen community and those they do business with - and not by grandstanding politicians, special interest groups, and jackass lawyers (disbarred for bad conduct or otherwise).

I hope that my customers feel the same.

On a side note, I don't feel that any of my games are appropriate for Jack Thompson, Utah Representative Mike Morely, or Utah Eagle Forum kingpin Gayle Ruzicka. I really don't think they are mature enough to handle them. But true to my non-pledge, I won't prevent them from purchasing games on my site, either.

Thanks for listening.

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Friday, February 27, 2009
 
Jack Thompson's Two-Part Utah Videogame Attack
So if you rob a man, steal his gun, try to shoot the man with his own gun, and it blows up in your hand, can you then sue him for your injury?

Apparently, Jack Thompson is trying to do that here in Utah.

His first step - which just passed committee - is to smack down any retailer that tries to do the right thing. You can still try and do the right thing, but you'd better not admit to it, as then you can be liable.

Assuming this passes, the camel's nose is in the tent in two ways:

Possible Step 2 A: Wacky Jacky's plan is to use the "fact" that the videogame industry us no longer "attempting" - or admitting to attempting - to police itself (for fear of massive fines if they ever fall short of perfection) to push for the government to take over that job.

Possible Step 2 B: Wacky Jacky now has a law which has not been Constitutionally challenged (or better, challenged and failed) as a tiny, tiny example of where the government can step in and make the game's industry's VOLUNTARY ratings system designed to assist parents in making decisions concerning their children's entertainment, and make it mandatory and enforceable by law. At that point, the sky's the limit.

And my idiotic legislature is probably gonna just let the thing through. Because, you know, who really gives a fig?

Which is why I'm not in favor of any kind of voluntary ratings system on downloadable / indie games - something that is discussed occasionally. No good deed goes unpunished. Selfish old lawyers and politicians will figure out a way to line their own pockets by turning it into a weapon against you.

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Monday, February 09, 2009
 
Benefits of Videogames
Since some locals in my neighborhood have been freaked out by the recent BYU study that found that (my interpretation) excess solitary gaming can effect you as badly as any other excessive solitary activity, I figured I'd pass along this link from Edge:

The 15 Clearest Benefits of Gaming

Many of these benefits can also be obtained via *gasp* other, more conventional activities... just as the problems associated with gaming are associated with many other more conventional (and accepted) activities.

Go figger.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009
 
Jack Thompson Seeks Refuge Amongst Utah Extremists!
I can't tell if this is supposed to be horror or comedy, but I'm pretty sure I've seen this movie before. And it sucked then:

Jack Thompson Vents His Spleen in the Deseret News

Jack Thompson Finds Sucker to Sponsor His Bill in Utah

Not freakin' again. Jack Thompson was disbarred over - among other things - making false statements in tribunals and professional misconduct. In other words, the court system has determined that he is a liar and all-around douchebag.

I guess he's right at home hanging out with politians and nutcase extremists.

We'll see how far Rep. Mike Morley can carry this sack of toxic manure before the bottom falls out and covers him with stink.

Can I just say for the record, as a Utahn - most of us aren't that freaky. At least not in that way. Yeah, in general we're a pretty conservative state - but outliers like the Eagle Forum folks are out there even for Utah.

I personally have a lot of respect for our AG, Mark Shurtleff - who has himself picketed a local videogame company (where some friends of mine have worked) and protested violent videogames. He has expressed that he feels it is his right and responsibility as a citizen - but he also feels that what has come out so far in terms of legislation against videogames has been unconstitutional and unenforceable, and has indicated (at least to my ears) that he feels it is a responsibility that belongs in the hands of parents, not the government.

But of course, disbarred-lawyers and authors with political aspirations can't use THAT as a platform to further their careers and get rich.

Hat tip to GamePolitics for the heads-up.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009
 
Taking the Safety Off
Scott Jennings, the blogger formerly known as Lum the Mad, has posted an outstanding article that really hit home with me. It's about subject matter. The taboo subjects that games are apparently not allowed to contain:

Broken Toys: The Real Hitler Problem

This article refers to some equally well-thought out essays entitled "The Hitler Problem" and "Dealing With the Hitler Problem."

I feel unworthy and unqualified to comment on this, but that rarely stops me. But I'm afraid on this topic, I have more questions than answers.

I'm one of the people who wasn't particularly impressed with Super Columbine Massacre RPG. Not necessarily because of the subject matter, but because of its treatment (and what I felt was a disingenuous explanation by the author for his treatment of it).

But I am a supporter of games dealing with real-world issues. Including the uncomfortable ones. But we've got a medium that has a legacy of silly, over-the-top, juvenile power-trip fantasies where morality is usually painted in stark contrasting colors. We have journalists and politicians and grandparents who are being forced to notice video games only because of the sheer ubiquity of the hobby, and they are still expecting Pac-Man. Instead, they see Grand Theft Auto.

And granted - I don't necessarily want to deal with real-world ethical conundrums when I play games. When I'm slicing and dicing buttloads of enemies in Ninja Gaiden II, I don't want to think, "Oh, what about this guy's pregnant girlfriend sitting at home alone tonight wondering why he's late tonight? Should I really have dismembered him like I did?" I want the comic book fantasy. Not that comic books are all about black-and-white morality, either. But you know what I mean. I want to just be playing a game. No repercussions.

So do we sterilize history, and our stories, to help the player enjoy an evening of guilt-free, more kid-friendly pleasure? Or do we go ahead and have games that deal with the subject of slavery in the Age of Colonization, and the real horrors of war? Can games deal with real evil, instead of the Saturday morning cartoon evil?

Can we take the safety off?

Will it be commercial suicide to do so? Can only indie games (which are already taking the lead in this respect) really afford to ignore the dogmas of political correctness?

Can we, as in the original Star Trek series, deal with real-world issues more appropriately only by concealing them within metaphors? Are we doing ourselves an injustice by limiting ourselves to this?

Does the interactivity of games enhance our points, or dull them? By putting you in the shoes of a "bad guy" - a real bad guy - do we magnify the impact of the horror, or desensitize the player to it as he mechanically goes about his tasks? Do we promote understanding, or promote sympathy for the Devil?

And is whitewashing the issues of the past and present even worse?

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Monday, January 12, 2009
 
More Anti-Videogame Legislative Wrangling in Utah
Courtesy of GamePolitics.com:

Jack Thompson Working on New Game Legislation in Utah?

Yeah. Working with the ultra-freaky Utah Eagle Forum. Utah has its share of nutjobs, to be sure, but too often this ultra-right-wing group ends up portrayed as representing the entire state. They are largely irrelevant here, but they are frequently used for sound bites on local news programs simply because they are quick to have something extreme to say.

But it gives Thompson credibility, I guess, since most people outside of Utah (and most people IN Utah) have no clue who these people are. So I guess it makes him sound like he's working in some official capacity. And unfortunately, some local Utah lawmakers might go along. I've come to discover that many of them aren't exactly swimming in the deep end of the pool of intelligence and talent in this state.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009
 
Best Defense Against Piracy: Enforce Existing Laws
Rock, Paper, Shotgun writes about the state of Russia's thriving (and growing) videogame industry - once threatened by rampant, open piracy:
The pirates were making a lot of money and weren’t likely to be stopped easily. They were mass-producing packaged copies that looked like real games, and were competing directly with the actual, licensed publishers for commercial product. 1C went as high as they could: to President Vladimir Putin himself. The man from the KGB soon realised just what value this burgeoning industry would be to his vast, developing country. The punishment for commercial piracy is now up to seven years in prison. A Russian prison. As disincentives go, it’s a good one.

With 300 people a year now jailed for software theft, piracy is rapidly disappearing quickly in the major cities of Russia. The Russian government have even managed to close some of the major torrent sites, and have published an anti-piracy guide to help retailers avoid getting burned by illegal distributors. It is a tough regime, but the Russian government know that they can’t allow crime to dominate their development: in gaming as much as anywhere else.

You can read part 1 of the article here.

This is a little different from what we're facing in the U.S. (fortunately for American software developers). People who consciously rip off software developers' livelihood for their own profit are a particular kind of scum quite worthy of staring at cell walls for a couple of years. This is obviously not the same case asa middle-schooler who swaps MP3s with her friends.

But it does illustrate the problem - piracy is generally considered a "risk-free" crime. There's a much greater risk of disappointing your friends by not sharing.

I'm as nervous of the idiocy of crackdowns as the next person, particularly with technologically illiterate grandmothers and young girls getting caught in the "stings" of the past by the RIAA.

But I think we need better enforcement of our existing laws (though can we get rid of the horrible DMCA, please?) by the folks who are supposed to be enforcing the law. This obviously drove piracy further underground in parts of Russia, as the risk outweighed the reward. The better we can do this, the more we can leave software companies free to actually reward real customers, rather than wasting their time and money and pissing off their customers trying to enforce the laws themselves with draconian DRM measures.

I dunno about you, but I'd much rather they spent those hundreds of thousands of dollars adding more content or performing a little better testing before releasing a game rather than implementing stupid DRM schemes that are more likely to prevent legitimate customers from playing their legally purchased games than stop pirates.

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Monday, December 15, 2008
 
The Economy As An MMO
It seems you can't go ten waking minutes these days without hearing someone talking about the awful state of the economy. Alas, now my blog is no exception. But as a gamer, it can get a little confusing to hear all about subprime mortgages and credit default swaps and stuff. So I figured I'd create an extremely loose analogy in MMORPG terms.

This will probably only serve to add to the confusion and chaos - in which case, my job here has been done.

The Game
So let's say there's an MMORPG out there that has been all the rage. It has been praised for its incredibly complex (yet cool) economy, which includes the ability to loan money to other players with a built-in system for charging players monthly payments with interest. As cool as this is, there's an even more cool and powerful guild system. You can even have subguilds-within-guilds, which has allowed for major "uberguilds" to pretty much take over the world, fashioning themselves as nations and collecting regular dues from all their members.

Guilds in this game gain bonuses for specialization amongst its members, so you have specialist sub-guilds that organize along the lines of crafting guilds and financial guilds. The financial guilds have grown very powerful lately, and a few big ones effectively merged in a bunch of smaller ones simply because they were so successful and so powerful - everybody wants to be with the winners.

This game also has an extremely deep and far-reaching end-game that doesn't require constant raiding - if you have the best possible gear (and really cool - and expensive - mounts). This stuff requires constant maintenance in the form of monthly gold payments, but at really high levels it is no problem keeping up. When you are killing dragons instead of giant rats, gold comes easy.

Finally, like Ultima Online, the game lets you buy land and build on it. Not only is owning a headquarters required for all the guilds, but having a place to call "home" - whether rented from another player or owned outright - greatly increases your character's stats. The bigger the home, the more powerful your character. However, in-game houses and land also cost a regular monthly maintenance fee proportional to their benefits.

The Situation
In an effort to recruit more members (and make sure their members are more l33t with higher dues-paying potential), the uberguilds have been working in conjunction with the financial guilds to help members get their own houses, and to twink them in higher-level gear which they normally couldn't afford or pay the maintenance costs for. This helps power-level new characters so they progress quickly to higher levels where they can kill dragons instead of giant rats - and thus easily afford equipment and house maintenance AND the loan payments.

So even characters still in single-digit levels are getting offered gear suited for level 50s (no problem, since this game goes beyond level 200), and houses which were originally intended to be barely affordable by characters level 70 or above. The financial guilds work with the uberguilds to loan newbie characters the money and equipment that they need, since they both benefit. The uberguilds get more money from the dues that higher-level characters can pay from dragon-killing rather than rat-killing, and the financial guilds get constant loan payments - which they in turn use to finance the absolute BEST gear and houses they can get in the game.

For a while time, it works fabulously well. Characters are advancing quickly through levels, hitting level 100 in under a year (the designers intended it to take at least 3 years to hit level 100). Since land and houses are a limited resource, prices keep climbing through the roof with every rat-killing newbie expecting to get into a house. The supply of gold seems nearly infinite, as is high-level equipment. The uberguilds are getting fat, regular dues, and the financial guilds are making money hand-over-fist with their loan payments.

The Problem Arises
The amount of money and high-level gear in the game doesn't seem right. Some of the gear comes from pretty rare drops on extremely high-level mobs. There should only be a few dozen instances of these items on the entire server, yet there are thousands. The programmers and designers do some digging, and find that there has been an incredible wave of duping of gold AND items by players.

The programmers implement a retroactive fix. All duped items - AND all duped gold - will slowly begin to expire. Not all at once - it's a slow process, starting with the most recently duped items and gradually "unwinding."

The problem is that most players don't even know whether or not their items (or their gold) was duped, as the item may have gone through three or four owners from the original duper. So they begin hunting around for replacements very quickly, just in case. But they can't even be sure their replacements are non-duped.

The Collapse
For twinked newbie players, the disaster comes swiftly. As their high-level twinked gear starts disappearing, they find their uberguild sponsors aren't offering free replacements. Suddenly equipped with nothing more than a newbie loincloth and rusty knife, they find every copper piece they earn being taken up by loan payments to the financial guilds. "Screw this!" they say. And they quit the game.

Suddenly, there are a bunch of properties left vacant in the game. The drop in demand drops housing prices all over the server. Players get mad because they are stuck paying maintenance and loans to the financials based on the original cost of their properties - and funds are pretty tight because they are frantically trying to get replacement gear for their dupes.

So a lot of them either sell off their property at a loss (and have no money left over to pay the uberguild dues), or just quit the game entirely.

The financial guilds, for their part, are no longer loaning money to people. Which really sucks because people are getting a little desperate for funds to "tide them over" so they can get replacement equipment that lets them fight dragons again. Everyone assumes the tighter loans are due to all the people who are quitting the game and no longer paying back their loans. But secretly, the financial guilds have a much bigger problem.

See, the financial guilds were the worst of the money-dupers. A lot of what they loaned out was "duped" gold. They never overdid it, because they feared this day would happen, and that the exploit would be turned off and the duped gold might go away. They'd hoped that by that time there'd be enough of a stream of legitimate gold coming back to their guild that it would not be noticed. After all, every duped gold coin was returning four legitimate gold coins every few months in payments. But as time had gone on, they'd gotten more greedy, duping more and more gold to increase their earning potential. When the dupe-purge came, they found themselves deeply "in debt" to the game, and the money wasn't coming back fast enough to keep their guild from getting disbanded.

At first, they thought they'd be okay, because they'd hedged their bets by buying "insurance" from other financial guilds called Gold Default Swaps. The insurance would be enough to cover any duped-gold losses. The problem is that the insurance sold to them was by other financial guilds who had duped gold problems of their own, and can't pay up all the insurance they'd promised.

So suddenly, all this duped gold goes away, AND the income from loans goes away, AND the insurance that was supposed to cover the losses also goes away. The financial guilds are about ready to quit playing.

The uberguilds try to step in, though they are also in a world of hurt because their own dues-collecting potential is getting clobbered. They loan a ton of gold to the biggest financial guilds, planning to increase the dues of all their members at some point in the future to compensate. But they realize that if they don't do something fast, this whole game that they have been the masters of is going to turn into a ghost town.

Unfortunately, the loaned money doesn't often go for more loans to the player-base - the financial guilds instead use it to buy up some of smaller financial guilds who never participated in duping. This helps keep the financial guilds from collapsing, but doesn't help the player-base, which is rapidly becoming armed with newbie loincloths and rusty daggers. The dragons are no longer being killed, because very few people have the necessary gear anymore. And everybody is afraid to buy new gear until the slow dupe-purge is complete.

And they are all royally pissed at the uberguilds and the financial guilds for causing the problem in the first place - even though everybody enjoyed it when the gear and loot were plentiful.

The End?
And so the MMO collapses under its own weight.

The analogy is far from perfect. I kinda look at the duped money thing as leveraging. You can look at the duped items as a combination of jobs and investments. And the Gold Default Swaps are an incredibly simplified version of Credit Default Swaps. I left out the part about all the bad loans being re-packaged and sold as good, income-generating loans to unsuspecting investors.

And in real life, you don't just get to quit when the game ceases to be fun.

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Friday, November 28, 2008
 
Mama Kills Animals
In time for Thanksgiving, and in protest to Majesco's very popular Cooking Mama game series, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has released a parody game called "Cooking Mama: Mama Kills Animals."

In the game, you pluck, disembowel, and chop the head off a still-bleeding turkey, make stuffing with eggs that bleed and are filled with feathers, stuff the bird, and prepare a thoroughly unappetizing meal with dirty hands as the "Mean" Mama, getting points for being "meaner" than mama by beating the clock. After this, Mama apparently gets disgusted by her own actions, goes vegan, and runs through a similar exercise preparing a Tofu Turkey. Which, I must say, looks no more appetizing to me.

Judging by many responses, the game unfortunately miscalculated its audience. I guess gamers are used to entirely unrealistic gibs, beheadings, gore, and lots of blood from games, and found the turkey-cleaning segments quite entertaining. On the plus side, though, the game is well-made, does provide an alternative in the second half, and provides little videos and text links to explain their rationale.

I am very much a carnivore, and not a big fan of PETA. I've spent some time on a farm and have had to do the killing and cleaning myself the old-fashioned way. But while I'm not swayed by the message, I do have to hand it to them on the game front. The game is pretty well done.

And so - if you are ready for a gore-filled holiday culinary experience - enjoy!

Cooking Mama Kills Animals

EDIT: Replaced the embedded game with a link, since there is no volume control and the scream & music can get annoying.

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Friday, October 31, 2008
 
Federal Court Srikes Down Software Patents
This is kind of a big deal, as several games and game technologies have had patents issues on them over the years.

Federal Circuit Decides Software No Longer Patentable

To be completely honest - while my name has been on some patent applications in the past with some former businesses - I actually don't think this is a bad thing, and I hope this decision holds up. The system has been horribly abused in recent years. Rather than protecting a small inventor from predatory, better-financed companies who could beat him (or her) to market, it has become used by those predatory companies as an offensive, anti-competitive weapon.

Update: As pointed out in the comments, this may not be the sweeping end-of-the-world-to-the-software-patent-industry destruction that several patent lawyers on some sites are making it out to be. Bummer. It's a bit more limited in scope, but still a pretty interesting change in how patent law gets applied to software.

Case in point, a couple of years ago several indie software developers (and bigger firms) were told that their Solitaire games on the computer infringed on some soon-to-expire computer Solitaire patent --- never mind a mountain of prior art that existed previous to the patent's issuance --- and that they all had to pay some hefty licensing fee to the legal office that had bought the patent. Somehow I don't think Microsoft paid up... (though they are one of the biggest offenders in building up a colossal stockpile of questionable patents).

I'm a diehard defender of software copyrights - naturally, since it is what feeds my children - but software patents are a whole 'nother can of worms.

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Friday, September 26, 2008
 
Jack Thompson: Unemployed!
Joining the ranks of the unemployed next month may very well be our favorite game-hatah, "Wackie" Jack Thompson. He has been officially disbarred in the state of Florida, effective in 30 days, though he does have a chance to appeal. And he has already filed for a stay of the order. So nothing is for sure.

According to GamePolitics, Judge Tunis reported, "Over a very extended period of time involving a number of totally unrelated cases and individuals, [r]espondent has demonstrated a pattern of conduct to strike out harshly, extensively, repeatedly and willfully to simply try to bring as much difficulty, distraction and anguish to those he considers in opposition to his causes. He does not proceed within the guidelines of appropriate professional behavior, but rather uses other means available to intimidate, harass, or bring public disrepute to those whom he perceives oppose him."

Sometimes there is justice in the world. It may be slow, but it is there.

I don't know if that will affect his standing with Fox News in the slightest. I'm not really sure they check credentials for their "experts" anyway. And I'm sure he's going to remain an activist. He just no longer stands to make a mint off of legal fees by being a jerk and chasing ambulances anymore. He'll have to find a partner who is both as crazy as he is and in good standing as a legal professional to do that.

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My Bank: Seized By the Feds, and Sold!
Wild times we're living in, huh?

Apparently my bank, one of the "four horsemen of the financial apocalypse," was seized by the government last night and sold off to JP Morgan Chase.

My wife and I had been reading up on what happens if this occurs last week, so we weren't too worried. Since I've been paying attention to the stock market lately, I noticed that Washington Mutual's share price started dropping like a rock at about 11:00 our time. I figured some people in the know were running for the door.

I figured they'd take it over on Friday evening - as they typically do - but I guess they wanted to hasten the timetable. I had to check the site to see if there were any changes at this early stage - and there was this welcome screen.

Oh, yeah, and all my money was still there, too. Well, what little I'd had in there earlier in the day. Not that I was worried or anything. :)

Trying to look on the bright side of the disasters going on in Washington and on Wall Street, I can say this: Unlike two years ago, the campaigning politicians this year have far, far bigger fish to fry than attacking video games!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
 
Class Action Lawsuit Over Invasive DRM in Spore
Gamepolitics has the scoop.

I have no clue whether or not this is a legitimate problem with Spore's DRM. But the ramifications of the lawsuit could be huge. It's a big ol' can of worms, with lots of unintended consequences that could result from it (not the least of which could be EA swearing off PC games forever).

This comes after the loosening of installation restrictions by EA. Game publishers embracing DRM claim that this is only an extension of existing practices in the digital space. I beg to differ.

I am currently playing (and enjoying) a seven-year-old PC game that I bought off E-Bay published by a company that no longer exists or supports the game. If this game had been saddled with the type of DRM schemes embraced by companies like EA, I would not be doing so.

According to EA, I'm in the obscure 1% of customers that they'd rather ignore. I'm used to that. I'm a PC gamer. I like games where I get to use my brain. I'm more impressed by well-designed gameplay and storylines than extravagant special effects. I like games that have new ideas instead of retreads of creaky old hits. Apparently, those things put me completely outside of the target audience most mainstream game publishers are targeting.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008
 
$700 Billion
We interrupt our regularly scheduled talk about games 'n stuff to just to say this:

Seven Hundred BILLION Dollars.

This is for debt packages of subprime and related crap that were so horrible they couldn't find legitimate buyers for it anymore. So now they want to force U.S. citizens to buy it. That's about $2700 of additional debt for every man, woman, and child in America.

Granted - it might not all be worthless. Hey, at some point, some managers snowed their bosses into believing it would actually be profitable. But this whole situation sounds like it has more in common with an Ayn Rand novel than Bioshock. (There - I had an obligatory gaming reference!)

Sometimes real life just makes you pause and say, "Woah!" At this point, I'd only be half-surprised if both of the major presidential candidates held press conferences next week and said, "You know what, on second thought... screw this! There's no way I'm taking this job."

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
 
Game Design: Do Not Want!
Back when I was in college, I established a medievalist group in Provo, Utah. We were in the park every Tuesday and Thursday night, wielding padded swords and using a rule system based on that of Dagorhir - a group I'd been involved in as a teenager.

It was a lot of fun, and great exercise.

At first, it was only a few friends getting together on those evenings to smack each other with padded swords and daggers (which only resembled their real-world counterparts if you squinted really hard - in the dark). We used those weapons because - well - it was all we had made. We were starving college students, after all - spending $10 or $20 on materials to make a new weapon was pricey. I was making some chain mail by hand - usually while watching TV, but that took months to put together.

Slowly, other players began to join us. They heard about the activity in the park, and wanted to participate. We helped them make their own padded weapons, as well as making a few extra to pass around to first-timers who showed up. Soon we had groups of 20, 30, or even 40 people playing in the park twice a week. We got the cops called on us monthly - but soon they knew who we were, knew that those were the two nights they did NOT have to worry about gangs or drug dealers in the park. They'd respond to the call, note that it was us, and would sometimes hang out for ten or twenty minutes to watch us.

One week, several of us decided to make shields. Shields - like the weapons - were heavy padded things, for safety. But - they could be used to block weapons. When we brought them, a big cry came up from the group about how unfair they were. In fact, the first night, we faced something of a mutiny. Most players wanted shields OUTLAWED, forever, right then and there. They were unfair, they claimed.

Having played Dagorhir in my youth, where roughly half the fighters used shields - I knew better. I knew that they were not as easy to use as they seemed. I knew all kinds of ways to defeat people with shields. I couldn't believe that these kids were screaming at me to outlaw what I considered an integral part of the game. I refused. A bunch of people threatened to quit over it, but I don't remember if anybody did.

A few weeks later, there were lots of shields. Nobody complained about them anymore. It was part of the game.

Shortly after the shield incident, I'd finished my chain mail. Well, "finished" is a loose term - it was still evolving. I don't know that I ever finished it - it just went from being a chain mail vest to a chain mail short-sleeved shirt to a slightly longer short-sleeved shirt. And once again, the cries went up. Unfair, ruining the game, all armor should be outlawed, etc. etc. etc. Once again, I had considered armor to be an integral part of the game, having played similar rules systems back east. I ignored their cries, and also patiently explained to people that they couldn't just wrap aluminum foil over some cardboard and call it armor. It had to be the real thing. They hated that.

The armor took longer for others to adopt, but within a few months there were lots of folks running around in various types of armor, and it was an accepted part of the game - in spite of the previous cries that it should be made illegal.

By far the biggest cry of outrage came when we introduced bows and arrows to the game. The bows were restricted to no more than a 35 pound pull, and the arrows had very specific rules for construction lifted directly from Dagorhir. They had big padded heads on them which basically made them "Nerf Arrows." They were not the first missile weapons in the game, but they had better range and speed than the javelins, and they made the battlefield far more interesting. They made the shields even more important. They made mobility more important. They made the lives of archers very, very short. I knew from past experience that archers often spent more of their time fleeing than fighting. But they made the game more fun.

But no - the players demanded - multiple times - that archery be made illegal in the game. It was horrible and no fun and ruined the game. My ideas were a failure. Even though I told them they weren't my ideas, and I'd played with archers in the game for years, they refused to accept that. Either archery was going to go, or they were going to go. Period.

A few weeks later, not only had these players not left, but some of them were using bows on the battlefield. We had a lot of great times playing. And though I haven't played in years, I have heard that this little group has grown and is still thriving down there in Provo. They at one point joined an offshoot group of Dagorhir, and even have had battles with players from other states. And they are still playing in that same park, over a decade later. They don't know why they are playing in that park (it's because my old apartment was right across the street), and I doubt any of them have a clue who I am, or why I made the decisions I did.

And none of them, I think, know that most of what they play would have been outlawed if their predecessors had had their way.

I guess the moral of the story is twofold. First off, gamers often think they want things that they won't really enjoy. For example, I always think I want nothing more than to win all the time when I play games, yet that makes the games easy and boring. Then there one game we were working on where the players kept complaining that there wasn't enough ACTION. We cranked up the action of the level, only to have players complain that it was now way too hard - yet they still thought it was too slow without enough action. Then we moved things back to their previous level, and changed the music to something more energetic. Suddenly, the testers loved it, thought it was exactly right, and said things, "I don't know what it is you changed, but you nailed it! The action is much more frantic now, but not so difficult."

Sometimes it's trying to dig through what the players are saying to find out what they really want. Or - sometimes - it's just a reaction to fear and uncertainty, particularly when you are modifying a "live" game with participants who care about it. The MMO designers should know all about this particular issue.

Secondly - it doesn't take very much effort at all to draw the parallel to politics. As we entering the final inning of the presidential election year madness here in the U.S.A. With people suffering from an economy going into its irregularly-scheduled downward cycle with some pretty major repercussions in long-standing bastions of the financial institutions, to a lingering conflict in the middle east, to silly and trivial things like videogame violence, we have politicians outdoing themselves to outlaw this, regulate that, and to socialize this other thing. Because there's always that slim chance that this time, government intervention might not make a bad thing far worse.

Try not to be influenced by knee-jerk reactions, and try to dig past the surface to discover the real issues.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008
 
Time To Welcome Our Cylon Masters
No matter which way November goes, we're gonna have a Cylon in the Oval Office.

Pretty much explains everything, doesn't it?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008
 
RPG Design: Making the Tough Decisions
When I lived in the Washington DC area, I loved to go to the National Air & Space museum - it's literally my favorite place in the city. I once spent one Saturday a month for an entire summer exploring that place, and I'm still not convinced I had seen everything. Many years ago, I got to go to DC with my wife on vacation. She wanted to hit the museums - particularly the natural history museum - but I convinced her to come to the Air & Space Museum with me for a few hours.

As luck would have it, that season they had a wing devoted to a Star Trek exhibit. My wife wasn't nearly as excited about rockets and jets, but she loves Star Trek. Since the original TV show was older than either of us, we never really understood a big part of what made the show awesome. We didn't realize its history.

And we had no clue how insidiously revolutionary Star Trek really was.

Sure, we'd heard that the first interracial kiss on television was on Star Trek. But we didn't think about the fact that George Takei became a key cast member during the height of the Vietnam conflict, when all Asians were being stereotyped as something far different from Sulu's friendliness and professionalism. We didn't realize that in the late 60's, you just couldn't deal with topics such as racism, or the Mutual Assured Destruction policy in the cold war era, or any of these charged topics directly on television --- but Star Trek's science fiction metaphor allowed it to explore these topics indirectly.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an article yesterday ripping into a particular moral choice in Bioware's sci-fi RPG Mass Effect, called Morality Tales - Bioware Versus the Issues. John Walker gives props for the issue being an interesting one with real-world moral or ethical implications. he indicates that it is a step in the right direction. But he also expresses his disappointment that the issue takes place inside a vacuum - and he's not meaning outer space. Without the full means to explore the issue or any significance on the game itself, the decision does not become meaningful.

I've not yet played Mass Effect (I was waiting for the PC version, but the DRM made me hesitate...), so I can't discuss this matter specifically. But as a general statement of things, I'd have to agree with Walker.

Video games have the same power as television, movies, and books to explore important issues - and to allow players the chance to actually explore the "tough decisions" in a the safer analog of the game. This is especially true in such story-driven genres as RPGs. But we can't just toss these kinds of issues around off-handedly or in a trivial manner, and expect critical acclaim.

For all of its faults and poor design, at least Super Columbine Massacre RPG! did try to tackle these kinds of issues head-on, with no masking metaphor at all except for the shocking transposition of a real-life tragedy into the made-up gameplay of a 16-bit style RPG. But there are other, better examples. RPS also explored a little bit of darkness in a relationship and difficult decisions (with real meaning and consequences) in the article Heather And Me, about the critically acclaimed but woefully overlooked RPG Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

I guess it would be silly to suggest that the successful RPG-making powerhouse Bioware seek to emulate the dead-and-buried Troika Games. But I don't know that tough, meaningful decisions would either contribute or detract from commercial success. But the metaphors of video gaming - like Star Trek in the late 60's - can provide designers and audiences with a safer, less stressful context in which to explore real-world issues.

I'm not really suggesting that Star Trek was the high point for television as a cultural medium. But for being such a "silly" science fiction show that people tended not to take seriously, I think it probably had a greater cultural effect than we give it credit for (and I'm just not talking about the geek culture, either). I strongly believe video games could do the same thing. We just need to learn to do it in such a way that it is neither trivialized nor heavy-handed.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
 
Eight Myths About Videogames Debunked
It looks like PBS has decided to play "Mythbuster" with eight assumptions people make about video games. They address misconceptions in two categories - the "video games are just for nerdy little boys" area, and the "video games turn kids into raving psychotic monsters"

* The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
Flying in the face of the dramatic decrease in violent crime since the release of Doom.

* Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
Also linked: the alignment of the stars and planets with your likelihood of getting a traffic ticket today.

* Children are the primary market for video games.
Because the industry doesn't want all that filthy disposable income from the twenty-somethings.

* Almost no girls play computer games.
That's right - Bejeweled, The Sims, and Peggle are exclusively played by testosterone-laden boys in-between sessions of clubbing each other with tree branches in the back yard. Oh, and no girl could possibly have the mental capacity and skills necessary to pwn your newbie ass in Counterstrike.

* Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
AKA the "David Grossman has convinced enough people to repeat him that it must be true" fallacy"

* Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
But toilet seat art is.

* Video game play is socially isolating.
Because we gamers hate playing with each other, and we would never talk to each other about what games we play.

* Video game play is desensitizing.
This one may be true. It's desensitized me to television.

Anyway, the article is much better-written than my commentary. Check it out here:

Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
 
McCain Supports 4th Edition D&D: Polls Drop
Man, first Goldfarb makes a crack about D&D players living in their parents' basement and supporting Obama, and now this:



Dude, come on! 4th edition? Sheesh. Yer just diggin' yourself a deeper hole, here!

(Picture taken from here. Warning - highly political website!)

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Thursday, August 07, 2008
 
Pac-Man Clone Takes On Packaging Waste
The non-profit environmental group The Dogwood Alliance has released a new flash-based game designed to help make people aware of the wastes and cost of packaging in fast-food, video game, and other industries. They are campaigning for individuals to petition corporations to use more post-consumer recycled paper, use less paper packaging, and stop using paper for packaging from endangered forests.

You can check out the game here:

PackagingMan

Now, whether or not I agree with the message, I am interested in seeing how video games are being used as a medium for the communication of serious messages. It's been done very well. Even by beginners. It's also been done very poorly.

This game is a three-level Pac-Man clone written in Flash with ripped sound-effects and modified graphics - mixed with some pages explaining the message. The power pills are recycling icons. The ghosts wear jackets and ties as apparently corporate monsters. Instead of fruit bonuses, you get to save bunnies, squirrels, and turtles. The word "Saved" appears to make it clear you didn't eat the little woodland animals, which is probably important. As a game, well, it's a three-level Pac-Man clone in flash. Does it succeed at its goal of effectively marketing a message and a call to action?

Maybe. You can try it out and answer that question yourself. But I do have a few suggestions:

First of all, the lengthy exposition before getting to play the game detracted from the lure of the game. The game itself should provide the exposition. You want people to come for the game, but stay for the thinking.

Pac-Man might not have been the best choice. Sure, there's a little bit of word-play between Pac and Pack / Packaging, but the gameplay doesn't offer the strongest of metaphors for their message. I mean, eating a recycling icon lets you devour the corporate ghosts? What does that mean? It's a little muddled.

(As an interesting side note: Rumor has it Pac-Man was originally going to be entitled Puck-Man. In a rare show of marketing genius, they changed the name after considering how kids would vandalize the machine by making a small modification to the letter 'P'.)

A better approach that has worked for my brain, at least, is to shine a spotlight on the issue itself. In Airport Security game, the ridiculousness of the ever-changing regulations in the name of counter-terrorism is lampooned. Harpooned is a very bloody arcade game which mocks the pretense of scientific study that is exploited under Japanese law. "Propaganda" is kind of an ugly word, but that's pretty much what we're talking about, and it doesn't mean they are wrong. They do it fairly well, keep it simple, and the metaphor and message is obvious and delivered by the game without much need for additional exposition.

And finally, while having a game as a tool for communicating information and a message is great, I'd want a little more detail before taking action. At the end of the game, it only offers options to play again or to take action. A "More Information" button that takes the player to the fact page would be better. I'd also prefer to know more about the alternative practices mentioned to on the website, and what their impact would be. Hey, if recycled paper would not increase the cost of my tacos at all (or better yet, make 'em cheaper), I'm in favor of it!

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Thursday, July 31, 2008
 
Controversial Indie Games Get Fair Coverage
Citizen Gamer has a refreshingly even-handed look at controversial indie games, such as Super Columbine Massacre RPG! and Operation Pedopriest. Columnist Winda Benedetti is pretty indie-game-savvy, having published several articles about them in the past.

These Games Really Push Our Buttons on MSNBC

The quote of the week goes to David Kociemba, an art professor at Emerson College, in the documentary movie "Playing Columbine," about Danny Ledonne and the making of Super Columbine Massacre RPG!:
"The controversy should be that there aren’t more games like ‘Super Columbine Massacre RPG!’ that are as demanding and as artistically innovative... Why is it permitted for Michael Moore in 2002, to make ‘Bowling For Columbine’ — a film essay on this subject — and to use far more graphic footage than Danny Ledonne does three years later in a primitive low-res video game? Are we really going to say that video game designers are the one set of artists that do not have the right to engage in contemporary political issues?"
Not that I personally feel that Super Columbine Massacre RPG! is worthy of such honors. But I'm not exactly a fan of Michael Moore, either. But I am glad to see people - including Ledonne - at least trying to tackle controversial issues using video games as the medium for discussion.

Tip o' the hat to GamePolitics for the heads-up.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008
 
Any Anti-Videogame News Is News
A friend pointed out this article to me:

Combat Simulation at Duluth Air Show Criticized

Apparently, "some" are calling for a boycott of the air show because there's an army recruiting videogame - specifically, America's Army - Virtual Army Experience - available for visitors age 17 and over.

While "some" are referred to in the article, only one person is sited. Maybe her husband agrees with her, making it plural. But I didn't see any confirmation of what is hinted at being an organized protest. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't. But if I were to guess, I'd say this is simply an artifact of the fact that in any significant sampling size of a population, you are going to get some fringe element of nut-jobs. I mean, aren't there certain folks who ALWAYS protest air shows for various reasons (particularly military air-shows, which are major recruitment drives)?

The interesting thing to me is that the news media continues to manufacture controversy around video games. Now, to be fair, there have also been plenty of positive articles about games in the media too. But news media thrives on shocking and frightening its audience, which is right now only barely a generation ahead of the kids raised on Nintendo who would laugh at this kind of thing.

Mocking may be warranted.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008
 
We Threw a Class Action Lawsuit, But Nobody Came!
Remember the Hot Coffee case? The big scandal that rocked the games biz? The one that causes the latest uproar that has given politicians and madmen ammunition to snipe at the games industry for years? The New York Times reports that the settlement has been reached for all of the meager 2,676 people (out of millions who bought the game) who joined the class action lawsuit. The total defense fees, including settlement but not including charitable contributions (which the company may have been planning on making anyway), amounted to around $30,000.

That makes it a lot harder for the lawyers to recoup the $1.3 million in expenses they are claiming, doesn't it?

My take on this? Okay, Hot Coffee was a major screw-up, no question about it. And I really have to question the maturity and taste of the people involved in it who actually implemented it and ... until a point ... thought it was a good idea.

But I think this case indicates that for the game's intended audience, it was largely a non-issue. The people who were really freaked out over it were non-gamers who neither played it nor bought it for someone in their family to play. And it seems like a sizeable subset of the people in the class-action thought that the graphic violence that was part of the core gameplay was okay for their underage little darlings... they just objected to the possibility that said angel could log into the Internet, bypass all the porn that's there, and instead download and install a patch that would enable them to see non-anatomically correct sex.

To be honest, I'd have expected a lot more people to have participated in the class action lawsuit, too. But really, the issue itself isn't really over leaving content in that would change the rating from M to AO (I mean, that's a difference of ONE YEAR... meaning 17-year-olds couldn't buy it for themselves). It's really about people - parents and family, mainly - not understanding or caring what the ratings mean, and thus making uninformed decisions, in spite of the best efforts of the ESRB and retailers to make this clear. And I think that's really only something that will be resolved with time and persistence.

Hat Tip to Game Politics for the scoop.

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Monday, May 05, 2008
 
Buy GTA IV For Your Kid - Go To Jail
At least in New Zealand, if you buy Grand Theft Auto IV for your kid because you personally don't feel it's any worse than what they are exposed to at school or on TV, you could potentially face three months in jail.

New Zealand: Illegal for Parents to Buy GTA IV for Kids

At least here in the U.S., no similar law has come close to passing Constitutional muster. And even in New Zealand, the law under which the Office of Film and Literature Classification has couched its opinion has never been enforced.

Ah, unenforced / unenforceable laws.

I find that, over the last couple of years, I've grown to realize that this kind of political backlash is inevitable against anything that becomes mainstream in the younger generation and threatens cultural change. What control the older generation has, it uses to lash out to preserve the status quo. Yes, even the same "baby boomer" generation that was so anti-establishment and revolutionary in the 60's and early 70's. My generation is starting to do the same, and the kids after us will probably have the same knee-jerk reactions against whatever comes next that changes THEIR children's and grand-children's world.

Well, gamers and game makers: Keep fighting the good fight. Time is on our side... the longer we can hold out and keep games free in the face of mounting opposition and stupid regulation determined to marginalize games as nothing but children's entertainment, the closer we get to victory.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008
 
Piracy & DRM: Grab a Shovel
As a guy who's livelihood depends upon IP rights, I naturally have a beef with piracy. I realize that, as with any crime, it's never going to go away, though I want to be supportive of measures that reduce it. But the latest round of "anti-piracy" news has left me feeling pretty ... I dunno... defeated? Embarrassed? Frustrated?

Pretty much all of the above.

Sony BMG Gets Caught Pirating
Sony BMG - the guys who thought rootkitting your $1600 computer was okay in the name of protecting their $16 CD - got caught pirating.

Now, okay, this wasn't a formal company policy, I'm sure, and Sony BMG as an organization had no clue that this was going on. Hey, I've been there. We once had a manager pocket the funds to purchase a site license for a software and install a pirated copy instead. We only found out after he had been let go and we contacted the software vendor for product support. Woops! And yeah, the last time I heard about said former manager, he WAS wearing an orange jumpsuit.

But I believe this little "black eye" underscores the fact that piracy is everywhere, and demonstrates that draconian measures sometimes supported by certain media groups and the politicians they fund are completely unwarranted.

Support Piracy, Support Terrorism!
Stiffer laws might be in order, but in a recent speech U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey linked piracy with terrorism. Now this doesn't get me quite so up-in-arms as it does some bloggers, as this was simply part of a side-point in a speech and wasn't trying to present some iron-clad case. But I'm personally getting a little tired of using the "fight against terrorism!" excuse for everything, from illegal demands to turn over customer records to treating baby formula as a weapon by airport security. I don't think I'm the only one. Claiming that software piracy helps terrorism just weakens the whole argument, in my opinion. Does it happen? I'd not be surprised. Guess what? Terrorists can and will make money any which way they can, legal or illegal.

Protection of IP rights is vital to the U.S. economy and interests enough all by itself without saddling it with lame anti-terrorism propaganda, 'k?

Don't Sell This Game, Or Pirates Might Play It For Free!
Apparently, DRM development is delaying Atari's new RPG expansion. Mysteries of Westgate, the new module for Neverwinter Nights 2, is being held back for apparently no other reason than the development of a custom DRM solution. There's been sufficient commentary on this issue by both Shamus Young and Scorpia (among many others, I'm sure) that I don't know if I have much to add.

I wonder if Atari isn't actually working on some kind of competitor for Steam (or at least an attempt to make Atari independent from Steam), and using MoG as bait. We'll have to see.

Dealing With Piracy
Now, actual profiting from trading of pirated software should be treated more harshly, I agree. Jail time and lawsuits to cover damages to the IP holders? Sure. And I personally believe that the laws protecting IP rights need to be revised, and enforcement does need to be stepped up.

But in general I feel that copyright infringement - as a legal violation - has less in common with grand theft and more in common with speeding on the freeway. Nearly everybody does it or acknowledges that It Is Done, and that it is a Bad Thing if it gets excessive. But the threat of fines, points against licenses, and raised insurance premiums - combined with (usually) sufficient spot-checked enforcement - keeps things reasonable.

The goal isn't to stop piracy or punish pirates. The goal is - or should be - to allow creators of intellectual property to profit appropriately from creating these things, so that they might continue to do so, for the benefit of all.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008
 
Videogames Made Me a Criminal!
A national British newspaper is bribing criminals to attribute blame for their actions on video games. Offering "hundreds of pounds to the right person," they are soliciting people to "Write a few lines about how computer games turned you to crime and if it’s something we like, we’ll call you straight back."

Unfortunately, the ad was taken out last week, so it is not an April Fool's joke. Bruce On Games had the scoop.

In the spirit of April Fool's Day, I thought I'd offer my own story. Hopefully they'll get a bajillion of these:


VIDEO GAME MADE ME THE "TRAMPOLINE BANDIT"
I found the arcade game "Mappy" in a pizza restaurant in Maryland. The game appeared innocent and cute - as a mouse police officer, you'd chase criminal cats around a house filled with trampolines, stopping them from stealing tons of expensive electronics equipment and artwork as you and they bounced from floor to floor.

But the thing was - you were a mouse chasing cats. What's wrong with this picture? Inevitably, the cats would catch you, and your career as mouse-cop would come to an end. The cats always won in the end. After hours of playing the game, it all became clear to me. The cops were mice, chumps that always lost. The bad guys were the predators, and always won in the end.

After spending hours and hours trying to beat the second level of the game, something snapped. I couldn't distinguish reality from the lurid fantasy of the game, so great were its graphics and compellingly realistic my actions. The game trained me, over the hours, to look for things worth stealing, teaching me lessons from the cats' actions.

The next thing I know, I found myself at a sporting goods store, buying one of those exercise trampolines. I told myself hat it was just for exercise, but even then I knew subconsciously that there was no reason anybody to have an exercise trampoline except to commit trampoline-crimes. I'll tell you straight up, these devices, like videogames, should be banned outright. Don't fall for the "trampolines don't steal stereos, people steal stereos" crap the trampoline-industry-funded lobby groups try to use as smokescreen for the real issues.

It wasn't a week later that I found myself inside an apartment in my own neighborhood when the owners were gone, jumping on the trampoline and stealing all of their paintings, TVs, and stereos. I admit, it was a little harder to do than I had been taught by the videogame, but the seeds had been planted. After I got away with the apartment, I found myself breaking in and jumping and robbing two other houses, and finally a department store.

It was the department store that ended my life of crime. I thought it was a terrible mistake, but in the end I call myself fortunate I was stopped when I did. It was too hard to jump to the second floor in a single jump, but since they had several of the exercise trampolines in stock, I assembled them on-site and arranged them carefully on the non-running escalator steps using stacks of catalogs to level them out. I tried to jump back down the line of trampolines while carrying a Sony Betamax player (this was the early 80's, after all), when one of the stacks of catalogs collapsed, sending me flying off the tramp over the side of the escalator, landing on a cosmetics cabinet. Neither the cabinet not the betamax survived the ordeal, and I broke my leg and lost consciousness due to the overwhelming oder caused by spilled contents of six broken perfume bottles.

When I came to, I was surrounded by paramedics and police officers. I realized then that the police officers didn't resemble mice at all, and I'd been living a lie. During the next two years in juvenile detention, I wasn't allowed to play videogames. The habit was broken, and the smell of perfume finally faded. I have no doubt in my mind that the creators of this videogame purposely built it to warp young minds to cause crime and mayhem.

I have now served my time and my community to make up for my misdeeds. I only wish these video game creators could be forced to do the same...

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008
 
How Piracy Can Break An Industry - A Case Study
GameProducer.net puts things on the line about the impact of piracy in Brazil, in an article full of sobering anecdotes, statistics, and links. In a nutshell - it's gotten so bad most game companies have given up trying to sell anything there. The vicious cycle is mature there, where people are forced to pirate because they have no legal means to obtain products. It's ugly.

Local game developers, according to the article, "have only four options to survive as developers: subscription-based online games, mobile gaming, advergaming or exporting."

After the rest of the world follows in Brazil's footsteps, the fourth option will be unviable for everyone. Then what? That's the multi-billion-dollar question.

As a gamer, I personally do not relish the idea of having to either pay a monthly fee to play my favorite game (or having the game become unavailable after it gets "too old"), nor do I want to have to endure a bombardment of marketing messages in order to play a game.

There has got to be a better solution.

But as the article indicates, waiting for the government to jump in and help is useless. I think that applies as well to any other government as Brazil. Nobody's going to wave a magic wand to make the problem go away. This one is firmly gonna be in the hands of the game makers and the customers to solve.

GameProducer.net: How Piracy Can Break An Industry - The Brazilian Case


(Vaguely) related shallow thoughts:
* The Real Cost of Piracy?
* A Better Way to Fight Piracy?
* A Pirate Story
* PC Game Publishers: Please Hurt Me Some More!

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Saturday, February 16, 2008
 
Utah Gives Disney Video Games the Red Carpet Treatment
It's so nice when my state actually shows that they have a clue:

Utah Wooing Disney Game Biz with Huge Tax Incentive

Though it's no wonder my Day Job has started making people sign a non-compete (though they granted me an exception for Rampant Games, a requirement for me signing on in the first place.)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008
 
Fox News Launching Multi-Front War Against Games
So ... let's see... in the last month Fox News has claimed:

* Mass Effect is a fully interactive, customizeable orgy.

* Video games can trigger flashbacks in injured veterans and cause them to freak out

* Video games are destroying the environment. Yeah, there's been a decrease in outdoor activities while video games have increased in prominence. There must be a causal relationship. During the same time, there's also been a steep decrease in violent crimes. But no, no, there's certainly no correlation!

Lest we think it's only a problem with Fox News here in the U.S., we've got a pop-psychologist TV shrink in the UK effectively writing legislation to restrict video games. And a Times Online article calls the XBox "Crack For Kids."

You know, it's very, very hard to convince myself that this isn't just "old media" lashing out desperately to defend itself against competing new media.

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Friday, February 01, 2008
 
Out of the Mouth of Babes: A Thirteen-Year Old On Games and Violence
Well, in this case, a very well-spoken thirteen-year-old girl, writing a very articulate post about video games and violence and how it affects her:

Violent Video Games and Kids

I've known the author since she was a newborn, and she's one of my daughter's best friends, so I really enjoyed reading her perspective on the issue. It also amazes me that these kids (who I still have a mental image of which is about six years out of date) can form rational opinions.

And maybe that's the problem too many of our legislators have.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008
 
Cooper Lawrence Admits Mistake Over Mass Effect Sex Scene
According to an interview Friday with the New York Times (link likely to get archived in the near future), Cooper Lawrence - the "expert opinion" used by Fox News Live Desk to speak out against the console RPG Mass Effect, treating it as pornography, has admitted that she was mistaken and misinformed. She states:
"I recognize that I misspoke. I really regret saying that, and now that I’ve seen the game and seen the sex scenes it’s kind of a joke. Before the show I had asked somebody about what they had heard, and they had said it’s like pornography. But it’s not like pornography. I’ve seen episodes of ‘Lost’ that are more sexually explicit."
Score one for the truth.

And score one for Ms. Lawrence. My opinion of her just shot up several points. Yes, she was stupid to have not done her research on the subject before the show. She let herself be manipulated by Fox News. But at least she took two and a half hours of time to research the subject after the fact, and then made the effort to admit her mistake, publicize her apology, and to do what she could to correct it.

Okay, so she's not said anything yet about her misunderstanding about the game-playing demographic (where she stated her opinion as fact that parents don't play video games, only their children... another blatantly false bit of misinformation that she should have done her research on first). Or anything about her claims that some U of Maryland study proves boys can't tell the difference between video games and reality - what the heck was that about? And maybe her actions were motivated by legions of gamers trashing her book ratings on Amazon.com, in their own non-violent version of mob justice (which I think everyone understood would eventually blow over).

I still think it took both guts and class for her to come out with this apology and correction, and I commend her for it.

Fox News Live Desk, for its part, so far seems to be just waiting for things to blow over. Requests for correction have gone unanswered, though they have invited a representative from Electronic Arts to appear on the show. Considering that they have proven that they will just make up allegations out of the blue and hurl them at people, and then cut them off when they try to deny whatever line of garbage Fox News had invented, I can understand EA being a little bit hesitant to accept the invitation.

I gotta say, it's entertaining to speculate as to what might happen next. And I doubt sales of Mass Effect were noticeably damaged by the rumor of it having pornographic content.

So - why was Fox News so eager to trash one of the best-selling games of the season? Are games just such a convenient, politically powerless target for a random sensationalist piece? Or do they actually feel threatened by this rapidly maturing medium, and are actively looking for opportunities to manipulate public opinion against what they perceive as competition? Or a little of both?

And will gamers reciprocate and retract their attacks against her book?

UPDATE: For further hilarity - when it is obvious to Jack Thompson that the whole thing is a load of manure, saying "This contrived controversy is absolutely ridiculous," you know Fox News has really topped itself.


A tip o' the hat to GamePolitics.com and Kotaku for this update.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
 
By Fox News Standards, Top Gun Was Porn
This was all over the web over the last day or so. On Monday, Fox News Live Desk effectively fell for what I'd consider a hoax. The ol' telephone game has taken place, and a short love scene from Mass Effect, regarded by everyone who's actually played the game as more tasteful than what you'd see in many rated "R" movies, has been trumped up by certain ill-informed non-gaming voices into being some gigantic porn simulator.

Fox News took that at face value, swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, and produced a pretty embarrassingly bad pretense at journalism. And they roped poor Geoff Keighley into it.

Unfortunately, it looks like Geoff was suckered into the classic "Have Your Quit Beating Your Wife?" question. While he thought the question was about the love scene in question in a rated "M" game, the REAL question they were asking was, "Why do you think this interactive porn game is appropriate for 13-year-old boys?"

So he tried to play a defensive game, the sole person in the segment actually concerned with getting facts straight, while everyone else was laughing off his question as to whether or not they actually played the game and knew what the hell they were talking about.

I haven't played Mass Effect, so I probably don't know any better than the talking heads what I'm talking about. But I have seen the scene in question, which left almost everything to the imagination - quite to the contrary of MacCallum's allegation - and was less steamy and not much more graphic than the love scene in the movie Top Gun. Now unless there's some hidden Hot Coffee-esque secret version that I've missed (and, knowing gamers, if there was we would have heard about it by now in graphic detail...), Fox News was really just making crap up. At a certain point, people, what you call an "exaggeration" is indeed a lie.

And then Cooper Lawrence chimed in with some 1981-era demographic knowledge by claiming that even grown-ups were buying it, they certainly weren't playing it. Right. And before you know it, TV shows are going to show couples sleeping in the same bed and lead to the downfall of civilization as we know it.

Now, I'm not going to defend the appropriateness of the love scene in Mass Effect. As far as I know, it's a gratuitous bit thrown in to stir up exactly this kind of controversy (and to send sales through the roof). But the incredibly shoddy journalism and double standards shown by Fox News Live Desk is just begging to be mocked.

And my sympathy goes out to Geoff Keighley. The battle was unwinnable. Maybe he would have scored more points if he went on the offensive and said, "Are you both on DRUGS? What game are you talking about here? Where can I buy this porn simulator you guys are referring to, because I've played all through Mass Effect and all I got was one two-minute PG-13-ish love scene!" But he might not be invited back, and there are undoubtedly less stupid battles to be fought in the future.

I guess with the writer's strike still ongoing, people are desperate for fiction on TV.

UPDATE (7/24): EA (Now owner of Bioware) has sent a letter to Fox News requesting that they retract their blatant falsehoods, explaining very clearly exactly where they were ... shall we charitably say, "misinformed?"

Story At Kotaku

The silly thing about this is that the Live Desk segment, while increasing the bizarre (but, I hope, increasingly marginal and impotent) anti-videogame hysteria amongst similarly misinformed viewers, probably helped give Mass Effect's sales a nice boost. A public retraction would probably do the same. So EA, Bioware, and Microsoft are probably enjoying a win / win scenario.

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