Culture Archives - Page 1
April 24, 2008
In the increasingly complicated world of International Intelligence, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was looking for a new way to train recruits in the fine art of "critical thinking" three guesses where they decided to turn (and the first two don't count). Yep, the world of video games (of course)!
Three PC games were developed by Visual Purple (a simulation studio) for the DIA with the explicit goal of training young agents to analyze complex issues. "It is clear that our new workforce is very comfortable with this approach," says Bruce Bennett, chief of the analysis-training branch at the DIA's Joint Military Intelligence Training Center.
Wired got the chance to play these three games, all of which sound very interesting. The games are a "surprisingly clever and occasionally surreal blend of education, humor and intellectual challenge" that range from "Zen Buddhism meets the National Intelligence Estimate" to "a whodunit that begins with scenes of a tanker under attack in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in 1988". Maybe the government could make up some of the $2.6 million spent on these games by making a consumer copy (I'd sure like to give them a try). And what happens when these games become common in military training? Maybe in the next Call of Duty players will have to train in a video game in order to pass basic training.
April 2, 2008
I am pretty much contradicting myself by writing about this, but yet another "main stream" journalist thinks video games are super terrible for society and that something must be done to stop them.
The source in question comes from an editorial written by Giles Whittell, writer and parent from the Times of London, where said Journalist has come to the conclusion that video games are as bad as heroin and teenage pregnancy. Sigh.
The writer believes that one shouldn't have to try games to know their bad just like they shouldn't have to try heroin or teenage pregnancy to know they're bad. An obvious indication of how little this person knows about games is their repeated use of the phrase "I will never buy my children a Nintendo" (because apparently someone at the Times believed it crucial that Giles actually try a game before criticizing it).
At this point I'm just going through the motions. Turns out crime has gone down as video game popularity has risen. The largest market isn't kids, it's 18 - 35 year olds. Heroin kills people and teenage pregnancy often leads to broken families. Video gamers almost always grow up to be skilled, intelligent, and productive members in a increasingly technology dependent society. Video games shouldn't be a babysitter, they are a form of entertainment, as much as reading a child a book or taking them to the park. Video games can teach children valuable skills including teamwork, the villainy of cheating, accomplishment and working with loss. I can keep this up all day...
Anyone care to guess when the next one of these type of stories get written?
March 24, 2008
In an excellent satirical piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Humorist James Lileks details the failure of Minneapolis's attempt to pass an anti-violent video game law.
James points out both the ridiculousness of a $25 fine for selling to minors, as well as the Judges comparing of the violence in the Bible to the violence in a video game. While it would seem he wouldn't be opposed to a more strict way of keeping violent video games away from children, he points out the most obvious place to start: with the parents.
The exceptional humor however comes from the author's take on the violence hidden in even the most friendly looking games, including Roller Coaster Tycoon (as a drowning simulator) and Wii Bowling (a "simulator for aggression against polished dowels"). How refreshing to finally read someone in the "real media" who actually understands video games.
March 3, 2008
Dr. Cheryl Olson of the Massachusetts General Hospital hopes to give parents a real world understanding of the violent video game studies seen so highly sensationalized in the media.
Olson's book, Grand Theft Childhood, is intended for the "parents, teachers, and policy makers" as a way to understand the real pros and cons of violent video games and cut through the "myths and hysteria" so often portrayed in the media. From Gamecouch's interview:
Until now, the most-publicized studies came from a small group of experimental psychologists, studying college students playing nonviolent or violent games for 15 minutes. It's debatable whether those studies are relevant to real children, playing self-selected games for their own reasons (not for cash or extra credit!), in social settings, over many years. But media reports and political rhetoric often ignore that distinction.
Olson gathered many things from the research we gamers consider common knowledge: children know games aren't reality, games are great for expelling anger (not creating it), and that both boys and girls play these games.
While many of us gamers know about these things, a book like this a great thing to give to the parents of a gamer. I'd also recommend Steven Johnson's excellent Everything Bad is Good for You for more understand of the effects of video games and modern popular culture.
Grand Theft Childhood is scheduled to be released on April 15, 2008.
February 18, 2008
Gaming has recently been attacked yet again in the media following another terrible America school shooting. Mainly, games are being lauded as training tools for the perpetrators of these crimes, so I thought I would take my FPS skills into the paintball arena to see if games really have conditioned me to deal with shooting people and dealing with the consequences, and thus prove if they are to blame for society’s ills.
After watching FPS Doug on Pure Pwnage, who had a hard time comprehending the difference between gaming and reality, I was all set to go and test the respawn times and lag in real life.
From the beginning to the end of proceedings, it was a dangerous affair with what can only be described as a menagerie of vicious characters who would continue to shoot you when you were trying to get off the map.
Firstly, getting your friends altogether and organized is much more difficult in real life than in games, especially games with a decent party system such as Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. Our group took a whole hour to finally get together.
Moreover, getting to the indoor arena took a solid fifteen minutes, which is a massive difference to the quick loading games we experience on our consoles.
So far, I was not impressed, and this mood did not improve when I discovered that it would cost me £31 of my own money for the pleasure, and a minuscule amount of ammo that I would normally use in the first five minutes of any FPS.
The worst was yet to come, as we were all handed Killzone-esque masks, a big boiler suit, and was forced to stuff my poor coat into a locker and wear some incredibly muddy shoes. How anyone could fight in this attire, I do not know.
When I play FPS, I just wear whatever I want and sit down in front of my glorious TV; I don’t have to dress up. However, I’m reliably informed that some fanboys and cosplayers wish to dress up in the attire associated with their favourite games when they play them, which I can assure you is not my bag.
Then, just as I thought we would be going to lay the smackdown in the arena, the “Marshall” took us into a bizarre little classroom to teach us how it all works. The controls are actually pretty good in real life actually, a lot of the stuff such as jumping and getting into cover are done automatically, and there’s only a trigger when firing a gun, and now pesky grenades to worry about.
However, reloading is completely flawed, you had to actually open each canister and open the cartridge to fill it up. When I discovered this, I was suitably outraged, but carried on in the name of good journalism regardless. This “Marshall” business was not what I was expecting though, if a game tried to bark orders at me during a multiplayer showdown, I would just ignore it and dish out my own brand of justice.
Going on to talk about the respawning system, I did inquire about this to the aforementioned “Marshall”, and was informed that there are no respawns, at least not in his religion. Moreover, there was not a lot of lag during the games, but we were only playing with 10 players, and we were all interfacing over real-life connections.
Also, the rumble and force feedback seemed to be much more pronounced in real life, and you could actually tell where you have been shot, which proved to be a vocal point of discussion. “That one in the head hurt” said one person, “I’m sore after that one” proclaimed another. Is this really a good thing? Surely us gamers enjoy games because they don’t kill us.
Furthermore, there were yet more differences between FPS and real life. Did you realize that you don’t get a HUD when playing paintballing? You have no indication of ammo, no on-screen reticules, and your helmet gets incredibly dirty and fogged up.
However, the difference in graphics and definition was so pronounced that it proved gaming has a long way to go to match their real-life equivalents. I’ve heard that real-life runs even better than the 1080p 24 Frames Per Second pinnacle of technology, and the screen size is simply incredible, offering a maddeningly expansive panoramic format.
The sound was also pretty good as well, going beyond that 7.1 barrier and achieving full 3D sound. All this contributed to the amazing atmosphere, which was much more involving, scarier, and fun than that of Team Fortress 2, for example.
So what did my hundreds of hours of gaming teach me about fighting in the real world? According to the media, I should have been a fully-trained one man army, having powers akin to that of Rambo.
In actuality, I was scared, tired, bruised, and actually terrible at shooting my enemies. I was so bad that other people had to humour me after my pitiful performance. I used up all my ammo over the course of one round, I couldn’t hold the gun right, I couldn’t take cover properly, and I was shot. Jack Thompson would probably be better at paintball than me.
The media has lied to me once more, and I am quite disappointed actually, and I guess we have to look in different places for something to blame.
February 12, 2008
As Grand Theft Auto IV approaches release everyone’s favorite lawyer, Jack Thompson, has made his usual unspecified legal threats against the release of the game. In these threats he once again refers to any Grand Theft Auto game as a “murder simulator."
I’ve been working with simulator programs for the US Army for about six years now, which I believe makes me an expert on exactly what a simulator is, what a simulation does, and the goals of these simulators. Comparing these simulators to GTA it cannot in truth be called either a “murder simulator" or a “murder simulation" in any sense.
"Simulators" are devices used to mimic the actions and functions of a real thing, a real situation, or both. A flight simulator will typically have a mock-up of the interior of the aircraft being trained, and usually involves some sort of realistic motion. This is because they need the skills in the simulator to map to the actual skills being trained, including certain motor skills when finding and adjusting instruments.
With this in mind, what kind of simulator would be a "murder simulator"? Something which actually put you within the role both physically and mentally to become a murder? First and foremost to learn the role of the murderer, you would have to have a life-sized, anthropomorphic dummy that would react like the human being murdered. Another way is to simulate the weapon with realism, but use a trained human to portray the victim. A third way is to simulate the murdered person using an accurate "human analog" – you need look no further than some of the more elaborate humanoid representations on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or Mythbusters where they often use dead pigs to simulate the size, weight, and reaction of human body.
"Simulations", on the other hand, only attempt to demonstrate how devices and/or situations are realistically. Simulations are best thought of computer programs and software. Our sandbox gang-related games are definitely software, very complex software. Simulations also tend to be very specific.
Gran Turismo is a driving simulation, with its primary focus being realistic handling of licensed car models on realistic terrain. In this respect, Gran Turismo games are simulations with a ton of game elements added on so that doesn't become too boring.
How well does GTA simulate murder? Just even a cursory look can see how GTA fails this test:
Our "gang games" mentioned above do not even represent murder, but rather a cartoony environment where you have all the time in the world to take on the tasks built into the game to entertain the player.
It’s not just unfair to call Grand Theft Auto a “murder simulator," it is laughably incorrect. It is best described as a fantasy world and can't even be classified under the more forgiving "murder simulation". Aside from all of the inaccurate ways it handles violence, the physics are only barely related to the real world, the psychology of the computer people is totally wrong, and apparently gang members are infinitely patient with no concept of time at all – the sun always shines in video games. Even the "realistic" graphics in GTA are cartoony at best, and if translated into the real world, we’d all be plastic and look like the Burger King.
However, all of the games that have kill-or-be-killed type plots or actions are rated "M" for Mature by the ESRB and intended for ages 17+. These are games which aren’t made for children or marketed for children. Though not murder simulators in any understanding of the phrase, the animated violence is generally considered inappropriate for young children, just like cinematic violence is rated "R" for ages 17+ in the movies. Young children simply cannot separate fantasy from reality very well, and may overreact or misunderstand any medium, not just video games.
In the end, games cannot be labeled "murder simulators," but fantasy violence or any other mature theme depicted in games can be difficult or confusing to children. Depending on the individual child, even seemingly simple topics can be scary, like deers escaping from a fire in Bambi, virtual pets getting sick in Neopets, or believing that little Pikmin are infesting the nooks and crannies of their house.
Ultimately, it is the job of parents to watch, monitor, and participate in what their kids see and play and be there for the child when a they have questions, and understand that kids don’t always comprehend situations in the same way as adults.
February 7, 2008
Have some games you've finished last year? Would you rather not add to Gamestop's insane used sales numbers? Well with Cheap Ass Gamer's help, you can send your old (or new) games to deployed troops in Iraq. From CheapyD's post:
No matter your stance on the war in Iraq, I think we can all agree that our soldiers have a very rough time over there. Therefore, I am very happy to bring to your attention the CAG "Donate Games to the Troops in Iraq" Campaign. CAG neushane, who is a member of the US Navy and is currently deployed in Fallujah, is spearheading the effort to collect your used (or new) games, and distribute them amongst his fellow troops.
What's also very cool about this charity is that you'll be given a picture of the troop with his or her new game (your old game) once it arrives. This is also a great way to show that gamers are truly good people and not what the media and popular culture tends to portray us as.
February 5, 2008
Over the years video games as a medium have become a larger and larger force, soon infiltrating nearly all aspects of our popular culture. Video games were soon poked fun at on late night talk shows, various sitcoms, and nearly any movie that contains the titular "hacker nerd". But being so involved with video games we "hardcore" gamers have multiple outlets of our own self referential video game humor. Our complex and multi-layered games are ripe for satire in the form of comics, videos, podcasts, and written word.
Here's my list of the top 10 funniest places for video game humor on the web. Also, because humor is so subjective I'm not going to rank these in any specific order, especially since at times one can easily be funnier than another.
Sony Defense Force
Red vs. Blue
Joystiq Comic Wrap Up
Video Game Article
January 26, 2008
Earlier in the week, I covered the various ignorant media pieces going about, including the flak Mass Effect was unfairly receiving. I found this video to be the epitome of how the main stream media covers games ("Porn! Violence! Won't someone think of the children?!"), and how gamers should respond ("Did you actually play the game?"). Well it turns out that the mis-representative nature of the piece has somewhat been repaired by guest Cooper Lawrence admitting the following statement: "I recognize that I misspoke".
Fox news had psychologist Cooper Lawrence on the show as their "expert" to defend their already preconceived notion that Mass Effect was a pornography simulator, marketed to 15-year-old boys, and that you could only play as a male character. The host of Spike TV show Game Head, Geoff Keighley, did his best to fight these clear falsifications, and pointedly asked Cooper whether or not she had played the game, to which she giggled and responded "no".
Cooper Lawrence decided to apologize to gamers today, saying "I really regret saying that, and now that I've seen the game and seen the sex scenes it's kind of a joke". Of course, this is probably attributed to gamers hitting her back were it hurts: the wallet. During the past week, over 400 negative reviews were added on amazon.com to Cooper's book, The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace With Your Inner Overachiever, with many of the reviewers saying they hadn't read the book, but simply that they had simply heard it was bad. Cooper had reportedly just asked someone nearby before going on the show what the game was like, with their reply being "it's like pornography". That's some really expert research right there.
While it's nice to see someone apologizing to the gaming community, it's really too bad this is what has to be done to achieve it. Some might say falsely reviewing her book was unfair, but gamers only did exactly what she did to them: talk about something they knew nothing about, and act like an expert about it. Lucky for Cooper, Amazon has removed all the reviews from those who clearly didn't read the book. I also suspect many more people saw the news program and now have many incorrect assumptions about Mass Effect, than those who now have incorrect assumptions about The Cult of Perfection.
EA also responded to the news report, pointing out all the incorrect facts Fox had on the program. Fox has said they would allow EA to come on television to defend their case, but this isn't what EA or gamers want: we want Fox to say they broadcast falsifications about Mass Effect, and apologize for doing so.
Cooper got the falsifications of her book erased from Amazon, but I highly doubt Fox will do the same with their distorted reports.
January 25, 2008
While the RPG has been having a very nice year, with the release of Mass Effect for the 360 and Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS, there are still thing to recommend a good tabletop roleplaying game. The main thing is that gaming is a much more social activity even than a MMO or other type of multi-player game.
There’s just something fun about inviting a bunch of friends over to your house for some beer and pizza.
Still, if these are your first steps into the world of offline gaming, it can be a little daunting. This article will cover the basics of what you’ll need and where you can get it. If you have previous experience with gaming on the tabletop this will be stuff you already know but we’re going to begin from the beginning.
What You’ll Need
So you've decided to jump into the world of tabletop RPGs, what game should you pick? Below we'll look at some of the most popular RPG franchises and which game you will most likely be attracted to. Basically, if you liked the console game, then the RPGs I recommend will likely be your cup of tea.
However, if you want to emulate this classic game mechanically, you need to look for 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While these books are out of print, you can find them used online and at most gaming hobby shops relatively cheaply. You can also download digital PDF copies of these books for a cool $5 a piece from the leading e-book retailer, www.rpgnow.com
Final Fantasy: This will require a bit more work. There's no game that directly captures the FF experience, and believe me I've looked. Two games that are flexible to handle it, with some elbow grease on your part, would be Fantasy Hero and another great game called True20, which is a simplified version of the system that drives Dungeons and Dragons.
World of Warcraft: Though there are a lot of choices here, I think, again, our old friend Dungeons and Dragons would be the best choice. At its heart, to me anyway, WoW was always something of an "action RPG" in the tradition of Diablo and I think D&D does that tactical RPG combat and dungeon delving better than anyone else.
City of Heroes: If you want to get your super-hero on (no capes!) the game I recommend is Green Ronin Publishing's Mutants and Masterminds. It's the best combination of depth (allowing you to make YOUR hero YOUR way) and ease of play. Whether you want something totally wild and new, or just want to rip off your favorite comic universe, this game gives you the tools to do it in one book.
Fallout: Maybe my favorite computer RPG of all time, the best game to replicate the Fallout experience is Darwin's World, produced by the company I work for, RPGObjects (though I've written very little for this particular game myself). This might seem a little self-serving, but it's the best support post-apocalypse game out there.
Of course, you can't play your game by yourself, you'll need to perform a few more steps to get up running. Next you'll need to get together a group.
A Group: While there are other ways to play traditional RPGs, such as Play by Email and even online services such as Open RPG and Wizards’ upcoming Virtual Tabletop, these experiences won’t give you the different experience you’re looking for to find out if offline gaming is right for you. In short, while there are plenty of ways to game online, if you’re reading this, we’ll assume for now that you’d like to not stare at a glowing, light-bulb-like screen for several hours.
In short, you’re going to need 3-4 real human beings willing to try something out for an evening. If you don’t already know a group of guys and gals that you think would be willing, there are ways to seek them out.
Message Boards: If you go to any tabletop RPG forum, there will usually be a forum for gamers seeking gamers. This is a bit like online dating and the usual caveats apply. Meet the person for the first time in public, etc. etc. The best forum for tabletop RPGs is www.enworld.org, the single largest fansite on the net for tabletop rpgs. They have a large and active gamers seeking gamers forum where gamers from all around the world meet and schedule games.
The Local Gaming Store: Many Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) have tables where people can play. This might be the single best way to get into tabletop gaming if you’re new to it, or have been away for awhile and want to get back in. You could just watch a game to get a feel for it, buy the books and materials you need (dice, lots and lots of dice) and just hang out and meet some folks who might share your desire to get their game on.
Game tables are also handy for that first game, where you can game with new people, ensure that they aren’t jerks, before moving the game to someone’s house.
Even if they don’t have tables (but really, this is what I recommend and you can probably find at least one store near you that has game tables) most stores will let you post a seeking gamers flier as well. One advantage this can have over posting to an internet forum is that you can always meet prospective gamers at the game shop, then go to a neutral diner for coffee to make sure they aren’t crazy.
College/High School Club: If you are a student, especially if you’re a college student, there is a really good chance that your school has a gaming club. While the quality of gaming at such clubs varies wildly, it’s usually a good first step and a great place to meet fellow gamers. In fact, even if you don’t attend the local college, posting fliers there is also a good way to meet gamers.
Materials: Once you have your stout posse together, you’re going to need some gaming materials. At a minimum you’ll need game books, dice, paper and pencil. You can get these things in a variety of places. Amazon.com is a good place to find the books, and for dice there are places like www.rpgshop.com which is a great place to pick up dice online.
Many games will only have one core game book that you’ll need, while other games will require you to buy as many as three. In both cases, your total startup costs will usually be less than the price of a single console game (60-75 bucks is typical).
When you consider that these game books will allow you to play for decades, this startup price is very modest.
Finally, you’ll need one more material, covered below.
Adventures: One of the biggest differences between console games and tabletop games is that the game ends when you want it to, not when the dev team runs out of time and is told to ship the game. Once you’re familiar with the game, you’ll be making up your own adventures in no time, which is one of the real joys of a tabletop game. In the meantime however, especially if you’re new to the game, finding adventures is going to be key. There are lots of adventures online and in stores, with some of the online adventures being free but many are pay products.
Since these adventures vary wildly depending on what game you pick, I’ll cover those in future installments where we get into the nitty gritty of picking just the right game for you based on your console interests.
Until next time.