March 27th, 2009


So, What Will The ESRB Rate This Game?

You know, lots of people enjoy video games.  We aren't all basement dwellers.  We have jobs, families, we're good conversationalists, and so on.  But there is always the depiction in popular media that we're incapable of social interaction, are still virgins, that we haven't showered since the Clinton Administration (gamers are usually depicted as a certain demographic, so going back further than that is pointless), and have a borderline-unhealthy obsession with porn.

Why does this stereotype exist?  Well, partly because it is a comedic shorthand.  Sort of like ethnic jokes, people telling jokes create an assumption for the target audience to latch on to so the joke doesn't fall flat.  Even in our "enlightened" age, gross stereotypes still exist, such as Southerners are stupid hick rednecks, whites are clueless entitlists, and gamers (or, really, ANY pop culture subculture, be they gamers, Trekkies, comic book fans, anime nuts, D&D players, whatever) are literally the Great Unwashed.

But there's another factor, and it's that we gamers bring this sort of attention upon ourselves.

The Game Developers Conference is going on right now, and one of the things they have is the Game Design Challenge.  It's the gamer equivalent of Iron Artist.  Some comic conventions and just about every fur convention has an Iron Artist competition, where the selected victim/artist is given art materials, a time limit, and a list of requirements, and they have to draft and draw an entire comic story right there on the spot (the San Diego comic convention, one year, managed to snag none other than animation legend Don Bluth for the Iron Artist one year.  I have never been sadder to miss out on SD than that).  The Game Design Challenge has the devs given 36 hours to make something based on the chosen theme.  This year's was hosted by Eric Zimmerman, the chief design officer for Gamelab (the immortal Diner Dash).  Three people were originally on the panel:  Sulka Haro from Sulake (Habbo), last year's winner Steve Meretzky (originally with Infocom and creator of many text-based games, including the original Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy game, no surprise his company Playdom emphasizes their comedy skills), and Kim Swift (Valve Software, team lead for Portal).  Swift was pulled by Valve at the last minute and replaced by Heather Kelley (Kokoromi, an indie game company) and Erin Robinson (Wadjet Eye, Emerald City Confidential and the Blackwell series).  The reason Valve pulled Swift?

The chosen theme for the challenge:  make a game called My First Time.

If you are wondering, "My first time what?", please go out and get laid.  After you've caught up to the rest of us, you can rejoin the discussion.

Now, video games with sexual themes are certainly nothing new.  Even if you discount the stupid Mystique games on the Atari 2600, people have been making general games about sex since there was sex.  And there are plenty of video games involving sex.  I remember the "Nude Raider" patch for Lara Croft shortly after Tomb Raider came out.  Duke Nukem had you paying money to strippers before blasting them to chum.  Some unlocked the Hot Coffee minigame in GTA.  Others make Flash games like Orgasm Girl, where you are an angel trying to give an orgasm to a sleeping girl without waking her up (I believe this qualifies as "rape".  Not very angelic, in my opinion.  Thematically, I think a succubus would be closer to the mark).  And then there are those amazingly disturbing and perverse hentai games (the X-Change series is the only one I was able to play without filling my bathtub with vodka and lying in it for a few hours afterwards).  But there's a difference here:  these are fringe games.  Games like Orgasm Girl are typically hanging around Newgrounds.  Duke Nukem wasn't exactly mainstream, it was shock value intended to show the Establishment how edgy it was, like a kid writing his name in wet cement.  The hentai games are imported by niche sellers, you don't find them on the rack at Best Buy (I don't count Hot Coffee for two reasons.  Primo, you had to run patches and hack the game to get to it, it was walled off.  Secundo, we're talking about a game series that celebrates drugs, guns, hookers, robbery, and every crime in the world.  A minigame where you have consensual sex with a woman is actually refreshingly tame).  This was a professional game developers' conference.  Like it or not, the outside world DOES judge you by your actions.  While I understand this was all in fun (and what's more, Meretzky's implementation was actually pretty interesting), it doesn't help the image of gamers as being socially retarded morons.

Just asking, couldn't they have found a more positive theme to base the challenge around?


Hooray, Utah!...Wait...What?

Jack Thompson, for those not familiar with him, is a gung ho lawyer and the video game industry's version of Dr. Righteous.  Convinced that video games are responsible for the moral decline of our youth (but existing in a world where no one can successfully pull a "Seduction Of The Innocent" again), Lightning Jack has done his level best to present gamers and game creators as people trying to erode moral standards so that their hyper-violent fantasies like Grand Theft Auto can happen in real life.  I don't really bother to address his arguments myself, as they are so oversimplified that anyone with a working knowledge of history and a minimum of fifteen neural synapses can shoot him down.  As you may have guessed from that description, politicians listen to him very closely.

In Utah recently, Thompson helped draft a bill to keep violent video games out of kids' hands in the state.  It sailed through the state Congress.  Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. vetoed it, saying that it was unConstitutional and too broad and infringed on people's rights.  God bless you, Mr. Huntsman.

It goes back to committee now, but it's nice to know there's a politician out there who actually understands the liberties that gave rise to this nation.

Calling FFX-2 "Yuna Raider" Might Have Been Prophetic

Eidos Interactive has been around for a long time, and made their mark on the video game world with the release of "Tomb Raider".  Their fortunes have been a bit hit and miss lately.  Despite taking TR away from Core because they refused to evolve the game with the times (and the obscene difficulty of some parts of the game) and giving it to Crystal Dynamics who successfully revived it (fun fact:  one of the guys on staff at CD was one of the members of 90's new wave band Information Society), the last game did solidly but not enough.

Square Enix has been looking to expand its game line-up.  They've figured out they can't really do anything but RPG's.  With the exception of Final Fantasy X-2, all their attempts to make games in genres other than the FF/Dragon Warrior line-up have failed miserably (note to those who were pissed about "Yuna Raider"...I like shojo, I liked X-2, so suck my dick).  Okay, there is the Tactics strategy line-up, but when I run into the games' cheating, I kind of stop playing....

The easiest way to expand your line-up is to acquire someone already doing what you want to do, and doing it successfully.  Square Enix made a play for Eidos, offering $120 mil for the company (that works out to $0.46 per share, almost three times what the stock is currently doing).  Didn't take much convincing, 85% of the stockholders approved it.

Things are now in neutral until April 21.  That is when Eidos' individual shares are delisted.  On April 22, Eidos becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of Square Enix.

A Bird In The Hand

On March 24, 2009, an important victory for us 1st Amendment lovers happened.

A federal judge ruled that flipping the bird (giving the one-finger salute) was PROTECTED FREE SPEECH.

In April 2006, David Hackbart got into a squabble with another driver over a parking space.  He was attempting to parallel park when the other driver pulled behind him and blocked him from the space.  He flipped off the driver.  Officer Brian Elledge was on the scene, and told Hackbart not to do that.  Hackbart only heard the voice, he didn't see it was a cop, so he flipped him off, too.  Elledge cited Hackbart for disorderly conduct.  Hackbart decided to fight it on the grounds that it was Constitutionally protected Free Speech.  US District Judge David S. Cercone agreed.  "The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that non-verbal gestures and symbols may be entitled to First Amendment protection.  Moreover, several courts, including federal and state courts in Pennsylvania, have found that the expressive use of the middle finger is protected speech under the First Amendment.  Hackbart, in this instance, was expressing his frustration and anger when he gestured with his middle finger to both the driver behind him and to Elledge.  Both gestures are protected expressions under the First Amendment, unless they fall within a narrowly limited category of unprotected speech such as obscene speech or fighting words."  Furthermore, "the traffic stop was in retaliation for Hackbart's hand gesture toward Elledge," Cercone wrote. "Elledge admitted, however, that the hand gesture was neither illegal nor obscene."

A district judge initially found Hackbart guilty and fined him $119.75. Hackbart, obviously not one to take defeat easily, appealed, and the charges were withdrawn by the Allegheny County District Attorney's office.  Hackbart then sued Elledge and the city for "physical pain and suffering, emotional trauma, humiliation and distress." Cercone has granted Hackbart's claim against Elledge but not against the city.  According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Through his lawsuit, Elledge claimed Pittsburgh police issued 188 citations between March 2005 and October 2007 charging people with using profane language and/or "obscene" hand gestures. Hackbart claims the ordeal cost him $590 in court fees, lost wages and round-trip airfare from Tampa, Fla., to attend a court hearing. He is seeking to recover this money and an unspecified amount in damages."  So thanks to Cercone, the sides must decide whether to settle or go to trial (Thomas Burns of New Castle flipped off a road construction worker and was charged with disorderly conduct.  Considering some of the things I've heard road workers say to women passing by, I would think they'd be used to getting flipped off.  He settled his suit in October 2006, terms were not publicly disclosed).

So don't just hoist that flag!  Hoist that finger, high and proud!  And be glad that I didn't include the tag for "digital" rights.  ;-)

Pass The Tip Jar

There's a new web site called Fair Play For Creators.

"Fair Play for Creators was established after Internet-giant, Google, made the decision to remove some music content from YouTube.

"Google's decision was made because it didn't want to pay the going rate for music, to the creators of that music, when it's used on YouTube.

"Music creators rely on receiving royalties whenever and wherever their work is used."

Especially if they can erode Fair Use in the process.  Need proof that the record industry isn't concerned about copyright violations and is just shaking people down for cash?  Poof.  What are your other two wishes?


Someone's Nervous At The Poker Game

We FOSS advocates have been ready for this day, when we take on a broken patent system that is used as an anti-competitive weapon.  Thanks to M$ trying to push TomTom around, the FAT patent (which was stolen from the CP/M days) is about to go bye-bye.  M$ claims that Linux infringes on more than 200 M$ patents, and the FAT file system is the best they can do?

90% of business patents have gotten the thumb.  Medical companies are feeling heat from consumers over being forced to pay outrageous prices.  The PUBPAT program that lets people explore and produce prior art to keep the USPTO from issuing redundant and/or invalid patents is a huge success.  Patent reform is gaining real steam in America.  Several bills are pending in Congress to address patent problems.

Senators Arlen Spector, Orrin Hatch, and Dianne Feinstein are urging the warring sides to try to work things out and come up with a compromise.

Hey, Establishment!  You blinked!

The Liberty Bell Is Slowly Getting Fixed

Pennsylvania has been really interesting in the news lately.  First, flipping someone off is declared Protected Free Speech (a.k.a. SRIUS BIZNSS).  Now, a judge is getting potted for destroying kids' lives.

The state's Supreme Court ruled that Judge Mark Ciavarella violated the Constitutional rights of teenagers in his court by failing to ensure they had proper legal representation.  Last month, both Ciavarella and another senior juvie judge, Michaelf Conahan, pleaded guilty to taking $2.6 mil from the co-owner and builder of a private detention center.  In return for the kickbacks, the judges were accused of insuring a continuous flow of juvies to the center to give them business.  Ciavarella said in an interview with the Guardian that he was trying "to help these kids straighten out their lives."  He did this by giving custodial sentences to kids as young as 14 for offenses like stealing a $4 jar of nutmeg and creating a satirical MySpace page goofing on a teacher.  The Supremes received an official report by an independent judge, Arthur Grim, that stated that hundreds of children had been sentenced without the benefit of any legal advice (under Pennsylvania law, anyone under 17 is not allowed to waive their right to a lawyer unless they do so "knowingly, intellignetly, and voluntarily").  All the kids subjected to this farce have had their records purged.

Here's hoping the kids can rebuild their lives and that they didn't fall too far behind from this.