Growing Up

March 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm (Particle Physics, Politics)

As reported on GamePolitics (and a few other places), one Heather Chaplain has laid down the law for game developers – it’s time to grow up.  They’re a bunch of stunted adolescents creating teenage power fantasies.

And, I imagine, it goes downhill from there.

The youth of gaming is no factor either; by the time motion pictures were 35 years old (as video games are), we had Fritz Lang and Citizen Kane.   Rock and Roll had the Beatles and Bob Dylan.   Where are the Langs and Dylans of video gaming?

Well, as others have pointed out, Rock and Roll isn’t really a ‘medium,’ it’s a ‘genre.’  And shall we dwell on some of what it had by the time it was 35?

The Witch Doctor.  The Purple People Eater.  Chantilly Lace.  Yes, it also had the Beatles (“Rocky Raccoon,” “I am the Walrus,”) and Bob Dylan (“Lay Lady Lay,” anyone?)  They also had Jim Morrison, I might add.

Movies were 35 years old and they had Citizen Kane and the Maltese Falcon, to say nothing of Gone with the Wind and the Universal classics.

It also had Spooks Run Wild, the Invisible Ghost, and by the time it was almost 40 years old it had Glen or Glenda, Jailbait, and any of a thousand other films that were cheap little throwaways made with a little heart and a lot of drive to try and make enough cash to eat while you made the next one.

And these are two ‘mediums’ that came hot on the heels of centuries of precedent.  Movies had the theatre.  Rock and Roll had all music that came before it.  Some of the oldest ‘mediums’ in history gave birth to these industries.

Video games?  Yeah, they’re young.  They’re only 35.  And they don’t have the same sort of pedigree – a video game is like a play where the audience is taking on a starring role.  Sure, you’ve got a script, but you’ve got an amateur playing the part, so you need to make sure it’s a part he can handle.

And, more importantly, it’s been 35 years in the age of mass media.  Films and Rock came out of media that had a history of sending messages and telling deep, involved stories.  Video games?  Eh… not so much, for the most part.  They evolved out of table-top games.  Chess and ping pong and checkers and those games you used to play at the carnival, where you tried to pop a balloon and win a prize.

Not much in the way of deep storytelling there, is there?

And while she may trumpet Gears of War, Halo, Killzone, and GTA as the examples of the sort of ‘mindless’ games out there (I’m guessing here, folks), that’s rather debatable… and, more importantly, ignores what’s gone before.

You want anti-war commentary and protests?  Raze’s Hell.

You want environmentalist messages, exploring the question of whether or not it’s right to exploit the world around you?  Try the Oddworld series, or Final Fantasy 7 if you must (I loathe the game, but it *does* have its message).

You want meditations on free will, destiny, and the moral responsibility of a person who’s been tricked into committing horrible wrongs?  Final Fantasy 4.

You want taught thrillers with indepth plotlines?  Still Life, Indigo Prophecy, Silent Hill (I’d go on, but I have to be getting home now.)

Yes, if you look at gaming you can find a lot of stuff that’s simple adolescent wish fulfillment.  If you look at *any* medium that tries to sell to adolescents, you’ll find a lot of adolescent wish fulfillment! 

(It’s called the 50’s-80’s, throw a rock at any complete collection of films from that era, and you’ll hit some.)

And that’s when you have a medium that *hasn’t* been smacked around half the times it’s tried to explore deeper issues.  Remember Bully?

Do you remember that it was yelled at as much for ‘glorifying homosexuality’ (by allowing players to engage in male-male kissing without serious consequence) as much as for ‘glorifying juvenile delinquency’?

And, sadly, the market is littered with examples that tried to be more, but just couldn’t sell in the market.  When you’re running a business, which the video game companies are by their nature, you have to factor that in.  Movies have always had one advantage – any schmuck with a camera could make one.  Any moron who could smack two rocks together could write music.

Video games haven’t been democratized that way – they cost time, skill, and money to make that just isn’t *that* widely available, at least on the mainstream market.

One of these days, I hope to see things turn around, and a lot more thoughtful games come onto the market.  I honestly think we’re heading down that road rapidly.

But give us a little time.  After all – it took us a a couple thousand years to get to Oedipus Rex… and thousands more to reach Citizen Kane.

30-some-odd years to get started is looking pretty good right about now, isn’t it?


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March 23, 2009 at 3:38 pm (Politics) (, )

Or:  AIG, Bonuses, and Contracts.

The Huffington Post has a piece on this here that covers my thoughts pretty well, but I’ll elaborate anyways.

First off, let me say that I think the bonuses are pretty much bunk – these people should generally (GENERALLY, not necessarily all) have resigned or been fired and, therefore, not received them.

However, thanks to a clause that was put into the bill that gave them that money by Senator Chris Dodd (and then forgotten about, until Dodd could figure out a way to plausibly blame somebody else), AIG was contractually obligated to give these bonuses out.

Indeed, since AIG wasn’t forced into bankruptcy, the government’s bailout has contractually obligated the company to pay all of its liabilities at full value.  Bonuses, credit default swaps, everything.  Had the government let them go into bankruptcy protection, they could have had a judge help them renegotiate these debts at pennies on the dollar – happens all the time, though not to a company that large.

But, as stated, since it wasn’t, they had no choice.  You see, you can’t just casually ignore your contractual obligations.  If you do, the people you owe money to will sue you – and, legally, you will be obligated to pay.  Indeed, if the folks who got these bonuses – and the hundreds or thousands of other people about to be punished with a 90% marginal tax rate in order to satisfy the public’s thirst for blood from 73 individuals – sue to challenge the law as being unconstitutional (which it 100% is – ex post facto laws aren’t even forbidden by the Bill of Rights, but by Article I itself,) it’ll add millions in legal fees to the government and AIG both… *and* they’ll still have to fork over the money.

The Dealbook Blog covers a lot of other reasons for not doing this in a post of its own, here.  But I want to point out another letter of the alphabet here… D.

Or, Death Threats.

Folks, garroting the executives at AIG – and their families – won’t do a damn thing.

Mr. Barney Frank might not think the threats are serious, but that doesn’t matter.  The fact that they’ve been made – that people have said that all the exec’s and their families should be strung up with piano wire – is more despicable than any amount of bonus you accepted from the company.  And it terrifies me.  Why?  After all, I certainly didn’t accept any money from AIG.

It terrifies me because it’s straight out of the populist dictator’s playbook.  Consider this – Frank gets the list (which he has, I believe).  They decide to publicize the list, in the interest of “the people’s right to know.”  Hell, let’s have some real fun – they don’t publicize it intentionally, but it instead “leaks” to a news source that goes out to scoop the rest of the media by publishing.

Now… if nothing happens, then no harm is done (aside from social/psychological harm), so nobody really complains about it… or, if they do, they paint themselves as an enemy of the people.

If anything *does* happen, the government is horribly shocked and dismayed at the violence out there… but, after all, it’s their own fault for doing something so despicable.  In the interests of healing these sort of rifts, their estates could be confiscated and auctioned off, just like the property of a drug kingpin.

And the message is sent.  Don’t screw with us, and make sure you toe the populist line, or your name might be on the next list.

Now, do I think this will happen?  God I hope not.  I’m a writer in my spare time, folks, which means I tend to think in terms of overly dramatic events that could happen.  This is the sort of thing you expect to happen on a show like 24, not in reality, and I believe it will remain in the realm of fiction.

But the possibility that it won’t – and that it could so very easily cross the border from fiction to reality – is perhaps the biggest reason that we need to stop, back up, and think.

There is no freakin’ reason that people should be this pissed off.  So back off, and save your ire for the people who’ve deserved it.  I’ve seen less anger in response to serial killers, for Gods’ sake.  At least as far as I know, nobody suggested that BTK’s wife and daughter should be strung up with piano wire….

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Meaningless Steps Forward

March 18, 2009 at 7:43 am (Politics) (, )

Well, the UN is prepping a declaration of gay rights.  And, while they didn’t do it under the Bush administration, the Obama administration is planning to sign on.

On the one hand, and let me make this clear, I want to applaud the administration for doing so.

But I’d like to know what exactly this means, beyond “yep.  Equal rights are a good thing, fer sure!”  It’s a UN Declaration.  It doesn’t have force of law.  It doesn’t mean that DADT has been pulled.  It doesn’t mean that Prop 8 is being dropped.  It doesn’t mean that your bank can’t consider you a single income home even if you’ve been in a dedicated same-sex partnership for 27 years.  All it means is… we don’t think you should criminalize homosexuals.

It doesn’t *make* them stop doing it.  It doesn’t apply sanctions for doing it.  It just says ‘we don’t like it, and we think you should stop.’

A little more substance in the gay rights support, please?  Like maybe taking a few steps to clean up *our* back yard along with it….

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I live!

March 16, 2009 at 7:39 am (Politics) (, , , )

Sorry folks, been incommunicado for a while.  I’ve been busy discovering the ins and outs of the latest bout of plague going around here (otherwise known as… a chest cold.  Gyah.)

However, tripped over this today, and thought I’d point out that… well… Time didn’t think of it first.

Neither did I, I realize that.  It does, however, raise the interesting possibility that this will begin to become part of the mainstream debate, rather than merely something bounced around by folks like me.

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