Posts Tagged ‘Video game’

This post continues the discussion I began in “Chillin’ at the OK Corral;” In that post I re-evaluated both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic based on their pre-launch claims concerning the revolutionary transformation they were about to unleash upon a helpless planet earth.  Since their release, the Massively Multiplayer Game environment has seen some interesting changes over the last year or so.  What might these changes indicate about the fate of existing MMORPGs and ones still in development?

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Videogame Library

We Are What We Buy
(Original photo by Dj ph. Used in accordance with Creative Commons License)

The answer to this question seems blindingly obvious.  A gamer is a person who plays videogames.  But with any activity it is important to circle back to first principles occasionally.  In this case, the common sense answer to this fundamental question is arguably not helping the cause of providing all of us with better games.  In fact, this answer may be a fundamental part of the reason why every year the gaming industry seems desperate to emulate Hollywood: scattering a handful of diamonds throughout a giant shit pile.  If the diamonds land on top, all well and good, we recognize them and celebrate them.  Most of us, however, are left having to do a lot of unpleasant digging and spend time cleaning residue off objects that may or may not prove to be the gems we seek.  All too often the resultant gem proves simply to be a particularly well fossilized turd.

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Witchcraft Image by Kelly Garbato

Image taken at the St. Joseph, MO museum by Kelly Garbato. Available via Flikr in accordance with Creative Commons license.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a blog that I like to check in with from time to time.  Written by four experienced UK game journalists, it focuses exclusively on PC Gaming (the fact that this still exists will certainly be news to major game retailers here in the US), the sense of humor resonates with me, and the focus tends to be thoughtfully eclectic.

Recently, one of the team, John Walker, posted an extended discussion of sexism in the gaming world in particular (that is both the world of players and the world of developers) and the tech world in general.  (It is a lengthy article, but if you are a reader of this site you’ll be used to that by now!)  Anyone involved with games who hasn’t been living under a rock (sadly, that actually excludes a lot of gamers, it seems, as will be seen in a moment) is aware of several general issues facing the gaming industry when it comes to gender.  There is the persistent problem of the underrepresentation–scratch that, the massive underrepresentation–of women at every level of game development.  While women make up a significant percentage of players in most casual gaming genres, they are still a distinct minority in many “traditional” hardcore gaming genres.  There is a pervasive culture of harassment of women players in many gaming genres which ranges from downgrading women’s participation by treating that participation as unusual, to the outright abuse that comes from feeling women have no place at all in gaming.  I’ve written several pieces for this blog that have looked at the hate-filled campaigns directed at women who have spoken out about misogyny in the world of gaming, or even at those women who have dared simply to offer an opinion on game design.

Walker’s article–“Misogyny, Sexism and why RPS isn’t Shutting Up”–makes no bones about its intentions.  But the real interest of this article is that for a lot of people outside the game industry the most obvious question would be why the article was even necessary.  So, you are going to continue to call out sexism and misogyny where you see it.  Awesome.  But, er, is there a problem with doing that in the world of gaming?

Oh yes.  A big problem.

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Game Developers and Game Reviewers in Ancient India. Not much has changed. Creative Commons copyright by Nagarjun.

If you take a casual glance around the media landscape you would be quite justified in thinking that the world of game reviewing is thriving.  There are lots of videogame publications in print, online and (tenuously) on TV, with lots of opinionating being directed at a lot of pixels across a wide variety of platforms.

In reality, video game reviewing is a disaster zone that is helping to ensure a steady supply of mediocre games that are enthusiastically embraced by a player population with frighteningly low expectations and a shallow fixation on gaming technology.

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I spend a lot of my time trying, in print and in person, to work against the negative stereotypes that abound concerning videogames and gamers.  Sure, sometimes that effort involves pointing up some of the negative characteristics of gamers and game developers that a lot of people either don’t notice or tacitly accept as “just the way things are.”  Yet, on the whole I am usually trying to convince others that the world of gaming is interesting, complex, significant and, potentially, a hugely important force shaping our culture.  Every so often, however, I’m reminded how powerfully the gaming industry is not an ally in this effort.

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Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Kn...

Image via Wikipedia

Hard to believe but the Artificially Intelligent blog is now almost three years old.  Quite a lot of virtual ink under the bridge since then.  I thought it appropriate therefore to use the anniversary both to reflect on a piece of the past and to start something new.  This will be the first in a series of posts over the next few weeks attempting to think through what I term the “Monkeys Typing Hamlet” problem but which others refer to as “Crowd Sourcing.”

Quite some time ago I wrote about the facile reporting in a Newsweek article that described the imminent demise of crowd sourcing.  I haven’t changed my mind about the article.   It is still a perfect example of contemporary journalistic practice and therefore an indictment of everything that is wrong with the training and practice of many mainstream journalists today.  But the article struck a chord with me for an entirely different set of reasons.  Consider this portion:

There’s no shortage of theories on why Wikipedia has stalled. One holds that the site is virtually complete. Another suggests that aggressive editors and a tangle of anti-vandalism rules have scared off casual users. But such explanations overlook a far deeper and enduring truth about human nature: most people simply don’t want to work for free. They like the idea of the Web as a place where no one goes unheard and the contributions of millions of amateurs can change the world. But when they come home from a hard day at work and turn on their computer, it turns out many of them would rather watch funny videos of kittens or shop for cheap airfares than contribute to the greater good. Even the Internet is no match for sloth.

That’s why Wikipedia’s new recruiting push will not rely merely on highfalutin promises about pooled greatness and “the sum of all human knowledge.”

You can sense the authors’ delight here in being able to get a few digs in at those who have the temerity to believe in “pooled greatness” and who actually care about big ticket items like the state of human knowledge.   You can feel the satisfaction in declaring these kinds of dreams no match for the unstoppable power of LOLCATS.  There’s nothing quite as distinctive as the smell of superiority.  Then it hit me.

I could have written this piece.

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One of the things that continues to fascinate me about videogames is that they are thoroughly mainstream. . .and yet they aren’t.  They are mainstream in the sense of being massively popular and the preferred leisure activity of a large and increasingly diverse segment of the population.  But they are not mainstream in the sense that our culture still doesn’t really “get” games.  This is not, I hasten to add, a woes-me complaint that mommy and daddy culture don’t really understand us (sniff).  Hell, most gamers I’ve met don’t really “get” games.  They do all the things that the non-gaming sections of our culture do, either through inclination or force of habit: they approach games in a pure consumerist frenzy, they see them as simple outgrowths of other media and activities or, alternately, as something supposedly so radically different that they can’t be compared to anything else and hence none of the rules apply.

A major reason why games are mainstream but not is because on the cultural stage the conversations are controlled by people who by and large are not videogame players: Concerned Parents, professional rabble-rousers, politicians, moral crusaders and, sadly, not a few opportunistic scholars (although the number of game studies “scholars” who have a limited experience with games has certainly diminished compared with when I entered the field).  Again, however, it is important not to let game players and the game industry off the hook.  All too many players and developers have taken themselves out of the conversation through their belief that games themselves are capable of saying little more than “play me and leave me.”

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