Κύμα και λυσσομανάει… Is client-server gaming ruining future young adulthood?

The only thing better than growing up in the ’90s is being in your twenties in 2013.  Those totally awesome cartoons that we kinda-sorta recall that were on after school?  Mother funking DVD boxset just got released.  Those bands you vaguely remember hearing at your eighth birthday party?  Reunion tour next week.  Those video games that you used to play with the crappy, blocky graphics that you swore looked more realistic than reality?  You’ve still got the console in your cupboard somewhere, covered in dust and only working if you blow into the cartridges the right way.

Because like diamonds, Batman, and Bowie’s underground, the video games that you used to play as a kid are forever.  They are the artefacts which link you to a younger version of yourself.  When we are 90 years old with brains calcified and joints arthritic, we will still know the fastest way through the Water Temple, through Yoshi’s Island, and through that weird pyramid level in GoldenEye.

Changes to this idyllic state of being are already here.  Last year, I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It follows on from the excellent Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II games from a few years ago.  KOTOR and KOTOR2 explore the world long before the events of the Star Wars movie.  You play as a character who has to understand their identity and explore the morality of their world in order to become either a master of the light or dark side of the Force.

They both have enormous replay value.  What if you choose a different class?  A different path?  A different build?  A different conversation option?

The Old Republic is set a few generations after KOTOR and KOTO2.  Unlike those games, TOR is a MMORPG.  In order to play it, I bought a client which I installed on my computer and then purchased a subscription to the server.  Although I really enjoyed the game, there was a glitch that I couldn’t get resolved — EA Games really hates Australians — and so I stopped playing.

The other day, I got an itch to play one of my Old Republic characters, but then realised that would mean working out what was ailing my account.  And then I’d need to resubscribe.  And then I’d need to download however many millions of updates had been released since I last played.  And then… and then… and then…

And even if I sorted out all of that, I’d need to endure the homophobic jerks in the chat windows.

I have none of that rubbish if I want to replay KOTOR or KOTOR2.  Disc in, load game, win.

We have created a generation of games where the experience is fixed to a particular point in time.  When I am old and grey, I’ll be able to play KOTOR and KOTOR2 with my grandkids, but I won’t be able to play TOR.  The client will no longer dial in to the relevant server, and the disc contains only a downloader rather than the game.

But don’t think about me (even though you should; I’m great).  Think about our current generation of children.  Where we have the luxury of indulging our childhood nostalgia, they’ll have a bunch of discs that do utterly nothing.

This isn’t just for the adventure heroic games either.  The new SimCity game (apparently) requires you to log into a particular server in order to run the game.  When the server is switched off, no more nostalgic memories of competently planning a city.

Don’t laugh at that.  I still play my Ye Ancyent Versions of the Civilisation games.  Each game has a different mechanic and I play the version which best suits my whims at the time (cough… and which might have the cutest Catherine the Great… cough).  If the strategy, ‘single’-player games go the same way as the RPGs, what will be left?

If video games are an art form (and I think they can be), and if video games can form an important part of a person’s cultural environment, then we should be worried about client-server gaming trends.  Think of the children!

The birds and the bees they hum along… Should @FemFreq mention female-positive games for ‘balance’? (Answer: No).

Feminist Frequency was the subject of a disappointing Kickstarter drama last year.  Wanting to produce a series of analytical videos about gender issues in video games, Anita Sarkeesian began a Kickstarter campaign to bankroll it.  Of course, a large fraction of the gaming community can’t handle the thought of women expressing views about gender, so the Kickstarter drama was more about the influx of trolls rather than the subject of women in gaming.

Fortunately, the drama might draw attention to her videos which (despite some tiny quibbles about presentation) are first class.  Here’s the first episode:

The reaction from the gaming community was predictable.  ‘Silly girl with your HARDCORE feminist friends, you have completely ignored all the examples of positive role models for girls in video games!’  Indeed, so common was the response that a friend of mine (an avid gamer) even threw down this magic card, using the word ‘balance’ to justify the position.

The view seems to be that the only way to tell if women are objectified by video games is to list all the games which objectify women and all the games which don’t — if the Good List is longer than the Bad List, then there’s no problem in the gaming community.

This is a rubbish view for two reasons.

The first is obvious: we shouldn’t be ‘balancing’ the two lists to determine the extent of the problem.  The problem is that the ‘Bad List’ exists at all.  As a straight white guy, I can’t think of a single game where my character analogue is anything less than a triumphant hero.  If we’re balancing the lists for single white guys, the Bad List is practically non-existent.  Yet when we discuss women in video games, we can’t criticise the Bad List without doffing our caps to the Good List?

The second is less obvious and something to which Sarkeesian alludes but doesn’t hit squarely on the head: guys are really bad at spotting gender issues.  The idea of comparing two lists of female representation assumes that we can objectively identify which representations go on which list.  Thus, one internet blowhard (who even went on to argue that Sarkeesian was censoring guys’ responses by disallowing comments to her posts…) listed Ms Pac-Man, Super Princess Peach, and Borderlands as examples of games Sarkeesian should have mentioned if only she’d done more research and wasn’t such a HARDCORE feminazi.

Ms Pac-Man, as we are all aware, is a complicated and multi-layered story about a young woman who eats giant dots and bits of fruit.  Women identify with Ms Pac-Man because, like them, they wear a red bow in their hair, have beauty spots, and wear red lipstick.  Here she is standing up against the objectification and sexualisation of women on the original arcade machine:

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Snark aside, ‘female Pac-Man’ in the gaming community meant ‘sexy Pac-Man’.  Further, the ‘Ms’ element is what we call in Aristotelean terms an ‘accidental attribute’ rather than an ‘essential attribute’.  This essential vs accidental issue is a complicated problem at the heart of representation issues in culture.  We see straight white guys as the norm, with each step away from that norm being a quirky twist.  Captain Smith is a hard-edged, no-nonsense leader of a group of space pirates… oh, and she’s a woman!  That’s what makes this series different to the others!  Woman!  President Jones is a kindly, gentle leader of the Free World… oh, and she’s a woman!  How will she cope with all of her women’s periods?

In the case of Ms Pac-Man, this was literally the case.  They needed a character who was different enough from Pac-Man to avoid a lawsuit but similar enough to be part of the franchise: thus, Pac-Man got some lipstick and high heels.

This might be dismissed as a trivial issue, but it has ‘real world’ implications (beyond telling the non-male gaming community that their identity is a quirky deviation from male greatness).  There are court cases where people have tried to argue that the judge was biased because they were not a white male.  White males are default neutral, anything else looks like bias.  Does popular culture have a responsibility to change attitudes?  Yes.

Super Princess Peach follows a similar argument but, this time, we’re talking about the story rather than the character.  Here, Princess Peach is the protagonist and must save Mario.  What reveals the gender issue lurking beneath the surface is that this is treated as a novelty.  ‘Hey, guys.  I’ve got this crazy idea for a new game!’ said one of the game developers, no doubt.  ‘What if it were Princess Peach doing the rescuing instead of Mario?!  Wouldn’t that be hilarious?!’

Super Princess Peach doesn’t mitigate the problem of gender in video games; it exists because of it.  If gender issues didn’t exist in gaming, nobody would have thought to make this game where the object of the series transgresses against conventions to become the subject of a game.

Finally, Borderlands.  My brother plays this game.  Here’s a woman from it.

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Time to call it a day, Feminists.  Borderlands has clearly demonstrated that women are represented accurately and in a non-sexualised manner in video games.  If those breasts don’t scream ‘progressive’, well…

Let’s go for another recent example of this (and one that I’ve already written about).  In Batman: Arkham City, Batman is aided by a paraplegic woman who communicates through radio, by a woman who breaks social conventions to become a sort of villainous hero, and by a woman with complicated links to one of the key antagonists of the game.  One of Batman’s adversaries is a fanatical woman who acts out of a perverse love for the Joker.

Although Batman allows guys like me to play out their power fantasies of being Batman (plus, Batman is the world’s greatest conservative hero, so I’m totally on board with playing as him), he’s put into a world where there are lots of opportunities for female characters to be on a near-equal ground with our hero.

Instead, the script — written by Paul Dini — turns Batman into more than a bit of a pig.  When receiving advice from Oracle, Batman acts like a jerk and rather unkindly reminds her which of the two is the Batman.  Catwoman, on the other hand, does little but make vaguely raunchy remarks.  Talia al Ghul, a woman who is presented to the viewer as a person Batman turns to for advice and guidance, is also presented to the viewer as a sexualised object.  The game takes on an aggressively hostile attitude towards women, with inmates (who, admittedly, are bad guys) frequently commenting on how various female characters are sexually desirable or bitches.

Nowhere was this attitude towards women more notable than in the transformation of Harley Quinn between Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City.

Here she is in Ayslum:

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Sure, she’s probably not going to win The Germaine Greer Award for Feminism, but it’s still a garden mile ‘better’ than her appearance in City:

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The new Harley had even fewer clothed on than before.  This, by the way, was the original appearance of Harley Quinn in the cartoons:

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That’s from the original Batman: The Animated Series.  The more recent Batman had her looking like this:

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Unless you count the face paint, neither version reveals any flesh at all.  Yet in order to be acceptable to the gaming community (and, fair’s fair, the comics community) she had to bare skin.

What we see is game designers pandering to what they think the market wants: scantily clad women.  In the case of Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, &c., I still recognise powerful women, but I’m encouraged to look at the characters as objects of titillation first.  This is the problem we face when we ask guys to identify the good female role models for women: we have normalised the sexual component — fictional women are of course created for our visceral pleasure — so we can say with a straight face that these women are powerful, liberated role-models for women.

This, by the way, is but one of many reasons why I don’t think men can be feminists.  Admittedly, as a straight, white, conservative male, I’m not sure why anybody would care about my definition of ‘feminist’.

So let’s wind this back up to the start.  When we hear the complaint that Sarkeesian doesn’t acknowledge all the great female role models in video games, what we are actually hearing is the complaint that Sarkeesian isn’t viewing video games as a guy.  When she is confronted by images of women being objectified, we claim that her reaction is misplaced and that she should instead think of all the women guys claim aren’t objectified (like Ms Pac-Man).  What we are also hearing is that people like Sarkeesian have no right criticising males unless she acknowledges all the good things that guys do, like create novelty games for women such as Super Princess Peach.  In short, if Sarkeesian doesn’t play by our rules when she discusses video games (the rules which make guys feel better about themselves), then we simply aren’t going to enter into a discussion about her point.

The balance argument is particularly noxious when we consider Sarkeesian as something of a pathologist.  Here she is diagnosing a problem at the heart of gaming, yet her critics argue that she’s ignoring a perfectly healthy appendix.  Her patient (the gaming community) says, ‘I refuse to accept your diagnosis of my diseased heart, Dr Sarkeesian, unless you praise me for what a healthy appendix I have.’

I, for one, am looking forward to further episodes of her webseries.  I just wish she’d stop using French phrases followed by their literal English translation.  Seriously, it’s my one quibble.  If you need to translate the phrase immediately, then you don’t need to use the phrase.

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? Review of Zelda: Skyword Sword

I love this game.

There’s no way you’d be able to tell that from what I write below, but know that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is awesome and you should all buy it and play it until your arm atrophies from Wii-itis.

Let’s start somewhere else: the Greek hero, Theseus, has a ship.  Sailing between islands, he begins to replace each plank of wood in his ship, throwing the old plank out behind and replacing it with a new plank (where he gets these new planks out on the ocean, none know).  There’s a person sailing behind Theseus grabbing the discarded planks and making a ship identical to Theseus’ original… blah, blah.  Which is Theseus’ ship?

What makes for a Zelda game?  The series has been, undoubtedly, the most influential in the history of videogaming.  There isn’t an new game made today which doesn’t borrow concepts originally tried in a Zelda adventure.

But what happens when Zelda starts borrowing from other franchises?  Does it start a dialogue where each party learns the best stuff of the other?  Or do the interlocutors begin to lose their individuality?

There is an element of the latter in this game.  While being familiar enough to be a Zelda title (Link’s there, Zelda’s there, goddesses, Triforce, &c.), it’s not difficult to see that the names could be replaced and it wouldn’t be a Zelda game.

It’s sort of like how the film Troy had absolutely nothing in common with The Iliad except the names.

On the other hand, who cares?  If the game is excellent, does it matter if it ‘feels’ like a Zelda game (whatever that means)?

And the game is amazing.  You play a young hero whose love interest appears to be better at succeeding in life than you are.  Shortly after an event in which she acts as the avatar of a goddess, she’s kidnapped by evil forces.  Instead of waiting for you to rescue her, she’s saved herself and begun a journey about three steps ahead of you.  Thus begins your adventure to keep up with the girl.

It’s a long way from old Zelda who was asleep or trapped in a crystal waiting for you to rock up.  It’s even a long way from the Zelda who dressed as a guy and stood in the background waiting for you to save the world.  It’s a Zelda who carves the way ahead of you, but for some reason puts all of the traps and switches back the way she found them.

Or she’s so much more awesome than you that she can complete the dungeons without needing to solve all the puzzles.

The world is beautiful.  The story is fun (although you’ll be talked to death in the first hour of the game: cut scene, cut scene, bird race, cut scene).  And the puzzles are puzzling.

It’s not without its problems.  I am, above all things, a very lazy person.  Everybody’s been raving about the sword fighting.  The sword moves where you move the Wiimote.  What I want in life is for me to push A and the monster dies.  If I wanted to sword fight with monsters, I’d start up a fencing competition against libertarians.

And flying.  God, I hate flying.  In Wind Waker, sailing was a matter of pointing in the right direction and keeping a vague eye out for sharks.  In Skyward Sword, you travel over miles of featureless clouds by waving your arm.  If you stop waving your arm, the bird shits itself and gets stuck in the clouds at the bottom of the screen.  I’m ambidextrous, so I figured when one arm got tired, I could go to the other.  Not so; the Wii is designed to only recognise dexterous people and has no time for the sinister.

It’s also a pain playing in bed.  I have found memories lying in bed playing A Link to the Past.  I could wrap myself in my duvet with some soft drink and nibbles, and get my arse handed to me by Turtle Rock Dungeon.

Don’t try to move unnecessarily while playing Skyward Sword.  I tried to grab a bottle of creaming soda, but this resulted in me accidentally swinging my sword into the nearby bomb plants…

‘Sure,’ I hear you say from the future, ‘But if you’re not a complete moron, you’ll be fine.’

But you’d be wrong.  In order to roll bombs, you either have to stand up or have to contort your arm around in front of your body to simulate where your arm would be if you were standing up.

Yes, boohoo for me.  The game wants me to be active instead of just lying around.  But if I didn’t want to lie around, I’d be doing something else other than playing video games.  It’s like people who spend weeks on end trying to get good at Guitar Hero.  Why not put that effort into learning the guitar?  If I wanted to get good at moving around and being coordinated, I’d take up a sport.

Oh, and upgrading items.  I hate games that do that.  Give me my weapons.  Don’t expect me to go out hunting bugs to crush up into weapon bonuses.

But all of those things aside, this is an amazing game.  So much better than Batman: Arkham City.

No-one’s gonna bend nor break me… Review of #Batman #ArkhamCity

‘Damnit, Batman.  You’ve been kidnapped by a mystery figure with a mystery agenda which will climax in ten hours and you’ve been poisoned and don’t have long to live.  You need to hurry to find out what the mystery agenda is and to stop it and to find a cure for your disease…. Or you could play minigames.  Lots of minigames.’

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a magnificent game.  It balanced an action adventure game with a solid story.  Seemingly random events were weaved together into a rich tapestry, coherent and engaging.  The story made sense, with each part following logically from the part before it.  The writing was superb, beautifully acted.  Even though you could go hunt down little trophies and solve riddles, you knew where you were in the story and what you were supposed to be doing.

In fact, the game was so good that I wondered if I was misremembering how good it was.  Was I forgetting the awful camera?  Were the battles more repetitive than I recalled?  Had I glossed over my confusion about why Batman wouldn’t come more prepared with more than a Batarang or two at the start of the game?

Nope.  I played it again and it was as rich and enjoyable as I remembered.

So what the hell went wrong with Arkham City?

Arkham City is an incoherent mess of a game.  The ‘quickly! hurry up! rush! don’t delay!’ aspects of the game are so inconsistent with the sandpit environment that it is difficult to follow the story.  I suspect it’s for that reason that you’re treated to a series of panels explaining the game so far each time you load the disc.  Even then, the story is confusing.  There appear to be two plots in the main story, with throwaway lines to explain inconsistencies.  For example, the story says that the characters you encounter in Arkham City are all inmates.  So why do so many of the mooks have advanced weaponry?  To explain this away, one character, A, phones you up to explain that another character, B, has given them weapons.  Unfortunately, this explanation is entirely inconsistent with the plot relating to B, causing even more confusion.

Cameos are shoehorned into the game, resulting in random battles with no clear purpose.  One character asks for your help; Batman declines so the two characters fight.  When the fight is over, Batman promises to help the character anyway.

The game mechanics, on the other hand, are an addictive pleasure.  Despite disliking the game, I’ve spent ages flying around, punching mooks and solving riddles.  I’m glad I’m an insomniac; it would be easy to lose days to punching inmates.

Which, it must be said, bothers me a little bit.  The game indicates that Arkham City was a place to lock away criminals and psychiatric patients.  You don’t know which is which but you creep up behind them and punch them anyway.  I had this mental image of one of the mooks spending time with their therapist, noting that they’re really seeing some progress, only to be punched unprovoked in the back of the head by Batman the next week.

‘Why am I punching you?  Because you’ve been programmed to punch me.  We are both victims, but I will break your face.’

Meanwhile, just about every character is an expat of the Uncanny Valley.  Several of the characters note that they can tell how ill Batman is from a cursory look at his face.  I, on the other hand, had difficulty distinguishing his facial flaws — the mumpish, plasticy, weirdly-moving flesh — from that of everybody else in the game.  It made me wonder if I misheard an earlier exchange and everybody in Arkham City had been infected with the disease.  Did the disease make you look mostly undead?   Did it make your eyes bulge?  Did it make your lips curl back into your mouth?  If so, everybody’s showing symptoms…

But my biggest beef with the game is the treatment of women.  Every year or so, the comics industry tries to clean itself up and declare it a safe space for women.  It hires more women writers and women artists.  It writes women-friendly plots and treats the female characters like they’re worthwhile.

Then that all goes to pot because powerful females as soft-core porn is just too tempting and (apparently) sells a few extra copies (for further reference, check out the criticism of the rebooted Starfire by the seven-year old daughter of a fantasy author).

The gender politics in the game are painful.  Excruciatingly so.  It’s to the point that it is difficult for any person interested in the subject to enjoy the game.

It all starts with Catwoman’s dialogue.  There she is, captured by a villain, tied up, forced to endure his monologue.  How would an intelligent, crafty, independent woman respond to this situation?  If you replied, ‘With half-wit puns!’, help yourself to a biscuit.  Catwoman escapes (whoops, spoilers) only to have a lot of dialogue reference what a bitch she is

At first, I thought that it was just a problem with Catwoman.  It’s not long into the game that you realise that something is really wrong with the concept of women in the game.

Batman’s handy navigator is Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. ‘Oracle’), daughter of Jim Gordon.  Their interactions are mostly limited to Batman ‘mansplaining’ absolutely everything to Oracle.  When Oracle realises something and tries to give him advice, Batman responds: ‘This isn’t my first day on the job.’  Three-quarters of Oracle’s job is explaining the Batcomputer’s screen (reminding me more than a bit of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Gwen, in Galaxy Quest:

Gwen DeMarco: Fred, you had a part people loved. I mean, my TV Guide interview was six paragraphs about my BOOBS and how they fit into my suit. No one bothered to ask me what I do on the show.
Fred Kwan: You were… the umm, wait a minute, I’ll think of it…
Gwen DeMarco: I repeated the computer, Fred.  )

And then there’s Harley Quinn.  Harley was a highlight of Arkham Asylum.  She had amusing lines, she made most of Joker’s scheme work, she was an irritating boss.

This time ’round, Harley has lost all of her redeeming features, reduced to her most vapid aspects.  Being mere mortal and liable to fall, when Harley first appeared on the screen, I thought she was kinda hot in an extremely skanky, wrong kind of way (I know, I know.  I have a weakness when it comes to villainesses).  I was quickly made to regret the existence of my Id when several of the mook characters make reference to how hot she is and how they would like to [insert single entendre here], hurr, hurr, if you know what I mean.  The feeling of ‘Awwww, Harley.  I’d like to catch Stockholmes from you’ quickly turned to ‘I am a bad person; the mooks have made me feel like a bad person’.

But the low point was yet to come.  Later in the game, you’ll come across Harley bound and gagged.  Press A to ungag her.  Press A to gag her again.  I searched Google for an entrance into a room off this one (which, it turns out, was completely sealed off) only to find the discussion threads of guys gloating about how much fun they had pressing A over and over again.

It’s ‘fan service’ like this that makes us bad people and makes it difficult to shake off the criticism that video games are designed to indulge the crass fantasies of male gamers.  Shoot Nazis and dominate women, guys.  Enter the Konami Code to open a beer bottle with your eye socket.  If the industry is going to be serious about being inclusive of women, it can’t just be a part-time commitment.

The end result is a worry that the writer, Paul Dini, has some serious problems when it comes to women.  Which is a shame; the guy has written some amazing stuff.  Why he resorted to such low hanging fruit, I have no idea.

Arkham City is not even remotely in the same league as Arkham Asylum, which was clever, intense, and witty.  Once you finish the ‘plot’ (and I use that word loosely) section of the game, it becomes a thousand times better.  Hanging out, swooping on psych patients, solving riddles, performing daring feats.  That part is fun and the game pulls it off perfectly.  Such a shame it’s bundled with the misnamed ‘story mode’.

Tonight, make it magnificent… R18+ video games debate might be impoverished on both sides

In response to my last post, Penmonicus pointed me in the direction of this post by Mark Serrels on Kotaku.  I’d previously argued that Serrels doesn’t provide a reason in favour of the games, only a complaint that it’s somehow unfair that the games aren’t available for sale.  In the article linked by Penmonicus, Serrels again doesn’t make an argument in favour of the games, but makes a much more worrying claim:

When someone, in the face of overwhelming evidence, refuses to adjust his or her opinions, you have to ask yourself – is this really a discussion? Or is it something else entirely – something far more insidious. A discussion involves both sides listening to one another, and responding in kind. From what I’ve seen, those on the other side of this ‘discussion’ have done a whole lot of talking, but they clearly haven’t been listening to a word we’ve been saying. How could they be?  [Source: Mark Serrels, ‘R18+: Rationality is Dead’]

I agree with him entirely, but he’s not talking about the R18+ advocates: he’s talking about the ‘pro-censorship’ side.  He’s talking about my side.

Hunting around the more prominent advocates of the status quo, I find it difficult to disagree with him.  Looking through the various arguments for introducing the new classification, his comments also seem to hold true (one forum I found even claimed I was part of the Christian lobby.  Just so we’re all clear: I’m an atheist.  Atheists sometimes disagree with each other.  It happens).

From the looks of it, it appears that we’ve got two sides of a debate where neither of the participants are saying anything intellectually interesting.

For the record, I think most of the arguments put up by the pro-censorship crowd are rubbish.  ShootStraight, for example, takes out most of the low-hanging fruit here.  Take out most of the pundits pleading with us to think of the children, to look at all this evidence they’ve cherry-picked about violent video games turning children into psychopaths, &c., &c., and the pro-censorship side hasn’t said very much.  To be fair, I haven’t put up much of a positive case for censorship either.

At the same time, if you ignore the ‘How dare anybody tell me I can’t do something?!  HULK SMASH!’ posts from the pro-R18+ side, you’ve effectively ignored 99.99% of their arguments.  The 0.01% remaining is confusing guff.

For example, in the above-linked post by Serrels, he says:

There are claims that “vested commercial interests” are attempting to force an R18+ rating through with “propaganda”. There is next to no commercial gain here – Australia is a tiny market, and a miniscule amount of games are refused classification. In the grand scheme of things video game publishers couldn’t really care less whether an R18+ rating is passed or not – in fact, before the matter was raised again last December, publishers had informally agreed to stop pushing for one. Why? Because it doesn’t affect their business in any significant way.  [Ibid.]

Because, of course, publishers are the only ones with a commercial interest.  On The Drum, Greg Barnes pleads with us not to ‘potentially limit [the] economic potential [of R18+ games] if [they] cannot be classified in a particular jurisdiction‘.

There’s nothing rational about the R18+ advocates’ case.  If ShootStraight believes my argument reduces to merely ‘I feel’ statements (and I agree but don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing), then R18+ advocates’ arguments reduce to an unsubstantiated ‘I have a right to access everything’.  As Sherrel says: ‘This is not a discussion, this is not a debate – if it was it would have ended years ago, rationally.’

[Note: As I said to Penmonicus, I’ll compose a positive argument in favour of censorship and post it here tomorrow.]

I did not take to analysis so I had to make up my mind… R18+ video games still fail to be justified

There’s quite a good post on ABC’s The Drum about the impact of violent video games on the behaviour of young people. Lo and behold, there isn’t much evidence supporting the ‘but think of the children’ argument. Colour me shocked.

At the same time, advocates of R18+ video game classifications are still refusing to provide any argument in their favour.  Greg Barnes (the same guy who still can’t come up with a model for an Australian Republic) has this to say about the issue.

[N]o censorship regime can hope to ban video games and therefore to refuse to sign off on a national scheme that provides certainty for the video game industry, suppliers and users is simply a case of putting religious fervour before reality. [Source: Greg Barnes, ‘Video game opposition pointless’, The Drum]

I was a bit startled to read that.  As an atheist, I’m fairly sure I don’t have any religious reasons why I think R18+ video games are a bad idea.

Despite this, Barnes drops the word ‘Christian’ as often as he grammatically can to show why R18+ games should be sold in Australia.  Australia should sell the games because Christians are naive.  Riiiiiight.

Every teenager knows how to access violent games. That’s the beauty if you are a libertarian or the curse if you are a prohibitionist, of the Internet. Anything can be downloaded. Not only that, but there is plenty of opportunity to smuggle into the country pirated copies or even burnt copies of violent video games. In other words, the porous borders of the world of technology will find their way with concomitant ease around fulminating censors like Mr Clark and his fellow lobbyists.  [Ibid.]

Because ‘You can already get it on the internet’ is justification for so many things, like weapons manuals and recipes for explosives.  Personally, I think it’s a great thing that I don’t have a local 4Chan vendor in the main street of town.  Just because somebody can download this rubbish doesn’t mean somebody ought to be permitted to sell it.

But this is my favourite part:

Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor wants to use the July meeting of the nation’s Attorneys-General to agree to a proposal which will see an 18+ rating for video games. It is a proposal that has been around for almost a decade. Currently the highest rating is MA 15+.

This means that makers of games edit material to ensure it comes within that rating, even though it might contain extreme violence. As O’Connor said last December, the absence of an adults only 18+ rating means he is “concerned that there are dozens and dozens of games in this country that are currently accessible to 15-year-olds that are not accessible to minors in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  [Ibid.]

Imagine the game is ‘Spot’s First Blood Bath‘.  It is, in every way shape and form, identical to Spot’s Big Red Ball except the final page is Spot massacring his neighbourhood in a gorefest.  The Australian government says, ‘You can sell that here but you have to remove the final page.’  According to the reasoning of the above quote, the restricted material is available to minors even though it’s been censored.  Does that make sense to anybody who can read without moving their lips?  What part of the word ‘edit’ doesn’t he understand?  The restricted material has been removed, now 15-year olds can’t access it.  They’re not accessing restricted material.

To me, the argument comes down to whether we want to live in a society where torture-porn is easily accessible.  It’s rarely noted by advocates that it’s not uncommon for the material to be extremely misogynistic in its violence.  If there were some artistic or cultural reason for allowing the material, I’d could even bring myself to support it.

But nobody’s raising these arguments.  Personally, I can’t think of any arguments for it and so I think we’re better off without them.

Instead, advocates are just claiming the opposition is ‘pointless’ and assuming that the pointlessness entails legality.  The debate remains adolescent.

It really didn’t make sense to leave this unresolved… Nerdcrap to enjoy in 2011

There’s a list of films ‘to look out for’ in 2011 over at io9.com.

Let’s face it: the future is bleak.

Fortunately, video games are here to save the day (hooray kotaku.com).

LEGO Star Wars: The Clone Wars will probably be a few hours of childish entertainment.  I really enjoyed LEGO Star Wars: Complete Series even if a few levels were frustratingly riddled with glitches.  LEGO Batman was a massive disappointment (fortunately, I got it for free).  In fairness to LEGO Batman, I played it while playing Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Nothing was going to look good next to Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Speaking of which, Batman: Arkham City is due out in 2011.  This will either be the highlight for video games in 2011 or the most crushing disappointment.

But the game I’m most eagerly anticipating is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.  While some people complain that there’s nothing original to explore in these games, I enjoy seeing what novelty can be mined within an existing concept.  It’s why I like Greek theatre.  No original stories: just original things done with the stories.

While some people might be out enjoying the terribly original Twilight films, I’ll be whiling away my insomniac hours playing Batman and Zelda in 2011.  Hooray.

Is it in your genes? I don’t know… the as promised nerdshit post

You’re right.  This whimsical and almost entirely self indulgent blog has become a bit bogged down in the political quagmire.  While it is fun to point out the poverty of political commentary amongst us lowly blogging classes —

— for example, we have a show in Australia called Q&A.  It’s fluff rubbish for those with pretensions of being politically savvy and some people take it far too seriously (ahem).  For the rest of us, it’s a hilarious platform for watching various politicians meltdown (usually Greens; one of whom was brought close to tears when the panel and the audience rapidly turned on her; another of whom tactlessly ripped into a homosexual senator for being politically pragmatic, and then went on to lose her shit after being trolled by an audience member).  And then people interpret it according to their already fairly obvious biases.  Oh, but next week’s is going to be awesome because Barnaby Joyce will almost certainly descend into quackery.  I’m amazed Abbott let him near a camera. —

— it gets a bit insular.  Thus, nerdshit breaks the monotony and gives me something trivial to discuss.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been doing much that’s nerdy.  Unlike just about everybody else in the universe, I couldn’t get excited about Starcraft II.  I tried.  I really tried.  Nothing.

On the other hand, I’m awfully excited about the upcoming Zelda game.  It’s planned to come out some time in 2011 and looks radtacular.  Why does it look radtacular?  Because it looks like a tweaked up version of the previous Zelda game, which was radtacular.

Okay, while it’s true that the ‘culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counterfeits them’, it’s hard for me not to get excited about another instalment of something I know so well.  Each sequel to a game is just an adaptation of the original game.  While some people dismiss this as a lack of originality, I wonder what it is about a lack of originality which demands dismissal.  Plenty of things are unoriginal and yet many of these things are beautiful.  We have a lot of difficulty with this concept in modern culture: working within a framework isn’t a failing.  Just about all modern poetry is utterly rubbish because most of our most prominent poets reject the formalities.

And so that’s why I’m excited.  I know what the overall story will be — boy needs to rescue world from ancient evil by collecting things from dungeons — and yet the exploration of the world and the solving of new puzzles represents a challenge.

In other news, here are things you should see/do:

  • Bill Bailey in concert.  It wasn’t one of his best shows, but it was still a huge amount of fun.
  • Inception.  My only criticism is that they turned up the music when the dialogue was getting boring.  I missed half the explanations of the world around them because the soundtrack was too loud.
  • Rill Rill by Sleigh Bells.  Despite the literal meaning of the lyrics, its such a happy song.  Mmmmm… happiness.

Must be love, love, love… and this game is absolutely beautiful

There’s a bit of a backstory to this.  Bear with me.

I am completely rubbish at making decisions.  I much prefer waiting until the last possible moment before settling my plans.

This year, I’ve decided that I need to be better at making decisions, even if this means making a couple of silly decisions along the way.  For Christmas, I bought my younger brother a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum.  It was an absolutely stunning game.  It was so good that even Yahtzee gave it a good review.  After seeing the sibling play it and Yahtzee giving it a favourable review, I decided that this was a game I should play.

At the same time, I’d decided that I needed a new DVD player for my room.  For a few extra quid, I ended up with an XBox.  Look at me in my swanky decision-making pants.  Amn’t I Lord of Decisiveness?

Anyhoo, it was a good decision.  I’m having far too much fun playing it.

In other news, I check out the statistics of this blog every so often.  30 of you don’t seem to understand how RSS feeds work and, for that, my self esteem thanks you.

Apart from the vanity benefit, it’s showing me who is linking to my mostly incoherent ramblings.  This has resulted in more than a few flamewars with people who think the new internet filter is totally just like Nazi Germany all over again.

It’s also resulted in the discovery that I’m Googlable.  If you type “freak me sideway” (with quotation makrs) into Google, I appear a few after Shaun Micallef.  Hooray, hoorah.  My parents must be so proud.

Today’s discovery was that the phrase “you ask me to enter and then you make me crawl” (with quotation marks) lists me as the second hit.  In your face, Bono.  In your face.