What Would Video Games Look Like Without War?

Friday, July 15, 2011 at 10:00 am
You gotta love Google+. Most people on Facebook don't have the energy or inclination to spell out the word "you." But on Google's new social network (at least for now) we're enjoying what can only be described as intelligent conversation. 

A couple of days ago Teddy Pierson from IGN pondered, "I wonder what games would be like if we never had any wars or murder."  Its a pretty good question, really. Because I don't think you can just remove all the violent games and get a good sense of what games would look like without all the bloodshed. Games would evolve differently. Mechanics that we take for granted -- like the point and shoot of the FPS -- would develop in new ways or wither unexplored. 

My quick and easy response to Pierson's question was "First Person Kissers." But I think the question deserves some reflection.  First lets try to imagine a world where we're not so occupied with smiting enemies. It's hard, huh?
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My Dad Doesn't Get Videogames

Friday, July 8, 2011 at 9:00 am
My dad doesn't get videogames. He was more in touch in the '80s. I remember him bragging about safety testing the early consoles, like those wood-paneled Pong machines, when he worked at Underwriter's Laboratories. And I have fond, fuzzy memories of playing Air-Sea Battle with him on the living room floor. But I think his knowledge or interest in games stops there. 

It makes sense. The guy is about to turn 70. He lives on a plot of farmland in a Puerto Rican rainforest. That means no land line, spotty mobile reception and zero access to the Internet. That also means very little contact with his son and daughter. I've devoted the last ten years of my life to writing about videogames and I can't say for sure that my father has read a single word of my output.

I'm done trying to convince him I haven't been wasting my time.
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The Sixteen-Year-Old In Me Applauds The Supreme Court

Friday, July 1, 2011 at 10:00 am
The Supreme Court struck down a law Monday that would have barred the sale of violent video games to California minors. There's been plenty of analysis of the decision. Some call it a big win for the legitimacy of video games as a means of expression. Others take it as yet another sign that American culture and government have things ass-backwards when it comes to sex and violence. The arguments on both sides are as impassioned and well-reasoned as you'd expect. So I let them have their debate elsewhere. Instead I'm going to celebrate like its 1988. Because the sixteen-year-old in me is totally psyched that the Supreme Court has finally come down on my side.

For some of you it may not be very hard to remember what it is like to be sixteen. But for us old folks the frustrations of that time of life are easy (and maybe preferable) to forget. I made a promise when I was sixteen that I wouldn't forget the many slights and wrongs society dumped on me. Of course as I aged it turned out that most of that stuff was just my hormones and underdeveloped emotions messing with me. But I still haven't forgotten what it was like to be simultaneously expected to behave an adult but to be treated like a child. 

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Video Games Are Squandered On The Mundane

Friday, June 24, 2011 at 9:00 am
They say that in comic books the price of your special effects budget is the cost of ink. That, for me, was the appeal of reading novels and comics when I was a kid -- these creative works offered doorways into worlds with limitless potential. They could take you to strange new places, introduce you to people and creatures beyond your imagination and the things that happened there could challenge your understanding of reality. 

It's from this perspective that I am frequently disappointed in the ambitions of video games. Sure, the palate of games is much more limited. The requirements of gameplay have a way of corralling our experiences into familiar spaces. To visit a game world you almost always need to be a dude who shoots (or kills) other dudes. And the world has to accommodate that scenario. It has to take place in a setting where dudes kill other dudes. Talk about limiting.

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How To Read A Video Game Review

Friday, June 17, 2011 at 9:00 am
I went to public school. I know what its like to be well ahead of the class and have to sit through boring rehashes of lessons I learned two years ago. Those who find the forthcoming instruction redundant have my permission to go catch up on their self-guided readings -- I suggest Tom Bissell's thorough and thoughtful unpacking of L.A. Noire

The rest of you sit up straight and take notes, because I'm not going to repeat myself. Most of you are reading video game reviews wrong. You're coming at them from the wrong angle and leaving them with bizarre take-aways. That's why you're posting irate comments, griping about the state of games journalism and working yourself into a lather. I may say mean things about you all the time, gamers. But that's because I want to help you. I was just like you once. And I'd like to pass some of my wisdom on to you so that you don't have to figure things out the hard way. 

So lets start with the most basic premise: video game reviews are opinions.
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E3 Is Exhausting

Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:00 am
I write this on my final day of E3 as I hit the last of my appointments and try to bully my way through closed doors I haven't yet ventured behind. My mind is only operating at about 60%. Even yesterday I was working on limited capacity. Already shellshocked by the barrage of sounds and images on the show floor it took all my willpower to focus. 

I feel for the people running the game demos. They have to watch us learn a new control scheme while the controller layout of the game we just played five minutes ago is still in our head. We probably seem incredibly incompetent to them.  It feels like a blessing when you stumble upon a game you already no how to play. Touching Battlefield 3 felt like a fifteen minute break from the new and unfamiliar. Run and gun were exactly where I expected them to be on the keyboard.

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Touching Death in L.A. Noire

Friday, June 3, 2011 at 9:00 am
I'm terrified of death. Maybe "terrified" isn't the best word. I try not to live in fear, but my mortality hangs over me, just in the periphery of my vision. The funny thing is that video games -- as violent and filled with destruction as they are -- never seem to remind me of my impending doom. They're one of the distractions. They're one of the things that makes me forget for a moment that everything eventually ends. 

I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing. Other forms of art frequently force me to pause and consider my inevitable fate. But games so often gloss over death. Corpses fade into nothingness. Lives end without so much as a tear. Even the demise of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII left me cold. I just didn't feel the connection.

L.A. Noire is the first game I've played in ages that has made me truly feel the gut-punch of death. And I wonder if I'll ever be able to look at games the same way.
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Gamers Love To Be Right And It Makes Us Boring

Friday, May 27, 2011 at 9:00 am
Now that the dust has settled with the PlayStation Network fiasco and most people have finished playing and griping about L.A. Noire gamers need something new to chew on. And with E3 still a week or two away we're grasping for straws. Or pitchforks, rather.

In a recent article Venture Beat writer Dean Takahashi suggested that the new Warhammer 40k video game is a rip off of Gears of War. Not suprisingly a flood of amateur nerd ombudsman flocked to his story to deride the writer for his ignorance. He later clarified his position and apologized for his glib manner. But the damage was already done. Any geek (or Wikipedia user) knows that Warhammer lore predates Gears of War by decades. Even Takahashi knows this. He writes it in his article. But never mind that. 

The folks commenting on the article saw an opening and took it. Because gamers love to be right. And the more petty and vindictive we can be about our correctness the better.

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In Video Games Nothing Is True, Everything Permitted

Friday, May 20, 2011 at 9:04 am
Way back in 2004 I made a big gaming decision because of the Nazis. It was November and World of Warcraft was about to launch. I was trying to decide what faction to roll. Each race had slightly different benefits. And their starting areas were all different. But my bigger concern was who I'd be playing with.

And at the time I knew that I didn't want to play with jerks. Perhaps I was imagining things, but I'd noticed that the people who played Germans in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory tended to be poorer sports. They griped, trolled, bitched and gloated more in the chat channel than anybody else. I figured those same jerks would go Horde because the characters looked tougher and more bad-ass. What kind of person, I asked, would associate with the bad guys?

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Gamers Make Excellent Curmudgeons

Friday, May 13, 2011 at 9:00 am
In the future kids won't care about video games. They'll be crazy about laser pills. I'm not entirely sure what laser pills will be and what will happen when you consume them. Consider them a stand-in for some unimaginable technological advance -- another game changer that will turn the world on its ear.

And most of us will be too old and too stuck in our ways to understand the appeal of these laser pills. We'll grouse about the old days when lasers were for Pink Floyd and pills were for keeping truckers awake. And we'll look at our grandchildren with amazement when they complain about having to play Portal for their media literacy class. 

This is how many, Roger Ebert included, feel right now. I get the feeling that gamers will take to the role of behind-the-times curmudgeon like housewives to Farmville. We've been warming up for the job this whole time.
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