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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Better & Shorter

Here's a comment from Nathan off of the Jack Thompsons post. I don't think there's a more apt response to Mr. Thompson than a fistful of reality:

As someone who is actually in the Army, I am always amused when people refer to the amazingly lifelike videogames that we use to become mindless, cold-blooded killers. If such games exist, I need to get my hands on them, because they must be pretty damn good. There is a laughably large difference between being good with at Ghost Recon and being able to hit anything on the rifle range. The America's Army game comes a little close, because it's designed by the Army and geared towards realism, but even the colonel in charge of that development product admits that it's more of a public relations tool than an actual training or recruitment device.

What people like Thompson will never understand is that even if videogames could transfer combat abilities to the person playing (which trust me, they don't), it's not about the capability to inflict violence, but the choice to do so. My commander is a huge Metal Gear Solid fan. He also spent a year in Iraq doing stuff that desensitizes you a lot more than a PS2. Yet, amazingly enough, he's still a loving husband and a great guy, the kind you wouldn't mind babysitting your kids.

People who engage in indiscriminate violence do so because of a lack of impulse control. It's not about how many dangerous skills or resources they have accumulated, but simply that they are unused to being held accountable for their actions. What a surprise then that thanks to Thompson, they still don't have to be held accountable.

Excellent. More or less pulls the carpet from essentially everything about Thompson's argument with one sound, honest report.

On a side note, I'm trying to contact Best Buy to get more details on Thompson's claim of a successful lawsuit against them. Currently, I can only find his own words as evidence.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Quotes from Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson is insane. I'm making that statement boldly and probably with more evidence than a lot of the stuff you're about to read from Jack Thompson himself. I'm going to guess he has a narcissistic personality disorder. It's also possible that he's simply not very bright and compensates with spouting off nonsense. I'll let you be the judge.

Thompson has made it his personal crusade to bring down the violent video game industry. Any time a kid under the age of 18 does anything violent or criminal, all they have to do now is say "GTA made me do it", and they get free representation from Jack. He'll get on the press and get lots of coverage for his cause and threaten to sue Rockstar millions. To date, I haven't been able to find record of Thompson's cases actually going to trial. Needless to say, the definition of a crusade has changed a lot since our parent's time.

Thompson's argument is that video games are murder simulators. According to him, children lack the ability to distinguish violent fantasy from violent reality. So to a 14 year old, shooting an alien with a plasma gun is roughly equivalent to shooting an old lady with a revolver. Thompson claims he has scientific evidence of this. The problem Thompson has is that every study which tries to prove actual causation between games and violence comes up short. And this is the way it plays out in court:

"The issue is the causation. How do you prove the connection from the game to the violent act. Lawyers have tried [to prove the connection] but they haven't really succeeded yet." - CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So let's put that down right now. Thompson has no case. He's empty handed but full of words. The only case he'll ever have is by coercing a young kid into blaming a video game for his actions instead of taking responsibility for them. This is a disservice to every side of the argument. It hurts those hoping to curb violence in the media by reducing their cause to a one note media train whose only end will be to pad Thompson's wallet. Eventually Thompson alone will have created so much legal precedent that nobody will try to bring anything resembling such a case to trial. It hurts those in defense of video games by inappropriately branding them the cause of American violence. It hurts those effected by violence by robbing them of a real day in court.

Right now, Devin Thompson is awaiting trial for shooting two police officers and a dispatcher. Jack Thompson (clearly, no relation) has the families going after a game developer. Instead of the focus being on the kid, or the parents, or the actions of the officers that day - it will be on Rockstar and Take Two. And when Thompson loses this case, which he most likely will, everyone involved will be worse off thanks to the man.

CBSNews has recently interviewed Thompson, so let's cross-examine some of his statements. (Bold = Thompson)

I can tell you that some crimes would not occur but for the violent entertainment. For the families of the deceased, that is the only statistic that matters.

This is not a statistic, however, that Jack can actually prove. So it's really what one would normally call an opinion.

Armies have been known to go on rape rampages after battles because the violence stimulates sexual aggression. How lovely that GTA weds sex and violence in the same game.

So you see, in Jack's mind there is a direct analogy between a barbarian horde raping and pillaging a countryside and playing GTA. To him, there's a connection between the rape of Darfur and raising your wanted level in a video game. I think there is a person out there having trouble distinguishing fact from fiction - but I think that person is Jack Thompson.

The heads of six major health care organizations testified before Congress that there are "hundreds" of studies that prove the link. All the video game industry has are studies paid for by them, which are geared to find the opposite result. Lawyers call such experts "whores."

Actually, Jack, I'd call someone trying to profit off of an 18 year old cop killer a whore. But that's just me.

Jack is of course engaging in spin here. For the record, the testament of which he speaks is here. Nowhere in the document does it link video games to criminal behavior. It says that studies indicate that over time, they can lead to more aggressive behavior and desensitization. It also says, quite clearly:

We in no way mean to imply that entertainment violence is the sole, or even necessarily the most important factor contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Family breakdown, peer influences, the availability of weapons, and numerous other factors may all contribute to these problems. Nor are we advocating restrictions on creative activity.

Somehow, I don't foresee Jack quoting that in the future. However, it's the underlying problem he has. By reducing the entire problem of violence into one issue he lets all the other issues off the hook. And he won't win on that issue because he's insane - so in the end, nobody will be to blame and we won't get anywhere with this. Jack will probably make some money though.

Of course, as you actually grow neural pathways called dendrites that enable you to perform more easily the physical acts of violence.

The way Jack puts it, it sounds like Rockstar is actually capable of altering your brain chemistry to make you into a serial killer. In truth, your brain is doing this kind of stuff all the time. Sure, it's easier to commit acts of violence as you get older. It's also easier to hold a beer, click the remote and dance the tango. While video games might improve your hand-eye coordination, there's no proof that Counter-Strike would improve your aim with a sniper rifle.

One instance is Pandemic Studio's Full Spectrum Warrior. If it works for soldiers, of course it works for teens. The video game industry has absolutely no rebuttal to that argument. NONE.

Really? I'll sell them one for free. The Army has used video games since Doom. They've used it to practice tactics and communication. They have never used it to make a more physically capable, violent soldier. That's just more of the old Thompson spin.

Yeah, playing Full Spectrum Warrior might make a teen a better soldier. But a) it's not going to cause him to start shooting people and b) it's not going to start replacing boot camp anytime soon - which is where all the things Jack accuses video games of actually take place.

You just watch. There is going to be a Columbine-times-10 incident, and everyone will finally get it. Either that, or some video gamer is going to go Columbine at some video game exec's expense or at E3, and then the industry will begin to realize that there is no place to hide, that it has trained a nation of Manchurian Children.

People, I couldn't make this up if I tried. Jack actually believes that the PlayStation 2 is a vehicle of child brainwashing and that the entire video game industry is one step away from footing the bill for the next great massacre.

Let's get that orientated. To Jack Thompson, a video game console is brainwashing your child. Through no fault of yours or the child's, the child will become a psychotic killing machine and go on a rampage. Without the console, this never would have happened.

That is insane.

Witch-hunters always like the black and white argument. As Thompson's own evidence indicates, the truth is much more grey. We deserve a more complicated, deeper discussion about violence in our society. I'm not going to say that entertainment and media might not play a role, but singling them out as the sole problem is an even greater travesty. And the only ones that will benefit will be the lawyers.

We have a couple more notable witch-hunt follow-ups here and here.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Romero's Tragedian

Shacknews has an interview with Romero about Gauntlent: Seven Sorrows. In it, Romero says that the game will have a playable tragedian as a character. For the curious, Bartelby has this to say about a tragedian:

1. A writer of tragedies. 2. One who performs tragic roles in the theater.

Because as well all know, Shakespeare was a badass on the battlefield.

yes yes, I'm sure it's a bard-like character class, but still ... funny name

Single Player Cheating

I've had a pretty basic philosophy when it comes to cheats offline. If it's you're game and you are playing it more or less by yourself - go to town. Why should anyone care? Be invincible, spawn extra weapons, whatever. It's your game experience, not anyone elses. I've done it - the occasional lift here or there. Used to be ardently against it, but I don't have the time to waste a whole afternoon retrying the same level over and over again, ya know?

In the original Champions of Norrath, you could easily clone yourself. All you need is an extra save file, the willingness to swap around some imports and then you could copy anything you had in the game. The girl and I copied every gem we ever collected, major weapons, etc. We even created a character called Mool (with more omlauts though) in order to carry all our stuff around.

In the new Norrath, you can't. You can't import or dismiss characters into your current mission, you've got to start a whole new game (though you can start at your current mission). So multiple saves only gives you the option of going back to an older version of the character, not cloning them.

At first, the girl and I were pretty annoyed by that. Well, I think she still is. It is less convenient for multiple players in the middle of a mission - no doubt about that. Someone can't just jump in for an hour and the jump out when they have to go to sleep or do the dishes. You have to finish up a mission, save it, then start a new game.

However, I do have to say - I can kinda see why. I mean, now I am really forced to consider my gem usage and inventory control. When I sell something, it's gone. When a gem gets embedded into my bow - that's it. It kinda returns the game to a sense of normalcy about the value of what you decide to hold in your pack - and in the long run will about aid the longevity of the game. I won't be able to superpower my characters so easily or quickly, making the time to play longer. You still could do it, I suppose, by starting a new game with different characters, trading up and then saving again - but it would be very time consuming and waste space on the old RAM card.

So I guess the fundamental question is - when does player convenience break into the fun factor?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Mary Kate


Monday, February 28, 2005

Not the best punchline

Matrix Online (which apparently goes by the acronym MxO ... which I don't think requires any commentary) support just emailed me. This is like, day three. They had a new CDKey, but offered no explanation. This one did work though, and allowed me start the seven page registration process...

...which towards the end asks you to enter your credit card information. Uh, what? It says they won't start billing it ... but excuse me? The only reason I can think of MxO needing my payment information now is if they assume they'll want to switch it on once MxO goes live. Now, these guys aren't quite able to get a CDKey distribution right before there are even CD's to worry about ... I'm not really trusting them with my bill-me-monthly key just yet.

I compare this to the Guild Wars beta weekends and think someone at MxO needs to re-examine just how much they want in this business. I played a couple of the Guild Wars weekends, never jumped through hoops, never had a problem with the registration keys and certainly never had give someone those most powerful of digits. And remember - I'm doing them as much of a favor by beta testing as they are by letting me. Trying to make an MMO without beta testing it fervently first would be a bit like making your toast with a fork. That is, you're likely to be in for a shock.

But not as comically bad as I'd like. Just kinda sad.

tiny bronze men

The Oscars are becoming a bit of a tradition amongst my Chicagoan friends. We're not exactly high brow when it comes to films. We saw the first Tomb Raider in the theatre for god's sakes. So while some may watch the Oscars for some simple entertainment, or to see their favorite celebs - some of us do it practically out of penance. It's not that we even terribly enjoy the show - I find it to be an orgy of Hollywood self-love, and not in an attractive way. But I did like this year a bit more, and here's why:

Chris Rock knows that the Oscars are too pretentious for the average joe, and did a damn fine job of taking it down some necessary notches.

Charlie Kaufman won. After that hack Akiva beat out Memento and Fellowship of the Ring, I had pretty much assumed that nobody on the voting committee knew a good script when they read it. Nice to see the trend reversing.

The ads were nearly as good, if not better, than the Super Bowl.

The overt patriotism wasn't nearly as annoying as the Super Bowl.

One film didn't just sweep. I thought it odd that Clint beat out Martin, but at least it didn't become apparent that the Oscar voters were only aware of a movie or two.

Worst part - Sean Penn needs to lighten the hell up. I'm fairly certain Chris Rock was aware of who Jude Law is and what he's done. Rock brought some much levity to the show and Penn seemed offended by it. If Hollywood keeps taking itself so seriously, the rest of us will just start wondering when the Razzies will be televised.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I'm not sure if this qualifies as funnier.

But it's now Sunday night. Matrix Online technical support has had my CDKey in their possession since early Friday afternoon.

Have they resolved the problem? No.

Have they determined what the problem might be? No.

In fact, they haven't even responded back yet. Now all these guys have to do is this:

1) Confirm that it was a valid CDKey.
2) If it's not a valid CDKey, explain to me that it's not and find out how Fileshack sent me a bad one.
3) If it is a valid CDKey, tell me that it is a valid key and tell me that they'll rectify the problem.

So the question is - how long does it take to validate a CDKey?? Maybe these guys don't work on weekends or something. Maybe their solution to technical problems is "Shhh, be quiet ... maybe he'll go away."

Which I will gladly. Anything Matrix in video games has been tainted by the awful smell of Enter the Matrix and my love for MMO's is well known to be quite small. Right now, these guys are affirming my every suspicion as to why the MMO industry isn't ready for customers yet.