The Two Reasons We Play Video Games

I've recently become slightly addicted to a game called Geometry Wars. To all who unfamiliar with the franchise, it is an agonizingly simple game. You have a "ship" that you control that flies around and can shoot enemies (represented by various neon floating objects). The goal is to shoot enemies without physically touching them. The graphics are made up of simple 2-d shapes, all brightly colored and animated, moving frantically around the playing field. It took only a few people to program, and on an obviously minimal budget. I have probably spent more time on this game than I spend on many games that employ armies of programmers, cost millions upon millions to produce, and tell epic 30 hour long stories in lush, photorealistic, 3-d enviroments. So why bother? Why aren't publishers focusing on small yet superbly designed, highly addictive games on a much lower budget?

The answer is because each "genre" of game is targeting a different level of enjoyment in the gamer. Games like the Halo series, which focus on plot, action, and graphical prowess are trying to give a player the experience of an interactive movie. They know that the action on screen will be more personal and meaningful to the player if the context of the action is somewhat plausible. So, wrapping the action and interactive elements of a game into a cinematic package helps with what developers call Immersion. The draw for games like this is escapism. Much like reading a book or watching a movie, we enjoy the departure from reality because it makes us forget about our problems and issues, if but for a short time. Immersion is all about keeping up withe Jones'. Typically, it the modern gaming industry, Immersion is basically judged by how perfectly detailed the gaming world is relative to other games in the market. There are other factors, but a realistic looking world will always be the biggest plus. Since immersion sells product, publishers will spend inordinate amounts of money making sure everything in the game world is a real and top-notch as possible. That includes professional voice acting, virtual motion capture (think Gollum in Lord of the Rings, a digital character modeled after a real person's movements), and expensive graphics engines. The technology behind such games is only going to get better as developers try harder to get us to believe we are the video game, not playing it.

Games like Geometry Wars are aiming for a completely different pleasure center in the Brain. Human Beings like progression. We respond to success positively. It's what drives us as a species. When success is easy and clear, it's hard to control the desire to latch on to it. Games like geometry are paced very carefully. It uses mathematical formulas to pace the level at which your score goes up to convince you that you can always do a little better. It's hard enough to be a challenge, but possible enough that you'll dare to try and reach that success. That, along with the short length of games and the almost instantaneous restart time, provides a highly addictive quest for scores. Every time you lose, the simplicity of the game tempts you to come back and try and beat that high score. And a funny thing happens. The game rewards patience and practice. The more you play, the better you will get. So every time that Game Over screen beckons you to restart, you know you can do better. And it's only a few minutes right? I've got time for one more, right? Hours later, and you're still crunching the numbers, inching closer and closer to a goal that never really materializes. There is no ending. There is only the leader board. And the goal is to be on top. That addiction to success is what drives us as a species. Put in video game form in short 5 minute segments, it's almost impossible to resist.

The most successful games being made today are the one's that skillfully blend the two styles together. Enter World of Warcraft. Touted as being the most addictive game ever, there is truth behind the tout. It's an immersive world, a world where entire cultures are formed, wars are fought, and truces are signed, all by real people. The graphics are lush, the world is alive, and it's hard not to get to get caught up in your own personal story. However, there is always the grind. The grind is when you go out and perform highly repetitive, typically menial tasks for small rewards. In small increments, your character becomes slightly more powerful. In every small increment you can see the growth, and all you want is more. The grind may be repetitive, but it always concludes in some form of success or growth. The draw is even stronger when you take into account the chance that menial tasks have the small possibility of something rare and strong being dropped or added to your character. It's that same addiction to success and growth that drives the character to play for hours and hours to get that one more level, or one more item drop. What makes WoW great is that it combines the two game styles more effectively than anyone else has done in the past.

Now, let me go beat my score yet again. If I'm not back in 3 hours, send someone in to save me.

Bear With Me While I Write About Sports For a Moment

My good friend over at The Daily Harangue has threatened to thwart my posting of this story with a conniving DoS (Denial of Service) attack on Google's servers, bringing this site to its digital knees until I surrender to his sinister terms.

Bring it on. Because you know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna tell on you. That's right. Be Scared.

Anyways, this will most likely be one of the only times I will write about sports, or any activity requiring more than a little athletic exertion, but it's a story that needs telling. The University of Memphis Men's Basketball Team suffered a huge loss yesterday as the NCAA ruled that all wins (38) from the 07-08 season will be officially wiped from the record due to allegations that star player Derrick Rose (now playing for the NBA after one year of college play) let someone take his SAT for him. This means that their Final Four Championship run never happened, that they are no longer hold the record for most wins in a season, and that coach John Calipari no longer claims the most wins of any Memphis coach. In a city that worships the Tigers, this is not only a huge blow to the team, but a huge blow to University and the renowned fan base across the city. Needless to say, there will be an appeal. President Shirley Raines has unequivocally stated in a press conference that the University of Memphis followed all rules of eligibility, and while they are disputing the charges, the penalties are overly harsh. This is far from over.

But it got me thinking. Who really is suffering from the punishment? As a fan, I can tell you with 100% certainty that we had an unbelievable season leading up to the Final Four and ultimately a tragic loss to Kansas in the championship game. This happened. We all enjoyed it, the entire city had a huge boost in morale, and nobody will forget that. Official or not, we won 38 games. Derrick Rose certainly isn't suffering. After his fantastic first year at Memphis, he was drafted by the Bulls as their No. 1 pick and proceeded to win rookie of the year. That leaves two groups of people who actually are feeling the hurt. The players, especially outgoing seniors Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, who both have records for most wins in a college career, are definitely hurting. The University is giving back the banner, the Final Four trophy, and the roughly $615,000 won in the Final Four.

If Rose cheated, he should be punished. He isn't going to be. If Cal played a known cheat, he should be punished. He isn't. If R.C Johnson (Head of the athletic department) knew about the cheating, he should be punished. He isn't. instead, the players and the school as a whole are being punished for the act of one or two people.

This is all assuming there was foul play. Keep in mind that the NCAA cleared Rose twice before Memphis decided to play him. Also keep in mind that Memphis didn't play two players because they hadn't been cleared yet. After telling Memphis they could play Rose, the NCAA is now saying he was in fact ineligible, And that retroactively the wins are now forfeits. Take the heat, NCAA! If you screwed up, own up to it! Don't let innocent people suffer because of your oversight.

To all the people who are calling Cal a cheat and the U of M tigers cheaters, remember that we're dealing with one player who may have cheated on his SAT. Even if he did, the university was acting on the clearance of the NCAA. Coach Cal made this team an unstoppable winning force, and to take that legacy away over a disputed case of cheating before Rose even started college is just ludicrous. Y'all are just jealous.

Go Tigers!!!


Encephalic Flatulence

That's nerd-speak for brain fart. In case you were wondering.

I really don't have anything smarmy or even remotely intellectual to talk about to today, so I'll share with you an interesting list.

Behold, a list that details the worst design mistakes in the Star Wars Universe. Once you read this, you will never watch those movies the same way ever again.


Apparently, Free Speech Doesn't Apply to the Interwebs


37-year-old former model is featured on an obscure, long-stagnant blog on Blogger in which pictures of her feature captions like "psychotic", "skank", and "ho". She pursues a ruling from the court to force Blogger to divulge the identity of the blogger on grounds that with the identity of the blogger, the model would be a plantiff in a defamation action (this is called a pre-action discovery). Here's the actual case. Or, if you want to cheat, here's CNN's take on it. After much deliberation on the exact nature of the captions, the judge rules that Google (owner of Blogger) must give the identity to the defendant.

I read the whole case, and I'm telling you there are serious flaws with the arguments, many of which are simply due to misunderstanding of the internet and blogs. The core argument that the judge has to make here is whether or not the blog is in fact defamatory. According to the official definition, there are 3 factors that go into that decision: 1) The statement must be false, 2) the statement must have been published without the consent or at the behest of any third party (thus putting all the negligence on the publisher), and 3) the statement must cause special harm.
The defendant argues that 1 can't be proven because the language used in the blog is general slang used all over the internet, and should be taken literally. The Judge goes on to basically ignore that defense and show that "skank" and "ho" are descriptive words that paint somebody as being "sexually provocative." Therefore, those terms are factual, and thus "false." Whatever. That logic doesn't really make sense to me, but I'm not a Judge, so I can't really argue. 2 is a non-issue, it was his blog, and he wrote it. 3, which says there needs to be special harm, is satisfied by the fact that the defendant is trying to label the model as "sexually promiscuous."

Congratulations, your honor, you have successfully argued that it is illegal to insult somebody falsely on the Internet. Next time someone put up a comment on my youtube video that says "lolz, WTF this is gayfag. ur momz a ho", I'm going to sue for defamation. After all, it is flase beyong any reasonable doubt that my video does not have a sexual orientation geared towards members of its own gender. People will stop watching the video when they see such riffraff populating my comments section. Special harm.

The defendant's argument that the Internet, and the blogosphere in particular serve primarily as a forum for people's opinions, and that information gleaned from personal blogs should therefore not be assumed to be fact, is countered with a swift 'holier than thou' kick in the behind.

"The protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions"

In other words, free speech on the Interwebs needs to be regulated because people's feelings might get hurt. And seriously, if you're a model, and you can't handle some anonymous punk calling you a "skank ho," then you really need to find a different profession.

There's a serious lack of perspective here. This judge obviously has not been on the Interwebs in a while, and probably still uses Internet Explorer (gasp!!!). When anonymity becomes a way life, so does stupid people calling you "gayfag." You learn to live with it, or you leave.

False accusations leading to real damage, financially or otherwise, are a different story. Defamation laws do apply to the Interwebs, but only if it's real defamation. This judge obviously needs to take a good, long tour of commentsville and realize that moderating the entire Interwebs is simply illogical and a clear breach of free speech.

Today's Dose of XKCD


Video Game Haters

The video game Mass Effect was released as a shining example of the effect of subtle choices towards the outcome of a situation. Small choices in dialog could mean the ultimate death of a friend or the salvation of a planet. It also threw unbelievably difficult moral choices at the player. One such choice was having to decide which friend to save from an impending military invasion. It was choices like these that made the game much more personal (and thus enjoyable) than other games of its ilk. Naturally, this was a game meant for more mature audiences. Weighty political debates, hard moral choices, and epic space operas aren't really the gaming fare for your average 10 year old at home on a Sunday. So, when FOX news has this to say about the game, it makes me want to cry. You should seriously watch the whole thing. It's unbelievable.

Now, before we continue, just know that almost every fact mentioned by the anchor is utterly and totally false. Some basic research would show that:

- There is no frontal nudity in this game. It's definitely suggestive, and there's definately stuff going on off-screen, but pron it ain't.

- No, the "man" in this game cannot have his way with any woman in the world. There are actually two women with which romantic relationships are possible, and it's actually quite challenging to achieve the results portrayed in the interview. And you can be a woman in the game, anyways.

- The "offending" material is a one minute long snippet in a game experience that can take up to 30+ hours to complete.

- Notice how neither the anchor or the psychologist have actually played the game. Nuff said.

Either way, it is not the stellar investigative journalism that I want to discuss. That's a train wreck that doesn't really need any more wrecking. What I want to know is how are these questions even being asked? These people are acting as if this is the first time objectification of women has been thrust on adolescent males (which, apparently, are the only people that play video games.... What???) in our saintly Western World. Lady, have you been to the movies lately? Have you walked around outside? Have you seen the abject and total moral emptiness that the entire Western World is predicated upon?? Of all the things that you could come up with to discuss the moral desensitization of our youth, you seriously chose a 1 minute clip of questionable nudity- alien nudity- from a video game that is not only 30 hours long, and features no blood in any of its violent scenes, but chooses to actually explore the moral consequences of our choices?! In an environment where blood flows like kool-aid on the big screen, where women are glorified by the amount of skin they show, and violent, vulgar, muscular men are the heroes, you're going to choose this moral experiment of a game to prove your point? There is something very wrong about this, and naturally, I have some answers for you.

Remember, only adolescent boys play video games. This is key. This is a stereotype that has plagued the industry since the very beginning. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but I think it was just a perfect storm of social movements. Video games only became widely popular with the onset of arcades. They were too expensive to mass produce for home use, so arcades became the outlet of choice for the industry. Being hangouts, arcades drew the adolescent crowd more than any other demographic. Video games being the main aspect of an arcade, adolescents became the target audience. The male part of the stereotype has to do with competition. Just like the pool shark image is that of a smooth talkin' male hanging out and dominating the competition at the local pool hall, the gamer became the male who dominated competition at the arcade. The arcade origins of the video game also gave rise to the video game as time waster. It became an immature, irresponsible diversion. "Grown-Ups" didn't hang out at arcades because they had "responsibilities" of their own. 30 years later, those arcade junkies are in their 40s and 50s, and the stereotype remains. We've come a long way, but apparently we still have a long way to go.
The reason why video games are held up to such a higher moral standard is because the media still believes that video game developers are still exclusively targeting the 13 year old boys with every title they put out. Anyone that has played a serious video game in the past 10 years knows that to be absolutely false. Games like Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto, and most other blockbuster M-rated hits are not meant to be played by children. I have a game called Ninja Gaiden. It is, naturally, an extremely violent, if over-the-top, video game. My wife saw me playing it and said, "Is this what you want your children to be watching?" The answer, quite simply, is no. That's what parenting is for. I wouldn't let my kids watch my copy of The matrix until they were old enough to understand it either. Video games should be no different than movies when it comes to monitoring, screening, and general parenting.

One more point. Video games are often argued as being different than movies because violence in movies is simply shown whereas violence in games is acted out by the player. When acted out, those acts of violence become internalized and accepted easier. This is a pointless argument on many levels. First of all, choosing to shoot a gun by pressing a button, and actually pulling a trigger at a person are two very different things. Anyone who argues that kid pressing a button on a controller will then go out with a real gun and shoot someone in the face is simply being intellectually dishonest, lazy, and trying to cheaply argue their point. The choice to shoot somebody digitally is typically very simple. Do I press the button or do I not press the button? The decision to really shoot somebody involved getting a real gun, loading the real gun with real ammunition, finding somebody to shoot, listening to that person beg, plead, pee their pants, cry, scream and break down, and finally choosing to pull the trigger anyways. If a kid can really go through those motions and blame a video game, they either have a really bad lawyer or they have a serious mental disorder. and all that is assuming that the video game is even somewhat realistic. Most of the time, you're shooting bizarre creatures that bleed green. I don't think that's going to create child psychopaths.

I think you get my point. Video games should not be treated any differently than movies, music, or any other entertainment outlet we use for distraction. The video game haters are still living in a world of arcades and leather jackets, not in a world where the video game industry is a multi-national, multi-billion dollar industry run by the best business and tech minds of our time. Grow up already.


More Twitter Hate (or, Twate)

Just in case my earlier post didn't stoke the flames of hatred enough, how about now?

This Is Why We Pay Tuition

I humbly prostrate myself to these wise academicians and their mathematical formulas. A truly revolutionary and rigorous study of the mathematical consistencies and instabilities inherent in the the spread factors and growth exponentials of a widely known epidemic knows as....


Yes! A graduate level math paper on zombie infestations and the conditions in which humans could survive! Amazing!!

I hope they get an A for Awesome!

Twitter, Shmitter.

Twitter blows my mind.

No, that's not right. The media's reception of twitter as the second coming of the digital baby jesus himself blows my mind.

Next time you hear some big news media outlet talk about the new and innovative ways they are using twitter to deliver the latest and greatest from their minds to your retinas, I want you to keep in mind that Twitter has done absolutely nothing to further innovation or internet technology in any form or at any level in the realms of digital messaging and social networking in the paltry and pathetic three years of their existence. They have joined the ranks of venerable products that have been honored to become a verb of their own based on absolutely nothing of value or worth. Let me give you a quick rundown of the thought process that went into the design of the Twitter platform:

Hmmm, Facebook and MySpace are doing really well. People seem to like it. This whole Web 2.0 thing seems like a great idea. Youtube has enabled regular old folks like me become celebrities overnight. Oooooo, I have an idea! Let's take out all of the functionality and cool features of social networking, severely limit the amount of stuff people can say, and restrict communication to text! It's a perfectly logical evolution of the digital medium! And then we'll give it a name that makes everyone sound like morons when they mention it!

Whoever pitched this idea - successfully - at a board meeting deserves some unbelievably large props. Seriously, what is going on?

When you really think about it, when you take a step back and recognize Twitter for what it really is, headlines like these are grin-inducing. I'm not trying to downplay the effects of Web 2.0 and it's startling ability to amplify the thoughts and voices of the populace unto the world. Innumerable papers, studies, and articles have been devoted to the sociological and philosophical earthquakes this new outlet of self-expression has wrought. That aspect of twitter doesn't bother me. Yay to them for embracing that ideal. What bothers me is how in today's day and age, in a vastly overcrowded and saturated world of digital start-ups, the one idea that throws every invention and innovation of social networking in the past 8 years down the proverbial drain and essentially reverts the technology back to pre-myspace days (or before civilization as we know it ceased to function normally, if you so desire) is the one idea that makes the big time. Why?

Well, naturally, I have some theories:

- Illusions of Grandeur. Put differently, would you rather have a friend or a follower? I thought so. I don't know of this was done on purpose, but this small terminology change has effectively shifted the nature of the Web 2.0 connection from a equality based "Oooh, lets' be friends so we can share stuff together" to a more subservient "Oooh, I really really want to hear what you have to say. What I want to say is meaningless. Forget I was even here." The lower human impulse to acquire followers is much stringer than the desire to make friends. Unless I'm just a psychopath. Can't rule that out. But this goes pretty far to explain why celebrities and big executives have latched on so quickly. We're no longer sharing information. We're doling it out to our loyal followers.

- Right place, Right Time. Just like Facebook exploded at just about the same time MySpace imploded, Twitter is filling the void that Facebook left when alienated uses left in droves due to rising complexity and commercialism. Twitter is simply the next "pure" company to put a more humane face on the cutthroat world of social networking. It has nothing to do with features or functionality. It's very much a rebound relationship.

- TXT 2.0. I see twitter not as the evolution of social networking but as the evolution of the text message. The formats are strikingly similar (limited characters, text-only) and now it's just taking it to the next level. Viewed from a cell phone perspective, the idea makes a whole lot more sense. It's really just a global bulletin board for your text messages. Web 2.0 it ain't.

- Western Idiocy, or what some call Luck - The last theory (and most plausible, in my opinion) is that the average American is an idiot. The average American sees people doing something, and then goes out of their way to do that thing, regardless of the soundness of the idea. Yes, for the average American, if Brian Wiliams, CNN, showed a clip of well-dressed, beautiful people jumping off a bridge, we would soon have a serious water pollution problem.

And we will no doubt be able to follow the Bridge Jumping Movement... on Twitter.