IMMERSION IS BAD

I confess, I have a weakness for watching the mainstream media lurch amusingly around trying to analyze my chosen profession. Today, Slate takes aim at story-driven video games. Apparently, they’re bad. Basically, the writer’s complaint is that, in a game that advertises the freedom to completely ignore the game’s storyline and tool around in a lowrider in LA while blaring arena rock from your tinny speakers, the game has the temerity to include a storyline.

In my more cynical moments, I think this whole pursuit of narrative is the industry’s sneaky way of forcing gamers to buy more products. When a game has a story that “ends” after 40 hours of play, you have to throw it away\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’80\’9dand go spend another $50 on the next title. That’s movie-industry logic, not game logic. Chess doesn’t “end.” Neither do hockey, bridge, football, Go, playing with dolls, or even Tetris. Worse, by selling “narratives,” game publishers can cover up the fact that they rarely create truly new forms of play. In any given year, I’ll play a dozen first-person shooters with different stories\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’80\’9dSave the world from Martian devils! Penetrate an island full of genetic freaks!\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’80\’9d that are all, at heart, exactly the same game.

Yeah, because, gosh, a compelling story that makes you think is just a waste of time in a video game. Why do we try to stretch the limits of an entertainment medium? It’s just a hook to sell more boxes! Brilliant!

What the writer convienently misses is that we enjoy having a backdrop for our actions. And not every narrative is a clumsy machinima cutscene of anime figures deeply emoting to try to get some of that mad Squaresoft cash. Narrative is simply giving a realistic background for your actions. We enjoy the illusion that our actions have meaning. One of the most enjoyable parts of Mercenaries, which is best described as Grand Theft: North Korea, is watching the landscape shift with your actions. A coworker and I have been playing Hearts of Iron 2 obsessively the past week, and keep discussing various methods of dominating Europe (and let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like saying authoritatively “Dude, I have troops in WEST VIRGINIA” at a sushi bar and having the next table over recoil in horror”). Not every game requires a narrative, but saying that narrative by itself is pointless?

How out of touch with the medium. Which, again, is why I enjoy watching mainstream media and other train wrecks.

TAKING SPAM MOUNTAIN BY STRATEGY

Google has some good ideas on how to alter the way HTML works to defeat Google spammers at their own game. Expect that tech to be deployed here momentarily, although some aggressive filtering makes that less of an issue now.

Sadly, the same is true of my email, which is running at a soul-crushing 95% spam rate. It doesn’t help that I have several emails dating from 1995 and several other somewhat high-profile email addreses, all of which have been active on the web and Usenet, all still active and accepting email. I am Vector Prime of spam. If it were not for running the best goddam antispam tech on the planet, my email would be completely useless. As it is, I occasionally morbidly watch my inbox waste our company’s bandwidth, while cursing the one person who actually bought something through spam thus ruining the entire internet for the rest of us. And I saw this subject line come through the wire:

ha ha you fat ass stochastic leapfrog

Now, being overweight for pretty much my entire existence, the fat-ass thing kind of bounces off my fat ass (it helps that it’s springy!) but stochastic leapfrog. That floored me. What. The. Hell. It almost means something. It’s like a foreign language I BARELY understand. I’m… well… stochastic! I’m not really sure what they would want to sell me by calling me an overweight random gymnastics maneuver. But I’m sure someone bought it. AND THEY WON’T STOP SELLING IT EVER UNTIL WE ARE ALL DEAD. DUH DUH DUH… DUH DUNH. DUH DUH DUH … DUH DUNH.

A friend has taken to sharing my spam obsession. He recently got one from a Mr. Metal D. Cellini. Dude, he’s metal!

But enough spam about spam, enjoy some Maoist revolutionary opera. Hopefully some actual relevant posts about gaming and stuff may take place soon? Nah.

IS GREENSPAN HAVING FUN YET?

The Economist has an article this week on as they put it, links between real and virtual economies. Note that if you don’t subscribe, reading this article will cost you $3. (I already subscribe to the print version, since I like news magazines that don’t talk down to me.) Here’s the money quotes:

\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’c5\ldblquote World of Warcraft\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac? and other similar games, in contrast, are fantasies with a strong sense of fair play in which status must be earned as part of a rags-to-riches storyline\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’e2\’80\’9dso trade in game items is deemed to be against the rules.

Normally, this newspaper’s devotion to free trade is unwavering. Yet curbing the trade of in-game items is defensible, since game economies are run to maximise fun, not efficiency. While writing his forthcoming book, \’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’c5\ldblquote Synthetic Worlds\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac?, Mr Castronova has been pondering whether real economies could be run for fun too. \’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac\’c5\ldblquote Wouldn’t that tip the economics texts on their heads?\’c3\’a2\’e2\’82\’ac? he muses.

GAMES FOR WHITEFOX BURRFOOT

As seen on Q23, this Second Life blog posting will probably trip every work content filter in existence. I mean, look at the URL, for crying out loud! It’s like the people in IRC who used to “grief link” Doug Winger pictures. The first time, you screamed and tried to find an industrial eyewash station. The fiftieth time? You just shrugged. It’s the Internet. BAD THINGS happen on the Internet.

These are the kind of furs you and me will tend to meet in Second Life as they aren’t elitists like the real fruitcakes. The crazies shut themselves away and don’t like to deal with meatbags. So please, be nice to furs you meet, and don’t assume they are gay, furry, bdsm harem slaves. Not unless they show you their slave collar of course.

There’s, of course, much choicer quotes, but you know, making fun of furries is like how Old Man Murray used to describe sucker punching a baby in the gut to get it to be quiet… it’s easy and it works, but you don’t want to advertise the habit. I will note that the blog’s author, Calistas, used to be the community person for an MMO in development, which explains much.

Meanwhile, the Koreans discover that pornography sells.

BLOOD AND SOULLLLSSSSSS!

Our friends at Landover Baptist Church (who want to save you, just as long as you know, you’re properly dressed) are bringing the good word to the people of Azeroth.

Billy has what gamers call, a Level 57 Undead Priest with Holy Focus. “I’m also in one of the largest Christian guilds on our server,” he says. “I think the reason so many people are open to hearing about Jesus in the World of Warcraft is because the majority of people who play the game are lonely kids who don’t have any friends. I doubt any of them play sports so you can pretty much guess that there are lots of gay boys and fat little pale-faced Wiccan girls on the servers who hate themselves and escape into virtual characters so they don’t have to deal with their pathetic lives. When they hear that someone loves them, even if it is just the Lord Jesus Christ, they always want to hear more!”

In even more humor news, Slashdot apparently thought this really happened. I eagerly await Terra Nova demanding equal rights for Shamanistic rituals right… about… now.

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, ROYAL VERSION

So Bonnie Prince Harry went and wore a German Afrika Korps uniform, complete with ahistorical swastika armband, to a party. Whee. How relevant is THAT to this blog, anyway?

Well, this. Apparently Germany is proposing that, to prevent such acts of bad taste from occurring in the future, the European Union adopt Germany’s laws against Nazi paraphenalia.

“Oh, STFU Lum, I live in America, home of the free, and I can wear SS uniforms and goosestep in my basement any time that I want! Er, not that I do. Or anything.”

Well, something Americans who, to put it quaintly, don’t get out much may not be aware of is the radical editing that most games that even touch on the government Germany had from 1933 to 1945 undergo to be legal to sell in the German market. For example, in the German version of Hearts of Iron 2, Germany is ruled by “Hiller”, and the air force is run by a guy named “Gorink”. Admittedly, this wasn’t due to the deNazification laws – that would be why the German flag is the World War 1 version and Hitler and the other Nazis don’t get pictures. But in HOI2, Paradox wanted to have the game rated OK to sell to minors, which meant:

And yes, thats what the USK people told us to do. You can’t mention Hitler etc in a computergame in Germany.

Not much we can do when you guys want those laws.

Hm… Well, USK is as far as I know voluntary. You don’t have to have that certificate. However, if you do not have it, you can’t sell it to minors (or – I’m not quite sure – put it on display where minors can see it). Obviously, everybody wants the USK certificate for those reasons.

I don’t think there’s any law saying that you can’t use the word Hitler in a PC game. Swastikas etc are indeed outright forbidden. But the USK – an independent organization charged with the task of reviewing media output with most members doing it pro bono – will have its own views upon what’s suitable or not – for a given age group.

Now, I’m not one of the maniacs that demand lovingly crafted swastikas and event engines toting up the number of dead Jews per year in my conflict sims. But frankly, it makes me feel good to beat Nazis. They were bad guys. They were really, unabashed, honest to God, black and white, BAD GUYS. If you conquer the Nazis, that’s a good thing. And the Nazis weren’t led by Albrecht Hiller. And sometimes, with apologies to my German friends who are REALLY REALLY TIRED of being thought of as “those Nazi guys” fifty years later, political correctness can go way, way too far.

But if those guidelines shift from one country to all of Europe, it is quite possible that game companies simply will produce games off the shelf that match those guidelines, rather than going to the trouble of “localizing them out” for a major part of their market.

And if that happens? Well, you can blame a poorly behaved 20 year old drunken yob who through an accident of genetics is fairly well known. Funny how the world works.