Game culture

Off the Couch, On the Couch: Consoles' Future

There're two trends in video-gaming I've noticed lately: First, a shift towards more peripherals and consoles taking over more functions of computers—a development confirmed by the latest E3. One of the first companies to successfully introduce accessory-enhanced games into the mainstream was Sony with its Singstar and Buzz franchises.

Then there was the final breakthrough: Guitar Hero, first just being bundled with a plastic guitar, later even with a drum set. This step was a huge risk: Bemani games were pretty much relegated to a niche existence in the West, no one knew if people were willing to spend significantly more on a game with a toy guitar, and the competition for scarce retail space was intense.

The risk, however, paid off: People loved the new interfaces, which allowed them to immerse themselves in the gaming experience deeper than before. Dreams of a rock star career were easier to pursue with a plastic axe than with a joypad.

Apart from appealing to people who never might have played video games before, another advantage is obvious: Games can be pirated, peripherals can't. You want to play your Pirate Bay Rock Band with a controller? Sure, bore yourself to death.

We had also better get used to the thought of these new interfaces. Kids these days often play their first games on the Wii. As this generation grows up, it won't understand why it can't control FPSs in a similar, active way. The couch will be deserted, that's for sure.

But then again, a second trend might keep people right there: Increasingly, consoles take over the functions of computers.

Think about the Xbox, for example; it was basically introduced because Microsoft wanted to carry the dominance it had in the office environment over into your living room, a space which at that stage was mostly in the hands of the PlayStation.

Soon you'll be able to access your Facebook profile with it, update your Twitter status and listen to These are very significant developments. Microsoft might have won, we just haven't realized it yet.

This Offworld piece makes some very good points:

"The announcement that I thought was missed was the opening of the Xbox Live Dashboard interface to the internet," [industry analyst Michael] Pachter told Gamasutra. "Later this year, Microsoft will allow members to access and to select music, to access Netflix and instantly watch films/TV shows, to access Facebook and interact with other friends, and to access Twitter and post/read tweets."

Pachter argues that the gaming media entirely missed the significance of this announcement, which puts the 360 firmly in the same territory as Apple's AppleTV, only with a library of awesome games. With so many 360s already installed around the world, MS have a good chance to become the default choice for web media on your TV.

The author adds:

If the 360 does start to support all these things (there's no confirmation as to whether Last.FM will be able to run in the background as a soundtrack to your games), it'll become the kind of gaming machine that I want to spend my time with for more reasons than just because it has some games that my PC doesn't.

It will become a device that has more of the networked infrastructure, and more of the media tweaks and toys that I take for granted as part of my desktop computer.

The thing is: This development does not only apply to stationary consoles: Just think of the iPhone and its growing success as a gaming device. People play on it because they always take it with them and it combines pretty much everything you can ask for: wifi, email, surfing the net, games, etc. Before my iPod Touch was stolen (donations welcome!), I totally neglected my DS, simply for the fact that the iPod combined all my entertainment needs.

The PSP is taking the same direction; its new incarnation, the PSP Go, will come with an app shop (albeit without a touch screen).

When thinking about these developments, keep in mind the falling price of the 360. As the Offworld piece points out:

Rather than having to release a new console, the 360 just gets cheaper, and makes more sense, to more people, because it does something that it didn't do before: Guitar Hero, Last.FM, Twitter, motion-tracking control... A spiralling feature list, a net that gets bigger and drags in more people.

The Xbox indeed develops back to its PC heritage and becomes increasingly flexible. It fulfils a PC's functions, but with the convenience of a console. Sony does have a lot of competition on their hands, and yet they don't seem to do much about it. In view of the PS3's impressive hardware architecture, it's difficult to say if they are able to lower its price, but that would be a first step in the right direction.

All this doesn't even take into account the effect of cloud computing. Maybe the 360 will be the last console you ever buy, because the rest will be done in the cloud. Not only would this apply to applications but also to gaming.

This demands the questions: Will one platform be obsolete one day? What will happen to the PC? Surely it won't disappear, but it will suffer. Eventually you might simply end up with another Microsoft product.

What do you think? Are consoles the future of computing?


Communities and Casual Gaming

I got an email the other day from someone working for asking if I could write something about their new casual gaming network. Just a couple of days latter the Casual Game Manifesto popped up on Gamasutra - let's see how the two go together. On an elementary level, delivers most of the stuff you'd expect these days from a casual gaming network. It offers players a persistent identity through screen names that can be viewed by others; it offers communication tools such as instant messaging, private messages and chat rooms; and it offers persistent material goods such as customisable "doofSpaces", placements on scoreboards and "medals" aka achievements.

There might be room for improvement in terms of giving players a persistent identity as there are no customisable avatars on offer and the management of the social structures could be refined by adding teams or gaming circles. Surely nothing too severe but this hints at one of the major flaws of doof: The games don't justify circles being formed around them.

This might also explain why, as far as I know, no demos are offered outside of the actual network; to get an expression one has to register with the site – to be confronted with flash games that are almost as basic as those annoying interactive ringtone ads ("Beat Santa in a drinking game to get a free ringtone"). Play "Jumpin Ride" and you'll see what I mean. Casual gaming does not necessarily have to equate with an (almost condescending) "basicness" as enough examples have demonstrated.

Accordingly the way the community features interact with the games are not overtly sophisticated. Sure, you can play them against each other but that's pretty much it in terms of integrating the game mechanisms with the community. On a basic level there's no possibility to integrate your avatar in the games (due to acute lack of avatars) nor on a structural level is the community organised around game-like mechanisms (which would turn it into some sort MMO, which, to be fair, doof does not aim for). Consequently persistent material goods in form of virtual items can't be merged with the games either.

Actually doof's persistent material goods mostly consist of one being able to play against another player. One starts with a limited number of credits, these are spent on two player tournaments (obviously the more entertaining option). If one wins the credits multiply, if one loses they diminish. Once they're gone they have to be bought with real world currency. Other than that your hard earned credits can also be spent on several gifts – the only virtual items available – that on one hand demonstrate how much time and energy a player has sunk into the game but one the other hand seem a bit detached from the rest (as, for example, they are not visible to other players during the game and can't be merged with the mechanics. But then again I never really got this whole gift thing on Facebook either).

Moreover the question arises how doof would be able to gain additional value through international operating deals. At least the German market can be written off as "doof" literally translates into "dumb" or "foolish" in my Vaterland.

To quote from the Gamasutra piece:

Treat portals as a customer acquisition tool. If you are using portals as a pure revenue source, you are thinking overly short term. When you start thinking of portals as a customer acquisition tool instead of your primary revenue generation channel, other opportunities emerge.


The future powerhouses of the casual games industry are companies that have the best attributes of both existing developers and portals, tied together by a rich meta-game experience The value driving these models is primarily based on socially rich communities, meaningful brands and highly reusable content. Disposable content, in the form of game mechanics that you play for a short period of time and then toss aside, make less sense from a financial perspective.

That's something the operators of might want to think about.


National Cinemas/ National Game Cultures pt.1

This is the first part of a two part post musing about national cinemas compared to national game cultures. Today I give you some thoughts on a(n Australian) national cinema, the game part follows tomorrow. I spent a good part of last week reading Tom O'Regan's excellent "Australian National Cinema. O'Regan explains that Australia's national cinema – or any national cinema for that matter – can be evaluated through a limited number of conceptual means. These include a relation with a dominant Hollywood cinema in which the national cinema is situated under the sign of culture and Hollywood under the sign of the profane economy; a division within the national cinema between its mainstream and its peripheral or independent cinemas; and a positive evaluation of Hollywood and its legacy in local markets. This simultaneously values and devalues the local national cinema (O'Regan, 1996: 6).

Like all national cinemas, the Australian cinema contends with Hollywood dominance, it is simultaneously a local and international form, it's a producer of festival cinema, it has a significant relation with the nation and the state, and it is constitutionally fuzzy. National cinemas are simultaneously an aesthetic and production movement, a critical technology, a civic project of state, an industrial strategy and international project formed in response to the dominant international cinemas (ibid.: 100).

When the Australian state decided to revive the Australian movie industry (which in terms of indigenous production had been pretty much dead since the 1920s) its rationale followed a logic of cultural nationalism in the face of the domination of Hollywood product. It wanted an industry that situated Australians in their own history, a vehicle for a common culture and a civic ideology, a set of common understandings and aspirations, sentiments and ideas that bound the population in their homeland (ibid.: 18-19). Film-making here is crafted from a focus on specifically Australian themes and national specifities: producing an international art cinema vehicle that is associated with cultural values – aesthetically in an art or quality cinema and culturally in the sense of the all too mundane national culture and its archive of myths and symbols (ibid.: 100).

Mad Max

Not too long after these support mechanisms became effective one can assess the emerging of another industrial and critical strategy opposed to this logic: It wanted to craft Australian cinema as close as possible to the American, becoming to an extent interchangeable with it producing, or rather trying to produce, dominant international cinema. It stresses what is universal, not Australian singularity (ibid.). (As O'Regan points out under reference to Mad Max director/ producer George Miller these strategies don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive though. It's a long story…)

The official adoption of multiculturalism and the high rate of migration of course complicated the idea of film as a vehicle for common culture. Cultural policy and cultural nationalism could no longer be so easily equated as it shifted from positions concerned with managing the external relations of a sovereign national culture towards facilitating and problematising fractured and divided internal relations – a change that was incorporated into new policy guidelines regarding the "Australianess" of a movie; and a change that could still be connected to the logic of a national project in the sense that it furthers the production of films reflecting Australia's distinctiveness as a constantly emerging culture by foregrounding of cultural diversity.

But then there's the problem that in a globalized audio-visual trade the idea of distinctive Australian content (however defined) becomes discredited as this is a political economy which favors exports; a policy which runs counter to any nation building projects respectively of problematisations of Australia a diverse nation in the sense that this creates a cinema that is not of global market appeal. The idea that a national cinema is irrelevant to contemporary circumstances became especially influential in Australia through its enthusiastic adoption of economic rationalism.

O'Regan explains that what is exciting about Australian film-making since its renaissance is an overall picture marked by this double problematisation –the one which promises a film-making ecology separate from or to the side of the market, and the one which promises the utility of the market itself as the conferrer of value – and how it works in these spaces; something that makes it "fuzzy", or "messy" (ibid.: 143).


Simulating Green: How British Petroleum Is Using Video Games To Solve Global Warming

Gonzalo Frasca has been preaching it for ages, and I've been repeating it for ages: Due to their simulational and interactive nature videogames are perfectly suited to explain the underlying mechanisms of complex systems. Simulations can express messages in ways that narrative simply cannot, they're capable of modelling not simply representing a related experience as well as producing different outcomes according to the player's input.Now mainstream media finally recognise this potential. Asking if a game will surpass the impact of an Inconvenient Truth the New York Times' Dot Earth blog takes a closer look at the upcoming SimCity Societies:

But given how popular the SimCity series has been, there’s a decent chance that the new SimCity Societies game I just wrote about will engage more people with the realities of climate risks and responses than all the yelling about Bjorn Lomborg or Newt Gingrich.

One reason is that the game, while very much entertainment, forces players... to make choices, to understand that forswearing coal means installing an amazing number of much more expensive wind turbines and solar panels.

That means that to avoid going broke fighting the climate fight, one has to invest a lot more to make energy storage and solar panels far, far cheaper — and such research still isn’t happening on anything close to the scale scientists say is needed.

But the game also shows the long-term consequences of sticking with the cheap and easy fuel of the last two centuries — black combustible rocks.

For gamers who build a city around fossil energy choices, droughts and heat waves supposedly intensify... As the producer, Rachel Bernstein, explained, climate-related disasters abroad also have a ripple effect that hurts your imagined city’s economy. And on and on.

Oddly the enough the module in the game that deals with climate change issues is produced with BP (as in British Petroleum). Even more oddly enough, as someone on Boing Boing pointed out, BP is actually the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels…


How to understand the Motivation behind Suicide Bombing – with Halo 3

If you want to put yourself in the position of a suicide bomber look no further than… Halo 3. Clive Thompson over at Wired explains that due him leading a normal life he just doesn't have the time to improve his skills to keep up with homophobic teenagers around the world. In short: He sucks at the game, the consequences being humiliation and despair. But Thompson strikes back: While the best Halo players love life, he loves death. From the piece:

But at the last second, before I die, I'll whip out a sticky plasma grenade -- and throw it at them. Because I've run up so close, I almost always hit my opponent successfully. I'll die -- but he'll die too, a few seconds later when the grenade goes off. (When you pull off the trick, the game pops up a little dialog box noting that you killed someone "from beyond the grave.")

It was after pulling this maneuver a couple of dozen times that it suddenly hit me: I had, quite unconsciously, adopted the tactics of a suicide bomber -- or a kamikaze pilot.

Because after all, the really elite Halo players don't want to die. If they die too often, they won't win the round, and if they don't win the round, they won't advance up the Xbox Live rankings. And for the elite players, it's all about bragging rights. Thompson knows he can't win; the system discriminates against him because he doesn't have the most valuable resource at his disposal: time; the time to train for him is a luxury. Consequently he has nothing to lose but tries to screw the system as much as he can. Maybe even to the point where the hardcore players change their patterns of play or start to abandon the game. The only difference being here that the game promises instant resurrection rather than 40 horny virgins in heaven.

Of course there are some issues with this view. Surely despair might play a role in the motivation of a suicide bomber, but eventually he just a follows a blind, basically fascist ideology imposed from above that doesn't care so much about haves and have-nots but about the rule of its religious world-view. Osama bin Laden is a member of one of the wealthiest families of the Middle East showing that it's not solely about having resources at one’s disposal. It certainly is an incredible complex issue, something which Thompson readily acknowledges:

I do not mean, of course, to trivialize the ghastly, horrific impact of real-life suicide bombing. Nor do I mean to gloss over the incredible complexity of the real-life personal, geopolitical and spiritual reasons why suicide bombers are willing to kill themselves. These are all impossibly more nuanced and perverse than what's happening inside a trifling, low-stakes videogame.

But the fact remains that something quite interesting happened to me because of Halo. Even though I've read scores of articles, white papers and books on the psychology of terrorists in recent years, and even though I have (I think) a strong intellectual grasp of the roots of suicide terrorism, something about playing the game gave me an "aha" moment that I'd never had before: an ability to feel, in whatever tiny fashion, the strategic logic and emotional calculus behind the act.

I think the interesting question here under a design perspective is: How would we be able to convey this ability to feel a motivation, this feeling of comprehension into other games designed for political purposes and campaigning? If games are able to convey the "aha" moment of one the most horrendous acts they surely must be able to communicate a party's stand on healthcare or fiscal policy.


Digital Games as Social Commentary on Migration

Gamepolitics brought my attention to this interesting PBS website maintaining a collection of games dealing with immigration. I think games are the perfect medium to explore this issue due to the similarities between playing a game and negotiating one's way in a new, alien society: In both cases it's about trying to figure out the rules and stick to them in order to succeed. If you fail you won't be able to finish or enjoy the game respectively slip into the role of a social outcast – with the difference that games will in most cases give you another chance. An arcade game in this connection can even serve as a metaphor for bribery or the fact that money helps to gain social acceptance: As long as you feed the machine with quarters you're allowed to stay.

Due to their simulational nature and their reliance on rules as their core mechanic and defining criterion, games offer fascinating possibilities for cross cultural training and they can also serve to highlight the prejudices migrants or minorities feel in a new environment. Let's say statistics found that the chances of dark skinned emigrants finding a job are 40% lower compared to white people despite them having the same qualifications. This result now could be included as a arbitrary rule in a game dealing with finding a job in their new environment. Arbitrary because not only because it would reflect the different real-life attitudes of people living in this society (prejudiced/ not prejudiced/ not too sure etc.) but also because it can help to built up the frustration a migrant might feel while on the job hunt.

Also it made me think about the assumption that we won't play a game differently just because the tokens changed. Take chess for example, you can play it with the figurines of king and queens but you might as well just play it with different piles of mud. Will this change your overall goal or your style of play? Probably not. But imagine a game of Space Invaders where you as some border patrol officer have to shoot illegal immigrants instead of aliens. Due to the meta-text and intertextuality of the game and the representations in it you might more consciously think about your style of playing (meta-text and intertetuality = the marketing, box art, references to other media, the way the player's character and NPCs are presented and what that entitles etc. – it basically it means games don't exist in a vacuum but within discursive formations of the society they're played in). This of course always depends on your political beliefs and attitudes. Do you see these migrants as intruders who just want your piece of the cake or poor, disadvantaged people who contribute valuable services to society by doing the jobs no one wants to?


Between Paranoia and Discrimination: Racism in Videogames

Via Gamepolitics I came across this piece on the liberal website Alternet. It seems that not only is the upcoming Resident Evil 5 is causing controversy due to being set in some Haitian village where the player has to gun down hordes of black zombies, but now also the almost three year old predecessor is stirring politically correct minds. Writing about the latest movie installment of the game – Resident Evil: Extinction – author Roberto Lovato explains:

As they pack into theaters to watch the blockbuster Resident Evil: Extinction this weekend, moviegoers may first want to play one of the many blockbuster video games on which the film is based. Those that do will likely enter a world… increasingly populated with very dangerous depictions of non-whites.

…last year’s smash-hit Resident Evil 4… places players in the position of fighting parasitically-controlled Spaniards (called “Los Ganados” or “the cattle”) with stereotypical Mexican accents…

And, in what looks like it could be a training video for a white supremacist race war… players of the soon-to-be-released Resident Evil 5 video game are placed in what could be an African country or Haiti as they blow up armies of black zombies.

Where to begin? With the fact that the game was developed in Asia (minorities suppressing minorities – how postmodern!)? That the majority of enemies of the entire franchise are actually white? Etc Etc. Stuff like this is the reason why San Francisco one day will disappear up its own asshole.

On the other hand one shouldn't trifle with the study Lovato cites. While being the only one of this kind, which just shows the inadequate data situation, it nevertheless reveals some interesting facts:

– More than half (56%) of all human characters in this study were white – Nearly every video game hero was white (87%)
– 83% of African American males were cast as competitors in sports-oriented games while most African American females were non-action characters – African American characters were least likely to have realistic responses to violence, only a fraction (15%) exhibited both pain and physical harm – African American characters used the most verbal aggression, screaming, ridicule and insults – In sports games African Americans were most likely to display aggressive behaviours. Nearly eight out of ten African Americans competitors engaged in physical and verbal aggression. African American competitors were the only racial group to use verbal aggression on the field (Glaubke et al., 2001: 25-26).

While stereotypical representation might be problematic I think that messages conveyed via game rules are more troublesome. Think of GTA San Andreas for example. C.J. is at no point forced to engage in a life of crime, but he might as well become a taxi driver to satisfy his everyday needs in forms of food or undertake other adventures such as firefighting, exploring the city by riding his bicycle or just working out at the beach. Though if the player wants to enjoy all the features of the game and explore every bit of its vast landscapes, there‘s no alternative to the mission structure of the overarching plot, seeing the rise of C.J. and his gang through violent means in an environment that doesn‘t offer any alternative to a criminal biography and seems like the fantasy of a white suburban middleclass, where underprivileged blacks lead a far more exciting life due to their “high-risk social status as endangered species“ (Perry).

But then again the GTA-series is also a good example of postmodern enlightenment. Even though it doesn't have any immediate goal or agenda it still shows the individual his place in a totalitarian world. There's always a critical attitude shining through and everything is held together by an anti-authoritarian streak – kind of like the popular, critical social science the Simpsons were committed to before Homer became some sort of crash test dummy.

Also every videogame, or every game for that matter, involves some sort of artificial conflict. Without it there wouldn't be a game and CJ has to necessarily engage in it. If he rose through the ranks of society respectively to the end of the "game" without any sort of (exciting) conflict we would have the world's most boring "entertainment" product at our hands.

So: If minorities are the protagonists of a game the nature of a game itself can easily lend itself to racism (through an artificial conflict and the rules to solve it which is supposed to make an entertaining product), if they're not their representations might be labelled racist (just by the fact that they are depicted as victims) and if they're not in the game at all it's also racist since the composition of society isn't reflected and certain discourses are left out.

Of course they're still more nuances to this problem, e.g. black sport stars swearing more in games etc. which just shows the complexity of the issue. Whatever possible solutions look like it would be desirable to see more diversity in games in the future and more minorities involved in the production of games – which lean themselves trough their simulation nature towards enlightenment about social issues and suppression.

The Games Convention

Last week was my first trip to the Games Convention in Leipzig, the main reason being that I spend the last two years on a different continent. But then again, did this first-time visit reveal mysterious secrets unknown to the uninitiated? No. Despite what the lobby groups want to tell you, it still looks like the gaming demographic still matches the old clichés (judging from the attendees, though they might not be overtly representative), the exception being the growing audience for the omnipresent casual games (the estrogen concentration was the highest at the Sony booth with its Singstar and Buzz games).

The marketing is still loud and sexist and I doubt that boobs will ever get more attention and fascinated looks than at events like this. The natural exceptions: The booths with the games where you gotta groom ponies (which also work with clichés).

But then again I had the chance to listen to some interesting talks, even though I missed the beginning of the most interesting one... (attentended by a member of the German Cultural Council, the editor of one of Germany's biggest gaming magazines, a representative of the Christian Democrats, representatives of the gaming industry etc.). Prof. Dr. Fux of the German Cultural Council pointed out that after the hysterical discussion about the effects of violent videogames, complete with politicians who didn't get their facts right at all, one can now witness a normalisation of the discourse – maybe the “Killerspiel” discussion served as a catalyst for a more serious and calm way of dealing with the fastest growing media industry in the world. (Of course, as several of the panelists didn't grow tired of pointing out, videogames are a form of culture; something I can completely agree with and I'm happy to this form of recognition. It just seems that this issue has to be cleared beforehand to justify any further involvement with the medium, as if the totally legitimate aim of earning money through popular entertainment and benefit from the spin-off effects was somehow suspicious). One example of the normalisation-process were the booths for people working in education. A very laudable approach since what we don't know we fear; though the people who attend the convention probably already posses a higher skill set than the average teacher. A further highlight: Seeing Rock Band in action. For the non-believers: Rock Band is a mixture of Singstar and Guitar Hero augmented by a drum kit and a gigantic dose of awesome. Even though EA spoiled my Christmas by postponing the European release to the first quarter of 2008 it's still like looking into the face of God!!

Another highlight: Meeting Rene Meyer, the person with the biggest collection of consoles and computers capable of playing games, who's collection amounts to more than 300 pieces of gaming history, even stuff from the former GDR – I hope he likes my German Master's Thesis about the history of videogames in East Germany since it seems he's well connected to book publishers. Also if any reader of this blog knows someone... Wink Wink.

ESA Gives Video Game Voters Network Website Overhaul, Could Use Some Humanizing

The Entertainment Software Association, representing the interests of of U.S. video game publishers, launched an updated website for its Video Games Voters Network in order to “increase the recruitment, education, and mobilization of video game players across the country.” The press release (via explains:

The response to the VGVN is overwhelming and dramatic―over 100,000 members, generating thousands upon thousands of letters defending video games. It’s impressive. Ordinary Americans’ passion for computer and video games is driving a desire to be counted and speak out. They are a political force that not only votes, but actively makes their voices heard in Washington, DC and in state legislatures across the country.Politicians who think easy political points can be scored at the First Amendment’s expense have to know that such efforts will be aggressively opposed. VGVN and the ESA would rather work in a collaborative and productive partnership to educate caregivers about how to ensure the games their children enjoy are parent-approved. 

The site includes a nice over-the-top trailer complete in first-they-came-for-the-movies-but-I didn't say-anything-style and also links to a Myspace profile – check basic social media.

While the whole approach is an applaudable effort there are some issues though.While I don't necessarily see the interests of publishers and consumers as mutually exclusive (coming from a country with a ridiculous gaming legislature and all) I'm inclined to agree with gamepolitic's view on the missing personal component. This could have been achieved by, you guessed it, an additional blog. Not only could it have been used to give updates on recent successes of the campaign to encourage more user involvement, but also to facilitate closer connections and to humanize the whole undertaking.

Furthermore what is missing is a regularly updated overview of lawmakers and their stand on videogame related issues so you know what your representative is up to.

Also the whole approach of giving users the possibility to send already formulated emails is debatable. Not only does it add it to the impersonal nature of the campaign but the emails might simply be seen as spam. As the Australian Federal Minister for the Environment, Malcom Turnbull explained in connection with Get Up! which uses the same method: "When you get 1000 emails, all in exactly the same form, it's not exactly as persuasive as a bunch of emails people have written to independently express themselves." On the other hand: This procedure also allows people who don't have the time to research all the right contacts to eloquently express their genuine concern.

What I really asked myself though was: When is there going to be a German version?


Iran Releases Anti US/ Anti Israel Game

The Iranian government recently introduced the propaganda PC game Rescue the Nuke Scientist (the kind of name only a totalitarian regime can come up with…). Reports Gamepolitics:

The PC game was created by the Union of Islamic Student Societies, a radical student group. It is said to be a riposte to Kuma Games’ Assault on Iran mission for its reality-based Kuma Wars military series.Mohammad Taqi Fakhrian, a leader of the student group, was in what passes for full game hype mode in Tehran these days:This is our defense against the enemy’s cultural onslaught. We tried to promote the idea of defense, sacrifice and martyrdom in this game.Game play, as described by the AP, is as follows:In Rescue the Nuke Scientist, U.S. troops capture a husband-and-wife team of nuclear engineers on a pilgrimage to Karbala, a Shiite holy site in Iraq. Players take on the role of Iranian security forces carrying out a mission code-named “The Special Operation” to free the scientists, who are moved from Iraq to Israel. Players have to kill U.S. and Israeli troops and seize laptops containing secret information.Players who lose the game receive an onscreen message which says, “With resistance, you can battle the enemy.”The Union of Islamic Student Societies, which created the game, also sponsored the 2005  World Without Zionism conference at which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”  

This made me think: Do these kind of games really do have an effect on players? And if that's the case, what can we learn from them?  When it comes to the representational level the degree of realism certainly seems to be quite high, even though it's still way behind Western state-of-the-art FPPs. But is that enough to be engaging?

In his paper "Social Realism in Gaming" Alexander Galloway explains that realism 'requires "a more-or-less direct criticism of current society and morals" which America's Army does not do, nor does it aspire to do. In fact the game can be viewed in exactly the opposite framework: as a bold and brutal reinforcement of current American society and its positive moral perspective on military intervention, be it the war on terrorism or "shock and awe" in Iraq'. Simply replace America's Army with Rescue the Nuke Scientist, American society with Iranian society and the war on terrorism with the war on zionism and there's not much left of any form of realism – realism in Galloway's definition that is. Basically it amounts to a challenge of hegemony which I think is too simplistic, one of the consequences being that if a game corresponds with the political positions of the author it's deemed to be realistic (such is the case with State of Emergency: 'While the game is more or less realistically rendered, its connection to realism is seen primarily in the representation of marginalized communities... but also in the narrative itself, a fantasy of unbridled, orgiastic anti-corporate rebellion). Also it seems that Galloway's position amounts to a simple binary opposition of escapism and "realism" with nothing inbetween respectively no potential for subversive readings.

He nevertheless has a point when he brings up his so called "congruence requirement": 'I suggest there must be some kind of congruence, some type of fidelity of context that transliterates itself from the social reality of the gamer, through one's thumbs, into the game environment and back again. This is what I call the "congruence requirement (…) So, it is because games are an active medium that realism in gaming requires a special congruence between the social reality depicted in the game and the social reality known and lived by the gamer'Now saving kidnapped nuclear scientists is hardly the social reality of the average Iranian (who probably has other things to worry about) but I would suggest that the fidelity of context here is nevertheless bigger than in America's Army, simply because of the dogmatic indoctrination of a suppressive regime that tries to eliminate any deviant opinions and instead perpetuates a propaganda induced struggle against the forces portrayed in the games. (The uncompromising Left might point out that this is not too different to the USA, but the last time I checked they were still a democracy that didn't stone women accused of adultery to death nor did they want to wipe any countries of the map.)  

So the effect of a game very much depends on its social and instructional/ informational contexts (amongst other things); if you want to design a game to effectively convey your message you have to pick up the people where they coming from and establish a strong link to the minutia of their everyday lives (something that might explain Ian Bogost's interest in the mundane and boring) – and give extensive background information to strengthen the instructional context of the game and the information it tries to bring across. As Squire points out 'the instructional context that envelopes gaming is a more important predictor of learning that the game itself. Specifically, how the game is contextualized, the kinds of cooperative and collaborative learning activities embedded in gameplay, and the quality and nature of debriefing are all critically important elements of the gaming experience'. Likewise his colleague Christian Arnseth suggests that 'the contextualisation of gaming is in regard to learning is probably more important than specific features of the same game in its own right. That is to say, the instructional context is probably a more important predictor of learning'.  

Now if you want to publish a game designed to convey your ideas/ agenda you of course can't put them back into the classroom or expose them to a totalitarian regime; but what you can do is enhance the quality of the debriefing. A good example for this is The District Game which to ensure that the perceived information really gets across the game sets the mechanics in a real-world context by providing extensive background information and quotes for every form of redistricting as well as links to websites and several reports dealing with the issue (not limiting itself to a political direction) – being linked these kinds of resources is definitely a crucial point. A little improvement, taking the congruence requirement into account, might be the possibility to influence the borders of the districts you're living in or replay a recent gerrymandering that led to the passing of a law whose impact you're starting to feel so that the social reality of the gamer plays a more important role.

 In short: Pick them up where they're coming from, show the connection to their lives and embed the game in a well thought about instructional context to bring the message across and explain yourself extensively and thoroughly.

The World of Borecraft Pt.2

The World of Borecraft Pt.2 As a counterpoint to Justin Peter's rather critical account of the serious game phenomenon over at Slate, Gamasutra takes a more sympathetic look at digital games with an agenda. In Who Says Video Games Have to be Fun? The Rise of Serious Games some major players in the field get a chance to voice their opinions on the current state of the discipline, its potentials and problems – one of them being that despite the increased media coverage, these gaming forms still lack some mainstream success. Says Chris Swain, assistant professor in the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media Division and a co-director of the school’s Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab:

"the field of political/activist games is very young. We need some success stories to prove our value because right now political games mostly grab headlines and have little real impact.”

But the cause is legitimate and important and in the long run can only benefit the medium:

“I’m all for escapism,” Frasca [Gonzalo Frasca, co-founder of Powerful Robot Games] of says, “but I think that games that deal with serious topics can be more engaging to certain people.” “For 30 years now we’ve focused on making games produce fun,” adds Bogost [Ian Bogost, founding partner of Persuasive Games]. “Isn’t it about time we started working toward other kinds of emotional responses?” Bogost believes that will happen eventually. “I know that comparisons to the film industry have grown tired and overused,” he says, “but indulge me in this one: when you watch the Academy Awards this year, how many films in the running for awards are about big explosions and other forms of immediate gratification, and how many are about the more complex subtleties of human experience? “Someday, hopefully someday soon, we'll look back at video games and laugh at how unsophisticated we are today,” Bogost adds. “It's like going to the cineplex and every screen is showing a Michael Bay flick.”

Good call. Even though taking fun out of games while keeping them engaging is a very thin and delicate line. Which also leads to the question: can a game about such an issue as Israeli-Palestine conflict be "fun"? Or rather: should it be fun? Wouldn't that trivialize the horror and the casualties of the conflict? It certainly can be engaging, as PeaceMaker demonstrates. But then again, as I pointed out before, the decision for a certain form of game design always depends on the kind of agenda-game you're working on. Taking the fun out of games might work better for Bogost's newsgame approach and his focus on the mundane. The annoying issues these games are dealing with are mainly conveyed by annoying mechanics, which constitute the main message (actually that's the case with all games since they aren't a narrative medium – they, so far, just aren't suited to tell stories – but here this fact is put to the front).


The World of Borecraft?

Justin Peters over at Slate takes a critical look at games that are trying to teach you something. And he has some interesting arguments:

In taking the fun out of video games, companies like Persuasive make them less alluring to people who love games and more alluring to people who don't. Your boss, for example (…)I think game designer and theorist Raph Koster has it right. "[J]ust strapping an incentive structure on rote practice doesn't work very well, compared to ... building a long-term goal structure, and then presenting challenges on the way," Koster writes on his personal blog. The perfect embodiment of this idea is Sid Meier's Civilization series. In these games, players build a society from the ground up, interacting with other, competing civilizations along the way. It's addictively fun, and you learn a lot about history along the way… The basic issue here is that it's easier to make a fun game educational than it is to inject fun into an educational game.  

In his reply to the article Ian Bogost, founding partner of Persuasive Games, explains that

'the idea of making games more alluring to people who don't love games is actually something of a noble goal, in my mind, especially as those who do love games become ever more narrow-minded about what a game experience needs to be'.  

And he gets support from Gamasutra who in their coverage of the 2007 Games For Change Conference point out:

'It follows, then, that concerns about the number of copies sold, or number of audience members reached, while common to the commercial market, might actually be less important for socially-conscious games. “In terms of changing people’s attitudes about things,” Sawyer [Ben Sawyer, co-director of the Serious Games Initiative] noted, “it actually matters who plays the games. Let’s make a game that only ten people need to play—because it’s the right ten people and the right game."'  

So designing games for your boss or other people's bosses to pick up might not be a bad idea after all. I can see where Peters is coming from though when he writes that it's easier to make a fun game educational than it is to inject fun into an educational game. The implicit allegation here is that the designers of educational software somehow lack the knowledge or will to design compelling games respectively don't exploit their full potential. Writes Gamasutra

'“The games that we’re seeing—and I think we all sort of share this frustration—are not really fulfilling on the promise of what brings us to conferences like this, what makes us work on this field,” said Eric Zimmerman, co-founder of GameLab. Zimmerman cautioned against activist designers who, in their eagerness to convey a positive socially-conscious message, judge certain aspects of gaming as “bad”—for example, the conflict, the hyperstimulation or the addictive qualities—and attempt to siphon those elements out of the games they make. Zimmerman noted that much of games’ pleasurable qualities are actually derived from those elements, and designers of socially-conscious games can make more effective products by embracing the nature of games, rather than combating them'.   

Fair enough. At the same time what one has to keep in mind though is the variety of serious and educational games and therefore a variety of designs, purposes and audiences. Just like there are editorials there are books. While they're both using the same medium to convey an opinion or educational message to their viewers they utilize it in different styles. So while a simple newsgame at the New York Times takes over the role of the editorial column and reaches a broader audience (including influential non-gamers), a complex game like Peacemaker is more akin to reading a book; the audience might be smaller, but the information conveyed is much more extensive. The only difference being the simulational and interactive nature of the game is more suited to explain the underlying mechanisms and processes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and unlike in a narrative medium there're of course no fixed sequences. Both game-genres can co-exist, they both have their merits and distinctive forms and designs; they only thing they eventually have in common is that they use the same medium. But to improve a newsgame it doesn't necessarily have to be influenced by in-depth simulators which rely more on the traditional game mechanics Zimmerman talks about since it serves a different purpose through a very different engagement of the medium – maybe boredom works for it better than hyperstimulation. Just like we divide texts into editorials and books and other categories and see their differences and different aims and styles, we should also clarify which kind of serious game we're talking about – to improve each genre and to avoid generalisations and confusions. 


It's Not About Manhunt it's About Video Games

Manhunt 2, the latest brainchild of scandal-ridden developer Rockstar, got a hard time all over the world: the English BBFC rejected the title, Ireland and Australia followed suit, while the American ESRB issued a preliminary rating of AO (Adults only) which basically amounts to a ban since most US retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, refuse to carry software rated AO. Accordingly Rockstar decided to temporarily shelve the title.I played the first Manhunt and found its snuff aesthetic sickening. Games like this definitely deserve a high rating and shouldn't get into the hands of minors. Also the whole principle of the title, "its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing" (to quote the BBFC), seems indeed questionable in a more and more "economised" environment with its out of control individualism. But: do these elitist worries justify a ban? Shouldn't every (grown up) individual be able to decide for himself what he wants to consume? Despite having to play the game the censors apparently are still alive and well… What worries me most though is the fact that the distribution of AO games, thanks to the conservative attitudes of corporate America respectively the elitist protection instincts of classification boards is pretty much impossible. Add to this the fact that the console manufacturers (in this case Sony and Nintendo) won't allow AO rated games on their machines. The thing is: through this form of censorship the full development of the medium of digital games in hindered since they are denied the rights of expression traditional media have. Art must contend boundaries, it must resist its industrialisation, and games as a form of art must do so in order to cover the whole range of human emotions – not only when it comes to violence but also to sexuality, one of the most neglected subjects of digital games. The works of the Marquis de Sade are considered classics these days, games on the other hand don't even get the chance to explore similar territories under current circumstances. Sex in movies isn't an issue, also this medium has its erotic classics – a game equivalent of something like The Last Tango in Paris however is unthinkable (though the question remains of how to design a game that conveys these intense emotions). The problem of digital games is that they are trying to strive for respect and artistic expression in an industry with a questionable political economy that is surrounded by moral panics due to the game-illiterate public/ media/ politicians. History tells us that with time this resistance wanes. Let's hope that this is also the case in the sensationalist 21st century.


Learn the Art of Gerrymandering by Playing the District Game

Gerrymandering is a form of redistricting in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are manipulated for an electoral advantage. You can read the rest of the Wikipedia article here. Or you can play the Redistricting Game by the University of Southern California’s Game Innovation Lab – another perfect example of how the simulational nature of digital games enables them to explain complex political processes like no other medium. And this is finallycomes to politicians' attention:

The Redistricting Game, playable online, was recently shown to members of Congress by Rep. John Tanner (D-TN). Tanner realizes that his colleagues are unlikely to be swayed from the practice, which is less politely known as gerrymandering. The Tennessee Democrat told NPR’s Andrea Seabrook:You’re asking people - and I realize this - to give up an awful lot of power.Seabrook added:Maybe if voters play The Redistricting Game and have fun gaming the system themselves, they’ll see how the system is gaming them and then maybe they’ll demand change. 

The game allows to you to enact different forms of gerrymandering (The Fundamentals, Partisan Gerrymander, Bipartisan Gerrymander, Voting Rights Act, Reform) in a basic or advanced setting. To ensure that the perceived information really gets across the game sets the mechanics in a real-world context by providing background information and quotes for every form of redistricting as well as links to websites and reports dealing with the issue – a crucial yet sometimes neglected component of every serious game. As Norm Ornstein from American Enterprise Institute explains of the game's website:  

"It is not easy to make the redistricting process understandable -- and near-miraculous to be able to do so in a highly entertaining way. But that is just what The Redistricting Game does, to the gratitude of all who want Americans to understand how this process is working, and why it needs real reform."    

This high-profile political example is another step towards the realisation of the full potential of digital games and its accompanying enhancement of public valuation. Maybe it can also serve as an inspiration for campaigning games which not only can explain complicated issues and policies in an easily accesible way but also reach a young, rather unpolitical demographic in a more effective (and cheaper) way than traditional media.


Tabloid Gaming

With more and more Flash-based casual newsgames popping up on specially designed websites the nature of these games varies greatly. To stop the confusion and differentiate games like Game Show Network's The Prison Life: Paris from serious editorial efforts such as September 12 Zach Whalen over at Gameology introduced the newsgame subcategory tabloid game.Writes Zach:

GSN's goal isn't to offend or be provocative, however, or even to educate us about what happened. Rather, this game is news in the way that Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood is news -- something did actually happen, but the angle for covering it is fluffy with a hint of derision. I think GSN's games should still be considered news games, but perhaps its appropriate to think of them as a subset thereof. Let's call it "tabloid gaming." Not only do most of these GSN games rely on celebrities and sex, but like tabloid news, they also revolve around a hook or punchline and are more concerned with framing a reaction to something having happened rather than reporting what actually did happen. So even though these games aren't all individually impressive or interesting, I think if we take them as the same kind of rhetoric that tabloid journalism produces, we can agree that they are generally rhetorically effective. I guess I've had mixed feelings about them, though, because when I think of newsgaming, I want it to be on important topics that I care about. I want to play a game and then feel informed, persuaded, or even motivated. I want newsgames to be Frontline, not Inside Edition.

Although Ian Bogost has a point when he writes that that the examples of good newsgames we have seen thusfar editorialize more than they report Zach makes a necessary distinction to tell the different categories apart. Also I can see where's coming from when he talks about having mixed feelings about the tabloid approach. But I guess in a world where entertainment is sold as news and untalented Hollywood crackwhores accordingly get more attention than the erosion of civil liberties that development was probably inevitable. And now that serious gaming finally reaches the mainstream it would be a shame if it suffered an image drawback by being associated with this sort of games, so by introducing new subcategories it's possible to take countermeasures.-Jens 

Avoid Missing Vicious Volley For Presidency

Newsgames are the new black: After the NY Times now CNN enters the field of games commenting on the political landscape by releasing Presidential Pong. Return the verbal ball in a vicious rhetoric duel with your opponent, answer his attacks and sweep him off the political stage. While the game itself might have lost some of its appeal to the avid gamer after 35 years, it's still a good example how games can take an editorial stand by adding special superpowers based on the candidate's perceived strengths.John Edward's Two America's Power Up for example allows him to break the ball in two, both because he has said he sees America as divided, and because of the formidable asset of his wife. This allowed me to beat Mitt Romney but the Republicans had their revenge when Guiliani's Name Recognition Power Up drew the ball to his podium, just as his name and fame as "America's Mayor" draws attention. Hillary Clinton's special strength – The Clinton Family Power Up – gives her two podiums, one for her, the other for her husband, the ex-president while McCain Military Veteran Power Up makes the movement of the ball unpredictable on the opponent's side of the field. It's a simple but clever, satirical commentary game. One of my complaints though is that the candidates don't posses different special powers when presidential hopefuls of same party play against each other, e.g. Clinton having an advantage through the huge donations her campaign was able to secure while Obama's enjoys better support by bloggers. (And yes, it could be a tiny little bit more entertaining but then again the simple, iconic mechanics can probably reach the broadest audience possible – before your grandma discovered the Wii there was Pong!)

Casual Gaming vs Innovation

If you had a look at the Japanese sales charts lately you could get the impression that hardcore gaming is coming to an end in the land of the rising sun. Nintendo rules with an iron fist and it seems that it can only be a matter of months until the whole country owns a DS and/ or a Wii. Meanwhile, Xbox 360 sales are still a total disaster which when you think of the games for it, combined with some Americanised corporate ignorance, isn't really much of a surprise. Also Europe doesn't seem too impressed with Microsoft's game culture. Actually the only market the 360 really appeals to is the action-obsessed US with its competitive culture. And even though Sony would like you to believe that if Jesus was a console he would be a Playstation 3, the great unwashed masses don't seem to have gotten the message yet – sales just pretty much suck everywhere.So what can be made of this? It's great to see that Nintendo is tapping a new audience with its approach and finally brings videogames to the mainstream. Which was about damn time considering that the industry had about 30 years for that. Male fantasies of bikini girls with machine guns are complimented with content (ed. note: What's wrong with bikini girls and machine guns?). Also your girlfriend can enjoy the system, as the innovative Wii control scheme allows for intuitive and interesting concepts that don't force you too learn the layout of a 16 button joypad by heart; cheaper development costs (potentially) mean more innovative and daring games. Sounds good, doesn't it? There are issues though. Will people stay interested in the casual games Nintendo offers? Is the five, ten minute distraction compelling enough to keep players coming back for more? Also: Can these games really innovate the medium? Maybe in being different when it comes to certain forms of content and in their control scheme. But it takes more to create something completely epic and new. Innovation is also always linked to new, more powerful technologies. More powerful graphics can make for a better narrative architecture, i.e. a powerful narrative with the help of an immersive environment. Superior calculating power can help to create a better A.I., an area that definitely needs improvement, holds huge promises and could potentially compel games to a new level. Casual gaming is a step in the right direction and a necessary completion. It would a shame though if hardcore gaming completely disappeared or just played a minor rule because this would severely diminish chances of future epic masterpieces. So let's hope Sony and Microsoft get their act together – you might not always like them (for very good reasons I might add!) but without them the future would be bleak.

A Public Broadcaster For Digital Games

Last week I met Alesandra Sainty from Krome Studios to have a chat with her about the Australian video game industry and the mechanisms the state and federal government put in place to support it. Krome is actually one of the few examples of a company which incorporates parts of Australian culture into its games, namely the TY-series. One of the problems here is that this Australian content had to be toned down to not frighten the average American player with Aussie humor or expressions. Of course, this brings the danger that you end up with the Americanized cliche version of your own culture. Games meanwhile shape the imagination of a generation, and they're becoming an increasingly popular pastime and gain more and more mainstream success – but they barely give you a sense of your own identity or your place in the world (unless you're American or Japanese, and even there it's more hyperreal culture than anything else). For the cinema, Gough Whitlam could still claim that it was able to communicate the ideas, the stories, the history and culture of Australia to international audiences. For games this is simply not the case.Of course games are a not a narrative medium (such as movies) but they are conveying powerful messages (and who knows what games will be capable of in 15 years). What one has to keep in mind though is that the Australian market is to small for noble cultural intentions and that the game industry and its political economy is tough. And it's not like this is a new problem. In fact it's almost as old as the country itself and is a defining factor of Australia's audiovisual media. Whenever a new popular medium was introduced it was, broadly speaking, quickly "colonized" by American or British content. That is unless the government stepped in and introduced a quota and established other means of support (such as giving grants etc) to benefit the local production industry. Now even though these mechanisms always kept the economic aspects of the industry in mind the main justification for them was based on cultural grounds. This started to change in the 90s (the catchword here is globalisation) and the rationalisation for these mechanisms shifted to a logic of economic rationalism. Which is fair enough considering the state of the industry and the advantages Australia has as a place to develop games at – not trying to make a buck out of that would be pretty insane. Still: Economic rationalism treats people like customers, not citizens and therefore can't justify all their needs. Which brought me to idea public broadcasting service for games. In Australia the ABC was often the driving force behind experimental, innovative formats that later served as an inspiration for the commercial stations. It didn't have to worry about market forces but could pursue its agenda of nation building (a good example Alesandra mentioned was "Kath and Kim"). And even though not many people watch the ABC the majority is glad it's there (and yes, I know, the ABC isn't as unpopular as everyone always claims, but you get the idea). Now imagine a government founded game developer counterpart to that. Not only could it break through the logic of standardization that still prevails the industry, it could also explore the role games could play in forming some sort of national identity and nation building. However to put things a bit in perspective: One can argue at this point how "damaging" influence of foreign content was on Australia as well as there are several very valid points that confute the effects of cultural imperialism. And that doesn't even take Australia's insecurity about its own identity into account, respectively the question in how far it is possible to reach such a construct in a highly derivative culture. But even so there still would be the chance of really innovative content getting developed, content that doesn't have to have the market as the main criteria – content that could also benefit the local industry and enhance its creative profile. Just like the ABC served as a ground for experimentation that later inspired the commercial stations.


New York Times Publishes Newsgames

This is exactly what I'm talking about: Using the power and simulational nature of digital games to explain and comment on political processes and procedures. And now it reached the mainstream: The New York Times teamed up with Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games to release a series of "newsgames", a mixture of videogames and political cartoons:

Today, I'm excited to announce that Persuasive Games has a new publishing relationship with The New York Times, in which they will be publishing newsgames we create on their op-ed page, as editorial content, not just as games. This is unprecedented, and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I think it represents another important shift in videogames as a medium. This is news/editorial in videogame form, rather than videogames trying to make news fun. The fact that the Times is often considered the national newspaper of record makes this moment even more notable, and gratifying.

Toot that horn, Ian! Toot it like an Alphorn. This is an important step for games indeed – it not only introduces them to a broader audience that probably never considered gaming before but it also shows what the medium is capable of. Unfortunately, the games are only available to paying subscribers. For an impression of what to expect you can still try Persuasive Games' Arcade Wire series: Airport Security, Oil God, Bacteria Salad, Xtreme Xmas Shopping.


The V-Tech Tragedy as a Flash Game

Sooner or later it was going to happen.Unfortunately it happened sooner. A flash game about the V-Tech rampage was uploaded on Newgrounds. As GamePolitics points out, the game is rendered in a documentary style, similar to that of the highly controversial Super Columbine Massacre RPG. There's one difference though: As controversial Super Columbine Massacre RPG might have been, its creator at least tried to make a thoughtful attempt and had the decency to wait six years with the release – and he didn't give in to the increasing industrialization of all art but tried to convey his viewpoint. It was dangerous in a thought provoking way. I can comprehend where the (often ill-informed) critics are coming from: Inherently, games have always been about the trivialization of human life, since the survival of one's avatar depends on the player's ability (that's why there never was – and hopefully never will be – a game about Anne Frank) and due to their save function they won't let the player feel all the consequences of their action. That said: A mature medium should be allowed to make comments on serious issues (it should not only be allowed to but see this as a pressing duty). But not only is the game industry notoriously insecure about itself, perpetuating the same juvenile concepts again and again, but there is also the sensationalist mainstream media, which can't tell independently developed games and industry-produced software apart (yet to speak of politicians who use them as an excuse for strikter legislation) – with often unfavorable consequences for the industry. Still: Should this stop people from trying to critically comment serious events through the medium of a digital game? It would be giving up before trying and giving in to the political economy of the contemporary mainstream mediasphere. The V-Tech game though is just plain, idiotic provocation. It's evacuated of any thought, any reflection, any common sense. A fact that is underlined by the fact that its creator started to hold the public hostage and offered to take it offline if people pay him $1000 US – an apology can be expected for $3000 US. As Kotaku put it: "Free speech and free expression are great. Just make sure you've got something to say."