Fanboys: These Days' Mods and Rockers

When I was writing about the iPad and technicity, I noticed that the notion of technicity can also be applied to the scourge of the game world: Fanboys, and their hatred of other people's choices. To recapitulate what technicity means: it is an “aspect of identity expressed through the subject’s relationship with technology. Particular tastes and their associated cultural networks have always been marked by particular technologies, e.g., rockers with motorbikes and mods with scooters” (Dovey & Kennedy, 2006).

Technicity comes to stand for identities that are formed around and through technological differentiation. This is even more true for the confusing 21st century where these new allegiances—based on attitudes towards or adoption of technology—seem to offer more critical purchase in representations of technoculture than the old more fixed sureties of class, ethnic or gender identities (ibid.).

Gamers in different countries might have more in common with each other than with other groups in their own country. This is because being a gamer is associated with certain skills and styles:

"The significant aspect of the term of ‘technicity’ is to encapsulate, in conceptual terms, the connections between an identity based on certain types of attitude, practices, preferences and so on and the importance of technology as a critical aspect of the construction of that identity. To be subjects within the privileged twenty-first-century first world is to be increasingly caught up in a network of technically and mechanically mediated relationships with others who share, to varying degrees, the same attitudes/ tastes, pleasures and preferences" (ibid.).

To make this notion a bit more palpable, the aforementioned mods and rockers make a very good example. Mods rode scooters; rockers motorbikes; and they were dead serious about it. To the outsider, both seem like a mode of transportation that will get you from A to B; just like to the outsider there is not much of a difference between an Xbox and a PlayStation. However, as everyone who has seen Quadrophenia can testify to, scooters and motorbikes were serious business. They were an extension of one's personality.

Within a dominant frame—e.g., youth culture, digital culture—different forms of technicity clash. This clash is not about which mode of transportation is better or which graphics are prettier. It's something personal, it's about one's identity expressed by one's gadget choices.

Additionally, and this is something that makes the arguments surrounding game platforms even more intense, games force you to invest much more of your personality. You need skills, you need to decode a game's structure or system—of levels, architectural organization, scoring systems, timing of events, non-player characters’ actions and interactions, etc. Without you, there is no game.

Accordingly, by questioning the purchase of a console you question someone's self in two ways: not only is the person's choice an expression of a "wrong" technicity, and therefore a "wrong" personality, but also the person's investment his or her self in the games is a waste of time. Their practices, their preferences, their skills, their decoding abilities, they themselves are doubted. And they don't take too kindly to it.

This also explains the clashes over platform exclusivity, and the accompanying notions of superiority and disappointment when a title is made available on other platforms. It also accounts for the tendency to compare titles which have been released on several platforms to the very last details. "Yes, it may be the same game, but my technicity is still superior to yours!"—Uh, I mean, "Yo gaylord this game iz much better on PS3, faggotbox cant do shit cuz its de gheyz!"

Kinda makes you long for some good old bank holiday clashes, doesn't it?


Should I buy a PlayStation 3 or an Elite X-Box 360?

Last Christmas, my roommate Claudio's brother gave him an X-Box 360. I subsequently spent most of January and April playing Halo 3 online. (I was away for most of February and March.) While we bought a few other games, they were pretty much shelved permanently, and I never even tried the campaign mode of Halo. Multi-player was our entertainment ticket for those snowy nights. It is also probably the reason why there were so few posts from me on BlogCampaigning then.

Just in time for summer weather, Claudio moved out and took the X-Box with him. I've spent a good few months enjoying the fresh Toronto air.  When I go to sleep these days I dream of soccer, not Master Chief.

But now the combination of a crispness in the air and price drops from both Sony and Microsoft for their respective consoles has me thinking that I should once again work on my gaming skills.

The question: Which system should I buy?

Readers of this blog and friends of mine will know that I am a huge fan of the Metal Gear Solid series of games, and that Jens and I can spend hours talking about the creator of those games, Hideo Kojima. He is to video games and cyberpunk what Hitchcock was to film.

Metal Gear Solid 2 for PlayStation 2 was definitely one of my favorite games of all time. Not only is the gameplay amazing, but the actual story line is worthy of a movie itself.

Metal Gear Solid 4 for PlayStation 3 has received rave reviews. Gamespot gave it 10/10 and described it as "an awe-inspiring synthesis of dramatic story telling and entertaining gameplay."  IGN also gave it a 10/10 with similarly glowing comments.

Unfortunately, it's an exclusive title for PS3.

Similarly, the Halo series are also exclusive for Microsoft's X-Box. As I mentioned above, I love Halo 3—the multi-player mode in that game is almost perfect, and from what I've heard, Microsoft essentially changed the face of game-testing when it was first developed. And Halo ODST also looks amazing.

The Microsoft X-Box Elite Bundle (which includes a copy of Halo 3 and a Gold Membership to Microsoft Live for online playing) is currently selling on for $329.

The PlayStation 3 is selling for $299, but doesn't include Metal Gear Solid 4. But that's only another $29.99.

So, dear gamers: Which one should I chose? Is Metal Gear Solid 4 that good? Is the online play good?


Policenauts Fan Translation Finally Sees Release

Snatcher is one of my all-time favourite games. I'm lucky enough to own the original game for the Sega CD. After reading a review in a German gaming magazine, I bought Hideo Kojima's early masterpiece right away. In this cyberpunk adventure you play as Gillian Seed, a "Runner". Your job is to track down the source of the mysterious snatchers, bioroids who kill their victims and take their place in society.

While the game play is limited—Snatcher is basically a digital comic book—the setting and the story make more than up for it. The localization is superb, so is the voice acting.

But it's not only the story itself that makes this a cult classic. It's also the little things you can do and explore in the city of Neo Kobe.

Feel like phone sex? Exploring the history of the city via historical records? Talking to your ex-wife? You can do it all, and it adds strongly to the game's atmosphere.

Your interactions with your sidekick robot, Metal Gear, are hilarious. Gillian and he are basically an old couple. Add to these well realized characters and places and you get Kojima's brilliant vision of Blade Runner.

Snatcher's spiritual successor is Policenauts. However, in contrast to Snatcher, the game never saw an official American or European release. Which is a shame because Policenauts is just as brilliant.

Policenauts are astronauts with police training, assigned to ensure the safety of Beyond Coast, mankind's first fully-functional space colony. Your character, Jonathan Ingram, is involved in a freak accident while testing a new space walking suit and drifts into space. He is found alive and well nearly 25 years later thanks to the cold-sleep module connected to the suit.

Three years later, Jonathan is a private investigator in Old L.A. His ex-wife sees him at his office and asks him to find her new husband who suddenly disappeared only to be killed by a car bomb shortly after. Jonathan must return to Beyond Coast to investigate the circumstances surrounding the murder and the disappearance.

Policenaut's game play resembles Snatcher's. The cover announces it as "interactive cinema", but the game basically stays a digital comic book.

However, the parallels also continue in regard to the way Snatcher creates its atmosphere. Policenauts includes all the little quirks that made Snatcher so memorable.

How many titles allow you to touch boobs in zero gravity? Exactly.

Since the game was never released in the West you had to play it in Japanese. Which was possible but obviously not much fun given how text-heavy it is.

Until now.

Recently a fan translation of the Playstation version of the game has been finished. After years of checking the project's status I finally woke up to the good news.

The patch offers a "completely uncensored" English translation by "a professional video game translator who has worked on AAA videogames" the included text file claims. Given the high quality of the work—and the amount of time put in it—these claims are more than hollow words. I have yet to find a bug or a typo.

The translation is a great achievement and one I'm really thankful for.

So do yourself a favour and get your hands on copy of Policenauts. If you're only mildly interested in the Hideo Kojima universe you won't regret it.


The Future of Digital Memories

Now that I moved to Berlin I pretty much come across art at every corner. Although digital art isn't really that publicly present. And it is difficult to sustain this art due to rapidly changing technologies. Of course this is a problem of all digital media. Photos for example, the collective memory of generations, tend to be more and more digitalized with no-one knowing whether the formats will still exist in 100 or even 50 years (on the other hand the redundancy of pictures is also increasing, e.g. whenever I shot photos of a party I send them to my friends or upload them on Facebook). This issue gets even more problematic with digital games. Here the main problem is the ever changing hardware. Since the first games we saw dozens of different platforms games could be played on (and do you know where your first console went?).

But then there are still emulators, programmed by enthusiastic individuals (and not by game libraries), but also here several problems evolve. First of all in most cases it's illegal to play games with the help of these programs (unless you own them of course) and we don't experience these games as we have experienced them in the past since we don‘t play them on the original hardware and without the old input devices.

Since it‘s the destiny of every hardware to cash in the chips one day (no pun intended) and we don‘t have any retro specialists who are able to copy whole chips we are very likely to lose something very interesting. But as problematic as emulators are – at least they keep something of the game alive; artifacts of a culture which carry ideas and world views, which get lost just like old movies. Movies which couldn‘t be archived and will never be seen again.

Which made me wonder: Wouldn't one way to preserve digital art be to allow it to run on console hardware? Maybe the console makers could open up some art corner, a (peerreviewed?) museum in the Playstation "Home", a (peer-reviewed?) arts channel on Xbox Live (maybe XNA offers really interesting opportunities in that it turns out to be a viable toolkit for digital artists). And then in 15 years you not only download Bioshock to play on your Xbox 360 emulator, but also the incomparable weird and thought challenging art of my friend Jason Nelson – at a point when the PC based software of that time is long outdated and nowhere to be found, respectively incapable of working on any modern computer. Not an ideal solution though, considering that digital art often also involves unusual forms of input and that converting a PC based program to a console format is involving (especially without development kits). So the console makers would have to play along, but the question is in how far they want to contribute to future emulation now that the commercial interests for retro software grows strongly.

All in all: A step in the right direction– on a path littered with the stones of commercial imperatives.