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?


Left 4 Dead in the Aussie Censorship System

It looks like Left 4 Dead 2 has been banned in Australia. The reason: [C]lose in attacks cause copious amounts of blood spray and splatter, decapitations and limb dismemberment as well as locational damage where contact is made to the enemy which may reveal skeletal bits and gore.

This was not deemed suitable for 15-year-olds.

Despite the average Australian gamer being 30, the country is the only Western democracy not to embrace an adult rating for video games.

This is the result of a 1996 piece of legislation that followed a moral panic over the Sega CD game Night Trap. It was basically grounded in the belief that only kids and teens play games. (For more info see this thesis [PDF] and this excellent article.)

In 2009, Aussie gamers still have to endure the result of this obsolete thinking (which was never accurate in the first place).

The sole person responsible for maintaining Australia's status as one of the few Western countries without an adult rating is West Australia's attorney general, Michael Atkinson. He has plenty of reasons, none of them overly convincing—at least not to the vast majority of the Australian population.

Several games have been banned before or—in the case of Fallout 3—had to be reworked to suit the criteria. But Left 4 Dead 2 is the first high profile title to endure this fate.

Given that other highly violent zombie titles like Dead Rising (banned from sale in Germany) and House of the Dead Overkill (not released in Germany) passed the rating process without problems, this will surely lead to more intense discussions about the future of Australia's censorship system. Hopefully for the better.


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.


How I Met the Inventor of the Videogame

Ralph Baer, inventor of the videogame console, recently came to Berlin to celebrate the online launch of the "History of Video Games Timeline" by the Berlin Computer Game Museum. Quite an exciting moment for me, and probably the last chance to have a chat with the man behind the craze that touched our lives and changed the world.

After he gave a speech on his time at Sanders, where he started working on the Brown Box—the grandfather of all consoles—as early as 1966 and invented the light gun, I had the chance to have a brief chat with him.

He really is a likable chap. However, you can tell that he had to fight hard for recognition. If you asked a random person on the street who invented the videogame, the answer would very likely be: "Atari!"

As a matter of fact, though, Nolan Bushnell's inspiration for Pong came from a game included in the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, the 1972 commercial iteration of the Brown Box.

While Bushnell can be considered the inventor of the videogame industry, Baer was the inventor of its basis.

He has the documents to prove it, and he held the patents. Consequently, Magnavox not only succeeded in suing Atari for patent infringement but also Coleco, Mattel, Activision, and Nintendo.

Unfortunately he could not sue the public's imagination. As a result, he likes to remind everyone that it was in fact he who made the first step.

When I asked him to sign my copy of Steve Kent's Ultimate History of Videogames, he pointed out that he really liked the book because it presented his version of events. But even someone as invested in game history as Steve needed some persuasion to believe his story.

This is probably the reason why Baer never holds back when it comes to pointing out his numerous inventions and how much ahead of their time they were.

Asked if he considered the Wii the spiritual successor to the Brown Box and the Odyssey, given their family-friendly focus and use of peripherals, the first thing he told me was how he thought up a similar concept in the late 1980s.

But credit where credit is due: the patents he holds are indeed evidence of his visionary nature. He thought of delivering games via cable, entertained the idea of online games and invented other electronic games, such as Simon.

This was finally recognized by the American government in 2007, when was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the highest honor the US can confer for achievements related to technological progress.

He was still wearing the pin when he was in Berlin. It was an honour to meet him.


Community-based video game funding – could it work?

Gabe Newell recently suggested letting gamers fund a title, and in the process cutting out the middle-man that is the publisher. "One of the areas that I am super interested in right now is how we can do financing from the community. So right now, what typically happens is you have this budget — it needs to be huge, it has to be $10m–$30m, and it has to be all available at the beginning of the project. There's a huge amount of risk associated with those dollars and decisions have to be incredibly conservative.

"What I think would be much better would be if the community could finance the games. In other words, 'Hey, I really like this idea you have. I'll be an early investor in that and, as a result, at a later point I may make a return on that product, but I'll also get a copy of that game.'

"So move financing from something that occurs between a publisher and a developer… Instead have it be something where funding is coming out of community for games and game concepts they really like."

Newell probably isn't aware of it but this has actually been done before. The German band Angelica Express financed its last album by selling "shares" to fans.

They issued 500 "shares" at 50 Euros each (which sold out in record time and came with a detailed plan of how the money would be spent). With those 25,000 Euros, the band financed the recording of their album, the album artwork, the manufacture of the actual CDs, and the accompanying promotion.

Not only do the people who signed up for the shares get the new album but in return they also receive 80% of the earnings.

Could this also be model for the game industry? As Anthony Burch points out, there's no set format in which a game has to be released—the medium is much more "fluid" than films and print. Therefore, we as gamers can choose which way the medium goes forward simply by choosing what to pay for. They can be anything we want them to be based on how we vote with our wallets.

But will it work? As Burch points out so far we only buy finished games; we pay for the chance that this game is going to be good—but we don't value indie games by simply donating five bucks to the maker. We don't donate for quality but just the chance for it.

Is it because we assume that free stuff is automatically worthless? Is it the marketing behind big titles?

It might work with Valve, a company with good relationships with customers and a proven track record of awesome games. But will it work with others? Could this be one direction gaming might take in the future? What do you think?


Is the Videogame Industry Recession Proof?

Will the US fall into a recession? Maybe. Will the videogame industry? Probably not, reports

According to The Wall Street Journal, "strong holiday sales of its Wii video game console and Nintendo DS portable game device helped Nintendo (OTC: NTDOY) nearly double its nine-month net profit and raise its sales forecasts for the third time this business year." In other words, there is no recession at Nintendo. Figures out of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)'s device division would also indicate that there is no slowdown in video console sales. Nintendo raised its forecast for Wii unit sales for the year ending in March to 18.5 million from 17.5 million.

One of the questions Wall Street is asking is where the consumer will draw the line on purchases. Expensive products like cars are likely to get hurt. Fast food numbers seem to be fine. A video game console is a $200 to $500 purchase, with Nintendo's products being at the low end of that range.

One advantage video games have over other products in a downturn is that consumers can use them for hours a day, not unlike a TV. That puts the "cost per hour" of owning a video game products at pennies for avid users.

Does that make video games recession-proof? Probably.

So there you have it: Games are a safe bet in these uncertain times (thank you casual gamers!). What I would really like to know though is how the game business developed since the writer's strike started.



The election is looming and the video game industry realized that in order to stay strong going forward, it can't rely on fanboys to promote its agenda. That's why the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) will soon begin spreading money around to candidates for federal office. The video game publishers’ organization has created a political action committee (PAC) to facilitate its campaign donations. Says ESA boss Michael Gallagher:

We will be writing checks to campaigns by the end of this quarter. This is an important step in the political maturation process of the industry that we are ready to take now. This is about identifying and supporting champions for the game industry on Capitol Hill so that they support us.

Donations will range between $50,000 to $100,000 in 2008. Fair enough, you might say. After all that's what Hollywood and the big labels (and pretty much any other industry) has been doing for years now. Well, not if you're the Parents Television Council (PTC). It announced that it would target elected officials who accept contributions from the ESA since accepting these means taking a stand against families.

As the PTC's president Tim Winter put it:

The video game industry continues to fight meaningful accountability for selling inappropriate material to children. The industry has been exposed repeatedly for its reprehensible behavior and now they are looking for ways to buy friends in the government…

The [ESRB] has offered little to prevent companies like Rockstar Games from subjecting millions of children to sexually graphic material as they did with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. More recently, when it was revealed that Manhunt 2 still contained horrific violence that was thought to have been completely removed, the ESRB was missing in action.

There's the bizarre attitude that the family and videogames are somehow mutually exclusive, which in the light of games like Buzz, Singstar, Rock Band or consoles like the Wii is just completely ignorant.

But then again what do you expect from prototype moral crusaders like the PTC? As Anthony Larme explains in his thesis Dangerours Games? Censorship and 'Child Protection' a moral panic begins with an initial problem for which a group marginalised by mainstream society attempts a solution. Initial societal reaction that involves various elements of misperception becomes amplified by media exploitation (as with the cited examples Manhunt 2 and GTA San Andreas). Such amplification involves sensationalism and exaggeration along with providing a ready mouthpiece for all those who always knew that games were the root of all evil anyways – a vicious circle that augments the crusaders' believe their own horror stories.

The only acceptable solution for them: censorship.

Maybe the ESA should target officials who accept contributions from the PTC. After all the PTC subverts the values it (supposedly) claims to represent by contravening the US constitution through trying to impose restrictions on the freedom of speech.


Wii really can’t argue with reasons like this

Fanboys, that scourge of mankind, number 8 on the list of the worst consumer tech trends and blind adherents to corporations that (optimistically) feel about one tenth of the passion for them that they do for their gadgets.  No one wants to argue with them unless they have a fetish for insults.If you can't resist though, here're five reasons why the Wii is saving the videogame industry. Nothing one hasn't heard or read a hundred times before, but nicely and concisely summarized. I'd say: Nothing to disagree with in there. While I still doubt that casual gaming will help videogames realize their full potential (in terms of conveying emotions and storytelling and all that jazz), it is certainly refreshing to see one of the major players in the business break through the dominant mindset of the industry, encouraging simple fun and wholesome play for everyone. The widening of the demographic for games is definitely something to be encouraged; after all most game-haters and moral panic-mongers have their roots in misinformed circles who have never even touched a controller. And hey, the Wii has the potential to transform even hardline anti-gaming moms into game devotees!


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.

Bioshock and the Australian Videogame Industry

Internet! Finally! But then again the opportunities of me contributing more to this blog remain marginally slim because I'm playing Bioshock, "the ultimate rarity: not only does it live up to its lofty promise, but exceeds it through simple, old fashioned talent and imagination - not to mention verve, style,class, wit, and sheer bloody-minded ambition. It takes the tired, worn-out FPS genre by the scruff of the neck, reinvents and bend it out of shape in such a breathtaking fashion that it's going to take something very special to top this in the months and years ahead" (Eurogamer). Well that – and it skillfully disguises its linearity. It's not only one of the best games of the year, or the last years for that matter, but also exactly what the Australian videogame industry needs. For the uninitiated: The studio responsible for the game, Irrational, is based in Boston and Canberra where the core technology team resides. One of the problems of Australia's games industry is that it's mainly a work for hire industry. While this reduces the risk for the developers and can help to build infrastructure, respectively to enhance the skills base it goes together with a smaller revenue stream for the studios – and most of the profits are going abroad – the consequence being that this procedure doesn't build value onto the business. Furthermore the question remains if this model is viable under a long term perspective. Regions in Eastern Europe skill-wise rapidly catch up but are able to deliver their work at much cheaper rates. Then there're India and Asia which already provide reliable outsourcing services albeit still suffer from a cultural barrier that make their games not too appealing to the Western markets. But maybe it's just a matter of time until this problem is overcome (which I doubt). Also: If you as a publisher are looking for a studio to work on your IP why not choose a country like Canada; it offers generous state incentives and, not matter where you're operations are based, it's closer than Australia.

The answer: Own creative IP. As Mark Fludder from Queensland Government explained to me in an interview: "We're going to need to see local IP developed and again […] Otherwise: why not move it to the Czech Republic?... We need to be saying, well, you know… Pandemic's Destroy All Humans is a really good example, it's their own make and was all developed and scripted here. It was a big hit, so when whoever owns Pandemic at any given moment on the continuum is going to say: 'Do we continue to invest in Australia? Well, hey... they're making good games'. And I think that's important, I think Australia is going to have to do that".

Tom Crago of the GDAA holds a similar view (from the newsletter): "“To have such a high profile title come out of a local studio not only shows the world what our talent here is capable of, it also draws attention to the broader Australian industry, which is an extremely positive thing… [It] shows Government and the media that we really are on the cusp of becoming a global hub for game development” adding that “Australian-made games are mixing it with the very best in the world.”

So the potential is there – and with more incentives from federal government (which until now, for some reasons solely known to Peter Costello, only generously supports the indigenous movie industry) it indeed might elevate Australia into the first league of game development.