Category Archives: Culture

The Verge: ‘How the Xbox One and PS4 are helping bring Chinese indie games to the West’

Andrew Webster, The Verge:

For 14 years — starting in 2000 — the Chinese government enforced a ban on video game consoles. Between 2014 and 2015, both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 made their long-awaited and overdue debut. Microsoft described its release as a “monumental day” and celebrated by lighting up the Shanghai skyline in bright Xbox green. Sony’s chief executive Kaz Hirai told The Telegraph that “I think that we will be able to replicate the kind of success we have had with PS4 in other parts of the world in [China].”

The lifting of the Chinese console ban is not news, but the fact it was a thing still blows my mind. Where were you in 2000? Can you imagine your life without console games from then til now? It may sound like a silly question, but video games are a massive part of 21st century culture. Wild.

Regardless, a very cool and interesting story.

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FBI releases Gamergate investigation records

Adi Robertson, The Verge:

The FBI appears to have made a serious investigation of some threats, but at least one email thread suggests there were breakdowns in communication with the subjects of them. “We feel like we are sending endless emails into the void with you,” complained one sender. Based on the timing and location details, this was Wu, who published her own account of the experience on the same day. Overall, at least one report indicates that centralizing the investigation in San Francisco limited its jurisdiction. It’s also not clear how familiar some of the FBI agents involved were with common internet services. Twitter is sometimes referred to as “Tweeter,” and one email mentions suspects using “Thor” (probably Tor) for security.

Via Twitter, Wu said that the threats the FBI discussed were only a fraction of the ones she sent them, and that the agency was largely unresponsive to her attempts to provide evidence. “All this report does for me is show how little the FBI cared about the investigation,” she told The Verge. “As I remember, we had three meetings with the FBI, we had two meetings with Homeland Security, we had three meetings with federal prosecutors in Boston. Almost nothing we told them is in this report.” She confirmed that the juvenile mentioned above had been making death threats using his father’s phone; he was apparently grounded as punishment.

This report was actually released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request last year, although at that point, it was difficult to verify whether the recipients had modified its contents. Since “Gamergate” was never really an organized movement, none of the people mentioned in the report are “members” of it, and some incidents predate the controversy, like a bomb threat against Anita Sarkeesian at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. But if anything, this emphasizes that Gamergate per se was one facet of a larger culture war — which it’s now been almost completely absorbed into.

I often wonder why it is I’m so fixated on video games and their culture. I initially started writing on the topic to help bridge what I felt was a chasm between “average joes” and “nerds”. These were worlds I strattled growing up, often hiding my adoration for video games because I was afraid to be uncool.

Later, after seeing my little brother and cousins take to the medium, I sought to bridge a chasm between parents and video games. I focused my writing on the health and education impacts of video games.

Today, in the midst of American uncertainty and woe, I wonder if thinking about video games anymore than escapism is worthwhile. Certainly, there are bigger things. But then I recall Gamergate; what I see as the first emergence of the “alt-right”. As Ezra Klein refered to it on his podcast episode with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, it was another moment of the merging of partisan and ideological identities:

Ezra Klein: I thought Gamergate was one of the most interesting things to happen in the last couple of years.

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Because that had to do with politics, right? Like, why is this happening?

EK: Why did American political sites, Breitbart and Salon, develop an interest in an argument about whether video game sites were unduly influenced by some kind of personal relationship? When you say what happened out loud it sounds ridiculous.

TC: It’s hard to make it make sense.

EK: My big Rosetta Stone in American politics  for the last 20 or 30 years is partisan and ideological identities merged: if you’re a Democrat, you’re a liberal; if you’re a Republican, you’re a conservative. That didn’t used to be true. Once that happened, it set the stage for all of these other identities to align: where you live, who you marry, what you think about 12 Years a Slave, what you think about video game fights on the internet. The stronger this sorting mechanism becomes, the more lethal the collisions between it become.

Video games span a hearty set of demographics. It’s a medium that has taken the entertainment industry by storm. And it’s a medium that enjoys a massive online community, many players of which partake in anonymity. As ideologies and interests merge, it is important foster an inclusive and understood community, especially a community that encompasses the majority of American households.

It is important to write and talk about video games—even in anonymity (looking at me)—possibly now more than ever. And it goes without saying that a large swath of current day writers, artists, and activists were raised on and are familiar with the medium and likely its communities, let alone Tweeter and Thor. 

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Pokémon GOTY

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The year is 1998. I’m standing in Toys”R”Us, holding a slip of paper that reads “Pokémon: Blue Version – $29.95”.

“Are you sure this is the game you want?” my father asks.

Confidentially, I respond, “Yes.”

Now 30-years-old and in the media business, I’m watching headline after headline roll in:

It seems every outlet is writing about the phenomenon that is Pokémon GO; seemingly the second coming of the franchise in North America. And for someone who grew up poring over GamePro and EGM, there is a small bit of vindication every time a major publication like the Times or the Post covers video games in a positive light.

The game has “almost certainly exceeded 65 million American users“, Nintendo’s share price has risen 53%, and all of my feeds (TV included) have been taken over by this game. Over and over, I read stories of the diverse communities engaging in Pokémon GO together. People everywhere partaking in arguably the world’s largest Easter egg hunt together. They are discovering destinations and landmarks in their hometowns via PokéStops and Gyms together.

The biggest shock of all came when our lawyer informed me that she’d caught a Bulbasaur over the weekend.

Caught a Bulbasaur.

Caught!

For someone who grew up with the original Pokémon Red and Blue versions, the dawn of the franchise, that sentence shouldn’t exist.

This whole thing is looney, nuts, insane even. This is a game rooted in green, red, and blue plastic Game Boy cartridges and 11 MB black and white (green) software from the late-90s. But for a child of the late-80s / early-90s, it’s all surreal, strange, and beautiful to watch.

The franchise is once again re-shaping ideas about gaming and technology. The game itself is re-shaping ideas about community and education. Pokémon GO joins other experience, culture, and zeitgeist defining titles such as Pong, Super Mario Bros., TamagotchiGolden Eye, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft. For that, I deem Pokémon GO “Game of the Year”.

And yes, it’s July.

Lightning and Louis Vuitton


Teddy Dief, developer of Hyper Light Drifter and Kyoto Wild, writing for Polygon:

Square Enix — a major international video game company — thinks that the Louis Vuitton-wearing chic folk of the world might sometimes come home from their fancy parties and boot up their PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Or you know what? Their Wii U. The fashion in Splatoon is so fresh that it’s inspiring a massive fan zine.

I mean, I’m excited because this is further evidence that the world outside video game enthusiast culture is acknowledging that:

  • Games are for adults too!
  • Game players have fashion sense!
  • There are a lot of women playing games!
  • Fashionistas might be super into turn-based combat!

The stereotypes of old are toppling left and right! It’s a delicious massacre.

[…]

Imagine what could happen!

  • “Diesel to release a line of Bayonetta-inspired pants”
  • “Nintendo reveals Ralph Lauren outfit DLC for Super Smash Bros.
  • “Lululemon teams up with Hyper Light Drifter for a new line of athletic wear”

The three Final Fantasy games centered around Lightning each take an average of 37.5 hours to beat. If these Louis Vuitton designs were to become available in-game, that’s an unprecedented amout of product placement screen time.

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Have I Stopped Loving Video Games?

FINAL FANTASY X/X-2 HD Remaster_20150216170259 This past Christmas, I received an Xbox One. Months prior, I had joked that I wanted the console just to set it up, but probably never play it. (I get immense satisfaction out of setting up new electronics or updating existing ones.) Like every joke, there is a bit of truth to it. Who am I kidding? It wasn’t a joke at all.

The fact is, I rarely play video games anymore. When I can’t, when I’m at work, on a long drive, or otherwise, I yearn for hours with Super Mario 64. I look forward to tackling my pile of shame. But when I’m at home with a few hours to kill, instead of playing the games I do own, I’ll scour gaming sites and digital storefronts looking for something new, occasionally squandering $40-60 on a game, playing it for an hour or so and then never touching it again. (Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate) I’ll even shell out for bite sized experiences, play for a few minutes, then never open the app again. (Brothers, Lumino City)

While mulling over the notion that video games may not be for me anymore, I was struck by John Gruber in conversation with Dan Fromer on his own The Talk Show podcast:

It never occurs to me to play video games. If I time travelled back and talked to my 10, 11, 12-year-old self, I think that’d I’d have lots of good news to tell you on John Gruber. I think he’d be very happy abut his future. But I think of all the things he’d be most surprised by is that I would tell him, ‘you’re going to grow up and have the financial ability and the flexibility in your daily schedule to own and play any video game you want, for as long as you want, practically speaking. And you’re not going to.’

I think that my 12-year-old self would instantly suspect that whoever this guy is who does kind of look like me and was well cast to play the person who’s going to prank me and tell me that it’s me when I’m 42, is obviously full of shit, because there’s no chance that if I could spend four or five hours every night playing cool video games, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Times change. Do people?

As soon as I begin playing a video game, I’m struck by a massive wave of guilt. I’m not accomplishing anything. I very, very rarely feel deeply moved or impacted by the game. Come to think of it, my first and only play through of Journey (2012) may be the last meaningful experience I had with a game. Maybe the massive sea of gorgeous and groundbreaking video game releases sparks a deep desire to remain up to speed with the zeitgeist; now have the financial means to play any video game I want, I can finally hack it in schoolyard conversations about the latest and great console.

Or maybe it’s that I don’t play with other people; that the best part of video games is sharing the experience with a group of people, be it competing with others, watching other people play, or playing in front of an audience. Like books, TV, and film, maybe there is something inherently communal about video games, even single-player campaigns. I spend plenty of time reading Polygon.com, listening to gaming podcasts and soundtracks, and watching trailers and gaming related gag videos on YouTube. Maybe this auxiliary input is a misguided attempt at connecting with a community of people that can relate to the emotional ties of certain games or the awe of those games that push the medium thus technology thus society forward.

If it’s community, surely tweeting and blogging about video games would suffice for output, right? Wrong. Face-to-face personal interaction is what I’m missing. The experience and excitement of a group of people in it together. And if that’s true, the idea of engaging over an ethernet connection and microphone do not appeal to me — to be completely honest, the idea of my wife listening to a one-sided conversation while I play Destiny sounds humiliating. (Those who do enjoy online multiplayer games, please forgive my ignorance.) And if blogging about video games doesn’t satisfy childhood dreams of becoming a video journalist, maybe Zero Counts is a waste of time. (It’s not. I can’t quit you! But why, if I find it hard to play?)

Maybe it’s that I’ve recently taken to books. Last year, I read more books in a single year than ever before. Same the year before that. While I’m learning to enjoy reading, I’m learning more about the types of books I enjoy reading. More so, I’m in a pursuit to not only identify the types of books I enjoy, but a pursuit to find myself somewhere in the wealth of words out there. From presidential biographies to Pulitzer Prize fiction to Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, I’m sure something somewhere in these books will clear a little bit of this messy path called life. I’ve had a few instances of feeling truly satisfied in my career and hobbies, but that satisfaction wears off. Instead of beginning my search for what’s next when the road of satisfaction ends, spiraling into a hurricane of desperation, it’s likely a better use of my time to find and plan my next move.

While finding myself is certainly one of, if not the most important priority, another priority is having fun and experiencing new things.

Tor Bair, “Your Life Is Tetris. Stop Playing It Like Chess”:

However, life does get faster. Every day we live is a smaller percentage of our total life, and we perceive time as moving more quickly. Our responsibilities grow until tasks we should sincerely enjoy are treated as annoyances or mindless distractions.

I fell in love with video games because they seemed to open up new worlds, experiences, and fanatical and practical ideas. The fictional universe in Final Fantasy X inspired artistic benders while the innovative arch of Star Fox 64 or nemesis system of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor inspired me to rethink my own real world systems. I used to ready myself for computer science classes with 30 minutes of Picoss DS. 3D puzzlers like Myst and The Room series continue to push me to reevaluate perceived limits.

So, like books, maybe I just need to find and hone-in on the types of games I love. Maybe I need to be okay with limiting my catalog; that while there may be earth-shattering experiences in games and books I wouldn’t normally play, life is too short and expensive to take chances on something I may not enjoy. But that seems like a crappy way to live.

I’ve been playing with the idea of starting a column called “Demo Mode” on Zero Counts. Simply put, Demo Mode pieces would be game reviews of free demos. (Demo Mode: Destiny is nearly in the can.) in large part, demos are enough to experience the bulk of what I want to know about a game: the story’s foundation, visuals, and mechanics. Understanding these three bits help me feel informed amongst a community I grew up wanting to find my place in.

So maybe time is changing me. Maybe I just get more satisfaction out of marriage, family, work, and books. But in the end, my desire to want to love and play video games does not rest. Nor should it. I love tweeting and writing about games. I love reading Ben Kuchera’s opinions. I love learning about the inside of the industry from Relay FM’s wonder new podcast Remaster. I love Dave Tach’s daily updates on Minimap and Polygon’s Longform editorial about the crevasse of video games that often slip past our periphery.

But if I’m being completely honest with myself, I’m just chasing the high of booting up FFX on PS2 for the first time.

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Intel, Vox Media, Re/code and the Born This Way Foundation Launch #HackHarassment

Kara Swisher, re/code:

The first knee-jerk reaction of those who think completely free speech is the paramount rule of the Internet is simple: Stop whining, you stupid girl, and take it, because everyone should be able to say exactly what they want, however they want and in whatever way they want to say it.

It’s a canard of an argument, designed to turn a complex issue into a reductive black-and-white debate where no one can come to any agreement.

Still, it’s always set up this way when anyone attempts to make the more obvious point that free speech is not as free as all that in the real world, where there are numerous social repercussions for behaving in a rude, obscene and appalling manner.

Simple example: If you loudly tell a woman she deserves to be raped for speaking her mind on any subject in the public square, at a party or at work, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get ejected from there and, at the very least, you’ll be subject to much-deserved derision and censure.

Not so on the Internet, where such talk is all too common and much too tolerated. Which is why Intel, Vox Media, Re/code and the Born This Way Foundation are coming together to co-create Hack Harassment (#hackharassment), a new, collaborative initiative to fight online harassment and provide safer, more inclusive online experiences.

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Marco on Phil with John

On June 9th, 2015, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller, a man who has spent half of his life at Apple Inc., joined Daring Fireball’s John Gruber on stage for a live episode of The Talk Show.

Here’s a bit from Marco Arment:

This meant a lot for both John and podcasting. Apple sent an executive to be interviewed on a podcast, and one of the highlights of John Gruber’s career as a writer didn’t involve writing at all.

To quote Marco further, “I’d listen to their podcast.” It will be remembered.

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He Would Not Work in Oils

Seth Godin on The Moment with Brian Koppelman:

If you think that you were born to paint in oils, or you were born to speak the truth about income inequality, or you were born— it’s just not true. If Vincent Van Gogh were born today, he would not work in oils. If Steve Jobs had been born 500 years ago, he would have done something else.

So what is the authentic version of Vincent Van Gogh? There isn’t one. What there is is someone who sought out a series of emotions that he could create for himself and gifts he could give other people through his work. And what I’m getting at is yes, we need to be consistent in honoring the truth of what we came to say.

But I also know that if I’d been born one block away from where I was born to different parents, or if I had been born in Yugoslavia, the fact that I’m here talking to you about these things would not have occurred. This is not the authentic expression of my DNA.

Excellent reminder.

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Winning Isn’t Everything

Excellent piece by Ian Bogost:

Myopia is the worst side effect of a hypothetical century ruled by games — or by any medium, for that matter. Whether or not the 20th century was the century of film, its proponents were never so brazen about dreams of its dominion. You don’t see filmmakers and filmgoers deriding other media for their lack of indexicality or visual sensuousness, penning manifesti for the forthcoming reign of the cinematic century, or inundating Twitter with hatred for anyone who squints at the idea that the medium of film might also bear some flaws. To dream of an age ruled by a singular medium is to dream a dream of isolation, for the comfort and sufficiency of the familiar. Myopia starts as affinity, but it ends as fascism.

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Secrets

Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture, on Serial, as quoted by Wired:

“So as people discovered that podcasts can be compelling in their regular media consumption, maybe we should’ve seen Serial coming from a mile away,” Thompson says. “As podcasts get more and more sophisticated, of course one is going to say ‘Wow, look at Fargo, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos—look at all these great stories being spread out and talked about before the next episode comes. Why not do it with a podcast?’ It seems so inevitable.”

Serial is unique in the sense that you as a listener are along for the ride. You are experiencing it with Sarah Koenig and the Serial crew. You’re being let in on a secret. And if you don’t listen right away, the secret is already out.

Not all serialized content lends itself to brilliance. Serialization is not the key. Great storytelling is the key. That’s not to say that episodic content can’t house great story too, but the water cooler conversation is dismantled by the uncertainty that others may not have the same desire to catch the latest episode. There is no grand secret.

What I would like to see from more podcasts, books, movies, TV shows, and video games is complete pre-meditated stories built out and enfold in chunks, teasing audiences along toward a grand reveal. I wonder if Tolkien experienced a fortunate accident? In the case of Serial, the experience has been a layer deeper. The audience has been tuning in to someone else unraveling a secret. And whether or not Koenig solves the mystery, the truth is finite.

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