My brother and I got a NES for Christmas back in the early 90s, right at the end of its life cycle. One of my most vivid gaming memories is playing Super Mario World at Service Merchandise back in the day. Since then I've had a SNES (my favorite system), a N64, a Gamecube, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, DS, Wii, Xbox and 360.
Outside of gaming, I am an obsessive skier and an amateur beer homebrewer. I live up in the state of Maine, although I did spend a short stint living in Juneau Alaska. My favorite types of humor are those shown by Seth Rogen, Mel Brooks, Mitch Hedberg and Michael Showalter. I am also one of those kids that loves comics enough to go to the comic shop every Wednesday to pick up a couple of books. I used to host a radio show and love music, particularly The Clash.
Other than that, I guess the usual info...
Gamertag - UMF Skibum
Flickr - Joshy_in_Juneau
Youtube - umfskibum
BeerAdvocate - umfskibum
I'd end with a popular meme but I don't want this to be horribly outdated in about 27 seconds.
Gamers rejoice! For now when opponents of gaming challenge us and quote the Bible, we had a Good Book of our own!
Okay, forgive the hyperbole. However, in Grand Theft Childhood : The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, Drs. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson have put out the most robust and well-written book defending games we as a community have seen. While books like Don't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning! and Everything Bad Is Good for You have defended games as useful in personal and social development (rather than a hindrance), they haven't had the weight of original research behind them like GTC. Kutner and Olson, cofounders of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, coordinated their study with the Harvard Medical School for a two-year span. Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, the core of the study (and the book) was survey results and interviews collected from almost 2,000 children and parents in the Eastern US. Previous research was also considered by the study. The writers have done their homework, and the result is a 272-page book that looks at everything from childhood development to politics as they relate to games.
It shouldn't be a surprise to Destructoid readers that the vast majority of children play games as part of their social development. There isn't a causal relationship to be found between video games and violent behavior. Almost all kids and adults are more than capable of telling the difference between real-world violence and the actions of a digital character. On and on the list goes of facts that seem obvious to people who are obsessive gamers (or at least into them enough to read community blogs on a video game website). Nevertheless, these findings aren't hunches based on personal experience. They are the results of a long, well thought out and incredibly well conducted study.
While some of the above may not sound interesting to folks who aren't parents, there is still plenty in this book to draw in readers. Where Grand Theft Childhood really shines is looking at the culture in which video games exist and the censorship which they face regularly. Kutner and Olson devote chapters to history of censorship of “new” forms of entertainment (starting with serials and “penny gaffs” in the 1800s), violence in other media, industry self-regulation and anti-gaming legislation. There is no doubt that the writers have taken a decidedly pro-game slant, and the ease and skill with which they cut into the “research” of the anti-game crowd (like the airhorn study Rev mentioned in Podtoid 51) is a joy to read. Even greater than that is the complete evisceration of politicians, interest groups and certain silver-haired attorneys, backed up by research and legal precedent. As a legal junkie, the contents of the chapter “All Politics is Local” are enough to give me ammunition any debate of “games as free speech” and keep me very warm at night.
Grand Theft Childhood is not only a very significant book for our industry, but is a damn interesting read. The book is not flawless, of course. In presenting their findings with a pro-game slant, the authors have opened themselves up to arguments that they “twisted their findings” or “have an agenda.” And of course, readers will find some parts of the book more interesting and personally relevant than others. With all this in mind, I still can't recommend the book enough. In a nuanced and highly intelligent book, Kutner and Olson have made a strong counterpoint to the venomous and unreasoned anti-game rhetoric in the popular media. While it may not be the Good Book for gamers, its definitely a start in defending our pastime.
For the uninitiated, Technabob and Ubergizmo are fantastic sites for tons of video game gadgets and goodies. Of course, that means they are unbelievable sources for C-blog fodder, especially in the department of cute little gizmos.
Basic Fun has teamed up with Activision and Red Octane to create the pocket-sized Guitar Hero Caribiner. The 4” by 3” game has an LCD screen, which displays notes coming at you in the 5 traditional Guitar Hero columns. No strumming is required, though there is a whammy bar for the ever important “bendy notes.” Best of all, the game has a collection of songs from GH I and II for your playing pleasure, including Smoke on the Water, Rock this Town, Cherry Pie, Killer Queen, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, Miserlou, Heart Shaped Box, Message in a Bottle, Jessica, and Surrender. If you're ready to have the Police in your pocket, the game comes out this March for a paltry 14.99.
SolarMemo enters the adorable arms race with a pocket-sized WeDisk Wiimote flash drive. The drive, undoubtedly soon to be sunk by the copyright and trademark police, should be available in sizes up to 8 GB. Perhaps my favorite part is the functionality of the A button, which releases the USB connector. No price has been given yet, but the sheer coolness of the drive makes it worth almost anything. If payment can be made in sexual favors, I should have plenty of these to give out as prizes soon.
WTF Wednesday is a weekly look at those shining pillars of the gaming community - forum posts, gadgets, articles and personalities - that just make you wonder "What the fu...?" ---------
Anyone that has taken a college-level lit class knows that people can – and will – read far too much into any given topic. People have long seen connections between Super Mario Brothers and socialism. The Bible and Star Wars have been seen as parallel stories. But one of the greatest examples I have seen recently comes from Joe McNeilly of gamesradar. His article Portal is the most subversive game ever distinguishes Portal as “feminist critique of the FPS genre.” You know you're in for a treat by the disclaimer that begins the article.
[Warning: The text you are about to read contains heady intellectual discourse and is not recommended for anyone made queasy by the discussion of feminist film theory or psychoanalytical signifiers.]
The four pages that follow delve into gender politics and feminist theory, discussing the meaning of everything in the game from the portals to the beloved Companion Cube. For people that don't want to take the time to read the article, here are the bullet points.
Guns in most FPS games: Penises. Guns are “... a phallic symbol of masculine agency, through which power is won and maintained,” something that is reinforced by the perspective of the player and the position of the “gun.” Every time you kill someone in CoD, you're actually destroying them with a cock.
GLaDOS: Your mom. A “maternal construct who administers the experiments,” GLaDOS represents “man's attempt to construct an idealized mother figure.” Makes you feel a little worse about [SPOILERS] destroying her, doesn't it? As a mother, GLaDOS is predictably cold, emotionally manipulative and kinda crazy.
Turrets: Men. The turrets “reintroduce the traditional masculine themes of guns and control,” and can be outsmarted by a capable woman who makes sixty cents for every dollar they earn at Aperture. Like most guys, they are incredibly threatening and easily outsmarted. Probably because they were distracted by the portals, which are ...
Portals: Vaginas. That's right, big quivering vaginas just waiting to be fingerbanged into submission by Chad Concelmo. Of course, the “oval-shaped openings [are] ... an image of the female sex organs: oval and receptive.” Mr. McNeilly goes on to compare the portals to birth canals, through which (and I am not making this up) “the protagonist is constantly being born into new trials.”
Companion Cube: Male Identity. Did you know your beloved Companion Cube was a dude? Like most of us males, the cube is “burdensome despite its usefulness” and must be carried by the female Chell. It is strictly utilitarian, and is basically around to hold down buttons and never ask for directions when it gets lost, even though its been driving around for hours. The eventual incineration of the Companion Cube represents “a mental unburdening from the need for approval from a father figure.” This very “Rule 34” (and probably NSFW) picture further suggests that the Cube represents a man.
Of course, overanalysis can be applied to any game. To his credit, Joe wrote an interesting and compelling article that challenges the way you may look Portal the next time you load it up. Or it is total psychobabble. Either way, enjoy.
Further reading can be found at Heroine Sheik's's Portal is for Lesbians, which includes the awesome quote “Vaginas you, a female character, have to enter/exit to solve puzzles. I don’t say this often, and almost never with so much support and enthusiasm, but that is so gay.”
[[This post was inspired by the discussion of Bioware pussying out, the anti-Jack Thompson and the defense of games in Podtoid 44. If you haven't listened yet, shame on you. Check it out, it starts at around the 35 minute mark. I'll wait.]]
So does the video game industry need an anti-Jack Thompson?
To quote the venerable Reverend Lovejoy, short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but. Yes, if we had a Thompson for our industry, we could have a raving loony who personally attacks his opponents rather than backing a position with facts and legal precedent. Someone who goes on conservative anti-game sites and stirs up the base, making and retracting offers willy-nilly. Unfortunately, this is a position overzealous and reactionary members of our community make all too often. Treating Thompson as a figurehead rather than a parody of the conservative crusader he claims to be gives far too much credit.
Of course, no one benefits if we end up with a bizarro-Jacko. A “[Jack Thompson] with a beard” would only further hurt the credibility of the industry and gamers as a group. Objectively, Mr. Thompson is indeed a joke. Sure, he is charismatic. Like most “talking heads” in the media, charisma can go a long way towards getting people to hang on your words, regardless of the veracity of fact. The man has had disbarment proceedings filed against him in the state of Florida. In terms of actual legal results (rather than television appearances), he has had little to no success in attacks on video games, running time and time again into that pesky First Amendment. The closest he has come was his settlement with Take-Two in April of last year, which only provides ammunition for those that would charge Jack is fighting for personal and financial gain rather than his “Christian conservative values.” Thompson has also shown repeatedly that he has no interest in engaging in actual debate or discussion with the “ill-mannered and ill-informed” masses of the video game professional and enthusiast communities. This vitriol has surfaced again and again on GamePolitics, Kotaku, and most recently here on Destructoid.
However, this is not intended to be another post attacking Mr. Thompson. Browse through today's c-blogs if you'd like to see some Jack-bashing, as there are enough posts for ceark to devote most of his daily roundup to them. Changes need to come not only in the way we as a community approach the debate, but how members of the industry, politicians and free speech advocates do as well. As we increase in numbers, age and sophistication, we need to see gaming advocates in media and popular culture in the same way as our opponents.
First, a few talking points.
We are a nation of gamers. Sixty-nine percent of American heads of households play games. The average gamer isn't a teen or child, but 33 years old. Buyers of games average about 40. Most have been playing games since the mid-90s. Gamers devote time each week to volunteering in the community, religious activities, creative endeavors, cultural activities, and reading (among other activities). A quick look at the community here at Destructoid shows enthusiasts similarly have a wide range in race, age, religion, gender and other interests. These are all important in arguing a coincidental rather than causal relationship between gamers and violence. While many violent psychopaths have played games in the past, tens of thousands more people play games without ever acting out. Also of note is the fact that the vast majority of games are not played by or marketed to children. Geoff Keighley did a valiant job trying to make this point during his Fox News appearance about Mass Effect.
Games and violence have no connection. Study after study has shown that there is no connection between video games and violence. There is a reason that a study done over 15 years ago that mentioned Doom is again and again touted as evidence that games increase violent tendencies or encourage violent acts (or are “murder simulators”). Studies have shown again and again that exposure to media violence alone does not cause a child to commit a violent act, and that it is not the sole, or even the most important, factor in contributing to youth aggression, anti-social attitudes, and violence. Again, it is crucial to note how massive the game-playing community is. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find someone that has never played a video game. While opponents point to the fact that a violent criminal played a video game, this is completely discounting every other part of their personality. With studies coming out on a nearly annual basis making the point that there is no causal relationship, we have more ammunition in the fight.
Legally, we are in the right. Any legal scholar will tell you the importance of precedent, particularly in the US. Laws that are meant to restrict free speech by limiting access or development of video games are routinely struck down or killed before even making it out of the Legislature. A 2000 ban in Indianapolis was struck down at the Federal level as restricting free speech. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's ban on the sale of games to minors in 2006 was struck down for the same reason. Michigan and California laws similar to the Illinois ban were deemed unconstitutional as well. Clinton and Lieberman's Family Entertainment Protection Act died without going to vote, while similar laws were struck down as – you guessed it – violations of the First Amendment. Again and again, judges have agreed at the local, district and Federal level that video games are protected speech, if not fine art. Every opponent of games needs to be reminded of this, and often.
So what can be done, both as a community and as an industry?
Media access. And I don't mean some kind of public execution like that of Geoff on Fox News. As the members of the Podtoid cast noted, these shows are little more than platforms for the hosts to further their own agenda, and industry advocates are only brought in to give the illusion of balance. No, advocates need to be in the mainstream, on shows like Today and Meet the Press. When given a chance to form a coherent argument and state facts collected by organizations like the ESA, the industry can slowly gain the legitimacy it desires. Of course, appearances would need to be carefully selected to avoid being put up as a straw man for attack. But moving games into the minds of mainstream America – especially as more and more of us participate in the medium – is crucial for legitimacy. Along these same lines, companies need to stand behind their products, marketing and industry. For all the complaints lodged against it, EA made a fantastic statement by calling Fox News on their bullshit. Expecting the community to fight for you (as Bioware suggested) is both cowardly and ineffectual. As cynical as it sounds, the size and (more importantly) money of a behemoth corporation is much more likely to make the media perk up their ears.
Don't feed the troll. Now, I know that many argue against the idea of “not sinking to the level” of mud-slinging and baseless accusations, and I tend to agree. Simply taking the high ground isn't going to change the minds of critics of the industry. As people like Jack Thompson have shown, even if we stop giving them attention, someone else will listen to what they have to say. But for the love of God, make an intelligent argument. Suggesting that someone is a douche and should die in a fire, while entertaining, is immature and pointless on its own. If you're going to personally attack opponents of games, at least throw in some facts about why their argument is flawed. Even if they don't listen, other people watching the conflict might.
Lobby. Its worth repeating that a huge amount of the voting age population plays video games. Make your voices heard. Every interest group out there, from environmentalists to free speech advocates to NAMBLA lobbys our government, and can deliver both money and voters. Gamers need to organize in a way that shows politicians what can be gained by courting our demographic. Cynicism showing again here, but money can make and break laws in the US. Reports have come out this year showing how companies have contributed to campaigns and how candidates stand on speech and entertainment issues. While I'm not suggesting voting on a single issue, let politicians know that this medium is important to us. Eventually, politicians who grew up playing video games will be in office. Until then, try to get the current bureaucrats to work with us, rather than against us. The ECA, ESA and IEMA have done a great job, and deserve our support. Even groups like the ACLU, while not commonly associated with games, have been supportive and filed amicus briefs in cases involving games.
As members of the gaming community, we are obviously enthusiastic about the medium. However, it is important to take real steps to protect the rights that we (at least US readers) have guaranteed in the Constitution. The time that games are considered weird and outside of the mainstream is coming to a close, and it is important to continue to show the merits of the medium and fight back against reactionary rhetoric and lies. Hopefully, some of this is at least a start in this fight.
Notes: Sorry about the lack of HTML links. If anyone is interested, I can go back and add links to laws, court cases, media appearances and the like. Apologies also for the abrupt ending. I can certainly go further about the topic, and encourage discussion in the comments
Music from video games – be it songs “inspired by” games, soundtracks, chip tunes, remixes, or something else entirely – is a big part of the Destructoid community. Music Monday is a weekly look at some of these tunes. ------
The image of a Katamari Damacy-esque ball on the cover of Bob Ostertag's ambitious w00t seems appropriate. The mashup (which began as a part of a performance piece addressing the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, oddly enough) is a sonic combination of effects and music from more than a dozen games. The 50-minute “sound collage” spans from classic games like Balloon Fight all the way up to Halo and World of Warcraft. Ostertag didn't skimp on the production of this experimental piece, creating the track, a “trailer”, and front and back “cover art.” Reviews from the blogosphere have been mostly positive, praising everything from the focus of the experiment to Mr. Ostertag's willingness to put up new and free Creative Commons music.
Now just as fair warning, the track definitely isn't for everyone. I would suggest loading up the free version rather than the trailer if you want to give it a try. The trailer starts off with some incredibly dissonant sound, and isn't (in my mind) representative of the piece as a whole. If you are a fan of retro music or “experimental” sounds and mashups, Ostertag has really created a striking piece of art. As the song becomes more and more layered, the seemingly random clips of music and effects take on some shape. w00t soars from ambient to beautiful to harsh and back again, and is unquestionably worth the ride. Anyway, its free, so you have nothing to lose by putting it on in the background.
Thirsty Thursday knows that the weekend is almost here, and that the classy members of the Destructoid community may want some tasty beverages that don't come from the “big three” brewers. Here's your weekly look at the world of craft beer. ---------
Style: Weizenbock IBUs: 11 Color: Brown / Deep Red Alcohol by Volume: 8 %
From the Brewers: Aventinus, the world's oldest top-fermenting wheat doppelbock, was created in 1907 at the Weisse Brauhaus in Munich using "bottle-conditioning" where fresh yeast and malt are added to the bottle to induce secondary fermentation. Pale, crystal and dark malts are employed for this double-fermented wheat beer ... Aventinus has received topmost commendations for its perfect balance of two complex layers of flavors - the fruity spiciness brought in by the top-fermenting yeast and the notes of chocolate created by the use of crystal and dark malts.
The Experts: At 8 percent, this beer carries its strength with remarkable grace. The beer is deep russet-brown and has a portlike aroma of raisins, dates, prunes, bananas, and cloves. The palate shows some sweetness,, but it's remarkably dry for a beer of this weight. This allows it to remain light on the palate and almost dangerously refreshing. - Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster's Table
As if there was ever going to be any doubt, Aventinus is solidly in the five-star category. This is one of those beers that defines the style. You can't say it raises the bar though, since with Aventinus, the bar was initially set almost impossibly high. I can't think of any other weizenbock that seriously works as well as Aventinus. It's got a hugely complex aroma, a wonderfully soft sweet flavor profile, and an almost deceptively soft body for a beer of such weight and power (8 percent alcohol). Aventinus is an undisputed masterpiece!. - BriansBelly.com
My Take: Just a real quick primer in case you've never had a weizenbock. A weizenbock is a dark version of a German wheat beer, with either a level of alcohol or flavor that makes it “bock” strength. If you've ever had a hefeweizen or a doppelbock, this is a cross between the two. OK, now that that's out of the way...
Aventinus is easily my favorite beer, bar none. In terms of smell, taste, appearance and flavor the beer is really perfect, and a benchmark for both the style and German beer. Pours a dark ruby red, slightly cloudy because of the yeast. The smell is dominated by the alcohol, and laced with clove, banana and fruit scents. Taste starts off sweet with a little bit of fruity tang, plus some slight caramel flavors. Finishes more with clove and an alcoholic taste. Nice and full in the mouth, along with an excellent warming sensation. Hugely drinkable – I've heard Aventinus referred to as “The Nectar of the Gods”, and I can't say I disagree.
Recommended if you like: Wheat beer. If you're a fan of German or Bavarian beers (especially weizenbeers and bocks) this is worth a shot. Fans of darker or “fuller” beers might also want to try Aventinus. But as I said, this is my favorite beer, so I heartily recommend it to everyone to at least try.
Availability: Pretty easy to find all around the US and abroad. Any halfway-decent beer, wine or specialty store should have Aventinus in stock (or easily order it). Ever reliable, Liquid Solutions also has it for order by the bottle.
Enjoy While Playing:The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. One of the best beers brewed out there deserves to be paired with the greatest [reviewed] game of all time, OoT. As a bonus, the high-ish alcohol content helps to blot out the cries of Navi.