Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Videogamers, Casual and Otherwise

I've played video games ever since I was old enough to know that a Goomba wasn't just a terrible Italian stereotype, but while I've always maintained a foot in the door of the hobby, it's only been since attending PAX with one of my oldest friends this past September (an experience I documented here) that I've become a more avid member of the video gamer community again. With this reentry, one thing I'm keenly aware of is the odd divide there seems to be in the video game community between the ideas of the "casual" gamer and the "hardcore" gamer. I'm no stranger to these kinds of inane divisions, being a veteran of the Genesis/SNES and PC/Mac arguments from before adolescence, but one thing that I'm still surprised by is how much this can get reiterated and worsened by the video game media.

The brunt of this kind of division is usually borne by Nintendo. Case in point: Wired magazine's Game Life blog. In today's post about the best Wii games of the year, just in time for Christmas, editor Chris Kohler parrots the claim of message board trolls everywhere by claiming that Nintendo has lost its way by abandoning the hardcore gamer and focusing on the casual side of the hobby. There's no actual explanation of this, it's just stated as a universal fact. In the actual list of the year's top games for the console, three out of the five include jabs at Nintendo by mentioning low sales, delays, or even using the term "not as good" when describing the number one pick; each one of these blurbs is by Kohler. Contributor Gus Mastrapa is at least able to stick to describing why a game is good enough to be on the list.

This isn't the first time Kohler has done something like this. Hell, it's not even the first time this week: in yesterday's post about Nintendo's first quarter prospects for 2010, he placed everything in the context of "flagging Wii sales", ignoring the fact that last Thursday he posted that in November the Wii outsold its console competitors by over 50% and placed 4 games in the month's Top 10 for sales. When I asked Kohler about this, he explained that Wii sales are down from this time last year, but made no mention of his earlier note, alongside sales data, that the whole industry is down 7.6% last year. So Nintendo isn't doing as well as last year, but it's still outselling its competitors, who are also selling less. So why does Nintendo take the blame?

This can all be easily viewed through the frame of Kohler's claim today that Nintendo's fault is that it has abandoned "hardcore" gamers (perhaps ones like himself). Whether Nintendo is connecting with a wide audience seems to be irrelevant. One of the great Myths Of The Gamer is that he (and yes, it's a he) is isolated, socially inept, addicted, and overweight. Above all else, he's an outsider. From this direction, I'd think that Nintendo's emphasis with the Wii on the social aspect of gaming, low price of entry, and engaging a new audience with a new style of play should be considered a good thing, not a stab in the back to "hardcore" people like Kohler. From my experience, it's much easier to start up a conversation about the Wii than my Playstation 3, and a lot more of my friends own that instead of the XBox 360 or the Playstation 3. This last weekend I was on a wild goose chase looking for a copy of a Nintendo game, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Stores had stacks of copies of the newest games for the other two consoles, but that wasn't what was in demand: by Sunday evening, the local Best Buy was selling out of the 125 copies of the game it got that very morning. This isn't new, either. Back in 2007 when the Playstation 3 and Wii had release dates a few days apart, it was the former that got the bulk of media attention, falsely treating the situation with breathless enthusiasm (Penny Arcade had an effective response here) even as the Wii remained difficult to find in stores a year later and well into 2008. Feel free to call me on it if you think I'm wrong, but that kind of wide audience could be the thing that helps change the gamer stereotype.

But Sony doesn't fare too well with Game Life either. The site routinely reports on T-shirts your XBox Live avatar can wear and Twitter and Facebook on the XBox, but posted no review of the PS3's biggest game of the year, Uncharted 2. If the XBox 360 is outsold by the Wii, well, the news is that at least it outsold the PS3. Ha! Take that, Sony! If a game has a multi-platform release, they'll review the XBox 360 version. I can't actually tell if any of the site's writers actually own a PS3. "Hardcore" might as well be "XBox" when they talk about it.

After all this, I can't understand why sites like Game Life place such misguided, often inaccurate importance on the "hardcore" gamer. Sales suggest they're not the majority, and I can't help but feel this is the problem for people like Kohler: the club's not exclusive anymore, even as it becomes less stigmatizing to be a part of it. Why is it worse to be a "casual" gamer? I guess I'm just a big tent gamer: the more the merrier. More people playing just means more people to play with, and that's more than good enough for me.

Friday, October 09, 2009

On the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

This morning, US President Barack Obama was announced as the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, following a unanimous vote by the Nobel committee. He is only the third sitting president in history with the honour, after Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland announced that President Obama was being given the award "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."

Naturally, this announcement is international news, and quite understandably, it has been followed by intense debate over whether the President deserves the award. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri remarked, "Obama has a long way to go still and lots of work to do before he can deserve a reward. Obama only made promises and did not contribute any substance to world peace." This is likely not a very surprising announcement.

However, what has surprised me the most in many ways is the response from many within the United States itself. Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele has said:
The real question Americans are asking is, "What has President Obama actually accomplished?" It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain -- President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.

To me, this seems like an unnecessary interjection of partisan politics. As a recognition of international peace efforts, a Nobel Peace Prize will almost never be awarded for job creation or fiscal responsibility. I will not insult Mr. Steele's intelligence, and instead assume that he knows this. Steele's statement, then, reads as a deliberate attempt to avoid actual contribution to the discussion on foreign policy. It amounts to a person winning an Olympic medal for the 100m dash and being criticized for not playing tennis. It also seems to be evidence of a conscious attempt to bias the discussion of fiscal responsibility in the first place - "good" responsibility depends largely on one's ideological approach to the term - 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics Laureate Paul Krugman, Keynesian economics, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal all suggest that large scale government spending during an economic recession is a good way to stimulate growth. This is all ignoring, of course, the fact that TARP, the initial American stimulus plan, as well as the ballooning of the federal debt, are attributable to the previous president, Republican George W. Bush. See? Needless politics.

Statements about "concrete results" also fail to take into consideration one very important reality: unlike the other Nobel Prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded simply on the basis of tangible accomplishments. Instead, it is often awarded as a grand gesture, a statement on current or recent events. In 1989, in the wake of the Tienanmen Square massacre, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize, despite not actually achieving his goals. Instead, it was a rebuke of Tiananmen Square and, in the words of the Committee, "He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people." Here, it was the advocacy and intent that mattered.

Taken in this light, and coming so quickly after President Obama's election, it's hard not to see the awarding of the prize as a statement on the results of the election and the previous president. In the announcement, Jagland specifically states that the award recognizes the importance President Obama places on multilateral diplomacy and the USA "now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting." All that seems to be missing is the actual indictment of President Bush.

I think this is what worries Mr. Steele and the RNC: the world is recognizing the shift in America's foreign policy approach, which can be easily tied to the change in governance from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. It's as much of an indictment of the Republican Party's emphasis on unilateral action as it is a recognition of President Obama's emphasis on the opposite. This likely hurts a great deal.

For the record, I agree that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama is premature, and I would very much like to have been able to see the direction of his presidency over more time before making such an important statement as the Nobel Peace Prize. However, even President Obama himself agrees that the award is, at best, premature, and that he is currently undeserving of the award. In a public statement, he has thus resolved to view the award "as a call to action — a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century", in addition stating that it is not an award for him, but instead that it should be "shared by everyone who strives for justice and dignity." He will be donating his $1.5 million prize to charity.

In this spirit, I encourage my fellow critics of the awarding of the prize to President Obama to take his statement seriously. If we see it as our own call to action, to make our own neighborhoods, cities and nations better places, then perhaps the awarding of the Prize will not have been entirely misdirected. This is the heart of modern democracy, after all: the perfect desire to better our imperfect world.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I guess chocolate costs more

It has begun; Valentine's Day is encroaching on the office. A basket of those chalky, horrible candy hearts with words written on them now sits on the table in the staff room. These aren't the ones from my childhood, however. As disgusting and corny as they were, at least they made sense. I'm seeing a few issues with the messages on the new ones. Let's take a look:

BEEP ME - This is a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. Were these run by Human Resources?

BE TRUE - Not something you should probably be saying via candy heart. If you have to remind somebody of this at all, there are larger issues that need attending to.

NO WAY - That's a little harsh for candy, isn't it?

HIGH 5 - Who? Why? On Valentine's Day?

TRUE ONE - I'm confused, wasn't this just in question?

U-R SURE - I am? Of what?

E-MAIL - Stapler! Telephone! Context! Is there lead paint on the walls?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election night

This selection from Alan Moore's foreword to V For Vendetta has always struck a chord with me, but tonight it's ringing in my ears. It's getting louder and louder, and I just want it to go away.
It's 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I'm thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore.

Goodnight Alberta.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Multiple Uses

Sarah: i don't care what you say, i LIKE how german sounds
Me: i suppose it's alright, if you're either trying to scare little children or thinking of starting a death metal band
Sarah: oh shut up
Me: or thinking of producing fetish porno for the internet
Sarah: oh fuck you
Me: or trying to play a convincing Hitler in a made for tv movie on CBS
Sarah: ...
Me: needless to say, i've been running low on blog ideas recently

Friday, August 08, 2008

In my defense it shows I am tolerant

This afternoon my sister and I had a conversation about her upcoming trip to the West Coast, where she and her friend will be staying in the lovely Fairmont Hotel. I had some ideas about what might happen.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

In Excess

Overheard on the LRT on Canada Day:

Boy wearing a Pride shirt: So, did you hear that Rachel isn't a lesbian anymore?
Girl 1: That sucks!
Girl 2: Yeah, she was such a hot lesbian!
Girl 1: And she was so hardcore!
Boy: I mean, I can imagine being a little bi-curious, but to go all the way?