Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wikipedia Challenge

Here’s a challenge that I think is fun for no reason other than I think it is. Start at the Wikipedia homepage. Hit Random Article, and whatever comes up, try to drill down to a page for the following:
One real person (alive or dead)
One organization
One fictional person
One location
One thing related to a hobby of yours

I’ve found that in order to be fun, you need to be very specific. Instead of Computer, choose RAM or Red Hat. Instead of Beer, choose Ethanol Fermentation or Dogfish Head. Instead of Italy, choose the Piazza della Repubblica or Bolognese sauce. Being obscure can be fun, too, but it could take a while. Here’s what I chose:

Peter Gabriel
Monty Python
Rogers Park
Liberty City (the city in which GTA IV is set)

And so goes the search:

1. Brodow->Germany->European Union->United Kingdom->British Music->Genesis->Peter Gabriel

2. Cuisine of Cameroon->European Cuisine->English Cuisine->Cheese->List of Cheeses->Cheese Shop Sketch->Monty Python’s Flying Circus->Monty Python

3. Sanoodi->Wales->BBC Wales->Television->South Park->Animation->Filmation->He-Man and the Masters of the Universe->Skeletor

4. Constant Velocity Joint->1927->Repeal of Prohibition->Prohibition in the united States->Al Capone->Chicago->Neighborhoods of Chicago->Rogers Park

5. Leo Burnett Building->Chicago->List of People from Chicago->Robin Williams->Video Game->Video Game Controversy->Grand Theft Auto Series->Liberty City

Don’t bother with the searches that don’t bear fruit (these last two were really difficult, with me abandoning nearly a dozen searches total), just the ones that lead to your goal. And if you don’t do all five, no worries, just do what works for you (although I did have a lot of fun with this).

And y’know what? I’m going to tag a few people, because I want to see their searches: Mattox, Zach, and Hunahpu. Go forth, discover, proclaim!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

And the band plays on

One might think from the title, this is a post about Rock Band. One might be incorrect in that assumption, although that post will probably come soon. This is another one about the continuing fracas surrounding Grand Theft Auto IV. It’s a long one, so read at your own peril.

Wow, this is the story that doesn’t die. It’s not the first videogame issue that’s come up, but it has been one of the most widely touted, at least in recent memory. And it’s all about protecting the children. Think of the children!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Take Two Interactive sued the CTA for breach of contract when the CTA pulled GTA IV ads. I noticed Friday that the bus stop outside the Aon building has a GTA ad. Hooray for capitalism!

The rest of this post is inspired by this article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. No, it’s not a paper I read regularly, but GamePolitics has been following the GTA thing extensively, and this was one of the articles they brought up. It’s a well-thought-through article, but wrong on a few points, and these are some points that have been bugging me for quite a while. And although the bulk of my regular readers have no real understanding of what I’m talking about, I’m still going to talk about it.

First, let me get this out of the way: this is a game kids should not play. Younger minds can be influenced by what they see and do, because they have yet to develop a thorough understanding of who they are, who they should be, and the difference between right and wrong. They have a less clearly defined separation between reality and fantasy. Which is why younger minds should not see R rated movies. This is why the term “adult themes” exists. And Grand Theft Auto IV, and many other quality games, are rated M, equivalent to an R rating in a movie.

But think of the children! You know they’re going to get their hands on it! Ask any 15 year old boy about whether his parents are the gatekeepers of their children’s play! And to that I agree, to some extent. In actuality, underage buyers of M-rated videogames have about a 20% success rate. Sounds like a lot, right? Not so much if you consider that an underage buyer can get an R-Rated DVD about 50% of the time, or get into an R-Rated movie 35% of the time. So in that sense, the videogame industry is clamping down pretty hard (at GameStop, the success rate is actually about 6%… makes me want to give them more business). And yes, parents sometime may get the game for their kids, not knowing about the content (that argument gets brought up all the time with games). Well then, I guess the parents are actually the gatekeepers of their children’s play. I could follow with a rant about good parenting, but I won’t.

But still, think of the children! They’re going to get their hands on it somehow! Think of the damage it can do to their fragile psyches! Yes, I agree, to some extent. And these children can also buy an R-Rated DVD, sneak into an R-Rated movie, look at things they shouldn’t on the internet, drink alcohol, smoke, possibly even get into drugs. I guess in the light of that, playing a videogame, even a very adult one like Grand Theft Auto IV, doesn’t seem as horrific. The idea that a game will influence them to do horrible things, when they have an almost limitless variety of other cultural influences, to say nothing of the influence of their peers, is foolish.

OK, well, think of the adults! These husbands and fathers can’t be any good if they spend their free time fantasizing about shooting hookers or running down pedestrians! And to that I agree. If someone spends their time fantasizing about these things, they have some pretty serious issues. However, not so many actually bring that away from the game. It has been my firm belief for a long time, that all of life is experienced through your own personal lenses. You bring out of any media that which is already inside you. I’ve known people who saw Star Wars, and they brought any number of things with them: some wanted to study film, others science, others music, others martial arts. Some parents refuse to let their children watch or read Harry Potter in case it influences them to get into witchcraft. That is more than a little ridiculous, and so is the concern about adults playing videogames.

I have seen myself be influenced by video games. After playing Burnout: Revenge, I find myself having to be careful while driving. After playing Katamari Damacy, I find myself influenced to clean up around the house, and thinking about what would roll up well wherever I go. I have gone to sleep and dreamt about matching gems after playing some games, and had music from other games floating through my head for days after. And I play Grand Theft Auto. In the game, I have driven a bus the wrong way down an expressway, plowing down cars as I see fit. I have stolen cars, mugged people, driven through crowded pedestrian areas, have gotten falling-down drunk (and once tried to drive that way… boy that didn’t last long), driven off "stunt ramps" so my car could fly dozens of yards, and done donuts on a baseball diamond and a beach. Am I influenced to do anything I have tried in game? No. Why? Because it is so far removed from who I am in real life that it's not a draw. At all. It is a game, not one in which I'm acting out my violent fantasies, but one in which I'm either trying to accomplish a goal or taking the opportunity to experiment and explore. And that right there is the kicker: games are blamed for corrupting people (much in the same way movies and television and comic books and rock & roll and cartoons and alcohol have in the past), while the truth is people don't need the help. Videogames have been blamed for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. Some tried to pin the blame on games for the NIU shooting before any evidence was in, and it turned out that the guy hadn’t played a game for years. It is my belief that these people were seriously messed up to begin with, and would have gotten the desire to kill others and themselves had they watched TV, played videogames, listened to music, or read the newspaper. It wasn’t in the media, it was in them.

Video games are the nation's current hysteria. It seems every decade or so, something has to be demonized. The most extreme example is prohibition in the 1930's. Alcohol was the evil “flavor of the month”, and a constitutional amendment was passed (yes, they changed the Constitution of the United States for this) declaring that this evil must be abolished from society. Fewer than ten years later, people realized how silly they were being, and repealed the amendment. Videogames have been the most recent perpetrators of evil in our culture; as they have become more mainstream they have attracted more attention, and those that don’t understand the influence fear the change, just like television, rock music, and the Internet.

Children: don’t play the game. Parents: communicate with your kids. Society: relax.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Iron Man

I had absolutely no expectations for Iron Man before it came out. I had seen the preview once or twice; since we don’t get TV, we don’t really get the media saturation that goes on for some movies. What I did know is that any superhero movie can make a spectacular trailer. Ooooo, big effects! Oooo, the superhero using his superpowers! Ooooo, cinematography! Oooooo, look at the actors! The trailer is usually spectacular, the movie, not so much. Therefore my expectations were pretty much nonexistent. I have a lot of bad superhero movies buried deep in my Netflix queue, and if I get to them in a year or two, they’ll be lucky. I was going to see what Rotten Tomatoes had to say about it, and if it was good, then I’d see it. On Wednesday, Rotten Tomatoes had it rated at 90%. On Thursday, it slipped a bit to 86%. Friday was a busy day, so I only had a few moments to see, but it went up to 95%. So I didn’t really get excited for it until Wednesday, but when I did get excited for it, I got really excited. So we saw it on Saturday morning, when the prices are cheap, and damn!

First off, this isn’t Batman Begins. Its initial reaction is definitely positive, but not as much for the fancy action or climactic battle. What really sticks with me is that it’s actually a good character piece, particularly strong considering it’s a flashy superhero movie. I’m not saying it’s Citizen Kane, but we see Robert Downey Jr (who’s a really good actor, despite his checkered personal life) developing from a playboy, care-free, self-centered genius, to someone who recognizes value in people after an attack, capture, and subsequent escape from Afghan terrorists. There are believable human moments, and moments of real, but not forced or excessive, comedy (which is something that isn’t in enough superhero movies). The action is nice and fancy, but nothing special. I like the power armor concept, and am kind of surprised that I never got into Iron Man when I wore a younger man’s clothes, so I was able to overlook the fact that some of the action really isn’t all that exciting (please note that I did say “some”). The climactic battle at the end is actually a little awkward, but I was able to give in to the moment and accept it. But what made the movie for me, what makes me want to see it again, what makes me want to own the DVD, is the fact that I really like how Tony Stark is played, and I really like who he becomes, and I really like the relationships that develop.

John’s recommendation: see it.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Evidently, I plan to steal, kill, and destroy. I contribute to the end of all that is good and holy for our children. Look upon me, for I am the face of moral decline. I purchased Grand Theft Auto IV.

There has been a media circus regarding the release of this game. Admittedly, I follow news like this, but it seems that every day someone else (or several someone elses) have to put their two cents in about theage of darkness that will be ushered in by this game. One would think that the cover of this game is a little gate to hell, and opening it will unleash such evil that the western world will dissolve into anarchy.

This game has been called a murder simulator, a cop-killing trainingdevice, and pornography. And it’s a game. One that is played while sitting on the couch, looking at a TV. If this game had been a movie, nobody would have complained. If this game had been a book, nobody would have thought twice. But no, since it’s interactive, it will unravel the fabric of society.

This game is rated M by the ESRB, a rating that is equal to an R rating in a movie. And yes, it earns its rating, perhaps more so than any other videogame I have played. It is a game in which it is inevitable that you will be running from the police. It is a game in which it is very easy to run down pedestrians, and actually a little difficult to avoid it. It is a game in which your character has the option to do any number of illicit things, such as kill a cop, steal a car, pick up a hooker, drive drunk, or go to a strip club (and no, from what I understand, the naughty bits are not visible). It is also a game in which your character can go bowling, watch TV, buy clothes, play darts, or go to a comedy club (and yes, they actually have real comedians doing virtual performances). You have options, just like life.

I understand the concern of parents who don’t want their child exposed to the less virtuous aspects of the game. The language alone is pretty bad. However, several places (including the CTA) have pulled advertisements based off of the complaints of various concerned citizen groups. Is that going too far? To remove advertising because of the damage the product might do to someone that is not in its target audience? Will this advertising be replaced for ads for an R-rated movie? Alcohol? Is this media assault not giving the game tons of free advertising?

I’ve never been a parent, but I do know that if I don’t want my children exposed to something, one of the best ways to do so is to not bring it into my home. Yes, it would be naïve to think that children won’t get exposure to it outside the home, but I am led to believe that’s why parents are supposed to communicate with their children. I feel like the attacks on this game are reflected in the South Park movie. In that, the kids go see aCanadian movie that is far too adult for them, and it affects them negatively. The parents never asked what movie they were going to see, nor did they talk to their children about the effect it had on them. Instead, they chose to Blame Canada for their children’s new vocabulary.

This is a good game. It provides a hugely detailed city to explore, has adeep, engaging storyline, and gives you tons of leeway about how to live your new life in America (the main character is fresh-off-the-boat from Serbia). Yes, in my first few hours of playing I stole four cars (one of which I used to do donuts on the beach before I drove it into the river), ran from the police three times, beat up three people, and shot four more. I also went bowling on a date, ate a hotdog from a street vendor, and watched the sun come up while on a Coney-island-esque pier. Are kids going to buy this game? Not legally. Are kids going to play it? Yes, if their parents let them (through understanding of the kid, or through negligence).Would I let my young kids play it? Hell no. Will I play it? Hell yeah!