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Archive for August, 2011

Despite a deep love for breakthrough technology and videogames, I’m still old school. If I spot a magazine I’ve never before seen, I’ll check it out with an enthusiastic curiosity. So it was as I approached a table far away from the concert at Summerstage in Central Park. I was flying from the visceral excitement of seeing Cults (A new band! One I actually like!). In a giddy almost-Austan-Goolsby-on-Jon-Stewart mood, I saw Moves magazine on the lower left corner on that table. (A new magazine! Maybe the rare one I’ll actually like enough to want to write for!) It turns out that Moves is a New York-based magazine that’s taken inspiration from Complex in that it’s split into two sections. Half is for women and half is for men.

But as I flipped through the glossy pages, I stumbled upon Hannah Simone’s ugly rant on videogames. My heart sank. It was decidedly the rankest, rudest takedown of videogames I had seen from someone without a vested political or corporate interest in slamming the complete industry.

In a nutshell, this very angry woman has been in a three-year relationship with a man who must surely be an addict. He seems not only to play games constantly, according to Simone, he also smokes pot…while he plays games. Simone was livid as she wrote. The vitriol. The cursing. The game playing (and I don’t mean bits and bytes). These partners are immersed in a regrettable cycle from which they can’t break free. She can’t quit him and he can’t quit games. It’s the stuff of which D-grade reality shows are made. She thinks the problem is him, not her. The reader, judging from the many responses from both sexes after I posted a link on Twitter, thinks it’s both of them.

Why do these seemingly dysfunctional folk stay with each other to continue this supposedly videogame-induced, Jersey Shore-type soap opera? Opposites attract, but in this case, opposites detract. Unfortunately, since the argument presented isn’t of the highest quality, we don’t know much about either woman or man, except for a couple of scenes. Simone makes blanket statement after blanket statement about videogames, but she only mentions a couple. She seems to firmly believe that Mature-rated console games are the only kinds of games available. She suggests that all women hide the power cord and threatens to throw the console out the window. “I don’t want to be his mother,” she says. “I want to fuck.”

Simone says that all games are wastes of time. But she hasn’t taken the time to educate herself because she wants to hold onto her beliefs. She just wants and needs to wail and moan, as if she had no choice but to stay with this addicted gamer. So she lets it all out in words, as if writing it out of her body can somehow help her mend this relationship.

Why get so down about this? It’s just one person in a small, quarterly that few have heard of. I guess my problem is less with Simone than with the editors who published the oddly crafted story in a fashion magazine that hits, according to their press kit, 250,000 people each quarter, each with supposedly an average household income of more than $150,000.

If their magazine is geared to both men and women, shouldn’t some guy have responded with his counterpoint? Shouldn’t Simone’s editor have asked her to address the idea that Simone is stereotyping everyone who plays games, men and women, old and young, alike? And who really has the grudge against gaming? Simone? Simone’s editor? The editor in chief who saw fit to make this the magazine’s first story? The publisher? All of them?

Part of the reason I wrote All Your Base Are Belong to Us was to explain to gamers and non-gamers alike how wonderfully artful games can be, how they fit, sometimes perfectly, into our American culture of entrepreneurs and artists. Then comes Simone, yelling from the balcony like a Juliet/banshee that all games are horrible wastes of time. One could utter the same things about fashion and celebrity lust, the stories that make up the bulk of Moves magazine. But I wouldn’t. Because everything written can have a useful purpose, everything can inform – if it’s well crafted and well conceived.

Yet though it’s not written about very much, addiction to games attacks a minority of gamers, and it attacks them as relentlessly as Zeus in God of War 2. If someone I cared about loved games or pot too much to the point of addiction, I wouldn’t embarrass them in print with haranguing. Instead, I’d suggest and then push for a doctor or a counselor. I’d suggest that I come along, too, if that’s what the significant other wanted.

It’s corny; it’s cliché. But it’s ultimately true: Life is a balance. Everything in moderation can make for an extraordinary compelling life. There’s little logic in Simone’s story and no balance, just the boom-goes-the-dynamite beginning of what appears to be the end. That’s sad, and it has very little to do with videogames.

 

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It means at least two things.

And both are completely exciting.

AKA: The Jesus Lizard

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In a stunningly revealing announcement last week, Nintendo stated that on August 12 it will reduce the price of its 3DS from $250 to $170. Though it was spun as an event as important as the Royal Wedding in a press release, the news reverberated throughout the game industry in a decidedly different way. The price drop was seen as a failure on the part of the Japanese company to sell what originally had been seen by some journalists as the most major of steps forward for video gaming: 3D without glasses.

The reasons for the poor sales of the device are many. Soon after the machine was released in Japan, the terrible earthquake and tsunami hit the country. While I pointed out on NPR’s Morning Edition that manufacture of the 3DS didn’t occur in Japan, people working at Nintendo’s Kyoto HQ were certainly hit by the sad situation, if not directly, then, emotionally.

More, sagging sales of the 3DS had to do with an unreasonably high price. Nintendo had succumbed to the same kind of rampant hubris that had hit many game companies over the years, from the 3DO company in 1993 to, more recently, Sony in 2006 with its overpriced PlayStation 3. Especially in a sluggish world economy with a possible new recession looming in the United States, $250 for a new DS was an outrageous price – even though the 3D on the handheld gaming device was spectacular.

When you could see it. The 3DS has an extraordinarily limited viewing angle. If you don’t look at it straight on, you can’t see depth. Instead, you see a double image. And if you play without moving your neck, your reward is stinging neck pain or a pounding headache. Sony itself had contemplated making a 3D version of its PlayStation Portable, but, according to Sony insiders, decided against it because the technology wasn’t quite there yet. It’s not. That viewing angle is the bugaboo.

And how can you hold to that precise viewing angle when playing shooting games or even platformer games like Mario? Most games are made to be exciting, visceral experiences that take you from the real-life mundanity to a world where everything moves like rides at an amusement park. So holding steady is very difficult, to put it mildly.

The 3DS is best suited to a role playing game like the recently released The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time 3D. In that terrific, artful game, you move at your own pace and talk to townspeople as you level up – until you need to kill an enemy. That’s the time when you turn down the 3D with a small lever and shoot away in more traditional 2D.

Nintendo executives were taken aback by the poor sales of the DS (and the Wii as well) to the point of awed shock. In fact, they agreed to cuts in pay. In addition to getting the 3DS on track, they have a long, hard slog ahead in proselytizing to the world’s gamers that they need the new version of the Wii (which will be coming next year). WiiU is influenced by the iPad. In fact, it looks like an iPad with a console addition. Marketing this will be won’t be as easy as selling the Wii and its wireless, motion controller.

But there’s a zeal for WiiU to succeed because Nintendo’s worldwide president, Satoru Iwata, told audiences at the March Game Developers Conference that games for the iPad and iPhone were being sold too cheaply. Iwata would prefer to keep his $39.99 price for the 3DS games (and $49.99 (or more) for the upcoming version of the Wii).

The 3DS is generally a fine device beyond the 3D aspect. Among other features, it sports wireless functionality and a store in which you can purchase old school Nintendo games. Yet the success of Infinity Blade and Angry Birds for the iPad proves that many games (certainly not all) for the DS are overpriced. If that’s true, and if the 3DS doesn’t sell well at $170, Nintendo executives will be taking more than a pay cut. They’ll be shown the door. After all, it’s one thing to ride the wave of sales for a device like the Wii, which was so easy to play and understand that it sold itself. It’s another thing entirely to take a company on the downswing and make it the next big thing again.

Nintendo isn’t going anywhere. It’s not dying. Yet it’s wounded. Now’s the time for Sony and Microsoft to make their moves in the ever-evolving console wars. And even if one company does win, the winner may no longer take as much as 80 percent of the market as Atari, Nintendo and Sony have in the past. That’s because Apple is so successful with its little downloadable games. Apple’s not going to put the big three out of business. But they are taking a very healthy slice of the pie.

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