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Archive for June, 2011

Quite an interesting podcast

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

This is just a quick post to write about a podcast by a former English teacher of mine, Mitchell Nobis, and his brother called “The Postmodern Farmer Podcast.” It’s fairly entertaining and I recommend it.

As for me, I may or may not get into the podcast business. I used to have a YouTube video of my first stand-up performance, but that was taken down. I’ll try to get another performance up if I can.

BioWare Will Rule the World!

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few awesome things about one of my favorite video game publishers, BioWare.

I was going to make a couple of separate posts about BioWare TV, and a few Mass Effect 3 news bits, but in the interest of saving time I have decided to roll them into one.

First up is BioWare TV. BioWare TV is the showcase for a webshow called BioWare Pulse, which is good for keeping up with the latest and greatest BioWare has to offer. I recommend it if you’re a huge BioWare fan, as I am.

Next is an interview from Game Informer with Mass Effect Director Casey Hudson about how Mass Effect began. It’s definitely worth the watch if you’re interested in the gaming industry and how games are made.

Last, but not least, is the news from That VideoGame Blog that there will be no new relationships in Mass Effect 3, but only the conclusions of relationships from the previous games. The article, written by Rain Anderson, also states that the game will feature same-sex relationships. From the article:

In addition, while only female Sheps were able to swing both ways in previous games, same sex relationships are now an option for both male and female characters.

I think this is a really good development. I’m sure it will lead to the game being banned in China or come under intense scrutiny in Australia, but who really cares? Hint: not me. With the growing support of same-sex unions in the US, it’s good to see that represented in our popular culture.

Well, that’s it for now!

Critical Thinking Is Still Important!

June 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s a lesson on taking things at face value. Ezra Klein shares a graph that is possibly misleading.

I’m generally very sympathetic to the liberal cause (it’s why I call myself a liberal). Generally, the Center for American Progress does good work. However, this graph is just completely hilarious. You can, essentially, take a number of different meanings from it for a couple of simple reasons:

  1. There are only two variables, which are without historical or sociological context.
  2. The Marginal Income Tax rate laid out along the x-axis is arranged from least to greatest tax rate, not by chronological order of the years that these rates were current. You could look up the years yourself, but for a graph that’s trying to illustrate a thesis, it’s pretty sad that it doesn’t have this context.

Historical context is extremely important here, as the chart covers the years 1950-201o. What years were there recessions? What about the presidents in power and changing economic agendas and philosophies? There are just too many variables to make this graph worth much of anything. I mean, what can you really argue about a graph that shows that average employment growth was just about the same at the 39.5% marginal tax rate and the 69-80% marginal tax rates?

Indeed, it’s bracing evidence that someone knows how to make vague and possibly misleading graphs.

Video Games Are Protected Free Speech

June 28, 2011 1 comment

According to gamesindustry.biz, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that video games are protected free speech (an account with gamesindustry.biz is required to view the full story–I highly recommend it as this is a great resource).

The article, written by Rachel Webber, reports that:

The Justices today voted 7-2 in favour of the Entertainment Merchant’s Association, and against reinstating the 2005 law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, introduced labelling laws for packaging and saw retailers facing fines of up to $1000 for failing to follow the regulations.

I’m a firm believer in the freedom of speech, and have always contended that video games should be afforded the same rights that are given to movies, television, books, and other forms of communication. The crusade against video games by special interests and the government (and pearl-clutching “will somebody think of the children” worried-mother stereotypes) reminds me a lot of the scaremongering in the comic book industry leading up to Fredric Wertham’s 1954 book “Seduction of the Innocent” and the creation of the Comics Code Authority. That whole thing turned out great, huh?

The PDF of the document with the majority opinion can be found here. It’s a long read, with a page count of ninety-two. Of interest is the dissenting opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas (whose opinion I don’t hold in high regard, what with the news of his recent ethical troubles). He writes:

The practices and beliefs of the founding generation establish that “the freedom of speech,” as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.

I’m no constitutional lawyer, but I don’t agree with this sentiment. I think Justice Thomas is missing the larger picture. The concurring majority does mention that the California law did seek to address a valid social concern, that being the kinds of materials that young, impressionable people have access to (and this is something that I agree with). The pertinent issue is that the definitions of what is considered to be objectionable material are subjective and change with time (I’m reminded of Cole Porter’s song “Anything Goes“). More to the point, I really don’t believe it’s up to the state to do the work of parents and monitoring what their children watch or consume.

Of course, there has been dissent. Game Informer reports that the Parents Television Council took issue with the ruling. With their usual rhetorical flourish, Matt Bertz writes that:

A conservative advocacy group that specializes in filing content complaints to the FCC isn’t a big fan of the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association decision.

A conservative activist group with a chip on its shoulder and a desire for control? Say it ain’t so! It is, of course, true. Their statement, as expected, is reminiscent of the aforementioned crusade against comic books. It reads,

Countless independent studies confirm what most parents instinctively know to be true: repeated exposure to violent video games has a harmful and long-term effect on children.

Of course, they don’t cite any of the studies. I’m sure I’m not alone when I view such claims by the Parents Television Council with a healthy bit of skepticism. In fact, a casual perusal of readily available literature hints that there are several methodological issues in most of the studies, such as only counting for short-term aggression bias and, to be frank, stupid research methods.

I am not denying that violent video games impact children. Repeated and excessive exposure to violent media can induce desensitization to the violence. This article, which was in part published by Brad J. Bushman, a professor of Communication Studies, and in particular Media Effects, from the University of Michigan who I have had the honor of learning from, does lend credence to the impact of violence on aggression. I will note, however, that such research is often narrowly focused and inconclusive.

Never mind my own anecdotal evidence about the long-term effects of violence and video-games being negligible. PBS.org has an article entitled “The Video Game Revolution: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked” by Henry Jenkins. The article discusses the issues most important to this case and the non-violent crusaders. Of particular note is the following:

This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds. In these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context. Subjects are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different from the environments where games would normally be played. Most studies found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment.

This is really at the heart of the inconclusiveness of the Media Effects studies on violence and any form of media. I could throw out complicated concepts like Confirmation Bias, Correlation and Causation, or even Confounding Variables. The simplest way to say it is that these studies often don’t prove that playing violent video games causes long-term violent tendencies (and they often have difficulty controlling for outside influences and predisposition of the test subjects). Sometimes researchers will see this inconclusive data and read their own conclusions into it based on their presupposed ideas, which is confirmation bias. In the end, you have to read these studies with skepticism and careful, studied knowledge of the concepts being discussed. There’s a very high chance you’ll spot numerous problems with them.

The article by Jenkins also notes, importantly, the difference between violent play and actual aggression in a section about desensitization, which is a direct rebuke to Professor Bushman’s article.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a document which lists tips for parents for handling violent media, particularly video games, and children. When it comes down to it, it’s up to parents to provide context and boundaries for their children’s consumption of any violent media. Children are wily and clever little rapscallions, and to be honest it’s going to be extremely unlikely a parent will be able to control all of their access to violent media. I believe that a parent should guide a child, and teach them context for the violence. Most children will, I believe, learn this themselves as they gain life experience. I think that our culture has a complex in which they coddle and overprotect children, which only harms them more. Allow children to thrive in the world without pearl-clutching mothers falling into a fainting couch every time someone says “boobs” on the teevee.

It’s good for them.

Video games and YouTube webshows

June 26, 2011 1 comment

This is an older story from Joystiq, but I thought it worthy of sharing anyway. Wayside Creations (website here is under construction), the people responsible for the rather entertaining YouTube video entitled Fallout: Nuka Break are seeking capital to create an entire webseries from this one video.

As a poor post-grad student, I haven’t nary a pence to give them, so I can only offer moral support.

One of the things I’m most interested in are the various “Fan Films” cropping up on sites like YouTube. The best, in my opinion, are the live-action films that are low-budget but very carefully filmed and lovingly made. There are a number of Half-Life 2 fan films that are masterfully done, as well as some based on games ranging from Max Payne to Resident Evil. Truthfully, I often enjoy these movies much more than big-budget Hollywood movies based on video games (lest we not forget the train wreck career of Uwe Boll–somewhat offset by Paul W.S. Anderson).

This gets me to another point: why do Hollywood producers think it necessary to divorce a movie based on a video game from the actual video game it is based on? Name any number of movies. Here are a few: Resident Evil, Max Payne, Tomb Raider, and Doom. Sure, these are all good movies, but if you’re honest about it you’ll admit that they bare precious little resemblance to the games that they’re based on.

You could make an argument based on artistic differences and repackaging a story for a wider audience, and I’ll grant that those arguments have some validity. Perhaps I’m just too attached to the video games because they had such a profound impact on me as I was playing them, and as I considered them.

The point stands, however, that most of these so-called “Fan Films” are absolutely fantastic.

Art of Video Games: Update

June 24, 2011 4 comments

A while back I wrote a post about an exhibition that the Smithsonian American Art Museum called “The Art of Video Games.” When I first heard of this exhibit I was thrilled because I was having a rather serious conversation with some classmates about whether or not video games were a legitimate form of art.

I have always argued that there are a number of video games that are, without a doubt, art. Off of the top of my head I can think of Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Mass Effect 2, Metal Gear Solid, Myst, and Super Mario Brothers 3. Bioshock, especially, is a stellar example the video game as art.

Welcome to Rapture

The games for the exhibit were selected through a rather thorough and lengthy voting process, and there aren’t many games that won that surprised me. I believe something like this has been a long time coming, and I really hope that this lends legitimacy to the idea of video games as serious art and social commentary.

The Exhibit webpage lists all of the winning video games and other pertinent information. The exhibit will be showing from March 16 to September 30, 2012.

Didn’t See That Coming…

June 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Generally, I’m very happy with my decision to major in English and I think of earning my Bachelor of Arts degree as a monumental triumph. I’ve learned a great deal, and an English major allows you to branch out into different departments and build a wide base of knowledge.

Practically, however, it isn’t really all that great for a career. I have a rather serious heart condition called aortic valve stenosis which is a degenerative and rather expensive condition. I was born with a bicuspid aorta valve, and some time ago my cardiologist confirmed a diagnosis of AVS. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I need a stable career with decent pay because of the complications that will arise later in life.

That’s why I have decided, after careful consideration, to go back to school and work toward becoming a Physician Assistant. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but I haven’t really been able to realize that particular goal until now. True, I won’t be a doctor, technically, but I would have many of the duties and responsibilities of a doctor. I think that this is where I want to go; what I want to do.

Of course, I’ll still chase my passions: reading, writing, stand-up…but I’ll have a serious career. This is where I want to be and I have this amazing sense of purpose that I don’t think I’ve ever had before. Indeed, college has been a pretty intense learning experience (and I’m not just talking about academics). I’ve had to mature and learn how to manage my time and my money, mostly on my own. I think that I’m finally ready to do something important with my life

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