About this Author
Andrew Phelps is an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, NY. He is the founding faculty member of the Game Programming Concentration within the Department of Information Technology and his work in games programming education has been featured in The New York Times, CNN.com, USA Today, National Public Radio, and other publications. Email: amp-at-it.rit.edu
September 27, 2004
You see, gaming to me is escapism. Pure and simple. I dig in deep to the idea of alternate reality, and immerse myself in the worlds in which I play. Currently, I am immersed in the world of Norrath, in which Everquest resides, as well as several others. I'm going to use Norrath as an example, but this is applicable to any online persistent world, and in fact to the idea of a set of worlds that people are connected to.
This is my desire:
"The Bazaar reports today that stocks are once again down, with bulk trading up 5% from yesterday as more goods from the lands of Discord continue to flood the market, devaluing existing industries in Kaladim and the Kunark Collective Enterprises. A spokesman for the Freeport Trader's Alliance could not be reached for comment, although a preliminary stakeholder's report is due out before the end of the day."
"In other news, the Rathe Council today authorized full use of military force in retaliation for what it claims is an unprovoked attack on the Plane of Earth by the spawn of Veeshan. Several dragons were seen in the viscinity late last night, and this morning there are substantial questions about a very large glowing orb in the midst of the Plain of Mud. Representatives from the Sleeper had no comment other than to deny any involvement in the attack, pointing to the long-standing truce between Dragons and Gods. Direct questions regarding dragon sightings and rumors of a secret alliance with the Dark-Elves went unawnsered."
The thing is, I don't want this as fan-fiction or some in-game talking head. I want this on my television. I want it in a ticker at the bottom of CNN, right with the rest of my daily news intake. I care about events in that world a great deal. Probably not as much as "real news" like Iraq and the 2004 election, but since I only have about an hour to get all my news in anyway, I'd like it all at once thank you very much.
Fan sites have been doing this for years. I want a recognized voice of journalism reporting on the world I love. I want to know what is happening there, a news stream not biased by guild affiliations and racial divides (those Dwarves do hate the Elves...). [ I also have a dirty desire to see a "Talking Points Memo" from an orc henchman. ]
Part of this is in jest, but I am being mostly serious. I feel I can no longer keep up with my worlds. I need help. I need news. In much the same way that the real news connects us to the rest of the world (albiet with much bias and error), my sphere of interest in my fantasy worlds have grown beyond what I am capable of personally absorbing. Once-a-month fan fiction isn't going to do it, there is no reliability in guild websites, and there is no public voice.
IGN and the various news sites report *about* the game - add-ons, additions, developer issues, etc. I want something from IN the game, that says 'this is happening, these are the major events, etc. etc.' Daily. Hourly. On an RSS feed or something. I'd sign up in a second if I could get a 'Norrath Ticker' on the bottom of my TV that read ''ALERT: hot new XP area discovered by brave adventurers, somewhere south of the Muramite Proving Grounds... Quarm loot dropping off fire beetles in the Northern Desert of Ro, log on now!!'
So I'm waiting. I'm waiting even further for someone to bind all this up into a daily game-news network with reporting from all the worlds online. I'd watch that channel, right along side CNN / MSNBC / FOX. I can think of very few things I'd currently enjoy more. Come home, eat dinner, play with baby, watch the "news" for a half hour, then hop into the world that had the most interesting day.
"This is Tanthalos Sillandor signing off for the Norrath News Network. Don't miss our special in-depth coverage of the Qeynos Election, as we interview each candidate about the issues you care about. Until tomorrow - TS."
September 14, 2004
So I had a brainstorm in the shower. Yes, the shower. It's the only place you can think anymore with a 7-month old tearing through your sock drawer. I was thinking about the claims, made every year, that the games industry is "dead in terms of innovation". That there aren't any new game mechanics, that every game that is a success today is just a game that we've already made with better graphics or one strange new feature. The folks that make those claims would look at DOOM3 and say "It's DOOM with a journal and a flashlight. Whoop-dee-doo." I had recently read a bunch of stuff like this in old GDC proceedings because I was going to use it to challenge my programming class .(Their next assignment is to build an arcade game- and I am trying to promote original thinking instead of getting Space_Invaders_013467).
So I had been thinking about that, and then it hit me: The Games Industry Needs B-Sides. For those of you who never got your music on a grooved vinyl disc, allow me to explain . A "B-Side" was the flip side of an album, the side that you didn't buy it for. On the "A-Side" were all the hits that were on the radio, the sonds that people bought the album for. The B-Side was usually the wierd experimental stuff that the band gave you as 'extra' - you might like it as a hit, you might not. It was yours for the taking, whatever.
September 13, 2004
I posed this question to my graduate class last year: "Does the games industry have an ethical obligation to produce less violent and/or addictive content?"
Not one of them said yes. Zero. I found that astounding. I don't really have an extended entry for this yet, I'm still mulling this over (a year later) trying to come to grips with it: I thought for sure there would be people on both sides of the issue - I've informally asked more students that I see, and *every single one of them so far* has said basically 'no, the games industry can do whatever it wants'.
I guess I feel sometimes that just because they can doesn't mean they should. I am saddened that so far I haven't found anyone in the younger than 30 player-base that agrees with me, and I'm wondering where the moral technological compass went. Perhaps it's all at the feet of Napster, the Greek God of Piracy, our ethical obligations in technology creation went right out the window. Seems to me if the games industry ever wants to shake off the shackle of its own stereotype, it has to do something about this issue (and no, I am dead-set against Congress trying to legislate the morality of video games - I am interested in the industry itself deciding for itself what it thinks is right). I've seen presentations of games at GDC where the *authors* of a game go red-faced and mumble about a games content.
Knowing that kids are dropping out of real-life society to slave against your MMORPG for 65 hours a week - sure, I agree, that's horrid parenting - but as a designer wouldn't you feel just a *twinge* of guilt designing that level ladder and reward spacing? Design to the hard-core and let the others bang their heads seems to be the motto of the day, with the exception of Call of Heroes. Final Fantasy XI stuck some warnings about remembering friends and family at the login, and that's interesting, if only for the sentiment.
I am just awestruck at the results. If you have a class, or access to folks under 25, see what they think. Hopefully it is just my microcosm.
EDIT: For related stuffs, see "Manhunt to Mortal Kombat: The Use of Violence in Video Games" by Steven L. Kent in this months Game Developer Magazine.
Well I'm back again. This time for real. Got day-care nailed and work is happening, back to playing, loving, and building games. Neat-o.
So for my first act coming back to the world, I shall tick off a good 3/4ths of the gaming world and say I don't like Doom3. Shame on me. I am sure, deep-down, there is something fundamentally flawed about the core of my being. I've tried to like it, I really have. I even went and played it on a friend's computer in the hopes that maybe it was just my play experience. But nope, doesn't do it.