Posted by: Dave | May 10, 2008

Obama: Grand Hope

Pro-Barack Obama remixes of GTA IV ads have recently appeared in the streets of LA.

There are others as well, featuring the Democrat’s head on the body of Iron Man. (“Hope” Man.) I think the GTA IV one is especially interesting though, because when I first saw the image, (before spotting the word “hope”) I thought this was an anti-Obama image due to the association with a controversial subject. I haven’t given this much yet, but right now it appears as though the creators of these posters are just associating their favourite presidential candidate with images from popular media that they like, without there being any deeper meaning in the choices. Is anyone seeing a connection between GTA IV and Iron Man that I’m missing? Are these rebellious ad-defacers doing Obama any favor by putting his face in these contexts?

Posted by: Dave | May 5, 2008

Glenn Beck on GTA IV = Cooper Lawrence 2.0

On Friday I mentioned the segment I saw on CNNHN, where GTA IV was trashed, utterly and ridiculously, on the Glenn Beck show. Clips of the segment surfaced on YouTube, (courtesy of GamePolitics readers, I think) and have successfully made my blood boil all over again.

For those of you who are unaware, most, if not all of the information about GTA IV in these clips is flat-out wrong or grossly exaggerated. I don’t even want to get into it, because this whole issue is aggravating on various levels. In any case, using this contact page, here’s an email I sent to CNN to give them a piece of my mind:

“My comment is in regard to the discussion of Grand Theft Auto IV with Jack Thompson and Gavin McKiernan.

This is one of the most appalling and deplorable displays of “journalism” I’ve ever seen. The report is ripe with falsehoods about the game – this is libel, and I think you should be held legally accountable for it. I’m sure you’re aware that Jack Thompson is not a reliable source of information, as his obsessive campaign against Take Two and other misdemeanors have him on the verge of being thrown off the Florida Bar. I suspect the majority of your viewers are unaware of this, and you know it. Consequently, what we’re seeing here is more of a theatrical presentation under the guise of being legitimate coverage of an issue. Legitimate coverage would entail things like a credible guest to provide a counter-point to the discussion. As one of the most trusted news agencies in the world, you have a responsibility to deliver well-researched information – not personal opinions misconstrued as facts.

The public would appreciate some sort of response from you on this. Perhaps on a future episode you should amend the false and misleading statements made on your show.”

I don’t know if Mr. Beck will see a retaliation akin to the Cooper Lawrence-Mass Effect fiasco a few months back, but he does have a book on Amazon. Time will tell, but I don’t expect the same thing to happen again – and sort of hope it doesn’t. As I expressed at the time, I don’t think the book-bomb method is particularly constructive.

Posted by: Dave | May 2, 2008

CHCH Covers GTA IV……..Properly?!

Geoffrey R was interviewed by our local TV news station, CHCH News, about Grand Theft Auto IV, whose April 29th release had the gaming community braced for the flames of the MSM. Yet, in a surprising twist, news outlets aren’t on the attack the way we all expected. This spot on CHCH is probably the most positive and progressive one on the subject I’ve ever seen. I especially like the part where Geoff points out the argument that GTA IV is a cultural critique, which is the main focus in my term paper for THST 2450.

Contrast this with the tripe on the Glenn Beck show tonight. I lost count of how many fallacies I heard. Watching this brought back to mind, with a vengeance, how grossly misleading the mainstream news can be.  Imagine how surprised people would be if they googled “Jack Thompson” after listening to him describe graphic sex scenes in GTA IV and remind us that Virginia Tech shooter Cho trained on Counter Strike, (if you recall, Cho’s peers noted that he never played video games) and found out that he’s about to be thrown off the Florida Bar for douchebaggery professional misconduct.

On a slightly unrelated note, GTA IV has been raking in record-breaking scores all across the board, including GameSpot’s score of 10. I’m planning on buying an Xbox 360 very soon, and despite having never been a huge fan of the GTA series, this apparent milestone in gaming is starting to win me over.

Posted by: Dave | April 28, 2008

Cogeco places Second Highest in Reset Message Study

Oh brother.

This entry on Michael Geist’s blog presents some evidence that ISP Cogeco’s practices are even more limiting of P2P and the like than its more criticized contemporaries, Bell and Rogers. A study was conducted by the people at Vuze (previously Azureus) that measured how many interruptions, or reset messages, were detected during Bittorrent downloads. Geist explains that, simply put, reset messages “might occur in the ordinary course of network activity or might be the result of false messages used to hamper peer-to-peer file sharing.” He also acknowledges this story from Ars Technica, which cites research done at the University of Calgary; the research brings into question the relevance of Vuze’s findings to traffic shaping concerns. The Ars Technica article also goes into more depth explaining reset messages.

This story hits home with me right now because Cogeco is my parents’ ISP, and I’ve been pretty unimpressed with my download speeds since I moved back in with them. (While it occasionally jumps up to normal speeds for a minute, I’d say I average around 2 kbs.) In fact, I also haven’t been able to access the iTunes store for about 4 days running. I should probably call Cogeco and ask what gives, and I probably will if this keeps up for much longer. I don’t know how relevant Vuse’s reset message data is, but my own observations sure reinforce the suspicions aroused by those findings.

Bell takes a lot of heat for their terrible customer service and a bunch of other stuff, but I must say I was very happy with them in Guelph. (Downloads typically poured in at 300-500 kbs.) Fortunately, I didn’t need to contact Bell for anything during that eight month period. Hmm. I suppose location makes all the difference in the world. My friend Paul uses Cogeco as well, for both internet and TV, and doesn’t have any gripes to speak of. He lives in Dundas. In any case, I think it’s time to think about switching ISPs. Suggestions are welcome.

Posted by: Dave | April 19, 2008

New Frontiers Conference: Where Gaming Stands Now

My good friend in Montreal recently attended the New Frontiers in Gaming conference, and blogged about it here. This is my response to his post, and my thoughts on the issues they discussed.

First of all, I’ve written before about how much the Nintendo Wii has been making huge waves among developers and consumers alike. Nintendo has been a rebel since the early days of the first E3 in 1995 when they announced the cartridge-holding N64, as opposed to SEGA and Sony’s consoles that would use optical discs. The present success of the Wii is a little bit ironic, seeing as how its capabilities are lacking next to its competitors. My friend Peter Rockwell is skeptical about the worth of the Wii’s peculiarities.

…the emphasis of the Wii is not on total immersion with the screen but on enjoying the interactions and gestures that we use with it. A game’s setting is no longer that dangerous alien planet but in our living room, bedroom, basement, or wherever the Wii’s sensor bar is facing.
It’s exactly because of this that the Wii feels like a step back for gaming in my eyes. With its primitive Mii characters and lack of story / setting / atmosphere in games like
Wii Sports, Warioware or even Super Mario Galaxy, the industry needs to recover from, well, innovation. I play games when I want to escape my own world, not participate in it.

I disagree with the notion of it being a “step back for gaming” – at least, not in such a broad sense as the statement implies. While I take the point that watching your fellow players try to blow up a balloon in Smooth Moves is not so immersive, this is just one small perk of the system, and a very situational feature. What I’m saying is, I don’t think the gestures have shown to be the Wii’s “emphasis” at all – although, I am speaking from limited personal experience. The big cheese among the Wii game lineup in my mind is Super Smash Bros: Brawl, which takes almost no advantage of the Wiimote’s capability.

I agree that the simplistic and often story-less Wii games are a big departure from the trends embodied by grand cinematic games like Mass Effect, Halo and Crysis. And, as someone who’s very interested in the rise and potential applications of VR, I’m in full support of the genre. That said, I don’t think games like this represent what the entire medium ought to consist of; escapism isn’t everything. I don’t think that the Wii having a different focus spells regression for the medium; in fact, storytelling hasn’t yet proven to be something games excel at, especially standing next to veteran media like books and film. In Everything Bad is Good for You, Stephen Johnson argues that games’ greatest potential strength is still largely untapped – that strength being their reward systems’ ability to tax our cognitive faculties in ways other media rarely do. (Working through complex problems, making immediate decisions and long term plans, etc.) If Johnson is right, then we probably only need to worry about the ultra-silly Wii games maintaining an appropriate level of mind-engagement, and so far I think they’re doing just fine.

Ultimately it would be nice to see these two sides of gaming merge, and I think we are already seeing it with highly-rated blockbusters released within the last year – Mass Effect, Halo 3 and so on. Perhaps Nintendo is the martyr who has figuratively dumbed themselves down in order to get a larger chunk of the mainstream into gaming in the first place.

Anyway, moving on:

The lead level-designer on Far Cry 2 discussed predictability in games, promoting game design where players construct their own experiences instead of being force-fed it.

This is a very relevant subject that has also come up in my writings, in the same post I linked above. In the comments, Ian pointed out that the ability to customize gameplay/GUI brings remediation into the hands of gamers (ie. consumers – the public masses) which creates an interesting bottom-up model for change. What immediately springs to my mind is how this coincides with the open source revolution that’s taking place with computer software. Examples like this, combined with theories like WIRED’s Chris Anderson’s “Free” vision, are what make me feel so optimistic about a future for media practices that are vastly more democratic than what we’ve grown up with.

Phil Fish…was hilariously scathing of the games industry for its lack of artistic innovation. Basically, with the growing cost of creating a triple-A title game developers won’t risk the money on an untested game mechanic or new IP.”

Yeah, what can we really say about this? As I’ve said, I don’t think content is the be-all and end-all of games.  Even so, it’ll continue to evolve when it’s good and ready, and when we have significant advancement in technology that will allow us to express things that weren’t possible before.

Posted by: Dave | April 14, 2008

CBC Interview with Bell

What would you ask Bell?

An interview is scheduled for tomorrow with Mirko Bibic, Bell’s chief of regulatory affairs, conducted by CBC Radio’s Spark blog. I was going to contribute something until I saw how well everyone else has covered the issues. It will be interesting to see how this turns out. Go and add your voice if you think something is missing from the planned discussion!

Thanks to Ian for sending me this.


Jon has published a public version of The Media Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as initiated by our class this past semester. Please check it out and feel free to contribute. This is some really excellent work.

Posted by: Dave | April 11, 2008

This Blog is Banned in Brazil

According to this report from Techdirt, it is in fact all WordPress blogs that are now to be blocked in Brazil because doing so is easier than trying to filter out a few particular ones they don’t like. Additionally, they banned Rockstar’s Bully while they were at it. (I’m not sure if the blogs they don’t like are Bully or game-related.) Many of those commenting on the news story are pretty harsh with the criticism of the Brazilian government’s decision. As much as I basically agree with them, it bothers me a bit to see those who are evidently “in the know” conducting themselves so…well, childishly, in many cases. It gives us savvy folks a bad rep. The top comment says,

On a side note, its [sic] illegal to provide techinical support to anyone in Brazil… my point being, Brazil wants to rot in its own ignorance, then f— them. Who gives a sh–. If Brazil is this melodramatic about little issues, I’d like to see their stand on something that actually matters. Oh wait… its Brazil… no one cares.

Well, I care. It matters to me when governments impede their peoples’ freedom of speech, because the more this happens the more acceptable it becomes, right? I guess Brazil is following China’s lead on this one. And this matters to me because, maybe I would have liked to live in China for a while to teach English or something – and Brazil, well, I might have found a reason to go.

On the other hand, I understand their frustration. When I saw this story I wasn’t even surprised, because news like this is cropping up all the time, and one gets tired of hearing about it.

Posted by: Dave | April 5, 2008

Bear with Me…

While I get the formatting right around here. The new WordPress interface includes some significant improvements; unfortunately, I’m now confused about some things as well. Customizing widgets, which have quickly become my least favourite feature of WP, is proving impossible.

Posted by: Dave | April 4, 2008

My Cause

Note: I know it’s a little weird to include this post on this version of the blog, but I think it’ll serve as a nice reminder of where I stood at this point in time.

So, I was planning on doing some more posts eventually leading up to an epic finish, but things didn’t really turn out that way, so I’ll just say this.

I’ve taken a lot away from this course that I’m really grateful for, like a much clearer idea of where I’m headed, new friends, and a heaping spoonful of street cred. (I really like that phrase. Might have to use it again later.) Whether I end up pursuing higher education in media studies, or getting involved in (that is, employed by) the industry somehow after I graduate, I know that this is my passion and that I’m going to follow it in some capacity. Right now what I have a strong desire to do in the future is to be able to teach people (in person, through writing, whatever) about the resources/technologies that are available to them, to help them live more productive, organized, and convenient (although this one can get a little iffy) lives. I’m interested in the development/design side of things too, but I find that when it comes down to it I often prefer, or at least am content to just talk about everything that I see going on. I don’t know what the future holds, (just like I’m not sure why this paragraph contains an alarming number of parentheses) but I’m feeling excited and optimistic. So thanks to everyone who was involved and helped make this class what it was. And don’t stop being involved, in the greater sense. You know what I mean.

As for the future of this blog…behold:

I’m moving all the content from this blog over to the new location, which I’m going to keep as an archive of research notes – primarily for my own use, but since it’s public, it’s possible it will turn into a conversation hub as well. That would be neat. The current title is “On Culture”, which I settled on in a creative lapse, and justified as interesting by thinking of it as “a modernization of the old essay title standard” – you know, because there are so many old papers and stuff titled simply “On blah blah blah”. So here I was blending the old with the relatively new. But, I’m going to change it to something better, once I settle on an idea, although the location will stay the same. Until I decide to buy my own domain that is, in which case those of you following along will be well aware.

As always, thanks for reading and all the best to everyone.

Posted by: Dave | April 3, 2008

The Retooling of Garfield

My friend showed me this great project today (I guess you’d classify it as a webcomic) where this guy takes the Garfield comics and makes some specific changes. He decided Garfield would be a more enjoyable comic without Garfield in it at all. The result is Garfield Minus Garfield, in which all traces of the lasagna loving cat are photoshopped out. It actually took this change for me to realize what a depressing person Jon is, although, I’m sure I’d have noticed if I were actually reading the comics on a regular basis as an older person. And it’s that exaggerated hopelessness that actually makes these bizarre mutations work as comedy, at least from my perspective. I actually find many of these hilarious.

This struck me as interesting because it’s an original way to remediate – if you can even call it that – where you merely take away from the original using new(ish) technology, instead of expanding on it. But by taking something away, the comic has been taken to new heights. It’s now about a Jon Arbuckle who is apparently schizophrenic, bi-polar, and so on. And maybe he always has been, but now it’s even more pronounced, because there isn’t that smug-looking orange tabby to distract us from this incredibly unstable human being.

You can get to the archive, (which isn’t very big so far) by clicking the link above. Here are a couple of my favourites:

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