Tag Archives: video games

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Why #GamesSoWhite Is A Problem (And What You Can Do About It)

#GamesSoWhite.

If you don’t play video games, this hashtag probably hasn’t crossed your social media feed… or if it has, you may not understand what it means or why it exists. Such is the challenge of any kind of hashtag activism — it’s difficult to have meaningful exchanges when limited to 140 characters or less.

Consequently, there is a lot of miscommunication, misunderstanding and misinformation going on with #GamesSoWhite, much like what happened with the incredibly controversial #GamerGate controversy from 2014. Unlike GamerGate, which many video game enthusiasts used as a rallying cry to marshall support toward protecting their turf, #GamesSoWhite has become a target of many of those same gamers, who are doing their best to discredit, disprove or shout down the ideas behind the hashtag.

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Please, I Beg You, Don’t Let Your Kids Do This

If I had my druthers*, here’s what I’d do.

I’d hire Kevin Spacey and the production crew behind House of Cards to shoot a public service announcement.

It would look something like this.

 

*druthers, by the way, is shorthand for “if any of my creative projects go massively huge and I suddenly have the means to be financially independent,” which itself is bourgie shorthand for, “if I win the lottery.”

 

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Watch Dogs: The Game That’s Not A Game

 

WATCH_DOGS, the latest blockbuster title from entertainment software company Ubisoft, is an interesting case study in duality.

Because on the one hand, it’s the ultimate digital urban playground, and gamers who enjoy open-world sandbox-style games have a veritable cornucopia of content to sink their teeth into — physical and digital puzzles, weapons and cars galore, augmented reality games, even chess or three-card monte. On the other hand, there’s something sadly self-fulfilling about an idealized hero who spends most of his time doing what pretty much all of us do a daily basis — looking down at the screen of a cell phone.

(I imagine the video game character labor unions have spent years lobbying for more work like this. No spinning blades? SIGN ME UP.)

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Bike Rage, Road Rage… Everybody Lay Off the Caffeine


So it’s May, which only means one thing in my world.

NBA Playoffs!

But I also share this world with other non-NBA fans, many of whom are outdoorsy types. So for them, May is National Bike Month. Which means it’s time for me to resume my annual tradition of Getting Back On My Bike Again, Since The Weather’s Not So Bad Anymore.

And since I’m far from alone in this tradition, and because I live in the bike-friendliest city in the nation, and because I’m constantly downplaying the dangers of urban cycling so that my wife won’t worry about me when I’m out on my bike, I’m especially sensitive to newspaper accounts of collisions between cyclists and motorists.

Seems like this time of year, these kinds of accidents are especially on the rise.

People have different ways of processing these events. Like with many tragic news events, some people just file them away in the recesses of their minds, expending a few tsk-tsks and that’s that. Others coalesce together to form cells of shadowy crusaders, painting bikes white and leaving them as memorials to honor the deceased and raise awareness.

But far too many of us simply get mad.

As this excellent editorial points out, blame has become the standard coping mechanism when it comes to sharing the road. Angry motorists point to rogue cyclists who take daredevil tactics that ignore the rules of traffic. Angry cyclists point to huge SUVs driven by careless and inattentive drivers. Both are part of the problem, yet many passionate advocates on both sides fail to respect the opposing viewpoint.

So when a controversial accident happens in their neck of the woods, it serves to reinforce their already impenetrable convictions, rather than helping to balance the picture a little.

In this way, it’s somewhat like the unfolding saga with Jeremiah Wright. White people see him and fit him nicely into their profile of troublemaker and rabblerousers. Black people see him and see another example of an articulate, prophetic Black voice having to withstand a well-orchestrated character assassination. They’re both right… and they’re both wrong. And they’re both angry. When that anger finds a flashpoint, it doesn’t dissipate — it explodes.

So now we’re living in the aftermath of that explosion, and people on both sides are frustrated, hurting, and looking for real answers. Can we, as responsible adults, have the maturity and decency to assess our behavior? Or will we let our animosities toward others boil over and spill into violence?

Lest you think I’m painting with too broad a brush in comparing bike rage with race riots, click on the picture at the top of this post. It looks almost staged, doesn’t it? As far as I know, it’s not. It was taken by a freelance photographer in Toronto while witnessing an SUV driver pummeling a bike messenger.

In terms of social and political importance, it may not be the next Rodney King saga, but it’s important nonetheless.

So I say enjoy your time out on the road, but do try to keep your prejudice in check while you share the road with your fellow humans. And if it’s obvious that they’re Wrong and you’re Right, then be the bigger person and let it go.

But if you can’t, and you still have some excess steam you need to blow off, do what I do:

Yell at the TV.

‘Cause NBA officiating is usually horrible this time of year.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Fragging Towards Gomorrah: The Slippery Slope of Video Games and Pop Culture Morality


You know, with such an inflated post title, one familiar with my writing style would think that this would be an 8,000 word sprawling behemoth of an essay, whereby I systematically explain in meticulous detail the failings of the ethical and moral compass in today’s vanguard of popular culture, a region of artistic real estate most commonly held by video games.

But I don’t have time for all of that, because I have a life.

On the off chance, however, that this is a subject that you find yourself drawn to, then I implore you, first check out this piece on sex, violence and video games by blogger Mitch Krpata. His blog Insult Swordfighting is a great place to gather both intel and insight on the latest video games, but more importantly, it’s a great primer on the recent (and not-so-recent) history of video game controversy, specifically as it relates to sex and violence.

Because then you’ll be able to digest what I’m about to say.

Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest in the celebrated series of Rockstar Games’ gritty-underworld-of-crime titles, is looking like one of the coolest things ever to hit the shelves in years. The hype machine is cranking like crazy, and for good reason.

Released today, the latest GTA entry sits at the top of the wish list for many adult gamers looking to immerse themselves in the realistic (albeit fictional) portrayal of New York’s criminal element. And, as I’ve been told, GTA IV expands upon its trademark, open-ended gameplay with an even larger myriad of missions and characters. It appears to have most of what I tend to look for in a video game title: eye-popping visuals, an intuitive yet powerful gameplay mechanic, and an intriguing storyline (an eastern European immigrant finds himself disillusioned with America as he provides the muscle to protect his cousin’s undeground business).

Nevertheless, I just can’t bring myself to play it.

The biggest reason, of course, is that I’ve already spent most of my “fun stuff” budget money on other video game titles and other forms of recreation. But even if I had $60 ready to burn a hole in my pocket, I would much rather stick it under the mattress and hope it hasn’t already run away by the time Splinter Cell: Conviction is released.

Why?

For a couple reasons, actually.

The first is actually a little vain and pretentious, but I’m just gonna put it out there. I’ve been generally against the GTA series from the beginning, and relinquishing my moral high ground on the basis of what is admittedly a very cool game would make me look like a hypocritical John Kerry flip-flopper. And I do not desire to be swift-boated into submission.

More substantially, though, there’s a slippery slope when it comes to video game characters and their ethical gray areas. Regardless of how much Rockstar president and GTAIV writer Dan Houser wants to endow his protagonist Niko Bellic with a sense of gravitas and inner conflict over his criminal actions, it’s all still too morally relativistic for my taste.

Or more simply put, doing bad things for a good reason cannot, over time, make you a good person.

This truth was hammered home to me, as I watched episode nine of this season of Lost (season 4).

I won’t reveal any spoilers here, except to say that by this point in the dramatic arc, many of the character polarities have become reversed. Several people that we were conditioned to think of as “bad guys” earlier on in the series have now been fully examined in a more sympathetic light. Conversely, several other characters who were seen as paragons of virtue have veered off course by the commission of many morally repugnant acts, including murder.

Lost is a very popular show, in part because of its refusal to cast its characters into stock TV archetypes. Most characters are three-dimensional, with conflicts and inner motivations and crises of belief and difficult choices to make.

Lauding this show might also also look hypocritical, especially in light of how I’ve also previously praised the Splinter Cell franchise. So I’m going to beat my critics to the punch. What’s the difference between the moral relativism in Lost and Splinter Cell as compared to Grand Theft Auto?

Well, I think it boils down to the “sandbox” style of open-ended gameplay. Many GTA fans love the series precisely because it combines a sense of weaponized and vehicular aggression with total autonomy. Each Grand Theft Auto universe is a detailed, fully rendered world where violence and mayhem can commence without much in the way of repercussion. Sure, doing some dirt is going to increase the heat from the police, but in this hyper-masculine environment there appears to be no accompanying ethical weight to your actions other than getting caught. There are no funerals, no shots of grieving mothers, no diseases contracted from prostitutes, not even a reprimand from other mob bosses for mixing it up with innocent bystanders. With GTA, there are no innocent bystanders. Anyone and anything is fair play.

And within certain limited contexts, I don’t so much mind that. I love a good cops-and-robbers style chase as much as the next guy, which is why I’ve been such a fan of the Need for Speed series, especially NFS: Most Wanted and its sequel NFS: Carbon. These games are all about illegal street racing, and they provide plenty of wish-fulfillment for armchair wheel-jockeys who resent speed limits and law enforcement. But at the end of the day, all the trouble you’re causing is damage to other cars and property. No one is shown being killed, even if the manner of racing
would, in real life, result in vehicular homicide charges.

This manner of fantasy is, in my book at least, mostly harmless.

But the way in which most of the GTA fanboys rave about its open-ended style is indicative of how much they dig the fact that they can pretty much ignore the plot and just run amok in their own stylized playground of guns and vehicles, where nothing is sacred or out-of-bounds.

I take issue with that, because some things are sacred, and some things should be out of bounds. Generally speaking, I think Bungie gets that with its Halo trilogy. I think BioWare gets that (mostly) with Mass Effect. And I think EA wants to look like it gets that, although the fact that they’ve been trying to initiate a hostile takover with Rockstar makes me think otherwise. (As Dennis McCauley points out, there are other reasons to be against the EA-Take Two buyout; the GTA morality tack is just one of many.)

So if you’re a GTA fan and you think I’m wrong, I’m open to discussion about it. Please don’t think I’m some Jack Thompson clone who is only out to generate publicity by trashing the latest hit. I honestly do want to play GTA IV… it’s just that there’s this other nagging voice besides the irritable Jack Thompson.

It’s my conscience.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.