Best in show
This month’s column celebrates the best people, places, and publications in the world of gaming.
Best online publication devoted to thoughtful game journalism: The Escapist.
Now in its 40th issue, this free magazine (Escapistmagazine.com) explores issues ranging from Wal-Mart’s impact on game content to the growing popularity of casual games among elderly Japanese citizens. Years from now, video-game scholars will identify this publication as a milestone in the growth of the medium.
Best scapegoat that gamers love to hate: Jack Thompson. Runner-up: Hillary Clinton
This outspoken Florida lawyer established his reputation by attacking the “obscene” lyrics of 2 Live Crew and branding former Attorney General Janet Reno a “predatory lesbian.” More recently, he alleged that the critically lauded The Sims 2 is actually a playground that pedophiles can use to rehearse their perverse fantasies. Responding with their typical mixture of humor and immaturity, gamers have distributed Jack Thompson toilet paper, “I hate Jack Thompson” T-shirts, and a Thompson-themed version of Grand Theft Auto called Defamation of Character.
Jack Thompson’s most valuable ally: The advertising industry Runner-up: The gaming press
My girlfriend is a skilled gamer with a masters degree in kick-ass. She logs on to World of Warcraft daily to see if her loot has made money in the auction house. She used to be a professional game reviewer, and she’s attended E3. So, why can’t she get through three pages of PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World without groaning and throwing the magazine to the floor? Seemingly oblivious to the fact that millions of intelligent women also enjoy games, advertisers bombard audiences with women in chain-mail bikinis, rampaging armies, and desperate fantasies about masculine control.
Best reason to suspect that Hollywood wants Jack Thompson to succeed: Uwe Boll
With only a few notable exceptions, attempts to translate video-game franchises into successful blockbusters have been a dismal failure. Responsible for such travesties as House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark, Uwe Boll is the only director with three entries in the Internet Movie Database’s list of “the worst 25 movies ever.” As Nicholas Schager wittily observed in Slant Magazine, “Saying Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark is better than his 2003 American debut House of the Dead is akin to praising syphilis for not being HIV.”
Best game-related web comic: Penny Arcade
Should you rush out to buy an Xbox 360 or should you wait for the PS3? How does World of Warcraft stack up against Final Fantasy XI? Are desktop-computer games superior to the less-cerebral console titles? These questions have generated gigabytes of controversy in online forums. Still, there is at least one thing on which all gamers can agree: Penny Arcade rocks. The only thing worse than being mocked by Penny Arcade (Penny-arcade.com) is failing to capture the online comic strip’s attention. In addition to spurring the wrath of game censor Jack Thompson, Penny Arcade has raised more than a million dollars for children’s hospitals across the country as part of their “Child’s Play” campaign.
Best place for an anthropomorphic squirrel to hook up with a well-dressed raccoon: Second Life
Sometimes referred to as the NPR of virtual worlds, Second Life eschews the mindless grinding that characterizes traditional MMOs. Instead, the game shares its tools for scripting and object creation, encouraging players to unleash their imaginations. This radical strategy has paved the way for exciting efforts, including a benefit for Katrina survivors and a project that brings together people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Meanwhile, the community Furnation Prime encourages “furries” to express their unusual (and harmless) desires in ways that would be impossible in the physical world.
Best blog maintained by a local game designer: Mining for Fish
During the past year, a handful of articulate gamers have built an impressive reputation simply by posting well-reasoned and thoughtful treatises in their personal web logs. In Mining for Fish (boogaloogames.net/andrew/), game designer Andrew Krausnick explores the social dynamics of virtual worlds and speculates about future possibilities for game design. (Disclosure: Andrew is a student at Trinity University, where I teach.) Meanwhile, as the result of his wildly popular site Jay is Games, a Rochester University graduate student named Jay Bibby has emerged as a leading authority on “casual games.” Finally, in her blog Heroine Sheik, Bonnie Ruberg, has sparked intense debate about sexuality and gender in video games.
Best idea for a game promoting world peace: Empathy
Last month, at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Eric Zimmerman challenged the digerati to design games that would make significant contributions toward world peace. Harvey Smith (Deus Ex) and Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) floated intriguing ideas, but Cliff Bleszinski (Unreal Tournament 2004) voiced the most promising concept. Modeled after The Sims 2, the game Empathy focuses on parents protecting their families as war erupts around them. Instead of collecting gold and slaying dragons, players seek clean water, bandages, and safe shelter. Developers would update game content to incorporate the details of current conflicts: Afghanistan one month, Iraq the next, and then Iran. Ideally, politicians in the Federal Government and United Nations would be required to play the game before voting for war.